Category Archives: Horror

The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

I want to say nice things about The Descent. Or, more… I wish I could say nice things about The Descent. There are some nice things to say about it–the production values are strong, Marshall’s composition is decent, Sam McCurdy’s photography is good. It’s rarely boring–though it does drag a little. Tedious without being boring. Possibly because the characters are all so unlikable you’re just waiting for them to die off.

The characters are unlikable partially because of director Marshall’s script, partially because of the actors, partially because of Marshall’s “direction” of the actors.

The Descent is about six women who go caving in North Carolina. With the exception of organizer Natalie Mendoza, they’re all either from the British Isles or they’re Scandinavian. They travelled halfway across the globe for this caving trip, because–as the opening of the film recounts–ostensible lead Shauna Macdonald has lost her family in a horrible car accident and she needs to get back to her extreme sports lifestyle.

While horrific, the car accident is also exceptionally contrived. All the character relationships in The Descent are exceptionally contrived. Marshall’s characterizations are razor thin, so having a bunch of bland, sometimes interchangeable actors who he doesn’t give any performance direction contributes a lot to that tediousness I mentioned. Maybe if Macdonald weren’t so wooden. Or Mendoza. But mostly Macdonald. What’s so strange is there are some outliers–Alex Reid, as Macdonald’s BFF, is good. Her character’s still thin, but she’s good. And Saskia Mulder and MyAnna Buring as the Scandinavian sisters are fine. They’re likable. Mendoza, from her first scene, is exceptionally unlikable. Ditto her protege Nora-Jane Noone, though for different reasons. And while Macdonald is supposed to be tragic and sympathetic, it’s in a porcelain doll sense. She’s lost her family, after all.

Something none of the other characters really engage with. Or, in Noone’s case, even seem to know about. Besides Noone, they’re all ostensibly best extreme sports buds. Who have absolutely no chemistry with one another. Mendoza’s an abject sociopath from scene one and there’s no reason anyone–particularly not the characters in the film–would be friends with her, much less trust her to plan a caving trip in Deliverance country.

Noone and Mendoza’s character relationship–and utter lack of onscreen chemistry–is one of Descent’s many deficiencies. Marshall’s script and direction is about moving caricatures from point A to point B. It’s grating.

But The Descent isn’t a Deliverance riff. Well, unless you want to make a lot of mean jokes about Applachian mountain men. See, down in the unexplored cave, the women discover they’re not alone. There are monsters. And so then the women have to inventively–often using their caving gear–fight the monsters.

Marshall borrows action beats from a variety of films–mostly the first couple Alien movies and, thanks to David Julyan’s almost comically derivative score, The Thing. There are some good shots here and there, along with some bad ones (including a jaw-droppingly bad composite), but Marshall, editor Jon Harris, and photographer McCurdy don’t impress. The sets–all the cave interiors are sets–impress. A bit. Not enough to make up for any of the film’s other deficiencies, but they’re good.

Almost anything would’ve improved The Descent. Writing, acting, directing (as far as the performances go). With any of those elements improved, Marshall could’ve been just as derivative and the film would’ve turned out better. Instead, he’s got this derivative film with all sorts of other problems.

Though, really, it’s an absurdly obvious film from the opening titles scene so… none of what follows is actually surprising.

Oh. Right. The lack of jump scares. It seems intentional. At least, I hope it’s intentional. But as a stylistic choice it’s a little weird. They might get the energy up. Nothing else does.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Neil Marshall; director of photography, Sam McCurdy; edited by Jon Harris; music by David Julyan; production designer, Simon Bowles; produced by Christian Colson; released by Pathé Distribution.

Starring Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), Natalie Mendoza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam), and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly).


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Sleepwalkers (1992, Mick Garris)

Sleepwalkers is a very peculiar motion picture. Director Garris never quite composes the shot right, even though he’s really close. Maybe he needs a wider frame or just to zoom out a bit. Instead it always looks like he’s shooting for the home video pan and scan. Rodney Charters’s photography is totally fine, unless they’re trying to do an insert then he never matches and there’s only so much he can do for the CGI morphing scenes.

Sleepwalkers opens with dictionary text setting it all up–Sleepwalkers are these monsters who suck on the life force of female virgins. Cats hate them. Then the action starts. Mark Hamill in a “really? why?” cameo. Then the opening titles. And cut to small-town Indiana–but that Southern California smalltown Indiana with the mountains and all–where teenager Brian Krause is sitting around shirtless and cutting himself.

