31 Frightful Films – #1 The Visit

The Visit is an M. Night Shyamalan film. Which either fills you with anticipation or dread. Perhaps a bit of both. You’ve probably seen the trailers… two kids visit their grandparents. The grandparents are a bit “off.” The trailer shows Granny asking her teenage granddaughter to clean the oven from the inside. “Just a bit further…get all the way inside…” which immediately conjures up memories of a certain gingerbread house. So that’s the premise of the film. Kids in a house with strange old people. Grandpa tells them it would probably be best if they didn’t come out of their rooms after 9:30.

The_Visit_(2015_film)_poster

Christa’s Review

I saw this in the theater with my daughter and a friend and I think everyone in the theater hated me. I squeaked, I squealed, I hollered “What the fuuuuck?!” I also skootched way way down in my seat…I was almost on the floor. If I’d had the Afghan of Doom with me I would have been underneath it a good part of the time. As it was, I had to make do with my hoodie. This is a good Shyamalan film. I did not see the twist coming. Or, I knew SOME twist had to be coming, but did not guess correctly. AT ALL. So cheers to you M. Night. You got me, sir. And while I’ve got your ear…welcome back to my good graces. Here are the two things that made The Visit work so well for me:

1) The kids are likeable and believable. They aren’t small actors saying grown up lines. They act like young people. Not precocious TV-sitcom kids, but actual living and breathing kids. They have quirks (the sister is making a documentary of the visit and she exibits all the silly yet sincere pretentions of film students. The brother is a “rapper.” His rhymes are not very good, but inventive and funny in a dorky way.) and treat their grandparents with respect…no sulking or backtalk. They genuinely like and care for one another and want their mother’s parents to like them.

The Visit still

2) The film plays on our fear of old people. Don’t shake your head at me….you know it’s true. The elderly are frightening because they forget stuff and they smell weird and they can be an odd mix of fragile and ferocious and it’s hard to know what to do with them. They are also terrifying because we will all face aging with our own loved ones and then personally (should we be lucky enough to live long enough to fall apart). Is Grandma doing that odd thing because that’s her personality or because she’s old? Is she sick? Does she have dementia? Did Grandpa just shit his pants? And am I supposed to pretend it didn’t happen? These issues are compounded by the fact that the kids have never met their grandparents before and are trying to mend a rift in the family. They are doubly incented to just play nice and go along with whatever is happening in the house at night.

Was it scary? Yes. Was it entertaining? Absolutely. Did it haunt me and give me bad dreams? No. I give The Visit a three-quarter-afghan. up to nose

 

A note about the ratings. I watch horror films with the Afghan of Doom (if I’m at home), and rate the scariness of the film on how much of my time I spent under the afghan and how much of myself had to stay under for protection.

 

unloved afghan

Film was not scary, or was boring or terrible. Poor Afghan of Doom is abandoned on the sofa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m thinking about maybe hiding under the Afghan of Doom, but I’m not sure. Almost scary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, this is scary. I need the Afghan's protection, but I'm not too scared to watch.

Okay, this is scary. I need the Afghan’s protection, but I’m not too scared to watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy shit this is scary! I don't want to look, but I have to. But only through a tiny hole in the Afghan of Doom.

Holy shit this is scary! I don’t want to look, but I have to. But only through a tiny hole in the Afghan of Doom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the way scared. I can't even. Save me, Afghan of Doom!!!

All the way scared. I can’t even. Save me, Afghan of Doom!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Classic November – #4 Rear Window

The second film we chose for the 1950’s was Rear Window from 1954, a Hitchcock classic starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. The premise is that a photographer has broken his leg getting a great action shot on a race track and has been in a cast and wheel chair for six weeks. At the time of the movie, it is his final week in the cast and then he will get back to traveling the globe taking pictures for a magazine. He doesn’t leave his two room apartment in Manhattan. His entire world has been reduced to daily visits from his insurance company nurse (played by Thelma Ritter) and his socialite girlfriend. Having nothing to do but submit to his nurse’s ministrations and fend off commitment with the “too perfect, too beautiful” girlfriend, he has taken to watching his neighbors. His apartment window faces a courtyard at the intersection of three or four different apartment buildings and Jimmy Stewart gets to know them all: “Miss Torso” the ballerina who likes to dance in front of her fridge in her undies, “Miss Lonelyheart” who wears glasses and can’t catch a break with the boys. It’s summer time and everyone leaves their window open so Jimmy gets occasional snippets of sound, as well. This is Hitchcock, so you can guess what happens next. Jimmy, who has taken to falling asleep in his wheelchair wakes up in the middle of a rainy night and sees the neighbor across the courtyard played by Raymond Burr (Perry Mason!) behaving suspiciously. And after that, his nagging wife is gone.

