Surprise! We did a podcast!

Hey Hallowfest Fans and Readers (and members of our family who read this out of love), guess what we did! Oh, that was a very specific and correct guess–YES, we did a podcast!

It’s Women in Horror Month all February, a movement to celebrate ladies who scare us, thrill us, and entertain us from both in front of and behind the camera, so we decided to sit down and chat women who make us scream.

But Women in Horror Month isn’t just about loving those talented people who give us some joy, but also about giving blood! Don’t know where you can go to give blood locally, and you live in Canada? Why not visit Blood.ca and find out? Can’t give blood? Well, tell those you know who can to go out and do it!

Now, without further ado, here’s our podcast! Enjoy!

Prom Night; or I Had The Time of My Life Until I Was Axed in the Face

maxresdefault (3).jpg

Hello and Hallo-welcome to this year’s final edition of Slasher Saturday, where the only answer to pre-martial sex is a good stabbing! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they don their prom duds and get ready for the best night of the lives–no matter how shortened-by-axe-murderer they may be.

Today’s film offering: Prom Night

Lilly: Our story starts with several kids playing a game of ‘Murderer’ being stumbled upon by three other children, one of which wants to join in. She goes into the building (an abandoned convent, which of course children love to play in) and her attempts to join in lead to a tragic accident (not to mention a tragic scene where her whole family, siblings included, show up to see her body being taken away–I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, get a SITTER, people).

Andy: Of course, there’s not any explanation as to why she’s being excluded; only that these kids don’t like her because they are angry, hateful jerks. As to why she’d want to play with these kids isn’t really touched upon either – they’re just a little bit too young to be the ‘popular’ kids, something I associate more with teenagers. And of course these kids immediately swear never to tell anyone about the tragedy because they’ll go to JAIL.

Lilly: Fast forward to six years later, and it’s prom night! Because nothing says revenge like getting it on prom night–or so Carrie taught us. The children have grown up and it’s time they paid for what they did, damn it! Throw in a few red herrings, like a man who was charged with the little girl’s murder getting loose and a creepy groundskeeper at the school they all attend, and you got yourself Prom Night.

As long time fans of Jamie Lee Curtis, we felt we might be robbing ourselves, having not seen this classic from 1980. Well, we weren’t. Surprise! A cheesy slasher I don’t like! Well. It was funny at times–at one point, a guy named ‘Slick’ punches the killer clear out of  the back of a van which I found hysterical–and Jamie Lee was fantastic in her dance scene, but…okay, well, a slasher having a dance scene I’m usually for (The Final Girls is a great example of this), but even Jamie Lee boogie-oogie-ooging couldn’t save this from being not all that great.

Andy: Yeah, this one commits the cardinal sin of horror movies anywhere; it’s really, really boring. There’s no sense of suspense or build up, the setup is long, long, looong, and there’s nothing I can really point at and say “Yes. This is a reason you should see this.”

Lilly: Some upsides? The children were scary enough to warrant the little girl’s accident while running from them–I wanted to run from them and I wasn’t in the spooky abandoned building. Then there was Leslie Nielsen, who was a great principal/grieving parent for as little as we saw him for his top billing. That man was a national treasure. And there were some brief glimpses at actual weighty moments, like when Nick, one of the kids who chased the girl (and JLC’s little sister) to her death, tries to admit his guilt to JLC because he cares about her, but doesn’t because, well. That’s a relationship deal breaker for most people.

Andy: Yes, but even then it’s not all that much, because even in the really drawn out snoozefest first half, the film still somehow fails to give us much sense of who these people are or what they’re like. They’re not even developed enough to be stereotypes – even the girl chiefly responsible for the death at the beginning only comes across as vaguely bitchy rather than the High School Villainess that appears everywhere else in movies. There’s not enough here to be angry about. It’s all just so boring.

Lilly: Some downsides? Well. A lot of it. Gratuitous breasts and bums, weird characterisation (why did Wendy hate that old lady she lived with so much, she seemed lovely!), a confusing ending, and why did the murderer start with a shard of glass and suddenly upgrade to an ax? Stay on message, murderer!

Andy: Not to mention the problematic elements of showing the tits of someone we last saw as a ten year old. You can probably skip this one.

Lilly: As long time fans of JLC, we’re saying don’t bother going, watching, and trying to enjoy this one–it’s just a collection of moments that have been bettered in other films, in other franchises, and even other JLC films! Go watch those! Prom Night, however, is a miss for us.

Ghostbusters (2016); Or Safety Lights are for Dudes

ghostbusters-2016

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Family Friendly Friday, where we look at films that are fun for the whole family! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they strap on their proton packs and suit up for a reported disturbance in NYC.

Today’s film offering: Ghostbusters (2016)

Andy: How could we not do Hallowfest this year without touching on one of the biggest and most weirdly controversial movies of the year? But before we begin, let me make a few things clear:

1) We liked this movie. A lot.

2) We liked the original a lot too. Probably not as much as many people, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

3) There is no point getting angry about remakes.

Anyway, with that out of the way, onto the movie itself!

Lilly: Unless this review is going to ruin your childhood, too.

Excuse me, I’ll be right back, I just need to fetch my eyes that rolled clear out of my head.

Andy: The plot concerns one Erin Gilbert, a physics professor desperate to achieve tenure at Columbia University, and tries to cover up her past as one of those weird paranormal researchers you see on covers in that section of the bookshop.

