Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Night of the Living Deb, or: Horror? Comedy?

The last film of Horror Month is upon us with perhaps the most dubious of all horror subgenres:  the horror comedy.  It has brought the Blog Collab memorable highs (Grabbers, Housebound, 3-Headed Shark Attack) and devastating lows (All Cheerleaders Die, Ghost Shark).  Which one will it be this time around?

The Film:

Night of the Living Deb

The Premise:

The zombie apocalypse is unleashed on Portland, ME, giving the titular Deb the opportunity she’s been waiting for to meet cute guys and eat froyo.

The Ramble:

It’s Independence Day in Portland…an important day historically for the US to fight off aliens and other hostile non-human life forms.  Deb and her bff Ruby are out drinking with the rest of the town in honor of the 4th.  Because nothing sounds like a better time in the summer than crowding in an enclosed space with a bunch of sweaty strangers.

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’90s game strong.

Ruby encourages Deb to go talk to Ryan, a guy she’s been scoping out all evening.  As soon as Deb works up the courage to flirt really badly with Ryan, his fiancée Stacy interrupts and picks a fight with him.  Apparently Ryan is none too keen to work for and inherit the rather shady family business, thus securing their financial future.  After the fight, Deb and Ryan hook up, which he immediately regrets.

The next day, Deb leaves Ryan’s apartment without fanfare.  Both soon realize that this won’t be a typical 4th as Deb witnesses children feeding on the flesh of their parents and the barista attacks Ryan at his local coffee shop.

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The commute was…murder…

 

Overhearing on the radio that Portland is under a state of emergency, Deb and Ryan team up to find their families.  Ryan’s family is in the city, and Deb’s mother has retired to Virginia Beach.

First, the two check in on Ruby at the Christmas store where she works.  Sadly, Ruby has been zombified, and Deb vows to end her miserable existence.  However, she’s unable to follow through with her plan and instead traps Ruby in the trunk of her car until scientists develop a cure.

Deb and Ryan do make it to his family’s house, where his father, brother, and fiancée are gathered.  As it turns out, Ryan’s father may have played a role in the zombie outbreak, caused by contaminated city water.

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Road trip!  To celebrate your family NOT killing us with contaminated water.

Things get really fucked up from here on out, as Ryan’s brother, who is in love with Stacy confronts her and then lets her die by zombie attack.  Deb has decided to leave after she hears suspicious sounds from Ryan and Stacy’s room.  Once she reaches a certain checkpoint, she realizes Portland is now the equivalent of the Hotel California–she’s not allowed to leave, even with the influential connection to Ryan’s family.  The state has decided to cover up the outbreak, which would’ve sounded more far-fetched to me around 5 years ago or so.

With Ruby’s help, Deb manages to escape with Ryan and enact an admittedly rather brilliant plan.  But is it too late to save their lives or for Deb to (eye roll) fulfill her dreams?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I initially liked Deb, but it wasn’t even halfway through the film that my opinion reversed dramatically.  Her awkwardness is endearing until it feels like it tries too hard, though I do love her rather ’90s inspired wardrobe complete with jelly sandals and a scrunchie.  She’s a hastily constructed character at best, jumping from supposed lifelong dream to another, whether it’s finding love or becoming a news anchor.

The worst, however, are the men (of course).  Ryan’s entire fucking family must be a bunch of sociopaths because (1).  His father caused the goddamn zombie apocalypse in Portland and coasts by pretty easily without consequence (perhaps the most realistic element of this film), (2).  His brother is really trigger happy and lets Stacy, a woman he claims to love, get eaten by zombies, (3).  Ryan has no reaction to Stacy’s death AT ALL and lies to her about what happened with Deb.  Also, can I point out that Ruby just sort of wanders off into the woods, never to be heard from again?

Considering how horrible 90% of the characters in this film are, the way the zombie apocalypse is played off as a joke in order to wrap things up happily is infuriating.  The happy ending (oops, spoiler?) doesn’t feel earned, and I hope Ruby comes back to town to burn it all down.

Would Christa save this one in the trunk or put it out of its misery ASAP?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, or: Lute Duet

I’m sad and astonished to report we’re close to wrapping up the best month on the blog.  This week brings us more horror with the unintentional bonus theme of (mis)handling mental health.  But let’s be honest—that’s every month on this blog.

The Film:

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

The Premise:

Upon moving to a creepy house in the country, a woman’s dark hallucinations return, disrupting her connection to reality.

