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Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween (1978 & 2007)

I'm doing something a little differant today in order to celebrate Halloween... I'm doing a Double Bill Review of the classic John Carpenter movie "Halloween," and Rob Zombie's 2007 remake.


First up, let's look at the original John Carpenter movie from 1978.  Simply put, this is classic horror movie storytelling at its finest.  The story is tight, interesting, and well crafted.  It's simple and bare bones- it doesn't try to bring in unnecessary plot twists or even try to make the world complicated.  It knows what it wants to do- and does it.  It scares you.

The acting is great in this movie.  Donald Pleasence was simply a pleasure to watch as the Dr. Sam Loomis.  His eyes at the end express so much that it's just amazing.  P.J. Soles as Linda and Nancy Loomis as Annie were well cast, and looked great in the roles.  Their characters were unique, well formed, and likable.  Nick Castle, who played Michael Meyers, was simply awesome.  With no lines, he was able to project menace and evil and purpose simply with the way he walked and moved.  The scene just after Laurie's stabs him in the eye with a coat hanger and she flees into the bedroom door way worked so well because of the way Castle sat up and turned his head behind her.  Just a chilling scene.  And of course, we can't forget Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie.  For an actress in her first film, Curtis did a great job.  She didn't have the "hotness" that's associated with so many of the horror movie actresses these days- though she was still nice to look at.  She LOOKED like an average, everyday, North American babysitter, which made her role much more believable and made the character one that people could relate to better.

As I said before, this movie is a well crafted piece of movie storytelling.  The camera work is amazingly well done.  The opening sequence is just phenomenal in that it only had one edit involved.  The use of wide angle shots at the start, and progressively tighter, closer shots near the end of the movie was creative, innovative, and effective.  It made the story more tense and personal, echoing the approach of the climatic scene.  One of my favorite pieces of wide angle camera work involves the scene where Loomis has just talked to the Sheriff, and you can see Michael Meyers in the stolen car in the background.  As Loomis turns his head to look down the street, Meyers turns on to the road and drives away in Loomis' blind spot- just great timing on that scene.

In summation, John Carpenter's "Halloween" is one of those masterpieces of horror that deserves it's place on honour in both horror history, but cinema history as well.  I'm definately giving this movie a spot in 'The Good".


Now, let's skip ahead to 2007, when Rob Zombie's remake came out.  A lot of "Halloween" fans felt that it was an abomination and a bastardization of Carpenter's work.  Personally, I like it... though I have to admit it has its flaws.

Rob Zombie's "Halloween" decided to look at the story from another perspective- that of Michael Meyers himself.  It deals with his childhood, and how we became the killer he did.  I have always maintained that IF you're going to do a remake/reboot, you NEED to bring something new to the table.  Rob Zombie's version did that in its exploration of the Michael Meyers character.  For that, I applaud Rob Zombie, and can appreciate the film for it.

The acting, while not top notch, was fairly good.  Malcolm McDowell was good as Dr. Loomis, though to be honest,  I felt he looked "wrong" for the part, and I didn't care as much for the character since he was a bit of a dick.  Daeg Faerch- who plays the young Michael Meyers, did a phenominal job in the role.  He brought a real sense of detachment from reality to the character, and potential menace as well.  Just a wonderful job that brought depth to the character.  I also really like Tyler Mane's portrayal of the older Michael.  He's an imposing person that towered over all he stood next too.  With just his eyes, he conveyed hate, and rage, and the desire to destroy all that exists around him.  His long hair really helped as well to create a truly scary, scary character.  Even though he didn't have a huge role in this movie, I did enjoy seeing Brad Dourif as the Sheriff... though I will confess that, just like McDowell, he just didn't look "right" for the role.  Scout Taylor-Compton did a passable job as Laurie in my opinion, and certainly looked the role.  I wish I could say that I liked all the characters, but I can't really.  Most of them were less than likable.  The most engaging and likable was Meyers himself.

The film also looked good too, but there really weren't all that many shots that stick out in my memory as being outstanding.  The camera work was still engaging and well done... just not outstanding enough to become iconic.

I'm torn in my opinion about the pacing of the story.  I liked the first half, where they're exploring Meyer's youth and time in the institution, but felt it was a little longer than it needed to be- almost as if it was another movie spliced onto another.  Once it kicked into the actual retelling of the "Halloween" story, I liked it a bit more as it the pace of the story picked up and kept me interested more.

While I may not be a big fan of remakes/reboots, I have to say that I did enjoy Rob Zombie's "Halloween"- just not enough to put it on the same level as Carpenter's.  I'm going to have to place the 2007 version in 'The Bad".

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Insidious (2011)

 

I'm a real fan of ghost stories and ghost oriented movies- which would explain why movies like, "The Woman in Black," "Poltergeist," "The Amityville Horror," "The Changeling," "The Others," and the "Paranormal Activity" franchise appeal to me.  I'm always interested when I hear a new one is coming out, and get really excited when I find one that is really well done.  But that's not to say that all of them are great.  Some do have some flaws that are hard to ignore.

Josh and Renai Lambert have moved into a new house with their three children when their son, Dalton suffers a fall and slips into a coma.  When strange phenomena begin to occur, the family moves again in the hopes of escaping the haunting.  Unfortunately, things get worse in their new home until a paranormal investigator reveals that Dalton is lost in the astral plane, and that spirits are attracted to the house by the possibility of possessing his body.  Dalton's spirit must be found before something evil steps out of the ether and takes him for good...

