Tag Archives: Horror

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.

 

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CftC: George Orwell’s 1984

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

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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.

 

Pet Sematary 2: Just….Why?

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I’m on a roll with reviewing things I detest recently, so here’s another one!

Even though I have raved for several pages about Pet Sematary, I really do hope that I’ve communicated that it’s by no means a perfect story. While some issues in the book are due to poor and goofy execution, the film in particular can come across as weak because it doesn’t illustrate or explain enough.

A movie adaptation should be able to stand on its own, and the people who have gripes about Louis’s “stupidity,” or other things like Judd falling asleep when he’s supposed to try and stop Louis from resurrecting his son, aren’t wrong. The book typically implies when the burial ground’s influence is at work, whereas the movie often leaves you guessing at how far it can travel and how potent it can be. Leaving things up to interpretation can create all new scares, but it can also cause distraction, most often in the form of plot holes. 

That said, the sequel is absolute garbage.

An actress dies during a low budget film production, and for some reason, her son and divorced husband move to the town where she died: Ludlow, Maine. The father, Chase, takes over at the town’s vet clinc, and the boy, Jeff, befriends a local kid named Drew, who has an abusive stepfather played by Clancy Brown (who, for shits and giggles, I will now refer to as the Kurgan).

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The Kurgan is an obnoxious, small-town cop who was a boyfriend of Jeff’s mother in high school, and his presence clearly unsettles Chase.

The Kurgan kills Drew’s dog Zowie one night for messing with his rabbit pen (even though he electrified the cage and it worked just fine in discouraging the dog), so Drew employs Jeff to help him take the dog beyond the pet sematary, where it will be resurrected. On Halloween night, the Kurgan begins beating Drew for sneaking out, only to be killed by the new and “improved” Zowie. The kids take him to the Micmac burial ground and he comes back as stiff, weird, and rapey, but nicer to Drew for some reason.

Goofy, stupid things happen. Jeff goes insane for no reason and employs the Kurgan to help him resurrect his mother, who apparently has not decayed in all this time. Zowie attacks random people and things, as well as popping up in Jeff and Chase’s home somehow to growl menacingly with glowing eyes. A bully constantly berates and annoys Jeff, seemingly because he’s offended by him having a dead mother. The Kurgan kills the bully and is seen by Drew doing it, so he suddenly goes kill-crazy and uses his car to run Drew and his mother dead-on into a potato truck.

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That’s a weird way to go in a horror movie.

It’s silly, gory, and not the least bit scary; a B movie in every sense. I almost really enjoyed it for that, but it felt the need to keep reminding me that Pet Sematary exists, with tons of pointless, stupid throwaway lines and visual callbacks that didn’t even look the same as the first movie. Even if I weren’t irritated on behalf of Stephen King and his original work, it’s not a good idea to remind me constantly in your crappy film that I could be watching a better film.

And hey, if this is a sequel, is Rachel still “alive” and wandering around killing people? They hint that some time has passed, since Ellie is now apparently institutionalized, but they didn’t even have the gall to continue the story from Pet Sematary’s ambiguous ending. That probably would have still insulted and detracted from the first film, sure, but at least it would have been interesting and made some kind of sense as a sequel.

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It’s not like Taken 2 or The Hangover: Part 2 or their sequels, which might have benefited from a character shuffle at some point.

Instead, they just name drop copyrighted things for their stupid little zombie story. Why not just make it a generic zombie story then? Their burial ground isn’t even consistent; it initially changes what the Kurgan comes back as, leading the kids to wonder if the burial ground differs depending on what someone was like prior to death, only to throw that out the window shortly afterwards!

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Again, if they took the name Pet Sematary off this movie, it would have been more interesting, if not more fun. Cribbing off of a serious and thought-provoking horror story just for a cheap and frankly bizarre cash-in (I don’t think this movie was ever super big or popular) is just shameful, and especially when it comes from the same goddamn director of the original film.

The line “sometimes, dead is better” comes up, of course, and of course it’s twisted and stripped of its original meaning. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the filmmakers were playing it for laughs. At least when the makers of South Park did it, it was clear that they knew the source material and were trying to make a funny point. Maybe if you don’t want someone to do something unholy, you shouldn’t tell them about it and give them directions on how to get there.

