Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Housebound

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Housebound (2014)  Dir. Gerard Johnstone

I have to just come right out and say it: Housebound was a fun ride, reminiscent of earlier Peter Jackson. This movie reminded me in not only tone, but in overall execution, of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. It is coincidental for me that I made that comparison as I was watching, only to research and find out that the film is also from New Zealand. But I will say that over there is a keen sense of humor and macabre sensibilities that I highly dig.

This was another combination of Reddit Recommendation and personal recommendation. The cover art on Netflix did not exactly entice me, and the summary also did little to lure me in to watch. But I added it to my list of movies to watch and write about for this month. And I’m really glad that I did. My enjoyment of this movie comes primarily from the interactions of the family involved, the delinquent daughter, the doting and snooping mom, and the silent and agreeable stepdad. The daughter is more than emo, she’s just pissed at the world, primarily because her father left the family and became wealthy and started a new family. She has fond memories of her childhood, but at that moment, she seemed to shut down to the world. And at first, it seemed as if the problems somehow created the new problems experienced once she was sentenced to house arrest after trying to steal an ATM. Her minor crime and her overall shitty attitude seemed to have created a series of disturbances within the house. Typical creepy house type stuff, things going bump in the daytime and night time.

And what is also fun about this movie is that it goes from a basic haunted house movie to a whodunnit movie. There is an interesting history to the house, of course, and it’s not a typical resolution to the house’s past and the situations it creates. It also introduces some quirky characters who at first just seem as passing characters, created to introduce plot elements and then it seemed that they would just leave. But no, thankfully they come back around and really enrich the narrative in ways that feed the narrative’s creativity and fun. The best addition is the security officer tasked with monitoring the home, and his love for paranormal investigation. His investigation leads to the shift from haunted house to murder mystery. And another trope that this movie uses to great effect is the “misunderstood hermit” who in this movie is believed to have murdered someone in his family. He’s the guy neighborhood kids make up stories about, trying to scare each other and eventually daring each other to go and harass by trespassing onto hermit’s property.

I don’t want to go too far into the summary of the movie, but I will say that there is a nice vibe that blends the fun and macabre very well. The movie has some genuinely tense moments, some unnerving moments, and a balance of moments of levity and genuine emotion. While not a straight up horror, there are some gory moments, although not over the top. But more importantly the relationships and the stakes set through the relationships are believable and fun to experience. Give Housebound  a try if you’re looking for something to watch on Halloween. Never mind the bumps in the walls though.

The Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Soma, Say Me…

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Soma, Part 3

Once more unto the deep, dear friends.  Once more.  When I last wrote about Soma I was in the middle of the game.  The story was completely revealed, my character made a new friend, and an endgame was spelled out.  The last third was all about carrying out the plan and hiding from enemies that were much more prevalent than earlier levels.

Some of these later areas got to be a little frustrating as it became a little more about trial and error when it came to how to get around the enemies.  Several times I’d get lost since the areas kinda look the same in the dark and using the flashlight would have drawn attention.  So I’d fumble around until I would end up where I was supposed to be.  As dreary as got, it was all worth it as the story continued to get stronger and stronger.  I really loved the ideas it explored about reality and self.  The concept of scanning someone’s brain and then storing that digital version of them in a simulated world was interesting one.  This case was different than The Matrix as the participants were all willing and it was being used as a way to have humanity survive a ruined world.

Speaking of ruined, there are some moments late game that nearly ruined me.  There had been tough choices made throughout the game but the early ones didn’t have the same impact.  I mean, pulling the plug on a robot looking thing that’s incoherently babbling as if it’s repeating one side of a conversation it once heard is one thing, but doing it to someone who has a conversation with you is completely different.  I think the game was at its best each time it went into these dark moral areas.  That it made you think about the consequence of your actions was refreshing compared to so many games where things going boom is the desired outcome.

As for the ending, I’d hate to spoil it for you, I’d love nothing more than for you to play the game and experience it for yourself.  To sit there and just say “whoa.  really?” once those credits roll.  So if you don’t have the means to play it, do yourself a favor and check out a youtube play of it.

That’s it for me and horror games in October.  Home, The Swapper, and Soma were all great and surprisingly had a great through line that connected them all.  Each with unique takes on how horror can come from just a slight skewing of one’s perception can turn reality into a nightmare.  Unfortunately, I was unable to finish The Evil Within but it was interesting enough that I will go back and see it through to the end.

