Posts Tagged ‘horror’

Thoughts on “Night Howl”

January 26, 2023

This is a movie that is part of a 4-pack of movies that I picked up cheap.  This one is noted as being the more recent one, with the other three being advertised as “classic” monster films.  The four movies cover off the four classic monsters:  this one covers werewolves, the next one covers vampires, the next one covers mummies, and the last one covers Frankenstein.

The plot of this movie is that a man who works as a photographer is having dreams about his mother’s death and potentially of being a werewolf, and we learn that his mother was seemingly killed by a wolf when he was a child.  There also are some strange animalistic killings in the area.  He then takes some pictures of his model who is attracted to him, and he has a friend who pops by every now and then.  Eventually, they all hang out together when the model picks the lock on his apartment to let them in.  While the friend and the model somewhat bond, it’s clear that the model is interested in the photographer, but then the friend is killed by some kind of beast, and we see images of a werewolf-like creature.  The model and the photographer sleep together, and while hunting for the beast they enter a dark building and it is revealed that the werewolf is really the photographer dressed up in a cheap costume, having developed a split personality due to the trauma of losing his mother.  We see him in the hospital and then it cuts to the model having become pregnant with his child and then deciding to raise it on her own, and at the end the photographer appears to apologize for not being able to be there for the child (implying that he died) but then the werewolf creature appears above the child’s cradle, and the movie ends.

This is a movie that has really, really terrible production values.  Everything seems so very, very amateur, from the cinematography to the acting to the cheesy werewolf costume.  I give them some credit for using it being cheap and cheesy in the plot itself as it turns out to be him in a cheap and cheesy costume, but for the entire movie that amateur image made it really, really difficult to get immersed in the work, and horror movies really need immersion to make them work.  Some more amateur movies — like “The Blair Witch Project” — can make that work, but to make it work you need to have a premise and plot that can make us overlook the amateur presentation or, in the case of “The Blair Witch Project”, actually make that presentation the point of the movie, but this isn’t that sort of movie, so it really dragged me out of the movie.

I’m also not fond of the characters.  The friend’s role is one that works pretty well for this sort of movie, but he’s an aside, not a main character.  The photographer is played by the writer and director of the movie and despite being not a particularly attractive man gets to have the attractive model in love with him and the landlady or whatever explicitly state that he’s a very attractive man, but his looks and mannerisms don’t work for those sorts of superlatives.  Beyond that, he’s not a very interesting or sympathetic character.  The model is supposed to be more interesting, but she’s placed firmly in the “strong, aggressive woman” role which makes her grating, an impression that only softens when she gets pregnant and has to deal with the baby.  So for most of the movie I didn’t like most of the characters, although I will admit that some of the interactions between the two are interesting, especially when they go to explore the dark house and she chides him for being afraid of the dark.

The ending also doesn’t work, mostly because it’s so ambiguous.  Did he die in the hospital?  Then is what we’re seeing his ghost or something?  But if he didn’t, why was she and he both talking like he was never going to be able to interact with his child?  And what was the point of having the threat of the werewolf there?  It almost looks like a setup for a sequel that no one would want and wouldn’t follow from this ending anyway.  Ending it with her decision to raise the child alone or even with his visitation as if he was a ghost would have worked so much better.

I can’t really get past the cheap production values and the uninteresting characters, even if there are decent moments in it.  This is a movie that I won’t be watching again.

Thoughts on “The Jack in the Box Awakening”

January 19, 2023

When I picked this up some time ago, the “Awakening” part of the title and “Jack’s Back” were written in a smaller, red font and so I completely missed that this was a movie that was related to some other movie that I had never heard of.  If I had known that, I might have skipped it (I hate picking up movies in the middle of series unless the movie is really cheap or sounds really good).  That being said, the movie is a rare one that is actually pretty good at explaining what is going on and so I really didn’t feel like I needed to watch … whatever the other movie was to understand anything or to make this one feel complete.

The basic plot is that an old lady hires someone who acquires things in a shady manner to bring her an old Jack in the Box.  Her son thinks that it’s for their collection of toys, but as it turns out the old lady is dying of a disease and the box is really to help her avoid that fate.  After she unlocks the box with the four letter word “Life”, the titular Jack in the Box comes out of the box and kills the person who acquired the box for her.  When the son discovers the blood from the man — the demon drags the dead bodies into the box after killing them — he is shocked, but the mother explains that she has made a deal with the demon where if she brings it seven people to kill it will give her life.  The son is devoted to his mother and it turns out that she protected him when he killed his father because his father was abusing his mother, so he goes along with it.  Meanwhile, a new servant has just arrived and is now on the list of the seven people that need to be killed, and the demon proceeds through the male cook, the somewhat girlfriend of the son (who is sleeping around on him) and a number of others until getting to the last victim, which is to be the new servant.  She ends up fighting them off and escapes, killing the mother in her escape.  As the son weeps over his mother’s body, the demon arrives behind him and the son willingly gives his life for his mother.  End of movie.

This movie is a lot better at explaining things and so letting us know exactly why this is happening and what each scene means, while retaining its gory nature.  The demon kills things in ways that seem designed to torment the victims and to torment the son (blinding the girlfriend but not killing her until the son comes to check on her, and then killing her, for example) and while that isn’t explained that well, it’s a demon and so it can have “I like to torture people” as a character trait.  This allows the movie to explore the relationship between the son and his mother and so why he is so devoted to her, which sets up nicely for the ending where he willingly becomes the last victim to save her (although given the structure of the movie that itself was a bit predictable).

