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This batch: A pair of zombie movies with Danny Trejo!

16. Zombie Hunter & 17. Rise Of The Zombies: Not just one but two zombie films starring Danny Trejo. Well, I say starring, you would think he was playing the lead role in both films from the way the films are packaged but in reality he only has a small role in both.
In 'Zombie Hunter' Trejo plays 'Father Jesus' - one of a small group of human survivors desperately trying to make it to an airfield to escape the zombie apocalypse. 'Father Jesus' is a kick arse, 'Machete' type figure well deserving a film in his own right but here he only gets a few minutes of screen time. In 'Rise Of The Zombies' Trejo's character gets even less screen time and unlike the cartoonish 'Zombie Hunter' is much more grounded.
Rise Of The Zombies sees a group of survivors (including Ethan Suplee, 'Randy' from My Name Is Earl) struggle to stay alive while trying to find the antidote/cure for the zombie apocalypse which rages around them. Both films are fun but Zombie Hunter has the more cartoonish violence and characters - imagine a post apocalyptic road movie like Mad Max 2 but with zombies and you will be close. The film also has additional monsters but these are rendered in such poor C.G. that I kind of wish they had not bothered. Neither film will set and world alight and neither use Trejo enough but both are better than average for the genre.
11th-Oct-2014 11:53 am - 31 Days of Halloween: Days 8 thru 10
8) Oculus
Oh, Amy Pond, you should know better than to interact with your own timeline. Yes, I watched yet another Blumhouse movie. This one's about two kids whose parents went crazy/violent after acquiring an antique mirror known as the Lasser Glass. The boy, Tim, spends the next eleven years in a psych ward for killing their father (who in turn killed their mother--OR DID HE?) and blaming it on an Evil Mirror. The girl, Kaylie, spends the next eleven years tracking down the mirror, researching its history, and setting up an elaborate experiment involving multiple cameras, computers, spotlights, and timers to A) prove their parents were in fact killed by an Evil Mirror, and B) destroy the sumbitch for good. This was super-creepy, low on jump-scares, gore, and pointless gratuitous crap like nudity and language. The timeline gets really tangled up here, by which I don't mean that the writing is confusing and makes no sense. I mean the director is deliberately messing with the viewers' heads and it works--it becomes increasingly difficult to tell Present Day from Flashbacks, to the point where you start to wonder if they're somehow rewriting their own personal history as they're reliving it. If I have any complaints here, it's that it was way too easy for Kaylie to convince Tim to come out to the house with her so quickly after regaining his freedom; and Karen Gillan's accent is horrible. Her performance is otherwise fine, as a woman obsessed and determined but clearly tailspinning towards some kind of doom, but oy, she cannot speak American. The best performance acting-wise, however, goes to Annalise Basso as Flashback!Kaylie, who completely blew me away with her big sister toughness and self assurance. Keep an eye on her--she's going places, that kid.

Hagan's Backseat Critique was highly favorable as well. Although be warned: NSFW on account of language, and the last four minutes are Hagan ranting about Classic Who.

9) Let Me In
I'm going to risk Vampire Blasphemy here and admit I might like this better than the original. It has the same quiet, etheral atmosphere, the same unsettling realism, the same minimalist dialogue, but here, the vampire actually scared me. This is based on an alternate translation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel (the other one being Let the Right One In), and I've been told it's a closer translation from the Swedish, but since I don't read Swedish I can't back that up. I also haven't read either of the books, so I don't know how close an adaptation this is either way. The biggest differences I got here are in the characters, and in the visual effects. The visual effects are distractingly awful--Bad CGi Is Bad, and I felt like I was suddenly watching a cartoon in the attack scenes. Which is unfortunate, because it's literally the only thing about this movie that doesn't work for me. The characters feel just a smidge more developed, the most significant being the vampire girl, Abby, played this time by Chloe Grace Moretz. (Two down, one to go.) To be fair, I love the original movie, and Lina Leandersson does a fantastic job, but overall she always struck as a young girl who just happened to be a vampire and really wanted a friend. Moretz, on the other hand, truly seems like an otherworldly being trying to blend in and failing. She carries herself with his self-conscious hyper awareness that feels ancient and alien, and while she might look like a young girl, and has moments where she succeeds in acting like one, she never lets you forget that she's the monster in the room. At the end, when she and Owen take a train out of town, you're left with this dread over what's going to happen to the boy after she gets tired of him. There's a sense of that in the original as well, but it was more subtle, and the framing felt more romantic and sweet. This movie is NOT sweet. It's beautiful, but dangerous, as vampires should be. Now, if they could blend the more seamless visual effects from the original with the character development and performances in this one, we'd have a perfect movie.

