Monday, October 31, 2016

Top Ten: Movie Monsters

So I was pondering a good top ten for October and realized that I never catalogued my favorite movie monsters. So lets start with defining what a monster is. In this case I'm going to call a monster any type of creature that is more powerful than a human. It also has to be of animal intelligence. Beyond that and it we are getting into more villain territory. Movie monsters may be the main antagonist, but usually they are supporting cast to the main villain. So if we take an example from Return of the Jedi, I'd call Jabba the Hutt a villain, but the Rancor and the Sarlacc would be monsters.

So these are my favorites, and to be honest they ones I thought up pretty quickly. I'm sure you'll come up with others that I may want to add to my list.

10. The Cyclops - The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

So yeah, prepare yourself of a lot of Harryhausen on this list. When it comes to monsters, childhood is probably the best time to have them cast their spell on you. When I was a kid Harryhausen was the master wizard. His work with creatures of all shapes and sizes just fueled my imagination. The Cyclops from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad has to be on the list. He goes beyond the Greek vision of the creature but giving him a satyr-like lower half, a horn protruding above his eye and even a smattering of scales. He's a mix of horrors and colossal to boot! But I love the personality that Harryhausen gave him. His face is one of brutish malevolence. He likes to hurt and kill because he is just a huge bully. He's the scariest monster on the island, because you know if he sees Sinbad or any of the crew, he will do horrible things to them - for fun.

10. Vermithrax - Dragonslayer

For the longest time dragons and movies just didn't mix. Hollywood just couldn't seem to get them right. Once again Harryhausen had the best one in Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, but that creature was more like a pet than a character. Then along came Dragonslayer in 1981 and it held the crown for years, until Smaug finally made it to the big screen in 2013. And even so, I give big old Vermithrax the edge. She is terrifying in her size, her look, and her ability to rain down fire and death. She accepts human sacrifices and has no problem letting her children devour hapless princesses. The special effects team used a mixture of life sized rigs, computer controlled stop motion (called go-motion) and puppets to bring the old girl to life, and for the most part it works. I will admit that Smaug has more personality, because he can speak. But I think Vermithrax is actually a bigger badass of the two.

9. Kali - Golden Voyage of Sinbad

I'll be the first to admit that stop motion is always the best solution to brining a monster to life. But when the monster is mechanical and/or doesn't require smooth motion, then it can be very effective. Perfect example is the statue of Kali brought to life by the diabolical wizard Koura (played with gusto by Tom Baker). She can dance alluringly, but give the goddess a sword, or six and suddenly she's cleaving Sinbad's sailors like you wouldn't believe. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is filled to bursting with cool monsters, but Kali is the queen here. She does more damage to the crew than any of the other creatures and seems invincible. Metal sword and spears just bounce of her metallic body. And watching Harryhausen bring this complex figure to life in a full blown sword battle against a battalion of men is something else. From a stop motion perspective she is amazing, but she's also the deadliest challenge Sinbad ever faced.

7. The Balrog - Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

When you read The Fellowship of the Ring and try to imagine the Balrog, a creature made of flames and shadow, it seems like something best left on the page and in the imagination of the reader. But Peter Jackson had to get this beast on the screen in 2001 for a climactic battle of evil and good in the form of Ian McKellan's excellent Gandalf. In this case computer graphics was the only way to go, and the result is an amazingly dynamic monster. Much like the Cyclops from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, this creature is pure brutish malevolence. It exudes that in his poses, his stride and his confident and powerful attacks. It is an amazing creation that made for an iconic moment in that movie and maybe in all fantasy cinema. The Balrog is a beast to be reckoned with.

6. Stay Puft Marshmallow Man - Ghostbusters

Not all monsters are created equal. This list had to include one silly monster or it just wouldn't be my list. Well look no further than the hilariously evil Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. He's huge, he's tasty and he's destroying New York. Maybe the fact that he's so ludicrous makes him scarier... Probably not. But the image of a giant mascot for a baking treat is fighting the heroic Ghostbusters all makes sense for some reason. He's the perfect capper for a fun film and I just couldn't leave the big grinning guy off this list.