Shame on you, Mary Lambert. Shame on whoever greenlit this majestic flaming turd. Pet Sematary the novel showed me that books can be just as terrifying as movies, and the film adaptation, while inferior, had its own chilling charm. 

This, on the other hand, is just crap. Unlike its predecessor, it in no way deserves to carry the name.

 

4/10

*Pictures belong to whoever. This movie isn’t worth crediting, but you know the drill. Not mine.

 

The Babadook: The Best Horror Film This Year

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Yep, I’m calling it. It’s going to be the best horror film this year.

I absolutely refuse to give direct spoilers for why, but here’s what I can tell you:

  • Few loud noise/jump scares
  • Minimal gore (which, contrary to some belief, is not scary by itself)
  • Interesting, compelling, but unlikable characters

For this one, I will clarify. Horror movies these days rely too heavily on tropes all across the board, but one of the most annoying of which is the douchebag character. He/she exists for the sole purpose of being brutally murdered later, and the problem with that is that because he/she is such a reprehensible piece of human trash, you don’t care. Fear for any character is based on your level of investment, so if you hate him and don’t care what happens to him, the death is more satisfying and cathartic rather than suspenseful or truly horrific. And sometimes, such as in the movie Cabin Fever, pretty much every character is a douchebag.

  • Fitting music/cinematography
  • Like older horror movies, there is much more build-up and suspense
  • As a psychological thriller, the story can be up to interpretation

The Babadook more than makes up for its admittedly silly name by giving us a very creepy story. To talk too much more about the film would be doing a huge disservice to those who haven’t seen it, but I will say that it follows a mother and her son in their quest to face their own demons, who are tormented by a strange boogeyman-ish monster in the process. And, as corny as this may sound, the plot explores what it means to love and be a family.

Seriously, if you like horror, go see it. It blows Poltergeist (2015) way out of the water, and it’ll do the same for every other formulaic scary movie that comes out this year. Maybe even next year, too.

Thank God for those who are willing to make changes and take risks in this industry.

10/10 (Wow. I do believe this may be a first for me 😀 )

I can’t give an honest complaint about it; everything is exactly as it’s meant to be, how it needs to be.

*The picture above belongs to Jennifer Kent and the makers of The Babadook. It does not belong to me in any way.

Poltergeist 2015, and the Remake Train Just Keeps on Rolling

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Warning: Spoilers Below

Sometimes I like to review something right after I see it, and other times, I need to sit and stew for a while to really articulate how a film either pleasantly surprised or enraged me. I decided to try the latter this time to see if I still loathed this movie as much as when I left the theatre.

A week or so later:

…Yep, I still hate it. And after what I’ve seen, I’m honestly surprised by how much I hate this movie.

 

There’s no rule in the book that remakes have to be utter garbage. I liked Cinderella 2015, which was enough of its own thing while still drawing ideas and making references to both the original fairytale and the 1950’s animated classic. It probably still didn’t “need to exist”, but for what it was, it was surprisingly good.

But so frequently these days, the words “remake”, “reboot”, and even “sequel” are practically synonymous with “cheap”, “gimmick”, and “pointless” in the collective public consciousness, and that is far from undeserved.

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If Hollywood is looking to remake or reboot a movie, series, or what-have-you, here would be my personal guide and criteria for the necessity of it:

  1. Is/Was it popular?
  2. Is there anything you feel you can add to it creatively, for old and new audiences?

(Note: If you answered “yes” to number 1 but not to number 2, “do not remake” is the default answer. Just making money is not a good enough reason if you want to even pretend to be a serious and respectable artist or entertainer.)

3.  Did it flop the first time (and therefore have a lot of potential once fixed)?

If you answered “no” to both numbers 2 and 3, then you should just re-release the original in theaters again and you’d probably save and make more money that way.  Seeing movies on the big screen is a totally awesome experience, after all.

If you answered “yes” to either of those two questions, then you can start to think about doing a remake. You still have a long way to go from there.

Clearly, the makers of Poltergeist 2015 answered “yes” to number 1 above and nothing else.