10) Paranormal Activity 4
Okay, I swear, I'm not doing this on purpose--this company is just dominating the American horror circuit right now. But you know what? While I'm on an accidental marathon, might as well just make it official. This is the last of the series proper for the PA universe--there are two spinoffs that came out more recently, but this one sticks with the Demon!Katie story introduced in the first movie. The reason they're so consistently successful is because they are staggeringly cheap to make--almost any performance at the box office would turn a respectable profit. And yet, this is also the only series I've seen in my lifetime as a horror geek that I know I can count on to reliably freak me out. The close-range camera work brings an immediacy we've learned to associate with found-footage style horror movies, but this particular series has the good sense to stagger the handheld stuff with long, static shots of the house at night, which is where the real action is. Those night vision shots are what make these movies work for me--you're always watching for something in the corner that could start to move just a little at any moment. A few times, there's something in the foreground of a given shot the entire time, and you don't even know it's there until it turns its head. It's the cinematic equivalent of those "When You See It, You'll Shit Bricks" photos floating around on the internet. (The good ones, not the screamers. You know what I mean.) So that's the good. The bad, well, the weakest aspect of any found footage type movie for me is the inescapable implausibility of having a camera around and running ALL THE TIME in order to catch the spooky stuff. The static nighttime shots are great. The handheld shots that ask us to believe a sister/mother/whoever is dragging a camera around everywhere while running after a loved one who is in trouble, and they themselves are scared half to death? Yeah, not so much. I'm not sure how one would work around this problem, although Trollhunter has probably come the closest in the found footage category. Make it a documentary--why not? In this case, eh, these movies are flawed, but fun. But flawed.
I didnt really have a consistent theme for this batch. Its more or less a 'Misc' batch of films that didnt really fit into the other groupings I had organised. The closest they come to having a coherent link is their snappy, one word titles!

13. It: I used to be a big fan of Stephen King but for some reason I had never seen this adaptation or read the book it is based on. It turns out that its actually a made for tv jobbie shown on US tv over two nights which lends towards being quite a lengthy film structured around ad breaks. The dvd copy I have stops abruptly and without warning just as things are warming up nicely - luckily I tried playing the other side of the disc for the last half of the film.
The story follows a group of kids in small-town Maine who discover an evil paranormal clown that is living in the sewer system and terrorising/killing the towns children. The kids defeat the clown but vow to return to kill it if it ever comes back. The story moves to the current day where as adults the kids now are summoned back to complete their promise (the children's part of the story is told through flashbacks while the adults assemble.
'It' is sadly uneven in quality. The parts of the film that deals with the children is much more enjoyable. The kids are kind of superficially designed (there is a fat one, a ginger one, one who stutters, one with asthma, a black one, a Jewish one and a girl, a short-hand that is used to identify individuals in a fairly large group of characters throughout the film) but as a group they share an enjoyable chemistry. There are some moments where I was reminded of 'Stand By Me' as the group of best friends go of on the quest, this time to defeat the evil clown - there is something of the modern fairy tale about it.
The adult's part of the film is more complex and while this may have been handled well in the book it is not so in the film. The adults learn that the clown is just an outward manifestation of a greater evil that has been lurking under the town for centuries, manipulating fear to lure, control and destroy its victims. The show down that follows should involve the adults dealing and confronting their various fears and while this is superficially touched on there is the addition of a creature-behind-the clown (manifested in piss-poor special effects) which the combined adults confront on a physical basis. The creature is anti-climactic on two levels. Firstly the potentially infinite evil 'presence' behind the clown becomes finite and mundane even before the rubbish effects are taken into account. Secondly the clown was played by the brilliant Tim Curry and so was imbued with a fiendish and joyfully twisted personality and it is a real step down from that to a crap puppet.
Like too many other Stephen King adaptations there are some great ideas, characters and moments but is too uneven to sustain its tensions.

