Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Movie Review: The Raven

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. . .”

Edgar Allan Poe is without a doubt the father of the American horror genre and modern horror as a whole. His dark dreams of insanity have fueled our nightmares for years, and worked as the inspiration for other great writers to come. From H.P. Lovecraft, to Stephen King, most beloved horror fiction today can trace its ancestry back to the stories and poems of Poe. So you would think a fictional film about this master of the macabre would naturally be, well, macabre. Sadly, you would be wrong. At least if said movie is the 2012 mystery/thriller The Raven.

Admittedly, I wasn't expecting very much from the movie in the first place. It's pretty clear that it's just the first in what's likely to be a long line of films trying to cash in on the recent popularity of movies like Sherlock Holmes and books like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Movies and books, in other words, that tell fun stories about our favorite historical figures (both real and imagined). In this case, the result is a half-baked, rushed, mediocre film.

The premise goes like this: A madman starts enacting famous death scenes from Edgar Allan Poe's most gruesome stories. With no clue where to start, and running out of time before the killer strikes again, young Baltimore detective, Fields, (Luke Evans) seeks the assistance of Poe to help solve the case.

The idea is actually pretty cool, and honestly I didn't hate this movie, I was just hoping for more. The movie isn't so much bad as it is disappointing. The first disappointment being the actor chosen to play Poe -- John Cusack. I don't know about you, but to me, Cusack is not the image that comes to mind when I think of the master of the macabre. While he plays it as well as he can, the entire role felt awkward and stilted. Poe never feels real, and he comes off as mildly skeevy. I'm sorry, but it has to be said, Cusack had no business going near that much eyeliner (which, let's be fair, would look strange on any actor. . .still not sure what they were going for with that). I just got this cocky pedophile vibe from the guy. Maybe Poe actually had that vibe about him, but it makes for a bad character. Sadly, Poe was the only character I didn't like.

This is pretty much the expression Poe carries throughout the entire film. . .I'm not kidding.

The second disappointment was all the CG! There wasn't a single REAL freaking raven in this entire movie. Just computer generated ravens. Like gore? This film has loads, but that too is all CG. Apparently the director couldn't be bothered to make up a few batches of fake blood. Or to cook up some decent CG effects. The result is a lot like spotting the zipper running down the monster's back -- it jars you out of the false sense of reality the film works so hard to create.

Worst of all is that the movie just wasn't all that dark. For a movie about the father of modern horror, there's nothing very horrific outside of a few bloody corpses. Unless you count John Cusack in eyeliner as horrific. . .and I sorta do.

In spite of its shortcomings, The Raven does do well at weaving the truth of what we know about Poe's life with the fictional mystery. You get the feeling that, maybe -- just maybe -- this could have really happened. It's also a pretty good mystery. Nothing worth shouting about, but pretty good.

Overall the movie was disappointing, but entertaining. It probably won't satisfy hardcore Edgar Allan Poe fans or the most dedicated horror movie fan. If you're looking for a decent popcorn flick, The Raven will do just fine.

Overall Score: 2 1/2 out of 5

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

UPDATE: Review Delayed Until April 30th

So you're probably wondering where the Monday review is? Turns out, werewolves. 

The next review will be up next Monday (April 30th). Sorry for the delay. Next Monday I'll be reviewing The Raven, so check back then.

In the mean time, if you know a movie you'd like to see reviewed, comment here and I'll check it out.

Thanks for your patience.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

It's always nice to find a horror movie that can be scary and entertaining, without taking itself too seriously. Sometimes horror fans don't want a deep story, sometimes we just want to have some good ol' fashioned fun -- why else would slasher flicks be so popular? No, relax, The Cabin in the Woods is certainly nothing so cliche as a slasher, but it is extremely entertaining. The first genuinely "fun" movie I've watched all year.

The movie begins with a premise all horror fans are familiar with: Five relatively good-looking friends frolic off to a remote cabin for a few days of relaxation and general merriment. And once they arrive, as you might expect, they goof off, smoke some weed, and stare lustily at one another -- I know, I know, but bear with it for a bit. Because all isn't what it seems.

The trouble starts when the group -- during a game of truth-or-dare -- wander down into the damp, dark cellar. There they find all sorts of odd, creepy little gadgets: An odd puzzle-sphere, a ratty old wedding dress, a dusty conch shell, and so on. Before they can get too good a look at the rest of the trinkets, perpetually naive sweet-girl Dana (played by Kristen Connolly) finds an ancient-looking diary and calls the others over to check it out. It is the diary of a long-dead young girl, who was apparently tortured by her sadistic, uber-religious, redneck father. She promises they will return again, when the words that follow are read aloud. . .naturally, Dana reads these words aloud. Enter, antagonist.

Creepy dark cellar? I'M THERE!

Now, I'm sure you're wondering where this starts getting interesting. . .and. . .it turns out. . .I can't tell you. If I told you, it'd spoil it. But I assure you, the film turns all the classic horror movie tropes on their heads in a somewhat playfully mocking ode to the genre. All the scares you could want from a horror movie, and surprisingly, refreshingly, none of the expected twists and turns.

