Friday, October 28, 2011

Monster House (2006) (Movie Review)

      Time for one last post to conclude Mr. Movies October marathon, and I got a special one for today. 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, and it made the setting feel spooky and haunted. Some friends would dress up in monster costumes, while others would go exploring with flash lights, and 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. 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 in a spooky house on Halloween … this is the 2006 animated masterpiece called “Monster House”.

     This is by far one of my favorite spooky kid’s movies, and fits right along with my favorites of the season. If you thought monsters under the bead were scary, just wait till you see an entire house come to life. Our spooky venture focuses on three neighborhood children named DJ, Chowder and Jenny. Kind of the basic, yet classic formula of a small group of friends, made up of two boys and one girl. The lead boy DJ is having suspicions about this angry old man who lives in a creepy looking house 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 kids of the neighborhood before Trick r’ Treat. On paper, this may sound like a very cliché haunted house film for kids, but the writing is quite competent, and the back story of how the house became haunted is surprisingly tragic. 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 carry the film rather well. I love how the two boys have been friends for years, while the girl Jenny had never met them before all the spooky cause, 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. She almost plays like the audience character, who doesn’t really know them, but gradually warms up to them through the experience. The one down side is that all the supporting characters are really annoying and forgettable. I do however love these two cops, who are like a classic comedy duo along the lines of Abbott and Costello, and they have their silly quotable lines … “You have the right to shut up!” Easily my biggest issue with this movie is the animation of the human characters. It’s hard to explain, but there is something completely off-putting and awkward about the way they look and move. It almost makes me feel like it’s stop motion, except even stop motion characters from movies like “Coraline” look better than this.    

     Film legend Steven Spielberg (the same talent behind “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial”, “Jurassic Park” and the “Indiana Jones” Trilogy) helped produce this movie, along with Robert Zemeckis, who’s done some of my favorite family movies of all time like the “Back to the Future” trilogy and “The Polar Express”. While the animation on the human characters is off-putting, everything else in this film looks amazing. 
Some of my favorite visuals are the fall scenery, skinny trees, and creative spooky imagery. I especially love the animation design of this one nightmare sequence. The movie also has a talent for making common house hold objects look freighting, 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 a spooky Halloween film. Everything builds to a climactic final battle, in which the house rises up from the ground, 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 does take me back to that time when I was young and would go on imaginary spooky haunted house adventures with my friends. I can’t make a persuasive argument that this is a film for everyone, as some may be put off by the annoying character animation or other details. Perhaps it’s more of a guilty pleaser for me, but a favorite all the same. 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 the animated 2006 movie “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

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. Before I begin my countdown, I just want to state that Sci-Fi monster movies like “Aliens”, “Predator”, “Godzilla”, "The Fly" and “Jurassic Park” will not be included on this list. Even though I love those films, and consider them among the absolute best of monster movie cinema, they also belong on a completely different list that I’ll be posting another time. I just didn’t want to sound repetitive mentioning these films a second time on a similar “best monster movie” list. With that said, here are my current, top 13 favorite horror movies.    

#13 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 accidentally 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. 

#12 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.    

#11 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 that's 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 wielding bad ass who’s desperate to find Twinkies. It’s all fun with this film, and a perfect blend of both horror and comedy.  


#10 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 its own right and one that never fails to leave an effect on the viewer.  

#9 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!   

#8 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.

#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 Psycho (1960)
We all know story … a woman runs away with a bag full of stolen money, makes a pit stop at the Bates Motel, and one shower scene later … horror history is made. 
While I’ve never made it a tradition to re-watch “Psycho” around the Halloween season with all my other favorite scary films, it’s still unmistakably one of the all-time greats that the horror genera has to offer, and it’s absolutely getting a high spot on my list. It’s solidly constructed, there’s crafty camera angles, a memorable score, untouchable scenes, and at the center of it all is one of cinema’s defining villains ... an unstable killer with some serious mommy issues. After Universals classic monster’s in the vain of “Dracula”, “Frankenstein” and “The Wolfman” left the cinema’s, the horror genera was frequently looked down on as exploitive drive-in fodder, and was given little respect. “Psycho” was the mile stone that changed the game, and highlighted just how influential and dignified the genera could be when in capable hands. On a side note, this was one of my earliest horror movie experiences that got me interested in exploring further films of the genera. It further proves that after all these years, “Psycho” is undated, and can still leave an impact on modern viewers. It’s immortal for its contribution to the horror genre, and even if you’re not a fan of scary movies ... I’d still recommend giving this film a viewing.

#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 accidentally 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 ...

1408 (2007)

The Haunting (1963)

Misery (1990)

Fright Night (1985)

Ringu (1998)

#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.