In celebration of Halloween I watched 15 horror and quasi-horror films. Here are my thoughts on them. Yes I know this is 3 days late. I’m lazy.
The Babysitter (2017)
Directed by McG
As a genre horror is full of unintentional laughs. From crappy special effects to laughable acting the genre has had its fair share of chuckles. Not all films are in the so-bad-it’s good category. Some films intend to make you laugh. The Babysitter is one of those movies.
A parody of the home invasion genre the plot follows Cole (Judah Lewis) a preteen boy who’s seemingly afraid of everything. So much so he still needs a babysitter at his late age. His babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving) is this attractive woman who seems to share many of the same interests as Cole. She is into science-fiction and treats him like an adult whereas others treat him like a baby. If only he had the courage to speak his true feelings towards her.
Both leads are great in their respective roles. As a child actor Lewis is able to successfully capture Cole’s transformation from coward to hero in the movie. Weaving always moves her body in a way and speaks with such a soothing voice that as Bee she’s one of the sexist characters I’ve ever seen. Other stand-outs include Robbie Amell as a shirtless jock and Hana Mae Lee as a self-assured diva.
As this is a comedy everyone swears frequently. Including the children characters. Cole’s female friend is fond of fuck and perv. The death scenes are largely played for laughs. In the first death scene for instance a man gets stabbed in the head with two daggers. More time is spent on how a guy is mad that blood splattered on his shirt than the death of the other man. Artistic uses of slow-motion and captions like those in Scott Pilgrim or Zombieland are used. I just wish they were used more often. They’re not something you see often in horror.
My only problem with this movie is the plot. It starts with Cole finding out Bee is a part of a satanic cult. From there the rest of the movie Is him outrunning and killing the cult members. Unlike other home invasion movies his escapades are loud. Police arrive, there’s a fiery explosion and a car is driven into a house. Throughout this all though no one on his suburban street seems to care. I mean that explosion was huge and loud. Where is everybody?
The plot stretches it logic even more when Cole does make it outside of the house. Instead of running as you’d expect from a coward like him he sticks close to his house? It’s not until the end that does he run to another house. That of his female friend. The satanic cult members are meant to be new at this. I get that. But can’t more than one at a time chase Cole? For a large point in the movie Bee, the leader of the cult, is absent from the film for no reason.
This movie will make you laugh. I just wish the story behind it made more sense.
Better Watch Out (2017)
Directed by Chris Peckover
At first this film feels like a typical home invasion story. Ashley a babysitter is entrusted to watch two boys when the house comes under attack by a mysterious figure. Sounds familiar, right? But this is no such movie. It’s hard to explain why without spoiling the plot. Let’s just say a twist half way through the film changes the film entirely.
What could have become another film about watching a sexy teen girl suffer becomes a disturbing look at of all things toxic masculinity and entitlement. Olivia DeJonge who plays the main lead does a great job giving emotional depth to what otherwise could be a cliché sexy blonde. Levi Miller and Ex Oxenbold who play the two boys do an equally great job. For a child actor Miller is tasked with major character development and handles it well.
Besides the acting I’d like to praise the set design. Unlike most horror films it’s bright and filled with colours. It helps that the movie is set in Christmas. Still it’s nice to watch a film that understands being a horror movie does not require one to abandon all colour in favour of just grey. Disturbing imagery alone is enough to satisfy. We don’t always need colour cues.
Speaking of scary moments this brings me to my one and only, but significant, complaint about the film. After the halfway point and the reveal of the twist the movie follows one gory, disturbing scene after another. So much so the movie becomes stale. Some scenes could be cut. They serve no purpose but to reiterate what the twist already showed us.
The best way to describe this film is if Tarantino directed Home Alone.
Cat People (1942)
Directed by Jacques Tourneur and Doran Cox
The first of two classic horror films I watched, Cat People holds up well. A Serbian immigrant Irena (Simone Simon) meets and falls in love with Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). They eventually marry but she is a distanced lover, convinced that she carries a curse that would be activated upon sex.
The movie is as much a look at loveless marriages as it is a horror. For most of the movie no one dies nor does any monster appear on-screen. The audience like Irena is meant to doubt whether there really is a cat people curse. Are they delusions conjured up as means of escape from the fact her husband is cheating on her or does she really transform into a sinister creature?
