Helloween Day Nine: Event Horizon

October 9, 2016 0

Event Horizon came out in 1997. I believe I saw it on a best-of list on the Internet, but I can’t recall where. I watched it for free on Netflix streaming. The plot: Dr. Weir – played by a twitchy Sam Neill – develops a warp drive. Anyone who’s watched Star Trek knows what a warp drive is, but nobody seems to know how it works. Simply put, a warp drive creates a black hole that rips a hole in the space-time continuum, allowing a ship to instantly travel infinite distances. If you say, gee that sounds ominous, you might be right.

The warp drive is housed in the Event Horizon, a space ship shaped like a cross where the doors have teeth. The fabled warp drive itself resembles a medieval torture device. The Event Horizon disappeared without a trace, and returned seven years later. A rescue ship is sent out, led by Captain Miller and his crew. The rescue crew finds floating body parts and blood all over the walls. When gravity is restored, the bodies crash to the floor, smashing into pieces like glass. When one of the crewmen decides to stick his hand into the warp drive (don’t ask…) suddenly the rescuers need rescuing.

Stranded on The Event Horizon, the crew starts seeing visions of dead lovers and friends. It could be too much carbon monoxide…or maybe it’s something else. The ship’s logs start out normally, and end in scenes that look like one of the Marquis de Sade’s parties. So where did the Event Horizon vanish to? I’ll give you a hint: it’s a four-letter word, and the last two letters are l-l.

There are lots of jump scares in Event Horizon. There’s also plenty of blood and gore. According to Wikipedia, this movie bombed when it came out. That’s probably because it mixes two genres, space travel and slasher movie, whose audiences don’t mix. I myself found Event Horizon to be quite entertaining, so there’s that. The movie’s derivative, but so is every other movie that comes out nowadays. Think Hellraiser in outer space and you’ll get the idea. Recommended.

Helloween Day Eight: The Conjuring

October 8, 2016 0

I’ve seen hundreds of bad horror movies in my life, and I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard of most of them. After awhile movies like Dead Girls (girl-band murdered by a psycho), Highway to Hell (pizza delivery boy vs. Hellcop), Syngenor (Syngenor!) and Satan’s Princess (the title says it all) take their toll. Unfortunately, most bad horror movies aren’t scary or even funny. They’re just dull. I’m sorry to report that Rabid Grannies isn’t as good as it sounds; the guys at MST3K wouldn’t touch this direct-to-video crap.

But once in awhile a very, very special movie comes along.

The Conjuring is the Disney Haunted Mansion of horror movies. It takes all the beats, tropes and dumb clichés of the genre, creepy dolls, possessed mommies, kids talking to their invisible friends, things that go bump in the night, stupid people who descend into the basement saying ‘who’s there?,’ and rolls them into an overstuffed Greatest Hits version of a haunted house movie.

The plot: if you’ve seen The Amityville Horror or any other haunted house movie, you know the plot. The Perron family, mom, dad and five (!) daughters, move into their new house, only to discover it’s haunted. They ask acclaimed (?) demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren to help rid them of evil spirit Bathsheba.

The point when I knew I was watching a very special movie came when one of the older kids – it’s hard to tell them apart, because the writers never bother giving them actual personalities – is awoken by her sleepwalking sister trying to walk into the standing wardrobe. When the cranky teen goes to help her sister we pan up to see Bathsheba, looking like Linda Blair on a bad hair day, crouching atop the wardrobe, whereupon she leaps upon the dumbstruck teen with a great shriek.

((A side-note: Bathsheba must have been one happy spirit. She has FIVE kids and their hapless Mom to torment, an embarrassment of riches.))

The Conjuring is set in the 70’s. Ed sports a pair of rockin’ sideburns and Lorraine favors big collars. Indeed, the movie is full of 70’s touches. There are station wagons, VW bugs, even a Brady Bunch episode. The attitudes are delightfully retro. When Mrs. Perron mentions their frantic dog outside, chained to a tree, Mr. Perron waves it off, saying something like ‘the dog will be fine (Spoiler: the dog isn’t fine).’ Today the pooch would have his own air-conditioned doghouse. In other ways The Conjuring falls down on the job. If you watch any 70’s flick, you will know that all the characters smoke like chimneys.

I am not going to get into whether the Warrens were hucksters, but will note that The Conjuring is based on the True Case Files of the Warrens. Fair enough. There are those who say Godzilla’s based on a true story, also. The Warrens ARE bad parents, keeping a treasure trove of demon-infested relics in their study. At one point Ed finds his young daughter wandering around the study and mildly scolds her.

((Side-note #2: it would be remiss to not mention the presence of Annabelle, the Creepy Doll From Hell Who Should Have Her Own Movie, in The Conjuring. I must confess that I think haunted dolls are way overrated. Annabelle is creepy, yes, but I bet I could kick a five-pound doll’s ass.))

