Poltergeist(s, 1982 & 2015); or They’re Both Heeeeeeeere

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Twofer Tuesday, where it’s double the pleasure, double the fun! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they argue about whether their house is built on an ancient burial ground or a local graveyard that was supposedly moved than wasn’t, and which would be a worse scenario.

Today’s Film Offerings: Poltergeist (1982 & 2015)

Lilly: A Poltergeist isn’t your average friendly ghost (see: Casper or Bruce Willis), but an entity that literally cannot even with the living and wants them gone, girl. That’s the message from the two films we are looking at today, anyway, so let’s get started with the 1982 Poltergeist, shall we?

Andy: Okay, well–what is that light in the other room? One second. You sum it up.

Poltergeist-1982-movie-poster-1Lilly: Picture it: Suburbia, 1982. In the first of a set of newly built middle-class dwellings, we find the Freelings. A typical nuclear family of wife, husband, and two and a half kids, the Freelings are set up as being loving, lovely, and just trying to settle in to the neighbourhood, which the father (played by Craig T.Nelson, or everyone’s favourite Coach) helped build and design. They have an anxious teenage daughter, a son afraid of thunderstorms, and the stupidly adorable Carol Ann. They are happy, even if their tv is somehow controlled by their neighbour’s remote and the mother has anxieties about their children drowning in the pool they are digging in the backyard.

Then, Carol Ann starts talking to the people in the TV.

Andy: lilly where are you I cant see

Lilly: So, 1982 was a strange time, I gather from this film. First off, not everyone knew who Mr.Rogers was. Second, when Carol Ann is staring at television static, her mother says ‘That isn’t good for you!’, flipping the channel to put on a war film in mid jungle battle scene. Ah, better! Of course, she could also watch the football game with her father and his angry friends (one guy literally didn’t stop yelling the entire scene and I’m not sure he was using words), which actually seems to be just a series of tackles on the screen. Or, turn off the tv and listen to the soothing sounds of her father yelling at the guy next door…You getting a theme here? There’s a theme.

And guess what! Violence in the modern day isn’t the only thing this film brings to mind! Oh no! It also brings the desecration of graves into the mix, because guess what! The neighbourhood is built on an old graveyard and apparently ghosts hate that. If you take anything away from the Poltergeist films, it is that fact.

Poltergeist explores the normalization of violence in the modern world, where modernity is more important than respect of others, as we see in the fights over a television remote and the whole graveyard being built over thing. Even the act of ghostly hands moving Carol Ann across the floor is normalized by the Freelings–give her a helmet and that’ll be fine! Fine, having ghosts in the kitchen!

Andy: help lilly

Lilly: A film that was originally slated to be directed by Spielberg, who only ended up writing it and producing it, it was taken on by the late Tobe Hooper (known for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre among other things) yet written by the same guy who wrote E.T, and boy, can you feel that. It’s like a slightly more scary Disney horror film–it could fall into line with Hocus Pocus, Halloweentown, or that one that the Olson twins did (I want to say Double Double Toil and Trouble because obvious title is obvious). It has a bit heavier imagery and a few more adult situations, but 1982’s Poltergeist is the horror film people who don’t watch horror films could watch when they were a kid. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, or that I didn’t enjoy it–it just means it is a gentler take on the story of a haunted family.

2015, however? All bets are off. This shit is getting spooky.

Poltergeist_2015_poster.pngFirst things first, this is the Bowen family, and in case you have any doubts about them being just a Freeling knock-off, well, rest assured, dear readers, the beloved family they are not. The father, Eric, is a sarcastic asshole who is bitter about being laid off and won’t let you forget it, but also won’t let his wife go back to work because man reasons and ugh and life. Amy is a mother on the edge, clearly worn down by her manchild husband, angsty teen, boy with a million neurosis (though zombies aren’t one of them?) and totally not stupid adorable daughter (but Carol Ann had really set that bar high). They were more realistic, sure, but holy cow, did the new twist on the family dynamic seem to really kick off the darkness of this reimagining.

Something I did not mention was my love for the original medium extraordinaire, Tangina, but if I loved her, I died and came back with undead adoration for this film’s ghost hunting, charismatic Carrigan Burke (maybe a bit of film fun, using ‘Burke’, as in the grave robbers Burke and Hare). He strolled in with all his charm and confidence and stupid hat, and I was sold the moment he showed his war wound. What a strange thing to change, but then, I guess with making the father so hateable, they needed to throw in a male role model who didn’t whine about having to parent, I suppose. You had to believe someone wanted to get Maddi out of the wall, and it was hard to think Eric didn’t want to get her just because no ghosts were going to get one over him, damn it! First John Deere, now the undead!

This version focused more on the son and his finding of his bravery than anything else–and I didn’t really know why. I suppose it was trying to convince me that his strength was to being admired, along with his vulnerability but I think the anger and disdain for him was waaaay to amped up to make it read that way. I rooted for him because his family seemed to hate him past a surface level–like sure, put the kid with a nerve problem up in the attic, and just try and play catch with him even though he clearly isn’t into it and…yeah. It was like I was as scared of his father pushing him to breaking with his masculine bullshit as much as the unearthly forces haunting the family. Maybe that was the point? If so, well played, movie. If not, well.