The problem with this movie, though, is one that I’ve noticed with a lot of modern movies in general and modern horror movies in particular:  the elements of the relationships and the like are there but they aren’t properly developed and so become almost like cargo cultism:  the writers know that they have to be there but don’t know why and so don’t use them properly.  Here, that’s the role of the new servant.  The movie focuses a lot on her and she escapes at the end, so it seems like she’s supposed to be the Final Girl, but we don’t really get to know much about her other than one early scene where she ends up playing chess against the cook — taking over from the other female servant who is in a relationship with the cook — from what seems like an impossible position, delays for a bit, and then wins the game, saying that she learned from her rather unhappy childhood how to get out of such situations.  This is a prime setup for her to overcome tremendous odds or come up with a clever way to avoid the demon and get out alive.  Except, this is never followed up on.  Her escape isn’t anything that the other female servant wouldn’t have or wasn’t trying, and while she does show some determination in crawling out of the gate before it closes there’s nothing here that we wouldn’t expect from any other horror movie heroine.  And even if it was supposed to reflect that, the movie doesn’t remind us of those traits to make it clear that we were supposed to take things that way even if we ourselves didn’t feel like we should.  So it seems like they wanted to make the typical kick-ass sort of heroine but then didn’t do anything with her to make that move justified.

This also got me pondering that sort of horror movie heroine as well, since it seems to be a modern shift as well.  And I find that I don’t like it, and it’s not because I’m intimidated by strong female characters.  No, the reason is that for me that sort of heroine doesn’t provide for a very good character arc.  The arc ends up being “Tough female character faces down horrible evil and through her own powers fights free”, which in a horror movie and especially in supernatural horror is a bit dull.  If she’s going up against normal humans, it makes more of an action movie than a horror movie, and if it’s against supernatural horrors it weakens the supernatural horror if it can be opposed physically, and most of the “Tough Female Characters” don’t win these things due to incredible willpower or virtue.  There is something to be said for the sort of arc that makes Alice my favourite Nightmare on Elm Street heroine despite my liking Heather Langenkamp where we have someone who lived life passively and wasn’t at all tough or aggressive in any way who has to develop or show her inner strength in overcoming the horror threat.  This allows for her to be properly frightened and tormented and yet give us the satisfaction at the end when she overcomes all of that and stands up for herself and ultimately wins in the end.  If the “Tough Female Character” is in the title role, either she’s merely showing who she is or else it sets up for a Downer Ending where her toughness is not enough at the end.  The more passive character is one who has to change to win, and even though we don’t like that she had to suffer as she did we can at least get the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that she improves herself as a result of it.

Because of this, the best arc and the best developed arc is that of the son.  The problem with this arc is that he’s a bit too willing a participant in the cruelty for us to really be sympathetic towards, and his final scene where he sacrifices himself for his mother is one where we need to feel sympathy for him.  I will give the movie credit for giving him plenty of scenes where he struggles with it and for giving him a subplot where he seems to be in love with the female servant, but I think the movie could have focused much more on him and taken away the time that was given to her for it and it would have been a lot better.

Ultimately, though, this movie isn’t actually a bad movie.  As I said, it explained everything well and so worked that way, and the climax is a sensible conclusion to the arcs developed in the movie.  This would be a candidate for a movie to go into my closet of movies to definitely rewatch, but I don’t think I like any of the main characters enough for that to work.  So it’s a movie that goes into the box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point, but is one of the higher tier movies in that category.

Next up is a set of four movies in a pack that I bought a while ago and never watched, and so if nothing else at least I’ll finish them off going into the New Year.

Thoughts on “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer”

January 12, 2023

This is a modern sequel in this franchise, and it really seems to hit what I think is a huge flaw in modern works that try to insert themselves into a franchise:  they ape the form of the originals, but don’t get what made the originals good and fun, and so end up being greatly inferior to them.  I think you could write an entire thesis where you compare this movie to “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and point out how it manages to pretty much copy all of the elements of the original movie and yet does them in such a way that the emotional connection and, well, pretty much everything good about the movie is lost.  I don’t have the time to do that, but let me run through some of the main ones to highlight how this movie stumbles here.

