The most Lovecraftian out of King’s adaptations. 1922 – movie review

In 1922, Wilfred James (Thomas Jane, Dreamcatchers and The Mist), a farmer in Nebraska, is dealing with hard moments in his wedding. His wife Arlette (Molly Parker, House of Cards) wants to sell the land, get a divorce and take with her the couple’s teenage son (Henry, played by Dylan Schmid) to Omaha, to live the city life. Continue reading “The most Lovecraftian out of King’s adaptations. 1922 – movie review”

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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!

Something to admire (and be scared of) for the next 27 years. IT – movie review

Starting off as the most anticipated movie of 2017 among horror fans, Stephen King’s IT is now the highest grossing horror film in cinema history (at least in the US), only some two weeks after it hit the American theatres.

It 2017 1The movie about a bunch of kids – the appropriately named “losers” – who fight a multidimensional demon, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, has also aimed to give a more faithful adaptation to the 1986 King’s novella of the same name, whilst improving upon the 1990 TV mini-series starring the great Tim Curry.

Although the director Andy Muschietti (Mama, 2013) has claimed to aim for a great adaptation of the source material, ignoring the mini-series, most of the viewers compare the two visual products. And so did I (guilty!).

It 2017 2This umpteenth King’s adaptation has gained mostly praises and consent among both moviegoers and professional critics. Unfortunately, though, there are those who claim the 1990 mini-series is way better than the 2017 film, mostly for the sake of going against the grain.

Let me get this straight, then: 2017 IT is a truly good film, with high entertaining and acting values and a great atmosphere.

Before delving into that, I’d like to give my opinion on two of the main questions audiences were (are) concerned about going into this film. Does the movie top the 1990 mini-series? And, more importantly, is Bill Skarsgård Pennywise better than the memorable one portrayed by Curry?

IT 2017 5Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that the 1990 mini-series was divided in two parts, the first of which focused more on the kids (as in the 2017 movie) and their struggle with the dancing clown, whereas the second half was dedicated to their adulthood and their final attempt to kill Pennywise off. The first half is quite enjoyable and well-made, unlike the second which is mostly convoluted, unintentionally silly and, here I state it, boring. Muschietti’s film picks up on the first part of the story and, in my opinion, makes it better in many regards: higher production values, more consistency in the pace and better scary scenes. Although I didn’t find the movie overly scary, I can imagine many viewers being at least startled by IT. Particularly, a long sequence in a disused house and the opening scene are truly effective and set the tone for the rest of the movie.

Furthermore, the characters are great and the casting choices on spot. The kids are brilliant and their chemistry seems natural and never forced. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher, The Book of Henry, 2017) is mesmerising and captured my full attention every time he was on screen. Richie, played by Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things), delivers great one-liners and is the perfect comic relief in the movie. Despite having less screen time at their disposal, even the other five members of the losers club fit perfectly into the story and each one of them brings something interesting to the table.

Obviously, though, the make or break deal in terms of characters (and success of the movie in general) is Pennywise, played by Skarsgård. He was awesome!

IT 2017 3I wouldn’t go thus far to state he was better than Tim Curry, but he definitely nailed the role and gave it an original interpretation. Curry’s Pennywise is unsettlingly friendly, whereas Skarsgård’s is genuinely terrifying and off-putting. Which one is better is for the viewer to decide; I, personally, love them both but believe that Curry is the saving grace of the mini-series, whereas Skarsgård’s character blends in the 2017 movie seamlessly and delivers on another level in comparison to his predecessor. However, it’s fair to say that Skarsgård’s performance is backed up by great CGI and editing effects that improved his movements and facial expressions – stuff that Curry couldn’t rely on.

Other than these two big questions (controversies, if you will), the aspects I appreciate the most about IT are its respect of the source material and the overall look and feel of the movie. The 2017 adaptation has a darker vibe, reinforced by some gore effects, that immerse you in the experience while, simultaneously, puts you in front of the kids’ everyday struggles and fears. I also believe that the level of entertainment is heightened by some comedic moments and bits of dialogue that make the movie well-rounded and enjoyable in diverse regards.

Seeing the first movie Andy Muschietti came out with, I was afraid IT would have relied too heavily on CGI. Sure, the computer generated special effects are all over the place, but they blend in with the practical effects and makeup perfectly, to the point that most of them don’t even look like CGI.

