Monday, October 31, 2011

Slowzombie Halloween Spectacular

Ok, not so spectacular, maybe, but I figured this'd be a good time to talk about one of my favorite Halloween horror movies, namely Trick 'R Treat, a Halloween-themed horror anthology released in 2009. It's movies such as these that makes even the iconoclastic goblin that resides in my skull throw up his immaterial hands and say "Fine, we'll do tradition."

The movie's set in a small town well renowned for their celebration of All Hallows', wherein a small boy, or boy-like creature, dressed in a sackcloth mask trudges around, reminding one and all about the immutable rules of Halloween. Some require more reminding than others, and somewhat more... hands-on methods are chosen for some cases and infractions In two of the stories, he features prominently, but in the others, he's pretty much just there, seemingly unnoticed by everyone.

I'm really not going to discuss the stories at length, as to avoid spoilers, but a couple of them are fairly clever. Granted, there were a couple of times where I ended up going "uh, wait," to myself, but the movie's fun nonetheless. I can't quite place my finger on why it works, but overall, it flows very well, and it's fun, in that sorta-cheesy, sorta-scary way that such films as Drag Me To Hell manage so well. It's a horror movie that I'd have no problems using to ease someone into the genre, and probably a pretty nice party movie. Just a little tip for next year.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tucker and Dale vs Evil

This was a movie I honestly was a little skeptical of. I'm not opposed to horror comedies, the concept certainly has worked before, and the actors involved, at least the two main characters are played by actors that, on occasion, can be quite funny. So, what was the problem? I'm not quite sure, but it might have been the trailer. Trailers for comedy movies seldom work in my opinion, not sure why, it might be a timing thing or a question of the setup.

Well, deciding to ignore the boiling tar pit of pessimism for once, I ended up seeing the movie, and I'm glad I did. T&DvE isn't really a horror film per se, but it uses so many horror elements it's almost not funny. One could call it a hillbilly-style slasher from the point of view of two terrified hillbillies. Tucker and Dale, the aforementioned hillbillies, travel to a decrepit cottage to refurbish it for summer home usage. Things get zany when a visiting bunch of camping college students mistake the heroes' attempts at saving a friend of theirs as the precursor to some Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style violent shenanigans. Long story short, one of the college students is a violent psychopath, and he rallies his compatriots to go kick hillbilly ass. It goes hilariously wrong for both parties.

See, this movie is heavy on the darkest of dark black comedy, and that most visceral of slapstick, or splatstick as I have come to call it. Our heroes doesn't want to hurt anybody, but that doesn't mean people don't get hurt, oh no, far from it. A whole lot of attack rolls are botched, if you forgive the geekiness, so the college students manage to off themselves in utterly ridiculous manners, my favorite being accidental suicide by wood chipper. It's silly, yes, and it certainly requires a Looney Tunes Meets Evil Dead-esque mindset, but if you can get into that, you'll probably have a lot of fun.
Pictured: Not what it looks like

The characters in this movie would be fairly unremarkable, but compared to usual horror fare, it's not horrible, The main characters, at the very least, are fairly charming, at least to the point where one's willing to accept their lapses in judgement, temporary or persistent as they may be, and that's something a lot of both comedies and horror movies just can't do. Coupled with the above-mentioned black comedy, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil makes a fun time to be had for all, although it's certainly more fun if you're familiar with the hillbilly slasher sub-subgenre.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Australian horror double feature

Now that's a blog title I never thought I'd write, but what would this blogging thing be without the occasional surprise, right? By entirely random chance, I ended up watching two horror movies from down under in the same day. What are the odds, right? Well, one of them have been on my backburner for quite a while, while the other one just sounded like a rollicking good time, well, for me, at least partially terrifying to most folks, but enough about that.

I honestly didn't think Australia makes much horror. Of the top of my head, I could only remember Wolf Creek, in all it's fucked-up-terrifyingness and Undead, the cult film that unfortunately never got around to culting. Further research, read: wikipedia, reveals that the island of a thousand and one poisonous things also gave us Queen of The Damned, that one Cthulhu film that didn't have all that much to do with Cthulhu and The Howling III: The Marsupials, a movie I now must watch, if nothing else for the sheer masterfulness of the trainwreck that movie probably is. So, the track record's a bit... uneven, to say the least, but let's just see if these movies nudge the average up a bit.

