Tag Archives: Halloween

CftC: Corpse Bride

 

Corpse Bride is not a great movie. It might not even be a good movie, especially when compared with its predecessor, The Nightmare Before Christmas. A lot of it is weak. The plot is contrived, nonsensical, or extremely obvious with its direction and theme; the setting, combined with Tim Burton’s traditional “style” of animation, feels cliché; the music is less catchy and memorable; and the characters are not very compelling, but rather caricatures. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a case of the writers coming up with the title before the concept.

Despite all that, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine that I break out every year around this time.

 

In a small, Victorian town, everything is muted, prim and proper. A family of newly-wealthy fishermen are set to marry their son, Victor, into an “old money” family that is deep in debt. Victor’s bride-to-be, Victoria, seems nice enough, but has been strictly repressed by her disapproving parents, who pop in and ruin what little bonding time she and Victor do get.

Victor, who is mousy, passive, and wide-eyed, gives every indication that he doesn’t want to be married. His nerves lead to disaster at the wedding rehearsal, and he leaves in disgrace, wandering into the woods to practice his vows and gestures. Just as it seems that he is accepting his fate and ready to step it up, he recites his vow in its entirety and slips his ring onto a “tree branch,” which actually turns out to be the skeletal hand of Emily, the Corpse Bride. She rises from the dead and drags an unwilling Victor to the Underworld with her, claiming that they are now married.

 

As you might have guessed, the afterlife is an absolute contrast to the Victorian world above. It is a colorful, fun place full of rowdy skeletons and blue zombies. It seems that death puts an end to caring about propriety and appearances, because everyone lets loose and does whatever they want, with the exception of going upstairs and tormenting the living. I’m not sure why, though. Who makes up these rules of theirs? God? What’s the price for transgression, and why are they then allowed to go “upstairs” later in the film?

The Bride, whose name is actually Emily, was murdered when she tried to elope with a handsome stranger, so she vowed to wait for someone to “ask for her hand” and “wait for her true love to come set her free”.

 

Meanwhile, up in the land of the living, Victoria tries to get help and rescue Victor, only to be re-engaged to a man named Lord Barkis, who just strolled into town claiming that he was distant family, visiting for the wedding. Coincidence?

So yes, you can see the “twists” coming from a mile away. Some questions of note, however, are: How did Emily come up with that contrived, unlikely plan of hers? How does she qualify true love, seeing as any Joe Schmoe could just waltz up and wake her up? Why does she seems surprised that the guy who was fleeing in terror from her might not want to be married to her, and furthermore, why take that so personally? You’re a corpse, lady! Your personality is not what he’s afraid of!

On a sillier note, what determines how the dead look when they arrive? Do the blue zombie people decompose into skeletons over time, or did the skeleton inhabitants all have their flesh flayed off of them before they died? Emily has skeletal bits in her design, so what horrible things does that imply about how and when she died?

 

There is so much more about this setup that doesn’t make sense, however. There is an annoying third-act misunderstanding, in which Victor stupidly thinks that Victoria is willingly marrying someone else…despite him barely explaining the circumstances of his disappearance to her. And the fact that he knows what both of their parents are like; domineering and greedy.

But this leads him to agree to “officially” marry Emily, which involves committing suicide so that they can be together in death. You see, although he was dragged into the Underworld, he is still technically alive, and most wedding vows assert that death is the only thing that will break the union.

So Victor and Emily were never married in the first place, because he was alive and she was dead. Her plan could have never worked in the long run. Does that mean she would have to go back into the ground under that old oak tree, waiting for take #2?

 

And Victor…well, to put it mildly, when faced with the idea that the girl he’s known for barely a day might have moved on, he concludes that there is nothing more he wants or needs out of life. He might as well just kill himself and tie himself to another girl he has known for barely a day, who he has repeatedly avoided being straightforward and honest with.

Truly, this is a love story for the ages.

As for the side characters, it’s hard to really remember their names. There’s a maggot doing a Peter Lorre impression; that reference is too old for people my age to get, but you probably remember seeing him parodied in Bugs Bunny shorts like Hair-Raising Hare. Victor’s parents are cockney, while Victoria’s are classically snooty. Everyone is pretty much distilled down to one or two character traits, usually designated by their visual design.

 

The corpses are not terribly graphic or hard to look at. Danny Elfman plays a skeleton (not Jack!) with one remaining eyeball. He gets the best song in the movie, and then later makes a sex joke and creepily chases a woman…so there’s that.

