Posts Tagged ‘review’

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Bare Hands

 

Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

Home is your sanctuary. It’s the place where you sleep and the place you count on for privacy; home is sacred. Which is why the thought of some unearthly, malevolent presence invading that most personal of all spaces is so especially appalling. That is what makes the haunted house genre so effective at conjuring chills; it threatens us with the idea that our home is not safe—the idea that danger is living right alongside you in your most vulnerable moments. It is a fear that most of us have probably had, lying awake at night, listening to the house creak. It is this fear that The Changeling expertly preys on, using shadow and sound to stoke our imaginations, filling our minds with morbid fancies.

 

John Russell is a successful composer still coming to terms with the recent loss of his family. Seeking a new job in a new town, he takes up residence in a long-deserted, but stately manor house. However, he soon begins to notice strange sounds and inexplicable phenomenon in the house. These ominous signs seem to point him toward some dark, long-forgotten secret, and as he is pulled deeper into the mystery, Russell draws ever closer to danger from powerful foes both dead and living.

Russell in Repose Creepy Hallway

Like any good haunted house movie, the house itself is as much a character as any of the people, exuding an aura of menace throughout the film. The house is so compelling in fact, that it is hard to believe that it’s nothing more than an elaborately constructed set; the richness of its detail and design will have you utterly convinced of its realness. That’s important because the look of the house contributes greatly to the atmosphere of the film, with its many widely-framed shots, The Changeling puts the house on center stage, often dominating more screen-space than the human characters. Using only shadow, sound, and sly camera work, the house is given terrifying life. Point-of-view and over-the-shoulder shots are used to make it feel as if some unseen terror is about to pop out onto the screen, but then nothing does—a lesser film would take those opportunities to shock you with a cheap jump-scare, but The Changeling forsakes shock in favor of dread, teasing you with the possibility that something could happen. This is classic, slow-build horror craftsmanship, meant to be savored like a fine hand-rolled cigar.

The House Seance

Aside from this carefully calculated atmosphere of impending doom, there is also a real gem of a mystery to be found here. Perhaps even more than it chills us, the film intrigues us, pulling us deeper into its secrets. This mixture of haunted house and detective story is interesting—the mystery adds to the horror by playing on our fear of the unknown, inviting us to make ghastly speculations before the puzzle is at last solved. If I have one complaint it is that, in my opinion, it would have been far more terrifying to not solve the mystery. To pull the audience in, tormenting us with clues that hint at something terrible, and then to never reveal what it all meant would have been a deliciously sadistic touch, leaving us to conjure up our own macabre theories about what happened. As it is though, we are left with a perfectly satisfying conclusion that fulfills the promise of the engrossing mystery, even if it does somewhat dispel the terror.

Creepy Room Creepy Stairs

And finally, no discussion of The Changeling would be complete without a mention of George C. Scott’s refreshingly different performance as John Russell, who is gifted with several rare qualities not commonly found among horror movie protagonists. Firstly, he has common sense (gasp!), as he refuses to tell the police about the ghost, knowing he would not be believed. Secondly, he has courage and charges head-first into danger, not because he is a clueless dope that doesn’t know what he’s in for, but because he has big brass cojones. And finally, he has resilience; your common horror protagonist would be stereotypically suicidal and alcoholic after losing their family and would be a screaming, emotional wreck by film’s end, but we first find John Russell moving on with his life after a normal grieving period for his family, and even when faced with the paranormal, he takes his supernatural adventure in stride, terrified certainly, but still in control. George C. Scott must have hated horror movie clichés because he seems to have deliberately squashed them with his performance. Maybe it somewhat diminishes the film’s terror by having such a brave character at its center, since we feel sure this man is untouchable, but if that’s true, then that is a small sacrifice in the service of one of the most defiantly different trope-hating horror performances ever.

 

The Changeling is nothing less than a masterwork of supernatural drama, a film well-versed in the psychology of human fear and in the exploitation of that fear. Tremendous set design, top-notch acting, and savvy direction come together to make an unforgettable horror experience made with the highest craftsmanship and artistry.

 

 

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Tail, Claws, Teeth, Cement Tile, Street Sign, Bare Hands, Pump Shotgun, Bow & Arrow, Syringe, Revolver, Poison Gas, Metal Pole, Molotov Cocktail, Gasoline

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Reviewed by: Betty the Murder Mare

 

And no. Before we begin, we are not about to delve into the 2008 Twilight-esque movie about chrome plated pacifist pod people aliens with a shitty romance. What we are about to talk about, is the 2006 foreign monster flick that focus on a father’s dedication to finding his daughter.

