Happy Halloween!

A couple of movies I caught recently streaming:

Censor

During the 1980s, Great Britain had a habit of censoring so-called “video nasties,” which were VHS copies of horror movies. In this story, Enid (Niamh Algar) is a government censor for such movies. As a child, Enid’s sister went missing while they were playing in the woods. Now an adult, Enid is faced with viewing a movie which has an opening scene eerily reminiscent of what she remembers happened to her and her sister all those years ago. She heads down a dark and dangerous path trying to uncover what happened to her sister, what the filmmakers know about it, and what she can do to set things right.

Censor is an entertaining picture that captured my attention — but left me wanting just a bit more at the ending. The movie is touted as horror, and as is so often trendy these days to directors of horror films (this one directed by Prano Baily-Bond), some of the ending is left to your imagination to fill in what is missing. It isn’t a lot that isn’t there — just a bit of missing resolve around our protagonist’s plight.

I’m also not sure if I would classify Censor as horror myself — while there are a few horrific things that happen, that alone does not make a story horror. Of course, filmmakers will then just say it’s “psychological horror” to justify the labeling. It seems anything these days can be psychological horror, and I suppose to that end, Censor is no exception. The movie is well made and performed, and is worth watching. Despite the trailer, don’t go in expecting a lot of scares.

The Night House

As the story opens, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is mourning the loss of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), who has recently committed suicide. Now alone in the spacious lake house Owen designed and helped build for them, Beth begins to question her beliefs as strange occurrences begin to surround her. As she sorts through Owen’s things and digs deeper into her late husband’s life, she finds evidence she may not have known him so well after all. What secrets was he keeping and why? Why was he building a mirror image of their home across the lake? And is the supernatural force reaching out to her actually Owen, or something else entirely?

Another pandemic delayed movie, The Night House is now available digitally. A rather intriguing take on the traditional haunted house story, the film is wonderfully put together by director David Bruckner and his crew. If you’ve ever seen one of those optical illusion images that depict either a face or a vase depending on how you look at it, this movie takes that concept to frightening new levels as the story progresses. To say more would be to spoil the story’s many mysteries.

I enjoyed this movie very much. I intend to watch it again as it is so packed with details I’m sure I must have missed some of it. My one complaint though is the brightness of the movie. Or lack thereof. The film has many very dark scenes, and while I understand this is a trope of the horror genre, in some cases I was struggling to even make out the actor’s outline in some parts. Thankfully, this isn’t a constant, but is worth mentioning. Overall a great flick when you’re looking to get your spook on.

Halloween Kills

Much like this year’s Candyman I went into Halloween Kills very excited and poised to enjoy myself.

Sadly, much like Candyman, I didn’t enjoy this film. Gone is the interesting plot brought on in the 2018 sequel to the original Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis’ character of Laurie Strode now a doomsday prepper suffering PTSD, and instead we get a typical horror sequel: up the body count, have the characters make infuriatingly stupid decisions, and gloss over any explanations that might prove detrimental to the already limited scope of the plot.

As shown in the previews for the film, Michael Myers survives the house fire where he was left in the previous installment by attacking the fire fighters who show up. While many of the fire fighters try to fight back and are armed with axes and power saws and other such paraphernalia, apparently their will to survive is overridden by their inability to attack the serial killer in any way other than one-on-one. After dispatching the fire crew Michael makes his way once more across the town of Haddonfield killing everyone in his path in gruesome ways. The locals — including a handful of actors from the original 1978 film reprising their characters — decide their mantra for the evening is “Evil dies tonight,” a phrase that gets repeated frequently, as mob mentality takes over and the residents try to hunt the hunter. Do they succeed? Well, there is another sequel already in the works…

With the 2018 flick and this continuation taking place over the same October night (mostly), I don’t think the Haddonfield morgue can handle this many bodies. Likewise, the police in town seem to be oblivious when someone is being murdered just a short distance away, and can’t be bothered to secure a crime scene. Get introduced to a character we haven’t seen before? Forget it, you can bet death is certain for them. Returning characters who showed some intelligence in the previous film are now reduced to horror movie cliches. Previous heroine Laurie Strode spends the bulk of the movie spouting monologues in a hospital room (she is recovering from surgery to repair the damage Michael did to her). In her place we get her daughter and granddaughter being ludicrously inept members of the aforementioned mob, despite their previous actions.

Overall, this movie was just a disappointment, particularly after the promising 2018 film.

The next installment is reportedly titled Halloween Ends, but I suspect if it and Halloween Kills make their own killings at the box office, Michael Myers will keep on being greenlit to do his.

