Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Horror Film Review: Annabelle (2014)

Annabelle (2014)
Director: John R. Leonetti
Writer: Gary Dauberman
Staring: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard

Review by Will Woolery

Annabelle is full of cheap jump scares but still delivers creepiness that stays with you long after you leave the theater.  As a spin-off from The Conjuring franchise it stands on its own two feet very well, almost too well, part of me wanted reappearance's of Vera Farmiga and other cast members.  Regardless, it’s a fun Halloween time horror film that’s worth the money, more than things like Dracula Untold, also out now.

For the first time since Child's Play we get a real look at how an evil doll actually becomes an evil doll.  However, the results are a bit confusing due to a less than stellar script.  We're told at the beginning that the doll is named Annabelle because it holds the spirit of a girl named Annabelle, who was mixed up in a crazy murder cult.  Later, we're told that the killings committed by Annabelle and her boyfriend were to summon a demon of sorts.  Then when we see manifestations of the doll we see Annabelle, but we also see a demon pulling the strings of the whole operation.  It’s just a tad bit confusing. Is the doll possessed by a demon? Is it possessed by Annabelle? Is Annabelle now a demon? Both the Demon and Annabelle are visually gruesome and terrifying regardless of the confusion. Scenes featuring the demon are actually a highlight and probably the scariest of the film.  

Overall, Annabelle is a serviceable and adequate horror film that suffers from script issues and pretty bad casting choices, I'm looking at you Annabelle Wallis.  Luckily director John Leonetti has the chops enough to make the movie look good, even if it looks a lot like Rosemary's Baby, and build the tension up to a great degree.  There's nothing new in Annabelle.   Everything in the film is impersonating other styles the 70s pale olive color scheme to the not subtly named protagonist; Mia after Mia Farrow and John for John Casavettes the stars of the Rosemary’s Baby. The scares and visuals are all redos from much better movies, but the mix and match of 70s horror tropes and homages works exceedingly well.  This is regardless of the plot and character issues.   You know a horror movie's working when the theater going audience actually starts to scream "NO" at certain shots.  Namely, the horrifying image of the all black demon stalking Mia through the apartment building.

If you're bored this Halloween season, Annabelle is definitely worth a look to get your scare fix especially with such few other offerings this year. 

- Will Woolery
Staff Writer

Visit Will's website

American Horror Story Freakshow: Episode Two Review

By Zachary FR Anderson

Hang on a minute. I thought – I was led to believe that Angela Bassett’s character only had three boobs. Not three boobs and a penis. But that’s fine because Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) is a “happily married man.” As is a tradition of AHS, the second episode tied up some strings that were left at the end of the first episode. Key word in that last sentence was “some” not all. Because of course they couldn’t tie it all up in two episodes! Then what’s the point of there being more? But I digress.

I have to say, of all the strange characters in the season (and there are many) the most normal of them all is Twisty the Killer Clown. And he’s a freakin’ killer clown! STOP: If there’s a vicious serial killer on the loose, why don’t people assume it’s the clearly evil looking clown? Also, how scary do clowns in the AHS universe look that Twisty looks like any other circus clown? There’s a moment when Dandy’s mother (Francis Conroy) is driving and sees Twisty walking down the side of the road and so she decides to hire him to bring back home to play with his grown son. There’s a good change in subject.

Dandy (Finn Wittrock) is a spoiled man child who drinks out of crystal bottles (literally). He wants to be an actor and decides that he wants to be a part of the freak show. The only problem is that he’s not a physical freak (psychological is a whole other story). Jimmy (Evan Peters) knows that Dandy has nothing to bring to the show and so he rejects him. What happens next is that Dandy decides to go in league with Twisty. What I found amusing about this is that Twisty doesn’t want Dandy’s company. If I were Twisty, I would just kill Dandy, no one would miss him except his mother, but really, she’s a bad parent so kill her too. Then everyone’s happy.

