Thursday, October 27, 2011

Even though it was made over 10 years ago, there's something about Pulse (Kairo) that is still very relevant to the digital age. From the movie's opening credits, which feature an eerie dial tone before revealing a girl stuck on a ship in open waters, the viewer gets the sense that technology has caused something to go terribly wrong.

Certain objects have always been the gateway to ghosts and other forms of evil in horror movies, but it wasn't until the early 21st century that the idea of the dead coming for us through our computers wasn't full explored or used as a primary device for a horror movie. Considering how they far more technologically savvy than most Americans, its not surprising that Japan would turn out a movie about how the personal computer opens the door to an unseen and menacing presence.

A group of young students who heavily use computers soon discover that something is very wrong, that slowly this close circle of friends is falling apart. A younger man, less knowledgeable about PCs than most Japanese teenagers, stumbles onto a site that features a really weird screen, and gets a message that tells him "Do you want to see a ghost?" Disturbed and unnerved by this development, he responds by quickly turning off his computer and then telling one of the friends about this. Its also no coincidence that previously one of their friends committed suicide, or that one of the friends, a male, wanders into a room and encounters something truly extraordinary and quite frightening.

What Pulse does is smartly rely not only jump scares or any such easy tactics, but instead slowly builds up its frightening elements until they reach a fervor pitch that is rather shocking. The use of a darker color palate only adds to the film's mood, and its sense of dread is often punctuated with moments that are completely surprising, such as a girl falling to her death or a teenager getting a phone call from someone or something that only says "Help me," echoing as if trapped in another plane of existence. Clearly something darker is at work here, yet the protagonists fail to properly understand what is happening, as this is a mystery that is only fully comprehended when it is too late to really do anything.

Really the trailer gave away a bit too much, however by the film's midway mark plus the ominous opening really gives away the direction it is heading in, and the ending is a bit too muted for it to have true effect, although the cheerful end credits music is a bit confusing. I will admit that another viewing may be necessary to fully understand some of the movie's more intriguing themes and aspects, although certainly there is quite a bit expounded on the fact that the ghosts are not only crossing over, but are also existing due to people becoming even more isolated and alienated in a world where technology and computers allow them to stay at home and close themselves off from having to see other people. This message may be as much a clear warning, or at least is something worth further exploring, as many writers have done in arguing against the new forces of the digital world shuttering us away from real life experiences.

When There's No More Original Ideas, the Remakes Shall Walk The Earth

Unlike the original, which really plunges the viewer into the zombie crisis right away, the remake gives off a false sense of calm first. Our heroine, Ana, suffers through her dull hospital shift, goes home, spends time with her husband, and goes to sleep. Only faint hints of an ongoing outbreak are given, before her peaceful tranquility is horrifyingly shattered by the neighborhood girl. Who just happens to have been turned into a nasty, fast and hungry zombie out for human flesh. Quickly, without mercy, the film jumps into pure chaos. The opening credits set to Johnny Cash's apocalyptic track "When The Man Comes Around" are chilling, and only add to the film's overall grim atmosphere.

Zach Snyder smartly realizes that he cannot best the original, so him and writer James Gunn choose to leave their own stamp on the zombie subgenre instead. Plenty of gore is featured, and the undead's rotting corpses are both disgusting and unpleasant to look at. It helps this movie that it received a higher budget than George A. Romero's 1978 classic had, and even though faster zombies may be more unrealistic they are scarier than slow zombies, despite slow zombies being creepier. This film maybe could have benefitted from an original score, yet Synder's musical choices are actually fairly inspired, which only illustrates how music can set a horror movie's mood.

Despite having a cast that is too large, most of the characters stand out, even though only a few really evolve over the course of the movie. CJ is an asshole that ends up setting aside his own selfish plans for the betterment of the group, even aiding in the rescue of a man from a gunshop. Jake Weber's sympthatic everyman is one of the film's most likable characters, and Ving Rhames is a great homage to Ken Foree's Peter from the original. What's also notable is that Sarah Polly is given a really strong female role to play, as not too many horror movies feature those.

