Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dante's Peak

Dante's Peak (1997)

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A volcanologist (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to a picture perfect little town of Dante's Peak to check on their neighbouring volcano, which I assume is named Dante. Despite his warnings that the volcano is active and dangerous, his colleagues urge the town's mayor (Linda Hamilton) not to put the town on red alert because the volcano is not all that active or dangerous. Little do they realize that the volcano is nature's most wily predator and it is just lulling them into a false sense of security. It erupts, turning Dante's Peak into Dante's Inferno, and Pierce and Linda must fight their way through the lava flow to rescue her kids (Jeremy Foley, Jamie Renée Smith) and her mother-in-law (Elizabeth Hoffman) because she was too fucking stupid to come down from her mountain cottage when they told her too.

Tl;dr version: volcano go boom, little town go "aaaah!"

The movie gets into the action immediately, opening with a different volcano erupting and a bunch of people getting killed. It gets out of the action almost immediately with thirty minutes of geology mumbo jumbo and Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton uncomfortably trying to bond.

The first act of the movie was structured almost exactly like Jaws. There's a Scary Nature Thing threatening a small, idyllic, American town. Two young people go skinny dipping and suffer gruesome deaths at the hands of the Scary Nature Thing. A Scary Nature Thing expert arrives on scene. A community leader doesn't put the Scary Nature Thing off limits because it could scare off tourists. The community leader and the expert have to go directly towards the Scary Nature Thing to prevent loss of life. That's where the similarities end, although it would have been fucking rad if Linda Hamilton had blown the volcano up with an oxygen tank and a harpoon gun at the end.

This movie is primarily interesting because of the destruction and absolute fucking mayhem caused by the volcanic eruption. There's a really good scene mid way through of the whole town getting blown apart by an earthquake (as we all know, earthquakes work with volcanoes, like remoras and sharks).

While the volcano is wrecking shit, the townspeople realistically freak the fuck out and quickly become more dangerous than the eruption. I feel like they did a good job capturing just how a township would react to such a devastating natural disaster.

After that, it turns into an ad for a fucking Chevy Suburban, as Pierce Brosnan bravely drives the SUV on and off road, through ash and debris, over trees, even through a fucking river.

For best results, turn the sound off and hum the Canyonero jingle while watching that video.

Pierce Brosnan was on his second Bond movie at the time and is charming and likable, as usual. Linda Hamilton was slowly disappearing from the face of the earth and is also likable, even though her character, busy mayor slash coffee shop owner for some reason, was stupid.

Together, they have absolutely no chemistry what so ever. Not only do they have no chemistry, but the "romantic" scenes between them are creepy as fuck. There's one part where he walks her home from the bar and basically starts pestering her to sleep with him. She tries to change the subject being like, maybe we should have a cup of coffee, and he's like, nah. And then volcano stuff happens allowing her to escape, thankfully, but still, ew.

The movie also has way too much emotional shit. The most infamous part being the part where Elizabeth Hoffman sacrifices herself to a lake of acid to save Pierce and Linda and the kids and dies in a tidal wave of children's tears. The pacing of the whole movie is annoying because it's just a really cool thing (like a lake of acid) followed by a really boring thing (like a woman painstakingly saying goodbye to her grandchildren) over and over and over again for two hours.

This movie is worth watching for the destructive wrath of nature, but nothing else. It's also interesting from an historical point of view because the crappy CG lava was, apparently, considered the pinnacle of special effects at the time. Oh, and it was better than Volcano.

Directed by: Roger Donaldson.  Written by: Leslie Bohem.  Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Elizabeth Hoffman, Jamie Renée Smith, Jeremy Foley, Charles Hallahan.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)

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A live-in nurse (Ruth Wilson) goes to live-in the house of a decrepit, retired author (Paula Prentiss), whose main claim to fame was writing a novel about her conversations with the ghost of a girl who was murdered in the house many years ago (Lucy Boynton). The nurse slowly begins to realize that the novel might not actually be a novel and that there may be a ghost in the house.

So, apart from having a title like a fucking Pearl Jam song, this is a fairly solid idea for a haunted house movie. It's somewhat suspenseful, relying on a spooky atmosphere rather than blood and gore and things jumping out of cellars. It also builds suspense by announcing in the first ten minutes that the main character is 28 but will not turn 29, so we know right away that some shit it gonna go down. It definitely would have worked as a novel, as it had a very literary feel to it.

Unfortunately, nothing really happens for most of the movie. It tries to build suspense but the most intense thing that happens in the first hour is when the main character discovers some potentially harmful mold growing on the wall and has to argue with Bob Balaban about getting insurance to fix it. It starts to get creepy in the last twenty minutes and when we finally get to see the ghost it's pretty scary, but the rest of the movie is a painfully slow drag.