But, oh, isn’t he kind of a dish. Because it’s weird. Sleepwalkers is always weird, but it actually starts ickier than it finishes because even though the film–mostly writer Stephen King–wants to be really explicit about Krause’s love affair with mother Alice Krige because it’s sensational… and then never does anything with the attention it brings. It’s just icky, then tedious, then annoying because Krige’s performance gets worse as the film goes along.

She’s Mama Monster, which means she stays at home while Krause goes to high school and finds a target. He’s going to feed on the target, then share with Krige. Sleepwalkers is a mix of bad thriller, not great gore, weird monster-based sci-fi, and the incest thing. If Garris and King weren’t making a terrible movie, who knows, maybe they’d have created a new sub-genre. Or at least not made this godawful thing.

But it’s really interesting to see how these disjointed pieces all fight together. Ingenue Mädchen Amick starts the film with Garris trying to make her seem like a slutty virgin. She’s at work at the movie theater, listening to fifties rock on her Walkman, dancing seductively as she sweeps up popcorn. It’s weird. And a little icky but nothing compared to Krause and Krige’s sex scenes; Sleepwalkers’s icky spectrum is long. So then Amick meets Krause and he’s kind of creepy then he’s not, even though the film thinks him reading his story about him and his mom to his English class is a good scene. It’s really bad. But kicks off a “is Krause going to be redeemed” subplot, which doesn’t really matter because Sleepwalkers ends up being a monster movie for most of its run time. Like people running from monsters.

Somehow I’ve missed the part how the first act is also about Krige and Krause torturing cats. Krige’s homebound because she’s deathly afraid of cats. Maybe. It’s unclear. But it sure seems like it. For such a long movie–Sleepwalkers is a long ninety minutes, not in a good way because Garris is astoundingly uninventive–King’s script doesn’t really do character development. Even as scenes often go on way too long. Like the ones with Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward as Amick’s parents, in a tedious “is this a Ferris Bueller reference” or isn’t it subplot. Everything in Sleepwalkers is tedious.

Some really bad acting throughout. Including the King cameo. Krige’s terrible, though it’s hard to say how much of it is her fault. Though she did take the role. So. Krause kind of has an interesting arc but his performance starts bad, gets worse, gets better, gets worse than worse.

Ward and Pickett aren’t good. Pickett’s worse but only because she’s in it more. Ron Perlman’s really bad as a state trooper. Glenn Shadix is the pervert school teacher out to blackmail Krause. He’s really bad.

Amick makes it through. She’s never good, she’s never terrible, she’s occasionally sympathetic. She’s not trying. Amidst all the trying aspects of Sleepwalkers, Amick weathers the storm. She never seems like she’s in such a bad movie. Krause and Krige always do.

Interesting music from Nicholas Pike. Not terrible. Uses Enya well, even if it does make Sleepwalkers seem like a Cat People ’84 rip-off, eight years too late. Sleepwalkers is in a hurry to get to the monster stuff and then the monster stuff isn’t even cool. They can make objects disappear and change appearance–Krige and Krause–but their reflections in the mirror are of their monster forms. The monster forms are more gross and awkward than scary. And they’re annoying, because they’re not very good. Sleepwalkers is this mish-mash of tone, narrative distance, genre–and it never lets up. Sleepwalkers consistently makes unique and bad choices through its runtime. Including the ending. And it never does anything right. Garris and King don’t pull off a single thing.

It’s the type of movie where the monster woman in her hippie disguise trying to find a virgin to feed her son and lover shoots a car and it blows up. Sleepwalkers is either accidentally ambitious or wholly incompetent. If they’d pulled it off, the film would’ve been amazing. Instead, it’s astounding. And bewildering. And frequently icky bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Garris; written by Stephen King; director of photography, Rodney Charters; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Nicholas Pike; production designer, John DeCuir Jr.; produced by Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Nabeel Zahid; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Brian Krause (Charles Brady), Alice Krige (Mary Brady), Mädchen Amick (Tanya Robertson), Dan Martin (Andy Simpson), Cindy Pickett (Mrs. Robertson), Lyman Ward (Mr. Robertson), Jim Haynie (Sheriff Ira), Ron Perlman (Captain Soames), Cynthia Garris (Laurie), Monty Bane (Horace), and Glenn Shadix (Mr. Fallows).


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Halloween II (2009, Rob Zombie)

The only good thing about Halloween II are the end credits. They run like nine minutes, meaning the movie is closer to ninety-five minutes than 105. Even though the ninety-five minutes feels like an eternity.

