Wednesday, August 31, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 9: Favorite Supernatural Horror Movie

Found footage films come in only two flavors. There are those that are believable and those that aren't. Cloverfield, although an excellent movie, would be an example of the latter. It largely come down to how the people involve behave and react. Paranormal Activity is definitely the former. Yes, the fact that they just keep recording when obvious phenomena occurs is somewhat suspect when you consider the average person would probably just shit themselves and run for the hills. But there is a class of people, albeit overly represented in horror films, who would stick it out either out of stubbornness, excess of pride, or stupidity.
I call this the Amityville/Poltergeist conundrum. I tend to think that most of us, if our walls ran with blood or chairs moved and stacked themselves in our dining room, would promptly scoop up the kids and skedaddle without a backward glance. That's why we would survive horror films. We have the "what? there's a masked man on the loose stabbing people and you just heard a noise outside or in the basement and think I should investigate, well no thank you" gene.
As I watch it again, I try to put myself in Micah and Katie's shoes and wonder what I would do differently. The short answer is bail.
There is a lot of exposition and slow moments in the film, but rather than bore the audience, it actually adds to the tension. As they set up the plot in the beginning, you do get a little of the "wouldn't they have had some of these conversations prior to this?" annoyance, but that actually goes away quickly.
I prefer the original ending to the theatrical version (I won't spoil either), but I understand the reasoning behind it. The camerawork is mostly done on tripod so there's very little of the shaky cam work that can make some people ill. The actors play their roles well and are very believable. If you haven't seen it yet, add it to your list. It's definitely creepy and chilling.
My rating is an 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 8: Favorite Foreign Horror Movie

When I sat down to make my lists seven days ago, I immediately thought of today's pick, Død Snø (Dead Snow) for best foreign horror. Let me set the scene for you. Ski trip in the Alps. Group of friends at a deserted cabin. Trapped. Perfect scenario for a horror film, correct? What's that? You want something more than that? How about I throw in zombies. Not the lumbering, foot dragging kind, mind you. The running, semi-intelligent kind. Still not enough? Looking for something that will set this movie apart? Did I mention the zombies were undead soldiers from World War II?German, undead World War II soldiers. 

Wait for it...


You had me at heil brains! It is dubbed in English, so you do have to put up with the lip synching issues, but watch it anyway. It's pure fun with surprisingly good make-up effects and everything. Because, there's nothing that ruins a good zombie film like bad makeup. at 91 minutes, it's not stealing any of your time and is enjoyable all the way through.
My score, a 7 out of 10 that mostly loses points because the dubbing can be a little annoying. If you don't mind subtitles, I'd watch it that way instead. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 7: A horror movie you think no one has seen

I immediately thought of this selection as soon as the category came up. While not, strictly speaking, a horror movie, it was on the Creature Double Feature program. I remember watching many a craptastically bad yet wonderful movie on Saturday mornings. You know the kind... When you can clearly see the zipper on the monster's costume and rubber suited giants crushed cardboard downtown Tokyo. 
Of all those fantastically bad movies, none is dearer to my heart than The Thing With Two Heads. Billed as THE MOST FANTASTIC MEDICAL EXPERIMENT EVER DARED!, it opens with Ray Milland's racist doctor working on a different kind of transplant. Starring Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier as the not quite willing death row transplant recipient, it becomes a case of "they transplanted a white bigot's head onto a soul brother's body!" The effects are so laughable it becomes a beautiful thing. You can plainly see that Milland is merely standing, stooping over Grier's shoulder wearing clothes made to fit two. It's like they didn't even try, despite the sincere acting efforts of evryone involved, which is surprisingly good. Hijinx ensue when Grier goes on the lam to keep investigating the crime he was sentenced for and prove his innocence.
The fact that Milland and Grier were able to keep straight faces during the shooting stands as testament to their professionalism as actors. The banter betwen the two is often humurous and the plot is absurd, but it's still a joy to watch. I was pleased to find a copy to watch and found myself as delighted as I was at an early age. If you can find it, give it a watch. It's a perfect group viewing movie for the Halloween season.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 6: Favorite Vampire Movie

It's Twilight!!!! No.. Even I can't make that joke. So bad, I crapped out of it after about 5 minutes. This may have been the toughest question yet. I am so torn between two favorites. I mean there's a great race for third place too, you've got The Lost Boys, Nosferatu, Innocent Blood, Salem's Lot, and the entire Subspecies series all vying for a place. But, there were two movies that immediately popped in my head. So, I decided to watch them both and make a decision then. That didn't really help, so I am going to cheat and create subcategories...

