Ouija (movie review)

Laine (Olivia Cooke) has just lost her friend Debbie, who has seemingly killed herself. She longs to find out what happened, and decides that she, her sister Sarah, their friend Isabelle, her boyfriend Trevor, and Debbie’s boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith) should try to reach her with Debbie’s Ouija board. This is of course not a good idea; an evil spirit reaches out to them instead.

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This never ends well

I first saw Ouija when it was new, and I remember scoffing at it. This time around I have a new respect for it. The performances are great, particularly Olivia Cooke and Lin Shaye as the crazy lady with all the answers. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the direction is top-notch.The twist and concept are pretty cool, and there are some legitimately creepy moments. The whole flossing scene is just brutal.

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Someone’s not flossing the way her dentist recommended

There a couple of scenes that stretch credibility. Like when Debbie is chillin in her house and a door opens by itself and the oven turns on with no one nearby, and she just closes and locks the door and turns the oven off. Then she proceeds to head up to her room, mildly disconcerted. And of course there’s more than one instance of a character hearing a strange noise, calling hello, and then going to investigate the situation as slowly as possible. And my favorite, the convenient superstitious Latina (or possibly Italian?) maid who knows all about how to defeat evil Ouija board spirits.

Overall, I like it. The second one is far better, but this one’s not without its charms. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something without sex, gore, swearing, or comic relief.

Get Out (movie review)

Chris is a young black man who’s meeting his white girlfriend Rose’s family for the first time. Her parents seem friendly–at first. However, Chris is in over his head as a gathering takes place with a sinister purpose for him.

The movie is written and directed by Jordan Peele, who’s most famous for being a comedian. (He’s also married to a white woman, which has caused some speculation about his motivation for writing this movie.) So it seems a little out of left field for a funnyman to be making a Blumhouse-produced horror movie. Well, it does have plenty of comic relief in the form of Chris’s friend Rod, who warns him not to go, and supplies fairly amusing one-liners throughout. He’s kind of annoying, but he’s definitely the voice of reason.

However, the movie does have its creepy moments. Rose’s family exudes a sense of something being off, from Rose’s mother Missy, who is cold behind her smile, to the African American maid Georgina, who constantly smiles. 000getoutThe music also helps set the mood; the score includes gospelly spiritual songs, which along with the rural Alabama scenery brings to mind slavery. Or there’s the more traditional for the genre screechy violin when something unsettling happens. There are a few effective jump scares, mostly when Georgina appears suddenly.

Most of the horror is psychological. As a white person, I felt a lot of guilt, because it’s not every day I’m reminded of my privilege, and challenged to consider what life is like for someone without it. There’s a scene when Rose hits a deer with her car, and she gets mouthy with the responding police officer who asks to see Chris’s ID for seemingly no reason. Chris treats it as no big deal, while Rose protests because she can—there are no repercussions for her. Not only is she white, she’s majorly rich. In the course of the movie Chris is treated not only like a criminal, but also like an object. Speaking of the deer, greed and possessiveness are big themes. Deer are seen repeatedly in juxtaposition with Chris, and I think they represent the need to take for no reason. 001getoutPeople shoot deer and mount their heads because they can. Because they want them. One of the scariest moments in the movie is when right after Chris and Rose go into the woods for a walk, Dean auctions Chris off. It’s filmed with no discernible dialogue, just blank-faced white folks bidding on a person with bingo cards

The film defies conventions. There are so few horror movies that directly examine issues of class and race. The People Under the Stairs comes to mind, but that was written and directed by a white dude. Overall, it’s an eerie, well-made movie. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something extraordinary. (And that’s not white guilt talking.)

Fragments of Horror (book review)

Junji Ito, to a J-horror fan, is probably best known for the film adaptations of his mangas Tomie, Uzumaki, and Marronnier. I recently discovered the joys of horror manga with a Grudge comic, but Ito’s artwork leaves it in the dust. His illustrations are wondrously eerie, and his stories are both disturbing (in a good way) and highly original. If you’re bored with J-horror movies featuring silent, crawling dames with their hair hanging in their faces (wonderful though they may be), look no further.