14. Lucky: This is an ultra-low budget comedy horror that actually kin of works. A struggling semi-alcoholic cartoon writer takes home a dog he has hit with his car. The dog begins to communicate with the writer, giving him both ideas and instruction, but the writer is then driven to kill again and again. The film keeps the balance nicely between the dog being a malign presence and the writer being a total stone-bonker. The total lack of budget isn't really an obstacle here as there are no monsters, little in the way of effects and most of the film takes place in and around the writer's home or similarly mundane locations. The humour is a bit hit and miss but was enough to keep me amused and the dog stole almost every scene it was in!

15. Them: This is a totally effective French horror that works on one basic fear - home invasion. We see a young couple living in a large rural (isolated) house woken one night by someone or something trying to get into their house. Once it is in the fun starts as the couple are hunted and toyed with by the invading force. The film is dark and tense and a total pleasure to watch right up to the closing credits.
A pairing of old-school classics in this batch - one from Hammer, the other starring a Hammer alumni.

11. The Last Man On Earth: Based on the Richard Matheson novel 'I Am Legend' this version predates both the Will Smith movie and Charlton Heston's The Omega Man. Vincent Price takes the lead in what will be to most people a very familiar story - that of the last surviving human in a world over-run by vampires. Vincent Price is always a joy to watch but to modern eyes the vampires (or virus infected vampire-like humans) just aren't that scary. On several occasions an unarmed Price pushes his way through a crowd of them! The way the creatures shuffle about they remind me very much of the zombies in Romero's Night Of The Living Dead, only slightly more pathetic. As with the early zombie films the real fear comes from the isolation, the relentlessness of the 'infected' who can wear you down by numbers alone and of course the stupidity of humans generally. Its not scary then but is a classic of its type.

12. The Abominable Snowman: Peter Cushing stars in this Hammer production which oddly enough of the two films here is maybe the least The title pretty much gives the game away in terms of what beast to expect and as usual its the stupidity and greed of human beings which causes the bigger problems. Peter Cushing is as charming to watch as ever. I have no idea how this film has escaped me for so long. For further pedigree the film was written by Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame and directed by Val Guest who directed the big screen adaptations of Quatermass. This explains a lot as The Abominable Snowman feels more akin to Quatermass than it does to most other Hammer productions. This was a really interesting find and these two films work nicely as a double bill.
7th-Oct-2014 05:54 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Days 5 thru 7
5) Vampire Academy
Much like Richelle Mead's novel, this one turned out much better than I anticipated. It's one of the most self-aware teen vampire movies out there, which admittedly isn't a high bar to clear, but it knows its target audience and its skeptics well enough to cater effectively to both. This movie is *fun*. And a fairly faithful adaptation, by the way, so book fans will be happy about that. One exception is the vampire princess, Lissa (Lucy Fry), who in the book struggles with depression and self-harming, exacerbated by the scary things happening in the plot. The book depicts her state of mind with more empathy and sensitivity than I've seen in anything targeting the PNR set--it works very well in that context. In the movie, however, this is reduced to a side-effect of Lissa using her elemental magic too much and getting burned out as a result. You remember the sixth season of Buffy, when Willow was "addicted" to Dark Magic in the most obvious Drugs Are Bad metaphor ever? It's kinda like that. Which is a shame, because the alternative was one of my favorite elements in the book. She does suffer from magic burnout in the book, but it wasn't the only thing going on there. Still, my favorite-favorite element was the focus on the bond between the two leads--Lissa and her half-human guardian, Rose (my new favorite YA heroine, played by Zoey Deutch--Katniss, you've been replaced), who narrates and takes the main POV in both book and movie. The girls do have love interests that take up a respectable chunk of time, but it's mainly about their friendship and trust being tested and growing stronger. I want more of that sort of thing. Lots more. However, kudos for creating a love interest that actually got me interested for a change. (Dayum, Comrade. I'm just sayin'.)