I really liked the first half of this movie.  The fact that the people behind this movie were also responsible for the "Paranormal Activity" movies really raised my hopes for a suspenseful, interesting, and creepy foray into the world of ghosts and spirits.  There is great suspense built up, and the scares are well paced and creative.  My favorites involve the scene where Renai is chasing the dancing boy through the house and is led to a cabinet, and the "red faced man" that appears behind Josh as they're discussing things at the dining room table.  The characters were likable, which helped raise the tension throughout the movie.  It was a well crafted piece of work for the first half.

The second half, while still enjoyable, felt like it was actually a different movie.  The first half of the movie is very remeniscent of "The Changeling," and the second "Paranormal Activity" movie in mood and creepiness.  The second have is very much like "Poltergeist"- which is one of my favorite movies.  It just didn't fit in with the first part of the movie.  There is a noticable change in tone that was a little jarring and shook me out of my state of suspended disbelief.  It's still a decent part of the movie with some great scenes and humour as well- especially the seance scene where the medium (who incidentally looks a LOT like the head paranormal investigator from "Poltergeist") wears a gas mask to communicate with the ghosts.  As much as I enjoyed the humour introduced by the paranormal investigators, it came a little late into the movie, and dropped the over all tone of the movie.

The acting was good, and I liked how in the first half, Renai- played by Rose Byrne, was the focus of the movie during the first half, while Patrick Wilson's character, Josh was the focus of the second half.  It was a nice switch.  I also enjoyed Lin Shaye as the medium, with Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as her partners.  Great humour from them.

If "Insidious" had been a bit smoother in its transition of tone from the first to second halves, this movie would've gotten a higher rating from me.  Since it felt like I was watching two different movies, I'm going to have to put it in "The Bad".

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Amityville Horror (1979)

When it comes to movies, the horror genre is one of the few where houses are as much a character as the humans.  Certain houses are immediately identifiable with certain movies:
  • The Meyers house from John Carpenter's "Halloween";
  • Nancy's house from Wes Craven's "A Nightmare on Elm St";
  • Norman Bate's house from Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho"; and
  • The Lutz home from any "Amityville Horror" movie.
George and Kathy Lutz have just moved into 112 Ocean Ave- where a brutal mass murder had occured just the year before.  Soon, however, their dream house becomes a house of horrors and the couple must fight to protect their children from the evil that resides with them... and keep it from causing history to repeat itself...

There has always been controversy regarding the background for the movie, since it's based on a book documenting the experiences of the real-life Lutz family.  Because of this controversy, the subject of the validity of the "Amityville Horror" is one that fascinates most people interested in the paranormal.  Even though I research the paranormal myself, I'm going to simply concern myself with the movie itself as entertainment, rather than a factual film.

James Brolin, who plays George Lutz was given a copy of Jay Anson's book to read since there was no script at the time.  While reading one of the creepier sections, a pair of pants that he'd hung up fell.  Brolin jumped in fright, and decided to do the film.

The film is actually quite entertaining, if not a little dubious for those that haven any serious knowledge of the paranormal.  The story is well crafted scriptwise, and decently paced- though slow at moments.  The special effects are simple, but effective for the time period.  While, the movie isn't very action packed in terms of scares, the build up of tension and mood is good.  If anything, my only complaint has to do with the acting.  Brolin looks great in the role- in fact he looks amazingly like the REAL George Lutz, but his acting is a bit stiff and wooden, while Margot Kidder as Kathy made me want to tell her to shut the hell up... but then again, I tend to want to tell her that in most of the movies I see her in.

While this isn't a film I'd haul out on a daily basis, I would have no problem watching it once a year- especially if I'd been reading the book as well.  I am going to place, "The Amityville Horror" in "The Bad"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Carol Ann's Theme" From "Poltergeist" (1982)

I think when people think of the word "poltergeist," they automatically think of the 1982 classic, the phrase, "They're heeere!" and this song.

Why do I like this "Carol Ann's Theme" from the movie, "Poltergeist"?  Well, it's a beautiful melody- almost a lullaby that echos the sweetness and innocence of the little girl Carol Ann, who was played by Heather O'Rourke.  It's soothing, and gentle... but haunting at the same time- hinting at the supernatural elements circling around Carol Ann.  You're lulled into a sense of comfort and ease, before having that comfort disturbed by the errie laughter of children at the end.  When I hear that part, I always shiver, since I can't help imagining the darkened hallway outside my room being inhabited by ghostly children playing tag up and down its length.

Simply put, it's a piece of music that deserves its place in horror movie music history.  This is one of those songs I always listen to as part of my "Halloween Playlist"... though sometimes, I swear I hear the soft pitter patter of children in the hallway in the still of the night, and a sweet voice whispering, "They're heeere..."


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Xquisite Corpse 2011 Chapters 6 to 8

Some of you may be wondering where last week's summary was... and possibly where ANY of my posts have been the past week.  Well, due to technical difficulties inside and outside the corner (e-mail, having to re-install Windows), and beginning a graveyard shift job, it's been a little crazy here.  So, without any further ado, I bring you the lastest summary of William Castle's 2011 Xquisite Corpse story!

