I had wanted to watch this a while back, but for one reason or another never got around to it. Horror movies of late it seems have a funny effect on me. I have grown up loving the genre but the more recent obsession with supernatural subjects has never been to my liking – what can I say, ghost stuff scares me. That being said it has been a while since one has had such an effect, and the last was probably Insidious. Funnily enough by the same director as this supposedly based on true events movie.
James Wan has made a bit of a name for himself; a relatively young director who has gained quite a reputation, starting out with the Saw movies and then the aforementioned Insidious (and it’s sequel) and now this. A family move into an old farm house in the early 70s, a man and woman and their four daughters. However its not long before they realise they are not alone and strange stuff starts to occur. Step in demonologists Lorraine & Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who specialising in investigating the paranormal – and boy, have the family got a very unpleasant spirit for them. Wan knows how to direct a horror movie, no doubt. This is filled with tension, solid performances (with a stand out Lili Taylor) and slow burning atmosphere complete with quality camera work and a creepy setting. I’m easily put on edge by movies like this, but this drew me into the characters and story, building up to the scares with genuine style and class. We get an eerie sleep-walking girl, stuff going on in mirrors, glimpses of ghosts and a decidedly unsettling backstory. As a subplot, we are also introduced to the possessed doll ‘Annabelle’ and the freaky looking thing gets to play it’s part … even if it seems under-utilised.
The movie is not without it’s clichés and there are riffs on The Ring, The Exorcist and Amityville – but the influences here are worn with pride and when the scares come – oh boy. This was one of the most frightening horror movies I have seen in quite some time – it goes for the jugular where many recent horrors have chosen to play it safe (The Babadook). A movie best watched with the lights down and the sound cranked up – as long as you don’t mind a sleepless night afterwards.
David Cronenberg has easily cemented himself as one of the most challenging and daring directors to have ever gained mainstream popularity. Perhaps still most famous for the Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly, this Canadian born visionary film maker has for me, made some of the most powerfully bold and disturbing interpretations of horror I have seen. This 1982 effort saw him break out from obscure fair like The Brood and Shivers and finally deliver his own distinct voice.
Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry (of Blondie) this follows the story of Max Ren, a sleazy cable TV executive on the look out for new material for his network. One day he stumbles upon Videodrome, a broadcast that appears to be purely torture and violence – the exact kind of material he thinks his viewers will want. Only thing is, Videodrome comes with a deadly signal that causes horrific and freakish hallucinations in anyone who watches it.
Despite a meagre budget and fairly basic production values, Cronenberg lavishes the whole movie in a visual style that presents television as a strange new villain in a way that the internet could be perceived the same today. This movie was ahead of it’s time in it’s themes of living through another medium, and even one character refers to us all having different names that we’ll one day take on, sort of like avatars in a chat room. It’s very cleverly observed. Cronenberg tried to lesser extent to bring such ideas into the modern age in his sort-of sequel Existenz which explored videogames instead of television, but it’s here that his concept is at it’s boldest. Deborah Harry is provocative, sexy and daring, not afraid to shed some clothing and portray herself as a self-harming adrenalin junkie, and Woods is perfect as the guy who takes a bite out of the forbidden fruit. Acting isn’t exactly stellar though and supporting cast are amateurish at best. It also get’s a little lost in it’s own hallucinatory world towards the end. But with still impressive make-up work from An American Werewolf In London’s Rick Baker (bar the dodgy gun-hand-thing) and some creative gore along with a few ingenious effects (the breathing TV) – this still had the power to shock and creep this viewer out, even all these year’s later.
This Arrow Video release comes in a limited edition collector’s packaging that has a detailed hardback book exploring the film and Cronenberg’s career with fresh interviews and archival text. The movie has always been in great shape and the same can be said here in a very vivid and clear image with equally crisp sound even if it’s only in mono. Arrow, swiftly becoming my go-to company for great treatment of genre classics, has once again pulled no punches with this release and the extras are simply exhaustive. A commentary by critic Tim Lucas, a number of detailed featurettes and documentaries, behind the scenes footage, a deleted scene and in this limited edition set a few of the director’s early short films. In a word: impressive.
The vampire myth has been explored in a myriad of ways throughout cinema’s history, from Max Shrek’s Nosferatu and Christopher Lee’s Dracula to The Lost Boys and Twilight. So we come to this critically acclaimed Iranian offering.