6) Oldboy (2013)
When I heard this was being remade, it annoyed me almost as much as when I heard about the Evil Dead remake. Which is partly why I put it on my list, because warming up to that movie made me approach this whole thing with a more open mind. The thing is, when you start with a fan favorite from one of the best-loved cult cinema directors in Asia whose entire plot hinges on a big, shocking twist, my first question going in is: Do I already know how this ends? SPOILERS because the answer is my main talking point here: Yes, I did, and yes, it's the same twist. I'm sorry about that, because it takes the punch away from the initial viewing for this retelling. Now, having said that, I liked the way the plot was streamlined here. There were some bizarre, convoluted moments in the original that I couldn't quite write off. Things like, "Boy, it's a good thing you're so susceptible to hypnosis, otherwise this would never have worked!" always struck me as rather silly, and director Spike Lee found more sense-making ways to arrive at the same conclusion. The story is much better for it. However, Park Chan-wook's version is more fun to watch. He has this sly, wicked sense of humor that made me laugh out loud in the midst of the most brutal, strange, and disgusting scenes, and I still don't know how he does that. It's awesome. On the other hand, Lee had the inspired decision to cast Samuel L. Jackson in one of his most colorful roles to date, which achieved a similar effect, especially in his scenes with Josh Brolin. Speaking of which, OH MY GOD, Brolin is amazing in this! Joel Amos of MovieFanatic.com calls this the "performance of his career," and he is absolutely right, wow. So there are pluses and minuses to both. They're both very, very well made, but if you've seen one, you've likely lost the ability to be surprised by the other. END OF SPOILERS.

7) Dracula (with Frank Langella)
Oh dear god. *ahem* Sooooo, in this version, Lucy is Mina and also Dr. Seward's daughter, and engaged to Jonathan Harker but totes okay with letting the sexy vampire sex her up even before getting hypnotized; and Mina is Lucy, and also Dr. Van Helsing's daughter, and tunnels out of her crypt grave (there is no crypt) into the mines running all under London (there are mines running all under London) and has no suitors. At all. Also, the Seventh Doctor has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo as one of the asylum guards who is completely useless as he spends all his time drinking tea instead of paying attention to the inmates. I'm not kidding. THERE IS A CAR CHASE IN IT. A CAR CHASE!! I know, I know, y'all warned me, and I knew it'd be bad, but I didn't know it'd be awesome-bad. This is so ridiculous I laughed out loud several times--a few times when I'm absolutely sure they didn't mean me to. The score is delicious, as are the sets--Carfax looks amazing, probably the most luscious version of the castle I've seen on film. The acting is pretty good, actually, if you can get past how completely wrong everything is in the story. Frank Langella does this very weird, unsettling thing with his eyes when he's enthralling people--like his irises . . . twitch, or jiggle, or something. It's freaky. But in a good way. I think these guys know what kind of movie they're in and just decided to go for it. Except for Laurence Olivier, who is the most weaksauce Van Helsing ever. Yes, that includes Hugh Jackman. Gaaaah, it hurts. And yet, there was a part of me that really wanted Mina LUCY (what was the point of changing their names, seriously, it's the SAME PART) and Dracula to escape and rule the underworld together, and the ending makes it seem like that's still a possibility. So there's that. I cautiously recommend it if only so you can check out Cleo's recap afterwards.
This batch was planned to be all about slashers and serial killers but it turned out that I had completely misunderstood what one of the films was about. So as the Sesame Street song says, 'one of these kids is doing its own thing...'

7. Hellbride: This is the one that I thought was a serial killer movie but wasn't. Hellbride is about a cursed engagement ring that brings down the vengeful spirit of a previous unhappy owner of the ring - death and destruction ensue before any wedding ceremony can ever be completed. This is one of the lowest budget horror films I've seen in a while - and its British. The horror and thrills in this film will do little to catch your attention, but the humour might. Even as a comedy horror the film is a bit uneven. There are times when you can see just how achingly hard the film is trying to be funny (but failing) but there are also moments of total genius. I wouldn't mind seeing what these guys could do with a decent budget.

