Tag Archives: paranormal

V/H/S Series – Review: Part 2

29 Apr

Here we are again with some more entries into the V/H/S series. The first two films that I discussed in my last review surprised me with how well made they were and the fact that the film makers pushed the boundaries of the genre to deliver some really authentic scares. This time, we’ll be looking at the third film in the series, which unfortunately seems to have killed the who series, and a spin off film that is surprisingly a lot of fun.

Let’s start off with the 2014 film, V/H/S: Viral.

Kevin (Patrick Lawrie) is a videographer who has become obsessed with one of his videos going viral on the internet, even to a point of running out on his girlfriend, Iris (Emilia Zoryan), to capture a live police chase. After doing this, his girlfriend disappears inside the ice cream truck that the police were chasing. Kevin rides after the truck in order to save Iris from the malignant force behind the wheel. Amongst this story are three shorter tales. One features a magician who uses Houdini’s cloak to perform incredible feats of magic, but only if he provides the cloak with fresh meat to feed on. In another, a scientist creates a portal to a mirror dimension, but only finds unspeakable horrors when he crosses to the other side. The final short features a group of skateboarders who travel to Tijuana to shoot a video, but are soon attacked by occultists determined to resurrect their monstrous god.

V/H/S: Viral can be broken up into two categories: garbage and mediocrity. It’s split somewhere down the middle. Let’s get the garbage out of the way first. The wrap around story titled Vicious Circles makes little to no sense. This is the story of Kevin chasing after the ice cream truck. Nothing is explained and by the end, it just comes off as pretentious. Unfortunately, its pretentious attitude isn’t backed by anything of substance, not to mention some really awful CGI. The other short that falls into the garbage category is called Dante the Great. This is the story about the magician and the cloak. This entry isn’t even scary for a second. In fact, this is where I really could see this movie wasn’t going to come close to the other two. While this entry isn’t scary, subtle, or inventive, it also breaks a key rule of the series. Everything is supposed to be found footage, but this one does away with that completely at the climax so that a silly looking magic showdown can happen. Whoever thought of that idea was so far off, it’s kind of tough to watch.

So the movie wasn’t off to a good start and I found myself losing interest real fast. Things do pick up a little bit at this point, but not by much. The best segment of the whole movie is called Parallel Monsters, which is the story of the scientist that enters the mirror dimension. This one had a good deal of suspense and a payoff that was actually worth a damn. In fact, I’d watch this if it was a feature length movie because there was more than enough material. Unfortunately, the film makers had to cram it into a 17ish minute short film that didn’t feel nearly as complete as it could have been. Give me that as a 90 minute scare fest and I’d be in. It had really cool special effects and a neat concept that I really want to see explored more. The last entry called Bonestorm may have a great name, but there’s nothing too special about it. This is the story of the skateboarders attacked by occultists, and while it’s fun to watch while it’s on, this part doesn’t leave a lasting impression. It’s shot well, but the whole thing just turns into a big fight that goes on for far too long and an ending that’s anticlimactic. There’s not too much to say about this one.

All in all, I’m very disappointed with V/H/S: Viral. This was a really strong series up until this point. This movie isn’t all bad, but it doesn’t feel satisfying in the least. The story that holds the whole movie together is so boring and convoluted, I just wish they left it out all together. Everything also feels way too digital and polished, which also goes against what this series is all about. I also really need more of Parallel Monsters, because what I saw wasn’t enough. This is a movie you can skip on completely, even if you loved the first two V/H/S movies.

Final Grade: D+

So that marks the end of the V/H/S movies, at least for now. In 2016, however, a spin off movie was created based off of the Amateur Night short from the first film. This spin off is called SiREN.

Jonah (Chase Williamson) is getting married in a week, and custom dictates that his friends take him out for a crazy night before his wedding day. Led by his obnoxious older brother, Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan), the group of friends find themselves in the lamest club in the United States. There they meet someone who promises to take them to a mansion throwing a secret party that he guarantees will be the craziest they’ve been to. They all head to the mansion and meet its owner, Mr. Nyx (Justin Welborn), who brings Jonah to his greatest attraction, a woman named Lily (Hannah Fierman), who’s voice can make you feel things you never thought possible. Jonah decides to help Lily escape the clutches of Mr. Nyx, but he soon finds out that she’s more than meets the eye. Lily is actually a siren that’s chosen Jonah to be her mate. Now, Jonah and his friends are on the run not just from the monstrous siren, but also from the vengeful Mr. Nyx who is determined to get Lily back.

