Monday, October 17, 2016

Why Horror? (Or: What the Hell is Wrong With You?)

I get asked a lot why I'm fascinated with horror fiction. Oftentimes there's that underlying question: 'what made you so psychologically disturbed that you enjoy seeing people be stalked and killed by monsters?'

Well, here's what I know: I was born in 1973, I was part of the first generation of kids that had "Star Wars" toys, the Super Friends were on TV, so was Spider-Man. I loved all that stuff as much as any kid. When I played with those toys, though, the bad guys always won. Why? They were way cooler than the heroes. I mean - Darth Vader was the baddest ass in the galaxy and Luke Skywalker was this boring, whiny kid. There was no contest. It kept going - The Decepticons always beat the Autobots in my world, the poor GI Joe teams never stood a chance against the forces of Cobra. I was a much bigger fan of Electro than I was of Spider-Man. Even when I started watching pro wrestling, I never cheered for the vanilla babyface good guys, not when The Road Warriors and The Masked Superstar were running around actually being awesome by wreaking havoc and gloating about it.
And then there were the monsters. Glorious, gross, hideous creatures that prowled the night or the forest or outer space that took whatever they wanted from a world that was terrified of them. Is there ANY monster movie where I didn't cheer for the monster? I can't think of one.
Now, I wasn't an evil kid. I was a smart ass, maybe a little too imaginitive for my own good, but I wasn't harboring some deep suited hatred against mankind, I was just rebellious and liked stuff with a little more edge to it, even when I was six or seven years old. Charisma was a powerful thing. The good guy saving the day only had limited appeal for me. Especially when that good guy was a milque toast bore like The Lone Ranger who's motto was essentially "I shoot bad guys in the hand and then lecture kids on how to be good neighbors." It's no wonder I cheered for the guys in black hats to put a ball of lead between his eyes.
Good horror stories aren't about a hero saving the day. They're about a character SURVIVING. Man, that's the stuff. They come out WORSE for it. Does anyone think Laurie Strode was anything but traumatized by the events in "Halloween?" Poor Sally Hardesty probably ended up in a therapists chair for years after the events of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." But as protagonists these characters stand up and conquer their fears. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. They aren't trained for this. They end up in the wrong place and have to decide if they want to live or if they want to die. Is it really that dramatic that all-powerful Superman shows up to give Lex Luthor the business? Superman has no character. He has no arc. He shows up in every story perfectly suited to win, and that's what he does. Ho hum. A punch in the head FOR JUSTICE.
I quickly lost interest in safe little child-proof stories and gravitated toward these dark (and highly inappropriate) stories aimed at adults. I wanted to be pushed and pulled through a story. Horror stories assault the audience. Wes Craven has said once an audience doesn't trust the storyteller that's when real horror happens. YES. As a creative kid, that's what I wanted to see. That's what I wanted to DO.
I wasn't numb to the effects of these movies and stories. It's not like I kept watching scary stuff and grew a thick skin and became immune to their effects. Oh, HELL NO. I was afraid of the dark most of my childhood. I never wanted to be left alone at night. After sneaking a peak of mom and dad watching 'Salem's Lot' once the lights went out I didn't dare look near my bedroom window, I was convinced there was going to be a vampire kid floating out there, waiting to take me to the dark side. But there was a thrill to all of that, even if it made for some long nights in grade school. Everything was ok during the day but once the darkness fell ... well, I wasn't one that wanted to be outside in the woods, that's for sure. I knew what was out there.
Now, I've spent a lot of my life reading super hero stories, don't get me wrong. I'm not trashing them. I'm just saying not every kid is so enraptured by that kind of story. Even in the golden age - lots of kids were sneaking peaks at EC Comics, which were chock full of blood and guts, when mom and dad weren't looking. Lots of kids picked up pro wrestling magazines based on which one had the bloodiest, craziest looking cover on the newsstand, not because they really wanted to know if Brad Armstrong vanquished The Spoiler. There's more to childhood than white knights and men in black hats.
I will say, after about 10,000 failed attempts, I don't have many upbeat super hero stories to tell. It's not my thing. But I have lots of scary stories to tell. It's in my genes at this point. Why? Because an otherwise unexpecting character facing and surviving that thing that goes bump in the night is really compelling to me.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Rob Zombie's 31

