Friday, October 31, 2014

The Color Out of Space (2010)

Introduction:
As most of you know, I’m a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his style of horror fiction. His works get adapted into films pretty regularly these days, but it is rare that you get a film that sticks to close the source material. There are plenty of reasons for this (and I could spend a whole blog babbling about it), but most of the time us Lovecraft fans have to settle for something “inspired” by the writer instead of getting an actual adaptation. That is why I was pretty excited to see this film; one that I heard was very close to the original tale of terror.

Summary:
In the year 1975 Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) leaves his home in Arkham to seek out his father who was last seen somewhere in Germany. Jonathan meets up with Armin Pierske (Michael Kausch) who tells him a tale about the little village where his father was last seen. During World War II a meteorite fell into one of the fields owned by a farmer named Nahum Gartener (Erik Rasetter). Gartener calls the university and they send some professors over to study the meteorite. It exhibits some very odd properties. It seems to remain hot even as the metallic object evaporates over time. Most bizarre are the globules of color that appear in the center of the meteor – a color no one has ever seen before or can even describe.

Eventually the meteor dissolves into nothingness, but the Gartener’s farm begins a strange metamorphosis. Crops grow to enormous size, but taste horrible. Animals begin to mutate or shun the area. The family notices the trees appear to move without any wind. Pierske maintains contact with the family but fears they are losing their minds. Eventually the war brings soldiers. One of them is Dr. Davis (Ralf Lichtenberg) an American medic who becomes tied to the final revelation of The Color Out of Space.

Good Points:
  • A very faithful adaptation of the Lovecraft story
  • Minor changes to setting and characters help enhance the film
  • Moody and effective black and white cinematography

Bad Points:
  • The low budget hinders a few of the larger scale concepts
  • Moves at a slow measured pace to build up terror
  • Looking for a traditional horror film – look elsewhere

Overall:
It takes an independent German film to finally do justice to one of Lovecraft’s most interesting mixes of horror and science fiction. The result is a movie that takes time building up the dread until you can almost taste it. While some of the more horrifying visuals are compromised by a low budget, the film makes up for it with some lovely and disturbing cinematography. The cast does a fine job (although I had to judge based on a subtitled performance). All in all, this is a great find for Lovecraft fans and will work for anyone looking for something a little different for their Halloween Horror fest.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 5
Music: 3
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Forgotten (2004)

Introduction:
This was one of those movies that I remember seeing trailers for and being intrigued by. But for some reason or another I never got around to checking it out. Then it popped up on the Netflix download, I had a flashback to the trailer and decided to give it a spin. Was it worth digging up this… un-remembered movie or should it have stayed… in oblivion.

Summary:
Telly (Julianne Moore) is trying to cope with the loss of her son. Her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) starts to believe that she will never cope with anything. Mostly because they never had a son!  Telly refuses to beiieve that all her memories of her child are some kind of mental breakdown. She receives confirmation of this when she meets a Ash Correll (Dominic West). His daughter has also disappeared from everything but his memories.

The two begin a search for these missing children and a world that seems bent on erasing them from existence. Along the way they finds clues that point them to a decietful Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise) and put them in the way of determined detective Pope (Alfre Woodard). Have Telly and Ash gone completely insane or is there a secret behind the Forgotten children?

Good Points:
  • Julianne Moore delivers a very moving performance
  • Alfre Woodard injects some energy and personality into the film
  • Has a couple creepy moments

Bad Points:
  • Moves too slowly losing all sense of momentum
  • Never feels like it goes quite far enough with certain concepts
  • The final reveal is a bit of a let down

Overall:
About halfway through the film I wished that Woodard’s detective character had been the main character. She brings life and energy to this turgid film, and whenever she’s around the movie picks up. Sadly most of the film wallows in slow conversations that meander around but never quite gel. I see what director Joseph Ruben was going for, but he never quite captures that mood or atmosphere. The end result is a dull film that is quickly… forgotten. (had to be done)

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cosmic Horror Cast-a-thon

A fellow blogger and Lovecraft enthusiast over at Hitchcock’s World is hosting a Cast-a-thon for a Cosmic Horror film. What exactly is Cosmic Horror, well it is horror that focuses on how small and insignificant humans are. It is a fear based in the unknown of an unquantifiable nature. It is the terror that comes in knowing that you are really nothing compared to grand scheme of the cosmos – accepting that there is any scheme to the universe. See, it is even scarier that way. Check out the post What Makes a Cosmic Horror Story over at Hitchcock’s World.

