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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.

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American Horror Story

Last year, American Horror Story was one of my favorite new shows on television.  Premiering on FX, it succeeded in being skin crawling and brilliant, showcasing complex character relationships connected through a supernatural force that bound spirits to a home if they met their untimely end on the property.  Many spirits did not even realize they were deceased, viewing the new inhabitants of the home as intruders.  It was an amazing season and earned 17 Emmy nominations.

Season 2 kicked off on October 17, 2012, departing from the story of the first season and beginning anew with a brand new story and location.  Although some of the actors from season 1 are featured in the new story, they are playing brand new characters with no connection to the previous ones.  [SPOILERS]  We begin with an attractive couple on their honeymoon; they are traveling around the country visiting haunted locations to take pictures and have spontaneous sex.  He is obviously in love with her and she is in love with the scary and unknown.  As the couple begins to get intensely physical in a deserted asylum, the woman hears a noise.  Her new husband, played by Adam Levine, goes with her to investigate only to have his arm ripped from his body by what seems to be some sort of monster.

As we deal with this shock, we are taken back in time to 1964.  We meet Kit Walker (Evan Peters, who played Tate in season 1), a young man working a late night at a gas station.  After a near altercation with some friends over a gun they wish to borrow, he returns home to his wife Alma (Britne Oldford), who he publicly claims to be his maid due to the fact that she is black.  They allow their passion as newlyweds to overcome their need for dinner and retreat to the bedroom.  As Alma returns to the kitchen to salvage their dinner, a bright light outside startles Kit.  Thinking it’s his friends from earlier, he grabs a rifle and goes to confront them only to seemingly be abducted by aliens.

We then return to the asylum that the lovers explore in the future.  A journalist, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), arrives to interview Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) about the asylum’s bakery and the positive impacts it has had.  We soon discover that Lana is actually there to learn more about the infamous Bloody Face killer.  Bloody Face is soon revealed to be the unassuming Kit, who despite the claims of him skinning victims alive, which include his new wife, insists he is innocent and that horrible monsters committed those crimes.  Sister Jude quickly reveals herself as a no-nonsense person, being somewhat heartless and cruel with her actions, and naturally does not believe a word of Kit’s claims.

Sister Jude does have a force to be reckoned with in the form of Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) who runs the asylum’s lab and has had four patients mysteriously die under his watch, claiming they were cremated immediately after their passing.  Dr. Arden makes it clear that he is not afraid of Sister Jude’s threats and that his business is his own.  He soon takes Kit from his cell to perform experiments and examinations on him.  During a cringe-worthy exam, the doctor discovers a chip in Kit’s neck which oddly sprouts legs and runs off like a strange beetle.  It lends credibility to Kit’s story of aliens, but we get no further explanation.

Lana, who has been exploring the asylum and its grounds, finds one of the nuns feeding some unknown animal on the asylum grounds.  The nun, fearful of her activities being discovered, leads Lana back inside.  As Lana searches for Bloody Face, she is attacked by a monstrous force similar to the one that attacked the couple in the beginning of the episode.  She is knocked out, only to awake strapped to a table with Sister Jude standing over her.  The nun reveals she has blackmailed Lana’s girlfriend into signing commitment papers which will keep Lana in the asylum so she can be “cured” of her homosexuality.  Immediately afterward, we return to the present to see the distraught female looking for an escape from the asylum so her husband can get help, only to encounter a bloody faced monster.

This summary doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what we could see this season.  The nice thing about AHS is that it is playing out as an anthology, so viewers who have missed the first season can jump right into this one without missing a beat since the story is brand new.  Jessica Lange is simply brilliant.  She is frightening, strong-willed, and manages to exude sex appeal, especially in her fantasy of seducing a priest.  When she is on-screen, you can’t help but be captivated by her.  I’m also glad to see Evan Peters back in action; he was spooky and full of emotion as Tate in season 1 and I feel that we will see much more complexity in his new character.  Chloë Sevigny also joins the cast as an asylum patient who is a nymphomaniac; she is a brilliant actor and I hope her role turns out to be a major one.

