Friday, October 24, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Directed by John Hough, The Legend of Hell House is a British horror film based off the Richard Matheson novel. Physicist Lionel Barrett is enlisted by an eccentric billionaire to investigate the Belasco House, a location supposedly haunted by the spirit of a sadistic man, hoping to prove the existence of life after death. Barrett is accompanied by his wife Ann, mental medium Florence Tanner, and physical medium Benjamin Fischer (who is also the solve survivor of a previous visit to the house). The team must survive a full week in isolation, and solve the mysterious of the notorious "Hell House".

While watching certain films, you can automatically tell which decade they were made. When watching The Monster Squad, you know it was made in the 80s. Pick up Scream and you'll definitely know its a 90s slasher film. The Legend of Hell House screams 70s haunted house film, embodying the best and worst of that subgenre during that decade.

The Legend of Hell House, like many 70s haunted house films, prioritizes atmosphere and interesting visuals over cheap scares. The film's setting is simply gorgeous, looking like something from a gothic horror story. It also builds a creepy tension and remains visually interesting throughout the film, utilizing spinning shots and strange camera moves very well.

The acting's pretty solid as well. While some of the characters are better written than others, the actors and actresses do a good job with the parts given to them. Roddy McDowall easily gives the best performance, really bringing the character to life and making him endearing.

However, the film does have its weaknesses. At times, it feels like the movie thinks its more clever than it actually is. The characters sometimes act in strange ways, like Dr. Barrett refusing to accept the survival of personalities after death, even when the evidence proofs him wrong or Florence Tanner refusing to leave the house after being physically harmed. The ending is also pretty lackluster.

Although I'm somewhat biased towards 70s horror and haunted house films, The Legend of Hell House is definitely a classic that deserves to be seen at least once. While its not perfect, the atmosphere it creates, the performances, and the visuals are worth the ride.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Riding the Bullet (2004)

Directed by Mick Garris, Riding the Bullet is yet another horror film based off a Stephen King short story. While hitchhiking back home to visit his sick mother, Alan Parker is picked up by a mysterious stranger. As the ride goes on, Alan uncovers a terrible secret about the driver, who then gives him a choice. A choice between life and death.

Riding the Bullet feels like a Twilight Zone episode stretched out to 98 minutes. If Rod Sterling had appeared at the beginning and end of the film to give his signature monologues, I wouldn't have been surprised. Well, I might be a little surprised since he's dead and all. However, it would definitely have been a more lackluster episode with a slightly unfocused and confusing narrative.

The plot is simple enough, with a college student receiving rides from strange individuals and having weird incidents along the highway. However, certain scenes feel like someone having a somewhat tame acid trip. Just weird enough to be confusing, but not weird enough to unique or memorable.

Riding the Bullet's acting is also somewhat hit and miss as well. Jonathan Jackson's performance is alright, but a little dull at times throughout the movie. David Arquette goes a little over the top, but he's at least having fun and it works for the film's tone. Although she's only in a handful of scenes, Barbara Hershey is definitely gives the best performance. I just wish she showed up more and most of her scenes weren't repeated clips.

However, I strangely found myself enjoying Riding the Bullet despite its faults. Maybe the weirdness worked for me, maybe I liked the story hidden underneath the strange narrative structure, maybe I just liked it visually. I really can't explain it, but I thought it was alright and would probably watch it again. Its not my favorite Stephen King adaptation, but its okay.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

5e Musings: Dealing With Incorporeal Undead

Fighting incorporeal undead just sucks. At higher levels, its not as bad due to most characters likely possessing a magical weapon by then. However, at lower levels, its frustrating to be a fighter and be fundamentally useless because that sword your carrying will simply pass through the ghost's intangible form. While 5e does lessen the frustration by only giving the ghost resistance against nonmagical weapons (meaning you'll still deal at least a little damage), I thought it'd be fun to create a different way you can handle these bastards without resorting to magic. 

