Blind Spot 70: Frankenstein 1931

I think because I have never been a big horror movie person I have a ton of blind spots in that genre including the Universal monster movies. This is why I really wanted to include Frankenstein 1931 in my blind spot this year. Strangely I have seen Young Frankenstein which is a parody of this film but not seen the original. I have also read the book several times and seen the Kenneth Branagh version from 1994 (and I’ve seen Frankenweenie!). Now I have seen the1931 film and I loved it! It’s an extremely well made film with several scenes that really got to me.

Frankenstein 1931 is directed by James Whale and stars Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. It’s a simple story and at 71 minutes it doesn’t waste much time. Dr Frankenstein creates a monster and that monster is misunderstood and mayhem results.

The film starts off with the iconic image of lightning bringing the monster to life. We of course get the doctor calling out ‘It’s alive! It’s alive’. I love the black and white in these scenes and the way director Whale uses light and shadow to create mood.  They are scenes so often parodied they lose some of their impact but if you think about what it must have been like to see for the first time it is very exciting.

Karloff is great as the monster. He plays it almost like a zombie unaware of what he is doing but with just enough alertness to be cognizant of his actions. The most tragic scene is when he is playing with a girl named Maria and in the game he drowns the girl. That scene combined with the farmer bringing his dead little girl into the town is so sad. Devastating.

Like I said, Frankenstein 1931 is not a long movie so its elements are simple. However, I found it effective and very well made. It’s violent, tragic and exciting all at the same time and it has something to say about playing God and how we treat things we don’t understand. Is it a monster just because we are unfamiliar with it? Maybe? Maybe not?

I did think the film ended rather abruptly and I wanted a little bit more. I suppose I will need to watch the sequels one of these days.

8 out of 10

 

Blind Spot 58: ‘Halloween’ (1978)

Part of the reason why I do this blind spot series is to push me out of my comfort zone. As a film critic I want to be able to review any film, with the exception of outright pornography, that an outlet assigns me. That said I’m still a human being with preferences that come into play when watching films. However, by reviewing classics outside of my preferred genres for blind spots it helps me get out of my comfort zone with hopefully well made classic films. This is an effective way of pushing myself rather than watching a new film, which may or may not be a good example of the genre.

Horror, particularly slasher movies, is a genre I especially struggle with. Ever since I was a little girl I never liked the feeling of being scared and it’s still not my favorite; although I have grown a lot over the last few years. This year trying to push myself even further I decided to watch the classic slasher film Halloween from 1978 for this month’s blind spot.

Halloween is directed by John Carpenter who wrote the film with producer Debra Hill and the entire thing was made on a shoestring budget of only $300k. Carpenter also wrote the very memorable score that does a lot of the heavy lifting to bring tension into simple scenes.

Even though Halloween is outside of my comfort zone, I can totally see why it’s a classic and a favorite of horror fans. It is very well directed by Carpenter with leering cinematography by Dean Cundey. Even when characters are doing mundane things like talking on the phone or watching television there is a sense they are being watched and they should be more careful than they are being. We as an audience know the deranged Michael Myers is out there but the characters don’t. This makes us anxious for them and the violence, when it does happen, very effective.

Surprisingly, Halloween is not a very bloody film. It’s violent and there is carnage but most of the movie is about anticipating the kills rather than luxuriating in them. I also appreciate the film doesn’t try to explain away Michael Myers or give him some complicated backstory. We see from the opening that he is the personification of evil and that’s all we need to know. Sometimes evil exists and the devil is a real force so I appreciated that approach.

There is also an ambiguity to Michael Myers as a character that makes him scary. I am sure they elaborate on his nature in the sequels but I like here how he might be human or an alien or something else. We don’t know. Dr Loomis (played very well by Donald Pleasence) tells us he is evil from the start of the picture and we see him as a child murderer and that’s all we need to know to be scared.

