Little Shop of Horrors; or Breaking Botany

little-shop-of-horrors-3.jpg

Hello and Hallo-welcome to this year’s last edition of Monster Monday, where the films feature creatures! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they brush up on their botany and manslaughter definitions.

Today’s film offering: Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Lilly: Have you ever wondered what happens when you bet a director he can’t make a film in two days? Wonder no longer, because the answer is Little Shop of Horrors. Written in almost the same amount of time, the film is the story of a flower shop on ‘skid row’ that is looking like it might go bankrupt until one of the workers, the inept Seymour, manages to grow a mysterious plant with a dubious appetite. Throw in some gags to do with a man who eats flowers, a masochistic dental patient, and yiddish peppered throughout the script, and you get this fun romp that runs merrily into the disturbing ending at a happy clip, the run time just short of an hour and fifteen minutes.

Andy: It also has, like, three sets. The whole thing sometimes feels like someone filmed a stage play. Also, this is the second week in a row we’ve dealt with demonic foliage. Although the Venus Fly Trap crossbreed … thing in this is a million times less creepy than a triffid.

Lilly: To be clear, a deep exploration of poverty driving men to acts of madness this is not. This is straight up a tale of a schmuck who tried to make things right and just went far wrong instead. It has characters like ‘Siddie Shiva’ (a woman who is a return customer due to the fact that she has a million funerals to go to, which is funny since it is a play on the phrase ‘sitting shiva’, a mourning period in Jewish tradition), a hypochondriac mother who only cooks things that are meant to cure you (such as a soup that is just cod liver oil), and a psychotic dentist who will take whatever teeth he damn well pleases, hurting or not. It’s almost as if the writer was given a basic idea (deadly plant) and a bunch of characters to work into it, and boom. Done. Story. And it works! It really works!

Andy: Sure! It’s not great art (then again very, very little Roger Corman puts out can be described that way)–

Lilly: Excuse you, he did The Terror.

Andy: …but it does manage to combine two genres to great effect – creepy sci-fi-ish horror and screwball comedy. And while the mishmash of genres is often jarring (I mean, it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who’s feeding bodies to a plant) it gels together and rattles along nicely.

Lilly: Even the things that could be problematic–stereotypes, anyone?–are turned on their head. You’ve got the lady lead, a ditzy woman named Audrey, who cannot seem to get her words right (she calls a caesar salad a ‘cesarean salad’, for example) yet she knows loads about flowers and is the go-to employee of the shop. Then you have Mushnick, the shop owner, a Russian Jewish immigrant who just loves a deal–yet he was apparently based partially off the director’s own grandfather, so can we call it stereotyping?

For the length it is and the age it is, Little Shop of Horrors fits in some good creepy moments and some good groaners.

Andy: A short review for a short film!

Lilly: So go, watch,and enjoy! It’s not like it will take long!

Thank you so much for reading our reviews this month, it’s been our pleasure writing them! Hallowfest Octobfilm will return next year, but stay tuned, as some new things will be coming out of Hallowfest sooner than you think! Happy Halloween!

The Day of the Triffids (2009); or The Only Apocalypse You Can Fight With a Can of Weedol

day-of-the-triffids-the-2009_003

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Monster Hunt Monday, where monsters menace heroes and heroines! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they get ready for some aggressive weeding.

Today’s film (or rather, mini series) offering: The Day of the Triffids (2009)

Andy: The Day of the Triffids was originally a book by awesome British author John Wyndham, who also wrote The Midwich Cuckoos which became another Hallowfest favourite, Village of the Damned.

Lilly: But you didn’t come here for a literature lesson, dammit, you came here for monster plants!

Andy: Damn right! The plot concerns a universe much like ours, with the notable exception that global warming has been solved by a genetically-modified plant called a triffid, that produces an oil that has essentially solved all energy problems. Unfortunately the modifications have also made them highly mobile, carnivorous and very poisonous. And I don’t mean carnivorous like a venus fly trap. These things will eat you.

Which is fine, because they are confined to very strictly controlled farms and handled by professionals, and anyway, we’re highly evolved and awesome humans. There would have to be some kind of freak meteor storm rendering the population blind combined with a really, really stupid Greenpeace activist or something to make them truly dangerous.

Shame that happens, then.

Lilly: So, everyone is blind, life is awful, right? The most awful it could be, right? WRONG. I have one word for you: environmentalist assholes. Wait. Two words. Two words, because these assholes only go and pity the poisonous, carnivorous plants (due mainly to the misunderstanding that they deserve to live FREE or something) and release them into the world of blind human beings, aka tasty, tasty plant treats.

