Darkness

DarknessMV5BMTI1OTI1OTMzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTIzNjgyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_

I have been wanting to write this review for some time now.  I discovered this film on a whim seemingly ages ago.  Strangely, I had not heard of it at all.  I watched by myself one day completely at random.  I thought it was fantastic!  It has so much going for it and none of it was what passes for modern “horror film” of today.  If you detected my sarcastic sneer right there, then you know what I am about to say next.

I love it when a Horror movie is reviled because “it isn’t very scarey”.  Really?  Allow me – once more – to explain the difference between Horror fiction and film.  Horror fiction is (to paraphrase Wikipedia) “a genre of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, scare or startle readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror by creating an eerie and frightening atmosphere.”  Horror filma film genre seeking to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears. Horror films often feature scenes that startle the viewer.

Get it?  Horror as writing goes creates an atmosphere to scare you shitless.  It scares you because the atmosphere it creates induces your fears.  In a sense, it has lured your mind into a scenario where it has created fear inside you.  A Horror film on the other hand, is striving for a negative reaction in you the viewer.  In simple terms a Horror movie seeks to startle you and/or piss you off.  GREAT Horror movies feel more like Horror fiction than film.

Okay, so where does “Darkness” rank in the scope of my esteemed grading system for Horror films?  High up there, folks.  It has a stereotypical plot, but that suddenly derails and becomes something twisted.  It has supernatural elements, but they are so subtle in their portrayal that they seem almost trivial.  The real villains of the story aren’t the monsters but mortals.  And the ending is …priceless.

Folks, this is what makes a true Horror film in my opinion.  It is unexpected, frightening, subtle, great acting, and something truly creepy is expressed.  The concept of being afraid of the dark comes out as a central theme, but it is just devilish in how it is used throughout this film.  You see ghostly images lurking the darkened corners of a room.  They don’t pop out at you and say “BOO!”.  It’s nothing so garish and cheap as that – even though this tactic is used still today in modern Horror films.  It’s so lame!  Seeing those ghostly faces with blackened eyes staring at you from the shadows and never emerging is FAR more effective!

The best part of “Darkness” is that the true monsters are the people involved in this plot, not some burned-demon or masked maniac.  THAT is really an effective twist in this film and I thought it made the movie.  Anna Paquin does a fine job in the film, especially towards the climatic high point near the end of the film.  But Giancarlo Giannini is FANTASTIC as the grandfather!  He owns this film, hands-down.  Of course, having Iain Glen and Lena Olin in the film as the parents made the film like ten times better than it could have been with other actors.  The entire film I was waiting for Glen to turn evil or Olin to be revealed as the mastermind behind this entire wicked story!  Neither came true, but how cool is that?!  Glen’s portrayal of going mad is a classic bit of cinema.  Ranks right up there with Nicholson in Kubrick’s “The Shining“.

It is no surprise that this is technically a foreign film, since it was made in Spain.  Sadly, this film never saw a major US release.  Literally, NEVER.  It was shelved for a year and then debuted at Christmas?  Then it was released in the UK a year after that.  So a film that was made in Spain, premiered in Spain the same year, and then just disappeared.  Bizarre, right?  Here’s something even more bizarre: it ended up grossing more than 3 times its measly budget of $10 million – despite some pretty negative reviews.

This brings me to another hallowed point: the rebuttal of the angry Christian.  When any film teeters on the edge of something Satanic, the Christian community lashes out at it, usually very loudly.  My only real question is: if you thought there was even a chance of the subject matter turning that way, why go see the film?  It is baffling to me, and it only proves one thing: these people have nothing better to do.  Rather than delve into it in great detail, allow me to state this clearly: this film talks about “evil” and “darkness” and the “supernatural” because it is a Horror film and that’s kind of expected I think.  [To read an interesting thread of conversation on this exact point, check out the IMDB.com Message Board post on it HERE.

In summary, “Darkness” is an excellent choice for Halloween viewing.  It is stylish in a subtle way, with some great acting and some stunning plot twists.  If you have a fear of the dark, then this movie will certainly get you.  And if you are an angry Christian, this film will also get you.  Regardless, I found it to be a strong Horror movie with just the right amount of elements of Horror fiction to make this one a GREAT Horror film.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

The Howling

“The Howling” (1981)  The_Howling_(1981_film)_poster

Do you remember when you used to tune into a Horror movie and secretly kind of freak out because you were stupid enough to watch it by yourself in a darkened house?  Yeah, that was me at some point in the ’80s.  I lived in a fairly remote part of the world, a valley surrounded by lots and lots of trees.  My nearest neighbor was nearly a mile from doorstep.  My backyard was one of the darkest places in the world – no street lights, nothing reflective, just utter darkness…and the endless forest.

