Posts Tagged ‘horror’

Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”: Tabby

October 4, 2022

This is the second post on “Pretty Little Liars:  Original Sin”, where I’m going to talk about Tabitha or “Tabby”, a character that I found incredibly annoying and that also didn’t actually manage to use that sort of character for one of the things that that sort of character is usually used for, making her not only an annoying character but even worse a wasted character.

Tabby is the horror aficionado of the group, and since this is a horror movie this would make her the Genre Savvy character of the group.  In general, what we’ve seen these characters used for is to lampshade the horror tropes — especially the ones that don’t really make sense without being lampshaded — or to use their Genre Savvyness to provide exposition, or to use that to break the Fourth Wall and address the audience as a horror movie audience or even to provide red herrings as they talk about how all of the things that are happening map to horror movie tropes and so they predict what will happen next by that, only to have the work subvert the tropes and do something completely different.  The movie that I most remember doing this was the explicit horror movie parody in the original “Scream”.

Tabby does not do any of this.  Instead, her horror movie knowledge is pretty much only used to have her make fairly constant references to horror movies as part of her everyday life.  Thus, she doesn’t save them for the instances where they fit into the work itself and so it really comes across as her being someone who is a bit of a poseur, dropping these references into her speech to show off how much she knows about horror movies despite the references not being all that deep or obscure or showing any real insight or in-depth knowledge of horror movies.  Such a person and thus such a character is, of course, just incredibly annoying, especially to people who know a bit more about the topic than the average person does.  However, it only gets worse when you realize that the purpose for her character doing that is not to allow the character to show off her knowledge, but in line with the other references in the show it’s really for the writers to show off their knowledge … which only reveals that their knowledge of horror is not all that deep.  So the character is not used to its proper purpose, and instead is left as a vehicle for shallow references that are meant to impress but end up just annoying people due to their shallowness and frequency.

This carries over to the film class that is perhaps her biggest plot point.  From the start, she is given a list of movie scenes that she can film, and she immediately complains that it doesn’t feature modern scenes or scenes from progressive movies like “Get Out” (which she gets shown as a double feature with “Us” at the movie theatre where she works).  This is the sort of thing that Kat from “Ten Things I Hate About You” did, and it’s just as annoying as it was there, except that here they don’t have a black teacher to push back on all the things from other groups that were left out as well.  This leaves them clear to try to present the teacher as being obstructive and conservative, except they blow that as well.  When Tabby complains about the list, the teacher says that this was the list that the staff and the school board agreed to in a way that suggests that he wasn’t happy about it either.  Maybe he still wouldn’t have put her preferred scenes or movies on the list, but it does seem like he wanted other things on the list that were put aside because they might have been too controversial.  Later, when she wants to do another scene that he thinks might be problematic, he listens to her explanation of why she wants to do it and agrees to let her do it, only to have the principal overrule it because it cleaves too close to discussion of rape and so might be controversial and inappropriate.  And yet on at least a couple of occasions the group complains that the teacher is the one who doesn’t want to allow it when every scene with him suggests that he’s more on Tabby’s side than he’s able to admit, and no one ever defends him in any way.  That only makes Tabby and the girls look worse.

And, of course, Tabby’s supposedly really incredible ideas tend to show a lack of understanding of the movies she’s talking about in the first place.  For her first scene, she traces a line of objectification in horror movies from “Scream” all the way back to the originator in “Psycho”.  To start with, “Scream” was a horror parody and while I don’t really remember a scene that would be similar to the shower scene in “Psycho” if there was such a scene it would have been parodied and lampshaded, and so at least not intentionally a scene that added to the objectification of women.  And the reason I see this as a shallow interpretation is because given the parodies that followed it “Scream” is indeed seen as being a more standard horror movie, but everyone with any deeper knowledge of the series knows that it was always a parody.  But, of course, for me making the shower scene in “Psycho” the paradigm of objectification is getting the movie entirely wrong.  A case could be made that it was one of the first scenes and one of the most famous scenes that in some way mixed sexuality and horror, but the character was clearly not objectified and while it was a violent scene it wasn’t a slasher scene either.  And what makes it worse is her supposedly wonderful scene is to shift the male gaze to the female gaze by inverting Marion Crane and Norman Bates, putting him into the shower and having Marion kill Norman.  Again, the scene isn’t about that sort of “gaze”, but even if it was what her inversion of the scene misses is that at the time of the killing it wasn’t the male Norman who killed Marion, but instead was the female of Norman’s mother.  The scene is specifically shot to say that it was Norman’s mother, as is the aftermath, and we only find out that it was really Norman at the end, and even then it’s made clear that at the time Norman really was his mother.  So this isn’t a real inversion at all and so doesn’t actually say anything meaningful about the scene.  Moreover, the entire theme she was going for is one that has been done before and so isn’t as original as she seems to think.  If she had instead inverted the scene where it’s Norman and Marion talking in the dinner scene and her luring him in to the shower to kill him, that at least would have been a somewhat interesting inversion of the original scene — with her being the killer and him an innocent — even if that had been done before.  And her later scene is no more original or logical (even as it’s less memorable, since I don’t really remember it).  So all this shows is that Tabby does not really understand horror movies as well as she thinks she does.

Now, they could have actually run with this in a couple of ways.  One way to do that would actually have worked in her rape plotline, since we are first introduced to that during her first scene, and show that the reason these are so shallow is because her main purpose — mostly subconsciously — is to work through her issues with the rape as opposed to doing a really good horror story, and so she is really rationalizing those relations to justify doing what she wants to do.  This would make the rape plot relevant and justify showing it where she did.  The other way would be to show that she really is a poseur.  Have it be the case that her (absent) father liked horror movies, and while she didn’t really like them she watched them to share something with him, which left her with a shallow but expansive knowledge of events in horror movies.  Talking about this after he was gone gave her something that most people — let alone most girls — couldn’t talk about and so made her special.  But it wasn’t what she really wanted to do, and in line with her (also annoying) penchant for spouting progressive buzzwords it was really the case that she wanted to do and wanted to watch more progressive works, but felt that she needed to follow on with her “horror” theme.  This would also be justified by arguing that the reason she likes “Get Out” and “Us” is not because they are incredibly good horror movies (which I, at least, didn’t think true of the former) but is more because of the progressive ideas they deliberately try to espouse (which I think might be why so many critics like them).  At the end, she could realize this and still like horror for the closeness it gave her to her father while understanding that both in her personality and in her artistic sentiments she’s really more into progressive works than horror works.

