Words, words, words, art.

The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

31 Days of Horror: “John Dies at the End”

October17

“John Dies at the End” is a streamlined, condensed version of the popular novel of the same name.

The novel “John Dies at the End” was originally a web serial published in 2001. Thomas Dunne Books published it as a hardcover with additional materials in 2009. It’s a convoluted, complicated novel with a lot of characters and events going on. It’s an incredibly offensive book, a harmful book, liberally studded with racism, sexism, homophobia, and ablism like preserved fruits in a holiday cake. Its sequel, “This Book is Full Of Spiders,” has less harmful content, although it’s still present (and frankly the entire book exists to set up a massive dick joke). It’s an interesting book, if one can get past the nauseating, casual hate, and I enjoyed the story about two losers who fuck up their lives and manage to save the world kind of sort of. I was looking forward to the movie, but wasn’t able to see it in the theater.

At a little over 90 minutes, “John Dies at the End” is a condensed, simplified version of the story. Several characters were combined and Amy Sullivan’s story arc is severely truncated (although she also has more of a presence, earlier). What works in a novel won’t necessarily work in a movie, and the script absolutely plays to a movie’s strengths without adhering too closely to the novel. While the movie leaves out the brilliant use of music to annoy a ghost/demon, it does a fantastic job portraying the turkey-headed meat monster that menaces the main characters. Bafflingly, the female Irish Setter “Molly” is changed into a male Shiba Inu (?? or some other breed??) named Bark Lee.

The acting in the movie is excellent. Most of it is extremely understated and low key, a sense of resignation underpinning everything. The high points of terror and hysteria are more of a contrast, deliver more of a punch. David and John are fairly boring loser slackers who fumble their way through life, often drunk, who are thrust into extraordinary situations and circumstances which they mostly fuck up in very human ways. In both novel and movie, the world is saved not by them, but by a dog.

If you’re a fan of dark comedy and horror (two great tastes that etc), absolutely give this movie a shot. It made me want to re-read the book, which has a lot more going on. Be warned that when Korrock appears, he launches into a bit of a diatribe about “big Black cocks,” a remnant of the racism and homophobia from the novel. There’s a few other penis-related gags in the movie that stick out oddly as well, but again, trace their origin to the book. I enjoyed the book this movie is based on, so I was primed to enjoy the movie as well. But I think I would have liked it even without being a fan of the book.

I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars.

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31 Days of Horror: “Lake Dead”

October16

“Lake Dead” is a very bad movie, unless you are a fan of rape.

Did you watch soap operas in the 80s? I grew up in a very small town, and our neighborhood was in a valley near electric transformers. We didn’t have cable or satellite, and we only got a handful of channels on our ancient Zenith television. When I was in high school, I babysat for a family across the street who had cable. That’s when I realized Kes of “Star Trek: Voyager” had ear prosthetics to indicate she was an alien. Our reception was so static-y I’d just assumed her ears were normal ears. When your television options are limited and you aren’t allowed outside because your mom needs to be able to reach you by phone at a moment’s notice, you wind up watching a lot of shit tv. I watched “The Monkees” even though I hated it, and I watched soap operas. There is a special kind of ~ACTING~ common to soaps of the 1980s. I don’t know if this is still true… I have a deluxe cable package and a DVR and mostly watch super nerdy documentaries about THE CELTS and shit. Are there ancient dead bodies? I am on that like white on rice. But for soap operas of my childhood there was a certain signature acting style.

I was surprised and perplexed to see it show up in “Lake Dead.”

The movie kicks off with an old white man yelling at an old white woman about things (a ritual?) were gross and wrong and he was going to end it. The woman yells back that it’s “all we know.” He storms out, drives off, is stopped by a cop car. He gets out and taunts the cop, who has a sheriff badge, and is shot int he head and killed. The yelling, the emoting, the scenery chewing… I was on the edge of my seat waiting for evil twins and surprise babies or something. I was also intrigued by the mention of a ritual. I started getting really interested in the movie. SPOILER: the ritual is never mentioned again, even though I wrote it down twice in my notes. This movie would have been a lot better with a ritual. Was that a red herring? Did they forget about the ritual element? Did I mishear? Any of these are possible. Well, the first one isn’t probable… the movie isn’t smart enough for that, and assumes the audience is stupid or stoned, over-explaining certain plot elements while completely eliding various character details.

After the old man’s murder there’s some extremely boring credits: white words in generic font on a black background, no image or art.

The acting is over all extremely wooden and stiff, expressionless. Within a few minutes, I learned the name and occupation of The Hot Boyfriend, but at the end of the movie I still didn’t know the occupations (or interests, etc) of two of the main (female) characters.

