OCULUS IS MORE CREEPY FUN FROM MIKE FLANAGAN

OCULUS-United States-104 Mins. 2013

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Karen Gillan as Kaylie Russell in Oculus

Karen Gillan as Kaylie Russell in Oculus

Brenton Thwaites as Tim Russell in Oculus

Brenton Thwaites as Tim Russell in Oculus

Katee Sackhoff as Marie Russell in Oculus

Katee Sackhoff as Marie Russell in Oculus

Rory Cochrane (C) as Alan Russell in Oculus

Rory Cochrane (C) as Alan Russell in Oculus

Annalise Basso as young Kaylie Russell and Garrett Ryan as young Tim Russell in Oculus

Annalise Basso as young Kaylie Russell and Garrett Ryan as young Tim Russell in Oculus

Directed by Mike Flanagan

Screenplay by Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard and based on their short screenplay

I’m not sure if any of you are aware of this but sometimes, with certain movies, I have difficulty explaining the plot. I have trouble describing a lot of things sometimes. I’m not dumb; it’s whenever I like something I get excited about it and it’s hard to get the words to come out. My wife always tells me to explain it to her as she, being my wife, is an unbiased listener. So for this post I am making all of you who are reading it into my surrogate wife so I can tell you about the movie, Oculus, and why I liked it, which was a lot.

Put simply, Oculus is about a haunted mirror. Well, not so much a haunted mirror but more like an evil mirror. It destroys people. It uses them up and spits them out. It makes them see things that aren’t real and twists the things that are real around until they just don’t know what’s up anymore.

Anyway, after her brother is let out of the mental hospital, Kaylie enlists his help to prove to the world that the mirror is not only responsible for the deaths of their mother and father, but 43 other people in the four centuries of its existence. Setting up video cameras and computers to record events and keep check on the temperature in the room, Kaylie also sets timers to remind herself and Tim, her brother, to eat and drink every so often as the mirror distorts that part of a person’s reality. There’s another alarm and if you’ve seen the movie then you know what it is; if not I’m not going to tell you because I don’t want to give anything away.

Oculus works a parallel line between two time periods set eleven years apart. The first is the present as Kaylie and Tim attempt to understand the evil behind the mirror in an attempt to destroy it. The earlier timeline is 2002 and shows us how the mirror destroyed the lives of Kaylie and Tim’s parents. I must admit that for a while I found myself confused as it seemed that the two time periods merged at certain moments of the film. This is not a mistake by any means on the part of the filmmakers but merely a lack of my understanding of it.

Oculus is directed by Mike Flanagan. Before Oculus he directed a small film called Absentia that I found to be quiet and creepy as hell. Witnessing Absentia I knew that this man had a talent for the horror genre and wanted to see if he could live up to the promises of that film. With Oculus I can safely tell you that yes; Flanagan does live up to that promise. Oculus may not be as quiet as Absentia but it’s still a creepy son-of-a-bitch. Another thing is that it’s produced by WWE Entertainment. Producing Oculus and the fact that they’ve recruited Jen and Sylvia Soska, the twin directors behind the excellent American Mary to helm See No Evil 2 may be a sign that they’re on the right track.

That wasn’t so bad, was it; being my surrogate wife for a few minutes? You’re now free to go about your business but before you do I just have one more favor to ask of you:

Could one of ya’ll please get me a beer while you’re up?

Please?

TRIVIA

Filmed in October 2012, first shown at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2013, but not given a proper release until April 2014.

The titular “evil mirror” in Oculus was “first documented belonging to the Levesque family”, aka Triple H! It’s the same mirror he broke on Wrestlemania 25, same mirror that Undertaker used on Orton, and the one that Bray used on Cena.

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Karen Gillan also appears in Guardians of the Galaxy and Not Another Happy Ending.

Brenton Thwaites also appears in Maleficent and The Giver.

Katee Sackhoff also appears in Riddick and The Haunting in Connecticut 2: The Ghosts of Georgia.

Rory Cochrane also appears in Argo and Dazed and Confused.

