Posts Tagged ‘hot guys in horror’

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.

 

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Man, the reviewers either love Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or hate it, don’t they?

The negative reviews seem to come in two varieties.  The first is best described as a thinly veiled letter to the reviewer’s editor expressing extreme bitterness over having paid a small fortune for a journalism degree only to be sent out to sit in a theater and watch a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  I have nothing to say to those people except “Wow, it must suck to be you when Adam Sandler season rolls around.”

The second variety is on a theme of “But… where’s the nod nod, wink wink?  A movie this ridiculous, there should be all sorts of meta self-awareness!  WHERE MA NODS AND WINKS AT?”

To the second variety of reviewers, I say: at the bottom of a fucking well weighted down with stones, with a mouth full of garlic  so it doesn’t walk, is where – God willing and the creek don’t rise – your nods and winks are.

Look.  The self-aware meta thing was awesome in Scream, when it first really came onto the horror scene as a thing well done that genuinely added an integral element to the movie.  Scream, may I point out, came out in 1996.  Children born the year Scream was released are legally able to drive now.  It was well done in Scream and for a while afterward, but every year it got more and more stale, until at this point self-aware meta nod-nod wink-wink crap fulfills exactly the same function as a laugh track on a ’70s sitcom.

Do you really need a laugh track to tell you when something’s funny?  Do you need someone poking you in the ear and loudly yelling “Look how clever we’re being!  Look!  Do you see it?  Also it is time to laugh at the absurdity now!  Laughter and admiration- go!”

What’s that you say?  You don’t?  Good – take that mindset into Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and you’re going to enjoy the movie a lot more than the reviewers who were apparently waiting for someone to tell them the movie is gloriously absurd.

AL:VH is played admirably straight, as a history of the life of Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) that somehow includes vampire-related carnage and physics-defying action scenes.  As a child, Lincoln – already full of righteous wrath over the horrors of slavery – witnesses his mother being murdered by a vampire (a freakishly unrecognizable Marton Csokas).  Come to adulthood, Lincoln sets out on a Mission of Vengeance that very nearly results in him being eaten himself before being saved by a mysterious Englishman named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper, whose Sting sunglasses and cockatiel hair don’t look nearly as anachronistic as they should).

Henry trains Lincoln as a hunter and sends him out into the world on vampire-slaying missions.  No sooner is Lincoln out of Henry’s sight than he gets distracted by the awesome Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), decides that  he can better serve the world in politics than in slaying, and manages to run afoul of the Big Baddies: vampire overlord Adam (Rufus Sewell) and his sister Vadoma, the Enforcer (the glorious and criminally underused Erin Wasson, who if she ever tires of being a supermodel has a nice career in looming menace ahead of her.)  He also gains sidekicks:  Will (Anthony Mackie) and Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who could have carried the movie all by themselves.  All this leads inexorably to the Civil War, which unbeknownst to the history books was actually a power grab on the part of vampires, who were using slaves as a readily available food supply.

AL:VH is one of those movies where just the supporting cast is worth the price of admission.  But Benjamin Walker brings a charm and gravity to the role without which the movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well; there are amazing (and awesomely over-the-top) action set pieces; and God be praised, the vampires are finally sort of scary and awful, instead of camp and “humorously” self-aware.

It’s actually that last point that raises AL:VH from a solid three-star use of an afternoon to four stars.  I am so glad to see scary, mostly unglamorous vampires that I’m awarding the movie an extra star just for that.  Tip for the movie industry: vampires should be scary.  They shouldn’t be “humorously” self-aware (unless they’re Barnabas Collins), they shouldn’t be tragic and tortured souls (unless they’re Eli, who gets a pass for also being scary as shit), and for fuck’s sake they should not sparkle.

Sparkly vampires, Jesus take the wheel.  Vadoma would pick her teeth with Edward Cullen’s bones.

So what’s the verdict?  Four stars.  I was so, so hopeful that AL:VH would be awesome, but I also feared.  The book and screenplay were written by Seth Grahame-Smith, otherwise known as the author of the bewilderingly tedious Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I don’t know how the hell the hand of any writer, be he never so unenthusiastic about the assignment, can make something tiresome out of the combination of Lizzie Bennet and the walking dead, but Grahame-Smith surely managed it.  Maybe he liked this topic better or something, because this was an awesome story and it made for an awesome movie, if brought down a little by uneven pacing.  Go see it; it’s fantastic, goofy fun.

