Mini-Review: The ABCs of Death

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 ABCs of Death

Most of the things that are interesting to consider about this film, sadly, have little to do with the film itself. For one, due to the fact that it is an extreme example, it forever defeated to notion of averaging out scores in an anthology. Math is no way to quantify such an experience, and I may highlight that in a separate post at some point.

Another thing that is interesting to consider, though it does not make it better or worse, is that filmmakers were assigned their letter and given a $5,000 budget. The only way either of these traits makes itself apparent is with the two shorts that decided to go the “we don’t have a decent idea for this letter” route, which is fairly lazy and uninspired. Many of them do well at least in terms of production value.

However, what it more often than not reaffirms is that telling a story in approximately five minutes is very hard. Sadly, in most of the cases neither a style or a decent narrative was firmly established. Overall it becomes a very unnerving viewing experience because of the wide array of voices and variegated quality of the shorts.

If I had to put a number on it I’d say about five work very well. Two of those on a style over substance basis. It ends nearly as badly as possible and the convention established of revealing title, letter indicated and director after the short is over rendered many predictable, a few insipid and most frustrating.

It’s not for the feint of heart or weak of stomach, that in and of itself does not make the film an excruciating experience, but the envelope being torn apart to tell mostly inane and inept tales does.

1/10

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Cinematic Episodes: The Haunting Hour, Season 1

Introduction

When I first thought of the concept of cinematic episodes, this is one of the handful of television shows that came to mind. However, it was not the show I was intending to be my first follow-up to that post. I intended to take a more chronological approach to the question of drawing parallels between television and film.

However, seeing as how the first show I started drafting a post on is more in the suspense anthology realm rather than the horror anthology realm, and this is 61 Days of Halloween; The Haunting Hour seemed more appropriate.

Now, the reason I choose a half-hour (what really amounts to about 23 minute) show as opposed to horror anthology series that literally produce short features (e.g. Masters of Horror) is that it places the series more firmly in the realm of television; a commercial-television product is still very much a TV program no matter how much technique it borrows.

There is also the question of format and genre, there aren’t that many half-hour dramatically-inclined series’ in North America. The standard approach is hour dramas and half-hour comedies. However, those shows (as I’ve mentioned in the past) that decide to go for shorter bursts of drama, suspense, horror, or other non-comedic reactions; are typically more successful.

The reason I choose horror over a straight drama is not just so I can fit it in with my theme. Horror is not that frequently attempted on TV as compared to other genres. Yes, there’s a surge in recent years due to the success of some series, but in the overall history of the medium it’s more rare. Part of that rarity is that horror is a genre very conducive to literature and cinema. With television one of historical imperatives has been timeliness and economy.

Only since the mid-’90s, when trying to jolt viewers and win the ever faction-ing audience has the single-camera approach to dramas and comedies become more prevalent, and horror more pervasive.

However, the fact that The Haunting Hour is a horror program aimed at younger viewers also factors in to my selection, also not only because I covered another Stine film this year. It factors in because if you look at these kinds of shows a generation (or so) ago with Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? the ante is significantly increased in terms of narrative and production value. Nickelodeon finally jumped back into the contest with the far inferior Deadtime Stories this year, but The Haunting Hour not only excels in horror but for programming for children in general winning multiple Emmys thus far.

However, it is its consistently cinematic approach, ability to attract A-List caliber young actors and its not-always-happy-endings that have earned my loyalty as a viewer.

Below I will take a closer look at the cinematic DNA of this show that made itself evident through the course of the show’s first season. It was it’s largest season in number of episodes (22) which makes sense since it launched as the Hub Network did and is one of the young network’s flagship programs. I will briefly recap and react to each episode, offer thoughts on the cinematic qualities of each (usually in visual terms), list directors and cast and link to video where available legally.

Really You, Part 1 and 2 (Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Bailee Madison, Connor Price, Casey DuBois

Synopsis/Reaction

To start off a new program bearing R.L. Stine’s name. How else would be better than with a refraction of a theme that was not altogether unfamiliar to viewers and readers of his previous series of books (and TV) Goosebumps? Really You tells the tale of a doll that is more than it seems (i.e. alive) and also starts the series off in impressive fashion bringing talented young actress Bailee Madison into the mix.

Commentary

I began compiling this post with more exhaustive notes, however, in a way I still don’t quite understand; I lost those notes. It’s probably a good thing. This ought not be an exhaustive look that dissuades your viewership, but rather a closer one with a focused on eye on what makes this particular program generally more cinematic than most. Some of the motifs and movements used in this tale are: a pan-heavy montage at the beginning, afforded by double-episode status. The double-episode may be mathematically similar to the hour-long episode, however, there is an obvious difference. The difference is in the intensity allowed to build in a more easy fashion.

This fashion is not as cinematic, structuring to climactic commercial breaks and a mid-point cliffhanger leading into the next week (or episode), but depending on the story it can serve a show better. Some hour-long TV plots can meander whereas double-episodes can have a more consistent pleasurably dramatic build.

Aside from a match dissolve at the start, the use of high contrast, steadicam, dolly shots and canted angles (including panning from one cant to another) this episode also implements cinematic elements in an homage (A Paranormal Activity style scare) but also with the progressive make-up application as the protagonist becomes more tired and frazzled showing more passage of time quicker than is standard.

A Creature Will Stir (Season 1, Episode 3)

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Director Terry Ingram
Featured Cast Thomas Robinson, Stacy Grant, Kurt Evans, Rachel Pattee, Cainan Wiebe

Synopsis/Reaction

If ever there was a delicate balance for a juvenile horror series to strike it is that of the wonder of Christmas, especially through youthful eyes; and a horrific element. Now the table is well-set for the preternatural element that will find its way into this episode by the fact that a family portrait is painted of disharmony. As the story unfolds we discover that a divorce is imminent. Naturally, the creature is discovered by the youngest child, Timmy (Thomas Robinson), so doubt is natural. The horror comes to fore in the latter half of the episode and acts as a cathartic catalyst, thus it succeeds exceedingly well in both tasks: telling a horror tale and a heartwarming Christmas Story.

Commentary

To be able to strike all the aforementioned notes properly what this episode does very well is have its camerawork and edit correlate to the the intended tone. The episode commences with dollies, tracking, and other kinetic shots; that reflect the upbeat Christmas morning tone that is being set. However, as the family awakes and some of their issues come to the fore the camera and the edit as well settles a bit. Here the cinematography not only assists in characterization but also in effects-work but also changes the tone anew as things get tense.

The balancing act of family, horror and Christmas tales culminates towards the end not only with the locations (the attic and then on the street, with a skylight in one; sooty and a aglow in firelight in another) these simple decisions show it’s not always about big budgets to create a more cinematic feel even on the small(er) screen.

