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Sunday, 17 August 2014

DADDY'S GIRL... As if That Term isn't Creepy Enough Already...

The only thing scarier than little girls, is little girls with closed files...

3.5 Stars

90s horror - you gotta love it. Daddy's Girl was released in 1996, and my guess is with all the excitement over the Scream series and it's rejuvenating the "who dun it" mystery, this one may have gotten lost in the shuffle. I hadn't heard of it until recently, but when I did, I couldn't pass it up.

The plot follows a young girl named Jody who has been recently adopted. While she has taken a particular shine to the father, Don, the mother has failed to make a connection with her. Probably the weirdest thing going on here - even before the bodies pile up - is her inclination to call her adoptive father "daddy" in this very insistent manner. Eventually we find out this is at least her second family in the last few years, so her love for daddy quickly turns into something that mirrors obsession far more closely. 

Of course, she's troubled, so when she finds out her principal, a nice elderly lady, is going to suggest her parents send her to a boarding school (someplace that will better handle her sensitive situation and delinquency), Jody is very displeased. After all, the woman is trying to take her precious daddy from her. There's only solution. Kill the old lady, and anyone else she might perceive as a potential threat to her relationship with daddy........ 
WTF?! This kid's nuts.

This is an entertaining watch, best if you're bored in on a rainy Saturday afternoon (which was exactly my scenario). The gore is pretty minimal, her killing method is often to set someone up for a terrible accident. The deaths do seem more gruesome though, simply because they are so ruthlessly committed by such a small girl. They also become increasingly violent. 

But I don't know how she would be fooling anyone - the kid looks like pure evil delivered to your doorstep with adoption papers and a creepy smile.

And yes, the adoption set-up is a little played out but I'd say this is forgivable. I almost want to compare  Daddy's Girl to The Good Son which was released just 3 years earlier. If you have any form of child-phobia (and I do - THANK YOU Stephen King) this one should give you some shutters. Ultimately though, it's a fine ride meant to shock more than frighten.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014): Reclaiming Cliches

4.5 Stars

It's no secret that, at times, horror films tend to get distracted by their desire to do too much, or too little. On the rare occasion though, you get a near perfect marriage of story, and fright. In Deliver Us From Evil, a story of demonic possession spreading across the Bronx, what you're presented with is an expertly-crafted narrative which delivers on both accounts.

Starting off as what could appear to be the opening of a powerful inner-city police drama, the film draws viewers in by slowly developing the horror until it becomes so intrinsically linked to what is depicted as the dangerous underbelly of NY that one can hardly tell when the genre-switch happened, or if there really was one. This technique is a strong one, as evidenced in this film, and it is eventually amped up by a number of jump-scares. While these typically fail to land with hardcore horror fans (who seem to pride themselves on not reacting), I have to admit - I don't know exactly how or why, but these jump-scares manage to feel more authentic than cliched. Although they did not make me "jump" per-se, the film as a whole often had me feeling utterly unsettled, and this must be a testament to its ability to create a certain atmosphere, which is clearly in some part strengthened by an inexplicably appropriate (over)use of the jump-scare.


As far as cliches go, there are a lot of them and yet the filmmaker finds a way to allow these moments (ie creepy jack-in-the-box playing itself) to feel organic to the moment rather than thrown in to make "horror" quotas.

I personally believe the scares work because not only is there a good balance between expected cliches and unexpected ones (ie the lion attack), but there is also a nice balance between plot and character development. Where many horror movies fail to deliver is on character; we don't care about them, so it's easier to watch them die. But in this 2 hr flick, time is given to allow us to get to know some of them just enough to remain intrigued by the story itself.

Our main character, officer Sarchie (supposedly, the story is based on this man's actual story, but I try not to pay much attention to such disclaimers as they are usually exaggerated for effect and marketing) is a troubled cop. Like many a NY cop character before him, he's tired and angered and distressed by the state of his beloved city. But there is something special about Sarchie - what makes him a great cop, is exactly what leaves him vulnerable to evil...

Our secondary character is Mendoza, a (rocker-esque) priest who is lousy with human flaws. A recovered heroine-addict, Mendoza remains self-aware, and passionate about his decision to forgive himself and connect with God. More importantly, he is passionate about saving lives. This makes him a wonderful partner for Sarchie who is a former-Catholic who can no longer see God in his surroundings.

