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Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street

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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)

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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

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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: House of the Devil

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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 (played by Jocelin Donahue), 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.

Rating

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.

Final Rating: 9.2/10. 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.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Green Room (2015)

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Who would win? A group of punk rock musicians or a gang of violent Nazi’s/white nationalists. Jeremy Saulnier’s, Green Room, follows a the band, the Ain’t Rights, as they play a gig at a far-right venue and come witness to a murder. What follows is a heart-pounding thriller that’ll keep you on the edge of your seats as you witness the group try and get out with their lives.

What makes the movie feel so tense is the normality of the characters. Obviously, I don’t mean the fact they’re musicians that take questionable gigs – rather, it’s because none of the characters have some unexplained skill set that’s perfect for the scenario. No one is actually a secret combat veteran or a perfect shot. Instead, the group is made up of normal human beings who are placed in a terrifying situation and have to use their collective wit to try and escape. The best part? For the most part, their actions and decisions are pretty believable.

This effect is achieved in part by great acting and dialogue choice. Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner) all play off each other great as band mates and their chemistry and sense familiarity helps create tension and investment in their characters. Amber, played by Imogen Poots, always feels a bit off-mysterious and strange- which helps keep the intrigue. Finally, Patrick Stewart as Darcy, the film’s villain, is incredibly sinister. You can feel the calculations and his performance really sells how meticulous his planning is. On top of the acting, a lot of the dialogue seems natural and makes sense. This helps create a sense of immersion so when the group makes a decision, it doesn’t feel like it comes out of the blue. This also helps a lot of the outcomes feel earned. between the viewer and the character on the screen.

The film is also gruesome and doesn’t shy away from more gory and bloody moments. This in combination with the darker color scheme, create a gritty and intense feeling that only amplifies the suspense as the movie goes.

Problems mainly occur more prominently in the latter half of the movie. Although most of the plot threads or character threads get developed, there are others that are just raised because? They feel almost like they should be important, but they never really go anywhere. The characters also seem like they all became less intelligent as the plot goes on so the ending doesn’t quite stick the landing.

Rating

TLDR: Green Room is a 90 minute heart pounding suspense film that has great twists and turns. The dialogue and characterization is mostly believable, and though some issues prop up in the second half of the movie, the journey is still a hell of a lot of fun.

Final Rating: 8.3/10. A great movie with some like-able and grounded characters – you should check it out if you want an adrenaline rush or want to feel more alive.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Poltergeist (1982)

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The moment I saw Diane’s(JoBeth William) reaction to the initial infestation of the haunting/poltergeist infestation, I knew I was in for a different supernatural movie experience. Tobe Hooper’s, Poltergeist, follows a suburban American family as their house is taken over by outside spirits. Though the haunting/infestation starts off as innocuous furniture re-arrangements, it quickly descends into a nightmare, as the family struggles to deal with make it through the ordeal

The first thing I really loved was how early on in the film the haunting is set up and its consequences foreshadowed. For example, the opening scene opens up on a television set playing the American anthem. The camera starts zooming into the TV, as the screen starts flickering. The focus on the flicker in the blue light highlights the association between a boundary flickering on and off, and is commonly used to amp up the tension of scenes or to highlight the absolute presence of the paranormal.

There also seems to be a critique of violence and appearances. As the first act continues to unfold, we see Carol Anne (played by Heather O’Rourke), watching a blank flickering screen. A scene exemplifying this that stuck out in my head occurred when Diane sees her Carol Anne watching a blank screen, calls it bad for her daughters eyes, then switches the channel to a war movie with violence on the screen. It felt like foreshadowing, as though Carol Anne would think something bad was good for her. But more importantly, it felt like a critique of how normalized violence can be. Diane immediately also turns away from the television, signalling she may not have seen what she put on for her daughter or know what the content was. This felt like a criticism of assuming the safety of common procedures- like sometimes the seemingly innocent, might have a malevolent undercurrent.

