Monthly Archives: October 2013

Halloween Home Video 2013 (Part 4)

The hour draws near to upend your buckets and devour the annual trick or treat plunder. Together, we’ve spent another October stacking up horror movie programs for your Halloween enjoyment, and what fun it’s been to make up the menu!

Fields Point Review presents a new series of horror movie reviews with Halloween Home Video

Week Four:
I Put A Spell On You!

In Week Three, we spent the evening in some of our favorite haunted and possessed places, having already tackled two weeks of mutants and bloodsuckers. Sometimes it takes more than the right monster and the ideal setting to chill an audience’s blood to perfection. A close cousin of the traditional haunting is the good old fashioned curse. Whether a broken convenant, a vengeful malediction, or just a bit of spiteful magic, the very best spells and curses are difficult, often impossible, to break. They can be used to trap, terrorize, or hideously transform all manner of unsuspecting victims. The target of a curse may have earned it by cowardice or criminal trespass, but might just as likely have stumbled into it by accident. The lesson in all cases is clear: be careful whom (or what) you cross. Damned careful.

The most popular entries in this category are a diverse and disturbing bunch. Universal’s 1941 classic The Wolf Man set the standard, pitting Lon Chaney, Jr. against the indwelling rage that plagues mankind… with the help of a cursed wolf bite. Lycanthropy, like vampirism, is a special sort of curse that eventually merited its own special genre. Author and filmmaker Clive Barker tackled a number of nasty curses, including those that resulted in the demonic romance Hellraiser and the sleepover game turned inner-city gauntlet Candyman. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead proved that chainsaw cannibals are far from the worst thing roaming cabin-filled woods. Infamous if less fondly remembered is the Stephen King yarn Thinner, if nothing else a memorable throwback to the classic notion of the gypsy curse.

And now for you unrepentant graverobbers, trespassers and meddlers where you don’t belong, here is a delicious triple jinx of our own devising.

First Course: Drag Me To Hell
(dir. Sam Raimi, 2009)

Sam Raimi curses the careless with demonic torments in Drag Me To Hell

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Movie Review: Escape From Tomorrow

by Dan Fields

Randy Moore brings horror to Disney World in Escape From Tomorrow
© 2013 Mankurt Media / PDA

You’re As Welcome As Can Be

Randy Moore has made a most unusual stir with his debut film Escape From Tomorrow. A modest, low-budget feature running 100 minutes in black and white, the movie gleefully and savagely punctures one of the world’s foremost entertainment franchises. Beginning as a bland family vacation chronicle, it spirals into a feverish ordeal of suspicion, obsession, sexual frustration, conspiracy and existential horror in the turreted shadow of a Disney theme park.

This is no glib inference. The movie mainly consists of footage, shot guerrilla style without permits or consent, within the working parks of the Walt Disney World resort. Rounded out with whimsical set pieces and rear projection effects of which the late Walt Disney might otherwise be proud, this horrifying fantasy is inseparable from its candy-coated setting. Apart from omitting key music and audio tracks that would surely have made legal trouble for the finished film, Moore and his crew make no attempt to disguise the location. Indeed, the iconic identity of the park is essential to the story’s disturbing effectiveness. Escape From Tomorrow is a grim and bizarre film, bound to strike the tastes of its audience in unpredictable ways, but for subversive originality alone, it deserves the respect of those who will inevitably hate it. Mingling morbid speculative fiction with keen insights about the trials of well-intentioned family outings, it shows a certain understated brilliance. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video 2013 (Part 3)

And so we gather once again at Fields Point Manor, to munch on the macabre. As before, we have a three-course horror marathon lined up to tide you over as the Halloween excitement really starts to build. Remember, a good scream is the best way to ease the grip of fear, keeping everything else inside you where it belongs.

Fields Point Review presents a new series of horror movie reviews with Halloween Home Video

Week Three:
We Gotta Get Outta This Place!

Last week we dined on blood and lots of it, in the company of vampires and other thirsty ghouls. But not every nightmare scenario can be solved with stakes, garlic or sunshine. Sometimes evil oozes out the very walls, floors, furniture and doors we count on to keep bad things away.