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I’ll get the good stuff out-of-the-way first: Sam Rockwell was decent as the father of the family, although I found him a bit more sour than funny when he was making small talk with the realtor towards the beginning of the film. The scene where he addresses the occult specialist Carrigan, going from angry to dressed down but still a bit stubborn to broken down and desperate for his daughter’s return, was very well done, and most of the rest of the time, Rockwell has a lot of charisma. He even has decent chemistry with his wife, played by Rosemarie DeWitt.

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The son played by Kyle Catlett, while extremely annoying because of his constant scaredy-cat nature, had a well established character that built up from the beginning and payed off with his “manning up” in the end.

I do find it a questionable choice, however, that the boy who was terrified of his own shadow for most of the movie ended up being completely in the right. They imply that it was his mother’s fear after losing him in a crowded place that rubbed off on him, but still; the message is very confused.

The rest of the film was boring, predictable, and at worst, enraging.

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Every scare is a jumpscare, accompanied by the same loud music you get in every modern horror film. You can see exactly when they are coming, and it is extremely irritating when they use it more than once or twice. Especially if you mistakenly think back to the original 1982 film and its suspense, build-up, and even some elements of wonder before the s@#% really hit the fan.

The overabundance of technology here is distracting, sometimes hilariously so. I get the sense that the “writers” were trying to make this film unique or make some kind of point with it, but it just serves to date the film before it’s even left theaters. Why or how the family can afford a drone when neither of the parents are working and just bought a house, I’ll never know. Nor will I know how it is high-tech enough to be flown into the Otherworld to find Madison.

Yes, the Otherworld. Call me weird or old-fashioned, but I really liked how the original movie didn’t show us what it was like on the other side. The sequel did, but I prefer to think of Poltergeist as a stand alone, rather than part of a series. The first sequel was okay, but we’re not here to talk about that.

All that the 1982 film showed us of the other side was flashing lights concealing what lay beyond the closet doors, which I am perfectly fine with. It left the place up to your imagination, which made the scene all the more suspenseful, interesting, and powerful, in my opinion. It played off of the fear of what you can’t see, the unknown, which a lot of people can relate to.

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This movie prefers to show us the other side, which is simply a warped version of the house itself. I called it the Otherworld because it looks like something out of the later games in the Silent Hill series; grim, dirty, dark, with flailing, grabby corpses everywhere (I couldn’t get a screenshot of it, so see the above Silent Hill monster and image a room full of those conjoined). I found it more silly than scary, but hey, they tried…I think.

All of the effects, including the directly above mentioned, are such obvious CGI that it’s depressing. None of it looks like it’s really happening, which is a shame because if we did believe it was there, it would look and feel pretty cool. The scene where the boy is grabbed by the tree branch and then dragged through various areas of the house is unintentionally hilarious because of this, and because the director chose to linger on it in the first place. The tree doesn’t try to hurt him or eat him, but rather waves him around in the air for a bit before dropping him when the parents get home. 

The most fear you’ll get out of this movie is probably picturing yourself in one of these situations. It has no other substance whatsoever, not even really from the point of view of fearing for the family.

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Also, I can’t believe they cut out the Beast! He was one of the coolest things in the original; particularly his spectral designs!

The writers apparently didn’t check the definition of poltergeist or even the first movie where Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) says that it’s a specific individual causing the more malevolent disturbances. In this film, all of the ghosts are evil, or at least royally pissed, from start to finish, and there are no distinguished personalities among any of them.

Things that were included just so they could call this film Poltergeist:

  • The Goddamn Clown Doll (There are actually multiple in this film, and they are just as intentionally scary and poorly explained as the doll from the original Poltergeist. Seriously, why did Robbie and Carol Anne have that thing?)

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  • The Old Scary Tree
  • Talking to Ghosties Through the TV (In the original film, that was how they first entered the house fully. In this remake, they seem like they’re already there, which made the whole T.V. scene kind of superfluous)

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  • “They’re here.” (Said almost as though Madison didn’t really care at all)
  • The Closet to Another Dimension (And the kidnapping into said dimension. The ghosts slowly roll her doll into the closet. Madison follows casually, then gets grabbed by ghost hands and dragged further into the closet)

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  • Built on a Former Cemetery
  • Paranormal Team Comes to Investigate (There is one arrogant jerk on board, who is even worse than his original film counterpart)
  • Poltergeist Shenanigans

