Sunday, 19 April 2015

Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo: Review of Sharkasaurus (Short) (2015)

Sharkasaurus (2015)
Director: Spencer Estabrooks
Starring: Micheal Shepherd, Julie Orton, and Jason Long
Running Time: 9 min

  I was really up in the air this week about which panels that I wanted to check out on Saturday at the Calgary Expo but this one was the toughest.  Go see the "Walking Dead" panel or go see the screening of "Sharkasaurus" and with a little help from my friends on twitter, I hope I made the best decision.

 Paleontologist Dr. J. Jones has her assistant set up her seismic scanner to search out for dinosaur bones in the remote outskirts of Drumheller, Alberta.  Unfortunately, just has the machine starts running, her arch-nemesis and creationist, Rev. Matthews and his team come to stop all things science.  As they argue, there is a rumbling on the ground and out of nowhere a Sharkasaurus bursts out of the ground and eats one of Dr. J Joness' assistants.  Terrified, these immortal enemies now must band together in an unholy alliance to fight, survive and stop this Sharkasaurus!


  I loved Sharkasaurus and my only complaint is that it was a short and not a feature.  Writer/Director Spencer Estabrooks puts together an incredibly fun film in a similar vein as "Sharknado" or any of the Syfy creature features.  This film knows what it is and Estabrooks harnesses and exploits that B-movie style to make it very humorous and scary for the audience.
  Although, from what I heard during the panel discussion afterwards, that the actual Sharkasaurus creature was done on short order but it was still looked amazing.  It is a very classic looking monster with an obvious taste for flesh.  Mostly the creature is seen popping up and attacking it's victims but there is a brilliant and amusing shot of the fin sticking out of the dry Drumheller landscape that is kind of unforgettable.
  Also, there is a even a bit of Canadian star power in the film that is sure to give people a chuckle.  I don't want to give anything away but is role is small but again, it's that little extra bit that makes this film so enjoyable to watch.


  After the film there was a great panel discussion with the director and some of the cast and crew.  They talked about some of the issues that came up while shooting, like the heat and and a noisy ice cream truck.  Also, Estabrooks talked about the future of the creature and maybe turning it into a graphic novel to build a fan base before looking for funding for a feature, which is a good idea because it would give him more control over his story.
  Also, they had some cool behind the scenes footage of the film that was interesting and gave you some insight on how working with a good team can make a production go really well and be very rewarding.   

Panda vs Sharkasaurus
    As funny as it sounds, I think Sharkasaurus is one of the real highlights of the Calgary Expo experience for me.  Although it is a B-movie, about a sharkasuarus, it showcased how much incredible local talent there is here in Calgary and how much fun and creative this city can be.  I hope that Estabrooks goes further with this creature and turns it into a graphic novel, which will then turn into a feature because this has so many fantastic possible going forward.  If you get a chance, check it out on Telus Storyhive or order it from their Facebook page.  This is one Sharkasuarus, you don't want to miss.



Friday, 17 April 2015

April Apparitions: Whispering Corridors (1998)

Whispering Corridors (1998)
Director: Ki-hyeong Park
Starring: Kang-hee Choi, Gyu-ri Kim, and Min-jung Kim
Running Time: 145 min


  I'm pretty excited to check this out, although, I'm unfamilair with the director and the cast but this film does come well recommended by various websites, books and it is even on a recognized list of "100 Korean Masterpieces", so that means this has got to be good right.  Of course it does, so I'll pack my lunch and head out to the haunted school, hope I'm not tardy. I don't feel tardy.  