I was probably in my early teens when “The Howling” came to TV.  As fate would have it, my family went out that evening and left me alone.  I was so excited to watch what I was sure was going to be a cool Horror film!  (Back then, a movie premiere on TV was a seriously hyped affair.)  Sometimes when you are a teenager, you don’t think things thorough clearly enough.  In this instance, I wish I could have said it aloud to myself “Horror movie set in the woods, featuring werewolves, and you are home alone, for hours, with dogs outside, and lots and lots of woods.”  It was a bad idea.

The Howling” for the record scared me a lot more than I think it would have in a different setting for my 1st viewing.  However, that’s not how it went down for me and the end result was me petrified to even look outside my window.  I was never so happy to see my brothers come strolling in through the downstairs door!

The film started out clever enough.  A female TV journalist wants to be the gritty reporter and lands a whopper of a story.  She becomes involved with a serial killer and now he only wants to talk to her.  This culminates in a TV reporter going undercover into a seedy porn shop to meet the killer, Eddie Quist, face to face.  The cops are ready to spring into action, but then something goes horribly wrong.  Eddie wants to reveal something to Karen (the reporter) and she can’t quit see what’s happening in the dark of the booth they are in but she screams, then cops barge in guns firing and Eddie dies.  Karen is so psychologically traumatized after the incident that she seeks counseling from the Doc that moonlights as a guest on her TV channel‘s news program.

At no point in this beginning did I see “werewolf” advertised or even hinted at – other than of course the title of the film.  This is one of the best set-ups for a Horror movie I have ever seen.  It’s brilliant.  Everything seems very grounded and pretty believable.  Karen is having bad dreams and she can’t work, and she is having marital problems.  This all looks like some other kind of film, but certainly not a werewolf-movie!

The end result of Karen’s counseling is that she is invited to the Doc’s little retreat up the coast called “the Colony”.  Uh oh.  Anytime anybody in any film refers to a place as “the Colony”, it never ends well.  It’s other some kind of Satanic cult hiding there, or pagans sacrificing humans to appease the old Gods, or ghost children that haunt the place, or something else that basically makes my mind think “Colony = bad place”.  (I Invite anyone to track down a movie reference to “the Colony” that isn’t a bad place.)

I am not going to get into the rest of the story, because it is far better to let anyone who hasn’t seen “the Howling” to experience it first hand.  What I will say is that this movie has a LOT going for it.  Eddie is an awesome villain and creepier than Hell in appearance.  The actor’s name is Robert Picardo.  You may know him from the TV shows China Beach or The Wonder Years or (more recently) Star Trek: Voyager or even more recently Stargate SG-1.  Yes, THAT Robert Picardo.  (I know, I was shocked too!) Dee Wallace plays Karen kind of like a whining, overly-emotional woman that is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Not the greatest actress I have ever seen, but fitting enough for this role.  There are also some great cameos and smaller roles filled in with some incredible talent: John Carradine, Noble Willingham, Kevin McCarthy, and (my favorite) Slim Pickens.

It also has killer special effects!  No lie here: these are the best werewolf effects ever created – and they have yet to be beat.  It won a Saturn Award for Eddie’s transformation scene.  This is work of legendary masters Rick Baker and Rob Bottin.  With all of today’s advances in the field, and even the surprise hit TV show FaceOff on Sci-Fi Channel, Baker & Bottin’s work is the stuff of true genius.  It is part editing work and part straight-up awesome make-up work.  These werewolves are terrifying!  (That they are 7′ tall doesn’t hurt either.)

I don’t know what every other film critic thinks, but I can say that outside of “Wolfen” “Dog Soldiers” and “The Wolf Man“, “the Howling” ranks as one of the best werewolf-based Horror films out there.  So, instead of turning on some shitty gore-fest this Halloween season, turn on “The Howling” instead and spend some quality time alone…in the woods…named the Colony…and get freaked out (you know the rest of the story).

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

The Wolfman

“The Wolfman” Wolfman-final-small

When I heard that someone was remaking this classic Universal Monster Movie, I got a little nervous.  I know that I wasn’t really the “target audience” for the original film, but as a kid I was introduced to the classic monster movies from Universal (and later, Hammer) and I was enthralled!  I’m sorry but back in the 1930s and 40s, these films were absolutely fantastic!  I of course didn’t watch them until the 1970s, but even as a kid I was engrossed by these films.  “Phantom of the Opera” with Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi as “Dracula”, Boris Karloff was “Frankenstein” and “the Mummy”, Claude Rains as “the Invisible Man”, Lon Chaney Jr. joined Rains in “the Wolfman”, and not to mention “the Fly” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  This was my diet of films as a young boy and I gorged on these whenever I could.  My mother might have thought I was a little strange, given that I thought of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi as people I admired, but hey – ever film geek has to start somewhere!  Needless to say, I know a lot about those classic monster movies and I am a passionate fan.

