It was fine.
What do I think of this movie? It was fine. The production values and makeup/effects were not stellar but decent, the acting was competent, the writing was nothing special, and although the characters were too stupid to live, none of the dialogue was actually cringe worthy. It brought nothing new or interesting to the zombie genre, and the human stories told along the way were okay, I guess. Honestly, I found myself wishing for a movie that was either much better, or I’ll be honest - much, much worse, because then at least it might have been somewhat interesting. (Y’all - somehow saying this movie was fine just feels like the meanest review ever.)
OR...I Blame Christopher Lee
It all started on the night of the full moon… Nah, I’m just kidding. Well, it might have been a full moon, but I really don’t know. I was looking for something to watch while I was doing some tedious work and making dinner, “The Howling II” popped up on my list of suggestions. I did investigate to see if I could start at the beginning, but The Howling wasn't available on my current streaming services. But give me a B movie with some old and grey dude who would be equally comfortable spouting Shakespeare as fighting werewolves? (In this case, Christopher Lee) I am so in! It also had the equally promising and ridiculous subtitle of “Your sister is a werewolf,” and I’ve been in the mood for some horror ridiculousness lately, and that sealed the deal, so without further ado:
THE HOWLING II: Your sister is a werewolf
I could give you a quick plot synopsis, but there are really only three things you need to know about this movie.:
ONE: It has its very own theme-song! (“The Howling by the band Babel. It is played several times throughout the film.)
TWO: It is incredibly, raucously, gleefully horny. Ridiculously horny. Werewolf ménage a troís and full on orgy horny.
THREE: It is not a good movie by any means, but if you’re in the mood for some early 80s horror cheese, this isn’t a bad choice.
After this, I shrugged and said what the heck and went on to
THE HOWLING III: The Marsupials
I had to check several times that this movie was even considered a part of the same franchise and didn't just coincidentally share the name, because it has just no connection whatsoever to the previous movie. But it’s its own weird little thing. I was worried that things weren’t making sense to me because I was multi-tasking and working while I was watching it, but…I’m pretty sure it’s just as nonsensical as it seemed. It’s set in Australia. For once the werewolves aren’t evil demons, but are marsupials as legend has it due to uh…interbreeding with the now extinct Thylacine. (As I said, it’s a weird one.) It has the most uncomfortable werewolf birth scene. I mean, I can handle quite a bit of gore and mayhem and not flinch (as long as it’s not eyeballs) but this had me cringing and looking away in discomfort. It is a pretty terrible movie, but it does have one actor hamming it up doing his best Hitchcock impersonation and a ballerina werewolf transformation - so it has that going for it.
This was becoming a mission now. Would any other movie in the franchise live up to the horniness of 2? (Spoiler: NO!) Would they all seem as completely unrelated to each other as 2 and 3? (Kind of, but later on at least An Attempt Was Made to connect some threads between movies.) At this point, I had decided I was going to watch every single one of these, so it was on to:
THE HOWLING IV: The Original Nightmare
As the title kind of indicates, this one could serve as the beginning of a franchise. According to IMDB, it more closely follows the novels by Gary Brandner than the original movie. This one is pretty forgettable and frankly a little boring, it feels like something we would have picked up in the horror section at Blockbuster and watched at a slumber party. It does have one of the grossest werewolf transformation scenes I've watched. So much goo.
Now on to:
THE HOWLING V: The Rebirth
This one could also be titled: "Hey, Let's all split up!" A group of people visit a Hungarian castle that has been mysteriously closed up for 500 years. What could go wrong, eh? This one hews along typical slasher movie lines with the group, you guessed it, splitting up (constantly splitting up!) and getting picked off one by one. Except in this case, the killer is a werewolf. It was no accident that these precise people (all with a wolf shaped birthmark on their arm!) were invited to the castle. We have ever shifting loyalties and suspicions, accidental killings of people who are mistaken for the werewolf, and I won't spoil it, but I will say that I was hoping for exactly the twist that we got.
