Posts Tagged ‘horror’

Thoughts on “Christine”

May 12, 2022

A long time ago, when I was a kid, I read a few Stephen King novels either as part of or as what started me having a minor interest in horror (I always preferred science fiction and fantasy, though).  “Salem’s Lot” gave me nightmares, but I also read “Christine” and enjoyed it.  I have never actually watched the movie though — at least, not as far as I can recall — and so was wondering how this movie would stack up to what I remembered from the book.

The basis premise here is that high school loser Arnie gets obsessed with buying and fixing up an old car called “Christine” that seems to have a mind of its own.  As things progressed, Arnie only gets more and more obsessed with the car, and people who try to hurt him or the car start dying, killed by the car which seems to be driving around and doing that on her own, which prompts his best friend Dennis and Arnie’s girlfriend Leigh to try to kill the car and potentially save Arnie from it.

Now, as I’ve commented before the issue with adapting Stephen King works is that the plot isn’t what drives them, but instead the internal thoughts and ideas and relationships of and among the characters.  It’s really difficult to adapt that, especially in something that isn’t a miniseries (and “The Stand”, despite having the length for that, didn’t manage to really succeed at that either).  This really hits this movie hard, because the relationships that are necessary to make this really work aren’t present.  We get that Dennis and Arnie are friends and that Dennis stands up for Arnie, but there isn’t time in the movie to show that relationship breaking down so that Dennis is willing to at least risk Arnie dying as he tries to kill “Christine”.  We also don’t get to see Arnie and Leigh ever interacting as a real, happy and normal couple and so don’t have any reason to think that she is that much in love with him and never get to see him changing from the guy she liked to the guy obsessed with Christine, which I recall we did get in the book.

Another thing that this impacts is the ending.  I recall the ending feeling epic, as it was a much more tense and lengthy battle between Dennis in a truck or machine or something vs the self-repairing Christine, where his damaged leg actually caused him issues in trying to make it all work.  But more importantly it was the culmination of all the relationships and notes.  If I recall correctly, Arnie calls the two of them “shitters” at one point, which wasn’t an insult that he had used before the car — suggesting that he was adopting the personality traits of the previous owner — and shows that he’s completely lost and cannot be saved (actually, I can’t remember if in the book he died in the final scene, but I suspect he did).  Here, the scene is short, Leigh is the one most generally in danger, and there are only a few short scenes with the loader battling Christine, and Arnie’s insult is rather pathetic by comparison.  Again, for what should have been an utterly epic scene and a culmination of all that had gone on before, it’s a rather anti-climactic climax.

Which made me ponder something about these adaptations (and possibly why they are often so poorly received).  Given the extra things that King puts in his works, it would often seem like someone who had read the books is going to be disappointed when the movie doesn’t — or in most cases can’t — include them.  So the movie is going to seem shallow and disappointing because of that, and so isn’t going to appeal to fans of King’s works.  But I wondered if for people who hadn’t read the work if there would feel like there was something missing and that there was something more to all of these things that they and/or the movie is missing somehow.  This, then, would mean that it would be difficult to find an audience for these things, as fans of the original work will be disappointed at what was left out but would understand how those things fed into the overall plot and characterization, while someone who hadn’t read the original work wouldn’t be disappointed in what the adaptation would leave out but wouldn’t get why the elements that were left were important or meaningful.  I don’t think it should come as much of a surprise that the longer ones (“Rose Red”, “The Stand”, “It”) are the ones that were better received, because they had more time to bring in more elements that might in general seem to be asides or irrelevant but that in a King work actually establish important things that add to the overall feel of the work and the characters and plot elements.

Given that, this is another movie that I could watch again but probably won’t watch again anytime soon.  It manages to kill a couple of hours and my having even a hazy context from having read the book makes it better than some others, but even my constantly comparing it to what I remembered from the book disappointed me enough that I don’t feel inclined to watch it again or look on it fondly.

Thoughts on “Sleepwalkers”

May 5, 2022

While I didn’t remember it, it turns out that I had seen this movie before, a long time ago.  I’m not sure when, but if I had to guess I’d guess that it was on when I had a horror channel as part of my cable subscription and I had it on and half-paid-attention to it while doing other things.  Because I remember parts of it but not all of it.

At any rate, this is another Stephen King adaptation, and it has some familiar names in it, as Brian Krause (Leo from “Charmed”) and Madchen Amick (from “Twin Peaks”) in it, and I also recognize Alice Krige’s voice, but am not sure from where.  The basic premise is that a mother and son pair of supernatural creatures have moved from something like California to somewhere in the Midwest, but since at least she seems to require the life energy of virgins to survive they are going to have to kill someone else soon and then probably leave, and Amick’s Tanya is the candidate they’ve chosen.  They also are quite … intimate with each other, which the movie makes quite clear.

The big problem with this movie is that it is way too short and also a bit sensationalist, which works against its themes.  From the start, there’s a hint that these creatures are more monstrous than evil, in that they seem to have normal feelings and a desire for a normal, loving life but that the need to kill young people — generally women — and the fact that cats are their enemies and will hunt them down where ever they go means that they are forced to adopt a nomadic existence for their entire, eternal lives.  In the initial scene, we see the remnants of their last kill — which features an appearance by Mark Hamill — and it doesn’t look like she was violently killed or tormented, but even managed to keep the rose in her hair that the couple gives to Tanya later.  And his approach to her seems to be romantic and he even seems to be scoping her out in order to assess her personality for a more romantic approach which then ends in her being drained of life.  He even writes a story talking about the loneliness of their existence that would be meant to make us feel for them, which again would seem to work to make them non-humans with a what we at least would consider a monstrous nature than things that are actually evil.