Like other horror films from this era a gothic atmosphere looms large. Streets are always abandoned at night while fog covers the ground like a blanket. Shadows extend across the camera. Everything feels mysterious. It’s classic horror at its finest. Unfortunately, like many films from this era the effects don’t hold up as well. You’ll notice the green screens and puppets. The monster is not so much scary as silly.
Still one shouldn’t be too hard on an older film for its effects. They’ll always look silly. If you don’t mind the slow pace and campy effects Cat People makes a great gothic horror.
Cult of Chucky (2017)
Directed by Don Mancini
It’s amazing to think that after 3 decades and 7 movies the Chucky franchise still manages to create a new take on the character. This variation of Chuky is a sequel to 2013s Curse of Chucky. That movie was a return to (gothic) horror after the franchises previous comedic films. Oh god the travesty that was Seed of Chucky. I just can’t…
The movie follows Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) as one of two survivors from the last movie. Framed by Chucky for the murder of her family she’s been confined to a mental hospital for 4 years. Unlike other ‘final girls’ Nica is confined to a wheelchair.
This difference denies Nica the option to run screaming away like you’d expect for a main female lead in a horror. Dourif likewise gives a performance that shows how Nica has become somewhat isolated and self-reliant. But a badass she isn’t as her therapist has convinced Nica Chucky never existed and she was the one who murder her family. Thais talk has filled her with self-doubt.
Inside the hospital Nica is joined by a man with multiple personality disorders, a woman in denial about the death of her baby, and the creepy therapist. Acting wise they all get their job done. They might not shine too much but this is Chucky and Nica’s movie, not theirs.
Speaking of Chucky once a Good Guy doll is delivered to the hospital you know things are about to get bloody. The kills in this movie are just as creative as you’d expect from this franchise. There’s one that involves an oxygen tank breaking a glass skylight. In another one a man is stomped to death by someone in high heels. Brad Dourif who is the voice of Chucky is very exuberant. Listening to Chucky you get the sense he enjoys his murder rampages. And yes Fionia is his daughter.
The giddiness of Chucky is a nice contrast to the setting of the film. This mental hospital is located in a vast snow-covered plain. The building is grey and looks like a prison. Inside the halls are drab and devoid of any decorations. The movie is shot to emphases this emptiness with wide angels and a grey monochrome tone. In other horror movies, this would be done to make the movie ‘scary’ but here it also stresses the isolation Nica feels. She knows Chucky is going to kill her but no one else believes her.
Or at least not until the last act. Which is where I had problems with the movie. Two characters who serve as fan-service show up. Their presence in the movie existing only to tell the viewer more movies are in the work. If this is not bad enough there is one twist that causes the viewer to question the whole premise of the movie. If Chucky can do that one asks why is he obsessed with Nica in particular?
Overall the movie is one of the good Chucky films. If you’re a fan of the Child’s Play franchise you’ll enjoy it.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Directed by Jack Arnold
Now whereas Cat People is a more serious film, this is anything but. Creature from the Black Lagoon has B-movie written all over it. Created long after the heyday of the Universal Monster franchise, this movie is more similar to the films like Them! or The Blob than Dracula. Set in Brazil, a scientific expedition is charted after the partial discover of a strange new fossil. Heading up river to find the rest of the fossil the crew ends up with more than they bargained for.
The main cast does a good job with the campy dialogue they’re given. You’ll get to know about the Devonian period pretty fast let me tell you. There’s Kay (Julie Adams), & her lover David (Richard Carlson) both of whom are scientists, Max (Richard Denning) another scientist & secret admirer of Kay, and in the best role of the film Lucas (Richard Denning), an over-the-top Brazilian boat captain. Prone to crazy stories and sayings. That accent man! It’s a work of art.
The creature is incredibly silly looking by today’s standards. Its mouth is always open. Every time it ‘breathes’ its entire head inflates ever so slightly. Best of all it never blinks. The suit clearly limited the actor within it so with any attack scene the monster is either off-screen or is forced to attack only with a slow claw to the face.
The one thing that surprised me about this film was the frequent and well-done underwater scenes. Here the creature is given more freedom to move around and it really helps add much-needed excitement to the film.
