My husband and I like to live tweet bad horror with Michael G. Munz. On occasion we find a campy gem hiding behind low ratings. The three of us tried to watch Shark Exorcist this past weekend. Michael and I were done after fifteen minutes. Lance, my husband, doesn't give up on anything. Ever. The next day he watched the whole thing through just to see how bad it would get. From what I hear, it got pretty bad.
Camela: Thanks for guest blogging today, Lance! What was it about Shark Exorcist that made it so bad?
Lance: At the beginning of the movie, the acting was pretty terrible. This was followed up by the story itself having zero structure and random scenes that didn't really help or improve the theme.
To touch more on the acting, it was shocking how bad it was. Most of the shows we see were at least somewhat casted to find people who actually have some skill or promise in this area. In this case, it shows what would happen if you grabbed a bunch of people off the street or your friends and had them make a movie for fun. Also, it wasn't just one or two actor/actresses, it was all of them.
Camela: Tell me more about the story having "zero structure." Can you give an example of a random scene and why it didn't work?
Lance: Towards the end of the movie, a new character is shown going to a park, and being followed by a random creepy dude. She strips to a bikini and starts tanning, and then falls asleep. (As a side note on the low budget theme of the movie, it was cloudy the day they shot. This cracked me up). Anyway, the creepy dude then takes her phone and takes several close up pictures of her while she is sleeping, then spends several more minutes still standing there looking at the pictures he took.
She wakes up only to be stabbed by someone else, and random creepy dude has no other part in the film.
Camela: We talked about the terrible acting and the random scenes. You mentioned it was low budget. Can you give some examples of areas they might have improved despite the low budget?
Lance: They could have tried. I know it sounds mean, but they didn't do basic things they teach you if you're writing a paper in elementary school, or used basic common sense. What I mean by that is that they should have hired an editor to look through the story and notice scenes that didn't matter or were not needed. There is a reason that even the best authors have someone else look through their work.
Also, I mentioned the scene where they were someone was tanning when it wasn't sunny, but an even worse scene happened at the fair. They alternated back and forth between using shots they had filmed during the day and night, which made it very confusing to determine how much time had gone by. It was supposed to be just a few minutes, but if you went by how often they switched from day to night, it was several days.
Also, early in the movie, "Aly" was seriously injured from a bite with a shark. However, the special effects crew just threw a tiny amount of blood on her leg and called it good. It looked more like she had walked to close to a rose bush in shorts than was bitten by a shark.
Camela: It's funny to see you mention being mean. Everyone who knows us knows that you're WAY nicer than I am. On that note, I do feel a little bad sometimes when we live tweet and end up hating the movie. Sometimes actors, directors, and writers tweet back, and it makes me cringe a little.
How did you not give up? You consistently see things through that I just... At a certain point it seems like a waste of life. How do you do it?
Lance: Maybe that's why they kept throwing so many random scenes in, but I just wanted to see where the disaster was going to end up. Would they make a story that would go somewhere? It actually almost did. Would they find even more terrible actors? Would they bring back the actor of the guy who died back as someone else yet again? So many (well, three) questions were left unanswered!
Even after it ended, they had a scene that went way past the credits. I had to fast forward to see if they were going to throw in a twist. It should have been a twenty second scene, but it went for five to ten minutes. This part was so painful that it did require the fast forward feature to get through it.
Camela: I'm starting to wonder why we do this live tweeting thing... On to happier things. Do you have a favorite horror movie (counting highly rated movies we watched on purpose)? Have you found a horror movie you like doing this live tweet thing?
Lance: The Man Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon was excellent, and cracked me up the way it parodies the entire genre, but Tucker and Dale vs Evil ranks above that as my favorite. It's almost more of a comedy. While growing up, Nightmare on Elm Street was the best and scariest at the time.
I think my favorite movie to live tweet was Zombeavers. It was ridiculous, but fun.
