Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries (2012), directed by Bradley Parker

I’m sorry everyone, this will be short, but time is a wastin’ and I want to get one last Horror Pledge review in on this, the last day of October.

I seemed to be the only person in the world who thought this looked like a good movie. I was wrong.

A group of tourists heads on an “extreme adventures” tour into Chernobyl, the site of the infamous reactor meltdown back in the 1980s.

They see an entire city deserted and look around this place frozen in time after it was deserted. Aside from getting rushed by an enormous bear, it all goes well.

That is until the van won’t start and someone or something kills one of them. And so on and so forth.

Chernobyl Diaries has an interesting concept but it’s executed in such a mundane, boring way that it falls completely flat. It’s a standard one person getting messed up after the other plot, all culminating in a final showdown where we finally get to see the “other.”

Followed by a shocking “twist” ending, of course.

I think the main problem was in the setup. It’s all kind of rushed and undeveloped and I really couldn’t have cared less about the characters involved. The Aussie and his girlfriend are thrown in at the last moment with absolutely no development. It’s all pretty standard.

Oh, and why not end the film with the Supergrass song from the beginning? That would have been great, instead of the standard Xtreme horror metal music.

Okay, I promised short, so there you go. It’s not a very good movie and a disappointing end to horror pledge. I think I’ll watch Halloween tonight to make up for it.

So thank you to all those who followed the pledge, I had a blast doing it, I hope somebody read some of them. I discovered two gems to add to my list of horror favourites (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Dead & Buried) and got to check a great many more of my “to see” list.

Now I’m going to go watch Friday Night Lights so I can believe in something again.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Chernobyl Diaries is available on home video.

Dead & Buried

Dead & Buried (1981), directed by Gary Sherman

This surprised me, but out of all the films I have watched for Horror Pledge 2012 this is potentially my favourite so far, or at least tied with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

It surprised me because I had never heard of it before reading about it on some list of the best horror movies, or overlooked horror movies, or something. Also I was surprised because it has a really crap cover that makes it look like some horror-themed 1980s David Bowie video.

Turns out though it’s a well-crafted, atmospheric horror film that manages to find a great balance of shocking gore and storytelling. It’s really quite discomforting, but it’s also a pleasure to watch.

You know right away things are going to get weird. A guy is taking some photographs on a beach and it just couldn’t be more pleasant. Before you know it, a pretty lady shows up and he starts taking pictures of her and everything is soft-lit and lovely, like some wistful Truffaut film, except you know the movie’s called Dead & Buried so this probably isn’t going to end well.

Before long she’s topless and now you KNOW things are too good to be true for this guy. And they are. Next thing is he’s having his head lit on fire by the entire township of wherever he’s picked the wrong place to take a few nice nature snaps. Cue credits.

Things only get worse from there as the town sheriff tries to solve a string of murders. And it’s hard because some of these dead people keep showing up, like working at the gas station and stuff. That has to complicate things. Then again, maybe he could just ask them who killed them.

Dead & Buried looks and feels like a good old-fashioned horror film with a touch of class to it. I half-expected Orson Welles to show up. But then it has these moments of intense slasher-type violence that are all the more shocking because of the set-up. You think you’re being set up for a Diabolique-type scare (which, don’t get me wrong, is a good one) and they go all Friday the 13th on you.

There is one apparently famous shot of nurse-inflicted nastiness (I won’t spoil it) and it’s a great moment, because damn does it ever come out of nowhere. I really liked how the movie doesn’t build up to its most shocking moments, you don’t see them coming. And then, bam, needle in the eye (okay, I spoiled it).

I read that when the movie came out half the people didn’t like that it was so “plot-heavy,” while the other half didn’t appreciate the graphic violence in an otherwise atmosphere-heavy suspense movie.

Well, they were all wrong. It’s just that blend that ties the whole thing together. And really, are we that particular about how a horror film is supposed to be? It can only be one or the other, a slasher or a classy scare show? Come on. The very strength of Dead & Buried is that it goes for something else, something different. And it does so with a great degree of skill and talent.

If there’s a “hidden gem” in my Horror Pledge, it’s this one. Even the clerk at Pic-A-Flic commented that he’d never heard of it before and that it looked weird. High praise. I felt “cool.” So if you want to be “cool” too, watch it and throw the title around when you’re hanging out at a film nerd cocktail party and someone starts talking about horror.

And if that situation actually ever exists, maybe invite me?

