Mandy

I’ve never done acid, but I imagine that this movie is what a bad trip is like. It uses wildly saturated colors, a bonkers Nicholas Cage performance and some deeply disturbing imagery to create a movie unlike any I’ve ever seen.

The film the most dreamlike execution I’ve seen in a long time. We sort of float through the opening scenes of Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) in domestic happiness. It is 1983, and this couple live in bliss in the deep woods. They share moments that bleed into one another the same way fever dreams do. Never really sure if a moment is real or dreamt. Then it all goes wrong. I fear saying too much about what exactly goes wrong and how would give away too much of the film. Suffice to say, things get very weird very fast. This is one of those movies that start at a ten and somehow go bigger from there.

Nicholas Cage isn’t so much an actor as a performer. He doesn’t just play a part. He puts on a show in every movie he’s in. His shows range from small scale backyard fireworks, to literal bombs exploding in midair. Here he gives the latter performance. His energy is massive. It seems like he’s trying to melt the screen with his intensity at times. There’s a memorable line from the movie Amadeus in which Mozart’s music is criticized for having “too many notes.” The same could almost be said for Cage here. He simply has too many notes that he plays in this movie. He runs the emotional gamut up and down the scales from one extreme emotion to the next. He just blares through every single note in the actors arsenal.

The designs of this film is incredibly memorable. There are some vividly realize sequences and set pieces, but the design extends to the smallest details. The film has a very 80’s aesthetic that is fully realized here because of those small details. The way clothes and vehicles look, the tactile nature of the film stock used to make the movie all lends an incredible specificity to the film that feels bigger and more epic than it really should. It’s an incredible feet of production design.

The cinematography here is so surreal. It is unlike any movie I’ve seen. The use of color expressive in a way few films dare to be. There is an early scene in which Mandy encounters a group of nefarious characters that is shot in our red. I’m not sure if they used red filters, or some sort of post production special effect to create the red look, but it is a vivid and unique use cinematography to express the subtext of the moment. You just don’t see stuff like that in movies anymore. Most films try to be as realistic as possible, never breaking from the reality of the moment. Here is a film that throws that out the window and presents the viewer with an assault of color.

The film is very violent and very grotesque at times. There are things that happen, that I’d rather not describe. It is not for the faint of heart. It is brutal and unrelenting. The brutality is somehow made even more horrifying by the films dream like quality. Somehow the surreal expression of the film combined with the saturated color palate makes the violence even more intense.

This film is a truly unique artistic expression. It can definitely be accused of being too much style not enough substance. The plot is thin. The story is small. The characters are not deep. But the execution of the story is so vivid and incredible that for once I’m okay with style over substance. The movie is absolutely crazy, and if you can stomach the assaultive color palette, the brutal violence, and the lead performance that is beyond over the top you’re in for one heck of a movie.

It’s mostly my cup of tea. B+

The Lodge

If you’re looking for a movie to crawl under your skin and lodge itself in the darkest part of your brain, oh boy do I have the film for you. The Lodge is a psychological horror film, that is more interested in building dread than creating scares.

There is little that can be said of The Lodge without giving too much away. Suffice to say, Riley Keough plays Grace, a young woman in a relationship with a man played by Richard Armitage. He has two children from his previous marriage and wants Grace and the kids to bond at the family lodge in the days leading up to Christmas. However, it’s not a happy week in the woods. Things go very wrong in every conceivable way.

The plot doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. Honestly, as I go over it in my head, the plot mechanics really don’t add up. It doesn’t really matter though. The practicalities are less important than the overall effect. Because the actions these characters take are far less important in the movie than the results of those actions. And oh boy do they have some intense results. The movie is an interesting exploration of a damaged psyche and how badly people can hurt one another when pushed to extremes.

Riley Keough is mesmerizing as Grace. She has a quiet intensity and a deeply engaging look that holds the attention no matter what she’s doing. She has a great natural quality at the start of the film and as things go wrong her frazzled harried inner self is communicated through those eyes.

The film is really well shot. It looks natural and yet unnatural at the same time. There are moments where the lens is so wide it distorts the room to make everything looked warped and twisted. Yet throughout the second half of the film it appears to be shot entirely with natural lighting. This makes everything look more or less the same way our eye would see it if we were there. But that natural lighting also creates vast dark shadows that swallow up whole portions of the house behind the characters.

