Tag Archives: Horror

Inferno (1980) and Mother of Tears

[2.5 stars]

Let’s talk horror.

What makes a movie scary? Disturbing sound effects? Gore? Twisted sets? Violence? Creepy music? Dark scenes? Surprises? Sure, all of that can add to the atmosphere, but if you don’t have characters and a story to tell you might as well just make paintings with some ambient sound to accompany it. You also need to be able to identify and engage with the characters. Part of what has brought horror into the mainstream with massive blockbusters like Get Out and It is the characters we could connect with, not just the situations and the events. Even those that rely more on humor, like Cockney’s vs. Zombies and Happy Death Day, or even those that rely simply on cleverness like the Saw or Final Destination series, provide both shock and character with the laughs…but they would fail without the characters.

OK, with all that in mind let’s dive into the last two parts of The Three Mothers trilogy by horror icon Dario Artento (Suspiria).

Inferno

A lot happens in this midsection to the trilogy, but it doesn’t have any real impact. There are no characters to latch onto, no real story to tell, just exposition that explains a bit of Suspiria and what potentially may come. There are some interesting visual moments but the script is painful at times; so is the acting. It is also very much a film of its time, 1980, in look and feel.

What Inferno does do is set up an interesting framework for the bigger story of the Three Mothers…and it would take Argento another 27 years to attempt it in The Mother of Tears, but I’ll get to that shortly.

I can tell you that, as a curio, sure you can give Inferno time. Just don’t expect a good movie. Go for the splatter and the explanation. Honestly, some of that information may be in the original Suspiria, but I saw it so many years ago, I can’t recall. I can say that the remake of Suspiria certainly included some of the background supplied in Inferno.

Mother of Tears

This is probably the most polished of the trilogy. That isn’t a complete surprise as it was made in 2007, 27 years after Inferno; you’d hope that Argento had improved his abilities in that amount of time. Mother of Tears does complete the trilogy in much the way you’d expect given the previous two installments. Building on the information in Inferno, but tying it back to Suspiria, we get a suitable climax to it all. 

But no, it isn’t a wonderful film. There are moments and there are surprises (sound familiar?). There is also gratuitous violence at times, as well as story-serving violence at others. The gore gets extreme and characters, such as they exist, are sometimes just, well, stupid. In fact, the entire impetus that frees the Mother of Tears is based on actions that just wouldn’t occur. Sadly, it could have been easily worked around, but Argento simply took the easy way and decided that truth should be as damned as the world he creates.

At least some of the acting was slightly more believable than the other two films. Asia Argento isn’t brilliant in the lead, but Valéria CavalliCristian Solimeno and Adam James added some credibility to the cast (given the direction they were given). And a small role by Udo Kier (American Animals) was a gift to his fans.

Overall, am I glad I completed this sequence? Yes, but more from a filmography point of view rather than feeling entertained. My time could have been spent on better choices. I am not a huge splatter fan, but when it is done well and to a purpose, be it humor or commentary, I can get on board. Argento seems to use violence for no purpose other than to purge his own demons or simply to shock. He has his followers, and if you are one then you certainly should fill in any gaps you have in his opus. For general or casual audiences of horror, or those who prefer the more mature approach, steer clear. There is little meat on the bones and too few moments of entertainment to make it worth your effort.

Overlord

[3 stars]

If you were somehow lucky enough to miss all the ads and trailers for Overlord, stop now and just see the movie blind. Honestly, the studio really did the flick a disservice by telling you what it was about. Part of the fun of the film is watching it all getting revealed, and they took that from me in spades.

OK, from here out I’m assuming you’ve seen the trailers and the ads. You’ve been warned.

Sure this is nothing but an update to Resident Evil by way of Dunkirk, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. It is, in fact, fairly well done and full of good moments, surprises, and the kind of splatter that combination would suggest. There is also a real sense of a good war film here that goes, shall we say, quite sideways. It is well shot and really rather well acted by most of the leads.

Jovan Adepo (Fences) is our way into this band of brothers…and it is very much a bro film. But Adepo gives it both heart and sense of danger. From early on it is clear that no one is safe in this story and that registers clearly for him, and through him to us. The machines of war quickly begin to eat up the people we meet.

Alongside Adepo fight a mixed batch of characters that each bring different levels and layers to the story. Wyatt Russell (Ingrid Goes West) is the seasoned veteran there to run the mission. John Magaro (Carol) is the smart-mouth jackass who nevertheless proves his mettle. And Mathilde Ollivier, in an early film for her, gives them something to fight for and just a touch of badly needed estrogen in the film. In a smaller role, but fun to see, is Iain De Caestecker (Lost River, The Fades) who does a great accent and has a bit of fun.

