Friday, December 31, 2010

A Very Carpenter Christmas 4: The Thing

I could've sworn I had written about this earlier, but I've been talking about this thing a lot of places, so I probably just got mixed up. Anyway, it's time to talk a little about the arctic paranoid body horror-extravaganza that is John Carpenter's The Thing, which is an adaption of a novella called "Who Goes There?" not that anyone's heard of it. Somewhat more known is the other adaptation, The Thing From Another World, The Thing is generally consider to be the superior adaptation, though. Also, here be spoilers.

The basic plot of The Thing is pretty simple, in fact, most of The Thing is pretty straightforward. Our heroes are stranded on the south pole for the winter when they discover a maddened Norwegian (well, almost, I'll get back to that) chasing a dog, attempting to kill the thing. Since the guy all but manages to blow himself up, they adopt the dog, not knowing it harbors a shapeshifting alien beastie that can spread like a virus. Needless to say, things go south rather quick, and our heroes find themselves trying to find out who they can trust without getting eaten or worse as the titular thing tries to find it's way to civilization.

This movie is just plain great at body horror. The effects used to show the alien transform it's current human (or canine) duds into something a little more flat out terrifying, and by "a little" I mean "a lot" and by "flat out terrifying" I mean "HOLY FUCKING SHIT WHAT THE FRAGGING HELL IS THAT THING." Yeah. Also, a guy's stomach grows teeth and tears another guy's hands off, that should be enough, although those of a nervous disposition probably will have decided to take their business elsewhere during the Kennel scene.
In the interest of those with a nervous disposition: Bunnies

Now, if the movie has any mentionable flaws in the scary department, it probably comes from one thing that might yank you out of the movie for a little while, at least if you're Norwegian. The above-mentioned Norwegians, or the one our heroes meet, at any rate speaks Norwegian, and that's cool, a little bonus for those proficient in the language. However... yeah, they're not talking it all that well. That seems to be a recurring problem whenever there's supposed to be a Norwegian portrayed in American works. Of course, most time they go for "ambiguously Scandinavian" rather than Norwegian, but still. I'm told that one X-Files episode set in Norway suffered from some of the same problems, but I can't tell. Put bluntly, it took at least two watchings to undersand what the sod actually said, and even now, I have no idea what dialect that guy's supposed to use.
Ok, I'm calm now.

I'm nitpicking, and I realize, but hey, am I not allowed to be a little ethnocentric every now and then?  Well, regardless, The Thing is a really good movie and, as I mentioned earlier, probably my favorite Carpenter flick, if nothing else for the near Cronenbergian levels of sheer body horror and the intense use of good special effects, although the fact that it's actually scary also helps.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Very Carpenter Christmas 3: Prince of Darkness

So yes, it's time for yet another installment of A Very Carpenter Christmas, this time we'll be looking at another festive piece of entertainment that really highlights the optimistic worldview and.. yeah, that's Blatant Lieese, today we'll be discussing another story pertaining to otherworldly horrors using humans as their pawns for amusement and profit. Let's look at Prince of Darkness. As usual, spoilers. I should maybe work on spoilerfree reviews some time, but... well, that's not really fun, is it? I guess those not keen on spoilers could skip to the bottom.

With a title like that, you'd think it'd be pretty obvious who the big bad was, what with "The Prince Of Darkness" being a fairly well known nicnkame for The Devil, Satan, Old Scratch, etc, which I guess is some sort of ironic, since he's supposed to also be Lucifer, the Lightbringer, originally, but I guess that's... got something to do with The Fall and what have you. Anyway, this is technically true, but the mythology is a bit more complicated than that. If anything, I guess you could compare it to the Doctor Who episode "The Satan Pit," where The Doctor encounters the primordial evil that has inspired every portrayal of Satan in every religion ever, it's a bit like that, but with a pinch of that tasty Lovecraft thrown in for mind-rendering spice. You see, the titular evil is an alien being, bent on bringing back it's master, which is to the Satan what God is to Jesus, maybe, the movie does like to screw around with heads, both the audience's and the characters.

Well, I guess I should talk about the story at large too, although "alien anti-god tries invading the world, God might be an alien to" should be enough for anyone. Oh well. We follow a group of college students who is set to help a priest make heads and tails out of a container with green... stuff in it, which turns out to be The Adversary, who in turn is keen to get out. To do this, he (it?) posses vermin and hobos and eventually the college students to get them to unleash The Beast and bring it's Dark God father on the world to REALLY fuck things up.

When it comes to said Dark God, I can't help but feel Carpenter is moving away from the Lovecraftian horrors, design-wise, at least. You see, we actually get to see... well at least a little part of it, its hand, which sort of has a black shriveled death-fetus kind of thing going for it, how the rest of it looks is anyone's guess, but that's a bit of the charm. Humanoid supernatural terrors isn't exactly common in Lovecraft-inspired horror, but I guess we can't all be afraid of seafood and foreigners.
I'm not. No foreigners, no gløgg.

When it comes to the scares, Prince Of Darkness has plenty, from the unnerving way people act when they're possessed, to the appearance of large amounts of  creepy crawlies and what have you and the occasional jumpscare. One stuck in my mind because of the timing. It was fairly standard, our hero, brandishing a porn 'stache that could shame the best of them, turns over in bed to find some sort of humanoid monstrosity, complete with a scare chord and all. What this jump scare does differently, though, is that it's not buildup-jump-gone, but rather jump-take your time-gone, the shot actually lingers on the hellbeast, giving the watcher a sort of a "yeah, you saw that, and you still are. Whatcha gonna do about it"-thing. Also, it has Alice Cooper as a hobo, and that should be scary enough for any man.

All in all, Prince Of Darkness was pretty good, but I'd rate it below In The Mouth Of Madness myself, as it was some times a little difficult to get into on account of it's experiments in mindscrewing, but it's definitely a movie worth checking out, although I guess those overly sensitive to blasphemy might want to steer clear. Next up is probably my favorite Carpenter movie and, unless something happens, the last entry in A Very Carpenter Christmas 2010.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A very Carpenter Christmas 2: Halloween

The more I think about it, the more I realize I probably should have started with this movie. After all, this was the movie that defined half of the conventions, clichés and tropes pertaining to the ubiquitous Slasher sub-genre, with Friday 13th taking care of the other half. Had I been particularly fond of slashers, it would've been all but unforgivable, but since there's only a handful of the movies I like outside of the So Bad It's Good fascination of it all, I'm not too bothered. Spoilers here, but you should know most of this already.

So yes, Halloween is the story of young Michael Myers who went a little insane and stabbed his sister an overabundant amount of time, and as a result was sectioned for 15 years. Now he's out, though and stalking through his old hometown of Haddonfield, reliving those glory days of stabbing young women, also branching out to men, enterprising fellow, that Myers kid. Hot on his trail is his therapist, Sam Loomis, who is more or less the only one who knows how bug-fuck insane and beyond redemption this guy is. Most of the movie follows Laurie Strode, though, who finds herself the center of attention from this eventually famously masked stalker, making her upcoming Halloween babysitting gig into a somewhat problematic affair.

Hoh yes everyone, this was the movie that taught us exactly how horrible an idea babysitting actually is. It's a rather clever idea, methinks, and I don't think it's an accident that our heroes in both of the most genre-defining slasher films have some sort of responsibility, someone to take care of, if you will. Sure, you can argue that the camp councelors of the Friday 13th movies sort of does a shit job, and in general act like complete bell-ends, but at least they at some point realize little lives depend on them. It's a very effective plot device that prevents the main characters from getting wise to this whole "wait, staying where the killer can find me is a really shit idea"-side of things. In most modern slashers, this is usually replaced with seclusion or stupidity 
Sorry, lost my train of thought there

But back to the movie. It's a problem when talking about movies that have been so important to the formulation of a genre, because everything it does, a lot of others have done after it, some better, a lot of them worse. This leads to what my friends on TvTropes call a Seinfeld is Unfunny situation, where the originality of the original work is undermined by the sheer number of times it has been copied, parodied or otherwise reused.  Halloween has this bad, but it can't be denied, it's a pretty decent movie. Special props must be given to the soundtrack though, or at least the opening theme, which is as simple as it is memorable, and frankly fairly creepy, pretty much being able to compete with Tubular Bells before the guitar sets in, or "In A House, In A Heartbeat" from 28 days later as my favorite piece of music in any horror movie, unless you count "Don't  Stop Me Now" from Shaun of The Dead, which feels like cheating somehow. 