Tabby is a horror aficionado who doesn’t know very much about horror, and a creative artist who is neither creative nor artistic, and so all she really does is spout progressive buzzwords and make shallow horror movie references, both in the most annoying way possible.  A character that could have done so much for the show ends up being one that does nothing for the show except annoy the audience.  Or, at least, me.

Thoughts on “Psycho”

September 29, 2022

This movie made for an interesting watch, because it contains one of the most famous twists in cinematic history … so, of course, I knew what that twist was going on.  So I wasn’t going to be surprised by the twist at all, and so knew what was really going on with Norman Bates from the start and how things were going to end for the ostensible main character.  So essentially it was like rewatching a movie and so being able to look for all the clues to the twist without ever having really watched the movie and so not really knowing anything about how the movie really was or how it all worked the first time.

Since the twist is so famous, I’m just going to go ahead and talk as if we all know what it was.  If you don’t know and think you might want to watch it, just stop reading now with this advice:  it’s worth watching.

Anyway, the big twist is that Hitchcock took a well-known star in Janet Leigh so that audiences would think that she was the main character and was going to live to the end, only to kill her off about halfway through.  Most of the comments I’ve seen have focused on the actress, but I think the real brilliance here is not that it’s a big name actress, but more that the entire structure of the movie to that point sets her up as the main character and that the movie is going to be her story, as she wants to run off with her indebted lover and sees an opportunity to steal some money so they can start a new life together, and the movie focuses on her and her thoughts and the impact of this on her, culminating in a conversation with Norman and a resolution to return the money … only for her to be killed seemingly by the jealous, insane mother of the creepy motel manager.  This is done so effectively that despite the fact that it would make for an hour long movie the movie could have ended there and been complete, if tragic and a bit depressing.  Hitchcock manages to tell her entire story in that hour and even with her death scene completely finishes the arc in a way that they could indeed have rolled the credits at that point.

This carries on to the rest of the movie, as while this can be seen as a precursor to slasher movies it is absolutely not structured like any kind of slasher movie.  Instead, it’s a suspense movie that happens to involve, well, a psycho who ends up doing all the killing.  The death of Janet Leigh’s character, as noted, could be a tragic happenstance — like a car accident — that ruins her chance to redeem herself.  Later, a detective who finds out enough to be a threat and would have to be killed by Norman to protect his mother happens to be killed by the mother instead.  The movie spends a lot of time hiding the mother and so the dual nature of Norman.  And the sister and the lover of Janet Leigh’s character are simply trying to find evidence that Janet Leigh’s character was there and don’t suspect any of the slasher aspects.  Everyone, including the audience, thinks it’s a suspense movie … except Norman, the slasher himself.

Ultimately, I think that’s the real brilliance of the twist.  Not the casting of Janet Leigh, but the fact that in terms of casting, structure, plot, acting and filming it commits to being a suspense movie while always keeping the slasher movie underneath the surface, never quite surfacing until the end.  We aren’t merely surprised because a character that we thought would live to the end doesn’t, but we’re surprised because of the fact that this really seems to be a suspense movie and yet things happen in it that we wouldn’t expect to find there, and once those scenes pass the movie settles back in as a suspense movie as if those scenes had never happened.

I really liked this movie, although my impression of it for most of it — and even now — is that this is magnificent, but it’s not a horror movie.  It really is more of a suspense movie with slasher elements, and so doesn’t fit the traditional model of horror, mostly because for a lot of the movie it isn’t all that scary.  Still, the structure is good, the performances are good, and once I realized it the suspense facade over the slasher underpinnings works really well.  I definitely could watch this movie again.

Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”: I Told You So

September 27, 2022

After criticizing without having seen it the new show in the “Pretty Little Liars” universe called “Original Sin”, and pretty much only getting to see that there was going to be one because it was going to come to the streaming service that I’m on, it was pretty much a given that I was going to have to watch it despite my concerns about it.  I hate to criticize anything that I don’t end up experiencing myself, and so if I can do that conveniently  I will do so, and ten episodes on the streaming service that I greatly underuse is indeed pretty convenient.  So I sat down and watched it and now I have a lot to say about it, most of which will not be good, unfortunately.  But I had to think about how to comment on it, because I have quite a bit to say about it.  Given that, I didn’t really want to create one huge post talking about all its aspects, but I also didn’t really see a good way to divide up my comments as everything is connected.  Finally, I decided to split it up thusly.  First, in this post I’m going to read over the things that I said were not going to work and talk about how I was right about that and what they did with it, along with anything in there that I was wrong about (if there is anything).  Then the second post will talk about the character of Tabitha who I found the most annoying character I’ve encountered in a long time, mostly because she’s supposed to be the horror movie aficionado and yet both doesn’t seem to be one and is also not used at all the way that sort of character should be used.  Given that I’ve been writing about horror movies for ages now, that sort of character is one that I will pay a lot of attention to.  Then, I’ll write a post summarizing my overall impression of the show, including how well it links — or doesn’t — to the original series.  Finally, since the Rotten Tomatoes reviews of it consider the critical response to be “universally acclaimed”, I’d like to take a look at some of those reviews and see what they are seeing that I don’t (although I haven’t read any reviews yet, the ones I saw tended to follow the modern trend of maybe having higher scores with lukewarm descriptions, which might be indicative).

Okay, so let’s start talking about what I wanted them about by talking about the character of Karen, who was described thusly:

It’s Karen, who’s not just mean but racist and homophobic …

Given the rather unsubtle naming as well as mentioning that she was racist and homophobic, my main concern was that they would add on the claims of racism and homophobia and flub them completely, which would mean that she’d be more sympathetic than they intended her to be, and then raised all sorts of issues around whether she should be sympathetic or not and how her being racist and homophobic would align with how the town is portrayed.  The main issue was that if they wanted to make her an unsympathetic character but if they relied on her being considered that to make that work and yet the things that she did that were considered racist and homophobic weren’t that strong it would work against that characterization, and since she was the main foil for the main characters they really needed to pull that off to make it work.