Some clips that illustrate what I’m talking about can be found on the Hub’s site below.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710912856001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-a-creature-will-stir-ep-3-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710851564001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-a-creature-will-stir-ep-3-season-1-clip-2

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710912857001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-a-creature-will-stir-ep-3-season-1-clip-3

The Dead Body (Season 1, Episode 4)

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Director James Head
Featured Cast Brendan Meyer, Matt Angel, Samuel Patrick Chu, Tiera Skovbye, Bryce Hodgson

Synopsis/Reaction

Here’s the first time the series goes beyond the grave, and in doing so this is where the trademark of the series really starts to come to the fore. As I recently stated in a piece on one of Stine’s features: his brand of horror is not a substandard one, and furthermore, it is one that is not as safe as one would assume would be designed for a young audience.

Not only is a ghost a very tangible threat in this particular installment, but the living are not safe from repercussions of meddling in their lives.

Commentary

Clearly when you want to establish a more filmic feel on television one thing that needs to be done is to occasionally buck certain trends and structuring decisions that become mandates in creating the style of a show. While one can dissect the formulaic structure (as I have with this show) with any program, the building blocks that form that structure can be easily switched without hurting the integrity of the whole.

Examples of this abound in this episode. First, it has a pop-song montage start to establish its character and location, and it effectively eschews the signature “Oh-ee” cut-to-black theme ending usually reserved for episodes. Why these changes work is that they effectively create the tone they are seeking to.

While there are some visual signatures in this tale worth noting that pop up in this show for the first time: like the use of obstructions in frame, flickering light; and some repeating like smoke and firelight; it’s the edit of the end that bucks the trend. It uses a cinematic settling-in-of-fact to take the journey of discovery along with its protagonist (Brendan Meyer) and, though the audience may jump ahead of the conclusion, the impact is heightened because of the fact that for the last few minutes you’re allowed to feel the enormity of the reversal of fortune sink in for the characters involved as well as for yourself.

You can also view clips from this episode at the links below.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710842887001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-dead-body-ep-4-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710851565001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-dead-body-ep-4-season-1-clip-2

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710865436001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-dead-body-ep-4-season-1-clip-3

The Nightmare Inn (Season 1, Episode 5)

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Director Nick Fearnley
Featured Cast Madeline Carroll, Ingrid Torrance, Jodie Balfour, Richard Harmon

Synopsis/Reaction

One of the classic shows of influence in sci-fi, the supernatural and horror is The Twilight Zone. It’s influence will be eternal and is hard to avoid. When one compares what you’re doing to that program it is the utmost compliment if you are said to be doing well at the impersonation. The set-up of this episode is not unlike an episode of The Twilight Zone.

The nuclear family at the center of this tale happen upon an inn that has been haunting the recurring dreams of Jillian, the eldest (Madeline Carroll). Her mother turns a deaf ear to concerns and they stay there regardless and begin to uncover the secrets the inn has.

Commentary

This episode is all about low-light and high-contrast. Well, two thirds of it is. To not put too fine a point on it the night-day-night structure of the three acts is crucial in the telling of the tale. Far more than the occasional POV lurking shot or the use of slight-bounce (as opposed to to jiggly-cam) to convey tension. In film (as in television) time of day is a much a part of the setting as the year and location, if not more so. These choices are influenced by the telling, and aid the impact of the story as well as various production departments.

You can see clips of this episode below.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710865435001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-nightmare-inn-ep-5-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/710865434001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-nightmare-inn-ep-5-season-1-clip-2

The Red Dress (Season 1, Episode 6)

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Director J.B. Sugar
Featured Cast Emmanuelle Vaugier, Linda Tomassoni

Synopsis/Reaction

One of the classic motifs of horror is the desired object and the maleficent salesperson who will dispense justice to those who cross them in business dealings. However, when one deals with an anthology series commonly tread ground will be found quite often. It usually comes down to how said ground is trod this time around.

With regards to comeuppance this is one of the most daring tales, and early on in the first season again sends out a reminder that not all will end well. This can be looked at as a controversial approach. However, when one considers nursery rhymes and Grimm’s Fairy Tales one realizes that kids do process the horrific rather well and come to expect it. Almost any ramification can be absorbed. It’s an overly-realisitic rendition of violence and threats that can really cause problems it seems.

Commentary

The crow breaks the visual malaise and foreshadows. The motivation is set (impress the boy) now the trap needs to come into place.

Shafts of light, shots through glass, camera movement both amped and smooth; the mood-setting of this episode definitely delivers where the conclusion may not. The production picks up for fairly standard plotting of a desirous-object tale. As does the very last shot in the shop.

You can see clips of this episode below.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754415201001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-red-dress-ep-6-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754424254001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-red-dress-ep-6-season-1-clip-2

The Ghostly Stare (Season 1, Episode 7)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Jason Spevack, Emma Grabinsky

Synopsis/Reaction

Here we have an episode mostly dealing with events in and around a cemetery. A pair of siblings each has their own preoccupation with the dead. Lauren (Emma Grabinsky) practices the art of grave rubbings, whereas her brother, Mark (Jason Spevack) is curious to see a dead body.

This is a tale that deals with the desecration of a burial site, both in a personal and corporate way. The corporate will be that a mini-mall is soon to be built over the graveyard (thus, the ability for Mark to actually potentially see a body) and the personal comes from the children coming to close to those trying to rest at peace.

In the end this episode ends up acting as a covert zombie tale preying on fears that we all harbor about proximity to the dead will ultimately lead us to crossing over.

Commentary

The displaced corpse tale alluded to with a languid series of camera moments and shots as construction workers move about a dilapidated, torn up cemetery. Staring contest set-up siblings and leads into discussion of mortality and hobbies, grave rubbings; things that tie-in to death. The line of propriety that must not be crossed is explored in here. POV and long shots establish watchers and suspense, montage of of headstones when mark is missing, and empty graves do as well.

One of the lines of fright “I’m so cold” echoes something from Are You Afraid of the Dark? that’s handled much better here. In night time scenes very similar shots to those used in the day at the cemetery are amplified by the lighting. Claustrophobic shots on last story day of the tale lead to the visual and narrative circle closing that occurs.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754415197001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-the-ghostly-stare-ep-7-season-1-clip-1

Walls (Season 1, Episode 8)

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Director Michael Scott
Featured Cast Bobby Coleman, Cameron Bancroft, Gina Holden

Synopsis/Reaction

As difficult as it is to create a wholly new tale, Walls comes about as close as this series has. The creature living behind the walls of Jeffrey’s (Bobby Coleman) new family home, who menaces him, is a parasite. He knows it’s there, his parents deny it. Does it want to hurt him or is that just perception? That’s the set-up and what will be discovered over the course of this episode.

