An American Werewolf in London (1981)

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Now, here we have a classic and it’s reviewed by guest writer Rob from over at movierobwho does a lot of film reviews and also has many periods where he focuses on genre set movies, so I thought it would be cool to get him involved in my horror set month for Halloween Club. This is the film he set on and now, just for the make up effects alone, I want to see it even more!

Here is his review:

“A naked American man stole my balloons.” – Little Boy

Number of Times Seen – Between 3-5 times (Cable in the 80’s and 21 Oct 2014)

Brief Synopsis –Two college students traveling in the British countryside get attacked by a strange creature.

My Take on it – I’m not the biggest fan of horror movies to say the least, but when Troy asked me to participate in his Halloween Club Month, I decided to give it a try.

I saw this movie a few times as a kid on cable and basically forgot everything about it except for the very cool special effects when the main character changes into a werewolf.

I’m still amazed by how they did it 33 years later, which is quite impressive since usually effects from older movies just aren’t as realistic looking as the effects of today. I’m sure in 20-30 years from now, they will be saying the same thing about what we see today.

What’s interesting about the effects is that this movie’s use of makeup gave it the inaugural Oscar win in the new Best Makeup category created after the Academy realized one year earlier with The Elephant Man that such a category truly was missing.

Surprisingly, this award remains the only Oscar ever awarded to a John Landis film since he is mainly known for his comedies.

That being said, there are a few humorous scenes involving a naked man that elicit a chuckle here and there, but overall this movie is more of a mild horror movie that a full fledged one (I’m not complaining in the least about that).

The plot is thin and I can’t really say that this is much better than being a mediocre film.

Regardless, thanks to Troy again for getting me to watch a (pseudo) horror film!

Kudos to you my friend!

Bottom Line - Not a great example of a scary horror movie in my opinion but still has amazing special effects when ‘the change’ occurs. Not a typical comedy one would expect from John Landis which surprised many people who went to see it in the theater.

Rating – BAFTA Worthy (6/10)

The Book of Life (2014)

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An extravaganza of loud colours and fun festivities, this film certainly lives well in showing a story of the dead. Three worlds, three lead characters and a host of many other treats work together with humour, folklore and music to produce a glorious moving canvas for the audience.

Upon arriving at a museum, a group of school kids under detention meet and hear a story from the tour guide Mary Beth (Christina Applegate). The story is found in the Book of Life and the tale she recounts concerns a Mexican town called San Angel and the importance of three people on this dwelling. A feisty and adored Maria (Zoe Saldana) comes back after time away in Europe and lands back in the midst of her squabbling friends and admirers, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). This causes larger attention from outside presences. Two gods who reside over The Land of the Remembered – La Muerte, and of the Forgotten – Xibalba make a wager on the guy they believe will marry Maria, if Xibalba wins he’ll finally rule the Land of the Remembered, if not then he’ll cease interfering with the mortals.

It’s a fascinating backdrop that has a lot going on but not at the same time. There’s plenty included by screenwriters, Doug Langdale and Jorge Gutierrez to keep adults engaged and keep children wide eyed. The whole film being about the Mexican Day of the Dead festival is an interesting plot and thankfully or hopefully it will shed light on cultural aspects of another country for younger people watching. The ghosts being remembered by tombstones and the realms of different states of being are very poetic and perfect for an animation film such as this.

Speaking of the animation, I have to say it’s gorgeous. I love the different approach to the style of characters, settings and more. Reel FX Creative Studios and the team behind the animated world have created a triumph of something new and exciting. The cardboard faces or wooden puppet hands attached with bars of metal all make it feel like a pop up book coming to splendid life. This truly makes the narrative feel as if we’re being gifted the story along with the kids in the museum.

The more emotional sides of the story are there as well, maybe not done as well as the lighter side of things or as greatly as the sparkling animation but the passing of characters and the quest of Manolo to become the person he wants to be and not what he’s expected to be, are neat fine character touches that do enough to tick the plot over. It’s a rival story that comes good of course but the journey to get to the town being saved is a giddy ride to entertain you past the pretty simple and less than inspiring plot points.

The music is a treat for the ears with pop songs being blended in with more Mexican flavoured tunes. It’s wonderfully done and performed when you hear things like Mumford and Sons or Elvis Presley benefiting the story and being sung with a unique voice. There’s so much heart in the other songs too, for example, ‘I Love You Too Much’ is so beautiful and Manolo’s music loving bullfighter character brings that needed taste of magical sound.

