12.20.2009

While I'm Away...



Soooo, I've been absent from the Blogosphere for a while and I will most likely continue to be until January. I'm visiting family in the Pacific Northwest, which I am thoroughly enjoying. However, the internet connection is not great and it's kind of strange to steal someone else's computer to complete a blog entry. Plus, I'm already borrowing computers to complete applications for grad school/law school.

I hope everyone is having a great time gearing up for the holidays. Please share how you plan to celebrate below, especially if those plans involve watching a Christmas-themed horror film. I plan on revisiting the original Black Christmas. I've only seen it once or twice and it's been a few years. I'll be sure to report on that.

In the meantime, here is an old review of Christmas Evil that I dug up. Want to know what I thought of it? Here's a hint. Lessons learned from watching this move: 1) Marketing is Evil and 2) Poorly-acted character studies can never replace a slasher. Merry Christmas!

12.14.2009

Evil Things (2009): Home Invasion Meets Found Footage



A creepy, well-executed story that leaves me with some questions.

I’m a fan of found footage films. I’m willing to concede to stretched rationale to continue filming and shaky footage has never bothered me—blame this on my fellow MTV-generation filmmakers or something. That said, I’m all for the style and greatly understand the appeal of the raw footage aesthetic. For the independent filmmaker, the growing popularity of found footage is good news. It offers a budget-friendly platform, where the focus lies heavily on performances and basic storytelling. Strong actors and a compelling story are essential. Otherwise, all you have is a You Tube video.


Evil Things has those two important ingredients. When a group of college-age friends decide to spend the weekend at on isolated mountain house for a birthday, their goodtime is quickly transformed into a nightmare. All of the young actors are natural, funny, and refreshingly “normal” looking. Oh my goodness, there’s even someone with braces and she’s not portrayed as the Milhouse of the neighborhood. The actors appear more comfortable with another as the film continues, so I suspect that the movie may have been shot in rough chronological order. There are only a few clumsy moments of performance early on. Regardless, these feel like real people and I genuinely cared for them, as the events began to escalate. I was surprised by the great deal of tension that amounted from subtle occurrences—occurrences which turn from odd to coincidental to disturbing. The final push into the climax is one my favorites scenes in recent memory. However, the rising action is so effective, that I feel the final act was underwhelming. In Blair Witch tradition, we aren’t privileged with as much information and as many sights as we hope for.


My biggest (and for the most part, only) issue with Evil Things is the amount of unanswered questions as a result of the sparse conclusion. It is not only the who and the why that are left hanging on the tongue, but there is no visual reveal of the perpetrator. Nor is there a reveal of the manner of dispatching the young adults and what he/she does with the victims. For some people, ambiguity is more frightening, but I prefer some form of a revelation.

I am also curious about the choice of aesthetic. Aside from budgetary concerns, I want to know why director Dominic Perez chose found footage. I can’t help but wonder if a traditional style of filmmaking might have been more effective for this chilling story. Home invasions films get to me more easily than others, but I felt Evil Things fell a tad short of pushing the scares over the top and I think the found footage aspect of it may have hindered the climactic departing moments. In the end, though, if found footage is what allowed this movie to become a practical reality, then the more power to Perez for seizing the opportunity.


I’m hoping the best for Evil Things. It’s a worthy film searching for distribution and some good buzz. It deserves a release, so I’m doing my part to spread the news. Many thanks to Dominic Perez himself for sending the screeners in an amusing package. Go to I Like Horror Movies and check out Carl’s review for a detailed description. I’d also like to give Johnny from Freddy in Space a shout out for hooking me (and many others) up with a screener though Perez. I’m glad he did, because it was a lot of fun!

12.10.2009

Michael Myers’ Letter to Santa Clause



Dear Santa,

Last year, I did not receive any presents. That lump of coal is still sitting beneath the floor boards of my parent’s old house. It’s a sad reminder of what my life has become. Look, I know I wasn’t a perfect angel this year either. In fact, my outing in Halloween 2 was much worse than in Rob Zombie’s first effort. You have to believe me though Santa, I really did try to bring fans what they wanted this year. I bulked up, grew out my beard, acquired a homeless man’s wardrobe, and successfully learned to grunt. I did my best, but I'm not sure everyone else involved did. So can you really blame me? How about giving me the presents intended for Rob and Scout.