In regards to the flaws of the film, I could think only about a couple of issues. First of all, the group of teenagers who bully the “losers” throughout the all movie are simply unbearable: more than annoying bullies, they are borderline psychopaths. Every scene they are in seems so ridiculously over-the-top and they become distractive quite soon into the film.

Also, the horrifying vision of one of the kids looks extremely silly and, every time it was on screen, it took me out of the film.

IT 2017 4Finally, I’d have liked to see in the movie all those dark bits from King’s novella that have been cut out because they’re too gruesome. In all honestly, I believe this movie would have benefitted from a much darker tone in regards to the human side. In other words, it would have been cool to see the horrendous shit the kids are going through in the book. Nevertheless, what we got is good enough.

In conclusion, I think IT is a horror film everybody who loves the genre should watch in the more unbiased way possible. For example, I usually prefer unconventional horror films (artsy, symbolic and slow-paced ones), but I can’t deny that the 2017 King’s adaptation is a fun ride and does everything the target audience asks for! Strongly recommended. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror #12 – The Shining (1980)

With the impending release of IT in the cinemas all around the world, let’s take a look back to one of the most successful Stephen’s King adaptations: The Shining.

The Shinig 1.jpgStanley Kubrick’s masterpiece hasn’t always been the undeniable gem is considered today: receiving mixed reviews upon its release and criticised by King himself as unfaithful to the source material, The Shining developed a cult following, first, and then a widespread acclaim only a few years after it came out.

On his part, Stanley Kubrick didn’t make any effort to please King with this adaptation: in more than an interview, he called the author’s work weak and susceptible of improvement!

“I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result. Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fell flat”, was King’s reaction to the movie.

What a clash between two titans!

Whether you side with the writer or support the director, the impact of both novel and film are undeniable. The Shining is a milestone of the horror genre, independently from the medium it utilises.

The story, quite straightforward, is gripping nonetheless. Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson) is an ex alcoholic, now writer, who is hired to keep the Overlook Hotel clean and tidy over winter, when the facility gets closed because the season is too cold and the maintenance too expensive.

Jack moves there with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Yes, Kubrick didn’t make any effort to come up with the characters’ name!

Jokes apart, the Torrance family is obligated to cope with solitude and creepy stories that haunt the facility, which, eventually, drive Jack insane and make him try to kill his loved ones.

This simple set-up has been studied and analysed tons of times throughout the years: metaphor of King’s addiction to cocaine and alcohol? Hallucination of the insane mind of Jack Torrance? Ghost story located in a haunted hotel? Symbolic enactment of the holocaust? Nightmare linked to Native Americans’ cemeteries?

Regardless, the movie is good for what it is, without the need for absurdly long and profound explanations. In my opinion, The Shining is simply a work of art.

The Shining 1.1.jpgFrom a technical viewpoint, this film is perfect: the cinematography is stunning, the camera-work is mesmerising (with the introduction of Steadicam and other revolutionary techniques), the direction is spotless.

In regards to the latter, the perfectionism of Kubrick is well-known, including the fact that he wanted to repeat certain sequences an insane amount of time (the dialogue between Danny and chef Dick Hallorann, masterfully portrayed by Scatman Crothers, took 167 takes!). Which is why the film took 5 years to be made… an eternity in comparison to most of the flicks coming out today.

At the end, though, the slow process paid off and gave us a unique cinematic experience.

However, I imagine many modern viewers being let down by The Shining. Similarly to the making-process, the pace is rather slow and only upon second or third view it’s possible to notice some fundamental details that go unnoticed when you watch the movie for the first time.

The Shining featureYet, the acting is brilliant for the most part. Jack Nicholson, despite being considered miscast by Stephen King (really?), was born to play Jack Torrance in The Shining, with his borderline personality and uneasy on-screen presence. Scatman Crothers is also eye-grabbing and delivers the best performance of his career. Danny, a pivotal character in this film, gives a great child-actor performance as well.

On the other hand, Shally Duvall’s acting has been considered wooden and soulless since the movie came out. I tended to agree on this criticism for a long time, however, the more I watch the film the more I realise she pulled it off the way she was required to. Her character is supposed to be relatively meek, submissive, passive, and mousy and she delivers those sensations perfectly.

