Goddamnit! The Paranormal Activity movies are some of the most fun and most scared you can have in a theater. From the very first seconds of all these films, you’re put on edge. Part of that is because you know what’s in store for you but the home movie, do-it-yourself aspect of the films give you this impression that you’re right there with these characters and you’re just as alone as they are. They’re the kind of horror film that makes you want to be a horror director since they are the closest to duplicating the sensations you feel as you walk through a haunted house that I’ve ever experienced.
In the third (and hopefully final) installment, we find ourselves in 1988 at the beginning of the story to find out what happened to our lovely ladies from the first two films when they were younger. Yes! This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for in a trilogy, but sadly Paranormal Activity 3 made the fatal mistakes that any prequel runs the risk of doing. If you’re gonna be the ballsy bastard that wants to take on a popular franchise and show us how it all began, those puzzle pieces need to line up perfectly for us. I don’t want any air bubbles trapped in between since in the end that will make me ask more questions than feel the satisfaction of knowing the answers. That’s a killer for a prequel.
Paranormal Activity 3 attempted to answer all the questions, and they did answer some, but its execution is confusing and doesn’t gel with the legacy we’ve come to know. There are HUGE holes in the plot of this film and it makes me wonder how such glaring problems could have passed through the hands of so many people who made it. I can’t tell you what they are without giving away some spoilers. I also won’t because if you don’t remember the story up to this point, it won’t ruin the movie for you at all…in fact it might make it better. Also, if you never saw the first two films, you’ll probably enjoy this more than if you were a massive fan of the first two.
The “found footage” approach to this one feels more forced than before, however directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman did incorporate one of the most suspenseful film techniques ever in a modified oscillating desk fan that might be the scariest character in the film. I don’t blame Joost and Schulman for the movie’s shortcomings at all. These were the two guys that brought us an equally scary but totally different movie called Catfish. This was a documentary about predatory online delusions (listen to my interview with both of them at the bottom of this review) and being documentarians brought a fresh aspect to this mockumentary franchise.
Although I liked this one the least in the series, it’s far from disappointing in the scare-the-s**t-out-of-you trademark. There are few horror movies that can build such palpable tension that it makes me shield my eyes from the screen like a kid, but these consistently do just that. I just wish it kept me up at night by making me remember all the terrifying moments rather than keeping me up trying to figure out how the stories come together.
Paranormal Activity (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
Click here to listen to the interview with directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Review Coming Soon...
Horror icon, John Carpenter, brought us The Thing in 1982.Â It was one of the first horror movies I watched as a kid where I had my mind blown over what could be done with special FX makeup!Â It was absolutely amazing to watch a man's head fall off his shoulders, sprout spider legs and eyes and then crawl away.Â If you never saw the original and that sentence makes you think the exact opposite of "amazing," then this prequel to the 29-year-old original will do nothing for you because what made the original so amazing was the prequel's undoing.Â
I love prequels.Â I think it's really fun to watch what happened before the movie you already love.Â In the original they talk about the camp that discovers the alien that can shape-shift into any other living thing but you never see it.Â That camp is what this film is all about but it's the exact same story.Â There is almost no difference between the two, even in the choice of casting Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Animal Kingdom) as the hero because when dude sports a beard he looks EXACTLY like Kurt Russell, who was the hero in the original.Â I did like that the true star of the film was a woman, who was played by the gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Death Proof).Â It makes me think of Ripley in the Alien franchise although she's far from the tough-as-nails that Sigourney Weaver trademarked!Â
I love the aspect of how isolating this film is.Â It takes place in Antarctica which is so cold and lonely that it might as well be space.Â Not only that, but I love the spookiness of untrust, where the killer could be lurking inside the skin of any one of the main characters.Â It makes it a very unique horror film that also comes with the joy of seeing great monster makeup and FX.Â Sadly, I saw ALL of that in the original and this one doesn't break any new ground.Â
It's almost like new director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (no, my cat didn't walk across my keyboard...that's his name) assumed that no one saw the first one and could get away with just remaking it.Â I'm not against remakes either.Â If they're done well, I think they can potentially be better than the original.Â But I think prequels are way better and I especially don't appreciateÂ it whenÂ prequels don't want to call themselves remakes, which is exactly what The Thing did.Â
Is it scary?Â Not really.Â Is it cool?Â At times.Â They disapointed me at times by using CGI to create some of the monster FX the original accomplished with old school make-up AND still looked faker than it did in 1982, but I give the studio credit in simply trying to make a monster movie again; something that sadly seems to have vanished from the lanscape.Â But in a movie about a killer alien that can carbon copy itself into anything, I wish The Thing didn't carbon copy itself into the 1982 original.
The ThingÂ (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C+
Guillermo Del Toro is rapidly becoming a favorite filmmaker by both critics and fanboys alike. Â He's the genius director behind such incredible fantasy horror movies like Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone and Cronos. Â He's also the genius director behind such incredible comic book actions like Hellboy and Blade II. Â But sadly, he didn't direct Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
Del Toro produced this movie. Â That doesn't give it a death sentence at all. Â In fact, just the opposite. Â He's done that with cinematic awesomeness like The Orphanage and Biutiful. Â He's even gotten involved in animation movies like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Megamind. Â But something went wrong with this film. Â Don't Be Afraid of the Dark starts off as scary, then becomes creepy, and ends up being silly.
