Why origin stories suck!

Why origin stories suckHorror cinema is filled with iconic villains, figures who induce chills down our spines thanks to their creepy, shady motivations. Reincarnations of evil, mysterious entities without a face, masked killers who aren’t very talkative to say the least: regardless who, or what, the antagonist in a horror movie is, they scare/creep us out because of the inescapability of their actions.

Or so it was until somebody, somewhere, thought it would have been a good idea to draw mystery and uncertainty off by giving villains an origin story.

I thought about writing about this topic upon reading about the upcoming release of Leatherface – which, eventually, I watched and pretty much thought it was worthless.

That’s beside the point, though.

You might think that I’m a purist of horror cinema, because I’m a reviewer, thus I’m just sitting here waiting to trash movies and focus solely to spot flaws and mistakes – I hope you can read my reviews and see that’s not exactly my goal. Continue reading “Why origin stories suck!”

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Office rage breaks loose and it’s loads of fun! Mayhem – movie review

Whoever has had any kind of experience in an office job would know the feeling of being the unhumanised part of a soulless corporation.

Luckily, as an employee of Sky Sports Italia, I don’t get that sensation, but I both experienced it first hand in previous jobs and heard constantly about it from friends and family. Continue reading “Office rage breaks loose and it’s loads of fun! Mayhem – movie review”

An unsettlingly bold combination between psychological and supernatural horror. The Blackcoat’s Daughter – movie review

Oz Perkins’ journey into the reimagination of horror sub-genres has led him to create The Blackcoat’s Daughter, originally released in 2015 under the name February and widely distributed a few months ago with the current title.

In 2016, Perkins had already raised some controversy with I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, a 19th century period drama (I’d say) that twisted the “haunted house” sub-genre around and created quite some buzz. Continue reading “An unsettlingly bold combination between psychological and supernatural horror. The Blackcoat’s Daughter – movie review”

1st Halloween Special – horror guilty pleasures

As you might now, I’m very fond of the ‘so bad it’s good’ type of movies. This list, however, will focus on five titles that I consider to be highly entertaining, rather than plain awful ones.

The films I’m talking about can’t be considered good motion pictures on many levels (storyline, characters, production values and so on), but they aren’t pure rubbish either. Other than one, probably.

I hope you’ll like at least some of these titles and find a few mindless, dumb entertainment to celebrate your Halloween with! Continue reading “1st Halloween Special – horror guilty pleasures”

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 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 #15 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Being the intelligent filmmaker he was, in the early 80s Wes Craven decided to get out of the hole he dug himself in with his early exploitation flicks. Great quality exploitation, though, with The Last House on the Left (1972) being a genre-defining, twisted flick and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) being a fun, extreme ride.

As a consequence, A Nightmare on Elm Street hit theatres in 1984, challenging a market filled with slasher flicks and dominated by the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies. The result was one of the most loved movies by horror fans in cinema history, other than a unique take on the sub-genre.

Kicking off in medias res (in the midst of things), without any character’s introduction, Was Craven film sets itself apart from any other slasher back in the 80s.

Nightmare 1The plot follows four teenagers who are having recurring, similar nightmares about a disfigured man who wears a shabby hat and a glove made of knives. They soon discover than what happens in their dreams has a repercussion on reality and Freddy Krueger – one of the most iconic villains in cinema history – is not just a figment of their imagination.

Freddy (memorably portrayed by Robert Englund) is the show-stealer in this movie that went on creating a long-lasting franchise and an endless series of remakes and reboots. Unlike Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, Krueger utilises a more psychological approach to hunt his victims down: with creepy sense of humour he winds them up and confuses their reality and dreams. He makes them terrorised, sleepless and weak; thus, more vulnerable.

The concept behind A Nightmare on Elm Street is what’s truly scary about the film: you can escape Myers and Voorhees, as long as you don’t cross path with them, but you can’t refuse to sleep and run away from your subconscious, your dreams.

Although many fans consider A Nightmare on Elm Street an entertaining movie (which, in fact, it is), the idea it’s based on it’s genuinely frightening and the backstory of Freddy (a child molester and killer, who was burnt alive by the families of his victims) make for a great horror, driven by a fantastic antihero.