What buoys this episode is the prosthetic work, the voice over of the creature, its conclusion and most importantly Bobby Coleman‘s performance, which may be the finest of the series to date.

Commentary

There is visual foreshadowing in abundance not just with the POV shots but with the shots that focus on the lamb-patterned wallpaper that has an oddly hypnotic quality. Many of these shots have unique wrinkles to them. The creature in this tale is treated at times like a classic movie creature being shot in pieces and under-exposed through much of the episode. There is also a prevalent use of audio allow the audience to imagine where the creature might be, what it looks like and what it’s doing.

The edit of the first physical contact between Jeffrey and the Klemit is very strong. Once the walls of the house are breached there is even more visual intrigue added to the story than before with certain frames being trifurcated.

The last shot is brilliant, as is the fact that this is perhaps one of the biggest tales of perception told; secrets inherently being frightening.

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754424250001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-walls-ep-8-season-1-clip-1

http://www.hubworld.com/watch/754411253001/r-l-stines-the-haunting-hour-walls-ep-8-season-1-clip-2

Game Over (Season 1, Episode 9)

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Director Terry Ingram
Featured Cast Calum Worthy, AJ Lutsky

Synopsis/Reaction

While it can’t be said that this episode is wholly un-cinematic this one is much more about creating an interesting fantasy than trying to produce a scare. With a video game basis the tale is more reliant on effects than most and that is just one of the episode’s failings, which can’t escape being one of the most wholly uninteresting and unsuccessful of the series thus far.

Commentary

There is a pervasive use of Steadicam, tacking shots and shot that follow one subject and “dump” onto another in this episode which lends it an immediate visual style. The Art Direction then joins in the flair with a stylized gaming lair (Scaffolding and overhead lighting grids). As the mystery game invades world and the visual style changes accordingly more CG comes into play, jib shots, lighting affectations.

The design of the diner is artful, some lights being gelled the video game aesthetic becomes more present here. Gels representing highlighting of weapons in gaming. The framing of the climactic shots, as well as the allusion to a classic horror film are appreciated if not as gracefully handled as they could have been.

Alien Candy (Season 1, Episode 10)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Grayson Russell, Matthew Knight, Bal Nagra, Jessica Macleod

Synopsis/Reaction

One thing an anthology series, or any other series that is not dealing in strictly-linear storytelling; has to deal with that other series and films don’t run into as often is the conundrum or ordering their series. Both this and the prior episode can be considered departures from the usual tone and tenor of the series.

There is a supernatural, extra-terrestrial and menacing aspect to this installment, however, there is also quite a bit of comedy to as well. Thus, this episode and Game Over being dropped down consecutively in season one feels a bit odd.

However, aside for the two Young Artist Award nominations (and one win) that this episode garnered there is a bit going for it that makes it somewhat more enjoyable than the last.

Commentary

Aside from an early low-angle the first attempt at something non-vanilla in this episode is about 6 minutes in where the secret of the tale is being divulged. From that point forward things start to get decidedly less flat, more graded and cinematic as the story goes beyond the ordinary. Green light in night shot, singles become slightly more angled (up-shots and down-shots), underlit school at night, red gels and the like become the norm rather than the exception.

All of the above episodes are available on DVD from Shout Factory, or can stream on Amazon Instant Video (Free to Amazon Prime members).

Fear Never Knocks (Season 1, Episode 11)

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Director Peter DeLuise
Featured Cast Ariel Winter, Quinn Lord, Matthew Walker, Christopher Heyerdahl

Synopsis/Reaction

This episode starring Ariel Winter and Quinn Lord tells a rather metaphysical tale. The two children are staying at their grandfather’s house. He is a renowned psychiatrist, who struck an unusual deal to be able to physically trap the fears that haunt his patients. All hell breaks loose when the fears get out.

Commentary

This expansive house, with diffused light flowing in through its windows, looks like it would’ve been the backdrop for a Golden Age Hollywood film. Slow push-ins, one of the most effective tension-building methods, are and combined with soft-spoken fearful retelling of their phobias along with black & white flashbacks to overheard phobias; add style to the visuals. Smoke and a push-ins used on the personification of Fear (who in another old school technique has his eyes “masked” by light often) makes his first appearance. Focus filters seem to be played with a bit too, but to accentuate something very specific as opposed to some shows that just use it as a texturing device. Tracks and swish-pans abound as they run around fearfully. Another bit of lackluster effects work doesn’t hold it back.

Many tight angles, along with the situation make this an effective chamber-horror tale despite the fact that the house is massive it feels like it closes in. The tragically flawed role model makes for a more interesting tale, as does the open end.

Best Friend Forever (Season 1, Episode 12)

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Director Jason Furukawa
Featured Cast Nolan Gould, Cris Cochrane, Darren Rizzolo, Anne Openshaw

Synopsis/Reaction

Some very good and funny things have been done in the horror genre when playing with the notion of pet and master then mixing that notion with zombies. Fido being among them. Here a boy who desperately wants a dog, but is not allowed one by his mother; has a zombie as a pet.

Commentary

The tying in of several threads help this episode: the desire for a pet met by the discovery of a zombie by a child (Nolan Gould) with an aptitude for science. The set-up in the episode includes a long take walking down a school hallway. The take seems cinematic because it follows its subjects in a two-shot, doesn’t cut and is long for a TV shot; it also relies upon the actors to interact naturally without aid from the editing room, which they do. The visuals are spiced up further in a later fantasy sequence, by use of a filter, fog, in-frame depth and tracking shots. There’s also the classic hand out of grave trope, which can never really be tired if well done. Similar to a pattern already seen once this tale leaves the school the style of the episode unfurls itself.

In the final scene, the lighting belies the tone of the tale’s end at least to start. There is the use of a symbol, which the protagonist decodes and adds an exclamation point to the ending, which an invitation to visual literacy.

Black Mask (Season 1, Episode 13)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Madison Pettis, Ricardo Hoyos, Ian Crane

Synopsis/Reaction

Here is an episode that not only deals with time travel, villains, but also has quite a twisted ending. Three kids break into an old house full of mysterious artifacts. Most intriguing among them is a black mask that they believe is giving them glimpses of the past, but a past that they can change. They then set out to try and do just that.

Commentary

The first episode to go title sequence first and not have a teaser lead-in to it, this helps to establish a greater immediacy and legitimacy to the narrative. Start with a jib over a for sale sign to establish the central location of the story.

Many things stand out visually in this episode: Eyeball-shaped orange vistas through the mask on black backdrop with a sort of 16 fps flicker to them; the canted steedicam shot with slightly up-glancing angles to start; flashlights; diffused sunlight through dank, dark basement.

