Tag Archives: Horror

Old Movie Review: Carrie (2013) (4 *’s)

Carrie is the remake of the movie of the same name based on the Stephen King novel, again, of the same name (I think). It tells the story of Carrie White, a shy, introverted young girl who is a pariah amongst her peers at school. She is the daughter of a religious fanatic, actually an all-but-psychotic religious fanatic played by Julianne Moore. In full disclosure, I have never read Stephen King’s novel, nor did I ever see the original movie.

 

The story begins with Carrie having her first period in the girls’ shower at school. Unfortunately for her, because she has been so obsessively sheltered by her mother, she doesn’t know what it is. To her she is simply bleeding and there is pain. The result is that she starts flipping out. She doesn’t know what’s going on and she starts calling for help. The other girls in the locker room quickly figure out what’s going on and pretty much do what most teenage kids do to the unpopular kid in school. They start to torment her by throwing tampons and what-have-you at her. One of the kids actually comes to her senses and stops of her own accord, but the rest continue until a teacher shows up. From there, it is a kind of typical kid-being-bullied story in high school with an added twist. Unbeknownst to anybody, Carrie is telekinetic and her powers grow in strength throughout the movie. A final reckoning comes (spoiler alert) when the mean girls dump a bucket of pig’s blood on Carrie at the senior prom. This sets Carrie off, and she begins to slaughter people. The chaos culminates at Carrie’s home where her psychotic fanatical mother tries to kill her. The movie ends with the one sympathetic school mate Carrie had testifying in court to the events that transpired saying basically that Carrie was the same as the rest of us; we just pushed her too far.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the story held together well, there were no glaring flaws that I noticed, and the special effects were good and did not come to dominate the film. Weaknesses: my one complaint, and this probably goes back to the original novel, was the character of Carrie’s mother. She was portrayed as a psychotic religious nut and I get kind of tired of seeing that type of character pop up in movies. It seems that any mention of religion in these movies is always through the lens of psychosis or what-have-you. She wasn’t really a character, she was more a caricature. And that gets tiresome. Of course, a ‘normal’ religious person probably wouldn’t be as interesting as a crazy one, but oh, well.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Carrie four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Dracula Untold (4 *’s) (2014)

Dracula Untold is the latest vampire story to hit the theatres. It purports to be the origin story of the most famous vampire of all time: Count Dracula (but not a real life account of Vlad Tepes, obviously). As such, it returns the traditional notion of a vampire: a potent force of darkness and slayer of men. The title role is played by Luke Evans, the guy who plays Bard in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. There are a number of other actors, of course, but I didn’t recognize any of them.

 

The story begins with a brief recap of the young Vlad Tepes’ early life. He was given, along with nine-hundred ninety-nine fellow children, as tribute to the Turkish caliphate. Here he was raised and trained as a ruthless warrior, a profession at which he excelled. Fast forward to the later years of Vlad’s life. The central conflict of the story is between the fully human Count Dracula, that is, Vlad Tepes and the ruler of the Turkish caliphate, Mehmed. Vlad and Mehmed were once the best of friends. Now, as caliph, Mehmed demands tribute. Vlad is happy to comply when such is just money. But, Mehmed is not satisfied with simple wealth. He wants a thousand young boys to train to replenish his army, one of them being Vlad’s own son, Ingeras. That goes too far and Vlad rebels. In desperation he seeks out the aid of an unholy vampire, but such aid may come at the cost of his soul.

 

Strengths: the plot held together well, the acting was fine, and the special effects were well-placed and perfectly respectable. The count’s desperation was well-exemplified and well portrayed. And although there was romance in the film, it was not of the cheesy Twilight variety. Vlad’s vampire nature did not make him more romantic; the romance was beset with tragedy. Vlad’s vampire nature was not regarded as a blessing or in any way positive. Weaknesses: I would almost call the fight between Vlad and Mehmed at the end a weakness. Vlad, as a vampire, should have ripped right through Mehmed. But the movie made clear that the silver present weakened Vlad, so the climactic fight could be, in fact, a struggle. I can’t think of any other true or pseudo weaknesses at all. I liked this film.