Some week CGI aside and a few lesser moments that don't quite pan out, this is a really good, tightly wound and paced remake that is mostly relentless. While I'm not a fan of the movie's true ending (featured over the end credits), this is one of the better 2000s horror movie releases. Its kind of a shame that Snyder hasn't made a horror movie since, although Gunn went on to direct and write the great, gross, and funny horror film Slither two years later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Never Give Your Car A Name

Admittedly I have not read Stephen King's novel, which came out before the movie was released, of course. Its a shame that John Carpenter did not direct more adaptions of his novels, as he worked in horror a lot and he's really a truly talented director. Its no coincidence that the best adaptions of Stephen King's books have been adapted by good and great directors. The opposite could be said for those that were either poor or merely decent. Christine falls into the really good category, and its rather creepy for a killer car movie. In a way the car replaces your standard slasher villain, as the titular vehicle proceeds to go on a fairly sizable killing spree. As revealed in both a early flashback and in a story later on, the car prefers to have blood in its tank as opposed to diesel or premium.

Years after the car claims its first kill before even leaving the lot, it lies rusting in the field of an old man. While driving by, young Arnie sees the car and decides that he's tired of having to get rides from his friend, Dennis. Despite his own friend being wary of the purchase, and even though the old man selling him the car is clearly not telling him the whole story, Arnie doesn't care. He's already possessed by the desire to own this 1958 Plymouth Fury, and he can envision how it will look restored, all red color and cool looking tail fins included. Little does he know that the car will change him as he much as he changes it-and this is not a heart warming story about a teenager who finds responsibility. Unless you include people being run over, or the teen becoming a complete jerk.

By the time the car has been fully restored, Arnie has a girlfriend and an entire new attitude that his best friend and even his family notice. One of the movie's best touches is having Arnie dress up more and more like a 50s greaser as the movie goes on. Considering that the car warps his personality and results in him becoming a different person, having him also change his style of clothing to reflect his obsession with his ride was something unique and adds more to the movie. Despite this film not being particularly scary, its still a tad eerie in terms of how the viewer witnesses not just a teen completely taken over by a vehicle, but also that the vehicle and the teen both reflect each other's personalities.

Really though the car kills mostly for Arnie, acting at times like any jealous or scorned woman. Thugs decide to trash the car? They all suffer horrifying deaths as a result. In one suspenseful moment Christine even tries to get rid of Arnie's girlfriend, Leigh, after she unwisely speaks ill of Arnie's ride. How the film ends may not be surprising to readers of the book, and it does have a fantastic final shot. Considering other lesser killer car movies over the years (interestingly enough Stephen King directed the adaption of his other killer vehicle book, Maximum Overdrive, which was a hilariously entertaining bad movie), this one is probably the best of the whole lot.

PS: One last final thought: there is a scene where Christine pursues a man while on fire, and while watching it I realized that such a scene reminds me somewhat of the famous Radiohead video for their song Karma Police. I wonder if Christine is where the video's director got the idea from.

How to Date a Vampire: The Non-Twilight Edition

When it comes to horror movies, John Landis has made his fair share, which is a bit surprising considering he's more well known for his comedies. Although Innocent Blood features some comedy, the movie is primarily a vampire movie with mobsters. Despite this being merely solid at best, its still a relatively entertaining movie with a good romance lying at its heart. Really its not everyday that a person falls in love with a vampire, even a vampire as gorgeous as this one. You just have to beware her strong bite, amazing strength, and standard predatory nature.

Marie is a rather simple vampire with basic appetites who only kills and feeds on mobsters and murders. Joe is an cop deep undercover in the mob who's cover gets blown, and thus he is hated and hunted by the mob. The man him and the police is trying to nail, Sallie (The Shark), a feared kingpin and psychopath, ends up getting his blood sucked by Marie, but she is interrupted and thus is unable to finish him off. This leads to um, certain complications that only cause more problems.

