Get Out

April 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

“Get Out” is a truly original horror film experience. Writer/director Jordan Peele, who has a background in comedy, is able to weave humor and satire into a striking, sometimes shocking thriller about a black man going to his white girlfriend’s parents’ house to ‘meet the parents’ for the first time.

This premise seems more appropriate for a summer rom-com; but Peele uses it as a chance to make a statement about race relations, and status in this country. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) has been dating Rose (Allison Williams) for about 5 months, and Rose wants him to come to her parents’ country house for the weekend. Chris, who is a photographer by trade, is a bit worried when he asks her, “Do they know?” She plays coy, but eventually relents that she hasn’t told them. She doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but Chris has obviously had some experience and braces himself. According to her, this is also her first black boyfriend, so Chris is even more sure that there will be an issue. Rose assures him that her parents are extremely liberal and open minded, and her dad would have “voted for Obama for a third term if he could have”. As patronizing as that sounds, it at least sets Chris at ease that maybe they won’t make as much of an issue of it as he initially feared. Chris has his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) take care of his dog while they’re gone, and they set off to the country house.

On the way, they accidentally hit a deer. This affects Chris, as he watches the deer die off in the woods by the side of the road. That along with a roadside incident with a white police officer, who seems to have more of a problem with Rose than Chris, sets a somewhat ominous tone. We think we know what we’re in for at this point–but Jordan Peele does have some surprises for us.

When we meet Rose’s parents, Missy (Catherine Keener), and Dean (Bradley Whitford), we see what Rose was talking about. Dean speaks highly of Obama, and keeps calling Chris “my man”. Missy is very welcoming, and casual. Neither have an issue with Chris being black, and Rose teases Chris about him being wrong. But there is something a bit strange: the two caretakers of the house–Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson)–are black. Dean plays this off as irony, because the two of them actually took care of his father, who died years ago, and kept them on so that they’d be employed somewhere. Dean explains that his father finished behind Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Chris laments it’s a shame his father had to live that down, but Dean brushes it off, that Owens was the best. A seemingly innocuous exchange, but it has a little more importance as we dig deeper into the story.

Eventually Rose’s brother comes, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who takes an interest in Chris as an athlete. He challenges him to a fight obnoxiously, but Chris is pulled away by the family who chastise Jeremy for being rude. Rose apologizes to Chris by the end of the night, in which Chris smirks and says, “I was right.”

The following day, Rose discovers that the family had been planning their annual big get together with the rest of the family and other friends, which means even more white people for Chris to have to try and figure out who is going to make him feel more uncomfortable. It’s some commentary about “being the only black surrounded by whites”–no matter how obsequious or polite, it still makes someone feel out of place. But there’s even more unsettling things going on at this party. Not only are the whites trying to impress Chris with their accepting demeanor, but the only black person who does show up–as a guest of an older white woman–acts strangely, and seems out of place himself.

As things start falling into place, Chris realizes he’s somewhat become trapped into this little world, and uneasiness and awkwardness give way to outright fear. He allows himself to be hypnotized by Missy, who wants to help him quit smoking–and that starts to become a problem for Chris once he realizes what they’re up to.

The film has some familiar tropes and Peele does a nice job of sending the message that he’s aware of the familiarity. So he throws a few wrenches into the plot, and mixes things up a bit. It’s a clever film, and has some biting commentary, especially because the racial undertones don’t have to do with Southern white yokels, but rather seemingly intellectual whites who try to come off as unprejudiced. I’m sure Peele has some personal experience with this, and his cynicism is well displayed throughout the film. The performances are very strong and credible, particularly Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, who really wants to just survive this crazy family weekend and get back to his life. He also has a dark secret about his past that becomes exploited at some point, creating another layer for the narrative of the film, which was already strong to begin with.

For a first time effort, this is a fantastic exercise in horror and satire, and Peele has certainly laid the groundwork for a brilliant filmmaking career. This isn’t for the squeamish–for gore or social commentary. So come in with a strong constitution, and a truly open mind, and you will be greatly rewarded.

My rating: :D

Carrie (2013)

October 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“Carrie” is an iconic horror film from the 1970’s that probably never needed to be dug up and remade again (isn’t she supposed to be burning in hell anyway?). But, there was another iconic horror film from the 1970’s that was remade, and remade pretty well, and that was Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. So why not?

Then again, “Carrie” was already remade. But do TV remakes count? This one shouldn’t have. And let’s not mention “The Rage: Carrie 2”. OK, I just did. But let’s just move on now.