Effects wise, the movie is gorgeous. Some of the special effects seem corny now, but I’d assume they looked a lot scarier back at the release date. However, this only happens a few times. For the most part, some of the visual scares were downright disturbing. They looked real and alive, as though they actually came from some demonic realm.

Most of the problems I had with the movie stem from some early characterization which may or may not be unfair. I felt like some of the actions the characters took felt out of place with the events unfolding, but thankfully these moments were few and far between.

Rating

TLDR: Poltergeist was a beautiful film with great visual effects and an well-developed and fleshed out exploration of a family dealing with the unimaginable.

Final Rating: 9/10. This seminal work deserves a watch from crowds old and young. There’s something in it for everyone and no matter how scared or not scared you are by the end, you’ll have been entertained.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Shining

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What’s real? Who can I trust? Does it matter? Stanley Kubrick’s , The Shining , dives headfirst in its examination into the inner workings of the human mind. This story of an isolated family, forced to man and take care of an otherworldly hotel, tackles issues associated with violence, dependence, and isolation-making sure to weave a narrative that highlights each of the above in nuanced and diverse ways.

The first shot sets the tone and really drives home how isolated the main environment of the movie, the Overlook Hotel, is from society. As we follow Jack Torrance’s, played by Jack Nicholson, car driving up the long, winding, mountain road we get to see he how far away the area is from the rest of society.

As he enters the hotel we’re greeted with one of many “timeline” narration cards. I loved how they were used frequently to give a sense of progression of time in the movie, but more interestingly, they made the movie feel more like a novel. I haven’t read the Stephen King novel, this adaptation is based on, but the structure of the acts and their respective lengths made the movie feel like a visual book, as opposed to a normal movie. Almost like it wanted to convey the sense of progression and growth a book can do. The effect felt really impactful in highlighting character progression/regression. Furthermore, the use of one-point perspective for a lot of the scarier and more visually striking shots helped the more intense moments of the movie feel haunting. I couldn’t avert my gaze, and a lot of the times, the “lead up” to the eventual reveal was as if not more intense than the final image, due to the amount of tension and anxiety it created.

The family dynamic present between him, his wife, and their son serve as the catalyst for a lot of important plot points. Paying attention to their interactions at the beginning of the movie, you can tell despite the initial strain, there’s an attempt at kind of coming together and connecting. But as more information gets revealed, the faces slowly reveal fear and paranoia, and a fuller picture of the family comes up. Watching Wendy’s (played by Shelley Duvall) expressions to her husband’s continued eccentricities was simultaneously engrossing and petrifying. I did find it interesting that despite being most intimately connected to the “shining,” Danny (played by Danny Lloyd), doesn’t play as big a role as I thought he would. He was believable in the sequences he was in though, and I enjoyed his other voice/performance.

However, any discussion of the acting in the movie would be remiss if it didn’t go over Jack Nicholson’s performance. He stole the show here and really helped sell the mood and theme of the whole movie. From the moment we meet the Torrance patriarch, he seems like a man on the edge of a see-saw, almost like he’s teetering on the edge of madness. From his facial expressions, to his responses to scenarios he feels like an volcano, ready to blow. As the events of the movie progress, we see him desperately try and maintain a sense of control-of not only himself, but his grasp on reality.

Thankfully, for Jack , Kubrick wants the audience to join him, by casting doubt about everything. Characters say things that contradict previously understood information. Then something happens to confirm the contradiction. Then something happens that maybe throws that previous thing out of the water. Or maybe not. That’s the beauty of the movie. It leaves a lot open-ended, but it does so in a way that feels earned and not sloppy. Camera angles, transitions, and brief still images constantly kept me on edge, wondering if I really did have a grasp on what was going on.

Rating

TLDR: The Shining is a haunting tale of the effects of isolation and dependency. By using an already strained family as the main characters and splashing in elements of the supernatural, it takes its themes and questions to some of their most interesting destinations.

Final Rating: 10/10 Beautifully paced, shot, and executed. I’ll be thinking about the ending for a while and who was actually telling the truth

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!