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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Pet Sematary (1989) – movie review

I owe this one to Candace Krissie (hope I spelled your name right, my friend), who solved a puzzle in one of my previous posts and got herself a review as a reward!

Her pick was Pet Sematary, another Stephen King’s adaptation, this time around adapted by the author himself to a movie. This is one of the few cases in which King worked on a movie first hand, besides the infamous Maximum Overdrive (1986).

Luckily, though, Pet Sematary is ten times better than the first King’s attempt behind the camera. Actually, I forgot how great this movie was until I picked up and watched it again.

Pet Sematary 1The story is rather simple: a super happy and cute family, with two kids and a gorgeous cat, move to a house between a motorway where huge, fat trucks pass and a pet cemetery (misspelled by some kid in sematary). Obviously, many pets have been killed and buried in that ground, which is what happens to Winston Churchill (that’s the name of the cat… nice!).

Consequently, a sweet, old neighbour tells the dad that he should take the cat corpse to a burial ground behind the titular ‘pet sematary’ is located, because, over there, weird stuff happens: among which, of course, dead beings coming back to life. The dad decides to give it a try and, eventually, Church resuscitates… he’s just mean as hell, now!

What if, say, one of the kids dies? That would put daddy in a sticky situation. And I don’t want to spoil an almost 30-year-old film, but something must happen, right?

Pet Sematary 2.jpgI love this movie! Firstly, the whole look and feel, with the evident late 80s-early 90s vibe, is just amazing: it drags you into the movie immediately. Secondly, Pet Sematary makes great use of set-design and location, which make you feel captivated by the environment and the old legend and myths.

Yet, the characters and their performances are great, probably my favourite part of the movie. The kids, especially the young boy, are incredibly adorable and the parents so loving and caring. Even the neighbour looks and sounds like a lovely grandpa. All this character introduction and development is fundamental and I think Pet Sematary does a great job at making you feel for them and, possibly, be deeply sad when something dramatic affects this family.

Pet Sematary 3Despite the established atmosphere, the movie gets very dark and graphic towards the end. It’s not A Serbian Film type-of-deal, obviously, but it makes for an effective contrast with the happy family build-up. Also, said grand finale that I won’t give away, is very intense and well executed.

Even though I’m a sucker for this King’s adaptation, I can’t deny the presence of a few flaws. To begin with, at points the film looks a bit campy and the quite mediocre special effects don’t help. Furthermore, there is some clear exposition thrown in the mix that seems unnecessary.

If you can overlook these minute issues, though, you have to check Pet Sematary if you haven’t yet. Finally, I admire the whole symbolic discussion on ‘how to deal with the consequences of death’, which is something not to be overlooked. Strongly recommend it!

The horror in one person’s memories and fears. Gerald’s Game – movie review

It happened to me four times that a horror movie grabbed and kept me on the edge of my seat from the opening credit scene till the end. Upon viewing Gerald’s Game twice, back-to-back, it’s now five times!

Directed by Mike Flanagan and released by Netflix, this film is the latest adaptation of a novel by Stephen King. One of the less appealing novels of his, that is. At least, that’s what I understood by talking to people and gathering a handful of information, since I haven’t read the 1992 book.

Thus, the best compliment I can make to Mike Flanagan and his latest film is that it made me want to read the novel straight away!

Gerald's Game 1Let’s take a step back, though. What’s Gerald’s Game about? Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) go for a weekend away to try and save their marriage and sex life. On a lake house, they cut themselves off the world and, upon trying some good, old extreme sex, Gerald suffers from a heart attack and dies instantaneously.

Jessie, handcuffed to the bed in consequence of the couple sex attempt, has now to find a way out of the house to call for help or survive long enough for somebody to come rescue her.

All the while, anxiety and terror kick off, obviously, and she must deal with phantoms from the past, psychological flaws and various issues connected to her life and certain things that happened along the way.

Simple set-up, confined location, only two actors (mainly one, though) to carry the plot along and a novel that had to be stretched out to make a feature-length film. What could go wrong? The answer is: everything!

However, Mike Flanagan is the next big thing in horror cinema, in my opinion, therefore everything works spotlessly. I don’t want to jinx it to him, but this guy is great! After the surprisingly good Oculus (2014) and Hush (2015) and the even more surprising Ouija 2: Origins of Evil (2016), Flanagan knocks it out of the park again with this chiller.

Gerald’s Game benefits from fantastic direction and seamless editing (both by Flanagan), that – alongside the lack of soundtrack for the most part of the film – creates a dreadful, highly uncomforting atmosphere from beginning to end.

The thing with Gerald’s Game is that it’s a psychologically brutal experience, one that gets under your skin and sticks with you for a long time (at least, that’s how I perceive it). Right when I thought the movie couldn’t get any more eerie, half way through it takes an even darker route when it delves into the memories of Jessie.

In certain ways, Gerald’s Game reminded me of another great King’s adaptation that came out in the early 90s, featuring an isolated location and only two main characters (can anyone guess what is it? I will review it for the next chapter of my Classics of Horror series).

Gerald's Game 3All of that can work only if the acting is on par. Carla Gugino, who I wasn’t a big fan of, has the 99% of the screen time: she’s the focus of the story, the device to carry the plot on, a constant presence for the viewer to cope with. And she is fantastic!

Honestly, I don’t care too much about the Academy, but Gugino being nominated for best female lead would be pure cinematic justice! I haven’t seen a better performance in any of the horror movies that came out in 2017 – including Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy and Kika Magalhães (The Eyes of my Mother).

Especially, considering she had almost only her facial expressions to work with, Gugino does a mesmerising job in portraying fears, doubts, uncertainty of her character, Jessie.

Gerald's Game 4Bruce Greenwood’s performance is also not to be overlooked, mostly for the physicality he gave to his character. Nevertheless, Carla Gugino is by far the show-stealer in the film.

Talking about characters, I can’t forget to mention a peculiar presence (on and off screen), portrayed by Carel Struycken – any fan of the Adam’s Family here? – who courageously brought on screen his Acromegaly disease and made it part of the story. He’s great as well in Gerald’s Game.

If you got to this point of my review, you might think this movie is “just” a psychological thriller. Don’t you worry: there’s also quite some effective and off-putting gore and one, extremely well executed, jump-scare that got me really bad!

A quick recap: Gerald’s Game is, to its core, a slumber and dark exploration of demons from the past, personal fragilities and fear of an impending doom. Yet, Flanagan does a brilliant job at giving hints that would lead a mature viewer to question certain characters in the movie. It’s filled with great performances and has an enthralling female lead, a truly Oscar-worthy one, who delivers the director’s ideas and novel message in a very potent way.

Before I conclude, I must say that the ending might be polarising. From what I understood, it is pretty faithful to the source material, but I found it a too sudden change of tone in comparison to the rest of the movie. Even though it feels a bit detached from the rest of the film, I loved the message and subtext in it, which emerges stronger upon second view. Gerald’s Game is a must-watch, guys, don’t miss it out! Cheers!

Oh, by the way, Gerald’s Game is officially my third favourite King’s horror adaptation of all time!

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 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