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31 Days of Horror 17: Snowtown (2011) by Jamie

Unless movies have lied to me, Australia is a terrifying hellscape filled with murderers, Lord Humungus and uncanny knife discernment. This of course goes without mentioning all the terrifying poisonous animals, Steve Irwin-killing stingrays and koala bears. As a younger man I wondered why we Brits sent our criminals away from the dreary weather to what seemed like a tropical paradise. Now I realise the true horror that is Australia.

And so I return to this continent forsaken by every God of mankind’s many myths for true life horror story of Snowtown. The movie is based on the Snowtown Murders of the 1990s and it’s kinda one of the oddest films based on a true story I’ve ever seen. It follows the story of 16 year old James “Jamie” Vlassakis and how he comes to be drawn into the murderous rampage of John Bunting and his band of thugs. The reason that this is an odd film is that the murders kind of take a back seat to the other events taking place around them. You still get to see a few scenes of murder and torture but this isn’t so much a film about the murders or even the psychology of the killer, as these true life serial killer films so often are. Rather it is, as I said, about how someone can find this self in this situation and eventually come to be a complicit, even willing partner in these acts.

And the movie achieves this in a brilliant way. The way it’s shot, the way music is used, it all makes the story play out like some kind of a dream with Jamie, and by extension the viewer, drifting along with the story almost as though he is helpless to fight back against the current that is dragging him a long this dark path. And by dream I mean nightmare. This is a dark, chillingly atmospheric film that could be used to teach people about how effective music, and even the sudden absence of music, in particular can be in conveying tension in even the most seemingly pedestrian scenes, scenes that you feel should give you a break from the way things a spiralling out of control but they don’t.

So yes, this is a breathtakingly beautiful expression of absolute terror and the way the human mind can be coerced into going along with that terror be it out of fear or misplaced friendship or, most likely, a mixture of both. Five pints out of five.

Snowtown_(film)



31 Days Of Horror 16: Frankenweenie by Jamie

So I figured I might as well male this animated diversion a trilogy since I was reminded that Frankenweenie existed at some point and out of the three, it could be said that this film has the largest horror pedigree because it is obvious that Tim Burton loves classic horror films, 1931’s Frankenstein in particular.

The story concerns Victor Frankenstein… wait a minute, Victor Frankenstein? Huh, fine. So yes, Victor Frankenstein loves his dog Sparky. Unfortunately Sparky is hit by a car and killed. Inspired by an experiment in his science class, Victor decides to try and reanimate his beloved pet and, living up to his namesake, he is successful. His classmates learn of this and, worried that Victor will show them up at the science fair, they decide to try and get the secret of animal resurrection for themselves.

So like I said, for the most part this is a pretty straightforward take on Frankenstein (the movie more so than the book). It follows it pretty much directly with a few diversions here or there to reference a number of other horror films (from Godzilla to Gremlins). There are differences of course. Re-animated Sparky retains his former personality rather than becoming a lumbering, misunderstood beast-dog, though he still does wind up being misunderstood of course.

Now I don’t have a problem with Frankenweenie basically being Frankenstein with a dog, in fact it’s really rather enjoyable because I love 1931’s Frankenstein too. It even manages to put a more modern spin on the story. The message of Frankenweenie isn’t “Science has dared to spit in the eye of God!” Rather the message is science is awesome and it is neither good nor bad but it can be used both ways. The middle of the movie even contains a great scene that is essentially science vs ignorance with one character complaining about how Pluto isn’t even a planet any more thanks to science. It’s great.

he movie does have another message however, one about loss and letting go, a message that seemed to have sunk in by the end of the movie in rather a nice, heartfelt way until it is completely negated by the film’s ending which is a shame. If Burton had had the guts to stick to where the movie looked like where it was heading, it would have been a vastly superior film.

