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Trick or Trunk or Treat or…

Halloween was close to magical for me as a kid and still remains one of my favorite days out of the year.  I remember roaming the streets on Long Island, trying to get to as many houses as possible, finally being big enough to switch out the cheap Halloween bag for a pillow case, and working out strategies with friends so we could hit more houses in less time.  I always loved going to haunted houses in the area, especially one that was in what used to be a two-story department store.  My elementary school in Connecticut would allow the 5th grade classrooms to convert to haunted rooms every year, and I remember loving the tours as a young student and feeling so amazing and important when it was my turn to scare the heck out of my younger peers.  My first year in college, I dressed as the Grim Reaper (face paint and all) and scared my dorm mates to death.  I love Halloween.

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I passed a church the other day that will be doing a Trunk or Treat event this coming Sunday.  Children will dress up and go from car to car in the parking lot collecting treats and showing off their costume.  This has been going on for a few years now in various places (mostly churches) and is meant to be a safe alternative to sending your children roaming around your neighborhood.  Other alternatives that seem to be gaining popularity are having a backyard scavenger hunt with neighborhood children, getting a pinata and having all the candy in one place, trick or treating at malls that host such events, or organizing games and other activities that feature candy but aren’t centered around collecting it.

These alternate activities seem to not only be in response to a danger associated with trick or treating, but with the “fact” that Halloween is a very religious holiday and that makes it not okay for everyone to celebrate it and not okay for it to be celebrated in any fashion in schools.  A Pennsylvania school principal stated that “some holidays, like Halloween, are viewed…as having religious overtones. The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs.”

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I’ll spare you the copy and pasting from my Google searches on the origins of Halloween, as there are many details and many theories about whether or not it is okay for someone of Christian faith to celebrate this holiday.  I was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic and not once did anyone associated with my church tell myself or my family that Halloween was wrong in any way.  My son was baptized in a Methodist church and the preacher who performed the ceremony addressed the Halloween issue (in a different service of course) and specifically stated that Halloween is a fun time for children and we should leave it as simple as that.

For a child, Halloween is simply a fun time to dress like a superhero or scary monster and get free candy from people around your home.  It’s a time to watch frightening movies and tell spooky stories with friends.  It’s a time to go to haunted houses, be it the truly frightening ones for the brave or the tame lights-on set ups at children’s museums and the like.  I have never known a child to question whether or not to celebrate Halloween due to religious or moral reasons.  The handful of children I knew that weren’t into Halloween felt that way because they considered themselves too old for it or because their parents pushed them into feeling that the day was silly/childish/not worth their time.

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If your family is that serious about Halloween being against your religion, then keep your child home from school that day and plan an alternative for them.  Maybe go to the movies or have a family outing elsewhere while everyone else is trick or treating so your child(ren) don’t have to sit at home and watch everyone around them have a blast.  What needs to stop happening is uptight parents sticking their nose in EVERYTHING and ruining good times for their own children and everyone else’s.  What is the harm in having decorations in an elementary school or having the cafeteria serve up Halloween-inspired goodies?  What is the harm in picking a parent to walk with a group of kids around the neighborhood?

By taking Halloween out of schools and trick or treating out of neighborhoods, you take childhood away from children.  You aren’t allowing them to simply be kids and have fun.  They are going to be miserable enough when they reach adulthood and find out that you can’t dress like Darth Vader in the office because it’s creepy rather than cute and quirky.  It’s selfish to rush these kids along and take away enjoyable childhood experiences because you have your panties in a twist about cartoon witches being evil and unavoidable sugar rushes.  This “everyone is out to get me” attitude needs to go away.  Halloween has morphed into a frighteningly fun holiday that seeks to exclude no one.  Can we quit nit-picking and simply enjoy?

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My Pumpkin Is Underwater

Happy Halloween everyone!!  This is one of my favorite times of the year, but unfortunately the joy is marred this time around due to Hurricane Sandy and the destruction and deaths it has caused.  Relief funds are being created and help is being sent as mother nature tears through neighborhoods with reckless abandon.  As of this morning, 55 people along the Atlantic coast are dead and over seven million are still without power.  Homes and the valuables contained within are destroyed.  NYU Langone Medical Center was forced to evacuate about 2o0 patients.  People are in shock, are devastated, and trying their best to cope.

In the spirit of laughter being the best medicine, many people have taken to Twitter and other social media outlets to try to inject some humor into a grim situation.  Naturally, not everyone finds reason to laugh and many think that the jokes are inappropriate, insensitive, and almost vulgar in nature.  With the exception of those wishing death on the cast of Jersey Shore and other evil comments, I disagree with those who find fault in the jokes.  I’m grateful that people are going out there and throwing out a smile amidst all the frowns.

Excluding the few comments which are obviously meant maliciously, there is no harm meant and no harm coming from these clever quips about the hurricane.  They are not coming from people who are happy to see people lose their homes and see their loved ones harmed or killed.  They are not laughing in the face of the victims left in the wake of the storm.  They are simply understanding that people’s spirits are low right now and they could definitely use a pick me up.  They are reminding us that there is no shame in being happy when others are suffering.