   It is a dark and stormy night and Mrs. Park, a school teacher is staying after class, alone, investigating a mysterious pattern that is connected with the suicide of one of her students, Jin-ju, nine years ago.  She collects some yearbooks and is finally able to put the terrifying riddle together but just has she does, she is confronted by a ghost!  The ghost using it's spooky powers, hangs Mrs. Park by the neck until she is dead in her classroom and drags her down the hall to a more suitably burial place.
  The next morning, it's the first day of school at the Jookran High School For Girls and art student and part time psychic, Ji-oh Lim arrives at school early to find her nerdy awkward classmate, Jae-yi Yoon, waiting for her outside the school.  Jae-yi Yoon is excited because they are the first monitors this week and that this is going to make her and Ji-oh Lim best friends, and it's the first day of school and it's their final year and...., Ji-oh Lim just puts on her headphones and heads up to class with Jae-yi Yoon following behind still jabbering.  When Ji-oh Lim and Jae-yi Yoon get to class, they find that the strange and grade driven Kim Jung-sook is already there at her desk.  They say good morning to Kim Jung-sook and go to their desks.  However, when Ji-oh Lim sits down, she find fresh blood pooled on her desk.  So, she grabs a mop and bucket and heads outside to fill up the bucket.  When she gets outside, she sees Mrs. Park hanging from the second level bridge!
  Already freaked out by finding their teacher dead hanging from a bridge, the girls are then threatened and screamed at to keep it a secret by their vice principal, Mr. Oh (aka Mad Dog).  The girls agree to keep this suicide to themselves and go back to class.  However, this death isn't just affecting these girls but a new teacher, Eun-young, starts to have memories about how abusive and awful, Mrs. Park (aka the old fox) was to her and her late friend Jin-ju.  She remembers how Mrs. Park would belittle them, hit them and make their lives miserable if they stepped out of line.  Ahh, school memories, good times.  Anyway, Eun-young starts to look into Mrs. Parks' mysterious suicide and finds a connection with her old friend Jin-ju and the rumours that ghosts haunt this school.
  However, while Eun-young is investigating and time goes by, the girls are being abused and screamed at by their new substitute teacher Mr. Oh.  He even finds a painting of the the hung Mrs. Parks, that Ji-oh Lim painted because she couldn't get the image out of her head.  So for defying his order and not immediately forgetting about finding her dead teacher, Mr. Oh punches Ji-oh Lim square in the face and kicks her out of art class.  Sadly, that is not the only issue for Ji-oh Lim because her psychic powers are giving her the heads up that a specter may be haunting her and her friends and they don't know who could be next to be attacked by this apparition.  Can Ji-oh Lim and Eun-young find and stop this ghost before she takes anymore people to the other side or will this spirit room the halls of Jookran High School For Girls forever?


  I liked this, there were some very cool visuals and the story was pretty interesting.  This was one of the first films that came out in 1998 during the explosion of new Korean cinema, after the end of the country's military dictatorship, that was not heavily censored.  Director Ki-hyeong Park (Secret Tears, Gangster High) took full advantage of this new found freedom and made not only a fascinating ghost story but was able to show the harsh conditions of the South Korean educational system.  In a lot of instances in this film, the teachers and vice principal are a lot scary than the ghost and one would hope that since this film was released, that school system in South Korea would have changed some of their disciplinary methods.
  But the film isn't all knuckle rapping and creepy sexual innuendos by middle aged men.  It does have a supernatural feel to it with a vengeful ghost.  One of the things I dug the most about the film was that it introduced the ghost element right away during the films opening credits.  Director Park uses some good visuals here and I love that the spirit has to drag the corpse down the hall, leaving a trail of blood behind.  Just gorgeous to watch!  Also, the ending, has a classroom dripping in blood, which is probably my favourite part of this whole movie.  It looks really is amazing and leaves you with a really creepy tone at the end. 


  Although I thought that this movie was enjoyable, there are a few things that could have made it better.  I don't think that there are enough ghostly scares throughout the film.  Once the initial spirit murder happens, the ghost takes a back seat to what director Park is trying to say about the school system. Which as I mentioned before is cool and scary in its own way but I don't think Park balances it proportionately and I think fans looking for a solid ghost story may become bored of the school antics and find it a little disappointing.
  Also, I'm torn because there are some very cool elements to the ending and there are some not cool things about it too.  Visually it looks great but I think some of the reasoning for the ghost to be there either isn't completely expressed properly or it's a little bit lame.  I may have to see it again, but the ending didn't do it for me but what do I know, it's a very popular series and there has been 4 sequels after this film.


  With that said, this is still an enjoyable ghost movie that any fan of Asian horror will probably dig.  There is an interesting and seemingly complex story that uses an spirit to expose a harsh school system and it has a bizarre twist at the end.   As well as some incredible visuals that will set the hairs on the back of your neck on end.  So, if you're looking for a film about a ghost haunting the halls of an girls school, than you may want to check this out.


Monday, 13 April 2015

April Apparitions: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014)
Director: Tom Harper
Starring: Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, and Phoebe Fox
Running Time: 98 min

  I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the remake of "The Woman in Black" with Harry Potter, I mean, umm, Daniel Potter was.  Hammer films was able to keep the same tone and spookiness with that one and I'm hoping that they will be able to continue that creepy magic with this one.  I like director Tom Harper's work on the British show "The Misfits" but I don't think there will be many laughs in this film and no dead probation workers to bury again and again.  So, grab your backpack and let's head back to Eel Marsh House and visit our old ghostly friend.

