Posts Tagged ‘teen screams’

You know what’s awesome?  Scratching the surface of an almost-direct-to-video movie on Netflix and finding, against all odds, that you’ve unearthed a clever, involving, genuinely creepy film.

Sandy (Carly Schroeder) and her friends have this game they play.  In graveyards.  At night.  (You are excused for thinking this sounds like a bad idea already.)  One person is the ghost and goes around tagging other people, who then become ghosts themselves and chase everyone else around until eventually the last person left “alive” is the winner.  One night they’re out playing, and suddenly Random Creepy Chick pops out from behind a tombstone.

RANDOM CREEPY CHICK:  Hey, can I play?  We’ll all just pretend I’m not clearly crazier than a shithouse rat.

SANDY AND FRIENDS:  Er… sure, I guess.

RANDOM CREEPY CHICK:  Sandy!  Don’t you remember me?

SANDY:  Hell no, I think I would have remembered crazy-eye of that impressive degree.

RANDOM CREEPY CHICK:  Ooh!  You’re going to regret that.

And lo and behold, Sandy does.  Not right away; but pretty soon her friends start getting slaughtered one by one.  And here’s the clever part: as soon as they die, they’re basically written out of the universe as if they had never existed.  No one remembers them.  The lives of the survivors are rearranged around the absence, so subtly at first that it legitimately took me a while to figure out what was going on.  And sure enough, the more people die, the more ghosts there are to chase the living around, until eventually there’s only one left.

Now, the “Person X disappears and no one remembers they existed except Person Y” trope is not new, to be sure.  It’s just that it’s done so well here, and you’re allowed to figure out for yourself what’s going on instead of having huge amounts of expository dialogue beating you over the head all the way through.  It doesn’t hurt that the acting is above par and the characters – mirabile dictu – are, despite being teenagers, actually ones I was sorry to see go.  Usually herds of movie teenagers are so unpleasant that it gives me a sort of grim satisfaction to watch them get picked off one by one, but not here.

So what’s the verdict?  I think I need a wider rating scale.  Call this one three and a half stars.  It’s not quite a four-star movie, but it’s head and shoulders above the three-star pack.  It’s creative, respectful of its audience, and genuinely scary in places.  Highly recommended.

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I approached The Haunting of Molly Hartley as a sort of challenge – the challenge being whether I could find a way to view the movie that would make it anything other than an eye-sporking waste of nine million hours of my life.

Yeah, I know.  You already know how this is going to come out.  So did I, and yet.

The thing is, The Haunting of Molly Hartley isn’t a real horror movie.  It’s a kids’ movie, a big-screen episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? No functioning adult is going to be scared by this movie unless you live your life in such a hamster-like state of terror that you have to keep smelling salts on hand for when your toast pops up out of the toaster.

Granted, by the time I was the age of this movie’s target audience I’d already cut my horror teeth on films like Halloween and Phantasm.  Middle-school me would have chewed this movie into a quivering red mass, horked it back up, and spit on its grave.  The point is, it’s not a horror movie, and it’s not made for horror fans.  It’s made for girls in their early teens who don’t care what it’s about as long as some hot Mouseketeer flashes his hipbones at the camera, and the soccer moms who have to be persuaded to pay for said teenage girls’ movie tickets.

In short, I went into this movie with really, really low expectations.  All I was hoping for was that it would be as entertainingly awful as its second cousin, The Covenant.  And I wanted to see if it would work as the horror-movie equivalent of a YA novel.

Molly Hartley starts out with a flashback in which an stunningly badly dressed teenager is killed by her father, who goes off the deep end yelling things like “You’re going to be 18 next week!  I won’t let them take you!”  Which, given the eventual context, I don’t really understand, but whatever.  My kid could be the Antichrist and as long as she was well and happy I’d just be like, “Have a good day ruling the world, sweetheart!  If you need me to stab any religious fanatics for you, just call!”

