I was considering Ti West's Sacrament as my film for today, but after reading a bit about it, I decided to go with the film that put him on the map. House of the Devil is a 70s style horror film that gets everything right. The performances are spot on, the cinematography is wonderfully retro, and the plot is straight-forward and brutal. If you haven't seen the film and you have any interest in horror, I recommend moving it to the top of your to-watch list. It certainly won't appeal to everyone as the nostalgia for the films it emmulates is so central to appreciating the film, but it is a fun horror ride regardless.
On our most recent Body Count podcast we settled on this classic as maybe the perfect film to try to get our non-horror-watching friends to start appreciating the genre. The truth is, however, it has been a decade, at least, since I watched the movie from start to finish, so I thought I would make it the film to end the first full week of horror films.
Fright Night Original Trailer
Did I mention the podcast. Our first Podcast in over a year is up on iTunes. Please listen to it, subscribe,and rate it to help us get more exposure. This episode is Horror Films for People who hate Horror Films.
Horns is based on a novel by Joe Hill, one of Stephen King's horror-writing sons. As I have mentioned already this month, I'm a huge fan of Hill's comic series Locke & Key. I've been a little more lukewarm on his novels. However, I really liked Horns from start to finish. This is the story of a young man who is a suspect in the murder and rape of his girlfriend. His life is spiralling out of control until one morning when he wakes up with horns budding from the top of his head. He figures out pretty quickly that people he is in contact with suddenly can't lie to him, and they all reveal their baser nature. It is a bit like when Young Goodman Brown is walking in the would to the ritual and runs into all the supposedly upstanding citizens who are actually in league with the devil. Of course, he uses his new powers to attempt to solve his girlfriends murder. Things grow progressively darker as the novel goes on, and I found it compelling throughout. The movie adaptation stars Daniel Radcliffe as the protagonist. I really like him as an actor, so I have high hopes for this one.
I had high hopes of Oculus. Andrés Muschietti’s Mama was one of my favorite horror films the year it was released. I thought that film was truly scary, especially the scenes with the feral kids moving unnaturally through the cabin. The basic story has potential, but sadly, the film isn’t what I had hoped.
When they were children, Kaylie and Tim Russell survived a terrible experience which left both their mother and father dead, the latter at the hands of 10 year-old Tim. Tim ends up in a home for the mentally ill and his sister is put into the foster care system. Oculus takes place eleven years later as Tim is released from the hospital and his sister lures him back to their family home to confront the evil that killed their parents (an evil that resides, as the title would suggest, in an antique mirror that appears to absorb the souls of those it kills).
It is a decent set up rife with opportunities for eerie moments and pedestrian jump scares. Unfortunately, Muschietti’s film doesn’t deliver either in any measure. The creepiness is minimized by the poorly designed “ghosts” which just look too much like those we’ve seen in dozens of other films. The jump scares are so telegraphed that I can’t imagine many people would be caught off guard by them.
The key conceit in the filmmaking is the parallel editing of the events of the past and the present. We learn what happened in the past at the same time we are watching the current events play out. I can see what the director and editor were going for, but instead of feeling me with mystery and fear, each time they use sleight-of-hand editing to make me unsure which era I was in any sense of dread that had built up simply vaporized. By the time the final events unfolded, I was completely emotionally divorced from the proceedings.
It isn’t all bad. Karen Gillan turns in a believable performance as the adult Kaylie, and Benton Thwaites is even better as her brother. The two children playing the characters in flashback are even better than the adult leads. Additionally, the film is well shot, for the most part, and though it is far from the feast for the eyes that Mama was, the mise-en-scene in general is well done. My main problem, in the end, is that I didn’t care what happened to the adult versions of these characters, especially Kaylie, who seems oblivious to the effect her efforts are having on her younger brother.