Tag Archives: horror

The Shape of Water – Review

17 Dec

Anyone who’s read my reviews knows that I’m a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro. I recently reviewed one of his earlier films, The Devil’s Backbone, and gave it all the praise it rightfully deserves. What makes del Toro’s movies so excellent you might ask? It’s the way he uses fantasy and horror to show that sometimes the scariest parts of life aren’t the creatures we create, but humanity itself. It’s truly hard not to feel for the characters in his films or get lost in the sweeping cinematography or awe at his outstanding creature effects. Now we have The Shape of Water to add to his continuing filmography of magical fantasy pieces that hold a mirror up to the world. It’s everything you could possibly want with a movie written and directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor at the Occam Aerospace Research Center. Her only friends are Zelda (Octavia Spencer), another janitor at the research center, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), a washed up artist struggling to get back on his feet. Elisa’s life completely changes one day when a new “asset” (Doug Jones) is brought to her work by the sadistic Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who makes it quite clear early on that he’s not a man that can be trusted or related to in any way. After some investigating, Elisa learns that the asset is a humanoid amphibian that’s capable of learning, understanding, and emotions. The two become very good friends, but Strickland’s intentions of killing the creature and dissecting it soon become clear. Elisa can’t allow that to happen, so with the help of Giles, Zelda, and an undercover Soviet scientist named Dmitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), rescues the Amphibian Man and brings him to Giles’ home until they can release him. As Elisa’s relationship to the Amphibian Man grows, Strickland’s mission to find him and kill him becomes more and more obsessive and dangerous.

There’s so much packed into this movie, it’s sort of hard to know where to start. The first thing that I really started picking up on was how strong the characters were. By strong, I mean they all felt real and had their own small quirks that made them all unique. Michael Shannon’s character was always biting down on the same green hard candy, Octavia Spencer’s character was constantly going on about her husband and how much her feet hurt, and Richard Jenkins’ character has his love for old film stars and anxiety about his hair. One of the main themes of this movie is togetherness and relationships, and seeing these rich characters’ personalities meshing and clashing added something really special to the movie and it made the idea of relationships feel solid.

While The Shape of Water is definitely about the power of relationships it also dives into the realm of political fears and conspiracies, accepting people’s differences, and understanding of the positives and negatives that shape our world. This really is a fully developed movie, but I’m always going to see The Shape of Water as a love story. It’s a story of romantic love, love between close friends, and also the dangers of the absence of love. Elisa may not have much, but the people around her all love her, even if it’s only her neighbor and a friend from work. Col. Strickland, on the other hand, has lost all connection with love of any kind. His family is the perfect nuclear family living in suburbia who still get excited whenever he walks in the door. To him that feeling is nonexistent and that clouds and darkens who he is as a human being and how he treats other humans, and in this case, humanoids.

This film is filled with some of my favorite performances of this year. Sally Hawkins is downright incredible as Elisa and she hardly speaks a word in this movie. She doesn’t even have to, and we all know exactly what she’s trying to say. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins are great side characters to Elisa and Doug Jones once again shows his talent with work like this. Michael Shannon is my favorite actor, and even I was surprised with how he treated his character. My only real complaint about this movie was some of the writing. The reason the government wants to dissect the Amphibian Man is because of space research? I can’t say I really see the connection and leaving it as open as possible might have been better than giving a vague reason why. It just seemed kind of like an afterthought in del Toro’s grand scheme.

The Shape of Water is one of Guillermo del Toro’s finest works. He’s created a unique love story that’s also filled with fantasy, espionage, comedy, and an often dark and sad examination of character. Some of the writing could have used a little more attention, but this is still a movie that’s making my brain work on overdrive. The characters and their performers were all top notch, the creature effects were brilliant, and the connections between all of the characters felt organic for better or for worse. The Shape of Water is truly an excellent movie.

Final Grade: A

Advertisements

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 & 1978) – Review

17 Dec

Science fiction is one of my absolute favorite genres because of how it can take problems of today and morph it into something that seems very unbelievable but also shockingly familiar. This is something that is explored to the fullest in the classic 1956 sci fi shocker, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Released as a double bill with The Atomic ManInvasion of the Body Snatchers turned into something so much more than a well received B-movie. It’s become a classic film that’s regarded as one of the best of the genre. Not only that, but it’s remake from 1978 comes close to matching its greatness while also being considered one of the best remakes ever to be produced. You can’t go wrong with that, so I’m thrilled to finally get to talk about these classic films.

Let’s start with the 1956 original.