Camela: Ugh. Zombeavers. Well, thanks for stopping by! Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Lance: I think that covers it. Thank you very much for having me as a guest on your excellent blog. :)
Camela: Aw. As my husband you kind of have to say that, but I'll take it!
by Camela Thompson
The previews for Crimson Peak more than intrigued me, but I didn't allow myself to get excited. After reading the first two books in The Strain series and a few online transcripts from interviews, del Toro struck me as a misogynist. Sure, you could point at Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy II, but it wasn't enough to make up for the flimsy female characters in The Strain. The television show was trending better, something I attributed to a more diverse team of writers, but they stepped way over the line when Dutch was captured and tortured in "Dead End." Without revealing spoilers, it was a gratuitous maneuver that had no point other than shock value.
My friends assured me that del Toro had a solid history of strong female characters. I could match them point for point. But that trailer spoke to me. The gothic flare, the creepy vibe, and the actors. If nothing else would get me in that theater, Charlie Hunnam (aka Jax Teller), Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki), Mia Wasikowska (aka Alice), and Jim Beaver (aka Bobby Singer) were enough incentive. And just look at the set:
I loved it. So much I watched it twice. In a single weekend.
What I loved.
The casting was tremendous. Every actor carried their part with an effortless air. Tom Hiddleston has a naturally sinister look to him, which was perfect to cast suspicion in the (slightly) wrong direction. He's also capable of expressions of innocence sufficient to cast doubt. Enough that I didn't despise his character, which would have been so easy given the twisted upbringing and subsequent complacency in his sister's reign.
The tension between Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain was delicious. From their first interaction, I seized on the House of Usher vibe. I wasn't at all surprised by the torrid relationship between the siblings, but I was thrilled by Chastain's ability to move from cold void to explosive fury.
It's no secret I have a thing for Charlie Hunnam. Not only is he solidly attractive, but the man can act. His ability to tap into some well of emotion both concerns and awes me. The best aspect of his part in this movie? He doesn't save the girl. Edith is allowed to persevere and pull from a place of mental and physical strength to face her tormentor. Even better? He values and respects her. That's what I call the total package.
Not only did we have a strong female protagonist who was **gasp** valued for her stubborn streak and intellect by the men who loved her. We also see a female antagonist. Which was awesome!! Lucille Sharpe was both physically strong and mentally cunning. It's frequent that women get cast into the role of passive poisoner. Lucille's physical violence rivaled any man. In fact, she held her own against them more than once.
The sets were gorgeous. The physics involved in Allerdale Hall are impossible, but the building is as gorgeous as it is ghastly. The red seeping through the floor and running down the walls was too appropriate to fault. Even the bedroom for ten-year-old Edith impresses. The wallpaper bleeds into the shadowed lines of her mother. The shadows. The cinematography was jaw-dropping.
My very favorite part of the movie involved Edith's writing. She was encouraged to focus more on romance, which was in line with her feminine mind. My husband turned to me and said, "Some things never change." She even considered typing her story to hide her handwriting. That reminds me of considering a pen name....
del Toro. You won me over. This was one kickass movie that celebrated each character as a person.
What didn't work so well.
How did Dr. McMichael get to England so quickly?
The dog was a nice nod to a prior "wife" and the cruelty displayed to it does establish character, but I'm so tired of the dog getting killed off. I could devote an entire post to my rage around this topic.
How exactly did Edith run around on a broken leg? Unless Dr McMichael embellished her injury or it was knocked out of joint (even then, I'm not sure the adrenalin would push her past the pain), this was very odd.
Edith was agonizingly dense about Crimson Peak. Sir Thomas was mining red clay for pigeon's sake. (Note from Camela's husband: "I didn't have an issue with her not recognizing she was already at Crimson Peak since there was not a peak, mountain top, hill, or any elevation gain to speak of at all. It did start off slow, though.")
There were some other minor issues, but I even thought the gore was well executed and appropriate. Overall I would give this movie a solid A.
Have you seen it? What did you think?
by Camela Thompson
I'm not sure why some of us are drawn to horror. As a naturally anxious person, you'd think I have enough worry and fear in my life. I even write in the thriller and horror genres. Why? Perhaps I need a distraction from the very real things in this world that are frightening. Illness, physical threat, and accidental dangers provide compelling reasons to never leave the house. I avoid the news when possible because I grow weary of the frustration I feel towards my fellow humans. Regardless of the reason I am drawn to horror, I have watched countless horror movies and some of them are more effective than others. The horror that plays most to my deep-seated fear deals with demonic possession*.