This remake is directed by Kimberly Pierce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), and has a strong cast including Julianne Moore as the psychotic fundamentalist Christian mother, Margaret; and, Chloe Grace Moretz as the titular character, Carrie White. Sprinkled in the supporting cast is Judy Greer as the gym teacher Miss Desjardin, Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen, and Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell. This is a contemporary remake, so all of the events in the film take place now, not back in the 70’s. This sets the stage for a film that could really make a statement or at least have an opinion on the 21st century problems of “cyber bullying” and “mean girl syndrome” that seems to be infecting more and more schools around the world. In the hands of such a good director as Pierce, I had high hopes.

However, this film just pricks and prods at the problems of abuse and bullying rather than really taking these issues to task. Carrie (finely played by Moretz) is a 17 year old virgin who experiences her first period (a bit late) in the gym showers after a water volleyball scrimmage. The mean girls laugh at her and take photos; Chris (nicely played by Doubleday) uses video from her iPhone and puts it up on Youtube (doesn’t everybody use Instagram for short videos now?). At first, Sue (Wilde) is part of the action, but she starts to feel guilty. The gym teacher puts a stop to the whole ordeal and tries to comfort Carrie while also punishing the mean girls.

Meanwhile, during Carrie’s meltdown, she finds out she has telekinetic powers. This leads her overbearing Evangelical mother (Moore) into believing she’s a witch and forces her into a small closet to pray about it. Something tells me that’s not going to exorcise the demons though.

The movie’s plot pretty much plays out the same way the original did, which is a bit disappointing since they could’ve gone for a different approach. The original novel is written in an epistolary style, telling the story from media viewpoints after the fact. In this day and age of 24 hour, ubiquitous media outlets exploiting every single story out there, I think it would’ve been a nice idea to try and use that as a device to make a commentary on today’s society. Think of interviews with survivors with Bill O’Reilly; or, people blaming liberals and conservatives for Carrie and school bullying? Social satire would’ve been a fresh idea here. The acting is good, and Julianne Moore does a worthy job of filling in Piper Laurie’s shoes as Margaret. But her character isn’t nearly as menacing and scary as in the original film. As good a job as Moretz does as Carrie, she just doesn’t have that same innocent and yet “could snap at any moment” quality that Sissy Spacek naturally had.

As familiar and predictable as the remake is, being so close to the original, it starts to break down toward the end with the prom sequence. First, we come to realization that we hardly know any of these characters and so the prom just doesn’t feel that big of a deal. It feels like it’s just there to serve as the climax. And because we haven’t had the chance to really get to know any characters, some of the mocking at Carrie during her “pig’s blood” scene doesn’t really add up. Especially when her period video is being shown on a loop on a big screen during it. The natural reaction to something like that, I would think, would be more horror than laughter. Even with how mean kids can be, there’s not a whole lot of setup that the whole school is full of disaffected desensitized youth–only the mean girls share that quality.

So when Carrie finally comes undone, she comes off more as a Hogwarts reject showing off her magical powers (and in some facial expressions, looks like she is enjoying it for the sake of it), rather than a traumatized victim who’s finally acting out her aggression on those who have tormented her throughout the whole film. And that’s where the film just falls completely flat. Before the prom scene, I could forgive it as a nice and faithful remake. But then when you start to think about all of the possibilities this film had to be so much more, I just felt that it was overall a †missed opportunity.

My rating:†:?

The Lords of Salem

April 23, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

Rob Zombie’s first major feature film, “House of 1,000 Corpses”, was a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, it was an homage to the grindhouse 70’s horror era, and on the other, it was a drummed up feature length music video. It had some individual style to it, and it definitely marked Zombie as an intriguing filmmaker. Above all, it tried to be entertaining, not taking itself too seriously and having a little bit of fun with its macabre sense of humor. Then came “The Devil’s Rejects” which was, in a way, a sequel to “House”. Much bloodier, much more realistic, with more of a purpose. Though also flawed, Zombie showed a growth and maturity as a filmmaker, and it looked as though he was poised to take over the horror genre himself.

With the “Halloween” remake, he took a bit of a step back–however, he still proved he had the chops to make a good film. He made the “Halloween” film his own, and although the backstory he provided for Michael Myers was a bit predictable and thin, the climactic scenes in the film’s ending were extremely intense and nail-biting.

Since the “Halloween” sequel, and now with “The Lords of Salem”, I’m feeling doubts on Zombie’s film career. There’s no doubt that Zombie is a competent director. He has†a visual style that’s appealing for horror fans and seems to truly get what the genre is about. But he hasn’t proven himself to be enough of a storyteller to pull off a film that can really be considered one of the “great” horror films. But maybe I’m putting a little too much pressure on him.