Nightmare 3Yet, Craven is amazing at executing the concept, by melting reality and dreams from beginning to end. Because of that, the grand finale of Nightmare is one of the most satisfying in cinema history (in my opinion), because it gives the viewer food for thought and doesn’t betray the rest of the movie. Something modern horrors do a lot more than they should…

Nightmare 2In clever contrast to the dream-like vibe that permeates Craven’s masterpiece, the characters (among which there’s a young, but always charming Johnny Depp) are extremely relatable and feel like real people: similarly to Halloween (1978), dialogues and actions of the protagonists are believable. The best compliment I can make to the cast is that they don’t feel like actors.

Again, the parents of the main guys are aware of the things that are happening in their community and, to different extents, participate actively to the story, as opposed to being completely irrelevant or absent (which happened in most of the slashers back in the day).

As per flows, I’d say that the police reaction to the assaults towards the end of the film is a bit laughable – worst police squad ever! However, this doesn’t detract from the high-quality value of this flick.

Nightmare 4If you haven’t seen A Nightmare on Elm Street yet, this is the moment to check it out: besides all the features mentioned above, this film contains the right amount of jump-scares (a couple of them startled me even upon fourth viewing!), blood (a lot for the 80s standards) and comic relief, which make for a viewing experience that should please modern mainstream audiences as well.

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you”! Thus, watch the film and be prepared: you never know what you might dream about tonight!

The Classics of Horror #13 – Poltergeist (1982)

When Steven Spielberg’s name is attached to a project, every single moviegoer in the world expects a unique cinematic experience. If, alongside Spielberg’s talent, Tobe Hooper (RIP) works as a director in a horror flick, the result should be pure gold.

Poltergeist 1.jpgThese were the premises behind Poltergeist, a paranormal horror film about the average American family living in a haunted house – precisely, affected by a poltergeist, which is a type of ghost or other supernatural entity that is responsible for physical disturbances.

After a portal between two dimension is opened in their house, Carol Anne (the youngest of three children in the Freeling family) disappears, sucked up by the titular poltergeist. The rest of the film follows the family pattern to rescue her, with the aid of a few paranormal experts and investigators, among unwanted presences and demons.

As Roger Ebert said in his original review of Poltergeist, “the film begins with the same ingredients; it provides similar warnings of doom; and it ends with a similar apocalypse (spirits take total possession of the house, and terrorize the family)”.

Although plot and storyline didn’t bring anything new to the table when the movie came out, the show stealers were the special effects, both CGI and practical, combining Spielberg’s ground-breaking use of new technologies and Hooper’s mastery with good old makeup creations.

Poltergeist 2And here comes my biggest issue with Poltergeist: it doesn’t hold up. Don’t get me wrong, this movie has many features to be praised for and deserves its good reputation among horror fans.

However, it shows the signs of the time in a much more evident way than most of the films on this Classics of Horror list.

Indeed, it took me a couple of views and research work to truly appreciate this paranormal family thriller, because the scare factor connected to the CGI-driven sequences has been completely defeated by the test of the time and newer techniques.

Poltergeist 3The practical effects, however, are still highly effective and, therefore, impactful for modern audiences. For instance, the mirror scene in the bathroom genuinely gives me shivers; the skeletons towards the end (with actual corpses utilised by Hooper and Spielberg) are highly entertaining.

Yet, so many sequences have been executed in amazing ways: single takes, awesome camera angles, great shots and so on.

In regards to the characters, there aren’t standout performances, but each family member gives a solid representation of their traits and you must have a heart made of stone not to sympathise with Diana Freeling (JoBeth Williams) or Carol Anne – portrayed by Heather O’Rourke, who sadly died, aged 12, a few years after the film release.

Yet, Spielberg’s hand clearly emerges both in the character development and look and feel of the movie. The fact that he was the uncredited director of Poltergeist (he was working simultaneously on E.T. and wasn’t allowed to actively participate in another project that same year), is widely known, but even if you are unaware of the production history of this film, it’s impossible not to notice Spielberg’s influence.

In particular, Poltergeist could be seen as journey in and analysis of an average middle-class, small town family. The comedic dialogues and situations blend in the paranormal atmosphere very well and make this movie enjoyable to these days – more as entertaining mystery than straight-up horror, though.

If you follow my blog, you’d know that I come up with some unpopular opinions from time to time. Thus, I have one ready for Poltergeist as well: regarded as one of the scariest films ever made, to me it appears as one of the least frightening movies on this list.

poltergeist 4.jpgThis statement doesn’t want to imply that Poltergeist has never been scary: most probably it terrorised certain audiences upon its release, but it’s lost impact throughout the years, since it relies too heavily on CGI and features many “childish” scenes and monsters.

