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Dark House (2009)
"She develops more bugs than Windows Vista"
This review will most definitely contain spoilers. But, since I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone watch this film, I don't feel that bad about divulging pieces of the "plot." I do not like writing bad reviews. Really, I try to find redeeming qualities in most movies, which is also why I find myself watching the entirety of movies that I wished I'd stopped five minutes in. This is one of those movies.
I knew within the first three minutes that this was not going to be a good movie. The fake blood thrown all over the stuffed animals during the opening credits solidified my premonition of terribleness. I could not help but feel distracted by the copious amounts of watery, randomly distributed blood dripping from the dolls, posters, and stuffed bears throughout the beginning. Don't get me wrong, I love a good, bloody horror film a la Evil Dead, but this wasn't that.
Then, in a brief glimpse of hope, three precocious little girls appeared, and I always love precocious film children. I even enjoyed the dialogue: "You can't go in there!" "Watch me." But, alas, everything went downhill from there.
To begin with, why would the brave little girl who entered the supposedly scary Darrode House not scream when she saw several dead children strewn throughout the house? It takes an eye seen through a keyhole to make her scream. Seriously? Not even the woman jamming her hand down the disposal in the kitchen sink gleaned a tiny ounce of fear? Okay, sure, fine, whatever.
We move on...
The characters are nothing less than stereotypical, teen-or-young-adult horror kill-offs. There's even a token black guy, but he's not the first to die, which I guess is progress. I wanted to believe that Jeffrey Combs, who we should all remember from such films as Re-Animator and The Frighteners, would redeem the film, but I was disappointed. That is not to say his portrayal of the energetic horror-attraction creator extraordinaire wasn't what it was supposed to be. It was. But, it wasn't enough to redeem any part of this mess of a film.
I am generally a fan of B horror movies, especially those from horror fest series. I can usually recognize the work put into making a low budget film look and feel great. This movie was simply lacking in every area from writing, to direction, to editing and special effects. On the latter, the special effects were, simply put, terrible. Not only that, but they were used far too frequently to be scary or even funny.
On that note, I wanted the film to end up being funny. If it wasn't going to be scary or even good, at least it could reach for campy. Some of the dialogue almost hit the mark. I even thought I might see some funny lesbian subplot at one point due to a quick line exchanged between catty-blonde-bimbo-actress and lesbian-blonde-horror-attraction-creator. Alas, this never occurred, and the humor ceased as quickly as it came. Oh, but I really do hate it when I vomit noxious green gases. That's always a bummer.
By the time the twist was revealed, I just did not care anymore. I did, however, feel a bit perturbed by the children's decision to burn the Bibles that Mrs. Bat-Crap-Crazy Darrode was misinterpreting and abusing instead of, oh, I don't know, killing her. Would that not have solved their problems? And I am sure the authorities would have forgiven them given the abusive nature of the situation. Then again, we wouldn't have a movie, would we?
Oh, and nice recap at the end.
I love good haunted house movies. I really do. I grew up watching the original William Castle pictures, House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts, over and over again. When those two films were remade, and when those loose remakes turned out to be absolutely terrible, I more than threw up in my mouth. I threw up on Tony Shalhoub. (Not that I dislike Tony Shalhoub, but why was he in Thir13en Ghosts?).
Dark House is the same caliber as Thir13en Ghosts and the House on Haunted Hill remake. It's not scary, it's not well-made, it's not even funny. If you listen to me, you'll avoid this film... unless, of course, you want to write a bad review, then by all means watch this movie for plenty of bad review fodder.
The House of the Devil (2009)
I'm just going to say it: I thought this was a great horror film.
I enjoyed the 'based on actual events' disclaimer in the beginning, first off. I like that filmmakers can use that phrase without ever really substantiating it other than briefly mentioning a relatively related piece of history.
As I have mentioned before, I love horror movies from the '70s and '80s. As is obvious, this film took place in the '80s and was shot and edited to appear as if it were made in the '80s-- early '80s, most likely. I loved the score, the yellow text in the introduction (as well as the freeze-frames), and the costuming. The idea to shoot the film on 16mm really put me in the '80s horror mood, as did the "slow-burn" pacing, which I found to be very enjoyable. In my opinion, there are far too many modern films that start with gut-wrenching violence and jump into the "scares" far too quickly. I would much rather watch a movie that takes its time; builds the tension and works long and hard to scare its audience. That said, I did not necessarily find The House of the Devil to be frightening. But, to be honest, not many movies actually scare me.
