Friday, October 24, 2014

Fifth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #5: The Conjuring

Okay, so The Conjuring is one of the scarier flicks I've seen, at least for the first two-thirds: for approximately half of the first two-thirds, I had to watch from behind my fingers, slouched down on the couch, trying not to startle the dog every time I jumped.  Which was a lot.

Based on a "true" story, The Conjuring is set in Rhode Island in the early 1970s.  The Perron family - Roger (Ron Livingston), Carolyn (Lily Taylor), their five (!!) daughters and their dog Sadie - move into a great, old farmhouse. Right from the get-go, things are weird: Sadie refuses to enter the house; and the parents find a boarded-over staircase to a forgotten basement, full of various junk.   The poor dog is killed the first night, one of the daughters starts sleepwalking, Carolyn develops mysterious bruises and all the clocks stop at 3:07 a.m. every night.  Roger is a truck driver, requiring him to leave his family alone a lot, and the nighttime disturbances intensify: pictures falling off walls, doors opening for no reason, sleeping daughters getting their feet touched by unseen assailants.

Finally, scared and worried, Carolyn tracks down Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), real life paranormal investigators whose claim to fame is Amityville.  Ed and Lorraine investigate and determine that not only is the Perrons' new home haunted, it is probably inhabited by a demon - a former witch who sacrificed her own baby to the devil.  The investigation continues and the disturbances escalate further, dragging the Warrens into the fray on a personal level.  The culmination is an exorcism, performed by Ed because the Catholic church won't authorize an official exorcism for a non-Catholic family, and there is mostly a happy ending.

The first two-thirds of The Conjuring is fantastic: suspenseful, creepy, scary and tense.  The camera follows the Perrons into their home as they move in, so the audience gets to explore the house as the new residents do.  Then, the camera focuses on what is not there - dark shadows, spaces under the beds - which is particularly effective when one of the daughters is shrieking and screaming that something is RIGHT THERE BEHIND THE DOOR and we are watching right there behind the door, and there is nothing there.  There is a rhythm to the jump scares - tension building, false scare, actual scare - but that doesn't make them any less effective, and one of the best sequences is when Carolyn searches the dark house by herself, opening doors and going into the basement alone. Dear god I was squirming.  But for the last bit of the movie, when the Warrens really get involved and the scary bits get explained, things fall flat.  The demons come out into the light and the tension drains away - and the exorcism itself is perfunctory and unimpressive.

So, here it is in a nutshell: The Conjuring is fantastically scary for the most part and then, when you can't stand it anymore, it steps back and lets you down easy.  Still, it's a solid example of a haunted house flick and worth your time for the most part.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Walking Dead S5E2 "Strangers" 10/19/14

This episode is extremely talky.  Fortunately most of it doesn't matter, until the reveal at the end.

Our gang walks away from the burning Terminus, in slow motion.  Tara 'fesses to Rick that she was at the prison with the Governor.  Carol and Tyrese decide they don't need to tell the others about what happened to the girls.  Bob and Sasha are completely adorable, playing cute word games and smooching (this, of course, means something terrible is going to happen to at least one of them).  That night, camping out in the open, Carol and Rick talk some - it's not important until the end of their conversation when he says, "I sent you away to this and now we're joining you.  Will you have us?"  Carol is surprised and nods yes.  He thanks her.  Later, Carol and Daryl sit up, keeping watch.  She tells him that she doesn't want to talk about it, she can't.  Daryl's like, all right.  Then he thinks he hears something out in the underbrush; when nothing lurches at them, trying to chew their legs off, he shrugs, guessing it was nothing.  But there is someone there, watching, waiting.

In the morning, they are on the march again when they hear screaming.  Rick doesn't want to get involved but Carl does.  They find a minister treed on a boulder, surrounded by zombies.  Rick, Daryl, Carol, Carl and Michonne make short work of the walkers.  The minister comes down, promptly upchucks all over his shoes, and then answers Rick's three questions: he hasn't killed any walkers, he hasn't killed any people and he hasn't done anything.  His name is Gabriel and Rick doesn't believe him.  He does, however, have a church nearby, a place where they can shelter.  He takes them there and our gang checks it out, finding nothing amiss but no food either.  Seems safe enough for now.  Gabriel tells them that there's a nearby town: he's cleaned it out except for one place that's been overrun - about a dozen walkers.

