Movie Review: GET OUT

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get outUniversal Pictures
2017
R

“I want your eyes, man, I want those things you see through.”

Now that Chris and his girlfriend, Rose, have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.

I have to once again say, 2017 is turning out to be a rather good year for horror movies. There has been a bunch that have eschewed the usual conventions of the PG-13 teenybopper horror flicks that have glutted the big screen in the past ten years (you know what they are, I don’t think I have to point them out) and produced some very smart, very effective actual horror that hits you square in the psychological soft spots.

So, with that bit out of the way, I bring you my take on the movie Get Out. This has been toted as a modern horror masterpiece, a new type of horror some are calling Social Justice Horror. Or something like that. I’ve heard that bandied about a couple of times. I’m not what you would call a passionate zealot when it comes to political issues; on the other hand, I do appreciate a well-executed bit of subversive commentary within the horror movies I watch. The operative word here would be “well-executed”, mind you. I’ve seen more than my share of movies where it’s obvious the message was more important than making a quality horror movie.

Get Out manages to hit that balance between effective psychological horror movie and social commentary. I know this because I enjoyed this movie immensely without once having my intelligence insulted. And that would have been far too easy to do, and the fact that he pulled it off speaks volumes of the talent that is Jordan Peele with this being his first movie directing.

The best way I would describe Get Out was if David Cronenberg decided to do a remake of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (the good one with Sidney Poitier) while having it produced by Alfred Hitchcock in his prime: A young black man who is an up-and-coming photographer of note is being introduced to his Caucasian girlfriend’s family, who kind of go out of their way making him feel welcome and he’s safe because they’re just oh, so NOT racist or anything. Right. During their stay, he meets his girlfriend’s family’s many friends and acquaintances, all of which marvel at what a fine specimen this young man is. Also, they’re totally not racist or anything. They cool wit’ the struggle. They’ve watched In Living Color back in the day and stuff. Did I just date myself? I believe I just did. Anyway, all of this starts getting to the young man, and he decides that he’s going to cut the trip short, only…

Yeah, if I go any further, I’ll be doing those of you who haven’t seen Get Out a major disservice. Mind you, I only tend to give away the endings of bad movies, and Get Out is very much NOT a bad movie. As a matter of fact, it is a very, very good horror thriller movie that is well-written, well-filmed and edited, with some fantastic performances from the cast. For this being Jordan Peele’s first movie, let alone a horror movie, after watching this, I cannot wait to see what else he has for us in the cinematic sense. My only regret is not catching this in the theater when it was out. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: The INVITATION

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the invitationDrafthouse Films
2015
NR

“I’m so glad you’re here. We have a lot to talk about. So much to say tonight.”

While attending a dinner party at his former house, a man starts to believe that his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister plans for the guests.

The Invitation was one of those movies that I heard getting quite the buzz around the independent movie circuit, getting rather positive reviews from the regular horror movie blogs and websites I frequented. It was described not as your standard horror movie, nothing supernatural, and also not one of the many type of siege and home invasion type horror movies that have come out in the past few years. It took me a bit to get around to watching this for myself, but finally the chance happened for me to do so.

In the movie, this young couple are on their way to a dinner party that, as we find out, is being thrown by the guy’s ex-wife and her new husband. So, already we’re being thrown into the awkwardness right off the bat. Lovely. Then they hit a coyote along the way. Of course, the two don’t seem to take this as an ominous sign, so they make it to the house, which also happens to be the house the guy and his ex-wife used to live in, until the tragedy that tore them apart happened. So, yeah. Unpleasant memories on top of seeing the woman you used to love intensely be happy with someone else, inside of the house you two used to…you know what, let’s just move forward, shall we? When they arrive, they meet several of the other guest that are there, including that of a young lady that the ex-wife and new husband decided to have live with them after meeting her at a spa retreat in Mexico. As they all chat and such, the tensions rise as memories come flooding back to the young man, and he begins to suspect something sinister is afoot, as everyone’s a little too friendly…and also his ex’s husband has locked all the doors. Then they’re all shown a kind of infomercial recruiting video for that “spa” in Mexico that is totally not a cult that, as it turns out, the ex-wife went to not too long ago to help deal with the tragedy of her son’s death on his 10th birthday. The reaction to this is what you would expect, though not as harsh as if they were being pitched AmWay. They continue on with the dinner and socializing, as the young man grows a bit more paranoid as the night wears on. Everyone assures him that everything is all right…up until the time when he realizes he was correct all along.