There's as much talking as one would expect of a movie called I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, with extensive, poorly written narration which is unnecessarily verbose and totally out of keeping with the vapid narrator.

The narration is not only obnoxious and meandering, it's also poorly utilized. There's a five minute scene of the main character talking to somebody on the telephone, explaining her backstory (something about jilted love which never, ever comes up again I might add) and highlighting Ruth Wilson's awful acting, which could have been done with narration.

It's shot "artfully", that is, there are a bunch of really weird angles and long shots of nothing, which comes off as annoying rather than artistic. It also makes the movie seem even more boring if possible.

And lets be honest, ghost movies are the least interesting of horror sub-genres. Other monsters and entities are inherently scary. Serial killers and slashers capture our attention by making us ponder how it is possible for a person to commit unspeakable acts of violence towards another person. Zombies and vampires are scary because they are relentless predators that will eat you to death. Giant animals terrify us because god damnit a spider should not be that fucking big.

Ghosts? Ghosts are just the disembodied remnants of often harmless dead people. There is nothing scary about that. Haunted house movies are even less scary because there is often not a very good reason why the person can't just leave the house. It takes a masterful hand to make them into something that we should find threatening. They have to do something to scare us, they can't just be there hanging around. Don't get me wrong, I am inexplicably terrified of ghosts - I worry about ghosts in my car, I worry about ghosts in my windows, I worry about ghosts in my damn toilet - but not because ghosts are actually scary. It's because well executed films and novels instilled in me a fear that ghosts will do something terrible to me.

This is not such a movie. The ghost really doesn't do anything except yank a phone out of the girls hand, and walk around. Yeah, she's got her feet on backwards and that's pretty creepy but, like, it's not that scary. And how does she kill the main character? By just appearing and scaring her to death. Seriously. What the fuck was that about? I mean, yeah, the character explains that she is easily scared but like at least give her a heart condition or something for foreshadowing. Don't have her just drop dead because she's scared. Fuck sakes.

I wouldn't recommend this movie to anybody except die hard direct-to-netflix haunted house fans, or maybe people doing an exhaustively researched project on Anthony Perkins.

Written and Directed by: Osgood Perkins.  Starring: Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Lucy Boynton, Bob Balaban.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Christmas Horror Story

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

A Christmas-themed anthology horror film featuring four-ish stories which sort of intersect with one another. One story follows three high school students (Zoé De Grand Maison, Shannon Cook, and Alex Ozerov) filming a documentary about the basement of an old Catholic school where where two of their classmates were mysteriously murdered the Christmas before. Another story follows their friend (Amy Forsyth) whose family attracts the attention of the Krampus, a demon which punishes the wicked on Christmas Eve. The third story tells us of the police officer (Adrian Holmes) who found the bodies of the murdered high school kids the previous Christmas. He steals a Christmas tree from a private lot with his family and inadvertently brings home a violent forest spirit. The last story is about Santa Claus (George Buza) fighting off zombified elves at the North Pole. Meanwhile, the local radio DJ (William Shatner) gets hammered on egg nog and spins Christmas records.

Instead of the typical one story at a time format usually used in anthology movies, all four stories are going on at the same time which builds the mood at a steady, almost uniform pace rather than losing momentum between stories. The downfall of this format is that the "Kids in the Basement" story is weak and slow, which fucks up the pacing of the rest of the movie.

The "Santa vs. Elves" story seemed really underdeveloped, with big gaps in the narrative, but brought it back with a damn slick twist ending that made up for it. I'm not a fan of the twist ending, probably because of growing up with M Night Shyamalan movies, but this one was particularly clever and well executed, and accounted for all of the qualms I had with the story up until that point.

The story I thought was the strongest was the "Stolen Christmas Tree" story, both because it was the most disturbing, smoothly building claustrophobic tension, and because it utilized an unusual monster, the Changeling, which doesn't show up a whole lot in horror movies despite being one of the scariest ideas in english folklore.

There's also a strongly implied incestuous sleep-rape scene in that segment which, while gross, is weird and creepy and not something I've seen a whole lot in mainstream horror.

There's plenty of blood throughout the movie, including some brutal elf deaths in "Santa vs. Elves", although it could have used some more graphic imagery of people getting fucked up by Krampus in the "Krampusnacht" story.

There are a few startling moments throughout, although the movie, especially the "Kids in the Basement" story, relies predominantly on jump scares, the cheapest of thrills. The "Stolen Christmas Tree" story relies more on something gruesome and traumatic happening and is actually somewhat scary, further solidifying it as the strongest of the four stories.

I liked the aesthetic of the "Santa vs. Elves" story for the most part, and George Burza is a lot of fun as the Odin-esque Santa Claus. It's also the most brutal and violent story so there's that.

