Suspiria (1977)

suspiria

Suspiria: A

After watching Neon Demon (which I loved) the other day, I had a craving to re-watch Suspiria and it was better than I remembered.

I’m not saying anything revolutionary by praising this movie; its look and sound are cited as inspiration for a ton of American horror “originals” (like Halloween) and this movie is probably what comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of “cult” horror that isn’t piece-of-shit grindhouse exploitation. It has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and I would bet my soul that there are film classes with this on the syllabus. I am not the only person who likes this movie for the reasons I do.

The movie is “about” an American named Suzy who enrolls at a prestigious ballet academy in Germany. The director is a witch and the academy is just a front to presumably stock a stable of virgin girls to be sacrificed for Satanic rituals; all the instructors are in on it. In between recitals, the faculty drinks blood and chants and stuff. There are some murders and lightning. That’s pretty much it. The aforementioned plot points happen over and over to the sound of deafening prog-rock while a rotation of primary colors is projected on everything.

The movie is good, but doesn’t have a lot of the things that make a movie “good.”

Like Neon Demon, this movie is more about maintaining a look/feel than about maintaining a plot. There is a saturation of color in this movie that puts Wes Anderson to shame; this is all in the name of atmosphere, not story. The result is a maximizing of emotion/dread while the story, which doesn’t matter at all, hangs in the background. The story doesn’t even make fucking sense. Most of the important exposition comes from a psychologist who wrote a book on the psychology behind being a supernatural entity. Suz tracks him down at a psychology convention, as if this guy who writes about the psychological make-up of witches and demons would be a respected authority somehow! He explains the psychology of witches to Suzy (and the audience) along with everything else that happens in this movie including a detailed history of the until-now hidden/unknown villain, a witch named Helena Markos.

The soundtrack is unique and overpowering. It will remind you of John Carpenter. There are loud synths and scary noises. It absolutely drowns out everything else that’s happening.

I love the characters in this movie. We have The Neo-Nazi Instructor, The Romanian with False Teeth, The Headmistress Who is a Bitch about Everything, The Poor Blind Guy who is Obviously Gonna Die, and many others. However, the acting is pretty awful.Everyone working on the film all spoke different languages, so there are a bunch of scenes where actors literally don’t know what any of their fellow actors are saying, so they just deliver their lines bluntly while trying to look assertive. But they all look great! This is a fitting metaphor for the film.

You gotta see it.

Friday the 13th (1980)

1980-friday-the-13th

Friday the 13th: B

You already know what this one is all about: Some teens (including young Kevin Bacon) who like to bang each other get together in the woods to spruce up Camp Crystal Lake and they are systematically slaughtered while they try to bang each other. This is (arguably) the father of modern teen cut-em-ups and it’s full of too short cut-off jeans, games of strip-Monopoly, and first-person POV stalking. When people think of corny slashers, the images that come to mind are straight out of this movie, no doubt.

Just because it is one of the originals doesn’t mean it is perfect. I see people going easy on this movie all the time and this has resulted in an inflated collective memory we all have of this not-too-special movie. It’s understandable that this happened; this is a movie that sort of sucks objectively, but has been emulated for 30 years. It is a bad movie that people have used to direct and create good movies. If you don’t consider the “implications” of this movie, you aren’t left with much to praise. It is pretty fun, but not that good. When is the last time you actually watched it?

Mrs. Pam Voorhees is the killer in this one and she is creepy for sure. She’s wearing an adorable sweater that there is a 100% chance your grandma owns as she butchers the shit out of these kids. She isn’t revealed until the end; there’s some misdirection here so you think that, because of all the brutal first-person and the campfire stories, Jason is killing everyone. Nope. It’s Jason’s mom, who is punishing these teens who like to bang each other because some other teens who liked to bang each other were supposed to be watching her son who drowned. She has this split personality tick that makes her talk like her son. “Kill her mommy! Kill her!” It is disturbing.