The story so far:


Johnnie Moon has a gift- a gift that winds up costing him a leg and his Harley.  A mysterious woman with black hair calls out to him through the gift... but to what end?  What importance does she and Johnnie have to the fate of the world?  While allowing Johnnie the opportunity to avoid disaster at one turn, will the gift bring him nothing but horror at the next?
 Having just barely escape death, Johnnie is now forced to take the long road to his destiny with the black haired woman in his visions.  On the way, he comes across the auburn haired Raven and a child that will die if Johnnie doesn't act to deflect fate's fatal shot.  But Raven, her boyfriend, and the child may be more than he thinks... and could very well mean trouble he doesn't need...
Johnnie gets deeper into the shadowy lives of Raven, her boyfriend and their child.  A mysterious black suited man wants to get to Johnnie before the black haired woman can- but why?  Johnnie winds up trapped in the middle of two sides in an ongoing conflict that could herald the end of the Earth.  But is it a battle between good and evil... or between evil... and a worse evil...?
Patrick Power brings us Chapter Six, and introduces us to the idea that Raven may not be the sweet woman she seems to be, while Madeline Usher wrote Chapter Seven, and describes the setting beautifully.  Chapter Eight is brought to you by yours truely, me!  In this chapter, I introduce the dark suited man, and the coming conflict.  I hope you enjoy it!

For the full story, check out William Castle's blog!

You can also read his "Scare It Forward!" tales at the links below:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kenneyville (2010)


I tend to favor independently produced horror films over the larger Hollywood studio ones... and I tend to favor Canadian independently produced horror films even more.  They tend to offer more in the way of potential for original ideas and underappreciated talent.  Of course, some show potential, but don't necessarily reach its fullness of being.

While investigating the disappearance of a Toronto woman, Kelly and Charlie discover a clue that leads them to the small town of Kenneyville.  Things turn ugly and desperate when the pair is jumped, and Kelly is kidnapped.  Now, her partner, aided by a local named Donovan, must find her before she suffers the same fate as the woman they set out to find...

I found "Kenneyville" to be a bit of a hit and miss type of movie.  There are some elements that are spot on and extremely well done, while there are others that are just less than stellar.  When creating a surreal, dream-like feeling, or a real feeling of unease, they do a creative job of it.  Two scenes stick out in my mind.  The first involves the character of Kelly after she's been drugged by the evil Dr. Black.  She opens a door and has a un-nerving and weird hallucination.  The removal of colour from the scene, except for touches of it here and there was cool- as was the quick editing and sound.  I was impressed by that particular scene.  The other scene is a bit more simple, but also disturbing at the same time.  It's when the demented Victoria has Donovan in the barn.  All you see is the light from a cam corner, Donovan's face, and her hand wearing a surgical glove.  The way she touches him made me a little uncomfortable... again, I was impressed. While there are skillful and creative moments like that, the camera work in general was a little bland.  The film quality also seemed to skip from crisp and glossy, to dul and lifeless almost randomly.  This, for me at least, kept me from feeling the constant tension needed to be engaged by what was happening.

I found it hard to keep myself interested in the predicament that our heros were in for another reason.  I couldn't relate to them very well.  We learn practically nothing about them during the movie.  There was really no reason to care about them, to be honest.  Vanessa Broze did an okay job with the character of Kelly, but she really didn't DO much beyond get tied up, stuffed in a trunk, and get stripped down to her bra.  To be fair to her, she didn't have much to work with in regards to character development... or lines for that fact.  Charlie- played by Dany Gehshan, was just as bad in his lack of any real depth to his character.  The two seemed kinda like a cheap Skully and Mulder set-up to me.  The character of Donovan, as performed by Doran Damon, made me shake my head, since he seemed to be a stereotypical hick, who only served as transportation for Charlie.  With the accent he used, I couldn't tell if the story was taking place in Canada, or the US.

Even though "Kenneyville" had some fairly lackluster performances, there were two performers that made their moments worthwhile.  The first was Irena Angelousta as the demented Victoria.  She truly made me uncomfortable and nervous.  Good performance, and great look to the character.  The scene with Donovan with the camcorder made me feel creeped out, especially.  The other stand out perforner- though even he was far from spectacula, was Michael Scrath as Dr. Adrian Black.  He looked great in the role, and added some dimension to his charcter with his mannerisms.  Of the characters, his was the most developed... but not much beyond, "I'm an evil, evil man..."

Most of the problems above in regards to the characters (and possibly indirectly, the acting), lie with the story and script.  The premise was decent enough for a start:  Detectives search for a woman in a town, and learn a dark secret.  There's potential there.  The problem is that the story doesn't really go beyond that much, and relies on cliches that you'd find in some of the movies from the 1980's.  I felt that there were some rather large plot holes and loose ends as well.  They introduce a box that Dr. Black needs to complete his experiments... but he somehow manages to complete them without the box.  There's a maxim in story writing that if you discuss a rifle on the wall of a study, you damn well better make sure that rifle gets used at some point.  There are just TOO many questions ignored in this movie regarding WHY the townsfolk simply let things like this happen,what was the "family" that kept getting spoken off, why did Dr. Black need so much rusty and most likely useless machinery when his experiements seemed to involve a drill, a needle, milk, and pills?  I found myself constantly questioning the logic behind the events going on.  Simply put, I didn't feel a sense of cohesion and natural progression in the events taking place.

