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