Favorite Vampire Movie - Comedy division
Fright Night - No, not the new one, the classic with the wonderful Roddy McDowall in all his glory. What do you do if your neighbor is a vampire? Probably not what William Ragsdale's Charlie Brewster does (it's probably easier to imagine what you'd do with a mannequin who comes to life, right?). It still holds up, except for the typically crappy 80's pop themes. Features a pre Marcy Darcy Amanda Bearse as the girl of Charlie's dreams, who ends up looking kind of hot as the vampire bride. But, it's the droll and dry delivery and composed, cocksure attitude of William Ragsdale (The Princess Bride) as the bloodsucker who makes this film push past cheesiness and into brilliance. Seriously, before you give into temptation and head out to see Colin Farrell in the remake. Do yourself a favor and rewatch the original.
My score... a solid 7 out of 10

Favorite Vampire Movie - Straight up horror division
30 Days of Night. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, it takes the premise of a town in Alaska plunging into 30 days of darkness as a vampire's (blood) wet dream. Awesomely chilling. I first got excited when I saw the trailer, and heard the head vampire answer a victim's prayer in broken english with "no God". Cut off from society in the boonies. No phones, no chance of help, and no chance of the sun's saving rays to come to your aid for quite a while. This is vampires done right. In the way that I love the new running zombie trend, it's scarier to see the cold-blooded, heartless version of the vampire, who is more realistic than the suave, man who has lived many lifetimes and seen everything seductive tone of the classic tale. Turn out the lights and imagine no escape. 30 Days of Night even boasts a strong performance from Josh Hartnett. Enough so that it actually convinced me to give Lucky Number Slevin a chance.
My score... a deserved 7.5 out of 10

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Stars - Chris Evans
          Hugo Weaving
          Hayley Atwell
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Summary: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending America's ideals.(via imdb). 
As a comic lover, Captain America was always a bit of an anomaly. As a hero, he's almost too good to be true. He represents everything the red, white, and blue should stand for. Maybe that's why his origin has to be told in the past. Maybe we're just not that society anymore. I look forward to seeing how he struggles to maintain relevance and adjust to the modern world in the sequels and The Avengers movie. 
Cap is ably played by Chris Evans, who manages to embody what Cap stands for without coming off like an elitist Boy Scout douchebag. Not such an easy feat to accomplish. The beginning of the movie, when we see a scrawny, weak Steve Rogers is nothing short of amazing. The CGI was seamless and believable. 
As Kenneth Branagh was a smart choice for Thor, so too is Joe Johnston a brilliant choice for this film. As the man who helmed The Rocketeer into existence, he has a great feel for the era and the way the world of that time should look and feel. He is as capable of handling the subtle love story as he is the awesome action sequences later in the film. Additionally, there are no weak spots in the acting either. True, Tommy Lee Jones is consigned to playing, well... Tommy Lee Jones, but he does it well. 
But, the true standout, other than Evans, is Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. Proving himself once again to be a subtly menacing bad guy. He plays it perfectly in a role that would be easy to overact and swing for the fences, he hits solid drives that score runs. This is an origin story, so there is a lot of explanation and introductions that has to happen, but, for me, the story never lags or suffers for it.

Paul (2011)

Stars - Simon Pegg
          Nick Frost
         Seth Rogen
Directed by: Greg Mottola
Summary: Two British comic-book geeks traveling across the U.S. encounter an alien outside Area 51.(via imdb). 
When Simon Pegg and Nick Frost get together and make a movie about something they have a passion for, it's a safe bet the funny will follow. Throw in the director of Superbad and Adventureland, and it goes one notch higher. Add to this enticing mix a soupcon of Seth Rogen and bake (literally for Rogen) and you have a comedic slice of fried gold. 
The movie makes the best use of all its bit players, especially standouts Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig and a slew of people and references from other alien encounter movies. Different musical cues and lines fly by homaging everything form the cute and cuddly (E.T.) to monster aliens (Aliens). Some of the cameos are absolutely pitch and note perfect. As the movie says, you'll know them when you see them. Wiig's religious nut who breaks out of her strictly controlled, Jesus is everything, Darwin be damned world is hilarious, and sometimes outshines the whole lot.
Infinitely watchable and enjoyable every minute, Paul will undoubtedly become the kind of movie men quote tirelessly and watch repeatedly. Especially the nerds amongst us who see themselves in a lot of the action.

