This week I'd like to try something a little different. Instead of me yakking away on your computer screen, complaining about and mocking the worst of the horror movie sludge pile, I'm going to ask you to do it.
Most if not all horror geeks have this guilty pleasure. Everyone loves a good movie, but we also love watching the bad movies. The ones that have every trope and cliche in the book. That make no sense. That have characters whose IQ wouldn't let them pass a third grade math test. Phones have dead batteries and/or no service. Screaming, mostly naked young women run into closets instead of out of the house. Actual plot is replaced with boobs and blood.
Grab a handful from this pile of crap, a bunch of friends, and several bowls of popcorn, and you've got an excellent Halloween planned.
My personal favorite bad horror movie is Sorority Row, in part because I was actually in a sorority. It happened every October (and several other times throughout the year): we'd cram into the living room of our tiny house barely big enough for eight people to live in, share several packages of Oreos, and laugh at everything so wrong in this awful movie. Especially the opening scene: who in their right mind keeps a trampoline in their living room for the sole purpose of half-naked pillow fights?
So what's your favorite bad horror movie? Let us know in the comments!
‘Tis the season to binge-watch horror movies! I don’t know about you guys, but October is one of my favorite months of the year for just this reason (It’s narrowly surpassed by December. Because, you know, Christmas). A Halloween tradition in my family is to record/rent a handful of horror movies and binge them all night, stopping only to answer the call of trick ‘r treaters.
In preparation for this, we consult the Almighty Google for good horror movies. Don’t get me wrong, bad horror movies have a hallowed place in the Halloween tradition. Next week’s post will be dedicated to just that. But as much as we like making fun of bad horror movies, we prefer being scared shitless--or at least genuinely freaked out--by good horror movies.
Now, if we wanted to play it safe, we could just go back to the ‘80s and hit all the classics: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc. But there’s only so many times you can watch a movie before you start to hate it, no matter how good it is. And there are a ton of really good, underrated horror movies that have come out in the last few years. They’re buried amid all the crappy remakes and unnecessary sequels, but they do exist. And I have a list of my personal favorites for you lovelies right here:
1. Blair Witch
The Blair Witch Project is a 1990s masterpiece. To this day it holds the record for earning the most money off of a minimal budget. Very simple: three college students set out for a weekend camping in the creepy woods to do a documentary on the legendary Blair Witch. They're never seen again.
Blair Witch is the sequel that came out last year, though it stands on its own merits (re: you don’t have to watch Project to follow along). It got mixed reviews, as sequels and remakes often do. The best way to describe Blair Witch is that it is what Blair Witch Project would have looked like if it had been done in 2016 instead of the ‘90s, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
I loved Blair Witch. I loved the throwbacks to the original, the special effects and body horror, the witch herself...it’s a terrifying film with few flaws. Definitely worth seeing if you haven’t already.
2. Cabin in the Woods
This will always be one of my favorite horror movies. It toes the line between straight-up horror and horror comedy (which is what you get when you hire Joss Whedon as a screenwriter) and presents a very grey, simple-yet-complex dilemma rarely seen in most horror movies. In order to prevent the world from being destroyed by the all-powerful, horrible Ancient Ones, there must be a human sacrifice of at least five young people every year. The more gruesome the deaths, the better.
You feel bad for the five protagonists that are getting murdered. You feel bad for the men pulling the strings and orchestrating the murders. And you’re laughing your ass off because not only are the characters charming and funny, the movie takes every single horror trope (dumb blond, ill-advised sex scene, stupid decisions, etc) and mercilessly mocks them. It’s beautiful.
4. The Grudge
One of the few foreign films remade in America that’s actually good, The Grudge is based off of Japan’s Ju-on. Basically, it’s a haunted house in Japan. Starring Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Gellar, it’s the story of the ghost of a mother and son who were murdered in their home, which they continue to haunt. Every single person who enters the house--or even leaves a friggin’ voicemail on the landline--ends up dying in a horrible, gruesome manner. It’s awesome. Even better: the two sequels are also good. For a horror movie franchise to pull that off is nothing short of a miracle.