It's really too bad because the film, which is based on a made-for-TV film from 1973, is a classic gothic creature-feature horror film. Â It's about a family that moves into a gorgeous old mansion only to discover that it was already inhabited by another group...blood-thirsty little fiends that crave little children's body parts. Â Wow! Â Just typing that out makes it sound so much better than it actually is. Â It's far tamer from the gruesome premise seems to be. Â But it's not so much the plot running out of steam that makes this film so lackluster; it's also the performances.
Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Tom Cruise's bedroom) and Guy Pearce (The King's Speech, Memento) are the couple who fight off the amassing goblins. Â Both are fine actors and have performed well in the past, epecially Pearce; but in this they walk through the script like they both are in dress rehearsals. Â The shining star of the film is the daughter played by the young Bailee Madison. Â She carries this entire movie on her back with a fantastic performance. Â She's also the little girl in Brothers and the only funny thing about the Adam Sandler movie Just Go With It.
With Don't Be Afraid of the Dark she really gets a chance to show us what she's got though. Â She's undoubtedly the star of the film and looks legitimately terrified of the little beasties that are after her. Â What impressed me even more is that she had to act that way while looking at nothing since all the monsters were CGI. Â Another disappointment since Del Toro is known for using mostly old school movie monster make-up and puppets.
That undersells the quality of the creatures though. Â The FX used for them are very, very well done. Â They do look real and give you the heebie-jeebies in many of the scenes that prey on your fear of the dark and what's under the covers. Â But just when you're thinking that they are a force to be scared of, they turn into some kind of comedic monsters you'd expect to see in Jim Henson's Labyrinth. Â That decision might have been the fault of first-time director Troy Nixey. Â I'm not going to say that he's in over his head though since the film stinks of gothic horror in that it boasts incredible sets and heavy atmosphere that invokes a 1920s Hammer Film feel.
It's a big red flag that this movie was not going to live up to the A+ trailer that was released over a year ago because that's when the film was shot. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was filmed early in 2010 and went through lots and lots of post production work to make it presentable. Â I guess it should have been put through a little more work since it isn't scary. Â But maybe that's just truth in advertising - there really isn't any reason to be afraid of the dark in this film.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
Over the years, I've gotten a lot of crap for my love of the Scream movies. Â I was 15-years-old when the first one came out 15 years ago. Â At the time, it rocked my socks but like many movies have a tendency to do, it very well could have been just that I was 15 and not that it was a good movie. Â I mean, for God's sake, I loved Face/Off at that age too.
But Scream has stood the test of time and is still considered one of the most important horror films ever made...and not just by me. Â One reason is that it pumped new life (no pun intended) into the "slasher" genre of horror, which was destroyed in the '80s by over-saturation and watered down sequels. Â But it also was worthy of creative respect on its own merit. Â The fact that despite Drew Barrymore, who was a huge star, was the focus of the trailer and was on the poster, was still killed off in the first ten minutes was astonishing and set up for a film where a "anything could happen" tone existed.
Sure the second and third Scream movies weren't as good, but that doesn't mean that they still weren't thoughtful, fun and interesting with what advancement in the on-going story they brought to the table. Â So you understand why it pains me to say this as a legit fan of the Scream movies; but Scream 4 sucked.Â Absolutely nothing new, original or fun exists in this film that tries desperately to come up with a logical reason to continue the story.
Sure it's fun to watch stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette reprise their roles. Â Of course it's chilling and exciting to hear voice actor Roger Jackson ask people what their favorite scary movie is again. Â But that quickly wears off and what you're left with is a pointless sequel filled with new and annoying young actors that are so losely tied to the original characters it makes you laugh that director Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street series, The Hills Have Eyes) would even make this film.
The new cast consists of Emma Roberts (It's Kind of a Funny Story, Hotel for Dogs) is Sydney Prescott's cousin, who we've never heard of or seen till now, and Hayden Panettiere (NBCs Heroes, Remember the Titans) is her spunky best friend. Â Of course they're joined by fellow high school classmates that get slaughtered one-by-one but this crop aren't charismatic, funny and sympathetic like the old crew. Â I hope it's not that I'm getting older but this group comes across just plain annoying.
Of course the film leads to a climactic Whodunit? but when the reveal comes it keeps the par of the rest of the movie and disappoints and confuses. Â There's a part of the film where they mock the Saw films for not building characters for people to care about and Hollywood for just cranking out unoriginal horror remakes (many of which Craven has been involved with), but Scream 4 is just as guilty of both. Â I for one am really happy that I have the original trilogy on DVD, because although I know exactly how they all end, it's a lot more exciting than trying to figure out how the new one did.
Scream 4 (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D+
For me, the best kinds of horror movies are the ones that burn disturbing images in my brain so that I'm still seeing them and reliving the scenes back throughout the day...and especially night. Â The image of Reagan sitting on the bed smiling after her face has been distorted and damaged in The Exorcist. Â The closet door swinging open for a split second to show what happens when you watch "the tape" in The Ring. Â The little girl waking up in the middle of the night to see some kind of lightly panting thing crouched on the edge of her bed looking at her in Martyrs. Â These were all lasting scenes for me from some of the best horror movies ever made. Â Insidious came so close and then blew it though.
