Sunday, October 21, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series" #12 The Innkeepers

Another Ti West flick - man, this guy really knows how to make me jump.  As I got the DVD for The Innkeepers spinning, my initial notes say: "I think this is going to be scary/jumpy" and I was right.  Haunted house and ghost story horror movies are difficult for me because I am SO jumpy; I ended up watching much of this movie with my glasses off, not because it was actively scary - once the scares really started, it was easier to watch - but because of the anticipation.

On the last weekend before the Yankee Pedlar Inn closed for good, hotel staff Claire (Sara Paxton, excellent) and Luke (Pat Healy, quite good) are bored out of their minds.  Friendly with each other but adrift in their own lives, there aren't enough guests to keep them busy so they decide to see if they can find evidence of the ghosts said to be haunting the inn.  Luke has some recording equipment and the hope is to upload some evidence to the website he's building based on the inn.  They take turns manning the front desk and when it's Claire's turn, she wanders the creaky corridors, calling out to Madeline O'Malley, a woman said to have died on her wedding night.  Some odder than normal hotel guests check in, Claire gets a little paranoid and as the weekend wears on, things start to get a little weird.  Whether you (as the movie goer) believe that it's really supernatural or that it's just the characters' paranoia kicking in, shit still gets real.

I thought The Innkeepers was great.  It absolutely isn't for people who like their horror with big gore and giant jumpscares and naked boobs and lots of pandemonium.  Like The House of the Devil before it, The Innkeepers takes its time and, I think, is all the better for it.  Much of the movie is just Claire and Luke hanging out, dealing with hotel guests, taking out the trash, being funny and realistic.  That meant, when things got tense, I cared about them.  Makes a huge difference.  Plus, there are lots of shots of long corridors and dark corners that last just a little too long, ratcheting up the suspense and convincing me that something horrible was about to happen.  And yes, the Yankee Pedlar was a real hotel in Torrington, Connecticut, and yes, it was rumored to be haunted, and yes, it has, in fact closed and may never reopen.

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #11 Triangle

Let me first state for the record that I did not have high hopes for 2009's Triangle, starring Melissa George and the second best Hemsworth brother (who gets sixth billing).  I didn't much care for it when I finished it BUT when I read this Den of Geek review, I decided I liked it better in retrospect.  So, if you watch Triangle and aren't crazy about it, go click on that link and see if you like it more then.

With that rave opening ...

There are a couple of feints thrown into this little movie.  At first you think it's going to be a lost-at-sea/Bermuda Triangle thriller.  Six people board a sailboat (christened the Triangle): owner Greg, deckhand Victor (Liam Hemsworth), Greg's rich friends Sally and Downy (WTF kind of name is that?), Sally's friend Heather (with whom Sally is hoping to fix up Greg) and Jess (Melissa George), a girl Greg kind of likes but who seems really out of it.  After some sailing, they are suddenly becalmed and then a freak storm capsizes them, washing Heather away, never to be seen again.  RIP Heather.  Then, a cruise ship appears and the remaining five climb aboard.  Even though there is edible food still set up in the ballroom, and the engines are running just fine, they can't find any passengers or crew.  Until someone starts killing them off, one by one, until only Jess is left.  She battles this masked stranger and, just as she knocks her assailant overboard, the killer shouts, "You have to kill them all!"  Then Jess hears voices and sees the capsized Triangle, with herself, Greg, Victor, Sally and Downy on board, and she watches as they board the cruise ship again.

Then this little movie turns into a timeloop thriller, with Jess (but which Jess?) trying to figure out how to break free.  I'm not going to try to unravel the plot because I don't want to spoil anything.  I'm also not going to go into any detail about the third act either, because it totally changes the stakes of the game and was where my interest was piqued.  Throughout the course of the movie, the myth of Sisyphus is mentioned: as punishment for his sins, Sisyphus was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity, only for it to break free each time he reached the top and roll back down to the bottom.  In Jess's struggles to free herself from this loop, she experiences the same panic and desperation over and over again, unceasingly.

Truly, the more I read about Triangle the more I think I appreciate it - although it is absolutely not a horror movie but a thriller - I just feel like the first half of the script should have gone through a few more drafts before filming started.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #10 Emelie

A bad babysitter flick recommended to me by a friend from grade school (!!).  It's a decent entry into the genre - only I watched it too soon after Hereditary and, quite frankly, nothing is going to seem scary after that one.

