Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, Reviews

Day 3 Part 1

The Orphanage

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This is another Guillermo del Toro helmed flick. The Orphanage featured in numerous films dubbed “The Scariest Horror Films of the 21st Century”. I remain unconvinced. Where this is a ghost story, I wouldn’t call it a horror movie. It’s a drama that happens to have ghosts in it.

Del Toro seems to enjoy taking ghosts from a more sympathetic perspective. Take a malevolent spirit, find out what makes it tick, pin down its tragic backstory, and bring it peace once and for all. But of course, once you understand a ghost, it loses its fear factor. This is the biggest downfall of The Orphanage from early on.

The film revolves around a woman who returns to the orphanage she grew up in, intent on transforming it into a center for special needs children. But some of the original orphans never left…

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What drew me into this film in the first place was the promise of a creepy child wearing a potato sack scarecrow mask. I anticipated many tense moments of such an apparition to terrify me. Instead, there’s maybe one glimpse in the beginning, and few later on. My inability to let go of my need for a scary ghost story hindered my ability to enjoy the story for what it was. Because these kids are just kids, and they just want to be loved and understood. The underlying theme of the film, after all, is mother’s love.

Which is pretty damnably cheesy for a horror film…

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Maybe if it would be less so if the mother’s frantic racing out of house, down into the water, out into a random cave near the beginning while searching for her missing son weren’t so overly dramatic. He’s completely disappeared from her sight through the entire afternoon and early evening, and her first thought is not to search the house, but to run out toward the cave they briefly explored earlier that day? Sure. The entire set up for the later pay off is just questionable at best and I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief.

The final reveal does, however, take a new angle in preying on every parent’s fear of their child dying a gruesome death from doing normal kid things. That kind of heartbreak and heartache may play on the heartstrings of any parent of a young child, thus entertaining a completely different type of horror: that complete inability to protect the person you love.

I doubt I would have chosen to watch this film if it weren’t sold to me as a horror movie, but I suspect I may have appreciated it if I had watched it in a completely different context. In a way, it feels like a more intelligently written Lifetime movie than anything else. Maybe the ending would make me think more if I didn’t go into it with such particular expectations. And maybe I’m not its target audience, but I’m just not getting what I need out of it.

For some reason, horror movies with an ominously uplifting final scene make me more uncomfortable than a straight up bloodbath tragedy. I come to expect a gruesome end. I want every character to be dead, and trauma abound. I just don’t quite buy the “everyone’s dead, but they’re all together and happy” ending. It feels like cheating somehow. Like somehow there’s an unwritten rule where horror movies aren’t allowed to have their own screwed up equivalent of a happily ever after. It makes me wonder what a blow your mind stunningly crafted horror film with a happy ending would look like.

Whatever it is, it’s not this.

Scares: 3/10

Style: 6/10

Camp: 9/10

Creepiness: 4/10

Final Twist: 6/10

Overall Rating: 6/10

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, Reviews

Day 2

From Hell

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Back over the summer, while in London for a conference, I chose the most bizarre time of the year to go on a ghost walk. Taking a tour of all of Jack the Ripper’s murder sites at 7pm in broad daylight didn’t exactly offer the atmosphere one expects when looking for chills. One thing I did get out of it was a historically accurate breakdown of each Ripper victim, what they looked like, who they were, where they lived, how they came to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Given this, our tour guide recommended a handful of screen adaptations of the famed Jack the Ripper mystery. At the top of her list?

From Hell.

The thing about From Hell is, it’s got that campy early 2000s sci-fi/fantasy horror thing going on that you might find in your typical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Which is to say, it’s a lot of fun. I mean, Johnny Depp is a clairvoyant detective and Heather Graham has one of the most ridiculous put on cockney accents I’ve ever heard of. It’s already off to a great start.

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No matter what I come to tell you about this gong-show plot, From Hell is surprisingly on the nose in terms of historical accuracy. Given that much of the Ripper case is already shrouded in mystery, it’s easy to fill in the gaps with outrageous, over the top twists and turns. For the most part, this movie only fails at nit-picky things like instant flash photography, which would never have been possible for any early paparazzo at the time. It’s well-documented that Victorians look so stern in photos because it either takes ages for the picture to take, or they’re already dead. But how many laymen would notice a thing like that?

The clever thing From Hell does is take the Ripper story from the angle of sensationalism run rampant at the time. Which makes for completely over the top melodrama on all accounts. The mass panic evoked by the string of murders led to paranoia against foreigners, against jews, against butchers, against surgeons, against princes… Against anybody really. It stands to reason that they chose the most over the top culprit for the crimes in the end. Frankly, I would have been satisfied if the question was left unanswered. But then we wouldn’t have been blessed with such a convoluted plot twist to end all plot twists.