Unfortunately for her, though, her partner Abby and past come a-callin’, and before you know it she’s out on the street out of a job. Cue teaming up with her ex-partner, her wacky engineering friend and streetwise subway worker, and, well, who ya gonna call?

Lilly: Besides your friends so you can complain about why women don’t NEED to be Ghostbusters, and LOOK, they are making a sex object out of Chris Hemsworth, and GOSH this is the WORST.

Okay, but seriously. Go on.

Andy: It’s worth noting that even with the comedic talents of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (who we are fans of, to be clear), Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann doesn’t so much steal the film as chloroform it in a dark alley and demand a ransom. Like I said, we like this movie a lot, but she is the only thing to completely come out of the shadow of the original.

Part of this is due to the nature of a remake though. It is inevitable that with the plot requiring a team be set up, many of the same plot beats will be hit, and story-wise there’s not a huge amount of originality here, but it’s not really where the heart lies – it lies in letting the comedic actresses do their thing.

The film is at its best when it focuses down on this – Melissa McCarthy’s endless running feud with the delivery boy downstairs is wonderful, Kristen Wiig’s awkward flirting with an oblivious Chris Hemsworth is amazing and creepy and funny as hell, and Kate McKinnon – well, we’ve already covered her. Rounding out the quartet is Leslie Jones, who manages to be boisterous, knowledgeable within her area, and very, very genre savvy. She skirts the line of being a stereotype on occasion, but that’s forgivable when she’s this charismatic.

Lilly: And going back to something I said earlier (obviously I haven’t been listening to Andy, I’ve just been waiting to say things), re: Chris Hemsworth’s character and the aforementioned flirting Wiig does, she is doing the thing male characters typically do to ‘secretary roles’, throwing flirtatious lines out, ha ha, and it’s like okay, fair turn! Fair turn, there should be a female character who gets to do that. Ladies get to ghost bust AND make unwanted advances, DAMN IT. The difference was, Chris Hemsworth had a character who was fleshed out past a ‘Oh stop!’ and giggle most of those female equivalent characters get. He had a shitty acting career and idiocy that topped most, not to mention his actions in the second act! Plus, at the end of the film, they didn’t somehow end up hooking up even if her lines had consisted of ‘Oh you!’, ‘Oh stop!’, and ‘Phonecall for you, sir–why yes, this IS a new blouse!’

Ghostbusters works to make something accessible to another HALF of the population, and I appreciate that ever so much. At Party City, seeing the fact that the female ghostbuster jumpsuits (not the sexy ones with cleavage on the go and thighs for days, but the actual jumpsuits) were sold out while the male ones weren’t just made my tiny black heart flutter because yes. Yes. Women should get to dress up as any occupation they damn well please, including fictional ones. And that’s the point of the film. Women should get to pretend they are whatever they want to be, because that’s the wonder of imagination, and maybe someday, reality will follow suit so we can be whatever we want. Including Ghostbusters. I’d say I’d sign up, but I’m more a secretary, not going to lie.

Anyway, back to the film as a film, not a social movement.

It was funny! Having heard not too much in praise of it, I was surprised by how much I was laughing. And the cameos! Like seriously, how can you claim to know what is best for a franchise, saying women can’t do it, when all of the cast who could return were there! Even a bust of Harold Ramis showed up! And then there was Charles Dance, and Andy Garcia (yelling ‘Never compare me to the mayor in ‘Jaws’’ which was PERFECT)! Like Andy said, Kate McKinnon definitely stole the show (and my heart) but the cast was still so talented, I was delighted by all of them. I mean, the one odd casting job was the villain of the piece, but. Not to spoil it, that didn’t really make too much of a deal in the long run.

Thinking of it in the realm of family friendly, I did think the ghosts were a bit too scary looking–but then, I’m a known and admitted scaredy cat. If your kids are watching the original, they should be able to take this one, but I’d definitely take a look at the ghosts first to be sure.

So, that’s a definite go, watch, and enjoy from us! Give it a go, and who knows–you might like it more than the original!

Hahaha okay, I’ll stop trying to anger internet people now. But seriously. Go, watch, and enjoy!

A Christmas Horror Story; or YAAAAS CHRISTMAS ANTHOLOGY HORROR YAAAS

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another holiday edition of Hallowfest Octobfilm! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who are trying their best to keep the Christmas spirit in their heart, because if it is let loose, it might be the death of you.

This week’s film offering: A Christmas Horror Story

Achristmashorrorstory
Happy Holidays is ‘too PC’ for some, so does this work? 

Lilly: Hi, my name is Lilly,

Support  Group: Hi Lilly.

Lilly: And I’m a horror anthology-aholic. Seriously, I love horror anthologies–it’s like a horror buffet where you get to try everything and sometimes you get delicious shrimp puffs that are soooo good or you end up with dry pigs in blankets that should have stayed in bed, but you get variety. Love it. So, when I heard there was going to be a new horror anthology film coming out for Christmas (that was Canadian to boot!), well. It was like Christmas had come early.

A Christmas Horror Story is the story of one awful Christmas eve in a small town that has had big tragedies. Held together by the random updates from radio DJ WILLIAM SHATNER, it features Krampus, a family that gets more than a tree from a trip to the forest, zombie elves, and menaced teens.