As a final thought, I'd like to point out that this is perhaps the best use of music in a horror film I have witnessed in quite sometime. The poison of choice? The Doors. You may not imagine that would work, but trust me - it does.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

CANDYMAN (1992) and the Missed Opportunity to Engage in Critical Analysis

3.5 Stars

So, to be honest, I had been avoiding this one for a while. I really wasn’t sure how I'd feel about creating a monster out of such a disturbing sympathetic tale. If for some reason you haven't heard it - here goes: 

1890 the son of a former slave turned respectable entrepreneur is lucky enough to be brought up in a life of privilege. Mostly unaware of his own subjection to racism and discrimination, he lives a happy life and becomes well-known for his artistic talents. One day he is commissioned by a rich white man to paint his lovely daughter, but when the two fall in love and she is found to be pregnant, the father will have none of it. The town turns on him and he is chased, tormented, and killed. Legend has it his right hand was cut off and his body was covered with honey to attract the many bees who covered him from head to toe, eventually stinging him to death.

True or not, the story (which has been around since the turn of the century) speaks to anxieties about racial tensions and blacks and whites having to live and work side by side for the first time. For that reason alone, the story is a touchy subject which making it a little difficult to properly represent on-screen without extensively examining issues of race and class overtime.

The 1992 film adaptation, now considered one of the scariest films of all times, is based on Clive Barker's novel of the same name. Needless to say, it does little to consider the contextual and historical factors the legend is tapping into. Worse, the potential to engage in the much needed critical analysis was present within the plot itself, as it followed a graduate student researching the Candyman Legend for her thesis. Instead, she focuses her effort on understanding why all the residents of Cabrini Green, a dangerous ghetto in Chicago, are convinced they are being picked off by the legend himself. Barring the stereotypical depiction of a black "hood", the film seriously undermines Candyman's story by turning him into a Dracula-type romantic killer. 

I had a very difficult time understanding this connection between the legend and his Dracula-esque qualities. It felt like an elementary attempt to center his revenge on his tragically lost love. Mad with passion (presumably she resembles his lost love), Candyman seeks to destroy all of Helen’s life until all she can do is submit to him. Cute.

All in all, I do not regret watching this one, and even find the first half to be a compelling start with a lot of potential. Helen even made for an intriguing female lead, she was strong-minded and willing to push the envelope. 

Sadly I found it all fell apart in act II... SO close, but no cigar (sigh).

Saturday, 31 May 2014

One Star Wonders Part III: 3D Edition

Sadako 3D and Apartment 1303 3D

What do you say about a movie so bad it actually leaves you speechless? Not much. You just kindly warn others... Presenting the third instalment of One Star Wonders.

* * * * * 

Up first, Sadako. It manages it's one star for plot - although the story itself was terrible, the way it played out did make for an interesting display of gender role reversal. It is literally the ONLY interesting thing in this one.

Ok. Where do I start? I suppose my biggest mistake was going into this one with high hopes. I am not only a fan of J-Horror, but I really enjoyed the Ringu and Ring movies. So this 3rd sequel about the deadly video going viral seemed like the best way to spend a Wednesday afternoon. Even the 3D didn't worry me too much since in my experience with other recent Japanese horrors, 3D had been surprisingly good (The Shock Labyrinth and Tortured - but I guess that's just because Takashi Shimizu is an amazing visual director and storyteller). 

Here, we have a viral suicide video of some tortured artist which is actually an attempt to bring Sadako and her curse back to life; a school teacher who has a superpower that allows her screams to shatter anything around her, and a boyfriend who is dumb enough to watch the video. When Akane goes after Sadako for the return of her boyfriend, she apparently forgets she has this power, and allows herself to be chased and cornered for a stupid amount of time before using it too late. But hey, I laughed a lot...

If you happen to be interested in how this film plays with the concept of gender, see my full review Here, at

* * * * *

Next up, Apartment 1303, which manages one star for story, since (despite the weak presentation) it is a scenario that would be legitimately scary.

LOL. This remake of Ataru Oikawa's 2007 film is only impressive in its display of how terrible an actress Mischa Barton is. Again, 3D nowadays is a really big tell, but in all fairness I put it on without realizing it had been unwittingly created for 3D suckers. With a rating of 2.7/10 on IMDB, you know you're in for a good time. 

The film does try, which might make it more pathetic. It tries to create full characters and big scares but unfortunately it can't quite make the mark. The film follows Lara who moves into her little sister's apartment directly following her suicide, which Lara finds very suspicious. And with good reason, her sister had not only expressed her hesitation about sleeping there alone but we actually get to see the ghostly attack. The first part of the film, which shows the hauntings and attacks, is not bad but once Mischa takes over it all falls downhill. Especially when they keep pushing the strained relationship with her mother which is so poorly presented it actually looks like a soap opera. 

Again, good for a laugh, and if you bother to imagine the circumstances taking place in your bedroom, you'll see it had potential, somewhere, at some point.

* * * * *

For more One-Star Reviews, Check out Part I and II

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

POLTERGEIST: Good Old Fashioned Ghost Drama

Tonight, I will have nightmares about maggots in my food, but I’ve made peace with that.

4 Stars

You know it’s a Spielberg picture when the plot scrutinizes family dynamics - and that over the top score also gives it away. 