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  • Gross Out Moment (Sam Rockwell takes a drink and pukes earthworms)
  • Paranormal Team Brings in More Help (In the form of Mr. Irish McGee. At the very least, I’m thankful he wasn’t a hoax or was suspected of being one for very long)

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  • Portal Way-Out on the Living Room Ceiling
  • Family Member Goes into the Closet to Save Girl ( The son does it in this one. He takes responsibility for his sister’s disappearance because he shouldn’t have left her alone pre-kidnapping and goes in after her while the adults argue)
  • Ectoplasmic Goo Upon Exit
  • “This house is clean.” (played almost for laughs throughout the film. Neither film really explains why the medium can’t tell that the house is still dirty until it’s far too later, but whatever)
  • Lol, JK, the House is Not Actually Clean

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  • Escape While the House is Destroyed
  • Moved the Headstones, Not the Bodies (But the new film took all of the twist and poignancy out of that reveal by joking about it in the first half of the movie, only to have the family accept it, unusually calmly, as an explanation later on)

Things that were altered significantly, to the new film’s detriment:

  • The Little Girl’s Acting (She is so flat and unresponsive at times. Unless she’s in a trance, she should emote way more than she does. That’s not so much her fault as the director’s, but still. I hate the stereotype of kids acting needlessly creepy and cryptic in horror movies)

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  • Pacing and Character Development (The ghosts start messing with things in pretty big ways right when the family first moves in. There are no really good, slow, and/or quiet moments, and there is barely any transition from small ghostly activities to major disturbances. The characters’ bonds outside of the family aren’t as well-developed or established, and the talks about what happens when people die are extremely short and almost childishly simple, when they make sense at all. Also, I hated the teenage daughter at first)

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  • The Lull Before the Last Attack (There is virtually no time between the “this house is clean” moment and the “lol, jk, the house is not actually clean!” moment. The original movie gives us about 10 minutes of a semi-false sense of security, but in this one, it literally happens not 2 minutes after retrieving the daughter and not two seconds after her saying, “The ghosts aren’t gone, Mommy. I couldn’t help them go to the light, so they’re still here.”
  • The Tone of the Ending (Not to be confused with the post credits scene. While the first film had a slight joke to it, it was somber. You were happy that they got away in one piece, and maybe have even snorted at the joke, but you just know that the family was still reeling from that traumatic experience. In this movie, the ending is such an obvious, out-of-left-field joke that it sucked away any good will I harbored towards the film within milliseconds. If you cared at all about the story or the characters, then the ending pretty much gave you the finger)

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So to sum up, this film is pretty terrible. It falls back on strategically altered scenes from the classic movie, ultimately dooming it to be forced to compete and compare with said classic. It was neither a loving send up, enough of its own thing, nor anywhere good enough as a horror film in general to merit its existence. At best, if you ignore the original, it’s barely passable. It’s a factory-assembled remake with all the love, respect, and commitment to the source material that implies.

And what offends me even more than that is how pointless it was.

Gil Kenan is certainly no Spielberg or Hooper.

3/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners. None of the images or sounds belong to me.

Top of the Food Chain: Silent Hill vs. Silent Hill 2

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Welcome, friends, to Top of the Food Chain. This is going to be my new series for comparisons, particularly sequels, remakes, retreads, what have you.

The survival horror genre of video games is a relatively new territory for me. I’ve watched a ton of horror movies, specials, and even a few t.v. shows, but with games, I either don’t have much time, much money, or the right platforms to play. Or, you know…general distractions…

That said, I’d heard numerous people talk up the Silent Hill series; even Yahtzee Croshaw, who is infamous for taking the piss out of even his favorite games. Silent Hill 2 is one of his favorite games ever, and the best in a series that has, in his humble opinion, trickled down into mediocrity since its adoption by American developers (see any of his Silent Hill reviews).

But is 2 really better than its predecessor? Which one is truly the scariest?

To answer these, let’s look at the games together and weigh their merits. In this semi-case study, we might also discover what makes horror gaming unique and, in a word, terrifying.

 

Storytelling

I’ll start with Silent Hill. Because, you know, it came first.