And, of course, they actually did flub it.  The only event we see that could be considered racist is that she at one point argues that Faran — the main character who is her rival for the lead in “Swan Lake” — only got the part because she’s black.  This, given her purportedly “mean girl” personality, is not racist, but is instead, well, the reaction of someone like that when someone gets something that she thinks she deserves more.  It can’t be the case that Faran was a better dancer than Karen, so Karen needs to find some reason, any reason, why she got it regardless.  And an obvious one given the times is to say that the teacher or school was aiming at diversity or engaging in affirmative action and so decided to choose the black dancer instead.  If Faran wasn’t black, Karen would have found another reason to dismiss her actually having more talent than Karen, especially given how her father won’t even allow her to get the “she got it because she’s black” argument out by insisting that Karen was supposed to be better than everyone and failed there.

The same thing applies to the purported homophobia.  The event we see is that there’s some kind of “coming out” event happening at the school, and when one girl stops to look at it Karen snipes that she doesn’t need to come out as gay because everyone already knows.  Again, just like the above case, this isn’t an indication that Karen really feels that way.  This is the equivalent of Allison referring to Lucas in the original series as “Hermie” to imply that he’s a hermaphrodite.  She isn’t doing it to indicate how she feels about hermaphrodites, but instead is doing that to insult him with an insult that she knows will bother him and that others will repeat and laugh at.  Here, Karen really is just being mean and making a random insult.  There’s no indication that she has any real issue with gay people at all, as this is really just what was called in “The Order of the Stick” an “insult of opportunity”:  she wanted to insult the girl, and her looking at that poster was just a convenient way to do so.

So given that in both cases Karen’s statements are more aimed at the qualities of the other person rather than revealing anything about herself, we don’t really get the sense from them in and of themselves that she’s really racist or homophobic, and there aren’t any other events that I can recall that can do that.  And yet Faran makes calling her that a key argument in why they should come together to oppose her and do something pretty mean to her in doing so.  Now, I suspect given how minor those instances are and in general how unimportant the statements are and how little focus they are given it looks like they were trying to use those scenes as “code” to imply that she does far worse things far more often than we see.  But this ties right back into my concern that they were going to show things that they consider hugely problematic but that the audience wouldn’t.  The insult about the post was at most a microaggression, and the complaint about Faran getting the part because of her race is in general something that is claimed as racism through a bunch of derived meanings and a subconscious association.  Neither of them are strong enough to make that case, but given how woke and newfangled the dialogue is — seriously, it sounds like the worst kind of modern progressive slang that it could be a parody of it — I don’t think the writers would have been willing to go any further out of fear of saying something triggering.  But then this makes the association to racism and homophobic weak.  Fortunately, for the most part that’s a throwaway line, and in my opinion they should have just thrown it away, as they don’t actually go anywhere with that and so whether or not she really is racist and homophobic is utterly irrelevant to the character for the rest of the series.

Less forgivable is the fact that they utterly fail to make her into the powerful, sociopathic mean girl that requires the main characters to come together to oppose and humiliate her — and they deliberately humiliate her later — and to do so on their own because while supposedly everyone else wants to see her humiliated she somehow has so much control that no one can do anything to her.  This is despite the fact that the dance teacher pretty much humiliates her by not telling her what role she had in the ballet while saying that Faran had the lead, and is pretty much immune to her protests.  Additionally, she’s running for Queen of the big dance they’re having and is set to win … because she’s running unopposed, but when Imogen — the pregnant main character who used to be her friend — decides to run against her they all think it’s a great idea because a lot of people don’t like Karen and so will vote for the purportedly unpopular Imogen just to spite Karen, and indeed a number of people explicitly say that.  And their attempt to humiliate Karen by showing a slightly doctored video is justified by the claim that everyone really wants to see Karen humiliated.  She does not seem at all like someone who has control over the school so that they have to come together to oppose her.

Because of this, it makes the main characters unsympathetic.  Imogen has a video of Karen after they had their fight talking crap about her boyfriend and preparing to do a striptease with a different guy.  She never does it because Imogen came back and kicked the guy out — which is how she got the video — but they leave that part out and so imply that she went through with it.  They also edit it to look like a campaign video for Karen before cutting to that scene.  As it turns out, the reason Karen was mad at Imogen was because her twin sister said that she saw Imogen making out with Karen’s boyfriend, and Imogen’s only defense is that he actually kissed her and not the other way around, which makes her anger at Imogen pretty much justified and not irrational, and also means that Imogen never left the “mean girl” Karen because of those qualities, but because she was involved in something that rightly made Karen angry.  Given that, what they do to her is definitely above the pale and for the most part they aren’t all that apologetic about it.  Yes, there’s a scene at Karen’s grave where they apologize for it (Faran doesn’t really apologize), but for the most part Karen was clearly not as powerful as she needed to be in order to force them to oppose her, especially given how often in the backstory she doesn’t get her own way and is humiliated for that.

This, then, carries over to the way she gets them all in trouble so that they meet in detention.  A number of bad things happen to her and she uses that to blame them for it.  Razor blades are sewn into her ballet shoes and she immediately blames Faran for doing it, which the teacher stupidly believes despite there being no reason at that point — Faran already had the part — for her to do that.  Imogen and Tabitha get accused of defacing Karen’s campaign posters, and complain about the control that she has over the school when they don’t buy their answer of “She did it herself!” which no one should believe given that they had no other evidence for that.  Noa, who is on probation for drug use, has her urine sample doctored but has no evidence that it was Karen who did it.  Mouse, the other main character, is blamed — again for no reason — for putting a rat in Karen’s bag.  All of them conclude that Karen did that herself to set them up, but given what we had seen up to that point there was no reason to think that she could have thought that she could get away with that, and all of them were already hostile to her from the beginning, and far more hostile towards her than she was towards them.  When Imogen argues that Karen is vindictive and sociopathic, it falls a bit flat when they were far more hostile towards her early on and when she didn’t really seem to have any reason to think that her plans would work.

