Tag Archives: monster movies

Movie Review: The Babadook

by Dan Fields

The Babadook terrorizes Essie Davis in Jennifer Kent's horror tale
© 2014 eOne Films/IFC Films

Early this year, director Mike Flanagan brought audiences a horror story of surprising cleverness and punch. That film, Oculus, took a soul-sickening look at the decay of an American family at the hands of of a sinister entity with the power to prey on souls across generations. Now Australian director Jennifer Kent presents a fresh exercise in domestic terror. The Babadook is the more straightforward horror yarn, but thanks to skilled direction and performance it manages to be several times more personal and devastating.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a loving mother in a tough time of life. Widowed by tragedy, raising an eccentric and troubled son (Noah Wiseman), she is a familiar face in horror films. She is the parent doing her best, which never seems to be quite good enough, and in the tradition of stories like Pet Sematary or The Shining she is dangerously close to the edge when we meet her. Son Sam has an overactive imagination which makes him a keen inventor and illusionist, but it also leaves him horribly prone to nightmares. He almost never sleeps, which means Amelia sleeps less. He is sensitive and sweet, but unable to cease the morbid jabbering of his thoughts in the company of others, he often proves embarrassing to his overtaxed mum.

Barely coping with the twin devils of loneliness and exhaustion, Amelia discovers a mysterious children’s book about a cloaked figure named Mister Babadook, so named for his habit of knocking “Ba-ba-Dook! Dook! Dook!” on the door to be let in. The story turns darker from there, enough to upset mother and son alike. Amelia quickly puts the book out of sight, but the monster becomes Sam’s new obsession. Plotting to trap and destroy the Babadook (which seems more and more real every night) he withdraws further and further into his paranoia until Amelia’s nerves are perilously frayed. She does not stop to consider that maybe the shadowy intruder has begun to change her too.

The Babadook is exceptionally crafted, inventing a plausible storybook hobgoblin and then exploiting his dreadful potency to the very last scream. Not many times in recent memory has an original horror film maxed out its monster so vigorously. The film manages not merely to shock or unsettle. It is genuinely frightening throughout most of its running time, a rare distinction among movies of its kind.

When done with care and skill, an exploration of the desperate lengths required to turn a caring parent on a child arguably makes the most poignant and frightening kind of story. The best ones never lose sight love’s power to overcome any spell of darkness. Whether or not love will triumph in this end is immaterial. Until the very last moment, there must be hope.

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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Movie Review: Pacific Rim

by Dan Fields

Robots fight monsters in Guillermo del Toro's kaiju epic Pacific Rim
© 2013 Warner Bros. / Legendary Pictures

Hurricane Season’s All Right For Fightin’

By the end of this year, film enthusiasts will never again have to explain the concept of kaiju to bewildered laymen. A Japanese word roughly meaning “giant beast” or “monster,” this blanket term refers to a popular genre of films about city-crushing creatures such as Gojira (Godzilla), Gamera, Megalon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. For decades, most people have known what a kaiju is, but until Pacific Rim, there were many who did not know that they knew.

This is only one virtue of a movie that gets almost everything right, and whose various minor flaws cannot dampen an overall sense of triumph. We will escape this summer with at least one fully satisfying action blockbuster, and this is it. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video #7: Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Barrens

by Dan Fields
First published October 22, 2012 by the California Literary Review


Movie poster for The Barrens starring Stephen Moyer© 2012 Anchor Bay

For A Much-Needed Getaway


Today’s feature is a family-style nightmare in the forest, courtesy of writer and director Darren Lynn Bousman. Bousman is best known to the world as the director of Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV. That sounds like a setup for a cheap shot, but Bousman is a new director with enough style and imagination to suggest that it may be too early to judge his body of work. To give due credit, Saw II is arguably the best installment in that whole blighted franchise.

In addition to The Barrens, Bousman is currently promoting a warped musical anthology entitled The Devil’s Carnival. As with Ti West’s The Innkeepers, some measure of fanfare over this successor to Repo! The Genetic Opera has probably reached you over the cult-horror airwaves, while The Barrens is still waiting to make a splash.

In its fundamental makeup, the story of the The Barrens hearkens to Stephen King’s better work, such as Cujo, Pet Sematary and especially The Shining. The central plot element of a nervous little kid named Danny and his unstable dad may not be a coincidence. That dad is Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer of True Blood), and what he wants most in the world is to have some quality time with his family on a camping trip, away from the rest of the world. Although the family is currently shaken up by the disappearance of their beloved dog, Richard gathers up young Danny, teen daughter Sadie, and wife Cynthia (Mia Kirshner of The L Word and 24) and heads for the New Jersey Pine Barrens, where he often went as a boy with his father.

