Horror

The Awakening

Year: 2011
Directed By: Nick Murphy
Written By: Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy

RYAN’S REVIEW

This movie caught me by surprise a couple of years ago when it was streaming on Netflix or some other streaming site. It was this time of the year and we were looking for something spooky to watch. I had never heard of this movie but gave it a shot and was thoroughly surprised.

It has an interesting setting in post WWI England that I like. The aftermath of WWI is important in this movie as more spirits than ever would be haunting the world. WWI is an era that doesn’t see a lot of screen time and I think that is because it was such a nasty war. WWII gets all the glory and Vietnam all the controversy but WWI was probably the most devastating conflict in history. War tactics had not changed but weapons had. With no strategy to account for the difference millions were lost in the fight against weapons that were more powerful and wicked than ever before.

I really like Rebecca Hall as the lead in this movie. She doesn’t get many opportunities but I think she thrives in the role. I fear she probably gets passed over too often because she looks like other actresses. In this movie I thought she played a strong minded and determined character who is both right and wrong about the world.

The movie immediately sucked me in with her aggressively debunking some frauds. From there you can trust that she will get to the bottom of the new ghost mystery at hand. The fact that she does get to the bottom of the mystery is interesting because it is only half way through the movie when she does. It keeps you sucked in because where will it go from there? It’s clever in that it hits you with a twist that isn’t easy to see coming. Not only is there a real ghost but there’s history for our main character as well.

This is a spooky movie that can make you jump now and again. It was a pleasant surprise when I sat down expecting little from a movie I had never heard of. One click on the computer later and it was part of the collection via Amazon. I think if you’re looking for a good movie to watch this Halloween you can’t go wrong with this one that flies under the radar. I really enjoyed it and I think it is worth your time.

 

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Get Out

Year: 2017
Directed By: Jordan Peele
Written By: Jordan Peele

RYAN’S REVIEW

Here we have another movie featuring the nefarious and spooky element of hypnosis. This time around that hypnosis is simply a precursor for the real horror to come. In this thrilling horror film from the mind of Jordan Peele you’ll first find yourself sucked in, then the intrigue takes hold before the horror reaches out and grabs you.

I really enjoy this movie but there is a message I read loud and clear from it. Black people really are terrified of white people, who woulda thought right? They’re not afraid in the sense that they’re intimidated or scared. Just terrified on the deep seeded level of fear. Like, I finish this movie and I think “damn, they must really think we are crazy.” African American gentlemen beware the white woman and her iniquitous motives.

The cultural differences that remain in this country are truly unfortunate and nothing to joke about really. Xenophobia and misunderstanding are the root of a problem this country has yet to overcome.  I don’t think anybody side is truly to blame but neither knows how to relent and start the healing. Hopefully one day things will be different, but in the meantime this movie highlights a perception that white people aren’t intimidating, but scary on a high level of crazy. I think the sad truth is that people of all races can be crazy, there are always bad apples that make an entire demographic look bad.

I am a big fan of funny man Jordan Peele and I like him even more after getting behind camera for a movie like this. I like how he infused his comedic elements into the film with the delightful TSA agent but beyond that I found his work to be so impressive. In a time when I feel like all the horror films coming out are shit I see this and it gives me hope. It’s ironic that hope comes from the most unlikeliest of places. I like Key and Peele but Dave Chappelle said it best when he made the joke that he had to watch them do his show every night.

I think the fact that Peele made this movie on such a tight budget made it all the better. The best horror films are made on the cheap, even IT only cost 35 million to make. I think Peele had a good cast to work with for this film. I have always been a big fan of Katherine Keener and like her as the hypnotizing mother with her lethal tea cup. The TSA agent was awesome and brought light into this dark film every time it was needed. If I am discussing the cast I must mention one of my favorite actors of all time. Stephen Root plays the blind art dealer bidding on Chris’s body. Root is a terrific and prolific actor that can do anything; a true unsung hero in the acting world.