The film is really well done and reminds me why I like ghost movies. No handheld cameras or overused FX here, just good old fashioned ghost drama. 

I haven’t seen much else of Tobe Hooper’s work, butI think it’s safe to assume it is Spielberg’s vision that really comes through here. Offbeat middle-class life shines superb, with wonderfully quirky moments like when Diane and Steve lie in bed smoking pot while Reagan gives a speech on the muted T.V. 

What really makes this one great is the family’s reaction to Carol-Anne’s disappearance. Distressed, but not crumbling by any means, they simply accept what has happened and seek out the appropriate form of assistance. Their casual and rational approach makes the viewer believe in what is happening with total ease, whereas today in a lot of haunting movies the emphasis is put on the slow realization of what is happening - as if to convince the audience. I’ve always found that strange considering the diegetic world is necessarily a false one and can therefore adhere to any laws of physics it so chooses. And that’s what we get here, the T.V. people take their daughter, and the family immediately understands this as plausible. It’s the type of film escapism that is often difficult to come by these days.

The characters are great, as well. Diane is a wonderful mother, but it’s nice that she is presented as more than that. She and her husband share a wonderfully goofy connection and it is this side of Diane that shines throughout. Rather than losing her mind when she discovers the house is haunted, she embraces it and has fun with it. It is this free-spirited nature of Diane’s that allows her to remain grounded throughout the course of the ordeal.

Steve is also interesting because his stuffy job does not define him in the way middle-class men tend to presented on-screen, in the 80s in particular. He sees the fault in what his cooperation has done when he figures out that they have built on a cemetery, and is not afraid to confront them about it. Prior to this discovery, Steve simply accepts his job as a part of his life, but by no means does he allow it to take him over. In fact, for such a big shot, he is rather humble and laid back.

Together with their fun loving kids they create an image of middle-class life that is non-threatening, which is not something horror often does. Since Hitchcock’s Psycho the genre has been committed to twisting the concept of normal so as to present it as scary, which is one thing that makes the genre so special and compelling. 

But that is not the case here... And somehow, it’s refreshing. 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

FEBRUARY 29th: Evil is Coming...

A Curse. A Serial Killer. A Twist Ending: The Recipe For Horror Goodness.

4 Stars

This ghost-story takes on something of an urban legend form, using the mysterious nature of the allusive 29th day of February. There are many traditions associated with Leap Year and Leap Day around the world, such as Ladies Privilege, but there are also some eerie legends, like a Leap Day Baby will prove difficult to raise. Instead of using any of the more commonly known Leap Day legends, this film identifies a curse on the day which has a crazed serial killer return every four years to claim innocent victims. Surprisingly, the killer is not only denied the privilege of a backstory in the film, but is also a woman. Such rarities within the plot make the film exceptionally original and incredibly intriguing.

Despite the fact that the plot moved back and forth in time, the story is very easy to follow. It is told mainly from the perspective of Ji-Yeon, a young woman who is locked in a mental facility suffering from sleep depravation and paranoia. When a journalist visits her to get her strange story we learn that her fear stems from a belief that she is being stalked and targeted by the ghost of a serial killer. Her story begins late one night while working at a toll booth. When she is handed a bloody toll ticket during an inexplicable blackout in her booth, she tries not to panic. Her anxiety about the issue is kept to a minimum until she begins to connect some unsettling dots - like a woman who seems to be following her - oh, and dressing like her (which, believe me, within this context is much creepier than it sounds). As Leap Day nears, Ji-Yeon becomes more and more convinced that her pursuer is after more than her sense of style. Unfortunately, as is usually the case in horror films, no one will take her suspicions seriously. Worse, a dead body has already turned up, and the local detectives have begun to take quite the interest in her.

It has a great tense atmosphere, and a compelling plot. Telling the story from the hospital is a real benefit as it continuously engages us with Ji-Yeon and her rapid decline into “insanity”. Her downward spiral is in fact so quick that we barely get a chance to know who she was before all of the madness took over, but that’s okay because it gives the film a comfortable pace, always holding the viewer’s attention.

It’s not a very gory film, nor does it have many jumpscares but it’s certainly effective. Perhaps it is the claustrophobic space of the toll booth, combined with the small cast that makes this atmosphere so creepy - whatever it’s doing, it’s doing it well. My one criticism might be that the finale is a little abrupt, however, it’s an unexpected twist and its suddenness might be beneficial in shocking the audience.

Admittedly, I have not seen much K-Horror, but now I think I should.

Monday, 5 May 2014

THE MOTH DIARIES: Revisiting Carmilla and Dracula

A Gothic Tale of Friendship, Love, and Loss 

3.5 Stars

Written and directed by Mary Harron, the Canadian-Irish co-production has all the fixings for a Gothic masterpiece, but the execution falls a little flat. At fault for this I believe is the all teen-girl cast. Set in a boarding school, the film follows Rebecca, whose diary constitutes the narration of her final, chaotic, year of high school and the obstacles she must overcome (which are not boy-related - refreshing). 

