Day 20 (Alex): The Devil's Backbone

Amanda Porter suggested The Devil's Backbone, which I chose for my Day 20 review.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Devil's Backbone is a gorgeous film set in 1939, just after the Spanish Civil War. It follows the story of a young boy, Carlos, who became an orphan after his father was killed in the war. Dumped by his tutor at an orphanage, he struggles to adjust to his new life in the face of strangers and bullies. 

In the second act, he befriends the bully, and the two of them band together with the other boys to unravel the dark secrets in this haunted orphanage. The cinematography is beautiful, bringing the viewer deep into the Spanish countryside. The story is rich with characters, conflicts, and poignant moments. 

Guillermo del Toro is a genius director. The Devil's Backbone is a remarkable feat, encompassing a ghost story, political commentary, and a coming-of-age tale in one package. Couple that with the striking visuals and captivating scenery, it's no wonder this is a favorite.

Thanks for pushing me along to watch this film, Amanda. I've been meaning to do so for a while, and now that I've seen it, I plan to buy the Criterion version soon. I give this one 7 bits out of 8.

Day 19 (Alex): Paranormal Activity

Day 19 brings us to a suggestion by Jason Tindol, Paranormal Activity. 

Paranormal Activity ushered in a renaissance of sorts, bringing found footage films back to popularity. Now, I'm not always a fan of found footage films. Sometimes they hit the mark, like Exists did on my Day 14 review. And since this found footage film concerns itself with a haunting, which is a particular horror sub-genre I enjoy, it hit the mark for me as well. With a single location, and a simple story, found footage films can be a great first film for directors, so I wasn't surprised to see this was director Oren Peli's first feature. 

Released in 2007, Parnormal Activity follows the lives of a day trader (Micah) and his live-in girlfriend (Katie) as they move into an upper middle-class suburban home. It's interesting to think this happened a year prior to the stock crash the following year. Wondering if there is any correlation now. Hmm.....

Anyway, moving on. After Katie complains of episodes she claims is caused by a haunting, Micah purchases a "big camera" to chronicle said "haunting". Over the course of the film, we watch as their actions push the force behind this haunting to a near-dangerous level. 

The story is fairly well-paced, and the acting isn't half-bad. I really enjoyed watching this late at night, with the lights off, and immersing myself into the film. The sound design is remarkable on this film, and truly the best way to experience it is in the dark, with the volume cranked up. And alone or with your significant other. 

The downsides to this film is the reliance on the ultimate reveal, so I'm not sure if it will hold up on repeat viewings. For that reason, if you've not seen this yet, and plan to, follow my instructions about the lights and the sound. Another problem I have is really directed toward found footage films in general. Convenient excuses for lazy camera work, and lack of story development. I didn't see that to be too much of a problem here, and I believe Peli did a fantastic job on that front. 

Not everyone will agree with me, and that's okay. I really enjoyed it, and give it a solid 6 bits out of 8. Thanks for the recommendation, Jason! 

Day 18 (Alex): Army of Darkness

On Day 18, I get to review a movie I've had on my personal list for quite some time now. Thanks, to a push from DJ (David Jones), I finally watched Army of Darkness, the third act of the Evil Dead trilogy. I got around to watching the first two Evil Dead movies during last year's marathon, so needless to say I was looking forward to this one.

Army of Darkness (AoD) picks up where Evil Dead 2 left off, with Ash thrust back in time to the Middle Ages during King Arthur's time. This movie does not disappoint. Once Sam Raimi accepted the popularity of the comedic side of his first two Evil Dead films, he and Bruce Campbell took that to an entirely different level in AoD. Filled with slapstick humor, Campbell's physical comedy, comedic dialogue, and continuity issues galore, AoD is a fun ride. 

Heralded by a wise man as "the chosen one", Ash leads the way in defeating the Deadites, who have come to menace the populace. Ash truly doesn't care whether he saves them or not, but just wants to get back home. The wise man informs Ash he will find that way back home within the words of the Necronomicon, so thus begins his journey.

I cannot properly judge how well this stacks up to Evil Dead 2 without watching these again, and closer together. However, I really enjoyed this one, and give it a whopping 7 bits out of 8. Thanks, DJ! I look forward to watching this again soon. 