This is not a traditionally scary movie. It’s aim isn’t to make you jump or keep you up at night. It wants to upset you and insert a splinter into your mind. It wants to get inside your head and make you squirm a little, and it succeeds. If that doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience to you then definitely skip this one. For me it worked because of the wonderful performances, the rich atmosphere, and the exceptional camera work. It also helps that it is a nice change of pace from the scary movies I’ve been watching recently. It’s my cup of tea. B+

The Mist

Do you want to feel bad about humanity? Oh boy, do I have the film for you. The Mist is a genuinely scary film that explores humanity’s worst impulses when faced with extreme situations. It is tense, horrific and bleak with great performances and not so great visual effects.

The Mist is a 2007 film based on a Stephen King novella about a small town that is encompassed by a mist. There seems to be something in the mist that has a habit of absolutely destroying anyone who ventures into the mist. The story follows David Drayton a loving husband and father. A terrible storm damages his house, so he and his son go in to town to get supplies. They stop at the grocery store when the mist descends upon them. They and many other townspeople are trapped in the store as monsters lurk outside.

Inside this pressure cooker of a grocery store, the residents begin to indulge their worst impulses. Fear and stress leads some to follow the rantings of a religious fanatic who claims to have all the answers. She’s played by Marcia Gay Harden. Others follow the logical to a fault Brent Norton played by Andre Braugher. Caught in the middle is David and the few people who don’t follow either extreme. The interactions between these people make for some extremely compelling drama. The situation is fraught with tension. The conflict escalates nicely, and the dialogue is pitch perfect.

Frank Darabont made a masterpiece from a Stephen King novella with The Shawshank Redemption. Here is writes and directs another fantastic adaptation. He populates the store with richly drawn characters. His camerawork is exquisite. It’s a beautifully shot and perfectly framed movie. He captures the intensity of the situation with a camera that moves freely, but never crosses over into shaky cam territory. The character work is fantastic. These people don’t behave like action heroes or movie stars. They feel real because of the small moments, the attention to detail. How a character trips or stumbles, the way a person freezes when faced with something terrifying. The way they argue and justify mistakes. It is truly great work.

Spoiler alert, there are monsters in the mist. These monsters have some of the best creature design in any horror film. They are creatively conceived and vividly detailed. The trouble is with the cgi. These computer effects do not hold up. They look too shiny and slippery. They never seem to inhabit the same world as the characters. Every once in a while, they switch to a real life puppet or animatronic and the improvement in appearance is incredible. It’s sad they didn’t stick with practical effects instead of these rubbery looking cgi monsters. The crazy thing about the direction is that the fact monsters don’t detract from the tension. There’s a brilliant early moment in the loading dock where some fake monster attacks, but the scene is still rife with tension and horror. It is an incredible scene regardless of the cgi. That is a huge testament to the direction and performances.

I said this movie will make you feel bad about humanity. It made me feel terrible about people. It does not have a sunny disposition with regards to human nature. After this movie, it’s hard to disagree. This movie plays more viscerally in todays climate than it probably did in 2007. People are willing to follow any voice that offers solace in crisis. Critical thinking flies out the window when people are scared. People behave barbarically toward one another when threatened. What are the real monsters? The creatures out to get us, or our neighbors when they’re scared?

The real gut punch though comes in the final moments of the movie. It is one of bleakest and most hopeless endings I’ve seen. I saw it coming, but it was still horrible to sit through. It is a rough conclusion. I’m not a fan of hopeless endings. This was a challenge for me. I’m not trying to ward you off watching the movie, I think it’s a great movie. I’m just trying to warn you that if you go all in on this movie it might just break your heart.

Brilliant directing, great acting, and a tight script make this a deeply engaging movie with a very bleak outlook. If you have the stomach for it I definitely recommend it. It’s mostly my cup of tea. A-

The Omen (original and Remake)

This is a fascinating original versus remake because the two films share almost identical scripts. The movies are almost word for word the same, yet due to bad direction and poor performances one is completely boring and the other is a thrilling masterpiece.

We’re going to start with the original. Released in 1976, The Omen is a supernatural horror film directed by Richard Donner and starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as a couple who’s son just might be the antichrist.

The film opens with Peck’s character Robert Thorn faced with a horrible decision. His son has died just after birth and an orphan boy is born at the same moment. Does he switch the orphan for his own son and lie to his wife, or does he face the grief and devastation of losing the child? He takes in this child and that decision turns out to be monumental in ways he could never anticipate.