Rob Zombie’s previous movie “The Lords of Salem” was a definite step in a different direction for the director. It replaced his usual manic and aggressive violence with a sort of slow burn melancholy. When that movie got both a commercial and critical thumbs down, Zombie appears to have decided to get back to his roots with the ultra-violent “31,” a movie that’s no more complicated than the one sentence description of its plot.
What’s that plot, you ask? “Five people are kidnapped on Halloween and have to survive a twelve hour Murderworld where they’re chased around by maniacal clowns.” That’s it. That’s everything that goes on in “31.” It takes place in 1976 which seems to only be necessary to justify Zombie’s usual exploitation aesthetic. That it takes place on Halloween is completely meaningless, to the point that I’m confident it’s never mentioned once, except in interviews with the director.
The Murderworld of “31” is run by a trio of fops in opera wigs and garish costumes. Malcolm McDowell seems to be the leader and Judy Geeson and Jane Carr are his partners in crime. The fops wager on who they think might survive, often changing the survival odds and announcing them over the PA system to the competitors. Injured competitors find their odds of survival decreased, naturally.
The killers they employ are crazed clowns with their own batch of fetishes and weapons. When the first bad guy you see is a Mexican Nazi Midget, you know you’re in for a special sort of adventure. The killers operate like video game bosses, the longer the heroes survive, the more hardcore the clowns get.
Can I speak freely about how tired I am of Joker/Harley Quinn imagery? We get more of it here. The biggest bad has slick hair and a bloody smile, moving methodically with a seemingly calm drive, blathering on pretentiously about life and death. Before we meet him we encounter a bubbly blonde with a bloodlust and a baby’s voice. It’s completely played out in the DCU, it doesn’t do itself any favors here. Why a person as visually creative as Zombie is aping such a cliched image is a question for the ages.
The five survivors are given no time to develop, not that it would matter if they did. Sheri Moon Zombie is at the center of it, for no other reason than we know she’s Zombie’s wife and is going to be protected. Jeff Daniel Phillips, her co-star in “Lords of Salem” is back too, as is Meg Foster. They each fight to survive in the same basic way - normally a story like this thrives on the character dynamics, who’s strong, who’s weak, who rises up, who collapses under the weight of it all. We don’t get any of that here. They just take shots at whatever comes their way. Not even the ticking time limit of the game adds suspense as the twelve hours elapse with no real escalation in tension.
Zombie’s direction this time is endlessly aggressive. I’m not one that usually notices shaky cameras but there’s so much of it here, along with strobe lights, that most of the fight scenes are impossible to follow. At his best Zombie has made scenes of intense violence that he forces the audience to stare at, even when they don’t want to. Here you can’t stay focused if you try, lest you have a seizure.

Rob Zombie isn’t trying to convert anyone to his style of movie, and that’s fine. I imagine hard core Zombie gore fiends will love this one. Not that anyone is expecting him to be making some sort of subtle masterpiece, but is it too much to ask for a movie to at least have the depth of “House of 1000 Corpses?”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Scream Season 2 FINALE

Well, I’m not going to tell you who the killer is. You’ll have to watch. Or ask privately.
I will spoil the most important part of the story: Brooke lived.
I’ll say this: the reveal worked as mystery reveals should, what seemed convoluted and complicated and unpredictable ended up making sense and being fairly simple and straight-forward. There were some twists, most of which worked and made sense. Yes, there are still things that could have been solved earlier if people just would have told each other what they knew and what was going on but, hey, that’s showbiz.
Was every plot thread cleaned up neatly? Not really. Some questions didn’t really get answered. It happens. Still, the finale pulled the focus back on the main characters and the central storyline.
The focus was on Emma and Audrey, where it all began. Noah and Brooke were there at their friends’ sides but were a bit on the sidelines. That was a touch of a disappointment. After so much they’d been through because of all the other nonsense, it would have been nice to see them get their hands a little dirtier. After all, this sick game cost Noah two girls he may have loved, and cost Brooke a boyfriend and a father. They had cause to draw some blood of their own, I’d say.
If I have a criticism of Season 2 is that it didn’t give the characters the depth of circumstance they had in Season 1. One thing that made the first season work so well was that the murderer on the loose revealed a lot of dark secrets hidden in the main characters. This season had a lot less of that, it was a lot of clean up from season one’s mess. It wasn’t quite as dynamic or dark.
Still, Season 2 of “Scream” was a lot of fun. And they left just enough dangling out there that should there be a third season there’s still more story to tell.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Scream Season 2 Episode 10

