Saturday, 20 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: The Mist

I'm happy to see The Mist (2007) taking the 20th spot on our 31 Days of Modern Horror Halloween special feature. Why? Because I don't get to say this often...

The movie was better than the book.

Damn, I got a perverse pleasure from that. Was it good for you? 😉

Okay, let's be fair. The Mist was a novella, not a novel, and it was good. When I heard that it was being made into a movie, I was excited to see what they would do with it. I had no idea they'd do this with it, though! They took a good story and made it into a phenomenal movie.

"I love the slow build up. You're getting hints all the time. You see the army trucks passing. You hear the cop cars whiz past. It's there. Like in so many horror movies, you might be able to get ahead of it - if you weren't too wrapped up in your own life. 

"And that's why humans are the victims. Because we all are so wrapped up in our own lives that you could open an alternate dimension on top of us and we'd never notice. 

"For the record, I don't believe in alternative dimensions. Aliens, yes. Alternative dimensions? No."

The Mist is creepy, atmospheric, and disturbing. It's a movie designed to elicit strong emotions from you - and succeeds a hundred times over. I can't watch this one without feeling the effects of my blood pressure rising.

Well done, Darabont.

We all know Frank Darabont, of course, from The Walking Dead. (When The Walking Dead wasn't a steaming pile of... well, that's not important now.) If you had any doubts about whether there was any connection between the two, just look at the cast list.

"Darabont, like so many others, is one of those directors who likes sticking with the same actors.

"You also have to applaud the cinematography. It's starkly beautiful. The density of the mist was perfect, the way people can just disappear into it...

"And you know I love to talk about the music. The Mist's score is haunting. It's this weird kind of... not a dirge but a requiem. It's like church music. Like a choir. "

The movie is well-cast and well-acted. Thomas Jane's David Drayton is the frustrated and reluctant hero, paired against the bitter cynicism of Andre Braugher's Brent Norton and the freaking psychotic religious fervour of Marcia Gay Harden's Mrs. Carmody. Of all the characters, though, it was Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones) that stole the show.

Ollie is the one you don't expect. When he explains that he's handy with a gun, everyone is shocked because, well, look at him. He's not supposed to be the heroic type. Know who comes through, thought, when shit gets out of hand? You got it, Ollie. Plus, he's got the best snark in the whole movie.

I cannot stand Mrs. Carmody. I... I just can't. Pretty much every time that woman opens her mouth, "For fuck's sake!" comes out of mine. That nonsense is just beyond and absurd. It has no place in today's enlightened society yet....

"You have to give Marcia Gay Harden credit for that. It takes an amazing actor to make you hate them that much."

The speed the occupants of the store raise Mrs. Carmody up onto the pedestal she loves so much is frightening. She insists she's just a conduit of the Lord but, really, isn't not that big of a step between "I am your vessel" to "I am God." That's why preachers are scary fuckers. There's a reason so many horror movies feature false prophets and zealots. Humankind has been using the line between God and in-the-image-of-God since we made him up. I think horror movies use this as a theme because so many people are afraid there isn't anyone out there looking out for them. That they're alone.

And, really, that's one of the biggest fears that The Mist plays on.

Darabont is a master of manipulating fear. The Mist is all about fears piling upon fears. It's too much fear. Eventually, that fear piles up so big you just can't bring yourself to clamber over it any more. That's the spiritual place David Drayton finds himself when he points the pistol at his son.

Jay loves the ending to The Mist. It frustrates me because I can't accept that I would ever make that decision. I know, I know. Easy to say, right? I don't have kids. Blah blah blah. Well, my whole freaking life has been a lesson in overcoming terror so, yeah, I say keep fucking fighting until those things rip you limb from limb, dammit.

(Also, if you live with Depression, that's your free therapy session for the day.)

"Shock. Absolute shock and awe. You don't get many films that end on a real downer and I love the fact that's what they did here."

There are a couple of other things happening that we should look at. The most important thing happening at the end of The Mist is the moment you see Melissa McBride's character go by on the back of a military truck with her kids. (As far as I know Melissa McBride's character doesn't have a name but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.) That single moment changes the whole ending for me.

When things start to go wrong at the store, Melissa McBride's character asks someone - anyone - to walk her home to her children and no one steps up. Not a single freaking person. Jay and I have spent a lot of time talking about that and we both agree that we like to think we'd be the people to go with her but... who knows, right? Anyway...

You see Melissa McBride again at the end and you know she's okay. She made it. She faced the unknown by herself and she pulled through. Her kids made it too, which is more than you can say about David Drayton. As a feminist, I have to say yes. A woman went out there and did by herself what the whole rest of those cowards couldn't do together. Fuck. Yes. Woman-freaking-power. More than that, the power of a determined mother, which can move the freaking stars.

"I bet the whole reason she survived was because she was forced to go alone. Everyone else was gabbing the whole time and they all ended up dead. There's danger in numbers, too."

There's also a kind of old school, almost Victorian lesson hidden here. Well, maybe not that hidden. What's the lesson? If you don't help out a person in distress when they ask for your help, you got bad shit coming your way, that's what. Even Dickens would be proud. That, really, is what I take from the ending. It's not for the horror (and you're free to argue with me here), it's a punishment. It's deserved. That just makes the whole thing so much more delicious.

(Yeah, I know I'm a little twisted. What can I say...)

"The Mist is sci-fi, really, but with a lot of horror. It's gory and jumpy. It's a good, suspenseful sci-fi/horror. It's the unknown. You're not blind but you can't see, and that's terrifying. That fear is primal."

I said before that The Mist makes viewers confront several basic human fears. Let's run through a few of them: storms, the unknown, the other, the dark, bugs, spiders, and tentacles. (I'm still working on that one but I'm sure it has something to do with Lovecraft.) We've been talking about a lot of these all month so it shouldn't be any surprise to see them come up again.

"You're afraid of the dark, so it's set mostly at night. You're afraid of the unknown, so they make it thick fog. You're afraid of spiders, so there are spiders. It's everything we're afraid of."

There are also some moments where powerful symbolism is used in The Mist. One is the bloody hand print on the glass window at the store. The other is so subtle, you almost miss it. Trees have always been a symbol of life so when you start a movie with a tree falling, dead, causing destruction in its wake, you get the idea that some pretty not good things are going to be happening. And, of course, they do.

(Also, for those of you not paying attention, go back and watch that opening sequence again. There are a couple of good Easter eggs hidden in David's studio.)

Every movie is a product of the time it was made. Just listen to the old woman read out a laundry list of mistreatments teachers have to endure. That's a snapshot of American society. But, some movies become relevant all over again. When you watch The Mist now, can you do so without hearing Trump's voice coming from Mrs. Carmody's mouth? She uses the same hysteria to claim power that he has, proof that some things never really change.

"It really shows you the mob mentality, doesn't it? Basically, it's Donald Trump. That's it, just a crazy lady in a busted out store, trying to make herself more important than she is through fear...

"Speaking of bringing The Mist up-to-date, by the way, you didn't watch the TV show, did you? I liked the series. It was a bit strange and it veered away from the film but kept it very close at the same time. There were things in the mist and you had your factions. I understand why it got cancelled but it really should have gotten a second season."

Well, I think we're going to have to leave it there for today because there are pumpkins piling up around the place, waiting to be carved, but do come back tomorrow and see what we've picked for your 21st treat of the month.

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.

Friday, 19 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: Resident Evil

Movies based on video games don't get a whole lot of love, which I think is a damned shame because there are so many terrific ones. When you talk about movies adapted from video games, a lot of people's minds go straight to the likes of Double Dragon (1994) and Super Mario Bros. (1993) - which, by the way, I loved so who knows if you can trust my judgement, right? Most people don't immediately think of Resident Evil (2002) because they forget that's how it started, as a video game.

As a series of kick-ass video games, actually. 

Oh, yeah... Welcome back to Wondra's World. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the next movie on our 31 Days of Modern Horror list. Right. Back to the good stuff...