8. The Initiation: Its the 1980's. There is a sorority initiation planned and there has been a break out from the local mental hospital. The lead female character has some connection to one of the patients. Can you guess what happens next? The problem is that we all can and even when we see it happen its not particularly well done. This movie is pretty lame.

9. The Jackhammer Massacre. Lets be clear, this movie is in no way a rip off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The fact that the title is very similar is entirely a coincidence. Texas isnt mentioned and its a totally different power tool the drug crazed killer goes bat shit with. Actually, I should stop being sarcastic. The movie isnt much like Texas chainsaw (despite the power tool theme). Its movies like this that remind us how good Texas Chainsaw was. This is a half arsed attempt to cash in and it really isnt any good.

10. Switchblade Romance: I've repeatedly heard how good this film was and I regret how long it has taken me to find my way to it. This is a French movie made very much in the spirit of 70's horror films like Texas Chainsaw. The horror is dialed up and the irony dialed low and there is plenty of splatter to go around. More than that, this is a very effective and efficient horror film that is inventive with its characters and concept. This may be the best I've seen so far this month and it has already established itself among my favourites of the genre.
Going for a slightly longer review on this one because I have more to say than can be said in a capsule.

Title: The Purge
IMDB Page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2184339/
Genre: Sci-fi, horror, action
Rating: R

Yep, still sticking with Blumhouse as my new favorite production house. ♥ Here we're twenty minutes into the future and the "New Founding Fathers" of America have instituted a once-yearly "Purge"--a single night in which all crime is legal. Since humans are inherently violent, the New Founding Fathers say, it's healthier not to tell them they can't do horrible things to each other, but to confine that outburst to once a year and just clean up the mess the next morning. It's not required to participate, but if you don't, you better have a fail safe home security system to make sure no one else can come after you. Ethan Hawke's character sells one such home security system, and it works fine until one night when his son, Charlie, sees a man on the cameras begging for help and invites him inside.

This movie is . . . hm. Well, it sticks in one's mental craw, that's for damn sure. I kinda didn't want to leave the house after watching this. There's a sub-genre I haven't talked about in here much: horror as social commentary. I've seen it before, in movies like A Clockwork Orange and Funny Games, but this is one of the least subtle approaches that actually works. Yes, I'm saying The Purge is demonstrably less subtle than both those films, and also Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped. (<--TV Tropes link--don't say you weren't warned.) This movie has a Point to make, and doesn't care how uncomfortable you are about that. The walls are coming down, figuratively and literally, so get ready because it is going to hurt. What's being critiqued, exactly? Classism? Capitalism? Racism? Poverty? Gun Culture? That pesky wage gap between the ones who Have It All and the ones who have just a little less? America in general? Humanity in general? Perhaps all those things at once?

I feel comfortable inferring that violent entertainment is not among the things being maligned, which makes this different from Funny Games, although the setup reminds me of that one the most. There is a sequence near the end where the Designated Heroes and the Designated Villains have to face each other and fight, and it is disturbingly cathartic in a way that makes you go, "Hell yeah!" and "Wait, should I be enjoying this? Does the movie want me to enjoy this?" at the same time. For what it's worth, I believe violent entertainment creates a safe venue to explore darker emotions in which no actual humans are harmed. This is never spelled out, but I think Blumhouse feels the same way. Still, I also don't think it's an accident that the character who fights back most enthusiastically is the only one who doesn't survive the night.

The thing is, I like the effort here more than the execution, and I appreciate the questions it raises more than I enjoyed the experience of watching it. The cast is excellent across the board--Lena Headey is so good at non-verbal acting, and watching her face gave me more dread than any mood lighting or plot-heavy dialogue elsewhere; Ethan Hawke is a boss, always, and I will hear no arguments to the contrary; and resident droog Rhys Wakefield is more concept than character, but boy does he sell it hard. There is a certain suspension of disbelief required if any of this is going to work for you. I was a little dismayed to see how lukewarm the reviews are elseweb, although it's admittedly not perfect. For me, it worked. I'm almost sorry there's a sequel, because this is so great as a one-time punch in the face.
This batch is based on a theme of Fairy Tale Variations. Disneyish versions aside, fairy tales are the oral tradition equivalents of horror movies with their morality tales, dark themes and sticky endings, not to mention wolves and witches etc...

