Monday, July 21, 2014

Double Feature: Deliver Us From Evil (2014) and The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)
I honestly didn't know anything about Deliver Us From Evil before I was seated in that theater. I only allowed myself to see snippets of the trailers and had read some positive feedback about it. I had hope. But I saw a big red flag before the movie even started - the Jerry Bruckheimer logo. Oh no. Don't get me wrong - I downright love all those cheesy action movies, but that is one production company that I seriously do not trust around horror movies.

And the result proves it - Deliver Us From Evil is definitely a different type of possession film, probably due to it being based on a true story (pfft), but all the momentum it builds up is never released in a satisfying enough way. The New York cop main characters are incredibly cliché and unoriginal to the point of being annoying. The scares are also tired and cliché with only one truly creepy moment in the whole movie (that stuffed owl rolling across the floor); the rest is just a string of weird-ass shit with animals that is not explained and doesn't flow well from one scene to the next. The pacing of the whole movie is off, as nothing really happens until you get to the exorcism scene.

Oh, the exorcism scene. Gosh, I was truly hoping for something shocking and new. Didn't happen at all. Did anybody else think in that one part where the dude stood up and there was all that tension that the demon was going to like, explode out of him or something?! I was, and I wanted it to happen so bad but they completely missed the boat there, and the conclusion of the film after that was just disappointing.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
The first Purge film was so-so with me. I loved the concept but did not think that they really explored that concept to its full potential. I was excited for The Purge: Anarchy because it looked like they were going to take a more large-scale look at what happens on Purge night. This sequel follows a small group of people - a mother and daughter, a young couple, and a man on a mission (a pretty obvious mission, actually) - after they are all stuck on the streets on Purge night and must survive pursuit from several groups of baddies.

The characters are quickly set up and pretty likable - I loved that daughter and how spunky she was - and while they're not terribly fleshed out, they're not a bad group of people to spend a movie with. The plot moves at a nice pace with a few surprises here and there - it definitely took a few turns that I wasn't expecting but that I ended up enjoying very much.

Once again, though, the filmmakers seem to have missed the boat on certain plot points. A group exists that is strongly against The Purge, and throughout the film we are shown video footage of them speaking out and saying they are going to fight back. So you would think that they would maybe become a major part of the story and helping these innocent people survive. And yet the group only shows up at the end as a very quick deus ex machina and then poof! they're gone. A little disappointing. I was expecting or hoping for a big fight or something.

Still, I liked The Purge: Anarchy. It's a good sequel, but it just feels like there is still more of the story to tell. Maybe there needs to be a third film; we'll see.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Movie Review: The Banshee Chapter (2013)

Wow, did that suck. Honestly, I'm really starting to question the critical acclaim I've read for Banshee Chapter because this one did not do it for me at all.
Young journalist Anne is on the trail of a missing friend, who disappeared after shooting video of himself taking a dangerous drug used in experiments by the government. Aided by a boozy, eccentric author named Thomas Blackburn, Anne digs deep into the history of these experiments and learns the truth about what is known as Project MKUltra.

While the story is somewhat grounded in reality - The LSD used in government experiments is replaced by a drug called dimethyltryptamine or DMT - and while the film employs a found footage style for some of it, they were wholly unsuccessful at drawing me into the story. This is perhaps partly my own fault, though. I have no interest in government secrets or conspiracy theory stuff - I've always found all that to be pretty silly and a waste of time. So then I was immediately in a frame of mind to not take anything I saw seriously, even just for the film's run time. This probably doesn't make me the best person around to review the film, but hey, maybe somebody else out there had an experience similar to mine.

The Banshee Chapter is neither scary, nor creepy, nor coherent. I honestly didn't know what I was supposed to be scared of half the time. Okay, so there's a radio station that just has a female voice saying numbers. Am I really supposed to scared of that? I'm definitely not, and therefore another element of the film that was supposed to make it all creepy and mysterious just made me very bored and yawn a lot.