Jimmy continues his crusade to have the freaks accepted by society as well as battling with his father Dell, who has come to the show as the new barker. Elsa (Jessica Lange) struggles to keep the focus of the show on her as Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson and Sarah Paulson) find their talent as two headed singers (which is Elsa’s act just with one less head). They steal the show of course, and Elsa doesn’t like it. Will Bette and Dot work together in the show? Who does Jimmy like more? Bette or Dot? Will I ever get over the heartbreak of losing Meep? I suppose we just have to wait until next week (dammit). 

- Zachary FR Anderson
Staff Writer

(In addition to being a movie geek, Zach Anderson is also a functioning human being.) 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


By Peter DiGiovanni

The ranking of the Halloween series.  The original Halloween series that is; forget Rob Zombie.  For the impatient who have initially decided to skip this intro and just scan the list: you’ve noticed the series is ranked in the exact order in which the films were released.  Odd, since you thought this was a ranking from best to worst, thus bringing you back to this intro to make sure you’re reading this thing right...and you are!  That’s right, I rank the Halloween series from best to worst in the exact order in which they were released, firmly believing the series literally gets worse as it goes.

Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter’s Halloween is so good and so perfect there is really nothing else to say about it.  It is, in my opinion, the greatest horror film of all time.  A pioneer in the slasher film revolution, it set the stage for some of the most popular films and characters in horror history.  Elevated by mood, suspense, and chilling score by Carpenter himself, the simple premise and nostalgic holiday theme make it a horror film you can relate to, and those are always the scariest.  I sat down and watched it for the first time, Halloween night, 1996.  I had seen parts of it before on tv over the years, and was familiar with its status, but had never actually seen it from beginning to end.  Needless to say, I was blown away, and that very night a Halloween tradition was born, and I’ve enjoyed it and its sequels every year since.  This particular airing was a double feature, followed immediately by Halloween II (1981).