The biggest thing that surprised me about this movie is that I actually really enjoyed it. SiREN isn’t going to turn into a modern day horror classic. It doesn’t reach the levels of It Follows or The Witch, but it does stand strong as a B-movie that knows exactly what it is. This film doesn’t have a big budget, so it works with what it can do, and I appreciate the ways that director Gregg Bishop brings the material to life. It was also good to see characters that actually had some depth. There was one of the friends that was wasted before he had a chance to even do anything, but the way most of the characters were written felt real and had some depth to it. Mr. Nyx was also a really cool villain, and Justin Welborn hams it up just to the degree that was necessary.

If I had any complaints about this movie, they’d be pretty minor. There are some special effects that feel cheap, and these scenes could have been cut out or touched up. Another thing is that SiREN isn’t particularly scary. I never felt on edge or tense throughout the film’s run time, so it may be better to look at this more as a monster movie. These complaints don’t really detract from the positives that this film has going for it. Where this movie had the potential to really destroy itself, like many other movies, is with the pacing. I believe that the pacing in this movie is downright excellent. It gets right to the point at building up the characters and the circumstances these characters are working with and then shoots off like a bullet. There’s no unnecessary scenes dragging this movie down, and the whole narrative flowed nicely.

Like I said, SiREN isn’t destined for a status as a classic, but it’s a small movie that surprised me with how entertaining it was. There’s some really cool supernatural elements, a good cast of characters, and a memorable creature and villain to boot. The story moves fast and efficiently, even if the scares can’t really match the energy that the pacing has. This is a movie I’d recommend for horror fans looking for something off the beaten path.

Final Grade: B

As a whole, the V/H/S series is a strong entry into the canon of modern horror. The third film, V/H/S: Viral is the only thing holding it down, and it can be totally skipped altogether and forgotten completely. It was refreshing to see the found footage style of film making done properly, and I’d love to see more from these film makers, even if it means another V/H/S movie that goes back to basics.

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V/H/S Series – Review: Part 1

16 Apr

Found footage horror movies were a huge deal up until recently, and there was a good deal of bad mixed in with a handful of good. I firmly believe that if found footage is done correctly, it can be very effective, but the film makers who attempt this walk a fine line to make it seem realistic without making it look cheap. Perhaps one of the most recognizable series that implements the found footage style are the V/H/S films. These were mostly seen on the festival circuit before being released On Demand and then put on home media. I’ve never seen these movies, but I’ve heard plenty about them, so let’s dive right in.

Let’s start with the original 2012 film, V/H/S.

A gang of criminals is hired by a mysterious source to break into an elderly man’s house to retrieve a single VHS tape. What’s on the VHS tape is not explained and is deemed unimportant, so the thieves take the job. They easily break into the house but are shocked to find the old man dead and his house covered in an assortment of VHS tapes. In order to root out the correct tape, they start to watch what this man has in his collection, but are horrified at what they find. What is on these tapes are documented cases of horror that include a mysterious murderous entity, a siren that forces herself on men to feed her bloodlust, webcam footage that shows an unspeakable lie, a stalker hunting a couple on vacation, and a house that holds a deadly secret. While the thieves watch these tapes, they become aware of strange things happening around them that may have some connection with the dead man and what he has on these tapes.

So, I definitely have some things to say about V/H/S. Some of it’s good and some of it isn’t so much. Let’s get the negatives out of the way. First off, this is a found footage movie, and I believe that if found footage movies are done right, they can be a real success. This one takes that gimmick and goes a bit too far with it. The frame story of the thieves breaking into the old man’s house to find the VHS tape is fine, but it’s almost destroyed by these glitches in the tapes they’re using. This happens for the first few minutes, which didn’t really bother me, but they just kept happening. It drove me crazy. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, this is a horror anthology filled with short films. That being said, some of these shorts really didn’t do anything for me. The one that sticks out for being the most bland is the one titled Second Honeymoon. These shorts run close to 20 minutes long, so when one is really boring, it feels way longer than it actually is. This one leads absolutely nowhere, and it’s followed up by another short that also falls pretty short. This makes for a middle section of this movie that seems to drag on forever, but that’s the risk you take with anthology movies like this.

