Monday, October 16, 2017

Pet Sematary (1989)

Having always shied away from watching this due to obvious concerns of dead/dying animals, tonight I was feeling brave and ventured forth. I was happy to see that there's minimal animal trauma - maybe even less than a normal horror movie!

Directed by Mary Lambert - a woman! Shouldn't be a cause for celebration, but it still is! - this was originally meant to be a Romero flick. Due to delays in filming George had to split on the project, so Lambert stepped in as director of this little beauty, based off of Stephen King's own screenplay.

Fact: Mary Lambert also directed Madonna's "Like A Prayer" video ­čÖĆ­čĆ╗

Quick Pet Sematary plot summary for anyone such as myself who honestly was clueless about it: A happy family of four (dad Louis, mum Rachel, young daughter Ellie and toddler son Gage) move into an idyllic house in the Maine countryside. The place is lovely - apart from the fact it's directly next to a road that Mack trucks come speeding down with alarming regularity.

They have an old man neighbour across the way, Jud Crendell (Fred Gwynne: Herman Munster!) who helpfully explains to the family that the path they see going into the woods from their backyard leads to a "Pet Sematary" (the sign is misspelled, hence the title is too). The place is pretty cool looking, and being there results in some pondering on death and loss - much to the annoyance of Rachel (Denise Crosby).

She wants to shelter her kids from the subject of death. Seems healthy! Though she does have her reasons...

In any case, when Rachel and the children are visiting her parents for Thanksgiving, the family cat, "Church" - short for Winston Churchill - a gorgeous Russian Blue, gets run over. To spare Ellie the pain of losing her beloved pet, Jud leads Louis through the Pet Sematary and up a hill, emerging at a Native American burial site. 

For reasons not made wholly clear, Jud encourages the burial of the dead moggy here, even though he knows from personal experience that this soil has "sour" resurrection properties.

Louis is like "yeah, right" and then "holy shit!" when Church actually does come back, but this kitty isn't happy and spends the rest of the film hissing with glowy eyes. He's not the cat he was.

So you see where this is going. Young children, speeding trucks, an ancient Indian burial ground? Yup, Church isn't the only being brought back to life during this runtime. But as Jud later says, "the person you put up there ain't the person who comes back...", and as tempting as it is to try and reclaim a lost loved one rather than deal with that loss... "sometimes dead is better."

Things get a lot "better" before the end credits.

Negotiating child death in a film is not easy, and Pet Sematary does it pretty excellently all while still giving the audience gasp-worthy moments. We don't see the accident, but we are shown a bloody little shoe. Similarly, we only ever get glimpses of Gage's tiny corpse, never a full on look at it. This builds the tension to when we actually see him again.

And Gage is completely adorable in life, so even though it's not a shock he dies; it is sad. When he returns... well, he's an adorable little monster.

An adorable little KILLING MACHINE monster.

Favourite moment alert: When his doctor father injects his neck to "put him back to sleep" - father's words, creepy much? - in an amazing scene (below), and he toddles off whimpering "no fair!". It's... it's perfect.

I haven't even mentioned Ellie's psychic abilities, Rachel's nightmarish sister, or Victor Pascow, the ghost jogger acting as a kind of spirit guide to the family. 

He first encounters Louis right before dying, and then continues to manifest throughout, offering warnings and handy advice, such as proper name pronunciation and tips on hiring a rental car!

My verdict on this film? Way less animal death than the name would suggest and a satisfyingly sad tale to boot. I wish I hadn't taken so long to see it!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

I'm stuttering in October's film-review-repeat rhythm, so even though I have technically written about this movie before (I saw it way back during its initial release) I still wanted to jot down a few things that I didn't mention previously, to grease the review wheels, if you will.

Ted Raimi is in this... He's not only in it, he's killed in it - and his eyes pop out!

Back in '08 I said one bad CGI moment stuck out, but the rest was sound. Obviously nearly ten years on the CGI splatter appears less seamless, but the gore (a nice mix of computer generated and practical) remains solid and startling. 

It's not relentless, but when it does come it comes HARD. Eye violence; tooth violence; fingernail violence... check!

