Posts Tagged ‘Ghosts’

MOVIE: The Eclipse (2009)

March 17, 2010

I read about this film a few months ago and have been eager to see it ever since.  Eager, but not eager enough, apparently, to actually KEEP TRACK OF IT.  Doy.

As it turns out, while it has yet to be released widely to theaters, it was playing in Seattle last week during the 2010 Irish Reels Film Festival.  OOPS.  When I realized I’d missed it, I shook my fist at the sky and cursed my stupidity, then I Googled it to see when my next opportunity might be.  Lo and behold, it’s available for pre-theatrical release streaming at Amazon.com!   Wicked.

The film is about a would-be writer, Michael Farr (played by the great Ciarán Hinds — adore him), who, as the story opens, is helping to organize and run his small village’s annual literary festival.  There are two writers at the festival that are of interest to the story: the first is Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), a novelist and insufferable snot; the second, ghost story writer Lena Morelle.  Nicholas and Lena have a history together, a one-night stand history, and one of the reasons Nicholas has come to the Cobh Literary Festival this year is to try to convince Lena to come back to him for real.  Unfortunately for him, Lena has absolutely no interest in this idea.  In fact, she can’t stand him.  For reasons that become clear about thirty seconds after we meet the man ourselves.

Michael, on the other hand, is a recent widower with two children, struggling to come to terms with his grief and move on with his life.  That grief is compounded by the fact he’s now responsible for taking care of his likewise-grieving father-in-law (whose name I’ve forgotten, so I’ll just call him FIL for short).  The first night of the festival, Michael forgets to pick FIL up from his retirement home — he just forgets.   Perhaps not so coincidentally, later that same night Michael sees his first ghost.  A ghost who, oddly, looks just like FIL.  Who is not dead.

Hey, that’s weird.

The next day, Michael is asked to pick Lena up for her reading at the festival and the two meet for the first time.  Michael attends the reading and is intrigued to discover there that her genre of choice is ghost stories.  When she later invites him in for a drink, he can’t help but ask her if she really believes ghosts exist.  Her immediate response?  “Why — have you seen one?”

As the festival progresses, Michael and Lena become friends.  But the ghost of FIL continues to plague him, eventually going from a simple apparition walking across the hall to a terrifying, blood-covered monster who tries to pull him down through a hole in his closet floor.  (The few ghostly scenes in this film, by the way, are successfully scary as hell and a couple of them truly startled me — no mean feat!)

Meanwhile, Lena is struggling to deal with Nicholas, who has grown more and more aggressive in his desire for her.  The three characters bounce off each other in scenes here and there until finally Nicholas and Michael come to blows over Lena.  Then the next thing we know, the festival ends, everybody goes home, and the movie is over.

What’s interesting about The Eclipse is that while it bills itself as a ghost story, it’s really not about the ghosts at all.  There are only about four “scary” scenes in this movie, and they’re all over fairly quickly — they simply don’t appear to be the point.  Instead, the story seems to be more about people and emotions.

And that’s where I ended up having a bit of a problem with it.

This film seems decidedly undecided when it comes to its own goal.  Clearly, the filmmakers wanted to make a story about relationships, grief, guilt, love, and loss that also happened to have an element of horror to it.  I think the aim was to keep the story focused primarily on Michael, and to make a connection for the viewer between the ghosts he’s seeing and the haunting guilt and grief in his own mind.

But the problem is, the only reason we end up with a sense of Michael’s emotional complexity at all is because of Ciarán’s exquisite acting abilities.  Without his masterful facial expressions and softly pained tone of voice — if a lesser actor had played this part, in other words — we would’ve gotten very little sense of that character at all. And that’s despite the fact he’s in nearly every scene of this film.  He’s not given much to work with, but even worse, there are simply too many elements of this story that should’ve been explored more and aren’t.

For example, Lena is a ghost story lover and writer.  Yet, she and Michael only have one conversation about ghosts and it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.  For someone who purports to love the subject, she shuts Michael down very quickly when he tries to talk to her about what he’s been seeing (she claims she finds the rental house she’s staying in too creepy for such discussions, but it felt more like the writers simply weren’t sure what to do with the scene).  There could’ve been an interesting connection made there — a bonding over their own apparitions, an exploration of their respective hauntings.

On the opposite side, the relationship between Lena and Nicholas felt over-explored, extraneous, and pointless.  Why was that in there wasting precious space to begin with?  Just to show that she’s desired by even the smartest, most successful of pricks?  It wasn’t necessary; the added friction wasn’t needed, and I mostly found Aidan Quinn’s presence distracting and unsatisfying.

