Sunday, April 23, 2017

Black Christmas (1974): Mini-Review

Black Christmas definitely deserves its reputation as one of the best horror of films of the 1970s, as well as being an early and very influential example of a slasher movie. It's more subtle and understated than a lot of its followers, though.

The plot involves a bunch of sorority girls getting threatening and sexual phone calls, which are effectively weird and disturbing.

It's hard to explain without spoilers but eventually there's a reveal that serves as an example of an extremely famous and common horror film trope/cliche. This is surely one of, if not the earliest, uses of this now incredibly cliche plot point, and I always find it interesting to see one the first uses of any well-known film trope. I'm sure anyone who has seen the film would know what I'm referring to.

This is also one of the first big examples of a horror film titled and based around a specific holiday or day, like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, and countless others.

The villain in Black Christmas is great and one of the creepiest slasher bad guys in film history. There's even an abortion subplot, which is pretty daring for it' time.

The ending is fantastic too and features a very eerie final shot. Overall, the cast is pretty good, and there are a few familiar faces you might recognize, like Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the Superman series. There's also Keir Dullea, who was the main character in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and John Saxon from Enter the Dragon, Dario Argento's Tenebrae, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

I highly recommend watching this to anyone who has even a passing interest horror, and it's a must watch as soon as possible if you're a slasher or 70s horror fan.

Black Christmas was remade in 2006, but I haven't seen that version yet.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cujo (1983): Mini-Review

Cujo is okay, but inconsistent and overall nothing special. This first part of the movie before the crazy rabid dog stuff starts happening is pretty boring and I wasn't particularly interested in the characters' affairs and personal drama. I was pretty much just waiting for Cujo to start attacking people.

Once he does, the film definitely starts improving. It does a reasonable job of getting across a tense atmosphere and Cujo is effectively intimidating and scary. It just takes way too long in getting there.
They did a good job of making up the dog so he looks rabid, although he looks pretty cute without the makeup.

I understand they couldn't just have a whole movie of a woman and her child fighting off a dog, but there wasn't enough meat to the story to be compelling. I haven't read the book, but I'm sure the affair plotline was significant as I've heard the movie was relatively faithful. So maybe this just wasn't enough of a story for a feature film and would have worked better as a short or a TV episode or something like that.

Also, don't expect any gore, the horror is more psychological, which isn't at all a bad thing.
I'd recommend this if you've already seen a decent amount of 80s horror and just haven't gotten around to this yet.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) [Mini-Review]

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is infamous for its (in retrospect) baffling decision to not feature Michael Myers or even be set in the same universe as the original two films. In fact, Halloween is a fictional film in Season of the Witch's universe.

Producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill wanted to turn the Halloween brand into an anthology of unrelated installments that all took place on or around the holiday. Apparently, they were hesitant to work on an another one in the series, and this was the only way they'd do it. This may have worked better had they not have already made Halloween II, thus firmly associating the name with the character of Myers, as well as actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance.

Fans were disappointed that there was no Michael, and reviews were negative. It took six years for the franchise to come back with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. They made sure to put him in the title to make sure audiences knew they wouldn't be disappointed again.

I wasn't alive at the time, so I knew before I watched it that it was an oddball in the series and that Myers would come back for more movies. If you just think of it as its own thing, it's not that bad, but certainly not that great either.

Not only does Season of the Witch have a new continuity, it also represents a genre shift for the franchise as while it is a horror, it's also science fiction.

Stars Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin give passable performances, but I can't get over how creepy the age difference between them is, and their relationship feels very forced and sudden. She basically throws herself at him without having shown any previous signs of chemistry or attraction.

One of the positives of the film is that John Carpenter did do the soundtrack, which is always a good thing and sets the atmosphere. Unfortunately, a really annoying jingle also plays throughout that will undoubtedly be stuck in your head for days.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Curse of Chucky (2013) [Mini-Review]

Curse of Chucky is a surprisingly solid sequel. Most horror franchises run out of steam by the sixth installment by this is much better than Halloween 6 or A Nightmare on Elm Street 6, for example.
The fourth and fifth Chucky movies brought the series more towards horror-comedy, but this went back to the roots of the franchise and is a relatively serious horror film. It was also the first one to be direct-to-video and the first to be shot digitally.
Despite being less comedic, it doesn't take itself too seriously and manages to strike an appropriate tone.

Bride and Seed of Chucky introduced a family for the title character, but Curse goes back to having him as the only talking doll.
It was directed by Don Mancini, who created Chucky, has written all the films, and directed Seed of Chucky.

Brad Dourif returns as the voice of Chucky and even appears in the flesh for the first time in the series since the original Child's Play. It's pretty cool to see him, but it looks a little odd as they try to recreate his look from the time period.
Brad's daughter, Fiona Dourif plays the lead role. This may seem like nepotism that could hurt the quality of the film, but these movies don't require Oscar-level acting and she had already appeared on shows like Deadwood and Law and Order: SVU. She even had a small part in P.T. Anderson's The Master.

She actually does a pretty good job, considering she was relatively inexperienced at the time and the film largely centers around her character.
This was described early on in development as a reboot or a remake and it seems like it could be at first, but by the end, it's clear that it takes place in the same continuity as the previous installments and there are plenty of neat homages and references to the other Chucky movies.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Seed of Chucky (2004): Mini-Review

The fifth installment of the Chucky franchise is a decent entry but doesn't really stay true to the roots of the series. The 4th film started the slide into comedy, but this one, directed by Don Mancini, goes all the way.

Jennifer Tilly joined the franchise in the fourth movie as well, and she stars in this one. She is great as always and it definitely one of the highlights of the series in my book.

Brad Dourif also returns as the voice of Chucky and is fantastic as always.

For some reason, a lot of horror franchises in this era had films starring rappers. Halloween H20 had LL Cool J, Halloween: Resurrection had Busta Rhymes, and Seed of Chucky has Redman.

There is a significant subplot involving Redman playing himself and directing a movie that Jennifer Tilly, also as herself, is trying to get a role in. It's pretty funny that the role is for the Virgin Mary.

Tilly playing herself adds a bit of a meta quality and a convenient way for her to still appear in the flesh despite the events of the previous film. John Waters also appears in a small role and it's always entertaining seeing him, but it did feel a bit random.

The film centers around Chucky and Tiffany's child named Glen, while also going by Glenda at times in a fun reference to the classic B-movie Glen or Glenda. The character is pretty goofy and I'm not sure how I feel about his design.

Also, there's a lame bit about Britney Spears that feels out of place and seemed just to be an attempt at referencing someone in pop culture.

Seed of Chucky only has a 32 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but this isn't surprising as somewhat silly horror films like these usually don't get great reviews. The IMDB rating is a bit better at 4.9 out of 10.

Overall the film is entertaining and has quite a few funny moments. If you liked the previous films in the series, you'd probably enjoy this one. Just keep in mind it's much more like the 4th than the original trilogy.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Psycho (1998): Mini-Review

The original Psycho is one of the best films of all-time, regardless of genre, but the remake feels completely pointless. Such a classic film really didn't need to be remade.

This is probably the most faithful remake ever made, as the vast majority of shots and scenes are taken from the original. It's worth seeing once just because it's so unique, although its uniqueness paradoxically comes from trying to slavishly copy another film.

It's directed by Gus van Sant and I like some of his other films like Elephant, Milk, and Goodwill Hunting. But this is definitely not one of his better films and I'm sure I'll never watch it again. Gus van Sant was quoted as saying he remade Psycho so "no one else had to", which is a perplexing justification to the say the least.

Also, Vince Vaughn is nowhere close to as good as Anthony Perkins. And I didn't need to see him pleasuring himself in one of the few scenes that are different from the 1960 version.
William H. Macy and Anne Heche are decent, but nothing special.

The movie was a box office bomb, making only 37 million dollars worldwide and it's easy to see why. No one was asking for this, and 38 years after the original, many younger people probably don't even know about the Hitchcock film. I'm not sure who this was for.