Emelie (on Netflix streaming) starts out with a bit of a startle:  teenaged Anna, walking down the street, talking on her phone to a friend about tonight's new babysitting gig, is abducted in broad daylight.  Next scene:  "Anna" is picked up by the dad for a new babysitting gig since the family's regular sitter, Maggie, canceled on short notice.  The parents are a little concerned about a new sitter but are excited enough about an evening out that they push their worries aside.  Before long, however, the new sitter is revealed to be not quite right.  First of all, her name is Emelie, not Anna.  She lets the three kids paint on the walls, she feeds nine-year-old Sally's pet hamster to eleven-year-old Jake's python in front of the kids and she shows the parents' sex tape to the younger two children.  She is rough with Sally and both teases and ignores Jake, but it's four-year-old Christopher of whom she seems fond.  During Christopher's bedtime story, we get Emelie's backstory: she was a young, single mom who tragically lost her baby.  She snapped and now she's looking for a replacement, aided by some whackadoo guy.  Jake is a smart kid and he gets suspicious; when she slips cold medicine into the kids' drinks, he makes himself vomit it up, then he has to try to rescue his unconscious siblings before Emelie runs off with Chris.

There are some tense moments to Emelie, probably more so if you have kids of your own.  Any violence happens off-screen and there's not that much to be scared about.  I felt it was more like a hard-core Home Alone than anything particularly scary, so if you're looking for something slightly jumpy, kids-in-peril-but-not-really thriller, this should do the trick.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #9 Hereditary

The Graham family is grieving in the wake of the death of Annie's mother.  Annie (the amazing Toni Collette) is a miniaturist/diorama artist and throws herself into intricate, miniature depictions of her own spaces.  Her older husband (Gabriel Byrne) tries, consistently and yet ineffectually, to support his family.  Their son, stoner high schooler Peter, wasn't particularly close to his grandmother but their very weird, intensely shy, kind of funny-looking daughter Charlie was, and she seems lost now - uttering a strange verbal tic and constructing toys/figurines out of plastic, wire and - ugh - actual animal parts.  Annie tries a grief-counseling group and unleashes a terrible monologue about the history of mental illness in her family: her father killed himself by starvation, her brother killed himself after accusing her mother of "putting people in him" and her mother was cold, distant, secretive, manipulative and deeply strange.  The Grahams' time at home together is tense and very uncomfortable.

Then - and I don't want to say any more than the bare minimum - in a shocking, SHOCKING event, a truly horrific accident happens and the family is hurled deeper into grief, pain and horror.  When unexplainable things start happening at the house, it is unclear whether they're really happening or it's Annie's own schizophrenia manifesting itself.  The end of the movie ramps up with violence, haunted house scenarios, witches and devil worship but really, truly, it is the earlier focus on the family's real pain in the face of loss that is the most scary.

Wow.  That was awesome.  Toni Collette was absolutely incredible and Alex Wolff, who plays son Peter, was top-notch as well.  Super-tense and uncomfortable, very effective scares and visuals both arty and gory.  At two-plus hours Hereditary is maybe a little long but it is definitely one of the good ones.

From my notes:  "Those ain't no flowers in the attic."

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #8 Pandorum

I also quite like space horror ... usually.  In 2009's Pandorum, it is 2174 and Earth has pretty much exhausted its resources, sending a massive spaceship out with colonists in search of a habitable new planet.  A couple of Flight Crew 5 members - Bower (played by Ben Foster) and Payton (Dennis Quaid) - are awakened from their cryosleep (or whatever) with no immediately recollection of who they are or what they're doing.  They are locked into their cryobay (or wherever) and can't raise anyone else anywhere on the ship.  While commanding officer Payton stays behind to work on the computer interface (or whatever), Bower crawls through the air ducts to try to open the locked door, find any other living person and restart the ship's reactor which is about to melt down (or something).

Out in the rest of the ship, Bower is dismayed to find two sets of survivors: a couple of awakened colonists who look like space versions of Mad Max and cannibalistic mutants who look like a cross between Firefly's Reavers and The Descent's monsters.  Plus there is some sort of space madness called "Pandorum" that makes humans go crazy and kill each other/themselves.  It's not really explained all that well.