The film becomes this highly convincing montage of the family growing up. They appear to be a real loving family. Nothing strange about them, except on the boy Damien’s birthday when his governess kills herself at his birthday party in front of everyone. Then things start to go awry and Thorn begins to explore the origins of Damien and what it might mean for his family.

This movie is amazing. It is freaky. It is unnerving. It is both psychologically scary and full of visceral thrills. I loved it. There are sequences that build and build the tension slowly, until we can’t take it anymore and the movie snaps. There is a thrilling moment in which Damien rides his tricycle around his bedroom in a rapid circle until launching into the hallway to horrible results. The way the sequence builds is just a masterclass. The camera follows Damien in a dizzying circle. The action cross cuts with the precarious events taking place in the hallway. The soundtrack ratchets everything up to eleven until finally it all comes crashing to a head. It’s brilliant.

Every performance here is superb, but Gregory Peck is the standout. He is so charming and warm in the early happy family scenes. He is commanding and authoritative as he demands the truth of what his son is. He is lost and tormented as the truth reveals itself to him. He gives such a complete performance, that the movie might have been completely lost without him. Lee Remick infuses her smaller part with a believability and a charm that it needs. She is convincing as the warm loving mother. She rings true as she begins to realize something is wrong. She is not given as complete a story as Peck, but she gives it her all, and the movie wouldn’t work without her performance. As Damien, the child who may be evil incarnate, Harvey Spencer Stephens plays a child first and the devil second. He is just a kid for the most part. He is a happy little boy, but there is definitely something wrong with him. He has the wonderful ability to rigid and stare with dead eyes that creates such an eerie sense of unease. Two factors really make him work though, he has only two or three lines in the whole movie. He communicates almost entirely nonverbally. Also, he is never trying to be creepy. He is just playing a kid who stares a lot. It’s incredible especially for one so young.

Moving on to the remake, released perfectly on July 6th, 2006, the film stars Julia Stiles, Liev Schreiber, and Mia Farrow. The film is working from the exact same script with a few alterations. The first change is the opening scene. Instead of opening on Robert Thorn’s fateful decision regarding the child, it opens on a random priest using the Vatican’s telescope to look at a comet. It then cuts to a meeting of Vatican priests and the Pope. The meeting involves a powerpoint presentation of Bible verses and news footage showing how these Bible verses came true in modern times. It feels so wrong! This scene feels ugly and gross watching fake priests use 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina footage to justify their horror movie plot line. It is a gross way to start a movie.

After that, it cuts to Thorn and the choice at the hospital. The problems again become very clear right off the bat, Schreiber can be an excellent actor. He is good in other roles, but here he looks like a wooden carving of a generically handsome man. His acting’s so stale and one note that it looks like he made a bet to see if he could go through an entire movie without changing his facial expression once, spoiler alert, he won the bet. Without a charismatic and compelling lead, this film is left with little to steer the boat. Julia Stiles is okay if unconvinced as the mom of the little demon. She emotes well enough, but she feels like a stranger to the people around her. Mia Farrow plays Damien’s evil protector, a role brilliantly played in the original by Billie Whitelaw. Here Farrow just sort of plays a nice lady. She gives no hint of the evil under the surface. Nothing seems wrong or amiss about her. She feels like she wandered in from a very nice story movie about a friendly nanny.

The acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa once said, “With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film.” Here is proof. With the same script, Richard Donner produced a truly great horror film with tense atmosphere throughout combined with spikes of massive horror. With that same script, director John Moore produced a boring film that doesn’t add anything to the story.

The directorial problems are glaringly apparent when looking at the two side by side. The remake has no point of view. The camera cuts wildly between perspectives and has no real sense as to whose perspective we’re seeing. The story also cuts wildly between two perspectives. The original follows Robert Thorn. The remake splits the focus between Robert and his wife. This divided attention creates a schizophrenic feeling as sometimes Robert is worried about Damien and his wife needs to calm him down. At other times, its the wife who is convinced something is wrong and he needs to talk her down. I appreciate trying to give the wife a more active role, but doing so actively diminishes the impact of the story. Rewrite the script entirely if you want to give her more to do.

