Sunday, May 28, 2017

House of the Devil

The House of the Devil (2009)

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So a few months ago Zack (@Lightisfading on twitter) lent me a stack of Ti West movies to watch. So far I watched In a Valley of Violence like a month ago, and I watched this movie today. House of the Devil is about a college student (Jocelin Donahue) who takes a babysitting job from an eccentric older couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) and ends up being a human sacrifice in a Satanic ritual.

It's set sometime in the 1980s, which normally would bug the shit out of me - one of my biggest pet peeves about modern horror is how trendy it is to set things back then. There's no specific reason why this irks me so except that, you know, things are happening now so why not dig into that. However, this movie actually makes a point for being set during that time by mentioning that in the '70s a lot of people were really worried about Satanic cults. Nowadays the thought of Satan-worshipers being even remotely frightening is laughable, but this movie manages to dispel my dislike of new retro horror and modern Satanism in one sweep of historical context.

The other thing about this movie's setting is that it doesn't just say "okay this movie is set in nineteen-eighty-whatever", it goes all the way to make a movie that looks and feels like it was made in nineteen-eighty-whatever. From the grainy film quality, to the title sequence, to the way the shots are set up, to the score, it all feels like a movie that my dad had on the top shelf of his VHS wall. The main actress, Jocelin Donahue, looks like she wouldn't have been out of place in a Dario Argento movie or one of the Friday the 13th sequels, and even the way that the plot is structured feels like a film of that era.

Thus, regardless of whatever I think of the movie as a movie, it's impressive as a well-researched history project and noteworthy for that merit alone.

It's also impressive that they managed to dredge Tom Noonan (i.e., the Toothfairy from Manhunter, which we reviewed on the podcast here) and Mary Woronov (who was in, like, all the Roger Corman movies but I remember her best from Death Race 2000) up out of the pre-grave for this movie, both of whom gave great performances. Tom Noonan goes for a creepy yet strangely charming vibe, while Mary Woronov is weird and terrifying. Both are highlights of the movie despite only being in it for a combined twenty minutes tops.

The movie is set up to follow all the beats of a classic horror flick, lulling me into a false sense of security and then taking sudden detours from the formula which are refreshingly startling. For example (this whole next paragraph is a spoiler so skip if you wish), the main character's friend (Greta Gerwig) seems like she's probably going to be a pretty important character but instead gets an unexpected murderin'. Since a lot of horror movies these days are just entrail-festooned murder orgies that have me almost completely desensitized to any sort of human-on-human violence, the fact that an onscreen death in a horror movie was actually shocking to me is worth mentioning.

Furthermore, the characters have the common sense to use fucking guns. I don't know how many movies I've watched where I thought "jesus christ, why don't these fucking murder jockeys just have guns and shoot their victims". Well in this movie they do, and the plot still functions. No more excuses, other movies.

When the movie does finally get to the Satanic stuff (which takes over an hour to get to), it's pretty fucking weird so props there. They've got some weird ass witch fuckin demon thing, which I guess was the mother that the girl was supposed to be looking after, and a goat skull and shit, so that was legit. Even for a person such as me, who thinks that Satan worship is fucking stupid, it was weird enough that it was unsettling.

This fuckin thing. What the fuck is this fuckin thing? Image source.

I have two qualms with this movie. The first is that it takes for-fucking-ever for anything to happen. I'm not joking, there's twenty minutes of set up to establish that the main character needs money before she even really gets to talk to Tom Noonan over the phone. And like, okay, the character is likable, and I get that this movie is only ninety-five minutes long so they had to pad it out a bit, but still. It makes the movie seem less like it was made to tell a story and more like it was made to say they made a movie in the same style as an old movie, which totally took me out of the mood.

The second qualm is really going out on a limb but bear with me while I explain this shit. So, there's a big long stretch of the movie where the only thing that really happens is the character calls and orders a pizza. The number for the pizza place, and money to buy the pizza, was given to her by Tom Noonan before he left for the evening. So she calls the pizza place and the guy on the phone says "it'll be 30 minutes". It then takes thirty minutes of real time (not time in the movie, actual time) for the pizza to get there which really built a lot of tension. I was sitting there thinking, when the fuck is this pizza going to get here? Did they forget about her? Did something happen to the delivery guy? Did something happen to the pizza?!

Anyway, the pizza finally gets delivered by the creepy couple's adult son (A.J. Bowen) and comes with a serving of roofies, eventually causing the main character to pass out so the movie can get into high gear.

