Category Archives: science fiction horror

Halloween 2k19 :Marathon Retrospective

Introduction

I’ve loved horror movies for a long time, but I’ve always found it hard to talk about it with others because of my lack of familiarity with the western cannon. As a kid I started off with horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge and subsequently got into Asian horror. Because of this I never ended up watching common American classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street.

This challenge was my chance to play “catch-up” and improve my understanding of western horror history. I thought it’d be hard because of how many slashers I’d have to watch. I’ve never liked blood – it always makes me feel queasy – so slashers were my natural enemy. However, I did look forward to movies like The Silence of the Lambs and The House of the Devil, because I like supernatural and psychological movies and I find them easiest to get lost in.

The biggest part of the challenge I was scared about was actually forcing myself to watch a horror movie everyday and then write a review within the day. Yes, I tell my friends what I think of movies all the time but writing my thoughts out is a lot more time intensive than casually speaking them. My biggest concern was having a competent review for each movie.

Now that the challenge is done- I thought it’d be interesting to go ahead and analyze the results and experience overall. Did I meet expectations? Was it everything I wanted and more? How did my reviews compare to aggregate sites like IMDb? Tune in and find out.

General Statistics

I went to Metacritic and IMDb and found the aggregate ratings for each of the movies I saw. The Metascore on Metacritic uses a scale of 100. I scaled it back down to a scale of 10 to make comparing the numbers easier.

The sample size is only the 32 movies I saw during the challenge, so take the numbers as you will. As I get more reviews up here I can do more robust analyses. This particular retrospective might seem more trivial, but it’s a fun journey nonetheless.

NOTE: Ratings may change as more reviews are added over time so if you view this well after the posted date- keep that in mind.

Title My Rating IMDb Rating MetaCritic User Score MetaCritic Meta Score
Hour of the Wolf 8.5 7.7 N/A N/A
Scream 9.3 7.2 8.8 6.5
The Thing 10.0 8.1 8.8 5.7
Zombieland 8.8 7.6 8.6 7.3
The Shining 10.0 8.4 8.8 6.6
Poltergeist 9.0 7.3 8.5 7.9
Green Room 8.3 7.0 7.2 7.9
The House of the Devil 9.2 6.4 6.9 7.3
Night of the Living Dead 9.5 7.9 8.5 8.9
Texas Chain Saw Massacre 10.0 7.5 8.0 7.5
A Nightmare on Elm Street 9.1 7.5 8.8 7.6
The Cabin in the Woods 9.3 7.0 8.1 7.2
The Silence of the Lambs 10.0 8.6 8.8 8.5
Shaun of the Dead 9.0 7.9 8.7 7.6
In the Mouth of Madness 10.0 7.2 6.8 5.3
Saw 8.1 7.6 8.1 4.6
An American Werewolf in London 9.1 7.5 8.8 7.6
Joker 9.4 8.8 9.2 5.9
Nosferatu 9.5 7.9 N/A 7.9
Cube 9.2 7.2 7.3 6.1
Black Swan 9.4 7.5 8.1 7.9
28 Days Later 9.5 7.6 7.7 7.3
Candyman 10.0 6.6 N/A N/A
Event Horizon 7.4 6.7 7.2 3.5
Friday the 13th 7.2 6.5 5.6 2.2
The Devil’s Backbone 8.8 7.4 8.7 7.8
The Others 8.4 7.6 8.7 7.4
Jaws 10.0 8.0 8.8 8.7
The Lighthouse 10.0 8.3 8.3 8.3
Hell House LLC 8.2 6.4 N/A N/A
Zombieland: Double Tap 7.5 7.2 5.3 5.6
Ringu 9.7 7.2 N/A N/A

Personal Analysis

Based on my ratings you can tell that this month was good for me. Out of the 32 movies I saw 8 movies that I would classify as a 10. Those movies were:

  • The Shining
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
  • The Thing
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • In the Mouth of Madness
  • Candyman
  • Jaws
  • The Lighthouse

Even though I’d say I’m more willing to give 10’s than other critics, I still find it amazing how many of the movies profoundly impacted me. On top of these 8 “unicorns”, an additional 4 movies made the A+ squad meaning that 37.5% of the movies I saw were good enough for me to want to recommend then to everyone. These additions include:

  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Nosferatu
  • 28 Days Later
  • Ringu

The distribution of these movies genre-wise is also something I’m surprised by. I didn’t think that I would rank any slasher up that highly, but Candyman and Texas Chain Saw Massacre were both so nuanced that I couldn’t help but be entranced by both movies. I love supernatural and psychological movies so that part makes sense.