  It's London during WW2 an the city is being bombed by the Germans.  Teacher Eve Parkins along with her students and the head mistress of the school, Jean Hogg spend the night hiding in the tunnels underground for safety for one more night before they evacuate to what should be a much safer place outside the city at Eel Marsh House.  The next day, Eve and Ms. Hogg meet the children at the train but have to seem to be missing one boy, Edmond.  He finally arrives, just before the train departs and Eva learns that the parents of Edmond were killed in the air raid last night and because of the trauma of it, Edmond has decided to stop talking.  Eve tries to console poor Edmond but the stern Ms. Hogg rushes them on to the train, so they can get their trip on it's way and finally get to safety.
  The train trip isn't too bad, Eve meets a dashing young pilot named Harry who is being stationed near Eel Marsh House.  He chats her up during the trip and when the train finally arrives at the station, Eve sadly bids farewell to Harry, who she has taken a real liking too.  Eva and her party meet up with Dr. Rhodes, who loads everyone into cars and directs them to their new home.  Unfortunately during the dark dreary ride to the house, one of the cars gets a flat and they have to wait while the driver changes the tire.  While waiting, Eve wanders over to a nearby abandoned looking cottage and peeks in the window.  She is startled by a crazy old man, screaming a warning her that they will never escape "her"!  Luckily, Dr. Rhodes finds her and ushers her back to the car and they make the final leg of there journey to the house.
  When they get to the house, it's not quite what everyone was expecting but at least it's "safe" and away from the major centers so the chances of them being attack by bombers is low.  During the night Eve has a terrible nightmare about her in a hospital giving birth and the evil nurses snatching her child away while she lay there bleeding in a bed.  She wakes up and hears some noises in the cellar and when she goes downstairs to investigate she thinks she sees someone down there but the specter quickly vanishes.
  The next morning, Eve asks Ms. Hogg if there is anyone else staying here and is given a weird look from Ms. Hogg.  Eva is not the only one having troubles, apparently Edmond is being given a rough time by a some bullies because he's not speaking and having fun with them but he has found an unusual sailor doll that he seems fond of that keeps him company.  Eve tells the boys to leave Edmond alone but she still can't really get Edmond to join in any activities with them.  That night, although Eve locks the door, one of the boys who was bullying Edmond mysteriously is able to open it and wanders out of the house.
  During breakfast the following morning, Eve and Ms. Hogg search frantically for the boy, who has disappeared.  Sadly, Eve finds him dead on the shore.  As time goes on, Eve sees more glimpses of this woman in black and with the help of Harry, who has come to check up on her, they learn about the chilling history of Jennet Humpfrye, the woman in black,  and the death of her little boy Nathanial, which drove her to suicide and now makes any children in the area suffer for.  Eventually, Eve and Harry believe that the house is being haunted by Humpfrye and that the children are in a lot of danger.  Can Eva and Harry get the kids out of Eel Marsh House before the ghost of Jennet Humpfrye uses her spooky powers to kill them all or will Ms. Hogg and her "no such things as ghost attitude" keep them in danger and the whole lot of them will perish?
  

   I found this film a little dry and it seems a little too focused on the main character Eve.  I understand that she is the protagonist, but without properly developed secondary characters certain actions and sequences in the film fall flat.  Like when something happens to one of the children, for instance, when they are running for their lives in horror or they die, there must be a reason to care about them and if we don't know them or have any reason to care about them, the scene is completely lost.  Even, Edmond, who is a very key element to the film, is barely highlighted in this tale and is glossed over with some minor detail, which is crazy because in order for the whole film to work, you need to care about this character.  Sadly, the central crux in this film is put on Eve rehashing and discovering the Jennet Humpfrye story, which we've already covered in the previous film.  As well as a traumatic past incident of Eves' life that is never quite clear, considering the story that she tells Harry differs from her nightmare imagery suggests, which is from the dream is a lot bloodier and less PG-13y, me thinks.
  Also, we barely see the woman in black which is frustrating because not only is it the title of the film but this is the sequel and this is where twisted wraith should be going full force.  We, the audience, knows she exists and there is no reason to play coy with this ghostly demon but for some reason, director Tom Harper (War Book, Peaky Blinders) and writer Jon Croker (Desert Dancer, Ealing Comedy) keep her hidden away, like it's going to be a shock when appears closer to the end.  What there was a ghost, what a surprise! Duh, we know that's why we're here.  I think that there could have been a quicker and easier way to recap the Humpfrye story, with a someone on the train, the Harry character could have heard stories or even a villager have hinted at it, and this would have saved so much more time to develop other characters and make the film a bit more scary.


  However it's not all bad, Harper does create the right atmosphere for the film.  In Hammer tradition, the proper Gothic tone is set once they arrive at the house and there are enough dark hallways and spooky basements to keep your attention for a bit.


   Like most sequels, this is definitely not as good as the original or the remake and it falls victim to spending too much time treading the same ground.  The story is unimaginative and the majority of these characters, outside of Eve, don't grow or progress outside the one dimensional write up they used to outline the film. As I mention earlier, the worst part is that the woman in black is barely used in this and it's a bit disappointing that such a good villain is wasted for the majority of the film and only given minor glimpses throughout the first and second act.  She is suppose to be the Angel of Death, scare us and do some deathing for goodness sakes!  So, if you're looking for a mediocre but familiar haunting story with some alright visuals and a spooky atmosphere, then travel to Eel Marsh House, but you've been warned. 