It’s a tale of twisted antiquity with a lurking man whose status is unknown. The cutting pace near the end is exceptional as is the sense of false victory leading to the chilling conclusion.

Afraid of Clowns (Season 1, Episode 14)

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Synopsis/Reaction

Director Peter DeLuise
Featured Cast Jake Cherry, James Alan Hartley, Sean Mathieson, Samantha Page

Synopsis/Reaction

I was never afraid of clowns growing up. In fact, pretty much the only thing with clowns in it that did ever scare me was Stephen King’s It. However, I can appreciate their treatment in the horror genre, especially taking into account how it is likely to affect those who are afraid.

Not to mention the fact that this episode in particular has a very unique take on clowns one that can be described as treating them like a species.

Commentary

Wobbly POV tracks to start the episode. As with many tales about clowns in horror: start with the childhood trauma and tell a story later at the apex of this fear. The spin on clowns here is quite an interesting one and quite different.

The introduction of the protagonist (Jake Cherry) and his family with allusions to “the talk” is great. Then there’s the potential love interest, which adds intimations of a coming-of-age subplot and subtext. There’s a great series of shots and cuts set-up around the rock-throwing scene at poster. A scene where our lead is followed by a car finishes with a great punch after being constructed by smooth camerawork.

All horror can be boiled down into two categories: fear of what you’re becoming or fear of what’s coming after you; this episode manages to combine both these things deftly.

Many canted and slightly moving shots when our lead goes to the circus and is confronted by clowns non-stop. Shots in the box with the spinning lights is style in spades.

My Sister The Witch (Season 1, Episode 15)

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Director Michael Scott
Featured Cast Uriah Shelton, Jodelle Ferland, Mitchell Duffield, Julian LeBlanc

Synopsis/Reaction

When you’re dealing with horror and kids there are going to be many tales that deal with siblings. Usually what is going to be a focus is that one sibling notices a change in the other that their parents are oblivious too. Here Alice (Jodelle Ferland) has returned from boarding school and Pete (Uriah Shelton) starts to suspect that she is a witch dabbling in black magic. However, here it is the misunderstanding, and lack of communication, that leads to tragic circumstances.

Commentary

Sibling rivalry, and differences between sexes, obfuscate realities here. Night falls three minutes in and shots gain contrast, look up, fog abounds outside. Discussion of next day: sneaking, hiding and black cat (plus score) aid fear. Another situation with a symbol; at first misinterpreted.

Conflict rises and hits a volatile, game-chaging midpoint where the characters part and understanding becomes impossible, then one tragic turn compounds itself atop another, then another. When communications open up properly it’s all about trying to right wrongs.

Situation heavily overrides affectations and surprising visual turns abound because of it. Suspicions turns outward. A better effect than most episodes were afforded. Just when you think you got the last wrinkle, you haven’t. Two other notes is that naming the cat Baba Yaga, is a much more effective use of folklore. Also, scouting versus witchcraft, plus the inclusion of the grimoire, add to a textured narrative of accepted fraternity.

Wrong Number (Season 1, Episode 16)

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Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Debby Ryan, Sarah Dugdale, Stacy Kohl, Karin Konoval

Commentary

In an unusual turn for this, in fact, for most series; this episode features two mean girls. They are, of course, the most popular girls in school, Steffani (Debbi Ryan) and Tarah (Sarah Dugdale). Sarah is good at her core but has built a coarse uncaring exterior to survive and fit in. In a classical horror trope they cross the wrong woman, an old gypsy, and start to face severe consequences following her demise.

Synopsis/Reaction

Great job establishing characters right off the bat through voice-over and music. The use of text-message-subtitles is also a nice touch. Perhaps what’s best here is seeing one of the central figures be an un-likeable character because of how it can instruct on different narratives and sets up a better morality play.

Shortly after stasis and the mean girls’ doormat is introduced another “nemesis” incites the plot. Wonderful shot to sell initial effect scene. Effective use of diffused light down hallway on next pivotal scenes. Cell phones come in to play more as the episode progresses to great effect. A strand of lights adorning the wall a simple art direction choice that adds texture. Reading of Shakespeare in school is old hat but the kind of detail that adds some texture to the tale also.

Catching Cold (Season 1, Episode 17)

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Director Peter DeLuise
Featured Cast Robert Capron, Ty Olsson, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Laine MacNeil, Nicholas Elia

Synopsis/Reaction

As much as it can be a central focus in comedic tale, so can obsession factor significantly in horror. Here the tale is a very simple one: Marty (Robert Capron) loves ice cream. This obsession makes him the target of a mysterious ice cream truck that only he can see.

One could draw a parallel between this episode and We All Scream for Ice Cream on Masters of Horror. While a majority of the episodes on The Haunting Hour are original teleplays, this one is based on a short story by Neal Shusterman.

Commentary
This is a classic set-up that any kid can relate to on some level: an obsession with ice cream. A Maximum Overdrive approach to shooting the truck as a driver cannot be seen. “Pop Goes the Weasel” plays frequently (as per usual taking a childhood song and rendering it scary). One particularly cinematic affectation in the lighting is the exaggerated headlights at night, freezer in the truck.

In fact, most of the special shots and lighting saved for the mystical like the frozen makeup, and shot through frozen window at the end.

Pool Shark (Season 1, Episode 18)

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Director Jason Furukawa

Featured Cast Booboo Stewart, Patrick Gallagher, Mackenzie Porter, Anthony Kocheny, Kai Donily

Synopsis/Reaction

If there’s one thing I can’t handle very well it’s when a very cool bit of folklore is brushed off only to be used in a very subpar narrative. First and foremost among those would be the werewolf myths in Native American folklore being bastardized in Twilight. However, this bit of Hawaiian culture the Nanaue (a human which turns into a shark when it goes into the water) is a close second as this episode is fairly obvious throughout, fairly ineffectual and lacking in style.

Commentary

Another childhood trauma scene early here: water/swimming, that portion while short is well-shot and edited. And there is a contradiction, our lead is a lifeguard but little works here. Neil Shuster, who wrote Catching Cold is back, but there is a very broad drawing of love interest and antagonist. The score has some very odd notes to it that muddle the tone.

This episode is part of the reason most of the commentary is technique-based. While I do enjoy a lot of these episodes quite a bit on a narrative level, even when they fail greatly in that regard the techniques are still usually very cinematic (like some lurking shots of swimming legs similar to Jaws) and worth breaking down.

The retelling of the legend allows for hope in a saving grace but there ultimately never is one here and its highly anticlimactic and ineffectual. And that complaint isn’t about the premise of how does one have a pool-shark (Old-SNL jokes aside), but rather how it’s handled.