Instead, the story focuses on her friendship with her BFF Lucy as the presence of a new, mysterious girl, begins to complicate their relationship. 

Unable to cope with her depression without Lucy's support, Rebecca begins to slip. Her growing concern for Lucy's health and her growing anxiety about her father's recent suicide have her in a tail-spin. When the campus is struck with a string of fatal freak-accidents, Rebecca can't help but wonder if the new girl is behind it all, and if she is something other than human.

The film weaves together the stories of both the 1871 Gothic novella Carmilla, and Bram Stoker's Dracula - in no subtle way. Using Rebecca's Gothic Lit course as a way to open her mind to the potential danger of Ernessa, Harron is also able to explore the vampiric themes and motifs of Sex, Blood, and Death (as cited by Rebecca's teacher). 

Moreover, Harron is able to create a compelling relationship between Rebecca and Lucy which mirrors that of Mina and Lucy in Stoker's novel. At the same time though, the story follows the plot of Carmilla so as to explore themes of sexuality (especially through the homoeroticism that exists between the girls) and power from a different perspective; one that is specifically female.

It's certainly intriguing and although I was not particularly impressed or surprised by any of it, I still felt drawn to Rebecca's story the whole way through. That being said, I'm not entirely convinced the film wanted to do more than re-imagine Carmilla. As such, it is very much an adaptation but it is lacking in  an inspiring new approach. It is not updated so as to address modern-day issues and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does make it a little boring. But in all fairness, there is definitely passion, pain, and a desire for freedom, a desire for love - all things that never are really outdated in the first place.

I classify this one as worth a watch for anyone who is captivated by the Gothic tales.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Drawing Connections: 5 Memorable Horror Homages

Because of its status as a "low-genre", horror viewership has been linked to ideas of deviancy, sadism, masochism, and corruption. So it's not surprising that horror fandom has the tendency to become very communal, inciting both a huge popular following and huge cult/underground followings. Scholar Brigid Cherry has even written of watching horror as a rite of passage, especially for teenagers - a chance to prove brave in front of peers. Meanwhile, Barbara Creed has asserted that the genre creates an interesting dialectic between seeing/not seeing for the viewer who is at once drawn to the screen and closing their eyes in order to disconnect when times get tough. According to Linda Williams, horror is a body genre, making its appeal in its ability to elicit bodily reactions from viewers who essentially lose control by losing themselves in the diegesis. 

All this to say, there is a blatant attraction to the genre which is bound up in the idea of having fun, and cutting loose. The sense of community among horror lovers, as you may have guessed, extends beyond the audience and onto the screen. Horror filmmakers, scriptwriters, 
actors and so forth are generally well known for their dedication to horror fandom, thus making homage a significant aspect of the films. After all, isn't everything just based on Hitchcock's Psycho? And isn't Craven's Scream franchise just based on... well, everything?

Drawing connections has become one of the most exciting ways to view these films, especially today in a time of infinite repetition, with remakes and reboots invading the cinemas. But the truth is, within the genre of horror at least, moments of homage have always been a part of the viewing experience - it has always been a genre for the fans. With the recent boom in remakes and sequels (which is not a new thing), it is increasingly noticeable that the ones that work best are the ones that seem to get that it is not so much about remaking the movie, but about revisiting what was loved about it. And often this means, who was loved about it. 

There are tons of these out there, but as a jumping off point, here are 5 of my favourite connections.

Halloween Loves Psycho

Beginning in 1978, headed by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Michael Meyers quickly became the most well known, and terrifying killer on the big screen. His prey? Laurie Strode, portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis in her first feature role. With the film’s strong connection to Psycho, it is no coincidence that her first role was as a Final Girl, a slasher archetype considered to be properly developed for the first time in this film. In 1960 Hitchcock set the groundwork for the must-factor in what would eventually come to be known as slasher cinema - the attack of a beautiful unsuspecting woman. Of course, this was Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, Hollywood star and mother of the then two year old Jamie Lee Curtis. Aside from her keen ability to bring Laurie Strode to life, Carpenter liked that she was “Marion Crane’s”  daughter since his script was already something of a love letter to Psycho with a significant character, Dr. Sam Loomis, being named after Hitchcock’s male lead. So, heavily inspired by the classic, Halloween went on to become a classic of its own.

