Tag Archives: Horror

Review: Shaun of the Dead

Theatrical Release Poster

Though Edgar Wright’s, Shaun of the Dead, has zombies and gore, it works much more as a comedy movie than as a horror movie. This movie is more of a comedic satire that wants to poke fun at zombie movies, and invites the audience to laugh along as the chaos ensues. The movie follows Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his motley crew of friends/acquaintances as they attempt to survive a zombie infestation.

The best way I could describe the movie is if you took the cast of a sitcom and then put them in a feature length movie where a zombie attack was just breaking out. Most of the times the juxtaposition of the terrifying reality of zombies with the over-the-top and almost dismissive behavior of the main cast to the same creates a subtle comedy. The excellent sound design, and more importantly song choices for most scenes was amazing and highlighted the absurdity of the whole movie. I chuckled for most of the run time, because the movie makes fun of the tropes and genre cliches of zombie movies. It’s as if the writers, Wright and Pegg, want us to join in on the “joke” with them. All the jokes are carefully woven through nuanced direction and great writing.

The film is overhanded in it’s foreshadowing deliberately. We know the characters are in for a bad time, but because we have an idea of how bad, we can let loose and just enjoy the absurd reactions to the events by the characters. There’s also heaps of subtle bits of foreshadowing and calls I already know I’ll have to re-watch the movie because upon finishing it, a lot of the earlier segments feel even more fleshed out, and I know I’ll pick up more Easter eggs.

The abundance of humor does cause some slight issues in terms of overall tone. Some of the more serious and heartfelt moments felt less impactful than I felt they could have been. At times the inclusion of jokes in these moments causes this weird disconnect which made the impact of those moments less poignant.

Rating

TLDR: Shaun of the Dead is a satire posing as a zombie movie that relishes in fun and absurdity and invites the audience to do the same. The tone is uneven at times, but that’s a small price to pay for a movie that’ll have you chuckling for most of its run-time.

Final Rating: 9.0/10. If you’re a fan of zombie movies or enjoy clever satires give this movie a go. Anyone who wants to laugh, and kind mind a small bit of gore, should also see this when they can. It’s a great time.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Silence of the Lambs

Theatrical Release Poster

“Believe me, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside of your head.” Though Dr. Chilton (Anthonly Heald) gave the warning to Clarice (Jodie Foster), it almost felt like a subtle warning to the viewer. The beauty of Jonathan Demme’s psychological-horror, The Silence of the Lambs, is that most of the scares in the movie come from the uncomfortable nature and presentation of the characters and their motivations. The film follows the FBI cadet, Clarice, as she attempts to get advice and help from Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), an incarcerated cannibal, to stop mass murderer, Buffalo Bill.

The movie plays on the viewers engagement and understanding of each of the characters and their respective motivations. During dialogue scenes, the camera usually fully focuses on whoever is talking with no distractions. This helps create the effect that the characters are talking to us and generates a deeper investment into the characters and the story.

Claire’s treatment also highlights the way our gazes constantly reinforce and generate certain expectations. Despite being intelligent and qualified, she is often treated as eye candy by almost every male she meets. This creates a voyeuristic juxtaposition which highlights and makes the horror more palpable. Because we relate to and understand the character more we feel her plight. But because we’re also outside viewers it becomes easier to watch the way society objectifies her. Simultaneously, a subject and an object- the identification made me feel unnerved by revealing my own biases while watching.

Scares here are less visceral and more subtle. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins steal the show here and their lengthy dialogues are tense and informative. Even though they spend most of their time just talking to each other, the delivery and pacing, made the scenes feel far more “impactful” than traditional dialogue. Since the human psyche here is the battlefield, it makes sense that the action comes through best in the intellectual probing battle,as both characters try to feel each other out. Horror here mainly comes from thoughts and suggestions. There are some disturbing images through the movie, but they’re used sparingly to preserve impact and to highlight the psychological terror.

Rating

TLDR: The Silence of the Lambs is a terrifying romp through the human psyche. It forces us to confront our own biases and asks us uncomfortable questions about the way we act in this world.

Final Rating: 10/10. If you enjoy psychological movies or like shows like Mindhunter or Criminal Minds, then you’ll end up loving this. This might be one of the most unnerving movies I’ve ever watched and I know I’ll come back to it eventually.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Updated on 2/2/2020
Go to page 3 for my initial review/thoughts. Go to page 4 for my initial spoiler thoughts.