These characters are:

  • Brielle: a hot blonde inheritor of the lake property, grand daughter of the old dude who was killed
  • Kelli: a hot blonde inheritor of the lake property, etc, a barista
  • Sam: a hot brunette inheritor of the lake property, adopted, brings strange dudes home and lets them sleep in her bed while she sleeps on the couch, drinks wine directly out of the bottle, owes Brielle $5k
  • Ben: a hot fairly buff dude who’s a construction worker, Brielle’s (live in?) boyfriend
  • Bill: chubby, hairy, unkempt friend of Ben’s; college athlete; Amy’s boyfriend; drinks early in the morning; serial cheater
  • Amy: hot brunette friend of Brielle’s; put-upon girlfriend of cheating schlub Bill; loves to tan; accused of being jealous of her constantly betraying boyfriend
  • Tonya: hot brunette friend of Kelli’s, asked to round out the numbers; likes having sex in the woods with hairy drunkards who cheat on their girlfriends; doesn’t go tanning

“Lake Dead” is very obviously a dude movie for dudes. Sam walks around in sexy underpants and a tight t-shirt to answer the door, which… look. Women, generally speaking, do not wear their underpants in public. They do not answer the door in their lacy lingerie. Do you know why? Because when a woman is sexually assaulted or raped one of the very first questions asked is “what were you wearing.” I’m not saying that a woman answering the door in sexy underpants is inviting rape. I’m saying that women are incredibly aware of the onus wrongly placed on them to prevent men raping them, and wandering around in public in your scanties is not a safe thing to do. And women’s underwear? Is pretty uncomfortable. The nicer looking/sexier/fancier it is, the less comfortable it is. Women, in general, do not lounge about in lingerie with their thighs crossed just so for the flattering angle. When you have a super hot chick and a dumpy dude fucking in the woods it is fundamentally WEIRD that the woman gets COMPLETELY naked for their quickie– the one his “jealous” girlfriend might interrupt at any second– while he stays fully dressed. I know, I know. you like tits! On women. You like women’s tits. And the whole point of your soft core sex moment in the film was to show off the hot actress you got and try to cover up how incredibly thin the plot is and how bad the acting is. I get it! That doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

There’s 2 softcore sex scenes in the movie. There’s 4 attempted rape scenes. 2 of them are implied; 2 of them are interrupted, but the threat is there and the terror is there and the violence and physical restraint are there. There are twice as many rape scenes as consensual sex scenes in this movie, and one of those consensual sex scenes involves a dude who knows– he KNOWS– what he’s doing will hurt his girlfriend and doesn’t care.

This movie is a movie about attacking, controlling, and raping women. That’s what this movie is about– the assault, terror, brutalizing, and rape of women as entertainment. The psychological, emotional, and physical subjugation of women… for the enjoyment of a male audience. Brielle and Kelli are meant to be imprisoned, raped, and forced to bear children to continue a “pure” bloodline… and it isn’t lost on me that the “pure” women are blondes and the “impure” women are brunettes, one of them a WoC (Filipina). Nor is it lost on me that the blonde victims primarily scream and cry and are saved by Ben and by their estranged, alcoholic, abusive father. By the end of the movie, we know more about Ben than we do about Brielle. What’s her job? Does she have one? We at least know that Ben works in construction (and hates her adopted sister Sam).

Sam’s tortured extensively by her inbred uncles, dumped in a lake in the most inefficient and likely to be discovered way possible (they drive a shaft through her ankles while she’s still alive and attach a chain from the shaft to a cinder block to weigh her down. The open wound is a breeding ground for bacteria and an invitation for fish to nibble. Her feet will detach, the shaft will drop out, and her bloating corpse will rise to the surface of the “lake,” which is the size of a retention pond. they didn’t even bother to clean the room she was attacked in, leading to a ridiculous “close call” when the hotel manager/evil incest grandma gives the key to that room to one of the other girls.) but at least she isn’t raped (that I noticed). After her romp in the woods with Bill, Tonya’s chased through those woods and terrorized. As she’s pinned to a tree by a pickaxe through the face, one of the murdertwins (they are named, I shit you not, Kane and Abel) approaches her, unzipping his pants. We don’t see the rape, but it’s implied. Ben’s murdered and his corpse is hung from a tree, there’s no rape implication. The murdertwins attack the RV the survivors flee to, and Amy splits off to run into the woods and hide. She’s chased, brutalized, and bent over a tree branch while a murdertwin rubs against her from behind. Again, it implies rape, even though he appears fully clothed… Bill was fully clothed when he fucked Tonya in the woods previously.

When Sam was murdered and dumped in the lake, I was intrigued. Was this part of the ritual? Was there some kind of Wickerman-esque sacrifice? Did the lake need familial blood? No, as it turns out, there is no ritual. Sam was murdered, like Tonya and Amy and Bill, because they weren’t family. And Gloria, the hotel manager, was Grandpa’s wife (and sister?) and they had incestuous sex with their children, who apparently were all boys. But drunken daddy dearest got the hell out of dodge and spawned two girls and adopted a third and now grandma was all set to have her surviving male children rape and impregnate them. This is spelled out in detail in the movie. After being explicitly told this, we also see a character discover newspaper clippings lying out randomly on a table, and a family tree drawn on a wall. This movie takes absolutely no chances in underestimating the intelligence of its viewers. Daddy, of course, never told his girls anything about this… not even “my family was abusive and I left them because they hurt me, and they’ll hurt you too.”

This is not a good movie. There is nothing redeeming about this movie. The plot, the acting, everything is terrible and watching it left me feeling dirty and lessened. This is the second shitpile movie I watched on IFC. I’m starting thing Syfy will have better horror movies.

I give this movie 1 star out of 5 stars.

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31 Days of Horror: “Christine”

October15

“Christine” is a movie about a killer car, and is better than I expected.

