Saturday Fright Night Fever #8 – “The Bay”

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As of 2014, there is definitely something to be said about the gimmick of ‘found footage’, especially in relation to the horror genre, which is well known for indulging the band-wagon mentality among the film makers. I don’t know exactly when and where the trend started, but it might be safe to assume that the first successful film in that sub-genre was “The Blair Witch Project”. Sure, one can argue “Cannibal Holocaust” doing that way earlier, but nevertheless it was the ‘noughties’ that brought the true onslaught of the found footage variety. Continue reading

Trailer: “The Suffering”

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Here’s a little something I’m definitely interested to see. From the dark recesses of the world of independent cinema along comes “The Suffering”, an indie horror/thriller about a man who seems to be digging for truth where he’s not supposed to. I’m really excited to see it, especially because it’s always the indie folks who are willing to play with the genre. Sadly, as of yet I have no information as to when and where I’d be able to see “The Suffering”. For any updates, visit the film’s website and a Facebook page.

Saturday Fright Night Fever #7 – “Paranormal Activity”

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Weirdly enough, my relationship with the entire “Paranormal Activity” series has been rather sparse… or I should say, inexistent. Somehow, due to some strange coincidences throughout the years, all of the now five instalments have come and gone well below my radar. Now, I’m not going to get bogged down in explaining my circumstances as a (at the time) young aspiring scientist with zero time on his hands, but the time has finally come for me to make amends and see what the hoopla was all about. Continue reading

Saturday Fright Night Fever #6 – “Curse of Chucky”

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I never cared much for Jason Voorhees… I used to find Michael Myers laughable… Freddy Krueger would only give me nightmares when I was a boy, but “Child’s Play” to this day can trigger some sort of a primal fear that would creep me out to no end. I remember (and these are not exactly fond recollections) how badly Chucky’s character could get under my skin – to the point of being physically afraid of my sister’s dolls… And I bet I’m not the only one with similar experiences. There was something peculiar about this baddie that spoke to my subconsciousness, and despite their progressively comedic character, all of the sequels shared that feature as well. I mean, I love those films and have rewatched them on multiple occasions, with the slight exception of “Seed of Chucky”, the now penultimate entry to the franchise, which I turned off halfway through – it was that boring. I have to admit I was somewhat excited when I first learned that Don Mancini (the writer of the entire series and the director of the last one) wanted to churn out another Chucky movie, but this time it was supposed to have more in common with the original, i.e. serious and scary. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to that… Continue reading

“Carrie” (2013) blew a perfect opportunity to make itself memorable…

Apart from the obvious, what exactly is the point of a remake? I completely understand it at the basic level of taking the easy way out to, by circumventing the creative step, come up with a brand new revenue-generating title. Now, I have always been a strong supporter (or a zealous opposition to lack thereof) of creativity in cinema, but I do believe that remaking already existing films has its place, so long as it brings something new to the table. But the world isn’t perfect and whenever there’s money involved, chances are the emphasis is not going to be put on refreshing a given title and adding to its artistic value, but rather on making sure all the boxes are ticked to attract the desired demographic.

Don’t get me wrong, especially when it comes to the horror genre, remakes and sequels don’t necessarily have to be all that bad and this year’s reimagining of Sam Raimi’s cult classic “Evil Dead” can be a perfect example of it. With the right people and a solid (and creative) idea, any classic can be raised from the dead (sic!) to the cheer of the collective fan-base of the original.

And with those exact expectations I walked in to see the remake of Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976)… Now, the choice of words I used to describe “Carrie” (2013) is by no means accidental here, because even though both of those films are adaptations of the Stephen King’s debut novel, the remake has clearly drawn from its film predecessor, rather than the source material.

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Coming back to the issue of bringing something new to the table, in case of “Carrie” could have meant any number of things. Having recently watched the original (in preparation for the remake; I read the book years ago when I was a young lad), I can honestly say that any semi-skilled director with a half decent cast of actors could be able to make an improvement on the original – it’s that bad. In fact, it’s so bad I am willing to devote a separate occasion just to rant about how shitty De Palma’s film is, and how I can’t possibly understand how oh-so-many people cream their pants over it, as if it was a cult classic… Give me a break…

Now, with this year’s “Carrie”, the draw was supposed to be the fact that the original film was very sparse with the violence in the climax and due to budgetary and technological limitations, certain aspects of the story had to be cut, or reworked to fit the bill. Now, I was sold on this idea alone and I would have loved to see “Carrie” come to a climax on a proper scale. In fact, since the story was being shoehorned into the modern day, I would find it intriguing to see a ‘found footage’ take on it; maybe not in its entirety, but at least in the third act. Interestingly, such treatment would bring the film a bit closer to the book in character, because the original story is neatly interwoven with excerpts from newspapers, journals and what-not that referred to the events from the book, as if it was a real disaster of massive proportions. And the director Kimberly Peirce (known for “Boys don’t cry” and pretty much nothing else) promised me just that… “Carrie” was supposed to go beyond the original and depict the mayhem that ensued following the events from the prom night, and if it had done just (and only) that, it would have been much better off…

