Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Nightare On Elm Street (1984)

I have a confession to make.  I haven't been spreading my love equally across the great horror franchises.  When I started this blog, I quickly reviewed a few of the original Nightmare movies, but I got distracted by shiny objects and never really got back on track.  In the meantime, I have reviewed every single Friday the 13th and most of the Halloweens.  Out of a sense of fairness, it is high time I returned to the A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, and where else should I start, but with the original?

A Nightmare On Elm Street begins with a mysterious figure crafting an all-purpose murder glove in a boiler room somewhere.  Coincidentally, Tina () has a nightmare where she is chased by a mysterious figure wearing a murder glove!  It's always nice when you don't have to wait for plot points to pay off.  Tina runs from this creepy, fedora-and-ugly-sweater-wearing, razor-gloved meanie, but he catches up with her.
Maybe he just wants a hug
Right when he is about to kill her, Tina wakes up screaming in bed.  It was just a dream!  Except...her nightgown has slash marks in it, right where her nightmare man cut her!  Dum-dah-DUMMMMMM!!!  On a side note, teenagers wear nightgowns?  Anyway, Tina's not the only teen having dreams like this.  Her boyfriend, Rod (), her friend, Nancy (), and Nancy's boyfriend, Glen (, in his film debut), have all been having nightmares; despite Tina being openly creeped out by her dream, none of her friends comes forward and admits to having similar nightmares because teenagers don't have empathy.
Or props that make sense in their scenes.  What is with the birds by the boombox?
Since Tina makes such a big deal about her dream, Nancy and Glen agree to keep her company while her parents are out of town.  Rod shows up, too, just in time for some sex scenes that sound remarkably like people trying very hard to sound like they're having all the sex in the world.  After Rod finishes pleasing his woman, this happens:
He becomes the Magneto of flesh?
An invisible attacker slices the hell out of Tina and then, just for giggles, reverses her personal gravity; this was done presumably to force her family to clean her bloody footprints off the ceiling, which looks suspiciously like a deck.  That's when things go a little crazy.  The police, led by Nancy's estranged police lieutenant father (), assume that Rod killed Tina (...on the ceiling...?) because he was the only one in the room.  Rod eventually gets caught and winds up in prison, but not before admitting to Nancy that he has had nightmares about a man with a razor bladed murder glove.  This blows Nancy's mind.  To be fair, it should.  That night, as she is dreaming, Nancy watches Mr. Razorfingers entering Rod's cell, preparing to kill.  When she wakes, Nancy knows that Rod is in danger, but no one believes that an invisible dream monster is going to attack him.  They should have, because Nancy was right.  After this point, Nancy is a teen on a mission: stop this mysterious dream monster!  Or at least find out who he is!
...before he falls through that latex wall and lands on her damn head!

The acting in A Nightmare On Elm Street is not very good.  In the lead role, is pretty awful and sadly doesn't die (or does she...?).  She didn't annoy me, but she's not very likable and has trouble with any part of her character that can't be described as a "wet blanket."  was a little better as Tina, although she was also pretty basic.  was one-dimensional, but his one dimension was that of an insensitive rebel-type, and he did that fairly well.  wasn't much better, with some of his line readings (especially "WoooOOOOoooo") being painful to watch.  On the bright side, his character didn't demand much acting, and Depp at least managed to get the most memorable death scene in the film.
If you're not going to be good in a movie, at least try to die well
spends most of this movie in the shadows as the evil Fred (not Freddy) Krueger.  Freddy doesn't display his trademark humor or cackle much in this first entry, but I think some of the visuals with Freddy are at their most iconic here.
That's a great introduction shot
Still, Englund isn't at his best here, if only because the script is not sure what direction they want the character to go; Freddy is a presence in this movie more than he is an actual character.  actually headlined this movie, which is hilarious in retrospect.  In turn, he was about as good as John Saxon normally is --- he's a perfectly acceptable B-movie actor.  Rounding out the main cast, was absolutely horrible in every conceivable way as Nancy's alcoholic mother.  In all fairness, her character is terrible.  Still, Blakely should be able to act circles around Heather Lagenkamp (she is an Oscar nominee, after all), and that just doesn't happen here.