Lights Out (Season 1, Episode 19)

Lightsout04

Director Neill Fearnley
Featured Cast Gabriel Basso, Jeff C. Ballard, Madison Desjarlais

Synopsis/Reaction

This episode features one of the most perfect narrative circles in the series to date. A group of friends watching a ghost hunting show on TV doubt its veracity go out in search of their own local haunt to see what they can find. The bet being that they can fake a better show than the “pros.” Here again there are very strong performances spearheaded by Gabriel Basso who stands amongst the most impressive turns in the series to date.

Commentary

This is an episode written by Melody Fox, her name is on most of the better episodes of this first season. Visually there is a lot of night vision in this one and much high contrast as well as a great arc for the characters here. As history of the locale builds so does the ambiance and what it attempts to throw at its intruders. Flashlights are used again, but in much lower light thanks to the locale.

Sound design and routine (time) come into play greatly in the plotting of this episode. The chase sequences are highly effective. In most episodes there is usually a very cinematic push of the score, here especially.

What really sets the episode apart is not only a circle-closing kind of end but how the story separates the leads isolating one, leaving him alone and afraid; chillingly, realistically afraid. Gabriel Basso delivers one of the top two turns in season one (And I really can’t break that tie).

The Perfect Brother (Season 1, Episode 20)

ThePerfectBrother01

Director Michael Scott
Featured Cast Gregg Sulkin, Landon Liboiron

Synopsis/Reaction

A so-so episode inasmuch as the concept in the end is not a bad one but the execution is a bit lacking as there is actually some filler and an elongated sequence roundabout the middle. Josh wanders down the rabbit hole when his brother Matt, always thought to be perfect, starts to show some imperfections. The more he discovers the scarier and odder things become.

Commentary

Fairly straightforward handling of stasis and then into the initial dinner scene but it does set-up the family idyll. Similarly by design are the line-readings in the opening scene by the parents they ultimately act as foreshadowing.

On the production end here is a situation where actors of age were brought in, partially because the story allowed for it, but also to more economically produce the film. As the secrets start to come out, and things get cockeyed this episode becomes a more intriguing one visually, acting as our leads eyes as he seeks the truth and also following him through the strange environs he investigates.

Blues, yellows and smoke come into play as the factory is walked through and the truth starts to boil over.

Scary Mary, Part 1 and Part 2 (Season 1, Episodes 21 & 22)

Eric_and_Hanna_are_home

Director Peter DeLuise
Featured Cast Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Eva Allen, Tyler Johnston

Synopsis/Reaction

A local urban legend, one that sounds a bit like a Michigander rendition of New Jersey’s Bloody Mary, is recounted and Hannah (Eva Allan) starts to see signs all about her that there may be truth to it and soon finds herself in a world not at all like her own.

This is a two-parter that has some great world-building, cinematography and ambiance; it may be just slightly bloated to achieve double-episode status but the only true misstep is to replace the traditional, eerie “oh-eeh” musical finale with a very annoying techno song.

Commentary

This is the first episode where there is a content warning before it about how it may be too scary for children under seven. I have no doubt this is the result of the effectiveness of prior episodes and complaints received. The OTS at the head of the show, now commonplace, allows for a longer unfragmented first act, beneficial when a tale needs set-up time and can’t start on a jolt.

Once in the house the first thing you see is the mirror, which will be the most important set piece in the episodes. The characters quickly show a kind of rapport and then the idea of the fright-game is explained. Music starts in, the legend is sketched and will be filled in and consuming.

The covered mirror is also indicative of character and functional to the plot so is a nice touch. There is a tremendous myth and world built throughout augmented by lighting and locale occasionally overly-undercut by certain decisions. Attitudinal change builds towards a well-chosen midpoint.

Candlelight is all illuminating her face at the first key moment of the story.

Mirror breaking here, as well as the use of other mirrors and reflective surfaces appearing in the episode are well placed and chosen considering their importance.

Part two has a previously on The Haunting Hour intro which of course breaks pretenses of cinema. However, it is very succinctly and precisely cut together. Most of this half will deal with our lead in this other realm. There is great atmosphere built here but sluggishness in a few spots where it’s ill-afforded the opportunity and it ends in a very low key manner.

The more horrific spin on Alice Through the Looking Glass is appreciated though. It does split time well in trying to pick up the pieces in her home town and dispelling disbelief.

On occasion the formula for a show can set you up to over-anticipate the conclusion and thus ignore a lot of the good that occurs before that point is reach if the finale is dissatisfying in some way. The Moonlight Sonata masking scene is particularly effective, if the later pay-off isn’t all that special. However, that is a question of the chosen technique (CG vs. Practical) more than anything else.

The apparent defeat works well, even if one of the major failings is Scary Mary, which is an issue. As well as then end jolt whose last two beats are just so unfortunate.

Conclusion

R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour The Series (The Hub)

After all that I won’t belabor a conclusion too much. I had intended to parcel the season out but my schedule didn’t work that way.

One pattern that is apparent and fairly self-explanatory is that when the tale is mundane so is the camerawork and that follows. That’s not unusual. What is unusual for a TV show is a lot of what goes into the production of these episodes. The single-camera treatment allows for these specialized shots that we’re used to seeing on a big screen. The scoring, which I didn’t discuss much, is an integral part of producing the desired emotions whereas many TV shows don’t have noticeable scoring.

As opposed to other anthologies aimed at kids in the past this show still does, but especially in season one, bring in not only capable actors, but those their target audience would recognize. In terms of the horror genre the show is not safe, which one might think it’d be more inclined to be when being intended for younger audiences. That’s what horror can’t afford to be is safe, and in terms of going a step above it’s what television can’t be either.

Since TV came into being there’s been an aesthetic conversation between it and film, one has pushed another at certain points. The single-camera approach was an edge film had for years, for a TV show to turn its back on it there has to be a good reason. Furthermore, with growing sophistication in audiences, in some regards; kids (or anyone) won’t watch a show that’s not at least mimicking certain techniques in a short convenient format. It may not be a conscious thing, but it will be noticed.

The Haunting Hour has on the The Hub begotten a new horror-themed weekly series, Spooksville, and as mentioned Nickelodeon is back in the anthology game. It’s not necessarily reinventing the wheel but it is filling the need of a horror anthology and a smart, well-produced show geared towards younger audiences delivering short scares. With new generations come new interpretations by default. Newer isn’t always better. Better is better and this series with its cinematic, polished approach has upped the ante for its particular subgenre and added a valuable voice to the horror genre in general.