Genre Count
Supernatural 3
Psychological 3
Slasher 2
Monster 1
Science Fiction 1

The movie I ended up liking the least was Friday the 13th, which I gave a 7.2. After A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was hoping that one of the other great slasher series could give me something meaningful to bite into. Unfortunately, despite having a few nice moments, the movie didn’t hit me the way I wanted it to. It’s funny- before I started the marathon I didn’t want anything to do with the movie, but after being spoiled by some great ones, I started looking forward to the ones on my list. Congrats slasher movies – you got a fan in me.

Relational Analysis

Review Source Mean Median Standard Deviation
Me 9.09 9.25 0.81
IMDb 7.49 7.5 0.61
Metacritic – User 8.03 8.3 0.96
Metacritic- Meta 6.82 7.3 1.56

My friends have always said I’m a film snob, and I’ve always maintained I’m not. But everytime I end up loving a horror movie (The Witch, It Follows, The Babadook…) it ends up being one of those divisive movies that gets good “critic” reviews but not so great user reviews. That’s what made the comparison of the major statistics so surprising.

My ratings were closest to the Metacritic – User ratings and also furthest away from the Metacritic – Meta ratings. It’s also interesting that that’s the only source that had a standard deviation well above 1. It seems like “critics” are more broad compared to a more “in tune” user base. I’d be interested in finding out why that’s the case, but that’s for another time when I have more data and better codding knowledge.

I also wanted to check out just how different my A+ movies differentiated from the way my counterparts ranked them. Maybe my self perceived greats were so good that they elicited similar reactions in others. I’ve excluded Nosferatu, Candyman, and Ringu because they have missing Metacritic data.

Title IMDb Difference Metacritic Meta Difference Metacritic User Difference
The Shining 1.6 1.2 3.4
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2.5 2.0 2.5
Night of the Living Dead 1.6 1.0 0.6
The Thing 1.9 1.2 4.3
The Silence of the Lambs 1.4 1.2 1.5
In the Mouth of Madness 2.8 3.2 4.7
28 Days Later 1.9 1.8 2.2
Jaws 2.0 1.2 1.3
The Lighthouse 1.7 1.7 1.7

The differences are promising in a certain light. Though my final rating for most of the above titles is higher than my counterparts, their position comparative to other movies on the list remains similar. I may give higher ratings – but those ratings are in line with (for the most part) the trend of rating horror movies. The biggest exceptions to this rule so far are The Shining and In the Mouth of Madness. Both movies are cult classics and I appreciated their depths into darker, more Lovecraftian themes. After looking it up, I found out that they’re part of John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy”. When I found out I still had one movie, Prince of Darkness, to watch I felt tremendous jubilation.

In a more general sense, the ratings for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Lighthouse have the closest score distributions out all the movies. The Lighthouse is the most striking given that every source sans myself had given the movie an 8.3.

Review of Writing Style

When I first started writing reviews, I thought the process was overwhelming. I’ve always been someone who just focuses on plot and interpretation. I’ve always appreciated things like score and camera angles but never thought about how they impacted my viewing experience. Trying to find a way to incorporate discussion about all the elements was my first big hurdle.

My earlier reviews like , Review: The Hour of the Wolf, exhibit the issue clearly. When I mention certain things, they come off as static and feel more like statements that have to be there as opposed to streams of natural thought that followed from the previous one. This is mainly because I’m not the best at using commas, so translating my spoken thought into proper written work is… difficult to say the least. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may notice I use a lot of “-“‘s in my work. I don’t know how correct it is, but the feeling it creates feels natural.

Thankfully, my more recent reviews are more fluid, even if the difference isn’t as big as I wanted. Sentences extend for longer and there’s more voice and expression in everything. There’s probably a lot more, but I’m more interested in seeing where my writing is at in a year, so I’ll wait until then to take a deeper look.

Final Takeaway

Overall, this experience was great. Watching a movie and writing a review everyday was challenging but was also incredibly rewarding. I was forced to critically inspect each movie at multiple levels and ended up appreciating the craftsmanship at work.

The hardest part of the process was feeling like there was a constant deadline for each movie. Some of the movies hit emotional beats pretty hard and it was difficult to force myself to watch a movie the next day. Balancing a movie a day on top of work and everyday life was also challenging and something I should’ve prepared around more.

The more serious movies that were playing in theaters proved to be the hardest to review. Joker and The Lighthouse both moved me and brought up a lot of interesting points, but I couldn’t pause, write out my thoughts, and rewind to catch up with certain points like I could do back at home on my PS3.