Nobody in The Conjuring has much of a personality. Ed’s concern for his wife is cute, but he’s such a pushover we know he’ll just roll over whenever he tries to put his foot down. The Perrons are so full of domestic bliss that it’s almost a relief when Bathsheba starts her antics. At one point Mrs. Perron asks her husband if he feels up to christening the house, i.e. fucking, and my high hopes were immediately crushed by a cute domestic scene.

((Side-note #3: you have to wonder about Mr. and Mrs. Perron’s family planning skills. At first I figured they were good Catholics. Makes sense, since they have five kids, but it turns out they never got around to baptizing those kids, which doesn’t sound very Catholic to me. Maybe they’re the type of people who drift through life hoping things will turn out okay. Please note that these are the type of people who end up in haunted-house movies.))

The Conjuring has two direct inspirations: Poltergeist (the original) and the TV series Friday the 13th, about three dumb jackasses trying to retrieve an antique store full of cursed items. The monkey doll and staticky TV are direct shout-outs. Bottom line: The Conjuring is well-made, but it most definitely is not a good movie. Four out of the five flicks I’ve seen so far are better. But, honestly, I will remember this movie when the others are dim memories. The Conjuring is a true rarity, a good bad movie, and I can’t wait to see the sequel. Highly recommended!

Helloween Day Seven: It Follows

October 7, 2016 0

It Follows is an American horror movie released in 2014. I bought the Blu-Ray last year and it sat in my cabinet for months, unwatched. I’ve heard a lot about this movie, good and bad. There are people who love it, and people who think it’s way overrated. You know, everyone’s got an opinion. I heard the hype and bought the movie, so it’s based on my own recommendation.

The plot: Annie is a high school student who starts dating Hugh. Annie likes Hugh, even though he’s a weirdo who does things like flee movie theaters in a panic because he sees people who aren’t there. They have sex in his car and then he chloroforms her, ties her to a wheelchair and tells her that it will follow her and she should pass it on, just like he did to her. Right on cue, the naked woman shows up. It turns out that Hugh has indeed passed it on; but instead of a venereal disease, it’s a bloodthirsty evil spirit. Slow but implacable, it follows. If it kills Annie, it will come for Hugh, and then the person who gave it to him, and so on.

I thought It Follows was an effective horror movie. There’s a plot and the characters aren’t throwaways. The director has an interesting aesthetic sense which gives the movie a creepy atmosphere. There’s a lot of strange imagery. Annie has her own ‘Scooby crew,’ and one of the girls carries around an e-reader that looks like a seashell. The sodas aren’t name brand, and neither are the porn magazines. Besides sex, the director also has a thing for deserted buildings, urban decay and bodies of water, large and small. These images recur throughout the movie. On the downside: I thought the climax was muddled. The Scooby crew’s plan to kill it doesn’t make sense, but then again, they are high school students.

It Follows is worth seeing. I watched the Blu-Ray, but I believe it’s available on Showtime streaming.

 

Helloween Day Five: Ghostwatch

October 5, 2016 0

Bizarro author Jeff Burk mentioned Ghostwatch in a blog post he wrote about horror movies you probably haven’t seen. The post has a bunch of interesting choices and is worth reading. I chose Ghostwatch, a 1992 British made-for-TV faux-documentary (PG or PG-13), and watched it for free on YouTube (update: it might not be available anymore).

The plot: the BBC investigates a claimed haunting. To heighten the atmosphere, they do the investigation on Halloween night, splitting time between their studios and a housing project. The show starts slowly. Host Michael Parkinson (played by himself) and parapsychologist Dr. Lin Pascoe (played by an actress) take phone calls from people who claim to see a shadowy figure in early footage of the girls’ bedroom. Craig Charles of Red Dwarf fame plays himself, interviewing people outside the house. Reporter Sarah Greene (playing herself) enters the house to talk to the mother and her daughters.

Pamela Early and her two daughters claim they’ve been tormented by poltergeist activity for months. The name of the ghost in question is Pipes, who got his name because that’s what the mother said when her daughters asked what was making the awful sounds. Starting with thumps and bumps, the ghostly activity quickly escalates to spooky voices and physical phenomena, with unexplained scratches appearing on the older daughter’s face.

More people call in, claiming the figure in the bedroom is an old man or woman wearing a black dress. The mother tells a spooky story about getting stuck in the glory hole, the little room beneath the staircase. I’m not sure if Ghostwatch’s writers knew what a glory hole is, but from what we learn about Pipes later on I’d say they did. The plot chugs along the way you’d expect, before veering off course.

