Tag Archives: ghost

STUFF THAT SCARED ME: The Ghost from THREE MEN AND A BABY!

Ghost stories are a rite of passage in every child’s life.

In fact I think the urban legends and myths that are shared among friends, huddled together at sleepovers or on long walks home, are probably just as influential in shaping who we grow up to be as any schoolroom lesson we absorb over the years is. More than just scaring the wits out of us, these stories often equal as cautionary tales and warnings to heed — like D.A.R.E., only effective. Continue reading STUFF THAT SCARED ME: The Ghost from THREE MEN AND A BABY!

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“The Boy” (2016) REVIEW

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Be warned: this review is rife with SPOILERS. Normally, I avoid spoilers at all costs, but they felt almost necessary this time. Plus this movie is pretty bad, so who cares.

If I were a hacky movie critic, I’d probably start this review off by saying something like “Oh, boy.” But I’m not there, yet. Gimme a few years and I’m sure I’ll be giving Peter Travers, Rex Reed, and Gene Shalit all a run for their money. A boy can dream. Hey, lookit that! Continue reading “The Boy” (2016) REVIEW

Drive-In Double Feature: GHOSTBUSTERS & TEEN WOLF!

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My buddy Trent would give even the best nostalgist a run for their money. His interests seems to exist within a small window of time, maybe 1980-1985. Maybe 1978-1987 if I’m being generous. And I don’t blame him: movies, music, hell even quirky foodstuff was more enjoyable then (Ecto-Cooler, anyone?) So it was my hope that Trent would use his knowledge of the arcane to summon a Drive-In Double Feature of childhood favorites, and he did not disappoint.
Drive-in theaters, you may have heard, have become a dying breed. In their 1950s heyday, locations for seeing the latest film (and in a lot of cases, a pair of films) numbered in the tens of thousands, and accounted for one-third of theaters in the United States. Now, we are at about 350 across the country.
I was near one today, and that seemed somewhat remarkable to me. Now when I see a drive-in, I make a mental note of it and try whenever I can to make it there. It’s one of the few vestiges of pure Americana we have left.
So let’s say I pull up to one, and they are showing a double feature in honor of me (maybe I’m dying or I’m the president or something). I get to pick – which two movies would I want to see in the best setting for the viewing of movies that remains?
I looked at this question from dozens of angles and tried to avoid the following conclusion because since I was five or six years old, I have not been able to shut up about –
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I’m leading off with what remains, 31 years later, as my favorite film of all time – Ghostbusters. I’ve seen it on televisions, computers, movie screens, tablets, phones, gaming systems, apartment walls. But to see it in the great outdoors at a drive-in movie theater with my fellow Americans? I would be so happy I’d be eligible to be busted before the theme song kicked in.
I cannot say enough good things about this film. The perfect cast, in their prime, with the perfect script working with possibly the greatest film comedian of all-time in Bill Murray.

It’s not only a great, and hilarious film, it is also a marvel to behold and its huge (and occasionally dated) effects lend themselves to a huge and occasionally dated setting. It’s a film to share in the hot and sweaty company of others, and it puts us halfway through the perfect summer night. So go take a whizz and buy another 6 dollar popcorn and settle in for –
Teen Wolf 1985

To show you I’m a reasonable man, I cannot laud Teen Wolf the same way I did the previous film. But I don’t care. It’s an even better movie for an old-school drive-in setting than its predecessor, and it’s a fuckin’ hoot. Ever wonder what would happen if you pretended to surf on top of a moving van while your friend blasts “Surfin’ USA”? Nothing, dude. You’d be fine.
Fresh off of Back to the Future (my runner-up, by the way) Michael J. Fox makes you believe a teen could also be a wolf, and use that quirk to his or her advantage, suddenly excelling at basketball and becoming wildly popular.
Playing the son of a hardware store owner (and fellow wolfperson), Mike Fox crushes it as Scott Howard, a teenager who suddenly realizes an ability to become a wolf almost at will (though sometimes against it), and with the help of his enterprising best friend, Stiles Stilinski, capture the school’s attention and takes his basketball team to dizzying heights.
Typing that out loud it sounds a little crazy, but it is, and that’s the point of drive-ins. You go to escape, because making sense isn’t always fun. You go to be with other people, to let your imagination run wild, to immerse yourself in a world where things work out in the end.
Short of finding this perfect pairing at the drive-in, I will keep searching for the next best thing this summer at my local drive-in, in the dwindling moment where seeing a film outdoors from a car is still a thing that can happen on the planet Earth.
Trent spends most of his free time talking about old episodes of Saturday Night Live, reading Kurt Vonnegut, and hustling little kids at the local arcade with his Tommy-like Ms. Pac-Man skills.

“We Are Still Here” (2015) REVIEW

There’s a strange trend I’ve noticed lately in independent horror: directors are seemingly desperate to prove to us, the audience, that they are worthy horror directors simply because they have a vast knowledge of horror movies from the past. And how do they prove that they know their horror history? Well, they just take a bunch of familiar fan favorite horror flicks, mash them up, and turn them in as a supposed new product. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Does this actually make for a worthy horror director? Does merely stoking the embers of nostalgia equal competent, compelling storytelling? Who knows, man. Why does Quentin Tarantino get to blatantly steal his ideas and characters from 70s exploitation films and win Oscars for it? Why does Led Zeppelin get to steal every riff they never wrote and still be hoisted up to an untouchable, God-like status? I don’t know, man. I just don’t know.

