Category Archives: Marge’s Favorites

A Quiet Review

 

A good horror movie knows how to set an atmosphere. It doesn’t rely solely on jump-scares, loud noises, and manipulative music. A good horror movie knows that fear of the unknown and things that we do not see can be much more effective than overly-creepy imagery shoved right in your face.

A Quiet Place feels more like a suspenseful thriller than a horror film – more akin to Jaws and Cujo rather than A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Exorcist – but even so, John Krasinski and his team make it wonderfully creepy as well.

The premise is simple: aliens that hunt almost exclusively by sound have landed on Earth, decimating most of the U.S. population in a matter of days. It is unclear how many other countries around the world have also fallen. One small group of survivors is the Abbott family, and they adapt to the new, hostile environment around them by making as little sound as they possible can. Luckily for them, they are all fluent in ASL, as the daughter Regan is deaf.

This leads to the most interesting aspect of the film: 80% of the dialogue is unspoken. Background music is also used sparingly, at least in comparison to most other movies.

Admittedly, this is somewhat of a gimmick. Regardless of genre, most movies have speaking all throughout, so A Quiet Place stands out and markets itself on that standing. But the reason for the silence in the film’s universe doesn’t feel cheap or poorly thought-out. Rather the reverse; I think its implementation is actually very clever.

 

It reminds me of what I learned in school; when it comes to human beings communicating, about 93% of what we convey, intentionally or not, is non-verbal. It’s very engaging to watch, and I’ll tell you why:

The tension in every scene is organic, as even the most minor things can draw the creatures to the family. Regan is particularly at risk because she can’t hear her own noises, let alone those of the approaching aliens. A toy falling off of a shelf could result in an attack, so the father, played by Krasinski, is almost constantly alert, trying to keep his children out of danger. They can’t even eat with silverware anymore, out of fear that the clinking could attract attention.

The setup and other little details in the beginning are given to viewers though visuals; newspapers, scribbled notes, actions, etc. The film requires the audience to pay attention and deduce things on their own; what does this information mean for the characters in the moment, and what does it mean for them in the long run? Even small things like what the kids have replaced their original Monopoly tokens with shows you how fearful and devoted to safety they are. As always, some things are up to your individual interpretation, but the story is by no means unclear as it unfolds.

The characters are likeable. That seems like a weird compliment, I’m sure, but you would be surprised how many horror films within the last decade have boiled down to “stupid, rude teenagers or twenty-somethings go somewhere secluded to party and something comes after them.” Despite speaking very little, the actors conveys a lot of emotion with facial expressions, body language, touch, and proximity. Krasinksi is particularly good at this; it’s what made him a fan favorite on The Office.

 

This is not to say that the characters have no negative traits. They are just very sympathetic, portrayed in a very human and understandable way. It is easy to believe that they would feel or react the way that they do, especially for the kids. They are clearly mature for their age, and even more for this apocalyptic situation, but not so mature that they understand and support all of their parents’ choices. Everyone has a hang-up of some sort, just like in real life.

The Abbott family is not quiet Spielberg-ian, but I like them and want to see them survive, which I would argue is damn near crucial in a good horror film.

Also, it’s interesting to me that John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are actually husband and wife. They have really good chemistry onscreen, so their married life must be pretty good as well. I guess if you’re not an actor though, it’s probably not a good idea to cast family members in leading roles. Right, Kevin Sorbo?

And speaking of “Christian films”, there is at least one religious theme that gets brought up in A Quiet Place. It seems to be very pro-life, but it’s not explicit or in-your-face-preachy about it. That’s exactly what I want from a movie: subtlety. Nuance. Almost a suggestion, but it makes you think, rather than just shouting down opposing opinions and definitively saying that yours is “right.” Again, looking at you, Kevin Sorbo and Sean Hannity. Let There Be Light was pure, propagandistic crap, and I say that as a self-proclaimed Christian, your target demographic.

But I digress. That film was unintentionally horrifying.

 

A Quiet Place is a thrill in theatres. It left me wanting more when it was over, but better that than wanting less. Just make sure you find a quiet place to watch it. Talking is super disruptive and annoying during a movie like this.

 

8/10

*Note: None of the images used in this post belong to me.

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Black Panther Review

 

Warning: This post is political. This movie is political. If that bothers you, feel free to say so or go quietly away. No name calling will be tolerated.

Black Panther is spectacular. That is the gist of my assessment.

As a white woman, I feel very ill-equipped to talk about how many boundaries this film breaks and why; my personal experience with racism is limited or non-existent, and it’s small potatoes. Like, one lady at a restaurant being rude to me because she didn’t like white people…probably.  Outside myself, I only know what I have heard and seen from others, and it’s not very much even then.

I don’t want to diminish the suffering of others by pretending I know exactly what it’s like. I can only say that I hope that more films like this get made (both politically and with diverse casts), and I can tell you what I personally thought after seeing Black Panther in the theatre on Friday, February 16th.

I like this film because it runs on a smaller scale than some of Marvel’s other fare. I may have said this before, but there is only so big you can go with universe-threatening villains before it begins to feel silly, or the previous movie villains look like tinker toys in comparison. Do kids these days still know tinker toys?

 

Regardless, there’s a concept called “Power Creep,” in which the constant need to one-up the last villain or super power makes earlier movies and series less awe-inspiring, and therefore they won’t hold up in future viewings.

I like that the cast doesn’t look like me. Really, I do. I don’t have an issue relating to someone with another background or skin color than me, maybe because I tend to focus more on common human experiences that we all share. I like films that try to capture those more universal topics, and people’s differences make them unique and fascinating, keeping them from being too same-y. They also provide a good learning experience, which I was told from a young age to pursue and value, even if it’s – God forbid – “outside of the textbook!”

