Tag Archives: Horror

The Wicker Man: The Good and the Bad

Happy belated May Day, everyone!

The twist to The Wicker Man (1973) is not all that surprising. It’s essentially given away in the name, and you can take your best guess at who its intended victim is.  But where The Wicker Man shines is also where it is most problematic: its demonizing fear of Paganism.

The basic plot is this: upon receiving an anonymous letter about a missing child, Sergeant Neal Howie ventures to Summerisle to investigate. All that he knows about the remote island initially is that it is famous for growing delicious apples, but upon arriving, the pious policeman finds an isolated community deeply entrenched in Pagan practices, and surprisingly short on apples for the coming year. The people behave strangely when questioned, offering various unhelpful answers about the child’s whereabouts, almost as if they are trolling him. Some even say that she is dead. But Howie is particularly disturbed by the traditions he witnesses, some of which are related to the upcoming May Day celebration.

Everyone in the tavern sings bawdily about having sex with the landlord’s daughter, and it is presented as a rite of passage into manhood. Children talk about the phallic significance of maypoles in school, and dance naked and jump over fires to increase fertility. People have sex in open fields and breastfeed their babies in the cemetery. Frogs are even stuck in your mouth to cure a sore throat. Everything seems to be very old and based on old-world beliefs and superstitions.

 

The cinematography shoots everything from the perspective of an outsider, with many shots cutting back to Howie’s stern, unamused, or horrified face. The camera lingers on the taboo and strange to emphasize how alien and uncivilized it is, and yes, even for a bit of scandalous titillation. Despite his revulsion, Howie is somewhat tempted by the shameless, uncomplicated society that Summerisle has cultivated. If most horror movies represent a cultural anxiety of the times in which they are made, this complexity in the main character may represent the mutual disdain and desire to return to a life of ignorance, where people can live, at least in part, as animals.

That said, much like with A Quiet Place, I think this film would be better suited by the Suspense-Thriller genre label, as most of it is more unnerving than outright, in-your-face horrifying. At least in comparison to most horror films.

Lord Summerisle, played by the immortally awesome Christopher Lee, explains that his grandfather bred new strands of apple trees while encouraging the island’s inhabitants to practice their beliefs, saying that their old gods would help them grow and prosper. It is unclear how much he personally believes, but he clearly benefits off of the people’s labor and happiness, so he encourages them as well. In addition to the mystery of potential child murder, this lends an extra layer of creepiness to the island, as if it is a hive mind with a conniving, manipulative puppet master.

 

I find this somewhat funny as a modern-day Episcopalian who sees elements of manipulation and ignorance in Christianity, as well as all other organized religions. The Wicker Man is not subtle in its condemnation of Paganism as a whole; we are meant to side with Howie – despite how prudish he is shown to be – and be horrified by the archaic, bizarre activities we see on the island, as if Christianity has no repurposed Pagan traditions and celebrations incorporated into its own, and many of its ministers don’t also encourage blind faith and adherence to rules over critical thinking. But then again, this movie came out in a different era, and we still live in a time in which many people refuse to examine their beliefs and doctrines, so who am I to judge?

Christianity is not the oldest religion alive, but given its age, it is funny to me that it would be presented as the “modern” and “proper” world fighting against the old, “lawless” world of Paganism. Is this meant to be a change vs rigid tradition story? That’s a laugh. And hey, unless Lord Summerisle’s grandfather kept the people completely in the dark about his agronomy, which is not explicitly stated, we can assume that the island’s people are not completely against innovation. It gave them new trees off of which they could profit.

In fact, Howie is shown to be the person who cannot tolerate differences, the “changes” he sees from his life on the Scottish mainland. So is it just “Christianity good, anything else bad”? Because even if Howie is laughed at by his coworkers, being too Christian is shown to be better than too Pagan. We don’t even see a middle-ground Pagan, unless you count Lord Summerisle, who may or may not believe anything that he’s selling.

But I digress.