Dead & Buried is available from “cool” video stores everywhere.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), directed by Tobe Hooper

Well devoted followers (or myself, as the case may be), we’ve arrived. When I set out on this Horror Pledge 2012, and really, every time I load up a horror DVD or sit down at the theatre, I set out to test my limits.

I like to be entertained, sure, but part of me also wants the horror movie that is going to take things to a new level and push what I can tolerate.

And I don’t mean that in a torture-porn kind of way. No, I can’t tolerate movies like Saw, and that’s OK by me. I don’t want to tolerate them. They leave me feeling sick and that’s about it.

When I say I want a film that pushes my limits, I mean a film that can surprise me, horrify me, make me extremely uncomfortable, but all the while making it so that I can’t look away. It has to be an actually good movie, one that sucks me in and spits me out wide-eyed and freaked.

Well, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 has to be one of the most unrelentingly discomforting movies I have ever seen. And I mean that in a good way.

The film is a direct sequel to the 1974 slasher classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is one of the all time great horror movies. It’s ultra low budget, bizarre, unnerving, brutal and brilliant.

Twelve years later the director of the original released this sequel, which, in the spirit of the 1980s, is like the original on coke. It flopped on release, nobody seemed to like it, Ebert hated it (of course) and it still seems to be a forgotten gem in the world of horror.

But people, give this one a chance because it is Messed. Up. Again, in a good way.

Dennis Hopper plays Lefty, a Texas lawman on the hunt for those responsible for the death of his brother’s kids in the original film. Caroline Williams plays Stretch, a radio host who gets a call from a couple of hooligans who manage to get themselves chain-sawed and car wrecked while still on the line.

Lefty convinces Stretch to play the call on the air to lure the killers in. They arrive. And it goes down.

This is a hell bent for leather, off-the-wall insane movie. It’s unrelenting in its carnage and energy. It’s far more gorier than the first, but still the most disturbing thing about the movie is the whole atmosphere it creates through bizarre characters, elaborate set pieces and a pace that never gives you a chance to breathe.

It also has this really off-putting humour to the whole affair that only adds to the movie’s general bizarreness. The first film took itself pretty seriously, but this one really cashes into how strange this cannibalistic Sawyer family is and presents them in a much more animated light. They all mutter and jump around hooting and hollering. Each is totally whacked in their own unique way and together they are about the strangest semblance of characters I have ever witnessed.

Even Leatherface is a totally different character in this film. The new remakes (I assume, I haven’t seen them) set up Leatherface as the typical unrelenting kill machine we’re used to seeing in these movies. In the original he was that, but also somewhat of a lackey for the controlling family.

In this one he’s a whole lot more: creepy, sexual, slightly sympathetic and hilarious. He falls for Stretch in an incredibly creepy scene where he puts his saw in between her legs. He then tries to hide her from his family and dresses her up in a skinned human face and dances with her. He gets all sheepish when Drayton finds out and starts ridiculing Leatherface for wanting a woman.

It’s extremely unnerving to watch but has these little comedic touches that only add to the discomfort.

My favourite is Leatherface’s little hip wiggle, chainsaw in the air move he does before an attack.

That’s just one of many notable parts. There’s Chop-Top scratching at his metal skull plate with a hot coat hanger. There’s Lefty buying chainsaws to fight the family and testing one out on a log while the clerk laughs manically. There’s L.G. stumbling around after being partially skinned. And his great last words.

And then end shot is a beaut. Just insane.

If this all sounds disturbing, it’s because it is. But it’s also funny. And disgusting. And just plain strange. And great.

It’s hard for me to explain why I think this is such a good movie and unless you are of pretty much the exact same temperament when it comes to these things, you’ll probably disagree. It’s really like nothing else I’ve ever seen and it certainly wouldn’t be made today. When it ended I was wide-eyed, weirded out and muttering “What the f- ?” It was perfect.

It got me to that place I like horror to take me once in a while, where I feel like I have just witnessed something awful, but I’m glad I did, because as strange and horrific as it is, I can respect it. This is a well made movie that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. And it’s a great sequel because it doesn’t merely strive to recreate the original. It goes for something significantly different and hits the bullseye.

Highly recommended and easily my favourite watch of Horror Pledge so far.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is available on home video.

Friday the 13th Part 3

Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982), directed by Steve Miner

The Friday the 13th movies are the purest of the slasher movies in many ways, and probably, along with Halloween, the most influential.

