Monday, October 31, 2016

The Walking Dead S7E2 "The Well" 10/30/16

Thank goodness for this episode: I don't think I could have stood another one full of unrelenting nihilistic misery.  All hail King Ezekiel!

A semi-conscious Carol is being carried on a horse-drawn cart, led by the football pad-wearing fellows who rescued her and Morgan from the end of last season.  Morgan is with her, marking out their passage on trees and mailbox posts.  It isn't all smooth sailing: they are attacked by a herd of walkers, tipping the cart over.  A limping, weak Carol wanders away from the carnage.  In her delirium, she sees real people in the faces of all the zombies coming at her.  As she collapses, more people on horseback show up, helping to put down the rest of the walkers.  They gather her and Morgan up and take them home.

Carol remains unconscious for a couple of days.  When she wakes up, Morgan is by her side in a town called the Kingdom.  It is ridiculously clean and well provided for, with windchimes and raised bed gardens and a choir and horseback riding lessons.  It makes Alexandria look like a shantytown.  Carol is immediately skeptical, assuming these people cannot fight and do not know of the dangers outside their walls.  Now that she is better, Morgan takes her to meet the leader of the Kingdom.  He hilariously dances around telling her anything about this guy.

And it's a good thing too because she certainly wouldn't have believed him:  King Ezekiel, a courtly, dreadlocked, Shakespeare-in-the-Park-sounding dude.  With a giant tiger.  Carol stares, open-mouthed.  Morgan, embarrassed: "Yeah, I forgot to say that Ezekiel has a tiger."  Best character introduction ever.

Carol canNOT believe this guy, with his pseudo-British accent and his giant fucking tiger, Shiva.  She pulls herself together, though, and puts on her very best smiling, grateful, overwhelmed act.  "I don't know what the hell's going on in the most wonderful way!" she exclaims, grinning like a madwoman.  Ezekiel tells her that she and Morgan are more than welcome to stay in the Kingdom in exchange for their contributions.  He is very welcoming, offering free apples and pomegranates, all of which she turns down with a smile, saying she still needs rest.  Outside, Carol, to Morgan:  "You're shitting me, right?  This place is a damn circus! I can't be here."  She tells him that she'll leave, just as soon as she can and as soon as he's not looking.  He insists that he can't let her go to her death and she says to him that it really isn't up to him.

Later, Ezekiel, Richard (seemingly Ezekiel's right hand man), Morgan and some other Kingdomites go into town and round up some feral pigs, shutting them in a garage bay with a chained up walker.  Morgan asks what the walker is for and Richard replies that he wants their bellies "full of rot."  This is clear later: after killing and butchering the pigs, Ezekiel, Richard, Morgan et als. hand the pigs over to some of Negan's Saviors as their weekly tribute.  (Richard is being passive-aggressive by feeding the zombie-fed pigs to the Saviors.)  There is a little tension between a Savior and Richard but luckily it doesn't amount to full-on violence between the two small groups.  Morgan asks Ezekiel why the king wanted him along - was it because he fought the Saviors before?  No, says Ezekiel, it's because he knew Morgan wouldn't fight them this time.

Life goes on in the Kingdom.  Morgan contributes by teaching young Ben (the son of a now-deceased friend of Ezekiel) how to fight with the bowstaff.  Carol continues her deception, cheerily chatting Kingdomites up while scavenging clothing and knives.  There's a lot more talking going on, of course, but I just can't be bothered with it.  King Ezekiel's charm only goes so far, even with me.

One evening, Morgan takes Carol some dinner and he finds her room empty.  He is not surprised.  She can't quite leave without taking some fruits from the Kingdom orchard, however, and it is here that Ezekiel finds her.  He encourages her to talk to him before she leaves them so suddenly.  She starts her sweet little thing act up and he calls her on it: never bullshit a bullshitter.  He tells her that he fell for her innocent act at first.  She drops it, saying that he's a joke, the Kingdom is a joke - it's outside that's real, he's selling these people a fairytale.  His pseudo-British accent fades away as he says that people want someone to believe in and people with something to believe in are less dangerous.  People saw a guy with a tiger and built him up into their leader: "I faked it 'til I made it."  He was just a community theater-loving zookeeper who bonded with an injured Shiva before the zombies came.  After the zombie apocalypse, after he had lost everything, he went back to the zoo and she was still there, and she's never left his side since then.  To his credit, Carol listens to him and believes him, understanding his story.  He asks her to keep his secret - his people need to believe in him - and says that if she does, maybe he can help her to leave without leaving.