I really enjoy this movie because it is so subtle. You can rack your brain trying to figure out what is actually going on all throughout but clarity won’t come until Peele puts it together for you. Peele actually shot two endings to the film and I like them both. One being what ended up in the film which is where the TSA buddy comes to Chris’s rescue and throws in a quick joke before the movie ends. I like that ending but I have to admit I found the alternate ending a bit more horrific. In the Alternate ending the lights flashing across Chris’s face aren’t that of his TSA buddy’s vehicle but that of a real cop car.

In the alternate ending Chris is caught red handed trying to strangle his girlfriend to death and sent to jail. Once he is locked up he is just a black guy with a wild story. He is visited in prison by his TSA buddy and seems disinterested with getting out of jail and instead content that he brought an end to something so horrible. I think that ending is a bit of a more punch in the gut and a better way to end a horror film, but I do like what they actually went with because I loved the TSA buddy.

This was a huge hit for good reason, it’s a fresh and entertaining horror film that nobody expected to be so good. It goes to show that this day in age when something is good word will still get around. This movie was a financial success without even the presence of a superhero! It makes me respect it all the more and really look forward to what Jordan Peele might do next.

I don’t know that this movie really sets the mood for Halloween because despite being a horror film it somehow doesn’t seem right for the season. I don’t think you should watch this movie to get you in the mood for Halloween. I think you should watch this movie because it’s awesome. This movie is worth your time, your money, and your attention.

 

 

 

 

Stir of Echoes

Year: 1999
Directed By: David Koepp
Written By: David Koepp (screenplay) Richard Matheson (novel)

RYAN’S REVIEW

Back in the fall of 1999 everyone was still “seeing dead people” while I was hearing echoes. The Sixth Sense had come out in August and it was still all the rave by the time this film was released only a month later. I had heard all about The Sixth Sense but it was rated PG-13 and I didn’t think a horror movie with such a rating could be so good. Come September I found myself immediately engrossed in this R rated movie that was also about a kid who sees dead people. By that time nobody had any interest in another ghost story after they had seen that shocker at the end of The Sixth Sense.

It would go on to be years before I actually saw The Sixth Sense because somehow by not watching it I was being loyal to the film that had actually caught my eye. It wasn’t the first time two films of a similar premise have come out, in fact it seemingly happens all the time. Immediate examples that come to mind are Antz and A Bug’s Life in 1998, Volcano and Dante’s Peak in 1997, Tombstone and Wyatt Earp released in 1993 and 1994 but only six months apart, Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998, and the list goes on and on. It still happens as I remember in 2013 White House Down and Olympus has Fallen both came out in the same year. By rule I only watch one of these movies when they come out, if either, and in the case of this film I watched Stir of Echoes over The Sixth Sense. I would eventually become a big M. Night Shyamalan fan but not because of his breakthrough film but rather Unbreakable and his work that followed.

This movie may have gotten lumped into this anomaly of films with similar premises coming out in the same year but they are much different actually. They weren’t featuring the same natural disaster or different biographies of the same men, but there are similarities that can’t be overlooked. Even after seeing The Sixth Sense I still prefer this movie. Yeah, Haley Joel Osment made for a cute as shit kid that could really act, but what does this kid have over Kevin freaking Bacon? In fact I think it is Bacon’s performance in this movie that gives it the edge in my opinion. I have always been a fan of Bacon and he even retweeted me once, which was pretty cool, pretty pretty pretty cool. Sorry, bingeing Curb Your Enthusiasm came to a halt swiftly at the turn of the month

Where this movie wins is that it is actually scary. The opening shot alone is spooky and it leads right into the kid talking to a ghost. Hypnosis is always fun to play with too, as a beginning to the horror to come. Hypnosis is one of those fake gimmicks that everybody wants to believe in and it is sort of real to a certain degree, but nothing like what we see in the movies. It’s ironic that Kevin bacon develops a “sixth sense” of his own after the hypnosis. Another place it wins is simply all the advantages that come with an R rating. I just think that as far as places where fuck is appropriate go, horror films are one of those places.