I have to give this film credit: I had no idea what kind of movie I was going to be watching going into this. I wasn’t even certain while I was watching the movie itself, as it did a really good job at keeping things close to the chest and just letting the story unfold slowly and letting you try and think things through. This movie is intense, and in that slow-burn, tension mounting, something just isn’t right kind of vibe that builds up to a bursting point, and when it does burst it’s quite effective. All of the actors were great, giving fantastic performances and really pushing forth the genuine sense of tension and uncomfortable atmosphere. The film is rather claustrophobic, as it’s mostly set inside of a house (with some scenes outside of the house briefly), and overall, when it came to the twist ending, leading up to it I was still uncertain if it was going to be the one that I thought it would be. Turns out, it is, but I’m not going to say what it is.

Overall, The Invitation turned out to be much, much better than I expected, with a completely fleshed out cast of characters, some very powerful performances, and a thick atmosphere of claustrophobia and paranoia that leads to a very satisfying ending. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: The VVITCH

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movie-review-vvitch-theA24
2015
R

“Wouldst thou like the taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

A devout Puritan family in 1630s New England are exiled from their village, and struggle to survive in their new home situated at the edge of a mysterious forest. The sinister, witching forces in the wilderness emerge silently to terrorize them, first by kidnapping the youngest of their five children. As their life-sustaining crops fail, the clan fall victim to paranoia and fear as they begin to turn on one another, eventually suspecting teenage daughter Thomasiin of witchcraft.

I’m afraid that everything I know about the Puritan society in America’s past comes from Nathanial Hawthorne novels, and of course the Salem Witch Trials. In other words, it’s not a very flattering image that’s been presented of these sectarian Christian settlers in this country of ours. Of course, a lot of our country’s early folklore and proto-horror tales come from the fables and myths created by these seemingly uptight yet hale-and-hearty shoe buckle enthusiasts in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Some very good American Gothic yarns have sprung from this era’s imagination, to be certain.

Which brings us to The VVitch. Yes, I’m using the double-“V” usage on what is normally a “W”, mainly to keep in time with the period setting that has been meticulously researched by writer/director Robert Eggers. Meaning, he made a greater effort than just spending a couple of hours on Google, like I normally do. Puritanical beliefs and behaviors, folklore, witches, vocabulary and grammar, all brought together to make the movie feel as real and authentic as possible, and it works greatly to that effect. I have to credit the actors, who all really made the archaic language and mannerisms come across as genuine and effortless. I can imagine how tempting it could have been to make things needlessly campy; these guys pulled it off.

I am going to go ahead and point out, like so many others have, that The VVitch doesn’t fall neatly into the general area of “horror” as we know it. While there are supernatural elements in the movie, they aren’t so much seen as felt; even then, it’s left wide open as to whether what’s happening to the family is, in fact, the result of supernatural shenanigans, or if it’s the natural mental breakdown due to their circumstances, buffeted by the strong religious superstitions that come with their sect of their faith.

The VVitch is a great, Ye Olde Fashioned Gothic tale, both in the time setting and the atmosphere of the story, building up the tension and the natural paranoia slowly, filling you with a sense of dread to the point where a scene featuring a static shot of a bunny feels darkly off-putting.

Make no mistake: The VVitch is a horror movie, but it’s an unassuming one that will find its way burrowed deep underneath your skin, delighting in the way you will squirm until the end, and even then will stay with you long after the end credits have stopped rolling. Greatly recommended.

Book Review: MISERY

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book-review-miseryStephen King
Viking Press
1987

He felt as he always did when he finished a book: queerly empty, let down, aware that for each little success he had paid a toll of absurdity.

Paul Sheldon, author of a bestselling series of historical romances, wakes up one winter day in a strange place, a secluded farmhouse in Colorado. He wakes up to unspeakable pain (a dislocated pelvis, a crushed knee, two shattered legs) and to a bizarre greeting from the woman who has saved his life: “I’m your number one fan!” Annie Wilkes is a huge ex-nurse, handy with controlled substances and other instruments of abuse, including an axe and a blowtorch. A dangerous psychotic with a Romper Room sense of good and bad, fair and unfair, Annie Wilkes may be Stephen King’s most terrifying creation. It’s not fair, for example, that her favorite character in the world, Misery Chastain, has been killed by her creator, as Annie discovers when Paul’s latest novel comes out in paperback. And it’s not good that her favorite writer has been a Don’t-Bee and written a different kind of novel, a nasty novel, the novel he has always wanted to write, the only copy of which now lies in Annie’s angry hands. Because she wants Paul Sheldon to be a Do-Bee, she buys him a typewriter and a ream of paper and tells him to bring Misery back to life. Wheelchair-bound, drug-dependent, locked in his room, Paul doesn’t have much choice. He’s an entertainer held captive by his audience. A writer in serious trouble. But writers have weapons too . . .

1987 was a pretty big publishing year for Stephen King. While cranking out a novel every year is impressive for any author, for reasons I’m not really going to go into here, 1987 was the year that King published four separate novels, each one a bit different in style and tone: The Eyes of the Dragon, which was straight fantasy, the second book in the Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three, which was a western/sci-fi/fantasy hybrid, The Tommyknockers, which fell squarely into the science fiction genre, and this one here, Misery, which is more of the psychological thriller side of the horror genre King was more known for.

