Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods Review

"The Cabin in the Woods" is a Lovecraftian love/hate letter to horror films. It has some suspenseful moments, but for the most part, it's a fun romp through slasher flicks, giant monster movies, creature features and foreign horror films. "The Cabin in the Woods" is clever, snarky and constantly pokes fun at just about any horror convention or cliche you can think of, which makes it the best deconstruction of horror movies since "Scream." In fact, this movie invokes more stereotypes and horror tropes than even "Scream" was capable of doing. And for this reason, "The Cabin in the Woods" is freaking hilarious.

"The Cabin in the Woods" starts out a little slow, as two distinct groups of characters are introduced: the suits in the white shirts and ties, ala 1950's NASA style, Sitterson and Hadley, and the normal college kids that transform into the stereotypical slasher film archetypes: the jock Curt; the slut Jules; the virgin Dana; the nerd, Holden; the fool, Marty.

Sitterson, Hadley, and their friend the chemist Lin are heading into the office for another typical work day; complaining about family problems and mundane matters as they make their way to the control panel where all the "magic" happens.

Turns out, the suits are a part of a huge conspiracy that collects groups of young adults and turns them into the perfect human sacrifices by manipulating them with drugs and pheromones to get them to act out the roles that the Chthonic gods, the Ancient Ones, require in order to be satisfied. Failure to kill them means that the gods will awaken, and the world will end.

Sitterson and Hadley are hilarious. They are competing with a unit in Japan, who sent a hungry ghost to kill a room full of nine year old school girls. When the school girls use their Shinto magic to place the ghost into a happy frog (which leads to Sitterson screaming F- you! repeatedly at the screen where the Japanese school girls are cheering after they stop the ghost),  it's up to them to save the world.

Some of the humor of the movie comes from the fact that the characters are forced to become the stereotypical teens found in slasher flicks. For instance, Curt is a sociology major attending college with a full academic scholarship. He is turned into the brain-dead jock. When they arrive at his cousin's cabin, all of the sudden he is wearing a varsity jacket and turns into a beer drinking horn-dog. Curt has a healthy loving relationship with Jules, who was poisoned with "stupid" (chemicals that inhibit the thought processes in the brain) when she dyed her hair blond. Dana was having an affair with her college professor and is turned into the innocent virgin. Holden, the football player with the amazing six-pack abs, turns into a glasses toting, dress shirt wearing girl-shy nerd. Only Marty, the philosophical stoner, is unaffected by the drugs that they are given, mainly because he's such a bud-head.

Soon, the college kids travel to Curt's cousin's cabin for a fun weekend in the woods. While on the way they stop for gas and are greeted by the harbinger of doom; you know, the one ugly dude that warns the meddling kids not to go up to the spooky cabin in the middle of the woods because people that go up there never come back. Of course, they ignore his unsettling warnings.

After they pick their rooms and go for a swim in the lake, they start drinking and playing Truth or Dare. During the game there is a very creepy scene with the slut Jules making out with a stuffed wolf head ( for some reason, that wolf head is so sinister looking that it made me nervous to watch her lock lips with it). Then, suddenly, the trap door to the cellar slams open, scaring the crap out of the college kids.

I still can't believe that the actor that plays Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is in this movie...
The cellar is chock full of objects, each of which are relics that can be used to summon a different type of monster. Back at mission control, the different departments are taking bets on what monsters will appear to kill their sacrificial lambs, as it all depends on who uses their item first.

Personally, I would've bet on Kevin. He's probably terrifying.
Check out that list on the white board. We have Angry Molesting Tree and Deadites from "Evil Dead." Which is a nod to the fact that both "Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead 2" take place in a cabin in the woods.

The Buckners are resurrected after Dana reads aloud a Latin phrase from Patience Buckner's diary. Marty, the stoner and ironically the voice of reason in the film, tells her not to read it out loud, but no one listens to him. Soon, they are stalked by the redneck zombie torture family from hell. (In H.P. Lovecraft stories and "Call of Cthulhu" RPG, you never read the books out loud. They always summon something terrible that will kill you, rob you of your sanity, or devour your soul.)

