Archive for Movies

How I Pick My Halloween Films

Posted in Dark Musings, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by smuckyproductions

THREE. MORE. DAYS. 

Until the best, most horrifying day of the year. And one of my favorite ways to celebrate is to curate a marathon of films that speak to the spirit of Halloween. As a horror fan, this isn’t terribly difficult, but I still believe there is a precision to the selection process.

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When I mention this to the uninitiated, the response is usually simple – aren’t all horror films good for Halloween? My personal answer is: No. I am undoubtedly pickier than most, but many horror films don’t fit into the spirit at all. (It always confuses me why “The Shining” – year-round, my favorite movie of all time – is always chosen for October movie nights. It’s a winter movie, guys.) It’s a combination of atmosphere, imagery, and storyline, not just scariness.IMG_1097

So, what are my guidelines? I’m not totally sure. But it has to do with the spirit of Halloween itself. This holiday is a celebration of the spectral, the liminal, and the uncanny. The air itself is brittle with the impending change of seasons. Fireplaces newly lit exude a smell of homely smoke, and the quality of the light becomes shadowy as nights grow shorter. Houses drift and lunge with paper ghosts and fake spiderweb. It’s a unique time of year, tingling with a pleasant time of dread, as candles ignite and costumes conceal – so unique that film has a difficult time capturing the authentic atmosphere.

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Films that work for me, then, evoke the intangible and phantasmal quality of October. Surrealism and dream logic are the best examples. Synth-y music and dreamy camerawork combine to transport the viewer into a world apart.

There’s also the stories, of course. Monsters and ghouls make up so much of the childlike glee of Halloween – things that aren’t real become possible. Films that feature a terrific, fantastical villain, perhaps even several to give the film the quality of a well-produced haunted attraction, pay tribute to the variety of creatures that come to life on the 31st. These films don’t have to make their monsters scary, either. They just have to be honest.

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It isn’t precise, and is certainly ridiculous, but I hold true to my little science: autumnal atmosphere, ethereal score, dream logic, and a funhouse-esque parade of ghouls. Films that feature most, or all, of these qualifications are my favorite for the Halloween season.

Watch out for my personal top 10 list, coming out the day before Halloween, if you’re wondering what meets my conditions!

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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.

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.

Excision (2012): Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Director/Writer: Richard Bates Jr.
Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords
7/10

When I was at Sundance, this film had already generated a lot of talk. Whether people liked it or not, everyone agreed on one thing: it was gruesome as hell. It became one of my most anticipated films of 2012, and it took me forever to find it.

“Excision” is a psychological horror-comedy told from the perspective of the main character, Pauline (McCord), a teenager who is repulsive in almost every way. Stuck in a pastel house with an overbearing mother (Lords), Pauline fantasizes about becoming a famous surgeon. She becomes more delusional and disgusting with each scene, as she works toward a final goal: to cure her sister’s cystic fibrosis.

Overall, the tone is similar to “Heathers” and “Ginger Snaps,” though “Excision” tops them both in terms of violence. Pauline seems to be on a quest to do as many repugnant things as she can before the film’s running time goes up, and she does a damn good job of grossing you out. Most of the time I found myself laughing in sheer disgust. The film’s more serious moments are handled just as well, though, particularly the heart-stopping ending. It’s funny at times, but Bates forces you to acknowledge the true darkness of the events by the end.

The characters are what make the film both entrancing and hard to handle. Pauline is a little too much of a smart ass at times, but she’s fascinating to watch. Her sexually charged, gore-filled dreams are the real treat of the film – gorgeously shot, full of trippy violence that is both beautiful and hideous. Lords plays the hell out of Pauline’s mother Phyllis. The dynamic between them is all over the place – hilarious, disturbing, and heartbreaking all at once. Cameos by the great Malcolm McDowell and John Waters, among others, just add to the fun.

Technically, “Excision” is done well. The color palette is vibrant, echoing 50’s motifs, which is a perfect dichotomy to the imagery. The dream sequences, as I said, are very impressive. Bates executed (no pun intended) a strong vision for the film, and the style is very confident, especially for a directorial debut.

It has its flaws, of course – Pauline is at times unrealistically nasty – but the film is loads of fun, and the ending is absolutely horrifying, guaranteed to haunt you for a while. As a horror film it works terrifically, and even transcends its genre a few times. Definitely recommended, if you’re in the mood to be grossed out, and maybe moved a little along the way too.