Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)





There's an early scene in Ouija: Origin of Evil, where things in the family have started going wrong, but nobody really knows it yet. The younger sister has already become influenced by the Ouija board's powers and the dark forces in their home. 

Her older sister's boyfriend is sneaking out of the house and passes by the living room, where the younger girl is supposed to be watching TV, but the couch is empty. He turns around, is startled to find her standing behind him, an innocent smile on her face.

"Want to hear something cool?" she asks, and he nods uncertainly. So she tells him something cool. She tells him what it feels like to be strangled to death. She is calm, even cheerful as she talks. Describing the hot and cold sensations. The stars you see. The rising panic. The ache behind your eyes. The boyfriend listens, dumbfounded, while she talks. She is detailed and thorough, mixing mundane details with the horrific, like a child who just watched a documentary and remembers every little thing.  

Afterward, he has no idea what to say. They just stand there in the hallway.

Then she gives him a little wink and says, "Goodnight, Romeo," and goes back to watching TV.





I did not expect to enjoy this movie, but watching it was one pleasant surprise after another. This is a genuinely creepy and smart film. The script is sharp and doesn't rely on jump scares, trusting itself in a way that is surprising and charmingly self-confident. The three main characters feel like they care about one another. Their choices make emotional sense as well as logical sense, and there is no feeling of exploitation or cruelty here at all. 

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) is a licensed film adaptation of a board game (Hasbro's Ouija board product). It is also a prequel to the truly stupid 2014 horror movie Ouija. And, in addition to all that, it is wonderful. Everything about it is wonderful. 



Monday, January 23, 2017

I dare you. (The Alchemist Cookbook, 2016)


The Alchemist Cookbook (2016) is structured around long, largely wordless sections. That wordlessness becomes almost electric, wrapped in the sound of machinery operating, the sawing and clink of science apparatus, and dark, funny music from Detroit's underground music scene. That feeling of "when are they gonna talk?" impatience never develops. Words aren't missing from the scenes, they were never meant to be there.

So much of this feeling is sustained by the film's complete confidence in Ty Hickson's now-careful and now-unhinged performance as Sean, our back-woods science/dark-magic obsessive. We watch him saw the copper-top off a battery, dripping its innards into a test tube. We see burners, smoke, an old tape-deck, chemical reactions. From the film's title we suspect he's trying to make gold out here in a cramped trailer deep in the woods. We hear the promises he makes his cat about a mansion they'll share, full of doritos. We hear the threats he hollers at something in the lake, standing in the boat and dropping heavy stones to deliver his words down into the water.

There's something exciting and rare about a movie that trusts its audience, trusts its actors, trusts itself. Nothing is is outright explained, but everything is there to be understood. We piece it together.

As the film progresses, the experiments escalate, veering further from science and dangerously close to dark-magic. A tense failed ritual is interrupted by a visit from Sean's cousin who regularly brings our main character supplies, who teases him for being quite obviously around the bend. Teases him gently, though, and who is there because taking care of your family is what you do.

Sean goes over the grocery list, item by item, anxious and angry, demanding to know where each missing thing is, dismissing the items he does find. ("dude?" he holds up a microscope. "This a toy?" His cousin nods, pleased. "Mh hmm! Mh hmm! Dollar store always got that cute shit!") When they get to the cat food, Sean blows up. His cousin has brought the wrong cat food.

"I specifically put CURRY brand." Sean says. "In capital letters."

His cousin gets up, very casually, and takes a look at the offered can. Confident. "Look at this. White tuna in this bitch, dog, are you trippin?" his cousin says, "This is the shit man if Cas don't like this shit I'll eat it."

And with zero hesitation, Sean responds, "Really?"

"Hell yeah, this shit is gourmet!"

"Go on ahead and eat it," Sean says then. His list and grocery bags are forgotten. There is a brief pause and then, "I dare you." Arms crossed. Face deadly serious.

"you dare me?" his cousin is incredulous.

"I fucking dare you." Sean says. He nods at the cat food. "Eat it."

Instead of a gross out scene, something played for broad laughs, what follows is restrained and understated. Sean's cousin builds up the courage to eat the cat food, big talk and bravado the whole time, while Sean refuses to let him back down. It is a very real and very sweet moment of friendship, right smack in the middle of a movie about losing your soul.