Not surprisingly in a movie that mocks conventional horror movie wisdom and style, my favorite character in this film is the weird, liberal, pothead, hunching hippy, Marty. (Fran Kranz) I know. But like I said, the film surprises you. This guy wins you over by easily being the most relatable character in horror-movie history. Point-in-case, from the trailer:

Kurt: "We should split up. We can cover more ground that way."
Holden: "Good idea."
Marty: "Wait. . .really?"

Yes, thank God, a voice of reason. No, Kurt, splitting up is not a good idea.

I've got plenty of praise for this film. I honestly think it's a must-see for any superfan of the genre. But as a political conservative and a Christian, there was some stuff I didn't like about the movie. Obviously, the nudity. But also. . .while the characters are great -- people that I wouldn't mind hanging out with myself, yes, even Marty -- they're all liberals (good girl Dana is reading books on Russian economic structures for heaven's sake!) with seemingly no religious beliefs whatsoever. The result was, while I liked them well enough, they left me feeling a little isolated. Amidst all the fun and gore and scares, there was an undercurrent of loneliness for me.

Overall, I really liked this film. I didn't LOVE it, but I liked it a lot. The thinking, conservative in me wishes there was more substance to the film. Something to cling to (like guns. . .or religion). But the horror fan in me couldn't have asked for a better film.

Overall Score: 4 out of 5

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guest Post: The Best Zombie Plan is Jesus

by Carol Peterson

Gone are the Ninja Turtle and Little Mermaid movies. Now that our kids are grown, our shelves are stocked with everything sci fi/blow up. And the genre that nicely combines both is zombie.

Over the years—eyeballing movies as I’m cooking dinner and moving my vision between the raw hamburger and the zombie guts—I’ve grown to love the genre. It’s fun to cheer for the good guys. You know, the ones still living.

We laugh as we watch them limp across the screen, moaning with outstretched arms. They look a lot like some people I went to college with the morning after.

“Hey, look it’s Joe—heading to Chem 101!”

One thing zombie enthusiasts know is that in real life, you need to have “a zombie plan.” A plan to prepare for the eventuality when the dead are out to get you. The cult classic take off, Sean of the Dead, shows this nicely when Sean and his friends set out for the pub as their plan to stay safe from the body-eating zombies roaming the countryside. Everything you need is at the pub—electricity, beer and friends.

My personal zombie plan includes a collection of wind-up flashlights and shampoo by the gallon. I also cook up batches of casseroles for the freezer. It’s nice to have something hot and cheesy to eat while zombies are pounding on my door. And if it’s delicious enough, those zombies might even go for the casserole over juicy moi.

The zombie genre also addresses something we all face. Our desire to hang onto life as long as we can. If you’re the “walking dead,” then you are a tiny bit closer to conquering death, right?
Unfortunately, zombies are reanimated; they are not the dead returning to life.
That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus died and returned to life; not as a zombie but as our Savior. His death and resurrection give us full assurance that, if we lean on Him, we have full assurance of eternal life with him.

Otherwise folks, our best hope to cheat death is to become a zombie. And if that happens, then you have to face people who are better prepared with wind-up flashlights, shampoo and casseroles!

Yep—the best part of a zombie plan is Jesus.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Zombie plans are emergency preparedness plans. What would be the most important part of your emergency plan?

(Helpful zombie tip: make sure your zombie plan includes Twinkies. If you have a zombie-like expression on your face at this comment, you definitely need to watch Zombieland.)

[Carol Peterson runs a fantastic little blog, From Carol's Quill, which can be found here: http://fromcarolsquill.blogspot.com/ When she isn't blogging, Carol enjoys reading her bible, praying, and preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Our kinda woman.]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Movie Review: Julia's Eyes

H.P. Lovecraft said that the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. Guillermo Del Toro explores his theory in the Spanish-made movie Julia's Eyes. Julia's Eyes tells the story of Julia Levin (BelĂ©n Rueda) as she investigates the untimely death of her twin sister, Sara. The police insist that Sara's death was suicide, but Julia isn't buying it. Though Sara suffered from a degenerative eye disease, she was awaiting surgery that might have given her back her sight. Julia, who suffers from the same disease, doesn't believe her sister would have killed herself when she was so close to regaining her vision. More than that, the song Sara had playing on her stereo before she hanged herself was one she absolutely hated. No, Julia suspects someone else was there. That Sara was actually murdered.

Considering the film is nearly two hours long, you've probably guessed that there's some truth to Julia's suspicions. Yes. It isn't long before she finds herself being watched from the shadows. Someone is following her. And worst of all, the stress is only speeding her vision loss. As her stalker gets closer and closer, her vision gets worse and worse.

The fact that the protagonist is gradually going blind was one of the biggest selling points for me. Viewers often get to see things from Julia's perspective, during which even brightly lit rooms provide plenty of scares. And it doesn't feel gimmicky. Thank God, the entire film isn't from that perspective. But those momentary glimpses are enough to make us feel as helpless as Julia. Not that seeing clearly helps much, either. Julia's stalker has an uncanny ability to remain unseen. So much so that one character calls him an "Invisible Man."