Also, the remake replaces suspense and tension with more of everything else. It doesn’t build to the horror, it just ups the violence. Gone are the intricate set ups that lead to big moments. Gone is the stellar soundtrack that puts the viewer on edge. Gone are the off kilter camera angles that signal horror is on its way. Present are cgi blood and guts. If a character fell one story in the original, they fall two stories in the remake. If they get stabbed with a spike in the original, they get stabbed with a spike and a hundred pieces of broken glass in the remake. This isn’t scarier or more interesting, just more violent. It doesn’t have the same effect.

All right, I’ve complained about the remake enough. It was a fascinating experiment to watch both films one right after the other. I’m not a purist who only likes the originals because they’re old. There is observable filmmaking problems with the remake that diminish it. The remake is not good as a movie, and it especially suffers when compared to the original.

Watch the original. It’s awesome. It’s my cup of tea. A+

Avoid the remake. It is bad. It’s not my cup of tea. D+

The Shining

Incredible score. Steady camerawork. Jack Nicholson going insane. This movie has it all.

The Shining is a legendary film directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1980. The movie has taken on a legend of its own with fans pulling a vast array of hidden meanings from every moment in this movie. However, putting all that aside, how does the movie hold up as a movie? Really well.

The story concerns Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, a recovering alcoholic and wannabe writer who takes a job as caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel during the winter. Jack brings his wife Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall, and his son Danny, played by Danny Lloyd. Soon the family is cut off from the outside world completely by the snow and they are left to their own devices. This seems fine to Wendy, but Jack soon dives headfirst into insanity, and Danny awakens the dark spirits that lurk in the hotel.

The score for this movie is incredible. Most of the fear and unease in the movie comes from the score. The way the music accents and enhances every scene creates a perfect harmony with the images on screen. Most of the film is shot in a pretty straightforward observational style. With the sound off, the movie wouldn’t be particularly scary, but the this soundtrack the camera becomes an haunting observer stalking these characters and prowling the corners of the hotel. So many scenes are simply the camera following someone walking down long hallways, but those moments are turned on their ear and take on a fearful and dreadful atmosphere with this music behind them.

The design of the hotel is absolutely incredible. The set decoration makes the hotel huge and cavernous. The characters often seem to be swallowed up by the sheer size of the place. High ceilings, massive windows, and deep endless hallways build an atmosphere of isolation. These characters are completely alone.

Speaking of the characters, Danny is a cute kid. He gives a very convincing performance and feels genuine even when his voice gets croaky and he speaks for his “imaginary” friend Tony. This could feel forced, but he sells it. Wendy is more an idea than a character here. We get very little insight into who she is. She just sort of goes along with everything. We don’t really know how she feels about moving to the hotel. We don’t really get the sense of how the hotel is affecting her. It isn’t until things go very wrong that she shifts into a new gear, a gear she remains in for the rest of the film. That gear is of course screaming and crying and panicking. It’s not Duvall’s fault. She does a believable job with what she’s given. She just isn’t given much. Kind mom or horror victim.

The real star performance is Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. He is given the most to do. He is given the most personality and the most identity outside of what’s happening in the moment. His performance is incredible. His descent into madness is thrilling to watch, and nobody plays anger like Jack Nicholson. His emotional volatility is magnetic to watch. His eyes go from glazed to wild and ferocious in an instant. He is so good in this movie.

That said, the movie bungles his character arc. He is the one character in this movie who is supposed to have an arc. On the page he begins as a father trying to put his past behind him, but a genuinely good guy. On the screen, Jack Nicholson is clearly two thirds of the way to crazy before he ever sets foot in the hotel. He is nuts from the first frame. He has one moment with Wendy in which he seems like a normal guy, then in the very next scene he is ranting and raving and cursing Wendy out, crazy man style. It’s an interesting case of the visual and the performance being at odds with the script. There is no character arc even though there should be one.

Spoilers real quick… There is some debate as to whether or not the ghosts are real or if its all in Jack’s head. I’d like to take this opportunity to say that they ghosts are real. They have to be. Jack isn’t the only one who sees them. Wendy sees ghosts at the end too. Danny is physically assaulted by a ghost. Jack is locked in a pantry, but the door is unlocked for him. To anyone who disagrees, I’m sorry, but the text of the film clearly states that they are real.