Watching this movie, I had absolutely no idea where it would go next. It was surprising, sweet, dark, and deeply fucking strange. It might not be for everyone, but if you take it on its own terms, I think you will find something special. A lot of big horror movies have been released in the past few years, with huge budgets and great special effects, but The Alchemist Cookbook, made by a bunch of very talented weirdos out in the woods, is the movie that won my heart.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Needs More Slenderman. - Blair Witch (2016)


The Blair Witch Project (1999) was an easy movie to dislike. A nauseating mess of shaky cam and screaming, it was also hugely influential on a whole generation of movies that helped make "found footage" the derogatory term it is today. But it stuck with me. For all its flaws, The Blair Witch Project is a movie with some genuinely unsettling visual moments. Images that were original then, and which are iconic now. The girl talking in barely more than a whisper, face lit by flashlight, snot and tears dripping. Fingers wrapped up in rags. Or the guy standing, face first in the corner of a basement room in that inexplicable final shot.

I love that final shot. It still gives me the creeps, thinking about it. Not understanding what it meant. There's something scary about not understanding. That final shot left you with no answers, but it also left you feeling certain that there WERE answers and that those answers were probably SUPER FUCKED.


Blair Witch (2016) is a good faith attempt to make a new Blair Witch Project. And in a lot of ways, it does exactly that. There are jump scares. Lots of shaky cam. People screaming at one another while they run through the darkness. At times it is too faithful maybe, recreating those iconic and unsettling images from the first movie with these new characters rather than doing anything new. But at its best it is a nice homage, even if it does just remind me how much more I liked the original.

At its worst, though, the movie brings those iconic images back and tries to provide explanations which cheapen them with fairtytale nonsense and bad horror cliches.

You don't need any explanation at all. You certainly don't need a character to come on and literally say, "Remember that shot of the guy standing in the corner. We figured out why he was doing that!" And then you can't come up with a better answer than  "because if you can't see it, it can't see you?"

Also, sure, let's have the witch be another Mama [Rec] Conjuring 2 slenderman thing. Sometimes I wish even MORE movies had this exact same monster. Think how scary that would be.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

horror ringtones I have loved.



Not the most important topic in the world, but I sometimes find myself spending hours trying to find awesome horror ringtones and notification sounds for my cellphone. So, I thought I'd give a list of ones that make me happy, and how well they work in practice. (I'm more fond of theme music than dialogue samples or sound effects.)

1. Exorcist theme - This is my go-to ringtone. It's not overbearing, and it starts soft and builds. It is also just a really pretty and haunting piece of music. I sometimes don't hear it immediately, but it does build in volume and I've yet to miss a call with it.

2. X-files theme - this is another good softer ringtone. Again, not overbearing. I have this one set for my friend Jeff, because we first bonded over our love of this show back when it was on the air. We met at a Halloween dance in high school, both dressed as Fox Mulder. Though, as always, his costume was more thought-out, tattered and blood-stained from a bullet wound (Anasazi, of course).

3. Halloween theme - This is a funny one, because it doesn't have much nostalgic value for me. I was never a huge fan of Halloween, but this is a wonderful piece of music, and has a great urgent energy as a ringtone.

 4. "We're gonna get you. We're gonna get you. Not another pee-eep. Time to go to slee-eep." This one I had to make myself, sampled from Evil Dead.  It took a bit of rigging to get the volume decent. But I enjoy this one as a ring tone for people who don't call all that often. (or for credit card collections numbers)

5. Addams' Family theme. - Just makes me happy when my phone rings.

6. Friday the 13th - "ch ch ch ah ah ah" - This is a pretty great notification sound.

7. "1-2- Freddy's coming for you" Another sample, this one is good for morning alarms, I find. That is WHAT I HAVE FOUND IN MY RESEARCH.

8. Jaws - but not the theme, the song they sing on the boat, "Show me the way to go home." Another horror movie ringtone that makes me happy, a slow soft start, and a rousing finish. I start it at the thumping, usually.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Evil Dead.