I thought I might mention it, if only because some people can’t seem to acknowledge and relate to someone else’s basic humanity when too many differences stand in their way. Personally, I think that perspective is depressing and limiting, and in this case, they’re missing out on a great movie because of it. But c’est la vie.

I like that Black Panther is political. It really couldn’t avoid being so, from the race side of things, and I’m glad it didn’t shy away for fear of turning off the Caucasian audience.  People who complain that movies, celebrities, athletes, and other “entertainers” shouldn’t be pushing politics onto their audience are usually in a position where they can comfortably walk away from the discussion at any point, and they get annoyed when someone makes it harder for them to do so. They don’t want to accept that person’s individuality as part of their whole package; they just want a show, damn it! Why is it coming with extras that they didn’t order?

Because other people cannot escape having these discussions. Their lives and families are affected every day, and they can’t just walk away. It’s called systemic oppression for a reason; it’s so ingrained in our society that we on top don’t think much of it and don’t have to, because we benefit. We, whether by direct actions or passive complacency, force others down so that we can be raised up, and that’s not right.

That is part of the human experience I mentioned previously; just because I haven’t personally experienced things like racism, slavery, and families being torn apart, it doesn’t mean that those topics can’t resonate with me. I am an ignorant outsider, but I care.

 

I like the story in Black Panther. In short, and sans major spoilers, Prince T’Challa returns from the events of Captain America Civil War to assume his place as the king of Wakanda. Wakanda hides its technological advances from the world by posing as a third-world country, and there is friction among many citizens, whether to reveal their country’s true nature or to keep it safe and secluded, despite constant threats of theft and potential discovery anyway. They owe their success to an alien metal called Vibranium, and the Black Panther’s powers to a heart-shaped plant that was effected by the coming of said metal.

The film’s politics come from that above-mentioned tension: will Wakanda reveal itself, and if so, could it become a haven for other African countries and peoples around the world? It’s an empowering narrative, and not just because it’s a superhero movie.

I like the costume design. I’m mostly ignorant of African cultures (I’m sorry. Japan came into my heart first), but I can see how much effort was put into every piece of clothing worn in Black Panther. The fighting outfits are distinctive and visually interesting, but still practical, especially for the women. That’s rare. *cough* Wonder Woman *cough cough*

That’s another thing: I love how many prominent women are in this story. I also liked pretty much all of them as characters, even if I forgot one or two names during the course of the movie (just for perspective, I forgot Martin Freeman’s character’s name at some point too, and simply started mentally referring to him as “Secret Agent Watson.”

Some people might find this politically charged as well, having so many women in the cast, and so many of them kicking ass. I invite them to go suck their thumbs and sit in the corner. The girls on screen can hold a scene just as well as any guy. Get over it.

 

Much like The Last Jedi, there seems to be a theme about your mentors disappointing you, leading you to one day surpass them. You may also have to clean up the mess that their pride, fear, or hubris has left behind. This is becoming a common refrain in movies and television recently, particularly revolving around male characters and their pride as men. Personally, I agree with those messages, as I think that valuing pride and hypermasculinity over being a secure, healthy person with a good understanding and control over their emotions is a problem that affects all kinds of men in modern society. Depending on how those feelings manifest, it can also affect their partners and other family and friends that surround them, so I like seeing more of these stories becoming popular.

Again, there’s a human experience to be found there, and the smaller threat makes the story feel more personal and relatable. I actually felt bad for the villain in the end, because he had clearly gone through so much pain to become the way that he was.

Black Panther will speak to different people in different ways, but some of the takeaways aren’t that far off from each other. I didn’t feel alienated or preached at when I saw this film; I felt enthralled and spoken to, in a perfectly frank and engaging manner. I’m happy to see that the opening weekend proved so profitable, and I hope more directors will tell these kinds of stories, and many more, in the future. After all, the population is always changing, and the “small voices” are growing too loud, too numerous, to be ignored.

 

*8.5/10

Note: All images in this review belong to Marvel and Disney.

Happy Death Day: Stupid, Harmless, Spooky Fun

 

If you ever wanted to see the bastard love-child of Groundhog Day and Scream, with just a little bit of Mean Girls sprinkled in, Happy Death Day is the movie for you!

…Wait, you didn’t want to see that?

…Um, well…here it is anyway! And boy howdy, is it fun! It’s got romance, suspense, mystery, horror, comedy; a little bit of everything!

The film makes a quick reference to Groundhog Day at the end, saving it from being just a shameless rip-off. I’d probably still call it that; after all, just because you lampshade something doesn’t mean the problem goes away. But at least it knows what it is and what its limitations are, which is more than I can say for most Hollywood remakes and “reimaginings” nowadays. I’d also like to point out that Groundhog Day itself is basically just a variation of A Christmas Carol, just without the ghosts and Christmas, so it’s all relative.

If you can accept all of that, Happy Death Day is a goofy, hilarious, brainless romp, filled with some genuine creepiness, but just as much with morbidly dark comedy. That title alone should tell you how seriously the filmmakers take themselves, and yet the story is genuinely thrilling and dramatic at times, as well as oddly satisfying at the very end.

 

Theresa Gelbman, nicknamed “Tree,” is a stereotypical b&$#@y sorority girl living with a bunch of other shallow, vapid girls. The only exceptions to that rule appear to be the newer members of the house, the one “fat” chick, and the medical intern who somehow gets away with never wearing any makeup. Regina George would, like, totally not approve.