As far as I'm aware, no one has tried to do a shot for shot remake like this since then (besides Haneke remaking his own Funny Games), and that's probably for the best. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Quick Thoughts on the Disappointing Live Action "Ghost in the Shell"

Unfortunately, the live-action adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell manga and anime is disappointing and a huge missed opportunity. The movie, directed by Rupert Sanders (who also made the mediocre at best Snow White and the Hunstman) looks great and presents a cool futuristic world filled with giant holograms and neon lights. This only keeps you entertained for about 30 minutes and the neat visuals can't carry the movie on their own or make up for the many glaring flaws.

The 2017 version is not nearly as deep and philosophical as the original anime from 1995, which was comparatively subtle when put next to the heavy-handed remake. There's plenty of clumsy expository dialogue including on-the-nose bits like "You have no idea how alone that makes me feel" from the main character. Equally clunky is the introductory text at the very beginning that could have easily been left out.

Even the action scenes are only passable and are never that memorable or anything we haven't seen before.

There are some solid actors in the cast including Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, and Takeshi Kitano, and while none of them are bad, they don't have much to work with and seem to be phoning it in.

For a movie about soul, it has little.

I'm a bit worried that this may become a thing like video game adaptations where live action versions of anime can never quite hit the mark as both are difficult mediums to adapt into big-budget Hollywood movies.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Experimental Films of the 1930s

The first big experimental or avant-garde film of the 1930s was L'Age d'Or, or The Golden Age, released in 1930. It was directed by Luis Buñuel and written by him and one of the most famous painters of all-time, surrealist Salvador Dalí. However, the two were not getting along by the time production began and Buñuel supposedly ran Dalí off the set while brandishing a hammer.

They were fresh off making a landmark in avant-garde cinema, the shocking Un Chien Andalou. That was a short film, but L'Age d'Or was closer to feature length at 63 minutes. Like Un Chien Andalou, there is no clear plot and events that take place appear to be random. Surrealism is an obvious influence and well-known Surrealist artist Max Ernst appears as an actor.

Buñuel was Spanish, but this was made in France and in the French language and premiered in Paris in 1930. The film caused an uproar as a conservative group called the League of Patriots tried to stop a screening by hurling ink at the screen and assaulting audience members. It was only a couple weeks before Paris banned any screenings of L'Age d'Or.

The controversy was so strong that it wasn't publicly shown in the United States until 1979. This was because of the sexual content as well as content that was considered blasphemous towards the Catholic Church and one of the producers was even threatened with excommunication. It's not surprising that the church found it sacrilegious as the film featured lots of religious iconography such as bishops and crucifixes.

There's even a reference to the infamous 18th-century novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade with an intertitle that states "120 Days of Depraved Acts".

L'Age d'Or was easily one of the two most significant films on this list, what I'd consider to be the "essentials."

The other was made that same year when Jean Cocteau directed The Blood of a Poet. He began his career writing poetry, plays, and novels and became well known in the 1910s and 1920s. Cocteau made films from 1925 up until just a few years before his death in 1963, including a 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast.

The Blood of a Poet was the first part of Cocteau's Orphic trilogy, which had a second installment in 1950 with Orphée, and concluded in 1960 with Testament of Orpheus.

The Blood of a Poet contains a lot of odd imagery like a talking statue and a man jumping through a mirror. Like L'Age d'Or, there isn't an obvious plot or story. These factors lead many to call this is a Surrealist work, and they aren't entirely wrong. However, Cocteau himself said "surrealism did not exist when I first thought of [the film]" and that "The Blood of a Poet draws nothing from either dreams or symbols."

This film was quite controversial and wasn't allowed to be screened until 1932, with its first showing at a gala evening in Paris. This was partly because The Blood of a Poet was perceived as anti-Christian, another similarity it shared with L'Age d'Or.

A famous American photographer named Lee Miller appeared, and this would be the only time she'd ever be in a movie.

Cocteau's 55-minute long film also has some very impressive special effects and visual tricks for its time and is worth watching for this reason alone. The Blood of a Poet is clearly up there with L'Age d'Or as one of the must-see experimental movies of the decade.