You wouldn’t think a movie about an evil mirror would be any good (“why don’t they just smash the damn thing?”) but this one is very good.
One of the best features is the dual timeline: you get two stories at once. We see siblings Kaylie and Tim growing up with the evil enchanted mirror that’s slowly driving their parents insane, while at the same time watching their adult counterparts try to destroy that mirror ten years later.
Another great feature: the main characters are very intelligent. Even the mirror is smart. As adults, Tim has spent the last ten years convincing himself that what they experienced as kids was nothing but an elaborate fantasy to cope with their murdered parents, while Kaylie has spent those ten years researching the shit out of the mirror and planning on how to take it down. As a result, there are no annoying Horror Movie Mistakes™. Yay!
6. Ouija: Origin of Evil
It’s a very rare prequel that surpasses the original film. But that was an easy task in this case; Ouija sucked balls. Its prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil, blew it out of the water. Most of it boils down to the stellar acting of Lulu Wilson (Doris). She spends the first half of the movie all innocent and fun and genuinely trying to help people by connecting with their dead loved ones, and then, when she gets possessed, becomes the stuff of nightmares.
7. Lights Out
I need to see this movie again, because the first time I saw it I was cowering and looking away from the screen. It was very hard to get to sleep that night. And the next night. And the night after that...
Our protagonists are haunted by a spirit that only appears in the dark. Despite opening with a gruesome murder, the body count is quite low. That doesn’t make it any less terrifying. I can’t say much more due to spoilers, but if you’re looking for good ol’ fashioned jump scares that break a few horror tropes along the way, this is the movie for you. Just...maybe keep the lights on while you watch it.
8. The Visit
M. Night Shyamalan’s movies have been hit-or-miss the last few years. The Visit is a resounding success, almost enough for us to forgive The Happening and The Last Airbender. Very low budget, very simple: two kids spend the week with their grandparents. The first few days of creepiness and strange behavior is casually explained away as old people being weird. But as the story ramps up, the kids--and by extension, the audience--become more and more nervous until The Big Reveal.
It’s one of those movies that’s good because it’s weird. The writers and actors take the raw, everyday material from people’s lives and puts it on the screen. The boy is an amateur rapper (who surprisingly doesn’t suck), the girl is a wannabe film director, and the grandparents are, as previously stated, strange and getting stranger. So it makes for some awkward moments that family members could find in their kitchen, and the movie is all the better for it.
9. Get Out
You know that horror movie about racism your PC-obsessed friend was raving about back in February? This is the movie. And it’s terrific. Like The Visit, it’s less about jump scares and gore and is instead fueled by creepiness, that itch under your skin that blares NOT RIGHT NOT RIGHT GET OUT (pun intended).
Chris--a black man dating a white woman--goes to visit his girlfriend’s family for the first time. At first, there’s the usual awkwardness that comes from a white family trying way too hard to reassure the black guy that they are definitely not racist, no sir. But as Chris spends more time with them and the neighbors, things quickly turn pear-shaped.
If nothing else, watch this movie for Chris’s TSA friend Rod. He’s hilarious.
10. The Witch
Another movie that makes a statement about society (although one much less obvious than Get Out), this is a historical horror that satisfied both my inner horror geek and history nerd. Even the dialogue is taken straight from colonial documents, but modern audiences can still understand it and follow along.
A colonial family is kicked out of town for their religious beliefs and so build a secluded farm on the edge of a forest. Unbeknownst to them, there is a witch living in the forest, one whose powers and evil is exactly aligned with what people believed witches did at the time. So the crops go bad, the baby goes missing, the son is seduced, the animals go crazy, the cows give blood instead of milk, etc.