The film stars Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Lakeview Terrace) and Rose Byrne (Get Him to The Greek, 28 Weeks Later) as the loving parents of three kids who move into a new house. Â Neither are any strangers to horror and both have been in some very scary movies, but in this they both put in luke warm performances.
Although Insidious starts off as a cookie cutter haunted house story, it's still one of the best cookie cutters I've seen. Â The first half of the movie is scary as hell even if you're blind...I would know since I closed my eyes during some of the more suspenseful scenes. Â The use of slight creaks on wooden floors, slight whispers down hallways and even perfect silence puts you right on the very edge of your seat. Â The atmosphere is thick with spookiness.
However, the film takes a sad turn down "What The Hell Ln." once a psychic is called in, played by Lin Shaye (Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber). Â From that point on the scary moments come fewer and the overt, FX-laden action takes over. Â That's not to say there aren't some great moments in the second half though, including some much needed levity. Â I don't want to go into some of my heavy critiques due to giving too much away, but let's just say that Darth Maul should have stayed in Star Wars.
The movie is produced by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), and written and directed by the two guys who gave us Saw. Â (Say what you will about how awful that series has gotten, the first two films are still really good.) Â Director James Wan has really proven himself to be a better caliber filmmaker than I gave him credit for. Â There are moments in Insidious where I felt like I was walking through a spook house at a carnival...and that's a good thing. Â He successfully creates a throwback to a certain stylized horror genre that was made famous in the '70s, almost like how Sam Raimi did with 2009'sÂ Drag Me to Hell.
Unfortunately the script isn't very original or conclusively satisfying, which is really too bad when you consider how powerfully spooky it begins. Â You'll definitely jump and be creeped out by Insidious, and if you leave with 25 minutes left to go you'll leave satisfied too.
Gavin Grade: B-
I got forwarded an email from my mother that my aunt sent her. Â My mother's contribution was simply, "do you know anything about this movie?" Â It was in response to my 70-year-old aunt telling my mom that she was going to see Black Swan with a bunch of her friends that were part of the Philadelphia Ballet group she belongs too because they heard it was simply a movie about ballet staring Natalie Portman. Â Don't worry. Â I swiftly wrote back to my mom warning her that this was a Darren Aronofsky film. Â He's the man responsible for The Wrestler, Pi and the scariest, most disturbing movie I've ever seen, Requiem for a Dream. Â I also warned her that yes it's true that Black Swan is about ballet, in fact it might even be one of the best films about ballet; but it is also a deeply disturbing psychological horror. Â Naturally that makes the movie sound typical, plain and even a little silly. Â (It will actually sound even sillier when you hear people say that it chronicles Portman's character transforming into a swan.) Â Trust me though, that's a simplistic view of Black Swan and it's cheating the art that is this film. Â Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career and a sure thing for an Oscar as the frail and innocent ballerina, Nina. Â After getting the lead in Swan Lake, the movie slowly, and I mean slowly, spirals into terror and insanity. Â Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Family Guy) and Winona Ryder give great supporting performances but it's Portman's show. Â The only competition she has for the spotlight is the rarely seen anymore Barbara Hershey (The Right Stuff, The Natural), who plays Portman's overbearing, almost criminal, mother. Â But Portman is the star and shows so much control over her emotions that it astounds. Â She also goes through such a metamorphosis from sane and gentle to crazy and violent, that it seems eerily subtle at times. Â Be warned though, this is not a film for everybody. Â Some people got up and left the theater during my screening. Â One was during an incredibly graphic (hot) lesbian sex scene and the other was during a horrifically violent scene involving a nail file. Â And that's not even including the before mentioned change into fowl. Â But if you can get past all that, you're in for a finely crafted piece of art cinema. Â Makes sense that Aronofsky would do this after he did The Wrestler, since both are films about what is considered art by the performers who do it and how they torture their bodies to pull it off. Â His direction of the film is his finest work since Requiem for a Dream. Â The symbolism and use of iconic images is a little on the nose at times though. Â You don't have to be a film major to pick out that there is a reflection in the background of every single scene, Portman's character is always wearing white and Kunis' character is always wearing black, there are stuffed black swans every time there's a scene of attempted transition, etc.; but that's still fine with me. Â The real achievement of amazement for me was the cinematography. Â The cameras, most of which are handheld, moves like a dancer in the film. Â The scenes that involve the dancing itself are not observed from a far by a stationary shot. Â We're not meant to feel like the audience while watching this movie. Â We're suppose to be one of the dancers, feeling everything from an uncomfortably close perspective. Â That way when Nina slips into the abyss, it feels like we're sliding in with her.