    

Saturday, 11 April 2015

April Apparitions: The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring:  Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, and Daniel Henshall
Running Time: 93 min

  I've been wanting to see this film for such a long time because there has been so much buzz about it but when it was in the theatres here, I had previous engagements.  However, I've heard lots of good things about it and of course, some bad, but if people talking about the film, you know that it is worth seeing.  So, I'm going to turn my lights down low and knock three times, Dook, Dook, Dook and hopefully enjoy the Babadook.

  Exhausted widowed mother, Amelia is still having bad dreams, after seven years, about losing her husband in a car accident.  She is having one of these vivid nightmares when she is woken up by her precocious and "imaginative" son, Samuel who also has trouble sleeping due to nightmares and like most 7 year olds, a belief that there is a monster in his under his bed.  Amelia ushers Sam back to his room and check for monsters, turning up nothing and then she tucks him back into bed with a kiss good night.
  The next morning, Sam has been working his home made weapons to kill the monsters in their house and when he tries to show Amelia how it works, he ends up breaking a window.  Too exhausted to get mad and knowing that they are already late for school and work, Amelia rushes Sam into the car and gets him there just in time.  However, while at work Amelia gets a call for the school and she needs to come in immediately.  When she gets to the school, she learns that Sam has brought on of his weapons to school and fired it in the schools' vicinity.  The principal and Sams' teacher, have had many talks with Samuel and now they think that he should go for professional help and they suggest taking him to see a psychiatrist.  This suggestion makes Amelia very upset and she pulls Samuel from the school and wishes them a good day.  Too make matters worse, afterwards she goes to the park with Samuel to visit her sister, Claire and her daughter and is asked if it's alright to not share Samuels' birthday with her niece.  While trying to process this information, Samuel has climbed to the top of the swing set and almost falls off.
  After such a horrible day, Amelia just wants to lie in bed and "relax" with her buzzy friend but she is interrupted again by Samuel and his fear of monsters.  She brings him back to his room and tells him to pick any book he wants and she'll read it to him.  Sam finds a mysterious book called "The Babadook", which she doesn't remember seeing before and starts to read it to her son.  The story is a nightmarish book about a ghost or demon, called the Babadook that gets into someone's house and torments the little boy.  By the end of the story, Samuel is even more of a basket case than he was when he first came in early about monster and he can't get to sleep because he is now afraid of the Babadook coming and getting him.  Good parenting Amelia.
  The next day is worse because not only has Amelia slept in and is late for work but all Samuel can think or talk about is the Babadook.  Unfortunately while at work, she gets another phone call from her sister, telling her she needs to pick up Samuel because he is scaring his cousin with Babadook stories.  She picks Samuel up and he goes into a wild tirade about the Babadook and Amelia starts to lose it, gets angry at Samuel and Samuel has some kind of seizure, which needs medical attention right away.  At the doctors, Samuel is fine but she asks for sleep medication for Samuel and the doctor tell how exhausted she is and reluctantly gives the medication to her.  She gives it to Samuel that night and it helps him sleep but she sees the Babadook in her room and it flies into her mouth!  It tastes like Babadookie, blah.  Then, she ends up saying up all night watching late night television to make sure her and Samuel are not attacked by the Babadook again.
  Over the next few days, things get weird at their house, like Amelia is seeing imaginary bugs, she sees the ghost of her late husband in the basement and her patience with Samuel is nearly completely gone.  She is very aggressive with him and borderline violent and abusive.  Samuel thinks the Babadook has got her and he just wants to save his mommy but Amelia refuses to believe in the Babadook and she spirals into a twisted state of dementia.  Has the Babadook possessed Amelia and is it slowly devouring her soul from the inside and is Samuel, the only one that can save her, or she is going through a psychotic breakdown of such immense scale that nothing can stop what seems to be the horrible inevitable? 
 

  This was a fantastic movie and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for the last couple days.  In her first feature film, writer/director Jennifer Kent creates a simple and compelling story of a mother still managing with the loss of her husband after seven years, while raising uber hyper son and then dealing with a supernatural creature that may or may not be in her imagination.  Kent has written the Amelia character, portrayed phenomenally by Essie Davis ( (The Pact, The Matrix Reloaded) in such a way that most parents will understand and recognize the initial reactions to her impulsive child and feel akin to her hardships as a mother but as the movie progresses and the darkness sets in, those sympathies shift to fear for the child because she is now the one acting on the angry impulses that may or may not go through every parents head when they they are frustrated with their children but never acted upon, I hope.  Kent really nails the character and this gives the film, a terrific feeling of authenticity that these stories need to take them to the next level. 
  Also, I love "The Babadook" pop-up book and it is brilliantly crafted by Alex Juhasz.  There are two version of the book in the film and both are remarkably evil looking with some incredibly scary imagery.  The first is a basic introduction to the creature and is very creepy.  The second is a little more twisted than the first.  It is way more violent and gory than any other children's pop up book that I've ever seen.  With the exception of my upcoming children's book, "You Didn't Get Me Pony, Now Put The Lotion In the Basket: A Children's Guide to Extortion, Murder and Getting What You Want."  Still waiting for the publishers to call on that one.  Anyway, Juhasz the creator of the book, constructs these hideously awesome characters and every page is perfect mix of Dr. Seuss, the boogeyman with the look from the stranger in "London After Midnight".  Apparently, you can get the book on their Website, which would be pretty cool. 
  Which leads me to the The Babadook, which I think is a brilliant character. This thing that goes bump in the night is barely seen throughout the film and you're never quite sure if it's real or part of the Amelia's imagination.  However, it does seem like a powerful dark force and has the ability to manipulate it's victims with hallucinatory images and is able to possess people when necessary or has they made their victims weaker through stress.  I think this creature or creatures, is there more than one(?), can be utilized in various ways and if done correctly, Kent will be able to capitalize on a number of interesting sequels.


