Kids: A Review of Upturned Stomachs and Cold Showers

Last night I went through my DVD collection and watched Another Day in Paradise, a movie starring Vincent Kartheiser and co-starring James Woods about four people who pretend to be a family of traveling tourists, while in reality, are professional crooks. Hands down, it is a fantastic film, and I recommend it to any one who is into the Indy film scene, or just loves a good criminal romper-stomper.

A great movie.

The movie was directed by Larry Clark — a filmmaker I’ve never heard of before, although on the cover, it stated he directed another movie that I did hear about a long time ago (but knew nothing about), called Kids. Curious about this, as well as other Larry Clark films, I wandered over to Wikipedia  — which to my dismay (and a good friend confirming it), told me that Clark’s other films are pretty messed up. Like, trying-to-push-the-envelope-to-make-us-think-but-instead-making-us-cringe-and-feel-very-uncomfortable messed up.

Kids is the first of many of these cold shower-inducing films.

A not-so-great movie.

In a simple, back-of-the-DVD-case sort of summary, Kids is a movie about New York teenagers in 1995, how their already pretty screwed up lives can get worse, and how things can change so easily, but at the same time stay exactly the same — all in the span of twenty-four hours.

Here’s the graphic summary.

Kids is about an irresponsible little goomba named Telly, who thinks he can escape the rampant fear of AIDS and STDs in general by strictly having sex with virgins. Meanwhile, two girls in Telly’s little circle of shit-heads head over to the nearest clinic to get the results of their HIV/AIDS test. One girl (played by Rosario Dawson), who’s had unprotected sex several times with several different guys comes back negative — while the other girl named Jennie (played by Chloe Sevigny), who’s only had sex with one guy — Telly — comes back positive.

The movie is centered around Telly and his friend Casper getting high with their friends, talking about sex, and wanting to unceremoniously deflower a thirteen year old girl named Darcy, while Jennie wanders around New York trying to find Telly and warn him of what he’s done to her and stop him before he unwittingly destroys the lives of anyone else.

12/f/ny asl?

Honestly, very few things disturb me.

I sat through The Passion of the Christ without looking away once. Not because I myself am a devout Catholic, but because I was too busy laughing at Mel Gibson trying to pathetically scare people into their faith and accept Christ as their savior with the use of shock value and emotional abuse/guilt (which actually worked — well — until The DaVinci Code came out, anyway) … Not to mention I thought The Exorcist should have been labeled as “Comedy” instead of “Horror”, and seriously believe Cannibal Holocaust is a brilliant and important film that should be shown in high schools.

…But anything that has to do with destroying youth and innocence (not to mention that I believe sexuality is sacred between two people — and only two people — and should never be exploited) … that stuff gets under my skin. Especially when the opening scene of a movie is a fifteen year old boy seducing a twelve year old girl for his own benefit, all because he’s too lazy/stupid/wigger to go buy condoms and get together with someone his age.

I watched Kids through its entirety. And yeah, there were a couple parts that bothered me. But I think the film would have had a worse blow to me if the kids portrayed in it didn’t walk around like they deserved having a cinder block randomly fall on their heads. And I realize that’s an awful thing to say, but … I really did have a hard time trying to feel sorry for most of these characters. I felt more for the victims of Telly and Casper’s chronic retardation than I did for them and their equally moronic druggie friends. But that was probably the point.

“Hey guys, does not having HIV mean I get an Oscar?”

Throughout the movie there are several scenes of prolific drug use by kids of all ages (there’s a party scene near the end where a group of black kids who look to be around eight or ten sit around sharing a joint while talking about their history of drug use).

I don’t like to spoil movies for people who are interested, but watching Kids is the equivalent of being repeatedly punched in the stomach with no breaks, and the ending left me wanting to smother myself with a pillow after the credits. But, in saying that, the film truly is an accurate depiction of unsupervised, uneducated, bored-out-of-their-minds teenagers of the mid-90s.

I understand what Larry Clark and the screenwriter, Harmony Korine, were trying to do. They were trying to give idiot parents (and I say “idiot” politely) an inside look into the lives of teenagers who were never introduced to the Easy Bake Oven and Super Nintendo, and were instead left with the TV as their baby-sitter. And yeah, while Kids does its job to educate (and scare), it also slips up and makes the average viewer feel like they need a cold shower and some hard liquor after. And while that may be a good thing, especially since the movie is filmed without much of a script and looks like a documentary, I honestly think it could have been done better, and much more effectively.

“Hey Telly, do you think maybe we’re the cause of our generation’s demise?”
“Who cares? Pass the mickey.”

