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31 Days of Pure Horror (Day Five--A Review of Oculus)

Oculus (2013)

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.  


31 Days of Pure Horror (Day Four--The Monster Squad + Haunted)

The Monster Squad came out when I was a Sophomore in college and was aimed well younger than my demographic.  As such, I never got around to seeing it despite hearing from others that it was really good.  Years later, I started getting students in class that saw Monster Squad as one of the films that got them into the genre.  Eventually I picked it up, but I still haven't got around to watching it.  Tonights is the night.  Given my love for Fright Night and the classic Universal monsters, this 80's tale of a group of youngsters trying to fight off Dracula and his cohorts should be right up my alley.  

Ghosted (Image Comics)

The other horror on my to-do list for tonight is to read a few more issues of Ghosted, one of the best horror comics out at the moment (I'll probably discuss Rachel Rising and Afterlife with Archie later in the month).  Ghosted features a protagonist partially inspired by Danny Ocean from Ocean's 11.  He is capable of putting together a team and stealing anything that he (or a client wants).  When we meet Jackson Winters, however, he is in prison after a failed heist that left all of his crew dead.  He is broken out of prison at the whim of a mad billionaire who need him to steal a ghost from a famous haunted mansion.  The story is interesting and well-told.  The art is great throughout.  I really enjoyed the first three issues and have high hopes that it will join Locke & Key and Rachel Rising as horror comics that elevate the genre in that format.  



31 Days of Pure Horror (Day Three--P.T., Five Nights at Freddy's, and Odd Thomas)


Film number three for the month is Odd Thomas.  I’ve read the first few Odd books from Dean R. Koontz and really liked them.  Odd is a likable hero, and it is nice to see a silver beard like Koontz mixing things up as he creates his take on the Repairman Jack type of character.  I especially liked the oddball (sorry) dialogue choices and melodrama that occur in the first few books.  It reminds me of the philosophical musings and one-liners of the Buffyverse in a way, and, as an English prof, I love to see people playing around with those sort of things.  Also like the Buffyverse, the Odd stories have a solid emotional core, and they really take a lot of stabs at a reader’s heart as they roll along.  The movie, which has a big-release budget but got pushed to straight-to-DVD because the studio lacked confidence in it, is directed by Stephen Sommers or The Mummy fame.  He is the perfect choice for the film, and I think he does a really good job with the horror, the action, and the mushy emotional stuff.  I wasn’t expecting much from the film after hearing its production trajectory, but it turns out to be really solid.  I would recommend it to fans of the first book, certainly, and viewing it has got me itching to pick up where I left off in the series.  Four more books are now added to my TBR pile.  I might have to get a bigger sd card for my e-reader. 


Two horror video game recommendations:


Haunter got me itching to replay P.T., the “playable trailer” for the upcoming game Silent Hills.  Plenty has been written about the demo good and bad.  I’m on the side of finding it absolutely creepy and wonderful.  If you don’t have a PS4 to play it on, make do with this video compilation of players reacting to the jump scares:

Five Night’s at Freddy’s

This is less of a recommendation and more of a heads-up as I haven’t played much of the game yet.  Players take on the role of a night security guard at a Showbiz Pizza inspired restaurant.  At night, the animatronic musicians come to life and must be dealt with/avoided.  The game is built on simple jump scares and sound design.  Not sure how scary it is going to turn out to be, but I’ve had a number of students tell me they had to stop playing it because it scared them so much.  As with any horror, your mileage may vary.  I will say that the interactive nature of horror games helps me to turn off my critical eye and suspend my disbelief in a way I can rarely do with horror films these days. 



31 Days of Pure Horror (Day Two--Haunter and The Orphanage)

[Mild Spoilers Ahead!]

Well, I didn’t get to the theater to see Motel Hell last night as a family birthday party ran long, so I had to find a replacement once I got home.  I’m trying to watch mostly films that I haven’t seen before with only a handful of classics thrown in for good measure, so I began scanning my Netflix queue.  I eventually settled on Haunter, the most recent film by horror auteur Vincenzo Natali (Ginger Snaps, Cube, Splice).  I’ve liked but not loved Natali’s films over the years, and I always feel like he is on the verge of making a great horror film.  Haunter isn’t that film, but it was very enjoyable.  It captures the adolescent angst of the protagonist as well as he did in Ginger Snaps, but the film is, in a lot of ways, more relatable despite the supernatural setting.  Abigail Breslin, as Lisa, is a teenage girl stuck inside her own home by a mysterious fog.  In the style of Groundhog Day, she is living the same day over and over.  It doesn’t take her long to discover that she is dead.  The core of the film is Lisa learning how she died and trying to prevent it from happening to others while not jeopardizing her afterlife which, while boring, allows her to spend eternity with her parents and her little brother who are also ghosts.  Despite how much information I’ve given here, I’ve really not come close to spoiling anything.  Most of the above is made clear in the first fifteen minutes of the movie and is just setting for the film core mystery. If it sounds interesting to you at all, it is worth checking out.  The movie is streaming on Netflix.

Tonight I plan on watching the Guillermo Del Toro-produced The Orphanage.  I bought the DVD when it came out in 2007, but for some reason I haven’t got around to watching the whole movie.  Since I’ve been pretty heavily invested in the haunted house sub-genre lately, I’m hoping to really enjoy this one.  I’ll share my thoughts on it tomorrow.  Until then, here is the theatrical trailer for the film.


31 Days of Pure Horror (Day One--Motel Hell and some links)

It has become a tradition for lots of horror fans in recent years to celebrate Halloween by watching at least one horror film each day.  I start off each October with the intention of doing just that, but often life gets in the way and I fall short of the goal.  Despite how difficult it has been to reach the full goal, I'm going to make it even more difficult for myself this year by also doing a blog post about a horror topic each day of the month!  Some of these will be full articles about a horror-related subject, some will be film or book reviews, and other will simply be links to spooky things I've stumbled across.  Regardless, I'm dedicating my month to celebrating all things horror, and I hope you readers will join me and watch some of the movies.  Also, I'd love to hear suggestions of film for my 31 since I only have a dozen or so pre-chosen.  Tonight's film, by the way, is the cult classic Motel Hell, which is being screened locally.  I've never seen it on a big screen, so I'm really looking forward to some canabalistic highjinks.  

Motel Hell (1980) 


If you are unsure what films you want to watch for the month, here are some helpful lists:

Time out London's actually quite good list of the Top 100 Horror Films voted on by well-known horror enthusiasts.  

The Atlantic's insanely exhaustive list of every horror film on television in the month of October. 

I'll also be writing a bunch of review this month for The Blackest Eyes and hopefully recording a podcast or two there, also.  i'll let you guys know when those are up.