I’m a big fan of the first two, thought they were great films. Part 1 is legitimately compelling, if low budget and schlocky, and has that fantastic closing shot, which scared the pants off me the first time I saw it. Part 2 is a pure slasher movie, a little more playful than the first, but both tense and fun.

I had never actually watched the Friday the 13th films until last year. Having only been aware of the myths and cliches surrounding the series I loved a couple of facts that I would never have guessed. (SPOILERS) I thought it was amazing that Jason isn’t the killer in the first film, and that he doesn’t don his trademark hockey mask until this third installment.

I’m impressed by that, that the legend of these films is so large it has kind of taken over, so someone who has never seen the first film really has no idea what it’s all about. It made it all the more thrilling to watch the first two, in that they’re not a collection of cliches, but actually inventive and original films that created the cliches in the first place.

Or they’re utter, disgusting garbage if you’re Roger Ebert. I love the man, but he is not a fan. Which is fine, I get it.

By the time Part 3 roles around we are wading in fairly deep into cliche and self-reference territory. The first two Friday films take themselves seriously, even if they are kind of funny and fun. I like that.

For Part 3 though the filmmakers are starting to realize the camp potential and are less concerned with actually scaring people or making an atmospheric movie then they are with making college audiences laugh and cheer over “good kills.” Hence the cheesy biker gang dudes, the lack of any real characters or plot and the whole 3D thing.

I don’t know if this movie is a lot of fun in 3D, but when it’s not in 3D it has all these really annoying shots that were put in for the 3D version that just look terrible and slow the whole thing down on your TV. You know the ones, a yo-yo coming straight at the screen, the end of a pitchfork coming at you, that sort of stuff. Again, all great gags I’m sure in 3D, but they looking horrendously out of place otherwise.

Honestly I didn’t enjoy Part 3 nearly as much as the first two. I’m not the type of slasher film fan that only needs “good kills” to enjoy myself. Films like that (notably the Friday the 13th remake) do little for me. This is a grey area because I do like the playfulness of a slasher, but I only enjoy it if it’s taken seriously, as if that makes any sense. A film that is purely boobs and kills is not overly entertaining to me, or at least leaves no lasting impression. Slasher purist would probably balk at that.

Part 3 has no boobs, but it has a lot of kills, combined with very little story and a cheesy self-aware attitude that I don’t think works very well. Based upon what I know I can only assume they get worse from here on, but Part 3 is the first one that I’ve seen where it isn’t making the cliche, it is the cliche. And a pretty dull one at that.

So I actually agree with Ebert to an extent. But I don’t think slasher films have to be garbage. I do enjoy a violent, mayhem filled slasher if it’s atmospheric and actually tries to scare, shock or in some other way involve me, not just show me a series of progressively violent kills. Take High Tension. Or Halloween. Or even the first two Friday the 13th movies.

This, however, is too silly and underdeveloped for my taste.

Friday the 13th Part 3 is available on home video.

Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012), directed Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Well, here we are. Paranormal Activity 4. I doubt it’s the last we’ll be seeing of this series too, seeing as they can be made for the same price as a 1989 Honda Accord and gross over $30 million opening weekend.

You know, as a fan of these series up until PA 3, I still held out hope for PA 4. Most people (well, critics) seem to have given up on them. I don’t blame them, really. I get it. They are getting tedious.

That being said PA 4 is far better than PA 3 but still not that good. You know what I’m saying? We’re back in present day, so that works better given the immediacy of these movies. There’s some neat gimmicks, such as the Kinect dots. There are some genuinely chilling moments.

But it still has a been there, done that feel and offers no substantial breakthroughs, either in gimmick or story.

Okay, so here’s my problem as the series goes on: the filmmakers try to infuse the usual “bump in the night” routine with some much-needed mythology, but never take the time to try and have any of it make any sense.

This is lazy filmmaking at its worst. When Paranormal Activity came out its strength was its gimmick: the whole found-footage thing. It was a great horror film, even if for only the first time you saw it (which is true for many horror films). In the second one, for me at least, the gimmick still worked and there were some tweaks to it and the story worked. It might be my favourite of the series.

Then part three was terrible (see my review for reasons) and now the fourth one, although much better than the third, is still relying on the gimmick for everything. And if I’m tired of the gimmick, who the heck isn’t?

My point is, is that this far into a franchise you need to start to develop the story and mythology more. I’ve now seen four of these things and I still have no idea what these movies are about.