Resident Evil is an awesome movie if you haven't played the game. If you have, it becomes even better. I really can't recommend enough that you familiarize yourself with the game (especially the second one) before watching the movie because you'll appreciate all the little touches so much more. Touches like the dogs in cages - dogs you know, if you played the game, will be coming back to bite us later.

(Also watch for: statues, codes, birds, and the train.)

"When it starts, you don't know what's going on. You see it, but it doesn't mean anything. It only pieces itself together later. The film is clever, actually, with the way they present the information. Most of it is presented as if it were a cut sequence for the game. That's what Resident Evil feels like, an extension of the games. 

"You don't need to have played the game to enjoy the movie, mind. It stands alone. 

"Resident Evil 2 was my favourite of the games. It was the jumpiest game of its day. You were nervous playing it because you never knew what was going to happen. You could walk past a window a dozen times and nothing would happen but the thirteen, hands would have you. The movie does a good job of recreating that."

The beginning of Resident Evil is so sterile it doesn't feel like a horror movie. It's just this super high-tech lab full of people going about their normal, everyday lives. That adds an extra layer of horror to the movie, without really trying to. Because they become zombies, the film's baddies, we forget that every single person in the Hive was a victim of the Red Queen's machinations. (Well, the Red Queen and James Purefoy's Spence sheer douchebaggery, of course.) 

Isn't that why we find ourselves so easily falling prey to the threat of terrorism? (And, yes, I am saying that deliberately fuelling the fear of terrorism is as bad, if not worse, than actual terrorism. Come at me.) I mean that terrorists (and the people who create them) are successful because we're all secretly scared of being murdered out of nowhere, for seemingly no reason. Resident Evil doesn't dwell on that fear but it's there all through the intro. Then, to make matters worse, those victims become the baddies. Just look at Eric Mabius's Matt, who becomes the sequel's Nemesis. 

Yes, victims of terrorists can become terrorists themselves. You could, if you chose to, develop a convincing social commentary around that theme in this movie - but we're not going to. We're going to get back to the fun stuff. 

You know, zombies and shit. 

Aside from the whole video game thing, it's also important to remember that CGI was still really finding its feel in 2002, when Resident Evil was made. If you hold the CGI in this movie up to today's standards, you might find it a little lacking, especially when it comes to one of my favourite baddies, the Licker. While the effects might be just a little on this side of dodgy, you can tell that a lot of money went into making this one. It's slick, clean, and well-lit. 

The zombies in Resident Evil are old school. They're slow and shuffling, which doesn't necessarily make them any less terrifying. Most of the movie's best deaths don't come from the zombies, though. My favourite deaths all occur in the mirrored, laser-filled corridor. Those are some nasty, brutal - but clever and just a little bit amusing - deaths. I love that 2016's Resident Evil: The Final Chapter revisits that corridor. 

My favourite jump, on the other hand, comes when they're standing outside the flooded lab and, as they all leave, the body slams a hand against the glass and opens her eyes. 


That moment sums up about 90% of the scares in the games. Like the games, no one in Resident Evil ever has enough ammo and can't trust a dead body to stay dead. 

Good fun, right?

(And don't even get me started on the Red Queen. British kids terrify me. I blame Doctor Who.)

"Yes, the zombies were slow but they weren't bad. They weren't in the same league as the zombies you see now, but they were good.

"And, by the way, the Red Queen wasn't a baddie. People see her as one but she was just trying to save humanity. Okay, you get kind of a HAL vibe, but she's essentially good. Anyway...

"The zombies that needed SFX weren't great but, like you say, that just reflects the time. You could point out that it had quite a large budget for a zombie film so there's no excuse for getting it wrong... it's a small complaint, though, because the rest worked. The dogs were awesome. With a lot of the zombies, CGI just wasn't needed. The Licker wasn't bad. They were clever enough not to show it too much. It was basic but it worked.

"Colin Salmon's death had to be the best. I'd never seen anything like that at the time. The movie shied away from showing you a lot of the deaths and it wasn't as gory as it could have been, but those deaths in the corridor were spectacular. "

It's uncertainty that makes Resident Evil such a nervy movie. Anticipation and red herrings keep you on the edge of your seat, even when nothing particularly scary is happening. The soundtrack also goes a long way to accomplishing that. The drumbeat is like a racing heart and it never, ever slows. Although it's a 2000s movie, the soundtrack takes me right back to the drug-infused rave scene of the 1990s. You know, figuratively 'cause I would never... 

I mean, you've got Manson and Slipknot. The music was never going to let up. It's wild and frantic, encouraging you to feel the same - and succeeding. 

"You can't go wrong with Manson. He's always been really good with that off-kilter, not-quite-right sound. There are a lot of ambient noises during the movie and most of it is a beat, rather than actual music. You're aware of it but it doesn't dominate the film. I love the soundtrack, especially when you can hear traces of music from the games."

Like the soundtrack, Resident Evil freaking moves at a pace. The whole thing is a race to the end, to the safety that none of the characters ever really reach. And, when a movie's protagonists never reach safety, neither do we. 

Resident Evil addresses a couple of very real fears. Unlike universal fears (the dark, the unknown, etc.) the fears we see embodied in Resident Evil are modern. They're fears for a new world. One is genetic mutation. The other is corporation. Let's have a look at them, shall we?

This movie came just a few short years after Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal, was born in Scotland. (We're not going to worry about things like sea urchins, etc., which happened long before and failed to result in any zombified squid.) A mammal. That's us! That could be us. What's it like to be born a clone? It's not like we could ask poor Dolly (who, by the way, died the year after Resident Evil's release) because, you know, sheep. It's a terrifying thought, isn't it? Having another you out there... or, worse, being the other you.

And that's when things go right. 

Because, of course, Resident Evil is about genetic mutation gone wrong. It's the reason people still get into heated debates over whether stem cell research should be legal. Changing the very fabric of what we are is dangerous. It's that "Do you want zombies? 'Cause that's how you get zombies." moment.

Then, you've got the dangers of corporations. After all, nothing is illegal (no matter how unethical) when you have enough money. Umbrella is a faceless, all-powerful organization that is, ultimately, the cause of the deaths of all those Hive workers and the team sent in to check things out afterward.

Umbrella's reach is seen in little touches all through Resident Evil. You see it in the inscriptions on the back of Spence and Alice's (Milla Jovovich) wedding bands: 'Property Of Umbrella Corp.' This company doesn't just employ you, they own your life. I know we've all felt that way about our jobs at one point or another but Resident Evil takes it one step further, driving the point home with bullets stamped with Umbrella's logo. You can't escape work, even after death. 


"I think genetic manipulation is far worse than the movie suggests. Personally, I think one of the big superpowers are going to release a genetic plague to control the world's population. I could go on about SARS, etc., but I think it's enough to say that it's absolutely a very real, very possible threat. 

"Zombies... Do I believe zombies are possible? Can we bring a dead body back to life? To any kind of real functionality? No. That's just absurd."

I have one more thing to talk about, and then we can all get back to our regularly scheduled mornings. If you know me at all, you can probably guess what's coming. 

Alice and Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) are totally freaking bad ass women. It's important to see that in horror movies, where women are so often consigned to the roll of hapless victim. While Rain does die, she's never a victim. Her death comes across as a "She knew the job when she signed up" moment. She died doing what she was hired to do and, yeah, it sucked, but she got in some fabulous quips along the way. 

And her withering glare should win an award. 

Then, there's the franchise's hero, Alice. You never get a woe-is-me moment from her. She wakes up confused and bruised but gets on with the business of figuring out what the fuck is going on. Then, you get that moment when she instinctively defends herself as her training comes rushing back. I love that moment because it's a universal moment for women. No, we aren't all clones with battle training (so not going into the not-so-good sequels), but we've all had that moment when we stood up for ourselves the first time, that rush of confidence and power we felt. We're all Alice at that moment and it feels good. 

