Thursday, October 15, 2015


Two weeks in and I'm still on track to hit 40 movies this month. Just to recap, I'm accepting pledges per movie watched, raising money for both Planned Parenthood and Reach Counseling Services in Neenah, WI. If you'd like to pledge or know more about the Scare-A-Thon, shoot me an email at john.marcus.pata (at)

If you missed it, check out the recap of week one's viewings.

Now, onto this week's movies! 

Full disclosure:  I'm pretty much a big fan of the 1950s, especially the music. When a film sets itself in that world - let alone a horror film - it makes me happy. Sure, Hello Mary Lou only starts in 1957 and flashes back time to time, but the charm of '57 is present throughout. 

When a recently crowned prom queen (Mary Lou) gets set ablaze out of jealousy in 1957, her angry spirit gets stowed away in a trunk (obviously) in the basement of Hamilton High, waiting to reclaim her title. Skip ahead to 1987, the students of Hamilton are prepping for the prom. Enter prom queen prospect Vicky Carpenter and her over-bearing mother who insists Vicky reuses an old dress for the dance. "But mom, I don't want to wear my green dress!" Well, Vicky, you're in luck. Open up that mysterious trunk you just found and rock a new dress. Oh, and enjoy being possessed by the Mary Lou Maloney. 

Hello doesn't try to be anything but dumb fun. It's chock full of good one-liners, over-the-top demises of annoying high schoolers, some bitchin' tunes, and Michael Ironside. I mean, who doesn't enjoy seeing Ironside pop up in random titles. While Hello is entertaining and silly at times, it never fully becomes the party movie it wants to be. None of the characters aside from Mary Lou are memorable, the deaths occur periodically, and there isn't one effect that left me amazed. Even the film's climax isn't deserving of prom queen status, maybe more like freshman representative. 

13. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)- First Time View
Gilderoy (played by the always enjoyable Toby Jones) is a high profile sound engineer who gets hired to work on a Italian horror film in the presumably late '70s. Never having worked on a horror film, nor wanting to, Gilderoy arrives in Italy and right off the bat, things aren't going his way. He's getting the runaround when asking for receipt reimbursement, he can't meet the director, and perhaps worst of all, he's working on a horror film. As things progress, Gilderoy's world starts crumbling and his reality becomes more like a personal nightmare. 

As a filmmaker myself, it was pretty refreshing to see the sound portion of the process highlighted for a narrative setting. It's a process that, in my crumby opinion, gets overlooked in the eyes of the general public, perhaps out of ignorance. We're treated to seeing them mutilate fruits and vegetables, trying to get the proper gore sounds, record footsteps and every other beat, and of course, the actors dubbing their lines (something that is oh so common with those early Italian films). On top of that, writer/director Peter Strickland achieved a strongly, underlying sense of dread and uncertainty from almost the first second. For damn near the whole run time, nothing major really happens, nor is there an obvious threat, yet I felt uneasy and on edge. 

Sadly, outside of that (and Jones' performance), that's where the fun came to an end for me. I'm all for slow burns, ambiguity, and cerebral executions, but the third act of Berberian just turned into a completely abstract, pretentious, art-house jerk-off fest and lost me. When the final reel comes to an end, it's clear the previous 92 minutes has a deeper meaning (or at least that was its intention) and I have my own interpretation (a couple even, which I am not going into for spoiler reasons), but the turn felt abrupt and snooty, causing me to tap out. 

Admittedly, Berberian Sound Studio just isn't for me. Am I saying it's horrible? No, it's rather well-made, it just turns into something I don't care for. I'm all for films having a deeper meaning and needing to use my brain while watching, I just don't want to annoyed to the point where I lose all interest to do so. 

14. MAMA (2013) - First Time Viewing
Dad goes a little crazy - well, more like really crazy - murders his bosses, then his wife, and kidnaps his two daughters and drives far too fast down a snowy road, accidentally sliding off a cliff. The girls, unscathed, sneak out of the car before pops fully comes to. They wander into a questionable shack, quickly followed by father, and before he can do any harm, an unknown, dark presence takes care of him once and for all. Five years later, the dude's twin brother and painfully wannabe Joan Jett girlfriend continue to hire people to look for the girls. And guess what, they find them! Now twin and Joan get custody but the wild, untamed girls need help adjusting to civilization. Not to mention they keep talking about - wait for it - Mama. 

Who is Mama, you ask? Oh, just a piss-poor CGI creation, aka absolutely nothing to be afraid of. There is one, count it, ONE, good moment involving Mama and the youngest girl playing tug of war early on, but that's because we do not see her. Once Mama reveals her graphically challenged face (which happens far too often), it all comes crashing down. There's some great looking cinematography and Isabelle Nélisse as the young Lilly is unbelievably impressive, and that's about the only positives I can highlight for Mama. The writing is elementary, the dialogue is atrocious, most of the acting is wooden, the CGI isn't that impressive, there's no tension, and Jessica Chastain (Annabel) looks like the product of two shirts bought from Hot Topic and a shitty Joan Jett gig and they said, "Alright, now you're a punk rocker." I cannot express how visually obnoxious she was. Ugh. The backstory to Mama, the character, could have been interesting but it felt forced and presented in some of the most pain and random exposition I've seen in years. A lot of moments and characters lacked any sort of affect (seriously, why did the aunt character exist? Her threat of "child abuse" went absolutely nowhere) and there was zero sense of tension or suspense. 