First, both movies start with an event that generates a secret that the main cast try to keep because revealing it will ruin their lives, but it’s a secret that ostensibly leads someone to try to get revenge on them a year later.  In the original movie, the secret was that while returning from a party on the beach they accidentally hit someone and out of fear that they will be arrested, they dump the body and keep the secret.  This was already a pretty specious reason to keep the secret, but at least there was the jerk character who had the most to fear driving those idiotic actions.  Here, they set up a prank based on the Fisherman — the killer from the previous two movies — and it goes wrong and kills the son of the sheriff, which gets them to hide their involvement for … some reason, given that it is revealed later that the son was indeed in on the prank and it was an accident.  There’s a hint that something that was supposed to keep him safe was moved or removed, but that never comes up again.  So in the first movie there are lots of candidates for someone who would consider what they did a serious enough thing to want to kill them — and a bunch of other people — off, but that isn’t the case here.  Second, both movies try to show that keeping the secret has badly damaged them and ruined their lives, but the first movie manages to make it feel natural while this movie ends up making it feel like an afterthought.  In the first movie, we simply see the issues that the characters — especially the main character — are having with the secret, especially in the focus on the main character in the first movie going from being an incredibly smart young woman to someone who is failing out, and she never really seems happy even from the start.  Meanwhile, the main character in this movie starts out by going to a party and only becomes unhappy when her boyfriend returns from California and breaks up with her.  This also is another case where the new movie flubs it because in the first movie the first time we get an inkling that they are consumed by guilt is when the main character’s mother wonders what happened to her daughter which is subtle since we know what’s causing it but the mother doesn’t and so isn’t explicitly saying “What you did is haunting you!” whereas here the first case like that is the boyfriend commenting that what happened last summer changed everything which is indeed the movie explicitly telling us that they are consumed with guilt, which if it was properly written we wouldn’t need.  On top of that, in the first movie in their interactions it’s clear that they have drifted apart because of the guilt, but there’s much less explicit hostility towards each other, whereas here they are all explicitly hostile towards each other, which is laying it on a bit thick and makes them less likeable characters.

We also get the long periods of time when not much killing happens, but whereas in the first movie that felt more like setting them up as being real people here it just seems like, well, aping that, making it so that these sorts of things are happening but not seeing to have a purpose.  On top of that, there’s also an unrequited “nice guy” chasing the main character, but here he isn’t a jerk and ends up winning her in the end, while her boyfriend takes the place of the jerk from the first movie and dies.  On the one hand, that actually provides a purpose for that character that the first movie lacked, but on the other hand it removes the reconciliation angle of the movie and makes the female supporting character pointless, whereas in the first movie she had a little reconciliation arc of her own before being killed, so I’ll take the first movie’s approach, flawed as it was, over this one.

The biggest change is that this movie seems to be trying to create an actual supernatural killer here with their Fisherman character.  Ultimately, he’s not someone who was wronged by them and at a minimum is stated to be some sort of legendary killer who kills teenagers who have deep, dark secrets.  This could, of course, still be the original character from the first two movies since he was indeed a fairly indiscriminate killer when he got going, but on a number of occasions he’s stabbed and, in particular, shot without even feeling the effects, and the main character declares that only the original hook that they bought off of E-bay can hurt him.  Well, that and the blades of a large snowblower, which is how she ultimately kills him.  That could really only work if the killer is a supernatural killing machine, but that entirely loses the revenge motive and isn’t all that interesting besides.  I don’t think that model really works, especially since the movie doesn’t bother to explain any of it while making it clear that that’s what’s happening.

The movie also copies the previous two in having the twist ending where the main character is attacked at the end.  However, in this movie that attack is entirely implausible — it looks like the killer had to somehow slash her tire while she was driving on the highway which isn’t plausible even for a supernatural killer — and so we’re actually pretty sure that it’s some kind of dream, which the second movie implied the one in the first movie was.  Given that, it’s not really a good sequel hook and just seems mostly pointless (kinda like the scene in the second movie once the first movie’s killing was established to be a dream).

Ultimately, this movie copies the first movie but it’s purely a shallow copy, copying the form but not the substance.  It doesn’t have a radically new take on it or approach to it that could make it interesting, but it doesn’t copy it well enough to be another somewhat entertaining movie in the same vein as the original movies.  It’s also not a sequel and so doesn’t have that to work with, following on from the original story and original characters.  Given all of that, this is not a movie that I want to watch again.  However, it goes into my closet for the movies that I will rewatch at some point because it’s in the same pack as the previous two movies, and I’d definitely watch the first one again.  It’s a shame that this one couldn’t even rise to the flawed levels of the first movie that it so blatantly and imperfectly copied.

Thoughts on “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer”

January 5, 2023

So this is the sequel to “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, bringing back the two surviving characters from the first movie and adding in a few new ones.  It explains away the ending of the previous movie as just a dream, as it turns out that Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie is suffering from horrific dreams that have gotten worse as the anniversary of the events gets closer, and her and Ray aren’t actually living together and might be on the rocks, and her two friends are encouraging her to go out with dogged nice guy friend Will instead.  Julie’s friend wins a trip to the Bahamas by answering a question about the capital of Brazil as Rio De Janeiro, and while Julie invites Ray he at first demurs but then is convinced by his friend to go since he wants to propose to Julie, but on the way they get ambushed by the killer and he gets hospitalized.  Meanwhile, Julie’s friend invited Will to go along in Ray’s place — since she didn’t expect Ray to show up — and they all jet off to the Bahamas, where it turns out that the resort is having its off season and so almost no one is still around.  This makes it a prime location for the killer to start killing off people … but not the main characters, for the most part.  Meanwhile, Ray tries various ways to get to the island to save Julie and reunite with her.

The movie starts, again, with Julie’s life being greatly impacted by the events with the killer from the previous movie, and while that was a novel element in the first movie here it seems repetitive and out-of-place.  We would have hoped that she at least wouldn’t be close to failing out of school again.  And it would have worked better if she had had everything mostly together but was starting to get the dreams again which was causing her issues, as that would have made for a disturbing emotional event for her that we could relate to.  By the same token, while the first movie spent a lot of time setting things up that seemed to have no purpose other than to humanize them, here the movie spends pretty much the entire first half of the movie with Julie dealing with her potential love triangle with Ray and Will.  Now, Julie is played by Jennifer Love Hewitt and she made a career out of those sorts of things, so it’s not really boring, but it really seems like that time could have been spent on other things, especially since for most of it we knew that there was a killer since he tried to kill Ray.  Also, the scenes where Ray is trying to get to her are too intense to be breaks from the action, are too prominent to be ignored, but also don’t really show us anything that we needed to see.  There’s an interesting scene with the gun that he buys with the engagement ring, but that’s pretty much the only event of consequence that couldn’t have been done just as well through exposition at the end as opposed to an actual scene.