Our gang decides to head out on a scavenging run, except for Tyrese and Carl who will stay behind to protect Judith.  Before they go, Rick tells Carl to be aware, that he's never safe and can't let his guard down.  Carl listens and agrees, but does say to his dad that he doesn't believe that everyone can be evil.

Daryl and Carol fetch more water.  They find a car abandoned on the side of the road: the battery is dead but Carol finds a charger/generator in the trunk, so she figures they can use this car as a back-up.  Glen, Maggie and Tara check out a gun store where Glen finds three silencers that had been hidden in a mini-fridge (Glen: "Rule #1 of scavenging: there's nothing left in this world that isn't hidden.") - they call that a win.  Rick, Michonne, Bob, Sasha and Gabriel go to the town's food bank.  The basement, where all kinds of canned foodstuffs are stored, is full of water from holes in the building's roof; it's also full of walkers, squishy, waterlogged, extra-disgusting walkers.  All five of them go down and here's the big zombie action scene of the episode: splashing around in that gooey, stinking water, crushing heads with whatever is handy.  Gabriel panics and Bob is almost nailed by a submerged zombie but they all make it out, none the worse for wear, and with lots and lots of food for their trouble.

As they take the food back to the church, there's more talking.  The only thing important is that Rick asks Michonne if she misses her katana sword.  She says no, and she doesn't miss the life she had before - she misses Andrea and Herschel but she doesn't miss that sword.  When they get back to the church, Carl shows Rick what he's found: knife marks scratching up the shutters on the outside of the church and the words "YOU'LL BURN FOR THIS" carved into the siding.  Carl: "This doesn't mean Gabriel is a bad person.  But it does mean something."  When did Carl get so smart?

That night, they feast and even crack open a bottle or two of the church's communion wine.  It is here that Abraham makes his pitch: for Rick to agree to bring his group with them to Washington D.C., so Eugene can work on the cure.  They believe that there's still infrastructure in place, food, medicine, a place to be safe until they can clean out the dead.  Most of our gang looks like they want to go but they hold their tongues until Rick nods, agreeing to go to D.C.  People applaud, liking having a plan.

Not everyone is feeling happy, however.  Rick sits with Gabriel, who is moping by himself.  He tells the minister that he knows he's hiding something - that's his business - but if what he's hiding hurts Rick's people in any way, he [Rick] will kill him [Gabriel].  In the meantime, Carol steals away and Daryl finds her getting that car started.  She doesn't feel like she can stay with the group but her running away is interrupted when another car roars past them.  It has a cross painted on its back window and Daryl shouts that that is the car that took Beth.  They knock out the taillights and jump into their car, giving chase.  You know, I bet no one else knows where they are.  That's not good.

Back at the church, Bob has also gone outside, alone, away from everyone else.  He leans against a tree and begins to sob, apparently not as happy and optimistic as he seemed earlier.  His pity party is interrupted, however, when an unknown assailant clubs him over the head.  When he comes to, things have gone from bad to worse:  he has been captured by Gareth and some other Terminus-ers.  Gareth gets his turn to talk, blaming Bob and his group for ruining their home and casting them out into the world where they now have to hunt.  What are they hunting?  Our gang.  Why are they hunting them?  It's not personal - they would have done it to anyone, it's just cosmic justice that it's our gang that the hunters have found first - it's because they're hungry.  The camera pulls back: Bob's leg has been cut off at the knee and Gareth takes a big bite out of the hunk of Bob-meat he's holding in his hand.  Everyone around the fire, on which the rest of Bob's leg is roasting, is munching on Bob meat.  Bob starts to wail and panic, as one would do in that situation.  Gareth:  "If it makes you feel any better, you taste much better than we thought you would."  Nom nom nom.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fifth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #4: The Ring

I watched The Ring, last night, the U.S. remake, not the original Japanese Ringu.  I was a bit conflicted about it because I do try to see originals first, like REC or Let the Right One In, but I'd heard good things about this 2002 Naomi Watts vehicle and was just not in the mood for subtitles.  I was in the mood to be scared a bit, however, and The Ring fit the bill.  Although twelve years after its release I am already well aware that many of its iconic moments are now well-worn tropes (i.e. evil girl with dripping wet black hair), it still did its thing.

