Horror Film Review: Annabelle (dir by John R. Leonetti)


Annabelle

Remember Annabelle, the tres creepy doll from The Conjuring?

Well, she’s back and she’s starring in a film of her very own!  Annabelle is the first horror film to be given a wide release this October and, judging from the commercials, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. are really hoping that you’ll remember just how scary and effective The Conjuring was when it comes time to decide whether you want to see Annabelle or Gone Girl this weekend.

Of course, Annabelle actually have very little do with The Conjuring.  Though Father Perez, the token concerned priest played by Tony Amendola, mentions Ed and Lorraine Warren, neither one of them actually appears in the film.  Neither do any of the other characters or ghosts from The Conjuring.  The only link between the two films is that doll.

Taking place in 1969, Annabelle is an origin story of sorts.  Doctor John Gordon (Ward Horton) buys a doll for his pregnant wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis).  The doll looks evil from the minute that Mia unwraps it but, according to the film, it was actually harmless until a psychotic hippie girl (Tree O’Toole) bled on it.  That blood seeped into the doll’s eye and the next thing you know…

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No,  I’m not going to spoil it for you.  In fact, it’s really not necessary for me to spoil it for you because I imagine you can probably guess everything that’s going to happen.  If you’ve ever seen a haunted house film, you know exactly what’s going to happen when John goes to work and Mia gets left in the house alone.  If you’ve ever seen a demonic possession film, you can guess what’s going to happen when Mia happens to stumble across the occult book store next door.  And, if you’ve ever seen any film, you can guess that the book store is managed by a sassy mystic played by Alfre Woodard.

That’s right!  There’s nothing surprising about Annabelle!

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Horror films are unique in that they often times actually benefit from being so predictable.  You watch in dread because you know that something terrible is going to happen even though the characters in the film do not.  You know enough to yell, “Don’t open that door!” but the characters in the film don’t.  That’s exactly what makes a film like Annabelle scary.

The Conjuring, I thought, was not only a great horror film but it was also one of the best films of 2013.  That’s because, along with being a scary movie, The Conjuring also dealt quite intelligently with very real issues of faith and family.  The Conjuring was fun to watch because it was scary but it stayed with you because it was full of subtext.  Annabelle, on the other hand, is a film without subtext.  Everything important about Annabelle can be found right on the surface.

Annabelle is a film that exists solely to scare you and how much you enjoy it will probably depend on how much you enjoy  horror films to begin with.  The shock scenes are handled well, with an emphasis on sudden noise on the soundtrack and intimidating shadows appearing in the background.  Everything that distinguished The Conjuring — the attention to detail, the lively performances, and the imaginative plotting — has been pushed to the side to make room for the next scare.

As a result, Annabelle is one of those films that makes you jump while you’re watching it but doesn’t stick around in your head afterwards.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre and like a good scare, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in Annabelle.  (It’s no Devil’s Due but it’s still better than the latest Paranormal Activity film.)  If you’re not a horror fan — well, then you probably weren’t planning on seeing Annabelle in the first place.

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Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 5.26 “Living Doll”


Talky Tina
Today’s televised horror is the Living Doll episode of The Twilight Zone. This memorably creepy episode takes a look at what happens when a suburban jerk of a father (played by Telly Savalas) gets into a fight with his daughter’s doll, Talky Tina (voiced by June Foray). Things do not end well for one of them.

Seriously, don’t mess with Talky Tina.

This episode was directed by Richard Sarafain, written by Charles Beaumont, and originally broadcast on November 1st, 1963.

 

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part One.


So, I think it may be fair to say that of most of the posters on this great site, I am probably the one who least enjoys the horror genre…or at least is never as excited about it as everyone else. It isn’t that I do not like horror films – there are quite a few I really love – but I just expect a lot from them. Probably – unfairly – more than I expect from other films. Why? Because I honestly think that when done right, horror films can be some of the most emotionally affecting films from any genre. But when done wrong – as I think far too many of them are – it just feels cheap and manipulative – and as someone who loves film, who loves how they can generate empathy and tell interesting stories, it always just feels like a slap to the face.

This love/hate relationship usually makes me hesitant to watch most horror films, which of course is an issue come October. This month is wall to wall horror from 12:01AM on the 1st – to midnight on Halloween. With this comes the pressure to watch a ton of horror films, and although in the past I have watched a few, I’ve never taken part in any sort of marathon that so many bloggers partake in this time of year…until now. This is part one – of what I hope will be a month long series – of quick reviews for horror films I watch this month. I hope to watch at least one a day.