Critics compared this moving to The Crucible, a 1950’s play about the Salem witch trials. (One that set my teeth on edge because half of that story is so so wrong, none of that happened, she was nine not a seductress!) It’s obvious why: both stories are making a point about group paranoia, both use fear of witchcraft as their big metaphor, and both stories feature innocent women who get blamed and punished for crimes they didn’t commit. The difference is that there is no witch in The Crucible. As the name implies, The Witch does indeed have an evil witch targeting this family, but the parents don’t know that and instead blame their daughter. It doesn’t turn out well for anyone.
Know any movies I missed? Let me know in the comments!
Finn Gramaraye was framed for the crime of dark necromancy at the age of 15, and exiled to the Other Realm for twenty five years. But now that he's free, someone―probably the same someone―is trying to get him sent back. Finn has only a few days to discover who is so desperate to keep him out of the mortal world, and find evidence to prove it to the Arcane Enforcers. They are going to be very hard to convince, since he's already been convicted of trying to kill someone with dark magic.
But Finn has his family: his brother Mort who is running the family necrotorium business now, his brother Pete who believes he's a werewolf, though he is not, and his sister Samantha who is, unfortunately, allergic to magic. And he's got Zeke, a fellow exile and former enforcer, who doesn't really believe in Finn's innocence but is willing to follow along in hopes of getting his old job back.
,Ah, ye olde "Framed-And-Must-Prove-Innocence-Before-Bad-Things-Happen" storyline. With necromancy! And humor!
This book was seriously funny. Finn is a such a smart-ass. Although half of his references went over my head (all of his jokes are prior to 1985, and I'm a shallow millennial), I still greatly enjoyed it. And even better, he's in the center of an incredible world of magic and a heart-pounding mystery. The only thing I could think of while reading this was It's like Rick Riordan for adults! That, and Gosh, I really hope nobody calls the cops while I'm lurking in my car, because I was sitting in my car on a dark street after work frantically finishing the last two chapters of the book. I didn't want to wait the thirty minutes it would take to drive home.
There were very few "well, duh" moments in this story. I've read and seen so many mysteries that I can usually tell within the first quarter who the bad guy is, in addition to all the usual cliches and tropes. Randy Henderson did fall into a couple (such as "it's not the first suspect," like a Law & Order episode, and the "traitorous dame" trope), but while a couple of characters were predictable, everything else was not. Like why Finn was framed in the first place. Or how Dungeons & Dragons will play a crucial role in the good guys' plan. That cemented my love for this character; D&D FTW!
Overall, I give it a 7.5 out of 10. It lost a few points with (surprise!) it's treatment of women characters. The love triangle between Finn and two past flames toes the line between funny and annoying a little too closely--because, really? These two adult, intelligent women have nothing better to do than bitch at each other over the guy they like? And then there was the scene where literally every single female in Finn's group is taken hostage at once. It's a plethora of Damsels in Distress.
However, the women were well-rounded characters and were used for more than just ornamentation, which is why I didn't scrap the book entirely. That, and most of the focus of Finn's relationships are that of his family, particularly his brothers. Mort is a bitch and Pete is a sweetie with a BAMF streak. Glorious.
It's got two sequels, both already out. Which is good, because remember how I likened it to Rick Riordan? Well, it's not only similar in terms of humor. Henderson--the jerk--is also a fan of six-hundred-foot cliffhangers. So I wouldn't invest the time and money in book one unless you're willing to grab books two and three as well.
Four hundred years from now mankind is strung out across a region of interstellar space inherited from an ancient civilization discovered on Mars. The colonies are linked together by the occasional sublight colony ship voyages and hyperspatial data-casting. Human consciousness is digitally freighted between the stars and downloaded into bodies as a matter of course.
But some things never change. So when ex-envoy, now-convict Takeshi Kovacs has his consciousness and skills downloaded into the body of a nicotine-addicted ex-thug and presented with a catch-22 offer, he really shouldn’t be surprised. Contracted by a billionaire to discover who murdered his last body, Kovacs is drawn into a terrifying conspiracy that stretches across known space and to the very top of society.
