Thursday, July 18, 2013

horror ringtones I have loved.

Not the most important topic in the world, but I sometimes find myself spending hours trying to find awesome horror ringtones and notification sounds for my cellphone. So, I thought I'd give a list of ones that make me happy, and how well they work in practice. (I'm more fond of theme music than dialogue samples or sound effects.)

1. Exorcist theme - This is my go-to ringtone. It's not overbearing, and it starts soft and builds. It is also just a really pretty and haunting piece of music. I sometimes don't hear it immediately, but it does build in volume and I've yet to miss a call with it.

2. X-files theme - this is another good softer ringtone. Again, not overbearing. I have this one set for my friend Jeff, because we first bonded over our love of this show back when it was on the air. We met at a Halloween dance in high school, both dressed as Fox Mulder. Though, as always, his costume was more thought-out, tattered and blood-stained from a bullet wound (Anasazi, of course).

3. Halloween theme - This is a funny one, because it doesn't have much nostalgic value for me. I was never a huge fan of Halloween, but this is a wonderful piece of music, and has a great urgent energy as a ringtone.

 4. "We're gonna get you. We're gonna get you. Not another pee-eep. Time to go to slee-eep." This one I had to make myself, sampled from Evil Dead.  It took a bit of rigging to get the volume decent. But I enjoy this one as a ring tone for people who don't call all that often. (or for credit card collections numbers)

5. Addams' Family theme. - Just makes me happy when my phone rings.

6. Friday the 13th - "ch ch ch ah ah ah" - This is a pretty great notification sound.

7. "1-2- Freddy's coming for you" Another sample, this one is good for morning alarms, I find. That is WHAT I HAVE FOUND IN MY RESEARCH.

8. Jaws - but not the theme, the song they sing on the boat, "Show me the way to go home." Another horror movie ringtone that makes me happy, a slow soft start, and a rousing finish. I start it at the thumping, usually.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Evil Dead.

I don't think it is fair to compare Fede Alvarez's remake/reboot Evil Dead to the original The Evil Dead.  Yes, I think there's an interesting comparison to be made between the two films, but I think I am probably too invested in Sam Raimi's original. But, my love of The Evil Dead aside, I think it might be worthwhile looking for a more modern comparison. The original's contemporaries were the Freddy and Jason movies. The big money makers were silly gorefests. These days, the biggest, most successful blood splattered dismemberment movies are much more serious, grisly affairs.

A better comparison would be the 2007 french horror movie Inside. Evil Dead and Inside both set out to shock you, to turn your stomach with visceral gore. "The most terrifying film you will ever experience!" screams the Evil Dead poster. "One of the scariest movies I have ever seen in my life." The cover of Inside promises. These are the quotes that sell movies on posters and box covers these days. But neither quote does justice to its film.

The beauty of Inside, (and of Evil Dead) is that neither abandons the idea that horror movies are supposed to be fun, that there's a maniacal glee to be found when things go from bad to worse to it's-raining-blood. That's a special kind of wonderful fun that people often don't associate with movies like the later Saw films. Or the Human Centipede.

Inside was FUN. Here was a movie where one lady spent an entire movie trying to take an unborn baby from someone's womb with a pair of scissors. This could very well have been an effective, gruesome, and bleak movie like Martyrs. And it was most of those things! It was effective, and gruesome, and often the situation for the characters was bleak, but it was never bleak for the audience. It had a pacing and a gleefulness to the direction that made it clear this was a movie made by people who loved horror movies. All horror movies. Nightmare on Elm Street movies just as much as Saw. The Exorcist as much as Night of the Living Dead.

And while Evil Dead wasn't the movie I expected it to be, the more I think about it, the more I like it. I want to watch it again, now that I think I better understand what it is trying to do. It is not as perfect as Inside, by any means. There's a really visible struggle going on between tones in the movie.

