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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Movie Review: “The Loved Ones” (2009)

I don’t usually buy movies before seeing them, but I took a chance and went ahead and bought The Loved Ones shortly after it was released on DVD. I heard it was a breakout horror flick so I had intentions of viewing it soon but wasn’t sure when I’d be available through Netflix or Redbox. Well one whole year later, I finally got around to viewing it. And three months later after watching it, I am finally getting around to reviewing it!

The film begins with a flashback; teenaged Brent is driving while his father is alongside him in the passenger’s seat. The two are laughing and having fun and it is obvious the two are close. Out of nowhere, a battered figure stumbles across the road, causing Brent to veer into a tree, killing his father.

We flash-forward 6 months to see Brent looking disheveled, a bit broken, but is still chugging along with his high school life. He is decidedly going to the upcoming prom with his girlfriend, Holly who looks well-adjusted and is supportive of Brent. After school, Brent is approached by timid Lola, who asks him to be her date to the dance. Brent is genuinely apologetic but obviously hurts Lola’s feelings when he declines her invitation. Shortly after, we see a shot of Brent and Holly gettin’ it on in Holly’s car while Lola watches in fury. Soon after, we see Brent leaving home to go on a walk through the Australian outback. He has his beloved dog along with him, as well as his tunes and his weed. After scaling a scarily-jagged cliff, Brent is zoning out when he and his dog are attacked. Brent wakes up tied to a chair in a tacky prom suit being held hostage by Lola in her family’s kitchen. The brutality begins and doesn’t let up until the credits. The only relief the audience gets is the contact switch from Brent’s situation to Brent’s chubby-goofy friend Jamie, who is attending the prom with his dream girl goth chick Mia.

This is where I’ll stop my plot summary, leaving this a relatively-spoiler-free review. The scenes with Brent and Lola’s sadistic family are difficult to watch, although they are some of the most unique torture scenes on film I’ve seen. Such so that I (as a medical reference librarian by day) did some research on the lobotomy technique Lola’s family used. There is also uncomfortable intimate tension between Lola and her father.At the end, there is some predictability with Holly coming to Brent’s rescue. There is also a connection to the battered figure we see in the beginning flashback when Brent’s dad was killed in the car accident, as well as a connection with Mia.

Overall Impression:

Torture horror doesn’t generally rank high for me but The Loved Ones had enough of a unique plot and good acting to keep me entertained. The gore is creative and different and just when you think the camera will pan away–it doesn’t. The movie balances the darkness with enough comedy that it doesn’t end up being a completely serious film.  

My criticism is that there is an unnecessary amount of focus on Jamie. I obviously understand the connection between Mia’s brother and Brent, however it felt a bit excessive to have nearly half the film centered around Jamie’s story. I guess the director was trying to juxtapose the two characters and demonstrate how ironically different their prom nights were, but I think that could’ve been communicated with less time dedicated to Jamie/Mia.

This minor problem aside, I would rank this one up there as one of the best horror films of the year. Certainly not for every horror fan, this is a stand-out movie with enough originality to be enjoyed on that note alone. Recommended to those who enjoy a side of comedy with their gore and for those who aren’t turned off by brutality and graphic, creative methods of torture.

Pros: brutal, unique, fast-paced
Cons: maybe too brutal, disturbing scene of animal violence, distracted Jamie side story, predictable ending

Mashup status: With a setting reminiscent of Wolf Creek (2005), think the sadistic Sawyer family from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and possessive Annie Wilkes from Misery (1990) meet the torture/comedy feel of Hostel (2005).

Rating: 7/10

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Movie Review: ‘Grabbers’ (2012)

I was browsing Netflix Streaming last night looking for something entertaining, perhaps mindless to watch. I’ll interject here that I don’t typically watch Netflix movies during the week; my boyfriend and I had eaten an early dinner and were looking for something to watch on TV and there really wasn’t much on. Well, there were a few shows I’d have been okay with but the BF vehemently despises commercials and during prime time news, commercials seem more annoying than usual. I digress.