As I said at the start, "Kenneyville" had potential, but simply didn't fulfill it to my satisfaction.  I hope that the director, Brooks Hunter continues producing film in order to hone the skills I saw in a couple of the scenes.  If he does, he could very well produce some really good stuff down the road.  For now though, I'm going to have to place, "Kenneyville" in "The Ugly," though I'll say it IS worth one viewing at least.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dog Soldiers (2002)


In this era of vampire soap operas (ie- "The Vampire Diaries"), and emo teen vampires (ie- "The Twilight Saga"), it's nice to see that at least the werewolves still tend to be pretty bad ass.

Private Cooper and his squad are on a training exercise when they come across another squad that's been brutually slaughtered.  The lone surivivor- a Captain Ryan, hints that there was a secret agenda to the exercise as the group flees from a vicious attack. Soon, they're stuck in a cabin with a zoologist name Megan, as they're stalked one by one by werewolves...

"Dog Soldiers," simply put is a fun film to watch.

There is some excellent camera work and shots in this film.  One of the best shots is when three werewolves show up behind Megan.  The lighting and the use of shadow made the shot just gorgeous to look at.  During the action scenes, there are some fabulous camera angles and movement that really helped to create a sense of urgency and speed to them.  The film quality wasn't gloss like you'd see in most North American horror movies.  It was a little "gritty" and natural in my opinion, and really added to the atmosphere of the story.

"Dog Soldiers" has a great story too.  While it may not be the most unique or the deepest story out there, it was certainly strong enough to support the action, and the characters within it.  Each of the characters were unique, well formed, and likable.  I especially liked the characters of Sgt Wells, and Pte Witherspoon (aka "Spoon"), but all of them were enjoyable to watch.

And that goes for the acting too.  Kevin McKidd was well cast as Pte Cooper, and though I didn't find him as likable as a couple of the others, he made for a good main character, and was believable.  Emma Cleasby was certainnly nice to look at as the zoologist, Megan- and made her character interesting, despite not having a lot of screen time.  I really quite liked LIam Cunningham as Capt Ryan.  He made a great villian, and did an excellent job of making you happy when he gets hurt.  Just a great performance.  Two of my favorite roles were played by Sean Pertwee, and Darren Morfitt.  I really enjoyed watching Pertwee in the role of Sgt Wells.  He was tough, but fair and cared about his troops.  Pertwee did a great job of getting that across.  He was skilled at making some of the humourous scenes feel natural and real.  I would love to see him in more films.  Morfitt played "Spoon," and had some of the best lines in the movie.  The "boxing" scene between him and a werewolf is one of the must watch scenes of the movie as far as I'm concerned.  He brought a toughness and sense of fun to his character that really appealed to me.

Since this IS a werewolf movie, I have to discuss the werewolves.  The effects were great I felt.  If I saw one of those tall, hairy beasts in my door way, I'd scream, curl up in the fetal position and pass out.  Just wonderful pieces of animatronics that looked great.  In most movies, the werewolf looks pretty much like a human in a fur coat.  These werewolves looked like wild animals.  They were lean, mean, killing machines.  My only complaint with them was their motions could've been a bit more organic and smooth... but it certainly didn't detract from enjoying the movie in any way.

If you haven't seen "Dog Soldiers" yet, go out, find a copy, and watch it.  Seriously- do it.  I'm placing this movie in "The Good".

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

As a horror fan, I love when a movie incorporates history into its story.

Gregoire de Fronsac and his Iroquois partner Mani are sent to the french province of Gevaudan to hunt and capture a beast that has been attacking people.  During his investigations, Fronsac meets Marianne and the mysterious Sylvia.  As clues start to gather and Fronsac gets closer to learning the truth, he and his friends find themselves trapped in the clutches of a conspiracy that could shake the foundations of the nation...

"Brotherhood of the Wolf" centers around a very famous and very real "beast" case from France.  Between 1764 to about 1767, a series of attacks by some beast were recorded around the very real province of Gevaudan.  By the end of the creature's reign, 113 people were killed, and 49 injured.  Many claim that it was a pack of wolves, a hyena... and even that Jean Chastel- who is famed as the slayer of the Beast of Gevaudan, WAS the beast.

I'm not normally much for French films, since I find many of them TRYING to be high brow when I want something entertaining.  This movie isn't one of those high brow movies... and I loved it.

The fact that they center the plot around an actual historical event that I've always been fascinated by made the film more enjoyable to me.  The story itself was interesting, well paced and entertaining.  It had a nice blend of drama, horror, humour and romance even.  It wasn't a one note movie like so many made these days.  The characters were well written and interesting.  They were quite natural feeling, which helped make the events seem more natural and believable.  The general pacing of the story was great as well.

I was quite pleased by the acting in this movie as well.  Samuel Le Bihan was great as Fronsac.  His chemistry with the other cast was solid and natural.  I really enjoyed his scenes with Mark Dacascos, who plays Mani.  Dacascos was just a joy to watch as well- especially when he was kicking serious butt.  His quiet, soft spoken manner and speech really helped to make his character interesting and likable.  Emillie Dequenne was both beautiful and charming in the role of Marianne, while Monica Bellucci was extremely good playing the mysterious and seductive Sylvia.  In addition to Bihan, and Dacascos, I have to say that I was really impressed by Vincent Cassel's performance as Jean-Francois- the moody, and rather twisted brother of Marianne.  Just a phenomenal job.  The scene of Jean-Francois and Marianne in her room when he reveals a secret of his is just chilling and amazing.

