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AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: The Others (2001)

Posted in Genres, ghosts, horror, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , on October 20, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2017

Today I want to talk about another favorite ghost movie of mine, The Others, from 2001.

It was directed by Alejandro Amenabar and starred Nicole Kidman.  The only other movie I know Amenabar from is Open Your Eyes from 1997 with Penelope Cruz.  It’s the movie Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise remade into Vanilla Sky which would open the very same year as The Others.

I saw this movie in the theater based mostly on the spooky trailer and Nicole Kidman.  I had no preconceived notions going in on what to expect.

The movie takes place in 1945 in Jersey, a British dependency located in the Channel Islands.  Kidman lives in a remote country home with her two children; Anne and Nicholas.

The children have a rare condition that makes them allergic to sunlight and their father had left to fight in WWII but has not returned.

After three servants take up residence in the house strange things start occuring. The oldest daughter begins talking about seeing a small boy named Victor. Mysterious sounds are heard in abandoned rooms. Doors are left open. Typical ghostly haunted house stuff.

Kidman is not sure if the kids are causing the disturbances, the new servants or some ghostly intruder.  The suspense is really ratcheted up throughout the movie.  Lots of atmosphere.  And the old house is a great part of this whole thing.  It’s huge with all of these abandoned rooms.  You almost feel lost in the house while you are watching it.  There’s so much wood which causes lots of “house noises”.  Kidman’s character opens and closes every door of every room she enters and you get the requisite wood sounds every time.  The house looks and sounds great.  And the “ghostly” events are really spooky.

I’m not going to give away the ending.  I really want you to watch it.  But the atmosphere and tension are really amped up.  Kidman gives a great performance as the mom trapped in an ever increasingly bizarre set of circumstances.  The daughter, Anne, played by Alakina Mann, is pretty great as well.  She needed to work because she’s the one who goes against her mother for most of the movie as she’s the one who’s seen Victor and the “intruders”.  And she brings it 100%.  She’s really great in all her scenes with Kidman.

I rewatched this movie for this review and it still holds up.  Even knowing what the ultimate climax was going to be, I still very much enjoyed the journey the movie took me on to get to its “final resting place”.

Okay, so next week is the final FULL week of AWESOME-tober-fest.  I can’t believe it’s already nearly over.  Usually for this final week I’ll do what I call “Greatest Hits” where I revisit topics from previous AWESOME-tober-fests like vampires, werewolves or movie maniacs.  However, this year, for the 10th anniversary of this countdown, I’ve decided to do something a little different.  For the next week I’ll be doing ALL NEW topics.  Topics that I had planned for their own AWESOME-tober-fest at some point.  I’ll pick one article from five different topics I’ve never done before.  It should be a lot of fun.  I’ll even give you a preview of Monday’s topic.

Awesometoberfest 2017

I’ll see you back here on Monday.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

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AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: Heart Shaped Box (2007) – Joe Hill

Posted in books, Genres, ghosts, horror, monsters with tags , , , , , , on October 18, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2017

I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since before high school. So when I found out his son, Joe, was writing books, I was initially intrigued but ultimately never sought out the kid’s books.  Then I randomly stumbled upon Horns.  I forget how, but the synopsis intrigued me and I put it on my Amazon list making a mental note to check that book out when I get a chance.  Then, in 2013, the Kindle book went on sale so I pulled the trigger and read it.  And really enjoyed the book.  So at that point, I’m wondering, what Joe Hill book should I read next?

Enter AWESOME-toberfest 2015. I was all set to do Ghosts as the theme and I was deciding between two Joe Hill books; the short story collection 20th Century Ghost and the novel Heart Shaped Box.  However, things happen, things change, and I wind up doing invisible man that year instead.  Flash forward to 2017.  I’m really doing ghosts this time. So, I get a sample on my iPad of both books, read the samples and select, with much fanfare to no one but myself…Heart Shaped Box.

So, what is this book about?  The quick elevator pitch is that aging rock star Jude Coyne likes to collect macabre things.  Among other things he has a used hangman’s noose, a signed witch’s confession from the Salem Witch trials, and even a snuff film.  And when his assistant stumbles across a haunted suit in an online auction, Jude decides on impulse to buy it and it to his collection.  Yet when the suit arrives on his doorstep a few weeks later in a black, heart-shaped box, Jude finds that he’s going to get more than he bargained for.