The film is very short — less than an hour and a half — and I think it could’ve benefited a great deal from an extra thirty minutes spent shoring up a few of the characters’ personalities and relationships.  Instead, it feels like it’s over just as it finally gets rolling, and I left this movie wanting more.  More about the ghosts.  More about the grief.  More about where Michael’s mind was taking him.  More, more, more.

It left me wanting.  Because IT is wanting.

Nevertheless, this is still a very intriguing and unusual picture, and it’s beautifully filmed and very well-acted to boot.  If you get a chance to see it, I’d definitely recommend that you do so.  I’m hoping it comes back to Seattle soon for a real theatrical release, as I’d like to see if it works better on the big screen.  Stranger things have happened, after all.  It might change my tune entirely.  Who knows.

Recommended.  Sort of.  I think?  Yes.

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Genre:  Drama, Horror
Cast:  Ciarán Hinds, Aidan Quinn, Iben Hjejle, Jim Norton

BOOK: A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (1960)

December 5, 2009

It took me almost a week to figure out what to say about this novel.  And even now, I’m kind of at a loss as to how to begin.  This is a strange one — strange and wonderful.  And I don’t think any way I come up with to describe it is going to do it much justice.  But let’s see how it goes here.

On the surface, this novel is about an old man, Jonathan Rebeck, who lives in a cemetery and spends his days playing chess and talking to ghosts.  He’s lived at the cemetery for over twenty years, after going bankrupt as a pharmacist, and in all that time he’s never left the grounds, not even once.  He sleeps in a mausoleum and is assisted by a talking raven (metaphor with Elijah here not lost upon me) who drops by daily to deliver pilfered sandwiches and other items, and to fill Rebeck in on the latest news of the world.  It’s a simple life, in a fine and private place, and it has suited Rebeck very well.

When two new ghosts enter the scene, however, Rebeck’s life begins a gradual shift.  He first becomes friends with newly buried teacher Michael Morgan, a man who believes his wife poisoned him and is extremely bitter about being dead.  As it turns out, death is not an endless stream of ghostly walks, spying on the living, and regrets — it is instead simply a gradual forgetting.  You begin by forgetting details:  names, places, events.  But gradually you forget everything else as well — how to make sounds, how to feel sensations, how to love someone.  Michael strenuously resists this forgetting.  Angrily resists it, in fact.  But then Laura enters the scene.  She’s the ghost of a young woman recently hit by a bus, and her take on death is a sigh of relief.  Life was hard, why remember it?  Why not just let go of all of this?  Just let it go.  Let go.

The more time they spend together, the more Michael and Laura begin to pull in from their two extremes (must not forget!  can’t wait to forget!) to meet somewhere in the middle.  And then they fall in love (“for as long as I remember love,” Laura says).  Meanwhile, Rebeck has also begun to experience love, in his case for a woman about his age named Mrs. Klapper who has started visiting her dead husband’s grave a few times a week.  Mrs. Klapper and Rebeck get to talking one afternoon, hit it off, and soon find themselves making more and more plans to meet, opening up to each other at last all the various pains and fears of their hearts.

And so it seems our characters are all headed towards happiness, until something happens that threatens to separate Michael and Laura for good (as if death weren’t bad enough!).  It’s their love for each other that finally spurs Rebeck into action.  But to save them, he’ll have to leave the cemetery for the first time in two decades.  Can he do it?  Yes.  Yes, he can.

This is a strange, offbeat novel with a surprisingly sharp wit and an equally surprising tenderness for its characters.  At times, it does feel just slightly first-novel-y (and it was, in fact, Beagle’s first novel — he later wrote The Last Unicorn, which, incidentally, was one of my favorite movies as a child); it can be a bit repetitive in places, for example.  But you’ll hardly notice it in between all the truly delightful conversations between characters (I was especially fond of the exceedingly sardonic raven) and the thought-provoking ideas about the natures of both life and death.  The title comes from a poem by Andrew Marvell:  “The grave’s a fine and private place,/ But none, I think, do there embrace.”  As it turns out, this is both true and untrue, and the various ways in which it is both, either, which, neither are an absolute delight to discover.

Definitely a book that will require another reading for me, and soon.  Clever, gentle, funny, kind, patient, compassionate, and fascinating — I absolutely loved it.  (p.s.  Thank you, Rook darling.)

