Halloween 2014 – A Mixed Bag of Treats and Tricks

I need to preface this post by saying that I had no real intent to screen several movies over the Halloween weekend, but I was visiting a friend who wanted to stream some horror movies to mark the occasion. As such, I began the two day viewings with a movie that I had limited information about, but ultimately disappointed me.

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The Orphanage (aka El Orfanato)

The only thing that I knew about this movie was that it was produced by Guillermo Del Toro, which set my expectations rather high. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of his work over the years, all the way from earlier effort in the late 90s, Mimic, up to his recent Kaiju versus Mech epic, Pacific Rim. However, the movie itself was a disappointment to me. Now, I must say this about the movie: This movie has some beautiful moments, poetic in nature and emotionally cathartic. And to be fair to the movie, there were some genuinely unsettling moments, such as a scene with a medium walking throughout the house, searching for spirits while being videotaped and surveilled. I think for me, a long time fan of Del Toro’s work and of the work of a lot of contemporary Spanish filmmakers, I wanted something akin to Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone, both of which had genuinely tension-filled moments of terror and panic. However, The Orphanage, much like the aforementioned, also had some moments of humanity and beauty that felt out of place for me. And that’s not to say that this movie is a bad movie – it’s just a movie that I felt let me down for sheer terror and scares. Otherwise, this is a movie that has so much more going on, is complex and wonderfully staged and executed. That being said, I would definitely revisit this movie, this time looking for a better payoff of themes and ideas presented, and without an expectation of being scared. If you’re looking for abject horror and fright, you might be disappointed – then again, you might not.

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Apollo 18

I had no real expectations going into Apollo 18, other than Mike endorsing it to me about a year or so ago. And knowing how much I enjoy the found footage genre, I had to give this one a try – and I’m glad that I did. Now, this movie has been out for a about a year now, so I don’t think I’ll be going into spoiler territory by revealing that the creatures are biological entities, shape-shifters that morph from solid rock to blood and tissue creatures. And this was a nice touch for dealing with the portrayal of alien life. So many movies jump right to a massive, hulking giant, bipedal or quadrupedal lifeforms, intending to scare the living shit out of us – and some have succeeded. And other movies about alien lifeforms have gone the purely biological, cellular level, mirco-organic foreign entity route, where the alien life invades the victim’s body and creates a host. The balance struck between the two created a satisfyingly strange and terrifying creature, one that could literally generate itself from dust particles. And another plus for this movie was the use of the found footage, cobbled together footage from not only craft recording devices, but also hand held documentation filming. I won’t go into the ending of the movie, other than it was rather tense and I’m sure inspired by the many conspiracy theories floating around teh Interwebz. This movie was one of the pleasant surprises for the viewing cycle, and I’d gladly revisit again.

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REC

Holy. Shit. I love REC. I remember reading about this movie when it came out because it came out at a time when the found footage genre was having a resurgence, probably due to the popularity of reality television. I never did see it in theaters or in the immediate period after its initial release. I knew of its American remake, Quarantine, and likewise did not see that movie either. What I enjoyed about this movie was the idea that the “infection” that was creating the “undead” is actually a form of demonic possession. Whatever level of cockamamie this concept might be set to is not an issue with me. The idea that demonic possession can be even more unwilling on the part of the possessed is a scary idea. The possibility that catching a cold could lead to demonic possession and chasing someone to chomp on them just freaks me out. There is an elevated level of tension throughout the movie, and it is well paced, not solely relying on jump-scares. There is a great sequence near the end that just had me jacked with adrenaline, showing exposition about the origins of the infection. Fantastic. Don’t get wrong though, there was some headache and vomit inducing camera work throughout, but nothing too bad for me. I got through three viewings of Cloverfield in the theaters without hurling, so I’m nearly expert level. Now I gotta check out the sequels to see if they hold up to this one.

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The Taking of Deborah Logan

This is another pleasant surprise of the marathon that I watched on Saturday during the day. I noticed some high ratings for this movie, The Taking of Deborah Logan, on Netflix. And I noticed that it had a 2014 release date listed, so I was apprehensive at first. Then I watched as this movie, which I technically consider a docudrama although it is classified as a found footage movie, and I saw a harrowing tale of dementia to possession.  Yes, I said “dementia to possession.” This is another unique take on possession that I enjoyed. And it involves an ancient snake demon-worshipping cult. Yes, a snake cult, kinda like in Conan the Barbarian, with Thulsa Doom’s cult. The most surprising element of this movie for me was re-discovering character actress Anne Ramsay, who plays the daughter of the titular character. She plays a loving, devoted, yet tormented daughter who is slowly losing her mother to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. To help stave off the loss of her family home and to pay mounting medical bills, she accepts an offer from a neuroscience PhD student’s offer to film her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s. What happens next is a satisfying mix of drama, dark comedy, and creepy ass snake cult worshipping shenanigans.

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V/H/S: Viral

This is the hardest movie to deal with. I had the highest of high hopes for this movie, so in reality, any disappointment that I have is really my fault. I hyped this up in my head so much that when I welcomed this into my life, I chose not to accept its flaws, of which I found many, and have decided that I should probably give it another shake. Mind you, as I’m drafting this entry, I’m about four days removed from the raw feelings of betrayal and disappointment that I have for this entry into the V/H/S series. And while there are some really neat small details within in each segment, and even in the spine narrative, the sum total just feels slapped together and a complete mess. In fact, my two favorite portions of this entry feel like they should have been standalone movies and not anthologized for this movie. Let alone the fact that I found out that there was a fourth entry that was dropped at the last minute before release, and based on its description, sounds pretty badass. Whether or not that excised segment would have added clarity to the movie is something only the filmmakers and the studio will know. But the biggest disappointment from me, other than the perceived narrative failings, is that this movie was not scary. At all. I was more curious and puzzled throughout most of it, but I was not terrified at all. Some visuals really stuck with me, but beyond that, this movie did not bring the horror back that the previous two movies had brought. As I previously mentioned, there were some genuine lean-in-and-watch-muttering -“what the fuck?”- type of moments. However, those sporadic moments just don’t make a satisfying entry into the V/H/S series of movies.

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