Posts Tagged ‘Witches’

silent-night-deadly-night-4

Directed By: Brian Yuzna

Starring: Clint Howard, Neith Hunter, Tommy Hinkley, Reggie Bannister, Allyce Beasley, Maud Adams, Hugh Fink, Ricard Gladstein, Geln Chin

Synopsis: An investigation into a woman’s death leads a reporter to uncover a coven of witches.

Thoughts: The fourth installment of Silent Night, Deadly Night foregoes the killer Santa brothers from the first three movies and takes a completely different turn towards the supernatural. In my opinion, this was a good move. There wasn’t a lot more to do with Billy and Ricky’s story (although the earlier movies get a cameo of sorts as it is playing on a background TV in one scene). What did surprise me is that this has very little to do with Christmas. The ritual that is set to take place in the climax takes place on Christmas Eve, so there is some connection, but not nearly as overt as the first three movies.

The cast is led by Neith Hunter, who plays Kim, the aspiring reporter looking to uncover the bizarre circumstances of a woman’s death. For someone without a lot of experience, I thought she did a good job. The coven that she encounters is also very good, and made me wonder how much of an influence that this movie had on Rob Zombie for Lords of Salem. There are a lot of parallels between the two movies. There are also a couple of very familiar faces to horror fans here as well, with Clint Howard playing a significant role as Ricky (nod to preceding entries), the servant to the coven. Kim’s boss, the editor at the newspaper is played by Reggie Bannister, of Phantasm fame.

The familiar names don’t stop there, as Initiation was directed by Brian Yuzna, who brought us gems like Society and Bride or Re-Animator. He also wrote this, and it shows. Yuzna has always had a penchant for pretty gory scenes, and there are a few of those in Initiation. Yuzna relied on Screaming Mad George for the FX here, which proved to be another great decision.

Oddly enough, I found this to be one of the better entries in the series, which is not something I was expecting. I believe that is partly due to the deviation from the slasher formula, which really wasn’t done particularly well in the previous entries anyway.

Unfortunately, the DVD release of this is of pretty poor quality. I’d love to see Scream pick up the series and give the original a Collector’s Edition, 2 & 3 a double feature and 4 & 5 a double feature. An Arrow box set would also be pretty sweet.

This was an interesting watch, and I do plan on revisiting it someday, probably as a double feature with Lords of Salem, just to see how similar the movies are (or if it is my shoddy memory).I think Initiation is worth checking out, but not necessarily as a Christmas horror movie.

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Directed By: Adam Wingard 

Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

Synopsis: James Donohue ventures into the woods to look for his sister, Heather, who was one of the three missing from the original Blair Witch Project.

Thoughts:

I experienced the first Blair Witch movie back in 1999 in the theatre. I went in knowing nothing, not even having seen a trailer for it. A friend called me and told me to go see it, but not to read anything about it beforehand. I found it to be one of the scariest experiences I had ever had in a theatre. The climax literally had me on the edge of my seat and I think I just about ripped the arm of the chair off.

Fast forward to Comic Con this year and I hear news of Adam Wingard’s (You’re Next) upcoming movie titled The Woods is actually titled Blair Witch! I’m a big fan of Wingard, so was eager to see his take on what I think is one of the best found footage movies out there. I elected to follow a similar route and not check out any trailers, read any articles and do my best to avoid discussions on social media about Blair Witch. I was successful (for the most part) having only seen a portion of the trailer (the tunnel scene). Going in, I didn’t know if it was a remake, sequel or just another chapter in the mythology.

It turns out that it is a direct sequel to the original, with James going into the woods to try and find Heather, his sister and lead in the original. He takes some friends with him, as well as some locals that know the mythology. Without going into details, the events are similar to the first movie, but amped up tenfold. I found this entry to be much scarier than the first. I’m sure some of that is due to an increased budget, allowing for some special effects and one particularly brutal onscreen death.

Another improvement is the cast and script. In rewatching the original, the initial scenes and build up are pretty boring. Blair Witch has a similar build up, but I found the characters much more interesting. There was some humor weaved into dialogue as well, and I thought that really worked, especially the interaction between Peter and Lane.

