Horror Films A to Z ~ (Why is there no Y?)

John Dies at the End

Year: 2012
Runtime: 1h 39m
Director: Don Coscarelli
Writer: Don Coscarelli, David Wong
Stars: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti

A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return no longer human. Can two college drop-outs save humanity from this silent, otherworldly invasion?

Initial: The film I had picked for “Y” was no longer available through any streaming service I’m currently subscribed to. My back-up didn’t seem compelling. So, I decided to give another letter’s runner-up a chance to make good. That letter was “J.” Jacob’s Ladder (2019) has been the worst movie I’ve watched this month. Let’s see how John Dies at the End does. I know this is based on a book; I don’t remember the movie coming out.

Production Notes: Don Coscarelli wrote and directed the classic Phantasm (1979).

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) John Dies at the End was a better movie than Jacob’s Ladder. Granted, that wasn’t a high bar. No, really, John Dies… is an enjoyable if totally nuts movie. In spirit, it is very much like Bride of Reanimator, bright and absurd, but with more dick jokes. Funnily enough, both Jacob’s Ladder and John Dies… have perception-altering drugs at their core. John Dies… handles the concept better. (Sorry, low bar thing again.) It also has Clancy Brown and two male leads who flummoxed me due to my face-blindness.

The movie didn’t get wide distribution, but it’s around now on a few streaming services. It reportedly had a budget of less than $1M (more than Mysterious Island (2010)), but looks pretty darn good. I almost think it might have been a better TV series. There are a bunch of characters that we never really get to know. If you want 1h 39m of weirdness, you could do worse.

Horror Films A to Z ~ XX

XX

Year: 2017
Runtime: 1h 20m
Director: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent, Jovanka Vuckovic
Writer: Jovanka Vuckovic, Jack Ketchum (based on a story by), Roxanne Benjamin,  St. Vincent, Karyn Kusama
Stars: Natalie Brown, Jonathan Watton, Peter DaCunha

Four short horror films that are directed and written by women.

Initial: Not a ton of choices for “X,” but I’m ready for another anthology.

Production Notes: Directorial debut of musician St. Vincent (also known as Annie Clark).

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) I’m a little underwhelmed, to be honest, but I probably have a weird want from anything female-led: less “Mom” stories, please. Three of the four stories involved mothers and holidays (Christmas and two birthdays). I mean, I get it. Kids are unnerving and motherhood is a stressful minefield. Are there a lack of Mom horror movies? Maybe there are. Your mileage may vary when it comes to this anthology.

All of the stories were about 15 minutes long, which didn’t leave much room for too much storytelling. Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son” stood out for being a rather clever take on a horror classic. The other thing I really liked about XX was  that instead of a wrapper story, each section was bumpered by delightfully creepy stop motion by Sofia Carrillo.

Horror Films A to Z ~ Wounds

Welcome to my unofficial April A-to-Z. I’m not participating in the actual event, but feel free to check that out. I decided I’d chose 26 horror films, one title for each letter of the alphabet, all new to me, and mostly available through the various streaming sources that I have access to.

Wounds

Year: 2019
Runtime: 1h 35m
Director: Babak Anvari
Writer: Babak Anvari, Nathan Ballingrud
Stars: Armie Hammer, Zazie Beetz, Karl Glusman

Disturbing and mysterious things begin to happen to a bartender in New Orleans after he picks up a phone left behind at his bar.

Initial: Heard good things about it, surprised at the low IMDB rating.

Production Notes: Based on the novella The Visible Filth by two-time Shirley Jackson award-winning author Nathan Ballingrud.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) The movie ended and I said aloud, “Uh, okay.”

This is a slow, meandering movie (that didn’t bother me). The setting, New Orleans, is excellently rendered, down to the local brands of beers in character’s refrigerators. While I’m not sure I wanted to spend too much time with said characters, the acting is quite good. Armie Hammer is an underappreciated actor, imo. And maybe there is a good horror set-up in the plot of Wounds, but it’s never quite explored or paid off. Kinda makes me want to read the novella it’s based on.

Annoyances: Plot suffered from “I’ll go to the police…later” syndrome. Also, a high-pitched ringing noise is used a few times and, as a tinnitus sufferer, I found it really annoying.

Horror Films A to Z ~ Vampires

Missed posting yesterday due to Readathon, but here’s the V post on Sunday!

Vampires

Year: 2010
Runtime: 1h 28m
Director: Vincent Lannoo
Writer: Frédérique Broos, Vincent Lannoo
Stars: Carlo Ferrante, Vera Van Dooren, Pierre Lognay

Belgium’s vampire community invites a documentary crew to film one of their families: husband, wife, and two teen children – Georges, Bertha, Sampson, and Grace.