When things were going normally, Evil Dead took itself very seriously. The characters were shallow and not very well written. When everything was going right, these characters were bland. I actually think the girlfriend character didn't get a single line of dialogue until well after people started dying. It's the first time I've ever watched a movie that Diablo Cody had a hand in writing and wished her voice was MORE apparent. But complaining about the characterization at the beginning is kind of like complaining about the car commercials before the movie.

Once the weird shit started, Evil Dead began its awkward struggle toward awesomeness. It built to a rhythm, for the first 2/3 of the movie. It would be very serious and bleak and when violence happened, it would be serious and unpleasant and then slightly crazier and then A LOT crazier and the movie would be suddenly fun and ridiculous. The gore is very much in the same family as Saw, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes. The movie had that yellow-green tint that has become a horror staple. Oh, yes, this is certainly a modern horror movie. But then when things get going the colors would feel brighter. The dialogue would be funnier. The blood would spray just a bit too far. The most obnoxious character (the nerdy friend who first opens the book) became unexpectedly hilarious. The most gruesome scenes had a humour that the rest of the movie didn't even try for.

And then things would quiet down, and we'd have to suffer through some more "characterization" and "inner struggles" or whatever. Until something bad would happen again and the movie would remember to be fun. This happened again and again in the first half, but as the movie progressed, the awesome and ridiculous moments came faster and more often, until the skies were pouring blood and the whole audience was laughing and cringing at the same time.

I don't think Evil Dead is a perfect movie. I'm not even sure it was that GOOD. It certainly was not on the same level as the brilliant Inside, similarities of intent aside. I was irritated and bored through long stretches at the beginning. And I don't think it had to be an Evil Dead movie. At least, I think a lot of my initial frustration with the movie came from me comparing it to the nostalgia-armoured perfection of the original. On the other hand - I also don't think as many people would have seen and gotten to enjoy it if it were just another new horror movie, and I'm glad that there's a movie in theatres proving that even modern gore can be fun.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

some good rape-free horror movies.

Halloween is coming, so here are a few of my favourite horror movies from the past dozen years that don't have sexual violence in them.

Edit: I removed Let the Right One In from the list, and replaced it with The Others.

(G) - Gore.
(FS) - Foreign language/Subtitled.
(SA) - Stupid but awesome anyway.
(?) A caution.

1. The Others
It is perfect in almost every way, and builds atmosphere and tension as much through character as through setting and circumstance. It is creepy as fuck, and has a twist at the end that not only makes perfect sense, but which only makes the movie more interesting and satisfying to watch. I watch this movie at least once a year. It is a haunted house movie that understands why haunted house movies are scary. And it understands that sadness can be so much more chilling than gore.

2. The Ring
I love The Ring. I like it better than the original Japanese version, Ringu. Don't get me wrong - Ringu is an amazing movie, and it is not often that I like a remake better than the original film, but The Ring is so much fun. It keeps the creepy elements of the original while abandoning that film's slow tension in favor of a more streamlined thriller. It then wraps this all up in a nice mix of rural America and modern day city life, gives us characters we grow to like, and balances the jump scares with some really unnervingly strange images. This movie led to a whole slew of terrible immitators and other less competent attempts to bring J-Horror to American audiences, but don't hold that against it.

3. INSIDE (G) (FS)
This movie is MESSED UP and horrifying. Two women are locked together in a house. The first is a pregnant woman who survived a recent car crash, and the second woman is trying to take the first's unborn baby from her with a pair of scissors. If you want an insane French bloodfest, look no further.

4. Pontypool
This is a zombie movie where most of the violence and action takes place in the viewer's imagination. It is shot almost entirely in a radio station, where the people trapped inside are trying to make sense of the reports they're getting from the outside world. Zombies do show up, and they're pretty gross, but they don't pass the virus on by biting people. This is a zombie virus passed on mimetically through language! This movie is a lot of fun, as long as you can look past the strange b-movie final scenes.

5. [REC] (G)(FS)
The best of the "found footage" horror movies. [REC] follows a news reporter and her cameraman on a job-shadowing assignment with some firemen. Before long they are all quarantined in an apartment complex with a quickly dwindling group of tennants. Some GREAT scares in this one. If you don't enjoy subtitles, you should check out QUARANTINE, the American remake. It is a very faithful remake, and just as good as the original I think. [REC] 2 is also well worth your time.

