Fierce and pure body horror in the desolation of urban life. Let Her Out – movie review

We stay in Canada, where my last blog post followed the footsteps of a very unusual vampire, this time to take a look at a much more conventional movie.

In fact, body horror – the sub-genre Let Her Out belongs to – has had its peak during the late 90s/early 00s, with many flicks exploiting the wearing away, rotting and destruction of human flesh caused by some sort of inner issue.

Let Her Out, written and directed by Cody Calahan (Antisocial and Antisocial 2), kicks off, quite in-your-face, with a prostitute tirelessly banging a stream of clients, until some stranger breaks into her motel room and rapes her. As a result, she gets pregnant and decides to kill herself and the baby by stubbing her own womb with scissors.

Let Her Out 223 years down the line, Helen (Alana LeVierge) begins to have awful visions and hallucinations that cause the girl to have black holes in her memory and to forget where she’s been and what she’s done for long periods of time. Lately, it’s discovered that Helen’s mom was the prostitute at the beginning of the movie – she was pregnant with twins and, when she tried to kill them, she succeeded only partially, since one of the foetuses attached to the other in order to survive.

Continue reading “Fierce and pure body horror in the desolation of urban life. Let Her Out – 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”

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.”

The Classics of Horror #20 – The Sixth Sense (1999)

Once upon a time, M. Night Shyamalan was the most promising director in Hollywood, not just a meme to make fun of.

Mostly, said reputation came from a masterpiece that blew everybody’s mind in the late 90s: The Sixth Sense.

On one hand, I’m glad to conclude this six-month long series with a truly great film; on the other, though, reviewing one of my all-time favourite movies is a challenge that both stimulate and scare me.

The Sixth Sense tells the story of a broken children psychologist – Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis – who tries to help grade schooler Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment, nominated at the Awards for his supporting cast role) to overcome what appears to be some serious psychotic issue.

The Sixth Sense 1Before “post horror” became a thing (is it really?), M. Night created a universe that gains credibility and strength from its combination of horror, drama, thriller and mystery. The balance between these sub-genres, perfectly blended together, makes for a unique viewing experience that has no precedes.

Continue reading “The Classics of Horror #20 – The Sixth Sense (1999)”

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!

The Classics of Horror #6 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This is a very sad week for the world of arts and entertainment.

Two highly inspiring figures have passed away: Chester Bennington, frontman of Linkin Park, committed suicide last night and George Romero, father of the zombie sub-genre in cinema, had died in last Sunday.

I can’t stress enough how much the sudden death of a singer who accompanied me with his melodies throughout my whole life shocked me. However, I’m not entitled to talk about it in this blog, although I wish I could express my grief in a better way.

Instead, I hope to make the brilliant director justice by reviewing, unbiasedly, the film that made him famous and gave us the basis for each single zombie movie that came out from 1968 to this day.

Night of the Living Dead is one of the first independent horror flicks, which grossed more than $30 million world-wide on a budget of only £114.000.

Last black and white entrance on this list, Night of the Living Dead tells the story of a small group of people gathered in an abandoned house trying to survive the return to life of the dead. This supernatural occurrence has been caused by radiation leaks that turn on the brains of corpses, basically resuscitating and turning them into flesh eaters.

Night of 2As this brief plot summary might suggest, the flick establishes the rules for each and every zombie movie (especially those involving slow ghouls): they feed upon human and animal flesh, they can’t be killed unless their head gets smashed, their bite is contagious and so on.

Romero has set the rules basing them on centuries of literature, dark fairy tales and bonfire stories, creating a fertile ground for one of the most successful sub-genres in cinema history.

With a small budget to his disposal, the director has also been able to confine the story within a narrow location – although news reports keep showing, throughout the movie, the consequences of the phenomenon on a larger scale, the focus of action is a small house with thin walls and, virtually, a few chances of survival.

Night of 1Even though today Night of the Living Dead wouldn’t scare a child, when I came out it’s been perceived as gory and unsettling. For example, the scene where the zombies eat the flesh of their victims must have been a massive shock for the 60s audience.

The film wasn’t ballsy only in terms of gore and violence, though. It’s then-daring employment of an African-American hero as the lead and its ubiquitous availability on television and video thanks to a lack of copyright all played roles in Night’s success. The racial component was, indeed, more shocking than the bloody sequences: “Everyone was sort of noticing the film was talking about the racial issue”, Romero said in a recent interview. “To us, it wasn’t a racial message at all”, he added, “in fact, when we cast Duane Jones (as the lead) – when Duane Jones agreed to do it – we didn’t change the script” to make it more suitable for a black character.

Night of 4.jpgNevertheless, the director himself claimed his flick to be more than just a zombie movie: “Our point was more the disintegration of society, the inability to communicate, the disintegration of the family unit. That’s the stuff that we were interested in”.

