Posted in Uncategorized

Happy Halloween Everyone!

I hope everyone has a good Halloween! To help make sure you do, I am including links to fifteen  horror films that you can watch for free on Youtube! Have fun and be safe!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1920

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1920

Nosferatu 1922

Phantom of the Opera 1925

The Man Who Laughs 1928

Frankenstein 1931

Freaks 1932

White Zombie 1932

The Invisible Man 1933

Werewolf of London 1935

Dead of Night 1945

The House on Haunted Hill 1959

13 Ghosts 1960

Pit and the Pendulum 1961

Night of the Living Dead 1968

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Posted in Film Commentary

Review: John Carpenter’s The Thing

I don’t know how I lived with myself before last week, as I had not seen this movie until I decided to review it for all of you. I had seen the original Howard Hawks version, but this one is by far one of my favorite horror movies now that I have seen it.

One thing I absolutely love is how this film does not waste time making you feel uncomfortable. Nothing really gets scary until about half an hour into the film, but that doesn’t mean Carpenter wastes time with needless exposition. Carpenter gives us just enough information for us to know what is going on, and immediately begins to point out how strange the situation is.

Another great thing is how investigating what happened to the Norwegians sets up the suspense. The Howard Hawks version has the Americans discovering the Thing, but having the Americans investigate a fallen research group sets the tone for just how much trouble they are in so much better than “Hey, look! A flying saucer!” ever could have.

I was bothered by one particular thing in the story, though.  Even after they discover how the Thing imitates, that they keep leaving people alone. Fuchs even says, “It needs to be alone and in close proximity to a life form in order for it to be absorbed. The chameleon strikes in the dark”. Even at the end of the film, MacReady takes two other men with him while leaving Childs in the camp by himself, leading to the ambiguous ending of not knowing whether he has been taken over. If they understand the risks of leaving anyone alone, why do they keep doing it?

One of the things that I adored about this film was the use of sound. The soundtrack itself screams classic horror, as it is mostly composed of foreboding bass chords and tense, screeching violin melodies. So many movies these days feel the need to bombard you with an overly dramatic score, when a low-key soundtrack that simply emphasizes important moments while reinforcing certain emotional responses is all you really need. I’m all for classic horror soundtracks and I am glad this movie does not go over the top with the music, but what is really great about the sound in this film is the use of wind. There are many scenes throughout the film where the only noise other than the characters talking is the wind outside, reminding you constantly just how isolated, alone, and helpless they really are.

What made this film a cult classic, aside from the awesome story, was how memorable all of the special effects were. Yes, some of them are cheesy when compared to contemporary standards, but they are not entirely outdated. There are still plenty of people who get scared when watching a dog practically turn itself inside out.

The effects may not be perfect, but imagining watching this film at the time of its release I could not help but think of how state of the art they were. Compared to horror films that came before it where most of the effects were done with objects you could find around your house, the effects in the Thing were tremendously more realistic and believable.

The best thing about this film, in my honest opinion, is the preference for psychological horror over shock horror. Now, most of what people remember about this film are the special effects (and for good reason). However, most of the horror of this film comes from not knowing who is trustworthy and watching these men fall apart from paranoia, knowing that any one of us would do the same thing in their situation. This is not a film about Americans triumphantly defeating an alien foe and proving that they are the best, but a film that shows just how vulnerable we all really are to our own paranoia.

I highly recommend this film to everyone I know, though most people I have talked to have admitted to being too creeped out by the special effects to enjoy the story. How rare, these days, that a horror movie actually scares people, even thirty years later. If you have a strong stomach and are not faint of heart, may I suggest you go watch this film as soon as you can.

Favorite Scene: 

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: The Exorcist

I will admit, I originally was not planning on reviewing this film for this month. I wanted to save it for a later date, but I got so many requests for it that I absolutely couldn’t refuse. With that, I want to thank everyone that suggested this because I had forgotten how much I liked this movie. With that, let’s begin!

One of the things I love about this movie is how despite the subject, everything seems pretty realistic. This movie doesn’t have an overbearing sense of style. The lighting, setting, costumes, etc. all seem fairly realistic. There are a few scenes that you can tell were really well thought out in terms of where to put the camera and how to light the scene, but for the most part everything feels real. That is one of the things that makes this movie scarier, the idea that this could actually happen.

This film is very subtle in almost every respect, and I love the visual subtlety. There are a few visual hints such as the Devil’s face popping up in various places and the occasional use of red furniture, clothing, or environment (a technique that would later be copied by The Sixth Sense). The great thing though that a lot of horror movies forget is to not bombard you with ridiculous imagery but rather just let everything slowly sink in and get inside your head, which this film does very well.

