‘Cronos’ and a trip to the LACMA to be ‘At Home with Monsters’

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2016 by Justin T.

cronos

‘Cronos’ (1993). Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Frederico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Tamara Shanath, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Daniel Gimenez Cacho.

Guillermo del Toro is a unique visionary in the horror genre. The imagery in his films is colorful and detailed, full of references to fairy tales, comic books, insects, and death. He never goes straight for the gross out, instead exploring the darker sides of fairy tale motifs, sometimes mixing innocent wonder with the terror of a child hiding under their bed covers. Or giant robots smashing the hell out of giant monsters.

Cronos is his first feature and although it’s not as visually compelling as some of his later work, it’s still a fantastic film. Jesús Gris (Frederico Luppi) is the owner of an antique shop in Mexico. He and his granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) discover a golden device that, unbeknownst to them, was created hundreds of years ago by an alchemist searching for eternal life. What first seems like an amusing toy becomes a terrifying device that latches on to Jesús’s hand and pierces his wrist with a sharp, golden barb.

Well, that’s one way to become a vampire. The word is never spoken but the signs begin to appear… he burns in sunlight and he thirsts for blood. Yet his granddaughter’s devotion for him never wavers and she cares for him when most people would be terrified of what he’s become. Unfortunately Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook), an ailing and creepy businessman, is also after the Cronos device and the eternal life it promises. His body and impending death have become an obsession with him to the point where he keeps in jars pieces of his body removed during past surgeries. Having discovered who now holds the scarab, Dieter sends his hired thug and nephew, Angel (Ron Perlman), to take it from the old shopkeeper by any means necessary.

Cronos may lack the hypnotic magic of Pan’s Labyrinth or the haunting imagery of The Devil’s Backbone, but it is still a great film. Frederico Luppi gives a touching performance as an old man with immortality thrust upon him. The relationship between him and his granddaughter could have been handled many ways but it is given a tenderness that is neither creepy nor overly sentimental. It almost makes Perlman’s sardonic performance feel out of place… almost. I suppose he doesn’t go too overboard and that it merely seems like he does by comparison. I liked the conflicted relationship with his boss/uncle. Angel’s resentment at being coldly ordered around provided a bit more depth to a character that could have been a mere thug.

Even though this is technically a vampire movie, don’t expect any attacks on humans or long, emotional soliloquies about how hard it is to be immortal. Nor should you expect any cradle-robbing, though youthful looking, sparkling creatures of the night. Like most of del Toro’s best horror films, Cronos is a thoughtful and intelligent exploration of death and mortality.

Speaking of the themes of Guillermo del Toro’s films, earlier this month I was lucky enough to take a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see a large number of pieces from his Bleak House in an exhibition called ‘At Home with Monsters’.

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Del Toro’s Bleak House is any horror fan’s dream. It is a residential house, apparently separate from where he lives, that contains an enormous amount of books, statues, props, toys, and other bizarre yet beautiful objects. It may sound like a genre fanatic with too much time and money took things too far, and in a way it is, but his collection is a bit more sophisticated than what you might first envision. This isn’t a collection of plastic encased action figures and collectors coffee mugs he picked up at a local comic book shop.

I don’t think I can do it justice. Here, let the man himself tell you about it:

Also on display were a number of his notebooks. While you couldn’t physically handle them a screen was provided for each one that allowed you to browse digital scans of the their pages. It was fascinating to see the words and drawings of a such creative mind.

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Here are a few more of my favorites of the over two hundred pictures I took.

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A statue of the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth

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A Nosferatu marionette hanging on the front of a grandfather clock.

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This display of Ray Harryhausen caught my breath when I saw it. His films had a large effect on me as a child and seeing him surrounded by his creations nearly brought me to tears.

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Replicas of figures crafted by Harryhausen from Jason and the Argonauts.

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Original artwork by Bernie Wrightson for an illustrated edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

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A lifelike statue of H.P. Lovecraft. I wasn’t able to tell what book he was reading.

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A tableau of Boris Karloff having his makeup applied for his role as Frankenstein’s monster.

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A statue of the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth.

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Storyboards and concept art by Mike Mignola for Hellboy.

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Wayne Barlowe’s ‘Duke Agares Seated atop a Shuffler’

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Any fans of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion might remember this one, painted by Disney artist Marc Davis.

This is a small sample of the hundreds of amazing items on display.

This NYT article shows some of the pieces in their natural habitat at Bleak House. I especially love the figure of Lovecraft standing near the bookshelves with his finger in a book, looking up as if he just heard you come in. Or Poe sitting in a plush leather chair, gazing into space as he ponders whatever Poe-like thoughts he’s mulling over in his mind.

If you have the opportunity to make it to Los Angeles before the end of November, I recommend checking it out. Or you can find it in the near future as it tours through Minneapolis, Ontario, or Mexico. But after that, you might just have to become buds with Guillermo and see if he’ll let you hang with him at Bleak House.

‘Paranormal Activity: the Ghost Dimension’

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2016 by Justin T.

'Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension' poster

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015). Directed by Gregory Plotkin. Starring Chris J. Murray, Brit Shaw, Dan Gill, Ivy George, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michael Krawic, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Hallie Foote.