The writers have done a fantastic job of introducing multiple storylines to us without making it overwhelming and shoving too many details at us all at once.  The characters were all very well established in the premiere, with just enough detail given about their backstory in such a smooth and seamless way that it was impossible not to take it all in.  The premiere also showcased some expert work by the crew; some of the cuts from scene to scene were breathtaking and it was immediately apparent when a time jump from past to present was made without having to resort to slapping the year up on the screen.

I will admit, I was initially a bit skeptical about the appearance of the aliens and how it would play into the story.  The chip in Kit’s neck eased my worries though.  I am very curious to see if there were indeed alien life forms that skinned all those people and implanted the chip, or if it is some more logical explanation in order to set Kit up for something still unknown.  I hope that we revisit this story and get to see more of what happened on that night; as it is right now, we have seen only small bits and pieces.

If you have yet to watch American Horror Story’s season 2 premiere or missed season 1, what are you waiting for?  I beg you to give this show a try and to go out and buy season 1 on DVD.  It is guaranteed to draw you in immediately, dig its hooks into you, and take you on a hell of a ride.

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.

Barricade

As a big fan of the WWE, I’ve been seeing a lot of previews for their movie, Barricade, which was released to DVD at the end of September.  This is the first original production from WWE Studios that does not feature one of their superstars in either a leading or a supporting role.  Starring Eric McCormack as Terrance Shade, the film follows him and his two children as they retreat to a cabin in the woods after the untimely death of his wife.  He hopes to give his children a white Christmas, something his late wife wished for the family, and arranges with the local sheriff to have the fridge stocked and the cabin decorated.  The children, reluctant at first, begin to warm up to the idea of the cabin after seeing the Christmas tree, gifts, and junk food in the freezer downstairs.

As they arrive at the cabin, we see the first hint of a supernatural presence as something translucent in the sky obscures and warps the image of the full moon.  Soon after, strange things begin to happen around the cabin.  Terrance sees a frightening girl outside of the window, but finds no one outside when he investigates and no evidence of her presence other than a hand print on the window pane.  His daughter Cynthia, played by Conner Dwelly, hears something in the attic.  His son Jake, played by Ryan Grantham, sees something lurking in the trees surrounding the cabin.  We are offered brief glimpses, but what lies outside remains a mystery.

As the family deals with their fear, Terrance realizes that they have become sick and need to see a doctor in town.  As he attempts to get the family help, a sudden blizzard hits and buries the car, trapping them at the cabin.  Allowing the fear to take over, Terrance gathers tools from the shed and barricades the family inside the cabin.  As he completes this task, Cynthia questions if they have locked the evil out or if they have unknowingly locked in inside with them.

After a few scary moments with his children, eventually seeming to find them lying lifeless in bed, Terrance begins to realize that the evil is in his own mind, something he created.  The noise in the attic is the sheriff, who he tied up and imprisoned there after blaming him for getting the children sick.  The dangers were simply hallucinations brought on by the fevers.  As the local police enter the cabin to rescue the sheriff, Terrance sees everything clearly and is able to get his children and himself into the ambulance brought by the police to finally get some help.  As they drive away, we again see the translucency in the sky, suggesting that perhaps it wasn’t all in his head as he thought.  Something is out there.

As far as horror films go, this was all right.  The wife, played by Jody Thompson, is in dire need of some acting lessons.  Her performances in the beginning scene of the film and the flashbacks were mediocre and amateur.  It was distracting to see her overacting and lack of skill.  Her death, slipping on water and smashing the back of her skull on the kitchen counter, was a total letdown.  We learn that the scar on Terrance’s hand was from a shard of the glass she broke and her death was just a silly accident.  With the mystery that was built up about her death, I simply expected more.  This death scene would have fit better in the beginning of the movie as opposed to a big reveal in the middle.

