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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Oculus (2013)

Oculus is a supernatural horror film directed and written by Mike Flanagan. Ten years ago, tragedy struck the Russel family, leaving the lives of teenage siblings Tim and Kaylie forever changed when Tim was convicted of the brutal murder of their parents. Now 21 years old, Tim is finally released from protective custody and wants to put the past behind him. However, Kaylie is still haunted by that fateful night. Unlike her brother, she's convinced her parents' deaths were caused by something else: a malevolent force originating from an antique mirror. With the mysterious entity back in their possession, Tim and Kaylie soon find their sanity slipping away as they experience terrible hallucinations and relive their childhood nightmare all over again.

When I first saw the trailer for Oculus, I wasn't too impressed.At first glance, it just looked like another generic horror film using a weird concept. I had no confidence in it, so I decided to skip it while it was in theaters.

However, I started hearing a lot of positive buzz surrounding the film. People were saying it was actually pretty good, that it was interesting and not bland like I feared it would be. I decided to finally bite the bullet and watch the film. Thankfully, I'm glad I did.

Oculus is a film that relies more on dread and psychological horror over unnecessary gore and cheap jump scares. Like Jacob's Ladder, Oculus plays with time and reality, making the characters question their own sanity and whether they are actually experiencing the things they're experiencing. Very few films seem to go this route nowadays and Oculus feels like a breath of fresh air because of it.

Ignore the trailers and see Oculus, especially if you enjoy horror films that are more psychological. Take the chance and pick it up. You will not be disappointed.

Friday, October 17, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Shivers (1975)

Shivers (also known as They Came From Within) is a science fiction horror film directed and written by David Cronenberg. While investigating the strange murder-suicide of a scientist and a teenager, a doctor discovers that the scientist was doing experiments on the use of genetically engineered parasites as organ transplants. However, something has gone terribly wrong. Instead of replacing failed organs, the parasite creates an uncontrollable sexual desire in the host, one that manifests violently. The scientist tried to destroy it, but the parasites are now loose in the building and the doctor and his girlfriend must escape before they become infected too.

Cronenberg is one of the principal originators of what is commonly known as the "body horror" subgenre. This subgenre typically explores people's fear of bodily transformation and infection, usually intertwining the psychological with the physical. Shivers is one of Cronenberg's first entries in the genre.

The parasites in Shivers represent venereal diseases. The creatures generally pass from one host to another through sexual contact. While its not the most subtle metaphor, it definitely works. The film presents a situation where a scientist created these parasites with the noblest of intentions, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. The parasite seems to unlock this primal, sexual urge within the host, one that dominates their mind and demands to be quenched (violently if need be). While the parasite facilitates this, the true horror of the situation is that our bodies would be so susceptible to this, unable to fight it and be dominated by our base impulses. Shivers delivers that message and delivers it well.

Really, Shivers' only weaknesses are based on it being one of Cronenberg's first films. You can see it as a young director experiment with ideas and theme, seeing what works and what doesn't. There are weird shots that really have no context (like a random first person perspective at one point) and weird moments of slow motion. The characters are a little bland and the film's narrative is not as tight as Cronenberg's later efforts, with the ending being rather weak and underwhelming.

However, the film's concept is really the driving force behind everything. This really isn't a film you watch for an enjoyable experience. You watch it to investigate this interesting idea and experience the horror of the situation. The characters and narrative are really second nature to the concept. With that being said, I'll freely admit that's not everyone's cup of tea and that's totally fine.

Shivers is an interesting film with a neat concept, but its story and characters are somewhat lacking. If you can overlook that and embrace the film's basic premise and the horror of the situation, you'll probably like Shivers.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: American Mary (2012)

Directed by the Soska Sisters, American Mary is a Canadian "slasher" film that tells the story of Mary Mason, a medical student who's growing increasingly broke and desperate. After a strange encounter at a strip club, Mary enters the messy world of underground surgeries and body modification which leaves more marks on her than her equally desperate clientele.

American Mary is a film that has garnered a decent amount of praise throughout the horror fandom. Fangoria even called it a modern horror masterpiece. This response just leaves me confused. While American Mary has its moments, it suffers from some sloppy pacing, uneven acting, an underdeveloped narrative, and an a climax that's ultimately unsatisfying.

I really don't understand the amount of love this rather mediocre horror film gets. Am I just missing something?

I'll admit, American Mary's first half isn't half bad. The film does an adequate job establishing its plot and characters, quickly introducing us to Mary's primary motivation and why she eventually passes the point of no return. However, after she takes revenge for something that happened earlier in the film, American Mary goes downhill fast.

The plot begins to unravel, the pacing becomes clunky and uneven, eventually leading you to the boring climax that doesn't even feel like an ending at all. This is especially sad because Katharine Isabelle actually gives a pretty decent performance. She's entertaining to watch, captures the character perfectly, and seems to embrace the subtle dark sense of humor lurking within the film's text. I feel like she's too good for this movie.

Amerian Mary is a film that had some interesting ideas, but ruined them with its shoddy execution. While its definitely not a horrible film, it doesn't deserve the praise it seems to constantly receive. Watch it only if you like Katharine Isabelle and have some time to kill.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Trick r' Treat (2009)

Directed by Michael Dougherty, Trick 'r Treat is an anthology horror film consisting of four interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: A high school principal has a secret life as a psychotic serial killer; a college girl might have just met the perfect guy for her first time; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank on a social outcast; an old curmudgeon is visited by a peculiar trick or treater.

Since its delayed "Direct-to-DVD" release in 2009, Trick 'r Treat has rapidly become something of a modern Halloween classic. The film's garnered a strong cult following and finds its way onto a lot of Halloween marathon lists. Its kind of shocking at first to think about how many people embraced this little film, but you quickly realize why after watching it.

Trick 'r Treat is easily one of the best anthology films of the past decade. It's stories work, they're woven together nicely, and utilizes its Halloween theme properly.

Most Halloween films tend to use the holiday theme in one of two ways: use it as simple setting that barely affects the overall narrative, or routinely beats their audience over the head with its theme. The best Halloween films fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Trick 'r Treat embraces the holiday,  having it influence each story in a specific way, without going overboard with it. Whenever I pop this film into the DVD player, I immediately find myself feeling the spirit of Halloween (even if its January or July).

Trick 'r Treat utilizes the same method of anthology storytelling that Pulp Fiction does. All four stories exist within the same town on the same Halloween night, influencing and affecting each other. For example, one story will introduce a plot point that will become more relevant later, or we might see characters who will show up in a different story. The only thing connecting all four stories is the mysterious trick or treater Sam, who seems to be the literal Spirit of Halloween ("Sam", which could be a shortened version of "Samhain"). While some stories are obviously better than others, causing Trick 'r Treat to suffer the same consistency problem that haunts almost every anthology film, they are all good in their own ways and they never overstay their welcome do to the interwoven nature of the narrative.

I'm happy to see Trick 'r Treat get the recognition that it deserves. Its one of the best Halloween films ever made and it will always have a place on my Halloween "Must Watch" list. If you're looking for a Halloween-themed movie or a well made horror anthology film, give Trick 'r Treat a chance.