Arrayed against this motley gang are the Axis. Only a single Nazi stands out worth mentioning in that bunch: Pilou Asbæk (Ghost in the Shell). While it is a somewhat scenery chewing depiction of a German officer, he manages to find some balance, though not any heart. He certainly finds the creepy, which was his purpose in the tale.

Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) delivers a very watchable, enjoyable, and surprising movie for his Sophomore outing. Sure it is of a particular genre, but he doesn’t treat it that way. He treats it like a film about war, people, and the horror of what it takes to win and survive. Part of that success was the script from an unlikely pairing of Billy Ray (Hunger Games) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant). Both writers have a wide range of styles, but of very different sensibilities. Playing off the real events of Operation Overlord gave the two a solid underpinning for the story and its drives that allowed their talents to mesh well.

This was originally rumored to be a Cloverfield universe film. It is, in fact, designed much like those movies…slowly unrolling layers that end with unexpected aspects. But it isn’t part of that franchise in any other way. I wish the studio had believed in the quality of the film and allowed it to surprise and gather an audience. I get that it would have been challenging given the genre mash-up. Folks going for a war film would have been pissed and those showing up for pure horror would have been confused and angry that it doesn’t really become that till more than halfway through. But the story is compelling, well-paced, and nicely delivered. Definitely worth the big screen if you like either mashups, splatter horror, or both. And Avery is definitely a director you’re going to be seeing again, regardless of how Overlord legs out or not at the box office.

Suspiria (2018)

[3.5 stars]

While Dakota Johnson (Bad Times at the El Royale) does a passable job in her role, and Chloë Grace Moretz (November Criminals) helps launch the tale, they aren’t the reasons to see this movie. The reason to see this film is Tilda Swinton (Okja), who executes three roles in service to the story and the intent. Her main role is obvious, as the Dance Master of the troop. But the other two roles take a bit of effort to see. All three are done beautifully, with the complex emotions and physicality you’d expect from this wonderful performer. Her efforts alone were worth the price of admission for me.

Director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) has taken Dario Argento’s original concept and, with the help of David Kajganich’s (A Bigger Splash) script, expanded on it as well as added meat to its bones. This remake is more of a real story than just a psychological splatter pic. The multiple roles for Swinton are just the tip of it. There are dualities and mirrors all over the story, from a divided Berlin to the  Baader-Meinhof connection (and even its subsequent psychological phenomenon) to male/female, high/low, etc. The layering is thick and fast; this is a movie that takes time to unpack.

Let me put it this way: Have you ever finished a film and feel like it came to a point, but have a heck of a time nailing it down? This remake of Suspiria is like that. There is a lot going on with metaphors upon metaphors not to mention just a darn good classic horror/suspense thing going on. But it doesn’t exactly spoon feed you (or force feed you) all of its intent. Some is obvious from the beginning, other aspects develop, and some will likely leave you pondering the purpose. The original was as much art house as it was horror as well, so building on that legacy isn’t a bad thing. It does mean that not everyone will be satisfied, especially when such a classic horror like Halloween is available in the theater next door.

Like the original, this movie is also violent. Whether it is violent toward women or in support of them is arguable. It is intensely weird and definitely dense and inscrutable at times. Guardagnino makes some challenging choices near the end that force you to shift your thinking. But it does feel complete, as I’ve said. The structure is there and, as I chipped away at it for hours after viewing, I made sense of a lot of it. Does that mean it worked or that, despite oblique choices, I was able to create sense out of a chaos? I guess you’ll have to be the judge.

If you’re a fan of the original or like horror that has a bit more going on, like Hereditary, then you should give this a chance. If you don’t want to go to theater, it will end up on Prime eventually, but it is visually impressive on the big screen.

Halloween (2018)

[3.5 stars]

This sequel is different than most. One of its most radical choices is that it discarded every film that followed the 1978 original, even those with Jamie Lee Curtis in them, to give us a different follow-up and one more fitting for the times. The depiction of a woman under threat and not being believed becomes a metaphor made manifest. The result is a bit more than a slasher flick…but not much. Though it tried to subvert that formula, it ended up bowing to the weight of expectation and gave in a bit too often.

Along with Curtis Judy Greer (Wilson) and Andi Matichak as her daughter and granddaughter add some generational expansion and views. And there is a host of potential and realized fodder with some nice talent throughout, including Virginia Gardner (Runaways) and Dylan Arnold (Mudbound) for some nice teenage hijinks. The rest of the cast is good. But then there was Haluk Bilginer’s (Rosewater) shrink, who fills the hole left by the late Donald Pleasence. Like Dr. Loomis, he is an obsessive with his own agenda. This is also where the script is at its weakest and moves the furthest from its updated feel. But none of it is far from the genre.

