Sunday, October 16, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews Classic Edition: House on Haunted Hill, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and The Curse of the Cat People

* House on Haunted Hill (1959)

An eccentric millionaire invites five strangers to his wife's party where they will be locked in a haunted house with no electricity and no way to communicate with the outside world for the night. IF they survive the night, they will receive $10,000. House on Haunted Hill is clever film that features Vincent Price at his best. As Frederick Loren, he is perfect as a controlling, jealous man set out to outsmart his greedy but beautiful wife. The first half of the film implies that the house is haunted with chilling figures and some unintentionally funny moments. The second half of the film is completely different. The plot has twists and clever plans that have nothing to do with the supernatural. I was very impressed with this classic film.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

* The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist are a popular exhibit at the local fair. When murders go on at night that all match the same perpetrator, suspicion is cast upon them. This film is gorgeous. The biggest impression I had was the visual aspects because of the surrealistic backgrounds and set pieces. Angles are  more extreme than expected. The sets are asymmetrical and odd, giving an unsettling but whimsical quality to the film. The uses of light, shadow, drawn backgrounds, and amalgamation of different time periods make it an artistic landmark. The only part that I didn't like was the frame story. It overly complicated the plot unnecessarily. Other than that, it's a unique and beautiful film.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

* The Curse of the Cat People

Amy is a lonely girl who struggles relating to kids her own age when she meets a lonely old woman and an imaginary friend that's more real than her parents think. This film is the sequel to The Cat People, but there are no cat people and it only shares a couple of characters. Everything else is completely different. It has a beautiful fairy tale quality to it, kind of like Alice in Wonderland. Amy is the curious little girl meeting fantastical characters in old houses covered in ivy and receiving fantastical gifts. The horror element doesn't really come in until the end in a hateful woman driven to the brink who blames an innocent girl for her mother's dementia. Some of it may be a little cheesy, but it's dark Disney feel and stunning visuals made me glad I took a chance on it.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, October 15, 2016

My 5 Favorite Mass Kill Scenes from Horror Films

I love gory horror films and I always appreciate a good kill scene. I find that mass kill scenes are more impressive and more creative than the typical one victim scenes. Here are some of my favorites:

1) The Opening Scene of Ghost Ship

Ghost Ship is not a good film, but this scene is a must see. It's one of the most unique and memorable kill scenes of all time. The glamour and old time elegance is interrupted by a wire slicing across the dance floor. The moment of calm as we see the bloody wire and the dancers are shocked into silence before they realize what happened is perfect. Too bad the rest of the film didn't live up to this scene.

2) The Elevator Scene from The Cabin in the Woods

In this scene, all the monsters trapped in the facility are released by elevator. It has every monster you could think of in American horror: zombies, a Pinhead lookalike, ominous masked figures, ghosts, giant snakes, killer trees, and so many more. Waves upon waves of blood fly and it becomes comical since these people are used to inflicting these creatures on others. The ding of an elevator has never been so ominous.

3) The Car Crash Scene from Final Destination 2

This crash scene is epic. I never really thought of things falling off of trucks, but now I can't not think about it when I drive behind them.

4) The Club Scene from The Collection

I have no idea how this killer set up this crazy kill, but I'll set aside my disbelief because it's awesome. This film tops everything from the first film by sealing in and literally mowing down an entire club full of people. As a person, I assume being in crowds and in public are safer than being alone. This scene disproves that in an over the top, gory way.

5) The Train Scene from Suicide Club

The scene starts out as normal: a large amount of people, mostly comprised of young girls, waiting for the train. Then the young women join hands to form a huge line and jump in front of the train to jaunty, cheerful music. This is from the very beginning of the film and it leaves a big, bloody impression and whole lot of questions.

Do you have any favorite mass horror movie kills?

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Women in the Walls

Lucy Acosta lives with her distant father, her loving aunt Penelope, and her jealous cousin Margaret in a Victorian mansion in the woods. One day, Penelope disappears into the woods and doesn't return, causing Margaret to completely change. She no longer wants to spend time with Lucy and claims she hears Penelope's voice in the walls of the attic. Margaret's behavior becomes more and more erratic, but Lucy's father doesn't want to sully the family name by getting her help in any way. How can Lucy help her cousin? Is Penelope actually gone forever?

