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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you grew up with this book series, you might remember that the stories themselves were actually not that memorable at all, but Stephen Gammell’s beautiful illustrations bored into your very soul and remain tucked deep in the recesses of your memory banks.

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I really ought to get his stuff framed.

Scary Stories takes place during a time of turmoil in small-town America: Nixon is on the verge of winning the presidential race while barely-adults are getting shipped off to ‘Nam to die. This particular town is known for a haunted house, home to a restless spirit who was known for telling scary stories to the townschildren who were later killed.

oooOOoooh 

When our plucky horror-fiend Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) steals the ghost’s infamous storybook, the stories come to life and prey on her and her friends’ worst fears.

Adapting this campfire tale anthology has proven to be a tricky task, even with horror master Guillermo del Toro behind the helm(ish). Though trying its best to weave a narrative, the story itself is what happened if Goosebumps, Paranorman and It had some sort of a three-way lovechild with a bad case of the jump scares.

Considering the artwork’s iconicism, one would think they’d go all out, right? Though an excellent attempt was made, the monsters were unfortunately buried under a CG sheen rather than opting for practical effects. The camera also refuses to linger much, reaction-cutting like crazy, resulting in that overproduced style of young adult horror.

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Despite this lack of definition, I think there are some merits to be found if you squint hard enough. For instance, I appreciated that the setting was in the late 1960’s, rather than cashing in on the 1980’s/1990’s nostalgia grab. However attempts to reel in on that childhood trauma and small-town-wartime-angst/paranoia comes off as heavy-handed and rather clunky.

In short, this is a decent 13+ scary movie, but sadly lacks the needed grit and tonal atmosphere to make something beautifully original. Personally, I think an anthology film would have been more fun and effective – like a gritty Trick or Treat. But I guess we’ll find out in the inevitable sequel.

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Halloween

Film Title: Halloween

I like that the mask ages with him.

When John Carpenter’s 1978 classic was unleashed to the masses, it revealed an underlying paranoia that evil lives and persists and can erupt at any moment, in any neighborhood. This evil is slow and calculating – more so, patient.

Halloween also succeeded in putting an expressionless face onto the boogeyman, which unfortunately also belongs to William Shatner. One aspect that we don’t often attribute to the original is this was the beginning of a horror staple: virgins live, sluts die.

Henceforth throughout horror history, the promiscuity of barely-legal women has been predictably met with horrific ends, but of course, not until at least a top is off. This sexist exploitation has plagued the horror genre for decades – but finally, the times they are a-changin’.

Forty years after the incident, we find Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) alone and well-armed: a paranoid agoraphobe who has been waiting for the day Michael Myers escapes his prison. The overt theme of this sequel is victimhood: A victim can live in fear or survive and conquer. What Halloween manages to do is make the story as much about Michael as it is about Laurie; so often do we focus on the monster, we forget to think about those who survive. Every survivor has a story.

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Karen’s definitely the “it’s immediately Christmas after Halloween”-type.

This may be bold of me, but Halloween is the kind of sequel we need right now. We already know the monster, so this is the perfect opportunity to build on some broken characters.

We establish that Laurie’s behavior has wrecked her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), but now she has time to bond with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who seems to be a mirror image of Laurie at her age. Laurie herself has become more or less a menace – even referential scenes swap Laurie in the place of Michael.

By retconning the series, the film has given wiggle-room for the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. For example, in removing the notion of familicide, Michael Myers is a much more realistically terrifying presence, stalking his old hunting grounds with wild abandon (well, as wild as a murderous, slow-moving giant can be). Again, not only are his victims not screaming down the street with their boobies a-floppin’, but we also get a better grasp of who they are, or rather, were. And surprisingly, the majority of the victims were men, one of whom (arguably) asked for it.

Though not necessary, I would recommend re-watching the first Halloween before seeing this one, just for the sake of appreciation. John Carpenter gave Halloween (2018) his blessing, and with good reason.