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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Candyman (1992) Horror

Candyman (1992) - A couple weeks ago I was listening to a rather drunken episode of Killer POV podcast, they were drunk not me. In that episode @RebekahMcKendry was praising Candyman as one of her all time favorite horror movies. At the time I thought "Candyman? Really?" I knew the film existed but couldn't really say I had any recollection of it at all. Lead Tony Todd has become a horror icon but the convention industry has made many horror actors more popular than one would expect. Still Rebekah's enthusiasm for Candyman made me put it on my review list. The question is how can someone who loves horror movies have missed this film for so many years? Well maybe not missed, one of the reasons for starting this blog was to document where memory fails. 1992 was a time where my wife and I had just had our daughter Joy (now a brilliant law student) and we were very into our own family experiences, so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that I just never saw this movie. Still in watching it recently I had this strange feeling that I had seen it before. The imagery is definitely somewhere in my addled brain. Viewing  this film was a great experience.  It is great to be surprised by good horror and when it is horror that has been around for twenty plus years even more so. I watch a lot of older horror and have substantially filled in the gaps of my horror viewing family tree. Revisiting this film is like reconnecting to that cousin who you have great rapport with but only see at family reunions.
 Candyman created the first black horror icon in Tony Todd's growling desire filled portrayal of the titular character. In an interview with director Bernard Rose the Independent newspaper the story is shared of how in pre-production the backers of the film grew uneasy about whether a black "monster"  would be seen as racist. Rose said in that interview 'I had to go and have a whole set of meetings with the NAACP, because the producers were so worried, and what they said to me when they'd read the script was 'Why are we even having this meeting? You know, this is just good fun.' Their argument was 'Why shouldn't a black actor be a ghost? Why shouldn't a black actor play Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lector? If you're saying that they can't be, it's really perverse. This is a horror movie. . .' ' ' Luckily for us all, the backers fears were relieved and we now have this character in the halls of iconic horror villains.
  There is so much done right in this film, starting with the basic setup. Instead of making a film about an urban legend writer/director Bernard Rose from a short story from Clive Barker creates a story about how urban myths are created and become part of the society they spring to life in. Rose takes the story out of the Liverpool setting of the Barker story and moves it to America. Wanting to appeal to a larger audience but also a setting where some social commentary can take place. In this case the setting is the infamous Chicago housing project Cabrini Green where, in the film murders perpetrated by a gang member have spiraled out in the telling to be the doing the Candyman. The origin story of a the character is he was slave who loves a white woman  and when the wealthy land owner discovered their relationship he cut the arm off the slave and shoved a hook in the stump, covered him in honey, threw him into the bee hives and then burned him to death. That story is later connected to the deaths in the urban prison that was Cabrini Green. Even though the murders in the housing project were not his handiwork but crimes of gangs Candyman was attributed them. That myth is exactly what Helen and her thesis partner Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) are researching. It is their doorway into the plot and deciding to go to the housing project as part of that research puts them in danger of a physical rather than metaphysical nature.
 Beyond just the story of the myth is the question of whether belief in a myth can bring it to life. William James in the 1890s argued in "Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking" lectures that belief in God's existence may actually depend upon our belief in his existence. His ideas seem to be building off St. Thomas Aquinas but I digress. The idea that something can come into existence because of peoples belief in it is a founding block of religious thinking so it is not a stretch to bring this idea into a horror film. Using urban legends an already accepted set of stories as a connector the film allows us to accept the Candyman as a boogeyman. It uses the Bloody Mary urban legend, to summon Candyman by repeatedly calling his name in a mirror to summon him into our world. It uses the bonfire legend where someone is trapped inside the pile of debris when the fire is started, and again from the interview with Rose in the Independent "...And the biggest urban legend of all for me was the idea that there are places in cities where you do not go, because if you go in them something dreadful will happen - not to say that there isn't danger in ghettos and inner city areas, but the exaggerated fear of them is an urban myth.'.
