Saturday, December 3, 2016

Horror Podcasts: Frightday

Frightday is a horror podcast hosted by Kelly, Sam, and Byron. (Captain) Kelly is the host of her own Cryptids and Conspiracies segment every show. She covers everything from hollow earth to UFO sightings to lizard people. Although she's a believer in many things like aliens and ghosts, she gives a fair view of each subject, presenting the skeptic and believer side of each issue. I'm personally not super interested most of these subjects, but Kelly talks about it in such an animated, interesting way that I enjoy it. My favorite reports of hers so far are the MK Ultra series and her report on Krampus. MK Ultra is an actual chapter in our government's history and incredibly depressing but also fascinating. She of course delves into conspiracy theories about it. Her Krampus report was more about the myths and legends behind Krampus. I wish she would do a bit more about this type of thing as well.

Byron is the host of the show, Byron's Serial Killer Corner, and the EVPlease segment. Byron's Serial Killer Corner is probably my favorite segment where Byron talks about a serial killer, their bloodyy career, and their fate, but it's not a regular part of the show. EVPlease used to be a regular ending to the show which attempted to capture ghost communication in recordings in electronic voice phenomenon. Sam occasionally presents Sam's Jams and Sam's Gun Accuracy Report. Both of them have much gorier and more extreme tastes than Kelly, who preferes ghost and alien films. They also provide the staunch skeptic position to contrast Kelly's belief in many cryptids and conspiracies. Their banter is hilarious and I love that they don't agree on everything. Some podcasts have hosts that agree on almost everything and it's a nice change to see debates going on.

The first segment of their show has all of them briefly describing what they watched over the week and what they thought of it. This is followed by Kelly's Cryptids and Conspiracies. The last segment of their show is always a film review. The vast majority of their reviews are current films or films that aren't out yet. Twice, they have reviewed classic films which was The Fog and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Their film choices range widely to include big releases, indie films, and foreign films.

I only have a few tiny problems with the show. Kelly can sometimes grate on the nerves especially when she's eating things loudly or making ghost noises into the mic. Some of her opinions make me think less of her like hating Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Byron's Serial Killer Corner should be a bigger part of the show because it's awesome and informative. Everything else is awesome. This fun and and informative podcast has introduced me to a lot of films I would have never heard of. Writing for the site has also been awesome with more opportunities to watch and review films. I also get to know these three wonderful people as well as the rest of the site's writing staff: Alex, Felicia, and Maggie.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, December 2, 2016

Consumerism Horror: The Stuff vs. They Live

* The Stuff

* spoilers *

The Stuff is a delicious yogurt-like food that has no calories. The craze has millions of people eating it and made the company behind it a huge amount of money. The Stuff's stylish and sexy commercials are everywhere with big stars endorsing it. Unfortunately, the snack isn't all that it seems. The Stuff in reality is a parasitic living organism that takes over people's bodies and brains. It also has the ability to move in its pure form, attacking anyone who opposes it. The effects for it where varied and interesting. It would crawl up the wall, out of people's throats, or shoot across a room. This monstrous product is a metaphor for unhealthy products marketed for everyone even though they are harmful like sugary food, alcohol, cigarettes, and fast food. Corporations only care about making money and don't care about the negative effects on their consumer's health. The Stuff corporation took it a step further and pushed out the product without even really knowing what's in it. The message is clear, but the film has problems in other places.

The acting overall is pretty horrible, especially from the little boy Jason. Mo, the main hero, grates on the nerves with his know it all, smug attitude. He and his motivations also undermine the message of the film. He was only hired to expose The Stuff by ice cream companies whose sales were affected by its success. His motivations play into more corporate greed from a different source, so he isn't morally any better than those who make The Stuff. The characters make bizarre decisions and conventient but illogical plot points are plentiful. The relationship between Mo and Nicole just happens and then she disappears from the end of the film for no reason. Nicole sets Mo's face on fire when it's covered with The Stuff and he's completely fine afterwards. The film's end is also strange. Mo forces The Stuff's company head, who was already coming out with a replacement product with less Stuff, to eat tubs and tubs of his product. Wouldn't this just create more problems and more Stuff zombies? The film ends with a very short scene of men selling The Stuff on the black market. It seemed out of place and odd. While The Stuff is an enjoyable film with a clear message, that message ends up muddied with confused plot points and cheesiness.