Overall, even when factoring in the abovementioned effect, though, I feel that Halloween isn't really Carpenter's strongest film, and the other ones I'm covering in A Very Carpenter Christmas are better movies as far as I'm concerned, but as far as Slashers go, it's good, Myers is a creepy bastard, so it's good.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Very Carpenter Christmas 1: In The Mouth of Madness

So, yes, Christmas is upon us, and unfortunately that's not really an opportune time for horror movie buffs such as myself. Sure, as a human being who enjoys good food, gifts and company, it's quite excellent, but the hateful little gnome that lives in my brain just can't find sustenance through a month centered around joy and the goodwill of man. Sure, one could try surviving on darkly humorous and, for some reason, very controversial horror comedies centered around the Yuletide, but I say bah to that. So instead, this Holiday, I will be covering some of the works of John Carpenter, not all of them obviously, he's made a lot of movies, and I can't use my hands for writing all the time, you know, it's hard to drink mulled wine without the help of ones hands, after all. But enough about that, let's start the first installment of A Very Carpenter Christmas, where we'll be looking at a rather Lovecraftian flick called In The Mouth of Madness. Oh, and as per usual, here be spoilers.
Uh, what were we talking about again?

So, the thing about Lovecraft is that one thinks "Oh, interdimensional horrors and all that is groovy-pants and all, but no way anyone's going to make a movie out of it." Then, along comes John Carpenter and goes "HA," in a way that usually implies that one is about to prove the previous speaker wrong. In The Mouth Of Madness is the medium he chose for this. The story follows John Trent, played by Sam Neil, resident sceptic and insurance fraud investigator and Linda Styles, played by Julie Carmen, chief editor for the enigmatic writer and target of the journey, Sutter Cane, played by Jürgen Prochnow. In short, Cane's gone AWOL, and the publishers is claiming insurance since it doesn't look like he'll be able to deliver the manuscript for the titular book in time. Neil thinks this is a scam, of course, and starts to track down the town of Hobb's End, where Cane's books are set. This seems to be difficult, since Hobb's End doesn't seem to exist, but hey, finding the unfindable is step 1 in any self-respecting Lovecraftian story. So needless to say, he finds the town, but it would seem it has a little problem. One, nobody can quite determine if the town existed at all before Cane started writing the books and Two: Beings from a different world who seems keen on invading the earth because beings from a different world in nine out of ten cases are humongous dicks.

This is probably bad news...

Now, this movie does something right a lot of other "otherworldly horror"-movies often does wrong. They keep the beasties mysterious. Sure, there are some degree of explanation about just what the hell they're supposed to be, but the definitions that are made are vague enough that one can easily imagine that it's merely the most complete way a human can understand it without going insane. Though, that doesn't seem to help Neil, who takes just a couple too many hits to the SAN (Geek Joke, ho!) in the end, and one could be forgiven for wondering how much of what we saw really happened.


This film is also delightfully meta, since it turns out Cane's writing either changes reality, or that he's tasked to "narrate" the fall of all that is known by the mindrendering powers that be. Either way, one could interpret that the whole tale is about a character that realizes he is a character in a book. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't precisely a romantic comedy he landed himself in. If one accepts this way of looking at it, one could ask oneself if this wouldn't have been a story better told in a book. Well, concepts not quite unlike it have worked before, but it also demonstrates the strength of Carpenter's filmmaking, when he actually can communicate the incredibly tricky idea in a medium that requires such a degree of visual coherency and sense as film, if you excuse me slipping into film geek overdrive for a moment there.

Not that the cover spoils anything of the above

Now, for the most important question to me, right up there with "is it well made" is "is it scary?" I'd say yes, there's plenty of foreboding freakyness before shit hits the fan, and once it does... well, it's Lovecraftian. It's interesting how it kinda feels like the world is going to hell, and the characters are just surviving the shit that happens to fly their way. It's a bit like that one scene in Pulse, well, both of them, but the original did them better, where our heroes run out to see a plane crash while the streets filled up with ghost-thingies. It's a refreshing break of pace from the scary movies that more or less entirely revolve around the main character, thus bumfucking any sense of scale and dread. Ironically, one could argue that the story is a lot more centered on the protagonists than even these, but that's getting into metafiction-territories that I don't feel like braving.

All in all, I'd recomend In The Mouth Of Madness, both to people who already like Lovecraft-styled terrors, and to people who would like a quick and (relatively) easy taste at what sort of terrors this horror subgenre can bring you, although you might want to be able to stomach metafiction, if you're going to brave this one.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tomes of Horror

Variety is the spice of life, I'm being told, and I am not one to refuse some spice in my life. So today, I'm talking about scary scary books. That, and I just got a Kindle, so I figured this was the time to find me some scary books to read in the dark. Well, not complete dark, reading in low light is bad for your eyes, dontchaknow?

The biggest problem with horror books seems to me that it's not such a strong genre in litterature as it is with movies. Maybe because cheap jump-scares aren't as effective in media without sound for scare chords, or maybe because your average book is about as expensive to produce as your average slasher movie, which is to say not very, and thus, you lack the market for micro-budget exploitation schlock that makes up the base foundation of the horror genre, the manure from which the occasional cucumber of awesomeness can be successfully cultivated. This is not to say there aren't some absolutely pants-wettingly scary books out there, House Of Leaves have more than once made me want to turn all the lights on, put the book in a big lead box and hide that in a walk-in fridge, just in case.

Pictured: An Awesome Cucumber

I think my main problem is that I can't stand the most prolific and well-known horror authors out there. Or, if you prefer, I think Stephen King is an overhyped writer. Granted, the man has some neat ideas, and when he actually gets around to bringing the scary, he can conjure up some delightfully wicked and appropriately scary scenarios. A lot of Horror movies is based on his work, and hell, some of them I like. So, what's the problem? Well, for one, he has such a fascination with subplots, some of which is only tangentially related to the main plot, and serve little to no purpose.

I guess that sort of writing works for some, but it's clear to me that King and I belong different schools in that regard. Far be it for me to imply that King actively strives for his books to be as long and encompassing as possible for the pure hell of it, since that philosophy is often associated with such glorious train wrecks as the infamous Maradonia Saga , or the kind of High Fantasy Doorstoppers that seem to be written with that thought in mind that no good book can be less than a thousand pages long and include at least three chapters worth of text describing the oddities and customs of a race of blue-skinned basketweaving pacifists with an inordinate amount of apostrophes in their language, but I'm getting off topic here.



My point, though, is that reading through a Stephene King book takes effort. Not the extra concentration needed to get the full gist of the descriptions in Perdido Street Station, which for the record seems very promising, or the endurance neccesary to get anywhere of consequence in Tolkien's rich narratives, no, reading Stephen King feels an awful lot like busywork for me. Sure, you're rewarded with a nugget or two of spine-tingling fear, but to get to it, you have to hammer through a lot of tangentially related subplots and description of New England and its oddities and customs and the spirit of the place. In that way, King's writing is perfect if you're, say, on vacation with a limited book supply. The moment reading has to compete with anything else, even other books, King tends to lose out.