This clashes badly, however, with how he first tries to suck the life out of Tanya.  He does so in an entirely brutal and tormenting way, physically assaulting her and taunting and tormenting her all through it, abandoning any of the seduction techniques that he was using beforehand.  This is only the more puzzling because do that actually makes doing that more difficult.  He needs to suck it out through her mouth, and starting it while kissing her and then merely holding her there when she realizes it would have worked better, and any additional violence could have been something he was driven to.  But all of a sudden he becomes utterly sadistic in all ways — even to killing the cop — for absolutely no reason.  While things like him and his mother clearly having a sexual relationship are a bit squicky, those sorts of things could be presented as them having a completely inhuman way of looking at the world, but that it would make sense (especially given that he doesn’t seem really sexually interested in humans and that’s the only sort of true romantic/sexual relationship he can have).  And the sadism here could have worked if they had taken a little bit of time to establish that they needed the victim to be in pain to get the proper sort of energy (a concept that was used in “Doctor Sleep”).  But it just comes out of nowhere and is never explored, and so comes across more as an attempt to add more “horror” and/or action to the plot (like the long car chase scene with the cop).

Thus, we lose any idea that these might be more interesting or sympathetic “monsters” as opposed to simple evil murderers, and they are too incompetent for us to believe that they’ve been doing things this way for so long.  The way he brutally assaults the girl and how he doesn’t do a good enough job at handling her means that they most likely would have to move around so much more because they draw unwelcome attention to themselves through carelessness than that they are quite careful but they can’t keep something like this hidden forever.  This, then, leaves the ending as more of a standard horror movie ending than the first part of the movie might suggest.  And the action scenes aren’t all that interesting and I really would have preferred a longer sequence of him drawing her into the web and so for a more suspenseful movie than what we got.

Thus, the movie is a bit disappointing.  It’s too short for the elements it hints at and then mostly abandons them at the end, and the only saving grace is that Tanya is sympathetic and so we at least want her to live at the end, but the action scenes — especially the car chase — and the bit at the beginning that tells us that they kill and drain people were extraneous and not needed.  As such, again this is a movie that I could watch again, but probably won’t watch again any time soon.

Final Thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft

May 3, 2022

So, a while ago I had bought and started reading the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft.  And by a while ago I mean about six years.  I had been reading a little at a time and got about halfway through before getting distracted by other things and dropping it.  I had always intended to come back to it, and when I put a push on reading and watching some of the classics it started gnawing at me again.  So when I bailed on doing any kind of programming or writing projects in January, I decided to pick it up and slot it into that timeslot.  And then when I reshuffled things in preparation for returning to working from the office in September I found a lot to read it and other things like that in (while I was going to be doing laundry, specifically).  And doing that, I managed to get all the way through it and figured I should comment on it to wrap it up.

The second half of the collection tended to be more novels and novellas and longer short stories than the first half was, and I’m someone who likes longer works better than shorter ones most of the time, so this did work better for me.  And what really struck me in these works is how evocative Lovecraft can be.  He describes the places and situations and even people in a lot of detail making it clear just how odd and creepy these things are.  The plots tend to be less involved — and when they are, they can drag — but a lot of his works really are just people going around and discovering horrors that they couldn’t even imagine existed.  This makes them really work, as I noted in the discussion of the first third linked above, as documentary-style works, which are the sorts of things that I really love, and his attention to detail really pays off in works of that style.  About the biggest complaint I can make about that is that he often even tries to “transcribe the accents” of some of the people who relate stories, even to the extent of doing it while noting it in their letters, which can make those things difficult to read, especially since the rest of the work isn’t in that style and so we can’t get used to reading that style.  Since most of his stories are first-person accounts, he could easily have that be summarized instead of directly quoted, and I don’t think that the added verisimilitude adds enough to the story to be worth the effort, especially since struggling to parse the Old English or accented text can break someone out of the setting and story and ruin the effect that Lovecraft’s evocative text can evoke.

I also noted that stylistically the novels and novellas share a lot in common with Bram Stoker’s non-Dracula novels, and so they seem to definitely fit into the same sort of horror style, at least broadly.  However, Lovecraft is a lot better at doing the sorts of descriptions and relating the events than Stoker is, and his plots seem to fit better and work to get across what he wants to get across than was true for Stoker.

I will briefly touch on potential issues with racism and sexism that people have complained about in Lovecraft.  I may perhaps be the wrong person to talk about this, but it doesn’t seem to me to be all that much of an issue.  There may be some elements that seem off — one notable case was that one of the villains complained about being in a female body instead of a superior man’s — but in most cases those things are not argued for or even considered right and proper, but are just there.  Discussions of slavery and the like in general don’t claim that it is right that black people be enslaved, just that they are or were at the time, and even cases where someone is advocating for it — like the “woman” mentioned above — it is ultimately revealed that they are not reliable sources for that information, and nothing in the work actually ever advocates for that or proves that view to be correct.  So I think that most people should be able to get through the works without being particularly bothered by any racist or sexist elements in it.

And, ultimately, I found the works pretty entertaining.  They in general know what they want to do and do it quite well, and mix in at least some horror with the far more prevalent insanity that the works seem to be more striving for.  And, as noted, I really like the documentary/testimony style, and Lovecraft has the ability to describe things in such a way to make that sort of style interesting.  While I may have a hard time finding time to fit in another 1000 pages to read, I will likely attempt to read this again at some point.

