Upcoming Halloween flicks

Halloween is coming!  Stores are putting out their decorations and holiday themed items, the Halloween stores are opening, and pumpkin spice flavored everything is sneaking its way back out onto shelves.  Everyone already likely has their requisite Halloween movie list, but may I interest you in two additional features to add?

Hellions – releasing September 18th on VOD

From the director of Pontypool, Bruce McDonald.  A pregnant girl must fend off the creepiest trick-or-treaters.  I loved Pontypool, so I’m in.

Tales of Halloween – releasing October 16th in theaters and VOD

A Halloween themed anthology featuring 10 shorts with no wraparound.  Early buzz has been great, and I absolutely adore anthology movies so I’m excited for this one.  This would make a nice viewing companion to Trick R’ Treat.

Ash vs Evil Dead – premiering Halloween night on Starz

Ok, so technically this might be cheating.  Ash vs Evil Dead is a new series that continues the adventures of Ashley J. Williams from the Evil Dead trilogy.  So it’s not really holiday themed. But!  It does premiere on Halloween night! So, I’m counting it.

What’s on your required Halloween viewing list?

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Joshua Hoffine’s Black Lullaby

Black LullabyChances are, if you’re a horror aficionado then you’ve stumbled upon the work of horror photographer Joshua Hoffine.  He’s been exploring horror through photography since 2003, but when he released a series in 2008 exploring childhood fears the internet took notice.  With good reason.  Not to downplay just how exquisite his previous series, Horror As Metaphor, is, but there’s just something so fundamentally fascinating and relatable about childhood fear.  Haven’t we all been scared of the boogeyman at some point in our lives?  Of course, Joshua Hoffine translates these fears to lenses in eloquent manner that lends beauty to nightmare.

His study recently culminated in a four minute short film, Black Lullaby, in which a young girl’s curiousity overshadows her fear.  Unlike previous shorts I’ve mentioned, Black Lullaby isn’t particularly scary.  It does compensate with artistry in measures, however, and it does invoke a sense of childlike wonderment.  As with his photography, Joshua Hoffine displays a deep attention to detail.  From set design and color filtration to sound. Make-up effects were done by previous SyFy’s Face/Off winner J. Anthony Kosar and the featured child in the film is played by Hoffine’s own daughter.  Horror must run in their genes as she fills the role well. In short, it’s gorgeous.  Released over the Thanksgiving weekend, you can find it on Vimeo Pro or here.  But I recommend you view the series first, here.

And if you find his previous series too dark for your tastes, I’ll leave you with his very cheeky Monster Prom photo shoot: here. Am I strange for wishing this was the kind of prom I attended in high school?

The Upper Footage (2013) Review

TheUpperFootagePosterIn 1999, The Blair Witch Project confused and enraptured audiences with its unique documentary style narrative and a realistic website that built an entire history around the film, including police evidence and photographs.  The film’s clever marketing campaign only further confused the masses, leaving a media frenzy in its wake questioning the truth.  Was this an actual account of real missing persons?  Was this valid proof of the existence of a supernatural entity?  The reveal of the truth behind the film only solidified its legacy.  More than just a film, The Blair Witch Project was an experience.  One that Justin Cole will never forget as memories of his 13 year old self sat stunned, pondering the authenticity of what he’d just watched.

This is the inspiration behind The Upper Footage.  His desire to re-create that experience that so many found footage copy cats failed to achieve in the following years resulted in one of the more interesting media experiments recent memory.  Cole began a very intricate media campaign, starting with uploading a video on Youtube of a mysterious girl tragically overdosing.  It was released under the guise of an extortion plot.  The realism caused the video to be picked up by entertainment news shows, speculating on the identity of the girl and her potential celebrity status.  For the next three years the footage snowballed into a huge Hollywood drug scandal until the film’s release last year.

Touted as genuine documented footage of an overdose cover up by young New York socialites, Justin Cole takes a meticulous approach to realism.  Upper class rich kids Blake Pennington, Will Erixon, Taylor Green and Devon Petrovsky spend the night together getting drunk in the back of a limo and bar hopping, demonstrating their character as they make sexist, racist, classist, and homophobic remarks while in pursuit of scoring drugs.  It’s this very pursuit that lands them in a lower class neighborhood bar, where Devon picks up Jackie.  A large amount of coke and Jackie in tow, they head back to Blake’s apartment to continue the festivities.  Poor Jackie can’t handle the amount of alcohol and coke her new “friends” are pumping into her system and she overdoses in the bathroom.  The four fall apart as they try to figure out how to deal, and their choices prove horrific.

It’s the camera work that gives the film its realistic quality.  With vlogger Will as the night’s documentarian, his face mostly hidden behind his handheld camera for much of the running time, the angles and shots are meticulously presented as amateurish to give that authentic aesthetic.  Shots are out of focus and some scenes stretch for minutes with the camera shooting nothing in particular while the characters converse in the background.  The haphazard style makes it all appear unplanned.