Now that my memory is thoroughly jogged I think these movies are far too similar. It seems as if this movie is a rip off of the one that came before but actually it could be the other way around. This movie was loosely based on a novel by Richard Matheson, who is one of Stephen King’s favorite authors incidentally. The movies are fundamentally different but when two movies about a kid seeing dead people come out within a month of each other something is wrong. This anomaly I discuss is odd and if anybody out there can explain it I would love to know your thoughts on the matter. I may be alone but I think this is a better movie and it was overshadowed and fell victim to the said anomaly.

It’s a shame because Kevin Bacon does give quite an exceptional performance. He isn’t alone either, being surrounded by a supporting case that I really like. I am a big fan of Kevin Dunn and like him in many roles he has played, including this one. Zachary David Cole wasn’t the actor that Haley Joel Osment was but he holds his own. I also like Kathryn Erbe and Illeana Douglas who play the two female leads. I don’t know who plays Neil the cop but he really reminds me of Halloran from The ShiningI wonder if that is a coincidence or an influence King got from Matheson.

This movie doesn’t end with the same kind of shocker as its anomaly but it keeps the mystery and excitement through to the end. I don’t think I’ll ever win over a fan of The Sixth Sense in the personal argument I have but I will always be on the side of Echoes. I think this is a cool movie and I’ve enjoyed watching it again. I think this movie is easily worth your time and it works for the Halloween season.

 

It (2017)

I really caught the fever for this one. As a huge Stephen King fan I spent the summer looking forward to The Dark Tower only to be deterred by the overwhelmingly bad reviews. I made my own journey to the top of the tower a few years ago and I couldn’t bring myself to make a trip to the theater for a version that would disappoint. So I’ve had an itch that needed to be scratched. All the anticipation left me with an unfulfilled fix I needed for Stephen King. As this movie approached I felt that itch grow more menacing, all my hopefulness and anticipation funneled from The Dark Tower and into It.

I have had really strong feelings about IT since reading the book about ten years ago. It left me so appalled that I even swore off King for a year or so before having my arm twisted into giving him another chance. If you’ve read the book I’ll just say it was that thing in the sewer when they were kids, it was too much for me. If you haven’t read the book then brace yourself before jumping into it, in fact I’ve told people for years that they shouldn’t read the book at all because it was all garbage.

I feel differently now. I realized in all the hype that was building in my mind that lots of things happen in a book ranging over 1000 pages and I shouldn’t discredit the entirety because of one thing that happened. So in the days approaching this film’s release I found myself giving the book a second chance. At less than a quarter into it now I find I have really enjoyed it this time around, I hope that thing in the sewer doesn’t happen this time…

The reviews that came out for this movie were really strong so I went into the theater with great expectations. So much so that I couldn’t even wait to see it and when plans to see the Thursday night premier fell through I was determined to see it at the first opportunity. I tried desperately to find a friend to see it with me at first showing on opening Friday but like most responsible adults they were all going to be at work at 1 PM on a Friday. I settled for going down to the office and basically kidnapping one of my co-workers so I didn’t have to sit in the theater by myself.

I wanted this movie to be amazing, I wanted a real and excellent adaptation of a Stephen King book, and above all I wanted this R rated version to scare me at least a little bit. I think the movie succeeded at all these things. I thought it was terrific and I can’t wait to see it again and really imprint it on my brain and memory.

The movie wasn’t entirely perfect and they made a few changes I didn’t like but it overwhelmingly exceeded all my lofty expectations enough for me to gladly overlook any shortcomings it had. I felt like the movie was a little rushed and would have been happy for it to have been longer for more depth. I also didn’t like most of the story changes but find them all acceptable in the bigger picture. Specifically what bothered me was the changing of Mike and Ben about who actually researched Derry’s past. Nevertheless the movie managed to get that back story into the film despite the limitation a 2 hour and 15 minute running time put on the story.

I loved this cast of young actors and marvel at what they were able to do. I only know Finn Wolfhard by name, because of Stranger Things, but they were all great. Wolfhard in particular as Richie Tozier was nothing short of fantastic any time he was on screen. He played such a different character than we saw on Stranger Things too, showing impressive range for his age. I really liked the kid who played Eddie and the girl who played Beverly. All the kids did a really great job though.

