Horror. Worldview. Faith.

The Changeling – Review

The Changeling – Review

Jan 27, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by Peter Medak, 1980

One of my earliest horror-related memories was being scared witless by my first viewing of Friedkin’s The Exorcist.  I had been forbidden to watch it by my parents and had to turn the channel on the television anytime I heard footsteps approaching my room (no remote control for me, so I was sitting within arm’s length of the television at all times).  The fear of getting caught mixed with the frightening images on screen left me exhausted but intoxicated by the time the film ended.  This experience made me a fan of the genre for life.  Unfortunately, after years of exposure to and analysis of the genre, it is rare that I find a new horror film frightening.  For that reason, I value those films that scared me back in the day and, more so, the films that creep me out even after repeated viewing.  Peter Medak’s The Changeling is certainly one of those.

The Changeling stars George C. Scott as John Russell, a composer and music professor who has the awful experience of watching his wife and daughter die in a traffic accident.  After a period of mourning, he moves to a new town and begins teaching again.  He soon moves into a large mansion with, we find out later, a mysterious history.   As is pretty traditional in the sub-genre, Russell hears strange noises, sees things in his peripheral vision, and is generally made uncomfortable in his new surroundings.  Eventually, Russell begins to piece together the history of the house.  As you might expect, it is dark and violent.

The Changeling contains many elements that are now standard in the haunted house movie.  Most of them were well-used in the early years of the genre.  We get a séance, see spirit writing, hear mysterious voices that have been recorded on tape but weren’t heard live.  A walled off room is discovered that reveals a dark secret.  Thematically, the sins of a father are re-visited on a son.  None of this is particularly original.  In fact, it is all to be expected in such a film.  The Changeling stands out because of its craftsmanship, its sincerity, and the weight imparted on the events by Scott’s central performance.

Despite the familiar nature of the plot, many of the elements feel fresh and new because of how well they are shot.  The séance that is arranged after Russell begins to believe something supernatural is going on is one of the best ever filmed.  It is supernatural through and through yet somehow very believable.  This quality is seen in nearly every supernatural moment.  There are some great special effects later in the film, but mostly everything is pulled off with simple camera trickery which never comes off as cheesy.

At no point watching The Changeling do we feel the events are anything but real.  The sadness at the heart of the Russell character colors how we see the events.  Clearly still troubled by his loss, he easily could have been one of Poe’s unreliable narrators.  Instead, he is just the opposite.  We believe the events of the story because Russell believes them.

And that belief is so important in a horror film.  By their nature, they can’t be “realistic” in the literary sense, but they must feel real.  The Changeling does and I think that is the core reason I have always found it so scary.

In the end, what we find scary is such a personal concept that I can’t guarantee The Changeling will have the same effect on other viewers as it did on me.  I can guarantee that they will see an amazing central performance and an extremely well-made film.

(Note:  I couldn’t find many details about the films U.S. Theatrical run, so I’m not sure how much of an impact it had here.  However, the film is one of the most successful Canadian films of all time, in terms of both box office and critical acclaim.  The film was nominated for ten Genie awards (basically the Canadian Oscars) and one eight, including Best Motion Picture and Best Foreign Actor– for George C. Scott).

An Apologetic of Horror

An Apologetic of Horror

Jan 26, 2010

Brian Godawa, a Hollywood screenwriter and director, has written an “apologetic of horror” from a Christian perspective.  He makes a defense as to why the horror genre in general (not all horror movies per se) might have more to say about Christian faith than we would expect.  While many might feel the need to distance themselves from horror movies, which is understandable, Godawa convincingly argues that we find much of the Bible’s teaching through the medium of horror.  To summarize, he lists three ways in which horror movies point to the Christian faith:

1.  Horror can reinforce the doctrine of total depravity and the consequences of sin.
2.  Horror illustrates a 21st century emphasis on materialism and humanism.
3.  Horror can provide a prophetic social commentary on the sinful decay of civilization.

Read the article for yourself and also check out Godawa’s book “Hollywood World Views:  Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment.”

The Ruins – Review

The Ruins – Review

Jan 25, 2010

reviewed by Melissa
directed by Carter Smith, 2008

The Ruins is Carter Smith’s adaptation of Scott Smith’s sophomore novel of the same name. Scott Smith also helmed the writing of the screen play. For those who do not know, Scott Smith’s first novel was A Simple Plan, which was adapted for screen and directed by Sam Raimi.

The film opens with an intense scene of a woman sitting in the dark crying and trying desperately to get a cell phone signal then being yanked into the darkness.