I don't think it is fair to compare Fede Alvarez's remake/reboot Evil Dead to the original The Evil Dead.  Yes, I think there's an interesting comparison to be made between the two films, but I think I am probably too invested in Sam Raimi's original. But, my love of The Evil Dead aside, I think it might be worthwhile looking for a more modern comparison. The original's contemporaries were the Freddy and Jason movies. The big money makers were silly gorefests. These days, the biggest, most successful blood splattered dismemberment movies are much more serious, grisly affairs.




A better comparison would be the 2007 french horror movie Inside. Evil Dead and Inside both set out to shock you, to turn your stomach with visceral gore. "The most terrifying film you will ever experience!" screams the Evil Dead poster. "One of the scariest movies I have ever seen in my life." The cover of Inside promises. These are the quotes that sell movies on posters and box covers these days. But neither quote does justice to its film.

The beauty of Inside, (and of Evil Dead) is that neither abandons the idea that horror movies are supposed to be fun, that there's a maniacal glee to be found when things go from bad to worse to it's-raining-blood. That's a special kind of wonderful fun that people often don't associate with movies like the later Saw films. Or the Human Centipede.

Inside was FUN. Here was a movie where one lady spent an entire movie trying to take an unborn baby from someone's womb with a pair of scissors. This could very well have been an effective, gruesome, and bleak movie like Martyrs. And it was most of those things! It was effective, and gruesome, and often the situation for the characters was bleak, but it was never bleak for the audience. It had a pacing and a gleefulness to the direction that made it clear this was a movie made by people who loved horror movies. All horror movies. Nightmare on Elm Street movies just as much as Saw. The Exorcist as much as Night of the Living Dead.



And while Evil Dead wasn't the movie I expected it to be, the more I think about it, the more I like it. I want to watch it again, now that I think I better understand what it is trying to do. It is not as perfect as Inside, by any means. There's a really visible struggle going on between tones in the movie.

When things were going normally, Evil Dead took itself very seriously. The characters were shallow and not very well written. When everything was going right, these characters were bland. I actually think the girlfriend character didn't get a single line of dialogue until well after people started dying. It's the first time I've ever watched a movie that Diablo Cody had a hand in writing and wished her voice was MORE apparent. But complaining about the characterization at the beginning is kind of like complaining about the car commercials before the movie.

Once the weird shit started, Evil Dead began its awkward struggle toward awesomeness. It built to a rhythm, for the first 2/3 of the movie. It would be very serious and bleak and when violence happened, it would be serious and unpleasant and then slightly crazier and then A LOT crazier and the movie would be suddenly fun and ridiculous. The gore is very much in the same family as Saw, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes. The movie had that yellow-green tint that has become a horror staple. Oh, yes, this is certainly a modern horror movie. But then when things get going the colors would feel brighter. The dialogue would be funnier. The blood would spray just a bit too far. The most obnoxious character (the nerdy friend who first opens the book) became unexpectedly hilarious. The most gruesome scenes had a humour that the rest of the movie didn't even try for.




And then things would quiet down, and we'd have to suffer through some more "characterization" and "inner struggles" or whatever. Until something bad would happen again and the movie would remember to be fun. This happened again and again in the first half, but as the movie progressed, the awesome and ridiculous moments came faster and more often, until the skies were pouring blood and the whole audience was laughing and cringing at the same time.

I don't think Evil Dead is a perfect movie. I'm not even sure it was that GOOD. It certainly was not on the same level as the brilliant Inside, similarities of intent aside. I was irritated and bored through long stretches at the beginning. And I don't think it had to be an Evil Dead movie. At least, I think a lot of my initial frustration with the movie came from me comparing it to the nostalgia-armoured perfection of the original. On the other hand - I also don't think as many people would have seen and gotten to enjoy it if it were just another new horror movie, and I'm glad that there's a movie in theatres proving that even modern gore can be fun.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

some good rape-free horror movies.




Halloween is coming, so here are a few of my favourite horror movies from the past dozen years that don't have sexual violence in them.

Edit: I removed Let the Right One In from the list, and replaced it with The Others.


Legend: 
(G) - Gore.
(FS) - Foreign language/Subtitled.
(SA) - Stupid but awesome anyway.
(?) A caution.


1. The Others
It is perfect in almost every way, and builds atmosphere and tension as much through character as through setting and circumstance. It is creepy as fuck, and has a twist at the end that not only makes perfect sense, but which only makes the movie more interesting and satisfying to watch. I watch this movie at least once a year. It is a haunted house movie that understands why haunted house movies are scary. And it understands that sadness can be so much more chilling than gore.

