Horror Movie

World War Z

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Marc Forster

Produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner & Ian Bryce

Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof

Story by Matthew Michael Carnahan & J. Michael Straczynski  

Based on “World War Z” by Max Brooks

For me, it’s strictly the curiosity factor. Kinda like when I heard that Russell Crowe was in “The Man With The Iron Fists.” I mean, the guy’s an Academy Award winner. What the hell was he doing in a Kung Fu movie? That’s the same reaction I had when I heard about WORLD WAR Z. I mean, Brad Pitt’s a guy who’s been nominated something like four or five times for an Oscar and he’s won a Golden Globe. Moly Hoses, what’s he doing in a zombie movie? I’ve heard that he did it primarily because his sons wanted to see him in a zombie movie. I dunno how true that is but I do know that WORLD WAR Z may just be the first family friendly Zombie Apocalypse movie. Seriously. Finally we’ve got a horror movie you can take the whole family to see.

The Earth is infested with a global outbreak of what can only be described as zombies. They run around like roadrunners on crack, spreading the plague faster than the nations of the world can mobilize a response. Israel closes her borders. No word at all comes out of India and Russia and its assumed they are lost. Former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family barely escape Philadelphia before it is overrun with zombies. They are taken to an aircraft carrier parked some 200 miles off the coast of New York City and Gerry is pressured into helping investigate where the plague began as any hope of finding a cure lies with the origin of the disease.

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From there, Gerry hopscotches around the world, from South Korea, to Israel and to Wales on the track of the cause of the Zombie Apocalypse, staying one step ahead of the tidal waves of zombie hoards and desperately trying to save what’s left of the world and his family.

WORLD WAR Z is without a doubt the most bloodless Zombie movie I’ve ever seen. Those of you reading this who are fans of “The Walking Dead” are going to be disappointed with this one. There’s no gore, no bodies being ripped apart. No long, lingering shots of Zombies munching on screaming human appetizers. Oh, we see people getting bit but nobody gets et. Or even eaten. Zombies are taken out with head shots, sure, but there’s no brains and blood flying around. When skulls are bashed in the baseball bats and crowbars don’t have any blood dripping from them. There’s one character who has to have her hand cut off in order to save her from being infected and there’s no gouts or geysers of blood that we have a right to expect.

Did I mention that this is Brad Pitt in a zombie movie?

?????????????????????The zombies in this movie are Boyle Zombies, not Romero Zombies. By that I mean they act more like The Infected of “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.” They run fast enough to make Usain Bolt look sick and they swarm in packs like locusts. But for all their menace, the violence in WORLD WAR Z is relatively mild. Seriously. You’ll see more horrifying violence in an episode of “Hannibal” than you will in this movie. Matter of fact, most of the time we see enormous packs of zombies swarming over walls and running through streets and over rooftops, not chomping on folks. It isn’t until the suspenseful final level of the movie where Gerry and two others have to very quietly  sneak into a medical complex overrun with zombies that the director Marc Forster really delivers some scares. I’m not much of a fan of Forster’s directorial style and there’s nothing he does here to change my mind. He’s yet another director who’s in love with shaky-cam because it’s easier for him to swing the camera around wildly instead of storyboarding coherent action sequences.

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But I liked the video game aspect of the movie. Gerry’s going from country to country is akin to him going through the different levels of a video game as there are specific tasks he has to accomplish every place he visits before he can advance to the next. And each level comes complete with a different set of supporting characters, each of who have specific tasks of their own that help Gerry accomplish his.

Brad Pitt is better than he has to be for a movie of this nature. He doesn’t play a two-fisted, guns-a-blazin’ action hero. He’s a committed family man who loves his wife and children deeply and that’s the note he plays through the whole movie. Mireille Enos plays Gerry’s wife and I was really sorry to see her stuck on the aircraft carrier for most of the movie as during the early scenes she demonstrates that she’s no shrieking fishwife. She’s just as capable and resourceful as her husband during this hellish crisis. Daniella Kertesz is terrific as an Israeli soldier who joins Gerry in his mission.