There's another thing that bothers me about King. Not only is pretty much everything he writes set in Maine, King's hometown or at least in New England somewhere. No problem there, he could maybe benefit from branching out a little and explore other setting, but I guess his Fantasy stuff, The Dark Tower and such, kinda covers that. No, what bothers me is how blatantly King inserts himself into the story. There's nothing wrong with having a character who shares characteristics with the writer, but when you see a character that's an author, a writer of suspense tales that at some point stops to tell us all about his philosophy around writing. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is King's way of soapboxing his own views around the art of writing, and... well, I guess it's his privilege as an author, but I still consider it bad form to do stuff like that. At least he doesn't have the strawman version of his critics savaged by foul beasts, like some producers of content does.

Now, the New Beginnings to Stephen King's Vocal Adrenaline, Dean Koontz, I guess I've had a little more luck with. Granted, every book of his I've read have basically been the same story with marginally different main characters and some new monster or what have you. Seriously, pretty much every Koontz book I've read goes like this: Snarky and sarcastic guy battles some form of unspeakable evil together with a sassy female sidekick-cum-love interest and either a child, a man with some sort of mental problem or a dog. Seriously, that's pretty much the books right there. The biggest deviation from the norm might be the Odd Thomas books, which is about a snarky sarcastic guy who can see ghosts and his noticable lack of Dog, Child, Mentally handicapped man or love interest.

To be fair, the Koontz books are a lot more compact, so the scare beat feel more concentrated, and some of the beasties that are thought up are pretty damn good, he even managed to make monkeys menacing, and that's quite a feat, but nothing compared to making an old lady being stalked by her house cat to a tense, if not a little overly chatty scene with respectable amounts of terror. Well, I guess what they say about House Cats in D&D 3 ed is true, if you pardon the extraordinarily geeky reference.


As for other horror books, I'm told my favorite urbane fantasy series, The Dresden Files, is some times classified as Horror. I guess this is due to the great amount of child-snatching, man-eating, sanity-munching horrors present, and the implications that there's even more powerful and Cthulhu-esque beings out there. Still, it's hard to get too scared when the narrator is a snarky badass with pop-culture jokes to spare, who also at one point reanimated a zombie T-Rex and rode it through Chicago to stop a madman from attaining I Can't Believe It's Not Divinity. Yeah. Also, I've got some other books lined up that might be good, for example a book called Hater or the interestingly titled John Dies At The End, although the latter doesn't seem to be available for Kindle, which is a shame.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

So, Paranormal Activity was easily one of the most terrifying, and yet awesome, horror cinema experiences I've had in my life. Granted, I don't go to the movies nearly often enough, but the prices in this country is high , and most main-stream horror is usually... lacking, at least the ones who hit the silver screens around here. When I heard word of Paranormal Activity, I was surprised, and also a little apprehensive. Horror sequels are seldom good, even to the rare good horror flicks. Could this one be different, though? As is starting to become a habit now, but there be spoilers, big ones, so be warned.



Actually, it's not entirely accurate to call PA2 a sequel, most of it happens before PA1, and the main characters are Kristi, the sister of the girl in the first film, her husband, resident skeptic and pop-cultured snarker, Dan, his daughter from an earlier marriage, Ali, and the newest resident of the house, Hunter. Oh, and there's a dog, and an invisible child-snatching demon. Yes, the demon from the first movie is out for first-born sons this time, the movie actually goes so far as to suggest that someone in the family line further back traded their firstborn son for success and riches, but didn't provide a child with the appropriate chromosomes, causing the demon to go all Repo Man on the family for generations. Either that, or it wasn't picky with the gender, and said deal happened much later, or, a third option, the demon doesn't give a shit about deals and just wants a juicy 'lill morsel to snack on, ruining a couple of lives in the process.

So yes, the cast is much bigger this time, and that's not all. The family has, after what was assumed to be a burglary, but probably wasn't, installed security cameras all over the house, and it's through these we see most of the action, although there's a couple of hand-held camera bits. In a way, this could lower the immersion somewhat, as more cameras did with REC2, but with PA, there always was signs of editing, like speeding up the video to surprisingly terrifying effect, so it feels logical that someone cut together the material into one package. One terrifying, terrifying package.

I'd say the horror is very much alive in this installment, the scares are of a similar nature, but mixes things up a little, enough to keep us uneasy. There's this rolling bass sound which precedes a lot of scares, and I'm not really sure if it's supposed to be in-universe, or has been added afterwards, since nobody acknowledges them. Still, the way it kinda increases in volume without really hinting at a crescendo anytime soon before shit getting very real very fast was surprisingly effective. Some scares are a bit... uh, like the baby being pulled by the unseen force. Sure, it worked in 1, but that was in the climax, they could sell you pretty much anything at that point, but it came a bit early in 2, I think. Most of them were rather excellent though, my favorite probably being every cupboard in the kitchen busting open with a loud bang in the middle of the day. It was the point where the demon demonstrated (pun not intended) that A: It wasn't fucking around, and B: It could fuck with you during daytime, if it felt like it.

Actually, I'd say the scariest bit of this movie was the end of the beginning, where scary shit starts happening, and you haven't quite gotten used to looking at lingering security camera shots of the empty house at night. That shit's freaky. Any place where there's supposed to be people, like for example houses, that's empty is just unnerving to watch, and it makes me glad I'm currently inhabiting a one room and bathroom apartment. In a way, it reminded me of my phobia of hotels. I guess phobia isn't entirely accurate, but hotels freak me out, nonetheless. A hotel is basically something that's not a home trying to be a home, and the degree of order and the lack of actual people makes it very unnerving. All in all, the shots of the empty rooms gave me a Silent Hill-esque feeling of dread, where I kept expecting something to jump out and go "BOO" any moment, and in a way found it more scary when it didn't.

Another fact I found sublimely terrifying was the realization that the events of PA1 was set into motion by Dan, who, with a little help from the Mexican maid, manages to sic the demon on Kristi's sister instead. Even worse, this only buys them about 2 months of peace until the problem comes back to bite them in the ass. Hard. It's actually a little interesting, since Dan for the longest time was what my friends over at TvTropes call a Supernatural Proof Father, a patriarch who is the last to accept that some serious supernatural shit is indeed going down. Usually, this guy either goes insane and/or possessed or saves his family, and dog naturally, at the very last moment. This version of the guy? Well, he tries the latter, but it didn't really help much, so in retrospect, it was kind of a pointless dick move, but I guess he had no way of knowing. Also, the family dog is, as dogs usually are in these situations, aware of something spooky going down, and at one point even tangles with the beast. Luckily, this happens off-camera, and thus, it doesn't get silly.

Actually, the movie has a good couple of moments that could seem silly, and actually kinda does, in retrospect, but in the movie, it's pretty much got the atmosphere to carry the scares and make them believable. Could just be me, but I also think the acting was slightly better this time around, so all in all, I'd say Paranormal Activity 2 was a worthwhile sequel, hell, easily one of the better horror sequels I've seen, but I kinda think they should stop here, sure, there's sequel material, but I'm struggling to see how to expand more without compromising the quality. Then again, maybe they've got a triology planned out, and as long as they don't answer too many questions, I'm kinda ok with that.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Horror Watch-a-Thon

No scary stories this Halloween, but I figured that since I've been watching a lot of horror just recently, it'd take me ages to cover all in my regular fashion, so therefore, it's time for the One Paragraph Review... thing. Yeah, I don't have a better word for it, but let's get this thing rolling, shall we?

Ginger Snaps
Teen horror coming of age story with werewolves, where lycanthropy is used as a metaphor for puberty. No, really. Anyway, this is the story of the two sisters Ginger and Birgitte, who are morose outcasts of the sort I personally have never seen outside of American (or in this case Canadian) movies. Ginger is bitten by a werewolf on the first day of her first period, so she slowly turns into a werewolf, growing sexier and more primal on the way, until the "sexy" part kinda takes a drop... unless you're into that sorta thing. The relationship between the two leads is really good, although it gets a little uncomfortably incestuous at some points, still, it makes you care for the main characters, and that's something a lot of horror movies seem to forget you actually have to do. The makeup and the effects are pretty good, but not mindblowing or on An American Werewolf In London-kind of level. Still, very watchable, even for us guys.

