Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Phantasm (1979)

Well Y'all, last night your good friend Spooky Pie sat herself down to enjoy some good old fashioned horror cinema. I decided on 'Phantasm'

A) Because it is streaming on Netflix
B) Because it was not only listed in Bravo's "Top 100 Scariest Movie moments", but the trailer also boasts "If this one doesn't scare you THEN YOU'RE ALREADY DEAD!!!"

Now I ask you, dears and darlings, how on earth could I resist all that? I couldn't, I'm not that strong willed. So on went 'Phantasm'.

Oh my God you guys, Oh my God. This shit is amazing like you don't even know. In my last review I expressed my desire to see a horror movie that I actually liked and boy did this live up to that. Even if it was all for the wrong reasons.

Phantasm has an interesting enough premise, a man named Jody is raising his 13 year old brother Mike after their parents died in a car accident. Quite frankly, they probably had it coming, because anyone who would name their son Jody is just plain cruel. But anyway, ANYWAY. We begin the film with a funeral, Jody's friend Tommy, who died in the movie's opening.

Why did he die? BECAUSE HE WAS HAVING SEX IN A GRAVEYARD! Everybody knows that you don't have sex in a graveyard, that lines you up to be the first one to fall in a horror movie. So yeah, I don't have any pity for you Tommy. That's neither here nor there, sorry you guys, I get a little caught up in the moment. Jody doesn't bring Mike to the funeral because after their parents' funeral "he didn't sleep for a week".

Unbeknown to Jody, Mike followed him on a motorcycle, why someone would let a 13 year old on a motorcycle, I don't know. I also can't say why no one noticed the kid haphazardly riding said motorcycle through the cemetery. Kids these days. Forgetting Mike and his disrespectful motorcycle riding habits, we go back to Jody wandering through the funeral home. And this is when we meet one of the most AMAZING characters in cinematic history, The Tall Man!

The Tall Man will be our villain for the night kids, so let's get good and used to him. He introduces himself by sneaking up behind Jody and bellowing "THE FUNERAL IS ABOUT TO BEGIN! ... SIR!!!", and quite likely making Jody need a new pair of pants.

Comedy gold.

During said funeral we are introduced to what will be one of the other key factors in the movie. Mike is unhealthily obsessed with his brother who has a girl's name. Not only has he followed Jody, but he then proceeds to hide in a shrub and watch his brother with binoculars. He stays in a bush creepily watching his brother, and then a bit longer, which is when he sees The Tall Man lift the coffin in to the hearse all by himself with no trouble at all. He's a spry old goat, The Tall Man. And this of course, because Mike is a 13 year old boy, and this is what they do, gets Mike completely obsessed with The Tall Man and the prospect that trouble's abrewin' up at the old Morningside Mortuary.

When Mike tells this to Jody, Jody is really way more upset that his brother has been stalking him, again. And reasonably so, this is also when we learn that Jody has been planning on leaving Mike with their aunt and moving far, far away from his little brother who seems to view him in a downright inappropriate fashion. Because we find out that Mike really does stalk Jody EVERYWHERE.

He follows Jody to a bar and watches him pick up a blond hussy (same hussy we saw in the beginning having the forbidden graveyard sex), and he follows them back to the graveyard (because apparently this is the only place the woman likes to get it on) and is perfectly happy to lie in a bush and watch this too. This was about the point that I thought that Mike was probably the creepiest part of the movie. But Mike at least pays for this act of perversion by being chased out of his hiding spot by a Jawa.

And poor, poor Jody-who-has-a-girl's-name. Because nothing spoils the mood quite like having your younger brother barrel past you at full tilt howling like a banshee. If you're not our fair lady Jody, however, it's completely hilarious.

This is pretty much the final straw for Jody, when he catches up to his sprinting pervert brother he basically balls him out. And can you blame him? I know I can't. He's pretty sure that Mike is just going on about this Tall Man B.S. to cover up the fact that he has a very "flowers in the attic" fixation going on.

Of course, this makes Mike feel the need to prove that he is not completely full of crap to his brother, so he wants to get cold hard evidence. This evidence, long story short, comes in the form of one of the The Tall Man's lopped off fingers which apparently bleeds mustard. Go figure.

But this is enough to get Jody on team "The Tall Man is out to get us".

