Suburban Gothic (2014)

Written by Richard Bates Jr. and Mark Bruner. Directed by Richard Bates. Jr. Stars Matthew Gray Gubler, Kat Dennings and Ray Wise.

SYNOPSIS:

Obnoxious Raymond can’t find a job and returns to the family home. There, he rekindles with his psychoses he left as a kid, which includes possibly seeing ghosts.

REVIEW:

I’ll be honest, I wanted to stop watching after five minutes. I persisted and though Suburban Gothic isn’t what I’d call a good horror movie — it barely features any horror, and definitely no scares — it turned out much better than I had expected.

Raymond is obnosious as hell and is condescending to everyone he talks to. It gets annoying quickly, until the movie goes on to show that Raymon is far from being smarter than everyone and his attitude is more of a defense mechanism that the style of the movie itself. Slowly but surely, Raymon goes from jackass to complex clown and I stopped hating the character.

I’m not going to mention much of the plot because there’s barely any. It’s more of a dialog movie, one that borrows heavily from Wes Anderson and John Waters (which incidentally, is present in the movie). The influence is palpable. Not necessarilly a bad thing. The characters are quirky in a Royal Tenenbaums kind of way. Usually I’d be foaming at the mouth with rage but here it mostly works. Kat Dennings as the Brody Dalle-looking Becca is delightful, as always and Ray Wise is still Ray Wise. A badass.

The effects are okay for a dark comedy. Don’t expect too much and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?

I wouldn’t actively seek to watch it but if you end up finding it on Netflix or TV, give it a spin.

Ouija (2014)

Written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White. Directed by Stiles White. Stars Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto and Daren Kagasoff.

SYNOPSIS:

Teens play with a Ouija board. Spirits come forth. People die. Hasbro makes sales.

REVIEW:

Sigh. I mean… sigh. I get it. Not all horror movies have to be masterpieces. It’s just feel that since last year, I can count ten horrible flicks per decent movie. I feel like I have spent most of that time writing down negativity and harsh criticism, instead of marveling at superb stories. Oh, there were exceptions. It Follows, The Babadook, Spring. A few others. I want to just focus on the obvious successes but I fear that I’ll never discover that hidden gem, that horror needle in a haystack if I do so. And thus I force myself to sit down and watch movies like Ouija. Just in case.

I’ll be brief: there’s nothing inherently wrong with Ouija. It’s a very classic story of teenagers and ghosts. It’s Pulse. It’s Poltergeist. It’s 13 Ghosts. It’s Insidious. You’ve seen this movie before, under different names. The actors are fine, the movie quality is on par with what’s being done recently and there’s a brief but juicy small part by Lin Shaye who is wonderful as always. There’s nothing wrong with Ouija. There’s also nothing new or interesting about it. There’s a little twist towards the end but everyone with any movie experience (or anyone having seen one M. Night Shyamalan movie) will have spotted it a mile away.

That’s it. Ouija. Teenagers on the floor playing with a board. Sometimes a ghost that screams. There’s a rather surprising scene involving a girl diving headfirst into her sink but that’s the most excitement I had while watching.

SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?

Meh.

MUCK (2015)

Written and directed by a 14 year old teen (Steve Wolsh). Stars playmates and other people you won’t see again (Lachlan Buchanan, Puja Mohindra and Bryce Draper)

SYNOPSIS:

I finally found it: the movie that will make Zombie Strippers look classy. Five people end up in a cabin in the swamp while being chased… by some other people? I think.

REVIEW:

You could talk to two friends about Godzilla and why they like it and you could receive two totally different answers; one might enjoy the metaphors for the horror of nuclear war, while the other would say he watched the movie because it’s a reptile tearing shit up. That’s the beautiful thing about movies that makes it totally different from other story mediums. A book can be perceived in different ways but when the text reads “she was thinking about murdering him and it reminded her of her father”, there’s not much room for interpretation. The movie won’t show it, though it might show the woman tense up, with suspicious eyes. How you interpret it is up to you. That’s the beauty of film.

