The Mummy 2017: An Egyptian Zombie in London

Like many people, I have a great deal of affection for the 1999 film The Mummy and its 2001 sequel, The Mummy Returns. I rewatched both of them recently and aside from a few instances of bad early-2000’s CGI (looking at you, Scorpion King) they hold up well and are just as much fun to watch now as they were when they were first released. I was excited at the prospect of a new Mummy movie, since I have so much fondness for those first two movies.

But like many people I was disappointed. The new Tom Cruise-starring Mummy film takes itself far too seriously and fails to capture the old-school adventure-serial vibe that made the first two so enjoyable. The new movie starts out well enough, but after the first 20 minutes or so it stops feeling like a Mummy movie. It shifts most of the action from the desert to London, and the urban setting doesn’t suit the material nearly as well as the filmmakers clearly think it does.

Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a rather douchey treasure hunter with an irritating sidekick. As soon as the sidekick opened his mouth, I wanted him to die. Nick says they’re “liberators” of antiquities, but their form of “liberating” seems to involve a lot of machine guns and hand grenades, not to mention the occasional airstrike. And people thought Indiana Jones and Lara Croft were destructive. Nick and the irritating sidekick whose name I forget manage to drop a bomb which reveals a hidden tomb, which contains…THE MUMMY. And then they bring it to London, which is an objectively terrible idea.

Sigh. It’s just bad decision after bad decision here. This movie had a whole team of screenwriters and this nonsense was the best they could come up with. The characters are unlikable and their actions are selfish and stupid. The plot also feels rushed. In the 1999 movie, it takes about an hour into the two-hour movie for the mummy to be resurrected, so there’s a lot of buildup and tension, and you get to know and like the protagonists. The new movie is mostly tension-free and the protagonists are jerks.

Another thing that made the 1999 movie so good was that it wasn’t trying to do too much. As far as I know, when it was released there were no immediate plans for a sequel, and it wasn’t until the movie came out and became a huge hit that the sequel was announced. But these days, we are living in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (abbreviated as MCU), the massive success of which has led other studios to try their hand at creating shared movie universes, with decidedly mixed results.

The newest version of The Mummy is Universal Studios’ latest attempt to create a shared monster-movie universe, their so-called “Dark Universe”, which is a pretty stupid name. But it sounds like they’re not planning it out very well. The next movie in the “Dark Universe” is Bride of Frankenstein, which is set to be released in…2019. Really, Universal? You’re hyping up your whole shared universe thing when the next movie won’t be out for two more years? That seems awfully optimistic.

One of the things that has made the MCU so successful is how well Marvel planned everything out. When the first Iron Man movie came out all the way back in 2008 Marvel already had more movies planned out for years (and they still do). Iron Man was released in May of 2008, and the next MCU movie, The Incredible Hulk, came out a month later. Marvel was on top of it right from the start. Universal’s attitude seems to be, “Meh. Let’s just release this movie, say it’s part of a shared universe, and we’ll make the next one when we get to it.” That’s doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

The result of all this sequel-mongering is that the new film has no idea what kind of story it wants to tell. At first it seems to be telling a straightforward adventure story, which is perfectly fine, but once the action moves from the desert to London the story goes off the rails. It’s too concerned with setting up future movies and not concerned enough with telling a contained story. Russell Crowe is in the movie, playing (mild spoiler alert) Dr. Henry Jekyll, who takes injections to suppress his Hyde personality. This is fine, but it feels shoehorned into a movie that’s supposed to be about the mummy.

Speaking of which, the mummy itself is one of the movie’s few bright spots. This movie has a female mummy, played by Sofia Boutella, who was great in Star Trek Beyond last year. She plays Ahmanet, a cursed Egyptian princess, and is probably the best thing about the movie. Since Cruise’s character is the person who unleashed her, she kind of imprints on him and makes him the target of her nefarious purposes. She also smacks him around a lot, and it is admittedly fun to watch Cruise’s douchey character get his ass kicked.

There are some fun sequences in this movie. I liked the plane crash sequence, and there’s a fun chase scene through the woods in England. The movie as a whole looks good, and there are good zombie effects. (A mummy is an Egyptian zombie, after all. It was dead, then it came back to life. That makes it a zombie.) But a couple of fun scenes do not add up to a good movie overall, and the ending in particular is just terrible, the kind of thing where the only appropriate reaction is “Wait, what?”
This movie was a big disappointment. I love movies that are full of monsters and creatures, and while the 2017 Mummy does have good creature designs, the movie itself doesn’t add up to much, and it’s hard to see the whole “Dark Universe” thing getting very far. Skip this movie and go rewatch the Brendan Fraser ones, they’re a hell of a lot more fun.