I find that often, foreign films have the most original and interesting pieces of camera work in movies.  "Brotherhood of the Wolf" is no exception.  This is just a beautiful looking movie.  Great camera angles, camera movement, framing and compositon of shots, lighting, etc.  Just amazing to look at.  The opening fight scene in the rain is just a wonderous sight with it's use of wide shots, close ups, slow motion, edits, etc.  This film just shows off the director's great skills at visual storytelling.

This is one of those rare films that just gets all the elements right and becomes an exciting ride.  It engages your emotions and pulls you into the story.  I have no problem saying that "Brotherhood of the Wolf" is part of "The Good".

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Presence (Heather Graham)

Normally, I wouldn't read books by authors primarily known for writing romance novels.  However, there are two that I do read- Catherine Coulter, because she her "FBI Thriller" series is well written, and Heather Graham's supernatural series.

When Toni and her friends buy an old castle so they can operate tours of the place, they decide to create a fictional laird of the manor and reenact his brutal murder of his adulterous wife.  Unfortunately, the real master of the house arrives and interupts their well intentioned plans.  This wouldn't be so bad if Toni wasn't be haunted by a ghostly figure... who looks exactly like the real laird.  Soon, Toni, laird MacNiall, and her friends are drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse as a killer stalks the forest nearby... a killer that may be getting too close to Toni...

"The Presence" is the second in Heather Graham's supernatural themed, "Harrison Investigations" series.  I enjoyed the first book, "Haunted," and figured I'd give this one a try as well.  I found it enjoyable and interesting.

The style of writing is noticeably geared towards women, but not so much that men can't enjoy it as well.  You just need to keep in mind that it is, by default, intened for a female audience, so it isn't going to be heavy on testosterone laden action words and adrenalined filled action scenes.  The action is more subtle and moves fairly smoothly- which keeps you reading without realizing that time is passing by.  I read this book cover to cover in one sitting and lost track of the time.

It helps that characters are interesting, varied, and plausible.  You come to like Toni, her friends, and the laird Bruce MacNiall.  All the characters are different, with their own distinct personalities.  They're likable, but flawed enough that you'll suspect each and every one of them of being the killer at one point or another.  The chemistry between the characters is enjoyable and believable as well.

The story itself is interesting, and suspenseful with enough twists to keep you wondering and guessing.  It's fluid and easy to read as well, while being descriptive enough to paint a clear picture of the setting and mood of the scene.  I really liked how she blended the flashbacks and the present time into a single, cohesive storyline.

If you enjoy ghost stories and mysteries- with a touch of romance thrown in, then "The Presence" may be the sort of book you'll enjoy.  I'm putting it in "The Good".

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Tubular Bells" From "The Exorcist" (1973)


Not too long ago, I discussed the theme from John Carpenter's "Halloween".  Well, today, I'm going to put down my thoughts on another easily recognizable theme song from another easily recognizable horror movie.  The song is titled, "Tubular Bells," and is from the 1973 classic, "The Exorcist".  The song was composed by Mike Oldfield, and is another one of those simple, yet extremely effective pieces of music that create a real atmosphere in a movie.

The scoring is essentially what the title says- tubular bells repeating the same melody- almost like a music box... but overlapped by a simple repetitious piano melody as well with some wood winds and an electric guitar added for spice.  The bells give the song a real etheral feel- and almost ghostly and dreamlike feel to it, while the guitar solo brings an almost sinister discord to the piece.  The grinding sound of the guitar contrasts excellently with the softer sound of the bells.  Together, the two just make this a wonderful piece of movie music.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Shining (1980)


If you listen to "Film Reviews From the Basement," on Friday night (07 Oct 2011), you will have heard my verbal review of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film, "The Shining".  If you're a regular reader of my blog, then you would've read my review of Stephen King's book- which this movie is based on.  To round things out properly, I'm going to do a bit of a recap and expansion of my movie review today... simply because I can.

I just want it known right off the bat that I DON'T hate Kubrick's films.  In fact, there are a few that I actually enjoy:

  • "Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb" (1964);
  • "A Clockwork Orange" (1971); and
  • "Full Metal Jacket" (1987)
As you can probably guess (if you didn't hear the radio show Friday night) from its absence, "The Shining" is not one of the ones I liked.  Now, before I get lynched by Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson fans, allow me to explaing exactly why it's not on the list above.

It's a technically beautifully shot film.  Each shot is excellent composed, framed, and lit like a piece of artwork almost.  The opening scene itself was scenic, gorgeous and just breathtaking to watch, though I'll admit that the rolling credits detracted from things a bit.  The wide angel shots and high angle showing the small car traveling the long winding road set up the scene beautifully and expressed the isolation of the location excellently.  The are also other great shots too- such as the scene shown at the top of this post where Danny has a vision of the previous caretakers dead daughters.  It's a gruesome, but well put together shot.  The hedge maze chase was also beautiful to watch, great lighting, interesting angles and decent editing.

So, what problem did I have with such beautiful work?  It's very clinically detached from the emotions that they expected to pull from the viewer.  A scene can be perfect from a technical aspect, but bland and lifeless from a emotional point of view.  It felt like everything was staged and planned down to the minutest detail, rather than flowing naturally with the emotions of the characters.