A Nightmare On Elm Street was written and directed by , after he read about (I shit you not) Asian Death Syndrome.  The basic idea here is a chilling one: what if the danger in your dreams was real?  As such, Craven goes out of his way to make a menacing villain, and he does so with some great visual scenes.
That's not Freddy.  That's a subtle warning to not date Nancy.
As far as his direction of the actors goes, Craven did a pretty awful job.  I honestly couldn't tell you if this cast had their lines memorized or were using cue cards.  The pacing in the film is okay, but it's a little slow for a slasher movie.  And that's what this is, oddly enough.  There are elements in the plot that could have made this far more suspenseful and frightening, but Craven opted for a simpler (and dumber) take.  I like the basic idea, but it's not very scary, exciting, or unpredictable, despite having the whole dream monster angle.

The special effects in A Nightmare On Elm Street had some definitely good moments, but it's pretty inconsistent overall.  Glen and Tina's death scenes are pretty great, no doubt about it.  I don't know what it is that makes them so memorable --- is it just the fact that they wind up on the ceiling? --- but they definitely stand out in the genre.  I also really like the moments where the audience is aware of Freddy's presence, but Nancy is not, like when he pushes his face in the wall above her bed, or when she is sitting in the bathtub.  Unfortunately, there are also moments like this:
Unless those are expanding dildos coming out from his shoulder, I'm not impressed
Why is it supposed to be frightening that Freddy can walk slowly with cut-rate Stretch Armstrong arms?  There are other moments that are okay, but have definitely aged a bit over the years.
Is that supposed to be silly putty?
On the whole, though, I think the look and feel of the special effects scenes work pretty well, even twenty-nine years later.

What about the horror, though?  For being a slasher movie, the Nightmare movies have always had a fairly low body count, and A Nightmare On Elm Street definitely sets that precedent.  Four people officially die in this movie.  Granted, two of those kills are pretty awesome, but...just four?!?  LAME. Worse than the low blood and gore count is the fact that this film completely ignores the easiest and most fun possibility for horror: the dreams.  Aside from a few bits with Nancy dreaming about Tina's talking corpse, the only dreamscape we see is Freddy's Land of Boiler Room Fun.  Dreams offer so many possibilities and even one good, weird one would have made a huge difference to the tone of this movie.  It might have even added *gasp* suspense to this slasher pic!

Don't get me wrong, A Nightmare On Elm Street is definitely better than most movies starring Freddy Krueger (noteworthy exception: Freddy Vs. Jason).  I just had a memory of it being actually good instead of just promising.  Really, how many horror franchises have a villain that has at least a kernel of justification in his back story?  Yes, he was evil, but the dude got lynched --- that may not be the best reason to kill teenagers, but at least he has a small excuse.  Unfortunately, most of the promising ideas aren't fully formed.  What makes Freddy Krueger stand out from his slasher movie brethren is his personality, and that is sorely missing from this movie.  Well, that and any logic whatsoever when it comes to when Freddy can kill you --- I'm pretty sure that only one person was actually asleep when they died, which makes no sense.  Even considering its many shortcomings, A Nightmare On Elm Street does have a unique feel to it, which goes a long way for the discerning fan of 80s horror movies.  Is it a classic?  I wouldn't say that, but it has its moments.

The Devil Inside

Warning: do not watch The Devil Inside hoping for a feature-film treatment for the 1988 INXS music video.  I think we can all acknowledge the brilliance of such a film, especially when revisiting the source material:
Sadly, The Devil Inside is yet another recent found-footage horror movie, only this one focuses on the concept of possession and exorcism.  As a bonus, this film is "inspired by true events," which is undoubtedly true, particularly if you consider the box-office success of The Exorcist and Paranormal Activity "true events."  Let's face it: found-footage movies are rarely good, and exorcism movies are usually steaming piles.  But when done right, a movie like this can really sneak up on you.  Does The Devil Inside accomplish this?  A thousand times, no.  Spoiler: you shouldn't watch this movie, and I will discuss the ending.

The Devil Inside opens with some of the most hilarious bits of prologue I have ever seen.  The filmmakers would like to make the audience aware that A) the Vatican does not authorize filming exorcisms B) the Vatican does not endorse this film and C) the Vatican did not aid in this film's completion.  Each one of those claims is uniquely amusing.  A) takes it for granted that the Vatican endorses exorcism, which I found hilarious...until I tried to dig up some facts on the issue.  There don't seem to be any.  I couldn't find anything that convinced me that the Vatican endorsed or condemned the practice, which was probably the most disturbing experience I had with this film.  B) is funny because it's not like failing to gain the Pope's thumbs up has ever impacted any movie, ever.  C) I enjoyed initially because I pictured some Cardinals or the Pope working as production assistants.  However, the ending of this movie is so bad, it can be accurately stated that neither the Vatican nor the filmmakers aided in the completion of this film.
Above: a common reaction to paying close attention to this plot

