31 Days of Horror: Halloween

Halloween - Poster

And so we find ourselves at the end of our journey.  It’s cold and rainy here in Lexington, KY, which means there will be precious few trick or treaters out there.  Those that brave the elements will get large handfuls of candy from yours truly.  “Shine on you crazy sugar-loaded monster.”
Over the course of these 31 days, we have watched a lot of great horror movies.  (I actually watched The Babadook this past week and was going to include it, but, since it’s not out for mass consumption, I held off.  I didn’t want to brag too much.)  Let’s look back at some fun times in this series:
We witnessed a minor breakdown.  Wasn’t that fun?  That was fun.
I ranted about my hatred for Peyton Manning, which makes no sense in a horror column, but whatever.
I told you to watch Dracula 3D, laughed about it, promised a post later in the day and didn’t follow through.
I rambled on (yet again) about originals vs. remakes.
And more!  So much more.  31 posts in 31 days.  That’s a lot of writing, even if I barely talked about the actual movie sometimes.

Michael Myers waiting for me to start talking about this movie.
Michael Myers is waiting for me to start talking about this movie.

What’s there to say here?  Halloween is one of the best movies ever, horror or otherwise.  It’s certainly one of the best-looking movies I’ve ever seen.  (I recently bought the 35th anniversary Blu Ray, and it is absolutely stunning.)  It’s a simple tale of a man with the blackest eyes (the devil’s eyes) and his boogeymanning ways, roaming around Haddonfield with his knife.  Will he kill children?  Absolutely not.  Does he have a killing code?  Kinda, but not really.

Halloween - Myers in closet

He’s a silent, murdering psychopath stalking through a peaceful community on Halloween.  Rob Zombie gave him motivation for his actions, but who needs motivation?  Isn’t his murder spree scary enough on its own?  I don’t need to know why he is like he is: I just need to know that he is.

Halloween - Laurie

Gather around, hold your loved ones tight, throw on Halloween, and have an exit strategy in case this is the year Michael Myers shows up in your town.
Have a great Halloween, everyone!  Stay safe.  Have fun.  Leave comments telling of your adventures.  Thanks for sticking with me for these 31 days.  For the most part, it’s been a blast.

"We're not smoking weed or anything.  Nope. Not even a little."
“We’re not smoking weed or anything. Nope. Not even a little.”

31 Days of Horror Day 15: Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask - Poster

This is one of my favorite modern horror movies.  I’m a sucker for movies that show a well-known story from a different perspective (Colin and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil are other favorites of mine in this vein), and this one absolutely nails it.
If you’ve ever talked to me about slasher films, chances are pretty good that you’ve already heard me rave about this film.

Behind the Mask lives in a world where all of the iconic, unkillable legends of slasher films actually existed (Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers are all referenced).  Leslie Vernon is trying to add to that legend in his hometown of Glen Echo, where he was murdered as a child.  Now, years later, he has come back to claim his revenge on the town, and he does it by emulating his heroes.  For the first two acts, we’re treated to a a behind-the-scenes look of a slasher in action, by way of a documentary crew that is following him around.  We see him identify his “survivor girl” and the group he’s going to kill (there has to be a good mix of different types of people).  We see him slowly stalk her and have her discover the legend of Vernon’s death.  We see him prep the house he plans on killing the group in.  Basically, we watch as he explains every slasher trope from the perspective of the killer (including the importance of cardio: “You have to run like a freaking gazelle without getting winded. Plus, there’s that whole thing of making it look like you’re walking when everybody else is running their asses off!  And I gotta stay with ’em!  It’s tough, man.”).

Behind the Mask - Leslie in Fog

It would be easy for all of this to get cheesy, and, while it borders on that from time to time, it never jumps over that cliff.  It’s an incredibly smart and fun look at the slasher genre, while still creating an exciting new name in slasher lore.

Behind the Mask - Englund with gun

On top of all that, there are some fun cameos.  Robert Englund has a pretty big role as Doc Halloran, Zelda Rubinstein shows up for a few scenes, and Kane Hodder makes a very brief appearance.  And fans of The Walking Dead will recognize Leslie’s mentor, Eugene:

Behind the Mask - Eugene

It’s a really fun movie that plays with slasher conventions, but shows an obvious love for those that blazed the trail.  It’s basically a love letter to the slasher genre, and it’s perfectly done.

Behind the Mask - Leslie & Zelda

Fun fact: there’s a reference to Leslie Vernon in Hatchet II.  When talking about local legends and ghost stories, one of the characters mentions his hometown of Glen Echo.

Wolf Creek 2 review

Wolf Creek 2 Poster

Review by Christopher Maynard

Wolf Creek 2
2013
Directed by Greg McLean
Starring John Jarratt, Ryan Corr and Shannon Ashlyn

One of the great things about Wolf Creek 2 is you should know pretty quickly if this is your kind of movie or not. This is a movie with no aspirations to be anything more than an over the top, gore-soaked good time.  The only question is this: what constitutes a good time to you?  Give it five minutes and I’m sure you will know if your idea of a fun night matches that of the filmmakers. I, for one, was in right away. The opening scene was so good the movie could have completely gone off the rails and I still would have been inclined to give it a mostly positive review. Thankfully that is not the case in Greg McLean’s follow up to 2005’s Wolf Creek.

