Category Archives: Horror

Movie Review: The Shape of Water

I have been a fan, but not a devoted one, of Guillermo del Torro since I had the good fortune to catch Chronos during its theatrical run and from the first trailers The Shape of Water, is a movie I wanted to see.

Sadly I spent weeks in December and January sick with colds and flu, but this weekend I finally managed to make the time to go see the movie, properly in a theater.

The Shape of Water, clearly inspired by the classic Universal film The Creature from the Black Lagoon, takes place in a mythical USA, someplace between 1957 and 1961, when the country was locked in a spacer-ace and the cold war with the USSR. Elisa and Zelda work as janitorial staff in a secret government facility just outside of Baltimore when a new asset, the amphibian man is brought into the center. The new security officer, Strickland, is flat portrayal of 50’s white, heterosexual, patriarchy dominance and very much the villain and antagonist of the movie. Over the course of the story Elisa and others from marginalized communities, discover the humanity in that which is not human and the inhumanity in their own species.

The film is a fairly tale, one of del Torro’s favorite areas to work in, and the opening narration places within that genre as surely as if it had intoned, ‘One upon a time.’ The film is photographic beautifully, and the period is rendered in loving detail. The performances, over all, are sharp, layered, and nuanced. Strickland, for my tastes, is presented in a too one-dimensional manner and this weakens an otherwise strong script. I found it easier to accept a song and dance number deep within the movie than the broad, stereotypical villain. Still, it is a very enjoyable film, and one well worth seeing in a comfortable theater with good sound and image.


Movie Review: Jigsaw (2017)

Saturday night I went out and caught this film before it left theaters. Jigsaw is the eight film in the long-lived horror franchise but it is the fist that I have seen. It earned a decent review from a critic I like and mostly agree with and it was directed by a pair of brothers, the Spierigs, whom have turned out some fairly enjoyable pictures. These two factors were enough to prompt a ticket sale.

Jigsaw takes place ten years after the death of the serial killer known as Jigsaw, AKA John Kramer, whose M.O. was to capture people he considered to be sinful and place them elaborate death traps which offered a chance for survival but usually with pain and sacrifice involved. As bodies start appearing around the city bearing marks and wounds

that suggest Jigsaw is back on the hunt, then police and a forensic team attempt to unravel the mystery and discover if Kramer survived his reported death.

In a story told through parallel editing we also follow the latest victim players in the cruel, deadly games. Unlike a lot of ‘torture porn’ out there the Saw franchise is built upon the conceit of a twisted form of justice and the victims are not innocent people simply being maimed and killed but rather individuals who have not taken the requisite responsibility for their actions. Let me be clear that in no way justifies Kramer’s actions as judge and executioner, he’s just out right skipping the jury role, but it changes to morality of experiencing the film, and that is important. The death traps in Jigsaw are elaborate and mostly within the bounds of reasonable disbelief and provide moments of genuine suspense and empathy.

When the final mystery is unraveled the answer to Kramer’s fate revealed it is a satisfying resolution that leaves open questions for further films. To get the answer before the film launches into its ‘how I did it’ explanations audience need to pay attention character given when discussing Kramer’s first game and that game’s first victims.

Overall I enjoyed the film and do not regret going to see it at a late showing. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but the Spierig brothers, who brought us Undead, Daybreakers, and the unmatched Heinlein adaptation Predestination continue to be filmmakers to watch.


Halloween Horror Movie #16 Night of the Living Dead 4K

No, that is not yet another remake, revision, or remix of the movie that created the modern zombie genre, but rather the 4K restoration of that original.

Before he passed away George Romero worked with the Museum of Modern Art, and with funding from the George Lucas Family Foundation, to restore from original elements that film that so many years ago made his career. Though not announced it is expected that there will be a 4K and Blu-ray release of this restoration from Criteria and that is something I am looking forward to.

The restoration screened last night at San Diego’s restored movie palace The Balboa Theater. When I first arrived in San Diego in 1981 it was part of a series of grindhouse theaters showing films 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Now, returned to it luster and glory it is an upscale venue for live performances and film.