Alien: Covenant – Slimy Aliens and Multiple Fassbenders

Alien: Covenant is a tricky film to write about. It seems like every review I read spoiled vast swathes of the film’s plot, which ticked me off to no end because the details of the film’s plot were kept mostly under wraps in the time leading up to its release, and to see reviewers casually giving away huge plot points struck me as flippant and disrespectful to people who want to go into the movie knowing as little as possible. In response to this, I am going to give away as little as possible. I will describe basic details of the film’s setup, which could be considered to have some minor spoilers, but I won’t reveal any major plot points.

Alien: Covenant is Ridley Scott’s follow-up to 2012’s Prometheus, his previous foray into the Alien franchise he started in 1979 with the original Alien film. Prometheus was a controversial movie among fans of the franchise. Some people loved it, others passionately hated it. I liked it overall, even though it was profoundly flawed in some areas. Fortunately, Scott and his screenwriters seem to have listened to people’s criticisms about Prometheus, and Covenant delivers a tighter, more contained story that answers some of the lingering questions from Prometheus while still leaving room for interpretation and further entries in the franchise.

Let me just say that this movie has a whopper of an ending, which I loved. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, but man, it’s a doozy. It provides closure to the film while paving the way for future sequels, which Scott says are coming. God bless the man, he’s nearly 80 years old and is still making smart, intense, gorgeous-looking sci-fi movies. Scott has said he wants to start filming the next one in 2018, so expect more slimy alien horrors in the future. Oh joy!

Covenant follows the doomed crew of the spaceship Covenant, on a colonization mission to a distant, habitable planet. En route, they pick up a transmission from a closer planet, which also appears habitable. It’s risky, but they decide to investigate. Very Bad Things happen to them. That’s all I will say about the plot.

One thing that frustrated audiences about Prometheus was that it never fully committed to being an Alien movie. Was it an Alien movie or wasn’t it? Scott and his screenwriters couldn’t seem to decide. Alien: Covenant, as befitting its title, is definitely an Alien movie. The titular aliens, the terrifying xenomorphs (although they aren’t called that in this film), are very much present, and they are terrifying.

Everything about xenomorphs scares me. Not only how they look, which is scary enough, but what they do to you is just upsetting, and sets them apart from other famous horror-movie antagonists. Sure, Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers will kill you, but a quick knifing or decapitation-via-machete is vastly preferable to the protracted, painful, humiliating ordeal a xenomorph will put you through.

It’s a testament to how good H.R. Giger’s original design of these aliens was when you realize how little their appearance has changed over the years. The xenomorphs in this film were created with motion-capture and CGI rather than the practical effects of the earlier films, which may annoy some hardcore fans of the franchise, but when the aliens look as good as they do in this film, the CGI doesn’t bother me. The slithery, hissing monstrosities are as frightening as ever.

And they are taking no prisoners. Covenant is a far more graphic film than Prometheus, which is saying something when you consider that Prometheus is a film in which the main character had an alien slug monster surgically removed from her abdomen. This movie is so bloody that at one point people actually slip and fall in the pools of viscera on the floor. Sir Ridley’s not messing around with this one, folks.

But what of the humans who have these graphic horrors inflicted upon them? I found them to be more likable than the buffoons from Prometheus. I didn’t hate every character in that movie, but they did do some really stupid things, and Covenant has less groan-inducing characters. There are a couple of moments where you think “DON’T DO THAT YOU IDIOT” but the same could be said of any scary movie. The scene-stealer is Michael Fassbender, who, without revealing too much, plays two roles, and in some scenes acts with himself. Fassbender gives both of his characters distinctive voices and body language, so the viewer can distinguish between the two of them…most of the time.

The rest of the cast is also good. Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, the main character, and she’s very likable even if her character isn’t as fierce as Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ellen Ripley. I admire Waterston for having the courage to take the role and make it her own while knowing that she would inevitably be compared to Ripley, one of the greatest sci-fi protagonists of all time, male or female.

Alien: Covenant is a great-looking film. I’ve already talked about how good the creatures look, but the environments are also stunning, both on the Covenant in space and on the ground on the mysterious hostile planet. Ridley Scott has been directing movies for about five decades, and he knows how to make every shot in his films feel unique and give the viewer something new to look at. The movie does have one of the same issues the Star Wars sequels had, in that the technology in the film appears much more advanced than the technology in the original films, even though the new films are prequels that take place chronologically before the originals. It’s not a huge issue, but it is noticeable in comparison to the original movies.

Alien: Covenant is not a perfect film, but I think it’s an improvement over Prometheus. Covenant suffers from a few similar issues that plagued its predecessor, but to a lesser extent. It delivers the gore and the heart-pounding intensity that fans have come to expect from the series, and it’s a worthy entry to the Alien franchise.