But all of that said, I still enjoy the movie. It’s clumsy and silly with virtually nothing new or interesting to say, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining.

 

I wish Emily was a bit smarter, less love-struck, and had more screen time, because she’s the only character who really stands out from everyone else. Unlike the rest of the dead, she seems like she would have been the same in life as she is in death; naïve, but passionate and free-spirited. If Victor had spent more time with her, I could see him falling in love with her genuinely, as almost an equal. Victoria, on the other hand, is basically a female clone of Victor with slightly less personality, and I could only see him bonding with her over their mutual misery, bemoaning their sad lot in life as breed-mule pawns in their families’ games.

So no, it’s not a great or intelligent film, but it captures the spirit and charm of Halloween pretty well without bludgeoning you with so much holiday marketing. It’s a brainless affair that sadly squanders what potential it had with a short run time; contrivances; and some unexplained rules and plot points.

 

*4/10

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

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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 Before Christmas

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a definite fan-favorite in the Tim Burton crowd, as it is arguably what put him on the map in the first place. In this film, there is a special town devoted to each major holiday, and Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, starts to feel bored and existential after one of his celebrations. Doing the same thing year after year no longer fulfills him, and he longs for some new ideas to reinvigorate his holiday spirit.

On a fluke, he comes across the various doorways to the different holiday towns and ends up in Christmas Town. From then on, Jack tries explaining Christmas to his monstrous minions, fails, does some soul-searching, and ultimately decides that he can do Christmas way better than Santa, so he will. He understands the holiday very little in practice or principle, but he enjoys how it makes him feel, so that’s enough for him.

 

It’s basically Cultural Appropriation: The Movie, at least in the overtly negative connotation that term has taken on in recent years. Jack and his people take something of someone else’s, try to make it their own, and don’t even care when the people they affect are clearly upset and unhappy with the situation. As the monsters gather around the town fountain to watch Jack’s journey, they howl with laughter as a news reporter says Jack is “mocking and mangling this joyous holiday.” It also takes Jack forever to figure out that the obviously untrustworthy cohorts of the Boogie Man might be threatening Santa, and only really because he himself screwed things up so fantastically that the only person who could fix his mess is the guy who’s been pulling it off seamlessly for years.

You could also read The Nightmare Before Christmas as nice little jab at certain types of people; either those cotton-headed ninny-muggins who jump on the Christmas bandwagon with no idea what it’s really about, or those humbugs who demand that everyone should celebrate their way. How the denizens of Halloween Town choose to celebrate is fine in the end; after all, to each their own. But forcing it onto other people was a problem, especially given how clueless they were about it.

There is no Jesus or mention of Jesus, and the film focuses more on the giving of presents than the aspect of family togetherness that I personally think Christmas is all about, but hey, it’s a movie made for kids. Nothing is perfect.

 

The score is great and the songs are catchy; even awful ones like “Kidnap the Sandy Claws.” The puppets are creepy but unique and engaging at the same time. The settings are well put together and the use of light and color, particularly during Oogie Boogie’s song, is great. Halloween Town’s grim and grey daytime look lends well to the idea that Jack Skellington feels bored and limited by his surroundings.

 

I only really have three problems with the story. One, why does Jack trust Lock, Shock, and Barrel with such an important task when he hates their boss and clearly knows that they’re bad news? Is he optimistic, or just a well-meaning idiot?

Two: Where do Sally’s premonition powers come from? The visual of a Christmas tree going up in flames is cool and all, but it’s so brief and never gets explained or used ever again. Sally is a perfectly calm, articulate ragdoll-meets-Frankenstein’s-monster creation; couldn’t she have just “gotten a bad feeling about this” like a normal person?

 

And Three: I can buy Sally being obsessed with Jack, given how she constantly stalks him throughout the movie, but I don’t really believe Jack’s interest in her, and I don’t agree that it’s love on other side. Sure, she was the one person who argued with him, and thus could tell him “I told you so,” but otherwise, Jack barely notices Sally. And when he does, he brushes her off until he has to save her. That doesn’t strike me as love, but the end of the film certainly wants you to think so.

 

I don’t know enough about Sally as a character to conclude one way or the other, but at the beginning, her creator says “You’re not ready for so much excitement,” which leads me to believe that she’s a fairly new addition to Halloween Town. Have she and Jack even known each other that long, if this is her first Halloween?

