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Frankenweenie Future Trauma by Mike Campbell

January 4th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Children’s films in general but Disney movies in particular have a long history of terrifying children. They love to lull a child into a sense of security and then scare the crap out of them. Who was not traumatized by “Dumbo,” “Pinocchio,” and the unspeakable horror of “Bambi“? I know we all have our own Disney traumafession. Mine would be “Darby O’Gill And The Little People.” That scene gave me nightmares for weeks. It’s not just Disney though, what about the Child Catcher in “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang“? “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is consistently unsettling, but God knows what they were thinking with that boat sequence. Not to mention those damn flying monkeys that sent me running out of the room like the Cowardly Lion.

As kids we aren’t prepared for some of the stuff we might run into. I once shared “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” with a little kid I was babysitting, I had forgotten about Large Marge. He loved the movie up until that point, but that really scared him. I recently watched “Frankenweenie.” (I know, I’m late to the party, sorry.) While “Ed Wood” is one of my favorite films, I haven’t had much interest in Tim Burton lately. This is a delightful homage to the old horror movies that many of us enjoyed as a child. (When I saw “Bride of Frankenstein” as a little boy I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to live in an isolated castle and fly kites off the roof during a thunderstorm, and when folks would drop by I would cower behind the door and implore them to go away.)

The animation is beautiful. There are many references to old horror films and repeated viewings would undoubtedly reveal more. Mr. Whiskers transformation sequence cracked me up. The science teacher is a great caricature of Vincent Price with Martin Landau voice acting. The girl next door is named Elsa, thank you. Watching this movie I could not help but wonder how it might seem to a child. Without the affectionate back-story I live in, what does this look like to a kid? I can see some parents looking at this movie and deciding it is not appropriate for their children. I can see far more parents seeing that Disney logo and tossing it to the hapless kid without a second thought. I think every parent should watch this before showing it to their children, but I doubt that will be the case.

Kids have pets. Pets die. It’s a part of life children have to learn to accept. When my pet turtle died I was very sad. (This movie does give a generous nod to Gamera, but does any little kid know who Gamera is anymore?) When your pets die you can’t bring them back. My favorite scene was when Sparky ran away and found his headstone in the pet cemetery. He circled a few times, and sadly laid down. That was his place. Even the dog knew it was where he belonged. That’s the only thing that bugged me about this movie, the ending. (SPOILER ALERT!) Sparky should have stayed dead at the end. I could have gone with Sparky trying to come back, but being unable to do so. My favorite line in the movie is when Victor tells Sparky it’s OK, he doesn’t have to come back. That should have been the end. In 10 or 15 years, this movie will be a recurring Traumafession.

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Tags: General Horror · Special Guest Stars · Trauma Au Courant · Tykes in Trouble

Mama (2013)

November 26th, 2013 · 12 Comments

Is it too late to write a review of MAMA? That movie is ancient. I missed it in the theater because who knows why, waited for it to appear on Netflix streaming, which it never did and then watched its price as a used DVD go from 15 dollars to 10 to 6 to 4. I finally had to buy the decrepit thing before it turned into a fossil! When I opened the DVD case the disc inside had a long grey beard growing on it! This movie is positively geriatric! Oh wait, IMDb says it was released less than a year ago. Hey don’t blame me, blame our disposable culture! This is BLOCKBUSTER’s fault even though they are dead! If it was up to me, you’d all be waiting three years for movies to come out on VHS and when they did, they’d cost a hundred clams to purchase and you’d rent them for 5 bucks a pop and if you were late returning them, you’d be fined up the wazoo! That is the natural order of things!

MAMA! Back to MAMA! Love that title! Why didn’t I like this movie so much? The premise is fantastic not to mention kindertrauma-riffic. Two poor, pitiful little girls are left in an abandoned cabin in the woods by their insane, gone postal father. Instead of starving and freezing to death, they are cared for by a motherly spook who, like Charo, goes by one name only “Mama” (okay, “cared for” might be a bit of a stretch.) We come to learn that Mama is a ghost that can physically engage in the world and move objects about with ease, so I’m wondering why the hell she didn’t pick up the cabin a bit, do some laundry and maybe comb the poor kid’s hair! Get it together Mama! You so lazy!