Because ordering a pizza was the only thing that happened for a pretty long chunk of film, it made me really pay attention to that one thing, coz obviously the movie was telling me that that was important. And it is, actually, it is important. Coz like, suppose Tom Noonan had been like "here's some pizza money" and Jocelin Donahue was like "thanks" but then later it turned out she was on a diet and brought her own chicken and rice with her and didn't order the pizza, then the Satan family's entire plan is fucked. What was their back up plan if she just didn't order a pizza? Or if she did order a pizza but too late so the roofies wearing off didn't coincide with the lunar eclipse (which gets mentioned like three times but is somehow not as important as this pizza).

So, okay, let's say she doesn't order the pizza, that seems a little implausible if somebody is offering you free pizza, but she also had pizza for lunch so fuck maybe she was pizza-ed out. Would that mean the Satanists would have to just come back and overpower her the old fashioned way? I mean, there were four of them and one of her so it probably wouldn't be difficult. If they could do that why go to the trouble of leaving the son's phone number and money under the assumption that she would probably order a pizza, then when she did order a pizza, the son would have to go to an actual pizza place, buy a pizza, drug it, and then bring it to the house. That just seems like so much fucking work, and leaving a shitload up to chance.

I really feel like it would have made a lot more sense for those people to just wait for her friend to leave, then come back and grab her. Like, they know she doesn't have a car too, so it's not like she can really get away. Or is it really important to Satan that his victims be terrorized and fed pizza for an hour and a half before being offered up as an unholy vessel? Since that was never mentioned in this movie, or anywhere else, I'm going to assume no and that the reason was that they needed to make the movie ninety five minutes.

All in all, though, my weird nitpicking aside, this movie is a very well crafted horror flick that goes beyond just an homage to horror greats. Sure, if you're really into film history you'll probably get a lot out of this, but even if you just like horror movies that are more atmosphere than gore, then this is a movie for you. Even though the weird logic gaps really stood out to me, this is still the kind of horror movie I would like to see a whole lot more of.

- Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, and Dee Wallace appear in this film (+3)
- A gun is used, three times (+3)
- The house is gorgeous oh my god I want to live in it (+1)
- Weird-ass ritual (+1)
- Eye pokin' action (+1)
Total: (+9)

- Movie is set in the '80s. Penalty reduced because of sound reasoning, and commitment to aesthetic (-0.334)
- Lunar eclipse mentioned three times by three different characters just to make sure you know it's important, but ends up being less important than the pizza (-3)
Total: (-3.334)
Final Score: 5.666 stars

Written and Directed by: Ti West.  Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, A.J. Bowen, Greta Gerwig.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Visitor

The Visitor (1979)

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An eight year old girl (Paige Connor) is the descendant of an evil extraterrestrial force called Sateen, granting her all kinds of weird psychic powers. A cabal of guys in suits is trying to get her mom (Joanne Nail) knocked up so there can be another super powered evil kid. The Visitor (John Huston) comes from another planet to contain the girl and stop the evil stuff from happening.

I was disappointed by this movie mostly because I was expecting a trippy 70s sci-fi catastrophe - I mean, just fucking look at the poster - but instead I got The Omen from space. The movie looks nice for the most part, it's got a Brian de Palma thing going on, and there are a couple scenes at the beginning and the end with beautiful fantasy light shows, but the majority of the movie is just regular city stuff, making the sci-fi aspect by and large irrelevant.

There's one scene in particular where the mother gets abducted in the back of a transport truck that looks like a space craft in the dark (reminding me that, oh yeah, this movie is about space stuff). Generally, the use of lighting was really cool.

The actress playing the evil kid, Paige Connor, is pretty good for a child actor which goes a long way in making this movie actually watchable. She's reasonably creepy as the female Damian, or an updated Bad Seed, whatever you want to call it.

The movie has like at least three big long scenes early on to clumsily explain what is going on. The first involves a guy who is Jesus I guess (Franco Nero) telling a bunch of space kids this story about how Sateen was this ancient space evil. Fortunately, he was captured by Yaweh. Unfortunately, he escaped to Earth. Fortunately, they sent a bunch of birds to kill him. Unfortunately, he changed form into an eagle and defeated the birds. Fortunately, some of the birds survived and mortally wounded him. Unfortunately he had already mated with a bunch of Earth women, so his evil descendants would live on. So we've got that.