Horror movies play off our assumptions and fears. Slasher movies capitalize on our distrust of fellow humans and ignorant assumptions. Urban legends and even real events come to life in many of these (the example that jumps to mind is The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was loosely based on tragic events in Texarkana). There are many movies with sharks, snakes, spiders, and clowns--all common phobias. Ghost stories play on our fear of the unknown, and many are also purported to be based on true stories: The Conjuring, Annabelle, The Haunting in Connecticut, The Amnityville Horror, and even The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
Why does the concept of demonic influence and possession terrify me? I find it frightening that a being could shove what makes us human individuals out of the way and wear us like meat puppets. The need to rule out all other explanations before accepting the supernatural gives an entity time to take root, building tension. The subtle changes in the individual are horrifying. The demon's intent to destroy the human it occupies along with as many souls as it can take with it along the way seems oddly plausible. The thing that tickles my reptile brain and gets that fight or flight reflex really going is the thought that dark influences are always waiting for a weakness that will let them in. I find that worthy of a shudder or eight.
I accept it would be much more rational to be afraid of spiders or scorpions or even fellow humans. That doesn't change the fact that possession scares the crap out of me, even if all of the movies fall in category A or B. Category A: Introduce priest/pastor with shaken faith, add teenaged victim inflicted by demonic possession, and procrastinate for forty-five minutes by searching for any other explanation for why the kid can rotate his/her head 360 degrees. Category B: Introduce a happy family to a new household, add an escalation of unexplained events, then introduce a matronly woman who specializes in hauntings. Either way, I'm squirming in my seat with my ears plugged and one eye shut.
Do you have any fears that make the difference between a horror movie scaring you and being laughable?
* If you have read All the Pretty Bones and Blood, Spirit & Bone you're probably wondering why I write about demons if I'm so scared of them. I write about a biological series of species that are known as demons because many of them feed on the chemicals produced in large quantities by humans when they experience terror, rage, envy, and (more fun) lust. There's a difference between those demons and the kind that can inhabit a human.
by Camela Thompson
I mentioned a while back that some friends and I have been live tweeting horror movies. We choose them primarily by title or poster art, definitely not by the ratings others give them. I've been known to love a two-star movie and hate a five-star, so taking a risk is okay even if it doesn't normally pay off. Remember, even the worst movies have writing lessons. Lately we've been wading in the depths of the horror-comedy. I either love these movies or hate them, and there's a fine line dividing the two.
Premise: Vampiric, water-dwelling monsters fall to Earth with the aim to suck the world dry. After discovering only near-pickled alcoholics are toxic to the monsters, the understaffed and overwhelmed cops on a tiny Irish island stage a drink-in at the pub to save the locals' lives.
What worked: The transition from serious horror flick to comedy occurred early enough to know that it was intentional. Solid CGI didn't hurt. The acting was well executed, the dialogue spot on, and the ridiculous antics were balanced out by a surprising amount of logic. For once it made sense for the humans to make idiotic decisions. They were wasted! Even an asinine shot with a full moon during a rainstorm was worth the contradiction because of the clear association with E.T.
What didn't work: There wasn't much that didn't work about the movie. Most of the frustrating character decisions were explainable. I will say both main Gardas came off as unlikable initially, but somehow it worked in the movie's favor.
Rating: 4.5 stars. Loved it.
Premise: A worthless, alcoholic cop with daddy issues is transformed into a werewolf and becomes better at his job.
What worked: References to werewolf mythology were sprinkled throughout this surprisingly intelligent movie. Gratuitous nudity struck early, and every trope was hit, but there were enough interesting bits to keep us entertained. I laughed really hard during a squirm inducing tryst because it highlighted major issues romance writers tend to skirt around. After seeing that scene, avoiding the transformed werewolf love scene altogether is definitely the way to go.
What didn't work: The acting was a little tedious at times, particularly between Jesse and Tina. I'm not sure if this is a problem with the acting or the written dialogue. Either way, it was strained. The makeup wasn't great. If you can't switch off the part of your brain that needs high quality CGI and are easily offended, don't even try to watch it. The first time I turned it on, I wasn't in a good mindset and was immediately frustrated by the crappy cop trope.