Event Horizon
It's Hellraiser.... IIIIIIIIN SPAAAAACE. Seriously though, the titular ship has suddenly reappeared after it's sudden disappearance. A team is sent to investigate the now derelict ship that was the first ship using experimental Faster Than Light travel technology. Hoh yes, I can't see this going wrong at all. On the expedition we also get the Event Horizon's designer, Doctor Wier, who has some guilt issues that eventually turn him into the anthromorphic representation of the now evil as hell ship, because faceless evil doesn't sit well with western audiences, I guess. Got some good scares, but a bit of a Jump Scare addiction as per usual, and the brief, and not so brief, flashes of hellish torture we get are properly fucked up. Probably a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it's one of the better space-horrors since Alien.

David Cronenberg's The Fly
Oh dear. When Cronenberg's involved, you know you're not in for a happy fun ride. Scientist Seth Brunden has invented a teleporter, but when he tests it out, a lone fly in the teleportation chamber leads to what can easily be described as a genetic mashup with the worst thinkable consequences. Seth becomes some half-human half-fly abomination, and his girlfriend is starting to wonder if the child she's carrying will have a similar genetic problems. It's a rare movie in that it happens to be both heartbreaking and quite stomach-churning, sure. Sure, we see the protagonist hurl acidic vomit at both food and... somewhat more sentient targets, but we also see his girlfriend who's simultaneously be worried for and afraid of her increasingly mutated love. I would say the movie's just a little less disturbing than Videodrome overall, but that's mostly because it's fairly straightforward. It pretty much crushes Videodrome under it's heel what emotional investment is considered, though.

Carrie
Halloween's apparently my "catch up with horror movies I should have seen"-holiday. Works for me. This flick follows the titular character, a naive outcast, who gets invited to the prom by a popular guy. What could possibly go wrong? In a nutshell: Pig's blood, psychic powers and religious guilt and paranoia implanted by a crazy abusive christian fundamentalist mother. Oh yes, this one is a bit light on the horror, like a lot of Stephen King stuff is want to do, but once it cracks up, it cranks up on high.

Zombieland
I figured I could end this on a lighter note. Don't get me wrong, death, pain and universal brouhaha is all nice and well, but once in a while, I want to see a movie with zombies, gore, ludicrous gibs, and all the main characters surviving. Four survivors traveling through zombie-infested America, searching for home, a theme park and a twinkie. It's a fairly clever zombie flick, maybe a bit of a reconstruction of zombie movies. Fun, awesome, and kind of heartwarming, talked about it before.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Happening

Oh M. Night Shyamalan, where did you go wrong? The Sixth Sense was great, several bricks were shat, and the twist ending is right up there with "The Narrator is Tyler Durden" and "Rosebud was his sled" as far as fame goes, and well deserved, it was one of the twists that really changed the movie upon rewatching it. Sure, some of the later movies didn't quite live up to the greatness, Signs, The Village, Lady In The Water, these weren't great, in retrospect they were pretty shit, but at least the two former had some scaryness going for it. Lady in the Water had... uh... I'll have to get back to you on that one. Annoying strawmen of people criticizing the director? Anyway, despite my vitriolic attitude towards his works, it wasn't until I saw this film that I realized just how far the mighty hath fallen. Spoilers as usual.


So, The Happening. This story follows Eliot Moore and his incredibly creepy wife, Alma, who, despite being unsettling enough for a horror film on her own, and possibly a few sequels, apparently isn't supposed to be creepy, as they flee from the titular... well happening.

The happening is people going suicidal due to a neurotoxin that causes people to kill themselves. Now, this being a Shyamalan film, there's also a very prominent B-plot, to the point where I'm considering if maybe the whole "suicide plague"-thing is the B-plot, where Mr. and Mrs. Moore are growing distant, their marriage slowly disintegrating. The twist, or what goes for a twist in this movie, is that the plants have had it with humanity's shit, and is now releasing the neurotoxin whenever there's larger groups of humans around. Apparently, their chlorophyll rage can be quelled by either the power of love or exceedingly suicidal idiocy, but I'll get back to that later.
Scary, no?

So, what's the problem with this, movie? I'd say there's several, but it'd help if the man playing the main character, Mark Wahlberg, formerly of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch fame, could... you know, act. Seriously, this man has all of one expression, one tone of voice. Oh yes, it's Dull Surprise all the way, sure, he's not quite as bad as the actor playing his wife, but she's not the main character, and as such, it's not as catastrophically bad for the movie. Seriously, there's one line in the movie, where Elliot tries to be diplomatic with a potted plant, only for it to realize it's a plastic plant. This could be pretty hilarious. Just the slightest hint of deadpan, or exasperation, hell, just a relatively minor change in tone could make this scene funny, as I'm pretty certain it was supposed to be.

The Silver Screen cannot contain the raw emotion of Mark Wahlberg

Also, I'm pretty sure this is just a problem with my twisted sense of humor, but this movie's attempts at being frightening also falls flat. Seriously, large parts of the population is killing themselves, this should be scary. Instead, most of the deaths feel like a parody. One memorable kill is when Mark Wahlberg is left looking in... well... dull surprise as a survivor starts up a big-ass lawnmower before laying down in front of the thing. Judging by the music, this is supposed to be scary. Needless to say, it really doesn't work.

Speaking of things this movie doesn't do well, let's talk about the science, although it's more appropriate to talk about it's attitude towards science. I'm not fanatical about it, but I'm of the opinion that the scientific method is quite solid as far as getting answers about the universe goes, and the philosophy behind it is quite solid. Therefore, I find it infuriating when the movie opens with Mark Wahlberg's character, a science teacher, having a long speech about how science is pretty much useless, and nature does shit that nobody can explain because... nature did it, I guess. I just can't get over that. Had he been an English teacher, or a social studies teacher, or any other sort of a teacher, it could make sense, but a science teacher telling people that science can't explain shit? Jesus and a half, Shyamalan, I'm getting the impression you want to make a point here.
Again, as a Shyamalan movie is want to do, the climax of this movie is a little odd. To be specific, our two main characters end up sitting in the dark, talking about their relationship. Yeah, not surprising, pretty much every Shyamalan film I've seen, sans Lady In The Water, I think, builds up towards the climax like this. It seems to point towards Shyamalan preferring to do drama, despite never really doing any straight dramas. Anyway, large talky bits pass, it's difficult to care, since the acting's wooden and the writing artificial. Then comes the part that slays me. Our heroes are caught in separate buildings, with murderous plants separating them, but when they work out their relationship problems, they decide they'd rather die together, and they go out in the meadow OF DEATH.

Not pictured: Death

You'd think that this would be the end of our heroes, but for some reasons they are unaffected by the neurotoxin. Not quite sure why. Either, their love stopped the plants, their apparently suicidal stupidity made the plants realize there wasn't much more to be done, or they just got stupid lucky. I kinda get the feeling the "power of love"-thing was supposed to be the subtext, but it's so... disappointingly lame. I mean, I'm sure a talented director could make this work, but Shyamalan just ain't it.

So, in a nutshell, The Happening might be one of the most unintentionally hilarious films that was ostensibly supposed to be scary I have ever seen . I'm thinking someone should have a nice sit-down with Shyamalan and tell him that despite The Sixth Sense being quite good, him being a part of a movie's production doesn't automatically make it good. Luckily, the next few movies I plan to cover is somewhat better. Also, Halloween's coming up, so I guess something should be done with that.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rec 2

I don't know what to say about this. Really. It's flat out uncanny. I got this movie a little while ago, I watched it, and I sat down and prepared to write this little review. Then it hit me, I wasn't quite sure what to do with this thing. Should I give it faint praise or give it what for? I didn't really know, and maybe I still don't. The most frustrating part is that it's not Antichrist "What the hell? I mean, seriously, what the hell?"-uncertainty, although there's some similarities. Well, let's just get to it, and we'll see where it goes. Spoilers as big as caribou will follow, consider yourself warned.