Before the movie we were treated to a live organ concert with an impressive device that filled the theater with full rich sound without the aid of any amplifiers or any electronic circuit. Being Halloween there was brief costume contest. (My personal favorite was a pair of women doing a fantastic job the creepy twin girls from The Shinning.) Then, after a few technical glitches, we watched The Night of the Living Dead.

What can I say about this movie that has not already been said a thousands times before me? It is, though that word is never uttered in the film, the progenitor of the modern zombie genre. It is a film with a black lead made in 1968 that never once mentions race and yet the subtext of the race relations infuse every scene with that character. It is a film from the sixties with a very seventies sensibility, making this movie ahead of its time in more than one respect.

Watching it on the big screen, something I have never had the chance to do, and in a restored version, proved to be quite surprising. This is a movie with many technical faults, stilted acting by some of the cast, and clumsy dialog and yet sitting there I never once felt bored and ready to leave. It was very nearly as if I had never actually watched the movie before. (It was also clear a number of people in the audience were fresh to the film, supplying reactions and screams that would have thrilled Romero’s heart.)

It is a shame that it played only one night. Many of my friends planned to be busy on Halloween with ‘better’ activities and they missed treat.

So ends my horror film reviews for this Halloween. I do hope you enjoyed them.


Halloween Horror Movie # 15 The Exorcist

The Exorcist is the first films that I can clearly remember as something that was a big cultural phenomenon I was 12 when this R-rated film was released so I did not see it in theaters during its initial theatrical release. However I remember it was talked about, it was on the news, and it was subject to sketch comedy of the popular variety shows. In many ways it was a harbinger of the media saturation to come. Most of all it deserved that hyperbole.

Based on the novel William Peter Blatty, and adapted to the screen by the author, The Exorcist tells the story of a young girl, Regan, living in modern Georgetown possessed by a demon and her eventual exorcism. Regan’s mother Chris is a successful actress and movies star, a modern woman, a single parent, unreligious, and wholly unprepared for an ancient evil that takes up residence in her daughter. Father Karras is a Jesuit priest, trained in modernity and science, a psychiatrist and a boxer he too is a many thoroughly of the modern world of 1973 and a priest whose faith is crumbling. He too is unprepared to confront a reality of demons and possession. Detective Kinderman is a homicide cop, investigating a bizarre and nearly inexplicable death near the homes. Father Merrin is an elderly Catholic priest in poor health who has experience with this world of demons and is the films titular character. Bound together by the horror that has descended upon Regan these characters confront a world in which evil is not an vague abstract concept with the life and soul of a 12 year old girl hanging in the balance.

Blatty, principally known as a comedy writer, wrote the novel plumbing his own faith and questions as a Catholic surviving in the turbulent modern world. Excellently helmed by director William Friedkin, The Exorcist takes its time building to the ‘Roman Ritual’, which serves as the story climax. Preceding Halloween by several years, The Exorcsit does not rely upon gruesome kills and continuous violence to provoke dread and horror but rather takes the audience slowly and inexorably from a bright world of light and reason into one of darkness and the supernatural. More than 40 years old and recently revised by the director into a final cut this is a movie that still works, creating an atmosphere of dread, terror, and leaving the viewer with deep questions, it is a movie worth watching and thinking about.


Halloween Horror Movie # 14 Dementia 13

If I were cleverer I would have worked it out so that this movie popped up as number 13, but that did not happen.

Dementia 13 is the fires mainstream feature film from acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola. It is a low budget horror/thriller intended to ride the coattails of the better-known movie Psycho.

The story concerns an Irish family that is haunted by the tragic and mysterious death of the youngest child, Kathleen. On an anniversary of her drowning, when the family hold yearly funerals for her, a scheming American woman Louise, recently married into the family, plots to manipulate the matriarch into changing her will. Louise’s plot is upended when people start dying at the hands of unidentified axe murderer.

Made for Roger Corman, Coppola was never fully satisfied with the final product and it even eventually fell into the public domain. If you buy one of 50 Horror, or Thriller, or Mystery DVD set you likely will acquire a copy of Dementia 13. Of course that will be an nth generation copy off some poor quality 16 mm print. Surprisingly someone splurged for a 4k restoration and that was what was screened at the Museum of Photographic Arts last night. My sweetie-wife and I attended, thought traffic nearly made us miss the movie. I can’t recommend this movie, it’s very uneven and convoluted but I do not seeing it in a theater instead of a poor quality dup.