As the story progresses, we learn that Tree wasn’t always this trashy and horrible, but fell into bad habits and self-pity after the death of her mother, with whom she shares a birthday. On this particular birthday, she gets attacked and killed on the way to her surprise party, only to wake up in the dorm she found herself in that very morning. The day appears to be repeating itself, resetting only when Tree is killed, and after some initial panic and anger, she gets the idea to try and solve her own murder mystery. Seeing as she seems to have an infinite number of tries, why not?

Unlike with Bill Murray, however, we start to see that her various murders are affecting Tree physically, even after the day resets. A knife to the gut will throb, ache, or weaken her completely, leading her to wonder if she truly has infinite attempts after all.

 

I don’t know why the school chose babies to be its mascot, except with the intent to make an overtly, stupidly creepy mask just for this occasion, but like I said, don’t think about that. Think about who is killing Tree and why, because the payoff is pretty good. There is a bit of misdirection involved that some people may spot right away, but for fear of spoiling the fun, I won’t say anymore.

The gore is minimal to non-existent, with plenty of flipped shots and quick cutaways, and the tone tends towards comedic most of the time. Even if horror and suspense aren’t your cup of tea, I can’t imagine most people being serious bothered by it here. You can only take it so seriously, especially when the movie breaks into a montage of Tree stalking and confronting possible killer suspects. She’ll die, then wake up the next morning with some kind of “drat!” reaction, so however painful the murder must be, she starts taking it like a pesky mosquito bite for a little bit. What’s so scary about that?

 

The only thing that really bothered me during the watch was wondering how the killer managed to track her everywhere she ends up during the night, especially during said montage. Is Tree constantly posting about it on social media? I wouldn’t exactly put it past her, and that might answer my question pretty neatly, but the film never tells you exactly how, so who knows? Maybe she was microchipped as a baby, or the Baby-faced killer can magically teleport to her location. It’s so silly that it’s almost impossible to really care.

One last thing…as someone who hates the long logo rolls at the start of movies, having the Universal logo skipping and repeating a few times is a living nightmare. Please Universal, never do that again.

 

*6.5/10

*None of the clips, images, or audio in this post belong to me, minus the title card.

CftC: A Nightmare on Facetime


South Park Season 16 has got to be one of my favorite seasons of the show. It has so many hilarious episodes, and one of my favorites (as well as my favorite Halloween-themed South Park episode overall) is “A Nightmare on Facetime.”
After all, what could be more horrifying than terrible video quality and a shaky Internet connection?

 

While it serves as a bittersweet, poignant reminder that a staple of my childhood isn’t around anymore, “A Nightmare on Facetime” is a masterpiece of parody and social commentary. In yet another impulsive, boneheaded move, Randy Marsh acquires an old Blockbuster movie rental store, amazed and flabbergasted by the low price he paid for it.

 

What Randy fails to understand is that video online streaming has rendered such services obsolete. So obsolete, in fact, that the store itself is only visited by ghosts.

The episode spends a fair amount of time visually parodying The Shining, as Randy’s fierce denial of progress and the inevitable slowly drives him to family-killing insanity. This is both awesome and funny, but the B plot about Stan being forced to man the store on Halloween and trick-or-treating with his friends via iPad subtly mocks people’s obsession with technology long before Season 20’s “Member Berries” and “Skank Hunt.”

 

It doesn’t deal with online personas, and it’s not an in-your-face theme like in “You have 0 Friends,” but rather, it provides a nice little counterpoint to the argument that technology makes everything better, which you might infer from all the praises sung about streaming. It makes some things easier, but it also encourages people to identify with their expensive gadgets, even deriving self-worth from owning them.
When Stan and company come across a couple thugs robbing a local convenience store (side note: I soon discovered that Kum & Go was a real thing…good God, what a poor naming choice!), they try to intervene before realizing that the men have guns. Kyle’s iPad accidentally gets left behind in the escape, and the episode then treats it as though Stan was caught, with everything that happens to the device projected onto him.

 

When the battery finally dies, we get a dramatic death scene straight out of Hollywood.

There is just so much to love about this episode. Everyone who wanders by the Blockbuster treats it like a haunted house, fleeing in fear from the living man beckoning them inside. Randy refuses to accept that his new business will fail, and he goes out of his way to keep from admitting fault, much to his wife’s annoyance. Every haunting is seen as just a joke at his expense, and the insecurity and wounded pride make him double down on everything he does.

 

The “Gangnam Style” references date the episode more than anything else, but even they make me smile, as someone who slaps together a costume every year and tries to make it obscure or creative in some way. I really want to know who thought to combine Psy and Frankenstein’s monster.

Shallow and goofy as it seems, I also really love when the cops quote “Monster Mash” lyrics.

It’s just an all-around delightful episode. Parts of it are genuinely creepy, but I’d say the same of The SimpsonsThe Shining parody segment. Even as a comedy, when you make fun of something eerie, you’re bound to be eerie as well.

 

But unlike the aforementioned Simpsons parody, the references aren’t nearly as distracting to people who haven’t seen the original. It’s mostly because while it is the A plot, it doesn’t encompass the entire episode. They aren’t just putting the South Park characters into The Shining; they’re using elements of it to tell a different story, in that way that only South Park can. I could still see myself enjoying “A Nightmare on Facetime” even if I hadn’t seen The Shining, and in fact my fiancé hadn’t seen the movie before the episode. He still liked it a lot, and he appreciates it even more now that he has seen the iconic Stanley Kubrick adaptation.

If you have 22 minutes to kill this Halloween, there are fewer better ways to spend them.

