Posts Tagged ‘hellraising’

MV5BMTY2NTQ3NTEzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzA0MzY1OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_I put off watching The Blackcoat’s Daughter/February for all the usual reasons – release delays and renaming followed by limited festival release and direct-to-VOD do not usually bode well for a movie.  After seeing it, I’m a little annoyed about all the tribulations this movie had to go through to make it to my TV.  And I’m not entirely down with the renaming – The Blackcoat’s Daughter is  a more attention-getting name, I guess, but February is the name of this film’s soul.

Because let’s face it: despite a game attempt by Hallmark to shoehorn a feel-good consumer holiday into middle of it, no good comes of February-the-month.  February is an icy, desolate stretch of desaturated misery; winter has long outstayed its welcome, spring isn’t even a faint glimmer on the horizon, and everyone around you has started to look pale, hollow-eyed, and just a little bit unhinged.  February the Movie, February-the-month made celluloid, is captured with stunning viscerality in this movie.

The plot is irksomely difficult to describe without giving away the course of the movie, and the course of the movie is really something you should witness on its own terms.  Briefly, two girls (Lucy Boynton as Rose and Kiernan Shipka as Kat) are stuck at a boarding school as winter break begins, Rose because she put off her parents’ arrival and Kat for more ambiguous reasons.  Some distance away, a very obviously disturbed young woman named Joan (Emma Roberts) escapes from a hospital and hitches a ride toward the school with middle-aged couple Bill (James Remar) and Linda (Lauren Holly) in a Car Ride of Creepy so unsettling that I honestly didn’t know who to yell at to get out of the car.  (Particular kudos are warranted for Holly, who delivers a dead-voiced monologue while in shadow, half turned toward a camera in the back seat, that’s one of the most disturbing and arresting things in the movie.)  Also, there is Satanic possession, but that’s honestly the least of anyone’s worries.

Watching these plot threads come together reminded me a great deal of watching Shutter Island‘s slow descent to a terrible and relentlessly logical end: when you get there, nothing is surprising, everything is awful and inevitable, and nothing is left but the small, cold satisfaction of seeing the glass spray fall into place on the freeway.

I read a review that described The Blackcoat’s Daughter as “a tone poem about loneliness and loss.”  And it is, right up to the haunting and powerful last shot.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow burn done right – not the sort of “slow burn” that means you can ignore the screen until the last ten minutes and still have a pretty good idea what’s going on, but the kind where the creeping dread takes hold in the first scene and never quite lets go.  The cinematography, vaguely Kubrickian, is gorgeous and faintly disorienting.  Everyone in the small cast comes across as just… not quite right, in ways that remind me of how Rosemary’s Baby is described by people who like Rosemary’s Baby.   Like The Witch and The Babadook, it’s a nearly flawless example of a recent trend in horror movies that I’m all in for – the retreat from Eli Roth to Shirley Jackson, moving away from splatter films that are shocking but not really relatable and back to stories where the horror isn’t just voyeuristic but deeper and more existential.  I hope there are more like it coming.

So what’s the verdict?  Five stars.  I started out not expecting much from this movie; two hours later I was one stiff gin and tonic away from going out to collar strangers in the street and demand that they watch it.  Do not do what I did and let The Blackcoat’s Daughter languish in your Amazon rental queue.  You should probably just pre-order the bluray, because it looks like this going to be a film that only gets deeper and more disturbing with subsequent viewings.


janedoe_I’m going to be up-front about my biases here: any movie that plays the Gratuitous Animal Death card gets on my shit list and has a whole lot of digging to do to get out.  Not only do I just not like seeing animals die onscreen – or offscreen, for that matter – but I think it’s the horror equivalent of a Hallmark movie – a cheap and insultingly obvious bid for emotional investment that never, ever works to the benefit of the movie.  The Autopsy of Jane Doe plays that card early on, and while I admit that the topic was handled with more respect and care than is usual for horror movies, it put the movie ten strokes down and nine to play, and in the end, the movie couldn’t afford to lose the points.

Now, I hate writing that.  It sucks that I didn’t like the movie more than I did, because my love for Brian Cox knows no bounds and Emile Hirsch was  fantastic in what might have been a pretty thankless role.  And crazy applause is due to Olwen Kelly, playing the eponymous Jane Doe, not only for having the sheer physical stamina to lie naked on a metal table for umpteen days of shooting, but for the skill involved in making Jane’s blank, milky stare look more and more malevolent as the movie goes on.

