Scraping the bottom of the barrel… something decent came out. Jigsaw – spoiler filled movie review

John Kramer, star and saving grace of the Saw franchise had long gone, beaten up and violated by an endless stream of tiresome sequels rather than killed off by cancer as it’s claimed in Saw III.

Jigsaw 1However, he still manages to be brought back to life in Jigsaw. A movie that kicks off with five people held captive in a barn, each with a metal noose around their neck. If you’re familiar with this 14-year-long franchise, you’d expect this to be the by-now famous first trap that’s shown before the movie title appears on screen.

 

Continue reading “Scraping the bottom of the barrel… something decent came out. Jigsaw – spoiler filled movie review”

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Myths and thrills create a creepy night terror experience. Slumber – movie review

Everybody has been creeped out at least once by a friend or family member who sleepwalked or sleep-talked during the night, awakening us with a real-life jump-scare creepier than the entire Paranormal Craptivity franchise (definition by my friend Jimmy).

Slumber – an American/British movie that will have its wide release only in 2018 – plays with this primal fear and mixes it with ancient Eastern European myths.

Slumber 1Alice (Maggie Q), a doctor specialised in sleep disorders who’s been haunted by nightmares related to the sleepwalking death of her younger brother when she was just a child, is investigating on a family who suffered from the loss of their youngest kid. Mom, dad, brother and sister are dealing with recurrent nightmares who cause them dangerous sleepwalking episodes and terrifying sleep paralysis. Whilst this might depend on them coming to terms with grief and depression, the youngest boy, Danny (Lucas Bond), proves particularly vulnerable to physical harm during the episodes in which he sees a creepy figure lingering on him and preventing him from moving or screaming.

Continue reading “Myths and thrills create a creepy night terror experience. Slumber – movie review”

DNR: Marc Duplass’ narcissism is caring a dead movie around. Creep 2 – movie review

Following the unexpected success of Creep (2014), Mark Duplass reprises his role in this sequel in which the titular creep in search of new victims.

Creep 2 2Older and more tired than in the first film, Aaron (Duplass) is now sick of his “dream job” as a serial killer, thus he gets in contact with Sara (Desiree Akhavan), a YouTuber documentarist whose channel about weirdos she met on the internet is stuck with low ratings and even lower numbers. Continue reading “DNR: Marc Duplass’ narcissism is caring a dead movie around. Creep 2 – movie review”

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017) EXPLAINED.

I’ve been waiting to write this since the moment I got to the end of Oz Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter!

Blackcoat's Daughter 1If you haven’t seen the movie and are wondering why I should focus my attention on a motion picture that grossed only $20,435 worldwide, check out my spoiler-free take on the movie, since I’m now about to spoil the hell out of this complex film in the next few paragraphs. Continue reading “The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017) EXPLAINED.”

I JUST SAW… Baskin (Turkey, 2015)

Here we are, starting a new series in which I’ll be taking a look at some random movies that went overlooked or are just plain unknown.

Most of the movies I’ll be watching and talking about are foreign (as in non-American), therefore I hope you don’t mind reading subtitles! Obviously, these are all going to be films that I highly recommend, so check them out if you’re intrigued by what you are going to read. Starting off with…

Baskin 1Baskin (Turkey, 2015, directed by Can Evrenol) revolves around five Turkish police officers who receive an emergency call from a secluded location and go check out what the fuss is all about. On their way, they get into a terrible car accident which, anyway, happens not too far from the mansion they were headed to. When they enter the unsettling mansion, all hell breaks loose (literally).

Continue reading “I JUST SAW… Baskin (Turkey, 2015)”

The Classics of Horror #18 – Scream (1996)

In the mid-90s, slasher flicks started to lose impact in a market oversaturated with 7th or 8th installation of franchises soaked in 80s vibe. Yes, they kept giving mass audiences some mindless entertainment, but they completely and utterly gave up on originality and unconventional plots and characters.

Thus, Wes Craven, who contributed to the slasher era with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), decided to spoof the entire sub-genre and its tropes by making Scream, a film so clever that it works both as a parody of slashers and an intense ride nonetheless.