Event Horizon and Pandorum: Two Tales of Cosmic Terror

It’s hard to believe that Paul W.S. Anderson, the schlockmeister behind Death Race, Pompeii, and the entire Resident Evil series, also directed Event Horizon. It’s difficult because Event Horizon is so much smarter than those other movies. I’m not trying to say that Anderson is a stupid person, just that some of his movies are kind of dumb. Event Horizon, however, is not one of those movies.

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The easiest way of describing Event Horizon is that it’s basically Alien meets The Shining. The film takes place in 2047 and follows the crew of the Lewis and Clark, a rescue vessel on a top-secret mission, led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne). The mission is so top-secret that the crew doesn’t even know exactly what it is until they have almost reached their destination. A spoiler alert is in effect from here on.

When they have been awoken from their stasis pods, they are brought up to speed by Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), a guest on their ship. He explains to them that they are there to investigate a distress signal sent from a ship called the Event Horizon, which disappeared several years earlier. He also tells them that the Event Horizon was built to test a new experimental gravity drive he designed. The drive generates an artificial black hole in order to bridge two points in spacetime, which vastly reduces travel time over great astronomical distances.

Things start to go wrong almost as soon as the crew of the Lewis and Clark crosses over to the Event Horizon. They find mutilated bodies and crew members start to experience vivid hallucinations connected to deeply personal events from their lives. Captain Miller is haunted by a crewman he once failed to save, Weir sees images of his dead wife with bloody eyes (she is later revealed to have committed suicide), and another crewmember is hounded by the sight of her disabled son with his legs covered with maggot-infested wounds.

The crew discovers the video log from the crew of the Event Horizon, the last entry of which shows them going completely insane and violently murdering each other in a sadomasochistic orgy. Yeesh. Some of the gore scenes in this film push the limits of good taste, not to mention strain the boundaries of an R rating. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies have their share of gore, but the violence in Event Horizon makes the Resident Evil series look like Disney flicks. The initial cut of the movie was so gruesome that the studio forced Anderson to tone it down, and the thought that there was even more horrific footage that wasn’t included in the movie is chilling.

As it turns out, something went terribly wrong (surprise!) with Dr. Weir’s experimental gravity drive, and Captain Miller and Dr. Weir theorize that the ship opened a portal into a dimension outside of the known universe, which is not stated specifically to have been hell, but it’s strongly implied. After its return from wherever it went, the Event Horizon itself became a sentient being, and now torments its occupants and tries to lure them back to hell. The ship itself is evil! And while Dr. Weir later becomes possessed by the evil that controls the ship, the ship itself is the true villain. That’s quite similar to The Shining, where the Overlook Hotel is itself evil, and possesses the weak-willed to do its terrible bidding (or at least that’s my interpretation of it).

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I like this movie a lot. Its horrific violence and grotesque imagery make it a film that is not for everybody, but it’s absolutely chilling and the ideas behind it are much more interesting than anything in Anderson’s other films. It benefits from solid lead performances from Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, as well as strong supporting work from Jason Isaacs and Joely Richardson.

The special effects are also quite good. The movie came out in 1997 but watching it nearly 20 years later it’s easy to forget that this is a movie that is almost two decades old. The space ships in the film aren’t shiny and new-looking, like cinematic spacecraft tend to be. They look grungy and lived-in. Event Horizon is an incredibly atmospheric film, and the down-to-earth designs of the interiors of the spacecraft go a long way toward making the outlandish story believable.

Although it performed poorly at the box office and was met with generally negative reviews upon its initial release, the film has amassed a cult following. The look of the film also heavily influenced the Dead Space series of video games, in which the lived-in spaceships and overwhelming sense of cosmic doom are very much intact.

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Speaking of cosmic doom, in 2009 a film called Pandorum was released. The film stars Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster and is so stylistically similar to Event Horizon that it’s fun to think of the two films as taking place in the same universe. As far as I know there is no big fan theory connecting these movies, but it isn’t difficult to imagine. As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that Paul W.S. Anderson was one of the producers of Pandorum.

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Pandorum is set hundreds of years in the future, when Earth’s population has grown out of control. In order to save themselves, mankind builds a massive spaceship called Elysium and fills it with 60,000 people, then sends it into space on a 123-year mission to an Earth-like planet called Tanis. The setup is not dissimilar to Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar, but Pandorum is less focused on family dynamics and more focused on white-knuckle terror.

At some point in the Elysium’s mission, crewmembers named Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) and Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) awaken from an extended period of hypersleep. Due to being improperly awakened from their hibernation, they are both suffering from amnesia and don’t know what the status is of the ship or the mission. Bower ventures out into the bowels of the ship while Payton stays behind to monitor the situation. Bower eventually finds a few survivors, as well as terrifying monsters.

