Archive for the Evil Kids! Category

Quick Cuts Presents: Movie Ideas for HALLOWEEN NIGHT!

Posted in 1950s Horror, 1980s Horror, 2012, 70s Horror, Classic Films, Evil Kids!, Frankenstein Movies, Quick Cuts, Satan with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  Halloween Movies
With Michael Arruda, L. L. Soares, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, Paul McMahon, and Mark Onspaugh

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Tonight on QUICK CUTS, we ask our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters,

What are you watching this Halloween night? 

Specifically, if you could line up a triple feature this Halloween, which movies would you be watching?

 *****

SHERI SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:

This Halloween, I would highly recommend a trio from Hammer Films. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the over-the-top camp of Hammer productions.

I would start out my Halloween triple feature with a viewing of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962). Herbert Lom, who played the Phantom in this exceptional version of the Gaston Leroux novel, died earlier this year. This makes the film even more poignant to me. Andrew Lloyd Webber this is not. Lom’s phantom is genuinely frightening, a menacing killer. The film gives us an added bonus with Michael Gough, who went on to play Alfred Pennyworth in Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989), playing a truly nasty fellow.

PARANOIAC (1963) would be the meat in my Hammer sandwich. This film is a solid example of British psychological horror. Call it Hitchcock Light. Oliver Reed portrays a drunken, bitter aristocrat with ease. It’s the role he was born to play. If you’re looking for a gripping break from creature features, this one will satisfy.

I would round it all out with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). I’m a huge fan of Peter Cushing. I do love his heroic roles, but it’s nice to see him play a villain. In this case, he portrays Baron Victor Frankenstein, a cold, obsessed scientist who will stop at nothing to bring a creature comprised of the best parts from corpses back to life. The plan goes horribly wrong when the brain he intended to use is damaged, and the monster escapes. Christopher Lee plays a chilling, disturbing monster, a true original even for those who have seen Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Christopher Lee as The Monster in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).

*****

PAUL MCMAHON:

 My Halloween triple-feature is a feast of monster movies from the “S” column.

First is SLUGS (1988) based on the Shaun Hutson novel.

I’m following that up with 2006’s SLITHER, directed by James Gunn.

Closing things out will be the creepily unusual SPLINTER (2008) directed by Toby Wilkins.

*****

MARK ONSPAUGH:

I’d like to cheat a little bit and offer two classics as an appetizer—THE WASP WOMAN (1959)  by Roger Corman and William Castle’s THE TINGLER (1959) — if had to choose just one, I’d  keep THE TINGLER because you’ve got to have Vincent Price on Halloween.

I LOVE all the Universal monsters, but they’re more like old friends at this point and I want to feel uneasy—So next up would either be Cronenberg’s THE BROOD (1979) or (if that weren’t available) THE CHILDREN, that 1980 oddity where kids exposed to a toxic cloud get black nails and a lethal touch—and people cut their hands off! Dang!

Finally, BURNT OFFERINGS (1976), because it still creeps me out.

Happy Halloween, ev’rybody!

*****

L.L. SOARES:

Well, first off, I’d choose Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968). Why? Because it just got a special release from The Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray. No matter what you think of Polanski, ROSEMARY is a movie all horror fans should see at least once, because it’s an amazingly well-made flick, with a great cast, very strong atmosphere, and even some scares. In it, an innocent woman (Mia Farrow) learns she may be carrying the child of the devil. You won’t soon forget this one. Check out the brand new edition(s) with tons of the usual Criterion extras.

Keeping with the theme of horrific children, I’d continue with Larry Cohen’s mutant baby classic, IT’S ALIVE (1974). This time a woman gives birth to a man-eating monstrosity. I remember the TV commercial for this one being even scarier than the movie (back in the 70s, they knew how to make movie trailers that scared the hell out of you). You can even get this one on a “Triple-feature DVD” with its sequels IT LIVES AGAIN (1978) and IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987). And if you get that DVD set, then you’d already have a Halloween triple feature in one box.

And you can top the night off with the Spanish classic, WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976) where a couple find themselves on an island full of homicidal children. Can they bring themselves to fight back? This one will send shivers through your spine.

And, of course, any of these are interchangeable with William Friedkin’s mega-classic THE EXORCIST (1973), with Linda Blair as the ultimate child possessed by the devil, or David Cronenberg’s monster-kid masterpiece, THE BROOD (1979).

*****

 MICHAEL ARRUDA:

This year I’m in the mood for some 80s horror.  So, my triple feature would kick off with HELLRAISER (1987), written and directed by Clive Barker.

Pinhead and his Cenobite pals from HELLRAISER (1987).

Next up, David Croneberg’s THE FLY (1986), one of those rare instances where the remake is better than the original.  Featuring Jeff Goldblum’s finest performance.

And to finish things off, I’d go with CREEPSHOW (1982), directed by George Romero, written by Stephen King, and with Leslie Nielson in the cast, good for some laughs as well as some chills.

Happy Halloween, Everyone, from all of us here at Cinema Knife Fight!

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, Paul McMahon and Mark Onspaugh

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Demons, Evil Kids!, Faux Documentaries, Haunted Houses, Paranormal, Plot Twists, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A bedroom. MICHAEL ARRUDA lays in bed asleep.  For a long time.  The words, “3:13 AM.  Night 13” are superimposed on screen.  Still, nothing happens.  MA looks up at camera.

MA:  This is a long time for nothing to be happening.  Too long.

THE VOICE OF L.L. SOARES:  You said it.  If I were making this movie, I would have chopped your head off already.

MA:  Where are you?

(Bedroom door swings open, revealing the silhouette of a person.)

MA:  Well, that’s predictable.  Couldn’t you think of a more original place to hide?

LS:  Um, that’s not me…  I’m in here.  (Climbs out of a bureau drawer.)

MA:  That’s not so predictable.  How did you fit in there?

LS:  It’s not real.  It’s a prop.  Just like this carving knife (raises knife).  You would have been in for one helluva surprise reaching for your clothes this morning.

MA:  Lucky for me, I’m already dressed.  (Climbs out of bed, fully dressed.)

LS:  You’re an odd duck.

MA:  Quack.

(Silhouette in door steps forward, revealing that it’s a woman.  Suddenly, she stomps forward, her steps booming loud, and MA & LS scream.  She grabs LS by the head and twists it around full circle, then leaps at MA and does the same to him.)

LS (with head spinning):  Hey, this is cool!  Woo-hoo!

MA (head also spinning):  It gets the kinks out.

LS (to woman):  Thanks!  This feels great!

(WOMAN frowns, then Exits.  LS & MA’s heads stop spinning.)

MA:  That was different.  I think I’m ready to review today’s movie now.

LS:  Start us off, then.

MA:  Today we’re reviewing PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012), the fourth film in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, a series that admittedly has grown on me, so I was actually looking forward to seeing it.  But as movies go, this one’s about as deep as—(walks to the bed and pulls a feather out of a pillow) — as this feather.  In other words, it’s a lightweight movie if I ever saw one.

