Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 Halloween Movie Roundup: The Greats

Finally, we get down to the good stuff! No, the great stuff. It shouldn’t be surprising that there are far fewer movies on this list than on The Bad and The Middlers lists. In fact, there are only three this year that I found to be truly horrific… in a good way.

American Mary. It’s true that I will watch anything with Katherine Isabelle (also see: Danielle Harris). But this movie is so weird, so seriously creepy, and has such an intriguing and complicated female lead that I immediately knew this movie would join the ranks of my favorite horror movies of all time. Read my full review here.

Evil Dead (2013). Put simply, this remake brings it. It’s fun, it’s scary, it’s exciting, and it pays homage to the original in all the right ways. It’s the only way a remake should be. Oh, and Jane Levy is a fantastic leading lady. Read my full review here.

You’re Next. Dysfunctional family drama meets killers in animal masks. Such a great little gem. Of course, after reading the buzz on this movie and waiting for it for years, I thought it probably would be. But it was still a surprise – the campy tone combined with crazy kills and genuine scares made for a perfect (and in horror, where suspense and camp almost never mix, rare) combination. I can’t wait to see it again.

That's the list, so until next year... happy Halloween everybody!

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Halloween Treat

I have a special Halloween treat for you guys! Corey, my fiance, is a marvelous and talented video producer and editor at our alma mater, and he recently made a short film for a "monster movie" contest. The only stipulations were that it had to be under two minutes, and it had to be shot within the ten days before it was due (Corey actually shot and edited the whole thing in like... three days, after work). Anyway, I think it's really cool and creepy and perfect for Halloween. I hope you like it, and feel free to share!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

2013 Halloween Movie Roundup: The Middlers

As in my previous post, I'm reviewing the most notable (for good or bad reasons) horror movies I saw this year. Click here to see The Bad. Now, moving on to The Middlers! None of these movies are bad – in fact, many of them are very good! They’re just missing that special something that takes a movie from good to truly memorable.

Plus One. Two universes overlap at a party (or… something), and suddenly each of the partygoers has a doppelganger with an apparently identical life. No one knows why it happened or what it means, and the movie uses that as a jumping off point to explore how we react instinctively to the unknown (spoiler: not well). It’s not exactly horror, but it strays into horror territory; it’s not always riveting, but it stumbles onto some compelling ideas. It’s neither here nor there, I suppose, but it’s worth a look.

Maniac. This movie is an unflinching (not to mention bloody) look at a serial killer’s obsessions, as seen through his own eyes. And I mean that literally – the entire film is shot from the serial killer’s POV, designed to make the audience feel complicit in his killings. It’s a highly effective method for making the viewer uncomfortable, but it does little in the way of making the killer sympathetic or understandable. The movie is also more gory and depressing than genuinely suspenseful, which is why it’s not one of my favorites.

V/H/S 2. I seem to be in the minority, but I preferred the first V/H/S horror anthology to this one. This iteration features only four short films, as opposed to six, and only two of them are worthwhile in my opinion. Still, the two that are good are a lot of fun; one in particular really goes for it and is great in a bonkers kind of way. I definitely wouldn’t be averse to more V/H/S anthologies.

Would You Rather. The feel-bad movie of the year. A young woman enters an invitation-only “contest” thrown by a millionaire in order to win money to support her ill brother. Unsurprisingly, the contest turns out to be much more sinister than she anticipated (if you’ve ever played a cutthroat game of Would You Rather in high school, you can imagine where this is going). It’s compulsively watchable in a “what awful thing is going to happen next” way, but there’s not any more to it than that. I watched it because I like Brittany Snow, and she’s just as sympathetic as ever.

World War Z. Okay, I wholly enjoyed this movie. So why isn’t it in the middle of my list, and not the top? Well… it’s a big budget zombie movie, which is both awesome and damning. On the one hand, the set pieces are amazing. On the other, this movie is so Hollywood slick that it’s devoid of a certain amount of heart that I feel goes into lower budget horror movies. It’s hard to explain. It just feels like we spend too much time focusing on Brad Pitt’s pretty face, and not enough time on more important things, like the zombie apocalypse. It also strays too far into action movie territory at times for my taste, and it fizzles out at the end. It was a ton of fun to watch, but it didn’t stay with me long after the credits rolled.

Jug Face. This is a very unique, campfire-tale-like story that centers on a strange, insular community that lives in the woods. Every year they sacrifice one member of the town to “the pit,” a godlike entity that demands blood in return for… not killing everyone, I guess? Anyway, the sacrificial member is determined by the town potter, who channels the needs of the pit by sculpting the face of one of the townspeople onto a jug while in a trance. The “jug face” is then revealed, and the person sacrificed, usually without a fight. Until this year. This is another one that has a strong premise and a lot going for it, but ultimately the filmmakers couldn’t figure out where to go with the story.

Stoker. Ostensibly a re-imagining of Shadow of a Doubt. What I liked most about it was how atmospheric and moody the tone was, and how dreamlike certain sequences were – so much so that at times I wasn’t sure if what I was watching was happening or not. I was more into the style than the substance, however, and the story never gelled into anything more than mildly intriguing for me.

Black Rock. I love survival horror, and this one is full of tension and intensity. Three women go camping on a remote island, encounter three odd but seemingly genial men, and things go awry. Like so many others on this list, the story doesn’t have staying power – you probably won’t remember specific scenes from this movie, and none of the characters particularly stand out – but in the moment, the first time around, it’s a very intense ride. Read my full review here.