 

I’ll give Dracula Untolda grand total of four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Oculus (4 *’s) (2013)

Oculus has an intriguing concept for a movie. Basically, there is a cursed/demonic mirror responsible for a string of deaths reaching back several hundred years. Two twenty-somethings, a brother and a sister, who witnessed the deaths of their own parents, are preparing to prove the mirrors culpability to the world, and, hopefully, destroy the mirror in the process. The movie stars Karen Gillan (playing Kaylie Russell), Brenton Thwaites (Tim Russell), Katie Sackhoff (Marie Russell—the mom), and Rory Cochrane (Alan Russell—the dad). The only one of those I’ve seen elsewhere is Katie Sackhoff who plays Starbuck in the remake of Battlestar Gallactica and a mercenary in Riddick (the third movie in featuring the dark hero played by Vin Diesel).

 

The movie begins with the psychological evaluation and subsequent release of Tim Russell. He is now an adult, having been confined to a criminal sanitarium for the murders of his father and mother. He meets his sister and they have a brief joyous reunion. Then, things start to turn dark. Tim’s nearly decade of psychological treatment has succeeded in warping his true memories of the seemingly impossible events of his parents’ deaths. He no longer believes in the mirror. Now, he has accepted the responsibility as the murderer of his parents. The sister, however, who has never undergone therapy, has not forgotten the true events and, after much research and hard work, she has found the location of the mirror. The first half of the movie consists of Tim and Kaylie arguing over the truth or falsity of their experiences. Tim says it didn’t happen; Kaylie says it did. Kaylie has set up an elaborate quasi-scientific experiment to prove to all the naysayers that his brother was innocent and that true culprit was the horrid power of the mirror. Woven into this dialogue are the reawakening memories of Tim regarding the horrid events of his past. It is seamlessly woven together and combined it makes for an intriguing trek. The tension builds throughout until reaching the deadly climax.

 

Strengths: the acting was fine; the plot was intriguing and very well done; and the shifts in timeline were well orchestrated. The special effects were well-placed and not overdone. Weaknesses: maybe I’ve seen too many of these, but I was never really scared watching the film. Startled a few times, perhaps, but not really frightened. Of course, I saw it on the TV and not in a theatre and that has an impact. Regardless, the movie held my attention throughout and it was very suspenseful if not frightful.

 

Overall, I’ll give the film Oculus a rating of four out of five stars … maybe even four and a half stars.

Old Movie Review: Dracula Reborn (2012)

Dracula Rebornis one of the many movies made for DVD to cash in on the recent vampire fad. Unlike the likes of Twilight and similar such films, it is, as the name suggests, a return to the original sinister vampire of medieval lore. From the get-go it is pretty obviously a grade-B movie. I’ve never heard of any of the actors, directors, or anyone else associated with the film. The plot … well, it isn’t a precise retelling of the original Dracula tale; instead it takes the skeleton of the original tale and fits it to a modern-setting to mold it. Many of the characters from the original book are there, filling similar roles as they did in that excellent story, only transformed into a modern depiction.

 

The story begins with a woman in an empty parking lot, being stalked by a mysterious entity. There are a number brief shots of Dracula crossing the camera for suspense. Then, the woman is taken. Dun dun dun. From there, the story tries to follow, at least for a while, some elements from the original tale. Jonathan Harker, a real estate agent, meets a mysterious stranger on the premises of a large building that the stranger is interested in purchasing. Of course, the meeting takes place only at night, and, of course, the stranger (Vladimir Sarkany a.k.a. Dracula) has brought along an escort (Renfield). Harker shows much of the property without incident until a group of gang members show up, threaten the three “men,” then leave after Sarkany stares at them a bit. Later, they (the gang members) return to do Sarkany in, and he basically mops the floor with them. Not easy to kill Dracula unless you are prepared. From there the story evolves like many other traditional vampire tales. Harker’s wife, Lina, is bitten and the vampire must be destroyed to save her. Harker calls on the help of a certain vampire expert he meets through the boyfriend of another victim of the vampire (Lucy, if I recall). This expert, of course, is named Van Helsing, although he is a young, vibrant man, unlike the elderly, respected scientist of the original tale. They set out to destroy Dracula. Will they succeed? Or will they perish in the attempt?