We then transition to Jeff, Amy, Eric and Stacy, who are two twenty-something couples vacationing in Mexico and vegging by the resort pool. In predictable fashion a fifth vacationer, Mathias, inserts himself into the group and convinces the couples to venture with him to a remote Mayan temple. Mathias wants to travel to the temple to find his brother who has gone to the site with a female archeologist who is excavating the temple. Needless to say after a drunken night of partying they meet early the next morning to travel to the temple with a sixth person, Dimitri. Foreshadowing the fact that they are making a bad decision we have a taxi that refuses to drive them to the hiking trail until bribed, two creepy children staring at them from the jungle as they search for the path, and when they find the path it has been deliberately hidden. Once they finally reach the temple I expected the pace of the film to pick up – I was wrong.

Immediately after the group arrives at the temple, some locals show up and start screaming at them in a language no one understands. As the group retreats from the locals toward the temple,  Amy and Dimitri step on some vines covering the temple and the locals begin brandishing weapons. When Dimitri steps off the vine towards the locals he is shot and killed and the rest of the group is herded up onto the top of the temple where the rest of the film takes place. Trapped between the locals and the evil that resides at the temple.

The Ruins is a slow paced movie that never really has another scary moment beyond the opening scene. The characters quickly settle into stereotypical roles including one who wants to make a run for it, one that wants to wait for rescue, one that goes berserk, one that keeps the group together, and an injured one. The worst part about the characters is none of them make any attempt to fight the evil, which is a bloodthirsty climbing vine that is about as scary as a ficus.

We are treated to a few gory scenes including a double amputation and the attempts by one character to cut pieces of the vine out of her own body. While these scenes were fairly intense, they were not enough to carry the movie. I was happy the premise of the film was different than the usual tourist horror movies however it quickly fell into the same old clichés.  The movie ends in such a way as to leave room for a sequel, which the director is quoted as saying was not his intent. This is a good thing.

Overall The Ruins was slow, the characters flat, and the villain laughable. This would be one to avoid.

Dead Alive – Review

Dead Alive – Review

Jan 24, 2010

reviewed by Noch
directed by Peter Jackson, 1992

Long before esteemed director/producer Peter Jackson was making big budget wide released films such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, and even the Frighteners, he was cutting his teeth on lower budget gems. Some of the better known of these movies are Meet the Feebles and Bad Taste. However my favorite from this era of Jackson’s career hands down is Dead-Alive.

Due to some apparent license troubles the film’s original name “BrainDead” was not available for release in the North American markets had to be renamed. Whatever it is called, this movie is a fantastic Laugh out loud splatterfest that is sure to keep you entertained.

Dead-Alive is the story of a very sheltered young man named Lionel, who is very much oppressed by his overbearing and slightly evil mother Vera.  Lionel is forced to do everything for his mother, cook, clean, take care of the lawn, polish the silverware even when there is no apparent need. Naturally Lionel has no apparent friends or life other than taking care of his mother.

Elsewhere in the town, a young Latin girl Paquita is working in her family’s store and has a crush on a delivery driver who comes in. Paquita’s grandmother notices how the girl is swooning over the young man and offers to have a tarot reading from her to find out who Paquita is going to Marry. Much to dismay of the young girl, the cards do not predict the man who is being currently swooned over and she forces herself begrudgingly back to work. Then in walks Lionel, who is not treated very well by the upset girl until a sign in some spilled impulse buy items lets her know that Lionel is actually the one she is going to have a romance with.

Paquita then comes up with an excuse to personally deliver Lionel’s mother’s order to the house and tricks Lionel into agreeing to go on a date to the zoo. Not known to the couple, Vera is watching the whole thing and decides to spy on her son.

Everything goes well during the date for the couple and they start to kiss, which greatly angers Vera. Suddenly she is bitten by the Sumatran rat monkey which she then batters in a very disgusting matter. Lionel notices his mother and takes her home.

Over the next couple days the mother progressively gets worse and her wound never heals. While in a near death state, she hosts a dinner party which goes horribly wrong and has one of the most stomach turning scenes I can recall seeing in a movie. Eventually Vera becomes very sick and dies as the nurse is trying to send her to the hospital. Vera has then fully become a member of the living dead and kills the nurse. Lionel promptly has two hide both zombies in the basement and pretend to Paquita that she’s simply “off to hospital”.

This is where the real fun starts. Lionel keeps losing control of the zombies and it becomes harder and harder for him to keep his little secret under wraps. All of this results in more and more people becoming the undead.