However, the social commentary doesn’t quite emerge in the film.

In my honest opinion, Night of the Living Dead is a rather weak film. Regardless its historic impact and influence, the movie lacks a sense of urgency and inevitability, which is what should emerge in a good zombie flick.

Furthermore, with the exception of Jones, every cast member gives an amateur performance, often over-the-top and laughable when it’s trying to be dramatic.

Night of 3Some of them are plainly annoying, for instance the girl who loses her brother in the first sequence involving the living dead. She’s so pathetic and nerve-wracking throughout the all movie and her contribution to the survival attempts is below nil.

Overall, the main issue with Night of the Living Dead is that it doesn’t hold up anymore.

It’s probably the least watchable out of Romero’s film and, also, in comparison to Rosemary’s Baby – which was released the same year – it looks extremely dated.

In all fairness, I wouldn’t suggest to watch Night of the Living Dead, unless you are a die-hard Romero’s fan or particularly interested in the zombie sub-genre. Instead, I recommend Dawn of the Dead (1978) and The Dark Half (1993) by George Romero, because in my opinion they are its best works. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror #4 – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

PREMISE: as you might know if you have been following my series on the classics of horror, I’m tackling 20 milestones of the genre chronologically.

Does it mean that I’m skipping Psycho (1960)? No way, I would never commit such a crime against humanity. I just decided to switch the two movies – Psycho and Rosemary – around, because my girlfriend bought us tickets for an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s film on Friday 14th, which means I can make a ‘special’ review for it that will come out on Monday 17th.

 

With all of that said, let’s dive into what is considered one of the best (if not the best) horror film of all time – Rosemary’s Baby.

In all fairness, though, the definition of ‘best horror of all time’ has been labelled to half of the iconic movies on this list.

Anyway, directed by Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a wealthy couple – Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), a bright but naive young housewife, and Guy (John Cassavetes), her husband, a struggling actor – that move into a new apartment in New York City.

However, what seems to be just flowers and unicorns, soon turns into an ocean of awkwardness, angst and fear, with Rosemary and Guy being surrounded by macabre events and nosy neighbours who seem to have an obsessive curiosity for ‘Ro’ and her future kid…

rosemarys-baby-blu-ray-screenshotFirst addition to the series originally made in technicolour, Rosemary’s Baby is a journey within fears and concerns of a woman who’s about to get pregnant from a self-centred husband all wrapped into his career and aspirations. It’s a maternity story told through the lens of mystery and horror, since the troubles Rosemary goes through in the film are either caused by her unstable psychological health or witchcrafts elaborated by people around her. Which one of those if for the viewer to figure out throughout the runtime.

According to modern standards, this film appears more as a psychological thriller – with supernatural elements in it – than a pure horror. Nonetheless, the audience back in the 60s was shocked by Polanski’s movie.

In fact, me and my girlfriend (who I re-watched the film with) struggled to believe the director got away with so many naked scenes, considering how puritan America was in the 60s.

Other than that, Rosemary’s Baby manages to be highly unsettling for its themes and some gross and gut-wrenching scenes – according to the standards at the time.

Rosemary's baby 1The effectiveness of such crucial moments in the movie is guaranteed by the performances – Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet (the nosy neighbour) won a well-deserved Award for Best Supporting Actress, for example.

The cast should be praised for that, obviously, but Polanski and his ‘awful behaviour on set’ (according to Mia Farrow) played a massive role in the film and its realism. For instance, Farrow was vegetarian when the film was shot but the director forced her to eat real rabbit liver in front of the camera to make the sequence more realistic – which brings me to believe that her throwing up in the sink straight after wasn’t in the script but more so a genuine reaction…

RosemarysBaby 4Yet, another prime example is the scene where Rosemary walks into traffic, which was spontaneous and genuine: Polanski told Farrow that “nobody will hit a pregnant woman”!

Besides all of that, I believe Rosemary’s Baby is the first ‘modern’ horror on this list, in terms of scare factors and enjoyability. However, although deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, the film isn’t flawless.

Being two hours and fifteen minutes long, the first half hour drags a bit too much – it develops the character and takes its time to set up the story, but could have been cut shorter by getting rid of a few unnecessary sequences. Or, alternatively, could have been utilised to better explain the frustrations and anxieties of Guy, silent protagonist of this motion picture.

Also, the ending is a bit disappointing, even though it doesn’t ruin the movie even in the slightest.

Apart from these little flaws, Rosemary’s Baby deserved the title of masterpiece, featuring a great and purposely earing soundtrack that completes each scene masterfully.

Definitely a must-see for all horror fans out there, don’t miss it out. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror #3 – Creature of the Black Lagoon

Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954) was released in a quirky period of time for the history of cinema.