This movie is relentless engaging. The first time I saw it, I was so engrossed I completely lost track of time. The same thing happened this year when I watched it. I was so captivated by the methodical filmmaking, and the electric performance from Nicholson that I lost track of time and was totally pulled in. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is utterly engrossing.

It is my cup of tea. A-

Day of the Dead (1985)

Truly gruesome special effects, and some genuinely scary moments elevate this zombie film beyond some of its over the top acting and way too 80’s soundtrack.

Confession time, I don’t like zombies. I think they’re boring as monsters. I think they’re totally lacking in scare factor. They just lumber around and get shot in the head. Is a zombie coming for you? Don’t worry, just jog and you’ll be fine. However, there are now three zombie films that I have come to really like. All three are in George A. Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and now Day of the Dead.

Why do I like the zombies in this film? For one, the makeup effects are truly unbelievable. The first zombie in the movie is missing its lower jaw, and the effects work is stunning. It is horrible to look at, but I couldn’t stop because the makeup was so real and effective. Throughout this film, the zombie makeup is tremendous. They are distinct and hideous. The special effects here are top notch, when a zombie bites a man, it feels real. When a crowd of zombies tears someone apart, and we get to see every detail in an unbroken single take I was convinced I just watched a man get torn to pieces. The truly horrendous blood and guts on display is astonishing and reinforces my belief that tactile makeup and props will always look better than slick cgi.

Another reason I like the zombies here is because they aren’t in most of the movie. They are a constant looming threat to our heroes, but they aren’t on screen much. They are the devil waiting to strike and when they do strike it is visceral and horrifying. Using them as an unseen threat that motivates everyone in the film increases the tension and helps us forget their sillier elements.

Also, this film actually tries to explain and explore what zombies are. They are people, but all their higher functions have been removed. They are pure instinct. They just want to feed. This exploration dives a little deeper into what they are and what makes someone human. It’s a nice addition to the zombie mythology.

Finally, this movie uses the zombies to claustrophobic effect. Characters are swarmed and surrounded by zombies here in a way that feels uncomfortable to watch. One particular character toward the end tries to escape behind wooden pallets only to discover more waiting for me. He tries to leap to safety, but ends up flat on his back as hundreds swarm him. That claustrophobic fear of crowds is used here better than in most other zombie media.

The main characters are solid. Lori Cardille plays Dr. Sarah Bowman. She awesome. She’s smart and capable. She’s strong and resourceful. My favorite is Terry Alexander who plays John the laid back helicopter pilot who just wants to bail and live on an island somewhere. He’s got the right idea. However, they can’t leave. They are trying to find a cure for zombies with the help of Dr. Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan, played by Richard Liberty. He’s a delight. He’s such a broad and borderline camp creation that it is always fun having him onscreen. He certainly breaks up the drone of the horror. The villains in this movie are huge let down. They are broad caricatures who mostly scream their dialogue. The chief villain Captain Henry Rhodes, played by Joseph Pilato, is particularly over the top. He sounds like he’s doing a Jack Nicholson impression, but only crazy Jack Nicholson. It’s like he’s just trying to match Jack’s manic energy from the end of the Shining. Imagine end of Shining Jack turning it up to 11 for an entire movie, and you’re in the ballpark of where Rhodes is in this movie. After a while it’s like, “we get it buddy, you’re the bad guy.”

I really don’t like the soundtrack to this movie. I really dislike it. It is the most 80’s it can be. It’s very techno and artificial sounding. It underscores every moment with the most obvious notes possible. Spooky moment? Low pulsing techno. Jump scare? Loud techno blare! Adventure scene? Adventure techno! It really annoyed me throughout the movie. This is purely my experience. If you love it, it won’t bother you at all. For me, I couldn’t stand it.

This movie didn’t convert me. I still think zombies are mostly silly, but here they work. They scared me a couple of times and grossed me out a lot of the time. Some of the characters are awesome, and some are not. The soundtrack irritated the heck out of me, but the effects were absolutely stunning (in the grossest way possible). All in all it is my cup of tea. B+

Poltergeist

This is exactly the horror movie I needed right now. It is filled with creepy moments, good jolts of fear, and a real sense of heart and humor. Poltergeist is a great horror film to recommend to people who don’t like horror films.

