Monday, October 31, 2016

New Horror Ready to Haunt Your Home

Here are some fun things to make your Halloween as spooky as possible available to stream right now!

* Outcast

I loved the first season of Outcast on Showtime. It depicted a very different type of possession show with a very flawed protagonist, Kyle Barnes played by Patrick Fugit. He makes some horrible decisions but has the best intentions at heart. He teams up with a local preacher to rid the town of its very serious possession problem. The relationships feel real and give a reasonable backdrop to the more fantastical elements. All of the plot lines are interesting and even the minor characters are well rounded. Brett Spiner, famous for playing Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, is imposing and creepy as hell as Sidney, the main villain. Parts of the show are surprisingly brutal while other moments are emotional and tender. Outcast is one of the most promising and unique horror shows on TV. Catch up with it on iTunes today before the second season comes out.

* Darkest Night podcast

Shudder and the Paragon Collective have partnered up to create Darkest Night, a weekly narrative horror podcast. It was recorded binaurally to create a virtual reality effect when listening with headphones. Each episode delves into the last memories of someone recently deceased that will all eventually tie together to form a master plan. Talented actors are lending their voices to this venture including Lee Pace, Dennis O'Hare, Missi Pyle, RuPaul Charles, and Michelle Visage. I've been looking for more podcasts to listen to on my long commute to and from work and this sounds perfect for me and perhaps American Horror Story fans. You can listen on Shudder with episodes a week an advance and top notch audio quality or for free on iTunes.

* I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House

This new Netflix movie looks amazing. The trailer alone made me feel so uncomfortable. The imagery of the perfect house with rotting spots, the outdated technology, and the seemingly perfect almost mechanical woman all make for great suspense. It gives off vibes of old school horror like The Yellow Wallpaper or Shirley Jackson stories that have a quieter but still horrific approach to the genre. Netflix has been killing it lately with original shows and movies like Stranger Things and Hush. I hope this one will be just as good.

Any other good Halloween or horror programming? Share below!

Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween is a fun anthology film with 10 interlocking stories sure to get you in the Halloween spirit. A radio DJ speaks about the night in between each segment. Some characters and events even overlap, which is impressive considering each segment is made by a different director.

* Sweet Tooth

Mikey just came home from Halloween but is warned by his babysitter and her boyfriend to leave some candy for Sweet Tooth, a boy who went mad and killed his parents over the denial of Halloween candy. If none is left for him, he even eats the candy you've already eaten. This segment is delightfully gruesome and gives those who don't follow the rules their just desserts. Despite the gore, this is an adorable segment that calls to mind that fear of monsters under the bed and believing in urban legends. The ending displays pitch perfect dark humor that I love.

* The Night Billy Raised Hell

Billy is pressured to prank a reclusive neighbor only to be caught. That neighbor turns out to be the devil who decides to take revenge. More pranks follow in a montage that start out pretty harmless, but ends with pranks like stabbings, setting people on fire, and grand theft auto that have serious and dangerous consequences. The only thing that detracts from the segment is the cartoon sound effects that undermine the sinister events. Barry Bostwick makes this horror comedy segment. The twist ending made me wonder what happened afterwards.

* Trick

A group of adults have a Halloween party to drink, smoke pot, and hand out candy to children until one trick or treater dressed as a which stabs the man who answers. The survivors are under siege by other murderous costumed children no matter how they try to fight back or escape. This segment takes children we see every Halloween and makes them into a legitimate threat. Like the victims in the film, it took a while to ensure this wasn't some sort of nightmare and disbelief takes a while to overcome. I never saw the ending coming and then it all makes sense. This segment is one of the darkest in a sea of ones that chose camp and humor over horror.

* The Weak and the Wicked

A teenage boy confronts a group of bullies to avenge his parents' death with a creature he attempts to summon. This segment is most like Tales from the Crypt with its black and white morality and over the top evil people. The three bullies are the worst kind of people that torture everyone they come across with glee. At first, they seem like run of the mill jerks, but flashbacks show them to venture into unforgiveable territory. You just hope something horrible happens to them. The creature has a unique design with practical effects. The ending is incredibly satisfying.

* Grim Grinning Ghost

A group of friends meet for a Halloween costume party. The host of the party tells the story of a disfigured woman who became a ghost and giggles behind her victims, killing them only if they turn around. One woman experiences the worst luck of all time and finds herself walking home alone, trying to outrun this ghost. This segment captures the fear of Halloween where spirits walk the earth. You're not supposed to look behind you or you'll die, but not looking makes you almost compelled to look or suffering with paranoia that something is behind  you. Suspense is built steadily through the whole segment, but it's wasted on a final jump scare. I felt the ending was cheap and ruined the segment.

