Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On this day in 1999.

The Blair Witch Project was released in the USA.

It terrified me when I went to see it (late October release in the UK), I thought I was going to vomit and have a heart attack at the same time. This film is still one that springs to mind when I'm asked to name scary films. When people find out you're a horror blogger, that's one of the first questions they ask.

I know. I know a lot of people think Blair Witch is a pile of poop, but I continue to get a good horror film kick out of this movie - ie: scared but enjoying it. Not so much as during the first viewing, true, but when do you ever recapture that magic. 

This clip seriously just made my heart rate rocket. It's still got it, for me.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Children of the Corn (2009).

Final Girl Film Club time! Haven't done one of these in a while.

Only upon reading about this version did I learn that the 1984 Children of the Corn (reviewed here) doesn't entirely follow the plot of Stephen King's short story. It was pretty much given a "good triumphs evil" ending, whereas the original tale and this made-for-television film both finish on a downer. Closer to the source material + more depressing = a good thing, I thought.

Well, sometimes King's short stories work as feature length adaptations (Shawshank! Stand By Me!) sometimes they don't (this!). The sins of the 80s original are sadly repeated here: with pacing which makes minutes feel like hours and boredom taking the place of really any of the emotions you want from a horror movie. It's a shame, because who doesn't love brainwashed cult children killing adults in small-town rural America? That sounds just delicious and a whole lot of fun.

This film is neither of those things. Womp womp.

This may also be the least scary horror film opener I've ever seen. A group of children look gormless in a tent while some heavy handed scene setting goes down. It's NINETEEN SIXTY-THREE people, and we're in GATLIN, NEBRASKA. The death cult theme is introduced and we learn that adults are sinners, and the town's being punished by a cornfield-lurking Old Testament God because of this. So the kids are to kill all the grown ups - no one is to live above the age of nineteen.

The ranting child prophet is dressed as a cowboy, by the way.

Twelve years on brings more shitty dialogue badly acted, and not one but two more mentions that we're in GATLIN, NEBRASKA. Bickering married couple Burt and Vicky are road tripping and end up here after accidentally running over a child, as he hotfooted it out of a cornfield. 

Wait, where are we again? I forget...

"Come take a look! So you can tell all your NRA buddies what you bagged in NEBRASKA!".

Oh, yeah.

Upon closer inspection they discover the kid was bleeding out from a slit throat anyway. What a spot of luck! That doesn't stop the incessant bloody arguing between the two though. Vicky wonders aloud how she ever ended up married to Vietnam veteran Burt, whilst we ponder likewise. But this isn't a depiction of a vulnerable marriage like in, I dunno, The Shining; it's merely aggravating having to listen to a couple going on and on and ON at one another. If I wanted to listen to couples pointlessly arguing, I'd turn off the TV and eavesdrop on my neighbours.

They load the kid in the trunk and head off to find Gatlin police, to report the accident.

Unfortunately for them, this is the Gatlin police dept.

Then this happens.

This is my favourite part of the film, this shot.

Preston Bailey plays prophet and leader, Isaac. You may recognise him as Dexter's son, from the popular TV show! Here he spouts scripture and delivers lines with exceedingly repetitive parrot-fashion intonations, to the extent that I couldn't concentrate on what he was saying, half the time. Exposition in this movie is a choice between adults yelling, or children talking nonsense.

Big hats: not generally scary. But at the least the corn's in shot.

I much preferred the weird young-old looking Isaac from the first one (John Franklin). He may have been an adult playing a child, but at least he was creepy.

It is an age old trick, using kids and kiddie-related stuff to ratchet up the creepiness in a narrative; yet somehow the casting of actual children in this does nothing for the sinister feel of the movie. They went to all that trouble of employing mostly under-agers (whereas the '84 version did not) but it only really pays off in the more explicit scenes, which I'll talk about in a little while.

The pace picks up finally, when Burt goes to investigate a church, leaving Vicky in the car. She is ambushed by the children and despite what must have been a hell of a lot of noise in an otherwise dead silent town, it takes Burt ages to go back outside and try to help his wife.

Um, spoiler... he fails.

This confrontation with the little religious zealots appears to kick off some 'Nam flashbacks in Burt, who spends his remaining screen time killing or maiming children and slowly losing his mind - illustrated by some sweet visual effects which look like they belong in a music video. Because horror needs more of those.

Ultimately the corn god gets bored waiting for the kids to kill Burt, so he does it himself. Then we're given a looong post credit sequence of ginger sergeant-at-arms Malachi saying goodbye to his knocked up lady love Ruth, because he's reached the age he must offer himself up as a sacrifice. 

This film... it kind of baffled me. On the one hand, it's not very good and the acting stinks (best performance by far? Alexa Nikolas as Ruth, her faith shaken). Nothing much happens for stretches of it, the dialogue during the dialogue heavy sequences... just awful. Yes, it was made for TV and I'm not too sure what the caliber of work is on the SyFy Channel - wasn't Sharknado from there? - but this is dire and yet strangely explicit, at the same time? It depicts graphic (compared to mainstream films) child death and young adult T&A. 

The scene goes on for some time on the uncut DVD version, too.

Clearly some of the more intense stuff was not aired on TV, but that just makes the uncut version play disjointedly like exactly what it is: a weak TV movie with some graphic stuff thrown in to shift the DVD release. Personally I'd rather it picked a side and stayed there.

Visually speaking it's interesting to note that like the 1984 version, I found there to be some lovely shot compositions in amongst everything. The image of the dead boy in the foreground and car behind, for one. Here it is again, if you can't be bothered to scroll up.