Thanks for coming by and checking out our October content, major props to Jay for cranking out movie writeups like a man possessed.  We hope you enjoyed it and had as much fun seeing our picks as we had watching/playing them.  

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Pontypool

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Pontypool  (2008)  Dir. Bruce McDonald

I was going to save Pontypool for Halloween day, considering that the movie is, for the most part, presented as a filmed play, and had its origins as a novel that was then adapted into a movie. The film also takes place in a static location, a local radio station in Pontypool, Ontario, Canada, and has a resemblance to the infamous radio play presentation of Orson Welle’s production of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. This is because the drama unfolds primarily offscreen from the main narrative that takes place in radio station. The first thing I thought was “Oh, this has an Orson Wells kind of thing…” And because the primary action takes place offscreen, we get to let our imaginations run amok with the action taking place outside of our awareness.

The story is rather simple, a disgraced shock jock, Grant Mazzy, played by veteran badass and character actor Stephen McHattie, who is relegated to a small market radio station in Pontypool. It’s not the type of market share audience he’s used to catering to, and he’s kinda pissed that he has sunk so low as to do local radio when he was previously a king of syndicated radio. His producer and phone screener think he’s all bark and no bite, until he is chastised for trying to oversell one news story and under sell a developing story. He barks at them, stating that he knows how to draw an audience and that they should be grateful that he deigns to work for them. But then he realizes that he should watch his words when the once-marginalized developing story of a traffic incident has metastasized into a full scale event in the making. The “eye in the sky” traffic reporter is mocked on air by Mazzy, and later becomes the true eyes for the situation. This shift sets Mazzy in his place and he learns to show a modicum of respect for those he works with, even though the traffic reporter is a guy in his car, parked atop a hill and mixing a helicopter sound effect for good measure.

What works about this movie is how trim and efficient the narrative is, operating in a minimalist environment, a tight collection of players who react to a growing threat outside, only able to react and not affect any change. They are relatively helpless for most of the movie, and it is only until the perceived source of the problem shows up. He unloads a massive amount of exposition, but it is completely welcomed and necessary, considering the dearth of details up to that point. This character, Dr. Mendez, whose medical practice is initially identified as the locus of this emerging event, initially described as an explosion born out of a riot. This is later thought to be a biological virus, but Dr. Mendez reveals that the root cause of the riots and the violent outbreaks around the city as a verbal virus. The virus is rooted in the linguistic structure of communication and words, thereby implanting itself in any iteration of commonly used words, leading to a self-destructive pattern of violence as the linguistic virus seeks to continue itself.

The notion of a virus that is not biological in nature, but one that is just as destructive is to me one of the freshest takes on the viral outbreak concept. If there’s more non-traditional outbreak stories, I need to find them. I mean, consider how much we rely on speech and linguistic patterns to effectively communicate. Our brains can decipher variations, but after a while, it can be overwhelming to rely solely on that aspect. In this doomsday scenario, a very basic form of communication is reduced to gibberish and eventual violence and death. The eventual “solutions” found for the people trapped in the radio station are interesting and give a touch of hope. But the audio epilogues aren’t as reassuring. Deciding to put this on Hallow’s Eve or on Halloween was a tough decision, but it shouldn’t be a tough decision to watch  Pontypool. Killing is kissing, kissing is killing.

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Honeymoon

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Honeymoon (2014)  Dir. Leigh Janiak

Honeymoon initially caught my attention because I had recently read that its director, Leigh Janiak, was selected to create a reboot of 1996’s The Craft. A woman helming a female-centric supernatural-horror title from the 90s makes sense. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of it, but I have fond memories watching it with friends. After watching Honeymoon, I am looking forward to a darker take on the material. This movie was yet another personal recommendation from a friend, someone whose opinions on horror film that I trust. This title did not disappoint.

Honeymoon is pretty much exactly what you would expect the setting to be, a honeymoon for a young couple, Bea and Paul. It begins normally enough, playful and fun. I was even, “Oh no. Found footage…” Though I was wrong, and I’m glad that it went into a traditional narrative mode. As I said, it started fun, even showing us video footage of the wedding video where one key phrase is uttered, and plays an important role later. But as these movies always turn, shit gets weird when the outsiders go looking for something in town. Right away they are greeted with acrimony from the owner of a local diner, who happens to be childhood friends with the new bride. He is aggressive towards them at first, until the owner recognizes Bea and the two awkwardly try to catch up. When the owner’s wife walks in, she starts to give off a chill and order the owner to get back to work. The new couple go back to their cottage and as nighttime settles in, things get fun.