You don’t see too many films that attempt this type of horror, and good old H.P. Lovecraft is probably one of the most famous writers of this type of tale (and you could argue he originated the concept).

The rules for this Cast-a-thon are simple. Pick one of Lovecraft’s elder god horrors. These beings are always causing mischief for various reasons. Then assemble a dream team of characters from various horror films to combat the evil. It’s all done in the name of fun and it allows me to stretch my creative thinking brain cells a bit.

So without further ado here is my Cosmic Horror Cast-a-thon.

The Old One - Nyarlathotep

A maniacal being from beyond the spheres of our known dimension has arrived on earth. His goal is to subjugate the people of earth and drive them slowly insane. His motives are unknown. His methods are subtle and terrifying. Even now, those who are corrupted by his power walk among us. He goes by many names, takes many forms, and has been here before. Some texts call him Nyarlathotep. All mentions of him are filled with fear.

Nyarlathotep in one of his pre-determined
forms
Is it even possible to face such a terrifying being? He was thwarted before, and not all that knowledge was lost. It requires a team of special heroes to attempt to stop Nyarlathotep – even if it means their destruction to do so.

The Sage
Agent Dale Cooper – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
 
"Diane, I need to you look up the spelling for
Nyarlathotep."
Agent Cooper dealt with the supernatural before, he is quite skilled at accepting the unexplainable, and keeping a level head when things go badly. He relies in intuition and appears to have a touch of extrasensory perception. He is also a bit eccentric (which would make for some humorous moments). Cooper would be quick to realize the danger that Nyarlathotep poses, and come up with the best way to combat the elder god. However, his sensitivity to the paranormal could make him a target for the dangerous being.

The Loremaster
Detective William Somerset – Se7en

Searching for the Necronomicon?
A cynic to the core, Detective Somerset may be difficult to convince that some ancient god is coming to destroy humankind. But I get the feeling that Agent Cooper may be able to convince him. Once Somerset is on board, his researching skills and tenacity to see the job completed would make him invaluable. He has plenty of connections in law enforcement as well, and this may come in handy as things become more and more bleak. Somerset is also a realist, willing to lay it on the line and say it plain.

The Scientists
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw – Prometheus

"An Elder God? Are you kidding me?"
Dr. Shaw is an archeologist and her research has uncovered interaction of humans and Nyarlathotep. Her faith is a driving force in her life and the concept of an elder god disturbs but intrigues her. Shaw’s research brings her to the attention of Somerset and so she joins the crew bringing her scientific skills. While the main force is supernatural in origin, most of Lovecraft’s villains use science to execute what appears to be magical to humans. Dr. Shaw’s clinical mind and ability to stay very calm and collected under pressure would be the perfect asset.

Dr. Lesh – Poltergeist


"I've seen this before. Back in 82 we had a similar
experience."
After her work with the Freeling family and their little ghostly problem, Dr. Lesh was pretty confident in her abilities to identify, classify and deal with supernatural beings. She is a parapsychologist, and has continued her work at narrowing down supernatural causes and using scientific methods to handle them. Not all of her work has been successful, but she has an open mind and is willing accept the supernatural as something that we don't understand now, but may come to understand with more research. She'll make an excellent partner for Dr. Shaw.

The Warrior
Nagi Kirima – Boogiepop Phantom
 
She isn't about to sit back and let her mind
be destroyed. She will fight to the end.
Nagi faced the darkness many times when she was a teenager in Japan. But her desire for justice drove her above the horror. As a teen, she was resourceful, fearless, clever and dangerous. Ten years later she’s facing another evil menace, once that threatens the whole world. She won’t sit still and let it happen. She will act, and she will do it alone if she has to. But armed with tools provided by Cooper, Somerset and Shaw, she has a real fighting chance. Nagi Kirima is a force to be reckoned with. She just needs a partner.