Next on my list is the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I’ve already started.  However, in my first attempt at it I read one play in an hour and a half of reading, which is probably reasonable for a play but means that it will take me a long time to get through it (close to a year, by my estimate, based on my existing schedule).

Thoughts on “Bag of Bones”

April 28, 2022

I had run a bit low on individual horror movies to watch but had a big stack of series to watch — which is why I watched the “Scream” series — and while I now have picked up a bunch of new individual movies I decided that I’d make an effort to get through all of the Stephen King inspired movies that I have.  The issue with them, of course, is that some of them are rather long, as they’re more TV miniseries than simple movies, which is why I put watching that on pause after watching “Stand By Me” about two and a half years ago.  I just didn’t have the time to watch the next movie, which was a two-part miniseries that thus was almost three hours long.  However, I found the time and made the effort to finally watch “Bag of Bones”.

The basic premise is this:  a popular writer is wrapping up his latest work, and he insists that he can only do it with his wife and always gets her to write the last line.  She’s also been doing some work on an inherited home he has that he doesn’t care as much for as she does.  At any rate, she dies in an accident which, obviously, devastates him.  He also discovers after that that she was pregnant, despite the fact that he has a low-sperm count and so it is unlikely that it is his.  Thus, he suspects that he was cheating on her.  He also seems to feel her presence and feels that she is talking to him through the phone ringing, and he starts asking her questions with the code of “once for yes, twice for no”.  He eventually decides to go to the town and find out what happened, and meets a young woman with a young child that he is interested in — and feels that he was guided to in some sense by his wife — but it turns out that the town hides a dark secret that is directly related to his family, as a group of long-term and respected members of the town have killed their daughters by drowning them when they were children, and there seems to be some kind of vengeful spirit who disturbs him and smashes things up.

The big flaw in this movie is that what is actually happening isn’t established until fairly late.  While we get hints through the music and some minor scenes we don’t know that the spirit is even a jazz singer until into we are into the second part, and so don’t get any real hints about what is or might be going on until then.  That’s over an hour and a half into the work, which is far too long to go without getting hints as to what the real story is.  Before that, all we have is the wife’s death and the wife’s cheating storyline, and there isn’t enough mystery in what she was doing to carry the suspense and horror for that long.  Things happen, but we don’t know how it all fits together until later, but the movie doesn’t really do anything to make us curious about what is going on.  Which means that what has to carry us through are the performances, and Pierce Brosnan does a good job with his role, but it’s only enough to keep the movie from being boring, not enough to make it interesting.

This is only made worse by the fact that they don’t use the “once for yes, twice for no” mechanism all that well.  For every question that he asks her, she answers “Yes”, which means that we and he can have no idea if that mechanism is there or understood or even works.  What could have been done was that earlier when he mentioned that he was going back to the town she could have, after he left the room, rang twice for “No”, indicating that the mechanism did work and that there was something dangerous in the town.  Once he went there, she could then have decided to take the opportunity to get him to solve the mystery and end the curse, with the “No” being a momentary weakness in fear of his being lost like the others.  This would have added to the suspense as we would have had a clear indication from the beginning that things definitely weren’t right and safe there and so we’d spend more time wondering what that is.

The situation and curse itself is a bit flawed, at least in the movie.  It turns out that his grandfather and some friends — with the wealthiest guy in town being the ringleader — raped a black jazz singer and then when her daughter saw it happen murdered them both, drowning the little girl.  Before she was murdered but after her daughter was, the singer cursed them and their descendants to experience the same thing she did and so to murder their own daughters.  This has carried on through a couple of generations, but he escaped it because he couldn’t have children.  But on returning to the town he meets the daughter-in-law and granddaughter of the wealthy man, who is trying to take custody of the little girl after his son died, and it turns out that the daughter-in-law killed him when he was trying to kill the little girl.  The wealthy man seemingly wants to kill the little girl as well, and then ends up trying to make him responsible for the little girl so that he would kill the little girl.  He resists and sets out to end the curse, and with his wife’s help finds and dissolves the bodies with lyme, ending the curse.  The wealthy man killed himself earlier for … some reason, and his dedicated servant and likely lover then also tries to kill the little girl, but the writer kills her and pretty much adopts the child — the wealthy man had the daughter-in-law killed to seemingly facilitate the writer taking responsibility and killing her — and so we think that they’re home and free although that they are going for a boat ride might hint that it’s not over.

The first problem with this is that given the backstory resolving the curse by destroying the bodies of the singer and the little girl seems a bit mean.  They were murdered and buried in a way so that they simply disappeared so that no one would remember them, and instead of discovering them, have them be buried and recognized in death and having the crimes committed against them brought to light the main characters instead make it so that no one could ever know what happened to them or give them a proper burial.  This is something that you do to an enemy horror villain, not a sympathetic one like the singer and her daughter.  Yes, the curse was horrific and in the case of the descendants unjust, but their story is sympathetic enough that we really want to see her redeemed by understanding that she’s doing the same horrific and unjust thing to the other little girls instead of having to “defeat” her.