61 Days of Halloween: V/H/S 2 (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

V/H/S 2 (2013)

Albeit a new film I figured it’d make more sense to cover this here as opposed to in the Mini-Review Round-Up Post. As you may be aware, the first installment of this film series was not one I was fond of in the slightest. However, one of the perks of an anthology film series is that as each installment rolls around there are more variables that can make the quality of one to another quite different. This film overall is an upgrade in technical and narrative terms.

While still a bit lacking, one thing this film improves on from the first is the handling of the frame. There is a bit more thought and effort put into it, and most importantly purpose. Now it’s not impeccable, however, it is not an encumbrance to the film. It’s productive rather than counterproductive.

Most of the tweets and reviews I’d seen to date singled out one particular story in the film for special mention, and that would be “Safe Haven”. That title definitely deserves all the praise it’s getting. However, part of why I decided to feature this film this way was to give the other chapters their due.

In a way, the four main stories that form this film are kind of like a sandwich. The first and last film keep things in place, and aren’t as good as the middle two but serve their function. It’s the first segment (“Phase 1 Clinical Trials”) that had me thinking I was in for another long haul. That’s another thing that made this film better, it runs shorter and has one less segment. “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” deals with a man who when given a prosthetic eye (with recording capabilities, which is clever) can now see ghosts. It starts out a little slow and has its unfortunate patches, but the segment does pull through and makes itself entertaining in the end.

With a helping hand from the Eduardo Sánchez, director of the The Blair With Project, “A Ride in the Park” is a great first-person real-time look at beginnings of a zombie apocalypse. And though the glitchy-ness of VHS-recording is still a little too present throughout, it’s downgraded and accompanied by really good camerawork throughout in this piece especially.

“Safe Haven” is a tandem project from Gareth Huw Evans, writer/director of The Raid, and Timo Tjahjanto that takes you behind the scenes of a cult compound in Indonesia. And that’s as much as bears saying plot-wise. This particular segment, as much as a short can, takes a slow burn approach and then really ratchets up the intensity and the events to nearly unfathomable levels. Answers to questions are not quite all given, some are implied, some are left somewhat mysterious, and that only ramps up the horror. There are some truly jaw-dropping moments in this one that make it very memorable indeed.

“Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” seems at first like it may be an unfortunate way to end the film. However, after a perhaps overly-long stasis things do pick up and it becomes a far more intriguing and well-executed tale than the first one and it has some very good, natural, funny and convincing performances from its young cast. The end of this one it likely the most memorable.

V/H/S 2 is the kind of horror anthology I wanted the first one to be. It’s a good step for the genre, and quite honestly the frequently under-thought found footage approach. I’d be glad to see the series continue now and can only hope The ABCs of Death rebounds this well.

With most 61 Days of Halloween posts I’ve refrained from scoring films so I can discuss themes more, since this is a shared Mini-Review Round-Up post, and those usually are scored, I will give this title a 7/10.

61 Days of Halloween: Asylum (1972)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween and a list of previously covered films go here.

Asylum (1971)

Last year I got into a real kick of watching as many horror anthologies as were easily accessible. The anthology film, horror or otherwise, was one I’d not seen too many times. Granted they are one of the rarer approaches but they are out there. The most recent notable editions in the genre are, of course, The ABCs of Death and V/H/S. I had heard, from more than one source, that this was the best of them so it was one I knew I had to give a go once this theme rolled around.

Not only had I heard it was quite good, but it was also cited as one of the 100 (or so) best horror films from 1950-1980 by Stephen King in his seminal work of non-fiction, Danse Macabre. And titles on that list are high on the pecking order so far as things I want to be seeing during this theme.

With this film the approach is one closer to a nested anthology, which is to say that the stories more naturally flow in a narrative sense. Some anthologies are rather regimented and segmented. Here the the frame is highly important both in terms of the screen time it’s given and the impact it has on the tale overall. There are far too many anthologies I’ve seen, even in the small amount, that treat the frame as a throwaway or as secondary. This does not.

With the tales spawning from the minds of the deranged there is also a brilliant liberation from “reality” and standard rules. The drawback that most will point to regarding anthologies is that invariably some tales are better than others, some are even so good that they nearly salvage otherwise dreadful films. Part of why this film is so well-regarded is the fact that pretty much all the stories in this film (frame included) stand on virtually equal footing, and they’re all quite good, creepy, weird, and well-executed.

Amicus Productions are not a name I’m very familiar with but they are a company whose titles are worth getting to know. Asylum being a prime example.

61 Days of Halloween- Trick ‘r Treat

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Trick ‘r Treat

Last year was the first time I saw Trick ‘r Treat. I had heard about it long ago and was looking forward to it. Frankly, the fact that it was pulled from theatrical release has always been a bit disappointing. What I didn’t fully understand at the time was that it was cold feet caused by content not quality. Regardless of that it made it hard for me to see that year.

The good news is that whether it was a theatrical release or not it was still likely to find its niche on home video. I finally saw it last year and it was one of my favorite discoveries among films of older vintage. This year I revisited it, and boy did it ever hold up.

As I recently alluded to in another piece, I’ve seen quite a few horror anthologies this year. While I bristle a little at the notion that this is “merely” and anthology; it is the best categorization. What makes me bristle is that unlike many it’s not divided, it’s virtually seamless; it uses something closer to interrelated vignettes.

The tales occur over the same night, characters cross paths with one another, Sam is present in all of them (although he only reveals himself and purpose at the end), it holds together, things feed off one another and connect to one another.

Come December I will be writing about why the 24 Hours of A Christmas Story works, and having recently learned that FEARnet will do the same with this film, it makes sense for the same reasons. With the way the respective narratives unfold with connected, unified tales that are both seasonal and anecdotal. They both encompass and embrace the season in such a way that lends itself to repeat viewings. Furthermore, once one knows these narratives well, as I do with A Christmas Story and am starting to with Trick ‘r Treat, it is also conducive to partial and repeat viewings.

What Trick ‘r Treat does best is that it combines and connects various types of stories about Halloween in a natural and wonderful way. Many of the narrative threads when analyzed will seem very like a (sub)urban legend but rarely, if ever, does it seem to be blatantly so. The narrative unfolds without the patterns and possible connections revealing themselves before they’re necessary.

The most satisfying thing about revisiting this film was that very little luster wore off the impactful moments, whether just before or just after certain incidents I was thinking to myself “Oh, yeah, I remember this” and always the rediscovery was gleeful.

Trick ‘r Treat, so far as I can tell, has already achieved something of a cult status, but as time goes on I only see that growing, as more and more people will come to discover it.

Mini-Review Round-Up September 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews, or another kind of write-up as per my recent shift in focus.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Note: Apologies for this post being late. Also, I am weighing what a cut-off should be for films that have has no US release date past. As for now they are all eligible. Some films viewed last month are listed here instead.

