Apollo 18: What Could Have Been

 A smart premise does not take advantage of its potential in Apollo 18

I'm definitely late to the game on this one. Though the trailers looked mildly interesting and plot was intriguing, the negative reviews circulating the interwebs kept me from paying top dollar to see Apollo 18 on the big screen. Now that it's playing at the local $3 theater, I thought I'd give it a shot.

Hopes were high in the beginning, as we are introduced to our astronaut heroes through scratchy film footage. In a 4x3 presentation, we are delivered the basics: 3 men on a top-secret mission to the moon to retrieve rock samples. The aesthetics or so basic and the story presented so plainly, that it truly felt like an Errol Morris documentary for a while. In fact, a woman, who we can only presume is not of the highest intellect, turned to her husband and asked in between popcorn chews, "Is this a doc-u-men-tareeee?"

Things slowly become less subtle as time goes on. CGI, white noise effects, frenzied edits, and shutter speed effects necessarily dilute a look that I was otherwise digging. The cool color pallet, occasionally contrasted with desaturated yellows and reds, created a wonderful sense of isolation on the moon. Just as the aesthetics of the film are encroached by needless effects, so is the story convoluted with too many elements and not enough basic scares.

Government conspiracy, alien lifeforms, infections, mental instability, Russian cosmonauts, blah, blah, blah. Found footage films work because they are usually focused on a simple premise. The Paranormal Activity films have become less effective as they wander away from the core story. Blair Witch worked so well because it didn't explain everything. I would have liked to see Apollo 18 with one simple threat and less explanations. 


Ultimately, Apollo 18 is just a bunch of wasted potential. Throughout the film, there are some great uses of negative space and darkness, but nothing ever really pays off. It misses so many opportunities to elevate suspense. Instead, the film plays slowly, with in-your-face scares every 20 minutes or so. This couldn't even be called a slow burn, because that would suggest a steady progression. 

It may be worth a look if you're really into sci-fi horror or found footage films, but definitely don't go out of your way to see Apollo 18.


Happy Halloween!

A quick short, wishing everyone a fun, safe, and merry Halloween!


Tucker and Dale vs. Evil: Super Funny, Extra Bloody

An outstanding horror comedy that fully delivers on its hilarious premise.

Heading into the Varsity Theatre in Seattle's University District, I was happy to see that my husband and I weren't the only ones who felt like a horror comedy starring Firefly's Wash was a good idea on a Monday night. Of course, I wonder what all of the moviegoers thought of my husband and I's guttural laughter, as the charming tale of Tucker and Dale unfolded.

Heading to their fixer-upper vacation home, Tucker and Dale run into a group of good-looking college kids who misread the hillbilly pair as murderous backwoods freaks. After Dale saves one of the girls from drowning and brings her back to his cabin to recover, her friends believe that she has been kidnapped. What ensues is a series of misconceptions, as the dim-witted college students end up doing more harm to themselves than to the hillbilly's they are trying to rescue their friend from.
You know you're a redneck if...

Basically, we have a reverse hillbilly horror story that plays on stereotypes. Tucker and Dale turns this horror sub-genre on its head with ease, while providing plenty of gore and laughs. These kids don't just trip and fall off cliffs, they somehow find ways to die horribly painful and grotesque deaths all by their own hands. In fact, I'd say Tucker and Dale has the best use of a wood chipper in film history. Yes, it even beats Fargo.

Most importantly, Tucker and Dale stands out as a brilliant horror comedy because of one reason: the story is told with good characters. Even in its short 89 minute run time, it takes plenty of time to develop Dale, its central character. As an audience member, you truly want Dale to succeed in romancing the pretty, sophisticated college girl. Without setting up Dale as an empathetic character, it wouldn't nearly be as funny when he is accused of being a vicious psychopath and it wouldn't nearly be as interesting to watch him fail at explaining himself to others. In the vein of Shaun of the Dead, Tucker and Dale creates strong characters in a world of comedic situations.