Now that I have explained where I am coming from with my review, on to the meat of this review!

The Wolfman” captures a lot of the thematic elements of the original, including the look of the monster himself!  I immediately must stop here to say “kudos, Stan Winston – AGAIN!”.  That man is a special effects wizard, truly.  The setting is gorgeous: the creepy haunted moors and dark forests surrounding an English Lord’s estate.  There is a small hamlet nearby where the locals are …well, they are your typical locals from any of those classic old monster movies.  The gypsies from the original movie make a return here in this remake, though they are not an exact replication of their original roles.

That’s one of the best parts about this remake: they changed some of the story, but it was to better the film as a whole.  They succeeded at it too!  The original seemed to stumble a bit in its storyline.  Lawrence Talbot may have been written weakly, but the acting of Lon Chaney Jr. didn’t help.  (Fortunately for the original “Wolfman”, Claude Rains carried the movie.)  In this remake, the story has been expanded to make the tale really come to life.  I won’t give away anything here, but I will say that the storyline in this version actually makes better sense than in the original.

Therefore, this is not an exact remake, but rather an improved remake.

The costuming is stunning!  I kid you not, the fashions that the studio used for this film were wonderful to behold.  The guys look sharp and classy and the ladies look appropriately fashionable or wretched, as dictated by the role.  The make-up effects are fittingly brilliant, but I thought the special effects involving the transformation were somehow off.  I always liked the transformation of Eddie Quist in “the Howling”.  Real makeup versus digital animation is the argument here, and I have to side on the “old school” side of real makeup.

The film boasts an impressive cast.  Hugo Weaving looked great and was great in his role as the Scotland Yard detective.  Anthony Hopkins was good, and he surprised me with his role.  As an older man, I think Hopkins is now tapping into a wider range of complex characters (which honestly have only improved with age).  Benicio Del Toro was a little flat, and yet somehow I felt that was appropriate.  He is a far superior actor compared to his original counterpart, Lon Chaney Jr.!  Maybe it was Lon’s original performance that I kept thinking of during this movie.  It’s good, but not stunning.  Who IS stunning in this movie though is Emily Blunt.  I am not very familiar with her as an actress, but I thought she was spot-on terrific.  She plays the distressed widow well, and makes a perfect damsel caught up in the madness of this sordid tale.

The film makes you jump more than a few times, so it definitely succeeds at being a thriller.  It also has plenty of gore and violence, thus succeeding as a Horror film.  It recaptures the glory of the original and improved the story which makes it a worthy remake.  The only weak part to this film was the score.  Music helps to add atmosphere and that is a major element to any really great Horror movie.  The film’s score was woefully inept which was more than a little disappointing.

I just wonder, does this mean Universal will now launch a series of remakes of those classics?  Will we see a remake of “Creature from the Black Lagoon”?  That could be VERY cool if done by the right director and with the same spirit seen here in the remake of “the Wolfman”.  Over all, I am very pleased with this remake (and that’s hard for a nut like me to say) and I recommend it to any connoisseur of the Universal monster movies of old!  The younger audiences of today with likely scoff at it, and then move on to the “Twilight” saga.  That’s fine with me – I like the seating availability in the theater.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

Twilight

TwilightTwilight_(2008_film)_poster

If you have fallen into a hole or lost you TV or failed to visit a bookstore of any kind in the last few months, then you might not know about this movie.  The teenage love-angst / vampire picture “Twilight” is pop culture at its finest…or should I say worst?  The film is based off the hit book series by author Stephenie Meyer.  No, I haven’t read the book series.  Apparently, it was written for the teenage crowd and has zillions of devoted fans.  I’m sure that Mrs. Meyer is a talented author, but I simply don’t read as much as I used to and though vampires are my favorite “monster”, this series doesn’t strike my fancy.

Okay, so I finally got around to watching this movie.  I’ve heard from other folk that the film was …well, nearly anything.  The reviews are widely varied, from “it’s okay” to “it was actually better than I expected it to be”.  Here I am writing my two cents worth and this is what I have to say: there’s definitely some “meat” to the tale but there is also a rather heavy dose of the campiness.  I love vampires and am always trying to check out rather inventive ways to approach them.  If you want a rather incredible perspective, I highly recommend Anne Rice’s Vampire novels, but read only Interview with a Vampire through Tale of the Body Thief (beyond that things get stupid).  Whether or not this was intentional, there is a strong comparison to be made between these two takes on Vampires.  Meyer’s vampires all have unique abilities (the why of which is never explained in the movie), as do Rice’s vampires (though this was explained as having to do with the age of the creature).

