Movie Review: IT (2017)

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itWarner Bros.
2017
R

“This isn’t real enough for you, Billy? I’m not real enough for you? It was real enough for Georgie.”

Seven young outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their worst nightmare–an ancient, shape-shifting evil that emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on the town’s children. Banding together over the course of one horrifying summer the friends must overcome their own personal fears to battle the murderous, bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise.

I’ve been sitting here now, for quite a bit of time, trying to figure out how I’m going to lead off this particular review of the new big-screen adaptation of one of Stephen Kings more notorious novels in his repertoire, It. There were several ways I could have approached this, really: talk a bit about the book; talk about the first adaptation, the TV miniseries from 1990; a bit from both columns maybe. But, the biggest thing that hit me the prior night, after watching the 2017 movie, was that the new It was released 27 years after the TV miniseries. I see what you did there, movie. Was that deliberate or mere coincidence? Probably coincidence. Unless it was deliberate. It’s enough to make me paranoid. Well, more so.

Anyway, at this point I should make the obligatory mention of me being a long-time fan of Stephen King, having read the book It in the late 1980s at the age of 15, and watching the original broadcasts of the TV miniseries adaptation and then renting the VHS releases more than once back in the day. And while I loved the miniseries adaptation (the first part was better than the second part, but that seems to be a universally held opinion on the whole), it still seemed to lack a certain bite that would have really made it a scary tour de force. I realize that there were limitations due to being shown on network television back in the very early 1990s, but still. Getting a proper big-screen movie adaptation was something that was announced every other year or so since the mid-1990s, but took quite a while to actually find ground and get made. Long enough for me to take a “I’ll believe it when I’m sitting in a theater and seeing it” kind of stance with any news report of one.

And now, here we are, with what is reportedly the first chapter in a two-part big screen adaptation of It. I saw it. I believed it. And, wow, let me tell you, the wait was definitely worth it.

There’s a couple of things I need to point out here before I forget: First, best use of an Anthrax song in a movie, ever. The other movie that I know of that utilizes Anthrax was Last Action Hero. At least, they had an Anthrax song on their soundtrack. I haven’t seen that movie yet, so I can’t verify if it’s in the movie itself. But, yeah, It cranks out “Antisocial” at a key point in the movie. Metal horns up. And on a side note, one of the antagonists wears metal shirts. Awesome. The other point I wanted to make, most importantly, is that, if you have an aversion to clowns–even if they just make you the least bit uncomfortable–this It is definitely not for you. Trust me on this one. Because the Pennywise here makes Tim Curry’s Pennywise from the miniseries look like he was a member of Clowns For Jesus.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. With something like this, it could have been very easy to skip past a lot of the source material and just focus on “there’s a creepy clown, BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!” kind of narrative. This movie wisely takes the time to build up the main characters, to give them depth and make you care about them. The fear and terror here doesn’t stem from some supernatural harlequin; the actual terror is from each of the character’s real life, what they most fear. The clown–or, more to the point, the entity behind the clown itself, more on that in a bit–just happens to amplify those fears to get to them. But, what makes it so effective is that you’re given time to get to know everyone in the Loser’s Club, to care about their situations and home lives. Heck, even the main antagonist, one Henry Bowers, is given a scene that makes you sympathetic for how he came to become such a monster. Very good job picking out the right child actors to carry the story.

Now, a bit about Pennywise. For me, clowns are no problem. I have no fear of them. They don’t even make me uncomfortable…unless they invade my personal space, but that goes for everyone on this planet. Bill Skarsgård’s take on Pennywise is the first instance where I was genuinely creeped out by a clown in any media. This can be chalked up to two things: 1) Bill Skarsgård’s mannerisms and style he went for (he wisely chose to not just imitate Tim Curry’s iconic version), and 2) the effects that made Pennywise off-putting and unnatural, and not just when the fangs came out. I’ve read and heard complaints that Pennywise didn’t seem real…and I think that was the whole point. As I touched on, and for those of you familiar with the source material, Pennywise is just an avatar that It uses, and I would think that, to wring the maximum amount of fear from a child, an ancient entity of pure evil that may or may not be a Lovecraftian elder god would use that to great effect. And I found it used to great effect, here. Especially in the final confrontation.

Anyway, I’ve been gushing about this movie for far too long, now. I’m just going to leave off with this: While I do admit that there were times when the story seems a bit disjointed and unfocused, keep in mind the source material. To say there were some issues with pacing with the book would be to understate things considerably. Also, to that end, anyone who may be expecting a faithful word-by-word adaptation of the novel…nope. Not getting it here. The very fact that they set the year this takes place with 1988 and 1989 instead of 1957 and 1958 tips you right off the bat. And really, I am not only okay with the changes, but I think it makes the story better.