The reveal of who the killer actually is ties into the resolution of that love triangle, which is nice, although it was pretty much telegraphed and I was only puzzled at all by it because of a slightly interesting twist.  However, beyond that it’s a pretty standard horror film where none of the principals actually die.  Given that, I don’t think I like it as much as the first one, which was pretty much on the dividing line between “definitely rewatch” and “might rewatch at some point”.  Since it’s not as interesting as the original, this one might lean towards the “might rewatch at some point” … but since it’s in the same case as the first one it will end up in my closet of movies to rewatch again.  Again, it’s a testament to what good actors with good performances and solid production values can do for a movie.  “Easter Bunny Massacre” has a better set of mysteries and the resolutions aren’t that much less interesting,  but amateurish production values are noticeable and hurt the work.  The best thing about good production values is not what you notice, but what you don’t notice:  they get out of the way and let us focus on the plot and characters and work as a support.  There’s nothing here that’s that impressive, either in plot or characters or production values, but they’re all done well enough that I can just focus on what it provides.  It’s a shame that too many of the horror movies I’ve watched don’t seem capable of just doing a basically competent movie.

The last movie in the pack is the later sequel to the first two, and that’s what’s up next.

Thoughts on “I Know What You Did Last Summer”

December 29, 2022

So, let me continue on with my plan to watch everything Jennifer Love Hewitt has ever done by talking about “I Know What You Did Last Summer”.  Well, okay, there isn’t really any kind of plan here, since this movie series is rather famous — and parodied in one of the “Scary Movies” movies — and so when I saw the three movies available in a pack for a decent price from a new used DVD store that I wandered into this past fall I obviously had to pick it up, and that Jennifer Love Hewitt was in it after I had watched her in “Party of Five”, “Time of Your Life”, “Ghost Whisperer” and “The Client List” was just a happy coincidence.  It probably did encourage me to put this series on the top of my stacks to watch when I reorganized them recently, though.

Anyway, the plot here is that four teens are partying on the Fourth of July and head out to the beach before heading off to what they hope will be great and wonderful lives, but on the way back they run into a man and seemingly kill him.  While Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Helen and even Freddie Prinze Jr.’s Ray all at some point want to simply report it, the drunken — but not driving — owner of the car refuses because he figures that they won’t believe that Ray — who was sober — was driving and he’ll go to jail, and convinces the others that that will happen, and so they agree to cover it up.  As they do so, the “corpse” comes to life but they end up, in a panic, dumping the body in the water anyway.  One year later, Julie returns and gets a note saying “I know what you did last summer”, and then other things start to happen to them, including the jerk guy getting run over but not killed.  But as bodies start to pile up they have to figure out who is trying to kill them before they are all killed.

One thing that is interesting about this movie is that while other horror movies would have them have done the deed and then perhaps had Julie be the only character affected by it, this movie focuses on all of them being greatly impacted by what they did.  Julie, the smart girl, is failing out of school.  Helen, the beauty queen, has failed completely at being an actress.  The jerk is living well because his family is rich but it’s clear that he hasn’t done anything in that year.  And Ray is working as a fisherman and later notes that the guilt over what they did was getting to them.  It’s rare that a horror movie with this premise will focus so much on the guilt they themselves have felt, and even more rare that it would do that without ever really having that pay off (it’s a minor point in a red herring about who the killer is).  For the most part, it’s only used to allow Julie to act sanctimonious, and while Jennifer Love Hewitt is really, really good at acting sanctimonious they could have easily let her be that way without having all of them be guilty and making it clear that their lives and their relationships with each other were all destroyed by what happened.

The biggest flaw of the movie, however, is indeed that it seems to set things up that it never really pays off.  There’s a arc with Helen and the jerk getting back together that is ended by the two of them getting killed off.  There’s also a rivalry between Helen and her sister that is never really developed or paid off.  The subplot of Julie and Ray getting back together is never paid off either, along with the relationship between the killer and the body that was found, along with the issues with the guy who likes Julie and has been her friend for ages.  All of this is in the movie and even highlighted, but the movie doesn’t really do anything with it.

Now, one way to look at it is that these are people who have lives and other things than what is important for the plot, and doing it this way might help us see them as real people without cluttering the actual plot with these full details.  But the issue with doing that is that there’s not a lot of time in an hour and a half movie, and so you can’t take time developing thing that you don’t pay off.  This has been one of my main complaints about modern horror movies lately, is that they take up time that could be better used for other things.  While the idea of “Chekhov’s Gun” has been dissected to death, one of the main ideas behind it is that if you draw attention to something, you need to pay it off somehow because the audience will notice and remember it.  No matter what you do, if you don’t use things you draw the audience’s attention to — even if just as a red herring — the audience will notice and will at least be disappointed.