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So I’d not heard of Grabbers, nor did any of the cast members ring a bell. The title was really off-putting- it sounded like a total cheese-fest, however, since I was honestly considering Sharknado, silly movie titles obviously don’t scare me away. The synopsis  for Grabbers states, “When alien monsters go on a murderous rampage on an Irish island, the only survivor is drunk ” because alcohol makes blood toxic to the aliens. Now, as a sober cop tries to stop the carnage, the rest of the town must get wasted in order to survive.- I wanted to participate in the film as much as I could, so I cracked open a 24-oz can of Natural Lite I bought at a gas station on the way home from work and the BF and I hit the play button.

As the movie begins, I was impressed with the quality of the film. It wasn’t low-budget as I had initially thought. We first see a shot of the ocean and fisherman’s boat and then a fireball colliding into the water. The action begins almost immediately into the movie when viewer sees a quick shot of a tentacle erupting from the sea shortly after the fireball, grabbing hold of one of the men. The effects are obviously CGI but really well done. We’ll see more CGI later in the film. Enter our two main characters, Ciáran O’Shea, a slobby mediocre looking GARDA officer is picking up his temporary replacement partner, Lisa Nolan, a young, beautiful and no-nonsense officer from the Irish mainland.

At first, the dueling cops concept is a bit off-putting; its been done thousands of times before in film and on TV. But I reminded myself that the name of this gem is Grabbers and the only way of combating the bad guys is by being drunk, so obviously this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously so decided not to either. After some back and forth banter in the cruiser, the pair gets a call that several killer whales have washed up on shore. Ciáran and Lisa meet up with a local medical examiner, Dr. Smith who is unable to determine the cause of the whales’ demise. While the whales have been obviously attacked gruesomely by some creature the the officers don’t seem altogether concerned at this point.

So after the main cast of characters has been introduced, the scene cuts to an unknown couple. Bad news, they are probably doomed since we’ve never seen them before. The audience witnesses a satisfactory kill-scene which is shortly followed by another scene in which we get to know the village’s favorite hobo-looking drunk, Paddy, a bit more intimately. We also get to see more of the creature, which cannot get the upper hand in the drunken altercation with Paddy. The viewers also learn that Miss Alien is a mom, and has conveniently laid her slew of eggs on the beach.

After taking an alien monster hostage, the motley crew perform a few novice experiments on the creature and soon determine that a substantial blood-alcohol level has magical defensive powers against the alien octopus. Oh no, though, because conveniently, beautiful Lisa admits that she’s never been drunk before! Apprehensively, Lisa agrees to throw back several pints, including some homemade moonshine that Paddy cooked up. After she’s predictably sloshed (and giggly and still beautiful, perhaps even more attractive than before) Ciáran and Lisa invite the entire village to a local pub for free drinks in an effort to safeguard the townsfolk from the monster alien.

The pub gets comically drunk, the crew gets expectedly the upper hand, and overcomes the big momma alien with a flare gun plus the remainder of Paddy’s homemade brew. The alien’s babies, who have mostly hatched, are also easily dispatched. We cut to Ciáran and Lisa engaging in their celebratory buzzed-make out session (did I mention that none of the main characters ever had to pee?). The end. Or is it? Cut to an unhatched alien egg on the beach.

Overall Impression:
I was generally amused and unexpectedly enjoyed Grabbers. It was comically predictable but fun and well-executed. My main criticism was the actors’ heavy Irish accents. To be fair, the audience didn’t really need to understand all of the dialogue for the movie to work so it wasn’t too much of a detriment and was only mildy distracting.

Cons: Dialogue difficult to follow, not-so original idea, obligatory romance
Pros: Good special effects, decent gore, fun and funny

Mashup status: Think The Mist (2007), Slither (2006), and Tremors (1990) monsters meets the pub charm and camaraderie of Shaun of the Dead (2004) with a slight nod to Duchovny’s sci-fi comedy Evolution (2001)

Rating: 7/10

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