Monday, July 18, 2016

She's Got Boogey Laser Eyes

Ulli Lommel’s The Boogey Man was one of those ‘80s VHS rentals that I always remembered in fragments. In an age before IMDB, trying to recall what “that boogeyman movie with a lot of mirrors” was called was a challenge that kept me up nights (or more realistically, occasionally really bugged me). Thankfully, there glorious era we occupy now not only lets me find that the boogeyman movie in question is indeed titled “The Boogey Man,” it also lets me rewatch it via Amazon Prime. 

Quick Plot: As children, Lacy and Willy watched their mother get it on with her boyfriend with a few too many giggles. As punishment, Willy is tied to the bed, leaving Lacy to free him with a kitchen knife and Willy to respond by stabbing the adults to death in front of a mirror. 

Twenty years later, Lacy and Willy are living on a sprawling farm with Lacy's in-laws and her young son. Willy, now a strapping young man in overalls, hasn't said a word since that fateful night, while Lacy has repressed the memories but is now suffering from horrific night terrors. Her husband convinces her to see a therapist, who hypnotizes Lacy into some sort of possessed state. Back home, Willy thwarts off a seduction by nearly strangling a horny neighbor, then proceeds to paint over every mirror in shame.

To get to the root of the problem, Lacy revisits her childhood home, now occupied by a pair of teenage girls and their younger prank-pulling brother (because it is the '80s and there was no other kind of kid brother in the horror genre). Convinced she sees the ghost of her stepfather, Lacy smashes a mirror hanging in the new occupants' bedroom.

Amazing death scenes commence.

Written and directed by the infamous Ulli Lommel, The Boogey Man is quite the product of its time. In her hypnosis, Lacy's a dead wringer for Linda Blair by way of Margaret Hamilton's vocal chords, while the main location may as well be located in Amityville, NY. Naturally, these kinds of time stamps are fairly endearing.

Half slasher, half ghost story, The Boogey Man is an oddly paced little thriller that doesn’t quite seem to understand its own story. We learn next to nothing about Lacy and Willy’s upbringing, including how the authorities dealt with a juvenile double murder. Why their mother’s boyfriend somehow turned into an Oculus channeling ghost twenty years after his death is never explained, which would be acceptable if the film didn’t spend so much time playing around with the mystery. At some point, the script all but throws nubile teenagers at the camera in order to up the death toll. Shakespeare, this ain’t.

But hey, poor storytelling doesn’t always result in an unwatchable movie. The Boogey Man is a mess, but it’s a neat one, especially if you’re harboring any form of nostalgia for late ‘70s horror tropes. 

High Points
Aside from the rather shocking youth massacre, the most unique feeling aspect of The Boogeyman is its super '80s, super synthy score, which casts a very offbeat yet welcome tone over the action

Low Points
So about that logic?

Lessons Learned
Always check your shoe for sticky evil mirror fragments

Never put your head under a window that doesn’t have a stopper, particularly if said window is in a room with sticky evil mirror fragments

Leave the split end trimming to the professional hairdressers, particularly if, you know, said split ends are in a room with sticky evil mirror fragments

As Netflix Instant seems to now focus most of its horror offerings on modern content, Amazon Prime has become a better source for earlier, easily-forgotten flicks. The Boogey Man is no classic, but it’s certainly not dull. Give it a go when you’re looking for some second tear ‘70s horror fun. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Exorcism Was the Easy Part

Netflix Instant is always abuzz with interesting horror titles, but when one involves William Demon Knight Sadler and Carol "The Goddess" Kane, I'm a pretty easy target.

Quick Plot: Ava has just undergone a successful exorcism after being possessed by a wily demon for over a month. Unfortunately, recovery is a little more challenging than Regan MacNeil ever revealed.

Turns out, while possessed, Ava did some rather unpleasant things, including, but not limited to, sleeping with her friend's boyfriend, pissing off a pimp, indecent exposure, and criminal assault. Her fairly understanding lawyer has come up with a plea bargain that puts Ava in a sort of AA-like support group instead of prison.

It doesn't take long for Ava to learn that moving past a demonic possession is almost as hard as the process of hosting a demon. It's especially challenging when Ava tries to fill in some of the holes in her memory, tracking down the owner of a watch (and possibly, massive blood stains) she finds in her apartment. The investigation leads her down a dangerous path, and not just because it involves Carol Kane.

Written and directed by Jordan Galland, Ava's Possessions is more black comedy than horror, and it equips itself well. Lead actress Louisa Krause is quite engaging, and it helps that she's surrounded by genre vets like William Sadler, Spring's Lou Taylor Pucci, and Monsters' Whitney Able. Rarely is the humor full-out belly laugh, but it's built on small moments that set a very clear and specific tone. When Ava sadly discovers the fate of her pet fish or asks if anyone thought to call in sick to her job while a priest was working her over for a few weeks, it gave me a chuckle.

