Category Archives: Lessons From Horror Movies
Russian teens gather in front of a broken mirror to evoke the spirit of the Queen of Spades. The kids soon discover that the Queen is no urban legend and she is now attached to them. Haunted and hunted by a vengeful spirit, can they find a way to escape from her clutches?
The Queen of Spades is the Russian equivalent of Bloody Mary. Grab a candle, get in front of a mirror, use lipstick to draw a door and steps, close your eyes and call her forth. If you are successful and she appears – congratulations! Now that you have summoned her, she can appear at will in other reflective surfaces. Eventually, she will cut your hair. Then, she will kill you.
Why call her up in the first place? Teens will be teens.
Actually, what starts out as a teen horror flick transforms into a “father will do anything to save his daughter from the demon” flick. The Dad of the youngest girl is summoned to his (ex?) wife’s apartment because the kid is acting strange. He doesn’t believe his daughter at first. He thinks her friends put the idea in her head and her imagination is working overtime. He only recognizes the danger she is in when the Queen of Spades begins following him around, too.
(The girl’s mother disappears for a nice chunk of the movie. I assume she and the other missing guardians are working…)
The movie does do some interesting things. When it’s time to contact the spirit a second time, the kids gather around a walkie-talkie instead of a Ouija board. Rather than an internet search montage to find background info about the Queen or the ritual, this film does something a little old fashioned – a figure cloaked in shadow who gives them advice. Our shadow man has tangled with her in the past but didn’t score a clean victory.
Queen Of Spades has a problem with keeping the tension high. Here’s an example not related to the haunting. Dad is a mechanic who is using a client’s car to drive around. Early on in the film the client threatens to call the police and report the car stolen. It’s to show that the father is jeopardizing his business and freedom for the sake of his child. The car never gets returned but the threat just vanishes.
While not exactly by the numbers, this film was obviously influenced by a lot of other horror movies. The creature looks like an older version of Mama. The father goes on a “Ring” type of quest. How does he get cursed? By watching a video of the ritual. The writers also stirred in a little Exorcist for good measure.
Do you want to summon the Queen of Spades – the movie is missing part of the ritual but all the details are here. A word of advice, make sure you understand how to get rid of her before you call her.
A duo who creates fake ghost/monster hunting videos for Youtube comes up with a great idea: film a documentary about real people who believe they are monsters. They rope in two more folks (a fellow fighting drug addiction and an ex-girlfriend) and set out to interview a supposed tattooed vampire, a body-camera wearing skinwalker and girl possessed by a demon.
Did I mention this documentary was being filmed in a boarded up house that has been the location of satanic rituals?
The Monster Project spends a healthy time trying to establish characters and relationships to foreshadow upcoming conflicts, etc. The filmmakers weren’t that exciting – just love triangles and typical drama. I wish the film had spent more time getting to know the monsters outside of the house. It could have been a day-in-the life of these normal people who believe they harbor dangerous, terrifying secrets.
Things don’t really get going until they get to the house where – aaahhh real monsters! Do you know the chase scenes from Scooby-Doo where they run from room to room? That’s what happens here with shrieks, gurgles, growls and bloodshed.
As a found footage film, there is an explanation – sort of – for the multiple points of view. The filmmakers have cameras, the house has cameras everywhere, etc. However, there is a scene that we get were a camera recording it is completely illogical. That was a distraction for me.
The ending is one that you may not see coming but the film does throw out a few clunky clues early on.
Tip: Don’t work with your ex.
Note: There a completely unrelated organization called The Monster Project that encourages kids to “pursue their creative potential.”
You think you can ghost Marina? Unfriend her on social media, ignore her messages and FaceChats? You are an amateur; Marina takes ghosting to a whole new level. You’re not ready.
Let’s start from the beginning. Laura is a beautiful, popular girl with over 800 friends on a Facebook lookalike site. She’s also a good, kindhearted girl who magnanimously accepts a friend request from a Marina, a girl who (OMG! Can you believe it) has 0 social media friends.
Unfortunately, Marina is tremendously clingy. She believes that this virtual like translates into real life best friends.
Laura is too nice to tell Marina to back off. She pretends that she’s too sick to have a birthday get together rather than telling Marina the truth. Of course, Laura’s real life friends document the festivities on social media. Then, all hell breaks loose.