I found a lot of this film’s enjoyable moments to be based on Kristen Stewart, the actress that plays the lead role of Bella.  She’s quite talented and I think she fit her role rather nicely.  She’s young enough to look the part and carried herself with a sort of ambivalent attitude towards most things.  I suppose this was done to explain her as more of the “outcast” persona – and thusly more identifiable with vampires.  Why is it that people who are deemed “weird” or “unusual” are always into the “dark” stuff like vampires?  You know what I mean?  It would have been more refreshing if Bella had been a tomboy character that was heavily into sports.  Instead, Bella is the quiet, bookish transfer student that is clumsy and not at all into the popular scene.  I find it to be very stereotypical.  Still, Stewart does a fine job of acting the part.

The same cannot be said for the male vampire, Edward Cullen, played regrettably by Robert Pattinson.  I look at this poor chap and think “would someone PLEASE comb his hair?”.  Honestly folks, I don’t care about what is the “in” look or not.  It just looks silly – no, scratch that – it looks stupid.  The only other film I remember Pattinson in was “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, which I rather enjoyed him in.  This character was lame from the start, but the guy can’t act all that well – or at least not effectively.  I’ll give you an example: he tries to be scary and speak rather loudly but screeches lines like “As if you could stand up to me” and all I could think of was “Bella could totally kick your ass”.  He wasn’t frightening at all.  I was thinking that Kristen Stewart must have been trying not to laugh at him while saying these God-awful lines!

All the vampires look like a bad makeup job.  They all might as well have had on white face paint and wore red contact lenses.  That’s the extent of the makeup.  I understand they are supposedly just regular old high school students so they are supposed to “blend in”.  Sure.  Did you ever see a chalky white (and I mean WHITE) dude in school and think he fit right in?  This could have been handled better, but the characterization of the vampires makes them so outlandish and unusual that they would NEVER be associated with a normal high school student in a million years.  But wait!  There’s something even more idiotic!  These vampires glow in sunlight like they ran naked through a shimmering lip gloss manufacturing plant!  Sweet mother of mercy!  Talk about dumb!?!

The plot turns from interesting at the start to a love affair that never seems to be consummated to “would you please just kill someone?”  By the end, I was bored and disappointed.  The vampires are cliché to say the least.  The performances of Stewart and Billy Burke (who plays Bella’s father) are the only things memorable of this movie.  The ending is clearly more of a “we ran out of time” kind of thing than a well-constructed ending.  I am sure that the book handles this much better, but the film sure didn’t.  It is obvious to anyone that watches this film that a sequel is due, maybe even several.  I have always believed that films with a sequel (especially the 1st one, if it is a trilogy) shouldn’t come off so blatantly obvious.

Bottom line: “Twilight” is a waste of time to anyone that likes vampire flicks, but probably really appealing to a 13-year old girl.  To any serious movie fans, this film is sub-par on MANY levels.  This one can easily be missed.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

The Shining

“The Shining” (1980) Shining-kubrik

Among the films based on the work of Stephen King, this one bears special note. No avid Horror movie fan has NOT seen Stanley Kubrick’s “the Shining”.  It is a classic.  It has a lot of reasons for being called such too.  It has a style that is unlike anyone else’s work other than Kubrick.  It has a wonderful cuts and edits that I personally find startling – which works exceedingly well with a good old fashioned ghost story.  The wide angle shots of hallways in this film truly haunt me, and I can’t think of another movie off the top of my head that uses these so well.  But how it was shot is only one of the many reasons for this film’s “classic” status.

Primarily, this film is about a haunted hotel and a caretaker that will be looking after it for 5 long months during the winter season.  Combining cabin fever with a haunted hotel is a deliriously wicked combination!  Who could have been better at going crazy than Jack Nicholson?  His portrayal of Jack Torrance, the main character is creepy in that it is SO believable.  This role, above all of his other great ones, makes you question if Nicholson is truly mad.  As for his counterparts, the heinous-looking Shelley Duvall and the very young Danny Lloyd, the boy can out-act Duvall.  Danny is a frightening in his shocked expressions and his “Tony” voice.  Duvall on the other hand looks like she’s reading from the script, according to my lovely wife.  I agree.

There are some stellar lines in “The Shining” as well.  I’m sorry, but little Danny saying “Danny isn’t here Mrs. Torrance” still creeps me out!  Of course, there’s the famous “Redrum. Redrum.  Redrum!  REDRUM!!!” line.  And then there’s this gem: “I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.”  Most of the value in such great lines is in their delivery and Nicholson’s unhinged madness creeps into his voice quite a lot in this film.  It makes the lines truly disturbing.  This separates this film from the bulk of other Horror films; it has a lasting disturbing quality.