Wake Wood (2011)

Posted: February 18, 2012 in 2 stars, Reviews
Tags: , ,

So you’re watching a movie and it basically goes like this:

1.  Don’t bring your kid back from the dead, dumbass.

2.  No, I’m serious.  That never turns out well.

3.  You see?  What did I tell you?  Why have no parents in the history of horror ever had as much sense as the ones in “The Monkey’s Paw” who wished their zombie kid away again?  Don’t people have to read that in grade school anymore?

4.  No, I said don’t bring people back from the dead, dumbass who is unable to learn from experience.

5.  And now you’re going to – Jesus Christ. I wash my hands of you, you nutcase.

Quick: which movie are you watching?  Pet Sematary or Wake Wood?

Really, I’d tell you the plot of Wake Wood but if you’ve seen Pet Sematary you’re pretty much familiar.  Eva Birthistle and her gratifyingly hot husband Aidan Gillen lose their nine-year-old daughter to a freak dog attack.  Trying to start over, they move to the small village of Wake Wood.  Strange Goings-On lead them to the discovery that the citizens of the village can bring people back from the dead – but only for three days, so you can say goodbye.  Sadly, they cannot guarantee that the aforementioned dead will return quite right.

Wake Wood is one of the first movies to come out of the resurrected Hammer Studios.  It’s not nearly as satisfactory as one would have hoped from that beloved studio.  The sad truth is that Wake Wood is derivative and unoriginal, offering nothing over the book version of Pet Sematary and nothing over the movie but Aidan Gillen’s glorious ass in jeans.   It doesn’t even have Fred Gwynne getting slaughtered by a toddler.

It wasn’t a bad movie.  It was a little slow in places, but the acting was good and the cinematography was moody and atmospheric.  The ending did not, as endings too often do, let the movie down with  a thud.  It’s just that there was nothing about it that didn’t leave me going “Yep, seen that before.”

So what’s the verdict?  Two stars. If I’d never seen Pet Sematary I probably would have liked it better, though I didn’t like the fact that the harm against animals seemed gratuitous even for the animal-hating horror industry.  It would have been much better if the filmmakers had just photoshopped Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle over Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby and re-released Pet Sematary instead.

One of these days I’m going to make a list called “Movies that scared the bejesus out of me and I can’t even figure out why,” and Fragile will be somewhere very close to the top.  Maybe it’s the combination of the inherent creepiness of abandoned hospitals and the fact that the ghost, when you finally see her, is so freakishly hideous that if she popped up in the mirror behind me I would genuinely have screaming hysterics.  She’s not quite as terrifying on a second viewing once you’re braced for the horror, but my God was she a nasty shock the first time around.

Fragile stars Calista Flockhart, who to her credit never gives off the vibe that she’s slumming in a genre film, or seems anything less than engaged with the story and her character.  She plays Amy, a nurse recovering from some sort of traumatic incident that resulted in a child’s death, and for which Amy blames herself.  (This incident is never completely elucidated, the filmmakers – in a show of restraint rare in the breed – having refrained from telling us about it in five minutes of “As you know, Bob” exposition.)  Apparently looking for somewhere quiet to recover, Amy takes a temp job as a replacement night nurse at a nearly-deserted hospital that’s being shut down and retains only a handful of pediatric patients on one floor.

Of course, there are Creepy Things going on at the hospital.  We know this because everyone is scared shitless of noises in the night.  Or at least the women and children are; hot doctor Richard “I know I’ve seen that guy before but out of Van Helsing and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which one do I least want to admit to having seen?” Roxburgh pooh-poohs all night-bumping things.  Soon Amy makes friends with Maggie, a little girl of unspecified illness who claims to have seen Charlotte, the “mechanical girl” who lives on the abandoned upper floor.

(Maggie is played by Yasmin Murphy, who is that rarest of cinematic unicorns: a child actor who can convincingly display all the emotions the script calls for, and who is adorable without inducing diabetes.  At some point, someone seems to have made the radical decision to direct and film her as if she were an actual person, as opposed to the more usual tactic of treating kids in movies like Generic Moppet #3 bought sight unseen from the Toys R Us catalog.  Actually, to their credit, the filmmakers made more than one unusual and gutsy decision about her character.)

