KRAMPUS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available for Comcast or Verizon OnDemand Rental (Verizon’s cheaper)

This moral tale’s more like Black Christmas than the Nightmare Before, despite its apparent family-friendly vibe.

I guess I may be a little late to the game on this one; Krampus came out for the holiday season last year. I remember my little sister was positively amped for its theatrical release. I’d been intrigued by the trailers as well. However, we neither managed to watch it until this last week, spurred on by Thanksgiving and the fresh set of winter holidays. 

Krampus turned out pleasantly worth the watch.

Here’s an “I’ll be honest:” I expected a more lighthearted affair. Indeed, Krampus’ first 30 minutes strongly echo the bumbling, comedic feel one can find in seasonal classics like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, maybe a little The Grinch minus its Whoville trappings – you know, that sort of innocent evil story-for-all-ages vibe. The multifold family members which constitute the film’s cast effectively elicit its audience’s empathy and rueful chagrin in addition to a healthy dusting of chuckles. And boy, what an intelligent approach this is to these despicable twelve, Krampus’ consanguineous dirty dozen: here’s a bunch of humans with spades of conflict between them, plus enough off-putting personality traits to count on both hands (and none may need share), but the director still needs to make us, the audience, like them. We need to root for these petty savages. They win us over in two equal parts; with the relatable aggravations that dog all mid-size families, colored in just-broad-enough cartoonish strokes. Paint strife funny and no one will scapegoat anyone for it too much.

Once we get to know everybody, and kind of like ‘em even if we hate ‘em, Krampus reveals it has gloves on beneath the cheer. With one hard hook, this film gets its shit real real, real quick.

Turns out this isn’t National Lampoon after all: no one’s lives are at stake in that holiday comedy. Same with The Grinch and sure, Nightmare Before Christmas, even – since both of these deal in fairy tales, the mind begs to compare and equate Krampus with such fluff. I was frankly shocked at the film’s first character death/disappearance. “I didn’t think this was that sort of movie,” I commented to a friend. “I didn’t think, you know, they’d actually kill anyone.”

From that point, Krampus doesn’t let up. While the serious horror treatment was a surprise, initially, and maybe just to me (maybe I forgot the tone of the trailers, or something), I have to applaud it. I didn’t expect Krampus to put anything real at stake. After all, it was a horror movie, but it was a Christmas movie, too. In my experience horror-Christmas movies tend to 15% horror, 85% gingerbread, tinsel, and loads of at-the-end, good-feels. Not so, Krampus, and it’s both the surprising of my expectation and the serious-ness of its scare which, at the end of the day, have won me over. I have no reservations. I recommend Krampus to you utterly.

If you feel in need of an antidote to angels, cherubs, carolers with rosy cheeks and Auld Lang Syne anytime in the next six weeks, then I say cue Krampus right on up.

CREEP

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Close the tab, open Amazon, and watch CREEP this very moment.

Available on Netflix

In which Mark Duplass stars as Mark Duplass

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Sub-genre: Not-your-average psychological horror; Hide Yo’ Kids, Hide Yo’ Wife; Budget Indie
  • High on ultra-reality; solid plot; low-budget; ultra-indie
  • Low-to-moderate jump scares; low CGI, low gore

THOTS

Ah, Creep. It’s probably unfair to Mark Duplass to call it the movie where he plays himself, but come on. The man was born for the part. I’ve always found him creepy. There’s something about his brown eyes, which seem narrow like a reptile’s while simultaneously too dark and large, that puts me off. His mouth resembles nothing so much as the original Grinch’s. His lips are curiously defined. Curious – cartoonish.

I sound like I’ve really thought about this. I’ve watched Creep five times in 13 months, plus caught Duplass in such Netflix indie-hit-parade films as The One I Love, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Your Sister’s Sister. His characters creep me out every time. They creep me out in movies he’s written as well: Creep and Jeff, Who Lives At Home.  Duplass is all up in mostly-uncomfortable movies.

Who better to whip up a serious creepy horror than a creep, a real strange man?

Because Creep? It works. I wouldn’t watch a movie in full five times in a year if it didn’t, trust. Creep works on fundamental and real levels. If you don’t know it, sit down and turn it on. This movie will glue your eyes to the screen. You will not want to look away or miss one thing. The ultimate in movie experience. Creep gets its audience’s total buy-in.

I guess I should tell you what it’s about, if you don’t know yet.