Annalisa Basso also appears in Bedtime Stories and Standing Up.

Garrett Ryan also appears in Insidious: Chapter 2 and Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.

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TORMENT NEVER QUITE MAKES IT PAST MILDLY THREATENING

TORMENT-Canada-80 Mins. 2014

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Katharine Isabelle as Sarah Morgan in Torment

Katharine Isabelle as Sarah Morgan in Torment

Robin Dunne as Cory Morgan in Torment

Robin Dunne as Cory Morgan in Torment

Peter DaCunha as Liam Morgan in Torment

Peter DaCunha as Liam Morgan in Torment

Stephen McHattie as Officer Hawkings in Torment

Stephen McHattie as Officer Hawkings in Torment

Directed by Jordan Barker

Written by Michael Foster and Thomas Pound

Torment begins with the home invasion and subsequent murder of a rural family by a group of unknown assailants, their faces hidden by hoods and shadows. The sole thing that we notice before their deaths is that all is not well within this family. We cut away to…

Cory and Sarah, his new wife and Liam, Cory’s son from his last marriage. Again, we notice that there is a slight dysfunction within the family unit. Liam doesn’t accept Sarah as his new mother and resents his father for remarrying. The three of vacation in a house in the peacefulness of the wilderness and soon discover that things are not as idyllic as they seem. There is evidence that someone has been living in the house; the heater is turned up, there are dirty dishes in the rooms and a hole in the door of the storm cellar. Cory calls the police and an officer investigates but tells them not to worry. Later that night Liam is taken and Cory and Sarah are stalked and captured by four assailants wearing masks fashioned from the heads of stuffed animals-a rabbit, a mouse, a pig and a monkey. The remainder of Torment becomes a race against time as Cory and Sarah try to not only keep themselves alive, but also to rescue Liam and return him to them safe and sound.

The main thing I found at fault with Torment is that it never rises above a mildly threatening level.  A home invasion film should be among the most terrifying sub-genres of horror and simply put Torment fails to make the grade. Even The Strangers, an inferior American remake of the French home invasion film Ils (Them) is a superior film than Torment.

As much as I complain about the lack of tension in Torment I can’t say the same for how I feel about the character portrayals. Robin Dunne, Katharine Isabelle and Peter DaCunha work well as a believable family and I felt for them and the trauma that they went through onscreen. Oh, and lest I forget there is an all too short cameo by the perpetually reliable Stephen McHattie.

Unlike Ils or Funny Games or The Strangers, Torment is unlikely to transform you into a raving oikophobic (a person with an aversion to home surroundings) or agoraphobic for that matter. On the contrary; after the experience of Torment you will most likely find yourself sleeping peacefully with your doors unlocked and your windows wide open.

NO TRIVIA

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Katharine Isabelle also appears in American Mary and Insomnia.

Robin Dunne also appears in Jack and Jill vs. the World and Space Milkshake.

Peter DaCunha also appears in Haunter and The Barrens.

Stephen McHattie also appears in The Tall Man and A History of Violence.

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THE PIT OF ULTIMATE DARK SHADOWS-EPISODE 12

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Lily

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REMEMBERING ROBIN WILLIAMS

This is my first, and fondest memory, of Robin Williams.

This is my first, and fondest memory, of Robin Williams.

I’ve discovered something about myself over the years. In dealing with the death of a beloved celebrity I don’t run marathons of their movies or listen non-stop to their music. That is all part of a grieving process and if that is what you do then that is just fine. Instead, for me, I found that my grief process is worked out by remembering my fondest moments of a particular celebrity. My first memory of Christopher Reeve was catching a helicopter in one hand and Margot Kidder in the other. Singer-songwriter Warren Zevon will always be the Werewolf of London for me. It’s not his song “Walk on the Wild Side“, but his album Street Hassle that is my fondest memory of Lou Reed. And, as I stated in an earlier post sometimes all it takes to be remembered is a scream that could send chills down my spine and I will continue to thank Marilyn Burns for that.