Marty is the only one that thinks that they are being manipulated, but his friends ignore him because they think that all of the pot he's been smoking has made him paranoid. His suspicions are confirmed once he finds the tiny camera that's been installed in his bedroom on the lamp. Unfortunately, before he can tell the others, they are attacked by the zombie redneck torture family.

Of course, the jock and the slut are killed first for their "transgressions" i.e. showing boobies in the woods and making out. The guys in the control room make comments similar to what an audience might say, such as which character(s) they are rooting for and urging Jules to take off her shirt. Which can be taken as a comment on how the average audience to a slasher film would react by rooting for their favorite characters and telling the hotties to get naked.

When Jules dies, Sitterson and Hadley say a strange prayer and then pull the first lever to release blood into a chalice. Curt runs back to the cabin and the kids try to hide from the zombies, but its no use. When Marty "dies" off-screen and there is an earthquake after they pull his sacrifice lever. Later, we learn why- Marty isn't dead and the gods are voicing their displeasure.

After Curt and Holden die, Marty shows up to save Dana from daddy Buckner. Turns out that he found a tunnel leading to the building where the control room is located when he was hiding from the zombies. He takes Dana with him into the elevator, where they make their descent into hell. Well, not literal hell, but movie monster hell. All the monsters they were betting on earlier are kept in glass cubes that the elevator can get to, by moving Willy Wonka style (up, down, left, right, forwards and backwards).

To get their revenge on the people that set them up to die horribly, Dana and Marty unleash the monsters and the goriest, funniest, blood-bath I have ever seen takes place. By the time the monsters are done eating people, the hallway is literally slathered in blood. There are so many homages to the different types of movie monsters, you really need to keep your eyes peeled during this sequence to catch them all.

My favorite was Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain- the Pinhead analog of the movie, who held a puzzle sphere instead of a puzzle box. 

I guess he would be called Sawhead instead of Pinhead....

The guest star appearance at the end with Sigourney Weaver playing the Director is also equally awesome. I won't tell you what she does, you'll just have to see it for yourself. Needless to say, she doesn't win. Then, after defeating the Director, Marty and Dana sit down and have one last smoke as the world ends.

If you haven't had a chance to see this movie, you really should. It's an intelligent comment on horror movie cliches and stereotypes. It gives us a reason for why they exist, and why monsters in horror movies are always running after young adults and trying to kill them.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lovely Molly: 13 Years after The Blair Witch Project

This July 30th year marks the 13th Anniversary of The Blair Witch Project. "The Blair Witch Project" co-director Eduardo Sanchez has once again brought us a movie and sets the stage by creating a mockumentary about the movie to set the mood for his horror film.

Back in 1999, the week prior to its release to a limited number of small theaters across the country, Sci-Fi channel (now SyFy) played a fake documentary or mockumentary about three college students and their grisly demise titled "Curse of the Blair Witch".  "The Blair Witch Project" spawned another mockumentary, "The Burkittsville 7" which aired after the premiere showing of "The Blair Witch Project" in October 2000 on the cable TV channel Showtime. "The Burkittsville 7" expanded upon the myths of the Blair Witch and is a companion piece to "The Blair Witch Project."

Say what you will about the slow pace of "The Blair Witch Project," that movie still managed to get under my skin when I first saw it. And that's because the set up to the big scare at the end was ingenious. Back then, there was no such thing as viral marketing or viral Internet videos for that matter. "The Blair Witch Project" was a small independent horror film that convinced the audience that it was real by airing a documentary highlighting the mystery around the events that take place in the movie right around the time that the movie began to show in selected theaters. They even made a website, The Legacy , to promote the "true story" of the events that took place in "The Blair Witch Project"; which was a cutting edge idea at the time.

The appearance of the website and a documentary touting the movie to be a true story kept people guessing and vacillating between believing that it is real and wondering if it's all made up.  It's this indecision in the audience that enabled the movie to be so scary, and it's what made "The Blair Witch Project" such a huge success.