My rating: 3/5

* They Live

* spoilers *

An unnamed drifter wanders into town, looking for a job. He is welcomed by a homeless community that completely destroyed by police shortly after. In the same raid, a resistance movement is also attacked. The drifter stumbles into their base and finds a pair of sunglasses that reveals an earth shattering conspiracy.  With the sunglasses, the drifter sees through society's facade. Advertisements actual say things like "Obey," "Consume," "Marry and reproduce," "Stay asleep," "Conform," "Money is your god." and "No independent thought." The upper echelons of society have been taken over by aliens whose hideous true faces are revealed through the sunglasses. They plan to harvest our planet for all it's worth and move on to another planet.

I had heard of this film for a while and I had no idea John Carpenter directed it. As with all Carpenter films I've seen, it's formidable. The film is incredibly relevant today when we are constantly assaulted by advertising even more than when this was made. People would rather follow reality stars and social media than be interested in the presidential race that has a huge impact on their lives and on the planet. Many of us are obsessed with items and status symbols instead of more important things in our lives. One of the great points the film made was how people sold out their fellow man in return for riches. They were fine with aliens poisoning the earth and keeping the poor downtrodden for their own personal gain. The situation in real life is similar considering the corruption of many corporations and their willingness to sell harmful products to the masses, exploit workers, and pollute our environment.

The film shows an underlying reason for the class warfare in our society. It's satisfying to see a man with no social power fight successfully against those with the most power. The class we are born into is still hard to get out of as it was in the Reagan era this film took place in. People just see a sad homeless person with no prospects in the drifter. It was particularly heartbreaking to see the homeless community callously bulldozed. This giving community coexisted with friendship and peace even though none of them have a lot of physical goods. They all contributed what they could in stark contrast to the cutthroat nature of high society. The special effects are decent. The alien effects are more B movie, but it seems like a stylistic choice. The alien masks or prosthetics are awesome with just enough ugliness and bright colors reminiscent of the aliens from The Island Earth from 1955.

The problems I had with the film all boil to do Roddy Piper. He doesn't act well enough to be believable and his performance really affected the quality of the film. While the film is intentionally a little cheesy, his acting makes the film even more so. The fight scenes are fine as expected. Keith David and pretty much everyone else was amazing, but Piper doesn't rise to their level. The role really should have gone to Kurt Russell or someone who was at least an actor. Overall, They Live is an amazing classic with one flaw.

My rating: 4.5/5

The verdict:

While it's a decent and effective film, The Stuff has too many things that detract from the underlying message. They Live is a subversive film especially during the time it was made that highlights the problems with consumerism perfectly.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews Italian Edition: Torso and Suspiria

* Torso

A group of girls are targeted by a masked killer at an Italian college and go to a local villa to get away from him. Torso is an Italian giallo film that focuses on eroticism and slasher kills. The characters are pretty frivolous and basically interchangeable. All of the women are kind of vapid and idiotic. The film very often focuses on their beauty, their nonchalant sexuality, or their over the top sexuality. I couldn't name any of them individually except for Jane, the unlikely final girl. The men are all vaguely or overtly threatening. Any one of them could be the murderer or at the very least rape one of the women. They definitely objectify these women, either stalking them and staring with intensity or literally chasing them down with motorcycles threatening to kill them. Believe it or not, the latter isn't even the real murderer. The gender portrayals are unflattering on all sides, but the film has some merits.