McLean seems to have learned how to make a sequel by watching James Cameron’s Aliens. While Wolf Creek 2 features the same lead in a similar set of circumstances, everything is amplified and played much bigger. The gore, suspense and, oddly enough, comedy are all ratcheted up for this installment. A lot of sequels try this formula but many fail. Wolf Creek 2 is in no way a failure. I’m certain Greg McLean has made the exact film that he intended to make and I’m glad he has.

The film opens on two bored police officers manning a speed trap. The officers are instantly shown to be characters of low moral fiber and you watch with full confidence they will be getting their comeuppance soon enough. The officers decide to pull over a pickup truck for speeding, despite the fact the truck was not speeding. It would help pass the time and help fill the quotas. The guy they decided to pick on is Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) and if you’ve seen the first Wolf Creek you will know how egregious an error they made. It’s been years since I saw the first Wolf Creek but the second Mick entered the frame I was taken back and knew I was in for something special.

I’m not sure why the makers of this film felt the need to bookend the film with “based on true events” title cards.  Sure, this is based on some kernel of truth but it plays out like Evil Dead 2, not 12 Years a Slave. This movie feels so far removed from reality that it’s jarring when it points out it was based in reality. Was this supposed to be an examination of darkness? I don’t believe that for a second. The bookends give a sober feeling that is never on display in the rest of this film. This is really nit-picky because it in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the film. Just kind of ended the film on an awkward note that felt out of place; it was like the title card from the end of Zodiac being put on Rubber.

The fucking kangaroo scene…wow, I have nothing to say but wow.

Wolf Creek 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Here is a different view of this movie by Dusty.  He did not love it.

Wolf Creek 2

Wolf Creek 2 Poster

Description from Netflix:
Backpackers Rutger and Katarina escape the city for an adventurous vacation in the Australian outback…but their dream trip turns into a nightmare when they run into a bloodthirsty serial killer with a penchant for sadistic games.

My thoughts:
I love slasher movies.  It’s a well-known fact about me.  And yet I didn’t love the original Wolf Creek.  It took me a while to figure out what I didn’t like about it, but I think I finally nailed it down: it seemed like they were more interested in making the killer interesting than about fleshing out the people he was killing.  It seems lazy; like they’re skipping a step.  The great slashers – the icons – didn’t start as the focal point of the movies.  Michael Myers.  Freddy Krueger.  Jason Voorhees.  Leatherface.  The movies focused on their victims.  They made us care for the victims.  The idolization of the killers came after.  With Wolf Creek, it felt like they had built up this killer to be interesting and magnetizing, and forgot to make the victims people worth caring about.  If I don’t care about the people on the other end of the knife (or machete, or chainsaw…), the movie loses some of its heart.  This is not necessarily true of sequels – when most teens are nothing more than cannon fodder – but it’s true of the first in a series.  Wolf Creek failed at that most basic premise.

WACKY!
WACKY!

All that being said, I was still interested in the sequel.  I was curious to see where they would take it.  After all, the first movie was nothing if not simplistic: seemingly friendly bushman kidnaps, tortures and kills.  It’s a basic slasher set-up, if in a different location than we’re used to seeing.  Setting it in the vast expanse of Australia was the most interesting thing about the first movie.  Even when you escape, you don’t necessarily have anywhere to run.  It lent an extra air of hopelessness to an already bleak situation.

That was present again here.  Australia makes for a beautiful setting, but also a terrifying one.  Unfortunately, the setting alone does not a good movie make.  Aside from the setting, this movie had very little going for it.

For starters, they decided to make Mick Taylor an even bigger presence in this movie.  It was as if they were actively trying to convince me that Mick Taylor deserved to be the next big slasher icon.  They did this by making him talk more.  Rattling off one-liners.  Saying “funny” things about the terrible deeds he was committing.  Perhaps this worked for some people, but it didn’t do anything for me.  Freddy Krueger didn’t go into full wise-cracking mode until his fourth movie (if you want to say it was his third, you’ll get no argument from me), but he was on an entirely different level from Mick Taylor from the word “go”.  They were going for “wacky and endearing,” but all they got was “annoyingly over-the-top”.
Writer/director Greg McLean has said that “[Mick Taylor was] the most interesting thing about the first movie.”  That would explain the direction this one took.

Hey Vern!
Hey Vern!

I have already fallen into the same trap as the writers.  Thus far, I have only focused on Mick Taylor.  So let’s talk about his victims for a second.
We start with German backpackers Rutger and Katarina (who sort of reminded me of Lizzy Caplan) hiking to Wolf Creek, camping along a trail, and getting attacked by Mick Taylor.  Rutger is killed and hacked up while trying to protect Katarina.  (This raises a question.  Mick has a house with a “workshop”, so why does he hack-up Rutger out in the open?  It’s dark, and the chances that someone would come across their path is minimal, but there’s still a chance that someone could see the atrocities being committed, especially since Mick has the huge floodlights on his truck on.  Not hard to miss when you’re surrounded by flat land.)  Katarina is able to escape and makes it to the road, where she is discovered by Paul, a handsome British tourist in a jeep.  Paul tries to drive off with Katarina, but Mick appears and shoots her.  And so, roughly 20 minutes into the movie, who we thought would be our two main characters are dead.  This aspect reminded me of 2009’s Friday the 13th.