Black Swan Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A
Horror movies rarely get better as a series goes on. Â In fact most series that start incredibe only get worse and eventually fall to ruin...I'm looking at you Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Â Even if a sequel to a horror film is just as scary, it's very rare that the sequel is a perfect companion to the first one and makes it even better. Â When I saw that Paranormal Activity was going to have a sequel come out EXACTLY one year after the first one, my thoughts went exactly to the disaster that was The Blair Witch Project 2. Â That was a perfect example of how Hollywood can take one of the all-time movie success stories that created legit terror on a shoestring budget and then raped the soul out of it. Â I'm absolutely thrilled to report that Paranormal Activity 2 avoided the awful conclusion that The Blair Witch Project suffered. Â This movie worked with what made the original a success and pumped it full of steroids. Â Sure, it's a little more spruced up and has some special effects but it still retains those key ingredients - surveillance cameras, unknown actors, limited cast, one location and heavy reliance on sound effects. Â Although the reason for the "I shot this myself" product feels less organic and believable than it did in the first one, I'm thrilled that they made that choice. Â What was refreshing to see was that the original director, Oren Peli, handed over the reigns to new director Tod Williams, who comes from directing documentaries. Â The other was hiring a perfect team of writers that made the film an amazing prequel AND sequel at the same time.Â But (and this really impressed me) you don't need to see the first one to fully enjoy the second one.Â In fact, you could then watch the first one and THAT would turn into a sequel.Â It introduced a whole new cast of characters to care about AND found a great way to bring back Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloan from the first one. Â Now, when it came to the first one it was amazingly creepy but somewhat light on the scares. Â The sequel skimps on the creepy and trades it for terror and monumental scares! Â If you're a fan of the original then you're prepared for a first act that burns slow and steady. Â However, the last twenty minutes of the sequel goes to places of horror that are beautiful when done right. Â For one, they added a dog and a baby and that preys on the two areas that most people consider pure innocence. Â Sure there were teenagers in the theater that were laughing as a nervous response but most of the parents were silent with anxious fright and I even heard some cry. Â The thought of helplessness in defending your baby is a primal fear that I can only imagine can paralyze even the strongest of audience members. Â TheÂ Paranormal Activity series reminds of a type of horror film that's rare and so wonderful to see. Â The kind that never relies on gore or monsters to create terror but instead invites you into a haunted house. Â You basically will spend 90 minutes watching a magic trick as the house becomes alive with sounds and tricks that scare you as much as they scare the actors. Â Yeah, this time around some of those tricks are CGI or other visual effects, but it still has the same feel of low budget, bare knuckled, drag out, goosebump-inducing, fun house horror. Â Don't bother getting popcorn for this one because it's just gonna end up on your lap and the lap of your neighbor.
Paranormal Activity 2 (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A
Aristotle was not only one of the best philosophical minds of all time, but he was also a caddy bitch-of-a-critic. Â He invented a saying "Deus ex Machina," which is Latin for "god out of a machine." Â I know that seems odd to bring up in a review for a horror film, but it basically means a great story with a horrible ending. Â Aristotle HATED when he would spend the whole play getting deeply invested in the characters who find themselves in an impossibly entertaining and twisted plot just to have the whole freaking thing ruined by an ending (in his case) where a god would simply get lowered on the stage and fix everything. Â It's lazy writing. Â The Last Exorcism is just that! Â This film is fantastic at first! Â It is directed by newcomer Daniel Stamm in a mock documentary approach. Â The reason for the documentary is to follow the main character, a preacher played excellently by Patrick Fabian (Big Love), in his quest to show how exorcisms are fake and religion in general is pretty much a sham. Â It starts off very funny with some true laugh-out-loud moments. Â He then finds himself performing a fake exorcism over the body of young Nell, who's played by the new and lovely Ashley Bell. Â But we quickly learn that she might actually be possessed by a real demon. Â The movie goes from funny to really scary in two seconds flat, with a scene that's more creepy than shock. Â We see Bell bend and contort her body into awful and painful positions (these were real too since she has a background in ballet). Â With that sudden switch in to 5th gear fear, I was hooked as an audience member. Â The movie gets tense and spooky. Â More and more discoveries are made about the characters that makes us think that there's more going on than just a classic ghost story about the devil in an innocent girl. Â What started as a comedy, then bloomed into a horror actually starts rolling into a well-crafted mystery. Â Then, as if the writers had no idea how to end it, the whole thing comes crashing down in a climax that isn't scary, isn't logical, isn't creative or even entertaining. Â It's like eating a fantastic sandwich that has an aftertaste of old earwax - it's so bad it ruins the good parts. Â I believe that no ending would've been better than the ending they created. Â The good thing about this film though is that it continues to allow The Exorcist to rein supreme as the scariest film about possession of all time. Â What they did in that movie was taboo and broke down walls of taste and preconceived notions of what horror could be. The Last Exorcism impresses at first with it working within the PG-13 perimeters but then feels stifled by them. Â I understand that the mock documentary style of filmmaking is hard to squeeze an ending out of. Â People bitched about the endings of Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity andÂ Quarantine too. Â But those films understood the problem and came to the conclusion that less is more and perhaps the simpler solution is the better ending. Â I would agree with that and it would've helped this film. Â Now I don't want anyone to think that I don't want movies to have plots twists and turns in them. Â Just make sure that, as a writer, you don't get twisted up in your twists and you can still explain your way out. Â An ending is more important than the whole of the film and The Last Exorcism is a prime example of that.
