It’s Halloween time folks, and that means watching horror films with my wife while blowing off a myriad of work: dissertation, posters, data collection, dishes, taking out the air conditioner, etc. Below find part one of a Halloween film roundup with both new and old films that I have watched recently. If you know my wife, you know that there shall be many more films, so I plan to write again after Halloween to get to the really good stuff.
White Noise (2005), Dir. Geoffrey Sax, 101 min., on TV
Not to start off on a hack note, but I didn’t actually watch the whole film. I missed fully 25-30 minutes from the beginning, but Nicole caught me up. The premise of this film follows Michael Keaton’s character who makes contact with the spirit world, which includes his deceased wife as well as a host of malevolent spirits, the former guiding him to intervene and prevent corporeal catastrophes, the latter trying to kill everyone. While bringing the scare factor in terms of jump scenes, many of the scary monsters are blurry images which surface from a, you guessed it, white noise screen. It’s the equivalent of visual EVPs. If you grew up in the country, you probably became well acquainted with this phenomenon when trying to watch late night horror films as an adolescent, so you may have flashbacks to angrily adjusting a rotary antenna dial, which is horrifying in its own way.
B- (partial viewing)
One Missed Call (2008), Dir. Eric Valette, 87 min., on TV
Ed Burns is a detective who investigates the disappearance of his sister and a motley crew of co-op living psychology grad students. Each new target of a malevolent spirit receives a phone call from the previous victim, with a distinct ring tone, that contains both a voicemail and a timestamp with their, um, expiration date. Even at 87 minutes, this film seems a bloated and misguided. The deaths begin in the Final Destination “series of unfortunate events” style, then inexplicably turn supernatural in execution (no pun intended). The supernatural element, to put it politely, borrows very generously from The Ring (2002). The editing and storyline aside, this film was mildly entertaining despite the fact that I confused it with another (better) college campus cell phone horror film. I attempted a search, but apparently cell phone related horror is now a subgenre unto itself, so that film will remain a mystery (barring commenter assistance).
Some Guy Who Kills People (2011), Dir. Jack Perez, 97 min., DVD
Kevin Corrigan (bit player in infinite roles) plays a painfully introverted, emasculated ice cream parlor worker recently released from a mental hospital who holds a huge grudge against the high school bullies that pushed him over the edge. In a tongue-in-cheek surrealist film full of postmodern, self-aware characters, the laughs come late as much of the setup builds the drudge that is our protagonist’s life. If you can stick out the film’s sluggish first half, you’ll be mildly rewarded by the minute steps the characters take toward “fully functional.” However, for everything that works in this this film, the acting work largely falls flat and the writer and director’s versions of “hick” or “white trash” come off largely in broad strokes, ultimately pigeonholing actors: when you sift away the postmodernity, the cliche characters remain cliches.
Final Destination 5 (2011), Dir. Steven Quale, 92 min., DVD
If this film franchise is known for anything at all, it is the new and inventive ways in which accidental situations compile to a catastrophic fatality. I assume at this point that these films are requisite viewing for industrial design students, and they bear more than a passing resemblance to the “It only takes a second” insurance video series I first encountered when I went to a Found Footage Festival screening at the Empty Bottle five or six years ago.
Each film subsequent to the progenitor has elaborated slightly on the mythology, but they remain mostly static in terms of plot (note: I have [sadly?] seen them all): a psychic, or otherwise special, teenage protagonist is stricken with a vision of impending doom on some kind of vehicle, airplane, roller coaster, or other conveyance. Number five is a tour bus full of college interns at a factory stuck on a collapsing bridge. The protagonist awakes from his vision (for some reason, I think the protagonist is always a male) and saves a select few from their death. But the film is not over, oh no, not by a longshot, because Death with a capital D doesn’t like mistakes, so he is determined to correct any abnormalities in the cycle of life by terminating the survivors in new and intricate ways.
The conceit to these films seems to be that just having an otherworldly spirit strangle the shit out of a person would draw too much unwanted attention, so every death must look like a freak accident. Never fear the fact that a chain of freak accidents that kills off teenage survivors of a major accident would appear odd to any police or investigator; they apparently do not have access to a search engine that returns results for the search term “teen accident survivors die mysteriously.”
If you watch any of these films, it is for the way the directors present the gruesome and tense sequence of events leading up to a brutal “accident.” In successive films, writers and directors have gotten more creative, but the premise of the film remains the same. This latest film tries to spice things up with some witty references to previous entries, but it looks like it was far more exciting in 3D with rebar and glass shooting at your face. Sadly, 3D films give me a migraine, so I will never fully enjoy the artistic merits of this gem of cinema, but it is a worthy entry in this franchise and a strong public service announcement for Life Alert personal safety systems.
That is probably the worst of the crop, but watching good horror films (as I am coming to understand) is a progressive exercise like lifting a rock, then a slightly larger rock. As the end of the month when the horror season tapers off, expect a report of the good stuff. Until then, later ghoulies.
p.s. I bought a Star Wars pumpkin carving kit at Target that is clearly for children, so expect pictures later this month of my attempt to do what a seven-year-old can easily accomplish with minimal parental assistance.