The rest of the movie generally involves the brothers, along with Jody's completely inept balding friend Reggie, setting out to investigate and stop whatever happenings are going down up at the old Mortuary. Mike gets chased around by The Tall Man, a lot, which is sad, because you would think that a 13 year old kid could outrun a man who is clearly at least 100. It's like not being able to outrun a (Classic) Romero zombie, really, you should be ashamed of yourself. And there are more cloaked Jawa/midget minions that wreck havoc on the trio.

Unfortunately, the ending of the film fell a bit flat for me. It was like the ending of Dallas had a baby with the ending of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the child came out a bit ... touched. Ending aside, this film had some AMAZING merits to it. Before I get into the (wrong)reasons I adored it, I'm going to point out some of the things that made it a good, proper horror movie.

From the get-go it adheres to a sort of canon set up by horror films before it, that doing a set of really stupid things will get you into trouble, or dead.
1. Don't have sex in a graveyard (well, don't have sex in a horror movie, really)
2. Don't go into the creepy old house alone, at night
3. If you think it's dead, don't go back and nudge it. It's not going to be dead. Always follow Rule #2 of Zombieland, double tap.
People violate these things left and right within Phantasm, and they are punished accordingly, though some more harshly then others.

Also, atmospherically, this movie is fairly awe inspiring. There is really clever use of lighting, some intense Krueger-esque nightmare sequences, and the soundtrack is lovely. It's the same sort of amazing, subtle score that is akin to the one in 'Suspiria'.

Furthermore, it is a pretty fresh take on a horror movie, despite the cliche aspects. And considering how many themes in the horror genre get done to death, that is saying something.

But here's the deal kids. None of those intellectual reasons are responsible for my love of this movie.

In short, it is a completely underrated Comedy Masterpiece. Yes, yes, I know, it's not supposed to be funny. I am aware that many people have sited sequences in the film, most notably the nightmares, as being some of the most terrifying ever. But you guys, you guys, The Tall Man.

I want to write sonnets and love songs about the hysterical tour de force that is Angus Scrimm's Tall Man. Obviously, he is supposed to be "larger than life" and a caricature, and this is supposed to be part of the appeal of why he is "terrifying". But in over exaggerating the man they made him into the best cartoon character in ages. So many scenes that were meant to be dramatic were just .... well... funny.

Take, for instance, the (apparently) iconic scene in which Mike is bumbling around Downtown in broad daylight, and is horrified to see The Tall Man strolling down the street across from him. I'm more than a little sure that I was supposed to be relating to Mike's look of "Oh no! He's out here in front of God and everyone! He's so scary". Yeah, not so much. I laughed so hard I was in tears.

The way The Thin Man galumphs down the street like a hybrid of Jack Skellington and Mr. Burns on acid, and then pauses in the mists of the ice cream truck to have his "herbal essence" commercial before slapping away is perhaps one of the most hysterical things I have seen in ages.

You cannot, in all honesty, tell me that isn't hilarious. I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't rewind that scene and watch it like five times.

Oh Angus Scrimm, shine on you crazy diamond.

Phantasm, despite its pitfalls and message that "Old people are out to kill you, and all children are a liability", is definitely worth the watch. Worth more than watch, I would say. I, in fact, now feel the need to own this masterpiece. If for no other reason than so that then next time I have a really shit day I can pop this gem into the DVD player and laugh until I sob.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Creepiest Thing: 1st edition

So I have decided that on this blog I am going to do a weekly feature called "The Creepiest thing". I will try to have a new edition up every Friday, and it will be just whatever random thing that creeps me out I feel like ranting about. So brace yourself for the first ever TCT!

This week The Creepiest Thing is:

Disneyland's "Dark Rides"

For those of you not clued into "amusement park lingo", a dark ride is:

"an indoor amusement ride where riders in guided vehicles travel through specially lit scenes that typically contain animation, sound, music, and special effects."
Quoth Wikipedia.

I am native California girl, I grew up in Southern California. Like a good many other middle class, southern California based families, mine had annual passes to Disneyland for the majority of my childhood.

This, of course, meant many many many trips to Disneyland. And when your humble narrator, Spooky Pie, was but a Spooky Cupcake, I had a nearly masochistic relationship with said dark rides. They were fun and exciting to a child, most things that have happy music, bright colors, and things that move are. But as much I loved to go on the rides, they also pretty much scared the crap out of me.

Specifically the ride called "Snow White's scary adventure".

If you aren't from California, or have never been to Disneyland, or, whatever, here's a ride through someone on Ye Olde Tube of the Yew taped for your benefit. Yes, just yours, no one else's.