*Spoilers below, if you haven’t gleaned that already*

You play as a man named Harry Mason, a writer, widower, and adopted father to Cheryl, a little girl that he and his wife found abandoned as a baby. He gets into a car crash while he and his daughter are on vacation, and wakes up to discover that he’s at a very…unique destination.

Silent Hill, Maine.

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…Yep. If there’s one thing I learned from this man in particular, it’s that you don’t go to Maine. Ever. Things will kill you there.

Harry sees his passenger door sitting wide open, and sets off to find Cheryl in the creepy, foggy, nearly deserted town; sparsely salted with monsters, and generously peppered with bizarre lighting and weather shifts.

Let us disregard that in real life, any person with half a brain would beat a path out of there. Best case scenario, they do so to call for back up.

Also put aside that unless there is a cut scene (i.e. a nicely rendered scene where the player doesn’t have to press any buttons for a bit), Harry says virtually nothing. Not even so much as a “what in holy %$@& is going on here?!,” like a normal human being would conceivably say. He might as well be taking a leisurely jog through Central Park in the summer time.

Harry slowly discovers that there is an evil cult that has been growing in the town for quite a while. Their goal is to birth their deity into the world, and to do that, the cult leader, Dahlia Gillespie, burned her telekinetic and bullied daughter (think Carrie, but less secretive about her powers from the get go) alive in one of the impregnation rituals, and kept her in pain and suffering for many years. Alessa, the daughter, who was understandably resistant and angry, was able to refine her abilities through her pain, and she split her soul in two to escape and halt the birthing process.

Cheryl is the other half of Alessa. Dahlia summoned Cheryl to Silent Hill so that she could complete the ritual, but Alessa wanted to end her pain and finally die. The town became foggy, dark, and dangerous because Alessa’s power wreaked havoc on it, and the monsters within all represent her childhood fears and anxiety.

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Along the way to figuring things out and stopping the god from being born, Harry meets a few people. Dr. Kaufman, Dahlia, and nurse Lisa Garland are all involved with the cult in varying degrees, and Cybil Bennett is a policewoman from a neighboring town, investigating the sudden lack of communication from the Silent Hill police. She gets possessed at one point, and you can either choose to save her or kill her.

There are four possible endings to the story, and certain factors within the game determine which ending you get. The ending that continues the story into Silent Hill 3 (Silent Hill 2 is a story that is unrelated to the first game) has the god defeated, Dahlia and Cybil dead, and Alessa reincarnating herself and Cheryl wholly into a new baby, later named Heather, who Harry flees town with.

Quite a lot there, isn’t it?

Silent Hill 2′s story is a bit simpler. At least, in words.

A man named James Sunderland gets a letter from his previously thought-to-be-dead wife, Mary, asking him to meet her in Silent Hill. Confused but suddenly hopeful, James travels to the town in search of her, coming across monsters and a few other human characters who are either strange, unhelpful, or some combination of the two.

Like Harry, James could leave at any point, but chooses not to. And while seeking out a young, defenseless child might be slightly more justified, James is all the more tragic and compelling for his utter refusal to give up.

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There is no cult or crazy Carrie girl directly referenced in this plot. The monsters are all representations of James’, and occasionally other people’s, psyche; his feelings of guilt, frustration, sadness, and sexual repression while his wife was alive and suffering in the hospital.

Again, there are multiple endings depending on what you do in the town, ranging from ambiguous to silly to depressing.

Believe it or not, both stories (Silent Hill 1 and 2) don’t tell you much outright. You have to figure things out from the clues, the symbolism, and/or (depending on your laziness) the Internet. Newspaper articles, diary entries, and forms are scattered everywhere, if you have the patience to seek them out.

If you don’t have time or patience, and instead enjoy beating bad things with various weapons until they fall down, there’s some of that as well. But both 1 and 2 are extremely plot-driven.

The fact that I am revealing far less about 2 probably tells you right off which game I think is better, but for fairness sake, let’s look at a few more elements of distinction.

 

Gameplay 

It’s utter crap. In both games.

I’m not going to lie. I want desperately to tie a leash to the camera and force it to stay still just so I don’t get disoriented, or miss small, crucial details.

It’s not cinematic in the same way as something like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, but the way the camera angle changes when you, say, run from one side of the street to another, or down an alleyway, remind me shot techniques you’d see in a movie. Nice to watch, but not practical for viewing, especially at important moments.

