Neoteric Traumafession:: Melody M. on The Bay (2012)

I have a very, very recent Traumafession to make; in fact, I literally just watched the movie that scared me the night before last!

I’ve recently been on a found-footage horror movie kick–actually, I watched The Taking of Deborah Logan solely on your recommendation, Unk!–and I came across a movie that came out in 2012 called The Bay. From what I gathered about the description, it sounded promising: The Gov’ment had covered up a horrifying incident involving a small Maryland town in the Chesapeake Bay area back in 2009, and the footage taken during that incident was now being released to the public. Since it seemed like a detour from the usual demonic possession/monster theme these kinds of movies always seem to have, and with a very prominent director attached to it (Barry Levinson) I figured, why not? I’ll give it a go!

WELP. I can handle demonic possession/monster movies, because while they are scary, I can chortle about them later, content in the knowledge that they’re not real and the beasties in those movies won’t be showing up in the real world any time soon. What I CAN’T handle are movies about contagions/ecological horrors that are plausible enough to actually happen in the real world. And this movie had just that: nasty water-borne parasites, mutated by agricultural run-off, gruesomely eating people from the inside out. GUH! Talk about getting under your skin! After watching this, I’m pretty sure I’ll never go swimming again, and only drink bottled water from now on.

UNK SEZ: I hear you loud and clear, Melody! That kind of stuff gets to me too. I could not eat tuna for months after that ZANTI MISFIT face showed up in a tuna can! Listen folks, it’s October and we all need as many scares as possible! If you’ve had a modern, new wave, recent-style trauma like Melody, feel free to send us a trauma-FRESH-ion telling us all about it!

Frankenweenie Future Trauma by Mike Campbell

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.

Silent House (2012)

I’m super busy this weekend and I don’t have time for squat but I’m only human; I had to dash to the theater to see SILENT HOUSE. It’s not like I’m compelled to see everything, this one just looked particularly up my dark, lantern-lit alley. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ruin or give away a thing. I just wanted to pass along the harmless info that ELIZABETH OLSEN is exceptional — and deserves any and all hype — and that directors CHRIS KENTIS & LAURA LAU (of OPEN WATER fame) implement the (pretend) continuous real-time one-take element to mostly decent effect and that most importantly, this movie got me good on a couple occasions. More telling than any rusty inadequate word I could come up with is the fact that upon leaving the theater, I let out an involuntary and lamentably audible sigh of relief. Seems my lungs prefer it when I make with the breathing. I don’t mean to oversell and instigate disappointment and honestly, I had a dozen quibbles invade my head toward the end but all in all, this flick agitated my hopefully imaginary heart condition just fine.

The guy who stood up behind me felt differently. I gleaned that when he proudly exclaimed, “That’s the worst movie I ever saw!” before leaving. He’s not here to defend himself so allow me to defend him; clods can’t help being clods. It’s true, it’s a waste of time to try to change them. You’re better off trying to teach a snake to use a hula-hoop. Now everybody is of course entitled to his or her opinion but that dude wasn’t offering an opinion, he was spouting a bold-faced lie wrapped in a histrionic cliché and c’mon, what a grandstanding drama queen. I guarantee that guy has seen way worse and regularly. Anyway, the bullhorn made me realize something I hadn’t before. To get properly scared in a movie requires a certain amount of empathy. Sure we get scared because we think, “What if this happened to me?” But another, equally important part is the instinctual human reaction of concern for another person’s safety and well-being. I’m not saying “Worst movie!” guy has no feelings but I’m feeling secure in suggesting that he has limited access to them. I don’t have the resources to study or back up that theory, so let’s assume I’m right based on my hatred of loud unsolicited opinions alone.

I need to change the subject before I turn into MAX VON SYDOW in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS. That’s a side of my personality I like to keep hidden away in a drawer with my extensive CYNDI LAUPER tape collection. Once upon a time, in my old apartment building, I was on the phone with a friend of mine. I don’t remember the conversation but I’m sure it was depressing. Suddenly there was a black out and the phone went dead. I could see nothing. All of the sudden there were stomping footsteps running up and down the stairs outside my apartment. It sounded like a mob. Somebody banged on my door. Well it turned out it was nothing, just a normal explainable electrical glitch but for at least three minutes or so I was seriously freaked out. “They’re finally coming to get me!” I thought. I didn’t have time to imagine concretely who was coming for me but I vaguely assumed it was the floating guys from DARK CITY or those grimacing gentlemen from BUFFY. What got to me the most though was knowing that my entire realm of safety could be blown out like a match. SILENT HOUSE made me remember that.