 

Strengths: like I said, this was a grade-B movie. That said, I thought most of the acting was fine. The special effects were decent given the likely budget, and the plot made a single, logical hole. Most importantly, the tale was intriguing enough to keep me interested. Weaknesses: there was nothing spectacular about this film. It was, although interesting, pretty much standard hunt down the undead without being killed type of stuff. It was really a kind of modern homage to the original tale. As such, it does deserve some credit. My biggest problem with the film was one that is common in most vampire films: they make the vampire look like a hideous monster when it attacks. I remember once had a conversation with a friend a number of years ago and we both agreed that the true horror of a vampire is a subtle one that comes from its virtual undetectability. It is almost entirely human in appearance, and that makes its evil all the more disturbing. My other issue is a minor one. A cross wouldn’t work on this Dracula, because as Van Helsing queries in response to Harker’s query, “What denomination?” The more I think about this, the more of a failing it is. Part of the horror of a vampire is that it is a quasi-demonic creature, literally a minion of hell. And religious symbols don’t work? To me, if you are hung up on denominations, you have at least two options. You can go the “one true religion” route, which would probably be unpopular, or you could simply say, whereas there are multiple religions, there is but one God, and He won’t be particularly picky who He’s going to defend from the powers of darkness. All that is required is a faithful reliance on His power. The particular symbol, as long as it religious in nature, doesn’t matter.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Dracula Reborn three stars out of five.

Old Movie Review: Cool Air (2006) (H. P. Lovecraft)

Cool Air is a film based on the short story of the same name written by H.P. Lovecraft. I have never read the short story so I can’t say for sure what liberties were taken with the script; although it seems likely that it did take a number, if for no other reason than that the film is set in modern times.

 

The film tells the story of Charlie Baxter, a struggling screenwriter, who takes up residence in an apartment in a large townhouse near Malibu. From the outset, it is apparent that he is surrounded by strange characters. The quirky landlady and her autistic daughter run the house; the man across the hall from him is strangely reticent as a matter of course; and the mysterious doctor living upstairs remains sequestered in her room pretty much all the time. The combined cast give a strangely compelling aura of mystery to the setting. Struggling from writer’s block, Charlie seeks inspiration from the strangeness of his own surroundings. He begins a tale in which a “mad doctor” plays a prominent role. Then, he suffers a heart attack and, crawling upstairs, is saved by the doctor’s timely intervention. When he comes to, however, he must grapple with the unwitting truth of the mad doctor in real life as the inhabitants of the house begin to reveal their secrets one by one.

 

There is a lot of narration in this film. I found that a refreshing change from the usual cinematic experience. This was one-half movie, one-half Lovecraft reading. And the voice it was done in, a low, tired, and worn voice, fit the film perfectly.

 

Strengths: overall the movie was good. The narration, as noted above, added to the mystery and intrigue. There were no logical flaws, and no loose ends. The acting was decent, and the setting … strangely innocuous. It was a great juxtaposition for the macabre events it told. Weaknesses: well, it was a low-budget film, so the special effects were somewhat lacking. They were okay, just not up to the full-blown Hollywood standard. But special effects alone don’t make a movie. This one easily made up for it with a good tale to tell and a number of clever touches. I particularly liked the bit at the end where the movie claimed it was the work of Charlie Baxter and his return to screen writing. Anyway, other than being limited in special effects, I have no other serious complaints regarding the film.

 

Ultimately, I will give four stars out of five to Cool Air.