I thought Bill Skarsgard was excellent as Pennywise. I heard it criticized that he didn’t talk enough in the part but I didn’t think the character needed to talk much. I think he had large shoes to fill after Tim Curry’s iconic rendition in the role and it was important that he make it his own. Curry was a very vocal Pennywise while Skarsgard was a more visual. I think the version was particularly great because he had such a playful and horrific quality to him simultaneously. When he comes out of the cabinet all contorted or when he is literally bursting onto the scene he is very scary. He has a very childlike quality to him that makes him scarier.

I like that this movie tried to scare me without simply trying to make me feel uncomfortable. So much that passes for horror these days is simply what can be most shocking and/or gross. I saw plenty in this movie that was scary and didn’t have to resort to such gimmicks as torture porn and gore. This movie earned its R rating with language and content but not necessarily with violence or gore.

I really need to see this movie again before I can really sum it all up and discuss it properly. All I can say now is that I thought it was excellent and I want to see it again. If you find yourself on the fence about it then hop over to the yes side and check it out as soon as you can. I am incredibly excited to see how this movie performs at the box office as it ushers us into Halloween season. This movie is definitely worth your time to go see and it actually lives up to the hype.

 

The Shining

Year: 1980
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Stephen King (novel) Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson (screenplay)

RYAN’S REVIEW

This movie really features the best of both worlds. It’s a movie directed by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time based on a book written by one of the most popular horror writers of all time. This turned out to not be such a perfect marriage between Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King but it’s still hard to argue with the final product.

This movie was made by a true master of his trade and you can see that from the very onset of the film. The panning shot of the horizon as the car drives toward the hotel is both breathtaking and eerie with the musical overtone. This is largely hailed as one of the greatest horror films ever made and I think this intro sets the tone for a scary film. The stillness of the camera as it rolls over the scenery is particularly impressive. The perfection of Stanley Kubrick really shines through this movie from beginning to end. It’s an aesthetically pleasing movie with it’s incredible set designs and contrasting colors. Nearly every shot of this movie is filled with color almost like it was painted for the screen. Kubrick was an artist and you can see that in all his films; a truly one of a kind filmmaker.

While this movie is considered one of the best horror films ever made there is one strong opinion to the contrary. The author of the book, Stephen King, absolutely hated the movie and spent years bashing it before he was contractually silenced in order to make his own version. He has a lot of problems with the movie and is on record saying he has no idea what people find scary about it. The truth is that it was his baby and a new step daddy raised it into something different than King had in mind. He did not like the casting of either Jack Nicholson or Shelley Duvall. He specifically hated Duvall as she was the exact opposite of the character he wrote and he felt like Nicholson’s Jack was crazy from the get go rather than having a slow descent into madness as in the book. As far as King is concerned it’s far scarier for a Jack who is actually a loving and caring father to go crazy rather than a Jack who seems sort of already crazy when the movie starts. The hotel itself is the real villain, and Nicholson’s performance makes Jack the primary villain as opposed to merely a weapon of the evil hotel.

Jack Nicholson is truly magnificent in this movie, the true face of a madman. It’s easy to see why King hated the part because in the Jack is obviously a little crazy from the beginning. It seems a bit obvious in the scene on the ride to the hotel with his family. Nicholson really comes off as if he is suppressing rage throughout the whole scene. It may not have been how King envisioned the part for the adaptation but it is hard to argue with Nicholson’s performance. He does appear a bit crazy from the get go but when he starts delving farther into madness he is truly terrifying.

On the other hand I don’t understand why they ever cast Shelley Duvall in the role of Wendy. Not only did she not even come close to resembling the original character but she is simply awful. Her acting simply isn’t on par with the others in this movie and she is legitimately annoying throughout the entire film. Kubrick wanted her for the part because he wanted a weak and vulnerable Wendy, and to ensure he got one he bullied her relentlessly during filming. She appears so on edge throughout the film because she actually was on edge in real life working under Kubrick. I find her to be too weak and vulnerable though. It’s off putting, she is the weak link in this otherwise fantastic movie.

