2017 Moviefest - Week 2

Two new movies this week and six repeats. We are nearly ready for the intermission where I share alternate media to whet your horror appetite. Stay tuned.

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Sinister 2 is a great example of a movie that suffers from what I call the Sequel Syndrome. Sequels are all about more. Presumably they are made, and viewers tune in, because we want more of the same. And then we are disappointed when we get ... more of the same. In this case, the shock of the home movies with family-friendly titles is well behind us, but that was the draw of the original. Sinister 2 brings back Deputy So&So who attempts to break the cycle by taking vacant homes out of the path of the boogie man. And since we already know that these movies are snuff films, we don't need a washed up writer to show them to us. Rather, the children share their own movies with each other. I liked that take on the original which was inspired more by Stephen King's Children of the Corn than it was by its predecessor.  I thought this movie was off to a great start. But it just sort of fizzled out as the former deputy chivalrously defends the family from their abusive husband and father, and the domestic situation took over the story. By that time I knew where the story is going and I was bored when the film finally got back on track. I gave it the same 2½ skull rating that I gave to the other new movie on the list. 

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Don't Breathe was on its way to a good idea but I found it lacked the ability to tap into the adrenaline of its viewers. The movie poster is recognizable with the face of a young woman covering her mouth with her hands in a pose that turns out to be an over-the-top dramatization that emphasizes the "be quiet" theme set in a blind man's home. For some reason, it is only Rocky who has to cover her mouth to get the point across, and this she does over and over and over. I actually thought Rocky was a strong character; a young woman with a crappy life that you found yourself rooting for even though she is criminal preying on a presumably helpless victim. I also appreciated the twist in the story that for me was totally unexpected, although the twist got a little twisted for my tastes.  In the end, there were just so many holes in the action - dozens of obvious places where the three perps could have gotten away or where the victim could have used his disability to his advantage.  Why are there lights on in a blind man's home at night anyway? This film kept me watching until the end but I admit to more than a few scoffs by the time the credits rolled on an ending that virtually guarantees it will be back with a sequel.

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Four skull favorites this week include 1408, Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining and Trick 'r Treat. I bumped The Shining's skull rating up this year as a tribute to the excellent re-make of It. I have reconciled the fact that movies and books are different forms of entertainment, and a movie that is a pure restatement of the book can be ... well, boring. I have been intensely critical of Kubrick's screenplay mostly because of the ending which diverges entirely from the original story. And I am still critical because I think the movie ending is anti-climactic given the material they had to work with. I am also not 100% sold on Shelly Duval as the female lead. But this film is terrifying in a way the TV series isn't, and maybe it simply not possible to beat Jack Nicholson as the infinitely flawed Jack Torrance steadily declining into madness.

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I would describe 1408 as a theatrical interpretation of Hell - being forced to live the worst moments of your life over and over forever. Adapted from a Stephen King short story, it shares some themes with The Shining - a haunted hotel, a washed up writer, paranormal experiences, and a host of previous tenants that will drive anyone into madness. This is one of Samuel L. Jackson's better performances, and possibly Cusack's best.

For intertwined short horror stories, Trick 'r Treat still sets the standard for me. A few similarly structured films were on the preseason menu, but I come back to this one every time for the masterful way in which the stories and characters are woven together on Halloween night.

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Sinister runs a pretty tight race with these highly rated favorites. I didn't love the movie the first time I saw it in the theater, but I remember wanting to watch it again because it was so intense and liked it much better the second time around. The home movies used in this film were shot with Super 8 film to make them look like authentic snuff films. If you're a videophile you'll recognize the format. Ethan Hawke did not see any of the home movies before he shot the film so his expressions when he watches them are the real deal. Sinister is one of the few movies that depicts the killing of children and it is the reason the movie earned has an "R" rating despite the lack of nudity and profanity. 

I had not noticed before how similar the ending of The Amityville Horror is to the original Poltergeist. The music is also similar although Amityville received an Oscar nomination and Poltergeist did not. In his 1983 live comedy special Delirious, Eddie Murphy does a bit about horror films where he asks why white people don't just leave when there's a ghost in the house. He jokes that if he was showing his wife around a beautiful house and heard a ghost whisper, "Get Out," he would immediately tell her, "Too bad we can't stay baby," and leave. The joke was referring to these two films and is reportedly part of the inspiration behind the movie Get Out, giving the film its title. I have not seen the remake of Amityville Horror for no good reason except my natural bias against remakes. It would be interesting to see what effect 30 years of evolution in special effects, sound and lighting would have on this film. I'll get right on that.

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Boris Karloff's classic The Mummy is an example of a film that is much better as a remake. Classic horror movie fans will disagree. I can appreciate the genius of early black-and-white movies that have to rely on acting and set design to build the suspense, but I do love a good effect. I caught this original on Netflix a few years ago and was surprised to learn that it is the exact same story as the 1999 version. Technology was kind in this case and the Brendan Frasier version is still a favorite of mine. This year's 2017 reboot starring Tom Cruise is not yet on my list. I am an advocate of seeing a movie for myself, but I admit I am influenced by negative reviews.

That about does it for week 2. If you're watching the calendar, there are plenty movies both old and new on the horizon before the season finale. Stay with me.