Some people be hating on the title of this film, but I think it's perfect. Why, particularly in a genre like this, do we always have to be subtle? And if creator Clive Barker himself thought it was good enough, then who are we to argue.

I find something really comforting about the thought of old gods/beings ruling a city without our knowledge. Is that weird?

They're Watching (2016)

Apparently the makers of this don't classify it as a horror. I CAN BELIEVE IT. 

I was 48mins in when I decided not to waste any more time on it. What doesn't make sense is that it appears to be marketed as one. Not fair, guys.


Friday, October 13, 2017

The Prowler (1981)

There's so much to love about the look of the killer in Joseph Zito's The Prowler. It was the artwork that initially caught my eye; so greasy-looking, so 80s!

(I was later to learn the reason behind the sheen on everything is because this is taken from an actual shot in the film, where a woman is being killed in the pool, so everything's wet).

Anyway, the exploitation-y artwork; the WW2 uniform; the startling, no face = no humanity look of the Prowler himself... 

Something SO unsettling about his darkness against the pink of the walls!

...I was INTO this film about a mysterious military-clad figure, stalking and slashing its way through a graduation party. I was excited to watch it.

So I don't know if it was the wine I'd had, or the film itself's fault... or maybe a combination of both, but when I did watch it, I very nearly fell asleep. A couple of times.

To put it bluntly, the problem with The Prowler is the downtime between kills. There's no tension, and not too much in the way of engaging plot development either. It's all pretty boring until we see him starting to stalk another victim, and then things start to get interesting.

And the kills themselves? Coming courtesy of Tom Savini, they are by far the best thing to come out of this. Knives plunge into neck meat, eyes roll back to white, heads explode...! They are chilling, and they are incredibly impressive for 1981.

Bless you, Tom, and all of the work you have blessed this genre with. We're lucky to have you!

In conclusion: if you can make it through the slumps, the death scenes are worth sticking around for. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Collector (2009)

WHAT IF Kevin McAllister grew up to be a psychopathic murderer? Ever thought about that?

Wearing its Se7en and Saw franchise inspiration on its sleeve, The Collector is a nasty little story of home invasion, traps and torture.

Ex-con handyman Arkin (Josh Stewart) is desperate to pay a debt, so he decides to break into a mansion he's been working on. Assuming the worst part of the night would be cracking the safe, he's shocked to discover himself trapped inside with the family and a mysterious masked man who's rigged the place with murderous devices.

I was just thinking the other day how I'd not seen anything I'd class as "torture porn" in a while. Not lamenting the fact, to be clear, just thinking how I tend to gravitate away from stuff like that these days. Well... The Collector probably falls into this category.

There's a lot of squirm-in-your-seat moments, from razor blades and fish hooks to bear traps and barbed wire, and while some may delight in the game of "let's see how nasty this death is", this path may be one too well-trodden for others.

Written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan and directed by Dunstan also, this was originally meant to be a prequel to Saw. Even though the idea was declined, the sample script they submitted was enough to get them the gig writing Saw parts 4, 5, & 6 after Leigh Whannell left the franchise. 

It makes complete sense that the messed up minds that imagine the Rube Goldberg torture devices from the Saw films also pieced this house of horrors together.

And as grim as most of the deaths are, the most unsettling aspect of The Collector has to be the man himself.

We all know there's not much scarier than a mask, and his is a nightmare dreamed up from a gimp mask and a melted trash bag. With just staring eyes and gaping mouth left for us to focus on, this look was definitely chosen for maximum creep factor.

Home invasion movies are some of the most spine-chilling in horror, and even if this one is too bombastic to truly make a normal person feel at risk (seriously, you have to be ready to suspend hefty disbelief at how much time and good fortune it took to set all those traps AND have them work as intended), it's still a good time watching from between your fingers as the victims stagger from one booby-trap to the next.

Apart from the dog and cat death, that is :(

There's a sequel, The Collection, released in 2012 that I'll be keeping an eye out for. If the Google image results are anything to go by, it really turns up the volume!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Black Sheep (2006)

Take one of the least scary animals you can think of, throw in some mad scientists and some animal activists and let's have a party!

"There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand... and they're pissed off!"