Andy: If the presence of Captain Kirk didn’t tip you off, this one hails from Canada. There’s a very loose overarching plot connected by the radio snippets, but mostly, the movie’s stories are very independent from each other – there’s little to no character crossover. One in particular, an outbreak of zombie virus among Santa’s elves at the North Pole, seems to have almost no connection to the rest of the film. Or does it?

Lilly: Actually,having grown up in a small town, the connections in this film are subtle but legit–the teenagers know the teenage daughter from the family being menaced by Krampus (one is her boyfriend), one of the family with a problem with their Christmas tree retrieval is a cop who is featured in the sexy teens being menaced line at the beginning, and DJ Kirk is actually the grandparent of the Krampus family–Loveit. Just. Love it.

Andy: Apart from Shatner, who is excellent as the bored DJ on the long shift, there’s only one standout, and that’s George Buza as Santa having a very bad day. Everyone else is mightily forgettable, but then they’re basically meat on the hoof for whatever horrible stuff is going to happen to them.

The weakest story is probably the one involving the teenagers getting menaced. They break into their school, which used to be a convent filled with Evil Nuns, to investigate murders that happened there last year. It’s the kind of thing that’s been done a million times before and a lot better, and it’s also the one with the most tenuous link to Christmas.

Lilly: Like, it isn’t even a virgin conception, which they were sort of trying to imply? I guess? I don’t know? I didn’t really understand any of the evil spirit’s motivation in this one, admittedly.

Andy: The other two are OK, with the stronger being about a family attempting to get a ‘discount’ on a Christmas tree before discovering they’ve paid a much higher price when their son goes missing in the woods, and the weaker being about a family menaced by Krampus, whose prosthetic face and design is probably the single best element in the film.

Lilly: Yeah, he looked amazingly creepy. I also liked the take on Krampus in this film, the mythology a bit different than you’d expect–I don’t want to spoil (I DO BUT WON’T) but it was definitely a bit darker even yet than the Krampus of Krampus. Not nearly as well realized, of course, but it was only one part of a multi-storied film. I really enjoyed the Krampus scenes in this, though, where you discover just how bad the family has been–and it’s pretty bad, spoiler alert (not a spoiler, you know they had to be bad to be menaced by Krampus).

Andy: Overall, like most horror anthologies, this one is a tad uneven, but loads of fun. Even if you don’t agree with us and like the other stories better or worse than us, the whole thing moves along at a lovely clip and you never linger in one place for long. Even the occasional lapses are forgivable, because this film does not take itself seriously in the slightest. Hopefully parts of it will make you smile a big stupid grin, and as far as I’m concerned, when that happens, it’s done its job.

Lilly: It’s a jolly good time, this film, and definitely worth picking up some popcorn and enjoying this holiday horror season! If you are hankering for festive frights, you’re in luck–A Christmas Horror Story delivers just that.

Taste of Fear; or Coming Home Can Be Awkward

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of #TBT Terror, where we get nostalgic for the good old scares. Your bloggers, Andy and  Lilly, would like to assure you that you aren’t just seeing things; there is a corpse in the pool.

Today’s film offering: Taste of Fear (note: this film’s USA title is Scream of Fear)

Sound of terror! Smell of horror! Sight of scary!
Sound of terror! Smell of horror! Sight of scary!

Lilly: Hammer Horror sort of has a reputation. We all know this. Kensington gore, Dracula, gasping heroines swooning and brave young men bally-well doing their jolly best to stop that horror, whatever it might be. It’s over the top, it’s flashy, it’s sex, sex, sex and death.

That all said, Taste of Fear is not that. 

Andy: No less an authority than Christopher Lee said this film was the best thing Hammer had ever done. It’s a cold, twisty thriller, with nothing supernatural at all – which is unusual, at least.

Lilly: Set in the south of France, Taste of Fear is the story of a daughter coming to visit her father after ten years of being estranged. She has spent that time in Switzerland with her nurse, who, not long before her coming, died–we see this in the first few moments of the film, in fact. Did I mention the daughter was in a wheelchair after a riding accident? That was pretty important. She’s in a wheelchair after a riding accident.

Anyway, the daughter gets a letter from her father, asking her to come home, and so she does, to meet…well, everyone, as she hasn’t seen her father for ten years, so hasn’t met his new wife or driver or Christopher Lee. They’re all there, happy to meet her, but something is missing. Oh yeah. Her dad. Off on some mysterious business trip, she is told he’ll be back soon. She is suspicious, and just gets more so as events unfold that aren’t exactly pointing to her father coming home any time soon.

Andy: Like seeing his body, for instance. In many places. More than once.

Lilly: Taste of Fear is a psychological thriller that is well written, fun, and more twisty than the craziest of crazy straws. 

Andy: It’s like an M Night Shyamalan marathon, without the sudden, utter drop in quality after a solid opening. Or M Night Shyamalan coming in to solve the plot. It’s amazing what this film crams into its 76 minute runtime.

Lilly: It has hints of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte and Shadow of a Doubt to it, and as you watch Penny (the daughter) figure out what has happened to her father (spoiler: if there is a body, he’s possibly dead, okay?), the plot starts to thicken so quickly that the last half hour is literally like wading through delicious, plotty molasses. The characters all settle into who they really are, and it all kicks off.

There is a lot to praise in this film. The masterful build up of the plot, the hints at what is going on being dropped in neatly, not in the heavy-handed way you can get sometimes, for instance. It is only 76 minutes long, as Andy has said, yet nothing is left hanging–tying up as many loose ends as this film does it’s a feat to be noted. Then there is the acting by all of the cast, none of them coming off as camp or flat–the weakest was probably Ronald Lewis as Bob, and even then, he was good as the ‘what even is your job description’ chauffeur.