What followed was a series of scenes featuring Paul trying to get away from Mick.  Most of these were terrible.  An example: we have seen Paul driving his jeep off road a lot.  It has been established that his jeep can handle the Australian terrain.  And yet there is a long scene in which he is chased by Mick in a semi truck (which is definitely NOT an all-terrain vehicle), but for some reason decides to stick to the road.  If I haven’t made myself clear, the road is the only place the semi can go.  And yet he stays on the road as Mick tries to kill him with a semi.  So, basically, it turned into The Hitcher for about 15 minutes.  (Maybe that’s why they named one of the characters Rutger?)  “Just go off road,” I repeatedly screamed at the TV.  Paul never heard my cries.

MURDA!
MURDA!

During this chase scene, Mick hits/runs over a herd of crossing kangaroos.  As he did his, he was spouting off one-liners like John McClain (if John McClain killed kangaroos instead of terrorists).  This was supposed to be funny.  It most definitely was not.
Again, this goes back to the lack of connection with Mick.  I don’t really have any connection to the character, so why would I like when he runs down kangaroos and makes jokes about it?

There were also a fair number of standard slasher complaints.  “When you knock him out with a hammer, make sure to finish the job.”  Things of that nature.  But, if you’re a fan of slashers, you’ve become accustomed to overlooking this faulty logic, so I won’t dwell on them here.

"Anyone seen those bad men who stop other bad men?"
“Anyone seen those bad men who stop other bad men?”

That’s not to say the movie was all bad.  The performance by Ryan Corr (as Paul) was tremendous.  There’s a long scene of him being terrified, but also trying to humor Mick.  His face fluctuates seamlessly between laughter and pure terror.  It was the best scene in the movie, and Corr carried it.  (Fun fact: Corr had a very small part in Where The Wild Things Are.)
I also really liked Mick’s lair.  It was filled with terrible tools to do terrible things.  It was a small, claustrophobic room that offered little chance of escape.  Because, even if you did escape out of the oh-so-tempting door, all you would run into would be a series of winding corridors filled with previous victims, bloodthirsty dogs, and booby-traps.  These corridors weren’t on the level of House of 1000 Corpses, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or True Detective, but they were still pretty creepy.

This wasn’t a very good movie.  There were a few redeeming qualities, but not many.  If you liked the first one, you’ll probably like this one.  The key to enjoying this movie hinges on one question: do you like Mick Taylor?  If you do, you’ll like it.  If you don’t, your views will probably be a lot like mine.

Rating: 1.5/5

Entrance

Entrance Poster

 

Description from Netflix:
After mysteriously losing her dog one evening, a Los Angeles barista questions her commitment to living in the city and decides to get out.  But when her going-away party takes an odd turn, she finds that the city just might not let her go so easily.

What I liked:

1. The acting was stellar.  I believe everyone involved had limited acting experience, yet they were all terrific.  For a slow movie to work, I have to feel invested in the characters, and it succeeded in doing that with some great acting.

2. The sense of paranoia and dread that slowly built throughout the movie.  There was one particular scene in which Suziey was walking down a road at night and was being followed by a car.  It was a long scene, but it was effective.  That was when the movie really seemed like it started to pick up.

3. The ending.  The last 20 minutes of this movie were terrific.  All of the paranoia and dread came to a head in terrifying and stressful fashion.  What had been a look inside the mind of a woman hitting a quarter-life crisis in a big city became a living, breathing nightmare for her and her friends.  This is when the movie turned from psychological thriller to slasher/home invasion.  The last 10 minutes or so is basically one unbroken shot, where the actress (Suziey Block) was actually tied up to make it more believable.  It’s a tense and horrifying end to the movie, and the final scene is absolutely chilling.

What I didn’t like:

1. It opens extremely slowly.  Lots of scenes of Suziey going to work, talking to friends, and looking for her dog.  Short of the dog disappearing (which we don’t even see), we’re really just watching a girl go about her daily life, while getting ready to move.  It’s really boring.  Beyond being really boring, it doesn’t even seem like it’s building towards anything for a long time.  It was about halfway through the movie before any tension started to build.  Which makes this movie feel an awful lot like Death Proof: lots of talking, not much happening.  It almost lost me in the first 20 minutes.  I’m glad I pushed through to the end, but, if I didn’t know there was a good ending waiting for me, I probably would have hit stop before the 30 minute mark.

To recap: set in the city.  Slow start.  Lots of talking about nothing in particular for long portions of time.  A killer that shows up near the end and starts hacking.

Holy crap.  It’s Jason Takes Manhattan.

Rating: 2.5/5

Let’s break this down a little further:

First 60 minutes: 1/5

Last 25 minutes: 5/5