Month: October 2015

The Thing (1982) review

 

John Carpenter crafts a compelling alien horror story in The Thing, a staple for modern body horror and alien films, the film stars Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Peter Maloney, T.K. Carter, Keith David as a group of scientists in Antarctica on a research mission, they discover and come across a shapeshifting alien life form.

The plot of The Thing is some great classic horror, an unknown entity in The Thing, which is never properly identified or classified, a set of interesting characters with no where to run to and some tense, action, John Carpenter directs the film very effectively and builds great suspense throughout the film. And while the film is an out and out horror, it also has some pretty good performances, especially from Kurt Russell, as the group of scientists panic and try to keep calm heads in their situation. The thing alien itself is pretty terrifying, simply as you don’t know what it is or what it can do, we’re in the dark just like the characters and equally horrified as we find out what it can do, its’ abilities are creative and an abomination in the way it can morph anything into a weird monster.

And for being a film from 1982, the film still holds up in terms of its’ effects, with Carpenter making use of the technology at the time to make certain scenes, which still look gory as hell and unsettling, that feeling of chaos as the scientists attempt to kill the thing is also effectively captured and with it being able to shape shift. The shape shifting element is a big part of the story and adds that extra element of human conflict, people turn on each other suspecting the thing might be one of them and that intrigue is and tension is maintained well through the film, seeing people at their lowest, fighting among themselves in a seemingly impossible to escape situation is good drama but add in a killer alien that can be anyone to that and you have a pretty compelling angle there.

Personally I would have loved some backstory to the Thing but I also understand that the mystery around it serves the plot well and adds to the intrigue of the thing as knowing less about it makes it a bit more scary. Also the setting of Antarctica is a good touch, with the environment inhospitable and as harsh and cold as The Thing itself is, the scientists have nowhere else to go and if they run they’ll freeze to death but if they stay the Thing may get them and while they can get off site with a helicopter, getting away is a lot easier said than done.

The Thing is some great modern horror, well crafted and well shot with a great story to it, it’s a contained story that is victim to some predictability but it stands as a staple of modern body horror and as a great alien horror film.

8/10

. Imaginative creature design

. Great set of characters

. Has some pretty gripping scenes

The Shining review

Stanley Kubrick directs The Shining, based on a Stephen King novel, centred on the Torrance family who stay in a hotel for a few days as father Jack gets influenced by an evil force to commit violent acts, while his son sees strange visions, the film stars Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd.

When you say iconic modern horror, what comes to mind? Jaws, AlienThe ThingHalloweenThShining – a film that’s gone down remarkably well over time and is hugely influential and memorable for good reason, in part because of it being based on a Stephen King novel, a master at crafting creative and unsettling horror stories which can vary wildly in tone and subject, from killer clowns, to cars to spirits. Or you know just a normal guy going slowly in sane, as in The Shining, a really well put together film memorable because of some great performances, namely from Jack Nicholson of course in one of his career defining rols as Jack, Nicholson fully commits to the role and really conveys the idea of a man slowly changing over the course of the story.

Meanwhile Shelley Duvall is also great as Wendy, Jacks wife who becomes increasingly unsettled and uncomfortable around Jack, Nicholson and Duvall really pull of a believable relationship gone sour and you can buy that they want to try and make things work but can’t quite seem to due to the circumstances. The Shining works on a few levels with some great cinematography, in showing the area surrounding the hotel setting as well as the hotel itself, looking grand in scope with its empty halls and huge lobby, it’s very much a big part of the story and central to things that happen. The supernatural scares work because they’re subtly done and more psychological than overt and in your face, there’s a malevolent spirit involved but it’s not throwing things around Paranormal Activity style or attacking anyone because it can and the idea of an evil presence just being around and influencing people to change, in itself is pretty terrifying. And while there is subtlety, you do also get some pretty in your face horror motifs, visions of ghostly looking children and pools of blood, disturbing and very creepy to say the least, along with Jack later in the film going full blown crazy in the scenes that The Shining has become famous for.

The Shining is a pretty good horror film, it’s iconic and famous in modern horror for its themes, great performance from Jack Nicholson and use of effective psychological horror, brought to the forefront by Jacks behaviour, the end admittedly isn’t the best (and there’s a whole other discussion on Stephen King stories when it comes to his endings) but that aside, everything else is pretty good.