In the middle of the night, Bea goes missing. She just gets up out of bed and disappears. This kickstarts a progression of unsettling exchanges between the two, once close and affectionate couple. She is eventually found in the woods by her anxious husband, only to continue questioning her and push her to answer why she left. She pushes him away and tells him that it was a nightmare and she sleepwalked. Over the course of the next few days, she becomes more erratic and distant from Paul, and he is desperate to find out what is wrong with his wife.

This movie was so fun because it not only has some really odd and unsettling moments, but it plays on the fears of sci-fi-horror greats like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars. These two specifically deal with paranoia based in identity and concerns with identity. We’re not sure if anything is actually wrong with Bea, I mean, it could be Paul who is the problem. The assumption is that Bea is the problem, probably because we’re used to blaming erratic behavior from a female as her biological imperative. This movie plays with the expectations and tropes of paranoia thrillers, quite nicely, in my opinion. And the little clues throughout pay off and don’t feel forced when a reveal is made. For some, it may be too gross to watch, and for others it might be exactly what was expected. I recommend this flick because it has fun as an examination of marriage and all that it entails, as well as general human nature, specifically the nature of trust.

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Banshee Chapter

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Banshee Chapter (2013)  Dir. Blair Erickson

This movie was chosen on a whim, mainly because I saw the description mention “government conspiracies”, and placing that into a horror movie can only yield interesting results. And it did. I also noticed that this movie played with some elements of found footage, and I was surprised how much it worked, as sparingly as it was used. And I’m thankful that we did not get a complete rehash of found footage, as much as I love it, playing with the formula is always fun.The situating of the conspiracy is nicely done, placing it among other mainstays such as numbers stations and LSD experimentation. Actually, the conspiracy plays with LSD, as it is the famed MK Ultra program testing that the government has finally acknowledged and apologized for – but I don’t think that apology went far enough for the characters of this film.

One bright feature of the movie is Ted Levine, the lotion application guru himself, portraying a not-so-subtle homage to Hunter S. Thompson and the conspiracies surrounding him as well. Levine is the guy who should play Thompson if there are any movies portraying the late in life Thompson because Levine nailed this iteration. Anyways, the movie, which does include a Thompson homage, is about an investigation into the disappearance of a journalist’s colleague and possible former lover, who took a dose of some epic acid. Well, it wasn’t acid, it was pure DMT 19, taken straight from the brain. After the dosage, captured on VHS for all to see, things go down hill from there. The journalist, Anne, and her lost colleague, James, collaborated on stories together in their college and early professional days, so she has not only a personal connection, but a professional obligation as well.

The eventual revelation is that all people who took this pure extraction of DMT wound up seeing and hearing transmissions from beyond normal perception. They were not hallucinating, as is the case with most of these types of drugs, but they began to experience other dimensions. This sorta seemed familiar, and I could kick myself for not seeing the references to Lovecraft sooner. This time, the government is at fault for putting this into the world, as one, perhaps more of its experiment subjects made it out of the lab and into the world proper. Luckily, they don’t fall down that rabbit hole of “the gub’ment gonna kill us all,” but instead keeps it localized. Sort of. It’s all fun, no real accusations. But the film does use actual interviews with MKU scientists and the real apology for the experiments issued by former President Clinton during his administration. It tries to blend fact and fiction, and does it well, for the most part, but because this movie is not purely committed to found footage, the impact is lessened. None the less, it’s still very fun and worth a viewing.

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears

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The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013)   Dir(s). Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani

This movie was so poorly rated on Netflix that yet again, I almost did not even consider watching it. But I’m glad that I did. And I can see why some people did not like this movie: it has no real plot to discern, but it has a series of characters who seem as if they are doomed to repeat an endless loop of waking nightmare blurring of reality and dream. I think that the classification of a waking nightmare is apt because so many little things don’t quite add up and they lead to some wacky shit happening. An example is a segment near the end of the movie where we see a loop of the poor bastard of a male lead who wakes up naked and drags his Euro-dong across the floor as he runs around in a frantic pace, being chased by…spoilers….himself. Not as in “himself” because he’s alone – his actual self. Yup.