Day 17 (Alex): Cube

Day 17 and we have The Cube, suggested to me by Mike Vickers. Heh, I just noticed that my review for The Cube is on Day 17, a prime number. Those of you who've seen The Cube will get that reference. If you've not seen it, then well, you just need to check it out for yourself.

The Cube falls under the category of cult films as well as low-budget sci-fi, where quite honestly, the general audience will likely gloss over this or hate the movie. Directed by Vincenzo Natali as his first feature film, the entire movie was shot with a handheld inside a single 14' x 14' cubical set in just twenty days. 

The premise of the film follows strangers as they wake up in a mysterious cube, unaware of how they got there. They climb through one of six doors, either to find another cube, or a booby-trap that ends their lives. There are no instructions on what to do, but human instinct propels them to find an exit out of this living nightmare. 

I won't say much more as it would ruin the surprise and journey of this film. The set design is very cool and an impressive feat on a low budget. My biggest gripes have to do with the subpar acting and poor dialogue. Also, I feel the story was a bit rushed, and with a bit more thought into the plot, The Cube could have been spectacular. 

Nevertheless, I rather enjoyed the film, and appreciate the filmmaking process behind this. I give it 4 bits out of 8. Thanks for recommending this one, Mike! I may just have to check out all the other remakes, though I imagine they would go downhill from here.

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Day 16 (Alex): The Descent

For Day 16, we have The Descent, suggested by Josh Parker. This film chronicles the expedition of six friends as they explore an isolated cave in the Appalachian mountains. So, let me stop you here, and say that I, for one, am NOT a fan of tight spaces. Yes, I'm claustrophobic, and I don't believe I'd survive a simple and proper spelunking trip. But throw in a hearty helping of paranoia and dissension with my fellow travelers, AND a group of bloodthirsty creatures, I know I wouldn't survive. So, kudos to these women for being so tough and mean!

The Descent opens up on a whitewater rafting trip with the friends and we see the lead character, Sarah, on a high note. True to the film's title, her life spirals downward from here. She loses her family in an accident, then after fast forwarding a year, they meet up for the spelunking vacation. Her close friend, Juno leads them to an unknown cave system, while making them think they were going to a "lame" cavern. 

With a mix of infighting, accidents, and run-ins with cavernous creatures, The Descent leads us on a journey of Sarah's life. It's interesting to note the parallels of the current events in the cave to that of her life, as she discovers other secrets hidden in the crevices of her past. The better films find a way to weave together complexity into the narrative without patronizing the viewer or dragging the story with so much excess that it leaves its theme in murkiness. I believe The Descent hits the mark just right, and director Neil Marshall (Hellboy) did a fantastic job telling the story. The cinematography was gorgeous, and I loved the practical effects with the creatures, and the blood. Boy, lots of blood, so be prepared if you watch this one. 

Oh, and did I mention this movie has one of the coolest posters ever? Check it out below!

So, what did I think of it? I give it 6 bits out of 8. 

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Day 15 (Alex): The Changeling (1980)

For Day 15, I'm reviewing The Changeling (1980), suggested to me by Tom Hagale. 

The Changeling, directed by Peter Medek, falls under the haunted house/ghost story genre of horror films. It opens with a horrific scene as the film's protagonist, John Russell, watches in horror as his wife and daughter get plowed by an oncoming truck. After the title card shows up, we then follow Russell as he moves into a new home, which turns out to be a mansion. Immediately I wondered, why in the world is a grieving widow moving into a mansion? Turns out he got a deal to rent the home as he moved to a new university, where he teaches music. It just doesn't make sense to me, but I get it. They've got a great location piece in this gorgeous home, so why not use it? 

That mansion contains a dark past, and Russell experiences supernatural phenomenon, which in turn leads him to investigate the home's history. With a well-written script, George C. Scott delivers a great performance as John Russell. The story drags in a few places with long expositions, but not so much that it pulled me out of the story. With long tracking shots, Medek allows the story to build suspense, and the sense of dread that builds upon not knowing what will happen is part of the fun here. 

I really enjoyed The Changeling, and am quite surprised I've not seen this before. I nearly devoured every horror film in the early 80s by going down to the old video store, renting four or five films a weekend. Perhaps the cover art didn't draw me in enough. 

