The Dead are Back!

After a break that felt like an eternity, AMC’s the Walking Dead is back! Just a quick note regarding the the episode, as to not provide any spoilers. I hate spoilers. They are a jerk move by people who are self absorbed and feel their time and opinions are more valuable than others. Someone ruined the 6th Sense for me and I never recovered. That being said, I wish someone had ruined The Village for me, and I would have not wasted 2-hours of my life. 

So – the zombies and the crew are back. The episode was a dramatic look at how Carl would handle his own, faced in a zombie apocalypse. Spoilers or not you can easily guess how he would fare. He’s a young teen full of piss and vinegar. The results were not to shocking. You know those episodes on The Simpsons, that were heavy on Lisa or Meg on Family Guy…it was the Walking Dead version. 

The rest of the episode was spliced with background information about Michonne, which was a real treat. Danai Gurira is an amazing character actor. We got to peel away the hard exterior of Michonne for the first time and got to know who she is and what turned her into the hard edged badass she is. We all knew she was a gooey marshmallow inside, but we wanted to know the how and why. I had wished they spent more time on Michonne during the episode instead of watching Carl misstep and act like the teenager that he is. 

Final thoughts: pudding is good!

Valentines Day is Bloody Sweet!

Valentines day is coming up. For the traditionalists roses will be bought, perhaps chocolates and a romantic candle light dinner will be had, followed with snuggling on the couch. But I’m not that much of a traditionalist. Of course I love my partner and we enjoy spending an evening together. When My Bloody Valentine (2009) was released on valentines day, I was ecstatic because that was exactly how I wanted to spend my special day. To my surprise the film stood apart from the original film and was very entertaining. Both films remain close to my finger tips if I need visceral cinema to sink into. That all being said, my hunny and I can’t watch My Blood Valentine, every time February 14th rolls around. Maybe if Valentines day was like a leap year and only popped up every 4-years, I could make MBV a ritual.

So — I decided to think about some great romantic-horror films that would be fun to watch this Valentines. When I say romantic, I use the term loosely. I don’t mean romance in the traditional sense like a Dracula film. There is something innately sexual about Dracula that almost seems too obvious. I also don’t mean teen romantic like Warm Bodies. The task of thinking of a great “romantic” horror film became quite a challenge.

After sorting through the various titles in my collection, I came across Thirst (2009). The film is vastly amusing and fits perfectly into the romantic-horror category. The problem is Thirst is more of a comedic horror than a romantic horror and I don’t really want to watch a comedic-romantic-horror, like Shaun of the Dead (2004). Comedy just does not fit the bill for me this year. On the other end of the spectrum of comedy is The Loved Ones, a brilliantly eerie and disturbing film staring Robin McLeavy as Lola a deranged high school student who just wants to find love. The film is one of the best I have seen in a long time. It’s disturbing and grotesque; and McLeavy plays a perfect psychopath. But the film boarders on torture porn and goes over the line for Valentines day. While I enjoy horror, my guy is not a big fan. I have to make some compromises and not go so far off the deep end and ruin the night. The same can be said about Red, White and Blue (2010). 

I think what works so well about MBV is it is harmless fun. There is nothing mean spirited about the film because it invokes the same feeling from the 1980s film and others like it. It is good old fashioned fun without taking itself too seriously. Upon another filter through the unending collection of films I have, I stop at Slither (2006). I really hated the movie when it first came out. I must have been in a mood and taking life too seriously. Don’t worry, I have since recanted my feelings about the film. I have moved it into the filing system under “vastly entertaining.” What is not to like about the film? The film is summed up with Michael Rooker as a possessive husband and phallic alien spawns possessing towns people. Now that is a loving evening. 

What’s on for V day? James Gunn’s Slither (2006) — and perhaps the Bride of Re-animator after 🙂

What are you watching?

I Have Cabin Fever!

Cabin Fever (2002) is one of my favourite films of all time. It is always on hand when I am feeling blue and needing a pick-me-up. What is not like to like about Cabin Fever? Gore, girls, humour, more gore and Arie Verveen as the diseased Henry the hermit! Plus as a bonus there is karate kid screaming about pancakes. 

It always astounds me when people ask me sarcastically if I like the film, because they assume that I can’t seriously like it. I usually hate when people say if you don’t like something you’ve missed the point, but in the case of Cabin Fever, I really think it’s true. The film is a seamless pastiche of 1980s campy horror films. Director Eli Roth resurrects the old horror movie feel and adds his quick wit and dark sense of humour. It is an infectiously impressive film. Really, Roth is just a big horror movie geek and plays tribute to the horror movie’s he was raised on and built his repertoire of movie knowledge.

