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

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The Classics of Horror #19 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Only a few movies on this long-lasting list are ground-breaking enough to having given popularity to an entire sub-genre. One of them is The Blair Witch Project, responsible for the endless stream of found-footage flicks that came out ever since 1999. Thank you *insert sarcasm here*.

This entirely shot on camera, late 90s film is also famous for its lack of conventional plot and proper action, which makes its success and great receptions even more amazing. Continue reading “The Classics of Horror #19 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)”

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.

Manual of good parenting when Satan is your stepson. Little Evil – movie review

Being a stepdad shouldn’t be easy to begin with. However, when your wife’s son speaks demonic voices and burns people alive with his sight, you might be dealing with something riskier than the usual family issues.

Little Evil 1.jpgSimply put, this is the plot of Little Evil, a Netflix horror-comedy starring Adam Scott as Lucas’ stepdad and new Evangeline Lilly’s husband. The relationship between Samantha (Lilly) and Gary (Scott) seems all good and well, until Lucas reveals himself as… well, the reincarnation on the Antichrist!

From that point – which occurs in the first scenes of the film – onwards, Little Evil displays an endless stream of hilarious scenes that spoof many horror clichés.

Little Evil 2.jpgSpecifically, this film could be seen as a parody of Omen (1976) but, simultaneously, puts into play references to other horror classics, such as The Shining (1980), Poltergeist (1982), Children of the Corn (1984), Evil Dead (2013) and many others.

Nevertheless, this movie never tries to be a Scary Movie type-of-deal; instead, it emulates the style and tone of Scream (1996) and The Cornetto Trilogy. In regards to the latter, my girlfriend made me notice how the fast-paced editing choices and cinematography take strong inspiration from Edgar Wright.

In terms of direction, in fact, Eli Craig (Tucker and Dale vs Evil, 2010) proves again to be a perfectionist by not making a single lazy shot. Personally, I perceived this style of cinematography quite invasive in certain scenes, but I can’t deny its masterful execution and impact on the film itself.

In regards to story and execution, Little Evil relies much more on the comedic aspect rather than on the horror one. In summary, it’s just a highly entertaining film that cleverly dissect the horror genre and its stereotypes: from jump-scares to dream-sequences to research scenes to characters’ decision.

Little evil 3.jpgYet, when it comes to the characters this movie does a brilliant job. After Krampus (2015), Adam Scott pulls off another great performance as a star of a horror comedy, this time backed up by Evangeline Lilly, whose ingenuity and naivety are perfect for what the director was going for.

Yet, the relationship between stepfather and stepson in this movie is explored beyond the comedic territory and (again, according to my girlfriend) the message delivered by the movie in this regard is powerful and subtle. I didn’t get any of that, to be fair, but it’s probably just me being a bit dumb. Sorry!

Running for 89 minutes, Little Evil flows perfectly, without any dull or dragging moment. Every scene is seamlessly connected to the next one and Craig should really be praised for that. After Tucker and Dale vs Evil and, now, this film, I’m really curious to see what Craig will do next.

According to RottenTomatoes, Little Evil is a perfect movie, gathering a 100% of consent so far. Being nit-picky, I personally found a couple of things that keep me away from loving this film.

Little evil 4.jpgFirst, one specific character: Al, played by Bridget Everett. She’s supposed to be the embodiment of raunchy comedy within the story. However, having a comic relief within a comedy can be tiresome sometimes and Al got to my nerves pretty soon in the movie. Yet, I like the otherwise subtle dark humour in the film, thus I found her character quite annoying.

Furthermore, I believe some scenes should have worked better as dark and gory instead of light-hearted and cheerful, since they would have made for a nice contrast of tones the movie could have benefitted from.

Apart from those small complaints, I strongly recommend Little Evil especially for two kinds of viewer: suckers for 80s horror flicks and people who look for a fun, dark comedy based on horror clichés. Even if you don’t belong to the mentioned categories, though, this film deserves a watch. 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 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 #5 – Psycho (1960)

As I previously mentioned in my Rosemary’s Baby review, I have a ‘special’ chapter of The Classics of Horror dedicated to Psycho.

My girlfriend and I, in fact, went to watch the screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece at Grosvenor Park – a quiet oasis in the middle of the chaotic Londoner nightlife on a summer Friday night.

The location itself – which my girlfriend will talk about shortly on her blog – was worth the price of the ticket (22£ each, including a glass of fine wine) and created a mystical atmosphere that added to the quality of the film.

If you’re interested in Nomad Cinema initiatives and want to catch a glimpse of our day at the outdoor screening, check their website and enjoy the photo gallery at the end of this post.

In regards to Psycho itself, I thought to write about what makes it so iconic and inspirational to these days, since its plot, cinematography and general features have been discussed quite a lot within the last… well, 57 years!

Considered as the first slasher flick ever – although the origins of this sub-genre may find their roots back in Maurice Tourneur’s The Lunatics (1912) and countless giallo novels in the late 1880s – Psycho is much more than that.

Its influence spread through various cinema genres, such as psychological thriller, mystery and, of course, horror. Putting aside various attempts on imitations of sorts and a shot-by-shot shameless – and soulless – remake (Psycho, 1998), Hitchcock’s movie has inspired, deliberately or unconsciously, an endless number of directors and filmmakers.

Needless to say, the iconic stabbing in the shower has had tons of reenactments in probably half of the modern horror movies. That specific sequence has been received as shocking and gut-wrenching for the 60s audience but, in all fairness, experiencing it before a big screen and surrounded by an excellent sound system… well, it’s striking enough even today.

Again, the sudden change of main character – typical Hitchcock’s signature – has pushed brilliant directors to try unconventional story-telling patterns.

As if atmosphere, cinematography and music (damn, that score!) weren’t enough, the abrupt switch from one protagonist to the other puts the viewer in an uneasy condition, where the audience feels abandoned within a film universe where there is no one left to rely on.

However, what keeps me – and, I guess, all the cinema lovers – going back to Psycho and re-watch it any time with the same attitude is the character of Norman Bates (masterfully portrayed by Anthony Perkins, in the role that made him immortal). First great horror villain, Bates’ personality and psychology are compelling and captivating to these days. His character, despite the psychiatrist’s exposition scene towards the end of the film, is still a mystery for viewers and critics.

Even though the direction of Psycho is nearly immaculate, in my opinion the success of the movie – as well as its effectiveness – massively rely on Norman’s bony shoulders. Bates is an unsolvable enigma, portrayed in a various range of emotions that make him more and more unpredictable as the movie progresses. He’s also such a quotable villain, whose statements will remain impressed in people’s memories, similarly to Darth Vader’s and Heath Ledger’s Joker’s.

No antagonist in slasher flicks history has ever reached such a complexed and all-rounded characterisation. The invincibility of Myers and Voorhees, the sarcasm of Krueger, the cruelty of Leatherface, the intelligence of Vernon, the pure evil of Pinehead can’t rival with the ‘regular madness’ of Norman Bates.

Hitchcock, similarly to a few directors in cinema history, had also a strong faith in audience’s intelligence and pleasure in challenging it. There aren’t many films, in cinema history, that feature nearly no exposition as Psycho did. Here, the story-telling develops through the characters’ actions and the actions, whereas the dialogues serve as creation of compelling protagonists.

Nonetheless, there is a huge exposition scene towards the end of Psycho, which makes it a bit less timeless than it could have been, although it doesn’t affect the perfection of the film itself.

Needless to say, I strongly recommend this film. If you can, try to find a cinema nearby where they show old classics, so that you can enjoy Psycho to its finest. Cheers!