It wouldn't be fair to ignore the fact that Alice starts and ends the movies starkers. You even get a flash of what the actor herself calls her "twat", something that normal only happens when the victim is being fucked or dismembered. Not with Alice, though. It's just necessary. Instead of feeling like a gratuitous moment for teenagers to masturbate over, it just feels like a costume choice. 

"Mila is a class act. She's a great actor in the right roles and beyond stunning. Rodriguez has the best lines, though. I want to say that she looks like all kinds of dirty sex but I suspect that would earn me a dirty look so I'll refrain...

"It's a good adaptation of the game. I still love the games. This was the only Resident Evil movie I really liked. The sequels never lived up to the first film. They were entertaining enough but they were never as scary. 

Resident Evil was jumpy, nervy, action-packed, and suspenseful. It had a great cast, even if some of them weren't well known at the time. You know them now, and that shows you how successful this movie was."

Resident Evil ends where the game begins. Gamers know what happened to Raccoon City when they made the mistake of reopening the Hive. Resident Evil: Apocalypse is one of the two sequels I actually enjoyed but I don't have time to get into it here. Jay and I can't agree over whether it's a good sequel or not so maybe you'll get to join us for that argument another day. For today, I'm calling it quits with the usual invitation: if you want to talk Resident Evil, you know where to find me. 

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: Van Helsing

Welcome to Wondra's World and our 31 Days of Horror Halloween special feature. Today, we're going to be talking about the 2004 Stephen Sommers film, Van Helsing.

Van Helsing is a homage to the Universal monster movies of the Twenties and Thirties. I love the fact that Van Helsing, from the same studio, pays loving tribute to those classics in such a fun, inventive way. You've got to go into it expecting a steampunk infused action-fest and little to no (let's say no) historical accuracy to really appreciate it. 

"Historical accuracy was sacrificed for the story line, which is fine because, ultimately, it works.

"Van Helsing is a good, fun film. You don't need to think too hard about it. Anything with Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein in it can't be bad. Van Helsing was always my favourite character, you know."

I couldn't believe how little Hugh Jackman looked as Van Helsing. I'm so used to seeing him as Wolverine that he seemed tiny in this role. David Wenham as Carl, the tinkering friar, stole the show for me. He was hysterical in every scene he appeared in.

"Carl had some of the best lines and brilliant delivery. David Wenham is just fun, anyway.

"I was happy to see Alun Armstrong in Van Helsing. He isn't the best looking bloke in the world but he's one hell of an actor. What I mean is, he'll never be the leading man but any movie is better for having him in it."

Agreed. I adore Alun Armstrong. 

Van Helsing wasn't anything that I was expecting when I first watched it. I was expecting straight up Dracula vs. Van Helsing, which this movie isn't. It's a giant monster movie crossover party.

"It's definitely a totally different take on Dracula. (He was kind of a mix between the Oldman and Lee Draculas, wasn't he?) You needed the CGI to really make it work. But, honestly, the CGI was a bit ropy. It's okay, though, because it was just fun."

"Van Helsing is a big budget blockbuster with a big cast. It was always meant to be one of the big boys. Universal plowed a lot of money and work into it. The style is crisp. You see everything that's going on. I liked the direction it took. I thought it was beautifully filmed. It's not quite Tim Burton but it's not far off."

It has a very definite style, doesn't it? You see that blue-grey filter being used again. It's a look that's become synonymous with horror over the last decade. Other than that, there isn't a lot about Van Helsing that's expected. They did a good job of keeping it offbeat and original. 

"This was definitely a different kind of story. It was good and fun to watch but it also brought the old stories up to date - whilst keeping the story in the past. Inventive.

"It's like Frankenstein. Frankenstein's been done to death so something a bit different stands out. There's not a lot you can do with that one. Once you've got the story, you can't go that far with it. It's not open-ended, which doesn't give it a lot of scope and can make it difficult to make an original movie featuring Frankenstein and his monster. I think Van Helsing does very well. "

But I think Robbie Coltrane's Mr. Hyde is the best imagining of all. He was just cool.

The other thing you have to remember when watching this one is that Van Helsing isn't hardcore horror. It utilizes horror tropes and feels like a horror movie but it's entertaining, not frightening.

"It's horror lite, really. There are a few jumps but mostly laughs and fun. Van Helsing doesn't want to frightening you; it just wants to entertain you, which it does. There are a million little errors in the film, sure, but,for escapism, it's perfect. 

"Van Helsing is a rip-roaring story that doesn't waste time with unnecessary dialogue. It just gets into it. Like dominoes, it sets 'em up and knocks 'em down quickly."

Yes, it's definitely an action film with horror elements, rather than an action-packed horror film. 

I wanted Van Helsing on this list because of its relation to the classics that inspired it. Why did you want to see it here? 

"We needed a big budget movie. This is it.

"You know, I don't know why they didn't do a sequel to this... I thought it had done quite well in the box office? Maybe it didn't do as well as they'd hoped, I'm not sure. Or.... maybe it was because they killed off all the good monsters."

Yeah, kind of hard to make a sequel when all your characters are dead. I think it works perfectly as a one-off, though. If they tried to recapture the cheeky magic of Van Helsing, it would just come across as a lame imitation.

The thing that got me was the ending. I still can't believe they actually did that to Kate Beckinsale's Anna Valerious. I kept expecting them to bring her back, even after the credits started. I felt so cheated. 

"I didn't expect them to kill off Anna, either, the first time I watched it. Ballsy move. Mind you, it was the right thing for the story - and, you know me. I always love a horror film when it take me where I don't expect it."

I think it's safe to say Van Helsing is totally unexpected. Honestly? I did't expect to enjoy it, with the historical inaccuracies and all, but I came to love it. What do you think of Van Helsing? Get in touch and let us know!

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: Insidious

Some of the movies featured on our 31 Days of Modern Horror list are here because Jay loves them. Some of them are here because I love them. Insidious (2010) is one of my babies.

The Insidious franchise is one of my favourites, due in no small part to Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and her young friends, Specs (Leigh Whannell) & Tucker (Angus Sampson). The franchise relies on the chemistry between those three characters.

Oh, and there's also the fact that these movies scare the living crap out of me. That too. 

Insidious starts, as horror movies often do, with a family moving house. Moving house plays a large part in a lot of horror movies. Why do you think that is?

"It's the upheaval. Moving is one of the most traumatic events of your life so it's not surprising that bad stuff starts to happen. I mean that we're already sort of expecting things to go wrong - or they've already gone wrong and that's the reason for the move. Horror just takes it one step further."

Like when your parents say, "Keep crying and I'll give you something to cry about?" Keep picturing things going wrong and things are going to go very, very wrong...

"I sometimes worry about your childhood."

You should. But, it's not my messed up childhood we're talking about. It's Josh Lambert's (Patrick Wilson) messed up childhood that forms the basis for Insidious.

Insidious is well paced. You learn just what you need to know to get from A to B. Everything is revealed exactly when you need it. Horror movies that give you a massive information dump all at one time are guilty of putting scares before story - something Insidious doesn't do.

There are certainly plenty of jump scares in this one. So, so many. Even though I've seen Insidious half a dozen times, I still went to bed rattled after watching it again. It gets me every freaking time. Even when it's not throwing surprises at you, Insidious is a dark, twisted, eerie movie.

"It's a nervy jump-fest. I love the jumps but don't find it frightening. Even a movie like this one doesn't get me. It's fun to watch, though."

He means that it's fun to watch me jump like a little bitch.

"Yes. Yes, I do.

"Seriously, though, it's a top rate horror movie. It's terrifying, well-shot, and delivers scares in spades. They all are, even though the first one is the best of the lot. 

"It's a solid franchise. They did fuck up by killing off Elise in the first one, mind. I don't think they expected the movie to be as popular as it ended up being. Whoops?"


It does sort of limit the scope of a franchise when you kill off the best character in the first movie - though, apparently, not that much. The Insidious movies have been very clever in the way they've placed the movies in the timeline in order to keep Elise in them. In fact, the most recent addition, The Last Key, might just be my favourite of the lot.

"I haven't seen that one so I'll have to reserve judgment until I catch up. It's rare for any sequel to beat the first one, though, especially one that far down the line. 