Halloween Horror Movie # 13 The House of Frankenstein (1944)

Mid week movies need to be on the shorter side; what with working the day job, particularly as we swing into overtime hours during the annual enrollment period and still need to put my but in the chair and fingers to keyboard for writing there simply isn’t a lot of time left over for movie watching. Luckily those only Universal horror films, designed to fill the ‘B’ slot are often well under an hour and a half and House of Frankenstein is no exception, clocking in around seventy minutes.

House of Frankenstein, another in the let’s throw a lot of the monsters into the same movie early cinematic universe trend, also heralded the of Boris Karloff to the series that launched his stardom. This time Karloff isn’t playing the created monster but rather Doctor Gustav Neimann, a scientist obsessed with following the trail blazes by Henry Frankenstein. Caught earlier in the experimentations, Neimann has spent fifteen years languishing in a dungeon cell. God, eager to get the plot started, strike the prison with powerful lighting bolts and Neimann, along another prisoner, Daniel the hunchback, escape. Not happy with a single coincidence to start the story, the hand of god, known to us as the scriptwriter, also gives the convict pair a favor by having a traveling freak-show get stuck nearby in the storms muds. Neimann and Daniel kill the proprietor and his driver, and then assume their identities along with possession of Dracula’s actual skeleton.

A wise man would simple skulk off and restart their experiments, but Neimann is not wise. Bitter over those who sent him to prison her seeks revenge as he travels back to his decrepit lab. Neimann revives Dracula by removing the offending stake and sends him after his first target. Dracula, ever the skirt chaser, spends too much time on wine and charm and though he kills his target, he is forced to flee with the police in hot pursuit. Neimann throws the count’s coffin to the side of the road and the vampire, unable to reach it before dawn’s first rays dies in the sunlight.

At the next town they pick up an abused gypsy dancing girl and the next two victims for the doctor’s revenge. A quick stop at village Frankenstein yields the good doctor’s lab notes, the monster, and the wolf-man. The latter two entombed in ice from the flood that swept them away the in previous film. Like every other scientist in the universe, Neimann promises Talbot that he’ll cure the man werewolf curse. They travel reaching Neimann’s lab, after a quick montage the facility is restored to mad scientist ready. Unconcerned with either his promises or having a werewolf running loose, Neimann refuses to treat Talbot, instead he works on the monster. Talbot and the gypsy girls fall in love, angering the hunchback. When the werewolf kills the girl and the girls kills the werewolf, the hunchback blames, rightly so, Neimann and attacks him. That doesn’t go well as the Monster throws the hunchback from the battlements and then flees the torch-wielding peasant with Neimann in his arms. Showing a moment of intelligence, the mob forces he monster into the swamp where he and Neimann drown in quicksand.

Now, compared to most movies this is really just a series of coincidences, but if you look at House of Dracula this film has a central theme, revenge, and a coherent plot. House of Frankenstein is not a great film but a passable seventy minutes.


Halloween Horror Movie #12 The Haunting

Performing double duty last night as my Sunday Night Feature and the next up in the Halloween Horror Festival I watched 1963s The Haunting. (Not the terrible 1999 remake. I saw that one in the theater and once was far more than too much.)

Directed by Robert Wise, a talented and one of my favorite filmmakers, The Haunting is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s unsettling novel The Haunting of Hill House. The story concerns Professor John Markway who is investigating the supernatural. He has discovered Hill House, a 19th century mansion with a terrible past. Certain that he has found the location that will allow his research to advance to the next level he rents the house and attempts to bring together a group of sensitive persons to provoke events and document them. This is how the story point of view character and protagonists, Eleanor Lance is pulled into the plot. Eleanor is an unbalanced woman. She has spent her entire adult life caring for her bed-ridden mother, which has sparked and nurtured a deep resentment in Eleanor, and now longs for a life and a love of her own. Most of the people Markway had planned to assemble cancel leaving him with only one other sensitive Theodora, a woman with a talent for ESP and an unconventional sexual orientation. Rounding out our cast of ghost hunters is Luke Sanderson, a young man who believes not in the supernatural but rather in drink, women, and money. Luke stands to inherit the house and is on site to protect his future interests.

