Posts Tagged ‘Throwback’

I couldn’t let Halloween come to pass and not review one of these films! Plus this series is my favorite slasher series. Yep, I’m a Myers boy. I was originally going to review the first film but I kind of ran into the same problem I did with the Alien review (it’s too complicated to just hammer out in one sitting.) I’ll get there eventually I’m sure, but this is not a bad one to begin with! In fact I rate this in my top three of the Halloween films (coming in just after the original and the sequel.)

This film picks up ten years after the original film and it’s sequel. We’re going to skip over the fact that Halloween 3: Season of the Witch happened. It begins with out infamous murderer Michael Myers, who is now thought to be an invalid after the events of Halloween 2,  being transferred back to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. But once he overhears the fact that he has a niece the evil awakes once more inside him, and he escapes again. Jump to Haddonfield, Illinois where young Jamie Loyd is having nightmares of a boogeyman coming after her. She is the daughter of Laurie Strode (who is “dead” after a fatal car accident of some kind, leaving her an orphan.) This fact means that she is unfortunately the niece of Michael Myers, and obviously his new target. Never fear, because Dr. Sam Loomis is on Michael’s trail of terror as he begins to tracked the masked killed back to Haddonfield. Loomis warns the police, and puts everyone on high alert. But that is still not enough. Michael begins his bloody rampage through the small Midwestern town, searching for Jamie with more brutality than ever.

This film brings back the series’ beloved Shape after a threequel that disappointing many fans- mainly because of the fact that it didn’t involved Michael Myers at all! And boy does this film bring him back with a vengance. By now Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th had, by now, stormed on to the slasher scene so Myers has some competition. Well, within the first few minutes of this film we get a taste of Michael’s new brutality with a thumb to the head! While Halloween 2 defiantly upped the level of gore and violence, we have never seen Michael like this. He kills people with his bare hands, breaking their faces and ripping them apart. He shoves guns through people, and electrocutes them. About the only thing we don’t see him do in this movie is actually stab someone with a knife. And not only does Myer’s do this but he is able to be “The Shape” while doing that. Meaning that, at no point, does this feel like a Friday film or something of the like. Michael is exactly what he was in the original film, omnipresent and evil, It feels like no matter where the character’s turn he will be there. He has some genuinely creepy scenes that I actually feel are some of the best moments in the entire series. Like this one:

Every time I watch that scene it sends chills up my spine. It is such a sinister moment that captures the essence of Michael Myers.

Also the fact that this time around Michael is hunting down a child makes this movie, to me, that much scarier. I was around seven or eight the first time I saw this movie and it terrified me to my bones. Not even Halloween 2, which is actually the first horror film I ever saw, did that. This film to me had no boundaries. If Michael was going after a kid, then all bets were off. Nobody stood a chance.

Now, there are plenty of cliche and eye-roll inducing moments in the movie, usually containing our teenage characters. In fact, they are ofter downright infuriating characters to listen to. Super arrogant and ignorant like… well, teenagers.

While I do wish that there would be a Halloween film that truly dives into how Haddonfield views the holiday of Halloween post Michael Myers (come on, that would be such an interesting story!) I love the addition of the town folk trying to hunt down Michael for revenge. I just wish that it was more flushed out in the end. Time and time again in these films we get moments like this that could lead to some interesting depth on the town and individual characters, but they are generally glossed over to continue on. After all the death that has happened I’m super surprised Halloween is even celebrated in Haddonfield any more.

This film also does an amazing job of getting that “Halloween feeling” down. That same feeling I talked about in my Trick ‘r Treat review. I don’t know how to specifically describe it but there is a feeling to Halloween as a holiday and a season in general. It’s a general atmosphere, and it’s a tone that is often not captured in the Halloween films which strikes me as really odd. Out of all of the films (which there are ten now) I feel like only three of them truly capture that feeling of the holiday. And Halloween 4 is one of them. Right from the bat we are give a series of images associated with the harvest, and fall. It sets the tone perfectly. And later on during the school day, and at night during trick or treating and the “Multiple Myers” scene it’s there.

And then, above all, the reason I love this movie… the ending. Dear God, that ending. It was a such a sinister and ballsy move. It still makes my eyes widen and limbs freeze when I watch the movie. As I said, I was young when I first saw this movie on AMC Fear Fest. And that ending legitimately gave me nightmares. It’s such a dark twist and one that I, and probably nobody else, never saw coming. The sound of Loomis’ scream mixed with the horror you’re actually seeing makes for one of the single best moments in, frankly, any slasher film ever made as far as I’m concerned.