WhenV/H/S decides to get good, however, it gets real good. The general consensus from the critics I’ve heard from is that the first short and the last are the strongest, and I’m certainly inclined to agree. The first short called Amateur Night is a terrifying trip that has an excellent build up and an even better payoff. The final short called 10/31/98 isn’t the scariest of the bunch, but it does feature some pretty cool special effects that is the perfect climax to the style and mood that this movie has been building. There’s something startling about some of the imagery that’s used in this movie, and that’s probably what I’m going to remember the most about it. Since it is a found footage film, there are select elements that can’t be seen, which works since whatever you concoct in your imagination can be way scarier than the reality, but what is shown is brutal and has a style all its own.

V/H/S didn’t set a new standard of horror films when it came out, but the ripple that it made was well deserved. Comparing it to something like The Witch or It Follows isn’t really fair, but for what it is, it’s a pretty impressive low budget scare fest. There are certain segments that don’t hold up nearly as well as some of the other ones, and the acting can be a bit off at times. What does hold the movie up are some genuine scares and cringes that the scarier portions of the film provide.

Final Grade: B-

A year later, the sequel, simply titled V/H/S/2, was released. If this isn’t one of the most badass sequels I’ve seen in a while, I don’t know what is.

When two private eyes are hired to find a missing college student, their investigation leads them to a house that seems abandoned, except for a set up of televisions, a laptop, and a series of VHS tapes. The investigators begin to watch the tapes which seem to show unspeakable horrors. A man sees the vengeful undead through a new high tech prosthetic eye, a man on a bicycling trail is bitten and turned into a zombie, journalists witness a violent cult hit the climax of their worship, and aliens wreak havoc on kids having a slumber party. While the tapes don’t appear to be linked, it becomes clear to the investigators that something is very wrong with the house they’re in, and terror soon strikes them as they become part of their very own VHS tape to add to the collection.

Take everything you liked about V/H/S and turn it up to 11, and that’s how you get V/H/S/2. This really is one of the strongest sequels I’ve seen in a while, and certainly one of the strongest sequels in the horror genre. There are so many memorable moments in this film that it’s hard to wrap my head around all of them. If you want to talk about real horror, I’d be in trouble if I forgot to single out Timo Tjahtjhanto and Gareth Huw Evans’ segment titled Safe Haven. I have yet to watch the next film in this series, but I can say that this segment is going to be the strongest in the whole series. Take the real world horror of a Jonestown situation and add the supernatural, plus make it found footage so you’re smack dab in the middle, and you got some excellent moments of terror. I also want to single out Eduardo Sánchez’s and Gregg Hale’s A Ride in the Park, where we see through a zombie’s point of view via a Go Pro on his helmet. This is works as a zombie horror movie, but also a sort of wacky dark comedy.

I do have a few complaints about this movie, and they really just have to do with the strength of a couple of the tapes. The frame narrative with the investigators really doesn’t seem like much, but the end pay off makes it all worth it, so that one gets a pass as a positive. The first short titled Phase I Clinical Trials has a good idea if it were an episode of The Twilight Zone. For a movie that has shorts like Safe Haven in it, I expected a little bit more. It has some scares, but it’s over before it begins and there’s really nothing to it. The last short called Slumber Party Alien Abduction also doesn’t hold up as well as the two that come before it. There’s some interesting sound work and the aliens have cool reveals, but it feels underwhelming after the gems that have already been shown.

V/H/S/2, despite some of the segments being weaker than others, is a really good horror anthology film that is even better than its predecessor. It takes the scares, the gore, and the ideas and turns them way up to create a horror film that I may never forget. All the film makers that worked on this movie each had a specific task, and some of the made gold while the others follow up with silver. Never was I bored during this movie and it’s one that I’d love to watch again.

Final Grade: B+

So there’s the first two entries of the V/H/S series. Both were solid movies, but I have to give the edge to the sequel. Stay tuned for my next review where I’ll talk about V/H/S: Viral and the spin off movie, SiREN.

The Fog (1980 & 2005)

18 Aug

Watching a master working in his prime area is a joy to behold, so watching another horror movie written and directed by John Carpenter is always a lot of fun. Today, I want to look at his 1980 horror cult classic, The Fog, and it’s unfortunate 2005 remake. The history of The Fog is almost as interesting as the movie itself, with this being Carpenter’s horror follow up to his classic Halloween, but the way the story is told and the images he uses is what makes it a memorable movie. The same can’t really be said for the remake, but that isn’t all too surprising. With that, let’s dive right in.

Let’s go back to 1980 and take a look at the original version of The Fog.