In spite of all the waffle that preceded its release, “Carrie” is not much more than a word-for-word retelling of De Palma’s adaptation, but in modern setting and with different (and way better) actors. It’s a story of Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenage outcast raised by a religious nut mother (Julianne Moore) who finds herself to possess telekinetic powers. Bullied at school by a bunch of bitchy cheerleader types, Carrie is slowly being brought to the brink of self-control, so in combination with cruel treatment she receives at home, it doesn’t take long for her powers to be used in destructive way.

 

At this point in time, when the visual cues known from both the overwhelmingly popular book and De Palma’s film have a somewhat iconic status ingrained in the popular culture, it’s pretty difficult to present this story in a novel way. In reality, in doing so one would seriously risk damaging the original, so the fact “Carrie” plays out exactly as its predecessor is not its biggest flaw. In truth, I think this year’s retelling of “Carrie” is far superior to the original in terms of acting performances, exposition and the overall flow of the story. However, it still feels alien to hear the line “It’s not over! Not by a long shot”, because regardless of how it’s delivered, it sounds bad. I mean, who talks like that? But then again, most of the dialogue is taken ‘as-is’ from the source material, so I can only blame Stephen King for how clunky and disjointed it reads on screen. Bear in mind, it was his first book…

Acting-wise, “Carrie” is pretty solid with a convincing performance by Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her mother. In fact, I would have loved to see the mother’s character pushed a bit more towards the creepy kind of religious nut, but she played her cards quite well, even though she was at times ‘at eleven’. Sadly, almost every other character in the film was pretty forgettable and as a result, the main play between the bullies and Carrie doesn’t feel relevant at all. So in the end, when everything unravels, it almost seems to stem from Carrie’s traumatic home life, rather than the relentless torment at school, but once more the finger points at King.

All of that aside, the reason “Carrie” came to be remade this year was to go nuts in the third act. Therefore, I wasn’t too concerned with how we would get there, as long as the story would come to a satisfying climax. Sure, I can get on board with the story; swallow the awkward lines, and dodgy motives for the characters… I am more than willing to do the dance, provided there’s a reward at the end of it all. And here’s where everything falls apart.

I would have been so much happier, if the makers of “Carrie” had the balls to actually take some creative liberties with the source material. Not even that, because the book is not to blame here, but this film would have seriously benefitted from a good injection of gore and violence. Whenever the shit hits the fan and Carrie is ‘born in blood’, there’s so much potential for a satisfying and gruesome climax that would bring the story to a whole new level. We could have had some fun with telekinesis that hasn’t been shown before and “Carrie” played it as safe as it could. Give or take one or two scenes, it’s the same wet noodle of a climax, as shown by De Palma. Think about it: telekinesis could be a potential bag of gore just waiting to be opened. Skip the traditional moving objects around and throwing them at people – it’s all too emotionless! It’s 2013 and a “Carrie” film should definitely end in gory scenes of dismemberment, guts, blood and mindless violence. The story itself calls for appropriate ending and it should feel grand, scary, and revolting, so it pains me to say that the people behind the remake of “Carrie” failed to take a leap of faith.

However you’d want to retell it, the story of “Carrie” will always ride on its ending. None of the character development is really relevant, as long as we get to see the massacre at the prom. I know it might be hard for the ‘money people’ to swallow, but risking an R-rating is not exactly bad for the movie. In this day and age, being completely desensitized towards violence, we need to be properly shocked to get a kick out of a horror film. And if you go soft on a film like “Carrie”, the end result looks more like a mediocre teenage drama, and not like a ballsy all-out gore extravaganza. Maybe Fedé Alvarez should have had a go at directing it instead…

Shortcake #19 – “One Last Dive” and “2AM”

It’s not my usual m.o. to blog when I’m at work, but since I have a short space of time to spare and nobody’s looking I decided to give it a bash and put something together. Right, so it happens that I managed to start off my day in a pleasurably disturbing way by having these two short films accompany me while I was finishing my coffee.