So the barebones plot of the film is crew ends up looking for fossil. The creature kills native guides. Crew finds dead natives. Crew enters lagoon. Crews finds the creature. The creature falls in love with Kay. The creature blocks of exit from lagoon. The creature kidnaps Kay. Men rescue and wound creature. Movie ends. It’s rather simple.
The movie is aware of this and tries to tie the struggle with the Creature into a larger point about evolution and how some species have survived millions of years with little change. It’s all for naught. Like most science fiction monster films from the 1950s what the audience really wants is some campy action and the film delivers.
The Fly (1986)
Directed by David Cronenberg and Richard Gillian
Who doesn’t love Jeff Goldblum? Everybody loves Jeff Goldblum. That charisma! That sexy bod! Now who wouldn’t love to see him slowly transform into a hideous human-fly hybrid? Because if you do this movie is just for you!
The Fly is a remake of an earlier fifties film. As one would expect said movie was met with a mixed reaction and came with horribly campy special effects. Like John Carpenter’s It this movie is an attempt to create a better film from an older B-movie. And like John Carpenter’s It this movie does succeed in doing so.
Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is a reclusive, awkward scientist working on a teleportation machine. At a party for scientists he meets Veronica (Geena Davis) a local reporter. Immediately stricken by her he takes her back to his lab. He shows off his telepods. This quickly blossoms into a relationship. After a night of passionate sex Brundle manages to work out the bugs concerning teleporting live beings. Excited he performs a self-test unaware a fly has entered one of the pods with him. He emerges teleported and the experiment is proved a success. As time goes on and his body changes it becomes clear however that he and the fly have merged into one being.
Easily the best part of the movie are the effects. The transformation of Brundle from human to his final form as the Brundlefly is amazing. From the makeup to the end puppetry It felt real. I was never taken out of the film. The telepods too are well designed. They’re rudimentary looking with simple control panels. Not the hi-tech over-the-top machines one finds common in science fiction movies.
Brundle’s slow metamorphosis is mirrored by his slow descent into madness. As his condition worsens he becomes more erratic in his movements, prone to rash decisions and violence. Goldblum was perfect for this role. Cronenberg has said he wanted the movie to act as metaphor for how disease and old age can destroy a person and the movie gets the job done.
There is one major plot point that I don’t understand however. The fly that ends up mixing with Brundle is first seen bothering a test monkey. A monkey that Brundle is looking straight at and yet he does not notice the fly. When he steps into the telepod one would think he’d ensure nothing else was in it with him. He doesn’t. My point is the accident seemed entirely avoidable for a smart man like him.
Regardless of that if you’re looking for an offbeat introspection at disease and madness The Fly has got you covered.
Friday the 13th (1980)
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
You know a lot of people will not watch horror. For them the horror genre is filled with poor writing, excessive gore and characters that are so annoying you want to see them get killed. It’s movies like Friday the 13th which are the source of this misconception. Make no mistake, while Jason Voorhees is a horror icon, his movies are largely trash including the one that started it all.
The first movie in the franchise follows the same beats you’d expect. A bunch of sexy yet stupid teens are tasked with getting a Camp Crystal Lake ready for the upcoming summer season. One by one they are murdered by Jason… I mean his mother. Yes, his mother. His 40 something frail-looking mother. Played here by Betsy Palmer. The reveal that she is the killer is meant to be this shocking moment. It isn’t. It’s laughable because this is not the killer we’ve seen so far.
The previously unseen killer preformed numerous acts that this Mrs. Voorhees should be unable to accomplish. In one scene, she manages to hold down a man lying in his bed with just one arm pushing against his head. In another she throws a corpse of a girl threw a window. And yet in the final faceoff with Alice, the lone surviving girl, Mrs. Voorhees loses her previously expert killing skills and is so incompetent it becomes funny.
Of course, Mrs. Voorhees loses the final fight. We all know because Jason is the one who becomes the star of the franchise. Speaking of which one may ask, where is he? Well don’t worry fam the movie has got you covered.
In the final scene Alice is floating away in a canoe. Until Jason jumps out of the water to grab her underneath with him. As M. Night Shyamalan would say: “What a twist!” Every horror needs a twist, right? Wrong. Not if it’s a crappy twist.