The thing is that here, in contrast to the other movies, all I felt at the end of the movie was some disappointment that these things weren’t fleshed out, developed and resolved in the movie.  Interestingly, I didn’t feel frustrated with the movie for setting these things up and not paying them off or resolving them like I did with the other movies.  The reason for that, I think, is that the premise here is simple enough that I don’t feel that the time spent on those things was wasted time.  Sure, they could have hinted more at who the killer really was — there aren’t really all that many clues about it in the movie itself — but I didn’t feel like it needed it, and so didn’t feel like it took too much time away from the main plot.  And while the elements are there and our attention is drawn to them, it’s also not the case that the movie itself makes all that big a deal of the elements.  They’re there, but nothing in the movie turns on them and it really seems like the movie just wanted the elements there and didn’t want to make them a big part of the plot.  That’s why I pointed out above that you could use such things to try to get us to think of the characters as real people with real concerns in an attempt to humanize them, as it seems to be part of their character but not part of the plot.  And that’s why I could feel disappointed rather than frustrated with those elements, as they don’t take away time that was needed for the plot and does create more human characters even if the elements aren’t paid off.

This movie is a prime example of what you can do when you come up with a basic premise, have good production values and get good performances from your actors.  There’s a lot of things I could nitpick about this movie, but it works well-enough that I don’t really want to do that.  In that sense, it’s a lot like “The Craft”, which also has a number of flaws but is overall good enough that I can look past them.  And so, like that movie, I am likely to watch this one again at some point.

Thoughts on “Curse of the Mayans”

December 22, 2022

I had picked this movie up a long time ago and never gotten around to watching it, and so when sorting through my horror movie stack I saw it and decided that I really, really should just go ahead and watch it and be done with it.

The basic plot is that the Mayan calendar wasn’t reflecting when the world would indeed end, but instead when the world would start to end, with a prediction that some ancient aliens would be released from their imprisonment to end the world.  An artifact is found that relates to this, and an academic creates an expedition to seek out that area and he recruits a diver who has stopped doing these sorts of expeditions because she lost her husband on the last one.  For much of the rest of the movie, we see them heading out to the site with one of the older members talking about how this is a terrible idea.  When they get there, they can’t unseal the site, but the other woman — who is dating the ex of the diver — seems to get possessed and then manages to break and open the seal.  They then explore the underwater site but it is revealed that the aliens actually take over bodies, and start to do that to the other members, and so the academic sacrifices himself to blow it all up and the diver manages to survive and in some kind of surreal ritual talks about having to stop the rest of them before they can bring about the end of the world.

My overall impression of this movie is that it is incredibly boring.  I gripe about Developing Doomed Characters but it can work and be necessary if those relationships and personality traits are needed or used as elements of the horror or as part of the resolution of the story.  But none of them are.  The diver is potentially still interested in her ex and the other woman isn’t happy about the two of them being so close, but then someone else is interested in the diver and after getting drunk she sleeps with him.  This has no impact on anything else in the plot, nor are these weaknesses what allows them to be possessed.  We don’t get a real resolution to the diver’s issues from having lost her husband, nor does the academic get hoisted on his own petard as he gets to go out in a blaze of glory.  Even after the possession is revealed and she’s told how to kill them she doesn’t really kill any of them that way.  The lore is mostly pointless and most of the movie is spent just with them getting there and not related to the supposed horror elements itself.  Ultimately, nothing at all happens in the movie.

Obviously, if I’m saying that the movie was just incredibly boring that’s a sign that I didn’t care for it.  And I didn’t.  More time should have been spent in the caverns or prison or tomb or whatever with more explanation of what was going on.  Instead, it spends a lot of time just having people do normal things that have no relation to anything that happens, which ends up with nothing of import happening in the movie.  This one is going into my box of movies to sell as I am not going to watch this movie again.  I regret watching it this time.

Thoughts on “Don’t Breathe 2”

December 15, 2022

I had watched the first “Don’t Breathe” a while ago, and didn’t have that much interest in the sequel.  But, of course, when I saw it for a reasonable price while browsing, I decided to give it a shot.  What I recalled of my impression before starting to watch the sequel was that the idea wasn’t bad, but the protagonists weren’t all that sympathetic and the things the blind antagonist could do were sometimes strained credulity.  Also, he wasn’t really a villain in the classic sense, since he was clearly broken from the death of his daughter, which made him a more sympathetic character, which is why I called for a Downer Ending where he gets a replacement for his daughter from the female lead while she then was paid off by him and was able to escape with the child she cared about like she wanted to.

The sequel actually tries to get to that point.  In a scene that I’m not sure was in the original movie, he finds/kidnaps a little girl after some kind of fire and has been raising her himself, not letting her go to school and giving her survival tests in his standard idiom.  He does let her go into town on occasion, but doesn’t want to let her go this time because she failed the survival test, but the woman who delivers the plants he raises prevails upon him to let her go, where she looks at a shelter/orphanage and wants to play with the kids there and maybe even live there.  While there, a man follows her into the bathroom and seems threatening, but she uses their dog to scare him off and returns to the house.  The man ends up following her and they invade the house, after killing the dog and locking the blind man out of the house.  A cat-and-mouse game ensues, but the invader eventually says that he’s the girl’s real father and he wants her back.  While tempted, she is not inclined to go with him and ends up being knocked out and taken away while the invader and his friends set the house on fire.  When she awakens, she’s with her father and mother and they seem to want to make it a family, but it turns out that the mother is going to die and needs a heart transplant and only want her back so that she can provide the heart.  And if you’re thinking that the girl needs her heart to live, well, yes, that’s absolutely true, and so they are going to kill her.  The blind man, however, has tracked them down using their own dog and rescues her, but is badly wounded and ends up dying, and at the end she goes to the shelter and when she’s asked her name pauses but then gives the name the blind man gave her instead of her original name.