Creep is a found footage film. We have our videographer/adorable MC-slash-everyman, Aaron, who responds to an online ad which offers $1000 for a day of film work. What aspiring director wouldn’t jump at this? Aaron’s been hired by Josef, a cancer-infested would-be dad who wants a tribute video, or something, in case he passes before his son ever meets him. Creep progresses through the events of that day of filming, then follows Aaron as Josef’s behavior escalates in a mile-high spiral of crossed lines and shattered normal boundaries.

Creep features every element of “strong film” that I’ve grown to, perhaps slavishly, adore: the two actors on a budget provides, yet again, a script that’s stunningly believable, which provides important clues and context in natural dialogue and action. It is truly disturbing without resorting to CGI or needless gore, and employs few attempts at what are always regrettable, cheap jump scares. Each of these attempts to startle could be cut, and the cut would strengthen the film. Regardless, you will think about Creep later. It will stay with you. Its everyman MC is adorable, relatable, not like Murder Partys much-loved Jeff. Each linked event in the film’s plot chain could actually happen, in real life; each is set up by the scene before and progresses in natural steps to the seamless next.

You could know someone to whom Creep happened. You know a place that looks like that. You can see it, happening. For real. To someone you know. 

Yes, there are some flaws. Since the first half or so of the movie focuses on that one day of Aaron and Josef filming, it can be difficult to realize the movie continues after – difficult not to anticipate the end of day will arrive along with some conclusion. The movie’s still strong after this first day. Frankly, only this strength justifies the second part’s inclusion. Day 1 is so impactful it would be better as its own short film than clumsily tacked on to a lackluster ending. The rest of the film develops, and it follows: it’s just easy as an audience to develop the wrong expectation of an early ending because of the structure. This small hangover effect maybe could be off-set if the film was edited a hair more intensively. And like I said, I’d remove all the jump scares. Besides that, there’s a small logic issue in the script at the very end, when Josef’s on the phone. (You’ll catch it if you look out for it. It’s not too-too obscure, by my reckoning.) These flaws, ultimately, are very small things. Almost personal preferences, as opposed to correct movie crafting, movie style laws that must be followed to the T – but, I only say, almost. Nonetheless, Creep, unaltered, tagged with these minor complaints, is well worth your time investment. After all – I haven’t seen a perfect movie yet. 

I can’t imagine a horror fan who won’t love Creep. Truly, I can’t. So now, go and watch it. What else are you doing with your entire life? 

THE SILENCED

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available from Netflix

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Girly Groove Rating: 8/10
  • Scares: 7/10
  • Subgenre: Psychological horror; sci-fi
  • High on Asian Schoolgirls; Low on Unnecessary Sexualization; Low CGI; Low Jump Scares

THOTS

I’d never have expected the horror movie about Korean schoolgirls to pass the Bechdel test, but then, there you have it. This surprising psychological thriller holds up to the genuine fear other Asian horror films, like The Ring, The Grudge, Audition, and Shutter, have so famously offered audiences in the past – while avoiding overt supernatural elements almost completely. The end is both surprising and extremely satisfying. And The Silenced is about as admirably cohesive in its plot as you could hope to get, a trait which is becoming a personal pre-requisite to term any movie a “success.”

Another element of the movie which, it proves, I like best, is actually a surprise to me. That’s the fact that, if you wanted, you could quite accurately term the movie science-fiction, a genre which is frequently lumped together with “horror” in movie stories and streaming services. It’s my long-standing opinion that this lumped categorization is a failure to the horror genre made by the MPAA and movie distributors, dilettantes seeking to simplify such categories, not elucidate. The ugly combination of “science fiction” and “horror” into one so-called genre results in movies such as “The Martian” (with Matt Damon) and “Independence Day” (yes, the one with Will Smith and Bill Pullman) appearing on the same list as titles like “Dark Floors” and “The Last Will and Testament of Rosamund Leigh.” It’s simply unfriendly to the viewer.

In this case, horror and science fiction wed beautifully. I’d argue the transition between the two is seamless.

There’s not much else I can say about The Silenced without beginning to feel as if I’ll spoil things, so I won’t. But what I will do, once more, this Halloween season, is recommend that you should watch it.

MURDER PARTY

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Close the tab, open Amazon, and watch MURDER PARTY right now.

