Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Belated Halloween Viewing I: Morgana

I haven't seen many Mexican/Hispanic horror movies, although their reputation seems to be growing (in that "Let's do an American remake!" sense, at least). I was intrigued by the art for Morgana when it appeared on Netflix; I was even more intrigued by the dearth of reviews, as well as by the few I found. There is a certain code one cracks after reading a lot of horror reviews, and a certain kind of viewer's "horrible movie where nothing happens" is exactly what this squeam queen is looking for.

In a sense, though, I can see what the reviewers were complaining about. Morgana is a very small-scale sort of ghost story. The titular heroine lost her mother at a young age and has been emotionally fragile ever since. She lives with her starchy old aunt, with only her boyfriend and her therapist for support, and is haunted by dreams of a woman in a long dress who wants to drown her. (There is also a thematic undercurrent about abortion I could personally have done without.) In other words, this movie is basically slasher-fan repellent.

I, on the other hand, am very fond of it. I don't consider Morgana a masterpiece, but it has so many of the things I really love about horror films: a spooky setting, a haunted house, an old half-crazy guy who can provide all the exposition, mirror scares, a probably homage to The Omen, a more or less evil doll, possession, and some things I haven't encountered in spook fiction since I finally buckled down to read The Monk a few years ago. If you don't require zombies and steep body counts, I recommend it.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Crooked House: Won't Someone Think of the Squeamish Bloggers?

A number of recent political headlines indicate that lawmakers often propose legislation based on their fears; similarly, my recent viewing of the first two episodes of Crooked House leads me to suggest the Eyeless Ghost Act of 2013, in which any entertainment product featuring an eyeless ghost will be required to carry, as a warning, a small line drawing of Edvard Munch's Scream figure in one corner.

This will provide at least one service to humanity, as I promise to do something valuable with the time I save not peering nervously behind all the doors in my apartment.

I say this not to disparage Crooked House: on the contrary, the series so far (one to go!) has been very effective, delving into the varied history of a necromancer's former domicile. I always have a soft spot for productions featuring Robin of Sherwood alums, and the first installment stars Philip "Abbot Hugo" Jackson as a flint-hearted profiteer of the 18th century whose remodeling project is being hampered by a guilty conscience (and a powerful set of evil spirits). In the second, set in the 1920s, a newly engaged couple finds out about a curse involving a dead bride and an elderly aunt (Jean Marsh!).

The latter, you may have divined, is where we need the Scream symbol. A story as creepy and atmospheric as only a costume party at night in a haunted house could be. Watch in broad daylight.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Inn Keeping With Tradition

I admit I've been tempted to indulge in watching the latest trend in ghost-hunter horror films, not least because I dislike those TV shows so much. (If I were a restless spirit in a prison, I like to think I'd try to bring the roof down on some of those folks, at a minimum.) But my very dislike (and my natural squeamishness) keeps me from watching the night-vision condescension, even in fictional form.

The Innkeepers, though, uses the premise as only one aspect of a film that is a weird blend of haunted-house movie, Clerks-style slacker film and tech-enhanced ghost hunting. Luke and Claire, who otherwise seem to drift through life, are caretakers for a historic hotel entering its off-season. Their main sources of excitement are Luke's search for evidence of an in-house specter and their only guest, a demi-celebrity played by Kelly McGillis, who doubles as the movie's Exposition Lady. When Claire starts seeing things, her relationship with Luke—and possibly with reality—enters a strange, dark phase.

The tension and the horror elements are very effective here, and the characters, though not deeply developed, seemed like real people (people I wouldn't want to spend time with, but real people). There's a similarity in tone here to another movie, A Haunting At the Beacon, which I haven't reviewed here because I hated it, but both are essentially films about spooks and depression. The Innkeepers simply does it (much) better. A solid update on a classic genre.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sleeping With the Lights On (Also, the Dog Lives)

I wondered for a while how to approach reviewing The Woman in Black (the book and the Daniel Radcliffe version of the movie), since the only tactic I could think of involved grabbing prospective readers individually by the collar and shrieking, "COMPLETELY HORRIFYING! AND QUITE GOOD! I'M GOING TO SIT IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT NOW!"