Since PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 was a prequel, this movie follows the events of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, and at the end of that movie, Katie (Katie Featherston) kills her sister, her sister’s husband, and walks away with their little boy, Hunter.  That movie ended with the superimposed words on the screen stating that Katie’s and Hunter’s whereabouts remain unknown.

And that’s where the action picks up in this movie, as we meet a new family, specifically a 15-year-old girl, Alex (Kathryn Newton) who spends most of her time with her boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively).  Alex lives with her parents and younger brother, and next door to them lives a creepy little boy named Robbie (Brady Allen) and his mom, who we assume, of course, are really Hunter and Katie.

LS: Which may or may not be the case.

MA: One night, the little boy’s mom is rushed to the hospital—supposedly, as this is what Alex’s mom says, and we don’t actually see this— and so the strange little boy temporarily moves in with Alex’s family, since he has no other family of his own.

LS: Well, we kind of do see this. We see an ambulance across the street at Robbie’s house with its siren flashing. And Alex’s mom says that she was asked to take Robbie in.  But no, we never actually see Robbie’s mother physically being carried to the ambulance.

MA: And of course, since he is a strange little boy, weird creepy things start happening in the middle of the night, including visits from the ghost or demon who’s been haunting the folks in all these movies, the spectral dude known as Toby.

You know, you’d think that Toby would pick a house without so many friggin cameras, so he could actually accomplish something without people watching him!

LS: Maybe he’s an attention hog!

MA: Of course, that’s the gimmick in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, that everything is filmed by the cameras of the characters in the movie, to give it a realistic feel. And for the most part, this gimmick works.  It’s why these movies are fun, because there are long moments of silent “in the middle of the night” footage which prompts audience members to yell out various comments, because they can’t stand the tension.

Of course, for story purposes, this gimmick made the most sense in the first movie.  I can believe some guy filming everything on his video camera.  In the second film, the family was concerned about burglars, and so they had security cameras installed, and that’s how we saw all the footage in that film.

In this one, Alex’s boyfriend Ben is a computer geek, and so he records everything with his computer camera, and so when the strange events start happening in Alex’s house, she has Ben fix all the computers in the house so they’ll be taking video footage 24/7.  Not that this is unbelievable, but like I said, what are the odds that every house Toby haunts has cameras on him all night?  I’m suspending disbelief here more than I want to.

Anyway, this is how in this movie we’re able to see all those PARANORMAL ACTIVITY scenes we’ve come to know and love, scenes of silent rooms in the middle of the night, just waiting for something scary to happen.

And of course the story in this one is about that strange little boy next door, who we assume is Hunter, and the eerie events his presence causes once he’s inside Alex’s house.  And that’s it folks.  There really isn’t much of a story here.  There is a twist, but I was unimpressed.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is easily the weakest film in the series.  I didn’t hate this movie by any means, but I was unsatisfied.  Big time.  I mean, all the signature “in the middle of the night scenes” are there, but they’re just not that scary this time around.

The ending, which is a bit scary, is quick and over WAY too fast.

I liked the main character Alex, which is a good thing, because she’s in almost every scene of the movie.  I thought Kathryn Newton did a great job, and if I’m allowed to say this about a 15 year-old, she’s stunningly beautiful in this movie.

LS: Well, maybe you should wait about three years to say that. (laughs). But you’re right, she’s quite pretty.

MA: Matt Shively is also likeable as her boyfriend Ben, so these two main characters aren’t the problem.

The problem is the story, or lack thereof.  The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never had strong stories, but they’ve been fun because they’ve been scary.  I didn’t find this one scary at all.  The scares just aren’t there, and in a gimmicky movie like this that doesn’t have much of a story, if you don’t have scares, what’s left?  The answer is, not much!  There just isn’t much to this movie.

Christopher Landon wrote the screenplay, and he also wrote the scripts for the second and third films in this series as well.  I think maybe he’s running out of ideas.  There are “middle of the night sequences” where nothing seems to happen, and this is the same problem I had with the previous films in the series, especially PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010).  You’re waiting there, watching a silent empty room in the middle of the night, and the pay-off is a little boy walking around a room.  Come on!

Plus the little boy in this one just isn’t that creepy.  I thought the kid in LOOPER (2012) was much creepier!

(The door opens and the little boy from LOOPER enters the room.  The boy grimaces, his eyes widen, and he grows red in the face.)

MA:  Easy kid!  Don’t use your telekinetic powers on us!  I was actually complimenting you!

LS: Geez, kid. Give us a break.

BOY:  Where’s the bathroom?  I have to go.  Bad!

MA:  It’s down the hall on the left.

BOY:  Thanks.  (Exits, as he runs down the hall).

LS (calling after him):  Next time don’t wait so long!

MA:  I had some questions about the story as well.  I wanted to know what was actually going on in the house next door to Alex.  At one point, she sees a bunch of cars there, and when she goes to investigate in the middle of the night— of course—she finds people there, but she’s frightened and runs away, and so we never learn what’s going on.  Now, based upon the events of the prequel, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, but this movie might have been scarier had we seen more of those people next door, since we all know they’re not about to win any good neighbor awards!  They’re evil!  Why would you not make your scary story more about them?

LS: At the same time, it makes sense that she’d get scared and run away. So it is in character.

Most 15-year-old girls wouldn’t challenge people at a neighbor’s house and demand to know more.

MA: Then there’s good old Toby, the friendly neighborhood PARANORMAL ACIVITY demon.  He’s not much of a factor in this one.  Maybe he’s finally getting camera shy.

LS: Yeah, Toby’s a bit of a letdown this time around.

MA: Alex’s parents aren’t so bright either.  In one scene, a knife falls from the ceiling, and her dad, although spooked, doesn’t do anything about it.  It’s not like a door swings open.  Sometimes a stray draft opens or closes doors.  We’re talking about a knife falling from the ceiling.  I’d want to know what the hell a knife is doing in the ceiling in the first place!

LS: I kept expecting that knife to drop down and imbed itself in someone’s head.

MA: In an earlier scene, the mom is cutting vegetables with a knife— the same one I assume—she walks away….

LS: Of course it’s the same one. Why do you have to “assume” it?

MA: …we hear the knife swiped up and away—she returns and of course is dumbfounded and wonders where she put the knife.  She then walks away and returns with another knife and continues cutting.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a knife disappear into thin air from a kitchen counter on me.  I’d be somewhat freaked.  I wouldn’t continue cutting my vegetables like nothing had happened.

LS: So you wanted more time wasted with her just standing around, looking for the knife?

MA: No, I wanted her at the very least to ask someone in the house, “Hey, did anyone just take the knife I was using?”  Show some concern!  Jeesh!

I also have a complaint about Spooky Katie.  Does she always have to walk so slowly?  It’s like watching a store mannequin.  Someone light a firecracker under that woman!

(Outside there is an explosion and a flash of light, followed by a scream.)

I didn’t mean that literally!

VOICE OFF-CAMERA:  Sorry!

MA:  Also, the very creepy scene shown in the film’s trailer doesn’t appear in this movie.  This isn’t the first time this has happened in this series.  I remember a similar scary scene shown in the trailer for PARANORMAL ACTIVTY 2 which wasn’t in the film.

