Category: movies

Movie review: Crimson Peak

marketing, movie review, movies March 1, 2016

600full-crimson-peak-posterIt took me a bit longer than usual to get to Crimson Peak. I am a big del Toro fan, especially the super-fun Hellboy installments, the haunting Pan’s Labyrinth, and the TV series The Strain (based on novels written by del Toro and Chuck Hogan). I’d read mixed reviews of Crimson Peak, and other movies always seemed to take precedent, so I’m a bit late for this one.

Premise: a young woman is swept off her feet by a handsome man and taken to his gothic mansion that sits atop a mountain of red clay. Sinister goings-on reveal a terrible (SPOILER! Lannister-esque) secret and she wonders if she will leave Crimson Peak alive.

I noted that most of the critical reviews of Crimson Peak mentioned that the movie was inaccurately billed as a ghost-centric horror movie but behaves more as a gothic bodice-clutcher.

I agree with that assessment. Stylish and bloody, but not particularly scary. It’s got plenty of tropes, a conventional plot line, and melodramatic woes, but there’s not a disturbing bone in the mix.

Del Toro never fails to deliver a visually stunning film. Crimson Peak is beautiful to watch. The ethereal Wasikowska is lovely and Tom Hiddleston by turns devastatingly handsome and creepy. The costumes are beautiful and the sets intricate and detailed. Del Toro also clearly paid attention to events during the time the story is set, from a cholera epidemic to a Mary Shelley reference.

Despite the eye candy, this movie focuses more on the interpersonal dynamics than the horror elements. I think it would have only taken a few shifts in perspective to make this more of a horror story. One character is slowly poisoned by another, but it almost feels as if the poisoning is an afterthought (not to mention so predictable).

Bottom line: see it for the pretty pictures, but don’t expect to have trouble sleeping.

Crimson Peak (2015)
Guillermo del Toro
starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Huddleston, Charlie Hunnam, and Jessica Chastain

Playing favorites… horror movie edition

movies, playing favorites February 18, 2014

Playing favorites is a new topic I’m going to try here. If you’re reading, please play along! Leave your favorites in the comments or drop by my Facebook page to let me know. I love to discover new books, movies, and ways of entertaining myself through sick and twisted storytelling!

So… here’s the horror movie edition of “playing favorites.”

You know those nights when you’re done with all the “stuff,” or you just make the decision to be done for now, and the kids are in bed, and the corgis are snoring… or however those evenings go in your house, and all of this has happened in anticipation of a tiny bit of down time and your favorite movie?

I love those nights. Often, though, I don’t use those nights to go back to my favorites, but rather watch something new, preferably obscure and maybe indie so I can review it and share it with everyone. I’ve got a few reviews in the queue I’m looking forward to sharing.

But sometimes I do relent, most often if I’m by myself and I can watch something to just chill. My husband is usually amused by my relaxing movies choices, because they’re something like Jaws, [Rec], Evil Dead (either version) or… my favorite… Saw.

The original movie is my favorite of the franchise. Cary Elwes is one of my favorite actors and he does a great job in the bathroom. Tobin Bell makes a creepy Jigsaw. The traps are clever and his motive is clear… appreciate what you’ve got or lose it. I’ve enjoyed all the movies in the franchise, but the first remains my personal favorite.

I’ve also enjoyed a few related movies, spin-offs like Panic Button.

What’s you favorite movie to relax with, horror or not?

I heart Jigsaw.

I heart Jigsaw.

Movie review: Frozen

movie review, movies November 21, 2013

It’s been a little while I’ve done a movie review. I certainly haven’t stopped watching them, and I take notes, but I haven’t written up a review.

A little while ago I watched the 2010 movie Frozen, directed by Adam Greene. It took a little more suspension of disbelief than usual, but I enjoyed it. My husband, who is an avid outdoorsman, couldn’t suspend disbelief quite the same way I could, and he picked this one apart from beginning to end.


Frozen stars Kevin Zegers, Emma Bell, and the ever-enjoyable Shawn Ashmore (X-Men and the TV mini-series Earthsea. He played Ged. I was not impressed.). The basic premise is pretty simple: three friends don’t pay for lift tickets at a ski resort and are thus unaccounted for when the lift shuts down for the night… on a Sunday… when the resort is scheduled to be closed for the week. They’re stuck on a lift way up high in subzero temps with no way to get down and no rescue in sight.