Overall, despite the gang of 11-year-old boys sitting behind me freaking out every five minutes over the littlest things (seriously, what was that father thinking?), I enjoyed this It immensely. Easily the second best film I’ve seen in theaters this year. I would highly recommend you seeing this as a matinee, with a bunch of friends and a goodly amount of popcorn at the ready. Red balloon optional.

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Uncle NecRo Listens To: LOOK WHAT THE CAT DRAGGED IN (Poison)

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So, here’s the first in what should be a new series of articles that will be called, for lack of a better one, “Uncle NecRo Listens To…” This has been percolating in my brain matter for quite some time; where I go through the albums I once owned and listened to back in the day, and see if they still hold up.

There are some basic rules I’ve made for this series: 1) they must be albums that I’ve actually owned, and 2) the years involved would be between when I was in grade school and began listening and collecting albums, through to the end of High School. Also, these won’t be in order of when I owned them, just as they come to mind. As such, let’s get started with this first one, shall we?

poison look what the cat dragged in

The Band: POISON
The Album: Look What The Cat Dragged In
My History: This debut release from the band Poison came out in my Seventh Grade year, in 1986. I remember coming across the album at department stores, and thinking, “wow, those chicks are hot.” Which was immediately followed by a bit of confusion while reading the band member roster, because I was 12 and living in rural Eastern Nebraska in the mid-1980s. I’ve never heard of the term “glam metal” before, let alone come across anything like this before. Anyway, while several in my class had this album, it wasn’t until the summer of 1988 when I finally acquired my own copy.

It’s been literally decades since I’ve listened to this one front-to-back. Let’s see how this holds up, shall we?

Track One: “Cry Tough”
Nice opening rhythm, seems to build up to something awesome…then the power chord…seems to miss something to really push this over the edge as a lead-in song, though. Not a bad introduction, though…

Track Two: “I Want Action”
Now, this is more like it, heavy crunchy guitar and a fun rhythm. Typical “skin” song…the part where Bret sings “If I can’t have her, I’ll take her and make her” seems rather disturbing, there. And that bridge, yeesh.

Track Three: “I Won’t Forget You”
In the mid-1990s, I had a roommate who was a pretty accomplished guitar player in his spare time. He was obsessed with getting this song right, and was demonstrating how the lead was played. That was impressive, yes. That said, this is your typical unremarkable power ballad that only is marginally better than the other power ballad that Poison is known for (you know the one) if only for the fact that it isn’t as overplayed and over-saturated on rock radio stations everywhere. PASS.

Track Four: “Play Dirty”
Good riff, nice n’ heavy. “Act tough”…huh. Got’cha, Bret. Anyway, good basic hard rock tune. You get the sense, though, that the lyrics were written by someone who has never been in a bar altercation, but imagines this is what it would be like. Like they watched Roadhouse and wrote a song about it. Wait, checking to see when Roadhouse came out…never mind, it was released three years after this album.

Track Five: “Look What The Cat Dragged In”
Title track. Rather good guitar riff hook, there. Bit grittier, going for less sparkly and more sleaze. Nifty ode to 1980s Sunset Strip hedonism. Yawn. And did Bret just purr in the microphone? I believe he did. Gads. Right after boasting of his sexual prowess. Stay classy, there.

Track Six: “Talk Dirty To Me”
Full disclosure: I owned the 45 single of this song. It’s a great rock guitar riff, one of the first actual riffs I learned to play on the guitar. Surprisingly easy, once you see how it’s done. Anyway, groan-worthy juvenile lyrics aside, one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

Track Seven: “Want Some, Need Some”
Yeah, okay, great opening hook and riff, here. Good crunch, I have to admit. Again, with the whole longing for a lover of nondescript. Still, way more substance than your average Limp Bizquick song. Interesting chime ending.

Track Eight: “Blame It On You”
Again, a pretty good boogie rock tune…immediately given the eeew factor with lyrics that seemed to have been written by a horny middle school boy. Though, your average rock song normally doesn’t use the words “pizazz” and “razzmatazz”…

Track Nine: “#1 Bad Boy”
Look, the 80s were a weird time. It was a time when heterosexual men put on makeup, hairspray and adorned themselves with the finest Cosmo looks, and still were considered the pinnacle of masculinity by women. That’s why Poison could get away with writing a song about being “bad boys” without batting a heavily mascaraed eyelash. Also, this song is, musically, rather heavy and rocks my face off.