The idea would require a little more work from the DM, but I feel it could be pretty interesting. Most ghost stories have the titular spirits attached to something or someone, so attached that it prevents their spirit from passing on to the next life. What if a player finds someone tied to the spirit's previous life, something they cared deeply about, and that object allowed them to have power over the creature? 

For example, let's say the ghost possessed a special necklace that once belonged to a very closed friend. The PC could find that object and present it to the ghost as an action in combat, forcing the creature to make a DC 15 Wisdom save. If they fail the save, the ghost is considered incapacitated. Every turn thereafter, the undead makes another Wisdom save for free, allowing them to act as normal if they succeed. 

While the character isn't damaging the incorporeal undead, they at least can effect it in a significant way. Also, it creates an interesting way for characters to deal with ghosts and other incorporeal undead besides combat. The players might have to delve into the spirit's past, hunt down one of these objects (maybe even a relative), and use it against the creature. 

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Monster Squad (1987)

Directed by Fred Dekker and co-written by Shane Black, The Monster Squad is a horror comedy film that acts as a humorous love letter to the Universal monster movies. Sean Crenshaw and his best friend Patrick are monster movie fanatics. Along with their portly friend Horace, junior high bad boy Rudy, Sean's little sister Phoebe, and little Eugene they come together in Sean's treehouse and talk about monsters. 

But when Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and The Mummy come to their small town to retrieve a mystical amulet that will allow them to take over the world, Sean leads his friends into action to defeat the forces of evil.  

The Monster Squad is probably one of the silliest, cheesiest films I have ever seen. The story suffers from serious lapses in logic, its tonally confused, and has to be one of the most 80s films to come out of the 80s. 

However, none of that matters because The Monster Squad is just all kinds of awesome. 

On paper, The Monster Squad should be god awful. However, the film manages to achieve a special level of silliness that causes the film to loop back into the territory of awesomely entertaining. Its like Dekker and Black kidnapped a horror fanatic, dissected that fan's brain, found what every one of us has dreamed about, and filmed it. The Monster Squad is basically The Goonies for horror geeks.

The Monster Squad is a film that every horror fan should see at least five times. Its perfect Halloween marathon material and is filled with heart and fun. This movie, like the Wolf Man, has 'nards. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Silver Bullet (1985)

Directed by Daniel Attias, Silver Bullet is a horror film adaptation of Stephen King's novella Cycle of the Werewolf. Normally, the small town of Tarker's Mills is an incredibly peaceful place where nothing extraordinary happens. However, this changes one night when a series of bizarre murders begin. The townsfolk believe a maniacal killer is one the loose. Marty, a young handicapped boy, believes the killer is something else entirely: a werewolf. After encountering and wounding the creature, Marty and his older sister Jane hunt all over town for the man they believe is the werewolf.

At first glance, Silver Bullet appears to be just another run-of-the-mill werewolf film. The special effects are decent and its story is interesting enough, but the film doesn't seem like anything special. However, Silver Bullet possesses one thing that does make it stand out among its lycanthropic peers: the relationships that exist between the main characters and the chemistry between their actors and actresses.

Maybe it's due to the low expectations I had going into the film, but I was pleasantly surprised by Silver Bullet's performances. Corey Haim gives a solid turn as Marty Coslaw, a young paraplegic boy who has probably one of the coolest wheelchairs ever. He's very likable and manages to hold his own in the more emotional moments, especially when paired with Megan Follows as his sister and Gary Busey as his wild uncle. The three have very good chemistry on screen and you feel like they're an actual family. Heck, I'd even say the scenes with Haim spending time with his uncle or riding his motor-tricycle are the best in the movie and the werewolf stuff takes away from that.

