Horror

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.

 

Halloween Season 2016

Image result for halloween 2016

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are beginning to fall and the nights are getting darker. As we wind down to All Hallow’s Eve we will only be reviewing horror movies throughout the month. This year we have some great and some OK horror movies to go through. Starting off we will drop the perfectly themed albeit OK version of Sleepy Hollow by Tim Burton. To follow we have two different versions of The Shining, Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, David Cronenberg’s Scanners, and possibly more as we try to fit in as much as time will allow.

As I always say this is my favorite holiday of the year because it’s the only one that is all about fun. Nobody has family drama on Halloween, nobody breaks the bank, no pressured obligations beyond showing off the kids on the night of.  Just fun and exciting days before the crazy holiday season. I love this time of year and I love the movies that set the tone for the season.

Scanners

Year: 1981
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Written By: David Cronenberg

RYAN’S REVIEW

I’ve owned this movie since college and it’s only now I realize I’ve never seen it all the way through. I saw it for the first time in a college film class when we screened the famous head exploding scene. I was so impressed with the scene I sought out this movie to add to the collection. It seems now I never actually got around to seeing the whole thing.

This is not an easy movie to watch, and barring some interesting parts it really falls short overall. It’s not by any fault of Director David Cronenberg who had his back against the wall. Pressured by deadlines Cronenberg had to start shooting without a finished script and had to manage two feuding stars. For whatever the reason Patrick McGoohan and Jennifer O’Neil did not get along. I can’t recall the two of them sharing any scenes but I’m sure the problem was prevalent on set during shooting.

The hero in this film, Vale played by Steven Lack, is lacking in acting skills. As the hero of the film he simply doesn’t deliver and the part could have been better cast. On the other hand Michael Ironside in the part of Revok is awesome. I have always been a big fan of Michael Ironside, especially as a villain. He’s been acting for almost 40 years and this is the youngest I have seen him in anything. Even in his youth he had a sinister edge that makes him great for playing bad guys.

This movie is all over the place, and that’s part of what makes it hard to watch. The Scanners at times can’t deal with the thoughts of all those around them, at other times they are fully in control. The sudden expansion of their capabilities from human mind control to computer control was an odd change that didn’t work for me. I also thought the weird voice over in Dr. Ruth’s final moments to be a bit odd and confusing. Is he a scanner or are these simply crazy thoughts of a mad man? He suddenly turning out to be the father of both Vale and Revok is a twist I think was produced out of writing the script while shooting. It’s a weak plot twist and all too typical.

This movie is listed as a horror film but more for the shocks and content than any scary element. This one isn’t going to scare you at all or get you in the mood for the season but it’s not without some excitement. There have been talks of a remake for years but it has never materialized. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen though, Hollywood loves refurbishing old horror movies with a more modern twist. This movie probably could be improved with a remake though. The idea is sound and interesting enough albeit a bit of a bore to watch and too anticlimactic.

I don’t recommend this movie as a Halloween season film and I would avoid it if you are looking for a horror feature to watch this season. Despite its few merits it simply isn’t a scary movie and will do nothing to set the tone you are looking for. There are other horror films from David Cronenberg that are undoubtedly better and eventually we may check them out and review something he will be better remembered for. For the most this movie is remembered for check out the video below for the entire scene and you’ve seen all you need to see.

 

Sleepy Hollow

Year: 1999
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Washington Irving (original story), Kevin Yagher and Andrew Kevin Walker

RYAN’S REVIEW

Our next movie lines up perfectly with the season and it will be where we kick off our month of horror movies for Halloween this year. This is a beautifully gloomy if not fantastic movie. It can set the tone for the season but it will never match up against the classics. It’s a spooky movie that looks great, but it doesn’t have that fear factor that the great horror classics utilize.

This is a fantastic Burton movie but I don’t think it’ll even stand up against others such as Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands. He got the look right but I find this to be Johnny Depp’s weakest performance among their collaborations. It’s not all Depps fault, the character of Ichabod is far from cool and hardly the type of character to carry a film.

I get that Ichabod Crane is supposed to be this way but the cowardly character does nothing to enhance the film, even with Johnny Depp in the part. He is so pathetically fearful, at one point even leaping away from a spider. He does nothing to evoke love or admiration and that’s a major flaw. You could argue Depp played the part well but it’s the character that is the problem. There’s no level of awesome or badass within him.

I really like Christina Ricci, but I grew up with a crush on her. I’m predisposed to like her whether she is any good or not. She’s not bad in this movie, but she’s no Winona Ryder.

The rest of this cast is full of regular Burton collaborators and they all help to make this movie really feel like Tim Burton. Depp, Christopher Lee, Jeffrey Jones, Burton’s then wife Lisa Marie, and Christopher Walken. With those guys in tow this movie looks awesome on paper. Burton gets to go wild with his spooky crap. Somehow he managed to miss the mark but at least it all looks good. The pumpkins, scarecrows, fog, and headless horseman give it a perfect Halloween vibe.

The headless horseman is awesome, played by Christopher Walken. He looks sadistic with no head and somehow more fierce with one. Even without his iconic voice Walken manages to be awesome. He has no speaking lines in the movie and that is a good thing. I love Walken’s voice but it would have been all wrong for the character he was playing.