"It's interesting that the first couple of Insidious movies deal with astral projection. That's something I don't know much about. I know it doesn't appear in horror movies often, though, and I have to wonder why that is. Seems like something that could be a really useful tool, like sleepwalking, etc."

Well, my first introduction to astral projection came thanks to LJ Smith's Dark Visions trilogy when I was a kid. They weren't really horror novels but the astral projection brought a real horror element to the story. Trained psychics used astral projection to attack kids on the run from a powerful (and slightly psychotic) rich guy who wanted to force them into industrial espionage - which is a pretty lousy description for what was an awesome trilogy, but you get the idea.

"It's quite a clever idea, actually. Astral projection as a weapon. Surely some horror writer/director has to pick up on that one...

Anyway, we were going to talk about the score."

Yes. It's quite unsettling.

"It is. The music is... jangley. Grating. It's designed to keep you on edge and it works. The score is so disjointed that it's shocking to your senses."

And just one of the many reasons I had to sleep with the lights on after watching Insidious.

I have to say, before I forget, that I love the fact that Patrick Wilson is in both this and The Conjuring, in very different roles. What's the male version of a scream queen? That's what we should be calling him now...

"Or, maybe not..."

"My favourite part of the whole movie has to be the ending. I love that moment you realize Josh is gone. It certainly makes the second movie interesting because you're constantly wondering if it really is him - or if it's the old woman in black. Very clever."

Pretty much the whole sequence inside the house in The Further is my favourite part. It's so weird and just wrong. My heart nearly gave out every freaking time one of those creepy bastards moved! At the same time, it was darkly beautiful to look at, so you have to appreciate that. You know, when you can breathe again...

And I think that's a good place for us to leave Insidious. We'd love to hear your thoughts on this franchise so do get in touch. 

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: Dog Soldiers

Day 16 of the 31 Days of Modern Horror Halloween special feature on Wondra's World has arrived. Today, we're going to be talking about the second Neil Marshall to make the cut, Dog Soldiers (2002).

And, yes, the last. (Sorry, Doomsday. Not this time.)

"Neil Marshall doesn't do enough for me. I'd like to see him at the helm of more big movies. I've loved all three of his major films. They were all superb films. It's interesting that he's only done a few films and two of them have made this list."

Dog Soldiers is a very British movie. British movies can feel grainy and less polished than their Hollywood counterparts - but that doesn't mean they're not as good. Sometimes, like Dog Soldiers, they're better.

"I'm just sorry we can only do this movie once. I could watch it any day.

"This is one of those movies you just have to listen to the commentary for. It's tremendous. You also learn a lot - like the fact that they had to replace the dog halfway through the movie because the damned thing couldn't act. I highly recommend you give the commentary a try."

It doesn't take long to decide whether you're Team Cooper (Kevin McKidd) or Team Ryan (Liam Cunningham). Is anyone Team Ryan, though? If so, I don't think we can be friends. They do everything they can to set Ryan up as the film's ultimate baddie and killing the dog is the ultimate no-no. Captain Ryan's instance that Ryan kill the dog "for no reason" will make any animal lovers watching want to throw stuff at the screen.

(Don't worry... the TV is fine. I mostly hurled verbal abuse. 😉)

"I'm with Cooper, too. Not for no reason. I'm an animal lover so it wouldn't have even been a question. If it had been a cat, I might have considered it... Kidding! (Or am I?)"

After their initial confrontation, you don't see Ryan again for awhile. Instead, you get to meet Cooper's new platoon, led by Sean Pertwee's Sgt. Harry G. Wells. (And, yes, that is a reference to H.G. Wells.) Things slow down for a bit here because the movie takes time to build rapport amongst Wells's team - a smart and important move on Marshall's part. The werewolves that Wells's platoon soon face are a family so the only hope the soldiers have of beating them is to be a family themselves. By taking the time to develop the relationship between them now, you give them a chance to win later.

Well... it's sort of a victory. Final result: 1-0.

"Sean Pertwee is one of my favourite actors of all time. Everything he's in, he steals. He doesn't always play nice roles but he always plays them well. 

"He makes the film, him and Cooper. They're the film's lynchpins. Without them, Dog Soldiers doesn't work. Although... you really have to add Darren Morfitt's 'Spoon' Witherspoon to that. He managed to steal just about every scene he was in."

I've been talking a lot about soldiers. If you know me, you know I am not a fan of military movies. Just not my thing. They rank just above Westerns, barely. I love Dog Soldiers, though, so you know they were doing something right. A lot of that has to do with that rapport between the soldiers. It feels more like a group of friends than a group of soldiers.

"That tattoo story does more than build rapport. It's there to tell you that there are things out there you can't explain. You know Wells is a believer. Or, at least, open to possibilities.

"The werewolves, when you eventually see them in full - because it doesn't rush to reveal them - are very good. Quite different from everything else out there. The effects in Dog Soldiers were very good. They didn't go with CGI, which sometimes works better. In this case, they turned out to be quite stunning."

At this point, Dog Soldiers doesn't feel much like a werewolf movie, either. Until the moment Ryan gets his ass slashed (to much cheering from yours truly), you're watching a normal, buddy horror movie. They're literally sitting around a campfire, telling scary stories. When the werewolves do come into it, though, things get crazy.

Let's not forget that, in true Marshall style, this is an action/horror movie.

So, you know... guns and explosions and shit.

"But not much gore. It has its moments but there isn't a lot of gore in Dog Soldiers. You can't say it's not gory because there are guts and stuff hanging out. It isn't gratuitous but it could be. That's just not Marshall's style."

The action never overshadows the horror. Don't forget where the action is set. We've spoken at length about the woods representing our most basic human fear, fear of the unknown, and there's plenty of that in Dog Soldiers. You're constantly watching the treeline, wondering where the werewolves are. And, of course, it's dark.

Dog Soldiers is a dark, dark movie. Even when it's meant to be daytime, it's still dark - another basic human fear. (The woods, dark... they're all connected to the same fear.) It's never so dark that you can't tell what's going on or struggle to see. Like The Descent, the light work is simply masterful. The thing Dog Soldiers really excels at, though, is dialogue.

"One of my favourite things about Dog Soldiers is the score. Can you hear that? The drums... It's a fast-paced drumbeat with an orchestra behind it. That drumbeat is always there when the action starts. It drives the action forward at breakneck speed."

Timing is another thing that makes the movie work so well. It's delivering a bad joke the moment before getting snatched. It's racing the trail of fire with a great big boom at the end. And, for comic relief, it's a big ass cow landing on your campfire in the middle of a bad joke.

Its humor is what made me love Dog Soldiers. The quips are natural and believable. Basically, it's like listening to your best friends tease each other - which is why it was so important to slow the beginning down, to get the comradery right.

"It's believable, the banter, the way they go at each other. Dog Soldiers is one of my favourite werewolf movies of all time, partly because it has that typically British feel to it."

Emma Cleasby's Megan is the movie's Trojan horse. It gives you just enough to wonder what Megan's deal is but bluffs just enough to keep you from suspecting too much, too soon. I like that she's a sensible, strong female character who isn't verbally, sexual, or physically abused by the soldiers (which happens too often in, well, reality but also movies.) Yes, I'm a feminist and, yes, I watch for these things.

The real villain is Ryan, from beginning to end. You start to wonder if that effer will ever freaking die - and what a death! There may have been a fist bump on my part when he finally bought it.

"My favourite death is when Cooper kills Ryan at the end. It was so deserved. Spoon has the best parting lines, though. As for my favourite moment? It has to be either when Wells is drunk and they're trying to stitch him back up ("Sausages!") or that stupid cow..."

Dog Soldiers is a fun, entertaining, action-filled movie with a brilliant cast. It's shot well and has great pacing. It's definitely one of my favourite werewolf movies. (It helps that, you know, Sean Pertwee. I could listen to him talk all day...)

"This one is right at the very top of my list. It beats The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps, Underworld... this is, by far, my favourite. 