Instead of embracing the humor, donating what we can, and having a Happy Halloween, people are complaining and becoming overly offended by these silly remarks.  They are failing to see that these funny one liners are giving us permission to laugh and to not feel guilty about not being affected by the hurricane.  If we donate money to the relief fund with our spirits in the sand or donate with a big smile on our face, does the money get spent any differently?  Nothing is accomplished by being somber and acting depressed; positivity is a fantastic motivator and should definitely be used here and in other tough situations.

Laughter itself is not disrespectful.  When we laugh at a humorous comment on Twitter, we are not actually saying “I’m so glad the hurricane ripped through homes and killed innocents!”  It takes a sick and twisted individual to find joy in destruction and death, and that is not what society is composed of for the most part.  We care, but we are constantly buried by tragic news and it tends to desensitize us a bit.  We should allow laughter to be the cure rather than trying to make it yet another problem.

Enjoy your Halloween parties, your trick or treating, and your festivities guilt free.  Appreciate the humor from celebrities and celebriwannabes without feeling insensitive.  One of the worst things we can do while trying to boost morale and help those in need is become fearful of laughter and to begin shying away from joy.  A good mood can carry a person a long way, and the last thing anyone affected by Sandy needs right now is a bunch of people moping around, afraid of saying the wrong thing, and consequently afraid to act.

Did You Hear That?

First, we saw Katie and Micah set up cameras to capture evidence of the strange occurrences in their home, only to see Katie become possessed and murder her boyfriend.  We then go back two months to see Katie’s sister, Kristi, taken by what seems to be the same presence that took control of Katie.  Soon we learn that Katie’s possession was caused when the demon possessing Kristi was banished from her and sent to Katie.  Katie, after murdering Micah, comes to Kristi’s home and kills her husband before attacking her and kidnapping her child, Hunter.  Additional found footage brings us back in time to when Katie and Kristi were children; we see that the girls were introduced to this demonic being at a very young age and that their grandmother knows what it is and has welcomed it into their home and lives.

I am a huge fan of movies that use the found footage format.  Ever since watching The Blair Witch Project and being terrified initially due to my lack of information and thinking it was in fact real found footage.  That and the moment during the film when one of my friends exited the theater and began pounding on the emergency exit door during a tense scene.  When I learned that it was fiction, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the idea of using found footage to add realism to a scary movie.  It’s a brilliant idea and practically guarantees that the audience will be terrified.

Found footage movies are very inexpensive to produce.  They generally don’t use many special effects, hire unknown actors, and don’t require state of the art equipment.  The scares mostly come from using typical techniques, such as having people jump into shots, and by forcing the audience to use their imaginations and feeding off of their fear of the unknown.  The situations we see the characters in are almost always ones that we could find ourselves in, assuming you have some belief in the supernatural.

In Paranormal Activity 4, we are introduced to an entirely different family who happens to live across the street from Katie and her son, Robbie, who appears to be about 6 or 7 years old and is quite an odd child.  The assumption is that Robbie is Hunter who Katie kidnapped earlier on.  After Katie is hospitalized for an unknown illness, the family takes Robbie in to babysit while his mother heals, leading to strange and paranormal activities which young Alex captures on her computer and various other electronics in the house that are equipped with cameras.

This installment of the series starts off a bit slow; there are a few scenes where you’re waiting for something to happen but nothing comes.  A few scares are on the cheap side, such as Alex returning to a room and jumping onto the bed and in front of her laptop’s webcam.  Robbie is definitely a creepy character though; his blank expression combined with his odd behavior definitely make you wonder exactly what is wrong with this poor child.  I enjoyed the use of the Xbox Kinect’s technology combined with night vision on the cameras; night vision alone is spooky but the motions sensors being illuminated and shining around the room made it even more unsettling.

Once Katie returns home from the hospital, the scares start coming in full force.  Her walk with the heavy steps, her menacing stare, and the knowledge that she has superhuman strength and no control over her actions all makes her a truly frightening woman.  I would probably scream and start running if I ever saw her on the street.  What made this movie entirely worth it for me was the ending where Katie confronts one of the family members.  Normally, when I get scared, all the hair on my arms will stand up and sometimes I’ll get goosebumps on the back of my neck.  The two final scares in this movie made my entire body erupt in goosebumps; it freaked me out more than anything I can remember.  I can’t bring myself to spoil any of it for you.

I definitely think this film is worth seeing in the theater IF you have a theater nearby that isn’t constantly filled with shrieking idiots and teenagers checking Facebook; when we saw Paranormal Activity 3, we missed half of the movie’s scary parts due to people yelling, laughing, talking, and on their phones.  Any fan of this series will enjoy this, and any fan of horror in general will love the ending!  The main character is fantastic and forces the audience to experience the scares as she does.  Katie is simply brilliant and terrifying; I’m so glad she played a major role in this installment and I can’t wait to see her again next year in Paranormal Activity 5.

Are You Even Trying To Survive?