(While I’m handing out plaudits, here’s one for whoever decided to use that horrifying “Open up your heart and let the sun shine in” song as a running theme.  It was grotesque in the movie; then I looked up the lyrics and it was one thousand times more awful.  And I found it on, which asserted with a straight face that “the only thing happier than this song is hearing all the lyrics crooned by your grandkids.”  If my grandkids started singing it, I’d be on the phone with an exorcist in less time than it takes a nanny to jump off a roof with a noose around her neck.)

My issue was with the second act, when I thought the movie went off the rails.  It starts out looking like it’s going to be a formidable movie.  Jane Doe is found half-buried in the basement of a bloody crime scene.  She gets sent to the makeshift morgue in the basement of the Tilden funeral home, a setup so weirdly sprawling that it looks more like it was intended to be an underground bunker that could hold the whole town in the event of a nuclear bomb.  Cox and Hirsch are a father-son coroner/medical technician team shaken by the recent death of Cox’s wife, ordered to find a cause of death for Jane Doe by morning.  The problem, of course, is that as the autopsy proceeds, fewer and fewer things add up, and the number of things that seem flat-out impossible grows.

I would have loved the first half of the movie if it hadn’t been for the aforementioned Gratuitous Animal Death, and I nearly loved it anyway. Autopsies, as puzzles to be solved, fascinate me, and The Autopsy of Jane Doe goes full-bore into the technicalities.  I loved the characters, even if I never quite managed to become invested in the whole dead-mother grief plotline.  I really, really wanted to know what was going to happen.

Then, as Cox and Hirsch start to actually figure things out, the movie spun into a place that left me squinting at the screen and going “…But why, though?”  Why are the dead in the morgue suddenly walking?  What are they trying to do?  What was the purpose of that one scene in the elevator, and how, from a logistical standpoint, did it even happen?  I feel like half of the Things Intended to be Scary could have been cut out and the movie would actually have been scarier.  (One bit toward the end, involving the ghastly song previously discussed, was a hundred times more horrifying and effective than anything else that had happened in at least the last half an hour).  Cox and Hirsch suddenly turned into Exposition Bros, and the explanation for what was going on left me feeling inexplicably unimpressed and dissatisfied.

In short, I think this was a movie with amazing potential that suffered from a second half in which the director seemed to just give up and throw horror movie tropes at the wall to see if something would stick.  It’s entirely possible, though, that this is one of those movies that gets better with subsequent viewings.

So what’s the verdict?  It took me a long time to decide on this one, just because of that second half.  Four stars, but if it had had lesser actors it would have been a three-star.  Do I think you should see it?  Yes.  But it’s not unproblematic and the whole last half would have benefited from a tighter hand and more coherent writing.  There are four producers and three executive producers (and one co-executive producer, whatever that is) listed on IMDB, which is never a good sign.  I’m curious to see what the director’s cut will look like.

Let Us Prey (2015)

Posted: November 24, 2016 in 4 stars, Let Us Prey, Reviews
Tags: ,

downloadThis is how little I pay attention to things: I just now, watching Let Us Prey, realized that there is an entire subgenre of horror that I will call “Hell Comes to Improbably Small Police Stations.”

There’s Let Us Prey.  There’s the unfortunate Val Kilmer vehicle The Traveler, and the slightly less unfortunate Robert Englund vehicle Inkubus.  There’s Last Shift, Dark was the Night, and you could even stretch a point and include the security guard and empty building in The Abandoned.  Someone’s always a rookie; this someone is probably a woman.  It’s somebody’s first shift, or their first shift at a new station.  There’s a character actor in the central role who is imbued with some sort of vague and sinister religious overtones; he appears to be either having more fun than anyone else in the movie or counting the days until he can retire and go sit on a beach.  You could actually put together an entire film fest of movies that cannot be distinguished from one another by plot or character descriptions alone, and it would not even involve half-naked teenagers in the woods, which is kind of an impressive achievement.

So what does Let Us Prey bring to the genre?  Well, a lot, actually.