  Nonetheless, I did have some issues with this Babadook and the top of my list is the ending.  It takes, in my mind, a very unusual twist at the end that I didn't feel was quite explained properly.  It is not a typical ending and maybe because it was not what I was expecting, it might have turned me off.  However, it does kind of grow on you after a few days but I still found it weird and a little unfinished.
  Also, and this is very minor but Samuel is really really annoying at times and there were a ton of moments where I just wanted her to give him to the Babadook.  It's mostly likely that Noah Wiseman, who plays Samuel, was instructed to turn up the annoying kid level to 11, which then gives multiple reasons for Amelia to be losing her marbles.  But man, there are times in the film, when you just wanted to lock that kid in the basement with the ghost and say bon appetite.
  The last things and this is minor as well but this is a more complex horror thriller than what I think people are expecting when they go into this film.  Sure, there is a ghost/thing that may or may not be in the house trying to do harm to this family but a lot of the focus is on how the Amelia character is handling the stresses of the loss of her husband, her precocious son and how her friends and society are judging her as a mother because of her son's actions.  As more issues with her family grow, the larger the Babadook becomes and more aggressive it turns out.  All I'm saying is that this isn't a hack and slash film with a numerous body count but an interesting psychological thriller with a quite a few scares and a very cool boogeyman.
 

  With that said, I think this is a fantastic film and one of the better films that I've seen from last year.  Although, I didn't think that the ending was perfect, the story is still incredibly captivating and it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  Also, it has some remarkable performances by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, who with such a limited cast, carry this terrifying film with their exceptional skills and I really like the concept and the skillfully delivery of the Babadook ghost/creature thing, I could see this film having a real cult following.  So, if you're looking for a good scare, then let this one in and you'll never get rid of the memory of the Babadook film. Sorry, my rhyming sucks. 


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

April Apparitions: The Ghost (Lo Spettro) (1963)

The Ghost (Lo Spettro) (1963)
Director: Riccardo Freda
Starring: Barbara Steele, Peter Baldwin, and Elio Jotta
Running Time: 97 min

  I stumbled across this film the other day and I couldn't believe my luck.  Not only does it have the breath taking Italian scream queen, Barbara Steele (Black Sunday, Castle of Blood) but it is written and directed by Riccardo Freda, who worked with Mario Bava on "Lust of the Vampire" and also directed the cult classic "The Horrible Dr. Hichcock" under the name Robert Hampton.  So, I'm pretty jazzed to see some classic Italian ghost gore.

  Dr. John Hichcock has two professional interests, he loves seances, which allows him to try and speak with the dead and the other is working on a cure for his mysterious ailment, that will finally release him from the confines of his wheelchair.  He has enlisted the help of Dr. Charles Livingstone, I presume to inject him with a poison and then moments before it kills him to then give him the antidote.  How this helps him, it's not explained but he's a doctor and who are we to question his insane scientific methods ?  Anyway, Dr. Hichcock says that it's slowly working but let's Charles know that if he ever dies during these experiments that is was worth it and he would do anything, even give up his own life to find a cure to this mysterious illness.  Charles bids him good day and leaves Dr. Hichcock alone to rest up for the next injection of poison.
  However, as Dr. Hichcock watches Charles leaving the ground from his window, he can see his beautiful wife, Margaret talking with Charles and then they scamper off together out of sight.  Of course the two of them are sleeping together and Margaret begs Charles to kill her husband, for real, so they can be together but Charles refuses because he is too ethical and then he sleeps with his bosses wife.  Ahhhh ethics.
  Shortly after his romp in the hay, Charles changes his mind and during the experiment refuses to give Dr. Hichcock the antidote.  He lets the doctor suffocate and retreats to the parlor with Margaret, to let her know that she is now free.  After an hour they hear Dr. Hichcocks' bell that he summons the staff with and confused and a little terrified that he may still be alive, Charles and Margaret rush to the room!  However when they arrive,  they just find him slumped in his wheelchair. Charles checks his pulse and pronounces him dead.  Hooray!
  After the funeral, Charles and Margaret return back to the mansion but once inside they hear Dr. Hichcock voice in the study!  When they go to investigate, they find the spirit and voice of Dr. Hichcock being channeled through the long time servant woman Catherine!  The spirit is telling them he's coming back to haunt their asses and they should be really scared.  However, this doesn't phase them but after the will is read and Margaret and Charles discovers that she isn't the sole inheritor of Dr. Hichcock's estate and fortune, then Charles seems a little less interested in her.  That and the money from the safe has disappeared!  Barbara starts to suspect Charles of double crossing her and   to make matters worse the spirit of Dr. Hichcock seems to be popping up more and more and terrifying her at night.  When I murder you, can't you stay dead!  Can this murderous couple escape the torment for the deceased husband or are they locked in a perilous battle with a presence that will haunt them forever?