The inherent flaw, the thread that undoes such a complex undertaking, resides with the four socialites the carry the entire story.  None of them are likable. Taylor and Will combined may make up ¼ of a decent human being, though any decency is shown in fleeting glimpses.  Devon and Blake are irredeemable completely, however, and the short 90 minute running time can feel an excruciating eternity at moments while we suffer through their vile decisions and hysterics.  Their abhorrent, uncaring personalities are precisely what shove events into the horror spectrum, but to the detriment of alienating viewers.  Long stretches occur where nothing happens at all, save for yelling and shrieking, so that the only thing carrying viewers to the end becomes problematic soon.

In the end, the media storm preceding release eclipses the film itself.  Justin Cole’s clever marketing and the details behind the scenes prove far more interesting than the end product.  There’s no real story either; everything relevant was already released in that Youtube video years ago.  Poor girl tragically overdoses; asshole rich kids are to blame.  Justin Cole spends so much time crafting believability that he forgets to say anything at all. At least his successful media experiment demonstrates an intelligence and potential.

Ouija Board Coffee Table

Sometime around last Halloween I found this coffee table on Instructables.com and decided I needed one.  But I have no experience in building furniture outside of simple Ikea assembly, and I’m far too clumsy to start trying.  So instead months were spent scouring thrift shops for a coffee table large enough for the dimensions listed on the Instructable page, which is 24″x48″.  The one I ended up with was a bit longer, but I’m OK with that.

Unfortunately I dove right into the project and forgot about taking a before picture.  So instead, here’s the table after the dark stain has already been sanded away and I spray painted a couple of coats of primer.  While I like the aesthetic of the Instructable’s table better, I decided it didn’t match my living room and chose white instead of the stained wood.  I follow directions oh so well.

Still wet

Still wet

After painting, I brushed on the acrylic gel medium and tried to work quickly at laying down the Ouija Board print.  Tip # 1: Have someone help you with this step.  I wrestled with a poster sized sheet that didn’t feel like cooperating and if I’d had someone help me lay this on I probably would have had far less creases in the paper when trying to work out all of the air bubbles.

3 hours in..

3 hours in..

The acrylic gel medium has to dry overnight before you dampen the paper and wipe it away with your fingers and/or a sponge.  Tip # 2: What the Instructables how-to doesn’t tell you is that this takes foreverand you will want to commit murder long before it’s done. Also, this step is very, very messy.  Please note my pile of paper pulp on the floor.  If you scrub too hard, the black rubs off as well.  So you have to maintain the right pressure the entire time.  If there were any bubbles or creases, that will likely peel right off as well.  So, my end product is a very rustic or distressed ouija table.

The perfectionist in me is a bit disappointed in the flaws, but I put a lot of work into it and I learned a lot.

Finished Table

All that’s left is one or two additional coats of polycrylic after the current coat dries, and likely a sanding to make sure the surface is even.

Now that we’re two months away from October, Halloween planning is about to take over.

Found Footage still works.

While Devil’s Due was a letdown, I was caught off guard by the reviews.  Not that I expected favorable reviews, but a lot of them focused on how tired they are of the found footage sub genre.  How found footage is just a gimmick.  I actually felt bad for Devil’s Due.  Radio Silence put in a lot of effort to make the camera use plausible, so why are we focusing on the one aspect of the film that wasn’t broken?  Why are the critics focusing their ire toward an entire sub genre solely on one film instead of breaking down what really didn’t work with it?  Oh, like perhaps a complete lack of emotional attachment to the two leads we’re meant to sympathize with?  With no scares and no attachment to the story it was difficult to stay invested in Devil’s Due.  Grumblings about how bored everyone is of found footage isn’t new, but for me at least, it was new to find an editorial masquerading as an honest review.

It got me thinking.  As with all genres, when a film unexpectedly strikes a strong chord with audiences you’ll find studios scrambling to recapture that magic.  You see trends come and go; when the current movement fizzles at the box office the next shiny new thing ushers in a new trend. Repeat.  It seems to be more recognizable in horror.  Asian horror, torture porn, slashers, etc.  They all have spent time in the spotlight until mainstream audiences get overexposed and then step back for the next sub genre.  But here’s the thing: they don’t go away.  Just because the box office tired of the Saw franchise doesn’t mean that similar films ceased being made.

So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t blame an entire genre or sub-genre for being the current fad.  They were likely around before and will still be long after Hollywood forgets their existence.  Blair Witch wasn’t the first Found Footage film; you can give that credit to Cannibal Holocaust in 1980.  Yup.  Nearly 20 years before Blair Witch made Found Footage a household name it’d been done numerous times before.  And when people groan and whine at the trailers for Paranormal Activity sequel # 6, rest assured that there will still be more to come.  Really, if the idea of watching a found footage film bothers you that much…then don’t go.  Simple.  There’s no clearer message to studios than that.

But for me, I’m not tired of them.  I know I’m not alone in this.  Found Footage still works.  Not always, but often.  I think what studios are discovering, much to the dismay of critics and audiences, is that found footage is hard.  It’s difficult to explain to audiences why that camera is still in hand when shit hits the fan and that character still hasn’t put it down.  It’s difficult to keep things fresh for audiences, to set the film apart from its predecessors.  But it’s still being done and done well.