 

7.5/10

*None of the pictures, video or audio clips in this post belong to me.

CftC: My Top 10 Traumatizing Scenes from Kids Movies

Another year, another return to…

 

Instead of looking at one Halloween special at a time, I have chosen to do a Top 10 list for this first installment. Below, you will see the ten most memorable moments in kid and family movies that gave me endless nightmares as a youngster.

I tried to dive in as deeply as I could, talking about the scenes themselves but also about what makes them so scary. I find that the psychology driving effective horror scenarios can be pretty common for most people, and surprisingly basic and traceable. But that doesn’t make them shallow by any means. Some people say that the root of all good comedy is that someone has to be miserable. No matter how elaborate you make the joke, there always has to be a “butt” of it. The same can be true of horror, but there are more roots, or “butts,” to choose from.

 

10) The Donkey Scene (Pinocchio)

 

I’ve seen Pinocchio maybe 5 times in my life. It’s not a Disney movie I come back to often, and I have no idea how faithful it is to the source material, but when I watch it again, I’m always struck by how dark and mean-spirirted it is, even as fairytales go. It’s like if Don Bluth made films back in the 40’s.

This one scene is pretty screwed up. It’s basically body-horror for children, and while it might not be as grotesque as a David Cronenberg production, it’s almost as frightening.

What is body horror, you ask? In short, it’s the whole concept of unwanted, uncontrollable transformation, which stems from a fear of not being in control. The one physical thing that any human being can own completely is their own body, so the notion of it changing without your consent, and most likely in a very painful way, is terrifying. This fear is in a similar vein with that of petrification; both of which most people don’t think about or wouldn’t admit to being afraid of, but totally are.

What sells this particular scene are Lampwick’s panicked screams and thrashing, but the lighting and music are pretty intense as well. He’s a kid, albeit a smug little jerk, so there’s an element of protectiveness that can be involved. But more importantly, this perversion of nature is what will happen to Pinocchio, our main character, who is nearby watching but unable to help. It seems to be going slower – possibly because he’s not a real boy yet – but it’s assumed that it will happen like that.

 

It’s a scary moment on its own, but also for the danger it poses to the person we most care about in the movie.

 

9) The Hollow (Ichabod and Mr. Toad)



I might have mentioned this in my full review of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but this scene is hilarious and scary at the same time.

The build-up is great, when Ichabod is on edge and thinks he can hear the Headless Horseman coming after him. The scene is mostly quiet – silly of course, but tense nonetheless – and when you’re first watching, you never know when the ghost will actually show up. It could be during any one of the little scares Ichabod basically gives himself, as he inexplicably travels alone in the dead of night after a party, where he probably could have found several someones to walk most of the way home with him. Or he could have booked a room with the Van Tassels and called it a night.

 

Walking or generally being alone at night is a common fear, particularly for women, and it feels even worse when other people tease you for being paranoid. Katrina chuckles at Ichabod’s fear during the party, and the fact that the schoolmaster’s horse just moseys along, not paying attention or speeding up when Ichabod tells him to, would certainly add to my frustration, not knowing whether or not I’m going crazy or should seriously get the hell out of dodge.

Ichabod and his horse have a good laugh when he thinks his imagination got the better of him (after all, he thinks a frog’s croaking in the background sounds like “Headless Horseman”)…and then suddenly, a third voice joins in with a chillingly demonic cackle.

Then, we begin a scary…hilarious….scare-larious chase scene. Seriously, it’s morbidly delightful.

 

8) Donald’s Mental Breakdown (Fun and Fancy Free or Mickey and the Beanstalk)

Did you ever want to see one of your beloved childhood icons go kill crazy?…No? Well, here you go anyway!

 

I’m not sure how much more I can say about this one. It’s screwed up. Donald Duck gets crazy eyes and decides to kill his farm’s only cow, because he’s sitting there starving in his own home. I know the guy needs some anger management therapy, but damn!

On a side note, in a world of walking, talking, anthropomorphized animals, why does the cow not talk or wear clothes? Why can it be sold, but not Mickey, Donald, or Goofy? Is it that some characters can be captured and domesticated for slave labor, but these guys are somehow untouchable?

I have no idea how this world would work!

 

7) The Reveal (The Witches)

 

“Stranger danger” is practically beaten into every child’s brain, because they’re exceedingly naïve and their parents are terrified. The makers of this Roald Dahl movie adaptation probably made a bet with themselves to see if they could reverse that, because many adults happily rented it and their children were then soundly traumatized.

I saw this movie at a friend’s sleepover, and I could not sleep for the rest of the night. The Willy Wonka Tunnel of Hell may have the element of surprise on its side, but it has nothing on an entire movie full of disturbing concepts and imagery, all of them posing threats to innocent kids, simply because they are kids. Imagine if Willy Wonka was an army of hideous, vicious old women who had a more active loathing of children, beyond just the bratty ones, and decided to kill/eat them as a result.

The scene where a grown woman pulls a snake from her purse and attempts to coax the main character out of his tree house is nightmarish enough, but then you have the scene where the witches go to their witch conference or whatever. They remove their disguises in a hideous fashion, talk about their plans for child murder, and then turn the boy into a mouse after he is caught spying on them.

 

So we have “stranger danger”, yet more body-horror, and a race to foil the plans of a powerful, secret group that few other people realize is a threat, with only the boy’s grandmother to help the kid along. The one adult he can rely on is only so useful, and the other adults are either dangerous or ignorant. That’s encouraging to know, right?