Theatrical release poster
Director(s)Drew Goddard
Principal CastKristen Connolly as Dana
Fran Kranz as Marty
Chris Hemsworth as Curt
Anna Hutchinson as Jules
Jesse Williams as Holden
Richard Jenkins as Gary
Bradley Whitford as Steve
Release Date2012
Running Time 95 minutes

Since I was re-watching my favorite horror movies for my best horror movies of the past decade list (to be released soon) , I decided to watch Cabin In the Woods one more time even though I saw it recently in my Halloween Marathon challenge. I’m genuinely happy I did because wow, did I come away with so much more than I initially saw. All the issues I had with the movie before were ideas that the movie directly criticizes and looking at the movie again with the knowledge of how it all ends proved a humbling experience. Goddard and Whedon have written one of the most ambitious and intelligent horror movies of all-time, let alone the last decade and I’ve never been so excited to have been wrong before.

I’ll keep the review spoiler free like before because this movie is best experienced knowing almost nothing going in. Even now, I think my previous review might have said too much, so I’d suggest only looking at it after watching the movie. It’ll make it even funnier. I have a lot of thoughts about the movie that I’ll write in the spoiler section here and in a piece I’ve been brewing up. Now that that’s out of the way, the movie follows a group of 5 friends: Dana, a shy nerdy girl. Typical final girl status; Marty, the fun stoner of the group who drops nuggets of wisdom; Curt, alpha but intelligent cool guy of the group; Holden, a book smart nice guy; Jules, the fun outgoing girl who’s in a relationship with Curt. Every character feels familiar at once because they’re similar to archetypes we’re all familiar with in horror, but are distinct enough to stand out. The attention to character details really shines through and makes reveals later in the movie more satisfying.

If you’re a fan of horror, you owe it to yourself to watch the movie just to see all the different homages. Now that I’ve watched more horror and expanded my palette (primarily due to this past October) I could recognize more of the mise en scene. There’s a lot of love present from the attention to detail to the way the plot unfolds. The movie deftly navigates multiple tropes, simultaneously using them, making fun of them, and being in something in addition to them. Every single actor/actress gives their all in their respective performance and the movie wouldn’t be the same without their dedication to the script. You can tell they’re having a lot of fun with the subtext at play and it makes every moment memorable. I was surprised at how much of the movie I remembered as I re-watched everything. It has a way of sticking with you because the entire experience is something wholly unique.

This is a meta- movie that requires a lot of self introspection. When I said in my opening paragraph that my re-watch was humbling, I meant that I realized that during my first viewing, I had been so caught up in perceived issues that I never considered the point of what was being said. I missed the forest for the trees. It’s not that I think my analysis of the themes before are wrong. It’s just that that my former analysis only operates one level removed from the movie and the movie goes a lot further than that. The beauty of The Cabin in the Woods is the more you think about what it says about you, the more you get out of it. It’s a movie that rewards familiarity with horror in general, but also the way that the horror market works. If you know your place in that market, you get a lot more from this movie than someone watching just for the sake of scares. The movie isn’t just meta. It’s meta-meta and it’s done for the sake of seriously critiquing the way horror is conceived of and consumed.

Thankfully, if you’re not into all of that “meta nonsense”, there’s a fun story that works purely at the level of function. Watching the tale of the group is still scary. It’s just scary in a horror comedy sense, more so than a typical slasher movie. There’s a lot of blood and gore. There are gruesome kills and serious moments. However, the nature of the movie might make those moments less scary than one would expect. Going into the movie with an open mind and no expectations and knowledge of it gives you the best chance of enjoying a fun and unique experience. I laughed myself to tears more than once and found myself genuinely admiring how diverse the layers of humor were.

Report Card

TLDRThe Cabin in the Woods is a movie that ages with experience and time. The more you think about your place in the horror industry and your own expectations, the more you appreciate the decisions Goddard and Whedon made. On the surface level there’s a lot of humorous scenes and gory fun to be had. If you’re looking for subtext or enjoy meta-content then this movie is for you. It’s unique in that it gives viewers exactly what they put into it. As a result it can work for a variety of audiences. If you enjoy horror at all, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
Rating10/10
GradeA+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Theatrical Release Poster

Wes Craven’s innovative take on the slasher genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, follows the tale of high-school age adolescents who struggle to evade and outmaneuver the deranged child murderer, Fred Kreuger (Robert Englund). The worst part? He only appears in their incredibly life-like dreams.

Normally slashers are scary because they pose a series of characters who have to find a way to outwit a serial killer. This movie makes that tension even more palpable, because from the narrative to the visual effects, the character’s, and as a result the audience’s, sense of separation between reality and dream become harder to tell apart. This creates a constant sense of unease as we’re left to ask if the characters are really awake now or sleeping.

In particular a lot of the visual effects are seamless and help create a sense of immersion. The boundary between the real and dream world is constantly being transgressed. As a result, none of the characters ever feel safe. In school, in their beds, under their sheets, in the view of medical professionals- the movie slowly tears away at our sense of security.