Janet Leigh And Jamie Lee Curtis, The Mother-Daughter Scream Queen Duo

Just a couple short years after Carpenter’s clever casting of Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween he and Hill decided to make the connection a recurring element of their films, casting both Curtis and her mother Leigh in his next feature, The Fog. The joke here of course is that Curtis and Leigh play two completely disconnected characters. The viewers wait and wait for a connection to be made between them, or for them to at least share an embrace, but it never happens. Instead, the two eventually find themselves trapped in a church together with the rest of the townsfolk and never once bother to interact directly. “Gotcha!” (Likely this is what Hill and Carpenter exclaim when viewing with others). Then in 1998 Curtis decided it was time for a twenty year reunion with her beloved brother, Michael Meyers. Along with director Steve Miner, Curtis developed Halloween H20. This time Leigh’s presence as a Mother figure for the grown Laurie Strode is undeniable. Battling alcoholism and paranoia, Laurie turns to her boss for advice whenever she feels herself getting too lost. The dynamic is a perfect nod to this mother-daughter duo’s long Scream Queen career.

Danielle Harris In Rob Zombie’s Halloween Reboot

In 1988, at just eleven years old, Harris took over the role of Final Girl in the Halloween series from Curtis who had moved on after the first sequel. While the third installment was completely disconnected from the original story, not even featuring the character of Michael Meyers, the fourth attempted to dig up its roots. Harris plays Jamie (yes, Jamie), the orphaned daughter of Laurie Strode who has since died in a car accident. When Michael escapes his hunt for his sister leads him straight to little Jamie, who is living with a foster family. After being hunted by Uncle Michael in Halloween 4, 5, and 6, Jamie’s role finally wrapped up. But it was not the end of Harris’s relationship with the series. In 2007 musician turned director, Rob Zombie decided to reboot the series with a new, modern take on the scenario. This time Harris was cast as Annie, Laurie Strode’s best friend who had originally been portrayed by Nancy Kyes in 1978. While Annie’s character was eventually killed by Michael in a car, Harris’s version was a much stronger “Final Girl-esque” figure who survives the brutal attack, even to return in Zombie’s sequel. We can only assume this is a nod to Harris’s superb Final Girl survival skills.

Andrea Martin In The Black Christmas Remake

Bob Clark’s 1974 Canadian slasher, which largely set the precedent for the genre, features an unseen killer hunting the girls of a sorority house on Christmas eve. Of the many characters, Phyllis would perhaps be the most forgettable if it weren’t for that unforgettable style - the mini afro and round glasses are completely out of place next to the plainer styles of the other girls. Still, even as one of the last to be killed (positioned gruesomely post-mortem with Barb), Phyllis has very few lines and is of little significance within the plot itself. She is overshadowed by characters with far more presence such as the Final Girl, Jess, the crass loud-mouth, Barb (played by Margot Kidder. Yup, Lois Lane), and the drunken House Mother, Mrs. Mac. In the remake however Andrea Martin is the only original cast member to return, this time as a lead role character - Ms. Mac. From quiet and insignificant, to storyteller and mother figure Mac, Andrea Martin’s role in the Black Christmas Universe comes a long way. It was really the only thing to enjoy in this one.

When There Is No More Room In Hell…

Horror veteran Ken Foree made his debut lead appearance as the protagonist Peter in George Romero’s instant classic Dawn of the Dead. Not only was his character significant for his ability to progress the narrative, that the character is black is also something that made the film so special. According to Robin Wood, the late film scholar, Peter’s position as a black man was used to indicate his separation from the “norms of white-dominated society” (not unlike the black protagonist in Romero’s earlier picture, Night of the Living Dead). Because this film is also “perhaps the first horror film to suggest the possibility of moving beyond the apocalypse” (Wood), religious undertones become important to the film’s consciously political level. Arguably the film’s most famous, if not most important, line, “when there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”, was delivered by Peter. So it was no surprise that when the film was remade in 2004, Foree made a well anticipated cameo as a televangelist, repeating this very line. The scene was very well received by the original’s loyal fans. The fame and respect Foree garnered from his role as Peter has carried throughout his career with such intensity, that it is difficult to imagine any of his horror work not relying on our recognition of this.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

INSIDIOUS Chapter 2: Sinfully Disappointing

Where there’s a great film, a less impressive second chapter is sure to follow.

2.5 Stars

Well, it’s important to give credit where credit is due, so on that note, there are some things here that work.

  1. The Soundtrack
  2. The Jumpscares

But - it takes more than creepy music and ghosts in “unexpected” corners to make a great horror film. All in all, the meandering plot lines, and past/present plot structure really worked against this flick. Worse was the out of place “ghost-hunters” segment with Specs, Tucker, and Lorraine. Otherwise, the film had a pretty good atmosphere, but this really broke up both the narrative structure and the aesthetics. It felt like an ill-placed attempt to cash in on the current found-footage/ghost-hunters fads, when it really didn’t need to. In fact, part of what made the first film such a success was that it wasn’t doing what all the other ghost movies were doing - it was just focused on delivering genuine chills by letting the audience get swept up in story itself rather than in the vague idea that this could all be “real”. Suddenly, we’re taken out of the moment because the cinematographic approach is so different in these scenes.