LS: This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since way too many trailers give away the complete story of a movie before you see it.

MA:  I dunno.  It bugs me.

LS: At least these scenes in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies that don’t appear in the movies are kind of like bonus scenes. But you’re right that this new movie could use all the scares it could get.

MA: This one was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the same folks who directed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3.  Like their screenwriter Christopher Landon, I think they’re running out of ideas.

All in all, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is weak horror movie, hardly worth your time.  I enjoyed last week’s SINISTER better, as that one disturbed me in a way that this movie doesn’t even come close to doing.  Again, I didn’t hate this film, but I sure was underwhelmed.
I give it one and a half knives.

LS: Y’know, we’re actually in complete agreement about this one. This is the Year the Sequels Died. When some of the franchises we’ve come to rely on have run out of steam. I felt the same way about RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. That was a series I didn’t mind, although it was never rocket science, and I at least found each sequel entertaining. If you have to sit through these movies, you at least want to enjoy yourself a little bit. But the new RESIDENT EVIL movie was so cynical and such an empty example of greed, that it pissed me off. There was absolutely no reason for that sequel to get made except to cash in, and a series I had liked a little bit finally ran out of steam and lost all reason to keep going. (I should have known better when the previous one ended right in the middle of the story, demanding that it “Be Continued.”)

I don’t feel as angry and cheated by PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4.

MA:  I agree.  I’m not angry about it either.

LS:  There are some plot points that push things forward (although not all that many), and lead character Alex is very likeable and you care about her. But overall, Part 4 is pretty flimsy compared to the other movies. I liked this series a lot. They’re not amazing works of art, but they’re fun. And I’ve come to rely on that. But this one really felt like they were phoning it in. Like they were just making a new movie to keep the franchise going. And we really didn’t get enough answers by the end to satisfy us.

What you do with a franchise like this is inject some new blood once in a while. The people who started the movies do not need to keep working on each one. Like Michael said, it’s obvious that these people run out of ideas and start repeating themselves.

If you bring in fresh people and maybe let a franchise go in a new direction, then there’s more of a chance that the audiences might actually feel surprised.  It’s a risk, but it’s better than wasting our time.

With PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, I just think the filmmakers are admitting defeat. Either let someone new take a turn, and take a chance on actually improving on the concept and the series, or just end it here.

Because otherwise you’re just jerking us around and taking our money.

I really wanted to like this one, but I give PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 a rating of one and a half out of five knives, too.

MA: Wow, we agree on something.

LS: That’s a surprise in itself.

MA:  And I don’t think we’re alone in not liking this one.  I don’t know about the audience you saw the movie with, but the theater I was in, the audience was rather subdued.  There weren’t many comments until the last 10 minutes or so.

And when it did end, the woman in the row in front of me said, “That’s it?”  My sentiments exactly!

(Suddenly, a big glass chandelier above them crashes down on the floor, just missing them by inches)

MA: Yahh! I’m out of here.

LS: I think Toby is angry with the bad review.

(They run out of the house)

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 ~ one and a half knives!

L.L. Soares also gives PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 ~ one and a half knives!

SINISTER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Disturbing Cinema, Evil Kids!, Evil Spirits, Haunted Houses, Religious Cults with tags , , , , , , on October 15, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SINISTER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A dark attic. L.L. SOARES has found a box of old home movies and a projector and is playing the movies against one of the walls. MICHAEL ARRUDA pops up to see what’s going on)

MA: Hey, what are you watching up here?

LS: Old home movies of the Arruda family. Here’s your first visit to Disneyworld. You sure were an ugly kid.

MA: You must have the wrong Arruda family.  I never went to Disneyworld as a kid.

LS:  You poor deprived soul.

MA:  Not at all.  We went to lots of fun places when I was a kid.

(CUT to a young MA at the Municipal Dump.)

YOUNG MA:  Can I throw the next garbage bag into the chute?  Please? This is so much fun!  Thanks for taking me to the dump!

(CUT back to MA & LS in attic.)

LS (looking nostalgic):  Ah, my old stomping grounds—. Did I ever tell you about my first pet? A junkyard rat by the name of Herbie…

MA: Not now. Hey, instead of watching these old home movies, why don’t you start this week’s review?

LS: Sure, anything’s better than watching this boring Disneyland footage. Oh god, now it’s showing pirates on water skis. This is mind numbing.

This week’s movie is called SINISTER, brought to us by some of the same producers who gave us 2010’s INSIDIOUS. This time around, the director is Scott Derickson who gave us THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005) and the 2008 remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

MA:  Oooh, two not-so-great flicks, although EMILY ROSE was okay in a mildly entertaining sort of way.

LS:  Well, compared to those two, SINISTER is a big step up.

In SINISTER, Ethan Hawke (who has been in everything from DEAD POETS SOCIETY, 1989, to GATTACA, 1997, to 2009’s DAYBREAKERS) plays Ellison Oswalt, a true crime writer who had a bestselling book 10 years earlier called “Kentucky Blood,” but who hasn’t been able to recapture the success of that book since. He needs to find just the right story to put him on top again, and he thinks he finds it in a small town where a family was killed in their back yard. He rents the house of the murdered family and moves his wife and kids there, intent on researching the crime and putting out another hot book. But he finds a lot more than he expected.

After they move in, he finds a mysterious box of home movies on Super 8 reels and an old projector in the attic. It all looks harmless enough, until he brings the box down to his office and starts watching the films. They have innocuous sounding names like “Pool Party” and “BBQ” with corresponding dates. He puts one in the projector and sees a family playing together, until suddenly the scene changes and the family members are standing in the backyard with bags over their heads and nooses around their necks. Suddenly, a tree branch breaks, causing them all to be lifted off the ground by the nooses, where they struggle until they hang limp and dead.

Ellison is shocked by this. This is a film of the actual murder of the family that lived in this house before him. Which leads him to view the other reels of film. Each one is kind of a mini-snuff film, as he sees more murders flash before his eyes. Clearly these are all the work of one killer, and suddenly the names on the film cans take on a nightmarish quality. The “pool party” is a film of a family being drowned. The “BBQ” is a film of a family being burned alive. The more Ellison delves into these films, the more they start to really affect him. He starts drinking more, and becomes moody and anxious. And he’s only been working on this project for a week!

His family is feeling the strain of it all as well. His wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) has dealt with his mood swings before when he works on a book, and she isn’t a big fan of the process, since it has clearly has endangered their marriage in the past. Their 12-year-old son, Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) has severe night terrors, and as the family’s stay in the house continues, his nightmares get worse and worse. There’s also their younger child, Ashley (Clare Foley), who seems more thoughtful and mature than her brother, but she acts out in other ways, including painting creepy pictures all over the walls of her room.

Meanwhile, the local law officers have a mixed reaction to Ellison coming to their town. With his notorious reputation for delving into what police have done wrong in their investigations, the town sheriff (Fred Dalton Thompson, who you might remember as just plain Fred Thompson from TV shows like LAW & ORDER and more recently THE GOOD WIFE, as well as a brief political career) isn’t very welcoming. Meanwhile, the Deputy (James Ransone) becomes Ellison’s accomplice in tracking down information, since the man is clearly star-struck with Ellison’s celebrity status as a bestselling author.