* Ding Dong

Jack and Bobbie are a couple who haven't been able to have a child. Last Halloween, she was in tears over the children coming to their house and emerged as a brightly colored fairy tale witch. After a year which looks like it was full of abuse for Jack, its Halloween again and Bobbie decides to embrace the holiday. She develops an odd Hansel and Gretel act where she is the child eating witch and long suffering Jack is Hansel to entertain trick or treaters that isn't successful the first or fiftieth time. When a child is lost, Jack intervenes and calls for help instead of letting his wife have the child.

The style of the witch is a little more cartoonish than I would usually expect from Lucky McKee, but the harsh reality is in the abusive relationship between Jack and Bobbie. Bobbie isn't a literal witch, but it's how Jack pictures her when she unleashes her rage on him. As a result, he fears for any child they might have together. I felt the serious aspects were overshadowed by the light atmosphere and humor, but I still felt this segment was one of the best and most unique.

* This Means War

A man who has worked on his Halloween display for decades embraces old school horror with talking skeletons, spider webs, and other rather tame decorations. His neighbors are younger and choose to decorate in a much more gory, modern horror style complete with deafening heavy metal music. The younger people's display is more popular and older man finally snaps, insulting his competition and attacking them. The clash between two eras was interesting and shows how the horror community acts towards each other at times. There's room for both on Halloween and the horror genre. The ending is the logical conclusion to fights like this.

* Friday the 31st

This segment plays out like a parody of a slasher film. A scantily clad girl dressed as Dorothy runs from a masked killer and goes through the slasher rigmarole: finding a shed to hide in but of course it's where the killer keeps his cache of bodies! The unmasked killer looks like Jason and Leatherface had a baby. A visitor arrives and messes up this whole formula. While it was entertaining, again it was so cartoonish. It also borrows heavily from the Evil Dead, so the twist wasn't as surprising as it could have been.

* The Ransom of Rusty Rex

A couple of guys decide to kidnap a millionaire's kid for ransom. When they call to set up terms, the father hangs up on them multiple times. Confused, they quickly find out why he isn't interested to have his son back. This segment had some unexpected moments and great comic timing. John Landis makes a surprise appearance as the millionaire, which was fun to see. This is another segment that reminds me of Tales from the Crypt as the kidnappers get more than they bargained for.

* Bad Seed

A man makes a an amazing jack o'lantern, only to have it turn around and bite his head off! The killer pumpkin goes out into the night to find more victims. Detective McNally is on the case as a caricature of every cop ever on TV or film. She finds the killer pumpkin, but it may not be the only one. The balance of humor and horror is better in this segment. The blood and gore flies as cops have the ridiculous task of finding a killer pumpkin on Halloween when they are everywhere. It brings back nostalgia of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes but with a Halloween flair. I loved the ending and the Joe Dante cameo. I would actually want to see this one as a full film if the cops were less over the top,

Overall, Tales of Halloween is an enjoyable and well made anthology that runs more funny than scary. I would have preferred a little more darkness and a little less cartoonish. The stories are surprisingly cohesive and clearly all belong in the same universe. It's no Trick 'r Treat, which I deem the best Halloween anthology every, but it's a fun watch all the same.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Best Friend's Exorcism

* spoilers *

In 1988, Abby and Gretchen have been friends since elementary school and inseparable ever since. To be rebellious teens, the pair and their friends take acid. All of them feel no effects except for Gretchen who runs out into the forest. They find her in the morning, but no one knows what really happened to her. Afterwards, Gretchen starts to act strangely. First she stops sleeping then she stops bathing and insists people are whispering around her and touching her. Abby investigates into it and decides that Gretchen's possessed, but can their friendship be strong enough to save her best friend?

My Best Friend's Exorcism is a uniquely packaged book. It looks like a yearbook complete with messages from friends in the book cover and family ads at the end. Each of the chapter headings is the title of an 80's song. It put me in the right state of mind for the story that is equally different. Based on the title, I had a lot of expectations. Most possession stories draw directly from The Exorcist and don't do much that's different. It's why I'm usually bored with these types of stories, but this one manages to break the tropes and stand as something different.