So should you see WORLD WAR Z? As I said earlier, this is a zombie movie that you can take the whole family to. I say that because of the strong family aspect of the movie that motivates the Brad Pitt character and the relatively moderate violence level of the movie. This is a PG-13 movie, after all. It’s not a movie I’d say you have to run out to see but if you can catch it at a matinee as I did I say go for it. I don’t think you’ll feel that your time was wasted.

And do you really want to miss out on seeing Brad Pitt in a zombie movie?

PG-13

116 minutes

The Innkeepers

2011

Glass Eye Pix/Magnet Releasing

Directed and Written by Ti West

Produced by Larry Fessenden

There’s a lot of folks who are horror fans who are not going to like THE INNKEEPERS. And that’s okay. I fully understand that there’s an entire generation that has been brought up on horror film franchises such as “Saw” “Final Destination” “Wrong Turn” and “Paranormal Activity” and while those movies aren’t exactly what I consider horror, I recognize that they have entertained a whole lotta folks. That’s why they’re franchises. And when I’m in the mood I even enjoy watching a “Final Destination” movie myself. Those things are the best live-action Looney Tunes cartoons ever made.

But there’s a genre of horror movie that I don’t see much of today that I love and that’s The Ghost Story. Most of them are also Haunted House movies as well since it’s usually a house that the ghosts are haunting. I’m thinking of movies such as “The Innocents” “Poltergeist” “The Shining” “Stir of Echoes” “The Legend of Hell House” “The Haunting” and “The Others.” And now I can add a new one to that list: THE INNKEEPERS.

The Yankee Pedlar Inn is going to close in a few days and the owner is soaking up the sun in Barbados, leaving his last two employees Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) to work the place during the final weekend of operation. Both Claire and Luke are amateur ghost hunters and Luke even has a website detailing the history of the hotel’s history of ghost sightings and hauntings. The hotel’s most prominent ghost legend is the one of Madeline O’Malley. She was abandoned in the hotel by a husband who suddenly decided he didn’t want to be married and ran off. Consumed with grief, Madeline hung herself and the hotel owners buried her body in the basement to avoid scandal. Claire and Luke both hope that sometime during this final weekend they’ll be able to make contact with Madeline’s spirit or record her voice.

The hotel’s few guests are an odd bunch. Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) is a former actress who has given up that career to become a professional medium. She’s in town for a psychics’ convention and despite her abrasive personality seems to be the real deal. Or is she just that good of an actress still? There’s a perpetually pissed off woman (Alison Bartlett) with her son (Jake Ryan) who has left her husband and is apparently intending to dump her anger on poor Claire and Luke with ceaseless demands for more towels. And the oddest of the lot is an old man (George Riddle) who insists that he must stay in a room on the third floor.

Claire and Luke take turns manning the front desk and looking out for ghosts. Both of them believe in ghosts and desperately want to see one. And as my grandfather used to say: God answers all prayers so it’s on us to be very careful about what it is that we pray for.

I really enjoyed how THE INNKEEPERS takes it’s time slowly putting together it’s story. The first half of the movie is mostly Claire and Luke doing their jobs and talking about what they’re going to do when they’re unemployed. Through some really clever dialog and the likeability of the two actors they had me convinced that Claire and Luke are co-workers who have known each for a long time, possibly even grew up on the same street and went to school together. Sarah Paxton and Pat Healy are really good at helping to establish the mood and pace of the movie and in the second half where things start to go wrong I found myself really concerned and worried about what would happen to them.

Kelly McGillis was a real surprise for me as I totally did not recognize her and it wasn’t until I was doing research for this review that I found out who she was. The only movie I’ve ever seen her in was “Witness” and before you ask; no, I have never seen “Top Gun” which is the movie she’s best known for. Just based on her performance in this movie I’d really wish she’d do more work in film. Lena Dunham shows up in an amusing scene as a barista who wants to confide in Claire about her love life. In fact, there’s quite a bit of humor in the first half of the movie which makes it all the more horrifying when the haunting begins as I had really grown to like the happy-go-lucky Claire and Luke by that point.

Like any good ghost story, THE INNKEEPERS leaves the ending open to the individual’s interpretation of the events they have just witnessed. Is the hotel actually haunted or was everything in Claire’s mind? Is Leanne actually psychic? What did she see in the basement? THE INNKEEPERS succeeds enormously at creating suspense and a feeling of dread without ever showing you anything for much of the movie’s running time. It saves it’s real horrors for when they’ll count the most, as any good horror movie should.