Last night, in the continuing spirit of Halloween, my husband and I watched 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a remake of the 1974 film that was very loosely based on some true events.  It got me thinking of all the silly mistakes and bad decisions that characters in horror flicks make that ultimately lead to their untimely death or destruction.  I don’t mean to pick on this movie in particular, especially because it’s one I’m quite fond of, but it’s fresh in my mind so it get stuck being an example.

Mistake #1:  The choice to engage in risky behavior.  The teens are transporting drugs and on their way to a concert when they see a young girl aimlessly walking down the road, crying and on the brink of becoming hysterical.  The women in the van take pity and decide to give her a ride.  The hitchhiker starts talking about a bad man and ends up shooting herself in the head which sets everything in motion.  I don’t care what the person looks like, you do NOT pick up a hitchhiker!  Unfortunately, these teens didn’t have the luxury of having cell phones to use to call the police, but they could have called at the next rest stop they found and reported a strange girl, or simply let it go.  Regardless, hitchhikers are a big no no.

Mistake #2:  Ignoring the initial warning signs.  The group, with the dead body in the van, enter a small store where a creepy woman calls the police for them.  She has rotting animal parts covered in flies in a display case, something that is noted as odd but waved away.  The store clerk tells the teens that they need to meet the sheriff at a mill down the road.  This should have set off more warning bells, but the group instead decides to listen to the odd clerk and drive down to the mill in unfamiliar territory away from the main road.  They also seem to have forgotten that the recently deceased girl became hysterical when she saw the direction they were headed.  She would have rather died than go back there.

Mistake #3:  Splitting up.  After learning from a strange boy that the sheriff is home drinking, the couple walks to the home to retrieve him.  They learn that they have the wrong house but are allowed by the wheelchair-bound stranger to use the phone.  At least Erin is; Kemper is told to wait outside.  This leads to Erin allowing the amputee to distract her while Leatherface attacks Kemper.  Erin should have never gone in alone; the old man didn’t seem to be a threat but they had no idea who else was in that home.  Even after losing Kemper, Erin allows her friend Andy to go into the house alone, ultimately leading to his injuries and capture.  Safety in numbers, people.

Mistake #4:  Trusting a badge regardless of the actions.  Perhaps this was a more trusting time in our country, but warning bells should have been going off when the sheriff started acting erratically.  A competent officer would not stick the gun, evidence, into his boot.  He would not wrap a body up and put it in his trunk.  He would not demand you stick a gun in your mouth to “recreate” the suicide.  The teens should have overpowered the officer and booked it out of there, but they were blinded by the badge and took no action.  Even in the 70s, I find it hard to believe that no one would consider the possibility that this was either not a real cop (uniforms and cars can be stolen) or that he was corrupt.

Mistake #5:  Letting fear take over.  There were plenty of moments where a well-timed kick or punch could have saved the group from the sheriff, but no one had the guts to take action.  The two girls could have both survived Leatherface’s attack on the van if they had run for it immediately instead of screaming and hugging each other.  Erin could have saved Kemper if she wasn’t so fearful of the amputee’s safety and just booked it out of there after using the phone.  The situation is obviously a crisis so it is important for everyone to keep their head and get to safety.

Mistake #6:  Trusting everyone.  You would think that Erin would be a bit more careful after seeing how no one seems to want anything but the worst for the group, but instead she trusts the two women in a trailer in the middle of the woods.  The trailer is obviously too close to the other areas containing untrustworthy people who are assisting Leatherface.  Just because someone seems sweet on the surface doesn’t mean they have your best interests in mind.  She should have kept on running.  It’s easy to see a fresh face as a savior, but it’s the last thing you should be doing in this type of crisis.

Other notable mistakes made from horror characters include running like a maniac and twisting an ankle, driving a car that hasn’t been serviced and will break down, wandering off alone, blindly investigating strange noises, crying loudly in your hiding place, coming out of your hiding place too early, assuming an incapacitated bad guy is truly down for the count and turning your back, and dropping your weapon.  Of course, you also have the ones such as having sex or saying you’ll be right back, but those are solely on the fictional side while the other mistakes can also apply to a real life crisis.

What I want to see more of in my horror flicks are strong and smart characters who don’t make the typical and stale mistakes that we’ve all seen over and over again.  Things that once were classics and were shocking have become routine and predictable.  We expect the female to trip and be captured, we expect the promiscuous couple to die, we expect the group to split up to investigate places they shouldn’t be, and we expect the car to die at the worst possible time.  Again, I’m not picking on Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it just happens to be useful here.  I hope to see more films in the future abandon the clichés and stop making it so obvious who the hero/heroine will be and who will just be another body in the count.  Your move, Hollywood.

The Unknown

Courtesy of a free Redbox rental promo, I picked up The Unknown for my husband and I to watch and hopefully be terrified by.  The Unknown is an original anthology series from Crackle, starring Dominic Monaghan as an anonymous blogger who works to delve into events of the supernatural, the strange, and the controversial.  The series was created by Chris Collins (Sons of Anarchy) with individual episodes directed by Sam Nicholson (The Walking Dead), Kevin Connolly (Entourage), and Martha Coolidge (Real Genius).  There are six stand alone episodes in The Unknown, with Monaghan’s character as the only constant between them.