Anyway, The Devil Inside begins with some crime scene footage, shot in the 1989.  "I didn't know small town police stations video taped crime scene investigations," you might say.  That's a good point, but if that is the last inconsistency you find in this movie, consider yourself blessedly ignorant.  It seems that  three priests were killed in an exorcism gone wrong, and the possessed woman was arrested.  Oddly enough, she never made it to court because the Catholic Church shipped her off to Rome to live out her days in a special psychiatric hospital.  Because that sometimes happens.  Three days after the exorcism, the possessed woman's husband died, too.  Spooky, right?  Twenty years later, Isabella Rossi () has come to a very natural decision.  She is going to help make a documentary about exorcisms and demonic possessions, and she is going to go to Italy with her cameraman, Michael () to learn more about mommy dearest.  They immediately befriend a pair of rebel priests, Father Ben () and Father David (), who actively engage in exorcisms.
Fact: suspect boards are essential to exorcising demons
Well, that was easy, right?  Almost as easy as it is for Isabella to switch from wanting to learn about her disturbed/possessed mother to wanting these new friends to perform an exorcism on her.  There is one slight problem, though: it seems that the Church does not sanction exorcisms unless the demonic possession can be scientifically proven.  Let that sink in for a moment, file it away under "mock later," and continue on, because if you stop every time this movie is dumb, it will take days to finish.  To illustrate their point, Fathers Ben and David take Isabella and her cameraman with to a real exorcism because of course they allow strangers to witness and document their incredibly secretive acts.  It goes off pretty well, aside from the possessed woman (the prolific film contortionist ) gushing blood from her lady garden, saying nasty things and (not surprisingly, given the actress) making her body bend in ways it wasn't meant to.  With that experience under their collective belts, proving that Isabella's mother () is legitimately possessed and then exorcising her demon should be a piece of cake, right? 
Somebody wants cake...!
If you've seen an exorcism movie before, you know damn well that any film's main exorcism is never that easy, and by now it should be obvious that The Devil Inside is not going to provide many surprises.

The acting in The Devil Inside is bland at best.  is mediocre in the lead role, but at least she is convincing as someone who doesn't really know much about exorcisms, which puts her on the same level as the audience.  She plays frightened well enough, but her "Real World" confessional moments are pretty bad.  gets precious little screen time, since he is holding the camera for almost the entire movie, but his character was awful.  You know who should never whine about people not liking them?  Idiots who don't ever stop filming their friends in uncomfortable moments.  If the script intended for this unseen character to be worth hating, it worked surprisingly well.  and were both decent as exorcism priests, but they certainly don't steal any spotlights from the underwhelming main character.  That just leaves the two possessed characters.  was easily my favorite actor in this film, although describing her work as "acting" may be a bit of an exaggeration.
"Unpleasantly twisting" is a bit more accurate
Still, her was the most effective part in the film, without a doubt.  had the role of crazy possessed woman, and she hammed it up to the degree that the role (more or less) demanded.  She wasn't bad, but this type of role has been done better elsewhere, so seeing a third-rate version was less than thrilling.

The Devil Inside was directed and co-written by .  What amazed me most about his direction in this movie is just how much filler there is.  It feels like this movie is filled with about 40% B-roll footage, with the remainder being a blend of suspiciously familiar footage that could have come from any number of other exorcism movies and some shots of Bell's unappealing actors going through the motions.  The acting in this movie, while not atrocious, isn't very good.  The camera work in this movie is of the found footage variety, so that's not good, either.  The pacing of this 83 minute film is slow and there are no surprises and there is no suspense.  Bell did a bad job making a bad movie.  Worse than the directing was the writing.  
Yes, it's that bad
It was a generic exorcism script that added nothing new or exciting or vaguely interesting to set The Devil Inside apart in any way.  Well, except maybe with its low quality.  The whole story is filled with questionable "facts" and character motivations, but the absolute worst part of this film was the ending.  With about ten minutes left in the film, it becomes clear that demons can switch the bodies they are possessing by breathing in another person's mouth.  Wouldn't that be something covered earlier in the movie?  In a better film, yes.  Since it is very easy to walk up and breathe right into another person's open mouth (I must do it thirty times a day!), the demon is naturally jumping from body to body.  The heroes get a demon-possessed body into a car and start driving to...the Vatican exorcism ER, I guess...when the demon possesses the driver, and drives the car into oncoming traffic, presumably killing everyone inside.  The screen goes black.  Now, that is a hilariously awful way to end a movie.  Any movie.  But then, before the credits roll, a title card comes up, telling the audience that the Rossi family case is still unresolved, and to check out a website for further developments in the case.  If you go to the website now, it is offline, but more timely reviews describe it as a pretty generic movie site with the sort of material you might look for if you were deciding whether or not to go see the movie.  Of course, since you are directed to check out the site after watching a bad movie with a hilariously stupid ending, that extra work is significantly more aggravating.