The rest of The Banshee Chapter doesn't do anything more inventive than a few badly timed jump moments that anybody can see coming a mile away. The shooting style is very similar to a lot of other films I have seen, so much so that through most of the film I was saying things in my head like, "Okay, zoom in on the window in the chamber thing and something should come popping out right... about... now." The film hits all the predictable beats and doesn't bring anything new to the table. The black eyes and weird disfigured face - seen it before. Blood coming out of the mouth still wasn't enough to interest me.

The main actress is very pretty and gives her character a sympathetic quality; she is sadly also kind of dull. Ted Levine is more recognizable, of course, and uses his character actor talents to give an obvious Hunter S. Thompson quality to his Thomas Blackburn character. He's at least fun to watch even if he's never given any depth beyond his quirky personality and penchant for alcohol and drugs. It's really hard not to like him though, because well... he's Ted Levine. I love that dude.

Oh, and that twist ending with one of the characters? Had it figured out a long time ago, but nice try anyway.

Meh, I'm done. I don't even really care to know what The Banshee Chapter was really about. The DMT drug supposedly makes the drinker a "receiver" of some sorts but a receiver of what? Something with... aliens? Ghosts? High priestess monkeys from another dimension? All I know is that all of the problems in this movie could have been solved by the simple fact that you should probably never take any kind of drug that the government likes to play with. Not a good idea. I'm glad The Banshee Chapter has some fans out there, I'm just not one of them. Maybe you'll see something in this movie that I didn't.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy Prize Pack Giveaway!

Got plans to see The Purge: Anarchy this Friday, July 18th? Celebrate the release of the sequel to last year's The Purge by participating in The Girl Who Loves Horror's first ever giveaway!

If you win this prize pack, you will receive a Purge: Anarchy t-shirt size large (sorry, only size available) and an official Purge flashlight. I thought a gun might be a bit more helpful for the purge than a flashlight but I think it's illegal or something to give those away.

So if you're interested, all you have to do is check out the nifty little  interactive GIFs below to find out the "5 Things to Know Before You Watch The Purge: Anarchy." Use your touch screen or mouse to roll across the GIFs and control the scene!

I'm actually pretty stoked to check out what Anarchy has to offer. Ever since seeing the first film, I've wondered what a Purge would be like on a much broader scale than just the experiences of one family in one house.

TO WIN: Comment below and tell me your favorite color.

No, that's too easy. Okay, to win: Comment below and tell me what you would do if The Purge were real.
-Leave your email address in the comment.
-Giveaway only open to people in the U.S.
-If you've won on another site, you can't be eligible to win again.
-You have until FRIDAY, JULY 25th to submit your name to The Purge: Anarchy Prize Pack Giveaway! I must have the winner's mailing address submitted by July 27th so be sure to check your email!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Movie Review: Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

Way back around 2005 or 2006, I simultaneously fell in love with the film Wolf Creek, its director Greg McLean, and its antagonist Mick Taylor as played by John Jarratt. McLean put off doing a sequel to Wolf Creek in favor of making the equally awesome film Rogue, so many of us have been waiting a long time for this. And I'm happy to say that, for the most part, Wolf Creek 2 is another wonderful output from this talented filmmaker.

The outback is still not a safe place to go, as hitchhiking couple Rutger and Katarina visit the famed Wolf Creek Crater, and find themselves in the territory of brutal killer Mick Taylor. He hasn't lost his taste for blood, or his love of playing sick games with tourists.

The sequel definitely changes pace from the original, which was much more realistic and gritty. The first scene of Wolf Creek 2 lets the audience know that they are in for something very different - something a lot more graphic and with a lot more blood and action, and also with a little bit of a sense of humor. The film never really goes completely in one direction or the other in terms of tone, which is both humorous and serious, and there are a few twists in plot that will no doubt keep you interested.