The film has an intriguing premise: a radio DJ (played amiably by Sheri Moon Zombie) receives a strange package from a group called “the Lords” and her and one of her co-hosts plays the record (which plays backward). Somehow it has a strange affect on her, and she starts having visions and strange dreams and can’t sleep. Meanwhile her landlord begins to take more of an interest in her, and an unrented room (apartment 5) starts to draw the DJ, named Heidi, into it. One of the show’s guests, a Salem historian named Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison), also takes interest in “the Lords”, which is revealed to be a coven of witches from the 17th century in Salem, that were burned at the stake. Straying from the idea that Salem witches were actually just innocent women, Zombie illustrates quite graphically that these witches were truly horrific Satan worshipping disciples.

There isn’t much else of a plot, however, after that set up. Much of the film’s third act simply is one long dream sequence that flaunts a lot of strange symbolism and imagery, some of which is startling, some is creepy; but some of it is also downright silly. And because Zombie never really sets up characters or conflict or an actual narrative arc, the film doesn’t serve much of a purpose except to try and shock you with its grotesque style. While that can work for a short film, this film begins to feel very long at the hour long mark–and at that time, you still have forty more minutes to go.

So, where does Rob Zombie go from here? I would hope he could recapture some of his sense of humor he showed in his first two films. This film takes itself too seriously. There’s no fun, or satire, or tongue in cheek moments. It’s a waste of an appearance by Ken Foree, who can usually effort a fun performance when given the chance. The film is just very drab, and very stale, and most of the imagery isn’t anything we haven’t seen from Zombie before. I hope he can return to form, which was still in development, at “The Devil’s Rejects”. I think he could use either a screenwriter, or some screenwriting lessons, however.

When Zombie was developing his idea for this film, he was on record as describing it as: “Salem radio station, blah blah blah, music.” Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to develop it past that.

My rating: :?

Drag Me To Hell

June 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

I didn’t know this film was done by Sam Raimi at first. I have to admit my ignorance, and I will take the beating I deserve for not staying up on a genre that I typically pride myself being a connoisseur of. So, I apologize to everyone including myself for looking at this film at first and going, “Yeah. Right.” PG-13? Strategically placed by the studio as “The Strangers” was last year to generate a mid-season sleeper buzz? No thanks.

That attitude completely changed when I read that the film was directed and co-written by Sam Raimi, and co-written with his brother, Ivan. Now, these two haven’t worked together this closely since “The Evil Dead” series, and we all know how that went. Probably 3 of the most beloved cult horror/comedy films of all time.

“Drag Me To Hell”, in time, could be headed for the same vault. It takes every good element of a horror film and stretches it to the point where you can’t see the lines in the fabric anymore. It’s ironed to perfection, and while Sam Raimi hasn’t dabbled in this genre for some time; he makes his return a triumphant one, illustrating again why he’s a master of the genre.

The story revolves around curses, and begins in 1969, in Pasadena, in which a young boy is troubled by strange voices and has with him a cursed item, a necklace that was stolen from gypsies. It’s always the gypsies, isn’t it? The boy winds up being visited by a demon, the Lamia, who literally drags him to hell–thus beginning the film.

Forty years later, we are introduced to Christine Brown (played wonderfully by Alison Lohman), and her boyfriend Clay (played by Justin Long, in a rather bland role), who are thrust into the same situation the boy suffered from when she does not allow an elderly woman, Mrs. Ganush, another extension on her loan. Mrs. Ganush angrily shouts at her, and curses a button on Christine’s jacket, and soon after, Christine starts hearing voices and seeing Mrs. Ganush visiting her in nightmares–and then, assaults her in the parking lot late one night.

Christine’s got her own share of problems, dealing with a smug and backstabbing co-worker (played deliciously by Reggie Lee), who stands in her way in getting a promotion to assistant manager. David Paymer plays her boss, and in one of the more amusing scenes, is on the wrong side of Christine as she gets one of the most obnoxious nose bleeds I’ve ever seen. When she starts losing control, she finds through a fortune teller that there may be a way to appease the demon, and she tries a few different ways (some of them are quite funny, if a bit sick) to get the demon to leave her alone.

Of course, it’s never easy getting rid of a demon, and when Christine gets downright assaulted by the gypsy Mrs. Ganush, you’ll wince in disgust while laughing hysterically at some of the hi-jinx that ensue. After all, the Fun Demon Spirit is familiar territory for Raimi, and it’s plastered all over the movie. If it hadn’t been done before, this movie would be an instant classic. But, since the best of it happened in “Evil Dead 2”, this seems more reminiscent than fresh. It is no less hilarious, though. Let me be clear on that.

All in all, this movie is a real treat for those (like me) who have lost a lot of faith in the horror genre–especially the attempts at horror comedy lately, which have mostly been a bust. Raimi still knows how to make your skin crawl while making your stomach hurt laughing so hard, and he deserves credit for that. If you’re looking for a 100 minute escape and enjoy a bit of sick humor laughing at these poor souls staving off demons and disgusting Eastern European gypsies, go see this movie. It helps to be in on the joke that this is pure camp, even if it does scare you out of your seats a few times–don’t take this film too seriously. But there is actually a quality message the film provides too if you pay close enough attention, and it’s more than just “stay away from gypsies”. That should be pretty obvious to everyone in the world.