Why is Cabin Fever so brilliant? Because it is Evil Dead meets Outbreak. Because our favourite TGIF Friday Boy Ryder Strong plays a terribly unlikable and weak character who can’t even kiss a girl. For me, the film is unique and feels like something I have never seen before, but still feels like an old comfortable blanket that I can curl up to. For those who are critics, I defy you to at least tell me the sound editing is poorly done, because that element alone leaves chills up your spine and takes you for a ride for the entirety of the film.

So what is on tonight? Cabin Fever

Friday Night Feast Fest

After a long, arduous week one of my favourite traditions is to spend my evening watching the Feast trilogy. This trio of blood infested gore films, are among my favourites of all time. Perhaps, it is better to think of these films as one long entity with three different chapters, because the films play so marvellously off each other. Sitting down to watch the original Star Wars trilogy is a painful idea to me. It’s not that I don’t like George Lucas and his epic saga, but the idea  of watching the three original films in one sitting does not sound like a lot of fun. Sitting down to watch the three Feast films all together provides me with 4-hours of laughter and sheer unadulterated entertainment without a lot of dialogued. Granted the Feast films are a heck of a lot shorter than the Star Wars films, but Feast delivers memorable slaughter with the right kind of humour that allows me to let loose after a long week. Nothing says relaxation like watching a pack of alien beasts hump and rip apart anything in their sight. 

The Friday Night Feast Fest…happy Friday everyone 🙂

Halloween Nostelgia

It has been a while since I have provided any updates. Life has been influx, but I have decided to pick up writing once again.

Back in September 2013 I wrote a paper for a critical studies film course, shockingly I decided to pick a horror film. Unfortunately, to my dismay the instructor did not enjoy my paper due to its grotesque topic. For the remainder of the course I decided to make sure I only wrote on horror related themes.  For the purpose of this particular assignment I opted to select my favourite film of all time, Halloween (1978) to review. The problem with this course was that as many of you know, John Carpenter’s Halloween is next to a perfect film. How does one critique a nearly perfect film? With great difficulty I assure you. Please have a read and enjoy. 

 

John Carpenter’s film Halloween is a classic. The low-budget film created for a meagre $300,000 in 1978, was a first of its kind, becoming a template for the horror genre. Celebrating thirty-five years since its first release, there are few films in any genre that have maintained such momentum in entertaining audiences; and Halloween has not lost its eerie edge. With a shadowy figure and the film’s piercing score, it is no wonder that the birth of the boogeyman ultimately had a major impact in transforming the horror genre and inadvertently creating a new sub-genre, the slasher. This critical film analysis will provide core information regarding the film, and discuss its relationship within the horror genre and how it measures up to other films within the same genre. It will also discuss the impact that the film has made and depict where the film was successful or not.

For the purpose of this analysis, I will distinguish the horror genre from the slasher genre and provide insight into what makes Halloween a classic horror and slasher film. An effective horror film is one that is able to delve into our primal fears. It allows us to go to dark places where we are not comfortable going, yet cannot look away. I define a good horror film as one that stays with me long after the lights are turned off and the curtains drawn. The intention of a horror film is to elicit an aversive reaction from its viewers, tapping into our fears, often forcing us to face humanity’s greatest fear, death.

The methods filmmakers use to evoke such chilling reactions vary. Andrew Tudor suggests three main categories, including the scientific horror (monsters and aliens), horror of the psyche (psychotic killers) and the supernatural horror (witches and zombies) (Tudor, 1989).  Halloween, with a cold senseless serial killer mutilating babysitters, clearly falls under the psychotic category. What Halloween did for the horror genre was create a benchmark for a new sub-genre, the slasher. The slasher was all but unknown in 1978. By the 1980s, the genre was being mass marketed by movie production companies, with filmmakers continually trying to up the anti by creating more graphic and imaginative death scenes (Wilshin, 2006). Encompassing this genre is the faceless unstoppable killer from whom, no matter what you do, you cannot escape. The slasher film is distinguished as a niche category of horror films depicting a psychotic, often supernatural-like villain who graphically violates victims, usually teenagers, using weapons, such as a pick axe or chainsaw.

Halloween provided the opportunity for subsequent filmmakers to bring their graphic visions to the silver screen. However, Halloween approaches its scare tactics with a more “tame” approach and sparsely uses gore. Instead of mass amounts of blood and guts, John Carpenter’s method was to capitalize on our own fears in our imagination. The presence of evil is personified behind the mask of a silent killer who slowly walks towards his victims and cocks his head innocently. Regardless of new innovative filming techniques and computer graphics, Halloween still maintains its status as a truly frightening film.