And this would have been so easy to fix!  All they needed to do was start with these events before the others — other than Imogen and maybe Tabby — were at all hostile towards Karen.  If they had done something minor that could have annoyed Karen and then these things happened that she blamed on them, that would have established that she had power and might well have been vindictive enough to try these things.  If the razor blade event had happened before the choice was made, Karen could have easily accused Faran of doing it to eliminate her from competition so she could have the part that was rightly hers, and they could have used the fear of losing out as justification without ever having to introduce the rather stupid “She got it because she’s black!” point, and Faran would have had good reason to be ticked at Karen for taking away her chance at the lead.  Then we would have seen that Karen knows how to manipulate everyone to get what she wants, and that she does it both to gain advantage and as retribution for even minor slights.  Then we wouldn’t consider the girls to be overly hostile to Karen from the start, would see why they are so upset, and would see why they wouldn’t think that anyone in the school would help them.  And this would still allow for the ambiguity as to whether Karen really did these things to herself or whether “A” did it (that they didn’t really do anything with).

It’s not like it’s hard to write a proper “mean girl” character, even one that you might want to keep ambiguous or sympathetic.  The original series did it with Allison and Mona, at least.  And it was done really well in the rather poorly received “Psycho Prom Queen”.  There’s really no excuse for them screwing this up this badly.

The other thing that I was concerned about was the attempt to recast the “A” character as a slasher-style serial killer, especially given that they wanted to give the girls individual arcs and issues like we saw in the original story.  My concern was that this would result in a rather tame slasher, as he wouldn’t be able to kill anyone that was at all important to those plots without ruining them, and so would either kill almost no one or would kill off a number of minor characters whose main role in the series was to get killed.  As it turns out, the series ended up doing both.  The killer only has two confirmed kills — Karen and some jerk jock who was the guy who filmed her — given that even though it was implied that he killed Imogen’s mother to start the series she indeed actually killed herself out of guilt.  There was a scene where I had some hopes that they might pull off something cool, where he had cornered Noa, but then he leaves her alone after getting her to jump onto another building that triggered her ankle bracelet (which could have gotten her in trouble which would have been a more manipulative move like the original “A” would have done) and then he prompts her about ensuring justice is done which immediately triggers her to rat out her mother for stealing drugs from the hospital (which doesn’t make Noa any more sympathetic given how quickly she leaped to that action with no real prompting) and then he lets her go for no real reason.  If she had done something to remind him of things like that and then he’d let her go — Imogen does that in a later scene — that would have worked, but she didn’t so it’s just a puzzling scene that adds nothing.  Thus, the killer doesn’t really turn out to be a threat.  Also, the time they take to develop the side stories for the main characters is time that they could have spent developing the killer and his motives and the backstory, but since they don’t the killer isn’t really fleshed out that much.  As I watched the last couple of episodes, I was both hoping and worried that they’d settle the serial killer story in the last episode:  worried because they hadn’t really developed it enough for that to be satisfying, but hoping because if they didn’t then they were going to do it in the next season (if there was one) and I didn’t see enough content in that story to last another ten episode season.  They did settle it for the most part and yeah, it wasn’t developed enough and part of it came out of absolutely nowhere.  So this confirmed my thought that the slasher-style plot was a mistake for a series like this.

And as it turns out they didn’t even manage to build the girls and their stories and personalities properly either.  We find out very little about any of them until about episode six, which is way too late to build up those characters and their backstories.  It also stops the serial killer plot at the climax which is a bit annoying.  They also introduce a rape plot — Imogen and Tabitha were both raped when they were too intoxicated to consent, as it turns out by the same guy — that they had to resolve in the last episode, and the only real link that had to anything else is that the girl who is the link to the “original sin” was raped as well.  But for the most part, the show focuses on Imogen and the others are background characters, and while there are scenes where they are unified they never really seem that way and spend most of their time apart.  This is another reason why starting out with getting them together and then revealing the “A” plot would have worked better, as it would have given us a better insight into their characters before they humiliated Karen and given more time to develop their plots.  I certainly could have found the issues with Noa’s boyfriend and mother and drugs or Mouse’s relationship with the guy who lost his father interesting, but they come out of nowhere and are resolved just as quickly.  And it would have given more opportunities to explore Faran’s relationship with her mother which would have justified her reacting badly to her at some points, whereas as is she goes from being happy that her mother will come home to see her dance to harping that she hates her and thinks she’s controlling.  Sure, in ten episodes there isn’t a lot of time to do things like that, but all that means is that you have to be perfect in time management, and I have yet to see a streaming show that managed to do that.

Anyway, for the most part it made the mistakes I expected it to make.  Next up is talking about a new mistake they made with the character of Tabitha.

Thoughts on “Amityville III: The Demon”

September 22, 2022

This is the last of the three Amityville movies in that pack I picked up, and so my hope was that it would provide some kind of link between the movies, because the first two movies were completely disconnected from each other.  As it turns out, this movie can’t be a link between the two because it contradicts and ignores them both in its own special way.

The main premise is that someone who writes for a magazine and specializes in debunking the supernatural decides to buy the Amityville house, as he and his wife are divorcing and he can get the house really cheap.  His teenage daughter and her friend — a young Lori Loughlin and Meg Ryan, respectively — come to see the house because her friend is obsessed with the story behind the Amityville murders.  Strange things start to happen, and the daughter and her friends mess around with a makeshift Ouija board, and then she drowns when they take out a boat, but somehow her spirit gets caught by the demon in the house and a paranormal researcher friend — who has been used as a reference throughout the movie — explains that the demon is using the daughter and sacrifices himself to help them set the daughter’s spirit free.

This movie is another one that tries to play off of the burgeoning 3-D technology of the time, like “Jason 3”.  However, unlike that movie it doesn’t seem to pander to 3-D as much.  There are a few scenes that are set up to have something come out of the screen at you — like a pipe from a truck in a car accident — most of the scenes that would do stuff like that don’t stand out, which is good.  Although I suspect, then, that people who wanted to see the 3-D stuff would be disappointed by that, but it does make the movie hold up a bit better when the 3-D aspects are stripped from the movie.