Charlotte spends a lot of time being really pissed off.  Also, she can make people’s bones break, and does with alarming frequency.  Initial poking-around by Amy seems to indicate that Charlotte was a patient there decades ago, who had osteogenisis imperfecta – brittle bone disease – and had to wear those braces that are actually screwed into your flesh and don’t tell me those aren’t a bad idea because I saw what they did to that guy’s leg on Downton Abbey.

The bulk of the movie follows the “But what does it want?” plotline.  Charlotte is clearly angry, and gets angrier and more violent as the movie goes on.  Bones break.  People get flung out of windows.  Blocks with letters on them form irate messages.  Alarming things happen with elevators.  Amy tries to figure out what the hell’s going on.  Well, what’s going on, of course, is easier for the viewer to figure out than for Amy and the Hot Doctor:  Charlotte wants Maggie to stay in the hospital.  Forever.

I love ghost stories.  There aren’t enough of them.  Not real ghost stories like this one, that depend not on gore and jump scares but on the idea that the dead have come calling and they’re really pissed and couldn’t tell you why even if they wanted to.  Fragile does a wonderful job of evoking that slow, creeping unease of abandoned hospitals and asylums where misery seems to soak into the walls and hang around long after all the people are gone.  The build-up is both slow and interesting, unusual in a world where you generally get one or the other but not both, and the climax, which could easily have degenerated into “Rocks fall and everyone dies,” instead remembers that the movie has been focused on the relationships among the characters and keeps the focus there where it belongs.

[REC]‘s Jaume Balagueró directed Fragile, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised at its quality.  But I was, pleasantly.

So what’s the verdict?  Four stars.  That might seem high for what on the surface seems to be a fairly conventional genre film, but I think it deserves them for creepiness, atmosphere, not a few genuine scares, and stubborn refusal to take the path of least resistance and fall back on genre cliches.

FearNet has seen WonderCon and returned with news, including an article about Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s upcoming genre turn in the new Hammer film The Resident.  Hammer’s resurrection would be reason enough to rejoice in and of itself; the fact that the film stars Morgan (who appeared on my radar in the role of John Winchester on TV’s Supernatural, back before the show started pogo-sticking with crack-addict determination over every shark in sight) is just icing on the cake.

Morgan plays the the landlord in Hilary Swank’s new apartment building.  Apparently he develops some kind of creepy obsession with her.  Hilary Swank, in what I’m pretty sure will be one of the film’s more improbable turns, does not get down on her knees and thank God for delivering Jeffrey Dean Morgan to her bedside in the middle of the night.  From the FearNet interview:

“The Resident with Hilary Swank,” [Morgan] said, “It’s Hammer Films’ comeback. I don’t know if you know Hammer Films, but they did all the Dracula‘s, the Christopher Lee movies back in the [day]. So in thirty years this will be the first movie back, and I play a really creepy dude in that movie. It’s beyond creepy. I saw a rough cut of it a couple of months ago, and it’s super creepy. Even for me to watch it, I was like, “Who is that guy, man? I do not want to hang out with that dude!”

The Resident has a 2010 release date, but IMDB doesn’t seem to know what it is.  At any rate, one to look forward to.

Devour (2005)

Posted: February 12, 2010 in 1 star, Devour, Reviews
Tags: , ,

When I started surfing horror blogs, one thing I noticed was that while everyone and their dog had a review of Alice, Sweet Alice – a movie that, as a child, I would have sworn I was the only person in the world to have ever seen or heard of – almost no one had a review of Devour.

Then I realized why there are no reviews.  It’s because there is only one reason on God’s green earth to watch Devour: you and your girlfriends are gearing up to eat ice cream and watch every single movie Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki have ever been in, and you’re putting off the evil hour when you’re going to have to suck it up and pop in that Lifetime movie about Thomas Kinkade teaching some hapless town the meaning of Christmas.  (Be told: single-malt doesn’t go well with most ice cream flavors.  For this marathon you’re going to have to break out the tequila.)