This movie is not Romeo and Juliet with vampires (although to a certain degree Underworld had that type of premise), but there is a touch and go love affair between two different people. One who is alive, and the other who is the undead terror of the night. If anything this subplot is more engaging and interesting than the still relatively entertaining main storyline, as the movie sees if its possible for a vampire and a human to co-exist together in a relationship. Luckily for Joe, Marie tells him "You're not my type," which means she's unlikely to suck on his jugular vein.

Despite featuring vampires, Innocent Blood doesn't really follow vampire mythology in strict terms-in one scene, a vampire is killed by a gunshot to the head-but it gets close enough. A few creepy moments do exist, however the movie is as much a bizarre crime drama as it is a horror movie. A possible sequel could happen, but this film is best left as a singular entry, and its not really a bad addition to the vampire subgenre of horror movies.

You Can't Keep a Good Slasher Villain Down, After All

Although not as good as the first or third films, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is a rather solid entry into the series. Picking up where the last one left off, it turns out Freddy is not dead (no big surprise there). Really Freddy vs. Jason did a great job of covering how to stop Freddy: take a drug that enables you to stop dreaming, although the town where Elm Street lies went a bit too far in that approach. So its really not shocking that Freddy re-emerges and destroys those that previously opposed him in the last movie. Yet, there arises someone who only slowly realizes her power, which is that she is able to absorb the powers of the Dream kids that came before her.

Despite some way too obvious psychobabble about a "Dream Master" (no need to state the obvious), this entry has some pretty disturbing kills. Freddy was always great because he is able to kill his victims in their dreams, thus he can be truly inventive, but according to this version he also devours the souls of his victims. Which reminds me of the bad guy in the Mortal Kombat movie. The lame additions to his mythology in Part II having been discarded by this time.

Thus, Freddy even though he was more creepy in parts 1-3 is way more cruel in this installment. He turns a girl into a bug in her dream, crushing her to death (followed of course by one of his snappy one-liners.) Another kid is defeated with his own kung fu style, which only goes to show that regular human talents are no match for him. Freddy even prevents Alice, the main character, and her boyfriend from rescuing a friend using deja vu to rather sinister effect. My favorite scene, which is also hilarious, is when Freddy uses his glove to act like the shark from Jaws, emerging from the water onto land and destroying a castle shaped just like his Elm Street house.

Sure this film lacks the third one's higher stakes, and is a bit cheesy at times, but its still rather well made. Really so far (I've only seen 1-4, FVJ, and the remake) the series part II aside is really quite good through the first four films. Despite hearing mixed opinions about the next two installments, I'm rather curious to find out how the overall series shapes up. They can't be any worse than Halloweens 5 and 6, or Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X in the other two famous slasher series.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Michael Myers is Uber Patient

Considering the mixed track record of the previous sequels, it was a smart move by everyone involved in the seventh film that they disregarded the storyline from 4-6. They decided instead to continue from the events that happened in the first film and its sequel, going from there and having it be that Myers waits 20 years before deciding to finally track down his sister, who faked her death and is hiding in sunny California, miles away from Haddenfield. Bow that guy sure is persistent-he never quits. Unfortunately for Laurie, this time around Dr. Loomis is dead and gone, and thus can't protect her this time with a large .44 pistol.

What makes this better than any of the sequels save for the third one, which I dig a lot more than others do anyways, is how its directed and executed. They went back to the eerie, creepy feel of the first two movies, changing Myers back to a stalker instead of the mass killing machine he had become later on from movies 4-6. And they also deal with Laurie's endless nightmares and fears of Michael returning, which remind me a bit of Tommy Jarvis going slowly insane in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. Updating and modernizing Michael Myers for the 90s was an interesting challenge, and they manage to be successful, even if the movie had the misfortune to be released after the first two Screams, a pair of movies that showed how outdated the slasher sub-genre had become at this point.