It will be curious for True Blood fans to see Moyer forsake his antebellum gentility for upbeat Englishness similar to the actor’s real-life cadence. Rest assured, though, that he will not pass the weekend without many familiar sneers of anguish and hostility. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

The sensitive Danny immediately begins to harbor anxiety over snippets of talk about the Jersey Devil, a legendary crypto-monster famously rumored to prowl the Barrens. To be fair, he is six years old. Meanwhile, Richard gets plenty worked up about the slovenly, overcrowded, tech-enabled state of today’s public campsite. Initially he tries to make nice with his obnoxious fellow “campers,” but soon insists that he and his party hike on into a more isolated section of the park. At first this seems like the normal reaction that all dads have on family trips. Soon, however, he begins to exhibit signs of a more substantial and dangerous breakdown. The vacation he planned to bring them together is falling apart with alarming speed.

Something bad is definitely walking around the woods nearby. Richard starts to suffer terrifying visions and increasing paranoia. Cynthia, no fool, wonders about the possibility of a correlation. You are likely to figure out the Big Secret sooner rather than later, so that you may have twenty minutes or more to enjoy the knowledge before the characters grasp it for themselves. Fortunately, guessing the nature of the problem in this case neither relieves the suspense nor resolves the conflict. Bousman has put everyone in too deep a predicament, and a messy confrontation is virtually assured.

The Barrens is a nice, surprisingly tight little genre film. The vivid, saturated, tree-worshiping exteriors are reminiscent of True Blood, though Moyer’s central role might be making that suggestion more strongly than any conscious style choice by Bousman or his cinematographer. A ruthlessly contemporary fable casting the ideal family getaway into hell, The Barrens will serve as emotional vindication for a cross section of adults who have identified a keenly drawn father figure in Clark Griswold, and perhaps feel guilty about not having appreciated family trips more when they were obnoxious kids.

Blu-Ray Review: The Cabin In The Woods

by Dan Fields
First published September 19, 2012 by the California Literary Review

The Cabin In The Woods (2012) Blu-Ray disc

© 2012 Lionsgate

This super-secret brainchild of screenwriters Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon came shrouded as carefully as Super 8, surrounded by many a dark rumor but giving maddeningly little away. Goddard and Whedon began laying it out during their time working on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Then, in a blaze of energy, they cobbled the labyrinthine script together in a three-day writing session. After a close call with the bankruptcy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (their original studio), the project nearly became a lost legend. However, Lionsgate swept it up and by all accounts urged the writers to make the film exactly as they wished. Lionsgate has done a lot of good by giving such films a fighting chance, and even when they’ve turned out the odd dog, it seems that Lionsheart has been in the right place. All this took three years, and by the time the movie surfaced, some of the people involved were a lot more famous than they were while shooting this film. Chris Hemworth in particular had been picked up by Marvel for Thor, and was months away from his next Whedon-penned release, The Avengers. Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins, a very big part of this movie’s soul, had bolstered his popularity with strong supporting turns in Burn After Reading and Let Me In (still the best film of 2010, no matter what history says).

The Cabin In The Woods opened to great fanfare and a very polarized reaction. Masquerading as a standard-issue slasher (as the title suggests), it soon goes off the rails into a payoff the audience would never even think of expecting. It pays tribute to the legacy of films like Hellraiser, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween and countless others, mainly by turning the horror genre on its grisly head. This pissed a lot of people off, and to them I can only offer my condolences. For those of us who love the movie (full disclosure), we love it down to its black beating heart. Hopefully our multiple trips to the theater made up for those who warned their friends off the experience. Those sad, sad souls… Continue reading

Movie Review: The Mist (2007)

Frank Darabont has proven once again that he is one of the few filmmakers who can translate Stephen King’s work to film without reforging the stories on his own terms. The mass of King adaptations are either faithful failures or successes bearing little resemblance to the original tone. Not so for Darabont, who proves he can work the bleak and icky with the same deft hand that gave us the uplifting Shawshank Redemption.

The story is simple enough, and not even drawn from one of King’s most polished. A thick mist blows into town, transforming the world into a white, billowing void. From this mist emerge a stunning variety of Lovecraft-style bugs and other nasties, all with an appetite for human blood. Most of the action unfolds in the local grocery, where many of the town’s citizens find themselves under siege without means of escape.

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