Cut to the present day, where Molly (Haley Bennet, who manages an impressive zero-to-strangleworthy time of thirty screen seconds flat) is starting a new school.  Immediately she attracts the attention of the resident Hipbones Guy, Joseph (Chace Crawford), earning her the ire of Joseph’s girlfriend (AnnaLynne McCord), whose hair must be seen to be believed.  Also, the girl assigned to show her around is the resident Jesus freak, Alexis (Shanna Collins, the only effective part of the movie).  At this point Molly has nearly racked up enough FML points to warrant that perpetual surly pout, but not quite.  She still needs a house to fall on her sister or something.

Well, he doesn’t sparkle.  Be grateful for small favors.

It turns out that hearing the name of the Lord gives Molly migraines.  (This is the point where Dean Winchester should show up with the holy water and dispatch her back to Hell, but sadly he does not.)  Also, her mother tried to stab her to death and is now locked up in an asylum.  And Molly gets nosebleeds and hears voices.  A sinus tumor nearly changes the genre from horror to disease-of-the-week without missing a beat, but sadly, not permanently.

That’s quite a case of buyer’s remorse, there.

In between endless scenes of high school drama featuring Molly’s Difficult Friend Choices and the Epic Love Triangle of Molly, Hipbones Guy, and Mall Hair Chick, we find out that Molly was stillborn or something, and her mother made a deal with the devil such that Molly would live but then become Satan’s at age 18.  Really you ought to adopt if you object to that sort of thing, but people always seem to be selling their kids to Satan and then wishing they hadn’t afterward.  And now, of course, the entire cast is in a vast conspiracy to help Molly fulfill her demonic potential.

So does Molly Hartley work as a Lifetime-style YA movie?  Sadly enough, the answer is probably yes, for a certain type of teenage girl.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie hit the “I am so special and unique and no one understands my paaaaaaiiiin except That One Hot Guy Who Finds Me Irresistible so I am totally justified in being as sullen and intolerable a pain in the ass as I want” message so hard and so relentlessly.  (No, I haven’t seen Twilight.)  That’s probably at least part of why it got such awful reviews – I challenge any adult over legal drinking age to make it through this movie without wanting to beat Molly with a tire iron.

So what’s the verdict? I’m grudgingly giving it one one star, because I think it does a reasonable job of accomplishing what it sets out to do, which is two hours of wish-fulfillment for bitchy teenage girls.  I’m just sorry the writers chose horror as the genre of choice for accomplishing it.

Does that mean it’s not a bad movie?  Hell, no.  It’s an awful movie.  It’s not even as entertainingly awful as The Covenant – it’s just irritating and tedious. For god’s sake, do not see this movie if you’re over fifteen years old.  Do not even let your kids bully you into sitting in the same room with it.

By the way, there are 16  jump scares in this movie, including the ghost-in-the-mirror and killer-coming-back-to-life scares.  I counted.  You’re welcome.

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I have to confess that I have problems watching most older horror movies.  Especially ones involving teenagers.  It’s like all the suspense buildup gets lost under the avalanche of “Oh my god, did you really just say that?” and “ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GOING TO GO OUT IN PUBLIC LOOKING LIKE THAT?” (Though, in fairness, I say that at an awful lot of horror movies, particularly ones filmed during the 80s.)

So I wasn’t actually going to review Ring of Terror, since it literally only becomes interesting in the last five minutes of an hour-long movie.  The other 55 minutes consists of tiresome fraternity guys doing tiresome fraternity things and not receiving so much as an ax to the forehead for it. Then, with something like a minute and 45 seconds to go, the movie managed to charm me by introducing a trope not seen anywhere near often enough in this world:

Death by spring-loaded cat.

Lewis Moffitt (George E. Mather) is a fraternity pledge and premed student at some incredibly low-rent college where students have to cool their heels waiting for unidentified cadavers to turn up in the morgue before they can witness an autopsy.  Much is made of Lewis’ fearlessness in the first part of the movie, until we discover that he’s having nightmares in which he flails around in bed begging someone not to turn out the light.  (We discover this in a sort of creepy scene involving his roommate standing over his bed at four in the morning and staring at him a lot.)