You might be able to tell I didn’t like it as much as the original. However, that isn’t entirely true. I found it actually really hard to compare them, when I got down to it. One is the story of a family fighting to get one of their own back while the other is the story of one boy trying to save his family, and that is two really different narratives. It all depends on what you are feeling. 1982 gives you family romps with horror elements while 2015 gives you horror with moments of familial discord that is cured by the power they find within themselves to fight the supernatural. Whichever you are into, you’ll find your fit of suburban ghost story in one of the two!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to be going–Andy got sucked into our closet as we started writing the review and I’ve got a few parapsychologists from the local university coming plus a charming rogue of the ghost hunting world I’ve got to freshen up for. This house will be clear, yet!

Go, watch, and enjoy!

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacres; or That’s the Last Hitchhiker Hallowfest Picks Up

Hello and Hallo-welcome back to Twofer Tuesday, where we hang up two movies up on meathooks until they are nice and gamey! You join your amateur abbattoirists, Andy and Lilly, who ask the age old question – how many chainsaw kills count as a massacre?

Today’s film offerings: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) & The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Lilly: Hey Andy, are you ready for our next exciting double-bill? It involves chainsaws!

Andy: Ughhh. Give me a minute.

Lilly: You don’t look good.

Andy: I have a vicious headache from watching the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s good, but my goodness is it gratingly loud. Could you get me some tylenol or something?

Lilly: Nah.

Andy: What?

Lilly: Well, while you learned that the original gives you tinnitus and headaches, I learned from the remake that helping people is for suckers.

Andy: Oh, I guess that’s fai–wait, what?

Lilly: I give you tylenol, and next thing I know, I’m going to be tied to the ceiling, getting my ears chainsawed off or something. So I have to leave you to suffer. And kick you in the balls.

Andy: OW!

Lilly: There, now your head doesn’t hurt any more! Let’s start the review.

The_Texas_Chain_Saw_Massacre_(1974)_theatrical_posterAndy: FINE. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, very, very loosely based on Ed Gein, was first unleashed on audiences in 1974. Directed by Tobe Hooper, it is one of those awesome movies that you don’t so much watch as let happen to you. The plot is simple enough: five teenagers encounter a creepy hitchhiker, a creepy gas station attendant, and eventually wander off on their own to meet an exceptionally creepy man with a penchant for masks made of skin and power tools.

It’s remarkably straightforward. One of the teens doesn’t come back, and so another goes looking for him. Any notion of sticking together is almost entirely ignored; it’s like they’re allergic to each other.

Lilly: It does make you wonder how many of your friends have to go missing before you just, I don’t know, get new friends? Or is that just me and my new mantra of ‘help no one, survive this thing’?

Andy: Of course, the true measure of this movie isn’t the plot, so much as the utterly grimy and harrowing atmosphere it creates. Everything in this movie seems dirty and corrupted, and every noise grates and puts you on edge riiight up until the last half an hour where one of our protagonists literally will not. Stop. Screaming. Yeesh.

Lilly: Such a fuss when faced with all the murder!

The original is not only famous for its grimey, almost sweaty feeling atmosphere, but notorious for the production itself being hot and sticky, which shows in the performances, I think. Everyone was melting and going just about out of their minds, plus there were chickens and bones everywhere. The set design alone had me at ‘hell(o)’. As a creepy connoisseur of serial killers, some of the touches that did harken back to Gein were well used and placed.

Andy: There’s a possibly apocryphal story I heard from a video on VHS tapes on Youtube about this movie: when the BBFC came to cut it, they couldn’t, because there is no one moment in it that you can point to and say “that right there is the bad bit.” It’s almost bloodless, the violence is fast and brief, but the world that the movie creates is utterly depressing and horrible and impressive and amazing. It’s so successful at creating it’s own dreadful atmosphere – something that only a handful of very, very good horror movies do. Halloween is one, as is Alien – that’s the quality level we’re talking here.

It’s not exactly an enjoyable experience, and like I said, it gives me headaches with it’s relentless audial assault, but damn is it effective at what it sets out to do. It won’t make any top ten lists for me, but I have a very healthy respect for it and director Tobe Hooper, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

Lilly: Then comes 2003’s remake.MV5BZDg2NDJkOGYtMjM3My00Mzc2LWJiYjktODFlMzBjNmQwMTEyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_

Andy: I do not have a healthy respect for this one.

Lilly: First off, I did appreciate the police footage at the beginning, throwing me into the story visually pretty damn effectively, even if I was promptly ripped out by Jessica Biel–she will always be the eldest daughter on Seventh Heaven to me, I’m sorry, I cannot help it. The film also did what some do when they are ‘period’ pieces, in so much as desperately smacking me with references and cultural trappings of the seventies. I get it, I get it, it is the seventies, weed, hippies, van, Lynyrd Skynyrd, hitch hiking being sexy, check, got it.

Andy: Favorite post-film discovery: the movie is set in 1973, but they listen to Sweet Home Alabama, which apparently wasn’t released until 1974. No single fact sums this movie up better.

Lilly: Also, side track re: weed–one of the characters claims at one point that he got two pounds of weed in Mexico to help him and his girlfriend start a new life. That throwaway line (and frankly lie because bullshit) took me literally forever to get over. How much was two pounds going for back then? He got it with his two other friends, so split that fortune three ways, genius, and then what? You could afford a KFC value meal after that, maybe. A new life! Dump him, Jessica Biel. You deserve so much better.

