Don’t Get Hung Up on This One

The Gallows

            Let’s skip the fancy introductions and word play, this is another Robbie K review with a focus on yet another horror movie. Today we jump into the latest teen horror movie entitled the Gallows, which also acts as another attempt to revive found footage films. From the trailers it looks “interesting” (to be nice), but I didn’t hold much hope for this film. So let’s get started…

Like most found footage films you can expect bumpy camera work giving you details about the perilous journey to unfold. I have to admit that the camera work isn’t too horrible in this film, most of the time stable enough to give you the same shots of the abandoned school. The crew also gets points for some clever ideas on switching the camera perspective from the camcorder that starts our journey to cell phones equipped with a night vision application. But the good stops there. Much of the time our cast is running from the unseen force that is Charlie, the camera unfortunately swaying to and fro with not stability. Sure it brings a little more reality and edge to the picture, but too much of it left me annoyed at the lack of details. In addition, the multiple camera angles were an interesting twist, but they were executed in the wrong manner. When the doors close and you hear someone screaming you can get an idea of what is going on? So why then do I have to see footage minutes later showing what I pretty much already knew. To do this not once, but about three times didn’t make it any better, and much of the time was more cheesy than anything else. Oh well, with a $100,000 budget, I guess you have to get as creative as you can right?

But you probably want to know if the Gallows is scary right? In a one word summary, NO. The Gallows is cheesy, all horror drowned out by the ridiculous characters tale integrated around it. At first you get the chills as the suspense builds and you wait for that first moment of terror. In fact, the scariest part of the whole movie is the setting itself, a school after hours where one can feel abandoned in the dark hallowed halls. Why is a school so scary? Most likely because it is real, a place we can all relate to, one that is supposed to safe from such horrible fates. That comfort is robbed though when the school closes and the lights go out, the unknown frontier of the dark instigating that primal urge of fear. But past the dark halls, the scares are diluted to comical level. For one thing, the teenagers are idiots, obnoxious, rude, and annoying examples portraying the typical behavior of the average American youth. I found myself having no pity for them, waiting for their stupidity to get them in a situation they couldn’t talk their way out of. In addition that building suspense is rapidly dropped, as the hunt unfolds in a manner of minutes, each predictable moment unfolding the way you expect. And the story that explains all this is rather… lame. At first it seems a simplistic tale of Charlie exacting revenge on pay defilers, but it quickly becomes more convoluted, a plot that has a few soap opera factors to it that again make it cheesy.

            As for Charlie himself, well the team dropped the ball on that one too. Again they started off strong, doing some subtle, traditional scare tactics that invisible specters do. Your imagination begins to paint a scary, creepy picture of what the creature looks like, and what tools he will use to torture our victims. Then you see him for what he is and well… it is very disappointing. Charlie is just a modern looking version of Jason Voorhees where the mask is replaced with a sack, and the machete is replaced with a noose that can skirt ceilings. This diluted version lacks the edge that the classic killer had and quite honestly represents the product of a low budget. There isn’t much more I can say about this, other than Charlie’s main scare is his lurking in the shadows in that manner that makes you want to look over your shoulder.

The Gallows is a movie that is as cheesy and cheap as the budget they used to make the film. A film filled with predictable scares, a shallow story, and obnoxious characters do not make for a good scare film. Throw in the camerawork, lack of diversity and low budget villain and again you don’t have much to go on. Thus, this reviewer cannot recommend this film for the theater, and would say it was better cast on the SyFy channel where cheesiness is welcomed. I can’t even think of a group to go see this in the theater other than teenagers looking for a good, “cheap” scare.

My scores are:

Horror/Thriller: 4.5

Movie Overall: 3

A Decent Prequel, But Is Losing It’s Scare Factor

Insidious 3

            Good morning my friends, today we’re going to take a stroll down horror lane, a genre that often doesn’t know when it is time to quit. Today we get to analyze Insidious III, a series that has provided decent scares over the last few years. But can a third installment continue the thrills, or has it reached the end of its life? As always, it’s my job to analyze, comment, and inform about whether or not this film is needed.

For fans of the series, Insidious does a decent job at spinning a tale that provides some meaning to the nightmares. This prequel veers from the Lambert family and takes focus on the Brenners, a broken family that is going through some tough times. In particular is Quinn (Stefanie Scott), a high school senior who is trying to move on with her life by auditioning for acting and trying to contact her dead mom… With the means for the ghost and the warning to not contact the dead, the Insidious III is a simplistic plot filled that exists mainly to open us up for scares. Quinn’s tale has some backbone and detail to it, but soon becomes diluted by the horror element with an occasional touching moment to develop character. All her supporting cast held shallow roles in this movie, most only involved to open up for a scary scene before falling through the cracks. Some of her issues and qualities are hastily developed, quickly addressed despite these issues dragging through the movie. The better story is Elyse’s (Lin Shaye), that provides some insight into her life including the origins of her abilities and relationships to the demons of the Further. Sure some of the elements are a stretch, and many provide more questions than answers that are sure to lead to another sequel.