Some problems we had (or he had… like I said, I was good to play along without too much complaint):

  • Usually there is a visual check of the lifts at the end of the day. Apparently, employees take the final run of the day and check the lifts as they go down the slopes. He would know this better than I, who only went skiing once in her life, was solidly beaned by the J bar and refused to ever go again. Our movie trio would have been rescued then.
  • The characters should have died the first night. They were inadequately dressed to survive the conditions while sitting still in the air. Again, he would know this. I wasn’t so sure.
  • There were minor inconsistencies in the characters dress and wounds that were pretty apparent at different times during the movie.
  • Without giving away spoilers, one hazard they faced was pretty unbelievable.

I can make some comparisons to the 2003 movie Open Water. Abandonment, struggle for survival against nature, fairly small perspective. If you didn’t like Open Water, you’re safe knowing that you probably won’t care for Frozen.

I recommend this as a weekend time waster just for the entertainment value.


Movie Review: Alyce Kills

movie review, movies October 9, 2013

Alyce-Kills-coverWow… this one took even my jaded sensibilities by surprise.

Alyce Kills is a 2013 release, directed by Jay Lee, of Zombie Strippers and The Slaughter fame. This is the story of a young woman, Alyce, and her descent into madness.

Alyce is a rather unhappy chick. She works for a woman who resents her and likes nasty little passive-aggressive games. Alyce’s love for her best friend, Carroll, is painfully apparent but unrequited. The girls spend an evening together bonding, despite past tensions over what is apparently Alyce’s tendency to lapse into “single white female” obsessiveness. All the fun things are present: red velvet cake, plans for vengeance upon a cheating ex, and almost-but-not-quite lesbian action. This scene brings to the forefront Alyce’s feelings for Carroll and Carroll’s dismissal.

After the girls visit their drug dealer and score some Ecstasy, they return to Alyce’s apartment and go to the roof where Alyce (accidentally?) pushes Carroll off the roof. Alyce begins to lose her mind and Carroll’s apparition (can’t be ghost, because Carroll doesn’t die immediately) visits Alyce in her home. Alyce turns to more drugs, which she trades sex for, to assuage her pain, but the drugs seem to only fuel her own dive into psychosis. After Carroll’s eventual death, Alyce attends the funeral, only to be thrown out for molesting the corpse… in front of all the funeral-goers. I’m not sure why this scene tickled me so much… but it did. Something new is always good. She’s clearly out of control and when she finally decides to take back her life… she’s so creative.

The story is a good one and I enjoyed the movie immensely. I was surprised at how quickly it turned into a gorefest after a really satisfying slow burn, and it’s so gory it’s almost gratuitous, but I’ll forgive Lee for this because of the creativity with which Alyce goes about her revenge.

Recommended for horror fans and those who like chick flicks with a twist (and can handle a good blender scene).

Movie review: Devil’s Pass

movie review, movies, research October 4, 2013

I’m always intrigued by movies that claim to be based on actual events, particularly horror movies. Most of the horrific things we write about are so far out there it’s unreasonable to assume they’d actually happen. For a movie to bill itself as real horror is fascinating to me.

I was trolling Amazon rentals for something different to watch one night last month and found this one:

100413 Devil's Pass

    Also known as:

100413 The Dyatlov Pass Incident










This is a 2013 movie directed by Renny Harlin. The basic premise is straightforward: a group of teenagers read about the “Dyatlov Pass Incident,” which is a real event, and go to investigate.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident refers to the disappearance of nine skiers in the Ural mountains in 1959. When an expected message from the group of experienced skiers did not arrive, search and rescue went after them. They were found dead, in various stated of undress (in below zero temps), with tents ripped open from the inside, and some had fatal wounds that could not be explained. Several of them left the camp barefoot, and radiation in the area was unusually high. Their deaths have never been explained. Really fascinating stuff, and certainly could be the basis for a real life horror. If you’re interested in reading more about this event, I found a good article here.