Andy: I wouldn’t rank it as among my favourite films, but it’s one of the most efficient thrillers I have ever watched. And if you can guess all the twists before they come, you’re smarter than me.

All in all, there are worse ways to spend an hour and a bit. I haven’t written too much this review, simply because the less you know about a film like this, the better – go in almost blind, and you’ll have a great time.

Lilly: While it wouldn’t crack my top ten films ever, this is definitely one of my favourite psychological thrillers, especially for how short it is and how unknown it was to me prior to us going on a Hammer kick.

Now. Go. Watch. And enjoy!

Crimson Peak; or It’s Always Gloomy in England

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Straight-Up Scary Saturday, where the scares are anything but subtle. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who would like to remind you that there is nothing normal about bleeding walls–if your walls bleed, call a plumber or priest immediately.

Today’s film offering: Crimson Peak

More like BABE peak, right?
More like BABE peak, right?

Lilly: Sigh. Tom Hiddleston.

Andy: Sigh. Guillermo Del Toro.

Lilly: Crimson Peak is the story of a young lady who wants to become a writer but is stuck being a secretary (she is a lady after all, ho ho ho) at her father’s building company. Stuck, that is, until a tall, dark, incredibly handsome stranger shows up and takes an interest in her…stories. Definitely not in her father’s money, no no no. It’s definitely in her stories. Definitely.

Tragedy soon follows the tall, dark stranger’s entrance into her life and it spurs her decision to move to England with her new brooding beau and his beautiful yet batshit sister. She arrives at his ancestral home, Allerdale Hall, and proceeds to become the queen of justifications as her life gets more and more insane.

This is a Gothic Tale.

Andy: No kidding.

It’s also a Guillermo Del Toro tale. A man who believes that horror is best viewed through the lens of an extremely dark fairytale, he is possibly one of the greatest people currently working in the genre. With a stable of director credits including Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, and even such oddities as Cronos and Mimic, as well as producer credits on films like The Orphanage and Mama, his movies are characterised by beautiful imagery, insectile forms, scenes of decay and parental (especially paternal) abandonment or neglect.

Going to a new film directed by him is something I approach with something approaching awe. I’m a fan, essentially.

Lilly: As this is a film still in theatres, we hardly want to spoil, but there is a lot to like about this film. It is aesthetically fantastic, the sets absolutely stunning. The colour palette is dark and sensual

Andy: This film is nothing if not lovely to look at, which is what we’ve come to expect. The main set of the house is a fantastic model of decay and neglect, with a steady stream of leaves and later snow through the central hole in the roof. There are other touches – a grand library full of mouldering books no-one bothers to read. A creaky water system that sounds like the rumblings of a train. A slow seepage of the red earth up through the floorboards.

Lilly: Don’t forget, due to chimneys and poor carpentry, blah blah blah, the house breathes. Pro tip: if your new fella has a house that breathes? Just leave. Divorce. Shut it down.

Andy Yes. It gives off the distinct impression that not only has nobody lived there for a long time, nobody should live there. It’s the most interesting and developed character in the film.

Lilly: Meanwhile, I think the Baronet, played by Tom Hiddleston, is brilliant. He’s tortured, he’s dark, he’s secretive, and he’s sympathetic even with his twisted behaviour. I could literally use the word ‘gothic’ a million times to describe this film, and I want to use it again here to describe him. A man tied to a decaying family home and possessive older sister, I just want to play gothic bingo with his narrative. Handsome and charming? Check. Mysterious background? Check. Passionate towards the heroine? Check. Wants his wife to live in a giant castle of a house and never go in that one area of the house, ever, you hear me? Check!

Andy: Speaking of the older sister, she also gets an interesting build up. Played very capably by Jessica Chastain, she’s a woman who knows the power of not caring if she is liked or not. The young American bride her brother brings home is desperate to be liked, and this puts her in a position of weakness to someone so cold and distant. There’s a whiff of Rebecca’s Mrs Danvers here, probably one of the all time great gothic characters. There’s also more than an edge of The Fall of the House of Usher to the bizarre sibling relationship.

Lilly: Of course, we should probably talk a little bit about our lead, the charming Edith. She is able to see ghosts, something we learn at the very beginning of the film, and it has always been a rather spooky affliction. She is warned to ‘Beware of Crimson Peak’ (something we see on the film posters, so who needs to see ghosts?) by the same ghost several times, and sees visions of others who have been lost in tragic deaths. Yet, when she goes to her new home with the bleeding walls and deathly cold corridors, she is optimistic, which makes her one of the most Gothic-y things of all: the young woman who gets menaced in the name of curiousity and love. It’s really neat, truth be told, to see a character so honestly written–while modern horror audiences would see her as idiotic at times, she actually reads as someone from her time, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Andy: And, that’s sort of it for a character list. There’s our young heroine, her husband and her sister-in-law. There’s a young doctor who was the blushing bride’s other suitor, but even he’s a relatively minor character – everything else is on our three leads.

So far, we’ve praised the visuals and some of the characterisation, so it might seem like we really like this one.

However.

The trouble is that I naturally hold Guillermo Del Toro to a very high standard. His stories have been stunning visually and often narratively clever. The trouble is, here, he isn’t doing anything new. Not just for him, but for gothic tales generally.