 The Devil Inside would be a terrible movie, even without the comically misguided attempt at cross-platform marketing tacked on the end.  The best thing about this movie was the sound effects when Bonnie Morgan was contorting herself.  Unfortunately, there are 82 other minutes in this film.  It's not a crime to make a familiar movie, but if you're going to rip someone else off, try to add something interesting to the mix.  Make the demons talk like pirates or something; write the script in iambic pentameter; give the entire cast handlebar mustaches --- I don't care, just make your movie different enough to be worth remembering.  All I will remember about The Devil Inside is the hilarious title cards before and after the movie.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


To put it plainly, the horror movie genre is very familiar with a fact that the rest of the world doesn't like to admit: children are scary as shit.  They don't have to be evil, like in The Omen, or a sign of bad tidings, like the girls that are always singing "One, two, Freddy's coming for you."  Even the best kids have moments where their innocence and lack of developed morals come together and make mature adults soil themselves.  Very few filmmakers use that as the core concept of their film, but that is basically what you get in Mama.

Lucas's () twin brother, Jeffrey (also ) went nuts after the 2008 stock market crash, killing several people at work and then returning home to murder his wife.  No one ever saw Jeffrey or his two young daughters after that day, but they were presumed dead.  Lucas was all like, "When you presume, you make a pres out of me and...okay that doesn't work with this one."  He spent every dime he had paying bearded hillbillies (redundant, I know) to search the large, wooded area around Jeffrey's home for some signs of Jeffrey or his kids.  After five long years, the searchers finally found Jeffrey's car, wrecked on the side of a hill, and a dilapidated horror movie cabin nearby.  Inside, the searchers found childish drawings on the wall, along with a disgustingly large pile of cherry pits.  Oh, and they found a two-headed Gollum lookalike that actually turned out to be Victoria () and Lilly ().
"Nasty little Hobbitses" - all of their dialogue, if I had any say in it
Naturally, Lucas was ecstatic to see his nieces again, even if they were feral, and he wanted to care for them.  His hard-rocking girlfriend, Annabel () was less enthused, but went along with Lucas's wishes as best she could.
"Enthusiastically" would probably be overselling it
Since these children are obviously damaged, they initially spend their time in a psychiatric ward, under the care of Dr. Dreyfuss (); Dr. Dreyfuss conducts many interviews and hypnosis therapies with Victoria and begins to learn about Mama.  You see, Mama is who took care of the girls for five years.  Mama protected them and loved them and, sometimes, scared them.  At first, Dr. Dreyfuss believes that "Mama" is a persona that Victoria adapted to act as a mother figure to her and her younger sister, Lilly.  But the more he hears, the less likely that seems to be.  When it comes time for the girls to be released into private custody, Dreyfuss works out a deal that allows the girls to live with Lucas and Annabel in a large suburban home, free of charge --- as long as Dreyfuss continues to have regular access to the girls, so he can learn more about Mama.  Even a doctor can tell the difference between an invisible friend and something...different.  Unfortunately, the good doctor doesn't tell anyone else about his theories, which results in Lucas being attacked by something in the house and falling into a coma.  That leaves Annabel on her own with two miniature people who have more in common with raccoons than her.  And, of course, Mama is there, too...
I know it's the weird figure in the background that is supposed to be scary, but that kid's smile creeps me out

As far as the acting goes in Mama, I am happy to say that the children are pretty good.  Their parts aren't very articulate, so it's not a breakthrough performance for either young actress, but so much of Mama depended on them being creepy and they totally pulled it off.  , being the older sister, had more to do, and she did it well.  She was creepy when she needed to be, she had some good screams, and her character's progression made sense.  was surprisingly good at playing feral.  It would have been easy for a kid her age to be hilariously bad in this role, especially since her character doesn't speak in sentences.  Nélisse not only managed to avoid being bad with her dialogue, she did a great job with her physical acting in this movie.  That is probably a big reason why she was the creepy kid in this movie.
It almost looks like she is pulling a corpse off the bed by the hair
How about the adults, though?  Despite playing a dual role, spends an awful lot of time off-screen.  I thought he was fine, but I don't know if he brought anything special to the role.  was the main character, though, and she got to play the POV character in this movie.  Chastain was fine.  It's hard playing the adult in a movie where the goal is for the kids to stand out, but Chastain kept things fairly subtle.  I got a little annoyed by her "What was that?!?" face always having a gaping mouth, and I thought it was funny how little her character, a professional musician, listened to music, but that's all I can really complain about.
Above: Chastain being startled by strange noises in the room.  They came from your guitar, dummy.
was less impressive as the cold and calculating psychiatrist, if only because he gave the role no depth.  Speaking of one-dimensional characters, was irritating as Aunt Jean; here is a character that loves the children, has a logical right to care for them, and would probably be a better parent than Lucas and Annabel, and what do we get?  A straight up bitch.  Such a missed opportunity.