I'll definitely give this one another watch, as I expect I will get more out of it on a second viewing. For now, my rating teeters between 5 and 6 bits out of 8, but the nostalgia for the late 70s/early 80s settings pushes it over to a solid 6 bits out of 8. Thanks, Tom, for the recommendation! 

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Day 14 (Alex): Exists

For Day 14, I will review Exists, a found footage film about Sasquatch, recommended to me by Shelby Benson. (And, yes, this made me feel much better after watching The Last House on the Left. Thanks, Shelby!).

Found footage films are hit and miss. More often they miss the mark terribly, but once in a while we find one that hits it, and some hit it very well. Exists hits the mark, but I can't say that it does it that well. 

Exists, brought to us by the father of found-footage films, Eduardo Sanchez (Blair Witch Project), blends together found-footage with Bigfoot and slasher films. Starting out with a group of young adults looking to have a fun getaway weekend at a cabin the woods, Exists does little to stake any claim in originality. BUT, it's a fun, quick movie, that I can see returning for another watch, especially with some friends, just to experience their reactions to its quirkiness and jump scares.

Exists boasts great editing, solid filming, and decent acting. There are some creative moments with the camera work, such as when a camper starts to roll. As always, my one gripe with found footage films is successfully telling a good story without forcing the camera to do something unrealistic. 

If you are a fan of found-footage films, and have not seen Exists, I certainly recommend you add this to your list, pronto. If you abhor found-footage films, just pretend Exists doesn't, well, exist. 

My rating? I rather enjoyed my time, and despite having to suspend disbelief that someone would still roll the camera in near-death experiences, I'd watch it again. I give this one 5 bits out of 8. 

Day 13 (Alex): Jacob's Ladder

For Day 13, we have Jacob's Ladder, suggested by fellow filmmaker Roy Starkey. Jacob's Ladder was released in 1990, in a time when the Vietnam War still resonated with viewers.  Directed by Adriane Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Flashdance), this film tells the story of a Vietnam war vet suffering from what seems to be PTSD. 

Tim Robbins plays the lead role of Jacob Singer, several years before he takes on the iconic role of Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. His performance in Jacob's Ladder is solid, and along with Elizabeth Pena's help, the two of them do a remarkable job of pulling us into this wicked and trippy film. 

Jacob's Ladder opens with a flashback to the war, where we see Jacob's comrades get killed, and ends with him being gutted by a bayonet. We cut to the present where Jacob wakes up in a subway, in what seems to be a late night/mid-morning commute, with only a couple of other strange passengers in his car. One of these, a homeless man covered up in a coat, seems harmless, until Jacob notices a disturbing creature-like tail protruding from under the coat. This foreshadowing moment sets the stage for the rest of the film. 

Jacob's Ladder, in the bible, refers to a ladder that Jacob saw, leading to Heaven. There are a lot of parallels drawn here, as we see Jacob Singer wrestle with the hallucinations he experiences. Are they real? Is he dead or dying? Or is he being tested? The cast of characters are expertly woven together to create a horrifying parable about life and death, and about our desire to hold onto this world. 

I read somewhere that the special effects of this film were all done in film, with no post-production techniques applied. I find this to be very impressive and interesting. Roy, did you know about these techniques? We should do some experimentation ourselves. 

Jacob's Ladder is a dark film, set in a uncomfortable atmosphere that drives a message about life and death. It stakes its claim as a psychological thriller using a war vet as its host, and with a rich cast of characters, we experience the duality of Jacob's Singer's life as he teeters between moments with his wife and family to those with his new lover, Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena). 

My rating? Personally, I wanted to like this film more than I did. Maybe it's the time period, and the outdated feel of the early 90s. Maybe it has to do with it being partly a war film, a genre that I'm not a big fan of. Or maybe it's just a bit more disturbing then I'll give it credit for. Still, it is a remarkable film, and one that I will likely appreciate even more upon additional viewings. But for now, I give this one 5 bits out of 8. (I admit, after watching the trailer again, I suspect my rating would climb later)

Thanks for the recommendation, Roy. I truly enjoyed the film, but you're right in that it leaves the viewers with a sense of dread, and lingers in our minds. 