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It’s not innovative. It’s nothing new. In fact, the path From Hell takes is pretty near identical to the twist in one of the latest Sherlock Holmes films. If it’s the 19th century, and you can blame the freemasons, why not, right? If a member of the royal family is already a legitimate lead suspect for the murders, you might as well go big or go home with this conspiracy. I can definitely see how that might be shocking to any casual viewer who doesn’t have any background knowledge of the Ripper conspiracy theories. Of all the Ripper conspiracies I’ve heard of, this one’s certainly the most bonkers. Props to Alan Moore for going there…

Going into this movie, I was expecting something a little darker. Especially as an adaptation of an Alan Moore graphic novel. Moore’s works are always a little more on the grittier, bleak side. And given Moore’s the type of elusive hermit who aggressively dislikes every film adaptation of his works, I’d warrant a guess the filmmakers took some liberties. From Hell is not quite the smart anarchist conspiracy that V For Vendetta is, but it’s certainly a cut above the Frankenstein’s monster CGI travesty of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Deep down, it knows it’s not a masterpiece. It’s a silly murder mystery romp and doesn’t expect to be anything less. Am I mad at it? Of course not.

If this film were a musical, it would be Sweeney Todd. A really silly, over the top production of Sweeney Todd. And honestly? I’d watch it.

Scares: 4/10

Style: 6/10

Camp: 9/10

Creepiness: 4/10

Final Twist: 7/10

Overall Rating: 7/10

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, Reviews

Day 1

Crimson Peak

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Every October, I plan to watch horror movies each weekend and every year, I wuss out. This year, instead of dialing back, I decided to go all in and try for a movie per night. With a week left leading up to Halloween, I’ve decided to write a review for every film I’ve watched.

I started off with a film I knew I had to see the minute the first set photos leaked. Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain in gorgeous Victorian costuming is reason enough to watch any film. Crimson Peak has so many elements I love in a gothic horror. Given my favourite movie of all time is Sweeney Todd, of course Crimson Peak would be right up my alley. It’s Victorian, it’s gothic, it’s a ghost story, it’s highly stylised… all the things I love.

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After digging into Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, and now Crimson Peak, I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that Guillermo del Toro is becoming one of my favourite directors. He’s got a nice, wide range of interests, which makes his films vastly different. One second, he’s doing a dark fairytale take on World War 2, another he’s doing a campy rubber monster movie/robot mashup movie, and the next he’s doing a Victorian ghost story. He’s no one trick pony. Much as I love directors such as Tim Burton, del Toro’s unique style doesn’t automatically make you think, ‘oh yeah, another black and white toned artsy gothic’. At no point would I confuse any of his films.

The biggest reason I’ve failed in my venture into the depths of horror marathons is getting scared right off the bat. Which is why the stylised camp of Crimson Peak worked well as my first test. The thing about horror movie scares is all that tension has to come with a satisfying payoff. With Crimson Peak, the tension is wound tight, but the ghosts are beautifully stylised and still appropriately creepy. The visual effect is enough of a payoff in itself. Del Torro’s filmography is similar to Alfonso Cuaron, in that it’s full of imagery and he’s not interested in being subtle about it. It’s there, it’s beautiful, he wants you to know its there for a reason. The entire film is slicked with red. The trailer and movie stills make it look like The Shining elevators spilling blood. It’s horror movie bread and butter, really. But for once, that’s not what’s going on here. Whether the set is drenched in blood or not, all that red makes for a gorgeous visual feast.

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In terms of plot, Crimson Peak seems to be a fond homage to Victorian gothics before it. It’s got hints of Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre in terms of ghostly deceptions and deadly secrets tied to ancestral mansions. As a result, the twists and turns are more on the predictable side, yet still manages to take a unique spin on the trope.

Whenever I sit down to watch a horror film, I ask myself three things: am I scared? Am I impressed? Am I surprised? Crimson Peak fulfills all three. The artistry is undeniably gorgeous and while I predicted certain events, they didn’t unfold as I quite expected. There’s a certain risk to revealing the monster within the first scene, but del Toro still manages to maintain the creep factor every time the ghosts show up. There’s something unsettling about them, despite the fact that they’re so highly stylised, they’re on the unrealistic side. But del Toro’s not here to sell a realistic film. He’s selling a work of art – one that’s inherently creepy and melancholic in both measures. And I’m certainly buying it all.

Scares: 7/10

Style: 10/10

Camp: 6/10

Creepiness: 8/10

Final Twist: 7/10

Overall Rating: 8/10