After being called back to town from a health conference, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is surprised to see a mental health problem affecting many people in the neighborhood. Multiple people seem to believe that their loved ones aren’t really who they say they are and, while they look exactly as they should, are actually imposters. While investigating this strange phenomena, Miles gets back together with an old girlfriend, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), whose own cousin is suffering from one of these “delusions.” When Miles’ friends Jack (King Donovan) and Theodora (Carolyn Jones) Belicec find a body in their house that looks just like Jack, it occurs to everyone that these accusations about imposters may not be so far fetched after all. With more and more people becoming closed off in the town, and with the FBI being completely unreachable, Jack and Dana have to pull together to get out of the town safely and warn the rest of the world about the “pod people.” But with imposters surrounding them, who can they really trust?

I first watched this movie back in college when I took a whole class on the Horror genre. Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been lauded as a masterpiece of science fiction, but also horror. I personally lean towards the side of horror because there’s something very unsettling about this film, and that has to be at least partially why this movie has stood the test of time. Sure, it is tame compared to sci fi horrors that come out today, but the black and white cinematography make the darkness feel extra dark and the soulless way the pod people move in complete unison at times is creepier than some of the more graphic scares of modern genre examples. This original movie also has one of the most exciting climaxes in this sci fi/horror genre which involves Miles running down a highway, desperate for people to heed his warning. Don Siegel’s exciting direction and Jack McCarthy’s terrified expressions make this whole segment a classic.

When this movie first came out, tensions were high and the Cold War was raging. People who worked on the movie have said that it was never their intention to write a movie that had any sort of political or societal message to it. That’s absolutely ridiculous to say. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a brilliant look at not only tensions between the Soviet Union and America, but also the plague of McCarthyism that was tearing America apart and also the soul crushing drabness of suburbia. This is an intelligent examination of the whole state of affairs in mid-1950s America, so I can’t believe anyone would say that this is just an alien invasion movie and that’s that. If that’s what you believe, I feel like you’re missing out on a lot of what makes Invasion of the Body Snatchers such a classic.

What more can I say about this movie? Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a masterpiece of science fiction and horror. It’s a slow burn of a movie that doesn’t have any over the top scares, but there’s a looming sense of dread, despair, and hopelessness that clouds the entire movie and makes the suspense feel all the more urgent. This is a really fun example of a B-movie that was released on a double bill that was destined to be so much more. I absolutely love this movie.

Final Grade: A

Normally remakes are a touchy subject and I’ll be the first to admit that. In this case, however, the remake is well worth the time and can be considered a timely classic all its own. How often can you really say that?

After discovering a rare form of plant species, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), who works for the San Francisco Health Department decides to investigate further. While her research leads her to a dead end, her suspicions are still aroused after her husband begins behaving like a mindless drone that barely even recognizes her. She voices her fears to her coworker Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), who is at first unsure, but begins believing her when strange things begin happening all over the city that sound directly related to her predicament. Bennell brings Elizabeth to his friend and pop psychiatrist, Dr. Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), who assuredly tells her that everything is ok. Things quickly go south when their other friends, Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright) Bellicic find a body in their massage parlor that looks exactly like Jack. As their investigation continues, it turns out no one can be trusted and extra terrestrial forces are closing in to take over their lives and eradicate the entire human race.

Take everything that’s super cool about the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and expand on it to make it even cooler. That pretty much sums up the 1978 remake. More thought is put into explaining where the seeds that create the pods come from and the transformation of the regular humans into pod people is graphically shown. Philip Kaufman and his team clearly took the time and effort to create special effects that worked great for the time, without ever really overdoing it, and also using the camera and location to help tell the story better. One scene in particular has the camera dizzyingly following Donal Sutherland’s character threw the crowded streets of San Francisco. This clearly illustrates how alone, scared, and paranoid the character is without ever putting it into words. Not to mention, this movie has one of the most startling, bone chilling endings ever put to celluloid. That all being said, there are some flaws with this movie that don’t quite appear in the original.

In the original film, the relationship between Bennell and Driscoll is very natural and is a very believable and entertaining part of the story. It brings romance into the story, but it feels like a proper fit. In the remake, however, this romance is shoehorned into the plot and feels like a total afterthought. It’s one of those things where it really isn’t a huge problem, but it seemed so out of place that it took me out of the movie, and that’s the last thing you really want to have happen when you’re so sucked into it. This movie is also a lot longer than the original, which also isn’t a terrible thing. It just didn’t feel quite as tight, but the fact that the plot took its time also helps build the characters, lore, and suspense. The strongest part of this movie, and something that makes these tiny flaws feel super insignificant, is how the dread and suspicion and paranoia is turned up to 11. The late 1970s was a very different time than the mid 1950s, but that doesn’t mean people still weren’t afraid. The time of peace and love was coming to an end and the era of Watergate was upon them. It doesn’t quite have the same punch as the 1956 version, but the societal jabs are still there.