Day 12 (Alex): Two Thousand Maniacs

For Day 12, we have Two Thousand Maniacs, recommended by Teddy Champion.

Oof! What a film, Teddy! This is like Freaks turned inside out with lots of blood. Just look at the poster's claim: "AN ENTIRE TOWN BATHED IN PULSING HUMAN BLOOD! MADMEN CRAZED FOR CARNAGE!" I get a chuckle out of the line at the bottom: "GRUESOMELY STAINED IN BLOOD COLOR" I imagine some folks have questioned whether the actual film was stained with human blood.  The trailer even highlighted a thirty second warning for adults to remove their children from the theater, using the term "impressionable young people". So just what is the deal with this film?

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Two Thousand Maniacs tells a tale of a southern town who was wiped out by Yankee soldiers in 1865. The current year is 1965, and the town of Pleasant Valley hosts a centennial celebration of that very event. Part of this celebration involves luring six, unsuspecting tourists ("Yankees") to stay and be "guests of honor". What ensues is a horrific show of violence on these tourists while the townspeople take it all in like a great carnival show, laughing and playing cruel games. 

I'll be honest and say this is a difficult film to watch. More so than Freaks, in my opinion. To see an entire town wave confederate flags in the faces of "Yankees", and torturing them as payback for what happened to them in the Civil War, just left me in disbelief. There's something disturbing about "real people" committing such grievous acts of violence than contemporary monsters such as vampires, demons, and evil clowns. 

Two Thousand Maniacs didn't scare me so much as left me feeling a little icky. The low quality of the film and its audio at first annoyed me, but in a way, it fits the quirkiness of the townspeople and only added to the overall mood. The bloody scenes definitely worked for its time, and a few of the scenes showing severed limbs were done quite well. Except for the one where a woman's newly severed arm remains firmly bent at the elbow, of course. Anyone could see that was a mannequin's arm, lol. 

Teddy, you picked a good one for me to add. It sticks out as a different film, much like Freaks from yesterday did. I just can't give it a much better rating than Freaks, though, and I'm sorry, man. It's just 2 bits out of 8 for me. Thanks for the recommendation!

Day 11 (Alex): Freaks

On Day 11, I'm going to review the 1932 film, Freaks, suggested to me by Jonathan Ryan Futral. 

I always enjoy the variety of horror films each year, and looked forward to a black and white classic that I've not seen yet. 

Unlike the other classic films, such as Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Freaks really lived up to its name. Showcasing actual carnival-working people with deformities, Freaks was more of a classic crime mystery than a horror film. But, the real horror is experiencing these poor souls playing out these parts. It was, quite honestly, exploitation for profit. 

I learned tonight that this 64-minute was originally edited to 90 minutes, but was banned because of disturbing content. The original is forever gone, so I wonder, and shudder, to think what they cut from the film. 

Freaks opens up with people observing the maimed body of a beautiful woman. Then we go back in time to her story, as she lives in a carnival with, you got it, a bunch of freaks. The story progresses from there as we try to guess how she dies and how. 

I can't say I recommend this to you. Not only is it disturbing, but the plot is very basic and predictable. Interestingly enough, the director of this film enjoyed many successes, UNTIL Freaks wrapped. This led him to a sudden derailment of his career. Even the UK banned the edited film for 30 years. 

If you really want to see a good black and white horror film, stick with Nosferatu and Dr. Caligari. 

Nonetheless, I'm glad to have seen this one as a study of film. Thanks for the recommendation, Jonathan. I'm sorry to say I have to give Freaks only 2 bits out of 8. 

Day 10 (Alex): Julia X

Boy, oh, boy, am I woefully behind, or what? I've been watching as many films as I can, and have several reviews to throw up here, but life really got in the way. Work, sickness, and filming activities on the weekends have taken up most of my time. 

So, let's catch up, starting with Day 10. Julia X, recommended to me by my good friend, Adam Paul Weber, really surprised me in the fact that Kevin Sorbo plays the lead role of a sadistic romantic, who thrives in finding new dates via the internet chat rooms. Once he finishes a date, he murders and brands them with a letter corresponding the order of his dates. The film opens with finding victim X, after dumping victim W. 