When I watch horror movies, I often do for the message. Maybe it’s snobby of me to do so, especially considering how much crap I watch. But I like a finely crafted story that works on many levels. That’s why The Babadook is more appealing to me than the next Troma movie (even though I do enjoy Troma). Others might love the gore, the effects. I get it; I love The Thing for that very reason. It’s the second reason I watch horror. There exists however a third group of people, a group that enjoys a certain type of horror movies that came into being due to their production being done around the time of other popular college movies, like Porkys, Screwballs and Revenge of the Nerds. You know what I’m talking about: softcore disguised as something else. These movies will always exist. They’ll still be watched. The only reason Ryan Reynolds is a movie star today is because of Van Wilder. That type of movie.

If I go into a room filled with horror fans and I ask everyone what was their favorite scene in Return of the Living Dead, someone will assuredly mention the cemetery striptease performed by Linnea Quigley. Not the funny zombies, not Clu Gulager’s brillant acting, not the references to Night of the Living Dead, not the effects. Not “send more paramedics”. Linnea Quigley’s nudity. And I don’t mean to seem prude here; it’s quite okay for someone to enjoy scenes like it. That character fits the scene; she’s a nympho punk rebel who dresses provocatively. While it’s certainly cheesy, it’s not too far off from what’s expected. I understand scenes like this and I don’t mind them at all. Linnea Quigley is smoking hot.

That’s my very long-winded way of saying that Muck uses nudity as a means to attract viewers. It does so quite often. It does so blatantly, without regards for the plot. As a gonzo feature, that might have worked. Some crazy, with an incoherent plot structure, maybe. Troma movies handle this very well. The problem is that Muck uses a very tired , linear story blueprint that makes these overtly sexual scenes all the more jarring. Let me give you examples. The main protagonist races to the nearest bar to call for help. Once he’s there, he goes to wash his shirt in the bathroom. This is setup to give time to the two ladies who spotted him to head for the bathroom and change… because they want to look hot. Cue in minutes of them changing bras and so on. Guy eventually runs back to the house where he left his friends. He happens to run by a lit house. Looking inside, he sees a woman in lingerie strutting sensually for some reason. Belt sounds and weird motions ensue, as the camera zooms in. It’s that blatant. Hell, halfway through the movie a woman goes in the bathroom (yep, a different woman) to change bras (again!) in order to seduce the cousin of the main guy. Need I remind you that this is happening in the middle of a horror movie in which cannibal rednecks are hunting the protagonists? And these scenes go for at least a couple minutes each? There’s even a scene where a car is being attacked by said cannibals and I shit you not, the camera zooms in to show the jiggling breasts of one of the women. Not the action. Not the cannibals. The breasts. A scene like this one or twice, maybe. But dozens? No. It’s pointless, doesn’t advance the plot and feels incredibly immature. If it was labeled as a sexploitation homage, maybe. But the movie wasn’t nearly as interesting as something that would have come out in the 70s.

Adding insult to injury. the movie starts in the middle of the plot. By this, I don’t mean that the story plays with the scenes like Pulp Fiction. I literally mean that the story is split in three chapters and Steve Wolsh only produced the second chapter. The movie starts with five people and one is already mortally wounded. It’s important that I stress that at no point do they mention why they’re in the swamp, how the guy got hurt, and who is chasing them (besides calling them cannibal rednecks every now and then). So basically, you have a guy who wanted to be surrounded by playmates, somehow got Kane Hodder to follow suit and shot a movie without a plot. Without proper lighting. Only tits. Tits and racist/mysogynist jokes. The occasional guy painted white jumping at one of the characters for reasons unknown.

This is Muck. The movie that has less structure than Troll 2, less class than Zombie Strippers and the worst usage of Kane Hodder since that episode of V.I.P. (yes, the Pamela Anderson show).

SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?

If you want porn, just watch porn. If you want horror movies, what literally anything else. It’s bound to be better than this.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell. Starts Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott and Lin Shaye.

(a.k.a. Jump Scare-athon 2015: The Adventures of Lin Shaye in the Dark.)

SYNOPSIS:

A movie pretends to care about the fate of a young woman but is actually a pretense to show Lin Shaye being badass for a couple hours. Oh, all right. Set before Insidious, this chapter focuses on another family with demon problems. Problems that psychic badass Elise is able but unwilling to stop.

REVIEW:

Insidious: Chapter 3 is a cash grab. The very fact that there are some reviewers out there saying the chapter is saving the franchise should tell you how far we’ve sunk in matters of mainstream horror movies. Some would argue that the 80s had it as bad and I don’t disagree entirely (coughNoES6cough) but still, here’s another James Wan sequel that goes sour.

I think my main issue with the movie is how much it seems to want to offer, versus how much it actually gives. You have a new family and a myriad of ways to expand the universe and its use of “The Further”, which is the “evil” afterlife Lin Shaye’s character Elise walks to in order to help lost souls. Instead we have an ungrateful girl who suffers through a bad accident and has no further character development, a father so clueless he doesn’t do anything even after his daughter mysteriously teleports one floor up while having both legs in casts and finally a villain who, though creepy, does so little (especially in regards to the other chapters of the franchise) that seeing him was always bittersweet; he’s ugly and disgusting but does nothing but breathe through a mask and pet people. Fun.

Where it shines is in using Lin Shaye as real protagonist in the movie. Though a naïve viewer might mistake the young Quinn as the movie’s protagonist, it’s really Elise who goes through an ark, learns and comes back stronger. She’s the one with the development. We learn that she used to have these powers and stopped using them. We learn why. We get to witness what happens to change her mind and get her to the state of mind she needs to be in the first chapter of the series. Lin Shaye is great as always and her moments in The Further were to me the only times I felt some tension building up. Though I’m never going to lament the fact that Lin Shaye seems stuck to doing horror movies, I still feel it’s a damn shame as she’s about the only consistent, talented actress we have in the genre. She deserves a lot more than being stuck in cheap sequels like this.

Because yes, it’s cheap. The villain is cheap and pointless; we know he’s not there in the first movie. Everything else that happens, from showing the “bride in black”, Elise’s sidekicks beginnings, mentions of Josh (the father in the first movie), showing Carl (Elise’s friend in the second movie) and so on happens for a single reason: to tie in this story to the others. This reeks of insecurity. This reeks of being afraid that this chapter will feel empty of any redeeming value if taken as a single entity. And of course, it’s exactly what it is: take the references and call-backs out of the movie and you end up with a very stereotypical ghost/possession story.

And seriously, I’m supposed to believe that EVERYTHING that made Elise and her gang what they were in the other two movies, happened in the couple weeks that spanned this chapter? That’s really far-fetched.

Add to this what is perhaps the most jump scares I’ve seen in a movie yet and you end up with a movie so unsure of itself, it should check-in with a therapist. And while the package of references and jump scares was enough to have me fork my money over (I’m a masochist), it also killed any hope I had to see a valid, sincere sequel to the first title. Shame.

At the very least you have Lin Shaye punch demons around.

SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?

If you like Lin Shaye, sure. Or find the sequences on Youtube. Otherwise, no. If you want to watch a good ghost story, watch Rigor Mortis.

Horror Block Short Film Festival Winners (2015)

Months ago, Horror Block started a short film contest in association with Rue Morgue magazine. The winners would get $10,000 and subscribers would get the winning shorts as a compilation DVD. I received this disc last week and thus will now review the package as a whole entity.