Judging a movie by its cover, one would assume that The Host was nothing more than another South Korean monster movie. Even the intro is misleading, as we open up to some realistically irresponsible American military men dumping toxic waste down the drain. It nearly fooled me into thinking I’ll be watching an hour and a half long PSA of how I should dispose of my waste properly or else I’ll be directly responsible for mutating a guppy into a man eating river monster. Luckily, it was nothing more than a satirical interlude.

TheHost_SleepyGang-Doo  TheHost_ParkFamilyBawling

Instead the movie focus on a frumpy middle aged man named Park Gang-Doo, who never seemed to amount to very much in his family’s life. He struggles on near poverty as he runs a shabby food truck with his aging father, and his growing daughter Hyun-Seo. The cast of misfits grows as the movie progresses to include Song’s brother and sister. Nam-Joo, an Olympic grade archer, and Nam-il a drunken political advocate.

The plot starts rolling when the monster runs rampant, treating the viewers to some nice visuals of death and mayhem. The gore in this movie isn’t flaunted loudly, but there’s plenty of cringe worthy moments in this movie.

TheHost_Hyun-seo  TheHost_TheMonster

Hyun-Seo ultimately seems to be eaten alive before her father’s eyes, and it sends the entire family into a state of anger and mourning. But against all odds, the father ends up receiving a call from his thought-to-be-dead daughter and realizes she was still somehow alive. The family binds together to hunt down this monster, and fight to save their beloved Hyun-Seo.

What is truly amazing is that this movie plays heavily on your expectations, and it doesn’t take shortcuts. Characters you expect to die, live, and characters you expect to live, die. And it all weaves together into a bittersweet ending that somehow feels complete despite all the loss.

The movie’s true strengths is that while it does handle serious subject matter time to time, it never seems to take itself too seriously. You’ll find yourself laughing more often than you would expect yourself to, despite this movie not exactly being a comedy. The relationships between the characters are also truly touching and refreshingly realistic. The family fights with one another, but it’s never done in a hateful malicious manner. We’re simply being treated to seeing a dysfunctional family doing the best it can in sticking together through difficult times.

TheHost_Nam-Joo  TheHost_GasRelease

It is however not without its weaknesses. The movie as a whole does feel messy and unorganized with contrasting and conflicting methods of film and delivery. Are we in a monster flick, or watching a slice of life? Or, wait, is this a governmental action thriller? However, you could argue that this loose narrative actually is what gives this movie its charm.

A fine film that holds a stronger chance of making you feel rather than jump in your seats, The Host is certainly something worth checking out.

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Flashlight, Bare Hands, Pestle, Acid, Paper Cutter, Cleats, Revolver, Shotgun

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Reviewed by: Jenicide

High school. Some students have it made throughout their four years, while others do not. For Vernon Potts, our central character in the 1974 film Horror High (aka Twisted Brain), he definitely falls into the latter category. This film is a typical example of the exploitative drive-in schlock pieces of the 1970s, full of cheesy special effects and bad music. While overall a pedestrian effort, it is an enjoyable revenge-driven film, hitting a nerve for every social outcast that survived high school.

Vernon Potts is a high school kid who can’t seem to get a break. When he’s not tormented by the football jocks, he’s constantly belittled by the school staff. His safe zone is in the school laboratory, where he works diligently on a genetic enhancement formula for his guinea pig, Mr. Mumps. After drinking the formula himself, Vernon physically transforms into a raging, killer monster. As Vernon starts losing control of his new personality, the police, led by Lieutenant Bozeman, start to close in on him.

HorrorHighVernonExperiment HorrorHighVernonTransformation

Horror High uses the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” concept heavily. Vernon is a likeable guy; he excels in science and even attracts cute classmate, Robyn. Yet, he harbors rage towards his daily tormenters, such as bully Roger and the mean Mrs. Grindstaff. After drinking his formula, he can’t resist using his alter ego to get even with his enemies. The good versus bad inner-conflict in Vernon is the basis of his character and drives home the message of the movie: the further one allows oneself to go towards a dark path, the less self-control one has. Even so, it’s hard to feel any sympathy towards his victims and is actually satisfying to see Vernon get some vengeance.