Ahh, yes, the ever so divisive Paranormal Activity series, one of the main reasons that naysayers of found footage movies say their “nays”. I imagine they’re pretty happy to see the series end with The Ghost Dimension, the final entry in the franchise. Honestly, I don’t think these films are that bad overall. I am aware of their flaws. That rumbling sound that is our signal to anticipate something scary is about to happen is annoying and each movie is more or less a copy of the one before. Still, there have been a couple of clever tricks and even some genuinely creepy moments. Unfortunately things didn’t get any better after the third film and if this final entry is any indication of what we’d have see more of, the end of this franchise is occurring just this side of too late. It is time to move on.

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The Seventh Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!

Posted in Found Footage, Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on September 15, 2016 by Justin T.

halloween-1350375283oewIs it that time of year already? Is that the rumble of a passing truck I hear or is it the low growl of some hideous monstrosity from the underworld? Do I hear the paws of indescribable beasts padding on the ground outside my window? Is that a thin, pale hand clutching at the gates? Am I seeing things or is that gleam in the dark emanating from the eyes of some ancient spirit come to clutch at my soul?

Halloween is coming! The first two weeks of September have already sped on by and here I silently sit, terrified by the sounds of unnatural monsters and wailing wraiths. One of those creatures has just hopped out of its crib… er, cage… and is quickly stomping its way to my door, which I know will be flung open in a rage to be followed by the shrill screams and cries of a mad demon. Never has the word “Daddy” stricken such terror in my heart until it has come from the slavering mouth of this tiny hellion.

Never mind that now. As it frantically pounds its fists on my door, I must chant the incantations that begin the Halloween Horror Movie Marathon season. Once again I neglected a wrap up post to cap off the previous year and so sacrifices must be made…

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The Final Six of 2015

Posted in Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on November 16, 2015 by Justin T.

Time barreled on by like the midnight meat train… there’s about a half dozen films I’ve seen since The Nightmare and it’s time I get write-ups done and posted. Here goes, the final stretch of my Halloween Horror Movie Marathon for 2015. Let’s get through these quickly…

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The Nightmare

Posted in Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on November 7, 2015 by Justin T.

The Nightmare

The Nightmare (2015) — Directed by Rodney Ascher. Starring Siegfried Peters, Steven Yvette, Yatoya Toy, Nicole Bosworth, Elise Robson, Age Wilson.

The Nightmare grabbed my attention after seeing a trailer for it earlier this year. The premise of this new documentary from Rodney Ascher, director of Room 237, is simple– several people who suffer from sleep paralysis describe their experiences while we watch recreations of their descriptions. The concept and the chilling imagery intrigued me. It looked like it could be a frightening little flick. When it recently appeared on Netflix I moved it to the top of my list.

If you’ve never heard of it, sleep paralysis is an inability to move while a person is drifting off to sleep or waking up. It is often accompanied by specific types of hallucinations, typically of someone or something sitting on your chest or a shadowy figure lurking in the room. It’s a pretty interesting phenomenon to read up on or, you know, watch a documentary about.

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The Black Scorpion

Posted in Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on October 21, 2015 by Justin T.

The Black Scorpion

The Black Scorpion (1957) — Directed by Edward Ludwig. Starring Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Carlos Múzquiz, Pedro Galván, Pascual García Peña.

I loved monster movies as a kid. Aw, heck, I still do. You might think it’s all about seeing people picked up by giant claws and devoured by a gigantic creature or buildings smashed to pieces by enormous feet, which is a lot of fun, but for me it’s just as much about seeing things brought to life that don’t exist in the real world, someone’s imagination realized on film. I remember watching the original King Kong, captivated by Kong and the dinosaurs even on my parents’ tiny black and white TV. I marveled at Ray Harryhausen’s Cyclops in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Later I would be terrified of Medusa’s green gaze in Clash of the Titans; I almost couldn’t look at the screen, convinced I would turn to stone just by catching a glimpse of her eyes. Stop motion animation, particularly in older films, may look hokey if you didn’t grow up on it but I still love the craft. The patience and attention to detail required to simply walk a model across the screen still blows me away. We still see stop motion in current films but the trend is more towards animating an entire movie instead of integrating models with real actors and locations. I look forward to sharing these old classics with my sons at an age where they can be as dazzled by them as I was. Unfortunately The Black Scorpion, though featuring some impressive animation by one of the pioneers of the craft, isn’t one of the best examples of this dying art form.

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‘The Visit’

Posted in Found Footage, Halloween Horror Movie Marathon on October 7, 2015 by Justin T.

The Visit

The Visit (2015) — Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Kathryn Hahn, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Benjamin Kanes, Celia Keenan-Bolger.

M. Night Shyamalan is back! After taking a steep nose dive with some truly lousy movies that incorporated lame twists (The Village), spoiled brat whining about film critics (Lady in the Water), and just plain ridiculousness (The Happening), he has returned with The Visit, a found footage thriller/horror film that seems to work pretty well on the surface. After taking a closer look, however, I have some concerns with how the film exploits dementia in the elderly for its scares.

Siblings Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are heading out for a week-long visit with their grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie). The kids have never met them because their mother Paula (Kathryn Hahn), after leaving home during some tense family drama, has been estranged from them for the past fifteen years. Rebecca, a budding filmmaker, is eager to meet them and plans to make a documentary of their visit with the goal of initiating a reconciliation between her mother and grandparents. But as their visit begins they notice some odd behavior. Nana has mood swings and wanders around the house after bedtime doing strange things like projectile vomiting and scratching at the walls. Their mother, via Skype, brushes these incidents off as simple old people behavior but things gradually become more deranged and sinister. What is going on with Nana and Pop-Pop? Why are they so damned scary?

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