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.