The real success of the film is the last section. After a predictably sapphic couple of days in the idyllic countryside, Jane wakes up from her upstairs room to all of her friends dead. Giallo and slasher films typically show these kills in extreme closeup with focus on the women's bodies and whatever mutilation is being done. This scene is uncharacteristically restrained. In the scene previous, the audience knows the murders are going to happen, but we only see the aftermath. We are put in the same situation as Jane, confused about what happened and struggling to put the pieces together. The killer had no idea Jane was even there because she didn't travel with the others. When the killer steps out, she desperately tries using the phone and escaping the house, but he's cut off every means of communication or escape. Even through her shock and horror, she decides to cover any trace of herself in the house, but of course she makes a fatal mistake. The best scenes of the film are when she is hiding in the house after finding her dead friends, struggling not to make any noise while the killer goes about disposing of their bodies in the most gruesome way. Torso is not the best slasher or giallo film. However, it breaks conventions, making the ending extremely effective.

My rating: 3.5/5

* Suspiria

Ballet student Suzy Bannion arrives at a German ballet school, only to see a raving woman leave and being refused entry. She comes back and everything seems fine for a while until other students go missing or end up dead. I watched Suspiria years ago and I remember completely hating it. The Girls in the Back Row podcast inspired me to watch it again with their beautiful descriptions and their behind the scenes information. The aesthetics are amazing. With new eyes, the Snow White and fairy tale influences are obvious and eerily beautiful. Bold pink, red, or blue lighting illuminates many scenes, giving the sets an otherworldly quality. The wallpaper, tile, and interior and exterior paint lend to this quality with bright colors (mostly pink) and surreal patterns. The facade of the Tanz Academy looks like it was taken right out of a fairy tale with its red paint, gold trim, and ornate detailing. Even blood looks bright pink rather than deep red. The dream logic extends to other aspects of the film as well.

The time period is kind of murky because of all the different fashions. Suzy and the other dancers wear fairly modern clothing. The owner of the academy wears glamorous dresses out of the 50's while the main teacher could have been from the Victorian era. The mishmash of different fashions gives it a timeless, dreamy feel. The visuals and the tense atmosphere are the stars of the film. The music by Goblin ranges from a sweet almost lullaby like melody to jarring sounds and angry, almost unintelligible whispers. The kills are visually interesting with a typical giallo focus on closeups. These deaths are even more stylish and well framed within the scene. The woman falling through the plate glass window is the one scene I remembered from watching years ago because of it's striking beauty for something so macabre. The characters are pretty childish and one dimensional because they were meant to be quite a bit younger. The plot is also pretty thin, but all of the other aspects pale in comparison to the gorgeous visuals and the tense and dreamlike

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Bear and the Nightingale

Vasilisa grew up at the edge of the Russian wilderness where the weather is harsh and cold for most of the year. Winters are particularly cruel, but she has many pleasant memories of her siblings and her nurse by the fire telling fairy tales to pass the time. Since her mother died in childbirth, her father goes to Moscow to present his sons to royalty and find a new wife. He brings home Anna, a young woman from a royal family who is also notorious for seeing demons everywhere. She and Vasilisa butt heads immediately because Vasya sees creatures as well, but knows they are house spirits or domovoi that make their lives easier in exchange for tribute. The arrival of a fiery priest Kostantin creates fear of hell and damnation in her town and causes other people to shun their domovoi, which causes further misfortune and weakens them to the attack of sinister forces.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderful merging of Russian society as it adapts to Christianity and Russian folklore. The very beginning has Vasya's nurse Danya telling her fairy tales of the cruel winter and how humility and kindness get you further than selfishness. I wasn't quite drawn in until Vasya sees and interacts with the domovoi in her house. The people that live near the Russian wilderness, away from big cities, believe in Christianity and go to church, but also pay tribute to their house spirits or domovoi more out of habit than anything. Unbeknowst to most of them, these gifts of food and drink help them immensely by extending the use of resources and keeping crops and cattle healthy. Once these creatures are shunned due to the fire and brimstone antics of Father Konstantin striking fear into the villagers' hearts. Now, the domovoi have weakened, leaving the humans with dwindling resources and mounting fear, unaware of the supernatural danger their spirits protect them from.