This is the fifteenth movie I’ve seen for this project and I was starting to get really burnt out. The last Stephen King movie I watched was pretty tedious, so “Christine” was a great change of pace. Christine is a car that gets shit done. A few minutes into the movie and she attacks one dude and kills another (which, come on. He dropped big chunks of cigar ash all over her brand new seats. Rude!)

It’s a fast paced confection of a movie that doesn’t involve a lot of thinking. Cowardly, socially awkward, jackass nerd Arnie sees a rusted out ruin of a car and falls in love with it. Despite his best friend’s (his only friend) counseling him otherwise, he drops a big chunk of change to buy the car. It’s drivable, just barely, and he gets it home where his parents forbid him having it on their property. So he huffily drives over to a U-Pick/Auto Wrecking Yard/DIY Garage to rent a space for it. The gruff, cranky owner hassles him a bit, then lets him park the car there. Since this was the 1970s, nerd Arnie took shop class and knows how to fix a car. His demeanor, attitude, and style of dress all change and nerdy Arnie stops wearing his glasses and blooms into the total hottie that was within him all along. Except he’s also a jerk, which… he was a jerk when he was a put-upon nerd as well, now he just dresses better and has a totally sweet ride.

The totally gross bullies who hassled him when he was a carless nerd continue hassling him and trash his beloved car. However, since it’s a magic Satan car, it’s able to heal all the body damage done to it and then Arnie and Christine set about killinating. Arnie turns more and more into a selfish jackass, and eventually his best friend and his (ex?) girlfriend team up to destroy Christine. They succeed doing so… OR DO THEY DUN DUN DUNNNNNN?

While nobody gets raped in this movie, the contempt for women is palpable. Arnie’s mother is a shrill emasculating bitch who has the sheer unmitigated GALL to get angry when her minor son uses sexual slang while playing family board games, or when he parks a pile of shit car in their front yard. She expects him to work hard at school, keep his room clean, and make college plans. God, can you BELIEVE her? The female high school students exist only to look hot and have sex with the male high school students. That is the only value they have. And, of course, once a woman has had sex she’s a gross slut and has less value. When exchange student Leigh arrives at the school, a male student describes her as looking “smart, but she’s go the body of a SLUT.” When we see her, she’s wearing a lose sweater, books held in front of her, and baggy pleated knee-length shorts. YOWZA she’s REALLY asking for it, right? Christine, the jealously murderous female-identified car, is a symptom of the rank misogyny infecting this film. And yet, for all the overt sexism, Leigh exists as a character who takes action and gets stuff done. She’s instrumental in destroying Christine.

Watching horror movies has been a really mixed bag. The super obvious and in your face bro-style misogyny of “Christine” was off putting, but it’s a solid and fast paced movie with some great scenes (including a car that is on fire, a flaming hell car, chasing a dude down a night street). I’m glad I watched it.

I give “Christine” 3 out of 5 stars.

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31 Days of Horror: “The Children”

October14

“The Children” is a movie about kids going wild and murdering people, and is boring.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that little kids are creepy. There’s a lot of reasons for that: they don’t think and reason like adults; they don’t have the same morality as adults; they are tiny and easy to over look yet are very strong; they say creepy things; they see and talk to things that aren’t there; they have a hard time separating fantasy and reality; at night their eyes look weird; most of us feel an urge to protect them even when their behavior, if from an adult, would be scary or abusive. Creepy kids are a staple of horror films, and for very good reason. Family tensions and isolated homes are also staple horror fodder. “The Children” combines these elements, gives them a stir, and falls asleep.

The movie starts with a blended family of mom, teen daughter from previous relationship, husband, and their two younger children, driving up in a crappy old car to an enormous house in the middle of nowhere. They’re visiting mom’s sister and her husband and kids. Familial tension is established right away: the sisters’ families belong to very different income levels. The car they’re driving up is a cast off from Rich Sister. Their house is not as big or as nice. Etc. As they get out of the car the youngest child, a boy, wanders into the bushes and barfs. NOTE: there is a lot of barfing in this film so if that bothers you, give this one a pass. I mean, I’d recommend giving this film a miss anyway, but the barf doesn’t help at all. Once inside the house all the kids are excited and running around and screaming. The barf boy launches himself off a counter while screaming for his mummy, and when his dad (uncle? they looked a lot alike) catches him and starts rough housing with him, the kid punches him in the nose. Rich Sister asks Poor Sister if shes seen “that article about the MMR” and talks about her plans to homeschool; there’s mention of how great it is to see one of Rich Sister’s kids up and running around again (apparently she was very ill previously?).

For quite a while, as the other kids each start barfing/coughing up blood/whatever (and not telling anyone), their rowdiness and noise and roughness can be dismissed as kids being kids. Even the first death could easily be written off as an accident. The parents, however, are quick to yell angrily, to put their hands on the kids. The kids are frequently expected to parent the other kids while the parents sit back and drink… both Casey (teenager) and Leah (I think that’s her name?) (pre-teen) are expected to care for the other kids. Leah’s mom tells her that since she’s the oldest she has to act as mummy while mummy gets ready for the party… which consists of family who are already at the house. Both sets of parents think the other pair is stupid and bad at parenting, failing at life. (Both sets of parents, I’d argue, are correct.) The teen girl, Casey, has an incredibly poor quality tattoo on her stomach of a fetus… either because her parents attempted to abort her but she survived, or because they forced her to have an abortion. Her step-father is unrelentingly hostile toward her and her uncle gives her both whisky and pot at different times. The movie would have been a lot stronger if it had decisively selected her as a protagonist and swung behind her, putting focus on her. But it HAS no focus for most of the movie, a bunch of stuff just happening, the characters barely fleshed out except in the broadest strokes. We’re meant to see the murderous children as antagonists but frankly I was rooting for them.