I’m definitely planning on doing this challenge next year, but now I think I have some good changes to make the process more manageable. I definitely need more fun/cheesy movies to lighten the mood. Being scared and philosophically boomed is great but there’s a charm to less serious movies. At the very least, they would serve as a much needed change in current that would keep the experience fresh.

 

Review: Event Horizon

Theatrical Release Poster

Paul W. S. Anderson’s science fiction horror film, Event Horizon, is an ambitious attempt at telling a haunting and Lovecraftian space adventure. The story follows a space response team, sent on a top secret mission related to a star ship, Event Horizon. What follows is an interesting premise that nails some moments quite well, but overshoots and makes other portions of the story feel more like a joke.

The first act was quite interesting and managed to hook me in with it’s mysterious and offsetting nature. We’re presented a series of confusing and gruesome visuals with no explanation which keeps the sense of tension and horror up. When answers finally do come from Dr. Weir (Sam Neil), even more questions are raised. A lot of these early moments are scary because they’re unknown. They seem like delusions and mirages. In fact, one thing the movie consistently does is deliver frightening moments. There’s a lot of gore and unsettling imagery that makes the environment seem like a form of space hell.

Acting from the main leads is great and keeps the tension up the scenes they’re in. Laurence Fishburne makes Captain Miller feel like a confident, in-charge kind of leader. He’s commands a sense of authority and never feels out of place. Neil is also asked to do… interesting things by the script in the third act, and he delivers as serious a performance he could give, given the way the pacing and development of these scenes went. It helped me retain some level of interest, despite the strange and hilarious lows the plot goes through.

If I had to describe the movie, I’d say it’s the cinema equivalent of a roller coaster- very high highs and laughably low lows. The biggest issue with the movie is a lot of the moments randomly go into overdrive- almost like the script said “exaggerate this moment.” There are dreadful and terrifying scenes in the movie, and I wanted to be more disturbed by them, but it’s hard when characters are yelling obscenities like it’s some kind of slapstick comedy. The third act honestly felt like a different movie at some points because of how strange the inclusion of certain pieces of dialogue felt in relation to the tone the movie wanted to establish. I would be scared, then laugh, then incredulously gawk at the screen, and loop this behavior.

The movie also feels a bit gimmicky at times.There’s an inconsistent “power-scaling” of the antagonist in the movies. It feels like they’re invincible in certain scenes but then immediately after, they don’t protect themselves from taking damage despite seemingly having the ability to. There’s also this weird use of Latin in the movie that’s used to explain certain things, but it feels shoe-horned, unnatural, and like a cheap way to get twist scares. I felt like the environment could’ve used a different method to do the same kind of thing.

After reading about the production issues that plagued the movie, I felt like some of my concerns would have been alleviated if a more true version of the movie had been released in line with the director’s vision, but regrettably those unseen portions of the movie have been destroyed. Given what the movie could have been, it would’ve been great to see it’s more gruesome interpretation. That’s the real tragedy here.

Rating

TLDR: Despite being a bumpy ride, Event Horizon, was surprisingly entertaining. Thought the story is best early on, there are more than enough gory and unsettling moments to hold your interest in the more tumultuous second half.

Final Rating: 7.4/10. I personally enjoyed the movie more than the score indicates and will probably watch it again. If you can handle some goofy and cheesy moments and some inconsistent rules, this film might be in your ballpark. Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: 28 Days Later

Theatrical Release Poster

Zombies- check.
Misanthropy- check.
Examination of alienation – check.
Awesome music – double check.

Danny Boyle’s science-fiction zombie film, 28 Days Later, checks off all the necessities of a great movie, adds on a great deal of nuance and criticism, and wraps all of that in a beautifully shot and scored piece. The story follows Jim (Cilian Murphy) as he wakes up 28 days after a terrifying “rage” virus has spread and destroyed most of England. He eventually meets up with and forms a rag-tag team with other survivors as they struggle to find a way out of the living hell they find themselves in.

I knew I was in for a cinematic treat just based off of the parallels in the opening scene of the movie, and the opening scene on Jim. We start off looking at a monkey, tied up to a series of wires, being forced to take in violent awful media. When Jim wakes up, he’s also covered in wires on a hospital bed causing an immediate association between him and the primate. It beautifully foreshadows his journey as he’s forced to view and deal with gruesome and morbid scenes of violence. It also raises one of the films main thematic questions- what is humanity and how is it different than animality? Based on this opening scene it might be that humans and animals aren’t so different after all. The feeling never really goes away and the film constantly plays with it.