What was even smarter move was having Laurie finally confront Micheal and fight him head on, thus going from a victim to a victor. Without this dynamic, the movie still would have had the feel of the other ones, where its just Michael killing people followed by people running from him. Also it helped that there were no annoying child actors involved, although the teenagers fit your standard teen cliches as required, as after all this is still a slasher movie. Really one of my main questions though is why some terrible Creed song was included; perhaps the filmmakers were told by the studio that the soundtrack had to be marketable, or something.

Oh and the final act is fairly suspenseful and tense, with the last scene being rather surprising but not completely unexpected. The fact that there was another sequel after this one speaks volumes to the studio and the producers being greedy and dumb. Anyone who has seen this one knows that H20 was a good, solid conclusion to the Halloween franchise, and as far as number seven movies goes is also pretty good, too, although granted only long running film series have that many and usually have more than that. Well at least Rob Zombie's two Halloween movies erased the memory of the 8th Halloween, which I'm sure I'll view partly as a glutton for punishment, but also for the sake of bashing it, too.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Here Kitty Kitty Kitty...

Stoked by the powers of erotic desire and sexual curiosity brought on by a lack of experience, a young woman in her 20s is haunted by dark dreams. They are not nightmares, though-instead they are flashbacks to an earlier time and they reveal an ancient prophecy, clouded in mystery, yet eventually revealed. It is a destiny where one reverts literally to a primitive animal state that is also quite violent, where people turn into large leopards, hungry for blood.

This is the eerie nature of Cat People, a 1982 film that was a very loose remake of the 1942 classic by the same name. Unlike the original, this version is more clear and explicit, however in being relatively unsubtle its just as intriguing as the original was. Due to the Hollywood censorship codes the 1942 version was only able to suggest and or hint at its strong sexual overtones without showing anything on screen. Really all that the remake and the original have in common is that the 1982 version has a fantastic homage to the famous pool scene from the 1942 one, and that sex or the idea of sex awakens the animal within. Its interesting that 1982 saw two successful remakes of previous horror classics, as John Carpenter also remade The Thing that same year.

Through Malcolm McDowell's very sinister and creepy murderous character Paul, and Nastassja Kinski's Irena, his repressed and delicate sister, the film tackles the nature of sex and how it can even be used as a weapon. John Heard falls prey not only to Irena, but also becomes obsessed with her, at first finding her to be rather delicate and then later alluring and even dangerous. There are some elements of body horror here, but the film does not really dive into those and they are not important overall.

Naturally as in most horror movies of this type the problematic issue of loving someone who is either becoming a monster or is already a monster comes to a head. This film's situation has a rather unexpected and even shocking conclusion, one that I did not see coming. Filmed in a gorgeous visual style (orange is used quite a bit, here, as is red), and sporting a great score anchored by David Bowie's brilliant "Cat People (Putting Out The Fire)," which only further articulates the film's themes, Cat People is a worthy remake and a great addition to 80s horror, which is at times grossly underrated by the genre's fans.

Urban Legends and Rutger Hauer

As empty as the vast, expansive desert landscape, and bleaker than a starless sky, this movie thrives on nihilism. Into a young man's life a loner psychopath arrives, slaughtering everyone in his path, thus baptizing the young lad in blood and violence. Rutger Hauer's character is no ordinary man, for he appears whenever he needs to, operating as her were the boogieman or even the Devil himself. The poor young male is trapped in an endless nightmare, and through all of this he is given a twisted lesson, one he will never forget.

Utilizing the gorgeous and wide open spaces of the American Southwest, The Hitcher is a nasty, brutal film that never backs down or really lets up, save for a couple of moments. Rutger Hauer is mostly silent, and thus by only saying very little and letting his facial actions take center stage, he never stops being menacing or utterly frightening. He is a true sight to behold, and just looking into that strong gaze and those piercing eyes is enough to put the fear of God into any person. C. Thomas Howell plays his hapless victim very well, giving the audience someone to sympathize with-he is a likable everyman, caught between the police, who think he's guilty, and this maniac who never ceases to chase him. Jennifer Jason Leigh has the misfortune to be the woman who later accompanies Howell's character, a waitress who ends up being merely a pawn in a game being played between two men locked into a never ending struggle.