Director and co-writer David Gordon Green (Your Highness) was a mere 3 years old when the original Halloween hit screens in 1978 and spawned a 40 year franchise. Despite growing up with the sequels, he really managed to make it his own but with nods to both the original and the sequels as we knew them. Stylistically, however, it fits right in with the original. The script, co-written with Danny McBride (Hell and Back) and Jeff Fradley shows a real love for the series and the horror experience. It isn’t brilliant, but it manages a few surprises and some grounded aspects to its plotting.

As a side note, I’ve been watching a number of conversations about why horror is making such a come-back these days. One explanation is that horror is best experienced with others in a theater, that is more fun and satisfying that way. Sure, I’ll give you that, but I think it has more to do with our current state of the world. As with during the Cold War, people want safe ways to feel scared and in control. Then it was primarily scifi monsters. There is also a new trend in horror (Get Out, Quiet Place, It), that takes itself seriously as film, not just pulp. Halloween doesn’t rise to that level, though it certainly takes itself a half-step above pure slasher film by the end very cleverly.

For the heck of it, I also decided to see this in one of AMC’s new Dolby theaters, assuming that sound was more important than visuals for this kind of skin crawl and seat jump film. I have to say, the visuals and sound are pretty astounding. While it doesn’t quite have the visual scope of IMAX, it certainly has impact. If you’re wanting to try it out, pick a film like this one to try it out where you are less invested and think sound will be impactful.

But back to the film in question. If you like this kind of horror or just have a penchant for Halloween, you’ll have fun with this. I wish it had been a little more, but I definitely had fun and appreciated the result.

Bleach (2018)

[3 stars]

Live action adaptations of anime and/or manga via anime often fail miserably. (Consider the recent Attack on Titan attempt.) Usually it is due to assumptions the audience will know the story or an insulting approach as to what they’ll accept. I have to admit Bleach surprised me. I wasn’t very familiar with the story, but there was enough in the movie to help me understand and to invest in the characters.

This isn’t a great movie, as movies go, but it was entertaining if you like the genre; I do. Director Shinsuke Sato gave me characters with motivations. He also provided fun fight scenes, a bit of humor, and probably a bit too much high school romance forced in (it simply goes no where in this short-ish film). It didn’t hurt that there was some very competent actors driving the piece like Hana Sugisaki and Sôta Fukushi, both from Blade of the Immortal. Even the side characters have some cred, such as Miyavi (Kong: Skull Island).

It succeeded enough that I’m now curious to explore the anime series and its various movies to see what else goes on…there are several sequences to Bleach and this covered just one of them. And while I’m sure it was in a highly compressed way, the movie didn’t feel overly cheated.

Truth or Dare?

[3 stars]

I do love me a silly horror film, especially when it is done well. Happy Death Day comes to mind as a recent one, though that was more purposefully funny. The game of truth or dare is, by definition, a consensual, personal moral dilemma enforced only by peer pressure. Make that enforcement absolute, by adding a demon to the mix, and you have the makings of an interesting problem.

Generally, the story here is your typical teen slasher film. It isn’t as self-aware as the plot in Scream, but it isn’t as numbly foolish as some of the original Halloween or Friday the 13th gangs either. There are reasonable motivations for stupid actions in most cases and director Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) managed to drive the story forward nicely.

Ultimately, however, I never really cared about the characters. Not even Hayden Szeto (Edge of Seventeen), who is one of the few standouts in the cast of your basic gang of college age teens; but he stood out by virtue of being rather separate from them. Normally that emotional distance wouldn’t really matter as much in a movie like this, but in this case it was necessary, taking some steam out of the finale. In order to really buy into the final choices, you have understand the relationships and I can’t say I bought all of them. In particular was the core Lucy Hale (Life Sentence) and Violette Beane (The Flash) friendship. While there was good work setting up their strained interaction, I never saw the deep devotion they had for one another, only a sort of High School coasting based on proximity and habit.

If you’re looking for inventive deaths and some reasonably fun ideas and writing, you could do worse. It isn’t the best horror to come out, but it certainly wasn’t the worst and did fill its intended need while still managing a few good surprises.

Blumhouse

Backtrack

[3.5 stars]

Backtrack will feel very familiar when it begins. In fact, you’ll likely be thinking, “I’ve seen this all before…I know what’s going on.” And, to a degree, you’d be right. However writer/director Micheal Petroni (Till Human Voices Wake Us) manages to subvert and co-opt the situation and take it somewhere more interesting.