This is one of those movies that I put off watching, because between the admittedly pretty awful title and the “Am I sure I haven’t watched this before?” plot, I wasn’t sure I’d be all that interested.  The opening scene cast doubt on that assumption, because it’s gorgeous – the wild Scottish sea crashing against rocks; a driving, eerie score that’s reminiscent of Carpenter’s Lost Scores album but actually better; Liam Cunningham, playing the nameless central character, apparently rising out of the sea with a murder of crows and slouching off toward the hapless village to birth some mayhem.  It’s effective, stylish, and attention-grabbing.

However, I have been fooled by opening scenes before.  Yes, I’m looking at you, Ghost Ship.

The rookie on her first night here is Rachel (Pollyanna McIntosh), and wow, are her co-workers awful.  It’s her, two other cops (Bryan Larkin and Hanna Stanbridge) who apparently exist only to be hideously awful people and then die horribly, and their creepy, twitchy sergeant, MacReady (Douglas Russell, who morphed into Simon Keenlyside in my head every time he was off-screen).  In the cells are a smarmy teenage drunk driver (Brian Vernel), a wife-beating teacher (Jonathan Watson), and a doctor (Niall Greig Fulton).  

It turns out everyone in the station, of course, has Dark Secrets, and Liam Cunningham knows exactly what they all are.  They’re spectacularly awful.  Liam may or may not be to blame for this, depending on who you think his character is supposed to be; there’s ambiguity left around that, wisely in my opinion.  Gross discoveries lead to a third act so flamboyantly bizarre that it might have derailed a film with less solid performances, but here it’s best to just enjoy the ride.

And the performances are well worth watching.  I’m not sure Cunningham can actually do wrong, acting-wise; he’s a rock-solid center for this movie, and beautifully sinister.  Russell keeps tight reins on a role that could easily have descended into camp and pulls it off impressively well.  Vernel is weirdly sympathetic, Fulton manages his shockingly abrupt descent into batshittery with elan, and Watson is just really damn creepy as the living avatar of every high school student’s suspicions about what their teachers are really thinking.  McIntosh holds her own as a Final Girl, and she’s compelling enough in the role of the traumatized Rachel.

Larkin and Stanbridge, while not bad exactly, could have been cut from the movie entirely without doing it much damage – their characters are grimy little evils, banal and unimaginative, oddly tedious in the middle of everyone else’s flamboyant psychotic plumage, without a redeeming feature or shred of complexity.  I applaud the stylistic decision, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t tiresome to watch.    Other than the two of them, however, the ensemble cast makes for a tight, cohesive unit of claustrophobic looniness.

The near-flawlessness of the cast is what keeps me from asserting that the real stars of the movie are the cinematography and the score.  The movie is beautifully shot, a shadowy, pall-covered, blood-splattered joy to watch (the cinematographer is Piers McGrail, also cinematographer on the gorgeous and underrated The Canal, who looks to my great relief to be doing the same job on the forthcoming We Have Always Lived in the Castle.)  The score, by Steve Lynch, is reminiscent of Carpenter’s both in its power and its elevation of the scenes; too many horror movies forget that the score should enhance the movie, not just jangle along behind it like your teenage brother belting out Fallout Boy in the shower while you’re trying to read the news.  Even if you don’t like the genre, the movie is worth watching for the cinematography and the score alone.

So what’s the verdict?  Four stars.  That’s a little on the high side given the film’s flaws, but its virtues outweigh them just enough to tip it out of the three-star category.  It’s an underpublicized gem that shows there’s nothing wrong with following a genre script if you can do it this well.

Just… you know, maybe give it a better title next time.

I have an enormously, wretchedly conflicted relationship with the Conjuring franchise.

On one hand, I love everything about the first movie.  Ghost stories are my favorite of basically any kind of narrative ever, and I adored just about every detail of The Conjuring – from the glorious Lili Taylor and her sympathetic family, to the amazing bond of love and faith between Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, to the completely believable performances from everyone involved, to the sheer creepiness at every turn.  I have watched The Conjuring a dozen times and I never get tired of it.

On the other hand, all this love for the first movie doesn’t play well with my utter blood-in-the-eyes rage at the fact that Ed and Lorraine Warren are (or were, in Ed’s case) real people who made their living selling vulnerable, frightened, superstitious people a crock of particularly evil bullshit.  It’s really almost exactly like watching a movie that casts an amazing actor in the role of Donald Trump and takes enough storytelling liberties to turn him into a deeply sympathetic and lovable character, possibly saving kittens from trees and single-handedly preventing 9/11.  As much as you might adore the character onscreen, you can’t get around the fact that it’s supposed to be Donald fucking Trump, and the cognitive dissonance is not pleasant.