I’m not saying the movie should be sterilized — I just think it should have gone through a couple more drafts, and I think Clark just could have done a better job. If the movie was trimmed to seem less raw, it would lose its message of a harsh and truthful reality. I think Kids, like Cannibal Holocaust, should be shown in high schools. How effective it would be, I’m not sure — but it would at least get brain-gears churning, I think.

On the very same coin, Kids should be shown to parents before they decide maybe it’s best if their kids “learn on their own” and completely (and irresponsibly) remove themselves from their lives. Maybe that would keep each coming generation from getting more and more stupid and self-centred. That’s just my own observation and opinion though.

Kids is an important film. It’s just not a good film. I realize I haven’t gone into too much detail as to why the movie is a train wreck, but I’m not entirely sure I’m able to put my finger on the exact technicalities of what’s wrong with the movie, other than its overall presentation. Regardless of the taboo nature and controversy, the movie does what it’s supposed to. And I kind of have to commend Clark for making a movie like this, even though I think he could have done a better job, because there’s the potential of two completely polar reactions: disturbing the audience because they’re genuinely affected by the message only to immediately subscribe to eighteen years’ worth of Good Parenting Magazine, or disturbing the audience because they’re disgusted by the subject matter and think Clark is a sick psycho for making borderline child pornography.

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The Exorcist: A Look into the Devil’s Keep

A while ago I read one of the most horrifying and controversial works of the literatary world. No, it isn’t Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand (but you were close if you guessed it!), but The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty.

The novel, though written in short, sharp sentences that string together to create some of the weirdest structured paragraphs I’ve ever seen in my life, is hands down one of the most immersing reads I’ve had in a while (first up being The Omen, by David Seltzer, and last being Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer — and yes, I am serious. Shut up).

However, there’s one aspect about the book that was rather baffling to me. The Exorcist is toted as a horror genre novel. Yeah, that makes sense, but … well, I found myself laughing more times than I was probably supposed to during my readthrough; the dialogue is just so cleverly penned. That, and never once during the novel was I frightened or remotely disturbed (and if you want disturbing, get the book from your public library and read page 215. I warned you).

So, upon constantly hearing that the film adaptation of The Exorcist is a heavy-handed blow to the horror genre, with claims by many that the film is “the scariest movie of all time”, I had to check it out.

A good three or four years ago I tried to watch The Exorcist when it was on TV one Halloween night. I flicked the TV on just as Chris McNeil was passing through the kitchen, and the face of Pazuzu, the demon, showed up against the stove’s range hood. I jumped. Pretty high. And went to flick the light on just as the Pazuzu’s statue face appeared on screen for a quick flash, sending me flying for the TV remote.

“Hi, a/s/l?”

I don’t do well with things that pop up without warning. I think “jump” scares in horror movies are cheap low blows to make up for dodgy writing and directing, and I think the internet “Screamers” you see on Ebaum’s World (wow I’m old) are about the same.

I had a copy of  “The Version You’ve Never Seen” edition of The Exorcist, which I picked up at the Hock Shop a while back, but was too afraid to watch it, based on the experience I had trying to watch it on TV. But I felt compelled to fight off my inner demons (no pun intended), grab my goat, and get some courage. It was a movie, afterall. A thirty year old movie, and — afterall — I loved the book. I owed it to myself to see the movie, right?

So, swallowing down my fear, I took the DVD out of its flimsy cardboard case, set it into the DVD player, and sat back to watch the inevitable horror that this movie was so notoriously known for.

The opening credits roll…

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN’S
THE EXORCIST

BASED ON THE NOVEL BY
WILLIAM PETER BLATTY

And then two hours later, the end credits roll.

I blink, turn off the DVD player, recline against the couch, and think to myself, “What the hell was I so worried about?”

The movie left the exact impression the book did. I was thoroughly entertained, but not at all frightened.

Now, I realize that horror movies don’t age very well unless you were around when they were first released, but something like The Exorcist, which to this day leaves a mark on people, even generations younger than me, should have at least left me just a little disturbed, right? I mean, I’m a devout, God-loving Christian. Shouldn’t I be scared out of my mind because according to my faith, I believe in stuff like this?

“Your mother waits tables at IHOP, Karras!!”

Whether I’m desensitized or not, it’s still obvious that movies of this nature have a very strong effect on people, and I think the reason The Exorcist is so frightening for many is because of the film makers’ use of toying with the audiences’ minds, and the fact that exorcisms and possession are actual documented events.

And I think for that,  I’m glad I have stuff like The Exorcist to keep me in tune with what at least used to scare the wits out of people without the needlessly heavy reliance on CGI that movies of the now thrive on so much (lol cg blood).