7.5/10

. Great performance from Jack Nicholson

. Fantastic cinematography

. Simple set up but effectively unsettling in parts

November film preview

As the leaves are falling all around us and the year winds down, we’re really getting into pre-awards season buzz and we’ll be seeing a few contenders for various awards over the coming weeks, here’s a list of some prominent films to look out for in November (US release dates by default).

Spectre – released on the 6th of November (US)

Director – Sam Mendes

It’s aready out in the UK and Europe but Craigs fourth outing is out next week in the US, as Bond chases down an old enemy, trying to avoid his past and is forced to confront a secretive organization called SPECTRE. The film stars sDaniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista.

 

The Outskirts – released on the 6th of November

Director – Peter Hutchings

High school comedy based around two best friends who try to start a social revolution to unite outcasts in their schools social setting and take revenge on the schools bitchy popular girl. The film stars Victoria Justice, Eden Sher, Ashley Rickards, Avan Jogia, Peyton List.

 

By The Sea – released on the 13th of November

Director – Angelina Jolie

Brad and Angie re-unite in this romantic drama set in France in the mid 70s’ as an American couple travel together but seem to grow apart, though they bond after settling down in one town. The film stars Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Melanie Laurent.

 

The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2 – released on the 20th of November

Director – Franics Lawrence

Katniss Everdeen makes her final call to arms to the people of Panem to fight against the capitol directly and try and take down President Snow in this climactic and conclusive film in The Hunger Games series, the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been as people are fighting for their freedom and fighting against all the capitals tricks and traps. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrellson, Julianne Moore, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland.

 

The Night Before – released on the 20th of November

Director – Jonathan Levine

Comedy centred around three friends who honour a tradition of meeting every christmas eve and going out after Ethans parents passed away on a christmas eve a few years prior, though as Ethan’s becoming a father and will have to change his lifestyle, the friends opt to go on one last mad night out. The film stars Joseph Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie.

 

Creed – released on the 25th of November

Director – Ryan Coogler

Rocky Spin-off set several years after the Rocky films as Apollo Creeds son, Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B Jordan) strives to be something more, having never really knowing his father. He comes across Rocky and gets trained by him in the hope of making Adonis a boxer. The film stars Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew.

 

The Good Dinosaur – released on the 25th of November

Director – Peter Sohn

Set on an alternate Earth on which Dinosaurs never went extinct, we follow Arlo, a young Apatosaurus who gets swept away from his home, meeting Arlo, a human cave child and the two travel together as Arlo tries to get back back home. The film stars Raymond Ochoa, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Steve Zahn, Jeffrey Wright.

A Nightmare on Elm street review

Wes Craven directs nightmarish horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, as teenagers start being killed in their sleep by a mysterious figure, teen Nancy tries to get to the bottom of the problem and solve it, aware that she and her friends are vulnerable whenever they fall asleep, the film stars Heather Langenkramp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, Amanda Wyss.

Horr takes an interesting and inventive turn in a story that just feels pretty unique with its terrifying set up and with the late Wes Cravens imagination and creativity, this isn’t a film about a haunting or a slasher flick but it has elements of both with an engaging plot that takes some interesting twists and turns and some great pacing, being just 91 minutes long but highly acclaimed and pretty well put together. The cast is solid with some good performances from its young actors, Heather Langenkramp is great as Nancy Thompson, a character who’s forced to confront Freddie Krueger and tries to do something about the situation an we also get a good show and debut from a young Johnny Depp as Glen Lantz, enthusiastic and really into his role.

It’s sort of amazing how compact and tight Nightmare on Elm Street manages to be in presenting a now very iconic horror character in Freddie Krueger, terrifying in his appearance and abilities and barely explained, something that just adds to the intrigue about him and the terror surrounding him, modern horror films can get so bogged down in explaining the why and what when it comes to supernatural forces that the reveals often end up being dull and anti-climactic. But the great thing about the film is that it doesn’t explain much of anything at first and we find out more as things go on, just like the characters do, making it feel like more of a developing, progressing story that you want to get to the bottom of. And of course the effects, Craven doesn’t hold back in some creatively put together death scenes which made use of the technology at the time, scenes that to date are still pretty gruesome and very gory, with a killer that can inhabit your dreams and essentially do anything in the dream world, you have a lot of room for creativity and that definitely shows in some scenes.