The original movie had a great atmosphere because the three thieves were in his house that even though he was blind he knew very well, where he could turn out all the lights to make them blind as well, and where they didn’t want to directly confront him and just wanted to get away.  Here, none of that holds.  The invaders have no reason to want to hide and stay quiet and so always want to turn the lights back on, and are willing to take him on directly, and for a large section of the movie the blind man has to confront them in their own building.  This turns the movie into far more of a raging action movie than a subtle horror movie.  Moreover, the motivations of the antagonists makes little sense.  They kill the woman who is delivering the plants for no reason except to make them look like villains from the start, but then at the end once they’ve been proven to be villains the movie seems to want us to think that the girl might actually want to reclaim her original name … from the people who were going to unceremoniously kill her off for her heart.  If they wanted to do that, it would have worked out better if instead of adding on the “we need her organs” plot — which necessitated them hinting at an organ selling plot that only existed to provide someone to do the transplant — they had had the mother be dead and the father be simply looking for revenge, and still set up the situation that they did in this movie where the father is trying to kill the blind man while the girl is risking great injury or death.  His proving that he wanted his revenge more than he wanted to be reconciled with her — and, in fact, proving that all he wanted was revenge — would make her choice at the end of what name to use have at least some meaning and reflect her choosing the fact that the blind man wanted her more than simple revenge, which would tie back to the original movie.

Now, when I started watching it and saw the opening scene with the survival test, I rolled my eyes and expected that the movie would be about her facing off against all the invaders as one huge survival test, which would strain credulity.  However, if they had actually done that it would have made the movie make far more sense than what we had, as she was straining to leave but with that one huge survival test she would have proven that she could take care of herself, which could allow him to let her go even as he died.  And at the end they might even have had her simply pick a new name for herself, showing that she was independent now.

But as it is, the movie and its big scene at the end are pointless, the atmosphere from the first movie is lost, and the plot is stupid and convoluted and doesn’t even work for the action story that this turned into.  This also doesn’t really relate back to the first movie and so you don’t need to watch it to watch that one.  As such, I am putting this into my box of movies to eventually sell.  There’s nothing at all good about this movie.

Thoughts on “The Cellar”

December 8, 2022

This is the second movie that features a recognizable female lead, which this time is Elisha Cuthbert.  I never actually watched any of her shows, as it turns out, but she was such a pop media presence that I, and almost everyone else, knew who she was.  She looks quite a bit different here, and I could really only recognize her by her voice.

The main plot here is that a family moves into a house that they got for an incredible price, which should always be some kind of warning for the people who buy it.  Sure, in the real world it usually means that there’s some kind of rot or structural issue that’s going to take a ton of time and money to fix, but in the horror world it usually means that there are some kind of ghosts or demons in the mix.  That’s the case here as well, as the previous family that owned the house had almost everyone disappear without a trace, and creepy things start happening.  Soon enough, the teenage daughter — who didn’t want to move into the house in the first place — is home with her brother while the parents are at a business meeting and after the lights go out is told by the mother to go into the basement to check it, and since she’s freaked out about that the mother tells her to count the steps to get over her fear, and is freaked out when the daughter mindlessly keeps counting long past the number of steps, and then disappears.  At least partly out of guilt, the mother obsessively investigates the house and discovers that the previous occupant left behind some equations that link to alchemy and to Baphomet, a demon who wants to bring about the apocalypse.  The rest of her family ends up getting caught up in the mindless counting, and she ends up discovering how to open the way to Baphomet’s domain and manages to rescue the daughter, and then tries to get everyone to leave the house but discovers that outside the house is a wasteland, and then all the family starts doing the counting again and she starts doing it herself, which ends the movie.

I admit that I found the ending a bit disappointing.  I actually did want this to be a happy instead of a Downer ending, but worse than that was the fact that it isn’t clear what happened.  Early on, it’s stated that Baphomet wants to use these things to bring about the apocalypse, and so the wasteland outside the house could be reflecting that he succeeded.  Or, it could be the case that they are simply trapped in that dimension and can’t get out, and that the house itself in our reality is still the same, since it was also established early on that these are different dimensions.  It kinda blunts the Downer Ending a bit if we don’t know just how much of a Downer it really is.

That being said, this is a movie that shows that all you need is a decent plot and some decent performances to make a credible horror movie.  I could easily nitpick the fact that the movie doesn’t explain anything about Baphomet and his goals or methods.  Why is counting so important?  How does that allow for the dimensional shifts?  How would that cause the apocalypse?  None of these questions are answered, but what’s important is that the answers aren’t important to the plot, and the movie itself doesn’t really draw attention to that.  So we can go along accepting that these are the way things are and then use that to build the horror without worrying too much about what it all means.  Thus, the movie has just enough plot and exposition to get us to the scares and so we know to be creeped out when people start mindlessly counting without either keeping things way too obscure and hidden or spending too much time on exposition.  This leaves us able to enjoy Cuthbert’s performance — which, though not as good as Christina Ricci’s — and the tension that the movie at least competently builds.