There’s a demon (?) named “Toby” who likes to possess young children and is summoned with the circle in triangle symbol thing. But he also possesses Katie, I guess. And can also wreck havoc as a paranormal entity. And he was summoned by some witches, or something? And is trying to get to Hunter? Even though he already had Hunter? But that was Robbie?

See what I mean? The filmmakers throw in a couple of plot tidbits and then don’t bother to explain anything, or even modestly develop any sort of backstory, and then just get back to the shaky cameras and things falling from the ceiling.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some scary bits. I liked how it incorporated new technology, like Skype-ish video calls, into the found footage thing (even though, who keeps their laptop open all the time?). The young woman in the movie was excellent. There was certainly some creepy kid stuff that got under your skin. The ending is shocking, I guess.

But even then, with the ending, the only thing scary about it is it’s shocking and weird. It’s never explained. At all.

And it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares. I can’t find any fan pages and only a few reviewers trying to decipher the bits and pieces of mythology for the series, something easily found for other franchises. Because really, who cares? The filmmakers obviously don’t, otherwise they would put a little more effort into it. They love to just drop a few new twists right at the end, before cutting to credits and enticing us to go see the next one to maybe understand what’s going on (as unlikely as that is).

The filmmakers say they have a plan worked out and all will be explained but that sounds a bit too Lost-ish for my taste and I’m worried about how long they are going to take getting there. PA 4 is doing worse at the box office than PA 3 did, but it will still make buckets of money for Paramount and I’m sure they are more than happy to keep cranking them out. PA 5 is set for release next October, apparently.

And I’ll go see it. Because I’m committed to this franchise. Because as much as I know I’m being taken for a ride to get my hard-earned dollars, I’m still going to shell out and hope that something is explained. I know I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll be there. Maybe I’ll get a few scares out of it. Some tense, sweaty moments. Maybe I won’t.

But I’ll be there. I understand if you won’t be.

Paranormal Activity 4 is in theatres now.

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Well with Paranormal Activity 4 opening today and my Horror Pledge continuing, I figured it was about time I caught up and watched the third installment of (some will find this horrific enough) the most popular modern horror franchise. This one, part 3, made over $100 million in the States alone. Now, that’s not enormous but considering it cost about $5 million to make and that Cabin in the Woods made about $65 million worldwide, that’s saying something.

I’m a Paranormal Activity defender. For one thing, I like found footage films when they’re done right. And the first two Paranormal Activity films were done right. I saw the first in theatres and it scared the bejesus out of me. I loved it. I went with a girlfriend (she probably doesn’t read this, so it’s OK. If she does it’s a nice story anyway) who claimed not to be scared and then months later still wouldn’t be able to sleep if I mentioned it.

I watched the second one alone in my house and it’s probably one of the few times since I was a kid that I actually went and made sure the door was locked after it ended. It unnerved me. I loved it. In fact, I think part 2 might actually be the better movie of the series.

That being said, I can’t defend part 3. For as good as the first two in the series are great, the third one is horrendously bad.

It’s hard to pin down what it is that makes this one so poor compared to the others. Maybe it’s just me catching up with the rest of the thinking world in getting tired of the gimmick. Because despite how much I liked the first two, this one really felt old and tired. People in beds. Strange noises. Slowly escalating weirdness. A spooky kitchen mess making. Etc. Etc.

That’s exactly the formula of the first two, but somehow it worked for those. In this one it is tedious and dull. Part of it is certainly just that the freshness of the gimmick is running out. We’ve seen this all before now. When the first film came out, we hadn’t, and it was scary as hell. Now we know what to expect and watching the film go through the motions is frankly painful.

It’s not without a couple of gasp moments but it takes so long in getting to them that by the time they come around you’ve really stopped caring. And the film’s ridiculous attempt to throw in an explanation for the haunting is laughable and misguided. The filmmakers devote all of 30 seconds to it, pretty much just an offhand comment, and figure that will do for plot. It has something to do with witches, I think.

I think part of the problem is having it set in the past too. If nothing else the PA series relies on being immediate. It’s all about that moment that you’re watching, and because of the technological component (ie. the cameras) it also relies on feeling up to date and current; in the now. By setting in the past and using old technology, that puts up a divide between the audience and the movie that significantly reduces the impact.