Everyone by now knows the story: there's a videotape and if you see it, you die seven days later.  The fun thing is that this movie is as much a mystery-thriller as it is horror; the onscreen body count is low and the bulk of the movie follows reporter/mom Rachel (Watts) as she tries to figure out WTF.  Director Gore Verbinski sets a very creepy, atmospheric stage with a dark, almost monochromatic color palate, rain-washed and moody, very evocative of the J-horror from which this remake sprung.  The opening scene - with a very good Amber Tamblyn - effectively ratchets up the tension.  Many of the shots are beautifully framed, especially the ones out at the horse farm - not what you expect from your average horror flick.  And speaking of horses: anyone who does not find the horse on the ferry scene disturbing is a bad person.

While I thought it was maybe a little bit long at 1 hr. 55 min., I enjoyed The Ring quite a lot.  I don't suppose it holds up that well on repeated viewings and it does seem dated now, what with the flip phones and videotape, but I found it a fun Thursday night viewing.  Now if someone could just tell me why that creepy little kid called his mom by her first name ...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Walking Dead S5E1 "No Sanctuary" 10/12/14

And we begin with a shout, not with a whisper.  Also: CAROL.

Then.  People, not our people, cower in train cars as shrieks and screams echo from outside.

Now.  Our people, in their train car, work on putting together whatever weapons they can scrounge, from belt buckles, zippers, chips of wood.  They are focused, ready to attack when the Terminusians come for them.  Unfortunately, the Terminusians don't come in the front: they open a door in the top of the car and drop in a smoke bomb.  Rick, Darryl, Glen and Bob are dragged out, bound and gagged, and brought into what pretty much looks like - and is - a slaughterhouse.  They and four other captives are made to kneel against a stainless steel trough while one dude sharpens a knife and another dude practices his swing with a baseball bat.  It is very tense.  And then they whack the guy on the end in the head, and when he slumps over the trough, they cut his throat, the blood gushing out in torrents.  It is SO GRIM.  They do the other three captives and then Glen is next in line.

Again, it's very tense and it looks almost like it might be Glen's turn to buy the farm.  But Gareth interrupts just in time, coming in with some administrative stuff to do.  Bob begs for their lives; Gareth is uninterested.  What he is interested in, however, is the bag Rick buried out in the woods before coming into Terminus.  Gareth threatens to gouge Bob's eye out so Rick tells him all the weapons that are in the bag, including a red handled machete with which he intends to kill Gareth.  Gareth's all, ooh, scary.  He heads out, leaving the two butchers to finish their job.  Bat Guy winds up behind Glen again (but this time, all the tension is gone) and just as he starts his swing, the building is shaken by an explosion.

Out in the world, Carol, Tyrese and Baby Judith walk along the tracks towards Terminus.  Carol tells Tyrese that she'll get the two of them there but she's not going to stay.  When a walker menaces them, Tyrese takes the baby, saying he can't kill anyone/thing, not yet.  Carol rolls her eyes, all exasperatedly "Men!" before stabbing the walker in the head with her knife.  She then catches sight of a large herd of walkers heading their way.  The humans hide and luckily the herd is distracted by the sound of gunfire in the distance, probably coming from Terminus.  When the walkers are past, they continue on.  They come across a Terminusian setting up fireworks out by a little shack in the woods,  They overhear him talking about a "chick with a sword" and a "kid in a hat" and quickly subdue him, tying him up.  They don't gag him, though, and that's too bad because he's an asshole.