 

Losing control of where you can look isn’t scary. It’s frustrating.

Trying to memorize and master the controls, on the other hand, do contribute to the tension and scares in some scenes (particularly when you’re caught in a bad situation), but sometimes, they too are more frustrating than horrifying. After all, you should have a fair shake at killing what is trying to kill you.

But at the same time, it can make you feel accomplished and proud to have survived in the end. And really, the people you are playing in each game are average Joes, so I guess the game developers were trying to convey that experience faithfully…by handicapping you.

Even with your flashlight, some areas are still just too dark.

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Ammo and various weapons are scattered throughout the town, but you really have to keep your eyes open for them, or you could walk right by. And trust me, you don’t want to pass up a steel pipe.

In certain fights, you have to switch between guns when you run out of bullets, or settle for the slower, but far less wasteful process of just bashing the monsters’ heads in with melee weapons. Either way, enemies have no life bars. You have to just keep hitting them until they fall down; in most cases, when the static on your radio cuts off completely.

Fighting multiple monsters at a time was as hopeless and frustrating as wading through a river of molasses, so when I could afford to, I just ran away. But sometimes you don’t have that option. And not everyone plays the same way, so…yeah.

You do have some long stretches of no monster encounters in both games, though, which helps build good tension. The town has two main phases in the games: half of the time, the nearly deserted, “foggy” phase,

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and the other half with many monsters, clanging sounds, decay, and steel grating in the “Other World”.

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I can’t rank either game higher than the other in this aspect. At best, gameplay is irksome but fun, and at worst, it makes me want to chuck my controller at the T.V. The aspects I personally liked least were: having James or Harry stay in one place for too long, or having to hunt for more health and ammo when it’s scarce and hard to see, and you’ve pretty much milked every spot in that place you can’t leave until the story progresses.

Let’s give the two a solid tie there.

 

The Monsters

Both games have a nurse monster for the portions where you wander around a creepy, run down hospital, because who doesn’t love hospitals?

But otherwise, the creatures that you come across are as different as night and day.

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Note here that the designs are similar to that of bugs, reptiles, and other animals.

In Silent Hill, the monsters are all based on the abused mind of young Alessa. She was afraid of things like bugs, dogs, and dinosaurs, like any little girl might be. Add in the abuse that she suffered from the other kids and adults in her life, and you could see these things coming to life more dangerously in her twisted imitation. Monsters in a more traditional sense, like the Wolf Man or Dracula.

The Beast for the first half of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the hag from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and most of the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches were frequent personal night terrors for me as a girl, but many people my age said Gmork from The NeverEnding Story was the greatest monster of their childhoods.

Imagery tends to frighten children more, but when they reach adulthood, they tend more to fear concepts and behaviors. But they are not mutually-exclusive at all. The transformation scene in Disney’s Pinocchio was horrifying to watch for many, both for the imagery and the concepts it presented. And how about that lovely scene from All Dogs Go to Heaven, where Charlie dreams of going to Hell?

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In terms of games, how about all of the grown adults peeing their pants over Five Nights at Freddy’s? It isn’t just the jumpscares, people.

But in real life, if you came across a giant bug or dinosaur thing, it’d be scary mostly because it’s immediately threatening, even people who aren’t normally scared of those.

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In the first game, the monsters didn’t horrify me (except for maybe the creepy nurses). I just really feel like I’d only be scared in the most basic sense, if I was actually there. And depending on how invested you are, they won’t horrify you either.

Fitting Alessa, the horror of these monsters is more basic and childish. Dare I even say natural?

Silent Hill 2, on the other hand…

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It takes a natural approach as well; to take an aspect of life that we, particularly those who were raised in heavily Judao-Christian societies, are all uncomfortable with on some level, and twist it into something truly gruesome.

James’s fears are much more adult in nature, and because of the themes of repression and anger, most of the monsters are effeminate and sexual; the former with the exception of Pyramid Head, or the “Red Pyramid Thing” as it is called above.

Pyramid Head is perhaps the most iconic thing about this game, occasionally stalking the protagonist with lumbering steps and a big blade dragging on the floor behind him. But more often than not, he attacks the other monsters, in decidedly more…suggestive ways.