A big stumbling block for this movie is the Facebook lookalike site everyone uses. At one point, Laura and friends desperately want to delete profiles or remove disturbing material from them but can’t. It’s incredibly easy to be suspended from Facebook. That these college aged people being helpless doesn’t ring true. IRL, those types of offensive post would have been taken down because of complaints.
So, Laura and the gang not being in control of their social media looks more incompetent than scary. To be fair, they do try to explain it but…eh.
It’s a bit of The Ring, with just a hint of Stay Alive. It’s has a nice surprise or two but don’t think about the plot after the credits.
*Why lie if your social medial timeline will give you away?
*Careful who you befriend on social media.
*Do you see ovaries in the 2nd poster…or is it just me?
The poster pretty much tells the whole story. Anywho…
In Rings, the third movie in the series, people watch a cursed video and get timely visits from Samara. To add a little spice to the plot, our lady of the well has hidden brand new images in the old video. Can Julia, our hero, figure out what they mean before her time runs out?
This movie feels like two or three scripts spliced together. There’s the story of a professor who gets students to watch the video for an unethical/illegal research project. Then, there is the story of Julia – a girl who voluntarily watches the tape to save her boyfriend. The boyfriend is the bridge; he’s a student of the naughty professor.
The intermingling of the stories is very clunky. As a viewer, I had questions about the research project. How many students died on the 7th day? How many are being haunted at any one time? Are there variations in the terrorizing? One will never know. Instead of two parallel tales throughout the film, the professor angle ends abruptly and we are left with Julia’s story.
Unfortunately, the new clues lead to very familiar territory. Julia has interesting eyebrows though; they are trying to tell their own tale. My response to the big reveal at the end: “Oh.”
Tip: Your lover is going away to college and leaving you at home? Save yourself trouble and break up with them.
Gary met, fell in love with and married Samantha. In addition to being a loving husband, he’s signed up to be stepfather to young Lucas. Lucas doesn’t want a new daddy and does everything in his power to drive Gary away. It sounds like a typical family comedy – except Lucas is powered by Satan – his birth father.
With Gary and other forces vying to win Lucas’ affection (and soul), can this family be saved?
Little Evil is a horror comedy that is heavy on the comedy and “eh” on the horror. It feels like a bunch of friends got together over a weekend or two and had a really good time putting this movie together. Will the viewer have fun? This is mostly a parody of The Omen, so how much you enjoy this movie may depend on your memory of the 1976 classic.**
Samantha’s backstory is pretty interesting; I wish it was a bigger part of the movie. Besides ignoring most of the bad things her son does, she’s constantly encouraging Gary to try harder to “reach” Lucas. There’s not much else for this character to do.
Gary is okay. Bland, but okay. It’s everyone around him that puts the zing into his life. Thankfully, he joins a stepdad support group which contains some colorful characters. They are the ones that help him cope and will be there when it’s time for the ultimate showdown with evil.
Al, Gary’s coworker and fellow stepdad, is the one who introduces him to the group. Al is played by Bridget Everett and reminds me of a younger, less mature version of Dan Conner. Some articles reference Al as queer (butch lesbian, gender fluid, or a transman) and make a big deal about the character being fully accepted and respected by their male, (presumably) CIS gender peer group.
Except for a bit early on where Gary is trying to figure out which side of the “step” binary Al falls into, gender/orientation really isn’t brought up again. Is this revolutionary? Not to me but your mileage may vary.
If you are looking for a horror movie, look somewhere else. If you want a chuckle or two, Little Evil works.
*Before marrying the woman of your dreams, consider developing a relationship with your future step-demon.
*Take Your Demon-possessed Spawn To Work Day would be awesome.
*Satan is My Co-Parent is a book that would fly off of parenting/self-help shelves.
**I saw the 2006 remake of The Omen. Other than it’s release date – 06/06/06 – I can’t remember a thing about it.
Three Americans visiting Japan decide to find an ancient temple with a troubling history. Almost everyone they encounter tells them not to go. Guess what? They find it and trouble.
Our trio consists of Kate (the beautiful), James (the jealous, yet unfaithful) and Christopher (the troubled). Kate and James are a couple. She and Christopher have been plutonic friends since kindergarten. James and Christopher are meeting for the first time. While the men are passive-aggressively challenging each other, Kate smiles her way through.