The Fool
Jack Burton – Big Trouble in Little China
 
"You know what old Jack Burton says at
time like this?"
Jack just can’t catch a break. After his adventures in and beneath Chinatown, Jack thought he had faced the worst life could deliver. Well the old Pork Chop Express got mixed up with a nasty shoot out between Nagi Kirima and some of Nyarlathotep’s devoted disciples. Jack just couldn’t let a hot girl like Nagi take on those nuts alone, so he came her rescue (if you ask Nagi he just got in the way and she had to save his ass). This little incident put him directly in the sights of Nyarlathotep. So Jack figures he might as well help save the world again, he didn’t really have anything special going on this weekend anyway.

* * *

So there is my dream team to face this cosmic threat. Will have have a hope in any of the nine hells? Hard to say, but I think it will be fun to watch them try. And yeah, I cheated a bit by adding Nagi, since a) she's animated and b) she's from a television series. But Boogiepop Phantom is one of my favorite anime series, fits perfect in the theme, and Nagi just kicks all kinds of ass. She'd spit in one of Nyarlathotep's multiple eyes, that's for sure.

Don't forget to check out the Cast-a-thon page over at Hitchcock's World to find links to other eldritch horror sagas. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Score Sample: The Grudge and The Grudge 2

This time of year I listen to a lot of horror film soundtracks. Horror film scores run a full range of styles from atonal sound design to full blown orchestral beauty and bombast. Of course the overriding feeling of these scores is to create some kind of darkness. One of the best film composers for darkness is Christopher Young. In fact, I featured his wonderful work on Drag Me to Hell back in October of 2013. That score is all about the big horror sound. One of my favorite scores that goes smaller and creepier is his work on the American remake of the Japanese film The Grudge. This score features a wonderful snakelike main theme, simple sounding but it works its way under your skin as the album progresses. The majority of the score stays quiet, disturbing, with a few moments of calm beauty and several moments of atonal horror. He also scored the sequel, with a larger ensemble and some Japanese musical instruments to add color. The result is a one two punch of wonderful and disturbing horror music. So enjoy the End Titles to The Grudge and Seme from The Grudge 2. Hopefully they won't give you nightmares.


End Titles from The Grudge


Seme from The Grudge 2

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cure (1997)

Introduction:
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a Japanese director I’ve had on my radar for a long time now. I’ve seen a couple of his movies and they were very intriguing. In many ways he reminds me of David Lynch. He has a very strong visual style, knows how to use sound to add and develop atmosphere, he doesn’t rely on plot, but rather on themes and visuals to carry the viewer along. His films take their time building toward a climax. I enjoyed the two films I’d seen previously, but I felt I was missing something. So I decided to go back to the film where Kurosawa really made a name for himself.

Summary:
There appears to be a serial killer on the loose. Several people have been found murdered with a large X carved into their body, severing both major blood vessels in the neck. Sometimes this was the cause of death; sometimes this was done after the fact. But the most puzzling element to the case is the simple fact that no clear connection can be found among this wide variety of victims. Detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) is finding it incredibly frustrating. At home things aren’t any better for him. His wife Fumie (Anna Nakagawa) is suffering from a mental illness that causes her to forget where she is and react to him in confusing and contradictory ways.

A break in the case comes when a strange young man (Masato Hagiwara) is found near the scene of one of the murders. He has no memory of his name, his life or even what question someone asked seconds ago. Instead of answering questions, he constantly questions others with the simple phrase, “Who are you?” The more detective Takabe interacts with this young man the more convinced he becomes that the young man is somehow causing these murders to occur. Takabe’s physiologist friend Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) warns him not to get in too deep. But Takabe is convinced he may have found a Cure to the illness that plagues this city, but it may turn out that the medicine is more bitter than he expects.