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 5: Favorite Horror Remake

There have been a plethora of horror remakes/reboots/reimagining/whatever else you want to call it. Some get it right and honor the originals while adding to the mix (like The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) while others either change the mythos so completely or are heavy handed and take out the things that mad the films so great in the first place (I'm looking at you Halloween). The Last House on the Left is definitely the former. It is a loving and stylized homage to the original that understands what made that film such a classic, and truns the dial up a notch in the brutality department. Neither the original or the remake are movies for the faint hearted. When their young daughter is raed and left for dead, and the perpetrators show up at their house, her parents decide to take action on their own. 
When I first watched the original, I was young and had no children, so it didn't have as much emotional impact that it does for me today. But even then, I thought I would probably do the same thing. Now, I know I would. It's odd to find yourself rooting for the worst things to happen to people, but they couldn't deserve it more.
I absolutely loved this film and would recommend it even as a stand alone film. By all means, watch and love the original for what it is, but make sure to allot the time for this rarity of rarities, a sequel that actually excedes it's forebearer.
My rating, a sincere and deserving 8 out of 10

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Stars - Tyler Labine
          Alan Tudyk
          Katrina Bowden
Directed by: Eli Craig
Summary: Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids.(via imdb). 
Non specific  spoilers ahead. Beware
Horror comedy is a small subset of the genre, but there have been some incredible entries lately. So far, the gold standard has been Shaun of the Dead. While Tucker & Dale vs Evil isn't quite as good, but it's a close second. It's a wonderful case of mistaken identity, after which, hilarity (and a good bit of gore) ensues. 
Tucker and Dale are two dimwitted and well meaning hillbillies who are mistaken for killers by a group of college kids on a camping trip. As the college kids try to "survive" the killers and fight back, they do more damage to themselves than the putative "bad guys". Tudyk and Labine are hilarious as the hapless duo who just can't seem to catch a break. I laughed loud and heartily several times. This is going to be added to my must watch list for repeated viewings. I highly recommend it for lovers of comedy and horror alike.

Thor (2011)

          Natalie Portman
          Anthony Hopkins
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Summary: The powerful but arrogant warrior Thor is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live amongst humans on Earth, where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders.(via imdb). 
I have to hand it to Marvel Pictures. When they choose the directors for their movies, they really put some thought into it. Kenneth Branagh was a brilliant, if left field choice. Although he is more widely known for his Shakespeare adaptations, he lent this movie, which is somewhat flavored with that kind of dialog, the necessary gravitas it needed to be taken seriously.
Hemsworth looks so much like the cartoon version of Thor that it makes you wonder if his parents groomed him from a young age to play the part. His performance is good as the cocky Thor in the beginning, and borders on brilliant as he learns what it really means to be the Odin. Hopkins is exactly what you expect him to be and performs admirably. But, the real stand out in the cast is Tom Hiddleston as the god of mischief, Loki. He is mesmerizing and provides a real sense of menace and ambition that really delivers. Yes, some of the set pieces border on silly, but it's a rainbow bridge, what did you expect it to look like? And yes, the always impressive Idris Elba doesn't exactly look Norse in appearance, but casting scandals aside, he does a good job. You have to understand that, at its heart, it's an origin story, so there has to be some necessary exposition and the action won't kick in for  a while. I feel like Marvel knows what they're doing, and this film does its job well. It sets us one foot closer to The Avengers and sets up a sequel to come.

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 4: A horror movie you thought you'd love and didn't

I approached this entry intending to choose The Wolfman remake, but I've railed against how boring that movie was and how disappointing the CGI wolf was on Facebook before, so I thought I'd move on to my second choice, Jennifer's Body.
I really had high hopes for this movie as soon as I heard a description of it and I like Juno a lot, so having the same writer was a plus for me. And then the poster came out, and holy Jeebus and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Megan Fox looked so hot, my interest went up. Add to that the kiss between Fox and Amanda Seyfried, and I was ready to buy tickets and wait on line like a parent's basement Star Wars geek (no offense guys, I'm one of you).
Then, the movie came out and... oh dear God, it was bad. Megan Fox reminds me of another great horror actor, Bruce, the shark from Jaws. Take it from Robert Shaw... "And, you know, the thing about [Megan Fox]...[s] he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes." She puts the same emotion and conviction in her performance that a mostly broken mechanical shark does. Admittedly she's nice eye candy, but that only gets you so far. She never once portrays anything other than vapidness. On the other hand, I like Amanda Seyfried, who's no slouch in the looks department either. I found myself wondering how many times she called her management and bitched at them for putting her in this movie. Of all the dead bodies in this film, she is the greatest victim in this movie. The "bad guys" were lame and the action unfullfilling. I really can find almost no redeeming features to recommend this movie. It doesn't even qualify as a good bad movie.
My score for Jennifer's Body is a generous 2 out of 10 and that's mostly a pity score.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 3: Favorite classic horror movie