Altered Carbon is an action-packed futuristic sci-fi novel that really should’ve been a Michael Bay movie. I’m not surprised Netflix is turning it into a series. I was surprised that something with this much testosterone and so little character development had the patience to be a book.
The concept is really cool. Several hundred years from now, human consciousness can be downloaded into any human body, both real and synthetic. So basically, nobody dies. It’s called “sleeving,” with bodies considered nothing more than sleeves for the human consciousness. The super-rich live for hundreds of years, jumping from body to body, while those who can’t afford that are stuck in storage for all eternity after death, their souls chilling on a USB drive.
The world-building here is great, especially when we get into the personal dynamics with sleeving. Some people get re-sleeved so much it’s rarely a big deal, but for others it’s huge. Especially when you consider the fact that while you’re running around in a stranger’s body, another stranger is running around in your body.
Takeshi Kovacs, our star, is an Envoy. Essentially, he is a supersoldier + detective who was born a couple centuries ago, but thanks to being in storage for so long he’s only truly lived for about thirty years. He’s hired (well, okay, blackmailed) to find the cause of a rich man’s “suicide,” which is all kinds of weird and cool because the guy is alive and well, he just doesn’t remember the two days leading up to his most recent “death.” The whole book is a murder mystery wrapped in fistfights, shootouts, and explosions.
So naturally there’s a ton of gore, explicit sex scenes, glorification of drugs and alcohol, promotion of police brutality, and a whole chapter dedicated to torture.
One of my biggest (and most usual) complaints about this book is the portrayal of women. Altered Carbon has it all: the shady wife of the client who seduces Kovacs to try to get him to stop investigating, a female villain who’s so much worse than all the other bad guys, the Strong Female Character who’s mostly there for unnecessary romantic tension, and a couple of damsels in distress.
It’s those last two that really get to me. Our SFC is Kirstin Ortega, a police officer who initially butts heads (and then later butts genitals) with Kovacs over the suicide case, which she had declared open and shut, in part because of her prejudice against rich people. She showed a lot of promise: smart, complex motives, flawed, she seemed really cool. But ultimately she’s defined by her relationship to Kovacs and her previous boyfriend, which was incredibly disappointing. The romantic subplot was unnecessary. Others may disagree, because she had a strong emotional connection to Kovacs’ current “sleeve,” but that didn’t have to be romantic. It could just as easily have been a family member, say, a brother.
And of course, she doubles as one of the DIDs. Because while she’s tough and smart and gritty and “don’t need no man” (except when she does), she’s no match for the big bad guy and needs a dashing (male) protagonist to heroically sacrifice himself so she may live. (Uh, spoiler alert? Does it count if you see it coming a mile away?)
The other DID is a woman we only ever see in the prologue: Kovacs’ friend, Sarah, who’s killed, put in storage, and then later held hostage while in storage. Other than the fact that she’s a good friend of Kovacs’ and has some martial background, we know nothing about her. She never physically shows up after the prologue. And that’s yet another wasted opportunity because, like Ortega, she showed a lot of promise. I want to know more about her.
Come to think of it, I also want to know more about Kovacs. We know very little about him, which is unusual in a main character. We’re told he had a crappy relationship with his dad, he’s from another planet, and he somehow went from street gangs to soldier to Envoy.
And...that’s it. We don’t know about his mother or if he had any siblings. We don’t know why he decided to enlist as a soldier, or, for that matter, as an Envoy, which is weird because he doesn’t seem to like his job very much. It’s hard to be certain because, like most male action heroes, he shows very little emotion. We get anger, curiosity, and occasional smug satisfaction with a little bit of quickly-suppressed guilt. As a result, I was not emotionally invested in Kovacs at all, not until the very end. If the mystery plot hadn’t been so intriguing I never would’ve made it twenty pages.
