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El orfanato (2007)
Creepy little ghost story
In ghost story terms, there's nothing particularly new about 'The Orphanage' it follows the modern ghost story formula pretty well, i.e. family moves into new location, strange things happen, no one believes them, contact expert to clarify supernatural element and then climax. The Orphanage ticks all those boxes and in that order. However, just because its story isn't that original, doesn't mean it's bad.
It's Spanish, for a start. I don't know why I always give foreign films more leeway when it comes to acting terms. Maybe it's the subtitles that mean I can't really tell a 'good' foreign actor from a 'bad' one. But, the acting certainly seems well up there to me. It's about a couple who have adopted a young boy and move back into an old orphanage to refurbish it and open it up for taking on new children. However, things go more than a little wrong when their son starts developing 'imaginary' friends and then vanishes completely during the opening event and, no, they don't find that he's been taken into the TV, ala, Poltergeist.
See? Nothing particularly new there, but it's the film's overall tone, direction and acting which elevates it about the literally thousands of similar clones which infest DVD bargain buckets at your local petrol station. The setting is great and I've already mentioned the acting. But it's simply the foreboding feel of dream and despair that keeps you watching.
Basically, if you like your ghost stories slow-burning and creepy (and don't mind subtitles) then give this one a go. It moves slowly to a sensible ending and doesn't have any hordes of CGI monsters or major action sequences, so don't be expecting a horror marathon of epic proportions. Just expect something subtle and dark.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Timeless horror on so many levels
If you have only really heard of 'Rosemary's Baby,' by its considerable reputation then you may be inclined to believe that it simply finds its horror through a tale of demonic possession. After all, its central premise is that a young couple move into an upmarket apartment block in New York, only to find that their new neighbours are more than a little bit satanic. Maybe it was just a film about devil worshipers when it was released back in the sixties. However, watching it now, there's a secondary level of 'horror' written into it namely how women are both portrayed and treated.
Mia Farrow plays the titular 'Rosemary' as she's basically pushed, pulled, ordered and generally manhandled through both her attempts to get pregnant and the subsequent pregnancy itself. If this film doesn't bring a shudder down most women's spines at how little control the central protagonist gets in her life and body then nothing the devil himself will.
But, of course, speaking of Beelzebub, he does do his best to make an appearance and generally make things even worse for our helpless heroine. The devil-worshipping scenes are pretty dark and Roman Polanski's chilling direction gives the whole film a clinical and bleak feel to it.
'Rosemary's Baby' is still as watchable today (and, of course, deeply horrific and disturbing) as it was all those years ago. It doesn't need gallons of fake blood or computer-generated effects to be scary. Everything here feels a little too real and is a credit to how films can be made. Don't expect a roller-coaster ride of scares and guts it's much too 'foreboding' to succumb to anything so cheap and easy. If you're in the mood for something horrible, dark with an every-increasing sense of dread then give this one a watch before it gets remade with too many special effects and no soul (and I'm not counting the 'Astronaut's Wife' in that!).
A disturbing cult classic
'Candyman' has the 'honour' of being the first '18 certificate' film I ever saw at the cinema (when I was fifteen, incidentally). I was excited about the whole naughtiness about my experience, yet left pretty disappointed, even falling asleep midway through. Now, over twenty years later, I rewatch Candyman through adult's eyes. And I'm glad I did.
Yes, it's probably not the sort of film you should watch when you're a fifteen year old who doesn't really appreciate cinema in general and just wants to watch wall-to-wall explosions and monsters sucking people's brains out through straws. I seem to remember appreciating the odd moment of gore in the film, but it wasn't enough for me then and I never thought of it as a 'horror.' However, it is pretty horrific, just in a different way. It's about a woman who's researching urban legends for her university. She hears of one about a hook-handed ghost called 'Candyman' who appears and kills you if you say his name in the mirror five times. And, yes, it does turn out to be a little more than just an urban legend. The more she discovers and the more she starts to believe, the worse things get for her not just because she's found out that evil psychotic spirits are real, but she's increasingly classed as mad by those around her, leading to a complete collapse in her personal life.
The psychological collapse is one aspect of the horror, but, like so many horror films, it's the baddie we all come to see. Tony Todd gives us his best performance ever (one which has cemented his place in horror villain history) as the titular spook and he is indeed creepy. He steals the scene every time and all, despite the lead actress' best efforts, is what people really want to see.
It's also worth noting the general bleak atmosphere created in this world by simple shot composition with the camera picking up on the world around the characters in time with Phillip Glass' haunting soundtrack.