I had heard that part 3 was terrible. I had hoped that my blissful ignorance of whatever everyone else hates about the series would continue, but alas I fear I have caught up. Paranormal Activity needs to come up with something new, or just quit, before it becomes one of those horror series with endless sequels that no one cares about.

Somehow, part 4 will make a tonne of money this weekend. Some if it will be mine. But my anticipation is low.

Paranormal Activity 3 is available on home video.

The Prowler

The Prowler (1981), directed by Joseph Zito

The Prowler has some rep in some circles for being a slasher classic. It’s from that late ’70s, early ’80s period of classic slasher films, so I figured it had to be worth watching.

Well, it is worth watching but it would be a stretch to associate the word “classic” with it.

The movie is about a soldier who gets dumped by his sweetheart via letter while he is overseas during the Second World War. War ends, he comes home, there’s a graduation dance and he kills the woman and her new beau with a pitchfork.

Over 30 years later the kids of the town are hosting the first graduation dance since that fateful night. It’s looking to be a hell of a good night, what with ’80s hair, drinking and promised promiscuity, but someone else is getting ready for a big night too. Only he’s wearing army boats and bringing a bayonet and sawed off shotgun as his date.

I have to say, The Prowler is pretty weak, all told. It’s a bad sign when the actual filmmakers never got too far beyond what I thought looked cool about the movie, namely a killer in a Second World War getup. Like me, they seemed to have thought “That will be creepy!” and then ran out of creative juices.

Because the plot makes no real sense. Sure, the guy comes back and kills the girl that sent him a “Dear John” letter while he was overseas. I get that. But I seemed to have missed the plot point the DVD box explains, that the dance held in present day in the movie was the first since the one with murder 35 years early. So I couldn’t understand why this killer arbitrarily came back on this particular year.

Who the killer is is incredibly obvious (even for me, and I never figure these things out, typically because I don’t want to) and his motives for the slayings are never explored. I don’t need a deep psychological profile of the man, but he could have yelled out “They’ll break your hearts!” or “Long live the new flesh!” or something, anything, as they dragged him away. I wanted to know why he did it. Instead you just find out who it was and that’s meant to be enough.

It also makes very little logistical sense, as this killer manages to be in all places at all times. And what happened to Major Chatham? Was he in on the deal? Why did he grab that girl’s hand? Also, what happened to the two in the basement? I guess that was just a red herring. And why does the thing that happens at the end happen? Is he a zombie? That made no sense.

It’s not that I demand a particularly high quality from my 1980s slasher movies, but some sort of semblance of sense and thought really helps tie everything together. This is one of those slasher films that relies purely on having “good kills.” And it does, if that’s your thing. They’re kind of tame by today’s standards, I guess, but there’s a knife through a head scene and a throat cut in a pool scene that are pretty gnarly. They creeped me out anyway.

The girl getting pitchforked in the shower is also uncomfortably creepy and violent, and I can’t say if I’ve ever seen a woman murdered in a slasher while she was naked. But I probably have. Anyway, leave your feminist hat at the door for this one. Or don’t see it all. Up to you.

Another thing that struck me is that this film ostensibly has the same plot as My Bloody Valentine, a Canadian slasher that came out the same year. Just switch the World War 2 dude for a miner, and bam, same film. Only My Bloody Valentine makes a heck of a lot more sense and, despite being of a notably low quality, is still much better than The Prowler. I just wonder how they managed to end up so similar…

Anyway, I love watching these types of slasher movies even if they are terrible, so really, I have to recommend The Prowler because it is what it is and I still had some fun watching it. Maybe that makes me sick, but I’m OK with that. I certainly won’t be watching it again anytime soon, and would recommend My Bloody Valentine or the first couple Friday the 13ths before this one, but if you’re into the genre I guess this is an essential.

Horror Pledge continues.

The Prowler is available on home video.

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead (1985), directed by George A. Romero

I hadn’t planned on watching this one for my Horror Pledge 2012, but they had it at the library and I realized I had never seen it, so went for it. I loved the first two, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, so it seemed only fitting to watch the final installment of Romero’s original Dead trilogy.

I’m a zombie movie fan, no question, but I have to say I don’t quite understand the cult surrounding the whole zombie culture thing. I’ve been on some online dating sites lately (research for an article, I swear. That’s totally not true.) and it’s amazing how many people write some variation of “thinking about the zombie apocalypse” as one of their interests or whatever.

It’s also amazing just how quickly that makes me want to go look at someone else’s profile (for research).