Good Points:
  • Kurosawa sets a mood of impending dread that builds over the film
  • Koji Yakusho does an amazing job in his role
  • Filled with layered symbolism and themes

Bad Points:
  • The narrative is fuzzy at best
  • Images, sound, atmosphere and theme take over the film
  • I’m still not sure if there is a solution to this puzzle film

Overall:
This is an intriguing film, showing off some masterful skills with camera work, sound effects, editing and mood. Even with the obtuse plot, Yakusho delivers in his role as the frustrated detective who may be losing his mind (or maybe not). Make no mistake, the answers do not come easily in this film, but there is a method to the madness. If this sounds intriguing to you, definitely check it out. I found it a wonderful exercise in building and executing dread.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 3
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 4
Total:  5

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Candyman (1992)

Introduction:
For a while there, we were getting quite a few Clive Barker horror films. His gory and often highly sexual stories seemed like a good fit for 80s and 90s horror cinema. He also tended to delve deep into the dark side of human nature, and it wasn’t always pretty when you saw something dark peering back at you. Of course not all adaptations of his work were successful and that may have lead to his stuff not being translated to film too often these days. Did this flick capture the spirit of Barker’s dark and disturbing world?

Summary:
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is working on master’s thesis involving urban legends. One of the most interesting stories she encounters tells of a sadistic killer named Candyman (Tony Todd). He has a hook instead of a hand, and appears if you say his name five times while facing a mirror. Helen investigates the stories of Candyman in some of the more dangerous and run down areas of Chicago. She discovers that people are truly afraid of this mysterious figure. Helen’s clinical approach keeps her from being drawn in, even making fun of the whole thing and saying Candyman’s name five times in a mirror.

Helen starts to hear a voice in her head, and see a huge man always watching and waiting. One minute she is facing him, the next she’s laying in a pool of blood that isn’t hers and being accused of abducting a baby. Has the research into Candyman caused Helen to snap, or has something more sinister occurred. Is it possible that a story can be believed so strongly that it becomes reality? Look in a mirror, say Candyman five times and find out.

Good Points:
  • An amazing performance by Virginia Madsen
  • Tony Todd is one of the most imposing and fearsome specters of the 1990s
  • Balances psychological horror with gory kills

Bad Points:
  • A slow burn, takes nearly 45 minutes before Candyman truly appears
  • Philip Glass’ score may pull some viewers out of the film
  • May be a bit too disturbing for those looking for a fun horror flick

Overall:
In my mind this is one of the best adaptations of Clive Barker’s storytelling brought to screen. Madsen’s fine performance allows us to connect to her, so when things start to go wrong we are drawn into the horror. The movie does not hold back in building tension and dread. The finale is disturbing but fitting in its own way. Well worth checking out and certainly one of the best horror films of the 1990s.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 5
Total:  4


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The House on Sorority Row (1983)

Introduction:
Back in the 1980s the sorority slasher films were a dime a dozen. You could count on a new one every other week. I swear we could have had three shelves at the video store dedicated to this sub-genre. Ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit. But still you’ve got to do something interesting to stand out from this crowded field. Does this 1983 flick have what it takes to be memorable?

Summary:
As we all know sorority girls just want to have fun. But that is really hard when your dorm mother is the stubborn and inflexible Mrs. Slater (Louis Kelso Hunt). She is such a pain in the butt that Vicki (Eileen Davidson) decides to play a nasty prank on her. After she threatens to the old woman with a gun, things take a turn for the worse. Mrs. Slater ends up dead, and the girls panic. The wrap up the body and toss it in the filthy pool and go ahead with their party… because this is college and PARTY!

Well since this is a slasher flick we know all the good times can’t last. Soon enough a mysterious killer is hunting down and bumping off all the girls involved in Slater’s murder. Even more horrible is that it appears that Mrs. Slater may have risen from the pool for revenge. Can sweet and wholesome Katherine (Kate McNeil) stop the killer and figure out the secrets of The House on Sorority Row before it is too late?

Good Points:
  • Some creative and gory kills
  • An interesting twist on the revenge angle
  • Looking for 80s nostalgia overload – this is the movie for you

Bad Points:
  • The 80s nostalgia overload may kill some unprepared viewers
  • The twist has been used before and since
  • Has a few moments of “how the hell did that just happen?”

Overall:
This was an entertaining slice of slasher movie fun. It’s got all the goods: gory kills, jump scares and cute girls running around. The 80s cheese factor is high, but that adds to the charm. While I did see the twist coming, it was kinda neat and certainly put a different spin on things. The score was also surprisingly good with some really solid orchestral cues by Richard Band. If you’re in the mood for a vintage slasher on a Friday night, this will work great.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 4
Total:  3


Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.