The second problem with it is that the wealthy man is far too much of a designated villain to work, as we don’t really understand why in the world he’s so obsessed with killing off the little girl, even to the point of trying to arrange it so that the writer does it.  If the curse was set-up so that the family of each of the original culprits had to kill one daughter to end it, then it all could have been an attempt to get him back to do his part and end the curse, which would explain most of what happened.  Then it would make sense for him to do what he did, and the killing of the daughter could even have been a last minute move when he sees the opportunity to end the curse, adding something to the simple custody battle that it started with.  As for why his own son would have tried to kill his daughter, the curse could have been that they were doomed to do that through the generations until there was one from each line, and again his family had avoided it and so the curse couldn’t end.  Then when he ends it another way the difference is in how it’s ended, and not just that it’s ended, making a point about morality and ends and means.

The other issue is that the final attempt to kill the girl by the servant/lover is pointless and adds nothing to it.  The movie was already long at that point and adding that irrelevant scene does not help.

The usual issue with Stephen King adaptations is that they’re too short to do what they need to do to make this work, as King tends to add a lot of internal thoughts and the like which makes things more interesting but can’t be done well in a movie.  Length is not the problem here, but the fact that there really isn’t enough plot to fill out three hours is an issue.  That’s why very little happens in the first part and we only start to find out what’s going on in the second part.  Now, it might be the case that that’s all the plot in the novel, but as noted above King’s plots can be a bit thin because of the additional things he adds to the work that keep the reader’s interest that don’t translate well to a movie.  Here, there is little of those additional character- and setting-building elements but the plot is not fleshed out to account for that and the long running time.  So, again, not much happens which leaves only the performances to focus on.

And the performances are good, but only good enough to make it tolerable, not interesting.  As such, this is something that I might watch again at some point but am not likely to rewatch any time soon.

Thoughts on “The Leprechaun’s Curse”

April 21, 2022

When I came across this, I actually thought that it was an attempt to revive the “Leprechaun” series of horror movies giving the titular leprechaun a changed appearance.  Since I had watched and talked about that series, and since it was cheap, I decided that it would definitely be worth picking it up and watching it.  The reasons I thought it was part of the series were that the title font looked similar to what the original series had used and the main plot about someone inheriting an estate from a gold dealer who seemed to be using the leprechaun’s gold for things was one that would fit the original series and would be an interesting way to revive it.  However, it turns out that this isn’t an attempt to continue that series, but is instead a low-budget British production that plays off of a similar theme.

The first thing to note about this movie is that the leprechaun looks really, really bad.  Leprechauns are generally depicted as being small, and this leprechaun is taller than pretty much anyone else in the movie, so it gets off to a bad start right away.  Second, the make-up is more a cheap version of what you’d see for monsters like Freddy from “Nightmare on Elm Street” instead of something you’d expect to see in a leprechaun.  And finally, the leprechaun pretty much minces around the screen in a way that looks incredibly stupid and makes no sense.  Add in that the voice is heavily distorted and we have a main villain that’s more unintentionally laughable than really scary.

Now, in the other leprechaun movies having a smaller villain meant that the deaths had to be more creative and even playful, which would allow them to stand out from more standard horror movies.  Here with a leprechaun that’s more normal physically they could actually go back to having more physical deaths.  However, they ended up giving him magic and using that to kill people, which works for a leprechaun but then makes the leprechaun being more normal physically seem even more out of place.  And then they do try for more physical kills, such as the leprechaun carrying a knife and stabbing someone through the eye with a high heel shoe.  The magical deaths aren’t that interesting — it’s basically drowning and suffocating — and the physical deaths aren’t all that creative.  There are some small pranks that happen early on but the movie and the leprechaun aren’t all that playful.

It’s also unclear what the leprechaun’s deal and motives are.  The main plot is that it wants its gold back, which is the standard plot for these things.  And yet even when people offer or even do give it its gold back or promise to do that, the leprechaun still wants to kill them anyway, because it seems to take souls for … some reason.  This aspect only clutters up the work and fits badly with what happens because it makes the leprechaun way too much of a villain for having a backstory of trying to get revenge on thieves.  It actually works really poorly here because the woman who inherited the estate didn’t know anything about the leprechaun or the gold, and her friends don’t either, so it demanding that they give back its gold or it will kill them is ridiculous since they, well, don’t know what happened to it.  This makes the leprechaun seem like a bit of a doofus who has no idea what’s going on despite seemingly claiming that it does (and having the ability to observe what people were doing and so know that they weren’t involved).  Given the personalities involved, a threat to kill people unless they find its gold and offing people every so often to punctuate the point would have worked a lot better, as some of the deaths then could have been the result of them trying to defeat the leprechaun to end the threat and then the ending of finding and returning the gold but killing it so that they could keep it would have made more sense, instead of seeming completely fortuitous and mostly irrelevant to the story.

The movie also raises a number of points that it never pays off, which is never good in a relatively short movie (this one comes in at about an hour and a half).  The woman inherits it from her father, supposedly, but her brother is the one who hid the gold from the leprechaun and is killed early on.  This wouldn’t be a problem, but it introduces a wrinkle that was unnecessary, and the worst part about it is that her father died when she was young and she was raised by her stepmother, and has issues about wanting to know what her father was like, and also has a potentially interesting relationship with her stepmother who isn’t her real mother but has raised her.  Nothing is done with this potential conflict.  In addition, when the pranks and notes start they suspect that one of her friends is doing it because she had been dating the woman’s boyfriend before they started dating — or, at least, the friend was interested in him first — and so is doing it out of revenge (which is stupid in and of itself, because the first thought should have been someone who had an issue with the brother or even the housekeeper instead of her friend).  However, they also show in a couple of scenes the friend and the boyfriend making out, and the woman catches them at it at one point, and all of this … goes nowhere.  It doesn’t even tie into the boyfriend’s death.  So why even raise it in a movie this short?  All of these things make the movie actually drag at times in a way that it wouldn’t or that would feel better if they were paid off at the end, which they aren’t.