So what they do is this:  with Morgan along to see that she makes it, Carol goes outside the Kingdom walls and sets herself up in a tidy little gated house not far away.  She doesn't want to be inside with people, doesn't want the responsibility for anyone but herself, doesn't want connections with anyone.  But in this house, she can be alone without being too far from help should she really need it.  Morgan asks if this is what she really wants.  It is.  He understands.  She says that it's good they made it because a few more minutes and she might start to regret all the times she tried to shoot and stab him.  He smiles and tells her that she's his favorite person that he's ever knocked out - definitely top two or three.  It's nice that they've made peace with each other, especially since they're two of the best characters on this frigging show.

Some time later, after Carol has killed and buried the zombie that had been trapped in the house, and cleaned the place up, and lit a fire, there's a knock on the front door.  She is wary and then she hears a deep feline snarl.  It's Ezekiel and Shiva.  He's got a pomegranate and says with a charming grin, "You've really got to try one of these!"  Carol doesn't want to but she can't help smiling a little back at him.

Ezekiel (and Shiva) are totally my new favorites.  I'm pretty sure that dooms them to terrible deaths by the end of this season but for now, they are a much-needed injection of hope, humor and humanity in this dirgeful show.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #17: The Relic

Here we are, on Halloween, with scary movie #17 for this year's Scarelicious October Movie Series.  And what better way to close out the month with a good ol' creature feature? Well, two out of three ain't bad.  1997's The Relic is an older movie, for sure, and it's a monster movie.  But good?  I wouldn't call it that.

Just before the grand opening of a fancy new exhibit on superstition, the Chicago Museum of Natural History receives a shipment of crates from their resident anthropologist, on assignment in deepest, darkest Brazil.  The crates contain the pieces of a relic - the demon-god of a lost South American tribe - and a bunch of leaves.  Also arriving at the museum, concurrent with this shipment, is a horrific monster, a giant bug/lizard/something else, that needs to eat human brains.  It is up to Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller), the museum's evolutionary biologist (a/k/a Scully), and Lieutenant Vincent D'Augusta (Tom Sizemore), a superstitious Chicago cop (a/k/a Mulder), to take down the beastly critter.  But not before it wreaks havoc at the museum's fundraising gala, unfortunately.

As other reviewers have noted, The Relic is basically an X-Files episode writ large, albeit with creature effects by Oscar- and Emmy-winning effects legend, Stan Winston.  It's a dumb, dark (in lighting, not tone) movie, and although the creature is fond of decapitating its victims, it is not at all scary.  Penelope Ann Miller's heroine starts off skeptical, then gets shrieky, and then sciences the shit out of the monster, which turns out pretty badass.  But still, even though I did like the monster,  The Relic is a mediocre movie at best.
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There you have it.  Seventeen! By far the most scary movies watched since this feature debuted - truly Netflix is of great help in making more movies available more quickly. There was the good (The Babadook, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, Unfriended, We Are What We Are), the bad (Bad Milo!, All Cheerleaders Die) and the downright awful (Final Girl).  It's been a great month and I've already started collecting titles for next year's Eighth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #16: I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House

I'm not really sure how to talk about I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, a lovely little ghost story just released on Netflix the day before yesterday.  There's not much plot but there is a whole lot of detail and atmosphere and I suspect that if I'd rewatched it immediately after finishing it the first time, I would have picked up on a lot more.

Lily is a hospice nurse who has come to the old house at the end of Teacup Road to care for Iris Blum, the failing author of lurid books, the kinds sold in airports.  It isn't clear from the costuming when this story is set but there are rotary phones, VCRs and big boxy cars, so perhaps the 1980s.  The house itself is beautiful: old and plain, New England style, with wide floorboards and no adornments.  Lily tells us directly, in voiceover, at the start of the movie, that she will die before this year's service to her patient is up.  It doesn't take long for the subtle hauntings to start: mold, reflections, a carpet that won't lie flat.  Iris calls Lily "Polly," the main character in her best-selling novel, The Lady in the Walls, and that book is written as though Polly told the author the story of her death.  The ghostly apparitions we glimpse are of a pretty young woman in period apparel, walking quietly through the house; we see a flashback of that young woman being attacked by a grim-looking man.  We also see flashbacks of Iris as a young woman, writing Polly's story.  By the end, it isn't clear who is a ghost at what time.  But a line from the beginning of the movie - "A house with a death in it can never again be bought or sold by the living.  It can only be borrowed from the ghosts who have stayed behind." - holds true.

I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House will not appeal to people looking for a haunted house movie with action or a lot of twisty plot or even jump scares, screaming and rattling chains.  It will, however, appeal to people who prefer atmosphere and creeping dread and pretty shots and ambiguity with their ghosts.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #15: The Signal

A much easier watch for me - much less suspenseful and squirm-inducing!  I give you: The Signal (2007), a funky little movie in three parts (or "Transmissions"), each written and directed by a different writer/director, like V/H/S or the Tarantino/Rodriquez Grindhouse, although the parts are all closely intertwined.