All in all I love this film. I often consider it as good as the original Halloween 2, making them tied for my second favorite Halloween film. While I love this series and there are some genuinely frightening movements in some of the other films, this was the only one to truly terrify me and it’s mainly due to the ending. A few of the characters get annoying but their deaths make putting up with them tolerable and while there is some sense of “been there, done that” at moments in the film, most of it is generally done in a way that for the most part it feels fresh and new. Plus Myers’ new brutality mixed with his evil and ubiquity makes for one of the most frightening portrayals of the classic slasher. It’s the comeback of a life time for Michael Myers, as he reminds us that you truly cannot kill damnation.

WARNING, this post will contain some fairly graphic imagery.

 

 

Another one! I’m on a roll!

Another film I haven’t seen in awhile, but I absolutely love. The Fly is one of David Cronenberg’s greatest films as far as I am concerned. It is imaginative, disturbing, and comeplling. Everything about it, from start to finish, reels you in and doesn’t relent. Like Carpenter’s The Thing, it is the epitome of what a horror film re-imagining/remake should be.

 

The story follows the socially awkward Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) as he attempts to woo reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis.) He does so by bringing her to his place promising to show her “something that will change the very world as we know it.” She thinks he is just playing her but come to find out, he wasn’t lying. At his humble abode he has been working on a project for the past six years. A project that will indeed change everything. A real teleportation device. Veronica immediately starts recording Brundle’s work as he goes from testing inanimate objects to baboons. But initially there are some bad results with the teleporter not being able to reassemble skin.  But after some readjustments it works and is able to fully transport living organisms correctly. Seth hastily decides to try it out for himself, but isn’t aware that he isn’t the only living thing in the telepod when he attempts to go through. A small typical house fly is trapped inside with him when he goes through, but when the transport is complete only Seth walks out. So what happened to the fly? Well, as the weeks go by we find out. Seth has increased energy and strength as well as a spike in anger. His body slowly begins transforming into a hideous beast until we aren’t sure if he is more man than he is insect.

 

First off, the makeup alone is reason enough to love this movie. It walked away with the Oscar in ’87 for makeup and it is easy to see why. The practical effects in this movie are breathtaking and probably some of the best since The Thing. The transformation of Brundle into Brundlefly gets as much under the viewers skin as it does Seth’s. Many of these transformation techniques have been echoed again and again in films today, most notably District 9. There are scenes in District 9 that are almost shot for shot taken from The Fly. Like the peeling of the fingernails, and the removal of the teeth. The transformation starts off slowly, but speeds up to an alarming rate halfway through the film. Each new reveal of Seth has our stomach in knots, and out morbid curiosity piqued.

There are also some really excellent moments of practical effects genius such as these, littered throughout the entire film:

And above all, the final stage of metamorphosis that Brundle goes through in the climax.

 

The film does a great job of using really graphic depictions of the transformation, while somehow staying contained. Cronenberg shows just the right amount, at just the right moments to keep it sickening and disturbing but not overly gratuitous. Once again, there is the reason that this film won best makeup effects. These images are testament to how useful practical effects can be. and for the most part they haven’t really aged; they still hold up while watching the film today.  Give me this practical transformation than a CGI double any day.

 

Jeff Goldblum does an outstanding job as Seth Brundle. The exec heads of Fox at the time were apparently really against Goldblum for the role, and I think his performance made them eat their words. He starts off as that a-typical socially awkward guy, and he plays it so sincerely. But over the course of the film he turns into a monster both inside and out. The transformation essentially has the same effects on him as heroin does to a drug addict, and Goldblum captures that perfectly. The obsession, and compulsion- it’s all there. His performance through the makeup though is where he really shines. He, while wearing these grotesque appliances, gives us a character with humanity and is someone that we are saddened to see slip into this insanity and become a monster.