Also, William Shatner is delightful as the radio DJ who pops up from time to time to talk about Christmas and drink some more. He's like a crazy old grandpa and I'm pretty sure the liquor he was putting in his drink was not prop liquor. He gets crazier and more delightful throughout the movie and I don't feel that Shatner is necessarily a good enough actor to pull that off. Either way, he's a great touch.

The biggest issue with the movie was the entirety of the "Kids in the Basement" story. It's painfully slow, peppered with jump scares, and not even really Christmas themed. Like, there's a ghost in the basement, that ghost is probably there all the time, there's no reason it had to be Christmas.

Granted, the ghost was given a somewhat original reason for haunting the fuck out of some teens. Ghosts are usually just dead and pissed off and ready to haunt the fuck out of people for no good reason, so it's nice to see a ghost with a plan. The reason for the haunting was unbelievably stupid but, you know, it was original.

Even the way it was shot, it was set up as a found footage thing but then abandoned that gimmick halfway through and continued as a straight up third person ghost thing. There was no good reason for the movie initially being shot in the first person. Like, okay, the teens were in the basement in the first place to shoot a documentary. Back in my day, teens didn't need an excuse to go break into old, abandoned, haunted buildings, they just did it. Maybe it was to get high and laid, maybe it was just for the fuck of it. Fact is, teenagers do stupid, random shit, nobody knows why. I don't need some extraneous, half-assed set up that gets ignored after the first act to believe that some teenagers wanted to break into a basement.

So that story really drags the rest of the movie down quite a bit. The "Krampusnacht" story is only worth mentioning because it is unexceptional. It's not bad by any means. It's not great either. The Krampus looks cool but that's all I have to say about it, it's pretty forgettable all told, and serves as a neutral filler for the rest of the movie.

This movie is a fun venture for people who love Christmas and also love horror movies. I wouldn't call it a must-watch by any means, but it's entertaining and worth watching if you're looking for something new, especially if you've caught the Krampus fever which has been sweeping the nation.

Directed by: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan.  Written by: Jason Filiatrault, James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier.  Starring: William Shatner, Zoé De Grand Maison, Olunike Adeliyi, Amy Forsyth, George Buza, Shannon Cook, Adrian Holmes, Percy Hynes White, Debra McCabe, Alex Ozerov, Orion John, Rob Archer.

History of Horror Film Challenge

So one thing I'm doing this year is the History of Horror Film Challenge designed by Zack Long which can be found over here on letterboxd. I'm going to review most of the movies I watch for it on here so, yeah, be aware of that I guess. You can follow me on that site also if you want to get a little preview of what I'm going to be reviewing next on here. My picks for the challenge are as follows:

Silent Cinema: Haxan (1922) [review]
Universal Monsters: Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956) [review]
James Whale: The Old Dark House (1932) [review]
Horror Comedy: Spider Baby (1967)
Val Lewton: The Leopard Man (1943)
Haunted House: The Entity (1982)
Pre-1980s Asian Horror: Kwaidan (1964)
50s Monsters: Kronos (1957)
Roger Corman: Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
Hammer Horror: To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Gore Gore Girls (1972)
Vampires: Vampire Circus (1972)
Terence Fisher: Island of Terror (1966)
Jose Mojica Marins: At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964)
Giallo: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
George Romero: The Crazies (1973) [review (sort of)]
Zombies: Cemetery Man (1994)
Jesus Franco: Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972)
Backwoods Horror: Eaten Alive (1976)
Dario Argento: Tenebre (1982)
Cannibals: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Lucio Fulci: The Beyond (1981)
Creepy Kids: The Unborn (1991)
Wes Craven: Shocker (1989)
Nature Run Amok: Piranha (1978)
Killer Clowns: Carnival of Souls (1998)
Anthology: Body Bags (1993)
John Carpenter: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Slashers: Prom Night (1980)
Satanic Panic: Burnt Offerings (1976)
Killer Dolls: Puppet Master (1989)
'80s Werewolves: The Company of Wolves (1984)
David Cronenberg: Videodrome (1983)
Body Horror: Teeth (2007)
Kid Friendly: Troll (1986)
Post War German Horror: Nekromantik (1987)
Serial Killers: American Psycho (2000)
Stuart Gordon: Dagon (2001) [review]
Psychological Horror: Dead Ringers (1988)
Teen Slasher: My Bloody Valentine (2009)
Takashi Miike: Gozu (2003)
Post 1980 Monsters: The Blob (1988) [review]
Post 1990 Asian Horror: Thirst (2009)
Eli Roth: Hostel (2005)
Torture Porn: Saw (2004)
New French Extremity: Martyrs (2008)
2000s Remakes: Last House on the Left (2009)
Ti West: The House of the Devil (2009) [review]
Found Footage: The Last Broadcast (1998)
James Wan: The Conjuring (2013)
Arthouse: It Follows (2014)