6. Wake Wood
This is almost more of a drama than a horror, though it is a very creepy and supernatural drama. It surprised me, because I thought I knew what kind of movie it was going to be from the synopsis. But, while it is a movie about how far two parents are willing to go to be reunited with their dead daughter, it is a much subtler take on it than Pet Semetary's theme of "Sometimes, dead is better."

7. Altered (G)
A straight-to-DVD horror movie that deserved a theatrical release, I think. It's about a group of men who were abducted when they were younger, and who have now captured one of the aliens and are trying to figure out what to do with it. It's funny and often charming and it has some good tense scenes where they struggle with their need for revenge and the knowledge of what that revenge will cost them.

8. Shaun of the Dead  (G)
Good natured horror comedy about a well-meaning but selfish jerk trying to save his loved ones from an unexpected zombie apocalypse. Super fun, and often very gross. Lots of clever references both to other movies, and to other scenes within the movie itself. Fun forshadowing and visual echoing.

9. Splinter (G)
Another straight-to-DVD horror movie. Splinter takes place entirely in a gas station convenience store, where the characters find themselves trapped by some pretty insane looking monsters. The practical special effects in this movie are awesome, and it is plenty gross. I really enjoyed it.

10. Ruins (G) (SA)
Ruins was much more interesting and intelligent and CREEPY than I expected. And even when it starts getting stupider in the final 3rd of the movie, it's still a heck of a ride!

11. Thir13en Ghosts (G) (SA) (?)
Thirteen Ghosts is a movie in the true spirit of the William Castle original. It's totally more of a ride than a story. The big crazy mechanical house is a mechanism for moving the characters from one encounter to the next, and it moves us along with it. The alive people on screen are almost exclusively boring and obnoxious (with the exception of Matthew Lillard who is perfectly in his element here as a scenery chewing depraved psychic ghost hunting pillhead), but the ghosts are wonderful. The filmmakers put every bit of their love and care into the set design and the monster design, and as a showcase for those the movie is perfect. It's like a really interesting silent movie with the music replaced by idiotic dialogue. (?) The nude female ghost is implied to have killed herself, and cutting is almost implied - but in the most ridiculous cartoony way imaginable.

12. Amityville Horror (remake) (SA)
I should say first that I found the original Amityville Horror kind of stupid and boring. I really enjoyed this remake, even though it isn't really anything to write home about. It was well made, and Ryan Reynolds is charming and unexpectedly effective when he turns that charm off. There are also some great popcorn-horror weird scary scenes.

13. Behind the Mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon (G)
This was a fun faux-documentary style movie that turns into a more genuine horror movie at the end (which is the weakest part, I think.) The idea of ambitious journalists who are unsure how far to go in search of their story about a real life slasher is an interesting one. The killer himself is charming and candid in the behind the scenes parts, complaining about how much cardio he has to do and things. It's fun.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Logorrhea in space: Event Horizon (1997)

Event Horizon (1997) is a supernatural science fiction movie. This is a fairly rare thing, and I really appreciated that the movie doesn't try to explain away the supernatural elements as simply being alien technology that is advanced beyond our understanding. Unfortunately that is just about the only thing the movie doesn't explain. I don't understand why movies insist on having characters act like everybody they work with needs someone to describe how basic shit works.

"You have to be in this stasis module during transport, doctor, otherwise your body wouldn't be able to withstand the sudden acceleration and your bones would liquify,"

"Oh yes, that is super gross, and it is even grosser if I mention that I've seen the effect on mice somehow, even though I'm acting like I need this all explained to me. Also, I design spaceships and don't know how they work I guess?"