In Transmission I, Maya has overslept.  She snuck out to see her lover, lying to her husband that she was going out for dinner and drinks with "the girls," and after their tryst, she fell asleep for a while.  She is woken up when Ben shuts off the t.v., which is glitching and swirling with weird images and static.  He asks her to leave her husband, saying that they could leave town (the town is named "Terminus" which (1) why even bother naming the town? and (2) anyone who watches the Walking Dead knows that towns called Terminus are never good), just go to "Terminal 13 and get on a train."  Maya loves Ben but can't quite leave her husband yet.  However, when she gets home, she realizes that the weird signal from the t.v. has turned everyone who was watching into paranoid, violent killing machines, including her already insanely jealous husband Lewis.  Maya gets the fuck out of there.  In Transmission II, we are attending what should have been a New Year's Eve party where Anna, the hostess, at first has a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that the world has just gone crazy.  It gets crazier when Maya crashes her car out front in an attempt to get away from a t.v.-crazy, and then even more insane when Lewis shows up, searching for his wife.  Finally, in Transmission III, we follow Ben as he tries to find Maya.  Lewis is the through-line through all three Transmissions, tracking and attacking Ben from Anna's party to Terminal 13.

Nothing in The Signal is particularly new or groundbreaking.  You can easily pick out the references and influences, from Japanese horror movies and Stephen King's Cell (in which technology does bad things to people), to the 28 Days/Weeks Later movies (with the rage-crazies; see also The Crazies, since no one is actually a zombie).  But it is well acted and moves along, each Transmission both picking up from and overlapping with the others.  Transmission I is more straight-forward horror, Transmission II is funnier and Transmission III finishes on a pretty grim note.  The Signal as a whole is plain ol' violence and gore; there's not much suspense and hardly any jump scares, so I liked it just fine.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #14: The Pact

I know right where I found The Pact: the A.V. Club's recent article on the scariest opening scenes in horror movie history.  Indeed, I was squirming in my chair throughout the movie, watching through my fingers and even taking my glasses off at some point so I could only vaguely, blurrily see what was going on across the room on the t.v.

Annie (Caity Lotz, the CW's own Sarah Lance) and Nicole have recently lost their mother.  Older sister Nicole is at the house, preparing for the funeral, going through her mother's things.  She calls her sister but Annie doesn't want to come home - she has very unpleasant memories of growing up in that house.  Frustrated, Nicole facetimes her daughter.  The wifi signal is spotty (stealing from the neighbor) and when the little girl can finally see her mother, she asks:  "Mommy, who is that behind you?"  There is, of course, no one there but that night, Nicole disappears.  The reluctant Annie shows up for the funeral, at which point her sister has been missing for days.  When Annie, her little niece and the cousin who is babysitting for Nicole spend the night in Annie's mother's house, Liz disappears too and an unseen force attacks Annie.  She grabs the little girl and goes straight to the police, who all think she's nuts except for one detective (a surprisingly grizzled Casper van Dien).  Annie begins to investigate WTF is going on in that house, even enlisting the help of a young psychic who conveniently went to her high school.  There is something hidden in the walls of that house and Annie, screwing up her courage, is going to uncover it, for better or worse.

This is why I was VERY uncomfortable watching The Pact:  too many characters, walking alone through the house with the camera following them from behind, tension building and building ... it was effectively unsettling for me since I am a jumpy person.  Monster movies I can do.  Haunted houses with unseen things that go bump - ugh.  Excerpts from my notes:  "YIKES"   "- something in the closet -"   "CAN'T WATCH"   "Get the fuck out"   "OMG THIS MOVIE"   "HATE THIS MOVIE"

I do have a question about the title:  What exactly was the pact and who made it?  Otherwise, well played little scary movie, well played.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #13: Ava's Possessions

After Ava get exorcised (in the opening moments of Ava's Possessions), she has to put her life back together: during the twenty-eight days she was possessed, the demonic spirit insider her really wreaked havoc: sleeping with friends' boyfriends, attacking people, causing all kinds of property damage.  Her family immediately starts nagging her about her shitty apartment and needing to take care of herself.  Her boyfriend dumps her.  She gets fired from her job.  Her friends don't want to see her.  Her lawyer, hired to deal with the multiple counts (see above) on which she's been indicted, gives her the available options:  (1) jail; (2) psych ward; or (3) Spirit Possession Anonymous, a program like AA that helps the de-possessed deal with their recent issues.

Her sponsor is firm about the depth of her involvement in the SPA program.  There's a huge manual to read; there are group sessions, role-playing and required making-of-amends; drinking and practicing of black magic are forbidden. As Ava starts making the rounds to find out what exactly she did while under the influence of her demon as that she can make up for it, it becomes clear that her family is hiding something from her.  What's not clear:  whether that something is something she did or something they did.