HorrorHighMrGriggsAcid HorrorHighDetective

What brings down Horror High is bad music and cheap special effects. Music is a key ingredient in a successful horror movie, meant to escalate the tension of a scene and draw in the audience. However, the music played while Vernon attacks sounds plain silly at times, where it cannot be completely taken seriously. Instead of making the scene frightening, it feels almost laughable. Likewise, the special effects are weak as well. Vernon’s transformation is hardly visible, and what is seen does not look much different from his normal appearance. The monster Vernon basically just walks with a limp and has a low growling voice. On the other hand, some of the kills are exceptional, for example, the scene where Vernon stomps his victim to death using cleats is original and satisfying.

HorrorHighDetective&Vernon HorrorHighMrsGrindstaffSlashed

Horror High offers a decent interpretation of the classic “Jekyll and Hyde” story, but overall, fails to impress due to corny music and special effects. Still, its charm makes the film enjoyable to watch. Despite its low points, Horror High is a “so bad it’s good” type of movie that every nerd that ever got picked on in high school can appreciate for its vicarious revenge thrills.

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Sword, Bow & Arrow, Flail, Teeth, Bare Hands, Club, Fire Hose, Lever Action Rifle, Hammer & Stake, Holy Water, Revolver, Communion Wafer, Kukri Knife, Cavalry Sabre, Dagger, Bowie Knife

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

While remaining largely faithful to the novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula nevertheless makes an important change by reshaping the Count into a tragic, romantic figure, thereby turning the classic vampire story into a love story. As the Count, Gary Oldman delivers a towering performance that is by turns playfully fiendish and genuinely sympathetic. Romance and gothic horror are served up hand in hand with such stylized visual bombast that it may strike some viewers as excessive, but for other viewers, will prove a sumptuous feast for the eyes.

In 19th century England, Count Dracula, an ancient and powerful vampire, finds the reincarnation of his long-dead wife in the form of Mina Murray, fiancée to Jonathan Harker. As the Count vies for Mina’s love, Harker, and the renowned vampire hunter, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, begin the hunt for Dracula, while Mina finds herself increasingly unsure of where her heart truly lies.

The Count Mina and Lucy

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a love story, but not simply a romance, rather a story about love itself and the power it exerts on each character. The story begins with Dracula’s love for his wife and God, both of whom he is staunchly devoted to. Upon losing his wife and consequently renouncing God, Dracula is left without love, an event that marks the moment he becomes a monster. Deprived of his own love, Dracula deprives others of their love; he takes Mina from Jonathan and Lucy Westenra from her husband. He sucks up love like he does blood, because he is empty, because he needs it.

Lucy the Vampire Young Prince Vlad

On the other hand is Mina Murray, the bride-to-be who is torn between two loves. She loves Jonathan Harker with a timid love based on devotion and mutual caring, but for Dracula she feels unbound passion with a depth of feeling that swallows her up entirely. Her character represents the crises of choice between passionate and companionate love. Love drives each character toward inevitable fate, even Dracula, as powerful as he is, is the plaything of fate, helpless to do anything but allow his centuries-long love story to come full circle.

Vampire Beast Van Helsing

If all that sounds a tad highfalutin, that’s because it is a little, but this kind of grand vampire opera practically demands to be told ostentatiously. With its bold color palette, superimposed imagery, shadow puppetry, and weird camera techniques, you’ll scarcely believe that this wild bit of celluloid was directed by the same Francis Ford Coppola that made The Godfather. And in fact, it wasn’t; this was directed by the Coppola that made Apocalypse Now—crazy, risk-taking Coppola. With all the visual shenanigans going on, you’d be surprised to know that most of the special effects were accomplished using old-fashioned methods: projectors, body doubles, and lots of miniatures. Dracula’s various transformations are especially impressive feats of effects wizardry, as he goes from old age to youth, to wolf-man, bat-creature, and even a swarm of rats. Along with Oldman’s marvelous Dracula, Anthony Hopkins’ gleefully demented Van Helsing, and Eiko Ishioka’s beautiful costume design, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a titan in the canon of great vampire movies—a dazzling spectacle that even Keanu Reeves’ silly accent can’t diminish.

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Straight Razor, Pocket Knife, Sledgehammer, Meat Hook, Chainsaw, Broom, Fillet Knife, Pipe Wrench

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

The original 1974 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is comparatively low on bloodshed by today’s standards, but tame? Not at all. The film possesses a deep well of savageness and ferocious energy from which it draws its strength, not only in terms of the horror action, but in the very way that it looks and feels. This is what made the film controversial in its time and what has made it a classic today, not gratuitous bloodshed, but harsh, unforgiving ugliness.

