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Movie Review: Antichrist (Part 1)

It is very rare that a movie scares me anymore. I’m not bragging. It just means I’ve seen too many scary movies. I know how it’s going to end. I know which characters are going to die at which points. I know where the monster will appear and what its name is. It’s all about knowing the tropes and the cliches and the very nature of the genre.

And as I’ve stated many times, fear is about not knowing. It’s about being surprised. It’s about not knowing what’s around the corner.

What’s great, truly great, about modern movies is there are no restrictions. Back in ye olden days, the good guys one, the bad guys died. Some secondary characters bit the dust, but you knew Bruce Strongchin and Betty Blondhairs would be ok in the end. As time went on and 70’s horror lost its sense of right and wrong, the hero stopped being safe. Movies started being shocking again. This was especially true in all those thousands of cult and Satan movies.

Movies could show more and more violence, so they showed more and more violence. And we got inured to violence and shock and horror and yawn. Horror has so much freedom now. It can go places and show things and tell stories that it couldn’t have told in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. So what does it do with this freedom?

Torture porn and the human centipede. Modern horror makers, for the most part, seem to feel the necessity to top themselves in an unwinnable attempt to be the most shocking and forget that the best way to scare is to show less and draw out the tension on a razor’s edge.

All this is leading to Antichrist. I’m not done watching it. I got so excited and so bursting with nervous energy that I had to stop in the middle and start writing about it. It made me uneasy. It made me scared and upset and worried and freaked out and oh, there’s no jump scares and there’s no psycho in the woods; it’s all just upsetting imagery and freaky visuals and a tight script and two actors falling deeper and deeper into madness inducing fear.

This is what the freedom allows. It’s not about being able to show every aspect of a decapitation from every angle in excruciating slow motion. It’s about being able to upset the audience. It’s about making people uncomfortable. That’s what good horror does. It’s uncomfortable and uneasy and it makes you squirm and when it’s done you let out that tension in one shaky release of breath.

I have to get back to my movie.

Part 2 tomorrow.

-D-

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Horror on a Budget

I talk a lot about horror as an art form. I rail against poorly made horror movies and I talk endlessly about what horror needs to do as a genre in order to regain its ability to actually frighten people.

All of that doesn’t change the fact that I really like shitty horror movies.

I don’t know why. I’ve tried to think of reasons for it; explanations for my love of truly awful movies.

They’re…comforting, intrinsically. You know what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it. I know their ins and outs and I know what their plot is before they do. They make me laugh, though they don’t mean to. And sometimes, very rarely, they actually have the power to shock me.

It’s because they’re not bound by any rules or standards. Characters appear and disappear for no reason. And terrible, truly terrible things will happen, in all senses of the word, because the filmmakers are completely and utterly unbound by any concept of what should or shouldn’t be in a movie.

And that, in and of itself, is extremely refreshing.

It doesn’t change the fact that these movies are shockingly bad and inexcusably awful, but it at least gives me a way to defend my love for them all.

-D-

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Movie Review: Prometheus

When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with the Aliens movies. Well, correction: I was obsessed with Alien and Aliens. The other two movies were of such questionable quality that I’d rather pretend that they never happened.

It was one of the first bits of horror I watched growing up and it had a deep and affecting impact on what I consider scary. The alien in these movies is not something to be reasoned with. It’s not evil. It’s just a very well-designed killing machine; incapable of remorse or mercy. It has no back-story, no motivation, no explanation; it does what it does and the protagonist has no recourse but to simply deal with it. It’s shadowy and elusive and brutal.

So when I heard about Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, I was concerned. The Alien creature lost a lot of its mystique because of mindless and pointless repetition. The boogeyman is not scary when it’s dragged into the light, kicking and screaming. In the latter sequels, the Alien is put onto the dissection table and pointlessly and needlessly over-analyzed. There was no more fear; it just became a part of pop culture, something that used to scare us.

And now, Scott was once again returning to the well. Except, instead of revisiting the alien and telling that same damn story all over again with a pointless origin story, he showed another aspect to the story. Instead of a direct prequel, he created a story that took place in the same universe and, while it does shed some light on the story in Alien, it is not directly about those later movies.

And in some ways, this is the best kind of prequel. It’s not like the Star Wars prequels, where Lucas shoehorns in pointless contrivances just to work in familiar characters and uses needless and tedious exposition to elaborate on parts of the back story that no-one cares about. Scott attempts to tell a new story that just happens to take place in the Alien universe. By the time it was over, I had re-examined the events in Alien and re-contextualized them, but in a way that didn’t cheapen or lessen the fear or impact of that movie.

Even better, he avoids explaining everything fully. By the time the movie is done, you’re still left wondering and that, I believe, is for the best. For horror, it’s always better if the audience is guessing at the end, at least just a little bit. There should be an element of doubt and curiosity. It is the unknown that people, in general, fear the most. And by leaving questions unanswered at the end of Prometheus, Scott has left a lot unknown. He fleshes out the universe without taking anything away from the fear and the unknown terrors of the original movie.

And so while Prometheus is not a great movie, it is a great prequel. It has its problems and its “the hell?” moments, but it doesn’t detract from its predecessors.

If you’re a fan of the series, check it out.