The finest that higher education has to offer
Thematically, Tucker and Dale also brings out some intriguing discussion on what it means to be intelligent, sophisticated, and open-minded. The moral of this horror story is that being judgmental leads to a hideous death. While it is a common theme in horror films for a group of "normal" teenagers to judge an outcast, it is uncommon for that outcast to actually turn out to be the sympathetic character. Instead, this outcast falls into those judgements and takes revenge, becoming the film's villain. In Tucker and Dale, the outcasts are never once the villains.

You don't have to read much into Tucker and Dale vs. Evil as you watch it. Though it provides some nice color, it is still entirely watchable as a comedic gorefest. If it happens to be playing in a theatre near you, by all means check it out and bring your hillbilly friends!


For Shame: Halloween II Blu Ray

Now, I haven't seen the transfer of Halloween II (1981) and so I'm not complaining about technical details here. The reason I am urging you not to purchase this newly released Blu Ray is based on principle. Moustapha Akkad's title card has been removed from the opening credits and replaced with Universal's. Moustapha Akkad is the executive producer behind all of the pre-Zombie Halloween films. In 2005, he was killed during a tragic bombing in Jordan. His son, Malek Akkad, has carried on his father's role in producing several Halloween films, including the Rob Zombie reboots.

Without Moustapha Akkad, there would be no Halloween. By stripping "Moustapha Akkad presents" from the film, the producer's memory has been disrespected and it shows a callousness for preserving the authenticity of the original film. If something like this is altered, then what else might be changed under the guise of "updating" a film? Don't even get me started on George Lucas.

In a landscape where we have countless versions of what is supposed to be the same movie--director's cuts, unrated cuts, producer's cuts--what version of the film will be preserved in the future? Who chooses which one is the right cut? If you watched the theatrical cut of Zombie's Halloween, then you might be confused why Dr. Loomis appears in the second film at all since Michael crushes his skull, leaving a lifeless body behind. You see, in the unrated director's cut, Dr. Loomis doesn't die after all. In order to understand the series, you need to see the unrated DVD, not the theatrical version.

If there needs to be so many iterations of a film, then there is surely something inherently wrong with the film industry (surprise!). A filmmaker should be able to release the film that best communicates the story. Period. The version released in theaters should always be the director's cut. If not, who's cut is it? The studios?

I know I'm not bringing up anything groundbreaking here, but the controversy with the Halloween II Blu Ray has just reminded me of the convoluted, studio-centric state of the film industry. Stories are rendered  through so many channels that the original purpose becomes lost.

Although word on the street is that Universal plans to respond to these complaints, I'm not holding my breath. If you'd like to join the Facebook boycott, here is the page: Boycott Universal's Halloween II.


Summer Memories of a Horror Fan

While the rest of the nation is suffering a massive heat wave, Summer has only started to rear its sunny head here in Seattle. Now that Summer has arrived just in time for it to disappear, I thought I'd share some of my favorite memories of summer from childhood. Because horror movies were such a big part of my life, horror-centered activities dominated many of my adolescent activities. Here are some I'm particularly fond of:

-Dressing up in the Ghostface mask and hiding outside my friend's house, while threatening them with menacing phone calls. There were tears and it was awesome.

-Inventing a Jaws-themed game in the pool. Chlorine-water sharks will be the next big thing.

-Creating another game of tag that was based off of
Predator. Sometimes this involved Schwarzenegger impersonations.

-Making a feature film over the course of several months on a VHS-C camera with no editing equipment. Not to mention it didn't have a script and involved every slasher cliche known to the human race.

-Using fake blood and latex wounds leftover from Halloween, we loved to pretend some terrible accident had occurred to us and freak our parents out.

-Buying tickets for PG-13 movies, only to sneak into the R-rated horror films. Dang you cinema nazis.

-Sitting around the campfire, telling ghost stories, zombie stories, vampire stories, mass murderer stories...you get the idea.

-Getting my friends in trouble by watching Children of the Corn, even though PG was as extreme as they could go.

-Explaining to my 6th grade teacher why
Halloween was my favorite film and why I was allowed to see it.