Big juicy high-res version here.

Another is this one.

I'd be fine with someone taking a sickle to everything but these two visuals, and build it up anew from there. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

V/H/S (2012)

I'm so out of the loop. All I knew of this film was the name, and only then because someone I follow on Instagram posted about it a while back. So I slung it on Netflix without much thought. Sometimes that is really the way to go.

What I quickly gathered was that this is an anthology film! These can work so well when done decently. It can scratch so many horror itches in one single running time, and shorter films have to work harder and be tighter in their execution, because they don't have long to get their shit done.

The film starts like a You've Been Framed from hell: a compilation of faintly unsettling footage plays out before us. There's an attack on a woman in a parking garage and pointless vandalisation of a house... It's not slick, it's not pretty and it's not even that entertaining; it's just odd, gratuitous and uncomfortable to watch.

Well played, V/H/S  I was already feeling like this wasn't going to be a movie I mindlessly let wash over me. There's potential for fidgeting in seats, exclamations - maybe even a few nervous jumps.

The central story which threads the others together, is that of a group of guys breaking into a house under the instructions of an unnamed employer, to retrieve a video cassette. Once inside the house they find not only hundreds of VHS tapes, but also a dead body. Awkward. However they seem pretty unfazed by all this, so they each investigate the house and one by one pick up a tape and start to watch the videos - and as they do, so do we.

(Image from here, as are all the following)

Remember the controversial scene in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer: the one with Henry and Otis watching footage back after taping the murder of a family, and how we the audience don't realise until the last moment that we are watching it back with them? This film kept reminding me of that scene. In pressing 'play' on this film, we are willing accomplices. This is always the case of course, but with found footage - especially of an unpleasant and criminal nature, as here - it's extra creepy when you think about it. We sit there like Henrys and Otis's, on our sofas coolly taking in the awful events, all for our entertainment.

I don't recall there being titles to the shorts during the film itself, but Wiki informs me they go by the following:

Tape 56/frame narrative
Amateur Night
Second Honeymoon
Tuesday The 17th
The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger

I include them here because titles are cool, and it makes it easier for me to refer to them!

The first, Amateur Night, centres around three guy friends. Here we see how the film makers get around the POV thing for a time, as we're introduced to "video glasses", some hipster looking specs which have a camera and mic inside them. 

Who's got one thumb and probably won't survive the night? This guy!

The kid wearing them goes out on the town with his douchebag friends to pick up girls. All on camera, all without any of the girls knowing, of course. It's a nightmarish sequence in the sense of boozy nights out. Sloppy drunks, getting chucked out of bars... and a spooky intense looking girl who seems to have a thing for our bespectacled friend.

"I like you." has never sounded so scary.

Bringing some drugs and the girls back to their hotel, events progress how you'd assume until... they really don't. Let's just say things turn sour and really, really messy.

What I love about V/H/S is that nothing was what I expected it to be. I may have been out of the horror game for a while now, but genre conventions are strong: you see a narrative unfolding and you think you know where something is heading. These tales are so banal and derivative in their set up, that it comes like a wake-up slap in the face when they then turn out to be something so much more horrible than you had assumed.

Another thing to recommend this film is the fact I couldn't tell if it was a small budget used brilliantly or a large budget used with restraint. The effects are great, but they do what they ought to, and no more. I imagine the found footage vibe helps with coming across more gritty and gross than on slick HD film; the fuzzy, sometimes jumpy visuals wash over everything like a filter so that nothing sticks out and takes you out of the moment.

Second Honeymoon spooked me. Like, watching in broad daylight and I still wanted to crawl out of my skin, spooked. It is probably my favourite of the collection. It's got a dash of the urban myth about it, and I think that's why I liked it so much. That, and it's so incredibly simple.

Also: masks are always scary.

Tuesday The 17th plays like a cabin in the woods type deal, but again, with a twist that keeps you interested. It's the weakest of the bunch in my opinion, but even so it explores a common theme in a way I've never seen before, so must be commended for that.

Between each short the main story progresses, with its own small but chilling developments. Who is the naked person crouched in the basement? How did that apparently dead body move from the chair? (and back again?). Y'know, common questions one finds oneself pondering, from time to time.

The Sick Thing... is yet another simple idea cleverly done. This one features video chatting as an alternative to "why are these people videotaping every single thing they're doing?".

(from here)

It starts as a haunted house deal, complete with classic set-ups like searching a dark room with only one weak light source, and something happening that we and the dude chatting can see, but Emily cannot. Just good old "oh shit!" moments. I enjoyed this one a lot, and at the reveal I was pretty much looking like Emily, there.

When I used to go to horror film festivals, there would be films like these shorts amongst the bigger budget studio ones. I wanted to like them all, to support the people getting out there and becoming a real part of the genre. It was always something of a hit and miss affair though, if they were any good. V/H/S is like a 'best of' mix from one of these events.

I've read that the reception for this film was mixed; complaints of it being too long (it's nearly two hours) and dropping the ball as often as it hits it out of the park. As someone who stepped back from horror because it seemed like nothing and no one was doing anything new or interesting, over and over again, I would consider myself a tough viewer to impress - and impress me V/H/S did.

There are five solid stories here and I would say I was caught unawares 4.5 times by how they developed and concluded. They all tend to reach into different sub-genres, too, so you ultimately feel a full blanket of horror satisfaction!

More horror anthology films please...?

If you've not seen V/H/S, do so. Don't read anything online, just sit and watch and then come back and tell me what you thought! And if you have seen it and its sequel: tell me, should I bother?