I suppose one of the only lacking elements of this film is that you may not understand it all, given that a whole chunk of the story itself is NOT in the film.  There is one scene in the movie to explain why the film is called “the Shining”.  The “shining” is referencing telepathic abilities, or clairsentience (depending how thorough your understanding of the paranormal is).  Danny has it, and the cook of the Overlook Hotel (named Halloran) has it.  That’s at least explained in the film, but nothing is explained about room #237 (actually supposed to be #217) or the ballroom.  If you have the read the book, or seen the TV Mini-series “Stephen King’s The Shining” (1997), you will grasp a far larger chunk of the story.  Once you realize that they are tons of ghosts in the Overlook (and none of them are Casper-like), things become a lot more terrifying.  You could say that Kubrick “presented his version of the story”.  Regardless, the story can confuse some.

A lot of folks have given “The Shining” a positive review in the last several years, when they lambasted it back when the film was originally released.  The perception among many film connoisseurs is that this is a truly “effective” Horror film.  Stephen King hated the movie when it was 1st filmed and said that Kubrick thought too much and felt too little.  I don’t really care about all of that.  I can say this: the film is creepy.  The soundtrack bothers me, but in a good kind of a way.  The look of sheer terror on Danny Lloyd’s face as he stares at the ghosts of the 2 little girls as they deliver the ultimate sinister line: “Come play with us, Danny.  Play with us forever.”  THAT is what makes “The Shining” a classic.  It isn’t just Jack’s maniacal giggle.  It isn’t just the creepy hotel (which was actually just a soundstage) or the wide-angled shots.  It isn’t that awesome hedge maze.  It isn’t just the sudden cuts to “TUESDAY” or “8 AM”.  Roll it all together and you have cold, frightening film, tinged with madness and haunted by the vast openness of its setting.

The Shining” is TRULY an effective Horror film and I have thought so since I 1st saw it some 25 years ago.  Welcome in Halloween with this film and you will never walk in a hotel hallway the same way ever again.  You’ll be expecting to see those 2 girls in their blue dresses around the next corner – or maybe you’ll see elevator doors opening and think of all that blood washing into the corridor.  I highly recommend “the Shining”!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

 

The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy” (1999) The_mummy

For my second film concerning Halloween and the subject of scary movies, I chose “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.  While it isn’t exactly a Horror movie, it concerns a classic movie monster.  It also isn’t a remake of the 1932 classic starring Boris Karloff in the titular role.  This film contains action, a fair dose of comedy, and some great special effects.  It is easily recommended for PG audiences, though the violence contained within probably suits a PG-13 rating better.

The film takes a little bit of real history and mixes it with pure Hollywood magic.  The end result is a fun film with lots of excitement and some great characters.  At no point in this movie will any Horror film fan being scared though.  It definitely lacks that content.  Yes, the Mummy (played wonderfully by Peter Vosloo) does kill people and yes, he is pretty gruesome upon first seeing him.  One of the greatest “updates” to this film though is the action in the story.  Much of that action is centered on the Mummy’s fantastic powers and his ability to call forth the 7 plagues of Egypt.

Brendan Fraser plays the rough-and-tumble adventurer/mercenary Rick O’Connell whose fate becomes entwined with a quirky librarian (Weisz) and her fortune-seeking brother (played by John Hannah).  These 3 characters carry the movie with wit and humor through almost every scene.  Honestly, the film would have been a dud if not for the acting of these 3 professionals.  Some of the supporting cast you may recognize, but they also had some well-written parts to play.  The bulk of the film is classic adventure.  To summarize, an undead creature has risen and seeks the lives of those responsible for taking his beloved’s sacred canopic jars from an ancient treasure city that he protects from would-be thieves.

It’s a fun film, really.  It has a compelling storyline, and some great action sequences.  While the film may not rank as a must-see of Halloween favorites, it certainly is worth a watch.  How many times has a mummy movie been done?  I can think of at least 5 more before this one, and this one launched a franchise that has 3 to its credit so far.  Apparently, mummies are pretty popular among movie-going audiences.  If the film has a down-side it is that the comedy of the film outweighs the potential Horror elements.  That seemed to work with this particular film though as this was easily one of the highest-grossing films of 1999.  Mummies don’t seem quite so frightening to many of us these days, but once upon a time, they captivated the world over.  They still do in museums throughout the world today, but they just don’t frighten us.  That may be because they don’t have the juicy gore and guts that many other undead do.  By comparison, think of any zombie movie and all the grotesque effects they show.  See what I mean?

