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.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Brood (1979)

Introduction:
I haven’t seen any of David Cronenberg’s films from the 1970s. In fact I haven’t seen too many of his films in general. So I was pretty stoked to see that Criterion was putting a couple of his better regarded films on Hulu Plus. I didn’t know much about this film, other than it had something to do with creepy kids. That seemed to be a staple of 70s horror, maybe thanks to The Omen. All I knew is that it was probably going to include some disturbing fleshy moments.

Summary:
Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) has some serious emotional issues. Her husband Frank (Art Hindle) has her undergoing experimental therapy under the care of Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Raglan is able to work with his patients to expose their pain and anguish in physical manners, such as raised bulges and protuberances that appear instantly. While this is shocking and disturbing, Frank begins to wonder if this is actually helping any of the patients.

His doubts are validated when his daughter Candice (Cindy) returns from a visit with her mother with bruises and scratches on her. Frank tells Dr. Raglan that he wants to stop the visits, but Raglan insists that Nola is at a critical phase in her treatment and stopping the visits will only cause things to get worse. Well, things do get worse, but in a way no one expects. While Candice is staying with her grandmother a strange little “person” attacks and kills the grandmother. Frank fears for his daughter’s life. When more attacks continue he begins to wonder if Dr. Raglan is connected to the fearsome attacks by the murderous Brood.

Good Points:
  • A slow building story that gets more disturbing as it goes along
  • The finale really packs a punch
  • Acting by the three leads helps the story along

Bad Points:
  • If you don’t buy into the concept at the heart of the story, the film will not work for you
  • Some viewers may find the pint sized horrors to be silly looking
  • Some of the supporting cast goes a little over the top

Overall:
I found this film to be a nice slow build to a very disturbing climax. The concept of manifesting your strong emotions into a physical form is an interesting horror idea and Cronenberg uses it well. The main cast does a great job with Oliver Reed providing a cool intensity that makes you immediately distrust him. Beneath the horror is the idea that physical abuse and torment within a family can literally be passed down from generation to generation.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 4
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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Introduction:
So I finally got around to picking up some stories by Richard Matheson, and the collection included the novel “Hell House”. This was a great read with some very disturbing moments and some really interesting sequences where the characters are really put through the ringer. I’d seen the movie a long time ago, but I figured I’d revisit it and see how it compares to the novel. Usually this is a bad idea… let’s see what happens.

Summary:
Super wealthy but aging billionaire Mr. Deutsch (Roland Culver) demands to know if there is an afterlife. He wants facts and so he gathers the best of the best in paranormal expertise. There is Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) a physicist who is convinced he knows the secret behind all types of paranormal activity and he has a machine to prove it. With him is his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) who is looking forward to some fun in a haunted house. Then there is Florance Tanner (Pamela Franklin) a mental medium who is very successful contacting spirits. Last but not least is Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall) a physical medium who barely survived the last excursion.

And what excursion is that? Why a nice trip to the most dangerous haunted house ever known: Hell House. This sprawling mansion was once owned by the infamous Emeric Belasco. This man was into debauchery, decadence and all manner of horrors. As such his house if filled with evil spirits that can’t wait to harm anyone that comes inside. The last group that risked it were either killed or driven insane – except for Benjamin. Now this new group must face disturbing haunting, horrifying revelations and even a possessed cat if they are to survive Hell House

Good Points:
  • Some fine acting by the small cast
  • Remains fairly true to Matheson’s original novel
  • Has some pretty creepy moments in it

Bad Points:
  • Some aspects of the plot and characters seem a bit too familiar
  • Seems to move in fits and starts
  • The ending doesn’t quite have the punch it should

Overall:
This movie almost works, but a bunch of little things keep it from being as memorable or scary as it should be. Hanging in the background is that Robert Wise’s film The Haunting covered similar ground and did it better. Some of the big moments don’t quite deliver. But the whole gothic atmosphere is handled well, and the cast does a very good job, especially the tormented performance by Pamela Franklin. Haunted house fans will enjoy it, but the novel worked a bit better and was able to get more extreme and disturbing in its own way.

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


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