Monday, July 29, 2013

Twixt (2011) : Francis Ford Coppola Sneaks Back Into Horror

~Review by Marie Robinson

Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most brilliant and acclaimed directors in film history, and he likes horror! He did, after all, make one of the greatest vampire films, and one I often consider to be my favorite movie. Well, kiddies, Coppola has made his return to horror in the form of Twixt.

It stars Val Kilmer as Hall Baltimore, a horror writer who is hard pressed for money. While on a book signing tour he stops in a strange, small town whose quirks include a pack of homeless Goth kids who hang out on the other side of the pond, a clock tower with seven faces, and an old inn where Edgar Allan Poe once stayed and was also the site of a grisly murder.

Baltimore has a lot on his mind. He is tired of penning the witchcraft thriller novels that he has become known for and wants to write something truly inspired. His editor and his wife are skeptical and unsupportive of this new direction—they’d rather he stay where the money is. On top of this, Baltimore is still grieving the sudden loss of his teenage daughter. All this stress brings Baltimore into the loving embrace of a bottle—well, many bottles.

 Lucky for him, he has stumbled a spectacular place. The bland ghost town turns into a world of gothic enchantment by night, that is, in dreams brought on by intoxicated slumbers. In this unconscious realm Baltimore meets a young girl named V (Elle Fanning) who seems to be both shunned and pursued by the ghostly inhabitants of the infamous bed and breakfast. Baltimore also makes a friend in every horror writer’s greatest influence, Edgar Allan Poe, himself who tells him the tale of the town’s murdered children.

Baltimore begins to realize just how strange the town is during the daylit hours when the sheriff takes a special interest in him. He claims to be a horror writer, himself, and expresses his wishes to collaborate on a book with Baltimore. The inspiration comes from the corpse of a teenage Jane Doe in the morgue, with a large wooden stake jutting from her chest.

Coppola claims the idea for Twixt—which was originally titled Twixt Now and Sunrise—came to him in nightmares with Poe-like imagery. Apparently the film got a small theatrical release in the States but I didn’t hear about it until it was due for DVD. It hit the shelves this last Tuesday on the 23rd.

Twixt is highly stylized to provide the gothic atmosphere Coppola wanted to achieve. He transferred it from his dreams to those of Kilmer’s character Hall Baltimore. This surreal dreamscape is draped in heavy shadows contrasted by the eerie glow of porcelain skin and bits of accent color that come from lanterns, windows, and, of course, blood.

This is definitely a bizarre film. The story is soft and slow, feeling more like poetry than prose. If there was just a little less bloodshed and dark subject matter I would totally suggest as a good movie to start your kids kick on horror! The style of it reminds me a bit of Dracula, and it is a return to vampires for Coppola; but this time, rather than drawing from Bram Stoker, the writer in question is assuredly Edgar Allan Poe.

Who knows why this film went under the radar but I think it is worth a watch. And with very mixed reviews, you’d be best to just decide for yourself how you feel about this new film from one of the masters of cinema.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Kill List (2011) : A Near-Perfect Crime Thriller From The Brits

I've heard so much about KILL LIST within this last year that I can't believe it's taken me this long to get Ben Wheatley's well-received, cutthroat thriller in my hands.

At first, the film comes off rather as a family drama than a thriller, with couple Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring, The Descent) battling it out more than once with words as well as physical battles.
Their main argument seems to be about money, since apparently Jay hasn't worked a day in eight months. He struggles with some sort of PTSD after a stint in the service and some kind of ill-fated mission gone wrong in Kiev.

Their fight moves on to include a couple they have over for dinner, Gal (Michael Smiley) and Fiona (Emma Fryer).  Embarrassingly, their argument gets very heated and leads to thick tension among the group, with Jay and Shel taking it into another room as Gal takes the quarrelsome couple's young son to bed, promising him that sometimes best friends fight, married or not.
Meanwhile, Fiona proves she is not who she says she is by heading off to the loo and carving some odd ritualistic symbol on the back of Jay and Shel's mirror.  Obviously she's up to no good.

We soon learn that Jay and Gal were soldiers together, and after their military service they became hit men for hire.  Gal has a prospective "business venture" for the two of them, and urges Jay to get back into the swing of things. Shel knows her husband's profession and in fact pleads with him to take the job, as the money is quite good.  Decidedly anxious about his monetary situation (or lack thereof), Jay does indeed accept the assignment.

Up until this point, Jay really comes off as a passive person, in fact a bit of a dolt. But all this changes as he becomes serious about his given task and the real Jay steps forward.  They meet their new employer and get all the details. Unexpectedly, the client cuts Jay's hand and seals the deal in blood.  That probably should have been the first clue that something was amiss.

First up on the kill list is a priest, and we quickly find out Jay is the more bloodthirsty of the two men. The man of the cloth is swiftly dispatched with a bullet to the head, but not before he bizarrely thanks Jay for killing him.  As they move on to the second hit - a child pornographer - Jay becomes increasingly violent, graphically bludgeoning the man's head in with a hammer after beating him up. Again, the victim thanks Jay for ending his life.  What the hell?