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It should be a time of happiness for the small coastal town of Antonio Bay, which is celebrating its 100th birthday with vigils and town parties. Unfortunately for the residents, an evil force is lurking just over the fog covered horizon. When a small ship is terrorized and its occupants murdered, the threat soon becomes more real. The only person who knows the truth is the town priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook). As the fog rolls further inland, more paranormal events start happening to the town, which prompts the town’s radio station host, Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), to report on the direction the fog is moving as certain member of the town work to lift the curse that has befallen them.

Following the overwhelming success of Carpenter’s independent hit Halloween, studios were eager to grab the talent (along with Carpenter’s co-writer and producer Debra Hill) and use it for themselves. That being said, The Fog is what I consider to be Carpenter and Hill’s true follow up to Halloween, and while it doesn’t quite stand up to that film’s excellence it still stands as a strong entry in Carpenter’s filmography. The biggest thing that drags this film down is the fact that it isn’t quite long enough. There’s a lot of time spent building up the mystery surrounding the town’s past and building up the cast of characters that not enough time is spent with the evil lurking in the fog. While this does act as a complaint, I will say that it also means the characters are much more three dimension than a lot in the horror genre of this time and it also gives the story a sense of urgency and depth.

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It’s worth noting the excellent cast of The Fog that brings the characters to life. Adrienne Barbeau, who was Carpenter’s wife at the time, is a good protagonist with an interesting task that makes her feel like more than just a target of the vengeful spirits. Hal Holbrook is great as Father Malone as he brings a real sense of fear to his archetypal character. Finally, it was cool to see both Janet Leigh and John Houseman have a small role in a John Carpenter film. The only person who seems underutilized in Jamie Lee Curtis, who doesn’t do a whole lot but tag along with Tom Atkins’ character.

While The Fog certainly isn’t John Carpenter’s best film, it’s still become something of a cult icon. The men standing in the fog, or even the fog rolling in from the distance to the little town has become images seared in the history of the genre, and taps into some deep, dark fear that we all have. If more time was spent with what was in the fog and the actual horror that happens in the third act, this would have been a perfect little horror film. Unfortunately, more time is spent building all that up that the climax feels less than what it should have been. Still, this is a horror movie well worth checking out.

With the new millennium came the trend to remake both foreign and domestic horror movies, and 2005 finally brought the highly unanticipated remake of The Fog.

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Life never seems to get too difficult in the small Oregon town of Antonio Bay. It’s a peaceful town with a good tourist attraction and a close knit attitude where everyone seems to know each other. This easy going way of life quickly comes to an end when an impossibly large fog bank rolls in from the sea and beginnings killing people in the town and destroying property. This grabs the attention of Nick Castle (Tom Welling) and his girlfriend Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), who start an investigation as to what could have caused this kind of paranormal occurrence. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the town they live in has been cursed by bloodshed since it’s founding, and the victims of the founder’s violence are returning to seek their revenge and to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

In terms of story, the remake of The Fog follows the original pretty closely. The main plot about specters coming in the fog to reign terror down on Antonio Bay is all there, but this movie makes some very odd and, dare I say, stupid narrative decisions. At the beginning of the movie, a whole slew of characters are introduced, which led me to believe that they would all have something relevant to do at some point. Well that was just wishful thinking, because the only people that matter are Welling and Grace’s character, and to some extent Selma Blair’s, who plays this version’s Stevie Wayne, but even this character is left with very little to do and is easily forgotten by the end of the movie. That may be one of the hugest problems this movie suffers from. It’s almost as if the writers were just making stuff up as they went along and forgot about things they wrote earlier on in the screenplay.

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Speaking of screenplay, the writing for the characters is completely derivative, both in how they speak and the dimensions they are given. There was one weird joke in the beginning that got under my skin so bad because it’s the kind of joke that only that really annoying person you know says. This whole movie is made up of characters that I really don’t like saying the most asinine things with complete sincerity. The final thing I have to say about the writing is the ending, which I won’t spoil but have to mention. It’s a completely different ending from the original film, which is fine, but it also blew me away with how stupid and unplausible it was. It’s seriously something that has be seen to be believed.

A bigger budget doesn’t necessarily make a better movie, and the 2005 version of The Fog is a perfect example. There’s obviously more money that was put into it, but the writing, the characters, and the acting were all so subpar the movie ended up just boring me to tears. I couldn’t take anything in this movie seriously, and that’s a big problem for a movie that’s meant to scare you. There’s to many jump scares and not enough actual fear. This is a waste of a movie and is best left to be forgotten.

