Archive for October, 2012

Halloween month is a great time to catch up on horror movies. Many networks play a plethora of everything from classics, to blockbusters, to all the really bad B-movies.

This year, I skipped the well-known franchises like Halloween, Jeepers Creepers, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street and all the big-name scary thrillers (I own all the ones I really like and can watch them anytime anyway); instead I focused on filling in the potholes of my horror highway and watched the forlorn and forgotten scare fare.  To my (pleasant) surprise, a few were not half bad.

But back to the bottom of the barrel. Bad horror movies have a few things in common, so I’ll sum those up here instead of mentioning them in many of the reviews. You can bet that most of the movies below contain these hallmark missteps:

  1. Incongruous and perplexing events and/or back stories
  2. Plot holes the size of Montana
  3. Gratuitous violence and gore that makes no sense
  4. Dreadfully improbable dialogue
  5. Dismal production values
  6. Pitiable acting
  7. Intolerably protraction to tell a relatively short story

It’s like bobbing for rotten apples in a barrel filled with murky liquid. But watching bad horror is almost as fun as watching well-made horror. Without further ado, here are the frightening (sometimes for all the wrong reasons) flicks that I watched this month, in alpha order.

Beastly (2011)

Hmm, is this really a horror movie? It’s a teen-crush retelling of the “Beauty and the Beast” tale, starring Vanessa Hudgens (yawn) and Alex Pettyfer (who is surprisingly good at physical comedy; my favorite moments are when his jerk character turns shy and clumsy). Despite the teen angst, silly dialogue, and syrupy situations, I have to admit I didn’t hate this movie; I even shed a couple of tears at its sappy end. Mary-Kate Olsen is really scary (I don’t mean this as a complement, and I hope she doesn’t curse me too), while Neil Patrick Harris, Lisagay Hamilton, and Peter Krause are remarkable supporting characters. Though admittedly insipid, this movie is polished and neatly sews up the overhauled retelling. What 10 Things I Hate about You does for Shakespeare with the teen crowd, this flick does for the old fairy tale.  C

Blindness (2008)

Unlike monster movies, this is real horror. It’s also an undiscovered gem among the movies I watched this month. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo lead an excellent cast as a doctor and his wife struggling with the results of a blindness epidemic that overcomes an entire city (and perhaps more of the world, though that’s never made clear). One of them, however, seems to be immune and never succumbs to the disease. The film takes jabs at everything from government ineptness and prison syndrome to treatment of those with disabilities. It’s fascinating and sometimes painful to watch, but always thought-provoking. Its lack of popular success may be due to its indy-film spirit of not tying up loose ends neatly. Think of all the contagion/zombie/apocalyptic movies meeting Das Experiment and you’ll have a sense of this film’s atmosphere. B-

Boogeyman (2012)

A made-for-TV mishmash of biblical lore and urban legend. Eddie McClintock (Warehouse 13) plays a sheriff with two surly sons (not sure why he’d want to save them from any monsters) and a hot-but-very-serious partner (Amy Bailey), who runs into a local mess of epic proportions. Not even McClintock’s signature joviality can save this mess. D-

Clive Barker’s Book of Blood (2009)

This is one of those cultish “gotta see it” bad horror movies. The premise is quite interesting (that the dead all have stories to tell, and they want to write them down—on your skin!), and there are some elegantly shot sequences. But it drags in getting to the point, with some pretty bad acting and repetitive events. It’s also derivative of The Pillow Book, which is a stylish and profoundly creepy film that many won’t appreciate being mined for bad horror. D+

The Cursed (2010)

This movie is wrong in so many ways: its portrayal of what is supposed to be Tennessee, its incredibly muddled plot and gratuitous murders, its writing/directing/acting—you name it, it’s wrong. Half the time, it’s hard to figure out why certain characters are even in the movie. It’s about a guy coming back to a town where his family is from and waking some kind of demon, I guess just by being there. The rest … oh, I forget (thankfully). I truly did feel cursed watching this. F

Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula (2000)

What’s Halloween without a little vampire action? Um, well, there’s no vampire action in this one, as it’s ostensibly the story of the rise and fall of Vlad Dracula, fifteenth-century Prince of Wallachia, revered as a hero for his protection of the Balkans from Ottoman invasions. True? My foot. But this TV movie is actually fairly well-made. It deftly skirts the idea of Vlad being thought of as undead by pointing to the events, real-life terrors (like torture and oppression), and fears that helped inspire this ruler’s legendary status … until the end, when it kind of jumps the shark. Hence it offers neither a purely historical tale that some appreciate nor a vampire-fan-worthy horror flick, and thus misses several marks. Rudolf Martin stars, and the cast includes Roger Daltry, Jane March, and Peter Weller.  C-

The Dunwich Horror (2009)

How in the world was poor Dean Stockwell roped into this? It’s a remake of the 1970 campy Lovecraft-inspired horror flick (in which Stockwell also starred, along with Sandra Dee). This version is just plain pitiful, like a basement production, save for watching the hilariously creepy theatrics of Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners). F

Land of the Dead (2005)

Part of George A. Romero’s “franchise of the dead,” this entry is heavy on marvelous makeup and spectacular special effects. It’s as though the movie were made to showcase these, to the detriment of an intelligible story, believable characters, or decent dialogue. Even the A-list cast—led by Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, and Denis Hopper—can’t save this one.  D+

The Messengers (2007)

Another not-so-bad horror flick about revenge from beyond the grave that might not, in fact, belong on the “bad to the bone” list. However, I realized about three-quarters of the way through that I had seen it before. It was just that memorable. It boasts a good cast, including Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, and John Corbett, but its ostensible star, Kristen Stewart, is her typically droopy, petulant, and non-emotive self. This adds to the feeling that nothing much is happening and the movie is dragging on. The back-story in this movie is colorless and unrealistic, and now that I have watched this film twice, I’m already forgetting it again. C-