Available from Amazon with a Shudder add-on subscription

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

The 30 Rock of 90-Minute Horror Comedies

  • High on Originality, Plot (Plot is both cohesive and entertaining/constantly moving forward), Dark Humor, Tight Script
  • Low on CGI, Budget, Jump Scares; Official Indie Darling
  • Scares: 4/10
  • Hilarity: Through the roof

THOTS

I didn’t think I really dug the “horror comedy” genre until I watched Murder Party. Yes, I’d seen Cabin in the Woods before, and yeah, it was Joss Whedon, and clever, and funny, but I’d also tried a couple of movies like Stitches (a clown movie), Birdemic, S. O. B., even Dale and Tucker… and…well, I was amused, but i wasn’t impressed. Before Murder Party, Cabin in the Woods was probably my favorite, but it was an ambivalent favorite. Surely, that couldn’t be the best there was, right?

Murder Party changed my mind. Murder Party does so much so successfully – heck, let’s call it impressive.

There’s a lot to love in this film. Both script and plot are completely cohesive – everything “makes sense,” as it were, from why each character’s present in the movie to why they’re doing what they’re doing. The movie’s rife with clever nods at several essential horror movie tropes, as well as references to cult classics. The minds behind Murder Party seem to be not only horror enthusiasts, but general movie fans as well. That combination of love for the genre, plus comfort with the medium (especially style and method), really results in something special here. If you want to get sly-grin-clever with meta-analysis here, this is when you’d point out that Murder Party proves to be a satisfying, low budget indie breakout in Halloween disguise. At first glance it’s another cheap horror flick, a B-movie at best. But underneath this facade hides 90 minutes (or so) of genuine entertainment. You will not regret these 90 minutes. I promise.

What do I love about Murder Party? Honestly, what isn’t there to love? But I’ll try to highlight a few key strengths.

First off, (in the first 20 minutes, really) our main character/would-be victim here, Christopher, is not only endearingly characterized, but skillfully so. I fall in love with his utter relatable-ness in fifteen minutes, every time. So much of his personality and life is conveyed with one, maybe two, simple and straight-forward scenes which contain no other human characters. The film’s denouement is spectacular, and sets us up for an evening where the events and character action follow, with complete sense, from its inception. Have I mentioned how rare of a quality this is, especially in horror?

Every character in Murder Party is gifted with a complete personality, individual motivations and (some) backstory, and actions which nearly always make complete sense – even if you don’t agree with them, at all. Many of the characters are selfish; many are lying, to themselves or others; and each one schemes towards some higher goal throughout the course of the movie. It’s this goal which drives them each to the film’s resolution, and creates many amusing twists and turns in the plot along the way.

For every jump scare some other “favorite horror movie” pushes onto its audience, Murder Party has a smart moment, a funny reference, a clever tidy movement of plot. It’s low budget but not obviously so, which is incredibly hard to pull off in this genre, where special effects often drive movies more than they ought – SFX, really, exist as embellishment, and should influence the film as such. No more. It is a pity so many directors and producers go computer-mad with their recorded product, as if impossible mists and digital monsters are really what’s scary in the world.

No. Murder Party knows the truth. It’s not fiction that we should be afraid of. It’s the capabilities we all have, the ones that lie in each other. What would the person next to you do, if you were between them and a million dollars? Or a lifelong dream? Or true personal fulfillment?

No one has nightmares about blood that creeps out of walls at its own desire. They have nightmares about interactions with others. Unknowable, oblique others.

THE LORDS OF SALEM

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Watched this on DVD at a girl’s house – doesn’t appear to be available on any conventional pay-to-stream service or Amazon Prime/add-on, but you can get your hands on a copy of it a few ways, so long as you know you want it.

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

Rob Zombie goes faux-retro in this female-centric psycho-thriller. Also, Rob Zombie’s got a hot wife. 

  • Girly Groove Rating: 9/10
  • Scares: 6/10
  • EXTREMELY NOTABLE: A+ in Category “Cohesive Plot”
  • High Psychological Thriller, Moderate-High Portrayal of Hipster Existence 30 Years Before We Called Them Hipsters, High Creepy Historic Witches And Shit,
  • Low  Unnecessary Machismo, Gore, Jump Scares

THOTS

Ever since Witching and Bitching and The Descent I’ve kept an eye out for other feminist horror films I could talk about here. My girl J recently introduced me to The Lords of Salem, and it fit the bill perfectly (something which also thrills me, because I like women and I like horror and I love it when horror actually manages to mix in some equality with the scares).