So should you see THE INNKEEPERS? If you’re a movie goer who demands buckets of blood and decapitated heads flying at you, or tons of gory CGI effects then I recommend you stay away. This isn’t your movie. And for those of you who demand your movies move at Warp Factor Five with quick cuts every thirty seconds, this isn’t your movie.

But for those of you who don’t mind chewing on your horror slowly, savoring a natural escalation of atmosphere and the ambiguity of wondering if what is happening is real or just the result of overworked imagination, combined with some really fine acting, then yes, see THE INNKEEPERS and enjoy.

Rated R

101 Minutes

The Legend Of Hell House

1973

Academy Pictures Corproration/20th Century Fox

Directed by John Hough

Produced by Albert Fennell

Written by Richard Matheson based on his novel “Hell House”

Plain and simple, there are the two things upon which the success and effectiveness of a haunted house story depends on. One: there has to be a compelling and believable reason for why the protagonists go to a house they know is haunted. Two: there has to be a compelling and believable reason for why the protagonists continue to stay in a house they know is haunted. If there isn’t a powerful enough motivation for those two points then you just don’t have a good haunted house movie.

And I love a good haunted house story. Some of my favorite horror movies are haunted house stories: “The Haunting” “The Shining” “Burnt Offerings” “The House on Haunted Hill” “Poltergeist” because all of them are excellent examples of how well a haunted house movie can be done when there’s a solid reason why the characters don’t just run like hell when the dishes in the cupboard start flying through the air by themselves. And it’s why I enjoy THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE so much as each of our four main characters have excellent reasons for why they are in ‘The Mount Everest of haunted houses.’ The infamous and cursed Belasco House.

Dying millionaire Rudolf Deutsch (Roland Culver)puts together a special group, contracting to pay them £100,000 each to prove conclusively that there is life after death. There’s a catch, though (isn’t there always?) They have a week to accomplish their task. The team members are: physicist and parapsychologist researcher Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) his wife Anne (Gayle Hunnicutt) spiritual medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and physical medium Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowell.) Fischer is the only survivor of a previous attempt to investigate the supernatural forces infesting the house that killed the seven other members of that team. Fischer intends to sit around the house, do nothing and collect his check at the end of the week. Dr.Barrett wants to test a machine he’s invented that he believes will dissipate the unfocused electromagnetic energy in the house that he thinks is the actual cause of the haunting. Florence Tanner has a deep Christian faith that perhaps opens her up far too quickly to the influence of the house. The four of them move into the house, which has been sealed up for years and they’ve just barely unpacked their bags before they realize that they may have made a really big mistake in coming to Hell House.

Built and owned by the depraved and perverted millionair Emeric Belasco aka “The Roaring Giant” the house gained its fearsome reputation after a hideous orgy of madness that included drug and alcohol abuse, vampirism, cannibalism, necrophilia, torture, murder and let’s not even get into the range of sexual deviancy that went from A to way beyond Z. Over forty people died during that event but Belasco himself was never found, alive or dead. One of the things that sets THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE apart from other haunted house movies is that it’s just as much a mystery as a horror movie as the team has to put together the clues as to exactly why the house is being haunted as much as who is doing the haunting. Florence Tanner is immediately convinced that it’s Belasco’s son Daniel who is haunting the house. And the house itself appears to to be working on her overbearing ego as she is convinced right from the moment she sets foot in the house that she’s the only one who knows what’s going on.

The house works on the others in various ways as well, especially on the sexual frustrations of Ann Barrett. She is tormented by erotic thoughts and visions of shadows on her bedroom wall engaging in lusty sexual acts. Barrett himself is so convinced his machine will work he refuses to give any credence to the opinions of Florence or Fischer.

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE will seem dull and plodding to those of you who are used to CGI extravaganzas in your horror movies but it’s one of my favorites and a movie I’ve seen and enjoyed many times. The performances of the four main characters are all wonderful and carry us through the movie right along with them. Clive Revill gets criticized for playing Barrett as such an uptight, repressed, stick-up-the-ass prig but that’s what the character is. And because Barrett is that way, it’s pretty understandable why his wife is seduced so easily by the house offering to fulfill her sexual fantasies.