5. Godzilla - Godzilla

You can't have a favorite monster list without adding the king on it can you? And as much as I enjoy King Kong I have to say that Godzilla is just a giant green juggernaut that can't be stopped. Besides I've always like giant reptiles over giant apes anyway. Godzilla is a force of nature on the screen and as a franchise. Much like Dracula, Frankenstein's monster or zombies, you just can't keep the big guy down. Japan keeps bringing him back and if they aren't than Hollywood tries their hand at the rampaging beast. Most of the Godzilla movies are lot of fun, but the classic 'zilla films from the 50s, 60's and 70s will always be my favorites.

4. Medusa - Clash of the Titans

Ok I swear this is the last of the Harryhausen monsters. But I did warn you at the beginning right? Medusa is the most frightening of all the creatures from that era because of the whole package. Her lair is a ruined temple lit only by firelight. She can slither in and out of the shadows, but does so in a slow, measured pace of a hunter. She has a bow which she is a deadly shot with and uses it to knock her pray around so they end up looking at her, and when they do - well its all over for them. She is a sinister looking creature and a patient hunter on top of it. She makes quick work of Perseus' two companions and you wonder how the young man is going to get out of this one. It takes some quick thinking and a bit of trickery to do it, and we admire Perseus even more for his victory. In many ways this is the climax of the original version of Clash of theTitans. After facing down Medusa, the Kraken doesn't seem like much of a threat. I will say the remake in 2010 improved on that aspect, and their Medusa was a worthy upgrade. But the original had more tension and terror in that sequence and wins the day overall.

3. The Thing - The Thing

You can't trust anyone. One of the most horrifying things that can happen to you is complete isolation and despair and that is what The Thing taps into. The idea of a creature that can mimic humans so perfectly is scary enough, but the execution of this creature just ups the gross-out factor and the horror. It is almost as if the Thing is mocking us as it disassembles human forms, makes them move in impossible ways and accomplish disturbing attacks. John Carpenter keeps upping the stakes as the move progresses and we never get a true idea of what The Thing is trying to accomplish or even if it has a personality. It just is and we are in the way. So with fear of the unknown added to the mix, its no wonder The Thing ends up high on this list.

2. Cthulhu - Call of Cthulhu

As a Lovecraft fan how could I leave the big guy off the list. This 2005 film is done in the style of a silent movie. That means that Cthulhu himself is a stop motion creation that looms over the characters using all kinds of classic camera tricks. He looks great in the context of the film and when he emerges from his sunken tomb, it is really a great moment. For now Cthulhu doesn't seem to be a creation we'll see on the big screen. Even an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness ended up falling apart in pre-production. This may be the closest we get to seeing this iconic monstrous undead god on the screen in all his glory.

1. The Alien - Alien

When it comes to the truly terrifying I have to hand the monster throne to the alien from Ridley Scott's 1979 horror masterpiece Alien. The monster is built up through the course of the film. His planet of origin is dark, stormy and visually disturbing. The eggs are slimy and disgusting. Then you get the face hugger hatchling stage. The strange wormlike larval stage. Then you have a creature that seems to get bigger and more powerful each time you see him. It has acid for blood. It can hide in the shadows and appear  from hiding spots above or below. It is insect-like, reptile-like and not remotely human. It seems to be nothing more than a beast at first, but as the movie progresses you realize it has some kind of intelligence. It doesn't kill Ripley at the end because it knows it must escape the doomed Nostromo with her. This is a creature nightmares are made of, and in my opinion the most frightening monster put to film yet. Alien is a classic for many reasons, and the title creature is certainly one.

What did I miss on my list? Are any of your favorites on here?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Subspecies (1991)


Back in my video store days, I remember seeing the cover to Subspecies and its sequels many times over the years. I never got around to watching them at that time, wasn’t as into horror flicks back then (unless they were anime). A few years ago, comedic reviewer Allison Pregler (aka Obscures Lupa) took a look at all the films in the series and made them look like a goofy good time. So I picked up the box set. Was it worth the journey, or was this one bloodsucker I should have left on the shelf?


Three college friends travel to Romania to research medieval castles and folklore. Michelle (Laura Mae Tate) is the most studious of the trio, and always looks cute in her hat. While wandering around the local villages they discover a castle that is shunned by the locals because they fear that a vampire still lives in the crypt within. The girls joke around, but one of them gets cut while exploring and that is bad news.

Sure enough the villainous Radu (Anders Hove) rises from the crypt, gets a taste of the blood and starts stalking the girls. At the same time a mysterious young man named Stefan (Michael Watson) seems to know more than he lets on, and why does he only appear at night. Soon villagers end up dead, legends of the Bloodstone are unveiled and Michelle comes face to face with the fearsome Radu and his minions, the Subspecies.

