Twin Peaks: The Return pushes the ‘Lynchometer’ too high. TV series review

Twin Peaks is, arguably, the best TV show ever made. Mind you, it’s not my favourite – even though season 2 is among the closest ones to my heart – but its influence on quality TV shows is undeniable. As undeniable are its own values.

Twin Peaks 1At the beginning of the 90s, the first two seasons of this iconic TV show had revolutionised the language of modern TV series with the story of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) investigating the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington.

Continue reading “Twin Peaks: The Return pushes the ‘Lynchometer’ too high. TV series review”

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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.

Never attempt to americanise Japanese horror flicks. Temple – movie review

I must confess I’m not a big fan of Asian horror films, with a few standout exceptions.

Unfortunately, I don’t like their pacing and acting. I guess mostly I can’t understand Asian culture in this type of movies. Therefore, I was quite intrigued when I heard about Temple, a Japanese supernatural horror written and directed by American filmmakers.

I thought it would have been a combination between Asian gore and violence and American characters and storytelling. Well, I was terribly wrong.

Temple tells the story of three Yankee college students who go on holiday in Japan. The plot is told in retrospect by one of the guys who has been hospitalised after something horrendous happened to him and his friends.

Temple 1Our three tourists are, in fact, looking for less mainstream Japanese environment and attractions. Thus, they come across an old journal which revolves around a cursed temple in the mountains and, obviously, they decide to pay it a visit.

Despite an interesting premise – exploration of hidden Japan, isolation in an ancient temple, cultural differences between countries – this film falls flat in every regard.

Mainly, everything is extremely cliché and predictable and Temple turns into an American film located in Japan, as opposed to the cross-cultured, anxiety-inducing movie it could have been.

The screenplay by Simon Barrett is paper-thin and the execution orchestrated by his brother/director Michael is poor and lacking creativity.

Temple is an hour long build-up – only interrupted by two crowd-pleasing jump-scares – that leads up to 15 minutes in which something actually happens.

However, said final beat is overly confusing and bloated that nothing makes sense at the end. In terms of proper ending, Temple has four (!!) different conclusions, all of them put in the movie as if the director didn’t know which one to go for.

Perhaps, ten years down the line, somebody will come up with a director’s cut of Temple, providing us with a definite finale. Not that it matters anyway, because this flick is awful.

Temple 3.jpgBesides plot and direction, this movie features formulaic, one dimensional characters; terrible CGI (who had the ‘brilliant’ idea to utilise computer generated special effects in a low-budget, limited theatrical release horror flick?); horrendous acting; lack of scares and tension.

In my opinion, the only redeeming quality consists of the production values, particularly the cinematography that looks nice.

‘To each their own’ is an overly used saying in regards to cinema, and most of the time I believe you can’t deny the greatness of a film (or its awfulness, in the opposite case), even though it might not be your cup of tea.

However, this saying has its right to be when it comes to Asian horror films. Although I usually don’t get the hype for them, I now believe they should remain what they are and caution should be taken when attempting to mix them with American stereotypes and standards. Otherwise you would end up dealing with films like Temple.

For instance, The Grudge (2004) and Shutter (2008) are good examples of Asian horrors translated for Western audiences and combining elements of two different cultures – although I prefer their original, Asian versions.

Temple 2.jpgThey succeeded because they respected the source material and added Western elements to it without being invasive. In the case of Temple, instead, the story and its characters are dumbed down for Western viewers. As a result, both Asian and American/European audiences would dismiss it as rubbish!

Needless to say, don’t watch Temple: it’s 78 minutes of your life nobody will give you back. Cheers!

Final Destination meets Jacob’s Ladder. Camera Obscura – movie review

A war photographer affected by severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) picks up the camera again after more than one year of inactivity due to the terrible things he’s seen and photographed in war zones (presumably Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria).

Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham), the titular character of Camera Obscura, is given an old camera from his fiancé Claire (Nadja Bobyleva), who desperately wants him back on track.

camera Obscura 1.jpgHowever, the photos Jack takes are black-and-white – despite the rolls being coloured – and, mostly, show dead bodies that lay in the locations he shot.

What started off quite premising, with a first half hour that features non-linear storyline and good character development obtained without exposition scenes, soon enough turns into a bloody mess that doesn’t know what’s aiming for.

Although rather original, Camera Obscura tries too hard to resemble the Final Destination movies and Jacob’s Ladder (1990) in its themes and development.

Unfortunately for the director Aaron B. Koontz, the film falls short in its attempts: the campiness of Final Destination is replaced by an unnecessary seriousness, whereas the social commentary on the horrors of war are completely avoided. What a missed opportunity!

The overall movie is quite confusing.

Camera Obscura 3More or less 40 minutes into Camera Obscura, the main character is convinced he has to do something extreme to protect his fiancé from an impending doom. The decision to include this sudden change of tone in the script, makes Jack less compelling (he was rather relatable up to this point) and the plot take a convoluting route involving paranormal elements.

