Sunday, October 15, 2017

Halloween Mini-Reviews: Dracula's Daughter and Murder Party

* Dracula's Daughter

Dr. Von Helsing has killed Dracula once and for all. Countess Marya Zeleska and her servant Sandor burn his body to free her of his influence. Unfortunately, the ritual didn't work, leaving her unable to see the sun or go without blood. She turns to psychiatry to resist her urges, but can it be as powerful as the influence of the one who made her?

The story is a direct continuation of the 1931 film Dracula. I had read the kids novelization so many times in my childhood but had never seen the movie. It's a decent Universal monster movie. Like so many of them, there is over the top drama, ornate dialogue, romance, and a tragic figure. Marya is a much more interesting character than Dracula. She has been a vampire for hundreds of years and longs to be human, have normal relationships, and get away from death. After the ritual with Dracula's body, Marya tries to convince herself while playing the piano that she's human, but Sandor speaks the harsh truth that she's still a vampire in ornate language as the music she plays gets darker.

Afterwards she approaches Dr. Jeffrey Garth to help her. He gives a speech about putting tempting things in front of her and being strong enough to resist it. Sandor brings Marya a woman to paing, something she's obviously done before. In a charged scene, the woman takes off her shirt and drinks wine, making conversation. Marya gives into her urges and attacks her offscreen. This scene plus the psychiatric advice heavily implies that Marya is a lesbian, also playing into the lesbian vampire trope. It's unfortunately framed in a predatory fashion and a negative portrayal, but it's pretty exciting that homosexuality was even shown at the time and in a sympathetic character.

Dracula's Daughter is a decent Universal horror movie with a conflicted monster, lesbian overtones, and drama. The "romance" with Dr. Garth felt hollow and desperate, not fitting in with her character at all. All of the human characters are pretty annoying, paling in comparison to Marya and Sandor. The ending is otherwise good and teaches Marya to make promises she doesn't intend to keep.

My rating: 3.5/5

* Murder Party

Christopher settles in for a fairly boring Halloween at home alone. He finds an ornate invitation to a murder party and decides to go after his cat won't get out of his seat. Dressed in his cardboard armor costume with a pumpkin raisin bread loaf, he goes to the party without knowing what to expect. What he finds is a group of art school college students who tie him up and kill him for their art.

Murder Party is Jeremy Saulnier's very first, super low budget movie. It has impressive effects and unexpected humor. Christopher is an unimpressive, boring looking man who uncharacteristically decided to go to a random party. The art students didn't actually expect anyone to show up and don't have a clear plan about how to murder him. They are driven by the promise of an art grant by a rich patron named Alexander. Each of them thinks their art is superior to everyone else's and are actually deeply insecure. Most of the movie is their drama, their ineptitude, and weird party games, which are all pretty hilarious.

At first, the art students start dying due to unfortunate accidents and then later by killing each other. The most unlikely of them goes on a rampage killing the remaining ones and chasing Christopher through the city. One of the funniest moments is when a performance art installation in all white is turned into a bloodbath, people walk through and judge the piece as if it was intentional. Christopher navigates this unfamiliar world and in comparison shows how ridiculous the art community can be. It's a bloody, fun movie that had me laughing throughout.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Doll House

Corinne and Ashley are sisters who lost their father almost a year ago. Both went on with their daily lives, but are still emotionally affected by the loss as they were always close to him. Corinne is also trying to have a baby and down to their last round of IVF (paid for by Ashley). She starts finding pieces of her childhood dollhouse at first thinking it's a good omen for the future, but they seem threatening after while, appearing and disappearing so others don't take her seriously. Ashley feels her husband pulling further and further away from her while she cares for their three children on her own. As she grows frustrated at being on her own most of the time, her infant never sleeps through the night and her oldest seems to be getting more and more in trouble. Do their problems have perfectly reasonable explanations or is something more sinister afoot?

The Doll House is a psychological thriller with some twists and turns. It's told mainly from three different voices: Corrine, Ashley, and a third unnamed girl in the past. Corrine is kind of fragile. From the very beginning, she's easily startled, still reeling from the death of her father, and devastated that she might never become a mother. I found her story the most frustrating because pretty much everyone in her life dismissed her very real concerns of her home being invaded. I found Ashley the most sympathetic because she is trying to a run a household and take care of three kids at very different stages while her husband spends more and more time at work (if that's what he's actually doing). She expected to have help and having everything thrown in her lap is only making her feel resentful and incredibly stressed as her children's problems worsen over time.