Heart-Shaped Box was Hill’s first novel, published in 2007.  It’s actually pretty good.  Based on the two novels I’ve read, Hill really knows how to set up the atmosphere of his books’ worlds.  Hill’s books exist in this darker, hyper real existence where crazy things can happen but it still feels 100% real.  Like I can easily picture it and it feels like I’m in that world as well when I’m reading the book.  Hill is also good at setting up his main characters.  Jude, in this novel, isn’t the greatest guy.  He’s an aging rockstar, he collects weird memorabilia, he sleeps with goth girls that are way too young for him.  But by the end of the novel you see how the experiences in the book change him.  He realizes that how he’s been acting is wrong.  He sees the unhealthy patterns he’s following.  We also learn a little about his past that brings his current behaviors into focus.  So by the novel’s climax, the things Jude learns and the behaviors that are changed are earned.

What about the ghost aspects of the novel? Hill realizes his ghost very well.  He is CREEPY.  He has black scribbles over his eyes which somehow makes him more terrifying.  You learn a little bit about the nature of the particular ghost haunting the suit, but it’s not really made clear if that applies to all ghosts. There are clearly some rules for the ghost in the book but you don’t know if the rules apply to all ghosts or just him.

I liked this book.  I actually think I liked it more than Horns.  And don’t get me wrong, I liked Horns.   I really like what I’ve read of Hill’s books so far.  They are dark and atmospheric.  They have interesting characters that follow a good arch throughout.  And the story concepts for his books so far have been interesting and different.

I happen to also have two of Hill’s newer books The Fireman and NOS4A2 which are absolutely going to get read sooner rather than later.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: The Frighteners movie novelization by Michael Jahn (1996)

Posted in books, Genres, ghosts, horror, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2017

On Friday I talked about one of my favorite ghost movies, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners from 1996. Well, as luck would have it, they released a movie novelization for it.  It was written by Michael Jahn.

 

I Read Movies

So, I recorded a very special Halloween episode of I Read Movies all about this novelization. I talk about extra scenes, I talk about new plot points, there’s even a good bit explaining the nature of the movie’s ghosts. Lots of good stuff to hear, so either download the latest episode of I Read Movies on iTunes and Google Play or listen to it right here.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: The Frighteners (1996)

Posted in Genres, ghosts, Halloween, holiday, horror, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2017 by Paxton

Awesometoberfest 2017

Today I finally get to talk about The Frighteners by Peter Jackson starring Michael J Fox.  I’m trying to remember how I first found out about/watched this movie.  I’m fairly certain I did not see it in the theater as I would have been still in college and this particular movie wouldn’t have got me or my friends into the theater.  Plus, I don’t actually remember it in the theater.

I’m pretty sure I found out about it later. The draw for me would have been Michael J Fox in a horror comedy. I’m also fairly certain this would have been my first exposure to Peter Jackson as well. I probably caught it on DVD sometime in 1998 or 1999.  And I loved it.

The movie is about Frank Bannister, played by Michael J Fox.  He can see ghosts. He uses this ability to fleece money from people as a “psychic investigator”.  However Frank stumbles upon a rash of recent killings that look to be linked to a murder that happened decades earlier and he’ll need to use all of his supernatural skills to solve the murder before he becomes the next victim.

That’s the basic synopsis.  Lots more is going on here.  Let’s take a look at the movie.


Opening title card.


This is the Bradley House. At one time it was Fairwater Hospital/Sanatorium.  It was the site of the Bartlett/Bradley murders.  Now it’s mostly closed and abandoned.  The only people living here are Patricia Bradley and her mother.


As I’ve already mentioned, I’m a big fan of this movie. I want you to know that upfront before I talk about the opening of the movie. The opening is a very exciting set piece within the Bradley house. We see Patricia being chased by a ghost that is materializing within the walls of the house. It’s a fast paced chase with some pretty great effects for 1996.  And Patricia, played by Dee Wallace Stone, seems pretty terrified.  Eventually the ghost materializes under the carpet on the stairs and grabs her just as her mother appears with a shotgun and blows away the part of the carpet where the ghost’s head would be.  It’s a nice, thrilling beginning to the movie.  However, once you get to the climax of the movie, it ultimately makes no sense.  At all.  Even Peter Jackson admits this opening is a cheat.  It’s ostensibly one of the bigger problems with the movie, but honestly it never really bothered me.