John Jarratt is just plain brilliant - again. I could tell from the poster that they were going to focus
more on Mick's character in Wolf Creek 2, and honestly, that is exactly what I was hoping for. Jarratt's performance was fantastic - being able to have that somewhat lovable, unassuming side of a stereotypical Aussie, hiding the truth that he is a disgusting rapist-murder with no conscience. Almost ten years later, Mick is still that wise-cracking son of a gun whose brutality is now almost unmatched by many other killers. His look is also gladly the same with his sideburns, hat, and plaid shirt, rifle in one hand; knife in the other.

I had a feeling that there would be a more comical, Freddy Krueger-esque persona about Mick in Wolf Creek 2 (that Aussie accent pretty much begs for it) but I was glad to see that that did not take away from how terrifying he is. If anything, it added to it. Here is a man with the entire outback as his playground, where he can and does do whatever he wants to whatever hapless tourists come his way. That's unbelievably terrifying to me, no matter how many jokes he cracks, because that just shows me how much fun he is having doing what he does. McLean emphasizes this point by once again using many wide shots of the landscape, letting us know just how isolated our characters are.

I didn't realize what a hankering I had for some good gore until I watched Wolf Creek 2. During that first scene when a cop's head is blown half off by Mick's rifle, I was downright giddy to find out what else was in store for me. There's a pretty horrific beheading with Mick's second signature weapon - his trusty hunting knife. He also uses a shotgun, whip, and a handsaw in fun ways. One scene that even grossed me out is when Mick is having a little bit too much fun dismembering a body. The special effects are way too good, if you know what I mean. The effects are also wonderful when Paul gets to Mick's underground tunnels of terror, which is full of his past victims in various stages of decay. It also made me very happy that all the effects in the film are done in camera, with the exception of the kangaroos.

Speaking of which, if there is one thing in this film that deserves its own paragraph, it is the
awesomeness of... The Kangaroo Massacre. Holy goddamn, this was the funniest, most unexpected shit I have seen in a long time. During one of the car chases between Mick and Paul, Mick has gotten himself a big rig and uses it to straight up plow through a group of kangaroos as they cross the highway. You guys. I could not breathe, I was laughing so hard, especially with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" playing in the background. Somehow it works, though, because the scene moves on quickly after that, and you're left just kinda like, "Well, that happened!" More awesome is the conclusion of this car chase, when Paul's car is pushed off a cliff. He survives, and jeers at Mick that he'll have to do better than that to kill him - so Mick sends the whole fucking big rig off the cliff, too. Brilliant.

The film ends with an awesome extreme wide shot of Mick in his home of the outback, which again becomes another character in the movie. Wolf Creek 2 was a long time in the making, and perhaps this was a good thing because McLean and Jarratt were really able to work on the story and do a sequel that is truly worthy of the original. I can't believe I had almost forgotten about Mick Taylor. I've watched the film about three times now, and falling in love with this wonderful villain even more every time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Movie Review: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Whew. I don't know about you guys, but that was a loooong holiday weekend for me. Well, I guess if you don't live in the U.S., you didn't even really have a holiday weekend, did you? Now I just sound awkward. Okay, on to the review.

I think now it was a good idea to space out my viewings of most of these giallos. Each new one that I have seen has been like this wonderful little horror treasure that I've discovered for myself. Awesome titling comes into play again with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, which I was surprised to find out was actually Dario Argento's directorial debut.

Sam, an American writer living in Rome, witnesses the attempted murder of a woman who is likely the victim of a serial killer that has offed several women in the area. Sam becomes obsessed with trying to find the killer himself, heading up his own investigation into the crimes - and making himself and his girlfriend targets in the process.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage works because of its simplicity. Not only did Argento begin his directing career with this film, he also wrote it, and the story he came up with is fabulous. It really has that feel of a classic murder mystery, with all the classic plot elements and devious devices you love from movies like it. Not that I'm advocating a remake or anything, but if someone were to do something similar today, they really wouldn't have to change a thing about the major plot points - my sign of a true classic. The only thing I am a bit iffy on is how involved in the case Inspector Morosini allows Sam to be. Granted he kind of does a better job than the police do, but it's still the principle of the thing.