Maybe it was just me, but Mama did nothing for me. Completely nothing. I hope this is as poor as it gets this month. In a way, I can't see how it couldn't be. 

15. HARBINGER DOWN (2015) - First Time Viewing
You know what's never good? When you get ten minutes in and you think, "I want to watch The Thing." Then at twenty minutes, "I wish I was watching The Thing." Then at thirty minutes, and every minute after that, "I should have just watched The Thing."

It's obvious - stupidly, painfully, unabashedly obvious - Harbinger Down wants to be The Thing. Hell, the opening shot of a space vessel crashing to Earth (sound familiar?) takes places on June 25, 1982 - The Thing's theatrical release date. However, a similar storyline (on a crabbing ship instead of in Antarctica) and tons of practical monster effects does not mean you can hold a candle to John Carpenter's best film. Yes, I said it, Carpenter's best. 

SFX artist turned writer/director (at least for his first feature) Alec Gillis put together the most blatant love letter to The Thing, but sadly, he didn't understand that The Thing has so much more to offer than just an isolated setting and ridiculously beautiful creature effects and makeup. The Thing is full of interesting, distinct characters, paranoia, desperation, and atmosphere. Harbinger Down, not so much. Not even Lance Henrikson could beef up the production, which is saying a lot (I love me some Lance). While the direction and execution was soft, not horrible mind you, the script was the sole culprit from allowing the film to take form. The characters were stereotypical and forgettable, the dialogue was lackluster, and nothing between beats was exciting, which made it rather underwhelming when the beats finally surfaced. Also, for a film that takes place entirely on the ocean, never once did I buy that the cast was actually on water. Blowing snow does not sell the motion of the ocean. 

Solely looking at the special effects (because that's clearly all this has to offer), they are pretty fun. Without a doubt. There's some really cool looking creations (when we get a somewhat good look at the them, the lighting clearly masked much), and aside from that, it was fantastic to see a big, gross, gooey beast. Sadly, for as much rad practical effects, there was lousy CGI enhanced imagery that accompanied the goods. 

Amalgamated Dynamics (Gillis' company) handled the creature effects for the 2011 Thing "prequel," having damn near all their work replaced with CGI. Gillis channeled his anger and frustration and made Harbinger Down (funded by Kickstarter) in response, to give the fans what they deserve. Harbinger's heart is clearly in the right place, but frankly, that's really about it.

Have I mentioned The Thing enough? 

16. FROM THE DARK (2014) - First Time Viewing
Sarah and Mark embark on a holiday in the Irish countryside. Of course, there's car trouble (because why wouldn't there be) and the couple find a rural home, hoping help will be within. However, unbeknownst to them, it's not help they'll find, rather a recently released creature. 

Sometimes simplicity is all you need. From The Dark is a very simple film which minimal dialogue, and you know what, it works. Not excessively, the film has it's far share of issues, but it's a good effort with a successful output. We know as much as Sarah and Mark about the creature, and all they know is that it doesn't like light. Lamps, cell phones, TVs, and fire are all used as defensive mechanisms, and our villain is not a fan of any of it. It bites, scratches, claws, and attacks its prey anyway it can. This makes it feel like a vampire, and also a gargoyle, but we never know exactly what it is. Because we, the audience, only know as much as our characters, discovering things as we go, things got a little hairy. The rules of this creature are unknown, so there wasn't a sense of comfort (as in knowing how they'll get out of the situation), which actually made me frightened at times. At this point in the month, I can say From The Dark is the only film to genuinely creep me out so far. There were a few moments I was legitimately scared, and that doesn't happen all too often. Good job!

Now, Dark isn't flawless. Considering there's not a lot of dialogue, the pacing gets rough. Things get slow and stale in spots and we have the obligatory dumb character decisions that made me want to face palm myself. When all is said and done, though, I was frightened, caught off guard, and enjoyed the ride. Chances are, From The Dark won't blow your mind or be a new favorite. It's stripped down and basic, but effective. You could do a lot worse.

I can't help but roll my eyes every now and then when people say, "They just don't make 'em like they used to." I feel like that's something anyone and everyone could say to damn near everything, and it can be such an empty saying. However, I'm sorry, I have to do it - they just don't make horror like this anymore. There, I said it! 

A priest in Dunwich hangs himself in the church cemetery, opening the seven gates of hell - because, sure, why not? Once All Saint's Day rolls around (which is only a few days away), the dead will take over unless the crack team of a NYC reporter, a young psychic, a psychiatrist and a patient can close them. There's plenty one could pick apart, but that's not why you watch something like City of the Living Dead. It's atmospheric, gritty, and raw, something I genuinely miss about horror. It's something I don't actively think about until I watch something like City, and then I just fall in love all over again with its unrefined qualities. I'm sure part of it is nostalgic, as I grew up on movies like this. 