Dumb teens aside, I got to say, I had some scenes I loved in this film. Leatherface sewing with his little peddle a-goin’? Priceless. An interesting shot that goes through a head wound and out a window? Well, you got my attention, film (though you lost it when you did it again–don’t push your luck). But then other times, I was bored since, unlike the original, this film continously went above and beyond the call of duty to make me feel like these teens were doomed. I came to that realization on my own with the original, with slow dawning horror that matched that of the poor teens, but the remake didn’t give me a chance to think for myself, every other moment being more grim and heart-sinking than the next, a constant assault to my teensy bit of hope left that maybe those crazy kids will make it and start their new life with their $2.50 of weed money. It felt like a movie that worked hard to weave a tapestry of horror that invoked that sense of hopelessness was remade into the equivalent of a t-shirt that said ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Whatever’ that you can buy in bulk that was then shot at you with a cannon. In the face.

Andy: I still don’t understand where this movie’s completely insane nihilistic viewpoint comes from, though. It’s as if–wait a second, “Producer: Michael Bay”.

Well, that’s that mystery solved.

Lilly: So, I guess the question is, would we recommend these cinematic…things?

Andy: Yes and no.

Lilly: Yes to the first, no to the second?

Andy: Yes.

Lilly: Ditto.

Resident Evil & Silent Hill; or Violent Video Games Movie Adaptations Make Us Violent

Hello and Hallo-welcome to Two-fer Tuesday, where you get a double dose of horror, as prescribed by that shady doctor who sounds suspiciously like Vincent Price. You join your bloggers, Lilly and Andy, as they try and discover why the Red Queen shut down and figure out where Sean Bean is–they were sure they could hear him in the other room, but upon looking, there is no one there, and what are those sirens about…

Today’s Film Offerings: Resident Evil & Silent Hill

Lilly: Well, we’re doing video game adaptations, which are always good, right? Right? Remember the Mario movie? Anyone? Or was that a weird fever dream I had? Anyone? Please?

Andy: Nope. Sadly, that exists.

Lilly: Right. Yes. So! Today we are doing two films, deciding that one video game world adventure wasn’t enough for us hardcore types. No, we doubled down, and here we are.

residentResident Evil is the story of a workplace health and safety nightmare in the secret underground facility known as The Hive underneath Raccoon City. One broken vial, and the whole thing goes to shit, an airborne virus leading The Hive’s A.I. (known as the Red Queen–Alice in Wonderland references happened in this film, BTW) to shut the whole place down and kill those inside. I thought that was pretty evident that that was what was happening, but then we spend a good portion of the film trying to figure out if the Red Queen is the baddie or not. Or, at least the film was doing that. I spent most of the film guessing who was the asshole who did this among the group we follow throughout the exploration of The Hive after lockdown.

Oh yeah, so there’s an issue I had from the top of the film–so the A.I. locks down the facility, and to figure out why that happened, people are sent inside it. Hold on. If a place shuts down, and one of the reasons could be an issue that is airborne and dangerous, why oh why would you go inside? Is A.I. developed enough to have a holographic image but not to be able to be remotely accessed in this scenario? I get that remote access could be a security risk, but so can research featuring zombie viruses and genetic mutations, sooo. Whatever.

Anyway, we follow Alice, a confused artfully nude Milla Jovovich, who apparently was guarding the mansion until lockdown, but doesn’t remember due to part of the protocol of the lockdown is releasing gas that knocks you out and can cause acute memory loss, so cue that old amnesia chestnut! And it wasn’t just her in the mansion, there was a sketchy seeming cop, and then they also stumble upon James Purefoy, Milla’s fake but maybe not husband. It’s a whole thing, readers. A whole. Thing.

So, Alice (get it?) and the crew of soldiers who appeared to see what’s up with the Red Queen all head for The Hive and cue adventure and mystery and oh GOD will someone just explain at least ONE THING going on right now?

Andy: Yeah, the whole plot is a really weird mix of vague under-explanation and then in-your-face hand-holding. It explains things poorly, but then has a crappy CGI 3D map pop up every time they go somewhere new so we can follow along. I normally hate narrations, but this was crying out for some Escape From New York style opening exposition.

It’s also worth pointing out that this movie is so divorced from the video game it heads into “why bother with the license” territory. None of the (extremely memorable) characters from the series appear, at least not in this one, the mansion from the first game is bright and airy and never revisited past the first ten minutes, and the zombies are, well, zombies. Dogs and The Licker, I guess, but OK.

The trouble is that many video game adaptations fail at capturing the feeling of games, as well as the setting. Resident Evil was always about artificial scarcity. Do you fight these zombies, or save the bullets for something nastier later? Having Michelle Rodriguez yell that she’s out is not a particularly good thematic link.

Lilly: Also, I warn you now, one of the scariest elements of the film is spectacularly undermined by the awful, awful CGI. Also, this film is full of tropes that I usually love–hyper violence, badass women, scary children, doggies–yet I just kept checking the time to see when it would get to the point. Every revelation made me impatient to know the full story, and not in a ‘I’m so impressed by these nuggets of information, I want MORE’ way but more in a ‘ugh, fine, move on’ sort of way. Not curious, just annoyed that they were taking so long.