I have to admit that I was impressed by first-time co-writer and director Andrés MuschiettiMama looked quite good, from just a cinematography standpoint, but Muschietti also used some clever camera tricks.  My personal favorite was a scene shot down a long hallway, allowing the audience to see into the girls' bedroom and another room simultaneously; the reveal at the end of that scene --- which you can see coming a mile away --- was damn well done, and effective, even if it was predictable.  I thought the general story had a good core to it; Muschietti and his brother came up with the story and screenplay, with Luther creator Neil Cross polishing it for an English-speaking audience.  There are some good semi-scary moments, but what I appreciated were the bits of unexpected tension.  Annabel closing the closet door (of EVIL!!!) instead of opening it, Lilly crawling silently around the house, Victoria's scary eyes in the dark --- those are the bits I will remember most about Mama.
Is it against the rules for movie monsters to kill people wearing Misfits shirts?  It should be.
That said, while there are many small moments that were great, the big scares in Mama didn't quite deliver.  Is there suspense?  Sure.  Are there startling moments?  Yes.  But this film doesn't build on them, and the momentum from scene to scene often gets lost.  

There are certainly some holes in the story, but they thankfully don't get too aggravating.  Why would abandoned children eat a cherry that is rolled across the floor to them from an anonymous source?  Because they are kids, and kids do dumb things.  Okay, fine.  Why would a character that wants to avoid pregnancy be worried enough to take a pregnancy test and then celebrate her non-pregnancy?
Who wouldn't want a little angel like this?
Why wouldn't she just be on the pill or have a nuva ring, or use condoms?  Because...musicians are impulsive, short-sighted sluts?  That's the subtext I'm reading.  Why would a psychiatrist let people live in a home for free so he can observe the children, but not have any video surveillance cameras in or around the house?  Because he is shockingly stupid?  None of these are bad enough to ruin the story, but they are annoying.

You might have noticed that I haven't spoken much about the titular monster in Mama yet.  That's because she's kind of terrible.  Mama is actually used very well by the director, when the audience just catches a glimpse of her here and there.  Unfortunately, the last act of the movie gives us a long, hard look at Mama, and it isn't pretty.
It's like "The Scream" came to life.  Only uglier.
Part of the problem with Mama's character is that she is obviously mostly CGI in a movie without a huge budget.  The other digital effects, particularly the weird moth-emitting wall spots, were solid, but Mama was left looking funny looking instead of frightening.  If they make a sequel (and this film was certainly profitable enough to merit one), fixing Mama's character design needs to be a priority.

Mama is a well-made PG-13 haunted house-type movie.  Given the rating and the first-time direction, I'm impressed.  Could it have been better?  Yes --- ratchet up the pacing a bit and/or make Mama look less stupid and you have something special.  But for a slightly younger horror audience, this isn't bad.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Scream 2

Scream was great.  It mocked horror cliches, but also paid tribute to them; the script was sassy and clever; the villain had a fairly unique gimmick, but was still anonymous enough --- with an easily removed costume and small weapon --- for there to be a legitimate whodunnit mystery.  All in all, it is a fun watch.  Inevitably, a sequel was greenlit and filmed as soon as possible.  Scream 2 came out less than a year after the original film, and expectations were high.  How high?  The female cast were featured in a Rolling Stone cover article:
With these choices, it is obvious that Tori Spelling should be on the magazine cover.  Whaaaa...?!?
I don't really follow what exactly is supposed to be going on in that picture --- are they happily cleaning up after a triple homicide? --- but it does help prove one thing: when it comes to sequels, dumb things happen.

