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‘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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‘Halloween 2’ and ‘Halloween 3: Season of the Witch’

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2014 by Justin T.

Hey, remember when I said I’d be watching all of Halloween movies? Finally, I got around to a couple! Let’s check ’em out…

'Halloween II' movie poster

Halloween II (1981) Directed by Rick Rosenthal. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Pamela Susan Shoop, Lance Guest, Charles Cyphers, Leo Rossi, Dick Warlock.

Laurie Strode is having a really, really bad night and it’s only halfway through. Halloween II picks up right from where we left off on the first movie, finishing off that fateful Halloween evening. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) has shot Michael Myers a half dozen times but the monster still got right back up and disappeared into the Halloween night. As the town begins piecing together the tragedy that has taken place, Laurie Strode is rushed off to the hospital and Loomis continues searching Haddonfield for his escaped patient. Meanwhile, the evil named Michael Myers continues his own terrible pursuit…

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‘Annabelle’

Posted in Uncategorized on October 17, 2014 by Justin T.

'Annabelle'

Annabelle (2014) Directed by John R. Leonetti. Starring Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, Tree O’Toole, Eric Laden.

I can’t think of many quality scary doll movies. No doubt some dolls can be creepy but it’s a difficult feeling to translate onto film without venturing into ridiculousness. The main trap is that any movement from the doll will easily appear ridiculous, unless that’s your intent, i.e. the Chucky franchise. Off the top of my head, the only films I can think of that succeed in frightening us with their dolls are Poltergeist and Trilogy of Terror. Annabelle, the recent spin-off/prequel to The Conjuring, provides one of the duller entries not just into the creepy doll genre but to horror movies in general. To be fair, there are some decent scares but, as creepy as it is, the doll is rarely a factor in them. Nor could I get past the thin screenplay, dull main characters performed by wooden actors, and cringe-worthy racial stereotypes. And when do we retire the long haired girl dressed in a white gown as our go to ghost?

John Gordon (Ward Horton) and his pregnant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis) are a young, boring couple who live in a boring suburb. Their clothes are boring, their house is boring, and their discussions about the upcoming baby are boring. Screw the late 60s counterculture they’re living in, it’s squaresville up in here, Daddy-o. Their neighbors are boring too, right up until they’re murdered by their daughter, Annabelle, who had run away to join a group of damned hippies… er, a satanic cult. After the daughter and her crazed boyfriend brutally slaughter her parents, they make their way over to the Gordons’ home and attempt to kill them as well. Mia is stabbed, the deranged boyfriend is shot by the police, and the daughter slices her own throat, bleeding her life into the creepy doll she clutches, thus giving birth to the titular Annabelle.

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‘The Corridor’

Posted in Uncategorized on October 4, 2014 by Justin T.

The Corridor (2010)

The Corridor (2010). Directed by Evan Kelly. Starring Stephen Chambers, David Patrick Fleming, James Gilbert, Matthew Amyotte, Glen Matthews, Mary-Colin Chisholm, Nigel Bennett.

Helmed by first time director Evan Kelly, The Corridor takes the classic horror film set up of the cabin in the woods in a unique direction. There’s no crazed killer lurking in the dark forest this time, but what happens to the characters is no less violent. The Corridor is a quiet horror film that successfully blends drama and science fiction elements. Instead of Friday the 13th, this is more like The Big Chill… except it’s all guys, there’s no weird wife-swapping, and the screenplay was influenced by Stephen King instead of Lawrence Kasdan.

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The Fifth Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!

Posted in Uncategorized on September 15, 2014 by Justin T.

Halloween decoration and candy in Lucky's

Recently in the local grocery store I stumbled across the inflatable jack-o-lantern you see above, leering at me with his obnoxious smile. “Come here, gullible fool,” he seemed to say. “Buy some Halloween candy before it runs out in the middle of September! You wouldn’t want to be the only idiot on the block with no candy for the kiddies, would you?” I shook my head and the decoration leaned into me. “Well then,” he cackled, blowing a whiff of stale, plastic air and grocery clerk tobacco breath. “It’s time to get started on your Halloween Horror Movie Marathon!” Yes, dear polymer pumpkin. It most definitely is.

This will be my fifth year spending the weeks before Halloween watching horror movies and writing reviews. This being the Fifth Anniversary of my Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, I suppose it is a milestone of sorts, worthy of commemoration, if only in my own mind. It has occurred to me that for a fan of horror, I’ve seen surprisingly little of each of the major horror franchises. Just a couple of the Friday the 13th films, maybe a few of the Elm Street movies… So this year I’ll honor five years of my favorite Halloween tradition by catching myself up on a series. Since we’re getting a new, complete release of it on blu-ray this year, the Halloween slasher films seemed like a decent pick. Well, apparently the box set isn’t completely complete as, sadly, it leaves out Official Halloween Parody Nevertheless, it’s time to spend Halloween 2014 getting to know the original slasher, Michael Myers.

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Bonus movie! ‘V/H/S/2’

Posted in Uncategorized on November 20, 2013 by Justin T.

It seemed like Halloween ended too soon this year so I had to toss in an extra movie. I’m glad I did because this film pretty much topped everything else I watched over the past couple of months. I present to you…

V/H/S/2

V/H/S/2 (2013) – Directed by Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjnto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason Eisner. Starring Lawrence Michael Levine, Kelsy Abbott, Adam Wingard, Hannah Hughes, Jay Saunders, Dave Coyne, Wendy Donigian, Fachry Albar, Hanna Al Rashid, Oka Antara, Rylan Logan, Samantha Gracie.

Last year V/H/S showcased a series of “found footage” short films by a group of “up and coming” horror directors such as Adam Wingard and Ti West. Those of you who are weary of found footage probably stayed away but I happen to like them so I was eager to see what the new flesh would bring me. I thought the movie was fine but had nothing really special going for it with the possible exception of the final short that had a bit of a frantic, rollercoaster feel to it. I also really couldn’t stand the framing story, which contained a group of characters that were such unbelievable assholes I didn’t even care enough to see them killed off. I expected little from the sequel and didn’t feel the need to rush into it until it was heartily recommended to me. I’m thrilled to have checked it out.

The sequel improves on the faults of the original. With one less film and a less complicated framing story, V/H/S/2  has a shorter running time so it doesn’t wear out its welcome. The quality of the shorts is improved as well. They aren’t filled with as many asshole characters like the ones we had to suffer with before. And they utilize more of that crazy thrill ride tone I am drawn towards in my horror movies these days.

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