Monthly Archives: January 2014

Movie Review: “House Hunting” (2013)

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Not a bad looking cover, but I was tired of looking at it so I wanted to go ahead and watch this so I could delete it from my queue.

This is yet another Netflix movie that I saw knowing nothing of the plot. I put it in my queue ages ago, based purely upon the mediocre star rating (which mediocre star ratings on Netflix for horror movies are usually an indication of a decent movie). I finally got myself in the right mood to watch a marginally unknown cast deliver try and deliver some horror on a slim budget.

House Hunting  begins with a split story, following two separate families as they are searching for a new house. Family #1 consists of husband Charlie, teen daughter Emmy, and new wife Susan. Family #2 consists of husband Don, teen son Jason, and matriarch Leslie. During the day’s home searching activities, both families encounter a peculiar man. This man turns out to be the seller of the same house that both families roll up to at the same time. An aside, I recall how awkward it was when I was house hunting once, and another family stopped to look at the house at the same time I did. There was an odd, darting of the eyes, uncomfortable stand-off of who liked the house better, was the other party interested, etc. I digress.

So both families get to the remote home at the same time and discover the house is abandoned. The families encounter a severely traumatized young woman running through the woods, who they discover has had her tongue cut our and she cannot speak. The families drive away from the house in an effort to get this young woman some aid, however they are unable to leave as the road keeps taking them back to the house. After all afternoon of trying to escape, they families concede and retreat inside the home.

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At this point, the movie turns into a psychological standoff between the families; both fathers are pretty overbearing. And slowly the families unwind…going crazy having to stay put in this house for days and then weeks. Predictably they have to face their inner demons. While there are some supernatural elements, including a few out-of-place ghost cameos,  House Hunting is mostly a psychological thriller.

Overall Impression:

If this was the first horror movie I’d seen to utilize the “twist” cyclical concept, then I would have given House Hunting a better rating. There are just far better executed of these types of films, which I am hesitant to list because if you know the other movies like this, then there is no twist. So I will do you a kindness and discreetly list them here behind a strike-through: Dead End (2003), Triangle (2009), Timecrimes (2007), The Butterfly Effect (2004), The Machinist (2004), and Donnie Darko (2001)

Ultimately House Hunting was very slow-paced, a little boring, obviously low-budget, but it did have an interesting idea (although this idea is not exactly novel to modern thriller cinema). The acting fell flat for me as well. In fact, I was really distracted by Don (Art LaFleur) in the trivial sense that to me, he will forever be Silver Fox from 1995’s gem of a teeny-bop movie Man of the House (JTT!!).

Pros: unique, twist, thoughtful plot
Cons: tried to be too many things, slow/tedious, low-budget, wooden acting, unlikable characters

Mashup status: See strike-through above for spoiler list of similar movies.

Rating: 5.5/10

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Movie Review: “Sorority House Massacre” (1986)

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I somehow managed to go nearly 30 years without viewing this gem. As a child, I remember the Sorority House Massacre VHS cover in the rental store and thought it looked pretty menacing. An aside, I first began watching scary movies as a young girl, mostly enjoying USA’s Up All Night and TNT’s Monstervision weekend B-movie series. So I rarely actually checked movies out from the rental stores until I was older. But when my dad and I would peruse the stores after school, I would usually wander off into the horror section and admire the glorious 80s cover art. I digress…

When I saw this cover posted in Netflix, I instantly remembered it from when I was a child and realized I had never actually watched it and added it to my queue. I didn’t let it hang out there for long and sat down to watch it the following weekend.

Much like a lot of great 80s cover art, the depiction is misleading. It isn’t about a rogue, sex-crazed maniac who has carefully selected a sorority house full of scantily-clad, defenseless chicks. But rather, the film revolves around Beth, a doe-eyed college student who is checking out a campus sorority to see if she wants to become a member. Through flashbacks and  scenes at a local psychiatric hospital, we learn that as a child, Beth’s brother Bobby slaughtered their entire family, but was captured before he could kill Beth.

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Beth doesn’t remember any of this, and the audience doesn’t officially learn all of this backstory until later in the movie. But the allusions are clear so there’s really no surprise. It’s also not surprising when Bobby escapes the mental hospital and treks back to his childhood home, which is now the campus sorority house.

I will end this relatively vague plot summary here and note that Sorority House Massacre is extremely predictable, but is still fun. The sorority sisters aren’t “naughty” and we only see a smidge of nudity here and there, mainly when the sisters are getting ready for class. And I’m a girl so I can say this, but at no point during my college career-and I lived in the dorms for all 4 years-did I shower or change freely amongst my roommates. So this is just another little silly yet completely characteristic of the B-movie slasher.