The film opens with an average family. It fills the early scenes with very real and lived in moments, from the kids bickering at the kitchen table to the dad tying his tie while on the phone and accidentally tying the phone cord along with his tie. These characters feel real and lived in. This movie is filled with small moments and subtle details that really give this family an honesty that modern movies don’t allow their characters. One night though, things start happening. The young daughter hears voices coming from the static on the tv. Some classic 80’s style special effects emerge and wake the rest of the family. She utters her classic line, “They’re here.” Then what seems to be an earthquake shakes their house.

The next day, in one delightful shot, the mom Diane, played by JoBeth Williams, straightens up the chairs around the table. She turns to grab something, and when she turns around the tables are on top of the table. Great shot. She then giddily experiments with the strange phenomena. She excitedly drags her husband, Steven, played by Craig T Nelson, into the kitchen to see what’s going on. They are excited and think it’s really cool. They aren’t horrified. They don’t treat it as the footsteps of doom as they would in modern movies. They react the way real people who. Sort of dumbfounded and a little goofy about the whole thing. This surprising reaction sets the movie apart from the rest of its ilk, while also being a lot more fun to watch.

Things go wrong that night however as the unseen forces at work take their young daughter away with them. It’s a really effective set piece that builds the tension and the horror. Again though, when Steven and Diane seek out a paranormal investigator, the movie takes a comic, yet believably comic turn. These investigators have very human very real reactions. It’s a fantastic sequence as the family shows off their haunted house.

The film builds and releases tension beautifully. It combines humor with character and horror with story. It’s a really delightful movie. It’s perfect for anyone’s halloween viewing because it has the tension and the scares, but has a lot more going on than just that. There’s a lot of entertainment value in this movie. It’s absolutely worth checking out. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

I am deeply enamored of this movie. I’ve always liked it. It’s always been a soldi scary movie, but it has come at the right time this month. I’ve had some really intensely creepy movies recently. This is the perfect break. It is scary. It has one of the most horrifying clowns in movie history. Seriously, why would anyone buy their kid a toy clown? But it is not so recently terrifying as some of the movies I’ve seen recently. If I was to come up with a scale of intensity, this is at like a 6 out of 10. Spooky? Yes. Make you pee your pants and sleep with the lights on? No, but that’s exactly what I want and need right now. It’s definitely my cup of tea. A-

The Brood

Good Lord! I think I need to shower after watching this movie. It is not for the faint of heart. This movie is disgusting, violent, and horrifying. It is also riveting and absolutely one of the better horror films I’ve seen.

The Brood is a 1979 film written and directed by David Cronenberg. It follows a man named Frank Carveth, played by Art Hindle, as he struggles raising his daughter while his wife is at a secluded psychotherapy retreat run by the nefarious Dr. Hal Raglan, played by Oliver Reed. Frank’s family has been falling apart and his wife Nola, played by Samantha Eggar left him to live at this compound in order to undergo Dr. Raglan’s experimental psychological treatments. Raglan calls it Psychoplasmics. It involves the body manifesting negative emotions in a physical form. In the arresting opening scene Dr. Raglan performs psychoplasmics on a patient working through trauma related to his father. Dr. Raglan charges the patient to show what his father’s abuse did to him. He removes his robe to show physical sores all over his body. Apparently Nola was able to take this approach much much further than that.

Walking into this film, I knew very little beyond that premise, but seriously nothing could have prepared me for what I ended up seeing in this movie. The final moments especially are so beyond the pale that I covered my eyes. I never cover my eyes. This movie is unreal in how for it is willing and able to go.

A few key elements stand out. The performance by Oliver Reed. He is imposing and domineering without ever losing his charisma and magnetism. He delivers a fantastic performance especially in the scenes in which he and various patience are performing psychoplasmics. His huge eyes study and take everything in, and he’s able to shift so subtly beyond beats that he becomes a whole new person without ever seeming to change.

The makeup and effects are so disgusting here. The blood looks more real than most movie blood. The makeup looks completely convincing. The final scene contains the most disgusting thing I’ve seen maybe ever and it is so disgusting because it looks so real. (That said, there is a fake baby used at one point in the movie that is clearly a rubber baby, but it doesn’t really detract from everything else going on makeup-wise.)

The best part about the movie is its themes. This is a movie that grosses you out, but also has something to say. It explores ideas of mental illness and the rejection of psychology. It looks at motherhood and what it means to be a mother. It looks at trauma and how childhood trauma can damage someone for the rest of their lives. It has a lot on its mind beyond being horrifying.