I think when it comes to film and media, memory is extremely short.  It was just last year that people went nuts over V/H/S/2.  Guess what?  That’s found footage.  Europa Report currently holds a 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Also found footage.  The Bay in 2012?  Also fresh at 77%.  What about Chronicle, also released in 2012? 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.  There’s also critical darlings like [REC], Trollhunter, and Lake Mungo released in recent years.  So, clearly found footage films isn’t a washed up sub-genre incapable of putting out great stuff.  Are we basing the criticisms on a couple of bombs and a franchise that’s a bit tired?

Perhaps its technicalities.  Maybe what Found Footage needs is a name change.  More often lately, you’re watching a first person narrative, rather than found footage.  I’ve read complaints about the lack of “finding footage.”  So if we’re nitpicking, maybe this would put minds at ease.  It’s a fine line, really.

Nothing gets you as deep into the experience as Found Footage.  You’re right there with the characters, experiencing their journey as if you’re there.  You see what they see, which amps up the atmosphere when that line of sight is limited.  I commend filmmakers who can pull this genre off.  It’s not an easy feat to accomplish, and I sincerely hope people keep trying.  There are innovative people out there still full of surprises, and I support you.

Clowns are creepy.

Remember that fake trailer that hit in 2012?  The one that had Eli Roth’s name attached though it had nothing to do with him?  Well, Roth liked what he saw and signed on as producer.  Flash forward to 2014, we have an official trailer.  And it looks awesome.  You can view the trailer here.

There’s a reason coulrophobia is so common; there’s something seemingly deranged and ominous behind the make-up and cheer.  The trailer got me thinking about all of the other nightmare inducing clowns in horror.  I’ve narrowed it down to the top five:

5. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

KillerKlowns
So the movie itself is a cheesy 80s flick about killer clowns from space.  It’s hard to take seriously.  But you guys, these clowns eat people.  And despite how cheaply made this film is, those faces are creepy.  If you’ve seen Killer Klowns From Outer Space, then you probably were a little leery about popcorn for a while.  Klown Larvae..ick.


4. Amusement

amusementclown
Amusement follows three women being stalked by a killer with a grudge, but the story is broken down into sections as the killer stalks them individually.  The middle section revolves around Tabitha, who goes over to her Aunt’s one night to find her two young cousins in bed and the babysitter gone.  The guest bedroom is filled with clowns, with one rather large clown sitting in a rocking chair.  When her aunt calls, Tabitha answers the phone in the hallway with her back to the room.  She tells her aunt how creepy the large one is her aunt’s confused reply is, “We don’t own anything like that.”  By that time the clown is up and out of the chair, creeping toward Tabitha.  Yup. Creepy.

3. Gacy

Gacy
This movie is terrible.  So why is it number 3 on my list?  Because it’s based on a true story.  The real John Wayne Gacy did have an alter ego known as Pogo the Clown.  He designed the look himself and performed at many fundraising events as part of the community’s “Jolly Joker” club.  This was after he’d served time for sexual assault of a young boy, but before the murders began.  Makes you think twice about the clowns performing at parties, doesn’t it?  So Pogo the Clown deserved to be on this list for the sole purpose of being reality based.

2. Poltergeist- the clown doll

poltergeistclown
Though the entire movie is an amazing classic, this clown forever embedded itself into memory.  Poltergeist effectively built tension when early on Robbie threw a blanket over the doll to hide it from sight.  Well played, foreshadowing.  But when Robbie is trying to sleep and notices the clown missing?  The tension was palpable.  Robbie had more bravery than I would in his situation, daring to check under the bed.  I think I may have curled into fetal position when the doll dragged him under the bed.  This clown freaked me out so bad he was nearly number one, but….

1. IT- Pennywise

pennywise-clown-it
Remember this guy?  Yeah.  He wins hands down.  Tim Curry made Pennywise the Dancing Clown the stuff of nightmares.  I imagine Pennywise gave many a complex about storm drains; I know I give them wide berth.   What makes Pennywise more terrifying is his intelligence.  The clown isn’t his true form, but it’s his favorite one as many children are lured to their deaths by it.  He knows what your deepest fear is, and he will exploit it to trap you.  What’s scarier than a demonic pointy-tooth clown that hunts you using your weaknesses?

Haunted New Year

Happy New Year!

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad 2013 is dead.  I’m very excited for 2014 to unfold and have set a few “haunted” resolutions for myself:

  • Tour Waverly Hills Sanatorium
  • Check out a few local oddities from Weird Texas
  • Conquer cake pops.  Seriously.  I really want to figure out how to make Freddy Krueger cake pops.
  • Grow my own pumpkins
  • Attend my first horror convention

Waverly Hills Sanatorium is just a historically creepy place, and I’ve wanted to step into the “death chute” for a long time now.  So maybe this is the year I make that happen.  The odd thing is, despite ghost stories creeping me out, I’m actually a bit of a skeptic.  I don’t really expect to discover anything, but I will make an adventure out of it regardless.

What are your resolutions?