Andy: And it’s up to the sighted triffid expert (ironically temporarily blinded by a triffid so he missed the meteor shower) to try and save the tattered remnants of civilization from becoming the food chain equivalent of a bag of compost.

Lilly: Not to mention his plucky side kick, Jo, the radio/local news host who is apparently famous–can I just say that is such a British thing, I feel? North American readers, name me three radio hosts. Local ones. Do it. Go on. I’ll wait.

I died waiting for you to do that because it doesn’t happen.

So this two part mini series tackles what happens directly after a world-altering accident that allows for an invasion of plants. You thought the worst thing that could happen was zombies? Imagine if you went blind, THEN zombies happened. Oh, and the zombies are plants. And the plants can sting you from ten meters away. AND THEY ARE PLANTS. How creepy is that? Every rustling of a bush could be a warning you were about to be eaten, every hedge row is the perfect hiding spot for evil, and ps, the plants are coming for you in the cities, so don’t even think they need pastoral settings to thrive.

Andy: Can I just say that if there was a Miss Universe, and instead of women, it was the creepiest fucking things imaginable, I can see these at least getting Miss Congeniality. They’d certainly do well in the talent contest.

Lilly: Then. Then you remember not only do you have to deal with murderous pot plants without pots, you have to survive your fellow human beings. And one of those fellow human beings is Eddie Izzard, and he’s not messing around–he wants to run this joint.

The tension in this mini series is ramped up with every difficulty the survivors of the blinding meet, including meeting other seeing folks who have a difference in opinion to what those who can see should be doing. Add in that no one seems to want to believe Dougray Scott’s doctor character that triffids are dangerous, and you end up angrily shouting at the screen that people are idiots and you could apocalypse better. Or was that just me?

Andy: Or you are hoping the triffids would show up and wipe the combined smug off of an awful lot of people’s faces. I mean, it makes sense, because there are some definite allusions to the idea that news of quite how dangerous triffids are to be around has been suppressed and the waters thoroughly muddied, but then in the modern world, what really is the chance of there not being at the very least rumours of how mind-bendingly lethal Treebeard’s angry cousins can be?

Lilly: Where’s your wikileaks NOW?

Andy: Hilary kept her e-mails about triffids on a remote server! More at 11.

Lilly: I heard she WAS a triffid. Crooked Shrub Hilary.

Andy: You can probably tell from our style today that we really got into this one.

Lilly: For a self-proclaimed hater of ‘movie science’, I really did get into this one! I allowed the talk of plant oils and global warming and sporing to wash over me as the story unfolded, the technicalities of it all seeming possible. And that’s all I ask for in a film with sciencey bits. To sound plausible. I mean, I’m not a botanist, so maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s all bullshit, but whatever. By the end, unlike some films with plants attacking humans (not naming names, but it HAPPENS in a specific film, where it is hard to really explain what is HAPPENING), I was like ‘Well no wonder the triffids could take over! Humans are so silly.’

Andy: It also does very well in its depiction of apocalypse. There’s nothing more shocking than the sudden realisation halfway through that the streets which were teeming with the blind are now deserted – the world ends while we aren’t watching. You don’t need million-dollar shots of the Hollywood sign being ripped up (again). All you need is an abandoned truck, and the possibility of the new apex predator on the other side.

Lilly: The acting, meanwhile, was fantastic. Dougray Scott pulls us along with not only his knowledge of triffids but his personal connection to the plant monsters, and Joely Richardson does a fair turn as the Voice of Britain. I think a lot of props should go to her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, as well, for her turn as Durrant, a Mother Superior who took the ‘Superior’ part very seriously. Then there is the magnificent Eddie Izzard. I cannot really explain how perfect he was for the role of Torrence.

Andy: Props also to some child actors who aren’t completely irritating as well. We absolutely recommend this one, and it’s definitely worth its three-hour length. It never feels slow or rushed, despite the fact it covers so much ground.

Lilly: High quality, well paced, plant based terror for you! Go, watch, and enjoy!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers; or Pod People Are People, Too.

invasionofthebody2.jpg

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Monster Monday, where we watch films that feature creatures! You join your reviewer, Andy, as he tries desperately to remain emotional.

Today’s film offering: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

There are a very small number of remakes which can be said to utterly surpass the original. The Thing is almost certainly better than The Thing From Another World, but then again they are very different adaptations of a novella. There is one, however, which so effortlessly bypasses the 1956 original that it almost, almost, validates the entire idea of remakes.