“Child’s Play” managed to make me care about Karen, Andy, and Aunt Maggie in just a few minutes. They were very real characters who cared about each other and had lives and concerns and interests, and it was easy to get invested in them. The kids in “the Children” are a baffling smear of noise and action. They don’t have distinct personalities. Their parents are interchangeable stock asshole characters. One wants to home school her kids. One sells Chinese Medicine. They smack their kids, ignore them, trot them out to lisp out poorly pronounced Chinese phrases. I don’t care about anyone in this ovie, including Teen Casey who is essentially Misunderstood Goth-lite Teen Angster # 305. Forced to attend an unwanted, boring family gathering, she finds herself in the position of having to kill the whiny, loud, ill-behaved young children– a common teen fantasy.

They call the cops, of course, who don’t show up even after several hours and several phone calls. The radio plays only static. The woods are full of vomiting children. Is this how the world ends? If it’s full of people like this, maybe it’s time.

I will never get this time back.

I give this movie 1 star out of 5.

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31 Days of Horror: “Child’s Play”

October13

“Child’s Play” is a surprisingly good movie.

“What are you recording,” Nesko asked me as the DVR whirred.

“Child’s Play,” I responded.

“Ugh, why?” he asked.

His response, combined with my nodding acquaintance with the ridiculous sequels, left with me low expectations as I started the movie. I’d never seen “Child’s Play,” just as I haven’t seen most movies that everyone else has. I really wasn’t expecting much, and the opening met every expectation.

And then the movie surpassed expectations.

“Child’s Play” very deftly mixes the creepiness of dolls with the creepiness of little kids, and works in large part because Andy (the kid) is a pretty well realized character with understandable motivations. His mom is well fleshed out, their world is recognizable as a real world. Chucky, the doll, is a great blend of animatronics, puppeteering, and long-distance shot of a Little Person.

The action in the movie starts fast, and the characters of “Aunt” Maggie (Karen’s best friend and co-worker), widowed mom Karen, and small child Andy are quickly established and fleshed out. Karen and Andy have sweet moments of interaction, we feel the stress they are under, but the moments aren’t saccharine or maudlin. And then the creepy doll murdering kicks into gear. Andy insists Chucky is talking to him and all the adults think he’s lying or imagining it at first… or is crazy. Mom is upset and then she realizes Chucky has no batteries. So how can be be talking? She demands answers from the limp, lifeless toy… and it squirms to life and starts yelling at her and bites her. The battery discovery is chilling, the confrontation tense, and the attack downright scary. Karen tries to tell the Detective what’s up but he doesn’t believe her until Chucky attacks him in his car.

Responses to the living doll felt very realistic. “No, officer, my child’s not crazy, the doll’s alive!” “lolwut.” Karen tries to warn people, knowing she sounds dangerously insane. People don’t believe her because dolls don’t really come to life. There’s lovely tension between what we the audience know and have seen and the realistic ways the characters act. The way the doll is brought to life by the animatronics and puppeteers is smooth and beautifully done, it holds up very well as a practical special effect. In fact, the charred doll advancing inexorably down the hall as bits of it are shot off? That’s an image that’ll stay with me.

There’s downsides to the movie, of course. Chucky was able to send his soul into the doll because he managed to get a Houngan to teach him Voodoo, which is something that Voodoo practitioners LOVE sharing with white people and is very likely to happen. His teacher exists pretty much only to teach him the magic that lets the movie take place, and to tell Karen and the Detective how to reverse the magic before he dramatically dies. Karen also is almost raped by a homeless trashpicker because, again, it wouldn’t be a horror movie without a woman being threatened with rape. But other than that, it’s a solid movie that’s held up well and I was surprised (pleasantly!) by how much I enjoyed it.

I give this movie 4 stars out of 5.

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31 Days of Horror: Apartment 1303

October12

“Apartment 1303” is a remake of a Japanese movie, set in Detroit, about very sad white people.

The movie opens with a young white woman (Janet) walking down a city street enthusing over the phone about the super great awesome apartment she just rented. The young white woman she’s speaking to (Lara) scolds her for taking the very first apartment she sees. Janet is undeterred, and apparently using Lara’s money for the deposit, even though she’s got a full time job that pays her money. Janet, without enough money of her own to pay her own deposit + first month’s rent, hires a moving company to pack and move her stuff for her. She hauls her own little wheeled suitcase into her building, which is covered in graffiti and has abandoned, trashed furniture littering the lobby. What a GREAT apartment! Janet, you make the BEST life choices. Did you actually visit the apartment building, or just hear about what it looked like from the leasing agent? Do decrepit buildings filled with abandoned furniture and graffiti usually HAVE leasing agents? She sees a white girl in a school-type uniform in the lobby as she’s taking the elevator up to the 13th floor (her floor). As she gets off the elevator she sees the same girl, who she hails as “little girl.” The girl, Emily, tells her to clear out.