Jamie Lee Curtis is definitely the best of the 3 young actresses in Halloween. She’s skeptical when you need her to be and smart when faced with a threat. So many of these ‘final girls’ in horror movies are needlessly stupid (including the 2 other girls) that it’s refreshing to see Laurie as played by Curtis as a character who uses her head.

Halloween is not a movie I am likely to watch again. It’s just not my thing, but I can recognize good filmmaking and that’s what we have here. It’s very well done and I’m glad I finally checked it off my list.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Rent-A-Pal’ or Hello Video Friend…

One of my goals for this year was to get out of my comfort zone as far as my reviews. Well 2020 has certainly made that interesting but I have tried to review more thrillers/horror movies to help expand my portfolio as a critic. For example, I recently saw Unhinged which I didn’t like and then Relic which I did like and is one of my favorite films of 2020. Now we have the 80s throwback thriller called Rent-A-Pal. This is a very disturbing but effective film which tells a creepy story about the mania loneliness can cause.

Rent-A-Pal tells the story of David (Brian Landis Folkins) who is shouldering the burden of caring for his aging Mother with severe dementia. She often calls him Frank, his father’s name and seems resentful of the help David gives her. She even wanders away and is lost trying to find her husband. Anyone who has cared for someone with dementia can relate to these experiences. (It’s very interesting that Relic also dealt with these same themes as well as Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which I will review later).

One day David gets a video tape from his video dating service that’s a video introduction to friend Andy played by Will Wheaton. He asks you how your day has been, compliments your decor and shares jokes all for a small purchase fee at the video dating service. Meanwhile, David gets matched by the service with a girl named Lisa who seems could be an actual friend. Can David see the difference between what is real or a artificial? That’s where the mania lies in a the movie and like I said it is very effective.

The only thing I wish they had more time for is to build up his link to Andy. It all happens very quickly, in just a couple of days, which makes it less believable. This is especially true because he is so so excited for the date with Lisa and it seems to go so well.

Speaking of Lisa, I thought Amy Rutledge did a really good job in a small role. She is warm and likable, which is a nice contrast to the phony affability of Andy.  Everybody does a good job in Rent-A-Pal but I found myself rooting for Lisa towards the end.

Rent-A-Pal is an upsetting film if you have been lonely in your life. It definitely won’t be for everyone but if it sounds interesting to you it’s well made and worth a watch.

Look for Rent-A-Pal in drive-ins, theaters and VOD Sept 11th

7 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘The Invisible Man’ (Spoiler Free)

If you have been following my site for any amount of time you know the horror genre is one of my least favorites. That doesn’t mean there can’t be gems which I enjoy. I especially like creature scares movies like last year’s Crawl or the classic Jaws. I also enjoy a tight thriller like 10 Cloverfield Lane or a Hitchcock film like Vertigo. However, it is in general a tough genre to win me over to.

Understanding my bias, one of my goals for 2020 is to try and expand my palate in the horror genre. This will hopefully make my portfolio of reviews stronger and open a new world of moviemaking to me. Unfortunately most of the horror movies so far this year have looked atrocious, so I didn’t see any of them. That changed with this week’s release entitled The Invisible Man.

Very loosely based on the original 1933 Universal Monster movie and the novel by H.G. Wells, this contemporary adaptation is directed by Leigh Whannell and stars Elizabeth Moss. I don’t know if it is her role on The Handmaid’s Tale that is to blame but Moss has become a pro at playing the battered, tortured woman and her performance is the strength of this film. She commits to every scene and you feel invested in her character throughout.

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While the movie is focusing on her paranoia caused by her abusive husband it is very effective and chilling. I won’t give any details away but suffice it to say he has been so controlling that when she starts to sense his presence it isn’t entirely clear whether she has gone into full mania or is actually sensing his spirit (or an invisible man…).

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Unfortunately the last act of the film abandons this initial premise and becomes more of a generic monster/ghost movie and that interested me a lot less. Everything that was unknown and hidden becomes obvious and as a result a lot less scary. It honestly became kind of corny with over-the-top kills and cheesy set pieces.