Now sure, there will be repeated tropes that I bet are near-impossible to avoid. Horror films have been around for 120 years; there are gonna be a lot of commonalities among films. But the modern thing I’m talking about is more than that. Adam Wingard’s The Guest (which I like) is a mash-up he describes as “The Terminator meets Halloween“, after he supposedly watched them back to back. Starry Eyes (which I loathe) is just Rosemary’s Baby meets The Fly (1986), until the last few minutes when it unfortunately dissolves into standard slasher stuff. Irish ghost flick The Canal (which I love) covers a whole range of movies, from Jacob’s Ladder to Pet Sematary. Sometimes the references are more subtle and play out as homage. The artistic influences of movies like It Follows or The Babadook reek of John Carpenter and Roman Polanski, respectively, but they don’t feel like they were simply pieced together from old classics; they took familiar sensations and made them new again. Like I said, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The point of all of this is We Are Still Here, the haunted house/ghost/occult/possession/revenge flick from director Ted Geoghegan is such a mish-mash of references and themes that it fails to gain any footing and therefore elicits few scares.

ghostSet during an ambiguous decade, presumably the 1970s, a middle-aged couple (played by Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) decide the best way to cope with the recent death of their son is to move out of the city and head for a house in the sticks. Almost immediately after moving in, Crampton tells her husband that she “feels” their sons presence in the new home. Shortly after that, an electrician is attacked by a mysterious entity in their basement. Soon after that, they receive a strange visit from their nearest neighbors (which is apparently pretty far, considering how remote this new home is), who inform the couple of a tragic history surrounding their new woodland residence: it used to be a funeral parlor at the turn of the century, run by the Dagmar family. Turns out, the family was also selling the bodies and doing other types of desecratory things that caused an angry mob to dole out a bit of street justice and murder them all. After telling this story, the neighbors abruptly leave, and the house goes back to creaking and thudding.

Crampton and Sensenig invite their hippy-dippy spiritualist friends, played by Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie, out for the weekend to help them get to the bottom of these disturbances. Soon after this, things go from bad to worse. And before you know it the credits are rolling. There’s stuff I’m not telling you as to not spoil some of the twists and turns, but that’s pretty much it.

So what works and what doesn’t? Well there are some promising creepouts in the beginning of the film. I won’t give away anything, but within the first 10 minutes of the movie I was totally onboard, ready to have the bejesus scared out of me. But as the movie progresses, the scares become less scary and the plot less coherent. By the time the final act rolls around, it feels like they were trying to play catch up with all the time they squandered during the first two thirds of the movie.

Director Ted Geoghegan – like Wingard before him – openly admits the influences of his film, going so far as to name the evil characters after one of the actresses from Lucio Fulci’s classic supernatural Video Nasty, The House by the Cemetery. But there are other influences to be found: Evil Dead, The Exorcist, PoltergeistChildren of the CornThe Shining, hell even Straw Dogs! But references do not a good horror movie make.

I love Barbara Crampton. Love. Besides the fact that she’s a genre staple and an always welcome face, she’s actually a really good horror actress. In fact, I’d go as far as to say she carries this film. Everyone else is pretty wooden, with exception for contemporary iconic horror figure Larry Fessenden, who does a better 70s-era Jack Nicholson in this movie than Nicholson could do himself — the hair, the arched eyebrows, the sloven-yet-charming air about him — Fessenden is the warm, likable comedic relief to Crampton’s distant and numb mother-in-mourning. I also love that the protagonists of the film are middle-aged parents. It’s a small detail, but one that actually makes a world of difference. And let me say one last time how much I love Barbara Crampton.

While this review may come across as generally negative, I assure you it’s not. The feeling I was left with after watching We Are Still Here was actually one of indifference. Feeling like I’d seen it before and I didn’t care. The mashing up of every ghost/witch/haunting trope, combined with the overwhelming praise I’ve seen (mainly from horror sites with a large following to maintain and reputation to uphold, which makes me question the earnestness of their reviews), left me even more confused and unenthused.

Independent horror has always been vital to the scene, but especially nowadays when the only horror that seems to be getting wide-releases are sequels and remakes. Independent horror should be an untamed landscape, a fertile ground to generate new, weird ideas. Films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Shivers, Repulsion, and Sisters are all great examples of independent horror from the past, from directors who had clear, original visions. Unfortunately, We Are Still Here chooses not to be part of that camp, and instead falls into familiar beats and patterns, ones I have no doubt we could see on the big screen in Insidious: Chapter 3, Ouija, Paranormal Activity 5, Rings, Poltergiest (2015), et al.

In a time when horror fans seemingly have only two options to get their fix, forced to decide between referential, homagey shoulder-shruggers and borderline-offensive, slapdash remakes and reboots, I’ll gladly choose the former. But only because it’s the lesser of the two evils.