The Last Exorcism Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C-
It's 1984, a new studio has the guts to make a movie called A Nightmare on Elm Street from writer/director Wes Craven for under $2 million. Â The movie is bloody, scary and insanely popular. Â It goes on to earn over $25 million, which in 1984 was a good bit of money, produce a series of sequels, a TV show and start a major movie studio. Â The movie followed in line as other cheap horror films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, but this one Â was different. Â The monster in this was not a lumbering, silent killer with no personality. Â We were introduced to Freddy Krueger who talked, cracked jokes, was sadistic and sexual and, in my opinion, was the reason why the 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street was a cut (no pun intended) above the rest. Â Fast forward to 2010, and Michael Bay's production company continues their rampage and raping of all the beloved horror movies from the past that they fatten up and throw out to slaughter for quick cash. Â Some of these remakes have been good (The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and the rest have been absolutely awful. Â The remake of Nightmare on Elm Street falls in the latter catagory. Â I have to admit that I was pretty excited for this. Â Even though the original has a special place in my heart, when I heard that Oscar-nominated and incredible actor Jackie Earl Haley (Watchmen, Shutter Island) would be playing Freddy, I couldn't have pictured anyone better for the part...and yes that includes the original Freddy, Robert Englund. Â I thought that Haley would bring the viciousness the character deserved and leave the one-liners at the door. Â Boy, I was I wrong. Â I feel like he tried but it wasn't good enough. Â The script for this film couldn't have been worse and when you have a cast of no-name actors who were hired solely on their looks read such horrible dribble, you're really just pouring salt on a wound. Â I can only imagine that such a horrific oversight could be made by a director who's only experience behind a camera comes from music videos, which is exactly what they had in director Samuel Bayer. Â Everything about this movie was pathetic and lame. Â The lazy acting, the bloated production budget, the miserable script and even the makeup effects were terrible. Â I know they wanted to give Freddy a more "burn victim" look, but he literally looks like he's wearing a rubber mask. Â Some of the scenes that amazed and shocked audiences in the original, such as the infamous body-flying-around-the-room scene, is disappointing and downright awful. Â I want to make it very clear that I'm not saying this because I'm a snob about remakes. Â I'm not against them and have seen some that I enjoyed more than the orginal, such as Rob Zombie's Halloween. Â I think that if you have something different to bring to the table and can show me the same story but still make my eyes pop, you've really impressed me then. Â Furthermore, I even went back and watched my copy of the original Nightmare when I got home to make sure I wasn't falsely remembering how good it was. Â Sure, it's campy, but that's why it was so great. Â It was really scary and this remake isn't. Â It's full-on proof that throwing money at it and passing it off to a group of people who don't know or worse, care, what they're doing results in a giant pile of suck. Â The only thing that they finally got right about this remake is the title...it truly is a nightmare.
Nightmare on Elm Street (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: F Â Â Click below to hear an interview with star of Nightmare on Elm Street, Thomas Dekker.Thomas Dekker 4-30-10
Hey Tea Baggers, militia members and other nuts who are afraid of the government, heed my warning and do NOT go see this film because it will probably be one of the scariest movies you've ever seen. Â The Crazies is a remake of an old George Romero movie, by the same name, that wasn't very good and didn't get good reviews. Â The only reason why people remember the original 1973 Crazies is mostly because it's a Romero film that isn't about zombies...kind of. Â (Oh, for those of you who don't know, George A. Romero is the Godfather of zombies. Â He's the master behind the Night of the Living Dead films and the reason why we even have zombies in movies today.) Â This remake however, which was directed by Breck Eisner, is original where it has to be original and traditional where it has to be traditional. Â Eisner is relatively new to filmmaking and very new to the horror genre. Â That might have helped here since the look of the movie is fantastic. Â Large chunks of the film don't look or feel like horror at all. Â Some of the scariest scenes happen in broad daylight or in open fields. Â He also didn't lean too heavy on the violence to carry the movie through its 100 minutes. Â Don't get me wrong, there's puddles of violence; but it's not used as a crutch to make the movie scary. Â The horror from The Crazies is from a simple few elements: core characters fighting for survival that are in constant peril, fear of disease, marauding monsters that used to be family and friends, the destruction of a small town and a government that's drunk with power. Â You put those things in a movie and I'm hooked. Â Now The Crazies didn't do it as well as say Frank Darabont's The Mist did or Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later; those are in the Top 25 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time, if you ask me. Â No, The Crazies isn't that good, but it is still good. Â It delivers the scares at just the right places and even though most are the "make you jump" scares that usually come from simply a loud sound effect, it also has the disturbing, prolonged images that when paired with pure silence, are much more effective. Â The acting is adequate given that it stars Timothy Olyphant (Scream 2 aka Worst Scream Killer in the series) and Radha Mitchell, who last bored us in Surrogates. Â These two aren't exactly masters of the thespian arts, but considering that they were given a script that was subpar at best, they did just fine. Â The Crazies won't win any awards or appear on anyone's Favorite Horror Movie list, but it'll give you your $10 worth if all you're looking for is a creepy horror movie that makes you unsure of who to be more scared of - the government or your neighbor.