Novella Review: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a rather long novella (112 pages) written by H.P. Lovecraft. It tells the story of a certain mental patient by the name of Charles Dexter Ward. It begins with his early formative years where he displays an interest in all things antiquated. It then moves on into his early twenties when trouble starts. However, in order to tell the story properly, early in the work Lovecraft takes us back another 170 years or so, to the life and times of Joseph Curwen. Joseph Curwen is a practitioner of witchcraft—and I don’t mean an innocuous Wiccan. Oh, no, Joseph Curwen delves dark and deep, and has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way. It begins with the summoning of the shades of long dead people, but other horrors are hinted at, too.

 

The story starts with Joseph Curwen on his farm in Pawtucket, R.I. (I think it’s Rhode Island) where he is ensconced in his magical rites. His exceptional long life and other dark dealings breed sinister rumours about him. Eventually, the populace rises against him, raids his homestead, and in a final battle manage to kill him. But his activities are not through. Fast forward, 170 years to the time of Charles Dexter Ward. This young budding historian is the descendant of Joseph Curwen’s. And, when he discovers a painting of the old sorcerer, almost an exact double of the man. Ward, entranced by his own love of history and the things of a bygone era, continues to dig, and dig deep. Soon, he is traipsing off to Europe in his search, only to come back a changed man. Now, his family begin to truly worry for him. His searches have affected his mind. He has become obsessed. And, when two mysterious strangers join him in his efforts, the family’s worries multiply. The strangers are odd folk; some might even say sinister. What hold does the long-dead Joseph Curwen have over these men? And what is their ultimate design? I’ll leave that for the intrepid reader to find out for himself.

 

Strengths: this novella is horror, it is not fantasy. As I have read countless fantasy stories, horror stories never manage to “shock” me. I have to be in the right mood for a horror story to really sink in and absorb the ambience. That said, I enjoyed this novella immensely. It told a pretty gripping tale, and it told it well. All the loose ends were tied off, and yet a whole range of facets were left to the reader’s imagination to fill in. Lovecraft does that a lot. Weaknesses: I think some of Lovecraft’s writing may be overburdened with long, multi-syllabic words and descriptions. That’s usually a mistake of young writers, and I’m not sure when this particular piece was written in Lovecraft’s career. In any event, it can make his writing cumbersome at times; although, then again, that may just be because he was writing one hundred years ago (or nearly so) and the language may have changed slightly since now and then.

 

Anyway, I’ll give The Case of Charles Dexter Ward four stars or maybe even four and a half stars out of five.

Short Story Review: Polaris

I have a whole book of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. One of the first ones in the book is a short piece entitled “Polaris.” It comes in at only 4 pages or so. But that is all it needs. Polaris is a clever little piece about the mystery of the North Star and dreams (the entire book is a collection of dream related stories, actually).

 

It tells the story of a man living in a house by a swamp who spends a great deal of time watching Polaris. Its position fixed in the sky gives him considerable pause to ruminate and wonder about hidden meanings. To him, it seems as if the star has a message, perhaps to him, but one that has been lost in time. So, he begins to dream. He dreams of an ancient civilization 26,000 years in the past; a civilization called Lomar that flourished at an earlier time at which Polaris held a similar position in the firmament (according to astronomers, the actual position of the North Star does change, but very slowly, as a result of a wobble of the Earth’s axis. This phenomenon is called precession (I think) and it causes the apparent motion of Polaris in the sky. It takes the star approximately 26,000 years to complete one cycle and return to the same position—it’s a clever little scientific insert into the story). After some time he assumes an identity in that civilization of a craven man who possessed incredibly keen eyes. As a result, he is tasked with watching for the advance of a hostile army of creatures called Inutos: “squat, hellish yellow fiends” that have been plaguing the ancient kingdom. Atop the watchtower, the accursed narrator is bewitched by Polaris and falls asleep. Instead of keeping faithful watch, he dreams of a future time in which he is a man grown accustomed to sitting by his window in a house by a swamp to stare at the North Star. He cannot wake from this dream, and no matter how he tries to explain his predicament to those around him, they do not believe him. There is no record of a long lost civilization called Lomar; the only beings to ever dwell in these frozen wastes before are the Esquimaux: “squat, yellow creatures.” (Another name for Eskimos is Inuit, a word deliberately close to Inuto) By the end of the story, the narrator’s descent into madness is all but assured as the division between dream and reality is so obscured. Which story is the dream? And which the truth? Is the narrator a dreaming watchman who has failed his countrymen in the lone task to which he was appointed? Or is he a modern day man who has lost his grip on reality? Or … is he a modern day man who is the reincarnation of a dreaming watchman who failed his countrymen? The story does not answer these questions; it simply asks them and leaves the reader wondering and with a profound distrust of the seemingly mundane North Star.