Open Graves (2009)

Fans of Eliza Dushku (Angel, Dollhouse) might think this one is worth a try. They would be wrong, forgetting that Dushku, while popular with the TV crowd, has never starred a decent movie. This one is so far from decent, it’s downright indecent. The team of young actors is not bad (hence the plus after the F grade), but they can’t breathe life into this cliché-ridden yarn about a witch and her deadly board game. One reviewer shrewdly compared it to a mash-up of Jumanji and Final Destination. [Spoiler alert!] And how come an artifact supposedly from the Spanish Inquisition (did they even have anything like board games then?) is written in English? Yikes. (By the way, there are no open graves in the movie … go figure.)  F+

P2 (2007)

Another “female caught alone and terrorized” movie, this time on level two of a parking deck locked up for Christmas weekend. Wes Bentley (American Beauty) doesn’t need to act to seem disturbing; Rachel Nichols should stick to modeling; and the holes in this movie’s plot are like Swiss cheese after a mouse attack.   D-

Prowl (2010)

A fascinating premise becomes a clumsy, drawn-out mess. A girl from a small town has recurring nightmares, and when she and her friends are abducted and start being picked off by a murderous mob of creatures, she realizes she has something up her sleeve. Dialogue is delivered inexpressively, and shaky camera-work is supposed to substitute for action that couldn’t possible happen in the parameters of the shots. A good idea with poor execution. D

Reign of the Gargoyles (2007)

Oh, never mind … I had to turn this one off, so I can’t even begin to rate it. The Nazis wake up some gargoyles to help them defeat Allied forces. Enough said.

Rise of the Gargoyles (2009)

OK, so I have a thing for gargoyles (anyone remember the 1972 flick Gargoyles with Cornel Wilde?). If you like Eric Balfour (Haven), who always manages to be odd and amiable at the same time, you might actually enjoy this tale of a gargoyle awakened by construction in old church. Despite many plot holes, the characters are entertaining and the ending gets quite silly as the obsessed priest loses his cool. C

The Skeleton Key (2005)

This one doesn’t really belong on the downright-bad list. It’s actually an engaging flick with a decent plot about the legacy of a hoodoo priest and priestess. The excellent cast (Kate Hudson, Peter Saarsgard, John Hurt, Gena Rowlands) makes it quite watchable.  C+

They Wait (2007)

This is by far my favorite actual horror flick on this list. It has an eerie legend, a kid who sees dead people, a bunch of vengeful ghosts, and scream-queen Jaime King. The premise stems from a decades-old wrong perpetrated against Chinese immigrants in the Pacific Northwest. What makes it worse is that the cruelty comes from Chinese business owners who callously make a buck at the expense of their own brethren. It takes an outsider with a gift for seeing the dead to break the curse, with the help of a creepy apothecary. There are some “Naw, that wouldn’t happen!” moments, but overall it’s a pretty cool fright fest.  B

Timber Falls (2007)

This one could have become a cult favorite, had it been just a tad more over the top, and had it not been ruined by a nonsensical ending shot. A fanatically religious and mentally twisted couple in the West Virginia woods “take in” hikers along the park trails and try to make them fulfill their demented plans. Nick Searcy and Beth Broderick are excellent, while Josh Randall and Brianna Brown are sufficiently horrified. I’m just so disappointed with whoever thought the ending would work. For shame. C-

Review: Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped Box
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Hill is a terrific, imaginative writer. I read Horns a while back and was blown away by the bizarre nightmare-like quality of the events. It’s easy to see the beginnings of that in this, his first book. He certainly excels—and the story is at its best—when the odd and surreal are at the forefront.

What I love about Hill’s style is that he paints intricate portraits. He provides the reader with vivid descriptions of what’s going on, how it looks, and what direction its going. You needn’t guess how big an apparition is or to which side of it the protagonist is standing, because the author tells you. He has a keen sense of place and continuity, the lack of which can be incredibly annoying and confusing for readers. (This detailed quality of narrative is also something I have always loved about his dad, Stephen King. Maybe Joe inherited it! It’s certainly hard to teach—I know from years of teaching composition and rhetoric…)

The only thing that lacked for me was the ending. “After all, that’s the most important part of the story, the ending” (Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King). Here’s why I was slightly disappointed with it:

[SPOILER ahead]

While dark and violent, the book as a whole is quite hopeful—it’s all about fighting something that seems indomitable, love conquering all, and that kind of shmaltz. Well, the ending got a bit too wrapped-and-tied-with-a-bow for me: Jude and Marybeth live happily ever after, travel the world, and can even be friends with a girl who tried to kill them and is related to the demented dead dude that they narrowly escaped. Hmm.

Another issue with the ending that is that it was wrapped up in that neat bow too quickly and tersely. For example, we get told that Jude has some more musical success, and that he rebuilds another car—all portraying the return to normalcy. I’m not a big fan of being told; I’d rather SEE. It would have been great to witness instead a few scenes of that return to normalcy.

Finally, something seemed incomplete … the story is seeped in the triumph of the human spirit, grounded love, and hope for the future; what better symbol could there be of that than if Marybeth were pregnant at the end? Instead, she and a rapidly aging Jude take a trip once in while and otherwise live in seclusion. Is that all there is after all they went through? But, of course, that’s just my opinion; others might think their life is bliss.

Overall, this is a satisfyingly creepy thrill-ride (on the nightroad) for fans of the macabre. Enjoy!

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