James Wan scored a victory this summer with The Conjuring, a haunted house thriller with modern intensity and classic storytelling sensibilities. The fear that we are not safe in our own beds is a timeless and potent soft spot on the human soul, and filmmakers of all sorts have eagerly probed that spot for decades.

Thinking outside the box on this topic was a challenge. Haunting stories make up a goodly portion of almost any top-10, desert-island horror movie countdown, and great ones have been made to suit every taste. The Shining is bleak and lavish, Poltergeist playfully hideous, The Haunting and The Innocents each a parade of good old-fashioned dread, and even those in the mood for the madcap have choices ranging from William Castle’s The House On Haunted Hill to the surreal Japanese freakout known as Hausu (House). If you have not had the pleasure, stop what you have going on and make room for these movies in your life, too. Meanwhile, we adjourn to the brandy and popcorn lounge for tonight’s features.

First Course: El Orfanato
(The Orphanage)
(dir. J. A. Bayona, 2007)

J. A. Bayon's The Orphanage tests a mother's love and sanity to their limits

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Halloween Home Video 2013 (Part 2)

Welcome back to the Fields Point nightmare parlor and media room. Today we continue the Halloween Home Video series, recommending a weekly menu of ghastly delights for your screening and sharing pleasure.

These picks are for the adventurous gourmet, assuming you have enjoyed, or at least sampled the staples of the genre before. We avoid leftovers here as much as we can.

Fields Point Review presents a new series of horror movie reviews with Halloween Home Video

Week Two:
Brother, Can You Spare A Pint?

Following last week’s foray into the world of freaks and mutants, we turn our attention to a more classic figure in the horror pantheon, the Vampire. The Bloodsucker. The Wurdulak. The Caped And More Importantly Fanged One. Nosferatu, y’all. If you thought the plasma was flowing deep before, put on your bib for a real bloodfest.

So you’ve had the essentials, have you? Murnau’s Nosferatu? Tod Browning’s Dracula? A goodly taste of the Hammer vampires from swinging London? Near Dark? Let The Right One In, Swedish and American versions? Then try something rare from Column B Negative.

First Corpse: Thirst
(dir. Park Chan-wook, 2009)

Park Chan-wook's Thirst turns a priest into a vampire

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Movie Revew: Gravity

by Dan Fields

Sandra Bullock battles to survive outer space in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity
© 2013 Esperanto Films / Warner Bros.

I Miss The Earth So Much

Alfonso Cuarón has an impressive record as a director, his body of work including the international hit Y Tu Mamá También, the third Harry Potter movie, and the wrenching end-of-days drama Children Of Men. His return to the helm is no less a triumph, by most measures outstripping even Children Of Men in ambition and execution.

We join Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) orbiting Earth on a spacewalk, tinkering with a scientific MacGuffin of her own design on the Hubble Space Telescope. This is her first space mission, while her laid-back mission commander, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), is on his last. Mid-mission, a high-speed hail of debris from a demolished satellite tears through their shuttle, disabling it and taking out the rest of the crew. Knocked free of the wreckage, Stone spirals out into space without a tether. Gasping away at the last of her oxygen in panic, she soon comes to realize that her chances of getting back to Earth alive are a series of swiftly closing windows that will require quick thinking and the utmost determination. Struggling to contact Kowalski and form a plan that will save them, she has a unique chance to confront and test the distinction between a mere survival instinct and an active will to live.

Sandra Bullock has a lot to carry in her role, and a dire scenario with a ticking clock provides a less than ideal context for character exposition. However, the script utilizes quiet moments to round out the character as fully as could be reasonably expected. Who Stone is, really and precisely, must remain vague in the absence of backstory, but flashbacks or similar techniques would have undermined this film, making it more ordinary and less special. The audience gets plenty of material with which to judge Stone’s character in the present. Introverted, high-strung, cowed by life’s hardships, she seems to lack the grit and determination of a true survivor type. In any case, she clearly never imagined having to fight for her life, which in the service of a satisfying character arc she now must do. At a certain point, her simple refusal to resign herself to death becomes more important than whether or not she will actually survive. Finding the strength of will to carry on, in defiance of increasingly hopeless odds, is the true hero’s journey.

