Tag: halloween

The Thing


The Thing (1982)
★★★★ / ★★★★

John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” based on the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, does not waste any time inspiring viewers to ask questions: Why is a man aboard a Norwegian helicopter intent on shooting a sled dog dead? Why does it appear as though the canine understands precisely what it is that’s going on amidst the utter confusion, following prior shooter’s death, in the American research station? What happened exactly at the Norwegian research base before being burned to the ground? What is its connection to the charred remains of grotesque corpses that resemble a fusion among man, animal, and beast?

The picture works as a high-level science fiction and horror hybrid because it tickles our deepest curiosities. Questions are brought up and answers are provided—at times almost immediately. But then some answers pave the way to new questions, and some of them do not have easy answers. The men at the American research facility must face a parasitic extraterrestrial life form that infiltrates another organism, assimilates with its host’s cells, and then imitates the host’s body. There is some evidence that the so-called Thing is able to retain the host’s memories: it knows how to perform daily tasks, to converse, and to recall details of events it has no way of knowing prior to infiltration. But the screenplay by Bill Lancaster is astute enough to refrain from answering this mystery directly because it is far scarier to have an understanding or appreciation but without knowing for sure.

There is a dozen men in the facility, and each one is given a spotlight. We learn about their jobs as people of science in addition to those who support these scientists to get the job done and to keep the facilities running smoothly. Some of their personalities may clash, but there is a sense of community among them. We believe that they have known each other for months, possibly years, in the way they have learned to tolerate one another’s eccentricities. Now is the time for their bonds, as strong or as tenuous as they are, to be tested in most unimaginable ways. Can you shoot a colleague or friend in face pointblank? How about with a flamethrower? Do you have it in you to cut someone else’s guide rope and leave him out in the Antarctic snowstorm?

The helicopter pilot, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), serves as our central protagonist not because he is smartest or strongest but because he is able to keep his cool, and therefore think clearly, during the most intense situations. Notice how the other men are written: already ill-tempered even before first alien reveal, trigger-happy, excessively nervous or anxious, overly suspicious, gutless. Their personalities and quirks are in total contrast against MacReady’s.

And on the occasional moments when MacReady does lose control out of sheer terror, his reactions are played for laughs occasionally. The decision to provide comic relief, as evanescent as they are, is correct because tension generated reaches unbearable levels at times. There is a memorable scene, for instance, when men—suspected of being infected—are tied up and right next to them is a colleague, actually infected by the Thing, undergoing horrifying convulsions, tiny tentacles protruding from his face and body. There is the confined room… and then there is being tied up in that confined room with the boogeyman.

The star of “The Thing” is Rob Bottin’s unforgettable creature and special effects. It feels like the macabre images have been ripped right out from our nightmares: giant mouths with teeth that could chomp through a grown man’s wrists with ease, spider legs coming out of a decapitated head and then crawling about, dogs’ melted faces and bodies fusing into one big, bloody lump with long tentacles coming out of it and whipping about, bodies breathing in amniotic sacs… Blood and guts are generously thrown about, but notice they come in different colors and textures, too. Transformation from man to Thing is observed unblinkingly. It is without question that the filmmakers are willing to do whatever is necessary for us not to look away, mouths agape in gleeful horror.

Halloween


Halloween (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

The first kill in director David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” left a strong impression on me. It isn’t because the kill cannot be seen from a mile away nor is it due to the brutality of it. It is because the type of murder victim is new. It shows that not even children are safe from Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle), the boogeyman known as The Shape who went on a killing spree in Haddonfield, Illinois in 1978.

In the original, not one child is harmed physically. They could have been but we get the impression that it is the killer’s choice not to. And so perhaps it is a part of Michael’s behavioral profile given that he himself was only a child when he committed his first murder. The restraint gave depth to the character. Here, once the victim’s final breath is released, I caught myself feeling excited at the prospect of a back-to-basics slasher flick. Notice the kill is without blood. No weapon is used. It is over just as soon as it began. There is a ruthless efficiency to it. However, I regret to report it does not live up to its potential.

