Two weeks down, booyah! Why am I watching a bunch of horror movies this month? Well, if you didn't know, I'm accepting pledges per movie watched, raising money for both The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society 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)gmail.com.
Want to read about week one? Get click happy here!
ACOLYTES (2008) - First Time Viewing
When you're a teenager, and you've been molested and beaten by a bully, what's the best way to go about handling the situation? To blackmail a serial killer to get rid of the shithead plaguing you, that's how! At least, that's the way our three teenagers go about it in the Australian-helmed Acolytes.
Oh, and said serial killer just happens to be played by Joel Edgerton, who I've recently become quite a fan of.
On paper, Acolytes is for me. It's a dark, tragic tale about misfits and teen angst. Finding out Edgerton stars as the murderous Ian Wright was all I needed to give this a watch. Something about the execution and direction the script went just left me so underwhelmed. While I wasn't blown away from the get-go, I was onboard for the first 20 minutes and wanted to see how things would progress. However, as the film played out, I just lost interest. James, the best friend of our lead, grew more and more obnoxious as every minute passed by. I hate to say it, but this character damn near made the film unbearable. I'm most curious to know how the film would have played with a toned-down James.
What's unfortunate is there certain aspects that work really well. The soundtrack is appropriate, the song selection is solid and used in very fun ways. Director Jon Hewitt and DP Mark Pugh worked quite well with the Queensland backdrop, creating all kinds of nice looking shots, many of which were nice, wide angles. The film hits the coming-of-age beats pretty well (accented by the soundtrack), but it just didn't know how to weave in the grim narrative. The two just didn't mix well, and the end wasn't satisfying enough to make the mediocrity worthwhile.
When all is said and done, Acolytes just didn't seem to translate on screen the way it should have.
THE INVITATION (2016) - First Time Viewing
A group of, what seem to be, early 30-somethings from LA gather for a dinner party. The host, Eden, has been MIA for the past two years, now returning with a new hubby, David. Eden, who used to be married to Will, flew the coop when their son died. But she's back! With a new outlook on life and perhaps something more to offer for her old friends.
A decent idea is there, but the build up takes far too long and, to be frank, I just don't give a shit about urban yuppies from LA. I know, that makes me sound callous, but I have no desire to watch them for 90 minutes. I felt no connection or affliction for anyone, so I was just left wanting something bad to happen. Clearly, this needed to be a one-location film, and often times, it felt like the screenwriters had to cheapen the pages to keep the story contained. However, there were some fairly successful moments of tension, leaving you to wonder what exactly is going on, but then they were stretched too much and the effect was lost.
This is one invitation I wish I wouldn't have accepted (sorry, I had to get a bad pun in here). If you're in the mood for a dinner party gone array, skip this and give Coherence a watch.
I'm almost ashamed to admit the last time I watched this beauty. Okay, truthfully, I can't remember. I was quite a fiend for Frankenstein and the rest of the Monsters growing up, and I'm willing to bet it's been a solid 15 years since I watch this. I know, I know! I should probably turn in my horror card now.
What's there to say that hasn't been said? It all works so well still. The sets are incredible, possibly my favorite aspect of the film. Love the opening credits, withholding who plays The Monster, simply putting a question mark in lieu of Boris Karloff. I couldn't help but dwell on the thought of this not only being made, but released to an unsuspecting public in 1931. All of us grew up in a world where The Monster and his friends exist. The thought of experiencing them being unleashed is something I would have loved to see.
Even if it doesn't happen this month, I'm in much need to revisit all of my old Monster friends.
ABERRATION (2013) - First Time Viewing
Sometimes, a movie arrives from Netflix and I have no idea how or why it was in my queue to begin with. Aberration just happened to be one of those, but tis the season, so I just went with it.
High schooler Christy discovers she has the ability to communicate with the dead. It just so happens that there's been a string of murders in her small town, so what better way to use her gift than to figure out what the hell is going on. Speaking of gift, if you're thinking, "Hey, this sounds awfully similar to Sam Raimi's The Gift," you'd be correct! But it's cool, just go with it.