Good Points:
  • Wonderful location shooting in Romania
  • Has some great creepy moments of atmosphere and suspense.
  • Hove is one hell of a vampire 

Bad Points:
  • Very traditional storyline that you’ll be able to predict
  • Some of the acting is pretty flat
  • Some elements of the script never seem to have a payoff


This movie manages to smash classic vampire folklore with the 1990s angsty vampire genres together and keep it all pretty entertaining. Hove is dark and unsettling as Radu, but Watson is pretty lifeless (pun kinda intended) as Stefan. Tate gives Michelle a bit of personality. But really this movie’s best points are the creepy settings and the Romanian countryside and castles. Plenty of riffable moments abound, but the movie is just trying to be a good time, and it succeeds. Not mandatory viewing and the sequels are actually a bit goofier and more riffable. But this is fine Halloween viewing if you crave some bloodsucking action.

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

In Depth Review

Live from Romania, it is RADU!
Subspecies comes to us courtesy of the direct to video boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Full Moon Entertainment was cranking out medium and low budget horror films like it was no ones business. You did get some gems among the massive glut of films, but most of these movies were fun entertainment for a weekend viewing. I know a lot of folks have a big chunk of nostalgia for the Full Moon catalogue, and I admit movies like Trancers and Puppetmaster fall in that area for me.

But I just never got around to Subspecies. Looking at the date, I have to wonder if this movie was conceived of to cash in on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Coppola film that came out a year later. I can see the pitch now, “So we combine a vampire story with puppetmaster creatures and we get … um… Subspecies!” And yeah, I’m not sure how they thought that was a good idea, but that is what we ended up getting in a way.

The thing is, I don’t want to sell Subspecies short, because the movie has a lot of good points and there is a reason it makes for fun Halloween viewing. In its corner is the fact that the movie was filmed on location in Romania. In fact it is the first American film to be allowed to film in the country after the iron curtain collapsed. So for that alone, Subspecies gets some props.

Nothing wrong with a picnic in front of mouldering
medieval ruins, right?
But director Ted Nicolaou actually uses the setting to his advantage. Lush rolling hills and mysterious forests add a lot of atmosphere. But the two castles that house the bulk of the action give the movie some authenticity. The crew didn’t just film on the castle grounds, which offer some great scenes for Radu to lurk among crumbling ruins. But they also filmed inside the castle for a lot of the interiors. I really puts the girls in an world in stark contrast with their late 80s fashions and hair.

I also have to comment on some of the effects. Radu is a nasty piece of work. Hove has presence of course, but his make up highlights his angular features and makes him look demonic and otherworldly. They also use some fun effects with shadows and lighting to make it appear as if Radu is vanishing into thin air or moving with uncanny speed. It is all simple stuff, but Coppola used a lot of the same techniques in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and it was just as effective.

No guys, you're doing the YMCA dance wrong.
I can’t go without mentioning the titular characters, the Subspecies themselves. These little stop motion creations are muscular miniature demons that Obsurus Lupa referred to as finger demons. They are kind of cute and creepy all at the same time. It is neat to see old school effects even if there are moments where they just don’t seem to be quite standing on the floor. Makes you appreciate the magic of Ray Harryhausen.

I should also mention the goofy looking prop they used for the Bloodstone. This is supposed to be a mystical gem that holds the blood of all the saints in it. Any vampire who drinks from the Bloodstone… um… is really cool and stuff. They never really explain what the big deal is about it, but Radu and Stefan keep rambling on about it. Once again I’ll reference Lupa, because I thought the same thing she did – it looks like an overly ornate push pop that drips ketchup, I mean blood, on the vampire’s tongue. It is too silly looking to take seriously, and adds to the fun seeing all the vampires get in a lather over this goofy push pop.

The real Phantasm is his wig!
Sound effects are pretty solid. There’s lots of creepy atmosphere with wind howling in the woods, creaking crypt doors and crackling flames during the Vampire Festival. Nothing really crazy accomplished here, but it all works fine. The music is also solid. Looks like several composers were hired, or a wealth of library music was used. In any case, it is effectively spooky and haunting, but saturated with 1980s style synthesizers. This will either make your ears bleed, or just add to the cheesy awesomeness that is Subspecies.