There have been a handful of exorcism-related movies over the past few years, including a couple really shoddy sequels to The Exorcist. For my generation, at least, I think The Exorcism of Emily Rose (starring Jennifer Carpenter, of “Dexter” fame) is a great companion piece to The Exorcist, especially in how to play off of people’s fears to create a genuinely haunting film  (despite the fact that the movie is a courtroom drama, for the most part).

“What do you mean my lines don’t deliver?”

Thinking about it, horror movies have more of an impact in the theatre in any case — it’s a proven fact: you’re trapped in a dark room, surrounded by strangers for the most part, forced to stare ahead at a screen of horror that takes up your entire point of vision, and there’s nothing you can do about it but stare ahead or cover your eyes — but that doesn’t stop the deafening terrors that scream in your ears.

I saw the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in theatre, and it scared the hell out of me. However, when I bought it on home video and watched it on a smaller screen with pathetic mono sound, the effect was lost on me; it wasn’t the same.

But … there have been movies that have absolutely kept me up at night when I’ve seen them on the small screen. People can debate from sun up to sun rise about the credibility of the paranormal and extra terrestrials, but the fact remains: the mere idea, regardless, scares people.

And that’s why I think Japanese horror movies, especially modern ones like Ju-On and Ringu, work so well. Not only do they pit the viewers against this world of paranormal activity (that could or could not be real), but amplifies it to the max due to the lack of CGI effects.

Not to make accusations of “Man, the modern age sucks compared to when I was a kid,” but when it comes to movies, I think the point is actually valid. Yes, we can do so many great things with CGI technology, but it’s to the point where film makers don’t even need sets anymore; they just plop the actors in front of a green screen, ala Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

I’m going off-track, but I need to say it: Nothing is better than the real deal. Tom Savini, mastermind behind such special effects feats such as Friday the 13th and Day of the Dead, once said the use of visual effects in films is a lot like a magic show: It’s all an elaborate  and organic illusion that leaves the audience both in awe and wanting more.

In any case, if you haven’t read The Exorcist, I highly recommend it — it’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read, both in terms of story and writing skill. Its sequel, Legion, is also very good (as well as the film adaption, The Exorcist 3).

E.E.’s Top Ten Horror Movies

Goth Christmas is just around the corner: the one holiday out of the year devoted to embracing and embellishing the very things we otherwise would gladly banish from our minds.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that the ‘70s and ‘80s were the prime of the horror genre, bringing us cult classics such as Day of the Dead (A personal favourite, in general),  The Monster Squad, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, Black Christmas (Although I’m more prone to watch this one during the more appropriate December season) – and of course the king pins: Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, I’ve found the horror genre hasn’t been the same since — something happened that changed how horror movies affected Western culture around the late ’90s – early ’00s: unnessecary remakes; a heavier reliance on jump scares over an intense, terrifying atmosphere; and the heaviest axe to the artery: the dreaded PG-13 rating. Though don’t get me wrong, there have been diamonds in the rough, such as Hatchet and The Devil’s Rejects, I can’t help but feel a little violated whenever I see a trailer for another Platinum Dunes release.

Smile for the camera, Hexen Dethshadow!

Anyway, I’m getting totally off-topic. I thought it would be a great and appropriate opportunity to peg off some of my favourite horror movies, in no particular order. Naturally, there are more than a fistful of fright-filled films out there, and admittedly, I’m not as well versed as other horror movie buffs, so don’t get all nasty on me when movies you hate or like do or don’t appear on this list – that’s the beauty of the internet – if you don’t agree with me, you can make a list of your own. WordPress is free.

It was incredibly difficult to choose just ten movies that I like the most and would willingly watch over and over annually, without the list being riddled with cliched entries. I tried my best to offer some fresh material from other lists of this nature, and all I can hope is that you enjoy.

Well, without further ado, this is my personal top 10 Halloween movies.

This one’s for the kiddies. While the title is actually pretty misleading, it’s still one of my favourite Halloween movies of all time.  The movie is based off a novel written by RL Stine, the king of children’s horror literature back in the ‘90s, with book series like “Goosebumps” and “Fear Street”.

When Good Ghouls Go Bad is about this kid named Danny, who moves to the sleepy town of Walker Falls, a municipality named after Danny’s namesake lineage. The town hasn’t celebrated Halloween in over twenty years, due to the Curse of Curtis Danko, a kid who was burned alive in the school’s kiln after an accident, and swore revenge over the town if the holiday was ever celebrated again.

Despite this, Danny’s negligent father is obsessed with reopening the family-owned chocolate factory and using Halloween as a means to promote the occasion. Unfortunately, Danny’s grandfather, simply known as “Uncle Fred” and played by Christopher Lloyd, is killed after he is crushed by a mountain of pumpkins.

