Friday, October 28, 2011

Monster House (2006) (Movie Review)

      Time for one last post to conclude Mr. Movies October marathon. When I was a kid around Halloween, my friends and I would turn off the lights in the house, have some scary music and sound effects playing which made it feel spooky and haunted. Some friends would dress up in monster costumes while others would go exploring with flash lights, it was like we were in a Halloween adventure of our own universe. By the end of my 3rd grade year we moved away and I regrettably was never able to have a Halloween with them again. So I gradually began to lose that excitement of exploring a fictional haunted house with friends. But then toured the end of my High School years, I saw a movie that immediately took me back to that time when friends would go adventuring on Halloween, this is the 2006 animated masterpiece called “Monster House”.

     This is by far one of the greatest Horror movies for kids. If you thought monsters under the bead were scary, wait till you see an entire house come to life. The plot focuses on three children named DJ, Chowder and Jenny, which is basically the classic formula of a small group of friends that's made up of two boys and one girl, its classic. The lead character DJ is having suspicions about this angry old man who lives in a creepy looking house that’s just across from his home. After an unfortunate accident, DJ feels responsible for the apparent death of the old man, who seemed to pass away in his front yard while DJ and his friend were playing outside. Then he begins to notice some strange things happening over at that creepy house. People are diapering and his two friends were almost eaten by the house itself. None of the adults believe them, so they have to take matters into their own hands, find a way to defeat the house and save the neighborhood. The rest of the movie is just these kids going on exciting, funny and sometimes scary adventures, exploring an old dark house and facing dangerous obstacles, it’s awesome!   

     The child characters, while admittedly annoying at times are still a lot of fun, and manage to hold the film rather well. I love how the two boys have been friends for years but the girl character named Jenny had never met them and was just roped into the situation. She doesn’t even like them at first, but there’s no one else who’ll believe her story about a killer house. It almost reflects what the audience goes through when watching a film like this, we don’t know the characters very well but as we fallow them on their adventure we begin to like them more. The supporting characters are really annoying and forgettable but I do love these two cops who are a classic comedy duo like Abbott and Costello, and have silly quotable lines like “You have the right to shut up!”   

     On paper, this may sound like a very cliché haunted house film for kids but the writing is quiet competent and the back story of how the house became haunted is surprisingly tragic. Film legend Steven Spielberg helped produce this movie along with Robert Zemeckis, who’s done some of the greatest family movies of all time like “Back to the Future”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Polar Express”. The animation in this film ranges from bad to amazing and it’s really hard to decide if it’s one of the worst or best looking animated films I’ve ever seen. The animation portions that I can’t stand are with all the human characters as they look and move like puppets on strings. It almost makes you feel like it’s stop motion animation as opposed to CG animation. Except even stop motion characters from movies like “Coraline” look better than this. Now the animation I love in this film come from all the all the fall visuals, skinny trees and creative spooky imagery. 

I love animation of this one nightmare sequence, and the interiors of the house are stunning. There’s one moment with our characters running past various obstacles in the house and it almost resembles a theme park ride. All the different visuals that were used to bring this house to life are absolutely brilliant and some of the most thrilling animated sequences ever put into film. Everything builds to a climactic final battle with the house as it rises up out of its place and attacks the kids. When this finally happens, hot Damn is it spectacular!                                 

     Watching these kids go exploring through this visually amazing house, discovering clues and hidden secrets is so much fun and rekindles the inner child in me looking for adventure on Halloween. It really dose take me back to that time when I was young and would go on imaginary spooky haunted house adventures with my friends. It’s like getting all the tricks and treats you’d want around Halloween and it welcomes both kids and adults alike into an imaginative household full of smart, exciting, nostalgic and monstrous fun. 

I give “Monster House” 4 stars out of 5, it’s awesome!

     So ends my October Marathon, hope it was fun, regular posts will begin again next month and ...

                                                     Happy Halloween!  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Top 13 Favorite Horror Movies

(NOTE: This 2011 post has been updated for 2019 content)

Throughout my October marathon I’ve pulled up my scariest movie moments, given tribute to some of the most classic monsters of all time, and have looked back at some Nostalgic Halloween gems from my youth. Now it’s time to really dig it and get into the darker side of the holiday. Here’s a list of my personal top 13 favorite Horror movies of all time. 
Before I begin my countdown, I just want to state that Sci-Fi monster movies like “Aliens”, “Predator”, “Godzilla” and “Jurassic Park” will not be included on this list. Even though I love these films, and put them in the highest regard of Hollywood movies, they also belong on a completely different list that I’ll be posting latter. I just didn’t want to sound repetitive mentioning these films a second time on a similar “best monster movie” list.    