-Debating with a friend who thought
I Know What You Did Last Summer was better than Scream. Who makes Direct-to-Video sequels now, huh?

Well, there you have it: a selection of my treasured memories. Feeling all nostalgic yet? I know I am...maybe I'll go home and listen to Bush, while talking on my brick (I mean cellular telephone).


Last Ride (2011): Into the wild

A high concept found footage film that sucks you in.

Set in the trails of Australia's Blue Mountains, a group of bicyclists head out into the wilderness, unknowingly headed towards the last ride of their lives. Our point of view is that of James, who also happens to be the film's director, as he straps a helmet cam on himself to catch the action. Writer, Director, Actor, Cinematographer James Phillips delivers the entire 80 minute film in one continuous shot, giving the amateur footage vibe all the more authenticity.

Unlike countless other found footage films, the camera setup actually makes sense here. The wide angle lens is specifically designed for sports, so the aesthetic and the reason for bringing a camera are justified. Also unique is that the camera operator need not hold on to the camera. So when things get intense, the character can run, climb, and jump, since the camera is completely hands-free. So instead of asking, "Why does so-and-so keep filming?"; we ask, "Why would he bother to take the time to stop recording?" Any writer can tell you, giving the characters reasons to keep filming in a found footage film is challenging. Thankfully, Phillips avoided this problem.

One of the great things about this film is that it is quite literally experienced through the eyes of the characters. Precariously crawling through the foliage, the characters desperately want to know what is hiding in the woods, but are also afraid to look too closely. As the camera cautiously turns each corner and spins around to capture movement, the audience is holding its breath, experiencing surprise and anxiousness in the same way as the film's characters. I found myself leaning in to the screen and turning up the volume on my speakers, eager to discover what was hunting the group. This interactiveness was refreshing, as traditionally, we are aided by zooms and close-ups that cater to the viewer. Because we are not handed anything so easily in Last Ride, the film becomes more captivating.

On the other hand, one of the flaws of the movie is its simplicity. Much of the film is spent watching characters trek through the woods, with lots of "Did you hear that's?" and "Which way should we go's?" The three act structure that us movie fans have become accustomed to is hardly present here. With the exception of the beginning and the end, the film is pretty even -- giving us the same struggles, characterization, and visuals throughout the runtime. I would have personally liked to see more unique challenges thrown in the way of the bikers, which would have provided more opportunity for character development as well as a generally more enthralling experience for the mainstream moviegoer.

Ultimately, this film is quite an achievement. The actors cover a tremendous amount of ground and emotional ranges all within a single take. The coordination and planning on behalf of Phillips and crew must be commended. While I would have appreciated more diversity in the story structure and more payoff as far as action goes, I thoroughly enjoyed Last Ride and fans of the found footage genre should seek this one out.

Check out the Last Ride Facebook or IMDB pages for more information! 


Fledging Serial Killer Needs Your Help!

A few years back, I happened across a seemingly random independent film that ended up being one of the best horror films of the decade. In fact, it became one of my all-time favorites. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon was the witty, homage-y mockumentary that earned my adoration.

It is with great anticipation that I discovered (thanks to Freddy in Space  and I Like Horror Movies ) the legend of Leslie Vernon shall live on! Upon hearing this glorious news, I ran around the house like a gazelle and woke my husband up from his sensory deprivation tank.  However, let us hasten our excitement for a moment, because there's still a chance that this prequel/sequel may not be made. I know, you may need a tissue just thinking about such potential gone to waste.

The filmmakers are calling out to fans for support. How can you help? Easy. Just pre-order a copy of the film to help Leslie find paradise. If the film doesn't get made (sniff), you won't be charged. "Like" the Facebook page, "Attend" the event, and be a hero! Follow the link for details: HELP Get "Before The Mask: The Return of Leslie Vernon" Made!

In case you haven't seen the original film, you can read me gloating about it here. So if you're a fellow Vernonite or even if you're just curious, it can't hurt to throw a little bit of cash at some talented filmmakers who are delivering straight to the fans.