There are some great plot twists in this movie. More spoilers lie ahead. It is assumed at the beginning of the film that the ship is adrift in deep space, but it turns out that the ship actually landed in the ocean of Tanis after 123 years as planned, and that the ship is in year 923 of its mission, having spent the last 800 years underwater. Trippy! There’s also a Fight Club-esque “Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are the same person” twist, as well as a very cool twist involving the film’s monsters.

The monsters in this movie scare the shit out of me. They frighten me so badly I don’t want to even look at the damn things. Pure nightmare fuel. Bower and his compatriots assume that the creatures are passengers of the ship who have mutated, but this is only partly true. They turn out to be the descendants of some of the ship’s passengers who were awakened hundreds of years ago, and have since evolved to adapt to the dark environs of the ship, becoming cannibalistic and tribal in the process. Badass!

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Pandorum and Event Horizon are smart, trippy, gory sci-fi. The spaceships in both movies look grungy and worn instead of sleek and shiny, and the movies conjure some memorably horrific imagery. Both contain brutal gore, solid acting and trippy plot twists. They make for a great Halloween double feature, although you might want a shower afterwards.

Happy Halloween!

Bruce Campbell Vs. The Army of Darkness

I have a new Halloween tradition, and that tradition’s name is ARMY OF DARKNESS. It has been a long time since I enjoyed a movie as much as I enjoyed Army of Darkness, which is the third film in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.

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The film picks up right where its predecessor EVIL DEAD II left off, with hero Ash Williams, played by Bruce Campbell, stranded in the middle ages after being sucked through a time portal.

In case you’re not familiar with the franchise, in the very first Evil Dead film, released in 1981, a group of friends goes to a cabin in the woods for a getaway. There they find the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Book of the Dead. They play a recording of a researcher reading sections of the book, which unleashes unspeakable horrors.

The first Evil Dead movie is notoriously gruesome, it was originally given an X rating solely for violence and gore, which almost never happens. The X rating is now known as NC-17, and most NC-17 ratings are given to films with graphic sexual content, being rated NC-17 for violence alone is rare. And the movie earns the rating. It is incredibly gory, even by today’s standards. Director Sam Raimi and producer Rob Tapert didn’t care about censorship when they were making the movie, and therefore made it as gruesome as possible, and it shows.

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The 1987 sequel, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, takes a more slapstick approach to the story. It is not clear if the sequel is a remake of the original or just a straight sequel, since it summarizes the events of the previous movie but excludes some of the characters. This is because when he got around to making the sequel, Raimi did not have the rights to the original film, since the sequel was produced by a different company, so Raimi was forced to summarize.

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Evil Dead II is an excellent sequel, delivering just the right mix of horror and comedy. Those are two genres that are difficult to mesh, but Raimi makes it look easy. At the end of the second movie, hero Ash manages to send the evil force back to where it came from, but in the process gets sucked through a portal and deposited in the Middle Ages, which leads to Army of Darkness.

Released in 1992, Army of Darkness is an absolutely glorious movie. I watched it a few days ago from start to finish for the very first time and adored every single moment of it. It’s the least gory and the least frightening of Raimi’s Evil Dead films, and as such may be looked down upon by hardcore horror fans. And to be honest, the film isn’t particularly scary, but it is a hell of a lot of fun and is much more accessible to casual viewers who don’t necessarily want to drown in a sea of gore.

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Let me just say right now that I love Bruce Campbell. The guy is an incredibly gifted physical actor, and he’s an extremely likable protagonist. Before becoming an Evil Dead fan, I mostly knew Campbell for his role on the TV show Burn Notice and his cameos in all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, but The Evil Dead is where Campbell got his start. He seems like a really great guy in every interview I’ve seen with him, and I consider myself a big Bruce Campbell fan.

The guy will probably never win any Academy Awards, but when he’s as entertaining and endlessly watchable as he is in movies like Army of Darkness, who the hell cares? He has several iconic lines in these movies (“This… is my BOOMSTICK!!”) that he delivers with aplomb (“Good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun.”). I just freaking love him, seriously, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the shotgun-wielding, chainsaw-handed Ash in these movies.

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Army of Darkness is as campy as it is enjoyable. Ash is promptly imprisoned by the men of Lord Arthur, who suspect him of being an associate of Duke Henry. Lord Arthur and Duke Henry are at war, and no one likes Ash when they arrive at Lord Arthur’s stronghold. Ash convinces them otherwise by destroying a deadite, one of the series’ signature baddies, and afterwards goes on a quest to find the Necronomicon, defeat the evil, and find a way back to his own time.