What I did love, though, was the mention of (and pseudo-homage to) the satanic scares of the 1980s. I am extremely interested in this period of recent American history precisely because it was so recent, and also because it seems to have been largely forgotten by the masses. I remember being a child in the '80s and hearing my mom mention accounts of satanic cults abusing children in cities throughout the country. Seriously. People believed this was happening a mere 20-30 years ago! Advances in psychology and interrogation techniques have since occurred, so we now know that many of the children who claimed abuse were coaxed into their often wild tales. Nevertheless, we, as a culture, tend to find new scapegoats and delve into new incarnations of mass hysteria every several years. The satanic scare, though never really substantiated, was just one of those "witch hunts" in contemporary American history.
But, I digress.
Yes, the film had some issues. I noted several instances during which my flashback to the 1980s was disrupted by what I would deem modern colloquialisms. I even looked up a few terms that I could not remember hearing in the '80s. In a few instances I was wrong, but... that's really beside the point. I also had issues with a few decisions on the part of the characters. Why decide to stay at the house despite the owners' clearly disturbed behavior? Why dance around and risk knocking things over while an old woman is supposedly sleeping in a nearby bedroom? Why run upstairs... ever?!? Then again, these are all plot elements not uncommon to '80s horror, and for that reason, I sort of enjoyed talking out loud to the characters and admonishing them for their decisions. After all, bad decisions make the plot move forward in films like this, right? In the end, I really enjoyed this movie. I even watched it twice-- the second time with my wife, who also enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys deliberate, atmospheric films from the 1970s or '80s, like Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Amityville Horror, or Rosemary's Baby, among others.
Oh, and I liked it better than Ti West's other recent film, The Innkeepers... just saying.
This, my dear viewers, is a really strange movie.
I watched this film when I was sick with bronchitis. I was glued to the couch, coughing and hacking, watching this movie and wondering if I was hallucinating, or if the movie was really this freaking weird. The answer is a resounding 'yes.' This movie really is extremely weird.
YellowBrickRoad is an assault on the senses, and I believe that was completely intentional. The visuals, the characters' reactions, the never-ending path, the hopelessness, the desperation, the cacophonous sounds-- all of these things created a unique and subtly terrifying environment. That said, I didn't necessarily find the movie scary, but I did find myself thinking about it for a few days after watching it.
But, I wanted to like the movie more. I wanted more substance. I love movies with an pseudo-historical backdrop, and I wanted to know more about the town's former inhabitants and the path. I guess I wanted a bit more investigation and a bit less acid trip. Yet, I was left with the impression that the semblance of an acid trip was the writers' and director's intention.
So, if you keep the film within its hallucinatory context of a deconstructed and wholly disturbing reality, you might glean some enjoyment out of it. Don't expect your typical horror fare, though, because this is a strangely unique plate that almost borders on experimental.
Wake Wood (2009)
Kind of like a horror morality tale... with the rat-guy from Harry Potter
This was an engaging throwback to the well-paced, intentionally shot, classic horror films from the '70s. Some of my very favorite horror films came out of the '70s and '80s, and I always enjoy seeing contemporary films created in a similar vein. The setting was superb, the emotional reactions were believable (I mean, it's a horror film with a supernatural-mystical plot, so a suspension of disbelief is necessary, as it always is with films like this), and the pacing was good.
This film reminded me of movies like 1989's Pet Sematary, during which the viewer is forced to question what they would do in a similar situation. If you had a loved one die, be it a person or pet, would you try to bring him or her back? Would you use any means necessary to go about doing so, even if you were unsure of the ultimate consequences? What was it that we were taught in school? Each action has an equal and opposition reaction, and each choice has a consequence. Films like this remind viewers of these consequences in graphic, horrifying ways.
Oh, and who doesn't love movies with creepy children in them? Creepy, evil children are like an assault on our concept of innocence, and a not-so-subtle reminder that what we see is not always what we get. Beneath still waters... you get my drift.
The Shrine (2010)
Despite the negative reviews, I really liked this movie.
The acting was far from superb, but I loved the plot, the location, and the twists. I thought this was a unique film, and to be quite honest, I have not seen many other films like it. I've now watched this movie three times. I still liked it each time. I am a big fan of the religious or pseudo-religious-themed horror sub-genre, and again, this was a very unique and creative movie. I have to give kudos to the writers, who I believe came up with an engaging and innovative idea that took off in an indie, alt-horror, film fest kind of way. I was not distracted by the visual effects, which I thought were used sparingly and relatively tastefully (I mean, it's a horror film, let's not forget the caliber of visuals generally inherent to the genre). Nor was I thrown off too much by the aforementioned acting issues. All in all, I would-- and have-- recommended this film. Watch it with an open mind and judge for yourself. I would love to see more moody, atmospheric films like this, and fewer Saw and Saw rip-off torture flicks. Enough with the gore, let's get to some substance.