Nothing in this movie is done all that well, to be honest.  It's very dark so it's difficult to see what's going on.  The editing is choppy and the action scenes are sped up, making things difficult to follow.  It's violent but not terribly bloody except for a couple of intestine-eating scenes.  And they went to the trouble of hiring Norman Reedus (my beloved Daryl from The Walking Dead) for what scarcely counts as a cameo before SPOILER he gets dragged off and eaten alive.  What a waste.

I give this one a solid "meh."  Also, WTF with this poster:

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #7 The Company of Wolves

Of all the horror movies I watch, monster movies are my favorites.  And of all the monster movies (which to me include zombie flicks), I like werewolf movies the best.  The problem is, for some reason there just aren't that many good werewolf movies.  American Werewolf in London - yes oh yes.  Ginger Snaps - you betcha.  Dog Soldiers - can I get a hell-yes.  But past that, pickings get slim.  (The Underworld series = ugh.)

So I've tried to search out some more wolves this year and I found this one:  The Company of Wolves, directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, etc.) with a screenplay credit by Angela Carter, who based it on her short story of the same name from her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber.  It's from 1984 and is more nightmarish fairy tale than out and out horror, although there is one particularly gruesome transformation sequence where the transforming werewolf (Stephen Rea) strips off his human skin before wolfing out.

The outside framework of the movie is set at the country estate of a wealthy family.  The younger daughter is having fever dreams, including one where she and her family are living in Ye Olden Times.  This dream is the main setting of the movie, with characters telling additional stories within the dream.  Werewolves plague Ye Olden Times, werewolves plague the inserted stories - (1) a bridegroom leaves his wife on their wedding night, returning years later and wolfing out when she hasn't waited for him; (2) a boy wolfs out when trying out some snake oil potion; (3) a scorned village witch turns her former lover's wedding party into wolves and makes them howl for her every evening; (4) a wolf girl seeks refuge at a church - and at the end, werewolves break into the younger daughter's waking world, heralding the loss of her innocence.

Some of the images are quite striking, especially the transformed wedding party and the wolves running through the country estate.  The movie itself is a little disjointed - I'm not sure the country estate framework story really worked - but I really enjoyed the fairy tale aspect.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #6 Suspiria

I have finally watched Dario Argento's Suspiria, that 1977 Italian giallo classic.  It was a trip and, to be honest, a little difficult to describe.  The plot is largely meaningless but, if you really want to know - SPOILERS AHEAD: young American ballet dancer Susie Banyon arrives in Germany to enroll in Tanz Dance Academy.  The night she arrives, another student runs screaming out into the dark and stormy night and no one will let Susie in.  The escaping student and a friend are brutally killed and when Susie finally gets into the academy, everyone is all atwitter with the news.  Other very weird things happen, like maggots falling from the ceiling, Susie falling ill from her food, the blind pianist's Seeing Eye dog killing and eating the blind pianist, another student falling into a room full of razor wire.  You know, usual dance academy stuff.  Susie is tough, resourceful and persistent, however, and soon figures out that the academy is run by a coven.  After she dispatches the main witch, she strides off into the night, strong and beautiful, as the academy burns down behind her.

While Suspiria was a little languid for my frame of mind at the time (and not at all scary), the sets and lighting are simply gorgeous, the music is fantastic and the red tempera paint sloshing everywhere as the buckets of blood is magnificent.  And even though I ended up watching it dubbed in English, the dubbing was pretty good.  Suspiria is really more of a horror concept than anything else.  If you don't need much plot or pacing and just want a technicolor experience to wash over you, if you feel like you should see one of the most influential 1970s proto-horror movies out there, then dive into this one.  (P.S. Speaking of diving, the most amazing indoor swimming pool I have ever seen is in this movie.)

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #5 The House of the Devil

Yes!  A great one!  Woohoo!  The House of the Devil!