Let me tell you about Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The plot is relatively simple and sort of similar to something called the Capgras Delusion. Slowly, it seems like everyone around you is being replaced with a doppelganger, but one with no emotion, and they seem to want you to join them…

It stars an absolutely cracking cast, from Jeff Goldblum to Leonard Nimoy, to Veronica Cartwright, of all people, but the most valuable player here is definitely Donald Sutherland. Sporting the same curly hair moustache combo he rocked in Don’t Look Now, his unrequited love story mixed with heroic attempts to survive mean he is the emotional heart of the film. He is also responsible for one of the most iconic, horrifying and awesome movie endings ever put to film.

I watch a lot of horror, as you can imagine, and as far as a recommendation goes, this is mine –  This is one of a tiny handful of movies to give me honest-to-god nightmares. The original is good, don’t get me wrong, but it is mired in McCarthy-era red scare paranoia and therefore is something of a product of its time. This one goes so much deeper, connecting at a base level to what fundamentally makes us human and what losing that might mean. It’s terrifying.

I will stop there, at the risk of gushing, but this is absolutely essential viewing to any horror fan. If anybody asked me what horror movies from the seventies they should watch, this would be the one I suggested immediately after Alien. And if you know me, that is high praise indeed.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon; or How to Tick Off the Local Wildlife

black lagoon.jpgHello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Monster Mondays, where we go out and find the really big things that can kill you in horror. You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they pack up their wetsuits and spearguns in preparation for some … palaeontology?

Today’s film offering: The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Andy: There’s some really great eras in horror. Most people know about the Universal movies of the 30s, or the slasher nonsense of the 80s. Let’s talk about another awesome period – the ‘science is weird’ 50s. This includes such fun things as, well, The Thing from Another World, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Fly, and this. It’s a surprisingly optimistic period, where pluck and derring-do usually sufficed to keep the horrors at bay, most of the time, and the good guys usually won through at the end. Which is to be expected, seeing as many of the movies came from the States, and it had just been a Big Damn Hero in World War II.

(Incidentally French horror from the 50s is much weirder. See Les Yeux Sans Visage or Les Diaboliques.)

Lilly: (No, really, see those so you can enjoy them as much as we did!)

Andy: The plot concerns a group of scientist/explorer types heading up the Amazon to search for the rest of a fossil one of them had found on a previous visit. It appears to be some kind of manfish from hundreds of years ago and could provide the missing link between…something.

Lilly: The link between fish and fierce, if those drag nails on that webbed hand tell me anything.

Andy: It goes without saying that at least one of its descendants is hanging around, with an aggressive stance towards being left the f*** alone.

Lilly: For those of you who shy away from films due to them being in black and white, this is one you should really make an exception for. Like Andy said, it is one of the prime examples of the beautiful era of science fiction horror without delving too deep into the science part.

Andy: One of the things I like about this movie (and I like a great many things) is that it is somewhat ambiguous who is really the injured party here. Sure, the Creature murders people, but then so does a jaguar if you go and poke it. Meanwhile the men of this movie shoot guns at it, drug it, harpoon it, and are generally unpleasant to it in the name of ‘science!’.

Lilly: Through the eyes of Kay, the lady researcher who seems to be mainly there as a sounding board for the men and reason to have pointed 1950’s swimsuit breasts on screen (because you are always sure to bring your nice bathing suit to your research trips into lagoons), we get a sense of sympathy for the monster in between its menacing about the place. We see it wonder at her form as she swims and there is a bit of innocence in that scene, comparable to that of Boris Karloff’s creation in Frankenstein first seeing the sun. There is definitely a lot to drive the imagination wild with the creature of the Black Lagoon, which is part of its appeal.

Andy: It’s also got some fantastic underwater photography. This is probably the best until Jaws, some two decades later, and definitely impressive for the time. It also manages something lots of movies don’t; it makes it’s underwater action coherent and compelling, rather than confused and covered with bubbles.

Lilly: Not to mention it doesn’t fall back on shaky camera, distressed breathing noises when it comes to the monster. No, they’ve got some professional diver suited up in there and he is going to earn his paycheck by being fully seen as much as possible.

Andy: It also presents an interesting subversion of something seen in later films like Aliens – here, the good guys are the ones trying to keep the Creature alive, and the man insisting it be destroyed is painted as more of a ‘villain’ character. A far cry from “Nuke the site from orbit.”

As for the Creature itself, it’s probably the most iconic outside of the big Universal hitters, and it manages a wonderful blend of a sort of alien intelligence and animalistic movement. I especially love the way it ‘pants’ on dry land, as if gasping for its natural habitat.