Five years later (really? It took five years for someone to look in the cabin next to the crashed car?), the now feral kids are discovered and taken in by their not insane uncle and his borderline sociopathic “rocker” girl friend Annabel (JESSICA CHASTAIN in a Cousin April wig). I say she’s borderline sociopathic because the card that informs us that Annabel is struggling with her maternal instincts is so overplayed that it appears as if she has never encountered a child before and has the patience of a spider monkey. To be fair, there are several later scenes of her connecting with the kids that are less ham-fisted and do really work. In fact, there are many elements in this movie that hint at a much better film just begging to happen. The kids are fantastic and the Mama entity, when not shoved down our throats, can be pretty spooky. Unfortunately every thing from a meddling Aunt to Mama’s backstory is painted in such broad strokes that it feels like a fairy tale performed on a Colorforms set. I have two major gripes…

Now, you know I love a “research” scene, they crack me up for being so cliché but I also love them as mid-film markers that declare that the mystery portion of our story is over and things are about to come to a head. MAMA’s “research” scene happens super early and it goes on and on and on. It’s like a big gelatinous mound of nothing in the center of the picture, a cinder block tied to a kite. We get the library, the wise oldster, a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK storage unit, maps upon maps, news clippings, psychic dreams with characters pointing towards things, street signs, BIG close ups of news clippings, more maps, more sign posts and it all just amounts to redundant filler. Really all the information could just be stuffed inside one of the psychic dreams but instead we have to laboriously follow a boring psychiatrist around when we should be at home with the kids. The kid’s story is interesting! It’s heartbreaking when the older sister is ready to move away from Mama and the younger one is not. The story is in the house between these characters but we keep getting pushed past the good stuff! Nothing to see here folks! Let’s catch up with our throwaway character’s attempts to learn what we all already know! (On the other hand, Dr. Boring’s cabin encounter with Mama might be the strongest scare in the film. )

Then there’s the whole look of Mama. Sometimes Mama looks cool and I dig her underwater hair-do and sometimes Mama looks terrible as in, “Did they model her facial expression from Beaker from the Muppet Show?” At this point, I don’t care if the effect is CGI or practical or stop-motion marionette, what matters is what’s on the screen and what’s on the screen is a problem for me. I think it was a fine idea to put Mama front and center at the climax. I’m not saying less is more and they showed too much and the audience needs to use its imagination because what’s in your head is scarier than anything they could show you and all that junk. It’s just that, as WHAM once said, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” If you want to display Mama in all her glory make sure I’m in awe instead of catching myself wondering if DARKNESS FALLS is underrated. I don’t think MAMA is terrible, it’s just one of those movies that frustrates because you know it could have been way better. It’s not a good sign when your “Sorry I adopted you only to make you feel unwelcome in my home.” redemptive resolution was better handled in POLTERGEIST 3.

Like I said, I think it’s a great premise and I’ll even add that when MAMA is good, it feels like something from Disney’s early eighties dark fantasy period like WATCHER IN THE WOODS or SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (I wouldn’t be surprised to receive traumafessions on it in the future either). It’s also clear that the filmmakers at least tried to do something of substance even though they got sidetracked along the way. Ultimately for me though, it comes off kind of shrill and cloying and I think the material deserved a more subtle approach and more of a focus on the characters, particularly the relationship of the little sisters. MAMA is based on a short film and that makes perfect sense. If you edited out all of the subterfuge, stalling and brownnosing jump scares, you probably would have one very good short film. There are some priceless heirlooms in this dumpster (a tug of war with a blanket and an unseen Mama comes to mind) but boy do you have to dig! Now I’m sad. I wanted to like this more because it reminded me of my adopted cats. On the bright side, it was totally worth the four dollars for the snow scenes.