 

6) The Cauldron Born (The Black Cauldron)

 

Some people consider this film a cult classic, while others demonstrate why it did so poorly at the box office. It’s a very flawed, mixed bag, but I would put myself in the former group. The villain has an intimidating, cool design; the art style is dark, but also fairly whimsical; and personally, I thought Elmer Bernstein’s music fit this movie better than it did Ghostbusters.

There’s nightmare fuel aplenty, too.

 

In one scene, the Horned King becomes a necromancer, resurrecting a bunch of dead warriors from various places and eras. An eerie green fog begins rolling out of the cauldron, becoming almost like a soup in places as it fills the room, and one of the king’s henchmen stupidly jabs it with his spear. Suddenly, skeletons erupt in a jump scare, descending on the man. We don’t see what happens to him, but we can assume he’s dead, as the scene cuts to the remaining humans looking away in horror. Then the Horned King sends his undead minions out to “destroy all in (their) path,” and I think about how they would go to the ends of the earth, murdering helpless, unsuspecting villagers like a plague.

 

The scares in this scene is pretty shallow for me. It’s mostly about the imagery and the music, but for what it is, it’s damn effective. The zombie sun-genre of horror isn’t really my forte, but these evil undeads unnerve me every time.

 

5) Charlie Goes to Hell (All Dogs Go to Heaven)

 

The concept of eternal punishment is scary enough by itself. Human beings don’t like pain, and the idea that we’d suddenly have no control, no way to stop the unpleasantness happening to us, and be stuck that way forever is a hard pill to swallow. Even worse, what if we don’t know what we did to deserve it, or the act/acts themselves were miniscule? Arbitrary? Does God even have an appeals court?

Hell is a fear that is instilled in Christians (and other religious folks with Hell-esque parallels) from an early age, and it’s hard to shake off the vague, but ultimately disturbing imagery that comes to mind when that word is uttered. It can be uniquely terrifying to each person, but the basic conceit is the same, and so the fear holds some universality as well.

In this movie, the main character, a German Shepherd named Charlie, stole a second chance at life while he was in Doggy Heaven. As punishment for this, he will go to Hell. Directly to Hell. He can’t pass Go, and he certainly can’t collect $200.

 

While he feigns indifference initially, we can see that Charlie is fearful of the consequences of his actions, and no scene shows this more clearly than the Dream Sequence. There’s fire, brimstone, demons, and most poignant of all, a crushing sense of being unable to escape or stop what is happening to him.

Don Bluth movies in general have this great way of capturing what it’s like to feel small, insignificant, and prey to the whims of the world around you…Probably because so many of the movies involve mice or other small creatures dealing with vicious predators, or the indifferent reactions of humans and nature. Bluth’s world either doesn’t care or is actively working against them, isolating and tormenting the characters but also providing great catharsis when they finally achieve their goals.

Charlie’s torment is necessary, showing his growth as a character and the loss of the innocence/ignorance that once shielded him from it, but that makes it no less terrifying.

 

4) The Bear (The Fox and the Hound)


Things that make this scene stick out:

  1. It’s jarring as all hell! It comes right out of nowhere; what you thought was going to be the climax of the story – Todd either escaping Copper and Amos or getting killed by them – is kicked out of this giant moving car to make room for a random bear attack.
  2. It looks like some weird, mutant cross between a Grizzly Bear and Black Bear. And what bear has freaky demon eyes like that?!
  3. Amos gets knocked down a hill, losing his gun in the process, and then he gets stuck in his own trap, which I’d imagine was pretty painful in and of itself. Despite how much I hate him during the rest of the movie, and despite knowing he provoked the attack by shooting the bear, I can believe his terror and helplessness. He’s old, and now suddenly rendered defenseless.
  4. Despite the lack of blood, the scene is full of violence. You can almost feel the impact of every bite and scratch, especially followed by all of those grunts and yelps. The Great Mouse Detective, which Disney put out a mere 5 years later, has a similar effect in its climactic showdown. Every blow and reaction shot seems heavily focused on.

 

As a kid, it was fairly easy for me to picture myself or someone I loved in place of whoever was being hurt or scared in any given movie. Animal attacks are particularly scary because you’re not facing something you can possibly persuade. All you have left is your speed (assuming you can move at all) and your wits (assuming you wouldn’t go stupid with panic and adrenaline).

 

KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!

 

3) A Wild Beast Appears! (Beauty and the Beast)

How many animal attacks make up this list now?

I’m not trying to go for a theme here. Honestly, there is just something viscerally upsetting about seeing terrified, defenseless people (particularly old folks, women, and children) being helpless in life-or-death situations.

 

In his first major appearance in the story, the Beast is a large, jagged black shape with white slits for eyes, towering over Maurice, who can only cower and beg for mercy. He stalks forward, enormous claws and fangs bared. He is unrelenting, unmerciful, and just plain scary-looking, all while the scary music swells and the audio engineers overlay his vocal track with loud, deep bestial snarls and roars. Every bit of him appears to be a monster; though unlike the monsters Maurice just escaped outside, this one could potentially be reasoned with. The Beast just refuses to hear him out.

 

Once again, the fear comes from imagining yourself or a loved one in place of Maurice. What would you do? Despite the Beast being a hand-drawn creation, you can watch him and feel the threat that he possesses. Everything about the scene screams “RUN AWAY NOW!” Lumiere and Cogsworth just cower and stand there, barely making an attempt to calm the Beast in his territorial fury. How comforting is that? One guy invited Maurice to come in and make himself at home, but then fails to defend him, and the other guy just constantly tries to cover his own ass at your expense.