October 1st: ‘Thale’ (dir. Aleksander Nordaas)

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A very low budget Norwegian fantasy/horror film, with a lot of interesting ideas, that sadly doesn’t execute on enough of them to reach any level of greatness…which I think was possible.

‘Thale’ is about two friends, working in a crime scene cleaning service, who stumble upon a hidden basement at one of the locations they have been hired to clean. Within they find a lab of sorts, and a beautiful young woman who is unable to speak – and is most certainly more than she appears to be. The result is a rather unique horror film with fantasy elements; one that thrives on atmosphere for the first hour or so, building a genuine level of suspense and mystery. It is an intriguing story, one that is slow to build but never boring. There is certainly a lot under the surface.

The only real issue I had was that there is narration throughout that tries a bit too hard to add depth to the story, both narratively and thematically, without much success. Mainly because the exposition within would benefit more from a ‘show don’t tell’ approach – and also because the actual narrative comes off as so simple that many of the themes expressed through the narration have nothing to do with what we have actually been shown.

This isn’t too big of an issue really, and I can’t fault it for trying to give more meaning to the story, but had it executed on some of the ideas it alludes to under the surface than maybe this wouldn’t have been an issue at all – especially if it had been a half hour longer, and explored the fantasy element in more detail.

Still, the performances are very good and – given its very low budget – so are the effects and overall production. It certainly has its flaws, but it still warrants a recommendation.

Oct. 2nd: ‘Pontypool’ (dir. Bruce McDonald)

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‘Pontypool’ is a mostly lean – though often convoluted – and creative horror film that builds slowly and contains just the right dash of humor. It is at times essentially ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ in film form.

It stars Stephen McHattie as an ex-shock jock who has reached a point in his career where he is stuck doing an early morning radio gig in a small Canadian town. He is quick to try to cause a stir, but his producer reminds him that the listeners just want to know the weather. As the morning slowly passes by the station begins to get weird reports of people, herds of people, swarming the streets. Whats seems to them to initially be a joke begins to turn into a life or death emergency situation where a virus is infecting the town, keeping the workers at the studio locked indoors, trying to figure out how it all started.

This isn’t the scariest horror film you will ever see, neither is it the most suspenseful – yet the development of the story, the unraveling mystery and the urgency of the performances make it an absorbing viewing experience. Things do start to get a little convoluted as we begin to better understand how the “virus” infecting people is being spread. The film seems to be making it up as it goes, and ironically it can’t seem to think of the rights words to explain what is actually happening.

But it does managed to create an interesting subtext on how language has been simplified and diminished by gossip, social websites and the media. It would also probably benefit from multiple viewings. But for now, I recommend you at least watch it once.

Oct. 3rd: ‘Pumpkinhead’ (dir. Stan Winston)

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‘Pumpkinhead’ is a creepy, cliche and cheesy as hell horror film about revenge, that manages to overcome all its faults with its brilliant creature design, a great central performance, and an emotional core that gives all the supernatural violence some resonance. The result isn’t a masterpiece – by any stretch – but it is a damn near perfect horror film for Halloween/October – especially with its eerie supernatural aesthetics.

The film stars Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, a single father raising his son on a farm in the south. One day a group of teens (including a few blondes and a douchey “bad boy”) arrive in town. Their destination? A cabin in the woods…of course. On their way they encounter Harley at a local store he owns, which accidentally results in his son being killed by one of the teens in a dirt bike accident. The group heads for the cabin, fearing the repercussions, while Harley tracks down a creepy old lady who, according to local legend, can summon a demon-like creature to avenge the wrong doing done to a man.

From there we get a rather unoriginal creature feature – as the demon, called Pumpkinhead, hunts down the group of teens one by one. What kept this interesting, for me, was the structure of the events of the film and the development of Henriksen’s character. Henriksen is a great actor, and the bond that is built between him and his son, and the emotions he displays as he struggles with his son’s death and the revenge he seeks, manages to ground the film and gives it enough of an emotional relevancy to excuse the cheesiness of the supernatural horror elements – and some truly shitty dialogue.

On top of that are the great spooky horror aesthetics and atmosphere – moody lighting, fog…pumpkins – as well as the awesome design of the Pumpkinhead by special effects legend Stan Winston (‘Aliens’, ‘Terminator’) – who actually directed the film. It all adds up to an above average horror flick that I recommend everyone watch this October.

Review: The Wolf Among Us


The-Wolf-Among-UsThe Wolf Among Us was the first game released by Telltale after the extraordinary success of The Walking Dead. They had finally found their element, and decided (prudently) to stick with it. But how do you follow up a title based on a comic book series recognized by some as the best game of its year?

It’s simple. Make another title based on a comic.