If you were to ask me if I’d rather watch the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the remake, I’d really have to think about it. The 1978 version ramps up the horror and special effects while also making the invading spores something much more physical and explained. There are a few storytelling hinderances that I can’t ignore, but this truly is one of the greatest remakes ever to be made. It’s smart, well acted, impeccably shot, and still provides all the scares that a fan of the genre can hope for. I’d say it’s just as good as the original, and if not that it’s pretty darn close.

Final Grade: A-

So there’s the first two films of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Both are excellent movies with their own strengths and weaknesses, but sci fi/horror really doesn’t get too much better than this. I’ll also be reviewing a few other remakes, Abel Ferrara’s 1993 film Body Snatchers and Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2007 film, The Invasion.

House Series – Review: Part 2

3 Dec

Through all my research into the House movies, there’s nothing that really points to them being success with critics or audiences, nor do I see them really killing it at the box office. That being said, we’re back to talk about the third and fourth entries into the series. I’m just not sure how these movies got this far. While the first movie balanced horror and comedy in a pretty entertaining way, I had more fun with the second movie that focused mainly on the comedy and provided some over the top adventure along the way. They were good movies, but nothing great. Let’s see how the later movies in the series fair.

Let’s start in 1989 with The Horror Show. This movie had a bit of an identity crisis before it was even released. In non-USA countries, this movie was marketed as House III, but not in America. We still got House IV over here, so I’m going to still treat this as the third film in the series.

For years Detective Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen) has been hunting a serial killer known as Meat Cleaver Max (Brion James). After a particularly grisly showdown in an abandoned warehouse, Lucas finally arrests him and Max is sentenced to death. The day finally arrives for the execution, but Max doesn’t go down without a fight and warns Lucas as enough electricity is going through him to power a small village that he will be back for Lucas and his family. Of course, Lucas doesn’t believe that, but when odd things start happening around his and his family’s new house, he begins to get worried. Things only get worse when he actually starts seeing Max in his house and on his tv. After a parapsychologist tells Lucas that Max had enough electricity flowing through him to put his soul into another dimension, McCarthy has to find enough electricity to bring Max back and destroy him for good before anything can happen to him and his family.

So this is a hard movie to place into the world that House has built. It’s certainly not a comedy and it’s debatable as to wether it’s actually the third film or not. In some places you see this movie titled House III: The Horror Show and in other places it’s only called The Horror Show. How did that happen? Like I said, this movie does away with the comedy, and that does make for a focused movie in terms of tone, but The Horror Show also suffers from a major thing that the first movie did. That is that the story and the action and the horror simply didn’t go far enough to have really any effect on me. It’s clear they were going for something similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street with Max possessing certain objects in the house and having a dark wit about him, but he’s not in the movie all that much and when he isn’t, I couldn’t really feel his presence. A lot of the movie is Henriksen trying to either figure out how Max could be returning while also trying to convince the police he isn’t part of the violent things Max is still doing. It makes the whole second act feel extra long and really dry.

There are certain elements to The Horror Show that will certainly draw die hard fans of the genre to it. For one thing, seeing Lance Henriksen and Brion James, two great character acts, work side by side in main roles is a lot of fun. Both of them bring their best to the roles, and I really wish James was in this movie more. He stole every scene he was in, but Henriksen certainly keeps the boat afloat. There’s also a level of camp to the story with the parapsychologist and the talk of spirits traveling to other dimensions. It’s like The Horror Show almost wanted to be a horror/comedy, but the powers that be just wouldn’t allow it. I already compared this movie to A Nightmare on Elm Street, so there are times where the special effects are pushed to look like mid series Nightmare movies, but it never quite looks as good as those movies did.

After letting this one sit for awhile after I watched it, I’ve found less to really enjoy. It started off strong, but as the plot went forward the excitement faded away, I actually found The Horror Show pretty boring. Like I said, the fact that Henriksen and James star side by side make this worth checking out for die hard fans, but the scares happen too far apart and the drama that is built up is just bland and feels kind of forced. I have to say, I miss the humor of the other two because that at least made up for the lack of scares. Can’t say the same about this one.

Final Grade: C-

Somehow or another, this series got to a number 4. This time the haunting went direct to video with 1992’s House IV.

Roger Cobb (William Katt) has looked after his family’s old house for years, and has even gotten his wife Kelly (Terri Treas) and his daughter Laurel (Melissa Clayton) to be protective of it. After a particularly heated conversation with Burke (Scott Burkholder), his step brother, to sell him the house, Roger and his family leave to go home, but along the way get into a car accident and Roger is killed. Now Kelly and Laurel have officially moved into the Cobb family house, but is still pestered by Burke, who is actually working for a gangster, to sell the house so his boss can use the area for nefarious purposes. As Burke’s threats become more real, Kelly begins to realize that there are spirits lurking in the house that want to make themselves known and have a message of their own.

