Wednesday, October 31, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Movie

For Halloween itself I decided to revisit the best horror movie of the year, and one of the best of all time. I saw Hereditary (2018) opening day during it's theatrical release, and left the theater, stunned, amazed, and possibly a bit traumatized. There's one image in the film that fused onto my retinas, so that every time I closed my eyes for days after i saw the movie it was there. I can still conjure it forth with too much ease.

Without getting too much into the plot and spoiling this film, which I saw only knowing what I'd seen in the trailer, the film is pretty much about coping with grief. In this case a maternal figure with a complicated relationship to her daughter and grandchildren dies, and the surviving members of the family watch their lives unravel after that. There are suggestions of inherited mental illness, and for much of the film the viewer is made to wonder if that might be all there is to what's transpiring on screen, until one scene happens, and you know for sure.

Writer/Director, Ari Aster, makes one hell of a feature film debut with this. Everything about this movie is pretty perfect, compositions, the often time excruciating pacing, the music by Colin Stetson, the foreshadowing, art direction and cinematography are all top notch. What really sells this movie though are the performances, especially the four leads who really display some emotionally traumatized characterizations.

I saw this movie with a friend who will watch much more extreme material than I will, and afterwards he declared he was going to have nightmares for a week. This movie may be more intense than some people can handle, but it is really worth the experience.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

Halloween is allegedly the holiday people spend the most money on every year besides Christmas. My guess is that most of that money is spent on candy and costumes, since many retail outlets often have their Christmas stuff going out on the floors at about the same time their Christmas stuff does, with not a lot of lead time for Halloween and more and more for Christmas. I have a hard time believing that billions of dollars are being spent on Halloween decor since I've noticed that the houses that put up any outdoor decorations for Halloween have become pretty scarce.

Because of that, I've always made a real effort to make the outside of our house a beacon for trick-or-treaters, the one magical house in the neighborhood that gives them their real sense of "wow" for Halloween Night.

The catch though is that I don't put any decorations out until the last schools has passed through the neighborhood on Halloween day, and I take them all down in the middle of the night some time after the last trick-or-treater has long gone to bed. This way it's as if the decorations have all magically appeared and disappeared.

Our yard got to be pretty spectacular for a few years. Lately, because of logistics of the way our yard is (with no trees out front, and no outside outlets on the house to plug anything into), it's a little more sparse. But there's still something out there to ad a bit of holiday magic to the street.

Photographing our yard in the heat of setting up and attending to trick-or-treaters ends up being pretty spotty, at best, but you can see the way our yard has looked in the past beginning with 2006. Images and commentary can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie

A family scavenges supplies, makes their own home and grows their own food, performing everything carefully and with a need to move as silently as possible. The consequences, as we learn quickly, for making any sound are terrible. There are monsters lurking in the spaces around them; incredibly fast moving, lethal,  monsters with outstanding hearing. The complicate things, the mother of this family is pregnant and will give birth any time now.

In a nutshell A Quiet Place (2018) is a family drama about surviving against incredible odds. Except for one element ( a nail that's existence and location is highly improbable and rings false), everything in the movie is presented with precision. The family involves a deaf teenage daughter which allows everyone to already have a means of communicating without verbally speaking. Their carefulness and ongoing emergency preparedness allows for a horror film that doesn't require its characters to make dumb, logic defying, decisions in order for the horror to work. Most of all the film, especially through its silence, really pulls you into the family so that you are fully engaged with them and care about their survival. The cast is outstanding, especially Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, who really commands the film. This is one of the best genre films of the year, and one of best of any kind of film this year.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

Before you or your little ones go trick or treating tomorrow, you should review some important safety tips which can be found here and here.

Monday, October 29, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 2

A woman hires a naturalist to hunt down the wolves that she claim took away her son. When the naturalist begins his investigation her uncovers a much stranger and more sinister truth, and a bloodbath is unleashed upon the small Alaskan community caught up in the secrets uncovered.

Hold the Dark (2017), based on the novel by William Giraldi is a mersmerizing, intense, and not easily ingested thriller. Every thing is delivered in a very low key, matter of fact manner, and you leave the film with more questions than answers, which is something I really liked about it. It's the kind of film that invites further examination, and really makes you work for what you can extract from it. The cast is uniformly outstanding.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 1

A girl unknowingly frees a devil imprisoned by a blacksmith hermit. The devil's recapture leads to more trouble as a mob of townspeople, led by a disguised devil, descend upon the blacksmith's fortress. The end result has the blacksmith crashing the gates of Hell in order to bring the little girl back to earth, and life.