Halloween II (1981)
Picking up exactly where the original left off, Halloween II (also known as Halloween II: The Nightmare Isn’t Over) recaps Myers eluding Dr. Loomis and seeking refuge in the streets and homes of Haddonfield; at least for the time being, before he follows Laurie to a nearby hospital to finish the job.  Already in the first few minutes the tension emanates off the screen, literally pitting you right in the middle of the action before you have time to recover from the opening credits.  Before you know it, an innocent teenage bystander in similar William Shatner mask is mowed down by a police patrol car and incinerated in a fiery inferno.  The look on Loomis’ face says it all.  Now this is a sequel.  Although there’s a significant dip in quality compared to the first, and follows similar patterns of the trashier, cheaper slasher flicks popular at that time (which its 1978 predecessor helped establish), Halloween II is still a very tense, very scary film, and by far the best sequel in the Halloween series.  It is a perfect follow-up to the first film, and when viewed back to back, feels like one big three hour horror epic.  The series could have (and perhaps should have) easily ended right here, with Loomis sacrificing himself to take down Michael in a blaze of glory.  But naturally, a horror series of this caliber wasn’t going to stay buried for long.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is one of the greatest Halloween movies of all time, and by that I mean it’s a great movie to watch in preparation for the holiday.  As for how it relates to the actual Halloween series and two films preceding it (as well as the films that follow), it doesn’t.  We all remember (or perhaps try to forget) the moment it slowly began dawning on us that the third entry in the Halloween series wasn’t to feature our favorite masked killer, nor have any semblance to the series we’ve come to know and love.  Some have grown to love what is a perfectly respectable and, in my opinion, fucking brilliant little 80s sci-fi/horror flick, and a pretty unsettling commentary on consumer culture and paranoia of an impending technological takeover, and what’s not to love?  It oozes with Halloween season goodness, that of glorious autumn and everything that comes with it; you can literally taste the Reese’s and Kit-Kat.  Despite having nothing to do with what John Carpenter established, his name is still there and we get several references to the series we thought we were (and technically are) watching, as Carpenter’s original 1978 classic has already been immortalized in Halloween III’s universe.  In the final act, the protagonist is even locked in a room with a TV airing Halloween, making for a substantially surreal experience.  When you take a step back and see it for what it is - a Halloween themed horror movie - it’s pretty awesome, and as many Halloween analysts and fans alike believe:  had it simply been called “Season of the Witch”, and opted not to associate itself within the already established Halloween franchise, it would have fared much better for critics and audiences, who were unamused and felt cheated.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 4 really hits the ground running.  After the dismal response to Season of the Witch, producer Moustapha Akkad really wanted to amp things up and welcome back loyal Michael Myers fans in the best way possible.  Opening with a creepy and desolate autumn landscape, then quickly segueing into classic dark and stormy night territory, Halloween 4 (like Halloween II) is clearly, and perhaps unfortunately, influenced by the cheesier, less ambitious slasher films of the 1980s, fully displayed when Michael murders his first victim by sticking his thumb into his forehead.  I do not think John Carpenter’s original classic would have become the classic it did had Michael been fingering people to death.  Halloween 4 is like the “Rocky III” of the series; although more of the same, something about it feels fresh and seemed to appeal to a wider audience.  I love it, but it’s not perfect.  I don’t like the mask; it looks like a cheap knock-off you’d find at a costume store, nothing like the real Shatner mask from the original, and fits awkwardly on his head.  I realize this mask is a cheap knock-off, as Michael steals it from the shop Rachel’s boyfriend works, but it makes me wonder if that scene only exists because they wanted to rationalize why the mask looked bad in the first place.  Maybe a licensing issue, but why not just get the original mask or make one that looks even remotely similar?  As for returning the series to its slasher roots, Michael’s thumb is just the beginning.  He eventually starts shoving shotguns through people’s torsos, and considering the guy he electrocutes (and the thumb!), it’s as though there was some sort of demand for Michael to stop using cutlery against his victims.  These are simply nitpicks though; it’s still a favorite of mine.  Halloween 4 does return the series to what I suppose it was always meant to be, and it’s a welcome new beginning for the series.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
The best thing about Halloween 5 is its link to Halloween 4.  Like Halloween IIHalloween 4 could have, and probably should have, ended the series.  Its ending is legendarily twisted, and awesome, so it’s no surprise another sequel wouldn’t and couldn’t top it.  For the most part, the first act of Halloween 5 perfectly continues, and ends, what was established in its predecessor.  By killing Rachel, a surprisingly surprising death, it closes the door on pretty much half (or one third, if you wanna count Loomis) of what Halloween 4 made us care about.  All that’s left is Jamie (because you certainly won’t care about her annoying friend, Billy), who by no surprise, isn’t a demented follower of Michael like the end of Halloween 4 suggested, but still running from Uncle Mike for dear life.  Once Act One dies with Rachel, the chase simply continues and ends with more bloodshed.  As with Billy, you also won’t care about Rachel’s friend, Tina, nor will you understand why the two cops are followed by circus music.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) -  “Theatrical Cut”
Based on what’s actually been available to the public, the “theatrical cut” of the sixth Halloween is much better in retrospect.  It’s not the most entertaining in the series, and reeks of that mid 90s pre-Scream desperation.  The trailers for Halloween 6 were better than what we actually got, and it takes the bearable Jamie Lloyd plotline and kinda jumps the shark with it.  But there is something there.  I like Michael more in this installment than Parts 4-5, and the death scenes are scarier and much more effective, proving less is always more.  There’s still something wretched about the way he pounds an axe into little Debra Strode’s face, yet most of us stand up and cheer when John Strode gets it in the basement.  I also feel the scene when Kara witnesses her brother and his girlfriend murdered across the street is one of the best of the series, reminds me of the original.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
I don’t like Halloween 7 (which is technically supposed to be “Halloween 3”) at all, and still to this day, am stunned how many Halloween fans cherish it.  Off-topic (yet not off topic at all), I respect and enjoy the first Scream from 1996.  I do not, however, like what Scream inspired: a slew of generally awful MTV style horror fluff (Scream 2-3 included), which spent more of their budgets packing the latest WB (now CW) stars into their flick than quality (even for horror standards) storytelling.  This failed experiment to capitalize on the surprise success of the first Scream, all eventually led to remakes, but that’s an entirely different horror story for another time.  Halloween: H20 is generally awful MTV style (nothing against MTV) horror fluff which spent more of their budget packing the latest...blah, blah, you see where I’m going with this?  Everything from the poster, to the release date (August, 1998), the opening scene where Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets killed with an ice all only exists because Scream was a hit.  Fans and even haters of H20 may strongly disagree, and it’s your every right to do so.  By saying such, I mean no disrespect to the Halloween franchise or its fans, nor do I have any actual proof of this, just my own harmless hypothesis.  I believe the star-studded Halloween movie we got in the summer of 1998 was a direct result of the horror/slasher boom of the late 1990s, and it shows in almost every way, shape (no pun intended), and form.  I could spend a whole article complaining about Halloween: H20, but to place it only one peg above Resurrection, I think says it all.