And just what are the strange symbols seen at some of the murder scenes? And what is that strange clown-faced figure we see strange glimpses of?

SINISTER actually does a really good job of creating atmosphere.

MA:  Yes, it does.

LS:  The movies that Ellison watches are actually pretty disturbing (SINISTER actually begins with footage from one of these movies, without explanation, before we get into the actual storyline, and it’s very effective). Since these are technically snuff films, we feel as repulsed at them as Ellison clearly is. And yet, he can’t stop watching them, can’t stop trying to decipher the clues and determine just what is going on here.

MA:  Disturbing is the word that I think best describes the entire movie.  It succeeds in making its audience feel uncomfortable.  However, I wish it had spent a little more time being in-your-face scary.

LS:  I thought the script and the direction were above-average here.

MA:  I liked the script slightly better than the direction.  Again, SINISTER was written and directed by Scott Derrickson, and in some ways the pacing of this movie reminded me of his earlier effort, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE.  I found the pacing very deliberate, not so much slow, as patient.  The film moves along like a drama rather than a horror flick.

This pacing worked better during the first half of the movie when things were creepy, but later, when I expected the scares to really intensify and things to really heat up, they don’t, as the pacing remains just as deliberate as it was early on.

I would agree that the story is above average—for the most part, anyway—I enjoyed the main story in this one, of Oswalt’s research, of the discovery of the grisly home movies, and the effects it has on Oswalt and his family. But I thought it became predictable towards the end.  I saw the ending coming a mile away, and so I wasn’t surprised in the least.

LS:  The ending isn’t mind-blowingly original, but I thought it worked.

And the cast is quite good, especially Hawke in the lead, and Clare Foley as his daughter Ashley.

MA:  I really enjoyed Ethan Hawke, but the rest of the cast did very little for me, although I agree with you that Clare Foley is also good as his daughter Ashley.

I really bought into Hawke’s performance as the tormented writer Ellison Oswalt.  He really seems creeped out and bothered by the home movies, and he grows more and more uncomfortable as he delves deeper into his research of the crimes.

I also felt bad for the guy.  He’s a writer in desperate need of a new hit—it’s been 10 years since his bestseller—and he’s counting on a new hit to support his family, and I kept thinking, “Get another source of income, man!  You’re nuts relying only on your book!”

(ELLISON OSWALT pops up into the attic.)

OSWALT:  What do you want me to do?  Teach?  Write boring science textbooks?

MA:  Hey, you gotta pay the bills.

OSWALT:  But I wrote a bestseller once!  I can do it again! I know I can!

LS:  Quit your whining and get back to writing, already!

OSWALT:  Right.  (Exits)

MA:  You just said that to get rid of him.

LS:  Hey, we’ve got a movie to review here!  We can’t waste time listening to some guy whine about not being able to write another bestseller!

MA:  I feel bad for him.

LS: I don’t. Where’s my bestseller? At least he had one!

MA: That being said, I didn’t find Oswalt to be the most likeable main character.  He’s kind of a jerk to his wife, as he doesn’t tell her the truth about the new house they’ve moved into.

LS: I don’t think all characters – even lead ones – need to be likable. Not all people are likable. Oswalt is damaged goods, in part because of what he’s chosen to do for a living, and it’s understandable that things would take a toll on him. I think this makes him more interesting. And he lies to his wife because, if he doesn’t, he’ll have to put up with her whining.

MA: Yeah, I guess so. Juliet Rylance’s performance as Tracy Oswalt is fine, but I did find her character to be a little annoying.  She keeps telling her husband that she supports him and his decision to write his book, but she whines and complains about it every second she gets. Some support!

You mentioned Fred Dalton Thompson.  I used to enjoy him on LAW AND ORDER.  I thought his role here as the Sheriff was miniscule.  Why bother?

(THOMPSON pops up into attic.)

THOMPSON:  I needed the money, that’s why. It’s been awhile since I was a senator from Tennessee, and I’m a character actor, not a big star like Ethan Hawke.

MA: Okay, that makes sense.  Didn’t you run for president once?

THOMPSON: Yes, in 2008.

LS: How the mighty have fallen.

THOMPSON:  Yeah, yeah. Hey, if you guys ever need me to play a police officer or a judge in one of your jokes, I have lots of experience.

LS:  We’ll think about it and get back to you.  We’re kind of reviewing a movie right now.

THOMPSON:  Here’s my card.  (Hands them a card and exits).

MA: Well that was kind of sad. Back to SINISTER.

And James Ransone as the Deputy ran hot and cold.  While he’s likable at times, there were other times when he seemed just plain odd, and I was actually wondering if perhaps there would be something more to this character, some strange quirk in his background, but the script doesn’t go in that direction.  The Deputy remains just an oddball supporting character with little to do but look up facts for Ellison.

LS: I couldn’t tell if the Deputy was supposed to be just a comic relief character, or if he would have more importance as the movie went on. I’m actually disappointed they didn’t do more with him.

MA:  Same here.

LS:  By the time we get into ancient pagan deities that ate children, things have grown quite uncomfortable. The soundtrack here, by Christopher Young, is also quite effective. I found that his use of music, as well as various strange noises, increased the intensity and the tension of what was happening onscreen. Sometimes, it’s just a series of strange sounds, reminding me of the early industrial music of bands like Throbbing Gristle, which works very well at keeping us on the edges of our seats.

MA:  Yeah, you’re right about the soundtrack.  Some of those background sounds were really weird and they really did add to the mood.

LS:  SINISTER does exactly what a good horror movie is supposed to do. It keeps you feeling uncomfortable throughout, and the ending isn’t a cheat. Could this movie have been even more disturbing? Sure it could have. But it does a fine job of walking the tightrope between being truly extreme and maintaining just enough weirdness and scares to keep a mainstream audience off balance.

I liked this movie a lot more than I expected to, and I think it’s one of the better horror films we’ve seen this year. I give it three and a half knives out of five. If it had been a little more intense, I would have given it a better rating. But as is, that’s not too shabby.

What about you, Michael?

MA:  While I agree with you that the movie does succeed in making its audience feel uncomfortable, one thing it doesn’t do is flat out scare its audience, and for me, that was a letdown.

SINISTER works more along the lines of a disturbing thriller than a scream-out-loud shocker, and it was nowhere near as scary as I hoped it would be.  I thought INSIDIOUS was scarier.

I liked the demon Bughuul a lot, but he wasn’t in this movie enough in my book.  He’s really creepy and I wanted to see him do more in this movie, but unfortunately he’s relegated to being a background image, seen in the old Super 8 movies and on occasion lurking about Ellison’s home.  Despite his importance to the plot, he doesn’t exactly make a huge splash in this one.

LS: I agree with you on that count. Bughuul is a fascinating figure, and I wanted to know more about him, but the movie doesn’t give us much aside from some mythology provided by Professor Jonas (Vincent D’Onofrio), an expert on ancient religions and cults. But I wanted to see Bughuul fleshed out more. I wanted to understand his motivations better.