There was a lot of potential for some great scares that I don’t think this movie took advantage of.  The image of the girl that appears briefly in the glass was pretty darn terrifying, however we are only given that small glimpse and we never see her horrific face again.  Avoiding cheap scares can be an intelligent move for a horror flick that wants to be taken seriously, but it wouldn’t have hurt to give us more of this girl (or similar) to shock the audience a bit.  A door moves by itself early on, but we needed more.  Ghostly figures in the trees could have been scary if we saw more than a split second of movement.  At no point during the film was I on edge and I need to be on edge to enjoy a good scary movie.

Overall, this movie wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t great.  We rented it at Redbox and I feel like we got our money’s worth and that we didn’t waste our night watching it.  I wouldn’t recommend buying it, but if you have a free night, I’d definitely say it’s worth a rent or a view on Netflix whenever it makes it out there.  For WWE Studio’s first effort without one of their superstars, it was a good beginning.  Here’s hoping they improve from here on out.

Survival Of The Fittest

Halloween is approaching and the natural thing to do in the Baker home is to overdose on any and every horror film imaginable.  Not one horror flick goes watched without me saying or thinking “WHY did they do that??” at least once.  I get that not every character can be a genius, otherwise the movie would be pretty boring, but at times even the main character who is set to survive will ignore all common sense and do something so moronic that it puts them on the brink of death.  Jamie Kennedy’s character in Scream summed up the basic rules pretty well:

“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie! For instance, Number One: You can never have sex. Sex equals death, OK? Number Two: You can never drink or do drugs. No, it’s the sin factor, it’s a sin, it’s an extension of Number One! And Number Three: Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, say ‘I’ll be right back’, ’cause you won’t be back.”  He also points out in Scream 2 that you should “never, ever, under any circumstances assume the killer is dead.”

Not having sex and never saying that you’ll be right back are good tips if you’re actually living out the plot of a scary movie, but it doesn’t help too much in the real world.  Not drinking or doing drugs is a good tip since it obviously impairs your judgment and coordination.  Never assuming the killer is dead is also a helpful tip; it seems like common sense but it also seems easy for a person to be so eager to escape or so caught up in victory that they forget a simple knock on the head didn’t necessarily take the killer out.  To go along with Randy’s words of advise, I have some of my own to ensure survival in a horror OR an action movie:

1.  BEWARE OF MAJOR CITIES.  Ever notice how aliens love to destroy New York City, terrorists hate Los Angeles, the Decepticons had a grudge against Chicago, and Washington D.C. has an abundance of buildings that are fun to blow up?  If you live in a major and easily recognizable city, chances are good that you’ll face some sort of unspeakable monster or catastrophe.  Live somewhere low-key instead.  The most I have to worry about are aliens drawing pictures in the corn field near my home, and if they’re anything like the ones in Signs, all I have to do is swing away…

2.  DRESS FOR SUCCESS!  No one survives a zombie attack wearing 5″ stiletto heels and a miniskirt.  Some clothing just isn’t designed for comfort and fast movement.  Choose practicality over style when the situation gets gritty.  If you hear a strange noise, don’t exit the bathroom in just a towel, throw some clothes and shoes on.  The MINUTE you sense danger, get some shoes on; watching Liv Tyler’s character in the Strangers scamper around barefoot drove me batty.  If Skynet becomes self-aware right in the middle of a dinner party, raid your friend’s closet or break into a department store to get better suited clothing.

3.  FOLLOW THE ANIMALS.  Animals have a 6th sense that we either lack or choose to ignore.  Ever notice how a dog will sense a thunderstorm before the weatherman?  In Cloverfield, the kids are fleeing down the subway tunnel when suddenly a swarm of rats runs past them.  Rather than run like all hell broke loose, they chose to wait and wonder why they were running (mini death machine aliens were chasing them of course) which caused one of their group to die after receiving a bite from said death alien.  Normally, we’re smarter than the rat.  You shouldn’t follow a random rat around in circles as it searches for crumbs.  You should definitely run like your life depends on it if every rat in the area is running in one direction.  Stop and think about what you could be running from later on when you’re safe.

