Saturday, December 7, 2013

New Gig Y'all

'Sup Cave Crawlers?

Apologies for the neglect. I somehow lost my motivation to update the ol' blog. No worries though, motivation has returned thanks to an invite from the venerable The Mike over at From Midnight With Love. He's embarking on some top secret project and has recruited a couple of writers to pick up the slack. I was lucky enough to make the cut.

So please check out my new post over there. It's mostly me introducing myself to FMWL readers, but there's also a list of my Top 5 Favorite Flawed Horror Films.

And it's got pictures!

And an animated gif!

Won't you check 'er on out please?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Conjuring: One Hell of a Haunted House Movie Mixtape

When I heard that James Wan's next project would be Fast and Furious 7, the horror buff in me deflated a little. "There goes another talented horror director-sucked into the mainstream Hollywood machine." After watching The Conjuring I'm thinking, "Smart move." After you've made your horror masterpiece, where can you go from there?

Oh shit, did I just call The Conjuring a masterpiece? Maybe that's taking it a little far, but even so, I can't imagine a scarier, more intense haunted house movie.
It's not that The Conjuring is at all original. It's bursting at the seams with nods and homages to every great haunting and possession movie before it. In fact, it plays like a mixtape of horror's greatest hits. While that may not sound terribly appealing, for some reason this exercise in consolidation and repackaging works on just about every level.

In horror, pacing is king, and Wan has got this shit down cold. The film begins with a creepy-as-fuck opening featuring a possessed doll that puts Poltergeist's clown to shame, then settles us in with a low-level tension that slowly crescendos for the next 90 minutes, building to a balls-out climax that pounds the audience mercilessly in the face with a malevolent joy unseen since that caveman-looking fucker who kicked your ass in the seventh grade. Alright, I'm overstating things again. But give me a break, I just got out of the theater and I'm still floating on that good movie buzz.
The Conjuring should play very well with your average cinema-goer who enjoys the occasional scary movie, but for the seen-it-all nothing-scares-me horror movie junkies, it may be a harder sell. While I count myself among the horror-addicted, I have an uncanny talent for shutting off my inner critic and enjoying the ride. One common complaint among horror fans is the overuse of jump scares, and if this is among your list of peeves, I'm sorry to inform you that The Conjuring is from beginning to end a jump scare extravaganza.

But here's the thing about jump scares: deep down we all really love them if they are done well. Hack directors will substitute jump scares in lieu of real tension, but Wan doesn't hand us that platter of steaming turds. There's not a leaping, screeching cat to be found here. Again, it all come down to pacing. Wan builds the tension to the breaking point, peppering the film with minor scares so that you can never tell when he's about to hit you with a real zinger. And yeah, there's a heavy reliance on doors creaking open, but now and again one will slam into someone's face, knocking them into a pitch black basement.

The threat of physical violence looms large in The Conjuring, giving the haunting a real sense of danger. But Wan never veers back into Saw territory. The gore is minimal, which gives the few appearances of blood a real punch.

I seem to be giving Wan all the credit here, but was really makes it all work is the quality of the performances. Lily Taylor really shines in this one, coming off as naturally when she's as a sunny sixties housewife as she does when the demonic influences begin breaking her down. Watching the preview, I wasn't too thrilled with the prospect of the movie's leads being an ultra-square husband and wife paranormal research team that dresses like rejects from Awkward Family Portraits. But honestly, it is that very squareness that gives the film a classic feel that has been lacking in most horror since Kevin Williamson put pen to paper and turned every horror film into Dawson's Creek -Now with Murder! Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga keep the film grounded with nuanced performances that let you feel the burden of helping countless people survive demonic infestations. As characters, they're the very picture of Christian charity, putting aside their personal well-being (and kinda neglecting their own daughter, oops!) to help others in need. The five daughters aren't fleshed-out characters, being more or less only identifiable by their ages, but then, do we really want the extra thirty minutes of character-building scenes before we get to the scary shit? I think not.

While it doesn't fit neatly into my review, I just gotta say that I loved the scene where Patrick Wilson shows the reporter around his in-house repository of haunted objects. And while you'd think that real haunted objects might be more mundane, say, a haunted toaster or nail-clippers rather than a suit of samurai armor, I'm still converting my mancave into an exact replica of that room.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Very Own Pet Leatherface - A Review of Texas Chainsaw 3D

I'd feel the need to place a spoiler alert here at the beginning, but how do you spoil a heaping pile of bullshit? I know, I know -- What was I expecting from a 6th sequel in a played out horror franchise? Well, I suppose I was expecting something along the lines of the last 2 films, which were clearly inferior to the original, but suitably tense and creepy reimaginings of Hooper's classic. What I wasn't expecting was a cynical cash-in with a ludicrous script slapped together with a "fuck-it-it's-only-a-horror-flick" attitude.

Conceived as a direct sequel to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, TC3D opens with a highlights reel of kills and other iconic moments from the 1974 original, post-converted into 3D for a strange, but interesting effect. The intro flows fairly seamlessly into the new footage, which does an impressive job of capturing the look and color palette of the original. Storywise, we've got the police investigating the Sawyer farm based on the reports from Sally Hardesty of the family of cannibalistic murderers who killed her brother and friends. While I've been led to believe that they do things BIG in Texas, apparently multiple murders only warrant one investigating officer. Then again, this might be  a commentary about the state of race relations in Texas in the late 70s, seeing as they sent they black guy out solo on a clearly dangerous mission. Or it could have been a convenient plot device to make sure the cop was hopelessly outnumbered by the redneck vigilante mob that shows up and massacres the whole family, which has apparently grown by a dozen members since the original.