Fables, the series Telltale’s following project was based upon, is about fairy tale characters we grew up reading about secretly living in our real world, in a real city, hiding their existence by creating their own society. None of that Once Upon A Time cutsey niceness. They are opressed and opressors, have severe flaws in their characters, vices and, in some cases, signs of antisocial personality disorder. That is to say, they’re often psychopaths.

I'll reconcile the shit out of you!

I’ll reconcile the shit out of you!

The game gives you control of Bigby Wolf, sheriff of the fables. As you might have guessed, previously known as the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs fame. Reformed and willing to put his past behind him, Bigby tries to reconcile the poor and rebelious with the powerful and bureaucratic, in a very socially imbalanced society of mythical people.

Bigby is the most human of all characters, ironically. Given the task of upholding the law in this broken, small society where everyone knows everyone else, he lives a lonely life, being recognized and feared for doing his job, which frustrates him. His tendency to bend the rules makes the fables’ mayor office see him as a loose cannon. Bigby is a noir hero, chain smoking and full clad in trenchcoat. Bitter with having to raise his hand against unsatisfied citizens and with the impunity of guileful villains; forced against rebellion, but resentful towards the bureaucrats, he often passes his own kind of law. His humanity is revealed through conversations with the only people close to him. Colin, one of the three pigs he used to terrorize, and Snow White, secretary of the mayor office and object of his affections.

the-wolf-among-us-004The amount of deviance from the path of justice in the game vary depending on your playing style. As you solve a series of murders during the span of the game, you decide how violent Bigby will be towards everyone, from the mostly innocent to the very guilty. However, this is not a story about choices like The Walking Dead, but about people leading double lifes. By taking fables, one of our most powerful cultural symbols of purity and innocence, and twisting and corrupting them, The Wolf Among Us is a modern and allegorical story with heavy noir influences, with fantasy and magic playing a part in the narrative.

It is not without flaws, however. It should be noted that, as the game needs a central story, the mystery of the series of murders obfuscate this amazing world, and one purely interested in the big picture; the unjust society of the fantastical, would be better served by reading the Fables comics. The Wolf Among Us has lots of ups far too early in the game and a few too many downs too late into it. It serves as a decent mystery thriller, and more importantly as an origin story for the comic book series, and it does have absolutely thrilling moments. However, it doesn’t bring much new to the table of longtime Fables fans other than focusing on one of the most interesting characters of its mythos.

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As a standalone story, The Wolf Among Us has amazing action sequences and is a very exciting story up until the last quarter where it disappoints. As part of the Fables series, and possibly first chapter of others to come, it’s a perfect entry point and highly recommended. The complexity of its premise and excellence of some of its moments more than compensates for the lackluster closure of this first chapter. If that’s not enough to convince you, play it for Bigby Wolf, who might just be the coolest detective in videogame history.

Quick Review: Gone Girl (dir. by David Fincher)


gone-girl-posterI stumbled onto the novel for Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in a mall. It sat near the front of the store with the rest of her books, emblazoned with one of those “soon to be a major motion picture” stickers and a “#1 New York Times Bestseller” label on top. I figured I try it, unaware that David Fincher was involved on the project. During that read, I ran to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square to pick up Flynn’s other books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places. After a co-worker and I finished these (I haven’t read Sharp Objects yet), we agreed that we enjoyed them, overall.

Of Gone Girl the Motion Picture, Flynn herself handles the screenwriting duties and she presents an adaptation so close to her novel that I wouldn’t be shocked if the film receives the same response as the first Harry Potter film. I only spotted 2 distinct changes, and these don’t damage the film in any way. They just may make you say..”Oh, crap, she didn’t keep that.”, If anything.

“But Lenny..” You might say, after hearing me tell you this over pizza and soda. “You’re losing me again, you’re talking too much. I never read Gone Girl. I could care less about the book, I just want to know about the movie because tickets are expensive, dammit! Wrap it up. Is it worth seeing or not?”

In a word, yes. Flynn’s story and Fincher’s direction are like Wine and Cheese here. Flynn’s machine gun writing and Fincher’s pacing method could make them as hot a duo as True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Joji Fukunaga. If actress / producer Reese Witherspoon was involved in getting these two together, she may have another gem under her belt to put next to her film Penelope.

Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, a happily married Missouri couple on the verge of their 5th Anniversary. When Nick suddenly discovers his wife is missing, the investigation into her disappearance seems to lead back to him, presenting the question of whether our hero may or may not be involved. Just as with the novel, the audience is given glimpses into Amy’s story through flashbacks of their life together. The movie dances from chapter to chapter (or scene to scene, I should say) in this fashion and does so pretty well. You’ve a love story wrapped in a mystery.