Based on a Basque folktale, Errementari (2017) is a visually striking fairy tale much like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) and Viy (1967) where the story is presented in a non-naturalistic, heightened manner, which may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I found it, even with its really simple story to be a pretty rich viewing experience. The movie also boldly features a Hell populated by pointy talked devils armed with pitchforks which was a big plus for me.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

The Halloween Parade in New York City is a huge event now, but it used to be more of a neighborhood event and part of one of my favorite Halloween memories. You can read about it here.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 2

To compliment my viewing of Creepshow (1982), I also watched Just Desserts (2007) a very solid documentary look into the making of Creepshow. Featuring interviews with cast and crew members (though Stephen King is conspicuously absent, and would have been a welcome addition) we are taken through all of the trials and tribulations (many very funny) of what it took to get this film conceived, cast, made, and distributed. There are some nice behind the scenes segments and outtakes presented among the interviews, and everything is covered from the difficulties in getting make-up appliances on Stephen King, to dealing with tens of thousands of cockroaches on set, to Ed Harris' dancing. There are also a great bundle of extras thrown in for good measure.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 1

Creepshow (1982) directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King is a love letter to EC Comics. An anthology movie, is consists of five tales and a wraparound story which stars Tom Atkins and horror writer, Joe Hill. The tone of the film, like the comics that inspired it, is very tongue in cheek, even with the extensive amount of blood and grue. The star filled film is so skillfully production designed that it implies a grand budget, when in fact the budget was pretty tiny. Unlike most portmanteau films, the quality of the segments is pretty even here. Yes, some are better than others, but there are no clunkers. John Harrison's score is perfect. This was one of my favorite genre movies when it was new. When I last watched it in the late 90s, very early 2000s, it felt a little dated to me, which filled me with sadness, and kept me from revisiting it until now, and now it doesn't really feel dated at all. It's a very fun film and perfect for Halloween.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

Today's the birthday of Elsa Lanchester, perhaps best known for her portrayal of the bride of the monster in Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Take a look at this gallery of images of this iconic role as interpreted by some incredible artists.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 2

Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), now living in Seattle, finds himself investigating a new string of murders; women found strangled, their throats crushed, blood removed via a syringe, and decaying flesh found on their necks. The killer is described as corpse-like and incredibly strong. Research leads Kolchak to discover that the same kinds of murders, with an identically described murderer have been occurring in Seattle every 21 years since 1898.

The Night Strangler (1973) is a sequel to the successful The Night Stalker (1972), and as a follow-up I think this film works even better than the original. Mathewson, returning as screenwriter, obviously has a better handle on the characters, as does McGavin, and co-star Simon Oakland, their relationship shining even more than before. The mystery is interesting, with a decent payoff, and the setting of old Seattle lying beneath the ground that modern Seattle was built on gives it an otherworldly quality.  This time Carls seems to have developed an even worse relationship to the police in his new city, if that were possible, and this makes Kolchak seem more isolated as he goes it alone to, again, prove what no one is willing to believe.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 1

Down on his luck Las Vegas reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), investigates what becomes a series of young women found drained of blood by an incredibly strong man. Initially suspecting a man who thinks he's a vampire, Kolchak begins to believe he's stumbled on to the genuine article. Law enforcement, and Carl's editor, Tony Vincenzo aren't buying into it.

The Night Stalker (1972), is a made for tv movie, which would spawn a sequel, a short lived television series, The X-Files, and a second short lived television series, was popular, and influential. It also beat Stephen King's Salem's Lot to the punch of removing the vampire from its gothic, 19th century trappings, and loosing it upon the modern world by three years. Based on a then unsold story by Jeff Rice, most of Kolchak's success comes from the performance of McGavin and with the character's relationship with Vincenzo, as well as the way he perseveres despite the constant hostility directed towards him by the police and officials of all kinds. We believe and believe in Kolchak, and root for him to succeed. Credit must be given to Richard Matheson for taking Rice's characters and breathing life into them so successfully.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27

Do you have little ones at home? Do you need some last minute Halloween craft projects for them? I have some easy ones you can print out and make at home. Take a look here, here, and here, and some masks you can make with things found at home.

Friday, October 26, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 2

Without getting too spoilery, Shin Godzilla (2016) is a stand alone Godzilla movie from Toho Studios that is not a sequel to any other Godzilla movie. Here Japan has never been menaced by a giant monster before. Godzilla has also been given an entirely new origin story and biology. He's a self mutating creature generating four forms in this film, and hinting at a truly horrifying fifth. He also demonstrates some jaw dropping upgrades to some of his more familiar abilities.

A lot of people disliked the film because of the long monsterless scenes of government officials taking meetings and making decisions on how to deal with this new threat. Yes, there is a lot of this, but it's presented in such a fast paced manner, that I didn't find it boring. The procedural material was similar to what was presented in Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996), showing the bureaucracy necessary to be able to deploy Japan's Defense Forces. The film doesn't waste any time getting started and is told in an almost documentary style putting the viewer right in the middle of events as they unfold. The Godzilla scenes are tremendous, from his unexpected, weird fish-eyed forms to his unstoppable fourth mutation. The creature, awesome as he is, always appears to be sickly and corrupt.