Rating: 3 stars.
Premise: Toxic waste is spilled near a beaver damn just as three hot girls and an adorable dog reach their vacation cabin.
What worked: The title alone hinted that this could be something so ridiculous it works. Think Sharknado. Think Tarantula. Think Big Ass Spiders. Only don't think those things because you'll only be disappointed by frustrating characters. The psycho zombie puppets were so bad they were hilarious, and the human transformation was funny enough to work.
What didn't work: The minute a dog came onto the scene, I knew I would be ticked off. They delivered. The three of us live tweeting were so frustrated by the characters that we were rooting for them to die. Everyone was generally despicable and self-serving.
Rating: 1 Star
Cockneys vs. Zombies
Premise: Two bumbling grandsons team up with their cousin, a genuine gangster with a steel plate in his head, and an incompetent thief for a bank heist in the name of saving their grandfather's nursing home. Too bad it's in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. How will they save grandpa?
What worked: This movie was so over the top it worked. The characters had backstories and the main characters were very likable. There was a lot going on, but it helped rather than hindered. This movie has one of the most epic Zombie chase scenes ever.
What didn't work: Some of the elements were so over the top they were a little distracting. Romance in the middle of a biological purge bothers me. The connection between a robber and a bank teller just didn't quite work for me.
Rating: 3.5 stars. If you liked The World's End or Shaun of the Dead, you'll like this movie.
What do you think of the horror comedy combination? Do you have examples that did or did not work for you?
by Camela Thompson
I'm not a horror expert. I didn't go to school for cinematography or screen play writing. When I watch horror movies, I base my assessment first and foremost on how I feel while watching the movie. No matter how masterful the dialogue or beautiful the cinematography, if my gut says no thanks, I can't gush about it. Even if it's critically acclaimed and people I respect rave about it. I've listened to The Last Knock podcast on the topic, and I highly recommend the episode, but I still can't jump into The Babadook fan club. I appreciated their points and agreed with many of them. I'm still baffled by the 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
**Spoiler Alert** I would recommend watching the movie and judging for yourself before going forward. I have several spoilers in the following content.
A single mother with a difficult son struggles with making ends meet and the shadow cast by her deceased husband. Things go from horrible to worse when a strange book is opened and read, unleashing a monster in their home.
What Worked for Me
The cinematography is beautiful and the dialogue fantastic. The characters are limited in number but strong in showing. The mother was someone I could sympathize with, and I loved the elderly neighbor. The movie kept me guessing until the end. I wasn't sure whether I was looking at a rift on The Others or a haunting or something new. The raw and unflattering picture it offered of motherhood was refreshing. The pace was well done and the music was great. These are all great things. It should be enough, right?
What Didn't Work for Me
Let me start this out with the admission that I have the maternal instincts of a log. I thought the neighbor's squalling infant was an injured cat and searched for said cat for two weeks. My husband still thinks this is hysterical.
The kid was one of the most frightening creatures I've seen in a while, and I don't mean this in a he was scary kind of way. I mean annoying to the point of pressing pillows to my ears to drown out the sound of his screech. He was loud, demanding, and mentally unstable. Screaming tantrums. Constructing weapons and pushing children out of tree houses a la The Good Son. He was a great actor, but I spent half of the movie wondering how the two hadn't headlined as a tragic case in the paper, which spurred on my belief that we were looking at a remake of The Others. The extent to which I did not like first-half-of-movie-child made me uncomfortable because I was imagining terrible scenarios. When the mother yelled, "Why can't you just be normal?" My thoughts were: "Oh My God, right???" and "Well, the little bastard needs therapy anyways. Why not? You tell him!"
The switch in the child when the mother lost her sh*t would have been effective if there had been a transformation when the Babadook first entered the picture. I thought it was cool the kid defied our expectations and rose to the challenge, but I couldn't believe it. Early movie kid didn't have redeeming qualities to make me suspect he would be capable of a transition that involved real feelings. Murder, sure. Rising above his mother's fall and spurring her love to drive out the creature? No way.
The final straw was the taming of the Babadook. Who knew he would make a creepy but beloved addition to the household? I see the metaphor for grief. It was obvious. But why do you have to feed it worms?