At the end, the stepmother and woman defeat the leprechaun — she offers it a kiss and spits a protective four-leaf clover amulet in its … mouth? … killing it — and they take the gold and go off to start new lives, despite the fact that with all the murders around there they’d probably be main suspects in the deaths.  But, sure, let’s go with that.  Except that the ending drags because they have a long, drawn-out sequence showing this, which can’t work out well because we know that with such a long ending sequence either the leprechaun was going to show up again or else it would just be a terribly long and boring ending.  So it does, and despite taking lots of time showing their life here they end it on the typical “cliffhanger” ending where after the leprechaun seemingly kills the stepmother he attacks the woman and the movie ends there, which is an incredibly disappointing way to end it in an ending that drags out that long.  If they had made it a longer fight and she came out of it at the end then it would at least have justified being that long a sequence, but they didn’t need to take that long to get to that sort of ending and the things that happen in the ending are, again, pointless and don’t add anything and are not paid off.

As you might imagine, this isn’t a very good movie.  It sets up things it doesn’t need and doesn’t resolve, has an unimpressive villain with an unimpressive villainous plot and unimpressive killings, and drags out most of the movie especially the ending, which is actually quite impressive given how short it is.  This is going into my box of movies to sell when I get the chance.

Thoughts on “Scream 4”

April 14, 2022

After watching the first three movies, I found a pack that contained all four movies, but wasn’t sure that I wanted to buy the first three again to get the fourth one.  And then I found the fourth one in a discount shelf for a lot lower price and got it so that I could watch what is presumably all of them.

This movie returns to the more direct self-awareness and parody of the first one, opening with the openings from “Stab”, the in-universe version of the movie and bringing back the movie buffs as more important characters who get to talk about these things again.  However, those characters end up having the movie pat itself on the back more as they talk about remakes trying to outdo the first movie and so being bigger and aiming to be unpredictable.  This is only the more ironic given that the movie seems to end up doing what I chide most remakes for doing:  capturing the form of the original movie while missing the heart of it that made it so good the first time.  Yes, there is self-awareness but it’s too obvious and on the nose and even overdone (they do something like three openings to make the “Stab” joke which is (ahem) overkill), and the overall plot isn’t all that interesting and isn’t all that well-developed but doesn’t come across as deliberately vague either.

I will say that in comparison to “The Birthday Cake” the movie really uses well-known actors well.  Lucy Hale of “Pretty Little Liars” is in the first death sequence, and I recognized Kristen Bell in the second, but Hayden Pantierre gets more screen time and so isn’t just a waste of a well-known name.  I’m not sure if Emma Roberts counts as “well-known” at the time of this movie, but she puts in a wonderful performance as the purported victim who might not be one at all and is another name that I recognized and also have made a bit of a mistake of buying something because she was in it.

Ultimately, “Scream 4” strikes me as a shallow copy of “Scream”, aiming for the same sort of ideas and themes and mood and presentation as “Scream” but not pulling it off anywhere near as well.  Still, it works as a movie in that series as we can follow familiar protagonists around, and so would be worth rewatching while rewatching the entire series.  Since that’s true for “Scream 2” and “Scream 3” as well, where this movie and those movies go depends entirely on how I feel about “Scream”.  And, yeah, “Scream” is good enough to watch again, so they all go into my closet of movies to rewatch again at some point when I get around to it.  “Scream” was good and somewhat innovative, and the others are not as good and not as innovative but are enjoyable enough in the context of the first movie.

Thoughts on “Scream 2”

March 31, 2022

I’m continuing on from watching and commenting on the original “Scream” to the sequel “Scream 2”.  The basic premise here is that the movie of “Scream” has been released based on a book by the reporter from the first movie, but once it’s released a killer starts killing under the guise of the murderers from the first movie.  Meanwhile, Sydney — the heroine from the first movie, played by Neve Campbell — is trying to get on with her life and having a killer from her past start killing people and her friends and taunting her and trying to kill her is indeed getting in the way of that.

The big thing about this movie is that it tones done both the humour and the winking-at-the-camera and parody of the first movie.  There are some elements of this — comments on how sequels always suck in a film studies class, for example — but they aren’t anywhere near as prominent as they were in the first movie.  About the best scene that combines both, though, is in the ending, where the killers are revealed to be the mother of one of the killers from the first movie and the guy she tricked into helping her, and Sydney and the reporter both note that she comes out of nowhere and the movie gave no indication that she was the mother of one of the killers and that she doesn’t really look like what the mother of the killer was supposed to look like (presumably, as I didn’t go back to check).  They make a direct reference to “Friday the 13th” where the killer was Jason’s mother and that movie also gave absolutely no clue that such a person existed, let alone that the killer was Jason’s mother up until the “big reveal”, and both movies also utterly unconcerned about that and don’t seem to expect anyone to care (“Friday the 13th” because its structure was such that it didn’t matter and that who the killer was wasn’t really a mystery, “Scream 2” because it’s good for some self-referential humour).  Since I really liked the approach in “Friday the 13th”, I enjoyed the callback to it.  But those callbacks are less frequent and less clever than they were in the first movie.

