Monday, 9 October 2017

The Stepford Wives

"The Stepford Wives" (1975, Bryan Forbes, Palomar Pictures, Columbia Pictures) is a science fiction horror film based on a novel by Ira Levin.

Aspiring photographer, Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross), and her husband, Walter (Peter Masterson), have just moved from the bustling streets of New York City to the quiet, homely suburb of Stepford.

Joanna finds life in Stepford dull and isolating. All the other women are perfect housewives who's interests seem limited to looking perfect and household chores, all the men are members of a secretive local men's club and spend all of their time split between the club and work. Walter quickly settles into life in Stepford, joining the club.

She finds two other women who are also new to the area; tennis playing Charmaine (Tina Louise) and messy Bobbie (Paula Prentiss). Like her, they have other interests and personalities than housework and pleasing their husbands. However, to Bobbie and Joanna's dismay, Charmaine mysteriously changes overnight and becomes a housework obsessed wife, even going as far as to have her beloved tennis court removed. Worried that they may be simply paranoid, the two remaining women begin to uncover some clues.

During their investigations into the strange behaviour of the other women in the area, they uncover some very disturbing things and realise that they too might be in danger of becoming... a Stepford Wife.

A fun, but chilling concept. The film is very of its time, and suffers from being a little too slow-burning in the build up. The wives are all perfectly, surreally creepy; especially Carol van Sant (Nanette Newman) who's unnatural reactions are the first trigger warning for Joanna.

The settings are all very cheerful and colourful; a perfect contrast the what is going on under the surface and a sure inspiration for other following horrors and homages set in the suburbs.

Although slow starting and a little leisurely, the film enjoys an exciting climax on a stormy night and boasts some nicely chilling scenes with the Wife characters. It delivers a strange and unsupporting message on the suburban "dream" and makes a commentary on the value of marriage.

[Image: Columbia Pictures]

Monday, 2 October 2017

Cult of Chucky

"Cult of Chucky" (2017, Don Mancini, Universal 1440 Entertainment) is the seventh Chucky film and a direct sequel to 2013's "Curse of Chucky".

This time we get to meet up with Andy (Alex Vincent) again. He's all grown up and making extremely strange life choices... like living in what looks like Grandpa's house from "The Lost Boys" and keeping the still-animated severed head of his childhood trauma, Chucky (voiced so iconically by Brad Dourif), around for torturing. No wonder he's single, really.

We then catch up with our pal from the last movie, Nica (Fiona Dourif), who wound up taking the blame for all of Chucky's murders in the last film and has found herself incarcerated in a home for the criminally insane. When a new therapy technique with Good Guy dolls is introduced, more Chucky mayhem unfolds as the wisecracking mad-doll begins his usual rampage.

The film has some really good points. Brad Dourif, as usual, being one. He always gleefully takes the role of Chucky on. It's hard not to enjoy it. The doll is also very well animated and looks pretty organic without losing that nice 80s vibe that makes Chucky such a fun franchise. Another good point is, of course, having Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), around a bit more. She deserves more screen time.

The film has a B-movie feel about it. From the weird, awkward silences, the strange unnatural acting and all round scripting of it, it's pretty apparent that this is on purpose. However, it was maybe too successful and lost some of the atmosphere and more satisfying jumps that were garnered in "Curse of Chucky". Nica's character is also a bit underutilised until past the halfway mark making her feel less like a protagonist and more of a plot device.

There are hidden jokes and nods to both previous entrants of the Chucky franchise and other projects of the cast and crew. It's a pretty self-aware piece, clearly made for fans. The film enjoys taking the already batshit premise and antics of Chucky and not only slabbering them on with gusto, but also adding to the lore and creating a premise for new opportunities for the murderous duo.

It is more cheesy than Curse, less fun than Bride and gives a sprinkling of cartoon-style gore.

[Image: Universal 1440 Entertainment, et al]

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Houses October Built

"The Houses October Built" (2014, Bobby Roe, Room 101, Foreboding Films, Image Entertainment, RLJ Entertainment) is a found footage horror set at Halloween.

The film opens at the end. I imagine to whet your appetite and rev you up for the movie, but for me it just robbed a bit of the mystery out of the experience.

Flash forward to introduce us to a group of pals from Ohio setting out on their road trip around the American South's scariest and most extreme Haunted House attractions. They plan to film their experience as a documentary and uncover the darker side of the 'harmless' fun of thrill-seeking.

They start out with the more mainstream Haunts, introducing us to the characters and letting us see some of the attractions. But their ultimate goal is to find a legendary and exclusive extreme haunt called "Blue Skeleton", which is said to utilise actual torture techniques for a more realistic experience.