2. The Ring
I love The Ring. I like it better than the original Japanese version, Ringu. Don't get me wrong - Ringu is an amazing movie, and it is not often that I like a remake better than the original film, but The Ring is so much fun. It keeps the creepy elements of the original while abandoning that film's slow tension in favor of a more streamlined thriller. It then wraps this all up in a nice mix of rural America and modern day city life, gives us characters we grow to like, and balances the jump scares with some really unnervingly strange images. This movie led to a whole slew of terrible immitators and other less competent attempts to bring J-Horror to American audiences, but don't hold that against it.



3. INSIDE (G) (FS)
This movie is MESSED UP and horrifying. Two women are locked together in a house. The first is a pregnant woman who survived a recent car crash, and the second woman is trying to take the first's unborn baby from her with a pair of scissors. If you want an insane French bloodfest, look no further.



4. Pontypool
This is a zombie movie where most of the violence and action takes place in the viewer's imagination. It is shot almost entirely in a radio station, where the people trapped inside are trying to make sense of the reports they're getting from the outside world. Zombies do show up, and they're pretty gross, but they don't pass the virus on by biting people. This is a zombie virus passed on mimetically through language! This movie is a lot of fun, as long as you can look past the strange b-movie final scenes.

5. [REC] (G)(FS)
The best of the "found footage" horror movies. [REC] follows a news reporter and her cameraman on a job-shadowing assignment with some firemen. Before long they are all quarantined in an apartment complex with a quickly dwindling group of tennants. Some GREAT scares in this one. If you don't enjoy subtitles, you should check out QUARANTINE, the American remake. It is a very faithful remake, and just as good as the original I think. [REC] 2 is also well worth your time.


6. Wake Wood
This is almost more of a drama than a horror, though it is a very creepy and supernatural drama. It surprised me, because I thought I knew what kind of movie it was going to be from the synopsis. But, while it is a movie about how far two parents are willing to go to be reunited with their dead daughter, it is a much subtler take on it than Pet Semetary's theme of "Sometimes, dead is better."

7. Altered (G)
A straight-to-DVD horror movie that deserved a theatrical release, I think. It's about a group of men who were abducted when they were younger, and who have now captured one of the aliens and are trying to figure out what to do with it. It's funny and often charming and it has some good tense scenes where they struggle with their need for revenge and the knowledge of what that revenge will cost them.


8. Shaun of the Dead  (G)
Good natured horror comedy about a well-meaning but selfish jerk trying to save his loved ones from an unexpected zombie apocalypse. Super fun, and often very gross. Lots of clever references both to other movies, and to other scenes within the movie itself. Fun forshadowing and visual echoing.


9. Splinter (G)
Another straight-to-DVD horror movie. Splinter takes place entirely in a gas station convenience store, where the characters find themselves trapped by some pretty insane looking monsters. The practical special effects in this movie are awesome, and it is plenty gross. I really enjoyed it.


10. Ruins (G) (SA)
Ruins was much more interesting and intelligent and CREEPY than I expected. And even when it starts getting stupider in the final 3rd of the movie, it's still a heck of a ride!


11. Thir13en Ghosts (G) (SA) (?)
Thirteen Ghosts is a movie in the true spirit of the William Castle original. It's totally more of a ride than a story. The big crazy mechanical house is a mechanism for moving the characters from one encounter to the next, and it moves us along with it. The alive people on screen are almost exclusively boring and obnoxious (with the exception of Matthew Lillard who is perfectly in his element here as a scenery chewing depraved psychic ghost hunting pillhead), but the ghosts are wonderful. The filmmakers put every bit of their love and care into the set design and the monster design, and as a showcase for those the movie is perfect. It's like a really interesting silent movie with the music replaced by idiotic dialogue. (?) The nude female ghost is implied to have killed herself, and cutting is almost implied - but in the most ridiculous cartoony way imaginable.


12. Amityville Horror (remake) (SA)
I should say first that I found the original Amityville Horror kind of stupid and boring. I really enjoyed this remake, even though it isn't really anything to write home about. It was well made, and Ryan Reynolds is charming and unexpectedly effective when he turns that charm off. There are also some great popcorn-horror weird scary scenes.


