Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stephen King's IT (1990)

Get a cup of coffee and get comfortable, because this is going to be a long one—truly an unnecessarily long post for an unnecessarily long film.

I recently told my friend Allen that I had just watched Stephen King’s IT (1990) and his immediate response was, “And it wasn’t as good as you wanted it to be, right?” Indignant, I replied, “NO, IT IS GREAT AND YOU SIR ARE INCORRECT FOR SAYING OTHERWISE.” Truthfully, he was right—it is not as good as I wanted it to be, but I always come back to it because it holds a special place in my little black heart.

My mom was really into Hitchcock when I was growing up, so I was exposed to horror from a young age. I have a very distinct memory of watching the episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that told the tale of "The Monkey’s Paw" while eating spaghetti and being so afraid that I started to imagine that the spaghetti was intestines and I THREW UP. I think I was probably about ten years old when I came across the novelization of IT in the local library. My parents were largely hands-off at this point and were definitely not aware that I was in my room, filling my tender child brain with scenes of graphic violence and also, some weird sexy scenes. A few years later, I found a VHS copy of the movie at one of those Blockbuster Video store sales and took it home with me.

It scared the living shit out of me.

IT was also the catalyst that really threw me wholeheartedly into horror. I went back to the Blockbuster sale a few days later and bought VHS copies of Halloween, Friday the 13th and Night of the Living Dead. Impeccable taste, right? Also, if I was terrified at IT, imagine me in a basement watching Night of the Living Dead and being so afraid to go upstairs that I had to hold my cat Gizmo in front of me so that any zombies would get him instead of me (sorry buddy).

IT was the first horror movie I had ‘discovered’ on my own and it felt really important and special to me. As an adult, it took me two nights to watch it because WHY is it 192 minutes long? I need to sleep, you know? Approximately 30% of the movie is flashbacks, and you know it’s a flashback because it is just a replay of a scene you watched an hour ago. Did they think we wouldn’t remember? Also, whose idea was it to do THREE musical montages set to the Curtis Mayfield song “It’s Alright”? Three of these, in three hours? C’mon fuckin guys.

There are a lot of other things wrong with this film. Beverly as an adult is such an incredibly terrible character that I honestly wish she had been murdered by the clown (although I think I just remembered that in the book, as a child, she has sex with all the other members of the Losers’ Club while they are down in the sewers. Come on, Bevvie.) Henry Bowers is definitely not threatening enough. In fact, the entire second half of the movie (which was originally aired on network TV as a two-part miniseries) really kind of sucks.

But there are also a lot of things right with IT: Clowns are indisputably scary.Tim Curry is a god among men; I will hear no arguments to the contrary. The first half of the movie is still pretty damn frightening.  The balloon of blood coming out of Bev’s bathroom sink makes for a super good scene (although the line “we’re all the dead kids!” coming from inside the drain is probably the worst-written and most laughable in the entire movie.)

Overall, the acting outside of adult Bev and adult Eddie is actually pretty good. The child actors are particularly good: Seth Green is adorable, and let us please not forget our fallen brother, Jonathan Brandis.

True and mostly unrelated story: my first job out of college was a temp gig doing data entry. When I arrived on the first day, I found that I’d be working with another temp who was about my age, a really fashionable girl named Liz who convinced  me to switch from Camel Lights to Parliament Lights and also to brush my hair before I left the house. The temp that had worked on the project before us had apparently been really inept, and it had taken her weeks to do what we could do in a few hours. However, we worried incessantly about the job ending because neither of us had anything else lined up, so we used the low expectations of our employer to our advantage and spent literally days on the internet doing nothing. In our infinite clicking into the internet in a pre-social media world, we got really into reading Jonathan Brandis suicide memorial pages together and we are still great friends to this day. I credit JB with this victory. Thank you, sweet prince.