This movie luxuriates and cavorts in the dark, climbing under dining room tables and grabbing at your heels. It captures that bat wing paranoia that shadows your shoulder when you’re putting your key in the front door at night expecting to be tackled by every mugger ever born. From a distance it looks like a simple structure but up close, you can see certain bricks placed in a way to throw you off balance. Way before any sledge hammer busts through any wall, there’s a scourge of psychological termites (memory lapses, nervous alibis, double edged words) making the wood soft. More swaying than anything though is ELIZABETH OLSEN’s persuasive, performance, which sweeps you into the ring of panic with its realness alone. Sadly the final act of SILENT doesn’t deliver the power punch that the build-up deserves but by that time I was fine, having already received exactly what I came for. I guess I should give loud mouth guy a break. For some people horror movies are more about the slot machine payoff. In my opinion there’s too much going on in in the darkness here to throw it all away just because you don’t like what the lights being turned on reveals. Hey, now that I think about it, loud guy was the perfect audience member right until his own final act- maybe he and the movie SILENT HOUSE are perfect together.

The Woman In Black (2012)

Traveling to the movie theater this aftern0on I said to myself “Lancey” — that’s what I call myself – “if you’re going to jump ship the first time a rotten looking CGI ghost appears, then turn right around and don’t bother.” Guess what though? I didn’t have to worry, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is not as CGI-heavy as the commercials might have you believe. I’m thinking some of the TV spots have been tinkered with and exaggerated because on the big screen, everything looks mostly kosher and solid. In fact, this is a great looking film. Even if there was no story or sound, I could probably watch this thing as a slide show. It’s very Goth-centric and chilly with fog, rain and marshy mildew all over the place. In other words, this is that dusty-doily type of spook show that I love and am always in the mood for. As far as I’m concerned, the world can keep its torture and rape and I’ll take all the wind up monkeys that come to life for no reason.

This movie terrified me from the onset with the notion that DANIEL RADCLIFFE was old enough to be the father of a four year old. Wasn’t he a kid two days ago? Talk about chilling. I’m really getting old! I’m going to be dead soon! After drilling that horrific idea into my head, the movie shoved a funnel in the open wound and began to pour all of my favorite depressing things inside: death, loss, suicide, hangings, the idea that a person could be so destroyed by an event that they never recover or so trapped in the molasses of grief that they end up haunting themselves, etc. This is my jam and I’m doing the twist in my head and I’m doing that twist to early records by THE CURE.

I was very lucky that a gaggle of young girls who I suspect were RADCLIFFE fans sat a couple rows behind me. The only other people in the theater were an older couple to my right. The teenagers had a blast screaming at every loud noise or appearance of the title apparition. One of them was fake crying through the heavier scares. I kept thinking, “Thank God it’s not a group of boys behind me because they would have to prove how unscarable they are to each other and ruin the whole thing.” I’m not going to tell you anymore. It’s a movie about a guy and a ghost, a ghost who has a hard time forgiving. It takes place in a small town where only one person has a newfangled car. There are beautiful houses in it covered in vines and there are a couple scenes that are pretty flipping creepy.

If you are a fan of THE OTHERS or THE CHANGELING, you’ll probably like this. There are a couple of great moments that might remind you of THE INNOCENTS and a couple of weak spots that may remind you of hokier more modern fare like DARNESS FALLS. Those lesser moments are brief, so who cares! Sorry if this review is lame but I wanted to get it done quick so that if anyone was on the fence about seeing it, I could push him or her off and say, “Go ahead!” This review could also be lame because I am now having a beer and yes, definitely listening to THE CURE! (Not doing the twist though.)

