61 Days of Halloween 2016: Introduction

As mentioned yesterday, I’m getting back into the swing of things, so unlike other years I have no actual expectation that I will get to 61 horror movies in 61 days, but there will surely be some and all posts on the subject will link back here. With luck there will be daily posts of various types. Check back early and often!

Happy haunting!

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61 Days of Halloween: The Awakening

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Awakening

I will elaborate on this point in a separate piece, but this film is a testament to my theory that drama is the foundation of all other genres. To be brief, even if this film fails to affect you with its creepy atmosphere, it is an effective character piece that delves into psychology as well as the supernatural.

When telling with a ghost tale, especially one that deals with characters who have been so greatly impacted by the sightings, or even suppositions thereof, the acting needs to be up to snuff. This film brings much more than that to the table, there are four top-notch performances, one of each “award type” both lead and supporting.

Rebecca Hall, in the lead, is someone I personally I have seen far too little of since Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and she carries this film brilliantly with a fine double-edged performance as a now skeptical ghost hunter. Dominic West plays a character who also has a facade, as seemingly everyone in this film does, his stoical demeanor is matched by his private pain in this work. Imelda Staunton, is nothing short of riveting. Then there’s Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran on Game of Thrones, where he’s shown flashes of his capability) whom steals scenes and redoubles the impact this film has.

This is a film that eases into its narrative, it never gives its answers away too easily and stays nebulous about some things. Its timing of reveals is perfect and just when you think you’ve lost it, or it’ll flatline, there’s always one more turn than you expected.

10/10

The Awakening featured in the BAM Awards the year it was released, and the Best Horror Films of the Year. It is available on Netflix Instant (US).

61 Days of Halloween: Sleep Tight

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Sleep Tight

Upon conferring on his IMDb page I am missing one feature from Jaume Balaguero’s filmography after having seen Sleep Tight. His films that worked for me thus far have worked exceedingly well, namely The Nameless, [REC] and [REC] 2. I barely recall it, but judging by my score of Darkness that was more of complete miss than either of his apartment tales (To Let and Sleep Tight).

Balaguero is still a director I’d put at the vanguard of the current Spanish horror scene due to his voice, and it’s why I want to complete his current filmography and why his name being attached to something still garners my interest.

With regards to these apartment tales, a lot of To Let‘s struggles I attribute to a restricted timeframe for an intimate, nebulous portrait to be painted, which is why half the Films to Keep You Awake titles are amazing, and why the other three are forgettable to poor. Here it’s not that there is anything inherently wrong, it’s more a question of insufficient build, unmoving voyeurism and predictable plot points with minimal impact. The actions and motivations are always fairly clear, which in a way makes this film less engaging than his other ventures. There’s a stark blandness and removal of encumbrance that’s supposed to compound the impact but instead dulls it.

In the end, Sleep Tight presents a portrait of a psychopath without an excess of depth, engagement or shock; it’s sadly flat.

4/10

61 Days of Halloween: Come Out and Play

Come Out and Play

Whenever possible I try to give those who may be reading these reviews a frame of reference of where I’m coming from with a particular title. That can in large part become relevant when one discusses a remake. I believe I viewed Who Can Kill a Child? last year and I was not a fan in the slightest. When dealing with a remake, you want to try to have a clean slate, but I realize this can be difficult as certain things are expected. I liked this version just marginally and here’s why:

The biggest faults the film has are in the beginning and the end, there’s far too much unspoken and not enough urgency as the weird situations start to present themselves. I’ve not read the book, but so far as I’m concerned there’s not yet the perfect rendition of this tale, regardless of how faithful each may or may not be to the book.

As the film progresses further from the overly-coy beginning, it does start to address some concerns, seriously up the stakes and after some missteps in the suspense department early playing that up. The score is consistently effective, and the all-too-ghostly children start to have presence, a bit of information to them, which makes them more dangerous, and in turn makes the audience engage further. It creates some mystery and makes you interpret events after a minimal mandatory amount of information is handed out.

Where I feel the film could’ve further excelled was at the very, very end. However, what it manages to do after being a fairly ineffectual carbon copy elevates it oh-so-slightly from its predecessor.

6/10

61 Days of Halloween: Sinister 2 (2015)

The life of a horror sequel is not an easy one. Invariably, whether from the fandom that spawned the sequel or the critical masses, a continuation will be far more scrutinized it seems. Not to worry, Dear Reader, I am not opening up the Pandora’s Box that is editorializing on the agglomeration of reviews, or even fan reaction. I’m pointing out that while I was anticipating this film highly, I too went in ready to be overhyped and possibly disappointed, as the original was one of the tops of 2012, but I must say I walked away most certainly pleased.