I do like Event Horizon, despite the fact that it thinks I am an idiot. There are some genuinely creepy images throughout, many of them involving people with empty eye sockets saying unsettling things to their loved ones. And there are moments that veer from creepy to gross, like they belong in a grindhouse version of Solaris. And the sets are all really attractive. They've taken the run-down aesthetic of spaceships from ALIEN and splashed blood and guts all over the wall. They've replaced H.R. Giger designed backdrops with something more fitting to Hellraiser. And it works. We're dealing with unknown evil from beyond space and time, here, and (aside from some cheesy late 90s CGI) the movie looks the part.

But I wish they had spent as much time on refining the dialogue as they did on the sets and makeup. There are some good actors involved here, Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill leading a cast of familiar ragtag-team types like Richard T Jones and Sean Pertwee, and they have all been given absolutely idiotic things to say all the time.

"Ah, now that we're awake I should tell you all why we're here, because (like always) a group of professional spaceship crew have agreed to go to the edge of the galaxy without knowing what the mission is. Well, we're here looking for the spaceship named Event Horizon, and..."

"Like the movie's title?"

"Yes! Yes, exactly. Well, this is all classified Code Black by the NSA which sounds pretty cool even though I am not sure why the NSA has space-jurisdiction, but the Event Horizon was actually on a super secret mission a decade ago to test a new kind of faster-than-light-travel engine that I probably invented. Everything was going really super well, but then they turned the engine on and vanished and I guess we just gave up on the whole "faster-than-light-thing" and forgot all about the billion dollar spaceship until we received this distress call."

*plays a tape of insane demon screaming sounds with maniacal chanting*

"So that's why I've brought you all across the solar system. Those insane demon sounds there, which apparently don't freak me out. Also, I should say, it sounds like no known human language and I should know. I went to space university."

"Wait, play it again," the ship's trauma doctor says.

*more screaming*

"That sounds like... Latin? Could it be Latin? Is that a language creepy demon screams ever use?" he asks.

"Lat... Latin? I'm not sure what word you're even saying to me right now," Sam Neill replies, bewildered and afraid.

"Play it again, I will try and translate it because that's my other skill I have."

This is a movie that would be ten times better if people would just be quiet for a bit and let us be creeped out by the atmosphere. It is already pretty creepy that the naked lady has no eyeballs. We don't really need the mechanic screaming, "You messed with the laws of physics. Did you really think there wouldn't be a price?" And yet it winds up being the best line in the movie.

Throughout the whole movie, he's the only character who acts rationally and doesn't immediately believe the hallucinations are real. ("My six year old son? Heck, what's he doing here? I thought he was on the other side of the solar system. I better follow him down this creepy corridor and not get killed.") It's like he's a character from a completely different movie, where people make sense.

So maybe it's foolish to wish Event Horizon had better dialogue. There's a very distinct pleasure to a movie this stupid and gory, and it is pretty hilarious to have a character scream the movie's theme in an angry panic. Why don't all movies do that? They might as well have had creepy eyeless Sam Neill turn to the camera right at the end and say, "I guess that really was [PAUSE FOR EFFECT] an Event Horizon."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

5 horror movies to pick for movie night if you are an asshole.

1. Sorority Row (2010) First off, I should say that I actually kind of love this movie. It is terrible in a really fun "logic doesn't matter" sort of way, and has some ghoulish kills. What it does not have, however, is respect for any of the female characters. So, here's what you do. Tell your friends that you are going to be bringing a movie called "Sorority House Massacre or something." Be sure to say, "It was written by lesbian feminist writer Rita Mae Brown, and is directed by a woman, too!" Talk about how you think it'll be an interesting deconstruction of the misogyny of slasher films. Then, on horror movie night? Put this fucker on.

2. Teeth (2008) But what do you do if sexist sorority house boob-fests are what your friends normally want to watch on movie night? If that's the case, you might opt instead to bring the movie Teeth. It has an innocuous enough title for a movie about a girl with Vagina Dentata. Make up some lie about what the movie is about, and then just sit back and enjoy their reactions as character after character gets his penis torn off and eaten by a vagina.