THE HOWLING VI: The Freaks
A secretive drifter rolls into town. He does not receive a warm welcome. He is taken in by the local minister and his daughter. There is a construction montage as they fix up the church! Gotta love a good construction montage! The carnival comes to town. The leader of the carnival is obviously slimy! (And delightfully chewing the scenery. I do love me a good scenery chewer.) He has kidnapped a young man with a skin condition to be his alligator boy! The other people who work in the show are mean! The drifter and the minister's daughter go to the carnival, which is (unsurprisingly) not a bastion of political correctness. The drifter has a secret to keep! (Yes, the secret is that he is indeed a werewolf) The minister now thinks he is evil! The minister's daughter is sure that he is not! The alligator boy has befriended a kitten, and here is were we come to the most important part of the entire movie. The kitten does not die! And that's all you really need to know, right? Also the leader of the carnival also has a secret to keep (but no, he's not a werewolf, so I wonder what creature of the night he could be, hmmmmm...) But also, The kitten does not die! Despite the townspeople being (eventually) pretty decent about werewolf dude, for some reason at the end the alligator boy (Winston) and the werewolf walk off into the sunset and we can only hope they are on their way to a buddy comedy or something. With Winston the II (the kitty) as a sidekick.
THE HOWLING VII: New Moon Rising
A secretive drifter rolls into town. (Wait, where have I heard that before?) He does receive a warm welcome. This one is just so so so so so so so bad. But entertainingly so. Obviously the very lowest budget of the entire series. It feels like they rolled into Pioneertown, California (where the movie is set) and just asked the locals, "Hey, ya wanna make a movie?" (And judging by the wikipedia and IMDB pages about the movie, that's kind of what they did.) We throw in some footage from previous movies, and twist the plot into pretzels to connect them. I'm pretty sure the actress from way back in movie 4 just showed up and filmed for a day or two to pick up a paycheck (Hey, you get that money, honey! We all gotta pay the bills.) We have line dancing. We have random country music numbers (the best part of the movie, to be honest.) Nobody is a good actor, but it's kind of charming because nobody's really trying to be a good actor. Want a "So bad it's good" MST3K worthy movie? Yup, this one right here. I gotta admit a weird affection for this installment.
After that one, I took a few days off and started an AMC+ trial subscription so I could circle back and watch:
The original, the beginning! I do kind of wish I had been able to start with this one, not because it was at all necessary to follow the sequels, but just because I might have appreciated this one for what it was a little more. (i.e. not getting real close to just werewolf movied out.) Dee Wallace is pretty great as Karen in this. She's an intrepid news anchor in the gritty big city. The werewolf transformation is top-notch in this one, and one of my favorites that I've seen. (And although I know that "freeze" lives right alongside those "fight or flight" survival responses, I did want to yell "Why aren't you running!?" at the character watching the transformation in horror, because it did last quite a long time.) There were some funny little touches like "Wolf" brand chilli cans in scenes, and "Howl" by Alan Ginsberg on someone's desk. This was directed by Joe Dante, who later went on to direct "Gremlins" and you could see the first flickers of that mix of horror and humor in this movie. I will also confess that there's often a part of me that's thinking "do it!" when a character is invited into a community of monsters, and this movie was no exception. (Too much Clive Barker maybe? I dunno. I mean, they had their own island and her husband was already a werewolf!) It ends with our intrepid news anchor Karen transforming live on air after becoming a werewolf in order to warn the public about the impending lycanthrope threat! And this is back to where I started this journey, because The Howling II begins with her brother attending her funeral after she has been shot with a silver bullet.
And with a sigh of relief I was done...
There was a 2011 reboot, and I was committed, so I forked out the 3 bucks to rent:
THE HOWLING REBORN
Because all this series needed was some teenage angst and paranormal insta-romance! This was in the midst of the Twilight era, so why not, right? Throw in some pseudo-philosophizing, a downright terrible CGI morph transformation*, a fight scene in which you have no clue which furry beast you should be rooting for, and a plot twist that requires some mighty suspension of disbelief - and you've got this movie. (*Seriously, I laughed it was so terrible, and I have now watched a lot of really terrible transformation and werewolf effects. This one is terrible in that very specific CGI way.) It also did that thing where we fight and sacrifice and defeat evil, and...make that completely pointless during the end credits. Barf.
But on the upside, MY QUEST IS COMPLETE!
Unless the rumored Netflix remake happens...
Or I decide to read the novels...
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Last time I did this was *checks sidebar* 2017, but I recently posted again, so spooky month (hurray!) seems as good a reason as any to try to post a bit more consistently. (I also am on federal court jury duty this month, so my actual schedule is a bit in the air, SO...I make no promises but I'm going to try to post most days.) Today's entry:
I'll be honest, this movie had me from the moment "Take on Me" by A-Ha started playing, and the cans of aquanet appeared. (Do I still remember that smell? Oh yes, yes I do.)
This movie touches on...well, a lot of subject matter that would have been fodder for a "Very Special Episode" of network TV back in 1988 when the movie is set. Thankfully with a much lighter touch. But as the title would suggest, we're dealing with demonic possesion here and not just someone who has suddenly gone extremely mean girl.