The movie starts with director Zombie making fun of the idea of making another Halloween II. He’s not remaking Halloween II; well, he does for the first twenty-five minutes of the movie but only to make fun of the idea of remaking Halloween II. It’s kind of the best sequence in the movie? If only because there’s not as much cynicism as the rest of the picture. Less cynicism, less “lead” Scout Taylor-Compton trying to emote, less Sheri Moon Zombie as a color inverted Morticia Adams ghost making scary-ish faces as she inspires Tyler Mane to kill people. It’s a hallucination but not. Chase Wright Vanek, as the young version of Mane, is also in the scenes. He could be worse. Moon Zombie couldn’t be worse, but Vanek has some lines in the prologue and he’s atrocious so it’s a surprise when he’s better later. Because he doesn’t get dialogue. It’s a good move from Zombie amid a film full of bad moves.

After the riff on the original Halloween II, Zombie jumps ahead a year to Taylor-Compton trying to recover from her trauma. Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell is on a book tour capitalizing on Taylor-Compton’s trauma. McDowell’s not good and the part’s thinly written–all the parts in the film are paper thin–but he’s bad in entertaining ways. Taylor-Compton isn’t bad in entertaining ways. She’s got a terrible part and gives a terrible performance in it. She’s living with fellow Halloween I survivor Danielle Harris and her dad, sheriff Brad Dourif.

Harris is just about the only likable character in the film. She also doesn’t give a terrible performance. Many of the cast give terrible performances, so Harris is constant refreshing. Dourif’s haircut gives more of a performance than the actor, which is too bad. It’s a crappy part though.

The worst supporting performance is Angela Trimbur. She’s one of Taylor-Compton’s friends; she gets to personify Zombie’s prevailing conjecture in the film–empathy doesn’t exist, which is problematic because Taylor-Compton’s only in her current situation because of empathy. Halloween II is the perfect storm of cynicism and stupidity, with Zombie trying to cushion the stupidity in symbolism so he can get away with it. But it’s stupid symbolism so who cares.

The best cameo performance is Bill Fagerbakke as a deputy. The worst is Mark Boone Junior. Margot Kidder is somewhere in between, mostly because her therapist isn’t believable at all.

Technically, the film’s competent. Brandon Trost’s photography is definitely competent. Glenn Garland and Joel T. Pashby’s editing gets all the jump scares. Zombie relies heavily on them. He starts with gore, then he goes to jump scares. They’re effective but entirely cheap.

Tyler Bates’s music… could be worse.

Garreth Stover’s production design–presumably under Zombie’s instruction–is grungy to the point of absurdity. Since surviving their serial killer attacks, Taylor-Compton and Harris have apparently embraced nihilism based on their interior decorating but never in their characters. Taylor-Compton’s behavior sometimes flips scene-to-scene so Zombie can move things along. It’s not like she’d have essayed the role better if the writing were better.

Trost’s photography holds things together. Without it, the movie would be stagy. If the acting were better. And if Zombie cared about the acting. It’s really bad.

But it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. The end credits could run eight minutes instead of nine and there might be another whole insufferable minute of content to Halloween II.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Zombie; screenplay by Zombie, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Brandon Trost; edited by Glenn Garland and Joel T. Pashby; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Garreth Stover; produced by Malek Akkad, Andy Gould and Zombie; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie Strode), Tyler Mane (Michael Myers), Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Samuel Loomis), Brad Dourif (Sheriff Lee Brackett), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah Myers), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett) and Brea Grant (Mya Rockwell)


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Halloween (2007, Rob Zombie)

Halloween is very loud. It’s about the only thing director Zombie keeps consistent throughout. It gets loud. It starts kind of quiet–comparatively–then gets loud. Jump scares always have some noise. But once the jump scares are every two seconds, there’s just loud noise. Giant spree killer Tyler Mane destroys a house in the third act, with his bare hands. Because it’s loud to destroy a house. A different filmmaker with different goals might try to have the destruction of his childhood home, where he became a tween spree killer, mean something. Especially since Mane’s current target is long lost baby sister Scout Taylor-Compton (now a teenager). He’s destroying her house too.

But not Zombie. He’s just being loud. The only reason they’re at the house is because Zombie wanted to avoid similarities to the original Halloween. It’s a very strange remake, because you always get the feeling Zombie would rather be doing anything else. Zombie’s not enthusiastic about anything. The noise, sure, and the violence–sort of, it’s violent and bloody as all hell, but not really creatively. Cynically. Zombie condescends to his own film, which is interesting. You can’t really dwell on it too long because loud noises interrupt reflection.