There’s actually a solid amount of comedy involved in this plot too, it works better than the pretty concrete slab of dramatic plot they have cut out. The singing nuns, the many Sanchez’s, the Mariachi band, the medal for medals joke. There’s a lot of humour that both kids and grown ups can and will enjoy. It’s a very snappily moving film that kind of resembles the pacy zip of ‘Cloud with a Chance of Meatballs’ and that’s no bad comparison. The three worlds all have their moments of magic, fun and intrigue and that’s what makes this entire film shoot along very nicely.

Ron Perlman is gruff and mischievous enough to be dark but not overly scary as Xibalba, it’s certainly played in a way story and character wise that reminded me of Hades from Disney ‘Hercules’. Luna is very good as the leading man, he has a great soft approach to the less than traditional heroic strong man and his songs are great. Tatum is of course right for the ballsy large action guy role and his confidence is evident in the swagger of his voice but it’s a role that could have gone to a Mexican unknown, making it seem less Hollywood striving for big name acting talent attention. Saldana seems to possess a no nonsense yet soothing velvety quality in her performance and Maria is a cool character to like.

Very bright and luxurious in design of character and sumptuous rainbow filled splendour of the Day of the Dead, but it does lack quite a bit in riveting storytelling to match the magical nature of the animation. It does more than enough to entice people in with folklore and make young people start early in understanding morality and memory.

7/10

The Babadook (2014)

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I honestly don’t know how to put into words the result of my feelings upon watching this film, but of course I shall try. It’s a strange and eerie film with fantastic performances and chills to fill you up but I either felt disappointed by hype and my own expectations or the wind down of the movie’s last half. It is incredibly heartfelt and gladly doesn’t rely on tacky jump scares but something didn’t click fully and I don’t know what.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother still trying to cope after the loss of her husband in a car accident. She’s left practically alone, dealing with her son Samuel (Noah Wieseman) who has a severe fear of monsters and soon they both unwillingly let in a wicked presence thanks to the terrifying words printed in a children’s book entitled Mister Babadook.

My opening paragraph may seem like I didn’t like it and that’s far from the truth, in fact the film is so well done in it’s design of flat out creepiness. I love that it strays far away from the offal of Hollywood loud noises to scare audiences. This film is genuinely chilling to watch and the first parts of the movie really play on those teeth chattering nerves. It’s a more realistic horror in a bond being ripped apart daily and then getting tormented by what I must say is a frankly brilliant new created monster for this genre, one that lurks in shadows and appears like a twisted version of Cesare from ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.’

The house is suitably grey and cold, which really makes you feel spooked from the outset and the very opening image is stylish and odd enough to grab you by the collars and reel you in. A descending floating Amelia falling from a spinning crash nightmare is a great curtain raiser and the movie’s first half sets up relationships, the tiring environment and the Babadook in superb detail. The moment as she reads this new book to her son is very effective, music, acting, props and atmosphere all work hand in hand to really get the antagonist of the film in swinging motion.

It’s a movie that truly plays on human fatigue and I must say, that when watching this film you feel tired. Not a bad thing or a negative comment on the film, it’s a positive note on how well the story comes across. You feel for Amelia being stretched by her son’s misbehaviour, her job and the fact she can’t let her past fade. It’s a horror film very softly carried out that works the majority of the time in making more seem worryingly frightening. The entrapping cabin fever like moodiness of this film’s creature influence is perfect.

Now for moving to the side of things which I didn’t hope to go into, as I was really looking forward to this film. The ending, without spoilers was beyond weak and disappointing for me. There was so much scope for a cool inventive idea and instead it plumped for the exact opposite. Well, I guess they tried doing something different, but that little idea is so surreal that it falters to a lame sort of conclusion with the characters. Also, one or two jumpy moments could have benefited the film, not over the top scares but set ups that don’t lead you down a path to nothing, which happens more than once.

Jed Kurzel who heads the music does a stellar job in raising hairs on the neck though and even if the last 15 minutes or so begin to make me question how I perceived the film, I can’t deny that the score and sound mixing throughout is ace. Rattling sounds that bounce from left to right cinema speakers really working in feeling as if they’re hollowing you out for the arrival of the hatted Babadook. Flickering TV channels, rasping voices, screeches and knocks all play a massive part in constructing a solid disturbing series of sounds.

Davis and Wieseman are resounding stars in this small cast and really work well together and in making the Babadook feel alive. Essie Davis goes through several stages but is terrifically effective in looking and feeling sleep deprived through a lot of the film, her weariness as a struggling mother is emotional and you want the best for her as she seems so down. Noah Wieseman has a huge chunk of the movie to rack up the creepy kid factor and he does that and then some. Genuinely one of the most affecting, wide eyed freaky performances I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid, he’s a child star with lots of potential and buckets of horrifying creepiness already running through him. Yet he does well in getting a chance to shine on the flip-side of things, both him and Davis ricochet back and forth between being normal, or strange or creepy or sad. It’s a duet of stunning acting that stands out as one of the finer parts of the film.