In an unusual bit of theatrical time-keeping, the events of Scream 2 takes place two years after Scream, even though the actual films were released less than a year apart.  Sidney () is now in college and has a group of friends that have not tried to murder her (yet), just a reminder that college is way more fun than high school.  Unfortunately for Sidney, heartless bitch/reporter Gail Weathers () wrote a book about the murders that took place in Scream and the book was turned into a movie called Stab that is just premiering.  That means Sidney gets a lot of prank phone calls from people mimicking the killers.  Thankfully, Sidney learned from her mistakes in the last film and nips that annoying subplot in the bud.
At the premiere of Stab --- the clips of which are pretty amusing --- the theater gives away promotional Ghostface costumes.  That seems like a pretty good idea for about ten minutes, until one of the many people dressed as Ghostface commits a double homicide in the theater.
Worst.  Glory hole.  Ever.
Of course, since this is a horror sequel, that is only the beginning.  Apparently, the killer is obsessed with the murders in Scream, which in turn makes the killing of Sidney a top priority.  That also puts targets on the backs of all her friends, too. 
Two out of three expendables characters in this scene realize it
With all that in mind, it occurs to Sidney and her friends that it is very likely that the killer has infiltrated their clique.  But which one of them is the killer question mark/exclamation mark/question mark.

The acting in Scream 2 is all things to all people, if that means that it's a crap shoot.  I actually thought improved slightly in her return to the role of Sidney.  It is difficult being a likable horror protagonist, but Campbell was able to portray a fairly intelligent and tough woman convincingly.  Again.  Of the returning characters, saw the most positive change.  This time, she actually shows human emotions and I wasn't necessarily hoping she would die.  She also had the biggest character makeover of the group, so she didn't look quite as trashy in this film.  reprised his role as the movie-obsessed nerdling and shocked me again by being decently entertaining.  If you cut the scene where he does mediocre impressions, I would even say that I liked him in this movie.  was okay, too, although I don't quite understand why the filmmakers chose to give him an exaggerated limp and Bob Dole hand.  I guess it was a red herring, and they did give a line of dialogue to explain it, but Arquette isn't a good enough acgor to play disabled and not have it be hilarious.
"Everybody knows you never go full retard"
Of the newbies, and had the most screen time.  O'Connell was a little vacant, but it fit his character.  Olyphant does not play a lawman of any sort, and if you know his filmography at all, you know that is not a good sign.  He gets to overact, which is fun enough to watch, but it wasn't anything special.  didn't have any lines in Scream, so his character felt new in the sequel.  Schreiber wasn't great.  His character is tough to like, and Schreiber was charmless in a complex part.  was inoffensive, but her character was extremely bland.  and were both okay as dual screaming victims.  Gellar's character was a little stupid, but not too annoying.  Pinkett Smith was extremely obnoxious, combining knowitallism with being a person who talks throughout the movie in the theater.
I'm offended by stereotypes, too, Jada
didn't come off much better, with his main characteristics being insensitivity and cheapness, but he did have a hilariously stupid death scene, and that counts for something.  was annoying as the suspiciously high-profile actor playing a relatively minor character, in grand Scooby-Doo tradition.  and were stereotypical sorority girls, although de Rossi's eyebrows did provide some of the film's biggest scares.  In fact, all of the sorority girls were horrifically dull, with only Sarah Michelle Gellar achieving anything beyond "generically bitchy."
My favorites are "judging bitch" (back, right) and "smarmy bitch" (far right)
There are also some entertaining cameos.  Pre-Dawson's Creek had a few solid lines in film class, and casting in a minor role was a nice nod to classic horror movies.  But the most entertaining cameos belonged to the movie-within-a-movie, Stab stretched her skills by playing a brainless blonde bimbo, and (following up on a gag in the first film) played the movie version of Sidney.  Both were chuckle-worthy, but was hilarious in the two lines he had, doing a surprisingly good job mocking Skeet Ulrich in Scream.