But Uncle Fred’s undying love and appreciation for Halloween unleashes a magic that brings him back as a zombie, as well as giving unlife to the entire deceased population of Walker Falls – including the cursed Curtis Danko. Awesome.

While it’s really not scary by any means, it’s a great movie about the importance of family and being true to yourself, all wrapped up in the spirit of Halloween. It’s cheesy and funny, and just a blast to watch. Christopher Lloyd easily steals the show as undead Uncle Fred. Check it out.

All right, so I realize The Grudge remake and its  sequels aren’t really all that great. They jump from story to story too much, they’re incoherent, and overall just confusing – and that partly has to do with the crossing of a Japanese story and film crew working with an American businessmen who really don’t “get it”. Let me just say that while yes, the theatrical version of the remake was total garbage, the extended director’s cut is worth every penny. It’s chilling, it’s well done, and most important, the story makes sense.

But why bother talking about the watered down remake when you can talk about the far superior original? If you haven’t seen Ju-On it shares a near-identical plot as the American rendition – but conveyed a whole lot better: A mother and son are brutally murdered by the husband when he discovers his wife may be cheating on him — which raises the question if their son is his legitimately.

In Japan, there’s a legend that states if you are murdered by someone consumed by a blinding rage, you are doomed in the spiritual world to relive the horrific events over and over – affecting those who come into contact in the physical world. So basically – this house where the family died is a death trap for unwitting visitors.

It’s a very suspenseful and effective story-within-a-story, and what makes Ju-On so frightening are the special effects. Most modern J-Horror films still rely on organic effects with very little use of CGI. You know, the kind of practical work prevalently used in the ‘80s and ‘90s by such masters of the craft as Tom Savini. And what can I say? Ghosts scare the crap out of me — especially wide-eyed Asian ghosts.

;_;

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th, Part VI  is easily the best entry in the Friday series next to the original in my opinion, but unfortunately gets so overlooked, mashed in between the clashing horns of the abrasive hatred against Part V: A New Beginning, and the absolute adoration showered upon Part VII: The New Blood.

Jason Lives is the final entry in what many fans refer to as “The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy”, offering a fresh look into the Camp Blood experience that provides a dark sense of humour, an awesome ‘80s hair-metal soundtrack — primarily provided by the man himself, Alice Cooper — and even changing Camp Crystal Lake’s name to Camp Forest Green to give new air to the lore of Wessex County (Yes, I’m that much of a nerd that I know the township where Crystal Lake is located).

Tommy Jarvis, the protagonist from Part IV: The Final Chapter and Part V: A New Beginning, digs up Jason’s long-since rotting corpse and inadvertently brings him back to life when a bolt of lightning strikes in the middle of a rage-ensued beatdown. Now awake as a soldier of the undead as oppose to his nearly indestructable though mortal self in previous entries,, Jason lays waste to anyone in his way back to Camp Blood, now reopened and active for the first time in years.

Jason Lives is fantastic; While the writing is a bit hedgy by 2011 standards, the characters are great, the film’s twisted and dark sense of humour is perfectly executed, the deaths are just complete eye-candy, and I love that the movie is totally reflexive of not only the horror movie genre, but of pop culture in general. Also seeing Tommy Jarvis make a return to take responsibility for Jason instead revert to being an awkward and annoying introvert like in A New Beginning really makes this movie worth while.

It’s totally great to see Jason have a kind of rivalry with Tommy, much like Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis or Dracula and Van Helsing. It’s just  a shame the future writers of the franchise didn’t go any farther with the two characters afterward. I read once that Tommy likely went into hiding after the sixth movie, and it’s annoying that he hasn’t been referenced at all since in the main series, outside of a comicbook spin-off. I mean, come on, if Corey Feldman was willing to take up the mantle as Edgar Frog two more times since the original The Lost Boys, should it be so difficult to tickle his Tommy Jarvis bone again? He’s admitted to having great respect for the character, even though he played him just once.

Ahh, childhood: Is there any better outlet for nostalgic memories? Awesome cartoons, classic cereal mascots … AND POSSESSED DOLLS THAT FRIGGIN’ WANT TO MURDER YOUR ASS AND TAKE OVER YOUR BODY! Child’s Play is the purest representation of that one creepy-looking stuffed toy or doll everybody owned as kids that watched us at the foot of our beds as we slept.

Child’s Play tells the tale of Charles Lee Ray, or Chucky, the notorious “Lakeshore Strangler”. When Chucky is shot during a getaway heist, he uses voodoo magic to transfer his soul into a popular kids toy, a Good Guys doll. He comes to the realization that if his soul remains in the doll for a certain amount of time, the transfer will become permanent … unless he uses a child as a host sacrifice.