#13 Halloween (1978)

Kicking off my countdown is the ideal movie to watch during October, and obviously one of the most famous horror movies ever made. Its Halloween night and a group of baby sitters are being stocked by a mysterious masked killer, which may sound like an average premise, but it’s pulled off so well. I personally can’t stand “Slasher Movies”, but there’s so much more to “Halloween” then just killing and repetitive violence. On the contrary, there’s hardly any blood in the film at all and there’s clearly a competent and artistic creator behind the project. Using atmosphere and suspense as its tool, “Halloween” is all about the thrill of the chase, and the terrifying notion of something evil evading your peaceful everyday home. What really steals the show are all the technical details, the lighting is great, the autumn scenery is beautiful, the sound effects are really eerie, and the musical score conveys an especially haunting atmosphere. While “Halloween” is technically a slasher film, it’s also very sophisticated and undeniably a benchmark in the history of horror cinema.

#12 The Invisible Man (1933)

Of all the classic Universal movie monsters from the 1930’s and 40’s my absolute favorite by far is “The Invisible Man”. Despite being the oldest movie on my list, it’s actually a really fun time. Our monster is a scientist who accidently turned himself invisible and seeks a cure, but his power soon drives him made and he goes on a rampage just for fun. For an old 1930’s movie, the visual effects are simply amazing. This is also a rare kind of horror that has lots of tension, but it’s also extremely funny, probably one of the funniest monster movies ever made. The real star who completely steals the show is Claude Rains in the role of the invisible man. Not only is his voice perfect but his personality is outstanding. He perfectly balances the line between being intimidating and hilarious all at once. It’s an old film, but extremely high on entertainment, has lots of thrills, laughs and the unforgettable screen debut of Claude Rains as the Invisible Man, who’s without a doubt my favorite horror movie villain of all time. 

#11 The Shining  (1980)

If your a horror fan of any sort, your probably a fan of Stephen King and his literary works. His movie adaptions can be hit or miss, but here’s one of his book to film adaption’s that’s a personal favorite of mine, even though it admittedly strays far from the novel. While other adaption’s of his books like “Carrie”, “It”, Pet Sematary and “The Dead Zone” are all very good, none of them got under my skin the same way "The Shining" did. I really should give most of the credit to the films writer/ director Stanley Kubrick who basically took the format of Stephen Kings book and then crafted his own work with a unique vision. "The Shining" revolves around a family who are watching over the isolated Stanley Hotel during the winter season. Everything seems fine at first but gradually their time at the hotel takes a dark turn with strange apparitions appearing randomly and the father slowly getting unhinged. The brilliance of this film is that we never get any clear answers ... is the hotel actually haunted, is the family just going insane or is it both. The imagery and visuals in this film are some of the most unforgettable I’ve ever seen in a horror film. The frightening atmosphere is strong, the ideas are original, and from start to finish it’s like being trapped in a nightmare. Of course it's Jack Nicholson who steals the show, and is every bit as funny as he is terrifying. It may not be that faithful to the original novel, but the movie itself is still a classic in it's own right and one that never fails to leave an effect on the viewer.   

#10 From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Now here’s a wild horror movie that doesn’t aim for scares, it just busts loose and has fun. With the combined talents of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez you can’t go wrong. The movie begins with a slightly series tone as we follow two criminals who have taken a family hostage and are aiming to sneak out of the country. Once they venture into Mexico, the group stops at a bar that just happens to be full of vampires, and that’s when things get really crazy and off the wall entertaining. It may sound like a dumb film, which it certainly is, but that’s the point, this isn’t a movie that’s meant to be taken seriously, it’s all B movie fun. If you’re a monster movie buff, you have to check this film out because it has everything ... creative vampire action, monster transformations, memorable characters, no shortage of cool ways to see vampires die, and there’s this one dance involving the Oh so attractive Salma Hayek that’s worth the price of admission alone. This film also marks the film debut of George Clooney, and it’s without a doubt one of the most entertaining performances of his carrier. This is a movie where you need to just let loose, kick back and have a wild time, because it breaks all the conventional rules and kicks some serious ass!   

#9 House of Wax (1953)

Have you ever been to a wax museum, and found yourself so impressed by the displays that you could almost swear they’re real people? Well, after a string of murders, a young woman soon discovers that the pore victims are being put on display in the form of colorful wax characters in a wax museum, that’s the plot to the 1953 movie “House of Wax”. I can sum up what makes this movie great with just one name ... Vincent Price! He’s rightfully been regarded as the great prince of horror movie actors, and this is the movie that really launched his carrier. He has such a chilling yet commanding presence, you just can’t take your eyes off the guy. This is also a really colorful film that almost looks like a comic book come to life, but it still captures the dark and eerie atmosphere of a wax museum. Now this film is actually a remake of another movie from the 1930’s titled “Mystery of the Wax Museum”, and this is one case in which the remake is largely superior, far more memorable and of course is boasted by the presence of the one and only Vincent Price.   