Black Sheep is basically a zombie movie. Genetically engineered sheep get loose and spread their murderous virus through the flock and onto human visitors and workers of a New Zealand sheep farm. 

Bitten humans don't have long before they are sporting hooves and big teeth, eventually transforming in terrifying "weresheep" (and mint sauce burns them like holy water!). One of these transformations is pretty reminiscent of the standard-setting one from An American Werewolf In London and it was no surprise to learn that Weta Wokshops were behind the FX for this. They are LEGIT.

Bad news: There is, obviously, scenes of animals getting hurt in this movie.
Good news: They aren't real ones. Aside from a bunny being gutted for dinner (it's already dead) all of the attack sheep are just really realistic looking special effects.

I have to confess that much of my enjoyment came from simply watching the real sheep act. Seeing their adorable woolly bodies running around and being made to look like they were scoping out their kill was so much fun.

...But that isn't to say that this doesn't entertain in the was it was intended though, because it does. As the premise suggests, it's a ridiculously over the top movie, but it's a lot of fun. And I was initially hesitant, as (and I'm hoping this doesn't get my gore hound card revoked) I never made it all the way though the bloody rubbery insanity of Braindead, and this movie is that meets Evil Dead.

Shelley (2016) & Antibirth (2016)

This turned out to be an inspired "fucked up pregnancy" double bill I made for myself. While both about an unconventional pregnancy, these two films could not have been more different.

Where Shelley was a quiet, slow build; Antibirth was an obnoxious, trippy mess. Where Shelley was set in nature, at a remote cabin on a lake; Antibirth took place in the slums of a city, full of warehouse raves and low-budget motels.

Muted natural colours (aside from a blood red title screen) versus an overload of bright colours, loud music and ever-changing TV commercials. Simply living characters, without even electricity or running water in their home, versus relentlessly bong-hitting, drunk party girls.

Shelley tells the story of Louise and Kasper (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Peter Christoffersen), a married couple living a quiet life. Louise desperately wants a baby, but is unable to bear children after her last failed pregnancy resulted in a hysterectomy. When their new Romanian maid Elena (Cosmina Stratan) decides to help them, her surrogacy quickly becomes very unusual.

Antibirth, meanwhile, deals with a surprise pregnancy. Lou (Natasha Lyonne, basically playing her Orange Is The New Black character but not in jail - not a complaint) wakes up from a heavy night of partying feeling decidedly worse than just her usual comedown/hangover. Her stomach starts growing at an alarming rate, she's hungry all the time, yet sick to her stomach. 

Is this just one rave, one bong hit too many? Or does the sinister local drug dealer/pimp boyfriend of her friend Sadie (Chlo├ź Sevigny) have something to do with it?

Oh yeah, and Meg Tilly is in this, too!

The differences go as far as pacing, too. The pacing of Shelley is extremely measured, it's a very, very slow burn, and even its conclusion is quiet and still - though not without making the viewer think about what the future holds for this family, and the world at large. 

It's a film that demands your attention, not least because a fair amount of the dialogue is subtitled (languages spoken, according to IMDb: Danish, English, Norwegian, Swedish, Romanian!) but a lot of it also is non-verbal, with reactions, realisations and contemplation taking place silently. It's a sense of creeping dread, rather than a loud announcement of horror.

In contrast, Antibirth moves along pretty quickly... though not always making complete sense. Lou is a train-wreck, and you can't help but feel for her as things finally start getting explained as to just how messed up her situation is.

Its climax, as one quote on its poster suggests, is "especially fucked up!". It's pretty fucking insane and amazing. I did not see that coming!

Being so different, I don't feel forced to choose a favourite between these two films... though if I had to recommend one over the other, it would probably be Antibirth, just for being so out there and such a trip to watch. I really don't want to give anything away, but if you've seen it feel free to comment with your reaction to that ending!

Both films are streaming on Netflix at time of writing.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Gerald's Game (2017)

One of my least favourite Stephen King books makes a pretty great film, thanks to the two leads and director Mike Flanagan (of Hush, Oculus, and Ouija: Origin of Evil fame). He's been a fan of the book for a long time, and it shows.