Monaghan makes for a strange character, seeming to live a very secluded life in his apartment and communicating mostly online anonymously.  His walls are littered with newspaper and magazine clippings and his furniture is buried under books.  He does receive visitors on occasion, as shown in “Prime Cut” where the restaurant blogger pays him a visit so that he may sample the unique cuisine, but the visit is obviously not personal as it is related to his research and his possible obsession.

For the most part, the characters in the separate chapters are pretty compelling.  I will admit, the first story “Relapse” did not succeed in drawing me in as I wanted it to, leaving me wondering if I had made a mistake in renting this movie.  It was confusing at times, jumping from the past to the present and not really establishing how one thing related to the next.  It quickly became apparent though, when the female lead was forced to face her past and discover who she truly is.  The stories melded together and then we were on to the next.  “Yesterday” featured a frightened husband who seems to be spying on his family from outside of the house by utilizing nanny cams.  He rushes inside to help his family after seeing a hooded figure threatening the pair inside.  What he eventually discovers is quite shocking but also something that could potentially happen in the real world, unlike the preceding story where you have to believe the unbelievable.

Once we got to “Prime Cut,” this series had my full attention.  The chef and owner of a local high-end restaurant is naturally stressed when a popular food blogger comes in, especially since the blogger is known for his scathing reviews.  In his haste to please, the chef accidentally puts something in his ceviche that doesn’t belong.  He leaves his station long enough for a female sous chef to finish the dish and send the tainted ceviche to the blogger.  To their surprise, the blogger loves it and posts a rave review.  Fast forward to three months later, and the chef and owner is accused of being a one trick pony.  He and his female assistant attempt to alter their secret ingredient, resulting in failure.  Realizing they have to stick to the original is where this chapter takes a turn into skin-crawling and gory territory.  This is definitely one of the best chapters.

In “Life Sentence,” we see the typical prison situation that we see in films.  After a horrific murder scene, a new inmate is introduced to the prison and placed across from a prisoner scheduled for release in a week.  The new prisoner, like many, proclaims his innocence.  Unlike others, he blames his current situation on demonic forces.  This chapter was interesting, if not slightly predictable.  My main complaint is that the graphics and effects used on the evil forces were pretty terrible.  Had they kept it subtle, they would have been golden, but they instead chose to add odd elements to the demons that made them comical rather than scary.

“Spare The Child” begins with a devastating tsunami that wipes out almost an entire village.  A visiting man comes to next to the dead body of a young girl.  He begs a local villager to save her and the villager agrees, gathering what look like orange cherry tomatoes from the brush and reviving the dead girl.  His assistance comes with a price and at first, the man is willing to pay; he is able to create a miracle pharmaceutical drug from one of the mysterious berries he took with him.  Due to interference from his wife, the man is unable to keep his promise to the villager.  The price he had to pay was high and the end was not what I expected at all.

We end with “Privacy Settings” which begins with a seemingly entitled woman who thrives on feeling important.  It’s not long before a hacker worms his (or her) way into her life.  Her job requires that she maintain a positive public image, something her new stalker seems determined to destroy.  Her webcam is one of the private things in her life that is hacked, something that has been in the news recently as a problem due to malicious software, so her stalker is able to spy on her in the privacy of her home.  The end result of the work of her stalker is shocking and sad.

Overall, there were enough elements in the series to keep me interested.  You can watch The Unknown trailer here:  http://www.crackle.com/c/The_Unknown or just look it up on YouTube.  If you look on YouTube or on Crackle’s site, you can watch the single episodes.  “Prime Cut,” “Spare The Child,” and “Privacy Settings” are the must watch episodes; the other three are decent but feel free to skip over them if you don’t want to watch it in its entirety as I did.  It was a nice addition to our Halloween movie playlist and “Prime Cut” succeeded in grossing me out today at lunch as I ate my pizza and the cheese slipped off and it reminded me of… well, go see for yourself.

I’ll Swallow Your Soul

I adore Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, but my absolute favorite is 1987’s Evil Dead 2; Dead By Dawn.  I saw this movie before seeing the first of the trilogy and immediately fell in love.  It worked out since Evil Dead II is a retroactive continuity sequel, alternating the previous facts from the first film and better retelling the story.  Ash, played by the brilliant Bruce Campbell, takes his new and in one piece girlfriend to a secluded and deserted cabin in the woods.  The tape of an archeology professor is played, passages from the Necronomicon are recited, and the evil forces are released.  Unlike the first film, II fully acknowledges the fact that it is campy and comedic, with the possessed Linda (Denise Bixler) dancing headless and prancing in the woods, Ash’s demonic hand mocking him and giving him the finger, the inanimate objects in the cabin laughing hysterically, and the infamous chainsaw arm.