I really loved how main character, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), felt like a fully realized and fleshed out person. Unlike the traditional scream queen, she was fairly resourceful the whole film, and acted with a lot of patience and ingenuity. The whole time, I was genuinely rooting for her , because she felt a lot more like an action hero than a damsel in distress. Honestly, her biggest adversaries are the adults in her life- which highlights one of the bigger themes of the movie- the trauma and repression of growing up.

This is highlighted and demonstrated in great and subtle ways the entire movie. Most of the adults in the movie aren’t present in their children’s lives or actively try and inhibit them. An early victim is killed after having sex, almost as if a condemnation of trying to grow up. Constantly, the main group of characters tries to use their agency and are sidelined or disregarded by the adults, who put them in even more danger with their ineptitude.

The only real issues I had with the movie weren’t that serious. I felt like outside of Nancy, no other character received significant development. This wasn’t a big issue because following Nancy is interesting, but the deaths of other characters don’t feel as tragic as they could have. On top of this, the film has some thematic beats that are followed through and executed well, but kind of falter by the end of the film, making it less satisfying that it could’ve been.


Rating

TLDR: A Nightmare on Elm Street is a riveting take on the slasher genre- that adds a new dimension of scares by playing around with reality and the supernatural. Though some moments fall flat or feel disconnected, the story remains interesting throughout and have you questioning what’s really real.

Final Rating: 9.1/10. If you like slasher movies or strong female leads this is your movie. Or if you liked Inception and wondered what a more horror version of it would feel like – check this out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Theatrical Release Poster

When the narration started at the beginning of the movie I knew I was in for a rough ride. The expectation is set – you know what you’ll see will be heinous and grotesque- and then the camera goes from a series of camera flashes over a series of red disturbing images, before cutting away to a decomposing, grotesque cadaver sculpture. Through this immaculate progression, Tobe Hooper was able to set the pace and tone of the movie, while creating an initial shock to get the viewers ready for the slasher horror to come in his seminal independent movie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

We follow a group a of young 20 something’s with no care in the world as they attempt to check on the graveyard of the titular character Sally’s (played by Marilyn Burns) grandfather. After they check and leave the station, they end up picking up a hitchhiker and everything starts to go downhill from there. The unsuspecting and happy-go-lucky group are forced to endure nightmarish events and visuals.

When everything goes to hell in a hand-basket, the camera really helps amplify the tension and induces a panicking feeling. The camera dips and turns, slants sideways, quickly zooms in, and constantly keeps the viewer on edge. It perfectly highlights the chaos and disorientation of later scenes, creating a morbid dread. The lighting is also incredibly interesting. A lot of the horror/scenes leading up to those moments have a lot of sunlight in them. The juxtaposition created with the grotesque and inhumane acts with a sunny background, really highlighted how nefarious and isolated the main environment is. It helps highlight the hopelessness, which along with some early foreshadowing, really makes some character fates tragic.

All of this is even more surprising, when you realize the movie, unlike its titles suggestion, isn’t especially gory. The violent scenes aren’t scary because there’s tons of blood and guts, or a lot of loud bumps. The movie is scary because it puts you in a paranoid and disturbed state of mind, and forces you to confront the way you’ve normalized and participated in “violent” actions.

The way the movie introduces it’s villain and their subsequent actions really drives the point home- humanity is capable of awful, violent things. From the way it parodies elements of family life, to its commentary on our relationship to food, the movie constantly makes it clear- humanity is its own worst enemy. What we see as depraved, is merely those undercurrents amplified. The movie honestly feels like it’s bringing to light the worst subconscious traits and tendencies we have as a species, and forcing us to really confront those things.

I felt scared and uncomfortable the whole time the film. From the opening scene to the very end, I never felt “safe.” That kind of feeling is rare and unsettling. It’s also really surprising because I saw Poltergeist earlier last week, and after realizing that Hooper directed both films, was in a positive shock. Some of the visual effects in that movie make a lot more sense now that I know it came from the same mind that made this nightmare. It also made me appreciate how well he, as a director, could capture different moments of horror.

Check out my spoiler thoughts where I go in more intensively on some themes and why the movie felt as unsettling as it did.

Rating

TLDR: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an incredibly frightening and grotesque look at the undercurrent of our psyches.

Final Rating: 10/10. Chilling. Innovative. Revolutionary. If you want to feel scared, genuinely scared and off balance, watch this movie. People who like slashers or artistic takes on the dark undercurrents of humanity should also check it out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Night of the Living Dead

Theatrical Release Poster

George Romero’s 1968 piece of art, Night of the Living Dead, tells a gripping tale of a group of survivors fighting against a horde of “living dead” zombies encroaching the house they’re hiding in. However, the real, more insidious enemy plaguing the group are their ideological divides. The film feels so much like a social commentary and, surprisingly, seems incredibly pertinent to the status quo.

