Posts Tagged ‘practical effects’

I don’t remember much of the Scary Stories series from my childhood days, but what I do remember terrified me shitless (thank you, Mrs. Paulowicz, for scaring your entire third grade class with the story of the grave digger who stole silver coins from over the eyes of a dead woman). So when it came out that a movie based on the stories was in the works, people were excited, skeptical, curious, and terrified (of their beloved childhood memories being tarnished). And then we saw those initial trailers on Super Bowl weekend. And we were like, “Ooh, this should be good.”

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark takes place in a small Pennsylvania town in the fall of 1968. Several teens, led by aspiring writer Stella Nichols, go to visit the old Bellows mansion, an abandoned house supposedly haunted by the spirit of a murderess who was kept hidden in a basement from the world, poisoned kids who came to hear her scary stories through the wall, and hung herself. They end up finding the book of Sarah Bellows, which is still being written, with the teenagers as the main characters. Now they have to find a way to stop Sarah before the antagonists of the stories take them and kill them all.

I’ll admit, the story has a predictable structure, and the third act could have been a lot scarier and less reliant on CGI monsters. Still, Scary Stories is a decent horror film. Much better than some other films I’ve seen lately (looking at you, Midsommar!).

For those wondering, this film does contain a lot of favorite monsters and references to other stories. Jangly Man, the Pale Lady, the girl who had spiders birthed from her cheek. They even make several references to The Hearse Song, which many people were first exposed to through the book series (and which is one of the inspirations for my short story Pinochle on Your Snout).

The best part of this movie is its scares and atmosphere. While there are jump scares, they’re not overused and for the most part are pretty effective. The filmmakers used a combination of settings, such as the house, a cornfield, or a hospital wing,* along with lighting (or lack of it) and practical/make-up effects to create a claustrophobic and suspenseful atmosphere that will make you curl in on yourself in terror. I swear, the scene in the cornfield with the scarecrow had me genuinely freaked out. Especially when it moved!

The actors also do a good job with these characters. I really empathized with Stella, played by Zoe Colletti, who loves horror and writes, but at times has trouble interacting with others and has to deal with bullies (girl, I’ve been there). And Ramon Morales, played by Michael Garza, came off as truly kind and sympathetic.

Also of note is the theme of persecution in the film. There’s a reason that this film takes place in 1968, when the first book was released in 1981. Sarah Bellows, whom we only really see at the end, is revealed to be born with a disability, and is treated horribly by her family for it. Several of the main characters have dealt with bullying for being different, and Ramon is persecuted mainly because he’s Hispanic. The Vietnam War and the 1968 election also comes up quite a bit in the story. All this comes together to give this film a rather poignant undertone that one could find ways to apply to our current political climate (just saying), and that never hits you over the head to get the message across.

But as I said, the story is kind of predictable and the third act has some issues. Specifically, there’s too much attention paid to making Sarah Bellows a sympathetic villain, along with wrapping things up with a nice bow, that the fear kind of dissipates by the end of the climax. Doesn’t help that they chose a monster requiring lots of CGI to bring to life in that act.

But all in all, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will delight fans of the series and should satisfy regular horror fans. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Scary Stories a 4.2. Atmospheric and creepy, you’ll be drawn in and learn to be afraid of the power of stories. Go and check it out.

*By the way, one of the locations in the film is the Pennhurst State School, one of the haunted locations I want to visit! Not the real one, but a great recreation. Way to tie in a real haunted location with a sordid past into a horror film, filmmakers. I’m impressed.

“It’s a movie about Nazi zombies.” From that description alone, you’d think you’d know Overlord inside and out. After all, this subject’s been done before, and it’s usually pretty silly, overly gory, and focuses on some buff action-hero types who cut through the zombies with guns and on as many cheesy deaths as possible. But then you hear JJ Abrams is involved. And that it’s gotten a 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes. And His Royal Scariness Stephen King praises it on Twitter, comparing it to the early work of Stephen Spielberg.

I went to go see it with my cousin today, expecting it to be just as predictable as the movies that came before. What we got instead, to our surprise and delight, was an above average and atmospheric horror film.

Overlord¬†follows Ed Boyce, an African American soldier who is part of a special mission to facilitate the D-Day landings in France in WWII. His unit has to destroy a Nazi radio tower in a converted church in Normandy so the Germans can’t radio for support during the D-Day invasions. However, when they get to the town, they find something weird is happening there. Civilians are being dragged into the church, and those that do come out seem to be changed, and not for the better. Boyce and his unit soon realize they’ve discovered a dark plot that could change the course of the war. Unless they stop it.