Even later, when the Beast saves Belle from the wolves, he looks as monstrous and feral as the very things he’s fighting. This is another reason that I look down on the remake; their Beast is not even remotely scary or threatening, which removes his bite, so to speak. Nevermind that the CG effects are fake-looking as hell, which also distracts from the believability, but it then removes the sense of real change when the Beast finally starts coming around to Belle and acting more human. He wasn’t just a grump hermit in a fur suit; he was regressing in despair, to the point of mentally becoming an animal.

But I digress.

 

2) Any Hag Scene (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

Particularly the one in which she is “born.”

Queen Grimhilde’s regular character design is unsettling, what with her frozen face yet sporadically widening eyes. But once she transforms into the Hag, using a potion literally made out of the stuff of nightmares, the woman becomes completely terrifying.

It is said that the actress removed her false teeth to achieve her older voice, and the Hag’s cottony cackles couple well with her poorly-aged, clearly-evil, “oh-my-God-only-an-idiot-wouldn’t-realize-this” disguise. She talks out loud to herself constantly, plotting needless cruel tortures for Snow White, and she often looks directly into the camera, as if she knows you’re there and will probably be coming after you next.

Aside from her physical repulsiveness, I think some of the fear also comes from the Queen essentially hating this little girl for an unbelievably petty reason, and being willing to kill her so sadistically. “Kill Snow and bring back her heart in a box.” “Have the dwarves bury her alive because they don’t know she’s just sleeping.” It’s all so simplistic, but brutal. Her insecurity and jealousy makes her into a complete monster, and had she survived, who knows what this depraved madwoman would have done next?

She also has a secret alchemy/black-magicky lab in the castle dungeons, which she can apparently slip in and out of unnoticed. There’s nothing like seeing a clearly dangerous person in power, roaming the streets and doing whatever she wants with no supervision or legal repercussions.

…Whatever happened to the Huntsman, anyway? Is his head on a pike, festively adorning the castle walls? Did he get away scott-free while Queenie was busy with premeditated princess murder? We’ll never know for sure, but she did say, “You know the penalty if you fail,” which I figure involves an execution of some sort…The less I think about this, the better.

 

1) Wolf Attack (Beauty and the Beast)

An old man gets lost in the woods, loses his horse, and then has to run from ravenous wolves.

 

Belle gets attacked by wolves as well, but that scene is actually very different. It comes hot off the heels of another major conflict, the music transitions fluidly, and the background and lighting are consistently…well, for lack of a better word, brighter all around.

 

Blue tends to be a more calming color. Plus, you can see every element clearly.

In Maurice’s scene, by contrast, the score starts out calm, but eerily discordant and all over the place. I couldn’t even find the track on the official soundtrack; it was released on a bonus CD sold separately, that’s how unnerving it is.

It also does what is called “Mickey Mousing”, a term that refers to how the music follows and embellishes the actions happening on screen, rather than just setting a general background tone. For example, at one point a shadowy wolf rushes by, and even if your eyes missed it, the music let you know that something bad had just happened.

 

Eyes and other animated facial features morph quickly from nervous to fearful (I have always found creepy or expressly afraid eyes chilling). Even Phillipe the horse knows that something bad is going to happen, and frustratingly, he realizes as quickly as the audience does. His rider, meanwhile, is stubborn and distracted, ignoring the obvious warning signs.

 

The lighting is predominantly composed of reds and yellows (colors that tend to excite and agitate, according to Psychology), and it’s limited because it comes from the inventor’s lantern. The light is soon put out, however, in an extremely quick and violent way, and then all is left in darkness as Maurice’s one immediate hope of escape, his horse, is driven away in terror.

Much like with The Fox and the Hound’s Bear, there is a lot of motion and violent energy in this scene. A chorus of wolf howls goes up, causing Phillipe to back his cart into a tree. A mass of angry black bats comes flocking out, scaring the horse into nearly running himself off of a cliff. Phillipe rears, knocking Maurice off and leaving him alone in the forest. Just as the old man picks himself up, he gets chased by a group of wolves and falls down a cliff. He then reaches a gate and manages to get inside, but a wolf bites his foot and almost drags his whole leg out into biting range. The pacing of it all rarely gives the audience a break, and depending on your imagination, it can be like experiencing the danger yourself, if secondhand.

 

Belle’s scene is still scary in its own way – it’s still a defenseless person possibly going to be mauled to death – but it’s not filmed the same way and it doesn’t really sneak up on first-time viewers. As soon as she starts riding into the woods, you already have an idea of what she’s going to face. The wolves themselves shown up more on screen, coming from predictable directions, and they are also a lot easier to see in their horrific entirety.

Maurice’s chase scene was shorter, but it was more uncertain and suspenseful.

 

What were your scariest movie moments from childhood? Please share in the comments below. If you’re wondering why something isn’t on this list, I most likely didn’t see it until I was older or it didn’t bother me all that much.

 

*None of the images, soundbites, or clips in this post belong to me.

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It (2017): How to Do a Better Remake

After seeing this movie, I went straight home. My fiancé was gone for the night, so everything was dark and quiet. Playing music from off my phone did nothing to comfort me.
I spent hours watching YouTube videos and laughing at funny Facebook articles, and yet when it was time to sleep – at least 2 hours after I told myself I’d go to bed – I hesitated to turn the lights out. I closed my closet door, staring fixedly at the wood to avoid looking into the inky blackness beyond. I hurriedly jumped into bed, narrowly avoiding – in my mind – a Gage Creed-style tendon-cutting jutting out from beneath the skirt.