Which brings me to the characters and the actors themselves.  As much as I enjoyed watching Jack Nicholson go nuts, I felt he was the wrong actor for the role.  By the time he made "The Shining," he was well known for characters that were highly unstable on a mental level.  Right from the start, you could tell that his character, Jack Torrence, was lacking a few screws in his machinery... and that took away from the impact of his eventual insanity.  I'm really not sure what to say about Shelly Duvall as his wife, Wendy.  She did a decent job portraying a submissive, meek housewife, but I kept getting distracted by the size of her teeth, and memories of her playing Olive Oyl in "Popeye" with Robin Williams.  While she did a decent job in the role, the character was still rather bland and boring.  I really didn't care whether she lived or died, to be honest.  I got annoyed with her meekness, and wanted her to become determined and face her fears.

I was greatly disappointed in the character of Dick Hallorann- who was played by Scatman Crothers.  The acting wasn't bad- what screen time Crothers actually got that is.  What disappointed me was the fact that a character who plays a fairly big part in the book is reduced to a plot device.  He was essentially introduced simply so he can announce the concept of "shining," and to be killed.  Danny Lloyd actually did a really good job as Danny Torrence- the boy with psychic abilities.  I came to actually like the kid that used his finger to talk as his "imaginary friend" Tony.  The voice he used was excellent... the sound of him repeating "redrum" over and over in that scratchy voice was creepy.  Even though a few of the close-up shots of his terrified face were a little over the top, in general, he made me believe that he was a smart little kid that "saw things," and was scared of them.  Great work by him.

The biggest flaw in the movie is the story... and how it relates to the story from the book.  When a movie is adapted from a book, I have only one real big consideration- are the themes from the book carried over into the movie.  I hate to say it, but the main theme of Stephen King's book is missing from the movie.  In the book, Jack- who is a recovering alcoholic, discovers some papers about the hotel's less than savory history.  He soon becomes obsessed with researching the hotel's history for a book.  This addiction gives the hotel to get a foothold inside of Jack, with essentially the same results of alcoholism... and leading to Jack's downfall.  This them is completely missing from the movie.  Without this theme, the movie lacks depth and becomes simply a movie about a guy suffering from cabin fever and going after his family.

There is one scene that would've helped add some depth to the character of Jack as well that was missing in the movie.  In the book, as Jack is about to bash in Danny's head with a mallet, he stops himself and warns Danny to run for his life... before the hotel possesses him fully and forces Jack to bash in his own face.  A scene like this would've added depth, and allowed the viewer to connect with Jack a bit more, since in the book, Jack really was a loving husband and father, who just happened to let his addiction get out of control.

Because the biggest flaw of this movie surrounds the theme, I'm going to have to give "The Shining" a spot in "The Bad".  I freely admit it's a beautiful and influencial film... but not one I'd sit through more than once.

If you want to hear the radio edition of this review, check out the "Film Reviews From the Basement" podcast!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Xquisite Corpse 2011 Chapters 4 & 5

Monday rolls around and thoughts turn to work... and my latest summary of William Castle's 2011 Xquisite Corpse project.  No need to wait, because here it is!

The story so far:
Johnnie Moon has a gift- a gift that winds up costing him a leg and his Harley.  A mysterious woman with black hair calls out to him through the gift... but to what end?  What importance does she and Johnnie have to the fate of the world?  While allowing Johnnie the opportunity to avoid disaster at one turn, will the gift bring him nothing but horror at the next?
 Having just barely escape death, Johnnie is now forced to take the long road to his destiny with the black haired woman in his visions.  On the way, he comes across the auburn haired Raven and a child that will die if Johnnie doesn't act to deflect fate's fatal shot.  But Raven, her boyfriend, and the child may be more than he thinks... and could very well mean trouble he doesn't need...
Rich Orth- who also wrote Chapter Seven of the second "Scare It Forward!" tale this year, brings us Chapter Four, and introduces us to the lovely Raven, while Rickie Guthrie moves things forward and helps Johnnie get into a potentially lethal situation.  How will it turn out?  Only the next writer has any idea on that!  Check out William Castle's blog for the full story, as well as "Scare it Forward!: Undertow," and the second 2011 "Scare it Forward!" tale, and "Scare it Forward!: Angel Island"

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Shining (Stephen King)


I have a very special place in my heart for this particular book.  I first read it at my Aunt's isolated ranch in Vanderhoof, British Columbia.  Her and my Uncle lived about ten kilometers past the last hydro pole on a dirt road.  The house was essentially a log cabin at the base of a mountain.  I remember her giving me the book one night since she knew I enjoyed reading... and it introduced me to the world of horror.

For that, I am forever thankful.

Other than the fact that it was my primary experience with the horror genre, there are other reasons I liked it.

Jack Torrence, his wife Wendy, and son Danny move into the Overlook Hotel as winter caretakers.  Having lost his job due to alcoholism, Jack hopes to start rebuilding his family's life- and to write a novel during the winter.  Soon, however, Danny and Jack learn that the hotel has a sinister past... and plans for them both...

The characters in "The Shining" are very well crafted.  You came to care about them as the story progressed.  You actually grew to like Jack Torrence, and were distressed by his growing obsession and eventual possession by the negative energy of the hotel.  You actually worried about the son and the mother.  You even came to like the cook that shares the same gift as Danny.  They were written as human- with strengths and flaws that we all could relate to.  They weren't simply cookie cutter characters that could be inserted into any story.  Rather, they are unique and fully grown personalities- which helped to add depth to the story.

The story itself is one of depth- one of the themes reflecting parts of the author's life at the time.  When he wrote "The Shinging," King was dealing with alcohol and drug problems.  The emotions he went through are mirrored to some extent by Jack Torrence in the book.  Like many alcoholics, Torrence exchanged one addiction for another, leading to his downfall.  The exploration of this theme is a big part of the appeal this book had for me.  It turned a simple, cabin fever story into something with more complexity and thought.