Everyone knew Vasilisa was different right from birth. As she grew up, she realized she could see and understand the domovoi and other creatures right out of her nurse's fairy tales. Over time, she learns to care for and respect them. Through her friendship and tribute, they respect her in return and teach her how to move silently through the forest and how to talk to horses. As she grows into womanhood, Vasya keeps her sweet nature entwined with a wildness and confidence that others find troubling. Vasya is an amazing character that does what she can, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Her perseverence proves to be unshakeable even in the face of the disapproval of her whole town. Unfortunately, her only future paths are in the prison of either marriage or a convent. Her access to the supernatural world helps her break out of her social norms. The supernatural forces she faces are out of her realm of reality and understanding, but it doesnt stop her from fighting for her family and her town anyway.

The only other person with any knowledge at all that fairy tale creatures are real is Anna, Vasya's stepmother. She fits into the evil stepmother trope well, but she's more fleshed out than that. Everyone around her assumes she's crazy because she sees what she assumes are demons everywhere. She's basically Vasilisa, but intent on ignoring the creatures instead of getting to know them. Her existence throughout life is tortured because no matter how devout she is or how hard she prays, these demons plague her. Instead of trying to educate Vasya, Anna simply abuses her whenever Vasya acknowledges the domovoi. I had sympathy for her because she doesn't understand her situation and feels constantly attacked. However, she lost my sympathy when she decided to abuse her stepdaughter and taking everything she can away from her. This character shows how Vasya could have been had her temperament or upbringing or attitude been different.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a wonderful book that I couldn't put down. The fairy tale elements are woven in throughout, contrasting with the real world woes of the townspeople. Vasya interacts with many figures from Russian fairy tales using her knowledge of their tales and her generous nature. It takes a little while to hold my interest, but once it does, it doesn't let go. Katherine Arden is amazing and I would love to read whatever she writes next. This book is highly recommended to fans of Neil Gaiman or fairy tale literature.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Unconventional Thanksgiving Films

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful holiday of food and happiness but it can also be an awkward event with emotional landmines. Either way, here are some unconventional movies that you can watch to go with the good and the bad of the holiday.

* Kristy

Kristy was one of the best films I watched last year. Justine is staying at her university over Thanksgiving break because she can't afford to visit her family when a gang of masked killers invade. She has to step up and outsmart her assailants using every bit of knowledge she has about the school to survive. I could watch this film over and over. I love Justine as a final girl. She's kickass, intelligent, and relentless. The cyber society dedicated to killing random privileged women around he world gives it an extra bit of creepiness. It's definitely made it into my cycle of yearly movies.

* Thankskilling

Who doesn't want to watch a movie starring a foul mouthed puppet turkey that kills moronic teenagers? It's not the best movie, but it has a lot of cheesy charm going for it. The characters are all horribly stupid and completely stereotypical. The charm is in the ridiculous situations. My favorite scene involves the turkey killing the local sheriff and wearing his face. The teenagers are fooled by his disguise multiple times. I do wish he would have spoken less as most of what he says was too close to a cute rate Freddy Krueger. It's still a fun movie that's only a little longer than an hour which is perfect. 

* Home for the Holidays

For those of us that don't have idyllic Thanksgiving dinners, this film shows a more disfunctional famliy. Claudia's life is completely falling apart and hits rock bottom just as Thanksgiving is rolling around. It has disparate family members clashing over food, life decisions, and social issues. At its core, it shows that although we love family, we don't always see eye to eye and even if we don't particularly like each other at times. It's definitely mandatory viewing for me because it has some hilarious scenes and relatable moments.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Shut In

Mary Portman doesn't know what to do with her son Stephen anymore. He's changed so much and nothing she does seems to connect with him despite her background as a psychologist. She decides to send him away to a school that can suit his needs, but Stephen and his father collide with a big rig. Stephen can't speak or walk or respond to any stimulus. Mary feels enormous guilt and decides to put him in a hospital. She wants to take care of a boy named Tom who is hard of hearing and without parents. Tom disappears from her house in the middle of a snow storm, presumed dead after days missing. Mary feels she's being haunted by his spirit after she failed him when odd noises and nightmarish visions occur at night with increasing frequency.