Andy: And with that we’ll move on, from the glittering tower of corporate ineptitude to the far creepier environs of Silent Hill. And if I had a list for most underrated horror movie this one would be in my top ten.

Lilly: Welcome to Silent Hill, where you don’t have to be sleeping to have a nightmare!

In Silent_Hill_film_posterthis film, we follow Rose and her sleep-walking/screaming/doodling daughter, Sharon, to the town of Silent Hill, THE tourist destination for those of you with children who keep saying the name of it after a night terror. Rose goes against her husband’s wishes and takes their child to find out just why it is everyone’s got the name Silent Hill on their lips–or at least Sharon does.

Well, guess what, the place of the child’s nightmares ISN’T a nice place.

Silent Hill is a town that changes at the drop of a hat, or rather an air raid siren. Things are already bad (it’s raining ash) when Rose gets there, but bad turns to way worse when the siren goes off and the world shifts, letting the viewer know that holy heck, we aren’t in the real world anymore. Bloody walls, monster fire babies, and wait, is there a cult? Anyway, Silent Hill shifts back and forth as Rose (and a poor cop who was just trying to be sure Rose’s daughter was okay) tries to find Sharon, following clues that she assumes her daughter has left for reasons unknown to the viewer (or was that just me? Why would Sharon take her other on the creepiest scavenger hunt ever?)

Andy: And although this has one of the best backstories of any horror movie (or game for that matter), what this has in spades is atmosphere. Rose shifts between two worlds – the unsettling, silent, ash-world of a burnt out town, and the terrifying, industrial nightmare of a town that is still burning. It works both as a horror, and as a trip into a surreal world of nightmares – both worlds are very, very wrong on a fundamental level, and for once there is a satisfying explanation as to why.

The other thing that is remarkable is how completely female-dominated the cast is. It’s not quite ‘feminist’ in the way something like this year’s Wonder Woman was, but the protagonist is a mother looking for her daughter. Tagging along is a cop, who is both a badass and also a female. A disposable cult member is a woman, as are both of the antagonists. Holy hell! Even Pyramid Head, a symbol of powerful, dark, male urges in the second game in the series (ie. a giant rapist with a metal head), is reduced to an agent of female forces. Huh.

Lilly: I am definitely pro the lady power in this film–the men seem to only be there to serve the women, with the cult lackeys especially and the cop who first notes how he is looking for the police officer with Rose, then protects a nun from Sean Bean which is definitely under the job description for police. It did have that whole ‘Mother is God’ narrative going through it that sort of broke Rose down to one role, and then of course there was a certain scene featuring barbed wire that seemed unnecessary, but besides that, it was nice to just have women pushing along the story.

Andy: I only have two criticisms. The first is that Sean Bean and friend could and should be lifted cleanly out of this movie in an edit. They add nothing except stopping it completely dead and demonstrating details which should be obvious to us anyway and that Rose is not exactly in our universe any more. In case, you know, the constantly raining ash clouds and giant cliffs at the end of town didn’t tip you/her off.

Lilly: See, I disagree with this–not just because Sean Bean amuses me, but I liked how the men were painted as unable to help. This is a world created by a young woman and men had no place in making anything happen there. The only male that got things done was Pyramid Head, and even then, it was childish flailing and ripping akin to a murderous toddler throwing a bloody tantrum, making him more like something with no agenda than characters with driven, passionate desires like we see in Rose, Christabella, and Alessa.

Andy: The other is to do with the monsters. I love Pyramid Head in this movie, and it is very cool that he’s been degraded to lackey by Girl Power, buuut he loses some of what made him so interesting in the first place, namely his symbolic power, in the second game. Ditto with the creepy nurses in the basement. Their cleavage had a point originally, believe it or not. Why is it needed here?

Lilly: I literally ask that during every movie I watch, soooo.

Andy: Other than these minor quibbles though, I looove this movie. It’s fantastic, and easily the best video game adaptation movie ever made. Which is like saying it’s the least bad member of Nickelback, but it’s still worth checking out.

A quick word on the sequels. Resident Evil has several million at this point, but the second, Apocalypse, ramps up the stupid to such a goofy level that it is far, far more entertaining than the first. Is that an improvement? Is it the Empire Strikes Back of drivel? God knows, but I liked it.

Meanwhile, Silent Hill has one, the wretched Revelations 3D. It evaporated my goodwill and killed this series so fast that it’s kind of impressive, in the same way you would have a grudging awe towards the sinkhole that just ate your apartment block.

Lilly: So when are we watching that one?

Andy: Never.

So that’s one thumbs down and one thumbs up from us on this two-fer Tuesday pairing–definitely check out Silent Hill and maybe forget Resident Evil ever happened!

A Study in Terror & From Hell; Or Elementary, My Dear Ripper

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where you get two films for the price of one–shame that price is your SOUL (lightning, lightning, thunderclap, thunderclap, cackle)! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they venture into the foggy streets of 1800s Whitechapel, which are no place for a lady at night (so they should both be alright).