If you’re wondering why I’m harping on race in this review, it’s because Detroit is over 80% Black, with most white people living in the affluent suburbs and not in down town. However, most movies set in Detroit feature predominantly white casts, just as most news articles about Brave Bold Gentrifiers and Urban Gardeners etc focus on white people and not the Black folks who’ve lived in Detroit for generations. The folks who made this movie made a choice to 1) set it in Detroit and 2) center the story on white people. They made a lot of other frankly baffling choices as well.

Janet dismisses this and lets herself into her apartment, which is incredibly Japanese-looking (paper screened walls, etc), has appliances from the 1970s, and a view of an industrial corridor (“a great view!!!”). She puts some framed photographs of herself and Lara (her sister) onto the kitchen counter/island and tries to open a bottle of wine but doesn’t know how to use a corkscrew. She eventually sorts her shit out and gulps down a massive glass of wine while crying.

Janet spends most of her time in the movie whimpering or crying.

The lights go out twice her first night, her landlord tries to creep on her and force his way into her apartment, her boyfriend is nasty to her. She has nightmares, takes sleeping pills, dreams that she’s literally thrown around the apartment. The next day she talks about “all her bruises” and a coworker/friend comments on facial bruising and accuses her boyfriend of abusing her, and her of lying about the abuse which is… not a tactful or effective way of speaking to someone dealing with Intimate Partner Violence, y’know? Janet denies it all, and calls her sister to cry and talk about how she’s going to stay in a hotel. Lara says not to, because she (Lara) doesn’t have any money/has maxed out her credit card. Again, Janet is a grown woman with a job, relying on her sister to pay her bills.

I should note, here, that Janet and Lara’s mom (Maddie) is an abusive, alcoholic musician whose career is apparently on the decline. She’s had a DUI and is unable to drive, so Lara runs errands for her. Janet moved out because Maddie, while drunk, assaulted her… although Maddie claims Janet walked into her while she (Maddie) was playing guitar and got hit with the guitar. There is literally no reason for there to be an abusive back story for Janet and Lara. Like, Janet is a young woman living in a depressed economy. It would be totally normal for her to want to go out, rent her first apartment on her own, and not want to be some gross sad sack who goes running home when she gets creeped out living on her own. Nope! Women can’t exist in movies unless they are being abused in some ways. Right? Additionally, Maddie asks Lara if she’s been taking her medication because “you can do some sick things when you’re not on your medication.” So we’ve got a GREAT dose of lolcrazycaeks going on.

Long story short, Janet is killed by the ghost, her boyfriend is secretly an undercover cop, and Lara moves into Jan’s old place. A police detective dressed in street clothes who doesn’t bother showing her a badge leaves a file about the apartment with Lara, which is a totally realistic thing to do. He talks about the history of the apartment, implying there’s ghosts, except he totally doesn’t believe in ghosts. Secret-Cop-Boyfriend-Mark who was AT BEST distant towards Jan is incredibly concerned about Lara and spends the night with her several times “to protect her,” blowing off his ex-wife and his kid. Lara’s mom takes out a restraining order against her, yet continues to call her and also visits her. The ghost kills both Mark and Maddie, leaving Lara to get blamed for it. Emily and the superintendent are both ghosts. Blah blah blah. The end.

There’s no charm or subtlety to this movie, there’s a lot of ACTING, and all the women are weak sobbing victims or abusive and insane. I have a feeling the Japanese movie (and book) this is based on is a lot better.

I give this movie 1 out of 5 stars and will keep an eye out for the Japanese version.

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31 Days of Horror: Cujo

October11

“Cujo” is an incredibly slow moving film about boring people and an angry dog.

Vic, Donna, and Tad Trenton live in a large rambling house near the ocean. Vic is an impatient, brusque advertising guy who plays tennis with local handyman/woodworker Steve (and they kinda sorta flirt with each other?) and drives a red convertible Jaguar. Donna is a housewife who is having an affair with local handyman/woodworker Steve, and drives an decrepit cream/yellow Pinto. Tad is cute and terrified of monsters in his closet. In one poignant scene the family sits around the dinner table in strained, awkward silence, until Tad turns the tv on. Vic turns it off again, and suggests he and Donna have another child, possibly so they’ll have something else to talk about. Their family is coming apart, the viewer has no reason to care: Donna is a human-sized puppet with no hobbies or interests or character (other than fucking a dude she isn’t married to) and Vic is kind of a jackass.

Vic takes his car to a local mechanic to get something fixed. Although the man is working on a car at the time, in the middle of doing his job, Vic demands his attention and is stunned and shocked to find that the mechanic isn’t going to drop the job he’s working on to jump Vic’s issue ahead of the other cars waiting for service. The mailman recommends that Vic take his car to some rube in the middle of nowhere to get his car fixed. Impatient, eager for immediate gratification, Vic jumps in his sporty red convertible and zooms out to the middle of nowhere to let a drunken wife-abuser fix up his baby on the cheap. I mean, look. Is it possible for amateur mechanics to fix up a car and do a good job? Sure! But do you really want a stranger who doesn’t do this for a living and who has no insurance to handle your car, leaving you with no redress if they fail to fix the problem or make things worse? If you’re Vic, the answer is yes! Bonus points for having to travel a long distance.