I enjoyed how it translated the bumps, bruises, and indignities of being a teenager into the typical "possesion" storyline. Also you know that "Very Special Episode" thing where all the character had to do to solve the problem was talk to an adult, and they would be wise and compassionate and everything would be better? Well, let's just say that doesn't happen here. It's pretty heartbreaking.
Is the final exorcism scene corny as all hell? Oh, absolutely yes. Did I absolutely love it? YES.
THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP COMPELS YOU!
(I feel like this would be a good horror flick for younger teenagers - disaffected older ones might find it a bit too corny. Although, like I said, it does touch on some fairly heavy topics, so be prepared to talk about that.)
One day as I logged into Hulu, I did a quick scan of the "for you" recommendations, and, well...
I posted this capture of the screen to facebook, and giggles were had all around. And then I decided I would go ahead and watch all of these movies, so...here's a quick rundown of what I thought.
Among the Shadows: TERRIBLE. Not quite into "so bad it's good territory," but entertainingly terrible nonetheless. Werewolves! (Kind of - their eyes glow but apparently our budget didn't extend to actually doing anything with like, fur.) Vampires! (Kind-of. There was at least one, and then I thought there were more, but those were actually wolves.) A whole weird geo-political "The United States of Europe" thing so we could have a president of Europe! Like I said, it's a mess, but probably fun to watch (and yell/laugh at) while drunk with a group of friends!
Room 203: Solid haunted house story. It was an interesting shift that it focused on two young women just entering adulthood instead of the families that a lot of haunted house stories tend to be centered around. (Probably because it was actually a haunted apartment, but still. No alcoholic asshole english professors/writers here! Although addiction is still a theme and we do have a protaganist who is a writer.)
The Body: Bwahahahahahaha. Dark comedy or comedy horror with a side of revenge. Regrettably, Harvey Guillen (I love him!) dies early on, but the rest of the doofuses trying to survive the night are well...endearing doofuses trying to survive the night. If you like that sort of thing. (I DO!)
The Girl: Welp, THAT was disturbing. Extremely messy family and small town drama.
Hope Floats: Okay, this is a horror blog, and this is obviously (at least from the thumbnail) some sort of romance. (I vaguely remember this coming out in theatres, but it was released in 1998 which puts it squarely in my "I was raising small kids so the only pop culture I remember was Blue's Clues and the Teletubbies" years.) Now, anything that is portrayed as a romance or "chick flick" (ugh, hate that term) usually gets a lot of hate, and at least some of that hate springs from misogyny. And while I love horror (obviously) I am not immune to a good love story! So I was determined to give this film an honest shot. But, it's a sacharine mess. Sandy Bullock deserved better. The plot felt kind of all over the place, and while yes, I absolutely cried (I am an easy crier) the tears felt manipulated and not just coming from a place of honest emotion - like the filmmakers were specifically *trying* to make people cry, instead of just telling a story that evoked emotion. I do not enjoy having tears running down my face and resenting having tears running down my face as an overblown soundtrack plays in the background, y'know? I went and watched "The Lost City" again afterwards, just to watch Sandra Bullock in something fun, silly, and enjoyable. (I mean, give me Channing Tatum playing a charming "himbo" any day of the week as well...)
I made an Amityville Horror art! I've been working on learning digital art this year.
I've got digital downloads of this art available over at my Creative Moves: Creations Store! Click Here if you want to purchase one. Just a buck through Halloween!
So I don't particularly like horror that constantly tries to sell itself on "based on a true story" hype, and it usually has the end result of making it harder for me to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy getting spooked or scared. It's also probably best to keep in mind that some of those "true stories" were tragedies that had victims and left grieving friends and family.
Amityville Horror is one that I have always had in my consciousness as a horror fan of definitely being one of those that really pushed the "Based on a True Story" angle. (Was there a tragic and horrific murder that occurred in the house? yes. Was there supernatural goings-on? Eh, all I know is that there are still people living in the house to this day and even decorating for Halloween, although sadly those cool windows have been replaced (Reportedly to deter gawkers.) Despite my dislike of True Story framing, it did feel like one of the iconic entries into the horror genre, so I finally got around to watching both the 1979 original, and the 2005 remake.