So, I recommend this film to all families looking for some light-hearted Halloween fun, but don’t expect any spine-tingling chills.

More to come this month!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

The Mist

The MistThe_Mist_poster

For another Horror film, I selected Stephen King’s “The Mist”.  This film is a bit reminiscent of John Carpenter’s classic “the Fog” (don’t bother with the remake).  The film features a stellar cast, but the best factor of this movie is the Director.  Frank Darabont directed 2 other Stephen King stories into truly memorable films: “the Shawshank Redemption” and “the Green Mile”.  I have a lot of appreciation for Stephen King novels, and yet my most severe criticism is the same for all of them: Mr. King doesn’t know how to end them.  Fortunately, Frank Darabont is capable of taking a Stephen King story and either add to it or take something away.  The end result of every one of Darabont’s efforts in this department has been a very successful film.  “Shawshank” ranks continually as a Top Pick among movie critics still to this day.

The story is a little science fiction.  The set-up is that a resort town is hit by a nasty electrical storm accompanied by damaging winds.  The following morning, as the town is just getting out and cleaning up after the vicious storm, a strange mist rolls into town and blankets the whole area.  A large group of customers are trapped inside the local grocery store when a panicked patron comes running in, bleeding, and screams about how something came from the mist and took a neighbor.  The stage is set for a classic struggle for survival, both against the mist and their fellow grocery shoppers.

The story is very suspenseful and the mist adds to the enjoyment of the film, simply because it blots out your vision.  That which you cannot see can be very frightening indeed.  Most movies would use darkness as that element, but a very thick mist succeeds even better I think.  There’s a quiet hush that falls about the town.  That adds a truly dreadful atmosphere to the setting.  King likes to use this set up; just look at “the Langoliers” and “the Storm of the Century”.

The acting is exceptional!  When someone screams in this movie, everybody reacts!  That was a nice touch.  Panicked people on the edge of their own sanity should react that way, but sadly, few movies actually show us that.  There were a couple of really great performances of note: Andre Braugher and Marcia Gay Harden.  I say that Braugher is exceptional because he plays a real jerk in the movie, and most of the time he plays very likeable characters.  He also seems very believable as a judge.  Marcia Gay Harden is phenomenal as Mrs. Carmody!  She plays a rather unstable Bible-thumper that becomes a source of hope for many of the trapped shoppers.  Her performance is absolutely PERFECT!  Thomas Jane plays the lead role and he is also brilliant, yet in a different way.  Jane can play the scared-out-of-his-mind father well, but he does even better when playing somebody that is a little crazy.  By the end of this film, you’ll understand what I mean by that statement.

The Mist” isn’t perfect but if you’d like a real nail-biter of a Horror film, then this one is for you.  Bizarre circumstances, creepy mist that obscures everything beyond 10 feet, and some pretty scary “normal” people make this one a frighteningly good recommend for this season!

…. and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy HollowSleepy_hollow_ver2

It’s that time of year again folks.  It’s time for Fall-colored mums and pumpkins and scarecrows.  It’s time for creepy music, full moons, and a slow fog that drifts across your path.  I’m not talking about Color Fest either!  No, I’m talking about that time of the year when we all seek to get a little spooked.  In honor of one of my favorite holidays, I thought I would dedicate this month’s reviews to a dying art form: the Horror movie.

Can you believe the crap coming out of Hollywood these days that is supposed to be a Horror movie?  “Saw”, whether it’s #942 or the very 1st one is pathetic drivel.  “Hostel” is an excuse for gore and since when has that frightened us?  You can heave all of the other complete garbage films onto that list, including ANY Rob Zombie film and any re-make of another better known Horror film.  So, for those of you out there who think you know about Horror films, pay close attention to this Blog for this month.  You may learn a few things.  At the very least, you should visit some of these movies that I will write about and judge for yourself.

That said, turn the lights down low, listen to the creaks of your own house, and wonder what IS that noise outside your window.

My first film to talk about this month is “Sleepy Hollow” by director Tim Burton.  The film stars Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.  The supporting cast is a who’s-who of A-list actors, including Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Michael Gambon, Ian McDairmid, Christopher Walken, Miranda Richardson, and Jeffrey Jones.  Okay, so many of us remember the Disney animated cartoon with a very gangly Ichabod Crane dancing like a freak, right?  And of course, the famous scene at the end with him running for his life on the back of an old nag of a horse from the Headless Horseman is a classic! Everyone remembers that, right?  Well, if you don’t remember or you never saw that film, that’s okay too.