If anybody could have successfully put “Halloween” back to its original form, it ought to have been Green. With impressive movies like “George Washington,” “All the Real Girls,” “Undertow,” “Snow Angels,” and “Joe” under his belt, he has shown that he has the ability to strip his stories of plot complications and focus solely on the human drama. Now, that may sound strange given that a horror film is in question, but since the plot of this picture revolves around how Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has dealt—or not dealt—with the trauma of her encounter with Michael forty years ago, the screenplay demands that it has a thorough understanding of human psychology, particularly how a traumatic event can not only alter but actually shape a person’s life. It is clear Curtis could have done more with the character had the screenplay given her more of a challenge.

While some effort is made, it is all so… ostentatious. We observe Laurie shoot a number of guns, wield hunting knives, and stroll across her panic room. The script makes a big deal of Laurie’s broken relationships with her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) because the former’s intense preparations—just in case Michael escapes the mental facility and returns to Haddonfield—have taken over her life. Nearly all of it comes across rather superficial, tacked on, unnecessary. Greer is not fit for the role while Matichak does not command a strong enough presence to be memorable. Subpar performances aside, these characters are so underwritten, I did not care whether they would or could survive the night. A part of me actually wanted them to get killed because they felt more like decorations rather than natural extensions of our iconic survivor.

In the middle of it, I wondered if it would have been the braver choice to make a horror film with a running time of only fifty minutes to an hour. Instead of plot or character contrivances, the focus is on the meeting of predator and prey—only we do not know which is which any longer since forty years have passed. After all, it is the filmmakers’ decision to ignore all sequels. It is only appropriate to just go for the jugular, so to speak.

Green’s interpretation of “Halloween” is surprisingly loud given that he excels in the quiet. I’m not simply referring to the school dance scenes or guns being used excessively. (Do not get me started on the generous use of score—especially during the most inappropriate times.) I also refer to the images. There is excessive display of gore and sharp weapons piercing through body parts. There is even a man whose head is split open and we see it front and center. There are moments when violence is implied, but these are few and far between.

There are those who are quick to say that this is pretty much a remake of the original. I think these individuals are not observant enough. While Carpenter’s 1978 classic is more interested in building suspense and breaking it at the perfect moment, Green’s attempt leans toward evoking thrills through homage. Carpenter employs light and shadows to imply violence while Green hoses us down with gore. And that makes a whole world of difference.

The Devil’s Candy


The Devil’s Candy (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

There is a moronic belief amongst various fundamentalist religions that heavy metal is the devil’s music. But what if heavy metal is the only sound that can drown out the devil’s eerie whispers? “The Devil’s Candy,” written and directed by Sean Byrne, is a lo-fi horror picture that is so effective, at times I was reminded of the excellent slasher picture “Halloween,” directed by John Carpenter. Although Byrne and Carpenter’s films are from entirely different sub-genres, their common link is how much they are able to accomplish with so little.

It uses a familiar template, but it is able to rise above what we come to expect from family-moving-into-a-murder-house with seeming ease and grace. The screenplay proves superior in that it drops small nuggets of foreshadowing on a consistent manner without being so obvious as to hammer us over the head by how it is trying too hard to be smart. And so when an important event happens, we recognize its portent details alongside being truly disturbed by the numerous plot developments. Its entertainment value never comes across as cheap.

It is willing to play with different ways to scare the audience, from jump scares, terrifying images, situational horror, to one’s belief, if any, when it comes to the supernatural. Each scene is exciting because we never know which type of scare we are about to get, assuming that it will not be a false alarm. The sheer energy of the material makes it highly watchable. In addition, the performances by Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, and Kiara Glasco—who play the family who purchases a house with a questionable history—are strong and this strength matches the story executed with specific vision. I cared about the Hellman family. I wanted them all to survive by the end even though it is unlikely.