-D

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The Search

I’m always searching for what I think might be the worst movie ever made. It has to fulfill a number of criteria to qualify.

1. It has to be offensive. It can’t just be poorly made, with bad lighting and bad acting. It needs to offend me on some level. If I’m not angry by the end, then it doesn’t count.

2. It needs to be poorly made. As bad as say, Battlefield Earth is, it’s not badly made. It’s got some visuals to it, by golly. If it’s going to qualify as the worst movie ever, it needs to have booms in frame. It needs to be so poorly lit that I can’t see what’s going on. There needs to be a definite lack of quality present.

3. It has to have no redeeming value. There should be no chance that I learn anything from this morning. There should be no point where I say, “Well, at least it looks like they had fun while they were making this.” From every aspect, the worst movie ever needs to be a waste of everyone’s time. If I see that Alan Smithee is the director, I know I’m on the right track.

Those are a few of the basic criteria needed. I watched a movie yesterday that almost qualifies. It certainly comes close. I was angry, sad and a little sick when it finished, but it was missing something. If it was just a little bit worse…I’m still looking.

And I will find it.

Dylan Charles

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The Process

In order to get myself hyped about writing reviews again, I’m going to let ya’ll in on a behind-the-scenes look at the process I use when writing reviews. It’s also a good way to get two blog entries out of one movie.

1. First, I pick the movie. This involves going through the collection of horror movies available on Netflix. I flip through the list until I read a plot synopsis that makes me wince. This week’s selection is Hanger, a movie about an abortion gone wrong. Quality!

2. Next, I watch the movie. This can take anywhere from the running time of the movie to a full week, depending on how good the movie is. As I watch, I make notes to help me when I actually start to write the review. Usually the notes are far from helpful since they’re usually things like: “Dialog bad. What write movie?” “Jesus Crickets, this sucks.”

3. After a substantial recovery period, I start to write the review. Since I need a screencap for the review and since I always forget to take the screencap while I’m watching the movie, this means starting up Hanger again. A second substantial recovery period is needed.

4. I then write the review a full month after picking the movie. Generally, I’ve forgotten a great number of details, so I end up rewatching most of the movie to make sure I get my facts right.

5. By this point, I’m now the foremost expert on this movie and it’s time to pick the next movie.

Elapsed time: 2 months

This is assuming that everything goes well. Sometimes I’ll watch an entire movie and there’s nothing interesting to say about it, so I’ll move on to something else. Hanger looks promising though.

Dylan Charles

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Hellraiser: A Review of Most of the Series

I’ve only watched six of the nine available Hellraiser movies and I’ve only seen them all once, so I don’t consider myself any kind of expert. But after watching four of these movies in a three day period, I figure I’ve earned the right to vent a little bit.

The first Hellraiser movie was a great horror movie. It brought a new mythos to the table and broke free of the more standard horror movies that were being pumped out during the ’80s. It took its time and built up an atmosphere. And then knocked you down with gutwrenchingly creepy visuals. It’s an unsettling movie and reason #552 why I hope I’m never left alone in the same room with Clive Barker.

And then they started pumping out sequels. In the second movie, our wily heroine ends up in Hell itself and we find out Pinhead’s backstory.

By the fourth movie, we find out where the puzzle box (or the Lament Configuration if we want to be nerdy about it) comes from and also take a trip into space with Pinhead.

Really, there’s not much more ground to cover in the mythos, but the Hellraiser series falls into the same trap as other horror franchises and drive everything into the ground. What started off as a unique and creepy story has now been dragged so far into the light that any sense of mystery has been completely eradicated. And this series, more than most others, did best when the audience was kept in the dark.

At its best, Hellraiser was heavily driven by its atmosphere and the mythology. The characters were secondary to the backdrop behind them. The Cenobites were shadowy figures that were skincrawlingly creepy. Hell was a combination of Escher and Bosch and was probably the best representation of what the inside of Lovecraft’s brain looked like.

But as the series went on, they traded mystery for more gore and creepy for shocking. By the time you have a Cenobite who ejected CDs into his victims (Hellraiser III), the series had jumped the shark and then jumped it again for good measure.

This devolving of the series is more disappointing than, say, Friday the 13th because Friday the 13th was always a second-rate Halloween knock-off designed to make money and throw some blood on the screen. Jason X isn’t really that big of a fall of grace for the series. But Hellraiser started off striving for some much more and ended up being no better than any of its slasher brothers.

Dylan Charles

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Horror Conventions

I’ve always wanted to go to a horror convention. There are few places where my out-of-proportion love for horror movies would seem normal and a convention for horror freaks is one of them.

Luckily for me, there’s a convention right here in Boston. And, by right here, I mean over in Worcester. It’s called Rock and Shock and it’s going to be at the DCU Theater and Palladium between October 14th and 16th. The guest list alone makes me want to squeal. Robert Englund (Freddy Kreuger) and Kane Hodder (Jason) are going to be there, along with Lance Henriksen, Roddy Piper, Heather Langenkamp and countless other celebrities of horror.

And there’ll be vendors and screenings and music and people wearing costumes and oh, there’s just no place like home.

I’m going to do my best to be there and there’ll be a lengthy blog post to follow that up, maybe even with pictures.  If you’re in the area that weekend, you should definitely check it out too.

Squealing!

Dylan Charles

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