Rear Window poster

Christa’s review

Beyond the sexism  (window-woman archetypes are only interesting in how they relate to men: the bombshell, the spinster, the newlywed, and the nagging wife), this is a near perfect film. Hitchcock takes a claustrophobic world (and his camera never ventures beyond what Stewart can see from the window or through his telephoto lens), and turns it into a hive of human drama. The subplots are just as interesting as the main event, and even as tense in parts. The suspenseful moments are so well done they may take your breath away. Aside from the murder, there’s the wonderful story of how a man who thinks his girlfriend is too high maintenance to be happy with (or partner to) a not-rich traveling photographer falls in love with her loyalty, bravery, and adventurous spirit. And Grace. Oh lord, Grace is luminously beautiful and her clothes are wonderful and she wears a charm bracelet that I’ve been coveting my entire life. Her voice, her hair, the way she moves…this is why only having made ten films before becoming Her Serene Highness of Monaco she is still a film icon. I’m gushing. I’ll stop. This is in my top ten films of all time and I adore every frame.

Dana’s review

With the name Alfred Hitchcock behind this film, I guess is expecting more than a glorified Peeping Tom movie. While the setting was interesting, the set up went on way too long for me. I think this would have worked as a short 30-45 minute flick, but as a full length movie, it didn’t work for me. Skip it and find something else. If you must see it, watch the first 5 minutes, and then fast forward to the last 30 minutes or so. You won’t miss much.

Classic November – #3 High Noon

And so classic November enters the 1950’s. It took us quite a while to knock out the first movie because a) there are only a few I haven’t seen already (though that wasn’t part of the official criteria, and b) we’re having a hard time finding them available for streaming. Ben-Hur looked like a good candidate–I haven’t seen it, it was made in 1959, and we could rent it on Amazon for a couple bucks. But it’s so looooong. Three and half hours! Gunny would never have stayed awake for that. Another contender (ha) was On the Waterfront, but I wasn’t paying 10 bucks to download it. There are THREE amazing Hitchcock films on the list for the ’50s (though not on Netflix!) and Gunny hasn’t seen any of them. I’ve seen them probably a dozen times each. I was the girl in the theater during Basic Instinct who yelled “Vertigo rip-off!”

ANYWAY, knowing we’re terribly behind this month we methodically typed movie titles into Netflix search and decided on High Noon, the classic Western. Here’s the premise: Marshall Gary Cooper marries Grace Kelly who is a Quaker. This does not mean you can only eat oatmeal, Quakers are absolutely committed to  peace and non-violence. Long story short (or is it already too late for that?) if you marry a Quaker, ya gotta give up your guns and your tin star. Gary Cooper’s down with that–and is on his way to catch the noon train to another town to run a store. Only someone is coming to town on that same train–outlaw Frank Miller–and his brother and partners in crime are at the station waiting for him. Gary has a dilemma on his hands: leave the town in danger, or piss off his new wife and face the man he sent to prison.

high_noon

Christa’s review

Meh. Gary Cooper is great at Gary Coopering, but I don’t see much conflict or emotion in his eyes. Plus, I just couldn’t help wondering what was up Grace Kelly’s ass. I get that she agreed to marry him under the condition that he give up his gun and badge in accordance with her Quaker beliefs. But leaving people to die? Abandoning her husband of ten minutes when he’s trying to do the right thing? Get over yourself, Princess. I know she’s Grace Kelly and all, but I thought Mrs. Ramirez (played by Katy Jurado)–who was Frank Miller’s girl before she dated Gary Cooper and then after him one of Gary’s deputies, which makes her a big whore in comparison to virginal perfect asshole Grace–was more beautiful and interesting by far. Most annoying though, was the townsfolk who gave zero shits if their town was overrun with criminals. There’s probably some underlying message about apathy and the threat of communism–this being 1952 and all–but I just wanted to kick all their teeth in. The ending was so abrupt, I was startled. But as there was little enjoyment to be had, it was a relief that it was over.

