Helloween Day Ten: Pontypool

October 10, 2016 0

 

Pontypool, a 2008 horror movie, wasn’t on my original list, but I dropped Insidious because of my vow to not watch more than one movie per director (James Wan). I heard about Pontypool when it came out, but never got around to watching it. I think I saw an article in the New York Times, which depending on your point-of-view is either a good or bad sign. I watched it for free on Netflix Streaming.

The plot: Grant Mazzy is a shock jock radio DJ stuck in Pontypool, Ontario, which he thinks is the ass-end of nowhere. He’s in his car in the middle of a snowstorm when a woman knocks on his car window. She speaks to him, but luckily for him he can’t hear what she’s saying.

Mazzy works in a studio is in a basement. His crew consists of Sydney Briar, the producer; Laurel-Anne, the techie; and weather guy Ken Loney in his Sunshine Chopper. Mazzy does his shtick, which doesn’t play well in Pontypool, but he’s a pro. As the movie progresses that becomes obvious.

Strange things start happening. Calls come in about mobs congregating in the streets, busting shit up and assumedly eating people, although for some reason the movie is coy about that. Yes, it’s the zombie plague, but instead of being spread via zombie bite or zombie spit, the virus transmits by words, a concept that sounds cool but makes no sense at all, but then again neither do zombies. If the victim hears and understands the infected word, he or she will start babbling nonsense before turning mindless and wandering about in a zombie haze doing zombie things. The cure: kiss is kill, pen is pile. I won’t be any more specific than that.

Pontypool reminded me of The Blair Witch Project in that it looks like it was filmed on a $1,000 budget. It’s obvious the filmmakers aren’t horror veterans; there’s one jump-scare, and that’s it. The idea’s a good one that doesn’t quite make sense. The best part of the movie is the dialogue, most of which is strange.

Pontypool is an interesting movie that didn’t gel for me. I spent most of it not knowing what was going on, which for me isn’t a bad thing, but I can see how that would drive other people crazy. Still, I enjoyed Pontypool. I like it when filmmakers try new things, even if most of the movie is filmed in a basement. Recommended.

The Unreliable Narrators Watch… The Exorcist

October 10, 2016 0

The Exorcist (1973)

Editor’s Note: Possible spoilers ahead

Welcome to the inaugural issue of “The Unreliable Narrators Watch…” with your hosts, the Unreliable Narrators. This week, we’re settling in with William Friedkin’s gory, unsettling classic, The Exorcist.

To begin, as they say, at the end, we’ll start with our final impressions of the film. Those of you interested in our thoughts about the rest of the movie will find the (nearly complete) transcript of our Slack discussion after the jump.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

Chris
Cath
Chia
George
and introducing: Morris

george_galuschak 10:14 PM i think it’s an effective movie

chris 10:15 PM full props, though, it still is disturbing. even if it doesn’t make much sense

george_galuschak 10:15 PM well, it depends on whether you want everything explained

cathschaffstump 10:15 PM I don’t think that’s it at all.

george_galuschak 10:16 PM for me, the plot holds together. this isn’t linear storytelling

((Editor’s Note: George is wrong. It is linear storytelling))

((Second Editor’s Note: George wrote the previous Editor’s Note. Chia isn’t convinced that George is wrong.))

chris 10:16 PM well, I think it was deliberately structured with all the red herrings

cathschaffstump 10:16 PM I think that it has a lot of characters that don’t need to be there, and a lot of connections that aren’t made because the author edited the original story, but perhaps not in an effective way.

cathschaffstump 10:16 PM I don’t want everything explained. I am down with ambiguity.

chris 10:16 PM yeah the inspector added nothing, other than make us wonder about his behavior

chialynn 10:17 PM I can’t be sure how many of those connections I would have made if I hadn’t read the book (even if I don’t remember much of it).

cathschaffstump 10:17 PM But I do like knowing where the arcs are.

george_galuschak 10:17 PM not sure if this is the theatrical cut

chris 10:17 PM yeah I wonder if the director’s cut clears things up, or is just grosser

chialynn 10:17 PM It’s about an extra 10 or 20 minutes?

chris 10:17 PM I remember the crab walking so I must have seen it at some point

cathschaffstump 10:17 PM That was missing, wasn’t it? I remember that too.

george_galuschak 10:17 PM they cut lots of stuff from the book

cathschaffstump 10:18 PM So, in many cases, the book is better than the movie. Kind of a conventional wisdom.

chris 10:18 PM I think maybe people who have read the book are happier with the movie because they can fill in the gaps?

george_galuschak 10:19 PM most of the movie’s shitty dialogue is from the book, so not really to the book being better, yes to filling in the gaps

chialynn 10:19 PM I like the cuts from what’s happening with Regan and her mom to what’s happening with the priest and his mom.

chris 10:19 PM I wonder why they cut that out

cathschaffstump 10:19 PM That is a nice parallelism.

chris 10:20 PM Exorcist is good, and holds up well after all this time. It could just make more sense, I think

chialynn 10:21 PM Excellent performances.

george_galuschak 10:21 PM effective at what it does

cathschaffstump 10:21 PM I’m gonna give it horror movie props. Good special effects, some good acting, Karras for the win.

(more…)

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!

42.0 – Author Spotlight: Carol Anne Douglas

October 4, 2016 0

un_douglasUN goes into the light with Carol Anne Douglas, author of the gender- and genre-bending Arthurian novel, Lancelot: Her Story. Carol Anne worked for 35 years on the feminist news journal, off our backs, and she belongs to OLOC (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change). We chat about her fiction and non-fiction as well as her plays and nature photography. She also answers the burning question: whom would Mordred endorse for president?

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!

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