P.S.: This movie was directed by the same guy (JAMES WATKINS) who did EDEN LAKE which I approve of. He also wrote THE DESCENT 2 which I didn’t care for but maybe the director of that one screwed it up. The screenplay was written by JANE GOLDMAN (KICK ASS) based on the novel by SUSAN HILL. There, now I feel better.

Dear Mr. Gacy

There’s an excess of under the radar, reality-based serial killer movies out there. Separating the wheat from the wack is a challenge hard-won. Some are fascinating or can at least boast interesting performances (JEREMY RENNER in DAHMER, CARRIE SNODGRESS in ED GEIN) and some are lamentably directed by ULLI LOMMEL. (Don’t cry ULLI, you and I will always have THE BOOGEYMAN). I tend to dive into the true crime zone as sporadically as possible because I know regardless of the film’s success, I’m signing up for a bummer of a time. In fact, the better the film is the more likely I am to feel dismal afterward. I always end up empathizing too much with the victims and sometimes even the killers themselves. People can romanticize murderers as much as they like but the truth remains that they are sick miserable people whose homes no doubt smell really bad.

DEAR MR. GACY leans toward the way less sucky side of the true crime spectrum and it’s deep and dark enough without resorting to excessive violence to leave you wishing you could dunk your brain in Purell. It’s based on the book THE LAST VICTIM by Jason Moss which details the author’s correspondence with several serial killers; the staunchest of which was with John Wayne Gacy while he was on death row.

Jason Moss (portrayed in the film by JESSE MOSS, no relation) comes off as nearly as complicated and twisted as the source of his obsession allowing the film few respites as it careens towards a moral abyss. Hiding under the excuse of research, Moss endangers his family and throws his own well-being off a cliff as he attempts to outsmart, exploit and even seduce a known psychopath. Sometimes the player gets played and some masks are easier to put on than yank off. He is left stained with the knowledge that his desire to have the upper hand, his fixations on power and control and his shruggy ambivelance towards the suffering of others are all simpatico with the demons that drive Gacy. In other words, when you lie down with dogs that dress up like clowns and bury a multitude of corpses under their floorboards, fleas are the least of your worries.

Speaking of dogs, WILLIAM FORSYTHE whilst portraying Gacy, morphs from prancing poodle to pulverizing pitbull in a way that’s remarkably chilling. I’m not familiar enough with the real life maniac to say how well he captures his personality but I do know that he snags the general essence of seriously loco like a pro. After lulling us into an odd sense of comfort with Gacy the film abruptly revisits the harrowing experiences of one of his victims who somehow narrowly escaped and it’s like a sobering glass of water splashed in the face; Moss is Mr. Magoo taking a bath with a shark. Due to this being a small film concerning unpleasant subject matter it’s doubtful FORSYTHE will recieve the apprasial that he deserves but he’s really very good in this.

Horror fantasy and horror reality are two distinct camps in my book no matter how much they influence and smudge into each other. In truth, the cinematic villains horror fans are accustomed to stand so far removed from the depths of depravity known by their real-life inspirations that they might as well be Shirley Temple doing Black Sabbath karaoke. There’s probably much going on in DEAR MR. GACY that could have been orchestrated better but there’s no question in my mind that it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It’s not Gacy’s crimes but the allure of darkness to Moss that is really under this microscope. Moss may have correctly assumed that he was brighter or quicker than Gacy but he underestimated the trumping toxic power of evil itself. This is a clash of titan egos where one oponent ends up executed (Gacy) and the other eventually kills himself (Moss took his own life on 6/6/6). I’m going to call it a draw.

Burning Bright

I was all set to purchase a Bengal tiger and now BURNING BRIGHT has turned me off of the idea completely. BRIANA EVIGAN (GREG EVIGAN’s daughter who you might remember from SORORITY ROW) portrays Kelly Taylor, a gal set to go off to college. Trouble is, her mother’s recent suicide and her stepfather’s general flakiness have left her feeling personally responsible for the well being of her autistic younger brother. Her sense of being trapped becomes all too literal when she wakes up in her home to find it boarded up in anticipation of a hurricane. I should also mention that somebody has also barricaded the front and back doors, and only after setting her stepfather’s recently acquired bloodthirsty tiger within the house. Not only does Kelly have to survive but she also must keep her sibling who doesn’t register the danger alive too. It’s safe to say that this is an unlikely situation but the matter of fact way it’s handled is convincing and the resulting intensity is impossible to deny. At one point I’m pretty sure I yelped.