Due to the nature of my job, I hardly ever get Christmas presents. Sure, there have been a few sabbaticals here and there, which allowed me to stock up on holiday joy. I really need a break this time Mr. Clause, because next year is going to be rough. 3D most certainly means no presents for Mikey. My iconography is entering a new stage—one that is depressing and degrading. I can think of only one thing that will make this transformation sting a little less…okay maybe two things: If John Carpenter were to direct me once again and if I were to get a few presents under the tree.

If you get this letter, I hope you are enjoying the weather in the North Pole. It’s a bit nippy here in Illinois, so I’d like a new coat, preferably one that doesn’t reek of cheap vodka and aging vomit. I’d also appreciate some scissors, or if you are really touched by this letter, an electric razor. Maybe the ones that give you a real close shave. That would be really nice of you. Well, I have to get going. The cops are kicking us out of the abandoned barn again.

From One Holiday Icon to Another,
Michael Myers

Trick ‘r Treat (2008): A Holiday Tale for All



Although the anthology may be difficult to get accustomed to, the film is destined to become a Halloween classic…if only enough people see it.

After a great deal of post-production delays, Trick ‘r Treat skipped out on theatres and hit the shelves in DVD and Blu-ray format, leaving anxious horror fans eager to scoop them up. Because I rarely purchase films before seeing them, I patiently waited for the film’s status on my Netflix queue (positioned at #1) to drop from “Very Long Wait” to “Short Wait” to all of the sudden it’s in my mailbox! Unfortunately, this process was over a month long. Trick ‘r Treat is right up there with The Hills Run Red and Wrong Turn 3 in my record book of longest wait-time on Netflix.  I finally got the third installment in the Wrong Turn series, so a review will be up soon, and The Hills Run Red…well I’m still waiting on that one.


Can I go home now Mr. Principal?

I hate to use the word “hype,” so I’m going to say there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding Trick ‘r Treat. I avoided detailed reviews, but couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by unanimously positive feedback from the horror community. I prefer to watch a movie, knowing as little as possible. However, I am glad I was bestowed with the knowledge of the anthology style of Trick ‘r Treat. Otherwise, I quite possibly could have been lost and annoyed by the apparent aimlessness of the first half of the film. Instead, I was able to enjoy the mishmash of stories occurring in the small town, musing over how they will eventually connect. If I were to select an overall thread that weaves the story together, it would be described as a theme of Halloween spirit—a vengeful spirit that seeks havoc on those who disrespect tradition. The entire film juxtaposes modern indifference toward the essence of the holiday with a nostalgic passion of enriched tradition.

Ditching her Rogue costume this year...

One of my favorite aspects of Trick ‘r Treat is the fragility of expectations. Each small story contains many twists and turns, rarely allowing the audience to get ahead of the filmmakers. The lore of vampires, werewolves, psychopaths, zombies, ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, magic, and Halloween itself are all interwoven to create a film that defies generic conventions while simultaneously paying tribute to them.  You don’t have to be a horror fan (although it helps) to appreciate the clever exploration of the macabre, as the variety of characters is sure to appeal to most everyone.

Pumpkin smashing time!

On a technical level, the film is outstanding. With some of the best cinematography and production design I’ve seen in recent years, Trick ‘r Treat is an amazing visual experience. The filmmakers allow you to taste, breathe, and feel Halloween better than any other film I can think of. Most modern horror films seem to come in two visual styles: the handheld, gritty aesthetic and the glossed over, Hollywood-friendly mise-en-scéne. Trick ‘r Treat takes a refreshingly traditional approach to cinematography, with beautifully composed shots and carefully thought-out camera moves. Every choice is made for a reason. Movement, whether dollying or tilting, is conducted with a specific purpose. Lighting, whether vibrant or dark, is utilized to evoke tone. To match the cinematography are brilliant sets that truly make the holiday festivities come alive. The costuming of Sam, the visual design of the town’s decorations, the intricate jack-o-lanterns, and the overall atmosphere make this film a visceral pleasure.

Flaming jack-o-lantern...nope, usually not a good sign.