Throughout their journey they encounter natural resistance from Haunt staff to divulge their trade secrets or oust their employers' more sinister tricks. They're chased, threatened and thrown out a fair few times. Additionally, they get to hear some more disturbing tales from less coy staff.

Finally, they catch wind of the elusive Blue Skeleton and, with some difficulty, are able to gain entry to the Haunt. However, once inside, will they live to tell the tale?

A directional debut from Roe who also plays one of the main characters, he has brought together a cast which interacts fairly well on screen. However, the film suffers from a bit of a lack of strong pacing and a few conflicts of style. The characters start out making a documentary, but this theme doesn't seem to continue much throughout the film and it winds up just a stream of clips. I get it, they haven't edited it yet (and maybe won't ever get around to it) but you'd think they would have filmed a few more documentary-style scenes and interviews than are shown.

The film premise is pretty good with plenty of footage of the haunts themselves, but there's very little action throughout most of the movie and then, when stuff does start to pick up, it's over really quickly without any explanation and not enough mystique to make it a satisfying mystery. The movie ends with the only explanation being "*shrug* just 'cause".

I'm not a huge found footage fan, and when I do find a FF film that I like, it invariably has some wraparound or a few scenes of traditional filming to bolster out the shaky cam (see my thoughts on 2016's "Hell House LLC"). One of my main issues with "The Houses October Built" was that its reliance solely on 'unedited' found footage reels, made it noisy and disjointed to watch. And it's never really explained how we're watching it. Have the Blue Skeleton staff sold the videos on? Are we watching it over their shoulder/through their eyes? Was this even the Blue Skeleton?

Although, for a debut it's a fairly solid Found Footage entry and, if you like haunted houses, there's a few good scenes.

[Image: Foreboding Films, et al]

Monday, 11 September 2017

IT (2017)

"IT" aka "IT: Chapter One" (2017, Andy Muschietti, New Line Cinema, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, KatzSmith Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures) is based on Stephen King's amazing novel of the same name.

On a stormy day, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gives his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), a sailboat made of paper to play with outside. But, when innocent little Georgie's sailboat floats down a storm drain, he makes the acquaintance of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) and meets a gruesome end. For Bill and his band of misfit friends, however, it is just the beginning as he tries to find out what happened to his baby brother, and they are all taunted by IT...

What a thrilling experience it was to see a horror film in a cinema and actually get a few scares! I had been apprehensive as Tim Curry's rendition of Pennywise is so iconic that I couldn't imagine anyone else in the role, but Skarsgård has really made this version of the clown creature his own. Not only is he bitter-sweet, off-balanced and straight up freaky, but he's also so well designed. The clown is just different enough to mark this character as a whole new imagining.

The film stays pretty close to King's masterpiece, and although obviously not every plot point could be squeezed into the run time, I didn't feel that it was rushed or lost any of the pacing. Of course, we still have the next part of the book to cover, and, having now seen the first instalment, I have high hopes for the second battle.

The 80s vibe and styling is excellently achieved. From the clothing to the background advertising, it feels very authentic. I'm really enjoying the 80s love at the moment.

The Losers Club are perfect. All the actors give such a great, realistic performance and bring the roles to life. I can only hope their adult counterparts in the next movie can continue with such style. The characters in this story have such horrid background stories and face some traumatic situations and the movie does well to lighten the tone with some humour now and again. This also just makes the darker scenes all the more cutting.

Aside from leading man, Bill, who gives a fantastic performance and holds the club together, we are joined by Bev (Sophia Lillis); lone girl of the group who, as well as being bullied relentlessly at school also has a traumatic and horrifying home life. Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor); love sick, overweight romantic who is also the new kid at school. Richie (Finn Wolfhard); a motormouth who masks his own personal demons with humour and crassness. He's also a face you'll recognise from "Stranger Things" (and he really proves his mettle with a quite radically different and equally iconic character). Stan (Wyatt Olef); a quiet, smart Jewish kid who manages to get a good few quips in when Richie takes a breath. His father is the local Rabbi and he feels under pressure to make him proud. Mike (Chosen Jacobs); a home-schooled kid raised by his grandfather after his parents met a grissly end. He doesn't want to be an outsider, but equally he isn't sure if he wants to join the others when he knows what he's let himself in for. And, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer); a hypochondriac fuelled by his mother's blatant Munchhausen's by-proxy.

Keeping the Losers Club terrified even before Pennywise awakens, we have the local gang of bullies, led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), son of a local cop who constantly belittles him, Henry feels like he has to terrorise others to make himself feel more like a man.

While Skarsgård's Pennywise does a fair bit more chatting that Tim Curry's did, the film benefits from taking more from the book and enjoys some truly disturbing images. The scares are frequent, quick paced and effective and the plot moves along smoothly.