I gotta say that although they don’t get as much attention as some other sub genres of horror, the good ol’ “man vs. fill in the blank beast” movie has been discreetly advancing in quality and effectiveness over recent years (BLACK WATER & THE REEF come to mind). BURNING BRIGHT is the latest example of such a film to wisely focus on and utilize the actual animal in question, producing an authentic primal response in the viewer. (It looks like some CGI is used in BB but only around the edges to position a genuine tiger in specific places). The tiger (or really tigers, as more than one is credited) in question is a magnificent natural effect and don’t be surprised if something way down in the pit of your DNA well flashes red when it’s on screen. The action is all the more impressive that the lion’s share (har) takes place in a limited space. Director CARLOS BROOKS even had me thinking back to HALLOWEEN with the way he transforms a recognizable everyday home into a cavernous battlefield and the last segment of TRILOGY OF TERROR with his dedication to relentlessness.

As tight as the director’s craftsmanship is, a movie this intimate and concentrated could easily collapse if occupied by a feeble cast. I was impressed by every one present. GARRET DILLAHUNT (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) is always interesting, EVIGAN could be the king of the scream queens if she had a mind to and CHARLIE TAHAN as Kelly’s autistic brother gives a temperate, modest spin on a role that many an actor (of any age) would have demolished with hammy ostentation. His approach fits right in with the film’s general manner of getting the job done succinctly and without tiresome ornamental bombast. Truth told, I did end up yearning for a little more fleshing out of Kelly’s relationship with her shady stepfather but the movie is so lean, compact and uncluttered maybe it’s best that boat wasn’t rocked. It’s probably better to be left hungry for a little more than overstuffed and I don’t mind filling in some of the blank spots myself. The bottom line is that this movie really worked for me as a precision suspense dispenser and I don’t need anything more than that.

YellowBrickRoad (2010)

I was just saying that although I truly enjoyed THE INKEEPERS, it didn’t really scare me as much as I wanted it to. On the flip side, here is a movie that I didn’t really care for that somehow freaked me out. YELLOW BRICK ROAD sports an an inviting premise; way back in 1940, the entire town of Friar, New Hampshire got it in their heads to abandon their homes and take to a winding trail in the woods. (The assholes even left their pets behind!) They were all later discovered slaughtered or frozen to death with zero explanation. Now, a group of smarty-pants psychologists and the like decide to follow the trail themselves and see what they can find while documenting their journey. Terrible and frustratingly ambiguous things ensue. YELLOW BRICK ROAD is an oddly fascinating movie especially considering that I hated the way it looked, how it was executed and nearly everybody in it. I’d tell it to go climb a tree outright but the damn movie got under my skin even in the face of all my resistance.

I don’t get it. Tacky effects, inconsistent acting, dishwater visuals, moronic behavior, poor and random use of black and white stills, inexplicable wardrobe choices, you name it and it’s present and accounted for and busily agitating me. Still, if you tried to turn YBR off while I was watching it, I would have chopped your arm off. When it finally slunk away after one last dubious image, I realized that remarkably it had left me with a feeling of dread the size of a Rose Bowl float. I was reminded of one of those terribly done reenactment educational films you’d see in Jr. High School about the winter at Valley Forge but laced with grisly f-ed up imagery achieved on a Goth teenager’s laptop. No matter what, the truth remains, it achieved a level of wrongness that made me cringe.

Here are my excuses for being scared by a movie that I found aesthetically appalling; first of all, getting lost in the woods, as I’ve stated before is a real fear of mine. It’s not so much the disorientation that gets to me but the idea that nature itself is an ominous force that is trying to stomp me out that turns my hair white. (This is where most would cite THE BLAIR WITCH but where I, trying to convince you that I read occasionally, cite “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood.) Secondly, in the course of this movie some dum-dums eat poison berries that make them trip their brains out and that idea is a nightmare to me too thanks to GO ASK ALICE and that urban legend about trick or treaters who were given LSD laced candy and are still hallucinating in a mental asylum to this day. Thirdly, this sneaky movie has that SESSION 9-ish vein running through it where you realize that the space between sanity and madness is the length of one thought. I hate that. Lastly, there’s this whole stagnation thing going on where you feel the exhaustion of being in the same place for so long that you forget there was ever any other place. Basically we’re talking about a cinematic K-hole.