Next we've got a scene of a basketball game which goes on for fucking ever and is basically just an excuse to have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the movie. This explains to us that this little girl has Satanic - sorry Sateenic - powers that she uses to help her mom's boyfriend's basketball team win games for some stupid reason.

Then we've got one more scene of the mom explaining to her boyfriend (Lance Henriksen) that she thinks her daughter is weird and she is divorced and doesn't want to get remarried or have any more kids despite his pressuring her to do both of those things. Which, you know, you think would have been things that would have come up at any other point in their relationship.

There are also some really bizarre logic problems with the movie. The one that irked me the most was that John Huston is this interplanetary traveler, but he arrives in the United States on a plane and has to go through immigration or whatever. Why? Furthermore, he brings a bunch of monks and space bullshit with him which apparently did not cause an issue at customs. So, like, what the fuck. And he doesn't even leave on a plane at the end, he just space travels back to where he came from, so what was the point of him going through airport security. Why.

Secondly, there's this whole thing about how these guys in suits want the mom to have another baby, they need there to be another baby, coz they're really evil and stuff, and Lance Henriksen works for them obviously, so he's trying to get her to marry him. Is that necessary? Couldn't he just, like, sabotage her birth control? Eventually the suit guys get tired of this and go for a more direct approach. Which you would think would be rape, I guess? Nope, they wait for her car to break down on the highway and then come in a transport truck with an operating room in the trailer and surgically impregnate her? Luckily for her, her ex-husband (played by Sam fucking Peckinpah for fuck sakes) is a doctor and gives her an abortion. So there was another totally irrelevant piece to this movie.

And another thing, there's, like, one murder in this movie. Granted it's pretty boss, the girl's pet hawk flies in a buddy's window and pecks his eyes out while he's driving, causing him to drive off the road and get trapped in his burning car. But it's also stupid because he doesn't, like, pull over when this bird is pecking his eyes out, he keeps driving, so really, he killed himself.

Finally, the end scene involves the evil kid getting attacked by a shitload of space pigeons which, like, okay, I get the bird motif throughout the movie, but... man, a flock of birds killing somebody actually looks really bad on screen, I'm sorry.

Overall, this movie had its head more or less in the same place, but it was just really boring. Like, there should have been more weird sci-fi stuff, and more murder. Coz ultimately, this kid didn't really seem to be that much of a threat to humanity. I recommend instead watching Xtro which is similar, but weirder and grosser.

And now, introducing a completely arbitrary ranking system because I feel like it.

- Pretty colours (+1)
- Lance Henriksen is in this film (+1)
- Actually good child actress (+1)
- Main characters' house is amazing (+1)
- Eye pecking action (+1)
- Pong (+1)
Total: (+6)

- Christian theology as space drama is stupid (-1)
- Astrology (-1)
- Too much exposition (-5)
- Too much sports, including basketball, gymnastics, and ice skating (-5)
- Music was way too dramatic for what was going on on screen (-1)
- Murder birds. Birderers? (-1)
Total: (-14)

Final Score: -8 stars

Directed by: Michael J. Paradise.  Written by: Luciano Comici, Robert Mundi.  Starring: John Huston, Joanne Nail, Paige Connor, Lance Henriksen, Mel Ferrer, Shelley Winters, Glenn Ford, Sam Peckinpah, Franco Nero, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


Hell (2011)

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Here's another movie with "hell" in the title. Is it hell-month over here? Probably not. Hell is set in 2016 after global temperature rose by ten degrees celsius, causing most of the human population to die out and society to disintegrate. A woman (Hannah Herzsprung), her younger sister (Lisa Vicari), her boyfriend (Lars Eidinger), and some guy they meet at a gas station (Stipe Erceg) face dehydration, starvation, burning hot sunlight, and cannibals, in an attempt to get to the mountains where they believe there were still be water.

The poster for this movie, as you can see, has "Roland Emmerich" written on it in big ass capital letters so I had very low expectations and as such was pleasantly surprised, for you see, Roland Emmerich only produced it. It was written and directed by other people. It's not a great movie, by any means, but it is also not a Roland Emmerich movie and that in itself is a form of greatness.

The film is pretty minimalist, with almost no music, little in the way of special effects, and bare bones cinematography, focusing instead on the characters and story.