CORRECTIONS: The above review incorrectly claims that CHARO has only one name. That is not the case as is revealed in the clip below…

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Tags: General Horror · Trauma-Mommas · Traumatots · Tykes in Trouble

The Conjuring (2013)

July 22nd, 2013 · 17 Comments

ALAN MOORE once said “ Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images to achieve changes in consciousness.” I couldn’t agree more and have I got a spell for you. THE CONJURING is a scary, endearingly romanticized, elaboration of a some-say ‘true” haunting. I’ m not going to get wrapped up in the authenticity of the story because any tale, true or not, that inspires a movie as swell as this is all right by me. If things are grandly exaggerated, that’s fine. That’s what urban legends are fueled by, that’s what tall tales stand up on and that’s what fills every history book in every elementary school in America. Hyperbole is what storytelling is all about and we’re all guilty of tweaking the truth to make it shine a little brighter. If we can force ourselves to believe that Thanksgiving isn’t a shameful travesty then surely we can humor a harmless ghost story every once in a while too. Wow. Even in the heart of summer I hate on Thanksgiving!

JAMES WAN is a wonderful director. There I said it! I said the director of SAW is wonderful! He beat me down folks! I tried to resist but it’s over. INSIDIOUS was a left hook and THE CONJURING is a right hook and then some. I give up already! It’s not a fair fight when he has PATRICK WILSON on his side and I just have bitter, misplaced feelings of exclusion on mine. Anyway, our tale is about a nice family (The Perrons) who moves into a haunted-looking house and discover that it is indeed infested with invisible forces that yank them out of bed and according to at least one source, smell like farts. Who ya gonna call? Why notorious married supernatural specialists ED & LORRAINE WARREN (WILSON & VERA FARMIGA) of course! Now, I know there are some people who are not fans of the real life Warrens (Ed has passed away) and think of them as cons. I never met them so I can’t say. I just know they were really nice to the Smurl family in that excellent TV movie that scared the crap out me called THE HAUNTED (1991) so I’m going by that. Plus if WAN was of the mind to aggrandize the couple ,he sure casted well. On a side note, JAMES WAN, can you cover the Smurl haunting in the sequel pretty please? And can you release the movie on the same day as SMURFS 3 so that Box office Mojo is forced to write the headline SMURLS SMASH SMURFS!? Do it!

THE CONJURING is getting enthusiastic reviews, which is nice as most horror movies are pummeled for simply existing. I notice though that many critics feel the need to temper their kudos by saying it’s well done but a “typical” haunted house tale. Personally, I think it has a lot of merit outside of just being a well-oiled scare dispenser. The frights aren’t random jolts, they’re tethered to something solid and concrete. They’re not simply about being in dangerous situations with the unknowable they uniformly concern the worst fear of all, that harm might come to someone you care about and worse still, it may be your fault. Ed fears that Lorraine looses part of herself each time they involve themselves in such things, Lorraine frets that their daughter Judy is swinging between being neglected and endangered. The Father of the haunted family (RON LIVINGSTON) is anguished over putting his family in peril and the mother (LILI TAYLOR at her best) ends up personifying everybody’s worst fears by melding with a spirit who has killed her own offspring and has supernaturally strong-armed others to unthinkingly do the same.

I can totally relate. Let me tell you, for full horror pleasure it’s all about the empathy. People who don’t have it are missing a world of flavor! Sorry, I’m going to talk about myself again. But isn’t that the nice thing about blogs? You get that personal touch. Do you know what you get from magazines? Paper cuts! So as I was saying, we too recently moved into a haunted-looking house. When we got here I realized that the previous owners took all the screens from the windows. This freaked me out because we have five cats and I didn’t want them running away. They were all scared out of their minds and oh, God, what have I done to them? I started imaging the worst. The cats slipping between doors, getting hit by cars, freezing in the streets, lost. It got worse, I’d be hammering a nail and think, what if I dropped the hammer and it landed on a cat’s head? It got ridiculous. What if one crawled into the dryer? It got nuts. What if the cat choked on a discarded pistachio shell? My dreams were filled with drowning cats; cats on fire, cats crushed under poorly installed air conditioners. It was exhausting and I could not make it stop. The resolution of THE CONJURING that involves something as simple as recalling a moment of pure connection with those you care about resonated with me. Maybe focusing on that thought alone IS enough to expel the witch in my head.

Oh, I get it! I’m mentally ill! You know how folks with screws loose think the T.V. is talking to them? They see signs and coincidences everywhere and they get messages, lots and lots of messages? Well, that’s how I interact with movies. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid, the movies, especially the good ones, they tell me things! This one really went out of its way to whisper in my ear. The new house, the five kids, my favorite episode of THE BRADY BUNCH playing on the T.V., a ghost with the same name as my cat, a clown music box (mine plays “Send in the Clowns”), a porcelain lamb, a rooster painting, an embroidered owl, landscape T.V. trays folded against the wall- how is this not my home?