As we get near to the end of this season of “Scream,” it seems everyone decided to circle the wagons this week. The killer is being about as subtle as death metal as he points his focus directly at Audrey and Emma and anyone they care about.
At the same time, the sheriff and Emma’s mom are getting closer and closer to the conclusion that Brandon James may still be alive after all these years. It’s getting so serious that they’re even using flashbacks to show more of the lost history of Brandon James, Maggie and Sheriff Acosta. You know it’s serious when flashbacks are involved!
The real focus this episode though is on Noah in peril. Using Zoe’s phone, the killer lures Noah back to the beach and stabs him, then buries him alive, setting up a couple clues for Emma and Audrey to come find Noah, maybe in time, maybe not.
Sure, the killer could just kill Noah, but that’s not his point. The “Scream” stories are always about making the protagonists suffer, by making them fail to save the ones they love. Finding Noah dead would be traumatic, sure, but failing to save him would be even worse.
Emma and Audrey are hardly a united front. Emma still can’t forgive Audrey for bringing Piper to Lakewood, no matter how much Audrey professes ignorance of what Piper was doing.
There’s a big reveal though: over the course of their arguing, Audrey drops that she and Piper were together the night Audrey’s girlfriend from the previous season died. So if Piper didn’t kill her and Audrey didn’t kill her ... who killed her?
Audrey and Emma continued their personal squabbles while looking for Noah. If the goal was to tear them apart, it didn’t really work. The girls found Noah in the nick of time (of course) but then it was revealed that Zoe was trapped in a similar scenario.
While they were in time to save Noah, they weren’t in time to save Noah. While the killer live fed Noah’s struggles to the girls, the videos of Zoe’s struggles were on tape delay, she was gone before they found her at the lake. Brutal.
The killer also took a swing for the fences by calling Sheriff Acosta directly and sending him to the farmhouse where he’d left a mess of dead pigs and human body parts, notably Branson’s missing hand.
At the end, Emma ended up back at home where creepy Eli emerged from the darkness and watched her house. What was he up to? I guess we’ll find out next week.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Scream Season 2 Episode 9

The big news this week is that Emma knows what Audrey told Noah, thanks to a mysterious email that seems to have been sent by Zoe, even though Zoe’s denies it and Noah, somewhat controversially backs her.
Emma is naturally pissed at Audrey and that makes Kieran and, to a lesser degree, equally pissed at Audrey. I mean, it’s valid. Audrey confessing to bringing Piper to Lakewood is kind of a big deal.
Really, a lot of this episode has to do with Piper. A visit to Ms. Lang in the hospital by Emma goes badly as Ms. Lang reacts like she’s seeing a monster. Still, Kieran snags the keys to Ms. Lang’s place before he goes. Before that, though, one of Ms. Lang’s cassettes is found dangling in Emma’s locker, which makes the teacher’s obsession with Emma a little clearer and also makes it clear she sees Emma as some kind of raging monster.
Of note, though, the message on Emma’s locker was written in lipstick, which is only interesting because right before that scene we were shown Stavo snagging a tube of lipstick from Brooke’s bedroom.
(I’m not really sure why I’m going through this episode backwards, it just seems to make more sense.)
Stavo continues to look creepier, not just for stealing Brooke’s lipstick but his dad finally told Emma’s mom what happened in Phoenix - that Stavo and a friend were playing with a gun, a gun that went off and shot Stavo’s friend in the face. Stavo, though, was cold as ice about it and sat and drew his friend dying. Stavo’s looking a bit more like a sociopath, but, along the way, he finds out that The Mayor was paying Jake to burn down his development that was losing money.
Brooke instantly confronted her dad who didn’t have much to say in his own defense.
A couple loose ends - we didn’t see Eli this episode and we haven’t seen his mother in weeks. If she’s still doing dirty business for the mayor, she could have set the fire in the development, but we still don’t know the tie between that and the bodies upstairs.
Meanwhile, Noah tries to prove to Audrey and Zoe that Zoe didn’t send Emma the email with Audrey’s confession attached. But Zoe definitely sent the email to herself and the fake email it was sent from was also registered to Zoe. Noah stood up for her anyway and then, finally, Zoe and Noah totally knocked boots. And we got a ‘Phantasm 2’ reference thrown in to boot.
Kieran and Emma found a picture of Piper and Ms. Lang together at an old foster home and decided to investigate, only to find that someone had decided to throw a rave there - and all the invites were from Emma and Audrey, even though they didn’t have anything to do it.
Creepy Haley reared her head again, this time knowing who actually threw the party saying it was ‘someone she’s seeing.’ Said someone then killed her in rather gruesome fashion.

We have three episodes left and there’s still a lot of mystery to solve, which is good. Stavo being a sociopath really doesn’t help his cause but there’s still a ways to go.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lights Out

“Lights Out” started as a two minute short film that got a lot of buzz going around the horror circuit a couple years ago. Making a full length feature out of something completely devoid of actual story, though, is another matter completely. Luckily the creators of the full length “Lights Out” have kept the pure thrill of that initial short but then, smartly, made it part of a story that’s heavy enough on its own, even before the boogeyman starts appearing in the shadows.
Similar to recent movies like “Oculus” and “Mama,” “Lights Out” puts into a protagonist’s life that’s already filled with drama. Here we have a young boy stuck in his house with an increasingly crazy mother. His father was killed and his big sister got out as soon as she was old enough. Because of the scary thing in the house, he can’t sleep, which is causing him problems at school. Problems his mother doesn’t seem especially equipped to help him address.
When mother fails to pick him up from school, the duty falls to the boy’s twenty-something sister, Rebecca, played by “Warm Bodies” alumnus Teresa Palmer as a sharp-edged rocker chick who won’t let her boyfriend too close, even though he’s obviously madly in love with her. She’s also in no position to take over parental duties from her mother but, as things escalate, she’s faced with some hard choices.
The mother here is played by Maria Bello, always a strong presence, here a broken mix of anxiety, depression and terror. As we learn more and more about the creature in the darkness, we start to see her character unspool, learning this far more than a simple house haunting and the sadness that defines their family is far from an accident.
At the center of “Lights Out” is a monster that can only survive in the darkness. It avoids any and all light and as long as you can keep yourself surrounded by light, you’re ok. This leads to an assortment of scenes where lights flicker and the monster appears, only to vanish when the lights stay on, or, in some cases, to be able to make a move when the darkness stays.
As slight as “Lights Out” sometimes is (and even at 81 minutes it still feels padded toward the end,) it’s still working off a foundation of something serious. These are hard characters who have lived a hard life, they’ve hurt one another and been hurt. Palmer’s Rebecca is independent and defiant but knowingly lost. Her decision to take care of her baby brother is not she’s prepared for, but still one she takes, knowing that doing so would put her back near the danger she had fled from so many years ago.
Bello, too, is playing to a serious mental trauma in her character. She’s both manipulated and terrified, a victim from so many directions. She’s lost two men and her daughter to this curse and knows she’ll lose her son. In one scene she attempts to save him by having him embraced by the darkness. She’s the one that gets the most hurt. It’s the tragedy of her situation that fuels the movie’s frantic finale.
Fear of the dark is the basic staple of horror movies. “Lights Out” takes that basic idea and drills into a family dynamic, blurring the line between the horrors of real life and the horrors of the supernatural. It may not be able to completely support its own weight but, even when it falls short, there’s still enough going on in the shadows to make you shiver.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Scream Season 2 Episode 8

This week’s episode of “Scream” took us to the annual Lakewood Carnvial, where people eat dangerously unhealthy food and ride even more dangerous portable rides but the real danger is, of course, the killer that’s on the loose and targeting Emma directly while still screwing with Audrey along the way.
Last week left us with Ms. Lang lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of a high school stairwell, while we didn’t learn the specifics of her fate this week, the Sheriff did find her box of interview tapes with the Lakewood 6 and then hid a tape she made with his creepy son Stavo. (Seriously, though? TAPES? Does she not have a digital recorder?)
Brooke and Zoe were mostly relegated to pageant prep, with Zoe being nervous about an awful Belle-inspired dress and speaking in public. Brooke saved the day with a better dress and then promptly eased her tension by getting really drunk off a flask Zoe brought, then letting the entire town have it in her pageant speech.
Zoe totally blueballed Noah again, for the record. Poor guy can’t catch a break.
Emma, meanwhile, did Emma stuff - this time with Audrey in tow, as Audrey really wanted to tell Emma the truth about bringing Piper to Lakewood the season previous (although we still don’t know if that’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth.)
Creepy Stavo and Eli didn’t help their causes too much. Stavo’s dad, the sheriff, couldn’t find the mask that Stavo has, but Stavo told him if he thinks he’s the killer to prove it. Still, dad did find a drawing of Branson tied to the bedpost. The problem there being I don’t think he has any way of knowing that happened, which leads us to believe it was his video camera in the room that night. He’s still in Brooke’s good faith, hopefully that won’t bite her in the ass.
Eli, meanwhile, was revealed to have a restraining order against him from some girl in Atlanta and when he pushed Kieran’s buttons too much, got a right hook or three for his troubles. For his own troubles, Kieran ended up captured in the funhouse by the killer. Of course he was just bait for Emma to go looking for him but, of course also, she got away and Kieran got saved.
Another episode that sort of ran in place - the dangers of long-form murder mysteries is that it’s tough to have huge reveals every week. But next week Audrey should finally tell Emma everything she needs to know and we can assume the killer(s) will make another move.
Seriously, though, things don’t look good for Stavo or Eli. One of them will probably be a red herring. I’m not sure which one, though.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Scream Season 2 Episode 7

“Scream” last week left us last week with one character short one hand, the mayor making a mysterious allegiance with Kieran’s aunt and Audrey telling Noah a version of the truth about her involvement in the previous season’s festivities.
This week’s episode is another seemingly major turn in the events. Lots of people are paired off, Noah and Zoe go on a real date, Emma and Eli sneak off together, the sheriff and Emma’s mom are off being cryptic together, and Audrey tries to help Brooke clean up the mess she made with Branson (even though they have no idea what actually happened to him.)
We’ll start with Zoe and Noah. As Noah and Audrey go to get coffee, Zoe asks Noah if he wants to get together to study. Noah agrees, only to find out later that Zoe had something more romantic on her mind than studying. Which is all well and good - except the episode kept showing that he was blowing off Audrey during the date, which could be no big deal, but it still felt a touch calculated.
Emma and Kieran were weird and then she went off with Eli. Oh, the opening showed that Eli likes to sneak into peoples’ houses and watch them sleep. It definitely had an ‘American Psycho’ vibe to it. He does tell Emma about his game, although, it doesn’t sound quite as creepy as he describes it. (Fun fact, Charles Manson and his followers used to sneak into peoples’ houses just for the fun of it too. They called it ‘creepy crawls,’ Eli calls it ‘Goldilocksing.)
Brooke, meanwhile, goes to Audrey saying she needs help fixing the mess she made with Branson, namely that she left him handcuffed in a hotel room. (They don’t know what happened next.) They go to the hotel (which still uses actual keys, seriously, what century does this take place in?) only to find that there’s no evidence of the bloodbath that befell Branson, nor is he anywhere to be found. But whomever cleaned the place up left a video camera which caught the girls being there.
One thing I was presumably right about was Ms. Lang’s movitvations - she’s trying to write a book about The Lakewood Six. If there’s more to it, they seemingly took her off the table of being a killer when the killer threw her off a staircase. She could still live, and maybe she has some information on her tapes that would help solve the puzzle (maybe putting she and Noah closer to play off his crush on her from episode 1.)
Audrey and Brooke ended up at the school where the killer had set a trap for them (the same trap that resulted in Ms. Lang being tossed onto the concrete from a few levels up) but the janitor who arrived to help seemingly messed everything up. We don’t know what the killer had in store for Audrey, or, was it for Brooke? He went out of his way to separate them.
Still, Audrey ran to Noah after the scene at the school, effectively cock blocking him as he was about to score with Zoe. Zoe, meanwhile, listened to the recording Noah made of Audrey confessing to bringing Piper to Lakewood and then emailed it off. Hmm.
Emma’s mom (seriously, does she have a name, I cannot remember) and the Sheriff found a picture of young Emma at the old farmhouse.
Eli and Emma ended up at a model home which is also the home where the killer was storing the bloody bodies of Branson and the guy from the hotel. Just as things are heating up between the two of them, they literally start heating up as the building bursts into flames, and quickly burns to the ground, seemingly killing Branson who was still alive at that point. But that was the end so he could still survive. Sort of.
More importantly, though, while the killer was active this episode, nearly all the major characters were accounted for. Only Kieran, Gustavo, the Mayor and Eli’s mother were off the grid when it was all hitting the fan.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Scream Season 2 Episode 6

After last week’s more reflective episode the promise for this week seemed to be chaos and repercussions. While it may have been a little less chaotic than imagined, still, more and more true colors are being revealed, not that it’s becoming much clearer who the killer is, or, more likely, who the killers are.
The big cliffhanger last week, though, was Noah stealing Audrey’s phone and learning about all the contact she’s had with the killer. And, I gotta say, that was a helluva cliffhanger.
This week we find Noah a bit shellshocked to say the least, especially when Emma visits and finds Audrey at the center of Noah’s big board of suspects. Emma doesn’t believe it and Noah, interestingly, does not sell Audrey out. Emma wants proof, which Noah has, but he lets it go.
The mayor is up to shenanigans, too. He goes to Kieran’s aunt (who’s name escapes me) sort of seduces her and then says he has an off-the-record job for her. Does that mean he’s pulling the strings and she’s the one running around in the Ghostface costume now? Well, they want us to think that. What was going on between Jake and him was clarified a bit, and it certainly fuels the notion that the Mayor’s involved.
For the record, I love the smarmy mayor. Bryan Batt should be a lot more famous than he is.
Meanwhile, no one knows the kid from the hotel is dead yet, which is interesting. Apparently they don’t have very good cleaning crews at the local motel. But he’s still responding to Noah’s texts and arranges a secret meet-up to identify Piper’s accomplice.
The meeting is at an abandoned carnival. It’s so ridiculously a bad idea, right? Still, Noah goes, gets appropriately freaked out and bails, only to be captured and waking up tied to a broken down funhouse car, with Audrey tied to the car behind him.
Fearing his own death, Noah confesses all sorts of ridiculous things, hoping Audrey would join in and confess her crimes. She does ... to an extent, only to reveal this was all her plan to get them alone and to prove her innocence. The problem with that is the real killer decides to show up.
Emma decides to show up to. And Kieran. So the four of them seemingly save one another. Although, they probably could have ganged up on the killer too, who was still close enough to chase down. But then we wouldn’t have much to do for the next few episodes.
Oh, the emails from long-dead Riley that were being sent to Emma’s dad presumably came from Emma. Which is odd. But we don’t learn more about that.
Gustavo does some recon for Brooke, most notably that Branson’s apparently banging the new psychology teacher and she’s his alibi for the night Jake died.
What’s been our lesson so far on this show: Don’t F**K with Brooke. First she schedules a meeting with the teacher and says she was banging Mr. Branson and that she hooked up with him the night of Jake’s death. The teacher’s reaction proves she wasn’t with Branson. So Brooke arranges a rendevous with Branson, ties him to the bed and gets all the information she wants out of him. And a little bloodshed. Again, don’t f**k with Brooke.
The big piece of information from this scene, though, is that Jake was bribing Branson to get out of town and leave Brooke alone. And Jake said he was getting the money from The Mayor, which explains the texts on Jake’s phone that the sheriff has read.
Still, Gustavo enjoys playing with his prop killer mask a little too much.
Audrey goes to Noah and finally confesses everything. That she brought Piper to the city because she didn’t have anyone. She says she didn’t know that Piper was the killer, that Piper denied it even after they started happening. It explains a few things, but not everything. We still don’t know why Audrey’s girlfriend in season 1 had to die.
Oh, Brooke left Branson to escape the hotel room. But the killer found him first.

The end.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Scream Season 2 Episode 5

It’s a common complaint that horror movies don’t address their own consequences - that a movie piles up bodies but we never see anything beyond that, no loss to friends or families, no dealing with the survivors once they escape the clutches of the monster. After last week’s big finish, this week’s episode of “Scream” actually does try to deal with the consequences of it all, although, what could have been a Very Special episode doesn’t take too long before things continue to spiral out of control.
For those that missed it, everyone in the high school found out Jake was dead last week when his bloody body dropped onstage and his blood dumped all over Brooke. We start this week with the school on lockdown, the police are there and tensions, to put it politely, begin to mount. Before we’re done there are two brawls, Keiran and Emma face a challenge, Noah gets deeper into things with Audrey than he ever imagined, Stavo is backed into a corner by the entire student body, creepy Eli is still being creepy Eli and the new teacher continues to seem to be more than she appears, and none of it is all that good.
But, first, Brooke. Traumatized by last week’s reveal, Brooke’s our reminder that there’s more to this than a horror movie. She’s shown as mostly in shock, frozen in her Carrie-esque nightmare as cops and doctors surround her. When she does start to talk there’s a frankness to her, but a frankness that lacks the sort of sarcastic bite she normally displays. Where Brooke goes next will be the interesting part of the second half of the season. She’s never been one to trifle with, and the teases so far make it clear that’s going to be even more true. You don’t screw with Brooke.
It’s also starting to look like the days of being able to screw with Emma are coming to an end. As much as she’s been too damsel-in-distress-y this season, as this episode went on, she seemed to turn a corner and not only did she throw a right hook or two, she also took control of the end of the episode in a way that said she’s emotionally taking control of herself and the situation. This is good, if we want Emma to be one of our protagonists, she’ll need to nut up. That’s what she seems to be doing.
Lots of cellphones come into play this week, from both the living and the dead. It puts information in other peoples’ hands, that’s for sure, most notably the Sheriff and, at the episode’s closing, Noah. I won’t spoil who has what phone but, well, next week should lead to some serious twists and turns as people try to wiggle out of trouble.
It’s going to get ugly, I think. And it could be really freakin’ awesome.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Conjuring 2 Review

With so much geek culture being the thing in the mainstream right now, it’s not surprising to see horror following suit. The dark and sleazy edges of the genre have been pushed to the fringe (again) and horror is again making blockbusters - big summer blockbusters that are roller coasters of excitement as the creators gleefully make us jump out of our seats with well-timed jump scares and a seemingly endless assortment of haunted houses to exploit.
James Wan is at the center of all this, having perfected his Hollywood horror skills, which began with the first “Saw” movie and has gone from there to “Dead Silence” to “Insidious” to the first “Conjuring” movie. Is “Conjuring 2” his peak? I guess time will tell but it’s a slick and steady successor to his original that has big box office written all over it. This is not a low budget exploitation movie that happens to catch on - this is Hollywood moviemaking through and through.
The protagonists of the “Conjuring” movies are Ed and Lorraine Warren, real life ghost hunters brought to film by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The movie version sees the twosome motivated by love and God to help people who need help. While often in horror the ghost hunters are really just there to provide exposition, Wan uses the Warrens as the emotional crux of the story - it’s their faith that anchors them to reality and it’s the devil himself attacking that faith that causes conflict.
For “Conjuring 2” the story starts in Amityville briefly before moving to London and the Enfield haunting which is, essentially, the British equivalent of our Amityville horror. There’s nothing especially shocking about the concept: a family is being haunted by something inside their house. It starts with their children and escalates, until the Warrens themselves are called in.
The difference between this movie and the lesser versions that pop up is Wan’s steady hand. His kind of horror is one of timing - he leaves the camera on a spot in a dark room, sometimes something happens, sometimes nothing happens. How he manipulates that timing is where his horror comes from. When we’re comfortable, he attacks. When it’s bad, he makes it worse. It may not be genius, but it’s still pretty dang effective.
“The Conjuring 2” has a secret weapon, though, one that’s a little surprising for a horror movie these days. Whereas so much horror is bad things happening to unlikable people, there’s a real compassion laced through this movie. The family being haunted is being given enough time to breath that you do start wanting the terror to stop. Again, that compassion is carried over to the Warrens. This is not a movie where you root for the monster, for sure. Even scenes where each Warren talks to the haunted girl (a splendid Madison Wolf) tug at the heart strings without being cloying.
Still, the movie does suffer a bit from Hollywood excess. The last battle is needlessly long and puts its thumb a little too squarely on the themes of the piece. As much as the movie is based on true events - the last act is such an obvious exaggeration, it doesn’t lessen the experience per se, but it certainly takes it from something that may have happened to something that’s clearly a big, expensive action set piece.
There’s horror that makes your skin crawl and leaves you wondering why you even watched the movie in the first place. “The Conjuring 2” is not that kind of movie. This is a bright movie - a roller coaster ride where you hide your eyes but don’t lose sleep at night.
Unless of course, you hear something go bump in the night. At that point, you’re on your own.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Scream Season 2 Episode 4