I guess I like this movie more than I’m ready to fully admit. I don’t feel like owning it, or seeing it again or hanging a poster of it on my wall and buying the lunch box but it did sufficiently poke my head. On a base level, I still think horror films are like campfire stories and I’m not sure you have to like every sentence the storyteller utters to be taken to the place that you need to go. I’m going to coin my own phrase and call this a “green light bulb movie” in reference to SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT. There’s no rationale why the middle story in that flawed, shabby anthology wigs me out- it just does. I may never use that term again but a “green light bulb” movie is bigger than the sum of its parts. Dissected it looks like nothing but it makes reference to a bigger horror, a horror of indescribable nonsense, of losing your bearings and slipping into a pit where you disinherit yourself completely. I know some people will probably check this one out (it’s on Netflix Streaming) and think, “What are you talking about?” but that’s a big part of what makes a green light bulb movie so unnerving. Frustratingly, not everybody can see it glow. Then again, maybe I’m just creeped out by old-timey forties music.

The Innkeepers (2011)

Though the overall tone is more jovial, THE INKEEPERS is built much like TI WEST’s last effort THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. It’s a long sturdy corridor with a dark trap door waiting at the end and if you want your dessert, you’re going to have to clean your plate. I doubt this sits well with every horror fan but I appreciate the elbow room on this ride. It’s like an old fashioned wooden roller coaster; you may not fear for your life but how can you resist the view? About midway through THE INKEEPERS, I had the weirdest thought ever. I thought that even if the horror never came, even if this movie was just the tale of two co-workers working at an inn that’s seen better days, I’d be fine with that. That’s how well done WEST’s set up is and that’s how much I liked the characters. I was all prepared to text the ghosts and tell them not to bother to show up. Dear ghosts, since you’re tardy to the party anyway, how’s ‘bout we just reschedule?

It’s not every day that I prefer living humans to shrieking ghouls. As much as I dug PAT HEALY’s turn as aloof slacker Luke and KELLY McGILLIS as an atypical, non-wacky singed on the edges psychic, it’s easily saucer-eyed, quirky-dork SARA PAXTON as Claire who runs away with the show entire. She’s such a fucking genius that she transforms a short bit about taking a bag of trash to the dumpster into the most brilliant thing I’ve seen in eons. (Truly, I caught up with several comedies recently and nothing and nobody made me snort out loud like PAXTON.) She’ll probably read too waif/adorable for some but I can’t remember the last time I viewed a performance so effortlessly egoless and effervescent. PAXTON’s Claire is a serious breath of fresh air forgoing heroics and martyrdom for something more akin to Nancy Drew by way of THE GHOST AND MR CHICKEN. Having now met Claire/PAXTON, I feel I can finally get over the death of DON KNOTTS and move on.

If you want to stare into the mouth of hell, have your sensibilities pushed to their limit and be left crawling on all fours fearing for your very soul, this is not your jam but if you’re interested in a breezy, semi-spooky good time then you’re all set. For me, when WEST finally does decide to trade deliberate abstinence for unbridled ruckus horror, he’s not entirely successful. Our ghosts when they do barge in, are mildly mundane. One is wearing a been-there done-that wedding dress and the other is snatched directly from THE SENTINEL. It’s an interesting idea to show these guys as starkly and clearly as he does after so much under the table footsie-play but on a gut level I would have preferred them to remain more obtuse and ethereal. I guess that’s the minus side of being so adept at orchestrating anticipation, it’s hard for the payoff not to be a smidge anticlimactic. That said, it’s not the destination but the journey that is relevant and there are certainly enough unnerving moments to recommend THE INKEEPERS particularly to ghost story fans.