Leaving Tyrese and the baby behind with the asshole, Carol heads out, gooing herself up with walker guts and walking along behind the herd undetected.  (Back at the shack, the asshole first tries to talk with Tyrese and then to rile him up.  Tyrese is determined to turn the other cheek and be the bigger dog - he doesn't want to kill anyone today.  The asshole is like, dude, that means you'll be the one who dies - you and the baby.)  Meanwhile, Carol has made her way to the Terminus fence in time to see Rick, Darryl, Bob and Glen dragged out of the train car and into the buildings.  She watches as the herd of walkers starts to menace the Terminusians, then spots a propane tank.  With the magic science/physics of television, she shoots a couple of holes into the propane tank, causing a leak, then shoots a fireworks rocket right at the tank.  There's the explosion that kept Glen from getting his head bashed in.  Hooray for Carol!  She watches carefully as burning walkers stagger through the hole in the Terminus fence, then follows them.  Walkers pour into Terminus.  The Terminusians fight back but there is a lot of carnage: a shot of a burning zombie chewing off a guy's nose; at least two women being eaten alive.  It is horrific and extremely violent.

Inside the slaughterhouse, Bat Guy and Knife Guy dither around about what that explosion could have been, distracted enough for Rick to pull a stake of wood out of his boot, cut his bonds (that's a sharp piece of wood!) and then stab Bat Guy and Knife Guy in the throats.  He cuts Darryl, Glen and Bob free.  As they wander through the buildings, they find a room full of butchered human body parts.  They cannot even articulate their horror and just pick up as many weapons as they can find.  Rick's all, if you come across any of these people, do not hesitate to kill them.  The guys are like, WORD.  Glen insists that they have to let the captives out of the train cars; Rick agrees although he'd really rather just be killing people and zombies.

Carol wandering through the buildings, looking for her friends and killing zombies and Terminusians indiscriminately, finds a stash of personal belongings.  She quickly snatches up Darryl's crossbow as well as a couple of guns.  (She doesn't take Michonne's sword?  Poor form.)  In another room, one creepily adorned with candles, Mary (Gareth's mom apparently, played by Denise Crosby a/k/a Tasha Yar) finds her.  The two women fight until Carol gets the upper hand.  Mary has a little speech, saying how they didn't used to be like this, how they really were a sanctuary until they took in some bad folks who took over the place, raping the women repeatedly and beating and killing.  She says they learned that you're either the butcher or you're the cattle - and they weren't going to be the cattle anymore.  (But cannibalism?  I can see being distrustful and killing threatening strangers, but eating them?  WTF can't you get enough deer?)  When Mary won't answer her questions, Carol shoots her in the leg and then leaves her for the walkers who come in when she opens the door.

Out at the shack, the asshole manages to get his hands around Judith's neck, forcing Tyrese to drop his weapons.  The asshole says he'll snap the baby's neck unless Tyrese goes outside - where three or four walkers are lurking - so with tears in his eyes but a roar in his voice, Tyrese goes out.  The asshole listens to the sounds of struggles for a while, but then there's silence.  And then Tyrese bursts through the door, having put down all the zombies, and beats the living crap out of the asshole, shouting "I won't! I won't!" all the while.  I guess that means he isn't going to kill this guy, which may come back to bite him later.  (But later he tells Carol he killed him ... although we never see the body.)

Back at Terminus, the gang still in the train car (Carl, Maggie, Michonne, Eugene, Sasha, Tara, Rosita, Abraham, etc.) are again readying their weapons, trying to figure out what's going on outside.  Sasha wants to know what the cure is that Eugene knows about.  While I have my doubts that Eugene knows any such thing - I think he's just saying he knows a cure so people will protect him - he says he used to work for a lab that engineered biological weapons and he believes that with some tweaks to the formula, he can change these weapons so they kill the dead instead of the living.  Everyone seems to buy it and then Rick yanks the train car door open so they can all come out and fight zombies and Terminusians.  They do, fighting and killing, and all make it over the fence.  Rick takes them to where he buried his bag o' weapons, saying that they have to go back and kill all the Terminusians.  Glen, Maggie, Rosita et als. are all, um, NO we just got out of there, but Rick is in a killing mood.