So it was with trepidation that I queued up The Conjuring 2.  Would it, like The Conjuring, be awesome enough to make me forget I was watching a whitewashing of the Donald and Melania Trump of the paranormal world?  Could my heart-deep love for Farmiga and Wilson in anything they do keep my “BUT ACTUALLY NO” rage in check for 134 minutes?

Well, the answer is yes and no.

The whole thing with the Amityville Horror tie-in just pissed me off, as Amityville Horror related things are wont to do.  Because: you know who else were real people?  The DeFeos.  And an unfathomably horrible thing happened to them, and they still have living family who lost loved ones, and those children who were gunned down in their beds by their own brother deserve better than to be a punchline or a plot device.  You want to talk about the Lutzes and their campaign to bilk the mortgage company out of an astronomical loan?  Open season.  Have at it.  But for fuck’s sake have the decency to leave real-life murdered children, real little corpses buried in real graves, out of it.

Eventually, though, the Amityville nonsense went away, and I was reminded of how in love I am with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga and the amazing relationship between their characters.  Basically, Patrick Wilson did an Elvis impersonation and sang “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and Vera Farmiga stared at him all melty-eyed, and that was it for my resistance.

Oh, wait.  There was a plot here.  And to be honest, it wasn’t that awesome a plot.  There was a nun whose scariness seemed limited to glaring at people, and a Crooked Man whose scariness was limited to, I guess, snarling at people, and a hapless old dude, and a foreboding-looking tree trunk of the Poltergeist variety.  There’s also the whole story of the Enfield Poltergeist, which is mostly just an unconvincing frame for Vera Farmiga vanquishing a demon.  The plot was okay, I guess, but not a patch on the first movie.  Also, if I were Vera Farmiga, I would have beaten the living fuck out of a husband who chose the life of a random kid who was probably faking it over our daughter’s right to grow up with her father.  All in all, it was fine, but not a patch on The Conjuring.

So what’s the verdict?  Three stars.  It just barely kept me from projectile-vomiting rage blood all over my TV at the sheer assholery of the real-life Warrens.  A tiny bit less well-crafted, cast with actors the smallest bit less talented and believable, and this would have been an utter exploitative cluster-fuck of a movie.  James Wan seems to have a gift for crafting movies that avoid catastrophe by the narrowest of margins, and this was one, but I hope the next movie in the franchise serves him better than this one.

PS:  I am totally single, Patrick Wilson.  Just saying.


Inkubus (2011)

Posted: July 3, 2013 in 2 stars, Reviews
Tags: ,

InkubusLet’s get this out of the way first: Inkubus is in fact not a very good movie.

That it’s not a good movie is honestly a little mystifying.  Robert Englund is a joy to watch in anything he does and appears to have a good amount of snarky fun here.  Joey Fatone is effective and affecting as the hapless detective into whose precinct Englund wanders, carrying a severed head.  The redshirt station cops were all eminently watchable in their small parts. Kevin DeCristofano (who has no picture on IMDB so I hope that’s who I’m talking about) is a joy as the guy unjustly arrested for the death associated with the severed head, who spends the rest of the movie explaining to the cops that they’re all going to die in the tone of voice I imagine Mark Zuckerberg uses with small dim children.  Put together, their performances should have added up to a good movie, and yet.

There’s just no there there, ultimately.  Part of the blame for that has to go to the script, which is uninspired – Englund plays an incubus who apparently has to find a new host in the next few hours before he dies, but this is alluded to in one line and then dropped, leaving the impression that all he really wanted to do was go out in one last gory hurrah.  There’s some attempt to provide him with a nemesis in the form of William Forsythe as a retired cop whose family the incubus killed, but it falls flat – Forsythe is given almost nothing to work with except a Stereotyped Tragic Past and a bit of clumsy family drama, and he makes nothing at all of the material he is given to work with, preferring to do the Paycheck Walk from one end of the movie to the other.  I can’t say I blame him, but it didn’t make for much of a subplot.

It’s an excellent setup – an incubus walks into a police station, carrying a severed head, and sits down at the table.  What happens then?  It’s a damn shame that the answer is “Not much, particularly.”