3. Dreamcatcher (2003) Are your friends the sort of people who "don't watch Hollywood movies" and instead only watch capital f Films? Then perhaps they will enjoy Dreamcatcher, which you will describe as an independent film examining the co-opting of Native American culture. The actual film is about a group of pals who talk with insane made up slang, share a common bond because they once rescued a mentally disabled kid, and are soon attacked by flesh eating ass weasels from space.

4. He Who Gets Slapped (1924) Is your movie night group filled with people who love gore and try to one up one another with the grossest movie ever? Are they the sort of horror fan who, when asked why they love horror, reply, "BLOOD!" Do they roll their eyes if a movie is in black and white? Boy are they going to love this movie. He Who Gets Slapped is a silent movie, and my favourite Lon Chaney movie. Put all hopes of killer clowns out of your head, though, because Chaney does not play Pennywise the clown, here. There are no fangs and no monster eyes. He plays a man who has his dreams taken from him, who is humiliated and broken and driven mad. It is a strange, heartbreakingly sad movie. His clown character allows him to relive the worst moments of his life over and over in front of a laughing and jeering audience, night after night, until finally his chance for revenge comes. 

5. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) That said, if you have a friend that genuinely suffers from Coulrophobia (the fear of clowns!) then holy shit have I got a movie for you. Everything about this movie is amazing. The creators take the premise "clown aliens attack earth" and they take it much farther than you expect. Not only do they aliens look like horrifying clowns (the makeup in this movie is really great) but their spaceship is a big-top tent. They ride around in a tiny clown car. They kill people with pies to the face, wrap them up in cotton candy and drink their blood through giant loopy crazy-straws. There are funhouse mirrors! There is killer popcorn! If you are gonna traumatize your coulrophobic pal, then you might as well do it right! 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Because it makes me pretty: Cherry Falls (2000)

In Cherry Falls, a slasher is killing virgin teens and carving the word "virgin" into their corpses because otherwise it would be kind of ridiculous for the cops in the movie to see virginity as a pattern in teen deaths. Especially since the first murders occur while the teens are making out in a car. I didn't go to medical school or anything, but if the killer had not been carving the word "virgin" into the corpses, it probably would be a bit weird that the coroner would check for hymens.

Everything I expected to like about this movie wound up being disappointing. The premise - a town full of panicked teens desperately trying to save themselves by getting laid - is funny, but then the movie is jam-packed with horror movie cliches and mediocre scares.

And yet, in the scenes between the infrequent murders, I found myself loving this movie more and more. It is just inexplicably WEIRD. Like, there's an early scene where we meet Brittany Murphy and her boyfriend parked in front of her house. We learn that they haven't "gone all the way" yet, and he's frustrated. This leads him to break up with her. Then her mother pulls up in a car, and conspiratorially warns her to be careful not to wake her father sneaking in. We follow as Murphy sneaks into the house, and this is how we learn that her dad is the town sheriff. This is all pretty standard on the page, but the director must have been behind the camera just yelling insane prompts at the actors.

"Okay, now flirt with your daughter's boyfriend! Really eyefuck him. And you! Boyfriend! Make a joke about the mom's headlights, and leer! LEER! You're a single man now!" and then, "Okay! You're going inside! You were just broken up with. Kiss your mom on the lips for some reason! Then go upstairs! Dad? Dad are you hiding in your daughter's bedroom in the dark yet?"

Later on in the movie, there's a scene where the father goes in to her bedroom again to wake her up and ask if she's a virgin. He's just found out the killer's M.O. and he's worried about her. But he really takes his time with the asking, and afterward, she takes his hand and asks if he's disappointed that she's a virgin. Bewildering!

The movie doesn't seem incestuous by intent, though. I suspect that scenes like that one are a sort of collateral damage. Every single scene in the movie is sexualized, and it does lend a distinct personality to what would otherwise just be another I Know What You Did Last Summer. Everybody seems to be constantly eyefucking everybody at the school. Long vacant lustful looks. The camera will randomly flash to the word "Erected" on the building's dedication. Characters with only one line come into the principal's office to announce, "the sheriff is here," with their words, but seem to announce "I want to fuck you right now, sir. Or your chair. I don't care what I fuck, oh god I forget what my name is," with their eyes.