Revisiting the first story meant that Raimi did not have to waste any time on character development or explaining the evil unseen forces.  II jumps into the fright almost immediately, with Linda becoming possessed and eventually beheaded and buried by Ash.  As he deals with the possession of his hand, the cabin owner’s daughter Annie (Sarah Berry), her boyfriend (Richard Domeier), and their guides (Dan Hicks and Kassie Wesley) arrive at the cabin to see a bloody stranger.  Naturally, they suspect that Ash has murdered the professor and his wife, but they eventually learn through the recordings that the professor was forced to lock his wife, Henrietta, in the basement after she became possessed herself.  Demonic forces claim person after person until Ash and Annie are the only two that remain.  As Annie uses her dying breath to recite a passage to banish the evil, Ash is caught in the portal and transported back in time, opening the door for the third installment of the film series.

I love the comedic elements in this movie.  When Ash decides to sever his possessed hand, he first pins it to the floor with a kitchen knife.  Then, grabbing the chainsaw, he says “who’s laughing now?”  As he cuts his hand from his body, blood shoots into his face, covering his manic expression.  When the group tries to shove Henrietta back into the basement, one of her eyeballs pops out from her skull, shoots across the room, and gets stuck in the mouth of Bobbie Joe, one of the guides.  Bobbie Joe, in her panicked state, rushes from the cabin only to be attacked by the trees and vines in the forest.  Raimi spares us the tree-rape that we saw in the first film, killing the girl by slamming her into a large tree.  Ash, not one to be hindered by losing a hand, quickly constructs a contraption to attach a chainsaw to his stump; the same chainsaw he used to cut Linda’s severed head in half after she bit his hand and wouldn’t stop mocking him in her quest to capture his soul.

The film uses a good deal of stop-motion animation, running film backwards to show fog retreating into the woods, makeup and bodysuits on the possessed people, and lots of blood which is generally thrown into Campbell’s face.  Yes, there are mistakes and errors in the effects, but it doesn’t matter.  Raimi and crew gave the audience raw and real effects.  With so much CGI in movies nowadays, it’s refreshing to see a film where CGI is totally absent and the creativity of the crew is what matters.  If an effect was desired, they had to build it from scratch.  I know that all films can’t do this, as CGI effects are sometimes the only route to go to achieve certain visual effects, but it is definitely an overused medium.  Seeing a film like Evil Dead II is a nice reminder that a kick ass movie can be made without the assistance of computer graphics.

Evil Dead II is and probably always will be my favorite film from Raimi and the greatest thing Bruce Campbell has ever done.  It’s over the top, funny and frightening, and tells a fast paced scary story that is sure to captivate any viewer.  You can’t help but fall in love with this movie and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it since discovering its existence in college.  This movie is a must watch in October as you prepare for Halloween, as well as any other time of the year that you want a good laugh.  As Ash would say, it’s GROOVY.

Bad Dog

I’m almost embarrassed to say that as a 31-year-old woman who is an avid reader and obsessed with movies and the art of creating them, I have only just recently seen Cujo.  Based on Stephen King’s novel, the film follows a St. Bernard who is bitten by a rabid bat.  His owner, oblivious to anything other than his own selfish needs, ignores Cujo as the symptoms begin to set in and the dog’s demeanor begins to change.  Meanwhile, Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace) is reeling from having to admit to her husband, Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly), that she has been having an affair.  After her husband is unable to fix her worn down car, he leaves town to attend to business and get some time away to process the news of the affair.  Donna and her son, Tad, (Danny Pintauro), are forced to drive out to the local mechanic’s place to attend to the car.  As they arrive, the alternator dies.

While the married couple has been dealing with their fractured marriage, Cujo has been busy with his owner and their neighbor.  By busy, I mean he has attacked and murdered them both.  By the time Donna and Tad arrive, the St. Bernard is matted in the blood of his victims, is foaming around the mouth, and has pus leaking from his eyes.  Without supplies and with barely anything to drink, mother and son are trapped in the car and at the mercy of this rabid beast.  When Vic finally decides something is wrong, he returns home only to find his house ransacked by the man Donna was sleeping with.  Assuming the man has also kidnapped his wife and son, the police are called in.  The sheriff makes it to the mechanic’s property, but is attacked by Cujo before he is able to call for backup or provide assistance to Donna and her small child.  After what seems like an eternity, Donna and Tad are able to find safety and reunite with Vic.

It’s a simple story and much of it takes place inside of a car.  That being said, it’s truly terrifying and I don’t honestly think I could stomach watching it again.  As a dog owner, it’s heart breaking to see a loving and gentle dog unfairly thrown into the grasp of a horrible disease and to see his owners not care enough to notice.  It was difficult for me to watch this poor pup be neglected and succumb to the disease against his will.  I haven’t read the book, but thanks to my husband I know that it contains passages from Cujo’s point of view and expresses his will to remain kind and loving, something rabies will not allow him to do.  Even as his teeth were piercing flesh and stopping heart beats, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic towards him and want nothing more than to comfort him.  And give him a bath.

As a mother, it was equally if not more painful to watch little Tad’s struggle in the car.  When kids cry, they can do that pouty-face, didn’t get my way thing that is mostly an act, or they can do that my world is ending, why does it hurt, please help me cry that is heart shattering whether it is your child or not.  I don’t want to research the making of Cujo because I honestly believe that the filmmakers truly terrified that child in order to get the reaction out of him that we see on-screen.  That poor little boy was crying as though his world was ending, horrified when his mother is attacked, and confused as to why they just can’t flee to the safety of their home.  As a parent, there is little worse than the helpless feeling you get when your child is crying in that way and there is nothing you can do to fix it.

