Archive for film review

Film Review: CRIMSON PEAK

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2015 by smuckyproductions

One of the most anticipated genre releases of the year, CRIMSON PEAK is a gorgeous and impassioned return to form for Guillermo del Toro. This was at the top of my list ever since rumors and stills began leaking through the Internet catacombs. And I was not disappointed.

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The story is nothing terribly original – a young woman marries a mysterious man and follows him home to a decaying mansion, which is filled with ghosts and deadly ulterior motives – but del Toro plays it out sincerely and powerfully, making sure each emotional moment hits at the right time. He’s a terrific storyteller. And with such an amazing cast – Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston, to name a few – the story becomes vivid. But that’s not the best part. (What also might be said is, contrary to most Gothic stories, this one does not punish or weaken its women. The female characters are the strongest ones, which is refreshing and necessary.)

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What comes as no great surprise, but is still an absolute joy, is the production and costume design. Every image of the film explodes with color and detail. It’s a deliriously beautiful homage to the master of Grand Guignol lighting Mario Bava – sickly greens, vibrant reds, and cloying blues are all used boldly and to great effect. The success of these visuals is a testament to how ingenious Bava was as a filmmaker, and to see him referenced is joyous. Roger Corman also comes to mind, of course, but del Toro’s haunted house is more surreal than that.

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I don’t want to spoil too much, but the design of the ghosts was also profoundly original – it continues on del Toro’s concept from “The Devil’s Backbone,” but as if that film dropped acid. They’re polarizing, I’m sure, but I found them both fascinating and strangely terrifying. It’s rare that showing the monster can in itself be scary – usually the golden rule is to keep them in the dark – but in this case, every time they came on screen, I was frightened.

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It’s important to address, however, that del Toro did not make a horror film. This is not meant to be scary or shocking. There is violence and terror, but the main emphasis is placed on the theme of love, and the romance between the characters. So, don’t expect a traditional horror film. Del Toro himself said: this is a Gothic Romance. And that genre has been neglected of late. I am thrilled to see storylines that echo Sheridan Le Fanu and Nathaniel Hawthorne play out on screen. Del Toro is a huge nerd, just like me, and it comes through that he’s done his research.

While “Crimson Peak” certainly isn’t for everyone, it is a dream come true for people who love a classic ghost story and appreciate the beauty of cinema. Del Toro crafted this film with immense love and passion, and that shows on every frame. He loves his monsters and in turn, so does the audience. Beautiful, chilling and exhilarating, “Crimson Peak” is a macabre delight.

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Top 5 Haunted House Films

Posted in Best Of, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by smuckyproductions

I have a special place in my heart for good haunted house movies. So, in honor of an age-old genre and in anticipation of my new book that uses many of its tropes, here’s a few of my favorites.

5. The Changeling (1980)

This film, extremely influential in the genre, creeped me out beyond words. While not the most well-crafted movie, the storyline is inventive and very chilling, with a great twist and heart-pounding climax. The mansion is perfect, full of hidden rooms and cobwebs. Certain scenes – those who have seen this movie will remember a rubber ball – are wonderfully spooky, and the seance sequence is one of my favorites of all time. A must-see, especially around Halloween.

4. The Woman in Black (1989)

This isn’t really a haunted house movie (the ghost can travel) and it isn’t even a movie, as it was produced for TV, but I forgive this discrepancies. I enjoyed the remake, actually, but the original is one of the only films to manifest its ghost in a truly creepy way – most movies, when they reveal their spirit, loose tension because it just doesn’t look right. The titular character is just terrifying. Again, the atmosphere provided by Eel Marsh House and the misty English countryside is spooky as hell. This movie proves that nothing can beat the British in the 80’s for sheer eeriness. Impossible to find, but worth the search.

3. The Others (2001)

While arguably not a horror film, this quiet tale is horrific enough to include here – at 13, this movie scared the crap out of me. The atmosphere and setting are all perfect, claustrophobic but also large enough to cause fear of the darker corners. Kidman is brilliant, and her character is wonderfully complex. The children’s performances are shockingly good, too. This movie is much more creepy than frightening, but I’ll be honest, the piano scene sends chills up my spine. The ending could have been cheesy, but it’s subtle and beautifully done. A fantastic movie in every sense, and the perfect ghost story for a cold night.

