Tag Archives: HorrorFilms_AtoZ

Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: The Ruins

The Ruins

Year: 2008
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Director: Carter Smith

Writer: Scott B. Smith

Stars: Shawn Ashmore, Jena Malone, Jonathan Tucker

Double Feature Fodder:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Initial: Yeah, I’m skipping Q in favor of double R. What of it?

Production Notes: Based on a novel of the same name by Scott Smith. Smith was only two-thirds finished writing the book when it was optioned to be a film. He also wrote the screenplay.

What Did I Think:
(spoilers ahead)

The setup is for this story is terrible. As is the case with many, many horror movies, we begin with a group of white, upper-class-ish characters who find themselves in a difficult situation. Introducing the characters and establishing their relationships can make or break the film. The audience should probably care about them before bad things start to happen. And The Ruins kind of fails in this. None of the characters are interesting or particularly likeable. Despite a pretty long introductory section, I really couldn’t remember who was with whom.

Our four protagonists, on vacation in Mexico, decide to visit an off-the-map archeological dig site on the advice of a German tourist they meet on the beach. I’m fairly sure most dig sites do not want people just showing up, but whatever . . . The dig is actually an overgrown Mayan ziggurat, but no one is there—until a couple dozen Mayans(?) emerge from the jungle and surround the temple. From their perimeter, they kill anyone who has had physical contact with the temple.

The third act of The Ruins is pretty good. It would be better if we cared a little more about our protagonists as they fall prey to the temple’s inhabitants and their own bad luck. It all ends up being fairly creepy with a good dash of body horror. And kudo for man-eating plants!

Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Possessor

Possessor

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 43m
Rated: unrated

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Writer: Brandon Cronenberg

Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Double Feature Fodder:
Tenet (2020)

Initial: Another one from my TBW list. Might be more sci-fi than horror?

Obvious trivia: Brandon Cronenberg is the son of David Cronenberg.

What Did I Think:
I needn’t have worried about whether Possessor was “horror” enough. There was probably more gore in the first ten minutes of this movie than I’ve seen all month. I was a little confused that IMDB had the movie listed as only an R-rating, but I believe that the version currently on Hulu is “Possessor Uncut,” which is unrated. I’m not squeamish or prudish, but there was more bloody violence and fairly explicit sex than I’m used to in an R-rated movie. (Although, apparently the cuts for the R rating are very minimal. *shrug*)

Possessor does have a sci-fi concept at its heart: what if, through an implant, you could highjack someone else’s body in order, in this case, to carry out assassinations. The tech is kind of grungy. Not as squishy as Cronenberg’s dad would have made it, but holes are drilled into skulls on the regular. Some reviewers have applauded how well-worked out the rules of the technology are before things get complicated. I agree somewhat, but it’s more that Cronenberg knows when to show technology working instead of trying to explain it. There’s no opportunity for a good exposition moment in this film, so there’s no shoe-horning of one.

The world is not far off from modern day. This body hijacking tech is being used by an underground organization (the details of which don’t matter to the film). The only other technological “advancement” shown is being used by a large corporation. Employees use VR glasses to spy through people’s webcams to identify items in the background. It’s a mashup of data-mining and CAPTCHA and adds to the voyeurism themes in the movie.

The acting is quite good, but I was most happy to see Jennifer Jason Leigh on screen. I know she’s been consistently working, but I’ve missed most of what she’s been in.

Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: One Missed Call

Couldn’t find a subtitled or (blech) dubbed trailer . . .

One Missed Call

Year: 2003
Runtime: 1h 52m
Rated: R

Director: Takashi Miike

Writers: Yasushi Akimoto, Minako Daira

Stars: Ko Shibasaki, Shin’ichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi

Double Feature Fodder:
Basic choices, I think this would be a great middle film of a triple feature with Ring (1998) and Ju-On (2002).

Initial: I decided to watch One Missed Call on recommendation from Possessed by Horror’s Top Ten Tech Horror Movies. I’m always a little leery of J-horror since it really does get under my skin.

Production Notes: There is of course an American remake One Missed Call (2008).

What Did I Think:
Aw, the days of flip phones . . .

Tech horror is kind of an odd sub-genre because technology can so rapidly change. If I came across the VHS tape from The Ring, for example, I’d be pretty safe because I don’t think my VHS player is even hooked up to my TV. Anyone a decade younger than me probably hasn’t even encountered a VHS tape.

(Related: I was recently listening to a podcast about Poltergeist (1982) and the hosts were confused about the whole American anthem/channel going to snow late at night. They had never encountered TV stations without 24-hour content.)

But tech horror does offer such delightful ways for people to become accidentally cursed. You watched a weird, unlabeled video cassette? Now you’re cursed. You’re a contact on someone’s phone? Now you’re cursed. There can be so many ways to become haunted in the modern world . . .

One Missed Call isn’t the scariest J-horror I’ve watched, but it has it’s moments. I’m not sure everything about the plot entirely matches up. The ending seems to perhaps play fast and loose with the “rules” and motivations, but it was a fine Sunday evening diversion.

Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: The Night House

The Night House

Year: 2020
Runtime: 1h 47m
Rated: R

Director: David Bruckner

Writers: Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski

Stars: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Double Feature Fodder:
The Awakening (2011), for a supernatural Rebecca Hall double feature.