Shut In has some elements of a promising horror film. The isolated setting is perfect for any horror plot. Mary has no neighbors and becomes completely cut off from the outside world during a horrible snow storm. Most of the film takes place in the house. First, it represents a prison for her because she takes care of her invalid, unresponsive son every day. She sees his state as her fault and takes no joy in caring for him. Later in the film, the house takes on a much different form of prison where outside forces, instead of the usual internal ones, torment her. Naomi Watts is sympathetic as Mary and portrays a flawed but realistic person. Even while she tortures herself for her perceived mistakes, she still dreams of killing her son because of all he represents. I understood her even in her most monstrous moments.

Unfortunately, Shut In falls into typical tropes and shoddily reasoned twists. The premise for Shut In is pretty much all tropes seen time and time again except the invalid son. Before I even watched it, I felt I had already seen it. The trappings are different in the amazing house and isolated location, but so many plot developments are the same. The film relies on jump scares to amp up the tension, but after two or three times, it ceases to be effective. The ending features two twists: one that I knew very early in the film that made sense and the other that I didn't see coming because it didn't. The only unique thing about this film is the twist that makes absolutely no logical sense. I suspended my disbelief during the film, but looking back on it, I felt insulted as a viewer. This twist assumes a huge amount of things that include Mary not knowing anything about her profession and not recognizing the effect of drugs she administers and medical professions being incredibly inept at their jobs. 

Shut In is an extremely typical film that depends on Naomi Watts' competent acting and the isolated setting t bring in viewers. The jump scares fall flat and the twists are either completely predictable or insulting to the characters and viewers alike. I hope the critical and monetary failure of this film will show that viewers don't want to see copycat, paint by number movies. 

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Horror Podcasts: The Girls in the Back Row

The Girls in the Back Row is a podcast that reviews and discusses horror films. For each film they discuss, Kate and Tab briefly describe the film, give a spoiler free review, and give their first impressions. After a short break which is usually a trailer for the film they are discussing, they have a more in depth and spoiler-full discussion. Not only do they timestamp every section of the show, but their show notes are quite detailed. If they mention a documentary or another film, it will be linked or at least listed for reference. Their discussions often go into the history of the film and put the it into context with information from behind the scenes. For example, the 1934 film Black Cat had a tiny budget compared to other Universal films and was filmed in 15 days which explains its short run time of under an hour. The studio didn't want the film to be so dark or creepy, explaining its uneven tone. I love that they research so many details and it's different than every other podcast out there.

I've only listened to 4 episodes, but I'm definitely listening to them as long as they put out episodes. Their first episode was introducing themselves and how they got into horror. Since I think they're around my same age, we have a lot of the same horror gateway media like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark with its horrifying illustrations. Their experiences had some similarity to mine in that I never had friends who liked horror and I learned not to talk about it since it always got a negative response. Some of their early horror references sound awesome like the author Richard Laymon. Kate came to the genre more as an adult and is watching a lot of things for the first time while Tab gets the thrill of introducing movies to someone into the horror genre. Tab is crazy knowledgeable about the genre.

The episodes I've listened to so far where about their Horror Origins, Suspiria and Demons, The Black Cat, and High Tension. I hated Suspiria when I watched it because the characters and plot were so lackluster. Kate and Tab have inspired me to rewatch the film with a different perspective. The film was made as a horror fairy tale with a bright color palette. The colors, dimensions, and exaggerated sets are made to make the film look nightmarish. I do remember the film being beautiful, but I was so annoyed by the lack of story and lame characters that I didn't enjoy it much. Their detailed discussion on the background of the film and all the small details I didn't notice make me excited to watch it again. Their discussion of High Tension is also very good and they discussed in detail the exact problem I had with the film.

Kate and Tab are a killer duo with amazing research and perspectives. I can't wait  to listen to the rest of their episodes and watch the films they cover.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins