Friday, June 29, 2012

Troll Hunter (2011) - Don't Feed the Trolls

The best way I can think of seperating Troll Hunter's found-footage aspect from all the others is imagine if the kids from The Blair Witch Project, the party goers from Cloverfield or the crew from The Last Exorcism had an expert with them. Someone to tell them what was going on, how to handle the situation, give them tools to protect themselves etc etc. Well, you'd get a lot more plot out of the whole endeavour, wouldn't you? Now, this probably wouldn't have worked for aforementioned films because, truth be told, they don't have a whole bunch of plot. When they work, they work on a visceral level. Troll Hunter works because it delves into Norwegian folklore and landscape with energy and humour.

I think with Troll Hunter, 2010's Rare Exports along with Let The Right One In have carved out the Scandinavian horror/fantasy niche quiet well. The films' landscapes are a character unto themselves and add so much to these films that a remake could never fully capture. Troll Hunter begins with film students setting off to discover what is behind a rash of odd bear related killings only to find Otto who is not a poacher but a legit Troll Hunter. This happens within the first 20 minutes of the film and for the next hour and a half we're treated to a bonafide rollicking adventure. The film crew picks up with Otto as the troll population is acting up and it's up to Otto to figure it out and restore order. Otto agrees to all of this and is forthcoming with all his information because he is tired of living in secrecy and wants the truth to come out. Because of this we're treated to several different varieties of trolls as well as the government's involvement and how they cover it up. As the film is able to travel several different locations over the course of several days in the film, we're able to see the way the trolls are unknowingly dealt with which provides some of the strongest comedic moments and also helps to create a full world.

The effects of the trolls are CGI and while they effects are not the best I've ever seen they're certainly world away from the worst (*cough* Survival of the Dead *cough*) but it gets a bit hairy when the films falls into long sustained shots of the trolls. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I'm a big fan of less is more. The flashes of the trolls are incredibly impressive and the actors interaction with them is spot on. On a three million dollar budget that nothing that's nothing short of mind-boggling impressive and I would love to see more of that artistry in bigger budget films.

The design of the trolls is why I would say this film veers into fantasy rather than sci-fi or horror. It's definitely reminiscent of fairy tales and folklore etchings which is actually quite refreshing. Troll Hunter manages to be both genuinely funny and hair-raisingly tense. The best way to describe it is as a dark-b-movie-fantasy-comedy which lives up to every promise a genre fan could hope for.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Visual Ode to the Horror Sweater

What have we learned? When staring down evil, it's best to dress in layers.


Friday, June 22, 2012

I Know What You Should Watch This Summer

Are you in the middle of a heat wave? My city is hot and I'm at the point where I would like to cause myself physical pain rather than continue to feel hot. And what is art if not a vessel for feeling? That was rhetorical. Art helps you feel things. Duh. Here are five horror movies to help you beat the heat.

Friday the 13th (1980)

Is there anything better than running around all day (or night) pursued by an unstable murderer and start the next day with a jump in a lake? That was again a rhetorical question. There's nothing better than a dip in a nice cool lake. Even if you are being dragged down by an undead mongoloid child.

Near Dark (1987)

Kathryn Bigelow's directorial debut combines vampires and dry southern heat. Near Dark makes the heat an additional member of the vampire gang and you can almost palpably feel their skin burn the second they get out into daylight. Catharsis is a beautiful thing my friends.

The Thing (1982)

I know part of the brilliance of The Thing is the dichotomy that they can't stay inside because there's an alien waiting to infect them and they can't go outside because they'll freeze to death but I would give anything for some snowy tundras in my apartment. And a flamethrower.

Psycho (1960)

There's nothing colder than Mother's corpse. It's like an icebox of emotional manipulation.

Turistas (2006)

I haven't spoken about this film before but it's not half bad. It's a good reminder that small South American countries probably have less pollution and are therefore less hot. And that's real message of Turistas, pollution is the killer, not anonymous doctors harvesting your organs. I'm calling Captain Planet.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pumpkinhead (1988) He Knows If You've Been Bad or Good...

Oh hells to the yes, Pumpkinhead. I'd seen this bad boy when I went through my initial must-devour-everything-horror-binge circa 1996-1997 but in the rush of Jasons, Wishmasters and Laurie Strodes... poor ol' Pumpkinhead got lost in the shuffle. And now I know, no one puts Pumpkinhead in a corner ... because he'll shank you.

In a rural, not-quite-populated-enough-to-call-it-a-town ... um... area in the States lives Ed Harley (Lance fuckin' Henriksen) and his young son. They don't have much but what they do have is love. And for once I mean that in the best possible sense. Harley is a salt of the earth man who adores his little boy and the son adores him right back. The early scenes are wonderful and a real testament to Henriksen's acting. Harley is a believable, grounded man, normal even. It's rare and wonderful when an actor can portray "normal" interestingly. His son is adorable without being punchable.