Child’s Play is an interesting story of revenge from the Charles Lee Ray character, and the whole “wild imagination” aspect a lot of adults see in kids, which occurs between the various grown-ups in the film, and the child character of Andy Barclay, played by Alex Vincent.

Admittedly, I’m not familiar with the sequels, and I’ve heard mixed things about them, but as the story goes, the original has always been said to be the best – and to be honest, with the ending of Child’s Play, the need for a sequel seems pretty unnessecary to me. Oh well, whatever.

What makes a mad man tick? Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer shares a similar theme to the more recent Mr. Brooks in that both are the perfect window into the warped mind of how a serial killer’s mind works. The movie is incredibly loosely based off of real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who made claim to alledgedly murdering over six hundred people between the years of 1975 and 1983.  Lucas was found guilty of only eleven murders, including twelve-year-old Frieda Powell: Lucas’s lover and niece to crime-partner Ottis Toole.

As with most film biographies, the plot is exaggerated and embellished, but the filmmakers behind Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer decided to focus more on Lucas’s reported violent fantasies of power, manipulation, and human annihilation, as opposed to the actual crimes he was found guilty of.

An effective, gripping, and most of all, disturbing movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is definitely one to check out. Even if you’re not into the horror scene, I’d reccomend checking this one out, even once, based on its biographical merits, despite being only loosely based on reality.

The Changeling  is a movie I kind of hold dear. It was recommended to me by my highschool English/Drama professor shortly before he succumbed to phenomia, and the fact that it’s a pure and geniune “Canadian” film, I often feel the need to go to bat for it, toting Black Christmas and Ginger Snaps right beside.

The Changeling is based on events experienced by the film’s screenwriter, Russell Hunter, while he lived at the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion in Denver, Colorado. Plotwise, the movie’s about a university music professor and composer, named Dr. John Russel, who loses his wife and daughter in a tragic car accident. To get away from the probing demons of the past, John moves into an abandoned mansion, which turns out to be haunted by the ghost of an invalid boy named Joseph, who just wants the truth of how and why he died to be known.

While the average horror buff may think the movie suffers from taking too long to establish the characters and relying too much on jump scares (a personal annoyance of mine), I can’t help but think that this is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. The relationship between John and the ghost character are a great contrast, as John wants to help the ghost, if only to finally have closure for the deaths of his wife and daughter, and the ghost simply wants to use John as a means of revenge.

The twist in the plot near the end is just so diabolical and priceless; you seriously want to see the ghost of Joseph get his just deserts. And if you thought kids threw nasty temper tantrums when they were alive, you ain’t seen nothing from the wrath of the afterlife.

Say what you will about the absolute redundant tripe that the Final Destination franchise has turned out to be, but you can’t argue that most people are afraid of dying – to the point that there are a lot of folks who literally live day-to-day, not thinking about what the future brings, because it scares them so much. What can I say? Death is a scary topic, especially when we don’t know what’s waiting for us in the afterlife. And I think the first Final Destination exploits the fear the best.

There’s no point in summarizing the film outside of what it is, because if you’ve seen 2, 3,  4, and/or 5, you already know what you’re in for — it’s literally the same basic plot over, and over again but with different characters and more graphic and elaborate deaths. But if you’ve lived under a rock these past few years well … a kid dreams people are going to die in some huge accident, warns everyone around him, his dream comes true, and all the survivors are picked off one-by-one by a fate worse than what they would have initially experienced as they struggle to figure out death’s “pattern” and escape it over and over. That’s all five movies in a nutshell. Really.

The first movie was interesting, because it delved into a theory no one had ever considered before: Death having a kill pattern. But if the survivors somehow skipped over their time to die somehow (like by being pushed out of the way of an oncoming train, for instance), they could figure out the loop and keep on living.

Though let’s be honest, how long did the screenwriters think the characters could pull this off for? I mean, who thinks of that idea, anyway? Death having an all-encompassing pattern that just looped until everyone was dead? As a kid, I always thought Death was just this guy with a clock, and when your time was up, that was it, no ifs, ands, or buts – you’re gonna die. Oh well.

In any case, the original movie is an instant classic in my regard. Ignore the rest. Like I stated, they’re stupid and redundant, especially since the first entry does it the best.

Okay — this is the only cliche entry on this list, I promise. I swear!! How many top ten horror movies lists has Halloween on there? Although really, how can you have a top ten horror movies list without Halloween slated somewhere? But why just pay tribute to the first one, when you can pay tribute to its direct sequel, as well? The first Halloween is absolutely classic, and I go out of my way to watch it every October. However, I really can’t say anything about this movie that hasn’t already been said. What more can you say about John Carpenter’s Halloween that hasn’t been addressed? It’s a complex story of family ties, Satanic power, and best of all, babysitter murders.