cast of high noon

Dana’s review

OK, so hopping back in to the November Classic, we pick up with High Noon. I didn’t find it to be a great movie, but a good movie overall. But I only say that because I was entertained by it, despite all the plot holes and weird dynamics of the movie. I seriously think that you could do a Mystery Science Theater or Rifftrax on this movie with little effort. For example, why would you be ok with burning down a barn with horses in it in order to get to the Marshall, but not OK with shooting the horses to stop him from getting away. The movie is full of stuff like this that would cause you to pull out the rest of your hair if you actually took it too seriously. Thankfully, I didn’t. Good and entertaining, with some slightly annoying acting. Watch it to say you watched an American classic, but not a movie to watch a second time.

 

 

Classic November – #2 The Maltese Falcon

This one was Dana’s pick for films made in the 1940’s. Which is a bit funny (to me) because we had to watch it twice because he fell asleep and missed about 40% of the film the first time around. Which means we had to rent it twice on Amazon. In the future, rewatches on rentals must be completed within 24 hours! The Maltese Falcon is, of course, based on the 1930 novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. He also wrote The Thin Man books which became films starting William Powell and Myrna Loy. Their fictional dog, Asta, is a frequent crossword puzzle solution. Anyway, the version of The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor is actually a remake of a 1931 film. It’s a classic noir detective movie. Beautiful woman flashing cash walks into the office of a wise-cracking and cynical private investigator named Sam Spade and hires him to find her sister. A few bullets later, Spade discovers the woman isn’t who she claims and there’s something about a statuette of a bird that everyone wants.

Maltese Falcon poster

Christa’s review

I confess I’ve seen this film a handful of times. I also read the book. And I also have to confess that it’s not my favorite. There’s no doubt that it’s a classic film and it’s a great example of a genre. It also has great actors and some fine performances (notably Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo). It’s definitely got a great moody style, but so much time has passed that the scenes have become cliches. That’s not The Maltese Falcon‘s fault, but when you’re talking about films that have been copied and spoofed, Casablanca holds up better. Also, I think Sam Spade is a bit of a dick, and Mary Astor…well, I’ve never liked her in this role. I don’t find her beautiful and she’s got zero sex appeal and zero chemistry with Bogart. I don’t buy her as a femme fatale at all. Imagine Lauren Bacall in this role instead and Yow! She could have done justice to both prissy Miss Wonderly and saucy bad girl Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Astor is so bad that I always assumed (my first few viewings of this movie predate IMDB) she was one of THE Astors and John Huston hired her because her rich family was financing the film. But no, Astor was a stage name, and Mary actually won an Oscar for supporting actress. She also had four husbands and a sex scandal under her belt and she’s far more interesting than I would have expected based on her stick-up-the-ass acting. Mary Astor pretty much ruins the movie for me. For my money, The Big Sleep (1946) is a better noir detective movie, and William Faulkner wrote the screenplay. Yes, THAT Faulkner. If I were going to hire a private dick, I’d hire Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe over Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade any day.

Dana’s review

This is one of those films that I had heard about, but really didn’t know what it was about. And after watching if, I have to wonder why it is on the AFI 100 list. The detective is an asshole, the story was bleh, and the film was absolutely boring. This film 100% did not do it for me. Skip this one unless you just have to see what some people consider a classic.

Classic November – #1 Casablanca

We began our November of Classic Films with the often-spoofed, often-quoted Casablanca. A wartime tale about love, loyalty, the terrible things people do to each other and the amazing sacrifices some make for the greater good. It was released in 1942 and stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and is #2 on THE LIST.

casablanca-movie-poster-1942-1020189508

Dana’s Review

I knew almost nothing about this movie except for the often misquoted,  “Play it again, Sam” First off, two words. Ingrid F’n Bergman. Damn!  Now with that out of the way, I realized that there were so many lines that are quoted from this movie that I heard before. And the opening shot of Casablanca reminded me so much of Raiders of the Lost Ark that I wonder if Raiders was playing homage to it. The acting was superb and I really enjoyed the story of love and Nazi’s. For somebody watching it for the first time, it didn’t feel dated, or out of place and completely holds its own 72 years later. If you are like me and heard about it but never watched it, schedule yourself a couple hours to enjoy this timeless classic.

