The Shining (1980)

Blu-Ray, Rated R, 2hr 26min, Drama, Horror

The Shining (1980)The book is better.  Isn’t that what you always hear about any movie that’s based on a book?  It’s probably because it’s almost always true.  I mean, how can it not be?  A book has much more room for character development and detailed descriptions of what’s in their heads.  You also get a much better understanding of what’s going on.  Books usually leave little room for questions about what actually happens.  Movies can be hard to follow and lend themselves to viewer interpretation.  There can be many opinions on what a director intended while books are usually fairly conclusive.

I was only 9 years old when The Shining was released in 1980 so I didn’t get to see it in a theater.  I didn’t get serious about watching horror movies until my late teens and early twenties.  Even then, it took years before I got around to actually watching The Shining.  On the other hand, I started reading Stephen King much earlier and became a huge fan of his books.  By the time I finally sat down to watch the movie, I had read the book several times.  I will admit that I wasn’t impressed.  Anyone who has read the book, or is aware of King’s reaction to the movie, is well aware that Kubrick pretty much shits all over the book.  The story told in the book and the events portrayed in the movie are two very different things.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life I stopped insisting that movies based on books follow those books closely.  I’m of the mind now that a movie can be a good movie even if it strays from its source material.  How far can it go?  Well, I guess that depends on how good it ends up being.  A few years ago, I decided to give Kubrick another shot.  So, that’s where this review really begins.

To fully enjoy Kubrick’s version of The Shining, you have to throw away any knowledge of the book, King’s opinion and pretty much anything you’ve ever heard about the making of the film and the opinions of the actors themselves.  If you can put all of that aside, what you will see is an amazing film.

The opening scene with the car winding its way through the trees and climbing through the mountains to the Overlook Hotel builds a sense of how remote the place really is.  Once the family moves in, the huge open rooms of the hotel further isolate them from each other.  The story that unfolds is a descent into madness.  Although the focus is on the father, all three suffer their own mental breakdown.  There appears to be a supernatural element at play, but that’s one of the things in the movie that’s open to interpretation.  It could very well be that the problems each brought with them, along with Danny’s special ability, could have been the catalyst and all of the ghosts in the hotel are simply imaginations.  None of the characters are reliable narrators, so who knows what actually happened to them.

This is one of the movie’s strengths.  You can watch it multiple times and think something different about what you see.  The film is also impeccably shot.  The camera and backing score work together to tell a frightening story.  Jack Nicholson brings an air of sheer lunacy to his character while Shelley Duvall looks like she could break at any moment.  This is old school horror at its finest.  The film is two and a half hours long and there’s not a jump scare to be found.  The film relies on its story to scare you and that story is terrifying if you allow yourself to become immersed in it.

So back to the question of how far can a movie stray from the book and still be good?  The Shining, for me, is probably the limit so far.  I think both the book and the movie are excellent and shouldn’t be compared to each other.  If you’re going to do that though, then I guess the book still wins.  However, The Shining will always be one of the best horror movies ever made in my humble opinion.

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Don’t Kill It (2016)

Netflix Streaming, Not Rated, 1hr 23min, Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Don't Kill It (2016)When the first thing I saw on the screen was the name Dolph Lundgren I was unsure what I might be getting myself into.  To be honest, I haven’t seen any of his films outside of Rocky and The Expendables.  Oh wait, he was also The Punisher right?  I can’t say I remember much about that one but I have seen it.  Anyway, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to be a serious horror film.

And I was right.  Don’t Kill It is firmly in B-movie territory.  The plot centers around a town under attack by a demon that moves from host to host.  Not exactly an original idea, but there’s a twist.  The demon only moves into the person who kills its current host.  Hence the title, ha ha.  This little tidbit does change the rules a bit and limits the options for what can be done to stop the demon.

Our hero Dolph is the mysterious stranger who comes into town to hunt down the demon.  Of course local law enforcement doesn’t believe him at first but they quickly fall in line.  What follows is carnage and mayhem as the demon plows through the townsfolk.  The good thing about the film is that it knows its a B-movie and doesn’t try to fool you into thinking it’s not.  There’s a good bit of intended humor with my favorite being a quick reference to The Exorcist.