The reveal of Jason makes the entire movie unnecessary. If Jason was alive all along why did his mother feel the need to get revenge for his death? The movie makes it clear that Jason and his Mother loved each other very much. So why has Jason been hiding away in the woods all these years? Why didn’t he return to his home with his beloved mommy?
The answer? This film is dumb that’s what. So, if you plan to watch it know that beforehand. Not everything about is stupid however. There are good qualities to be found such as the special effects of Tom Savini, and the musical score by Harry Manfredini.
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Directed by Steve Miner
Like the first film the movie follows another group of sexy teens training to become what else camp councilors on a camp that’s not Camp Crystal Lake. Just the one right beside it. So, what could go wrong? Nothing I’m sure.
It’s not all the same though! This group is exceptionally larger. They even have a black guy and someone in a wheelchair! That means you know the writers really worked extra hard with this one. Besides the group being larger they’re also more sexually active. Very much so.
The movie wants to bang it into your head that young people love sex. Especially young women. Even when their friends start dropping like flies sex is always an option for these horny deviants. In one scene a girl decides to skinny dip alone in the middle of the night. As one does. The camera focuses on her in a way that would not be out-of-place on Pornhub. This happen a lot. A little too much at times. A couple played by Marta Kober and Stu Charno even have the distinction of getting killed while having sex. Jason stabs them both with a single spear thrust.
The only character of note that rises above this treatment is Ginny Field. She spends a large chunk of the movie theorizing as to why Jason has become crazy. You see Ginny is learning to become a child psychologist. This is referenced a lot. It also ends up playing a major role in the finale. The actor Amy Steel does her best with her mediocre dialogue.
Speaking of plot, it’s an exact copy of the first one. Now with Jason as the main killer instead of Pamela Voorhees. The movie even ends with the same twist. Jason lunges from a hiding place to grab the final girl as the screen fades to white.
So why then have I rated this film higher than the first you ask? Well for one the over-the-top body count, combined with a greater volume of teenage antics adds a more comedic tone to this film than the first. I get the sense the writers understood nobody took the first seriously so they felt it easier to embrace the sillier side of the plot. They’re never gonna out-do Halloween so why try?
From a House on Willow Street (2017)
Directed by Alastair Orr
You’ve probably never heard of this film considering it’s an indie South African production. Still I’d recommend you watch this film. It managed to change-up the demon possession genre in a way that piqued my interests.
The movie follows 4 thieves: Hazel, her boyfriend Ade, Ade’s cousin James, and Mark (Zino Ventura). They kidnap Katherine the young daughter of a wealthy diamond mogul. As they soon find out though this girl is not as she seems. She is now the vessel of a powerful and evil force. As one expects the captors are soon forced to experience everything from creepy visions to possession.
Sharni Vinson who plays Hazel is amazing. Hazel was the only survivor of a fire that killed her parents. A desperate orphan who adopted a hardened exterior and turned to a life of crime to get by. Vinson captures that by making it obvious how guilt-ridden she is with every pained facial expression. Mark is also stricken by grief. His daughter is dead. Ade killed a friend. James’s mother is dead.
These tragic back stories help the viewer relate to and otherwise humanize what would be despicable thieves. Unlike other horror films I wanted them all, especially Hazel, to survive. It helped that they weren’t morons. Their backstories also provide fodder for the Katherine’s vison and mind-reading powers.
Katherine like many possessed victims is disfigured, prone to obscenities, and cocky. Yet unlike other demons she’s also prone to fear. She’s not invincible, or at least not yet. The actor Carlyn Burchell does a great job showing off this vulnerability. In one scene, the demon is so desperate it’s willing to make a deal with one the thieves to release it. It’s obviously a trick but Burchell acts like a drug addict desperate for her next hit and not like an all-powerful demon toying around. It’s a refreshing take on a demon.
The effects in this movie were also revitalizing. We actually see the demons. They’re mot invisible! For an indie film the effects were really well done. The demons here have long-ass tongues, their ends covered in spikes. Every time one of them jumped onto someone and attempted to possess them it freaked me out. Spirits shamble around naked, black spit gurgling from their mouths.
The wonderful claustrophobic cinematography transforms a large abandoned factory, the setting of the movie, into a small cave. The only light source coming from dim yellow bulbs. It’s unsettling for both the characters and the viewers. With the demon designs this movie best reminded me of a mix of a haunted house and a Resident Evil Game.