This is complicated by my very recent realization that I'm ambivalent about depressing horror movies.  On one hand, if you don't like movies about zombie hordes and preternaturally resilient serial killers, there's an extent to which depressing horror films are what's left: The Others, Lake Mungo, nearly any K-horror movie involving something happening during one's school years...

Naturally, this led me down a meandering train of thought (Is The Wicker Man depressing? If so, why? Are there people who actually like Sgt. Howie? The crops will probably fail regardless: that might be a bit sad...) and I've only just dragged myself back here. Which is fitting, perhaps, as it's only just been a week since I slept with all the lights on after watching the adaptation of tWiB.

The Book (some spoilers)

I quite enjoyed the book, despite its eventual destruction of my peace of mind. It begins as most of my favorite ghost stories do: with some mildly skeptical fellow (in this case, young lawyer Arthur Kipp) blithely ignoring the warnings of literally everyone in the remote village to which he has journeyed and heading straight for That House Everyone Avoids.

Very soon, I had to include myself in the warning horde: there's a scene fairly early on when Kipp spies a line of silent children outside a cemetery, all watching him. He doesn't twig to the problem—despite my repeated screams of, "THEY ARE OBVIOUSLY DEAD! DEAD CHILDREN! RUN! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOOOOUUU??," I might add.

If you read the book, chances are you'll also want to yell when our hero decides that his sense of duty compels him to go back to the house, even though he's well aware that the titular spirit is malevolently haunting the place. For that seems to be the main question the book asks: what is a ghost, really, and what sort of harm can it do? Is it an insensate impression that terrifies the unwary? A latent force that can be awakened by the right personality? Or something more active, more sinister?

Arthur guesses wrong, and in doing so makes himself the focus of a hatred and madness not confined by the usual haunted-house geography. (While trying to figure out why the book affected me so, I realized that range is a big factor. The Shining, to name my other favorite horror novel, is unnerving, but its evil is confined to one place. The Woman in Black goes wherever her attention has been focused. What if she doesn't like you reading about her?)

The Movie

(Before putting the most recent movie adaptation on the Netflix queue, I performed an act of cowardice and checked IMDb to make sure the little dog who fares so bravely in the book would be surviving this version as well. As alluded to above, we can at least be sure there's one happy ending!)

When we meet Arthur Kipp in the movie, he has already suffered one tragedy in his life, which does take some of the fun out of the unwary-traveler trope. It's a wonderfully atmospheric production, though...occasionally so atmospheric, I could barely stand to look at the screen for the crawling tension as I waited for the malevolent ghost to show up.

The Woman in Black is an even more active enemy here, less an ill omen than a participant in the deaths of children, and the net effect is to make Arthur's final stay in the house seem even more ridiculous. There's an attempt to lay the spirit that is more or less an homage to The Ring, and (without spoiling anything) I can't decide whether Kipp's fate in the book or the movie is the kinder one. They both have their merits, and neither involves sleeping with a bunch of electric lights on.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Is For Aaaaargh!!

Lately, for various reasons of ennui, friends and I have been watching The Mentalist on TNT Monday nights.

It's not a bad show. Really, it isn't. But for some reason I have a persistent temporary amnesia about it, so that the moment it comes on, I think, "Huh. Robin Tunney has a cop show?" and then remember that yes, this is the show with the adorable guy in the vest.

But last night's episode, in which the titular hero confronts the man who killed his family, has prodded me to admit something I've known for a long time:



I don't hate them in theory. In theory, the idea of a unifying thread tying a bunch of stories together is an excellent one. But too often they bog down good shows and take up time that could be spent on better-written episodic TV. Nearly every A plot in Heroes ended laughably with Nathan Petrelli getting shot; on Supernatural the Winchesters alternate between failing to stop the forces of evil and summering in Hades; and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer lost me when they pitted her against a god. (I am also that person who thinks The X-Files should have ignored the damned aliens: you knew there was one of us out there!) In practice, it seems, the A-plot structure is an invitation for the show to bite off way more than its writers and characters can ever properly chew.