Speaking of werewolves, Silver Bullet's special effects aren't half bad either. They're nowhere near the same level as something you'd see inside American Werewolf in London or The Howling, but they are definitely decent. The film also knows when to hide or not focus on the less effective effects, or keeping the werewolf mostly hidden until the end of the film. Also, you can't help but love the utter cheese that is the werewolf church seen. Its something that you just have to see, but you will understand why its awesome after watching it.

However, Silver Bullet does have some obvious weak spots. For example, the film has this weird narration from what is supposed to be a future version of Marty's sister, making the film appear to be a story she's telling someone else. However, there's we never see this person she's talking to and it feels completely unnecessary. Also, Silver Bullet can feel a little slow at times.

While its by no means a perfect film, Silver Bullet has some good stuff going for it. If you like werewolf films with some good performances and decent effects, check out Silver Bullet.

Monday, October 20, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Tremors (1990)

Directed by Ron Underwood, Tremors is a humorous monster movie about a pair of quirky handymen who live in the small desert community of Perfection. After stumbling upon some bizarre phenomena a couple of grisly deaths, the two discover a terrible local secrets: the desert is inhabited by worm-like creatures that travel underground, surfacing only to eat whatever they can grab with their tongue-tendrils.  Due to Perfection's isolated location, the citizens must find a way across the desert while avoiding these "graboids" who happen to be stalking them like landlocked sharks.

Tremors is a loving tribute to the monster movies of the 1950's. The film is cheesy and the acting is somewhat over the top at times, but that just makes it more entertaining. It doesn't hurt that the special effects are pretty good and the direction is equally solid.

As with most monster movies, Tremors lives and dies on its special effects. Thankfully, they are top notch. The graboids look great, like something from a more primordial era that's been lurking underground for centuries, waiting for the perfect time to surface and strike. Also, the tongue-tendrils are pretty cool too, reminding me of the Xenomorph's tongue from Alien.They also manage to make its underground travel look believable and cool.

The acting's not half bad either. While some of its definitely over the top, you can't help but like the characters. Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Michael Gross give great performances, creating interesting characters that you want to see survive these attacks. Especially Gross, who's Burt would end up becoming the main character of later films in the series.

While Tremors isn't particularly scary, its definitely entertaining due to its special effects and fun characters. If you're looking for a monster movie with a lot of hard, you could do a whole lot worse than Tremors.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Cujo (1983)

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Cujo is a horror movie directed by Lewis Teague. Cujo is a happy St. Bernard until he is bitten on the hose by a rabid bat and slowly begins to manifesting the symptoms of his fatal illness. As his condition deteriorates, Cujo begins to attack those who cross his path. This culminates with Cujo trapping a woman named Donna Trenton and her 5 year old son Tad in her Ford Pinto, trying his hardest to get inside to kill them both.

Although Stephen King's literary work tends to be highly acclaimed, the film adaptations of his stories tend to be a bit more...varied in the quality department. Some, like Misery or The Shawshank Redemption are fantastic films and considered classics. Others, like Sleepwalkers or The Mangler, are less fantastic. Cujo seems to fall somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

Cujo has a lot of good qualities. Both Dee Wallace and Daniel Hugh Kelly give great performances. Wallace plays a character struggling to find what she truly wants from her life who is suddenly thrust into a situation she's not prepared to handle very well and Kelly does a good job playing the loving father trying to figure out how he's going to handle a complicated situation.

The film's third act is pretty tense as well. Two characters are locked inside a small car with a vicious animal lurking outside, waiting to strike when the time is right. Each time he tries to get into the car, and almost succeeds, you get tense and hope Donna will be able to stop him. You also know she'll have to leave the car eventually, but you don't know when and the tension just builds and builds.

Unfortunately, Cujo shoots itself in the foot with its slow pacing. While the first half does a good job making the people and the town of Castle Rock feel real, I would be lying if I said it wasn't a little boring and you just want to fast forward to the third act.

If you can overlook its slow pacing, Cujo has some solid performances and a pretty good third act and climax. Its not bad, but there are much better King adaptations to watch.