I don’t love this movie by any means but I enjoy it. It is really aesthetically pleasing and it feels so perfect for the season. It’s a fun take on an old classic and they don’t pull any punches when it comes to chopping off heads. I remember when this movie was coming out it was a big deal how many people were losing their heads in this one. It’s not the best movie you can watch during this Halloween season but it’s not a bad one either. If you want something that feels right but isn’t going to scare or gore you then this is a perfect movie to watch.

 

Phantoms

Year: 1998
Directed By: Joe Chappelle
Written By: Dean Koontz, novel and screenplay

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is also a movie I had the privilege of seeing on the big screen in the years I spent wandering from movie to movie in the theaters I grew up in. Just so happens I had read the book this movie was adapted from and that made it more special. This was a movie that I saw at a young age and it provided one of my first opportunities to compare a story in terms of film vs. book. It taught me a valuable lesson that would always remind me why reading books was always more fulfilling than watching films if you have the patience to do it.

First things first with this movie. I do and always have loved Rose McGowan as an actress and enjoy any opportunity to see her. Since Scream I have had a thing for the chick that would go on to be Cherry Darling. I love that she is in this movie and for me at least that makes it better. Her notoriety unfortunately came more from her personal life than it did her acting career but I was a fan long before she became the heroine in one of my favorite movies. In this movie she is nothing more than the moody teenage hot girl but it’s a part she was well suited for in 1998. There are more important parts to the cast, but almost twenty years later she is still the only one I really think about when it comes to this movie.

That is unjust however as it goes to the other actors. I am sure plenty have heard all about how “[Ben] Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms yo!” This was early in the game for Affleck, who would go on to have a career of many ups and downs. Currently on an up in his career it would be proper to simply concur with the notion that he “was the bomb” in this movie. Liev Schreiber played a really eerie and pervy side character/sort of villain. I think Schreiber is a good actor but it has always been hard for me to separate him from the character I saw him play in this movie. I was like 14 when I saw this movie and even younger when I read the book. Necrophilia was something I was innocently unaware of and the image of him touching the dead body left an uncomfortable impression on me. It’s a shame because he has achieved so much but no matter what I see him in my mind brings back that sick feeling he gave me in this movie.

Of course, the most important actor in this movie is Peter O’Toole. He played a significant and interesting part in the movie. A great actor notable for being nominated for the Best Actor award multiple times yet never winning. He was terrific in this movie, bringing all, if any, credibility this movie had as a film.

It’s been twenty years, or near enough to not matter, since I read the book this movie was based on. I remember that it was rather interesting and actually scared me despite myself. I didn’t like the movie as much, obviously, and there were casting issues I had problems with but don’t remember. That happens with all adaptations for readers though, sometimes we can’t separate from the characters we create in our minds. What I remember the most is simply how much more to the story there was in the book. I realized when I watched this for the first time that had I not read the book I may not have understood much of this as the story got started. There was a defining substance missing from this movie as it got started and as the scenes progressed. Like watching cliff notes to a larger story. It was interesting to see certain scenes on screen but far too much of the story was rushed through with no substance behind it. I remember how I felt after watching this movie and it’s a lesson that left an impression on me.

No movie, regardless how well done, can ever serve as a true adaptation to a book. Even when the greatest of efforts are made there is no way to simply convey the same kind of emotional impact you receive from letting the story build within your own mind. It takes patience to read, but patience can be the most rewarding thing there is when you apply it appropriately. I can’t remember much about the book this movie was based on after so long but I remember that it told a much more fulfilling story than the one I saw when I watched the adaptation on screen.

I meant to just write about a horror film when I sat down to do this post, it is Halloween season after all, but here I find myself doing something different all together. Now, what I mainly want to get across is the importance of reading and how film adaptations never measure up. The only exception I will accept is The Godfather (present your argument if you please), otherwise a book offers more than any movie can ever hope to. The Godfather was an incredible adaptation and one of my favorite books and movies of all time. Nevertheless even in that circumstance the book was much better than the film.

Reading is an art that has evolved and changed over the years. I for one still enjoy it the old fashion way, with either newspaper or physical book in hand. When you read the news you have to loudly flip those pages into place, the feeling of that is part of it. Same thing with a book, for me at least, the feeling of holding a book and turning those pages makes all the difference. Not to mention that by reading it you dive so much deeper into the story, and achieve such a higher level of understanding from different points of view.

I’m going to call this a so-so horror film, one that you really don’t appreciate unless you read the book. Otherwise it requires patience to get in to and then to follow through with. Affleck may be “the bomb yo” but this movie is still a rushed through version of a larger story. I want to note that there was a time I liked this movie despite the current mentality wherein which it has become a catalyst for my opportunity to push reading on people. That being said:

Read more books people. Do it the old fashioned way. Buy a book at a bookstore and use your imagination to let an author take you on a ride you will never forget. There are great movies based on books, but not a one of them can ever match up to what was put in print. I love movies most off all but I always try to make time for reading no matter the content. Be it A Brief History of Time or Game of Thrones, there are lessons to be learned and I prefer to learn them with book in hand and my mind building the story as I go. It’s a physical thing that drives the lesson or entertainment home. If you have made it this far you obviously aren’t opposed to reading. You should be spending this time with a real author. A writer who can make you question yourself and teach you something all in the same sentence. They are out there, and they are waiting to inspire you.

This movie offers some good scenes here and there but more or less doesn’t measure up to what it was based on. I think if you are looking for something scary during this Halloween weekend you can definitely do better than this one.