Rec 2 starts up where the first one leaves off, or to be more precise, just before the first one ends. Our heroes is a Spanish SWAT-team (or their Spanish equivalent) that is sent to investigate the zombie-infested apparent building. Also, keeping up with the ShakyCam tradition of the first one, the whole movie is told through the helmet cams of said unit, and a traditional camera that apparently can show footage from any of these cameras. They're also teaming up with a government representative who turns out to be a priest.

Here comes the big twist, which kinda ruined it for me. The SWAT guys discover that these zombies seem to be somewhat on the wrong side of the "Zombies are usually Agnostics"-rule, because these zombies recoil from the Word Of God and are restrained by a crucifix on a wall. Yeah. Kind of a tonal shift from the first one, there. Turns out Patient Zero, The Medeiros Girl, really was possessed by Old Nick, or some close acquaintance of his, and she then spread her super demon rage-plague with intentions of... well, taking over the world, I guess. Oh, and she only exists when it's dark, I think, the movie's kinda hazy on this point. Anyway, our priestly friend needs to get a sample of this girl's blood so the Vatican will be able to make a vaccine against being possessed by demons, or something like this. Oh, and the demon possession apparently is in the form of a slug/snake thing. Most horror movies take longer than one sequel before they end up on "Demonic Snake/slug/leech things did it."


I mean... what do I say to this? Rec 1 hinted at a possible supernatural origin, although that theory was uttered by a recluse with a room full of crazy, so I always figured it was some religious nut who had hijacked this otherwise seemingly secular zombie apocalypse, in the vein of what Romero tends to do, so I guess the REC guys should get points for catching me off guard ... buuuuuuut not too many points. Why? Quite simply, Rec 2 isn't all that scary. For one thing, it gives us an actual explanation of what exactly is going on, it introduces a goal other than survival, and... the zombies now have a voice. I didn't think about this earlier, but it now occurs to me, the Main Zombie can go all ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL on any of the other zombies, and thus our heroes can talk with the villain. In some horror movies, this really really work, like Hellraiser or Nightmare on Elm Street 1 (and pretty much only 1, but still,) but kind of the charm of zombies is that you don't know what the fuck they're about, except munching on your tender flesh, and the REC 1 zombies seemed only tangentially interested in even that.

If I am allowed to further my rant on the topic, which I am, since this is my blog and I don't exactly have to think about my massive fanbase. Take Paranormal Activity, for example. It was so goddamn effective as a horror movie partially because you never knew what the Ghost/Demon/Something wanted, and although it's dislike for the main characters were obvious, you didn't know how to placate it's anger, or if that at all was possible. Sure, there's no reasonable solution in place when our heroes confront the queen zombie, for the lack of a better title, there's a certain dialouge going on, the priest has this "In Christ's name, state your name, demon"-thing going on. Shit, give this guy an old priest and a young priest, a bed and a flight of stairs and he'd solve this whole brouhaha in no time at all.

In addition to the above mentioned, the addition of multiple cameras kind of ruined the experience for me. Sure, in principle, it seemed like a great idea, more openings for "The camera man gets eaten"-scenes, but it really takes away what I figured to be the charm of the first movie. You didn't know everything that was going on, you knew about as much as the cameraman. Fuck dramatic tension, something was going to jump out at you right after you least expected it, and with a little bad luck, it was going to eat you. In a way, they try the same thing, but in a slightly grander scale, as most of the video is as "edited" by the main camera anyway, except a bunch of teenagers show up with their video camera and we see it through their lense. Why did this movie need teenagers? Except that it eats SWAT officers like Cthulhu eats investigators and there's not enough fresh meat otherwise, that is.

The movie also has some problems with plotholes and characters acting stupid. Let's have a look at the former first. So, our heroes are all SWAT, which is to say they're trained for just such situations as they find themselves in, this doesn't ring true with how hillariously badly they do their job. Sure, most SWAT doesn't have to deal with We Are Legion Demon scarybollocks, but they occasionally do monumentally stupid thing. For example, they tend to split up at the drop of a hat, something that seems counterproductive to the process of not getting blindsided by some psycho, also, the priest has a dedication to his cause that he wouldn't believe. I mean, after the third or fourth failure at the objective, shouldn't the man at least consider to cut his losses, nuke the site from orbit and call it a day? Maybe looking into alternative lines of work?



This ties in nicely with one of the bigger plotholes, or worst character stupidity. At the very end, our heroes have finally tracked down the Queen Demon, and they need to get some of her blood, for said vaccine. In the brawl, they kill the creature, and the priest despairs. Now, I realize the filmmakers probably had some fancy ideas about why they couldn't... well, you know, just get the light back off, stab her with a syringe and get the gore and get outta there. Maybe the demonragething leaves the body when it dies or something, but in that case you need to explain that, otherwise it just seems cheap.

I'm starting to realize why I felt conflicted about this movie. It's a little disconcerting actually, but I think I really wanted to like this movie. I'd love this movie to be the good horror movie sequel that I could point at and say "See, you morons? This is how you do it." All the ingredients were there too. Same writer, same director, hell, the main character makes an appearance, I'm still uncertain if the sequel was planned from the start, but it could at least be a sequel that didn't bring immediate shame on the original. Hell, for a few moments in the beginning, I was optimistic, even savoring some of that sweet nervous fear that deeply saturated the first film. The sight of the SWAT team moving through the building was effective, conjuring up the terror from the first film, filling me with questions, how will the SWAT handle the undead? When will the first unexpected, brick-shitting scare happen?

About here would be a good place. Just saying

Unfortunately, I now realize that his movie just didn't work. A sequel should try expanding on the source material, true, but the tone shouldn't be so radically different that anyone going in with the expectations of the first film will be left scratching their heads. Sure, the idea is relatively fresh, but so was the idea behind my next planned review, The Happening, and well... I think most people know how that one goes. It's at this point that I'd say that the sequel hook didn't work , and won't be dragging me back for more, but I'd be lying. I'll be watching the next REC film, if nothing else because I hope the crew behind these movies can get back to the greatness of the first one. Optimism, ho!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

RIP Satoshi Kon

Anime director extraordinare Satoshi Kon died of cancer late in august, leaving a hole in the medium and much sadness in the heart of many anime fans. Why is this relevant to this blog? Well, have you seen any of this guy's stuff? He's the David Lynch of the east, watching his movies can be like injecting a syringe of pure Nightmare Fuel into your own eyeballs, or it can be like 90 minutes of undiluted "What The Fuck." My favorite moments of his movies, though, combine the two into a beautiful blend of confusing and terrifying, terrifusing, for the lack of a better word. Here be minimal spoilers, don't say I didn't warn you.

His first movie, Perfect Blue, is perhaps the finest and most violent mindfuckery I've seen since Eraserhead. It follows the ex-pop star, now actor, Mima, as she is stalked by an obsessive fan. Her debut role in the acting profession is that of a rape victim who's become delusional, believing her to be a ex-pop star turned actor playing a character in the very same situation as she herself finds herself in. Confused yet? Good, because this movie loves that, constantly making it ambiguous whether our heroine is crazy or not, or how many layers deep in crazy she is, for that matter.

This is the sort of debut work I love to see, really taking the rules and ways we watch and intepret fiction and beating us over the head with them until we don't know what's up or down, see also House of Leaves. Sure, it's challenging to watch, but well worth it for the atmosphere and sheer fucked-up brilliance of it all. This is probably the movie that is most Lynch-esque of Kon's works in that respect. Also, rape scenes in general are never pleasant, but this movie sure goes the extra mile to freak you out, trust me, you'll know when you see it.