Toho was originally going to produce a sequel, which I would have liked to see, but have apparently shelved plans for that movie, instead planning to return to a shared universe that would feature a more traditional looking Godzilla pitted agains his familiar kaiju foes.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 1

After the death of a member of their group, four men go for a long hike in northern Sweden in his honor. After one of the men is hurt, they decide to take a short cut through the forest, where unsettling events begin to accrue, especially after they take refuge in a seemingly abandoned house with a weird effigy in its upper floor. They now seem marked by some sort of immense creatures inhabiting the forest, and as they seek for a way out, their interpersonal relationships begin breaking down making the experience more fraught with danger, and more intense.

The Ritual (2017), based on the novel by Adam Nevill is a smart horror film that takes advantage of its sinister, claustrophobic setting to amplify the tension. The forest is so densely packed with trees that not only is visibility limited, but there are times when the mysterious creature is in view and you still can't really see it for the trees. The creature itself is pretty great in a weird design that suggests something both natural and majestic and something supernatural and impossible in its design.

The plot itself is a pretty familiar one, but while the characters often make decisions that are bad ones, it's not out of lazy writing. The decision to make the short cut in the first place is a rational one, as are decisions to abandon following a direct compass driven route through the forest in order to follow an obvious path. The cast is really strong playing their characters who may sit pretty close to being archetypes, are also well rounded and authentic.

I've watched this a couple of times already and am sure to revisit it more times in the future.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26

Whenever Halloween falls on a Tuesday, or close enough, The New Yorker magazine will typically have a holiday pertinent cover. Like all their covers, these are usually pretty great. You can see some of them here.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 2

Ghosts Stories (2018) is also a portmanteau film with three stories surrounded by a wraparound tale that connects them. In this case the wraparound ends up being the most significant story and not simply something to link the other tales. Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) is a man dedicated to exposing fraudulent psychics. The man who inspired him tasks him with solving three unsolved cases, which are the three tales making up the rest of the movie; a night watchman has a really bad night; a young man hits something unexplainable with his car; and a businessman finds his home plagued by inexplicable phenomena while his wife is going through a difficult childbirth at the hospital.

The film is based on the hit stage play by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson (who also wrote and directed this adaptation), which I've only heard and read extraordinary things about. The film is really well done and knows when to hold back and when to let loose. It has it's share of jump scares, but the really unsettling bits come in the form of the nearly mundane. Like other portmanteau films, the short films within don't always come to an actual resolution, just building to a climax that leaves the rest of the story unresolved. In Ghost Stories we learn that those loose ends are intentional as the wrap around story has plenty more to say about the big picture that those short stories are simply parts of. Even so, the writer in my finds it frustrating when the stories in an anthology are incomplete in themselves. I do appreciate the effort to not only incorporate the shorts into the wraparound story, and the fact that the wraparound story was the story and not just some hastily and lazily conceived time filler that tries to convey to the viewer that they just watched a feature film and not simply a bunch of random short films one after another. Ghost Stories was not as great as I wanted to be, but it will definitely be rewatched by me, and I suspect that over time my fondness for it will grow.

Revenge of Frankenstein 200

Chogrin has curated a show which opens tomorrow at The Dark Art Emporium celebrating 200 years of Frankenstein. "The Revenge of Frankenstein 200" features some great artists presenting their interpretations of the Frankenstein monster in his numerous incarnations.

Here's mine:

This was constructed in 3-D cut paper. The 3-D is subtle, but as seen in the first two photos with the switch in lighting, still pretty apparent. If you are in southern California, stop by the gallery and see it in person.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 1

Trapped Ashes (2006) is an anthology film featuring four stories and a wraparound story connecting them. In the first story, an actress who undergoes breast enlargement surgery finds her career also enhanced, but unexpected side effects in the form of vampiric breasts. The second story involves a wife being seduced and abducted by a Japanese demon. The third story is about Stanley Kubrick's girlfriend who he passes on to his best friend when he suspects that she is an immortal vampire. The final story is about a girl who as a developing baby, shared her mother's abdomen with a tape worm who becomes her secret, avenging, sister. The wraparound story, set in a haunted house set on a studio backlot, involves the trapped guests of a VIP tour, who also happen to be the characters in the four stories being told. If you've seen any other anthology horror movie involving a wraparound story, you know what connects them all.

This was a very disappointing movie. Most of the stories didn't really come to a satisfying conclusion, and there was an overall feeling that this was made for HBO or Cinemax, cable channels which require every production to feature bare breasts, and feel like they are soft core porn. I only kind of liked the Kubrick story, mostly because of the Tygh Runyan's performance as Stanley Kubrick. The premise for the final story had promise that was not delivered.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25

Ads in comic books were pretty great, even if the actual products being (falsely) advertised were not. Through the years all sorts of ads appeared for giant monsters and ghosts that you could control. See those ads, and learn the truth about them, here.