It also smells like some Hallmark marketing exercise. “Do you like Halloween? Do you like Christmas? Well, why not have both at the same time?” It’s guaranteed to be viewed twice a year, if not more, thanks to the incorporation of two major holidays. Plus, it’ll keep Hot Topic in business for an extra decade.

Please don’t mistake me. I don’t have a serious beef with this film. From a romance and plot standpoint, I just personally like Corpse Bride a little bit better. I also think of it more as a Christmas movie than a Halloween movie, as the focus of the whole thing is taking over and preparing for Christmas.

It’s still a fun one to watch every year. Twice, if you feel so inclined. 

 

*6/10

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

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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CftC: Frankenweenie, Axed by its Own Ending

october

 

Overall, I wouldn’t call myself a Tim Burton fan. He’s certainly creative when he wants to be, but his style is so obvious and done-to-death these days that you could scratch his name off of half of his projects and no one would have to wonder for even a minute who had creative control in them. I also have a starting bias against adaptations of previously existing films and musicals (unless a significant chunk of time has passed), and I come from the school of thought that says there should be some balance between the original creator’s intent and the adaptor’s interpretation of it.

Unfortunately, Burton struggles frequently with both.

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I like him best when he’s being somewhat original. When he feels the need to goth up an already-existing story, it often comes across as silly at best and eye-rollingly frustrating and insulting at worst.

So today, let’s look at a film of his that is simultaneously original and not at all, depending on how you look at it.

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Frankenweenie (not to be confused with his short film of the same name) is Frankenstein meets Pet Sematary for tots, but it’s all grim greyness on the surface and no real substantive horror underneath.

You might say, “Of course. It’s a kids’ movie.” And rather than rant incessantly for an hour and a half, I must ask, “Do you mean that it’s meant to be upbeat, simplistic, or that it should teach ‘morals’?”

In the former’s case….come on. It’s a black and white Tim Burton movie about a pet dying. That’s never going to be upbeat. And simplistic? Death? Yeah, right!

(And spoilers here: I’m going to skip straight to the ending. It follows the basic plot of Frankenstein, just with a dog.) If the whole point is teaching kids that death isn’t so bad, and that they should let go of their pets, then why does Sparky (Frankenweenie) come back alive at the end?

The whole point of the original book was “don’t play God.” In this version, a kid plays God, is rewarded for it (unlike in Pet Sematary), terrifies the town with his zombie pup until they bring about it second death, and then, despite an “it’s really dead for good this time” fake-out, it gets brought back yet again. Now, Victor Frankenstein and all of the other kids who want their pets brought back are validated, and they don’t ever have to come to terms with death, if they choose not to.

What sense does that make?  Any message that the film was trying to teach is instantly shot in the foot, all for the sake of some studio-mandated “happy ending”.

Compare this to Pet Sematary. If we look past the more horrific elements, we have a young child who, with the help of her father, comes to understand that the people and animals she cares about will all eventually die.

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Grieving is natural, but with a combination of time, distance, and good memories to cherish, wounds can heal (or at least become more bearable). Life will go on, and our time on this earth is all the more precious and meaningful because it will one day end.

In essence, life is growth. Life is change. Death is the cessation of both.

Now, taking into account the more horrific elements, both the film and the book provide us examples of “natural” death. The peace and dignity of death is then perverted because of the characters’ inability to let go – first, and more generally, by stagnation, and then by Louis Creed’s actions – resulting in both their literal and symbolic deaths.

Imagine that; a more “mature” movie has a more mature and healthy outlook on death.

The rest of Frankenweenie is the standard Tim Burton fare. The characters look and move like living corpses; their eyes practically bulge out of the sockets like a sad puppy in the process of being crushed.

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If that style appeals to you, that’s fine. For me personally, I liked it and it made more sense to me in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, the latter even more so due to its social commentary.

The black and white color is a nice touch, though. It certainly feels like it’s paying homage properly. It even has Christopher Lee making a cameo as the voice of Dracula in a movie playing in the background of one of the scenes.

The characters are all decent for what they are, and I must admit, I love all of the references in their names. Fans of Beetlejuice will probably recognize Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder among the voice cast, although they are not playing stepmother and stepdaughter this time.

I’ll leave you guessing about who wrote the score.

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It’s a cute film overall, if pretty derivative. Unfortunately, there is a glaring issue with the execution, and all it took to unsettle me was a few minutes at the end of the movie. Whether Burton genuinely wanted that ending or was forced to change it, it takes a solid, meaningful scene – and indeed the entire point of stories like this – and cheapens it without any indication of intentional subversion. It might quiet your kids down after initially seeing Sparky die, sure, but it could also raise more questions than it answers.