In the movie Devil’s Pass, Harlin puts his own spin on what might have happened to the original skiers. A group of American college students, interested in the original incident, decide to hike the same path as the party from 1956. As you can imagine, Harlin puts forth his own dramatized theory of what might have taken place in February, 1956. The cast is mostly newcomers, no big-ticket actors, and they do a good job. There’s a good slow burn up to a certain point, after which you have to let go of the “true story” part and just run with it. I had a brief outburst of “WHY??? WHY’D HAVE TO GO THERE???” and then just settled in and enjoyed the end. It was suspenseful, if not believable.

I give it three and a half stars. I had to take one and a half off because of the ending. I would have preferred a plausible idea to what might have happened to the skiers, but on it’s own this is a fun movie.










Movie Review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

movie review, movies November 30, 2011


I can’t figure out how I missed this gem. This movie takes the most cliched tropes of the horror film genre and turns them upside-down, with hysterical and– dare I say it?– heartwarming results. It’s both a celebration and a parody of genre conventions.

Dale and Tucker, my heroes

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a 2010 film. A favorite actor of mine, Alan Tudyk, plays one of the title characters, Tucker. I may have overlooked this film when browsing the Amazon streaming videos, but Tudyk’s name caught my eye.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is set in Appalachia, West Virginia. Being from Pennsylvania, and more recently having spent the last 16 years in southwestern Pennsylvania, I’ve heard all the West Virginia jokes, and knew this would come into play somehow, most likely with the hillbilly killers terrorizing innocent non-hillbillies. What surprised me was that the typical horror stereotypes were solidly reversed in this movie. Another surprise in store for me was the humor.

This movie begins with a carful of college preppies heading into the woods of West Virginia for some camping. The stereotypes come fast and quick– they forgot the beer, the sorority girls are both blonde and wearing stripper shoes, the frat boys are handsome in their pastel polo shirts.

We meet Tucker and Dale, our two hillbillies in overalls who’ve bought a “vacation home” in the woods and happen to be at the gas station where the kids stop for beer. Dale immediately proclaims his admiration for Allison, one of the girls in the party, and after Tucker encourages him to talk with her– complete with scythe and maniacal laugh– the kids run from our hillbilly heroes.

We see the “vacation home,” which amounts to no more than a run-down cabin apparently used by a serial killer. My husband pointed out a resemblance to the cabin from the horror classic Evil Dead. One poorly timed coincidence after another and Allison ends up in the cabin with Tucker and Dale, after Dale saves her from a near drowning.

While Dale woos Allison with pancakes and Trivial Pursuit, the college kids forge a plan to save their “kidnapped” friend, and in doing so, seal their own demise at their own hands. Tucker and Dale are convinced the college kids came to the woods to carry our a suicide pact. Law enforcement gets involved, until structural issues with the cabin take care of the officer. Hysterical action follows, lots of gore– there’s a wood chipper death! — and Earl Grey tea. I know, right? I loved it.

I was not surprised by the amount of gore in the movie– it’s labeled a horror, after all– but I was surprised at the lack of profanity and nudity. If it weren’t for the copious bodily fluid splattering, I’d almost think I could show this to my kids. This is campy horror at it’s finest.

Movie Review: Them

movies October 19, 2011

I love horror movies. I haven’t always gotten the chance to watch a lot of them, since my husband wasn’t much of a fan for a long time. Fortunately, the years with me have corrupted him and we both enjoy a good terror flick these days.

Original French poster

I’ve had several odd movies on my to-be-watched list, and when a friend mentioned this one a couple of weeks ago, I decided to get on the ball and watch it. This is a French horror film from 2006. I rented this movie, and the English version is subtitled.

The movie starts with a bang. A mother and her daughter are arguing while driving on an isolated road at night. The mother swerves to avoid hitting something in the street, and hits a pole. The van is disabled and when the mother gets out to check the engine (I love that a woman checks the engine), she disappears. The scene is high-tension with just the right set-up. The watcher never sees what has happened or what it is that’s terrorizing the mother and daughter. Beautifully done and I was excited for the rest of the movie.

We’re then introduced to Clementine, who lives in a huge, rambling, old house out in the boonies with her boyfriend, Lucas. She goes home from work to a normal evening with Lucas. We get to know just enough about the pair to care, but not so much that the story drags. The movie centers on these two characters almost exclusively, in the same style as Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project, two movies that scared the bejesus out of me the first time I saw them.