Wes Craven returned to Scream 2 as director and writer Kevin Williamson also returned.  With the creative forces behind the original film, as well as the surviving cast, all the pieces were in place to make Scream 2 a great sequel.  That didn't quite happen, though.  Craven did a solid job juggling a gigantic cast, and I thought the returning cast all acted better in this sequel...ignoring Arquette's limping.  Thanks to the advent of Caller ID, though, the best part of Ghostface's routine --- the phone calls --- largely lost its effect.  That meant that we had a silent killer that was missing his calling card. 
Yes, that was bad.  I'm sorry.  You may resume.
Sure, there were a few phone calls, but most of them were blatant I-want-you-to-know-I'm-watching-you ploys, with only Gellar's scene actually involving tension or scares.  Williamson's script, which was the driving force of Scream definitely feels less impressive in Scream 2.  I realize that the script had to be written quickly, but this just feels lazy.  There is less wittiness this time, and what smarts it has are largely recycled.  Did you like the characters asking each other who the killer is, using traditional horror movie logic?  Did you like the sassy female explaining how stupid horror movies are?  Did you like the killer with an incredibly flimsy motive?  Good, because Scream 2 gives you an extra helping of them.
Oh, you liked the phone scenes?  Well...sorry about that.
The kills aren't very much fun, either.  The sheer idiocy of Omar Epps' death --- the combination of stabbing through a stall and Omar having his face pressed right up to it AND doing the stabbing blind --- doesn't even compare to the boombox-toting hip hop dance troupe inadvertently covering up a murder on the quad.  That was jaw-droppingly stupid.  The script has all sorts of holes and terrible plot devices that stick out, scene after scene.  My least favorite scene was the car scene.  Craven does what he can to milk it of every ounce of suspense, but it's so horribly contrived that I just got mad and started rooting for the killer.  Almost as bad is the "everyone with a cell phone must be tackled" scene, where the potential murder victims conveniently forget that the person they're looking for should have some sort of voice-altering device, along with a phone, in their hands.  Ugh.  And then there's the "subtle" clue that tips you off as to the identity of one of the killers.  Oh!  And the second killer?  Yeah, I get the motivation, but if killer #2 is supposed to have killed more than one person in this movie, I'm calling bullshit.  There are a few moments of amusing self-awareness, like the Stab clips and some of Randy's scenes, that feel smart and clever, but they are sadly rare.  This script and plot, as a whole, kind of suck.  They're not godawful, because horror fans know you can do much much much worse, but this was extremely disappointing, coming from the team that made the original so much fun.

The original Scream had some violence and gore, but the light tone kept it from feeling too explicit.  Scream 2 doesn't really amp either up much.  I would say there is a similar amount of gore (with the quad murder being the most gruesome) and only a few more kills.  The set pieces for these scenes weren't that great, with the stage being the best of the bunch; I guess that makes the soundproofed room the worst, because they treated it like a maze instead of an auditory game of cat and mouse.
Look at Ghostface, Courteney.  He's as afraid of you as you are of him.
I suppose that there is enough violence to keep audiences interested, with ten kills overall, but something is missing.  Part of the problem is that some of the kills --- specifically the policemen --- seemed far too easy.  Another is that some of the showcased kills feel a little cheap.  I get it, serial killers don't have to be gentlemen, but at least three characters died while not looking at their killer.  I probably wouldn't care about that if the kills were more memorable or if the script kept things funny, but that's what happens to horror movies when the plot leaves you bored: you start thinking.  And that is rarely good for horror films.
"You know that thing where I frequently show off a movie camera?  You probably shouldn't think too hard about that."

I don't know.  I feel like I'm being too harsh on Scream 2.  I didn't hate the movie.  I was just expecting it to be a lot better.  That was frustrating, because there are a few genuinely good moments in this movie, and I'm glad that the more obvious suspects weren't the killers.  This is a mostly competent horror movie, I have to admit.  I just didn't enjoy it much.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Frighteners

Fun fact: The Frighteners was the movie that convinced executives at Universal to offer director Peter Jackson the chance to make King Kong (2005).  Why?  I honestly do not know.  The Frighteners is not a bad movie, but it doesn't scream "give me the keys to a blockbuster remake," does it?  We're talking about a Michael J. Fox film where he neither travels through time nor is a werewolf --- hardly the sort of thing that makes you sit up and notice.  And yet, there was something about this film that gave those movie execs faith in Peter Jackson's talent.  Of course, those same bigwigs also chose to move scoot up the release date of this film from October (which makes sense for a movie about ghosts) to July (where it could get crushed by Summer blockbusters), so maybe the answer to this mystery is that Universal only hired idiots.  Or, maybe The Frighteners is an underappreciated gem, a glimpse at what a moderately successful Jackson could do, back before The Lord of the Rings made him truly famous.

The Frighteners follows Frank Bannister (), as he operates a low-rent ghost-busting business out of his (unfinished) home.  Many of the locals consider Frank a con artist, and they're right --- just not in the way they think.  Following a car accident that killed his wife, Frank gained the ability to see and speak to ghosts.  In fact, a trio of ghosts --- disco gangster Cyrus (), classic nerd Stuart (), and Old West veteran The Judge () --- are his only friends, as well as his business partners.
Frank sends his ectoplasmic buddies to haunt a place, and he shows up to "exorcise" them for a fee.  Things start to get weird for Frank shortly after meeting Lucy () and her awful husband, Ray (); Ray drops dead and starts pestering Frank, so Frank starts spending time with Lucy, only to fall in love with her.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a rogue ghost that is murdering folks around town.  Even more unfortunately, the FBI believes that Frank is the killer.  Worse still, the killer likes to mark his upcoming victims with a ghostly number on their forehead...and Lucy is lucky number forty-one.
Who can possibly clear Frank's name and save Lucy and the other innocent victims-to-be?  Frank.  It's obviously Frank.  He's the only one who can talk to ghosts.  Think about it.