Aberration boasts the shortcomings of many small, independent films. Wooden acting, a script that tried to offer too much, pretty hokey, generic scares, and so on. I can't fault them too much, as I know the difficulties of independent filmmaking. That said, IMDb states the budget being $100k, and if that's the case, many hats of to them! The cinematography is slick and the film covers a lot of ground; there are a bunch of locations in this story, I was down right amazed at how much they pack in. That's not to say it was overwhelming, it wasn't. The amount of locations and settings used is very uncommon for a small film like this.
And speaking of locations, how in the hell did I not hear about this previously, as the entire film was shot in Waupaca, WI?! While the end credits rolled, I pulled up the film's IMDb page (as I typically do), and just happened to look back at the screen when it listed its shooting location. Unbelievable. Maybe that's why it ended up in my Netflix queue, because it was shot 45 miles from me and I just forgot. Who knows.
As a whole, Aberration did very little for me but was worth it for finding out it was shot in Wisconsin.
GOOSEBUMPS (2015) - First Time Viewing
Finding myself in an underwhelming and unsatisfying slump, I figured "adult" horror wasn't working so let's try some family-friendly horror.
I grew up reading Goosebumps and was so pumped when the TV show started in 1995 (I go back and watch it from time-to-time yet), so the idea of bringing it back for the big screen made me smile. Why did I wait a year since its release if I was excited (which I actually was)?
Easy, two words: Jack Black.
I am just not a fan. At all. I've never liked him and do not find any entertainment in his style of comedy. In fact, I find it utterly obnoxious and nauseous. He's just not for me. By knowing that, I typically stay away from his films because I don't enjoy them. But dammit, I'm a Goosebumps kid!
Zach and his mom relocate to Madison, Delware, moving next door to an over-bearing father (Black) and his daughter, Hannah. Disobeying what he's been told, Zach and his new found friend Champ go into Hannah's house, accidentally unleashing hell on Madison. See, Hannah's dad happens to be a writer, dozens and dozens of his manuscripts rest on the shelves, all locked shut. The reason they're locked is because the creatures and monsters found on the pages can enter our world if the pages are open. Well, guess what happens. The pages get opened. If you knew Goosebumps was a book series, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the manuscripts are all the actual novels, and although he goes by a bogus alias, Black is actually R.L. Stine himself, the writer of all the books.
This is simply a fun flick. There are cool monsters, well-timed humor, and interesting turns throughout. I have a hard time believing kids would not be all about it. Hell, as a 32-year old, I was pretty all about it! I enjoyed the approach of not just adapting one of the books for the screen, rather placing them all in the narrative. This made for an amusing approach, unsure of what was going to happen next. If I did have to gripe, I missed the feel of the original TV show. By watching them again in the past few years, it's surprising how dark they actually are. Yes, it's a kids show, but things get a little hairy and intense from time to time. The film never quite has the guts that the show did, but that's totally cool, too. They're different, and clearly the goal was fun with the film, to which they succeeded.
I do need to get this off my chest, though. I am so willing to buy the idea of monsters living within the pages of books, coming into our world, and fucking shit up. I'll suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride, no problem there. However, you're asking a lot for me to buy that a little ways into the woods outside of this tiny town exists a massive amusement park that was finished but never opened, and a 14-year old can just walk up, flip the switch, and have power to EVERYTHING. Come on, people!
Oh, and for once, Jack Black was fairly tolerable. Thankfully, he didn't play himself like usual. He was a little toned down and much more palatable. I'm not saying I liked it, far from it, but he didn't completely kill the vibe for me. 'Bout damn time!
PSYCHO II (1983) - First Time Viewing
Sequels are what they are. Sometimes, they're a no-brainer and fit. Other times, they seem unnecessary and pointless. I've been well aware that Psycho has not just one sequel, but three, and never really cared. Why? That's all I could think. Why bother with continuing the story? I know novel-writer Robert Bloch did, and I also never cared to read the book. The film follows a different path, and let me tell you, that's a good thing.