Scream 1When the quiet town of Woodsboro is shocked by a mysterious killer of teenagers known as Ghostface, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) – who’s dealing with post-traumatic syndrome due to the rape and murder of her mother one year prior – and her friends try to figure out who the killer is with the help of a nosey journalist and an incompetent police deputy.

Craven’s umpteenth success shows the constant usage of horror tropes and clichés to criticise their formulaic presence in horror cinema, particularly in the slasher sub-genre. References to Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises are all over the place in this smart meta-slasher.

However, it’s John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) that plays a primary role, with Craven and Kevin Williamson (Scream screenwriter) paying homage to the movie that started it all. Scream even utilises part of the Halloween iconic soundtrack to raise tension in certain sequences and winks to the audience in others.

As he’s done successfully with Nightmare (1984), Wes Craven is able to create a context in which the suspension of disbelief is unnecessary: as opposed to the Jason Voorhees’ movies – which you really can’t overthink about in order to enjoy – or even the first Halloween – great film, but engulfed with unbelievable physics – in Scream universe everything is believable and makes sense within the story. Upon fourth viewing, I still couldn’t find any plot hole! Which is something that never occurs in slasher movies, to be honest.

Scream 2.jpgBesides, Scream benefits from a perfectly balanced combination between “whodunit” mystery and black comedy – obviously, the reveal of Ghostface’s identity toward the end looks silly (as it is in most of the slasher flicks), but the movie gives the audience hints throughout so that the final surprise doesn’t come entirely unexpected. And, above all, makes sense. Craven never lies to its audience in Scream, so that if you paid attention to the story development you’d know why the ending unfolded in that specific way.

As per comedy, the director shows once again his black humour in this film: Craven, to my knowledge, was the first horror director to include comic relief in one of his earliest flicks (The Last House on the Left, 1972) and, although in that case it didn’t quite work, in Scream these aspects blend perfectly with the crime/mystery one.

Scream 3Besides, Scream benefits from a perfectly spot-on casting: there isn’t a standout actor among them, but they all fit perfectly the roles they’ve been assigned with. Mostly, though, the characters they portray are incredibly amusing and entertaining. Sidney, deputy Dewey (David Arquette), unscrupulous news reporter Gale Weather (Courtney Cox), Billy and Stu (Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard) are compelling, entertaining and quotable. Plus, some fun cameos (such as Drew Barrymore, Live Schreiber, Henry Winkler and, of course, Craven himself) make for an extra layer of enjoyment in the movie.

Yet, Wes Craven’s film deserves to be among the horror classics for two main reason: firstly, it made impossible to overlook tiresome clichés in horror flicks ever since Scream came out. In other words, this film deconstructed formulas that made our beloved genre boring and conventional, to the point of being considered almost dead following an influx of direct-to-video titles and numerous sequels to established horror franchises of the 1970s and 1980s.

Which is my second point: thanks to Craven’s masterpiece the horror genre has reborn from its ashes and found new ways to tell scary stories. Surely, the late 90s and early 00s have been quite stingy in terms of good horror films (at least around Hollywood), but the blast of the 2010s is, more or less, indirectly tied to Scream.

All in all, I love the movie and I can only appreciate how much Craven has done for the horror genre. Although Scream is probably less immune to the aging process than other genre classics, it has a special place in my heart and every horror fan should recognise praise that.

The end of a production nightmare. Amityville: The Awakening – movie review

Back in 2013 the Weinstein Company announced that Amityville: The Awakening would be released to theatres in January of 2015, adding a tenth film to the official series – 18th considering spin-offs and remakes, 22nd including the movies from The Conjuring universe!

Ever since, there have been rumours stating that the female lead (Bella Thorne) acted without the permission of her parents (she was underage during the making process); others claimed that the production companies weren’t satisfied with the final product; somebody else said Christopher Quaratino, one time resident of the real Amityville house, sued the production companies working on Amityville: The Awakening for inaccurate portrait of the events and exploitation of a tragic story.

Amityville Awakening 1Seemingly, Quarantino’s real intentions consisted of making his own documentary styled film about the ‘actual events’ involving the most notorious haunted house in horror history. This seems quite exploitative to me, mate!

Anyway, the film was finally thrown out there a few days ago, straight to Google Play.

Obviously, when a movie has such a messy production backstory, you expect it to be a train wreck and Amityville: The Awakening clearly shows the scars of the troubles it went through.