Despite the demons, Ava's Possessions isn't much of a horror movie.  There is a little blood, a little demon make-up but nothing actually scary.  It's pretty funny in parts too, particularly Ava's wry responses to learning what her demon had been up to during the posession period.  A couple of marginally interesting notes:  Carol Kane has a cameo as a hedge-witch; and Sean Lennon did the music for the movie.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

The Walking Dead S7E1 "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" 10/23/16

When we left off: Maggie was sick and so everyone even vaguely important decided they should get in the RV and take her to the Hilltop doctor.  But Negan captures them and at the end of the last episode, they - Glenn, Rosita, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Abraham, Rick, Carl, Sasha, Aaron and Eugene - were all on their knees in front of him.  We got a POV of Negan bashing someone in the head with his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat ("Lucille") and then cut to black.

When we pick back up:  Glenn, Rosita, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Abraham, Rick, Carl, Sasha, Aaron and Eugene are on their knees in front of Negan.  To save both you and me a LOT of time, I'm just going to tell you that MOST of this episode is Negan talking and talking and talking and talking.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan is obviously having a REALLY good time but it just goes on and on and one, Negan being jocularly terrifying and playing mind games with Rick, psychologically beating him down and down.  You see, Rick makes the mistake of telling Negan that some day, not today, not tomorrow, but someday, he is going to kill Negan.

And Negan is not having any of it.  He is going to break Rick and he's going to do it in front of everyone, so everyone knows that there's just no point in going up against him.  Thus the talking and talking and talking, some of which takes place away from the rest of the group, as Negan drags Rick off into the RV and drives him out to the middle of nowhere in a bunch of zombies.  And talks and talks and threatens and chuckles and talks and talks and throws an axe out the door and tells Rick to fetch it back for him.  And Rick fights the zombies and is having flashbacks to all his friends.

And he's having a flashback to the night before and then finally TWENTY MINUTES INTO THE DAMN EPISODE we finally see who Negan bludgeons to death with Lucille.  It's Abraham.  And it is gruesome and gory.  And if anyone in the audience knew anything about Abraham, really cared about him, and hadn't been jerked around by this stupid show playing games with us, we would be sad.  But it's just gruesome.

After Negan grinds Abraham's brains into paste, Daryl jumps up and throws himself at the man, getting one punch in before Negan's men subdue him.  "Oh my!  That is a no-no! The whole thing - not one bit of that shit flies here!"  The men drag Daryl back into place and Negan resumes, grinning and strutting and talking, reminding them all that he said the first one's free and then "I will shut that shit down ... I'm a man of my word and I need you to know me.  So, back to it!"

And at this I actually gasped out loud, which I haven't done with this show since I don't know when: Negan unexpectedly pounds Lucille into Glenn's head without warning.  If you thought Abraham's bludgeoning was horrific, this is even worse.  It is awful, violent and gory unlike anything this show has ever done.  I suppose we all knew Glenn's days were numbered - in the comics, Negan indeed beats Glenn to death in front of pregnant Maggie - but this is shocking.  But again, after the Glenn's death fakeout last season, and the fact that Glenn had very little character development other than being the group's moral center, I just don't care all that much.  It just surprised me.

Back in the now, out of the flashback, Negan brings Rick back to the group and talks and talks and talks and decides he still sees a challenge in Rick's eyes so he brings Carl out in front of the group and puts the axe in Rick's hand and tells him that either Rick cuts Carl's arm off or Negan will kill Carl and the rest of our gang here, plus everyone else back at Alexandria.  Carl begs his dad to just do it and Rick breaks, wailing and blubbering and begging Negan to take his arm instead and then he's going to do it and Negan has mercy (of a sort) and doesn't make Rick do it.  He tells Rick et als. that he's going to leave them now and that he'll come by in a week to see the offerings they've collected for him.  And then he and his army just up and leave (one guy stops to take a photo of Glenn's smushed head first), taking Daryl with them because Negan has decided he likes Daryl's spirit.

The last few minutes are just Rick's group - the few that are left - crying and burying their dead.  Sasha says she'll take Maggie to Hilltop to see the doctor; the rest of them, dazed and broken and completely in shock, head back to Alexandria.

And this whole fucking episode is basically my two least favorite things about The Walking Dead: talking and talking and talking plus being Rick-centric.  Just ugh.  On the plus side, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a wonderfully evil - if woefully verbose - villain.