By this point, the House films have completely worn out their welcome. This is just another retread of what we already saw in the previous movie, but this is done way worse. The first glaring error that killed the first part of the movie for me was the complete lack of continuity. Why bring back Roger Cobb, played once again by William Katt, but have no connection to the first House. Not only that, but why completely erase all traces of continuity. The house is in a different place, it looks completely different, he has a step brother now, a different wife, and a daughter instead of a son! Why go through all that trouble to erase everything we thought we knew about a character when you could have just created a new one from scratch. It was really distracting to have to try and figure out if this was the same Roger Cobb.

That’s just the first offense. House IV is an all around disaster. The comedy isn’t funny and the horror isn’t scary, so what exactly is the point. By the time I had to sit through a scene of a singing pizza man, I knew I was  done for. The humor in this movie is so plain and juvenile and poorly timed that it just made for an awkward experience. There was one darkly funny scene towards the end that had me laughing, but that was it. Something also happens in the middle of the movie that was just absolutely disgusting and out of place. It wasn’t funny or disturbing, but just plain old gross out humor that was drawn out and just ugly. Finally, I hated every single character in this movie, especially Laurel, the daughter character. Her voice was like nails on a chalkboard and the lines she had to perform were just terrible. No one acts like the people in this movie, which served to be another distraction.

House IV is easily the worst of the series, but I’m thrilled to say that this is where it all ended. What a sour note to go out on. The humor is dumb and often gross, there’s virtually nothing frightening, and the characters are so annoying it’s almost unbearable. Oh, and let’s not forget the erroneous continuity or lack there of. This is just a mess brought to the extreme. It’s an ugly, unfunny sequel that completely negates everything the original had going for it while also taking the original’s flaws and amplifying them. Don’t put yourself through watching this even if your a fan of the other films.

Final Grade: F

I think these past two review of this series has shown that the House movies are less than spectacular. They never really reach any kind of touchstone that makes them memorable. The first two are fun and the third tries to take it in a new direction while the fourth is cinematic vomit. These films aren’t essential, but I can see where some enjoyment can be had.

 

House Series – Review: Part 1

20 Nov

Horror and comedy go together better than most genre combinations. It’s fun to be scared at the movies and it’s also fun to laugh at yourself being scared, so why not mix both into one movie? In 1980, Sean S. Cunningham created one of the most iconic horror franchises ever with his movie Friday the 13th, and Steven Miner continued his franchise with two sequels. What some people may not know is that they collaborated again in 1986 with a horror comedy called House. It wasn’t as big of a success as their previous works, but it did spawn a series that I’ve never really heard anyone talk about. Could there be a reason for that? Let’s find out.

Roger Cobb (William Katt) is an author who is struggling to find inspiration for his new book about his experiences in the Vietnam War. After his estranged aunt (Susan French) commits suicide in her home, Roger decides to move in and take care of the place while also hoping to be inspired in the house he used to live in before a tragedy forced him and his wife, Sandy (Kay Lenz), to separate. What Roger wasn’t expecting was that this house would be a portal for all sorts of creatures and ghouls to come through and torment him during the night and threaten his very existence. Now, it’s up to Roger and his especially nosy neighbor, Harold (George Wendt), to stop the specters from threatening the rest of the neighborhood and completely destroying Roger.

There are plenty of reasons that make House an appealing movie to see. For one thing seeing the Greatest American Hero and Norm from Cheers teaming up to fight creatures in a haunted house is hilarious. Both William Katt and George Wendt bring their comedic chops to the table while also functioning well in the film’s more serious scenes. There’s also some clever special effects and creature design that don’t use any kind of computer effects, of course. I’m a sucker for things like that so any movie that utilizes these kind of costumes already has a leg up in my book. While House is definitely more of a comedy, it does also touch on the PTSD that many soldiers go through after a war, with this one being Vietnam. It adds a layer of drama that was a little unexpected, but certainly welcome.

While there’s plenty to enjoy with House, it really isn’t all that special. A lot of the comedy is very childish despite the movie being rated R, and I don’t feel like it really embraced the off the walls insanity it may have been going for. I just felt like something big was missing from this movie. There’s no scene that’s exactly memorable and it’s a movie I feel like I may not remember too much about as time goes on. It also takes quite a while for things to really start happening, which is kind of strange because this is a pretty short movie at just an hour and a half. There’s also a character who exists solely so that there can be a funny scene with a kid in the middle of the movie. It was a really entertaining bit, but this character was just useless and didn’t make any kind of impact on the story.