The special effects in The Frighteners are probably the most memorable aspect of the film.  They still look pretty good, even if the CGI is a little dated now.  It just depends on how creative Peter Jackson & co. were.  For instance, the whole killer-pressing-his-face-out-of-the-wall bit wasn't that great.
MJF realizing that they're aping A Nightmare on Elm Street 12 years too late
Unfortunately, that bit was used a lot.  On the other hand, scenes that toyed with the idea of what ghosts could do or have done to them turned out much, much better.  When I think of The Frighteners, my mind doesn't jump to the killer --- I think about when a ghost got a blast of bug spray through the face.
That sort of creativity overcomes some of the technical shortcomings of the FX in general.  Granted, they aren't all examples of great special effects, but they are probably what you will remember about the film.
I will never forget shit stain Jake Busey face

The acting in The Frighteners is pretty much all over the place.  doesn't play angsty very well, and a lot of his character's mannerisms bring Marty McFly to mind.  He's still able to make the character likable, though, even when the script doesn't do him any favors.  played a paper-thin character, and she didn't do it very well.  I get it, her role was poorly written --- that doesn't excuse her lack of range.  Of the ghosts, , , and probably got the most screen time, but the most entertaining one was definitely playing a (surprise!) drill instructor.  Yes, he's done this schtick before, but he does it well.
His likes could be "Blah, blah, blah, maggot!" and I'd still smile
I was surprised to find in a role that I liked him; he was completely over the top, but he doesn't play "convincingly human" well, so it fit him.  Another pleasant surprise was getting a chance at a memorable role outside of the Re-Animator series.
Above: Combs as "An asshole with an uzi" --- actual movie quote
Combs was my favorite character in the movie.  His particular brand of crazy matched the tone of the film better than anyone else in the cast.
I'm not entirely convinced this isn't Combs' actual chest
I also enjoyed in his role as a self-absorbed jerk.  Like Ermey, Dobson doesn't stray far from his comfort zone, but there is no denying that he is good at what he does.  It was also nice to see horror veteran in a key role.  She hams it up a bit, but I think she did well, given the lines she had.

Director and co-writer made an unusual film in The Frighteners.  It's not a straight-up horror movie, but it's not funny enough to succeed as a horror-comedy hybrid, either.  The main reason for this is a dumb script.
I mean, how do they expect us to believe a dementor got from Azkaban to Australia?
Some of it can be seen in the little moments, like a flashback to Michael J. Fox's character --- an architect building his dream house --- playing basketball A) in a suit B) with bad 90s skater hair C) on a court he put in before he finished his house, because architects LOVE basketball courts and D) on what appears to be a regulation -height hoop, despite being approximately 4'6".  Other times, the stupidity comes at you in the main plot, like when MJ figures out who killed his wife thirty minutes after the audience does --- and the film treats that moment like it's a revelation.  Hell, you can argue that the entire climax at the abandoned hospital felt rushed and under-explained.  If the script was wittier or funnier, the flaws in the plot wouldn't matter so much.  But it's not and they do.  Thankfully, Jackson knows how to film entertaining action sequences and goofball moments, or else this movie would be painful to watch.  And if you were expecting the acting to save this movie from it's plot, then you aren't familiar with most of Peter Jackson's work.  The Frighteners is at its best when it is being weird and goofy, but there's just not enough of those elements to make the movie stand out.
Chi McBride's last-ditch meeting to salvage the movie: everybody gets an afro

The Frighteners is undoubtedly a flawed movie.  It's too kooky to be scary, but not funny enough to balance dozens of murders.  The central concept is a solid one and Michael J. Fox and the ghosts are likable enough, but the picture doesn't gel as a whole.  Even Danny Elfman's score feels a little scatterbrained.  Is there a good idea for a movie here?  Yes.  Does The Frighteners pull it off?  Not really, but it's not offensively bad.  It's a good try that didn't quite work.

Am I the only one who watched Michael J. Fox's erratic driving in this movie and immediately blamed it on his Parkinson's?  And then felt kind of bad?