First up, we have Lake Mungo. Even as a person who attaches no stigma to the label, perhaps the opposite, I feel ambivalent about calling this movie a horror movie. On one hand, it's about ghosts and the afterlife, shot in documentary-vision, a bit like A Haunting In Connecticut would be if it wasn't... insufficient and not thought-through. enough, but on the other hand, it seems to be more of a character thing, how our main characters react to what may or may not be a ghost, I'd call it soft sci-fi if the movie actually shot for some sort of a scientific explanation for this whole ghost thing.

The story follows a family after the death of their daughter. Their tribulations get compounded when it seems they may be haunted by the ghost of their daughter. Scare-wise, it's very effective, using slow build and a refreshing lack of pomp and circumstance, not to mention pretty awesome atmosphere building. Also, it's a bit of a mindbender in that the actual ghostly presence isn't thoroughly explained, see the "may" in my ultra-short synopsis. Sure, at the end, there's some substantial evidence some sort of nebulous shit went down, but the focus isn't on a confrontation with the supernatural, but rather the family coping with the untimely death. Despite what sounds like a heartwarming family-centric remake of "Ghost," though, I maintain the scary bits are pretty damn scary, especially since they're so low-key as to slip in past ones guard. Oh, and an American remake is in the work, pretty much no way they can screw this one up, nosir.

The second one is The Tunnel. This was a movie I only heard about recently. Released this spring, it's fairly unique, in that they offer the entire thing free on bittorrent. Yup, you heard me, they're basically giving this thing away, financing the movie through crowdsourcing and, another strange idea, selling individual frames in the movie. It's a bit of an indie wet dream really, reasoning that if people really likes the product, they will donate, be it for owning a tiny part of the movie, or just supporting the makers. It's an idea I really like, and if it continues to produce movies like this, I'm a happy camper.

So, for those in doubt, I liked The Tunnel. If I were to be extremely laconic, I could call it "Rec Mark 2." Yes, it's another Found Footage-film with a professional cameraman thrown into the mix, as a camera team decide to investigate the tunnels below Sydney, following rumors of homeless people disappearing and a controversial water plant plan that the government just suddenly abandoned. Of course, being hard-hitting journalists, they go in without informing the authorities, and surprise surprise, there's something down there that's none too friendly.

This one suffers from some of the same problems as [REC], in that the start is very slow, but unlike [REC], I feel the start is used a bit more constructively, building up the characters, an important step, I may remind you, in the process of building up a character and then breaking them down that a lot of movies that aim to do the latter forget. Once things goes down, though, the scares starts slowly building up, all the while giving out the occasional hint, and little more just what the hell is after our heroes, and in the end, we're not much closer to exactly what this thing is, and I, for one, think it works pretty well that way. Sure, it could be viewed as a low-budget trick, probably because it, on some level, is, but it's used really well, and the means used to conceal the full visage of the Whatever-The-Hell-It-Was never seem forced. Sure, they seem frustrating as hell, the times we're placed dangerously close to the thing,  but luckily, most of these moments hectic as all hell, so it's not a problem one reflects over much, except possibly in retrospective. It also helps that the beastie displays intelligence and predatory sadism, without really showing any of that pesky comprehensibility that in my opinion bogged down [REC]2's zombies. It's fast, it's ugly, it wants to eat frighteningly specific parts of you, and it's hunting. Outstanding.
At this point in the movie, only the three pictured characters are alive. 
Astute observers will notice the night vision camera is still being operated by someone.

The movie is pretty damn tense, much in thanks to the nearly entirely dark tunnels, hand-held cameras and  the aforementioned superfast hunter thing. The film uses darkness very effectively, although you may not like this experience if prolonged bouts of nightvision bothers you. The characterization is above average, but it's mostly used as a tool to progress the story, with a handful of instances of characterization for characterization's sake, which isn't bad for a movie this type. Acting's decent for a movie as small as this, and although it probably won't win any big awards, didn't put me out of the situation, which is always a good thing.

All in all, The Tunnel may be a serious contender for my favorite Found Footage Film, although I think I'll need to see how it holds up upon rewatching before I can make a final verdict. That said, it's refreshing to see a found footage film with proper denouement. Without spoiling anything,  the ending also contains a somewhat surprising emotional point. It's not mind melting or anything, but it's a nice perspective from a subgenre that 9 out of 10 times end with the cameraman being killed and/or dragged off. Regardless, you can't beat the price, so I highly recommend checking it out.