Did I say they massacre the whole family? We could only be so lucky. No, rather, one of the mob finds a baby Sawyer and sneaks it to his barren wife to raise as their own. This, of course, forms the basis of all the lameness to come. Oh, and Leatherface (or Jed as he's known in TC3D), manages to survive as well, despite being mentally challenged.

Fast forward damn near 40 years and Baby Sawyer has grown into a buxom 20-year old goth chick. Yeah, the filmmakers apparently didn't pass 2nd grade math. Actually, the director takes pains not to show the year on any of the newspapers, even when highlighting the date. But come on, when you open with footage of the original and everyone is clearly wearing 70s fashions and hairstyles, you can't just pretend its the early 90s so your lead will be the right age in the present. But, you know, Fuck it--it's just a horror flick.

He had to say that or they would have taken away his Executive Producer credit.
Heather is played by he gorgeous-but-acting-challenged Alexandra Daddario. I'd blame her flat and divorced-from-reality performance on the script, but I also saw her in Bereavement and found her lacking there too. The script certainly doesn't help though, as it forces her character to emotionally contort into unnatural postures to fit the ridiculous ending the filmmakers had in mind.

Heather inherits the Carson family mansion from a grandmother she never knew about, but who had been keeping tabs on her for years, because the Carsons are somehow related to the Sawyers. Heather, her boyfriend (Trey Songz), her slutty friend (Alex from Lost), and her boyfriend's friend\friend's sorta love interest Kenny (actually a pretty accomplished actor\musician\tech guru who's totally slumming in this movie) take a road trip down to Texas so she can sign some inheritance papers. The problem with inheriting houses from long lost relatives, though, is that sometimes Leatherface lives in the basement and kills all your friends.

The gore in this movie is copious and well-done, but only interesting from a special effects standpoint. The characters are only remarkable for their Hollywood good looks and their douchiness, so there's no emotional impact to watching them die. Although, this may be exactly what the filmmakers were going for. After all, when you ultimately want Leatherface to end up the hero, you don't want him to kill off anyone the audience may genuinely like. Plus, if we got all attached to them, we might think it kind of suspect when Heather suddenly reverses her opinion of good ole Jed after reading about the massacre of the Sawyers, who were, after all, just innocently making furniture from the bones of people they'd murdered and eaten when the vigilantes unjustly set them ablaze.

Been Caught Cheatin' - TC3D is a study in douchey characters who deserve to die

Anyway, Heather makes the mistake of letting the town's powers that be know that she knows what they did in the summer of '74, so they've got to get rid of her. Then she's on the run from both Leatherface and the cops. The cops catch her and tie her up, then leave to freshen up their hair or something and give Leatherface the chance to finish her off. Cousin Jed has the chainsaw to her throat when he discovers she's got a lazy plot device on her chest, marking her as a Sawyer. And you know how much blood means to this family, so suddenly she's safe from Leatherface, who frees her. But LeatherJed isn't safe. The cops attack and are getting ready to toss Old Leather into an industrial meat grinder when heather goes all Sawyer on their ass.

The film ends with Heather reading a letter from her grandmother explaining that she will have to take care of Cousin Jed, but that he'll be there to protect her. So now he's got her very own pet Leatherface. This was actually my favorite part of the film, not only because it's so ridiculous that it finally took TC3D over the top into absurdity, but because admit it, how cool would it be to have your own Leatherface?

I gave this movie several chances to change my mind, continually hoping that the filmmakers were just using the laziest slasher cliches in the biz to set up false expectations that they would then demolish in high style. At every turn, I was proved wrong. The filmmakers just didn't care enough to try to do something different with the film besides the standard small-group-of-young-people-go-to-a-remote-location-and-get-killed storyline. I got pretty excited at one point when Heather actually managed to escape the Carson estate and run into the middle of the town fair. I just knew I was in for an insane bloodbath unlike anything in the TCM series. There were teenagers left and right, crowded into small lanes between carnival rides and packed too tight for easy escape. And Leatherface is in the middle of it all with his huge chainsaw roaring like the Grim Reaper's Harley-Davidson, and you know how many teenagers her mows through? Zero. Fucking no kills at all in that scene. He just chases Heather the whole time and fucking fails utterly.

Somebody let me out of this fucking movie!

I was prepared for the movie not to be scary, but I at least though there would be limbs flying this way and that, splattering buckets of blood in gloriously cheesy 3D. Aside from 2 scenes where Leatherface is cutting through shit, there is absolutely no reason for this film to have been shot in 3D (Okay, 2 bucks extra per ticket is a fair reason, I suppose). Really, the only entertainment I got from TC3D was in thinking about how I was going to trash it in my review, and there's so many things wrong with the movie that it was actually a fun exercise. I recommend you either avoid this film, or hate-watch it with a big group of drunken friends. So, who's going to be my drunken friend?