Filmed with a lens that presents a very mild distortion of the image, and several shots using filmstock that is sensitive to UV light, Robert Wise crafts a horror film that is built upon mood and disquiet rather than gore and monsters. The move boasts a terrific cast all of whom portray their characters with truth and credibility. It is interesting to me that I can watch Russ Tamblyn as a child in the noir Gun Crazy, a young adult man here in The Haunting, and as a senior actor in Twin Peaks: The Return, Claire Bloom as Theodora plays her character with a sublime subtlety. Yes, the production code forced all gay characters to be either coded and villainous but with this film it was required that her character be portrayed more discreetly and her attempted seductions and interest in Eleanor are better for their low key approach.

Among the classic horror films The Haunting ranks as one of the best.


Halloween Horror Movie # 11 The Tingler

Saturday afternoon I treated myself to an at home matinee of the 1959 marketing classic The Tingler.

William Castle who made quite a name for himself with marketing ploys to attract people to his films directed this movie. His has done such stunts as offering insurance policies against dying of fright during the screening, having paper skeletons pulled on strings over the audiences heads and for The Tingler he had some seats in some theaters rigged with buzzers to surprise people during key moments of the film. Naturally all this does not translate to home video.

The Tingler stars Vincent Price as Doctor Chapin a pathologist who, in addition to his duties seeing to the remains of executed criminals, is researching the strange effects of people in acute fear. He has a dedicated lab assistant, a shrewish wife, seemingly a common character type in a Castle film, a new friendship with the brother-in-law of a recently executed murderer, and to help him with his research a nifty new drug that induces nightmares, LSD 25.

Chapin’s research not only proves that there is a previously unknown physical effect from unreleased fear, but that it is a living creature found in all of us, the Tingler. Most of the film is actually melodrama about the Chapin’s failing marriage, and mysterious scenes that keep the audience guessing just how far will he go for his research. Is he dedicated or a mad scientist?

This film is worth watching, but the concepts are rarely carried through and it does cheat with its plot twits. That is to say it doesn’t set up the twists but rather springs on the audience without the benefits of Chekov’s gun. The movie does have one fairly original set piece in it. There a sequence where a woman is driven into utter terror and in those scenes while the film remains in black-and-white the blood is a bright, brilliant, saturated red. Here’s a still to show you. Now, remember this was 1959; there were no digital effect to make this now easy process possible. Castle achieved this my making everything, including the actress, on the set monochrome so while the film is color film only the blood is appears to have color.

The Tingler is currently streaming on Shudder.


Halloween Horror Movie #10 Ringu 2

Just in case you were under the impression it was only Hollywood that produced sequel after sequel to blockbuster successes Japan made four films in the Ringu Franchise.

Based upon a popular novel, Ringu, and its American re-make The Ring dealt with a ghost from a well, a video tape that in view caused your death in seven days, and the single mother reporter that was the story’s protagonist. (Though interestingly the film differs from the novel so much that the main character switched genders.)

In Ringu the single mother has worked out to survive the curse she and her son, who accidently watched the tape, must make a copy and show it to someone else. Mom has already unwittingly done this and her mathematician boyfriend’s death provided the clues to working out the curse. Now to save her son she has had him duplicate the tape and shown it to here father.

Ringu 2 picks up the story where Ringu left off, but now our protagonist is the mathematician’s female assistant who starts down the plot trying to understand what has happened to her mentor. The police get involved, after all they have a number of unexplained deaths on their hands, as does a doctor treating a girl who survived seeing the ghost of Sadako but is now in a mental ward.

Built on mood, atmosphere, and mystery, Ringu 2 continues the stylistic horror that at the start of the century became known as J-Horror. Not all of the Japanese horror films imported under their sudden popularity deserved to be held up as an example of their industry’s superior craftsmanship but quite a few were several levels above the derivative slasher fare that so many in Hollywood pushed into our theaters.

The franchise continues beyond this sequel, producing an inconsistent and unrequired prequel, which the fandom rejected, and then a second revisionary prequel before finally sputtering out.

Ringu 2 is a film worth watching. Moody, creepy, and with explorations of themes raised in the Ringu it is that rare beast, a worthy sequel.