Today’s film offerings: A Study in Terror (1965) & From Hell (2001)

Lilly: Full disclosure: I’m all about Jack the Ripper stuff. I’ve been on the tour in London far too many times, I’ve read books, I’ve listened to all the theories (both plausible and outlandish), and we own TWO Jack the Ripper themed board games (three, if you count a pocket version of one).

Andy: He’s also a sort-of brutal irony in human form. No one knows who he was, but he’s easily one of the most famous serial killers ever. He’s very stylishly shown, but in reality he mutilated his last victim so horrendously she could only be identified from her ears. His victims elicit sympathy for their anonymity amid the squalor of London, but in death have achieved an immortality they would otherwise have lacked.

Lilly: Second full disclosure: I’m all about Sherlock Holmes stuff. I studied the stories in uni, I have done walking tours (both self guided and not) of locations mentioned in the tales, I have visited 221B Baker Street more than once, I have several video games starring the great detective, and we own FOUR Sherlock Holmes themed board games (though they overlap with the Jack ones in the case of two of those).

So, did I like A Study in Terror, a film where Sherlock Holmes attempts to solve the unsolved mystery of who Jack the Ripper is? Can I just point you towards those first two paragraphs, please and thank you, I’ll wait here.

Super biased as I am, however, I’ll do my best to review the film without dying of excitement. Let’s do this!

A Study In Terror 250.jpg

A Study in Terror is everything we love about 1960s British horror–outlandish, garish, creative death scenes, and cockneys. Okay, maybe not all horror from that era had cockneys, but one set in 1880s Whitechapel sure does. With an opening scene where a prostitute gets stabbed through the neck with a large knife (there are no spoilers with these films re: the deaths, just wiki Jack the Ripper–though don’t depend on the deaths being in order at all, because nope), you can’t say this film doesn’t kick off quick. It’s actually pretty well paced, the murders happening at perfect intervals between Holmes and Watson (and Mycroft makes three!) trying to solve the case.

Let’s talk Holmes and Watson for a minute. It was said at the time of the film’s release that they were clearly heavily influenced by Rathbone and Bruce’s depiction of the pair, and since Bruce is (in)famous for creating the bumbling fanboy to Holmes version of Watson, I got to agree on this one. While John Neville’s Holmes is a picture perfect replica of the Paget illustrations of Holmes, and had some quirks that really delighted the Holmes fan in me (not to mention dropping famous lines like it was hot throughout the film like a Holmes’ Greatest Hits album), Donald Huston’s Watson had to practically comb his moustache every two minutes to make up for the mess it was after metaphorically blowing Holmes for every single deduction he made. I have a real pet peeve with having Watson act that way, so naturally, while amused by just how ridiculously up Holmes Watson was in this story, I was also annoyed because damn it, Watson is a sounding board with intelligence, not some sort of Yes Man.

Then there is the fast and loose way history is used in this piece. There are some good Holmes + History mashups out there (like The Seven Per Cent Solution which has Holmes and Freud teaming up, for one of MANY examples), but this…is not one of them. It is barely a good enough Holmes story, but coupled with the murders being in the wrong order, in the wrong places, and at the wrong time, well. It’s a bit like making a film about the Titanic set in Alaska in the 1980s.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d watch Titanic 2: You Betcha That’s a Big Boat, but it wouldn’t be anything close to the actual story. And don’t get me wrong, historical fiction doesn’t need to have all the facts–fiction can come into play–but if you take the dates and locations and mix them all about, it’s no longer historical, even, it’s just using the same name and place. To go back to the Titanic comparison, it would be like a film called Titanic being about a schooner that hit a rock and everyone lived. Basic idea of boat disaster, but waaay off the mark.

That said, Sherlock Holmes didn’t exist, so we are already setting the bar pretty low for reality.

It’s a fun film. It’s cheesy, it’s got little Holmes fan shout outs and little Jack the Ripper mythology fan shout outs, and it features very young Judi Dench, so how can you say no! Go, watch, enjoy!

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Andy: From Hell is a different beast entirely. Here, the chronology is more or less intact, Whitechapel is suitably depraved and disgusting (and most importantly, dark), and it seems to have a much firmer grasp of time and place.

What’s different is that the motive for the murders is a grand conspiracy involving everyone from the Queen down, and that the poor women of the East End, the ‘unfortunates’, were killed because of hidden knowledge about a royal affair.

Based on Alan Moore’s comic book of the same name, the story mostly concerns the trials of Frederick Abberline, one of the lead detectives on the case, and Mary Kelly, one of the women implicated in the plot. Unfortunately, if you know anything about the ripper killings, you can take an educated guess that things aren’t going to go well.

It’s an odd film, filled with all of the weirdness of late Victorian London – lobotomies, poor houses, opium dens, and bizarrely, grapes.

It’s certainly not a very fun or hopeful movie – there’s none of the morbid humour you get in, say, Sleepy Hollow, which has a similar vintage and Johnny Depp. Also, I am not sure about the decision to make Abberline a drug-addled psychic, considering the real guy was commended a bunch of times and lived until 1929.

Still, it’s one that might be worth watching. It’s conspiracy is pure hogwash, obviously, but it does a good job of leading us around between suspects. On the other hand, a half decent documentary might be your best bet on the ripper killings.