There’s all the usual things we see in his films, and in some ways this one consolidates them, but they’ve been done before. The ghosts moving strangely? Mama. Moth motif? Mimic. One ghost in particular looks exactly like the ghost from The Devil’s Backbone. And as you can tell from some of the references we’ve made already, there’s a lot of drawing from the well of gothic literature. The trouble is, he then doesn’t do anything with the bucket.

Part of me wonders if it is just because I am too familiar with gothic literature, but for such a visually sumptuous film, the plot as it unfolds feels at turns tired, strained, worn and predictable. There are some nice touches, but for such an original director, I kind of expected more.

Lilly: I think a big problem with this film was how it was marketed, myself. I expected a lot more scares, a lot more terror, and what I got was a perfectly pleasant story. Well, not pleasant, but still, an enjoyable two hours spent. I think it was best said by Edith herself when she describes her story (clearly something that is supposed to be a mirror of what she experiences in life, ps, a sort of watery echo of Northanger Abbey, in my opinion) to a publisher: this is not a ghost story, this is a story with a ghost in it. However, the trailers really didn’t give any indication that that was going to be the case, so people might come out really disappointed. Fair enough. But I wasn’t.

Andy: Hmm. It’s a perfectly fine film, in its own way. Many, many other people will probably like this one more than me, and that’s a perfectly legitimate opinion. However, to me it’s like a decorated Easter Egg. Vibrant, colourful and gorgeous to look at – but inside is still a boiled egg. It’s edible, sure, but needs salt.

I did laugh, however, at the portrayal of my homeland as a vast, cold wasteland where “nothing grows that isn’t bitter”. Dead on, that.

Watcher in the Woods and Hocus Pocus; Or Disney Does Horror

Hello and Hallo-welcome to our second Twofer Tuesday, where we look at two movies with similar stuff and tell you which one to watch. It may be both! So come join our bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who remind you not to chant around abandoned church altars with your friends, and not light candles in weird houses unless you have lots of sex first.

We’re doing it a little bit different today, with Andy covering the first of our films, and Lilly the second.

Today’s film offerings: The Watcher in the Woods and Hocus Pocus

Woods are generally creepy as a rule.
Woods are generally creepy as a rule.

Andy: When you think of horror movie studios, Disney is probably a very, very long way down the list. Especially its live-action selection: You’re more likely to think Mary Poppins or The Love Bug than a creepy supernatural mystery starring none other than Bette-Whatever Happened to Baby Jane-Davis. The most surprising thing about this is that it exists at all.

The plot concerns a young family renting an enormous house from a cranky and eccentric old lady (played by Bette Davis, obviously). Their daughters Jan and Ellie (played surreally by Lynn-Holly Johnson and Kyle Richards, respectively a minor Bond Girl from For Your Eyes Only and the little girl from the original Halloween) immediately start experiencing weird things – Jan starts seeing strange lights in the woods and Ellie becomes a little bit obsessed with the name Karen.

Karen, is of course, the name of Bette Davis’ daughter, who disappeared into the woods 30 years prior, and hasn’t been seen since. And the locals are extremely cagey about what happened.

So yeah, the plot isn’t exactly original. But it doesn’t matter – this is specifically aimed at young adults, so however cliche-ridden it seems to us hoary old hands, as a standalone story it ticks along surprisingly well. It helps that it has a small amount of horror cred behind it – director John Hough also directed The Legend of Hell House, and one of the locations used prominently is Hill House from Robert Wise’s excellent 1963 film The Haunting.

The film isn’t by any means top tier – the effects haven’t aged very well, and the plot is, well, the plot. But it’s a good one for people who want something spooky to watch with their kids this Halloween, and for those who have fond memories of things like Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Goosebumps. It’s spooky and solid.

The one criticism I would level at it is that it lacks a certain amount of fun. There’s no real jokes or comedy, including black comedy, and as a result it can seem like it’s taking itself too seriously. Which is fine for younger people, but can be unintentionally funny for anyone over the age of 16. However, it zips along nicely and at 84 minutes doesn’t overstay its welcome. Recommended, especially for people who aren’t fans of horror.

Bippity Boppity BOO.
Bippity Boppity BOO.

Lilly: Moving on to our second film offering, Hocus Pocus, we jump right into the action in Salem, Mass., where young Thackery Binx is made to watch his sister, Emily, die before he is cursed to live with the guilt of not saving her as an immortal cat.

This film kicks off quick.

Hocus Pocus is the story of young Max Dennison, a new-comer to town who is just learning the story of the wicked witch Sanderson sisters when he accidentally brings them back to life by lighting a candle. A candle which is said to only work if you are a virgin, which is awkwardly commented on as being ridiculous at Max’s old age of…sixteen, was it?

Unlike The Watcher in the Woods, Hocus Pocus is a film that is part horror, part family fun film, meant to scare the kiddies and make everyone from six to sixty plus laugh. The acting from the three adult leads, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, is excellent and on point, and the child actors aren’t the worst, which is all I ask for in a film with child protagonists. Not originally lauded when it was released, Hocus Pocus has become accepted as a cult classic over the years, and rightfully so–it has witches, zombies, talking black cats, trick or treating, slight menacing of children…everything Halloween should have, really!

Something this film does really well is the relationship between brothers and sisters. You get the first Binx siblings, with Thackery clearly prepared to die for his younger sister, the guilt leading to a curse that lasted for three hundred years. We don’t see much of their interaction, but the simple fact that he chased after her to the house of known witches said enough. It was sweet, it was short, it was beautiful.