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One thing I’d like to add is that I saw this very close to when I first watched the remake of Black Christmas (2006). This is worth bringing up because unless you watch Sorority House Massacre before the Black Christmas remake, then you’ll most likely find yourself comparing the two throughout the viewing of Sorority House as I did. The similarities are glaring, especially regarding the sorority house being the former location of a mass murder and the killer has escaped from a mental hospital to hunt down a family member.

Of note, Sorority House Massacre is also frequently compared to Halloween (1978). I don’t disagree with that statement, but to me, Sorority House feels more like the Black Christmas remake. Sorority House obviously pre-dates the Black Christmas remake so I don’t hold at fault for Sorority House for having such a similar concept. I doubt you will encounter the same similarities with the original Black Christmas (1974) because it does have a different story than Black Christmas (2006)/Sorority House Massacre.

Overall Impression:

There are a little too many conveniences for me to rate this any higher than a 7-like how Beth mystically finds her way to the sorority house that happens to have been her childhood home. And that Bobby would know his sister is there, or that he would even know how to get back to the house after all those years. But part of the cheese of Sorority House Massacre is B-rated charm so this is relatively easily overlooked.

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The dream sequences were pretty spooky. There was an eerie scene with the family sitting around the dining table; they looked like mannequins and then blood began dripping from the chandelier. There was also some decent yet tame kill scenes. These scenes weren’t graphic but the gore felt unique (a little reminiscent to me of the Italian giallo style).

Pros: fun, classic B-movie 80s slasher
Cons: silly-not genuinely scary, felt too similar to other horror classics, bad acting

Mashup status: Ancestrally speaking, this is the child of Halloween (1978) and the aunt of Black Christmas (2006) with most every cliched 80s B-movie horror gimmick you can think of.

Rating: 7/10

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Movie Review: “Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia” (2013)

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I don’t know who this ethereal woman is, and levitating and fog have absolutely nothing to do with this film’s story, but I still really liked this movie!

As much as it pangs me to admit, and despite the fact that I will probably receive a lot of criticism for my approval, I really did enjoy Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia. I’m a supporter of all production categories of the horror film genre; I truly enjoy B-movies, low budgets, direct-to-video/streaming, indie, and yes even mainstream horror. I do think that mainstream horror has gotten a bad wrap in recent years (with the exception of some-for example, James Wan) but generally, I have liked much of the big budget horror I have seen recently.

Two other reasons I enjoyed this Ghosts of Georgia: 1) the ghost story is my favorite sub-genre of horror and 2) I’m from Georgia. I was interested in the historical aspect of the south because-I’m not biased or anything-but I think the south has such a rich (and albeit unsavory) history, I was interested in how it would be depicted in this movie.

I was also anticipating this movie because I genuinely enjoyed the first Haunting in Connecticut movie. I had also heard that this one-despite the odd name and having zero to do with the first-is loosely based on a true story. I know, I know-there are oodles of horror movies “based on true events.” In this one, the characters have the same names, and the story about Mr. Gordy is reported to have happened, however beyond that, the crux of the movie-the underground railroad-was Hollywood’s way of elevating the story. For me, it worked.

We begin with perhaps one of the most cliched horror movie openings: a family is moving from the hectic city life into a “new” (read “old and haunted”) house in the remote countryside. In addition to mom, dad, and young daugther Heidi, mom’s flitty sister Joyce also moves in with the family. She is staying in an uber creepy RV on the property. Some spooky things begin to happen at the Wyrick ‘s new residence, namely with Heidi; she is an only child and begins to have conversations with an invisible friend named Mr. Gordy.

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Mom-who is of the high-strung, stay-at-home variety-begins to get weirded out and fearful of Heidi’s relationship with her “imaginary” friend. We learn that mom has psychic abilities-she can see/talk/interact with dead people-however she represses her abilities by taking loads of medication. As Heidi’s relationship with Mr. Gordy develops, Mom worries that her daughter might have inherited her psychic abilities. Predictably, we learn that a man named Mr. Gordy once lived at the Wyrick’s home, and Heidi can even pick him out of a collection of pictures unprovoked.

Through her interactions with Mr. Gordy, and some encounters mom has while off her meds, as well as the typical horror movie research/investigation done by the family, we learn the property was once the part of the underground railroad. The former owner-the Stationmaster-was also a taxidermist. And in the woods, underneath the ruins of the former cabin is a labyrinth of dirt hallways used for housing slaves.