In thinking of this entry, my mind automatically went to the slasher heyday of the 80s, a real boon period in the American horror film timeline. But, the real question became what defines a classic. To me, it's when a film of any genre can be watched in any generation and maintain its relevance. The collected works of Alfred Hitchcock do just that. Although his pacing is a little slow for the modern quick cut ADD audience, the man knew how to deliver the goods. A prime example of his genius is a little film called Psycho. A tense drama that starts in one direction, and quick cuts to a whole new plain and comes back around to have one of the greatest cinematic twists of all time... SPOILER ALERT... The modern late reel twist endings that the likes of M Night Shyamalan use to such solid effect are homages to Psycho's surprises. Our heroine, the vivacious Janet Leigh, plays a secretary who robs her employer and goes on the lam, only to wind up at the motel operated by Norman Bates (played with such a creepy intensity by Antony Perkins), a man long under the thumb of his oppressive and brutal mother. Much is made of Leigh being a star in this film, but her untimely and memorable shower demise comes fairly early in the film, after which Perkins shines all the way to the climax where Mother's imprint is shown in a masterful light. 
The score heightens the tension and the violence through the use of strings only. The signature sound of Bates's attack is as easily familiar as the low bass of Spielberg's shark and twice as likely to induce chills. The audience of the time found the brutal violence of this singular scene to be a scandalous and swoon inducing moment, although it pales in gore and viscera compared to modern tastes.

Psycho was needlessly remade shot for shot in 1998 with Vince Vaughn stepping into Perkin's shoes, but failing to fill the role with as much tender menace. Stick with glorious black and white and watch the master of suspense's singular masterpiece and enjoy.
My score is a sincere and loving 10 out of 10.

As a side note, for those looking to expand their Hitchcockian universe, the next best movie I would recommend is Strangers on a Train.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 2: The last horror movie you saw in the theater

Being a true horror afficianado, I want to preface tis by saying I am justifiably embarrassed that it's been so long since I have been to a movie theter to see a horror film. But, in my defense, with four kids and a squeamish wife, it's rare that we get out to a movie at all, and when we do, the selection is usually in the tamer range. So, outside of Sucker Punch, which wasn't intentionally horrific, the last scary movie I saw in the movie theater was The Mothman Prophecies.
And now a brief word of synopsis courtesy of imdb...
A reporter is drawn to a small West Virginia town to investigate a series of strange events, including psychic visions and the appearance of bizarre entities.
and now back to your regularly scheduled program... The Mothman Prophecies is a genuinely creepy film with some chill inducing moments. Director Mark Pellington is great at creating suspense, as he also does in Arlington Road, which, if you haven't seen, get thee to Netflix. Richard Gere's slow descent in this movie is both well portrayed and realistic as coincidences and incidences pile up and he's drawn further down the rabbit hole. You're often left wondering if there are supernatural forces at play for real or if there's just some form of mass psychosis going on. The movie is supposedly based on real events concerning a bridge collapse in Point Pleasent, West Virginia and the odd sightings and phenomena before the collapse, except almost everything is changed. All in all, a solid movie, solid cast, solid scare factor.
Watching it again, I like the slow build and pacing and it holds up, even knowing how it ends. 
On my horror scale, I'd give it a 6 out of 10.

Odd and fun side note: Mark Pellington's other directing credits also include the ING Direct commercial featuring the lazy money.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 1: Your first Horror Movie