I know the popular outlook is to dislike remakes on general principle, but the 2005 remake is just...much better all around than the original 1979 one. I have enjoyed performances from both James Brolin and Margot Kidder in the past, but...wow this was not an example of their finest work. Also, they had all the chemistry of a wet noodle while trying to convince me they were a loving and passionate couple excited to be in their new home. And let's not even get into the awkward gratuitous partial nudity thrown in because...it was a horror movie in the 70s and Margot Kidder agreed to one exposed breast, I guess. The kid actors are...I'm sure they were perfectly nice kids, but just exactly what you think of when you think "annoying and stereotypical kid actors in a film" The entire pacing just didn't work for me, too much felt contrived without ever really making me care about the characters or the stakes. Maybe because it was used so effectively in the remake (which I watched first) but it felt like the boathouse was set up in foreshadowing , and then just...left as a thread that didn't really get woven into the narrative.
In the remake, the pace of everything just works better. I have to wonder if the time and metaphorical distance from the "True Story" gave the filmmakers more freedom to focus on telling a good story, and not worry about hewing as close to what was presented as the truth. Real life does not often present a tidy and compelling narrative. The kids received better direction and are more likeable, which ups the stakes, because we care about them, and therefore worry about them. The boathouse is effectively used as almost a character in and of itself. My favorite thing is the characterization of George Lutz (played by Ryan Reynolds.) He so clearly undergoes a personality change brought about by the house, instead of being about two small steps from being an abusive asshole from the beginning. (*cough* The Shining *cough* *cough* so so many other haunted house/possession movies with a male lead *cough*) It's a change that makes it that much more disturbing, chilling, and heartbreaking in turns.
Les Affamés ("Ravenous")
"Les Affamés" is a French language Canadian film, that can be found under the title "Ravenous" in English on Netflix, but not to be confused with the Robert Carlyle vehicle of a few years back.
If you are looking for a scare a minute action-packed thrill ride in your horror movies, this is...not the movie for you.
What this is, is one of my favorite horror movies that I've watched in quite some time. Much is done without much fanfare or affects. Even the music score is used sparingly, and there is time and space to breathe. The pacing is slow, and it seems to reflect the pace of life with horror and a kind of ennui coming in equal measures for the characters in a post-apocalyptic world. It sets up an atmosphere of low grade dread throughout, but never tips into complete bleakness or despair. There is hope and kindness and connection to be found here, even if it may not last for long. There is definitely humor, both that of someone desperately trying to hold on to some sense of normalcy, and moments of complete situational absurdity.
This movie in many ways the epitome of the dictum to "show, not tell." The spare, visual storytelling is so well done, it gives the viewer credit for being intelligent and does not delve into great amounts of unnecessary exposition. There is a definite sense of world-building here, but we are basically dropped into the middle of the world a while after everything has started happening, and some things are allowed to remain a bit of a mystery. Some things are allowed to remain a bit absurd. The behavior of our zombies ranges from terrifying moments to downright eerie and puzzling. I found the moments of stillness far more frightening and disturbing than the moments of them chasing after people full-tilt.
It feels important to mention that there is an accordion, but it is hard to articulate exactly why the accordion is so important, and that's kind of the point. As with all the best movies in the zombie genre, when you come right down to it, it is an exploration of what it means to be human.
A tale of two Veronicas...
So we heard about this Spanish language horror film on Netflix that was OHMYGOSHSOSCARY that people were turning it off before they finished watching. (Now in my world, turning off and not finding out how it all pans out usually bothers me, but still. I watch enough horror that this was promising in the "is it actually going to scare me" department.) We watched the trailer, and also found out that it was co-written and directed by Paco Plaza of [Rec] fame. (One of my favorite horror movies. That thing SCARED me) This is all sounding VERY. PROMISING.
So, we pulled up the Netflix, cuddled on the couch and watched this film:
And proceeded to be most thoroughly confused by anyone being scared enough to turn this off. Disturbed enough? Absolutely. (Content Warning- it deals with child sexual abuse, definitely skip this one if that is a trigger for you.) The next evening, Glenn came in and told me
"We watched the wrong movie."
"We watched the wrong movie."
"What do you mean?"
"There are two movies with the title Veronica on Netflix."
"Ohhhhhh. Well, that makes things make so much more sense."
So, the Mexican horror movie Veronica had beautiful and lush cinematography, shot in gorgeous black and white. It was a psychological thriller with a serious side order of mind-fuckery. It had the sort of twist that honestly, I am usually pretty good at spotting, but I just had no clue where this one was going, and was thoroughly along for the ride. (There were one or two things that rubbed up against my suspension of dis belief pretty hard, but made perfect sense and worked perfectly well within the entire plot arc.) The slow burn, claustrophobic tension was amazing, and the actresses gave performances that while intense, did not veer into the melodramatic, which could have easily happened with the material.