[FANTASY]

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MOVIE: The Alphabet Killer (2008)

November 13, 2009

alphabetkillerI was bored the other day and in the mood for a lightweight murder mystery sort of thing, so I plopped down on the couch and started flipping through Netflix’s “Watch Now” options on my Roku box until I came across this one.  Though it sounded like a completely standard “cops hunt elusive serial killer” story, I was intrigued by the cast, which included both Tom Noonan AND Bill Moseley.  Since that’s a combination that seems much more suited to a scary horror movie than a murder mystery (those are two creepy-ass mo-fos, if you ask me), it kind of gave me hope this film might be spookier and more entertaining than it sounded.

Right away I had a major beef with the picture, though, and that beef was the casting of Eliza Dushku as a homicide detective.  Setting aside the fact she’s a terrible actress, the more pressing issue for me was this:  Since when do cops get promoted to homicide detectives in their mid-20’s?  But you know what, I said to myself, whatever.  Maybe she was the Doogie Howser of her department, what do I know?  Let’s just suspend that disbelief thing, go along for the ride, and hope that Noonan and Mosely come along soon to save us from the silly.

Dushku stars as Detective Megan Paige and is, as the story opens, the chief investigator in the case of a murdered little girl (incidentally, this movie is loosely based on an actual series of crimes in Rochester, NY in the 1970’s).  The girl’s first and last names both started with the letter “C” and so did the town where her body was found, and Megan soon becomes convinced the three Cs are no mere coincidence.  She begins spending hours and hours in the attic of her house, going over every crime scene photo and file repeatedly until, eventually, she just cracks.  It begins with hallucinations of the ghost of the dead girl and progresses from there very quickly to an attempt at suicide, all while her boyfriend, a fellow detective named Kenneth (Elwes), watches on helplessly.

Cut to two years later and Megan is back on the force after spending many months in treatment for what was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia.  To avoid a lawsuit, the force agreed to take her back on, though only in limited capacity as a records clerk.  But when another little girl’s murdered body is found — another girl with double initials found dead in a town that starts with the same letter — Kenneth, now her ex-boyfriend and also her boss, reluctantly lets Megan consult on the case, recognizing that she has insights into the original murder none of the other cops share.

(Annnd there’s where I rolled my eyes again, by the way.  Because, really?  You’re going to let the woman on thorazine for schizophrenia interview witnesses and handle evidence?  Good luck in court, fellas!)

BUT ANYWAY,this flick did keep me relatively entertained and it was almost exactly the kind of movie I was in the mood for.  And really, if  they’d cast a better actress in the lead role, it could have been a fairly intriguing examination of the conundrum that comes when the very thing that makes a person excel at their job (the intuition, insights, and focus Megan gains as part of her mental illness) is the same thing that ultimately is their undoing.  Dushku, though, overacts so ridiculously that she made the scenes that would’ve been pivotal to this theme just look silly.   Kind of too bad, because the supporting actors all did a fairly decent job, including Noonan and Moseley, as well as Timothy Hutton as Megan’s support group buddy and Carl Lumbly as her doctor.

It’s not a great movie, obviously.  It’s not even really a good one.  Nevertheless it’s decent, and perhaps most importantly, also FREE.  You could do a lot worse.  Trust me — I do a lot worse on a regular basis.

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Genre:  Mystery
Cast:  Eliza Dushku, Cary Elwes, Tom Noonan, Bill Moseley, Carl Lumbly, Michael Ironside

MOVIE: Paranormal Activity (2007)

October 21, 2009

paranormalactivityAfter weeks of debating whether or not I should drag my old lady arse to a midnight screening of this movie, the movie went and did me the huge favor of releasing itself nationwide in normal movie-watching hours.   Thank you.  Thank you so very much, movie.  Because midnight screenings?  Good lord.  Just not happening anymore.  Nooooot happening.

So a week or so ago, at the safe-from-ghosts-in-the-daylight hour of 4:30pm, I bought myself a ticket and some popcorn, snuggled into a cozy seat in my local theater, and prepared to be scared to death.

Except, not really, of course.  I mean, I’d read enough reviews of this movie declaring it to be “even scarier!” than The Blair Witch Project to know this movie wasn’t going to scare me at all.  When all the reviewers say something is the scariest movie EVER (!!), I know I’m in for two hours of pure unscary disappointment.  So, for once, FOR ONCE, I went into a majorly-hyped movie with my expectations in the metaphoric crapper.

And guess what!  Keeping your expectations lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut is absolutely the way to go!  Because, as it turned out, this movie totally did not suck!  Oh frabjous day!