Than we have Max and Dani, a pair who are so real it hurts. From Dani’s calling Max ‘jerkface’ and Max’s disgust with having to babysit her on Halloween night, it is a beautifully realistic depiction of how you can be wishing your sibling both simultaneously out of your face and yet always safe forever from any danger. It’s fun to watch the development from loving one another deep down to openly showing affection by the end of the film, but hey, nearly having your essence sucked out by a witch can bring out the best in people, apparently.

Also, continuing on the family friendly point, I want to comment on Billy Butcherson, the long-dead former lover of Winnie. For those of you who have read last years reviews, or this year’s, or spoken to me ever, you know I don’t like zombies as a rule. I’m afraid of them, they’re too plausible in my head, and nope. Nope. Yet Billy, with his lips sewn shut and his head falling off? Love him. Love him now and loved him when I was a child. Hocus Pocus takes a classic movie monster and makes it accessible to children in the clearest moment of what family horror should be–he still climbed out of a grave, still was clearly the walking dead, setting up all those zombie tropes, but he is not gory and gruesome and traumatizing. He’s just right. He’s even a bit punk rock at times, such as when he flips open the switchblade to cut his mouth open and call Winnie “Wench! Trollop! You buck-toothed, mop-riding firefly from hell!” I mean. Who hasn’t thought to call an ex that? Billy the zombie for life.

It’s hard to actually compare the two films, mainly because one was more Nancy Drew while the other was Scooby Doo–serious paranormal mystery versus family fun witchy frolic isn’t really a fair fight. They are two very different films in tone, different in context, and for very different film nights. I can see avid readers, for instance, really liking The Watcher in the Woods since it is a mystery to be solved. I can see families enjoying Hocus Pocus since it is pitched just right to have something for everyone.

Andy: I would argue that The Watcher in the Woods could probably be shown to a younger audience. While Hocus Pocus is overall the better family film, it does keep bringing up the fact that Max is a virgin, like, all the time – it’s probably the only misstep. They are definitely two very different types of movies – one’s gently supernatural, the other glorious camp – but both are worth your time. Hocus Pocus probably edges out The Watcher in the Woods, if I had to make a choice, but both aren’t getting out of here without a recommendation.

Suburban Gothic; or A Parade of Cravats

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Laugh-it-off Monday, where we start the week with a smile! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, neither of which are an Aries, so they aren’t assholes.

Today’s Film Offering: Suburban Gothic

This was one of the funnier jokes made.
This was one of the funnier jokes made.

Lilly: As if moving back in with your parents wasn’t enough of a nightmare, Suburban Gothic is the tale of a young man who is too much for his suburb-dwelling parents, and his struggle with not only coming back to a place he never thought he’d have to return to but also the paranormal. A fun premise for all of those people facing the same issues–well, minus all the ghosts.

I’m going to be honest here, I wanted to see this film because I like the actor Matthew Grey Gubler from his role on Criminal Minds and I heard John Waters was going to be in it. And I got exactly what I deserved for going into a film for those two purposes. Very little.

Andy: Trouble is, that literally everybody in this film is utterly hateable. The jokes are horrible, the humour is about two decades out of date (ooo, mexican workers in the yard, how original!) and the plot is utterly asinine.

Trouble is, I think it was going for a sort of hip Scream-like pastiche of horror tropes, except Scream knew exactly what it was doing, and was actually, yknow, witty. Plus, while ironic detachment may work to hide some of the film’s many, many sins, it doesn’t excuse using constant homophobic, racist and ableist slurs – these aren’t even offensive, they’re just dumb and lazy.

Lilly: It was just sort of lazy writing to make sure we didn’t like certain characters. Ah yes, don’t like Racist Dad, check. Right, those are bullies since they are being homophobic. Right, Racist Dad is also Ableist Dad, so there’s that. Oh, and both parents are homophobic, so that’s…okay, wait, now Kat Dennings is calling MGG a lady, which is apparently an insult. So am…wait. Do I like her or hate her? Ugh. And why do we keep hearing about how fat he was? I get it. He was fat. That must have been hard. He’s skinny now, so there’s that to be happy about. Because being fat was hard. I. Get. It.

Andy: It’s pretty much the poster boy for Trying Too Hard. It provides an interesting contrast with Housebound, which we watched yesterday. In that, the people felt like real people, and importantly, the movie didn’t take sides in an intergenerational conflict – both sides were humanised. Here, the characters are stock and poorly written stock at that. Our ‘hero’ is made more unlikeable by the fact that we sense we’re being forced to be on his side. 

Lilly: I had such high hopes that Becca (Kat Dennings) would keep up her hatred for Raymond (Matthew Grey Gubler) actually, because she was relatable when she disliked him.

Andy: Because he’s an absolute douchecanoe with no redeeming qualities.

Lilly: Which is frustrating, since Becca had some interesting moments in the film. The first time I actually took a moment to appreciate her characterization was when she used the line “I’m on my period” to avoid sex in a non-confrontational way to then correct this behaviour with the words “I’m not, I just really don’t want to have sex right now”. A female character taking that sort of ownership of her own sexuality is sort of refreshing. Then there was the line “I better not be pregnant again” which sort of tipped her into the heavy-handed anti-stereotype ‘I am not just a WOMB’ character that is actually pretty common in modern comedies–comedies, because it’s laughable, right? Right? That’s another rant in itself.

