Horror. Worldview. Faith.

May – Review

May – Review

Oct 3, 2012

reviewed by Skot
directed by Lucky McKee, 2002

“If your eye offends you, pluck it out!” – Jesus

The horror industry has generated a zillion different incarnations of vampires, zombies and ghosts.  What you see much less often are reiterations of the Frankenstein myth.  Lucky McKee wrote and directed this 2002 cult favorite.  It’s a body horror gem that verges on black comedy at times.

When the title character was a little girl, she was afflicted with a lazy eye and made to wear a patch to school.  “Are you a pirate?” one little boy taunted.  She was isolated by the experience of having an imperfect physical trait.  Most of us do not grasp the effect which extreme solitude can have upon a sensitive child, especially when it pertains to a bodily feature.  What little bit we see of May’s parents suggests they too could’ve used a few hours upon a therapist’s couch.  May’s only friend was a doll.  And such a doll.  Some people find dolls kind of creepy.  But this doll is creepy with the volume set to eleven, let me tell you.

Later, grown-up May works at a veterinarian clinic.  We quickly learn that she has become infatuated with Adam, a mechanic and aspiring filmmaker played by Jeremy Sisto.  Her awkward attempts to make him notice her are humorous and endearing.  Angela Bettis combines the right proportions of allure and cluelessness.

In one of her first conversations with Adam, May asks, “Don’t you think I’m weird?”  “I like weird,” he says.  They both seem to really be surprised by each other.  Eating sandwiches in the park, she tells him that she works at an animal hospital doing tasks that a lot of people consider gross.  He seizes the challenge saying, “Go ahead.  Disgust me.”  She proceeds to relate a truly repulsive episode that appears to sour even Adam’s appetite.  When he shows her his apartment, he’s impressed that she doesn’t recoil at his macabre collection of horror movie related artifacts.  Later, Adam presents May a private screening of his film about two lovers who become so carried away with their lovemaking that they literally cannibalize each other.  It’s played for whimsy as well as shock.  He’s anxious about what she’ll think, worried that she’ll be turned off by the dark side of his personality that he’s usually so reticent to share.  Her response to his movie was not quite what he expected.  “I think it’s sweet,” she says, and moves in for a snuggle.  It seems he’s met his match and then some.  But there’s weird and then there’s weird.  May is weird.

With each person May meets, she fixates on a particular part of that person’s body.  For instance, she loves Adam’s hands.  Anna Farris plays May’s flirtatious lesbian coworker.  May loves her neck.  Another girl is prized for her beautiful “gams.”  And a boy for his arms.  There are so many beautiful parts.  It’s just hard to find someone who has the whole package.

McKee’s writing and direction are critical for the success of this picture.  But it all hinges on Angela Bettis as May.  This is an extremely challenging role.  One could play the lunatic-slasher-serial-killer or the sympathetic-cute-nerdy-girl looking for her prince charming or the damaged-stalker a’ la Fatal Attraction relatively easily, but it takes a true dramatic maestro to pull all three together into one.

While I think it’s a good movie, it’s not without flaws.  The part about the blind children is not as exploitative as you might expect, but I found it hard to understand how it adds anything important to the story.

I’ve seen May twice.  Once in 2003 and once last weekend (2012).  It wasn’t as good for me the second time round as I remembered from the first time.  I think it’s too polished and would play better with a lower budget feel.

The Innkeepers – Review

The Innkeepers – Review

Oct 2, 2012

reviewed by Danny
directed by Ty West, 2011

The Innkeepers has a pretty unique exposition.  Claire works at a inn that is going out of business.  The owner has left town and fired every employee other than Claire and the nerdy Luke.  In order to be able to cover all the shifts for the final weekend, Claire and Luke are forced to sleep at the inn while switching out every so often to work the desk.  The inn, we learn early on, is possibly haunted by former guest who “never left.”  That is the film’s simple concept, and it is a good one.  From there, it is easy to imagine any number of ways Ti West, who both wrote and directed, could take this film.  Unfortunately, The Innkeepers doesn’t live up to its promise, at least not to the extent that West’s wonderful debut, The House of the Devil did.