My earliest and fondest memory of Robin Williams was probably the same for millions of other people: Mork and Mindy. Every Thursday night would find me in front of the TV laughing my butt off and every Friday would find me in school mimicking what I watched in the hopes of getting a laugh out of a pretty girl. You want to know a guy that was all out for the Morkster then look no further because it was me. I wore my hair as shaggy as my parents would allow and I was even the proud owner of a pair of rainbow-colored suspenders that I wore so much that they finally snapped and popped my date right in the breast. Funny, we never went out again after that.

When Robin Williams would release a stand-up album I would wear it out. I laughed, I listened, I memorized and thanks to Mr. Williams I probably went well over my quota of girls I dated or even talked to thanks to his machine-gun wit.

I’m not going to go into the details of every aspect of Robin Williams’ life. I saw very few of his movies and liked his dramatic work more than his comedic; which is ironic since it was the fact that this man made me laugh so hard that endeared me to him. I think a lot of his comedies fell short for the simple reason that it was someone else’ words put in his mouth, someone else’ jokes. If you wanted a great Robin Williams comedy then you had to just let Robin Williams be Robin Williams.

In the end we realized that Robin Williams was the Pagliacci of our time. For those of you who have never heard the story it goes that a man goes to the doctor and tells him how sad he is and how life has no meaning anymore. The doctor tells him to go see the great clown, Pagliacci. That will cheer him up. The man breaks down and says, “But doctor, I am Pagliacci.” That is the story of Robin Williams in a nutshell; a man who spent so many years entertaining people, making them laugh and loving them all at face value; yet he never let it show that he was hurting and broken on the inside.

Finally, it is not my place to say this but I will go out on a limb and say it anyway: it is my belief that Robin Williams would not want us to remember the final moments of his life but instead the 63 years that came before them. Remember the laughter, the talent and above all the love that we had for him and he for us. Because if we don’t then we may as well say that his life meant nothing to us.

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WHAT DO YOU KNOW? BEN AFFLECK REALLY IS THE BOMB IN PHANTOMS

PHANTOMS-United States/Japan-96 Mins. 1998

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Ben Affleck as Sheriff Bryce Hammond in Phantoms

Ben Affleck as Sheriff Bryce Hammond in Phantoms

Liev Schrieber as Deputy Stuart 'Stu' Wargle in Phantoms

Liev Schrieber as Deputy Stuart ‘Stu’ Wargle in Phantoms

Rose McGowan as Lisa Pailey in Phantoms

Rose McGowan as Lisa Pailey in Phantoms

Peter O'Toole as Dr. Timothy Flyte in Phantoms

Peter O’Toole as Dr. Timothy Flyte in Phantoms

Joanna Going as Jennifer Pailey, M.D. in Phantoms

Joanna Going as Jennifer Pailey, M.D. in Phantoms

Directed by Joe Chappelle

Screenplay by Dean R. Koontz and based on his novel

There’s something that I always wondered about movies like Phantoms. Why is it that even though there is always someone of high intelligence in the film to explain the monstrosity that is being dealt with, but nine times out of ten it’s the average Joe in the film that figures out how to kill the thing.

The ‘someone of high intelligence in Phantoms is none other than Timothy Flyte who is portrayed by none other than Peter O’Toole who only appears comfortable in Phantoms due to his unwavering professionalism. The monster is the Ancient Enemy; which as near as I can tell is incredibly large but can take on any appearance it chooses from a golden retriever to a huge pissed off moth that sucks the brains out of a hapless sheriff’s deputy. Lest I forget, the Ancient Enemy can mimic a human scream and can make the monster equivalent of obscene phone calls.

The average Joe is Sheriff Bryce Hammond as portrayed by Ben Affleck. There’s a priceless throwaway line in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back where Affleck, as Holden McNeil, declares to Jay and Silent Bob that although he wasn’t impressed with Good Will Hunting he thought that “Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms.” The reasons that I find myself watching bad movies are strange ones, indeed.