But then again, your kids probably shouldn’t be learning about death only from T.V. and movies anyway.

 

4/10

*None of the pictures (except for the bumper card at the beginning) used in this article belong to me.

 

CftC: George Orwell’s 1984

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”

october

 

My near-favorite holiday season has come again. Now begins the epic prelude of movies, T.V. specials, haunted houses, corn mazes, and anything else that I can think up that won’t cost me an arm and a leg. You never know who might be using those for a Frankenstein’s monster these days.

Halloween is pretty unique on the modern calendar. It is inclusive to both the young and the young at heart, much like the winter holidays, but it has a dual, seemingly-conflicting nature. On the one hand, you have the kitschy, goofy, Addams Family/Munsters side of Halloween, sometimes too innocent for even Walt Disney’s unique brand of child-friendly darkness. Costumes can be literally anything, and make you feel like anything, which holds a ton of appeal for even the jumpiest boys and girls. On the other hand, you have the honest-to-goodness horror-loving side, positively dripping with fake blood from the blade of a rusty ax. Here come the folks (mostly adults) looking for real thrills; a heightened sense of danger and adrenaline, lasting mental scars and terrifying questions, but no physical harm done.

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I am one of the few, the proud, the unflinching, who enjoys both sides of the coin for exactly what they are. Much like chocolate and sushi, I don’t try to put them together, but rather, I devote time to each individually; a sort of ritual, you could say, that honors my past, present, and future Halloweens. I celebrate horror in its many forms, from the abstract, image-based creepiness of childhood days, to the chilling concepts and explorations of adult human depravity. I also like to look at the overlap; things like fear of the dark and the unknown that never truly leave our subconscious.

In that spirit, I want to talk about something else today. Something that is (technically) not Halloween related.

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1984 is a book that many people remember more in fragments than its entirety. It is one of those reading requirements in public schools, often assigned too early to be interesting or meaningful, and inspiring shuddering trepidation from those who recall the title. Personally, I enjoyed it more than other assigned books, but to be fair, enthusiasm for reading as a whole was rare among my classmates. And even then, my opinion of 1984 at the time (about grade 5 or 6) was that it was very on-the-nose, occasionally dragging, and the stereotypically dry British sense of humor often sailed right over my head.

Despite that, its legacy has lived on. The mere gist of it has inspired countless totalitarian, dystopian dramas, the most popular and recent of which are probably The Hunger Games and Divergent series. A new indie video game from Montreal called We Happy Few takes a similar setting and initial plot, but with the public’s complacency being drug-assisted. They are also encouraged to take part in the beating and apprehending of criminals in their midst, with the pill causing hallucinations, lowered inhibitions, and general critical and moral thinking.

 

My first impression was that the masks reminded me of The Purge, but there are more interesting twists involved, and the game has a distinctly Bioshock feel to it, which is usually a plus. It’s not a point-for-point retelling of George Orwell’s classic tale, but it clearly draws a ton of influence from it.

Terrifyingly, a few countries in our modern day can be likened to 1984. Leaders like King Jong-un and his predecessor abuse the system, walling their people off from the rest of the world and then punishing any opposition, peaceful or otherwise, against them.

Even in the United States, you can find  1984  brought up occasionally in conversations about government surveillance. How much freedom and privacy are citizens willing to forfeit for real, or even just perceived, protection?

 

“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

 

As I said, 1984 is not “laugh-out-loud” funny. It’s very dry and bleak and existential. Contrary to popular belief, satire does not have to be funny to be effective. Satire uses the tools of comedy (caricature, irony, ridicule, etc.) to make a point, most often about negative trends in human society as a whole. What seems needlessly over-the-top and even unbelievable at the time of writing can eerily reflect our world as the years pass. That which we thought would never happen, could never happen, somehow snuck up on us, and it always feels like it happened faster than it really does.

1984 is not what I would call “pee-your-pants” scary either, but it’s the kind of horror that we like to pretend can’t actually happen. Unlike, say, ghosts and demon possessions, I guess?

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The story can seem cartoonish (and it is), but it’s outstandingly poignant. To the main character, Winston, nothing is certain, not even the eponymous year.  He can’t be sure of his own memories because history is both constantly changing and how things have always been. Winston is monitored everywhere he goes, both audibly and visually, and despite his discontent and his desire for a simpler life, he lives in constant fear of being exposed, of even thinking in a way that contradicts the Party’s authority. People who do that often disappear; if not betrayed by their own actions, then by hidden spies among their friends, family, and neighbors.