"I was sorry they never did the sequel. They've been talking about it for years but the longer they leave it, the less likely it is it will ever happen. Shame.

"It's a great action movie, with a good bit of humour and pathos. As a British person, and having known squadies, it's familiar. It's an accurate portrayal of exactly how British soldiers would react."

What are your favourite werewolf movies? Do get in touch and let me know! 

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.

Monday, 15 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: 28 Days Later

Hello again and welcome to the 31 Days of Modern Horror Halloween special here on Wondra's World. Today is Day 15 and we're going to be re-visiting one of Jay's favourites, 28 Days Later (2002).

28 Days Later is a hard one to categorize because it's obviously a zombie film, right? Except... of course it's not. Do you consider 28 Days Later a zombie flick?

"If I had to make a list of top zombie films, I'd put 28 Days Later on that list but it's not really a zombie film. They're not zombies; they're diseased. It's an outbreak film.

"The thing that makes it work so well is that it's so believable in this day and age. Do-gooders let a disease out because they're too ignorant to listen. It's frightening because you know someone out there has the technology. Can you reanimate corpses? No. Can you create a super strain of rabies? Well... Think about it. What was SARS? A test, I think. One minute it's running rampant, the next, it's never heard of again. There's got to be more like that out there. "

Zombie movie or not, 28 Days Later is an unique, intense, psychological horror film that should be on everyone's cinematic build-up to Halloween. I find a lot of the movie's... charm(?) comes from the fact that it's British. I've said it before: British horror is a completely different animal, one that too often gets underestimated until it, you know, eats one of the patrons.

28 Days Later is dark and brooding. It drags in places but, in the places that happens, it's entirely intentional - like pulling against the current to keep things from getting away from you too quickly. Because the rage-driven "zombies" are so fast and there's so much running for your life, you need the rest of the movie to slow it down a bit to keep from getting too exhausting.

The outbreak that runs rampage through Britain in 28 Days Later comes as a result of well-meaning animal rights activists. Now, there's a difficult one to discuss. Were they right or wrong? I understand why they did what they did but I also know the dangers of releasing animals. Is testing on animals wrong? Abso-freaking-lutely. Is busting into a lab and releasing said animals en masse the right way to handle it? No way.

Good intentions don't always lead to good results.

Rage. You don't need re-animated corpses when you can take the very worst of humanity and amp it up by a thousand. That disease... we carry it around inside us all and really - like Frank's (Brendan Gleeson) unfortunate demise - takes almost nothing at all to send us over the edge. Sometimes, all it takes is a single drop of blood.

"What a shit way to die. He's such a manic, fun character. All he wants to do is take care of his daughter but starts to lose hope when they find the barricade empty.

"You know... I had to wonder why the military didn't show up sooner. They were making enough of a racket. Why wait util after Fank dies? The more I thought about it though, the more sense it made. It's bad enough they've got Jim but he's young and at least he's another body to help get shit done. Frank, on the other hand...

"Well, it's obvious he's attached to Hannah and, if you've got designs on the girl, you're not going to want her dad around. It's a horrible thought - but one that's too real for comfort."

If we're talking about the worst of human nature, we have to spend some time talking about the soldiers. Before shit even really kicks off at the make-shift army base, you can tell exactly what type of people you're dealing with because they happily confiscate Jim (Cillian Murphy), Selena (Naomie Harris), and Hannah's (Megan Burns) goods. Frustratingly - but not unexpectedly - that word seems to apply to the girls as well, where the soldiers are concerned.

After fending off a potential attack by blowing a bunch of shit up, they come back hopped up on testosterone and ready to take the "goods" by force. That's when you realize, as you often do in zombie movies, that we're the real monsters.

"I know you think it' all about Christopher Eccleston's Major Henry West keeping power but I don't think that's it. He just wanted to keep things together. The thing he promises wasn't his to give but he does it to give his soldiers hope. It's what forms the basis of the end of the movie. You realize these soldiers that are supposed to be bad asses aren't, not at all.

"With movies like this, you can find yourself rooting for the army but not in this one. They have no redeeming qualities. You want them to get fucked up."

Selena is a powerful but inconsistent character. When Jim first meets her, you think 'What a bad ass'. She knows how to survive and she intends to do it whether anyone else around her does or not. You see how strong she is as they're climbing up several flights of stairs and she has to stop to check on Jim, who's struggling to make it. The fact that she's tough as nails makes the scene where the soldiers want her and Hannah to dress up pretty even more frustrating.

I really struggle with that scene. Drugging Hannah was a chicken shit move. Selena is a fighter; we've seen it in her every step of the way. So, why does she just accept her and Hannah's fate there? Why doesn't she find a way to fight back? If she wanted to truly save Hannah, she could have even overdosed her. (I'm not saying that's what she should have done, only that it was an option.) It seems inconsistent with her character for her to think, 'Well, we've gotta do it so just make it as easy as possible.' The Selena that whacked her friend to bits at the beginning wouldn't have taken it.

That slip in Selena's character isn't the only flaw in 28 Days Later. One thing you can't help but notice in an apocalyptic film is how little chaos there really is. The streets and roads are clear of rubbish. There are no burnt out or broken down cars clogging things up. There are almost no rotting corpses or body parts littering the place. It's not very realistic.

"You can pick out a lot of flaws in the film. The absence of bodies, for instance. In a city that big, they'd be everywhere. And the lack of cars. Why aren't there crashed, burned out, empty cars? Where's the garbage? Where are the scavengers? It's too clean. 

It's still a good movie, though. It's flawed but there's no such thing as a perfect movie. Even the greatest movies of all time are flawed, this is no exception."

Still, Cillian Murphy can barely keep his clothes on so, you know, give and take. 😉

If you didn't know, they filmed two endings to 28 Days Later. In the one you see most often, Selena saves Jim and a plane finds them. In the other, Jim doesn't make it. I'm a big ole sap so you know which ending I prefer. Bet you can guess which one Jay likes better, too...

"I prefer the one where Jim dies. Simply because it's more believable. They're in the back end of nowhere. Chances are he wouldn't survive something like that. Selena's not a doctor, after all, she's just a pharmacist. No, no happy ending for this lot."

Thanks very much for stopping by today. I hope you'll come back tomorrow for another Halloween horror treat. Until then, you know where to find me if you want to talk zombie movies...

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: Underworld

The title for today's post should be "Underworld: Bringing Sexy Back Since 2003".

Oh, yeah...

Welcome back to Wondra's World and thanks for checking out our 31 Days of Modern Horror Halloween special. Today is day 14 and we're going to be taking a look at Underworld (2003).

Underworld is a slick, fast-paced action/horror movie that's so full of Noughties goth tastiness that it makes me want to write bad poetry and dig out my Evanescence CDs. Even if there weren't long-haired vampires in it, I'd be happy - but there are long-haired vampires in it, which makes me so happy I might need a little break so I can go have a cold shower... 😉

Okay, but, really. If you were a teenage goth (or, you know, crushed on teenage goths) around the 2000s, this movie's for you. It's got that pseudo-Victorian look that goth metal bands rocked so hard at the time and I freaking love it. The costumes are all leather, lace, and shiny buckles all side-by-side. We're talking corsets and long, sweeping, leather jackets.


Before I get too distracted by the aesthetic, we'd probably better move on to the rest of the movie.


"This is my favourite of the Underworld movies. The others were good but this was definitely superior. They're all very stylish, action-packed films. What's not to like?"

Underworld starts with a bang. It throws you right into the middle of the action and doesn't let up. This is definitely an action movie that uses horror tropes. Even though it's about an epic and seemingly endless battle between werewolves and vampires, they'll all shooting the crap out of each other instead of relying on their natural weapons. (Seriously, the only people who got hotter from watching this than teenage goths were NRA members. We're talking a lot of guns.)

"This is an action movie with horror elements. It makes the list because vampires and werewolves are classic horror characters.

"It helps that the vampires didn't sparkle..."