Until they look up and see Carol standing there quietly, watching them.  Darryl throws himself at her, hugging her, not wanting to let her go.  It's really quite sweet.  Rick limps up, a small smile on his face: "Did you do that?"  She nods and he hugs her too, whispering, "Thank you."  Everyone crowds around but she just says, "You have to come with me."  She takes them to the shack where Tyrese and baby Judith are waiting.  Rick and Carl and Sasha are, respectively, overwhelmed and overjoyed.  After the reunion, everyone heads out, walking down the railroad tracks away from Terminus.  They have no supplies and barely any weapons, but they are all together again.  As he passes one of those Terminus signs, Rick picks up a handful of mud, obscuring most of the wording and revising it to say NO SANCTUARY.

Well, that was something.  A strong start, shocking and sometimes scary and ugly, with the completion of Carol's transformation from meek mouse to full-on badass.  There was also a tag scene that I think my DVR cut off: a black man, in a mask and a hood and a long coat, following the tracks some ways behind our heroes.  Rumor has it that he's Morgan, the guy who rescued Rick way back in S1 and then got all crazy the last time we saw him.  

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Monday, October 13, 2014

When in doubt, post a list

It's all the houseguests' fault: we had houseguests, and we had to do things with houseguests, and all that being social and a good host really cut into the scary viewing.  This is what's upcoming: the recap for the season premiere of The Walking Dead (oh dear god I can't believe it's back on already and I have to recap it again and can we please focus on Darryl and Michonne and Carol and ignore Rick?) and also the latest scary movie, The Ring.  But not yet.

Since I don't have much for you in the meantime, and since I've been re-reading Stephen King's Dreamcatcher just for the hell of it, and since it's a scary time of year and since Mr. King is the undisputed high emperor of scary written things, here's a list of all his novels with the ones I haven't read in red.  I'm a big Stephen King fan.  There will not be much red.

'Salem's Lot
Bag of Bones
Black House
The Colorado Kid
Cycle of the Werewolf
The Dark Half
The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah
The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
The Dark Tower: The Waste Lands
The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole
The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass
The Dark Tower: Wolves of the Calla
The Dead Zone
Doctor Sleep
Dolores Claiborne
Duma Key
The Eyes of the Dragon
From A Buick 8
Gerald's Game
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
The Green Mile: The Complete Serial Novel
Lisey's Story
Mr. Mercedes
Needful Things
Pet Sematary
The Plant: Zenith Rising
Rose Madder
The Shining
The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition
The Talisman
The Tommyknockers
Under the Dome

Then there's also his short story collections, which I think I like even better than his novels: Different Seasons; Everything's Eventual; Four Past Midnight; Full Dark, No Stars; Hearts in Atlantis; Just After Sunset; Night Shift; Nightmares & Dreamscapes; Skeleton Crew; and Stephen King Goes to the Movies.

Wow.  I sure do love me some Stephen King.  (Except Full Dark, No Stars.  Didn't like that one quite so much.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fifth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #3: Warm Bodies

Zombie Romeo and Juliet is really all you need to know about the third movie in this year's installment of the FAFMSSOMS, Warm Bodies - there's even a balcony scene!  R (played by Nicholas Hoult) is a fairly sentient zombie who wanders around an airport wondering about the meaning of it all, grunting at his best zombie friend Marcus and trying to avoid the "bonies" - really advanced zombies that are little more than teeth and skeletons.  R may shamble and drool and eat brains but his voiceover is clever and sarcastic.  There's clearly more going on here than with your average zombie.

One day, a group of attractive young humans is sent out from their walled city to collect medicine.  This happens to coincide with a hunting excursion R, Marcus and some other zombies are making.   R's group attacks the attractive young humans; R eats Perry (Dave Franco) and absorbs his memories, immediately falling in love with Perry's girlfriend Julie.  R saves Julie from the rest of the zombies, secreting her back in his secret hideout, and over the next couple of days she segues from frightened captive to friend.  Their burgeoning relationship sparks something in R and he begins to change physiologically; more importantly, it sparks a change in the other non-bonie zombies.