   It is also about the relationship between the Candyman (Tony Todd) and Helen (Virginia Madsen) that goes beyond hunter and hunted. At its heart it is a deranged love story that plays out in a horror setting. Not just a supernatural killer and a victim, Helen needs to summons the Candyman and he needs her to desire her fate as victim. Some later scenes between them are full of sexual energy subtle and not so subtle as the Candyman tries to seduce Helen into being his victim. Structurally this relationship is set up well also. Helen is a grad student who is married to her professor husband, Trevor (Xander Berkeley) so she was a student that he seduced and married. Early in the film we see the obvious signs that Trevor now is having an affair with a new younger student. He will not be coming to save her and when shit hits the fan for Helen. Trevor only sees it as a convenient way of freeing himself of the relationship. The back story of Candyman also has the element of his love for a white women. (Who in the mural looks remarkably like Helen.) So when he attempts his seduction of  Helen she is a woman without the hope of her marriage coming back together. Think about how the dynamic would have changed if she and Trevor were deeply in love with each other. How her acceptance of the Candyman's efforts would be completely resisted instead of the almost acceptance she shows in the scenes.
 The film is stark and menacing in its urban setting with the early danger coming from people and not the Candyman. Set in Chicago at the infamous Cabrini Green housing development  the location is a character in the tale. Cabrini Green  known for the crime, gangs and disrepair became the poster child for how not to provide housing for the poor. It's boarded up towers covered inside and out with graffiti convey the hopeless situation of residents that exposition could never equal.  Challenging for sure to film at the location but worth the effort in effect. Tony Todd talked to Daniel Schweiger, Fangoria, No 117, October 1992 about the shoot. "I tried to come there with no expectations, but I still felt fear. Anybody who didn't belong there was subject to danger. The cops told me to keep my eyes on the rooftops for snipers, and then I ran into a black woman and her two children. They were hustling back from the grocery store before it got dark, and thought the film security people were cops. She asked us when we were going to clean the projects up, which really got to me."
   When the storyline takes a turn where the innocent seem guilty the film really takes off. The body count although not large for a slasher type film is what I would call appropriate to the plot. There is a cool little slight of hand when the Helen wakes covered in blood in the bathroom of Cabrini Green resident Ann-Marie (Venessa Williams). We see the dogs severed head on the floor and then Ann Marie freaking out at the blood covered crib of her child.  At this point she sees Helen and freaks out about her baby. As the police arrive to find Helen holding a knife. I thought at this point that she had killed the baby. It was a clever deception and then when she is at the police station we learn the baby is just missing, completely the viewers relief.
  This is a great story and a wonderful film, of course it is recommended and I am purposely leaving out as many plot points as possible. If you have had your head in the sand on this film like I did take the time and watch it. It is available on Netflix so easily obtained.
Odds and Ends
 - Smoking on screen was a thing in 1992, oh how things have changed in twenty years.
 - Another couple things that set the films time period were the antiquated answering machine at Helen's place. The fact that there were no cell phones and that her camera ran out of film.
 - Roger Ebert loved this movie when it came out. I don't remember him as someone who often said nice things about horror movies but her then may be an exception. His review.
 - The epic soundtrack by Philip Glass alone should make this a classic.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The ABC's of Death 2 (2014) Horror Anthology

ABC's of Death 2 (2014) - Mood so much of movie reviewing relies on writing a snapshot of not only the film but of the writers mood during the viewing. Should we put some information up front, today "I sat in horrible traffic so this review may reflect my frustration"? Then we each have our structural biases, I for one grew up watching monster movies and to this day I love a good monster movie. On the other hand I never relished slasher movies and prefer a good Giallo to a slasher any day of the week. Sure we often watch a film at least a couple times before writing and that must even out some of the emotional bias. At least it gives a blend of the biases from the two viewings. We can further mitigate the effects of mood by focusing on structure. Are the characters well defined? Act the acts clear and with the proper transaction? Is the acting believable? Does the music help or hinder the viewers ability to lose himself in the film? Ultimately its about how well did the picture take you into the world and hold you there while the story was being told. It means that a film, not recognized as great movie, can be an enjoyable experience that allows the viewer to forget that traffic jam and be somewhere else for a couple hours. Allows the emotional roller-coaster that is a horror movies to wash through and entertain.