One early twist in this comes when we discover victim X is indeed setting him up, and there begins a cat-and-mouse game where the mouse leads the cat along for a ride into unknown dangers. It's almost as if the writers considered the classic Tom and Jerry cartoon format while creating something children should never watch. 

Did this movie work? I admit, there were moments I just laughed and I did enjoy some of the twists that came about, but personally, this is one weird movie. The director did a great job accomplishing what I believe he set out to do: create a torture porn comedy, with just the right amount of campiness and twists to keep your attention. And how he landed Kevin Sorbo for this is beyond me. Don't get me wrong. Sorbo convincingly played the part well. 

On a side note, I really loved seeing Joel David Moore (from Avatar and the TV show, Chuck). He provided much needed comedic scenes during the peak of the film.

I've come to enjoy seeing more horror comedies, so keeping Julia X in mind as a film in that category, I give this one 4 bits out of 8.  Not nearly as high as my favorite horror comedy to date - Tucker and Dale vs Evil. 

So, Adam, I did enjoy this film, especially since it broke up some of the other, darker and more serious horror films. Thanks for the recommendation!

 

Day 9 (Alex): The Last House on the Left (1972)

This one, suggested to me by Carra Mary Ann Cole, really left me unsettled, folks. I mean, I don't know what to say. I watched this on a Sunday afternoon. It was a bright, cheery day outside, and while I should have been enjoying the weather, the disciplined guy in me said, no, we need to get in another film for these reviews. You promised. Plus, it's ONLY 84 minutes. No harm, right? Wrong...

In similar fashion, this movie, directed by the talented Wes Craven, nonetheless, presented such a dichotomy of cheerfulness and gross unease. Thinking back on that, I really appreciate what Craven was going for. I really do, but it just didn't work for me at all. 

Okay, let's get to the story. Shall we? A teenage girl, with newfound independence, tells her parents she's going to a rock concert with a friend they don't approve of. They don't get far out of the neighborhood before they are taken hostage by a sadistic crew of criminals. Without revealing the details of the story, in case you have a stomach and desire to watch it, I'll say this. They are faced with gruesome sexual crimes and acts, and lost in a man's world, they fend for themselves, but not very well. The women are weak, and stereotyped both in gender and as hippies, there is not much development in them as characters, other than just as objects of desire. Even in the opening scene, the mailman tells the family dog (who greets him) that, boy, that Mari is the prettiest girl in town. We're talking a homely, older man telling that to a dog in private. Really? Talk about setting the stage. Then we cut to the living room where Mari comes in with a top that Dad says looks too tight, and he begins talking about her boobies. I mean, what? Is this where we were in the 70s? It sure seems that way.

Now, let's talk about the musical score. Music makes or breaks films, folks. The composers and writers of these scores are unsung heroes of the great films out there. This, sadly, was not one. At one moment, we are building suspense for a major scene, like rape, or attempted murder, then cue the Dukes of Hazzard style music. Then we have this bumbling sheriff and deputy running out of gas, and trying to hitch a ride with an African American woman driving a truck full of chickens. She refuses to let them take the truck and directs them to sit on the top if they want to ride (because I'm not getting rid of my chickens). Their weight literally is just too much and as the truck stalls, they roll off. Cue the comedy track. Talk about jarring. It's like trying to watch a horror film on a bright, Sunday afternoon. I should have known better and gone outside to take my dog for a walk. 

If you do start watching it, you need to finish it, though. It's like a barbed thorn. You gotta just push on through, or risk dealing with that thorn staying under your skin. Best not to even bother, though. 

Carra, I can imagine this scared the living daylights out of you, and brought you many sleepless nights back in the 70s. I know one thing. Wes Craven knew how to get under our skin, and The Last House on the Left was no different. 

I give this one 3 bits out of 8. One bit for the acting. One bit for the ending. And one bit for Wes Craven.  

Day 8 (Alex): Ghost Ship

Since I've enjoyed one great lost-at-sea horror film (Triangle), why not continue on with this recommendation from Kristen Whited, Ghost Ship? 

This movie opens with one of the most unique scenes I've seen. I won't tell you what happens exactly, but it sets up the premise of a haunted ship at sea by showing you how everyone died on the ship decades before our story begins. Do yourself a favor and check it out just for that opening scene.