Basically, if you're a fifteen year old who just wants 'lowest common denominator horror' (which I did at the time and occasionally still do) then there are plenty of films out there to fill that need. This one makes you think a little more and dig a little deeper, plus is damn good to boot. See it when you're in the mood to think and squeal at the same time. That scene with the bees is scarier than all the CGI insects Nicholas Cage has pretended to swallow in his life.
Never just a video box by its cover
I've always loved horror films ever since I was a child. I remember back in the eighties being a young boy and walking through the video rental shop. There, I would browse films which I was not going to be (legally) able to watch until I was eighteen. One such video box depicted what I would describe through my child-like eyes one of the most grossest monsters I'd ever seen. It was effectively a green, slimy, mutant 'baby' coming out of a toilet. It looked so cool. I just had to see that film.
And I did. I can't remember how. Maybe I annoyed my Dad suitably until I wore him down and he hired it for me. Maybe I saw it at a friend's. However, I loved it. It was truly as gross as I had hoped.
However, I'm now pushing forty and decided to buy it on Blu-ray. Part of me wished I hadn't. I think I'd rather have remembered it as the coolest cover art box of the eighties rather than what it is. What it is is a pretty low budget, rubbish little horror film with bad puppets as monsters and terrible acting.
Okay, so I didn't hate-hate it I was just disappointed. A failed demon ritual catches up with some students at university and one of them decides to call back the monsters (aka 'Ghoulies') to serve him. Things go wrong and they start killing people. Only they're about as threatening now as Kermit the Frog. Despite being nicely crafted puppets, they're still puppets. My adult brain couldn't look at them without seeing through their latex skin to the hand operating them from within. It was because of that I just couldn't take them seriously as a threat. How they kill anyone is a mystery. I think if I saw one in real life I may be creeped out, but I'd just step on it to kill it.
The acting is terrible (no surprise there for an eighties horror film), but sometimes you can overlook that if the script is good, the characters at least a little bit fun or, if nothing else, likable. None of that here. The second half of the film does pick up, but the first half was so forgettable you might as well just skip it until you get to the bits with the not that scary monsters.
Yes, the green Ghoulie in the toilet scene is still there and it is quite funny. But really some films are better left remembered through nostalgic eyes. There are plenty of classic eighties films that may be cheesy, but are still fun. I found this a little too hard to watch nowadays. And now I find there are multiple sequels to watch.
Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (2015)
There are few words to describe this film (but I'll try)
Years ago, I watched both 'Lake Placid' and 'Anaconda' in the cinemas and, for all my sins, loved them both. Yes, I know a 'good' film when I see one and I knew both of these were definitely not good. They were cheesy B-movies that could only be considered 'good' in a 'so-bad-they're-good' kind of way. But, sometimes I'm in the mood for that sort of film, so that's okay.
I seem to remember seeing a sequel to Anaconda (another snake/another jungle) and I'm pretty sure I at least heard that Lake Placid (another crocodile/another lake) had another film out of video (didn't even have DVDs in that day from what I recall!). Now, from what I read online, 'Lake Placid vs Anaconda' is the fifth film in both franchises. I guess some may think that it might be difficult to pick up the story missing 3/5 of the story. Don't worry. I don't think I missed much in the way of story.
Scientists (the movie kind, therefore they're evil) are trying to do experiments on the giant anaconda snake and it gets away right into Lake Placid. And it just so happens that there's a whole group of scantily-clad teenage girls in bikinis running around on that day. And, if you've ever seen a film before, you'll probably fill in enough of the blanks to work out what happens for the next ninety minutes.
Lake Placid vs Anaconda is basically a slasher film with monsters who occasionally fight each other in between gobbling up the next cheerleader. The acting is dire (and even the presence of Robert Englund can't elevate it that much), the special effects are about the least special as they could be (seriously, I've seen Playstation 2 cut-scenes that are better than the CGI snake and crocs) and the plot is nothing you haven't seen before. The characters are pretty unlikeable the 'nice' ones are two dimensional and underdeveloped and the 'bad' ones are even more clichéd (although the token 'mean girl' of the story was actually quite funny!).
Therefore, the film is pretty forgettable. I'm writing this review trying to remember as much of it as I can before all traces of it slips from my mind completely. However, as dumb as it is, I didn't hate it. I was actually quite entertained while I saw it. I doubt I'll ever see it again. There are plenty of other monster movies out there that are better and new ones being filmed every day.
Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
I tried to like this. I really did.
Please, don't get me wrong. I knew when I watched a film made in 1980 called 'Humanoids From the Deep' that I wasn't expecting a major work of art with dynamic character arcs, unique plot points or even reasonable special effects. I was simply hoping for a 'so-bad-it's-good' film. I got half of what I was looking for. It is bad. It's just not that good.
I know it's a 'cult classic' therefore there are a lot of people out there who have found it both good and bad in equal doses, but I just wasn't one of them. When asked to sum up the plot, I simply say: refer to the title. It basically tells you everything you need to know. Monsters from underwater kill people. Oh, maybe I should say that they mainly kill MEN. Women, who seem to spend much of their time running around in bikinis, get other treatment treatment that makes death look dignified in comparison.
I've seen many cheap horror films, all of which used their lack of budget as a bonus. A horror film doesn't have to be expensive to be scary/good. This one didn't have much money for the monsters. And it showed. They're not really in it for much of the first half and, when they do turn up, they're not really worth the wait.
The acting, despite having cult actor Doug McClure hamming it up, still isn't memorable enough to be that interesting. It was just all an exercise in tragic mediocrity. There are a thousand better monster films out there a thousand that have better special effects, a thousand that have better acting and a thousand that are scarier. And, all of these are still cheesy so-bad-they're-good B-movies. It's not even worth comparing the likes of Humanoids From the Deep to Hollywood's 'big budget' horror films that are actually designed to be good, rather than bad-good.
If you really like cheesy eighties monster movies then you might like this. I normally do, I just couldn't get my mind to sink low enough on this occasion to appreciate it. However, I am still tempted to watch the nineties remake! I guess I get what I deserve!
The Invention of Lying (2009)
I'd lie for you (and that's the truth)
'The Invention of Lying' is, off the bad, one of those films you'll either love or hate. For a start, it stars British comedian Ricky Gervais. And, if you don't know who he is, you're probably best looking at some of his stand-up routines or TV shows on Youtube before you invest your time (or money, if you decide to buy this film!) before watching. Personally, I think he's a comic genius; I love his style of comedy where he plays up his own status and ego, then balances it with poignant pathos. But then he's not for everyone my Mum snarls every time she comes across a TV show of his, stating the fact that he's too 'full of himself to be likable.' Anyway, 'The Invention of Lying' is set in a sort of modern day America, only the population have never told a lie. Now we get into the 'good' and 'bad' points of the film. I like the concept. I think it's good. However, if you think it through too much, you'll start questioning how this can be. And, whatever answer you come with, it doesn't really make sense. In this world, if you think someone is ugly, you tell them to their face. That maybe true (from your point of view), but just because you can't tell a lie doesn't mean you HAVE to say everything out loud.
Ricky Gervais plays a down-on-his-luck kind of guy who, by some means (never explained!), learns how to lie. The film charts his natural rise to fame and fortune where everyone believes everything he says.
The good points are that it's funny. Every activity he does is nicely executed and shows off what probably would happen in a world where the population lacks the ability to deceive. Then you get to the bad. Jennifer Garner. I have nothing against her. The trouble is that she's not given that much to work with. The film may be clever, but it's little more than a romantic comedy. Therefore, you have the clichéd love interest/plot. Some may say nothing wrong with that, but Jennifer Garner's character is one of the people who can't lie, so many times she comes across as shallow and unlikable when she freely admits that she loves Gervais' on-screen character, but won't marry him simply because he doesn't have good looks or money. Hard to root for a heroine who says things like that! Even in a world without lies most guys would move on if a girl said that to them! Then you have the (so-called) atheist propaganda. This is really where the film divides. Gervais is an outspoken atheist and the film makes it quite clear that the concept on God (or at least the Christian one, in this case) is a 'lie.' A lot of mileage comes from this plot point and it's quite an integral part of the story. Therefore, if you personally don't believe in religion then it probably comes across as funny, whereas if you do believe then this film is basically ninety minutes of someone mocking your beliefs. It's worth checking out some of the online arguments concerning this film before you watch.
However, at the end of the day, I stick with my original comments about Gervais being a comic genius. Yes, the some characters may be a bit underdeveloped, the overall concept doesn't quite hold up to scrutiny and the plot little more than a rom-com in disguise, but the film's funny. It made me laugh and as Monty Python's The Life of Brian never offended me, this didn't either.
Is it just me, or has this film not aged well?
I used to watch 'Critters' a lot in the eighties and loved it, so I thought I'd invest in the DVD box set containing all four films and take myself on a trip down memory lane. At first, the film started off well... despite the slightly outdated special effects showing the outer space penal colony where the titular aliens escape from, it's actually quite enjoyable. The alien prison guard is fun and the bounty hunters he send to capture the critters (or 'Crites' as they're technically known) are dry and menacing at the same time (for heroes anyway!).
Anyway, the Critters land on guess where Earth and start terrorising the occupants of a farm in America. For a start I'd forgotten how little the actual Critters are in it. We don't really see them until about half way through and I know that people will claim that the lack of actually seeing them builds tension, I just wanted to get them on screen, as they're clearly the stars.