 

The only weakness in the story that I can think of is the possible accusation of racism against Eskimos. But that seems a trifle unfair and a bit too PC for my tastes. He described the Eskimos and imagined a conflict 26,000 years in the past with an imaginary ancient civilization. In the conflict, the Eskimos are the aggressors and every culture in history has been an aggressor at one point or another. If you seek to be offended by such, you can choose to be so; but for myself, I don’t think imagining conflicts between cultures or even using the terms “squat” or “yellow” to describe someone or a group of people is necessarily racist. I can see how it can be interpreted that way, but I choose not to (then again, I’m not an Eskimo). Putting all that aside, I thought this was a great story.

 

Overall, I’ll give this short story four and a half stars out of five. Most excellent!

Science and the Vampire

I believe I’m overdue for a silly vampire post. So, here goes …

 

A thought I had once upon a time concerned the relationship of science to the nature of the vampire. In the beginning, the myth of the vampire was spawned from the mists of superstition and ignorance. It had no scientific underpinning. Often the vampire was depicted with a sinister spiritual aspect: in Christian cultures it was a force of darkness and an agent of the devil. However, somewhere in the latter half of the twentieth century the myth began to evolve into something else. In an increasingly technological world where science has explained whole swathes of nature and what we experience a need was seen to give the vampire a more scientific underpinning to make it more plausible, if you will. Once upon a time, the bite of a vampire inflicted a curse on its victim that transformed said victim into a vampire himself. Now, in many stories, the curse has been replaced by a virus. A human becomes infected with the virus when he or she is bitten. Once upon a time, a vampire had a whole slew of special abilities bestowed upon him by Satan or whatever forces of darkness were involved: a vampire could transform into a bat, or mist, or wolf; he could control the weather and the mean creatures of the earth; he could pass through the narrowest of cracks; and he had the strength of as many as twenty strong men. To go with such abilities, the creature had very specific weaknesses: she was repelled by holy objects like the crucifix; she could be destroyed by running water or sunlight; she could be sealed in a coffin with a rose. And there were at least several more. The strengths and weaknesses of the vampire were so many, it would be easy to miss one or two in a litany of such. Anyway, nowadays, most of the strengths and weaknesses have been eliminated in the attempt to make the vampire more “scientific.” Repulsion by holy objects? Please. Immersion in running water? Even the undead must bathe. Transforming into a bat? Good luck. The mythical has been replaced by the science of today. Now, authors are concerned with reasonable limitations and causal explanations. How did the original vampire come to be? Was he a product of evolution? Well, he must have been. But was it a gradual change, or the result of a cataclysmic anomaly like a special virus (again with the virus)? Interesting question. Of course, each author will give his own twist on the vampire tale. But I think the scientification of the vampire is becoming more common.

 

And … and … I object! Okay, perhaps object is too strong a word. I just wish to announce my preference for the vampire of myth. Give me the vampires that can transform into wolves and bats, and can summon storms or rats. I want a fighting chance with a cross or other holy object. Call me old school. Call me outdated. But I believe the vampire that threatens your very soul to be more horrifying than one that simply changes your living condition.