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This is where I will end my plot summary. I will say there is a twist, one I was generally surprised by. There was also the expected “save the kid from evil ghosts” action scenes. These were pretty silly and predictable but the bad guy was creepy enough that I tolerated these scenes. The ending was a cheesefest but stick around until just before the credits and you’ll see some candid photos of the actual Mr. Gordy and the Wyrick family.

Overall Impression:

I liked this much better than the first Haunting in Connecticut film-I have no qualms admitting that I enjoy a “sequel” more than an original since these two movies are really not related. On that note, I will say that Ghosts of Georgia feels similar to the first.

Overall, the movie was fun, moved quickly, and really held my interest. Abigail Spencer (the mom) was tiresome but perhaps that was just her character. And Chad Michael Murray I felt was miscast; I could see him netter as an older brother rather than the dad. The star was Emily Alyn Lind; child actors can typically wear on me but Emily carried this movie well.

Beyond the cast, I also commend the writer. The Civil War is really overlooked by the horror movie industry. I can rattle off a dozen Nazi zombie flicks but I struggle to think of other Civil War movies besides than this one, Dead Birds (2004), and perhaps Ravenous (1999).

Pros: great pacing, spooky, rich story, genuinely scary bad guy
Cons: absurd and misleading title, cheesey ending, mainstream

Mashup status: Think The House of Dies Drear (1984)-shoutout to those who know this movie!-meets Scarecrows (1988) and The Messengers (2007)/Messengers 2: The Scarecrow (2009).

Rating: 7.5/10

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TV Show Review: Season 1 of “The Following” (2013)

the-followingLast fall when I heard about the new TV thriller drama The Following I was intrigued. As an English major and gothic literature fan, as well as a huge horror enthusiast, I was even more interested after hearing the killer was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. I am, however, a stickler for watching television shows in order. So when I learned that The Following was premiering on a Monday night, I was bummed (I work Monday evenings). I was even more upset when I heard a colleague talking about how much she enjoyed the show “except for the gore.”

I don’t have a DVR and didn’t catch when the episodes were scheduled to re-air, so I had come to terms that I wouldn’t be watching The Following anytime soon. Early in the fall while I was browsing Netflix Streaming, I was stoked when I saw Season 1 of The Following available. The boyfriend and I sat down one weekend soon after and had a marathon , progressing through the first season in 2 weeks. I don’t know if I would have been committed enough to catch every episode as it aired weekly, so I am glad that the streaming option was available. It makes it convenient, especially for the two of us to watch at our own pace if we had to work late.

Overall Impression:

I am enjoying The Following. Sure, it is flawed and cliched, but I am invested in Ryan Hardy’s character. I don’t care for Claire; her melodramatic mother lioness character got old for me fast, but her son, Joey is tolerable-which is something I can’t say for most child actors. I really can’t stand Emma, but I dislike her to the point that I will continue watching to see her (hopeful) demise. There seemed to be an unnecessary emphasis on the relationship among Emma/Jacob/Paul but I will say it did add to the evolution of the story. Interestingly, serial killer Joe Carroll is intriguing to me; I don’t dislike him and actually do find him charming. Despite his obvious villain status, I his character is likeable, complex, and complicated.

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Plot-wise, the story evolved from a “whodunit” to more of an examination of an extremist cult. Carroll, who is imprisoned for much of Season 1, has managed to recruit an extensive band of followers (hence the show’s title The Following). Realistically some things bother me, like the prison where Carroll was housed should seriously be shut down; It’s a bit unbelievable for me to buy that no one noticed the dozens upon dozens of visitors Carroll received during his time served. And then also no one monitored the visitors’ conversations or inspected Carroll’s mail? Despite these story oversights, I still thoroughly enjoyed most episodes. I can honestly say the story evolved in an unpredictable way for me, at least early on in the season.

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Looking into the future, I can eventually see the Poe angle getting tired. Ideally, I think it would be interesting to incorporate other horror literature-inspired killers, say someone obsessed with Lovecraft? It could be good if incorporated in the right way. Despite some of its issues, overall Season 1 was strong however I am a little concerned that unless some dramatic new devices or storylines are introduced, viewers will become bored.

Regardless, I’m definitely anticipating Season 2. I am still unsure if my schedule will allow me to “follow” along (ha ha, see what I did there?) in real time. I just may end up having to catch the second installment in marathon mode when it hits Netflix Steaming hopefully later this year.