Beyond that, the rest of the movie is mostly unremarkable, except for one oddity:  I found myself, at times, getting bored during the action scenes.  This is not at all normal.  In general, I might find that the movie is dragging in the exposition or character points, or if the tense parts drag on for too long, but in general once someone is actively under threat from the killer or killers I should at least not be bored, especially when the person being attacked is the heroine from the first movie that I don’t want to see die.  I’m not sure why that happened, but it does seem like the scenes, well, simply dragged on too long.  Yeah, the killer is trying to kill the person, but it seems to be taking too long for that to be resolved one way or the other.  I wonder if the tropiness of the movie was responsible for this, since the movie is pretty much built on tropes and so there weren’t really any surprises over who would die and who would live, and the movie like the first one made a point of reminding us that this was a movie that was following the tropes.  Add in that the action portions of the movie did seem to be longer than they were in the first movie — the first movie did more building of suspense and more flashes to ironic contrast scenes — and we have scenes where we know what the outcome will be that are longer than normal but that aren’t actually any more interesting from an action perspective.  The killer isn’t killing the people in a particularly interesting way, nor do the victims defend themselves in a particularly interesting way, nor is the action used in a way to parody horror movies or horror movie tropes, so the scenes are just … longer, to no real benefit.  And ultimately that ends up boring me at times.

That being said, though, the movie isn’t bad.  Compared to some of the other horror movies that I’ve been watching, it generally works and seems to still have an at least rough idea of what it wants to do and does it competently.  As I’ve said in the past, that’s enough to turn it into a movie that I will put in the closet to rewatch, and so it’s going to end up there and would even if it wasn’t already in the same pack with “Scream”.  I wouldn’t call it classic and it’s not as unique nor does it seem as innovative as “Scream”, but for me it works well enough to be worth a rewatch at some point.

Thoughts on “Scream”

March 24, 2022

I have a pack of the first four of the “Scary Movie” movies, and I watch them every so often.  There’s a sharp difference between the original Wayans movies and the later Zuckerman movies, but they work well-enough as a light and goofy parody of horror movies where the horror movie tropes are played entirely for laughs.  What I did know at the time was that the first one, at least, was a parody of “Scream”, which some people noted was odd since “Scream” itself was a parody of horror movies.  However, I have never actually watched any of the “Scream” movies, although as usual I knew things about it that I absorbed from popular culture.  So when I came across a pack of the first three “Scream” movies — I just came across a new pack that has the first four, which I am hesitant to get given that I have the first three already — I decided to pick it up.  It sat in the stack with a bunch of other series that I have (including a bunch of Stephen King adaptations) while I worked my way through my individual movies, but with that stack getting fairly small I figured I should take a break and watch some of the series, and since I had been reminded of it recently (probably when I was thinking about “Party of Five” which is in my stack of TV shows to watch) I figured it would be a great time to watch those movies and finally see them.

The main thing I noticed is that “Scary Movie” really did base their movie on “Scream”, not merely lifting the plot and setting from it but also going through some scenes pretty much word-for-word with some minor jokes and parody added to it.  And in my view this does a disservice to both movies if you’ve watched that one before watching “Scream”.  On the “Scary Movie” end, I came to realize that some of the clever lines and set-ups were entirely lifted from “Scream”, which makes that movie seem much more derivative than it might have originally.  On the “Scream” side, it gives those scenes a sense of “I’ve seen all this before” which makes them seem more dull than they would have otherwise.  Watching “Scream” last dulls a lot of the elements that made “Scary Movie” want to use it as its base in the first place, making it seem less interesting than it would have to those who watched “Scream” without watching “Scary Movie”.

And, of course, “Scary Movie” pretty much spoils the ending, although that didn’t matter so much.

I think that Neve Campbell has the qualities that make for a good horror heroine, as I talked about when I talked about “Saint Maud”.  She’s pretty enough to be sympathetic, but in no way a sexpot, and so she does look like the nice girl-next-door that we in general want to protect and want to see survive the horror happening around them.  Her seeming nice also makes her developing the strength to fight back more satisfying.  So, yes, she’s a very good fit for this movie and works well in it, although at times her delivery can be a bit stilted.

While “Scream” is noted for being a bit of a parody, I don’t think it really is a parody, at least in the sense of making fun of or trying to get us to laugh at or find ridiculous the horror movie tropes.  There are some scenes where it does that — such as with the janitor named Fred dressed like Freddy Krueger — but for the most part the movie remains pretty serious with some minor joke scenes, which is pretty much how horror movies from that era worked.  What I’d say about it, though, is that it less parodies the tropes than it relies a lot on self-awareness, directly referencing the tropes while playing them mostly straight.  For example, in one of the phone calls the Sydney talks about disliking horror movies because of the stupid things the characters do, like running up the stairs instead of running out the door, and then soon after the killer attacks her and she runs up the stairs … but she couldn’t get the front door unlocked in time and didn’t have anywhere else she could run, so it’s justified.  There are far more of these sorts of moments where they reference the tropes but then end up playing them straight and taking everything seriously that it doesn’t work as any kind of humour parody despite the times when they directly attempt to make the scenes funny, but the self-aware humour is actually funny without making the movie itself seem ridiculous or asking the audience to not take things seriously.  The movie still wants us to take these things seriously even as it makes us aware that these things are a bit weird.

As such, the movie is pretty good.  The plot is pretty standard and nothing really special, and the performances and characters are again fairly standard, but overall it works and is generally entertaining.  My personal enjoyment of it was hampered by how many scenes I had already seen in “Scary Movie”, but not enough to make it not entertaining.  Compared to a lot of the other horror movies I’ve watched, it’s definitely better than most despite relying on the same ideas and tropes, and the self-awareness adds a dimension that most horror movies lack.  This is a movie that I am likely to watch again at some point.