Take this relationship drama and drop it in a dark forrest with a haunted temple and you get a thimbleful of potential and a bucket of disappointment.
The movie uses a familiar narrative frame: a person is being interviewed by police about the events of the past few days because something bad has happened. The survivor/suspect has bandages all over their face – which one of our three main characters can it be? I won’t spoil it, but the answer isn’t too hard to figure out.
For every attempt at misdirection, there”s a huge clue pointing squarely at the culprit.
The story is lacking in a few other ways. For example, Kate’s is supposed to be visiting various temples for a class/research but she doesn’t act like it. She shows up with no plan, no list of temples to visit and no Japanese language basics. How do they find out about the temple? By flipping through a book at a random store.
Once the action gets into full swing at the temple (if takes our friends a while to get there), we are suddenly presented with several supernatural baddies. We are on the cusp of excitement! Then, despite an unexpected turn of events, the ending falls flat.
How to explain the ending without giving it away…
Imagine watching a show featuring an inexperienced magician. He’s earnest and easy on the eyes, so you overlook the extra card falling out of his sleeve. You smile politely when he accidentally drops the wand. For the last trick, all he has to do is pull a rabbit out of a hat. You can tell something is wrong; he’s hesitating.
Suddenly, a fire alarm goes off and everyone starts running. On your way out the door, you look around and realize the magician is still on the stage. He is smiling, relieved. The hat has toppled over and no rabbit is inside.
This is what Temple is like – a magic act that substitutes an abrupt ending for a real finale.
Tip: Night time in the woods is not a good time to have a heart to heart with your boyfriend.
Have you ever had a day where every decision you make is a bad one? The shortest line in the grocery store turns out to have a cashier who is hungover and no longer sure how to work the register? Get bluffed out of a winning poker hand? Did you take a shortcut that made you 45 minutes late? This is the movie for you!.
Meet Shiro, a man who wants to be honorable but has a knack for making the wrong decision. The man attracts death; he puts Jessica Fletcher to shame.
Shiro has been courting Yukiko, the daughter of one of his teachers. Just as the professor is giving the couple his blessing to wed, evil asshole Tamura pops in to cast his nasty shadow on the event.
Tamura gives Shiro a ride home. Along the way they run over a man and flee the scene. To be fair, Shiro does want to stop but he’s not the driver, so… Once Shiro discovers the victim has died, he decides to go to the police with Yukiko and tell the truth. She wants to walk to the station; he insists on taking a taxi. The cab crashes, killing Yukiko.
Guilt ridden, Shiro visits his parents in a rundown nursing home. Meanwhile, the two deaths have also destroyed other lives. Loved ones of the dead seek out Shiro for their own purposes. Then, Tamura shows up. Lies, deception and anger swirl around propelling everyone into a living hell.
When Shiro dies, it is revealed that the torment he has suffered on Earth is only an appetizer.
The Buddhist version of Hell (aka Jigoku) is gory. Bodies get sawed in half, teeth get smashed in, etc. However, these are 1960 effects. Some may find this depiction visually disturbing, but it’s not vomit inducing torture-porn.
What’s worst than the physical torment? Characters who lied while alive are propelled to tell the truth.
Watch this movie and get your eternal life together.
-Your evil friends are not your friends. They will turn the poison on you eventually.
-Seriously, get your life together.
A group nature hike turns deadly when the animals turn into rage machines. Contending with the crazed beasts requires group unity, but ego and pride make that impossible.
This is a man-f*cked-up-the-environment-and-nature-strikes-back movie. It’s a warning for aerosol can spraying heathens to get their lives together:
This motion picture dramatizes what COULD happen
in the near future IF we continue to do nothing to
stop this damage to Nature’s protective shield
for life on this planet.
Here’s the film logic behind the disaster: thanks to the hole in the ozone layer, the levels of ultra violet radiation are rising and driving the animals mad. (I asked a scientist about this possibility and she’d never heard of such a thing.)
It’s also important to note that the animals don’t attack each other. Rather, different groups coordinate to attack the human intruders. This movie reminds me of The Warriors in a way – as the hikers try to make their way through the mountain, they encounter animal “gangs” – the wolves, the mountain lions, etc.
People in the valley are having a tough time too. There’s a rat attack that is sure to have your skin crawling.