The plot is also strong because it maintains its intrigue and your engagement as it goes on, building to a fever pitch later on and maintaining that tension quite well, the trope of the seemingly unbeatable antagonist/force is played out well as you have no idea how Krueger will be stopped/if he will be at all and it’s great to watch the characters go about and try to do something about him anyway as they try to survive. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror classic and refreshingly creative idea done well, with some memorable scenes and of course a very memorable villain in Krueger, a staple of Cravens career and of modern horror in general.

8/10

. Creative set up which is well executed, plot stays engaging

. Freddie Krueger has some imaginative character design/abilities

. Good use of music in scenes to build tension

. Doesn’t hold back on the gore which works to make for some gruesome scenes

Pans Labyrinth review

Guillermo Del Toro crafts a vivid fantastical world in Pans Labyrinth, set in Spain in WWII and following the story of Ofelia, living in hardship with her oppressive cruel officer father and escaping to a world of fantasy at various points in the story, the film stars Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Doug Jones.

The story of Pans Labyrinth is an effective and well told one, well directed by Guillermo Del Toro, the master of the modern creature feature, he crafts the story like a modern fairytale as the oppressed and isolated Ofelia escapes to a fantasy world inside her house. WWII being the background setting of the story also adds to that gritty, dark feeling that underlines it, you really feel sorry for Ofelia and want her to escape her situation but know things won’t be that easy, her escape into the fantasy world is a driving force in the story is visually great to watch. It’s really not a childrens film though, if that’s what you’re thinking going into it and Del Toro directs a rather gritty and sometimes violent film which is more of a gothic fairytale in the more traditional, non Disney sense.

Del Toro again works his magic with his creative creature design, from the inventive looking fairies, to the iconic Pale Man and the world of the Labyrinth itself, which looks quite gothic and hostile, the fantasy world that Ofelia goes to looks great and interesting that each interaction she has with it is distinct from the last, feeling different. Doug Jones is also a notable part of the film, a great live action creature performer as he plays the Faun and the Pale man, both of whom look great on screen with effective costume design.

The film takes a very different turn in relation to other fantasy films, not just allowing Ofelia to escape into her fantasy for most of the film and live there, she’s between the real and fantasy world and can’t quite escape her gritty reality which is a big tragic, while her cruel father Vidal is played well by Sergi Lopez.

A weakness of the film may be that the real world context simply isn’t as fleshed out or interesting as the fantasy one and it’s a shame that the plot has to keep us chained to said, dull real world, seeing more of the fantasy would have been an interesting and also the characters in the film aren’t that fleshed out outside of the main characters.

Pans Labyrinth is a well told story, visually poignant and creatively designed, not necessarily deep but it’s a modern fairytale and a great fantasy story, brought to life by its’ interesting roster of creatures and some great performances.

7.5/10

. Imaginative creature design, great costumes

. Interesting story brought to life by the plot

. Characters outside of the main cast are a bit one dimensional but the main ones are interesting

World War Z review

World War Z is a 2013 action thriller taking place in a world currently being overrun by zombies, based on a critically acclaimed novel of the same name, the film is directed by Marc Foster and stars Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox. Brad Pitt is tasked with helming the film, bringing in that audience and driving a lot of the main story and he does a pretty good job, fitting right into a believable family man role, he’s willing to sacrifice himself for others and plays the role of the moral character well. While other, potentially interesting characters in the film like Segen (Daniella Kertesez) get little to do and should have gotten bigger roles.

The film thrusts the viewer right into the action Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) being in a city with his family as everything starts to break down into mayhem as a zombie outbreak occurs, we see this happen and develop out of seemingly nothing as people panic, get bitten and turn and so on and so forth. Gerry is literally in his car with his family and tries to take them out of the situation and get to safety, this throw you right into the action introduction was actually refreshing for a zombie movie and it worked to convey how chaotic a situation like this would actually be.