There's an interesting mix of old world charm alongside modern technology, giving Underworld hints of film noir. The only other time I've seen that combination done so well is in the Batman franchise. It makes the movie timeless but it also makes a lot of sense because, if you were a vampire, you'd collect ages, wouldn't you?

(But, hey, I'm a bit of a hoarder and I don't think being a vampire would change that so maybe it's just me. Lol.)

"It's beautifully shot and very stylistic with the filters that were used. It's a blueish filter and they've made the film almost timeless. You don't know when or where it's set. It doesn't give you enough information to place it in any particular time or place."

If you haven't seen Underworld because it's *just* a vampire movie (or, just a werewolf movie), you need to get over yourself and just watch it already. This not your typical vampire movie. It's so much more interesting than that. The feud between the vampires and the werewolves is personal; it has nothing to do with wanting dominance over humans and everything to do with old wounds. In fact, humans hardly play any part in the movie at all, except as maybe background noise.

"It's a cool concept. Vampires vs werewolves? It's like Daleks versus Cybermen: a faboy's wet dream.

"The vampires are cool. It's a good take on the vampire myth. They're decadent.

"The werewolves? Well, I have seen better but they're still good."

The werewolves' transformations are well-done and believable, in the mould of An American Werewolf in London. On the other side, you've got the vampires and their fangs are exactly right. Those two things will make or break a werewolf/vampire film so it was vital that Underworld nailed them, which they did.

There's also just enough romance for the warm fuzzies without making you want to gag. Don't expect any outlandish declarations of love from this one, you'll be disappointed. All the romance is conveyed through subtle looks and touches, which can sometimes be more powerful than any words.

Kate Beckinsale's Selene is a kick-ass female hero we need to see more often. She's all business and logic and doesn't take any shit from anyone. (I actually cheered when she punched Shane Brolly's Kraven in the throat.) When Kraven and his little lapdog (Sophia Myles's Erika ) want Selene to dress up for a party, she blows them off spectacularly because, dammit, she wants answers. Selene is one of their best fighters. She never cowers and, even when you can tell she's overwhelmed, controls her emotions long enough to get the job done.

And let's not forget the hero landings and Matrix coat swings.

Too cool.

"Kate Beckinsale has always been a good actor. She seems to be one of those actors who gets better with age and she brings a sexy coldness to the role of Selene."

One of the things I liked best about Underworld was the way they presented backstory. As an author, I can tell you backstory is a bitch to get right. Too early, you slow down the story. Too late and you confuse the audience. Underworld gets around both issues by providing snippets of backstory in the form of visions that help you piece things together at just the right pace. When the full story is revealed, you find yourself questioning your allegiance.

"Team Vampire, always. But... also Team Lycan. You're right, I can't decide. 

"Lucian (Michael Sheen) was a cool character with an interesting backstory but Selene was fucking cool, too. And Viktor is an absolute git but Bill Nighy plays it so well....

"I think I'm Team Underworld."

Underworld has an awesome soundtrack. Its slick action scenes and grand set designs show the money that was put into it. There are more beefy men in leather than you can shake a stake at. I really can't think of any reason not to watch this movie. If you disagree, you know what to do. We'll be back tomorrow for another Halloween treat.

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: Darkness Falls

As you know, Jay and I don't always agree with each other when it comes to which movies should end up on these lists. The elimination process can be brutal. Sometimes, though, no discussion is needed. A movie will come up and we'll agree immediately that it's making the final cut. Darkness Falls (2003) is one of those movies.

Why was Darkness Falls an automatic inclusion? Like the rest of the movies that eventually made their way to our 31 Days of Modern Horror list, it's here because, when each first watched it, Darkness Falls was like nothing either of us seen before.

For me, Darkness Falls is unique because it somehow manages to be absolutely terrifying with just a PG-13 rating. Think about that. You could have taken your kids to see Legally Blonde 2, followed by a movie that would have kept you up all night, shivering in the dark. (Not that Legally Blonde 2 isn't disturbing in its own way...)

"I watched it in the cinema too, if I remember correctly. I was so impressed with it - which is weird because of its low rating. It's something that's so accessible to children but is so damned frightening at the same time. 

"How does a horror movie that's only rated PG-13 work? If done correctly, very well. There was no gore, language, or nudity in Darkness Falls. The terror is psychological, not physical. The added bonus is that they get a much bigger box office because kids are allowed."

The first time I went to see Darkness Falls was late one night at university with one of my best friends. We walked into the cinema adults and ran out, holding hands, scared little children. It's that effective.

"It's jumpy and quite nervy. It wasn't frightening but it was good escapism. Darkness Falls is stylish. It's a re-imagining of an old fairy tale, the tooth fairy, but it's clever because it doesn't show her too much at the beginning."

The beginning of Darkness Falls is unusual because its an instance of tell-rather-than-show that doesn't make me cringe. It starts with the retelling of an urban legend, over a montage of old-fashioned photos and the slow burn of the fire that was the catalyst for the movie's evil. It sets the mood and gives you everything you need to know to get right into the action when movie starts in earnest.

Lighting is tremendously important to the success of this movie. Since the Tooth Fairy can't stand to be in the light, the main characters spend their time doing their best to avoid darkness, where the Tooth Fairy can safely take her revenge. Straight away, you know it's going to be a dark film.

Dark films can be difficult to pull off. There's a fine line between dark enough to be scary and too dark to tell what's going on. You can always tell what's happening in Darkness Falls. The lighting is this one is worthy of a Carpenter film. My favourite bit is in the forest after the car crashes and you see the beams of the headlights through the tree branches, with smoke from the engine blowing all around. Beautiful.

They use light and shadow masterfully but also utilize things like mirrors and reflections to add an extra layer of fright. The best part about having a movie laden with shadows is that you never quite know what they are. Is that just a coat - or is it a vengeful spirit come to claim your child?

Speaking of children, there are three prominent child actors in Darkness Falls. Joshua Anderson played young Kyle, who grows up in the light because he knows the Tooth Fairy will come for him if he's caught in the dark. Anderson is a fabulous actor who does a brilliant job of portraying fear. His crush, Emily Browning's young Caitlin, is also a good actor, convincingly selling young love. Lee Cormie as Michael... well, not so much.

"Considering they were, with the exception of Emma Caulfield (Caitlin), mostly unknown at the time, they did a remarkable job. I wish Emma Caulfield took the lead more often in films. She stole a lot of the scenes she was part of in Buffy. You have to be a good actor to do that."

The great thing about having children in a horror movie is that they're never afraid to call bullshit. I've said before that children see what others don't, which is true, but they'll also tell you exactly what they see, without fear of being called crazy for it. I love that Michael doesn't let Kyle (Chaney Kley) get away with the lies he's trying to sell. We adults need that in our lives.

One of the reasons Darkness Falls works is the setting. Every small town you see on film could be your hometown. There's something about a small town setting that feels familiar. That feels like home. And, as everyone who grew up in a place like that knows, every town has their own darkness, their own shame. Every town has a wealth of legends and monsters - human or otherwise.

Movies often rely on the prodigal child returning home after an absence to help add tension. They do it, of course, because it works. When people who leave come home, the ones who stayed treat them like they've been betrayed. How dare you do what everyone wanted to do but no one else had the guts to go for! (Yeah, I have some experience with that one.) Let's not forget that when you go home, it never takes long to remember why you left.

Not so difficult for Michael, of course, since being accused of killing your mother is a pretty difficult one to forget.

There are some great jumps in Darkness Falls - and a good combination of them. Some will make you laugh out loud (like when the douche from the bar gets snatched) and some will straight up make you scream (like when the Fairy gets Kyle's mother.) I'll be honest, I laughed way harder at a couple of the snatches than I should have done...

"My favourite jump is when all three of them have to jump on the stairwell and the Fairy takes them one at a time. That first one, when she takes the doctor, is a great moment."

Darkness Falls plays on one of our most basic human fears: fear of the dark. Fear of the dark, fear of the unknown... they all boil down to fear of the unknown. Fearing what might be watching you from the darkness. It could be nothing at all... or it could be an evil old bitch who wants your teeth.