One of the biggest successes it that it is indeed an expansion of the mythos, a further closer look rather than a straight-up regurgitation that many series seem to covet, and at times audiences seem to demand. A classic example would be how Carpenter originally had designs on the Halloween series always telling different tales on All Hallows’ Eve, yet he only managed to steer the films away from Michael Myers once.

Sinister 2, follows-up and picks up with Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone) from the first installment. He’s back but having found no satisfactory resolution in his own mind he continues to seek out properties where similar occurrences happened that can be linked to the demon Bughuul.

Sinister 2 (2015, Universal)

Almost immediately the film puts you in a new frame of mind, ready for anything, as it seems to be playing a temporal trick. By casting one of the boys (Robert Daniel Sloan) and making him look a lot like a young Ransone; and having few telltale signs of era you wonder for a bit if these sequences aren’t flashbacks to his past. This is quickly cleared up and cleverly played into. With this trick played, and explained away ,you’re prepared to tread a different path.

Another differentiating factor is the interweaving a naturally fearful situations: namely the custody dispute and domestic violence themes displayed by the contentious relationship that Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and Clint (Lea Coco) enact. Coco is chillingly convincing as a sociopathic, abusive, ex-husband. This just adds a layer to the terror, which is natural rather than supernatural.

Further layering this tale is the shift in perspective from that of a terrified father (Ethan Hawke) learning of this strange, dark past through these home movies; to the children targeted to be sacrificed to and to make offerings to Bughuul. What is brilliantly left behind the curtain in the original is revealed here, and examined with results that are nearly as terrifying, and just as captivating.

The children herein also play well on a classic horror trope: that of twins. This film differentiates itself first by making them fraternal, and secondly by having these two have entirely distinctive personalities. This is also intimated early on by one subtle fact: they do not share a room. Just having mom have separate bedtime visits in different rooms and talk to each about the other makes an immediate statement.

Sinister 2 (2015, Universal)

Having the children be more the focus means they have to a little more this time around than just look the part of scary ghost or unfortunate victim. Starting with the twins played by Robert Daniel and Dartanian Sloan they are expertly cast and play their types to a tee. When necessary they emote precisely namely Robert Daniel engendering sympathy and pity, exuding fear; Dartanian on the other hand inhabits the role of bully and can strike fear, and causes shock in the blink of an eye.

Those children who are apparitions are also allowed to have their moments namely Lucas Jade Zumann as Milo who delivers the most hypnotically serpentine performance by a young actor since Frank Dillane in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Delving further in to the plot there are great single-scene subplots like the Norwegian Hell-Call, which I wouldn’t mind seeing a whole spinoff film about, and also the clever excision of Vincent D’Onofrio’s character. Granted it was likely due to scheduling more than anything else, but it works and leaves the door open for a return if needed.

Sinister 2 (2015, Universal)

Coincidentally, I saw Sinister 2 with the same large group of friends as I saw the first one, and it similarly caused quite a bit of discussion afterwards. When more often than not the reaction after a horror film is tepid apathy, or worse disgust (I’ll never forget the reaction at my screening to The Devil Inside); this is least one can ask for but it goes further than that.

Much but not all of what made Sinister a success was its witty retort to the standard found footage approach. However, what the Sinister films have found it seems is a mythology that it’s exploring to its fullest based on the self-assigned parameters of each film. Sinister, like the Purge, leaves fans wanting more, but in Sinister’s case it’s not a backhanded compliment but rather the highest praise.

61 Days of Halloween: The Innkeepers

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers is Ti West’s sophomore effort, following on the heels of The House of the Devil and it tells the tale of a pair of hotel employees left to their own devices in a haunted, rundown hotel on its closing weekend. They do some further paranormal investigating and get far more than they gambled for. While I can categorically say I like this film more than I liked House of the Devil, especially upon second viewing, it still battles some of the same issues that film does. There are great performances by Sara Paxton, Pat Healy and Kelly McGillis which take this film up a notch above the prior by itself. As well as the film builds atmosphere and tension the incremental ratcheting up of incidents develops a bit too methodically to be as effectively as it should have. It has its occasional jolt but the ending leaves you wanting some. Leaving some details unexplained is fine but there’s a bit too much restraint throughout to have such a subtle payoff work ideally. Again I stress that I enjoyed the film West is clearly talented and I enjoy watching his films and seeing what he’s doing but at the moment his films play almost like the opening acts of Carpenter’s work. If he escalates and concludes a movie like Carpenter can he has classics waiting to happen in him. With that in mind I conclude by saying that I do anticipate highly seeing what he is capable of in a horror anthology where his running time is limited as V/H/S is one of the hot properties coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

7/10

61 Days of Halloween 2015 & In Memoriam: Wes Craven

Today is a big day on this blog.