So what’s the verdict?  Two stars.  It’s not a bad movie, at all;  it’s just not a good one.  Watch it if you have the chance, but don’t expect much.  I did enjoy it, more or less, but mostly I just wanted to send the story and cast back to the filmmakers and tell them to start over and give it another try.

There’s a regrettable tendency among filmmakers, even ones whose name is not Ti West, to confuse “slow build-up” with “exactly jack shit happens until the last ten minutes of this movie, when all of a sudden there is running and screaming.”  Those filmmakers should, as penance for the hours of tedium they inflict on the moviegoing public, be forced to sit down with a notebook and pen and watch Lovely Molly over and over until they can prove that they’ve learned something.

Now, on a certain level, no one is more surprised that I’m saying that than I am; because Lovely Molly was written and directed by Eduardo Sánchez, who is best known for the granddaddy of all jack-shit-happens movies, The Blair Witch Project.  I don’t know what he’s been doing in between the two movies, but by God, he’s been learning things.  Lovely Molly is both a more mature movie than Blair Witch Project and a more effective one; not as groundbreaking, but Sánchez is nonetheless the first director since, well, himself, to move the found-footage conceit forward in terms of its function in the movie.  Here, it’s more than just a gimmick – the home-shot video is integrated into the film in a way that’s purposeful and laden with meaning, not to mention creepiness.  I’m not usually one to haul out the liner notes and start pontificating on the arc of a filmmaker’s career, but when you draw a line from Blair Witch Project to Lovely Molly, it’s clear that Sánchez has cruised miles down that road in the right direction.

Newlyweds Molly (Gretchen Lodge) and Tim (Johnny Lewis)  move into her childhood home after her father’s death.  That never seems like a good idea to begin with, but it’s worse here.  Creepy things start happening, like the alarm going off in the middle of the night and the back door standing wide open.  Molly, alone in the house while Tim is away driving his truck, hears a child crying in a closet; she also takes to wandering around outside in the woods with a night-vision camcorder, humming creepily.  As the scariness of the house ramps up, Molly’s sanity starts to break down, and her history of drug abuse and mental illness comes to light, as well as a history of horrific abuse.  By halfway through the movie, it’s hard to tell which is scarier – the house and the weird things happening in it, or Molly herself.

Lodge, a newcomer to film, does wonders in a role that requires her to retain the audience’s sympathy while engaging in a series of increasingly batshit insane behaviors.  Alexandra Holden is also amazing as Molly’s long-suffering sister, who desperately wants to help her but has no clue even where to begin.  Lewis isn’t in the movie all that much, but considering that not long ago he (apparently) murdered his landlady and then killed himself during a psychotic episode, possibly the less said about him the better.

The movie has one of those open, let-the-audience-decide endings that, again, are murderously difficult to do well.  I think Sánchez pulled it off, but I know others disagree.  Agree or disagree, though, I think it’s clear that he at least knew what he was about, as opposed to movies that really look like they end because the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner and gave up.  The question that remains when the movie is over is what exactly happened.  Was Molly possessed?  Was the house haunted?  Or did she just fall through the ice into a spiral of addiction, mental illness, and paranoia?  I have an opinion on that.  You’ll have to watch and figure out what yours is.

So what’s the verdict?  Four stars.  Okay, it’s a low four stars, right on the three-star border.  But Lovely Molly made me think, which horror movies rarely even attempt to do; it did a number of very difficult things well, including a number of things that could have been done lazily, and days later I’m still thinking about it.  It’s not for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for a movie that’s creepy, uncomfortable, thought-provoking, and never boring despite the slow pace, this one’s for you.

I remember when House of the Devil first came out.  It seemed like every horror blogger in existence went nuts over it.

“Watch it!  You’ll love it!” they said.

“Scariest movie that was ever scary!” they said.

You guys.  I did not love House of the Devil.  Also, I am pretty sure that at some point in my life I have seen scarier Kleenex commercials.

I mean, for about the first ten minutes it has a certain retro charm.  (“OMG, she’s using a phone booth!  How quaint!”)  But even quaint needs a good lead character as a hook to hang from, and Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is just.  Boring.  Wow, is she boring.  I couldn’t even concentrate on her long enough to dislike her.

Even if you can get past that, you run into the second problem: the movie is a tribute to 80s movies, and it’s a little too good at it.  Some people see that as a plus.  I myself do not see it as a plus unless you’re willing to not only suspend disbelief but also pretend that you’ve never seen another horror movie in your entire life.

