Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Top Ten: Movies that scared me as a child

Because why not?  It's Halloween and I have the day off from school because of Hurricane Sandy.  Now this is not a list of the scariest movies of all time; this is an entirely personal list of ten movies/shows that freaked me out or gave me nightmares as a young boy growing up on the tough streets of southern New Hampshire.

10. Casper (1995)

*my general reaction to the film

Give me a break, I must have been about 3 or 4.  But from what my dad tells me, my hands were covering my eyes for most of the movie.  I grew to love it, and I think it's a pretty underrated family film at this point, but back in the day this was more terrifying to me than finding razor blades in your Halloween candy.

9. Children of the Corn (1984)

Now here is a movie you should not watch in kindergarten.  I did, and that haunting tune of chanting children, seeing children hanging on crosses, and witnessing what was supposedly the devil coming up from under the ground -- this was a tough one on me for a while.

8. Nightmare on Elm Street 4 (1988)

This was once playing during Halloween on the PAX channel, back when that existed.  I was up a little later for some reason, and all I could remember was this one girl helplessly trapped in a box, slowly turning into a cockroach (WARNING: this is a tad graphic).

7. Batman Returns (1992)

If you think about it, this is a pretty dark movie.  The film opens with two parents throwing their infant into a river, and the character designs are all pretty weird and spooky.  But the part of the film I just could not handle as a kid (it made me leave the room every time) was the scene where Selina Kyle takes a nutty and starts shredding all her stuffed animals in the garbage disposal.

6.  Goosebumps ('95-'98)

*My favorite episode of the show -- best scene @ 15:36

I'm kind of cheating here, but Goosebumps was my life as a kid.  The books were top notch, the show was at times pretty scary, and there was a criminally undiscovered awesome video game for the PC that I still have from years ago.  It's a live-action point-and-click game called Escape from Horrorland and if you find a way to play it do so, I think it ranks up there in creepiness.  At one point Goosebumps ruled the world, so I couldn't leave it off this list.

5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

The movie alone didn't scare me, but one image from this film seriously kept me awake at night.  It's the visual of the evil queen randomly appearing in Snow White's window.  I'd terrify myself in bed, imagining that if I opened my eyes I would see the witch, right there in front of me, looking through the window.  Honestly I don't even know if I've told this to anyone - I guess blogging can be therapeutic.

4. Real Scary Stories ('00-'01)

I distinctly remember needing my mom or dad to be present while this show was on.  I don't know why I kept watching it because I was so genuinely frightened of this program.  I genuinely thought ghosts were real and the way they presented the stories, with the creepy narrator and weird video effects really messed with my head.  I was kind of surprised to find out on IMDB this only lasted a year, but its effects lasted on me for much longer than that.

3. Stephen King's IT (1990)

I think this was among the first true horror movies I owned and watched at a young age.  The character of Pennywise the Clown is, in my opinion, one of the best horror villains ever put to screen, played gloriously sinister by Tim Curry.

2. Blair Witch Project (1999)

When I first saw this, I believed it was real.  Nowadays with a simple internet search you can find out everything, but I truly thought what I was watching was an actual uncovered documentary, and I don't think any other movie will ever be able to accomplish what Blair Witch did.  An amazing one-of-a-kind film with an ending that will forever be imprinted onto my mind, truly nightmarish.

1. The Exorcist (1973)

*audience reactions start around 1:45

The granddaddy of all mentally scarred children.  I watched this late at night - like from midnight to 2am - sometime around second grade, and I had trouble sleeping for months.  The idea that the devil could possess you, any time, any where, including your OWN BED, was fucking scary.  I've since grown up and become jaded to a point where I don't think a fictional film can ever affect me like that one did, but every time I watch it I still get some residual feelings of disturbance.

Hope this wasn't a waste of everyone's time -- Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4 & Seven Psychopaths

Paranormal Activity 4:

I am a sucker for these things.  I will agree that this is the worst of the series, I will agree that this doesn't add any new scares or ideas to the franchise (despite a kind-of cool use of the Xbox Kinect motion sensor), I'll even agree that there are some pointless characters and scenes littered throughout, but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Sue me.  Something about the overall aesthetic of these films just make me excited deep down inside, even when I know full well what to expect from the very beginning.

What held this together for me were the main leads (two young-ins, Kathryn Newton and Matt Shively).  Their chemistry together felt pretty real to me and they were as likable a teenage couple as I've seen in any horror film.  I also thought the evil socks-and-sandal-wearing harbinger of death known as Robbie (a 7ish year old boy named Brady Allen) was appropriately creepy and weird.  I think as long as Paramount is milking this series for all its worth, Catfish helmers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman know what they're doing.  If you're looking for a solidly made jump-scare flick for your Halloween season pleasure, I might recommend this.

(Am I crazy?  All the reviews are trashing this!)

Rating: B-

Seven Psychopaths:

On paper this sounds like a custom-made order for me.  The incredibly Irish playwright responsible for 2008's In Bruges (one of my favorite films of that year) would be writing/directing a film starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson?  Where do I sign up?  Unfortunately, despite what its title would suggest, this is less the Pulp Fiction-inspired cool-fest that In Bruges was and more a drab, somewhat pretentious reflection on Hollywood movies.  The film follows Colin Farrell's character, an aspiring screenwriter, as he attempts to write a screenplay entitled "Seven Psychopaths." His friend, played by Sam Rockwell, is a thief who steals dogs for the reward money.  But then he happens to steal a dog belonging to a crazy gangster (Harrelson).  Rockwell is hell bent on helping Farrell write his screenplay, and antics ensue when it turns out he's got the same twinkle of crazy in his eyes as the people they run into.