I guess now that I’ve made Jonathan Brandis into a cartoon angel, there’s really nothing more for me to say. THEY ALL FLOAT DOWN HERE. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Insidious (2011)

It’s taken me awhile to write this review of Insidious (2011) because I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. Actually, I’m still not sure. It’s a generic concept—a happy family moves into new home and all hell breaks loose (optional: something baaad has happened in the past that they are trying to escape) with a particular focus around the mother who is far too svelte for having birthed three children in seemingly six years. Okay, I guess I can get behind that, plus I really like the word ‘insidious.’

The central plot of the film is that one of the three aforementioned children falls into an unexplained coma and does not wake up for months upon months. Doctors, naturally, are stumped. Then strange things begin to happen in the house because why wouldn’t they? Time to call in the psychics! This particular set of psychics and ghosthunters inform the family that their son has astral projected into a place called “the Further”—which, let’s be honest, is a terrible name for another realm of scary shit—and someone has to go get him back. What lives in the darkness that is “the Further”? If you guessed (spoiler alert) pinup girls with shotguns…well, 10 horror movie points for you.

You know, the great philosopher of our time Harvey Danger once said, “well, if you’re bored then you’re boring.” I decided that since I am bored just writing this up, this movie must have been boring. There were some good jump scares in it and the twist at the end is okay, though it’s a really obvious plot device to set up a sequel (see also: Friday the 13th, Halloween, and every other horror movie that has ever existed in series form). I can’t even get excited about drawing it because I can hardly remember a memorable scene. 

Well uh, I guess that's that. I feel like I've barely had any horror-watching this month and the day after tomorrow is Halloween. I'm thinking I'll review a couple classics over the next week or two instead of venturing into Netflix territory, particularly because my friend Mike argued SO PASSIONATELY that I need to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 that he stepped off a curb directly into traffic and nearly lost his life. So, you know, I guess I owe him that much!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bong of the Dead (2011)

For months, Bong of the Dead (2011) has been at the top of my “recommended for Katie” list on Netflix. What does this say about me?

In all honesty, I love horror comedy. I mean, everyone loves the Evil Dead series, but I would even lump two of my all-time favorite films—Beetlejuice and Monster Squad—into this category.  I like stoner comedy: Cheech & Chong were childhood staples; Half Baked was a college staple. My band even once recorded the theme song for a Comedy Central pilot called “Stoners with a Time Machine”—all twelve seconds of it, and you can find it here.

So truthfully, by all accounts Netflix had it right. The straight-to-video classic Bong of the Dead was my destiny. 
(Also, the tagline “There will be bud” is good. I admit it, it is.)

The film opens with a ten minute sequence depicting a meteor falling to earth, I think, and then this old guy puts his hand into the crater, I guess, and pulls out some gelatinous muck that causes him to become a zombie, it would seem. He eats his wife and then she becomes a zombie and they eat each other. There is no dialogue in this sequence, only grunts.

I turned to Rob and asked, “What the hell are we watching?”
“I think it’s a Soundgarden* video.”
Cue the opening credits, and then we are introduced to our two stoner protagonists. I did not catch either of their names, just that one of them is wearing a “Team Weed” shirt. Then they started talking. Listen, I get it. Stoned people stereotypically speak a certain way. There is a way to do this well—Rory Cochrane as Slater in Dazed & Confused, Jason Segel in basically every episode of “Freaks & Geeks”, and so on. 

Then there are these guys.

No. Just…just no. I didn’t even make it through their introductory scene that consisted of waving around a glass jar filled with a substance that looked like slime from “You Can’t Do That on Television” that had…something to do with the zombies? I think it was maybe a mashup of...their brains? I couldn’t even tell you. I was out.

The Netflix time counter says we made it through 15 minutes. It felt like a goddamn hour. I guess there will not be bud.

*I know that this is the second reference to Soundgarden in under a month and I seriously don’t even care. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Les Vampires (1915-16), Episodes 4-8

It was originally my intention to cover every episode of Les Vampires one by one, but I can’t. The plot keeps twisting and turning, and I don’t want to give away any of it because I really think that everyone should watch this series. For your reference, I am pretty sure that each episode is on YouTube (but you didn’t hear that from me.)

In the last five episodes, a lot of stuff has happened.

