Friday, October 08, 2010

Horror Thoughts 2010: Week 1

The House of the Devil (2009) ***½
Director/Writer: Ti West
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace

From its opening shot to the first notes of the score to the opening credit sequence to the final perfect closing moments of the film, “The House of the Devil” is like a classic late seventies/early eighties horror flick.  Yet even in those times it was unlikely to find a horror film that takes so much care and time in establishing its unease and developing its scares. Some might have trouble with the movie’s slow pace, but it’s all carefully calculated to get the audience to the proper point of paranoia before it proves the rule that just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not after you. Tom Noonan is the perfect actor to make the film’s heroine (and audience for that matter) uneasy while being perfectly polite and cordial. I would recommend this movie to any horror enthusiast. This was one of the best kick off’s to Horrorfest yet.

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2009) ****
Director: Julian Jarrold
Writers: Tony Grisoni, David Peace (novel)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall, Anthony Flanagan, Sean Bean, Cathryn Bradshaw, Eddie Marsan, John Henshaw, Robert Sheehan, David Morrissey

Horror in journalism. “Red Riding” is one of those Horrorfest entries that isn’t really a horror franchise, yet it fits right into the proceedings. The first installment feels a lot like David Fincher’s “Zodiac” in they way it depicts a journalist getting sucked into the world of the crimes he’s investigating. What starts out as an investigation of a possible serial killer, turns into a discovery of crime and corruption in the political and law enforcement regimes for the incredibly depressed looking area of West Yorkshire in Northern England. Even though the investigation turns toward local politics, it never looses that atmosphere of gloom and terror that comes with the search for the serial killer. This is great filmmaking.

Troll 2 (1989) ½*
Director: Drake Floyd
Writers: Rossella Drudi, Drake Floyd
Starring: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland, Robert Ormsby, Deborah Reed

I don’t know about “worst movie ever”, but it’s pretty damn bad. I’ll admit, I’ve seen worse, but I can really only think of one. I suppose one redeeming quality is that some might find it worth seeing just to see how bad it is. But I can’t imagine many would find it worthwhile. The acting is terrible. The effects are awful. And the story is just plain stupid. Yet, there is a smidgeon of entertainment to be gleaned from all that, if you must.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958) *½
Director/Writer: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Staring: Gregory Walcott, Tom Keene, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Dudley Manlove, Bela Lugosi, John Brekinridge, Joanna Lee, Tor Johnson, Vampira

Truth be told, this movie is just as poorly made as “Troll 2”, but it’s somehow better. It’s still a terrible movie, but there’s a little charm to go along with its awfulness. At least it actually has a creepy soundtrack. While “Troll 2” is just incompetent, the works of Ed Wood are adorably incompetent. As his opus grande, “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is adorably incompetent on an epic scale. Its scope is grand in that it proposes an alien threat to the entire world and yet most of the action takes place between just a few characters in a graveyard. The aliens are just as devoid of deep thought as the humans they scoff at, and it all gives you the impression that the rest of the world couldn’t give a damn what happens in that graveyard.

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980 (2009) ***
Director: James Marsh
Writers: Tony Grisoni, David Peace (novel)
Starring: Paddy Considine, Maxine Peake, Tony Pitts, Sean Harris, Tony Mooney, David Morrissey, Warren Clarke, Peter Mullan, Robert Sheehan

In this second installment of the “Red Riding” franchise, the series turns its focus once again to a serial killer investigation in West Yorkshire but finds its hero once again mired in police corruption. This time, Paddy Considine is a Manchester detective brought in to bring a “fresh perspective” to a long running killing spree only to discover that one of the murders is a copycat killing. Following truth based lines of investigation isn’t a healthy thing to do in West Yorkshire, as the reporter in the first film discovered. There is a slight sense that this film acts as a bridge between the first and third installments, but I like that it involves a different set of crimes and contains its own individual story. The story is the least original of the three, as the police corruption plot is not something that hasn’t been explored just as well in other films, but this one retains the same moody atmosphere of the first film and also employs an incredible cast of British faces you’ll recognize whether you know their names or not.

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983 (2009) ***½
Director: Anand Tucker
Writers: Tony Grisoni, David Peace (novel)
Starring: David Morrisey, Mark Addy, Robert Sheehan, Daniel Mays, Shaun Dooley, Jim Carter, Warren Clarke, Peter Mullan, Michelle Dockery, Lisa Howard, Sean Bean

1983 ties everything together, pulling in elements from both the 1974 and 1980 stories, in yet another film that could stand on its own without a problem. Its plot is more heavily connected with the first film, but unfolds in a way that would allow someone who hadn’t seen that film to understand this one. I was happy to see David Morrisey’s character finally step into the spotlight, since in the previous films he seemed to be a major shadow player who knew much more than he let on. I also liked the parallel story line with Mark Addy’s solicitor character. It’s a good reminder of what a great underrated performer he is. While the revelation of who has been behind the killings might seem a little typical to some, it’s the only person who makes any sense, since most of the other major players are dead. Plus, you realize in the end that he’s been dangling his identity in front of the authorities the entire time. He wanted to be caught, but the police were too concerned with their own insidious dealings to even dare pursue him. Why doesn’t American television invest in programming this good?

Frozen (2010) ½*
Director/Writer: Adam Green
Starring: Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers

Wow! I thought I’d already watched the worst movies I would see this Horrorfest. Little did I know that this indie that was actually a hit on the festival circuit would be so ridiculous. That’s not to say I shouldn’t have known, since its premise is so absurd, at least for a feature length film. Three snowboarder/skiers get left on a chairlift over several days after being forgotten by the lift attendant. I get the impression that this whole thing was thought up by some casual weekend skier who was stuck on a chairlift for a few minutes wondering, “Oh my God, What if they forgot us up here?”  This filmmaker obviously didn’t do any research about how ski resorts or lift operation work. There are really some very simple procedures that make such an incident impossible. By the time one of the characters jumps from the lift and breaks both his legs in the fall, the movie has gotten so preposterous that it would work better as an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” than it does as a horror thriller. I wonder if that resort advertizes it’s ravenous pack of wolves that frequents its slopes to dine on injured alpine recreationists?

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