Approximately a week later, we got around to watching the Spanish horror film Veronica
I liked this one. It didn't add anything terribly new to the "Possession" genre, but it also didn't end up feeling (like so many possession movies do) like it was just trying (and failing) to live up to The Exorcist. It also had some interesting imagery that wasn't the standard "white face. black eyes, stringy black hair demon" that so many haunting movies in the US as of late seem to gravitate to. (I think this may be the lingering influence of a lot of the J-Horror from the early 2000s) Having recently witnessed a total solar eclipse, the incorporation of that particular celestial event into the plot was a nice touch for me. The sun and eclipse imagery were not subtle, but I enjoyed it.
As with the best horror, this movie also works on more than one level. There is the standard "spooky" horror of ghosts/demons/possessions, but there is also the horror of the oldest daughter being forced to take on far too much responsibility and grow up far faster than she should have to in a family where the father has died. In fact for the first sequence in the movie I was left wondering if she is just a very young mother until the relationships were clarified. (I also appreciate that, despite the initial direction I thought they were going to go with the characterization of the mother, she was shown to be a loving mother just doing the best she could in a bad situation. Exhausted and frazzled yes, but still deeply caring.)
The world-building was fascinating and kept me interested, and most importantly the characters were great. (Nothing will get me to turn off a movie faster than if I dislike almost all the characters within the first ten minutes.) "Sister Death," the blind* nun, is a fucking delight. She embodies the typical "doomsayer" role with a intriguing mix of world weary cynicism, sharpness, and concern. I ended up caring deeply about all four of the siblings, and the script hit just the right notes of affection and antagonism between them. (The actors who played the younger siblings were hilarious and adorable without being annoyingly precocious.) I have speculated that part of the reason why people may have ended up turning this movie off before the end was because they were worried about the fates of the kids. (Go below the Ko-Fi button and highlight the text by the asterisk if you simply must know before watching until the end.)
There was also just the right amount of humor (largely from the younger siblings) to set off the more intense sequences. Was I scared? Definitely creeped out, more creeped out by some lovely subtle touches than the full on horror sequences. (The bit with the glass rolling on the kitchen floor? *shivers*) There was one beautifully set up jump scare that got me. (I enjoy jump scares when they are done well, and not over used.)
The only thing I really disliked (a thing I dislike greatly about many of these types of movies) was the "This was based on a True Story!" hype. I know that sort of thing is supposed to make these types of movies Even. Scarier! in some way, but for me, honestly, it just ends up making it harder to suspend my disbelief. I'm pretty skeptical about the supernatural, despite my love for stories about it.
*I feel compelled to add that the representation of disability in horror is often problematic and I'm sure this is no exception, but I did really love the character. There was also a bit of a subtle push back against the idea that an old, frail, and disabled woman could not also be mentally sharp. (Google "disability in horror" and read some disabled voices on this subject, they can talk about it far more knowledgeably than I)
If you liked this post and my other work on this blog and have a few bucks to spare,
***All the kids except Veronica survive to the end of the movie.
On HALLOWEEN, I watched...
Trick R Treat
Because I love it. I've watched this every Halloween for the past three or four years now. Intertwined anthology type storytelling with a twist or two, and just lots and lots of fun. I thought I had already forced Glenn to watch this one, but apparently hadn't, so I had the added fun of sharing it with him this year.
As we approached Halloween, we went thematic with one of the Halloween movies. And that's how we proceeded to be bored for an hour and half. I don't have a whole lot to say about this one, other than that we didn't like it. Laurie Strode was a weak, whiny, nervous alcoholic mess for the first 3/4 of the movie. (I wouldn't begrudge anybody for being a mess after trauma- but in horror movies that's not really what we want to see from our final girls, especially not iconic ones.) The idea of Michael Myers driving a car is just...weird. There's a technique often used in horror, where we the audience see the monster walk by in a doorway, or appear behind a character- where we see the monster but the character doesn't? That got used in this movie. A LOT. I usually love that sort of thing, but the filmmakers repeated that as a way to get a scare so many times that I got bored with it. LL Cool J was mildly amusing as the security guard with ambitions to write erotica, and that was the best part of the movie.
Less of a horror comedy, and more of a comedy about horror movies. (Tip of the hat to my husband Glenn for that description.) It's cute and funny with lots of fun little easter eggs for horror fans. It felt a little "Hallmark movie," but sometimes you're in the mood for something sweet and light (which I was when we watched it.)
I enjoy scary things. Well, as long as I have a pair of fuzzy socks to keep me safe from the monsters!