Given all of that, this movie is somewhat on the cusp between a movie that I would definitely rewatch again and one that I might rewatch again.  But on consideration, I think it is at least as good as “The Changeling”, and for a lot of the same reasons, and that one is in my closet.  So this one goes there, too.  And this clearly shows that for horror the important thing about the plot is not having something complicated or deep or that gives a wonderful message, but instead to have a plot good enough to do what you want to do, filling out just enough that we know what’s coming when the creepy things start to happen but not necessarily explaining every little thing.  This movie does that, and when you add in the strong production values and Cuthbert’s strong performance, you end up with a horror movie that’s better than most of the horror movies I watch.

Thoughts on “Monstrous”

December 1, 2022

This is the first of two movies that I picked up at least in part because the female lead — and the main protagonist — was a recognized actress that I kinda liked.  This time it’s Christina Ricci, who is no stranger to creepy roles and movies, but who at least recently has done a few more “normal” things as well (“Pan-Am” for one, which I didn’t watch).  The idea also sounded somewhat interesting, as it was about a woman and her son moving to a new house and facing some kind of threat, so it was worth taking a chance on it since it was, again, relatively inexpensive.

The movie is set in I think the 50s, and she has moved away and is renting that house because of something her husband did to her son, that the movie is very cagey about mentioning.  She also has dreams and visions that include a woman that she seems to recognize.  At the same time, her son sees a monster coming from the lake, and it seems to enter his room, but later he starts talking about it not being a monster but instead being a “pretty lady”, even though Christina Ricci’s character still sees it as a monster, and ends up stabbing it once.  As things progress, her son doesn’t seem to be making any friends at the school she drops him off at every morning and when she throws him a birthday party no one comes, but it is revealed later that he didn’t give out the invitations, which ticks her off.  Soon after, she comes to pick him up from school and he isn’t there, and no one knows who he is, and then a police officer comes and takes her into the station, and as she is questioned about what really happened to her son her “phone” rings, and it is revealed that she has a cell phone and it isn’t really the 50s at all, and that she’s been living in a delusion the entire time.  It turns out that her son drowned, possibly because she left him alone with his father who didn’t watch him closely enough and she then returned to find him already dead.  The reason that’s possibly is because while she implies that that’s what happened, it isn’t clear that that’s what happened because her retreat into delusion is out of guilt, and the scene that shows it doesn’t include him.  At any rate, it turns out that the woman she was seeing was her grandmother, who talked about how much simpler things were in the past which is what spawned her retreat into that as a delusion, and she was living in her grandmother’s old house and driving her old car.  She ends up driving away in the old car, seemingly having accepted her son’s death but perhaps to simply move away to retreat into delusion again.

The premise here is actually a pretty good one.  While someone retreating into a delusion isn’t a new idea — in fact, the movie “The Turning” did it a while ago — in general what happens in these sorts of movies is that someone is in an insane asylum or something and everything is a complete hallucination.  What’s interesting here is that she is living in the real world and is at least mostly functioning in that world, but her delusion is interpreting the modern world in 50s terms.  This opens up all sorts of ways to hint that she’s in a delusion and to play out the plot and the interpretations.  So it’s both a pretty standard premise and also one that the movie has a potentially interesting spin on.

But the main problem with this movie is that it takes this simple and interesting premise and makes it way, way too complicated, and in ways that leave things open that the movie didn’t need in the first place.  They have the relationship to the grandmother — which they hint at enough that I suspected that it was all a delusion long before the end — the delusion itself, the monster, the monster becoming a pretty lady, the incident with her son, a conflict with her landlords, and her motivations for the delusion itself.  The actual monster idea gets barely touched on, and is quickly replaced with the “pretty lady”, and we never do find out the details of what happened to her son.  What you really want in a movie like this is to build things slowly and drop hints that things aren’t right and that she’s living in a delusion without spoiling it, and the movie spends too much time on other things to leave room for that.  Sure, it might be — and likely is — the case that some of the things she sees aren’t accurate to the time and so would provide such hints, except that we get into what Shamus Young referred to as “Trust the Storyteller” and so any inaccuracies that people familiar with the time would notice will be easily explained by the writer simply making mistakes about what would happen in that time.  It’s actually really difficult to drop these sorts of hints without giving anything away, and so what we’d need is for the character herself to note it and then explain it away, which would allow us to accept that explanation but then be reminded of it later.  But with all the additional complications the small details get lost — like the people at the school looking at her funny — in the overwhelming little details.

If it was me, what I would have done was remove the monster part entirely.  Make it into a more classic ghost story by keeping the “pretty lady” angle, which ties into the grandmother angle.  Yes, you’d probably have to name it “Pretty Lady” or something, but that would create an interesting pun and red herring for the plot of the movie, since at first blush that would seem to refer to her and not to the ghost/monster.  This would also allow them to avoid showing the monster early in the movie like they did here, which would be good because once you introduce and show a monster you can’t easily go back to showing the everyday routine, since the actual known threat from the monster will overwhelm that.  And for a movie like this, what we really, really want is to see the everyday routine so that we can find the hints that this is all a delusion, and so making us wonder when the monster will appear again works against that.  Once the monster is eliminated, the movie can mostly proceed as it does, although while I’d keep the hints that it was the father who was responsible for the drowning I’d make a clear statement at the end that she left the son alone for a short time and he drowned because of that, which explains the enormous guilt that she’s feeling that causes her to retreat into her delusion.