The murders look alright. Savini was on effects but, again, nothing to stop the presses over. There’s a lot of stabbing here. Stomach stabbing, neck stabbing, chest stabbing. Pam stabs Kevin Bacon with an arrow. It looks slightly better than what other slasher movies were doing around that time, but for the most part, it hasn’t aged well. There is a scene where one of the teens is crucified and impaled with arrows. It looks above average.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the movie where the teens find a snake under a bed and they hack it with a machete (killing the snake IRL, fucking assholes). I took a film class in which the instructor insisted this was an important scene and he offered a cornucopia of take-aways: Maybe this is a clever scene that exists to introduce the violent atmosphere of the film. Maybe this is foreshadowing of Mrs. Voorhees’s death by machete. Maybe this scene is supposed to show that these teens are the type to take action and they will fight back. Or (here’s what I think) maybe it’s supposed to be a cheap jump-scare. I don’t really know. It’s not my job to interpret everything for you. But let me know what to make of that snake scene (fucking assholes).

The acting is terrible, not that anyone could possibly care. The teens who like to bang each other are all pretty and look like they belong in a Levis jeans commercial, but their acting would be at home in any grindhouse midnight-movie garbage. They only exist to look physically perfect while banging/dying.

Alice, the “final girl” chops off Mrs. Voorhees’s head with a machete. Jason famously wields a machete for the rest of the franchise. That’s poetic justice I guess. The movie wraps up with Alice waking up in a canoe and one of the most famous jump-scares of all time.

It is sacrilegious in some horror circles to criticize the “13th” franchise at all, so I’m sure someone is crying right now because I didn’t give this movie an A++. Boo-hoo. I also cannot get past the fact that this movie came out shortly after Halloween (which is a good horror movie and a good movie-movie) and the director admits he just wanted to ride the wave of that movie’s success.

I don’t know. I’m a philistine I guess.

Horsemen (2008)

horsemen

Don’t.

Horsemen: D

Back when I worked at the video store, we would always get these awful straight-to-DVD movies that were trying to shamelessly capitalize on whatever the hot new releases were. When Transformers came out, we got Transmorphers. When Alien vs. Predator came out, we got Monster vs. Hunter. There was a never ending trickle of these knock-offs and all of them were the most horrible of horribles. I guess you can always count on people to be desperate or careless or both, because these movies would fly off the fucking shelves. What a business model!

Well, if Alan Quartermain and The Temple of Skulls is a poor man’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, then Horsemen is a poor man’s Se7en.

In Horsemen, the writers played “Anti-Hero Cop Bingo” and created Detective Dennis Quaid, a poor man’s Brad Pitt, who enjoys ignoring his family in favor of work, drinking, not shaving, and hitting his punching bag a little too much because he takes his job a little too personally.

The whole movie is about Detective Dennis Quaid examining meticulously staged murder scenes that all seem to have cryptic links to Bible passages. But not passages about the Seven Deadly Sins; that was Se7en, dummy! The passages in Horsemen are about the Four Horsemen! He doesn’t find his wife’s head in a boooooooooox or anything, but his family does get a little mixed up in this crazy kinda-plagiarized bullshit!   

Instead of one bald wack-o with a room full of composition books, the villains in this movie are a cult of death-worshipers. One of them gets captured and you have to watch multiple scenes with her and Detective Dennis Quaid in the police interrogation room where he utilizes an arsenal of psychological interrogation techniques like asking obvious direct questions, losing his temper, and getting bullied by the suspect. If you give a shit about intricacies of the story, watch these scenes because the interrogation room is really the exposition room.    

The dead bodies are the best actors. Some of them are dissected and impaled and hanging off of sex-swing/meathook contraptions and they are all more believable than any of the dialogue/scenarios that involve living people in this film. I will give the movie props for using some practical effects and creativity in their presentation of human charcuterie. Detective Dennis Quiad’s looks of disgust during these scenes are especially relatable, because that’s how my face looked for most of the movie.  

That’s where the props end. Overall, this movie is a bog of unoriginality that is a natural byproduct of the hype surrounding those Biblical conspiracy movies like The Da Vinci Code.

