The Best Horror Film in the last 10 Years! "Hereditary"

2/7/2019

*Spoiler Warning*  Key plot points and events will be mentioned

“Hereditary” is one of the most intensely frightening and all-consuming stories of terror to come out in the past decade.  It was at the top my list of best films for 2018 and it's a damn shame that Toni Collette did not get a best actress academy award nomination.  Although she is nominated for another award that actually still matters, The Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress.  This is also the feature film debut for writer/director by Ari Aster.  So excited for this guys future and for the films yet to come.

“Hereditary” opens up with an obituary for Ellen Taper Leigh, which immediately sets an ominous tone.  We then venture through an art studio with doll houses and into a room that seamlessly morphs into a real room.  We have here your average American family Mom, Dad, teenaged son and younger daughter.  They are going to the funeral of their grandmother from their mother's side.  Annie, played by Toni Collette, is an artist who constructs lifelike miniature dioramas of things that have happened in her life, very similar to real life artist Laurie Simmons.  Her husband is some sort of doctor and least used character of the film.  The kids Peter and Charlie are seemingly normal although Charlie is a bit strange and something is definitely going on with her.  Peter looks to be a regular dude who hangs out and smokes pot with his friends, he also has a strained relationship with his mother.  Annie was also estranged from her mother as well and mentions their troubled relationship in her eulogy.  Annie reluctantly shows up at grief counseling group were she mentions her families history of mental illness and her brother's suicide.  This is only the beginning of Annie’s grief.

Peter wants to go to a party but in order to use the car he must take Charlie with him and he agrees.  Charlie keeps to herself and doesn’t seem to every fit in anywhere.  She dresses in an oversized red hoody and likes sweets.  It is also mentioned earlier that she is allergic to peanuts, this comes back to haunt as the chocolate cake she eats has nuts in it.  Her throat starts to close up and panic ensues,  she finds Peter and they race off the hospital.  In a panic, Charlie sticks her head out the windows as Peter swerves to avoid a dead animal in the road.  Charlie is decapitated by a telephone pole.  This film means business and the WTF meter goes off the charts for most of the film.  In a state of catatonic shock, Peter just drives home and goes to bed.  The next morning Annie finds her daughter's headless body in her car and totally loses her shit, which is completely earned.  There are seemingly no cheap or unearned scares or emotions, everything comes along organically and makes it that more frightening.  The film keeps reaching new levels of grief and emotional intensity.

 While in the parking lot of another group counseling meeting, she is flagged down by a woman named Joan who wants to help Annie cope.  Although not immediately Joan becomes this strange and sinister character and we find out that their meeting was anything but coincidental.  We see that Annie’s mother had an interest in the occult when she goes through her boxed up things.  It can be shocking and frightening to find out things about a family member or loved one who you thought you knew but has this hidden secret life.  We keep seeing this particular design or logo everywhere, from necklaces to graffiti and all over her mother's things.  Its meaning becomes clear in the end.

Joan introduced a supernatural phenomenon to Anne and proves that she can connect with Charlie just like she connected with her own deceased loved one.  It works but then Annie also seems to be on the brink of a full mental collapse.  She shows this to her increasingly skeptical family and they just think she has lost it and needs help.  But is she really on to something.  This film is all about the horrors of family dynamics.  Relationships between people who you are bound to by blood whether you like it or not.  This is a very extreme scenario that eventually ventures off into the supernatural, but it strangely all feels completely natural and plausible.    

This film requires multiple viewings to fully process everything, seemingly random shots and stills have a much larger meaning within the whole context of the film.  The film as a whole has this intensely heavy atmosphere throughout.  The score and clever use of sound is not something you usually comment on but here it was done masterfully.  I’ve seen this movie a number of times and still love every minute of it.  It still holds that strong emotional pull to it as well.  I don’t buy man blu-rays anymore but this one is going into the collection for sure.


Stephen King's "Graveyard Shift" is Quite the Chore

1/30/2019

Stephen King’s “Graveyard Shift” in another scary story involving demonic animals, this time it’s rats.  Released in the fall of 1990 and years after the golden era of horror films that was the 1980s.  “Graveyard Shift” is shall we say one of King’s least admired adaptations.  I have not read the short story on which the movie is based, but I’m sure something was probably lost in translation.