Alas the acting is very uneven. Angus Scrimm (of Phantasm fame) has a cameo in the film. He plays the king of the vampires and he seems to giving it a good try, even if his wig renders him terminally goofy. Luckily he doesn’t stick around too long. Of the three girls Laura Mae Tate brings the most to her character (of course her character actually has an arc as opposed to the other two). I love the scene where she meets Stefan and they get googly eyed at each other. Or at least she does, I’m not sure what he was attempting.

"Stefan, I am your father! Get it! Like Star
Wars. Oh come on Stefan, its funny!"
But the real reason to enjoy these movies is Anders Hove as the villainous and over the top Radu. He skulks and looms like Count Orlok from Nosferatu. He speaks with a wheezing voice that is actually pretty disturbing. He often drools blood from his lips and looks just dementedly evil when the occasion calls for it. Hove brings the intensity to the part, and it actually makes Radu fun to watch but also intimidating and a bit of a wild card. You get a real sense of danger from Radu, and it makes you wish the rest of the story was less conventional and predictable.

Irina Movila as Mara and Michelle McBride and Lillian do solid jobs with very thin characters. Mostly they are around to joke with Michelle, run in terror from Radu, and then get drained of blood and come back as half naked vampire brides. They do it well enough. I blame the script for the flat characters.

Lili Dumitrescu as the Old Crone is wonderfully emphatic, over the top and difficult to understand with her thick accent. She almost seems like a Monty Python character, but it adds to the fun. I also liked Ivan Rado as Karl, the imposing groundskeeper who knows all about the vampires and tries to help the girls. He puts in some effort, and his eyebrows do most of the heavy lifting.

Our hero? Nice scarf!
Alas the real weak point when it comes to acting in Subspecies is with our hero Stefan. Michael Watson doesn’t bring much life to the role. His character is also supposed to be the sensitive vampire with the heart of gold. But he ends up sitting around looking a little sad eyed and mopey. He shows his most energy when fighting Radu during the climactic sword fight. But that is just hilarious for other reasons, so I don’t really count that. Maybe they were going for a contrast between the two vampires, but really Hove just blows Watson out of the water whenever they share the screen together. It’s not a big surprise that Stefan’s character doesn’t make it far into the sequel.

I’ve mentioned the script a few times already and well I’ll be honest and say that it is a bit of a mess. There are some really good ideas in the film, but none of them really get fleshed out. I like details like the Bloodstone becoming addictive to Radu – but nothing ever comes of that statement. Since they never explain what the Bloodstone does for vampires, if anything, it just doesn’t seem to have much of a point in the film. And yet all the vampire characters seem obsessed with it. I guess the blood of saints is like pumpkin spice latte to these guys.

And now I will know how many licks it takes to get
to the center of a Bloodstone,
Then you have the little Subspecies demons. While they are cool looking and have some potential to create some creepy scares, the script doesn’t do anything interesting with them. The most useful thing they do is open a secret door that Radu can’t get to. That’s it. Otherwise he just has them torment Mara in one scene, which is them just kind of jumping around near her. And then in another scene they bring Radu the Bloodstone, which is just lying on the floor a few feet away. They do fetch Radu’s head at the end of the movie, so we can have a sequel, but all in all they are just wasted special effects. It is so strange that they name the whole series after these guys. Radu is the main attraction and make no mistake.

Aside from those two odd details the rest of the plot is standard vampire stuff. The trio goes snooping where they shouldn’t. Radu picks up their scent and stalks them. Then you’ve got girl meets vampire, girl falls for vampire, vampire whines about how they can never be together, vampire fights evil vampire to save girl, girl is infected – oh no! It all ends with Stefan drinking deep from Michelle and they sleep it off in a coffin. You can see the beats coming a mile away. That is why it is so strange that the Bloodstone and Subspecies are around but don’t impact the story. A really interesting story could be made with Michelle finding the Bloodstone and that attracting Radu and Stefan, and the two attempting to get it from her. One using fear and threatening her friends. The other attempting to seduce her. Hell Stefan didn’t even have to be a good guy, just less insidious than his brother. I just made up that story and I think it is actually more interesting than what we end up getting.

Looks like Michelle is filled with strawberry
That said, Nicolaou does manage to tell the story pretty well. There are a few moments that almost seem like a travelogue, but I can forgive that since this was the first American film in Romania. The pacing can drag a bit here and there when Radu isn’t around. But the movie has plenty of gothic atmosphere, some moments of genuine dread and chills, and a powerhouse performance by Hove.