The Ramble:

After mysteriously moving to a small, rural town, Jessica is ready to put the past behind her.  She’s arrived in town rather ominously in a hearse, along with her husband and also…some random guy who just lives with them?  Like I tried really hard to figure out why he was there being the awkward live-in third wheel but that remains unclear.

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Cemeteries are pretty cool, though.

So anyway…Jessica alludes vaguely to her visions and time in the hospital, but is more than happy to leave all of that behind.  It seems eerie visions aren’t entirely in the past, though, when she sees a ghostly figure of a woman in a graveyard.  To avoid any unwanted questions, Jessica keeps this particular sighting quiet, convincing herself she didn’t really see anything.  That always works out well in horror, right…?

To make things worse, the group takes a ferry over to the house, aka the old Brookfield place.  The man who runs the ferry tells them sinisterly they’ll be on the other side soon after hearing where they’re heading.  Ooooooooh, double meanings!

Upon arriving at the house, Jessica and the others discover they aren’t quite alone.  A woman named Emily has been living in the abandoned house and, feeling a kinship with her, Jessica invites her to stay.  She sort of regrets this immediately when Emily and Jessica’s husband, Duncan, share an uncomfortable lute duet filled with sexual tension.

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Nice…lute?

Meanwhile, Jessica is seeing more and more dark visions, including seeing blood, hearing voices, and encountering a dead body floating in the nearby pond.  The small town vibe is rather eerie as well—the approximately 4 dudes who live in town seem set on being really standoffish and uninviting.  The one somewhat friendly face in town is the antiques dealer, who is quick to reveal the sad story of a local woman who drowned and now haunts the town and/or may be a vampire (begging the question of whether you can be both a vampire and a ghost simultaneously).

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TBH, I was expecting this to become a scene from IDFAHITWA as soon as the antique shop came into play.  Sadly, it did not.

As Jessica sees increasingly disturbing images, Emily is more and more sinister, and Duncan acts even sleazier, Jessica begins to question what is real, desperate to convince herself she’s imagining everything.  Who will make it to the other side, as it were?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s not especially scary as a horror film, but it does set up an atmosphere of paranoia very effectively and tackles mental health quite well.  Jessica seeing things no one else can see and constantly second-guessing herself and the voices in her head is so real.

I really enjoyed Emily as a character/chaotic force of nature while simultaneously feeling a lot of sympathy for Jessica.  The men in this film could’ve just spontaneously combusted and it would have been fine with me; they were quite bland characters.

Ha, though some of the, er, suspenseful music is hilarious and does take away from the drama of it all at times.  It makes me wonder if all of the intense music post-Dark Knight will be laughable in a few years and take people out of the scene immediately.

Did this one scare Christa to death or would she hop onto a ferry in search of something better?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Dark Song, or: Angels & Demons

As much as this month is about trashy horror, it wouldn’t be complete without a moody slow burner about dealing with grief through a countryside retreat to practice occult rituals.  With a man who is essentially an extremely ginger Paul Giamatti.

The Film:

A Dark Song

The Premise:

A woman hires an occultist to perform a ritual allowing her to communicate with her murdered son.

The Ramble:

Sophia has been mourning her son’s unsolved murder for a long time (understandably) and finally decides to do something about it.  Her solution?  Occult ritual to summon a guardian angel that will grant her a request.  Though she claims the request will be to speak with her child one ore time, does Sophia have ulterior motives?  Spoiler alert:  yes.

The occultist she meets with is Joseph, who has had a 1 in 3 success rate, which I guess isn’t too shabby in the occult world?  In order to complete the ritual, Sophia will have to follow Joseph’s instructions without question, some of which are pretty gnarly.  Joseph initially turns down her request, even for a shitload of money, but decides to take on the ritual when she convinces him her motives are pure.

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The film’s original pitch as a road trip comedy was less successful…

Joseph explains the ritual is basically a journey (I guess he’s a New Age occultist) in which they’ll travel through 5 circles, invoking the angel at all stages.  Most likely, the angel will materialize after the 4th or 5th step.  Of course, there are also really horrific tasks along the way for purification.  Sophia has to do things like shave Joseph’s body (what), spend hours to days reciting from one of the dark magic books (obv I totally know a lot about this kind of thing…) without food or sleep, drinking stemless wine glasses of Joseph’s blood, and getting naked in front of him so he can “purify” himself (gross gross gross).