Look, I get it.  I do.  The show has finally brought its violence and misery up to the level of the comics.  (Which, incidentally, I gave up on after the first omnibus because of the horrific violence and unrelenting misery.)  But this show is just no longer fun to watch and hasn't been for a long time.  I am hopeful that the introduction of new communities and new characters - what's up with that tiger? I am VERY hopeful about that tiger - will both broaden and deepen the story.  Otherwise it's just a dirgeful sadness-sufferfest punctuated by brutal violence.  And the shocking violence isn't even earned because none of the characters are allowed to develop and we the audience are only attached to them due to their respective longevity.  This show should do better.  I love zombies but I'm really starting to dislike The Walking Dead.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #12: Excision

I can't recall where I heard about Excision (2012) - some list of underappreciated little horror flicks, I imagine.  Starring Annalynne McCord (feral-looking and 180 degrees from her role in the CW's 90210 redo), this is a darkly comic teen movie for 95% of the time.  And then it just goes horrifically dark.

Pauline (McCord) is a pimple-studded, unwashed loner, shunned by her high school classmates and completely befuddling to her suburban parents.  She plots to lose her virginity to a popular boy, dissects roadkill, fights with her mother and begs to see a real psychiatrist (not just the free sessions with the family's pastor).  She pierces and cuts herself.  She has disturbing and vaguely glamorous sex dreams about corpses, gore and mutilation.  And her one goal is to become a surgeon so she can save her little sister, the one person she loves, from cystic fibrosis.  Her sister needs a lung transplant.  Can you see where this is headed?

This little movie has a surprisingly impressive cast too: Traci Lords and Roger Bart as Pauline's parents; Ariel Winter as her sister Grace; John Waters as the pastor; Marlee Matlin as a cotillion instructor; Ray Wise as the high school principal; and Malcolm McDowell as Pauline's math teacher.  I don't know where I found Excision but I'm pretty happy that I did.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #11: Carrie (1976)

Ah, a classic: Brian De Palma's 1976 retelling of Stephen King's Carrie!  This movie really needs no introduction or discussion but because I've suffered through so many dogs this October, I wanted to revisit it just briefly.  Because this one is a really good one.

First of all, Carrie is chock-full of now-recognizable names who were just fresh faced babies in 1976:  Sissy Spacek (Carrie White), Amy Irving (good girl Sue), William Katt (popular boy Tommy, and later The Greatest American Hero), John Travolta (bad boy Billy), PJ Soles (mean girl/tomboy Norma), Betty Buckley (Miss Collins, later the mom on Eight is Enough) and Piper Laurie (Carrie's mom, Margaret White).

Second, I'm not going to recap the story because we all know the story (and if you don't, you should fix that right away).  But here are my notes from watching it:

  • Piper Laurie as Carrie's mom is TERRIFYING
  • Was that English teacher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?  [he was]
  • William Katt has AMAZING hair
  • Everyone is soooo skinny
  • Travolta's accent is so bad
  • srsly William Katt's hair
  • When Tommy is nice to Carrie at the prom, it's really quite lovely
  • The prom starts out so pretty and sweet that when the HELL finally breaks loose, it's all the more shocking
Looking back on this iconic movie now, I find it hard to watch it with a critical eye because I love it so much.  All of it.  The seventies of it, Sissy Spacek really selling how terrorized she was by her mother, the tiny moments of people being nice to Carrie, the brutal bullying by the mean girls.  I do imagine, however, that back in 1976 it was fairly shocking - especially to those moviegoers who weren't familiar with the book - the horrible dousing with the bucket of blood and Carrie's subsequent transformation into a vengeance demon.  Up until that point, Carrie is really the victim and even afterwards, after everyone dies a bloody and/or flaming death, it's still hard to blame her.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #10: Unfriended

In Unfriended, a group of teenagers get together for an online call session on the one-year anniversary of the post-cyberbullying-induced suicide of a friend of theirs.  Almost immediately, they notice that there's an unidentified stranger piggybacked onto their session, lurking silently at first.  They try to hang up on him and when they are unable to, simply ignore him.  Soon enough, they are getting increasingly threatening Facebook posts and messages from their dead friend and before long, the urban myth that responding to a dead friend's messages online will cause your death, well, that myth becomes a reality.

Unfriended is actually a clever variation of the found footage/documentary style horror movie that has been afflicting us for the last few years.  The movie is entirely in real time and from the point of view of the laptop of Blair, one of the girls involved, switching from screen to screen as she clicks between Facebook, Messenger, Chatroulette, Spotify, email, YouTube, etc.  You see these kids in their FaceTime (?) feeds and whenever the streaming causes the video to freeze up, it starts to get tense since the viewer (us, the audience, and them, the kids in the online session) can't see what's going on.