  This was a great film and it had a lot of good twists in it.  Writer/director Riccardo Freda creates a very intense Gothic mystery and keeps you guessing throughout the film.  What's interesting is that there is no "likeable" characters in this, even the priest is a bit of a douchebag in this, and the all main characters have their own malicious agendas.  However, what keeps the audience interested is finding out just how far one of them will go to collect the loot in the end.
  Also, not only does Freda give the film a fantastic Gothic look and creates an extremely chilling atmosphere but he also adds an incredibly vicious scene where Barbara Steele's character attacks someone with a straight razor.  For a ghost film there lots of blood and ferocity of Steele's attacks make this a real highlight of the film.  Not that this is completely rare and totally unexpected from a foreign horror film but this is still 1963, so it is a little surprising and an enjoyable change of pace when it comes to ghost movies. 

 

  The beginning of this film is a little confusing and drops the audience into a middle of a seance that is just ending and then skips over to another seance later.  It's a little jarring because there is no introduction of characters or explanation of what is going on comes until a few minutes in.  However, once Freda finally establishes in the main characters then its smooth sailing from there.  It's just a strange way to open a film.
  Also, the pacing is a little different, a bit slower and the third act seems to focuses a more on the mystery aspect of who took the money, rather than there is a crazy ghost after me.  Which is a little weird, but can be forgiven when it all ties together at the end.


  Even with that said, this is a very cool hidden gem and I'm so glad I came across it.  There is a wonderful love triangle that leads to murder and the new relationship becomes more and more fragile as the film continues on, there are some wonderful giallo mystery moments and bloodshed that shouldn't be missed.  Also, a delightful conclusion that gives all the characters the justice they deserve. So, if you're looking for an Italian Gothic ghost flick that will have you trying to figure out whodunnit, then all the clues lead to you throwing this in your disc player!


Sunday, 5 April 2015

April Apparitions: The Uninvited (1944)

The Uninvited (1944)
Director: Lewis Allen
Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, and Donald Crisp
Running Time: 99 min

  I don't know why it's taken me so long to see this movie again.  This along with Robert Wise's "The Haunting" and Jack Clayton's "The Innocents", in my mind, are probably the best choices when it comes to watching classic American ghost films.  However, it has been a while and maybe my tastes have changed or Criterion has added an extra scene with Ray Milland dressed as a chicken at the end that wasn't in the original cut.  If only all movies ended with a man in a chicken suit.  I digress,  but I am looking forward to visiting the Fitzgeralds and Windward House again.