I wasn't expecting a lot from The Women in the Walls. The first half of the book made it seem like a ghost story and it follows those conventions. Lucy assumed that the souls or spirits of the dead women of her family are stuck in the walls. Other clues leading to this were the cemetery found in the woods, the house's past as a school for wayward children, past murders, and mysterious circumstances for a lot of events. I lost interest in the story because I'm not a big fan of cliche ghost stories. The genre is oversaturated and I don't enjoy it as much as other horror unless it's done really well.

I didn't like a lot of the characters, but they were well rendered. Lucy was tortured by the thought that her father didn't look for Penelope enough, but she doesn't really do anything about it. She could have called the police to ask about the investigation that she insisted wasn't happening, but I guess it didn't mean that much to her. Margaret had a toxic relationship with Lucy and purposefully isolated her from other potential friends. This was never identified as an awful relationship, which was disappointing. Lucy's father was the worst character in the entire book. He insisted that they put forward the perfect version of themselves, which means absolutely no professional help for the cousins' obviously significant problems. They weren't even allowed to act emotionally in public. All were pretty unlikeable.

The ending was amazing. It completely diverted from the ghost story and became something much creepier and much more gruesome than I expected. The resolution is slightly unsatisfying because it's left open, but well done nonetheless. The Women in the Walls is a vast improvement from Lukavics first book and I will definitely look out for whatever she writes next.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Disappointments Room

* spoilers *

Dana, David, and their son Lucas want a fresh start and move to an old, run down house with lots of potential in the country. Dana lost a child almost a year ago and just picked up the pieces from the loss. As an architect, she's set on returning the house to its former glory, but she finds a room not included in the plans that compels her to find a way inside. The horrors found inside turn her life upside down.

The Disappointments Room is as awkward and disappointing as its title. The set up is typical. I swear I've seen hundreds of films with the same premise. However, the characters aren't. David and Lucas are delightful people who walk on eggshells around Dana so as not to upset her. Dana is an insufferable person who doesn't deserve such a lovely family. When Lucas finds the most adorable cat ever in his room, she doesn't want him to have it for no reason at all. She seems dissatisfied with her life and treats everyone like crap. It's terribly tragic that she lost a child, but her behavior isn't excused. So many of her actions are unforgivable. On the anniversary of her daughter's death, she gets shitfaced drunk, drives to the dinner party she put together, and then verbally and physically abuses her husband and their friends. Then at the end of the film, she almost kills her son in the only shocking scene in the whole film if only the child had actually been killed. Instead of getting help or taking this threat of violence seriously, the family simply moves back to the city as if that fixes anything.

The plot had a lot of promise. The disappointments room was where imperfect children of the rich were kept int the Victorian era because it was shameful to have what they called aberrant or deformed children. The basic concept is interesting and not something I've really heard of before. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really know what it wants to be. The ghost story is there (not very well done), but Dana is clearly going through some sort of mental break. Loose ends are left. Dana is close to having an affair with a sexy handyman, but he's killed by a ghost. Even though the community is super close knit, somehow no one notices his death even though it's well known that he's helping with construction. A local historian puts together the supernatural event with some past newspaper headlines, but this scene has no payoff whatsoever. So many plot lines are just left dangling.

The Disappointments Room is predictably a disappointment. It runs way too long, leaves too many plot lines without resolution, and features a horrible protagonist that I ended up feeling no sympathy for. As far as I can tell, Lucas was only in danger from his mother the entire time. It comes off as a confused mess that wasn't scary or suspenseful.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Joshua, The Girl on the Train, and Exists

* Joshua

Joshua is a precocious little boy who becomes distressed when his parents Brad and Abby have a new baby. He subtly begins to make his family's life hell for his own reasons. I enjoy children as villains especially when they are as superbly acted as Joshua. He is a cold, calculated child that excels in school and at playing the piano. I work with children as a teacher and his behavior towards others feels so unnatural. Because of lessons at school, he becomes fascinated with ancient Egyptian religion and rituals. Joshua is different than Rhoda in that he targets his own family. He systematically tears his family apart by exploiting their weaknesses, using their past against them, and discrediting them.