As I said, this isn’t what you’d expect with a movie involving Nazi zombies. In fact, the zombies don’t feature as heavily as they might’ve in another film. Rather, director Julius Avery decided to focus more on the horrors of war and the creepy atmosphere, rather than sensationalized gore and violence. And it is effective. Everything, from the war-torn town to the blood and gore, look incredibly realistic. Very little CGI is used, which only makes things more authentic and visceral. I especially liked the Nazi base of operations underneath the church. It’s use of shadow, space and overabundance of creepy and bloody medical equipment reminded me of some of the scariest parts of the video game Outlast.* And as I said, there is an attention to the horrors and privations of war and atmosphere that you really do feel without the zombies being present.

And when the zombies do show up, God are they scary! They’re slimy and bloody, they move spasmodically and growl like animals. The fact that they aren’t overused especially helps.

I also found the cast very believable. True, I couldn’t help but think “It’s Fitz from Agents of SHIELD” every time Iain De Caestrecker’s character was on screen, flawless American accent or not. But other than that, you really do believe these actors are these characters. Jovan Adepo is especially good as Private Boyce, who is affected every time he sees someone die or has to kill someone. You believe this guy is going to be haunted for years to come.

One critique I do have for Overlord is that it does get a bit predictable at the end. I mean that’s fine, it’s a great finale, but you could still see where the film was going to go at that point.

All in all though, Overlord is a good horror film and a much better film than you’d expect. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.4. Unnerving and powerful, it’ll stay with you for a while after you’ve left the theater. Take a look and see for yourself.

*BTW, if you haven’t played or watch someone play Outlast, I highly recommend you try it. Just be careful though, because that game is enough to leave me shaking.

I saw the trailer for this new Netflix film several weeks ago, and got intrigued. A British horror film taking part in Edwardian England and involving an isolated cult? Where do I sign up? So last night I made some popcorn and logged in to check it out.

Holy shit, I think we have a winner here!

Apostle follows Thomas Richardson, the prodigal son of a wealthy family with a past who comes home when he finds out that his sister has been kidnapped for ransom by a cult living on an isolated island off the coast of Wales. He goes undercover and joins the cult to save his sister, but finds that things on the island are not all that seem. Thus begins a twisted descent into insanity, religious zeal, and blood that will leave no one untouched.

This movie is wonderfully fucked-up. It starts out slow with very few hints of anything off, but over time throws in hints of how messed up things are, mainly strange actions on the part of the characters. As the film goes on, these hints become more obvious and horrific, involving blood, strange sights, and much worse. It creates this very unnerving atmosphere al a The Shining, only by the final third the film can sustain the intensity and somehow keep building on it. Just when you think that this film can’t get any more horrifying, it throws something new–a revelation about the characters, body horror, etc–to throw you for a loop. There were more than a few times I felt myself gripping my computer with white knuckles because of what I was seeing on screen.

The acting is great. I forgot that I was watching people in roles and thought they were the people they were playing for most of the film. And I especially liked how the film mainly relied on practical effects and only used CGI for minor touches. I prefer practical effects to CGI in most instances, and it’s good to see the director, Gareth Evans, seems to share my preferences. And a good thing too, as all the practical effects give this film’s body horror elements a realism that makes it especially disturbing and which would’ve lost their power if CGI or some other trick had been used.

If this film does have an issue, the plot does seem to meander at times. There are numerous subplots that are woven into the film, and while the majority of them do get resolved, a few don’t (what about that oath? Why wasn’t that picked up?). That might work better in a novel, where we can see the characters’ thoughts and that sort of thing can be explained, but in a film it’s a problem. So some people might find the story slow or boring because of the way the plot is set up.

All in all though, Apostle is a terrifying and powerful film and possibly a new classic of the genre that will stay with viewers long after they’ve logged off Netflix. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Apostle a 4.6.¬† If you’re brave enough, go check it out and begin your spiral into a world of trauma and terror that is rarely put to film.

Also, I wish the director Gareth Evans, who only has one other horror credit on his director’s belt, comes back to the genre soon. If Apostle is anything to judge by, I look forward to seeing what else he can contribute.