The most important aspect about Burton’s film is that all of the classic elements are there.  Burton did a great job of creating the village of Sleepy Hollow in the Hudson Islands of upstate New York at the turn of the century.  That’s one of the most vital elements to any Horror film: atmosphere.  Burton adds smoke and fog, dreary colors, and some very frightening scarecrows to his village set.  The houses look weather-beaten and just simply dark.  The rustic quality of the village lends itself well to a spooky setting.  I think a lot of people think of a wild forest as a pretty scary setting.  I personally don’t, but that’s because I grew up surrounded by such a forest.  Regardless, the setting is perfect for this film!

The 2nd major element that works for this film is a scary monster or villain.  What could be more frightening than a vicious mercenary raised from the dead that seeks the heads of his victims to replace the one he lost?  I mean, a headless villain is pretty scary as is, but this one chops off heads!  A note for any younger or squeamish viewers: this film contains a lot of graphic violence!  If you want a Horror film to resonate with viewers, you want a villain or monster to be memorable.  The Headless Horseman ranks as one of the greatest “ghosts” of American Literature, and he is very memorable!

So, you have a classic villain/monster and a great cast, and you have a spooky setting.  What else gives “Sleepy Hollow” the ranking of a classic Horror film?  In a word, it is “suspense”.  It sounds kind of ridiculous to say that, doesn’t it?  I mean, wouldn’t you naturally assume that any decent Horror film should have suspense built into it automatically?  Well, if other directors cared enough about their films and their subject matter, maybe so. However, that isn’t always the case – sad news that is.  Burton does care though, and it shows.  The Horseman doesn’t appear right away.  The music helps set the scenes, like good music should do for a Horror film.  Credit goes to Danny Elfman for once again giving audiences a robust score that delivers where it needs to.  The lighting of the film only adds to the sinister aura of Sleepy Hollow, and every time that Horseman comes calling, you know it by the music.

Depp turns in another wonderful performance as Ichabod Crane, a skittish Inspector from the big city who relies on deduction and science to discover the murderer that plagues the sleepy hamlet.  There’s some realism to his performance that makes Crane both believable and very likeable.  You experience the events of the movie really through Crane’s eyes.  Ricci is decent in the film as Crane’s love interest, Katrina Von Tassel.  The script contains some fairly corny lines, but overall it works very well.  The language may seem stiff at parts, but remember this is an American period piece, which means you should expect the language to be a bit odd and stiff.

I recommend this film as a good way to start off the Halloween season because it’s spooky, a little supernatural, and features a timeless villain.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

 

Salem’s Lot (2004)

Salem’s Lot” (TNT Mini-Series) Salempromo1

It’s that time of year once again, when spooky sounds, black cats, and jack-o-lanterns dominate the landscape.  I will endeavor to post several reviews of some Horror movies from my collection that I hope will add to your holiday enjoyment (Or at least give you’re a thumbs up or thumbs down kind of guidance when it comes to choosing a Halloween movie to watch!).  I start by writing one about a remake of an older and better film.  I write to you now about “Salem’s Lot”.  This is the 2004 remake of the 1979 TV Miniseries.  It has some big names in it, including Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland, Samantha Mathis, Rutger Hauer, James Cromwell, and Andre Braugher.  However, all the big names are not helping this mini-series.

It’s difficult for me to imagine a remake of the 1979 classic of the same name.  I was 9 when THAT version of the story was shown on TV and it scared the crap out of me!  It had a blend of a couple of things that all Horror films should have: lightning, sound, and surprising edits.  I say that because this version lacks that entirely.  “Salem’s Lot” is based off a Stephen King book that I have never read.  When I saw the original mini-series, I was horrified that little kids were victims in this tale of terror.  A note to all parents: be careful letting kids who are sensitive to such, watch this film.

The story centers around a writer returning to his hometown to investigate a spooky old house that overlooks the town, in which he had some terrible experiences as a kid.  It sounds almost as some form of therapy for the writer, named Ben Mears.  The background of Ben’s childhood trauma is that he witnessed the owner of said spooky house commit suicide and then discovers the owner’s wife dead on the floor of the bathroom.  It would seem as though all bad things in this town have to do with that house.  The new owners of the house are an antique dealer named Richard Straker and his European partner, Kurt Barlow.  Once these new owners arrive in town, bad things start to happen.  Kids disappear, dogs are killed, and people are winding up in the hospital suffering from shock and acute anemia.  The source of these disturbances: Kurt Barlow is a vampire!  Little by little, the town starts to succumb to the evil of Barlow and is being repopulated by the Undead.  It’s up to a young teen, a school teacher, a wayward doctor, and Ben Mears to save the day.

By the way, they don’t succeed.