Tony Musante as Sam Dalmas is an attractive leading man in every sense of the word. He is vulnerable, but not weak, and sensitive, but still able to hold his own. His model girlfriend Julia is played by the gorgeous Suzy Kendall, a British actress who only  had a career in the 60s and 70s. At first I thought she was going to be annoying - like a lot of women in these movies who play second fiddle to the hero are - but she ends up being a great character.

I was surprised to find a bit of a humorous element in some scenes. There's a cute little relationship scene between Sam and Julia when she gets mad at him and starts throwing things, and he just laughs and goads her even more. That kind of realism is always fun to see. But obviously the best humorous scene is when Sam goes to visit the painter, and finds him to be just as eccentric as painters are often portrayed as being. Although I don't completely love this scene because eating kittens is so wrong. So very, very wrong. There are also some moments of true suspense that I loved, such as when the killer is trying to get in the apartment when Julia is there alone. My favorite part, though, is when Sam walks into the darkened room of the killer's, not knowing or seeing poor Julia tied up and gagged on the floor. The revealing shot is perfectly framed and a great shock for the audience.

Until the reveal, the killer remains like all typical giallo killers - black gloves and a shiny black raincoat expertly hide not only their identity but also their gender (hint hint!). And for once, I actually loved the killer's motive and the reasoning behind why they did what they did. Even if you think you know who the killer is, I think the movie does a great job of hiding their motive and how everything finally connects in the end. I found it interesting that in both this and Four Flies on Grey Velvet - both a part of Argento's "Animal Trilogy" - it was the very animal in the title that reveals the identity of the killer. And now I want to know if that was intended or not, and if the same thing is true for the last installment of the trilogy, The Cat o' Nine Tails. It's now in the queue!

Sometimes I think it's best to judge a director on some of their first efforts moreso than their later films. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a more than solid directorial debut for Dario Argento, who obviously had talent straight out of the gate. It's a perfectly written and executed mystery thriller that gets all the beats right. No doubt another favorite has been born.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: "One Undead Step" by Ian McClellan

When I first read the synopsis for One Undead Step, I was extremely intrigued and genuinely excited. Most of the recent horror novels that I have read have been about zombies, but this one definitely had the most unique idea that I had heard in a long time. I'm very proud and honored to have gotten the chance to experience this great zombie novel, and hope that author Ian McClellan has much more good stuff in store for horror fans.

The book follows a dual storyline: one with B-movie director Mark Matthews who is pulled out of a jail cell by the military to perform a very unusual task - direct a fake moon landing. Conspiracy theorists have saying for years that the first moon landing was faked, but One Undead Step actually proposes that the reason it was faked was to distract the populace from the fact that America was under attack by zombies. The other plot line follows a ragtag group of civilians - a bar owner, a suburban family, a couple of gangsters, some Army Rangers, and two town drunks - as they get caught up in the middle of the zombie apocalypse in an unknown American city. At first they just have to survive the night on their own, but they learn more about the truth of their situation, the group realizes that it is not just the zombie hoard that they have to live through.

Easily the most attractive aspect of the novel is the rich characters that McClellan has created. The main group is quite large, but each person is given different and distinct character traits so that the reader is never confused or overwhelmed. McClellan also does a wonderful job of giving each person a believable arc in the growth of their characters, as some of them start out very selfish or weak and then genuinely change as the story grows. As you come to know and love (almost) all of these people, the reader might forget what their inevitable fate probably is - if we're staying somewhat historically accurate, no one can really stick around to tell the world about the zombies. The demise of your favorite people are still shocking and hard to take, nonetheless.

It's easy to try to write a comedy, but it's really hard to write something that is genuinely funny. McClellan uses smart, sophisticated humor to help set off the true horror of what he puts his characters through. My favorite bit was about Neil Armstrong, who is actually not mentioned by name, and how he had to be the "star" of the movie and had to have the best line of the script - obviously, the "one small step for man..." famous quote. Hilarious! The "relationship" between Cedric and Gloria also brings about a lot of laughs, as does the inherently funny situation of a bunch of regular people forced to rely on some ruthless gangsters to survive.