Geena Davis does a great job too as playing Veronica, who is essentially the audience connection. She feels the same pain and horror that the audience does- if not even more so. Halfway through the film she finds out she’s pregnant with Seth’s baby (most likely post fly-spliced Seth.) So not only is she dealing with the gradual loss of her lover, but she has this thing inside her that she fears is not fully human. It too could end up being a monster- and it’s driving her insane. On top of that she’s dealing with he mildly stalkerish ex, who also happens to be her boss. Her life isn’t that great. And never in the film does she really come off as the a-typical “woe is me” damsel in distress. She tries to stay strong. She wants to be there to help Seth, and make it through this. But it weighs her down, and breaks her down the whole film.  Davis really does a great job in making us connect and sympathize with the character the whole film.  And then… she also does a great job of making us feel horrified…

 

 

Cronenberg is arguably one of the modern masters of horror. With films like The Fly, The Brood, and Scanners and others it is easy to see why. But The Fly takes the cake for me. It crawls under your skin the entire film through masterful storytelling. While it does seem a tad rushed in spots, it makes up for it with a brilliant combination of characterization and effects that still hold up to this day. It’s a modern classic, that will haunt your thoughts for days after watching with the imagery. Yes… be afraid. Be very afraid.

Yeah, yeah I know- it isn’t a Thursday. So sue me! But I haven’t done one in awhile, so I thought it best that I catch up.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a movie that I had forgotten about until I went to the library the other day and saw it sitting there. I remembered liking it, and considering it a big reason as to why we have such a surge of interest in zombies nowadays, so I picked it up, brought it home and watched it last night. Man, did I forget exactly how much I liked this movie. It defiantly is one of the better re-imaginings to have come out in the last decade.  As director Zach Snyder’s first solo feature length film (yeah, the same one who directed 300, Man of Steel, Watchmen, and the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) he did a great job telling the story visually and James Gunn’s story (as always) is just a real treat. It was ballsy, terrifying, and funny all at the same time. While being a tad cliche at times, especially with a lot of the characters, it makes up for with some bold choices and going to some rather dark places.

The movie is a remake/re-imagining of the 1978 zombie classic from Romero, the godfather of the zombies. It’s because of him and his films like Dawn, and (more importantly, I think) Night of the Living Dead we have zombies at all. This film, along with 28 Days Later, and Shaun of the Dead I believe are responsible for starting the modern zombie craze. True, Robert Kirkman and his 2003 release of The Walking Dead did have a part, but when TWD started out it was not the hit that it is today- and was a series that had limited printings at the time. But because of movies like Dawn, audiences were once again afraid of the living dead and were hungry for more.

These films (well, 28 Days and Dawn at least) also introduced us to a new concept- fast zombies.

Technically the infected of the 28 Days/Weeks films aren’t zombies (they are infected with a virus called “Rage” and they just aim to kill most of the time, rather than kill and eat) but it still is considered in the realm of zombie horror. But I digress.

For the first time ever we were seeing zombies that were as fast, if not faster, than our protagonists and this made them a whole different kind of horrifying. I’m not saying that slow zombies aren’t scary/can’t be scary. They can, especially when they have numbers on their side. But one slow zombie is manageable. One faster zombie presents a little harder target. Now imagine hundreds or thousands of these quick buggers…

It turns into a whole other issue. I’m not saying that one kind of zombie is scarier than the other, because they are equal. All I’m saying is that I believe that the faster zombies, especially in numbers, provide it more difficult to stay alive. But in the end, when you are alone faced with a herd of zombies- no matter if they are fast or slow, you’re dead either way.

Now, let’s talk about the actual film now. The cinematography of the 2004 Dawn is one of my favorite things about the film. The slightly overexposed gives it a unique look. Most horror films go for a darker and more ominous look, but this one has no problem just having everything out in the light of day or harsh florescents. And the camera work, for the most part, is really great as well. All of it combined gives us a taste of Snyder before he actually develops his “Snyder-style” of film making.

The story itself is good. While the original really shoves down your throat the message of consumerism this one vaguely hits on it, and it feels like Gunn focus’ more on the drama and reality of the situation at hand rather than a hidden message behind it all.

The practical effects were amazing, but CG not that much. Pain and simple. The zombie looked great though which, I guess, is the most important aspect to a zombie film.

As I said at the beginning, many of the characters are cliche. We have our obvious heroes, and foes, and crazies, and privileged people who we hate.  Some of the story lines are also rather forced and so old hat that you can’t help but sigh when they are introduced. Like the love story between  the two teens or the REALLY FORCED love story that has no explanation… like at all between our two lead characters, Ana and Mike. She looses her  husband in the first five minutes of the film and has only known this guy for… what, a few weeks? Yet they are in love, I guess, by the end of the movie when he reveals he is bitten. We don’t see her grieve at all, besides a quick second when she is getting supplies. And that was more out of feeling “well… the world is over and this sucks” rather than mourning the loss of her husband. So, bad move there.