The pacing of the film was also something I absolutely loved due to the subtlety. The progression of this film sneaks up on you, where most films either leave you sitting there waiting for the action to come or make you feel like you’ve just been run over by a train with how fast everything came out at you. I felt mildly uneasy when Regan was revealed to be sleeping in bed with her mother because her bed was shaking, and I visibly cringed during the close up of the nurse drawing her blood for tests. By the time the possession went into full swing, I was caught off guard with how we had arrived at that point so soon (before realizing we were actually an hour or so into the film).

Now, the thing most people remember about this film is Linda Blair’s performance. Despite only being thirteen or so at the time of the film’s release, Blair did an absolutely amazing job. While I cannot argue this point and do not wish to, I do want to discuss another character more. The film is called The Exorcist, not The Exorcism, but many people seem to forget the importance of Father Damien Karras. While the film on the surface is about a girl suffering from possession of a demon that has entered her from outside her control, the deeper context of the film reveals a man struggling to exorcise the demons he has formed within himself. Thus, the scary part of this film, to me, is not the fact that Linda Blair can turn her head around backwards or spit blood, but rather that Father Karras becomes so absorbed by his personal demons that he commits suicide. We hear repeatedly that Damien feels guilty for his mother’s death (something the demon brings up constantly) and that he wants out of the priesthood. Right before his death he takes the demon into himself and uses the last of his willpower to hurl himself out the window, relieving himself and those around him from his “demons”.

The only question with this film that I keep asking is why Regan? Why does Regan get possessed in the first place? How? The Demon seems interested in Karras specifically, did he possess her knowing Karass would eventually come? This is never quite answered, but then again it is a question that does not necessarily need an explanation.

Honestly, I don’t think this is a film you can analyze into oblivion. It does everything it can to make it seem real (like keeping the settings realistic and adding bits of dialogue stating the hesitancy of the Catholic Church to conduct an exorcism). The story is pretty straight forward and the scare tactics are psychological and visceral, not cheap and easily out-dated. This is a great example of simplicity being the best answer, and it will continue to be a shining example of American horror for years to come.

Instead of including a favorite scene, you can watch The Exorcist on youtube! Unfortunately, it’s not free, but it’s better than nothing. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/movie?v=sFuY0icpASA&feature=mv_sr

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Alien

Second horror film review of the month brings us to the realm of sci-fi horror, and I felt that this film was appropriate because it has scared the living daylights out of some friends of mine. However, this is also one of the films that I am reviewing because I don’t believe it deserves all of the hype it has gotten over the years. I am not saying this movie is bad, far from it. However, I don’t believe it is the best horror movie I have and ever will see. Once again, I’m going to use the “compliment sandwich” for this review.

I absolutely love the visual effects in this film. There is a stark contrast between light and shadow throughout the film that makes everything eerie and even adds to a claustrophobic feeling. Of course, the set does this as well (what with everyone being stuck on a ship), but the lighting gives the atmosphere of the film an essential boost in creepiness.

The set and prop designs were also superb in this film, making it nearly flawless to suspend disbelief. I had to keep subconsciously reminding myself that the Nostromo wasn’t a real cargo ship, and just about the only thing that held me to reality was that I recognized the actors from other films (Ash is played by Ian Holm, who later plays Bilbo Baggins in the LOTR trilogy, Sigourney Weaver also plays Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters, and Kane is played by John Hurt, who was not only the dictator in V for Vendetta but also Ollivander in the Harry Potter films). This is not to say they did not do superb acting jobs, because they did, but they are all notable actors and thus I was able to ground myself mostly from facial recognition. The point, however, is that the set and prop designs were spectacular and highly believable. In fact, I should say costume design as well, since the Alien was played by a very tall man in a suit.

As for the thing I don’t like about this film, I honestly don’t like the pacing of the first half. It drags out just a bit too long for my taste, as the face-hugger doesn’t get Kane until half an hour into the film. I understand, however, that a majority of what happens in the first hour is important. My suggestion: remove the character development that isn’t necessary. It is mentioned at least three times in the first hour of the film that Parker and Brett want higher shares when they get home. This has no relation to the rest of the film and becomes less important to the story each time it is mentioned. By the time the alien escapes Kane’s chest, they are some of the most trustworthy people on the ship (well, Parker is at least), rendering all this nonsense about higher shares pointless. I wouldn’t mind if this were mentioned once, twice at most. Dallas is not given character development beyond “semi-overbearing Captain” and Lambert isn’t given depth beyond “stereotypical woman who doesn’t want to be there and is scared of everything” (which I have plenty of problems with on its own). Kane isn’t even important beyond being an alien incubator. If most of the film revolves around the alien and the awful relationship between Ash and Ripley, why was it deemed necessary to include so many scenes of Parker and Brett complaining about their shares?

Back to good things, this film does a great job of using foreshadowing. Kane is the first of the crew to wake up when Mother wakes them to search the planet. The very next scene shows them all at the table. The film drives the point home, in case you missed it, by adding these lines:

Kane: I feel dead.

Parker: Anybody ever tell you you look dead?