I just watched the movie, and I still can’t believe it’s real. I don’t know what was in the water back in the late 70’s early 80’s, but they had some crazy horror movies back then. It is my cup of tea, but I don’t know if I liked this movie or not. I loved the filmmaking. I loved the themes and the performances. It had a very strong effect on me, but man I am so unsettled and disturbed that I can’t say I like this movie. It’s a strange experience. I’ve never really felt this way about a movie before. Should you see it? Yeah. I think it’s a great movie and unlike anything you’ve probably seen. Although if you are squeamish in anyway prepare to cover your eyes. For the films quality and craft I give it and A-

The Evil Dead (1981)

What separates this low budget horror movie about a group of teens trapped in a cabin in the woods fighting off supernatural foes? The wild creative force of a director and his team giving their all.

The Evil Dead was shot in 1981 by director Sam Raimi. He and his friends made this feature length horror fest for next to nothing. They made the film with as much creativity and ingenuity as they could muster in order to create a maximum impact horror extravaganza, and it shows. The film has a very rough hewn quality. It was shot on 16mm film which lends a grittier look to the movie. It feels more tactile and immediate. The camera moves with frightening speed and energy throughout the film. The camera itself is the monster for most of the movie as Raimi plays with perspectives and puts the viewer in the eye of the evil. With canted angles, ominous lighting and a camera that never stops moving, the filmmaking on display here is visceral and unforgettable.

The movie follows a group of five college kids who go to a cabin in the remote woods for a weekend of fun. In the basement, they discover a tape recorder. When they play the tape, the voice on the recorder reads from the book of the dead and unleashes evil on the kids.

This is the third film this month to use this premise. It wasn’t the first film to use it, but this film relishes its setting more than most. The remote cabin is a playground for horrors in this movie. Every inch is utilized. Every crack and crevice looks real and lived in. The reality of the setting lends more credence to the horrors going on inside. There is evil in the woods surrounding the cabin, and no cabin in movies has ever looked so remote. These kids feel alone as they fight against whatever is out there.

The makeup effects are highly effective here. Ash’s sister is assaulted in truly horrific fashion and becomes infested with the evil. Her physical self transforms into something gruesome and disturbing. Her skin seems to be flaking away from her hands and her face is a grotesque mask of dead flesh. Most horrible of all is her eyes which turn a bloodshot white that glare out unblinkingly. Does it look like an actor wearing makeup? Sometimes, but it also looks like the most disgusting makeup I’ve maybe ever seen. The makeup has a tactile quality to it that is just revolting.

There are some cheesy stop motion effects that place in the film as various demonic entities are destroyed. These don’t hold up to modern computer generated effects. They move in a jerky jerky fashion that does not look entirely convincing. However, there is so much to be said for something tactile that is really being photographed by the camera. Computer effects are more lifelike, but watching real things happening in camera is so much more satisfying.

The acting is not great. When these actors are asked to deliver dialogue, the movie becomes clunky and awkward. However, that happens very rarely as most of the movie is just action. Wisely the dialogue scenes are kept to the barest minimum. The rest is just reaction and action. If there is a star aside from the filmmaking it is Bruce Campbell as Ash. He is charming and carries much of the film on his charisma. Without him, it would just be Raimi throwing the camera around the woods. Campbell is a lot of fun to watch here as a very unconventional hero. He is cowardly at times. He makes mistakes, but he’s doing his best. It’s a relatable quality in a hero.

This movie is needlessly gruesome. It is bloody and violent in the extreme. It reaches absurd levels of horror, yet I loved it. It’s not the scariest movie I’ve seen. Honestly the scariest part about the movie is how far they’re willing to go with it. It’s not terribly original, but it is just so much fun to watch. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. Give it a look or give it another look if you’ve seen it. It is fun and funny and horrifying in equal measure.

It is my cup of tea. A-

The Haunting of Bly Manor Part 3

The series ends after nine episodes in grand fashion. It isn’t as scary as I hoped it would be, but it is an excellent ghost story that carries a huge emotional impact.

I have finished the series. It was a nine episode show, and that was perfect for this story. Anymore would have felt superfluous. The series concludes the stories of Dani, and the Wingrave children. It also concludes the haunting of the house itself. It wraps up everything in a way that really leaves a devastating impact. These last three episodes are actually the least scary of the whole series, but the series isn’t diminished for that. It has a story to tell and doesn’t fall for easy jump scares and trips into dark cellars. It has its ghost stories to tell and those stories can be scary in very different ways.