The Shining 3.jpgThe Shining is, overall, a marvelous film, yes, but is it scary? I can see people being genuinely frightened by the movie in the 80s, however today it’s lost part of its scare-factor, despite some chilling scenes such as the room 237 one and the two twins sequence.

Nevertheless, it still deserves its place on the numerous ‘best horror movies of all time’ lists and, in general, it’s just a great piece of cinema history that must be seen.

In conclusion, “I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m just gonna bash your brains in” if you don’t give The Shining a chance! Or, at least, that’s what Jack Torrance would tell you.

The hysteria behind her eyes. HEX – novel review

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are having a face-to-face on the national television: 2012 election for the White House is approaching and American people’s major concerns revolve around politics, economy, Obama care…

In Black Spring, a few miles down the road from New York, alongside the Hudson, Tyler Grant – son of Steve and Jocelyn – is making his way on YouTube as a vlogger. Not one of those who show off their uninteresting lives 24/7, though. He is a journalist-in-the-making, who wants to make the word a better place through his investigations and sharp, unapologetic statements filled with young-adult idealism.

However, Tyler has little interest toward the American election, since his main focus is “bringing Black Spring out of the Dark Ages” and showing that Katherine van Wyler, the Black Rock Witch with sewn-shut eyes and mouth who’s been haunting the town since the 17th century, cannot make the town folks live like barbarian any longer.

The young idealist must act in the dark, away from the indiscrete eyes of Black Spring committee and HEX – the security squad that follows ancient laws and applies corporal punishments for those who don’t obey to them, no matter how the rest of America is civilised and advanced.

Nonetheless, the dangers for Tyler Grant also come from some of his friends who took the concept of “opening the eyes of the town” way too far, deciding the set up a private, gruesome and cruel revenge against the Black Rock Witch.

The consequences of their actions will be deadly lethal not just for them, but for the entire citizenry of Black Spring.

HEX (2016) is the brilliant English debut of Dutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt, who wrote a ‘primitive version’ of the book back in 2013, for the Dutch audience.

His new version of the story, set in the United States – within a very different society – perfectly captures the American spirit in its bright spots and shadows.

HEX featureThis book succeeds on many levels, primarily in terms of character development. HEX tells the story of an entire community, giving all the main characters compelling motivations and strong personalities. When you read the book, you feel part of Black Spring and there’s nothing more refreshing than being dragged and immersed into a story like this.

Black Spring is, itself, a major character and massive source of horror. Although Katherine is a constant, dreadful presence in the book – the Judgment Day will come when she’ll open her eyes, rumours in town say – the citizens are catalyst of terror and hideous actions.

Thus, the story is interesting because, besides Heuvelt’s enormous writing skills, everything is blurry and the boundaries of good and evil merge often, as it happens in human nature.

In perfect Stephen King’s style, the author utilises a paranormal entity as Katherine to describe the every-day-horror that lies underneath the surface of modern societies.

That’s the most striking part of the story and moral of HEX, in my opinion. This book enhances the consequences of fear and mass hysteria: so that Katherine could as well be a symbol for everything that scares a community to the point it loses humanity and brotherhood values.

Katherine is the object of a propaganda that turns civilised people in bloodthirsty barbarians who are apt to flog teenagers who disobeyed anachronistic codes and offer human sacrifices.

As per issues with the novel, I believe there’s one storyline which did not need to be there. The Delarosa are a recently married couple who move to Black Spring and witness the appearance of Katherine: they are utilised by the author as a device to carry the story along and insert a long expository dialogue which gives the witch a backstory that could have been provided in a much subtler way throughout the pages.

Yet, HEX being a horror novel, the scary beats – those that would be translated to jump-scares in a film – are procrastinated by the insertion of descriptive moments that only make the tension shy away.

Also, the ending (the last few pages) is quite confusing and left open to interpretation. Although I don’t usually despise this technique and the message is still delivered clearly, many storylines are left hanging and that may cause a bit of disappointment.

Nevertheless, HEX is one of the best horror/mystery novels I have read in years. Suitable for any kind of reader (+16, I’d say), Heuvelt’s book is a breath of fresh air for the genre and I’m looking forward to reading his next work.

Title: HEX
Author: Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Publisher: Hodder&Stoughton
Year: 2016
Pages: 384
Price: £8,99
Vote: 3,5/5