An extremely psychological trip into a fresh and subtle look on the overflowing and uninspiring horror playbook. A real shame that the ending didn’t hit the heights it may have done but aside from that and a feeling I can’t shake of how I feel about it, I can’t say that this film isn’t great. Talented from all corners of cast and crew involved and exciting to see a horror deal with new stylish ways of storytelling.

7.5/10

Treehouse (2014)

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Labelled as a horror this film doesn’t work, I’d happily review it better if it was a psychological thriller but even then a lot of the story building is quite dull. It’s annoying though, because the beginning and the initial set up in the wooden tree top hideaway makes you think you’re in for a treat of a horror film, but no.

Brothers Crawford (Daniel Fredrick) and Killian (J. Michael Trautmann) decide to go out of the city limits on finding out the usual fair has been cancelled due to recent kidnappings. Though their plans of meeting with friends for fireworks, fun and frolics quickly vanishes when the others don’t show, so they stick to brotherly bonding instead and happen upon a tree house where they find a bloodied and shaken girl called Elizabeth (Dana Melanie) whose little brother is the subject of the recent kidnap crime. Night’s fallen and the three of them are stuck in the woods with the criminals out there watching their every move.

The cinematography of it all is very good, framings and scenery are all caught in crisp and hollow detail really making these woods stand out as twisted, gnarled and creepy. J. Christopher Campbell is the cinematographer and it’s evident he has an eye for setting up shots to work in this horror setting. The open door of the tree house with its slanted moonlit glow casting limited light into the entrapping hut is a lovely central shot for a long time as Elizabeth and Killian interact.

Sadly the majority of the film never dazzles, there’s no grand spark to emulate the fireworks that the brothers set off. The killing kidnappers are never truly threatening as we know nothing of them and see nothing of them til right near the end, the relationship between Elizabeth and Killian becomes obvious and uninteresting and their survival chance is something you begin to care less about. It’s really not a horror, I am one that finds horrors playing too much on gore and jump scares pathetic and unscary but a good horror needs to be tense, shocking and creepy and ‘Treehouse’ never concretely ticks any of these boxes.

It’s an interesting and atmospheric opening, the sunlit trees with the shadow of a man or creature, you don’t know at the point for sure, makes for fantastic foundations but soon it begins to crumble as characters die leaving two left and the two aren’t in any way interesting enough to warrant the screen time they have. Flashbacks thrown in to the writing pot work for later purposes in Killian’s defending stance but apart from that they’re another thing dragging the film down. It doesn’t need to cut back to the flashback at one point in the climax as the audience are smart enough to get the parallel being used.

I appreciate the small budget, small scale idea of director Michael G. Bartlett’s vision but it doesn’t suffice or appetize and I feel only a select small few would really like this movie. There’s just not much in the way of scares, it’s just moody and something as plain as that isn’t worth unless you have an amazing pay off, which this film doesn’t really. There is no wrap up and the open ending is sort of okay but it feels like a stupid religious note of deus ex machina to help them along in some Bonnie and Clyde moment of forced romance. Odd.

A less than overwhelming movie that somehow falls into the horror genre thanks to some effective blood work, prime nightmare location and killings but the tension is missing along with shocks, chills and excitement. Average at best.

5/10

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

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You’ve got to hand it to the filmmakers for being so stupidly ambitious in their bold attempt to try and create something new for this franchise. It doesn’t pay off mind you but applause for going against the predictable grain is what I give them. It’s dark and creepy but apart from those feelings and the film opening, this 2013 take doesn’t ever feel like the original.

After the happenings in the 1974 film, we see the townspeople burn the farmhouse down, with all the family in it. On this night, two Newt civilians find and keep a baby belonging to the Sawyer family, intending to raise it as their own. Years pass and the baby is now a young adult female called Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) who recieves mail informing her that her grandmother passed, a house in Texas is left to her and so upon discovering she’s adopted she decides to go with her friends to see what was left for her. Though a hidden secret in said house may be a family past locked away too dark and twisted for Heather to face.

It’s cool to see faces from the original return, even for the briefest of time in the opening. It’s just a shame, that the stylish opening flashing with memories of the 1974 events fades away to typical slasher genre material. The Sawyer white washed house is no more and the family are all but gone, a classic horror film wiped away for modern day purposes, sad times. The messed up element of the ’74 movie made it the shocking, scary and tense piece of cinema is still is, whereas this film in trying to emulate that messed up vibe of cannibalism and chainsawing just plain messes up by trying something different.