This was practically the only thing that Danny Lloyd ever did as an actor. He made one appearance in a TV film before retiring as an actor at the age of 9. It is unfortunate because he did such a compelling job in this movie that it would have been interesting to see what else he was capable of. He came up with the finger thing for Tony on his own and I think it was a really effective tool to have stumbled across. I have always thought that this little kid talking to his finger in that creepy voice was part of what made the film so scary. Due to his young age Danny wasn’t actually privy to what the movie he was making was about and Kubrick managed to get him through the film without him ever realizing that he was making a horror film. He remained under the impression throughout filming that he was filming a drama about a family that lived in a hotel.

One of my favorite performances in the movie is that of Scatman Crothers, who just embodied everything I had imagined for the character when I read the book. This was a hard movie on him at age 70 and his friend Jack Nicholson actually had to smooth things over with him multiple times. Kubrick is notorious for taking several takes of everything and he at one point nearly brought Crothers to tears after an unreasonable amount of takes in which Crothers seemingly could not please the director. If I’m not mistaken it was the airplane scene in which he simply asks the stewardess when they will be arriving. After an insane amount of takes Crothers looked at Kubrick and asked him what he wanted, to which Kubrick replied “I want you to do it right.”

Of all the movies we have reviewed this October this is the only one so far that fits with the season. The other horror movies have all been disappointing or flawed in some aspect but this one is legit. Whether King liked it or not it’s still a great movie that offers plenty of entertainment. He might have not found it scary but there are plenty of people who disagree with him. Personally I don’t find it too scary but entertaining none the less and it has the feel of a horror film. Horror films simply aren’t made with this quality of filmmaker and cast. It’s what makes this movie exceptional. King’s version of the film has it’s merits but it will never stand up against what Stanley Kubrick was able to do. I would easily recommend this movie to watch during Halloween season, it’s worth your time.

As a side note there is an interesting conspiracy theory attached to this film that is enough to make you question things. Check it out below and leave a comment with your thoughts if you feel so inclined.

Did Stanley Kubrick film the moon landing? I don’t know but while the whole the conspiracy theory surrounding this movie has been debunked I still find it to be quite interesting. I do not know if the moon landing was real or not and truthfully I have never cared. I’m not big on conspiracy theories because they simply encourage the foolish, and things are never quite so theatrical in real life. Yet there are certain differences in this movie from the book that have always befuddled me. Specifically the 237 room number makes me wonder. The number 217 was used in the book and it is specifically a Stephen King thing to use numbers that add up to 19. It’s change in the movie was apparently a request by the hotel so people didn’t get spooked by a real room within the hotel but if it actually correlates with the distance to the moon then it is a fascinating coincidence. While I have no interest in the conspiracy theory I do think if a director was hired to do it Stanley Kubrick would have been the one chosen. Kubrick was arguably the greatest filmmaker of all time and he was so intelligent that the theory makes me wonder. Is it a coincidence or was Kubrick actually trying to tell us something? I’ll let you decide, check out the video below and take a trip down the rabbit hole.

 

 

Stephen King’s The Shining

Year: 1997
Directed By: Mick Garris
Written By: Stephen King

RYAN’S REVIEW

I had never seen this movie before sitting down to review Stanley Kubrick’s version of the film. Stephen King was so disappointed with the famous rendition that he bashed the film for years before signing himself to silence for the opportunity to make his own version. In this incredibly long version of the story you can easily see why he disliked Kubrick’s version. However, while operating on a TV budget and with a much less skilled man behind camera this movie still manages to be exciting while staying very true to the source material.

Stephen King’s problem with Stanley Kubrick’s version was that Jack seemed kind of crazy the whole time and there was no build up to it. He also really disliked Shelley Duvall in the role of Wendy. With both of those things he made right with his own version. He made a six hour television special that could focus more on Jack’s alcoholism and his slow descent into madness. With Wendy he cast an actress,  Rebecca De Mornay, that fit the part more truthfully to the source material. Shelley Duvall was the exact opposite of Wendy as she was written to be curvy and blonde. Kubrick wanted a more vulnerable and on edge Wendy, which is exactly what he got with Duvall but all King saw was a character robbed of all the strength he wrote her with.