Then came the tremors. I noticed as I was lying in bed, muscles tense, I was also shaking slightly. Any moment, eyes closed or open, I expected to get a jump scare. As I tried to force my thoughts aside and focus on something else, I could still hear Pennywise luring Georgie to reach into the storm drain.

That is how effective the It remake was for me, and I’ll tell you why. This movie spent lots of time getting to know its characters, so not only did I actually care when they were being threatened, but I also felt their fear mirrored in my own way after the movie was over.

I’ve always judged horror movies by how long they stick with you after the credits roll; if not one or two particular scenes, then the concepts bundled up in all that frightening imagery. In The Shining, I contemplated the idea of one of my parents, who I trust to love and care for me, turning on me, even attempting to kill me. It didn’t matter that Jack Nicholson was over-the-top in an almost corny way; the notion that an adult, so long thought of as all-knowing good, could prove to not only be fallible, but actively a danger to you, the child, was and is scary in a very personal, yet universal way.

So too is the atmosphere of It, in which the adults are either blind, unreliable, or complacent to what is happening.

The plot is as follows: a bunch of ostracized kids who dub themselves “The Losers Club” discover a creature that preys on their town’s children, incapacitating them using their deepest, darkest fears. It most appears as a man calling himself “Pennywise the Dancing Clown,” but the kids refer to it as “It” in any form it takes. While “It” tries to drive them apart and pick them off one by one, they fight to stay together, led by a boy named Bill, who lost his younger brother Georgie to “It” earlier in the year.

One thing I noticed (and loved) was that every time a TV was playing in the background of a scene, the female show host would say a word or line that instantly made me think “that’s Pennywise.” It adds to the theme of subtle manipulation quite well, and makes said scenes feel a little more tense without feeling like a jump scare is coming right away. If I remember correctly, sometimes nothing more sinister happens at all.

Also, every good Stephen King fan appreciated the turtle references. Maybe Maturin will appear in the next installment?

But despite its effectiveness, the movie is not perfect. It felt like a faithful adaptation in its heart, but some iconic scenes and dialogue scraps from the book were missing.

Pennywise is a bit silly at times, but then again, no more so than Tim Curry was. He’s also a clown, there’s only so serious you can take him to begin with.

The jump scares are often predictable, but they don’t always come with a swelling orchestra sting, which is a nice change. And beyond the “startling” nature of said scares, what comes out of the darkness is certainly creepy, making the effect linger longer than your average “boo!”

Obligatory creepy clown closeup.

There are silly, dated song sequences and montages that don’t really go with the darker parts of the movie, but they do provide a laugh now and then, and they served to remind me of the kids’ humanity as characters. Ben’s love of the band “New Kids on the Block” is goofy, but endearing, as is his crush on Beverly, the token girl of the group.

All of the Losers Club kids feel like they would be “token” characters in any other movie, but they mesh well together and have believable friendship chemistry. They each have at least one quirk to make them stand out, but even if a few come off as one-note, they carry the plot forward well as a group.

Far too many movies these days will make the characters annoying, leading to a sense of detachment, annoyance, and frustration from the audience that is only alleviated by said characters’ inevitable death. There is no sympathy or empathy; just a sense of catharsis coming from the wrong place. The less death is feared, the less genuine horror is achieved.

By contrast, look at a film like Poltergeist (the original, not the POS remake). It takes a longer time getting to the major supernatural shenanigans, but by the time it gets there, it’s all the more meaningful and scary because of who led us there in the first place. In short, classic horror films knew how to answer the question: “Why should I be invested in this?” It was by giving us at least one person to care about.

It is like Poltergeist because while it gives plenty of scares fairly early on, the film still devotes tons of time to bonding scenes, as well as exposition. Chances are good that you will like and relate to at least one of the Losers, and if you like more than one, so much the better. That drives the tension when they are confronted by the psychotic killing clown man.

Also, who else has watched the Nostalgia Critic’s review of the It miniseries? I almost wondered if the writers and/or director might have kept a few of those critiques in mind when making this new movie. No flashbacks? Check. More than one scene of the adults in Derry acting strangely negligent? Check. Better effects? Well, that’s kind of a given. Henry Bowers having a scene that establishes how he became a bully in the first place? Check.

As further proof, the first trailer before the movie was for The Disaster Artist, an upcoming movie about the making of The Room, which also became more well-known after the Nostalgia Critic reviewed it.

Coincidence? Probably…
8/10

*I do not own the clips, images, or audio used in this post.

 

Walter vs. Jimmy: Whose Fall Will Be More Tragic?

The entire premise of Breaking Bad was that life is like chemistry; changes happen all of the time, and sometimes they occur faster than you realize. A seemingly normal, likeable man snaps and becomes a cold, calculating, merciless crime lord, and yet you could also argue that maybe he was never that great of a guy in the first place. It could be that he was just waiting for the last straw to bring his demons out into the open.

It could also be a cautionary tale about society’s lauding of hyper-masculinity (and the derision of anything that differs form it), and how unchecked greed and pride can lead to bad, stupid choices.

Rewind now to the events of Better Call Saul. We saw a fully realized Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (selfish, hollow, but immensely intelligent and crafty), and at the start of this prequel series, we saw Jimmy McGill, the man who will become Saul. Not the greatest guy, certainly, but still a likeable, charismatic, scrappy little defense lawyer trying to do what he thought was right.