The hiking group is diverse in a way that would please the director of diversity at Apple: a former NFL player referred to as “the cripple”, a Native American (who senses danger before the others), the ranger, an asshole business executive, a mother and her pre-teen son, a new couple, a bitter couple, a professor and a blonde news anchorwoman. Even without the extra radiation, the hiking trip sounds like a bad idea. The original plan was to spend two weeks hiking and camping with no weapons and limited food.
Paul, the business executive, is played by Leslie Neilson. Be warned: he’s not playing a comedic character. He’s the guy who immediately strikes up a conversation with the Native American and starts throwing “kemosabi” around. It’s all jokes until the animals start hunting them down.
Convinced he’s the smartest man around, Paul challenges the guide’s leadership. The group splits in two. Guess who becomes more vicious than the wolves? Once he is in charge, Paul gets to act out his Lord Of The Flies fantasies.
The other faction is much more cooperative. There are moments of bravery and self-sacrifice. The animals pick a few off from each group, but they don’t have to worry about a human villain.
Heavy drama mixed with savage animal attacks – this movie is a winner.
*The racist is a sexist, trust me on this.
*Dogs are just pretending to be goofy and lovable – they hate you. They really,
really hate you.
*House cats are indifferent to your existence no matter the UV levels.
My mom visited recently and took over the remote. She loves horror movies but between cable, Netflix and Hulu she kept getting “duds” – poorly acted films that had decent cover art. Even the movies that were good quality-wise bored her because the plots ran out of gas.
When the conversation turned to our faves, I asked what horror films she would recommend to folks. Here is her list:
1) The Hellraiser Series
Mom: The first three movies are the strongest; the rest of them are okay. Everything but the last one. That was trash.
2) The Woman In Black
Mom: This had it all: story, atmosphere, that harry potter boy. It’s not just a haunted house; it’s haunted people.
3) The Abominable Dr. Phibes & Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Mom: This is how you do “horror” comedy right. It’s a simple premise, a bad guy motivated by his undying love. Dr. Phibes is a sympathetic character-even when he does really nasty things. It feels good to root for him. Plus, it’s not the same type of murder over and over again.
So, like, there’s this kid – Clare – who has a really horrible life. She gets bullied all the time by the popular clique at school and her dad is like a junk man who crawls through others people garbage. And, OMG, he does it outside of her school! That’s so embarrassing. Clare is an artist – just like her mother was. That kinda scares her because she doesn’t want to follow in her mother footsteps into an early grave.
One day, Clare’s dad finds this weird oriental music box in the garbage and decides to give it to her as a gift. Clare takes Chinese and paid enough attention in class to understand most of what’s written on the box. However, she can’t figure out that fine print… Whatevs! The mean girls are being mean on social media and Clare wishes that her main antagonist would just rot. And she does! That unexplained death that occurs later can’t be related to the wish can it? Can it?
I had fun at Wish Upon. It is not and never pretended to be a gory, bloody thrill ride. The goriest thing about the movie is the poster. Clare is a kid – so it’s a given that she’s going to make some bad decisions. I’m just happy that most teens in current movies are smart enough not to hang out in cemeteries.
Also, the movie hinted a teeny bit at some ideas that I wish (ha!) they had explored fully. What if the box isn’t granting wishes, but transporting Clare to another part of the multiverse where the life she wants already exists? Or, what if, as the box is passed from person to person in a community it creates it’s own ground-hog day type of scenario? What if people are dying and un-dying over and over again depending on who gets the box or what they wish for?
Okay, I may be putting more thought into the movie than the folks who created it.
Anywho, here are some of my thoughts during the movie:
*Wait! Is that the heart-throb from Cruel Intentions and I Know What You Did Last Summer playing somebody’s uncool, dumpster diving dad? I’m getting old. 😦
*The cast has some color in it. Now, I’m going to be nervous for these characters. (crosses fingers whenever they appear on screen.)
*The fine print is written in ancient Chinese? In essence, it’s an ancient Chinese secret? (groan)
*Clare, you can’t beat this by yourself. You need a priest. Or a monk. Kid, find an adult!
*That song played over the end credits is catchy.
Tip #1: Read the fine print first.
Tip #2: If you are going to put your soul in jeopardy, might as well wish big!