I read Misery the summer before my Freshman year in high school, again because of my Junior High English teacher describing the story. That was also the summer in which I was confirmed, so I used some of my confirmation monies to purchase the book from the stands of whichever grocery store I accompanied my visiting father to. I remember, rather amusingly, him asking me, “Does your mother know you read these kind of books?” in a voice that made it sound like he just discovered me smoking out back.

Misery contains no supernatural horror, no fantastical elements, nothing to really indicate that this is springing forth from one of the more potent minds of pop fiction literature to ever emerge from the late 20th Century. Instead, everything depicted in Misery is very much realistic. Everyone has run into, or personally knows someone just like Annie Wilkes, who seems normal on the outside but there’s just something not quite right bubbling underneath the surface. And the thought of being helpless and at the mercy of someone like that, like author Paul Sheldon does in the book, gets under your skin like none other.

It’s pretty much a useless fact, but the copy of the novel I bought had a second fake cover of a Paul Sheldon Misery book, which was a take-off of one of those romance novels with a muscle-bound beefcake that had Stephen King’s face, which was something I found beyond hilarious. If you had this in there as well, you know of which I speak of. Good times.

Misery is often listed as one of Stephen King’s best novels written, and I tend to agree with that. Ultimately, my copy fell apart by the time I got through with the story. Such was the quality of the mass market paperback, I guess. But really, if you’ve only watched the (equally excellent) movie adaptation, you really should check out the original novel some time. Sure, I would urge that for every adaptation, but here I would urge it more.

Movie Review: HONEYMOON

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honeymoon_film_posterMagnolia Pictures
2014
R

“Before I was alone, but now I’m not.”

Young newlyweds Paul and Bea travel to a remote lake cottage for their honeymoon, where the promise of private romance awaits them. Shortly after arriving, Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night. As she becomes more distant and her behavior increasingly peculiar, Paul begins to suspect something more sinister than sleepwalking took place in the woods.

Having never been married (though coming close a couple of times), I’ve never been on a honeymoon of any sort. I’ve often wondered what the holiday would be like, you know, outside of the usual things everyone assumes happens during the time immediately after the wedding. Like taxidermy. I presume this is a common thing that happens during the honeymoon? Well, I can guess and fantasize no longer, as having watched this helpful documentary that was released in 2014, I now know that a “honeymoon” consists mainly of your significant other getting taken over by an alien parasite before they tie an anchor to you and toss you into the lake. Honeymoons are always held by lakeside resorts, right?

Anyway, all kidding aside, as it stands, Honeymoon always seemed to pop up on quite a few lists of independent and little-known horror movies that were considered frightening enough to warrant a watch. So that’s what I did (obviously), and having watched it myself, I have to agree that, while not exactly a mind-blowing experience (and not exactly a straight horror or psychological thriller, as you might be lead to think), Honeymoon was a nice slow burn of a movie, using what little resources it had to build up the tension and really get under your skin. Until the end, when my joke guess going into watching this turned out to be completely true. I really need to stop making joke guesses.

Anyway, after being made nauseated by watching clips from a young newlywed couple’s wedding video, we then arrive at the cabin by the lake in which they’re spending their honeymoon at. Then, after some more nausea-inducing acts of affection, the young wife begins to act rather odd: She’s given to suddenly sleepwalk into the woods, she forgets how to make a basic breakfast, she’s rather distant to her husband and doesn’t react to things like she used to before. Also, she begins to write down “My name is Bea”, “My husband’s name is Paul”, and other normal memories in her journal over and over again. You know, your basic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers type of stuff. Which, turns out to be closer to the truth, as, after extracting what looks like a Stargate alien from a place I never want to see extracted from again, she has just enough time to tell him that she’s full of those things, and she’s slowly losing her self to these entities. Then she completely loses it and tosses Paul into the lake, and then meets shadowy people in the woods. The end.

As you may have guessed, my very thoughts as I first pressed play to watch the movie was, “I hope this doesn’t turn out to be they’re invaded by alien parasites.” Which, to be fair, the outcome would have been either this, or demon possession. Which doesn’t necessarily disqualify Honeymoon from being a good movie; far from it, as the movie relies more on the actors ability to really ground the characters in a way that actually does make you care about them, and what is happening to them. Rose Leslie especially, as the freshly minted wife, is just…adorable as well as earnest. Yes, I admit to developing a bit of a crush on the character. The actor, as I understand, appears on something called Game Of Thrones; since I’m not a fan of game shows, I haven’t seen the series or her work on it. Here, both she and Harry Treadaway as her husband have a very thick chemistry that sells the situation. And like I said, it’s a slow burn, and will get under your skin in a way that no mere gore-infused slasher will do.