I always thought the premise of this story had such great potential, but found the book overly self-indulgent and too plodding in pace. Adapted into a film with some necessary tweaks, this plays like the frightening, disturbing tale it always should have been.

Jessie (Carla Gugino, who is amazing in this) is away for the weekend at a remote cabin with her husband, and when he wants to use real handcuffs to restrain her during sex, this begins an episode of multi-leveled trauma for Jessie which she must overcome if she stands any chance of making it out alive. 

Just for starters, husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood, thoroughly charismatic and unpleasant here) seems to want to instigate a non-consensual rape fantasy, then shortly afterwards suffers a fatal heart attack, leaving Jessie helpless with the house wide open to whomever/whatever wants to come inside.

Stand-out quote from repulsive character Gerald (paraphrased): "A vulnerable woman is like an open door." Utterly disgusting and disturbing, and cuts right to the true heart of the man Jessie married.

Stand out Gerald moment: When Jessie's imagined Gerald absentmindedly licks his lips and takes one of the accumulating flies into his mouth without missing a beat. Such a tiny detail but perfectly unsettling.

While the idea of being cuffed to a bed with no one to help you is scary enough, all of the plot drive of Gerald's Game comes from Jessie having to finally face the abuse she suffered from her father when she was a pre-teen - and a lifetime of repression and poor decisions following this abuse. There are two instances in this film that make you feel sick, and the flashbacks to young Jessie with her father is one of them.

The blood-red light of a solar eclipse washes over this moment.

The film is shot almost romantically, at times. Certainly in the beginning the dreamy quality of the lighting and cinematography is such that it almost appears to be in soft focus. This was the first thing I noticed when I watched the trailer, and I found it an interesting and commendable choice, given the themes of the story. It's far from a new approach, but presenting horror in a visually non-horrific way just makes it seem so much more frightening, no?

Gerald's Game in fact gives us a range of different horrors; from the gut-wrenchingly sad abuse, to the pure terror of feeling a presence in the room with you, just out of sight in the shadows - I'd actually forgotten about the "Space Cowboy" aspect of the story, which I found to be the most frightening parts of the book and they have DEFINITELY been translated successfully to film - and finally, Jessie's visceral final fight for survival.

There is lots to love about this adaptation, and much to keep you awake in the dark. Highly recommended - catch it on Netflix now.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Lumberjack Man (2015)

This wants to be American Pie with added horror, but fails so miserably I don't even know where to start...

You know it's not going well when you check how much run-time is left and it's not even halfway through yet. By the 30min mark it's already pretty well established that this one is going to be heavy on the boobs but lacking on the gore and downright woeful on the comedy.

The film is as good as this picture suggests.

There are "summer camp stereotypes" to the point of being offensive (remember, this was made a mere two years ago) including a fat kid, bitchy mean girl, dorky camp counsellour and a black chef - who they at least don't kill off, I suppose!?

The kills are so-so, the most memorable probably being when a woman gets her breast implants ripped out, but again, emerging from the flat writing and acting around it, this comes across as gross and unnecessary rather than anything else.

The "Lumberjack Man" in question is a hulking brute with a tree bark mask(?!) and a squeaky wagon which he uses to cart around oversized pancakes to each of his kills. OH GOD I WISH I WERE JOKING. 

He's given no personality and, despite being large and lumbering with a distinct look, he has no presence and nothing remotely interesting to make us care about him either as a villain or an anti-hero.  

Why Michael Madsen signed up for this piece of shit I'll never know. 

I was going to say this film would have benefited from being 30mins shorter, too, but ultimately the horror genre world would be a better place if it had never been made at all. Lumberjack Man is going to make you want to watch a decent summer camp movie, and I strongly urge you to do just that. Don't waste your time with this.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Beyond The Gates (2016)

Beyond The Gates definitely gets points for originality and then extra points for nostalgia value.

This weird little movie taps deep into the nostalgia for the videotape horror game craze THAT I ACTUALLY REMEMBER from the 80s/early 90s.

In fact directly after watching this, I jumped on Youtube and found the exact video my family played one Christmas...