But Ash being Ash, he completely bungles it and ends up unleashing an Army of the Dead, led by his own evil clone. Whoops!

The special effects in this movie are absolutely fantastic. I can’t say for sure but I highly doubt that there is any CGI in the movie, which means that most if not all of the effects were done practically. The army of skeleton warriors looks great, and some of them have different clothes, weapons and voices, which gives them a lot of personality. I also love the squeaky skeleton voices, some of which were done by Sam Raimi himself.

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The effects were done by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, who are movie veterans perhaps best known these days for creating the zombies on The Walking Dead, and they did incredible work creating the skeleton warriors in Amy of Darkness.

Army of Darkness isn’t particularly scary, it’s too campy and full of slapstick to be very frightening. But it is tremendously entertaining and a perfect Halloween movie. The special effects are kick-ass, the story is fun, and Bruce Campbell is perfect in the lead role.

Evil Dead fans are probably feeling pretty spoiled these days, since in 2013 there was a successful remake of the original Evil Dead that took the franchise back to its gore-soaked roots. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the remake and, well, let’s just say the words “bits and pieces” were chosen intentionally. There are scenes of violence in the remake that are so stomach-churning I won’t even describe them here, but if you’re a glutton for punishment a lot of the gory highlights are included in the film’s red-band trailer. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Mind you, I’m not saying the remake is bad necessarily, in terms of modern remakes of classic horror movies, most of which are a dime a dozen, the 2013 Evil Dead remake is viewed as being one of the better ones. All I’m saying is that the squeamish need not apply.

And in 2015, Starz debuted Ash Vs. Evil Dead, a TV series continuing the exploits of Ash, everyone’s favorite goofball monster hunter. I watched the first season and enjoyed it immensely. Bruce Campbell is as great as Ash as he ever was and the show finds that crucial balance between slapstick humor and brutal horror, and even manages to tell a story that keeps you guessing and delivers surprisingly solid character development. If you’re a fan of the Evil Dead franchise but haven’t watched the show yet, check it out ASAP.

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So that’s my little overview of the Evil Dead series, with special emphasis on Army of Darkness. I’m a relatively new fan of the franchise, and it’s not for everyone, but if you can stomach it the series knows just how to deliver the gory goods.

IT FOLLOWS

Have you ever had the feeling that you’re being watched?

That somehow, somewhere, someone (or something) is watching you? And that, maybe, just maybe, they’re coming…slowly…towards you?

Well, have I got the film for you! You might have heard of a little indie horror flick called It Follows, which made quite a stir on the indie horror circuit earlier this year.

I have several things to say about this film, starting with the title. It Follows is a fantastic name for a horror movie, creepy and ominous without spoiling anything. It’s a title that conveys more dread and mystery than many entire movies. It’s such a great title that I didn’t even have to think of a title for this post, the movie did that for me.

And the film lives up to the title. The main character of It Follows is Jay (short for Jamie), who, after hooking up with her new boyfriend in the back of his car one night, finds herself being stalked by an unknown presence that only she can see.

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But wait, let’s back up a bit. The movie takes place in Anytown, USA, in a sleepy, nondescript neighborhood. The film opens with a young woman running out of her house. She appears to be running from something, but we don’t see what. Her dad asks her if she’s okay, and she says yes, although it’s clear that she is anything but okay. She gets into her car and drives away unsteadily. She drives to the beach and her dad calls her, and she tells him she loves him.

In the morning, she is dead.

We then meet Jay, who swims around lazily in the pool in her backyard. She is very pretty, and a couple boys next door spy on her. Jay goes on a date with her new boyfriend Hugh, who acts a little strangely when he appears to see someone Jay can’t see, but tries to pass it off as just not feeling well. Jay thinks this is odd but doesn’t think too much about it, and a few days later, the two of them hook up in the back of his car. Afterward, Hugh drugs her unconscious.

Uh-oh. But it’s not what you might think. Jay wakes up tied to a wheelchair, and Hugh tells her that something will start following her. It used to be following him, but he passed It on to her, and the only way she can get rid of It is to sleep with someone else. Even though It is not following him anymore since he passed It on to her, Hugh can still see It. It appears in the form of a naked woman walking slowly, inexorably, towards Jay. Jay freaks out and Hugh lets her see It long enough for her to believe what he’s told her, and then wheels her away and drives her home, while warning her multiple times not to let It get to her, and to pass it on to someone else as soon as she can.

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Jay is clearly traumatized by the experience, but there’s not much the police can do, since she tells them it was consensual. She recovers, and a few days later at school, she looks out the window and sees an old woman coming slowly towards her. No one else seems to see the woman, and Jay leaves class in a hurry. The old woman follows her, and no one else can see her. Terrified and completely convinced of what Hugh has told her, she goes home.