Subspecies is solid if a bit standard vampire entertainment. It sets things up for the sequels, which expand the story of Michelle and Radu. The sequels tend to go bigger in a lot of ways and have goofier moments that are plenty of fun. But you also get the feeling that the sequels know they are goofy, and so they are winking at the audience a bit. The first film is going for a genuine creepy feeling, and succeeds several times. Worth checking out if you want to shake up your Halloween viewing.

Romania? How the hell did you drive us to Romania?
Must have been that left in Albuquerque.
Oh my gawd! Stefan! Put your pants back on. No one
wants to see that.
No seriously, put your pants back on. 
The search for Stefan's pants drags into the night.
"And now Stefan, I will push you and a push pop!
"Slumber Party! I want to pillow fight first!"
Radu, ugly with the mask on and off.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)


So October doesn’t just mean horror and bloody death. Sometimes you just want to have some fun with some Golden Age humor, macabre storylines and a heaping helping of insanity. Sounds like Halloween right?


Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) just wants to start off on his honeymoon with his lovely new wife Elaine (Priscilla Lane). All he has to do is stop by his Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha’s (Jean Adair) house to tell them the good news. He just happens to look in the window seat and sees a dead old man stuffed in there!

Has his uncle Teddy (John Alexander) finally gone off the deep end? Or is it the work of Mortimer’s wicked brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) who just happens to look a lot like Boris Karloff? Or maybe Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) knows what happened. In any case Mortimer better figure out this mystery quickly, because there are cops snooping around and they may get the idea that the combo of Arsenic and Old Lace is not as innocent as it seems.

Good Points:
  • Some very funny and quotable dialogue.
  • Does a good job balancing the macabre with humor
  • Moves along at a pretty good pace

Bad Points:
  • As good as Massey is, you really wish Karloff had been available
  • Some of the humor may not hold up for modern viewers
  • Grant spends quite a bit of time mugging for the camera


All around, this movie is a fun time. The character are all entertaining, even if Grant is pulling faces a lot of the time. But things really get exciting when Massey and Lorre enter and almost steal the show. Everyone is having a great time and there is a lot of energy to the whole film. It’s perfect viewing for a lazy Sunday in October, or for any fans of classic comedies with a dark twist.

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.

Enjoying the content? Click and ad before you go and support this blog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

One Missed Call (2003)


After Ringu exploded across the Japan, it started a whole slew of ghostly girl/techno-fear films. Of course these were all the rage for a while and eventually made it over to North America where Hollywood decided to adapt most of them with mixed results. Near the end of the craze in Japan director Takashi Miike was given the reigns of this film. While he is best known for disturbing movies like Audition and Gozu, he was ready for something a little more conventional. But would Miike be able to add his own unique twist to this style of horror film?


It all starts with a simple phone call. Yoko (Anna Nagata) doesn’t recognize the ringtone so she doesn’t answer the call. When she listens to the message, it displays a date and time that have yet to occur, and the voicemail is her voice screaming in terror. Sure enough, when that date and time arrive Yoko is brutally killed by a train. Her friend Yumi (Kou Shibasaki) is disturbed by this odd demise, and starts to investigate.

But things get more dangerous as people on Yoko’s contact list receive the same strange ringtone and hear their own demise. Her friend Natsumi (Kazue Fukiishi) turns to a television program for help, but they quickly descend into a horrifying ratings generated frenzy, as they countdown to her death. It becomes apparent that some kind of spirit is stalking people using the phone, but is there anyway to stop the fiendish creature? What does the suspicious undertaker have to do with this? Why are round red candies found near all the bodies or in their mouth? But how long will it take for Yumi to look at her phone and see the message: One Missed Call?

Good Points:
  • Some bizarre and outrageous set pieces (especially the television show sequence)
  • Does a good job building the dread and horror as the body count rises
  • Good mix of gore and creepy suspense

Bad Points:
  • Very familiar if you’ve seen Ringu or The Grudge
  • Looking for Miike’s more surreal or over the top antics, you won’t find too much here.
  • The wheels come off a bit near the end, as thrills take over for sense.