I found this movie frightening enough (WAN is gifted at sneaky distraction and leaving enough blank canvas for the viewer to paint themselves) but that really wasn’t the most important thing for me. For as much as THE CONJURING embellishes the dark it is depicting, it puts forth equal effort accentuating the light. Maybe that won’t please those who follow horror as an endurance sport but who cares about tourists? As corny as it may be, I love that this movie has a strong conscience. Remarkably it doesn’t stop at giving you distinct characters; it makes a point of concerning itself with the relationships between those characters. (Seriously, the sparkage between WILSON and FARMIGA is so dynamic somebody oughta shove them in a THE THIN MAN remake.) In real life, things did not end on such happy, tied in a bow terms. The Warrens were asked to leave the case and the house remained (and is said to still be) haunted. That’s the “true” story and who the hell needs it? I like this much better! Reality, take a lesson from fiction, ya lazy bore! I’ve never been one for happy endings in horror flicks but this one suited me just fine. I say sequel time! Send in the Smurls! Don’t bother…they’re here!

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Tags: General Horror · Trauma-Mommas · Tykes in Trouble

Sunday Streaming:: Something Evil (1972)

July 21st, 2013 · 3 Comments

It’s time again for Sunday Streaming! This past weekend has put me in the mood for SOMETHING EVIL! This made for television movie from 1972 stars our dear departed friends SANDY DENNIS and DARREN McGAVIN and features JOHNNY WHITAKER of A TALKING CAT? fame! It was directed by that guy who did DUEL! You can read more about it in THIS post from 2007 but maybe you shouldn’t because look how I used to write in big giant mounds of indecipherable goobledegook that today, even I can’t decipher! What the hell?! Best to just to enjoy the fine movie below!

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Tags: Sunday Streaming · Telenasties · Traumatizers · Tykes in Trouble

Burned at the Stake (1981)

April 23rd, 2013 · 7 Comments

Approximately a trillion years ago, I came across a picture in a magazine (either Fangoria or Famous Monsters) of a weird priest with gross bubbly skin. It was for an upcoming horror film called THE COMING, which to my knowledge, ironically, never came out. The image made a strong impression on me, either due to my psychotic fear of acne or, simply because anything related to religion can’t help being creepy. That dusty memory sat in a shoebox at the very back of my mothball-riddled brain until the other day when I finally came across THE COMING on YouTube, hiding under the alias of BURNED AT THE STAKE! (sticklers who point out that nobody was ever burned at the stake in Salem as the film suggests should be burned at the stake themselves for bumming me out.) Lo and behold, it’s directed by the nice man (BERT I. GORDON) who gifted the world with ant-o-vision in EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and brought to life H.G. WELLs spectacular vision of a world gone mad thanks to giant chickens in FOOD OF THE GODS! This was too good to be true and so I pinched myself and, by pinched myself, I mean did a jig.

What a pleasant surprise this movie is! Maybe it’s not good in that useless, “It’s made well” sense but it’s certainly good in the more important, “I cannot wait to see what happens next” sense! How has this movie remained so far under the carpet for so long? I see that it involves a time traveling pilgrim so I’m going to blame him. It’s very difficult to pull off a time traveling pilgrim. BURNED AT THE STAKE stars the incomparable SUSAN SWIFT of AUDREY ROSE fame, who apparently was working on being type cast as a reincarnate. She plays a nice girl named Loreen, who was not such a nice girl a couple hundred years ago when she was known as Ann Putman and her hobbies included screaming her head off and randomly accusing people of being witches. Loreen is having flashbacks of her previous horrible self and to make matters worse, she’s being stalked by an adorable/scary black dog, the pizza-faced priest and the aforementioned time traveling pilgrim who is rightfully amazed by airplanes. Luckily there is a helpful witch on hand to explain the fuzzier parts of the plot when she’s not too busy having telepathic conversations with the dog. There’s a sweet redemption bit near the end that reminded me of THE SEVENTH SIGN (1988) and more than a few absolutely horrifying wax historical reenactment figures one of whom may or may not spring to life. Also, I dig this witch mobile…