Come to think of it, I would also like to point out that I’m glad Honeymoon didn’t turn out to be another slasher. Or had psychobillies in it. Kind of puts that whole alien parasite ending thing into perspective, really.

Book Review: FIRESTARTER

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book-review-firestarterStephen King
Viking Press
1980

Hadn’t somebody said that perfect paranoia and perfect awareness were the same thing?

In 1969 Andy McGee and Vicky Tomlinson participated in a drug experiment run by a veiled government agency known as The Shop. One year later they marry. Two years after that their little girl, Charlie, sets her teddy bear on fire . . . by looking at it. Now that Charlie is eight, she doesn’t start fires anymore. Her parents have taught her to control her pyrokinesis, the ability to set anything–toys, clothes, even people–aflame. But The Shop knows about and wants this pigtailed “ultimate weapon.” Shop agents set out to hunt down Charlie and her father in a ruthless and terrifying chase that ranges from the streets of New York to the backwoods of Vermont. And once they get her they plan to use Charlie’s capacity for love to force her into developing a power as horrifyingly destructive as it is seductive. What they don’t take into account is that even a child can know the pleasure of the whip hand and the satisfaction of revenge.

So, I read this particular novel by Stephen King around my Freshman year in high school, which was when I was beginning my grand quest to read all of King’s books, but still wasn’t completely hooked as a fanboy. And at the age of 15, I wasn’t exactly the best at keeping focus on what I was reading. So, unfortunately, I have to admit that reading through Firestarter–King’s sixth published work–was a bit of a slog to get through at the time. Again, this was less to do with the quality of the story and more to do with my ability to get distracted by something shiny. Or have something in what I’m reading set off a chain reaction of thoughts that take me away from the reading experience. It still happens now, just not as out of control. Anyway…

The story involves a father and his young daughter on the run from a shady government group. The reason being that, years prior, the father and his future wife participated in covert experiments involving special drugs that would give those either psychic powers, or a psychotic break. They, of course, developed powers, and got married because they fell in loooooove while being tested on, and had themselves a kid that seemed to have developed an interest power of her own: setting stuff on fire. Now, after a series of horrendous events involving the government agency trying to round them up for more experiments, the mother dies and the father and daughter are on the run. Soon, those government officials and the mercenary they hired to capture them are going to realize that preteen girls are scary enough without powers; what’s gonna happen when they finally anger one with the ability to char broil you with her mind? Hint: nothing good.

Now seems a good time to get this out of the way: I never have seen the movie that stars a young Drew Barrymore. Never felt the need to do so. As far as the book goes, I think this would be another one I’d have a better appreciation for at this age I’m at now, rather than the 15-year-old me who read it back in the day. It had an interesting cat-and-mouse premise, and the more scientific–albeit closer to a mad doctor style, but still–buildup behind the father and daughter’s respective powers has this more as a psychological thriller with a bit of a science fiction base than a straight-up horror novel. Maybe that’s what was causing me to loose focus all that time.

Book Review: The DEAD ZONE

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book-review_-the-dead-zoneStephen King
Viking Press
1979

The crowd had the plump, righteous, slightly constipated look that seems the exclusive province of businessmen who belong to the GOP.

Johnny, the small boy who skated at breakneck speed into an accident that for one horrifying moment plunged him into The Dead Zone. Johnny Smith, the small-town schoolteacher who spun the wheel of fortune and won a four-and-a-half-year trip into The Dead Zone. John Smith, who awakened from an interminable coma with an accursed power—the power to see the future and the terrible fate awaiting mankind in The Dead Zone.

Back when I was 16 and a sophomore in High School, I was in full-on Stephen King junkie mode. I was in the process of trying to read all the Stephen King books I could lay my hands upon, and The Dead Zone being part of the King bibiliography, I of course was obligated to read the novel.

It was around this time of reading the book, where I made the discovery that not every King book is going to knock it out of the park for me. It took me a bit longer than usual to work my way through The Dead Zone, as it didn’t really capture my full attention to keep me going with the story. Keep in mind, again, I was 16 at the time, and hadn’t developed the focus to the laser-honed something-something as it is now. Squirrel.

Revisiting The Dead Zone, I find the overall story of a man who awakes from a coma to find he’s developed some precognitive skills that nearly drives him insane and then decides to take out a Presidential candidate because he foresaw a bad future to be a bit more interesting than I did back when I was barely old enough to drive. But, not much more than that. Mind you, The Dead Zone isn’t a bad novel by any means. Far from it. I just don’t find it to be one of the ones that I would enjoy revisiting again. Matter of fact, I haven’t seen the Christopher Walken-staring movie version; but, I have seen the first season of the television show. Weird.

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