“One Last Dive” is a minute-long single-take film directed by Jason Eisener (“Hobo with a shotgun”), so I can’t really say that it’s an amateur job. There’s not much to say about something that lasts only 69 seconds; it was shot for a “3:07 AM Project” (conceived as a part of the viral campaign for “The Conjuring”) that actually imparts the format of the film (1 minute, 1 take) and the genre. I’ll definitely sit down and watch the remaining three shorts (that you can watch here), and I can already tell by “One last dive” that at least Eisener knows what he’s doing. The film is creepy and disturbing, even though there’s not much of a story there, but in being absolutely terrifying, it’s done the job pretty well, I must say. And the fact everything takes place under water with limited visibility only serves to amplify the claustrophobic sense of threat.

“2AM” is a freshly released short produced by Go For Broke Pictures that has managed to make a bit of a splash on Youtube by raking in a million views in under 72 hours. Directed by Michael Evans, the film is an adaptation of an allegedly true story found on Reddit and while by the end it might have strayed away from it, it still remains pretty disturbing. I should only hope that it was all made up and none of that was actually true, because I would not like to find myself in a situation like his. And if I did, I would probably never be able to sleep again. Nicely done, shot with a pro angle making nice use of the depth of field to capitalize on the fear, “2AM” makes for 4 minutes of decent horror. And if you buy into the story’s origins – well, then you’re in for a ride.

Saturday Fright Night Fever #3 – “Sinister”

This time round, my new weekly habit of delving into horror territory is going to be uncommonly fresh in the fact that I have just about finished watching “Sinister”, and I have to admit that apart from a handful of pretty predictable scares, this film was… really creepy.

To whoever thought that “Sinister” was a terrible film and bashed it thoroughly in their reviews I can only say the following: go and do what I just did – watch it alone in the bloody dark. I understand that when you watch horrors with friends, or in the cinema, the experience might not be the same, the reason being that “Sinister” as a horror does not rely on jump scares at all to get inside your head. The scares are still there (and maybe one of them is actually crafty), but the reason it was so effective lies completely elsewhere.

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“Sinister” starts of as your bog standard ghost story would, with the Oswalts, a family of four, moving into a new house. But it’s not just a regular house (of course), as we learn early on that Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) has chosen this place for his family to move into with a very particular reason in mind. It turns out that the family that used to live there before them was brutally murdered in the back yard in very mysterious circumstances. You see, Ellison is a semi-successful true crime writer hoping for his big break and he thinks that trying to solve this mystery would just be it. He quickly learns that what happened to that murdered family was not exactly normal, as he uncovers a box of Super8 films in the attic that seem to contain really disturbing footage of multiple families being slaughtered. Ellison’s investigation into whether these events are somehow linked (as well as the possible nature of said link) puts a really creepy set of events in motion and as a result no-one in his household can feel really safe…

If you look for any review of that film, you’ll immediately learn that it is supposed to be a found footage horror. Well, it isn’t… Or it is, depending on how you look at things, because Ethan Hawke’s character actually finds footage that is crucial to the plot development. Plus, the contents of the Super8 films set the disturbing, creepy tone to the whole film and provide the overwhelming sense of threat. But if you’re thinking about the ‘found footage’ subgenre of horror, you’d be gravely disappointed here. Apart from the Super8 thingy, “Sinister” is more of a variation on a haunted house story. It has all the usual devices a ghost story would consist of, with traversing the house in complete darkness, spooky children, attic-related jump scares, creepy noises and so forth. However, if you’re a seasoned horror veteran, you’ll be able to pinpoint the ‘scary’ moments precisely, which somewhat diminishes the net effect.

 

The scares are nicely placed and they work very well with the pacing of the film, so that “Sinister” doesn’t suffer from the fear fatigue of most recent horrors, like “Mama”, or “Insidious”. At no point during the projection I could say I was comfortable with what I was seeing, because the story is paced in such a way, that the suspense is kept at a steady level all throughout. There’s no ramp-up, no crescendos that make the viewer completely immune to the scares in the final act (which is more disturbing than scary in its own right), so all I can say is that “Sinister” does its job rather well.

One of the ways one can find to create a good horror story is to tap into our primal fears. And what is it that we fear the most? I’d say that ‘the unknown’ would be high on a list like that and the creator of “Sinister” (Scott Derrickson, both director and writer on the project) has found a nifty way to bring those fears to life. While I didn’t care for the jump scares all that much (they weren’t too creative, or at least most of them weren’t; and most of them were featured in the trailer anyway), it was the grainy Super 8 footage with creepy images and blurry details that really set the wheels in motion for me. Even when we’re eventually informed (as usual, there has to be someone proficient in the subject that will shed some light on the nature of what is going on) “Sinister” retains the sense of unnamed supernatural threat slowly but surely creeping onto our protagonists. Therefore, I think it’s vital for anybody who wants to enjoy this film to dim the lights, cut the chatter and immerse in the story – it really makes a difference this time.