Equally intriguing a performance is delivered by Pruitt Taylor Vince, a portly man who hears the voice of the devil. When bright lights are on him, the character does not look intimidating. However, when the light is dim or when we see only the outline of Ray’s large frame, he is fearsome and seemingly unstoppable. In some ways, he is like Carpenter’s Michael Myers: you can hit him, run away from him, or make him retreat… but he always comes back to get what he wants. He rarely speaks. And pain doesn’t seem to bother him all that much.

“The Devil’s Candy” offers no satanic rituals, no sacrifices involving goats or rabbits, not even men and women in robes chanting in a circle. No, it does not have a stupidly shallow, cliché dream sequence either. But it does offer a deeply unsettling feeling that burrows in the mind as it unfolds. By the end, you’ll be asking: Was there really the influence of the devil… or was the plot triggered by something far more grounded, something that culturally, specifically American culture, we are ashamed to talk about because of the stigma that comes with it?

Boo 2! A Madea Halloween


Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (2017)
★ / ★★★★

One way to elevate a goofy slapstick comedy is to inject it with so much enthusiasm to the point of overdose. While “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is not short on zeal, the sequel is limp and uninspired exactly because it suffers from a shortage of ideas. Clearly, another way to surpass a predecessor is to take the first idea, now familiar to us, and either turn it into something else entirely or elaborate upon it so the viewers are provided insight or new perspective. Here is a film that rests on its laurels.

This time around, bratty Tiffany (Diamond White) has turned eighteen and so she believes she is now an adult and therefore capable of doing whatever she wants. So, her first order of business is to repair relationships with sleazy frat brothers (Andre Hall, Tito Ortiz, Brock O’Hurn) whom Madea (Perry) had taught a lesson exactly a year ago which involves making sure that they do not mess around with underaged girls. Tiffany’s ulterior motive is to get invited to the frat party in Lake Derrick, a place where fourteen murders have occurred and no suspect was apprehended. Hanging out in a mass murder zone is something cool to do these days. Madea, of course, learns about the party.

The plot is as useless as a fork in a bowl of soup, but plot is an afterthought in a movie like this. It must be evaluated on the basis of how successful it is when it comes to delivering upon the level of comedy with a few horror elements. It is, after all, Halloween-themed. Taking this into account, there is not much to recommend here other than the occasionally amusing banter among Madea, Joe (also played by Perry), Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely). They may be elderly but they are capable of pulling off dumb, dirty, sassy jokes. The performers are game to do whatever is necessary to wring laughter out of the audience.

I found the horror elements to be a bore for the most part. It alludes to villains like Leatherface (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” series), Samara (“The Ring” series), and The Miner (“My Bloody Valentine”), but the screenplay fails to offer anything fresh about these antagonists. The formula is simple: they appear out of the corner of the screen, render teenagers screaming for their lives, and disappear into the night. The so-called scares between threat and lascivious teens are the least entertaining parts of the picture because we can predict what is going to happen exactly from the moment the scene begins. Much more tolerable to sit through are interactions between Madea’s group and these modern classic villains.

Tyler Perry movies tend to reveal lessons about the importance of family and tough love—not subtle lessons but the kind that pounds the viewers into submission just so everybody gets the point. It is disappointing then that the journey to get to the lesson is not executed even in a mildly clever way, certainly not like in the predecessor where it somewhat sneaks up on the viewer because there are so many parts of the story moving at once. This film takes a more straightforward, predictable, boring approach. It is a cash grab to the bone.

Boo! A Madea Halloween


Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Tyler Perry’s “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is neither an inspired nor an inspiring comedy, but it tries very hard—with energy to spare—to wring out every bit of laughter out of the audience, for better or worse. Sometimes less is more and if the writer-director wishes to continue to get better at his craft, he would take this common saying to heart and actually lead with it. Thus, what results here is a mixed bag—uproariously funny in spots, amusing during certain stretches, and sometimes when jokes fall flat, the silence awkward and deafening.

