Halloween Scene: New Movie Roundup

p9523329_p_v8_aaAs I mentioned in my first post in what felt like forever, I was awful busy looking at Halloween related material for work throughout September and October, which resulted in a lack of posts here on the site, a first if I’m not mistaken. Sure, Halloween season is technically over, but I wanted to write a bit more about a few of the newer movies I saw on Netflix in preparation for two Spinoff lists: 5 Recent Indie Supernatural Horror Movies Worth Watching and 5 Recent Slasher Flicks to Take a Stab at For Halloween.

First off a little background that I mentioned in those posts, but didn’t get fully into. While looking around for horror movies on Netflix Instant back in September, I realized that a lot of movies I’d heard good things about on Killer POV (my favorite horror podcast) were on there. I tend to avoid new horror movies out of a kind of fear, not necessarily a fear of being frightened by them, but a fear of being subjected to awful depravity. Let’s face it, that was the subgenre du jour for a while there. It seemed like every new movie I watched was just filled with torture. Not my bag.

john dies at the endBut after hearing about so many quality movies that had come out — many of which don’t work for everyone, which is fine my me — I decided to focus my viewing efforts this season on new movies from this decade. With only four years to choose from, I was a little worried about slim pickings, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and happy with the results. In fact, I think I enjoyed everything I watched (at least on some level).

Alright, let’s start with the Supernatural list. I covered them pretty well, but to take things a few steps further Don Coscarelli’s John Diest At The End and Resolution are two of my favorite scary movies in a long time. I loved The Innkeepers. Like I said in the review, between the on-screen scares and my anticipation of scares based on lesser films, I was pretty wiped by the end of that viewing experience. I thought about watching Ti West’s Sacrament, but wussed out.

rites of springI’d seen Odd Thomas on Netflix several times, wasn’t sure about it, but finally watched it and really enjoyed it. It kind of reminded me of Brick, but with less melodrama and more death-monsters. I liked it so much, I’m actually reading Dean Koontz’s Odd Hours from the library. It has the same feel as the movie. I’d like to see Anton Yelchin star in a series of films or, better yet, a TV show based on the character. I still can’t tell if All Cheerleader’s Die is a super clever film or I’m just reading too far into it, but it was definitely worth the watch.

Over to the slashers, this was another pleasantly surprising batch of films. I was especially surprised by how much I enjoyed Curse Of Chucky as that’s not exactly a series I’m in love with. I also wasn’t sure if Maniac would be my bag because I’ve never seen the original or its fellow real-killer-in-NYC ilk, but I found it chilling and Elijah Wood captivating in the lead role. I actually felt super creepy walking anywhere near a woman when I was going from the hotel to the bar during NYCC because of that viewing experience. Stage Fright was so much fun, but that might be solely because of my experience in high school musical theater. It’s goofy and weird, but I’m okay with that.

The-Innkeepers-PosterI’ll be honest, I didn’t actually watch Hatchet II again, but those films are still some of the best slasher flicks I’ve ever laid eyes on from any decade. I didn’t really think about it until I wrote that list, but it’s difficult to think of any other series with that much consecutive quality. Finally, I really liked the look and mash-up feel of Rites Of Spring. It’s on the shortlist of movies I watched this year that had a distinct color pallet and style. I found myself wondering if the Stranger was actually satiating a kind of crop god or just a crazy person throwing blood down on a man in a weird mask for decades. It would have been nice to get some of those answers, but I didn’t think they were necessary.

I also watched American Mary. I’ve got a blog post written that I’ll throw up this week. Here’s a preview, I thought it was pretty damn unique, but I’ll probably never watch it again. I still really dig the You’re Next viewing experience and do think I’ll return to that one at some point. Speaking of repeated viewings, that was the focus of my late-October horror movie schedule which will make up another post!

Halloween Scene: The Perfect Host (2010) & Frozen (2010)

The key to a great horror movie is to either have such a tight plot that the audience doesn’t have any questions or to keep things moving along so fast that they don’t have time to ask questions. Neither of the new movies I watched today in my Halloween movie marathon that included Halloween III, Dawn Of The Dead, Evil Dead, Halloween and others), can say to have that quality, though that doesn’t mean they’re altogether bad flicks.

I don’t remember exactly where I saw a preview for The Perfect Host, but it looked intriguing. There’s so many twists in this movie that I don’t want to spoil much, so I’ll say that if you like psychological thrillers, this one might be up your alley. Even the trailer has spoilers so you’ve been warned. WE’RE IN SPOILER TERRITORY FROM HERE TO FROZEN. So, the trailer revealed that a guy who’s on the run after robbing a bank winds up breaking into a guy’s house (played by David Hyde Pierce). As it turns out DHP is something of a psycho and flips the script on the criminal, not just capturing him, but throwing a party in his presence/honor. This turns out to be the case in the movie, though we don’t get to that point for about 20-30 minutes which kills a lot of the tension that’s supposed to build when the criminal is trying to convince DHP he’s someone he’s not. We already know from the trailer that he’s a bad guy too, so either don’t put that in the trailer or get to the point a little faster.