Whatever you do. Don't. Blink.
The biggest issue I had with the film was that the mystery wasn't all that complex. It doesn't take long to figure out what's going on, even with the occasional red herring tossed in. But that doesn't make things any less horrifying. No, no, be assured, this movie is terrifying from start to finish. Sometimes subtle in its creepiness, sometimes extremely brutal. (Remember the guy in Pan's Labyrinth who gets his face smashed in? That brutal) I can't express this point enough: This movie gave me chills.

Be warned, this movie includes a few extremely violent/disturbing scenes that almost seem to pay bloody homage to Italian horror film great, Dario Argento. If you love Italian horror, no problem, if you have a weak stomach or are prone to nightmares, you might want to give this one a pass. Other than that, there's an awkward scene filled with a bunch of old, naked, blind ladies. . .again, weak stomach, pass.

Overall Score: 4 out of 5

Monday, April 9, 2012

UPDATE: Review Delayed Until Wednesday

So you're probably wondering where the regular Monday review is? I'm sorry to say, for personal reasons, there's going to be a short delay.

Yes, those personal reasons. . .

We will have a review this coming Wednesday, and a guest post article up Thursday, so bear with us. In the mean time, if there's a scary movie you're interested in seeing reviewed, drop me a line right here and I'll see what I can do. Hope to hear from you.

See you folks Wednesday.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Movie Review: Absentia

Horror fans are well aware that there are many, many fates much worse than death. Writer/director Mike Flanagan reflects this sentiment in a uniquely profound way in his indie horror film, Absentia. Absentia tells the story of two estranged sisters, Callie and Tricia (played by Katie Parker and Courtney Bell) who unwittingly stumble upon and begin to unwravel a horrifying, centuries-old mystery linked to a slew of seemingly unrelated disappearances.

The movie begins with Tricia, pregnant, coming home to find her sister Callie sitting on her doorstep. Callie has finally returned from her self-imposed exile, to help her sister as she mourns the loss of her husband who has been missing for years now. Tricia will soon sign the documents to declare his "death in absentia," and is understandably having a difficult time doing so. As the time to sign the documents draws nearer, Tricia begins to catch quick glimpses of her husband, lingering in the dark shadows of her small, suburban home. It would seem he might still be alive, somehow trapped by an unknown force. And Callie begins to understand that he may not be the only one. Turns out, a lot of people seem to vanish in this area. Most folks brush it off as the result of living in a bad neighborhood, but Callie doesn't think so. She believes something may be kidnapping people from their homes and nightly strolls, and spiriting them away to some world beyond our own.

Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive about watching an indie horror film. Anything with "indie" tagged onto it is likely to bore me to the point of begging for a quick and merciful death. In my experience, most indie stuff tries to be more profound than it actually is -- and by God, the more awards the things have the worse they usually are! But I was bored, and I needed an excuse to sit down, eat too much ice cream, and stare blankly at the television screen. (I had used up all my other excuses) That excuse came in the form of Absentia. And you know what? I'm very glad it did.

Absentia is not remarkably creepy, but what it lacks in scare-factor, it makes up for in atmosphere and character. Even better, Flanagan has deftly woven a supernatural thread through what feels like a very grounded film, using a familiar childhood fairy tale to do so. It works brilliantly.

It wouldn't be horror without a long, dark, tunnel with a light at the end!

The product of a kickstarter campaign, typical Hollywood tropes are notably absent from the film. The film makes no attempt to be edgy or controversial. There's no excessive swearing, no explicit sex, no violence for the sake of violence, no anti-Christian sermon.

That last thing is something I want to emphasize: No Anti-Christian Sermon. I don't know anything about Flanagan's own religious beliefs, but the single Christian in the film, Callie, is presented fairly. In fact, she may just have been one of the most genuine Christian characters I've seen in any horror film. She's not without her faults, she swears more than she should and is a struggling drug-addict, but any negative light cast on her is done so in a sympathetic manner rather than an antagonistic one. Even so, she makes up for these flaws with her sincere devotion to God and the Christian way.

One particularly charming scene that showcases this is when she remembers seeing a homeless man on her daily jog. She had promised to bring him something to eat. On her way out, plate of food in hand, her sister asks what she is doing. She starts to explain, then simply says, "It's a Christian thing." And no, she doesn't poison the food. And no she doesn't throw it in the homeless man's face or tie it to a fishing line to bait the man into a church. I bet you don't believe me. I can see that doubtful look on your face right now. But I assure you, it's true. Callie is a Christian lady worth cheering.

On the flip side, being an indie film the director felt it necessary to have at least a couple boring/melodramatic scenes placed here and there throughout the film. I mean, c'mon, isn't that to be expected? Wouldn't it be a betrayal to all indie film makers if those scenes were absent here? Of course it would. And truthfully, the film is pretty darn bleak. Many of the character-focused moments, apart from the supernatural bits, serve only to remind us how freaking depressing our lives really are. How untrusting, confused, and disillusioned we are. Yeah. . .heavy. . .but again, par for the course. So we can forgive these few faults, can't we? Yeah, I think so too. Which is why I'm giving Absentia:

Overall Score: 3 out of 5