I'm participating in the 40 Day Horror Movie Challenge, a 40 question survey of the best of all horror movies. Here's how it works. Each day, you answer a question, watch the selected movie, and put down your thoughts. Day 1 wants to know who came first. The great challenge of all these questions is that many films can fill more than one category, but in the interest of not repeating, I will try to adjust some things. two of my earliest memories revolve around horror films. I distinctly remember begging my parents to please let me watch Kingdom of the Spiders, but I'm saving that discussion for later. My other memory was watching Jaws from under the couch, because I wasn't supposed to be up and I wasn't supposed to watch it. From the opening moments with the skinny dipper to ther obtuse mayor who refuses to see anything other than the bottom line, to the many memorable quotes, like "you're gonna need a bigger boat" Jaws ratchets up the tension and supplies true scares, often without revealing the shark itself. Kevin Smith readily admits his fear of the ocean comes as a direct result of seeing this movie as a child.
What stands out for me was the performance of Roy Scheider as the noble sheriff who does the job noone else is willing to do, other than the drunken vet captain played alarmingly true to life by Robert Shaw. Scheider's intensity and fear for his townspeople and family sells the tension in a big way and makes the film something that, although dated in its wardrobe, still holds up. And the infamous score is just as recognizable to today's youth as it ever was. My kids, who haven't seen it yet, know it immediately.
My rating, a solid 9 out of 10.
So, what movie broke your horror cherry? Let me know below.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Stars - Jason Momoa
          Ron Perlman
          Rose McGowan
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Summary: The tale of Conan the Cimmerian and his adventures across the continent of Hyboria on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his village.(via imdb). 
Well, I can't say I didn't know what I was getting into as I made my way to my seat. This is a movie that should be firmly within my demographic. I grew up on the Ah-nuld version and me and my friends would quote the movie incessantly for years to come:
"What is best in life?" 
"To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."
So, when this reboot was announced, I was excited. It's an unfortunate truth that many of the movies my generation enjoyed as children don't hold up well for our kids' generation. I was hoping for something I could hold up along the 1982 version and get my kids excited about... and then, the first trailer came out, and I immediately lost interest. And every trailer or commercial that followed it would fail to renew my interest. Why? Visually, I could tell the styling was right, except for Rose McGowan's makeup, which we'll discuss later. There was every indication that the action would be intense, brutal and gory. Check, check, check. So, why was I so indifferent?
My plan at that point, was to wait for it be on Netflix or on demand services. But then, I won tickets to see the movie thanks to the Preston and Steve Show and WMMR. Free is free, so I went.
It was pretty much exactly what I expected. Great action, cheesy, faux Visigoth dialogue and ideology, and, mostly, limited acting range. I wasn't overly impressed, nor was I overly disappointed either. Momoa is impressive and inhabits the character well as a son bent on avenging the death of his father. The material is more faithful to the true Conan canon than the 1982 version, but keeps a similar tone. 

The movie's opening concludes with the birth of Conan, untimely ripped from his stabbed, dying mother's womb. The dialogue and the baby "puppet" were so corny and unbelievable that what was meant to be a tender moment between the always impressive and badass Perlman and his wife elicited peals of laughter among the crowded theatre. At this point, I thought the movie was in trouble, and we're only about 15 minutes in. It is quickly made up for in the ensuing chapter showing scenes from Conan's youth. A very impressive Leo Howard (G.I. Joe, Kickin' It) steals the movie and the thunder as a very capable child warrior. In all honesty, this sequence is the best part of the movie. I hope he is able to parlay this into a future as a marquee action star. He definitely has the chops for it. 
The plot is contrived and predictable, but you're not really expecting much else as you bide your time between action sets. The action and the intensity of his demeanor are what allow Momoa to shine. I see this as a stepping stone to future stardom, much as the original role propelled Schwarzennegger to action hero. There are plot holes galore and lots of unnecessary nudity early in the film, and a weirdly unsexy and uncomfortable sex scene later(more laughter from the crowd), so parents beware. The blood and gore factor is high, but not nearly at a Saw or Hostel level. 
The ending is easier to see coming than a steroidal elephant with gigantism, but, even so, is not unsatisfying and sets up a possible sequel, a la Conan the Destroyer.
A couple of mini rants before I close. I did see the film in 3D, which can add some nice depth, but in action sequences, your eyes don't adjust fast enough, so the 3D becomes blurry. Also, if any future action directors are reading this, please listen closely...


Sorry for yelling, but it really peeves me. They choreograph ad practice these intense fight scenes, and the whole thing is lost as the camera zooms from one close-up segment to another. Whatever happened to pulling back and showing the work? A good full-framed action sequence does not lose the intensity the quick cuts are meant to portray and adds a real sense of battling. I will now step down from the soapbox. Thank you for your attention.
Lastly, my only other beef was that the film failed to throw any bones to those who only went to see this out of love for the original. I would have expected some of the more memorable dialogue to show up, but it was left out. The only real nod to the past is the design of the iconic sword. To sum it up, wait and catch this on the small screen if you can. If your thirst for all things barbarian cannot wait, cuddle up with the original and wait it out. And then, jump to the sequel and Red Sonja too.