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

a-christmas-horror-story

World of Warcraft: North Pole  

A Christmas Horror Story: C+

This one is an anthology movie that does a pretty good job of giving you what you want when you sit down to watch a Christmas-themed splatter-fest that had no chance in Hell of making it to theaters.

It’s no Creepshow, but CHS has four tales that are interesting enough. Let’s break them down with some micro-reviews:

  1. Story #1: A-. Santa’s elves become evil zombie elves, so he has to kill them all. This is completely self-aware splatstick that is basically an Evil Dead Christmas special. There is no shortage (get it? Elves are short) of puns in this one. There is a fun “twist” at the end of this story.
  2. Story #2: F. Some melding teens break into a haunted basement and have a good ol’ time getting slaughtered/seduced by a poltergeist who wants to get pregnant with the Anti-Christ. There are some cheap jump-scares and a cast of milquetoast teens doing things that teens do in horror movies. This one is beyond played out.
  3. Story #3: B-. A family chops down a Christmas tree and they bring it home. Instead of bringing their son home, they accidentally bring home a “changling,” who causes mischief like the kind from the Child’s Play movies. You know, sneaking around like a little asshole. A mostly comical game of cat-and-mouse ensues with the changling and the dad and I lost my shit when I first saw the makeup job they did on the changling. It looks like Mac and Me.
  4. Story #4: C. Krampus shows up and he is a fucking yoked World of Warcraft looking thing who wields a chain. Crazy Old Aunt Edda had this sick Krampus statue that looks like a piece from Todd McFarlane’s toy line, but her little shit grandson takes a break from guzzling energy drinks in his skinny jeans to smash it. Then Krampus, the albino orc from The Hobbit but with goat horns, murders the whole family.

Shatner shows up as the proverbial Cryptkeeper, a DJ spinning Christmas jams while he improvs awful jokes and ties the stories together. I wonder how much it costs these days to get Shatner to sit in a chair and babble complete nonsense for like 20 minutes.

The movie is alright, but one thing that bugged me a little was the lack of a unified tone. There were three directors working on this and the stories in the anthology each feel like they belong in different movies.

If you are in the mood to ask “Are you fucking kidding me?!” out loud multiple times while watching an anthology flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously, check this one out.

REVIEW: Clown (2014)

Haunted clown suits: How the fuck do they work?

Haunted clown suits: How the fuck do they work?

Clown: C+

There isn’t really anything fresh about this movie. Everything in it has been done a billion times, but it was compelling and silly enough to keep me interested. As far as clown movies go, it is funnier than Patch Adams but less funny than It. All three movies have dead kids though. So there’s that.

A guy finds a haunted clown suit, which he dons in order to amuse a battalion of annoying brats at his son’s birthday party. BAM: He’s cursed.

As explained by the Wise Elder character, Peter Stormare (the guy who feeds Steve Buscemi into a wood chipper in Fargo), clowns were originally not balloon sculpting ding-dongs, but cave dwelling Nordic demons who would feast on children. The costume is haunted and infested with demonic energy. Stormare even has a leather bound ancient text complete with Guillermo del Toroesque clown monster sketches, so you know he’s legit.

Dude can’t get out of the clown suit; it’s bonded to him like the Venom symbiote or the Goosebumps haunted mask and it is slowly transforming him into the Icelandic variety of Bronze Age kid-munching clowns. The only way to get him out of the suit/stop the clown-demon is to chop his head off or let him eat five children. Once he gets started munching on kids, you’d think they would just let him finish, but the other characters are committed to decapitation despite the pileup of child corpses.

To the guy’s credit, he tries to decapitate himself, but he quits trying once he realizes how fun it is to eat kids. Once the dust from the exposition settles, the rest of the movie is pretty typical possession/demon/slasher stuff that borrows from other popular killer clown stories: He has the fangs of It, but none of the one liners; he has the charisma of Gacy, but none of the sodomy; he looks just like a juggalo, but doesn’t dump Faygo all over himself or rap about titties.