The first scene into the bait-and-switch into the lead character was unexpected and genuinely surprising. We start off with a view of Barbra (played by Judith O’Dea) and her brother walking towards the cemetery to pay respects to their father. From there we go on an almost absurd journey, as Barbra tries to escape an undead chasing her. As she finds shelter, we get introduced to the real main character, Ben, played by Duane Jones. I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, and I can only count on one hand how many black leads I’ve ever seen. Especially thinking about the fact that this movie was released in 1968, Duane’s portrayal of a strong, steady, calm, and resourceful black man taking charge and holding off the undead is incredibly subversive.

Eventually as we’re introduced to the rest of the cast, we see the signs of ideological fracture among the group. Harry, played by Karl Hardman, serves as the chief foil to Ben and they both represent different outlooks on relation and responsibility. The clashes between them serve as a kind of commentary on the costs of survival and the extent of our obligation to our fellow people.

Romero is phenomenal at showing and not telling. Yes, there are exposition dumps woven throughout the movie, but the a lot of the information describes events that we, as the audience, have already seen. This helps create a really dynamic viewing experience which is only amplified by the use of slanted camera angles and amazing lighting choices. The shadows are really accentuated which ramps up the tension, but more importantly the constant use of fire and flames through the movies really pops and creates an impact. Special effect design is also great – the gore effects are visually disturbing and accentuate the depravity of the creatures enough to make them scary even now. However, despite using so many of the above to create a scary spectacle, never once, does the focus of the movie feel like it’s too “away” from the protagonists. The monsters are there – but they’re there to highlight issues and serve as catalysts – the focus is always clearly on the characters.

I would go into more but I don’t want to risk spoiling anything so I’ll end the spoiler free section here.

Rating

TLDR: Night of the Living Dead is a dark take on humanity’s response to an terrifying threat. Although it’s a zombie movie on the outside, on the inside it’s a fascinating journey through the darker canals of the human mind.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. If you’re someone who keeps up a lot with social issues and the news, watch this movie. It’s surprisingly though provoking now, five decades later. Anyone who likes psychological films or zombie films should also give this a go.


Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The House of the Devil

Director(s)Ti West
Principal CastJocelin Donahue as Samantha Hughes
Greta Gerwig as Megan
Tom Noonan as Mr.Ulman
Mary Woronov as Mrs.Ulman
Release Date2009
Language(s)English
Running Time 95 minutes

Ti West’s 2009 supernatural movie, The House of the Devil ,is a beautifully crafted love letter to 70’s and 80’s horror films. It follows the tale of a Samantha, a college girl who ends up taking a babysitting job for an elderly couple. Here’s the catch- there’s no baby. Instead, upon arriving at the location, she learns she’s to look after the elderly mother of the wife. From there, we descend into a slow burn of paranoia and tension as we watch our unsuspecting “babysitter” reckon with the terrors of the night.

I’m going to be honest. I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid, watching stuff like The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, two excellent films that have me genuinely scared even now. What West is able to do with his precise use of lighting, sound, and camera technique wonderfully recreates the moods and feelings the above and similar pieces have. We constantly get gorgeous outside wide shots, or corner shots that make us feel on edge and in turn amplifies the tension. There were multiple times where the camera angle frames Samantha as prey, that’s being watched. The sound comes in and out of the background to the foreground creating a a sense of intensity and helps foreshadow future events based on how the music switches. The lighting is also stellar. It feels like an older movie, and the darker scenes are great at building anticipation up.

Jocelin, as Samantha, carried so much of the movie. The way she responded to a lot of the situations felt understandable and helped progress the movie to its eventual climax. She manages to portray a real sense of urgency which also helps justify some of the more questionable decisions. It helps the movie from feeling too absurd or campy.

However, I do think that the first two acts are a real slow burn. Personally, I love a good slow burn. If the payoff or the meaning of the movie are made more impactful, then I don’t mind or in some cases genuinely appreciate the same. I know that might put others off. But in the case of this movie, the third act payoff is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I literally could not believe how great and climactic it feels. The cinematography becomes a lot more alive and dynamic here which really amplifies the feeling. I was waiting for so long for a payoff, and boy was it worth it.

The only real problems I had with the movie were some of the dumb character decisions and cliches. I think the movie wants us to kind of gloss over them and just accept them for what they are and enjoy the ride. For the most part I was able to, but at some points it really became a “what is happening?” moment. Some of the cliches also become more tongue in cheek because the movie almost points them out and “gets in” on the joke. This definitely helped me just ease off of nitpicking and just enjoying the ride.

Report Card

TLDR The House of the Devil is a phenomenal movie that demonstrates some of the best craftsmanship I’ve seen in terms of set design and presentation. It might feel campy or cliched to you in some places, but if you can get past those moments and stay patient, you’re in for a great ride.If you like The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby ,or movies like those I’d give this a solid go. Fans of slow burn suspense movies that love big climactic endings should also give it a try.
Rating9.2/10
GradeA