Still this is probably Burton’s best film in years, reminiscent of his earlier stuff like Edward Scissorhands and, by virtue of it being stop animated and being filled with horror references, A Nightmare Before Christmas. This makes sense since it’s based on a short film of his from 1984 and it was nice to see him returning to an original idea of his rather than taking an existing property and ‘Burtonizing’ it. Hopefully, he’ll stay on this path for a bit longer. Three and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

Frankenweenie_(2012_film)_poster



31 Days Of Horror 15: ParaNorman (2012) by Jamie

So it seems as though I’m still on my nice little animated break from the blood, guts and gore of your more traditional horror fare but this one at least has something more Halloweeny about it than Monsters University what with it’s Zombies and ghosts and witches and such.

ParaNorman is the tale of a young boy named Norman who is obsessed with zombie movie and, it just so happens, can see and speak to the spirits of the dead. He lives in a town that’s only claim to fame is a witch trial some three hundred years prior. The witch it seems placed a curse on those who tried her that would mean that they would rise from their graves, doomed to have their souls trapped in undead bodies for all eternity. Norman comes to learn that this legend actually has a basis in fact and, due to his special ability, it will soon be his responsibility to see that the curse goes unfulfilled for another year. Will he succeed or will the accursed undead rise from their rest?

Well, I should think the answer to that is pretty obvious or else there wouldn’t be a movie. and a movie there is. A rather enjoyable movie as it turns out and one that I’m happy to see doesn’t feel the need to talk down to kids. It’s a movie that realises that you don’t have to talk down to kids. You can make jokes about sex and violence because kids are already making the same jokes on the playground. One character whilst getting Norman to keep a promise by asking him to swear to which Norman responds “You mean like the F word?” These are the kinds of jokes that I can appreciate. Jokes that remind me of my childhood when I heard kids say shit in The Goonies or Elliot call his brother penis-breath in E.T. It’s stuff kids don’t need to be sheltered from because they already know it. It’s honest.

There’s also a pretty good message at the heart of this film, the message of acceptance. Yes, that you should always be accepting of others no matter your own prejudices or fears but also acceptance of the fact that some people just won’t like you, they’ll be dicks to you but that doesn’t give you an excuse to be a dick back.

All in all this was a pretty funny and thoroughly enjoyable film. If I have a complaint it’s that it kinda lags a touch in the middle where the talking to ghosts conceit seems to be all but abandoned for a while but it makes up for it with a pretty strong beginning and ending, some nice horror references to things like Halloween and Friday the 13th and by being one of the best looking stop-motion films I’ve ever seen. Three and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

ParaNorman_poster



31 Days Of Horror 14: Monsters University (2013) by Jamie

Ok… I know I was stretching the definition of horror with Stoker. Yes, there is no way that Monsters University could truly be defined as a “horror” film but Monsters is right there in the title and I’ve been enveloped in gore, murder and all that kind of stuff lately and god damnit I need something light so I’m going ahead with this one… Did I mention that the word Monsters was in the title?

So, the original Monsters Inc. It’s a good movie I can’t deny that but I was never a massive fan of it.  It had some interesting ideas but it was kinda formulaic especially after Toy Story 1 and 2. It kinda falls above Bug’s Life for me but definitely near the bottom of the Pixar pile, a good pile though it may be. So how good could a prequel released twelve years after the original actually be especially given the fact that prequel is almost a curse word by this point?

Well, honestly I think I preferred it to the original. Scrap that. I definitely preferred it to the original. I’ll admit, I was sceptical as many were when I first heard of this film. It seemed as though lately Pixar had been falling into a sequel quagmire and their latest original film wasn’t exactly ground-breaking (Yes, I’m looking at you Brave). Monsters University was just another attempt at a soulless cash in by a company that was running out of good original ideas. I also wondered exactly why they were releasing a movie set at a university, a movie ostensibly aimed at kids.

Having watched it though, I can say that whilst this may not be Pixar’s most heart-warming movie, though it still has it’s moments, it is one of their funniest. I also realised that despite the colourful monster designs this isn’t a movie aimed squarely at kids like the Cars franchise is and it made sense to me when I considered that twelve year gap between films. The kids who saw the first movie are probably around University age themselves now. There’s no way kids are gonna get jokes about new age philosophy or subtly implied accidental incest jokes but the kids who watched that first movie twelve years ago are and this is a movie for them. There’s still plenty of jokes and stuff kids will enjoy, don’t get me wrong, but I firmly believe that kids today aren’t the primary audience for this film.