After this setup, we are taken to the present day where treasure hunters discover this ship, and prepared to scavenge it for valuables, they discover something sinister. Julianna Margullies and the rest of the cast did as well as they could have with the script in hand. I wanted to love it more. I really did. But for me, the story faltered into a loosely, horror-based version of Indiana Jones mixed with a slasher, where victims are taken, one-by-one. Instead of a person, we have, you guessed it, a malevolent spirit, or ghost. 

Don't get me wrong. It's not all bad. There are great moments, and I appreciate their attempt to draw from The Shining. Unfortunately, it became bogged down with too many characters with individualized stories. Reducing it to two or three main characters and exploring how this experience affected their relationships would greatly enhance the film. 

If you are in the mood to watch something fun and lighthearted (for a horror film), this is not a terrible pick. But if you're looking for a smart thriller/horror on the seas, go back a day and see Triangle. (You'll appreciate what I did there). ;) 

Kristen, thanks for the recommendation. You and several others have given this high praise. I wish I could say the same. I give it 2 bits out of 8. One bit for the opening scene, and one bit for Julianna. 

Day 7 (Alex): Triangle

Okay, guys, I'm trying. I really am. It's been several days since I posted a review, but hang tight. I am going to sit at this keyboard and try hashing out a few reviews. I've been watching the movies you picked out for me, but just hadn't taken the time to write the reviews they deserve. 

Day 7 brings us to a film chosen by Lauren LeFevers. Lauren, I've been wanting to see this one for a while, so thanks for mentioning it. 

Wow. Okay, can we call this review done? A one-word review that sums up my feelings? 

Ha, seriously, though, I really dig movies like Triangle. And I can't really tell you why, or what it is specifically that I like about it, as this is part of the fun. Watching it and learning what happens. I will set you up on the basic premise, though. A group of friends and acquaintances gather together for a sailing trip. While out at sea, a freak storm appears and puts them in serious peril. Stranded on a capsized boat, they are saved by large cruiser, only to find it's abandoned. Or is it? And why does it look so familiar to one person in particular? 

The pacing of the story really pulled me into its world, and the acting suspended my belief. Coupled with the gripping mystery and the suspense, I found myself creeping to the edge of my couch, waiting, watching every frame. And the best part? The reward for my patience as the credits began to roll. What a great ending! 

So, yes, this is a horror film, but it's also mystery, suspense, and thriller rolled in one. Lauren, this is a gem of a film. 7 bits out of 8 for me! Add it to your watch list, as this is one UNDERRATED film.

 

Day 6 (Alex): The Strangers

"Why are you doing this to us?"

"Because you were home."

Nick McCormick recommended this one, The Strangers. Now, I have an affinity for the home invasion genres. Last year's Hush and Don't Breathe are among my favorite horror/suspense films. When I learned about this home invasion film from 2008, I became enthused to check it out.

Without watching any trailers or reviews ahead of time, I was surprised to discover Liv Tyler was the lead of this film. She certainly became the centerpiece of the film, however, I couldn't quite get as invested in her character as I would have liked.

Let me set up the premise. Kristen and James leave a wedding, after he unsuccessfully proposes to her, and thus begins an awkward night. He promises to leave first thing in the morning (and leaves a message for his friend to pick him up), and will leave her the car. Then soon, a loud knock, no, more like a BANG! on the front door startles them. Opening it, they seen a small woman/girl, standing there asking if so-and-so was home. 

This starts a cat-and-mouse game as three masked intruders invade them in their home. What were there motivations? That was never answered. As in the quote said above, they did this "because you were home."  Now, I can get behind this, but what bugged me was the fact we had no answers to Kristen's motivations, really, to why she denied his proposal. A little backstory on her, even in dialogue, would have went a long way to making me care more about her.

Now, that's not all bad. The film was a fun ride, and for me, the suspense of this home invasion and how it all played out was thrilling to watch. Again, I really enjoy home invasion films. The cinematography and editing were great aspects of the film. I also learned the director, Bryan Bertino, had never directed a feature prior to this. Knowing this gives me a deeper appreciation of what he accomplished, and to land such star power as Liv Tyler is just short of amazing.