Over the course of 40 years, we've all seen our share of movies about possession. Ava's Possessions smartly builds on that, wasting no time with its audience in rehashing what we've come to expect from the genre. Instead, it takes the event we've seen done dozens of times and says, "what's next?", exploring it with a solidly playful tone. It falters a little in its ending, partially because that endearing levity gets a tad too bogged down. Nevertheless, it's a fun and breezy watch that brings something new to well-worn territory.

High Points
Garland does an excellent job of establishing such a clear and consistent tone from the start

Low Points
The aforementioned ending, which twists things a little too darkly for the lighter tone the film had set

Lessons Learned
Pregnancy is probably prettier than possession

Nothing celebrates being demon-free better than an ice cold glass of Orange Crush

Marijuana is a gateway drug ... to hell


Ava’s Possessions isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun little slice of genre mixing that makes for a lightly enjoyable 90 minute watch. Give it a go when you want something on the fluffier side. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Take Shelter, Urban Millennials

The internet (or rather, my very specifically movie-minded Facebook feed) has been abuzz about the newly streaming They Look Like People. As is known, whenever a genre movie gets good word of mouth and runs under 90 minutes, it's most likely going to end up here. 

Quick Plot: Christian is a late twentysomething working in the marketing world of New York City. Between morning workouts and motivational speaking tapes, he comes across as something of a harmless but annoying tool.

Out of nowhere, his old high school pal Wyatt shows up, seemingly aimless and possibly insane. Wyatt believes something very dangerous is coming to steal the humanity away from the world. He's been receiving phone messages with instructions on how "they" can get you, leading him to secretly fortify Christian's basement as a possible safe house.

Christian's big challenges are, at first glance, far simpler: he has a crush on his supervisor, is desperately trying to get a promotion, and is dealing with issues of low self-esteem possibly spawning from his own recent breakup. Maybe it would be easier if he just had to learn the best type of acid to throw on alien people.

They Look Like People is the debut of writer/director Perry Blackshear, and it's been gathering a healthy following of film fans finding it on Netflix Instant. I won't hide the fact that I certainly entered it with raised expectations. That fact did not particularly help things.

My feelings on this film are complicated. The title of this post is part of that problem, and They Look Like People shares many of the themes and beats of Jeff Nichols' powerful masterpiece Take Shelter. Both films center on a man who may have been given a secret window into the end of the world. In both cases, said character doesn't quite know if the signs/voices are real or a figment of his own fragile psyche. It's a strong setup in both cases, but for me personally, the biggest roadblock of the good They Look Like People is that, well, Take Shelter is simply great.

While watching the movie, I was not particularly pleased. The pacing is deliberately slow and quietly ambiguous, but the tone itself didn't quite connect with me. Where I should have been questioning characters' reliability, I found myself more just waiting for the movie to tell me what was real. Despite its 80 minute runtime, this is not a quick film.

That being said, They Look Like People has grown on me post-viewing. Without spoiling anything, I realized, perhaps too late, that this isn't necessarily an Invasion of the Body Snatchers shocker, but more a character study. Thinking about it in terms of what it explores about masculinity in the 21st century made it far more interesting in hindsight than just being a slow horror flick. 

High Points
While neither reach Michael Shannon heights (BECAUSE NO ONE EVER DOES), both MacLeod Andrews and Evan Dumouchel give very natural and real performances that go a long way in stabilizing the film

Low Points
Dull. I just found it dull. 

Lessons Learned
You need keys in New York (this is actually pretty true)

Real friendship means shaving you pal's upper back and letting him pour acid on your face

EMTs are perverts who smell like french fries

I'm certainly not as enamored with They Look Like People as a good chunk of the genre-loving Internet world, but that doesn't make it a wash. I can see why this would really connect with some viewers, and with its brief length and quality performances, it's certainly one that you should watch on your own to make a decision. I'm genuinely curious to hear how others felt about this one, so be sure to come back and share your thoughts once you have them. I promise not to throw acid in your face.

Monday, June 27, 2016

I Found Benjen Stark! He’s In The Hallow!

Perhaps it's the Game of Thrones influence, but Ireland seems to be putting out a nice supply of well-made horror films, including the recent The Canal and The Citadel. Add The Hallow to that growing list of quality horror flicks whose title starts with “The” and whose cast generally includes at least a few Westrosi power players. 

Quick Plot: Adam is an arborist living deep in the woods of Ireland with his wife Claire, infant son Finn, and dog Iggy (note to the sensitive: don’t get too attached to the latter). Locals are none too happy with this arrangement, as they fear both the mythical monsters haunting the forest and the threat of industry moving in and taking their long-protected home. 

Bricks-through-the-window and ominous townie-issued threats aside, it’s clearly an idyllic time for the young couple. 

Well, for the first fifteen minutes of the movie that is.

Before you know it, aforementioned mythical monsters have made themselves known, infecting Ada, wiping out Iggy, swiping Finn, and terrifying Claire.