Clementine is awoken by sounds from outside, and the couple investigates. From here the tension very quickly ratchets up, very effectively. I found myself on the edge of my sofa several times. The couple must fight their way out of the house, and only glimpses of the perpetrators are ever given. I promised myself to never hang sheets of plastic in my attic.

Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through the movie, the monsters are revealed. As soon as I realized what was happening, the movie was over for me. The monsters themselves were not convincing to me, although the setting was good and the suspense was still high. At one point in the movie, at the moment when the monster is shown, I looked at my husband and said, “Willing suspension of disbelief gone.”

This movie would have been more effective if the writers had opted to keep the monsters hidden from start to finish. The basic premise of the monsters wouldn’t have had to change… but I didn’t need to know it. Game over.

Interestingly enough, I think the subtitles also prevented me from being fully immersed in the story. Drawing my attention from the scene to the text seemed to keep me one step removed, but that could be an individual thing.

As an aside, this movie is also supposedly based on a true story, but I can find nothing online to support that assertion. If anyone knows anything about the deaths, please let me know.

This review refers to the 2006 version of Them, produced by Richard Grandpierre.

Book/movie compare/contrast: I Am Legend

book review, movies September 21, 2011

I will admit dreading this reading.

I tried to watch the movie but ignored the little exposure I had. I’m not even sure how far I got before I told my husband to turn it off and watch it sometime when I’m far, far away. My problem with the movie was twofold, which I will explain.

I never really intended to read the book, but it showed up on a class reading list. When I picked it up and started reading, I first noted that the character of Robert Neville was completely unlike what I’d come to know (briefly) as Robert Neville in the movie, and I’m not just talking about race. Once I realized this, I allowed myself to let go of my preexisting opinions of the story and just… amazingly… enjoyed it.

One of my biggest problems with certain kinds of horror, generally horror involving some sort of science fiction, is the depiction of widescale devastation. The post-apocalyptic stuff on a wide scale really bothers me. I liked the movie Independence Day, but really had trouble with the scenes of devastation in the cities. This was one of my major issues with the movie version of I Am Legend– the complete loss of civilization is something that bothers me a lot. The book, however, brings the wide scale stuff down into the mind of one individual. Yes, we know that life on Earth is no longer what we’re familiar with, but we see it through the eyes of only Neville, instead of the vast omniscient POV so common in post-apocalyptic stories. When seen as the day-to-day struggles of one person, it brings the devastation into a more manageable scale for me, emotionally, yet more effectively drives it home. The bigger picture just forces me to turn off my inner eye– it’s too much. Neville made it easier for me to deal with, and yet made it so much more personal at the same time.

I liked Neville very much. He’s an every man’s kind of man, strong, silent and intelligent. I also liked the monsters that were his neighbors. We all have the irritating neighbor who seems to show up at the least convenient moments. We all have our Ben Cortman. The predictability of Cortman throughout the story was, in a sick way, comforting. We know what he’s going to do if Neville goes outside, but it’s still Ben. The contrast that Matheson achieved with this inverted portrayal of the neighborly exchange tugged at my heart. Of course the story of his family’s demise did too, but it was the smaller details, like his relationship with Cortman, that showed the true loss and made his desperation to have the relationship with Ruth that much more believable.

The appearance of Ruth was too good to be true, and I wouldn’t have bought his efforts to connect with her if Matheson hadn’t so effectively set up Neville’s crippling isolation. All he had was his routine, his drive to remain protected. We see this through his actions to shut out the noise, shutter the windows, play the music. He’s a man on the edge. To me, the isolation in this novel was the true monster. The vampires themselves, perhaps because I’ve been inundated with visuals of this kind of monster for so long, weren’t terrifying to me. The thought of being left alone in that post-apocalyptic society that I already hate… that’s the true terror. And Matheson wrote it exceedingly well.

My other issue, and perhaps my biggest issue, with the movie was the dog. I do not, as a personal rule, watch movies involving animals. I’ve not seen Braveheart because I know there is graphic depiction of horse death. I don’t even like Dr. Dolittle. I was relieved to find that the dog didn’t actually have a recurring role in the book version of I Am Legend, and once we did meet it, it’s purpose was to further demonstrate Neville’s isolation. I was okay with it.
I’m glad that the book exceeded my expectations and glad I’ve read it. The movie was so far from the story I do think they should have given it another name. It’s not the same story at all.