THE INKEEPERS is now available on VOD and should see some more theater play come February. It’s not the scariest horror flick of the year but I think it’s one of the better more entertaining ones anyway. Yes! I’m thinking that horror films have more to offer than just scare value alone! I’m not sure if I like that idea but there it is just sitting in my head. THE INKEEPERS (not unlike HOUSE OF THE DEVIL ) expertly collects apprehension like honey from a hive and I don’t think you need to be stung all over the face to sense how sweet and vitalizing it is. Better yet, if a better scene of a person taking a bag of trash out to the dumpster exists anywhere I’ll eat my hat and I’ll eat yours too. Now, somebody in Hollywood, I need an OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE remake starring SARA PAXTON and EMMA STONE in the can by this time next year; all I’m asking for is a producer credit.

The Thing (2011)

Rats, it started to rain on me as I trekked the half-mile or so to the theater to see the new THE THING! “That’s O.K.,” I thought; I need to be cleansed of my unreal expectations. This was a big 30 years in the making deal to me! I started to think back to my anticipation for HALLOWEEN 4 way back in 1988. I felt so lucky. It had seemed like that franchise was dead after Part 3 (another favorite) had screwed the shamrock and killed the pooch in the court of public opinion. It was so nice to be able to visit Haddonfield again!

I’m sorry, but I love sequels (& prequels). I know I’m not supposed to. I believe in episodic storytelling and I adore the familiarity. If my ALIEN box set had one lone movie in it, I would never stop crying. Some HALLOWEENs are better than others but who cares, I want more! To some people the FRIDAYs seem to go on forever but to me, it’s fewer hours than one single season of BUFFY! I want more! I don’t need or like perfection and a satisfying cinematic experience is a privilege not a right. I’m a horror fan, part of that means rolling the dice and taking the good with the bad. If I went by consensus on what was considered “good” half my DVD collection would disappear. I’ll never, ever say, “I want my two hours back!” because I never ever will. I go to the movies because I don’t want those two hours in the first place.

Aww, why’d I have to think back to HALLOWEEN 4? Those were the good old days. I believe I found out about that movie’s existence from the poster hanging outside the theater. I had not read casting news, set reports and every tiny detail before I saw it. I was not reminded on a daily basis that it was a constructed product. I believed it to be real. When I went in that theater door, I was walking into Illinois. I didn’t sit through the movie with a demon on my shoulder pointing out every discrepancy. My purpose was not to assign it the label of “good” or “bad” and I was oblivious to what anybody else thought. I had exactly one friend who liked horror as I did. No big debates. It seemed pretty obvious what was cool and what was dull. I guess we rated movies back then by the volume of the enthusiastic chatter afterwards or how frightening the walk home was…

BTW: The walk home from AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON was terrifying, we had to go through the woods and the walk home from POLTERGEIST was spooky as shit, but that’s because we chose to cut through a graveyard…

Hey, I know people grow up (sorta-ish). I know my brain needs to take a larger leap these days to land in the awesome zone. There’s a big difference between maturity and cynicism though and I wonder how much I’m holding myself back from really enjoying myself at the movies these days and I’m wondering who I’m doing that holding back for.

What if I dropped all my fucking baggage before I saw THE THING? What if I entered the theater like I would at 13? What if I shut off the Internet in my fucking head? What if the termites stopped eating the wood? Nobody has to know. This is between me and the movie screen. What if instead of resisting THE THING’s every advance like a coy prom date, I went with the flow? I might even egg THE THING on a bit. “That’s right THE THING right there.” Hey, it’s my ten bucks. Might as well get into it.

THE THING (2011) impresses me early on by playing MEN AT WORK’s “Who Can it Be Now?” as a reference to “Who Goes There?’ the science fiction novella that all THING movies are based on. I’m sorry but that’s clever. I’m also appreciative of the serious attempt to mimic CARPENTER’s ‘82 film visually and with MORRICONE’s lifted score.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the idea of switching to a beardless lead, but this Kate Lloyd (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD) person grew on me. There’s no effort to prove her to be either sexy or ass-kicky, she’s here to be the voice of caution and reason and I approve. I have to laugh thinking of HALLOWEEN 4 again and how a year later its sequel HALLOWEEN 5 wasn’t capable of the type of continuity found in this prequel made THIRTY years after it’s predecessor. Anyone who suggests that 2011’s THING is a thoughtless cash grab with no effort behind it is not looking very closely.