In fact, this movie ended up not-sucking so much I exited the theater however-many-minutes later pretty pleased.  And you know what the secret is?  As it turns out, the secret to making an unsucky scary movie is having no budget whatsoever.   This movie was so low-budget it didn’t have enough money to suck.  There wasn’t enough money for gore.  There wasn’t enough money for showing us creatures or spooks or ghosts or anything.  There just wasn’t enough money for special effects in general.  And special effects are, in my opinion, what drain the scary right out of almost every scary movie made these days.  You start dumping in the elaborate mutilations and gore, the elaborate creatures, the elaborate show-me-everythings!, and what you end up with is a movie that leaves nothing whatsoever left to the imagination.  There’s absolutely nothing scarier than not having a clue as to what’s coming your way.  Just leaving it to your brain work out all the specs.  It’s what made Blair Witch scary.  And it’s what makes Paranormal Activity scary too.

That said, this movie had an unfortunate number of flaws.  Flaws that, had they only sent me the script first, I could’ve fixed for them in FIVE SECONDS FLAT.  When — WHEN?! — will you people ever learn?  TO SEND ME THE SCRIPT FIRST?  Gah.  But more on that in a sec.

Just in case you haven’t heard anything about this one yet, it’s about a young couple living in San Diego, Katie and Micah, who buy a video camera and set it up in their bedroom after Katie insists she/they are being haunted.  Micah doesn’t believe her, of course — what sane person would?  But he loves her, so he humors her.  And then he starts watching the footage — whoa! — and it all kinda goes downhill for them both from there.

That’s all I’ll tell you in regards to the plot, and I highly recommend NOT watching the trailer for this movie before you go see it, either.  The trailer has some of the spookiest moments in it, and discombobulated in that trailer, they simply aren’t scary at all.   Having seen them before, then, they completely failed to surprise me in the film; it was more distracting than anything else to have them finally dropped into context.  I think if I’d never seen those moments before, they might’ve truly given me a lovely chill.  Instead, meh, not so much.

So, in lieu of more storytelling, allow me rather to detail for you the three biggest problems I had with this movie.  I would not consider any of these major plot-wrecking “spoilers,” but if you are cautious about such things, you can skip the rest of this review and wait to read it until after you’ve seen the film yourself.

1.  Katie’s Foot.  Ooh, this one really bugged me.  Every night, Katie and Micah get into bed, covered only by a sheet.  And every night, Katie leaves one of her bare feet sticking out from under the covers.  EVERY NIGHT.  Now, tell me this:  if you think you’re being haunted by a ghost or demon who creeps into your bedroom at night and breathes on your neck, would you EVER — EVER!! — leave your foot sticking out of the covers?  No, you would not.  I’m telling you right now, YOU. WOULD. NOT.

In fact, had it been me in that situation, I would not only have made sure every limb was safely tucked in, I would’ve been wearing footie-goddamn-pajamas to boot, and I don’t care if it’s summer in Southern California at the time.  “Leave no inch of skin unshielded from demon breath” — it’s my motto in life, and it’s gotten me this far for a reason, people.  Dear Katie, an hour into this movie, I could not help but think to myself you were totally asking for everything you got leaving that foot sticking out.  And that goes double for when the ghost thing finally grabs your toes and pulls you right out of bed onto your ass, kerPLUNK.

2.  The DEMON’S Foot.  Oh man!  You guys were doing AWESOME with the use-your-imagination thing until the stupid footprints part!  Then you had to go and blow all the mystery by revealing the demon to be. . . a three-toed sloth!  There is, quite frankly, nothing less scary than a three-toed sloth.  Not even snails are less scary than three-toed sloths.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at this thing.  Get out, you crazy adorable munchkin!  Give us a kiss.

3.  The Very, Very Last Moment of This Movie.  Without giving away anything about what happens, I’ll just say this movie needed to end about ten seconds before it actually ended, and that final stare into the camera followed by the lurching CGI effect — gah — was just CRAP.  CRAP!  What were you thinking?  Bad enough with the three-toed sloth!  You fools, you fools!

But honestly?  Those are three pretty small things in a full-length movie.  There were parts of the film that got a little slow and repetitive, especially early on, and there were whole chunks I would’ve written completely differently myself (a little silly, a little lacking in common sense, a little cliché).  Overall, though, I was pretty pleased with this one.  And I’m really looking forward to seeing a second time, when I’ll be a little less on guard for the crap, and a little more relaxed about simply enjoying what’s playing out on-screen.  Recommended!