While Jay is busy kicking the shit out of people, Gal is discovering that there are files on he and Jay that describe their failed mission in the Ukraine, but he overlooks one of the documents that has the same mysterious symbol on it that Fiona carved into the mirror just days before.(We however, are meant to notice it.)

The men take to the woods in a hunt for their last victim, who works for Parliament. What happens in these woods surprised the hell out of me. The film does a near 180 and shifts from crime thriller to horror film in about five minutes.  While it seems like that would be a harsh technique, Wheatley manages this feat effortlessly, turning the plot on its ass and bringing us a shocking, disturbing finale.

In truth, the first third of the movie does move along at a snail's pace as the director introduces us to the characters and allows us to get to know them better.
But as mentioned, just when you think Jay is the unassuming, reticent type, he blows us away with his ruthless temper and penchant for over-the-top murder.

My only gripe next to the rather drawn-out beginning would be the sound. Perhaps it was just my DVD, but I had to push my volume to the upper limits of outer space to hear everything they were saying. In addition, I'm fairly well-versed in British films, but the accents were a bit hard for my apple-pie American ears to decipher. I'd have it up to 100 trying to hear a conversation and then would get blown away when someone shouted or fired a gun.
This is not a major fail though, as it certainly didn't bother me enough to turn the movie off.

In all, I'd say Kill List is a film that very much deserves the accolades it has received, with impressive acting and a "Wham! Bet you didn't see THAT coming..." ending.
It reminded me of another film but to say which would spoil the surprise and give too much away.
But by all means, check this one out.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Conjuring (2013): A Welcome Return To The Haunted House Tale

 ~Review by Marie Robinson

Ed and Lorraine Warren have become very famous (and probably pretty rich) because of their unconventional profession. They were a married team of paranormal researchers—Ed, who unfortunately passed away in 2006, was a demonologist, and Lorraine is a noted psychic. People know them most famously for their involvement in the Amityville haunting, but they have done presumably hundreds of other cases, some of which are very, very strange.

James Wan’s new film, The Conjuring, explores a case they did in 1971 in Rhode Island. It involves the Perron family who move into an old farmhouse and immediately begin experiencing very strange activity; the root of which is a mysterious boarded up cellar, still filled with a previous occupants belongings. When the Brady-esque family is finding it increasingly hard to be comfortable in their own home and have nowhere else to go, they call upon the dynamic psychic duo.

 This film has a shared perspective between the Perron family and the Warren family. We go into both households and get to know both families. The Warrens are reluctant to accept the Perron case because they want to spend more time as a family and focus more on their young daughter. Ed and Lorraine were also going to take an opportunity to take a break from investigating, as each case wears on Lorraine mentally.
However, it doesn’t take much pleading from the Perrons’ to convince the Warrens to help them—and it is lucky for them that they did, because as it turns out this is no simple haunting, but something much darker.
The real-life Warrens have received a lot of criticism for being what they are. After all, demonology is an unaccredited, self-proclaimed title and any proof toward psychic abilities is, well… inconclusive. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Amityville Horror case because many believe that it was all fabricated and that the tragedy that occurred there was exploited for fame and money.

Whatever you believe, interviews with the Warrens will show that they seem to be earnest, good-hearted people with a genuine desire to help. Patrick Wilson (Insidious) and Vera Farminga (Orphan) do a fabulous job portraying the Warrens. Farminga did have the advantage of getting to know the real Lorraine Warren, as she was very involved in the filming. She even has a cameo a lecture hall scene! If you are one of those people who don’t favor the Warrens you probably will not like The Conjuring as it is very much about them and serves almost as a tribute.

My opinion is that James Wan makes a damn good horror movie. I loved the first Saw, enjoyed the hell out of Dead Silence, I adore Insidious and I certainly enjoyed The Conjuring. I feel that us horror fans are very lucky to have a director like this in the genre. He not only “gets” horror but he seems to really care about what he is doing. And although he is pumping them out rather quick, so far I don’t feel that he has sacrificed quality. He seems to be developing a few favorites, such as actor Patrick Wilson and composer Joseph Bishara, who has done the score for Insidious and also provided the music for The Conjuring (damn good music, too).

Ed and Lorraine Warren
The Conjuring is a thickly atmospheric film with some seriously scary moments done well. It might not bring anything new to the table—nearly the opposite, but I like that.
It is a throwback to classic haunted house films like The Haunting or even The Amityville Horror. It is a good, fun film that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck and probably coax a few giggles out of you, too. Sometimes it is nice to just grab a friend that you can share a bag of popcorn with, dig your nails into and enjoy juicin’ up on some good old-fashioned nightmare fuel.

Fun fact: The Conjuring’s scenes were shot in sequential order!

The Conjuring is now in theatres but save some excitement for James Wan’s next film, Insidious Chapter 2, out this September!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Random Notes For A Late Tuesday Night

It seems like quite a long time since I've done one of these "random notes" posts, and I don't know why - because I always have ridiculously random thoughts running through my head. Especially at 3am when I am lying awake and can't sleep.
Anyway, I've got a little collection of stray contemplations to share.

