Posts Tagged ‘wow those teenagers are old’

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.


Sometimes there are these fleeting moments, so brief and subtle that I always wonder if I’ve imagined them afterward, when I suspect that buried deep in Jensen Ackles’ psyche is a modicum of acting ability that sometimes gets away from him and manifests onscreen for a split second before he stamps it ruthlessly back down.

No, I know how that sounds.  I didn’t say it was a rational suspicion.  It’s like that thing where sometimes when you’re drifting off to sleep on Christmas Eve you have that weird moment where you’re like “Hey, but what real reason is there, honestly, why Santa can’t exist?  HUH?”  Then you wake up in the morning and realize that by God there’d better not be some fur-wearing fat guy sneaking down your chimney in the middle of the night, and also that Ackles’ sole discernable talent is for reciting some of his lines louder than others and managing to look like an American Apparel model while his character is supposedly sleeping in his car.  In short, he’s an utterly bland presence (Ackles, I mean, not Santa), and when your movie is already laboring under a brain-sludgingly dull script, poor pacing, and astoundingly unappealing characters, by God you better suck it up and pay Steve Buscemi to stand out in front of that shit diverting people’s attention.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the original My Bloody Valentine (1981).  I love it.  It’s a triumph of the schlocky filmmaker’s art, full of glee and ridiculousness and people getting shot in the forehead with nail guns,  with some genuinely scary moments thrown in for good measure.  In the original, a mining town has declared a moratorium on Valentine’s Day dances, because back in the 60s there was a mine cave-in on Valentine’s Day that resulted in the sole survivor, Harry Warden, cracking under the strain of his enforced diet of Soylent Green.  Warden decrees that there will be No More Dances Ever, because that’s what the townspeople were doing when the mine exploded and he’s a little miffed.  Twenty years later a group of middle-aged teenagers decide to hold an illicit rave in the mine on Valentine’s Day, with predictable and gory results.

Well, the 2009 My Bloody Valentine is sort of like that.  Except without the dances.  Or any real tie-in to Valentine’s Day.  Or any explicable reason for the original Harry Warden to go off the deep end and cause hospital carnage so improbable that in order to make sense of it you have to pretend the movie is a crossover with Predator.  There’s a mine explosion, okay.  In this case it’s caused by Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), the owner’s whiny son, forgetting to do something technical I can’t even care about long enough to describe it.  Hanniger disappears for a few years and comes back to sell the mine.

Unwisely, the creators of the remake chose to make the grindingly tedious selling-the-mine aspect the main plot of the movie.  Even more unwisely, they spend what feels like ten thousand hours trying to get us to care about it.  This involves endless, astonishingly boring conversations between Hanniger and his unwashed ex-girlfriend (Jaime King), who is now married to the town sherriff (Kerr Smith).  Eventually, of course, people start dying, but without the whole arc with the Valentine’s Day dances they’re basically dying for no other reason than to give the movie a body count, which brings a certain sense of anticlimax to the whole thing.

The movie itself is unrelentingly glum and humorless.  It’s filmed under constantly cloudy skies.  Everyone is dressed like the only fashion game in town is the clearance rack at K-Mart.  Lines like “I lost my way!” are uttered with apparent seriousness.  Ackles plays Hanniger like an even flatter and less nuanced Dean Winchester, and it’s not like Dean Winchester has nuances to spare; while he did achieve brief shining moments of creepiness in Devour, he misses it by a mile here and winds up looking like the crazy eye-rolling opera diva in an Abbott and Costello movie.  The killings are pro forma, uninspired, and mostly require everyone involved to behave like absolute morons.  The 3D, which so rarely adds anything to a movie, adds nothing to this one either.

Was anything good about it?  Well… Irene (Betsy Rue).  Irene was fucking awesome.  This movie needed way more people with enough panache to charge out naked into a parking lot and wave a gun in some skeevy trucker’s face.  Aside from Irene, the only watchable element was Kerr Smith, who trudges grimly through the movie all but wearing a t-shirt that says “I don’t care how many varieties of shit this movie is, I’m going to goddamn act so I can look myself in the face in the morning.”

So what’s the verdict? One star.  The only way to make watching this movie entertaining is to pretend it’s some sort of arthouse Fellini-tribute commentary on the grinding poverty of the decaying American infrastructure, and everything is all symbolic and stylized and you have to figure out what it all Really Means and how it relates to Derrida.  And even if you do, you’re just going to wind up feeling like you’re watching two hours of people smoking at each other in black and white with flies landing portentously on ice cubes, and all you know is you’re bored to tears but you have a paper due on this shit in thirty-six hours and you want to shoot yourself for ever thinking “Metaphor in Cinema” would be a good elective to take.  Watch the original instead.

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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