While most horror movies now rely on excessive profanity and gore, Halloween is a fine testament that less really is more. Despite all the death and chaos shocased in the film, I can’t recall a single drop of blood ever being spilt. John Carpenter truly made a statement by doing that: You don’t need to be over the top to make an effective cinematic experience. But not just cinema; I think that goes for everything.

Halloween II picks up literally just as Halloween ends  — which to me, kind of makes it an obligation to watch both movies in a single sitting – much like Kill Bill. Micheal Myers is back with a vengeance, slaughtering anyone while on his undying search for his sister, Laurie Strode.

The most notable parts of this movie belong to Donald Pleasance as Doctor Loomis, and Charles Cyphers as Sheriff Bracket during their chaotic search for Myers, and uncovering what kind of evil he truly is. My biggest gripe about this movie is that it just feels like The Shape is just killing people just for the sake of racking up a body count. People are killed off in such gory and stereotypical setups not unrecognizeable in Crystal Lake. Right at the start of the film, The Shape murders some teenager in a completely arbitrary act. There was no reason for her to be knifed; she wasn’t in Myer’s way, nor was she in anyway related to Laurie or the events in the previous film. It bugs me a lot, because the first film was so fresh and different from such horror movie ideologies. That being said, there really wasn’t anything to compare the original Halloween to except for Black Christmas, and it’s a shame that Carpenter’s classic tale that grandfathered an entire slasher film subgenre fell into particular tropes like “sex in a jaccuzzi” and “kill the teenager for the sake of killing teenagers”.

I also find that the pacing of the film drags a lot compared to the first entry, which  can make watching Halloween II all the way through just a bit of a chore. To be honest, I think I’ve only ever been able to to watch the whole thing through to the end credits a grand total of twice. However, while not as great and cinematically important as the original Halloween, it’s still worth a watch, even if for the sake of continuity.

Of all the more recent independent horror movies to actually bring “scary” back into the genre, I think writer-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez succeeded with The Blair Witch Project. If you thought Cloverfield had copious amounts of hype and viral marketing surrounding it, 1998 was absolutely bombarded – which would eventually make The Blair Witch Project itself one of the most known, as well as one of the most-spoofed horror movies to date.

Taking unconscious cues from controversial Itallian horror classic, Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project  made it seem like the film you were watching could have actually been lost footage found years after the presented events. To further drive the point, a false documentary on the Blair Witch and the missing film students, called The Curse of the Blair Witch (You can find it on YouTube, and is included on the DVD.), was aired before the film’s release. Because of the film’s impact on Western culture in an age when the Internet was just becoming making itself known for mass consumption, many people  found themselves asking the question, “Is this real? Did this actually happen?”

A lot of criticism that stems from The Blair Witch Project comes from the fact that not a lot actually happens during the film other than the crumbling sanity and rising mutiny between the three characters as they wander aimlessly through the woods, trying to find their way back to civilization.  But the main thing people complain about? The fact that you never see the Blair Witch. But unfortunately, the people who make those claims, while valid, are missing the point of the whole movie: which is that the power of the imagination is much more twisted and frightening than anything that can be shown to you on-screen.

Whether you’ve seen it or not, whether you’re young or you’re old, everyone’s been exposed to The Exorcist in some way, shape or form. William Friedkin’s adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel,  “The Exorcist”, is a universal phenomenon, tested by time, infamously toted as the scariest movie of all time.

But what few people come to realize was that there were actually sequels: Exorcist II: Heretic — which was critically panned and completely destroyed Linda Blair’s acting carreer outside of hosting Sci Fi Channel specials and parodies of the very film that made her famous — and the even more obscure The Exorcist III, directed by William Peter Blatty himself, adapted from his own novelized sequel of “The Exorcist”, titled “Legion”.

The Exorcist III takes place fifteen years after the original, and slates the bumbling, yet philosophical Detective Kinderman in the role of protagonist – this time starring George C. Scott, instead of a reprising Lee J. Cobb, who died years after the first film’s release. Detective Kinderman, who still hasn’t come to terms with the death of Fr. Karras from the first film, gets thrown into a case that involves Satanic murders and a long-deceased serial killer named The Gemini, a guy who possesses people and goes around decapitating everyone with a huge pair of scissors. It’s great.

It’s a really intense and frightening movie, and I wouldn’t feel right giving anything away, but George C. Scott as Kinderman and Brad Dourif as The Gemini Killer give fantastic performances – and there’s even a great cameo that is overall surprising and satisfying, while helping to tie up the plot. Even William Peter Blatty has been quoted that he’s quite proud of this film and honestly believes it far surpasses the first Exorcist in both quality and horror. I agree.