The biggest cheat in horror is the dream sequence - something really terrifying that our protagonist can’t escape happens, only they wake up at the last second and all is well. “Scream” has used it a couple times with Emma.
This week, most of the episode is an elaborate hallucination brought forth by some spiked booze that was seemingly sent by Jake, who no one knows is really, really dad yet.
So who DID send the spiked drink? Eli’s the one that found it but he has so many red flags that it seems unlikely he’s the bad guy ... unless they WANT us to think it’s too obvious that he’s the bad guy.
The hallucinations, of course, were all tied to the plot and themes. Brooke didn’t know if creepy Gustav was trying to help her through her sickness or trying to take her clothes off. The hallucination of Jake wasn’t helping matters any.
Audrey and Noah made out in their sickly state, only to have Zoe, on a date with Noah, join in a bit too, with both of them. Oh, and Audrey told Noah she was sorry, although she didn’t say for what. As we know, she has a LOT of things she could apologize for, not the least of which was the previous week where she was ready to bash his head in with a statue to save her own ass.
Emma ran away and may or may not have been chased by the Brandon James killer - was it a hallucnation? We still don’t know, but it did set the tone that she now thinks there’s a killer on the loose and that the madness is happening again.
For the episode’s big finale, the school announced the five finalists for their annual beauty pageant, one of whom was Brooke. As she was announced the episode went all “Carrie,” but it wasn’t a pig’s blood dumped on her head, it was Jake’s as his body fell from the rafters and landed on the stage in front of everyone.
Now that’s a cliffhanger.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Scream Season 2 Episode 3

SPOILER-FILLED WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK PART: Last week, Emma was followed by a mysterious car, that turned out meant her dad was back in town. Noah talked to the desk boy at the hotel where Piper stayed last season and found out about a mysterious storage unit where Piper kept her stuff. Audrey went to said storage unit where she found Jake’s bloody body.
Episode 3 of “Scream” keeps the momentum from last episode - Audrey’s going more and more out of her mind trying to keep her secrets - secrets Noah seems determined to find on his own. Emma has all sorts of family drama with her dad back in town and creepy Mr. Branson shows up again to give Brooke trouble.
So far the real excitement this season is with Audrey trying to get away from her hand in last season’s murders. While we still don’t know exactly how much blood is literally on her hands, we do know there’s enough. This week we saw what lengths she might go to in order to protect herself as she almost took some pretty serious actions about her best friend Noah. With a show like this, though, a major crisis was averted but, still, not knowing what Audrey would have done, but seeing what it looked like she was going to do was pretty heavy stuff.
We learned a lot about Emma’s dad and, more importantly, learned he’s been getting updates about Emma from one of last season’s victims via email. All this leads to the belief that someone wanted him back in town, the question is why. The episode made a pretty big hint about it, mind you, but there’s a lot left to do.
Again, one thing the show continues to do well is use the horror melodrama as a way to reveal the truths these characters have been hiding from for years. In this case, we learn the reasons Emma’s dad left - they’re not fodder for a murder mystery so much as they’re the end result of a normal human falling apart and losing control. It’s that underlying unhappiness that has made this show work since day one.
Oh yeah, then Brooke and friends ran into douchey Mr. Branson at a movie theater. Weird Gustav was there too and before we knew it he’d aligned himself with Brooke, Noah and Zoe (who’s hoping to get in on some of that Noah action.) It could all be teenage melodrama but, on a show like this, it could be a lot more. We did learn that Branson’s been around more than we thought and that only drove home Brooke’s frustrations with the still missing Jake. Granted, we know why Jake’s missing but the show isn’t letting anyone else know, which is a fun and morbid twist on things.
Still, the real thrill this season is seeing Audrey getting more and more trapped in her own past, with no real end in sight. At some point she’s going to have to tell someone something, right?
In the meantime, the killer came closest to taking another shot at one of the Lakewood Six tonight. It got foiled. Maybe next time it won’t.