Oddly enough, I don't watch Fulci films as much as I used to (to be fair, I try not to rewatch stuff as much if I can help it) but I feel like I enjoy them more now than before. Not saying I didn't like them previously, there's just something more I appreciate in my older years. Holy shit, though, are they enjoyable! It's all over the place, there's really no sense of balance anywhere, but between the gore, the atmosphere/tone, quirky characters and dialogue (the cemetery staff come to mind), and the sense that you can't stop the end of times, just prolong it, there's plenty to be entertained with. You know, if you're into those things...

18. THE SADIST (1963) - First Time Viewing
Three teachers en route to a baseball game experience car trouble in rural California. They're able to pull into an junkyard, but they don't find help. Instead, they encounter killers on the run, Charles and Judy.

The Sadist is a very small film, five characters (which starts dwindling down to fewer) in one location, heavy on dialogue. The film plays out in real time, which was intriguing and impressive, and the time factor leads to some tense moments. The pacing is a little all over the place, unfortunately leaning more often than not towards too dull for its own good. A few moments were unexpected, one in particular, which was a pleasant surprise.

My biggest problem lies with Arch Hall Jr.'s performance as the sadist. For a sliver of the time, he's frightful and intimidating. He has no care, no empathy. The rest of the time, the vast majority, he comes off as the dopiest of goons humanly possible. This contrast of being sinister one second and dumb the next twenty minutes did not sit well with me. I couldn't feel threatened because I was waiting for Charles to entertain himself by jamming his finger up his nose and digging around for a bit. It was an obvious decision to portray the character this way, one I can't quite figure out and prevented me from getting behind the film. Then it closes with an unnecessary ironic moment, calling back to a conversation in the opening, that felt so out of place it really turned me off.

After finishing the film, I read a lot of praise for it and Hall Jr. Yes, it's bleak, jumps right into the conflict, and has a couple good scenes, but I just don't see why The Sadist is held in such high regard. Perhaps it was unlike anything else at the time, presented itself in a different manner, and/or was the low-budget film that came out of nowhere. Sadly, it just didn't connect with me. To each their own, though.

Moral of the story: don't go to baseball games, baseball kills.

I was planning on taking a longer break from ghost movies (as mentioned at the end of week one), but when someone hasn't seen The Changeling before, the appropriate thing to do is show it to them. I mean, seriously. One would be foolish to say, "Nah, I don't want to watch The Changeling because I wanted to stay away from ghost movies." That would just be foolish.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite ghost/haunting films. George C. Scott is, well, George C. Scott and he's just exceptional. The film is so well-crafted, so tight, and so successful with everything. It's pieced together wonderfully, the way the mystery unfolds is simply captivating. I will say, I'm not as creeped out by it as I used to be, but that doesn't weaken the overall experience one bit. The seance scene is still chilling (largely in part due to the medium) and the ball - oh my god, THE BALL - continues to give me the heebie-jeebies.

Not a film I want to watch all too often, but when I do put it in, I am so satisfied. Presumably "slow" by today's standards, The Changeling is concrete evidence you don't need anything big and flashy, just a solid, smart story that is well executed. I just don't think it gets much better than this when it comes to ghosts.

20. SLEEPWALKERS (1990) - First Time Viewing
I would have bet money on the fact that I had seen Sleepwalkers before. Good thing I didn't, though, as I absolutely have not until now… And, boy, was I missing out!

Now, let's get one thing clear - Sleepwalkers does not really make sense. Not a god damn lick of sense, which is one of the reasons it's so glorious. A mother and son who love each other FAR too much move to small town Indiana to start a new life. They also happen to be some sort of weird, shapeshifting creatures (self-labeled as sleepwalkers) who's only obvious weakness happens to be cats. Why? We don't know, but it's cool. From this point on, things get weird, bizarre, weirdly bizarre, and hilarious.

Penned by Stephen King (and featuring a rather great cameo), this is one surprising offering from the master of horror. I give him a ton of credit, he really went out there. Not just in the concept, but the dialogue, the action, and the characters. This ultimately does not feel like a King story that we're accustomed to. Sleepwalkers feels as if he said, "Fuck it. I'm going to get weird and goofy, let's just have fun" and director Mick Garris subscribed to that thinking. If that were the case, they nailed it. Between the one-liners, absurd violence, ridiculous cats attacking sleepwalkers, one of the most uncomfortable mother/son relationships, a smokin' hot Mädchen Amick (of Twin Peaks fame), surprising cameos, repeated use of Santo & Johnny's soothing tune "Sleepwalk," and an uncredited, mustached Mark Hamill, I could not stop smiling and laughing.

Halfway to my goal of 40 movies and Sleepwalkers goes down as not just the most fun, but the most surprising. I'm not saying its good, rather I had an absolute blast with what it is. I greatly look forward to watching this again.

Total Films Watched: 20 (of 40)
First Time Viewings: 15

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