The third woman remains unnamed for most of the novel. Hints are dropped here and there to make her relationship to the other girls more clear. Her mother mistreated her growing up, forcing her out at all hours to spy on another family. Over time, her mother's obsession became her obsession. I felt sorry for her, but only up to a point. The identity of this woman and her mother came as a huge surprise to me. By the end of the book, I was puzzled as to why they would choose to plan as they did. It seems like they would be easily caught by the end, successful or not, so why bother to be so secretive and perfectly planned only to give a stereotypical villain monologue revealing everything.

The Doll House is an overall enjoyable book. My main problems with it are in the villains and the horror aspects. Based on the cover, I thought it would be more horror  I also thought there was an inkling of supernatural that would grow into something more, but everything stayed squarely in reality. Other than that, it's a decent thriller that's well plotted and interwoven between the three main characters.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 13, 2017

Podcast Friday: Test Pattern and Lore

* Test Pattern

Test Pattern is hosted by Jacob and Tab (of one of my favorite podcasts The Girls in the Back Row). Together, they host a show that focuses on horror films, cult classics, and other things that go bump in the night. Their episodes are well crafted with deep discussions and quite a bit of research. They start the show with their horror origins, what got them interested in horror as kids. My favorite of their series so far is their Universal Monsters series where they go through each Universal movie paired with a more modern remake, starting with The Phantom of the Opera silent film paired with Phantom of the Paradise. These film are near and dear to my heart so I love the new information about the making of the films, how the Hayes' Code affected what could be shown in the films, and of course their personal opinions on them. Their Cautionary Tales episode goes through different fairy tales and children stories with harsh consequences along with movie and TV adaptations of them, detailing their exposure to them as children and adults. The Nightmare Before Christmas episode gave me a new appreciation for my favorite Halloween movie and the amount of detail that went into making it. I can't recommend this podcast enough. 

* Lore

Aaron Mahnke hosts and writes the Lore podcast that mixes history and the supernatural backed by beautiful piano music. Each episode goes into depth about a certain subject like vampirism, witches, varieties of different creatures, and more. He details why people might believe what they did, some possible logic explanations, and always leaves it open for the supernatural to be out there. Everything is connected in a seamless narrative that sometimes goes to unexpected places. Some episodes don't interest me as much, but others gave me chills. I have two favorites: the very first episode about called They Made a Tonic and the 12th episode Half-Hanged. The first is about how in the late 19th century, the odd effects of tuberculosis on the body after death had people believing in vampires and mutilating bodies to safeguard against them. The dead person in question was Mercy Brown who was found to be in a suspiciously fresh state with blood still in her heart. It's a remarkable case that caused a panic and led to some unnecessary, grisly actions. The latter episode is about Mary Webster, an accused witch who was found innocent by the courts. Her neighbors didn't agree due to the strange circumstances surrounding a prominent man's death and hanged her anyway, but she survived. Both bizarre stories simply fascinate me. If you like weird tales with some basis of truth, I would highly recommend this podcast.   

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Gerald's Game

* spoilers *

Jessie and her husband Gerald go to their isolated vacation home by a lake to relax and rekindle their relationship. When they arrive, Gerald wastes no time in taking some Viagra and handcuffing Jessie to the bed. When he roleplays that he's an intruder there to rape her, Jessie refuses to continue. He refuses to release her, relishing in the control, but then he has a heart attack and dies on top of his wife before he can uncuff her. Jessie pushes his body to the floor, but can't reach the keys or the phone. No neighbors can hear them and no one is expecting them to come back for days. Can Jessie escape the handcuffs or at least stay alive until someone will find her?