However, I can still recommend The Invisible Man, especially for horror buffs. Moss is very good and there are enough scares in the first half to be entertained. Just manage your expectations. Some of the hyperbole has been a little nuts on this film. In fact, I’m not sure why this film is getting so much more praise than last year’s Greta? They are both about lonely women who get pushed to the breaking point by a megalomaniac who is stalking them, and they both have slightly cheesy finales. Who knows? All that matters is I found them both entertaining enough to recommend.

If you get to see The Invisible Man let me know what you think. It is rated R for “strong bloody violence and language” and especially at the beginning it earns its scares.

6.5 out of 10

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‘Crawl’ REVIEW

I bet I will be the only critic that compares the new creature scares movie Crawl to a good Hallmark movie but that’s just what I’m going to do. I spend many hours watching Hallmark movies for my podcast The Hallmarkies Podcast and I’ve learned that the good ones know what they are and execute it well. They don’t try to be anything other than a sweet romcom, with nice chemistry between the leads, and a warm holiday message.

It’s the same idea in Crawl. It absolutely knows what it is and executes it well. It doesn’t try to be campy or silly. It doesn’t add annoying characters or convoluted subplots. Crawl knows it is a creature scares movie with 2 people dealing with gators and it executes that concept very well. It’s as simple as that.

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Crawl stars Kaya Scodelario who starts out the film trying to rescue her father from the basement crawl space of his Florida home. Unfortunately when she gets there she learns he is stuck with 2 gators in the basement (behind some large pipes). Getting out is then the main plot of the movie. Unfortunately, this task is made more difficult by a huge hurricane that threatens to drown them before the gators can eat them.

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Director Alexandre Aja does a great job moving the characters around enough within the small space to create different set pieces by which to fight the gators. They also keep the movie a lean 87 minutes so you never have time to get bored. It feels relatively grounded and realistic and for a small budget film the gators/special effects look great.

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Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario do great work as a father and daughter and the film gives us just enough of their backstory and relationship to attach us to them without becoming boring. As they are basically the only characters on screen, their chemistry also adds a ton to the film’s success. It kind of reminds me of 10 Cloverfield Lane in that respect. I was rooting for both of them throughout the entire movie which made the scenes with the gators more intense and fun.

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I suppose if there are negatives to Crawl, there are some moments where we must suspend disbelief. In particular the injuries the 2 lead characters have seem to ebb and flow depending on the needs of the script. However, I was invested enough in the story and characters to not care. There are also definitely side characters introduced to be kill candy for the gators, which gets a little predictable.

All that said, I had a great time watching Crawl. It’d be a wonderful choice to go with all your friends and have a good tense time at the movies. Nobody will be too traumatized, and they will all have fun.

Go see it! It’s a blast

8 out of 10

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‘Us’ Review

Anyone who follows my reviews knows I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies. I get scared very easily and I particularly hate anything that has exorcisms or involves the rape/murder of women. However, in the last few years I have been trying to expand my pallet so that I am a well-rounded critic. For the most part this has been a great experience and one of the highlights of this journey is Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out. It’s a movie I liked well enough to start but it stayed with me and I kept thinking about new layers beyond the fun scares. In the end, it ended up being one of my favorite movies of 2017.

Naturally I was pretty hyped for Pelle’s follow up film Us (especially after a fantastic trailer!).

So with all that hype what did I think of Us? Well for the most part I really enjoyed it. I also think, like Get Out, the problems I have could become less important upon multiple viewings so take this review with a bit of a grain of salt.

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Let’s start with the positives. Us is centered around a family of 4 that goes to the beach for a summer holiday.  Unfortunately their family fun is interrupted by a zombie-like doppelganger family just like them attacks their home. This makes it both a home invasion and zombie horror movie and there are a lot of chilling moments. I was definitely very scared by Us and that’s a fun experience when done well.

