Friday, October 30, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—Dracula Untold (2014) ***

PG-13, 94 min.
Director: Gary Shore
Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Bram Stoker (characters)
Starring: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Diarmaid Murtagh, Paul Kaye, William Houston, Noah Huntley

“I’m so sick of origin stories.” That seems to be becoming a mantra from filmgoers in this age of the comic book movie where origin stories are everything. I’ve never been much of a mind to think that way. A story is a story, origin or otherwise. What people are sick of is the same superhero origin story over and over again. How many times have we seen the origin stories of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man? Now, Dracula… that’s one we haven’t seen before.

Of course, one of my big problems with so many of today’s vampire stories is that the storytellers have forgotten what the vampire mythology is all about. All too often vampires are turned into superheroes, which is just wrong. Unfortunately, this is just that type of vampire movie. It lacks all the classic themes of the vampire mythos. Considering that those tropes seem all but forgotten today, I’m willing to give into the fact that this is going to be a vampire superhero origin story. Once you give yourself up to that fact, it’s not such a bad movie. It ain’t scary, but it’s enjoyable.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—Manhunter (1986) ****

R, 124 min. (director's cut)
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Michael Mann, Thomas Harris (novel “Red Dragon”)
Starring: William Petersen, Denis Farina, Tom Noonan, Kim Griest, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Stephen Lang, David Seaman, Benjamin Hendrickson

So, the best show to get canceled from television this year was “Hannibal”, which remarkably made it through three very dark and twisted seasons. Of all things Hannibal Lecter related, it is by far my favorite. But, Lecter has certainly made an impression before. In celebration of those three wonderful seasons, I decided to watch all five of the Hannibal franchise films for Horrorfest.

The police procedural aspect of most of these films generally places them outside of the horror genre in my mind, yet Hannibal Lecter is one of the greatest movie monsters ever created. So I wanted to look at them from a horror mindset. Certainly the television show is rooted solidly in horror, yet its creator, Bryan Fuller, intended to keep references to the novel storylines throughout the series. So, how much of that horror do the movie versions of these stories contain?

“Manhunter”, the first adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel “Red Dragon” and first movie appearance of Hannibal Lector, retains the least amount of horror movie aspects of the bunch. Directed by Michael Mann in full 80’s gear, it retains the crisp “Miami Vice” feel to his imagery. Note that in this vision, the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane is depicted with entirely white walls and features. No colors of any kind. This is, of course, how Mann envisions the clinical, completely sanitized. It is 180 degrees removed from the grimy, dungeon-like depictions of the institution in “The Silence of the Lambs” and the later adaptation of the same story.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crimson Peak / **½ (R)

Edith Cushing: Mia Wasikowska
Thomas Sharpe: Tom Hiddleston
Lucille Sharpe: Jessica Chastain
Dr. Alan McMichael: Charlie Hunnam
Carter Cushing: Jim Beaver

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Guillermo del Toro. Written by del Toro & Matthew Robbins. Running time: 119 min. Rated R (for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language).

After “Pacific Rim”, which played as a minor improvement over a “Transformers” movie, I couldn’t wait for director/writer Guillermo del Toro to return to his horror fantasy roots with “Crimson Peak”, a gothic horror romance that has del Toro reminiscing about horror traditions of the past. Del Toro has a grand palette, especially in horror environments, making “Crimson Peak” a film that plays to his strengths as a director. The beautiful images are there, in a script that feels a little stilted, making this one a disappointment on some levels, but exactly what it should be on others.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—House (1977) ***½

NR, 88 min.
Director: Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Writers: Chiho Katsura, Chigumi Ôbayashi (original story)
Starring: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Satô, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasazawa, Asei Kobayashi

Have you ever seen one of those Japanese variety shows where you are wondering just what the heck is going on? Well, the 1977 cult horror film “House” comes from the same mindset. In it you will witness a floating head attack a friend, a piano eat its player, a girl who loves to clean killed by linens, a man turn into a pile of bananas, a woman taking a bath attacked by hair, an old woman who likes to hang out in the broken refrigerator, and a skeleton dancing in the background of many scenes without any explanation. But, even that list of absurdities fails to do the movie justice. It is one that must be witnessed to be believed.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—It Follows (2015) ****