The plot is simple and straightforward—necessary characteristics of a mainstream comedy where the story is rather negligible but the performances usually make or break the material. Brian (played by Perry) has a teenager named Tiffany (Diamond White) who does not listen to him and has an attitude that raises eyebrows. She intends to attend a Halloween party at a fraternity house—even though she’s still a minor. Her father is needed to work the same night of the party and so to ensure that Tiffany does not sneak out of the house and put herself in danger, Brian calls Madea (also played by Perry) and asks that she stay overnight. Expectedly, Tiffany finds a way to the college party anyway and, just as expectedly, she had underestimated Madea’s authority.

The banters among characters, three played by the same actor, is what holds the picture together. The camera placement in the living room might be a bit off or the lighting could be too dim or too bright to the extent in which one could see the imperfections of a character’s heavy makeup, but once the firecracker dialogue is front and center, the technical aspects matter less… so long as the script is at least equal to the enthusiasm of the performers.

Therein lies the problem. There are a handful of scenes, particularly ones that take place in a living room, that become repetitive eventually to the point where the writing does not feel or sound as sharp nor as quick-witted compared to the moment when the four characters (Perry playing two of them and the others played by Cassi Davis and Patrice Lovely) had just settled in their chairs. Notice that when these four are in another room or leave the house for a couple of minutes, the material comes alive once again. Perry should have played around with more locations because the old folks are funnier when on their feet and moving around.

There are sudden changes in tone that work and changes that fall completely flat. When comedy and horror are in hand-in-hand, laughter turning into anticipation and gasps of terror, the picture commands a sense of purpose. We realize we really are watching a Halloween-themed comedy, not just a comedy that just so happens to take place during Halloween. Would-be horror-comedies could actually learn a thing or two from some of the scenes here, particularly the bathroom and attic scenes. One of the most important elements horror films and comedies have in common in order for them to work is timing. Perfect timing turns laughter into gasps of horror, vice-versa. Get the timing off and the audience is mired in uncomfortable silence.

Most ineffective is the final fifteen minutes. “Madea” movies tend to suffer from an uncontrollable need to preach to the audience. While it offers lessons for young people and adults alike, they need not be hammered into our heads so forcefully and repetitively that it eventually takes some of the power from the statements it wishes to make. Perry, as a writer and filmmaker, needs to work on subtlety in order to pave the way for positive lasting impressions.

Tales of Halloween


Tales of Halloween (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Tales of Halloween” is composed of ten horror short films, about nine to twelve minutes each, which range from an egregious bore to downright worthy of becoming a full feature film. This is expected given the varying talents, experiences, and strengths—or lack thereof—from behind the camera.

There are four standouts. The first short film titled “Sweet Tooth,” directed by Dave Parker, tells the story of a little boy who is visited by a supposedly fictional character based on the story young people tell each other during Halloween throughout the years. According to the story, if the visitor was not given candy, he would go as far as to eviscerate someone just to get some sweets. This segment is strong because there is a clear structure: the exposition, the rising suspense, and the inevitable release. There is an appropriate amount of gore to satisfy gorehounds.

Equally strong is Adam Gierasch’s aptly titled “Trick.” It plays with our fear of willingly opening our door to a stranger and that stranger harming us in some way. Initially, I felt sick by the idea of children doing the harm—even though the brutal attacks have, for the most part, a sense of humor to them. But the twist is a good one. The reveal is so good that by the time it ended, I found myself wishing that the segment had run longer. This sentiment is also reflected in Neil Marshall’s “Bad Seed,” the third of the good ones, commanding a wonderful use of special and visual effects.

“Grimm Grinning Ghost,” directed by Axelle Carolyn, is by far the most fully realized. A litmus test of horror films: close your eyes and listen to the dialogue, score, and sound very carefully. If having done so made the hair on the back of your neck stand up at any point, it signifies that the work is almost always effective. It begins with Lin Shaye telling a scary story of an apparition that follows. The director understands the art of patience and using the background to generate a creepy feeling. Not one drop of blood is shed. There is no slashing and hacking. There is only a sensation that the protagonist is doomed.