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“It Follows” (2015) REVIEW

When information about It Follows started traveling down the internet pipeline, and after I’d watched the trailer, two words immediately popped into my head: “Black Hole“.

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From 1995 to 2005, comic artist Charles Burns released a limited run story called Black Hole. Set in the dreary, overcast Pacific Northwest during the mid-70s, Black Hole follows a group of suburban teenagers with nothing better to do than wander the woods, smoke dope, go to the ocean, and screw. It’s well known between the two leads in the story (as well as every other character) that a mysterious sexually transmitted disease (“The Bug”) is being spread among the teens – one that affects each person differently, but still turns them into some sort of freak or mutant. And just like life, some get it worse than others.

Besides being gorgeously illustrated (I hate to use hyper-bowl on ya, but every damn page is absolutely jaw-dropping), the thing that really sells Black Hole is how nauseatingly real and relatable it was – afterall, we all were, at some point, teenagers – and we all had to deal with those awful, shitty teenage feelings. First loves, the pressure of not fitting in, the uncertainty of the future. I’m breaking out in a sweat just typing about it now.

But Burns managed to take this story of teens-turned-freaks and somehow make it a metaphor for teenage life in general and the loss of innocence. Don’t roll your eyes, it’s true! But we’ll get back to Black Hole. Let’s talk about It Follows.

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 I didn’t bother digging up any more information on It Follows than I’d already come across on the internet before seeing it in the theater, because all the reviews were rave and that was enough for me to want to go into it fairly blindly. I wanted to experience it as purely as possible.

The first scene of the film immediately establishes several things: tone, atmosphere, music, and suspense – all of which are enforced throughout its entirety, without ever losing steam or focus. And it’s those components that are so vital in making this film so damn effective and probably why it’s been garnering such high praise.

There’s something strange about It Follows that I can’t even explain, something unsettling. Watching it made me feel something. Set in a suburb of Detroit, the residential streets are wide and bare, the lawns are perfectly manicured, the sidewalks are lined with lush, drooping trees. In a way it very much reminded me of my own teen years, endless days filled with a listless wandering of the streets.

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Perhaps it’s the unconventional way the film is shot – during the ‘golden hour’, lots of shadowy night shots, lots of natural indoor lighting – that make it feel real and therefore inherently more scary.

And it’s all of these things which liken it to its other greatest influence (besides Black Hole): Halloween.

Not since John Carpenter’s 1978 genre-defining classic has the combination of dreary suburbia, droning synths, and a widescreen lens created such a powerful and memorable horror flick. It Follows is filled with tons of wide shots, and this is an important and effective technique: it isolates the subject and makes them look (and feel) small and alone. And again, I can’t stress how important the use of natural lighting (and night shooting, and during the ‘magic hour’) is for the film: when the teens sit around the house, with nothing but the dim glow of lamps and a TV set illuminating the space, a chord is struck deep within your brain.

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When The Guest was released last year, director Adam Wingard described it as, “Terminator meets Halloween.” And while I can appreciate that in a homage-y sense, It Follows actually feels like something John Carpenter filmed sometime in between Halloween and The Fog.

Another thing I really appreciated about this film is the characters. For once, I didn’t want any of them to die! And brother, let me tell you – that is a rare feeling for me when watching a horror flick. Usually I find the characters so damn irritating, that I’d be fine with having ’em all wiped out within the first 10 minutes. They’re usually real dum-dums, and when they’re not screaming at the monster, they’re screaming at each other. But the teens in It Follows feel like a real group of teenaged friends. They feel like real teens. They feel like real friends. And that’s important. Empathizing with the characters, rooting for them – that’s crucial.

At the time of this typing, I watched the film about 10 hours ago, so it still has some settling to do – steeping, marinating, coagulating. But how I’m feeling now is that I really, really enjoyed the film. I’m tellin’ you: there’s something about the way it makes you feel. This film is all about feel. It’s…hard to pinpoint. And that kinda creeps me out.

Overall it’s a refreshing take on a subject that hasn’t been too played out within the genre. I definitely want to see it again – as soon as possible, in fact – and rarely do I feel that driving need to want to rewatch a film immediately. There is a recurring water motif that I haven’t quite deciphered yet, but it’s got me thinking – and when’s the last time a horror movie made me think?

There are a few artistic choices I found silly, if not wholly unnecessary, but they were fleeting and not distracting enough to take me out of the movie. That’s another thing I give It Follows credit for: it rolls along at such a perfect pace, you never have a spare second to worry about what has happened – only what’s going to happen.

Oh, and one more thing about Black Hole ‘fore I wrap this up. At one point Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary were attached to a film adaptation. And after they dropped out, David Fincher was signed on. Eventually director Rupert Sanders produced a short fan film in hopes of actually getting a full length release produced. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of it, but fortunately the short exists on Vimeo, and you can watch it (just click the pic!)

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 With its drab and wearisome setting, throbbing synth score, natural indoor lighting, and array of STD-affected teens, I can’t help but wonder if this short wasn’t in some way an influence on It Follows. Or maybe they simply exist within the same creepy, depressing world.

Go see It Follows. And then see it again.

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