OK, this movie is patently ridiculous but it’s way better than I ever dared hope. Plus, it’s all autumnal and takes place in beautiful Salem, Massachusetts! Fortuitously, I found it mere hours after having seen ROB ZOMBIE’S LORDS OF SALEM (review pending) and I decree that the two movies make an excellent wonder twin double feature! I think they might have even used the same graveyard! It’s probable! Kooky though it may be, BURNED has a semi-cruel dark streak as only a film that concerns itself with a five-year-old being burned alive can. SUSAN SWIFT‘s performance is seriously solid, regardless of the heaps of hokum thrown at her and frankly, I’d take this cockeyed lunacy over drippy AUDREY ROSE any day of the week! Somebody who cares about humankind should put this unfairly forgotten flick out on DVD and they should do it quickly! They should also put a blurb by me on the back that says, “ So bewitching, you won’t even care that it doesn’t involve giant chickens!”

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Tags: General Horror · Tykes in Trouble

Summer Girl (1983)

April 17th, 2013 · 4 Comments

For the last five or six years, on a roughly monthly basis, I’ve been checking YouTube for the appearance of the elusive 1983 TV movie SUMMER GIRL. My sad, faithful diligence has finally paid off! To the best of my memory, I haven’t laid eyes on this chestnut since the original night it aired. Not that my powers of recall can be trusted. My strongest recollection of SUMMER GIRL has always been of its startling final image, a dark silhouette standing on a cliff in some kind of ominous victorious pose. It stayed sharp in my mind even while the rest of the flick blurred…

…only I totally got that wrong. That scene happens in the middle of the movie with plenty of stuff still waiting to happen. It’s still awesome though! It’s not necessary to go into much detail about SUMMER GIRL’s plot. You are familiar with this tale in one form or another. It’s the same as THE BABYSITTER (1980) which came before it, and the same as any number of HAND THAT ROCKED THE CRADLE-molded films that came after it too. Take a happy family with an insecure wife (in this case our old pal KIM DARBY) and a husband with a roving eye (MEGAFORCE-of nature BARRY BOSTWICK) and then add a seemingly helpful innocent who is in actuality a cunning sociopath and stir. What makes this routine outing momentous is that the one and only DIANE FRANKLIN plays the requisite interloping usurper.

If MOLLY RINGWALD is the peachy pastel face of the eighties we choose to remember, DIANE FRANKLIN is like the darker, deeper, more complicated truth hiding behind that candy coated mask. Not to take anything away from the RINGWALD but while she was constructing happy endings reliant on the acceptance of others (see the classic JOHN HUGHES triptych), FRANKLIN was forging a fickle opportunist heartbreaker (THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN), a tragic incestuous victim of demonic sororicide (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR 2: THE POSSESSION), a fish out of water French exchange student in a suicide comedy (BETTER OFF DEAD) and a vapid video vixen who unsuccessfully battles a mutant from space (TERRORVISION). In her made for television efforts she has the rare distinction of playing both the honorable final girl (DEADLY LESSONS) and the evil menace that must be destroyed (SUMMER GIRL).

I can’t say SUMMER GIRL’s “Cinni” is my favorite FRANKLIN creation (that honor belongs to AMITYVILLE’s Patricia Montelli) but the mesmeric psycho with delusions of grandeur surely adds gravitas to FRANKLIN’s oeuvre and mystique. As it turns out, I’m not all that happy with my newfound knowledge that Cinni is ultimately foiled by party-pooping nonbelievers so I have decided to revert back to my false recollection and continue to see her as that dark goddess on a cliff looking down at us mere mortals triumphantly.

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Tags: General Horror · Telenasties · Tykes in Trouble

Valerie Harper Blogathon:: Don’t Go To Sleep!!!