The origin story of the actual movie is more interesting than the clown mythology in the film itself. A couple of guys made a fake trailer for this movie with no (clear) intention of ever filming the thing. In their mock trailer, they start with “From Master of Horror, Eli Roth…” which I guess flattered/interested Roth enough to track these guys down and invite himself on board as the producer. No one probably thought of this movie as “theirs”; the trailer-makers probably thought their inside joke got scooped up as Roth’s new pet and Roth probably thought his semi-pandering to internet horror nerds and attachment of his name would be enough of a contribution. What emerges is a pretty “meh” horror movie with some cool cinematography and make-up that follows a played out formula.

REVIEW: Under the Skin (2013)

"Come with me if you want to not live."

“Come with me if you want to not live.”

Under the Skin: B-

Yes, this is the movie where Scarlett Johansson gets naked. Yes, it is also a pretty good movie that you should watch for reasons other than just the nude scenes. Again, yes, this is the movie where Scarlett Johansson gets naked.

What an extreme “don’t talk to strangers” cautionary tale. Johansson plays a seductive alien who drives around looking for dudes to lure back to her lair where she leads them into a vat of black goo that dissolves everything except their skin. You never see her do anything with their skin, but you know at some point she is going to wear it, or one of her alien homies is going to wear it. Underneath all that Johansson, is a really grotesque alien.

At first glance, the movie is really repetitive; the driving/seducing/goo takes up a good half of the film and the scenes are all really similar: Johansson drives up to whomever looks the loneliest, charms them into her van (and then to her lair), and then the next thing you know, the poor guy has a raging boner and is following naked Johansson (did I mention there are nude scenes?) until he realizes he’s in black goo, sinking like rock in quicksand. His face melts into disappointment; this was NOT covered in sex-ed!

What’s fun about this repetition is the tension. After you see one guy swallowed by the black goo, the rest of her seductions are rife with fucking evil dramatic irony. We know that if she gets a dude in the van, it’s black goo time, but all he can think about is naked Johansson, even though there is something sort of… off about her. All you can think about naked Johansson too, but you know there is also black goo. The music during the black goo parts is eerie and there are some uncomfortable first-person shots. I liked it.

What’s extra fucked up is the fact that a lot of the footage of her failing to convince a guy to hop in the van is actually footage of her asking real pedestrians, in real life, to hop in her van for a ride. A lot of guys turned Johansson down for a weird van ride and their nervous refusals are included in the film. So when you see her hungrily asking a dude to get in her van to hang out, and the guy says, “no Scarlett Johansson, I do not want to hang out with you,” it’s real! Fucking idiots.

Like I said, the drawn out and suspenseful seductions take up a lot of time, but the formula changes when the alien starts to have what appears to be an existential crisis. “Why am I getting naked and luring lonely guys into black goo?!” It doesn’t end well.

The majority of the director’s credits include music videos, which winds up being a good thing. The movie looks fucking awesome (Even scenes that don’t involve naked Johansson. There, I said it.). The shots are all carefully framed, there are those gnarly first-person sequences, and Johansson fluctuates between flawless and grotesque, angelic and demonic through isolating tracking shots and unflattering close-ups.

See it.

REVIEW: 976-EVIL 2 (1991)

“Here is an ancient text that discusses 976-EVIL.”

976-EVIL 2: D-

976-EVIL 2: Spike, the wise-cracking, barely shaved motorcyclist is back, battling a haunted jerk-off hotline for another 90 minutes. This time, instead of Spike’s cousin getting mixed up with the demonic forces of erotic landlines, it’s a dickhead teacher (played by a guy who looks like he’s a dickhead in real life) who dials 976-EVIL and projects himself onto the astral plane so he can murder people.

Professor Dickhead has a thing for killing blonde co-eds, which he demonstrates in the opening scene where he impales one with a fake stalactite backstage at the school theater. “Welcome to my Hell!” exclaims Professor Dickhead, and then there is an eruption of red corn syrup and an abrupt cut to Spike riding his motorcycle.