The one thing that disappointed me with the story is that McClellan completely drops the dual storyline about halfway through. He focuses completely on the group fighting the zombies and does not even mention the moon filming until the other story is over. As this was the most unique aspect of the book, it was disappointing that the reader only gets a glimpse of that situation. Mark Matthews and General Baker were two more very interesting characters that I would have loved to spend more time with, but it just wasn't so.

I was also very confused at the inclusion of two random "Zombie Stories" after the epilogue. They were titled as chapters 15 and 19, so were they just pulled out of the middle of the book and put at the end? Why? It completely ruins the flow of the story and makes it seem like the zombie story of the novel actually continues after the end, when it was made pretty clear that it was eradicated completely. This was a mistake in my opinion; the book has a much stronger ending with just the epilogue.

However, I still give One Undead Step very high marks. McClellan truly has talent in this genre, as this book was a highly enjoyable, hilarious and, yes, beautifully gory zombie tale that is fast-paced and fun. Horror lovers will have a fantastic time with this story, which has vivid and rich descriptions of all the disgusting zombie stuff McClellan can come up with, and it is awesome to read every word. Don't miss out on this original tale of the undead!

Buy One Undead Step on Amazon here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Movie Review: Grand Piano (2014)

Like everybody else, I have more than a few flicks that are guilty pleasures for me - usually movies that are pretty universally hated by most, but adored by me. I have no problem admitting my guilty pleasures, and one of them is 2003's Phonebooth. Goodness yes, I love Phonebooth. So when I heard that this movie Grand Piano had a similar story, I knew I was going to be all over it at the first chance. Let's see if it lived up to expectations.

Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, one of the world's greatest living pianists who is returning to the stage after a five-year hiatus. In a theater full of hundreds of people, Tom is contacted by a man with a sniper rifle who warns him that if he plays one wrong note, he will shoot him, and also threatens to shoot his wife, who is in the audience.

Grand Piano is certainly not without its flaws, but it can be enjoyed in spite of them. For one, the story is taut, able to cram in all the necessary information in an easy 90-minute package that flies by. There are no frivolous or unimportant scenes, and though none of the characters except Tom are fleshed out all that much, they actually don't matter that much. Grand Piano is a situation movie, at times an implausible situation movie, and it's the situation you want to see played out and not so much the characters. That's not a bad thing at all, and actually made the movie much more interesting than it probably should have been.

Another reason to love Grand Piano is that it is gorgeous. The director and cinematographer make magnificent use of the camera and the somewhat limited location. The setup of the piano on stage is striking, with the bright red carpet underneath, mirrored by the red curtain in the background that looks like it is bursting out of the piano itself. You really can't go wrong with using red in a movie, I always say - such a striking color, no matter what it's supposed to mean. There are lots of awesome camera angles to keep things interesting, and I loved all the sweeping shots while the orchestra was playing and the use of the reflection in the shiny piano for some shots, too. There is also one great tracking shot when Tom tries to contact his friend Wayne in the audience. As Wayne walks up the stairs behind the main theater area, the camera moves up into the balcony with him and then moves into a split screen with him in the hallway on one side and Tom on stage on the other side. All of this made Grand Piano

Elijah Wood is an actor that I am coming to respect more and more, and his performance here is perfect. His character is hard to read sometimes because he seems cowardly but is also a quick thinker, and Wood plays to all those traits with ease. Though I don't know jack about playing piano, to me it looked like Wood was the real deal, and I was actually surprised to see him in most of the more intense piano-playing sequences instead of a double. I was wondering where John Cusack was through most of the movie until about the one-hour mark when I was finally able to recognize his voice as that of the sniper's (and his voice is nowhere near as awesome as Kiefer Sutherland's was in Phonebooth). When he gets some actual screen time, I have to say that he's not completely convincing. Even after seeing him play a serial killer in The Frozen Ground, I still have a hard time with Cusack being the bad guy. Sadly, no one else in the cast is really all that noteworthy, they're just kind of there.