MA: My son pointed out, and I agreed, that Bughuul resembled Michael Jackson at times, which creeped us out even more, considering that Bughuul consumes children’s souls.

(LS laughs)

(Suddenly, MICHAEL JACKSON pops into attic.)

MICHAEL JACKSON:  I’m a lover, not a child-soul-eater! (sings) WooooooooHoooooo

(EXITS)

LS:  I’m glad he didn’t stick around.  I would have had to kill him.

MA:  But, he’s already dead.

MICHAEL JACKSON’s Voice:  But my legacy lives on!

LS: Not in Cinema Knife Fight Land, it doesn’t!  Get the hell out of here!

MA: I think he’s already gone.

LS: Good! One spooky Michael is enough for me.

MA (laughs): Anyway, I also really liked the Super 8 footage.  It was creepy and disturbing, but on its own, it’s not enough to carry this movie.  I wanted something more, and SINISTER didn’t really have that something.

For two thirds of this movie, I was really into it, but the final third didn’t go for the throat, and this was a letdown.  The movie also wasn’t helped by its preview which gave away a lot of the plot.  Very little of what I saw in SINISTER came as a surprise.

To me, the best part of SINISTER—besides the Super 8 mm footage— is the story of how this all effects Oswalt, how he becomes consumed and ultimately frightened of the story he’s investigating.   This was good, but I wanted more.  The film barely touches upon how it affects his kids.  We see it in a few scenes, where his daughter paints images and his son has “night terrors,” but these things are barely touched upon.  For example, what is his son really afraid of?  His father’s work, the fact that his dad writes about true horrific crimes?  The ghosts in the house?  Bughuul?  I wanted to know what was scaring this kid.

And the film could have benefitted by stronger supporting characters.  Ethan Hawke, while good, really isn’t able to carry this movie on his own.  I wanted more screen time for the Sheriff, who seemed like the type of guy who’d want to keep a close eye on Oswalt, and the Deputy, who ultimately comes off like a small town cop cliché.

I also wanted to know more about Bughuul.  For example, in the movie, he waits for a certain event to occur before he takes action, which is why the crimes are spread out over decades.  Why does he wait?  I have some pretty good guesses of my own, but the film doesn’t cover this.

Ultimately, SINISTER is an okay horror movie that tells a disturbing tale, but it seems to be missing some much need jolts as it marches on towards its predictable conclusion.  I give it two and a half knives.

(The face of an evil clown appears on the movie screen, as the hum of the projector continues to fill the attic. Suddenly, the clown moves forward, filling the screen with its face. MA and LS scream as the lights go out.)

(Everything goes dark)

MA’s Voice: Predictable. Very predictable.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SINISTER ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives SINISTER ~three and a half knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou goes to THE BONEYARD (1991)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1990s Horror, 2012, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Evil Kids!, Just Plain Fun, Morgue Hijinks with tags , , , , , , , on October 11, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE BONEYARD (1991)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween at the Bijou.  In honor of my favorite holiday (really, a whole day built around dressing up, horror movies, and candy?  What could be better?), I am digging through the forgotten film vaults to come up with a couple of terrific little movies that need to be watched in observance of the season.  The first one I discovered was a fun little B-picture that combines actual horror with some truly inspired and whacked-out comedy, a TV sitcom star, a recently deceased trend-setting comedienne, zombie children, a few rather gory scares, and some truly silly special effects.  When released on VHS, this movie had two boxes, one which stressed the horror and one that stressed the comedic aspects of the film, both of which demonstrated the true schizophrenic nature of the flick.  Altogether, it makes for an inspired night at the Bizarre Bijou.  Ladies and germs, I bring you, THE BONEYARD (1991).

The film begins with a cop, Jersey Callum (played by a tired-looking Ed Nelson, former AIP superstar, who appeared in INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957), ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957) and A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959), amongst others) arriving at a decrepit, rundown old house.  He pokes around inside with his much younger partner, Gordon Mullen, played by James Eustermann.  Inside, he finds the woman he is looking for, Alley Oates, a psychic who has helped the police find dead children for years until she couldn’t take it any longer.  Now, she has retreated into her rather gross house and eaten everything in sight until she weighs at least 325 pounds.  Alley is very well-played by Deborah Rose (TROOP BEVERLY HILLS, 1989 and SKI SCHOOL, 1990), an actress who truly seems consumed with grief and horror of the world.  Jersey tells her he has a case for her, three children whose remains have been partially mummified and discovered in an old mortuary.  The mortician, Mr. Chen, had kept them alive by feeding them human remains and parts of cadavers, and he claimed they were ghouls, kyoshi, Asian demon children or something.  Chen’s family is cursed, and he had to feed these undead demons, and they were getting out of control. Or is he just crazy?.  Alley is required to find out who these children were, to help identify the decaying bodies.  But, she is haunted by memories of dead children who accuse her of not finding them in time, and she has horrific nightmares about them needing comfort.  In order to purge her newest set of nightmares, she decides to head to the city morgue, where the three children’s corpses are located, and she will put them to rest.

Alley Oates (Deborah Rose) is a psychic who helps the police find dead children in THE BONEYARD.

So far, THE BONEYARD is a rather somber, eerie affair, but that all changes once we get to the county morgue!  There’s a skeleton crew working there, as the morgue is in the process of changing locations and most of the staff is in the new spot.  Leftover, however, is the night clerk, Mrs. Poopinplatz(!) played without a wig(!!) by great comedienne Phyllis Diller.  She works there with her white beribboned poodle Floofsoms, and she’s pretty scary with her trademark laugh (Ha haaa haaaaaaaaa) and her real gray hair sticking out every which way.  When she looks at Alley’s ID, she says “Porked out, didn’t ya?”  There’s also the coroner, Shepherd, played by a pony-tailed Norman Fell (Mr. Roper on THREE’S COMPANY), who shows Alley the three kids.  The makeup on these desiccated corpses is gruesome and truly disgusting.  Alley touches a lock of hair from one of them, and BAM! She gets flashbacks of the kyoshi demons being fed human remains, and she realizes they aren’t dead!  They’re awakening at that moment.  It’s a really creepy scene, one of the best in the film, as the ghouls creep from their tables and into the dark corners of the place.

Meanwhile, in another part of the morgue, the body of a young girl, Dana, an apparent suicide, is admitted, but she wakes up on the autopsy table.   Alley rushes down to the morgue, Poopinplatz right behind her, screaming “Floofsoms, sic her!  Bite her!”  When Alley arrives, she finds a massacre, the kyoshi devouring one of the coroners and the others tucking into other available corpses.  The survivors, Dana, Jersey, Gordon, and Shepherd are hiding in another room down the hall.  The group discovers that even shooting them in the head won’t kill the ghouls.  From here, the film turns into a cat and mouse game with the survivors being chased all over the half-empty building (the phones are out and the electricity is spotty!) by the little bastards.  Thank goodness the evidence storage room is full of everything from axes to machine guns to a pipe bomb!