  Brother and sister, Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald and their dog, Bobby are enjoying a seaside stroll, when Bobby's attention is caught by a squirrel, which he chases it into an abandoned mansion.  Roderick and Pamela chase after their dog into the house and finally catch the poor pup barking at fireplace.  They collect their crazy dog and start wandering around and admiring the old house.  Pamela immediately falls in love with the place and suggests to Roderick that they find the owner and try to buy it.  Roderick, who is much more level headed, holds out for a few seconds before he finally caves in because he too loves the house.
  Soooo they find the owner of the house, Commander Beech, and they head over to do some impulsive house buying.  They are met at the door by a young woman in her 20's, Stella, who happens to be the Commander's granddaughter and she invites them in to wait for her grandfather in the study.  However, when she discover that they wish to buy Windward House, the seaside abandoned mansion, she lies and says that is not for sale and that her grandfather won't be back...hmm...ever.  Unfortunately, the Commander arrives just as she starts escorting the Fitzgeralds out of the study and he lets them know that the house IS for sale and he is willing to get rid of it at a fraction of what's it worth.  This throws up a red flag for the business savvy, yet impulsive Roderick and he asks why the house is so cheap.  Beech explains that their were some unusual and unexplainable disturbances with the house the last him he rented it out and that he doesn't want his granddaughter Stella anywhere near that place because that is where her mother died.  This seems reasonable with the Fitzgeralds and they buy the house, where someone died and now has unexplainable and unusual disturbances. Well done Fitzgeralds, well done.
  After the purchase, they return to the house and open the only room that was locked up tight.  Pamela laughs and says that she knew there had to be an ugly room in the house and Roderick claims it as his work space.  He has a thing for ugly rooms. However, the longer the two spend in the room the more, the gloomier and melancholy the two unknowingly become.  So Pamela agrees to leave the ugly room to her brother and his composing and they leave the room to set up moving arrangements and when they do, the melancholy lifts and things are good again.
  Before leaving for a three week job in the city, Roderick runs into Stella in town and the two of them spend the day together.  Although, Roderick knows that Stellas' grandfather doesn't want her in Windward House, he invites her over anytime to visit because he wants to spend more time with her.  After a fun day of sailing, he wishes her well and heads off to work for the next three weeks.
  When he returns, he is greeted by Pamela and learns that Bobby has run off.  That's okay because he's just a dog and Roderick has returned with his house maid and her cat.  The cat, Whiskey, doesn't like the upstairs of the house and not only does he hiss at it but refuses to go up.   The Fitzgeralds don't seem to care about the silly cat and decide to go to bed early.  Then just before dawn, Roderick is awoken by the sounds of crying.  He goes to see if Pamela is alright but discovers her at the top of the stairs at the bannister staring in the darkness below.  She tells him that this happens almost every night and that she thinks there might be a ghost in their house.  Roderick thinks that this is
preposterous idea and tells Pamela that there must be a rational explanation.   Unfortunately, over the next few days he learns that there isn't a rational explanation and on top of that he learns about the sordid affairs of Stellas' parents, a mistress named Carmen and the suicide that killed them both Carmen and Stellas' mother.  With no Ghostbusters available to call for another 40 years, can the Fitzgeralds find a way to stop these nightly haunting or are they trapped with a wailing specter for the rest of their days to come?


  This is still such an amazing movie to watch after all these years.  For director Lewis Allen (Suddenly, Unseen), this was his first full length feature and it's one of his best.  What I love about it, is that Allen focuses more on the atmosphere and tone of the film and doesn't mess around with too many jump scares.  He adds little touches like, fresh flowers wilting immediately when they come into the house or pages of a book flipping by itself to help search for the right clue.  These tiny hints of spirit activity go a long way and give the film a wonderful charm. 
  Also, Allen does unleash some ghostly specters into the film and considering the time and technology back then, these are pretty awesome looking ghosts.  Although used sparsely throughout the film, these ghostly images were added by Paramount to enhance the "supernatural presence" which they did.  Sadly, they were removed by censors when it was distributed in England.  See, this was one of the first films to portray an "actual" haunting and the ghosts weren't being used as comic relief, like in "Topper" or used as a way to hide illegal activity like in the "Cat and the Canary".  So censors had to be careful and make sure that this movie didn't scare people too badly.
  However this film isn't just scary but has some good humour in it as well.  Ray Milland (Dial M For Murder, The Thing With Two Heads), who plays Roderick, is really charming and funny in this.  Throughout the film and while Allen is continually building tension,  Milland's character eases you out in and out of moments of high tension with a witty remark or joke.  Perhaps the praise also should go to the writers as well, Dodie Smith and Frank Partos but without the talent and timing of Milland then these tension releasers could have failed easily or missed there mark.  Also, I love the end and when Milland faces off with the ghost.  It's kind of nonsensical but considering the time and his character it makes sense.  



  Overall, there isn't any real technical issues with the film but what people, nowadays, may expect for a horror film could be an issue.  Although this film is very spooky, it is not filled with violence and again there isn't a bunch of jump scares around every coner.  There are a couple of deaths but nothing terribly gruesome.  Again, this is an atmosphere driven film and like director Val Lewton films, Lewis uses mostly subtle and intriguing imagery to scare his audience.


  This is a fantastic film and still one of my overall favourite ghost movies.  It has an compelling story, carried by a brilliant cast and a gripping score by Victor Young.  So, if you're looking for an amazing classic ghost tale that will give you goosebumps and shivers down your spine, then throw this in your later and listen for the wailing sounds of the dead. 

 

Friday, 3 April 2015

April Apparitions: The Eye (aka Gin Gwai) (2002)

The Eye (aka Gin Gwai) (2002)
Director: Oxide Pang Chun, and Danny Pang
Starring: Angelica Lee, Chutcha Rujinanon, and Lawrence Chou
Running Time: 94 min

  I've been meaning to see this for a while and have heard a lot of great things about this over the years.  Not only has it spawned two sequels, "The Eye 2" and the "Eye 10" but it has been remade internationally in three countries, including the 2008 Jessica Alba film of the same name and one made in India called Naina, which would be really interesting to see.  Also, this is a Pang brothers film, which I'm embarrassed to say I've only seen 2 other films by them, "Bangkok Dangerous", which I really enjoyed and the remake with Nick Cage, which is a remake with Nick Cage.  So, I'm looking forward to catching up on their film collection with one of their most touted films, "The Eye".