Despite it knowing it’s place, I wouldn’t call this a great movie.  The effects are mostly practical, but the kills happen too fast to really tell if they are good or not.  There is a high body count though and body parts do fly.  As you might expect, you shouldn’t spend any time questioning the logic of the plot.  You just have to go with it.

So, if you’re in the mood for something a bit on the cheesy side you might want to give this one a spin.

Happy Death Day (2017)

Vudu Streaming, Rated PG-13, 1hr 36min, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Happy Death Day (2017)So if you’ve heard anything at all about this movie then you’re aware it is a horror take on Groundhog Day.  Just the fact that an average Joe on the street will understand this comparison says something.  It’s like any vicious dog is Cujo or any trip to the beach brings at least a passing thought of Jaws.  Some movies and novels are so widely recognized that they’ve become part of our culture, even to the point that those who haven’t seen those movies or read those novels still have some basic understanding of what the references mean.

For a film like Happy Death Day to take on one of these cultural icons is a huge challenge.  How does one go about doing so in such a way that audiences won’t simply pass it off as a rip-off or cheap clone?  Well, you could come up with something so unique that it outdoes the original idea.  Wes Craven’s Scream is a good example of this.  Scream, at its heart, is a serious horror film even as it parodies the unwritten rules of the slasher genre.  Or maybe you make your film itself aware of what it is and use that to its advantage.  The Cabin in the Woods is a good example of a meta-film that is aware that it’s a horror movie and it certainly goes off in a direction you weren’t expecting.

Happy Death Day appears to be attempting this second route.  The very last scene even mentions Groundhog Day.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed.  As our main character relives her day over and over, she figures out what is going on and tries to break the cycle.  We, as the already aware audience, are several steps ahead of her and trying to guess who the killer will turn out to be from the start.  The main problem we quickly realize is that as her awareness grows, she changes the events of the day to the point we can’t do much more than guess.  When we finally see the answer, the reason is out of left field and we’re now fully aware there were never any real clues to begin with.  In other words, the film cheats.  There’s no satisfaction of figuring it out and seeing all the pieces fit together.

I can’t say that the film was completely awful.  The performance by Jessica Rothe is actually pretty good.  I started off not liking her character at all, then at some point that changed.  The film’s biggest flaw, other than it’s terrible conclusion, is that it’s never scary or suspenseful or thought provoking.  At no point did I feel I was watching something special or even pretty good.  The best acting performance in the world couldn’t have saved it.

Bedeviled (2016)

Netflix Streaming, Rated R, 1h 31min, Horror, Thriller

Bedeviled (2016)Bedeviled is another recent horror film where technology is the medium through which a group of friends is terrorized.  In this particular case, it’s a smart phone app much like Siri or Alexa that has a much darker motive than simply finding the closest Mexican restaurant to your present location.

After the death of a young girl, her phone sends app invites to several of her close friends.  They, of course, download the app and quickly find that it’s not like anything they could have expected.  The app turns out to be the conduit through which a malevolent entity can enter our world.  At first, it feeds on their fear but ultimately kills most of them.

Strip away the technological aspect and what we have here is a familiar enough tale.  It’s even been done in similar fashion before with such films as Pulse and One Missed Call (to name a couple).  Despite it not being more than mildly original is some of its aspects, it’s not a bad film.  It manages to feel creepy and deliver a few decent scares.  The characters are likable for the most part and don’t come across as the two dimensional stereotypes you’d expect from this sort of film.  I will say the app sounds a lot like the phone voice used in Scream though.

Overall, this isn’t a great film and it doesn’t break any new ground but you could do far worse.  It’s not a bad way to kill some time on a rainy afternoon.

Nails (2017)

Netflix Streaming, Rated TV-MA, 1hr 25min, Horror, Mystery

Nails (2017)When Dana is hit by a car during her morning jog, she wakes up to find herself paralyzed and in a hospital where she is the target of the ghost of a former nurse that wants to kill her.  Of course, no one believes her so she is left to face the entity alone.

Nails starts off as a slow-burn horror film that tries to build suspense with creepy atmosphere and quick glimpses of our murderous ghost.  The hospital is run-down and way understaffed and does provide a good backdrop for what might have been a decent ghost story.  I didn’t find it very compelling though.  Shauna Macdonald (The Descent) does a great job in her role, easily making us like her and feel her plight.  The rest of the cast are just faceless stereotypes and seem to exist solely to push the story along.