"Every kid is afraid of the dark. We all go through that phase of being terrified of what's out there. Most of the time, we grow out of it. Most of the time, we have no reason not to."

The town's lighthouse also plays a prominent role, which really isn't surprising since lighthouses are a common tool in creating horror. Why? Because they signal danger. As Jay says, "By their very nature, they're warnings. It's dangerous here. Stay away!"

The Tooth Fairy is a cool looking character. She remind's me a little of Harry Potter's Dementors. My favourite image of her is at the beginning of the film when she's hovering over the bathroom door. I found it interesting that, for a long period of the town's history, the Tooth Fairy picked kids off here and there but, the moment Kyle gets back to town, she starts going nuts. I have a theory about that...

I reckon the reason the Tooth Fairy upped her game is because she was fucking pissed. She spends all these years waiting, watching Kyle and losing. He outsmarts her every time. And this new kid starts doing the same? Then, they team up? I'd be pretty pissed about that if I were a vengeful spirit.

"I liked this one. It was a neat little film. I've seen films with much bigger budgets fall flat on their faces. Money doesn't mean a movie's going to work. Just take it for what it is, a blip in the horror genre. You just don't see horrors that get away with such a low rating. 

Darkness Falls is what I'd call horror lite. It's a great movie for people who don't handle horror movies well and for families. (As long as you don't mind staying up all night with them.)"

The reviews for Darkness Falls are pretty mixed. It's one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of things. Me, I love it. What do you think? You know how to get in touch...

Tomorrow, we'll be moving away from ghosts again. Toward what? Come back to find out.

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.

Friday, 12 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: Sinister

As I'm sure you know, here at Wondra's World, we're celebrating Halloween with a 31 Days of Modern Horror special feature. Today is day 12 and we're going to be taking a look at Sinister (2012).

Chances are, if you know me or if you're a frequent visitor, you know I love my ghost stories. I can do zombies, vampires, werewolves and just about anything else just fine... throw a ghost at me, though, and it's gonna be a sleepless night. Sinister gave me more than one sleepless night. 

The house Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family into isn't the kind of house you'd expect anything to happen in. It's not old, or big, or derelict. I's just a normal house, in a normal neighbourhood, which makes it that much more interesting. There's nowhere less likely to harbour a dark past, but it does. That's a great start to the film.

It's pretty clear straight away that the local police don't like Oswalt. Can you blame them? What kind of person moves a young family into the house where a brutal murder took place? Especially if the reason for the move was to capitalize on the town's pain. Can't say I'd be very fond of his being there, either. 

Oswalt is an author living on former glory. He's under pressure to put out something bigger than the last and you can tell it's not going well.  The problem comes from Oswalt's inability to get his priorities straight. For him, the pressure to find success as an author outweighs doing the right thing. It outweighs being a good husband and father. More than that, though, we have to consider the fact that he keeps going back to those damned tapes, even after seeing what they contain. What does that say about his personality? Nothing good.

You can tell things aren't perfect between Oswalt and his wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance). Personally, I didn't find his wife particularly supportive, which makes it easy for outside force to drive wedge between them. 

Good husband? Iffy. Good father? Well, aside from moving his children into a house potentially damaging to their long-term mental health, I was impressed with the way Oswalt encourages his daughter's creativity - which also happens to work as a tool to increase the creepy factor. No matter how scary a movie is, it can always be made scarier by throwing in some creepy ass kids's paintings.

With Oswalt, it's like he's entirely separate from his family. They're sleeping while he's chasing ghosts. They're dealing with the fallout of his decision to move there but he's so wrapped up in his own shit he doesn't seem to care. At the end of the movie, when you think you finally got that happy ending, you believe he's finally learned about putting his family first - but has he? Or, has he just gotten frightened enough to run and take them with him? 

That being said, I love the ending's false hope. I love that the one cop (James Ransone) who agrees to help him - and, incidentally, is the star of the second Sinister film - works it out but is too late to do anything to help. And I'm not going to even mention how badly I screamed when that final jump got me. (Well, screamed, jumped, cried, and beat the crap out of Jay because he'd seen it and didn't warn me.)

We've spent a lot of time talking about the tools and tropes horror movies use and you'll spot one of the big ones in Sinister. Oswalt's son is a sleepwalker. One of the best frights in Sinister comes as a result of that sleepwalking. When Oswalt opens a large box, you're expecting it to be one of the ghostly children but it's just his son, Michael Hall D'Addario's Trevor. It's not any less frightening, though, because of the look on Trevor's face. 

I thought showing those kids a lot was a brave decision. I usually prefer not to see the baddie too much in a horror movie; it's scarier. The kids are creepy, that's for sure. I think their appearance would have been more horrifying, though, if they'd be a little less substantial. They look so solid. If they'd been a little... wispy? they'd have been more convincing.

The score for Sinister is an interesting one. There's a beat, but it's not music. As Jay says, "It's like an underlying growl." That beat sets the ace for the film. It intensifies as the action pucks up and, when the film reaches its horrific climax, the "growl" becomes positively grating. It's a sound that stays with you, long after the film has ended.

You're going to find plenty of ghost stories on this list as we make our way toward Halloween. What'll it be tomorrow? Come back to find out.

ToC Reveal: Blood and Ashes

The upcoming anthology from Thirteen O'Clock Press, Blood and Ashes, has a clever premise. Every story included will fit into the category of Hot Blood, Ashes, or Cold Blood. My story, "The Night He Came", will be there, nestled among the hot blooded stories. Here's a quick peek at the rest of the creeptastic stories and their authors that will be joining me:

Hot Blood:
"Red Tears" by James Pyne
"The Night He Came" by Wondra Vanian
"Opportunity Knocks" by Rie Sheridan Rose
"Dreams of Duality" by Dorothy Davies
"Out For Blood" by John H. Dromey
"Mona Lisa Zombie and the Crimson Sea" by James Pyne
"Webs" by Rie Sheridan Rose
"Cupid, Playing" by Ken Goldman
"Letters I’ve Written" by Dorothy Davies
"Besties" by Donna J. W. Munro
"Blood On My Ax" by Bruce H. Markuson
"Puttering Around" by Franklyn Searight
"Maverick" by Eugen Bacon
"Bittersweet Redemption" by John Howe
"Deadly Colours" by Michael B. Fletcher
"The Bloodied Crow" by Bruce H. Markuson
"Brewed In Moonlight" by Greg Francis
"Buddy, Everyone’s Dead" by William S. Williams
"True Red" by Ken L. Jones
"Night Shadows" by Joe Arcara
"A Darkly Garden" by James Pyne
"Smoke and Reckonings" by Donna J. W. Munro
"The Last Laugh" by Gerald E. Sheagren
"Ashes, Ashes" by Rie Sheridan Rose
"Charred Memories" by R. A. Goli
"Cats to Ashes" by Andrea Teare
"The Scent of Rain" and Ash by Brian Barnett
"Women Of A Certain Age" by Donna J. W. Munro
"Scorched Memories" by John Howe
"The Grime Reaper" by John H. Dromey
"Burn the Witch" by Mathias Jansson
"Needle Bay" by Maria Mitchell
"Hell’s Handmaiden" by Chris Rodriguez
"Masks of Dead Women" by Matthew Wilson
"Under the Bed" by Rie Sheridan Rose
"Game Bird" by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
"Combustion" by Justin Boote
"The Furnace" by Bruce H. Markuson
"Ringing Spirits" by Kerry E. B. Black
"Gaze of the Phoenix" by Eugen Bacon
"In Grey Smoky Silence" by David Turnbull
"Believing For A Reason" by Dianne Arrelle
"The Vat" by Perry McDaid
"Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear What Do You See?" by Jordan Elizabeth Mierek
"Like a Phoenix from the Ashes" by Bruce H. Markuson
"The Pendulum" by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
"Green Paint Can" by Bruce H. Markuson
"A Lullaby for the Devil" by Mathias Jansson
"The Use of Ashes" by Gary Budgen
Cold Blood:
"Cold Blooded" by Rie Sheridan Rose
"Six Ways From Sunday" by Ken Goldman
"Ode to Monsters" by Matthew Wilson
"Pint Sized Bloody Stories" by John H. Dromey
"Changes" by Perry McDaid
"The Bloody Trapeze" by Roy C. Booth & Axel Kohagen
"Pripyat Piranha" by Mathias Jansson
"Follow Me" by R. A. Goli
"The Blood Makes Me Whole" by Dorothy Davies
"Love Like Blood" by Mileva Anastasiadou
"The Bed Bug Hotel" by Mathias Jansson
"The Blood of Kawashi" by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
"In Plain Blood" by Chris Rodriguez
"Interim Death" by Patricia Anabel
"Deadly F/X" by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
"The Winter Is Red" by Bruce H. and Matthew Markuson
"Only Vials and Hearses" by David Turnbull
I'll keep you posted when we've got updates on Blood and Ashes. Until then, be sure to check out Thirteen O'Clock Press's available titles and open calls.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