The Haunting (1963) & The Haunting (1999) Double Bill; or Hill House Ain’t Having It

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Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Twofer Tuesday, where we offer up two films for the price of one, like it or not! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they take a leisurely drive in the countryside, only to stumble upon a house that doesn’t quite have the right angles, does it…

Today’s Film Offerings: The Haunting (1963) & The Haunting (1999)

Andy: It’s a strange situation that, despite the fact that everyone can draw a ghost from the age of five up, the best ghost stories hardly have any ghosts in them at all. The works of M. R. James, The Turn of the Screw, The Woman in Black, and of course, The Haunting of Hill House by the brilliant agoraphobe Shirley Jackson. The weird, bewitching tale of young Eleanor drawn into a house that at first seems welcoming, and yet malevolent has been adapted to film twice – once in 1963, and then again 1999.

Of the two, the 1963 one is more subtle and faithful to the source material. Directed by Robert Wise, bizarrely in between The Sound of Music and West Side Story, the tale concerns Eleanor Vance, a woman who has recently been, er, ‘liberated’ from the demands of caring for her invalid and deeply unpleasant mother. Striking out for the first time, she answers an advert for an experiment at an old house, specifically for those who have displayed some latent psychokinetic ability, which she did as a child.

Joining her is fellow subject Theodora, an exuberant and coded lesbian character, Luke, the prospective heir to Hill House, and Dr Markway, the kindly man running the experiment as a cover into investigating the paranormal.

The trouble is, of course, that when the paranormal does hit Hill House, it’s not obvious whether it is being orchestrated consciously or unconsciously by Eleanor herself. Because, as becomes apparent, years of mistreatment have rendered her a deeply emotionally damaged woman.

This is a great film, one that is best watched alone with the lights off to let it affect you. It has one of the best uses of sound in a movie (which makes sense, given Wise’s penchant for musicals) and offers no easy answers to the mysteries of the house. Awesome.

And there is the terrible beating heart of the movie. Is Eleanor doing this with her mind? Or has the House found the weakest member cracking and started worming its way into widen it? Thoughtful, shuddery stuff.

Lilly: Then there is 1999’s The Haunting.

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Screw your subtleties, stuff your ambiguity, Hill House is definitely haunted in this remake. In fact, forget the book’s claustrophobic build up, the doubt of your narrator, all of that, because 1999 was not a time for thinking, it was a time of doing and casting Owen Wilson while you were at it. The Haunting is an horror thriller, and the thriller part takes front seat as you are made to be terrified, damn it, so stop thinking about the implications of a house that picks at your own mental cracks and instead be afraid of a ruddy big statue coming to life, watch out!

This film is not a thinking man’s horror. It strips the basics of the story by Shirley Jackson and slips them into a heavy handed haunted house film. There are ghosts, you are in danger, and just help us, Eleanor, help us, this is not the story Jackson wrote at all.

That said, it’s fun!

So, do you hold a film tight to the material it is remaking or do you accept some oddities if you are over all entertained? Question for the ages right there. Because if we are talking about a film adaptation of Jackson’s novel, then this is awful. It misses the point of the tale while it  takes out the spookiness of not knowing whether it is the people or the house or both that are making the supernatural events occur. Ooooo is it Liam Nee–No, it’s not Liam Neeson, there is clearly a ghost. That bed just attacked them. It’s a ghost.

But. Again. It’s fun.

As someone who hates when people compare books to films (so naturally just did that, hypocrite), I guess I just have to go with comparing the two films. And hoo boy, are they different. But I’ll watch and enjoy them both.

You know why you should watch this film? Because a bed attacks someone. A statue attacks someone. There is a scene involving the fireplace that is magnificent. Hill House means business, and as haunted houses go, this is a heck of a ride. The backstory created about Hugh Crain is pulpy and deliciously evil, the effects are creepy, and Liam Neeson is in it. It’s one of those films you watch with friends and a big bowl of popcorn, and there is nothing wrong with that. So go, watch, don’t take too seriously, and enjoy!

Severance and Doghouse; or The Long-Awaited Danny Dyer Double Bill

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Two-fer Tuesdays! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, a pair who might benefit from a team building exercise or two, but would rather just have a weekend away in a town overrun by monsters, if that’s alright!

Today’s film offerings: Severance / Doghouse

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Andy: We talk about a lot of supernatural horrors on this blog. Werewolves. Witches. Vampires. There are, however, far more mundane horrors. For some, true horror is the dreaded corporate retreat. What could be worse than being stuck with the people you can’t stand 9-to-5 for an entire weekend? Other than insane paramilitary war criminals joining in the fun, of course.

Severance follows the trials of Palisade Defence’s European sales team, as they head up into the mountains of Eastern Europe, for a relaxing weekend of fun, frolics and, for one member of the team, drugs and hookers.

Unfortunately for them, they find a dilapidated cabin, no food and a band of well-armed psychopaths who seem to have something against their company and their ability to keep breathing.

The cast is notable for having a high proportion of actors more known for their comedy work as opposed to horror – Tim McInnerny, Andy Nyman and Danny Dyer make up some of the hapless crew – and there is a really vicious streak of black comedy throughout the whole thing. It’s not ‘haha’ funny, except for a few instances, and a lot of the deeper humour comes from the more overzealous corporate types trying to push the weekend activities forward even after it’s become apparent things are very, very wrong.