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Genre:  Horror, Ghosts
Cast:  Micah Sloat, Katie Featherston, Michael Bayouth

MOVIE: The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

July 28, 2009

About two years ago, I saw a documentary on the Discovery Channel called A Haunting in Connecticut (2002).  It was about a teenage boy with cancer whose family thought they had gotten lucky when a rental house just five minutes from the hospital became available cheap.  After months of many-hour drives to and from the cancer ward, they signed the lease no-questions-asked and moved right in, despite the fact finances were tight and it meant splitting the family up (Mom and kids moved into the rental, Dad stayed behind to work and only came out on weekends).   As it turned out, financial problems and cancer were about to become their most minor of concerns.  Cuz that rental house?  Was such a bargain because it A) used to be a funeral home, and therefore B) was haunted.

Despite the cheesiness of that description, I actually rather enjoyed this two-hour documentary.  So, when I heard the same tale was being turned into a scary movie, I was kind of excited to see it.  I love ghost stories, and this one was pretty creepy even when acted out by unrecognizable TV extras.  Polish it up a bit and throw in Martin Donovan and Virginia Madsen as the Campbell family parents, and heck, we might really be in for something kind of good here.

Now, for the record, I watched this movie in the most perfect setting imaginable — well, wait, I guess the MOST perfect setting imaginable would’ve been an actual haunted funeral home (sahweet!).  But certainly it was the NEXT most perfect setting imaginable.   We had just bought a new tent for a camping trip and I decided to pitch it in the backyard two weekends ago and sleep in it.  For kicks.  So, there I was, alone in a tent in the dark, surrounded by the sound of unidentified animals scampering through the crackling branches of the trees and the periodic rustling of leaves.

And, of course, the gentle whirring of the fan in my laptop, which I had in the tent with me running off an extension cord.  Because what is camping without wi-fi, I ask you?  It’s not the Stone Age anymore, hippies.

In any case, I settled in.  It was dark.  It was spooky.  I was all set to be scared.  I hit play and. . . LORD HAVE MERCY!  THE TERROR!!  THE HORROR!!  THE. . . oh wait, that was just the incident with the big bug in my tent.  The movie?  Not scary at all.

I never know who to blame for stuff like this, so I’m going to go ahead and blame the director and the two guys who wrote the screenplay (Peter Cornwell, Adam Simon, and Tim Metcalfe, respectively) because while they may not have been in charge of everything that went wrong with this picture, they were still the three most responsible, at least from where I sit.  So, here’s the thing — Les Trois Stooges took everything that was effectively unsettling about the original Discovery Channel documentary and replaced it with all the same dumb stuff we’ve seen 86 gazillion times.  And then, just in case we’d only seen them 85 gazillion times, they made sure to punctuate every scary moment with a harpy-inspired shriek from a  violin.  As if to say, “HEY, GUYS, YOU GOT THAT THAT WAS ONE OF THE SCARY PARTS, RIGHT?”

Yeah, dudes, we got it.

By overdoing all the ghost stuff, to the point of gotta-look-away grossness (eyelids: no!), they turned this movie into a ridiculous ew-fest instead of an entertaining eek-fest.  There is nothing scary about grossness — it’s just gross.  And what really bugged me is that they made changes to the original story that could’ve been improvements if they’d committed to them.  In the documentary, Matt (the teenager with cancer) and his little brother share the basement room, and both of them see things during the night.  In the movie, though, Matt lives down there alone.  And because he’s also in the middle of an experimental treatment for his cancer, we start to wonder for a while whether or not the ghosts are truly out there in the real world, or simply flitting around in his brain right next to a big metastasizing tumor.  Then everybody else started seeing them too and the intriguing part of the suspense was lost.  And yes, they were making a “true story,” so they had to make the ghosts real to the whole family, blah blah blah.  But they changed a lot of other stuff, ostensibly to “improve” it, after all, and you know what would be truly scary?  If you were being haunted by ghosts that were only in your own head.  If the terror was just as real, the experiences just as visceral, but it wasn’t really there.  Isn’t that one of everybody’s biggest fears?  Fear of madness that goes that far and has its source in something completely out of your control?

Damn, that would’ve been an interesting picture.

This one, not so much.

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Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Martin Donovan, Virginia Madsen, Elias Koteas, Kyle Gallner, Amanda Crew

BOOK: The Haunting of Cambria by Richard Taylor

March 3, 2009

I picked this book up off a local used-bookstore’s 50-cent paperback shelf, primarily because I am now, and always have been, a total sucker for ghost stories. I wasn’t really expecting it to be any good, though, so I was pleasantly surprised when it started off a lot stronger than I’d anticipated.