[REC] 3: Genesis

This is a prime example of having to go where the movie takes you and not judging it based on what you wanted or expected it to be. I have already expressed how much I love what [REC] 2 did for that series. When you hear that this one is going to be a prequel you assume, “Great, it’ll be about the patient zero.” The connection is more tenuous than that. However, what you do get in this [REC] tale is humor, great horror, action, effects and gore and more theological blanks filled in than before. Whether or not part 4 can, and will, be the conclusion this series needs/deserves remains to be seen, but this film is what it wants to be: a very strong, fairly stand-alone piece that contributes to a larger narrative.

8/10

Spud

This is a South African film of some acclaim, which I sought a foreign region DVD of since its US distribution is more doubtful the further from its initial domestic release we get. Spud was nominated for six South African Film and Television Awards (the foreign award is something I may touch upon in November) and an adaptation of a famous novel series. The film stars Troye Sivan (most well known from YouTube or Wolverine) and John Cleese. The film sets as a backdrop the momentous events of 1990 and the release of Nelson Mandela, but what it focuses mainly on is a funny, occasionally touching, tale that’s a dawn of awareness, and coming out of one’s shell. It’s an appropriately episodic tale, that moves well for the most part and features great, surprising and fitting songs as well.

7/10

V/H/S

Yes, any anthology film by its very nature will have its ups and downs. You as a viewer will connect more with one piece or another, one section or another will be more well-executed or intriguing, especially if there are different writer(s) and/or director(s) handling each portion. This year I’ve taken to watching a lot more anthologies, which proliferate in horror more so than most genres. It has moments which are few and far between, set-ups are too long making it structurally askew in segments and in toto, acting is scarce; the frame of the story is fairly poor. This dereliction of pace and structure makes the two hour total running time seem nearly double that.

For a frame of reference here are brief comparisons to other anthologies so you know where I’m coming from: From a Whisper to a Scream has a stand-out segment, this does not; Creepshow has a brilliant frame, this does not. V/H/S seems to seek a unified tonality and aesthetic that it doesn’t quite achieve, Tales from the Hood does. Theatre Bizarre is wildly inconsistent, this is fairly consistent in its terribleness.

1/10

Amors Baller

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Amors Baller, aside from the way that it handles the Swedish/Norwiegian dynamic, is that it puts football (soccer) out front as the key to a boy (Kåre Hedebrant, Let the Right One In) winning over his new crush. While the junior tournament plays a major part, it’s a setting that doesn’t take up as much screentime and the results doesn’t factor in as much towards the end as you might expect. It ends up being more about relationships and friendship. It’s a funny, heartfelt and quick-moving film.

7/10

The Hidden Face

What is most interesting about The Hidden Face is what it does structurally. There’s an inventiveness to a surprising revelation made that allows for it to play with perspective and narrative point-of-view in very creative ways. There is a bit of steam it loses in trying to amplify every single odd moment that needs clarifying after the break, but it remains a very haunting, odd and twisted horror tale. It’s one that is definitely worth seeking out.

7/10

Nimmermeer

One of my first thoughts upon seeing Nimmermeer was how is Toke Constantin Hebbeln, the director of this film, a name I only now have just heard. Now, granted since this 2006 hour-long film he’s made other shorts and just last month released a feature called Shores of Hope in Germany. Regardless, it’s not only the narrative but the cinematography, the staging and the penetrating emotion of this film, which oozes magical realism, that really makes it standout. It’s told like a fairy tale replete with narration but in a context that is very real and immediate. Odd things happen and are not explained away. The story is what it is and it’s at the service of its protagonist and its audience in dramatically, beautifully rendering its message. Leonard Proxauf, who later starred in The White Ribbon, is great in this film.

10/10

Penumbra

What Penumbra attempts to do is something I can definitely appreciate. How it goes about trying to do it is what I really have a problem with. It overplays its hand in some regards and is a bit too broad in the portrayal of its protagonist, her dialogue a bit too blunt; not to mention the scenes that set-up the gotcha ending that only play more annoyingly once everything is revealed. It’s an interesting examination of the Spanish-Argentine dynamic but many other recent co-productions layer horror, colonial antagonism and modern Latin America’s socioeconomic climate better than this does, combine that with its failings as a horror film and it becomes quite bothersome indeed.

4/10

Vorstadtkrokodile 2 and Vorstadtkrokodile 3: Freunde Fur Immer

Perhaps one of the most interesting things that one can start learning or realizing when you obtain films from other regions is that various film industries world-wide are not too different from Hollywood, for better and worse. What we in the US get in art houses are the more erudite, obviously artistic films from overseas. If you look at trades when they report on international bureaucratic/business-related controversies art versus commerce comes up. Essentially, we get the independents from overseas. Next time you watch a foreign film pay attention to the credits and see how many production companies, governmental agency logos and other corporate logos pop up in the opening credits. But the major studios have presences overseas, and even without that each country has its own brand of genre cinema, which is generally made for domestic consumption. Subtitles aren’t found on all foreign-made DVDs and many times only languages of neighboring nations apply.

However, globalization is here and many films are seeking to attain some popularity in the home video market abroad by including more and more subtitles.

Which brings me around to the Vorstadtkrokodile movies. Or as they’re called in English The Crocodiles.

This version is a recent German trilogy based on a popular children’s novel, which I believe was even translated to English at one point. Not unlike American trilogies this series raced to the multiplexes with releases in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Such that the second installment feels a little flimsy and all over the place. There’s some cool fantasy elements, some good jokes but the characters seem to be in stasis. Also similar to American movies, a musician-turned-actor is in the mix; Fabi Halbig drummer from the popular band Killerpilze was recruited to play one of the main roles. Also, not unlike American films Nick Romeo Reimann, one of the latter additions to Die Wilden Kerle (The Wild Soccer Bunch) goes immediately from that series and takes the lead in this film.

Now, all that commentary may sound cynical but they’re just facts. What occurs in the third film is a very pleasant surprise. The story is far more unified. It starts light and frivolous and gets serious. There’s great comic relief and it connects back to the first film. It closes a circle and consciously concludes the series. Just taking a few series by example at the very least these series come fast and furious and know when it’s time to close. It’s a warm and heartfelt conclusion that takes some outlandish plotlines to real and honest places emotionally and give the trilogy great closure.

Reimann, now moving on to other projects, seems destined to continue finding work and may even transition seamlessly into adult roles. It’s a bit early yet, but considering his steady participation in two series, totaling six films, with increased emotional demands in each successive film; drawing a parallel between him and Daniel Radcliffe is not far-fetched.

4/10 and 8/10

Pan Negro

Francesc Colomer in Black Bread (Massa d’Or Produccions) Spains Official Selection not yet distributed in the US.