Much of the action in this version echoes CARPENTER’s. Logically it doesn’t seem very realistic that the exact same events would take place in the same way but who knows. We’re witnessing the birth of Armageddon; LOVECRAFT-ian beasts are breaking into our world. Perhaps the fates have decided that these exact events will continue to take place until such time as they take hold. It’s O.K. with me; I’m a slasher fan, so the idea of hitting the same cues a couple times is not alien to me. “All this has happened before and all this will happen again.”

We get a different version of the blood test scene from ‘82. It is learned that THE THING cannot duplicate inorganic material so if you have fillings in your teeth you are deemed safe. Paranoia is alive and nobody is to be trusted or believed. “Not all of us are human.” One not mentioned enough aspect of CARPENTER’s version that is alive and kicking here is the idea that it is dangerous to go against yourself and fall into the imagined safety of the group. In other words, to align yourself with the majority to prove you are not one of “them” is a good way to become one of “them.”

At the time of its release, one of the biggest complaints about CARPENTER’s THE THING was its use of special effects and ironically, an updated version of that debate is stuck to this version’s shoe as well. If you took out “special effects” in a review of the ‘82 version and replaced it with “CGI” the criticisms for both films read almost the same. I do agree that some of the CGI in this movie is handled poorly especially toward the end of the film, but I’ll live. At the end of the day it ALL looks more convincing than JAMIE LEE CURTIS’ wig in HALLOWEEN II.

Truth is ROB BOTTIN’s contributions in the ‘82 version of THE THING are basically the VAN GOGHs of cinema effects. It’s not going to happen again. Period. I’m sorry, I don’t like it any better than you do but a masterpiece is a masterpiece because it is a rarity. The CGI in the 2011 version is further testament to BOTTIN’s remarkable genius and the fact that computers will never improve on the work of a brilliant man at the top of his game. Think of CGI as THE THING that can’t duplicate BOTTIN. Let’s not mourn our loss, let’s celebrate what once was and move on. Pour some beer on the lawn.

2011’s THE THING tries hard. It doesn’t always succeed. Unlike many remakes and sequels though, it has a discernable affection for the film it’s attempting to emulate. I didn’t need or want to venture into the crashed ship near the end but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I got goose bumps as the film closed with scenes that mirrored the opening of CARPENTER’s. Dudes, you get to see how the axe got in the door, who the suicidal frozen radio guy was and the origin of the burnt split face monster! I can’t believe others weren’t as thrilled as me to see all that stuff. I’m beginning to feel like I AM LEGEND.

It’s all good. I make myself happy imaging some die-hard fan of 1951’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD checking out the 1982 version in the theater and leaving shaking his fists at the sky. “What have they done?!” I know how it feels, the ELM STREET remake made me bang my head against a wall for hours. Everybody hurts.

I enjoyed this THING though. In fact, if I was sent to a desert island and I could only bring two versions of THE THING with me I’d leave the 1951 version behind! Isn’t that awful? I must have trashy taste. Well, it’s my taste and the mob has not completely gotten me yet. Hey, this is a rambly post! I love rambly posts because it means I’m free from the zillions of invisible eyes that judge me! I guess my experiment of leaving the world behind as I walked into the movie really worked! I’m going to do it again and nobody can stop me!

NOTE: Thanks to FILMFATHER for alerting me to the video below! If you’ve already seen it, well, then…watch it again!

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

After the hurricane split town it was finally safe for me to venture to the movie theater to see DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. Many, many people felt differently for I found myself to be the only person in the place. I pretended I was rich enough to buy out the entire showing to watch it by myself and sadly this made me feel like a big shot. Outrageously the trailer for THE WOMAN IN BLACK was withheld from me and I had to be satisfied with the trailer for THE THING instead. It’s too early to tell if that film will suck or not, but the music in the trailer contented me. DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was about to start! I’m excited for this because it exists on account of the original T.V. movie happens to be GUILLERMO DEL TORO’s own personal kindertrauma! I’ve never to my knowledge seen a movie based on a kindertrauma before! Gummy bears are in my pocket. God, CONTAGION looks like crap. What is WINSLET thinking?