Pros: Poe and literary angle, engaging story, Bacon and Purefoy give commendable performances, (generally) likeable characters
Cons: some plot holes, Season 1 concept might get tired unless Season 2 adds some “oomph”

Mashup status: Think Se7en meets The Killing and Prison Break

Rating: 7.5/10

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Too Horrifying to Watch Again: A List

In every film enthusiast’s repertoire there tends to be a handful of movies that, for one reason or another, are just truly un-rewatchable. I have compiled a list of those films that are for me, just too horrifying to sit through again. Some of them are just plain gruesome, while others just made me so uncomfortable during the first go ’round, that once is enough.

Disclaimer: Some of these aren’t necessarily considered straight horror but they do all hold horror elements. Also, the films listed here aren’t necessarily deemed “bad” movies, but for me, I won’t be re-watching anytime soon.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

This one is really two-fold for me. First off, I really get bothered by rape scenes. I know, I know, obviously well-adjusted people don’t generally enjoy rape, but watching rape in movies just makes me feel so uncomfortable.

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The second reason A Clockwork Orange makes my list is that I am terribly frightened by eyeballs. When people poke or prod at their eyeballs, I just cant take it. Elementary school was the worst-remember when the kids would flip their eyelids inside-out? ::shudders:: And then there’s that one time when I was the first kid in class to finish  her assignment, the teacher called me over to her desk to help her “find” her lost contact that her eyeball.

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Note: This was kind of difficult for me to look at even to post here.

Martyrs (2008)

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This is probably on many-a-disturbing list. While the brutality and visuals are truly graphic, the torture was arguably not futile; there was a reason (while extremely questionable) why the secret society performed their controversial experiments. A step-up from the “torture porn” of say Hostel, this was much more psychologically disturbing beyond the surface level. I would be interested in re-watching the early scenes of Martyrs to fully appreciate the story, however I cannot get past the persecution and viciousness of the latter part of the film. Martyrs is true horror.

An American Crime (2007)

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Part of what makes this story so distressing is that it is based on the true story of a young girl tortured to death by an adult caregiver, a housewife, who had several children of her own. The acting was amazing in this film, especially considering there were so many child-actors. While I won’t spoil it here, what is heartbreaking for me is the way the movie is directed. I was unaware of the real-life case this was based on and the ending-when Slyvia flees to her parents-really got to me.

Funny Games (1997 & 2007)

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While this was certainly disturbing, I was more annoyed at the main characters than truly horrified by the death and torture. Yes, the scene with the young boy was extremely unpredictable, as well as heinous, but ultimately I felt like all of the characters-victims included-were bored with their roles. Additionally, I was really irked by Paul’s “breaking of the 4th wall” when he pulls a Zack Morris-acknowledging the viewers behind the camera.

Deadgirl (2008)

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Again, the rape really was excessive. In fact, that was much of the film. I guess I just didn’t get the point of the movie.

The Mist (2007)

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This was a fun movie up until the end. Lots of decent special effects and creatures, however the overwhelming sense of hopelessness in the final act is just too much for me to want to sit through again.

Kids (1995)

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This is definitely not in the horror genre at all but it is scary beyond-belief and on a very real level. I remember watching this when I was in college. I don’t think I even kissed a guy for like a year afterwards. One could argue this is a good movie to screen to middle-aged kids during their sexual education classes.

Antichrist (2009)

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Whether you find the film good or not, child death and genital mutilation make this a no-go for me on the re-watch scale. Somber, desperate, and bleak, the atmosphere is visually and psychologically haunting.

Honorable mentions: Frontier(s) (2007), The Strangers (2008), The Woman (2011)

The following I haven’t yet seen but I suspect they would fall onto this list. I do plan on eventually getting to them: Cannibal Holocaust (1980), I Spit on Your Grave (1978 & 2010), A Serbian Film (2010), Irreversible (2002), The Last House on the Left (1972 & 2009), and Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (2007).

Notice: This list will be continually updated as I encounter other movies that fit this category.

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January 2014: To-Be Watched & Upcoming Reviews

To-Be Watched:

Hatchet III (2013)
Room 237 (2012)
Lizzie Borden Took an Axe (2014)
I Saw the Devil (2010)
Stitches (2012)

The Keep (1983)
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Sorority House Massacre (1986)
*Dexter: Complete Series (2006-2013)

Upcoming Reviews:

The Following: Season One (2013)
Antichrist (2009)
Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013)

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