The Crazies (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B-
In 1941, a movie came out that terrified the world and was another building block in establishing Universal Studios as THE home of horror. Â This remake of the classic Wolfman movie is the first of many more remakes of the Universal Studios oldies but goodies to come...and THAT'S something to be scared of. Â This gloomy, period piece stays fairly true to the original story and does a better-than-expected job at duplicating the atmosphere and tone that the original had. Â There are barren woods filled with mysterious fog and crumbling mansions that are being devoured by dead ivy. Â The Production Designer and Set Decorator did an incredible job with making the look of the film just as scary as the wolfman himself. Â It's dark and dank on every square inch of the film, symbolic animals are littered everywhere from obvious stuffed heads on walls to patterns on decorative vases, and even the simplicity of some scenes are aiding to the mood in the way they even have gathered muck in the corners of hospital rooms. Â Â The Director is Joe Johnston, who doesn't have much to be proud of attached to his credits...that is unless you actually liked Jurassic Park III or Hildalgo. Â But he was a rush job on this project getting signed as a replacement director only weeks before shooting began. Â Keeping that in mind, he did a pretty good job. Â The movie looked great; I just wish he was paying attention to the acting and script just as much as the visuals. Â Benicio Del Toro stars in this as the Lawrence Talbot character who turns into the titular character later. Â This was a passion project for him. Â He was the Producer as well and fought for years to get this movie made. Â Quite ironic considering he's the key reason to its sinking. Â Del Toro is a good, Oscar-winning actor, but he looks like he filmed this movie while under heavy sedation. Â He lacks every bit of the performance that Lon Chaney Jr. gave the wolfman in the original film. Â And his drowsy, lazy performance must have rubbed off on the cast which includes the usually impressive Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Sunshine Cleaning) and Hugo Weaving (V for Vendetta, The Matrix). Â The whole cast sucks! Â It's like Del Toro was so exhausted from trying to get the movie made that he didn't have the energy to film the movie and that made everyone else think it was okay to also take naps after "Action!" was called. Â The one good thing about The Wolfman is seeing real-deal monster make-up again. Â After the horribly pitiful-looking werewolves in New Moon, this stands as a reminder of why werewolves are scary. Â Oscar-winning legend Rick Baker did the wolfman make-up on Del Toro and even though he did it before with An American Werewolf in London, he still managed to make it look different and new. Â Even though they utilized CG effects for some of the faster action sequences, much to my chagrin, it still sent a chill up my spine to see the wolfman prowling the woods in the fog looking for his next victim and then letting out the infamous howl at the full moon after the kill. Â Oh and speaking of "kill," this movie is rated "R" for a reason. Â The violence in this is fun but very, very graphic...leave the kids at home. Â Plus, it actually has some great scares in it too, so even if there weren't disemboweling and decapitations it would be too intense for them. Â But if you're looking for a good scare that's filled with perfect mythology, quality performances and chilling ambiance that has inspired generations of filmmakers and storytellers, rent the original 1941 The Wolfman and watch it at night during a full moon.
The Wolfman (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C-
Hey, remember when vampires used to be scary? Â Remember that? Â They weren't always brooding teenagers who were in love that barely resemble what legend and literature tells us what a vampire is. Â They used to drink blood, have fangs, kill humans and be freaking scary, damnit!! Â It's good to know that the writing/directing team of The Spierig Brothers remember that and try to bring us back to the gory gusto that used to rule the vampire landscape. Â The bloodsuckers in Daybreakers are elegant, sophisticated and sexy...for the most part. Â That is until their blood supply runs out and then they turn into the snarling, ghastly beasts we vampire lovers have been missing. Â The movie takes place in 2019, after a virus has turned almost everyone into vampires who are now farming the remaining humans for blood. Â Ethan Hawke is the doctor working on getting vamps off blood and Willem DeFoe is a human resistance leader. Â Seems odd that two gifted actors, that I've had the pleasure of seeing perform quite challenging roles in the past, would agree to do such a wacky, futuristic horror movie. Â However, if I were to have read the script for this movie, I would've been excited to take part in it too. Â On paper, I'll bet this movie was brimming with originality, scares and action. Â Sadly for everyone who took part in this movie who thought that, only half of it came across on the screen. Â The originality seemed somewhat borrowed, the scares were effective but brief and the action was non-existent. Â But that's not to say that I wasn't entertained by this wayward horror. Â I've always been a sucker (no pun intended) for vampire movies, that is until they were turned into lovers and not biters; so, I feel like I'm willing to sit through anything that's about them to give it a chance. Â I was invested in the story from start to finish and was only mildly bored at times. Â I was let down at the lack of true horror splatter that I was expecting until the ending turned into a full out, blood-soaked orgy of violence, which teetered on parody at the directors' choices. Â But overall, there was just something missing from this movie. Â It seemed like an incomplete script. Â I wouldn't be surprised at all to find out that there's another half hour of footage that landed on the cutting room floor instead of the final print. Â Daybreakers was only about 100 minutes long, so half of that missing footage wouldn't have hurt and might have made this attempt at horror and action a little closer to the Bull's Eye than it was.