Overall though, it lacks the heart that makes something like Shaun of the Dead tick – if you populate a cast entirely with bland but likeable or fairly horrid characters (Mr.Dyer excepted of course), there’s no-one to root for, and when the movie reaches the inevitable point where horror takes over entirely, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done elsewhere and much better. It probably doesn’t help that so-called ‘torture porn’ as a genre lacks the mythology of the zombie genre to riff off of, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone being violently murdered is nowhere near as intrinsically funny as zombies shuffling around while all in the foreground remain oblivious.

It sounds like I’m ragging a lot on this movie, but it’s not bad per se – it’s just that the horror-comedy bar is set very, very high at the moment. I would tentatively recommend it; if anything is more subjective than what makes people scared, it’s what makes ‘em laugh.

Kudos though, for the awesome setup where a guy explains the mechanics of a fairly grisly sort of demise to an incredulous coworker, and then is happy rather than upset when he is ‘proven’ right. And for giving us Danny Dyer tripping his balls off in the middle of a forest. 

 

Lilly: And then there is Doghouse.

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Set in some remote village out in the middle of who-knows-where, Doghouse is a charming tale of a few lads trying to cheer up their buddy after a divorce got him down. The group, headed by chauvinistic charmer Neil (portrayed by the fantastic Danny Dyer), get to their destination to only find that the female population of the town (of which it was supposedly three-to-one in favour of women over men, according to Mikey, played by Doctor Who’s Noel Clarke) have turned into homicidal monsters. Lucky they came in a bus and could drive away–but wait, their bus driver was a woman, and whatever turned the locals was air borne. Oh no!

Let me open up this discussion of Doghouse with the fact that I am a feminist. Surprise! I am. I think about representation of women in films, I think about the Bechdel test, my mind is ever working to try and be better when it comes to my own thought process re:women and men in this world. So, with that premise above, you can well imagine my tiny mind was working over time to figure out if it was okay or not. I’ll tell you the exact moment where I stopped thinking. It was when Neil, known womanizer, cannot shoot their bus driver who has gone monster, and his friend yells at him ‘Now is not the time to stop objectifying women!’ Okay. You got me, film. You got me. Because this is a film that takes the struggle I felt internally and makes it a physical threat. Is it okay to be treating women this way? In real life? No. In this situation? Yes, or else they will eat your face.

And sure, even as monsters, they are objectified by the men, but almost instant karma comes of any sexualization of the creatures, and I love that. Throw in the fact that the cast is full of fun actors like Keith-Lee Castle and Stephen Graham, you have to stop thinking too hard on if the film is ‘okay’ and just accept it is a comedy horror which was not meant to be taken seriously. You see how both genders are stereotyped and abused in the plot as well, with men acting like fools because of women (even monster women) and women eating the flesh of men in a fit of rage because their brains are taken over by a chemical–that’s a stereotype, right?

Horror wise? This was a scary film. I mean, just think if half the population was suddenly transformed into monsters. Think about it! I’ll wait. Because that’s scary stuff. And the creature design was definitely aiming for that, while still having these creatures being ‘familiar’ enough to see the women they were. Creepy, shudder-inducing stuff.

As for the comedic aspect of the film, I think finding humour in situations can be different for everyone–I was straight up laughing just at the synopsis of the film, so I was an easy sell on this one, plus I think Danny Dyer is just such a fantastic bit of fun that whatever, I’m not going to nitpick about how some of the jokes fell flat or there were some parts that were clearly meant to be funny but just didn’t quite manage it because it was too close to the horror side of things. Comedy horror isn’t easy, and you do sometimes get films that don’t really manage both genres. However. Sometimes, you have films you hold to different standards, and this is one of mine. I think there are lots of films out there that are that for others that I don’t get (see: our reviews of The Thing which Andy loves and I ew at) and that’s okay.

Should you watch Doghouse? Yes. Absolutely yes. For me, it’s like if Shaun of the Dead was mashed up with At World’s End, and then Danny Dyer came along and punched it in the teeth and all the bromance happened. With a few touching moments, a few genuine scares, and a few hilarious moments wrapped around moments of ‘You IDIOTS’, this is a fun film to just pop on and have some popcorn to. Enjoy!

 

The Thing (1982/2011) Double Bill; or It’s What’s Inside that Counts

MacReady_and_Clark_approach_the_kennels_-_The_Thing_(1982).pngHello and Hallo-welcome to Two-fer Tuesdays, where you get two films for the price of one! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they suit up, fondle their flamethrowers and eye each other suspiciously.

Today’s film offerings: The Thing (1982) / The Thing (2011)

Andy: Lilly and I generally have similar tastes in horror. Ask us to name our top five found footage movies, and there will be considerable crossover. Classic Universal and Hammer really float both our boats. But occasionally there are … fault lines.

Lilly: Big ones. Gaping chasms, if you will.

For general ease, we’re going to be calling these Thing 1 and Thing 2. Or is that for my general amusement? Either way.

Andy: And of course, Thing 2 released in 2011 was actually a prequel to Thing 1, released in 1982. Neither Thing 1 nor Thing 2 should be confused with The Thing From Another World, released in 1951. All three were loosely based on a John W. Campbell story from 1938 called “Who Goes There?”. Following?

Lilly: God no.