I also thought the entire cast did an amazing job playing both normal and zombie versions of their characters. Lupita Nyong’o is especially strong pulling off so many notes in her 2 characters. But everyone was good including all the child performances.

Us also uses music (Michael Abels) very well with a wonderful haunting score and carefully selected soundtrack tunes.

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What didn’t work as well for me in Us is the final act where we get a lot of the allegory explained to us but I honestly still didn’t quite get what Peele was trying to say. Perhaps he meant it to be a little ambiguous or maybe I’m just dumb but it didn’t quite make sense. Subsequent viewings may elaborate this for me but for now I don’t really get it.

Also, my audience kept laughing and for the most part I didn’t really understand why? I was scared but never laughed  so who knows? The humor in Get Out wasn’t my favorite so perhaps it’s just my sense of humor doesn’t jive with this style? Who knows?

But overall, Us is a good time at the theaters. It’s scary with great performances and engaging kills/action. It definitely earns its R rating with strong language and violence but if you can stomach that then check it out.

 

7.5/10

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Greta Review

More than any other genre I find writing a review for a horror movie to be particularly difficult. With my relative newness to the genre I don’t have the perspective to know what concepts are fresh and what tropes have been done a million times. For example, people complain about jump scares and I suppose I can see a very bad one but for the most part I think they are fun and they make me jump at my silly startled reaction (I’m an easy scare). I say all this to explain why my review for Greta may or may not be different than many others you read (I saw it at an early screening so I do not know what others will think). All I can say is that little old me, the horror amateur, thought it was a great time and very scary!

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It’s a simple story about a girl named Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) living in NYC who one day finds a purse lost on the subway. Trying to be a kind soul she returns the purse to the owner who happens to be a seemingly kind older woman named Greta (the amazing Isabelle Huppert!). She serves her tea and they bond over their mutual loss (Greta a lost daughter, Frances her Mother) and love of music.

This innocent lunch leads to more contact and things seem to be going great but all is not as it seems to be with sweet little Greta…it turns out she’s a crazy person and most of the movie is a game of cat and mouse between Greta and Frances with things getting very desperate for poor Frances!

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The thing that makes Greta work so well is it builds tension slowly and it preys on our human desires to trust (especially sweet old ladies) and our fear of loneliness. Moretz does a good job showing the lonely and desperate for attention side of Frances and who can’t relate to that? As a single woman living on my own I certainly can. I’ve always been very scared of movies involving stalking or preyed upon and this certainly fit the bill in that behalf.

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Zawe Ashton plays the more world-weary Alexa and she’s a nice counterpoint to the sweet and innocent Frances. She reminded me a lot of my last roommate who was sassy and quick to come to my defense.

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In many ways Greta is a horror movie made for women. It stars women and it relies on many of the insecurities women feel both in growing old and being young and vulnerable to get scares. A man may never know the fear a woman can have in just walking home or taking a subway ride depending on the situation. We sometimes like to pretend it’s the same for men and women but most women I know have more fears than men. Greta gets that. It also gets away with quite a bit because it is all women but a little bit of crazy makes this kind of horror movie more fun. I like a good table overturned in the fancy restaurant and the stalker acting like a crazy person. I’m in!

Finally Greta is only 98 minutes. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and just gives us a creepy entertaining horror movie that had me engaged from beginning to end. If you can stomach the scares than I highly recommend it.

8 out of 10

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Blind Spot 34: Scream

As I was planning my blind spot picks for 2018 I wanted to challenge myself with a few picks and step outside my comfort zone. And no pick did that as much as this month’s pick Scream. Directed by Wes Craven, Scream has become an iconic slasher film which went on to inspire 3 sequels and the Scary Movie spoof series.

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One of the interesting things about Scream is it is not just a scary movie but it is a critique of the horror genre. There are many references throughout the movie both visually and in the script to classic horror franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. Unfortunately since I am a newbie to the genre a lot of the references were lost on me, but I can see why many fans really enjoyed them.