   Its difficult to review anthologies without multiple watches of the film the imagery goes by fast in a lot of cases and there are so many different ideas. Sure some of the 26 pieces are memorable and others forgettable but so much depends on the mood at the time of watching that the degree can change from one viewing to the next. So thinking about my mood which was pretty good, I think it is easiest to describe which of the sections caught my attention and held it until they are done. Without first looking up who wrote and directed each section Let me give my impression of the ones I was struck by, A, G, I, K, M, O, S, V, W, X, and Y. That is half and there was some ideas in others I liked. Like T where actress @LittleMissRisk  Tristan Risk as a tentacled monster getting her revenge on the misogynistic film crew exploiting her for their own pleasure. Written and Directed by the Twisted Sisters themselves Jen and Sylvia Soska. But it was one note although a decent note. Also B where the piece did not particularly hold me but the effect of the torn apart body was really good.
 A - Amateur Directed by E.L.Katz and written by David Chirchirillo has this cool how an assassin imagines a job going to go and then the reality of how it actually goes, with a nice twist in the end.
G - Grandad Directed and Written by Jim Hosking was a creepily funny relationship between a Grandfather and his unappreciative grandson.
I - Invisible written and directed by Erik Matti I was caught by the complete sets, even though the story itself feels a bit too familiar. The lengths greed drive people. This one looked really good and the effects were great.
K- Knell Written and Directed by Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper Wonderfully effective in its mood, true horror pacing with the turn of everyone staring back from their windows wonderfully frightful. If only they had not gone for the less than effective special effect in the sky.
M - Masticate Written and directed by Robert Boocheck, although almost not on the list, the juxtaposition between the music and images on the screen really worked well.
O - Ochlocracy (Mob Rule) Written and directed by Hajime Ohata. After the walking dead take over the world there are people who did not turn who must be held responsible for there crimes. Well done and amusing.
S - Split - Written and Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno great use of technology in the story and split screen filming make for a nasty little revenge tail.
V - Vacation Directed by Jerome Sable, co-written with Nicholas Musurca was a shocking and wonderfully violent little tale of why you should choose your friends wisely.
W - Wish Directed by Stephen Kostanski and written by Jeremy Gillespie it is a fantasy piece done like a kids commercial for a action figure play set but when the playing kids are transported into the play set things suddenly don't see so childish.
X - Xylophone Written and Directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, A baby sitter takes up music driven by a little girl who just has to keep pounding on that damn xylophone. Gruesome and effective it may be predictable but so satisfying.
Y -  Youth written and directed by Soichi Umezawa A complete story is a short is always refreshing, as well as the mix of fantasy and reality for the young woman in the story.
  Overall I think this collection is a step up from the first although both have their high points. Soresport Movies can certainly recommend this one for what it is an anthology of shorts. You know what you are getting into so have at it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Dead 2: India (2014) Horror Zombies

The Dead 2: India (2014) - The first film by the Ford brothers, The Dead (2010) was a solid slow zombie film about two men traveling through the zombie plague of Africa trying to get to their respective families. It was a solid effort with a great location and an unrelenting force that drove the protagonist forward beyond the normal limits of the human experience. Both movies answer the question, In the Zombie apocalypse who would you go back for? What would drive you to risk your life to possibly save someone else. In the original both main characters were driven by love of family. In the new version this is still true but in a different way. Both films take place in less developed countries, Somalia in the original and India in the new film. The stranger in a strange land premise is executed in both film and again there is a bit of uncomfortableness of the white stranger fighting off the dark hordes.
 The new film creates a stronger personal story for the main character Nick (Joseph Millson) an electrical engineer working on wind farms fifty miles outside Mumbai. As the zombie outbreak begins he, like Lt. Brian Murphy in the first  film finds himself far from civilization and surrounded by the walking dead. The disease that caused the plague in  Africa was transported to India by a bitten Indian worker who got out. and because of the billion or so people in the country and the high levels of congested living the plague spreads fast. So as Nick talks to his pregnant girlfriend Ishani (Meenu Mishra) about the chaos breaking out around her he promises to come and get her. So starts his journey through the countryside full of the dead who want to bite him. It is established in the first film that the dead are attracted to the living, somehow they sense that there are living nearby and head towards them. This creates the condition that whenever the living stop to rest that it is just a matter of time before they are surrounded. So secure lockable places although great for a temporary reprieve can become tombs if surrounded by enough zombies.