...All of which, given that I'm freshly hooked on Haven, will probably turn to irony in a matter of months. Are there any other A-plot haters out there?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Halloween Horror Fest!!! If I Can Find Anything Good...

I'm back! And I'm beginning to wonder if I am getting jaded. In an attempt to get the Dracula's Godchild party started, I've so far watched 3.5 horror films, and not one, in my opinion, deserves its own standalone review.

Let me repeat something I've said throughout the horror-movie portions of this blog: I am a high-strung person who loves fiction. I am, in theory, the ideal audience for all but the most tepid of tepid spook-shows. I can suspend disbelief so high it can barely be seen with the naked eye. My surprise, therefore, is less that there are non-great horror movies out there as that they are so non-great that even I noticed.

So here we go...

--Knife Edge: A stockbroker with ESP quits the fast track and moves with her husband and son into a haunted house. Soon, she is seeing visions of a terrible murder from the past  and is drawn to a particularly sinister tree on the estate.

Unfortunately, that's as far as I got. It may be that reading Barbara Erskine's House of Echoes a few months ago used up some vital attention span for British haunted-house/domestic dramas. I'm not willing to blame the movie for this, though, and I may yet return to it.

--The Haunted Forest: Nice name, isn't it? It also has nice scenery as a bunch of attractive young people get lost in the woods on a quest for a(nother) sinister tree. Imagine someone using a "Native American Legend" as an excuse to make a J-horror movie in what looks like a forest in Oregon.

Got it? I've just saved you about 90 minutes. You're welcome.

--The Marsh: This was probably my favorite so far: Gabrielle Anwar stars as a children's-book writer who sees visions of a house in he country. Until the movie started, she's been using this to fuel her work, which is shown as adorably creepy picture books I wouldn't mind getting for my godchildren in real life. When she tracks down the real house and rents it for a sabbatical, creepy things start to happen... as, unfortunately, does the unnecessary insertion of Forest Whitaker as a psychic investigator. Pretty good and spooky, though.

--Walled In: If I had a time machine, I might just go back and put Walled In on the list I made, at the dawn of this site, of movies that infuriate me due to unfulfilled potential. Mischa Barton (who is quite good here) stars as a demolition expert doing the initial inspection on an apartment building where people were buried alive in the walls—a plot point that only serves to remind me that I know a lot of morbid little bits of lore that other people don't. As she navigates the building and its strange few remaining tenants, she begins to have eerie experiences....

Which makes it all the more disappointing that the end of the film is a sort of torture-porn lite. The set pieces were so good, the atmosphere was so good, and it all ends with someone trapped in what amounts to a cellar by a still-living doofus. Phooey.

Next up: Book of Blood, if I can stand it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just Briefly...

For the record, I was raised on crime shows: Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, Magnum, the Law & Order franchise (and also a ton of British mystery, though I don't think that's relevant here) and a host of others. My mother can identify the plot of a Magnum, PI episode in its first thirty seconds, but can't remember what she had for dinner two days ago.

You get the idea.

And yet I don't think of myself as having a lot of particular insight into these shows: I don't want to solve the crime, because if I can figure out "whodunit" early, the writers haven't fully succeeded. Which is why I say, quite sincerely: Was the season finale of Castle really a shock to people?

I keep seeing it presented that way. Thanks to a lack of TV reception and a bad habit of forgetting about network schedules/the existence of Hulu, I see about four episodes of Castle a year. And every single time I did catch one, the chief acted funny whenever the subject of Kate's mother came up. Can someone (politely!) explain this to me? If you have more continuity from regular viewing, does the guy's concern come off as something else? I'm not used to being a detective-show savant, so I assume some other force is at work.