Like House of the Devil, The Innkeeprs is deliberately paced.  We spend the entire first act of the film watching Claire and Luke going through their mundane duties and dealing with needy guests.  Sure, we get introduced to a few details we will need later—for instance, Claire and Luke are building a website about the inn’s ghostly history.  One current guest is a former television star turned psychic healer.  Claire and Luke are trying to capture EVP in order to prove that the inn is haunted.

Despite these horror tropes, The Innkeepers really doesn’t build any sense of dread, even after ghostly events actual start occurring. West did a masterful job in House of the Dead with slowly ratcheting up the tension so that the bloody ending came as both a shock and a kind of release.  Here, I didn’t really become engrossed until the blood really hits the fan in the last twenty minutes of the movie.

I think West sneaks in a symbol of what he is trying to do in his films early on. Luke says he has an amazing video from a “real ghosts” website to show Claire.  We watch the video as Claire does.  On screen a camera slowly pans toward a static rocking chair.  Since it is a ghost website, Claire and we are all waiting for the rocking chair to move.  Eventually a ghostly face pops into full view accompanied by a loud scream.  The video scares Claire (you mileage may vary), and it is easy to see the video as symbolic of West’s style.  Get people ready for something to happen then hold off on it long enough that when they finally get to see it, it feels like a wonderful present.  That worked well for House of the Devil but less well here because early on it feels like we are watching a movie about the working-class doldrums, not a horror film.

Another reason it might not have worked for me is the paucity of characters.  Horror films need potential victims that we care about, like Claire, but they also need fodder so that we can see that there really is threat in the world.  The Innkeepers just has too few characters and we only ever see the world from Claire and, to a much lesser extent, Luke’s eyes.

I really wanted to like The Innkeepers, and I did like the concept and the last act very much.  There is a scene in the basement near the end where Claire reveals a ghost in the searching beam of her flashlight.  It is one of the most frightening and creepy ghost reveals I’ve seen (probably my favorite since The Devil’s Backbone first shows us Santi).  Still, in the end, it is hard to recommend The Innkeepers because it’s a horror film that just isn’t scary for 3/4ths of its length.  The good parts are still good enough that I’m interested in seeing what West does next.

Roman – Review

Roman – Review

Oct 1, 2012

reviewed by Skot
directed by Angela Bettis, 2006

In 2002, Lucky McKee directed Angela Bettis in May about a troubled young woman who is excruciatingly lonely and obsessed with finding true love.  In 2006, McKee and Bettis traded roles for the unsettling picture, Roman.  McKee wrote the screenplays for both films.

Roman (Lucky McKee) has a mind-numbing job with mind-numbed coworkers.  He doesn’t usually say much but listening to the drivel of his coworkers, it’s not hard to understand why someone once quipped that silence is golden.  Each monotonous day after the next, he returns to his Spartan apartment and stares at the wall.  One day, to mix things up, he uses cigarette ash to draw the outline of a television on the wall to pretend to watch it.  Every day, at the same time, his cute neighbor (Kristen Bell) walks past his apartment and lovesick Roman makes a point of watching her collect her mail.  Only she can make him smile.  Consumed with romantic sexual fantasies, Roman’s day revolves around those five minutes when he can catch a glimpse of dream girl walking past.  It’s a fine line between infatuation and creepy obsession.  This story of a social misfit almost becomes a sweet romance when things take a turn for the worse, and then a turn for the macabre.  Guilt, obsession and brutal isolation drive him straight downtown to crazy town.

In his fantastical imaginings of dream girl, he gives her the name Isis which is fitting both since Isis is the Egyptian goddess who represented the ideal wife and mother but also because of the how the name sounds like the word “ice.”  You’ll see what I mean.  The myth of Isis also includes the topic of dismemberment.