Pamela Franklin has long been a favorite of mine and if you like her performance in this one, then by all means check out “And Soon The Darkness” a nifty horror film from 1970. She and Revill have some great scenes where they go at each other tooth and claw. Despite their seeming differences, their characters are actually quite similar in their stubborn insistence that each of them are right and their refusal to entertain other ideas, beliefs or thoughts is what leads them to their eventual fates.

But it’s Roddy McDowall who walks off with the acting honors in this one. I really like how he stays in the background for most of the movie, along with Gayle Hunnicutt and lets Pamela Franklin and Clive Revill have most of the screen time in the beginning of the movie as it’s their characters that are driving the plot along. But the longer the movie runs, the more his character comes to the forefront and it’s terrific to watch Fischer put together the clues at last and take on the spirit of Emeric Belasco at the end. It’s McDowell at his best, going full tilt boogie and selling the scene not with special effects but his sheer acting power. It’s a great conclusion to watch him solve the mystery of Belasco House and put not only his personal demons but the demons of the house to rest at last.

Plain and simple: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a movie to put on your Must See list of horror movies to watch if you haven’t seen it already. And it makes a fine Halloween double or triple feature with any of the other haunted house movies I mentioned earlier. Enjoy.

95 minutes

Rated PG

Pontypool

2009

Maple Pictures

Directed by Bruce McDonald

Produced by Jeffrey Coghlan and Ambrose Roche

Written by Tony Burgess adapted from his novel Pontypool Changes Everything

Here’s a movie I always recommend for Halloween but is put together so well and is such an original twist on a genre that badly needs a twist that there’s no need for you to wait for Halloween.  Next time you’re looking for a movie that delivers some really thought provoking horror combined with some terrific acting you can’t do much better than PONTYPOOL.

Former shock jock radio personality Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is now the morning announcer working in a radio station located in the remote Canadian town of Pontypool.  Grant’s not exactly thrilled to be working in Pontypool but he’s got no choice since due to past outrages he’s virtually unhireable in the United States.  Despite his efforts to confront, challenge and charm his listeners, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) orders him to stay with school closings and road conditions as that’s the stuff Pontypool residents really want to hear.

But on one morning something decidedly different happens.  Strange reports come in of people acting strangely.  They babble nonsense.  They repeat words and phrases over and over.  The people band into mobs that becomes violently bloodthirsty.  Other people are killed.  Property is destroyed.  Grant, Lisa and their technician Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) can only listen as terrified citizens call the radio station to describe what is happening in the town.  A happening that can only be described as a zombie outbreak.

But as Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) explains, these aren’t zombies in the conventional sense.  The people are infected with a virus that lives in certain words of the English language.  The virus is driven to communicate with others in order to spread itself to as many hosts as possible to survive.  Unfortunately the virus also turns its hosts into homicidal maniacs.  Grant, Lisa and Dr. Mendez can’t leave the radio station due to the rampaging mob outside and their situation inside becomes more desperate when Laurel Ann becomes infected…

PONTYPOOL is that rare horror movie; one that totally took me by surprise and one that completely drew me in as I had absolutely no idea where this was going or how it was going to end.  Even though the entire movie takes place inside the radio station we get a good idea of the carnage happening outside through phone calls from panicked citizens to Grant, Lisa and Dr. Mendez who are trying their best to deal with what is going on.  And even after they figure out what’s going on, how do they communicate with the outside world to tell them without spreading the virus since they don’t know which words are infected?

This new twist on the zombie idea is a welcome one and gives this material a freshness that is welcome to see.  Stephen McHattie is terrific as the beleaguered Mazzy.  Looking like Lance Hendrickson’s meaner brother with a whiskey-soaked voice he brings his A-game to the role and delivers in style.  I guarantee that you won’t take your eyes off him while he’s on screen.  Lisa Houle backs him up very well and it’s both inspiring and sad to see the course their relationship takes during the course of this incredible situation.

There’s not a whole bunch of gore or wince inducing violence but that doesn’t mean that PONTYPOOL doesn’t deliver on the horror.  By all means, if you haven’t seen it yet and you want to watch a zombie movie unlike any you’ve seen before, this is the one.  Enjoy.

93 minutes