…Well, that’s it, and as I said before, there are just way too many great horror movies to just pick ten. And though I’m leaving out quite a few notables, like the Evil Dead trilogy and the Hellraiser movies, that doesn’t mean I like them any less. There’s a great horror resource site that I frequent at times, called The House of Horrors. It’s a fantastic site run by a truly dedicated fan of the horror genre. Check it out – and have a happy and safe Halloween, everyone.

The Kids Are All Right: The Modern Family

The Kids Are All Right (2010) is a drama/comedy directed by Lisa Cholodenko that comments on how contemporary Western society views the institution of same-sex marriage and child-rearing. Joni Allgood (Mia Wasikowska) is pressured by her half-brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) into helping him track down their sperm donor, Paul Hatfield (Mark Ruffalo), without the consent or knowledge of their married lesbian mothers, Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). When Nic and Jules discover that their children have gone behind their backs, they feel threatened that the inclusion of Paul may corrupt the balance of their family, especially when Joni confides that she would like to spend more time with him. The film comments on how marital circumstances have changed over the years, and as such, unconventional families (in this case, “the perfect lesbian family,” a quote from the film itself) sometimes feel challenged by a relatively traditional world to prove themselves, but the overall dynamic of family values (such as support, commitment, and honesty) still apply despite the change of gender roles/sexual orientation in contemporary marriage.

“Don’t mind Laser. He’s just jealous because I have a car and
he’s got daddy issues. And his name is stupid.”

A scene that reflects the idea of this comes early in the film when Jules and Nic decide to limit Paul’s involvement with the kids. Instead of flat out denying Joni’s desire to see Paul again, Nic and Jules invite Paul over for a family barbeque, with the intention of what Nic calls, “killing him with kindness”. In this scene, Lisa Cholodenko uses cinematography, proxemics, mise en scene, and light to illustrate what life for the Allgoods is like – but also to establish Nic and Jules’s secret ill feelings towards Paul, but still attempting to support Joni’s wish to see him again.

The scene is framed with contrasting medium-high-key light and medium shots, with Paul standing on the left side of the frame, and Nic and Jules standing close together, a few feet away, on the right side of the frame. This composition relates to social distance, which is typically “reserved for impersonal business and casual social gatherings” (Giannetti and Leach, “Understanding Movies”, p. 127), but Cholodenko uses these proxemic patterns to make Paul feel intimidated by the intimate space shared between Nic and Jules, suggesting “such behaviour might be interpreted as standoffish” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 127), which accurately reflects their disapproval and own intimidation of his presence.

“Who needs a man when you have a wine bottle?
…Wait.”

As the scene progresses, the get-together transitions to the backyard, around a picnic table where Paul and the Allgoods have a barbeque meal together. The use of high-key light and mise en scene is important in this transition, although Cholodenko uses them subtly by focusing on close-up angles of Paul and the Allgoods. Surrounding the group are various objects that suggest the ideals of a typical well-to-do family (such as an expensive barbeque, a well-maintained yard, etc) and therefore when there are quick glimpses of these objects, “the frame is likened to a window through which the audience may satisfy its impulse to pry into the intimate details of the characters’ lives” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 100). Coupled by Cholodenko’s focus on the group’s conversation about life and experience – as well as Joni’s rebelling at her moms’ embarrassing pride of her graduation speech – the scene is shot with a realist, documentary-like technique to “suggest the copiousness of life itself” (Giannetti and Leach, p. 2). The scene ends with a wide shot of the group eating and enjoying each others’ company, accompanied by a music sting. The use of high key light during the scene implies an overall sense of “security, virtue, truth, and joy” (Giannetti and Leach p.76) among the family. By using these techniques, Cholodenko creates a plausible world that exhibits the worries and triumphs of a working unconventional American family, and that the Allgoods are indeed able to survive as a family without the inclusion of a dominant male figure.

On a more personal note outside of this brief film analysis, I really enjoyed The Kids Are All Right. I’ve seen it far to many times in order to write this peice to want to subject myself to the film again any time soon, but I really do recommend it. I’m not going to spoil the movie for you, if you haven’t already seen it, but it’s genuinely well-written and really funny in a smart and sometimes dark way. The second act provides a huge twist (which I’m personally on the fence about), but that doesn’t stop The Kids Are All Right from being a quality film of 2010.