Everyone's favorite momma's boy Norman Bates is released after twenty-two years of psychiatric care. Presumably not to the surprise of many, certain people are quite opposed to this idea, including Marion Crane's sister Lila Loomis. But Norman wants to try out a normal life. He knows his mother is dead, he wants to move on and be a new man. Sure, he heads back to the Bates' house and takes over the motel, but really, what could go wrong?
It would be far too easy to churn out a shit follow-up to Psycho. I'd go as far to say the odds were so stacked against it being remotely acceptable, Which leaves me with one question. How in the fuck is this so good?!
Tom Holland really nailed the script. The way this film explores Norman's life post-ward, his daily struggle to find normality, plus the town's response to his release is so rich and fascinating. This could have easily turned into a slasher film (considering when it came out), but it's very much about character, just as it should be. Just went you feel you have a solid grasp on everything, in comes a deviation causing you to second-guess yourself, much like Norman's world. Now, while this doesn't head in the direction of a typical slasher flick, the deaths are injected with a surprisingly big amount of gore and effects.
At 113 minutes, I would have to say the film gets slightly long-winded. The lead-in to heart of the story was a little daunting, and I did start to lose interest in the third act. That said, by the film the film ended, I was back on board. However, even though things dragged on a bit here and there, they do not just rehash the original film over and over. Very little, even. In fact, they build off of what was established in 1960, exactly what a sequel should do.
Perhaps my expectations were minimal enough, I was just amazed at how well this worked. And Dean Cundey is the DP! Yeah, good stuff here. Good stuff indeed.
PSYCHO III (1986) - First Time Viewing
Figured I might as well give the third entry a shot, too. Only seems appropriate, right?
Following the events of the previous film (almost immediately), Norman has some new faces around the motel, one being a runaway nun he's drawn to. Perhaps that's because she's a splitting image of Marion Crane, has the same initials, and carries the same luggage. Not to mention, she settles into room number one! Remember how I saluted Psycho II for not just rehashing the first film? Well, I can't say the same about III.
The second film strives to do something more, add to Norman and his legacy, while this time around, there doesn't seem to be such a clear intention. There wasn't much to sink your teeth into, Perkins' seemed to be over-acting a little too much (he also served as director), and we're left retreading familiar ground. Yes, there is a decent mystery that unravels, but it wasn't compelling enough to keep me fully invested. And the climax is somewhat wild, so at least that paid off fairly well.
Maybe I would have felt different if I didn't watch this a day after the unexpected delight of the predecessor, this just seemed to offer so little. Felt unneeded. But, since I came this far, I might as well dive into the fourth and final entry. Soon, not next. I need a break from good ole Normie.
UNDOCUMENTED (2010) - First Time Viewing
Last month, I was at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX with The Stylist (which I edited), and caught Chris Peckover's Safe Neighborhood. Throughout the weekend, I caught rumblings of his previous film, Undocumented, which screened in 2010. Guess what I came across tonight while scrolling through Shudder.
A documentary crew of American grad students join a fairly large group of illegal immigrants as they cross the Mexican border, telling their stories. Once on US soil, the whole gang pile in the back of a U-Haul, with a 100-mile drive to a safe house ahead of them. En route, the truck gets pulled over and hijacked by a group of extreme - and I mean EXTREME - American radicals who don't take too kindly to immigrants. They unload the truck at their desert compound, where they sadistically terrorize those they hate.
Undocumented is unnerving, unsettling, unforgiving, and just about every other negative adjective that starts with "un."
There's a damn good chance this is going to go down as one of the most ferocious films I'll see this month, if not year. Focusing more on the violence than the gore, Undocumented is packed with so much discomfort. Peckover and co-writer Joe Peterson definitely had something to say, and they said it loud and clear. They take American xenophobia to another level, and sadly, they're probably not too far off. That's the worst part of the film, people like this probably do exist. No, correction. People like this DO exist. Do they have a compound where they torture and kill immigrants? I don't know. But the mentality these deranged, racist pieces of shit possess certainly does. This film has balls. And guts. Hell, the balls have guts and the guts have balls.
Watching it is not exactly a joy, but it's not supposed to be. This is true horror, as it's undoubtedly part of our world. Holy shit. Talk about an intense film. Wow.
Total Films Watched: 16 (of 31)
First Time Viewings: 15