Initial: I didn’t watch the trailer for The Night House before I watched it. When I saw it was available on HBO Max, I remembered that it had good buzz when it came out, and I like Rebecca Hall.

Production Notes: Theatrical release was delayed for over a year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Did I Think:
Talk about a movie being hung on one performance! Not having watched the trailer, I wondered for a moment how much of a horror movie this was going to be. The beginning of the film very solidly grounds Beth (Hall) as a freshly grieving widow without diving directly into the supernatural elements. This doesn’t drag because Rebecca Hall is interesting to watch.

(spoilers ahead)

Unfortunately, the ramp up of “activity” after Beth shares something about her past felt contrived. As she learns more about what was going on with her husband, seemingly since they started living in the lake house which he designed, the more unreasonable it seemed to me that she suspected nothing. His activities require more time that could be accounted for by sleepwalking. I suppose one might consider Beth an unreliable narrator, but she didn’t seems like one.

Otherwise, I liked what was going on plot-wise. I didn’t know where the story was going. The visual effect were very good, and I would have liked more of the house’s design playing tricks. I just feel like, the more I thought about The Night House, the less it really worked.

Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Mama

Mama

Year: 2013
Runtime: 1h 40m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Andy Muschietti

Writers: Andy Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti, Neil Cross

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse

Double Feature Fodder:
The Orphanage (2007)

Initial: I made a list for the month, but decided I wasn’t in the mood for my planned “M” movie. And my backup “M” movie was so bad that I didn’t want to finish it after about 20min. So, I guess I’m watching the entirety of Andy Muschietti’s filmography this week.

Production Notes: Based on Muschietti’s Argentine short Mamá and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro.

What Did I Think:
Apparently, Andy Muschietti likes to work with kids and Jessica Chastain. In the latter case, who can blame him?

I didn’t have high expectations for Mama, despite del Toro’s involvement. I was a little worried that is might be part of the Conjuring franchise and I’m very happy to be wrong.

This movie hangs on the performances of its female leads, Chastain and youngsters, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse. A few times, I felt like Chastain’s character was maybe a little too stand-off-ish toward the girls, but I can’t say I’d do better in the situation. I like that motherhood wasn’t an easy default for her.

Mama is a solid ghost story. There are genuinely creepy moments, though I wish Hollywood would stop with the jump-scare “sting”noises. I found them to be distracting in the It movies, but they’re downright egregious in Mama. The moments of quiet horror end up being massively undercut by cheap loud noises.

But, so far, Mama has been my favorite of the month.

Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: The Lure

The Lure

Year: 2015
Runtime: 1h 32m
Rated: Not Rated

Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska

Writers: Robert Bolesto

Stars: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Kinga Preis

Double Feature Fodder:
Blue My Mind (2017)

Initial: This movie has been on my TBW list for a while, but I was always subscribed to some other streaming service. Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” is actually a pretty grim story. I’m surprised there aren’t more horror treatments of it.

Production Notes: I haven’t watched a lot of Polish films.

What Did I Think:
I did not expect this to be an actual musical. I figured, since it was set in a nightclub, it would be like Cabaret, but, no, there are actual singing-and-dancing musical numbers.

I will be honest, I spent most of this movie mildly confused. For some reason (my face-blindness?), I initially didn’t connect the first party on the beach with the musicians at the club. Therefore, I didn’t quite understand why Silver and Golden were there or why these people already knew they were mermaids. Later, when the band tries to get rid of Silver and Golden, the band is poisoned(?), but again I’m not sure why this has happened or who it is that cared for them afterward. I don’t need my movies spoon-fed to me, but I feel like The Lure is missing some connective scenes or dialog.

The musical numbers were mostly okay, but occasionally, I just wished the story was moving forward instead of pausing.

On the plus side, I really like this retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” Silver is our poor love-lorn mermaid, who gives up her tail and her voice in a gory magical-realism sequence. Golden is our oppositional characters, providing mermaid sense to their on-land adventure, including availing herself of some prey. The ending of this fairy tale in inevitable.

Unofficial Horror Movie A–Z: Kill, Baby . . . Kill!

Kill, Baby . . . Kill!

Year: 1966
Runtime: 1h 23m
Rated: GP

Director: Mario Bava

Writers: Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, Mario Bava, John Davis Hart

Stars: Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Erika Blanc, Fabienne Dali

Double Feature Fodder:
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

Initial: Have to respect a title with so much punctuation. Also, I feel like I’ve spent too long in Stephen King land; it’s time for some over-wrought 60’s Italian horror.

Production Notes: Released in 1966 as Operation paura (Operation fear) in Italy, in 1967 as Curse of the Dead in the UK, in 1970 as Die Toten Augen des Dr. Dracula (The Dead Eyes of Dr. Dracula) in Germany, and in 1972 as Curse of the Living Dead in the US.

What Did I Think:
After five hours of It spread over two days, I was looking forward to a lean movie of 1h 23m. Alas, Kill, Baby . . . Kill! was not that movie. It started pretty well. A woman, pursued by something unknown, jumps to her death and we hold on her bloodied corpse through the title credits. But, then we slow down to many, many scenes of people walking in hallways. There are a few great images, like the men hustling a coffin to the graveyard, but, dang, so many hallways and stariways. That said, this is one of those movies that’s perfect for a rainy Saturday afternoon. Put it on, pop some popcorn, and maybe do a crossword puzzle or something when things get too slow.