There are a few things that don’t work for me – namely the Creature’s bizarre attraction towards the one female on the expedition. It all feels a bit too King Kong for my liking. The final chase sequence feels oddly rushed.

Lilly: It does seem to run out of steam. As for the Creature’s interest in Kay, I’m of two minds on that one. It’s a bit King Kong-ish, yes, but there is a side of me that wants to think that female Creatures of the Black Lagoon must therefore look like human females, and the poor fishy man guy just is settling for the ugliest fishy woman gal he could find since he was lonely. It could actually be a case of mistaken species, while with King Kong, there was no way Kong was thinking ‘Oh hey, a lady monkey!’ because she would be freakishly short and no one would want to hook up with her in the Kong world.

Andy: But other than that, this is a cracking film that kids and adults alike will enjoy, and even, at a distance of over five decades, may send a slight chill up your spine.

The Pyramid; or Walk like an Egyptian TO YOUR DOOM

pyramid.jpgHello and Hallo-welcome to Monster Monday, where our intrepid bloggers face all manners of beasts! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they dust off their copy of The Book of the Dead and start to read the ancient Egyptian warnings out loud.

Today’s film offering: The Pyramid

Lilly: Here at Hallowfest, we come across horror films several different ways. There are the ‘now playing’ films, like Blair Witch (later this month, check our calendar for dates!), Netflix finds (They’re Watching, coming up this Wednesday!) and recommendations (sometimes made by five year olds, tune in Friday for Monster High: Haunted!). Then there are films that I pick because American Horror Story: Hotel was over and I missed Denis O’Hare.

This is one of those films.

Andy: And also because dodgy found footage is practically our thing now.

Lilly: The Pyramid is a found footage film about an archaeological team (featuring a father and daughter team up, why not!) that finds a mysterious three-sided pyramid 600 feet underground outside of Giza.

Andy: Fun fact – the Egyptians never built three sided pyramids, mainly because they’d be a freaking architectural nightmare. It’s the same reason you don’t see too many equilateral triangle shaped skyscrapers.

Lilly: Added drama: there are uprisings happening in Giza, and the authorities want them out of there, pronto.

Andy: Political commentary!

Lilly: …So, naturally, they don’t go, and instead send in a rover for a quick little peek. The robot sadly gets attacked (RIP Shorty) by a mysterious beast, so, guess what! They go in. Did I mention a worker got killed by a toxic air released when they opened it? Whatever, they need the remains of that robot!

Andy: Which kinda defeats the purpose of the robot in the first place, if you think about it. Then again, if people acted sensibly in horror movies, there wouldn’t be any fun in them.

Lilly: What we got here, folks, is a classic whittle down found footage film, but with an Egyptian theme, it is kept interesting. Monster-wise (you knew there was a monster, right?), it was definitely surprising, and something I had only seen once before (and never fully realised) which is saying a lot, because, you know. We watch a lot of horror, surprise!

Andy: We’re trying really hard not to spoil it, but if you know anything at all about Egyptian mythology, you’ll probably get a giddy thrill. Damn, I think I may have given it away.

Lilly: Of course, interesting doesn’t mean good. The Pyramid has some excellent moments and some decent effects, but the acting is…well, Denis O’Hare was good? I enjoyed Amir K’s Zahir, aka the voice of semi-reason in this one, but sometimes you get a feeling off the other actors that they watched a found footage once and got the idea of how to be in one and went with it, rather than just reacting and, well, acting naturally given the circumstances they were put in. That isn’t something unique to horror films, though. Sometimes, genre seems to get stuck in actors heads and you get them acting like they are in a horror film, not like they are horrified. That’s a bit of a nitpicky problem, but it’s there.

Andy: I don’t think it’s nitpicky – a lot of horror depends on empathising with the characters, and if you merely see them as actors playing characters rather than fully-realised people, that can knock the legs out of any potential peril you put them in almost instantaneously. You care about what happens to the crew in Alien because they are a starship crew, not because they are Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, John Hurt etc.

Lilly: Overall, I enjoyed The Pyramid, but I also forgot the plot, so. Take from that what you will! It’s a fun little found footage romp with some interesting bits and pieces, so give it a watch if you think horror is all ghosts and zombies these days, or if you were into Egyptian stuff as a kid and now are into horror. On the Egyptian theme-ing front, this film definitely delivers.

Andy: I’ve been a little bit more subdued this review mainly because I forgot almost everything about it as soon as it was over. Which is probably not a recommendation.

Villain’s cool though.