A train passenger got stabbed in the ear with a hat pin!
A body fell out of a secret door in a closet!


Okay, that last little bit required some suspension of disbelief but the point remains: Les Vampires is so good and so engaging. I have seriously not been so excited to find out what happens next in a series since I watched 'The X-Files' pilot for the very first time(don’t you dare judge me) several years ago. Last night we realized that we only have two episodes left, each about an hour long, so we’ll finish up next week. I honestly feel bummed about it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish this 7-hour silent French crime story would keep going.

I know I mentioned this in my previous Les Vampires post, but prior to watching this, I definitely had a bias against silent cinema. I felt like it made it difficult to connect with the characters, that the storylines weren’t engaging and that it just wasn't for me. Les Vamps has definitely proven me wrong: in last night’s viewing, something happened that cause all four viewers to audibly gasp. I am pretty sure I covered my mouth and Kristina put both her hands on her head in shock. Dudes, we are into this big time. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Well it’s October, which normally means all horror all the time in my house but by some kind stroke of karma from the gods, the Pittsburgh baseball Pirates are still playing baseball. WE ARE STILL PLAYING BASEBALL! IN OCTOBER! so horror-watching has been a bit light.

Last week during an off night, we watched the Canadian slasher film My Bloody Valentine (1981). As soon as I saw the cover image, I remembered that I had watched the 3D remake of it several years ago but I had the wrong side of the disc in the DVD player, so it wasn’t actually in 3D and I was just squinting through these crappy glasses for nothing. As a result, I actually didn’t remember much of the plot.

Like all great slasher films, the plot is that a bunch of bad stuff happens on the anniversary of a bad thing happening. Actually, that statement could probably be amended to cover all slasher films period. Do the bad things ever just happen out of the blue in slashers? I can’t really think of one that does.  In the case of My Bloody Valentine, the anniversary is of a mining accident twenty years prior that caused the deaths of five miners and the immense trauma of the sixth, a man named Harry Warden. The accident could have been avoided, had the mine supervisors not been so anxious to get themselves over to the town Valentine’s Day dance. One year after the accident, the lone survivor murdered the two supervisors with a pickaxe (best weapon, seriously) then ripped out their hearts and put them into decorative chocolate boxes with a warning to the town to never have another Valentine’s dance OR ELSE. As far as warnings go, a human heart inside a heart-shaped chocolate box is really badass.
So, I am really into this premise for two reasons. 1) it’s 50% classic slasher and 50% Footloose (“You won't get any dancing here, it's illegal!”) and 2) I also hate dances so I can really get down with the idea of murdering people for having one. For sure. For whatever reason, two decades later the town decides to have this Valentine’s Day dance anyway and people start turning up dead. Guess who’s back! Back again! Naturally, some teenagers decide to have a party anyway because teenagers are dumb and often deserve to die, and naturally they decide to have it at the mine because WHAT COULD BE MORE SAFE THAN THAT?

The costuming of the killer (full mining gear complete with mask) is a really great choice because it incorporates the eerie expressionlessness of Michael Myers from Halloween and Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th—somehow it’s so much scarier to not see any sort of countenance or emotion on the face of the killer. All in all, My Bloody Valentine has some pretty good scares and decent death scenes and a nice twist at the end, so I was pretty pleased with it if not terribly frightened by it. I was about to call it a night and stroll leisurely upstairs to bed when I remembered being told that this version I was watching courtesy of Amazon Instant stream was actually the edited version, and an uncut version had been released later by a different studio. As it turns out, a full nine minutes of pure, graphic, gory horror were cut from the original version of the film to maintain a tolerable rating. I found the uncut scenes on Youtube and? And? And? Holy shit. They are awesome. Please seek out the unedited version of this movie and watch them—I  don’t want to spoil all of them, but I am going to spoil this one.

Yessss! Pickaxes are definitely the best weapons. Also, yes, I am aware that this blog is just denigrating into me drawing gruesome pictures with lots of blood like a child who isn't getting enough attention at home. It can't be helped.