Again, I felt jarred by the atmospheric change in the Spirit world. The plot lines became messy and uninviting in focusing on the two worlds simultaneously and I am inclined to believe that I would have preferred to see it all from Renai’s terrified and confused perspective.

In short, the story itself was great but the decisions on how to deliver it felt forceful and over-explained. 

Everything taking place inside of the story’s present was very well done and exactly what I expect of Wan. These scenes had me on edge waiting anxiously for what would appear behind a door next. I liked the sense of chaos created by following Renai as she rushed about trying to keep calm for the boys. She definitely should have been more guarded against Josh trying to make sense of her actions was half the fun.

Unfortunately, it seems there will be a third. Sequels are already so touch and go, it baffles me that producers still always insist on going for a third, but no matter how bad the reviews are of sequels, when it comes down to it, most still buy tickets to see it in the first place (even if reluctantly). If there is money to be made in a third, expect a third. Word is however it will no longer focus on the Lamberts, or even follow up on the final scene of Chapter 2. Apparently it will follow Specs and Tucker though, so we might be in for some more wonderfully forced out-of-place humor. I think I’ll go ahead and sit this one out.

Friday, 11 April 2014

THE EVIL (1978): A Popcorn Horror with Some Substance

Lesson: Never Buy a Fixer-Upper... It's Haunted

3.5 Stars

This is fun movie, ripe with jump scares and interesting female characters (from the perspective of gender theory), but overall it simply doesn’t hold up against other haunted house/ghost films of the time. Amityville Horror (1979), The Fog (1980), Poltergeist (1982) - all of these films far outdo this one technically, formally, and narratively. That being said, it is certainly worth watching, at least once. If you are particularly jumpy, it will probably even get you a few times. If you aren’t… Watch it with someone who is.

Not unlike an old William Castle flick (late 50s, to be specific), the unacquainted characters all gather to make some summer cash fixing up a recently purchased but very old manor. The new owners of the house, Dr. Caroline Arnold and her husband C.J. Arnold (PhD) approach the strange atmosphere very differently. Caroline is immediately suspicious and her discomfort is depicted as irrational through the other perspectives, but eventually her paranoia is completely validated when the house (or the spirit occupying it) becomes violent. 

Notably, Caroline is not the only one who sees the danger, but is the most willing to address it.

(Minor Spoilers)

In an essay on A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), John Markowitz discusses at length the concept of female paranoia and how it is beneficial to the survival of Final Girl characters, an idea he entirely bases on Judith Halberstam’s earlier and broader arguments about Female Paranoia in horror. He writes that because women’s fears in such films are so often dismissed or misunderstood (seen as “pathological”) by other characters and society, it takes “a considerable amount of courage to insist that your fear is justified… Clearly then, it is no simple  matter to acquire, maintain and act upon paranoia”. But in doing so, the Final Girl can survive.

The Evil arguably positions Caroline as the Final Girl; she and her husband escape but it is Caroline’s insistence that something is wrong that saves them. Although C.J. Senses the danger, he is mostly unwilling to accept that something unnatural - or supernatural - is the cause, until he can no longer deny it. What is most interesting about this film is Caroline’s dual and contrasting identities as a female doctor. Her profession insists upon traits of rationality and yet her position as woman allows her special access to a sense of paranoia. For Halberstam, this particular privilege exists only for women due to their need to be aware of danger - in short, women are too vulnerable to not be paranoid. While the implication is unfortunately bound up in traditional gender ideals and stereotypes, its presence in a 1978 film makes the suggestion far more reasonable. 

As a character study, Caroline (and her relationship with C.J.) is well crafted and quite intriguing within the contemporary social context. Sadly, the ending was bit of a let down, feeling disconnected from the rest of the film.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

ALYCE KILLS, AMERICAN MARY, and Seductive Abjection

A Double-Dose of Crazy

Alyce: 4.5 Stars

Mary: 4 Stars

It seems undeniable that Alyce (2011) must have been an influence on the construction of Mary’s (2012) character and character arc. The stories, simply put, have the same basic premise - a young woman struggling to get by finds herself becoming someone almost unrecognizable after suffering a trauma. Although these new identities are much stronger in many ways, they are simultaneously complicated by their very relationship to trauma, which in and of itself implies a state of weakness.

For Alyce, the suffocation of guilt and grief becomes insufferable when she accidentally pushes her best friend, Caroll, off of a roof-top. Her subsequent descent into depression and drug abuse however ends up being only the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, Alyce completely loses her sense of self, transforming into a vengeful, self-motivated, monstrous-figure who actually represents the woman she had always wanted to be. The irony is of course to become this sexy, confident, pleasure-only-driven being, Alyce had to first destroy Caroll (who for her embodied this coveted identity), and then herself.