Easter Egg Alert!  We learn some backstory about Patricia and her boyfriend, Johnny Bartlett, in a sequence featuring a “real crime” video one of the main characters is watching. This is the cover of the video. The picture of the couple on the left is supposed to be a photo of Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as their characters in Jackson’s previous movie, Heavenly Creatures.


Patricia’s mother the very next morning after the above opening sequence and she’s sporting a hairdo in what looks to be an unsubtle homage to Gary Oldman in Coppola’s Dracula which was only 4 years before this.


Michael J Fox plays Frank Bannister. A man that has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts.  As I mentioned he uses this ability to con people by working with ghosts to haunt houses so they have to hire him to “exorcise” the ghosts.  Fox is pretty great as the lead.


These are the ghosts that work with Frank; Cyrus and Stuart. Cyrus is a 70s disco gangster and he’s played by the great Chi McBride. Stuart is sort of a nerdy guy played by Jim Fyfe who, to me, is probably best known for hosting/producing those “Buy Me That!” series of PSAs about how commercials use camera trickery to make their products appear more attractive.


This is another ghost working with Frank, “The Judge”. Judge is an Old West gunslinger/sheriff played by John Astin.  He is sort of decrepit, his ectoplasm is drying up, and he has trouble keeping his jawbone in.


Frank starts seeing spectral numbers carved into people’s heads.  At first he thinks his ghost associates did it but we learn they didn’t.


Great cameo by R Lee Ermey as Sgt Hiles. He protects the cemetery and is essentially playing his character from Full Metal Jacket.


Here’s the ghost that Frank is up against. This ghost is killing people by appearing out of the walls and squeezing their hearts until they die.  The Judge calls him the Soul Collector.


Jeffrey Combs is excellent as Special Agent Dammers. Dammers is an expert in parapsychology. His work with cults has rendered him a bit…insane.


At one point The Judge humps a mummy.


“Dr Teeth” Jake Busey plays Johnny Bartlett with much scenery chewing.

Those are just some of the highlights.  Like I said, I quite adore this movie.  Fox is great.  I think, for the most part, the effects are great, especially for 1996.  And it’s got this fun horror-comedy vibe that I just dig.

The movie does pose several questions in the nature of it’s ghosts.  One of the biggest issues I’ve had for years is that the ghost that’s committing the murders is WAY more powerful than ghosts like Stuart and Cyrus.  As a matter of fact, Sgt Hiles also seems way more powerful than Stuart and Cyrus.  Why is there a difference?  Are there different classes of ghosts?  What are the rules?  The movie doesn’t really spell any of that out.  For the most part, this lack of clarity doesn’t really hurt the movie, but those of us that have watched it many times can’t help but wonder what’s up.

I acquired the movie novelization to The Frighteners which is written by Michael Jahn.  I was hoping it would address some of my concerns.  On Monday check out my review of said novelization on a brand new episode of I Read Movies where we’ll see if any of this ghost business is explained.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: Thirt13n Ghosts (2001)

Posted in Genres, ghosts, horror, monsters, movies, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2017 by Paxton

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Thirteen Ghosts from 2001 was a remake of a 1960 William Castle movie by the same name.  The remake took the basic story by Robb White and “modernized” it.  It was directed by Steve Beck who only has one other directing credit to his name…Ghost Ship.  From the very next year.  Not a stellar resume, to be sure.

13 Ghosts poster

Back in 2001, I was actually excited to see Thirteen Ghosts (aka Thirt13n Ghosts).  It looked like a cool stylized modern horror movie.  It had an awesome glass walled clockwork house and Shannon Elizabeth.  I had (actually have) quite a crush on Ms Elizabeth.  In 2001, the run up of movies she was in before this included American Pie, Scary Movie, American Pie 2, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.  And she was…well, if not a great actress, she was likable enough.  And she is super attractive.

I remember kind of liking this movie when I saw it in the theater.  It wasn’t the greatest movie I’d ever seen but I remember liking the concept and the world the movie inhabited.

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As you can see this movie follows Se7en‘s lead of embedding numbers stylistically into the title.

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F Murray Abraham plays Cyrus, a genius/psychotic ghost hunter obsessed with trapping ghosts.  He uses these glasses to actually “see” the ghosts which is a neat little inside joke to the original 13 Ghosts from 1960.  William Castle passed out glasses to audiences which allowed them to “see” ghosts in the theater.