Daybreakers Â (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
The marketing campaign behind this movie was genius. Â It wasn't as smart as the viral "true" story that was launched months beforehand for "The Blair Witch Project" but this was all about word-of-mouth. Â They released this only in big college towns first hoping to get word on the Internet to spread like wildfire. Â Then once interest was peaked they would only release it in your city if you went online and demanded it. Â Luckily Sacramento was one of those cities and we got it...at one theater...that only had one showing...at midnight! Â Smart! Â The plot is simple: a couple buys a camera in hopes to capture some ghostly goings-on that the girlfriend has been claiming. Â To know anymore about this story might water it down. Â The cast consists of the couple, who are newcomers named Michah Sloat and Katie Featherston. Â There's a physic and a best friend that appear in the movie twice but only briefly. Â Even though the movie is a first-person shot of a handheld camera, it won't make you motion sick like "Cloverfield" and "Quarantine" did for some. Â It's important to note that this entire movie was made for only $11,000! Â You heard me right! Â That's so impressive since and a bigger budget would've only made the movie worse. Â The director, another newcomer Oren Peli, basically sets up a house (the entire movie takes place in one house) full of cheap parlor tricks to scare us and his actors. Â There are many times during the movie where the unafraid and manly Michah yells out "Shhhhh" to his girlfriend while they're frightened. Â He's not really yelling that at her, he's yelling that at the audience. Â Some of the more terrifying things that happen are so slight and subtle that you'll miss them because you're still screaming from what just happened. Â But don't think this is your typical scary movie. Â This movie gives a new definition to "creepy." Â It never once frightens you into jumping because that's too easy to do. Â "Paranormal Activity" is just a collection of scenes filled with tension-mounting sounds and sights that make the goosebumps appear and you have to look away because you've been creeped out too much! Â My only complaint with it is that when the final 5 over-boiled minutes of the film happen, the climax is absolutely terrifying, more could've been done with it. Â That being said I amÂ writing this review at 2:30 AM. Â We got back from the movie and I was too scared to go to bed. Â Be warned that what the movie "Psycho" did for taking showers, "Paranormal Activity" has done to simply falling asleep in a bed! Â The feeling of being trapped in this house with this couple is conveyed perfectly. Â When either of the other two cast members appear you feel perfectly safe but when they leave you feel like they abandon you and are responsible for the frights to continue! Â Every time night falls and the couple attempts to go to sleep, the audience (totally sold out show) groaned with fear of what they knew was coming and when it does, even being surrounded by 600 people in a big-ass theater wasn't enough to make us all feel like we were alone in that room with them.
Paranormal Activity (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A
From the very first opening scene of this movie you know right away that it's gonna be complete trash. Â It's the typical Hollywood college party that shows beautiful people swilling copious amounts of alcohol while getting naked and having sex all over the extremely large mansion that is decorated with millions of dollars of finely crafted furniture and expensive fixtures. Â That's one thing about cinema that I've never understood and never enjoyed - the bloated, false caricature of what "college parties" are like. Â However, the good news is that after that, the movie is shockingly not bad. Â It's a classic horror mystery that is so much fun to watch. Â It's one of the sub-genres of horror that I really enjoy. Â It's the gore and fun of a slasher movie mixed with the whodunit story of a murder mystery. Â Unfortunately the best movie to ever pull this off was the Wes Craven masterpiece "Scream." Â The whole time I was watching this I was thinking that it was done better when "Scream" did it. Â See, even though the movie isn't bad it's really predictable and very formulaic. Â But as I noticed at the reaction of my fiancee, it still does the trick with the building tension till the inevitable scare. Â But the script is pretty much awful. Â You can tell it was written by two men and directed by another. Â It has no insight at all as to how girls interact or talk to each other. Â The characters are drawn as stereotypically as you can and as far as a thrilling climax, clever killer reveal or even major loose ends to be tied up by the end...you won't find that here. Â The acting is far from varsity level butÂ considering it stars a bunch of new actresses, such as Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis (and yes Audrina from "The Hills" for a whole 5 minutes), I wasn't expecting Oscar performances. Â (Especially from you Rumer. Â You're not hot enough or good enough to be in movies so that must mean Mommy (Demi Moore) and Daddy (Bruce Willis) helped you out there...sorry she annoys me.) But if you plan on plopping down $10 in hopes you see some blood, boobs and booze, you won't be disappointed. Â You'll jump, laugh and scream but still leave the movie theater not remembering one thing about the movie you just saw.
Sorority Row (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C+
If there is one consistent problem with a Rob Zombie movie (and there always is) it's that he makes movies for a very small and very specific type of audience. Â If you're not in that group than you shouldn't even waste your time because you're not only gonna hate the movie but you'll be so revolted by it that you'll want to leave. Â Luckily for him, I fall into that small group. Â When his first movie "House of a 1,000 Corpses" came out, I thought it was funny, disturbing, and a fresh take on the grindhouse films of the '70s. Â Although it went in a completely separate direction, the sequel "The Devil's Rejects" was possibly even better. Â After that, came the original remake of "Halloween." Â Zombie wanted to tell HIS version of the classic John Carpenter horror. Â I thought he did a good job with it. Â He gave depth to the Michael Myers character by adding a 45-minute-long backstory as to why is the psychotic killer that he is and in-turn gave him a soul. Â But the problem was that it was a success. Â The movie made over a hundred million when it was all said and done and pressure was put on Zombie by the studio to make a sequel. Â Rob Zombie movies are not made to be mainstream or box office success. Â I'm not saying this out of an elitist want to keep him indie. Â I'm saying this because "Halloween 2" was made to be mainstream and it simply did not work. Â It turned into exactly what is wrong with the horror genre today, whereas the entire movie is made up of the same scene done over and over again with no story ever developing. Â I'm glad that he got the cast to return which includes the always impressive Malcom McDowell and Scout Taylor-Compton, but it wasn't enough. Â (It wasn't enough for me to have Danielle Harris return since I've had a huge crush on her since I saw her in "The Last Boy Scout" when I was 13.) Â Zombie is getting much more confident as a director. Â He uses color and lighting in ways that most directors would consider to be too ridiculous or theatric. Â But that's becoming one of his staples. Â He also used soundtrack in this film in quite innovative ways. Â I'm not talking about the music though; I'm talking about the FX. Â Besides the torturous sounds of knives sawing through muscle and bone and stabbing through limbs, he has sounds that make no sense in the scene playing so prominently that it's almost distracting. Â One suspenseful scene in particular has no sound at all except for a record skipping...awesome! Â But again, it's not enough. Â The script is awful, the story was non-existent and the pacing of the movie was just confusing. Â I await Zombie's next movie in hopes that it's another box office failure, which might make it a success to me.