Harley and his son are content living their simple life with their main source of livelihood being the grocery store they run until one day when a bunch of jerk city kids come through on their way to a cabin. Hot headed lead jerk decides he doesn't want to wait to go dirt biking. He's wants it now! NOOOOOOOOOOOW! Short story short, jerk hits adorable son with motor bike thing, son dies. Harley goes in search of Haggis, one old creepy-ass swamp witch seeking revenge. She in turn summons Pumpkinhead the demon of revenge and namesake of the rhyme:
Keep away from Pumpkinhead,
Unless you're tired of living,
His enemies are mostly dead,
He's mean and unforgiving,
Bolted doors and windows barred,
Guard dogs prowling in the yard,
Won't protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead.

Pumpkinhead starts with the killin' arriving at the city kids' cabin and laying waste. There is only one problem (once you get past a murdering vengeance demon) Harley is seeing all this happen.  Pumkinhead takes a nifty turn by forcing Harley to watch and in some senses participate in the brutal destruction. This escalates to a truly heartbreaking finale. Pumpkinhead manages to achieve an emotional core much deeper than most Ron Howard movies by keeping it simple and continually raising the stakes. The kills are imaginative and gross but nothing particularly special. I became so emotionally invested in Harley that I often wanted to skip ahead to get back to his story rather than focusing on the cut and kill Pumpkinhead.

Since this film was directed by effects maestro Stan Winston I was impressed by the design of Pumpkinhead as was Winston I assume which led to the monster being shown off way too much. In the lengthy scenes with Pumkinhead it became more of a figurine commercial than horror film. Also, it looked stupid when it ran. But holy heck, you should see it. While it's not perfect it's a darn sight better than most and more daring that its contemporaries.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Halloween: H2 ... Oh...

The Halloween franchise has a nasty habit of kicking itself in the teeth. From Halloween 3: Season of the Witch which made no mention of Michael Myers using the "Halloween" name to cash in on the franchise to the recent removal of executive producer Moustapha Akkad's name being removed from the Halloween 2 Blu Ray. (because of his rumoured ties to Libya's leader Mommar Gaddafi) So should it be any surprise that Halloween H20 is what it is? In fact it's a small miracle that it's not worse.

Halloween H20 takes place 20 years after "the night HE came home". "He" being Michael Myers and "came home" meaning murdered a whack of fertile teens. 20 years on he still after Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) aka The One That Got Away. Laurie Strode's faked her death, changed her name and cut off her hair. She's trying to lead a normal life through prescription medication as the principal of a private school. She's got her son (Josh Harnett in his first film) a boyfriend and a lot of demons. When a school trip leaves a nearly deserted school Michael Myers strikes attacking Laurie, her son and his son's friends who are too cool to go on the school trip. Oh, and LL Cool J is trying to write a romance novel.

This was marketed as the final Halloween film and it ignored parts 4-6. Say what you will about 4,5 and 6 but at least they were bat-shit crazy, Halloween H20 is dull at best. It truly is a watered down, corporatized, Hollywood-ized reboot which followed in the wake of Scream. H20 even boasts treatment work by one Kevin Williamson. The goal of H20 was to assemble the original team which meant Curtis and director/writer John Carpenter. Producer Akkad balked at Carpenters' directing fee of $10 million and was replaced by Friday the 13th series  producer/director Steve Miner. Part of Halloween's endurance in popular culture is the sense of dread that Carpenter created with a masked man called the Shape. The summer camp counterpart was far more slice and dice rather than dream haunting imagery and attacks on the American dream. H20 becomes a turgid mess by winking so hard at the audience that the in-jokes become nonsensical.

Lest We Forget: The CGI Mask
 Jamie Lee is working hard in this film. She works in imbue Laurie with strength and resilience but it all seems for naught. Once Laurie and Michael come face to face, it's a pretty wimpy. There's a boring repetitive patterns in which Laurie and Michael lock horns, break free and run after each other. There's also 4 deaths. 4! Only one is truly disturbing and it involves a leg, or lack thereof. But surely a horror movie icon can do better than that. He's meant to strike fear into the hearts of the next generation of movie goers but all he served to do was keep me awake for 80 minutes. Mainly because the movie was so unnecessarily loud.  

Despite H20's many, MANY short comings it's world better than Halloween Resurrection, which I think every horror fan has collectively willed out of existence. Halloween H20 falls prey to its own need to generate business. It was a hastily put together and falls apart just as easily.