One of the first words I used to describe House after I just finished watching it was “cute.” It’s a serviceable horror comedy that can be easily watched and disposed of. I really wanted a lot more from the movie, however. For an R rated horror comedy, it’s really quite tame, and that’s surprising since it’s coming from the creative forces behind Friday the 13th and a few of its sequels. This is a movie that seems to have sort of faded into obscurity despite the fact that it has William Katt and George Wendt fighting demons. That in and of itself was enough for me to watch it. House isn’t a bad film, but don’t go in expecting too much.

Final Grade: C

While House wasn’t that much of a success, there was still a sequel released one year later, and I have to say I love the title: House II: The Second Story. Get it? Like the second floor? Story? Moving on.

Jesse (Arye Gross) and his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln) are a well off couple who move into a mansion that has been part of Jesse’s family for generations. While they’re there, Jesse does some investigating into his past and finds that his great great grandfather found a crystal skull in an Aztec temple and it may or may not be buried with him in the graveyard on the hill next to the house. This prompts Jesse and his friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) to head over and dig up the grave. What they don’t know is that the corpse isn’t a corpse, but is very much alive and insists on Jess and Charlie calling him Gramps (Royal Dano) after being dug up, crystal skull in hand. Now, Jesse, Charlie, and Gramps have to keep their secret from Kate and her nosy boss, John (Bill Maher), while also defending the skull and the house from extra dimensional beings and time travelers who want the skull for themselves, especially Gramps’ old foe, Slim Reeser.

Remember how I used the word “cute” to describe the original film? Well House II is even more so, and I may have to go so far as saying it isn’t even a horror movie. This film is heavy on the comedy and fantasy but very light on the scares. This works both for and against the movie. Let’s start with the negatives so I can focus a bit on the fun stuff later. House II is a follow up to a horror comedy, so I went in expecting a horror comedy. Since I didn’t get that I feel like the movie comes off as both a little unnecessary and kind of disappointing. For most of the movie the comedy also comes off as excruciatingly obvious and not delivered all that well. Arye Gross isn’t much of a heroic presence and his line delivery often times comes out very awkward. The same can be said for Jonathan Stark, which is a problem since he’s supposed to be the main source of the comedy for most of the movie.

If I’m going to be completely honest, this is kind of a hard movie to be overly critical with because it is such a light hearted film. In fact, in terms of it’s tone, it was more in line than the first House. Royal Dano as Gramps is hilarious and Bill Maher works great as the slimy boss with eyes for Kate. John Ratzenberger also has a small part towards the end and he is easily the best part of the movie. If I can be honest again, I have to say that this movie was very entertaining. There was some cool make up effects for Gramps and Slim Reeser and there’s also some fun puppet work when dinosaurs get involved. Yeah, I said it. Dinosaurs. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is and has fun with it, and it never gets bogged down with drama. Drama’s absolutely great, but House II was determined to be a comedy so it stuck with that.

I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this, and I may be in the minority here, but I enjoyed House II: The Second Story more than the first movie. Both have their positives and negatives, but my biggest complaint with the first one was that it didn’t go far enough. The second movie dives head first into weird and doesn’t stop to take a breath. It is a tame outing, but it’s fun and so light hearted it’s hard not to enjoy it just a little bit. If you’re going in expecting a horror comedy like the last film, you may be disappointed. This one is more of a fantasy adventure mixed with comedy. If that’s still your cup of tea, I recommend this one with a smile on my face.

Final Grade: C+

Well there’s the first two House movies for you. Both aren’t masterpieces, but they certainly aren’t bad. They’re both light comedies that blend horror, fantasy, and some adventure. They aren’t movies you have to watch right this second, but they’re completely serviceable entertainment. Check back soon for the second part of this review where I’ll be talking about House III: The Horror Show and House IV.

mother! – Review

11 Oct

When I was first getting heavily into film, one of my main inspirations was Darren Aronofsky. He went places with his movies that I never thought were possible. Requiem for a Dream has had an impact on me that not a lot of films have and that impact kept going when I saw his films PiThe FountainThe Wrestler, and Black Swan. I thought this guy could do no wrong. Then came Noah and I saw that maybe he isn’t perfect. Noah was a huge disappointment for me and I always thought it was a strange project for Aronofsky to take. When I saw his next film, mother!, was going to be a strange psychological horror trip down the rabbit how, I felt like it was a return to form and I was super excited. Well, I’ve seen the movie and I still can’t get a grip on what I saw. This is going to be a rough review to write because I still have no idea how I really feel. One moment I hate it, and the next I find something to truly respect. Call for help.