And there's the family dog. I get it. It's a very effective illustration of just how far the "infected" person has devolved, but I'm tired of it. Every. Single. Time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars.
Maybe I'll watch it again and glean some insight I missed in the first go around. I didn't like how the movie made me feel (imagining bad things happening to a kid is disturbing), but I can't dock a movie for creating a strong emotional response. The ending was the biggest disappointment, feelings aside.
I do appreciate that it's created and directed by a woman, which is a rare feat in the horror industry. We need more of that, but it doesn't mean I'm judging this any differently than the next film.
I left The Babadook frustrated. If you liked it, I'm happy for you. What was it that I missed?
by Camela Thompson
Michael G. Munz started a trend in our household: Live tweeting horror movies. We pick movies based on the title and concept, and many of them have a very low rating. Sometimes I wonder if we are giving them a fair shot, but I know I genuinely want to find a hidden gem. I love horror movies. My current favorites are the improbable mashups of horror and comedy. This combination is brilliant when well executed and a side show disaster when it isn't. With all of the cliches in the genre, there are many opportunities to poke fun or make a throwback reference to an earlier work.
Other than material for tweet fodder, why would we do this to ourselves? There is actually quite a bit to learn from these movies as an author. Spoilers lurk ahead along with my findings.
The Mirror (2014)
The premise of the movie: Three friends purchase a mirror on eBay that is supposedly haunted and film the resulting chaos for a paranormal reality contest.
The positives: The acting wasn't bad.
The negatives: From the start, there was something hugely familiar about this movie. It took me about ten minutes, but I remembered Oculus, a horror movie my husband and I watched earlier this year. The concept is pretty much the same. A mirror possesses people. They do horrible things to one another. The main difference is that in Oculus two siblings are brought together to destroy the mirror years after witnessing massive carnage inflicted upon their family.
The issue wasn't the redundant material. As with many horror movies, there was a profound loss of logic. They didn't review the tape to determine who was shutting off the camera. No one went to the hospital when a reasonable person would go to a hospital. No one called the police to report a missing person... you get my drift. The inconsistent behavior stacked up until it was profoundly irritating. A friend joked that logic would lead to a shorter movie. I disagree. There are plenty of things that could still go wrong with a haunted mirror even if someone went to get stitches.
Review: I'd give it one star. The acting might nudge it to two, but the writing choices drove me up a wall.
The premise: Friends partying at a cabin piss off Aliens and all hell breaks loose.
The positives: Some of the classic horror constructs were followed while others were broken. The zany pot-growing neighbor with a nose for conspiracy theories was entertaining. It was funny to see the guy who played the jackass in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil play another jackass. I appreciated the references to prior alien movies and the surprise ending.
The negatives: Any time a movie highlights a dog getting hurt because they have a imbecile for an owner shoots me over the edge. There's a human death that just doesn't make sense, the aliens don't show up for most of the movie, and the construct is so intentionally classic that it's a bit irritating. At least The Cabin in the Woods had explanations in place for their choices that I found clever.
Review: Two and a half stars. I was entertained, but I would never watch it again.
Alien Uprising (U.F.O.) (2012)
The premise: Five friends binge drink and then wake up to Aliens on the verge of attack.
The positives: There were people in it.
The negatives: I couldn't list a single character I liked throughout the movie. Brosnan's character was hot-headed and irrational. The flashes to the future that happened throughout the movie were completely ineffective and annoying in their frequency. Flash forwards or flashbacks have to be executed sparingly and serve a meaningful purpose. These were neither (for lessons on effective scene overlay, look at Wayward Pines). Even progressive timelines were confusing. Aliens were scarce. The most egregious foul in this entire movie was a completely unnecessary sexual assault. It served no purpose in the plot and just plain didn't make sense.
Review: Zero stars. If I could award negative stars, I would.
If you want to check out some entertaining horror movies, I've listed a few I enjoy that aren't insanely popular. I'll be covering them in more depth in a future post.
If you want a mix of comedy and horror (heavier on the horror of course):
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
The Man Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
If you like straight up horror:
The Taking of Deborah Logan
Do you enjoy the horror genre? What is the best or the worst you've seen and why?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.