Of course, there are just some phenomenal imagery in the book as well.  King uses words to paint a world in which his characters then live in and have to deal with.  His words have a rythm and flow to them that is almost musical in nature at times and creates a real mood... it pulls each an every emotion out of you and puts it on display in your brain.  Two scenes in particular from the book that really stick in my memory involve Danny and Jack.

In the first, Danny is by himself outside playing in the playground area near some hedge animals.  As he's playing, he is convinced that the hedge animals are changing positions and stalking him.  To escape them, he goes into a little tunnel that happens to be blocked at one end- causing it to be filled with darkness.  Not only does he have to contend with the hedge animals moving around just outside the open end of the tunnel, but something else is in the tunnel with him... something that wants to play with him for eternity...

The second scene is near the end of the book.  Jack has been stalking Danny through the halls of the Overlook Hotel. As he does so, Jack swings a roque mallet back and forth- striking the walls as he moves along the hallways.  The booming sound echoes through the air like a heartbeat getting closer and closer to Danny.  Just as he's about to strike Danny with the mallet, Jack manages to stop himself and warn Danny to run away.  The evil in the hotel then forces Jack to smash in his own face with the mallet...

These two scenes are so well written, that when I read them, I could almost see and feel everything being described.  The whole book is skillfully written.

In closing, "The Shining" is one of those books that I will definately be inclined to re-read by flicking candle light in my darkened corner.  It's got a firm and solid place in "The Good".

Special Notice!
Make sure you tune into CFBX (92.5 FM) Friday night (07 Oct 2011) at 10:00 pm Pacific Standard Time for "Film Reviews From the Basement," and catch my thoughts on Stanley Kubrick's version of "The Shining"!  If you can't get it on the radio, listen to it live online at www.thex.ca!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's a Classic!

We often hear movie critics (and advertizers) describing a movie as a "classic"- often with the descriptive "timeless" added onto it.  But what makes a horror movie a true "classic"?

Is there a scale that details the criteria that needs to be met before a movie can be classified as a "classic"?  Are there mathematical equations that when tabulated and cross-referenced with a chart of quality to help us in naming a movie a "classic"?

Nope.

The truth of the matter is, the designation of "classic" is somewhat subjective- the definition varies from reviewer to reviewer.  With that in mind, I will do my best to give you my definition of what a "classic" is...

First, let's consider the influence the movie had on the industry and genre.  Did the movie change how people looked at horror movies?  Did the movie change the way director's, etc shot and edit their films?  Did the movie change the way that technology and special effects were used in movies?  Did the movie inspire others to get into the film industry?  Did the movie change the way director's etc think about the various storytelling elements involved (ie- did it inspire more character driven stories, or inspire more "found footage movies")?

If the movie has that sort of impact on the industry and movie experience, then the movie- in my opinion, certainly deserves to be considered an influential movie.

Another thing that needs to be considered is the impact on the population.  If the movie sparked debate and conversations over a wide span of time regarding the motivations of the characters involved, as well as the assumed themes of the story, I would say it had an impac ton the population.  It would be safe to assume that the movie's impact on society was considerable if the movie is analysed as a reflection of society in college courses.

Both impact on the industry/genre and on society are important for an influential movie... but doesn't make it a true classic in my mind.  For that to occur, there is one third element needed.

Does the movie make you want to watch it more than once over a several years?  Sometimes, for me, this trumps the other two requirements.  I have seen influential films that are hailed as "classics"... but never felt the desire to watch more than once.  On the other hand, I've also seen plenty of not-so-influential films that I've watched several times in a year because I wanted to.

So there you have it- my definition of a "classic":

"Any movie that has had over a period of time considerable influence on the industry/genre, collective psyche of society and retains the ability to create the desire to rewatch it over that period of time."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Theme From John Carpenter's "Halloween" (1978)


It's day four of my first annual "Spookapolooza", and I felt like bringing you something a little different... a song.

Music is often overlooked when assessing and reviewing a movie- but is often one of the key elements to creating the right mood and atmosphere... especially in horror movies.  In addition to the books and movies I'll be reviewing this month, I'm going to be bringing you specific songs from various horror movies, and letting you know why I like them.

October, and Halloween wouldn't be the holiday we know and love if it didn't involve today's theme... from the classic 1978 horror movie "Halloween".  John Carpenter composed the music for the movie using a 5/4 meter, and a piano.  While it's been called, "relatively simple and unsophisticated," it is one of those themes that is effective and stays with you.

Why do I like it personally?  Probably because of it's simplicity and how effective it is.  With minimal use of instruments it manages to express the sense of being watched from the shadows.  When I hear it, I can't help but tingle with the sensation that I'm being stalked in my own darkened home by some unknown evil.  The simple reptition of the piano notes is very much like a heartbeat- echoing my racing heart as that unseen killer gets closer and closer to me.  The bass notes make me think of footsteps approaching down the hallway and stopping behind me in the shadows as I write...

I think I'm going to sleep with the light on tonight...