With that being said, Hooper’s and Spielberg’s collaboration remains a great watch, an extremely entertaining 80s horror suitable for the whole family, since a good horror flick doesn’t need to be scary in order to be enjoyable or interesting.

If anything, I don’t see Poltergeist as a classic of horror, since its impact shied away slowly but surely and it didn’t bring anything new to the game, other than some impressive special effects that aged quite a bit lately. I still recommend to watch it and apologise to those who consider it a really scary film (probably out of nostalgia).

Everything wrong with Alien: Covenant (spoiler filled)

Have you ever been let down – big time – by, say, a friend who turned out to be a huge disappointment instead of the amazing person you depicted him/her to be?

Well, said friend is Alien: Covenant (2017) for me. I love Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), I find Prometheus (2012) mentally challenging in the best way possible, I like Alien 3 (1992) and I even enjoy Alien vs Predator (2004) as a guilty pleasure.

Naturally, then, my expectations for Alien: Covenant were very high. I so decided to venture beyond the surface of the film to explain why Ridley Scott’s latest movie is a huge disappointment for me.

In order to do that, I will have to include spoilers for both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant – if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want its story ruined, check out my spoiler free review of Alien: Covenant. Also, I decided to focus on the negative elements of this motion pictures, meaning: the movie is not entirely rubbish, but here I’ll talk about everything wrong with it.

For a big fan of the franchise as I am, Alien: Covenant was really painful to (re)watch. Therefore, I have to thank my girlfriend who sat through it with me and endured my sarcastic and frustrated comments during the runtime.

The film opens with David’s (Michael Fassbender) backstory that we get to know through a dialogue between the synthetic and Mr Weyland (Guy Pearce). Although interesting, the scene raises more questions rather than starting to answer those left hanging in Prometheus. On top of that, it seems to set a Prometheus-ish tone that, on the contrary, will be betrayed as soon as the title appears on screen.

Soon enough, Alien: Covenant turns into an Alien movie, rather than a continuation of Prometheus. I’ll explain later why this is a bad thing.

Everything wrong 1.jpgWe are now on the Covenant, a spaceship directed to an uninhabited planet they hope to colonise. Out of 15 crew members, including Walter (another humanoid played by Fassbender as well), there are three married couples. This is the first sign of lazy writing.

No risky mission in the universe will allow couples to travel together… unless their inclusion has the sole purpose of convey emotions that, otherwise, would be lacking due to little acting skills of most of the cast members and non-existent chemistry on screen.

Basically, the first act of the movie is a big build-up in which nothing unseen happens and the characters appear one-dimensional: Walter-Fassbender and the dialogue between Daniels and the captain are the only enjoyable moments.

As you know if you saw the film or read my previous Alien: Covenant review, most of the crew lands on a habitable planet from which they received a suspicious signal by an unknown source.

Once they arrive on the planet, we are struck by incredible landscapes backed up by spotless cinematography and gorgeous visual effects.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere of awe is ruined in 0.2 seconds by a crew member who approaches a field saying: “Believe me, this is wheat, I know wheat”. No shit Sherlock! This brief sequence sums up both the disposability of the characters and the lazy storytelling featured in Covenant.

Finally, something relevant happens: two of the crew members are infected by an airborne unknown virus – which, who saw Prometheus, would recognise as the lethal weapon transported by the Engineers on their spacecraft.

However, the ‘infection sequences’ are highly predictable and reminiscent of those B-movies in which a teenager goes to take a leak and gets butchered by the killer. In fact, all the ‘thrilling moments’ are foreseeable in Covenant and, therefore, not as effective as they could have been.

Then, two monstrous creatures burst from the back and chest of our unlucky infected characters and furiously attack the rest of the crew and kill some of them in the goriest way possible. As I said in my previous review, these sequences would have been awesome if only horrendous Dutch angles, poor lighting, nauseating camera-work wouldn’t be there.

Oh, and it also would have been nice to have characters who don’t act like complete assholes!

Everything wrong 2Furthermore, the Neomorphs (these creatures born from the airborne virus that impregnates humans) feature very poor CGI: in both Alien and Aliens, the Xenomorphs are entirely practical and, therefore, frightening and timeless. On the contrary, the monsters in Covenant look already fake and, soon enough, will look dated.