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Stories include “Dissection-chan,” about a girl obsessed  with dissecting and being dissected, “Magami Nanakuse,” an eccentric author with a dark secret, and “Futon,” the story of a man who refuses to leave his bed because of the nightmares in his waking world. It’s hard to pick a favorite of the eight stories. “Tomio—Red Turtleneck” has a lot of flesh-crawling imagery, like a woman putting a cockroach in an open wound. “Blackbird” probably has the creepiest villain, a harpy who force-feeds her victims rotten meat of questionable origin.

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Occasionally the dialogue comes across as a bit stilted, like in “Wooden Spirit” when main character Megumi’s father asks whether their prized house is really wonderful after all. She exclaims, “That’s out of the blue! What are you talking about? It’s a tangible cultural asset, and more than that, it’s the house we grew up in.” Also, this is the villain’s typical evil laugh: “Ho ho ho!” There are some occasional WTF moments, like what the heck is going on with Ruriko in “Dissection-chan”? She complains of pain in her stomach, which is attributed to…nothing that makes a whole lotta sense. But overall, the eight stories are solidly written and exquisite. A quick warning: if you’ve never read manga, be prepared to learn to read right to left. Also, this book’s artwork is nowhere near safe for work; don’t make the same mistake I did. Ho ho ho, enjoy!

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Why yes, that is a woman doing a house

Para Elisa (movie review)

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Spanish movie. Ana is a college student who needs to raise money for a post-grad trip, so she answers an ad for a nanny. Unfortunately, her employer Diamantina is as crazy as a loon and her daughter Elisa (who’s older than Ana) wants her to be her doll.

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She’s such a precocious little thing

And when Elisa doesn’t get what she wants, she gets violent.

There are a few things to like about the movie. The sets are great, and the scenery is gorgeous. The acting is decent. The score is properly ominous. The filmmakers do a good job of building tension, for example blood dripping on Diamantina’s piano during the opening credits. There are some creepy moments, like when Elisa says, “If I take your legs, you won’t walk.”

But ultimately I found watching the film frustrating, for multiple reasons. Ana is really whiny and annoying, and the characters surrounding her are no better, from her physically abusive on-again/off-again boyfriend Alex to her friend Ursula, who is trying to get in Alex’s pants. Then there’s the scene when Ana, who has been given a drug that doesn’t allow her to speak, manages to get Alex on her cell phone and is stymied by her speechlessness—did Spanish cell phones not have texting in 2012? Or the many times when Ana should have been able to simply overpower Elisa (look at the above picture–she’s tiny! And Ana has rage on her side!). Or how Elisa ties her up with ribbon, even after Ana demonstrates that she can get out of such a flimsy binding. Or the scene when Alex goes to the police and tells them that a stranger answered his girlfriend’s phone and mentioned that she was being “punished,” and the police tell him they have to wait 48 hours to start looking for her (which is not a thing in real life, the 48 hours to declare someone legally missing) and when he won’t leave threaten to lock him up. On a personal level, I’m learning Spanish, but I still oyo muy lentamente, and I had some adjusting to do to keep up with Ana’s rapid-fire subtitles, which has more to do with my own failings at learning the language.

Overall, it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, far from it, but watching it was unpleasant—for all the wrong reasons. If you’re in the mood for a Spanish movie about a woman being held captive against her will, give it a look. Or watch the superior To Let.

 

The Strangers (movie review)

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Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are a couple staying in an out-of-the way vacation house. They’re menaced and tormented by three masked sociopaths.

First and foremost, The Strangers is darn creepy. The magic of this movie is its wondrous subtlety. For example the scene when the Man in the Mask enters the kitchen with Kristen. She doesn’t notice him at all, and he doesn’t call attention to himself—he’s sneaking up on us, too.

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Gah quit lookin’ at me!

The masked villains are scary because they’re invulnerable; they’re always one step ahead of Kristen and James, who can’t even wound them. They’re mysterious; they barely speak, and we don’t see their faces. They’re emotionless; they have no pity for their victims. The few times they do talk, it’s in a monotone.

Sound is also used successfully. There’s no score, just occasional licensed songs. And a lot of scary, jarring noises. Like when James and Kristen first encounter the maskies: Dollface comes and pounds on the door, repeatedly.

There is little in the way of comic relief; James and Kristen aren’t even a happy couple. Before the action starts, James proposed to Kristen and she turned him down, making an awkward, painful situation to begin with.