Pulling him back from the brink of complete lunacy is his encounter with another pretty girl in his apartment complex.  Eva, played by Nectar Rose (her real name) is an artistic Mother Nature sprite of a girl whose enchanting free spirit gives Roman another shot at sanity and happiness.  On the outside, Eva is a walking personification of a literal garden of delights, but there’s a serpent in her tree.  Roman finds that Eva harbors secret shadows of her own.  On their first date, they catch a performance of Hedda Gabler, a play about suicide.  “Isn’t it beautiful?” Eva moons.  Oh yes, the girl has issues.

The first dream girl, “Isis,” was never really a true person for Roman.  She was nothing more than a collection of pretty parts he desired to possess.  With Eva, things are different.  She breaks the spell of Isis and makes him fall in love with her as a person, complexities and all.

Roman is a romantic, obsessed with his own twisted version of romance.  Lucky McKee plays the lead perfectly.  Even though he’s completely bonkers, I couldn’t help but sympathize with him.  There are moments of sweetness in the story, moments when you root for Roman to find true love with one of his dream girls.  Just when you think he’s emerging from madness to a real normal life, everything gets flushed down the toilet.  Roman is a strange love story populated with badly damaged, though not unrecognizable, people.  It’s a heartbreaking little movie that I appreciate more every time I watch it.  (There’s a really bizarre little music video that exemplifies the off-beat scary sadness of the film that I couldn’t erase from my brain.  Just look up Burro Boy on Google.  You can thank me later.)

Tucker and Dale vs Evil – Review

Tucker and Dale vs Evil – Review

Feb 2, 2012

reviewed by Danny
directed by Eli Craig, 2010

It’s possible I have said this so much it is becoming my mantra, but horror comedies are a very difficult thing to pull off.  To do it well, the director and writer have to mock convention while maintaining a reverence for what is good in the genre.  Well, at least that is what I’m looking for.  It is why the original Piranha worked for me and the sequel not as much.  And, it is the reason stuff like the Scary Movie franchise are anathema to me.  When I got a hardy recommendation of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil from two horror-movie-fanatic friends, I knew that the film likely got the mix of comedy and horror right.  Turns out, they were right.  Tucker and Dale is horror-comedy done right, and it is the best slasher film parody to date (sorry, Student Bodies and Pandemonium).

Tucker and Dale plays on two slasher film sub-types, the killer hillbillies and teenager campout.  Both of those sub-types are ripe for parody, and Tucker and Dale does a good job getting right to it as we are introduced to the titular characters, the two nicest rednecks your ever likely to meet.  Tucker, played by the always great Alan Tudyck,  has just bought himself a vacation home, and he has brought his best bud, Dale (Tyler Labine) with him to help with the “fixer-upper.”  We simultaneously are introduced to a group of college kids on their way to camp out.  This group, led by the arrogant Chad (genre regular Jesse Moss, who, if his career doesn’t quite work out, can already probably survive on the horror convention circuit for the rest of his life).  Dale immediately takes a liking to the beautiful Allison (30 Rock’s Cerie).  In what will go down as one of the most awkward cute-meets in film history, Dale manages to cement in the student’s minds that country-folk are strange and dangerous.  The rest of the plot and humor of the film is based on that misconception as the redneck and college-kid paths continue to cross coincidentally.

The sight gags and specific deaths in Tucker and Dale are too good to spoil.  Suffice it to say that in an effort to escape the “killer” rednecks, the college kids manage to kill themselves in an escalating variety of ridiculous ways.  Just when it is all getting too ridiculous, the film reveals that there is a crazy killer in the mix, and the remainder of the film flips the ratio to eighty percent horror, twenty percent comedy.  There is a real threat in the denouement and our main characters take some real punishment.  I wasn’t expecting the tonal shift, and it was a pleasant surprise.

In the end, Tucker and Dale succeeds because of its tone and some great performances by the four main characters.  Tyler Labine and Jesse Moss are especially good here, with one playing it straight and the other in full scenery-chewing mode.  I highly recommend the film for horror buffs who can tolerate a bit of mockery (and I know not all of us can).

Body Count Podcast #1112

Body Count Podcast #1112

Nov 8, 2011

Hallo, Danny, and Skot discuss all kinds of things – Paranormal Activity, American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, and a bunch of random movies are discussed.