In fact, "The Blair Witch Project" had such a profound influence on movie making that it coined the phrase "found footage film." Just look at the poster for the movie, it clearly says it in the last sentence, "A year later their footage was found." That phrase is a part of the text that shows at the beginning of the film. Prior to "The Blair Witch Project," these types of movies, starting with "Cannibal Holocaust", were called mockumentaries by film critics. Now, they are called found footage films. There. Now you know some movie history. Pretty neat huh?

Unfortunately, the wild success of the independent film caused Sanchez's next film "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" to be considered a huge let-down for the fans and an office box failure. Which surprised me, as it happens to be one of my favorite movies. At any rate, the second Blair Witch movie didn't make as much money as the first, and the third planned installment of the franchise was cancelled. Since then Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick left the Blair Witch behind them.

13 years later, Sanchez is back, this time with the new psychological horror film "Lovely Molly."  From what I've seen of the trailers so far, the movie seems to be a mix of traditional cinematography and hand-held found footage film style-- which harkens back to Sanchez's Blair Witch days.

Even better, they just released a two part mockumentary called "Lovely Molly: Path to Madness" that talks about the main character Molly Reynold's dark past and how she descends into utter madness. This two part series reminds me of how "The Blair Witch Project" was promoted in the first place, and it really has my curiosity piqued.

If this two part mockumentary is any indication to how much of a terrifying head trip "Lovely Molly" is going to be, I'm getting in line for tickets tomorrow. It's been quite a while since I've seen a really good, get under your skin, so scary you bite your nails off, psychological horror movie. The last one was "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," which for some reason, a lot of reviewers absolutely hated and I adored- mainly because  it was rated R for its psychological horror aspects and not for its gory violence, nudity or bad language. I hope that "Lovely Molly" brings that special kind of horror back to the theaters, as it really is an art form to create a such suspenseful and terrifying movie.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Top 6 Zombie Movie Cliches We Could Do Without

A cliche, like the monster that will just not die, is an idea or expression that has been so overused that it has lost its strength of emotional impact. A cliche can also be a character stereotype whose actions are predictable and superficial in nature. The zombie horror movie genre is chock full of animated rotting corpses, and with any over-saturated market, it has developed its own cliches that, like the zombie itself,  really needs to be shot and put out of its misery.

6. Do You Smell That? 
People in zombie apocalypses have no sense of smell  This one most horror movies are guilty of, but I find it particularly striking for it to occur in zombie movies and zombie TV shows. I know that audiences cannot smell things that are on-screen, but they certainly should be able to at least empathize when a character comes across something that smells utterly disgusting and reacts to it on camera.

To make my point here, I'm going to get a little gross. If you are squeamish, you might not want to read this part.

Ever dump meat in the garbage, like a piece of grisly fatty steak that the garbage disposal unit just won't grind up and get rid of and leave it for a few days and forget about it, only to come home to a really rank smell omitting from the garbage bin? That smell is only from a very small piece of meat that is rotting. Now, take that disgusting smell and multiply it by 100 and imagine what a rotting human body would smell like. Add to that the fact that the bowels will excrete everything they contain upon death when sphincter and bladder muscles relax and you have a zombie that is a walking, reeking cess pool that is harboring life threatening bacteria.

Pretty darn gross, isn't it? I bet you'd smell that coming towards from a mile away, or farther if it's downwind of you.

5. "Social Commentary"

We get it, OK? Modern consumers and/or workers living in a capitalistic society are zombies, slaving away their waking hours to buy what they are "told" they want and/or need and scrambling to get the Next Best Thing at the cost of their own immortal souls.

Yes, people tend to exhibit herd behavior. We're hardwired to do so, it's a product of evolution and a part of our inborn instincts. But, does that mean that we all need to do the same storyline and cover the same themes over and over again? No. It certainly does not.

