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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.

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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

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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.

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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.