There is truth to that quote, however. Affleck really is the bomb in Phantoms. He’s one of the two characters, along with Liev Schrieber (who plays the creep card so well in this one but then again when has he not), who looks like they’re having any fun. He’s also the only character other than Joanna Going as the town doctor that keeps a clear head amidst the chaos.

Phantoms the movie is based on Phantoms the book by Dean Koontz. I read the book years ago and loved it. Koontz does duty here as screenwriter and as far as I can remember he’s remained faithful to his source material. Phantoms is not a good movie in any sense of the word. Too many seemingly intelligent people do too many stupid things. When is everyone going to learn that when you hear strange noises coming out of a sink that you don’t stick your face down close to it? Plus, if a town is deserted and you hear a scream do not investigate under any circumstances.

As bad a movie as Phantoms is I will admit to having had fun watching it. There are bad movies that are awful and there are, as the late Harry Chapin said, ‘good bad movies’. Phantoms is in the latter category of bad movies.

TRIVIA

The “flatworm theory” used in the movie (that flatworms can eat the remains of their own kind and absorb their knowledge) is based on actual tests given to flatworms which involved seeing how quickly they would make the “correct” turn at a Y-intersection after eating the previous experimenters. The results were more inconclusive than the film says.

Categorically one of the chief cinematic influences for Konami’s original Silent Hill on the PS1 and to the series overall, along with Jacobs Ladder (1990) and Session 9 (2001).

An adaptation of Phantoms was originally set to be made in the late 1980s/early 1990s by New World Pictures & Allied Vision Entertainment but was shelved after New World filed for bankruptcy.

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Ben Affleck also appears in Argo and The Town.

Liev Schrieber also appears in Salt and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Rose McGowan also appears in Black Dahlia and Planet Terror.

Peter O’Toole also appears in Lawrence of Arabia and The Last Emperor.

Joanna Going also appears in The Tree of Life and Runaway Jury.

 

Posted in 1990's Horror Films, 3 Blood Drop Ratings, Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

REST IN PEACE MARILYN BURNS, AND THANK YOU FOR THE SCREAMS

Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty in a final scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty in a final scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Marilyn Burns in 2009

Marilyn Burns in 2009

In the world of horror movies and final girls there are screamers and then there are screamers. Jamie Lee Curtis had a great scream. Remember that scream that Dee Wallace released just before her transformation in The Howling? That one was certainly chilling. In all my years of watching and inevitably writing about horror films I have heard and forgotten the countless screams of hundreds of final girls but I will never, ever forget The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the character Sally Hardesty and that scream.

It’s a Friday night in Spartanburg, South Carolina in the summer of 1980. I’ve got my driver’s license so I must have been 18 since my parents made me wait until that age to finally get the darned thing. I can’t remember if I’m driving my mom’s car or the blue Camaro they would eventually buy me; we’ll go with the latter since it comes off sounding way cooler. What I do remember is that my parents were out of town, all my friends wanted to do was get high and I was bored out of my mind. I’m all alone as I drive down Highway 29 and the marquee for the South 29 Drive-In Theatre reads, “NOW PLAYING-THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE“. I spent years going to horror movies with my cousin Ritchie and the one that got away, until that moment, was “Texas Chainsaw“. Needless to say I whipped my car into the parking lot faster than the Bandit leaves Smokey in the dust and bought my ticket, Pepsi and popcorn. I found a spot, shut off my engine, hooked that tinny-sounding speaker to my car door and I settled in for the fear and the fun.

Now, I’m not here to tell you the entire plot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre so let’s skip ahead a bit. There is a house, the inside of which is strewn about with feathers, bones-human and animal, and God only knows what else. At a dining room table a girl, Sally Hardesty, sits tied and surrounded by the weirdest and most all-out gruesome family in the state of Texas and quite possibly the world. There is the one called Leatherface, who Sally saw slice a chainsaw right through her invalid brother. That crazed hitchhiker that her and her friends kicked out of their van is there, also; as is the one they call the cook and an old man with skin as thin as tissue paper sitting feebly in a wheelchair. Sally is terrified. Her friends and brother are all dead because of these people and she just can’t take any more and that is when the scream is let loose. Sally screams for Franklin, for Jerry, for Kirk and Pam and for every unknown person to have ever been unfortunate enough to have crossed paths with these depraved sub-humans. She screams so long and so loud that I swear it split the speaker right down the middle. The movie soon ends as Sally gets away and Leatherface angrily cuts his chainsaw through the empty air. I pull my car onto Highway 29 with that scream still in my head where it has remained ever since.