This film has an air of unease all about it that put me on the edge of my seat. One particularly eerie scene was at Joshua's recital performance. He played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but used a dissonant melody and threw creepy glances at his parents all the while. So much of the horrific things happen off screen, but the aftermath is frightening enough. Vera Farmiga and San Rockwell play sympathetic, sweet parents. By the end, you hardly recognize them because of how their son has manipulated them. I enjoyed the nods to The Bad Seed, the original evil child film that is well worth your time. It also has a lot in common with We Need to Talk About Kevin.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

* The Girl on the Train

Rachel pretends to go to work every day to appease her roommate, but she actually takes the train back and forth while drinking and drawing. She sees a perfect couple every time she passes by their house, but trouble comes in when she sees the woman cheat on her husband. When that woman goes missing, Rachel can't remember that night and fears she had something to do with the disappearance.

The film is a fairly faithful and streamlined adaptation of the book. It was well acted and directed. It ran a little long and the pacing dragged a bit. The problem I have with it (and with the book) is that information is doled out so deliberately that the mystery can't really be solved until the very end of the film. The villain is so cartoonish that it's unbelievable. No one in the film is remotely a good person (except Rachel's roommate), but I actually enjoyed that aspect. All people are imperfect and these were just more so. The ending was pretty awesome and had a gruesome and unintentionally funny moment that was the best of the whole film. Overall, it was just ok. Worth a watch, but not a repeat viewing.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

* Exists

A group of annoying teens go into the woods and stay in a cabin to party and look for Bigfoot. I seriously hated this movie. I toughed it out to the end, but it was painful. Not only are the characters the worst people on the planet, but the camera work was shaky to the point of nausea. The only good part in the first half was how the creature was never fully shown. We always imagine better and more terrible things than we are shown. The latter half of the film has it everywhere and ruins the previous effect. I had no sympathy for the characters and I thought they lived for far too long.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Guillermo Del Toro: At Home with the Monsters Part 3

The best thing about the exhibit was Guillermo Del Toro's love of the horror genre. Many actors, directors, and writers see horror as a way to break into the business and use it as only a stepping stone to something else. He has always be fascinated and views it as his home, revering high brow and low brow horror alike. He will continue to be inspired by and contribute to the horror genre.

* General horror art inspirations

I was especially excited to see Stephen Gammell's illustrations from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I loved these stories as a kid and the macabre, surreal art made a big impression on me.

* Other horror films

Compilations of Del Toro's films also played throughout the exhibit to link theme and imagery I didn't catch before. One of my favorite clips was a short film he directed for the show The Strain, which featured a luchador vampire hunter wrestling and then battling vampires. I had no idea luchador horror films existed and now I have to watch them. If you have a chance, definitely go to this exhibit. It's surprisingly large. These pictures are only some of what is displayed. I could have spent all day there.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Guillermo Del Toro: At Home with the Monsters Part 2

Guillermo Del Toro is inspired by fantasy, science fiction, and horror and all contribute to his works. Here are his main inspirations.

* Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft - This is apparent in his penchant for gothic horror and large scale creatures.

* Fairy Tales - I didn't take a lot of pictures of these for some reason. The below picture is the fairy tale book found by Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth. Del Toro often makes films about children that treat them as intelligent beings affected by the world around them. Both Pan's Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, and The Devil's Backbone have children dealing with the real world horror of living in war time and the fantastical horror of ghosts, mythical beings, and giant monsters. A lot of parallels can be drawn between Pan's Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland, which I feel silly I didn't notice until this exhibit.

* Frankenstein and Freaks - He's drawn to writing about outsiders and people removed or shunned from society.

Stay tuned for more of this exhibit! You can check it out at LACMA until November 27.