The writing is going for broke trying to be clever in layering family ties, background stories and the main thread is in setting up Leatherface as some insane anti-hero. I guess with other movie villains it can work but with the human face wearing psychopath it never hits the ground running as a viable idea to engage in. They’re sadistic and he’s mad, end of. It feels odd watching this film paint him and the family as victims and misunderstood. Then the whole unsettling change as Heather deals with the news kicks off another bunch of surreal silly nonsense in the story-line.

Horrors are fun and entertaining for their cliches of characters making stupid decisions, but most of that is in them going the wrong way or trying to fight the killer in the worst place, whereas here little miss Heather suddenly becomes witch-eyed weirdo when realising she’s a Sawyer, as if that would flick a switch in you. You’ve literally been hunted down by this man and his power tool for ages, why would you change sides so easily!? And the fact that they even let a stranger they just met, stay alone in a huge and stocked full of items mansion, dumb!

The blood and gore is to be expected, though it becomes too much like a ‘Saw’ film. The eeriness was what worked better than the guts and human red liquid in the original and if they’d stuck to that kind of atmosphere, the film could have been better. Saying that though, the tension of Leatherface being an inescapable killer was nicely done and the actor portraying the masked nut did a fantastic towering job. It’s just a shame the story around his and Daddario’s acting didn’t fit the bill they were trying to write.

Alexandra Daddario plays that lead scream queen female with gusto and loud shrieks to portray the necessary wailing hunted chick but they’re something in those gorgeous yet haunting eyes of her that always keeps you on edge, so when they hold more than just fear and retain an ounce of murder or rage you can see why she’s a good choice for the development in her character. Dan Yeager is never seen in the flesh but what he lacks in the usual acting department of facial expressions he makes up for with bulky presence. A great counter balance to the petite hot girl persona of Daddario.

I’m beyond glad I never saw this in 3D as it would have made me dislike it further, a gimmick that isn’t needed. I can only give it virtual points for what it tries to do and the brief moments of dark tension it musters up. A monster icon of horror is torn to shreds and reconstructed like a half assed Frankenstein creation, see it if you dare.

5/10

Fury (2014)

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This World War Two effort is gritty, brutal and deals with the tense confinement and microcosm of a tank in such a dramatic way. The ending may be slightly twee and Hollywood as an American film about Americans and it’s grander desires of storming out a thoughtful award hitter may be lost to bullet fire and explosions but it works so well in visualising the awful horrors of war.

In the latter stages of WW2, American Allies are pushing forward into Nazi occupied Germany and amongst one division is a fighting brotherhood led by Don Collier (Brad Pitt). His crew consist of religious gunner Boyd (Shia LeBeouf), driver Trini or ‘Gordo’ (Michael Pena), gun loader and nut Grady (Jon Bernthal) and petrified typist-now driver Norman (Logan Lerman). As they capture towns, drink, argue, shoot enemies and try to hold ground at a crossroads they become a family in the last ditch attempts to halt or slow down the Germans.

The cinematography of these raging battles by Roman Vasyanov is astounding. The muddy fields, ripped roads and shelled towns are seen in such beautiful yet devastating frames that you can’t evade how shocking the horrors of this war was. It’s images that really bring in the toll of the war efforts and from dirty faces to bloody bodies you see the huge aftermath of the fighting. The locations feel grimy and real, every little detail makes you feel as if you’re there amongst the terror of the Second World War. The way the final scenario of their battered tank at the crossroads is filmed is so effective in building tension and elevating the comradely spirit in what could be their final hours together. Their tank ‘Fury’ is a beast of a machine that tears scarily and majestically through Vasyanov’s and David Ayer’s work.

David Ayer directs this feature with his speciality of translating masculinity and war to the big screen. There is a hell of a lot of loud whistling bombs and gun fire but it’s necessary and he never makes the action sequences get tiresome. Each one seems to come with a different take to make you think how each battle for real life people in that war could never expect anything. Treacherous, nervous times for all that enlisted and Ayer captures that human emotion even when the men are trying to be strong, you believe it’s the best job they ever had, they’re now accustomed to the consequences of war. The moments away from cannons and grenades are in no way boring though as we grow to these men as squabbling drunk fools to lethal and loyal friends.