So, I will do my best to summarize this weird clusterfuck of a nightmare. A telecom business executive comes home from what we presume is a business trip abroad. He is expecting to meet his wife, but instead he is greeted by an empty apartment. He begins to notice that little things are off in the apartment, even details such as the fact that he had left a voicemail for his wife that we happen to see occur, as he is leaving the airport. He actually mentions that he left four messages for his wife, and he saw them when he walked in, but once he eventually notifies the police, mentions the oddities such as the messages, the police officer mentions that there aren’t any messages on the machine. And that’s just one example of some weirdness. And then there’s the time cuts/shifts in the narrative.

The movie jumps back and forth between two different times and narrative threads. And I can see how that pisses people right the fuck off – having to keep track of all of these weird, violent, sexually ambiguous montages. And that’s what I like about it. I remember asking myself what it is about this movie that I was digging. Like, where have I seen this type of movie before? Then, after the movie I read an article and it described the movie as an homage to Giallo. That’s it. Giallo. And that made so much fuckin’ sense to me. I was watching a Giallo movie. I’m glad that mystery was solved.

But I still cannot one hundred percent tell you what was happening in that movie. I would have a good time guessing, which I kind of did here. But instead, I’m going to let you make the decision as to whether or not you want to watch a movie that begins with the implied, well, not-so-implied-slaughter of a woman. And there’s also the high amount of people who were stabbed in the skull as a kill move. If you’re into that kind of stuff, you might really enjoy this movie.

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Starry Eyes

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Starry Eyes (2014)  Dir. Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

This movie was such a pleasant surprise. I had not only seen recommendations on Reddit, but also had personal recommendations as well.  I will quickly sum up this movie as a tale of losing one’s soul and basically making a Faustian deal for fame and fortune. And I loved damn near every minute of it.

The movie begins with an aspiring actress named Sarah who is also an aspiring actress, looking for her big break, just like thousands of others living in Los Angeles. She works at a Hooters-eque restaurant, clad in spandex and low cut tops, and living a life that could be considered both perfect and miserable at the same time. She has some great friends, particularly her roommate, all of whom encourage her, but she also has a rival within the group who antagonizes her with passive aggressive comments. She also has a friend/admirer who is an aspiring director who wants to put Sarah into his new project. Sarah isn’t really interested at first, but after she bombs an audition, she reconsiders. She then goes for an audition with a major production company called Astraeus Pictures, an older studio whose output has been minor in recent years, but they have a stellar legacy of quality stars and films.

Sarah is excited for the audition, and although she sees a previous audition candidate run from the casting room in tears, she continues with the audition and bombs it. She proceeds to throw a tantrum in the bathroom, berating herself and pulling her hair out. But it just so happens that one of the casting directors witnesses the tantrum and informs Sarah that she has another shot if she wants it. It is in the do-over where she is told to disrobe and is subjected to a “transformative” experience as she is told to be liberated of her inhibitions. She then gets a second audition, and off of that, she quits her job as a waitress and during the second audition she is propositioned by a powerful producer, but she rebuffs him and runs off, scared and humiliated.

This is where shit gets weird. Sarah then begins to behave erratically and more aggressive with those around her, and she begs for her job back. But after someone close to her finds out about her experience with the producer, she freaks out and begs the producer for another opportunity. The third time is the charm and she pretty much sells her soul with an impromptu meeting that is more like a ritual, masked and cloaked shadowy figures and all. From there it is all down hill for Sarah. She begins a transformation that sees her body begin to die slowly and painfully. She turns even more aggressive with her friends and pretty much tells them all to fuck off.

I don’t want to give away every detail about the ending, but let’s just say that things end in a bloodbath. And I wonder if the makers of the movie have been watching YouTube videos of people who claim that Hollywood is full of Satanists who sell their souls for fame. I’ve seen those videos, are entertained by them for their entertainment value, and I love that it seems that they’ve plumbed those videos for inspiration. Regardless, the filmmakers have created a fun Faustian tale of fortune, fame, and murder. And, oh my God, the score. The. Score. So 80’s and pulsing with life, with a synthesizer, like John Carpenter would do for his movies. There are so many little details about this movie that make it fun and trippy, and ultimately satisfying for me. I mean, it’s not perfect, but I really had a good time watching it. It’s still on Netflix as of right now, so check it out if you want to have some Faustian fun (sorry, I couldn’t help it).