We’re diving in to an episode by episode review here, spoilers will be dropped. I’m not going to censor myself in because plot points must be discussed in order to fully engage with the themes of the story. Spielers ahead! Cruise on down to the final paragraph for a spoiler free summation.

Episode seven tells us what’s been going on plot wise. It reveals the shrouded intentions of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel. These two were madly in love and died on the grounds of Bly Manor. They are trapped there with all the other ghosts who have died there. Quint thinks he found a way out by possessing Miles and Flora. Then they will be able to escape using their bodies. That’s why Miles behaves like a grown man so often, he’s literally being possessed by one. It makes Miles’ performance so much more impressive. He takes on the mannerisms and persona of a completely different person and does so impeccably. This of course leaves a problem for Dani who wants to protect these kids no matter the cost, but how can you fight a ghost? This is what I’ve been waiting for. The previous three episodes were mostly backstory. After three episodes of telling what how everyone got there and what they all thought about it, I was wondering if we were ever going to get back to the story proper. And as if they heard my complaint, they gave us this episode. They got us back into the story and gave us a lot of forward progress. Overall an intense episode, but not necessarily a scary one. Even though it does end with a big shock.

Episode eight picks up with that big shock and then plunges us right back into backstory time. This was deeply frustrating. The plot was finally kicking into gear, and we get an entire episode that is just the history of the house and how all these ghosts ended up there in the first place. This is actually a fascinating and excellent ghost story in its own right. It tells of the Willoughby sisters who first owned Bly Manor. Viola, the older sister ruled over the estate until she became very ill. For years she fought off death, until a series of tragic events caused her spirit to wind up at the bottom of the lake on the property. Now at night she wanders forth from the lake stalks the halls of Bly Manor angry and alone. This is the woman that we’ve seen throughout the series. This is the one of whom the children are so afraid. She is the cause of all this. It’s a great ghost story in its own right, but again it kills the momentum of the story. The episode literally ends exactly where it began except now we have just received a big info dump. It’s like they wanted to hurry to answer every question in one big episode and just inserted it here. It’s necessary, it’s important, but it kills the momentum pretty badly.

Major spoilers coming up. Nothing held back.

Finally, episode nine, the final episode. Dani tries to rescue the children and in doing so frees all the ghosts of Bly Manor. She does this by taking on the ghost of Viola and carrying that curse within her. She allows Viola to possess her so that the children can live free. This happens at the halfway point in the episode. The rest of the episode is about Dani’s life living with this curse. She creates a life for herself with Jamie the gardener. It’s actually a really sweet love story that has played out over the whole series. It is a story that is unconventional, but really had me rooting for them. This is where the show hits us in the emotions. Dani lives her life knowing that the curse will claim her sooner or later. She feels herself slipping away until finally she returns to Bly and is gone. Jamie spends the rest of her life hoping to somehow see Dani again, leaving the door cracked open just slightly hoping the ghost of Dani will come walking through. It’s heartbreaking to see.

A major theme of the series is forgetting. The ghosts at Bly forget who they are over the years. Memories of their real lives and their identities wear away over time. Owen, the cook’s, mother developed dementia and he took care of her while she slipped away. Dani after taking on the curse feels her own identity slipping away. It’s a terribly sad thing and the series uses ghosts as a metaphor to deal with the grief of losing someone in that way. This is a hallmark of Flanagan’s work. Ghosts are never just specters in the night. They are always a metaphor for something bigger, something everyone can relate to. Owen at one point in the series laments the passing of his mother. He says that in the end she lost her past, and she couldn’t count on having a tomorrow, so she had to live everyday knowing all she had for sure was that one day. This series is asking us all to live as if we only for sure have that one day.

This series was not the scariest horror show I’ve seen, but it left me deeply affected. My heart is still heavy after finishing it. It is rich in metaphor and meaning, richer than most tv shows I’ve seen. Like its predecessor The Haunting of Hill House there is so much more going on than just ghosts. This is a show with something to say. It is clumsy at times and loses itself in backstory, but in the end it finds its footing enough and really tells a compelling story. I would definitely recommend Bly Manor. It’s spooky, meaningful and short enough to be enjoyed easily. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

It is my cup of tea. A-