So, I was scared after all. I’m not sure what it is about slashers as a genre, but I feel like my post-slasher ritual is to start out walking up the stairs and then find myself at a full run, two-steps-at-a-time, there's-definitely-something-chasing-me-oh-my-god by the top. I’m almost 30. This is who I am. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Bay (2012)

I should start this post by saying that I went into The Bay (2012) with extremely low expectations, which I do think helped it out a lot. It started when I told Rob that he could pick a movie on Netflix. In our house, “picking a movie on Netflix” actually means “selecting two movies and giving the other person a choice because neither of us is capable of making an actual decision or accepting responsibility for anything.” Rob picked The Bay and something else that sounded so bad, I can’t even remember. Because I am a baby, I balked at both choices and he was like, “but we’ve watched everything on Netflix that’s good already! And this is less than an hour and a half!”

Infallible argument.

Then I noticed that The Bay was directed by Barry Levinson, who has directed a few movies I actually like, such as Sleepers and Rain Man (if only because I use the phrase “I…I’m an excellent driver” at least twice a month) and he was very recently the executive producer of the excellent BBC America television drama “Copper” which was just cancelled at the end of the second season and I am terribly bummed about it. So okay, this might have potential but I was not holding my proverbial breath. 

Capitalizing on the ‘found footage’ trend—which I generally sort of dislike because shaky camera work makes me feel nauseated and I’m old, so like, just make me a movie and make me like it, okay?—The Bay is narrated by a young woman named Donna Thompson who is recounting the horrific events of a 4th of July town celebration in a seaside Maryland town along the Chesapeake Bay. It splices together scenes of Donna reporting as an intern for the local TV news station and a few other footage sources: an ER doctor who tries valiantly to clean up the mess, the CDC who are basically bureaucratic jerks (obviously) and then personal footage from a handful of other sources: a teen girl who is FaceTiming her friend, the camera from inside a police car, the personal footage from a young couple with a baby who are sailing to the town and have no idea what has happened there. We also see clips from a duo of oceanographers who had been researching the bay and were found dead months before the July 4 debacle.

The town thrives on seaside tourism and the poultry farming industry but lo and behold, the chicken farmers had been allowing runoff to roll into the bay, tainting the water supply. Suddenly, at the 4th of July festivities, people start breaking out into these disgusting skin boils and blisters, as though their flesh was eating itself from the inside. The entire town is swept into chaos and the hospital is overfilled. Bodies begin to litter the streets. We don’t yet know what’s causing the symptoms, but there are a bunch of excellently gross flesh-eating shots.

At this time I was really involved in dipping olives into hummus (only god can judge me) and actually started feeling pretty queasy, to Marley the fattest cat in the world's benefit.

Long story short, the environment! And corporate greed! And government coverups! Eventually, through the research of the late oceanographers, we find out that the culprit is not a flesh-eating bacteria caused by the toxicity of the water but in fact, GIANT ISOPODS. Isopods have really come into their own over the last few years thanks to internet memes, and I’m glad to see them getting their due as the horrifying and disgusting creatures they are.

Original here.

The big question is: how can these isopods grow to be such giant fucking monsters? And the answer is: steroids from the chicken farming runoff. They are growing so fast, they are like little crustaceous pro wrestlers. At this point, we start to see giant, juiced-up isopods EMERGING FROM THE LESIONS IN PEOPLE’S SKIN WHY, WHY IS THIS A THING? 

Ultimately, most of the town is wiped out by the isopod invasion and the government covers it up with a story about unseasonably warm water temperatures or something.

While The Bay was less horror and more “eco-documentary/warning-The-Happening-without-Marky-Mark’s-muscles-or-M.-Night-Shamalama’s-poor-storytelling”, it was still pretty sicknasty and a decent way to spend less than an hour and a half. As long as Netflix can keep movies that meet my low low expectations rolling in, I feel that my $17/month is well spent.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Les Vampires (1915-16), Episodes 1-3

Nearly a year ago, my friend Kristina told me about Les Vampires (1915-16), a silent French crime serial that clocks in at nearly 7 hours long. Last night, we finally started watching it. The film is broken into 10 episodes of varying length, and while it’s not truly a horror film, it’s definitely a thriller, even in silence. I realize that this is a terribly uncultured opinion to have but with the exception of Nosferatu, I have never been very into silent films and did not expect to be so engaged by Les Vampires. I have to say though, that I am seriously excited for next week’s session to see what happens to our ol’ pal Philipe, a reporter who is investigating the evil deeds of the crime syndicate known as Les Vampires.   