Despite there being a focus on this being a demon, this is far more a straight ghost story than a demonic one like the previous movie.  I liked that it built the scares up more slowly, but found that it didn’t explain anything any more than the other movies did.  I don’t really know anything about the demon or where it came from or what it wanted than anything else, which makes the ending more confusing than really scary or heartwarming.  This carries over to the main emotional plot of the movie, where the main character’s ex-wife wants to keep the daughter away from the house but when she drowns — and the mother sees the daughter walking into the house — she wants to stay in this house that isn’t hers because of that, and accuses the husband of never believing in the house, which is fair but doesn’t have a lot of emotional oomph because he was being reasonable and she was being paranoid for the most part since nothing had happened yet, and that she gets such focus at the end of the movie is strange because she was an extremely minor character for the rest of the movie.  If it were up to me, I would have had them buy the house together and live there, where she started to believe it was haunted and he didn’t, and then have her leave with the daughter over the house, and then return when the daughter dies.  This would have made her a more important part of the story and justify the accusations she made against them, but also allow for the house to have influence over her and get her to act as strangely as she does at the end.  As it stands, the daughter gets more play and then gets completely dropped at the end.

So, here’s why this movie doesn’t fit in with the other movies.  The friend goes through a description of the murders and since we saw that in “The Possession” that could be a link to that movie … except her description is clearly different from what happened in that movie (for example, who was killed where) and so can’t be referring to that one, or at least it would be a stretch.  It is closer to what we saw in the first movie, but other than that there are no other references to anything in the first movie, and so it comes across like the two of them creating different interpretations of the same events, and so they still seem disconnected from each other.

Ultimately, that’s the real issue with this entire set of three movies.  Despite them being advertised on the box as being in the same series, they are all completely disconnected from each other and so feel a lot more like a set of different approaches to and interpretations of the events rather than things that link to each other and support each other.  That’s also probably why we never really seem to find out anything about what is going on in the house because instead of each movie fleshing out things the other movies talked about instead they are all exploring their own interpretation and so can’t really build on what came before. nor is anything they do any kind of set up for what comes later.  That hurts it as a series and each movie individually.

For this movie, I spent most of it thinking and hoping that it was just that the movie’s flaws hit the things I happen to really dislike.  And in some sense, that’s true of this movie and of the entire series, as I think they are credibly creepy enough but the lack of clarity really bugs me.  But the fact that they are all completely disconnected from each other I do think is an issue and will make people like it less than they would have otherwise.  For me, though, despite the movies being competently executed and acted, I don’t think I want to watch these movies again, and so will likely put them in my box of movies to possibly sell at some point.  There just isn’t enough here to keep me interested enough to bother with again.

Next up, I’m going to go through four of the “Psycho” movies.

Thoughts on “Amityville II: The Possession”

September 15, 2022

So I’m continuing through that three-pack of Amityville movies that I picked up a while ago.  I wasn’t all that impressed with the first one.  What will I think of the second one?

The oddest thing about this one is that despite being called “II” on the box and being in this pack, it really doesn’t seem like it’s at all related to the first one.  Since it follows what are seemingly the events of the murder that spawned the haunting in the first movie, one could consider it a prequel to the first movie, except that it doesn’t make any link or any relation to the first movie, even to the point of having a real estate agent name drop that a family is interested in it.  Thus, it comes across more as a reimagining of the original story that the movies are based on instead of as something connected to the first movie, which comes across as a bit odd.

Another reason why it seems a bit disconnected is that other than the fact that it didn’t like religious figures and icons the entity in the first movie seemed to be more of a ghost, while here it’s explicitly a demon.  Hence the titular possession, where it implies that the original murders occurred because the oldest son was possessed by a demon who forced him to do that after doing some other sinful things (like seducing and sleeping with his sister).  Given that there’s a demon involved, there’s at least a justification for the priest playing a large role, but there was no hint that the murders were caused by a demonic possession or that anyone was becoming possessed in the first movie.  So if you were coming from the first movie, this is all going to seem to come out of nowhere, especially since the room that seems to be spawning the evil entity is completely different and thus couldn’t have been what the family from the first movie found.  Thus, as noted above, it really comes across as a different take on the same story rather than a movie in the same universe as the first movie.

One issue, though, is that this really ends up being a demonic possession movie in the vein of “The Exorcist” rather than a haunting movie in the vein of the first movie or how the house is portrayed in popular culture.  However, this movie starts off being more of a haunting movie as it tries to develop the demonic angle, and the murder happens about 2/3s through as a full reveal of the demon which prompts the priest to try to exorcise it.  Since it’s building to this, it thus gives far more dramatic horror scares than it might have otherwise as it doesn’t and can’t really take the time to build the horror like a haunting movie would.  Since it’s not a haunting movie, that’s not really a problem, but it takes a long time to get to the full demon part so it really feels like this is supposed to be a haunting movie that suddenly changes into a demonic possession movie.

Which is a shame, because the demonic possession part is the more interesting part of the movie, and could have definitely used some extra time to flesh itself out and develop that more.  The priest makes an interesting foil for the demon and is noted for having a number of weaknesses that it could exploit that are mostly ignored, and the interaction between him and the church authorities could have definitely used more time to build and be focused on.  Instead, as noted it’s about the last third of the movie and while it seems to be the focus of the movie — and the ending pretty much confirms that — most of the movie is spent with the priest in the background and the family in the foreground, which is a bit jarring and leaves us feeling that we don’t really know the priest as well as we should have to follow him through his quest to relieve his guilt over not taking the call of the daughter right before the murders.

The ending is a twist that we see coming.  As the priest is trying to exorcise the demon, he pleads to God to take him instead of the boy and let it happen to him.  The demon then leaves the boy, and the priest’s assistant takes the boy out … and the priest eventually comes to himself but has the bulging skin that the boy had when he was possessed or being possessed.  Yeah, when he says that he wants it to be him over and over again, we can pretty much expect that the priest will end up possessed, so that’s not at all a surprise.  But the movie doesn’t do anything with it either.  The priest doesn’t try to cut his arm off to separate himself from the demon, nor does he throw himself out of the window to kill himself to avoid the possession.  The movie just ends on him seeing that as if it was a twist (or a setup for a sequel) and it’s really neither, so that’s a bit disconcerting as well.