No one quite knows what’s causing the outbreak or anything really but it’s happening and you should probably run, the film is shot very well and it manages to convey some great tension in the slower scenes, as well as the rampant chaos, without using shaky cam to try and force a feeling of unease or panic. And the zombies themselves in the film are pretty fearsome, running at Usain Bolt esque speeds, they’d give the 28 ___ later series infected a run for the money. A few of the scenes in the film depict them as somewhat of a moving, living horde in fact and they quite literally pile on top of each other to make a sort of zombie ladder at one point which is terrifying to see but tension is removed as you watch it happens because scenes with the zombie-human pyramids effectively look like video game cut scenes with all that CGI.

And therein lies one of the problems with the film, it’s over use of CGI, it’s understandable that a lot of the film just had to be CGI to convey the chaos and masses of zombies and people all runing around, but some scenes just look a bit too unbelievable and take you out of the film a bit, seeming more like a moment from a Resident Evil game than a big budget blockbuster. Though the action itself is decent though and what you’d expect zombie film of this scale with big set pieces and a lot of zombies and in that regard the film doesn’t really do anything different as far as the zombie genre goes but the spectacle present is still cool.

World War Z is a decent zombie movie, a well put together visual beast but also disappointingly bland in places with cardboard cut out characters and a predictable plot that veers wildly from the book and while Brad Pitt is in good form here, he alone doesn’t quite make it great.

6.5/10

. Straightforward storyline, feels same-y

. One dimensional characters

. Some scenes look like cartoons with too much CGI

The Descent review

The Descent is a horror film by Neil Marshall about a cave expedition undertaken by a group of friends gone wrong, the group gets trapped and pursued by mysterious creatures, the film stars Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Myanna Buring.

Watching the film for the first time you may feel like you’ve seen it all before and know how things will go but you may be a bit surprise but that being said the plot is a bit by the numbers with a group of friends inadvertently getting trapped and stalked by creatures. Though with that plot, The Descent works as an effectively scary and unsettling film, the underground locations look ominous on their own and there are some great shots throughout the film, highlighting how empty and massive the caves are and showing the dire situations the characters find themselves in.

The film is quite gritty and gory to say the least, not holding back on blood or violent scenes and to paraphrase a Matrix quote, “you can’t be told about it, you have to see it for yourself” and yeah, some of the scenes are pretty gruesome, but even with all the gore, it’s not gratuitous to the level of something like Saw. The director doesn’t shy away from showing the more agonizing things either and you do sympathise with the characters or outright hate them, as they’re brought to life by a mostly good cast, especially Natalie Mendoza as the bad ass Juno, the story is interesting to follow because you care about the characters and whether they’ll survive or not, though not all of the group is equally as interesting however.

And even with characters being obnoxious, you still probably want them to escape. As the creatures stalk the group, things heat up and the first 2/3 of the film is pretty good, showing glimpses of them as they terrifying the characters with their sheer existence, also know knowing about about them – what they are and how they function, drives a fair amount of that fear factor. With some pretty good camera work to emphasize the size of the caves the characters with sheer drops and gorges, narrow, potentially lethal passageways and sharp rocks, the creatures aside, the cave itself is one of the most deadly things about the film and there are some pretty tense scenes involving traversing the cave in one way or another, a scene with the characters crossing a ladder in particular comes to mind.

The groups struggle in the caves works and is interesting because you get engaged in the story and its characters and want them to escape an as things progress, the plot is guilty of a few horror clichés and things start to sort of devolve into generic thriller territory with a lackluster final third as the creatures are fully revealed. But The Descent still works as a good horror film, a lot better than some recent films in the same vein with some fun characters, an engaging story and some very creepy scenes.

7/10

. Interesting set of characters

. Interesting creature design

. Plot falls a bit flat in the final third

Paranormal Activity review

Oren Peli directs Paranormal Activity, as strange, supernatural activity starts up in a couples house after they move into a suburban house, the film stars Katie Featherstone, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs.

Despite what the franchise has now become, Paranormal Activity stands as a decent entry point, being effective at what it aimed to do with its simple premise, being made on a very small budget in comparison to other horror films similar to it. With a basic set up like this, the trick is making the scares feel fresh and thrilling each time we see the cameras as we roughly know what’s coming next and the plot does a decent at keeping you interested as you watch, things getting more elaborate as the plot goes on.