The possession starts fairly typically with Gretchen exhibiting strange behaviors and claiming to hear whispering and being touched by something unseen. Her appearance suffers and all of her friends except Abby shun her. Abby feels helpless because nothing she does can help her friend. She's tried talking to authority figures, but seems to just make it worse. When Gretchen finally seems to improve, Abby is now shunned. Gretchen's appearance and demeanor have improved, but she's a completely changed person. She's suddenly so helpful to her friends, helping one lose weight with mysterious shakes and passing along another love letters from a teacher. No one realizes anything is wrong until both girls' lives are destroyed irreparably. I love that the possessed girl actually does evil things. She doesn't hurt herself or exhibit grotesque sexuality as is usual. The aftermath of her actions are horrifically memorable.

As with most possession stories, an exorcism is used to try to draw out the demon from the afflicted. A religious exorcism is tried for hours, but it doesn't really work. Abby finds a guy who spoke about body building for Jesus to do it, but he has no real experience. He eventually abandons them, leaving Abby with a tied up Gretchen. Abby exorcises the demon herself by calling upon things significant to them like artifacts from their friendships and songs they love. I found this to be the most refreshing because religion didn't save them. Things they actually had faith in and meant something to their every day lives saved them. Abby and Gretchen didn't need a priest or anyone else. Abby saved Gretchen by herself. The aftermath is suitably realistic.

Overall, My Best Friend's Exorcism is a unique story that actually has the demon hurting people around them. The exorcism and the aftermath cemented it as the best possession story I've seen or read. The novel throws off a lot of horrible tropes invented by The Exorcist and copied in every other possession movie. This book shows that you don't have to follow the same formula over and over to be a part of the genre. I hope more stories follow suit in the future and I will be looking out for more books by Grady Hendrix.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: When a Stranger Calls and 47 Meters Down

* When a Stranger Calls

This film really three in one. The first part is the best and most suspenseful which I expected it to last the whole film. Jill Johnson is babysitting for an evening when the children have already been put to bed. She does her homework and calls her friends, but someone keeps calling and asking if she's checked the children. I felt her fear. It rose every time she got another call and every time she talked to the police. The sound of a phone ringing has never been so ominous. The end of this part was an explosion of emotion and the climax of suspense that had been built over the first 40 minutes. The most grisly bits are left to the imagination which of course is much worse than whatever could have been shown. This scene is what the film is known for and its lasting effect is seen in later films like Scream.

The next section is far less interesting and more like a police procedural taking place 7 years later. We follow a private detective to catch the killer from the first part of the film (Duncan) who escaped from the institution. The PI isn't the nicest person, but will do anything he can to catch the killer. Duncan tries to pick up a woman named Tracy and ends up beat up by a bar patron. I hated this scene because it seemed like the audience was supposed to be ok with her being harassed by this obviously unstable man who wouldn't leave her alone. Afterwards, Duncan shows up at her apartment and won't leave. This does a good job of portraying the dangers women experience even now that no one really gave a shit about back then. Tracy isn't the friendliest of people and rebuffs the PI when he starts asking questions. I wouldn't be super friendly either being single in a big city where treatment like this is typical.

The last part of the film returns to Jill and her family. She has a husband, a successful job, and two children. In a reflection of her first scene, she hires a babysitter for a fancy dinner to celebrate with her husband. She gets a call midway through the meal that breaks her: a man asking if she's checked her children. The tension returns in the final confrontation that had me guessing what would happen. The beginning and the end are perfect, but the middle dragged on too long, infuriated me, and didn't seem necessary at all.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* 47 Meters Down

Two sisters Lisa and Kate go to Mexico for a vacation. Lisa wants to put her breakup out of her mind and live it up to show him and Kate wants the thrill of being near sharks, so they go on a random, not hotel approved shark swimming excursion. Despite the fact Lisa has no idea how to scuba dive, they get in the shark cage and are lowered down after chumming the waters to attract the great white sharks. Everything is wonderful at first, but the line snaps and they sink to the ocean floor. Running out of air and surrounded by sharks, chances of survival are not good for these sisters.

Apparently, 47 Meters Down was supposed to come out around the time that The Shallows did, but was postponed due to the other film's popularity. 47 Meters Down is clearly the superior of the two shark films that has actual suspense, horror, and action. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the film and the situation changed slightly during the course of the film. First, the sisters are in the cage at the bottom of the ocean. Throughout the film, they leave the safety of the cage for specific objects or to get close enough to communicate with the boat that brought them. It changes where the threat is coming from and which danger has higher priority: running out of air or being eaten by sharks.

The relationship between the sisters is the most important part of the film for me. Despite astronomical odds and their own panic, they work to keep each other calm and encourage each other. They are a team no matter what. In many films, tensions rise and ugly things come out when situations look bleak. They will go above and beyond for each other even when things seem impossible. The ending is completely unexpected. Some clues are given on the way as to its nature, but they are easy to dismiss.