2. The Innocents (1961)

An obvious addition to the list. This film, with its chilling music (can’t go wrong when you have a little girl singing) and dark themes, is fantastic for any genre. Here is another film to make its physical ghosts terrifically scary – when the first apparition appears to the fabulous Deborah Karr in the window, it’s impossible not to be creeped out. The mansion is gorgeous, full of atmosphere. The ambiguous ending – was it real, or is she crazy?? – is ahead of its time, and brilliant. It’s a unique movie, so much so that I was a little put off at first, but when you learn to appreciate it, it will never let you forget it.

And, DRUMROLL PLEASE….

1. The Haunting (1963)

Four years after I saw it for the first time, this movie remains one of the scariest I’ve ever seen… and nothing happens. There are some strange noises, some creepy wallpaper patterns, and a hysterical leading woman (a brilliant performance by Julie Harris), but that’s it. It’s a brilliant piece of cinema. Not only does it raise interesting questions about the nature of ghosts, it also introduces some terrifying ones. Hill House is beautiful and frightening all at once. The cast is amazing. The script is genius. I could go on. Skip the awful remake and see this one – arguably the scariest ghost film of all time.

Honorable Mentions

– Poltergeist: My first real horror film. Would be on this list, but it’s just a little too much for my taste now.

– Full Circle: A great performance by Mia Farrow, wonderful score, cool story – worth a look.

– The Amityville Horror (1979): Rather terrible in some senses, but who can forget Jody? Great memories with this one.

– Dead of Night (1945): This isn’t a 100% haunted house film, but I love it too much to ignore it – one of the stories, after all, involves ghosts.

– The Entity: Very cheesy but very scary, it’s dated but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The Awakening (2012): Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Director: Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton
7/10

Being a sucker for a good atmospheric ghost story, I was exciting to see The Awakening available on Netflix. I had seen the trailer and was convinced that it was worth a watch. While it wasn’t exactly what I hoped for, I wasn’t wrong to check it out.

Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a jaded woman who dedicates herself to debunking supernatural tales and legends in post-Great War England. When Robert Mallory (West) approaches her with the story of a haunted boarding school and a dead child, she decides to investigate. Her cold skepticism begins to slip once she begins encountering the ghosts of the school – and her past.

This film reminded me instantly of classics like The Innocents and The Orphanage, all works that employ sprawling mansions and foggy landscapes to create an eerie atmosphere that sets the stage for some creepy supernatural manifestations. The Awakening uses the wintry English countryside to the fullest extent, with beautiful images of misty forests and grey lakes all surrounding the gorgeously spooky boarding school. The cinematography is impeccable, creating many memorable visuals apart from the creepy stuff. If nothing else, it is a feast for the eyes. The acting is also wonderful, especially from the two female leads. In a horror industry that puts performance last, this film stands out.

The creepy stuff, however, does fall a little short. Compared to the subtlety of the camerawork and the acting, the scares are trying just a little too hard. There are a few scenes that gave me legitimate chills, but I was never very scared. In that sense, looking at the film as more of a supernatural drama puts it in a better light. It feels like an arthouse film more than anything, bringing up some poignant questions about the afterlife and the cynicism that World War I brought to Europe.

As a horror film, The Awakening doesn’t work on many levels. The scares are cliched and the ending has been seen too many times. As an arthouse drama, however, the film is well done, and even borders on brilliant at moments. The imagery is haunting, the performances are wonderful, and the questions raised are actually thought-provoking. It is, in some ways, a thinking man’s ghost story. Recommended, as long as it is looked at as something other than a scary movie.

Room 237 (2012): Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Director: Rodney Asher
8.5/10

I went to a midnight screening of Room 237 while at Sundance. Seeing as The Shining is my favorite film of all time, I was ecstatic to find a documentary about it. While it wasn’t exactly what I expected, Room 237 is an amazing look at one of the most cryptic films of our time.