In 1953, a few production companies attempted the 3D technology for the first time. Jack Arnold, director of many Sci-Fi movies in the 50s, decided to tag along and follow the trend.

Unfortunately, the 3D wasn’t quite appealing for the audience at the time, mostly because the filmmakers couldn’t get its and make the best of its potential. Creature of the Black Lagoon was part of this faulty experiment.

However, the film itself had much more to offer than a pure 3D gaming. As a consequence, Jack Arnold’s movie became one of the most influential motion pictures in the history of both Sci-Fi and Horror.

Creature of the Black Lagoon is clearly the product of an age of transition, where horror cinema opened the door to modern standards whilst still relying on elder modules in terms of acting and character development.

Following a quite simple storyline – scientists discover an unknown fossil in the Amazon rainforest, team up to find out more and come across an amphibious monster who won’t let them go away easily – the film develops a dreadful atmosphere which is constant throughout the 89 minutes of runtime.

The choice of not showing the monster in its entirety until half way through the film makes him scarier – probably terrifying at the time the movie was shot – than it should have if its design was unveiled straight away.

The main location – a fisherman boat sailing through the Amazon River – is also effective, since it confines our characters within a secluded place that’s not easy – or safe – to abandon.

creaturefromtheblacklagoonWhat I honestly found astounding, though, was the design and the practical effects the creature was made with. Surprisingly, they hold up and age very well: the creature of the Black Lagoon – which is a guy wearing well-made mask and costume – is more unsettling than many CGI monsters we are used to see on screen nowadays.

Yet, the underwater cinematography is worth praising. Made with a ground-breaking technology for the time, the camera work is convincing and spotless even for a contemporary eye. The waving and swinging of the pond weed gave an extra layer of realism to the whole underwater photography.

Nevertheless, although more enjoyable for modern audiences than Nosferatu or Frankenstein, Creature of the Black Lagoon is not flawless.

Firstly, neither the screenwriter nor the director bothered to check the differences between Spanish and Portuguese. For instance, at the very beginning of the film, there is a sign which tells us we are in front of the Instituto de Biologia Marina of Sao Paolo. However, in Portuguese it should have been spelled as Instituto de Biologia Marinha. It’s nit-picking, I know, but these lazy mistakes always annoy me for some odd reason.

creature-from-the-black-lagoon-sliceThe other thing that turned me off quite a bit was the role of the only female character in the film. I get that Julia Adams is in the movie purely because she’s good-looking, but why her only lines consist of her whining about her fiancé diving into the water and annoyingly screaming as soon as she sees the monster? Her presence in the movie was completely unnecessary and useless.

Even though, in all honesty, I guess that was the typical female role in the 50s’ cinema, where women couldn’t look after themselves nor make their own decisions – alike the patriarchal American society of the time wanted the viewers to perceive them.

All in all, though, Creature of the Black Lagoon is worth watching both for its influence in the creature-feature sub-genre and the level of entertainment it provides the viewers with. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror #2 – Frankenstein (1932)

Alongside Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931), James Whale’s Frankenstein is one of the milestones of the pre-Code, a brief era between the introduction of sound pictures in 1929 and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines.

Successful and quite faithful to the original novel, Frankenstein had a generally positive reception and, to these days, is considered among the best horror movies in cinema history.

Nevertheless, the film encountered many troubles straight after its release. The scene in which the monster throws the little girl into the lake and accidentally drowns her has long been controversial. Upon its original 1931 release, the second part of this scene was cut by state censorship boards in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.

frankenstein-theredlist.jpgThose states also objected to a line they considered blasphemous, one that occurred during Frankenstein’s exuberance when he first learns that his creature is alive. The original line – “It’s alive! It’s alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!” – has been changed in many ways by censors.

Regardless, Frankenstein presents timeless themes and food for thought that survived censorships and controversy.

Alike Nosferatu (1922), the creature represents what’s different from the society and its values. It’s scary because unknown and incomprehensible.

Yet, the relationship between science and religion is a key elements, as well as the conflict between the inevitable death and the urge for immortality.

Filled with great performances – according to the standards of that time – Frankenstein still manages to be unsettling at points, more so for the angry outburst of the commoners than for the creature itself, which is presented as both culprit and victim.

frankenstein1931eSimilarly, Henry Frankenstein (perfectly portrayed by Colin Clive) shows a contrasting nature, in precarious balance between haughtiness and scientific curiosity.

Overall, still to these days Frankenstein is a modern movie – in regards to its contents – and probably the best adaptation of the novel of the same name. Obviously, there are editing and sound design issues that most of contemporary movies don’t deal with.

frankenstein-19752070-1579-1223

Nevertheless, this is a monster movie that has more to offer than what some could think. Give it a watch, it’s definitely worth your time and attention. Cheers!