Next, Kon makes two movies I saddly haven't seen yet, Milennium Actress and Tokyo Godfathers, although the latter is very high up on my to-do list, and the former is fairly high up there too. Next movie!

Kon's next work is, in fact, not a movie, but a short anime series titled Paranoia Agent Oh boy, this is one I could write a lot about. The basic plot follows various denizens of Tokyo as a plague of assaults, alledgedly done drive-by style by a young man with roller-skates and a baseball bat. Investigating the case turns difficult, as everybody's hiding something, and the paranoia grows all but omnipresent. The series is almost an anthology of sorts, with the common element being the mysterious bat-wielding assailant coming to knock the protagonist of the little tale out of their misery. It's not quite as scary as Perfect Blue, although it has it's screwed up, confusing and just plain scary bits. What it's most notable for in my book, though, is an episode that is only loosely connected to the main plot.

The episode in question is episode 8, which follows three internet buddies who meet in real life to commit suicide together. Dark isn't it? Doesn't exactly help that one of them is a young girl. With such a dark-sounding synopsis, I almost feel bad for saying this, but this episode is hilarious. You see, their initial attempts at killing themselves all fail, most of them thanks to what can only be described as eerily good luck or seriously bad timing, so they travel around, trying to find a good and painless way to end it all. The inherent irony is that they grow so close one could argue they could be better off just living together, helping each other out with their respective problems in stead of killing each other. You could say they end up doing that... sort of.

Kon's last complete work is yet another movie, Paprika. This movie is about Chiba Atsuko, a psychologist who treats patients with a machine that allows her to enter their dreams as the fiesty redhead titular character. Paprika is the feisty, flirty, extroverted ying to Chiba's reserved, professional yang. When one of the dream machines are stolen, and the thief uses the technology to invade the dreams of others with an increasingly surreal and overwhelming parade, it's up to Chiba and Paprika to stop the dream terrorist, lest the world be swallowed up in dream-induced madness.

As far as horror goes, this one isn't really scary, sure, it has it's fair share of weird and spooky moments, but it lacks the sheer horror. It is, however, quite possibly my favorite Kon film, much due to the sheer mind-bending visuals, as evident in the link above, and awesome music, done by Susumu Hirasawa, who also did the music for Paranoia Agent. If I should fault it for anything, it must be that the ending is a bit of what my friends at Tvtropes would call a Gainax Ending , when the symbolism runs absolutely batshit insane (I think,) although I guess that could be very well be justified, what with the dreamlike nature of the climax. Sure, it's still confusing, but then again, dreams usually are. Oh, and although it was foreshadowed a bit spottily compared to the mainstream equivalent, I still maintain that the resolution to the romance subplot is good, borderline awesome. It's definitely one of the things you notice more on the second view-through, though, so you might have a little surprise near the end the first time around.

Kon was only 46 years when he died from pancreatic cancer, the cancer was discovered in may, and he spent the remainder of his life in his home. Towards the very end, he wrote an open letter to his fans, friends and coworkers explaining his situation and giving his fond goodbyes. It's a heart-wrenching goodbye from one of the brightest minds of modern animation, who got taken away from the world way too soon.

Rest in Peace, Satoshi Kon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guess who's back (A Nightmare On Elm Street)

So, hi folks, I'm back from my little exile. The reason I stopped writing is pretty much that The Wolfman went all Ivan Drago on me, and I couldn't, to save my life, express just how bland and unintentionally hilarious that movie was. However, dear readers, rest assured that it was bad, really bad. Let's move on. What's a catalyst powerful enough to tear me out of my writer's block, you may ask? Well, of course, a remake of one of my favorite horror movies of all times, of course. No, not that one.

Yes, as you might have gleaned from the title, I'm tackling the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. So, the story's more or less the same, as a high school girl named Nancy must survive the onslaught of a dreambound killer. There are some changes in the story, some good, some... not so good. First of all, Freddy, pedophile murdering asshole that he is, didn't get off the hook on a technicality, the parents in question merely not wishing to put their children through a trial, instead going for the oh so popular "denial and forgetfulness" route. I can't really decide what I think of this. The whole "off on a technicality"-thing seemed a little weird when it comes to a serial pedophile like the Fredster, but on the other hand, it kind of makes the parents come off as bigger assholes than generally necessary.

Oh, and just to sugar that pill, the movie also seems to pad itself out with speculations around if Freddy was a pedophile out to kill his former victims, or a wrongly accused guy out to kill the children, whom he really cared about if one discards that whole pedophile thing , of his killers. Awesome.... yeah? (Not really) Speaking of creepyness, Jackie Earle Haley, probably known to most folk as Rorscharch from Watchmen, plays Freddy, and he does a fairly good job, although I can't help but think he's playing from kind of the wrong angle. You see, he very much plays a creepy rapist/sadist type of guy. Sure, it plays in on his character quite well, but considering he shows one of his prospective victims how he was killed, it feels like the movie wants to portray him as a vengeful revenant of sorts.

Either that, or the movie's just being a little lazy. I don't know if you remember the scene from the original where Nancy's mom tells the story of Freddy's demise? That's probably one of my scenes from the original, and it really allows both actors to show what they can do. In the remake, by comparison, it boils down to a shrill shouting match where the actors tries to out-shriek each other, and the whole exchange is more or less pointless, and the exposition is left to said flashback, smooth.

When it comes to the scares, I'm a little ambivalent. Sure, it's got atmosphere, and it's occasionally creepy. Sure, the bathroom scene is more or less intact, Freudian overtones and all, but there's one problem.... goddamn jump scares. Hoh yes, I hope you're ready for multiple scare chords and blink and you'll miss it horror. I'd go so far to say that this movie almost has the atmosphere to pull off jumpscares, but there's simply too many of them, and it gets tedious. It's also worth noting that the movie feels padded occasionally. Sure, it's decently atmospheric padding, but it's still padding.

When it comes to the real centerpiece himself, Freddy, I'm glad to announce that Clown!Freddy seems to have been thrown away with the dishwater. Haley!Freddy is occasionally darkly humorous, but almost a little too serious. Again, could be the nostalgia speaking, but I felt Englund!Freddy, at least in the first movie, struck the perfect balance between disturbing and funny, making him a villain that's funny while still being threatening.

My biggest problem though? Freddy's makeup. Now, I don't know enough about medicine to decide which of the faces that looks more realistic, but I must admit, New!Freddy doesn't really look as intimidating as old!Freddy, and their attempt to keep him in shadows until the end could have worked, hadn't it been for the fact that the shadows didn't really hide all that much, the way they were done.

In summary? A Nightmare On Elm Street wasn't all that good, can't really say that surprised me too much, it did enough right to be better than a lot of horror I've seen lately, but that doesn't really say all that much. Here's hoping Rec 2 is good.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pontypool

There are many ways to scare people, and half of the fun with exploring new horror movies, as I tend to do, is to discover new and exciting things to be scared of. Pontypool adds yet another part of daily life to be scared of, but I'm getting to that. There'll be slight spoilers, but not much that isn't given away on the back of the cover.


While I'm on the topic, let's talk about the cover, shall we? I like this cover. Hands can, although not as wel as faces, express surprising amounts of emotion, and covers that know how to work off that is almost always interesting. Of course, there's a teensy little snake in paradise, the goddamn review blurbs. Of course, I see why people'd want to include this, but come on, think about the aesthetics. Of course, I shop DVDs on the net primarily, and thus I seldom look at covers when I shop for DVDs, but that's me.