31 Days of Modern Horror: The Cabin in the Woods

It's pretty much  given that anything with Joss Whedon's name attached is going to be pure, freaking gold. You can also be sure it's going to be funny. That being said, I give you...

The Cabin in the Woods (2011).

"It's quite an interesting, clever movie. It's entertaining, it's intense, and it's gory as well.

"I love the way it's just a big joke to the people doing the sacrificing. They're so nonchalant about people's lives. They're sacrificing these kids and they don't mean anything to them. they're all betting on which monster will get them because it's so realistic. Honestly? I think we'd all put our money down. 

"Like so many on our list, it's unique. There's nothing else like The Cabin in the Woods. When I picked it up the first time, I was expecting something like Evil Dead or Cabin Fever. The first time you know there's something different is when you see the force field and think 'Okay, you've got my attention.'"

For Day 11 of our 31 Days of Modern Horror Halloween special, we wanted to lighten the mood a little with some comedy horror and, really, who else do you go to for that but Joss? Whedon did't direct this one but he wrote it, which is obvious every step of the way.

"You can tell it's a Joss Whedon movie. It's all in the dialogue. Years ago, they raved about Tarantino's dialogue but Joss surpassed him by miles. His writing has a very real, very natural way of talking. The characters he created are all very realistic.

"Take it back to Buffy... (Not the film, it was crap.) The series was avid viewing. I didn't want to watch that. Just say the name out loud. But I watched it and I loved it. I was older than the characters but it was still relateable. I love Joss's fuck-you attitude with Fox. That impresses me. 

"You can see his style in The Avengers, too. It's got that dialogue, that humour. He's a hardworking director with a knack for hooking viewers. He's got such a natural way of writing - but you have to give the actors credit, too, for being able to pull it off. You can have the best dialogue in the world but if you've got a crap actor, it'll never work. It has to be natural. "

Joss excels at taking stereotypes, expected norms, and turning them on their heads - just look at Buffy. Who would have expected The Chosen One to be a blonde bimbo who'd rather wave pompoms than wield a stake? No one. That's why Joss does it. The Cabin in the Woods is the same. 

The Cabin in the Woods utilizes well-established horror tropes but never pretends not to be a comedy. Yes, you've got the creepy gas station attendant and the cabin full of drunk college kids - but if you tried to watch this one as a straight horror, you'd be disappointed. Hell, if you watched The Cabin in the Woods without laughing at each death, I'm a little worried about you.

"All the best horror has some element of horror in it. It has to. If it's just blood and guts and terror, it's too heavy to enjoy. The comedy keeps it from getting too dark to be entertaining."

I love the idea that the cabin isn't really the setting; it's really a tool. Everything there is designed to encourage them to make choices. Sacrifices who choose their own demise... genius.

"The whole... program? Premise. It's unorthodox. The Cabin in the Woods is an impossible story made believable by making it so... what you would do. There are screw ups, bets, awkward conversations, and inside jokes. It's just normal stuff."

The basement is full of creepy objects, everything from tarot cards to comic books, and each one has the potential to summon a different monster. What would you pick?

"I'd end up going for the fortune telling machine so... clowns. Yeah. Actually, I think I'd be okay with that because I'm not afraid of clowns."

Of all the monsters locked away in the underground facility, I think my favourite had to be the unicorn - a strange choice for me, I know, but it was just so wrong! Unicorns aren't supposed to be the baddies! They're supposed to be all cute and ethereal and magical. Not, uh, stabby. 

Impaled by unicorn. That's one you don't want on your death certificate. 

You know... if there's enough of human civilization left after the Ancients rise to assume there are death certificates. 

Don't know about you, but I get the feeling there isn't.

"I'm gonna go with giant cobra on this one. He's just there, cleaning up the leftovers..."

For me, the best scenes in the movie all take place in that underground facility. Most of the action there is just so inane. It's really just this boring office. Not so different from any others except their bosses really are evil. (I'm going to assume these massive deities they serve are evil. Good ones probably wouldn't expect a sacrifice? ...right?) It amuses me that they're taking bets on which monster will be summoned because that's exactly what working in an office is like. You have to have something to break the tedium. Or, in their cases, the horror. 

"I love the bit just after Holden (Jesse Williams) tells Dana about the two-way mirror and they trade rooms. He's been all gentlemanly but she has a little peep when he goes to undress. It amuses me."

One of the other moments I love comes after Marty (Fran Kranz) and Dana (Kristen Connolly) unleash the nightmares. There's this moment of stillness before the elevator doors ping and the corridor explodes. You have to watch it a few times just to take in all the craziness happening there. And, well, for the LOLs because it's hilarious. 

(Yes, I know I need help.)

By the way, Marty is my favourite character. He's hilarious. From his massive extendable coffee cup bong to his deep revelations, he steals every scene he's in. Plus, it's nice to see the stoner make it past the first couple of killings. 

"I love that the stoner survives and keeps on surviving. That's their mistake, of course, because they messed with his weed. He's my favourite character because he's got all the best lines."

I've already spoken about the ending a little but I want to go back to the intro for a minute. Were you paying attention? There's great foreshadowing going on there, even though you'd probably only appreciate it after watching the movie a second time.

I strongly suggest watching The Cabin in the Woods at least twice because it's one of those movies that you take something different away from with each viewing. Every time you re-watch this one, you'll notice things you never noticed before.

The cast shows Whedon's loyalty to certain actors, like Amy Acker (Lin) and Tom Lenk (Ronald). Chris Hemsworth (Curt), of course, is a great addition and Sigourney Weaver as The Director is a geeky must-have cameo.

"Can you believe that's Thor?! Just look how tiny he is!

At the time, it was a cast of (more or less) unknowns, except for the big reveal at the end. I didn't even know anything about Chris Hemsworth at the time. Seriously, though, tiny!

Joss Whedon often stayed loyal to the same actors and you can see it in The Cabin in the Woods. All directors do it, of course. Hitchcock, Carpenter, Coppola, Tarantino, Cameron. You work with who you know. Like everyone else, directors get comfortable working with certain actors. "

I appreciate the ending in so many ways. One, I'm not going to sit here and pretend humans are the worst thing to ever happen to this planet. Heavy, I know. (You should have dinner with me sometime. I'm a DELIGHTFUL conversationalist.) Secondly, they went BIG. There's no way that shit's turning around. What does that mean? It means no sequels, which is a pretty bold choice, given it's a horror. most horror movies leave some sort of opening for the franchise to grow, even if they don't use it. That's never really been Joss's style. (Just see the end of Angel.)

"The ending is so frustrating! Where it ends... I want more! I want to see the end of the world! Dammit, Joss, stop cutting away!

"Would I kill my friend or let the Old Ones rise? ...I'm gonna say kill my friend. At least I'd have some kind of chance at living."

That's it for us today but be sure to check back tomorrow for our next modern horror film.

As always, this review was brought to you 
by husband and wife cinephiles, 
Wondra and Jay Vanian.