Initial: So, kind like What We Do in Shadows?

Production Notes: What We Do in Shadows is a 2014 film, so Vincent Lannoo’s film predates Taika Waititi’s by a few years.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) Not that I watched the trailer before I watched the movie, but the trailer makes this movie look much funnier than it is. It has a few chuckle moments, but it has nowhere the absurdity of What We Do in Shadows. What is does have is a great deal of commentary on class. The family of vampires is solidly upper middle class. The have “neighbors” who live in their basement, vampire who have no children and are therefore not entitled to a house. The Belgium government supplies the Saint-Germains with immigrants and other “undesirables” as food and even help with corpse disposal. The class distinctions are thrown into further relief when the family is temporarily exiled to Quebec. The family is asked to contribute to a “freer” society, hand-in-hand with humans. It doesn’t go so well.

There are a few moments of found-footage peril, but obviously the terror here isn’t to be found in blood and gore. Not at all what I was expecting, but not bad.

Horror Films A to Z ~ The Uninvited

The Uninvited

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1h 27m
Director: Charles Guard, Thomas Guard
Writer: Craig Rosenberg, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, Jee-woon Kim
Stars: Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, Elizabeth Banks, David Strathairn

Anna returns home after a stint in a mental hospital, but her recovery is jeopardized by her cruel stepmother and ghastly visions of her dead mother.

Initial: So, this is the remake of A Tale of Two Sisters (2003). I don’t expect this to be half as creepy.

Production Notes: DreamWorks, huh? My notion of this being scary further decreases.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) The Uninvited takes one of the main twists of A Tale of Two Sisters and does its own thing with it. In a way, it is thematically more coherent and fairly clever, but it’s also a little less audacious because of that. Big spoiler…there’s no supernatural. Likewise, the choice of camera shots is not as daring in the US version. And it’s not nearly as creepy. On the other hand, things that don’t matter as much are just a little “extra.” The house is bigger, the inciting event is more dramatic. Elizabeth Banks as the step-mother is more arch. There is an explosion.

The Uninvited isn’t a *bad* movie, it’s just a very safe one.

Horror Films A to Z ~ A Tale of Two Sisters

A Tale of Two Sisters

Year: 2003
Runtime: 1h 54m
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Writer: Jee-woon Kim
Stars: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Soo-jung Lim

A family is haunted by the tragedies of deaths within the family.

Initial: Another film highly touted by the internet horror community. Leary of K-horror (because J-horror freaks me out), but chose it because I enjoyed Jee-woon Kim’s The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008).

Production Notes: Wikipedia says that A Tale of Two Sisters was the first Korean horror film to be screened in American theaters.

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) Ghost stories are often puzzles; A Tale of Two Sisters certainly is. Through the film making, I kind of figured out part of this story’s mystery and, if I would  applied the same logic to another scene, I would have figured another part too. But there are things about the haunting that didn’t quite make sense in the scheme of the story. Why the ghost under the sink, for example? The subtitles weren’t a hindrance, but my face blindness did make things difficult for me. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this film a lot. I love a good haunted house with a dark family secret. I’m planning to do something dumb for the letter U and watch the American “remake,” The Uninvited (2009). I’m also  looking forward to watching Kim’s I Saw the Devil (2010) one of these days.

Horror Films A to Z ~ The Skull

The Skull

Year: 1965
Runtime: 1h 23m
Director: Freddie Francis
Writer: Robert Bloch, Milton Subotsky
Stars: Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett

A collector comes into possession of the skull of the Marquis de Sade and learns it is possessed by an evil spirit.

Initial: Strong horror pedigree. I’m not expecting much other than loud, cheesy 60s horror.

Production Notes: Freddie Francis directed mostly horror films for Hammer and Amicus production companies, but as a cinematographer he won Oscars for Sons and Lovers (1960) and Glory (1989) and often worked with David Lynch. He was the cinematographer on Lynch’s Dune (1984).

What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) The Skull exceeded my expectations. Aside from the beginning, the movie is set in the 60s, so it lacked the cheesiness that can occur when the early 1800s are translated by the 1960s. It also takes itself seriously, which is needed with the level of special effects we’re talking about. The trailer makes it look more melodramatic than it is, but I’m not saying it isn’t melodramatic. The pacing was slow, but it wasn’t uneven. I wasn’t bored because the sets were lush and Peter Cushing is great to watch. And there’s guest star Christopher Lee! Not playing a villain!