Vic’s main success as an advertising guy is inventing a spokesperson for a cereal line. The cereal contains so much red dye that the people (kids) who eat it defecate, urinate, and vomit red, terrifying their parents who think they are hemorrhaging. This seems like something that would be caught before the cereal was sold, but whatever. It’s an excuse for Vic to freak out and yell at Donna and then leave town for business. As he drives around in his (fixed, functional) car, he catches a glimpse of Donna and Steve talking, and decides that they’re fucking, because they are both absolutely unique individuals and nobody else in the entire world looks like them, and there’s no reason for a person who’s a friend and employee of the family to have a conversation with his wife. Because Donna is a woman, Steve later attempts to rape her in the kitchen, because that’s part of the check list for existing as a woman. Vic and Tad walk in, see Donna is upset and some stuff has spilled on the floor. This only fuels Vic’s feelings of anger and betrayal… at Donna, not Steve, who is his friend, tennis partner, flirt buddy, and employee.

A third of the way through this relatively short movie and there’s no actual horror. Cujo has appeared for only a few brief moments, and all that’s shown to us is the disintegrating marriage of two people… one actively unlikeable and one sans any kind of personality. There’s nothing to like or dislike about her.

Vic, in a snit, drives off in his sporty, sexy, functioning car for a business trip. He leaves his wife and very small child with a barely functioning car, and expects her to drive this car– which is so malfunctioning it’s dangerous– to the drunken, abusive, far off amateur mechanic he favors. The mechanic’s wife has “won the lottery” and bought him an expensive present to appease him before asking permission to take their kid and visit her sister. She packs personal mementos, and obviously is attempting to flee him. He’s dazzled by the idea of spending a week getting drunk, gambling, and going to porn movie theaters with his best friend and doesn’t notice. Cujo, an extremely active St Bernard who was bit by a rabid bat while hunting a rabbit, starts manifesting violent behavior due to the rabies virus. Fifty minutes into a ninety minute movie, he attacks and kills the mechanic’s drunken, slovenly friend and then attacks and kills the mechanic. When Donna pulls into the dirt yard in front of the mechanic’s house, Cujo attacks the car, trapping her and Tad inside. Her shitty, dangerously broken car has finally crapped out for good. She can’t start it. The actual horror doesn’t start until after the movie’s halfway over.

Vic tries calling home several times over the next few days and nobody answers. He finally gets worried enough that he heads back home, leaving his partner to finish business without him. (he doesn’t tell his partner “I haven’t been able to contact my wife and small child in several days and am worried something happened to them,” though. No, he says “My wife was fucking some other guy but I’m totally cool and want to repair our relationship.” Gosh, which is more important?) When he gets home he finds the place has been trashed. Steve has taken a knife and slashed all the furniture, photos, etc. Donna and Tad are nowhere to be found. The cops are INCREDIBLY unconcerned that a dude violently trashed their house and a woman and child are missing, possibly at his hand. When the cops pick up Steve and hear his side of things, they are not at all interested in pursuing the missing people until Vic pushes things. A cop is sent out to the mechanic’s house, where he sees a battered blood-smeared car matching the description of the car belonging to the missing persons he’s supposed to be investigating, but he doesn’t walk over to the car to investigate. Instead, he wanders into a barn where Cujo corners and kills him. Nobody bothers investigating the missing police officer.

Tad passes out after 3 or so days of being locked in a hot car with nothing to drink. Donna, who’s already tried to escape once and been bitten, realizes her kid is about to die. Powered by Motherly Instincts or some bullshit she gets out of the car and picks up a baseball bat, which she uses to batter Cujo’s head. Which, look. Dogs have really thick, hard skulls. Big dogs, like St Bernards, have incredibly thick hard skulls. It is unreasonable to expect to be able to hurt a big rabid dog by hitting it on the head with a baseball bat. The bat breaks off and Cujo jumps Donna, impaling himself on the broken end of the bat. Donna has apparently never read a horror story nor seen a horror movie, and doesn’t bother using the cop’s gun that she picked up to shoot Cujo in the head. Instead she leaves the dog’s body and uses the gun to break open a car window (the doors are all stuck) to take Tad out. She hauls him into the house and tries to get water into him and do CPR. Cujo, of course, attacks, and this time she shoots him to death for real. Tad revives, Vic arrives and yells for them, The End. Will Tad recover? Does he have brain damage from the heat? Will Donna recover with rabies treatment? Will Donna and Vic repair their marriage and have that second baby? We will never know, and I really don’t care. None of the characters were interesting. We don’t really know anything about them. There’s no REASON to care about them. The pacing in the movie is horrible. It’s possible the movie relies too much on familiarity with the book.

One positive thing about the movie is what a debt later zombie movies and books owe to it, especially the menacing scenes in the car when Donna and Tad are trapped and Cujo keeps battering the doors and windows with his head, trying to get in, smearing blood and slobber on the windows. But that’s about four minutes out of ninety, far too small a positive to make up for the negatives.