R, 100 min.
Director/Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Kier Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary

It’s always a bit of a cheat for a critic to come to a movie after both sides have had their chance at it. As is often the case with underground hits, after an initial wave of incredible praise for the project comes an almost equal wave of disparagement against it. With the indie horror flick “It Follows”, initial reviews hailed it as the most original work of horror in the past ten years or so. It has since been reduced to “meh” is many circles. The most public of the charges against it came from director Quentin Tarantino, who praised its originality, but accused writer/director David Robert Mitchell of breaking his own mythology. Perhaps the greatest praise I can give the movie is that while I watched it, all of these opinions from others dropped from my mind and I was immersed into a narrative that I never could have foreseen.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—Horns (2013) **

R, 120 min.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Keith Bunin, Joe Hill (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, David Morse

So, I seem to have gone for a Stephen King related start to my Horrorfest ’15. For those of you who aren’t aware Joe Hill, the author of the novel “Horns” upon which this movie is based, is the son of King. His writing is very similar to King’s. From what I’ve read of his, he might be even better than his father. I have not read “Horns”, however, so I came into this movie fresh. I’m a little shocked at how similarly this story is structured to some of his father’s work. It definitely shares some character structure with the stories of King’s “It” and “Dreamcatcher”. It also may share King’s curse of having horror maestros mishandle the material.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Horror Thoughts ‘15—Maximum Overdrive (1986) *

R, 97 min.
Director/Writer: Stephen King (also short story “Trucks”)
Starring: Emilio Esteves, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Yeardley Smith, John Short, Ellen McElduff, J.C. Quinn, Christopher Murney, Holter Graham, Frankie Faison, Pat Miller, Jack Canon, Barry Bell, John Brasington, J. Don Ferguson, Leon Rippy, Bob Gooden, Giancarlo Esposito, Stephen King

It is well past time I began posting for this year’s Horrorfest, which I began over two weeks ago and already includes five titles (posts for each coming soon?). Anyway, I started this year’s Horrorfest off with a fizzle, for a change. I usually try to kick off each Horrorfest with one of the year’s better horror flicks. This year I said, “Screw that!” I literally did. I said, “Screw that. I’m going to kick this year’s festivities with a piece of crap.” And, there are few horror flicks that are as big a piece of crap as Stephen King’s directorial debut—and luckily only feature length directorial effort—“Maximum Overdrive”.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Everest / *** (PG-13)

Rob Hall: Jason Clarke
Beck Weathers: Josh Brolin
Scott Fischer: Jake Gyllenhaal
Jon Krakauer: Michael Kelly
Doug Hansen: John Hawkes
Helen Wilton: Emily Watson
Jan Arnold: Keira Knightley
Guy Cotter: Sam Worthington
Peach Weathers: Robin Wright
Caroline Mackenzie: Elizabeth Debicki
Andy ‘Harold’ Harris: Martin Henderson
Michael Groom: Thomas M. Wright
Yasuko Namba: Naoko Mori

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy. Running time: 121 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense peril and disturbing images).

There is a scene in the new mountaineering movie “Everest” when journalist Jon Krakauer asks two amateur climbers who have hired a guide to take them to the summit of Mt. Everest why they feel the need to climb such a mountain, one that has taken the lives of many professional climbers. They struggle to articulate their need to pursue a goal that they admit is filled mostly with pain. I might also struggle to articulate my own fascination with mountain climbing disaster pictures. I suppose watching an expedition/adventure that is bound to go bad is connected to our inability to turn away when witnessing the aftermath of a car accident. Our human need to empathize and understand what went wrong overrides any need we might have to keep a rosy outlook on the world. We need to examine adversity and tragedy as a mechanism to develop our own ability to deal with the inevitable reality of it in our own lives.