Let's get one thing straight: despite the zombies and the occasional brain-eating, this movie is not remotely scary.  Nicholas Hoult is far too pretty - even with blood and brains drooling out of his mouth - to be a convincing zombie, but his expressions and mannerisms are pretty good.  The more frightening part of the whole flick: John Malkovic ... who is just playing a human, Julie's father.

Apparently this little movie was based on a book - maybe I'll check it out.  In the meantime, Warm Bodies is a decent little zom-rom, but certainly not any sort of a horror movie.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fifth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #2: The Cabin in the Woods

Okay, so this one is sort of a cheat because it's like the fourth time I've watched The Cabin in the Woods.  It's the only horror movie I own.  But it is just so good and has everything you could possibly want.  A creepy cabin in the woods.  Pretty college kids, including an athlete, a scholar, a nerd, a sexpot and a "virgin."  Drinking.  Drugs.  Sex.  Girls in bikinis.  Conspiracy theories.  Latin incantations.  A zombie redneck torture family.  Beheadings and stabbings.  Running screaming through the woods.  Every monster ever.  Sigourney Weaver.  I mean, why wouldn't I watch that again and again?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fifth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series #1: Candyman

By all accounts ( and by all accounts I mean Final Girl and her devotees), 1992's Candyman is an under-appreciated classic.  The music is elegant and creepy; the gorgeous Virginia Madsen carries the flick and does a great job of it; and Tony Todd is an ominous, looming presence.  Plus bees!

Helen (Madsen) is a graduate student at the University of Illinois, writing her thesis on urban legends and modern folklore.  She learns about the legend of Candyman, the son of a freed slave who dared to love a white girl.  Her outraged relatives cut Candyman's hand off for the audacity, then arranged for stung him to death by bees, then burned his corpse in a bonfire.  Now, at one of the projects, gory murders are being pinned on Candyman - the legend coming to life, according to the locals.  Helen goes to the projects to investigate, befriends a young single mom, then gets herself beaten by some gang members.  Oh, and she inadvertently summoned Candyman - by staring into a mirror and repeating his name five times, because she didn't believe anything would happen - who starts to rampage and frames Helen for the crimes.  In Tony Todd's glorious, booming voice, Candyman tells Helen that her investigation had weakened his congregation's belief in him, so he had to come forth and kill to re-establish his power over the project's inhabitants.

I am Rumor.  It is a blessed condition ... to live in other people's dreams but not to have to be.

Candyman is a little dated but holds up well.  It is genuinely scary; I watched a bunch of the movie through my fingers as the tension built around Helen's poor choices.  While the actual violence takes place off-screen, we get to see plenty of blood in the aftermath.  I should give a special shout-out to the scene where Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen let bees climb all over their faces, including in their mouths.  Those sure looked like real bees - yikes!

I had no expectations whatsoever going into Candyman and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was and how much I liked it.  Not too many people have seen this movie when compared to the classic horror movies like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, etc., but if you're in the mood for something on the vintage side, Candyman is well worth your time.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pre-Fifth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series

Here it is, October.  And the Fifth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series is rearing its ugly head.  We only got through nine scary movies in all of last year's series - I'm hoping we can at least match that.  But the Mouse household is expecting some houseguests, neither of whom like horror flicks, so the viewing may be curtailed.  I'll watch as much as I can (after the crap day I had today, I'm soooooooo in the mood for something scary) and put them up here soon afterwards as best I can. In the meantime, what's your favorite scary movie this time (or any time) of year?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bad Haiku about: Superhero Movies (VIII)

So ... Thor: The Dark World.  Yeah.  There sure was a lot of stuff crashing and breaking and blowing up, huh?  As much as I enjoy seeing gargantuan bulked-up Chris Hemsworth with his shirt off, this one left me kind of cold.  Thor is just so ... stolid.  The best scenes, of course, were the ones with Loki - when is he going to get his own movie?

asgard in ruins
thor stands mjolnir in hand but
never trust loki

That's all I've got.  Perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy, when I finally see it, will prove more inspiration for bad haiku.