Halloween 2 (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D+
Drag Me to Hell (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A-
The trailer for this movie proudly announced "Sam Raimi's triumphant return to Horror" and boy they couldn't be more right.Â Director Sam Raimi, who you probably know from the Spiderman movies, is a cult hero of mine and many other fans of film because of some of his earliest movies which are The Evil Dead triology.Â These movies are a mix of slapstick comedy, gross out effects and scary, scary stories and images.Â "Drag Me to Hell" is not only following in that same line, but has kicked it up a notch.Â When I saw this, there were a bunch of idiot teenagers sitting in the back of the theater talking loudly and screaming at the screen.Â My girlfriend, Stacy, was getting more and more annoyed, but I told her that if you're going to see any movie with a rowdy theater, Sam Raimi movies are the ones to see.Â You know, it's no easy task to not only make a movie that is hilarious and terrifying with equal parts yet still maintain a purely fun movie going experience.Â His use of color and sound amazes me in this film.Â 100% of the suspense is created purely by the sound effects and the amazing music score.Â The special effects are decent enough for what it was aiming for.Â I frankly would be a little bummed if the King of the B Movies suddenly got a $100 million budget dropped in his lap to make a horror film.Â There aren't any big names or even famous faces in this except for maybe Justin Long (who, at the very least, you'll recognize as the Mac guy.)Â But stealing the show is Alison Lohman, who I last saw in Tim Burton's "Big Fish."Â For being an adorable, angel-faced doe, she really holds her own as the star of this VERY physical role that's very much like the Bruce Campbell role in The Evil Dead films.Â Please don't see this film expecting the types of horror that we've only had to chew on for the past few years.Â This is a rare breed of horror that doesn't come along very often and when it does it's meant to be enjoyed for exactly the only reason it was made...to have fun.
Last House on the Left (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
Prior to seeing this movie, I saw the reviews of some other critics. Â Wow, did they hate it! Â The #1 reason for most of their hate was the fact that it was "unflinching" or "savage" or "disgustingly brutal." Â Does it make me a horrible person when I say that it wasn't savage or brutal enough for me? Â I wouldn't call myself a fan of the original 1972 movie, but I do like it and think it's a good example of horror. Â The original, although it was extremely low budget, was ten times worse! Â The slug line on the poster was "To avoid fainting, keep telling yourself that it's only a movie." Â Don't worry, you're in no danger of fainting with this version. Â Yes, there is a terrible rape scene. Â Yes, there is heaps of violence. Â But it's almost like the watered-down version of what the story was. Â In the original there wasÂ disemboweling, carving of names into the skin and even the biting off of male genitals. Â All of that was taken out of this newer,Â sleeker, and more expensive version. So again, does it make me sick to be disappointed that they took that out? Â This remake was even Produced by the original writer and director, Wes Craven. Â You'd think he'd veto some of the changes. Â He also oversaw the remake of another old movie of his "The Hills Have Eyes." Â That was a huge improvement over the original and it made me excited for this. Â I was sadly letdown. Â But that's not to say that there weren't some improvements. Â For one, the acting is much better in this than it was in 1972. Â The casting of Monica Potter (Saw, Patch Adams) and Tony Goldwin (Ghost, voice of Tarzan) was great. Â I thought they did a great job of making you feel their hurt and pain when finding out what happened to their daughter. Â The director is a guy named Dennis Iliadis, and to my knowledge he hasn't done much of anything else before. Â Not bad for a first attempt, but that might have been the problem. Â You give the reigns of a movie like this to a fledgling director and you're gonna get exactly what it was; high on production value but low on intensity.
Friday the 13th (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: F
I like horror movies! I truly do! Â Not only am I fan of horror movies, but I'm even a fan of re-making horror movies. Â I think that the classic horrors can always use a touch-up and a sprucing in the story department. Â However, the re-make of "Friday the 13th" was simply a reminder of why this franchise was always my least favorite. Â Jason, in comparison with the other big ones (ie: Leatherface, Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers) always seemed so stilted in his folklore. Â I never even really understood it. Â Is he alive, dead, a demon...what? Â And considering that they marketed this as a re-make, they didn't do anything to help explain that. Â In fact it's not much of a re-make at all. Â If anything it just felt like another terrible sequel; almost like one last attempt to kick-start a dead franchise. Â But in the movie's defense, that's all any of these re-makes are. Â "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Halloween" were all trying to squeeze more cash from them, but they all brought something new to the table. Â "Friday the 13th" not only doesn't bring anything new, they don't even bring anything old. Â Sure there's still the violence, sex andÂ startles, but it's executed in such a piss-poor manner that it screams "zero effort." Â It's like they knew this was gonna make them some money, so all they did was hire gorgeous (subpar) actors, whip up a mindless script and then throw lots of money at it to see if it works. Â Well, it didn't. Â It didn't scare. Â It didn't make me laugh. Â It didn't make me jump. Â The only thing it did was make me wish that the forthcoming re-makes of "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Hellraiser" and "Last House on the Left" don't follow suit.