This was a film that featured previously on The Movie Rat during last year’s post about the Oscar Foreign Film Submission Process. It was a gutsy choice to submit this film over the likes of Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, but I applaud gutsy choices such as Dogtooth. That and the fact that Villaronga is a director I’ve seen and like previously made me intrigued by this film.

One thing that’s a double-edged sword about it being Spain’s submission last year is its indigenous nature. It’s a film set in the the Catalan region and deals greatly with the Spanish Civil War and the aftermath thereof. It layers in horror elements, legend, drama, politics and coming-of-age with deft and not much bluntness. One’s familiarity with the vaguest aspects of the conflict will be aided greatly in viewing it.

The story divides itself neatly and the section whose title alludes to a later scene is the strongest.

7/10

Asterix and the Vikings

Asterix and the Vikings (M6 Films)

This is a movie that I have a rather unusual relationship with. I actually didn’t know about this fairly recent animated rendition of Asterix until I was in Orlando earlier this year. In Epcot, there was a book of the film and I got it. The book renders the movie fairly well and considering that I as a fan of Asterix was fairly disappointed in the live-action version I was excited.

What it really goes to show is that putting production elements in place: music, dialogue, voice actors, the different animation techniques and effects employed made the movie so much more immersive than I imagined. From the book it seemed like standard fare: fun bordering on cute. The film that the book represents is a very fully realized version of the tale and is highly recommended to fans of this beloved character.

10/10

Mini-Review Round-Up: July 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

The Theatre Bizarre

Recently I’ve been seeing quite a few horror anthologies. Part of the reason behind that is just to familiarize myself with a few more of them and the voices involved in creating them. The second reason, to be perfectly honest, is that due to their episodic nature they are conducive to fractured viewing, which makes them easier to schedule. However, I did see The Theatre Bizarre all the way through in one sitting.

This one, like many horror anthologies, is a bit inconsistent in its quality, which is to be expected when different directors handle each segment. In my estimation, the highs are rather high and the lows are rather low. There are some interesting and at times daring attempts. It’s always hard to gauge them as a whole because this see-sawing in quality is not unusual at all. However, for fans of the genre I do think it’s one worth checking out, your feelings on the whole piece or a particular segment may be greatly different than my own. In the end, I really liked more of the installments than I disliked so it’s worth a watch.

6/10

Cold Sweat

One thing I thought was particularly interesting an effective about Cold Sweat was the implementation of antagonists who just could not let go of the past in a very villainous way. At the start of Cold Sweat there is archival footage that gives you a brief overview of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary factions at play in Argentina in the 1970s, then you get a very specific incident chronicled. You know this will all come back into play, you just don’t know how. Now, using overt political symbols in horror has been done, most commonly with Nazis in all likelihood. However, the circumstances and players of each countries political past (and seedy underbelly) are all somewhat different, and the refracted ideologies, and reverberations thereof, can still be felt at current, in one way or another. So it is rather fascinating to find this angle in this film because it lends a specificity to the film and a voice; a stamp of a national cinema. Coincidentally, I saw another Argentinian (co-produced with Spain) horror film soon after this one that implemented many similar threads. The horror setpieces and manipulation of given tropes in this film is quite effective, but it its this backdrop of sociopolitical commentary, past and present, combined with the narrative that makes this such an intriguing film.

8/10

Hiding

Hiding in some ways reminded me of Beautiful Wave in as much as we see a teenage girl do a lot of brooding with minimal backstory given to the audience so it becomes tiresome. The good news is that this film is quite a bit better than Beautiful Wave. The bad news is that it still doesn’t end up being good. It concerns this brooding girl (Ana Villafañe) who is in witness protection and there’s a given that she’ll be found and there’ll be this dramatic showdown. What really matters is how do you get to that point and sadly much of it seems like they’re just trying to fill time. She is interested in two guys at her new school and has similar, nearly mirrored scenes with them, at times. There’s a psycho jealous cheerleader (Kelcie Stranahan) who does a lot of digging into her on a delusional whim, there are flashbacks some of consequence and some not; all with an an annoyingly unnecessary excess of jiggling. Many characters make really bad or dumb decisions and we don’t necessary have enough affection or interest to let that slide. The best part of the film is unquestionably Jeremy Sumpter‘s supporting turn. He remains a heinously under-utilized and under-valued talent.

4/10

Goon

For my thoughts on this film please go here.
10/10

Absentia

As per usual, and as I say quite frequently, I went into Absentia knowing very little and that’s the way I prefer it. I knew it was was a low-budget horror film and what the basic synopsis was from Netflix. That’s about it. Only later on did I learn more details like the budget was purportedly $70,000 and funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign.

All that stuff is great to know after the fact. Knowing it before you see something can be a double-edged sword. Essentially, either the movie works or it doesn’t. What the budget is, whether exorbitantly high or incredibly low, does not make it immune from, or more deserving of, criticism.

As for the film I really enjoyed it a great deal. It tells a tight-knit simple horror story that gives you just enough information to keep things going but never gets ahead of itself, and the idea is a low-concept production of a rather high-concept idea at the bottom of it. However, the curtain is only barely raised on the horrors being uncovered by these characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was shot rather in continuity because it certainly was doable and the performances across the board got much stronger as the film progressed, and even rather impressive at times. The score is really good and there are good twists to it. This is definitely a Netflix gamble worth taking.

8/10

Exit Humanity

Exit Humanity is a horror film that has a rather interesting take on the zombie subgenre. With the proliferation of such a genre one must contend with both fatigue and differentiating one’s own story from the crowd. In these aspects is where the film is most successful, and that’s without including the fact that this is an alternate history tale of the postbellum south. The story is an introspective one that is more concerned about those left behind after a plague of zombieism, and isn’t so concerned with making the walking dead of this tale a metaphor. Yes, there is a somewhat different spin to the cause and the history, but that ends up being more a narrative necessity than a focus.

With a fairly original take the film is setup to succeed and does, but only barely. Where the film struggles most is in terms of balance. The score is really good but at times only in isolation, at times it’s too intrusive and too intense. There is some wonderfully florid voice-over, but at times it’s too much, and at other times the scene would’ve been better demonstrated visually than through monologue. The film does have its twists and turns that are rather surprising, but after some of those unusual decisions some quickening of pace is needed so that it doesn’t feel aimless.

The film never really lost me as a viewer, however, it had me reeled in at times and let go just a little bit due to some of these inconsistencies. I don’t want to over-accentuate them because I do still like the film, but feel it easily could’ve been something truly special had certain edits been made. It’s worth watching for fans of the genre for sure. I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if some professed greater admiration for it than I do, especially considering some of the touches it employs such as animation, colored shots and top notch make-up effects.

7/10