I found that while some of it seems silly we do actually get a feeling of these characters and, of a good majority of the movie, the act fairly reasonable- except for a few exceptions. They act how we’d expect people to react in the situation. Also the unpredictability of what is going to happen (well… specific unknowns. We assume that all of them will die, it’s just the “how” and “when” we don’t know.) We also didn’t know how far they would go with some of the stuff. And man I feel like they took some real chances with this film. The main one being the following:

That was shocking. I mean, we all knew something was wrong. Something was going to happen to the baby. But what? Would it be normal, or slightly damaged, or would it be one of “them”? Well they showed us, shockingly, and now we know. It’s an intense scene and ends brutally.

Also the way that they ended the movie, with EVERYONE DYING was a real slap in the face that I masochistically enjoyed. What a disheartening ending. Nobody makes it out; they think they are safe only to have that rug pulled out from under them. It fits the tone of the movie really well, and… I think is a really honest way to end it.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this movie was the humor. Gunn does such a great way of weaving in natural humor into situations organically. That elevator scene, for example. Or the target practice scene. It really is a great foil to the brutality of the rest of the movie.

Also… I just want to add… I forgot Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) was in this movie.

When he showed up I automatically laughed. And a lot of his lines, I feel, were along the lines of something Phil would say. He character though, unfortunately, was one we were supposed to hate. And even though he was annoying and stuck up… I couldn’t, because… it’s Phil. I mean look at him:

Nobody can hate Phil!

In the end Dawn of the Dead is not without it’s flaws, but I consider it to be kind of a cornerstone of the modern zombie movement. Without it, and other zombie films of the early 00’s I don’t think these creatures would be enjoying the popularity they have today. It’d defiantly worth another watch if you haven’t seen it in a while. And watching it was a great way to get amped up for the season five premier of The Walking Dead tonight!!

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I’ve been on a real classic monsters kick with Augustana College (the college I graduated from) producing The Passion for Dracula this year, as well as with my own personal research since I am trying to develop a play centered around the three traditional classic monsters (Dracula, the Frankenstein creature, and the wolfman.) So I’ve been going back, rereading the stories, plays, and obviously watching films. Which leads me to this week’s review- 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

 

Sigh.

This movie.  There are things about this movie that I love and are just unbelievably amazing and iconic. Like Gary Oldman’s performance, the art direction and sets, the cinematography, Gary Oldman’s performance, the score, the costumes, the makeup, and… oh yeah, Gary Oldman’s performance.

Then for every good aspect that makes me love this movie there is something glaring back at me, making this movie a bore and, at times, kind of a chore to watch.

Now, this film is actually a rather good adaptation of the original novel.  And some of the issues in the movie are issues in the book as well. But others are purely directorial and acting choices that just flash out at you.

By now everyone knows the story, or generally knows the story of Dracula. John Harker, played by Keanu Reeves, travels to Transylvania to visit this Count Dracula who has recently been buying up a lot of estates in England.  Johnathan’s job is to close the account with Dracula, successfully. But once he arrives he becomes witness to… “many strange things.” There is something off about this count, and his castle. Dracula (Gary Oldman) becomes obsessed with Mina (played by Winona Ryder,) Harker’s fiancé- who looks a lot like his love from centuries before who killed herself- Elisabeta. While leaving Harker for his “brides/the sisters” to feast on Dracula travels to England to pursue Mina.

I actually don’t know what else to say about the plot. I mean, obviously, it is more in depth than that. Lucy (Sadie Frost,) Mina’s best friend, is seduced and becomes a vampire. There is Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) coming on to the scene as the main hero of the tale, deducing what and who Dracula really is, and it all leads to Harker coming home and “God’s madmen” hunting down the count before he can eternally damn Mina’s soul.