Thoughts on “Pumpkinhead”

March 17, 2022

I managed to pick up a Collector’s Edition DVD of what I’m sure is the original “Pumpkinhead”, which became a series that I had heard about but which I had never actually watched, although it only spawned four movies making it a bit less of a franchise than some of the others.  Anyway, the original stars Lance Henriksen who was Bishop in “Aliens” and “Alien 3”, which meant that I had a recognizable face from the beginning.  Given that I had heard about it, I was indeed quite interested in seeing how it actually worked out.

The basic premise of the movie is that a small, out of the way town has some sort of monster that can be summoned to deal out vengeance to those who do bad things (it’s later referenced as a Vengeance Demon, but much more slashy and much less ironic than the ones like Anya from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).  At any rate, a group of young people come to the area to practice dirt biking, and stop at the one local store where the owner (Henricksen) and his son are.  The more famous and skilled biker and his girlfriend are presented early on as being irresponsible jerks, but the others are portrayed as being more reasonable, and the girls at least befriend the young son of the owner and their dog.  At any rate, the owner has to go get something to make a delivery, and leaves his son to watch the store, while the dirt bikers go off to practice biking.  The dog runs out into the area where they’re doing that, and the son runs out to get the dog and the others notice too late that the son is going into an area that might be dangerous, and the jerk biker comes over a blind ridge and hits him, which ends up killing him.  He, as per his character, runs away because he’s already in trouble for drinking and driving and other sorts of irresponsible driving things, and his girlfriend goes with him.  For the others, since there’s no phone in the store the more responsible biker — who is I think the brother or cousin of the irresponsible one — says that he’ll stay with the kid while they drive off to where they are staying to call for help.  Before they get there, the owner comes back and finds his son dead, and doesn’t give the guy much time to explain before running off.  He then goes to the customer who needed the thing he went to get, but instead of blaming him at all asks him where to find some sort of witch who can help with things like this.  That guy doesn’t want to help, but his son does and the owner finds the witch who gets him to dig up the vengeance demon and sic it on the young people, who as noted above pretty much just goes out and tries to brutally kill all of them, and the owner seems to share the experiences of the demon as it does so, which causes him to quite quickly regret what he did, and try to stop the demon from completing its task.

The idea of the vengeance demon is interesting, especially given the idea that while the owner wants revenge the people he wants revenge on didn’t really deserve it — it was accidental — and it’s clear that the owner didn’t take the time to understand what happened, and was blinded by his rage and desire for revenge (he at one point comments that they all ran off and left his son, which is absolutely not true for everyone except the irresponsible biker).  Then having him realize this and want to stop the demon and in fact take up arms against it was also interesting, and the fact that the demon itself didn’t seem to in any way know or care about whether these people were innocent or not which implies that it is activated by the original thoughts and not by reality, which ties into the first scene with it at the beginning where the guy being hunted is pleading with someone to let him in and that he didn’t actually do what he’s being punished for, as we can see that maybe that was actually true.  And that a vengeance demon wouldn’t care about justice fits pretty well.

However, the movie stumbles on this point, mostly because it doesn’t really tie much into the idea that the people didn’t deserve their vengeance.  First, it kills off the more sympathetic characters first — including the cousin who stayed behind — instead of killing the ones who were the least sympathetic, like the irresponsible biker and his girlfriend.  While it wouldn’t have done any good, he stops them from calling for help and possibly stopping some of this even though all of the others wanted to, and again the one guy who did stay behind to take responsibility is, again, killed rather early on, along with the girl who tried to bring the kid back and is mentally broken by what happened.  Killing off the more guilty first and then moving on to the more innocent would provide an interesting transition for the audience from us thinking that maybe the people really deserved it and the demon is actually providing some sort of (excessive) justice for their crimes to understanding that it doesn’t care at all about whether they actually deserved any retribution for what they’ve done.  Starting from there makes it clear that this is just a monster.  The second issue is that the owner doesn’t come to realize that the ones who are being killed didn’t deserve to die because they didn’t do anything, but instead seems to come to realize that simply because the experiences he has in his head are too horrific for him to bear.  This, again, fails to properly utilize the idea that this isn’t about any kind of justice but is simply about vengeance, and vengeance itself isn’t actually a good or proper motive for anything, let alone this.  So the most interesting idea here — about the difference between justice and vengeance and the extremes that blind vengeance can lead to — isn’t properly referenced and fleshed out in the movie.

This also, then, makes us wonder what the deal is with the vengeance demon, and the movie doesn’t explain it very well.  It is clear that it is somehow connected to the owner given his visions, but it also doesn’t seem to have any strong connection to him as when he decides that he doesn’t want vengeance anymore and tries to stop the demon it doesn’t stop killing them, and in fact tries to kill him.  So it doesn’t depend on him for its existence nor for the recognition of its targets.  So what does the connection do, exactly?  I can come up with some ideas — one of them being to torment or satisfy the person who summoned it depending on how good or evil they are — but the movie doesn’t really explain this deal at all.  Now, in a movie like this you don’t really need to explain all of that and it’s fine if the explanations were left to potentially later movies, but the elements it does add, again, raise questions that the movie doesn’t answer, which again don’t align with the seeming theme of misplaced and blind vengeance being a bad thing.