 

Whatever malevolent forces are at work in the town in this game, it’s clear that they want to torment James and drive him utterly insane before they kill him.

The nurses make a return, but they wear distinctly shorter, tighter outfits. The Lying Figure monster limps about in a straight jacket made of its own skin. The Mannequin is literally two sets of female legs sown together hourglass style. The Abstract Daddy looks like two people under a flesh sheet on a flat bed or stretcher.

Adult themes all around, but they don’t feel like a cheap gimmick used just to be scandalous or “edgy”. Even if you don’t know what each of these monsters represent in the minds of the characters, you don’t have to know. Just their appearances and movements make you uncomfortable, and they’re coming right towards you, moaning and groaning, invading your personal space. And even when the creatures are scarce, the very prospect of being isolated with these things in dark, sometimes claustrophobic spaces adds more tension and fear.

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This approach is more psychological, and that atmosphere is all the more brilliant for it. You can easily feel as lonely and anxious as the protagonist would, and see the depths of his denial and delusion projected all around him.

Everyone has a unique fear or set of fears, stemming from childhood and other life experiences. But sex is a universally awkward subject, so point goes to Silent Hill 2.

 

Music and Sound

I’d say the quality is about the same in both games, for the most part. It’s quiet and haunting when it needs to be, followed by clangs and other hectic effects when there is action. While not musical, the use of the radio static to signify an approaching monster is both useful and creepy, if not groan-inducing after the umpteenth time.

The first game’s opening music, “Silent Hill,” is incredibly memorable with its initial twangy mandolin melody, and “Carousel Battle” sets a good mood for potentially disturbing fratricide, Silent Hill 2‘s perhaps most famous song, “Promise,” is both pretty and unsettling, with and without context.

The voice acting in both games is, quite frankly, terrible. The sound effects are the same quality, and do what they have to in order to get across this creepy world you have to transition through. So I’m calling it another tie for the sound aspect overall.

I can’t pick which soundtrack I like better, and while they’re both good, I wouldn’t list them as the biggest reason to play either game.

 

In Conclusion

Silent Hill is a good series of games (from the 3 I have played so far). Both in this specific comparison have frustrating controls and prima dona movie cameras at times, which can unfairly boost the difficulty and frustrate gamers, but the story and atmosphere are where the games really shine.

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I didn’t mention graphics above just because they were good for their time (very good, in fact), but aside from the gorgeous cutscenes in Silent Hill 2, they are very outdated and kind of ugly by standards now.

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Overall, Silent Hill 2 is the superior game, and an 8/10. It has a better twist, better “character development”, greater room for interpretation, and the monsters are more memorable and likely to frighten, regardless of age. It truly is a classic game, despite some slow moments; smaller than its predecessor, and yet larger, more isolating, horrifying, and mysterious without the hokey, bulky cult backstory and characters weighing it down.

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When you get right down to it, games have the potential to be more horrifying because it’s an interactive medium. It puts a real-life person in the place of the character, as their brain, and the trick is to convince said real person that they are really there, and that they can be hurt. And unlike movies, you have some agency; the ability to make decisions and change aspects of the story (those that you are granted).

If a game truly manages to pull you in, you will be afraid. You will feel the consequences, even just temporarily, and your heart will pound a hole in your chest.

But horror movies and horror games both have the same pitfall: no investment, and automatically, the audience isn’t scared. If films can put us in the moment without us having any control at all, what’s you’re excuse? You had one job, developers, and you failed.

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It’s not really about finding each person’s unique fear and exploiting it, hoping every gamer who comes to play ends up crying for mommy. Like all good storytelling, it’s about conveying a genuine human experience and, in this case, showing us how horrifying it can be. Fear can be everything, from the general, great unknown that we will never truly explain, to the knowledge that we aren’t all that different from the “monsters” that we condemn, lock up, vilify, kill.

And in video games, basic, deep-seated fear is easily accomplished by just giving us a gun. The gift of an illusion; making us think we’re so capable – that we could protect ourselves, our homes, and our loved ones – before showing us just how screwed we still really are.

You’ve got to be creative, especially without the Oculus Rift.

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners. None of the images or sounds belong to me.