Nevertheless, Awakening is an entertaining, disposable and self-aware movie that never tries to be the next ‘scariest movie ever made’.

In this umpteenth episode of the franchise, a family composed by mom, two daughters and a son in an irreversible coma, move to the titular Amityville house and, there, weird shit starts to happen. Above all, it seems that James is regaining consciousness due to the house…

The film benefits from a solid cast, including Jennifer Morrison, Kurtwood Smith, Thomas Mann and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The standout performance, however, is displayed by Cameron Monaghan, who plays the brother and is both threatening and defenceless.

Amityville Awakening 2Unfortunately, though, the lead is played emotionlessly and coldly by Bella Thorn, who seems nothing more than a pleasant on-screen presence to look at. Honestly, that’s a shame, since she’s proven to be a decent actress in the projects she embraced from 2015 on. Also, this movie would have featured some emotionally impactful scenes, if only Thorne didn’t play the dullest among the characters…

The production values of Awakening are surprisingly decent. It’s fair to say that the editing is often off and the colour design doesn’t match from one scene to the other. However, I can overlook all of that for this one time, since the flick went through an endless stream of reshooting.

Yet, the story follows the typical ‘haunted house’ formula and features many unoriginal horror tropes. Nonetheless, all of that is handled in a way that respects the audience (the movie is truthful to itself and never plays cheap tricks), apart from the two dream-sequences that are just plain lazy and irritating.

Furthermore, as I stated previously, Awakening is self-aware and its protagonists often quote or mention the previous instalment in the franchise, including some hilarious commentary on the awfulness of the 2005 Ryan Reynolds’ remake. It was fun.

An aspect I, personally, really enjoyed in the film was the soundtrack: it featured a nice mixture of heavy metal, rock ’n’ roll, alternative versions of the conventional horror scores and so on.

Amityville awakening 3All in all, Amityville: The Awakening is not the worst movie in the franchise and it even features an overall good pacing and quite a few good scares. The acting ranges from rather good to plain dull, but it’s never downright unbearable. In all fairness, I can’t call Awakening a good movie but I’m not regretting having watched it and I think a few people might even like it, especially the die-hard fans of this franchise. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror #16 – Misery (1990)

Legend says that Stephen King, dissatisfied by his latest adaptations, asked Rob Reiner to work on the transposition of his novel Misery (1987) to film.

The director behind the awesome Stand by me (1986) agreed to work on a King’s source material once again. As a result, Misery (the movie) came out in 1990, starring Kathy Bates and James Caan.

Winning an award to Bates for best actress in a leading role, Misery probably deserved even more. I’m so in love with this movie!

Partly, it’s because the type of movies revolving around a few characters locked up somewhere (à la 12 Angry Men, 1957) have always had a special place in my heart. With very little to work with, this formula exploits its potential as a character study, which is something I always found mesmerising, as a cinephile.

What kind of ‘secluded’ situation are we dealing with in Misery, then? Basically, famous writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has just finished its latest novel about (you guessed it) Misery. She’s a character he built his career around but decided to kill off to move on as a writer. Driving back home after finishing said book, Paul ends up having a car accident due to a snowstorm.

Paul and his only copy of the manuscript get saved by a nurse, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Good for him. Or maybe not?

In fact, quite soon after Paul is taken to Annie’s isolated house, he notices something is off with the nurse, who claims to be “her biggest fan” and, perhaps, is a bit overly obsessed with him and the character of Misery.

From now on, the audience is gripped to a story which sees an immobilised Paul (with his legs broken and in rather bad conditions) trying to escape his host, while Annie pushes him to rewrite his latest novel and make it more ‘Misery friendly’.

Misery is, clearly, a character driven horror/drama/thriller, I’d say. Good for us, the performances by the two leads are great.

Misery 1Kathy Bates, in the role that made her famous, is just fantastic: she ranges from being creepily sweet and caring to going bad shit insane and violent. For instance, when Caan realises her madness for the first time, the sequence is handled so well by Bates’ performance. The way she gestures and speaks, coming up with the most ridiculous ways to cover her swearing, is just terrific. Impressively enough, from that first insanity moment on her acting improves and every time I watch this movie, I don’t see Kathy Bates on screen: I see freaking Annie Wilkes.