Paranormal Activity, despite moments of literal night camera watching manages to stay fairly interesting and engaging with its scares and actually knowing that there are scares to come keeps you on your toes as you watch as we know there’s a demonic presence out there and up to no good. There are some good camera techniques used to try and emphasize realism, showing us footage of cameras set up around the house and random things happening, there’s something unsettling about seeing things that just happen that are unexplained, especially if you imagine the same things happening in your house as you sleep. The cameras do sort of bring you into the story a bit more as well with the found footage aesthetic, the film trying to convey that all of this happened in the real world and was essentially found footage, as unbelievable as it may seem at times. With some jump scares (loud noises!) thrown in for good measure and whether you hate their places in modern horror or not, some of them do catch you off guard and give you a bit of a fright (the first time around anyway).

The scares are effective, though I personally wasn’t that shaken up by watching them but if you saw Paranormal Activity, or 3 in a packed theatre then you probably remember how people reacted to scene and moments in the films, whether you personally thought they were scary or not, they did scare a lot of people in a way that most horror films don’t quite manage to these days. And the performances by the two main characters Katie and Micah – Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat in real life are adequate, nothing stellar but sort of believable considering the situation that they find themselves in, things are tense and their relationship gets strained by the demonic presence.

Paranormal Activity is an effective horror film, achieving what it sets out to do with some simple camera techniques and a basic set up that worked really well, spawning a franchise and a number copy cat horror films in the years since.

7/10

. Simple set up that works well

. Good use of cameras to bring audience in and generate scares

. Good use of viral marketing

. Plot is a bit predictable

The Crazies review

Breck Eisner directs mystery horror film, The Crazies as people in a town in Iowa go insane after their water supply gets contaminated and get driven to kill each other, as un-infected people try to survive, the film stars Radha Mitchell, Timothy Olyphant, Danielle Panabaker.

With The Crazies, what you see is what you get and there isn’t really much else to it but that being said, it’s still a fairly decent ride, the set up definitely feels like a zombie survival film but it’s not quite that type of story as the named crazies – people infected are driven to just kill each other for seemingly no reason. The central mystery element to the plot is there also in wondering why people are changed, what the infection is and how it can possibly be stopped, this in part drives some characters motivation as they try to survive and make their way across and out of town, we follow David (Timothy Olyphant) and Judy (Radha Mitchell) in their struggle as they come across people and have to sort of improvise.

The film doesn’t hold back with some rather gruesome and gory effects and deaths as people just go all out on each other, stumbling around like zombies (but still not being zombies), some scenes are admittedly borderline humourous in the way people try to kill each other and also because the crazies are really slow moving but the humour is unintentional. And for the most part. Seeing the normal people try to escape from the crazies is tense and gripping. This is because the un-infected people are outnumbered by the crazies and find themselves in rather tricky situations, some of which do seem pretty inescapable, so its interesting seeing how characters try and get themselves out and alive. And some situations are made more tense because of the settings they take place in, with characters making use of items around them and the crazies themselves using certain items to try and kill people with.

The dramatic, emotional moments are also worked in quite well with decent performances overall and good ones from Mitchell and Olyphant as they try and survive, you can sympathize with the characters, imagining how terrified and confused they must be in a town now gone crazy because of the virus. The Crazies is a pretty simple set up and plays out fairly basically but it’s a decent enough watch, predictable in parts and gruesome in others, it’s nothing revolutionary but it’s also not terrible either.

6.5/10

. Pretty standard plot

. Plot does get a bit better as it gets more elaborate

. Has some decent performances

Horror-ween

It’s that time of year again when the spooky and scary takes centre stage as Halloween creeps ever closer, this year hasn’t exactly been a stellar year for horror, but there have been a few decent films like It Follows, Crimson Peak (though it’s not really a horror film) and let’s just forget about the awful Poltergeist re-make.

But anyway I’m going to continue posting horror film reviews over the next 6 days in time for Halloween and to celebrate all things horror, so it’s more of a running theme than a themed week. And I’ll throw in some top 5 horror related lists as well for good measure so make sure you stay locked in the next few days if you’re an avid horror fan and even if you’re not, stick around anyway.

Also what are some of your favourite choices for horror films to watch on Halloween? The Thing, The Fly and more recently The Conjuring and Alien are some of my picks.