There are a few major changes from the original DBAOTD but they all make fine sense. Sally is no longer an infantilized adult but an actual child and it’s her dad (GUY PIERCE of RAVENOUS) rather than her husband whose careerism prevents him from properly engaging with her. Pop’s girlfriend (KATIE HOLMES) is named Kim (after DARBY) and she reveals with a bit of dialogue that her own childhood was such a wreck that she’s weary of the prospect of mothering by default. Sally’s biological mother is briskly painted as an apathetic goon who can’t be bothered even by a frantic phone call from the child she dumped like a load of laundry on her once husband. Naturally Sally is feeling so unwanted and so starved for connection that she starts chatting up the whispering demonic voices that come from the pit in the basement. They sound absolutely evil but they say exactly what Sally longs to hear, “We want you.”

I was a bit worried from DBAOTD’s trailer that the opulent mansion setting would be distractingly over the top and strain credibility but it’s explained that our characters find themselves in such an extravagant environment while working on a temporary renovation. The joint is called Blackwood Manor as it was once where artist/biologist Emerson Blackwood hung his hat at least before he was pulled through a chimney by trolls. The biggest addition to the framework provided by the 1973 T.V. move is the extended mythology of these creatures who forever now can be referred to as “Homunculi” rather than “walnut heads” or “prune goons.” The beasties are now linked to tooth fairy legend as their hobbies include trading children’s teeth (which they crave) for silver coins. Better still, the creatures (whose humanoid mugs on rodent-like bodies now favor LOVECRAFT’s Brown Jenkin character as much as the dudes from 1987’s THE GATE) are seemingly connected to the work of Welsh author ARTHUR MACHEN, particularly his tale “The White People” which also concerns a young girls relationship with extraordinary beings. Nice!

Not everything runs like clockwork though and sometimes the clichés outnumber the trolls. The goth cloaked SECRET GARDEN vibe is very inviting and the acting is fine considering the box office poison death wish cast but things do get vague and choppy (or MIRAMAX-y) towards the end of the film and it feels as if valuable pieces are left behind in an effort to rush toward the climax. Allow me to be an even bigger stickler for a moment and say that the film’s largest break from known reality involves not fairy monsters but a magical Polaroid camera that never runs out of film. I want one! Still, this is a dark fantasy; a fairy tale really so reality does need to shut its trap to an extent.

Which brings me to my ultimate question, why in the name of ROALD DAHL is this movie rated R? Are they trying to make sure that anybody who might relate to it can’t see it? There is no sex and little gore and what I like most about it is that it feels like one of those early eighties dark DISNEY flicks like WATCHER IN THE WOODS or SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. Most adults don’t have the required imagination to make this work for themselves so why court wet blankets? I don’t get it but I suspect that this is a movie that will gain traction in the home market. Indeed, as much as I enjoyed it, I won’t try to sway you folks to run out to the theater to catch it. I think the preferred way to watch this is at home in the dark on the couch under a blanket late in the month of October with your critical brain drugged and gagged. It’s a fun spooky and mostly harmless “things that go bump in the night” flick with a couple lapses in logic but several decent, jolty scares and I think it will feel most at home exactly where it originated on the living room television set.

There is a sweet scene in DBAOTD where Kim realizes that young Sally needs some grounding guidance before she floats away for good. She takes her to see a pond within the grounds’ labyrinth garden that is home to some brightly colored Japanese fish. She explains that the fish’s markings attract badgers and that it is exactly what makes them special that makes them vulnerable and I’ll say that is true for this film as a whole too. It may be a bit too precious for its own good and it has no business hanging out at the mall after dark. As an R-rated horror film for adults it leaves something to be desired but as a PG-13 fantasy, I think it deserves a silver coin. Director TROY NIXEY apes producer co-writer GUILLERMO DEL TORO well and although this movie may not be on par with the best of DEL TORO’s work, I have a sinking suspicion I will be revisiting it more often. If it plays its cards right and freshens up with a smoother director’s cut on DVD, it may even find its way to my Halloween heavy-rotation pile.