Clooney has the less demanding of the two roles, but he too pulls his weight (so to speak). At first a light-hearted foil to Stone’s (can’t say gravity) anxious solemnity, he becomes a valuable source of wisdom and inspiration. An adventurer near the end of his long career, Kowalski is free of fear, and so free of the recklessness that desperation invites during a crisis. His plan to save Stone rests in his conviction that she must learn to save herself.

From a simple premise with only two fully formed characters, Cuarón coaxes not just entertainment but majesty. Staged in some of the best 3D in the history of the technique, Gravity uses amazing tricks of distance and scale to express the sheer vastness of outer space. Even with an enormous planet looming in view, the remoteness of the world it represents is palpable throughout the film. The photography, sound design and visually effects fit together beautifully, giving the very realistic impression of a film shot in outer space. Except maybe to those who know enough to nitpick small physical or astronomical details, the hostile conditions of Gravity are disturbingly plausible. With the possible exceptions of Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Cuarón’s film feels more harrowing and less safe, simply because of its environment, than any other feature film set outside the atmosphere of a planet.

Gravity is an excellent film, but even that comes at a price. A feature this strong only calls attention to what a slow year it has been for good movies, and to the relative scarcity of pure, heart-gripping, praiseworthy cinema currently in circulation.

Halloween Home Video 2013 (Part 1)

And so October comes faithfully round again. A good horror movie works any time of year, but something about the Halloween season gives it extra savor. For starters, scary movies are excellent for parties, dates, and all manner of shared social experiences. The fun of being scared by movies is an all-or-nothing concept, but those of us who love it are absolutely hooked on it. This is our season.

Fields Point Review presents a new series of horror movie reviews with Halloween Home Video

In 2012, the first Halloween Home Video series took a quick and dirty survey of the year in horror, highlighting ten new and underseen movies which, while not consistently excellent, were notable in some measure for their conception or execution. The lack of fanfare around those flicks seemed to have arisen not from low quality, but from the pitfalls of small release, direct-to-video and foreign distribution in a low-bar market flooded with amateur competition. Making a horror movie may be the one of the easiest things in the world, but making one that’s any good is no inconsiderable feat.

As you plan your Halloween screening adventures, the majority of books, websites and lists you consult will point you toward classics like Carrie, The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, The Evil Dead, The Shining, Night Of The Living Dead, and of course John Carpenter’s original Halloween. Make no mistake; these are all excellent movies, but if you’re searching far afield for horror recommendations, it stands to reason that you know and love at least most of them already.

Halloween Home Video is still about scaring up ideas beyond the usual list of suspects. Many of the features will be decidedly more mainstream this year, but the goal is still to keep mainly off the all-time essentials list. The 2013 edition proposes a weekly three-course “menu” of horror films for your viewing enjoyment. Each triple bill has been chosen for maximum variety within a given theme, pairing time-tested favorites with respectable contemporary efforts, along with something a little zany thrown in for dessert.

Week One:
Tenth Avenue Freak-Out

Let us begin the feast with something refined yet playful, profound but unpretentious to tickle the palate. Nothing spells class better than running in terror from dangerous killer freaks. Are they mistakes of nature, divine retribution for the sins of humankind, or merely misunderstood strangers? Confronting the monstrous always bears an element of tragedy, especially when the monster shares identifiable characteristics with its human victims. More often than not, it also serves as a mirror for the inhumanity we visit on one another (One of H. P. Lovecraft’s greatest tales, “The Outsider,” takes that idea to a shocking and poignant extreme).

Won’t you freak out along with us at home? And in future, look more kindly on the mutant oddities you call family and friends.

First Course: The Descent
(dir. Neil Marshall, 2005)

Unknown terror lives underground in Neil Marshall's The Descent

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