During this film, no topic is too taboo or farfetched. Ever wondered what the entrails of a zombie will do when removed from the rest of the monster? You can find out here. Want to know if zombies have a libido or could get pregnant? This is explored as well. All of this crescendos into the most impressive blood bath I believe I have ever seen in a movie. According to IMDB in one impressive scene blood is pumped out at five gallons per second all the while, body parts and chunks are flying everywhere.

I still recall the first time watching Dead Alive. It was one of several films on a tape a friend let me borrow so that I could see Evil Dead II. Out of curiosity I started watching the other films. This is by far the most memorable on the tape. From the first scene when the Rat Monkey is being removed from the island and having the natives chopping up the zoo keeper to prevent “Zingiah” to long after the movie was over discussing the unexpected pleasure we just watched with a friend, I had a big smile on my face.

Dead-Alive deserves a spot high in the all time ranks of horror comedies.

Let The Right One In – Review

Let The Right One In – Review

Jan 19, 2010

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008

The haunting DVD cover of Let The Right One In caught my eye as I passed by the  new release section of Blockbuster Video and boy am I glad it did.  This dynamic and thought-provoking Swedish film (based on a novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist) makes a genuine connection with its viewers on a number of levels, including themes such as loneliness, revenge, love, and justice.

The story takes place in Stockholm during the early 1980’s.  Oskar is a twelve year old boy who is bullied in extreme ways by his schoolmates, a reality that is coldly overlooked by his mother despite Oskar’s beaten and bruised body.  However, the boy’s troubles are not dismissed by a new resident in Oskar’s housing community, another twelve year old girl named Eli.  Eli is accompanied by an adult male, the status of whom is not entirely clear.  This could be a father, a mentor, a friend, or a random guy who has fallen under Eli’s spell.  However, the role of this companion is quickly revealed as he sets out to find teenage boys, slits their throats, and brings back a feast of blood for young Eli.  Yes, we discover she is a vampire.

The relationship between Oskar and Eli mirrors the indwelling longing of all humanity – the desire to feel connected to another human being.  For Oskar, the difficulty of relationships is bred from his own dismal experience with both friends and family.  For Eli, the secret of her true identity keeps her from truly and fully connecting with anyone.  Yet, the two find a common bond that is both surprising and moving.  Even after Oskar learns the truth about Eli’s vampirism,  his loyalty to their relationship serves as a harsh commentary on our society’s tendency to abandon those we love in times of distress.  Oskar and Eli find themselves in an interesting role reversal when Oskar has to turn into the stalker in order to save Eli from an angry family member of a previous victim.

The relationship continues to be affirmed by the viewer when not only does Eli help get revenge for the mistreatment of Oskar, but we see Oskar himself begin to stand up for himself.  Again, the markings of a healthy relationship are noticeable; looking out for the other partner while at the same time helping them to grow and mature.  And on a more simplistic level, who doesn’t love to see justice carried out for a shy, vulnerable 12 year old?

All these things aside, the beauty and skill of the director are seen in our continued love for Eli even after watching her brutally attack and kill an innocent human for her own survival.  Although we sympathize with her victims, the on-screen carnage does not cause us to turn against Oskar’s new friend.  Whether it is Captain Spalding in House of 1000 Corpses or Neil McCauley in Heat, I am always impressed when we can watch a character brutally kill someone in cold blood and still find ourselves identifying with them.  Although we don’t wish to be them, and we know their actions are wrong, the character relates to us in certain ways that can’t be ignored.  That is the mark of a great story, great directing, and a great movie.

The relationship, of course, was destined to fail from the outset.  Such is the curse of being a vampire.  The cost of immortality is the spilling of human blood and that always tends to disrupt what might otherwise be a promising relationship.  So, Oskar must move on eventually without the continued presence of Eli, but his life will never be the same.  I think of a young John Connor watching his best friend, a Terminator, descend into a molten-lava death.  The relationship was destined to fail, and yet Connor will never be the same again.  So we have great hope for Oskar and for ourselves, that we can learn from and grow in all our situations, even when they are not designed to be permanent.  Eli, on the other hand, must continue her painful immortality by wreaking havoc on the innocent and leaving, once again, someone she loves behind.  In this way we see an interesting parallel to the doctrine of death as recorded in the Bible.  Although we understand death to be an enemy and not the original purpose of God’s plan, He nevertheless uses it as a great gift as well.  For a life of immortality housed inside a sinful, cursed body can only create an eternity of continued sorrow, frustration, and hurt.

Let The Right One In works on all levels; I am hard pressed to find much negative criticism on the film.  Rent it and enjoy.