But, as I said, that’s not the only twist and this flick has more of them than a pretzel factory. As it turns out, DHP isn’t really having a party, he’s just nuts. The party scenes are all in his head, meaning he’s doing all these actions while the criminal just looks on and waits for death. Apparently, DHP has these “parties” on a regular basis with a set schedule and everything, leading up to the victim’s eventual death. So, there’s you’re source of tension, right? Well, not so much because DHP plays the part pretty wackily. Had he been less over the top about everything, he’d seem like more of a threat. But maybe that’s how it’s supposed to land because in yet another twist, the criminal gains his freedom through a game of chess, until he gives DHP shit and winds up getting knocked out. Cut to the next morning when DHP looks pretty satisfied and puts a picture of the dead criminal in his scrapbook. But that can’t be the end, right? We’ve seen too many twists already, plus this supposedly clever psycho just left the criminal out in the garbage seemingly in front of his house. It’s all a ruse! Well, just the death part as DHP used make up to make it look like the criminal was dead.

And the surprises don’t stop there as it turns out the DHP is actually a cop! A WHA?! Now, I didn’t see that one coming, but nothing was really surprising at this point because everything was supposed to be surprising, you know? Besides, I doubt whether someone with the clear psychological problems of DHP’s character (he has all these fake people writing him post cards that he himself writes, not to mention all the phantom party guests) could hack it as a cop, especially a detective or whatever he’s supposed to be. There’s more twists after that involving why the criminal committed the robbery in the first place and DHP’s secret possibly getting revealed to his fellow cops, but by that point I was kind of just waiting for the movie to be over. I was too questionable about the details and then started looking hard at things and they started falling apart for me. It’s too bad, too, because I think DHP could have had a really impressive performance here if he had played it a little tighter (or the director had told him to do so).

So, I guess the lessons learned from The Perfect Host are to give less away in the trailer, keep the performances in check and ease up on the supposedly shocking twists because they tire/bore your audience after a while.

Frozen suffered from entirely different problems in my opinion, though that opinion might have been unfairly elevated by the praise of some of my horror-loving friends. I had actually forgotten that it was written and directed by Hatchet and Hatchet II‘s Adam Green, which would have probably raised expectations even more. When I first heard the concept for this flick, I was immediately doubtful, a whole 90 minutes about three people stuck on a chair lift? It can’t be good. That’s a Twilight Zone/Tales From The Crypt episode. But people liked it.

The thing about Frozen is that, even for it’s change in scenery and odd locale, it’s basically a slasher movie and thus follows all of those conventions. You’ve got a group of kids making a stupid decision (begging a guy they bribed who clearly doesn’t give a shit about anything, to let them go on one last run down a ski mountain), making more stupid decisions and then the killer either getting them or not. In this case, the killer is wolves. And, of course, there’s a SPOILER final girl who winds up having an ending like pretty much every horror female ever.

None of which is necessarily bad, but I had expected so much that I was waiting for it to transcend what was happening and it never did. The dialog between the characters was alright, but nothing amazing, though it’s hard to say if this is the fault of the writing or the performances. I also felt like some of the decisions they made were so stupid that I didn’t care so much anymore if they died or not (I don’t have these feelings in real life, but in horror movies where that’s the point, sometimes I just want to skip the crap and get to those scenes). But that only happens when I’m not engrossed and I didn’t find anything engrossing about this movie aside from the fact that people were getting hurt and that’s sad.

My main problems are SPOILERY, so be warned. I can buy that they want to make one last trip down the mountain even if it’s shockingly stupid. Most slasher movies hinge on something like this, so it’s a suspension of disbelief I’m okay with. My first problem was the terrible facsimiles of New England accents. I actually didn’t realize at first that the movie was supposed to be set there and had I not met my wife, I wouldn’t know the difference, but I did and these are the worst NE accents I’ve heard in a long time. Related to that is the fact that the movie is filled with wolves, which I 1) don’t believe exist in NE and 2) think would be somehow kept away from a ski mountain, even one that’s been closed down for the week. I also have a problem with the idea that a ski resort wouldn’t check it’s lifts and property better, but that’s just me. I might be wrong about all these things, but they bugged me and like I said above, when things bug me about a movie, it knocks me right out of the story. I also think that the first guy that jumped down should have attached his board to distribute the weight of the fall, but not everyone’s a genius.

At the end of the day it was a mostly well put together movie with some really good special effects which was a surprise given the film’s setting. It’s mostly tight and attempts to build character, but it’s in a really familiar and obvious way (two buddies, one has a girlfriend, you can imagine a good portion of the dynamics there). It just didn’t grab me because there were too many elements that didn’t feel or seem right. I could be wrong about everything that seemed off and very well might be, but it was all too distracting for me to ever really get engrossed in the proceedings.