Hard Candy: A Digital Monologue

I love movies that provide a means to empower and inspire certain sects of audiences. They come to us, shining in the darkness, when the endless tidal wave of cinematic schlock rains upon us, trying to convince the mass society that “thinking” and “being challenged” are bad things; that we should only concern ourselves with disengaging mental-melts like Meet The Spartans, The Final Destination (Really? Really? the FINAL destination? What were the first three? Pit stops?), as well as any Eddie Murphy entry over the last five-to-seven years.

I like to think that everybody, I don’t care who you are, can stumble upon something in the entertainment industry and become latched to the thing — can bond with it oh so well — almost as if the creator produced that whatever-it-is (be it a movie, a book, a video game, a song, etc) with that one person specifically in mind.

For me, it was a movie called Hard Candy.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees that red hoodie as an
allusion to the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

I’ve been exposed to a great number of films over the past few days, but out of all of them, I felt the need to talk about this one, first. Hard Candy was released in 2005, starring a pre-Juno Ellen Page and a pre-Watchmen Patrick Wilson (with post-Double Happiness and during-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh).

I can summarize the plot of Hard Candy in about a single sentence: Hayley, a 14-year-old honour student gets lured over the Internet and into the arms of Jeff, a 32-year-old “photographer” — but when the two head back to Jeff’s place, the oh-so-familiar and traumatizing story of the owl hunting the mouse pulls a complete and unexpected 180:

The mouse hunts the owl.

I’m not sure if the screenwriter of this movie was himself affected by online predators, or if he knew someone pretty close who was — but as a victim of long-term chat room pedophilia myself (among other things … but let’s not get into that) — at the very age that Ellen Page portrays in Hard Candy … well, I’m not sure about you guys, but I don’t think it was an accident that during a weekly Double-Feature night, one of my close friends just so happened to bring the DVD on a whim, when internally I recently started coming to terms with things that happened in my past. Somebody “upstairs” was watching out, in my opinion.

“Happy birthday, Mister f*cking President.”

Anyway, I’d like to talk about the movie itself. It’s almost two hours, and a good 95% pure dialogue — another 75% taking place inside Jeff’s studio condo. And yeah, okay, you can say “95% dialogue” about most movies, but Hard Candy comes off differently. Before we started watching it, my other close friend said that the movie could have easily been pulled off as a stage play; and while at the time I didn’t understand what he meant, I sure do now.

There are only six characters in the entire film: Haley, Jeff, Sandra Oh’s character who appears briefly in two scenes (which is hilarious in my opinion, because she gets third billing on the DVD case), a girl from Jeff’s past (who you barely see at all), a cashier, and an uncredited extra who comes out of a diner bathroom.

Okay, technically, three characters, but the fact remains that it’s a very manageable cast of characters conveying an intense, brain-wringing plot through a scant two locations (three, if you include the roof and yard of Jeff’s condo). Hard Candy wasn’t written for the stage, but its just as basic and enveloping. Honestly, the first time I watched it, I was expecting the screen to go black and the words “INTERMISSION” to appear in big blocky white letters around the mid-point of the film.

Nite Owl: Mild-mannered child molester by day,
crime-fighting manic depressant by night.

The acting in Hard Candy is absolutely phenomenal. It’s no surprise that Page and Wilson have secured themselves in their acting careers now. It’s actually pretty scary how well Ellen Page comes across as a dependent, dopey fourteen-year-old in the first act of the movie, only to turn on one heel and show us how effing vengeful and bat-shit insane her character really is. It also doesn’t help that she actually looks like a kid — especially in this movie — but again in Juno. Patrick Wilson is set up to be this smooth-talking, persuasive sort of person, and my God, does he play it well. Even past the point when it’s very evident what he is and what his intentions are, it’s somewhat difficult at times to not be sympathetic towards his character.

I’m surprised Hard Candy isn’t a [well-known] title, and I have a feeling that has to do with it being [a low-budget] indy film, sadly. I’d heard the name of the movie mentioned a few years ago, but had no idea what it was until last Sunday evening when I saw it for the first time — and the same for my dad when I showed it to him a few days later. And what strikes me odd about this movie is that it’s filed under the Horror genre. If you ask me, it’s anything but a horror movie — in fact, it should be listed high up there with those other inspirational films like Forrest Gump and Pursuit of Happyness.

I mean, technically, I guess — Hard Candy could be a horror movie — if you’re a pedophile, that is.

As terribly awkward and painful that position must be,
Ellen Page sure looks like she’s sleeping well enough.

For me, Hard Candy is basically To Catch a Predator tripped up a notch by a healthy dose of steroids and acid. I honestly can’t recommend this movie enough. Go watch it. The message of this film is a brilliant one not only to child predators, but to any idiot who thinks they have the right to step over illegal/unmoral boundaries: Don’t chew the hard candy, because you just might break off a tooth.