Friday, October 31, 2014

30 Days of Nightmares: Postmortem 2014

I have to admit that this year's horror movie marathon didn't excite me as much as the last two.  Maybe it's because I settled for new releases on Netflix direct-play instead of diligently seeking out 30 horror films I really wanted to watch.  Or maybe it's because I just can't stand found footage movies anymore.  Next year I might allow sequels and remakes, but avoid found footage.  Or, maybe next year I'll do a different kind of horror movie marathon...

About halfway through this "30 Days" experiment, I read an article called "The Difference Between a Great Horror Movie and a Great Halloween Movie."  I don't entirely agree with the author's movie selections, but I absolutely agree with his sentiments.  Halloween isn't synonymous with horror.  It's about wonder and awe (and, yes, cold air and hot cider), rather than about blood and guts... and there just wasn't enough wonder and awe in this year's movie selections.

Around the same time I read the article, Tom Mandrake and his daughter Sian started posting some AMAZING illustrations of classic movie monsters on facebook.  Their month-long Halloween gift to friends was probably the best part of this Halloween season for me.  Every day, a new reminder of why I love this season, and why I love classic monster movies.  So that's what I'm going to be doing this Halloween night.  I'll leave you with some exquisite premonitions.... 

Art by Tom Mandrake
Art by Sian Mandrake
Art by Sian Mandrake
Art by Sian Mandrake
Art by Tom Mandrake
Art by Tom Mandrake

Thursday, October 30, 2014

30 Days of Nightmares #30: V/H/S 2 (2013)

(NOT the official poster... but too cool to ignore.  Art by Tony Moore.)
The Story: This horror anthology is set into motion when a couple of private detectives search the apartment of a video hoarder (think of him as the curator for the FACES OF DEATH series) and find dozens if not hundreds of tapes of people dying.  Watching just four of those tapes proves fatal.

Expectations: I know, I know.  I'm consciously breaking my own rule by watching a sequel.  But I figured that stories in an anthology have to be original, right?  As far as I know, no one has made an anthology where the sequel continues the stories in the first film.  (Although now that I think of it, that could be an interesting experiment...)  Also, this is the last day of my movie marathon.  I want to finish with something strong, and this is the film that friends keep telling me to watch -- even though I was lukewarm about the first film.

Reaction: Simon Barrett returns with a relatively lackluster wraparound segment.  As I said last time, wraparound segments are a thankless job.

The first segment, "Clinical Trials," is written and directed by Adam Wingard, one of the most interesting young horror directors around these days.  (The other film that everyone is telling me to watch is Wingard's latest, THE GUEST, which is still making its limited theatrical run... Unfortunately, it has already come and gone in L.A.)  He sets the tone for the whole anthology with a found footage story told via a "camera eye."  What that means, in practical terms, is that the filmmaker probably taped a go-pro to the side of the main character's head.  And that go-pro sees dead people.  Because this is an anthology segment with a short running time, the filmmaker avoids the subtlety and suspense of a good ghost story and offers instead a headache-inducing visual assault.

The second segment, "A Ride in the Park," is written by Jamie Nash and directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (of BLAIR WITCH, ALTERED, SEVENTH MOON and LOVELY MOLLY fame).  These guys stick their go-pro on the side of a mountain biker's helmet and send him off into a forest full of zombies.  It doesn't take long to figure out where this is going... Zombie-cam!  At first this seemed groan-worthy but after a while I couldn't help myself from laughing.  This is a successful black comedy with plenty of guts. 

The third segment, "Safe Haven," is written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans.  This time, the camera (or at least one of the cameras) is disguised as a shirt button -- on a film crew member who goes into a compound full of crazy cultists.  Initially this reminded me of THE SACRAMENT, but then it turned into a kind of mutant hybrid of ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EVIL DEAD.  At a certain point, things got so off-the-wall crazy that I couldn't help laughing. Judging by the final scene that was the intended effect, so I guess I have to declare this one some kind of success.

The fourth and final segment, "Slumber Party Alien Abduction," is written and directed by Jason Eisener, the man behind HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and one of the best segments of THE ABC'S OF DEATH.  I had high hopes for this one, not just because of Eisener's track record but because one of the people who recommended V/H/S 2 to me raved in particular about this final segment.  The title says it all... this is about a series of lascivious home video hijinks that get interrupted by aliens.  Now, maybe it's because I just watched ALIEN ABDUCTION... but I just couldn't get past the fact that this one is all style and no story.  Yeah, the editing is top-notch -- if you're a gamer.  If not, just remember to take your epilepsy medication. 

I have a feeling that V/H/S 2 would have been more fun to watch with a big audience.  I tend to like to watch horror movies alone in the dark, because it's easier for me to suspend my disbelief that way... but clearly none of the filmmakers involved in this project expected the audience to suspend their disbelief.  This is not FACES OF DEATH.  This is FACES OF DEATH on mind-altering drugs.  Don't watch it sober.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Ocular trauma is always effective. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

30 Days of Nightmares #29: AFFLICTED (2014)

The Story: Two American dudes go on an extended vacation to Europe, and a sexual encounter turns one of them into a monster.

Expectations: The David Cronenberg version of HOSTEL.

Reaction: First of all, a warning.  This is another found footage movie.  Secondly... it's a pretty good one.  Well shot, well edited, surprisingly innovative.  Basically, the two guys featured in the film actually went on an extended vacation to Europe to make this flick, and they obviously had fun doing it.  Their characters are likable and sympathetic.  One of them has a neurological condition that could kill him any minute, which gives their trip meaning beyond the typical spring break in Amsterdam.  I was surprised to find myself thinking, about fifteen minutes into the film, that I would probably watch their story even if it really was a well-meaning documentary and not a horror movie in disguise.  Of course, that's what makes it a good horror movie in disguise. 

Things get gnarly pretty quick.  The dying man hooks up with a woman in Paris and immediately develops symptoms of a mysterious disease.  He refuses to go to the hospital because he fears he might not ever leave.  Soon he's punching through walls, running 40 miles per hour, jumping on top of two-story buildings and pulling his eye out.  WTF?  At first I thought this was a dark version of a superhero myth, which seemed like a pretty cool idea.  Our culture is oversatured with superhero myths -- they're even more prevalent than found footage horror movies -- but none of them seem to seriously consider the fact that mutating into a superhero would be freakin' scary.  The only film that really comes to mind is UNBREAKABLE. 

About halfway through, it becomes clear that this is a vampire movie.  A literal INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, but with a few first-person-shooter video game-worthy action sequences.  From that point on it's fairly predictable... but still fun.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Did I mention that the guy pulls his eyeball out?