Okay story is mediocre, but was it scary? For my friends who accompanied me, yes the movie is scary. Plenty of times during the movie they jumped out of their seats, occasionally screaming, at what emerged from the dark. Insidious III continues the trend of silhouettes outlined in shadow and the unholy sounds they make. I’ll admit the design team crafted some intense moments with this demon, giving him a serial killer edge that amped up the threat factor. Unfortunately that edge is lost some times with the Darth Vader like breathing that fit better with the Star Wars icon.

Yet the creepiness is only one piece of the scary pie. Insidious still provides those moments where something pops out at you, often accompanied by a loud sound of an orchestra pit blaring. You can see the scares coming from a mile away, the obvious tactics being used to set up for that moment that dilutes the scariness. In addition a lot of the scary scenes were shown in the trailer and by the time new scenes were shown, the tactics had lost their edge I was looking for. However, if you are one who jumps at every thing in a horror movie, then none of this matters and you will still have a good scare. I could go on about the technology aspects of the horror, but it is important to discuss the acting, a component that is essential for selling the terror.

Insidious’ cast plays to their strengths to keep the tale interesting and alive. The star is Shaye, who brings multiple aspects to a simple role. Shaye mixes terror with sass, confidence and humor to make Elyse one of my favorite horror characters. Some of her moments are a bit overdramatic for me, but I like the edge she brings to the part. Stefanie Scott was also good at her performance of the teen tormented by a stalker spirit. Her screams were not too overwhelming or annoying, and she sold me that she was in pain from the haunting. Even her darker moments impressed me as she captured the desolate energy of someone having their life drained and her makeup further accented the performance. As for the duo Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), they once more had their roles down. The ghost hunters were pure comedic relief, their clumsy incompetency helping relieve the tension of the “exciting” climax. Other characters did their roles justice, but were not involved in the film enough to really analyze.

Insidious III is a decent sequel that helps shed some light on the backgrounds of our ghost hunters, while opening up more questions. Fans of horror will find more than their share of scares in this film, but not as much as the first installment did all those years ago.   Is it worth a trip to theater? Not really, unless you are a major fan of the series, susceptible to scares, or simply just a horror fan. Otherwise leave it for a rent and enjoy being terrorized in your own house.

My scores for this sequel are:

Horror: 7.0

Movie Overall: 6.5

It’s Heeeeere! Creepy Clowns With The Original Plot

Poltergeist

It’s Memorial Day weekend gang and you know what that means. Right, a horror movie…or maybe you weren’t thinking that at all. Well while most of the public is out celebrating by grilling and toasting those they remember, this reviewer is hitting the theater for more reviews. This review we take a stroll down remake lane as we hit Poltergeist, the first scare movie of the summer. Can the remake live up to the classic? Let’s find out.

From the trailers, Poltergeist promises some terrifying moments in the dark that hold promise for making you fear what bumps in the night. This movie will not disappoint, as it provides a setting that indeed can bring some tingles to your spine. At first the setting of the house offers little threat, a few incidents happening in the day time might make you jump, but for the most part offer a safe relief from the terrors at hand. Once night hits and the power conveniently goes out, that is where the audience begins to jump. Poltergeist plays off one’s fear of the dark, using the shadows to build anticipation, suspense, and terror at what our invisible “friends” have in store. It’s creepy, the camera work and sound editing making you feel abandoned in the house aside from kids who aren’t necessarily equipped to bust ghosts. Aside from the dark, the design team has crafted some haunting dolls that are perhaps the scariest part with their soulless eyes and smiles. The creeps aren’t the only ploy they have in their bag though. Poltergeist also has plenty jump at you moments, where things suddenly jump out at you after the predictable build up. .

The story of this movie is also not too bad, essentially being the same movie with up to date graphics and a slight “romantic” twist.  Is there anything new? One is some new scare ploy, primarily the clowns that were not in the 80’s version, that kind of work. Second is the integrating modern technology as a media for the ghosts to use such as iphones and ipads that are generation is accustomed too. Third is the increase in special effects that help bring the horror to life, though sometimes the effects are cheesy and overflashy. Unfortunately these things aren’t the most realistic looking and the 3-D perspective is really unnecessary and added very little to the tale.      

So let’s talk negatives of this Poltergeist. For one thing there isn’t a lot of originality to this film. It’s always great in theory to retell a classic tale, but some unique twists are often required to make the film worthwhile. This installment didn’t have much of that, and while the graphics were more impressive, it really didn’t add the edge I was hoping to see. The modern technology was cool, and the clowns were scary, but HBO could do the same thing and saved us the trouble of stale popcorn. In addition the scares weren’t as terrifying as I had hoped. Yes I like creepy, but the cheesiness of some of the scares offset that factor and actually made it more a loud, light show than actual terror. In terms of acting, it wasn’t half bad, but wasn’t connected to the characters in this film. The mom and dad were okay in this film, a little too depressed and inconsistent for my tastes, and the oldest daughter was just annoying to me. Looking at the paranormal team, they were okay as well, but I held no loyalty to most of them, and found them rather unnecessary for most of the movie. Even the ghosts lost the edge they held in the first rendition, becoming nothing more than a collection of CGI sprites, instead of being lead by the entity known as the Beast. The exception to the lackluster characters might be the two youngest kids, the boy in particular being the person I took the most interest in. He kept the group together and kept the plot going for most of the movie as he tried to uncover the terror within. Without the tie to the family in this film, I wasn’t quite at the edge of my seat as I had hoped to be.