 

The main tension of the film comes from what happened to Rowan Morrison, the child in question, and whether or not she is dead or being held somewhere, perhaps waiting to be sacrificed, and it is very effective. A secondary tension arises from the strange words and actions of the people, whose suspiciousness feels increasingly deliberate as Howie explores Summerisle. Even knowing that the wicker man is going to come into play, you just want to know what makes them tick, why they live and behave so differently than what you, the viewer. It’s a very Alice in Wonderland kind of story, in which the effect can sometimes be that, despite being told that the answer is ignorance and madness, you can’t help but think there has to be another reason there. It can be just as fascinating as it is creepy, at least to a person like me.

Sergeant Howie is a compelling character in some ways, but he’s also a stick in the mud who has to speak up about every little thing that he doesn’t agree with. The problem with having your main character be a “straight man” reacting to weirdos all around him, especially one as strict as Howie, is that sometimes, that character ends up with no personality as a result. We know that he loves God and that is about it. Unless you’re onboard with his one character trait 100%, it’s hard to form a strong connection with him, so you only want him to escape this endeavor alive is because…he’s a person. On a basic level, human beings don’t want other human beings to die, but if you don’t feel connected to him (or worse, find him actively annoying or unpleasant), he may as well be some random guy in a crowd, about to get stomped on by Godzilla. Sure, it sucks, but you’ll get over it quickly.

He also doesn’t bring any backup with him to the island, which, even for what might be a short-staffed police force, seems glaringly unwise on his part. At least in this day and age; maybe it was totally different in the 70’s.

 

As I mentioned, a consequence of this movie is believing that all who identify as Pagan are backwards, immoral, and scary, and that they endorse animal or human sacrifice. This is, of course, not true, and I doubt that many Pagans appreciate the fear mongering. In reality, Paganism is vast and diverse. It is just another group of beliefs that people choose to follow in the course of their lives, and those individuals are no more prone to immoral or violent actions than anyone else.

Unfortunately, some downsides of the horror genre are that some people either miss the nuanced commentary, or they interpret it correctly, but it’s only real message was “othering and fearing this person/group is justified!” Not every director chooses to criticize and challenge societal paranoia, and while the resulting movies like The Wicker Man can still be good movies on their own, they then encourage or exacerbate trends that are problematic and potentially harmful to real people. For a similar example, check out Lindsay Ellis’s video essay My Monster Boyfriend, in which she talks about the racial coding of monster movies, dating all the way back to Birth of a Nation.

So yes, while I think The Wicker Man does a good job maintaining some suspense and tension, despite giving a lot away in its title and DVD box art, I also think that it presents an overblown, unfair stereotype of Pagans. And some things that the movie wants you to be unnerved by are less evil than they are just generally frowned upon in a prim and proper society with Judeo-Christian roots. Willow, the innkeeper’s daughter, is painted as an evil siren seductress, and we’re supposed to be shocked by how much sex she has. I’m sorry, but isn’t this taking place in the 70’s? Wasn’t there a big sexual revolution around that time? I mean, how dare she be active and consenting in her relationships with men and like it as much as she does!

I watch this movie once a year, usually on May Day itself, and I think it is worth watching because it’s more complicated than it appears. Also, Christopher Lee is arguably the best thing about the whole production. He even gets a song in the extended version!

 

7/10

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

Advertisements

A Quiet Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

But I digress. That film was unintentionally horrifying.

 

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

 

8/10

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

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.

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.

 

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.

untitled-12231

 

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.

1c17a622672bfda98fac05092092bcf41

 

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?

1984-movie-bb1

 

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.

14164992501241

 

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?

scream1

 

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?

Pet_sematary_ii_ver2[1]

 

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).

pet_sematary_ii_07_stor[1]

 

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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 2.11.51 PM[1]

 

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.

b0037372_02033390[1]

 

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!

pet-sem-2-b[1]

 

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

2014BabadookPosterIcon

 

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.