I mean, I totally get the appeal of the movies. Night of the Living Dead is a creepy, classic, low-budget indie scare flick. It and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) are two of the most important horror movies ever made, because they were made for pennies and totally changed the game.

I just have no interest in taking part in any zombie walks. I might watch one I guess. Not on a date though.

Anyway, not that I really have a point here, I just think it’s interesting and a little puzzling to have this huge culture come out of these films. There were other zombie movies before, and the concept goes back to Haitian legends or something, but the zombie as we know it, the slow walking, brain craving gore fest, came from Romero and these films.

This one is about a group of post-zombie apocalypse survivors barricaded in an underground military base, frantically trying to come up with a way to, at first, cure, and, later, to tame the hoards of zombies inhabiting the world. The small group left is half military, half scientists, and let me tell you, they are not getting along.

What’s interesting about Day of the Dead is that, kind of like The Walking Dead or even the original Dawn of the Dead, the focus is certainly not the zombies. They are just there, shuffling along, showing up occasionally to cause terror, while the real drama plays out between the humans. Romero’s strength in his early films was recognizing this and instead of making pure action or horror movies, his are filled with social commentary and human drama, making them exciting and interesting.

That’s not to say there isn’t any blood or gore. There’s lots. Zombies are one way to have your audience root for the killing of humans. Because they’re not humans. They’re zombies. It’s a bit of a cop out, but I enjoy it too, so there you go. Anyway, there is some horrific gore in this, including disembowelment and a head cut in half with a shovel.

But, you know, they’re just zombies so you can cheer and stuff and it’s OK.

The film also teaches you people in the military are homicidal jerks. I can’t really confirm whether that’s true or not, and surely a zombie apocalypse would be an added stress, but I can’t imagine these soldiers helping any little old ladies with their groceries, or saying “ma’am” or anything.

My final verdict is I enjoyed Day of the Dead, but not as much as the first two Romero zombie classics. It’s a worthy entry though, especially considering it was made nearly 20 years after the original Night of the Living Dead. I feel it works well with the others. He made three more after this one and I’ve only seen one of them, Survival of the Dead, which was terrible and far too jokey.

This one takes itself seriously, which makes it all the better, even though it has that cheesy, fun feeling to it that really makes the whole genre.

This will likely be the only zombie film I watch for this pledge, but I’m glad I did, because it’s such a staple of horror, and one perhaps a bit more popular than the more brutal offshoots of the umbrella genre. And this entry seems a bit more forgotten than the others. Change that and give it a rent. Or get it for free from your local library.

Day of the Dead is available on home video.


Sinister (2012), directed by Scott Derrickson

Well after the non-horror, horror-sounding Seven Psychopaths it was straight back on the spook train for a preview screening of Sinister, and I have to say, this was a warm return.

I love (good) slasher movies and other types of horror, but nothing gets under my skin like a good old fashioned story of the paranormal. This one worked. I’m man enough to admit that at points it scared the hell out of me.

Ellison (Ethan Hawke), a true crime novel writer, moves into a new house with his family to start working on his next book. He doesn’t tell his family this but the house they’re moving into is in fact the murder house. The family that lived there before them were hung from a tree in the backyard, except for one daughter who is still missing.

Anyway, they move in and Ellison finds a box of old reel-to-reel film and a projector in the attic. Curious by nature, he settles in for a movie night only to find that the reels hold footage of five murders, including the hanging. And the shadowy image of a mysterious figure…

There’s a lot about the film that I thought worked really well. I liked the gimmick of the reel-to-reel film and all the shots of Ellison setting up the projector and editing the film. It had a real textural quality to it that grounded the story and gave it substance. Also there’s nothing scarier than 1970s film stock. Seriously.

I’m also a sucker for all that bump in the night stuff. I know it’s overdone but it still gets to me. The sound of the projector firing up in the middle of the night all by itself is chilling. And Mr. Boogie is a haunting figure. I would have liked to know more about him, or see him in action, but his presence alone worked well enough.

I heard people complaining as they left the movie that it wasn’t scary. One incensed  woman even took the time to stop and complain to the college girls working the box office.

I had two thoughts on this. First of all, maybe I am abnormally susceptible to horror films and that’s what makes me like them so much. They actually work on me. I get scared. Obviously they work really well on a lot of other people too, who simply don’t like horror movies because they don’t like that sensation. I do. But then again I hate roller coasters, so we all have our things.