While this isn’t the first Drac picture to play on the whole “love story” deal (even the original 1931 promoted the film as ‘The story of the strangest passion the world has ever known!’) this is the first one I can think of off the top of my head to have come out that actually uses and explains the bond between the count and Mina as a pivotal plot point other than just using the “the vampire has mystical powers that can overtake me,” cliché. And part of that, I feel, has to deal with the fact that this is actually the first time in film or… really any work that an “origin story” for the count has ever really been addressed. Sure NOW a days we throw out the name Vlad the Impaler and most people who know anything about vampire mythology or Dracula know exactly who you are referring too. Vlad III Dracul.  But before 1992 it was never really addressed as being in relation to the fictional nosferatu. The opening of the film which addresses the origin of how Dracula became the damned, immortal soul is one of my most favorite moments in the film. It’s so visually stunning, and just sets the stage for the entire film therein. The stabbing of the cross, and the drinking of the pouring blood… every time I see that I get chills. And Oldman just sells it perfectly as a grieving man who is wholly pissed off at God and the church; a man who feels betrayed. It helps us identify with Dracula from the get go, and his subsequent motivations.

Now, I’ll admit- there are moments where Oldman’s performance seems a tad over the top at some points, but the count is an eccentric character to begin within his own way. I believe that what the problem really is, is that the rest of the cast almost seems to match his level of intensity for the film (at least the main cast that is.) If anybody is to be as equally as eccentric as the count it is Van Helsing, and… well he defiantly is, but it’s almost distracting at point. Hopkins is an amazing character, and is known for his more “subdued” and quiet moments on film- especially just coming off of an Oscar win for Silence of the Lambs. But it seems like Francis Ford Coppola just told him to go crazy in this role, as if he wanted him to become like Capt. Ahab in the final chapters of Moby Dick. If that is what they are aiming for then they got it, but man I would have liked for a continuous more calculating version of Van Helsing instead of a condescending, creeper of an old man who seems to be taking some of Dr. Sweard’s morphine mixed with something else.

Mina and Harker are the only other two main characters and they have just as many scenes where they over act or act out of character or are “not in the scene.” Some people say that this is just Reeves acting style. While I actually have no major qualms with him as an actor, I will admit that I agree that he was not the best choice for the character of John Harker and that his English accent is quite bad. But, people, he wasn’t the only one. I feel like people get really hung up on his performance in this film and they forget that the movie was actually filled with some not-so-great moments from other cast members.

The secondary cast of characters, Quincy, Seward, Lucy, Holmwood are actually really well done. They don’t over act, or pull unneeded attention to themselves and act fairly realistically in most of the circumstances.  So… good job guys.

The film, visually, is a treat for the most part. As I said before the sets are beautiful and the style that the film was shot was great. The costumes and makeup just really bring it all together. There is a reason this film won Oscars for sets, makeup, and costume. It also won a fourth for sound editing, and it does have some really fantastic sounds going on.

The only thing I’ll harp on a little bit are the visual effects. This is 1992 now. CGI is around at this point in time. T2: Judgement Day came out a year before in ’91 and Jurassic Park is released the next year in ’93. There are computer effects, but instead Coppola goes with nearly all practical effects, filming, and staging techniques and while I am generally a BIG supporter of “if you can do it practically, do it” it doesn’t always work here. Now, the makeup, yes- it does work. No need for CGI. I love Drac’s different vampyric states, especially his giant demon bat. But moments like the super imposed eyes, and maps, and fog effects… don’t really hold up to today’s standards, and don’t really seem like they even look right in ’92. It probably would have worked if it was one or two, and they were using them to give it more of a classic monster film feel… but here is just feels cheap. They are trying to do so much new with this story and film, yet it feels dated and these effects aren’t just “been there and done that-” they are clichés. Still there are some shining moments with the effects, such as when we first meet count Dracula with Harker. The count’s shadow is very much its own creature, moving opposite the count or delayed… it’s creepy, and effective. That would be an effect I SO WISH I could see on stage.

The music is another highlight for the film. It successfully captures the feeling of something new, while calling back to some of the more melodramatic classic horror films. It’s become iconic, I feel, with the Dracula character as well. When it popped up in season one of American Horror Story I flipped. The main theme is ominous and troubled yet has a layer of sympathy to it- everything that is Dracula.

In the end, yes- I like this movie. It has flaws and it’s not my “go-to” Dracula film, but as a film that is representing a character that has been used in almost 50+ films by this time it does a real good job of keeping it fresh and interesting for the viewers. It also is one of the best, if not the best (in my opinion,) adaptations of the original source material that we have in film. It also is partially responsible for not only many our 21st century depictions and interpretations of Dracula, but of vampires in general.