Adrien Brody (The Grand Budapest Hotel) brings all his vulnerable and scruffy best to his distraught and mildly unhinged psychologist. He’s helped along his journey nicely by Sam Neill (Mindgamers) and Robin McLeavy (Hell On Wheels). But it is George Shevtsov’s (Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries) quiet energy as his estranged father that adds the last bit of necessary tension to pull the whole story together.

This bit of suspense/horror doesn’t break new ground, but it does navigate it all very well. And at 90 tight minutes, it will keep you focused, interested, and never let you get too far ahead of it all. It also has some very nice and creepy scares to spike your adrenaline. When you’re looking for a clever horror distraction, this is a good choice for your popcorn evening.

Backtrack

Kiss & Spell (Yeu Di, Dung So!)

[3 stars]

This Vietnamese rom-com cum horror is an amusing and touching escape for an evening. A remake, or seriously inspired by, the Korean movie Spellbound, it follows a magician and his muse as they both struggle with finding out what actually makes them happy…with a bit of the supernatural thrown in along the lines of My Left Eye Sees Ghosts.

The comedy is broad at times, but it is well-contained and not nearly as over-the-top as you might fear. Even the romantic bits remain very sweet, but never melodramatic. Thanks to the late writer/director Stephane Gauger, it balances rather well and never wanes in energy despite its two hour length. He managed to walk the line of Far East and American comedy nicely, keeping it accessible to both audiences. Even the horror bits, which lean more toward Japanese horror influence, aren’t so much scary as pointed for the tale.

Gauger had a short but impactful career. He came out of the gate strong when he shifted to the director’s chair and gathered a number of awards quickly. He clearly had a career ahead him and it is a damn shame we’ll never see what it could have been. In the meantime, he left us with a range of films worth spending some time with…this one included.

 

Hereditary

[3.5 stars]

Ari Aster’s first major script and directing gig betrays a love of intelligent, suspenseful horror from the 70s. There is an air of Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man, and even a bit of The Omen and the (much older) Cat People and the more recent Get Out. It is in the tension he creates and the way he drives the story by raising questions around what’s really happening that echoes these earlier classics. He certainly did himself no harm with the cast he gathered either.

Toni Collette (Please Stand By) delivers a shattering performance as the matriarch of a broken family. Gabriel Byrne (Carrie Pilby) supports her as her husband with immense restraint and love, but with diminishing capacity as the story unfolds. And, as the children, Alex Wolff (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and first-timer Milly Shapiro turn in wonderfully creepy and sad performances that will break your heart before tearing it from your chest. As an added bonus, Ann Dowd (American Animals) gets to play a pivotal role and appear on multiple screens in different releases this season.

Hereditary is not an easy movie, either to watch or to define. Half the film I was wondering what I was watching, but was utterly riveted by the performances and the filmmaking. The end felt a bit forced and obvious, but the ride getting there was so solid I’ll give Aster a pass on his ultimate choices. The film gave everyone in its ensemble moments to shine, and made its audience gasp many more times than once. If you are looking for dark, creepy, and something just a bit different, you will want to see this on the big screen, in the dark, with others.

Hereditary

Flight 7500

[2.5 stars]

Four years ago, writer/director Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on, The Grudge) decided to tackle a horror tale in the air. I was intrigued, but it would be years before it would make it to any screen due to delayed releases, cancelled distribution, and other issues I’ve yet to discover (though the loss of Malaysia Flight 370 probably didn’t help his timing). The truth is that this is only a middling movie with a kinda fun idea crammed into less than 90 minutes. Its plot is a bit confused and its decisions more than a little silly and forced at times, enough to beggar credibility.

The structure of this story is familiar to any viewing audiences since Airport. To be fair, even Agatha Christie used the trope of setting up a bunch of interesting characters into a confined space (usually a remote house) and then letting events unwind. That said, Shimizu manages to create a certain amount of sympathy and tension with the story lines he takes time to set up before it all starts to go wrong.

Heading the cast are some recognizable faces (more so four years ago, admittedly). In particular are Leslie Bibb (Iron Man 2), Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), and Jamie Chung (Rudderless) who all get some nice moments, though far from fully fledged stories. You’ll spot other faces as well, but as much as this is an ensemble, the stories just aren’t rich enough to grab you.

If you were hoping for something as nightmare worthy as Ju-on, or its English remake in The Grudge, you can forget it. This just isn’t of the same caliber or imagination. I don’t know if that is because it was too Westernized in its approach or simply just a bit of a dud, which all filmmakers have eventually. It isn’t an unwatchable flick with a bowl of popcorn, but I’d put it way down your list for a day when you can’t find anything else.