Once things start getting crazy in the woods, it’s nonstop. A major difference is that you actually see the Blair Witch. I’m not sure how I feel about her onscreen appearance. It was a bold move by Wingard and writer Simon Barett. I’m hoping that when it makes its home video release there are some special features around the design and look of the Blair Witch. I have my suspicions on influence for her design, but would like to hear from Wingard about it.

If you’re a fan of the original, I think this is a can’t miss movie. If you don’t like the original, or found footage movies in general, then don’t waste your time. Blair Witch doesn’t bring anything new to the subgenre, it’s just a well-made movie that builds on the original mythology.

Lords of Salem

Directed By: Rob Zombie

Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Meg Foster, Maria Conchita Alonso

Subgenre: Supernatural

Synopsis: A mysterious record signals the return of a Coven of witches in Salem, Massachusetts.

Thoughts: After helming the Halloween remakes, Rob Zombie vowed to return to something original and different than he directed before.  I am a much bigger fan of his original work than I am of his Halloween work, so I was thoroughly excited to see what he had in mind.  I’ve gone out of my way lately to avoid trailers and spoilers on movies that interest me, so I went into Lords with very little knowledge of what it was about.  Right away, you could see Zombie was paying homage to the 70s, much the same way that Ti West has done with his movies.  The picture has a gritty feel and the color is washed out, making you feel as if you’ve been transplanted into a Jean Rollin film.

The Lords of Salem is filled with great performances.  I know that not everyone is a fan of Sheri Moon Zombies acting, but she really killed it in The Lords of Salem.  She sets the table and establishes her character in the first half of the movie, and then rides that out in the second half, where she doesn’t have a lot of dialogue.  Bruce Davison does an excellent job in a supporting role and serves to drive the storyline in a believable way.  I’m not overly familiar with Davison’s work and can only recall his role as Senator Kelly in X-Men 2, but his filmography is extensive and he was nominated for an Oscar in 1991 for Longtime Companion. 

Davison is not the only Hollywood veteran in Zombies cast; Meg Foster plays an unsettling role as Margaret Morgan, leader of the coven of witches returning to exact their revenge.  Her acting is accompanied by a rather terrifying visage.  She is rail thin and not pleasant to look at, which plays to great affect for a witch.  Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace also steal every scene they are in as sisters that appear to be involved with The Lords of Salem as well.  In addition to these great performances, genre stalwarts such as Ken Foree, Sid Haig, Michael Berryman and Udo Kier also have roles.

I’ve always thought that one of Rob Zombie’s greatest strengths as a film maker was his creative eye behind the camera.  He seemed to be somewhat hampered in his Halloween work (mostly due to studio demands), but he had some wildly creative imagery in his work on House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. He showed in The Lords of Salem that he still has that eye and his trademark imagination as well.  He really captured the look of the 70s and infused it with some rather creepy images. 

At this point, you would think that I was ready to crown The Lords of Salem as a rousing success and an amazing movie, but while the acting and cinematography were top notch, I thought the movie had its share of issues.  While the heart of the story was interesting, I didn’t think it was flushed out enough to sustain the entire movie.  It was evident what the climax was going to be and I didn’t find the journey to be enough to keep me interested.  If it weren’t for the fantastic acting, I may have been one of the several people that walked out of the theatre during the movie.  I also felt that this movie was a bit of a rant against organized religion by Zombie.  I’m no stranger to images that most would call offensive, but Zombie really pushed the envelope and seems to declare war on Christianity, so much so that it seemed to detract from the storyline.

The Lords of Salem has already shown itself to be a very divisive film.  Many are declaring it brilliant.  I don’t agree.  I think it was very ambitious and I think that Rob Zombie made the movie that he wanted to, but I think it falls rather short of brilliance.  I wasn’t entertained by the movie, but yet I was intrigued by it at the same time.  It has been a movie sitting in my head since watching it last Thursday night, and I’ve run the gamut of emotions from hating it to pondering its brilliance.  It’s this range of emotions that has me eager to see it again, but for now, I have to say I am in the middle of the road on this one, and will certainly say it is not for most viewers, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing it yourself.