The Hallow takes place entirely over one horrid night, as Claire must try to protect Finn from the array of forest creatures and the transformed Adam, now fully convinced that the baby in his wife’s arms is actually a changeling. As Adam’s condition worsens and the locals lock their doors, Claire must survive the night on her own.

Written and directed by first time filmmaker Corin Hardy, The Hallow is a very solid little foray into horror. It does little to rewrite a working formula or bring anything that new to it, but the actors connect, the setting dazzles, and the monsters are genuinely interesting to watch onscreen. This doesn’t break any mold, but it’s a creepy and effective little blend of fairy tales, sieges, and nature strikes back horror. 

High Points
The actual design of the hallow creatures is quite interesting, using the idea and form of branches and other woodsy elements to form a unique spin on fairy tale monsters

Credit goes to some adorable credits, that follow the standard “No animals were harmed during the making of this film” with the less common but earnest “No changelings were harmed during the making of this film”

Low Points
I can’t quite put my finger on what’s missing in The Hallow, but there’s just something that keeps this film from crossing over into truly special territory. It’s well-acted, well-shot, and well-written, but there’s just nothing that unique or surprising to make it overly memorable. 

Lessons Learned
When your friendly neighborhood policeman is played by Ben Wheatley regular Michael Smiley and your closest neighbor is Roose Bolton, you should probably know that you’re not in the best hands

Iron bars might not be the most inviting way to decorate your windows, but if they keep the evil wood monsters away from your baby, perhaps you should get over your HGTV snobbery and deal with it

There are different sorts of boogeymen in Belfast

The Hallow is currently streaming on Netflix Instant, and it’s well worth a watch. This isn’t necessarily on the highest tier of new horror, but it’s a quality outing that demonstrates some promising potential from filmmaker Corin Hardy. I look forward to seeing what else he can do. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Before There Was Grayscale, There Was the Black Plague

Is there a better source of horror than the devastating plague that killed almost half of the European population in the 14th century? I sometimes wonder why there aren’t more medieval set genre films that use this event as a springboard. Paranoia, cool beak masks, much potential.

Quick Plot: It’s 1348, and everybody is dirty and gross. The least grossest is, of course, Lena Headey’s Matilda, the lady of a small isolated village awaiting the return of her knight husband from a war with France. When the rest of the soldiers (including her husband’s nephew, Nicholas) return without Lord Walter but with a handsome and valuable hostage named Jacques, Matilda is understandably disappointed. When she meets with the obese and lecherous bishop holding sway over her and her town’s future, she’s understandably grossed out.

Matilda is given ten days to come up with tax payment or else she’ll have to do some very carnal things with a man she despises. Things get much more complicated when the cruel Nicholas bullies Jacques only to end up dead, possibly via plague-related complications. 

At Nicholas’s funeral march, the town steward is struck with some kind of curse, flashing back to witnessing a horrible event while also succumbing to the same plague. Once again, Jacques seems to have been some kind of instigator but only Matilda’s loyal servant Randall seems to notice.

There are plenty more twists and turns in Black Death, but to go too much further starts to a) give some things away and b) get a little laborious. Director Alberto Sciamma moves a little too slowly in unfolding his film’s mystery, making the the film feel far longer than its 115 minute running time. It’s something of a shame, since there’s a very strong concept at the heart of Black Plague.

Little by little, we learn that the village once endorsed a terrible sin twenty years earlier. Is Jacques the literal or figurative child of said sin, and do the townspeople deserve the boil-filled plague they may inherit? It’s a great concept, and just a minor shame that the film isn’t quite tight enough to fully make it work.

High Points
Lena Headey may have been born to wear velvety dresses from centuries ago. It’s also quite nice to see just how different her most famous royal character is from the more romantic and well-meaning Matilda

Much like the similarly titled and themed (and also Game of Thrones actor-filled) Black Death, Black Plague ends on a note that helps to put the entire film in a fascinating perspective

Low Points
There certainly should be an epic quality to The Black Plague, but that doesn’t quite excuse what feels like an interminable running time

So, you might have suspected from the DVD cover that Lena Headey looks a lot like Cersei Lannister in this movie. Well, actually, she doesn’t. She’s not blonde, nor does she ever sit upon an iron throne-ish chair. Clearly someone designing the newer cover art saw an opening and went for it. 

Lessons Learned
Feudal lords and ladies were not well versed in CPR

A real man knows how to pick any lock, particularly one sealing a chastity belt

Not being able to read or write makes a pretty good alibi

The Winning Line
“I wanted my husband and you bring me a monkey.”

If you thought your Mondays were tough, just imagine what they were like in the 14th century

I enjoyed Black Plague, but I tend to enjoy anything that’s set in that time period or that deals with that kind of widespread devastating sickness. The film is ill-paced and too long, but some of the ideas it plays with regarding sin and penance are quite interesting. Don’t expect a Sword of Storms-like romp, but if this is your kind of jam (as it is mine), it’s certainly worth a watch.