A blog about movies and filmmaking.

It’s Halloween, time for some scary movies.

In Uncategorized on November 1, 2009 at 1:08 pm

I’m not the biggest follower of horror movies. I tend to like psychological thrillers/mind-benders more – which are scary in their own right, but tend to be lacking in the ghosts, the ghouls and unstoppable forces. But, since it is that time of year, and it’s the one holiday that doesn’t tend to give us movies that are generic family dramas, or silly comedies; I felt the need to see a few that have been pretty well hyped this year as some landmarks for the horror genre.

First up is the underdog movie that has taken over America, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. The ghost story shot by the stars, in an attempt to get proof that Katie is being haunted by a ghost – or maybe even a demon. The movie starts with Micah (played by Micah), is looking into a mirror showing us his new film camera that he’s purchased. It’s set up that since moving in to their new house together, there has been an influx of strange noises and whispers when Micah and Katie are sleeping. So, Micah’s main plan is to video tape then as they sleep to see if there’s anything to see – or recorded via his EVP recorder.

The joy in this movie is that it’s a much more stable hand-held first-person POV movie – as opposed to CLOVERFIELD or even the movie that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is compared to the most, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. For most of the movie, the camera is placed on a tri-pod and just pointed at two people laying in bed. The moments that the camera is moving, it’s not as jerky and flying everywhere to make people sick (I’d think. I’ve never had an issue with any of that.) The other great thing in the movie is the tension and atmosphere of the movie. Since this is meant to be a documentary of these two people’s lives, there is no soundtrack and the only ambient sounds we get are apparently when there’s supernatural activity happening. There’s a rumble on the speakers, maybe a door moves about fifteen degrees, then moves back, or maybe even a loud thud that sounds like the house has been cannon-balled. But, the great trick that the movie pulls is actually part of the filming, and that is the time-stamp during the night shots.

As we see the film fast-forward, the numbers fly by, 1AM to 3AM, and then it’ll slow down and play and something weird might happen, then it’ll fast forward again. So, you tend to get so caught up watching the clock, that when something else happens on screen (a sound or movement) it makes the movie scarier. Also, unlike the trailer – which will be below – where it shows the audience screaming and jumping, what happened more in my theater was giggling. Not laughing at the movie – either because it’s not good or whatever – but, it’s nervous laughter. That kind of thing where you just have no other reaction to give other than laughing because what you’re seeing is so messed up.

It’s a great movie, definitely worth seeing in a theater full of people (and at the rate it’s pulling in money, I don’t think that’ll be a problem for a while.), and will probably make you reconsider sleeping with the lights off, or even questioning whether those weird noises are being caused by a ghost haunting your girlfriend (or boyfriend).

Next we have one of two homages to 1980’s horror. TRICK ‘R TREAT is in the same vein as the anthology movies like CREEPSHOW or THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. This one though, is by writer/director Michael Dougherty (he co-wrote X-MEN 2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS) and features the likes of Dylan Baker, Brian Cox and Anna Paquin.

The story itself is a fractured timeline of events, all taking place on Halloween night in a small-ish Ohio town. It starts with a couple coming home after a town parade, and then bicker about taking down the decorations – ghosts and jack-o-lanterns – before heading inside for the night. The guy, says leave it; the girl says take it down. So, she stays outside, and we get the POV of something that’s coming to get her. Is it because she blew out the pumpkin before Halloween is over? Or because she didn’t have candy to give as an offering? And does it matter – or make it cooler – that the couple is played by Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse) and Leslie Bibb (LAW ABIDING CITIZEN and TALLADEGA NIGHTS)? Then we meet a group of girls trying on their halloween costumes and teasing Paquin’s character because tonight is going to be her “first time”, and she just wants to find the right guy. There’s the little kid who goes around knocking over jack-o-lanterns and stealing candy, only to be harshly reprimanded by Baker’s character; who gets a couple of great moments. A group of kids who make their way to a rock quarry to pay their respects to the dead. And then, finally there’s Cox’s final showdown with a little kid in a burlap bag mask.

The movie goes back and forward through the night – with I have to say, some confusing and kind of ridiculous captions, only saying “Later” and “Earlier”. It kind of became a joke whenever the angle cut, my friends or I would say, “Later, but not as late as earlier”. (It was all done in fun, but an actual clock caption might have worked a little better.) The writing and pacing are all pretty great. Pretty much all the stories work against what you’re initial thoughts on what’ll happen, like the damsel in distress might actually be a little more than she appears. The guy handing out candy, with a weird smile on his face, might not have your best interest at heart, and of course it’s always better to have candy around when a Halloween spirit comes knocking on your door.

Overall though, a strong entry, and one that looks like a shiny, Hollywood produced scary movie. Check it out – Halloween or not. The amazing thing is, is that this movie was actually made a couple years ago, and had sat on a shelf and then only released on DVD. So, it’s sad that this wasn’t given a chance to profit in a movie theater – as I think it would have done.

And finally for my Halloween Spectacular – or day after Halloween, as it seems – is another writer/director’s movie about things that go bump in the night – or more specifically, Satanists. Ti West, who has made a couple of other features, here gives us a perfect in look and mood, send up of 1980’s, horror movies. And along with cute, young girls who will be the victims…er I mean, stars, there’s a great supporting cast of horror alums like Tom Noonan (MANHUNTER), Dee Wallace (THE FRIGHTENER’S and the mom from E.T.).

The movie centers around Samantha, played by Jocelin Donahue, a young girl who is looking for a new place to live – so she can seemingly get out of her dorm, where she shares space with a sloppy lay-about. Only thing is, after she finds her perfect place, she has to find a way to come up with the money. Naturally, this is when she sees a poster with the words “Baby$itter needed” and a phone number. She calls it, leaves a message; and is immediately called back (on a pay phone, and seemingly at a number she didn’t give!! Creepy!!) The man on the phone says he’ll meet her in a while, where he winds up not showing up.

Ok, well, she figures that’s that; only when she gets home, her roommate tells her that some guy called. Samantha calls the number and the guy apologizes, and says he’ll pay double what he normally would, he’s really desperate. So, she has her friend Megan drive her to this family’s house – way out in the who knows where (probably Ohio again).

Oh and did I mention that there’s an eclipse? Well, there is, and the man reveals that he doesn’t actually have a kid that needs babysitting, it’s his frail mother; who really just needs someone there in case of an emergency. He offers $300 extra (just the amount she needs, plus more), plus more importantly, money for pizza.

The movie is pretty well made, for looking like it was shot on a low-quality camera. It’s got the graininess, and the off-lighting. But, it works to establish the mood. And after only one brutal, piece of violence, it takes quite a while for the terror to build. At first, when Samantha is at the house, she’s just exploring, and dancing with her walkman on, and generally being the conventional horror movie babysitter. But, when the true horror begins, it’s pretty great. Noonan is fantastic as the off-putting and creepy man. He’s super tall, has a cane and seems occasionally about ready to burst into a fit of rage. The woman that plays his wife, Mary Woronov, who is also pretty tall, is very creepy.

But, it’s really the last 10-15 minutes that make this movie great. It goes into territory covered by the recent movie THE DESCENT (the UK, cave-spelunking movie, not the Rosario Dawson rape/revenge movie I’ve talked about before), and Rosemary’s Baby. And as good as the last part of the movie is, it’s the last few moments that really give you that gut punch.

HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, is another movie – like TRICK ‘R TREAT – that was actually made a while ago, and is only now being released. It’s available to watch on On Demand, and is seemingly getting a small roll-out in theaters. Check it out as well.


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