For Mary, the trauma of rape lends itself to the stark realization that her body and her self can be so easily objectified, violated, and made insignificant by others. This leaves her in a state of vacant sadness - until she decides to take back the control over her sense of self. What begins as a vengeance narrative eventually becomes a pursuit of identity and self-awareness for her. Her character therefore experiences more growth than Alyce is given the chance to because she does attempt to move past her trauma. 

Yet, in many ways Alyce Kills is a stronger film. As much as I love Katherine Isabelle (Mary) and the roles she chooses, the acting really stands out as being a driving force behind the power of Alyce Kills. Furthermore, the film is visually striking, with engaging, thought-provoking characters and views of the world, as it does attempt to look outside of itself in a profound way. American Mary does flirt with the idea of thinking about how the world works, but it does so rather superficially by only focuses on the significance of self-expression. This makes it a fascinating film in its own right, but the message is very straightforward. In Alyce Kills there is room for interpretation and debate because we see how Alyce herself struggles to decide how she understands the world.

No doubt, these women both earn Gold stars for going completely nuts, but that their transformations are so calculated is what makes them figure as monstrous (otherwise these would be dramas, not horrors). The notion of abjection weighs heavy in reading both films. Defined by Julia Kristeva as that which does not respect borders, and that which disturbs identity, system, and order, its relationship to the horror genre is obvious. But within these two films it can be discussed as relating to the characters themselves as they transform into monstrous versions of themselves. Notably, abjection is at once feared and desired for its seductive nature, and this can be seen in both Alyce and Mary as their sexual awakenings fall in line with their new violent identities (although for Mary the sexuality is retained to her presentation). Thus their identities shift to Barbara Creed’s concept of the Monstrous-Feminine as they allow themselves the pleasures of violence and sexuality - which is ultimately the seduction of the abject.

Needless to say, these two are Quality films, and I highly recommend them to any Horror fans or those interested in theories of Gender.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

One Star Wonders Part II

Leprechaun (1993) and Silent Hill Revelation 3D (2012)

What do you say about a film that is so bad it leaves you speechless? Presenting the second installment of One-Star Wonders, a segment reserved for films that are so bad they do not meet any of my criteria in full.


Up first, Leprechaun. This film gets one star for somehow making me truly believe it would be a fun viewing experience. 

When a little boy finds a lucky pot of gold at the end of the rainbow he sees it as the perfect opportunity to - well, I’m not sure.. Be rich, I guess. He does claim at one point that he will use the money to get his friend an operation to make him smart (the man appears to have a  learning disability that is used distastefully at times for comedic effect). At another point however he states that he knows that such an operation does not exist. So, nix the heartwarming child’s tale angle.
I put this on thinking to myself - Jennifer Aniston, Magic and Gore, what could go wrong? Well, let’s see - the dialogue is never believable, and the contrast between the Leprechaun’s big personality and the rather boring characters he is after leaves the film feeling disconnected from itself most of the time. Worse, it has not aged well, especially compared to Freddy movies, many of which are also tongue-and-cheek but rarely slack on the sinister elements, which this picture is definitely guilty of doing. Although the gore and SFX are really not that bad, it’s just not very effective when the story continues to drag on and on. 

* * * * * 

Next up, Silent Hill Revelation 3D. Half a star for creepy imagery (although the CGI was more distracting than in the first). Half for having a pretty good story premise to work with. Too bad the delivery was so weak.

I’m just glad I had the sense not to bother seeing this in 3D. I think by now it’s clear that the 3D fad has run its course. Hollywood continues to milk it by focusing on visual effects at the expense of well thought out storytelling, leaving this, the sequel to a good film, as one of the most recent victims. 
So what is the story? All grown up since the last time we saw her in 2006, Sharon/Elessa (played by Michelle Williams’s mini-me) teams up with John Snow (or whatever his name was) to track down her father when he is dragged to Silent Hill. While I liked that she had no recollection of her experiences there, partnering her up with a child of the order means it did not get to fully utilize methods of suspense. 
And while we’re on the topic… If he had to suffer the torture of having his body etched to get out of Silent Hill, how did someone just walk off with Elessa? It did seem to have a solid plan for itself at some point, but eventually it all started to feel rushed and thrown together. Two thumbs down.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

By Request - THE HAUNTING (Wise 1963): An Elegant Ghost Story, To Say the Least

Prime Real Estate

4 Stars

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Oh, oops. Wrong movie. 

In all seriousness though, the striking (albeit superficial) similarities to Rebecca (Hitchcock 1940) really help create the creepy atmosphere of this film. Consider the dreamy internal monologue, the menacing and personified house, the terrified yet terrifying maid, the engraved journal; all work together to set a familiar tone that is crucial to what author Pam Keesey describes as “the power of suggestion”.