The film spends almost the first hour outside remake expectations. Zombie’s doing his own origin story for Michael Myers (played by Daeg Faerch as a kid). It’s the late seventies. They’re kind of white trash. Mom (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper with a heart of gold. Sister Hanna Hall is a jerk. William Forsythe is Mom’s abusive, drunken, live-in boyfriend who’s immobilized from injury. Zombie’s really bad at the writing of the family. He can’t take it seriously.

Moon Zombie’s almost all right as the mom. She takes it seriously in a way no one else does. Not the stunt cameos, not Forsythe, who’s kind of funny but also clearly very cynical in his performance. Zombie does all these things in Halloween’s first section but he doesn’t do any of them right. It’s not exactly potential, but the most similar thing to potential the film’s ever going to have. Because once it gets to the “present”–the early-to-mid nineties–Halloween’s got zilch. Eventually you hope–remembering the plot of the original–it’ll end after this next riff on a scene from the original but it never does. Zombie keeps it going for ages, just to mess with expectations of the target audience. And also for those viewers who just want to believe sometime it’ll finally end.

And then it gets so loud.

Until the last third or so, the film relies entirely on John Carpenter’s original Halloween score. Maybe a little louder, set to all sorts of scenes it doesn’t fit, over and over. It’s omnipresent. The finale is just Tyler Bates being loud. Because it’s all about being loud in Halloween.

It’s not about Halloween at all though. Loudness, sure. Halloween, not so much. Even though there’s a kid dressed up as a skeleton boy or something, Halloween doesn’t play in during the present day stuff. Not even as Taylor-Compton being too old for it or whatever. Zombie doesn’t care about Halloween. How appropriate for the movie, Halloween.

He likes his cameos, but he doesn’t care about them. Ken Foree has the best one. Though Sid Haig’s isn’t terrible either. Zombie’s got no more enthusiasm for the successful ones than the bad ones. Sometimes they work, most times they don’t. Udo Kier’s is the most superfluous and Danny Trejo’s the most disappointing. Trejo’s turns out to be Zombie at his most painfully obvious and trying. It’s one of the first exhausting elements in the film.

By the time Taylor-Compton comes in, the movie’s only got a few moments of narrative drive left. Zombie burns it all up with the transition from past to present. It gets so long in such a short amount of time. Maybe because Malcolm McDowell can’t even pretend to try. Of course he goes away for most of the film, which doesn’t turn out to improve anything because Taylor-Compton is so unlikable. Zombie doesn’t care about any of the characters so it’s hard to care much for them either. Big problem given Taylor-Compton is the “lead.”

Technically, the film’s competent. Zombie’s not a good director and he composes poorly for the Panavision, but he’s not incompetent. Phil Parmet’s photography is fine. It’s not any good or ever interesting, but it’s not any good. Glenn Garland’s editing is effective. It’s cheap, but it’s effective. Anton Tremblay’s production design is phenomenal. As crappy as the film gets, it always looks amazing. Even when Zombie’s not showing it in an amazing light.

Occasionally it seems like Zombie wants to spoof Halloween, but instead tries to let his contempt inform the film instead. He never succeeds, because it’s bad, but there are missed opportunities. They all have caveats, but they’re around.

The closest thing to good performances are from Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif. Neither have any good material per se, but they at least try with what they’ve got. It’s more than most anyone else is doing. Even the bad actors seem to know not to try too hard with a lousy script.

Dee Wallace goes all out though.

Halloween is long, loud, unpleasant, and underwhelming. If Zombie can’t convince himself his ideas are good and explore them, how can he convince an audience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Zombie; screenplay by Zombie, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Phil Parmet; edited by Glenn Garland; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Anton Tremblay; produced by Malek Akkad, Andy Gould and Zombie; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Malcolm McDowell (Samuel), Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett), Kristina Klebe (Lynda), Brad Dourif (Lee), Jenny Gregg Stewart (Lindsey), Skyler Gisondo (Tommy), Nick Mennell (Bob), Danny Trejo (Ismael), Sid Haig (Chester), Dee Wallace (Cynthia), Pat Skipper (Mason), Hanna Hall (Judith), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah), William Forsythe (Ronnie) and Daeg Faerch & Tyler Mane (Michael).


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