Shepherd gets bitten by one of the monsters, and one force-feeds part of its brain to a struggling Poopinplatz.  Gordon shoots the crap out of one of the demons, firing several hundred bullets into it, finally killing it but destroying the elevator.  Poopinplatz mutates into a giant monster that looks a little like Big Daddy Kane meets Bette Davis meets a muppet.  Floofsoms also becomes a nine foot tall white poodle monster with six inch fangs and a ribbon in its hair.  Soon, our little group of survivors is fleeing from the ghouls, the giant poodle, and a slobbering laughing Phyllis Diller beast.  Will any of them make it out alive?

Phyllis Diller as the “Poopinplatz Monster” in THE BONEYARD.

Run for your lives! It’s a killer Floofsoms in THE BONEYARD.

A special mention should be made of the terrific music by John Lee Whitener, whose only other credit seems to be 1991’s RAGIN’ CAJUN’.  It’s an orchestral score reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, and it’s a perfect mixture of action adventure thrills and eerie horror melodies.  Just a great score I could listen to (especially those whips lashing out) without the movie.

The atmosphere of THE BONEYARD is very autumnal, with falling leaves everywhere.  You can almost smell the crispness in the air.  When the action moves inside, the claustrophobic metal rooms of the morgue intensify the viewing experience.  I chalk it up to director James Cummins, who was a special effects man on projects such as THE BEAST WITHIN (1982) JAWS 3-D (1983), ENEMY MINE (1985) and DEEPSTAR SIX (1989).  The effects work on THE BONEYARD can be cheesy and scary at the same time.  At one point, there’s a brilliant scene when Dana first sees the Floofsoms monster, and the only thing she can do is giggle.  Then, it roars and bares its huge fangs, and the screaming starts.  The film is funny but turns scary in seconds, setting just the right balance between the hilarious and the macabre.

THE BONEYARD had an obviously low budget; it’s often too dark, the sound design is iffy at best, the love song at the end really sucks, and some of the acting is rather stagy.  But it manages to overcome its budgetary limitations with a wildly unpredictable script, likable characters, outrageous monsters, plenty of gore, and two solid performances from Ed Nelson and Deborah Rose that anchor the screwy events in a sort of reality.  It’s a real hoot, and quite a nice discovery if you can find it anywhere.

I give THE BONEYARD three mutant poodles out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012)

Posted in 2012, Barry Dejasu Columns, Evil Kids!, Family Secrets, Horror, Madness, Murder! with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2012 by knifefighter

HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012)
Movie Review by
Barry Lee Dejasu

The Premise
Late one night, a very disturbed girl savagely offs her mother and father before running off into the woods.

Several years later, a mother named Sarah (Elizabeth Shue) and her teenage daughter Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence), move into the neighborhood.  All seems well, even idyllic, until one night, when Sarah notices that the lights are on in the otherwise-allegedly-vacant house next door.  Now, Sarah had gotten a deal on her own house because of the murders; however, it also turns out that the murder house still has one resident, and that’s the teen son of the dead couple, Ryan (Max Thieriot).

Ryan is very shy, but friendly, and Elissa makes friends with him after he picks her up on a rainy night after she’d walked out on a drunken party with some of her schoolmates.  Soon, the two form an offbeat friendship, hinting at romance.

Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) and Ryan (Max Thieriot) strike up a friendship in HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET.

Meanwhile, there are rumors abound in the town, with some of Elissa’s peers snickering about Carrie-Anne, Ryan’s missing murderous sister, still living in the woods.  These rumors are enough for Sarah to want to keep her daughter away from trouble—and thus, away from Ryan.  Elissa won’t hear of this, however, and finds ways to continue to see him.

The events of the past are not quite over, however…and Ryan may know more about them than he’s been letting on.

The Reaction
Not long after our introduction to Ryan, he is shown preparing a canned-noodle dinner and bringing it down to the basement of his house…where a hidden trapdoor leads to a secret hallway…at the end of which is a locked door…and inside, Carrie-Anne is very much alive, and every bit as crazy as the murderous rage at the beginning had hinted at.

When I saw this, I felt like the film was showing all its cards far too soon; I found myself cringing like a parent watching their kid saying the wrong line in a stage play.  So many movies have the audience gasp at the Big Reveal of a villain, only…none of the protagonists in the movie get to know this until later on, and so by the time they find out, we’re way ahead of them.  This kind of too-much-too-soon formula can really hurt a plot, especially if it’s a suspense tale.

And yet, in this case, I think it worked, for the most part.

Jennifer Lawrence singing.

For one thing, without this and related scenes, more time would be spent in the “calmer side” of the film, with the drama of Sarah and Elissa and Ryan taking up most of the plot, and only a couple of key scenes would bring Carrie-Anne into the filmic conversation, making Ryan very quickly seem suspicious of knowing more about her than he’s saying.  Instead, the film presents this hidden plot right from the get-go, so we, the audience, have nothing left to suspect—and thus, we have no idea of just where the plot is headed.  It also helps set up for those later Carrie-Anne sequences—we know what she’s capable of, and so we’re doubly-alert to how much tension could be created if and when she’s pitted against the protagonists, rather than if she’d just appeared out of nowhere (and again, in a more predictable setup).

And there’s something else that worked really well (for a while, at least) with showing Ryan’s relationship to Carrie-Anne: he still cares for her.  He has to restrain her (asking her why she has to have such a frenzied reaction every time he opens the door), and he’s feeding her, and doing his best to keep her well…but she’s clearly a very disturbed person.  This scene brings an unexpected slice of drama and characterization to an otherwise straight-horror movie, and I found it to be really a rather effective.

This surprisingly emotional element continues directly with Ryan’s interactions with Elissa, as he slowly opens up to about his life, and his sister (and just what made her so crazy).  It’s clear that he never has anybody to talk to about this, due to the rumor-driven estrangement he gets from the locals and his own quiet nature, and it made his and her characters far more sympathetic than they otherwise could have been.

From a filmmaking perspective, the movie is full of strong personnel both in front of and behind the camera, with the three leads turning in equally effective performances.  Jennifer Lawrence continues to show solid acting chops (although this was actually filmed before THE HUNGER GAMES), and also gets a couple of scenes in which she shows some promise as a singer.  Elizabeth Shue is particularly welcome here, turning what could have been (but unfortunately, at times still was) a doting, overprotective mother into someone with charm and likeability.  Max Theiriot has been a slow burn in movies, but he’s a good actor, and always gives each performance 100%, and for his role as Ryan, he does very well.

The tension builds in the final third.

In addition to more typical cinematic photography, this film has a number of scenes awash in hallucinogenic, disorienting photography, especially in Carrie-Anne’s scenes.   The musical score, by Theo Green (who also worked on the film’s special visual effects), was particularly noteworthy, staying constantly in the background as an ever-changing, amorphous pulse of sounds both orchestrated and electronic, making for some truly engaging moments during some of the more emotional, as well as suspenseful, scenes.  And with Mark Tonderai’s (HUSH, 2008) tight and intimate (and at times claustrophobic), direction, HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET was very atmospheric as well as tense.   (And to its credit, it wasn’t even filmed nor post-converted into 3D!)