4. Snow White: Sam Neill and Sigourney Weaver try their best to lend some gravitas to this retelling of the snow white story but the production values are pretty basic, the script isnt exactly electric and the pacing is pretty poor. There is too much adult content for this to appeal to smaller viewers but not enough to keep adults on the hook. I think the film makers were aiming for some form of grounded realism and might have found it if realism = dull. The film does liven up a little towards the end but is too little too late to save the film as a whole.

5. Little Red Riding Hood: They did their best to model this telling on 'Twilight' making this Riding Hood adolescent and placing her in the center of a love triangle of two wannabe heart-throbs. The two films even share a director. The wolf in this story is promoted to werewolf status (which helps amp up the danger). Because the lead female character is so much more likable than the pouting, self regarding and unrelentingly annoying one in Twilight, this actually works pretty well. Gary Oldman and Julie Christie drop in to help class things up, which they do nicely. I wouldn't go as far as calling this a scary movie but I would keep it out of the reach of small children. This retelling worked much better than both Snow White (above) and the 'Snow White and The Huntsman' version starring she-who-pouts.

6. Hansel And Gretal: This was the best of the batch I think. We see the adult version of Hansel and Gretal roaming the land as professional witch hunters. The tone is more action than horror but there is a good smattering of dark humour and some deliciously gorey cartoonish violence. This movie was great fun. Towards the end I was reminded a little bit of the Van Helsing movie, but only to the extent that I wished that the Van Helsing movie should have been this good.
4th-Oct-2014 08:33 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Days 1 thru 3
This year, I'm taking a page out of shaved_ape's book and posting capsule reviews without graphics or photos. Because I'm running low on time for that sort of thing. (It's hard enough carving out two hours of uninterrupted alone time to watch ONE MOVIE every day; adding pictures would be too much.)

Moving on!

1) Carrie (2013)
This is the first of three Chloe Grace Moretz movies in my queue this year, and I swear I didn't plan that. (I decided to swap out Psycho for The Amityville Horror--I'll explain why when I get to it.) Unfortunately, director Kimberly Pierce's vision is so close to Brian DePalma's, it barely warrants existing. I say "barely" because I think the story of Carrie White stays relevent enough that we could do with an update for a new audience, but this one is merely competent, where its predecessor was groundbreaking. This version is almost too faithful, as if it's so in awe of both the book and the previous movie, it's afraid to break any new ground at all--they even kept in the prom-prepping montage which is still jarringly out of sync with the rest of the movie. Which leaves me with nothing to really talk about except the acting. Julianne Moore is appropriately terrifying as Mama White, and I was most impressed by Portia Doubleday as ultimate mean girl Chris Hargensen, who for the first time both looks and acts like someone you could have known and hated in high school, as opposed to a cartoon character too over-the-top to take seriously. Chloe, on the other hand. . . Well, I have the same problem with her here as I did with Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Grudge: the girl is a superhero. I just don't buy her as a victim. Granted, she has talent and potential--loads, and I'm looking forward to seeing how she handles If I Stay later this year. But the character of Carrie needs this innocence and vulnerability plus an underlying toughness and wicked streak, and it's not a good fit for her. She's trying, but she's no Sissy Spacek--or Angela Bettis, for that matter, who is excellent in the TV movie from 2001, but this one isn't anything special.

2) Insidious: Chapter 2
D'aww, this franchise is precious. After seeing the previous movie, and Sinister, and at least three of the Paranormal Activity movies (I've honestly forgotten where I am there--they blend together after awhile) this production house has grown on me. This entry has a creepy atmosphere, but not too creepy; good budget and special effects, TERRIBLE makeup; decent, recognizable actors trying to read lines that belong in a late-night made-for-TV schlock-fest--I don't know what it is, but I can't get enough. Without spoiling too much, we're back in the house where bad things happen, and surprise, more bad things happen. Only this time, we're in flashbacks to find out what caused the Evil in the first place. The ending leaves things open, not for a sequel exactly, but for a kickoff of a long-running series starring two bumbling ghost hunters and their friendly neighborhood ghost medium pal. I suspect they're going for another film, but I would so watch the hell out of a show based around that exact premise. Somebody make it happen. I will be there.