The sad thing is that, as noted above, this isn’t all that novel a concept.  This is a concept that should really be a slam dunk.  Even if they fumbled on the hints — which they did — the premise is interesting enough that all you need is a sympathetic lead and a remotely interesting sequence of events combined with a simple ghost story to keep the audience’s attention through the movie until the end.  But things are so confused and so complicated with a number of unnecessary things that it can’t really be enjoyed on its own, and the fact that nothing gets settled at the end doesn’t help.  It boggles my mind that in terms of plot the movie fumbles things so very, very badly with a premise that is both so simple and so familiar and thus should have been easy to pull off.

Now, normally a plot fumbled so badly would get me to toss this into my box of movies to sell.  I mean, I was indeed actually bored at times while watching it, which is a bad sign.  But Christina Ricci puts on a wonderful performance, which makes me really feel for her character and interested in how things work out for her.  It’s a shame that that wonderful performance comes in such a poorly realized movie, but her performance is so good that I can easily imagine myself rewatching it just to see her performance again.  If they had managed to even provide even a simple, basic plot, her performance would have easily made this a move that I would rewatch on a fairly regular basis, but since they didn’t, it will go into the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point in the future, although it is probably at the top of that list.

Thoughts on “Slapface”

November 24, 2022

So this is another Shudder exclusive, and the basic plot revolves around a young boy and his older brother, who is trying to raise him alone because their parents died in a car accident.  One ritual that they have is a game called “Slapface”, where they slap each other in an attempt to work their frustrations out on each other.  The young boy is also being bullied by a group of young girls, one of which — Mariah — seems to like him but since the other girls dislike him she participates in the bullying.  The young boy is also obsessed with a local monster called the “Virago” who is supposed to live in an old insane asylum.  On a dare from the bullies, he goes inside and ends up awakening the monster, who then starts defending him from things like a dog that was sicced on him and some other threats.  At the same time, the older brother starts dating a woman named Anna, who starts to get concerned about the young boy.  It also turns out that the young boy has gotten in trouble with the law which has the Sheriff on their case.  Eventually, the Virago kills Anna and then the young boy is being chased by the young girls and the Virago ends up attacking Mariah for taunting and puts her in the hospital, which ends up getting the young boy put in jail.  Later, he wakes up and finds everyone slaughtered in there, and returns to his house, where he ends up confronting his brother and the Virago attacks the brother as well, ultimately killing him, but after the young boy seemingly kills the Virago the creature disappears, implying that maybe it never really existed in the first place.

The big problem with this movie is that it seems to be aiming at making a point, which is about bullying, as that’s the message it displays at the end of the movie, calling out bullying and noting that it can come from family members as well.  That seems to be why we have the ambiguity at the end where it tries to imply that the young boy was doing all the things himself, and that’s actually not a bad way to present the issue (it’s also not an uncommon tack to take, with the monster actually being the repressed rage of the main character).  But the way it is presented doesn’t work here.  First, the way they set things up makes it unlikely that the young boy is actually the killer.  Mariah seems to see the monster before she is attacked, and it seems unlikely that the young boy could have killed everyone in the police station on his own.  Given that, it isn’t all that credible that there wasn’t really a monster, and if that’s not the case then the bullying point falls a bit flat, as while he would be being bullied the monster’s reactions would indeed be over the top.

This is only compounded by the fact that while the bullying is indeed generally bullying it’s pretty weak as bullying and the points would work better as family drama points rather than anti-bullying points.  While you can make a point about the bullying of the young boy and Mariah’s falling into line and being mean to him to avoid being bullied herself, it works better as an issue for him to deal with and a rather strange relationship and friendship than as something focused on as a bullying plot.  Also, the movie tries to present the game of “Slapface” as terrible bullying — mostly by having Anna be incredibly bothered by it — but while it could be interpreted that way it could also be interpreted as a creative way for the two of them to work out their issues with each other, yet one that’s tragic because it’s one that isn’t particularly healthy, and only reflects that neither of them really know how to cope with the loss of their parents.  So as an anti-bullying message the girls are bullies but he could in general avoid them and the impact it has on his relationship with Mariah works more as a drama plot than as a bullying plot, while the case of the brother is generally more a case of attempting to cope with the situation and maybe failing than as bullying.  For a movie that clearly wants to be a message about bullying, it doesn’t establish the bullying enough to work as a message movie.

Beyond that message, there isn’t really much to the movie.  We don’t really find out what the purported motive of the Virago is and don’t even know if it’s real, and most of the movie is spent on the relationships instead of the horror.  But they reveal the “monster” way too early to return to and settle into normal domestic issues after we know that there’s a violent monster out there, which colours the entire rest of the movie.  There might be some interesting domestic issues here, but we can’t really focus on them while we are trying to figure out what the deal is with the monster and when it will strike again.  So the horror is revealed too early for us to go back to the simple domestic issues that the move wants to explore, but those issues run for too long afterwards and so sideline the monster plot that was already established.

As you might expect, I didn’t care for this movie.  The structure doesn’t work for either the horror or dramatic parts of the movie, and the anti-bullying message doesn’t work for the plot and structure of the movie.  I’m not going to watch this movie again.