With all of these strengths at work, I found myself sitting up in my seat near the middle of the movie, thinking to myself, “This is different.  This is not at all like what the previews make it out to be.”  And for the most part, I was right.

What left me less-than-wowed were the events that unfolded in the final third of the film.  Without giving away details, I’ll just say that a couple of background characters very randomly perform some heavy-handed behavior, which leads to a rushed scene of exposition and somewhat out-of-character nosiness.  Further (and even more abrupt) changes in character behavior occur, and as a result, the movie was very quickly layered with cliché upon predictable-horror-movie cliché, which was really unfortunate, given the otherwise fairly strong buildup.  (The final note of the movie is also particularly ill-advised, and comes across as a rather cheap rip-off of…well, if you see it, you’ll know exactly what I’m getting at.)

Yes, this movie had its share of problems, but did I hate it?  Not at all.  In fact, I can’t blame the movie for its faults, for as I was watching these problems unfold, I thought to myself, “It’s like someone else took over the script halfway through the production!”  As it turns out, that is almost exactly what had happened.

A Back Story
As far back as 2003, Jonathan Mostow(BREAKDOWN, U-571) had been working on the script for HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET along with Richard Kelly (DONNIE DARKO), taking some inspiration taken from a 1973 film starring Bette Davis called SCREAM, PRETTY PEGGY.

Before production began, the studio, Relativity Media, wished for a rewrite of Mostow’s script, and they hired David Loucka for the task.  Loucka ultimately received the writing credit, with only a nod to Mostow for the “story.”  (Interestingly enough, Loucka had also been hired to rewrite Jim Sheridan’s script for the 2011 film DREAM HOUSE, which was ultimately a critical and box-office failure.)

Looking back, it was easy to see how HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET was so uneven.  This isn’t to say it was bad, either—rather, so many of its better elements managed to make the final cut, resulting in two-thirds of a solid film.

Final Thoughts
The problems with this movie are not its own, but rather, that of the studio.  The actors gave their all, making for some genuinely effective performances. Mark Tonderai, Theo Green and everyone else in the production took what they were given and made the best of it. And ultimately, we wind up with two-thirds of a solid film.  One can only hope that someday, some kind of director’s cut may surface.

© Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Barry Lee Dejasu gives HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET~ two and a half knives (out of 5).


V/H/S (2012)

Posted in 2012, Anthology Films, Demons, Evil Kids!, Exorcism Movies, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, Horror, Indie Horror, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Paranormal, Secrets, Thrillers, Twist Endings, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2012 by knifefighter

V/H/S (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

V/H/S is a new anthology horror movie made up of five shorts and a wraparound story. There seem to be a lot of these kinds of movies around lately. The other ones that come to mind are CHILLERAMA (2011) and THE THEATRE BIZARRE (also 2011). Both were mixed bags. But the good thing about anthology movies is that if you don’t like one of the stories, there are more to come, if you just wait. Overall, I tend to enjoy these kinds of movies a lot.

V/H/S is above-average in this regard. For the most part, all of the stories are pretty good. Sure, some are better than others, but I didn’t feel there were any clunkers this time around.

The film starts off with the wraparound story, called “Tape 56.” This ongoing segment is directed by Adam Wingard, who also made POP SKULL (2007), A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE (2010) and YOU’RE NEXT (2011). Just a word of warning, if you start watching the movie, you might not care a lot for this one. But give it a chance. It just sets up the premise. But the characters involved are kind of despicable.

We are introduced to a bunch of guys led by Gary (Calvin Reeder) who are going around doing awful things and filming it for money. One of the things they do is follow couples and then attack them. The boyfriend is pulled aside and restrained, while the girlfriend is grabbed and her breasts are exposed for the camera. Gary says he gets $50 for each one of these he tapes, and he says he’s done about 25 of them so far. Needless to say, the characters who are supposed to be our point of view for this story start out being unlikable, which may put you off from the get-go.

The set-up is this: these guys are hired to go a house in the middle of the night and get a videotape. It has something to do with blackmail, and the guys say they plan to make copies of the tape, so they can make more money. What exactly is on the tape, we’ll never know. They don’t say (although one character does elude that it might be “a senator having sex on film”), but the job does pay big money—much more than they’re used to. So of course they jump at the chance.

They go to the designated house at the middle of the night, and we’re told there may be someone there, but it’s an old man and he won’t be any trouble. The guys get in, and search the place. They find two things. First of all, they find the old man, and he appears to be dead in a chair, in front of a wall full of television screens. There’s a VCR and a tape in it.

The second thing is that there are lots of videotapes in the house, and the guys aren’t really sure which one they’re supposed to retrieve. So they start looking through them, playing them one after another. And that is the theme of the movie.

The first short film we see is called “Amateur Night.” It is directed by David Bruckner, who also made THE SIGNAL (2007). And right off the bat, it might be my favorite of the bunch. It features more creeps. This time it’s three guys who plan to go to a bar, pick up some girls, and film themselves having sex with them. They’re Shane (Mike Donlan) Patrick (Joe Sykes) and Clint (Drew Sawyer). Clearly there’s a market for this kind of thing. Clint, a nerdy looking guy, wears a pair of glasses that have a camera and microphone built-in. They go to a bar and get sloshed, and find one girl who is willing to go back with them, named Lisa (Jas Sams). At the same time, a spooky girl with big eyes named Lily (Hannah Fierman) is sitting by herself, and Clint starts filming her. She gravitates toward him and keeps saying “I like you.” When they all go back to the hotel room (Lisa and Lily go back with the guys), things get decidedly weird. I have to admit, I wasn’t really surprised by what happened—I kind of saw it coming—but it was so well done, that I didn’t care. I really enjoyed this one. Featuring a great performance by Fierman.

A scary moment from V/H/S.

The second movie is “Second Honeymoon” by Ti West, who gave us HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) and THE INNKEEPERS (2011). It’s about a couple on a road trip—Stephanie (Sophia Takal) and Sam (Joe Swanberg), who are filming it as they go—who stop at a motel. Sometime during the night, someone is in the room with them, watching them sleep, and it goes from there. Not the best of the stories, but a solid little piece from West, who I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of. I actually think he’s feature films are overrated. This one was kind of predictable, but decent, and I liked it better than his feature films that I’ve seen.

Tuesday the 17th “ by Glenn McQuaid (who also directed 2008’s I SELL THE DEAD) is another one that seems by-the-numbers… at first. Four kids go out to the woods to spend some time in a secluded cabin. But once they get there, things go a little differently than expected. Once again, not something that will blow you away, but a solid little film.

The third one, “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She was Younger,” (great title, by the way!), was directed by “mumblecore” indie director Joe Swanberg (who also acted in Ti West’s installment), and it’s another of my favorites. It features two people talking on Skype. One is a girl named Emily (Helen Rogers) who lives in a haunted apartment. The other is her boyfriend, calling from medical school, where he’s studying. Whenever something weird happens, she calls him so he can be a witness, and at one point we see some ghosts. This is another one, however, where things go much differently than we expect. I liked the weird twist ending a lot.