I felt my consciousness drop in and out during this movie.  I couldn't help it, I just found this offbeat flick to be boring.  The dialogue was so unrealistic and "meta" I couldn't take it.  I really love the main cast of this film, and there was a lot of potential with this material, but I guess Martin McDonagh decided to put his intellectual scarf on and make a piece of pretentious bullshit that only a playwright could deliver.

Rating: D

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sinister & Argo


I like Ethan Hawke, I thought Scott Derrickson's previous film The Exorcism of Emily Rose was a breath of fresh air, and I've been following writer C. Robert Cargill's reviews for a while now, so I figured I'd give this movie a chance despite it's terrible trailer.  Although the film is a little darker and a little scarier than you'd think, it's still an unoriginal cliche you've seen countless times.  The movie follows a true-crime writer whose last hit was a decade ago and just wants one last chance.  He moves into a new house - which just so happens to have been the scene of a violent crime - with his wife and two kids.  Mr. Hawke then finds a box of old Super 8 film reels in the attic, which depict all kinds of the heinous acts committed by the same lunatic.

My favorite parts of Sinister were the ultra-realistic and disturbing Super 8 films, along with a few scenes of Ethan Hawke acting the fuck out of a limited script, but I couldn't imagine that anyone leaving the theater will remember it the next day.  There is one stupid character decision after the other, and the potentially interesting idea of finding clues to an old murder is squandered by an unnecessarily supernatural plot.

Rating: C


Ben Affleck's The Town showed that he has the chops as an actor/director, so I was definitely intrigued to see how he'd follow it up.  Argo is based on a true story, where a group of CIA agents were to evacuate a group of Americans out of Iran in the late 70's/early 80's, using the location-scouting of a fake Hollywood sci-fi picture as their passage inside.  While the film is very well directed, personally I found it to be kind of a slog.  Most of the run time is devoted to Ben Affleck walking and talking about his plan, instead of real action.  The film picks up towards the end, but by then I had sat through 1.5 hours of 'alright' scenes.  Fans of political thrillers may enjoy this, but this sort of thing just isn't my

Rating: C+

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Frankenweenie & V/H/S


The origin of this salute to Frankenstein can be traced all the way back to 1984, when a young Tim Burton produced a few short films for the Walt Disney company, the last of which was a ditty called Frankenweenie.  Starring Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern, this live-action short was supposed to play in theaters before a re-release of Pinocchio, but the project was shelved and Burton was fired for "wasting company resources" and making something too scary for children.  But I guess now Burton and Disney are bros again, seeing as they've made billions of dollars together, and with the success of kid-friendly scare-fests like Laika's Coraline and Paranorman it was time to reanimate the property.

I thought this stop motion remake was a beautiful return to form for Burton.  This is more Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood than Alice in Wonderland.  The black and white photography was stunning, and the character designs as you would imagine are well conceived. I also love that the film isn't afraid to deal with the dark subject matter that was present in the original Frankenstein, such as ignorance and the morality of science.  Danny Elfman was on top of his game as well, with a score that reminded me a lot of Scissorhands.  All in all, it's a great film that any animation, Burton, or old school horror fan would enjoy.  If I have one complaint it's that it really did feel like a short film stretched out to make it feature length.  This would've worked much better if it was cut down to 40-45 minutes because it's not set on as grand a scale as a Pixar adventure; it works best during the quiet moments, and the loud ones smell like they're there for marketing purposes.  Still, I love seeing animated films that aren't made with only drooling infants in mind.

(Watch the original Frankenweenie here)

Rating: A-


One dying sub-genre is the anthology horror movie.  I happen to love movies like Creepshow and also love the caught-on-camera style, so seeing this marriage between the two was a no-brainer.  Unluckily, all the characters in this film had no brains either.  A great concept is squandered by bad characters and not enough connective tissue between the stories.  There are 6 "shorts" in all, each directed by a 'notable' horror director.  I liked some of the shorts much better than others, with my favorites being Second Honeymoon by Ti West (House of the Devil) and 10/31/98 by the quartet of directors known as Radio Silence.  But the main arc of the movie follows the most despicable characters I've ever witnessed on screen. The way the shorts fit into the narrative is that this band of lowlives (who rape and vandalize for fun) find a bunch of VHS tapes in an abandoned house they were looting and start to watch them.  It's an interesting concept, to do this in place of just separate title cards for each movie, but the bad taste that these characters leave lingers throughout most of the film.

V/H/S does not at all skimp out on blood, guts, or scares (if you scare easily), but something about it felt too exploitative.  It was like the whole thing reveled in these disgusting people, and the graphic violence and gore was put on display merely for our pleasure and not any kind of logical reason.  It's a very unique film, and the footage, unlike Cloverfield or Chronicle, actually looks like it could be "real," but there was so much cringe-worthy acting and pointless filth that it was hard to enjoy.

Rating: C+
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