So, let's meet the cast, shall we? Our hero is Grant Mazzy, who you might know as the first Nite Owl in Watchmen. Grant's a motormouth radio host who thrives on controversy. Or rather, he was. After being fired, he finds himself doing the morning show in the sleepy village of Pontypool, Ontario, together with his coworkers: The desdignated straight-wonan Sydney and militarily-turned-technican Laurel-Ann. We'll be seeing a good bit of these three, as the entire movie is set in the radio studio. Despite this, there's actually a bit of side-characters, like Ken, the pilot of the so-called Sunshine Chopper.

The idea of setting a disaster-style tale in radio station is actually quite interesting. The limited information input really helps pushing up the tension. Of course, it helps that the disaster is pretty damn original. I'm going to find it a bit difficult to discuss this movie without talking about exactly what's going down, so if you by some divine co-in-ki-dink use this blog as your go-to-blog for horror movies, you might want to skip to my generic recap/opinion at the bottom.

Basically, the disaster that's going on is a 28 Days Later-style Rage Virus that spreads through language rather than blood/air/plot convenience. Some words get «infected» by what I'll just call «The Memetic Killcrazies,» and when you understand this infected word, you'll catch it too. I'll be honest, this concept scares the living crap out of me. Readers of my blog might have caught the general idea that I like words. I like using them, I like reading them, and I consider the multitudes of languages to be one of mankind's greatest achievement. The thought that a mere word can make you a murderous zombie is, putting it bluntly, pretty fucking terrifying.

Then again, zombie isn't quite the word, and that's some of my beef with the reception the movie has gotten. I know I sound like an elitist when saying this, but Pontypool isn't a zombie movie. Sure, those infected with the killcrazies act a lot like zombies, with their empty looks, clawing on windows and in general doing nothing more subtle than using their own body weight to force their way forwards, but they still can't be called zombies. Why? They're still alive.



Allow me to explain. Zombies, here represented by Bub from Day of
The Dead, used to be alive, but isn't any longer, and that's sort of the horror appeal. On the other side, we have the 28 Days-style infected, here represented by Laurel-Ann from Pontypool, who are scary because they are fast and spread quickly. Not really
anything wrong with the latter, and the namesake movie is flat out awesome. My point, though, is that the latter is not a reanimated corpse, and as such not of the zombie subgroup, although they do fill the same niche. It's also worth noticing that some movies, like the awesomesauce that is REC, kind of blur the line between the two, but I'm getting increasingly off-topic, so let's resume.



Pontypool is what I'd call a slightly more cerebral, or psychological horror flick, in that there's not all that many jump scares, and much of the horror comes, as I described, from the flat out terrifying concept of a virus of language combined with the isolation and confusion that comes with a disaster. In a way, it reminds me of the TV-studio in the opening of the original Dawn of the Dead, but the characters feel more sincere. If all of this appeals to you, you might want to check it out. In closing I feel I must mention that Pontypool has one of the better kisses in horror movies I've ever seen, and that should count for something, don't you think?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sauna

There's many ways to find new movies to watch, and when you bi-regularily rant on the internet in such a manner that I do, you'll need up to several ways to make sure you've got enough material. Now, I heard about today's movie online, but thought no more about it until I found a copy in the «obscure stuff»-aisle in my local DVD store. I should probably stop going there so often, lest my wallet suffer, but I digress.

Sauna is, as the title probably would imply, a Finnish movie, it's a Finnish horror movie, to be
precise. I can't say I've seen too many of those. Well, since I'm on a roll of scandinavian horror, I figured it was about time to give it a go. Sauna is a bit of a rare case in other ways too, it's a period flick, set in 1595 in the aftermath of the Swedish-Russian war. We follow the two brothers Eerik and Knut, who, together with some representatives from the Russians are traveling through the wilderness to draw the new borders as negotiated by the peace treaty. It's not too often you see period horror, as most horror directors seem unwilling to move further back than the 70's, the golden age of hippies, who everyone likes seeing murdered, and maybe best of all, an age without cellphones, thus ridding them of the at times herculean task it apparently is to account for cellphone and GPS technology in ye olde chainsaw & meathook murder brouhaha, but again, I digress.

The two brothers are marked by war in their own ways. Eerik, having killed 73 people during the war, is wrestling with his guilt and worries if peacetime will work for him, while the more bookish Knut spends equal time trying to map the area, wrestling with his own dark lusts and fleeing from the ghost of a girl who might have been another black mark on Eerik's record, or something more sinister entirely. The merry band is about ready to finish up and call it a day when they encounter a strange little town in the middle of a marsh. Trying to find out on which side of the border these strange folk belong, the party notices that the townsfolk seems to be scared of an abandoned sauna. What primitive folks these must be. Being afraid of a building is asinine.

....Right?

Well, turns out there's every reason to be afraid of this humble little den of nonspecific evil. In many ways, the building is quite an effective villain, as it eventually draws Knut in, leaving Eerik to wrestle with his demons and eventually trying to save the day, or at least himself. I've got a tendency to overuse this word, but in lieu of a more fitting word, you could say that the building has a subtle wrongness about it. It could be that it's because it's partially submerged in the water, or that it's darker in there than there strictly speaking should be, see below, or maybe it's just one of those naturally creepy buildings.

See the walls on the bottom part? Me neither

Of course, this isn't merely a movie about a creepy location, that'd be silly. As one would expect in a movie about ones own darker sides, fears, regrets etc, character development is important, and the mysteries around their actions and personal ghosts (both figuratively and literally) play a large part in pushing us forward until they discover the titular location, which some interpretations claim is a gate to hell. Despite there being some good arguments for this, a conversation early on about how hell's fires may not be fiery cleansing but a bleak place devoid of God's presence, seems to fit the bill fairly well, I'm personally leaning a bit more about it being more a descent into ones own darker side. Well, there's multiple interpretations to be had here, as much is to be sure.

Visually, this film is impressive, it has that handheld feel to it that makes it feel somewhat more dynamic, and the lighting is pretty good, especially when considering this entire thing was made for 1 Million Euros, or about 1,3 Million dollars. Compare, if you will, Tommy Wiseau's three million dollar-train-wreck The Room, which looks like shit. Sure, The Room is a special case, but when you can see all that can be done with 1,3, it becomes a good bit more jarring.

Again, I kind of get the same feeling I got when trying to cover Antichrist, I feel that I should cover more, or more in-depth, but it's just not coming to me. Well, I guess you can just take this as a light-on-spoilers recommendation of a different, but good, horror flick.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Norwegian horror spotlight: Skjult

Norwegian horror used to be such a mixed bag of candy, and I guess it still is, but overall, I feel the quality has been improving since the release of Villmark. This modern retelling of the Norwegian physiological horror masterpiece "De dødes tjern" or "The Lake of the Dead" maybe wasn't the scariest, but it had some pretty good moments what horror is concerned, for example there was a scene where someone (or something) tries to strangle one of our heroes through his tent. From an effect standpoint, it wasn't anything special, but the sheer simplicity of the horror paired with pretty good acting made it an image that sticks to my mind even now, almost seven years later.

Simple, and disturbing

You could say this movie opened a lot of doors, and paired with Norwegian cinema in general starting to work its hardest to not suck in the mid-to-late 00's, this meant that good horror would eventually be made. After faffing about with Friday 13th wannabes like Fritt Vilt (Cold Prey internationally) for a while, Norwegian filmmakers decided it was time to be original again. Don't get me wrong, the first "Fritt Vilt" wasn't bad, and the visuals were properly grim and gritty, like horror movies had to be in the 00's, but it, and it's sequel(s) were cookie-cutter slashers, and by that virtue not very exciting. Of course, they're good compared to the less fortunate examples, chief among them, Rovdyr (Manhunter internationally,) which despite it's pretty cool poster was an absolute snorefest, like most slashers deprived of sympathetic characters, but, unlike most slashers, gifted with killers so one-dimensional they make Jason look like Don Vito Corleone.