The only flaws were relatively small. The excursion crew made a big deal about getting the bends ascending to the surface, but I'm sure rushing to the ocean floor would have the same effect. That crew's whole motivation for staying is pretty suspicious. I would guess that they were people who want to do the right thing, but the cynic in me says they realistically would have left. No one knew the women went with them. Who would know if they just left? I very much enjoyed this film despite its flaws and it's worlds better than any shark film in the last decade.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, October 24, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: The Strange World of Coffin Joe and The Witches

* The Strange World of Coffin Joe

This is a Portugese anthology film that is low budget and pushes boundaries. Despite being made the same year as Rosemary's Baby, they couldn't be more different. My big problem with the film wasn't the budget or the bad acting, but the fact the rape and sexual assault are an integral part of every segment.

The first segment is The Dollmaker and the best of the film. An aged doll maker and his young, beautiful daughters create the most realistic dolls due to grisly additions. Of course some men hear how rich he is, attack him, and view his beautiful daughters as a bonus. This story has the most in common with Tales from the Crypt with their way of punishing the wicked in a horrific way. I found the resolution the most chilling of all the stories.

The second segment Obsession features a homeless man in love with an unattainable, beautiful woman. She has her own idyllic life, but it's ruined on her wedding day. It's impressive that the story is told with very few lines of dialogue, like a grisly silent film. The homeless man is sympathetic through most of the film until the end.

The last segment is Theory where a deranged man wants to prove his insane sociological theories through torture. This was the worst of the segments because it went on for so long. It also seemed to be trying really hard to be disturbing. The ending was predictable and ridiculous

Overall, The Strange World of Coffin Joe is a film that I would never normally watch. While I didn't like most of it, I thought it was an interesting watch. I just wish the film wouldn't have relied so much on the graphic sexual abuse of women, which was the only common thread in every film.

* The Witches

A society of witches meets at the same hotel as a boy and his grandmother with a plot to get rid of all of the children in England and then the world. Anjelica Huston plays the Grand High Witch to perfection. In her human form, the Witch is beautiful and dressed in the height of fashion. Outside of her disguise, her features are grotesque and overexaggerated. The witches in this world absolutely hate children and even the scent of children disgusts them. The first half of the film has true suspense and a lot more horror than I expected. Once the boy is turned into a mouse, it gets a little too cheesy for me. The suspense left and comedy dominates instead. I'm glad I watched it, but only half of it was impressive. I wish I would have watched this when I was little.

My rating: 3.5.5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Cropsey is a documentary that covers a Staten Island urban legend that comes to life. Cropsey is supposedly a patient from a local defunct insane asylum Willowbrook Mental Institution that still lives in the abandoned building while he kidnaps and kills kids. His method of killing and weapon differ depending on who's telling it, but it's a typical story told around campfires that everyone in the neighborhood seems to know. Young people still go to the mental hospital hoping to find some sign that he's real, but mostly find graffiti and the homeless. When seven children went missing over decades in close to the same place, the neighborhood feels as if Cropsey has come alive.

Joshua Zeeman and Barbara Branaccio put the myth and the child disappearances in a larger historical context. Staten Island was known in the past as a dumping ground for garbage, sporting a large landfill, and bodies for the mob in the past. Willowbrook Mental Institution was open until 1987 where it was shut down due to unsanitary and barbaric treatment of mentally ill children. It was viewed as a dumping ground for imperfect children with extreme overcrowding, not enough employees, all types of abuse, and other inhumane conditions. The children that disappeared all had some sort of disability, which most likely had significance for whoever took them.

The most likely suspect that has been identified is Andre Rand, a past employee of Willowbrook. He has been in jail since the 80's and was on trial for the kidnapping of Holly Ann Hughes in 2004 when the documentary was filmed. It's truly inconclusive if he kidnapped or murdered anyone and there are solid arguments for both sides. On one hand, he's a homeless person who lives in Willowbrook and acts in a strange manner. No concrete evidence has surfaced. Eyewitnesses have come forward decades after the original events claiming to have seen him with her even though he was masked. Some people who knew Rand suggested that he was the scapegoat and sacrifice to avenge the probable deaths of the children that disappeared. Officials and residents make wild claims of Satan worship and necrophilia, comparing him to Son of Sam. The real life events and the myth of Cropsey seem to have merged in the minds of the Staten Island residents and they are certain that he is guilty.