This is far from the only way the film uses foreshadowing, either. There are many times throughout the film where Ash is shown straight-faced despite the crew being in a desperate situation. Once again, the film makes sure you notice by adding bits of dialogue between Ripley and the other crew members about her growing distrust of him.

As a horror movie, the alien doesn’t scare me as much as Ash does. Granted, Ash is a pawn being used by the Weyland Corporation, but he is the only face of evil we see. When you compare the motives of the Alien and the Weyland Corporation, what’s more terrifying: a creature following its natural instincts in order to survive, or a corporation that is so focused on retrieving a foreign life-form that they are willing to sacrifice human lives in the process? Science fiction does one thing continually that will always terrify me, and that is to remind me that large corporations are evil.

While the beginning of this film drags out more than I would like, the film as a whole is superb. The imagery, foreshadowing, costumes, props, lighting, set design, story, etc. are all magnificent. I can’t say this ranks among my list of my personal favorite films, but I have huge respect for this film and everything it has inspired in the sci-fi and horror genres ever since.

Unfortunately, my favorite scene of this film has been copyright blocked. Spoilers: it’s not the chest-burster scene. My favorite is actually Ash’s malfunction and last words to the remaining crew. But I digress, here is the original trailer!

Trailer:

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: 28 Days Later (WARNING: NSFW)

So I decided to review this as my first horror film of the month for many reasons. 1) I took a British Horror Film class in college and people I have talked to since have wondered why I would bother. This film is, in fact, British horror, so I wanted to show off that our friends across the pond are just as good if not better at making movies as we are. 2) I am a huge fan of zombie movies, and this film has been cited in various places as being the spark that reignited the popularity of zombie films. 3) I’m also a sucker for social commentary, and this film has PLENTY of that. Ok, so there are even more reasons than that, but these are definitely my top three. Shall we begin?

First off, this film is absolutely beautiful. The cinematography is great, as there are numerous scenes that are both gorgeous and unsettling. Camera angles are used wisely, sometimes at slightly tilted angles to remind you that while what you are seeing is not in itself unpleasant, there is something wrong with the picture.

There are of course the occasional scenes of people lit up with red lights, full-face close-ups, etc. for the sake of a free scare here and there. However, there is also a lot of meaningful imagery in this film. For instance, we know Jim (Cillian Murphy) is going to be an important character from the moment we first see him because we are shown not only his awakening, but how he was left in the hospital.

While he may not have his arms completely spread out, this shot does present Jim in a Christ-like manner. Not only is this shot similar to that of the crucifix, but one must remember that Jim is waking up after being essentially left in the hospital left to die/ assumed dead. No one expected him to wake up, including his parents. The first infected he comes across is a priest, who in turn gets killed (and thus, saved?) thanks to his discovery. In short, the guy is the Christ figure of the story.

Since I’m semi-unintentionally branching on to the story element of the film, I want to bring up a question that was brought up in my horror film classes in college. When you really think about it, what does the film think should scare you? On the surface, many people would say zombies, but that’s not entirely the case. What makes this movie creepy (I hesitate to say scary because a large portion of horror movies don’t scare me anymore) is the complete loss of structure. What should scare you is Selena’s acceptance that surviving is the best you can do, the soldier’s mentality that it is ok to hold women hostage and rape them as long as it gives you a false hope for a future, and that the rest of the world would lock you in and pretend you never existed in order to save themselves.

The larger implications of this story are the downright chilling components of human nature that none of us like to talk about, and it is made worse by focusing on four characters who are generally good people. Selena is out for survival but is not heartless and will help people who are not infected, Jim understands that his entire life has changed and tries to make the best of surviving while still holding onto good manners and civility, and Hannah and Frank try their best to maintain a family environment despite the worst, which is both encouraging and heartbreaking.

As for the actual plot, I think the story is mostly realistic and easy to identify with but with a few not-very-realistic scenes thrown in for excitement. Although, it is one of these unrealistic scenes that causes the story in the first place that I still do not understand. The rage virus breaks out because an animal liberation group breaks into a research facility to save some chimps, not realizing they are infected. The scientist that tries to stop them and the liberators all get infected, but it is never explained how the virus breaks beyond the facility itself. I guess you could say the place doesn’t have very good security considering that the liberation group was able to break in, so perhaps it wouldn’t be hard for people with the rage virus to break out. However, I still feel that this is a bit of a stretch, considering that the scientist did call security as soon as he noticed the break-in.

This movie has a good message about the importance of a compassionate society as opposed to selfish individuals acting with only their interests in mind, and it did a great job of reinventing the zombie film. No longer are zombies undead creatures that will eat your brains, but rather they are diseased humans that should be pitied and remembered for who they were despite what they became (like Hannah saying she wants to bury her dad despite the fact that his corpse is infected). This movie has a great combination of scare factor and philosophical ideas about society, and it brings all this to the table with elegance and beauty.

Favorite Scene: