Showing posts with label supernatural horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label supernatural horror. Show all posts

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dolly Dearest (1992)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Maria Lease || 1992 || USA

Apparently made in the post-Child's Play glut of killer doll films, Dolly Dearest tends to fall flat and become quite dull when we're not watching the doll wreak havoc on the family or the Mexican people employed at either their house or the small rundown doll factory that the father owns and runs. Maybe this film is a metaphor for keeping work in the US instead of going to another country to take advantage of cheap labor and factories.

Much like Child's Play, the dolls are possessed, but not by a serial killer. They are possessed by the spirit of a child devil worshipped by a group of ancient Satanists.* Archeologist Rip Torn (sporting a weak Mexican accent until he has to forcefully yell at someone) investigates the tomb neighboring the doll factory after his friend and co-worker dies in the tomb. His death unleashed the spirit of the child devil via sub-Ghostbusters technology, and the spirit found its way into the doll factory, where the last owner left a dozen or so set of dolls that all looked alike. The family of the new factory owner settles into their house. Jessica, the daughter, is given a doll from the factory and becomes immediately attached to it. Then she starts displaying weird behavior. The film can never quite settle on whether Jessica is possessed or not. I get the feeling the child actress was hired primarily on her resemblance to Drew Barrymore when she was a child. The mom is the only one who notices the change. Poor mom is forced to stay at home all day and unpack their belongings.

Like I mentioned before, there is not enough crazy doll action to make this film worthwhile. The doll contorts her face and yells to surprise all her victims before attacking. It's funny. Also funny is that the doll's giggle sounds like the noise of blowing bubbles into a drink. Unfortunately, Dolly Dearest is too caught up in subplots for there to be much doll action at all.

At least the mom had some nice clothes:




*March is not only Women's History Month, but apparently Satanists month here at the blog. I'm going to have to create a tag before March is over.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Ring (2002) and Its Prediction of Viral Media


I recently re-watched The Ring (2002, dir. Gore Verbinski) for the first time in about ten years because a friend is using it in his thesis on surveillance films. io9 recently ran a discussion post on what films could never be made today, and several people listed The Ring. Granted, it appears that some filmmakers in Japan, Ringu/The Ring's country of origin, have recently tried to place the story into 2014 with a "reboot" of the series. 

I do not necessarily believe that a film like The Ring could not be made today, but what I noticed upon my recent viewing is how it does exist in a certain weird time period in regards to technology. It also seems to predict viral media in a way, while at the same time functioning as an actual virus on some level.

The technology in The Ring exists in a time right before technology became more compact, or more functional. The video itself is on a VHS tape, not DVD. The characters have flip phones, but in their brief use at various points of the film, they almost seem foreign and they definitely cannot get a signal once on the island where Samara originated. The characters still have home phones, whether cordless or not. Rachel (Naomi Watts) conducts her research both in libraries or archives as well as on a computer.

The tape in The Ring functions as a normal biological virus would with the same imperative biological beings have - it has to replicate in order to survive. But where it goes horribly wrong is that if the viewer fails to replicate the tape, the viewer will die, not the virus/tape. The tape seems to exist with the confidence that it will never actually cease to exist, perhaps even predicting that it will continue to exist even as new viewing formats are invented and become popular. Samara's father seems to have an older, top-loading VCR (I mistook it for a Betamax player initially), so the tape began its rotation as home viewing technology became easily accessible. If somehow the series was perpetuated in sequels into the 2010s, there is no reason to disbelieve that the video would be online, or co-existing with physical media as well.

The Ring also came out sort of right at the beginning of viral media – preceded by The Blair Witch Project and its viral marketing campaign in 1999, but the only other sort of “viral” media I can think of or remember around that time are those images of 9/11 that circulated but were also doctored to feature things like Satan’s face in the smoke/dust of the buildings. So The Ring is predicting the uptick of viral media in a way, just making it biological on some level and deadly. Either that or it’s predicting creepypasta, which, like The Ring, exists in a realm that incorporates both urban legends and technology.

PS - The separate issue in this film is the presentation of what are essentially experimental film and Surrealist aesthetics as horror. This is not exactly the first film to do it, I just find it kind of amusing. Because this film was so popular, I like to think that it was the gateway to experimental films for some people.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crazy Theory #4: Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4 as Superhero Origin Story



I think between my research a couple of years ago and the documentary Never Sleep Again, in my mind, the Nightmare on Elm Street series has kind of built itself up as the only respectable slasher series. It was consistently trying different things within the confines of slasher sequels, while also having an almost enclosed narrative because it rather smartly stuck to one town or one circle of people. Within the enclosed narrative, only maybe parts 2 and 6 were somewhat jettisoned out of the entire Nightmare narrative to various extents, because Nancy was not linked much in those films. Nancy exists in a sort of off-screen space in 2, with the new inhabitant of her room finding her diary. When she returns for part 3 and later dies after teaching the kids that their "superpowers" within their dreams can help defeat Freddy, she still manages to become the link to the fourth and fifth films. 

Part 4 quickly jettisons the remaining survivors of Part 3, who have returned to relatively normal teenage, high school lives. Kristen manages to call her friend Alice into her dream right before she dies. Alice then gains Kristen's power. As each of her friends and her brother begin to fall victim to Freddy, she gains their skills or powers. Her brother was into karate, her above-pictured friend was into weightlifting, another friend is highly skilled in science and can create tools out of simple objects. Alice becomes the only person who can defeat Freddy with her superpowers and release the souls of her friends and his other victims. Essentially, the film is a sweet story about how your loved ones never really die wrapped in a superhero origin story. This is not to say this storyline is maintained into the fifth film exactly, but it's an interesting experiment for the fourth Nightmare film.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I have been watching lately: Jean Rollin, Red State, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story...

Repost from November 2011.
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I should be working on papers right now, although I took an extension on them for Winter Break because of intermittent severe headaches and vision problems leftover from my concussion in October. I have no control over when they happen, and unfortunately they keep happening when I want or need to write or do research. My papers, as I predicted in October, are on Jean Rollin, classical French film theory, and I also have one on Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon that I have been sitting on, unfinished, since the day before my concussion. I have been on a French film and surrealist bender this quarter. I have been watching a lot of Jean Rollin's films this year and this past month. While my paper will only be focusing on The Rape of the Vampire and The Night of the Hunted (one of his three "zombie" films), I have still been watching anything of his that interests me or that I can get my hands on. The only one of his films that I cannot recommend at any level is Zombie Lake, which oddly enough, is his fairly straight zombie picture...I say "fairly straight" because it does have a story line where one of the Nazi zombies has reunited with his pre-teen daughter...although the Nazis were assassinated during of course, World War II by the villagers, and the film seems to take place in 1980, which makes no sense if the daughter is ten years old. Zombie Lake was also one of Rollin's lowest budgeted pictures, and that's saying something if you have ever seen any of his movies or read much on his films. It is one of the few Rollin pictures where you can tell that it seemed impossible to make the most of what little money there was.


Yeah, I don't know either. At least the Italians made their zombies look all arts & craftsy, what with the papier mache faces.

I think I discovered Rollin at a good point, considering for the past couple of years or so, I have been quite bored with horror at times. While Rollin has his obsessions that anyone will notice if they watch enough of his films, including how entrenched he is in surrealism well after its time as an art movement was over; I like how unconventional his films are. His endings are rarely happy and even if certain films end relatively well for the characters, there is still a sense of melancholia or even a looming sense of death. 

Speaking of unconventional horror films, I watched Red State last weekend. I am not a Kevin Smith megafan. I liked his movies when I was a teenager, but now I tend to see every other one if it sounds kind of interesting. Red State is not a perfect film - it is not subtle in its message, it's final message is kind of mixed, Melissa Leo's acting was over the top, and the opening scene at the high school bugs me to no end because that is not how a public school teacher acts in any era; but it is unconventional. It is almost like Full Metal Jacket how abruptly it switches gears, tone, and the characters we follow. Who we expect to live just based on horror conventions, likeability, or even logic is defied. The only other good thing I can say about the film is that John Goodman is awesome in it. I have missed seeing John Goodman in movies.

I have been watching a lot of bad TV this past week since last Monday night I had the worst headache I have had since hitting my head. My doctor says it is okay if I watch stupid things. So I was bedridden for a couple of days watching nothing but the second season of The Walking Dead so far and whatever episodes of American Horror Story I could find on Hulu. 

I was not a total fan of the first season of The Walking Dead. I maintain that the first episode was wonderful. But if I have to remain diplomatic at some level, I will say that the even numbered episodes were terrible, while the odd ones were better. Other than Rick being Sheriff Exposition for the first five minutes of the second season premiere, the first episode of this season was pretty good. Unfortunately, it has become tedious and like a spinning tire*. I look forward to this week's episode if it means opening up the zombie barn and maybe losing a few more characters. The series likes to project things, then take several episodes, if perhaps another season to get to the issue and/or resolve it. Lori's pregnancy for example. What is being projected this year from the main characters and secondary or even tertiary characters is Rick's leadership, the issue of neglect, and the idea of splitting up the group. Shane and Andrea, obviously. Daryl in last week's episode (and Daryl truly needs to ditch the group, even if it means taking boring old Carol), and in the second episode, T-Dog, even if he reneges on the idea later. What I find weird about T-Dog's "fever" thoughts is that he is right - he, Dale, and sometimes even Glenn are sidelined because of their age (Dale) and races (T-Dog and Glenn). Women on this show are sidelined altogether. The Walking Dead is not exactly Lost, where we learn about each character every week. Granted, Lost was not a perfect show either and harped on the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle for several seasons, but at least each character got his or her individual episodes! And maybe The Walking Dead is going in that direction a bit this season, where we followed Shane and his adventure to get medical supplies to help Carl, and last week's episode with Daryl in the woods, but it was too little and did not establish much beyond what we already knew: Shane is likely deranged, and Daryl is a badass...and oh, he's not as racist as his brother Merle because he has saved T-Dog at least three times by now**. I think they fired last season's writers and replaced them with even worse writers. But yeah, the group will at least temporarily disband before the season is over. And maybe Lori will finally tell Rick about her pregnancy and/or her time with Shane, and maybe The Walking Dead will finally have a Maury Povich-based episode. And I guess Daryl better watch it since characters played by noted indie character actors do not live forever on this show, as this season has shown yet again.


We know that Shane is crazy because of the shaved head, vacant stare, mouth agape, and furrowed brow.
American Horror Story is at least fun-bad and thoroughly entertaining. It is truly the most batshit live-action television show I have ever seen. The pregnant wife eats a brain like it's no thing! There is a teenage boy stuck in 1994 who frequently speaks of Kurt Cobain (just Kurt Cobain, never Nirvana), Quentin Tarantino, Al Pacino, and Robert DeNiro; and the depressed neo-Blossom Russo-dressed teenage daughter of the family nevernever asks him his opinion on the more recent and terrible movies Pacino and DeNiro have been in! I have never been one for haunted house stories, but American Horror Story takes your average haunted house story and amps it up several times over and then combines it with at least one other horror story or trope every week, usually more than one! It is hard to say if there is a bigger meaning to this show, I doubt it even knows. The classmate who told me about this show said it was Ryan Murphy's gay revenge on America. We keep discovering the lives of the previous inhabitants who are now ghosts of the house. There is the drunk surgeon-turned-abortionist-turned-mad scientist and his wife, two nursing students, a gay couple, a woman who was raped, the pregnant mistress maybe, the male redheaded twins...but we also have the people from the home invasion episode, and rubber man who may or may not be a ghost. I mean, I guess redheads have been persecuted throughout society. Some people believe that everyone on this show is a ghost! We will eventually find out that the house was built on an Native American burial ground, because why not?

American Horror Story is also fun because most episodes feature at least one "hey, it's that guy!/lady!" moment. 


Rubber Man, Rubber Man. Does whatever a rubber can...except not.
* Yesterday, I read this post at the TCM Movie Morlocks blog that discusses how bloodthirsty zombie movie fans and movie characters are these days. I would not say that I am a bloodthirsty zombie fan or that the characters on The Walking Dead are bloodthirsty (although that is another inconsistency, especially with Rick). I would like The Walking Dead to be a watchable show that like in the first episode, does consider that the zombies were people once. Overall, I would like a good story and some characters I could care about and who are maybe more thoughtful or intelligent. The only thing The Walking Dead has been somewhat good at displaying is the tried-and-true story method of humans being just as dangerous to humans as zombies are, if not more so.

** 2011 seems to be the year of the (good) redneck in horror. I finally saw Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a couple of weeks ago because it surprisingly came to the indie theater in town (I guess because it takes place in West Virginia, and I live about 40 minutes away from the West Virginia state line now). I was worried that it would not meet my expectations because I have been anticipating this movie for almost two years, but I also had no idea what the film was about past the trailer. It was a good, fun movie that was surprisingly sweet and had some interesting twists to the story and characters. And yes, the film was quite gory at times. So there are surprises out there every once in awhile. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

What I've been watching lately in four sentences or less

Repost from 2011.

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The Fall of the House of Usher (1929 || Dir. Jean Epstein || France)
Not nearly as surrealist as some would have you believe.

Blood and Roses (1960 || Dir. Roger Vadim || France)
A slightly more heteronormative-incestuous take on Carmilla, but still interesting.

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966 || Dir. Robert Bresson || France)
Poor donkey.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011 || Dir. Joe Johnston || USA)
The most watchable and fun out of the Marvel Studios films released this year. No daddy issues ('sup, Thor?), and it doesn't take itself too seriously ('sup, X-Men: First Class?). It honestly has Cap jumping a ramp on a motorcycle, away from an exploding Nazi camp. Cap runs away from explosions quite a few times in the film, so it almost cancels out the terrible creepiness of the first 30 minutes consisting of Chris Evans being made to appear shorter and skinnier through CGI.





The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962 || Dir. Jess Franco ||France-Spain)
Jess Franco's first film, a slightly sleazier retread on Eyes without a Face. It's not a very entertaining retread and the era it takes place in is indeterminable.

The Spirits of the Dead (1968 || Dirs. Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini || France-Italy)
European artsy-sleazy takes on Poe stories with pretty people? Bet you didn't know Fellini could do head decapitations, did you? I would like to frame most of the shots in Fellini's segment "Toby Dammit" and put it on my wall because that man could do Technicolor. The anthology is pretty good, although Malle's story isn't that great except for being able to look at Alain Delon and a brunette Brigitte Bardot.

Faceless (1987 || Dir. Jess Franco || France-Spain)
Another retread of Eyes without a Face by Jess Franco, this one being better, if a bit repetitive and drawn out. There are nods to The Awful Dr. Orloff.

Flyboys (2006 || Dir. Tony Bill || USA)
A dull movie that takes itself too seriously, despite what the trailer would have you believe sometimes (i.e., guy running away from explosion on top of a zeppelin). I fast-forwarded through much of the last hour and was a better person for doing that. Someone should have told James Franco that there were no frosted hair tips during World War I.




Punisher: War Zone (2008 || Dir. Lexi Alexander || USA)
The most comic book out of all comic book movies - the colors, the over-the-top violence and characters (complete with bad NYC accents for the villains), the cinematography  - all comic book. Sometimes the film drags a little, but then there's another insane set piece. 

Don't Open 'Till Christmas (1984 || Dir. Edmund Purdom || UK)
I watched this because the guy who played the dean in Pieces stars and directed this movie. I guess if the idea of a serial killer killing people in Santa suits sounds good, check it out. Otherwise, I can't recommend it because that's really all the film is: killing Santas and some police procedural - it's as if the movie was being written as it was filmed. This movie makes Silent Night, Deadly Night look profound.

Burnt Offerings (1976 || Dir. Dan Curtis || USA)
Many of the daytime scenes were very washed out looking and I am not totally sure why. It's perhaps better than most haunted house movies, if a little slow sometimes (this is a high compliment from me, considering that I've never been one for haunted house films). The ending is quite good and dark.

C.H.U.D. (1984 || Dir. Douglas Cheek || USA)
Not a terribly bonkers horror film, but it has a good "future stars" cast, good special effects, and it fits in well with other early 1980s gritty NYC horror films.




Children of the Corn (1984 || Dir. Fritz Kiersch || USA)
While I haven't read the short story since I was probably 12, this is not a good movie. It's like a moralistic, somewhat dull, and ballsless version of Who Could Kill a Child?. The film also has this bizarre dichotomy of the two good, non-cult children being cute, while the majority of the children in the cult are either awkward-looking or ugly.

The Bride Wore Black (1968 || Dir. Francois Truffaut || France)
Bet you didn't know that Truffaut did semi-Hitchcockian revenge films, did you? This is not a bloody film, but quite clever.