Track Ten: “Let Me Go To The Show”
Nice up-beat rocker where Bret begs his parental units to allow him to go to a rock show of nondescript to end the album off. Dig them “bad boys” playin’ that rock n’ roll, indeed.

Does It Hold Up: Musically, yeah, this is a pretty good, near-solid hard rock release from a band that would later be known as the poster boys for why Grunge took over in the 1990s. Compared to their other releases, this one is the more raw sounding, leaning more towards rocking rather than the pop formula they grew into later. Lyric-wise, you can’t get much more juvenile than this. The songs are either about sex, being rock n’ roll bad boys, or…well, more sex. Which may have appealed to my hormone-addled young teenage self back in the day. Now, though, I found myself face-palming more than once.

Overall: I give Look What The Cat Dragged In a 6.5 out of 10. The guitar-driven heaviness still retained its kick, but the lyrics killed off a goodly amount of enjoyment.

Movie Review: The NEON DEMON

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neon demonAmazon Studios
2016
R

“I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write, no real talent. But I’m pretty, and I can make money off of pretty.”

I started hearing buzz in the horror community about this particular movie titled The Neon Demon build over a year ago, and kept running into the title here and there. It was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who many may know as the guy who did the artsy movie that was marketed as a Fast & Furious knock-off Drive, as well as Only God Forgives. Neither one of those I watched; but, given that this was listed in the Amazon Prime streaming under the “horror” section, I decided to go ahead and give it a watch. It was only just short of two hours, so during my recent rehabilitation stint and nothing else to do, I popped it on the player.

The Neon Demon falls squarely within the What The Bloody Heck Did I Just Watch?!? files. This doesn’t fall squarely under the “horror” title, per se; if anything, this is really akin to the classic David Lynch movies that makes you think that you’re experiencing a noir-ish drama through a nightmarish filter.

The story of The Neon Demon can be boiled down to aspiring young model goes to Los Angeles, gets picked up by a modeling firm, begins to get a taste of fame within the world of supermodels, and starts to go a bit insane from the pressure and alienation. Oh, and then gets killed and eaten by her competing model friends in an Elizabeth Bathory-style attempt to retain her youth and beauty for themselves. As is what happens in L.A., I would presume. I was only there once, in 1984. There was a lot of palm trees and citrus there.

Anyway, the entirety of The Neon Demon plays out like a two-hour fever dream, with a deliberately despondency and pace that, when pared up with the rather trippy EBM soundtrack, has the effect of walking through the world coming down off of some very potent pain medication. There was a bright, over-saturation of the colors and especially the whites that gave a feeling of a void and added to the despondency. And speaking of despondency, the acting from everyone added to the overall waking dreamlike quality, being slow and deliberate, like this all can’t be real but somehow is. To that end, this had the added effect of having Keanu Reeves emote the most in this movie. Mind=blown.

Overall, The Neon Demon has a lot more going for it than just being an artsy horror movie. It’s very well shot, well acted and put together. The story is rather thin, though, and the plot does seem to meander about aimlessly at more than one place. There are some very stark and disturbing scenes, and the final thirty minutes well earns its “horror” nod, so don’t think this is going to be all that easy to sit through. As far as recomendations, I would say yeah, it’s worth a watch some time, especially if you like movies like Requiem For A Dream and Mulholland Drive.

Movie Review: HELL HOUSE LLC

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Hell House LLCTerror Films
2016
NR

At this point, I don’t think I would need to explain again my thoughts on the “found footage” style of horror movies, but just in case this is your first time here let me give you the condensed version: I don’t really mind them, if they’re made well and offer something more than the standard same-old, same-old. In other words, pretty much how I view other sub-genres within the horror umbrella. There are good ones, and many many bad ones. It’s just that I find it easier to get burned out on found footage movies than on other genres, mainly because there’s not much going for it past the typical haunting or odd exorcism plot.

Which brings us to this movie, here, Hell House LLC. I came across this title while perusing what movies I could watch during my free trial of Amazon Prime (which I opted for to same some money on 2-day shipping of something I needed), and while I instantly knew by the quick blurb description that this was another one of those found footage movies, the premise really kind of intrigued me enough to stick it on my watch list. Because while Hell House LLC is technically one of those Found Footage From Inside A Haunted House movies, the haunted house in question is actually a haunted house attraction that turned out to be haunted for realsies. Not the most imaginative of twists, but to put things in context, in Omaha where I live there is a long-running Haunted House attraction that is run in an old building that is also purported to be actually haunted as well. It’s enough to arouse the imagination in someone like myself, who never really lost his sense of wonderment with things like this.