The problem is that the movie just contains too many elements that it’s impossible to view unironically in a post-Scream world.  The characters are not only dazzlingly stupid, they’re dazzlingly stupid in exactly the ways that have been lampooned so many times and so effectively that now they’re just tedious, like a joke that was funny every time you heard it until you heard someone explain it in excruciating detail.  House of the Devil really requires you to completely suspend your sense of irony for 95 minutes, but it never gives you a reason to other than “Hey, let’s watch an 80s-style horror movie unironically!”  If I wanted to do that, I’d watch an honest to God 80s horror movie.  I’m sure there are some I haven’t seen, and a lot of them are probably even good ones.

And speaking of 95 minutes, Judas priest.  This was the longest 95 minutes I have ever sat through, including my college graduation and that time I gave birth.  Of those 95 minutes, I swear at least 50 are devoted to Samantha wandering aimlessly around the house where she’s supposed to be babysitting (where, of course, there actually is no baby and Strange and Evil Things are going on instead).  No, I’m serious.  I got so bored watching her wander around the house that I got up and started wandering around my own doing chores.

I went in the kitchen, loaded up the dishwasher, started it running, and came back.  She was still wandering around the house.

I shifted a load of clothes from the washer to the dryer, started another load of clothes, and came back.  She was still wandering around the house.  Oh, wait, now there’s going to be a Tom-Cruise-in-Risky-Business montage where she bops around the house to bad 80s music.  Okay, at least I wasn’t bored during the thirty seconds where I was cringing in horrible embarrassment for everyone involved with this movie, but at a terrible price.

I grabbed the clothes from the dryer, folded them, put them away, and came back.  Samantha was still wandering around the house I am not even joking right now.

Now, it’s possible that while I was off doing more entertaining things like laundry, things happened that – had I been present for them – would have contributed to a growing atmosphere of creepiness and dread.  It’s possible.  It’s possible that if you pay very close attention to a wall full of drying paint, every now and then messages from Elvis in the beyond will fade briefly into being and then vanish.  I don’t know; I’ve never met anyone who had the patience to actually watch paint dry.  I can’t believe in my heart of hearts that anyone has ever had the patience to sit and watch House of the Devil all the way through, either.

The end at least has a faster pace, in that there’s a fair amount of blood and a flurry of activity that would probably be more memorable had I actually had even a modicum of interest in anyone involved, and if I hadn’t already been paralyzed from boredom and Downy inhalation.  If I recall correctly, it has one of those ambiguous 80s endings that worked very well in genuinely good movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th, but here just adds to the annoyance.

So what’s the verdict?  One star.  Yes, I gave House of the Devil the same rating as The Haunting of Molly Hartley.  In fact, it should probably have gotten a lower one, because Molly Hartley at least had enough oomph to make me actively want to beat every character in the movie with a claw hammer; but that would have put it at the same rating as Frayed, and no horror movie I have yet borne witness to is as bad as Frayed, or if it is then I’ve repressed the memory.

House of the Devil is an endurance test, the Marathon des Sables of boredom tolerance, surpassing even the tedious Paranormal Activity in the sheer depth of its need to be edited down to a five-minute short like the Pixar lamp cartoon.  If you watch it, which I can’t recommend, be sure you’re stocked up with knitting, good books, and Angry Birds on your phone.

Paranormal Activity has more in common with The Blair Witch Project than just the found-footage conceit.  Like BWP, PA has exactly one effective moment, right at the very end; the rest of it consists of twelve thousand four hundred and six grinding hours of tedium and motion sickness, so that by the time the effective moment rolled around I was so pathetically glad to see it that the effectiveness of the moment was lost in my appreciation of its effectiveness, if that makes sense. It’s hard to be scared when you’re sitting there going “OH THANK CHRIST AN EFFECTIVE PIECE OF FILM-MAKING AT LAST, HOW DID THAT EVEN ACCIDENTALLY HAPPEN.”

This is an old enough movie that you probably know the plot.  Smug Marrieds – or, in this case, Smug Living-Togethers – Katie and Micah (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) take to carrying a camcorder around with them, even under circumstances where it is wildly improbable that any reasoning human being would be carrying a camcorder, in order to record the bumps in the night they’ve been hearing.  The bumps turn out to be a demon who is righteously pissed off by the blatant attempt to turn his existence into an episode of Jersey Shore – as, bless, who wouldn’t be – and disaster ensues.  Sort of.  Eventually.