Of all Kubrick films, The Shining is arguably the most widely viewed. It’s a great scary movie, but there are so many contexts lurking beneath that transcend the genre. It’s a bewildering experience viewing the film for the first time, and trying to pick up on all the subliminal clues seemingly placed around every corner. Room 237 does a great job of revealing some of these hidden messages, though it never forces any one speculation on the audience. For anyone who thinks that The Shining is more than just a horror film, this documentary is a must see.

Hearing people’s interpretations of movies is always entertaining. It gets taken to a new level in Room 237. Most people’s thoughts were normal enough – for example, that Jack represents a minotaur in his maze, or that the film is about the Native American genocide. Some of people’s answers to the film’s deepest secrets, though, are absolutely insane, but in the best way possible. One man went so far as to claim that Kubrick made The Shining as a confession to faking the moon landing. Asher compiles all of these theories very well, giving them visual context when possible while always remaining ambivalent. The editing and flow of the film is wonderful and engaging. The music used is moody and fun, though so relaxing that I found myself falling asleep a few times (it was 1 in the morning, after all).

Because of its complexity, this is the kind of movie you can watch again and again, just like the masterpiece it is about. Room 237 is a fun mystery, but it also reminds us of why we love cinema: it, like all art, has endless possibilities. For any movie-lover, I recommend Room 237 very highly. It’s a beautiful love letter to the silver screen.

 

Evil Dead (2013): Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas
7/10

Without a doubt, “Evil Dead” is one of the most anticipated horror films of the year, perhaps even the decade (so far). I was beyond excited to have the chance to attend a pre-screening last night. The theater was packed, full of people from all walks of life, all ready for an extreme experience. We all got exactly what we wanted.

It’s impossible to review this film without drawing comparisons to the original. While not as fresh and purely horrific as Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic, this remake is a wild ride in its own right. There’s more of a story this time, with more human characters: Jane Levy plays a heroin addict who, aided by her friends and absent older brother (Fernandez), holes up in her family cabin so she can try to quit for good. Of course, they find the book, and chaos ensues.

After the release of the red band trailer, everyone knew this movie was going to be brutal. I can say with confidence that, even though the filmmakers had to cut it for an R release, the film will live up to expectations. The violence in the film is unrelenting, original and loads of fun. The Deadites use every possible household item to mutilate themselves and their still-human friends. I was particularly impressed by the lack of CGI as well – most of the effects are practical, which makes them so much nastier. The death scenes are certain to go down in horror history, and are the best I’ve seen for years. For sheer creativity, this film does extremely well.

Now, to put the original and the remake side by side. The characters are mostly new, but their fates are similar to those suffered by people in the original (and, without giving spoilers, I can say the reversals used are great). Though there’s no Ash, I found Jane Levy’s character to be very likable. References to both Evil Dead films can be found throughout, too – there’s the possessed hand, the cellar door, and even a nod to the chainsaw, to name just a few. This update is much more serious than the trilogy, but that doesn’t stop it from being just as fun. The screenwriters also decided to add some more substance to the Necronomicon, which I thought was a great touch. Overall, the update has the same level of intensity as the original, with some newer additions that make it easier to set the two apart. It’s missing the great 80’s vibe, but it’s still as much fun.

Of course, the film is very flawed. The dialogue is terrible, some of the cliches are used a little too often, and there are certain cheesy moments that are hard to ignore. I was a little disappointed by the ending, but at the same time loved what they did with parts of it. Still, by horror film standards, “Evil Dead” succeeds.

It’s not the most terrifying film you’ll ever experience, as the poster promises, but it’s a ton of fun and absolutely disgusting. A fantastic homage to the originals, while also setting itself apart from its predecessors. Definitely worth seeing, for any serious horror fan.

Evil Dead Pre-screening

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2013 by smuckyproductions

I’ll be going to a student screening of Evil Dead tonight – look out for the review tomorrow. Unbelievably excited to have this opportunity.

Greetings from Smucky’s Grave.

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , on March 23, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Here you’ll find films, reviews, and works of literature all produced by Smucky Productions. Send on to any other horror fans who might be interested. And remember to leave the lights on.