There are some signs that the rituals are working like birds hitting the window and Sophia hearing her son’s voice speaking to her.  However, after a while, it becomes clear that they’re really not getting the intended results from all of the blood drinking and…uh, emergence of other bodily fluids.  As it turns out, Sophia’s real motive is to rain down vengeance on the teens who killed her son in a pseudo-occult ritual (and were never caught).  Joseph says it’s fine as a motive, but lying about it was distinctly not ok.

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Lying is impure, but cigarettes are fine.

For the ritual to work now, Joseph insists Sophia must be purified, which means nearly drowning her in a cold bath in the middle of the night.

After Sophia’s near-death experience, she’s angry with their lack of progress and lashes out at Joseph.  Things escalate rather quickly in ways that aren’t wonderful for Joseph.  After Sophia tries to leave the house, she discovers she can’t… and of course things get really sinister from here on out.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The eerie ambiance is perfect and burns so slowly, leading to a suspenseful ending.  Not a lot of horror can do what this film does.  However (as always), men ruined it for me.   I had trouble getting around Joseph being an asshole for 95% of his screen time.  Sophia isn’t necessarily the most likeable character ever, but she’s easier to understand and feel sympathy for.  The last 30 minutes or so of this are pure perfection, though, and  (SPOILER) blissfully Joseph-free (sorry, dude).

Would Christa complete an occult ritual with this one or let it drown in the bathtub? Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Cult of Chucky, or: Toy Story 7

The best month on the blog continues with a somewhat less…artistic film?  Unless you consider fake blood and slow-mo glass shattering to be fine artistry.

The Film:

Cult of Chucky

The Premise:

This feels redundant.

The Ramble:

Rather cringey and ill-timed opening conversation about guns aside, what you expect from this film is exactly what you get.  The serial killer-possessed doll is back (yet again) for mayhem and murder.  The first few minutes more or less catch us up to speed with the story so far, which is helpful for me as a viewer who has occasionally seen bits and pieces of the films (except in the way it pervades horror pop culture [is that a thing?]).

Andy, now an adult, has been haunted by Chucky since childhood.  It seems all of the years of murder/psychological warfare have made Andy a bit twisted, as he now keeps Chucky’s head in a safe and brings it out on wild nights to torture it a bit.  Let’s not get into the moral dilemma of this scenario, ok?

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Just another Friday night at home…

Meanwhile, another survivor of Chucky’s madness is suffering quite a bit herself.  Nica is a patient in a high security psychiatric hospital after allegedly going on a murder spree and blaming it all on Chucky.  She has MS and rolls around in a wheelchair (possibly the only horror heroine to do so?!??!).

After gaining better control over her delusions, Nica will move to a medium security facility that’s appropriately ominous.  Even though the nurse Carlos says he’s just doing a job, he seems to be fond of Nica and leaves her a gift of chewing gum.

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What other facility could better promote positive mental health?

The others in the hospital include a woman who claims to be a ghost, a man with multiple personalities, a woman who smothered her own child, and an arsonist who instantly dislikes Nica.  Everyone seems to know about Nica’s dodgy past, which seems like a major ethical violation…but that’s really the least of the psychiatrist’s offenses.

Things are going along, eh, reasonably well, until the ghost lady tells Nica that her niece isn’t doing well…and that Chucky is coming.  For some stupid fucking reason, the psychiatrist decides to bring out a Chucky doll as an exercise, which the patient missing her child instantly claims as her own.   Yeah, about .25 seconds later he’s wielding a knife.

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Still a better super team than the Avengers.

From this point, of course, the bodies start piling up.  And so do the Chucky dolls–in addition to the creepy Chucky head chilling with Andy, there are two dolls in the hospital.

Oh, also, Jennifer Tilly, Chucky’s girlfriend, has adopted Nica’s niece for whatever reason.  Mostly to torture Nica.

At a later point, the psychiatrist tries hypnosis with Nica and reveals what a goddamn sleaze he is.  Will Nica escape both the psychiatrist and Chucky?

And will Andy ever make it to the hospital?  I kind of forgot about him–did you?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is so much fun it’s hard not to like.  The plot avoids going in the direction you expect, and I appreciate the almost complete lack of romance in this (really expected a Nica/Andy hookup and was pleasantly surprised that this didn’t happen).  Most of the characters are really fun to watch and have at least some emotional depth.  The ending manages to surprise and makes the ride even more fun.