The Conjuring. It’s not often that I’m genuinely frightened by a ghost story, but this one did it for me. There are tons of effective jump scares in this movie, and some blood-curdling ghosts, but not quite enough substance for me to latch onto long term. It was loads of fun to watch once, but I doubt I’ll bother seeing it again.

Magic Magic. This might not technically be horror (well, psychological horror, I suppose), but it was such an oddball find that I had to mention it. Juno Temple (an actress I’m loving more and more) plays a young woman, Alicia, who travels to an isolated countryside house in Chile with her cousin and her cousin’s (Chilean) friends. The cousin has to depart suddenly, under mysterious circumstances, leaving Alicia with strangers who tend to speak Spanish more often than English. Alicia begins to experience insomnia, which leads to paranoia, both of which aren’t helped by Brink, one of the menacing friends played hilariously/creepily against type by Michael Cera. Dark humor bumps up against true terror in this Repulsion-esque spiral into madness.

The Purge. Though critics don’t seem to agree with me, I appreciated this futuristic twist to the home invasion movie. If only it had been a bit longer and less slight with the story, it would be one for me to love. Read my full review here.

Carrie (2013). I was surprised by how much I liked this remake. Julianne Moore, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Portia Doubleday all gave standout performances that matched those of Brian DePalma’s characters and simultaneously made them their own. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for the movie itself, which is so similar to the DePalma version that I can’t imagine the filmmakers had any reason for making it other than the dollar signs in their eyes.

Tune in next week (Halloween!) to see my favorite horror movies of the year! And feel free to tell me about your favorite movies of this year in the comments.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2013 Halloween Movie Roundup: The Bad

For the next three weeks leading up to Halloween, I'm going to review all the notable horror movies I've seen this year, going from worst to best. Hope you enjoy!

Static. A husband and wife, reeling after the death of their young son, find their lives further complicated by the appearance of a mysterious stranger who knows more about the couple than she’ll admit. This is one of those movies with a “twist” ending that’s really just nonsensical garbage. A good twist ending should make you think, in hindsight, “Oh… of course!” This story plods along slowly – the writers clearly didn’t have many ideas beyond the “twist” – until a surprise ending pops out of nowhere. You think it’s just a generic home invasion movie, but it’s actually something even more hackneyed and overdone.

The ABCs of Death. I’m usually a fan of horror anthologies (in fact, another horror anthology will show up elsewhere in my Halloween list), but this one didn’t work for me. At all. As the name suggests, this anthology is made up of 26 horror shorts, one for each letter of the alphabet. I don’t know if the format was too constrictive – making an effective horror film that only lasts a few minutes is certainly a difficult, but not impossible, task – or if the filmmakers weren’t up to snuff, but the majority of the stories are just… not good. Not to mention that almost none of them are scary; most filmmakers seemed to aim for “gross” in lieu of anything legitimately frightening. I think I enjoyed maybe three shorts.

John Dies at the End. I’m probably going to get flack for this, considering the huge fan base the book has cultivated, but I couldn’t get into this movie. In fact, I didn’t even finish it. I know, I know – but I tried! Twice! And I thought I would love it; it has horror, comedy, and super quirky characters, all of which I usually enjoy. But something about it never clicked for me. Maybe it was too much scifi and not enough horror for my taste? Or too all-over-the-place? I guess I’ll never know.

Aftershock. A bunch of not-too-likeable tourists traveling in Chile experience an earthquake while partying in a nightclub, and it turns out that the earthquake was the least of their problems. This is one of those “humans are the real monsters” movies, and I suppose it works to a certain extent. The problem is that pretty much every character is so mean, shallow, or stupid, that it’s difficult to want to sit through a movie watching them do anything, let alone getting tortured and maimed in disturbing and disgusting ways. It’s not the goriest movie I’ve ever seen, and it didn’t offend my (not so) delicate sensibilities, but the meanness of this movie (towards its characters and its audience) made it impossible to enjoy in any way.

Girls Against Boys. I’m all for tough girl/revenge girl/killer girl horrors movies, but this is another one that features a rather tired twist ending. It’s basically a rape revenge movie with a side of crazy thrown in, and while it’s not the worst I’ve seen, it’s not good. Or scary.

The Lords of Salem. I wanted to like this, just like I want so badly to like every Rob Zombie film – because the man has flashes of horror brilliance every now and then that hint at his potential! That’s probably why I own both Halloween I and II; despite being awful movies, you can’t deny that they have their moments. But anyway, despite being visually stunning in more ways than one, there’s no story here, just a lot of pretty pictures and weird ideas strung together in what is ostensibly some sort of modern Salem witch story. Wife Sherri Moon Zombie’s acting doesn’t help, as usual.

Texas Chainsaw 3D. This might be the worst of the worst, because it is so offensively Hollywood-ized. A prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a young woman travels to Texas to look into a house she inherited from a distant aunt (yup, that house). There’s a big reversal of sympathies at the end that could have been compelling in the right hands, but here comes off as ridiculous – mainly because this movie has no heart whatsoever.

Warm Bodies. Okay, this one might actually be the worst to me, because hello? Zombies do not have feelings. That is their main terrifying feature: they kill and eat humans violently and indiscriminately, and you can’t tell them not to because they don’t think. This movie is like the Twilight of zombies (“We don’t drink human blood! We sparkle!”), and I don’t think I could hate it more. Essentially (spoilers that are totally obvious from the trailer, yo), a woman discovers that she can cure zombification with love. Arrggh gag blargh. It’s not even good if you view it as a romantic comedy.

What were your least favorite movies of 2013? Tune in next week for more horror picks!