  Nick begins his journey with not enough gas to get to his destination and very little hope of finding any. Set up in the opening scenes we know the local station failed to get a delivery but they also setup the first great set piece by letting us know that there is para-sailing equipment at the station. This consists of a backpack propeller that blows air into the sail allowing the user to fly around. I have a friend who actually has a business using this technology so personally it was very cool to see in a film.  So when Nick reaches the gas station fighting off the zombies and being encircled quickly his struggle to get the gear, get on the roof and take off is an action packed tense scene. The shots and music in this film are an improvement over the first film and it really comes through during the action scenes.
Cutting from Nick to Ishani and her family as they are barricaded in their house in Mumbai and feeling hopeless. Ishani's Mother is sick after having been bitten and her father is caring for her. This situation is inevitable so not as interesting as the journey that Nick is on. There is some interesting references about how to reconcile religion at the end of the world. Ishani's father is a preacher of reincarnation and her is put in the position of having to deal with his belief system being challenged.
 Nick's journey is one on the physical plane and less the spiritaul. After his narrow escape he crashes his parachute as a device to introduce his traveling companion Javed (Anand Kishna Goyal ) who is a local child of about ten or eleven who plays the role as "the magical child". I am using this term like the more famous "magical negro" in film where they are a character that helps the protagonist on their journey offering wisdom and getting them past places where they are stuck either internally or externally. In this film Javed is a guide one who also is a window into Indian culture and mythology. Unlike the magic negro, who saves the protagonist when things look bleak the magic child at times has to be saved by the protagonist. I counted at least five times where nick needed to save the kid while they traveled together. He is also a sounding board so that Nick could fill out his motivations to the audience. The kid asks the questions and then Nick can tell us viewers why he has to get to Ishani.
  The mood feels much more threatening than the original. Where there are more people in this film there are more attacks and some wonderful practical effects around the rendering of flesh. The scenes of city chaos ups the ante over the first film so I believe this film is a step above the first film. Well structured as lovers who are separated in a global crisis who desired to be brought back together it is a worthy story of the lengths people will go through for love and family.
   There is enough different in this movie to consider it an improvement on the original but at the same time the Nick story feels very similar to the first film. The relentless searching for transportation, the lack of a safe place to stop and rest, the constant wandering zombies all are the same as in the first film. Still the interpersonal story is more developed and an improvement.  This story wanting to be complete in its storytelling goes off the rails a bit at the end of the film. The Javed storyline with his little hand made stuffed animal and how that piece is closed out is ridiculous and far fetched. The final scenes like the first film are bleak and unsatisfying. The Ford brothers Howard J Ford and Jonathan Ford apparently struggle to end a movie. Soresport Movies still recommend this film it is well done with a lot to offer the slow zombie fan but it is just and okay film missing the few elements that would raise it to great.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

At The Devil's Door (2014) Horror Demon

At the Devil's Door (2014) - I have not been writing in this blog for the last couple months. Work for me is doing quality assurance at a software company and we have been going full tilt on a project. After next week that project will have launched and hopefully the 50+ hour weeks will slow down and I get start gearing up and doing more reviews.  It will be Holiday season always a tougher time to get movies in but also a fun time for seasonal horror.  Then in February attending the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. What I am saying is although I have been negligent I do look forward to getting back on track which means watching and writing about the genres I love.
 This film being reviewed here is the stories of  the people targeted by a demon for possession. This possession includes supernatural rape, violence and unwanted pregnancy. It is structurally unusual switching and mixing the protagonist through the film until it finally settles after about the one hour mark on the character who will finish as the protagonist. Early on the story is an origin story of how the demon comes to target a young woman named  Hannah (Ashley Richards). She is a troubled teen who while on vacation meets a boy. In an period of her life where she is pushing against boundaries she is convince by the young man to go the a guy where she can sell her soul to the devil ( and get $500). The ritual of being chosen is nicely done but may not have been essential.  I think the demon would have been fine with any child bearing woman and it did not matter that later victims never made a deal with the devil. Still the "show" is essential to create mood and weight to the story. The girl is chosen and then goes down to the crossroad (any will do I think) and say her name.