Like I said, the movie definitely has its flaws. I think most people have a problem with the
believability. One question I had was why they went to all this trouble when they could have stolen the piano. Maybe this was more fun? Another scene that was a little out there was when Wood was deftly playing a really involved piece on the piano while making calls and texting on his phone. I'm sure as a pianist he is very coordinated and agile, but the unbelievable part was how the guy with the scope on the sniper rifle did not see any of what he was doing! There was also the convenience of the bathroom under construction - perfect place for... well, watch the movie and find out.

Flaws aside, I loved Grand Piano. I love the look of the film and the joy that comes just from watching it, and I love Elijah Wood's acting. The ending comes tongue in cheek and with a wink and I always respect that. I still love Phonebooth and no one can ever talk me out of it, and now Grand Piano has shown me a new, beautiful, and fun way to do a similar idea.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Movie Review: Cursed (2005)

What exactly is it about the werewolf subgenre that makes me so weary? Maybe it's because I have seen so few werewolf movies, and even less that I was really impressed with. But why is that? Was I ruined on them after watching seven Howling sequels in close succession? What is so hard about making a good werewolf movie? We'll have to discuss that more in depth at a later time, because right now I want to talk a little bit about Cursed, a movie that I thought I had seen a long time ago and probably did but just forgot about...

Anyway. Cursed is about a brother and sister who are attacked by a werewolf one night after a car accident. They must soon figure out who the werewolf is that bit them in order to save each other and the cursed line that the wolf has created.

Though Cursed was helmed by my much beloved Wes Craven, along with his previous screenwriting collaborator Kevin Williamson, I can't really say that I loved the movie all that much. Craven does indeed have a distinct style where many of his later movies are quick, snazzy affairs with a cheeky sense of humor and a camera eye that doesn't shy away from the action. This makes Cursed at least a fun movie to watch for an evening, but nothing that groundbreaking in the werewolf genre. I did like how the mythology of the wolves in this one was a bit closer to The Wolf Man from 1941 with the gypsy girl and the marks on the palms of those bitten. Everything else in the movie was pretty standard fare that's been seen before.

The characters are nice enough, if not a bit cliché. Brother and sister pair Jimmy and Ellie are played by Jesse Eisenberg and Christina Ricci. Eisenberg acts basically the same as he does in everything else I've ever seen him in, so no surprise there. He's your typical high school reject who gets picked on for no reason by the school jock and has a crush on a girl who is out of his league. It's again no surprise when he's able to use his new werewolf abilities to fight back at the bullies in a not-as-exciting-as-they-want-it-to-be wrestling scene in the gym. Ho-hum.

Ricci has always been a favorite of mine (not to mention a serious girl crush) so I immediately liked her. The only backstory given on her is that she's obviously the older sibling and is all stressed out from her job and from having to take care of herself and Jimmy after the death of their parents. She finds hope in boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson), but he's a former playboy and not to be trusted. He's one of the red herrings for the werewolf that has killed two girls and is now after Jimmy and Ellie - but I sort of had that situation all figured out anyway. The whole cast is actually pretty good, with all recognizable names and faces - Portia deRossi, Judy Greer, Shannon Elizabeth, Mya, Michael Rosenbaum, etc. Oh, and Scott Baio, for some reason, playing himself.

The werewolf scenes are not amazing, but workable. The one transformation we get to see is pretty horrible - all CGI and just plain bad when compared to the greatest transformation ever from An American Werewolf in London. Shannon Elizabeth is offed first when Ellie rams her car off a cliff and then a werewolf pulls her out and kills her. I always see online a picture of the aftermath of her death with just half a body, but either I wasn't paying attention or Netflix has some edited version of the movie because I didn't see it this time. Mya is killed next in a parking garage after a pretty nice chase sequence where we actually get to see the full-bodied werewolf, which is surprising because you don't usually see that this early on in the film. There is also one kind of ridiculous but hilarious scene where Jimmy's dog Zipper has become this weird werewolf-Labrador mix. It looks totally silly but is obviously supposed to be, and it's something new so I was actually okay with it.