Loosely based on the Enfield hauntings, Ghostwatch is utter fiction but apparently a number of viewers didn’t know that when it aired. The BBC reporters play themselves, but everyone else is an actor. Despite being made-for-TV, Ghostwatch is a scary movie. We only catch glimpses of the really disturbing stuff– the half-seen pictures Pipes drew in the older daughter’s school notebooks, the ghost’s guttural voice and of course Pipes himself. We never see the elusive spirit clearly, but he’s around. You can do a Google search to find out where he appears.

Recommended!

Helloween Day Four: Final Prayer

October 4, 2016 0

 

A late addition to my list, Final Prayer also goes by the title of The Borderlands. This movie is another recommendation of British horror writer Adam Nevill. The article in question is here, and well worth reading. Final Prayer is a British found-footage movie, available to rent on Amazon Prime for $3.99 (cheap!).

The plot: a priest records a paranormal experience in his church during a baptism (which turns out to be important). The Vatican’s spook squad gets called in, so I guess the priest isn’t Anglican. The boys from Rome send in an investigative team to debunk the video. They’re the anti-miracle squad, I guess.

The team consists of Deacon, a Scottish priest; Gray, the tech guy; and Father Amidon, who hates Deacon. The priests are skeptics, which makes sense considering that 99% of the cases they investigate are utter bullshit. Unfortunately, this case is the other 1%.

The town is in the middle of nowhere, a place where the local kids light sheep on fire for fun. The investigators must wear head cameras for the duration of the investigation to establish a timeline. The priests think their fellow priest is making the whole thing up; Gray, who isn’t religious, believes him.

Gray puts video cameras and microphones all over the church. Most of the phenomena he records is auditory, creaks and groans and bumps and crying children. We learn that the church is built over a pagan worship site, where the locals worshipped things that came to Britain before Christ.

Is Final Prayer scary? I got through it without too much of a problem, although I did let out a few shrieks that startled my cat. There are jump scares. The acting is good. We come to know and like Deacon and Gray, although neither is all that likable at the movie’s start.

I got confused a little at Final Prayer’s climax, because two of the characters wear glasses and I got them mixed up. Apparently, the ending is controversial. I’m not sure how I feel about it, myself. I guess I’d need to see the movie again.

Final Prayer is worth a view, especially if you like found-footage. The best line of the movie comes during a pub conversation between Gray and Deacon, where Gray says (paraphrasing) – ‘the pagans worshipped things that were there. You worship something that’s not there. If your god and their god fought, I know who I’d put my money on.’

Not as scary as Across the River, but still good. Recommended!

Helloween Day Two: Across the River

October 2, 2016 0

Adam Nevill, one of my favorite horror writers, recommended Across the River. The link to the article is here. The movie’s in Italian with English subtitles, but that doesn’t matter because there’s almost no dialogue. I watched it for free on Amazon Prime.

The plot: Marco catches, tags and then releases animals back into the wild. I don’t know why he does this because I’m not an ethologist myself, but driving around in an RV, trapping beasties and mounting cameras on their backs so he can watch videotape of them skulking around in the dark seems pretty cool.

Marco sees something odd on video that makes him follow one of his ‘charges.’ He drives his RV across the river, which is dangerously high because of the flooding, and ends up in a deserted village in the middle of the woods. Except the village isn’t really deserted. There are the animals…it must be the animals that scream in the night. Then he sees a thing that’s not an animal, but by then it’s too late. The river has risen.

He’s trapped. But he’s not alone…

Set in Italy, Across the River features beautiful scenery and an atmospheric soundtrack. The abandoned village is creepy as hell, and the director knows how to milk the dread from a scene. The first half is better than the second. I didn’t find Marco’s actions unrealistic; he makes a mistake, but he’s just a guy doing his job, which makes what he goes through that much worse.

There’s a lot to like about Across The River. Depending on your temperament, this will either be unbearably boring or a brown underwear movie. The Blair Witch Project comes to mind, although this isn’t a found footage movie. The first part of the movie also reminded me of “The Ritual,” the Adam Nevill novel.

Did Across The River scare me? Yes. It made me abandon my ‘no remote’ resolution. If you like your horror movies atmospheric and scary, check this one out; if you prefer lots of action and gore, skip it.

 

Halloween Day One: Lips of Blood!

October 1, 2016 0

lips-of-blood

 

Lips of Blood is a 1975 movie directed by Jean Rollin. The first time I heard of Jean Rollin was on Neil Gaiman’s blog. Gaiman used the phrase ‘Euro Trash,’ which made my ears prick up. I didn’t know what Euro Trash meant, but there’s no denying I liked the sound of it. After watching a few of Rollin’s movies I decided Euro Trash meant sleaze, violence, gore and gratuitous sex & nudity. You know, the good stuff.

Lips of Blood is set in Paris, although the Eiffel Tower is nowhere to be seen. It’s in French with English subtitles. I saw it for free on YouTube, and the picture quality wasn’t great. Anyone familiar with Jean Rollin’s work will be unsurprised to learn that this movie features lots of female vampires.