First, I should also say that I have minimal experience with serials. The few bits that I have seen have been composed of relatively lighthearted hijinks—Les Vampires is not that, at all. In fact, it’s pretty grim in both subject matter and aesthetics. Last night we watched the first three chapters, “The Severed Head”, “The Ring That Kills” and “The Red Cryptogram.” Guys, “The Severed Head” involved the severed head (shocking, I know, you did not see that coming) of a cop shoved into a box which appeared in a secret passageway behind a trick painting from which we had earlier seen a member of Les Vampires—who are not actual bloodsuckers but just super bad guys who wear all black clothing and scary hood-masks— appearing in the dark (with a blue filter) over our sleeping protagonist, Philipe.

Further, Les Vampires was shot in Paris during the heart of World War I and it looks eerily deserted in a lot of the shots. I regret to inform my readership that my WWI knowledge is shaky at best and I am not sure if a lot of the population fled when German troops marched on Paris in 1914 and Wikipedia is not giving me a quick answer, but I am going to go ahead and assume that is the reason. I hope you enjoyed this questionable European history lesson.

The second episode, “The Ring That Kills” is the shortest at only 15 minutes and depicts, um, a ring that can kill, administered by THE GRAND VAMPIRE. The victim is Philipe’s fiancé, a ballerina named Marfa. At first we laughed at her ballet outfit but then after watching the haunting ballet death scene, decided it would be a killer Halloween costume for Kristina.

I’ve tried to talk to her about the inappropriateness of trick-or-treating at age 29 but she just gets mad and is like CANDY IS FOR EVERYONE! so there isn’t really much I can do.

Below is the ballet scene; I can’t decide if it could be described as ‘haunting’ without the context of the rest of the episode, but I really like it and this is my blog so sorry boutcha.

The third episode, "The Red Cryptogram" involves Philipe protecting a notebook containing a cypher that describes the evil deeds of the Vampires, which he stole from the corpse of the Grand Inquisitor Vampire after tricking the other Vampires into shooting him. Shyeah. They kidnap Philipe’s poor old mother, for christ’s sake, they will stop at nothing! This episode is also the first appearance of our female villainous lead, Irma Vep (an anagram for Vampire, obvs), played by the mononymous actress Musidora, who is beautiful and evil and I don’t want to discuss her here just yet because she is clearly going to have a larger role in Les Vampires. I’ll get to her next week. 

Silent French cinema of the 1910's...who knew??

Monday, September 23, 2013

Urban Legend (1998)

After all the fawning I did over The Haunting in my last post, I felt like I needed to bring the expectations down a little bit. Enter: the free horror film network on Comcast OnDemand, FEARNET.

I was perusing the selection on Sunday morning, hanging over on the couch after my bff’s wedding Saturday night. The wedding afterparty was at a bar in Pittsburgh’s uptown which meant that in order to get home, we had to take a bus through Pitt and CMU’s campuses. The bus that picked us up was full of college kids and I started chatting with one tiny baby guy about where he’d been that night. He told me he had gone to see some band I’d never heard of and, indignant and drunk (my natural state), I asked him if he’d ever heard of Soundgarden. “Who?” he replied. I was stunned. I started polling the other freshfaced little shits on the bus around us—nothing. Blank stares. One girl was like, “I think I’ve heard of them?” I insisted that each of them download Superunknown and then went home and watched the “Fell on Black Days” video to make myself feel better.

The next morning I just felt like I, you know, wanted to relive the 90’s a little bit. I was hoping to find I Know What You Did Last Summer, but no luck…I had to settle for Urban Legend (1998). If you’ve not seen it or don’t remember it, the premise is that someone is killing college students based on urban legends, a premise so fantastic that it has been done approximately one million times.