So, why this little recap on what's what in new Norwegian horror? Call it an introduction to the movie I want to talk about, a movie that has the same main character as Vilmark, the reawakening of Norwegian horror mentioned above. Yes, our friend Kristoffer Joner rejoins us in this somewhat different slasher, Skjult. Or "Hidden," not to be confused by Hanecke's film with the same name. Skjult follows the story of Kai Koss as he returns to his childhood home after the death of his abusive mother. Kai was flat-out tortured and isolated by his mother as a child, but escaped. Now that this hellish harpy is dead, Kai plans to burn down his (excessively creepy) childhood home. All would be well, hallucinations and general creepiness notwithstanding, except a string of murder rocking the little town. Kai is left wondering if his mother found a new victim after his escape, a victim who now rages free after years of torture. It's also possible that it's all in his mind, and the killer is him.

So yes, basically, it's a slasher viewed from an outsiders viewpoint. We see teens get drunk in the abandoned house, and some time later we see what's left of them, but we don't get the standard "hey, let's go to Mrs. Murderslash' abandoned orphanage and get wasted"-feel to it. In general, the movie is more about KK, as he's nicknamed, as he tries to figure out if he's going crazy, or if there's really someone out there. All the while avoiding suspicion for the multiple murders, of course.

"Hey gang, let's go there"
The story has its weak sides, most notably there's a bit of idiot plot going on, but mostly in minor details, except, of course, that KK would be much better off not going to the creepy house where multiple people have been killed in the middle of the night to investigate something, or being suspicious in general, but it wouldn't be any fun if we had any hard evidence that the killer actually isn't KK.

You see, as a genre savvy horror movie fan, this movie made me chase my tail quite a bit. The idea of the protagonist being the killer without knowing it isn't a new idea, and this movie teased the idea mercilessly. We're given some hints to the fact that the killer is in fact a separate individual from KK, but most of them can be chalked up to an unreliable narrator anyway, and when our hero confronts the killer, and does a Marx Brothers Mirror Routine with him, it doesn't exactly get more clear. Now, the ambiguity makes the movie fairly exciting, I'm left wondering if the movie wants me to think the killer is real or not, and if he ends up being real or not. In the end, you can say we get our closure, but if you subscribe to the "KK is major-leauge dancing mad," I guess there's not really anything to debunk it in the end. Of course, it's all interpretation.

I personally think this movie will appeal to anyone who's into a little deconstruction, although I guess more standard slasher fans can also get their jollies without much of a problem. Of course, it's probably a more entertaining movie if you don't mind a little ambiguity in your hack slash murder fun, but it's pretty creepy regardless.

Why did it have to be dolls?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A l'intérieur

À l'intérieur. Christ. Just... yes, À l'intérieur. Here be spoilers and seriously fucked up mental images.

So, this film is actually quite basic what horror movie plots are concerned. A pregnant woman looses her boyfriend in a car accident, and four months later, when she's quickly approaching the time to give birth, she starts getting stalked by a woman who seems... rather interested in her soon-to-be little bundle of joy. Her fascination manifests in the form of scissors, no points in guessing what she's going to use those for.

I'm a bit uncertain what to think of this movie. On one hand, it does what it's supposed to do hella good. I'm not quite certain what does so goddamn well, but the thought of a pregnant woman being put through The Strangers-levels of peril that just makes me uneasy. Not to mention that the whole "scissor C-section"-thing being teased from very early on, leaving that particular mental image to simmer in your mind until the end. Overall, the film is fairly similar to The Strangers, even though the body count is a good bit higher and the antagonist quite often is a bit more in the open.

My biggest complaint to the movie, though, is that the supporting cast, or cannon-fodder, as they end up being, are all fairly stupid. I mean, our villain du jour isn't some super-strong hillbillly, she's a fairly normal woman, her Audition-levels of The Crazy notwithstanding. When she manages to take out as many people as she does, most of them police officers, it does display some of that tried-and-true slasher movie stupidity. Granted, one of the most impressive things about this film is how it uses dramatic irony. More than once, our scissor-wielding psychopath manages to avoid capture by pretending either to be her intended victim or a relative of hers while our poor protagonist has barricaded herself in the bathroom, and although it gets old eventually, it is very suspenseful

A l'intérieur is a movie I'm a little bit ambivalent about recommending, partially because I find its imagery particularly disturbing, and also because it flips between tense physiologic horror and a sort of Slasher-type idiot plot that makes it sort of hard to take said imagery all that much more uncomfortable. Still, if you hanker for something profoundly fucked up and can't get yourself to see Irreversible, give it a shot

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Marble Hornets

I love the internet. You surf your merry way through its various nooks and crannies, and suddenly you find something, sometimes this something is funny, other times it's exciting or sad, and yet again other times, it's flat out fucking terrifying. You see, from the dark dungeons of Tvtropes, I was lead to a... well, I'm not certain what I should call it, so I'll just call it a series for now, on Youtube, called Marble Hornets.

The story of Marble Hornets follows the tale of the filming of the eponymous student film, and how the set, and the director in particular, is harrassed by a mystical well-dressed character of some considerable height, or wait, that's not quite how the story goes. You see, a friend of the director gets his hands on massive amounts of raw footage from the unfinished Marble Hornets. The director, Alex, doesn't want anything to do with it, as he has given up the entire project and refuses to elaborate as to why. After some persuasion, the friend, only referred to as J, gets the entirety of the tapes recorded for and around the movie, in trade, J agrees to never mention the film to Alex again.

In some sort of jumbled order, we are presented with cuts of the film and other segments recorded with a handheld camera, detailing Alex' progressive paranoia and the strange tall man whose coming is heralded by the audio on the camera cutting out, or possibly being cut out. To add to it all, the youtube reply segments are added from a second user, a mystical user by the name of "totheark." These are definitely more cryptic, alien almost, but occasionally show signs of being related to the segment it replies to, some times being parts of the happening from a different angle, implying whatever's stalking the set, and eventually J, is the one uploading them. All in all, it's one big clusterfuck of layers and layers, where the narrator occasionally takes on the mantle of hero, or victim, while some alien force seems to be able to transcend the bonds of narrative structure. It's eerily familiar.

Yes, you could say this whole experience reminds me of House of Leaves, and that's a good thing and a really, really bad thing all at the same time. You see, while the postmodern take on the role of narrators is refreshing, and the mystery surrounding the whole thing is very interesting, it's frankly starting to unnerve me. I feel I shouldn't even be writing this, lest I turn into some third-rate Johnny Truant-copy, tormented by the maddening truth of the fiction (?) I'm confronted with, haunted by a spectral beast that either is the monster of the story or the monster of my mind. And still I write. Wonder what that says about me? But I digress.

Much of the absolute terror that's inspired from this meta-narrative is extremely subtle. For example, there's one segment which is essentially one character in front of a window, talking about the titular film, and I still can't decide whether the mysterious tall man is standing on the other side of the window or not. You'll see, while watching this story, that a man in a tux is disturbingly difficult to pick out from a poorly illuminated background dominated by dark colors. Either that, or I've been imagining things, which definitely isn't good. Don't get me wrong, there's the occasional jump scare too, but they're fairly clever. For example, audio glitches of various types plague the film, and when one of them comes 'round, they come 'round LOUD, and since you're so immersed in the story, such sudden boos hit hard. Of course, that's to say nothing of the violent brainfuck that happens in Entry #19, but I'll let y'all cross that bridge when you get to it.

All in all, I like the Marble Hornets experience. I think it's a good thing when young filmmakers try to really play with the mediums at their disposal, in this case Youtube and Twitter, and make a story that really uses every aspect of these sites. I'm yet again drawing parallels with House of Leaves, but the two works have a lot in common. The series is still ongoing as far as I can tell, and it can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/MarbleHornets Don't say I didn't warn you, though. I watched the 24 episodes available in one sitting, and I'm starting to regret it.