Buildings are dilapidated and neglected, some from a war long past and barely remembered. Language is simplified so that it can discourage free thinkers, let alone the forthright dissenters. Children are indoctrinated like the Hitler Youths of old, allowed to run wild and dole out their own “justice” because their parents are afraid that they’ll report them. No one has agency unless the Party wills it, and even then, it’s to suit their own ends more than anyone else’s.

There is more subtle, manipulative fear-mongering at work, but I won’t spoil the ending for people who haven’t read the book or seen a film adaptation. I will say that, as the reader follows Winston, they too will not be sure how deep the rabbit hole of control and corruption goes.

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Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

 

When you really think about it, how well did George Orwell represent the past? How much of the future did he predict? As a young adult, I can only so accurately discuss the former; for as much as I try to understand them now, I did not personally experience World War II, or the Cold War. But regarding the latter, look at the scale of political polarization today; how biased leaders and media sources feed the emotions and egos of the people. Look at Edward Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking classified government surveillance documents in the interest of transparency with the public. Look at the TSA and the effect that they’ve had since September 11th, and how that date in particular has fed the fear and hatred of millions.

The list of comparisons goes on and on, and while some subjects may be interpreted or inferred, others are directly applicable. And that’s not just depressing; it has the potential to become “pee-your-pants” scary.

When tragedies pass and the pain dulls, how much have we honestly learned? Are we doomed to repeat mistakes, or in trying so hard to avoid those, we make even worse ones? Is it alright to lean towards one extreme, knowing that in time, the pendulum might just swing back the other way?

 

“The best books…are those that tell you what you already know.”

 

Whatever your personal beliefs are, 1984 should frighten you because it represents the danger of any one group holding too much power, and not enough checks and balances. It represents the desensitization to violence and inhumane treatment; in the first few chapters, the citizens of Oceania clapped and cheered, watching films of enemy refugees mercilessly blown to smithereens.

It represents a caution against idolizing homogeneity and uniformity, because diversity and healthy conflict help us grow, thrive, and meet the future head-on. Instead, altruism is stripped away, and the Outer Party members of Oceania isolate and turn on each other. The Proles, though numerous and freer than most, are poor, uninformed, and scorned by the upper classes. They are kept fat, dumb, happy, and most importantly, useful, by the mindless entertainment manufactured by Party machines, and occasionally, the Thought Police infiltrate their numbers to weed out any individuals that they deem troublemakers.

The overwhelming sentiment for everyone is: don’t fear or mistrust the Party, even though they breed fear and mistrust themselves. Don’t concern yourself with anything that we haven’t told you to.

 

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

 

And the worst part is that it may be too late to change anything. Winston is alone and constantly in danger, but what did the previous generation do? Was instant gratification or the path of least resistance more important than guarding their rights?

I shudder to think, but can things get worse, even in a place that is already so awful?

Probably.

Dr. Seuss’s the Onceler once said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.” One thing that scares me is the idea that so many people don’t care, or don’t think, and they like it that way. They dual-wield ignorance as both a shield and a badge of honor, and what they want is more important than even listening to the concerns of others.

Even as a kid, I wondered: how many people were in the Inner Party? How do they come to and agree on  mutually-beneficial propaganda and policies?  Will they eventually turn on each other?

Halloween is at least partially about actual horror, and lasting horror touches on taboos, the fears that make us most ashamed, disgusted, and panicky. Plenty of adults still fear the dark and its unknown enemies because things can still emerge from it; home invaders, just to name one. And what about spiders, snakes, bats, and high interest loan payments?

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But the desires of the ego – saving face, feel justified, being in control every minute of every day, no compromises – often divide and corrode us when overindulged. To Winston, the Party came out of nowhere, but only because he was too young to remember, and the evidence of its rise was erased. We are not sure about the past, but in the present, it thrives on unchecked selfishness and nepotism. Power is not a means, but the end itself, and it silences dissent by any means necessary.

You might call that ludicrous and extreme, but there must be a reason why dystopian stories have grown in popularity over the years. By all means, let’s keep them relegated to the stuff of nightmares. You never know when even the tiniest precedents we set might blossom into something more problematic.

Or, in another word, ungood.

 

9/10

*Pictures and other media used in this review do not belong to me.