As per usual the story takes place in a small New England Town.  This time an old textile mill that is overrun with rats is the focus of the horrific events to come.  The rats seem to work as a team and controlled by a large mutant mother rat that for some reason has large bat wings.  The story is filled with colorful over the top characters starting with the Exterminator played by Brad Dourif,  he is a Vietnam vet and is very into his job.  He reminds me of Dale Gribble from the show “King of the Hill”.  Our hero is a drifter that blows into town looking for work and the mill is looking for people to clear out their basement.  John Hall is his name an he looks and acts just as bland as his name suggests, but does have a certain quiet dignity about him.  

The Bachman Mill as it is called is in reference to Stephen King’s writing pseudonym Richard Bachman, for which he wrote the story under.  The Mill’s foreman, Warwick, is another crazy shady character who is your typical tyrannical businessman.  The movies flow or lack thereof becomes an issue, it feels like it was edited by about six different people.  The acting is, of course, way over the top and comical at times, we never really get to know any of the characters in any important or interesting way.  What I did like though was the set design and the wet dreary atmosphere of the dilapidated mill.  The pieces are there for a good movie but the execution just misses the mark completely.  


Our group of mill workers make their way through a series of tunnels in the bowels of the old mill each of them eventually being picked off one by one by the mutant rat-bat.  We end up with John finding the creature’s lair, a giant boneyard of skeletons and leftovers.  He then leads is up to the giant industrial cotton grinder and the rest writes itself.  If you're in the mood for some stupid mindless horror with the Stephen King name then this is the movie for you.  The early to mid-90s was a dark time for scary movies as the idea tank was bled dry.  Although that being said 1990 was also the year that the two-part miniseries“It” hit T.V. screens.


"Firestarter" is a Smoldering Mess

1/24/2019

In May of 1984, just a few months after Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” was released, “Firestarter” came to theaters.  Starring the young Drew Barrymore who was just coming off her big break in “E.T.”  “Firestarter” did not perform terribly well at the box office just barely making its money back, but it the years since it has more than made enough.

David Keith plays Andy McGee you average dude who looks a lot like Patrick Swayze.  In his college days, Andy and 9 others take part in an experimental drug trial run by a secret government agency called The Shop.  There he meets his future wife Vicky, played by Heather Locklear.  The drug called “Lot 6” is administered to some while others just get a placebo.  Andy and Vickie discover they can talk to each other through telepathy, while the other subjects have more violent reactions.

Years later Andy and Vicky have an eight-year-old girl named Charlene or Charlie (Barrymore), who also has special powers.  She can start fires when she gets angry.  Andy and Vicky have been constantly on the run from The Shop agents who want to terminate the two remaining subjects of the failed experiment.  They do however desperately want Charlie before she can fully develop and control her powers, which could literally destroy the world.  The Shop is led by Martin Sheen’s character Captain Hollister and his right-hand man John Rainbird played by George C. Scott.  John gets to Vicky and is killed while Andy and Charlie are eventually captured.  They are both put through a series of tests and John goes undercover to gain Charlie’s affections.  He ends up coming off a creepy pedophile uncle.  This film has numerous flaws and just utter craziness that makes it my opinion a complete misfire.

“Firestarter” felt a lot a really bad version of “Carrie”.  A young girl with telepathic powers that will be fully realized at puberty and ends in a fiery armageddon.  The acting is completely over the top and ridiculous especially from Sheen and Scott.  While attempting to capture Charlie a team of silver-suited spacemen from the 1950s runs after her.  I get it they are supposed to be fire suits but it just looks super cheesy and low rent.  Although the fire and effects were good for the time, I’m sure they could make an effective remake of the film.  Drew Barrymore is quite the little actress and outdoes all of her older counterparts.

With all of Stephen King films released in the 1980s, “Firestarter” in my mind was a miss.  They can’t all be classics, but for some people, they do have a nostalgic love for the film.  A year later in 1985 Drew has another part in the Stephen King anthology film “Cat’s Eye”.  If you looking for “Firestarter” it does have a special edition Blu-ray release from Shout Factory.


Take a Ride with "Christine"


1/15/2019

Stephen King has brought us stories of possessed Dogs, Cats, and werewolves, now we move on to inanimate objects like the bright red 1957 Plymouth Fury in “Christine”.  Can a car have a mind of its own? Most definitely, but can it kill people, well that would make for a good story.  Directed by the master of horror himself John Carpenter, who just 5 years earlier debuted “Halloween” that changed horror movies forever.