If you're looking for something to watch this season by yourself, late at night, this may be the one. It's on HBO Go/HBO Now if you have those services. 

Nick, thanks for the recommendation! I thoroughly enjoyed it, but only wished the plot was a bit richer. My score? 5 bits out of 8.

Day 5 (Alex): It Came From Beneath the Sea

Elisa Sanford suggested this one to me. Clocking in at only an hour and nineteen minutes, It Came From Beneath the Sea is a very short watch. So, I'll keep this review short and to the point with a few observations.

First, the opening. Why have we gone away from these dramatic openings with strong narratives? Dramatic, orchestral soundtrack leading into large, colorful font, hinting at the MONSTER you'll see, that you just WON'T BELIEVE YOUR EYES!  Haha, I just love imagining kids back in the day being glued to the theater, going to school the next day and talk about it with their friends. 

The monster in the film was part of a stop-motion effect performed by Ray Harryhausen. For the time, I have to say the effects were well done. Of course, it looks so cheesy to us today in comparison to movies like Alien. But where would we be today without these pioneers? 

The movie centered around the love triangle between the lead female scientist, Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and the two men, scientist John Carter (Donald Curtis) and Navy Commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey), as they struggled to save the world from this sea monster.

A good bit of the time explored this love triangle, which I imagine attracted a lot of young women to the theaters. 

The story was fairly predictable, but was a very interesting study for film history. The three lead actors performed their roles nearly flawlessly, but in the style of the times. 

This one earned, for me, 4 bits out of 8. Just not mesmerizing enough, it is enjoyable to watch. 

Day 4 (Alex): Gerald's Game

Imagine if you were chained to a bed inside a desolate cabin with a dead body, and nothing but your own demons to haunt you. Well, that and wild animals whose hunger is drawn to the stench of the body rotting on the floor. That, my friends, is a horror story worth exploring. 

Today's film is my one personal pick for this year's marathon. There were dozens to choose from my own list, but as soon I heard Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus) directed this film based on Stephen King's book, AND it was premiering on Netflix this month, I had to work it in. 

I bought the book when it hit the shelves back in 1994, and read it in one fell sweep. Way before Fifty Shades of Grey, King delved into the world of BDSM, but instead of all the sappy, erotic mess, he wrote a raw story about a woman facing her own demons. The result is a beautiful tale of redemption, loss, and struggles of a woman living in a man's world. 

Now on to the film adaptation. Bottom line? I'm blown away and impressed with Flanagan's ability to bring this story into a visual medium. Shot in Fairhope, Alabama, Flanagan brought great pacing to the story. With remarkable performances from the two leads, Carla Gugino (Watchmen) and Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek), Flanagan managed to avoid bogging the story down with excess, keeping us grounded and invested in Gugino's character, Jessie, and her struggles.

If you're looking for something to watch, I highly recommend Gerald's Game. This film joins Stephen King's IT and Baby Driver onto my top ten list of 2017. 

My rating? 7 bits out of 8. 

 

Day 3 (Alex): Killer Klowns from Outer Space

"What in the blue blazes is the circus doing here in these parts?"

Day 3 takes us in a totally different direction than Day 2. Here we have Killer Klowns From Outer Space, suggested to me by Jess Cameron. I have to admit, I was hesitant to add this to my list.

Like the farmer in the opening scene, I wondered aloud to myself what were these alien clowns doing in my beloved horror genre? But I've gotta say, I am surprised to actually fall in love with this film. Maybe it's my affinity for clowns (Hey! I'm serious. I plan on creating a clown movie one day soon), or my desire for the 80s nostalgia. And there's that nice mix of campy horror and comedy to make this work, and work well.

I don't want to rehash the plot here, but I'll say this. Something bright, like a meteor, falls to the earth, and when the local town's inhabitants check it out, what they find is a circus tent. I'd love to tell you more about what's in the tent, but why not check it out for yourself? *wink*

I'm impressed with the set design, costumes, and the practical effects makeup. Today's filmmakers would do well to study some of these designs for some inspiration. I know I will. 