Dead Dicks & Candyman

Candyman (2021)

A new take on the classic Clive Barker tale, our new entry in the series takes the titular character’s origin story and changes it up a little. We get told a tale of an artist, Anthony, now living in the gentrified Cabrini Green neighborhood of Chicago, who finds out about the legend of the Candyman. In life, a kindly Black man who would hand out candy to children. When a child dies due to a razor blade found in some candy, authorities wrongly point the finger and ultimately kill the poor man in a shocking case of police brutality. Now anyone who says “Candyman” five times in a mirror will come face-to-face with him and suffer his wrath. Anthony decides to use this legend in his latest artistic endeavor. As he delves deeper into the story he realizes it didn’t actually start with the more recent tale, but goes back well over a century (thus tying this into the original story of how Candyman came to be). As our story progresses, violence surges around Anthony, and he becomes the primary suspect for the grisly murders the Candyman commits.

I wanted to like this movie. Ultimately I found it a little boring. It was co-written by Jordan Peele (along with Win Rosenfeld and director Nia DaCosta), but doesn’t seem to carry the same quality as his two previous horror hits, “Get Out” and “Us.” It is an often slow slog through too many different characters and their takes on the various social issues the movie is trying to be sympathetic to, but often just comes off as a bit too heavy handed. While the film has some intriguing ideas in its story, good performances from its cast, and interesting visuals, I feel in this case they didn’t add up to a good movie.

Dead Dicks

Despite what the title might lead you to believe, this 2019 film concerns Richie and his sister Becca. While both are adults and living on their own, Becca often has to intervene in Richie’s life as he suffers from various bouts with mental illness. Preparing to go off to graduate school, and having yet told her brother she is leaving town, Becca receives a series of concerning text messages from him. She rushes to his apartment in the middle of the night to find his body hanging in a closet. Distraught and shocked, she turns around to find Richie standing before her, alive and well. Richie explains that he has, in fact, killed himself, but he came back through this bizarre, fleshy, vaginal growth that has appeared on his bedroom wall; effectively being born again.

What follows is at times touching and funny, at times shocking and disturbing. The performances are great by Heston Horwin and Jillian Harris, Richie and Becca respectively, as they try to figure out what is going on and over the course of the night resurface old family drama. Richie unsure of his place in the world while sister Becca wonders what more she could have if she didn’t tend to Richie. It isn’t often you get such an amalgamation of family drama and horror in the same story, but the movie pulls it off fairly deftly. While not streaming for free, it is available through most streaming services for rental or purchase, and is on Blu-Ray in the USA and Canada. Definitely worth watching.

Movie Reviews, June 5, 2021

So hey, fully vaccinated I actually felt comfortable going to a movie theatre again.

Cruella

Disney’s latest cartoon to live action feature takes on villain Cruella DeVil from ‘101 Dalmatians.’ You know the one: loves fur, wants to make a spotted coat out of puppies. The film begins with the childhood years of Estella and her two-tone hair that leads to bullying in her English boarding school. Estella wants nothing more than to challenge the status quo and become a fashion designer. Much like their previous effort in ‘Maleficent,’ Disney presents a lot of back story on just why Estella takes on the moniker Cruella and becomes such a villain — only, in this version, she doesn’t. Yes, she pulls some illegal and immoral stunts over the course of the film, but at the end of the day she is not the character from ‘101 Dalmatians.’ This incarnation of Cruella is out to right past wrongs against her family, and become a smash hit in the London fashion scene at the same time. Regardless, it was an enjoyable romp filled with action, adventure…and some occasional, terrible CGI work. Worth watching to see the two Emmas in the cast (Emma Stone and Emma Thompson) chew up the scenery in the best ways possible.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: the movies in the ‘Conjuring’ universe have strayed so far from the original stories they are claiming to be based upon, that it is downright ridiculous. Purporting to chronicle the ‘true stories’ of self-proclaimed paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren, none of these films has ever been able to resist the urge to amp up the horror elements and introduce characters and scenes that even the Warrens never claimed to have happened. And this far into the series (counting the Annabelle and Nun spin off movies), boy did this one go over the top. This time around the Warrens are assisting in the exorcism of a young boy. During said exorcism, one of the people present, Arne Johnson, belittles the demon for picking on a child and invites it to take him instead. The demon obliges. Mr. Johnson, over the next several days, has horrifying visions, doesn’t feel like himself, and ultimately murders his landlord. His lawyer then, with the assistance of the Warrens, makes the claim in court of not guilty due to demonic possession. And that’s where the similarities to the ‘true story’ end. From here on out we have a story about demons, devil worshippers, priests having secret children, weird ritualistic totems, curses being placed on people…I’m so over it. Whether or not you believe the Warrens’ stories about their cases, whether or not you believe the real Mr. Johnson was possessed by demons when he committed his crime, it doesn’t matter. This movie just wasn’t very good and was all over the place. If this trend of escalating the situations continues in this series of films, the next installment will have the Warrens travelling to Mars to assist space marines in battling demons that came through a portal experiment.

3 From Bill Skarsgård

Okay, so I’ve not written anything here in quite a while.  September brought my annual vacation, then at my company picnic a local SPCA brought puppies.  I went home with a new little girl who has been running me ragged keeping her out of trouble and cleaning up after her!  Anyway, onto some reviews…

“It: Chapter Two”

A movie that needs no real introduction.  Not as good, I didn’t think, as the first, but still quite enjoyable.  Bill Skarsgård’s turn as the titular pronoun’s evil clown incarnation is still fantastic and creepy.