Miike takes the familiar tropes from the ghostly girl/techno-fear genre and plays within that sandbox. That means a lot of the visual elements and story construction will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Ringu or Ju-on. I did like how Miike added some social commentary with the television show and poor Natsumi. The movie is worth seeing for that plot line. I also liked his final twist on the story, and the identity of the ghostly killer. But the way the movie gets to the final act is overly convoluted and stretches the plot a few too many times. That said, the movie has some great atmosphere, creepy moments, horrific deaths and a disturbing finale. It isn’t a masterwork of horror, but it is very entertaining, and man that ringtone is just plain creepy!

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

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

Enjoying the content? Click and ad before you go and support this blog.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Movie Musings: Exorcising my Right to Avoid Possession

With a cat named Hobbes, this is extra scary.
It is probably pretty apparent to most readers of this blog that I like horror films. Over the years I've seen most subgenres of Horror and enjoyed most of them. I like a good ghost story. Slasher films can be a lot of fun. Throw a good monster movie into the mix and I'm a happy camper. Mind bending physiological horror are some of my favorite films. And if you can manage some Lovecraftian cosmic horror, well then you've got a big fan. It doesn't matter if the horror is generated by the natural or the supernatural - I'll give the movie a solid chance and enjoy some part of it.

But there is one horror genre that just doesn't work for me, no matter how many different films I try. If you've got a demon or devil possessing your main character for the bulk of the movie, odds are I'm going to find the whole thing pretty uninteresting.

Anyone else remember this one?
I thought that maybe I was just watching the wrong possession movies. I think the first time I saw a possessed character on the screen it was in parody form. So yeah, I saw Repossessed before I saw The Exorcist. After that most of the possession movies I saw were like the idiotic House of Exorcism. Most were too over the top and cheesy to be scary.

But I started to suspect that maybe the movies weren't the issue. It was my mental malfunction. The real clue arrived with the film The Conjuring from 2013. People went bananas for that movie and called it one of the best horror films of the decade. I was excited and went in with high hopes. I found the movie well acted and put together, but not very scary. I figured I was overhyped. So I gave it another spin about a year later and... um yeah, still not very scary. In fact it was getting kind of funny.

Maybe it was just that movie. I'd go back to what most folks consider the best of the best when it comes to possession films: The Exorcist. This was a movie that put the fear of God into everyone in the 70s. Folks were getting possessed just watching the movie. And I constantly see it near the top of any horror fan's top 10 list. I'd seen the movie before, back in the 1990s. But the experience wasn't very good. First of all it was on VHS and font loaded with a half hour documentary on the movie. This documentary pretty much spoiled the entire plot, all the best scenes and director William Friedkin came across like a conceited, smug, jerk. Yeah didn't start off on the right foot at all.

But enough time had passed that I felt I could give The Exorcist another chance. I watched it in 2016 with high hopes. My final verdict is - it is a well made and well acted film. It has some very interesting thematic angles to it. But it didn't scare me at all. I found it to be pretty darn slow and kind of funny.

"Did you just compare me to Satan?"
Of course I think this movie suffers from the same issue that North by Northwest suffers from. So many movies have borrowed elements from the original films that they now feel overly familiar and lack any suspense or drama - because we've seen all the beats before.

But I think there was a deeper challenge going on for all these possession movies. I have a real issue with the entire concept of demonic possession. I end up asking all these questions during the film and it distracts me from getting pulled into the situation.

Let's get this out of the way. I'm not a religious person. I know quite a bit about the Catholic faith and Christian religion as a whole (had to take a couple of courses about the religion on college and most of my family are of the Christian faith). I find interest in it from an mythological point of view, but I'm in no way a believer in the dogma. But even with that in place, I don't think that is my main issue.

"I have faith in you guys. You'll possess someone
worthy next time, right? Get it... faith! Ha!"
I end up wondering what The Devil or his minions are thinking when they take possession of a little girl, or a lunatic already locked in an asylum, or a little impoverished boy living in a third world country. If you are an evil force and you can take over human bodies, why aim so low on the power chain? Why not go for someone with authority or wealth or power. Then you can do some serious damage to human civilization and really mess with God's creations. The Devil would rather take over the meekest of folks so he can get in a battle with a priest (who is usually questioning his faith in all these movies) and get spanked. How embarrassing. I think Satan and his demons need to work on their core competencies and overall strategy.

But I kid the lord of the underworld.

Now I've heard from some people that the corruption of innocent souls is what makes The Devil and his minions most happy. Ok, fine. So he gets off on the possession of people who are pure but not able to do much in the grand scheme of things. But couldn't Satan hurt more innocents by possessing someone with power? I mean, it just doesn't make any sense to me.