Hansel and Gretel

Directed By: Tommy Wirkola

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Derek Mears

Subgenre: Witches

Synopsis: A retelling of the fairy tale, this time set in more of a steam punk type setting with more exploding heads.

Thoughts: It’s been popular over the last couple of years to retell classic fairy tales catered more towards adults (or sometimes teens). We’ve seen Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White and Jack and the Beanstalk is coming soon.  Hansel & Gretel is a pretty good target for a retelling and Tommy Wirkola did well to return to the story when the siblings were grown.

I loved the look of this movie.  The costumes and pseudo-steampunk machines were a nice alternative to the usual crossbows and such.  Renner and Arterton looked the part and the design of the Witches was very cool.  There were some pretty crazy costumes on the mountaintop for the finale. I’m a big fan of Derek Mears, having had the pleasure to meet him a time or two, and it was cool to see him as Edgar the Troll.  On one hand, it was a shame to see Famkme Jannsen as an ugly ass witch, but on the other hand, she has always had a penchant for having a frightening aura about her. 

Director Tommy Wirkola did a nice job blending fantasy and action throughout the movie, but there were a few times and scenes that felt like pretty blatant Matrix rip-offs.  Wirkola delivered one of my favorite zombie movies of recent years in Dead Snow, so I was pretty anxious to see what he delivered here.  He still likes his gore, as there were more than a couple of shotgun blasts to the head in Hansel and Gretel.

The biggest weakness found here is the script.  Some of the lines are just awful and it really hurts a couple of scenes.  The story itself is pretty basic and it is more than obvious to see where the story is going, but I was really expecting that. Had the script been a little more polished, this may have been a surprise hit at the box office.

Hansel & Gretal is pure popcorn fluff.  This is the type of movie I consider utterly disposable.  You can watch it once, have fun with it, and never really think much about it again.

 

ParaNorman

Directed By: Sam Fell & Chris Butler

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman

Subgenre: Zombies, Family

Synopsis: Norman isn’t like other kids; he can see and speak to the dead.  Now it’s up to him to stop a centuries old curse and prevent the dead from rising.

Thoughts: In a day and age when CGI generally rules the animation playground, it is pretty cool to see an amazing looking stop-motion movie like ParaNorman.  I’ve got to be honest, I couldn’t get into Coraline, the other stop motion movie but out by Laika (the company responsible for ParaNorman), but I was excited to see ParaNorman from the first trailer, as was my oldest son.  It was a no-brainer for me to take the boys to the theatre this weekend to see it.

It doesn’t take long to realize that ParaNorman looks as good as the trailers.  The expressions and care that went into each scene are readily evident.  I’m far from an expert in stop-motion animation, but this is a great looking movie.  There are a handful of pretty scary scenes, but neither of my boys had issues, and they are 6 and 9.  I’ve seen some reviews where this isn’t acceptable for children under 12, but I don’t agree with that sentiment. 

The storyline is entertaining, but it also delivers a very strong anti-bullying message, something that is a hot topic in today’s news.  I loved all the characters, but I thought that Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) stole the show as Norman’s friend.

Sam Fell, the primary Director has a few other kids movies under his belt, namely Despereaux and Flushed Away, neither of which come close to the quality of ParaNorman.  I’ve got to imagine that ParaNorman will afford him the ability to score some more big name projects.

The primary message that ParaNorman delivers is a poignant one and hopefully sparks some conversation with kids about the damage that bullying does, but it also brings some other topics to the table.  I don’t want to spoil a part of the movie, but there is a male character that mentions his boyfriend.  It’s not a huge deal in my eyes, but again, I’ve heard some other parents rant about it.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed ParaNorman but I did think it was too bad that it wasn’t released a little closer to Halloween.  We’ll see if that hinders the Box Office take, but I can attest to the fact that the showing I went to was a packed house.  I suggest checking it out, it’s worth the trip to the cinema.