Gerald's Game is a faithful adaptation of the novel that makes minor changes to improve the story. The film establishes both Gerald's and Jessie's outlooks on life right at the beginning of the movie. A dog is in their way on the road. Jessie immediately feels sympathy for the starving animal and is on the cusp of adopting him. After they arrive, she doesn't hesitate to give the dog some of their food. Gerald, on the other hand, thinks of the dog as a nuisance that needs to be removed or killed. He also considers the extremely expensive food wasted on the dog. Jessie is kind hearted if oblivious to her wealth and Gerald is uncaring and cruel.

Once their roleplay starts, it's clear that Jessie puts up with a lot and wouldn't have protested until Gerald called himself "daddy." It triggers something in her and she soundly refuses. The book has him flat out planning to rape her and she physically fighting back, causing his heart attack. The film has a slightly less disgusting Gerald pondering their marriage and discussing with her (even though he previously refused to release her) and then dying due to possibly too many Viagra pills. It was a good call to not have an addition sexual assault onscreen when another one is more prevalent and important.

So Jessie is left lying on the bed with her hands in cuffs with no one to find her, away from anything that might help plus the dog is now eating her dead husband. The book has different versions of Jessie talking to her, insulting her, and giving her advice. The film version only has Gerald and Jessie. Gerald shows his true nature as a misogynist and an abuser by mocking her ideas and belittling her every step of the way trying to get her to give up. Hallucination Jessie is an idealized version of herself that gives her encouragement and helpful information while slinging insults right back at Gerald. Her physical appearance is pristine. The deterioration of real Jessie is highlighted throughout the movie with the visual comparison of her hallucination.

You might assume that the story is too basic to hold up for a full length film. You would be wrong because the rest of the film is Jessie trying to survive and mentally dealing with why she accepted so much abuse for so long. Jessie's world has become incredibly small because she's trapped. Insignificant things to her before like leaving a door open or placing a glass on the headboard are suddenly the stuff of life and death. We see things from Jessie's perspective on the bed, so even Gerald's body is only partially seen because of the vantage point. A misshapen  man shows up in her house at night with a box full of jewelry and bones, which she assumes is her hallucination of death. The fear of this figure spurns her on to take action to escape death.

The mental journey about her father's abuse is something she's tried to protect herself from since she was 12. By ignoring it, she found it easier to ignore many harsh truths in order to feel safe. The memories had a different look to them, almost dreamlike. The family dynamic is established before showing the abuse, the talk afterward, and Jessie's state afterwards. It's so insidious and disgusting how her disgusting father sets up the situation, puts the blame on himself and her, and then forces her to promise never to tell anyone. The aftermath isn't in the book, but makes more sense to show a possible solution to her problem.

Gerald's Game is an intense film that improves upon the book in subtle ways. The memories relate to things her subconscious is trying to tell her and makes more sense overall. The gore is subtle up until the end in a graphic, cringe inducing scene. The ending is much better than the book. Where the book simply sums up what happened, the film gives it meaning by having Jessie reclaim her life, get past her fears, and finally address and free her 12 year old self. It does come off a bit Lifetime Original Movie, but it fit for me based on Jessie's journey.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Part 3

* American Horror Story: Roanoke

Roanoke starts with the human sacrificing colonists and the Butcher. We enter a small replica of the beautiful house. The ghosts of the colonists attack throughout the house. The scene with bloody items  (no idea what they were) moving by themselves on the wall was weird and I didn't remember anything like it on the show. The nurses who murder people based on their names and ghost Edward Phillippe Mott appear, but the figure most seen is the Pig Man. I didn't really find him that iconic of a character and it was similar to the Saw maze. The backwoods cannibal family is included with the stomach churning leg flaying scene. Overall, this maze was on par with the meh season of American Horror Story.

* The Walking Dead

This year, The Walking Dead maze is a permanent fixture in the park. Because it's not going to be torn down any time soon, it's much more immersive and realistic than it has been in previous years. The rooms where people wait look just like the hospital Rick woke up in complete with missing ceiling tiles, blood splatter and bloody handprints on the wall, and random hospital stuff and trash. I love that they included the iconic bicycle girl, one of the first zombies Rick ever encounters. The fire effects in the next room were the best I've seen at such an event and felt realistc. The windows with zombies crowding around them were a nice touch to make it feel like the zombie apocalypse. The truck with the dismembered zombies was unexpected and so were the pens with numerous zombies. My only gripe is that too many of those zombies are stationary and obviously statues. This maze is on much larger scale than any I've seen before and very high quality. This was one of my favorites.