I didn’t bother throwing a spoiler alert on the top of this because it’s truly hard to spoil.  I knew what was going to happen from the get go and it still horrified me.  The part that my husband claims made the entire movie worth watching was about three minutes from the end where I let out a good and loud shriek and jumped about three feet into the air.  I’m jumpy and I tend to jump a bit during movies, but rarely do I ever vocalize that.  This scene scared the shit out of me.  Not literally, thankfully.  If you have yet to watch this movie, go do it now.  Scary movies don’t all have to be ghosts, vampires, zombies, serial killers, and sadists.  Sometimes they can be a frightened child, a panicked mother, and a fluffy but rabid dog.

Live Or Die

I recently started rewatching the entire SAW series in honor of Halloween and because I absolutely love the entire franchise.  If you live under a rock and are unfamiliar with it, the franchise revolves around John Kramer played by Tobin Bell who is known as the Jigsaw Killer.  He is not a murderer and has stated that he despises murderers.  Instead, he traps his victims and places them in situations which he describes as tests.  They can either choose to live or give up and accept their death.  Kramer was murdered in Saw III but his legacy lived on via flashbacks and by the chosen few who carried out his legacy until the bitter end.  There are seven films in total, eight if you count the under ten minute short film starring Leigh Wannell as David as she fought to escape the reverse bear trap device.  This short film eventually became a scene in SAW starring Shawnee Smith as Amanda Young rather than David.

Tobin Bell is undoubtedly the glue holding SAW together.  He makes for a frightening villain, but he also demands sympathy from the audience.  He was a civil engineer and a loving husband to his wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell).  The loss of his child, Gideon, due to the actions of people who had no appreciation for the life they were given, is no doubt a huge reason that Kramer decided to take the path he did and attempt to save people and restore their appreciation of life.  The other factor, as shown in SAW II, was the survived suicide attempt after Kramer drove his car off of a cliff and rose from the wreckage a reborn man.

I enjoyed the way SAW III and IV occur in the same timeline.  While III has Amanda Young assisting Kramer in a test, as well as conducting her own inescapable tests, IV has Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) assisting in a test with Officer Rigg.  The entire series was excellent at tying everyone and everything together, taking key characters and bringing them back at unexpected times.  Eventually, it is revealed that Jill Tuck had a part in the traps, as well as Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) from the first film.  I always suspected Jill knew and did more than she let on, but Gordon was a complete shock to me.  It succeeded in tying up all loose ends nicely and ended the series perfectly.

Another element that makes this series amazing is Billy, the tricycle riding puppet.  He appears in all of the films, sometimes in videos and sometimes live, and is easily identifiable as a key part of SAW.  In the beginning, the puppet was simply constructed with clay and papier-mâché, but later films used a puppet using animatronics and made of a more sophisticated waterjet-cut foam.  I’m not a fan of puppets to begin with, but Billy tops them all with his creepy appearance and devilish laugh.  The use of Tobin Bell’s voice on the videos featuring Billy succeed in making your skin crawl even more.

One thing I always wondered about while watching the series is if I would have the willpower and the strength to escape a Jigsaw trap.  The reverse bear trap instructs the victim to cut the key out of another person in the room, who seems to be dead but is in fact drugged.  I hate to say it, but I believe I could get that key out to save my own life rather than let it be and possible kill the both of us.  In the other tests where a life must be chosen, I believe I would attempt to preserve my own rather than see myself and another die.  With tests like the one Eric Matthews had to face where patience was all that was needed, I believe my fear of Jigsaw would keep me in place, allowing my family and myself to be free.  With Jeff’s tests in SAW III, I also think I would follow the rules and try to save lives, but I don’t think I would feel his vengeance at the end and kill Kramer.

Regarding the traps where the victim must hurt themselves in order to save their life, I don’t believe I would fare as well.  I doubt I would be able to saw through my own leg in order to escape as seen in the first film.  I don’t think I could stick my hand into a box and allow a saw to cut into my hand in order to release myself, as seen in SAW V.  In VI, when two victims must cut off parts of their body, a “pound of flesh,” to tip the scales in their favor and be released, also seems near impossible.  I’m very attached to my limbs.  It is impossible to say what I would do in reality if I found myself with a device strapped to my head and the key to my release buried behind my eye, but I don’t think I have the will to hurt myself that severely, even when my life hangs in the balance.

The SAW franchise has been accused of being torture porn, much like Hostel, but for me there are so many elements in SAW that separate it from movies that simply want to gross you out.  John Kramer is not just a sick and twisted individual who enjoys seeing people suffer, he is a person that is misguided by his own tragic events in life and who is using that to honestly try to save others.  Amanda Young, who should have been saved, is an example of a person who is simply sadistic and Kramer’s disapproval of her choices is obvious; even though he cares for her, he tests her and accepts her failure and death because murderers should not go untested and unpunished.  People like Gordon are important because it shows that even the most level-headed person can understand Kramer’s plight and wishes, believing that his methods can indeed help and hopefully save the misguided.  The team tests show the crazy dynamic that develops when people are in danger and afraid; it would be easy for them to work together and escape, but human nature gets in the way and it’s fascinating to see how people react when life is on the line.