Just to recap, I can say wholeheartedly that any fan of the horror genre should at least take a look at the original version of The Fog. It plays out like a campfire story or old urban legend happening right in front of your eyes. As for the remake, don’t pay any attention to it. It isn’t worth it.

Ghostbusters & Ghostbusters 2 – Review

16 Oct

We all know who to call if something strange ever happens in your neighborhood, thank goodness. The Ghostbusters movies are iconic when it comes to comedy, and for good reason, too. They are a perfect blend of quick humor and special effects driven story telling. Is one better than the other? Absolutely right, but make no mistake, you can’t go wrong with either one.

 

Doctors Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Akroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are scientists working in the parapsychology department at Columbia University. After their funding is cut, they decide to go freelance as the Ghostbusters. Their job is to hunt down specters who are giving people a hard time, trap them, and detain them.  When cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourny Weaver) finds out that her fridge is also a portal used by an inter dimensional demigod called Zuul, it is up to the Ghostbusters to stop Zuul and the god Gozer from entering our world and destroying it.

Something that is really great about this movie is that, yes, it is a comedy but it also takes itself very seriously as a supernatural movie. The plot line behind Gozer, Zuul, and the portal in Barrett’s fridge is actually very well written and has cool mythology behind it. I would have no problem sitting down with someone and talking about Gozerians. I would have just as much fun talking about that as I would talking about Middle Earth.

 

Murray, I think, steals the show when it comes to the performances. His whip sharp delivery and dry speaking voice will steal laughter from the coldest of souls. Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd, who also wrote the screenplay, have great chemistry as the true believers of this science and it’s so much fun to listen to them talk in their paranormal jargon. Another performance I’d like to mention is Slavitza Jovan’s as Gozer. She’s only in it for a very short amount of time, but she looks menacing as hell and her androgynous appearance makes her a villain to be remembered.

The original Ghostbusters can easily be put on anyone’s best comedies list. The story and dialogue are equally strong, while the special effects look great but never get in the way of the story. I’ve loved this movie for as long as I can remember, and it’s clearly present why I do. Missing this movie is a crime.

In 1989, Ghostbusters 2 was released with all of the major casts returning to reprise their beloved roles from the first film. What could go wrong? Evidently a fair amount of things, but this is still a good movie.

 

Five years after the events of the first film, the Ghostbusters have long since been put out of business. Venkman runs a show about psychics, Egon is a scientist at Columbia once again, Stantz owns a paranormal shop, and Winston (Ernie Hudson)  works with Stantz appearing as an act at parties. The group has to once again reassemble when the spirit of a seventeenth century Carpathian tyrant, Lord Vigo, haunts a painting at the Manhattan Museum of Art. On top of that there is a river of slime flowing through the depths of the city and Dana Barrett’s baby is in danger of possession by Lord Vigo.

The movie starts off strong with a paranormal occurrence involving Dana’s baby, and the disbanding of the Ghostbusters makes us even more excited to see them get back together. When they do, they come out with proton packs blazing and as exciting as ever. Still, I felt like something was missing from this installment. The plot with Gozer was interesting, while I wasn’t too involved with Vigo. The slime under the city is much more interesting as it feeds off the positive and negative moods that New York City radiates. That’s cool.

 

The comedy is definitely not as sharp as it was in the original. My favorite part was when the Ghostbusters are imitating New York City construction workers. That was an excellent lampoon that makes me laugh every time. Bill Murray isn’t as sarcastic in this one and the other guys don’t really get many funny lines. They all seem to be more focused on Murray, which sort of makes sense, but I’d rather see everyone get big laughs.

There are some parts of this movie that seem like they’re jut rehashing the same things they did in the first one. The Statue of Liberty is pretty much the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Strangely enough, this film has also aged much worse than the first. The classic theme song has been replaced with a rap remix that just screams 80s cheese. Stick to the normal song, please.

This isn’t a bad movie. Don’t get me wrong. It could’ve just been better. There wasn’t enough ghost busting and things seemed recycled. Rick Moranis, who plays my favorite character, gets some more screen time and a potential relationship that could have been played out more. This is still a worthwhile movie if you’re a fan of the first and is still part of the films’ narrative canon.

In summation, you got to love the Ghostbusters. These movies are classic comedy films that have, for the most part, stood the test of time. If you haven’t seen these movies, check them out. They can be enjoyed by kids, teens, and adults. They’re a lot of fun and I can’t wait for Ghostbusters 3.