There are always rotten apples in a horror anthology. One can argue that “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, is far and away the worst of the bunch. There is no enjoyment to get out of it, just a rotten feeling when a trick-or-treater begins to wield a gun and starts shooting people. The lack of imagination offended me. Halloween is such a magical holiday that when something as tired as shooting a gun is introduced in the story, I begin to wonder why the filmmaker chose making movies as a profession.

But I argue that Andrew Kasch and John Skipp’s “This Means War” is the most unworthy of anyone’s ten minutes. It tells the story of a man who loves Halloween so much that when his neighbor across the street sets up decorations far better than his (with accompanying metal music), he becomes so upset that he goes up to his neighbor to start a fight. The climax is the brawl between the two. That is it. There is no ghoul, demon, alien, or serial killer. Just a fight between two people. I found myself glaring at the screen with such animosity for having to sit through something I could have seen at a nearest bar. And that would have been more exciting.

“Tales of Halloween” shows a lot of potential when taking clichés and turning them upside down. “Friday the 31st,” directed by Mike Mendez, appears to be just another slasher flick knock-off: the final girl discovering her dead friends’ corpses, dropping the weapon on the ground after every time the killer is attacked—the works. But there is a twist—charmingly bad visuals and all. But what separates the average from the aforementioned standouts is when an idea is taken to such a degree that we wish we are watching a full feature film.

The Final Girls


The Final Girls (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

With the theater exits blocked and the fire quickly spreading, Max (Taissa Farmiga) comes up with the idea of slashing the screen and leaving through there. Instead of safety, however, she and her friends (Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch) end up in the movie they were watching—an ‘80s cult slasher flick called “Camp Bloodbath”—and it appears as though the only way to get out of it is to survive until the masked murderer named Billy Murphy (Dan B. Norris) is killed.

“The Final Girls,” based on the screenplay by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, has creativity coursing through its veins but it is not as fun and fully realized as it thinks it is. What results is a picture that is worth sitting through once, given that one is in the mood for a silly horror-comedy, but it will likely not be remembered ten years from now. This is because it does not push the envelope far enough—whether it be in terms of scares, gore, kill scenes, or more subtle nudges to the slasher pictures of the past.

What stands out is the way it attempts to establish characterization, particularly the relationship between the lead protagonist and, Nancy (Malin Akerman), her dead mother. Genuine human connections and emotions are far too often ignored within this sub-genre and so it is a breath of fresh air that these two characters share scenes we can relate with and hold onto. I was surprised to have felt a certain longing between mother and daughter who have zilch chance of existing again within the story’s “real” reality, only in the fantasy that is the movies.

It works because Farmiga and Akerman are performers who are able to dig from within themselves when necessary and deliver feelings and thoughts beyond the lines that must be uttered. The mother-daughter bond makes the film special, in a way, because even though horror-comedy is almost never taken seriously, the writers dare us to treat it otherwise. Todd Strauss-Schulson directs the more personal scenes with real sensitivity and respect—which I admired because such an avenue is a rarity in horror and horror-comedies.

The weak treatment of the supporting characters is expected but disappointing nonetheless. While all of the actors are game—Adam DeVine is wonderful as his usual manic self—to look however and say anything in order to garner a giggle or a laugh, one cannot feel as though there ought to have been a freshness injected to each their characters. Although the self-awareness runs rampant, it does not strive to go beyond its usual bouquet of jokes. I grew tired of the self-awareness eventually.

At least one really good scare is absent—which is a miscalculation. The best of horror-comedies tend to fluctuate when it comes to its tone—a juggling act among fear, disgust, suspense, amusing one-liners, and laughter that makes the stomach hurt. The majority of this film is composed of amusing one-liners and occasional unexpected turns—which ultimately feels rather flat as a whole.

Still, “The Final Girls” offers a few moments that are strong. It does, however, need to reel in the visual acrobatics—one standout sequence takes place in the beginning and the other toward the end—because these just look silly, crazy, and trying too hard to impress. ’80s special and visual effects may be dated but at least there is a charm about them.