Reports of bizarre grave desecration bring Sally Hardesty and her friends to a small rural area in Texas to ensure that her grandfather’s remains have not been disturbed. Their road trip is disrupted, however, upon encountering a family of murderous cannibals, including the horrific chainsaw-wielding maniac, Leatherface.

Cast Pic The Hitchhiker

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is slim on plot and features little to no character development, but that’s okay because that’s not what this movie does. This movie is a well-oiled machine that was built to do one thing and do it well: punish the audience. No, not scare the audience, punish. More than scare you, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre delights in disturbing you, right from the very beginning, the first thing we see is a desiccated skeleton impaled on a tombstone, setting up the macabre tone right away. Before any killing begins at all, the movie goes to considerable lengths to establish an oppressive atmosphere of gruesomeness: the deranged hitchhiker, the story of the local slaughterhouse, the furniture made of human bones—all add to the sense of nastiness and unease even when there’s no actual violence onscreen.

Butcher Leatherface The Family

Not that there isn’t any violence. The violence is really the centerpiece of the film, with the aforementioned atmosphere being the plate upon which this entrée is served. And I don’t mean simple bloodshed—I mean naked, unadorned violence. Every action is carried out with overwhelming force and power, even mundane things like cranking up a chainsaw or slamming a door are so loud and so physically expressive that it frazzles the nerves. It’s not the blood that makes you wince, it’s the sudden furiousness of the attack. It’s not the death that disturbs us, but the dying; we watch the victims twitch before they go. And finally, most horrible of all, is the extreme casualness of the violence. There is no anger or hatred on the part of the killers, no complex psychological motive; they kill for the meat, with all the humdrum of a neighborhood butcher’s shop.

Formal Wear Leatherface Survivor Sally

When the film was first released, the opening faux-documentary monologue lent credence to the belief that there really had been a Texas chainsaw-massacre. But more than that, audiences were ready to believe the story because, being human, they recognized human nature when they saw it—the unending capacity for violence and cruelty. Indeed, some of the onscreen horrors were based on the real-life crimes committed by Ed Gein, the infamous murderer and corpse desecrator. For all its horrors, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not stray outside of the realm of possibility; it could have happened. It could happen yet. The film makes us believe it could, because gives us a candid look at what real violence looks like. I can sum it up in a word. The word is: ugly, ugly ,ugly.

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Razor Glove, Bed Sheet, Coffee Pot, Sledgehammer Booby-Trap, Light-Bulb Explosive, Jar of Gasoline, Fire

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

A boogeyman that haunts your dreams, the sound of blades scraping stone, flickering shadow, fire, smoke—this is the stuff of childhood nightmares. This is why this film hit me so close, too close, as a child, because it deals with something that I (and all people) know something about: nightmares. As adults, our boogeymen tend to be real-world characters like home-invaders and psychopaths, but as children, our first boogeymen hid in the shadows of our bedroom closet, or under the bed, and made creaks and bumps in the night. You imagined something was there, watching, and you hid under the covers waiting for sleep to save you, but the terrors would follow you into your dreams and become more real than ever. This is the sense of primal fear that A Nightmare on Elm Street captures so well, the fear that comes from within your own mind.

In an archetypal American suburb, the kids of Elm Street dream of violent death at the hands of a razor-fingered man with burnt flesh named Fred Krueger. When people start dying in real life, teenager Nancy Thompson becomes determined to uncover the truth behind Krueger’s past in order to find some way to combat this deadly menace that exists only in her mind.

Freddy's Boiler Room This is God

Much has been said about A Nightmare on Elm Street’s ability to toy with the audience’s perception of reality; with its mind-bending dream-within-a-dream sequences, you’re never quite sure of what’s real and what isn’t. But this is only part of what the film accomplishes as a whole: it captures the look, sound, and feel of a nightmare and, in so doing, creates one of the best representations of nightmares committed to film.

Freddy in the Tub Johnny Depp Hero in a Half Shirt

The ambiguity and strangeness of the narrative makes you feel disoriented and wary, as it should, since this is just the feeling we would expect of a nightmare. But this alone wouldn’t be enough, not without the chaotic, disturbing imagery brought to us by the boogeyman himself, Fred Krueger. He shape-shifts, his arms become impossibly long, he gleefully mutilates himself just to see the look on your face—this is a villain that is not bound by the laws of physical possibility and that makes him truly unpredictable in a way that other movie-monsters seldom achieve. And perhaps the most overlooked aspect of director Wes Craven’s nightmare-world is the sound. The soundtrack ranges from ominous to campy in an interestingly disjointed fashion, but when I talk about the sound of A Nightmare on Elm Street, I refer specifically to the subtle sound effects and strange inflections of speech. One of my favorite parts is a classroom scene where Nancy slips into sleep while listening to a recitation of Hamlet: “…were it not that I have bad dreams…” that voice—a hoary, unreal whisper hits especially close to the truth of dream-experience. Perfection.