I could watch the SAW movies over and over again and never be bored or tired of it.  It never fails to make me cringe, to make me think, and to entertain.  The story, the casting, and the twists all work effortlessly together to give us a solid series that will no doubt hold its popularity for years to come.  The series is a must for your pre-Halloween viewing pleasure and definitely must be a part of your video collection.  Now, I want to play a game….

Cabin In The Woods

Last weekend, my husband and I finally sat down to watch Cabin In The Woods.  Cowritten and produced by Joss Whedon and starring Thor, I was pretty excited about this film.  It follows five friends (Kristin Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, and Jesse Williams) who travel to a remote cabin in the middle of the woods for a vacation.  [SPOILERS]  The group is unaware that their every move is being watched and partially controlled by a large office of various professionals, including chemists and other scientists.  As the group in the office begin placing bets on various creatures, the group of friends plays a game of Truth or Dare.  On a dare, Dana (Connolly) is asked to go to the basement.  As she looks around warily, the rest of the group joins her and they begin exploring the strange contents of the dim room.

Dana discovers a diary from a girl who was abused by her twisted father.  As she reads, she comes upon an incantation in Latin.  Ignoring advice not to read it, possibly due to the drugs being pumped into the cabin’s air to reduce the group’s inhibitions, Dana reads on and triggers the “Buckner family scenario,” causing a family of zombies to rise from the grave and causing a group in the office to celebrate their winning bet on guessing which scenario would be triggered.  Marty (Kranz), who is immune to the drugs being pumped into the air because of his excessive drug use, believes they are all being manipulated, although he is unsure how.

Curt (Thor) and Jules (Hutchison) see no danger and wander outside to have sex, the two obviously not acting like themselves due to the drugs.  As they become physical, they are attacked by the Buckners and Jules is killed.  Marty, in a panic, knocks over a lamp and discovers a small camera, adding to his suspicion that they are being manipulated and controlled.  Before he can inform the group, he is pulled through a window by one of the Buckners and killed.  Holden (Williams), Curt, and Dana attempt to flee, but the technicians controlling the scenario block their path.  Curt attempts to jump the ravine with a motorcycle, only to hit an invisible barrier and fall to his death.  As Holden and Dana drive back to the cabin, Holden is stabbed to death and Dana, the only survivor is attacked by another zombie.

As her attack plays out on the office’s monitors, the technicians celebrate, excited that the ritual is complete and their job is done.  The United States was the only country left and is now the only success.  In the middle of their excitement, a phone rings and informs them that Marty is not in fact dead and the ritual is not over.  Marty takes Dana to an underground elevator he discovered while attempting to escape his attacker and the two enter a large prison filled with various monsters, some obviously linked to items they found in the basement.  In their escape attempt, Dana hits a release and sends all the monsters into the facility, flooding it with horrors.

Eventually, the pair reach a room with stone tablets that fill with blood every time someone in the ritual is killed.  The Director (Sigourney Weaver) explains that the ritual is to appease the ancient ones and prevent the end of the world.  Certain types of people must be sacrificed; the whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool, and the virgin.  The order does not matter so long as the virgin is not touched or is the last to die.  Dana must kill Marty or the world will end.  After a struggle, The Director is killed and Dana and Marty are left alive, patiently awaiting the end of the world.

Going in, I thought this was just another typical horror flick about clueless people in their 20s who would have a lot of sex, drink a lot of alcohol, and die in a lot of various and gory ways.  Starting the movie off with the technicians in the mysterious office definitely threw me and was more confusing than intriguing at first.  As the plot progressed and we learned more about this group, confusion turned to intrigue as I tried to piece together exactly what they were doing.  We saw scenarios in various other countries where other groups worked to defeat their own monsters, all scenarios ending as a FAIL with the groups defeating the monsters with few or no deaths.  It was clear these technicians wanted the groups to die, but the why was kept a secret until the very end.

The deaths were quite gory and there was a lot of suspense.  As the technicians began their celebration at the completion of the ritual, I thought the film was over.  I was very excited to see that was false and to get to see the other horrors in action.  As monster after monster was released, the death toll rose until only a handful remained alive and in one piece.  What I didn’t understand though was why Dana and Marty chose to let the world end rather than sacrifice his life to save it.  It seems selfish and nonsensical to work that hard to survive only to throw everything away right at the end.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie immensely and would watch it again if it comes back on one of my movie channels.  It took a typical story for a typical horror flick and threw something into it that I’ve never seen before.  It was exciting and freaky with enough suspense and scares to keep the viewer interested.  It is also always a plus when Weaver makes a cameo appearance; my husband said she should have a cameo in everything and I can’t disagree.