The ghost does look pretty creepy and some of the scenes with him aren’t too bad.  The main problem is the whole thing is cliche.  There isn’t anything new to see and it’s predictable.  Dana goes through the motions of trying to convince everyone she’s being haunted and, because of her condition, everyone just patronizes her.  She figures out the ghost’s backstory while speeding up her recovery so that she can hopefully escape before it kills her.  Oh, and there’s a pointless subplot where her husband might be having an affair.  I’m not really sure why they threw that in there.  It really ruined his character and didn’t make much sense.

The last 20 minutes or so are a real head scratcher though.  Nails, our ghost, abandons his previous antics and just goes on an all-out killing spree.  He kills everyone in the hospital, including Dana.  Dana’s daughter is the only survivor seemingly for no reason at all.  The whole thing feels like they got tired of making a movie and just decided to end it and go home.  It really makes you wonder why they bothered wasting a whole hour of trying to build it all up.

Overall, it’s just another disappointing supernatural horror movie.

Friend Request (2017)

Netflix Streaming, Rated R, 1hr 32min, Horror, Thriller

Friend Request (2017)Over the last few years there has been a growing number of horror releases that have attempted to modernize the genre by focusing on the latest technology, social media and the like.  Friend Request is one of the more recent films to join the crowd.  Popular college girl, Laura, tries to befriend Marina, a loner that no one likes.  This proves to be a mistake as Marina becomes obsessed with her.  When Laura finally tries to break away from her, Marina kills herself.  Shortly after, Laura’s friends start dying at the hands of Marina’s vengeful spirit.

Unfortunately, this is a story we’ve been told many times before.  The new hip social media aspect is nothing more than a minor distraction from the fact that this is just a by the numbers ghost mystery.  The dangers of the internet and social media are only hinted at and never explored as actual plot points.  Take away the cell phones and laptops and what you’re left with is a tired old story that isn’t remotely scary.

The film plays out as you’d expect.  Laura figures out it’s Marina who’s reaching out from the grave and it’s up to her to find a way to stop her.  She finds the place where Marina killed herself but the action ends when Marina’s ghost appears to attack her.  Then, at the very end, the film tries to throw in a cool twist with everything starting over with Laura as the school outcast.  Of course, the “cycle repeats itself” ending is nothing new either and it makes the film look even tackier.

Friend Request is one you shouldn’t mind skipping.  Just click Ignore and move on.

Amityville: The Awakening (2017)

Vudu Streaming, Rated PG-13, 1hr 25min, Horror, Thriller

Amityville - The Awakening (2017)They say you learn something new every day and today I learned that there are 19 films in the Amityville series.  I found that to be a bit shocking because when you think of long running horror franchises you immediately think of Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street.  What I found to be even more shocking is that I’ve now seen 7 of them.  Admittedly, I couldn’t tell you a thing about any of them other than the original.  I don’t even remember if the 2005 remake was any good.  Anyway…

Amityville:  The Awakening is about a mother who moves her two daughters and her brain-dead son into the infamous Amityville house.  The son is on life-support, obviously, and the reason for the move is to get him closer to a doctor that’s treating him.  The doctor keeps telling her that there’s no hope for a recovery, but the mother refuses to give up.  Shortly after moving into the house, the boy starts showing signs of life that continue to get stronger day by day.  Belle, the oldest daughter, soon learns the history of the house and begins to believe that the evil within is the true cause of her brother’s amazing turnaround.

I thought the concept of this film was pretty good but the execution was flat.  It tries to create a creepy atmosphere and throw in a few real scares but the fact is that it’s just not scary.  It plays out more like a drama than a horror film.

One thing I thought was neat is that the film is set in our world outside of the Amityville story world.  A friend of Belle shows her the DVDs for the original, one of the sequels and the remake.  They even watch the original film in the house.  That’s something you don’t see everyday in the movie world.  Too bad the rest of the film couldn’t be as unique.

Overall, this is just one of those horror films you watch just to say you’ve seen it or to kill a couple of hours when you don’t have anything better to watch.