In 1960 when the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, released Psycho, audiences and future filmmakers were opened to the notion that no one in a film was off limits. The most sympathetic character could be the villain and the leading lady could be killed off. Prior to Psycho, horror films had largely gothic romantic themes to them, e.g., castles and Dracula (Cohen, 1986). Hitchcock changed this, and so began modern horror. John Carpenter was influenced by Psycho, depicted by the fact that his leading actress, Jamie Lee Curtis, was the daughter of Janet Leigh, who stared in Psycho. Paying homage to the earlier film, John Carpenter intentionally named his hero Sam Loomis after a character in Psycho. In retrospective analysis, Psycho was a clear predecessor in the slasher genre and was a landmark in the horror genre, paving the path for filmmakers like John Carpenter.

The opening shot of Halloween followed the villain through his eyes and acted as a camera showing us what he saw. The scene is reminiscent of the three-minute opening sequence in  Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958), where the camera records a single uncut shot. The filmmakers of Halloween created their film based upon the ideas of the horror pictures they grew up watching and that inspired them. Halloween is the first of its kind that acknowledges that horror films exist, showing characters watching the film The Thing from Another World
(Nyby, 1951).

Films take on the shape of the social factors and the era in which they are created. The dark film noir themes of the 1940s were in line with the depression and disillusionment of that era. The 1950s science fiction horror films were created in response to a fear of science and the unknown. According to the documentary film Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, John Carpenter felt that at the time Halloween was released there was a sense of dissatisfaction and people just wanted a good scare (Monument, 2009). He notes that the film was released at the time of the Jim Jones Jonestown suicides and the unpopular Jimmy Carter was president of the United States.  He felt that there was a sense that things “were not quite right.” Perhaps these social elements along with the previous milestones that were achieved by other filmmakers, such as Alfred Hitchcock and George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead), allowed for an atmosphere for Halloween to be both a commercial and critical success.

Halloween has made an unmistakable imprint on cinema. However, there is some question as to what the horror genre is turning into. Much like opening Pandora’s box, have we opened a can of worms that we cannot undo? During the 1980s, the astronomical number of slasher films created was overwhelming. By the 1990s, people were oversaturated by gore and audiences seemed to have seen it all. During the early 2000s, a new wave of directors began to immerge. Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and James Wan, new visionaries in horror, used realistic gore and techniques that were so over the top that the slasher genre had to be renamed. These young, new directors who grew up watching films like Halloween, reinvented the genre again and turned the slasher genre into splatter horror, or torture porn (Bell et al., 2006).

While Halloween, is not a graphic film, perhaps some scenes depicted were far-fetched and unbelievable. The audience is required to suspend belief in that after the villain is shot dozens of times and falls from a three-story house, he is still capable of getting up again. This might be hard to believe for many viewers, as it requires a suspension of belief and a recognition that this is just a film for entertainment value.

Criticism surrounds women in the horror genre, suggesting female characters are depicted as weak and sexually exploited (Dika, 1991). It is beyond the scope of this analysis to delve into the details of women in horror, but for the purpose of this examination, I will comment on the women in Halloween. While certain critics made note of the sexual promiscuity of the female characters in the film, I find it ironic that in an exploitation film like Halloween, its heroine is an intelligent forthright woman who fights back against adversity. Perhaps the only weakness in the film is the lack of character development. We only get to know the female lead, while the other characters are senselessly butchered when engaging in sexual acts.

The question remains, is realistic gore unhealthy for viewers and is it subversive and dangerous? My opinion is that graphic depictions actually promote a de-sanitized notion of horror, showing us that there is nothing pretty to it, depicting how ugly and awful horror and death can be. Regardless of what critics seem to think about where the genre is going, it is clear that it is still popular; the remake of Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009) opening weekend earned over $40,000,000 (Boxoffice Mojo, 2009).

The easiest genre to criticize is horror; critics question the value of watching individuals being mutilated on screen. What is valuable is that it allows us to experience our humanity. There is a lot of darkness to the art of horror, but it also allows us to play with our fears and fantasies in a safe way. Fear is not bad; it is a real emotion and we have to deal with it. Films such as Halloween allow us to confront and cope with our feelings about death.

Halloween struck a cord, because everyone can relate to the terror of being stalked by a faceless man in a white mask, unlike a creature from a black lagoon. Those averse to the film point out the lack of motive behind the killing. My opinion is that the brilliance of the slasher film is that a motive is unnecessary, the killer could be anyone and we do not know why. Spawning nine subsequent films in its franchise, including a remake of the original film, Halloween continues to influence generations of filmmakers. There is no doubt that the film has made an impact on the genre, however the question is open as to whether the impact is positive or negative. Much like how horror films are treated as the black sheep of the industry, I propose that depending on what your feelings are towards the horror genre, the answer will be either supportive or against it. Regardless of personal preference, there is no doubt that Halloween is a historic classic. 