  We will rejoin her later at home where she is in her room where she is trying on her new red shoes purchased with her ill gotten cash. We have the PG-13 demon rape scene which consist of her pushing her hands towards her crotch once and then being lifted in the air while struggling and screaming. When dropped hard she looks injured or dead. There is nothing exploitative about this scene, fully dressed, trying for a certain MPAA rating, the scene gives you just enough to let you know what happened without pushing moral buttons. There was a time when this scene would have included her shirt being ripped,  in close up, then her screaming face as we the audience hears more ripping sounds. The horrible sounds of her pain as she is raped, finishing with a shot of her partially exposed ass as she cries a ball. That horror being about the repulsion of the act in graphic detail. This is not that kind of film though so instead you get the idea without the exploitation.
  Inexplicably the film shifts to the story of Liegh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) introducing her as a caring older sister to Vera (Naya Rivera) and a hard working real state agent. All the necessary information is present in these scenes. A lonely woman who can't have children she crosses paths with the house that Hannah once lived in.  I use the word inexplicably in this part of the movie because either writer / director Nicholas McCarthy or editors Bill Neil and Jake York decided to cut between character building for Leigh as she meets the people selling the house, parents with a red herring troubled teen girl named Charlene, and the rest of the Hannah origin story. It is designed to bleed information out slowly about why the creepy haunting stuff is happening. It does that but the side effect is that you are never quite sure who the story is about. Thinking it is probably Leigh since we follow her around quite a bit in scary situations. Then at an hour into the story this all changes what it does is mix the first and second acts never allowing the viewer to connect with the characters. There certainly enough spooky stuff in the flashbacks to Hannah for this to be her story. In the end it may be about the demon but that is never quite developed fully. So the first hour is Hannah in the past Leigh in the present, and then there is a turn.
  Vera becomes the focus of the film as she investigates what happened to her sister. It is an awkward switch in the the first act is a shared story and then the second is the investigation and all three pieces of the tale have different leads. Vera though needs to find out what happened to Hannah and then Charlene and so it is still necessary to keep the flashback scenes part of the second act of the film. Once all the back story about Hannah is done the film sticks mostly with the Vera story through the climax. The strange structure was disruptive to the viewer never really creating someone we can cheer for. Sure there are a great deal of scary material in the flashbacks but it was not as enjoyable with out main character to cheer for. Vera at the end of the second act goes to the ghost house and becomes the next target of the demon. I am guessing that the house is the connecting point here. She has another one of those floating in the air demon rape scenes at the end of which she is thrown out a window from her fourth floor loft window. This ends the second act in such a strange way.
  The third act is Vera waking up in the hospital eight months later. The horror of knowing she is carrying a demon baby and is too late term to have an abortion she is determined to give it up for adoption. A C-Section and she is free of the thing. It can't end there though and again we shift to six years later. Vera has looked up the adopted parents of the little girl she gave birth to. Her intent is pretty obvious and the climax centers around Vera's decision about the little girl. All of this later stuff is obviously, ..full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. There can not be a recommendation for this film. I am sure some younger teenagers might just like it but for adults this is lightweight horror not compelling enough to satisfy.

Odds and Ends
- The couple times they flashed on the demon were done well enough. Once hiding in a wardrobe and then again in flashback.
- After seeing The Conjuring  and now this film is the stand alone wardrobe a  thing that will come back into fashion? It worked as a nice anchor for knowing which house the character was in, since the house sets were so bland. (except Vera's awesome loft.)
- The slightly "Rosemary's Baby" birth and climax scene are what they are  but are they original?
- A couple times there was background noise, radio or TV in both cases the commentary was about how bad the world is Raise in Poverty, the collapse of the social safety net.  The TV images about the Japanese Tsunami or the earlier one? I find it interesting this is what was there. Possibly implying that the second coming was  was on the verge of coming. Christian mythology says that an antichrist will rise before then. This could be that story like in the movie The Omen or The Seventh Sign? The opening and closing Bible verses (were they real one?) gives credence to this idea.
- When Vera woke up the police completely overlooked asking how she got thrown out a window 5 feet over her head. Later this was explained away with a reference about medication and people not believing her.
- Ashley Richard is a fine comedic actor from the teen show "Awkward" it's nice to see her try another genre. Naya Rivera is a regular on the television show "Glee". Catalina Sandino Moreno who get more lovely as older is having a fine career since her break in film role in Maria Full of Grace (2004)
- How many times have we seen a character using an insane asylum as a hiding place from some evil. So nice the trope worked in this case.