A woman known only as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a secluded, dilapidated house with her husband who is only credited as Him (Javier Bardem). Him is a poet who is struggling with severe writer’s block while Mother works day in and day out trying to fix the house, which is actually Him’s old house which was destroyed in a fire. One day Man (Ed Harris) shows up at Him and Mother’s door, and Him allows Man to stay the night. The actions of Man upsets Mother and things only get worse when Man’s wife, Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer), shows up and Him also allows Woman to stay. As Mother is quietly tormented by both Man and Woman, more and more people begin inviting themselves into Mother’s house and invading her life to the point where her very existence is threatened by the endless mob of people.

This movie really is something else. mother! is one of the most polarizing movies of the year, and not just with me, but also with critics and audiences. The structure of the movie, itself, even feels like polar opposites of one another. The first hour of this film is outstanding. I was sucked into it and I was ready to defend this film against anything negative one said. The dynamic between Mother and Him was intense. The abuse that Mother was receiving was quiet and nonviolent but abuse all the same. That’s when I thought, “Oh, this movie’s about toxic relationships where the pain is never from anything physical.” I thought that was a really interesting thematic journey to be on and an idea that isn’t explored all that much. Lawrence, Bardem, Harris, and especially Pfeiffer were all at the top of their games in this half of the movie. When more people began entering the home, I also thought it was a wild idea to think of and then actually execute and execute well onscreen. So far, mother! was gutsy, well paced, original, and had a clever artistic balance. Then the movie slowed down, and that was fine. A slow down was necessary. But then, we get into the second half of the film, more specifically the third act…

It is at this point that both Darren Aronofsky and mother! goes off the rails. Without spoiling anything, more people show up to the house and the great idea Aronofsky had is spoiled by doing way too much with it. Not only that, but he shamelessly bashes the viewer over the head with his religious symbolism that completely destroyed what my theory of the movie was about. It’s a relentless mish mash of violence and allegories and pretension. I get it Darren. We all get it. Settle down. It’s also at this time where both Man and Woman are nowhere in sight, and they were only one of the most interesting part of the movie. The tracking camera work that worked so well in the first half just becomes nauseating as things start getting crazier and crazier. I wasn’t really affected by what I was looking at. I wasn’t feeling angry anymore or upset for Mother. I wasn’t even laughing at the insanity. I was just getting so confused and annoyed at how far things were going that I was getting bored. It was a very strange feeling.

So let’s weigh the good with the bad. The good is the first half of the movie that is filled with excellent performances, an idea I found very unique, and camera work that was very sure of itself. Like I said, I was sucked in for a while. The bad is pretty much everything else. The actual point of the entire movie is pretentious and completely destroyed what I thought about the film. The themes themselves are pretentious, but the obvious way Aronofsky uses them is just annoying. The idea that was great in the first half also goes way too far and is also ruined in the second half. It seems like it may be balanced, but when I  say I hated the second half I mean that I HATED it. I really can’t talk too much about what I didn’t like in the second half because it would spoil the film.

mother! is an anomaly of a movie. There are times where I admire it and there are times that it just bothers me. At this very point in time, I can still say I’m torn, but the film did anger me more than I wanted it to. I like when a movie can be angering for the emotional response that it needs. Detroit was angering, but that was the response that Bigelow wanted. mother! was angering just because of how annoying and pretentious the film got and how Aronofsky went way too far with his idea. I don’t know how I’m going to feel about this movie down the line or after repeat viewings, but this is how I feel right now.

Final Grade: C-

The Devil’s Backbone – Review

3 Oct

When I think of some of the best film makers working today, one of my go to names will always be Guillermo del Toro. At his most personal, his stories delve into the darkest of fantasies and bring them to life using real world consequences. We see this with films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. On the flip side, del Toro can create spectacles for the big screen with a vision completely different from any other big budget film maker. Think of the two Hellboy films and Pacific Rim. With it being the beginning of that wonderful season of Halloween, I thought it would be a great time to check out one of del Toro’s most praised ghost stories, The Devil’s Backbone, from 2001. He’s stated that this film is a sort of cousin to Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s clear why. This is a sombre tale of war destroying people’s lives, while also offering a spooky ghost story and a message of strength that bursts through the sadness to offer hope. To put it simply, The Devil’s Backbone should be considered a modern classic.

Carlos (Fernando Tielve), an orphan who’s father was recently killed in the Spanish Civil War, is taken into an orphanage the wise Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) and his fellow administrator and teacher for the kids, Carmen (Marisa Paredes). Upon arrive there, Carlos finds something very odd about the place, and it’s a something that’s quite obvious. There’s a bomb in the middle of the courtyard that landed and got lodged in the ground, but never detonated. He also hears stories from the kids there about an orphan named Santi (Junio Valverde), who mysteriously went missing when the bomb landed. One night, Carlos is out looking for water and comes across what seems to be the ghost of Santi who warns Carlos that many people are about to die. This apparition keeps appearing to Carlos, and it doesn’t take long for the other kids to believe him. Meanwhile, the groundskeeper, Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), with the help of his friends begin scheming to rob the safe that Casares and Carmen have hidden in one of the buildings. As tensions rise between all parties, Santi’s warning of violence and death becomes an inevitability.