Anyway, Hell House LLC involves a handful of young entrepreneurs of the titular Hell House LLC, a professional haunted house attraction that originally was centered in New York city. In 2009, they decided to move things to a more atmospheric rural community setting, and set up shop in the long-abandoned Abadon Hotel. Go-Pro footage, along with some smart phone video as well as professionally shot film show the progression of the team setting up the old hotel leading up to the big opening night in October, putting up the decorations and effects, working out the kinks and making things just so, hiring the actors…and also all the weird things that start happening that aren’t part of the setup. Like the clown mannequins wandering off by themselves. Or one of the team members beginning to sleep walk. Or figures in black hooded robes popping up in the oddest places. But, despite the setbacks and stress, they all manage to make to to opening night…which ends in a bloody disaster that left several dead and even more injured and visibly shaken, some of the survivors committing suicide days later. Five years later, afer massive cover-ups and speculation, a documentary crew tries to piece things together…and you can probably guess how things turn out.

Overall, Hell House LLC was actually pretty good. It didn’t bore me, there was some genuine atmosphere and sense of dread built up, and I can attest that the clown bits actually creeped me out, and I’m not creeped out by clowns whatsoever. So, well done in that aspect. The characters manage to not be just a bunch of irritating cannon fodder, which made the impact of the events even more…um, impactful, I guess. The filmmakers really managed to squeeze as much effectiveness with this, with both the editing, cinematography styles and general effects uses, managing to mess with your head a bit.

I had a lot of fun with Hell House LLC. I would say it’s very much worth a watch some night.

Movie Review: The BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER

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Movie Review BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER, TheA24
2015
R

During the dead of winter, a troubled young woman embarks on a mysterious journey to an isolated prep school where two stranded students face a sinister threat from an unseen evil force.

Director Oz Perkins seems to be a name I should be watching out for, if his movie output that I’ve seen is any indication. So far, he’s only directed two movies: I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House and this particular movie here, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and I’ve only seen this one out of the two. But, just by watching The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I’m taken in by his rather potent slow-burning and intense style of horror movie making, something that has not been seen or experienced for a long time in this modern age.

I first heard about The Blackcoat’s Daughter in my standard way, from the rather good press given by some of the online reviewers I frequent. When I first heard of the title, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I thought it was going to be another period piece, like The VVitch. The word “blackcoat” is normally a disparaging term for a clergyman, so I thought maybe another Ye Olde Timey tale of Puritan shenanigans. Or something like that. But, instead, it’s set at a Catholic boarding school in modern-ish times. Either way, I watched it, and here’s what I thought of it:

In The Blackcoat’s Daughter, it’s break time at a Catholic boarding school in upstate New York, and all the girls there have been picked up by their parents…except young Kat and the older girl Rose, whose parents haven’t shown up yet. The later of the two just gave her parents the wrong information so she could tell her boyfriend she might be pregnant; the former has had some disturbing dreams about her parents getting into a horrible car accident on the way to get her, so that may be what’s keeping them from showing up on time. With only them and a couple of nuns that live adjacent to the school there, Rose is given the task of looking after Kat. And so she does whatever any older sister-type would do: Tells Kat a story about the nuns at the school being devil worshipers, then leaving her alone for a date. Meanwhile, an apparent escapee from a mental institution has arrived at a bus stop late at night, and hitches a ride with an altruistic man and his wife. Meanwhile, back at the boarding school, Kat has been acting rather odd, which may have something to do with acting out because her parents haven’t shown up or called…or maybe she got possessed by the devil. Anyway, evil shenanigans ensue, people suddenly find themselves losing their heads (literally), and by the power of non-linear storytelling, the twist is…underwhelming, but still effective.

Overall, The Blackcoat’s Daughter was a very effective, very intense and atmospheric psychological horror movie that was wisely allowed to build slowly, creating a very tense atmosphere that didn’t rely on jump scares or loud music stings to freak out the crowd. This movie gets under your skin, and takes its time doing so, much like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. The story is also written in a way that, like the classic The Turn Of The Screw, you don’t know if there really is a supernatural evil influencing things, or if the girl in question is merely mentally unbalanced. Admittedly, the “twist” ending probably won’t do much for you, but by the end of the movie, you will be left drained and quite effected by how things unraveled. This movie stuck in my head long after watching, which makes this one of the better movie’s I’ve seen in a while.

Highly Recommended.

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