One Hour Photo

One of the many reasons I don’t like horror films as much as other genres is how formulaic they are. Put a group of people in a tight space, release a monster, watch them die until one or sometimes two heroes emerge to quell the beast, at least until the sequel. Repeat until the franchise runs out of money.

 

It was an old formula when I was young, and it’s only gotten more irritating as time has gone on. At this point, even when one film shines (“28 Days Later”), I’ve basically given up on the genre. But like the sucker that I am, I can’t help going back when I hear good things about a film.

 

So, along comes this week’s film “One Hour Photo,” a “horror” film in the Hitchcock tradition from writer/director Mark Romanek, all suspense and build-up leading up to some horrific climax.

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Drag Me To Hell

Sam Raimi is one director who really knows his genre. I’m not the biggest fan of horror movies, but damn, he knows how to find spooks and chills using minimalist tricks that stopped being fashionable quite a while back. I loved his “Spider-Man 2,” and the scene were Doc Ock emerges is downright frightening in what is supposed to be a lightweight comic book movie.

In “Drag Me to Hell,” he uses every trick he’s got to scare his audience, and while the film has its problems, mood and unease are not them.

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The Descent

I am as guilty of this as the next critic, but I do think horror films get a bad rap.

Sure, the latest crop of films in that genre tends to be splatter-fests, mainly there to shock the audience with as much violence and gore as possible, but the genre still has a lot to offer.

“The Descent,” written and directed by Neil Marshall, curiously encompasses both the positive and negative attributes of a modern horror film.

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Pitch Black

Vin Diesel is an actor that I’ve never really had respect for as an actor (sorry Vin, although you sound like a cool guy). I once sat through a painful two hours watching “XXX,” and after that experience, I never wanted to see another movie with him in it.

But for reasons not worth going in to, I decided to shrug off the horrors of “XXX” and give “Pitch Black” a shot. I will probably never be persuaded that Diesel is an excellent actor, but here, he is perfectly cast as Richard Riddick, the sociopathic lead character who can see in the dark.

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28 Days Later

It’s a break in of some kind; men and woman enter a room filled with animals in cages, and while they’re horror-struck at what they see, their resolve to free these “torture victims” will not be swayed, even when the voice of reason tries to intervene. Before you know it, a monkey infected with a rage virus is free and on the attack…

So begins (brilliantly) “28 Days Later,” a zombie thriller from Danny Boyle; these well-meaning but foolish environmental activists spark off a plague throughout the United Kingdom, but that backstory is unknown to our protagonist, Jim (Cillian Murphy), who suffered a head injury and has been in a coma. When he wakes up (28 Days Later), the world is empty and silent, with no one to hear his “Hello.”

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“The Eye” (2003)

As I said before, I’m not a big fan of horror, but here I go again, endorsing another horror film, the Pang brothers’ “The Eye (2003).”

The story is nothing new; a young blind woman, Mun (Angelica Lee), gets some cornea transplants, but the donated organs come with a little something extra. While still in the hospital, she begins seeing a shadow follow dying patients around. In ordinary life, she keeps encountering people who disappear or run through her. Then things get even freakier for our heroine.

Nice setup there; the atmosphere is appropriately spooky, and Lee delivers the right notes as a confused and isolated re-sighted woman. We feel her pain and her confusion; she doesn’t remember sight, and for all she knows, this is what it’s like. And her freakouts when she realizes her eyes come with a higher price are equally believable.

One spoiler-free note on the ending: I can recommend this horror film because while it indulges the supernatural side, it’s fully grounded in the characters and the story. Like “May” or “Let the Right One In,” you give a damn about what happens to her. No higher praise for any movie, horror or not.

PS: Yes, I haven’t seen it, and I’m completely guilty of pre-judging a movie (something I try to avoid, with mixed results), if you want to enjoy “The Eye,” get the original and not the American remake that stars Jessica Alba. She is beautiful and an utterly hypnotic presence on screen, but she can’t act to save her life. I can’t imagine her bringing any depth or feeling to the role or even coming close to Lee’s performance. Save yourself some pain and skip the substitute. Subtitles aren’t that bad.

“The Eye” (2003)

Directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang

Written by Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun

Starring: Angelica Lee (Mun)

Lawrence Chou (Dr. Wah)

Let the Right One In

I’ve never really been a fan of horror films; they don’t scare me (never have, never will), and most of the time, they are kind of dumb. But I’m generally up for any flick that is willing to subvert its horror leanings and produces an emotionally relevant and satisfying story.

“Let the Right One In (2008),” directed by Tomas Alfredson, more than fulfills both requirements to get me to watch. The fact that it’s a good movie too… that’s just gravy.

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Ginger Snaps

As my last entry pointed out, summertime is the one time of year that I’m willing to silence my inner critic and just accept movies, good or bad, on their own terms and be extraordinarily forgiving of their faults. Emphasis on the word extraordinarily.

Into to this frame of mind comes “Ginger Snaps,” a typical low-grade horror flick with a few inspired moments.

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