On the other hand, Rand shows himself to be an incredibly manipulative person. He wrote Joshua and Barbara long notes annotating his thoughts in past testimony. As time goes on, his notes get less and less coherent. He finally agrees to an interview after some time going back and forth only to refuse them when they get to the jail. This was proven to be a pattern with past reporters. He seems to like having control over people interested in the case and refuses to say anything to them directly except claiming his innocence. In the past, Rand picked up a bus full of children and bought them food without the consent of their parents, a very odd and possibly telling event. He was also convicted of attempting to sexually assault a child (which was omitted from the film). Rand in any case is a troubled person and a criminal, but it's unclear whether he committed these kidnappings.

Cropsey is a compelling documentary that raises more questions than it answers. The majority of the seven disappearances are still unsolved and no one really knows what happened. Whether Rand did or did not commit these crimes, the families of these children will probably never know what happened. It was heartbreaking to watch these families hope that Rand would at least reveal the location of the children's bodies so the families could have some closure. I highly recommend this documentary even if it isn't your usual fare. Real life can be even more chilling and disturbing than fiction.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, October 22, 2016

My Sister Rosa

Che has a weird life. He and his family move frequently around the world to accommodate for his parents' jobs. His parents are hippies who raise their children with a certain amount of freedom and encourage them to express themselves. Unfortunately, they don't seem to realize that his sister Rosa is a psychopath with no empathy and no regard for people beyond how it would negatively effect her. He feels responsible for teaching how to act good and keeping her radius of destruction as small as possible. This new place with all of is opportunities might prove too tempting for Rosa no matter how vigilant Che is.

Che is trying to make the best of his situation. He truly loves his sister ever since he held her as a baby and wishes she could feel empathy and know right from wrong like everyone else. Normalcy isn't completely absent as he makes lots of new friends, keeps communicating with the old friends, and studies boxing. As he gets closer to adulthood, his parents laissez-faire style of parenting starts to get to him and he fights against them even harder. I feel sorry for him because he's basically forced to parent Rosa because his parents are too wrapped up in each other and their cause of the week to do it. Even though it's a horrible time to do it, he starts to rebel and leave Rosa to her own devices more often in order to have a normal teenage life. I understand him and applaud him for doing so.

This book has some wonderful things about it. The cast of characters is probably the most diverse I've ever read in culture, sexuality, gender, and described in atypical ways. When a character is described, their skin color is first on the list. Larbalestier focuses on some physical attributes, but ones that could belong to anyone. She focuses more on the personality and demeanor of the character rather than their physicality. I found it refreshing and progressive. The only character I thought was superfluous was Elon, a genderless person. While it's great to have this character, Elon is literally only there to introduce this type of person and has no impact on the plot whatsoever. The cast of characters is quite large and could have been cut a little to move the plot forward more. It definitely stagnated in the middle.

I had high expectation for My Sister Rosa and it let me down in some places. Rosa herself started out creepy with her discussing how people are valuable to her and how she doesn't understand how to be good. She spends a lot of time going around Che's rules without breaking them (mostly) and views it as a game. Her angelic features and manipulative ways are chilling in a child that very few people realize can be quite dangerous. Rosa was suspiciously absent through much of the novel despite the title. In the latter half of the novel, her actions didn't even really make sense anymore and she came off as a caricature of a sociopathic child. Her character also stagnated and didn't change much throughout the novel. I would have wanted to see more from her perspective.

My Sister Rosa is an interesting novel that drew me in from the very beginning. Unfortunately, the second act is a bit bloated and the plot didn't move forward until the explosive end. The ending throws in an interesting twist I never saw coming. I would read another novel if this became a series, but my expectations wouldn't be as high. Overall, it's a flawed novel with striking characters and a killer plot.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Doris has trouble making friends and spends most of her free time helping her mother with seances or what she calls "readings." Business is dwindling with the act becoming stale and oujia boards are exploding in popularity, so her mother buys one as a prop to garner more customers. She never expected it to actually work. For a while, Doris helps her mother with readings directly, answering loved ones' questions, having the spirits move the planchette on their own, and sometimes even talking in their voices. However, Doris' behavior is becoming more and more erratic with strange things happening around her at an alarming and increasing frequency.

I expected Ouija: Origin of Evil to be completely horrible. The first film was a forgettable piece of garbage that made me want that hour and a half of my life back. This film, on the other hand, was delightful. It had everything I wanted: creepy atmosphere, suspense, an interesting story, and characters to care about. Doris, Lina, and their mother Alice struggle to survive. Alice conducts "readings" that she knows are just scams, but tells herself she's giving her rubes peace and closure. All suffer from the loss of the children's father, forcing Lina to grow up much faster to protect her sister. Even though I didn't always agree with their decisions, I cared about their whole family and what happened to them. They are hardworking people trying to live their lives despite great losses.