I really enjoyed this movie. It is not very scary in a traditional, “brawny” sort of way: the horror here doesn’t really get in your face that much, it doesn’t breathe on you and make you jump, or cringe back in sympathetic pain, or need to close your eyes or hide under the blanket or look away.  The script and setting skillfully employ a cinematic technique I particularly enjoy, which is close to “show, don’t tell,” but with a specific angle – I’m speaking here of movies/scripts which manage to successfully establish their temporal setting within a distinctive era, but without having to drop what year it is in the script or through subtitling or even pin down what, really, that year is. The Lords of Salem feels like it’s possibly in the 1970s, through it could be as recent as the 1990s, through and through. The specific year of a setting often isn’t important, but the feeling of its believability is, and we believe the setting of a movie when, as in films like this, every shot or scene consistently, yet subtly, matches to it.

Another of The Lords of Salem‘s greatest strengths is its plot, which is not something I can often say about horror movies. I love scary movies, but (I think) because they are so visceral, and often very immediately, writers seem to have trouble backing up the creep with a solid plot. In other words, I’ve found that horror movies, even really great-seeming ones, typically fall apart at the end. Pontypool does thisLast Will and Testament of Rosamund Leigh does this, to name some examples. Even Creep (future review) suffers from a clear weakening of plot in its last 30 minutes or so. The Lords of Salem completely escapes this pitfall. While the movie does seem to bend to a more extreme angle in its final scenes, they are completely consistent with the logic, pattern, and action of the movie from its very start. The conclusion makes sense. Each character’s motivations and actions as a result remain as believable at the end as they were at the start, and when a character’s mood or attitude shifts, it’s cogently as a reaction to the events in the movie. What I’m trying to say is that outside of the supernatural element, The Lords of Salem makes sense. It is so good to have a movie that actually makes sense from start to finish. You should watch The Lords of Salem just for the satisfaction of that.

I guess I should drop some hints about the plot. Let’s see: vaguely eye-roll-y ultra-alt radio DJ in Salem, MASS hosts some unusual guests over a few nights, gets a weird record, and also begins to maybe see? weird stuff in her apartment. We aren’t sure if it’s mostly all in her head or is really happening until around mid-movie, but that’s okay because she isn’t sure either. It turns out someone is trying to rassle up some trouble from ancient, witch-burning Salem, where it turns out the witches actually were witches in this reality, although that doesn’t seem like it’s common knowledge to the general public. Creepy hijinks ensue and our main character, Heidi, isn’t safe even when she’s alone at home. In fact, she might be safer almost anywhere else.

Go take your next dim rainy day, and watch this movie on it. I’m doing you a favor. Trust that it’s worth it.

 

SILENT HILL

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Available (if you pay) from OnDemand by Verizon. Also available if you have certain Verizon add-on “Premium Channels,” with subscription.

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

A movie complex enough I have trouble distilling it into a clever, one-sentence quip. Just watch it.

  • Girly Groove Rating: 4.5/5, or 9/10
  • Scares: 9.5/10
  • Low Jump Scares, High Genuine Creep Factor, Mid-Grade CGI
  • Low on Unnecessary Machismo and Liam Neeson

THOTS

Ah, Silent Hill. The movie which spawned the only horror imagery which, upon encountering it during one of those self-guided walks through a Haunted Horror Attraction, caused me to stop in my tracks and actually consider turning back instead of finishing the walk and leaving the intended way, through the exit of the “ride.” The specific image that I encountered that night was walking into a large, open room – with a band of nurses frozen in place in the center, which spooked adventurers had to walk through in order to continue on their voyage. I froze in place for minutes.

Silent Hill is one of my long-time Top Favorite Horror Films, and I decided to re-watch it this weekend just for fun. I was about halfway through when it struck me, to my delight, that like last post’s The Descent, Silent Hill is an excellent feminist film as well as an example of primo modern horror. Not only does it pass the Bechdel test repeatedly (one might even say “with flying colors”), but if you check out this largest analysis ever of film scripts by gender, which I referenced in the last post, Silent Hill also blows it out of the water in terms of female-spoken dialogue and, therefore, representation within the film.

There are a couple of factors, at least, which drive my affection for the movie. As I watched it this weekend, I tried to put them into coherent words. I hope, in this post, I succeed – instead of simply raving. 🙂

For a horror movie, the plot of Silent Hill is satisfying complex. First, we have the oft-forgotten frame story, where Rose, Sharon, and Rose’s husband exist in the normal, day-to-day universe, and which establishes Rose’s conviction that Sharon must return to Silent Hill. Then, our split narrative (Rose’s as she searches for Sharon, and the husband’s as he pursues them both) allows the movie to demonstrate clear alternative universes without ever having to clumsily explain the world-split in awkward, manufactured dialogue.