4.  TRUST NO ONE.  My husband and I watched Seventh Moon last night, starring Amy Smart.  The first mistake her character and husband made was trusting their cab driver; he left them to die at the hands of demons.  The second mistake was trusting a wounded man and giving him a ride in their car; he also tried to hand them over to the demons.  You can’t trust people in a crisis situation; always assume they are looking out for themselves and consider you disposable.  Look at everyone as though you are Jack Bauer and everyone but Chloe is probably going to betray you at any given moment.

5.  IGNORE THE KIDS.  In Legion, lives are risked to protect a little boy who turns out to be possessed and nearly fillets a pregnant woman with a butcher knife.  Demons in Supernatural (yeah, it’s TV, but it works) have used the bodies of children on multiple occasions because the average person doesn’t see a little kid and think “Hmm.. I think they will probably try and rip my heart from my chest with their tiny hands, I should move along.”  The first instinct is to help, and if you’re dealing with an entity not of this world that possesses even some insight on our culture, they are bound to use kids against us to lure us into a trap.  Damn kids.

6.  MAKE NO EXCEPTIONS!  Everyone knows that if you’re bitten by a zombie, you’re infected and will eventually turn.  As seen in every zombie movie ever, a poor soul will be bitten and will have help concealing the bite from the others, knowing that if they find out, they will deliver a head shot to the infected.  Don’t let your feelings get in the way!  If a loved one is showing signs of turning to the dark side, take the necessary actions and take them out.  My husband would not hesitate taking my head off if I received a zombie bite.  That’s love, people.

7.  BICYCLE ANYONE?  Everyone always acts like there are two forms of transportation during a crisis; motor vehicle and your two legs.  Sadly, walking is slow and gas isn’t a never-ending resource when the world is in shambles.  Why not pick up a bike?  Honestly, I’d be the most happy with a tank that can fly and float and has endless ammo, but the reality is at the most, I’d have a car that would eventually have a dry gas tank.  Faced with walking or “borrowing” a bicycle, I’d think I’d rather pedal for my life than run for it.  Plus if you’re tethered with a non-zombie child, it’s easier to sit them on the handlebars and pedal away than it is to carry them and run.

8.  DON’T MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN.  Don’t yell “hello?” to a dark room.  Don’t pop out of your hiding place the minute you think danger has passed.  Learn to whisper or don’t speak at all.  If you’re traveling with a baby or with my dog, you’re probably screwed.  Please don’t scream like little girls at every dead body you come across.  Watch your step.  And if you’re like me, rob a pharmacy and stock up on Claritin so your sneezing doesn’t equal your death sentence.

9. THERE IS NO TIME FOR PITY PARTIES.  It’s only natural to want to cry when an alien ship zaps your home into oblivion, taking the family pet and your spouse with it.  But crying on what used to be your front step isn’t going to help you survive.  Save your tears for the safe house and keep your focus on getting yourself and your remaining loved ones to a non-exploding location.  The other option is to turn your cry-fest into an all out rage-a-thon and murdering every bad guy in sight.  Either way.

10.  BE SMART!  Use the big sexy organ between your ears to its fullest extent.  Allow it to plan ahead and grab a backpack to stock with supplies you’ll need to survive and can barter with.  Let it decide that a gun is a great weapon, but you need a backup when you run out of bullets.  Listen to it when it tells you to choose path A over path B, regardless of what Random Guy In Army T-Shirt thinks is right.  Don’t eat the red berries.  Never allow yourself to get lulled into a false sense of security and forget that you’re in the middle of a dire situation.  You don’t need to have the brain power of House, MD combined with the survival skills of Les Stroud, but you need to keep your mind sharp and alert if you plan on making it to the sequel as anything more than a flashback.

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