So, Jess, you surprised me. Judging by how much I enjoyed the film, the story, and the effects, I give it 6 BITS out of 8. (6/8)

Day 2 (Alex): Let the Right One In

"How old are you?"

"Twelve...more or less"

Today's review is a suggested movie by a fellow friend and filmmaker, Ken Sullivan: Let the Right One In. I've wanted to watch this adolescent vampire tale for quite some time now, and I was more than eager to take on Ken's suggestion. 

A Swedish film, this is simply a gorgeous film, directed by Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the upcoming thriller, The Snowman), and is based on a book of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist. 

I love the fact that the author is Swedish AND he adapted the film to script. Alfredson knew very little about horror, and especially vampires, so kudos to him to allow Lindqvist to pen the script. 

Without spoiling the story, let me set up the premise. Oskar, a young boy, is a child of divorce, living with him mom and granted the occasional visit from his father. He goes to school, endures bullying as a meek boy, and soon becomes entranced with the new girl who moves into the same building.

This girl is Eli, and is a "young" vampire. The entire film and story involves the relationship between Oskar and Eli. And, wow, the story itself is near pitch perfect. It's a rare talent to become truly invested in the characters and in their lives. 

Add to that the gorgeous visuals, and thanks to an alluring combination of scenery, wardrobe, makeup, and color grading, this one is a gem, folks. Destined to be a classic, it's worth rewatching time and again. You can check it out now on Hulu and Shudder. 

Ken, you picked out a great one, dude. I give this one 7/8 bits. 

Day 1 (Alex): Tales of Halloween

Welcome back to the 2017 version of my Halloween marathon. I seriously don't know if I have the time and energy to get in 31 movies, much less the 50 (yes, 50!) recommendations friends gave me when I asked. So, I'm going to do my best to watch and review all of these. Wish me luck, or come visit me in the sanitarium should I lose my mind in the process.

This is a day late, as I had a technical failure, but I'm not letting that stop me. Just a quick refresher on the iByte Films review system. 8 bits =  1 byte. So, instead of stars, I'll be rating in terms of bits, from 1 (lowest) to 8 (highest). 

So, let's get to it. I'll keep these short and sweet, but I welcome a conversation in the comments below or on Facebook if you'd like to talk more details. First up is Tales of Halloween, which can be seen on Netflix. 

Tales of Halloween is a marathon, suggested by Tracy Gaboury Allen of PopHorror.com. Last year I watched and reviewed Trick 'R Treat (link here). Trick 'R Treat serves up four tightly woven tales, making you forget at times you are watching an anthology. Tales of Halloween doesn't attempt to do this, but presents TEN tales with an underlying theme of all taking place in one town on Halloween night. Some are hits, and others are duds. 

During the title sequence, I was taken aback at the resemblance to Game of Throne's title sequence. I double-checked, and yes, this film is only two years old, so it looks like GoT's inspiration reaches places I least expected. 

There are some very weak films, including the opener, "Sweet Tooth". However, some are quite clever, and offer a twist on old genres. "Friday the 31st", "Ransom Rex", and "Bad Seed" are among my personal favorites.

My favorite surprise is Sam Witwer's (Being Human) appearance in Ransom Rex. In addition to him, there are several other appearances, including Barbara Crampton, Barry Bostwick, and more. 

So, let's wrap it up.

Three reasons to watch Tales of Halloween:

  1. You want to get in the mood for Halloween and don't have much time. Watch one or two short films when you get time. 
  2. You are hosting a Halloween party. This is a great film to have on in the background, and there are several great moments in these films that deserve a larger audience, where all can join in the laughs and head-shaking.
  3. It's Halloween. When the doorbell rings by enthusiastic trick-or-treaters, you may begin to wonder if these "tales" are happening in your own neighborhood. 

Three reasons NOT to watch Tales of Halloween:

  1. You want to watch something remarkable, and contains layers of meaning. 
  2. You have no patience for over-the-top stories, and no stomach for excessive gore. Nearly every story has one, if not both of these elements.
  3. It's not Halloween season. I just don't think I can get into these kind of stories before September or after Oct 31. It's like listening to Christmas music in July. 

My overall score on this anthology? 5/8 bits. Granted, this is an average over the whole film. Some are a solid 7/8 bits, while others are more like 2/8.