With a rather great use of color, particularly at the end with that haunting and stunning final shot, The Hitcher is rather well made. The fact that it never strays from its dark vision, or really cuts corners, makes it a primary example of good, solid film making, committed to achieving an end that is rather disturbing. Even nightmare fables deserve attention, serving as warnings for us all; this one empathizes one clear fact: never pick up a hitchhiker. Especially a guy who looks anything remotely like Rutger Hauer.

Metors, Zombies, and Aliens Oh My

One of Roger Ebert's criticisms of Day of the Dead (1985) was that the film's characters yell and shout too much, that what they are screaming about adds nothing to the movie. This false description of Day of the Dead's characters (okay, more wrong than false-its just his opinion) can actually be applied to the survivors featured in Undead (2003). Really this movie tries too hard to channel the Peter Jackson films Bad Taste and Dead/Alive, and it fails in that regard. I was entertained, sure, as some of the humor involved does work, yet the overall product is rather disappointing.

Which is a shame, as the film itself looks great and has good FX considering its relatively low budget. The zombies are not particularly interesting or remarkable, however, although there are good zombie movies where that is also the case. Yet the characters-the main strength of any zombie movie-really are nothing more than dull caricatures who substitute over acting and being outlandish for likability, which means the audience doesn't really care about them.

There is something to be said about the movie's weird, unexpected final act that represents a odd yet interesting tonal shift. It does leave some room for a sequel, although I'd rather not see one, even if there's a slime possibility it could be good. There is also something to be said about watching a conspiracy crazed fisherman who magically becomes a gunman out of a John Woo movie overnight, I suppose.

Friday, October 7, 2011

This Isn't a Pretty Place Where The Flowers Grow

Merely three years after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and five years after The Last House On The Left, Wes Craven covered revenge again-this time using in bread cannibals instead of a group of escaped murders. A family makes the mistake of breaking down nearby an army base in the desert, and gets attacked by those lurking in the surrounding countryside.

Earlier Wes Craven was more brutal and nihilistic in his work than in his 80s and 90s films, and this movie is no exception. The family is forced to resort to crude and primitive methods to defeat the cannibals, while suffering greatly as a result. Although Craven does utilize the harsh landscape, he fails to fully explore its possibilities-perhaps due to lack of funding.

Still, this is a well made and disturbing movie, a look into a real "State of Nature" where one group wars against another group. Unapologetic in its display of extreme violence, once more Craven adds another good movie to his record. Even though when it comes to his films The Last House On The Left is a much better film, one that more properly covers the negative effects of violence on the American family.

Alien Slugs Burrowing Into Your Brain

Taking proper direction from such cult films as Shivers and Night of the Creeps, James Gunn creates his own great, yet disgusting, horror film. Alien slugs land, and proceed to take over a small town, in, well, that's not important. This film takes the concept of body horror to new heights, as those taken over become ugly, gross mutated creatures hungry for "Meat." One should really avoid eating while watching this movie.

Forced to deal with the situation is a hapless yet likable local sheriff, the town's profanity spewing mayor, and the wife of one of the infected, a man who just happens to be the main carrier for the outbreak. Her commitment to "Till Death Do Us Part" gets insanely tested in this movie. As nasty as it is, Slither has plenty of comedic and humorous moments. The outlandish and creepy parts often provide set up for really funny scenes, and most of the main characters bumble their way into dangerous situations.

Really though the mayor, played by Gregg Henry, has many of the movie's best one-liners, such as "That bitch is hardcore" and his complaining monologue about no Mr. Pibb being just another bad thing in a day filled with really bad things happening. Naturally the film has a crazy ending, too, and even features a scene where the sheriff has to fight an undead infected deer.

Don't forget to watch after the credits, and remember to look to the skies. Be it in fear, terror, or even wonder if you like. And of course I'll be joining the countless others in hoping for a sequel.