Andy: I cannot say this loudly or often enough: Good Characters = Good Horror. This is terrible horror.

Lilly: Not to mention the fact that Raymond ends up teaching at the school, which makes no sense–does he have a teaching degree? Is he allowed around children? I hate the trope of ‘anyone can teach’ you get in films. Hate it.

That said, the scary bits? Were actually pretty scary. When the film wasn’t trying to be too cool for the tropes it was falling into, there were terrifying ghosts, creepy seance scenes, and weird hauntings that grossed you out. They were insane, and sudden, and if the rest of the film was enjoyable, they would have really amped it up.

Andy: It may surprise you to learn this, but we occasionally take notes when we watch these films, especially if they’re new to us. On the final page I did for this one, I wrote “Where the f*** is the narrative arc? The conflict? It’s slacker millennial bullshit of the highest order.”

Pretty much. It’s not funny, it’s not original and it’s not scary. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Lilly: Sorry, MGG, but agreed. It’s just so much nonsense, not fitting of the time it was made in, with a weird plot that doesn’t entirely make sense with irrelevant shenanigans that are time wasters, not plot builders. Ugh. Not a recommendation.

Housebound; or There’s Something in the Walls Again

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Shut-In Sunday. Just when you thought it was safe to stay at home, your hosts Andy and Lilly are here to remind you to check your closets.

Today’s film offering: Housebound

The horror of family portraits is real.
The horror of family portraits is real.

Andy: You know, New Zealand is turning into a bit of a horror-comedy gold mine. First, there’s the thoroughly weird Black Sheep

Lilly: Then a film we are reviewing later in the month, What We Do in the Shadows

Andy: –and now here comes Housebound, a film so breezy and well-put together that it’s amazing that it’s from a first time director.

Anyway. The plot concerns a young tearaway played by Morgana O’Reilly who is sentenced to the worst punishment imaginable – house arrest with her ditsy mother and bland-but-pleasant stepfather. Unfortunately, her mother (and the security contractor in charge of her ankle bracelet, in a hilarious twist) think that the house is haunted.

The worst part for our disillusioned jerk of a protagonist is that they may be right.

Lilly: Cue spooky shenanigans!

Housebound is essentially two stories at once: the story of a mother and daughter reconnecting and trying to learn how to understand one another and the story of the living trying to understand the dead. It features characters who are from each end of the spectrum between the alive and the dearly departed; the mother, who is going through the motions of a life with her disconnect from reality, a daughter who just wants to live free, the ghost in the house, looking for closure, and then…there seems to be something in the walls.

Sound familiar?

Andy: Yeah, it’s not the most original of plots, but it’s all done with such skill and joie de vivre it’s hard not to get swept along. Plus it kept surprising me with great little touches, like the developing friendship between Kylie, our housebound hero, and Amos, the security contractor. It helps that everyone is so consistently characterised.  I mean, of course the guy who twiddles with sophisticated electronic equipment for his living also has an EMP detector.

Trouble is, it’s also one of those films that’s so good you don’t want to give too much away.

Lilly: This is a constant struggle for me, with these reviews. I basically want to tell you readers all the great things we see in the film, but some of those great things are super big spoilers, so…I can’t. And with this film, being as new as it is and as fun as it is, well…It’s just. It’s great.

The pace is fantastic, I can tell you that much. It was clearly done by people who understand that horror isn’t something you can either rush or trudge along with. It’s a fine line, and Housebound really takes note of it. You weren’t miles ahead, knowing exactly what was going to happen, nor were you miles behind, having no idea what was going along, and I love that in a film.

As I often do, I also want to comment on the characterizations–which Andy touched on as well–mainly of the protagonist and her mother. Their relationship is intense and sad and hard to watch at times, and that is very much down to the writing. Both are very real, very human characters, and in a horror film, that is incredibly important. You can’t get behind the monsters not getting them if they are monsters themselves.

Andy: It’s better than Black Sheep, but less broadly funny. There’s less laugh-out-loud moments, but the humour is wry, knowing and very consistent. It’s the antithesis of what we reviewed yesterday – sublime, not clunky, with interesting characters and an unpredictable plot.

This is one we definitely recommend, and desperately want to get the word out on.

Lilly: So go forth and watch it–and hey, let us know what you think!

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death; or Eddie’s Got a Secret Friend

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Straight-Up Scary Saturday! Under the covers, hiding their faces, are your bloggers, Andy and Lilly.

Today’s film offering: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

Never forgive, never forget, NEVER forgive, NEVER forget, NEVER FOR--you get it.
Never forgive, never forget, NEVER forgive, NEVER forget, NEVER FOR–you get it.

Lilly: As a heads up, this review will have spoilers for The Woman in Black, the prequel to this film, but then again, the novella came out in the early eighties, so if you aren’t reading up on your short horror stories by Susan Hill, well, that is not our problem! (Or really a problem at all, but still. Go read some Susan Hill, actually, she’s great.)

But! This isn’t about books, this is about films! So. Yes. Moving on.

The set-up of this film is relatively simple. It’s the war, don’t you know, and children are being sent off from London, which is a bit dangerous. So, they send them to an isolated, dilapidated old house full of mildew and mold to be safe under the care of two women, neither of which have a vehicle in case of emergencies. Safe!

Andy: “No thanks, I’d rather deal with the Luftwaffe.”