Threading through all this raw depiction of WW2 is the paternal development between Don and Norman. It can feel a little strained to get an emotional side of things going but after a while you cannot help but attach yourself to Norman as he grows in confidence against people he’d never expected to face in a vehicle he’d never desired to get in. Don is in ways a father figure to all his men but he truly becomes that helpful persona in dealing with Norman’s nerves. It’s a nice human connection to counter balance the visceral extremities of war.

Steven Price is on fine form in charge of music here. I had no idea it was him involved until the credits rolled but after his aural splendour on ‘Gravity’ he’s back with class for this movie. Marching chants blend with unnerving sounds and percussion to rack up the tension in the latter stages of the film concerning the predicament of their stuck tank. There is a hollow like echo and choir whisper to quite a few of the songs that mix in with shocks of backing music to amp up suspense and the deadly trials of war even in it’s closing stages.

In the mix of this very dark affecting showcase of war are some brilliant acting performances. Brad Pitt leads the troop with his usual charisma, flair and macho know-how but you can sense his fear and trepidation as men die around him leaving their tank and squad alone. The decisions are resting with him and shows his at times, fracturing leadership with comfort. Logan Lerman is the biggest emotional weight amongst the men in his vulnerability and innocence, it’s a great journey for him as he makes Norman come to life in the rise from inexperience to all out confidence. Shia LeBeouf is truly great, quiet but domineering in the background and wow does he have the knack for harrowing animal cries when coping with someones death. Michael Pena provides a rarer moment of big laughs when entering the once relaxed cozy setting of a German home with hat and cane. Jon Bernthal is like the rabid dog who you have to grow to love and he plays that with unshakable quality. The entire cast sell a dining table scene with tension and awkward unease making it stand out as one of the favourite parts of the film.

I’d not be too drawn back in saying this film doesn’t have huge mind to its work though. It is brutally thumping and one of the more gritty, dark better war movies I’ve seen but intelligence of a moral/message seems to be looked over to leave us seeing men ridden into the ground or shot in the face.

Exquisitely shot and realism of detail makes the battleground of war-torn Germany feel awesomely real, a tense, juggernaut ride with enough loud noises to leave you forgetting true heart is left behind at the tank’s hatch.

7.5/10

Varsity Blood (2014)

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Rife with cheap silliness and blood as you would expect from a horror film of this title and premise. It’s in no way awful but for a horror film the whole thing is cliched and their attempt at a masked ‘Scream’-esque twist gets convoluted in many uninteresting back stories that you just don’t care. It’s one of those cheap movies you’d half watch late at night on telly.

Briefly realising a death happened in the pre-titles, we then see the football mascot slaughter a busty cheerleader, we’re in the cheesy slasher arena for the long haul guys. A group of high school jocks and cheerleaders are preparing for Halloween by heading out to rural farmhouse to get drunk, drugged up and fornicate as is per norm in horror films of this status. Though this arguing nasty group of people, aside from a few have a past they try to cover up and someone, in said mascot uniform may now be picking them off to get revenge.

It’s of course a good looking cast, though acting prowess if obviously not high on the agenda of reasoning to hire them I’d hazard a lot of money to say. The lines in a lot of cases are delivered as if they know they’re in a nonsense horror, almost like they’re trying to be ‘Scary Movie’ about it all. If that’s the plan then I take it back and wow, they’re on point. It’s just wildly girly screaming and boyish masculinity when faced with the creeper at the farmhouse. The actual thicker attempts at story line are delivered so quickly or badly that everything seems to get muddled.

There is way too much going on in the writers of this film trying to be smart by creating ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ intentions, it gets so so lost amongst different characters, their squarely moulded personalities and the angst between them all. I just don’t get how they are even friends, they all seem to hate each other on the whole and then the writing of the killer mascot reveal is so stupendously out there that you have to marvel at how near genius it is for trying to be clever. It kind of works but you know something is up when they keep mentioning the killer is someone else, then you know it isn’t, if they’d never mentioned anything the twist would have been very good.

Apart from the sex, coke and boozing, these guys and dolls are extremely dumb, one girl gets herself killed when she could have just stepped out of the way and geez, the amount of times she kept falling over prior to that, you were wishing her death to come. I know that’s the kind of thing to expect in horror films but it’s so over the top that it doesn’t work. There’s like three characters that I liked in any aspect, apart from that the film fails because you never feel scared for them as they’re bitches or douche bags. They’re the kind of people in school you’d hate as they bully and rule the corridors, so seeing them killed is good. I understand that this film is targeting them on purpose so it gets brownie points for joyfully slaying that crowd.

This film does just enough to stand as a horror film, it probably being the least picked DVD on the shelf but it got there so credit. It’s a scrape through affair that resembles the students of this film scraping through education to become unquestionably forgettable in later life.

4/10