There’s so much to love with The Devil’s Backbone, it’s hard to find a place to start. Let’s go with the story. Guillermo del Toro is a master storyteller, and he works really well with telling these creepy tales through the innocent eyes of children. We see what Carlos sees and we know only what Carlos knows. There are only a few scenes where we are privileged enough to look behind the closed doors of the adults at this orphanage and see an establishment that is haunted by both the ghost of a young boy, but also crime, deception, and lust. While being a horror story and a drama and an allegory for war, The Devil’s Backbone has a strong mystery at its core. What’s the deal with the bomb in the middle of the courtyard? How did Santi really die? What does the warning of violence and death that Santi give mean? There’s so many questions asked during the slow burn of the plot that it had me riveted. I had to keep watching to find out more, and the payoff is quite literally explosive.

One of the most fun reasons to watch one of del Toro’s movies is his blending of genres and the fantastical with the brutal realities of life. The Devil’s Backbone is definitely a traditional ghost story at its core. A boy goes to an orphanage during a time of violence and is haunted by a ghost of one of its former residents. That may have been enough to support the movie, but it goes the extra mile. The humans in this movie often become creepier than the little ghost boy. The talks of the war and brutality that is happening in Spain is an ever present discussion by the adults in this movie that the kids can’t seem to comprehend. Jacinto also provides most of the actual horror in this film. He’s conniving and unpredictable and a true sociopath if I’ve ever seen one. Who’s stuck in the middle of all this? The children. They’re caught between the horrors of the real world and the people who inhabit it on one side and on the other the manifestation of the consequences of their actions. It’s not horror in the traditional sense, but it’s horror nonetheless.

Amidst all this terror is a film that’s shot beautifully. There’s something about Guillermo del Toro’s eye for things that isn’t extravagant, but it’s enough to hold your attention. It’s hard to explain, but he just has a way of showing just what needs to be shown in the exact way it needs to be. Can I get any more vague than that? Probably. Just give me the chance. The design of the ghost is also great, and it’s clear that he puts a lot of effort into creating his different specters and creatures for his movies because they always seem to stand out in some way. Santi is one of his greatest creations. He’s just a pale ghost that can be seen through, but what really makes it special is the trail of blood that comes out of his head and slithers through the air. Try to get that image out of your head. I dare you.

What else more can I say about The Devil’s Backbone? I absolutely loved this movie. It’s a haunting tale of ghosts, violence, and war but ultimately ends with a message of strength and bravery even for the most innocent of people. This is a film that masterfully blends gothic horror and the drama of the real world with the victims here being children. Sounds pretty heavy, right? It is and I respect del Toro for making a movie like this. He truly is a master and this is one of his greatest creations.

Final Grade: A+

Return of the Living Dead Series – Review: Part II

2 Aug

The first three films in the Return of the Living Dead series work at varying degrees of success. The first film is a riot that boasted some excellent special effects, the second film overuses slapstick, but provides enough entertainment to have some fun. The third film was kind of a departure and worked with a more serious approach, which felt kind of funky at times, but I still loved the zombie action and special effects. Now we enter the world of direct-to-DVD where no one is safe and you really never know what you’re going to get. That being said, lower your expectations to the most basic settings and let’s see what these movie have to offer.

Both films were shot back to back and released in 2005, with the first being Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis.

Julian (John Keefe) knows his Uncle Charles (Peter Coyote) is into some shady business at his job in the multibillion corporation known as Hybra Tech, but he isn’t quite sure how deep down the rabbit hole he is. One day, Julian’s friend, Zeke (Elvin Dandel), injures himself in a motocross accident and is taken to the hospital but declared dead before he even arrives. Julian and his group of friends soon find out that isn’t the case and he has in fact been taken to Hybra Tech for testing and experimentation. The gang decides the best idea is to break into the company’s headquarters and rescue Zeke. While there, they find evidence that Charles and Hybra Tech has been experimenting with the deadly Trioxin gas to create zombies to use as ultra powerful bio-weapons. One thing leads to another and the experimental zombies are on the loose in Hybra Tech which forces everyone stuck inside to fight for their lives or join the undead horde.