March 19th, 2013 · 8 Comments

When pal Amanda by Night (of Made For TV Mayhem) invited Kindertrauma to join in on the VALERIE HARPER BLOGATHON she was orchestrating, we could not possibly refuse. Fact is, although she is better known for many other gigs, HARPER starred in what is simply the best (and most kindertraumatic!) made-for-television horror flick of the slash-happy eighties. Yes, once again I am talking about DON’T GO TO SLEEP! If you’re not familiar with that title then I beg you to yank your horror-head out of the zombie sand and give it a look-see. You will not be sorry. Having covered this one before you may think I have nothing more to say, but you’d be wrong because I have yet to give this gem the “five favorite things” treatment. Here are my five favorite things about DON’T GO TO SLEEP

THE OPENING CREDITS! Right out the starting gate DON’T GO TO SLEEP is humming it’s own quirky tune. Black and white title cards flash and they’re so low-tech shaky you might think you’ve stumbled upon a home movie of a camping trip. Lullaby music box chirpings blast and then are cut off indiscriminately by the sound of whooshing traffic. This happens again and again throughout the prelude. I’m sure that somebody missed the effect that they were going for by a couple of miles but the resulting awkwardness of the overreach must be superior to what they were aiming for anyway. It’s slapdash, makeshift and yet still sets an appropriate mood. This movie is all about the treacly chimes of childhood being upset by jagged blasts of harsh, startling reality.

THE DIRECTION! Made for TV movies have their own set of advantages and disadvantages compared to their theatrical counterparts. Sometimes the unavoidable restraints can result in a static affair or the director not having as much leeway to express himself visually. This is not the case here. RICHARD LANK (who also steered 1978′s effectively eerie NIGHT CRIES) has a field day playing with bizarre angles, distorted perspectives and unusual POV shots. I think he may even have invented the flying lizard cam and the rolling pizza cutter cam. Prime time doesn’t allow for much gore but LANK moves ahead undaunted. Rather than show a head smashing into the driveway, he quickly cuts to a watermelon being dropped and bursting apart upon the kitchen floor. Message received loud and clear!

THE CLOSING! What better gift to leave your audience than a final image branded into their horrified brains for all eternity? DON’T GO TO SLEEP does just that in a seemingly effortless way without resorting to bells and whistles and elaborate effects. Much like SATAN’S TRIANGLE (in my mind, the greatest made for TV movie of the supernatural seventies), DON’T places its final winning card on the preternatural power of one enigmatic Cheshire smile. The maniacal faux-sweet image actually appears several times throughout the film but its final presentation is so gruesomely uncanny that it’s difficult to shake or even interpret why it’s so effective. I seriously believed for years that a skull was superimposed upon the image a’la Norman Bates in PSYCHO, but I guess that was my imagination! True cinematic alchemy!

THE STRAIGHTJACKET! I’m sorry but it’s satisfying to see anybody who was in the movie ANNIE wind up in a straight jacket!

THE CAST! Are you kidding me? DUEL’s DENNIS WEAVER, ROSEMARY’S BABY’s RUTH GORDON and POLTERGEIST’S OLIVER ROBINS! It’s a horror fan’s dream team! Both ROBIN IGNICO as Mary and KRISTIN CUMMING as Jennifer excel where most child actors would have failed. And then there’s VALARIE HARPER who we are specifically honoring today. I’m thinking DON’T GO TO SLEEP may not exactly be the highlight of her long career but yes, of course, she brings everything she’s got regardless. I love her and WEAVER together tackling screaming matches like they’re in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and ad-libbing under their breath whenever they damn well feel like it. I’m sure some folks have a hard time seeing past the campy surface but to me, that’s just one layer out of zillions. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore and what a shame.

DON’T GO TO SLEEP is a lively watch but it never shirks from the subject of death and grieving, topics that the horror genre is especially fit to explore. It’s easy to forget that as modern horror continues to be corralled toward action/comic book power fantasies instead. I say don’t feel bad for VALERIE HARPER; she’s not going anyplace you’re not going too. As she faces whatever is next (total recovery says me), I stand more impressed with her wisdom than her bravery. She knows its not how you die but how you live that matters. “We’re all terminal” she says and there’s nothing truer than that. I think I’ll save my sorrow for someone less vividly alive, less admirably “awake”.

Dash O’ Trivia: Guess what VAL‘s last name is in DON”T GO TO SLEEP! Answer: Hogan! Wha-wha-what? This calls for some back up from Turnidoff!