Every camera shot has a purpose in this movie and I was constantly kept off balance by their variation in use. The use of a gritty realistic recording makes the setting feel grounded and haunting. A darker color scheme is used for most of the film so when lighter ones are front and center, it feels intentional. It serves as a visual and thematic pallet cleanser, which for the most part, keeps the movie fresh and invites deeper answers to the questions being posited.

The frequent use of angled shots highlight the upturned nature of the world around them. Any semblance of the social order that they know of is gone. There are a lot of wide open shots that make the characters feel puny in comparison. They feel like ants- showcasing not only our groups’ alienation, but also questioning the general place of humanity in relation to the planet at large. The quick panicked shots when the zombies come in is also jarring and was frightening each time it was used. The zombies being as fast as they were only made the effects more pronounced.

Speaking of that, I love how fast the zombies were. They’re aggressive killing machines and present a real sense of urgency. The film ensures we know of that by having an incredibly tense and shocking zombie/reaction scene out of nowhere, highlighting the absurdity of it- a mistake at any point, even a small one could be deadly. Even a small speck of blood end our protagonists, so every zombie encounter becomes even worse- we’re constantly on the lookout for blood and cadavers because those present as much of a threat as the zombies themselves.

Because the zombies were so threatening I expected them to be the highlight of the film, driving the main source of tension. But the film spends a large chunk of time developing our group. They really do feel like a family, and some of the character moments in the second act are well realized. They help flesh out the characters without feeling out of place with what we’ve learned about everyone earlier.

John Murphy’s sound makes all of the above elements even better than they would be otherwise. He uses music to precisely accentuate the emotional undercurrent of the scene. The music is never just there for the sake of being there. For example, during one scene in the first act, a soft song plays in the background as the characters explore a certain area, but upon the discovery of a deceased couple, the music cuts out. Instead, the audience is left with silence- highlighting the somber and tragic nature of the scene, before the song comes back in- snapping us, and the character who discovered the scene back to real life. Furthermore, “In the House, In a Heartbeat”, is one of the the best horror/theme tracks I’ve ever heard and its use in the third act was chilling.

The ending of the movie feels rushed and thematically inconsistent, even if I personally thought it was a pleasant change of pace from what I expected. Certain character arcs feel like they come out of left field, but are still beautiful symbolically and thematically. The issue is that after setting up a series of expectations that would allow for the rushed characterization to feel symbolically meaningful, the film directly sidesteps what it just did in favor of something else. The end result, is a surprising ending that a lot of people might find unsatisfying. Personally, I liked it and I’ll get into that in the spoiler section, but I’m definitely going to look at the alternative endings to see if they change my view of the movie at all.

Rating

TLDR: 28 Days Later, is a rich and tense zombie film that’ll have you asking questions about the depraved extents we go to survive. Thought it falters in the ending, it is tense and filled with a sense of isolation that lasts until the very last scene.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. This is the scariest zombie movie I’ve seen. Watch if you enjoy tense and well-paced action scenes, examinations/criticisms of anthropocentrism, or want to watch a beautifully shot and scored work of art.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Cube

Theatrical Release Poster

When I was a young child I remember walking into a room at a family friend’s part and watching the first gruesome scene in the movie. The moment was so unexpected and shocking that I ran out of the room and desperately tried to forget this movie. Nearly 15 years later, I have to say I’m happy I ran out of the room that day, because a younger me could never appreciate the philosophical complexity inherent at the heart of Vincenzo Natali’s science-fiction thriller, Cube.

The plot follows a group of randomly plucked strangers who have all mysteriously found themselves in a cube-shaped room. Each wall of the cube has a doorway to a similar shaped room. But from the first scene, the movie assures us that nothing is safe or truly secure. Certain cubes will kill anyone that enters them- so moving always risks possible death. This simple, yet elaborate set-up, constantly keeps every scene tinged with suspense.

From the very first moments, the movie feels tense and disturbing. The screen always feels claustrophobic because of the closed off nature of the set. The special effects on display are amazing and made the early deaths believable. In fact one of them feels like a real “omae wa mo shinderu” moment, and I visibly gasped when I saw it. The dread of knowing that you’re already dead and having to experience – that’s blood-chilling. The best part? This is just the first death of the movie.