Doris starts out as a sweet but lonely girl struggling to come to terms with her father's death and her mother's job scamming people. She prays to her father every night to tell him about her day in order to cope. Her demeanor completely changes after she is attacked by an entity. She becomes more cold and calculating. Her previous kindness becomes a mask to hide her cruelty and lull those around her into a false sense of security. Her possession takes form visually with blank, white eyes and physical feats physically impossible for humans. This is achieved with CGI that I thought would be distracting, but proved to be effective and just enough. Much more would have been too much and it never became too cartoonish. Possessed Doris is formidable because of whatever's possessing her and the fact that others underestimate her.

The pacing of the film is excellent as it deliberately doles out its scares. Even when everything seems fine, I could feel an undercurrent of unease that something wasn't right. It was too perfect with Doris finding a bunch of money and communicating with people's dead loved ones to make her family successful again. Some of the plot developments came out of nowhere and there was no way I could have predicted them. The reason for Doris' possession was unexpected and pretty creepy. Even though the film is PG-13, I didn't feel like it was censored or parts were cut out to achieve the rating and appeal to wider audience. I was fully into the film and on the edge of my seat for most of the last half.

Overall, Oujia: Origin of Evil blows that first film, which was about as interesting as watching wallpaper dry, away with its creativity, unpredictable plot, and formidable performances. The only part that was lacking to me was the ending. It felt incomplete and disconnected from the rest of the film. Other than that, I was so impressed with this film that won me over when I already wrote it off before I even sat down in the theater which is no small feat.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Morgan and The Raven

* Morgan

Morgan is a completely engineered being. She looks human and can act human, but the company who owns her call her "it" and treat her as property. When she stabs a woman in anger, a risk assessment specialist is called in to see if she should be terminated. I figured this film would be a lot like a watered down Ex Machina or Splice, but it surprised me. A lot of the typical science fiction tropes are there, but with some surprises thrown in. First, I expected a sterile, white lab, but scientific team stays in an old mansion where they live regular lives outside of the lab. I expected the people to be clinical and emotionless, but they were normal people who loved Morgan like a daughter. They have been with her since birth and have seen her grow up. I liked how the people who most closely take care of her view her as a person and fight as hard as they can to keep her alive.

Morgan is the most stereotypical character of the film. Her actions are pretty predictable and completely unsurprising. It's disappointing that the concept that she might actually be human was never really entertained. She's not really an android but apparently not really human either. This was the weakest concept of the film since she's just an engineered person to me. She should have rights and privileges of any person. The ending was a bit of a surprise. I suspected it early in the film, but I didn't think it would actually go in that direction. I wish the film was just a little more unique. The trappings and settings were refreshing plus the interesting twist at the end, but at its core it was still formulaic.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

* The Raven

Fiery and passionate Edgar Allan Poe is outraged by his lack of success and makes no secret of insulting his competition and his critics. When those same people he hates start dying in ways he wrote about in his gothic tales, he is the top of the suspect list and forced to clear his name by helping the police catch the real murderer. The Raven is an unexpectedly enjoyable film that melds true events of Poe's life with a fictional murder mystery. John Cusak plays Poe over the top with egotism, arrogance, indulgence in his vices, and a romantic side. I appreciated the decision to avoid sanitizing his character or making him into a one dimensional hero. He still works as hard as he can to stop the killer and regrets the use of his stories in this situation.

The film is surprisingly romantic, focusing much of the film on Poe's relationship with Emily. Emily's father makes no secret of his hatred for Poe, but that doesn't deter him at all. Their romance is sweet and clandestine with some playful disagreements and banter back and forth. I was surprised that Emily was portrayed as more intelligent and capable than I expected. It was a refreshing departure from genre tropes. The delightfully gruesome murders bring to life Poe's stories as I've never seen. Some of the murders were based on stories I wasn't familiar with and sparked my interest in reading more of Poe's work. The Raven has twists and turns to keep you guessing with good performances, suspense, and a fun mix of fact and fiction.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Universal Studio's Halloween Horror Nights Part 2

The Good (continued)

* Krampus

The outside of the maze puts you in the winter/Christmas spirit. The house is covered in ice and surrounded by menacing snowmen with Krampus sitting on the roof. Krampus chases you through the icy, ruined house. One of my favorite parts of the film is an adorable tableau of deranged gingerbread men taking over the kitchen. The kid eating clown jack in the box looks insane full sized. The snowmen were really creepy. It's so simple to push them forward towards the audience, but it's so unexpected. The ending could have been a little better in regard to replicating the film, but the final Krampus freaked me out. It's an enjoyable maze.