Annnnd then the end came along and ruined the whole thing. But I’ll get to that in a minute. . .

The story is about a guy named Theo Parker, who was on his way to the new bed-and-breakfast (“Monroe House”) he’d just purchased with his adoring wife Lily when they were involved in a terrible car crash that resulted in her death. Devastated, Theo was in and out of hospitals for a few months recovering from his own injuries and then finally decided it was time to get on with things. Wanting to stay connected to Lily, he decided to return to Monroe House, fix it up, and try to make a go of it. For her.

When Theo arrives at the B&B, though, he finds a woman living there already — a woman named Eleanor Gacy. She says she’s the building’s property manager and that she’s been tending to the place while it was vacant to try to keep it in good shape for him. She’s a bit twitchy at first, though, and finally admits she’s been living there because she has nowhere else to go. Unwilling to battle her on the issue, Theo agrees to let her stay there as long as she’ll help him clean the place up. As it turns out, though, Eleanor’s been through some rough times in that house, something Theo gets a taste of his very first night there himself when he’s attacked by something he can’t see. Soon he and Eleanor are working together to try to figure out what’s haunting Monroe House and why.

And that’s where it went from pretty decent fun to The Ruins, which is all I’ll say about how this book turns out.

In any case, if you can stomach stupid endings that make no sense whatsoever (not that ghosts make a whole lot of sense either, I suppose, but I’m much more willing to go along with ghost stories than evil-plant stories), you might find this book a decent read. It would be perfect for a long flight or an afternoon on the couch, definitely. I’ll probably look for other books by this author, if only because the character of Theo reminded me a bit of Spenser from the Robert B. Parker series. And I loves me some Spenser.

Sorta recommended, with caveats!
[HORROR]

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MOVIE: Shutter (2008)

July 22, 2008

Oh please, like I don’t know what you’re thinking right now?  You’re thinking, “Meg, what the HELL were you THINKING?”  But here’s the thing:  YES, I fully expected this movie to totally stink.  I mean, first of all, it’s an Americanized version of an Asian horror movie, and if there’s one thing we Americans do extremely well, it’s suck all the scariness right out of our horror remakes.  And second of all, the leads are all actors primarily recognizable as TV show supporting characters, which means none of them is what I might describe as a thespian superstar.  There’s Joshua Jackson, better known as Dawson’s Creek sidekick Pacey; David Denman, better known as Pam’s ex-boyfriend on The Office; and, the only truly horrifying moment of this movie for me (because I didn’t know he was in it and can’t stand him), John Hensley, better known as Matt from Nip/Tuck, a character I have what I would describe as a “loathe/hate” relationship with.

NEVERTHELESS, I rented Shutter despite all this because, hey, you never know — maybe someday Americans will remake an Asian horror movie into a movie that isn’t totally lame.  And do I really want to risk missing out on it?  As Whitney Houston would exclaim, “HELL to the no!”

However, for the record, this is NOT that film.  Instead, this might actually be the worst Americanized Asian horror movie I have ever seen.  (Though since I haven’t seen Jessica Alba’s The Eye, I may yet eat those words.  I’ll let you know.)

This stupid, unscary flick is about a newlywed couple, Benjamin (Jackson) and Jane (Rachel Taylor).  Ben is a successful photographer and, unfortunately, he’s just landed an important gig in Japan right as they are supposed to go on their honeymoon.  So, they decide the best thing to do is for Jane to go along and turn the trip into a working vacation.  They have a few days before Ben has to report to Tokyo, so they rent a car and head out on the back roads to a little cabin in the woods.  On the way there, though, Jane is driving when a young woman suddenly appears in the middle of the road.  Unable to stop on the icy street, Jane plows right into her.  But when she and Ben get out of the car to try to help, they can’t find any blood — or the body.  Neither can the cops.  Shaken, Jane and Ben head to their cabin and try to enjoy the few quiet days together they have.

Benjamin takes several photos at the cabin, and once they get to Tokyo, they get the film developed.  But they’re surprised to find that in almost every picture, a white blur appears.  At first, Jane thinks maybe it was the film, or the light at the cabin.  But it keeps happening, even showing up in Ben’s professional photos a few days later.  When Ben’s Japanese assistant sees them, she tells Jane they’re “spirit photos” — photos in which a ghost can be seen.