I think I might have enjoyed this movie if it had committed to being a demonic possession movie and expanded that plot line out a bit more and closed it off better.  Instead, it sets up as a haunting movie that ends up as a demonic possession movie at the end, and more time is spent on the inferior haunting plot than the superior full-on possession plot.  That and the fact that the ending is one a twist or sequel hook that is either obvious in the case of the former or not paid off in the case of the latter means that this is not a movie that I am anxious to watch again.

Thoughts on “Amityville Horror”

September 8, 2022

After picking up the Shudder exclusives and another individual movie, I decided to try to make some progress on the pack movies I have, starting with a three-pack giving three “Amityville Horror” movies.  I don’t recall watching any of them, but of course I know about them given how famous they are.  More importantly, these movies seem like they might really be the sort of movie that I like, given that they are more about haunted houses and ghosts than about human or supernatural slashers.  It’s also one of the longer horror movies that I’ve watch, clocking in at about two hours, so it should be able to avoid the issue of it being too short to pull off what it wants to pull off.  Given all of this, then, I was looking forward to it and optimistic that it would be a good movie.

The basic premise is that a father went crazy and shot his entire family in a specific house.  Years later, a new family moves into the house, and strange things start happening, including a change in the personality of the father.  They need to negotiate these supernatural occurrences in the hopes that the tragedy will not repeat itself.

As I said above, I had high hopes for this movie.  The beginning itself might have even raised them, since it established that there were supernatural things happening but kept mysterious what exactly was going on, as a priest who comes to bless the house — the wife is Catholics — gets chased out by the entity and her nun aunt who comes for a visit gets nauseous and has to leave.  This sets up some interesting mysteries and would allow the movie to build the fear slowly — although the priest’s scene is a bit too much for that sort of slow progression — as they go about their daily lives.  Through this, we could hope to come to understand what was going on and so understand what the entity wants and how, at the end, the family can escape it.

But here is where the movie goes wrong.  The priest from the beginning is not a mere minor character, there to set up the supernatural and perhaps to show that no one — especially those who could possibly help them — believes what is happening there despite its past and the experiences of those who enter the house.  Instead, the movie keeps cutting back to him as the entity still targets him, at times to prevent him from helping but it also blinds him at the end.  His assistant also gets a lot of screen time as part of that arc, but doesn’t really have much to do with the family and house itself.  The arc also doesn’t get a payoff at the end, as as far as we know the priest never recovers and never convinces anyone that there is anything wrong with the house.  This is also the issue with a police officer who was at the original scene and who pokes around a bit once the new family moves in, but he doesn’t interact with them or the house much at all.  This is only made worse by the fact that we don’t learn anything about the house or entity from them and their investigations and experiences, which would have justified including their arcs.  Yes, the movie is long enough to include things like that, but seems to waste them on these things that aren’t particularly emotionally relevant — since they aren’t the main characters and don’t interact with them — but don’t give us anything else to allow us to understand what the relevance of those scenes are to the rest of the movie.  Moreover, the priest one actually introduces a bit of fridge logic:  if the entity can influence people that far away from the house, how could anyone ever get away?  Most of the family is waiting in a car a bit down the road from the house and we are meant to believe that it’s only the father — who has gone back into the house after the dog — that’s in danger, but that can’t possibly be true given what happened to the priest.

This is unfortunate, because as it turns out the other thing this movie lacks is an explanation for what is going on in the house and with the entity.  As things go along, they discover the hidden room and the interesting things in the history, but it never explains why that matters or what the entity wants, and the ending involves the house splitting apart and them running away but none of that adds to any of the lore of the house.  So at the end it all sputters out with a “Let’s get out of here!” moment.  There’s also a bit of ambiguity that might be caused by bad acting on the part of the little girl, as she pleads with her father to go back into the house to get the dog and then instead of looking worried looks happy, which I thought might imply that she was under the control of the entity and trying to get the father to go back and be taken by the entity, a thought that only seems more likely when the father falls into the black pool that is the well under the house.  But then the dog pulls him out and the two of them escape, and the end text says that the family went away and never came back, so pretty much all of that is meaningless.  Sure, it’s okay to subvert expectations but they could have just as easily had them all simply flee the house and never come back for all the impact on the story it had.

At the start of the movie, I thought this was going to be a movie that I watched again.  The premise and start was promising and Margot Kidder and James Brolin do a good job with their roles, which makes us want to watch them and see them come through.  However, the fact that the movie seems to wander off into side arcs and never explains what is going on hurts the movie.  There are some creepy moments but especially at the end the fact that we don’t know what’s going on hurts, and the ending where we seem to get a fake-out to an already confusing ghost story aspect to this movie.  I don’t really think I’ll watch this movie again.

Thoughts on “Easter Bunny Massacre”

September 1, 2022

While working my way through the “Shudder” exclusives, I watched this little horror movie, that is basically a slasher flick where the killer attacks on Easter and wears a bunny mask.  This makes the movie sound like it’s going to be more of a horror parody than a real horror movie, but that isn’t the case, and things are played mostly straight.  The main idea is that a group of friends went out for one last party around Easter before graduating, and after a drug and alcohol fueled night it turns out that one of them — who was pretty much an unlikable character who had feuds with all of them — has been brutally stabbed to death overnight, and none of them can remember — or at least will admit to remembering — what happened.  While it might make sense for them to call the police and let them sort it out, they worry that they will all be blamed for the murder and so they hide the body and try to ignore it.  Some time later, they all get invited to an Easter party at a deserted house out in the middle of nowhere, which has reminders of the murdered girl and seems to be an attempt to discover who killed her, while killing people along the way.

What is interesting about this movie is that it’s actually based on two pretty interesting mysteries:  who killed the girl, and who wants to find out who killed her?  While I’m not overly thrilled about the conclusion and how the answers to the mysteries shake out — the killer is trying to find out who killed her to protect someone else who they think didn’t do it, but it turns out that they did and are killing people to cover it up — but they are both interesting mysteries and the movie is good at keeping them mysterious while providing hints as to what is going on (although the disappearance of a character at one point pretty much signals that they are the killer).  I might have even preferred that it be the two outsiders who did it because the logic made more sense, but overall the mysteries are the best thing about the movie.