Vampyr (1932)

First, as you may have noticed I already posted my 6th and final contribution to the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.

The Movie Rat

Secondly, it’s the first of the month, therefore, it means it’s time to compile another list of BAM Awards considerations. Those can be viewed here.

My Soul to Take (2010, Rogue)

Thirdly, September 1st marks the first day of my most gargantuan of annual themes known as 61 Days of Halloween.

As the name indicates, I will be focused on horror films for the next two months. However, thanks to the backlog of films I’ve written on and can repurpose, the site will not stay myopic.

Furthermore, I would be remiss in starting a horror film theme without a few words about Wes Craven.

In Memoriam: Wes Craven

Wes Craven (2015, Wes Craven)

There is a nearly invariable amount of adoration that comes to the fore when a beloved filmmaker or actor dies. With Craven it is genuine, and speaking only for myself, these glowing praises for many of his works have not been formed posthumously.

Writing in the zeitgeist about My Soul to Take I was higher on it than most giving it not only this review, but placing it in my top 10 of 2010.

Prior 61 Days of Halloweens got me more up-to-date on his most iconic series. As a child, like many youngsters in the ‘80s; Freddy did scare me, and I caught pieces of the films but didn’t sit down to see all of them until recently. New Nightmare’s inclusion on this list is a testament to the brilliance of its reinventing the series.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994, New Line Cinema)

Some Craven films I had not gotten a chance to see yet for one reason or another will be a focus this year. In my Lifetime Achievement Awards I try in a maverick spirit to buck the Oscar trend and not award people “too late,” but you can’t get them all (I have gotten horror represented though). However, as Edgar Wright brilliantly stated: “It’s never too late to see a movie.” So I will become more a completist with him this year.

Happy Horrors all, may you find those films that sate your need for catharsis and may you find the works of Craven if you have not yet.

Rest in peace, Wes.

Wes Craven (All Rights Reserved)

61 Days of Halloween

Halloween (1978, Compass International)

In lieu of a truly significant national holiday, one that engenders a rash of films that mark the season in September, I start my annual gearing up for Halloween early, on September 1st. Between that day and Halloween itself I post as many reviews about Horror films (mostly newly-viewed ones) as I can. This is one of the few themes that was on the blog from year one and it continues strong. Below you can find links to all films that have been part of the festivities to date.

2013 (44 Films and an Introductory Post)

Haunter
Curse of the Fly
Jug Face
Return of the Fly
Hell Night
Macabre (1980)
Dead Souls
Seven Deaths in a Cat’s Eye
House of Dracula
Carrie (2013)
Dracula (1931- Spanish Version)
Dracula’s Daughter
R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour – Don’t Think About It
Dracula (1931 – Philip Glass Score)
Saw
Films to Keep You Awake: The Christmas Tale
Curse of Chucky
Demonic Toys 2
Gorgo
Trilogy of Terror
Films to Keep You Awake: To Let
Sisters
Seed of Chucky
Insidious: Chapter 2
The Case of the Bloody Iris
Dead of Night
Films to Keep You Awake: A Real Friend
Bride of Chucky
Die Farbe (The Color Out of Space)
Child’s Play 3
V/H/S 2
Pulse (1988)
Films to Keep You Awake: Blame
The Dead Father
Asylum
Films to Keep You Awake: The Baby’s Room
Graveyard Disturbance
The Fog (1980)
Films to Keep You Awake: Spectre
Dementia 13
Tremors II: Aftershock
The Asphyx
Woman in a Lizard’s Skin
The Blair Witch Project
Introduction

2012 (31 Movies, 1 Retrospective)

Call of the Cthulhu
The Crazies
(2010)
The Children (1980)
The Children (2008)
The Other
The Mist
A Nightmare on Elm Street
(2010)
Case 39
Devil
Zombieland
A Haunting in Connecticut
Survival of the Dead
The Last Exorcism
Paranormal Activity
Frozen
Daybreakers
House
(1977)
Cat in the Brain
Vinyan
The Sinful Dwarf
The Final Destination
Village of the Damned
(1960)
Children of the Damned
The Final
Girl vs. Monster
Trick ‘r Treat
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(1974)
House of Long Shadows
Friday the 13th Part 2
Friday the 13th Part 3
Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter
Friday the 13th Part 6
A Nightmare on Elm Street
, the Series Revisited