The attack sequences, very fast-paced, are followed by a caped saviour who rescue the remaining crew members and take them to a ‘safe place’ (i.e. the now uninhabited city of the Engineers). The mysterious rescuer reveals himself as David, who landed on the planet with Doc Elizabeth Shaw 10 years before.

Now, the pace gets, once again, slow, showing how pacing and matching of tones represent one of the biggest issues of the film.

Everything wrong 4David carries the plot along and, while providing a very interesting backstory to his character, gives the audience some involuntarily laughable scenes (“look at me, I’ll do the fingering”) and spoon feeds the viewers, filling the gaps between Prometheus and Covenant.

David-Fassbender explains to Walter-Fassbender that the Engineers’ civilisation was, accidentally, destroyed by David himself who, unwillingly, dropped tons on lethal weapons on them and crashed the spaceship in the process, killing doctor Shaw in the crash.

Everything wrong 3.jpgIt’s very obvious, as it will be discovered a few scenes later, that David wanted to kill the Engineers in one of his delusions of grandeur. He, also, killed Elizabeth Shaw by infecting her with the virus in order to give birth to a new species. It’s clear, at this point, that David’s motivations revolve around his desire to be creator instead of mere creature.

However, the mass massacre of the Engineers seems clearly motivated by Ridley Scott’s decision not to continue the Prometheus universe expansion. In this way, we will probably never get answers to the questions cleverly raised in the 2012 film.

Anyhow, the story progresses with the Neomorph getting killed by the captain of the crew who, then, is guided by David to a Facehuggers nest where, obviously, he gets impregnated and gives birth to the first Xenomorph.

Wait a second, weren’t there two Neomorph? What happened to the second one? The film doesn’t bother to give us any answer, again. This is a humongous plot hole which I don’t know how can be overlooked by critics and viewers.

Also, at the end of Prometheus, a Xenomorph bursts out of the chest of the last remaining Engineer. However, in this case the creature is the product of a mixture of Engineer’s and big octopus-like monster’s DNA. How the hell two different DNA combinations (octopus + Engineer and human + Facehugger) can give birth to the same creature?

This goes beyond the suspension of disbelief. Mind you, I’m not criticising the genetic/scientific aspect of it. Instead, I’m pointing at the lack of coherence within the Alien universe.

everything wrong 5Back to the story: the first Xenomorph bursts out of the captain’s chest and David is before him, putting his hands up. What’s the reaction of the laughable CGI creature? It imitates David and puts its hands up as well! That’s too much to take. I can’t believe Ridley Scott turned the most iconic monster in cinema history (his monster) into a freaking pet!

Everything wrong 6.jpgObviously, the Xenomorph has an exponential growth, gets to the adult stage quickly and starts to hunt down the rest of the crew. Only Tennessee (McBride) and Daniels (clear replacement for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley) survive, after the two Xenomorphs (oh yeah, there is another one because another Facehugger previously impregnated another disposable character) kill the rest of the crew.

Meanwhile, there is a face-off between David-Fassbender and Walter-Fassbender, which ends with the evil David in disguise replacing the loyal Walter on the spaceship.

Before I conclude, I want to pinpoint two major issues that bothered me ever since I watched Covenant for the first time.

Firstly, David wants to create the perfect living creature and, finally, become a creator. However, in the original Alien movies, the Xenomorphs weren’t created by anyone in particular. Their society resembled a hive, with a queen giving birth to eggs filled with Facehuggers who stayed dormant until they got in contact with other living beings. Covenant ignores all of that and originates a parallel, less impactful Alien universe.

Everything wrong 7Secondly, why would David not be fully satisfied with the Neomorphs and want to improve upon them? In the original three movies (I refuse to consider Resurrection part of the franchise), the Xenomorphs are perfect killing machines. In Covenant, instead, the Neomorphs look faster, scarier and, above all, their system of reproduction is airborne, meaning they’re easier to create and spread.

All in all, Alien: Covenant is not an awful movie per se. However, is the worst film possible for the Alien franchise: it confuses the storyline, tones down the terror deriving from the Xenomorphs, tries unsuccessfully to recreate the same atmosphere of better Alien films and ignores the existence of Prometheus. Simply put, Covenant is a bloody mess.

If you are wondering my personal ranking for the Alien franchise, there you go:

 

Alien
Aliens
Prometheus
Alien 3
Alien vs Predator (yes, I’m serious)
Alien: Covenant 

Alien: Resurrection
Alien vs Predator: Requiem

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!