The woman who portrayed Sally Hardesty was Marilyn Burns. Marilyn passed away on August 5th at the age of 65, way too young. Marilyn also appeared in the films Helter Skelter, Eaten Alive, Future-Kill and Sacrament, to name just a few. Her final film according to IMDb.com is In a Madman’s World and is in post-production. I was friends with Marilyn on Facebook (this is not bragging, trust me), but I tried not to bother her too much. I always wanted to ask her for an interview and now I wish that I had and regret that I never did. I pray that she is resting peacefully and that she realized the impact she had on me and millions of horror movie fans over the years. This may sound hokey as hell but thank you, Marilyn Burns, for Texas Screams and Chainsaw dreams. There will never be another final girl like you. Ever.

 

 

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THE DEN EFFECTIVELY PROVES WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW

THE DEN-United States-81 Mins. 2013

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Melanie Papalia as Elizabeth Benton in The Den

Melanie Papalia as Elizabeth Benton in The Den

David Schlactenhaufen as Damien in The Den

David Schlactenhaufen as Damien in The Den

Adam Shapiro as Max in The Den

Adam Shapiro as Max in The Den

Directed by Zachary Donohue

Written by Zachary Donohue and Lauren Thompson

Elizabeth receives a grant that allows her to study the online activities of random people on the internet. She uses, along with her webcam, a chat hub known as The Den, a form of chat roulette. Until a person’s face, user name and location appears on screen, Elizabeth has no idea who she will be chatting with or where they are from, much less what they will be doing. There are the usual things a person might expect to see: the fellow from a foreign country who promises to send her a million dollars if she will just be his beneficiary to receive thirteen million dollars; the kid who pranks her by eliciting a frightened response from her; and also the guy who does nothing but wave his penis from side to side. In between this are the usual weirdo’s, lonely hearts and guys begging to see a female nipple here and there. Elizabeth also witnesses the alleged murder of a young girl and when she is unable to get help from the police she investigates further and discovers that while she is watching everyone else someone is watching her and this ultimately puts Elizabeth, and her friends and family, in grave danger.

The Den surprised me. The method of using webcams as a plot device has been used before, especially with films in the Paranormal Activity series, mainly the fourth installment. However with The Den I found it to be a fresh approach to the genre of found footage filmmaking. In a vague way the film also reminded me of Eli Roth’s Hostel; I think this is because Roth says he got the idea (for Hostel) from Harry Knowles at Ain’t It Cool News who showed him a website offering the opportunity, for a substantial sum, for a person to go into a room and murder another person in cold blood.

The Den is not the perfect found footage film. The beginning is monotonous and for a while I toyed with the idea of turning the movie off and going to bed. Another thing that annoyed me was the hostility that Elizabeth meets with from the online community while trying to find answers. To put it mildly, I know that the internet can be full of self-centered douchebags but everyone-I think not. I persevered through to the end and found myself disturbed enough by what I saw that when I finally did go to bed I had trouble sleeping. This is not a usual occurrence for me. The final act of The Den redeems the beginning and the entire film proves what we have known all along: that whether we believe it or not the internet is not as safe as we would assume, and that we have no idea just how evil this world can be.

NO TRIVIA

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Melanie Papalia also appears in Smiley and American Pie Presents: The Book of Love.

David Schlachtenhaufen also appears in Loose Cannons: The Movie and Sal.

Adam Shapiro also appears in Now You See Me and A Single Man.

Posted in 2010's Horror Films, 3 Blood Drop Ratings, Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments