Like a greeting card shop's desire to be two steps ahead of any given holiday, the season of horror movie abundance now comes early. Fright Night, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Atrocious offer varying degrees of creep-outs to get you excited for The Big H.
Once all of the Summer blockbusters have opened, late August can feel like a bit of a cinematic drag. A lot of studios dump their delayed/troubled films here, and the hype machine will never quite make it back to the Transformers or [insert name of super hero movie here] levels of June's marketing onslaught. What we do get are the horror genre stepping stones that will lead us into the Fall...and of course, to Halloween.
Screenplay by Marti Noxon & Tom Holland
Directed by Craig Gillespie
QuickKick Rating: 4 out of 5
Anton Yelchin is splendid as always, even if he's still just being used as the onscreen embodiment of "The meek shall inherit the Earth". The biggest shock however (aside from his girlfriend being the worst actress ever), was when Toni Collette showed up to play his mother. I honestly had NO idea she was even in it. She was fine.
Speaking of surprises - it's The Littlest Franco! I'm really just using this as an excuse to tell you to watch James' little brother Dave's recent Funny or Die video appropriately titled "Go Fuck Yourself". Trust me, it's worth it.
Anyhoo. I'm really mad at Disney (Touchstone...whatever) for completely neglecting this film in terms of marketing and advertising. I maybe saw one poster and a bus banner, and never even saw a trailer in a theater. And then they wonder why it performed even lower than Conan the Barbarian in its opening weekend! It wasn't the Scooby Gang reference or David Tennant, I assure you. Go see it while you still can.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins
Directed by Troy Nixey
QuickKick Rating: 3 out of 5
It's never a good sign when a filmmaker you trust "presents" something to you in the opening credits. It really just means that it was their project, they did some stuff, and then gave it someone else. Guillermo del Toro co-wrote the screenplay, based on a TV movie I've never seen from the 80s that apparently scared the hell out of a lot of people.
Katie Holmes is our Beautiful Hero, but the film spends most of its time with her would-be stepdaughter, who is a sullen, ponchy little 9-year old named Sally. I've chosen not to picture her, because I imagine you like looking at fat cheeks and dead eyes about as much as I do.
The creatures start out kinda freaky, but that's mainly because you only hear them, and catch glimpses of a limb here and there. I'm pretty sure the film settled on referring to them as "fairies" or "gnomes", which really makes me wonder if anyone involved in the production has seen a depiction of either. But I digress! When the furry growlers start showing up front and center, I actually thought they were a little cute (in a disturbing way). I snickered at the sounds they made a few times.
The scariest thing about DBAotD - besides the gaping plot holes I thought for sure they would explain - is the shadow of Scientology that stretches throughout. The Internet© claims that Tom Cruise had a lot of "input" during production, and it shows. The anti-psychology, anti-antidepressant message is shoved so far down your throat that you expect to find a copy of Dianetics on your seat when you get up.
I actually have no complaints about K-Holmes' performance, and the visuals were lovely/scary (Guillermo's favorite!), but by the end of the film I had checked out. See above, re: plot holes. Oh, well. Spend your time working on the Haunted Mansion movie, Mr. del Toro!
Written & Directed by Fernando Barreda Luna
QuickKick Rating: 5 out of 5
While I understand that your enjoyment of this film will depend solely on whether you still like the "Found Footage" horror genre (I love it), I have to say that this one really worked for me. In other words...Yeah, this one definitely had me freaked out. Atrocious is a Spanish import, and I was able to catch it on the final night of its limited engagement here in LA.
The setup is simple: A vacationing family returns to the remote house they've left vacant for many years. The teenage siblings decide to investigate a local legend that's supposedly linked to the woods and hedge maze on their property.
Obviously it's being sold as 2011's answer to Paranormal Activity, but it's worth noting that a lot of it feels more like a descendant to the one that started it all, The Blair Witch Project. The pacing is brisk, and I appreciated that the action was almost nonstop once shit really started to go down. There were no "let's talk about the next morning" scenes - once you hit that final night of the 'footage', there's no letting up.
I'm not going to give away the twist ending, but I thought it was fantastic. It definitely lets the viewer draw their own conclusion on what actually happened, but it never feels like a cop-out. If you were somehow still delighted by hedge mazes after The Shining, this should cure you of that comfort. I hope that it either gets a wide release or a DVD street date soon, because this is one low-budget film that I would highly recommend to any fan of found footage horror.
And there you have it! As you can likely tell, Hollywood will be getting a great deal of my money as we move into the season of scary movies. Despite some minor bumps in the road, here's hoping that what's to come keeps the terror train on the right track.