*First off, I want to direct your attention to DR. TERROR'S BLOG OF HORRORS, who is currently celebrating another madcap week of Italian horror. It is a seriously unmatched conglomeration of awe-inspiring posts and articles completely focused on (wait for it.....) Italian horror.  There is so much goodness at this site this week (well, all of the time, really...but especially right now) that you simply must take the time to check it out.

Yours truly also has a few posts for your perusal over there as well, one of which has already posted and is a review of.....nope, not so fast...not gonna tell you. Click HERE to find out.  I do believe my other contribution will post tomorrow, so be sure to check it out too.

Your host, Jimmy Terror, works like a fiend to make this week the rousing success it most certainly is, so throw him a bone - and a few comments!  He has a great line-up of some of the best horror scribes among us and some giveaways to boot. So GO THERE NOW!

*Question: Who is going to see The Conjuring this weekend? Anyone seen it in advance?  I'm pretty much dying to see it, though I do have some reservations about any film that claims to be a "true story". While I agree some of the spookiest films claim that very truth, it's really hard to suspend my disbelief in stories like The Amityville Horror, An American Haunting, and The Haunting in Connecticut.  But I will say the trailers I've seen for The Conjuring certainly evoke a chilling vibe.  I do believe we will have a review of the film up soon, so stay tuned for our take on the James Wan spook-fest. It does seem to have a reliable cast, with Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson attached.  Time (and box office receipts) will tell.

*True Blood.  SEASON 7.  Yes!
HBO just announced the supernatural phenom that has been a staple on the cable network these last six years has just been renewed for a seventh gore-infested, sex-driven season.  As campy as it may be, I still very much look forward to my Sunday nights with Eric, Bill, Sam, Alcide, Jason....oh, and Sookie I guess.
Seriously though, isn't Pam the best?  She steals the show every damn time she's on the screen.
I am very nervous about the next few upcoming episodes though.  It's said that a MAJOR character dies this season, and I'm on the edge of my couch with worry hoping to hell it's not going to be Eric or Pam.
Unfortunately, this past week's episode put the two of them in a very precarious situation at the end. They are stuck in a brightly lit room, both armed with stakes and expected to fight to the (true) death.
Will it be one of them? Gah! I hope not!

*So. There is a lot of talk about a certain horror writer/journalist that took it upon herself to lift other people's work and pass it off as her own. It's called plagiarism. It's also a really shitty thing to do.
But in lieu of lambasting and persecuting this female any more than she already has been, I want you to instead click HERE.  BJ Colangelo of the stellar horror blog DAY OF THE WOMAN has written a list of horror journalists that deserve your attention more than someone whose career has just dissolved yet still seems to be getting an inappropriate amount of regard.  The horror community is on fire with all the particulars of the "crime" but I just really don't want to dwell. I want to move on, and you should too. Hence, BJ's article. Do check it out, and take in the array of writers that she highlights who are doing fine work to keep horror alive, and doing so with original ideas, hard work, and passion for the genre.
(On a personal note, I'd like to say thanks to BJ for including the likes of this humble writer with such an outstanding group of women.)

*Paranormal Activity 5 may be delayed and not released this Halloween!
Care factor: ZERO.

*Halloween is just around the corner. No, really!  A little over three months away, the favorite holiday of all us horror fanatics looms large in particular for horror bloggers, who always like to have something special lined up for the month.  Here at FWF we are no different.  Marie and I are hard at work, wracking our brain to come up with something distinctive and memorable. The last few years have had the very popular "Festival of Lists", which though we realize is great fun to read, it is not quite as enchanting to write.  Lists are part of this blog's bread and butter, but I have to admit that the pressure of coming up with a different list for every day of the month (and as the month goes on, the lists gets longer, coordinating with the day of the month) is mind-boggling.  It is with a heavy heart that I admit it is just not within my power to do it again this year. I've acquired a lot of family responsibilities in recent months, which doesn't leave me as much time to gather thoughts to make up such exhaustive lists.  But wait! That doesn't mean we aren't doing something special for the month of October. We will have something lined up, and in fact are currently working on just that. So never fear, Fascination with Fear will (hopefully) blow your mind again this year!
On that note, if anyone has a staggeringly great concept be sure to let us know. And by that I mean, if there is anything you'd like us to possibly pursue, drop us a comment or an email.  We're always looking to freshen things up and try new ideas.

*That's all for now. Just wanted to air some thoughts and let you know what's going on in the House of Fear.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Taking The Color Out Of Horror...Part 5

So here's another post in which I remove the color from a horror film, essentially changing it to a black and white film.  Monochrome is so incredibly atmospheric, and sometimes it adds a lot to a picture that is otherwise mundane.   Shadows are ever-present, darkness looms around every corner, and things that didn't seem too scary in color take on a whole new vibe when in black and white.
Even films which are famous for amazing use of color (as in many Argento films) can be changed into a completely different movie by just the absence of hues.  In any event, I love the way they look!

As I've done this type of post four times before, you may want to check out those links:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

What do you think?