Shot in noir-ish black & white, this follows day to day goings on in Bad City where a young James Dean-like guy (Arash Marandi) lives with his drug-addicted father who owes a hefty debt to the local drug dealer. At the same time a young woman (Sheela Vand) prowls the streets at night in search of her next feeding … because she happens to be a vampire. These two lonely people seem destined to cross paths in what soon turns into a rather unconventional love story.
This has had a lot of good word of mouth, and on a purely aesthetic level impresses. The black & white photography is lush, very artistic and atmospheric, whilst the soundtrack mixes jazz, opera and contemporary music effectively to convey emotion in a movie that only uses dialogue sparingly. This is very moody stuff and the vampire girl is instantly iconic with her cloaked persona reminding me of Kaonashi (no face) in Spirited Away. Yet these characters are not really explored. We learn next to nothing about any of them and therefore its hard to care all that much. Creative photography, lighting and mood can make up for a lot, and this does so in spades, but a lack of depth to anything going on meant I came away knowing as much as I did going in. There are some stand out moments, including the vampire girl’s first kill and a decidedly effective ear-piercing scene, but overall this was largely (wonderful) style over substance.
I’d say there is a lot of potential here from debut director Ana Lily Amirpour who certainly knows how to frame a shot and create an effective mood, so I’ll keep my eye out for whatever she does next.
Another recent horror that had gained praise from critics and seemed like something different amongst the slew of remakes and paranormal activity sequels. This tells the story of Jay, a nineteen year old student who goes on a date with a local guy she’s been seeing. Only thing is after they have sex he reveals he has passed a curse onto her of some relentless ‘being’ that has been following him. It’s now going to be following her, and she should not let it touch her and try and pass the curse on herself as soon as she can.
This is a cool idea for a horror movie. It involves the viewer like I haven’t seen in a long time as I found myself watching every part of the screen for someone lurking and following our main character. Also the frights are mostly well done with only a few being a bit predictable, and there isn’t an over-reliance on jump-scares. Maika Monroe who was very good in The Guest once again proves herself an actress to watch. Helps she’s pretty hot too (don’t judge me!). Supporting cast, which apart from one guy don’t get a lot to do, still felt like real people. It’s also obvious the whole idea is a not-so subtle metaphor of the dangers of teenage promiscuity (the ‘It’ being perhaps similar to an STD). The movie also pays welcome homage to late seventies / early eighties horror movies like Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street with both it’s camera work and it’s intentionally old-school score.
That’s not to say it’s without fault. Sometimes the actions of the main character are bizarre to say the least (sleeping on a car bonnet?) and at times the story gets awfully vague, leaving some puzzling moments to your imagination (the guys on the boat). That being said, this still delivered a genuinely unsettling atmosphere and some effective scares … making for a quality evening’s viewing.
I wanted to watch this critically acclaimed Australian horror for a while, but could I find it to rent? No. So I decided it might be worth buying, and hoped it lived up to the reviews. Amelia, a single mother bringing up a boisterous young boy Samuel, still mourns the death of her husband and the boy’s father seven year’s previous. One day during a bedtime reading session, the boy takes a mysterious book from his bedroom shelf, which Amelia has never seen before, and subsequently starts to read it. However the creepy fairy-tale soon sends shivers down her spine and she decides not to finish it. But her son has other ideas and get’s obsessed with the character of The Babadook. Is it real, or just in his imagination?
This effective, slow-burning movie was rich in atmosphere and aided well by some clever camera work and subtle visual effects that helped build plenty of tension. I quickly got the impression that Amelia might be having a nervous breakdown, and the stresses of Samuel’s behaviour, that became increasingly difficult to control only added to her problems. It’s a movie that can be read on two levels, that of a possessed book and a demonic spirit, or that of a woman cracking up and losing her mind. Director Jennifer Kent doesn’t make either viewpoint definite and there’s a lot of clues and suggestions that could have various interpretations … but I’d personally steer towards the latter. For a horror movie however this plays things overly safe, get’s quite creepy at times (The Babadook resembles various childhood ghouls) but nothing to keep you awake at night (or spill your popcorn). The young actor playing the little boy drifts between intentionally annoying to quite likeable, yet Essie Davis as Amelia turns in a very powerful and layered performance that certainly made this movie for me.
It’s overall impact was lessened due to the lack of true horror (despite potential), yet with intelligent direction and a strong lead performance … I still got a lot out of this.