#8 Zombieland (2009)

When it comes to movies revolving around killer zombies, there’s lots of really good ones including “Night of the Living Dead”, “28 Days Later”, “Return of the Living Dead” and especially “Shaun of the Dead”. However, rather than fill this list entirely with Zombie films, I’ll just jump to my absolute favorite which by far is the 2009 film “Zombie Land”. The movie takes place in an apocalyptic world thats been taken over by zombies, but the movie actually plays out like a road trip comedy with a group of travelers going across the country to take refuge at a theme park. There are too many good things in this movie to count, it has an awesome cast of scene steeling characters, mild but effective scares, thrilling zombie action and lots of hummer. There’s people killing zombies while on theme park rides, a hilarious cameo from Bill Murray, and the worlds coolest gun wilding bad ass who’s desperate to find a Twinkie. It’s all fun with this film, and a perfect blend of both horror and comedy.     

#7 Wes Cravens New Nightmare (1994)

This is the seventh entry in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series and a rare sequel that I honestly think out matches the original. This film actually steps outside of the horror universe and focuses on the actual film crew and actors as there making a new “Nightmare on Elm Street” film. Heather Langenkamp plays herself while also playing the role of Nancy. During production of the film, lots of strange things start to happen to her and she begins to wonder if the character of Freddy Krueger is actually coming to life, or maybe she’s going insane after staring in so many of these Freddy films. It’s an interesting study of how acting in a horror film can leave a twisted impact on the actors or the crew involved. Rather than focusing on a cast of disposable characters, all the attention is on Heather Langenkamp who carries this film beautifully. The character of Freddy Krueger has also never been more frightening or more interesting then as portrayed in this film. His makeup is much scarier, and the dream sequences are haunting spectacles. While the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” is obviously a classic, I personally think that its seventh sequel “New Nightmare” is far superior, and probably the greatest horror movie sequel ever made.

#6 Cat People (1942)

Now here’s a much older horror movie, but it’s aged remarkably well and still stands as a personal favorite that I highly recommend. With an exciting title like “Cat People”, you might expect to see a lot of creepy monsters and transformations, but surprise, surprise, this is a far more subdued horror film that takes a more subtle but extremely effective approach. This is one of the first horror movies to realize that your imagination is far scarier than anything that could be viewed on screen, so as a result you don’t see a whole lot, but the constant dread and haunting atmosphere is extremely powerful. The story revolves around a woman who apparently descended from a clan of witches, and while she seems like a normal everyday woman, she clearly has a dark secret that she’s keeping from all around her. Even her husband tries to get closer, but she always keeps her distance because she fears a beast that lingers inside her very soul. Simone Simon is fantastic in the lead role as she’s sympathetic, mysterious and frightening all at once. I really love all the quiet moments in this film, especially this one scene involving a girl in a swimming pool which might just be one of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever experienced while watching a movie. This is the film that would pave the way for movies like “The Haunting”, “The Others”, and of course “Paranormal Activity”, which also didn’t rely on scary imagery to terrify the audience. It’s a sly, moody horror film that’s also an interesting commentary about the taboos and psychology of forbidden desire. It explores the mind of a mysterious female lead, and manages to be an eerie, supernatural thriller that I highly recommend to those with the patients to wait ... and see without being shown anything.        

#5 Sleepy Hollow (1999)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is one of the most classic ghost stories of all time, and has been retold in several new ways throughout the ages. The 1999 version directed by Tim Burton probably has the least to do with Washington Irving’s novel, but it’s the first one that comes to mind whenever I think of the headless horseman man. This version plays like a supernatural detective case, and captures the look and feel of a 60’s Hammer Horror film. When the monstrous headless horseman awakens from his grave, it goes on a killing spree throughout the town of Sleepy Hollow. All the murders get the attention of Ichabod Crane, played brilliantly by Johnny Depp, who’s on a mission to solve the mystery of the resurrected Headless Horseman. For an extremely over the top and violent film, it sure has all the stuff I love in a good thriller. Every time I watch it I’m blown away by its haunting atmosphere, and it’s visually a marvel to look at. Tim Burton’s direction gives it a creepy yet magical dream like quality. The cast fill their respected roles very well and the Headless Horseman is one of the most thrilling movie monsters of all time. While this obviously isn’t a movie for everyone, I personally think it’s one of Tim Burtons best films, and his first true horror film.  