Unfortunately, the production values really hurt this movie.  The filming looks amateur and cheap, and the acting is serviceable at best.  Because it looks so cheap, it looks like it might be funny or something to laugh at, but it takes itself too seriously to be laughed at.  It also doesn’t fall into “So bad it’s good” because it isn’t that bad.  So it’s really hard to take it as seriously as it needs to be taken to really work but it’s not goofy or bad enough to be taken lightly.  It falls into a strange almost “Uncanny Valley” in that regard that makes it come across as less interesting than it might have been otherwise.  It really seems like its at least serviceable plot is more than their production values could realize.

Thus, I think this will fall into a movie that I might want to watch again but can’t imagine that I will anytime soon, so I won’t sell it but won’t put it in my main closet.  It has some dumb moments, but I could get past that if the production values were better given that it has two interesting mysteries.

Thoughts on “V/H/S/94”

August 25, 2022

When I talked about “Deadhouse Dark”, I mentioned that I wasn’t even a big fan of anthology movies.  So why did I pick up this movie, which is an anthology horror movie that’s a continuation in some sense of a famous series of anthology horror movies that I, myself, had never watched?  Well, other than perhaps stupidity, the main reasons are: that it was another Shudder movie and my opinion of them has greatly improved from the first couple; that I thought that this was a good opportunity to get some kind of sense of that series; and finally that, well, it was cheap and so worth the risk like, well, so many of the movies I talk about were.

I didn’t enjoy it very much.

Now, I probably could go through each story segment and pick it apart, but I don’t think it’s worth doing, at least in part because most of them weren’t very memorable.  The one I remember most is the first one, and that’s because it actually did really try to create a vibe that these were videos from the 90s that were being stored and viewed on VHS, even as the plot — monster in the sewers that kills some people and converts a television reporter — wasn’t all that memorable.  But the other segments, in and of themselves, didn’t have that connection to the times, even as at least one of them references Bill Clinton in a situation where they probably would have preferred Joe Biden.  They might be referencing movie and media tropes from the times, but despite being alive then they didn’t jump out at me which means that anything like that would have been lost on me.  So all that’s left is them as horror tropes, and none of them seem all that creative to me.

But as I noted before, the big thing for me is the framing device, and the framing device here doesn’t really work.  It’s basically a raid on the installation that has the videos with them appearing on TVs in roughly related areas, but there’s no reason for anyone to watch them and no real indication that even the police officers raiding the place actually do.  As we approach the end, it becomes clear that something isn’t right with the raiding police officers and the end reveals that two of them are in fact behind the whole thing and are killing off/capturing all the other officers, but that plan makes no sense — they would have to leave anyway since there’d probably be official paperwork and all — and none of this actually sets anything up for the stories or provides any real linkage between them despite one officer being in the last one (he’s not one of the killer officers).  So that leaves is it as a horror segment itself, and not enough happens and it isn’t developed enough to really work as one, with the horror only really happening at the end and us not really having enough of an emotional connection to anyone to really grasp or care about the twist.

So, ultimately, this was the sort of movie that has to hit on all cylinders for me to like it and it stumbled in a number of places.  As you might expect, this is a movie that’s going to go into my box of movies to maybe resell at some point, because I can’t imagine rewatching it any time soon.  This also means that based on the last couple of full movies I’m thinking that Shudder-exclusives might not be movies that I’ll necessarily like, so I’ll probably be more careful in buying them.  I will say that the production values of this one are pretty good and far better than the first two I watched, so it’s still better than those.  But yeah, Shudder can have still have its clunkers just like regular horror does so often.

Thoughts on “Deadhouse Dark”

August 18, 2022

This is another DVD from Shudder, but if I had paid more attention to it I probably would have skipped it, as I’m really, really not the intended audience for it.  I thought it was a movie, but instead it’s “A Shudder Original Series”, but since it’s a number of episodes packed into the roughly hour and a half runtime of a movie it’s clearly not a full on series like “The Haunting of Hill House”.  Instead, it’s a collection of 10-15 minute shorts in the vein of “Short Treks”, although those are short episodes in a long-established continuity whereas this one clearly does not have a continuity that is that well-known or deep, even though it promises that these are interconnected.

The issue with this for me is that I’m really, really not the sort of person who enjoys these sorts of things.  I’m not a huge fan of anthology movies, and tend to only enjoy them if they have a great framing story that brings it all together, and as separate episodes that sort of framing is completely missing.  I don’t even like short stories most of the time, especially collections of short stories.  I’ve actually only liked Robert Sheckley’s collection(s) and then a couple of stories from some of Roger Zelazny’s collections.  I did also like an audiobook of Robertson Davies’ Christmas stories, but other than that most short story collections leave me a bit cold.  It’s obvious that I like stories that are developed in a way that you can’t get in short stories or short episodes, and so tend to dislike them.  On top of that, I’ve long complained that horror tends to need more time and more room to develop things to build really, really good horror, something that obviously is going to be missing here.

So, as it turns out, I am absolutely not the right audience for this collection, which makes it a bit difficult for me to properly criticize it.  If I ended up loving it I could gush about how it did things so well that even _I_ liked it but if I didn’t then it’s hard for me to criticize it in a way that won’t end up with me criticizing the very aspects that people who like those sorts of things actually like, leaving me vulnerable to valid charges of “You just don’t understand these sorts of works!”.

As it turns out, and as you might have guessed, I didn’t like it.  But I think I can point to some issues with it that will apply even to people who like these sorts of things.