Well, okay, boredom ensues.  But it’s disastrous boredom.  More like ennui.

Nothing happens for enormous chunks of PA.  I spent a great deal of time going “Yep, there they are sleeping again,” and “I’m not going to have to watch douchebag sex, am I?  I don’t want to watch douchebag sex.”  That’s the first problem with PA, and the most serious (other than the fact that the characters are so utterly unsympathetic that I couldn’t even sustain interest in them long enough to hope they’d die) – it was made by people who don’t understand that suspense is not an end in and of itself.  Suspense has to have a payoff or it dies fast.  An audience in suspense is an audience who expects something noteworthy to happen at any moment; an audience who has been trained by the last half hour of the movie to expect that nothing interesting is going to happen in the near future is an audience in about as much suspense as someone watching laundry tumble in the dryer.

No, the interesting thing about PA, to the extent that anything can be salvaged from the wreck, isn’t the haunted house.  It’s the feminist subtext, almost certainly inadvertent.  It’s not bad enough that Katie has a malevolent supernatural entity out to get her.  On top of that, she’s saddled with a  boyfriend who patronizes her, trivializes both her fears and her boundaries, and dismisses her completely when he’s not whining for her attention like a cranky five-year-old.  Micah does not even make a token attempt to hide the fact that he thinks Katie is a pretty piece of furniture whose function is to dispense sex and adoration on demand.  He constantly refers to the house as his house, even though they both live there; even more disturbing is when he’s ranting, righteously indignant, about things messing with “my house and my girlfriend” without a single change in inflection to indicate that he sees a difference between the two things.  They’re both his property.  The demon’s bad for Katie’s mental health, but I’m not sure it doesn’t take a decided back seat to the utter toxicity of her relationship.

Either way, it’s an interesting commentary on how hard it is, as a woman in a patriarchal stronghold, to reclaim your power if no one will take you seriously long enough to concede that you might have had any power to begin with. The demon thinks it owns Katie.  Micah thinks he owns her.  She’s caught in the middle in a way that would be heart-wrenching if she weren’t so intolerable, and still manages to be icky and faintly disturbing.

So what’s the verdict?  I don’t actually know what the purpose of PA was.  If it’s a feminist allegory, it’s very well done, though it’s one of those movies that only becomes interesting in the abstract after you’re done with the horrific tedium of sitting through it.  If it was a horror movie, it was an epic failure on pretty much every level.  Either way, it only gets two stars, and only the last thirty seconds or so got the rating up even that high.

The Morgue (2008)

Posted: January 2, 2011 in 1 star, Reviews, The Morgue
Tags: , ,

See, this is an example of an effective movie poster.  It’s effective because I actually want to see the movie it’s advertising.  Which, strangely enough, does not seem to be the one I just watched.

Despite its title, The Morgue does not actually take place in a morgue.  It takes place in an improbably large and ornate funeral home.  It also does not feature Heather Donahue (The Blair Witch Project) in enough screen time to warrant first billing, which is a matter of not looking gift horses in the mouth because Heather Donahue is an unconvincing actress whose sole talent is for unobjectionable blandness.

The setup is fairly obvious from the beginning, intentionally.  Margo (Lisa Crilley, the sole watchable element in the movie), is a night janitor at the funeral home who suddenly finds herself saddled with an out-of-gas family of three and two random blood-smeared guys.  It’s obvious from the outset that, somehow or other, they’re all dead.

This adds a certain lead-balloon element to the fact that no sooner are they all assembled than Random Old Guy (Michael Raye), who was once a worker at the funeral home until he offed himself in the bathroom for no explicable or relevant reason, starts stalking and killing them one by one.  Well, “killing.”  I mean, honestly, they’re already dead.  Is he making them deader?  (The answer, apparently, is yes.  No, we don’t know why.)

There’s a big “OH NOES WE ARE DEAD” scene rendered marginally effective by Brady Matthews as Margo’s cop ex-boyfriend, who has a minor breakdown over finding her body at the scene of the mass accident that killed the lot of them to begin with.  Mostly, though, the movie is unsuspenseful (They’re ALREADY DEAD), has a thoroughly unscary killer (I have no problem with the geriatric population, honest to god, I just don’t think they make effective slashers), and ends on a moderately clever though somewhat pointless note.