Halloween Scene: Hatchet II (2010)

I wish I had watched the first Hatchet before watching Hatchet II. I’ve seen the movie once before and I know I liked it, but considering the sequel picks up right from the last scene of the previous movie, it would have been nice to do a kind of mini-marathon. Thanks to a fair amount of recap, I remembered what was caught up to speed (really, all you need to know is that Danielle Harris and a group of tourists got attacked by a slasher named Victor Crowley in the swamp, she was there because he killer her family members). As things pick back up, Harris is joined by voodoo practitioner Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) and a group of hunters to go into the woods and cap Crowley thanks to a bounty offered up by the good rev.

The story picks up pretty quickly, which I like, but not too quickly. We get enough bits and pieces about the different characters, none of whom are particularly awful and then they reach the location of their ultimate demise. And man, do these people get taken out in some creative and gruesome ways. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much damage done to the human head in a horror flick. Smashed, chopped, sliced, sawed, split, this one’s got them all and they all look good, which is impressive because a human head/face is one of the hardest things to replicate and make authentic-looking.

The story’s interesting and character’s fleshed out enough, but the two keys to this movie for me are the practical effects and the ways it plays with the conventions of slasher movies. I’ve already discussed the effects which might be some of the best I’ve ever seen, but the flipped tropes are also worth talking about. Without giving too much away, Victor doesn’t pick everyone off one by one until only the final girl is left. In fact, not only are the victims this time armed and hunting him (a change from the usual), but they also come upon him in a group and try to attack him at once. It doesn’t work out super well, but it happens. They also throw a character up against Victor who actually seems like he or she can do some real damage. And that ending! Did not see that coming.

I really don’t want to go into too much detail, but I think this is my most recommended movie this October. All the slasher conventions are there, though they’re also played with. The acting’s great, though not overly deep. The kill scenes are phenomenally well done with more blood that I think I’ve ever seen on screen. If you thought the slasher movie was dead and gone with acid washed jeans and Bon Jovi, think again. Adam Green’s the real deal, folks!

Halloween Scene: Hatchet (2006)

It’s funny how elements beyond your control can come together to enhance a movie-watching experience. Saturday night I was flipping through my online Netflix queue looking for something to watch and decided on Hatchet, which I think I’ve heard good things about. I say “I think” because, like any other horror fan, I was bombarded with ads for this movie online and in print a while back. Anyway, it was probably around midnight when I pushed play and about 15 minutes in, I started seeing flashes of lightning through the trees (my TV is right in front of our living room windows). As the film went on and things got bad for the characters on screen, nature added ever closer lightning along with some nice pouring rain to match the movie. I can’t think of a cooler viewing experience I’ve had. Oh, and the movie was pretty great too.

Like I mentioned above, I saw a TON of advertising for this movie, but I think it was all in print and online, so it didn’t really hint at the plot aside from the image of the hatchet itself. This is the art that was on Netflix and I’m pretty sure also adorned most of the ads:

I actually prefer this poster, which hints at the humor that goes along with the horror in the movie:

I was actually starting to think the movie might turn down the Scary Movie route when the cast started revealing itself. Our hero is Joel Moore, who you may remember as the nerdy guy in Dodge Ball, the nerdy jerk in Grandma’s Boy and the dude in Katy Perry’s Waking Up In Vegas video. He’s accompanied by Deon Richmond who I recognize most as the Token Black Guy from Not Another Teen Movie. They’re at Mardi Gras (pre-Katrina obviously) looking for a zombie boat cruise which brings on a pretty funny cameo by Candyman himself Tony Todd (we also get treated to a Robert Englund (Freddy) role in the beginning and Kane Hodder plays the killer). So, I wasn’t so sure what to think.

Until Hatchet Face (aka Victor Crowley) shows up and starts wrecking shop on a small group of boat tour patrons and their guides. In the group you’ve got an older couple (the man being played by Office Space’s Richard Riehle), a Girls Gone Wild-ish guy with two girls who keep taking their tops off (the guys was in the first two seasons of Mad Men and one of the girls played Harmony in Buffy), the tour guide with a bevy of fake accents, our two guys and a mysterious young woman. Wow, that’s a long sentence. Anyway, the characters are just interesting enough that you feel bad when they get offed. I also really liked seeing Deon in a larger part, sure he got a little annoying at times, but overall he kept the mood light even during some incredibly gory scenes.

So, the story was cool, the characters solid and the gore rad. All in all I had a great time watching Hatchet and was really impressed with Moore’s transition from nerd to bad ass. He should really do more stuff. Plus, he wears a Newbury Comics shirt throughout the movie, a comic/DVD/CD store I’ve been to a few times when visiting Em’s parents in New England. And, super double extra points for an ending that I saw coming but was still surprised by the execution of. I think there’s a pun in there, but you’ll have to figure it out for yourself.