The first is that despite it saying that the episodes are interconnected, they actually aren’t.  Two of them definitely seem to have a link where the serial killer who gets his comeuppance seemingly murdered the mother of someone who keeps trying to forget that it happened but ends up puzzling it out herself anyway, but I don’t see the link between any of the other episodes.  This is bad because without any kind of framing device and because the episodes examine a wide range of horror tropes we don’t have any set context for the world they are in, which means we don’t know what can and can’t happen.  This means that we spend a lot of the time confused about what is and what can happen and how supernatural or not the events are, or why and how they actually happen, or how hostile or not the things are supposed to be.  This was an issue for “Tales from the Darkside”, and that show had much more time to develop the specifics of each specific episode.  There’s a lot less time to do that in these episodes, and since the episodes aren’t interconnected we can’t rely on the world established in other episodes to fill in the gaps, which is something that something like “Short Treks” can do, so things are often quite confusing.  The first episode is probably the exemplar for this, as it ends up with a rather predictable twist — the car they come across is their own car, and the person they saw and dodged was one of them — but we have no idea how or why this can happen and nothing in the other episodes seems to be anything at all like it.  So we end up confused, and as I’ve commented before confusion is not good for horror, as it takes us out of the horror and gets us thinking about how in the world this all works.  We should never be doing that in a horror movie except at the point where the protagonists are doing the same thing.

Another thing that I’ve commented on before is that horror movies sometimes are short, but if they are that short we should never end up being bored during that short run time.  Horror movies do have to slow things down to build suspense and the like, but given that they have to do that boredom should not be the issue.  In short, we should never really feel like things are going to slow when the movie is short, and instead should feel that things are being rushed.  You would expect that a big issue with these really short episodes is that they would feel rushed.  And yet I never really felt that way, and indeed for a number of them — especially the last one — I was indeed bored.  Bored, over a 10-15 minute span, when I’m not bored by, say, the four hours of the extended Lord of the Rings movies.  How in the world did they manage that?  I think in some cases it’s less that they dragged things out — although they did — but that we don’t have the context to understand what things are building to.  Either we’ve figured it out already as in the first episode or we have no idea what might happen and are confused as in the last one.  In both cases, we really just want them to get to the point already, either by finally showing us what we already know or by showing us what actually is going on.  The episodes often, in an attempt to build suspense, take too long to do that, so we’re bored even though we’re only inside that world for about 10 – 15 minutes.

So, this is a series that isn’t the sort of thing that I normally like and doesn’t seem to be a particularly good example of that besides.  This is going in my box of DVDs to possibly resell at some point, as I can’t imagine watching it again.

Thoughts on “Kandisha”

August 11, 2022

So, another “Shudder” exclusive.  As I’ve noted before, the quality of these exclusives — at least the ones I’ve seen — has gone up immensely since the first couple I’ve watching, changing my opinion of them from “avoid” to “pick up when I see them”.  Will this movie continue the trend of reasonable quality?

The basic premise here is that a group of young women go out and do graffiti, especially in an old apartment building that is going to be torn down that has an important meaning to one of the women, as it was associated with her now deceased parents.  As they do that, drinking and smoking weed, they see a leftover graffiti about Aisha Kandisha, a legend in those parts.  They joke about it a bit and fake a summoning of the spirit, but nothing happens.  Later, the member of the group who will be the main character — but who is not the one whose parents died — almost gets raped by an ex-boyfriend and then summons Aisha Kandisha for real, who at least gets the ex-boyfriend killed … and then sets out to claim six other men as her tribute for that act, all of whom are people that the main character and her friends know and love.

The big stumbling block for me in this movie is that none of the main characters — other than the woman who summoned the monster’s little brother — are sympathetic or interesting, and yet we are indeed supposed to care about them.  They are, for the most part, slackers, and spend most of their time doing graffiti, doing drugs, drinking, and in general doing nothing of import.  This actually causes an issue because the main character clashes with her father but while it seems like we’re supposed to think that she’s in the right and he’s in the wrong — especially since the spirit targets her brother instead of her father — he may well have a point about her mostly wasting her life.  For the most part, all of the characters are unpleasant and have few if any redeeming qualities, but we are supposed to at least feel some sympathy for them as they are killed or have to desperately try to end the curse.  Yes, I’ve griped about shows that take the time to develop doomed characters because we shouldn’t need to develop characters that much to generate sympathy for them when they are getting horribly murdered, I’ve also griped about making the characters unsympathetic and then expecting us to feel sympathy for them.  If the characters learn something from the experience and change for the better — like in “Happy Death Day” — that’s different, but here it seems like the traits that I find annoying are the ones that are supposed to make us like the characters, which means that it won’t work for me.

The story around the spirit is also not developed very well.  There is a story about her being someone who had her husband killed in a war who then started killing people in revenge, but that doesn’t justify her taking the six men as tribute.  The characters turn to an Islamic cleric for help, and he exposition dumps a ritual that might help and that there’s another way that he won’t tell them, but that is indeed a pure exposition dump that doesn’t reveal anything about the spirit itself.  After that fails, they find some other ritual and try it, but it doesn’t work and, more importantly for me, requires them to kill the rabbit that belonged to her little brother which wasn’t mentioned until that point and for me is an action that goes a bit too far for me to like the character (even if she offers to buy him a new one if they don’t find it, which we know they hopefully never will).  Ultimately, it is revealed that if the person who summoned Aisha Kandisha dies before she gets her tribute, but that then she becomes the new Aisha Kandisha, which makes little sense and comes out of nowhere.  This also plays havoc with the legend itself because it implies that the one they encounter is not the original one, but that would mean that we have no idea why it would do what it does or want that tribute.

We could ignore this, but it’s actually important to the ending.  The main character sacrifices herself to save her brother, and while I saw it coming, the ending has the little brother decide to summon Aisha Kandisha to talk to his sister, and we can see that, yes, she has become the new Aisha Kandisha.  But then all of the questions from the previous paragraph comes into play.  How much control does she have over the spirit itself?  Can she avoid, say, killing her little brother?  Or does she have to kill someone who threatened him?  Does she need her tribute and, if so, who will it be?  If she is generally in control, then this would be heartwarming in the sense that he might not be separated from his beloved sister at all, but if she isn’t, then he’s started another murder spree for no real reason and so was just being an idiot.  That this is the ending really hurts the movie.

To give the movie credit, though, I will say that the production values and acting are relatively good, and the plot mostly moves.  Compared to the first two Shudder movies, then, it’s still a lot better.  But since the movie has unlikable main characters, a confused and confusing ghost story, a mostly pointless scene where a beloved pet bunny is killed for no real reason, and a pointless and confusing ending, this is not a movie that I would consider watching again.