* Insidious: Beyond the Further

I do not like the Insidious movies and I do not like this maze. The last Insidious maze from 2 years ago had surprising scares, but this one is completely lackluster. The first room is clearly the one they used for The Exorcist and there's no scare in it. There is an overabundance of dummies in the maze. They just don't inspire fear. People seem to be committing horrific acts of murder, but it doesn't work as a jump scare. The man strangling his daughter in her bed and the woman possibly going to stab her infant are creepy in theory and not so much in the maze. The narration throughout the maze was more annoying because it was hard to hear at times. The screams of the ghosts grew repetitive. The best part of the maze is the makeup of the demon at the beginning and the Tiny Tim song Tiptoe Through the Tulips. This one had the longest wait probably in anticipation of the new movie, but I was extremely underwhelmed by the maze. The end is similar to the Titans of Terror maze, but half of the Insidious villains looked goofy rather than scary.

Universal's Halloween Horror Nights gets better every single year. This year, the RIP tour was reintroduced, which was a little different. It includes a delicious buffet dinner, 2 alcoholic beverages, valet parking, and a guide through all the mazes plus the Terror Tram. This means that my group cut in front of the entire line for each maze, but there was very little rest time or breaks in between. I would have liked to go on the rides instead of backtracking and riding them later. In the 4 hours we walked around, there were 2 bathroom breaks and no time to just rest. It's tiring walking around for so long and a little rest time would have been nice. Other than that, the RIP tour is worth the money and I hope it's slightly re-evaluated for next year. I can't wait for next year to see what other movies they will bring to life.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Part 2

* Titans of Terror

I love how the maze starts: with an uber-horror fan's room decorated with all things Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface complete with a horror host on the TV. Each villain gets their own section of the maze, separated by rooms lit by different colored, high placed lights and fog, effectivley blinding the viewer. First is Freddy Krueger, introduced by his creepy nursery rhyme sung by children. Walking into his boiler room was like stepping into one of my favorite movies. The kill where his claw goes through a victim was so unexpected. The missing signs with skull superimposed over the children's faces with light is an incredible effect for a maze. The giant bone stroller gives the right amount of weird and cheesy that Freddy embodies. The sound effects of Freddy eating a child are absolutely disgusting even if the placement of the Freddy snake thing made it look super phallic. 

The last two sections are much shorter than Freddy's. Second is Jason Voorhees, introduced with his whispers and by his mother. The maze starts when Camp Crystal Lake is defunct, which is accurate to the movies since Jason as villain doesn't show until the second film. It delves into his mommy issues as his mother plays a lullaby for him and compliments him while viewers are struggling through his waterlogged victims. This section seemed  less detailed. I wanted to see his shrine to his mother with her mummified head. Last but not least is Leatherface, introduced by that chilling, flatly delivered news report at the beginning of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The very next scene is taken from the second movie, which disappointed me since Chop Top is so annoying. We get a glimpse into the Sawyer's grotesque kitchen with skinned and groundup people plus Leatherface working on a living victims, sawing them in half and cutting off their faces. I love the last three rooms, which are three rapidfire jumpscares with all 3 villains. Very effective if you go through with the right timing. This was my favorite maze of all because it was like stepping into two of my favorite movies. (Sorry Jason, your films aren't great.)

* Titans of Terror Tram hosted by Chucky

Chucky hosts the Terror Tram this year with his signature humor and bloodlust. He states the stats of all three killers. Jason is the most prolific with 146 kills over 12 movies. Freddy has only killed 35 people in 8 movies while Leatherface is only responsible for 23 kills. Of course Chucky markets his new movie Cult of Chucky (or he will kill the audience and the driver). At the end of the tram ride, he vows to kill as many of us as possible to catch up with the other villains. A crowd of Chucky's come at us with chainsaw as we leave the maze. It's a good effect and gives a clue to the twist in the new movie, but grown people look pretty ridiculous in Chucky costumes.