After watching this haunted house story, you may notice that it showed nothing. But you might not. The suspense created by the use of sound is so visceral that it hand’t really occurred to me until the very end that I hadn’t actually seen the ghost at any time. While this is a tactic Stephen King has openly discussed his disapproval for, arguing that Wise’s decision to never “open the door” is simply “playing to tie rather than to win”, I’m betting most would disagree. 

Quit your bitching King, it’s a powerful method.

In fact, the film has even aged quite well, apparent in how believable the characters remain. 

The protagonist, Eleanor, might be the least reconcilable with modern perceptions because of her “nervousness”, but as a character she is still intriguing. Being inside of her head allows the viewer an understanding of how complex her relationship to the outside world is, but we learn even more about her from the prodding of Theo, a confident beauty who is instantly drawn to Eleanor. Her romantic inclination towards Eleanor is immediate; when the two first meet Theo refers to her as Nell, stating “it is the affectionate nickname for Eleanor, isn’t it?” And, cue the deliciously telling smirk. 

Meanwhile, Luke has a rather small role but he brings the comedic relief as he breezes about for most of the film with no concerns. All three are outcasts in their own right, and while you may not expect them to ever be in a room together, the trio has been carefully assembled by Dr. Markway. Handsome and calm, Markway eventually becomes torn between his ethics and his pursuit of truth, leading him to wonder, “maybe I’m being selfish” when he reflects upon the madness the group has been rocked by.

I haven’t seen the remake in well over a decade so I won’t pretend to remember it. All I can say, is that I think Catherine Zeta-Jones would be a perfect Theo. Overall though, it seems the film missed the memo on the power of suggestion. Keesey writes: “The remake of The Haunting and its failure to measure up to Wise’s original reminds us that, despite the rapid development of SFX technology and the untapped potential of this new resource, SFX needs to be a tool in the service of storytelling and not the story itself”.

The Haunting never needed SFX, all it needed was a story and a house. After all “It’s a Deadly Serious Place” (Dr. Markway).

DARK TOUCH: When Violence is an Epidemic...

"Children are easily persuaded"

5 Stars!

This is easily the most intense "victim-hero"horror film I have ever seen. Heavily influenced by Carrie (1976), this captivating story is relentless in it's display of trauma and violence.

See my full review at, a wonderful all-things-horror, must-follow site, which I was privileged to guest post for this week.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE (2012), A Little Bit Great

Falling somewhere between Peter Jackson’s Dead/Alive (AKA Braindead) and Ruben Fletcher’s Zombieland, this Zom-Com handles itself quite well. 

3.5 Stars

Parody is a sensitive art, too much and it’s all over. But these filmmakers are careful enough to cover all of their bases - slapstick, gore, drama, a girl-fight - without ever pushing any one motif over the edge. Pertinent to this formula is that it features all the appropriately comedic archetypes. And does it ever!

The Primary Cast:
The Snob/Bridezilla
The Cool Sarcastic Chick
The Big Doof
The Gentle Peacekeeper/Groom-to-be... and Zombie-to-be

The Secondary Cast, to Liven Things Up:
The Gun-Wielding Redneck
The Pretty Scientist

Moreover, we have a cabin in the woods setting. As the foursome heads out of town for one last weekend getaway before the big I Dos, it’s clear that they have all the fixings for fun. In fact, Bridezilla has it all in the itinerary, so what could go wrong? 

Zombie-Infected mosquitos. Yup. That’ll kill the party.. And then bring it back to life, moaning some nonsense that sounds like BRAAAAAIIIIINNNNS.

What’s fresh about this story is the process of “zombiefication”. Despite my lovely pun, the truth is that the mosquitos do not kill, they only infect. So, similar to the experience of the Mother in Dead/Alive, we get to watch Steve (the Gentle Peacekeeper and Groom-to-be) slowly change with very little awareness of what is happening to him. He’s pretty pale, and throws up every time he tries to eat, but the most alarming symptom is definitely the craving for brains. 

Hmm, maybe Bridezilla should not have brought that cute little Bunny to the party…

Lucky for Steve he is surrounded by people who love him and who are willing to put on a pair of hooker boots to trap his dinner: on the menu tonight, drunk biker perv. Mm mm good.

I won’t go so far as to call this film brilliant, but it is quite witty and definitely worth your time if you enjoy parody to any degree. Personally, I’m not a fan of slapstick humor, but this film pulls it off by using it sparingly. With only an 87 minute running time, A Little Bit Zombie does quite a bit narratively. For that, I say it’s a success. Plus, I dig the Army of Darkness reference in the poster.

Oh, stay tuned after the credits for fun post-plot-story pics and find out what became of sweet ol’ Steve.