Christa’s Review

I’ve seen this film many many times and love it. Love it so much I was a bit of a Nazi myself making sure Dana stayed awake and paid close attention. With all those characters and shenanigans and rounds of “who’s got the letters of transit” you could get lost. I enjoy this film every time I watch it and am pleased to report that I still cry when the refugees drown out the Nazi singalong with “La Marseillaise.” The best part of this viewing watching my husband experience Casablanca for the first time. The way he laughed at Captain Renault, and grinned when he heard those lines (“Here’s looking at you, kid.” “Of all the gin joints…”). As long as there are people displaced by war, evil people that prey on the weak, and people who choose what is right at the cost of their own happiness, Casablanca will be relevant.

November Movie Challenge – The Classics

100YEARS2_TempTile_250x250In the course of October’s scary movie marathon, I learned that Gunny has never seen Casablanca. We’d talked about watching and reviewing films with a monthly theme and so this month we’ll watch 10 classic films. How do we define classics? We decided that a classic film is on the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies. This is how we’ll break it down: We’re going to watch two movies each from the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. We each get to pick one per decade.

Here’s the original list (it was updated in 2007), but we selected from the 1997 list.

 

31 Frightful Films – #31 Pontypool

And so we arrive at the end. 31 scary movies in 31 days. Our final film was Pontypool. Released in 2008 and starring Stephen McHattie (Quinlan from The Strain, and Hollis in Watchmen) as a talk radio guy in Ontario, Pontypool is about a small town radio show and the entire film takes place inside the radio station. The morning of February 14 begins slowly, but news reports start to filter in from listeners that there is a riot. Then the rioters are killing people. Then eating them. No one can reach the police and there is no news on the wire service. The three people in the station must rely on the eye-witness reports of the people calling into the show.

600full-pontypool-poster

Christa’s review

up to noseThis was definitely unique. Not what I was expecting at all. I wasn’t scared at any point, but there was definitely a creeping sense of what the fuck is happening here. As a rule I don’t like zombies. I just don’t think mindless villains are interesting at all, but Pontypool was pretty good. Mostly because the majority of scares take place off-screen, I think. Until they don’t. But it’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill scream, run, chainsaw, run, scream some more boring zombie shit. Without giving anything away, it brings up really interesting ideas about how we know what we know, our relationship with the press, and the nature of language. I give it a half-Afghan for pure originality.

Dana’s review

Definitly not your usual zombie flick, but not bad either. They manage to do away with the stumblers, walkers, sprinters, and pretty much every other version of a zombie and come up with their own unique take on the whole thing while bringing a fresh take on how to tell a movie. No real gross out except for one scene, and even that was tame to me. No real suspense either. Just a movie that left me saying, damn. Grab some popcorn and watch this one if you like to watch movies a little off the beaten path. I think you will enjoy it.

OUR TOP FIVE FRIGHTFUL FILMS

Christa’s five:

  1. Sinister
  2. The Taking of Deborah Logan
  3. Grave Encounters
  4. The Awakening
  5. Oculus

Dana’s five:

  1. Sinister
  2. Oculus
  3. Stitches
  4. The Awakening
  5. Grave Encounters

 

31 Frightful Films – #30 The Frighteners

After the trauma of the eyeball-dryingly scary Deborah Logan movie last night, we were ready for something lighter. And to be honest, we’re both pretty damn weary of scary movies at this point. So, we watched a film we considered early on and eliminated because we didn’t want any comedy in the mix. The film was The Frighteners, a 1996 horror/comedy starring Alex P. Keaton. The premise: There’s a series of unexplained deaths in a small town. Enter Frank Bannister, a psychic investigator. For a price he will clear your home of poltergeists, restless spirits, whatever. Here’s his game: He’s actually got a trio of ghosts who do his bidding. They fuck shit up so the people pay Frank. Of course, Frank gets mixed up in the string of deaths and there’s a pretty widow and a dumb sheriff and a creepy FBI dude.

frighteners_poster_01

Christa’s review

Afghan of Doom fell asleep.

Afghan of Doom fell asleep.