Arnie Cunningham, played by Keith Gordon, is the epitome of the nerdy high school student, even his hame screams dorkiness.  Although he is best friends with Dennis the quarterback of the football team.  Arnie then has a serious run-in with the school's motorhead bullies with their leader the ironically name Buddy.  Buddy, who looks about 30 years old, whips out a switchblade and terrorizes Arnie only to be saved by Dennis.  Dennis drives a hot muscle car and Arnie wants to get one for himself.  He finds a rusted out and beat to hell ’57 Plymouth Fury in an old man's junkyard and has an instant connection with it.  The 20-year-old car has a history, in the movies opening scene we see the car rolling off the assembly line and taking its first victim.  Arnie’s parents are not too keen on him having the car and forbid him from keeping it at the house, so he brings it to a big garage where he can restore it.  He strikes a deal with the gruff and greasy shop owner and Arnie gets to work.  

Although the premise of “Christine” sounds a little ridiculous and in the wrong hands could be really bad, Carpenter and writer Bill Phillips turn Kings novel into a decent movie.  The idea that people, especially men, can get obsessively attached to their cars to the point that it changes their attitude and behavior is quite believable.  Arnie eventually restores the car to like new condition.  Arnie also starts to change, he does away with his glasses and adopts an edgier and rebellious personality.  He also starts going out with the prettiest girl in school, Leigh, played by Alexandra Paul.  Noticing Arnie’s transformation and new reputation with his hot new car, Buddy and the guys absolutely trash Christine an even take a crap on the dash (nice touch!).  Furious and defeated, Arnie looks to get revenge and nobody wants it more than Christine, who in a bit of cool 80s special effects fixes and restores herself.  Arnie is completely under Christine’s spell and nothing else in his life matters.  The bullies start showing up dead and detective Rudolf Junkins, played by Harry Dean Stanton, start poking into Arnie’s business.  When they see their friend going off the deep and acting all crazy Dennis and Leigh try to help Arnie, but is too far gone?  Has Christine claimed yet another victim?

“Christine” is an interesting movie in that it's not really a horror movie, it’s not gory or all that suspenseful, but it has strong characters and is a well-written teen thriller.  They wanted the movie to be rated “R” so they actually had to add in a lot more swearing and dirty language to achieve it.  It’s a movie that a lot of people who grew up in the 1980s can remember seeing and like a lot of other Stephen King movie holds a special place in peoples lives.


Stephen King's "Silver Bullet"

1/12/2019

Continuing on our tour of Stephen King films from the 1980s.  “Silver Bullet” was released in 1985 and is your classic werewolf story.  Like most of the films in the King Universe, this story takes place in a small New England town and features kids battling supernatural evil.  Stephen King himself adapted the novel for the screen while Dan Attias directed the film.

Although the main character of the film is Marty (played by 80s teen star Corey Haim), a teenage boy in a wheelchair, the story is presented in voiceover from his older sister Jane years later.  Deep down this is really a story about the relationship of a brother and sister.  Marty’s wheelchair is called “The Silver Bullet” as it looks to be a combination of a wheelchair and a go-cart.  Marty also has this crazy goofball of an Uncle named “Red” played by who else Gary Busey.  When the townspeople start to die off, especially after a kid is killed, an angry vigilante mob is formed.  The people are being hunted by a werewolf, which is obviously a man in a suit but the make-up and effects are decent for the time period. There are a couple of transformation sequences that are well done and fun to watch.


Red builds Marty a new even more badass Silver Bullet chair that goes like 50 mph and also gives him a bag of fireworks, does Red trying to kill Marty or what’s the deal here?  Marty breaks curfew and goes out by himself at night with a werewolf on the loose to shoot off his fireworks.  Of course, he is stalked and nearly attacked by the wolf but he is able to shoot a rocket into his eye.  Now he and Jane just need to find the person in town with an eye patch and it’s the person you would least expect, Reverend Lowe.  Nobody including Red initially believes in werewolves, but after a crazy car vs wheelchair chase and some convincing evidence, Red gets a silver bullet made of the kids' necklaces.  The suspense and terror obviously comes from the fact that Marty is in a wheelchair and his seeming inability to fight back, but he is a very smart and resourceful kid.  The situation also brings him closer to his sister as they have to work together to survive.  To wrap this story up Red is able to get the parents out of the house and during the next full moon, they get ready for the final showdown with Reverend Lowe.  The whole movies kind of plays out like an essay on “What I did on summer vacation”.  “Silver Bullet” is not one of my favorite King adaptations but it does have its charms.