While I do have some nitpicky issues with Trick ‘r Treat, I don’t really feel the need to discuss them. Perhaps the biggest issue is the disjointed narrative itself. However, after looking back at the film, I see it as more of an ode to Halloween tradition and an accompaniment to the holiday than as a standard piece of filmmaking. Just as It’s a Wonderful Life has become synonymous with Christmas, I think this film has the same potential, but I’m afraid the tradition of Trick ‘r Treat may only be carried out by a niche horror community. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

12.09.2009

A Sincere Message to My Readers

Today, I not only broke 100 followers, but I also gained one extra. With 101 followers on The Horror Effect, I would like to say thank you to my readers and friends who have helped me expand my blog. Even when I had a small number of followers, I have always been impressed by the amount of interaction I’ve had with readers. Out of my 115 posts, I only have 4 with 0 comments—most of which were made during the infancy of the site. On average, there are about 7 comments per post.  To me, this is more important the number of followers. It signifies that a large number of people are actually participating in discussions on The Horror Effect, as opposed to being passive readers.

Some of you have proven to be more than just a casual follower or a random commenter, you have become my friend (ok…cyber friend). Recently, you have shown your support on a couple different occasions. Even though I had a relatively small number of votes in the Ms. Horror Blogosphere competition, I was still impressed that the amount of people who thought me worthy of the title exceeded a single digit number. Thanks for taking the time to vote. Even more recently, I’ve undergone a great deal of stress as I move into another transitional stage in my life. You guys—fans of the macabre and bloody—voiced sincere comments to lift me up. So take that to those who think we’re a bunch of heartless nihilists.

I started The Horror Effect because I felt isolated in my horror fandom. As cheesy as it sounds, this site has filled a void in my life. Everyone needs an expressive outlet, a place to share their ideas, or to connect with people that possess the same interests.  I’m proud of the networking , social, and personal opportunities I have experienced  with The Horror Effect. Thank you for being a part of this!

12.08.2009

Dead End (2003): A Fun Indie Ride



Although the premise lends itself to repetition and an underwhelming conclusion, Dead End is still an enjoyable example of low-budget filmmaking that smartly maintains a simple scope.

 At the center of the film is a family on a Christmas Eve road trip that has occurred for the past 20 years. The self-important father decides to take a different route as opposed to the freeway path that annual tradition dictates. Since this is a horror film we’re watching, we know that this was a bad choice. Beginning with small occurrences and building with eerie tones, the film slowly escalates into an endless, horrifying night for the family. However, before the horror begins, the filmmakers wisely give us ample opportunity to get to know the characters. This is important because, by the end of the film, we realize that its primary purpose was a character study on the family as a whole, as well as the role each individual plays.

At the helm of the family are two experienced actors: Lin Shaye and Ray Wise. The mother and father’s bickering is fun to watch. One of my favorite scenes takes place when Shaye makes annoying noise as she drinks out of her water bottle. Wise glares at her and complains, to which she responds, “I can’t help it. It’s just the way I drink.” It’s simple, unexpected disputes that place their squabbling above the trite scenarios seen in countless films displaying a turbulent marital relationship. The two children, as well as the daughter’s long-time boyfriend, do not boast performances as interesting as the parents. Although they are passable, there are definitely a couple moments where inexperience becomes apparent in clichéd deliveries. As a whole, the filmmakers present a realistic, complex family that is forced to deal with decades of hidden issues on a single night.


As the family’s SUV hauls down the desolate road, the lack of other vehicles and signs of life become more apparent. The turning point comes when they spot a woman in white, carrying a child. Believing her to be a wandering accident victim, they try to help the woman by searching for a phone in an abandoned cabin. This woman turns out to be anything but a victim. Every time they encounter her, another person disappears. Without divulging too many details, I can say that the deaths are handled quite well. As opposed to focusing on gore or even fear, deaths are used to heighten the mystery of this isolated country road that they are trapped on.


In addition to supernatural happenings, the sanity of the family comes into question. The infinite blacktop stretches before them, making their quest seem futile. The crazy factor is executed particular well by Shaye, who made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions. The best part is when she stuffs her face with potato chips and holiday pie until she pukes. In the midst of the obscure sightings of the woman in white, the tediousness of the endless road, and the deteriorating mental states, there is a remarkable amount of suspense and intrigue created from such a simple premise.


While the film has its share of moments that are obviously hindered by budgetary constraints and less-than-top-notch acting, the filmmakers were wise to maintain a simple scale for a movie that is primarily focused on the journey of its characters as opposed to fantastic events. I didn’t know what to expect from Dead End, and I’m certainly glad I gave it a chance because it is so different from the usual, more provocative horror fare that I’m accustomed to.