Oh, yeah, the stars it's unlikely you'll have heard of most of the actors, but you're probably not expecting to when comes to eighties horror B-movies (unless you've watched Star Trek: Voyager and know the alien crewmate 'Neelix' or seen a normally older Lin Shaye in other horror works). The Bounty Hunters are fun in a silly over-the-top kind of way, but their silence doesn't really open them up to carry the film when the monsters aren't stealing the show.
The second half picks up, simply because we get to see the beasties more. Every scene the Critters are in is pretty good. Yes, it's a comedy horror and in my opinion the emphasis is truly on comedy. Critters isn't that horrific I won't go into details as to how many people are killed, but it isn't that many. The Critters don't really get going as a murderous death squad, but they are still cool.
The ending feels a little like an anti-climax, as if the writers didn't really have any idea of a fitting climax. The very end then feels like an afterthought of cheesy niceness which doesn't really go with the rest of the film's tone.
Overall, Critters is still fun. I still liked it, but I think it was more suited to the 'boy-me' as opposed to the 'adult-me.' I'll probably watch it again at some stage, but now I'm left with a box set with three other Critters films to watch all of which I loved growing up. Now I'm scared they won't live up to what I remember!
No matter what you say... it's still better than Part IV
One of the main problems with 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' was that it had to follow not only the original 'Terminator' movie, but its (arguably better) sequel, 'T2: judgement Day,' therefore whatever came next had not just one, but TWO tough acts to follow. In short it didn't.
It does its best to follow the plot of the first two movies, i.e. bad cyborg sent back through time by the machine-rulers of the future to kill humanity's last hope for survival versus protector (also from the future), however, it comes across as a Terminator-made-for-TV movie. If it wasn't for the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as the titular cyborg, it has a real sense of being a lot less epic than its predecessors.
For a start, it's shorter, secondly, the effects don't seem to have improved much since the groundbreaking 'liquid metal' SFX from T2 and it never really makes us care much about the characters. Linda Hamilton did not want to reprise her role as the iconic action heroine Sarah Connor, leaving Claire Danes to do her best to fill her shoes. And, if you've been following Edward Furlong's 'career' since he made his name as the young John Connor from T2, you'll know that he wasn't in much shape to reprise his role. Instead, Nick Stahl tries his best to play humanity's future leader and, although credit for making him look like his (on screen) father, Kyle Reece, is never really given much to do apart from look confused at the fact that the Terminator has returned. In other words... T1/2 produced real characters who stuck with us through the ages whereas T3 rushes us from one chase scene to the next and it's over before you know it.
Don't get me wrong I didn't hate Part III. I own it and watch it every few years (just not as much as the first two, obviously!). It has its good parts mainly Schwarzenegger. He still holds his own, even playing technically a new cyborg from the last two instalments. It's also worth noting that Part 3 is a '12' certificate, therefore don't expect the overall dark tone from the other two. There are more wisecracks here which lighten the mood.
But, even if you do hate it, it's still pretty good fun watching two indestructible cyborgs go toe to toe and the ending is actually quite good. Perhaps the worst thing about it was that it's great ending leads us effortlessly into Part IV (aka Salvation) and we all know how that one turned out (sorry Christian Bale, but a Terminator is not a Terminator movie without Mr Schwarzenegger taking the lead role).
Not original, but not bad either
I think it was 'Poltergeist' which set the template for modern horror, i.e. family finds out house is haunted, doesn't believe it, does believe it, calls experts and then resolution. 'Insidious,' like so many other post eighties horror films, follows that formula to the letter. However, whereas most are pretty forgettable, this one has just about enough scares and creepiness in it to make it worth watching.
It's hardly worth going into detail regarding the plot, as I'm reasonably smug that I've summed it up sufficiently in my opening paragraph. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play the mum and dad. Yup, they're happy, successful and have three children. They play the parts well from everyday doting parents to disbelieving and supernaturally-harassed protagonists and they do nothing to make you not want to root for them. Especially when one of their children slips into an unusual coma and his housebound ever after. But that's when the haunting begins...
Instead of being sucked into the TV-dimension, he's stuck in another afterlife and spirits want to get into our world via him. Those dastardly spirits (including one that looks like Darth Maul from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace so it's nice to see the poor Sith Lord can still get work after that depressing inclusion into the sci-fi franchise) follow the family from house to house until the mandatory local paranormal expert is called in to sort the spooks out.
Cue the resolution. I won't spoil it as sometimes the family wins and sometimes they get horribly murdered and it ends on a downer, but, once again, the resolution follows. Like I say, this is 'horror by the numbers' but it's good enough to watch. If you're a horror fan then you've probably seen better, but that's because you've probably got classic horror films among your DVD collection. However, you probably won't see many recent horror films that create a creepy/tense atmosphere. Give it a go.