Grave Encounters (2011)
This was by no means a great film. To be honest, I considered watching something else about halfway through, but I persevered. On the positive side, I was immediately amused by the beginning. I always love when movies begin with a studio executive telling the audience-- no, imploring the audience-- to believe the material they are about to see is real. Not only that, but the allusions to television shows like "Paranormal State" gave me the idea that maybe I would be amused throughout the film. I mean, I thought if the movie lacked in the scary arena, it might compensate with a few laughs-- intentional or not. Alas, I was wrong. Aside from the whole bit about telling the gardener to pretend he saw a ghost ("I saw a ghost. It was really scary"), and the bit where the psychic (Chip Coffey, anyone?) was revealed to be an actor, the humor quickly faded.
I thought the build-up was relatively nice, and there were certainly a few creepy parts, though I can say this was likely due to setting rather than plot. That said, the constant swearing, screaming, and almost-wholly unbelievable reactions made me want to pick up my phone and play Words with Friends. Some parts were simply incredulous. Matt goes missing, the team searches for a few minutes, then retreats to the main floor to sleep for, what, eight hours? I honestly wondered if they would ever return to looking for Matt or if he would simply disappear, never to be mentioned again. Another example would be that of the "scratches" on Sasha's back. Wouldn't she react a little more than she did? Perhaps this is just a case of poor acting, but we all know poor acting can pull your interest out of a film in a heartbeat. The same can be said for bad writing, and I can't say this movie was well-written, either.
All in all, I did not completely hate it. But, I'd never watch it again. I say this not because I thought it was a rip-off of any other found footage film, but because it just wasn't that good. I really, really wanted it to be good, especially after all that build-up. Yet, I just found myself disappointed at the lackluster conclusion. Oh, and was the evil doctor also a Satanist? I mean, what was with the altar in the basement? Oh well. I feel for The Vicious Brothers, I do, and I have respect for what they've done. But, well... oh well. That's all I can muster.
The Tall Man (2012)
Interesting, but certainly not without its problems... deep, deep problems.
This review most definitely contains spoilers. I apologize in advance.
I enjoyed this movie, in some ways at least, but it left me with many questions. I don't mean it left me with questions about its plot or characters (well, yes, yes it did), but questions about its preposterous twist. Don't get me wrong, I liked the twist, though I began to see it coming prior to the end, but... seriously? Just because a town is poor and its people are downtrodden does not mean all its children are unhappy, neglected, abused, and in need of forced adoption. I actually found the idea just a bit offensive. Yes, some of the children could most certainly have benefited from new homes, but who in their right minds would take it into their own hands to create a renegade, "black market" adoption service? Is the viewer left to feel pity for JB's character? Are we to feel sad that she went to prison and may face the death penalty because deep down she's truly a kindhearted, well-intentioned woman? Hmm. Yes, yes, it's movie, blah, blah, blah. I'll admit it was creative, and I'll admit that JB is a better actress than I thought she was. However, I may never fully get over the intrinsic issues related to the basis of the plot. This movie was really a thinly veiled, pseudo-political jab at "the system" clothed in the guise of a horror film (and I use 'horror' loosely, as this was not truly a horror film in the traditional spirit of the genre).
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
Not the greatest, but...
I would be remiss if I said this was a hit. However, I like Del Toro, and I appreciated the dark, atmospheric, aesthetically pleasing aspects of this movie. I also liked its attempts to recreate a vintage horror feel. If you can suspend your distraction caused by the numerous plot holes and easily solvable problems (i.e., the creature gets crushed by the bookcase, its severed arm falls to the ground, but dad and girl leave the room without a second glance or discussion), you might enjoy the film for its positive features. Sometimes you just have to take something for what it is in spite of its flaws. This is certainly one of those movies. Oh, and I found the evil fairies quite amusing-- not scary, mind you, but amusing. I also found the brief reference to Pope Sylvester II to be funny, as he was accused of consorting with the devil. I suppose in a creative writer's mind there's only a small step from devils to demon fairies, and an obscure reference always lends credence to a plot, right?