Secondly, if you don’t get scared, if you just think horror movies are dumb or whatever, why go see them? So you can prove how tough you are to the box office people on the way out? I mean, were we watching the same film? I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, and although it’s far from the best I’ve ever seen, Sinister is a good horror movie and genuinely scary. Get over your need to prove to yourself you’re better than this horror movie. Get into it. Have fun.

It’s such an interesting genre. There seems to be three types of people when it comes to horror: those who love them, those who can’t take them and those who watch them but think they’re dumb. I’m glad I’m in the first category, because the second is missing out and the third is too jaded for my tastes.

But maybe they like roller coasters. I don’t know.

I’ll agree that Sinister overstays its welcome somewhat, has some plot points that go nowhere or don’t work (what’s up with the animals?) and has a weak, abrupt ending that felt incredibly unsatisfying after a truly impressive buildup. I wanted Officer So and So to come back and for there to be some actual tension or struggle at the end, something to get into and let me route for the characters. Instead the ending just happens and that’s that.

But endings are the hardest part of a horror film and this isn’t the first great one to have been marred by a weak ending (I’m looking at you, The Strangers).

I felt right up until the end that this was the best horror film to come out so far this year. Considering the ending and thinking back a bit more I would say The Possession is better, but there are certainly scenes and elements of Sinister that I liked more than Possession. Possession is a better movie overall but Sinister had me more frightened. It’s more off-putting. Which I like.

If you like that too, check it out. And if you don’t like it leave the poor box office people alone. They don’t care.

Sinister opens in cinemas today.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010), directed by Troy Nixey

Confession time. I rented this movie when it first came out on DVD a year or so ago. But I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I don’t remember what was going on but I was feeling lousy or something and wasn’t in the mood for death, horror and scares. So I returned it unwatched.

Right now, dwelling in the basement of horror that I am, I hit the play button without pause (not the pause button without play…?).

It turns out that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark isn’t as intense as I thought it would be, but it’s certainly more original than I anticipated.

Aside from the first scene, that is. I’ve seen some pretty intense stuff over the last week as I’ve gone on this little jaunt into the dark corners of cinema, but nothing has made me squirm as much as the opener to this one. It’s kind of misplaced, because it’s easily the most horrific part of the movie and the rest of the film doesn’t have the same violent edge, but still, it’s one hell of an opener. Had me rubbing my teeth for the rest of the night.

The movie is about a couple moving into a new estate to fix it up and flip it. Alex (Guy Pearce) is divorced and his daughter moves in with him and his girlfriend Kim (Katie “No Cruise” Holmes). The daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison), isn’t thrilled with this arrangement. Anyway, a secret basement is discovered, an ash pit that someone has bolted up is unbolted and Sally starts hearing voices in the house. Things are getting weird.

I’m not going to be able to go on without spoilers, so if you’re like me and couldn’t bring yourself to watch this one the first time around, maybe stop reading. Or don’t, whatever.

The horrors in this movie are certainly original. I had no idea what to expect and when these little rat creatures turned up I was sort of confused. I thought it was a ghost story for some reason, but I should have figured that with Del Toro involved it would be something a little more weird.

It’s hard to have a movie with little creatures and not have it fall into a comedy. It makes no sense, because a pack of domestic house cats could probably kill you if they only knew how to organize (through a union, of course. Silly cats). But still, something big and strong and infallible is scary, a little rodent creature with a fur shoulder wrap is…not so much.

Which is why films like Gremlins and Critters are more comedy than horror. I have to say, I admire them going for it, but as soon as the little dudes came on the scene, there was no longer any chance this movie was going to scare me. Don’t get me wrong, it was still entertaining, I enjoyed watching it, seeing how it all unfolds, but it didn’t send any shivers up my spine.

For one thing, they never kill anyone on screen. People get dragged to their doom, but we never really see these creatures take someone out. So as far as I know all they’re capable of is stabbing some with scissors or poking them in the eye through a keyhole.

I think it would have gone a long way to see how vicious these things really are. Maybe the idea was to entice our imaginations into going for the worst but that approach left me still feeling like I could probably just drop-kick a bunch of them and problem solved.

I enjoyed Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark as an entertaining, exciting movie. But aside from one disturbing scene, I don’t think it’s great horror. Still, it has a nice atmosphere, a great credits sequence, points for originality and some talented storytelling. And lots and lots of rat dudes.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is available on home video.