I first saw this in the theatre with my husband Andrew, and I was definitely clinging to him more than once. When we went home, we needed to watch something funny before going to bed. When I went to check that the front door was locked, he said “Boom boom boom!” and I jumped a mile. Repeat: said. He didn’t make a banging sound, he spoke.

The plot is simple but effective; it’s all too plausible. The performances are stellar.

Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something dark and disturbing.

Here’s a shameless plug for an article I wrote a while back for addictedtohorrormovies.com that further explores how scary Dollface is in particular:

https://addictedtohorrormovies.com/2015/01/03/top-10-scary-performances-by-actresses-from-around-the-world/

 

Don’t Look Up (2009) (movie review)

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I totally told you NOT to look up!

Marcus is a director yearning for a chance to make a comeback in the film industry. He’s also prone to having visions of ghosts, which leads him to a haunted movie set in Romania. It seems that in the 1920s, a director (Eli Roth, really playing against type here) was trying to make a movie based on a gruesome local legend. However, the movie was never finished, as everyone around died horribly. Cue Marcus and a brand new crew, which unsurprisingly does not fare well either, what with people being flung from balconies and a mean case of eye-eating flies.

First, a warning to Eli Roth fans: he may be third-billed, but he’s only in the movie for a couple of minutes, never to be seen again. Ditto Shiloh Fernandez. However, Henry Thomas (remember him as Elliott from ET?) is worth sticking around for.

The movie has some surprisingly creepy and disturbing moments, like when a horrifying old man shows up with a goiter full of demon baby.

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Sweet dreams…

It’s also a somewhat original idea—the folktale part, not the movie within a movie part I mean.

Unfortunately, it’s very confusing. My biggest issue is with the legend being filmed. It revolves around a woman named Chavi who makes a deal with the Devil that her first-born child will in turn bear him children. The kid, Matya, is vilified by the townspeople for being born with the Devil’s mark, and is subsequently tortured…as an adult. She was supposed to have been imprisoned her entire life because her only function was to be a baby house, but her mother is significantly upset when Matya is killed. It’s also baffling in other, more spoiler-y ways.

It feels slow-paced even when gory stuff is happening, and none of the characters are particularly compelling or even all that likable. I would have been a lot more enthusiastic for a movie about the first crew that tried to film Matya’s story. Not to mention how the close-ups of Matya’s eyes are a pretty blatant rip-off of Sadako’s eye in Ringu:

(Which I guess should be less surprising, given that the film is a remake of a Japanese movie.)

That said, I enjoyed it more than I’m letting on. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for a standard ghost story in an exotic locale.

Campfire Tales (1997) (movie review)

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Anthology-style movie. The wraparound story is of four teens (including Christine Taylor and Chris Masterson) who are stranded in the woods after a car crash, and they’re telling each other stories to pass the time, as one does. “The Hook”  concerns a pair of young folks (Amy Smart and James Marsden) menaced by a hook-handed maniac. “The Honeymoon” is about newlyweds Valerie and Rick (Ron Livingston) in an RV menaced by murderous creatures. “People Can Lick Too” tells the tale of Amanda, a young girl who is menaced (it’s a very menacing movie) by a crazy guy while home alone. “The Locket” shows drifter Scott (Glenn Quinn) who meets a mysterious woman with a haunted house.

The stories  are based on urban legends, so to anyone familiar with the genre (I’m a big-time nerd for it) or who has seen either Urban Legend or Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, the first three segments might be predictable. Also, the stories the film is based on are short and punchy by nature, and the movie fairly creaks with the effort to stretch to a full 90-ish minutes. However, the legends are presented and retold in pretty original ways. “The Honeymoon” took me almost to the end to figure out its legend of origin.

It has its silly moments, like in “Honeymoon” when Rick struts around naked and yells, “I just had great sex!”

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Stop it! You’re killing me!

I was curious about why Amanda’s parents were gone all night for a parent-teacher meeting. Also, the twist ending has a few issues—you’ll see when you get there. It does have some eerie moments, mostly in “Honeymoon,” as the killers are never explained.

I love late-90s slasher movies (as long as they’re not about Jason or Michael Myers), and this one is packed with nostalgia and plenty of entertainment. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something fun and a touch creepy.