2011 (47 films, 1 list)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest
Mother’s Day
Genesis
Aftermath
Crawlspace
Hatchet for the Honeymoon
It! The Terror from Beyond Space
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Children of the Corn
Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice
The Video Dead
The Prowler
Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering
Masters of Horror: Family
The Evil Dead
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror
Satan’s Little Helper

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure
Teeth
Masters of Horror: The V Word
Halloween (1978)
Halloween II (1981)
Child’s Play
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Child’s Play 2
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
Halloween Resurrection

The Amityville Horror (1979)
Tremors
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
Amityville II: The Possession
Halloween (2007)

Top Evil Kids in the Children of the Corn Series
Amityville 3D
The Curse
Homicidal
The Stuff
Santa’s Slay
Die, Monster, Die!
Freaks
Vampire Circus
All the Colors of the Dark
A Blade in the Dark

61 Days of Halloween: Haunter (2013)

Introduction

For the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Haunter (2013)

The synopsis of Haunter gives you facts that lead you quite a bit of the way into the story:

The ghost of a teenager who died years ago reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate.

Given that as a starting point one would hope that there are layers to this tale, and those who share that hope will not walk away from this film disappointed. For while the comparisons that Haunter has drawn to both The Sixth Sense and Groundhog Day are not unwarranted, there is more at play here and a very intriguing myth being built after all.

The film’s cinematography has great panache and sets the tone throughout, the camera wanders through the world of the story and takes different vantage points on its early-stage déjà vu scenes.

For each of the characters within the story, be they live or be they dead, there is a moment of discovery. Our protagonist Lisa (Extremely well portrayed by Abigail Breslin) is the first to have such a discovery, and, as such, it is through her eyes that we experience this film and start to uncoil the mysteries therein.

One such mystery is what the exact nature of The Pale Man (Chillingly rendered by Stephen McHattie) be he natural or supernatural. As the myth starts to build and the pieces start to fall in place there are surprises in store and there are very intricately transgressed borders between the states of being. The way this handled allows there to continue to be a sense of mystery to the film.

While there is a slight leaden quality to pace towards the tale end of Act II, the conclusion is ultimately quite satisfying as the investment we as an audience have been asked to make in these characters is a fruitful one. Their fates are something that become a concern, and as those who have passed come to the realization that they are past more details fall into place.

Furthermore, the family dynamics, the fulcrum of the dramatic element of the tale changes and we see why. These moderations, these tones and notes would not hit home as well without contributions from the whole cast be it Peter Outerbridge, who has to be a source of empathy and fear, grief-stricken and terrifying; Sarah Manninen whom runs the gamut from TV playing a role to scared victim to knowing realist; or Peter Da Cunha (whose specific echo is one of the key indicators of the film) who plays a soft-spoken, sunny child who is resigned to a cautious fear, and also ultimately terrified.

Despite whatever superficial similarities this film bears to other more famous works, and I thought of a few others myself, the narrative fabric this film weaves is wholly its one and a great one to look at and get lost in. This is a fantastic horror film that melds a few different subgrenre approaches and should be one you look out for whenever you need another horror fix.

8/10

61 Days of Halloween: The Curse of the Fly (1965)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

The Curse of the Fly (1965)

One thing that becomes clear when your are viewing a series of films in hindsight is when the death knell rang. When you’re in the midst of things occurring extemporaneously, it can be easy to be hopeful and want a course correction that may not necessarily be better than just abandoning ship.

Now, a lay-off in a series is not always a bad thing. A contemporary example would be that the Paranormal Activity series just skipped its first year since the series debuted, and will return in the early part of 2014. However, with the prior film (still being wildly successful in my mind) being six years prior, the changing climate of the nation as the ’60s progressed; a tale like The Fly had to change and wasn’t necessarily going to work.

So in this The Curse of the Fly there is no fly so to speak, the curse is a euphemism. However, the decks are also virtually scrubbed of any connections to the prior to films only bringing in a very old Inspector Charas to fill in blanks. However, the characters who are brought in don’t contribute in a great way: the colleagues in London add a conscience, the servants in the Delambre add an unfortunate racial stereotype (as well as whitewashing) that seems extraneous even for that kind of thing; the love interest distracts from building the new Delambre generation. A generation that’s building the myth of the series by not being as far from the first incident as one may think at first. Or is it? That was murky too.

All this splits focus, however, there’s also the fact that the fly element is removed and what the threat is, is deformity as attempts of transatlantic teleportation are seriously disfiguring test subjects.

There’s less spectacle, less character, less drama, less suspense, less everything in this film such that the end, not only of this installment, but of the original series is a sweet relief. The mythology of this series is great and could easily be picked up and updated again, maybe even in a truly Quebecois version, but sadly this is an unfortunate final chapter to the original series.