I had just a couple quibbles with this flick.  A lot of what is onscreen is text (FB posts, instant messages) and even with my television, it was sometimes difficult to read - I suspect it would be clearer either on a large format movie screen or up close on an iPad/laptop.  And once the deaths started happening, the cause wasn't clear - was it the unrestful spirit of their dead friend or something else?  Unfriended isn't particularly scary - there are a few quick shots of brutal violence/death - but what is the most frightening is that it shows how terrible cyberbullying is and how easily someone's online life can be hijacked.  Makes me glad that the internet didn't exist when I was in high school.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #9: We Are What We Are

Note: This We Are What We Are is the American remake/re-imagining, not the Mexican original.  I didn't even realize there had been a Mexican original until after I watched this one and read some reviews of it.  Apparently they're quite different, except for the basic theme.  SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Parkers are your basic reclusive, southern rural, extra-religious family who, despite their strange ways, are accepted in their community (if not exactly embraced).  The two teenage girls, Iris and Rose, both of whom are quite pretty in a fragile, pale blonde way, go to the public high school; I at first incorrectly assumed they were home-schooled due to their very old fashioned clothes.  When the matriarch of the family collapses while running errands in town, hitting her head and drowning in a rain-swollen ditch, it throws the whole family into turmoil as eldest daughter Iris is expected to take her mother's role in the family's rituals.  This includes the killing, butchering and making into dinner of local girls.  Iris is troubled by this but not enough to refuse her father's insistence; younger sister Rose rebels, wanting to run away; their little brother, scarcely more than a baby, thinks the girls chained in the basement are "monsters" since they weep and wail and scratch at the door of their cell.  Back in town, the sheriff and the local doctor begin to investigate all the missing girls and I'm not going to say any more because I did NOT expect the climactic scene to turn out as it did and want to save it for you.

This is another creepy, atmospheric but not really scary, horror movie.  It's smarter than your average B movie but could perhaps use just a little more oomph to perk up the languid pace.  It is raining throughout the movie, downpouring at times, and that adds a nice visual to things: damp and dim with smeary outlines, curtains of water hiding things.  The family patriarch is quite a disturbing figure but the non-family characters don't get much in the way of development.  If you like to be creeped out and disturbed without much gore, We Are What We Are is a good way to spend an hour and a half.
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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Serives #8: When Animals Dream

When Animals Dream, a Danish import (with English subtitles), is an atmospheric take on a female-centric monster movie.  It is quiet, beautiful and dreamy, all pale colors and cold temperatures.

Marie is a solitary late teenager, out of school but still living at home in a tiny Danish fishing village.  She helps her father take care of her invalid mother - heavily sedated and stuck in a wheelchair - and starts a new job at a fish-packing plant.  She goes to the local doctor when she finds strange new patches of hair on her body.  Later, she catches her father shaving her mother's furry back and starts making the connections.  Her mother is kept heavily drugged to repress her aggression and transmutation.  It's genetic.  And the townspeople know this: they insist on Marie's mother's sedation and at her new job, Marie's coworkers harass her terribly.  After a night on the town, when Marie ends up having sex with one of the few friendly guys at work, her father and the doctor corner her in her room, trying to forcibly sedate her, to push the transmutation back into remission.  But Marie has had enough.  Her nature is to wolf out and she's not going to deny it any longer.

I've read some reviews comparing When Animals Dream to the original Let the Right One In (Scandinavian vampire movie with a sympathetic female lead) and the Ginger Snaps movies (Canadian werewolf movies with sympathetic female leads), and it definitely has some similarities.  When Animals Dream is much quieter than those movies however, barely springing into any action or violence, showing utmost restraint with the gnashing and rending and bleeding.  I liked it because it felt like a smarter movie than much of what I've seen recently, and it definitely falls into the Under the Skin category of atmospheric, barely-horrific horror movies.
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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #7: Bloodsucking Bastards

Shaun of the Dead plus Office Space plus BtVS = Bloodsucking Bastards.  You could do much, much worse - and I have.

Evan Sanders (Fran Kranz, Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods) is having a rough time of it.  He is the acting sales manager at a telesales company, with an apathetic sales team comprised of bros and weirdos.  His girlfriend just dumped him and she works in the same office so he sees her all the time.  Just when he thinks he's going to be promoted to sales manager, his boss hires someone from outside: Max (Pedro Pascal, the Viper from Game of Thrones), Evan's douchey nemesis from college.  And just to rub salt in the wounds: Max is a vampire and he's on a recruitment tear.

Bloodsucking Bastards is a lightweight horror comedy.  It's pretty funny and has buckets of blood but is never actually scary.  It's clearly lower budget than Shaun of the Dead or Slither, and yet has its own charms.  The characters are actually well-developed and the way they act makes sense for who they are and the universe they inhabit.  I'm not sure it's ever found much of an audience but I'm glad I found it: its cheerfully bloody tone has encouraged me to press on with scary (or, "scary") movies for the second half of October.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #6: Bad Milo!