Regardless, it actually worked out well for me because this movie is a veritable treasure trove of 90’s celebrities: Jared Leto as the hunky-but-unconvincing student journalist (everyone knows Jordan can’t read), Rebecca Gayheart (who is nearly 30 years old in this movie, and stunningly plays a high school student the following year in Jawbreaker) and her beautiful, beautiful hair as the best friend, that guy from The Mighty Ducks franchise and Dawson’s Creek as the gross rape-y friend, and Tara Reid as the girl with big boobs who talks about sex a lot.

Yes, I felt extremely creepy MS Paint-ing Tara Reid’s boobs. I really did.

The best casting in the whole film is Robert Englund as the folklore professor who teaches the urban legends course. Because who makes a better academic than Freddy Krueger?

Spoiler alert, there are actually no scary scenes in this movie. There are, however, a number of great horror movie clichés such as the completely inept authority figures, the main character’s dark past, the fact that the killer seems to be able to be in several places at once and also to escape death at every turn (two gunshot wounds, a fall from what appears to be a sixth story window, being thrown through a windshield off a bridge into cold murky water and yet, THEY LIVE!) The killer wears a navy blue coat with a fur-lined hood, thus obscuring their face. This must have been a wildly popular style of outwear in the 90’s on New England college campuses because literally every single character has one in their possession at some point in the movie.

The dénouement of the film involves the killer capturing our protagonist during a terrible storm, tying her up, waving a butcher knife around and threatening to exact their favorite urban legend, the kidney heist. That is also my favorite urban legend and the protagonist is completely unlikeable, so I decided to envision a different ending in which the killer wins.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Haunting (1963)

It was originally my intention to start off this blog with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which, as far as I am concerned, is the supreme ruler of all horror movies and the namesake of this blog.  
However, I am in the early stages of a screenplay project with my husband Rob and good friend Allen, so we have been doing some ‘research’ (ie, drinking all the beers and talking about movies) and last night we watched the super creepy atmospheric ghost movie, The Haunting (1963).

The movie is based on the Shirley Jackson novel “The Haunting of Hill House,” which I just read this summer. It was part of a collection of Jackson’s short stories and two novels that I bought at Half-Price Books. When the cashier rang me up, he complimented my stellar taste (obviously) and added, “Wait until you read the opening paragraph of ‘The Haunting of Hill House.’ It’s gonna blow your mind.”

And it did:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

So good! It also sets the stage for a creepy, eerie tale in which you never actually meet the ghost but are completely terrified nonetheless. The movie follows suit, which is awesome—the story could so easily be ruined by ghosties and ghoulies popping out all over the place but it is absolutely tastefully done. The biggest special effect (minor spoiler alert) is a bulging door and everything else is left completely to the imagination.

The story itself is 50% haunted house, 50% descent into madness, and it prominently features one of my favorite horror movie clichés, “the contemplative doctor has a mustache.”

Clearly the entire budget of the film was spent on the lavish set, which is full of insanely creepy shit like veiled statues and statues of eyeless, blank-faced cherubs and dark wallpaper, and this crazy spiral staircase that actually gave me vertigo just to look at it onscreen. I was going to try to MS paint the staircase but 1) I clearly do not have the skills to do it justice and 2) c'mon guy, I have a job! I got stuff to do!

I think the greatness of this film is not only in Jackson's story, but it's also rooted in the use of camera angles, lighting and sound that are presented in such a way that you are totally creeped throughout without ever laying eyes on a villain. I had legitimate goosebumps through a large portion of my viewing experience.

(Don’t let my companions' happy faces fool you, they were creeped too. Except Glenn the cat, he’s only into nunsploitation and torture films, and thought this shit was weak. Glenn has really poor taste; I don't know what to say about that.)

I honestly do hate to start this blog with a review that borders on calling its subject a masterpiece because I am by nature a person who loves (loves!) to make fun of stuff, but I have not a single bad thing to say about this film. Go watch it.