The only other character I was emotionally invested in also appeared at the very end: Mrs. Elliott. I liked her because, while she was in the story very briefly and for a minor role in Kovacs’ Let’s-Take-Down-The-Villain-In-A-Last-Minute-Crazy-Scheme deal, she had very clear motives, heart-wrenching emotions, and a backstory. In a sense, she had all the promise of Ortega reduced to a very minor role. So forget Kovacs. I want more Sarah and Mrs. Elliott.
My final major issue with this book was the treatment of Catholics. Richard Morgan does not like them. They’re treated as crazy, backwards fanatics trying to pull the plug on progress. Which, yeah, they do have that reputation. As does every other religion on the planet. I get that Morgan needed a large religious/political group to serve an important role in the greater plot, but it didn’t have to be a real religious/political group. This story takes place hundreds of years in the future and includes a dozen colonial planets. He couldn’t make something up? All this did was promote unnecessary hate.
None of this is to say that Altered Carbon is a bad book. I don’t regret reading it. But I can say with confidence that I will not be picking it up again.
Have you read Altered Carbon or other books written by Richard K. Morgan? What did you think?
This week I went to see the new movie Flatliners. Next weekend I'll be seeing it again, this time with my mom. Yes, it is definitely good enough to pay to see twice.
Not everyone agrees. A lot of those who saw the original saw the remake as a disappointment. Apparently, it doesn't bring any newness to the story. I will not be comparing this movie to the original. Mostly because I never saw the original (it came out five years before I was born), but also because I want to judge the movie on its own merits.
Med student Courtney (or as I refer to her, Dr. Juno) gets into a car crash that kills her sister, and as a result becomes obsessed with death and reaching the other side. She ropes in a handful of other medical students into an experiment that involves stopping her heart, then reviving her. After seeing how flatlining has "improved" her (she has perfect memory recall, which is a huge advantage in the medical field), all but one of the other students takes a turn.
Of course, what Courtney neglects to mention before everyone else jumps in is that, in addition to awesome Limitless-style memory, she also starts experiencing not-so-awesome hallucinations of her dead sister. Everyone else soon gets the same problem: Jamie keeps seeing the girlfriend he abandoned, Sophia sees the girl she bullied in high school, and Marlo gets creepy blood-notes painted across the walls.
My only complaint about the movie was that the climatic scene at the end was a little underwhelming. The story does a great job of ramping up tension as the hallucinations get worse and characters start dying. But then that tension doesn't really go anywhere, or rather it gets interrupted. One of the characters flatlines herself in what was probably an attempted suicide to face her guilt, but this is after the other characters face their guilt in a much more mature, less dangerous manner and take responsibility for their actions. As a result, that character that had until now come across as rather intelligent (if a bit bitchy) looks incredibly stupid. The two sequences should've been reversed: near-death guilt trip, then heart-warming real-world forgiveness.
I also wish that they'd gone deeper into Ray's character. He's the logic/moral compass of the group, being the only one who doesn't flatline but sticks around because he's the most competent and experienced. We get a hint of a tragic backstory when he mentions being a firefighter, but nothing else. Having a scene with him sharing some gut-wrenching story with the other characters in an attempt to convince them to own up to their mistakes would've added an excellent emotional layer.
Other than that, it was a great movie. James Norton (Jamie) was what I would argue the best actor of the group, although they were all fantastic. In the span of a single scene--the one where Courtney convinces her friends to legally kill her before bringing her back--he goes from "Sure, whatever, you wanna kill yourself I'll help you, mostly because I'm just pissed that I'm not getting laid tonight" to "This is more nerve-wracking than I'd thought it be, you sure you wanna do this?" to "#^%^#$%%#!" freak-out.
And there are very few horror movie mistakes. Most people would argue that flatlining in the name of science, especially when you aren't actually a medical professional, is a pretty stupid thing to do. But when you consider Courtney's obsession, along with the academic edge she receives in this extraordinarily stressful, fast-paced environment, their decisions do make sense.
So I'll definitely be seeing this movie again next week. And if you haven't seen Flatliners yet, then I hope to see you there.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!