That being said, this isn’t a bad movie.  The young people are more sympathetic than you’d expect for people in this sort of movie — except for the irresponsible biker, and even he gets a chance to be somewhat heroic at the end — and the owner himself is sympathetic enough that we can buy his change in attitude, even if it is a bit flubbed.  The pacing is actually pretty good which makes it more entertaining to watch.  But the main issue with it is that the only thing that I found really interesting about it was the vengeance theme that it didn’t really pull off.  The rest of it is simply all right and not particularly interesting in and of itself.  It’s not problematic, but doesn’t really stand out either.

As such, I don’t hate the movie and certainly don’t want to sell it off, but also can’t think of when I’d want to watch it again.  So it’s going to go into the box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point, and is one of those that I’m more likely than average to be tempted to rewatch at some point.  But again the theme didn’t really get addressed properly and everything else is standard and average and so not particularly interesting.

Thoughts on “Saint Maud”

March 10, 2022

So, on the back, the blurbs for this movie are:  “An Unholy Terror”, “Promises Endless Nightmares”, and “An Out-Of-Control Religious Horror Show”.  The front calls it “A Damned Disturbing and Deliciously Dark Experience”.  None of these are actually true about the movie, and yet someone it is supposedly, according to the box, certified “Fresh” on the “Rotten Tomatoes” site, which I have personally never relied on to tell me anything interesting about a movie, which is fortunate, because this isn’t all that great a movie.

The basic premise is that a young woman accepts a job as a caretaker for a terminally ill woman who used to have a dancing career but, obviously, had to give it up when she got sick.  The young woman — the titular Maud — is fairly religious, but is established fairly early on that she became religious after something happened to her while she was working as a nurse in a hospital.  She ends up making it a personal mission to convert her charge to the light, even interfering when her charge is having relations with a rough-type woman.  Her charge seems to be interested in what Maud has to say but ends up mocking her at a party and Maud eventually lashes out and gets fired.  She then has some kind of vision and returns to convince her charge to convert, at which point her charge insults her religion and her belief in it, at which point Maud seemingly sees the charge as being demon possessed and kills her.  She then prays for a bit — in her house — and then goes to a beach to set herself on fire in the hopes of being taken to God, with wording that reminded me, at least, of Joan of Arc.  The end.

The issue here is that pretty much all of the blurbs above suggest that this is a horror movie, and it isn’t.  There is no real supernatural influence at all, despite them hinting at it in early scenes and with the one scene where she has a vision of what is supposed to seem like a supernatural creature encouraging her to do what she ends up doing.  But at that point we’re sure that she’s insane, so it comes across as a hallucination instead of as some supernatural entity getting involved.  The same is true of the scene where the charge talks as if she’s possessed by the devil:  we’re pretty sure that Maud is hallucinating that, especially since the movie seems to show that that is the case.  It could work as a horror/drama movie where it shows someone descending into madness and doing horrible things, but Maud doesn’t really descend into madness and only does really terrible things at the very end, at which point we can see that she’s already been driven insane.  This is not a movie in the vein of “Fatal Attraction” or “Single White Female”.

So it would work best as a straight drama, about a young woman with a tragedy in her past that turns to religion and ultimately gets things terribly, terribly wrong.  But it doesn’t do that either, because we don’t find out what event in her past caused her change in personality in behaviour and don’t get to see that what she’s doing now is just the same sort of thing with a religious veneer, or that it’s a reaction to that.  There are hints of what happened to her in her past that suggest that she’s the way she is because of that, but we never find out how that all happened, and for a straight drama/thriller we really would have needed that.  So it doesn’t seem to work as that either, despite its set-up being far better suited for that sort of movie than the one we got.

Which is a bit of a shame, because one thing they got right is the heroine herself.  Whether she was going to be tormented by supernatural demons or her own personal demons or a combination of both, what we needed was a woman who was attractive but not so attractive that she’d come across as sexy.  In general, in movies like these we need the heroine to be sympathetic and appealing but to be a bit plain when compared to the other characters, especially if there’s going to be a sexual subtext (which there was here).  For the most part, the character has to look pleasant and nice and perhaps even a little innocent — even if they aren’t really — so that we can treat them, basically, like the stereotypical “girl next door”.  If she’s too worldly, then it lends itself more to starting from a cynical character tried of the world, and if she’s too innocent she’s boring and we have a hard time believing that she can summon the will and understanding to fight off the villains.  Maud, here, in terms of looks, presentation and overall attitude fits nicely into the sweet spot for a heroine in this type of movie.  It’s a shame that the movie couldn’t do more with it.

Also, I find the references to religion a bit odd, because religion doesn’t really play a role in this movie at all.  Nothing she does actually follows from her religion, even as she sees it.  She’s clearly insane and it also clearly wasn’t religion that made her so.  The logic of the movie would work just as well following on from her trying to make people’s lives better and getting frustrated when they don’t.  There’s a slight undercurrent of her believing that God had a purpose for her, but the webcomic “The Order of the Stick” actually did that far better than this movie did.  Religion is talked about in this movie but nothing is done with it, so talking about it as if it references that seems odd.  There is a rant by her charge about how Maud is delusional for believing in God, and so some of the more atheistic types might like it for that reason, but again Maud is clearly insane and that character isn’t exactly wise so it doesn’t work as a criticism of religion.  That means that we get no interesting exploration or criticism of religion at all, and so only have the trappings of religion referenced in the movie in a way that’s probably supposed to be meaningful but, ultimately, isn’t meaningful at all.

The movie’s not really a horror movie but seems to be trying too hard to be one to be what it is really suited for, a tragic drama.  The main character is appealing but there’s no plot or characterization to follow, which makes her, and the movie, boring.  This one is going into the box of movies to sell when I get a chance.