It is the 1980s, from the Walkmans and feathered hair, to the soundtrack, to the camera shots and angles.  Destitute college student Samantha is desperate to score off-campus housing: her roommate boinks random dudes all the time, is a total slob (to Samantha's neat-nik) and can't be bothered to write down her phone messages.  She finds a great little apartment and the understanding landlady (played by Dee Wallace! Cujo! The Hills Have Eyes! E.T.!) waives the first and last deposit.  Samantha still needs to come up with $300 for the first month's rent and manages to land a babysitting job.  When she and BFF Megan (wealthy, with a car, very practical and supportive of her friend; played by Greta Gerwig) drive out to the gig - a gorgeous Victorian - it's creepy.  The weird couple who have hired her don't have a child; the sitting is for an elderly parent who is capable enough, but just in case something happens.  Samantha tries to back out because CREEPY but when they offer her $400, she can't say no.  Megan leaves, the weird couple leave and Samantha settles in.

This is JUST the kind of movie that gives me fidgets.  It is a combination slasher and haunted house film, with some Satanic worship thrown in for good measure - with the slightest tinge of Rosemary's Baby right at the end.  For most of the movie, director Ti West is simply masterful at ratcheting up the tension without showing anything - ANYTHING - to be scared of.  I was so twitchy and jumpy, expecting something to happen and then getting more nervous when nothing did, that I had to get up to get more wine to diffuse some of the tension.  When the slasher portion did kick in, I found it a relief.  Excellent little indie horror movie - highly recommended (unless you prefer really gory and/or torture porn flicks).

Some of my notes:  "DO NOT GO UPSTAIRS people in horror films are SO STUPID" and "JESUS DON'T GO BACK UPSTAIRS" and "SHE FIGHTS BACK"

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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #4 All The Boys Love Mandy Lane

In this pretty terrible slasher-ish flick, shy girl high schooler Mandy Lane got hot over the summer and all of a sudden the cool kids want to hang out with her, to the chagrin of her former nerdy BFF, Emmett.  She goes off with them for a weekend at Red's family ranch, out in the middle of East Nowhere; the group is a bunch of horror movie stereotypes: Red, kind of a loser but rich; Chloe, blonde bimbo; Byrd, nice guy and the only African-American; Jake, good-looking and full of himself; Marlon, brunette bimbo and super-promiscuous.  All the boys hit on Mandy incessantly and, for a shy girl, she fends them off capably; she does catch her breath for a moment when the hot ranch hand, Garth (omg they named him "Garth"), shows up.  There is much partying and drinking and doing of drugs and having of sex among the teenagers and then they start getting picked off one by one: Marlon, then Jake, then Byrd, etc., etc.

NOTE:  After Byrd gets killed - and the killer is revealed, about halfway through the film - my notes read, "This movie sucks & is stupid."

There is a bit of a twist that I should have seen coming, even though it makes very little sense character-wise, but really, to be honest, the most ridiculous part of the whole movie (and there are a lot of ridiculous parts) is that Mandy has no trouble driving a standard-shift truck.

Amber Heard is Mandy (and boy, she is really pretty); Edwin Hodge is Byrd (Edwin played "Wade" on Cougar Town and is also a Purge cast member); Anson Mount, of the universally-panned Inhumans, is Garth, god help him.  Seriously, I can't recommend this flick at all.  It's dumb and not at all scary and I'm not surprised that it disappeared for seven years between its original festival debut and then its wide release.  Meh.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Ninth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #3 Something Wicked This Way Comes

I read Ray Bradbury's 1962 novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, not too long ago and enjoyed it quite a lot.  And then I watched Disney's 1983 movie version and felt a little let down.  I suppose that I should have known when the Disney logo popped up that this wasn't going to be all I hoped.

In broad strokes, in October a sinister carnival arrives in a small Midwestern town.  It's run by Mr. Dark and his assistants, Mr. Cooger and a fortune-teller.  Through their machinations, some townsfolk are overcome and transformed.  Two boys, Will Holloway (blond/a good boy) and Jim Nightshade (brunette/attracted to the dark side) come up against Mr. Dark and his baddies, and with the help of Will's father, finally send the evil carnival on its way.

The book was wonderfully done, with developed characters and truly spooky sequences.  The movie, however, falls flat on nearly all front.  The characters are thin, the dialogue awkward and the child actors are truly terrible.  The special effects are pretty poor for Disney, even for early 1980s.  Mr. Dark (played by Jonathan Pryce) doesn't get much screen time and he's just not that scary.  I get that there's only so much horror you will get with a Disney flick, I do.  But really, I would re-title this one as "Something Disappointing This Way Comes."  It does have a pretty great poster though:

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