But you may not want to buy anything to eat before or…even after.

My rating: :-)

Slasher Classics: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

September 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Video

By 1981, slasher flick fever had definitely overtaken the American box office. There were a slew of horror flicks about guys in masks, killers at camps, and even Christmas time wasn’t safe anymore. But what about what was going on in Canada? Things okay up there? Well, not in the town of Valentine Bluffs. Even with free health care, relatively decent cost of living, and plenty of hockey, there were problems with the increase in crime rate. Of course, don’t tell Michael Moore that. This story will make him choke on “Bowling for Columbine”!

This little classic took us away from the sleepy summer camps, and the noisy streets of the city, and even the suburbs. We go right into a mining town in this one. It’s a nice departure, and almost made me think if Michael Cimino would have had a little more of a dark sinister edge to him, maybe this would have been a direct rip off of “The Deer Hunter”. After all, wouldn’t it have been a great horror story? Vietnam vet comes home and instead of trying to hunt deer (which he can’t anymore) he hunts humans? It makes sense! Wow, what a missed opportunity. Think of what “The Deer Hunter” could have been!

Anyway, so yes, we have this little town that is your average, blue collar town and we focus on a group of fun loving miners who are all geared up for the upcoming Valentine dance on Saturday night, the 14th. Remember, this is Canada. But, who knows how many mining towns had their own little Valentine dances here in the great U.S. of A.? There is a snag in the little arrangement, however. You see, twenty years ago, a mining disaster cost the lives of four miners while the two supervisors went to the boss Valentine dance, left them right before the mine collapsed around them. The four men died, but there was a fifth man. Harry Warden was found alive, and angry. He exacts revenge on the two supervisors, decked out in his mining outfit (Slasher Horror Movie Rule #1: The killer must be in uniform!), and he’s committed to an institution. But they say…every year he comes back, and if there’s a Valentine’s dance scheduled, death awaits!

Now, is it just me or is this a subtle way of keeping kids away from dances? Maybe this is how Canada handles their low crime rates. They make slasher movies about things they don’t want their kids doing. I wonder if they’ve made a movie about hunting down hockey players who sign with southern states in America?

So, the way this killer “warns” you he is going to attack, is he sends out valentines with bloody hearts in it.

Lunch is served!

Lunch is served!

The mayor is scared to death of Warden ruining the dance and killing everybody, and after the brutal murder of the Party Committee Leader, Mabel, he cancels the dance.

But, these young horny miners and their girlfriends ask, WHAT ABOOT THE PARTY? They don’t care about heeding the warnings about Harry Warden. They want to get down, listen to really bad Canadian rock music, and drink Moosehead all the way into the wee hours of 11:00pm! That’s how they do, ay?

So, unfortunately for the mayor, and the dumb kids, Harry Warden is going to be making an appearance. He Choo-Choo-Chooses them as his next victims!

While the kids try to get him to Bee Friends with him, he won’t have any of it. The kids are picked off one by one, and the climax takes place in the mine, where of course some of the kids wanted to go to take a ride down the mine shaft. Haven’t you always wanted to do that?

Good thing we got free health care, ay?

Good thing we got free health care, ay?

The film does a great job setting up the killing scenes for the most part. There is always the false-scare once or twice, and the lighting is dark enough to give you the creeps, but not blot out what you need to see. There’s enough blood and gore to keep you sickos who enjoy that kind of thing satisfied (myself included), and the characters, while stupid and Canadian, are pretty fun and colorful. You have the regular assortment of the assclown who snorts beer to get attention, the fat guy with the mustache (pictured above), and you have two men vying for the heart of one girl. Now this is the one side of the story that at times gets so melodramatic, you’d think you were watching a Norman Mailer movie and/or a daytime soap, but it doesn’t crowd the movie too much. And the twist at the end is a very sweet and predictable pay off that makes very little sense, but is just as satisfying as watching the Canadiens beat up on the Maple Leafs. Or vice versa, depending on where you stand with that rivalry.

In any event, this is probably the best Canadian horror film ever made–but then, it’s going up against movies like “The Final Sacrifice”, so I don’t know if that’s a shot or a compliment. But either way, it’s good fun, and it’s classic.

Probably the guy who wrote this movie.

Probably the guy who wrote this movie.

So I recommend sitting back, cracking open a Moosehead or LaBatt’s, put on your netted trucker foam hat, and watch a bunch of Canadian teenagers get killed, ay?

I mean that’s what it’s all aboot, right? Sorry that was a typo.