Poltergeist is certainly a decent remake that sticks to the original plot and scare tactics that you remember. Despite the superficial scare factor of this movie, I can’t really recommend a trip to theater for this one. After all with little originality, some overdone special effects, and a lack of suspense there isn’t much to lure you into the theater on this one.

Overall my scores are:

 

Horror: 7.0

Movie Overall: 6.0

An Interesting Twist, but I can’t say I “Like” It

Unfriended

            The age of technology! It is a wonderful time where the Internet allows so much to be shared with a push of a button. The media shared can bring lots of happiness, or quickly become a portal terror just like the theme of today’s movie review Unfriended. From the trailers you might expect:

  1. Found footage bologna we’ve grown accustom too
  2. A simplistic plot with more drama than actual story
  3. Gruesome kills that will chill you to the bone
  4. Acting that is simple

So what do you get? When it comes to found footage films, we have come to expect erratic, dizzying shots of our cast running from some unknown entity. Often we get more headaches than information, leading to frustration and lackluster films. Unfriended is told through the web camera of Blaire (Shelly Hennig), as she skypes, messages, and texts her beloved troop of friends. Being on the computer, the film was limited to mostly stationary footage of Blaire multitasking between instant messaging and video chatting. Many audience members I feel will relate and appreciate the portrayal of teenagers juggling communication with other websites, as the group participates in cheesy exchanges of humorous dialog. That is until the terror starts and the social media becomes an instrument of torture that shrewdly forces our group to confess. Now I can appreciate the ingenuity of using computers and the relevance, but this movie sometimes took this angle a little too far. One particular annoying part was watching Blaire try to phrase her messages, constantly retyping the same message and hesitating to press send. A good lesson indeed for the teenage population, but I didn’t need to see this five times in the movie.

With the interesting camera angle, perhaps the story had some quality to it. Unfriended does have a unique twist, cleverly manipulating the internet to develop the characters and dish out the terror. The biggest strength of this movie is the mystery of the hacker, the suspense of who will uncover the secret keeping me interested in the tale. Unfortunately it still suffers from the predictable Slasher formula starting with the convenient timing that all of their parents aren’t home, on a school night. A majority of the plot is based on uncovering their “Mean Girl” like secrets, horrible, and typical, high school antics that are old hat. It does add further depth to the characters, perhaps even adding some relatable qualities that high school students may latch on to. I however couldn’t stop laughing at how stupid these kids were and the mistakes they kept compounding. I wish I could say the revelation at the end made up for some of the lackluster elements, but the ending didn’t deliver the satisfaction I looked for, and quite honestly seemed like a cheap write off.

Let’s get to the kills you are most likely seeking from the trailer. Unfriended manages to think outside the box in terms of spilling blood, using mundane objects as the means for death. Two deaths in particular are disturbing, the web came giving you enough of the carnage to piece things together without dropping into extreme torture territory. I will admit many of these deaths are ridiculous, overdramatic messes that made some of the audience howl with laughter. Yet I can’t help but applaud their integration of the murder devices into a casual conversation, with the exception of one or two that were obvious foreshadows to their demise. I can’t say much more, or I might ruin this quality, but keep your eyes peeled. Oh well, at least the deaths are fairly “justified” by the mysterious hacker’s actions.

Acting wise, the cast does a good job capturing the stereotypical teenager role. They capture the emotional spectrum of their characters, from shallow minded gossip to the fear and terror of uncertain death. The dialog is definitely “realistic”, but my friend and I agree that all the petty arguing and screaming got old. We did however enjoy the mannerisms of CAPS LOCK and emoticons being used in the movie to mimic the current cyber chat trends. While the acting is okay, the limited characters were not ones I could grasp onto. They all were annoying idiots, whose cruelty and selfishness were over the top, taking away any sympathy I might have felt. Perhaps a good character might have helped balance the bad, but this movie held no moral spectrum other than teenagers being teenagers. Either way the acting is fine for the characters given, and some of the characters (who aren’t teens) were really cute.

Unfriended is not the best horror movie by a long shot, but it has taken an interesting tangent from the normal thriller movie. Teenager and young adults alike will find relevance in the modern technology used, but others may find this more of a comedy than a horror. This rather loud and obnoxious tale fails to deliver on a lot of other levels, and I can’t really recommend this one for a theater visit. Perhaps a Redbox rental is in your future for this one, otherwise let the intended audience tell you how it is.

My scores for Unfriended are:

 

Horror/Thriller: 6.0

Movie Overall: 4.5-5.0