Moffitt doesn’t know where the nightmares come from at first, until an acquaintance of his dies and a rather traumatic experience at the wake brings back memories.

This guy supposedly died in a car wreck doing a hundred miles an hour.  And he’s having an open-casket.  I’d probably look disapproving too.

The wake is in a bizarrely empty funeral home, in a room lit solely by one candle.  No, I do not know why.  But the candle goes out, causing Lewis to freak out and remember his grandfather’s death.  Apparently Grandpa was laid out in the living room (tradition, I know, but EW EW EW UNSANITARY), which freaked Wee Lewis out a bit.  When he asked for his bedroom light to be left on, his mother told him that if he didn’t quit whining his grandfather would rise from the dead and give him a whupping.  Wee Lewis, correctly interpreting this as “Zombie Grandpa will eat your brains and pull your guts out of your body right in front of you,” was understandably a bit upset.

Cut to a frat party, where the pledges (Lewis included) are going through one last hazing task before being accepted.  The tasks involve edgy, hardcore things like having water dumped on them.

 

Okay, maybe those frat parties are a little more interesting than they look at first glance.

Lewis’ task, however, consists of breaking into the cemetery where the autopsy cadaver was stashed and stealing a ring off his finger.  Lewis is freaked out by this, but manfully pushes on, because he doesn’t want people calling him a weenie.

Either that coffin weighs about twenty pounds or Lewis has been hitting the steroids.

So Lewis, sweating in a glycerin-overloaded way not seen since Richard Burton sweat for America in Exorcist II, pulls out the coffin and reaches in for the ring.  But wait!  There’s a cat yowling from somewhere!  And the leaves are rustling!  It’s all very scary.

“YOWWWWLLL!” says the cat.

“WTFBBQ!” says Lewis, clearly afraid that the cat has come to eat his eyeballs and drag him through the mirror to join an evil dwarf army.

As he stands up to look around, the dead guy’s hand, which appears to be a little stiff still, snags his coat.  Lewis turns around, sees the corpse’s hand grabbing him, and, well…

 

Clearly not quite as fearless as he pretended to be.  Oh, well.

So what’s the verdict? One screeching cat out of five.  It’s an hour-long movie that’s 45 minutes too long.  But hey, death by spring-loaded cat.

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I didn’t actually set out to be biased against Fingerprints, which in and of itself is a fairly inoffensive movie. Regardless, it put itself four feet down and two to dig in the first ten minutes by:

  1. earworming me with that goddamned “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” song that used to send me into a frothing rage even as a child; and
  2. starting out at a train depot intersection that looked so weirdly like the train depot intersection in the hamlet my mother lived in that it made me flail in small-town-related PTSD and watch the movie through my fingers.

Fingerprints can’t quite decide if it wants to be a ghost story or a slasher movie, so it gives a game try at both. Thirty years or so ago, there was an unfortunate incident with a train and a school bus. The train depot has been abandoned since, more or less, but there’s an urban legend that if you stop on the tracks and put your car in neutral, Ghost Children will show up and push it across the tracks. (You will get very tired of this urban legend. Also, eventually it will expand to include ghostly fingerprints on the bumper, because some hapless scriptwriter realized at the eleventh hour that gradual inclines are not scary.)

I’m not that scared of supernatural entities I could ground from their Playstation, but to each his own.

Final Girl Melanie (Leah Pipes), fresh out of rehab after her boyfriend’s snort-related death, arrives in town to join up with her whackjob mother, her embarrassingly whipped father, and Final Sister Crystal (Kristin Cavallari), and promptly starts seeing Creepy Dead Little Girls. Just as promptly, people start getting murdered by a mysterious figure wearing a train conductor’s outfit and a black head bag they can’t possibly see out of. Mostly we’re pretty glad to see the victims go. However, the dead kids pretty clearly want something, and it’s up to Final Girl to figure out what it is.

So does it succeed either as a ghost story or a slasher movie? Well…

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