It’s also incredibly satisfying to watch a certain wannabe Freud finally fucking die (spoiler/not really a spoiler because you know it’s coming).

Note to filmmakers:  if your horror is set in a psych ward, odds of me liking it increase exponentially.  Also the representation of several of the psychological disorders here was not the worst (I mean, for a horror film).

Would Christa lock this one away or unleash its madness upon the world?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Under the Shadow, or: Djinn and Tonic (Sorry)

It’s October, our favorite month on the blog!  Besides all of the other months.  October is always like coming full circle to our first collaborative posts on Ginger Snaps.  Never fear–there will be plenty of questionable special effects and metaphors for puberty later this month.  First, we’re kicking things off with a more sinister horror that dials up the suspense.

The Film:

Under the Shadow

The Premise:

A woman in 1980s Tehran suspects the Iran-Iraq War isn’t the only thing to fear when creepy things start happening in her apartment.

The Ramble:

After failing to gain re-acceptance into med school, Shideh finds it difficult to contain her resentment of her family–husband Iraj and daughter Dorsa.  Because of her politics during the 1979 Revolution, Shideh is essentially blacklisted from the university.  Most discouraging of all is her mother’s recent death, which has given Shideh the final push to complete her studies and achieve their shared dream.

Unfortunately, it’s too late for Shideh to become a doctor, which her doctor husband is pretty ok with TBH.  The tension between the two is always simmering below the surface and boils over pretty frequently.  Sometimes Shideh finds herself snapping at her daughter too as she feels she was too quick to start a family.

All of this is happening in the ongoing Iran-Iraq War, which draws closer to Tehran every day.  It won’t be long before Iraj must serve his country at the heart of the fighting, leaving Shideh and Dorsa to worry about the threat of missiles and maybe even spirits haunting the apartment building.

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The first and last time anyone in this film smiles.

Dorsa insists she can see and hear things in the apartment that she suspects are djinn.  Fun fact:  a djinn is apparently a lot different from what I thought it was.  In this film, the djinn is sort of a ghost or breeze that floats in.  Horrifyingly, Dorsa seems to be getting these stories from the creepy neighbor kid…who also happens to be mute.  Me.  Out of there.  Immediately.

If the supernatural elements weren’t stressful enough, the anxiety meter gets cranked up when missiles target Tehran, even striking the apartment building itself.  Shideh tries to save a neighbor who has a heart attack in response, but bitterly reflects she’s not really a doctor.

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No pressure, but that missile could also explode at any point during CPR.

After the missile scare, many of the neighbors leave.  Shideh, however, refuses to leave–partly because the last thing she wants to do is rely on her in-laws.  This woman is made of sterner stuff than I because she experiences something trying to choke her in the night, the destruction of her beloved Jane Fonda workout tape, strange sounds, and the disappearance of Dorsa’s doll.  The last part is especially troubling as one of the neighbors (helpfully) tells Shideh she’s screwed if the djinn possesses something of hers.

Meanwhile, the air raid sirens have been sounding more and more frequently, prompting Shideh’s decision to finally leave Tehran with Dorsa.  First, they must navigate an accusation of indecency when Shideh flees during an air raid without wearing a hijab.  For fuck’s sake, men.

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In times of crisis, at least we can rely on men to consistently act like assholes.

Added complication:  Shideh must find the doll before she and Dorsa can leave.  It doesn’t help that Dorsa keeps saying heart-stopping things about a lady who has the doll and says she can take care of her.

Which will Shideh and Dorsa encounter first:  the doll, the missiles, or the djinn?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I loved this one–so damn creepy and suspenseful.  Though it’s a fairly short film, my heart was pounding through its entire run time.  Having both the threat of war and supernatural phenomena was effective in creating tension that had me genuinely concerned about our two main characters.

Speaking of our main characters, I enjoyed the realistic relationship between mother and daughter.  Shideh got frustrated with her daughter regularly and frequently seemed to fail to be patient or sympathetic.  I never had the sense that their relationship was easy (Shideh was, after all, raising a daughter by herself in the midst of war, broken dreams, and angry spirits), but it felt strong throughout and grounded the film.

Word of warning–if you have the option to watch the dubbed version, don’t do it.  Netflix defaulted to some of the worst English dubbed dialogue, and I switched over to subtitled Farsi almost immediately.  It’s much more convincing.

Would Christa tape this one back together like a broken doll or kill it with fire?  Find out here!