Pixar are really good at this ageing with their audience thing and getting a good balance between appealing to both kids and adults. Hell, just look at Toy Story 3 released ffteen years after the first film. It’s all about growing up and leaving behind your childhood, about parents saying goodbye to their kids. It’s a film that I absolutely believes resonates more with the generation who grew up watching that first film than it does with kids today.

Still, it does fall into a few traps that prequels inevitably do. The crammed in jokes that serve as a bridge between the two films. They aren’t anywhere egregious as the hoops Lucas jumped through to ensure that every little thing in the Star Wars prequels was connected to everything else (3PO was built by Vader! Obi-Wan was chased by Boba Fett and his dad! Yoda hung out with Chewbacca!) but there is a plot thread featuring Randall from the first film which seems like it just stops at one point, feeling like an excuse to have the character there because, you know, prequel.

Still overall this a damn enjoyable film and, to further justify this being included in my horror month, one of the final scenes is a pretty nice homage to horror movies in general. It even takes place at a summer camp. It’s a scene where a character finally realizes… Well, saying anymore would be entering spoiler territory but it’s a surprisingly different place than I thought the movie would go so good for it. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

 

Monsters_University_poster_3



31 Days of Horror 13: Stoker (2013) by Jamie

It can be debated about whether or not Stoker counts as a true horror. It could be said that it is really more of a thriller but I find that the borders between the two genres are often blurred somewhat and so I feel good with my choice of including it here. I’ve even heard some critics describe it as a horror so that helps aid my decision to include it plus it’s heavily influenced by that ol’ master of horror himself, Alfred Hitchcock. What this all boils down to is screw it, I watched Stoker and now I’m reviewing it. Deal with it.

The first thing I should point out is that this is not a vampire movie. There seems to have been confusion when this film came out, I guess owing mostly to the name Stoker. The film does draw some inspiration from Stoker’s novel Dracula but nope, this is not a vampire film. This is a movie more in the mold of Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’, a film which I’ll say right now that you haven’t seen, you should. It’s awesome.

Anyway, Stoker is about a young girl called India and how her life gets twist-turned upside down when her father is killed in a car accident on her birthday and her Uncle Charlie comes to stay with her and her emotionally fragile mother. Uncle Charlie seems like a very nice guy but is there something sinister lying behind his polite nature and his good looks like some kind of handsome shark?

That’s where I’ll stick to on synopsis because this film has a number of twists and turns whilst still managing to keep a slow, steady pace. That’s not a criticism. This is a Park Chan-wook film and from this and Oldboy (the only films I’ve seen of his, a tragedy I seek to correct as soon as possible) I can say that he is a master of deliberate story-telling, choosing not to reveal anything until he is ready to but managing to keep you drawn in with his beautiful visual style and steady pacing.

Thankfully, this movie isn’t just well paced and well shot, it’s also terrifically acted. I can’t think of a bad performance in the whole thing… Well, maybe some of the bully characters who are kind of broadly drawn arsehole stereotypes but they’re a pretty minor part of the whole piece so I’ll let them slide. Oh and the way music is used is just another reminder that Chan-wook is a master of his craft.

Overall this is a pretty terrific film. Rent it, buy it, do whatever you have to do but see it. Can’t think of a bad thing to say about it really, or, sadly, too much good because to go into too great detail would inevitably reveal something about the plot. So yeah five pints out of five. Laterz.



31 Days of Horror 12: Apollo 18 (2011) by Jamie

This review contains minor spoilers for Apollo 18 but honestly, were you ever going to watch Apollo 18?