I really don’t know where to begin here. This is one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and I do say it was a pleasure because I laughed out loud at the unabashed idiocy this narrative had to offer multiple times. First of all, the fact that a group of teenagers think it’s a good idea to use their extreme sport skills to break into a highly secured building is something that I can’t suspend my disbelief towards. They come up with this idea so fast and unanimously without any hesitation. They’re also really skilled with all types of firearms, which is really convenient since they’ll need all the help they can get when the zombies finally break out. Oh, right. The zombies. Yeah, it takes forever for more than two zombies at a time to be shown on screen. This is a low budget movie that went straight to DVD then to the SyFy channel, but my god, this movie drags on and on with the stupidest characters I’ve seen in a while.

There’s just so little logic used in this movie that it numbs the mind to such an excessive degree. One of these teenagers WORKS SECURITY AT HYBRA TECH. What did they think was going to happen with employees like a teenager and three other inexperienced hacks being the only line of defense for the Trioxin gas and a horde of zombies? Were the writers thinking about anything at all? When the zombies do start showing up and the action gets going, there are a few moments of fun, but how many fist fights with zombies are there gonna be? Why can the be so easily killed while the zombies in the first three films proved to be so difficult? I just have so many questions for the writers that I seriously don’t know where to begin.

I could go on and on about Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, but I just start running myself in circles with unanswered questions about direction, acting, editing, and how this could’ve been green lit in the first place. This is one of the most hilariously sloppy films I’ve ever seen and it completely besmirches the anarchic attitude of the first three films. This is so mind numbing and senseless that I can’t recommend it to anyone. It’s good for a laugh considering how terrible it is, but do you really want to waste an hour and a half of your life that bad?

Final Grade: D-

Here we are at the last film of the series. I just want to take a moment to look back to 1985 when the first movie was released, and the impact it had on audiences looking for something to have fun with. We’ve gone from cult classic to this, and this here is the bottom of the barrel. You can just tell by the title: Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave.

A year after the events of Necropolis, Charles has the remaining Trioxin and plans to sell it to Russian Interpol agents whose job it is to destroy. Unfortunately, the Trioxin is released once again and the threat of a zombie apocalypse looms its undead head. Julian and Jenny (Jenny Mollen) find more Trioxin in Charles’ house and bring it to Cody (Cory Hardict) in the university science lab. It’s found that the Trioxin has similar elements as some hallucinogens, where Jenny’s raving DJ brother Jeremy (Cain Mihnea Manoliu) has the bright idea to try a bit of the Trioxin and sell it as a new street drug called “Z.” Much to Julian’s protests, the Trioxin is synthesized and sold to the students before the rave, and it doesn’t take long for the real effects of the gas to show. Now it’s up to Julian, his friends, a duo of bumbling Interpol agents to save the world from certain zombie doom.

This movie is the purest of garbage. It’s such an insult to what this series once was and the craft of film making in general. Let’s talk about the most glaring problem Rave to the Grave has, and there are plenty of them. I’ve never seen a movie with such a huge problem maintaining continuity. Ok, that’s not quite true. The Pink Panther movies are all over the place, but at least those films are enjoyable. This one has the audacity to name the characters the same names but completely wipe their memories of what they saw in Necropolis. Why are they surprised and completely unprepared when it comes to zombies? Why is Cody being such a jerk and fooling with Trioxin gas like he has no idea what it is? Why is Julian still living with his Uncle Charles? Is there any attempt to maintain continuity at all? I was so confused at first, not knowing if this was a sequel or what. I still don’t know, but why should I even care?

The creators of this film also try really hard to bring comedy more to the foreground with this movie and it’s an absolute failure. The comedic relief comes with the Interpol agents, but the extent of their humor comes from misunderstanding each other and shooting someone by accident while yelling “SORRY!” It’s the basest kind of comedy there is and a far cry away from the biting humor of the original film. We also just have characters that make the worst decisions of all time. Like, “We found this chemical in my uncle’s attic, so let’s synthesize it and sell it as a drug, or, “Let’s just fire our weapons in a crowd full of innocent people.” These have to be the dumbest people I’ve ever seen in a movie. I wish I could say their acting at least saved their characters a little bit, but I can’t. The acting is awful. That’s enough about that.

Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some real stinkers in my time. There’s nothing funny about it, there’s nothing even remotely scary, and much like the last film it’s just plain boring. What started out as such a fun series has devolved into this, and there’s really no redeeming it at this point. This film deserves the lowest grade I can possibly give, and that’s exactly what it’s gonna get.

Final Grade: F

These last two films are a huge disappointment in an otherwise solid series. The first three films are certainly worth the time of any fan of the horror genre. These last two, however, shouldn’t even deserve to exist. There’s barely anything worthwhile in Necropolis and nothing in Rave to the Grave. Skip these two entirely.