So the whole movie I'm pondering the idiocy of Satan and his minions and not being scared at all.

"Yeah I just out performed the
devil. Not bad, eh?"
That is not to say that the concept doesn't have some kind of horrific potential. The key horror of possession is the loss of control and the loss of self. This is a horrifying concept, and one I've seen executed with skill in many films and television series. Something like Cronenberg's The Fly is based on the body rebelling against the mind. Or you get Kilgrave in Jessica Jones, who has the ability to force you to do his will. It is very much possession, but what makes it frightening to me is that Kilgrave has a clear agenda and desire. All in his path become his toys. His acts aren't pointless and easily thwarted.

Or take another example that really works, Prince of Darkness by John Carpenter. In this case you are dealing with an incarnation of The Devil, and he can possess and control people. But what makes it even more horrifying is that his controlled minions are working to free him. Stopping the possessed humans is important because if you don't, The Devil will be freed and destroy the fabric of the universe. The stakes are frightening on a cosmic scale in this movie, and makes the possession of a single child in a fancy apartment in New York seem kinda silly and pointless.

The hell of "Cure" is the very personal kind.
What about personal horror, the idea of losing your mind. Again, other movies do that with greater effect. Perfect Blue puts us in Mima's shoes as she starts to unravel over the course of the movie and that is very disturbing and unsettling. Or Lost Highway with our lead character losing his mind and possibly his identity after being accused of murdering his wife. These movies feature a personal hell that is much more upsetting to me than random demons randomly possessing someone because they are bored and want to scare a few people.

You could see these possession movies as metaphors for mental illness, and The Exorcist even shows that as a possibility. In that lens I can understand how they are supposed to be frightening. But the added weight of Christian Mythology actually weakens the concept for me. I find Prince of Darkness to be the most disturbing of the possession type of film, and really it only uses possession as a portion of its horror. The real terror in that movie comes from the cosmic fear. The more you think about the implications of what is on the other side of that mirror the scarier that movie gets.

I've come to the conclusion that traditional possession movies are just not my cup of tea. I end up finding them funny or frustrating (usually a combination of the two). I don't feel I can review them without that bias, so don't expect me to post a review of The Conjuring or The Exorcist any time soon. But maybe I'll give Repossessed another spin.

Update: I just gave The Conjuring another viewing, and in the context of watching a another movie before it, I actually appreciated it a bit more. Still didn't find it terribly scary, but I will say it is very well put together and generates some solid suspense and a couple of creepy moments. The big bonus is that it is the ghost of a witch possessing the mother, and not a demon or devil. I can imagine a human with such limited goals as possessing someone in their old house. So the movie doesn't have the same type of issue as The Exorcist or its many imitators have in that regard.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Score Sample: Hellraiser

October is here and it is time to share some of my favorite horror themed scores. That also means it is time for me to praise Christopher Young again. This talented composer has crafted amazing music for just about every genre of film and in an amazing array of styles. But for most film score fans he is the master of horror music. He does a great job of combining lyrical beauty with darkness. He can create music that can be etherial in its uncanny nature. He can craft horrible bombast that shatters your mind (and eardrums). I love his stuff.

One of the first scores that brought him to everyone's attention was his work for Hellraiser. It is a wonderfully gothic score with some great moments of beauty and horror. The end title track Another Puzzle offers a wonderful example of both sides of Young's music for this film.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

And Then This Happened... The Haunting

Don't you just hate it when you're exploring a haunted house with a group of strangers and one of them decides that being in West Side Story qualifies him as a dancer? Well, ok maybe it does qualify him, but does he need to sing too? Luckily The Haunting does qualify for a spooky good time.

What is your caption for this moment?

And then this happened...

Enjoying the caption craziness? Click an ad before you go.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Anime Juke Box - Angel of Love - Perfect Blue

Time again for another hit from the anime juke box. Since we are in October that means its time for some horror music. Perfect Blue is one of the best anime films out there. The way director Satoshi Kon manipulates the world around the main character, Mima, makes it all work. Mima is part of a pop group. The song they sing at the start of the film is so cheerful and poppy it couldn't possibly be evil right? Well Kon ends up using the song a few times in the film and by the time you hear it the last time it has become down right sinister. So every time I hear this happy little tune I can't help but shudder a little.

So here is Angel of Love performed by Cham featuring Mima!