There's a scene midway through the film, where Cindy, one of the "experienced" girls, is explaining to an audience of virgin girls that unless they're talking about masturbation it would be foolish to expect an orgasm from the boys. They are all going to be having sex at this secret orgy, but they need to manage their expectations. "Girls have to do everything. Boys are totally clueless when it comes to sex. It starts with them trying to unhook our bras, fumbling around, and it never changes. Wait until they try to put their dick into you."

"Please don't say they need help with THAT!" someone says.

"Always," Cindy tells her.

One of the other girls seems skeptical and asks, "Aren't we being a little hard on the boys?"

Cindy just looks at her with pity.

When Brittany Murphy and her boyfriend Kenny finally do get around to their sex scene, it is so unexpected and dirty. This is a movie with no nudity, and hardly any on screen gore. It relies almost entirely on innuendo and insinuation and schoolyard gossipy jokes, and so when Murphy decides to fuck her boyfriend, her directness is actually kind of shocking. And it's refreshing that this is clearly on her own terms, too. She's not laying back and letting him fumble at her bra, she's got her toe stuck in his mouth and she's giving him orders, "Bite it. Bite it harder. Harder." And she's sort of kicking him in the face at the same time. He's terrified, and it's an awkward and genuinely sexy moment.

After that, the murders escalate, as you would expect. There are some twists, but there aren't many surprises. It doesn't really matter. The plot is easy to ignore. The performances are all likeable, especially Jay Mohr and Brittany Murphy, and there are some great lines in the climactic scenes. All of a sudden people are spouting one-liners like crazy, and it feels chaotic and fun. A killing spree in the midst of a teen orgy is just as ridiculous as you would hope, and the scenes of the teenagers pairing off like it's a high school dance are sort of sweet.

In the end, Cherry Falls is completely ineffective as a horror movie, but it is a charming and surprisingly funny teen sex comedy dressed up like a horror movie, with a fright wig and garish makeup and everything.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Now I understand why people get into murder vans: House of the Devil (2009)

Ti West's 1980s babysitter horror throwback House of the Devil is weird but strangely pleasant.

It first caught my attention because it looks like a love-letter to 80s horror, but that's a trick! There's nothing of the simplicity of those babysitter exploitation films here. This is a very modern horror movie all dressed up in costume to look like our rose-coloured nostalgia. It's not a tribute, it's a period piece. Everything about it feels exactly the way you remember 80s horror looking, but there were no actual movies like this in the 80s. House of the Devil is beautiful and measured, and it benefits from a more modern sensibility in camera work and especially in its pacing and attention to character.

I was drawn to The House of the Devil because the retro setting and look, but I loved it because it was so careful and subtle and effortlessly charming. Tom Noonan, in particular, demonstrates how creepy gentleness and kindness can be. He is soft spoken and humble even as he explains to the main character that she has been called out to this creepy house in the middle of nowhere to babysit a child that doesn't exist. There is no child. Instead, he explains, he needs someone to watch his grandmother. It is hard to not like him, despite knowing that this is a crazy suspicious thing that he's done. And that makes his kindness all the more creepy. You can't help but thinking oh shit, this is how serial killers get people into their creepy murder vans! They're super charming and you start thinking, "Oh just one look in the murder van will be okay. I don't want to let him down."

It's a slow movie, but it never drags. The main character is so likeable that it's nice to just spend time with her, to order pizza and dance around with walkman headphones on. And there is always just one more slightly off detail to promise that the end is coming. Ti West knows that anticipating violence is scarier than violence itself, but he also seems to understand that if you are going to be wandering around a spooky house for 90 minutes, then a) there better actually be something batshit crazy behind one of these doors at some point, and b) it is important to have a character who we want to wander around an empty house with. The main actor Jocelin Donahue conveys charm and intelligence in a role that requires very little speaking. It is never boring, following her as she tries to figure out what is going on.

And how can you not love a movie that sent out its review copies on VHS in a proper white plastic case and everything?