Now, we are finally approaching the point of no return, as Jimmy’s disillusionment with his brother and society as a whole builds and he struggles to earn money and hold onto the love of his life, Kim, who is clearly stressed by the trial and Jimmy’s shady behavior. And in this week’s episode, right before the season finale, Jimmy does something that cannot be defended or spun in any sort of positive light: he convinces his former clients, a bunch of little old ladies, to turn against each other to force a settlement of their lawsuit, which gives him a quick and substantial payout.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill; group†- Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Fall” was the most painful episode to watch this season, other than “Chicanery.” Watching a sweet old lady get bullied by her friends as Jimmy played puppet master was, as another review put it, “like watching a puppy get kicked.” There was nothing noble about it whatsoever, and while the episode “Expenses” showed Jimmy at his emotional low point, “Fall” shows him at his moral low point so far. I feel bad for him, but that just makes this character degradation feel all the more tragic and wrong.

I watched the show entirely because of this eventual change, and now part of me is really regretting it. Not enough to quit Saul or denounce it, by any means, but I grew to really like Jimmy, despite his numerous flaws. Objectively, in just about every way, he was a better person than Saul Goodman.

 

Walter White, Jimmy McGill, and their respective criminal personas are intelligent in different ways. It’s clear that the two men could not switch places and succeed at one another’s jobs. They are also both brash and prideful, easily swayed by powerful emotions, and their sense of morality and justice often battle for dominance as they plan the way forward. Saul Goodman is a tamer but also more subtle kind of evil than Heisenberg; the latter breaks the law and hurts people directly and personally, while the former uses the law itself to his advantage. You can more readily guess and grasp at the consequences of Heisenberg’s actions, and yet Saul doubtlessly has his fingers (or ass, if you’d prefer) in way more pies.

Put that way, maybe Saul Goodman is worse than Heisenberg. How many criminals go free because of him? How many injustices are allowed to continue, all so this guy can make money?

For me, I think the tragedy comes from Jimmy’s fate already being known. Walter could have gone anywhere and done anything in Breaking Bad, and while his moral fall was inevitable, we couldn’t know to what extent or where it would ultimately lead him without following the show all the way to the end. We also saw how selfish he could be, and how minor snubs and hurts could lead to ridiculously stupid outbursts from him. Looking back now, I think Walter might actually have a lot in common with Chuck; maybe even more than he does with Jimmy.

 

But the audience of Better Call Saul has (more than likely) seen Breaking Bad, and knows what Saul Goodman is like. They may have liked his sleazy charm and the creative resolutions he had for various problems that popped up during Heisenberg’s reign, but now there is a sweeter, more naive version with a sad family backstory with which we can compare him. We have followed him as a protagonist, not a side character; we’ve seen his personal struggles, and identified with him on some level. His love and loyalty have been severely tested, and while you don’t want him to give up hope, you could conceivably understand why he’s losing the strength to care.

It’s genuinely hard to see Jimmy crossing over to the dark side in strides, and I didn’t realize just how hard it would be until Monday night. I’ve been losing track of things on and off throughout this series, because as I said, the fact that it’s prequel is not all that overt or distracting once you get into it. I knew from the very beginning where Jimmy would end up, both morally and the fate of his general person; I just didn’t know how or why, and I didn’t expect to like him as much as I do.

The tragedy of exploring the past is that you see, by various degrees, how it could have been prevented. By contrast, the tragedy of seeing the future is that you (but more relevantly, the other characters) can’t do anything to prevent it. The sensation fills you with helplessness, because the situation gains more depth, more meaning, in the context of the original story/character. It adds to the weight of the loss of a man who might have been an asset to society, had he not taken this path.

 

Contrast this with someone like Mike, a smart man who had every opportunity to help people as a police officer, but fell pray to a corrupt community and let his morals be corroded by greed and self-preservation. He toes the line between right and wrong across both series, but with his added backstory in Saul, I have no doubt that, above all else, he does whatever he thinks is necessary to protect himself and his family. He utilizes the training and knowledge from his previous life, but his personal pride generally knows when to take a back seat (unlike Walter’s, for example).

Neither Walter nor Jimmy had enviable lifestyles, but at least in the latter’s case, he had a woman he loved who supported and challenged him, and he could find some degree of passion, even as a low-rate public defender. He had stress and discontent, sure, but he also had a seemingly loving and supportive brother, despite Chuck’s debatable illness. Walter, meanwhile, needlessly drove all of his friends and family away, all because he was disappointed with himself, too proud to seek help, and rendered reckless by the first real excitement he had ever felt in his life.

 

Walter’s situation seems more tragic…but only because of the countless (seen and unseen) victims of Heisenberg. He may never have had the capacity to help people, because deep down, he was proud, bitter, and greedy. Jimmy was no peach back in Season 1, but at least he seemed to genuinely want to help people. And his less legal antics were mostly harmless; they either backfired, netted him some minor success, or they screwed over people like the Kettlemans, who seemed to deserve it.

 

Plus, in the end, Walter admits that he liked being a meth lord and was good at it. Jimmy didn’t want any of the nonsense that tore him and his brother apart.

Losing Kim will probably be the final push for Jimmy, whether it’s by her death or social departure from his life. I can’t say for sure how it will happen, but just the idea of the latter makes me think of A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge lets his fiancé walk out of his life with hardly a protest, and he subconsciously regrets that choice for the rest of his life. That is the impression I get from the brief scenes of future Saul, as he quietly manages some middle-of-nowhere Cinnabon.

I’d rather not have Kim die, but if they don’t do that, I’m sure the writers will make it feel as painful as if she had.

 

I’m eager to see what happens with Mike, Gus, Nacho, and Don Hector – even Howard and Chuck, if only because I want to latter to get knocked down a few pegs further – but now, anything involving Kim or Jimmy just fills me with dread. How crazy will this season finale be?