The story to Scream is simple. A man in a scream mask (called Ghostface) is calling teens, talking to them in an increasingly chilling manner and then stabbing them with a knife. Most people are probably most alarmed by the killings in the movie, but to me, the phone calls were the creepiest part. It is especially chilling in an opening scene with Drew Barrymore when the caller is giving her movie trivia to keep her and her boyfriend alive. That was pretty scary!

Most of the violence is done with a wink and isn’t especially scary. It’s more meant to be fun and silly. It’s not the kind of thing I am going to get nightmares of because it is very over-the-top.

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Neve Campbell plays a girl named Sidney who is hesitant to give up her virginity because of her Mother being murdered (and raped I think) a year earlier. Her boyfriend Billy struggles with her choice but seems to respect it. There is also a sheriff (David Arquette), a reporter (Courtney Cox), a principal (Henry Winkler) and friends (Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, and more).

The last act of Scream is a bit chaotic for my liking. I prefer the opening scene with Drew Barrymore over the messiness. It’s  much scarier when tension has time to build and bubble up until you can’t help but respond. The never-ending mayhem gets tired even as it is increasing in violence. The only thing that really creeped me out (or grossed me out) in the last part is a death involving a garage door.

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But that said, Scream is an enjoyable film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has a winking sensibility to it and while I think I would enjoy it more if I knew what the jokes were referencing it still was a fun enough ride.

Of course, Scream is rated R so it won’t be for everyone but if you are up for a light-hearted slasher movie (such a weird description but it’s true) than this is the movie for you! I’m glad I saw it even if I don’t think I’d ever watch it again. Always good to get out of your comfort zone!

Have any of you seen Scream? What do you think of it and its sequels?

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Get Out Review (No Spoilers)

get-out5Today I got the chance to see the new horror film from director Jordan Peele called Get Out. This film has received much praise and currently has a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes.com, which is very rare. I’m not the biggest horror fan, but I like good movies so I decided to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did.

get-outGet Out stars Daniel Kaluuya, as a black man named Chris who is dating a white woman (Allison Williams) named Rose. She is taking him to meet her white parents and he is anxious about any prejudices they might have. She reassures him they are progressives who would vote for Obama a third time (as if that means you aren’t racist!) and they head off.

get-out2Once they arrive, her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) are liberal yuppies just like she’d described but there’s something strange going on…

get-out3I won’t tell you any more so that you won’t be spoiled. Suffice it to say Get Out does a good job weaving together traditional horror tropes with pointed satire about racism and modern white and black fears of each other. It’s something I will definitely want to see again to pick up on all the clues, messaging and moments I missed the first time (my brother was with me and he noticed a lot more than I did).

I must admit it was refreshing for me as a conservative to finally see the parents weren’t rich Republicans but liberal yuppies. Yep, they can be racist too. It was a nice change of pace, and I think made the satire a bit more subtle and biting than it might have been otherwise.

get-out4That’s not to say Get Out is a masterpiece as a 100% might imply. I found the introduction to be pretty slow going and I was beginning to wonder if this was super over-hyped. Then it picks up and becomes very entertaining.

My only other caveat is it’s not that scary. If you are expecting a horror movie that makes you jump and gives you nightmares this isn’t it. It is pretty bloody but everything that happens is a bit over the top (hence it being a satire). In general, horror movies that are very realistic are the scariest for me. For example, Norman Bates in Psycho feels like a real man who could be working at a dumpy hotel and everything he does is fairly pedestrian like how he kills, buries the car etc .Things that happen in Get Out are not realistic in that way. (I hope that is cryptic enough for you!)

I think there are a couple places they could have made it a little more realistic and not sacrificed humor and made it scarier but it’s nitpicking. You kind of have to go with it and for the most part I did.

As far as content it can be bloody and there is some strong language to be aware of. Probably for mature teens and adults only.

Overall Grade- B+