I am really scraping the bottom of the barrel here.  I have got to find something that is both scary and good, or at least not awful.  Bad Milo had some promise:  a Duplass Brothers production, this horror comedy has a great cast, including Ken Marino (who looks really good here), Gillian Jacobs, Patrick Warburton, Mary Kay Place, Stephen Root and Peter Stormare.

Duncan (Marino) is a very nice guy who is under a lot of stress.  His boss (Warburton) is making him do the round of layoffs and also has just stolen everybody's money.  His wife Sara (Jacobs) wants to have a baby.  His mom (Place) has a sexed-up boytoy second husband who wants Duncan to call him "dad."  A fertility doctor, hired by his mom, is convinced Duncan has ED.  And his dad (Root) abandoned him and his mom when Duncan was just little and is living off the grid somewhere, smoking a lot of dope.  All of this stress and anxiety has manifested itself as ... a giant, sentient, detachable butt polyp with shark teeth and a penchant for popping out of Duncan's butt to eviscerate his enemies.

Now, normally I love monster movies, especially ones with practical effect monsters.  But I just cannot get behind [pun intended] a rectal polyp monster.  This is a middling sort of movie, not committing to being really funny or really gory or really making fun of anything.  The cast is strong and game, given the potty humor they're given, but Bad Milo! is just unnecessary.  It's not terrible enough to be offensive but it's pretty pointless.

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #5: Pod

My notes, before the movie starts:  Well, at the worst it's only 1 hour and 18 minutes.

In Pod, there are three siblings: Martin, Ed and Lila.  Martin is a vet, struggling with PTSD and living "in the middle of nowhere" which is actually the coast of Maine.  Ed is a doctor and Lila is a millennial with a bit of a drinking problem.  This is all the characterization you will get for these three.  After receiving a disturbing voicemail from Martin, Ed and Lila drive up to make sure their brother is okay.  He isn't: he has covered the interior of the tidy little coastal cottage with foil, is paranoid, ranting and raving, has pulled out some of his own teeth and shaved his head, and claims to have been experimented on when he was in the army.  Oh, and he says he's got a "pod" locked in the basement, which creature killed his dog and scratched him up something fierce, infecting him.  Obviously his brother and sister think he's nuts.  But later, after [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS], Ed investigates the cellar - which is a pretty typical Maine cellar, all ledge-y and full of water seepage - and, gosh, he shouldn't have done that.

My notes, during the movie:  How many shots in a rifle like that?

As mentioned above, the characters are thin and underdeveloped. I did squirm a little when the tension rose a little: I was expecting jump scares that didn't come, so that made me nervous.  There's not much blood/gore and it really isn't scary.  The plot is nothing if not unoriginal, but at least what happened made sense in the movie's universe and was interesting.

My notes, at the end:  Well, it's not GOOD but it's better than Final Girl.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #4: Final GIrl

Ugh.  To follow the marvelous Babadook with this piece of crap?  I'm talking about Final Girl, not to be confused with the recently watched and moderately entertaining The Final Girls or Stacie Ponder's excellent and much lamented blog Final Girl.  This 2015 steamer starring Abigail Breslin (still trying desperately to break away from her breakout Little Miss Sunshine role) and Wes Bentley is not worth anyone's time.  I almost didn't bother including it here - since there's nothing horror-y about it, despite its Netflix tags - but figured if I suffered through it, I might as well make you suffer through it too.

William (Wes Bentley) recruits recently-orphaned five year old Veronica into the Program, wherein the long goal is to avenge his murdered wife and child.  Twelve years later, Veronica (Abigail Breslin) has been "trained" to be an assassin and is pointed at four privileged teen-aged douchebags who enjoy hunting and killing girls.  Her "training" has included standing with bare feet on cold rocks and punching awkwardly; Veronica is no Sarah Connor.  (And these teenaged douchebags are clearly not William's ultimate targets, since they would have been five years old when his family was killed, so this "movie" is presumably the first installment in a series as Veronica hones her skills, I guess.)  Veronica goes out into the woods with the douchebags and with very little difficulty, no tension and no blood to speak of, kills them all.  Then she and William have diner pancakes where she sucks her whipped cream-covered finger suggestively.

This is not a horror movie.  It is not the least bit scary and there is no suspense or jump scares or gore.  It is scarcely violent.  The whole thing is stagy and stylized, with bright spotlights out in the middle of a rainy forest for no reason.  My notes include: "OMG SO BAD" and "We're at the climactic fistfight and I would be beside myself with annoyance except I just don't fucking care."  I don't know why Breslin and Bentley did this movie and I don't know who, if anyone, watched it.  Trust me, you can do better.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #3: The Babadook

There now, that's more like it.