Yet, an initially psychological thriller/horror begins to include supernatural features and a good dose of laughable gore that adds up to the general confusion.

The ending, which I’m not going to give away, is probably the pinnacle of frustration in Camera Obscura, since it doesn’t resolve any question or sub-plot brought up throughout the runtime.

Camera Obscura 2.jpgAgain, the characters are overall formulaic: we have the main character (fairly portrayed by Denham), his screaming and confused fiancé, a police officer who knew everything before the audience, another one who couldn’t figure out the simplest clues and the junkie, silly protagonist’s best friend who is helpful like a toothbrush on a desert island.

Especially Walt, Jack’s best friend, is highly disappointing. He represents my biggest disappointment with the direction: Walt is, in fact, portrayed by Noah Segan, a more than decent actor who proved himself in the past to be able to pull off complex roles.

Seemingly, Koontz has no idea what to do with him, since he randomly throws Segan in many scenes without developing the character’s arc or purpose.

Nevertheless, this is the only mistake made by Koontz. Besides that, his direction is really good for an indie horror. The cinematography is impressive and the editing cleverly resembles a sequence of photos projected on a wall.

Entirely shot on location (in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA), Camera Obscura makes good use of the environment, whilst the bright colours are toned down to make the atmosphere gloomy and sumber.

On a side note, Koontz’s direction avoids silly jump-scares and futile loud music to mark a moment of tension. Instead, the soundtrack is persistently earing and purposely irksome.

Since the direction is, overall, pretty decent, I’d say that the script is what scales down the film. It simply doesn’t make any sense and hides the redeeming qualities of Camera Obscura.

If you ask me, Camera Obscura is not a completely shipwreck, but the script for it is plain awful nonetheless.

Quoting directly from the movie: “this seems one of those weird episodes of Goosebumps!”. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend to watch it, but neither I’d say it’s a complete and utter waste of time. Cheers!

One of the better horror anthologies in recent times. The Dark Tapes – movie review

The Dark Tapes is a horror anthology split in three chapters, each one of them bond to the other by a fourth story that intercuts between them, also establishing an overall frame.

First time feature filmmakers Michael McQuown and Vincent J. Guastini directed and co-produced the flick – a genre-defying, found-footage combination of supernatural elements, Sci-Fi and thriller.

You can imagine my reaction when I sat down to watch a found-footage anthology, since I’m not the biggest fan of anthologies nor of found-footage.

Nevertheless, The Dark Tapes highly surprised me, being one of the genuinely scariest movies I’ve seen in 2017. If not the scariest.

Above all, I wasn’t frightened by jump-scares – which are almost non-existent in the film. Instead, I was sincerely creeped out by the dreadful colours, the dark and threatening atmosphere and the amazing sounds’ design. Yet, the performances, provided by a cast of unknown actors, range from a decent to a very convincing level, the pinacols being the first and the third chapters.

The.Dark_.Tapes_.2016-fanart10The first story (The Hunters and The Hunted), the first tape if you will, is the one I’ve been more impressed by. It tells the story of a young couple that moves to a new house which might eventually turn out to be haunted. Very reminiscent of Paranormal Activity (which is one of the reasons why I strongly dislike found-footage films), this segment concentrates all the tension within the short runtime of 25 minutes, demonstrating that a short film is where this kind of plots belongs. Despite an excellent build-up, the aspect I loved about it the most is the twist, a very clever one, which spoofs and enriches at the same time the whole paranormal activity horror sub-genre.

Dark TapesCam Girls instead tells the story of two lesbian lovers, that make a living performing sexual activities online (for paying customers). Their online chats are filled with terrifying glitches that hint – in a quite evident way – to something dark and devilish. Although the overall atmosphere and the lack of music make for an unnerving experience, the mediocre acting and the obvious ending scale this segment down, making it the less powerful in the entire anthology, in my opinion.

118147Amanda’s Revenge is the following tale that revolves around a young student drugged and raped in a party who, then, becomes obsessed with stopping persistent unwanted paranormal intruders. Enriched by strong symbolism and carried along by a resourceful female character, this story about alien abductions benefitted from good cast choices, believable turns of events and dreadful look and feel. The ‘ending-ending’ is quite cliché and meaningless, but it doesn’t ruin the segment either.

The.Dark_.Tapes_.2016-fanart32The frame which interlinks these three stories together is represented by To Catch a Demon, where we follow three paranormal investigators that take their investigations into an uncharted new dangerous territory. Not particularly original nor unseen before, this tape is still able to scare me shitless, due to its highly earie score, slumber and threatening tone and, above all, terrifying creature realised entirely with practical effects.

Overall, I found The Dark Tapes surprisingly enjoyable and entertaining. On IMDb I came across this comment which sums up my opinion on the movie: “For an indie film made on just a $65,000 budget though, I think [the result] is mostly impressive”. I also believe this flick shows the talent of McQuown who wrote the script, directed two segments, served as film’s editor and cinematographer all by himself.

Strongly recommended guys, don’t let this film fly under your radars. Cheers!