From there, the movie becomes one terrifying encounter with It after another, with each encounter increasing in intensity. David Robert Mitchell, who wrote and directed the film, builds tension expertly and creates an overwhelming sense of paranoia and dread throughout the film.

This is a horror movie in which the antagonist is not a masked killer or a hulking monster, It appears only as people, walking slowly. And while people walking slowly might not sound all that scary, think about it for a second. You can’t stop It, you can’t outrun It, you can only buy yourself time, because eventually, when you let your guard down, It will catch up to you, and when it does…well, I’ll let you fill in the rest.

And think about how unsettling it would be to always have someone following you. And not even running after you, just…walking. Think of how paranoid you would get, how you would always be looking over your shoulder, never being able to relax or let your guard down. Not only would it be terrifying, it would be exhausting, both physically and mentally. And eventually, you would just get worn down, and then…It will get you.

This is such a great idea for a horror movie. I just love it. It Follows is much more low-key than most horror films these days, and in my opinion it’s a movie that is vastly more unsettling than any generic masked killer slaughtering horny teenagers in the woods.

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The movie is helped by a strong central performance. Jay is played by Maika Monroe, who also starred in The Guest, another recent indie hit that I’m a big fan of (and wrote about a few months ago). She’s very good in the role of a person coming slowly unglued, and is a likable protagonist, although admittedly some of the supporting characters are a little bland. But Monroe really does a great job anchoring the movie.

Another one of the film’s strongest aspects is the music, which is kind of electronic, kind of synth-y (if that makes sense), and evokes classic 70’s and 80’s John Carpenter movies like Halloween and The Thing, and also has a retro video game kind of feel. It’s really great, atmospheric and intense, and heightens the movie’s plentiful scares while also being memorable in its own right. You can find some of it on YouTube, and if you’re a fan of old-school horror movies and video games you’ll probably get a kick out of it.

Another interesting aspect of this film is that there is never any explanation about the antagonist. There is no indication as to what It is, where It came from, or anything of that sort. It’s very tantalizing to think about where It might have come from, and adds another layer to the movie’s mythology.

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If it’s not apparent by now, I really like It Follows. Fans of other modern horror movies might not like it so much since it’s slowly paced and places more emphasis on psychological scares rather than gore. But to me it’s far creepier than those kinds of movies. It gets under your skin and stays there, and might just have you looking over your shoulder when you’re walking down a darkened street or hallway.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Beware Of Crimson Peak

I don’t usually see scary movies in theaters, but with Crimson Peak I had to make an exception. I’m a big Guillermo Del Toro fan, and I couldn’t resist seeing his latest movie on the big screen, scary or not.

So let’s get right into it, shall we? The main character of Crimson Peak is Edith Cushing, played by Mia Wasikowska, a young woman who is an aspiring writer (she’s working on a ghost story), and whose father is a wealthy businessman. When she is a child, she is visited by the gruesome ghost of her mother, who warns her to “Beware of Crimson Peak.”

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One day fourteen years later, into her life walks Sir Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki from The Avengers), an English aristocrat who seeks funding from Edith’s father to mine the rich deposits of red clay that his house is built upon. Edith also meets Thomas’ sister Lucille, played by Jessica Chastain, with whom he appears to be quite close, despite her frigid demeanor towards everyone else.

Edith’s father initially refuses him, but Edith begins to fall for him nonetheless. Things come to a head when Edith’s father is mysteriously and brutally murdered, which leads Edith to marry Thomas and she is whisked off to Thomas and Lucille’s home in England, the dilapidated Allerdale Hall, which is built on top of the aforementioned red clay, which seeps ominously through the aging floorboards.

Edith tries to adapt to her new environment, which is made difficult by the fact that her new sister-in-law can barely contain her loathing, and also by the fact that Allerdale Hall is extremely haunted. I mean, there are haunted houses, and then there are capital-H Haunted Houses, and Allerdale Hall is definitely the latter. Edith has seen ghosts before, and she sees them once again in Allerdale Hall, where a grisly apparition with a meat cleaver lodged in its head lies in the bathtub, and other fleshy spirits haunt the halls.

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The spirits once again warn her to “Beware of Crimson Peak,” and Edith is terrified to learn from her husband that Allerdale Hall is sometimes referred to as Crimson Peak by the locals, due to the red clay that stains the ground blood-red when it snows. By the time she learns this, she has grown progressively weaker and is starting to cough up blood.

I won’t spoil the ending, but needless to say there are some unsavory revelations about the Sharpe family. Throughout the film, it is abundantly clear that the Sharpes are up to something, and that Sir Thomas knows far more than he lets on to his wife.