Andy: Anyway, onto the 1982 Thing. Following a short and fatal encounter with two Norwegian men hell bent on blowing up a husky, the men of Station 31 in Antarctica learn that the station the Norwegians originated from had discovered some sort of flying saucer and alien in the ice, but is now a blackened shell and there is a very strange body in the snow outside. Much to their horror, they discover this body may not be entirely dead, and worse still, that the husky may not exactly be a husky.

Soon the true horror dawns on them – this life form is not only aggressive, it is also able to assimilate and perfectly imitate any living organism, including their companions. It is the ultimate paranoid fantasy – what if the man standing next to you was no longer a man, let alone the man you knew? What if you couldn’t trust anyone?

Lilly: Dun dun dunnnnn.

But seriously though! The Thing suddenly becomes this psychological mind game interspersed between scenes of horrific body horror (with disgustingly realistic practical effects) and Kurt Russell yelling. Add in the fact that no one is going anywhere, damn it, which comes with the territory of isolated horror, and boom, you got this nightmare of a scenario.

Andy: It’s pretty much a worst case scenario – add into the mix the fact that it is all but impossible to follow the chain of ‘infection’ as the film progresses and you get this horrible disorienting sense of terror. And of course, it does eventually emerge, either when forced to or when it has some poor bastard cornered, and at that point, some of the most creatively awesome effects in film history happen.

Lilly: Ugh. Yes, they do. And while I can admire how creative and fantastical the effects are, I really could do with never having to see them again ever. I mean, the guy with the neck…Come on. Come. On. But yet so unique. But so gross. But so inspired. But so. Gross. I was scared, and like made physically all squirmy, and while I am a bit of a scaredy cat, the physical feeling of unease The Thing gave me was impressive. I ended up just wanting everyone to be a thing so it could be over with. And it was a different sense of wanting the film finished than if I were bored, or if the film wasn’t all that great. No, it was just wanting some relief from the relentless awful, gross messes that the alien life form created, and props to the creature design people for rolling out all those monstrosities. It was tiring and terrifying at once.

Andy: And if that paragraph doesn’t sell you, it may not be for you. It is one of the last truly great horror movies to come out of the late 70s boom, and if you are fan of horror of any stripe, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. It is one of the Greats.

Lilly: And now, Thing 2!

Or Thing Before the Thing. Whatever.

Andy: The Thing 2011.

Lilly: Shut up.

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The prequel follows the misadventures of a plucky palaeontologist who is invited on a journey south to a mysterious dig at a mysterious Norwegian research base by a mysterious Norwegian. What could go wrong!

See: 1982’s The Thing.

Plucky and her friend head down to meet up with a bunch of Norwegians plus a few Americans so we can all relate to them. Because Americans. They discover that the mysterious dig is mysterious due to the fact that it’s a great big bloody space ship! What! And a thing/alien/whatever in the ice! Double what! They carefully excavate the two sites over a few months of painstakingly diligent efforts, and it all pays off in the end when they aren’t massacred whatsoever.

Psych! So not what happens. Opposite. That’s the opposite.

While 1982’s The Thing was a sort of Who Dunnit mixed with alien nasty, this film seems to take the more heavy handed approach of ‘we’re ALL monsters, even the people who aren’t monsters!’ with the storyline, having early disagreements and prejudices easily fuel fires the moment it is found out that the alien can replicate/copy humans. Some of the characters were so easily hateable that by the time we found out who was or was not an alien, I had a list of people I was rooting for to be suddenly made into some horrific beast thing. 

Andy: It’s worth noting that the most charismatic and interesting character here doesn’t speak English.

Lilly: You mean the dog?

Andy: Lars.

Lilly: Whatever.

Speaking of horrific beast things, I was told the effects would be CGI and not practical in this one, and I was of two minds–yaaaay, no gross weird uncanny but booo more extreme possibilities. And I was not disappointed on the latter front. They really worked in this film to make sure no one thought the 1982 film was bringing more gross.

Andy: Which brings me to the two things I hold against this film. Firstly the CGI was painted over actual practical effects that they made, which aside from being completely pointless, means that this film looks weirdly out of sync with the 1982 one. Seriously, why would you do this? Why wouldn’t you do what Mad Max: Fury Road did and use CGI subtly to enhance the practical effects? This just looks terrible.

The second is the prequel nature of the beast. This isn’t a prequel in the Prometheus sense – this takes place days, maybe hours before the 1982 one. Which hobbles the movie at the knees. In a movie that is all about not knowing who’s who, about a creature that can take any form and attack you anywhere, you know that, at the very least, it’s going to end with two Norwegians in the snow chasing a husky and a burnt out Norwegian base with no one else about. Sucks the tension out of it, somewhat.

Still, it’s watchable and inoffensive and gross, but the 1982 version is a masterpiece, so this one falls short mainly due to the astronomical standards it sets for itself

Lilly: ‘Watchable’ is a stretch at times for us squeamish, but if you are going to set out to watch some staples of horror from the different subgenres, one of the Things films needs to be watched. 

Andy: On a fun side note, the guys who did the practical effects for this one were so pissed off at the CGI thing, they made another movie in 2015 called Harbinger Down, which is worth checking out.

Lilly: Because nothing says ‘screw you’ like the long and arduous work of making a film. Good job, guys!