Finally, we have “10/31/98”, by four guys who go by the name Radio Silence (they are directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella), three of the guys previously made a series of “interactive adventures” under the name Chad, Matt and Rob. This one is a really good one, too. Four guys jump in a car and go to a house for a Halloween party. They have a friend who always rents a house each Halloween and throws a lavish haunted house party. One guy is dressed as a nanny cam (a teddy bear with a camera), so he’s filming this one. They get there, to find the house empty. When they go exploring, they go up to the attic where they find a weird ceremony going on. They think it’s part of the fun, but it’s not. It’s a real exorcism. And things get scary from there.

The wraparound story pops in between the movies and at the end, as the guys in the house search for more tapes, the dead guy in the chair leaves at various points (we see this, but the guys don’t notice) and there’s a big, scary ending.

Another scary moment from V/H/S.

All in all, a great flick, and while there were three that really blew me away, the other two are pretty good, too. So no bad ones. I actually think V/H/S is pretty satisfying and the best of the new anthology horror films I’ve seen lately. It is currently on cable OnDemand in some areas and will get a limited theatrical release in early October.

This one is definitely worth checking out. I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives V/H/S ~ four knives.

Quick Cuts: Favorite Movies by DAVID CRONENBERG

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, Body Horror, Classic Films, Cult Movies, David Cronenberg, Disease!, Disturbing Cinema, ESP, Evil Kids!, Hit Men, Indie Horror, Parasites!, Telekinesis with tags , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS Presents: THE MOVIES OF DAVID CRONENBERG
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Mark Onspaugh, and Jenny Orosel

Director David Cronenberg has been giving us nightmares for over 40 years.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the release of David Cronenberg’s latest movie, COSMOPOLIS (2012), we’ve decided to take a look at our favorite Cronenberg movies.

*****

L.L. SOARES: David Cronenberg is such an iconic director, and has made so many great films to choose from. But, without a doubt, my all-time favorite Cronenberg film is CRASH (1990), which happens to be based on one of my all-time favorite novels (of the same name) by J.G. Ballard. With an amazing cast that includes James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, and Elias Koteas as charismatic anti-hero Vaughan, it’s the story of a man (Spader as “Jim Ballard”) who experiences a traumatic car accident and then discovers a strange cult-like group of people that fetishizes (and just about worships) car crashes. Cronenberg captures the cold, antiseptic feel of Ballard’s very bleak novel, and the movie was pretty controversial (like a lot of Cronenberg films) when it first came out.

(Not to be confused with the Paul Haggis film “Crash:” from 2001)

Cronenberg has made so many great movies. But my other favorites include:

DEAD RINGERS (1988) —With Jeremy Irons in one of his best performances ever as twin gynecologists who share a relationship with one woman (Genevieve Bujold), who can’t tell them apart. Then things start to get violent.

VIDEODROME (1983)—With James Woods as a man who finds a very disturbing cable TV channel that changes his life in scary ways. Including the famous scene where Woods has a VCR slot in his stomach. Also starring Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry.

THE BROOD (1979) —the first Cronenberg film I ever saw, and still a favorite, with little monster kids created from the rage of Samantha Eggar. With Oliver Reed.

NAKED LUNCH (1991) —The underground classic novel by William S. Burroughs was considered unfilmable, but that didn’t stop Cronenberg from bringing it to the big screen. He makes it coherent by mixing a lot of Burroughs’ wild imagery with biographical incidents from the writer’s life.

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JENNY OROSEL: I have a soft spot in my heart for CRASH (1990), seeing as I got my driver’s license in a CRASH t-shirt (I got my license late—I’m not that young). The humor was lost on my tester.

NAKED LUNCH (1991) blew me away because I had no idea how anyone could turn that book into a movie, and I think he pulled it off the only way possible.

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NICK CATOSHIVERS (a.k.a. THEY CAME FROM WITHIN) (1975) is my personal favorite Cronenberg film. It’s a genuinely scary tale of a parasite that turns the residents of a luxury condo into possessed sexual predators. It’s not his best technical achievement, but it gets the goosebumps going better than most standard horror films.

While I’d like to list VIDEODROME as my second favorite, that honor goes to CRASH (1996). Only Cronenberg can take such a bizarre subject (people turned on by car crashes) and make it a film that holds up amazingly well to repeat viewings. It’s unlike any film before or since.

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MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Without doubt, my favorite David Cronenberg movie is THE FLY (1986), which is one of my favorite horror movies from the 1980s, one of my favorites of all time, and certainly one of my favorite remakes.  I love the performances by Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, the gruesome special effects, and how this film captured how it would really be to have your DNA mixed with the DNA of a fly, a concoction that would occur at the molecular level.  Cronenberg is masterful at the helm here.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

I’m also a fan of VIDEODROME (1983) and THE DEAD ZONE (1983).

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 PAUL MCMAHON:  It feels traitorous to choose only a single Cronenberg film as my favorite, so I’ll pick two.

First, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). Its brilliance starts with the emotionless opening sequence of random cruelty that mirrors our fears. The film moves you through the realization of a specific act of violence and explores the way that one event changes the people involved. Violence shoves its way into your life and grows roots. No matter how you try to hide from the memory of such a traumatic event, it never goes away and never lets you forget. Cronenberg’s movie dramatizes this brilliantly, and is very uncomfortable to watch.

Second, and I’m just realizing this is another brilliant representation of trauma —THE BROOD (1979). This time the violence comes from divorce and the ensuing custody battle over a young daughter. THE BROOD features a progressive psychotherapist who has developed a way to make his patients’ internal and invisible pain manifest physically, where it can be seen and acknowledged. Cronenberg himself was struggling through just such a divorce while he directed this movie, and his pain bleeds through the screen. Like the patients of Dr. Raglan, David Cronenberg crafted a physical representation of his inner turmoil. He has said that it’s the one film of his that he cannot bear to watch again.

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MARK ONSPAUGHSCANNERS (1981) —So audacious and amazing! I remembered hearing something about this movie and my wife and I were at a theater where they showed a red band trailer. I whispered, “I think this is the movie where people’s heads blow up,” knowing she’d want to look away —she didn’t hear me —man, did she shriek when that happened! For months after it came out, a friend and I kept repeating Michael Ironside’s line, “I’m gonna suck your brain DRY!”

THE FLY (1986) —It was Cronenberg who layered in the romance into Charles Pogue’s script, elevating this movie from mere creature feature to a masterpiece of horrific tragedy. I don’t think Jeff Goldblum or Geena Davis have ever been better.

So many to choose from, including EASTERN PROMISES (2007), HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) and SPIDER (2002). If you want to take what amounts to a class in cinema, watch SPIDER with the director’s commentary – I don’t want to spoil it for those who didn’t see it, but there is a major change in the movie I didn’t even detect, at first – brilliant.

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MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And that about sums up David Cronenberg.  Thanks, everyone!

L.L. SOARES:  And thank you, readers, for joining us today!

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© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Mark Onspaugh, and Jenny Orosel