Jason is first here with the Camp Crystal Lake Motel. Most of the kills are so much better than the maze: a girl being in the back with a paddle, another's whole body being bent backwards by a folding bed, Jason shoving a girl's face into a circular blade sharpener, putting counselors in front of archery targets, and closing a vise on a victims head. Leatherface is next, starting with Chop Top and a corpse attacked to the front of his body right out of Texas Chainsaw 2. We enter the Sawyer Meat Plant where we are the food, attacked by various Sawyer family members with the uncomfortable sounds of squealing pigs.

The Freddy costumes for the plane crash set are inspired: Freddy is a grandma, a policeman, an EMT, a pilot, a teen athlete, and so many others. The sounds of his glove scraping by the metal dividers and his nursery rhyme accompanies the scene. Then comes the Sawyer Rendering Plant and that same flatly delivered new report. Unfortunately, the scenes that follow are exactly the same as the Titans of Terror maze. All the other villains got different scenes, but not Leatherface. Unfair and poor decision making.

More to come!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Part 1

I've been going to Halloween Horror Nights for a few years in a row and it's always one of the best haunts out there because of their attention to detail, the well trained scare actors, intricate sets, and sound design. There isn't a bad maze or scare zone in the bunch.

* Ash vs. Evil Dead

As a person who watches the show, this maze had a lot of small details from it like so many things inside Ash's trailer and the Ashy Slashy graffiti outside his childhood home. Many Deadites populate the maze, including his sister from the first movie and his elderly neighbor from the trailer park. The cabin in the woods has Pablo with the Necronomicon on his face and Ruby's creepy demon children. The most inhuman monsters are saved for last. Although this maze is less scary because of the humor of the show, I thought it was represented accurately and

* The Shining

Wendy Carlos' soundtrack the the movie sets the eerie, uncomfortable tone right away. Jack Torrance attacks throughout the maze while you run into iconic scenes from the movie, such as the bathroom scene with the ghost woman, the twins in the hallway, the chase through the hedge maze, and the elevator filled with blood. The room with the typed papers all over the wall that grow in size as you go and devolve into All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy is incredibly creative and effective with the loud sounds of a typewriter. The barriers between rooms are even giant typed paper. The skeletons at a dinner party were not in the film, but a nice touch to show the old inhabitants of the hotel. It's amazingly well done and creepy.

* Saw

Although the Saw movies are much too numerous and generally lacking in quality, this maze was one of my favorites. It combines the most creative and frightening kills of the franchise plus a glimpse into Jigsaw's workshop. My favorite scenes are the disemboweling scene when Amanda is frantically trying to get the key to the reverse beartrap on her head, the Pit and the Pendulum kill, and the whirring saw blades kill (from the new movie). I could have done with less pigheaded cloaked guys, but it may have been too cheesy to put them in the Jigsaw doll masks.

* The Horrors of Blumhouse

This maze starts with The Purge franchise, which I usually don't like this as an attraction, but so many set pieces are well done.The most annoying character from the third film is included with her iconic white outfit and car covered in white Christmas lights listening to a Miley Cyrus pop song. The later depictions of violence with the Star Spangled Banner piccolo solo over them were chilling. Both American flags shown were amazing. One was made of assault rifles and grenades while the other was made of bones and turned into the Confederate flag when its lights were on. It's topical and more hard hitting about current politics than I expected.

Next is Happy Death Day. The details of the dorm room are pretty exact, which was cool. Entering the same room conveys the Groundhogs day feel, but seems like a waste of a room. The creepy baby masked killer follows throughout the maze with an axe or a knife. I liked the music box "happy birthday" music and the main characters labored breathing because it gave an eerie tone. I'm a sucker for a room of figure where you don't know which ones are real people and which ones are mannequins. This was the weakest part of the maze.

The last bit is Sinister, one of my favorite movies. It starts with the poster come to life, a girl smearing blood on the wall. The music is one of the most frightening in horror movies and my heart started racing because of the weird percussive theme and the symbols on the wall. Some of the most grisly kills are included like the axe dismemberment and the only good kill from the second installment: putting rats under metal bowls and heating them up to force them to eat through the victims bodies to escape. Bughuul appears throughout the maze for jumps scares, which I didn't find as effective since he hardle makes an appearance in the film. I also liked the inclusion of two of the home videos, the iconic tree hanging and the film version of the rat kill.

More to come!