 

John Dies at the End (2012)

The new street drug known as Soy Sauce, promises to sends its users across time and various dimensions for a truly uniquely out of body experience that no other trip has been able to deliver. After returning to from the journey of a lifetime, it appears that many of the users of this newfound drug do not return as human. Now it is up to John and David, a bumbling pair of college drop outs to stop the invasion from taking over the rest of humanity. John Dies at the End (2012) is based on the horror novel parody with the same name, the film pays great tribute to H.P Lovecraft’s iconic writing style and Hieronymus Bosch’s bizarre surreal visual style. The film is wonderfully weird and twisted filled with beautifully rich dialogue similar to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) and a story analogous to Dude, Where’s my Car (2000) and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). John is an eccentric original film, that deviates from the normal. The story is not for everyone, but expect weird and over the top. For those who appreciate a layered film that allows you to go on a trip with the filmmakers all through the journey of our protagonists, this a memorable piece of cinema.

In a world of sparkly vampires, kissing werewolves and superhuman witches, John felt like a big F U to average Hollywood audiences and filmmakers who are incestuously reusing previous used ideas. After finishing John, I had a good chuckle, and felt as though I had been privileged to be in on an inside joke. Finding out that Don Coscarelli, the creative genius behind the cult classic films Phantasm (1979) and Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) was responsible for taking on the creative process of John, I knew it would executed with the vision, and originality that the story deserved. The film is comedic, but not in the same way as a Scary Movie horror comedy. It is hard to compare the film to any other comedic horror or fantasy film, as it is truly that original. But it is cheesy and fun like Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) and Naked Lunch (1991), so these are good points of comparison.

If you are a fan of the book, do not be surprised with the changes and differences between the two mediums. I have read the book as well, and I feel as though the choices made by the filmmakers were appropriate for the type of medium they were using. The task at taking such an imaginative 500 page story and regurgitating it on screen was a hefty task to do, but I believe that it was executed with the same vision the author of the novel had. The integrity of the book is maintained, with the same philosophical intrigue that leaves you pondering the many strange scenes you witnessed.

In order to get the most out of the film, you have to be willing to recognize that this was a low budget film with a 1980s flare to it. But where it lacks in budget it makes up in story, acting and intrigue. Do not try to understand it. Just embrace the strange and go along for the ride. Listen to the dialogue and read between the lines is what makes the film so enjoyable. The set design and the attention to detail is remarkable, there are hidden jokes in every scene. Grab a beer with a friend and go along for a weird trippy ride and see John Dies at the End

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Mama (2013)

After two young sisters are abandoned in a remote cabin in the woods, a powerful entity embraces them as her own. When they are found and brought back to civilization, much has changed in the five years that has past, since they begun their life under the watchful eye of Mama. When the sister’s Uncle Lucas, and his girlfriend Annabel are faced with the task of raising the siblings, they realize quickly that these girls are more challenging than anticipated. A mothers love is eternal, powerful and all consuming. Lucas and Annabel begin to understand that whatever the girls left back in the wildness may have followed them and is willing to do whatever necessary to get the pair back to where they belong.

A classic ghost story, with a Hollywood twist. The film is beautifully filmed, with artistic flare and intrigue. The opening sequence has a fairy tale brilliance to it with Guillermo Del Toro’s signature fingerprint on it, similar to the The Devil’s Backbone (2001). The characters are interesting, and the dynamic between the pair raising the girls and the sister’s development back into traditional family life is well executed. There are a number of genuinely creepy scenes that make you cringe. Unfortunately, as the film progresses the overuse of CGI overshadows the wonderfully spooky story.

The first half of the film is full of wonderfully beautiful and full of rich character development, mixed with strange foreboding images and events with the mysterious entity known as Mama. As the film progresses the film becomes painfully cliche full of pedestrian scare tactics. The story is slow moving with plot holes and concludes with an anti-climatic sequence, that was almost insulting to the audience. Reminiscent of The Ring and the Grude, the story does not add any new elements to the the face of cinema. 

Guillermo Del Toro discovered the films creator, Andy Muschietti after viewing his short Mama which came out in 2008. The short is creepy, concise and contains all the scare that the full length film does not, which ends up feeling glossy, fake and unbelievable. This is unfortunate because the short is artistic, eerie and makes a statement. The full length film contained the same elements as the short, but it felt as though random scenes had been thrown in for filler, rather than teasing apart the story to make it richer.

Regardless of the powerful characters and wonderful development, the conclusion of the film ends up leaving the audience with a foul taste as the last act becomes ludicrous with plot holes and excessive melodrama. For those who enjoy a tame ghost story with a few chills, Mama is worth a viewing, but do not expect innovation.

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