12.07.2009

Thanksgiving on Elm Street Part 7





As much as I’ve been slacking on the blog, I really appreciate all the support and well-wishes from you guys. Wow, it sounds like someone died. Regardless, even though it’s not that big of a deal, you guys made it worth your time to leave some comments that made me feel better. And I appreciate it. Now, I’m happy to finally conclude the Thanksgiving on Elm Street posts with:
New Nightmare
If Wes Craven is coming back and we’re at sequel number seven, you know something’s up. You better be prepared for a sequel that is quite different from the others, explores uncharted territory, and attempts to bring some degree of seriousness back to Freddy Krueger. Although many fans are prone to disown the film from the series and it may be construed as “not a true Nightmare movie,” I am actually a supporter of Craven’s chosen path. It allows for gravity, as well as levity. For once, Freddy can be taken seriously and that’s something that every Nightmare fan can appreciate. Although Freddy’s new look is a tad, um, plasticy, the tonality is much darker. This is especially true because Freddy’s attacks are primarily aimed at Heather Langenkamp's young son, Dylan. There are a couple of genuinely creepy scenes featuring Dylan in a trance-like state under the control of Freddy. Still, there are also plenty of great comedic moments throughout the movie, as well as fun nods to the original film. It’s like a “Where’s Waldo?” game for homages. Every time you watch it, I’m sure you’ll find more.


The concept is brilliant: Freddy transcends multiple realities, dreams as well as film. In New Nightmare, Freddy can simultaneously be a slasher movie icon, as well as a genuine threat to people in the real world. As strange as it may sound, it actually goes along with the metaphysical world established in the other films. Freddy Krueger is largely dependent on the imagination. If he can enter through the mind’s fictional dream world, why couldn’t he then enter through the cinema’s fictional story world? This setup not only allows for an amusing experience for the horror fan (although admittedly gimmicky), it serves as a perfect way to explore themes of horror spectatorship. Is horror a reflection of the violence in reality? Or is it some sick fascination playing out of subconscious desires? Do we revel in a fantasy so long that it becomes difficult to disconnect from it? Perhaps Craven is taking a hyperbolic approach to answering the question of the impact media violence has on its viewers. Through his hyperbole, he seems to be criticizing that notion—arguing that horror ultimately comes through the self, not through the medium. New Nightmare also appears to be an early (and more extreme) experimentation of similar themes of self-reflexivity that Craven later raised in Scream.



While there is plenty of room for an intellectual reading of New Nightmare, it’s still a piece of entertainment, fused with inside jokes and convoluted logic. It has plenty of bad moments, along with some great scenes. I give Wes Craven all the credit in the world for being bold and explorative, even if the results may be hit or miss. For this edition of Thanksgiving on Elm Street, I’m going to share some very intriguing trivia.

-The same plot was originally drafted for Dream Warriors in 1987, but the concept was rejected. This may have been a better choice, but not only because I love the third installment. It also allowed the series to become so prolific that the themes of New Nightmare are presented with much more potency as a seventh film, as opposed to third.

-All of the scenes with earthquakes were filmed one month before the big L.A. earthquake in 1994. Two weeks before the end of the entire shoot, the big one hit. They filmed the actual damage from the earthquake and it appears in the movie when Heather is driving.


-Freddy’s new glove, which is said to be more organic, was inspired by Theatrical poster artwork for the original film.

- Lin Shaye, who could be considered a genre actress, plays the role of a nurse in New Nightmare, as well as a teacher in the 1984 film.


-Jessica Craven, Wes Craven’s daughter, has a bit part as a nurse.

-Heather Langenkamp had a stalker in real life. Craven asked permission to write that storyline into the script
.
-Heather tells the nurse, “Screw Your Pass,” when she enters a restricted area of the hospital. She says the same thing in the original film regarding a hall pass at school.


-The working title of the film was A Nightmare on Elm Street 7: The Ascension


-Although the movie didn’t fare as well as other Nightmare films in theatres, it still made over twice its budget after making a total of $18 million in domestic box office revenue

-Here is what Roger Ebert has to say about the film:
Serious fans of horror movies relate only in a secondary way to the chills themselves; they're connoisseurs of the genre, the special effects, the makeup, the in-jokes. They're going to love this movie, which seems to have been made not only for but by Fangoria fans. But it also works for general audiences. I haven't been exactly a fan of the "Nightmare" series, but I found this movie, with its unsettling questions about the effect of horror on those who create it, strangely intriguing. (click here for entire review)

12.05.2009

I Got PWNED



Where have I been lately? Why have I betrayed my Thanksgiving on Elm Street responsibilities? Why haven’t I been commenting as frequently on your awesome blog? Because I suck at life…Well, actually it’s because of work and then a random decision that I made this week.