During this quest to watch horror films that I haven’t seen before it’s an inevitability that, because of the nature of horror films today, I’m going to see my fair share of found footage films. It’s just the way of the world these days. Still, I’ve tried to find films that do something original with the idea and I was somewhat pleasantly surprised with both V/H/S and The Bay so it seemed as though there was some hope that it could be a filming method that could still throw up the odd gem. In this search for originality, I remembered a film which I’d heard of but not seen, one which held some promise for the originality I’d hoped for. That film was 2011’s Apollo 18. Yes, a found footage movie set on the moon. That could be cool, right?

The basic premise is that the Apollo missions officially ended after Apollo 17 but in actuality there was a secret mission, Apollo 18 that was hushed up and never known about… Until now. And boy is it crap. When I said I’d heard about this movie, I’ll admit that what I meant was I’d heard people talk about how bad it was but I’m not one just to take that  and judge it without seeing it myself. However, this is one of those instances where I kind of wish I had. There is such a great opportunity for someone to do a genuinely creepy found footage movie about the moon and these guys squandered it for cheap jump scares and a pretty uninspired “monster”. It looks like a cross between a rock and the head-crab from Half-Life.

And that’s the core problem with this movie. Wasted potential. The moon lends istelf to creepiness. It’s a giant, dark desert were the only sound you can hear is another person talking through a shoddy speaker inside your astronaut helmet and the sound of your own breath. Even movement on the moon is rendered slightly creepy because the low gravity makes it look as though everyone is bouncing in slow motion. Terrifying slow motion. What we get here instead is a bog-standard, dull found footage movie that just happens to be set on the moon. And that’s just sad for everybody.

One pint out of five because it does have a few moments that are kind of creepy, like when an astronaut goes into a crater and the only light he gets are from the occasional flash of his camera. That was kind of creative. But otherwise avoid this one because in space no one can hear your sighs of boredom. Laterz.

The reason we never went back to the Moon, it turns out, is because it's so very, very dull.

The reason we never went back to the Moon, it turns out, is because it’s so very, very dull.



31 Days of Horror 11: Dark Skies (2013) by Jamie

Haunted house movies! They’re a Halloween staple what with their ghostly object stacking, ghostly images appearing on CCTV footage and ghostly alien abductions. Yeah, you read that right. Alien abductions. Dark Skies is a haunted house movie where the force behind everything going on are aliens rather than ghosts. The main problem being that the aliens in this film do much the same bullshit that ghosts do in these movies.

In your average haunting movie you can explain away a ghost opening a fridge and throwing all the food on the floor or taking all the canned goods and stacking them as the typical actions of a mischievous spirit. It’s just a poltergeist fucking with people because that’s what poltergeists do. These silly pranks stretch credibility, however, when we are asked to believe that they are the work of beings who have travelled millions of light-years. Are they a race of highly advanced high-school pranksters? What’s going to happen next? Are they going to beam a bag of burning dog shit onto my front porch and ring the doorbell before flying away at the speed of light? Am I going to wake up with several hours of missing time and a wedgie?

And then, after doing these little pranks, the aliens begin to get nasty for no reason other than we’re later told by an expert that this is just how this shit always goes down. Yes, this movie has an expert. In normal haunted house movies it’s a priest, a demonologist or a paranormal investigator. In this movie, it’s another abductee in the form of J K Simmons and he’s here to do what every expert in these movies does. Show up near the end to explain what the force wants, what you might to to avoid your fate and just how small of a chance you have of avoiding it.

In all honesty, I know I’m making it seem as though I hated this movie but I didn’t really. It’s enjoyable enough, it’s just that I resent the film makers trying to make me think this isn’t just another stupid haunted house movie because aliens. It is. It follows the exact same structure as these movies do except where you’d normally have someone say poltergeist or demon, they say Grey. Still, the acting is a notch above your average haunted house movie and I have something of a soft spot for the Greys due to my years of watching the X-Files as a kid. It’s biggest problem is that it does seem to drag in places but if it happened to be on I’d say give it a watch or you could watch the superior ‘Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County‘ but then I’d recommend that above many things. God I love that movie. Anyway, three pints out of five. Laterz.

Dark_Skies_Poster




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