The presentation of the compilation is itself severely lacking in contents and esthetics. A screen with a generic horror backdrop, a couple selectable lines and extras that aren’t really anything new and exciting. The winning shorts themselves were a weird mix. You can see the movies here:

There’s a problem with movie contests like these. I’ve seen it time and time again. Are the judges focussing on the quality of the short or their fondness for the material? Does nostalgia and recognition play at all in their decisions? How influential were the public votes? I’ve seen the shorts when public voting began and I noticed a real pattern; most of these movies were derivative of classic works. Strangely, three of the winning shorts take heavily from famous, fairly loved cult classics. Did the love of said classics influence the judges to pick these winners? Did the contestants film those obviously inspired segments, knowing that their appropriation of the material would result in their short getting noticed?

Does originality matter in popularity contests?

REVIEW:

So the first movie is the big winner, Sinners. It’s about a man who goes full Frailty and starts seeing evil people and then goes full Boondock Saints, complete with Catholic moments and guns. It’s a fine piece, well-structured and I’m not upset that it won but the inspiration is pretty obvious.

Second winner was Lady in the Walls, a ghost story about a ghost lady stuck in a fireplace or something, whom orphans call with a song and a couple knocks. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where they took their idea from but there’s a definite Woman in Black/Candyman/Bloody Mary vibe to the thing.

Third short was Scared to Death. There’s always one that goes full meta, 80s horror-comedy. This year, we’re getting Deathgasm which I’m hoping to see at Fantasia Fest. Scared to Death follows a horror movie fan getting scared while watching a horror movie. It ends with a gruesome death and… zombies? Vampires? I’m not sure. When you write the plot down, it’s silly and barely has anything. But it does have a sick kill with a knife, so points for that!

The last two shorts were Play Time and The Family That Preys. Play Time is what you get when you collect the essence of Annabelle and film it the way the deer scene from Evil Dead 2 was filmed. The Family That Preys is essentially Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Of maybe House of a Thousand Corpses. Hell, maybe Freaks. All you have to know is that a bunch of evil clowns and circus folks are around a table with their tied victims. Is it original? Not at all. But it worked in the other movies, so why not here? One would say that unlike this short, movies had more than homages to Freaks but I’m being unfair here: lack of time and lack of production value are big influences.

SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?

Why not? No matter what I think of the shorts and their original content, let’s remind ourselves that:

  • They’re all very-well made for such small movies.
  • They’re all indie talents and thus should be encouraged.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in any of the shorts and I’m willing to bet that horror neophytes will find them all very interesting. Horror veterans however might feel like they’ve already seen all of these stories before.

The Seasoning House (2012)

Written by Paul Hyett, Conal Palmer, Adrian Rigelsford and Helen Solomon. Directed by Paul Hyett. Stars Rosie Day, Sean Pertwee and Keven Howarth.

SYNOPSIS:

After the war somewhere in Eastern Europe, a house is used as a brothel, held by ex-soldiers. The meat is composed of kidnapped victims and other unfortunate girls who get tossed around and beaten. Angel, a deaf girl with too many scars to be sold as product is instead trained to dope up the other girls. But Angel is tiny, easily forgettable and has access to the vents of the house…

REVIEW:

I’m not sure why this gets so badly rated. I found it to be a very apt thriller. Disgusting characters who undergo transformations where you’re not sure who to root for, horrible scenes that gave me goosebumps; everything I enjoy in such thrillers.

And let’s take a moment to talk about the special effects. They were by far some of the best effects I’ve seen for a movie such as this. Stabbings and brutal attacks felt so real at times that I cringe quite often. About the only scene that had me cringe more than these was the cheek slash scene in Pan’s Labyrinth.

The least I say, the better. I believe it’s a decent thriller, with interesting setups and payoffs. And Rosie Day is absolutely tremendous as Angel, the deaf girl.

SHOULD YOU WATCH IT?

Yep. Don’t believe the ratings.

Two Ave Romeros and Three Spatter Noster for your delicious sins!

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