Final Grade: B+

“Villains”

A dark comedy about two thieves (Skarsgård and Maika Monroe) who unfortunately have their getaway car run out of gas on a back road.  They spy a nearby home and break in, hoping to steal the owner’s car or at least siphon gas from it.  Instead, they find out the homeowners (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick) have some rather criminal tendencies as well.

A fun and twisted romp, well performed by the cast.  Highly recommended!

Final Grade: A

“Castle Rock”

Series by Hulu, streaming on their service.

Based loosely on the fictional town featured in many Stephen King novels and stories (King serves as an Executive Producer and Writer on the series), the first season of the show starts with a new warden taking over at Shawshank Prison after the last warden has died.  Finding a wing of the prison that isn’t used, the new warden sends some guards to investigate and they find a man (Skarsgård, his second King property) imprisoned there, presumably by the late warden for reasons unknown.  The man is mostly quiet and doesn’t talk, but says the name “Henry Deaver,” a former Castle Rock resident turned death row attorney.  One of the guards notifies Deaver, who returns to Castle Rock, intrigued as to why this man would have asked for him.

The series unfolds over 10 episodes, revealing just who the man is, what his connection to Deaver is, and why the town of Castle Rock is plagued with random acts of severe violence.  More thriller/sci-fi than horror (as might be expected by King’s involvement), but I rather enjoyed it nonetheless.  The twists keep coming, and the pacing is very good.  Season two is coming soon (but does not contain Bill Skarsgård in the cast).

Final Grade: B+

 

Scary Hide and Seek

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”

Based on the book series by Alvin Schwartz, this semi-kid-friendly horror piece wraps several of the original stories in an overall package that isn’t quite an anthology. On Halloween night, 1968, several kids break into the old mansion on the outskirts of town, rumored to be haunted by the spirit of Sarah Bellows. The legend says that although Sarah was kept locked up by her family for reasons unknown, if a child crept up to the house and asked for a story, Sarah would oblige and tell them, through the walls, a scary story. Our meddling kids happen upon Sarah’s hidden room in the house, and therein find her handwritten book of scary stories.

Over the next several days they discover that Sarah isn’t quite done with her stories yet. New stories appear in the book starring each of the kids, and each becomes real in horrorific ways. The kids desperately try to find a way to stop Sarah and her tales, before they all fall victim to them.

Though it might be a bit much for very young children, preteens and older into horror — or fans of the books — will find much to like here. Producer Guillermo del Toro and director André Øvredal have put together an enjoyable romp that, while not necessarily scary, definitely has its creepy moments. The main actors are all quite good as well (Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur). The creature effects round out the package, with effects wizards turning out some original monsters, as well as bringing some of the book’s illustrations (by Stephen Gammell) to life.

Final Grade: B

“Ready or Not”

When I first heard the title of this movie, I honestly thought it was a bad idea. Taking the concept of the game of hide and seek and turning it into a movie? I assumed it would be as terrible as the many movies made about games of truth or dare. Then the trailer came out, and I was intrigued.

And, I’m happy I gave it a chance.

The movie stars Samara Weaving as Grace, who has just married into the eccentric and fabulously wealthy Le Domas family. Having made their money from board and card games, the family has a tradition that when someone new joins through marriage, the family must gather together and play a game. Said game is randomly chosen by the new family member via a special antique puzzle box which will spit out a card bearing the name of the game to play. While most are completely benign, if “Hide and Seek” is revealed, the new spouse must hide while the rest of the family seeks — with the ultimate goal being to sacrifice the new spouse in a ritual before dawn, lest tragedy befall the existing family members. No one has chosen it in 30 years, so what are the odds, right?

What transpires on screen is two-thirds dark comedy, and one-third thriller. As Grace comes to the very quick realization of just what is as stake, and her new hubby Alex (Mark O’Brien) tries to help her as best he can, the rest of the family is truly out for blood, and the jokes wind down the longer Grace keeps them all running. When the jokes happen they are well timed and fun, and the filmmakers (directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, edited by Terel Gibson) do an excellent job of combining the comedy and the suspense, all the way to the very satisfying and multi-layered conclusion. The cast does a great job at bringing it all to life, with a particularly scene-chewing turn by Nicky Guadagni as Aunt Helene. Also stars Adam Brody, Hery Czerny, and Andie MacDowell.

Final Grade: A-

“Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Hollywood, 1969, is a visual masterpiece.  Not just a period piece with people in costumes on period sets.  Tarantino went full scale and had parts of Los Angeles set decorated to appear as if it were 1969.  Streets filled with cars from the era, billboards and ads, and extras all wearing era appropriate attire.  I couldn’t really detect any hint of green screen in use, and searches on the Web insist they simply weren’t used.  This was all practical; built when needed, decorated regardless.  And the result is stunning.

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