“Brigid, you sure do complain about lack of characterization in movies! What would you have changed about this movie to improve it?” For one thing, I would have given Donna dialogue. When Steve first arrives on scene, she doesn’t talk at all. And that’s almost excusable because they’re fucking so one could argue she’s over-correcting to not seem overly familiar with him. But it comes across as WEIRD, that she’s incredibly unfriendly and hostile. Have her talk to a friend in person or over the phone. Have her mention to Vic that he needs to watch Tad because she is going to a book club/meet a friend/go play racquet ball/something else. Show her reading a book or magazine. Show her interacting with Tad instead of just sitting there passively as Vic interacts with him. Have her talk to Steve about her relationship with Vic. Have her talk to a girlfriend about either man. Have her talk to a girlfriend about ANYTHING. What about Tad? All we really know about him is he is terrified of the monster in his closet and doesn’t like summer camp. Show him talking about his favorite dinosaurs or robots. Show him playing with another friend. Show him DOING something. What about Vic? Show him not being a fucking entitled asshole to every single person he meets… unless we’re meant to think he’s a dick, but I have a feeling he’s supposed to be Just Some Dude, y’know? The Poor Maligned Hard Working Husband And Father With A Betraying Wife. It’d also be cool if sweet affectionate fun Cujo was shown more, if he and Tad had some kind of fun relationship, and if the Killer Rabies Cujo threat had ramped up in more threatening ways earlier.

I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars.

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31 Days of Horror: Warm Bodies

October10

“Warm Bodies” is a Romeo and Juliet homage with zombies.

I didn’t realize that at first, even though the Designated Love Interest’s name is Julie (Juliet). It was while the zombie protagonist was trying to slur out his name and kept just saying “Rrrrr” and Julie was trying to guess “R” names that I chuckled indulgently to myself and though “lol “romeo” is an “R” name” and then I wanted to die. Unlike “Romeo and Juliet,” however, only 1 person dies in “Warm Bodies.”

I’ve mentioned before that I love vampires and vampire movies. I have a deep and abiding love for them. They were one of the first supernatural creatures I really got into (although I flirted with werewolves for a while, in part because I’m exceptionally hairy and have a unibrow I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING) and “Vampire: the Masquerade” remains a touchstone of my role playing life. But zombies? I love zombie books and movies, too, even though they’re pretty over done and cliche now. A lot of the focus now is on the scrappy band of protagonists being total survivalist badasses who are ace shots and super athletic and blah blah survivor porn. But the shambling hordes of things that LOOK human but AREN’T remains extremely creepy to me, and my favorite zombie stories are ones that do something a little different with the established tropes.

If zombies represent the fear of the implacable approach of death, the indignity of loss of rational thought and the fear of losing loved ones (and society), what do redeemable zombies represent? If we delay that final head shot out of desire to save the not quite dead, we risk losing ourselves- and the world. How merciful can we afford to be? How much hope can we risk having? “Warm Bodies” doesn’t really address the question. It spends no real time talking about how the zombies got started or spread, and there’s no real explanation of how the zombies come to life again… because they do. Their hearts start beating, they gain memories, they breathe, they come to life again. They become reintegrated into society. The zombie apocalypse lasts for less than a generation. And while I generally like more fake science-y explanations about zombies (it’s rabies! it’s magic! it’s a curse! it’s the cure for cancer crossed with the cure for the common cold! it’s an implanted parasite making a self-aware bid for freedom and separate identity!), the movie really isn’t about that: it’s about a walking corpse who collects records and is so totally misunderstood yet cool that a hot chick wants to bone him despite his murdering and eating her boyfriend and horrific stench and lack of conversational skills.

There’s some issues with this movie, like the massive security breach in the walled human city that nobody notices… not the shambling hordes of zombies eager for fresh brains, not the well trained and disciplined military groups constantly patrolling; or the fact that almost the entire cast is white (out of the entire horde of zombies, 5 of them look other than white; out of the walled city, 3 soldiers are Black. The love interests and all their friends are white or white passing); the fact that Julie goes from rightfully terrified to flippantly sassy toward her undead captor; the fact that Julie starts falling in love with a creature that isn’t human and eats humans. It’s kind of like a cow falling in love with a farmer… and a farmer falling in love with a cow.

There’s a lot that the movie does right, though. Julie doesn’t spend much time mourning for her dead boyfriend because in her world to love someone means preparing for their deaths. And it’s not a big tragic tear jerking thing when she says that, it’s a casual almost offhand thing. It’s just part of life, something common. How depressing. The acting is good. The make up affects on the “corpses” (traditional type zombies) looks good. The “bonies” (more advanced zombies) look pretty shitty, but the concept is creepy.

It was also interesting that zombies are able to make some decisions about how they kill. They can chose whether or not to eat a victim’s brains. If they don’t eat the brain, the body rises up as another zombie. If they do eat the brains, they gain the body’s memories and emotions (R likens it to dreaming) and the body just dies. R chooses, early in the movie, to eat Perry’s brain during the zombie attack on their looting party. This leads to a HORRIFIC scene where R, full of Perry’s memories and emotions toward Julie, approaches Julie, corners her, and gently touches her face with his gore-befouled hand. He smears Perry’s blood and viscera on her gently, lovingly, as she cringes and waits for death… and then he leads her out of there to the home he’s set up in an airplane (which… do the other zombies also have homes and safe places?).