So in a way, there’s no sense in doing a review.  You’re either going to watch it because Jensen Ackles is smoking hot or  shun it like the atrocious, nonsensical plague ship of lost careers that it is.   But!  If you shun it, you will miss things like:

  • The ugliest macrame shirt in Creation
  • The sex scene most likely to make you turn your face to the wall and refuse to go on out of sheer vicarious embarrassment
  • Rubber demon costumes stolen in the night from the set of Legend
  • Improbable plot twists involving baby-snatching, demonic incest, multi-million-dollar video game empires, and Jensen Ackles: Antichrist, all of which combine to shear away the plot of the first part of the movie from the plot of the second part like the Titanic splitting in half in its death throes and dragging 88 minutes of your life to a watery grave.

And no one wants to miss out on that, right?

Ackles plays Jake Gray, a wastrel with daddy issues who hangs out with Trashy Blonde Chick (Dominique Swain) and Geeky Loser Guy (Teach Grant), who have actual names in the movie but their characters are so shallow and disposable that they might as well not.  On Jake’s birthday, Geeky Loser Guy introduces him to a video game called The Pathway.  It’s an online game; playing it requires you to hand a gaming website every piece of information anyone might ever need to steal your identity, loot your house, and rehome your pets, but for some reason people play it anyway instead of laughing hysterically and hitting the “back” button.  The game is a sort of “throw Momma from the train” deal – someone calls you and tells you what the Pathway is going to do for you, then calls you back, abuses you for a while, and then tells you what to do for the Pathway.

The Pathway wants Trashy Blonde Chick to have embarrassingly brief and poorly-acted chair sex with Jake.  I don’t remember if this was supposed to be a reward or a punishment, or for whom, but it’s pretty punishing for the viewer.

This ends in largely pointless murder-suicides for Trashy Blonde Chick and Geeky Loser Guy.  Jake, however, resists, and  begins trying to track down what’s going on with the game and how it can be Stopped For The Good of Humanity.  In a rather stunning leap of logic, he concludes that the game is actually Satan’s doing.  He also decides that Satan is female, apparently working on the logic that Satan = Evil and Women = Evil so Satan = Woman.  I once saw Richard Jeni use the same logic to prove that God was Ray Charles.

At any rate, Jake – with the unenthusiastic aid of Shannyn Sossamon as Macrame Shirt Chick – delves into the seamy underside of the video game world, where it intersects with Satanism and playing heavy metal records backward.  Talking to some creepy old Satanist (played by Ackles’ father, who is a better actor than he is) leads Jake to the discovery that he’s actually Satan’s son, stolen at birth by his adoptive parents, who were in some sort of militant Christian Antichrist-stealing commando team.  Apparently the video game was developed by the Satanists Union in order to find him because he was the only one who would be able to resist its nefarious pull –

No, there you go trying to use logic.  Stop it.  You’re just going to get all annoyed.

Anyway, the ending is actually not too bad, and by “not too bad” I mean that it actually makes you stop filing your nails and pay attention to the screen for a few minutes.  Satan reveals herself; Jake reaches deep into his soul and manages a couple of minutes of almost human emotion; people are force-fed goblets of blood; Satan gets staked, which mostly just annoys her; and the ending sort of sets up for a sequel that please God will never come.  After all, Ackles is on a hit TV series now, and probably wants to be paid in something other than Twinkies and Bud Light.

Nothing says “Mommy loves you, pumpkin” like force-feeding your kid the blood of his adoptive parents.


Unless it’s letting him wake up on the ground with a brutal gore hangover…


…and then framing him for the deaths of umpteen people.  Thomas Kinkade himself couldn’t come up with a better Hallmark moment!

So what’s the verdict? On a 0 to 5 scale, where 0 means “The people responsible for this owe me money and I’m judging them as human beings” and movies accumulate stars according to either their actual goodness or their so-bad-it’s-good-ness, Devour weighs in at a lackluster 1.  Plenty of so-bad-it’s-good plot elements, but lacking in that essential bad-movie energy; mostly what it leaves you with is a sort of “Dear god, what is wrong with me that I’m sitting here watching this?” sense of existential bewilderment.

Jensen Ackles is hot, though, I’ll give it that.  If he can act then he’s keeping it a well-guarded secret, but he’s nice to look at, and he does “creepy and dysfunctional” pretty well.

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