Spike has presumably been on a nomadic bender since the end of the first 976-EVIL movie, where ostensibly harmless occult phone sex led to him throwing his cousin through a portal to Hell. Now wherever Spike goes, phones ring ceaselessly, which makes him glare like a badass. At a crusty bar in a small town, he finally picks up the phone, right after befriending… a blonde co-ed…

Spike, the blonde co-ed, and Professor Dickhead are quickly entangled in a deadly triangle of evil jerk-off astral plane warfare.

From here, the movie showcases an array of unoriginal ideas. Just like the last movie, using 976-powers eats away at your physical form, so Professor Dickhead gradually starts to resemble an “after” picture of a decade long meth addiction. The Professor is very Freddy Kruger-ish (a nod to Englund, who directed the first 976-EVIL movie, or just unoriginality?); he likes to make jokes, laugh, and teleport around while he kills people.  From there, the similarities start to resemble borderline plagiarism; nothing that is straight-up theft, but the lack of ideas is clear: there is a scene where a room gets possessed, just like in Evil Dead 2 (talking animal head and all); a scene where someone is zapped into a black & white TV show, just like in Pleasantville; the owner of the Satanic bookstore is a clone of Elvira with bleached hair. I suppose in the first place, you shouldn’t sit down to watch 976-EVIL 2 with very high expectations, but there was literally nothing new to see here.

After some research at the Satanic bookstore, Spike winds up killing himself (they actually blow up a truck for this scene; how they got the budget to do so, I couldn’t tell you) so he can become Ghost Spike and save the co-ed from Professor Dickhead. He (very anti-climactically) succeeds and then explodes into a multi-colored constellation of floating dots which dissipate into the heavens, much to the glee of the unscathed blonde co-ed. Lucifer’s phone sex avatar has been defeated and the main character looks like a fucking Dark Side of the Moon laser light show. I guess that’s a happy ending?

Oh and then the co-ed is arrested for all of Professor Dickhead’s murders because, no blonde co-ed, we don’t believe that some jerk-off phone sex ghost killed everyone until some guy you just met became an anti-jerk-off phone sex ghost and stopped him.

REVIEW: Christmas Evil (1980)

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except Santa in his jack-off dungeon.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except Santa in his jack-off dungeon.

Christmas Evil: B+

Christmas Evil has everything I look for in a good cult classic. It takes itself somewhat seriously, has abysmal acting from people trying as hard as they can to act, and has clichés before they were clichés. This was like a Taxi Driver Christmas Special. And before you get on your Silent Night, Deadly Night high horse, please note that Christmas Evil came out four years before SNDN…

Harry experiences some Christmas-related trauma as a young boy (he sees his father dressed as Santa, going down on his mom RIGHT NEXT TO THE CHRISTMAS TREE) and then grows up with a weird Christmas complex. He learns Santa isn’t a guy who comes down the chimney with a sack of toys, he’s a guy who smells like Pall Malls and does naughty things to your mom just 18 inches away from your stocking.

Harry grows up and gets a job at a toy factory and in his spare time, he spies on little girls and boys, keeping a genuinely creepy naughty/nice list. He also hums Christmas carols non-stop, builds his own custom dolls/action figures, and shuts out the outside world completely, effectively turning his home into his own demented South Pole.

The people at the toy factory start taking advantage of him even though it’s Christmas time. It’s very Dickensian. After an escalating series of minor abuses from coworkers and family members, Henry does the only thing that makes sense: He dresses like Santa and goes on a killing spree. “Naughty” people get attacked with a hatchet, “Nice” people get toys that Henry made after hours at the toy factory and in his South Pole jack-off dungeon.

There are some demented scenes of people getting slashed during midnight mass and another scene where Henry kills a guy in his bed on Christmas morning and then leaves behind toys for the guy’s kids. There are also some hilarious scenes of Harry hiding in bushes and driving around in a sex offender-y van, dressed like Santa, talking to himself.

At one point, some townsfolk form a mob, gather torches and weapons, and run around looking for Harry like some 18th century Carpathian villagers.

Henry is a likeable slasher who has a Travis Bicklian moral code he tries to stick to, but he is eventually undone by his own need to be a real-life Santa. I’ll leave it at that. This is a good slasher and I recommend you check it out.