It’s an interesting idea, certainly. The ghost effects are pretty dated, though and the whole thing came across more as a kids movie. But on the other hand there are bad words and some stuff is kinda spooky. I wouldn’t let my kid watch it, but it didn’t quite feel like it was for grownups, either. The only funny bits are with the indentured ghosts, and Michael J. Fox is not really his likable charming self in this. Afghan of Doom was not impressed.

Dana’s review

I’d heard about this one but don’t recall ever watching it. Interesting take on a scary movie, more inline with something like Beetlejuice than Nightmare on Elmstreet. No real scary moments, and no real gore, but it did have it’s humorous moments. I actually would love to see this movie remade with today’s technology and some actual scares in it. That could be interesting. If looking for a more lighthearted movie with little scare, but ghosts in it, then this would be worth the watch. But if looking for that classic, scary movie, then give this a pass.

31 Frightful Films – #29 The Taking Of Deborah Logan

Although this film came out this year, we’ve heard nothing about it. It sounded depressing, but we decided to give it a shot. What the hell, right? We’re in the home stretch. The Taking of Deborah Logan is about a medical student named Mia who is working on a film about Alzheimer’s patients and their caretakers. She and her crew arrive at the home of Deborah Logan who is suffering from the early stages of the disease. Her adult daughter, Sarah, is her primary caretaker. Alzheimer’s is heartbreakingly sad of course, but Deborah’s disease seems to be progressing faster than expected and she goes from a charming and gracious–if forgetful–woman to…something else over the course of just a few weeks. Mia and Sarah begin to suspect that the disease is not the only thing going on and begin to investigate.

Taking of Debra Logan poster

Christa’s review

All the way scared.

All the way scared.

Wow, this was an unexpected treat. Scary as hell, this one has everything: the non-supernatural horror of Alzheimer’s, creeping doom, spooky shit captured on cameras in the middle of the night, nocturnal wandering, violence, mystery, crime. What more could you ask for? A cast of strong female characters? Check. I didn’t actually notice–and that’s good!–until I sat down to type this that all the main roles, the action roles, are women. Deborah and her daughter of course, then the med student making the film, Deborah’s physician, and even (gasp!) the county sheriff. I dug that. But more importantly, this is just a great scary movie (at one point, Gunny was basically sitting in my lap) with genuinely frightening shit, a solid plot, and a satisfying ending.

Dana’s review

Just flipping though Netflix and noticed this little gem and decided, looks like it might scare me, so lets give it a shot, shall we. At first, I thought that the fact I recognized some of the cast might take me out of the movie, that didn’t last long as I quickly got sucked in to this disturbing take on demonic possession. It takes the all too real and very scary disease of Alzheimer and winds itself into a twisted tale of demonic possession. It dares to do things other movies never do and it does a great job with it. If this isn’t on your watch list, it should be.

31 Frightful Films – #28 Audition

We’ve heard over and over how great this Japanese film is. I rented and downloaded it to take on vacation, but never watched it. Today Gunny had an appointment, and knowing he’ll never be able to watch 2 movies tonight after the Sprout goes to bed, I watched this on my own. The film is Audition, from 1999 and starring Ryo Ishibashi and Eihi Shiina, The premise is a widower’s teenage son tells him he should remarry. He tells his film producer friend his intention to find a new wife and the friend comes up with a plan: to hold auditions for a fake movie and to cast a young, skilled, and “obedient” woman to be a wife. Aoyama becomes enamored of a girl named Asami–a former ballerina. The film producer warns Aoyama that Asami’s references and resume do not add up, but Aoyama doesn’t listen and pursues the girl.

Audition poster

Christa’s Review

At first this was sort of like “Sleepless in Toyko.” The father and son relationship is sort of charming, and even the film producer’s plan seemed more genuinely helpful than sleazy. My chunks began to rise when obedience was listed as a good quality in a wife, but I scolded myself to stop painting everything with my American brush. Anyway, this being a horror film, I knew things would go wrong, but I didn’t know how. When Asami’s references and things couldn’t be verified I thought maybe she was a ghost. And then some shit happened and I thought, “okay, a vengeful ghost.” Long story short, this veered into torture which I stated at the beginning of this 31 film marathon I simply don’t want to watch. I admit fast-forwarding a bit because I just don’t need that shit in my head. I don’t know what the fuck happened in this movie. I read some of the IMDB message boards and it seems like no one knows what the deal is. Some people absolutely love this film, but I am decidedly not one of them.