Things get more interesting and fun when the action moves to the main set piece - a club designed by Jake called Tinsel, which is pretty much like a wax museum, complete of course with a scene of Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man. There's a nicely effective scene in the Hall of Mirrors and some nice fighting sequences with the werewolf, despite the horrible transformation. The werewolf's death has a little nod to Scream, which made me chuckle. There's a double ending to the film overall, though, and I was happy that this one was at least a little more violent and exciting than the rest of the movie. A decapitation and fire - not bad. Not all the way good, either, but not bad.

A small part of me has to like Cursed because of Craven, but I don't really have any problem saying that it's not one I'll be watching all the time. I like the kitschy sense of humor - it has a werewolf flipping people off, for crying out loud - and the fun that the actors seem to be having with the movie, but there's definitely something missing. I guess it's just that this isn't really how I like my werewolf movies. I need them more bloody and serious, maybe, and not so silly.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Geek and Sundry's "Spooked"

A few weeks ago, I was sent an email about this show called "Spooked." Produced by Geek and Sundry, a production company and commercial YouTube channel, the comedy show is in 20 minute episodes and follows the Paranormal Investigation Team (or "P.I.T.") as they travel to different locations when contacted to investigate cases dealing with the supernatural. I didn't want to write a review after only watching one episode, so I decided to wait. After watching the first three episodes in a row, I can officially give "Spooked" my approval! It's great!

The team consists of the leader Connor; his clairvoyant little sister Piper; occult specialist Morgan; ghost hunter Elliot; and Lindsey, who provides the video equipment and bankrolled the operation. In the first episode, "Paranormal Professionals," you get the basic character introductions while the team takes on a very basic first case - a poltergeist. A lesbian couple, Donna and Carol Anne, believe that Carol Anne's father is haunting them because he didn't approve of their marriage. My favorite part of the episode is when Elliot says, "Carol Anne? Really?!", because that's obviously a reference to my favorite horror movie.

The show has a very self-referential sense of humor all around, constantly doing the cliché thing on purpose for comedy. Piper is the 11-year-old clairvoyant who doesn't talk, so of course she has to sit there looking all creepy with her long dark hair, sipping on her juice box. There's a séance scene, and basic poltergeist activity like banging walls and moving objects around - all stuff that you have seen before a million times over, but somehow they keep it fresh in "Spooked."

Much of the fun and success of "Spooked" comes from the amazing acting of all the talent involved. Everybody on this show is practically a comedic genius with perfect timing and delivery, and people acting just as much when they are background as when they actually have dialogue to say. Ashley Johnson as Morgan is the only actor that I recognize and she is fantastically funny and adorable. I can't really even say yet that I have a favorite character because they all have great moments throughout all the episodes. The one exception would be Piper, who is not really good comic relief but is an important member of the team. Maybe her age is what stops her from getting more screen time as opposed to the adults.

Episode two of "Spooked" is titled "Mixed Signals" and deals with aliens - not really my favorite thing, but they make it work for them with what little they have. The paranormal plot takes a backseat in this episode to the growing relationships of the main characters, and things definitely get a bit more interesting here. A love triangle develops among Connor, Morgan, and Elliot. The show still treats this situation as mostly comedy, and never really gets all that serious. If the show goes any further, I hope they can find the balance between keeping the show's comedic tone along with adding a bit more seriousness and maybe some drama here and there. It's possible, I'm sure they could do it.

The best episode is by far episode three, "Brotherly Departed." Not only does it guest star one of my favorite people, Tom Lenk, but it is also the best written episode so far. Matt (Lenk) calls P.I.T. because his brother Andrew's ghost is haunting their apartment after drowning in the pool. The twist comes when Matt reveals that Andrew didn't actually die and is not just pretending to be a ghost. So then there is another, much better, séance scene where Andrew comes "Whoooooooo"ing in wearing a white sheet while the team has to pretend like he's not there. Funny stuff. The ending (which they hint at way too much so it's hard not to guess what happens) is close to being the line between funny and serious and I loved it.