13. Behind the Mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon (G)
This was a fun faux-documentary style movie that turns into a more genuine horror movie at the end (which is the weakest part, I think.) The idea of ambitious journalists who are unsure how far to go in search of their story about a real life slasher is an interesting one. The killer himself is charming and candid in the behind the scenes parts, complaining about how much cardio he has to do and things. It's fun.






Friday, August 24, 2012

Logorrhea in space: Event Horizon (1997)


Event Horizon (1997) is a supernatural science fiction movie. This is a fairly rare thing, and I really appreciated that the movie doesn't try to explain away the supernatural elements as simply being alien technology that is advanced beyond our understanding. Unfortunately that is just about the only thing the movie doesn't explain. I don't understand why movies insist on having characters act like everybody they work with needs someone to describe how basic shit works.

"You have to be in this stasis module during transport, doctor, otherwise your body wouldn't be able to withstand the sudden acceleration and your bones would liquify,"

"Oh yes, that is super gross, and it is even grosser if I mention that I've seen the effect on mice somehow, even though I'm acting like I need this all explained to me. Also, I design spaceships and don't know how they work I guess?"




I do like Event Horizon, despite the fact that it thinks I am an idiot. There are some genuinely creepy images throughout, many of them involving people with empty eye sockets saying unsettling things to their loved ones. And there are moments that veer from creepy to gross, like they belong in a grindhouse version of Solaris. And the sets are all really attractive. They've taken the run-down aesthetic of spaceships from ALIEN and splashed blood and guts all over the wall. They've replaced H.R. Giger designed backdrops with something more fitting to Hellraiser. And it works. We're dealing with unknown evil from beyond space and time, here, and (aside from some cheesy late 90s CGI) the movie looks the part.

But I wish they had spent as much time on refining the dialogue as they did on the sets and makeup. There are some good actors involved here, Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill leading a cast of familiar ragtag-team types like Richard T Jones and Sean Pertwee, and they have all been given absolutely idiotic things to say all the time.




"Ah, now that we're awake I should tell you all why we're here, because (like always) a group of professional spaceship crew have agreed to go to the edge of the galaxy without knowing what the mission is. Well, we're here looking for the spaceship named Event Horizon, and..."

"Like the movie's title?"

"Yes! Yes, exactly. Well, this is all classified Code Black by the NSA which sounds pretty cool even though I am not sure why the NSA has space-jurisdiction, but the Event Horizon was actually on a super secret mission a decade ago to test a new kind of faster-than-light-travel engine that I probably invented. Everything was going really super well, but then they turned the engine on and vanished and I guess we just gave up on the whole "faster-than-light-thing" and forgot all about the billion dollar spaceship until we received this distress call."

*plays a tape of insane demon screaming sounds with maniacal chanting*

"So that's why I've brought you all across the solar system. Those insane demon sounds there, which apparently don't freak me out. Also, I should say, it sounds like no known human language and I should know. I went to space university."

"Wait, play it again," the ship's trauma doctor says.

*more screaming*

"That sounds like... Latin? Could it be Latin? Is that a language creepy demon screams ever use?" he asks.

"Lat... Latin? I'm not sure what word you're even saying to me right now," Sam Neill replies, bewildered and afraid.

"Play it again, I will try and translate it because that's my other skill I have."



This is a movie that would be ten times better if people would just be quiet for a bit and let us be creeped out by the atmosphere. It is already pretty creepy that the naked lady has no eyeballs. We don't really need the mechanic screaming, "You messed with the laws of physics. Did you really think there wouldn't be a price?" And yet it winds up being the best line in the movie.

Throughout the whole movie, he's the only character who acts rationally and doesn't immediately believe the hallucinations are real. ("My six year old son? Heck, what's he doing here? I thought he was on the other side of the solar system. I better follow him down this creepy corridor and not get killed.") It's like he's a character from a completely different movie, where people make sense.

So maybe it's foolish to wish Event Horizon had better dialogue. There's a very distinct pleasure to a movie this stupid and gory, and it is pretty hilarious to have a character scream the movie's theme in an angry panic. Why don't all movies do that? They might as well have had creepy eyeless Sam Neill turn to the camera right at the end and say, "I guess that really was [PAUSE FOR EFFECT] an Event Horizon."