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Tags: Amanda By Night · Kids Who Kill · Special Guest Stars · Trauma-Mommas · Traumatizers · Tykes in Trouble

Sinister (2012)

March 6th, 2013 · 11 Comments

Home movies are naturally creepy. There is something depressing about folks hamming it up while forever trapped in a grainy, bleached-out world that no longer exists. SINISTER opens with a super-8 flick that brings the medium’s innate moroseness to grotesque heights, as it happens to feature a family with sacks on their heads being hung from a tree. Some sort of makeshift execution device has been crafted where, as the tree’s branch is sawed off, the weight of the branch dropping raises the squirming family off the ground and to their final Kodak moment. It’s a grisly way for a movie to introduce itself and an early indicator that SINISTER aims to live up to its name. What could be more disturbing than witnessing an entire family killed together? Later in the film we’ll find out; witnessing an entire family killed together in front of their Chihuahua!

ETHAN HAWKE plays dishonorable dad Ellison Oswalt who moves his unsuspecting family into the house where the murders took place. We’re clear on his motivation (Ellison was a once celebrated true crime writer who has fallen out of favor and is looking for his next inspiration) but his reasoning is foggy. The killer of the family was never caught and one child was never found so the house’s heinous history is still an open wound. Who would bring their kids into a place like that? Can’t Ellis’ research be done anywhere considering it mostly consists of pinning string to a map and writing questions on Post-it notes? Ellison knows his family is bound to find out but he lies to them just the same and it’s suggested this is not the first time he has put work ahead of them. Hey, I’m down with an unlikable protagonist, I’m just not sure I’m down with his wife being presented as a wet blanket nag when she has every reason to be pissed off. Moving sucks.

Ellison’s theory that living in the crime scene might offer him insight pays off in spades when he finds a box full of snuff flicks in the attic made by the killer! What a break! Sure, this is clearly invaluable evidence to the murders of dozens of innocent people but by sharing it with the authorities, he’s jeopardizing his book so he keeps it to himself. He’s obsessed, not obsessed enough to watch all the movies in one sitting, which by the looks of it he could, but obsessed just the same. The more he watches the more his life crumbles and the more he has to deal with scorpions, snakes, invisible dancing children with circles under their eyes, stay-at-home actor VINCENT D’ONOFRIO and his daughter painting on walls other than those she has been given permission to paint on.

SINISTER contains brief moments that are sublimely scary. When we first catch a glimpse of what’s breeding the horror, it’s a vague, bone chilling image. But the more things come into focus the harder I found it to swallow (which is strange because my gullibility is of legend.) HAWKE is great but his earnestness tends to highlight the multitude of shortcuts and contrivances. (How convenient that an ancient deity just happens to resemble a modern metal-head’s SAW-friendly wet dream.) The wrestling flavors of deadpan gritty thriller and broad horror fantasy don’t so much clash as beg to be better stirred.

Can I get nit-picky? When Ellison’s family moves into the house months after a notorious slaughter has taken place, I get that the tree remains in the back yard to inform us of where we are, but why the hell is the branch that was sawed down still hanging off of it? I’ve learned to let bigger issues than that pass in order to get my scares on but I’d be lying if I said that dead branch didn’t get stuck in my craw. It drove me nuts. In fact, I still want to jump into the movie and drag it off myself. Maybe it’s me. I have been on organizing tear lately but still…even if a family was not hanged on that tree, human behavior dictates that somebody would do something about that branch! It’s dead! I should concentrate on the score. The score is cool.

If you are a fan of supernatural flicks this is worthwhile for the handful of times it hits the nail on the head but honestly I could never completely fall under its spell. For me it was like the devil laughing in my face but with spinach in his teeth.

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Tags: General Horror · Tykes in Trouble

Lady in White (1988)

October 17th, 2012 · 7 Comments

UNK SEZ: Sorry for the filler-post but I’m working on something unwieldy that is taking up all my limited brain space. It gives me tummy-rumblings to neglect you fine folks though so I thought I’d scrap this together. The other night I came across LADY IN WHITE (1988) playing on the MGM HD channel and it seriously made my eyes pop out of my head. Well, that’s not exactly true but it made me want to pull my eyes out and squash them against the TV in approval. I’m already a fan of the movie but I could not believe how gorgeous it looked with all of its colors behaving all concentrated, bright and insane.