Monday, October 3, 2011

Xquisite Corpse 2011 Chapters 1 to 3

Some of you may be going, "HEY!  It's Monday!  Isn't this supposed to be the weekly summary of William Castle's 2011 "Scare It Forward!" stories?  What's this 'Xquisite Corpse' stuff?"  Well, the answer to that is, quite simple:  For the third tale of terror this year, Mr. Castle is changing things up a bit.  Instead of having a unified theme in regards to the pictures accompaning the chapters- such as the postcards found in the other two this year, each picture will be completely different from each other... creating a macabre collage of words and images.  A Frankensteinian approach to story telling and illustration, if you will.  With the change in approach, comes a change in name.  So, without further ado, allow me to cobble together the first of my Xquisite Corpse 2011 summaries for you...

The story so far:

Johnnie Moon has a gift- a gift that winds up costing him a leg and his Harley.  A mysterious woman with black hair calls out to him through the gift... but to what end?  What importance does she and Johnnie have to the fate of the world?  While allowing Johnnie the opportunity to avoid disaster at one turn, will the gift bring him nothing but horror at the next?

There are three writers this week- with Glen Middleton bringing us the opening piece of our lovely tale, while David J. Russle (Chapter Two) and Brian Lane (Chapter Three) sew on a few more appendages.  I'm really looking forward to seeing how this story shapes up... especially since I'll be writing one of the later chapters myself!

You can read the full Xquisite Corpse story on William Castle's blog.  I also suggest reading the second "Scare It Forward!" tale, as well as "Scare It Forward!: Undertow" from earlier this year... in addition to last year's story, "Scare It Forward!: Angel Island"!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Company of Wolves (1984)


I have to thank my friend Jay (from "Film Reviews From the Basement") for introducing me to this film years ago.  Not only is it an interesting look at the Little Red Riding Hood story, but an interesting werewolf anthology as well.

On the cusp of entering womanhood, Rosaleen dreams that her family and her live in a fairtale forest... but one with hidden, dark secrets that will change her life forever.  For in the forest lives a wolf would wants to have her... and her grandmother who wants to warn her about "the wolf with no fur..."

 "The Company of Wolves" is based on a short story by Angela Carter, with Carter co-writing the screenplay.  She'd also done a radio version of this story as well.

This is a fantastic film in my opinion.  The camera work is very creative and interesting.  The editing creates a great pace for the story.  The lighting and colours are well done and really create a dream-like feel to things.  The costumes are well done as well, giving Rosaleen the innocence of youth, while hinting at the sexual being just underneat her skin.

Angela Landsbury does a great job in her role as Granny.  She bring a charm, wit, and seriousness to the role all at the same time.  I grew to like Granny as she tried to warn Rosaleen about the world.  Sarah Patterson, who plays Rosaleen turns in a great performance.  She really brought out the character's innocence and growing sexuality.  Just a phenomenal job, I thought.  The only character that annoyed me was "Amorous Boy," played by Shane Johnstone.  I found him to be tedious.  Other than him, the cast did a great job.

The framing story is pretty basic- Granny is trying to warn Rosaleen about the dangers that men pose to girls of her age.  She does this by telling her stories about "the wolf without fur"- men that turn into wolves.  The smaller stories are interesting, and well written.  I would love to find the original short story version and read it.

The werewolf effects are extremely well done in my opinion.  Each story shows the transformation differently- which made it more interesting too.  The effects were pretty smoothly done, and fairly believable.  I especially like the one where the wolf snout comes out of the werewolf's mouth, though I also liked the "skin peeling transformation" scene too.

If you want an honestly decent werewolf anthology movie, with a good story, interesting characters, and great transformation scenes- then "The Company of Wolves" is definately one you should check out!  I'm giving this movie a spot in "The Good"!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Spookapolooza 2011 Begins!


When my friend Jay (from "Film Reviews in the Basement") and I were younger, we would throw some pretty mean Halloween paries.  We even did up posters to hand out to our friends advertizing our annual "Spookapolooza" festivities.  In honour of those great memories, I'm proud to introduce "The Corner of Terror's" first annual "Spookapolooza"!

As part of the fun, I will be posting EVERY SINGLE DAY of October.  That's right- every day this month, there WILL be a post by me.  Won't that be fun, eh?

Every Monday, you can expect my regular summary of William Castle's 2011 "Scare it Forward!" project- with one of the chapters actually being written by myself!

On October 7th, I'll be appearing on the "Film Reviews From the Basement" radio show as a guest reviewer- and I'll be doing their live Twitter feed as well- check it out!  On the 8th, I'll be posting a special review of the movie I cover on the radio show as well.

I'll be reviewing various movies as well during the month.  Some of them you'll find in the list below:
  • "It came From Another World!" (2007;
  • "Scared to Death" (1947);
  • "Trick 'r Treat" (2007);
  • "Kenneyville"; and
  • "Doctor Blood's Coffin" (1961);

I'll be also be doing a dual review of John Carpenter's "Halloween," and Rob Zombie's "Halloween" as well as many more movies!

I've been wanting to add a few more horror novels to the site, so I'll doing a fair number of them as well this month!  Some of the reviews you can expect are:

  • "The Shining" (Stephen King);
  • "The Presence" (Heather Graham);
  • "For Love of Audrey Rose" (Frank De Felitta);
  • "The Servants of Twilight" (Dean Koontz); and
  • "Frankentein" (Mary Shelly).

Spread throughout the reviews, I hope to discuss other horror related topics, such as the value of suspense over gore, the value of horror movies in general, and the value of horror novels over horror novies.

So, stay tuned throughout the month as "The Corner of Terror" presents "Spookapolooza 2011"!