What makes the movie work so well is how believable and well fleshed out all the characters are. Most members of the group take actions that seem justified- making them feel competent and REAL. The second act is where a lot of the dialogue happens and the characters become fleshed out and nuanced. Some of them even feel like call outs of tropes of the “roles” each of them fit in the genre. This made me care for them, good or bad, so the more gruesome moments were more resounding.

Philosophically, the movie shines. It felt like an examination into humanity’s attempts at creating patterns and meaning. For example, if I see a pattern like “12312312_” I’d assume that the next number in the chain is a “3” but that’s because I assume the base of the pattern to be “123.” If the base was actually ” 1231231245″ then next number from the above chain would be “4”. As such any attempt at understanding a pattern assumes some kind of context that can help discern them from merely random fluctuations. The movie plays on the characters and the audiences use of this behavior and deliberately creates a sense of doubt over the truthfulness of certain assumptions the group has made.

Throughout the film, the characters try to find patterns in the cubes or reasons for the presence of random objects , but because they’ve been placed in a situation where they don’t have any real context, they’re forced to guess on the “bases.” This creates this terrifying philosophical undercurrent the entire movie that helps highlight not only the thoughts and feelings the characters are having, but also remove any and all sense of expectation from the audience. Every time the characters traversed, I felt nervous something was going to happen. This feeling continues till the ending, which is what I loved most about it- based on how you fall on the issue, you can come to a different conclusion over the final fates of the characters.

The problems with the film become more prominent in the third act. Certain character choices don’t make a lot of sense given previous events, and other character changes seem sudden and rushed. There’s also a weird suspension of disbelief that happens regarding some traversal issues that make the movie feel inconsistent in it’s rule-set, but also feels like it could thematically align with some earlier points. It’s not something I hold against the film now, but it is something that others may not like as much.

Rating

TLDR: Cube is an ambitious philosophical thriller through cube shaped hell. It’s fun, though provoking and invites the audience to think along with it until the ending credits play. Some of the character decisions and transformations feel out of place near the end of the movie, but they’re not even close enough to derail the fun here.

Final Rating: 9.2/10. If you enjoy philosophy this is the movie for you. You’ll be sitting there talking about the plot long after the movie ends. Fans of suspense should also give this a go.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Thing (1982)

1982 Theatrical Poster

From the opening shot of the John Carpenter’s masterpiece science-fiction horror film, The Thing, I knew I was in for something different. After all, the first real thing we see is a UFO crash into the Earth before a great transition to the title card. Then immediately after, we cut into a helicopter chasing around a dog in the Antarctic, desperately trying to gun it down. The best part? This is only the beginning, and the story that follows is even grander and raises even more questions.

The story follows a group of American scientists, their encounter with an unknown alien creature that can imitate any organism it consumes, and their subsequent struggle to survive and eliminate “the Thing.” The acting is phenomenal from the entire cast . It genuinely feels like everyone is certain that they’re a “good” guy and everyone else is suspicious or corrupted by the alien creature. . Lighting and perspective are played around with a lot to amp up the feelings of paranoia. Furthermore, Kurt Russel as MacReady was captivating. He took charge of the scenes he was in, much like his character did during his movie. His serious reaction to a lot of the more imaginative scenes in the movie, really sell the impact and gravity of what’s going on.

However, what makes the movie truly mesmerizing and in turn, genuinely disturbing is attention to detail. From set design, to lighting you can tell a lot of the choices were done intentionally to seed additional doubt over the status of certain characters and to constantly cause the viewer to feel uncertain. The visual effects on display made me actually lean back in fear. The monster was disgusting and didn’t even feel out of place compared to special effects in movies today. I was shocked to see that this movie was actually almost forty years old. It’s aged phenomenally! There’s one scene in particular that I’ll go into more detail in the spoilers section, but after reading on how much work went into it, I appreciated how much more it actually scared me. This does come with a warning to my more squeamish friends- some of the visual scares are a bit bloody and there’s some really out there imagery, so be warned.

Put together- the elements of the movie present, at least in my opinion, a pretty bleak interpretation of human affairs and left me with a sense of nihilism. I can see why critics at the time weren’t huge fans. But despite, the seemingly bleak nature of the movie- it’s beautiful in it’s portrayal of the costs of survival and the things we’re willing to do in its name.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise or horrors so the spoiler free thoughts end here.

Rating

TLDR: The Thing is bleak and ambiguous, leaving a lot up the viewer for interpretation. From the effects to the cast, the story will constantly keep you on edge, nervous, and paranoid, just like the characters.

Final Rating: 10/10. It’s good. Real good. Take the deep dive. I know I know. A 10 in the first 3 days? I promise- it’s well worth it.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!