All in all, it was my most satisfying cinema trip in some time!

[Image: Warner Bros. Pictures, et al]

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Death Note

"Death Note" (2017, Adam Wingard, LP Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Netflix) is an American horror film based on the Japanese Manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a high school student. He's not popular, he's not athletic and he makes cash on the side through doing others' homework. When Light comes across a mysterious notebook and meets the sinister Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), a demonic death god, his life begins to change. Quickly unlocking the secrets of the notebook's power: to kill any individual properly targeted using the book, Light finds a kindred spirit in his crush, Mia (Margaret Qualley), and also attracts the unwanted attention of L (Lakeith Stanfield) , an FBI agent seeking to halt their murderous spree.

Although Light's original intentions may have been good, things become complicated and messy as time progresses and he becomes suspicious that Ryuk may not be on his side after all. The overall taking from this film is the old adage: 'power corrupts'.

The film offers some good qualities: Dafoe's performance as the creepy and charming Ryuk is very effective, and the aesthetics of the film are nicely put together. However, the film attempts to pack so much in to the run time that it feels slightly unfinished and focuses perhaps too much attention on the puppy-love aspect of the sub-plot as opposed to mysteries of the notebook or of Ryuk. The ending is also convoluted and felt unhinged from the rest of the film.

I've learned that as well as removing the story from Japan to suit a more Western audience, the film has made other changes to the plot and characters as to make this version very different from the base material. I am not much of a Manga reader, but I feel intrigued now to search "Death Note" out and give it a whirl, if anything to understand the base material more and perhaps seek a better appreciation for this interesting story.

[Image: Netflix]

Monday, 14 August 2017

Death Spa

"Death Spa" aka "Witch Bitch"  (1989, Michael Fischa) is a campy 80s film about a haunted gym.

It's the late 80s and everyone is into lycra and leg warmers. We open onto the parking lot of the Starbody Health Spa. It's a stormy night, and the neon sign suddenly falters, losing the letters s,t,a,r,b,o,y,h and l. Cunningly leaving our movie title lit up in the rain. And that, my friends, is where all the cunning behind this picture ends.

"Death Spa" is a ridiculous romp through a haunted health club, chalk full of sweaty beautiful people in colourful workout outfits, gratuitous nude scenes, extremely 80s dance workouts and terrible dialogue. Oh, and it's set at Halloween. It's great and also a bit crap at the same time!

Michael Evans (William Bumiller) owns and operates the Starbody Health Spa. A recent widower after his wife committed suicide, Michael is back on the dating game. When some of his clients, including his new squeeze, are suddenly (and often fatally) attacked by his gym equipment, Michael begins to suspect that his late wife is haunting his gym!

Although slow in places and suffering from serious pacing issues, the film benefits from some fun, low budget effects and hilarious gore. It really is a great candidate for a so-bad-so-good cheesy movie night and definitely one for the low budget horror aficionados out there looking for something a little different to your usual haunted house flick! Just don't go in with any high expectations.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Knock Knock

"Knock Knock" (2015, Eli Roth, Camp Grey, Dragonfly Entertainment, Sobras International Pictures) is a home invasion thriller.

Evan (Keanu Reeves) and Karen (Ignacia Allamand) are happily married with kids, a dog and an idyllic home. When Karen and the kids go away for the weekend, Evan stays at home to work but his night is interrupted when two young women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) come to the door in the pouring rain looking for a house party. Evan tries to call them a taxi but the girls proceed to make themselves comfortable before the cab gets there... and what started as him helping them out becomes a potentially life ruining game of seduction and violence...

An interesting premise that became a little repetitive as the film went on. It is essentially one big cautionary tale: On one hand, that women can be predatory too and that it's pretty easy to ruin your life in one easy step.

The characters aren't developed in Roth's usual style, although the film differs vastly in style and genre from Roth's previous films so much that it's not really worth comparing. Reeve's misguided and somewhat naive character is set up from the start with a few scenes portraying his loving family man side and his sexually frustrated side. It's disappointing, but not surprising when he gives in to the two promiscuous ladies cavorting around his home. The devious vixens themselves are not as well rounded as characters and go from victims to cackling, comic villains pretty quickly with not as much build up as I anticipated.

There are one or two fun scenes, but the more torture-orientated scenes seemed satirical and the film in general would have benefited greatly from either delving more deeply into the implications brought up or by maintaining the satiric humour throughout.

A lot of people have expressed disappointment in the end of this film, but I thought this was probably the scariest part of the movie. All in all, the film had some weak points, but overall it was an interesting 99 minutes.

[Image: Camp Grey, et al]