As long as you don’t mind gore I’d recommend this movie for anyone looking for a unique take on the demon genre. An end scene involving a fiery spirit taking on two demons is worth it alone.
Killing Ground (2016)
Directed by Damien Power
This movie is different. It’s slow, is for the most part bloodless, contains nothing supernatural, and humanizes its killers to an extent not usually seen in horror films. More a true-crime movie than it still managed to be one of the more disturbing films I watched this October.
The movie is split between two timelines. One in the past and one in the present. The past follows a family of four. Two parents, a teenage girl, and a young boy. The present a young couple. The young couple, played by Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows, arrives at a campsite for a holiday getaway. There they find an abandoned campsite. We the viewer already knows something bad has happened to the other family but the couple does not.
A tension and sense of dread envelops the viewer as we wait to find out what exactly happened to the family of four and what could happen to the young couple. When the killers do show up it’s not in a way you’d expect. Our first big scene with them is them hanging out in a club trying to get some action with the local women. Instead of coming off as scary they’re somewhat sympathetic in their foibles.
It’s only until the last act when we find out what happened to the family of four does the movie ratchets up the horror to 11. It’s a highly disturbing look at what humans, normal everyday humans are capable of. Sometimes real life can be scarier than any, demon, alien, or zombie.
Directed by Rob Reiner
One of the few horror movies to win an Academy Award, Misery is not just a great horror film but a great movie period. Starring James Caan as author Paul Sheldon and Kathy Bates as his “number one fan” Annie Wilkes, the movie is a terrific look at mental illness and what it can do to a person.
Paul Sheldon has just finished his latest novel while at his retreat in Colorado when driving back to New York he suffers a car crash in a blizzard. Wilkes finds him and takes her back to her farm-house. A nurse, she promises to take care of him until she can travel to the hospital once the roads are cleared.
Kathy Bates gives Wilkes an exuberance one would expect a widowed housewife would have if she got to hang out with her favourite author of romance novels. She’s cheery and always ready to spring a smile. Sheldon is her exact opposite. A loner and a little cynical he struggles to deal with such generosity. Everything is fine until Wilkes reads the latest Misery novel and finds out Sheldon has killed off her favourite character. Wilkes breaks into an angry fit. Clearly upset and spilling soup on Sheldon.
The character of Wilkes changes completely after that. Kathy Bates is up to the job being able to switch from cherub to raging demon with little effort. Wilkes may not look terrifying but Bates will make you fear her. It’s clear why she won an Academy award for this performance.
Not to discount James Caan’s work. He is tasked not only with faking great pain (one scene involving a hammer stands out in particular) but transforming Shledon from a depressed cynic into a man of great action. Most of which while confined to a bed or wheelchair.
Visually the movie is like Annie Wilkes character. The sunny blue skies and the homespun aesthetic of the house hiding the sinister nature located within. To further provide contrasts is the sheriff of the local town. As much as a folksy outdoors man as you’d expect. He’s the last one you’d expect to deal with such a horrifying experience. Richard Farnsworth did a great job with his minor role.
Which is to be expected for this film. Everything is great here. My one minor issue I have being the sudden ending.
Directed by Don Coscarelli
So, imagine if you were at a pitch meeting for a film. The studio wants to make a new horror film. A tall man speaks up and proposes his idea:
“Mike Pearson, a young boy is being raised by his older brother and their parents are dead. He comes to believe that the local cemetery operator is secretly turning the dead into zombie dwarf slaves. All of this is a part of his plan to take over the world. Oh, and did I mention the cemetery operator may be an alien with robotic spheres of death?”
Of course, you’d be laughed out of the room. Fired to. Hence why this indie film was largely the output of one man Don Coscarelli. He directed, written, photographed, co-produced, and edited this thing.
Phantasm is a strange film. Out of all the films I watched this October this one was the hardest to rate. Some parts I enjoyed, like the Tall Man and his powers. Others had me confused. Undead hooded dwarf slaves that growl like dogs? I mean really?