As a little girl I loved the opening with the woodland animals and the dwarfs celebrating, but when it degenerated into the haunted forest I was gripping onto the cart with white knuckles and trying hard not to scream, cry, pass out, or do all three. And that's the sort of thing that sticks with you. Even returning to Disneyland in my adult life, I still freely admit that I get heart palpitations riding that thing, because you just can't let go all together of something that scared you that badly as a child.

Also, like most children, I had a horrifically over-active imagination. And the moving audio-animatronics in the dark rides were just the kind of fuel I needed to get all worked into a tizzy. Young me was 100% positive that not only were those things alive, but that they were might want to come down from their displays and get me.

And let's face it, it isn't like the stories in these rides were all together pleasant. Hell, most of the Disney movie I've re-watched as adult have made me go
"wow... this is really messed up... I can't believe I watched this as a kid.

Oh Disney, way to go around traumatizing children.

Unfortunately, for me anyway, my latent phobia of these rides was made worse a few years back. My arch nemesis/love "Snow White's scary adventures" broke down. And I don't mean in the way that rides occasionally break down and a pleasant voice comes on over the music telling you that "The ride is experiencing technical difficulties and we will have you back on track momentarily".

No, no, it REALLY broke down. The had to turn the lights on and have everyone get out of their carts and walk through the ride to get to the exit. You don't fully realize just how nightmarish those rides really are until you see them "behind the scenes". They might be scary in the dark, but this is one case in which it is actually scarier in the light.

That traumatic experience coupled with my childhood issues with audio-animatronics made me start to really, really fear having the ride break down whilst I was still in it. Yes, I've been on the rides when they went down, The Haunted Mansion has "technical difficulties" all the times, and I have gotten stuck sitting in one section of it for a reeeeeeally long time. Long time in the sense that not only did I learn ALL the words to the Haunted Mansion graveyard song, but I thought I might weep openly if I ever had to hear it again.
(In case you might be wondering, I got over it really fast, and every time I go to Disneyland I still end up riding the Haunted Mansion at least twice in a day)

You see, it wasn't so much the stopping that bothered. Sitting in a faux graveyard full of unrealistic ghouls was not something that phased me at all (repetitive ghost song aside). It was the idea of being stuck next to one of those creepy doll/robot/things that made my blood go cold. If you're moving past them it's all well and good, it's when you are potentially trapped in with those nightmarish looking things that the phobia part starts to kick in.

Case in point, your humble narrator once in the not too distant past was on "Alice's adventures in Wonderland" when it broke down. My little pink caterpillar buggy, of course stopped right in front of the Mad Tea Party scene.

That was the point, gentle readers, in which yours truly (in true 'Fear and loathing in Las Vegas'/Hunter S. Thompson style) yelled:


And then, of course, I proceeded to attempt to vault over the safety railing of my bug vehicle to run for glory. However, as I was starting to wiggle my way out the ride started back up. It was really for the best, I doubt the Disneyland employees would have looked fondly on my running out of the ride on foot, screaming like a madman.

Of course, for the rest of the day (and basically the whole time up to the present since the horrible 'mad tea party incident) my friends who were on the ride with me took great pleasure in making fun of me for my barely avoided hysterical melt down. There were/still are numerous "We can't stop here? Why? Is it bat country?" comments directed at me.

I stick to my guns though y'all. In the same situation all over again, I probably would have acted the same. Throw any horror movie you like at me, I'll be fine, they don't scare me. Those are things happening on a screen nowhere near me. Just don't make me sit next to one of those audio-animatronic nightmares.

And before you judge me on this one guy, think about how much you would like being stuck next to one of these horror-shows.

Be sure to tune in next week for another edition of "The Creepiest Thing"!

All images in this entry from Daveland Web

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The House of the Devil (2009)

My Goodness, what can I say about House of the Devil? I wanted to like it, I wanted SO BADLY to like it.

I loved the idea of a movie made in 2009, but in the style of the great wave of the more classic horror movies of the late seventies and eighties. The premise was a little cliche, but I figured, oh what the Hell, I'm game. And I largely wondered how on earth this movie had come out last year without me having heard of it.

Gentle Readers and Fellow Spooky-dos, I don't wonder about this any more. I don't want to say that there is nothing good about the movie, because that would simply not be true, however, this is a case in which the bad greatly outweighs the good and results in Epic Fail.

The basic premise of the movie is simple, one that is easy to relate to, even. Broke college student Samantha can barely make ends meet, so she picks up a baby sitting gig to try and generate a little cash flow. All right, understandable, lot's of people can get behind the broke college student thing, a lot of us have been there.