Jane begins to investigate and eventually figures out that Benjamin is being haunted by the ghost of. . . well, I’ll let you discover that plot point on your own.  Suffice it to say that HOW Jane figures this out is ridiculously inane, and the story of WHY this ghost is haunting Benjamin just made me cranky.  It didn’t fit with Ben’s personality to me.  Or, for that matter, with the personality of anyone who ISN’T a total creep.

That said, there were a few elements of this film that I appreciated for their effectively spooky quality (not that they are at all spooky in this movie, but they might’ve been had they been in a good horror film instead).  The first is a scene in which the lights go out in Benjamin’s studio and the ghost begins setting his high-intensity flash off every few seconds.  She’d flash him, then touch his neck or his hair in the dark, and then flash him again, as he flailed around, terrified and blinded and wondering what in the hell kept brushing up against him.  It was a scene that reminded me both of the similar flash-bulb scene from Rear Window, and also the scene in Wait Until Dark where Alan Arkin freaks the blind Audrey Hepburn out by silently brushing a feather against her face (and by the way, if you’ve never seen Wait Until Dark, you’re missing out on a brilliant and terrifying film).  Good.  The second moment comes at the very end, when we see why Benjamin’s neck hurts — I won’t blow that one for you either, but as far as hauntings go, I kind of appreciated the way the ghost was handling that one.  Lord knows that bastard deserved it.

Anyway, overall, this movie is a frightless stinker with a stupid storyline, a lack of creativity in general, and a bunch of characters so obnoxious it takes only minutes for you to begin rooting for the ghost to send them ALL flying off the 8th floor balcony.  The sad thing is, spirit photos actually have been around since the 1800’s, as one character points out, and I think the concept could make for an extremely effective creepy movie.  But this, alas, is, again, not that film.

Definitely one you can skip, though I could rattle off a list of at least five of you who I know just put this one at the top of your list!   You guys are awesome.

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Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Joshua Jackson, Rachel Taylor, John Hensley, David Denman, Megumi Okina

BOOK: More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon

July 17, 2008

This is now the THIRD time I’ve read and reviewed this novel on my Book’s page (http://megwood.com/books). Continuing on with the tradition, I’ll now report happily that it was just as great the third time as it was the first and second time, and then repost the review from the second time, which includes the review from the first time. Follow all that? I figure by the time I’ve read this the tenth time through, there will be so much indenting and subindenting the original review will show up with a single character per line. Ah, goals. It’s good to have ’em. Here we go:

(from June 2003) I read this book for the first time a few years ago and recently got the urge to pick it up again. And boy, I now happily report that it was just as great the second time through as it was the first time (though the first time, I actually gasped in fear audibly a few times and this time, I knew when the scary parts were coming and was better prepared for them).

Here’s my old review — not much has changed!

(from about 2000) Hannah Gray, an elderly woman, returns to the house she summered in as a young woman and decides to tell us the story of the summer she spent falling in love and being terrorized by a ghost. Her story is separated by the story of a family who lived on the island across from Hannah’s old summer houseover 100 years prior to that fateful summer. The love story is intense and unforgettable, the ghost story is scary as hell, and the connection between Hannah’s ghost and the old island family that slowly emerges as the stories progress will totally surprise you. I could not put this down once I picked it up. It’s FANTASTIC.

Highly, HIGHLY recommended!

[FICTION]

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BOOK: House by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker

July 1, 2008

I should really start jotting down where I hear about books, because it happens so often that I’ll get to the end of one and wonder who in the HELL recommended it to me. This book is one such book. And the foolish thing was that I KNEW Frank Peretti was a Christian horror novel writer, and I was fooled into thinking maybe this one wouldn’t totally make me insane with the Godliness. I saw a movie based on one of his novels a couple of years ago, Hangman’s Curse, and despite some gentle Christian overtones (the family prays a couple of times — this I can handle), I really enjoyed it. It starred ex-Boyfriend David Keith as the father in a family of four, all of them undercover government agents who would infiltrate schools to solve crimes (kind of like 21 Jump Street, except with a whole family at the helm). It had pretty decent dialogue and a fairly decent storyline. So, I was fooled. Fooled, I tell you! Into thinking this novel might actually be good!

Because, as you may have deduced by now, it royally stunk. It actually started out really bad in a thoroughly good kind of way. I was immediately sucked into the story, despite the fact it was completely ridiculous, and it was a real page turner until I got to the end — the end where suddenly I realized the direction the story was going in, and that there was about to be some serious, serious Jesus-speak.

The story opens, as most horror stories do, with a young couple driving along a back road in the woods at night. Suddenly, they hit a bump and all four of their tires go flat. They get out to see why, and find that someone had put a string of nails across the road. They set off on foot to try to find a phone, and stumble across a big house that appears to be a bed and breakfast. They go inside, but the owners are nowhere to be found (and neither is a phone). Just as they are wondering what to do next, another couple comes into the room and, eerily, has roughly the same story to tell — their car was disabled, they came across this house, they can’t find the owners, etc..

The four start poking around, and eventually do find the B&B’s proprietors — a crazy woman, a crazy man, and their even crazier son. Soon, the two couples are in mortal danger, trapped in a big maze in the basement full of hallways and rooms that seem to change position at will. There’s also a little girl down there with them — and a psychopathic ghost they soon realize wants them dead.

So far so good, until it turns out the killer is Satan and the little girl is. . . well, I suppose I shouldn’t say any more. I’m not a Christian, but I’m extremely tolerant of religious stuff, as long as it doesn’t get in my way. But this novel was good old fashioned horror fun until the God stuff took over at the end, and even though I can hardly argue that the ending “made no sense” because of that (like the rest of the book made any sense?), it just didn’t fit AT ALL. We were suddenly supposed to think the four victims were major sinners who had a lot of confessing to do and would fry unless they accepted Jesus as their personal savior — and, frankly, I’m just too tolerant of flaws to think people deserve to burn forever because they’ve made some mistakes. But let’s not get into a debate about religion here — I really am “to each his/her own” about the whole shebang.

My point is that this is a ridiculous, but also very entertaining, novel until the last 30 pages or so. And then it takes a big nosedive into the Land of Ugh. If you’re a Christian, maybe you’ll like the ending — I can’t really tell. But if you’re not and you don’t like to have Christian beliefs whapped over your head like a billy club, this probably isn’t the novel for you. You can go ahead and safely rent Hangman’s Curse, though. It’s not brilliant, but I have a weakness for David Keith that made its flaws pretty forgivable overall. The end!

[HORROR]

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MOVIE: Wind Chill (2007)

October 25, 2007

I watched this movie under the absolute, most-perfect horror-movie-watching settings imaginable — in a dark room, from 10pm to midnight, on a Saturday night, completely alone. And I have no idea if that contributed to the film’s success for me, but I sure did end up enjoying this one, even though it wasn’t the “scary” parts I actually thought were good.

The movie opens with a young woman (the characters are never named, so I’ll just call her “Girl,” played by Emily Blunt from The Devil Wears Prada) in a college lecture ignoring her professor and texting her friend. It soon becomes clear she’s about to head home for the holiday break and that she needs to bum a ride from someone or else she’s going to be stuck ridin’ the Big Gray Dog. Her texty friend suggests she check the ride board, so she does, and lo and behold, there’s a guy (“Boy,” played by Ashton Holmes) from her class who is going to the same town. They agree to drive together and share the cost of gas and promptly head out for the five hour drive later that afternoon.

It fairly quickly becomes clear to the audience that Boy is madly in love with Girl and has set this whole thing up, but it takes Girl a little longer to figure it out. When Boy stops for gas, and then takes the next exit off the freeway and into the snowy wilderness, Girl is understandably freaked out. Boy explains he wanted to woo her with the scenic route, but she’s still pretty wigged. This state of mind is worsened when a car appears out of nowhere and promptly runs them off the road. Whoopsie!

Long story short(er), they’re now stranded in the middle of the snowy nowhere in the dark, with no supplies and very little gas left with which to heat the car. Annnnnnd then the ghosts start showin’ up. . .

Now, the ghostly elements of this story (focused around a dead cop, played by the always-gorgeous Martin Donovan, who used to kill people along that stretch of road and is still trying to do so from the grave) are about as scary as your average episode of Supernatural (which is to say, not very). What I liked about this film, though, was the interaction between Boy and Girl, which I found authentic and engaging. It’s not easy to make an entertaining movie about two people stuck in a car, and yet the director and two actors really managed to pull this off (in my opinion, anyway).

Despite a few quibbles with it that I won’t get into, I truly enjoyed this flick and can definitely see myself watching it again some day. Is it brilliant? No. Is it scary? Not really (though it has a few decent BOO! moments). But if you watch it in the dark on a stormy night, you may find yourself sinking all the way into its story, a sensation I rather enjoy, myself.

Recommended!

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Genre: Thriller/horror

Cast: Ashton Holmes, Emily Blunt, Martin Donovan