I'm Your Boyfriend Now Nancy and John Saxon

By its very abstract nature, A Nightmare on Elm Street is greatly open to interpretation. Legions of horror fans have put forth dozens of theories, dealing variously with the sexual subtext of the film or the coming of age of Nancy into the bleak adult world inhabited by her mother and father. While arguably true, I feel these theories are subservient to a greater theme; I believe this film is above all, an examination of the enemy within ourselves. We are the victims of our own fears—fear of death, fear of sex, fear of growing up and though we wish salvation were as easy as wishing those fears away, they lurk within us always, ready to sneak up from behind and grab us by the throat. Watching the movie as a child, I felt this fear without understanding it. As an adult, lying in bed, watching the shadows on the ceiling, hearing the house creak, I know that something is watching. It watches from within. If you’ve never seen this movie, get to it. If you have, see it again; you’ll find new treasure every time you do.

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Kicks, Bare Hands, Cane, Knife, Teeth, Towel Rod

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Reviewed by: Pontifex Aureus

In essence, Cronos is a vampire movie. It’s a very different kind of vampire movie, but a vampire movie nonetheless, and while it can be considered a horror movie, I prefer to think of it as a dark fantasy movie. That’s because Cronos is not scary—not one little bit. But don’t let that bother you, because while it may not be scary, it is original, it is highly imaginative, it is rich with devilish imagery and possesses a thoroughly human character. These characteristics are hallmarks of all high-quality dark fantasy.

In Veracruz, Mexico, an elderly antiques dealer, Jesus Gris, and his granddaughter stumble upon a strange and ancient artifact created by a 16th century alchemist. The artifact, the Cronos Device, grants the user eternal life, as Jesus soon finds out upon accidentally triggering the insect-like machine. The price for eternity is steep however, as Jesus begins to develop a terrible craving for blood and draws the attention of an evil man who would claim the device for himself.

Jesus and Aurora Cronos Close-Up

You have to admire a vampire movie that never once uses the word “vampire”. Cronos is a wonderfully understated movie, never clobbering you over the head with its themes. It’s just as well that the film doesn’t mention vampires, since the movie is more about humans than vampires. We have three central characters: Jesus Gris, a kindly grandfather and respectable shop owner who becomes so addicted to the vitality offered by the Cronos Device that he winds up licking blood off a men’s room floor. We have Dieter de la Guardia, a ruthless businessman so against the idea of natural death that he spends his life in a germ-free room with a cabinet full of his own body parts. And lastly, there’s Angel de la Guardia, the bootlicking nephew to Dieter, who wants nothing more than for his uncle to die and leave behind a fat inheritance.

Jesus Using Cronos Nose Bleed for Dinner

In much the same way that a vampire is motivated by its desire for blood, these people are motivated by their desire for power. Each is ruled by their desire—the desire for youth and vigor, as in the case of Jesus and Dieter, or desire for wealth, as in Angel’s case. Each is a kind of power. They live wretched lives and all but Jesus are willing to kill to fulfill their desire. It’s this complex interplay of human frailty that makes Cronos such a sly winner. Keep this in mind while watching and you’ll find a rich layer of symbolism throughout the film (lots of religious subtext—Jesus Gris is phonetically similar to Jesus Cristo, the Cronos Device is concealed in an angel statue, Angel de la Guardia means literally “guardian angel”, and so on).

Perlman Broken Nose Jesus Vampire

Aside from all these subtle qualities, Cronos has several other things going for it as well. Being a Guillermo del Toro movie, it carries his visual flair for dark fantasy. The Cronos Device itself is a work of art, looking like a golden clockwork scarab, it is suitably creepy and evil-looking. There’s also the wonderfully muted performances by the whole cast, but especially by Federico Luppi in the role of Jesus Gris, as he transforms from twinkly-eyed grandpa to skin-peeling vampire without ever feeling over-the-top.

Cronos is a sumptuously dark fairy tale brought to you by the modern-day master of dark fantasy; if you’re a del Toro fan, you should find plenty to like here. Incidentally, this film also marks the first collaboration between del Toro and Ron Perlman, for you Hellboy fans out there. So if you’re looking for scares, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a visually striking, stylish, thought-provoking vampire movie, then look no further than Cronos.