So what’s the verdict? One star.  The performances are just good enough that I’m not judging the moral character of everyone involved, but it’s a bland movie, not anywhere close to good but not full enough of bad-movie energy to be fun.  Don’t pass up something better on your Netflix queue to watch it, and by “better” I mean “up to and including that 80s slasher that appears to star Vanna White, what in the actual fuck.”


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Bloody Mary (2006)

Posted: June 11, 2010 in 2 stars, Bloody Mary, Reviews
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I should just stay away from Target.  I ran over to replace my flash drive and came home with:

  • – T-shirt that belongs on someone twenty years younger and two cup sizes bigger (1)
  • – Doritos (1 bigass bag)
  • – DVDs (3)
  • – And also, flash drive (1).

I couldn’t help the DVDs.  They were five bucks.  Five bucks for four horror movies, each cheesier than the last.  I got one with a vampire theme and one with a Generic Trashy Horror theme.  (And Stargate.  I’ve had a crush on James Spader since 1986.)   Bloody Mary (2006) was third up on the Generic Trashy Horror compilation, and my expectations were not high.

However, like everyone who has ever been a 12-year-old girl, I have a soft spot for the Bloody Mary legend, so I was prepared to be generous.   And my generosity was rewarded: Bloody Mary is a fun, goofy movie that may not have much in the way of real scares, and doesn’t actually make much sense, but nonetheless is hoisted up into so-bad-it’s-good territory by decent acting and sheer eye-gouging ebullience.

Granted, it doesn’t exactly start out on a high note.  A group of sorority girls psychiatric nurses are gathered around a tunnel shaft to bully one of their members into taking off her clothes (yes, there was gratuitous nudity in the first thirty seconds of the film) and going down through the tunnels into a room that looks like a midlevel puzzle in a Silent Hill knockoff.  The room contains a mirror, which Hapless Naked Chick must stand in front of and say “I believe in Bloody Mary” until gore ensues.  It turns out the head sorority girl (Danni Ravden, the poor woman’s Sara Michelle Gellar) is crazier than a shithouse rat and has appointed herself High Priestess of the Bloody Mary Cult, keeping Mary fed in the time-honored tradition of Renfield and Creepy Conductor Guy from Midnight Meat Train.

Too bad you don’t get the fire ax before this point.  There’s nothing like the fire ax for taking down zombie nurses.

Soon, Hapless Naked Chick’s sister (Kim Tyler, who is the poor woman’s somebody, I just can’t figure out who) comes to town to find her.  She attempts to enlist the aid of Asshole Cop Ex (Matthew Borlenghi), succeeds in enlisting the aid of Strangely Hot Psychiatrist (Jaason Simmons, the poor man’s Liev Schreiber), and wanders around the asylum until it becomes clear that the place could host a yearly conference for serial killers complete with vendor rooms and invited addresses and security is so lax that no one would ever know.

I suppose pointy dragon-lady nails aren’t quite such a fashion don’t if you need them to rip out eyeballs with.

Through various expository speeches, we learn that Bloody Mary was actually a patient at the hospital back in the 70s who was obsessed with her reflection.  Eventually she escaped into the tunnels and starved to death, only to return in vengeful-ghost form and hang out with the random creepy prisoner whose purpose is never actually made clear (Paul Hassett), when she’s not killing people and then meticulously cleaning up after herself so there’s not a drop of blood left. (Usually.  When she kills Guy Randomly Painting Naked [Jason Benson], she leaves behind a big bloody chunk of mirror that Asshole Cop Ex walks right by without even noticing.)

Her Reign of Terror and Eyeball-Gouging is brought to an end when the sister, hauled down into the tunnels by the Head Sorority Chick, smashes her mirror.  Which was already broken.  I don’t know, now it’s the special broken or something.  I would feel bad about giving away the ending, but honestly, it’s not like you didn’t see it coming.

So what’s the verdict? Two stars.  It’s an entertaining watch with better-than-expected performances.  Just don’t expect it to make much sense, or contain any surprises whatsoever, or be scary.  It’s a ridiculous movie about dead mental patients ripping out people’s eyes, and goddamn if it doesn’t fly that flag with pride.


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