Angus Scrimm alone makes up for all the weirdness. His character the Tall Man is very interesting. Whereas most horror villains range from stoic silent killers to talkative cocky sociopaths the Tall Man is on his own plane of existence. His body towers over all others. Yet he never appears without a face of perpetual annoyance. Killing for him is like a dirty chore. When he’s chasing after Mike Pearson he tends to yell out “boy” like a grandpa would to his grandson caught making a mess. The Tall Man can also transform into a sexy blonde woman. This leads to one of the most disturbing and funniest sex scene I’ve seen in a film.
Other characters get their due to. A. Michael Baldwin as Mike is how you’d expect a child would react to discovering an evil conspiracy in his small town. Scared shitless but determined to be the hero. Another character Reggie (Reggie Bannister), the comic relief, spends most of the movie in an all-white ensemble with a black bow tie driving around in an ice cream truck. Yes, an ice cream truck. This movie is bubbling with creativity.
From the mausoleum with its grand room height and white statues to the shiny metallic spheres the Tall Man uses, this film isn’t lacking in imagination. The score which mixes synthetic electric music with classical instruments contributes to the weird vibe of the film. If you’re looking for a different offering of horror this movie is the one for you.
The Stepford Wives (1975)
Directed by Bryan Forbes
If you’ve seen Get Out you’ve seen The Stepford Wives. This is not a slag against this film. It’s a plus. Get Out was one of the best horror films in recent years. Watching this film, it’s clear why The Stepford Wives was an inspiration for them.
Our first shot is of a family in a car getting ready to leave New York City for their new home in the suburbs of Eastern Connecticut. A man carrying a women mannequin walks past to the curious delight of the children. An ominous omen of what’s to come.
The star of the film is Katharine Ross’s Joanna Eberhart. A feisty urban photographer and loving mother. Not entirely happy with her family’s move she none the less allowed her lawyer husband to convince her it be best for their children. She trusts him.
Stepford, the suburban town they move to is about stereotypical White and conservative as you’d imagine. The men where suits, smoke, and drink together at their exclusive male-only club. The women where Sunday dresses, cook and look after the kids. In one charming scene, an old woman is giddy with excitement when she finds out a black couple is moving to Stepford. While physically close to liberal New York City, Stepford is culturally on another planet.
This causes Joanna to feel cultural isolated. The local women are rather simple with no interest in anything but pleasing their husbands and cleaning. An attempt to create a women’s club fails. The stoic women only wanting to discuss cleaning products and baking recipes.
Her only escape are two other recent female arrivals: Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) and Charmaine Wimperis (Tina Louise). When Charmaine, a pugnacious trophy wife, starts acting like the local women the other two women begin to investigate the source of Stepford’s weird women behavior.
I could go on but I’d rather not spoil the plot. I will say that this movie is the best explanation at what systematic oppression feels like. In one scene Joanna’s husband returns from a meeting, his eyes swelling with tears. Joanna is upset that he’s upset. He half-heartedly reassures he’s fine. The scene is strange at first. It’s not until the last third of the film do we understand its significance. How well-meaning individuals will abandon their principles for social acceptance within a larger group.
Acting wise everyone is amazing in this emotional-heavy story. Katharine Ross is the stand out as Joanna. She plays her as a woman torn between her passion for photography career and her love for her husband. A struggle that does not end well for her. Peter Masterson as her husband is also great. Every action shows a pained man who slowly becomes something else entirely, giving into personal desire. Patrick O’Neal also provides a stirring performance as the quiet computer businessman Diz. A perfect example of how genius and unchecked ego can warp ones’ sense of morality.
The film like the town of Stepford itself may appear bright and sunny but underneath it all is a system which oppresses others for the betterment of others. If you like smart science fiction and horror please do watch it.
Super Dark Times (2017)
Directed by Kevin Philips
By far the best movie I watched this October. Super Dark Times is set in a small American town in the 1990s and follows two teens, Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) as they deal with the aftermath of a tragic accident. An accident they try their best to keep a secret.
Other characters include Zach’s loving mom Karen (Amy Hargreaves) and Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) the love interested of both boys. Every actor is amazing in this film. At times I forgot I was even watching a film. They all seem like real people. It helps that the writing is spot on. The dialogue is pitch-perfect accurate for teenagers in the 1990s.
As is the set design, the props, and fashion. Unlike many period pieces which smother the viewer with their cultural and historical references Super Dark Times limits the references to the background. A minor TV cameo from Bill Clinton being the only exception. The main focus here is the plot and not nostalgia.