* The Purge: Gauntlet of Fear Zone

I'm a fan of The Purge films, but it doesn't really work as an extended attraction like the Terror Tram. These scare zones are perfect for it with deranged and elaborate tableaux, masked killers, tortured victims, dead bodies, and disturbing graffiti. The guys in the camouflage gilly suits scared me the most because I never knew they were there. I especially love the recording of a group of people reciting the new Pledge of Allegiance to the New Founding Fathers. The ending gets a little too rave like for me, but it's fun overall.

* Eli Roth Presents Terror Tram

Eli Roth capitalizes on all the scary clown appearances lately. In case you haven't heard, people all over the US are dressing up as clowns and standing around, scaring people. Hysteria over this has risen and given rise to rumors of these clowns attacking people, being attacked, or trying to lure children away. I figure the phenomenon is due to viral It marketing or people looking to freak people out. Anyway, Roth creates a whole history that ties into this.

Koodles the Klown, the original mascot of Universal Studios was beloved and revered for years. Things hit rock bottom after he was involuntarily retired and he's been living in the backlot ever since. Now, clowns are uprising at an alarming rate and joining him on the backlot to exact their revenge. The video in the tram is well done with a detailed history of Koodles AKA Hollywood Harry. Then we get to experience the madness of these murderous clowns. It's a vast improvement over the Purge tram of last year and I loved it. The childlike, jingly music served as a creepy backdrop for the horrific sights these clowns have in store.

The Bad

* The Exorcist

I make no secret that I'm not the biggest fan of The Exorcist, but it's not a bad film by any means. The maze unfortunately is bad. It starts out pretty strong with the spider walk scene, but there's no hiding when they reset the animatronic. If you walk in at the wrong moment, the effect is completely ruined. Afterwards, you walk through the iconic scenes of the film which are always with Reagan and the exorcists. They start to seem the same after a while: Reagan spewing pea soup vomit, Reagan with an obscenely long tongue, Reagan levitating, etc. The most effective scare is when Reagan comes rushing at you on a cross.

In between these tableaux are the demon face that's used in flashes in the film as standalone jump scares in different colors. The first couple were scary, but as they stayed exactly the same, it grew dull. There are numerous light up pictures of Reagan's face with the demon face superimposed over it that was cool one time. The big finale of the maze is a life size version of the Pazazu statue. It has all the same trappings as other scares to help it along, but it looked adorable. It was even more adorable that the scare actor in the costume tried to be scary. I expected a lot more from the maze of such an iconic film.

* Other Purge Scare Zones

One sort of scare zone is a tunnel leading 3 of the mazes. It features disorienting strobe lights and deafening dubstep music along with random people trying to scare. I just want to get to the mazes and back and this area was an annoyance to and from those mazes.

* Go Go Dancers

I complain about this every year. If they want to have go go dancers, it would be wonderful to also have some hot male ones. This event isn't just for men and it would be nice to have equal opportunity eye candy if they insist on having it.

Overall, Universal's Halloween Horror Nights is a huge success with me. It's by far my favorite horror attraction of the year and I eagerly await to return next year.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Universal Studio's Halloween Horror Nights Part 1

Universal Studios has truly upped its game this year. Almost every single attraction brought scares, detailed sets, and the Halloween spirit.

The Good

* 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 plus it felt like standing next to a fire. The windows with zombies 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. This maze is on much larger scale than any I've seen before and very high quality. This was one of my favorites.

* American Horror Story

Before we got into the maze, scenes from Murder House, Freak Show, and Hotel were playing on the side of the building. It got me into the American Horror Story mindset and got me excited. While I struggled to remember the scenes being referenced in the early seasons being represented, this maze was fun. Murder House starts off with Addy (looking much younger than in the show) telling us we'll die there. Gimp suited guys or people with pig heads jump out at you. The best part was the deranged Dr. Charles Montgomery, his vivisected experiment, and dramatic music. Freakshow follows with Twisty and his bus. My favorite part is the girl being cut in half in the next room. Hotel is next and shines as the most immersive part of the maze. The interior looks like we've really stepped into the hotel. The mattress burster is super creepy and the Commandment Killer trophy room is a nice touch. The starving vampires sealed in, the Countess's disturbing baby, and people hiding in the curtains all made effective scares. Maybe it was because it's the most recent season and fresh in my mind, but Hotel was by far the best.

* Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield

I was a little disappointed that this maze is based more on the second and third films which pale in comparison to the original. However, the maze was surprisingly well done. Michael Meyers has always been my favorite slasher and I love feeling like I'm stepping into the films. The music chosen is a little more subtle than the movie theme, but effective. The maze recaps the ending of the first film then starts with the second film. At the Haddonfield Hospital, we walk through scenes where nurses and doctors have already died then we see Michael actively killing, replicating scenes from the film. Then it transitions to the third film, which I watched recently and hated. Instead of horrible cheesiness, glowing pumpkin masks leap out at you. There's no knowing which are props and which are people. The giant glowing pumpkin doorway is one of the best set pieces I've seen. The slowed down Mr. Sandman song sets the stage as dreamlike and walking around the insides of a giant pumpkin is pretty cool. This maze wasn't as good as last years, but the surprise end almost made up for it.

* The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers

This maze scared me more than all the other mazes. I think it's a combination of Leatherface being pretty scary combined with the sound of the chainsaw. He (in a variety of masks) and Choptop jump out throughout the maze. It seems to be more based on the second film than the first. It focuses on their meat business that just happens to be human with detailed scenes on how they got it. My favorite scene is the red wall with the animal skulls hung all over it, replicated from the original film. It's one of the scariest scenes on film and I wish it were portrayed the same way, but it was nice to see anyway. I wish there had been more scenes from the original, but the maze was still decent.

* Freddy vs. Jason

I expected this maze to be as cheesy as the film, but it was so much better. It starts off by showing Freddy's boiler room where he died that is frequently replicated in dreams to terrorize his victims. Then Freddy terrorizes a young Jason in a variety of iconic ways like swallowing him whole in disgusting snake form. Afterwards, we visit Jason's origin as his mother raves about his death at Camp Crystal Lake. He then appears in his full monstrous glory. The two iconic monsters decide to attack us instead of each other for the rest of the maze. I loved the scenes where they jumped out on either side. The scenes where a fence or wall separated me from the monsters lulled me into a false sense of security until they jumped through a hidden opening. The ending mimics the ending of the film where Jason appears to win, but Freddy still manages to survive. This maze was awesome and was definitely as good if not better than Alien vs. Predator from last year.

Stay tuned for more mazes!

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Sally, her brother Franklin, and three of her friends (Jerry, Kirk, and Pam) go to investigate reports of vandalism on her grandfather's grave. On the way, they decide to visit their old family home, but never make it there. They stop for gas and stumble upon a house in the middle of nowhere looking for gas. That unassuming house contains a deranged, cannibalistic, inbred family who delight in murder and mayhem.

This iconic film is known as one of the scariest films ever made and I love it. So many moments are memorable. The first scene with Leatherface still scares me when he charges out of his room, beats Kirk with a hammer, grabs him, and slams the metal door shut with a deafening clang. It happens so fast and brutally that you almost don't believe your eyes. A little later, Pam tries to escape, but Leatherface drags her back into the house in broad daylight. Horror often takes place at night and this movie makes it clear that daylight isn't safe. What follows that is the brutal meat hook scene that doesn't really show you anything, but seems like it showed everything.

The best part of the film is Leatherface. Even though his family is deranged and cannibalistic, he remains the most memorable of the group. Many consider him devoid of personality, but I disagree. Michael Meyers has no emotions or personality. Leatherface simply doesn't speak, but he telegraphs his emotions in other ways. He has this strange duality about him. On one hand, he's a huge monster of a man, capable of killing pretty much anyone. On the other hand, fear drives him. He's scared of both his family because of their abuse and strangers because of the danger they bring. I feel a bit sorry for him because he's treated badly by pretty much anyone. The infamous chainsaw "dance" scene at the end of the film shows his frustration in an unexpected, almost beautiful way. I want to know more of his story.

Sally is the quintessential final girl who elicits our sympathy by generally being innocent, running around, and screaming. While her performance isn't the best throughout the entire film, her scene at the very end is amazing. She escapes on a truck thanks to a kind stranger and escapes Leatherface and then laughs maniacally and uncontrollably as she's driven away, covered in blood. This scene truly captures the plight of the final girl. She survived, but at what cost? All of her friends and her brother are dead and she has to live with the horrors she has seen.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an amazing film that is still feared by audiences today. It's one of the films that helped originate the slasher genre and spawned one of the most famous villains of all time. The film does have a few flaws, but they are insignificant in the face of all of its successes. If you haven't seen it, take the plunge and tell yourself "it's only a movie."

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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