The plot: 32 year-old Frederic sees a photo of a castle at a wine & cheese party, a photo that triggers a repressed memory of a twelve year old Frederic meeting a beautiful young girl at that selfsame castle. Frederic decides that he must return to the mysterious castle because he’s still in love with the girl, but dark forces – led by his Mom! – are hell-bent on stopping him.

At one point the ghost/projection/vision of the beautiful young girl leads Frederic to a tomb, where he accidentally frees four female vampires. These fetching creatures of the night wear fake-looking fangs and not much else. At one point they drink the blood of the night watchman while the camera focuses on their bloody lips. Thus, the title!

Is Lips of Blood scary? No. There are lots of naked women, though, which means this flick would probably earn an X rating if it were shown today. The creepiest scene occurs when Frederic enters a tomb to find a life-sized mannequin of a praying Virgin Mary, which I kept expecting to reanimate and leap into the air.

Lips of Blood is like all the other Jean Rollin movies I’ve seen. No budget, but eye-catching imagery and an interesting premise kept me watching until the end. Rollin directed over fifty movies, and my favorites – made in the late 60’s, early 70’s – all have the word ‘vampire’ in the title. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on a best-of horror list, which is a shame because I like his movies. They’re cheaply made, badly acted with awful effects, but I can never shake the feeling that he’s better than the material he’s working with.

Or maybe it’s all those female vampires with fake fangs.

Helloween: 31 Nights, 31 Movies

September 28, 2016 0

I love horror movies, even though I have trouble watching them. So why am I planning to watch thirty-one horror flicks I’ve never seen for Halloween? I do watch horror movies around Halloween, but it’s always stuff I’ve seen before. Halloween, The Exorcist, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Dawn of the Dead. All the old stand-byes…

((BTW, Jaws is one of my favorite horror movies, but you have to watch it during the summer. There’s a rule about that.))

As the years have rolled by, I feel like I’ve gotten stodgy and staid. I’ve seen these movies so many times they aren’t even scary anymore. So this year I’m trying a different approach. This year I’m challenging myself!

Here’s the details: I have a list of thirty-six movies, below, and I’m using a Random Number Generator to determine what movie I’ll watch. This adds uncertainty to the mix. Also, if I can’t finish a movie, I have five alternates. I’m also going to lose the remote control. No fast forwarding or pausing. I will be watching the movies between September 28th and October 25th. I’m traveling towards the end of October, so I won’t be watching anything at that point.

((I will be live-tweeting some or all of the movies, using the following hashtags: #nameofthemovie and #helloween))

How did I choose? Recommendations from friends, best-of lists, stuff like that. I don’t think there are any sequels, and I’m limiting myself to one movie per director. I’m trying to be eclectic, although these flicks do conform to my tastes. I don’t like torture porn, although I think at least one of the movies on the list might qualify (Cannibal Holocaust). There’s also a shaky cam flick (REC), even though they make me dizzy. I spent most of The Blair Witch Project nauseous and annoyed at the characters bickering about that stupid map.

I’m sure most of these movies have jump scares. I have an unfortunate history of shrieking in movie theaters. There’s a scene in Night Breed, hardly a horror classic, where one of the characters opens the fridge, whereupon I gave out a great shriek. The resulting laughter from my fellow audience members defused the actual jump scare. Luckily, the walls of my apartment are thick enough so that nobody will hear me scream…

I think I’m up for this! Thanks to Pokémon Go, I’ve lost twenty pounds so I think my heart can deal with the strain. I’ll post an article the next day detailing my reactions, any bad dreams, seizures when the cat jumps me in the dark, taps on the windows, chest pains, whether I slept with the lights on, etc. Oh, also whether I liked the movie.

Just so you know…my favorite horror movie is The Exorcist. I saw it at my local theater when it was rereleased a few years ago. Sitting in a darkened theater with a bunch of teenagers, I was shocked that they spent most of the movie laughing.

Did they think this was funny?

Was I getting old?

Anyway, here’s the list:

Babadook (2015)
Berberian Sound Stage (2012)
Beyond (1981)
Brood (1979)
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Changeling (1980)
Conjuring (2013)
Dead Snow (2010)
Devil’s Backbone (2002)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Event Horizon (1997)
Ghostwatch (1992)
Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2015)
House of the Devil (2009)
Hunger (1983)
Innocents (1961)
Insidious (2011)
It Follows (2014)
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Lips of Blood (1975)
M (1931)
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Near Dark (1987)
Others (2001)
Possession (1981)
REC (2009)
Salem’s Lot (1979)
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Sinister (2013)
Spring (2014)
Suspiria (1977)
We Are What We Are (2013)
The Witch (2016)
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Wolfen (1981)

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