And in trying to make a seventies/eighties style horror film, the baby sitter angle is appropriate. Let's face it, some of the most iconic horror movies of that era were baby sitter movies; Halloween, When a Stranger calls, and Trick or Treats, just to name a few.

It's a good angle for horror, any girl who babysat as a teenager can tell you that it can be ridiculously creepy. Sure it's all fun and games while you're entertaining the kiddies, but send them to bed and as soon as you're alone with the TV you start getting paranoid. Every little noise is something in the house with you, every noise outside is something coming from you. Like I said before, fear you can relate to.

Further drawing on established horror angles, HOTD is set in a suitably creepy, enormous house. In the outskirts of Nowheresville, where no one can hear you scream.

However, once our heroine is at said house she is informed by an unnerving old man that she was hired to watch not a child, but his wife's elderly mother. This is when Samantha's friend tells her;

"the agreement was we would leave if the people were weird, this isn't weird, it's mental".
This seems to be setting up the movie to be good and chilly, I mean, come one, what's creepier than weird old people? And if you just said "Nothing", than seriously, you need to sit down and have movie night with Drag me to Hell, Rosemary's Baby, the original Friday the 13th, and Whatever happened to Baby Jane?. Then you and me can talk about how not at all scary old people are.

The trouble is that it all takes a sharp turn downhill from there on out. All of the action of the film is presented in the last 15 minutes, in a hurried slap-dashed frenzy. And before that it's over an hour of "Hey what was that noise?" and "Let's look like we're foreshadowing that something really creepy is about to happen, and then not actually do anything." While that's all going on they proceed to have Samantha do REALLY foolish things, like run around the house blaring music on her headphones. Any paranoid babysitter will tell you, you DO NOT want to wear headphones. Headphones block out the footsteps of the person coming to kill you.

But as I said before, the movie is not without merits. Some of the camera work is downright genius. It intentionally filmed to be grainy and slightly yellowed, so you really feel like you're watching something that has a few decades on it. And a fair number of the shots are filmed in strange, almost clandestine frames. There aren't any first person type shots, most shots of Samantha are filmed in such a way as to make the viewer feel almost voyeuristic. It's like you are put in the perspective of the murderers, stalking the girl through the house.

And Samantha is a very sympathetic character. She's real, she makes real person decisions, she isn't perfect (she is in fact quite the little germaphobe, earning her brownie points with yours truly, who is a bit of one as well.)

Samantha is clever, she doesn't got through the movie shrieking or begging to be saved, she does her best to save herself. And I respect that. I only wish that this respectable of a character was not inside such a mess of a film.

Once the film ended I basically said "... okay."

There is an attempt at a Brian DePalma-esque gotcha ending, but it falls flat, much like the "horror" in the movie once its actually revealed.

I don't know you guys, I just don't know. I hope the next movie I write about here is one that I really like.

wow, look at that, turns out I actually qualify for The Final Girl Film Club with this humble review and I didn't even realize it oooooooh!!!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I wanna do bad things with you

I'm sure by now most of you are aware that Season 3 of True Blood premieres tonight.

What most of you might not know is that I love True Blood more than most things. I've been, figuratively speaking, banging my head against my desk for nearly a year waiting for the new season.

Don't get wrapped up in the factor that pretty much all other television shows that I watch have had their season finales, making True Blood the only thing I really have worth watching right now. Does that mean that I only watch True Blood because it is the only thing to watch between the end of network TV's series season and the start of the new fall lineup?


To the contrary I feel like I am killing time with most regular network television, waiting for June and True Blood.

I read the first couple of Sookie Stackhouse novels awhile back, and while better that most vampire literature being put out these days *cough*Twilight*cough* I was only vaguely amused. So when I heard the television series was being made I had my sincere doubts.

But then I ended up adoring the television show so much it verges on being ridiculous. I love the way the television series has developed the romance between Sookie and Bill, making it into a sort of epic love story and not "I'm sleeping with this vampire because I can't hear him think", I love the addition of the charecter Jessica, who at times I relate to too much, the fact that they did not kill off Lafayette like they did in the beginning of the second book, and I love how much time (though still maybe not enough) is spent on Pam.

So am I excited out of my wits that the new Season has started?
Is it going to become the one thing I look forward to all week, just like it did last season?
Sadly, probably yes to that too.

But all puns aside, I can't wait to sink my teeth into this newest addition of one of the best things to come on television in years.