LADY IN WHITE does for Halloween what A CHRISTMAS STORY does for Christmas, so why is it not the equal perennial must-see? It’s so good. It’s spooky, nostalgic, moving, creepy, it reminds you that racists and child murders are scum and visually it’s got some NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, dark fairy tale thing going on. What’s not to love? Jo Polniaczek’s Dad is in it for chrissake. If you haven’t seen it you just have to, that’s all I’m saying. Here are some images from my sorry DVD to back me up further but this movie needs a special edition HD upgrade pronto. Alright, I have to go back and tame the giant mess I’ll dump on these pages in the near future. Hope everyone is starting to feel the Halloween!

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Tags: General Horror · Tykes in Trouble

The Tall Man (2012)

August 29th, 2012 · 8 Comments

I can tell you right now that not everybody is going to like THE TALL MAN. I can say that confidently because I watched it with two other people who were as unimpressed with it as I was intrigued. According to my not very scientific experiment, exactly one third of all people will enjoy this movie and approximately two thirds would prefer to play with their cell phones. On the other hand, perhaps I should disregard my findings as I may have inadvertently raised expectations to an impossible level when I incorrectly informed the participants in my survey that the movie starred JENNIFER BEALS rather than JESSICA BIEL. Once the sad reality that the film we were watching featured not the star of FLASHDANCE but the star of SEVENTH HEAVEN sunk in, a profound malaise infiltrated the room like a radioactive fog that apparently only I was immune to. I admit that BIEL is no BEALS, but that doesn’t make it O.K. to treat her like she’s JENNA ELFMAN. She was a trooper in the TCM remake and she’s surprisingly good in THE TALL MAN playing a complicated role. In fact, the more I think about it the more I realize what a divertingly clever addition BIEL’s presence is to this movie that gets off on using the audience’s presumptions against them whenever possible.

I think director/writer PASCAL LAUGIER (HOUSE OF VOICES, MARTYRS) is brilliant and I’m not just saying that because he’s French. I found myself in the middle of this movie with exactly zero idea where it was going to head next and that’s my favorite place to be in the world. Anyone can throw a twist onto the end of a movie and exit stage left without facing the consequences, but LAUGIER flips things on their head consistently throughout and bravely holds himself and his film accountable for every rug-pull. The startup premise involves a languishing mining town that’s dealing with a rash of missing children. The locals have pinned their fears upon an enigmatic figure known only as “The Tall Man.” BIEL plays Julia Denning, an outsider who has no reason to take the whispered about legend seriously until her own child is snatched away. Honestly, I didn’t know whether to be excited or heartbroken that LAUGIER was taking on such seemingly straightforward material but as it turns out, that is just the first layer of many that he digs through. When the end credits roll, it’s difficult to believe we’re watching the same movie we started out with. The audience is dumped on shaky moral ground far closer to the art house than the slaughterhouse without even a courtesy jump scare security blanket to cling to.

So hurray for this movie for being challenging and making me feel like a gullible fool multiple times, but is it scary? My viewing partners certainly didn’t think so, but I found the dread factor sharp on multiple occasions. Don’t expect the soul curdling power of MARTYRS though; even with all the mind games at play, this is more of an earthy white trash fairy tale than a KUBRICK-ian dive into the abyss. For me, it’s unique and inventive enough to warrant acclamation and how can anyone be anything but extremely grateful after being so expertly kept on their toes? You’ll find a few really good performances too; it’s always good to see pocket scream queen JODELLE FERLAND (SILENT HILL, TIDELAND) and PONTYPOOL’s STEPHEN McHATTIE is a welcome face too. My favorite turn belongs to the effortlessly tenacious SAMANTHA FERRIS who should be instantly recognized by any SUPERNATURAL fans out there. I guess the sad truth is that if you want to do something original and different, you should expect that not everybody is going to follow. As far as I’m concerned, LAUGIER has yet to let me down and I’ll be excited to see what he does next. I’d stay clear of a FLASDANCE remake if I were him though; JENNIFER BEALS’ fans are a hard crowd to please.

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror · Tykes in Trouble