Zombie movies should not take place in a mall or have the main focus be on  "Gee, money isn't worth diddly squat anymore!" because that setting and the theme has been overdone for far too long.

I propose that every time a zombie movie that uses a variant of the "We're them and they're us" line, takes place in a mall, or talks about how quickly money devalues when the world ends, a little puppy dies. (Not that I condone the killing of cute innocent puppies, but it might be the only way to get movie script writers and directors from using those stupid, insipid cliches. No, seriously. Don't go killing puppies. It's a joke.)

4. Zombie Movie Character Cliches

Most of these are unbelievable character behaviors or ones that have been covered by the majority of zombie movies on the market and need to be put to rest.
  • Joe Schmoe gets bit by zombie during an attack and hides it from everyone. Unfortunately, he dies from the festering human bite wound and turns into a zombie and attacks his friends/family when he's needed the most.
  • People arguing over killing a loved one who is a zombie.                                                      "No, don't kill Molly! She's our only child!"                                                                                                   "Don't you get it? She's already dead! Move aside, I'll put her out of her misery!"                      "Noooooo!" and so on until the zombie child kills the person arguing to keep her "alive."
  • Joe shooting a zombie in the body (as this usually will drop a living person if not outright kill them) over and over to prove a point that the zombie is dead. Most of the time while screaming, "Is it dead? Is it? Huh? Tell me!" 
  • Perfect head shot, every time. Everyone, no matter their background or lack of gun training can shoot a zombie in the head in any situation you can think of; while running or jumping over an obstacle, firing out of a window of a speeding vehicle, when they are clearly out of range etc. Believe it or not, most people are psychologically unable to shoot other people in the face.
  • Stating rules about zombie survival and in the very next scene disregarding all of them. Ahem, "Zombie Apocalypse" anyone?
3. Overly Strong Yet Badly Decomposed Bodies
Now, unless there's reason for the zombie to be incredibly strong and dangerous, such as the T-virus mutation from "Resident Evil" that causes people to turn into Tyrants, or it is scientifically proven (according to the fictional setting) that zombie's jaw muscles become more defined and thickened, along with the other muscles in their bodies upon reanimation, such as in the animates in the tabletop Neo-Victorian steam punk horror RPG "Unhallowed Metropolis", the rotting decomposing flesh of a zombie would not and should not be stronger than the average person. At the very least, it should not be ten times stronger than it was when it was alive. They aren't ants for crying out loud. They're human zombies. Zombie ants are an entirely different, non-fictional, naturally occurring phenomenon caused by a parasitic fungus species Cordycepts.

While it is common consensus that zombies of any kind cannot feel physical pain, it is highly unbelievable that they would be stronger than the average living, breathing human being. Unless the zombie is magic, or caused by super evil science, there is no way that a rotting corpse can possibly be stronger. Yeah, I'm talking to you "The Walking Dead." Dale would be stronger than the scrawny swamp walker that killed him with its super-sharp nails and vice-grip-like finger strength. Human nails and hair do not keep growing after death. They just appear to, because the skin dries out and shrinks, pulling back from the finger nail beds and hair follicles. Zombie nails growing and becoming sharper just would not happen. Sorry guys...

While I'm on the subject, a living person would have quite the chore ahead of himself if he were to claw apart a person's abdomen with his bare hands, so it's reasonable to believe that an undead person would have a bit of work to do before he could reach the juicy internal organs. There's all that skin, fat, sinew, muscle, etc to get through before the intestines. If our intestines and stomach were as close to the surface of our skin that a single scratch and pull of flesh would expose them, we'd all be screwed. Or eternally suffering from hernias...

2. Stealth Zombies

Yes, I did begin to cover this under number six, but I wish to expand the idea here because it's idiotic for every single character in every zombie movie to not only have no sense of smell, but for them to be partially, if not mostly deaf. These characters lack two crucial senses that most people would be able to use in real life: that of the sense of smell and hearing.

Imagine this Scenario:

Joe and Mark are standing around, each smoking a cigarette while on night watch. They've run out of things to talk about and are just nervously glancing around, looking for any potential threat to the camp, which is at least a mile away from where they are on guard.