To be honest, I am of two minds regarding the film’s denouement. Maybe it was yet another case of the Curse of the Misleading Trailer, but part of me was kind of let down once we learn what Thomas and Lucille are really up to, since it wasn’t quite as dramatic as what I had had in mind. The film’s trailers had led me to form my own theories, which turned out to be completely wrong. I’m not even going to say what my theories were, because to then say that my theories were wrong would constitute a spoiler in itself, and I really don’t want to spoil anything.

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So like I said, I’m torn. Does the fact that my theories about the film were wrong mean that the film’s advertising was effective, because it misled me, or was it the Curse of the Misleading trailer, in that the movie’s trailers led me to expect something that the movie itself failed to deliver upon? I can’t decide.

And, lest you think that this whole discussion is irrelevant, it really isn’t. And that’s because I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or not.

I hate to sound so wishy-washy about this, but in some ways I am disappointed and in some ways I’m not. I was a bit let down by the film’s story, since it wasn’t quite as grandiose as what I had had thought in mind, and yeah, that was a bit of a bummer.

But on the other hand, Crimson Peak did deliver on a lot of other things I expected from it. For one thing, it looks great. Guillermo Del Toro has always had an eye for snazzy visuals, and Crimson Peak is no exception. The film’s Victorian-era costumes and sets look fantastic, and for a horror movie it’s brightly-colored and visually vibrant. Allerdale Hall, the ramshackle ancestral home of the duplicitous Sharpe family, is a masterpiece of set design and special effects.

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And again, this being a Guillermo Del Toro flick, the monster effects are similarly top-notch. The spirits that roam the dark corridors of Allerdale Hall are gruesome and terrifying, I thought of them as flesh-ghosts because they look like they still have some meaty parts attached to their decaying skeletons.

It also bears mentioning that Crimson Peak is not a film for the faint of heart, it definitely earns its R-rating for some pretty bloody violence, and there is a sex scene, although it’s fairly tame by today’s standards. The last 20 minutes or so of the movie do get pretty gory and there are some cringe-inducing scenes, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for anyone who saw Pan’s Labyrinth. Remember that scene in Pan’s Labyrinth where the villain pulverizes that one guy’s face with a bottle? Kind of like that. The murder of Edith’s father is particularly grisly, as he gets his head repeatedly smashed into a porcelain sink until his face is reduced to a pulpy ruin.

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But don’t worry, it’s not all blood and guts. The three main characters in the movie are all superbly acted, especially Thomas’ sister Lucille. Jessica Chastain looks like she’s having a great time, and how could she not, when given such a juicily villainous role to play? Tom “Loki” Hiddleston is also great, he’s totally believable as a smooth-talking aristocrat who knows more than he’s letting on. And Mia Wasikowska provides a strong performance at the center of the movie. Dressed up in the elaborate Victorian costumes and with very pale skin, she almost looks like a doll, but her external fragility belies her internal strength.

Overall, I really enjoyed Crimson Peak. There were some aspects of the plot that disappointed me a bit, and hardcore horror fans will probably say that it’s not scary enough. It’s not a perfect movie, but I still really enjoyed it, and, as with every movie Guillermo Del Toro makes, it feels very personal. As imperfect as it might be, it still feels like the film Del Toro wanted to make.

I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious, since it’s not like I’m psychic and knew exactly what Del Toro was trying to do or anything. But still, Del Toro’s movies all feel very personal to me, as if he attached a projector to his brain and shone it at the wall, and then made a movie out of whatever he saw. His originality and obvious passion for his films really come through. The movie doesn’t make any profound statements about humanity or anything, but it’s a very entertaining watch that will be worth seeing for genre fans.

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So yeah, those are my thoughts on Crimson Peak. I’m planning to write about one more scary movie this month, so look for that next week if you’re interested.

See ya!

A Stroll Among the Gravestones

A man sits in the passenger seat of a car. He argues with the man in the driver’s seat, then gets out and walks into a bar. He goes in and sits down in a booth facing away from the door. When he sits down we see his badge and realize he’s a cop. He’s clearly a regular, since he doesn’t say a word to the bartender and he doesn’t need to: the bartender brings him a cup of coffee and two shots of whiskey.

Three men enter the bar. They are unwelcome, and the bartender tells them to get lost. They respond by blowing him away with a shotgun. The cop sitting in the booth pulls his gun and shoots at the men. They return fire and flee out the front door of the bar. The cop pursues them, and they exchange gunfire in the street. The men try to drive away, the cop shoots the driver and his blood sprays over the windshield.