That’s another key point which clinches Silent Hill‘s success: the script is tight, the dialogue is extremely believable, and even in the moments where one could see how this dialogue was pulled from a video game, this observation is not as a result of stilted, unrealistic speech, but because in both video games and movies, a hallmark of the storyline’s success is the subtle reveal of vital information through character-to-character dialogue.

Moreover, the actual horror imagery depicted throughout Silent Hill captivate me, and I suspect they do so in such degree due to their unusual, captivating nature. Instead of relying on familiar monsters, Silent Hill invents its own monsters. From twisted, headless “ash babies,” which look kind of like physically twisted children made of black ash, covering a body of embers, to Pyramid Man, his accompanying beetle entourage, and so on, these representations of the evil lurking in Silent Hill are so different from standard horror depictions that they have become emblems of the movie and video game franchise. They cannot be mistaken for the horror fantasies of any other film.

In addition to all of this, I have to admit that any movie which has an underlying theme of caution against overly-fanatic organized religion wins points in my favor. Ultimately, this movie could even be interpreted as a warning of the dangers of societies which engage in slut-shaming and making pariahs out of the weakest, and most innocent.

I really can’t recommend Silent Hill enough to any horror buffs looking for something which will stay with them, echoing and lurking in dark corners of the brain, for much longer than the simple viewing.

THE DESCENT

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Available on Amazon currently only with a Tribeca Film subscription, this horror movie was released some time ago and often rotates into more easily obtained horror streaming sites. Believe it was on Netflix until recently.

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

Known as “Chicks with Picks” to those in production

  • Girly Groove Rating: 4.5/5, or 9/10
  • Scares: 9/10
  • Moderate to High on Jump Scares, Claustrophobia, Gollum-like Creatures
  • Low on CGI, Unnecessary Machismo

THOTS

So I decided to re-watch The Descent after I stumbled across a data analysis of gender in film scripts. Not surprisingly, most films completely ‘bombed’ the analysis – bombed in quotes because, of course, the analysis was objective, but in my opinion if the majority of films out there only present a majority of male characters, Hollywood, you’re kind of sucking.

But hey – we knew that already, didn’t we? Anyway, not unlike They, which I had seen in high school and re-watched (and apparently never wrote up here), this movie held up surprisingly well to my recollections. I was more than pleasantly surprised. To give you a breakdown, The Descent is about a band of female adventurers, or at least a bunch of gal pals who like to go do sports-y things together. The loose main character of our movie, Sarah, gets a little more backstory than everyone else in that we get to watch her husband and baby die (within the first 15 minutes of the movie; this is, if anything, hardly a spoiler) at the conclusion of a similar adventure-oriented gals’ trip. I’ll be honest in that I find this backstory hardly at all advances the plot. I understand why it’s there; it’s to set up some overtures and relationships between other characters for the main plot of the movie. However, in my armchair analysis, almost nothing would be missing from the movie if they’d skipped it – besides the fact that we know Sarah’s in a bad spot and maybe a little mentally unstable.

I will note, as I write, it strikes me that there are a few elements of the movie that are like this – made much of, obviously demonstrated as important small elements due to stress placed in the acting on such items or events, but which at the end of the day impact the plot on such a small level that they are not, in my opinion, worth the energy the director and cast put into them. That being said, I don’t work in Hollywood – so what’s my opinion worth, anyway?

Regardless, the rest of the movie is an enjoyable, tension-building romp as this group of six die-hard friends venture into the literal unknown, an unexplored cave somewhere in the American south (supposedly North Carolina, but I’ll be honest: the physical location of the crew is about the least believable element of the movie, as all sport lush UK-region accents and no emphasis is ever placed on establishing where they actually are, geographically) in which an early cave-in of their entrance-route tunnel forces them to attempt to find another way out, two miles below the surface, in the unknown and uncertain dark.

Not only does this movie get the creep factors on early and relentlessly, but it passes the Bechdel test not only with flying colors but practically noticelessly. If ever there was an argument to be made that the problem with Hollywood is men with their heads stuck up their asses, and that movies with a majority female cast can succeed and interest audiences of all ages and genders despite such casting, The Descent makes it – and a couple of jumps and shrieks besides.