3) Dracula (Jack Palance version)
Didn't take me long to deviate from my list, did it? Ah well, it fits with the theme, so I'm okay with it. This is actually one of the more faithful adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel I've seen to date, with one notable exception: no Renfield. In fact, the whole asylum plot has been dropped without explanation. Everything else is more or less there, which leads me to think it must've gotten cut for time or something. Also, Lucy's multiple suitors have been whiddled down just one guy, but I'm okay with that since I kept getting them mixed up in the book anyway. This is also one of the most blatantly erotic retellings I've seen, at least for the time period, and that kind of surprised me--in a good way. After all, Dracula--and many similar gothic tales from the Victorian era--were all about repressed sexuality and how lust turns us into monsters, but sexy monsters, so you should want to be one but not at the same time. It gets the message across effectively, is what I'm saying. Track this one down if you can. Then try to imagine this script and pacing with the technology and cinematography of the Gary Oldman version (and Gary Oldman of course), and that's basically what I want in a Dracula movie. Renfield, I can take or leave, but for the record I'm still partial Dwight Frye in the Universal version.
So, kicking off with the Halloween movie challenge 2014 set up at Candycorn. Watch and review 31 Horror movies in October that you haven't seen before. Here is my first batch for this year, the 'creepy' ones:

1. Case 39: Renee Zellwegger plays a social worker who rescues a child from her deranged and violent parents who try to kill her by locking her in a lit oven. (It's quite an impressive oven, I struggle to fit a Christmas turkey in mine!) Once she is rescued it soon becomes clear that bad things happen around this little girl (even possibly supernatural things) and that maybe her parents weren't actually deranged but were actually trying to do the world a favour.
The film works through its points of tension in a paint-by-numbers style. Is the girl basically sweet or basically evil? Is something supernatural happening? We find out in due time. Sadly the scariest (and least believable) part of the film is that a panel of high ranking social care professionals allow Zellweger's character to take the girl home and foster her despite being already involved in the case as the girls social worker, not to mention being a single professional who works long hours and has no foster training. Strangely I swallowed everything else the film threw at me without complaint (or excitement) but not that. Its just stupid on lots of levels, unless the kid has real demon powers that included brainwashing senior social workers. Ooohh, spooky!

2. The Last Broadcast: Another found footage kind of movie, this one hung around a framework of a documentary that follows a murder trial - the victims were working on a cable tv show which is where the 'found footage' comes in. This film predated the Blair Witch Project by a year. There are strong similarities, but a knock off it isn't. The movies major claim to fame is that it was the first film to be shot, edited and distributed in cinemas entirely digitally. It also claims to be made for a total budget of around $1,000. For that money, and given that the whole thing was written, directed and produced by a bunch of recently graduated film students it is actually pretty good? Sadly its not brilliant. It fails to scare or even mildly thrill for most of its duration. In the context of how it is made it really is a remarkable achievement but as a piece of entertainment it never really finds its legs.

3. The Woman In Black: This is what Daniel Radcliffe did next after Harry Potter and is by a long way the best of the three films I've watched so far. Based on a novel that is widely considered to be a modern classic and already adapted as a successful play in London's West End the film already had a decent pedigree before it was adapted for the screen by Jane Goldman (of Kick Ass fame). This is also the film that helped to relaunch the Hammer horror company.
The film works well. Its basically a haunted house tale but one with a real grasp of the tragedy in the characters lives. It combines the sensitivity we have seen in films like 'The Others with some J-horror techniques and a grounding in the British gothic horror films that Hammer were once famous for making. I do wonder just how much of a disraction the casting of Radcliffe was. I can see why he was interested in the project as it is a significant shift from the Potter franchise. Having his name on the project probably didn't hurt the ticket sales so it was probably a smart move. Once you get past expecting him to whip out his wand and patronus the ghosts away (for me this was about half way through) he actually does a decent job of carrying the story. This is a fresh take on the very familiar Haunted house genre and one that actually works, so there is a novelty.
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