Not to be overlooked though, is James Caan’s performance. To begin with, he mostly only had his facial expressions to rely on and still manages to be extremely believable and compelling. Also, at certain points in the film, his character needs to pretend to have different feelings: do you have any idea how hard it is to be a character within a character? Yes, Bates steals the show, but Caan at his best was also a delight to look at.

Misery 2.pngYet, there is a subplot involving two other characters (a sheriff and his wife) that both links the story together and introduces us these amazing people, a likable and funny old couple. I love the sheriff, he’s so genuine and quotable: “Virginia, when we are in the car you’re not my wife; you’re my deputy!”. Great stuff!

Again, the direction of Rob Reiner is spotless: the whole movie has an incredible, somewhat nostalgic vibe that makes everything so intriguing, even the scenes that could have become dull. The set design is, also, amazing: everything looks lived-in and realistic. The camera-work even manages to create some great sequences and peeps to the action from uneven angles.

Misery 3Besides the infamous ‘hammer scene’ which Misery is famous for even among those who haven’t seen it, this film delivers some intense psychological torture. For a passionate writer having to burn or rewrite their book must be very hard to take. I mean, even I get mad when I forget to save a post and I have to write it again from the beginning!

In all honestly, I don’t think there is any flaw in this movie. Well, other than a tiny editing mistake that you’d notice only if you’re as obsessed as I am with the technical aspects of a movie. Also, I didn’t love the score, because sometimes highlights too much the most intense scenes.

Anyway, Misery is simply a masterpiece. I probably consider it one of my all-time favourite movies, one that also happens to feature an awesome, fulfilling and climactic ending. Must watch!

Baby Blues (2008) – movie review

I owe this one to my friend Jimmy Ray Davis, who solved a puzzle and got himself a review of his choice as a reward.

As a matter of fact, I’m also quite happy about his pick, since it gave me the opportunity to watch and talk about a movie I haven’t seen or heard of before.

Baby Blues 1Co-directed by Lars Jacobson and famous Indian filmmaker Amardeep Kaleka, Baby Blues (2008) tells the story of a countryside family – mom, dad and four kids – who live in a secluded farm. Upon suffering from post-partum depression (the so-called baby blues syndrome), the mother loses it and starts to show a violent behaviour towards her children.

Loosely inspired by true events – check out the series of articles on the Andrea Yates’ case – this indie horror seems to me more like a general exploration of mental breakdown and psychosis. For instance, to support my thesis, the characters of the parents don’t have first names: they’re simply regarded as ‘mom’ and ‘dad’.

In this respect, I can’t help but appreciate the directors’ effort put into the movie: they, passionately, created a horror flick that has a message.

Baby Blues 3Is the execution good, though? I’d say that, for the most part, it’s above average, especially for a low-budget, indie horror flick. I wouldn’t call it a scary movie, per se, but it features an unsettling and creepy vibe throughout nonetheless. Some scenes are very effective, since they hint to extreme violence without becoming overly graphic.

Baby Blues 2The acting is great for this type of movies. Ridge Canipe, who plays the older soon, the ‘hero’ of the movie, is fantastic. Colleen Porch, who portrays the mom, is compelling and quite unsettling from beginning to end. I don’t want to be considered sexist, but she was also kind of hot in Baby Blues: I dug that!

Personally, I just wish she had a better development as a character, since she looks pretty messed up since the very beginning. This film is 77 minutes long, therefore it could have used ten minutes more of build-up during the first third of the movie.

From a technical standpoint, I liked the colour design, with its documentary-ish vibe, and the great choice of locations. However, I strongly disliked the editing, especially within the first half of Baby Blues. The overabundance of cuts and takes gave me a nauseating feeling, which is really a shame.

Another issue I have with the film revolves around the father character: I feel like the directors didn’t know what to do with him in certain bits and, therefore, he pops up on screen every now and then, distracting the viewer from the main focus of the story.

Besides that, Baby Blues is a quite solid indie flick, based on an intriguing concept and filled with enough memorable and disturbing scenes. I don’t know whether it’s a rewatchable movie or not, but I would still recommend checking it out. And, Jimmy, since this review is for you, I’m going to give the movie a grade:

3/5