Jack’s struggle with alcoholism was a big part of the book as King was writing it during his own trouble coming to grips with the problem. In this movie we see much more of it while Jack slowly gets influenced to madness by the hotel. King didn’t like Jack Nicholson’s performance because he seemed to have always been crazy. Stephen Weber brought a different personality to the role and you can actually believe in him as a loving and caring father. You never had that with Nicholson and that was a big part of the character. He was supposed to be an unlikely man to lose his mind and that is clearly conveyed with this movie.

I really like this version of the film but I really don’t like Courtland Mead in the role of Danny Torrence. It’s not his fault he’s just a kid but he was a poor substitute for Danny Lloyd. Mead just doesn’t convey the strength of character we saw from Lloyd in Kubrick’s version. I’m also a big fan of that finger thing he did, which was his own and absent from this rendition of the character. It may not have been something done in the book but it was quite creepy and brought something to the Kubrick version.

I have read The Shining and while it was never a book I was in love with I do appreciate a more truthful adaptation. It’s typically hailed as one of King’s greatest books and I have always disagreed. I’d take The Dark TowerThe Stand, Under the Dome, or 11/22/63 over it any day of the week. This book was too much about alcoholism if you ask me and I’ve always found it to be a bummer.  I will vouch for the sequel to the book, Doctor Sleep. I actually liked that book a bit better than the first although it too was a bit too much about alcoholism.

This will never be the version of The Shining you turn to when you’re looking for scares during the Halloween season, but if you are a fan of Stephen King and his book you should definitely see this one. So, while I think this movie is pretty cool I am by no means recommending it for Halloween. It was a three night TV special back in 1997 so it runs about six hours long. It’s a very thorough version but it simply takes too long to watch.

 

 

The Serpent and the Rainbow

Year: 1988
Directed By: Wes Craven
Written By: Wade Davis (novel) Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman (screenplay)

 

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is a movie that was suggested to me years ago and in lieu of renting it I simply bought a copy and added it to the collection. In hindsight I probably should have just rented it because this movie is very near unwatchable. I should have known when I had never heard of it before. A Wes Craven film featuring zombies made from Voodoo sounded like something that would be awesome but sadly that is not how it worked out.

Adding to the intrigue of this story is the fact that it was based on a non fiction book by the same title. Of course as most movies do this one embellishes a lot and exaggerates even more. The author, Wade Davis, did make many trips to Haiti to research the drugs associated with Voodoo and zombies but never really found anything of note. More importantly he was never harassed, or tortured by the Haitian government for his efforts. He sold the rights to his book on the condition Peter Weir would direct and Mel Gibson would star but neither of those things happened and it would have made for a very different movie.

Voodoo is a fascinating religion with ideals that spark lots of curiosity and misconceptions. The lore that goes along with it is more fantasy than reality. While it’s awesome to think of the magic that comes with voodoo dolls and the creation of zombies these are not really part of the religion and simply part of other ideals that are just associated with Voodoo. For example, the ancient African practice of Hoodoo is often confused and lumped together with what people think of Voodoo but they are not the same. It’s movies like this that lead to the confusion, and as fun as it is to fantasize these things they ultimately mislead people.

I’m calling this movie nearly unwatchable, even at only an hour and a half running time. The narration, the poor camera quality, and the lack of good story telling all bring this movie down. I tried to sit down with it in the middle of the afternoon to give it my best effort but somehow during the wide eyed post coffee hours of the day it literally put me to sleep. I think a movie with this type of story has no business not being any good but it just isn’t. Wes Craven usually brings it with these types of films but he simply missed the mark on this one.

This is a forgettable movie and it isn’t worth your time. I made a mistake getting caught up with the possibilities a movie like this could offer and I have been disappointed every time I try to watch it. This movie qualifies as a horror film with Craven behind camera but it isn’t going to scare you like some of his best films will. For something better check out Nightmare on Elm Street or The Hills Have EyesBoth are really good horror films from Wes Craven. Don’t waste your time with this one though, it’s not worth the hour and a half it would steal from you.