The casting is spot on. There’s not a single person in this film that seemed like they didn’t fit their part. Both Ben Affleck (Argo) and Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, The World’s End) are magnetic when theyre not dealing with each other and if the movie manages to stumble into Awards season, their names could get thrown into the hat.

The supporting cast in Gone Girl is somewhat strong. Carrie Coon does a fine job as Nick’s sister Margo, which was definitely a good choice. It’s Kim Dickens (Hollow Man, Treme), Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry who have the best screen time of any one outside of the leads. Every one of them help to pick up the story when you think it might waver a bit.

“Great!” you may say, getting up to leave. “I’ll check it out. Thanks for letting me know.”, To which I’d ask..”Don’t you want to know about the direction? Cinematography?” You might sit back down, sigh and roll your eyes, as if to say…”Sure, not like you’d let me leave without telling me anyway, right?”

At this point, everything is technical.

Fincher’s direction is straightforward. Working with Jeff Chernoweth, his cinematographer from Fight Club & The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the lighting is what you come to expect from the two. Colors in the present are muted, muddied and almost clinical. By contrast, Amy’s flashbacks appear bright and colorful, but the audience may notice this changing as the story progresses. You could almost say it’s the Zodiac color scheme layered on a different story. Gone Girl doesn’t feel like a “Fincher” movie in the way The Shining was Kubrick’s. It’s more of a Flynn story that would look really good if Fincher put it on screen. I’m not sure if there’s a better way to describe it, actually.

Gone Girl falters in the dialog at times. I had a few moments where scenes that felt fine in the novel fell flat in the film, particularly in some of the flashbacks. Have you ever had a moment where you watch a film, see two people talk to one another and say to yourself (or the person next to you), “Who says that, really?” The relationship of Nick and Amy was a hard, abbreviated sell for me, probably because of the time constraints. You know they’re together, and love is implied (and sexually displayed, I might add), but I can’t say that I recognized a big chemistry between Pike and Affleck. When acting around everyone else they’re great, but between each other, they lost me a little in the beginning. If it were a Blu Ray, I’d be tempted to tap that Chapter Forward button. Mind you, this is coming from a book to movie comparison, so a viewer that hasn’t read the book may respond differently to what’s on screen.

I will say that separately, Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are wonderful in this as Nick & Amy. I hope that this gets Pike some more lead dramatic roles, as she was more than memorable here.

Both Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross handled the scoring duties for Gone Girl. In their 3rd go around with Fincher, the sounds are similar to The Social Network, though a bit more subdued. They have a few standout tracks, and their music blends well in Gone Girl, though.

Overall, Gone Girl makes for a interesting night at the cinema, but it’s best viewed if you can manage to avoid the hype and catch it just to sate a curious mind.

Horror Song of the Day: It Was Always You, Helen from Candyman (by Phillip Glass)


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Latest Horror Song of the Day comes courtesy of one Phillip Glass who was tasked with composing the film score for the film adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden”. The film would become Candyman.

“It Was Always You, Helen” becomes the film’s overarching theme throughout the film. Unlike other horror themes before it, the one created by Glass for Candyman highlighted the Southern Gothic backstory of the title character and the origins of the Candyman legend. It’s been called a minimalist score, yet it’s selling the film score short, especially this theme. While Glass has become famous for his work within the minimalist music movement he actually created a very symphonic score, albeit one which focused on subtlety over bombastic.

While listened on it’s own doesn’t evoke any sort of shivers up one’s arms and back, this theme will bring about such feeling of supernatural dread when paired with the film. It’s a shame that Phillip Glass doesn’t do more horror film scores because this theme and the score for the film shows that he has a knack for it.

Horror AMV of the Day: Sweet Dreams (Another)


Another

For the first Horror AMV of the Day we go back to good old Another. Those not well-versed in the world of anime this series is literally titled Another.

Another is one of the best horror anime to arrive in years and it combines elements of the supernatural ghost story, mystery and, most important of all, enough gore to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty fan. What better way to advertise some of the highlights of Another than by making a video to the tune of Marilyn Manson’s cover of the classic Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams”.

Horror anime is quite a tough thing to pull off well. Either one goes full-on gore but sacrificing a coherent narrative or going for characterization and a great story yet lacking in the blood and gore. Another is able to accomplish both and amv creator S&D Productions does a great job of making sure this comes across in the video simply titled “Sweet Dreams”.

Anime: Another

Song: “Sweet Dreams” by Marilyn Manson

Creator: S&D Productions

Past AMVs of the Day