Halloween: Resurrection  (2002)

As to why producers felt they needed a gimmick to bring in audiences is still beyond me.  Its association with Halloween, guaranteeing them Michael Myers (securing not another repeat of Season of the Witch), would have been plenty to secure box office gold.  But for some ungodly reason it uses the growing popularity of reality television and found footage to guide its premise.  It’s just not a good movie, and rarely even factors in when planning a Halloween marathon.  The only saving grace whatsoever is the opening with Jamie Lee Curtis and conclusion of Laurie Strode’s character.  Probably better just to shut the movie off after that.

- Peter DiGiovanni
Staff Writer

Monday, October 13, 2014

Horror Film Review: Hansel and Gretel (2013)

Hansel and Gretel (2013)
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Writer: Jose Prendes (screenplay)
Stars: Brent Lydic, Jonathan Nation, Stephanie Greco, Dee Wallace

Review by Marysa Storm

Just about everyone knows one version or another of Hansel and Gretel and all the gruesome, witch-burning, people-eating details that make it up. While Hansel and Gretel does have the basic story and gore down, I’m afraid that even the version my mother told me at my childhood bedside was more exciting.

Starring Stephanie Greco and Brent Lydic, both young and decent actors, Hansel and Gretel, sadly, isn’t one of the best movies out there. There are enough continuity errors to maim a small mammal and the special effects fail to amaze, but even then it’s not the worst movie in the whole-wide world ever. It’s just incredibly, incredibly boring. While the beginning starts out sluggishly it doesn’t take long for Hansel and Gretel to find their way to the witch’s cottage. This is when the movie should really begin to pick up, it doesn’t. If nothing else, it slows. Any potential plot is smothered by dragging dialogue that limits the actors, and the main bulk of the movie is nothing more than both muddled escape and rescue plans. If done right such scenes can be intense, but even then, a movie needs more substance. 

Lilith (Dee Wallace), the witch, did try to win Gretel over as her successor, but that addition to the story was not nearly as effective as it could have been and it failed to really flesh out the film. Every time someone came close to rescuing Hansel or Gretel from Lilith and her deranged offspring my hopes skyrocketed as I figured that the movie was reaching its conclusion. Those hopes were crushed too many times to count. At one point during one of Hansel and Gretel’s escape attempts Lilith snarls, “I don’t have time for this," and I could only agree.

Unfortunately, the best part of Hansel and Gretel was the ending. Yes, there was a cool little, if not predictable, twist to leave you thinking, and while it justified a smile it did not save the film. The only way you can really appreciate the twist is if you sit through the movie, and I’m reluctant to say that it would be worth it. If you’re craving a movie about turning people into meat pies, I’d much sooner recommend Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd and if you’re dying to watch a fairy-tale re-imagined, you’re better off going for the Renner and Arterton version of Grimm’s story. 

- Marysa Storm
Staff Writer