What do you think?

Movie Review: The Evil Dead (2013)

Every once in a while I get a hankering to go see a horror movie. “The Evil Dead” was still in theatres this past week, so I went to it. It was a short film, only ninety or so minutes, but they crammed as much blood and guts into that movie as they could manage. Once upon a time, these types of movies might actually frighten me. Nowadays, they are lucky if they garner a startled jump on my part.

 

Anyway, the movie is about five friends who go on retreat into an old run-down cabin in the woods. One of them has a drug addiction problem, and the others are trying to get her to quit cold turkey. It’s an intervention. Basically, the plan is to keep her secluded away from civilization until she can straighten out. But things soon take a turn toward the worse when they find the basement of the cabin. It is filled with hanging dead cats, and stinks to high heaven. It is also the resting place of a sinister book. One of the friends, curious, opens the book without the others knowing of it. From the looks of things, it appears to be a book of witchcraft of some kind (the old medieval Satan-worshipping type of witchcraft, not modern day wicca). Then, ignoring all the scribbled warnings on the inside pages of the book, he makes a rubbing of several words and reads them, like a prayer. This, of course, invokes the evil of the book. One of the friends becomes possessed by a demon from the woods and all hell quickly breaks loose. One by one the friends are eliminated in gruesome, graphic, detail until only one remains to fight for survival.

 

Strengths: well, the movie did get me to jump a couple times, but I wouldn’t say I was ever really frightened. The plot held together well. There weren’t any logical flaws, assuming you can accept the basic premise. Weaknesses: well, it may have been a horror movie, but it seemed to rely too much on gore for my tastes. It wasn’t overly clever, or anything, it was just, eww, we’ll have this sharp metal thingy go in here, and cut off this, etc… etc… But hey, if you are into that stuff (for movies, of course) this might be up your alley.

 

Overall, I’ll give this movie three stars out of five.

Age of the Vampire: The Sweet Spot

As most of my readers know, I’ve written a dark fantasy novel about a vampire entitled “Drasmyr.” Talk of vampires almost always engenders talk of immortality, because that’s usually considered one of the advantages of being a vampire: they don’t die of old age. In my novel, the vampire is one thousand years old. I’ve read/seen other works where the vampire in question is 6000 or 10,000 years old or what-have-you. Generally, the age seems to be limited to several thousand years. I’ve never seen anything about a 5 million year old vampire or anything like that. But why not? There is no physical reason why a vampire could not be that old, if vampires are gifted with immortality.

 

I suppose one reason is that human civilization—or the historical record of such—only goes back several thousand years. Vampires are usually associated with civilized man. They are a tale of terror for those who huddle together on the edges of the night, thinking they are safe in their home, surrounded by others similarly secure. As vampires can appear human, though, this security is an illusion; a vampire can infiltrate a city or village and strike with ruthless savagery.

Likewise, according to most traditions vampires come from humans; they are the result of a human being bitten by a vampire, dying, and transforming into a creature of the night. In order for this to happen, there need to be humans around who can be bit. It makes no sense to have a vampire that’s been around since the dinosaurs, because there were no humans around at that time.

 

Basically, I think 1000 to 10,000 years is the sweet spot for a vampire’s age (Dracula, of course, was only 400 years old—he’s outside the sweet spot, but he’s cool anyway).  This gives them a good sense of timelessness, basically dwarfing a human’s lifespan without being too ridiculous about it. There is still that sense of a connection between themselves and their prey, for once, a long, long time ago, they were human themselves.

 

Anything above 10,000 years, in my opinion, is just excessive and runs the risk of starting a bidding war on vampire ages. My vampire is 20,000 years old. My vampire is 50,000. Oh yeah, mine is 300,000,000. Hmmph… 5 Billion. Two Trillion… at which point we have vampires older than the universe. In the end, age is just a number for one of the undead; what really makes them cool is the powers they wield and their respective personalities.