Over all I enjoyed this movie. I do want to note that this is based on a YA book, and YA largely caters to a (young) female audience. Books about male characters coming of age are Great Literature while books about female characters coming of age are chicklit, you know? The primary audience for YA is young women. The primary audience for this movie, for this romantic comedy about cute teen zombies, is young women. And in this movie written for and advertised to young women a human woman escapes from the brain-eating monster that killed and devoured her boyfriend and that monster’s best friend dismisses her with the word “bitches.” Women. Such bitches. Why DO they act the way they do? Why don’t they realize that awkward soulful boys who don’t fit in DESERVE their love regardless of their own preferences or desires for safety? The casual misogyny was jarring, and while it might have been meant ironically it still stung. Other than that, though, Julie’s a pretty well realized character who drives the movie quite a bit. Her best friend Nora doesn’t get much screen time, but feels like a human being and not simply Generic Female Character Designation: Friend. The movie overall does a better job with female characters than most horror (or other genre) movies.

I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars.

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31 Days of Horror: Ghost Story

October9

“Ghost Story” is an R-rated movie starring Fred Astaire.

I have never seen a movie that contained so many sweaty, weeping, old white men. This slow paced movie features a group of four men who call themselves “The Chowder Society” who get together to tell each other hoary old chestnut “ghost stories” of the sort little kids tell each other. They are really very boring stories, but are apparently terrifying enough that the men blame their nightmares and night sweats on them. Oh, so much night time sweating. This movie also features male full frontal nudity as a dude falls out a window to his death.

The most remarkable thing about the movie is the female lead, who manages to speak without moving any part of her face but her mouth. Her eyes, forehead, etc… they don’t move. It’s like her face is a rigid mask, like she’s an automaton with an articulated mouth. Did botox exist in the late 70s/early 80s? Was it meant to be creepy, to make her see inhuman? I remain unsure.

Anyway, unemployed failed writer Don has returned to his childhood home after the unexpected death of his successful brother. His dad hates him, and wishes he were the dead one, not his successful brother. Dad falls off a bridge to his death. Even though he tumbles over backwards, it’s deemed a suicide. Don decides he wants to join the Chowder Society, but the price of entry is a ghost story. So he launches into this incredibly long story about the time he totally banged a ghost, including mentioning his taking a bath with her and tweaking her nipple with his toes. Like, why would you tell a bunch of sweaty old dudes who are basically your uncles a sexy story with that level of detail? They reject him, but later invite him into the club when more of their number die.

It turns out that these besties totally murdered a chick by accident while drunk and dumped her body in a car in a pond, and even though she was super rich nobody noticed she was gone. Also they all went on to be really successful and didn’t suffer in any way until they were already old and palsied, so I’m not sure what took the ghost so long to wreck her vengeance.

I learned some stuff from this movie, though:

  • If you try to kiss a gal and she mashes her bared teeth into your lips, she’s not into you. Stop it.
  • When telling a ghost story to your dead dad/s sweaty old friends, maybe leave out your detailed sexual escapades and focus more on her mumbled rantings to the sea about killing you.
  • It’s actually pretty hard to kill someone by hitting them on the head, so don’t make assumptions. If you knock someone out, check their pulse before writing them off as dead forever.
  • If you’re a white dude, it’s possible to literally get away with murder and then become mayor of a small town.

At least failed writer Don now has something to write about?

This movie’s based on a Peter Straub book that is probably like 500 times faster paced and more interesting than the movie. I give it 2 out of 5 stars, unless you really like watching old white men cry and sweat, in case you might want to add another star to the rating.

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31 Days of Horror: “The Uninvited”

October8

“The Uninvited” is a serviceable American remake of “A Tale of 2 Sisters.”

The last two reviews are pretty negative, I admit it. I like horror movies, horror books, horror comics. It’s a genre I love, especially ghost stories. Unfortunately, it’s a genre that’s often incredibly hostile toward people who aren’t white dudes. It’s a sexist and racist genre and creators tend to cling to the most harmful tropes. I’m not a huge fan of gore/torture porn and tend to avoid it, preferring psychological horror. So I’m a pretty big fan of Asian horror, even though it involves reading subtitles with my shitty eyes, and I’m aware that I’m missing a lot of cultural references. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is a fantastic South Korean movie that I watched over 5 years ago and is still with me. When I read the little blurb for “the Uninvited” I thought it sounded familiar, and sure enough, it’s a remake of “2 Sisters.” American remakes of Asian films tend to be pretty shitty (“The Grudge,” I’m looking sternly in your direction) so I was braced for that… and pleasantly surprised.

“The Uninvited” follows Anna, released from a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt following the accidental death by fire of her ill mother. Her writer-father Steven takes her home, where she greets her sister Alex and discovers that her mother’s nurse is still hanging around. Her father’s affair with her while their mother was still alive has now moved into more permanent territory, and Rachel is very comfortable in their home, and making changes to things. It’s a tense, uncomfortable situation to be in, and the personality clash and resentment is handled well. Anna has visions, jarring and disturbing, and discusses them with Alex. The girls decide they’re being haunted by their mother, blaming Rachel for her murder.

If you’ve seen “A Tale of Two Sisters,” the big twist isn’t much of a twist at all. But the ride there is still an interesting one, and the acting is pretty good. There’s fantastic tension between Anna and Rachel. The original, as usual, is far superior. But I enjoyed “The Uninvited” on its own merits.

I’d give this movie 3 out of 5 stars.

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