It's dead quiet outside. Not even the birds or crickets are chirping. There is no wind, nothing. Just the sound of the men exhaling and inhaling as they smoke. Suddenly a silhouette appears behind Joe and grabs his shoulders! Mark looks at him, dumbfounded, while Joe is attacked and killed by the deadliest of zombie cliches: the stealth zombie.

Now let's look at this Scenario again. This time, with feeling! (i.e. all of our senses):

Joe and Mark are standing around, each smoking a cigarette while on night watch. They've run out of things to say and are nervously glancing about, looking for any oncoming zombies that may be heading towards their encampment, which is a mile away from where they are on guard.

The night birds and crickets suddenly stop chirping. The night grows eerily still as the slight cool spring breeze dies off.

A soft, slow shuffling can be heard in the distance.
"Do you smell that?" Joe asks.
"Yeah," Mark says and drops his to the ground and snuffs it out with his foot. "Smells like the dead."
Joe tosses his smoke and picks up his trusty shovel.
Mark looks around with his night vision binoculars and points down the street behind them. "There."
"Do you think it spotted us?"
"Doubt it."
"I'll head around behind it and take it out while you distract it." Joe says.
"Come on! I distracted the last one! It's only fair."

Mark jogs towards the zombie and begins to shout. The zombie's head lifts up and it starts shuffling his way while Joe runs around the block to get up behind it. Once he approaches, he speeds up and rams into its back, making it fall face-first into the pavement. With a wordless cry, Joe raises the shovel and smashes its down onto the zombie's rotting soft head, caving it in, successfully stopping the zombie before it can even turn around to attack him.

Stealth zombies are so obnoxious and annoying, they need to be stopped. A slow zombie would shamble and shuffle towards its prey, stumbling loudly over obstacles, knocking things down, feet snapping twigs, slamming unlocked doors open, running into tables, chairs, doors and so on. A fast zombie would be running at top speed, often screaming or yelling at the top of its lungs as it barrels towards its prey. It would stumble, knock things over, slam into things, break stuff left and right, and make a heck of a lot of noise. Either way, neither zombie type would have stealth capabilities, and even if they could, you would still be able to smell them once they get close enough that you'd know that something was coming to eat you. So cut it out already movie makers. The stealth zombie attack is old and utterly unrealistic.

1. The Army is Evil
This cliche is particularly annoying because it is such an overused zombie movie theme. The biggest culprits of spreading this cliche are Romero's "Day of the Dead," "Survival of the Dead,"  "28 Days Later" and "28 Weeks Later."  In zombie movies, army guys either want to rape your women, steal your stuff or put you under martial law (which probably would happen during an apocalyptic zombie outbreak). According to George Romero and Danny Boyle, all soldiers are sociopathic, unsympathetic jerks who could care less about what happens to people; all they want is to be in charge.

There is a difference between living through harrowing times, such as a zombie apocalypse and being affected by it, and just simply being a jerk wad. I find it hard to believe that EVERY SINGLE soldier in the world is a total douche bag. Most are normal guys and gals that care about people and their country.

Fortunately, most soldier characters in zombie movies would not be allowed in the U.S. Army. Why? Because the army requires that you pass a psychological profile test before they'll even accept you into boot camp. It does not accept those who are over-eager to kill, have an aversion towards obeying orders and those who chafe under authority figures, which covers pretty much most of the types of characters that are in the army in zombie movies.

I'm really tired of the whole army is evil theme. It's trite and insulting to the brave men and women who actually are in the armed forces. Either the army would utterly fall apart under the zombie apocalypse, or it would keep men together who have bonded in combat and managed to stay alive because they care for one another like family.

These six commonly reoccurring cliches in zombie movies, TV shows and even novels are so ignorant and obnoxious that anyone who uses them should be slapped, or at the very least, called a lazy idiot for not researching the facts and imitating the mistakes of others that have come before him.