Geek and Sundry is produced by actress Felicia Day and I certainly like what she has created so far and the people that she has gotten to be involved with it. "Spooked" is a wonderful show with plenty of room to grow and plenty more paranormal experiences to explore so hopefully we see a lot more of this in the future.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Giallo x2 Review: Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

If there is one thing that I love about these giallo films, it is that they have fucking great titles. My favorite giallo so far also happens to have my favorite title - Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. I don't even know what that means, but it's awesome. Today I'm dishing out a double dose of giallo and awesome titling with Twitch of the Death Nerve and Four Flies on Grey Velvet, both from 1971.

Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971)
Netflix had this movie listed under the title A Bay of Blood, and I would have watched it a helluva lot sooner if I had known that this was really Twitch of the Death Nerve, a movie that I've been wanting to see for a long time. It has as big a reputation as it does a list of other alternate titles, and it is by far the most confusing giallo I've watched so far. The plot is not really explained fully until the movie is almost over, so much of what you are left with is some random people in some place getting killed by somebody. Not that there's really anything wrong with that by definition, I just had a hard time following it. Twitch of the Death Nerve has a high body count (like, almost everybody in the movie dies) with some very fun and cool kills in various ways and with various implements - hanging, spear through the body, hooked machete to the face, beheading, etc. I liked how four of the victims were just some random couples who chose the wrong day to break into the wrong house for a little party, while the rest were actually a part of the plot. Nice way to up the carnage. I was stoked to recognize the actor playing Albert - he's Luigi Pistilli from my beloved Your Vice is a Locked Room. He actually plays a semi-good guy in this movie, despite most of his actions, so he proves himself readily able to play both good and evil. The ending to the film is so crazy and out there that it is just awesome, and after all the other craziness that Twitch of the Death Nerve has put you through before that, you're more than willing to just go with it. I mean, what is with that strangely sexy shot of Brunhilda with her legs crossed like that as she lays on the ground dying? And the squid on the dead man's body? That messed up plot where everybody is killing everybody else? The whole thing is cray-cray, I tell you, CRAY-CRAY. I personally don't think it's one of the better giallos out there (I have some other favorites in mind) but Twitch of the Death Nerve is hella fun and for fans, it is definitely a must see!

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
Probably my second favorite title ever right here. Four Flies on Grey Velvet is another fantastic output from the master, Dario Argento. One reason I liked the movie is because I could actually follow the plot and characters, unlike some other previously mentioned films. The movie follows musician Roberto as he accidentally kills the man he believes is stalking him... but his torment doesn't end there. Someone saw him commit the crime and is slowly trying to drive him crazy as the people around him start to die. Argento's camerawork is another reason to appreciate Four Flies, as he lets us know right from the beginning of the movie that we are going to see something from the eyes of a master. The opening credits have some very cool shots (love the one from the inside of the guitar), and throughout the film there are many other stand-out sequences - the shot of the guy in the creepy mask in the balcony; the camera following the phone line from the booth where the housekeeper is talking to the killer all the way to the killer's phone; great shot of the killer twisting a wire around a victim's neck; and a one very trippy shot of a victim's upside down head hitting every step as she falls down a staircase. None of this is to mention the equally trippy finale of the longest slow motion car chase ever put on camera, and the reveal of what the title is referring to. The only disappointment I really have about the film, or the plot really, is the somewhat lame explanation of the killer for his or her actions. But I guess you don't really need that much of a motive if you're just plain crazy. This movie also has some of the more interesting characters I've run across in giallo - mostly the gay private eye, Arrosio, and Roberto's friend Godfrey. Four Flies on Grey Velvet is just an all around awesome film - so much greatness to be found here, from the acting to the camerawork and editing. It's a new favorite of mine, for sure.