As sad and as anti-climatic as I wrote that is exactly how this film plays out.  It’s flat and boring.  It lacks any of the wicked feeling of the vampire.  Even the kids as vampires don’t seem that frightening.  It’s really quite sad, and I look at it that way because of how fantastic the original “Salem’s Lot” (1979) was.  In the original, the role of Richard Straker was played by James Mason and he made Starker more than just terrifying: he made the vampire’s keeper/assistant into a formidable foe.  Sutherland was wasted on the same role in this version; he could have been truly devilish.

The whole of “Salem’s Lot” seems to be about the past and everybody seems to be in denial that vampires are taking over the town.  Hmmm.  I think ANY small town would be vacating the premises as soon as somebody ran outside and yelled “Vampires are taking over!”  Seriously!  I mean, you see the Sheriff – who KNOWS that something is going on – dismiss his duty and just tell his deputy to take a leave of absence while he goes golfing…in another state.  Nobody wants to say the word “vampire” because people with think they are “crazy” – and yet, everybody is dropping dead and rising again in rapid fashion (in the span of 3 days it seems that half the school’s population is missing).  That’s what I don’t like about this version of the story.  It hastens everything and offers none of the ambiance of that creepy old house, or the pitch dark forest that surrounds the town.  In a nutshell, this Horror film lacks the mood of a true classic Horror film.

If you want to see a long and very frightening version of the same tale, check out “Salem’s Lot” (1979) because it is vastly superior to this flat, rushed, and tame comparison to the original.   If you can’t find it, or you deem yourself a vampire aficionado and you think you owe it to yourself to watch every vampire film ever made, check out this version of “Salem’s Lot” (2004).

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

Red Riding Hood

“Red Riding Hood” Red_riding_hood_ver2

Sadly, this is what is left for films tailored to today’s younger generation.  In other words, this film is made for “Twilight” fans.  It’s not as completely wretched as that nonsensical vampire-werewolf love fest.  “Hood” has 3 things that you can identify as BAD, providing of course you are not a “Twilight” fan.  If you are a “Twilight” fan, stop reading this now and go off to enjoy…whatever you call entertainment.  The 3 things that spell r-o-t-t-e-n for “Hood” are: no character development, plot holes, and acting so shallow that it should be in a kiddie pool.

Folks, there is too much of this going on in Hollywood today.  It is so depressing that it has made us all jaded and cynical.  The funny thing is almost nobody goes back to watch something old and classy to see how it is supposed to be done.  You mean the lighting of “Citizen Kane” by the great Orson Wells?  Do you mean the tension created by a few bars of music created by the legendary John Williams in “Jaws”?  No, I mean acting.  Yep, this film is so bad in the acting department it should be shown to kids in school so they can be told what NOT to do.  #1 rule of acting: make the audience connect with you.  What do you feel for the title character in this movie? Nothing.  I don’t remember the character’s name, but the actress is Amanda Seyfried.  She should get out of the business right now, because she is HORRIBLE.  Her lines are delivered with the passion of Kristin Stewart, or a piece of driftwood – they are both the same to me.

But wait!  It gets worse.  The actor who plays her love interest – again I care so little that I don’t remember his name or his character either – is stiff and uninteresting.  In fact, I think he could be a cardboard cut-out that you see for sale at comic shops and those funky weekend sales kiosks in the mall.  He wears black and he carries an axe.  Supposedly he is a woodcutter, but he is such a sissy that he lets his childhood girlfriend kill a rabbit instead of him.

Plot holes, you say?  Um, there’s the title and Amanda is given a bright red cloak to wear.  So there you have the justification for the title.  We are never given any decent explanation as to why this cloak is given – only that it was meant to be a wedding present.  Oh, but why stop there with such stupid cheekiness; let’s add a bit of the fairy tale rhyme in as actual dialogue to the film!  That was fun, wasn’t it?  The audience must think we are geniuses for coming up with this!

The only part of this film that was remotely interesting was Gary Oldman as the acerbic werewolf-hunter/priest called Father Something-or-other.  His back story was pretty interesting.  After you hear that part of the movie, you can turn it off.  The rest of the story is such nonsense – like the villagers go off to hunt a wolf with pitchforks and axes, or the rich kid in town is the village jewelry maker (he certainly didn’t know how to be a blacksmith).  I am not being picky here either; two other people I watched the film with said the exact same thing!

The film looks like someone recycled “The Village” set and costumes, and added in the extras that were left over from the “Twilight” saga as the stars of this tasteless gruel.  The red cloak is a feature to the whole movie because whenever it appears on screen, it is 40 miles long and always has to be blowing around.  My message to the director & producers of this trash: (To quote Roger Ebert) “Your film SUCKS.”

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.