As the name of the film implies this movie is dark. The weight of the ‘accident’ push Zach to insomnia and paranoia. So much he is unable to enjoy a proper relationship with Allison. Josh becomes withdrawn and prone to risky behaviour. The relationship between the two best friends reaches a boiling point in the finale.
For a first time director this film is gorgeous. Every shot framed in a way that compliments what happens in the scene. Wide landscape shots signal isolation and loneliness. When Zach is feeling guilty the camera focuses on his face capturing each and every nervous facial twist. The music is great too. It only adds and never overshadows.
While some would argue this is not a horror film and more a thriller. I’d argue regardless of genre this is an amazing film no matter what. If this is what he can accomplish with his first time debut director Kevin Phillips has a bright future ahead for him.
Wish Upon (2017)
Directed by John R. Leonetti
If you had to ask someone to describe the traits that most exemplify modern horror, it most likely would include: Frequent usage of music cues to signal an upcoming scary scene. A lack of colour. Monochrome tones for every scene! The prime target market being teenagers. PG-13 is great! The main character being a young girl. Always attractive. A largely unseen supernatural demon/ghost being the villain. A run time that never extends past 90 minutes. So many jump scares, both fake and real.
That list would describe Wish Upon to a tee. Just take the first scene. The film opens upon a toddler riding a bike with her puppy. Everything is happy. The music is light-hearted. The shot even has yellow tone to it. Then the girl enters her house. The music becomes ominous. Everything is dark. Long before we see it the audience knows something scary will pop up. Instead of treating the audience to a genuine surprise the movie can’t help but tease us. When we do finally witness the disturbing imagery, an orchestra comes out of nowhere and plays at full volume.
Every scary scene is like this in this film. Noisy. Predictable. And without tension. Speaking of predictability let’s discuss the plot. A young girl Clare (Joey King) living with her money-poor widowed father is bullied and unable to attract the attention of her crush wishes for a better life. Lucky for her she finds a supernatural Chinese music box wish grants wishes. These wishes come with a price: the death of someone close to her.
Her first wish is her jokingly wishing the main school bully “would rot.” When that happens, she continues to make more wishes. Her dog does die on the same day but that is written off as a coincidence. After she makes her second wish her uncle dies. On her third wish her neighbor dies. This continues as you’d expect.
The stupid thing is that Clare continues to wish even after she finds out what happens when she does. Her earlier love for her friends and family goes out the window once she can get some dick and popularity. Clare is a sociopath, or stupid, or both. By the end of the film you want her to die. I doubt that was the movie’s intention but that’s what I felt.
If that wasn’t enough the death scenes in this movie are just… they’re horrible. Not in a disturbing way, but in a bad way. They’re drawn out with so many fakes it’s annoying. Take one scene where a character is trying to contact someone in a lighting storm. She tries emailing someone but the power goes out. She tries using her phone inside but can’t get a signal. She goes outside onto a metal fire escape. The music is ominous. The sky crackles with thunder. You think a lightning bolt is about to strike the fire escape and electrocute her, but nope. Nothing happens.
Then the wind picks up and she drops her phone. She leans over trying to find where it fell. The wind and music become louder. The walkway violently creaks and… it doesn’t break. She heads back inside. The room is pitch black. In the corner of the room there appears to be someone. She looks scared. Could this be the Chinese demon that powers the evil music box? Nope. A flash of lighting shows it to be a statue.
By this point the I was getting annoyed with this scene. I know she’s going to die. The movie clearly explained to me that someone will die every time Clare makes a wish. Both the moody music and monochrome tone signals a death is upon us. So why all this teasing? JUST KILL HER ALREADY! They finally do by having her trip and impaling herself on an abstract statue. It’s a disturbing scene but by that point I didn’t care. It was teased for so long that it lost my interest.
The movie does this with every death scene. It’s ridiculous and pointless. It adds no tension to the movie. We know someone is destined to do after every wish. Hell, every time it’s about to happen the music box will open up and play some creepy music. The next person the camera cuts to is going to die. So stop it with the trolling!
The best part of the movie is when Clare gets hits by a minivan. At that point, the movie was over. I’d only recommend this for the fact the main lead does a good job with what she’s given. That and the movie has both the actor who played Barb from Stranger’s Thing and Dong from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.