Anyway, this particular, extremely isolated house was home to Alice Drablow, whose sister Jennet was a bit miffed when her child got taken away from her. And by that I mean she killed herself, became a malevolent banshee and regularly murders children. I’m sure those evacuees will be fine.

In some ways, she represents an even greater threat than in the first film. In that, there was a moment of hope, where reuniting her with her dead son (oh yeah, he also drowned, which didn’t help) seemed to quell her restless spirit. However, it ultimately didn’t work. So this time, we know she absolutely cannot be reasoned with. You run away, taking as many under-10s as you can lay your hands on, or you accept that She Will Have Her Way.

Lilly: Truth time: this film scares me. As Andy put it, it features a banshee-like creation who is even more ghostly in this film than the first, as she barely has any backstory or build up given. This film comes out swinging, no ‘maybe she is a nice ghost’ or ideas of her being misunderstood. No, she killed Daniel Radcliffe’s adorable child in the first film, she doesn’t give two damns about being understood! She wants revenge, plain and simple.

That said, my word, does she seem to enjoy what she does in this film. There is far more ‘hijinks’ performed by Jennet in Angel of Death, from children being led into the nursery to drudging up bad memories of the protagonist. She is on her A ghost game, and it almost gets a little annoying, mostly due to the fact that we barely see her. There is a lot of teasing, a lot of explosively frightening moments, but Jennet herself isn’t given any strong on screen time like you got in the last half hour or so of the first film.

Andy: It’s the difference between a force of nature and something actively malevolent. And yeah, that is one of my first criticisms with this film. Not showing the scary thing is always scarier than showing it. But, unless you decided to dive straight into the sequel, we know what she looks like. There’s no mystery to her appearance. And so glimpses of her become a bit irritating rather than creepy. “Oh there she is. Wait, she’s gone.”

Lilly: Jennet, however, wasn’t the most horrific character in this film for me. No, it was Eve Parkins, our plucky, smile-no-matter-what-even-if-your-family-is-dead-because-I-DO-AND-I’M-FINE-NIGHTMARESWHATNIGHTMARES protagonist. From her first moments in the shelter during a raid, responding to a woman and her frightened child asking how she keeps smiling with ‘Well, you just have to!’ I had to stop my eyes from rolling clear out of my head. Do you? Do you just have to? That woman you just smiled at might have lost a husband, a son, two brothers, an uncle, and her father to the war, but just keep smiling because maybe your child is terrified and won’t sleep for days due to this experience, but HEY WHY NOT SMILE IT OFF. No acknowledgement of other’s pain, no real sense of others having ever suffered, she rubs me all the wrong ways. Oh, but of course, she does stop smiling when Edward, a recent-as-in-last-night orphan shows up and she has the most condescending ‘aw bless’ sort of face on that, again, I had to hold my eyeballs in. Where’s your smile NOW, lady?

Andy: Yeah, she’s clearly suppressing some major trauma. Trouble is, when this trauma is revealed, the immediate response is not sympathy, but more along the lines of wondering whether she should be allowed around children without some therapy first.

Which brings up the major problem I have with this film. Who are we supposed to identify with? We have this woman, who is not compelling and can be generously described as poorly written. Who else have we got? The other woman in charge? Her plotline is brought up, ignored, and then quietly shot behind the chemical sheds. Not to mention she’s fulfilling the role of aggressive unbeliever. The kids? Jerks, nobodies and Edward. The RAF guy? I guess. But even then some late reveals about his job and his ‘shame’ are plain silly. He’s saving lives, for goodness sake.

Lilly: It feels like, in the end, the writing of the people of the time was done by someone who barely understood the psychology of the time and only had a basic high school knowledge of the era to work on. Sorry not sorry. It was a cast of stereotypes. Plucky woman, getting the job done with a smile on her face, even with a dark past–to make her interesting enough to get away with plucky. Strict but caring matron who practically grew up in the army but has her weakness, too. Young, strapping RAF lad who will do his darndest to make sure what is right gets done. And then children, who are either bullies or orphans. 

Andy: Not to mention that anyone my age raised in the British education system are sick to bloody death of evacuees. Ooh they didn’t know what a sheep looked like! How weird!

Lilly: Don’t get me wrong–the characters in this film are found in loads of other films, not just horror, and I find them annoying there as well. It really pulled me away from the tension of the moment, and you could really tell the first film was based off a novella while this…not so much.

There were some good moments, certainly. It throws back to the original television film with the playing of the wax phonograph cylinders, and you see a scene in the graveyard that was in the book but left out of the first go-round with the Woman. It has some really creepy moments that make it so, even without a firm set of characters or sensible plot, I am left having to watch something before bed that isn’t scary to make sure I don’t have nightmares.

Andy: But the original had that and a firm set of characters and a sensible plot. While we don;t like to compare sequels to readily to the original – even sequels can sometimes have qualities that make them interesting independent of the original (eyes box in corner labelled “Whiy Alien 3 isn’t shit”). But this just doesn’t stand on its own in the same way. The good ideas come from either the novel or the first film, and when you take those away, you’re left with a few scary moments, some not-very-interesting characters, and…that’s it.

It’s not one we’d really recommend, ultimately.

Lilly: And if we were to recommend it, it would be in a different category than the original film–it’s less slow-burning ghost thriller and more shock-scare date night nonsense you can talk over. Get the popcorn in the noisy, rustly bag, and enjoy.