The remaining two try to escape on foot, the cop kills one of them and shoots the third in the leg. The movie’s opening credits begin: we see a woman, filmed in close-up. We get the sense that we could be seeing something intimate. And we are, but not in the way you might expect. We see the woman’s eyes, which are wide and clearly terrified. A tear runs down her cheek. Her mouth is duct taped.

Such is the beginning of A Walk Among the Tombstones, one of Liam Neeson’s latest films. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a New York City cop who, eight years after the shootout shown in the movie’s opening sequence, has retired from the police department and now works as an unlicensed private detective. He’s been sober ever since that day in the bar, and regularly attends AA meetings.

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He’s sitting in a diner when a man from one of his AA groups approaches him. The man identifies himself as Peter Kristo, and tells Scudder that his brother Kenny would like a word with him. Scudder reluctantly accepts. He goes with Peter to Kenny’s house, and deduces from the opulence of Kenny’s house that he’s a drug trafficker. Kenny tells Scudder that his wife has been kidnapped. Scudder tells him to call the police, Kenny replies that he already paid the kidnappers four hundred thousand dollars, but they killed his wife anyway.

Scudder doesn’t want to get involved. But when he gets back to his apartment, Kenny is there. He tells Scudder what the kidnappers did to his wife, which is unspeakable. Despite his reservations, Scudder agrees to find the men.

Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), A Walk Among the Tombstones is one of Liam Neeson’s darkest films. It pulls no punches. The movie is based on a novel by Lawrence Block, and is one of a series of novels featuring Matt Scudder. I haven’t read it, so I don’t know how closely the movie does or does not follow the book.

It’s a movie that tells a fairly simple story: evil men are kidnapping the wives of drug traffickers and doing unspeakable things to them. We see glimpses of the men, but the first couple of times we see them their faces are partially offscreen, or hidden in shadow. It isn’t until the movie is almost halfway over that we see them in the light, and they are just a couple of guys. Just a couple of normal guys eating breakfast and reading the newspaper. Two guys named Ray and Albert. If you passed them on the street, you wouldn’t think twice about them. You’d never guess what evil was lurking under the surface.

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And that’s what compelling to me about this kind of story: it’s completely plausible. this is the kind of thing that could be happening right under your very nose, and chances are you would never realize it.

Some of Liam Neeson’s recent action films are a bit implausible, I’ll admit. They’re fun, but they can be pretty far-fetched. As much as I enjoyed Non-Stop, I’ll freely admit that the plot is a bit of a stretch.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is the opposite. It’s not fun and it is very plausible. There are scenes in this film that are deeply disturbing and very hard to watch. But the film’s director, Scott Frank, wisely doesn’t the let the film go too far. He pulls back just short of showing the worst details of what Ray and Albert do to their victims, but he shows enough to get the point across, and what we do see is chilling.

It’s a tricky balancing act, but Frank pulls it off pretty well. This is a film that could easily have gone too far and turned into exploitation, and it does toe the line a couple times, but fortunately Frank is smart enough to realize that he doesn’t need to get too graphic, and what is left to the imagination is always worse than anything he could actually show. Still, there’s more than enough here to earn the movie its R-rating. The violence is brutal and disturbing, but fortunately for the viewer it stops just short of being gratuitous.

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The movie wears its influences on its sleeve (Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are name-dropped several times), but it manages to avoid most of the clichés associated with the hard-boiled private detective genre. The whole recovering-alcoholic trope is a bit played out, but it didn’t bother me, since it’s important to Scudder’s character and there’s a compelling reason why he stopped drinking, which we don’t find out until later in the film (Spoiler alert: during the opening shootout, one of Scudder’s shots took a bad bounce and killed a young girl who was out with her mother).

The acting in the film is solid across the board: Liam Neeson is great as always, giving a compelling performance as a guy who knows he’s done bad things in his life, and is doing his best to live with himself. Kenny Kristo is played by Dan Stevens, our old friend from The Guest. While in that film he was lean and muscular, in this one he appears downright gaunt (and with good reason, the ever-useful trivia section for the movie on IMDb tells me Stevens lost 30 pounds for the role).

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And once again his American accent is convincing enough that you’d never know he’s actually a Brit (Why is it that British actors can do great American accents while most American actors can’t do a convincing British accent to save their lives? There are probably lots of people who don’t realize that Christian Bale, for example, is from Wales).

A Walk Among the Tombstones is not an easy watch, and it’s certainly not very uplifting. But it’ll stay with you, and maybe even make you think about the nature of evil in the world. I don’t know why bad things happen to good people, but I’m glad this movie was made. It allows for the possibility of redemption, maybe not for Ray and Albert but certainly for Scudder. It’s a well-made and well-acted modern noir that, while not without its flaws, is still very compelling in painting a picture of the darkness that exists just below the surface.