Widowed mom Amelia (the incomparable Essie Davis) is not coping well.  Still depressed by her husband's death as he drove her to the hospital for the birth of their son, she is stressed and exhausted, sleep-deprived, struggling to connect with her child.  Samuel (Noah Wiseman, also very good) is a weird little kid and from the moment you meet him, you feel for his mother.  He is disobedient, shrieky and off-putting.  Already under strain, their relationship deteriorates after the appearance of a horrible children's pop-up book, Mister Babadook; Sam becomes violent and menacing, building homemade weapons and repeatedly telling his mother that "[he] doesn't want her to die."  Unable to sleep and with no support from her family, Amelia becomes more and more unhinged until suddenly the audience realizes they have shifted their sympathies to Sam: his mom has become terrifying.  All the while the Babadook lurks and looms.

The titular monster isn't all that original or scary in and of itself - we've all seen skittering, looming and lurking before.  And I lost my focus for a time towards the end of the movie when the threats became more overt.  But for most of this wonderful little Australian movie, the tension ratchets up, bit by bit, until I was continuously squirming nervously in my chair.  Whether you believe that Mister Babadook is a real malevolent entity or instead a product of Amelia's instability and Sam's overactive imagination (and I believe a case can be made for that), The Babadook is a taut, scary look at loss, resentment and parenthood.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #2: All Cheerleaders Die

Here's a brief plot synopsis of All Cheerleaders Die (2013): When the head cheerleader dies in a freak cheering accident, her spot on the squad is filled by her unlikely film student/outsider friend Maddie, who is intent on infiltrating the football team/cheerleader world to avenge her fallen friend.  After some high school lesbian hijinks and hurt feelings, it turns into the girls vs. the boys, which escalates into Maddie and her friends getting driven off an embankment and drowning the river.  Luckily, Maddie's ex-GF is a Goth witch and she resurrects the dead girls who, after a short adjustment period, get their revenge on.

Look, this movie is a mess.  Within the first five minutes, I was completely annoyed at the loud music montages - the sound is very uneven throughout.  There is way too much very shrill screaming, the magic/blood special effects are abysmal and distracting, there is barely any character development to differentiate one of the high school stereotypes from the other.  There are a couple of funny bits, and some laugh-out-loud/bizarre music cues, but just not enough to make this a clever horror-comedy.  The director is the same guy who made the strong little May and I could get what he was going for, some sort of a Jennifer's Body meets Heathers meets Bring It On meets The Craft.  But ACD is nowhere near the quality of any of those movies.

Plus the only really scary part came in the closing title card when it read: All Cheerleaders Die Part One. I mean, dafuck, there's more?  That's TERRIFYING.

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Seventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #1: The Final Girls

Seven years I've been doing this October scary movie series?  It's a good thing too, because if I didn't, the number of annual posts here at Friend Mouse Speaks would drop off even further: in 2008, I posted 217 times; last year, I only put up 61 - and twelve of them were in October.  Wow.  So here we go, limping along with 2015's The Final Girls.

Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga) is a sad girl, having lost her beloved mom (Malin Akerman) in a car crash three years ago.  Her mom, Amanda, wasn't the most successful person - her one claim to fame was starring in the in-universe sleepaway camp cult slasher, Camp Bloodbath, in the 1980s - but Max misses her.  When Max and some of her friends attend a local art house showing of Camp Bloodbath, they are mysteriously drawn into the movie and Max finds herself face-to-face with her mom, except that she's "Nancy," the character in the slasher film.  All the CB characters are only aware of themselves as the characters and it soon becomes clear to the modern teenage interlopers that they will only get out of the slasher flick alive if they make it to the end credits.  When the slasher flick starts to deviate from the script and the designated Final Girl meets an untimely end, Nancy and Max's bond becomes strong as they step up to fight against CB's masked and machete-ed villain.

Positive notes:  this horror/comedy mess has a strong cast, with the aforementioned Farmiga and Akerman, plus Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) and Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) among others.  The scenes between Max and Nancy/Amanda are really strong.  And it's fun to see the teenagers navigate a universe they know so well due to repeated viewings of Camp Bloodbath and general knowledge of slasher film tropes.

On the minus side:  The Final Girls is incredibly uneven in tone.  The rules of the universe are changeable so it's difficult for the audience to get a grip.  Rated PG-13, it's practically bloodless and pretty much tension-free so as to scarcely qualify as horror, and while parts are funny, it's certainly not funny enough to be a comedy.  It isn't a full-on spoof nor is it much of an homage, as the camera work is not very classic slasher-like.  Scream, now a classic in its own right, did a much better job of acknowledging, pointing fun at and ultimately abiding by the rules of horror films.  The Final Girls is entertaining but would have been stronger with some actual scary moments to balance out the humor and the move-within-the-movie self-awareness.

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