Medium Raw

It’s October and horror flicks must flood my television screen!  In keeping with this, my husband and I settled in to watch 2010’s Medium Raw:  Night Of The Wolf.  Written and directed by Andrew Cymek, who also stars as Johnny Morgan, the film follows Morgan as he searches for the serial killer known as The Wolf who he believes to be responsible for the death of his older sister over 20 years ago.  [SPOILERS]  Teaming with Elliot Carbon (John Rhys-Davies), Morgan finds the lair of The Wolf and is able to capture him, despite his enormous suit of armor and spring-loaded helmet which resembles a wolf’s jaws.  Once the killer is captured, he is sentenced to an asylum after being declares insane.

Morgan and his partner, Pete Gallant (Jason Reso/Christian from the WWE) go to Parker’s Asylum where The Wolf/Harold Grierson (Greg Dunham) is being housed and also where Johnny’s ex wife Jamie (Brigitte Kingsley) works as a psychiatrist.  In the asylum, we see other patients who are all controlled by shock collars; a cannibalistic woman named Mabel (Sandi Ross), a massive man with Hulk-like strength that is angered by the color red, and a quirky naked man with a disturbing foot fetish.  Jamie is seen counseling Mabel briefly, nearly getting attacked in the process.  As she works, Morgan and his partner break into the cell of The Wolf to confront him.  Before Morgan can do something he regrets in his anger about The Wolf not being sentenced to death, the pair is discovered.

At the time their intrusion is discovered, there is a power outage at the asylum.  Dr. Robert Parker (William B. Davis) resets the circuits to restore power but somehow also triggers the cell releases, unlocking cell after cell and allowing the dangerous asylum inmates out into the halls of the building.  During the chaos, the granddaughter of one of the employees, Sabrina, is lost from the group.  They decide to split up and find her before one of the unstable patients does.  As Sabrina wanders the halls, she is cornered in a cell by a crazed male inmate.  Thankfully, before he can lay a hand on her, Mabel shows up and murders the man.  She sweetly asks Sabrina to come with her to the kitchen.  Sabrina obliges, only to be locked in a cage as Mabel hacks up bodies and prepares all sorts of various meals.

With The Wolf uncaged and back in his suit of armor, the group is terrified and in desperate search of safety.  Jamie stumbles upon Mabel, only to be caught up learning how to cook a human and eventually pinned to the table with a knife through her hand.  Morgan is able to lure the massive angry “Hulk” to the kitchen to save his ex-wife and Sabrina, only to find that Grierson has killed the grandmother and is wearing her face.  Meanwhile, Grierson’s defense attorney discovers a file that lists Grierson under a different name and has him living in the asylum for years.

We come to find that Dr. Parker is the actual Wolf, Grierson simply his scapegoat for the crimes.  In typical bad guy fashion, he explains his plan as he prepares to drown Jamie and after he stabs Morgan in the stomach with his Wolverine-like blades.  As he rages, Sabrina slips away.  The foot fetishist manages to hide her in a large air duct, but is quickly murdered right before Sabrina’s location is discovered.  As Parker begins to shed his Wolf armor in order to retrieve the girl, Morgan arrives and saves the day.  He returns to free his wife from what would have been a watery grave and the film ends with the spirits of the dead girls, including Morgan’s sister, shown as finally free.

Mabel is by far my favorite part of this movie.  She’s creepy yet hilarious when she gets into her zone and is cooking up “half the staff” in the words of Jamie.  She’s exactly the same as everyone’s typical sweet grandmother except for her choice of meat.  When Jamie stabs her in the back in her attempt to escape and stop the cooking lesson, Mabel seems only slightly annoyed, easily retaliating and going back to her pots and pans.  Hearing her describe certain dishes was highly entertaining and very witty.

The fact that Dr. Parker is actually The Wolf is apparent well before the movie makes its big reveal.  He’s a shady man and is very concerned with keeping prying eyes away from Grierson.  I would have loved it if Dr. Parker’s character was downplayed a bit more; if there was a single scene that showed him as a victim, the reveal would have had much more impact on the audience.  It was an unfortunate missed opportunity.

Cymek has been criticized for starring as the lead in the movie he both wrote and directed, with many critics saying that he should have remained behind the camera and should have put more effort into editing and creating a solid story.  While he won’t be winning any awards for his performance, I feel that the critics are being a bit too harsh on the man.  He’s not taking anyone’s breath away, but he’s not awful either.  I do think that the three acts with title screens could have been deleted to make the movie flow a bit better.  The final half of the movie could also have been stretched longer with the beginning scenes without action cut down a bit.  Horror movies don’t need excessive character development as other genres do, and Cymek put a bit too much time into that.

Overall, it was a decent flick.  I wouldn’t pay to see it and I probably won’t watch it again, but I enjoyed it.  The creep factor  is high with the naked fetishist, mixed with the cannibal, and fairly decent with The Wolf and the gruesome nature of his crimes against young girls.  There are some tense moments and some lovely gruesome deaths, and the cannibalistic kitchen scene is just horrifying.  Unfortunately, we lack a bit in the suspense department and the storyline could be stronger.  If it’s on your TV, watch it then or DVR for later.  Mabel makes it all worth it.

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