Beyond The Gates borrows some choice things from this game - the message at the start of the tape, the gorgeous neon colour scheme of pinks, purples and blues to name but two - and so perhaps those of us old enough to remember the "source material" may find more to love about this film than those who don't.

My biggest complaint, is probably the dialogue. In the 'downtime' moments it's natural to the point of actually being dull. You know how normal, human conversations just don't translate to the screen? It's too mundane and too awkward. This film has a lot of those, more than it needs.

Nevertheless, this is certainly the most unique horror film I've seen in a while - and yes, there's also plenty of gore!

Turn the lights down and the sound up :)

Monday, October 02, 2017

The Blob (1988)

This was a pretty nice one to help ease into my October, as it was just the right balance of 80s cheese; "where have I seen this actor before?" moments, and lovely lovely gooey practical effects.

For the record, the actors I recognised were:
  • Shawnee Smith (from the Saw franchise) as female lead Meg
  • Kevin Dillon (Entourage) as bad boy Brian with the incredible mullet
  • Jack Nance (Twin Peaks' Pete Martell) in a small role as a doctor
  • Erika Eleniak (old school Baywatch) as a sleepy drunken date, Vicki

In this remake of the 1958 sci-fi horror classic - real talk: I've never seen that one - a meteorite crashes in a forest near the town of Arborville, California. It makes first contact with a local, and when some teens find him and take him to the hospital, they unwittingly start a series of events that are going to leave one of them, and a lot of the townspeople, dead.

The blob itself (reminding me very much of the psychomagnotheric slime from Ghostbusters 2, which was released a year later) is a lot more dangerous than it appears, and if you let it touch you, you're basically done for. Not great news for the locals, but awesome news for us...!

A whopping $9 million of this film's $19m budget was spent on FX, and it shows! Some bad green screen aside (which must have been inescapable in 1988), the practical effects for gore and blob shenanigans are really impressive and still stand up. The blob genuinely seems terrifying!

Who's going to look after his dog now? :(

In amongst the poor innocent victims of this gooey menace, is one who definitely deserved what he got... and even if his death scene wasn't one of the best, it warranted the biggest cheer. Back then I suppose this type of character was considered funny, if a bit of a slimeball, but watching it now, he just comes off as rapey. 

Parked in his car, complete with a fully stocked bar in the trunk, he's too busy getting gorgeous Vicki drunk to notice the approaching ooze (in a blob POV shot! Genius!). When she passes out, he doesn't think twice about "continuing" the date.

What a creep. Thankfully the blob has quietly made its way into the car, and unfortunately, into poor Vicki too, and it isn't long before this guy is kicking, screaming and dying. Byeeee!

The carnage continues, bravely killing off some characters I wasn't expecting, until a big showdown in the centre of town and a very obvious set-up for a sequel (that never happened due to this being a box office fail at the time).

In a cast of entertaining but still rather clich├ęd, one-dimensional characters (bad boy, weirdo priest, town sheriff, diner waitress, little brother...) Shawnee Smith's Meg is the most well-rounded, avoiding the trap of shrill female lead and instead emerging as a strong, likeable survivor.

The first time we see her she's a cheerleader, but refreshingly there's no big deal made of her also being a badass wielding a gun by the end. She's just able to do that too, because she's a multi-faceted, "get shit done" kind of person.

She's not technically a final girl, but she's the closest thing to it here, and she's cool.

Side note: I just came across a mention that Joss Whedon had this character in mind as inspiration for Buffy, which makes perfect sense if true.

So The Blob has plenty to recommend it for a pretty chilled out, but fun and pleasingly gross watch:
  1. Goo. So much goo. And there's something eminently satisfying about watching the blob pump itself into a tiny enclosed space like a hazmat helmet.
  2. A cheeky reference to another film within the horror genre, with the blatant Friday the 13th rip-off the kids are watching. Fact: The real Friday the 13th franchise was on its 7th film by the time this came out!
  3. A character getting fatally sucked into a sink,
  4. Lighting! Cool 80s lighting throughout, plus X-Files-y shots of huge shards of light cutting through a forest, and hazmat suits with the little light inside. 

Speaking of 80s, we've got a sweet closing credits power ballad, too. Enjoy!