  Mun is a young blind violinist, who is having an operation to replace her cornea, so she will finally be able to see again.  At the hospital before the operation, she makes a new friend, Yingying, a little girl who has had countless operations to have the tumors in her head removed.  Yingying promises to take Mun outside to see the world once her operation is successful and Mun agrees.  After the operation, Dr. Lo takes of the bandages and although blurry, the operation is a success!  She can just see shapes and Dr. Lo suggests that she stay in the hospital for a little while, so she can get used to her eyes.
  Now that she can kind of see, her and Yingying take some pictures of themselves and everything is awesome!  Until.... one night, Mun wakes up to see a shadowy figure escorting an elderly patient from the room.  Mun follows them but the two figures disappear.  The next morning, Mun finds out the the elderly patient passed away that night, which is kind of weird and creepy because she just saw with her own two new eyes her leave with that dark and shadowy figure.  Anyway no time to worry about dead old ladies, Mun's sister has come to pick her up at the hospital.  Even though the Dr. Lo would prefer her to stay and recuperate, but Mun's sister is leaving the area for work and she needs her recovering sister to watch their aging grandmother.  On the way back home, they swing by Mun's mandated psychologist, Dr. Lo, yes they are related, for her first appointment.  This Dr. Lo tells her that many patients who have gone through similar surgeries sometimes have a hard time adjusting psychologically and he will help her with that.  Mun doesn't mind, because this Dr. Lo is young and handsome and she thinks that he likes her too. Awwww...
  Back at home, Mun starts seeing some weird things and people, like a boy who keeps asking about his report card, a man in the elevator with a bashed head and a woman at an outdoor restaurant trying to lick the food cart window with an unusually large tongue.  She soon finds out that these are ghosts, after a husky ghost child runs through her after he is hit by a car.  Confused and scared, she asks the young Dr. Lo if this is normal and he suggests that she sees a psychiatrist but he still wants to help her.  However, everything come to a head, when she goes to the hospital to visit Yingying but sadly is just in time to say goodbye and see her spirit being taken by the shadowy figure.  At the funeral, she is given a picture that her and Yingying took together but is confused to see the girl  who is beside Yingying.  Dr. Lo laughs and tells her that it's her.  Then he asks if she doesn't know what she looks like?  Apparently not because when she looks in the mirror it's a totally different person!  Now Mun, with the help of Dr. Lo must find out whose corneas these belonged to, find out what happened to them and why she is seeing ghosts all the time!


  I really dug this, the film had a good flow to it and thrilling ending to it.  This is a really low key ghost movie and has a bit of a slow burn feel to it.  I like how the Pang brothers don't waste very much time getting to the ghost portion of the film and slowly unravel the mystery concerning her eyes.  However, for every question that gets answered, more and more questions pop up and you're not really sure where the story is going to end up. 
  Also, The ghosts look awesome and can be very creepy at times.  I love when the Mun character is standing alone in the elevator and she knows the ghost hovering behind her, getting closer and closer but she is too scared to turn around. It sent shivers down my spine.
  Again, the ending of the film is awesome and it ties the story together really well.  The Pang brothers build and build the tension and then it finally just explodes on screen, laying all your fears to waste.  The carnage afterwards looks incredible visually and devastating emotionally and it's not a scene that will be soon forgotten.


  Although there are some very creepy ghosts in this, not all of the ghosts are terrifying, which can be seen as good or bad.  Most of the specters in this are searching for things and cannot escape for one reason or another a way from this plain of existence and although it gives off a tremendous creepy vibe at times, I wouldn't say that it is scary, per se or like interesting.  Even the tie up before, the big ending is more dramatic than it is horrifying but it is still enjoyable to watch.  It's a weird balance that some viewers may not expecting or wanting in their horror movie. This isn't a hack and slash kind of ghost flick.
  Also, like I mention before the pacing is a bit slow and it seems dip into areas that that either don't push the ghost factor of the film or tie up in the end.  Like, they touch on Muna's musical career and how it changed since she is no longer blind, which is interesting but doesn't seem as pertinent to the overall ghost story.  In spite of that,  it does round the character and shows that even when you get what you want, you may have to lose other things.  As well as, the odd relationship with Muna's family or how she became blind seems to be brushed over as well.  However, this is the 94 minute DVD version, and after watching this I found out there is a 99 minute version and a 110 minute version of the film which have been released.  Maybe in those versions of the film, these loose ends may get tied up better. 


 With that said,  those are just minor flaws to a really cool ghost story.  The film has a lot of heart to it, which is rare in the horror genre and although the story takes its time, allowing the suspense to build and meandering a bit, it does have an fantastic climax at the end.  So, if you are looking for to ghost story that will raise the hair on the back of yer neck, then set your peepers on this one and let the shivers descend.