Firstly, we had a gargantuan delivery deadline for the documentary that I have been editing. Of course, when it comes to technology, nothing works when it is supposed to and it especially doesn’t work when you are under time constraints. As a result of error after error, render after render, export after export, I worked straight from 11am on Monday through 4pm on Wednesday. Don’t ever think about doing that to yourself! It KILLED me, but much-deserved sleep over the weekend has brought me back to life for the time being. Another hint for editors out there: Never allow your director to picture lock just two days before delivery. I’ll never ever let that happen again. This arduous process of filmmaking is especially tough when it is not your film. Sure, I’ve deprived myself of more sleep than should be allowed of a human being, but it’s been for my own movies. Even when you are getting paid, it is a hellish time.

Secondly, I have been thinking about continuing my education for a while. I was a Film Production major, but I also minored in Legal Studies. I’ve been mulling over attending law school for a long time. In fact, I almost applied last year. I had taken the LSAT, wrote my essays, collected my recommendation letters, and paid for that damn LSAC service that is required of us. However, it just wasn’t the time to do it, especially since my husband is still completing his Bachelor’s degree. Now, though, he is applying to graduate school and I decided to jump back on the higher education bandwagon. I’m applying to law school again, as well as a graduate program. Because I randomly decided to do this so late in the fall, I have to work hard to get my applications in on time. I also have to take another standardized test, the GRE, which I will be taking on Wednesday. Thank goodness they have computer-based test so I could register with less than a week’s notice.

Anyway, I don’t usually discuss so much about my personal life, especially since I don’t think anyone (other than a few of you) will actually read it. I just felt compelled to 1) explain why I’ve been largely MIA , 2) foreshadow any future disappearances (temporary of course) from the blog scene, and 3) vent about some frustrations. Thanks for reading.  

12.04.2009

Thanksgiving on Elm Street Part 6



I watched this movie on November 28th and here I am…a week later finally writing this review. I can’t say that I didn’t warn you that my job was keeping me from my more important work here. It was a terrible week, which included work days that violate all sorts of labor laws. No sleep, hardly any meal breaks, and no overtime. Sigh.I’m almost recovered after sleeping two full nights, so I'm ready to get back on track with:

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare


I don’t hate Freddy’s Dead, but I don’t necessarily like it all that much. It’s a 3D movie long after the gimmick is staring to get old. It’s the 90’s. Horror is running dry, and so is the series. There’s only so much you can ask of a sequel when it hits number 6. Freddy’s jokes are painfully bad, but we get a couple little gems here and there. The kills are low in number, but are drawn out and almost clever. My favorite part about this movie is how much we see of Freddy Krueger in human form. It’s fun to see Robert Englund as a child murderer—as opposed to a scarred-up dream killer that goes after teens. I’ve always wanted to see a prequel to Nightmare on Elm Street. Instead of another sequel or remake, why not explore uncharted territory that is sure to be interesting? Perhaps because it’s not fun to see little kiddies get murdered.

I would like to spend this edition of Thanksgiving on Elm Street discussing The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from the sixth installment. This movie is often called the worst in the series, with Parts 2 and 5 close behind it. So let’s take a holistic look.

THE GOOD:



-Freddy’s Power Glove Joke
-Robert Englund gets some real face time
-Breckin Meyer and Yaphet Kotto play major roles
-Johnny Depp, Bob Shaye, Alice Cooper, Tom Arnold, and Roseanne have cameos…wait let’s take Roseanne off the “Good” list
-The montage of Freddy’s life during the credits
-“Kung Fu THIS bitch!”

THE BAD:



-“Only you could have brought me out…in your mind!”
-Another unnecessarily convoluted plotline
-When Doc tells Maggie to put on the special glasses, which blatantly say 3D on the side, to help fight Freddy in her dream
-“I’m still seeing things the way I did in my dream…”
-The first female to direct a Freddy film and I can’t say she makes us look good



THE UGLY:

-Nietzsche title card
-The hokey Wizard of Oz reference
-“No honey for Daddy?”
-Springwood turns into the Twilight Zone for some reason
-The Dream Worms…I mean Demons
-There are 3 songs on the soundtrack by The Goo Goo Dolls…really?


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