#4 Lights Out (2016)

From the creators of "The Conjuring" comes "Lights Out" and this is the most resent Horror movie to be featured on my countdown, but it's quickly become a new personal favorite of mine that's worth watching annually around October. Ever sense the earliest years of human kind, our most instinctive fear was that of being alone in the dark, and this movie is a very exciting take on the trope of why you should stay out of the shadows. A family is being haunted by a mysterious entity that can only lurk in the shadows, so as long as the family stays in the light their safe, but when the lights go out their suddenly at the mercy of this hostile beast. I love the simplicity of this premise, and the film knows how to play around with it's genera tropes to keep things exciting to insure it never gets repetitive with the formula. There's an eerie atmosphere and sustained tension that never lets up throughout the film, all while great care is put into the details of both the story and characters. The performances are all very solid, and the characters manage to break away from your typical horror victim stereotypes. These characters are actually quiet resourceful, know how to take action while still showing their vulnerability and there's even some depth to them. When you look past all the scary elements you'll notice that there's a very thoughtful story being told here about family struggles and the sacrifices we make for those we love. So there's just the right amount of substance to balance out the effective scares. It's simply a perfect late-night horror film to watch with the lights out. 

#3 The Sixth Sense (1999)

      Now we come to a very special Horror film, one that will scare you to death, but also pull at your heart strings all the way. The story revolves around a young boy with an abnormal ability to see the spirits of dead people. Every encounter with these ghosts is the stuff of nightmares, but the real horror comes from their back stories. We soon learn that these spirits were all victims of untimely deaths. By communicating with the young boy, these lost souls will have the chance to be given proper closure and move on. The most terrifying aspects of the film come into play when we learn just how tragic and disturbing the events of their deaths were. For example, there’s a subplot revolving around the spirit of a dead girl, who was secretly poisoned, and killed by her wicked mother. This alone is more terrifying then anything supernatural related that I’ve ever seen in a horror film. Just the thought of this horrible woman slowly killing her child without the father knowing is one of the most frightening concepts you can possibly imagine. This for me is what other horror movies lack, and that’s “REAL LIFE HORROR”. It’s a movie that covers issues of pain, remorse, sorrow, regret, loss, things that are very sad, and emotional. It’s more than just an exciting scary movie, it feels deep and meaningful. “The Sixth Sense” has all the makings and style of a classic Hollywood picture, yet it’s packed with all the chills and atmosphere of a modern horror movie. With standout performances, especially from the young Haley Joel Osment, and a twisted, original ghost story make this every bit as haunting as it is poetic.    

#2 The Mummy (1999)

Okay, so this film is obviously more of a fun action adventure film, but it is still a remake of one of Universals most classic monster movies ... “The Mummy” from 1934, so I say it counts. The adventure takes place in Egypt and follows a team of explorers who accidently unearth a mummy, whose evil course spreads across the land like a plague. Boris Karloff’s original film will always be a classic, but this mummy is the most unforgettable, and a very personal favorite of mine. This was the very first horror ... anything, that I’ve ever experienced, and it’s this film that actually paved the way for me discover other horror films like the ones I previously mentioned on my list. The creature itself is one of my favorite modern day movie villains, and a testament to the wonders of both special and practical effects. I love how the mummy changes his appearance in every scene, as he slowly becomes more human, that way the film can surprise us with something new each time our hero’s face him. The characters are also very likable in their own clichéd action hero way. While a lot of the film can be regarded as campy, it’s still not without some subtly scary moments, and creepy sound effects. This is actually my favorite movie on the list, but it’s still an adventure horror, and in order to make number one, it has to be horror all the way.  

Before I scream with my #1 favorite Horror movie, here are my Honorable Mentions ...

Trick r’ Treat (2007)

Psycho (1960)

1408 (2007)

It Follows (2015)

Fright Night (1985)

#1 Poltergeist (1982)

When it comes to strait up horror, there’s only one film that masterfully combines eerie subtlety with over the top frights. “Poltergeist” from 1982 is personally my favorite horror movie of all time, and has everything I want from a quality scary film. The premise is brilliant, a home is accidentally built over a burial ground, and the spirits aren’t happy that they’ve invaded their resting place. The set up is good enough, but the movie goes much further than just your typical haunted house movie with ghosts. We get to a point in the film where the families little girl is taken into a ghostly dimension, and the parents take immediate action to try and get her back. There’s a lot of strong talk about cross dimensions, theories concerning the powers of the dead, where they go, what separates there world from ours, and it’s some really creepy stuff that gets under your skin. Beyond its heavy psychological theories of the afterlife, this movie features some of the most unforgettable shock moments in the history of horror cinema. There’s a scary old tree snatching a child from his bedroom, corpses rising from a swimming pool, a guy who rips his own face off, and of course there’s that scary toy clown who steals the show. It’s a rare kind of horror movie that’s consistently frightening, but I never feel dirty while watching it, unlike other horror films that flat out offend and discus me. What can I say, “Poltergeist” is a memorable, haunting, tightly plotted, smartly crafted and consistently entertaining horror spectacle that I always have to watch every October. It’s one of the greatest ghost stories ever told, and it’s personally my favorite horror movie of all time.