The characters for the most part aren't all that great. The two sisters are pretty much useless through the first part of the movie, relying on the men to do stuff for them and making me wonder how they actually survived the apocalypse, until the older sister suddenly becomes really resourceful at the end in order to service the plot. The boyfriend is an utter dink, constantly trying to convince the main character to ditch the gas station guy and the little sister. Gas Station Man goes from attacking the group and trying to steal their water and shit to helping them with very little development (he has a short bonding scene with the younger sister and then he's, like, Mr. Man). The acting was pretty good, I think. For some reason on Shudder the movie, which is originally in German, was dubbed into French and then subbed in English, a combination which makes it pretty hard to tell how the acting was, but, like, everybody's facial expressions were spot on. The main villain (Angela Winkler) particularly would have been creepy in any language.

As well, the main story - a woman doing whatever she has to do to protect her little sister - is really compelling and believable. It's irritating that said woman seems to need a man to help her almost every step of the way, but hey, I'll take it. This is also the first movie I've seen that addresses menstruation in a post-civilized world. Like, as somebody who menstruates, every apocalypse movie I watch there's always a point where the thought "did they stockpile tampons?" trickles down my leg. They didn't really get into how unpleasant it would be, it was more "woo, I'm not pregnant" which would also be a really fucking valid concern in a world where hospitals and epidurals no longer exist and all condoms are expired forever and still never gets fucking brought up. So, you know. Post-apocalyptic horror movies with female characters who menstruate. That's the future the liberals want.

The qualms I had with the movie were three. The first, it travels very well trodden ground. No, I don't need to be blown away by originality every time I watch a movie because I'm not a total pretentious fuck (only like, 70% pretentious fuck because I use words like "pastiche"). But this movie feels like a pastiche of a bunch of other movies that have gone before. Like there's a part where the little sister gets grabbed by a roving gang of marauders and the older sister goes after her and she meets this woman who offers her water and shelter and like, I thought it was pretty obvious that this woman was aligned with the bad people and that they were probably eating people and that, if they were smart, they would use the girls as breeders. I mean, that's just, like, apocalypse 101 isn't it? And, yeah, that's what happens. Spoilers. That being said, this movie actually progressed sensibly enough that it wasn't that big of a deal.

Problem the second I mentioned before but the two female characters were just completely fucking useless through half the movie. That really bothered me. Like, there's a scene early on where the gang is travelling in their jeep and come across a fallen piece of a fucking radio tower or something across the road and of course the two guys get out to push it out of the way while the girls just sit in the car. Like, fuck you, get out and help them. Feminists didn't battle for equal rights for centuries for you to just sit there and watch while the menfolk rescue your asses. So then they decide that the three adults will push the thing while the younger sister hauls it out with the jeep, and the gas station guy has to give her a tutorial on how to drive stick. Okay, the girl's like fourteen, under regular circumstances she might not necessarily know how to drive, but under Apocalypse Circumstances where your ability to survive hinges on your vehicle, you need to know how to fucking drive. Also, there's this part where she has to pee and she wanders like way the fuck away from the jeep to do so. Fuck that. If I'm out in the woods at night, or even in the day time, I pee like three feet away from my buds. I'm not gonna wander off and get eaten by a fucking bear with my pants down around my ankles.

My final concern was that, okay, there's all these people on this farm that are eating people to survive because there's very little water and plants and farm animals can't survive anymore. That's fine, they've got their whole The Road thing going on, that's what I would do. As usual, they can't seem to find a way to cook human meat that makes it look in any way appetizing where realistically human meat probably looks a lot like any other kind of meat. Anyway, they've got the two girls to use for breeders so the family can persist. And I can't help but wondering why, ya know? Like, don't you think you're going to run out of other people to eat after a while? Aren't you just dooming the next generation to starvation once the human-meat runs out? Isn't it time to let the human race die?

Furthermore they've got a whole barn full of captured people to eat at their leisure but... like... what are they feeding those people if they don't have any food? Are they feeding them other people? That seems sort of counter productive. It would be much more efficient to capture people to order. Alternatively, they may all be crazy and eating people just for funzies. Again, that's what I would do. Post-apocalypse films are great for living out ones lawless fantasies and one of mine is finding out what people tastes like.

That got really personal. To conclude, this movie isn't really spectacular or action packed or any of that but it's actually not bad if you're into this particular sci-fi/horror subgenre.

Directed by: Tim Fehlbaum.  Written by: Tim Fehlbaum, Oliver Kahl, Thomas Woebke. Starring: Hannah Herzsprung, Lisa Vicari, Angela Winkler, Stipe Erceg, Lars Eidinger.