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Matthew Lillard and his favorite thick sweater (he loves those sweaters – see Scream, right) is in this movie as well playing a psychic that helps Cyrus trap the ghosts.  And also like in Scream, he loves to SHOUT ALL OF HIS LINES.  And yes, he says “Aw, man…” a few times.  Honestly, I’m poking fun at Matthew a bit, but I’m a fan of his.

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At the center of this movie is Cyrus’ house. It’s designed to exacting specifications as seen in the book The Arcanum. The entire house’s purpose is to hold and store ghosts until it’s time to release them and start up “the machine” that exists in the middle of the house. All the construction materials and inscriptions in the glass are specifically to trap the ghosts inside.


This is Cyrus’ surviving family. Tony Shaloub is Cyrus’ brother-in-law, Shannon Elizabeth is Shaloub’s daughter and the chick on the left is the nanny for the little boy in the movie which I’m not showing you a picture.  They come to inherit the house when Cyrus dies capturing a ghost.

The Jackal ghost
There are 13 types of ghosts needed by Cyrus to pull off what he wants to do. They are referred to as The Black Zodiac.  This ghost is called “The Jackal”. It’s one of the more terrifying ghost designs.  Each of these ghosts were designed by the filmmakers and given complete backstories.  One of the things I love about this movie is how they really thought about the world this movie inhabits and really tried to flesh out some of the backstory even if that backstory would never be seen actually in the movie (see book pages below).  Wish they would have given this type of thought to the actual script.

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Pages from The Arcanum.  It’s in The Arcanum that is described the 13 types of ghosts.  The one on the left is the most powerful ghost called “The Juggernaut”.  The middle one is “The Jackal”.  The ghost on the right is called “The Hammer”.


All 12 ghosts gathered around the device about to open a portal to Hell.

So, watching it again, I feel the same.  The movie isn’t exactly terrible.  There are certain aspects like the house, the ghosts, how the machine works, that I like.  But other things like the script and the majority of the actors are just not very good.  Normally you’d think Tony Shaloub would be great, but he’s not.  He’s not terrible either.  But he’s not good.  And Shannon Elizabeth is barely in the movie.  The ones that get to really chew some scenery are F Murray Abraham and Matthew Lillard.  They get to have all the fun here.  And there’s a great set piece in the opening of the movie where they capture a ghost.  It’s thrilling and action packed.  Wish the rest of the movie could have been the same way.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2017: Casting the Runes and other Ghost Stories by MR James

Posted in books, Classic literature, Genres, ghosts, Halloween, holiday, horror, monsters, pop culture with tags , , , on October 4, 2017 by Paxton

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Doing research for ghosts I looked up scariest ghost stories to see what popped up that I want to cover. The name M.R. James kept showing up in lists.

MR James

He’s a very well respected author from the late 19th-early 20th century.  Most of his work with ghost stories shows up in the early 1900s.  James began what is now called “antiquarian ghost stories”.  James abandoned the high “Gothic” cliches of what was then the presiding style of ghost stories and set his stories in a more contemporary setting.  He also generally used a protagonist that was a naive or very reserved scholarly gentleman who had found or come into possession of a mysterious object that drives the crux of the story.

There have been several collections of James’ ghost stories, so I picked one that had the most variety but also one that included several that were generally considered his best.  Hello Oxford World’s Classics edition.

Casting the Runes cover

In this collection, the main ones I wanted to read were Casting the Runes, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, and A Warning for the Curious. I also planned to cherry pick a few others depending on how much I liked what I read first.

So, I read the stories, what do I think?  Honestly, the stories just didn’t grab me.  There’s some interesting things James is doing, but none of them connected with me.  I read the story, liked the setup, but nothing ever creeped me out or scared me.  I came in fully expecting to be terrified of these stories but…nope.  Nothing.  I think James is a good writer, but for whatever reason, these just didn’t punch those specific creepy buttons for me.  I was more scared when I reread those old Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books than I ever was here.

This is a shame because I really was excited to read these stories for some good creepy fun.



Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.

AWESOME-tober-fest 2016: Jason X (2001) review

Posted in Friday the 13th, Genres, Halloween, holiday, horror, Jason Vorhees, movies, nostalgia with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2016 by Paxton

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Yesterday for my “greatest hits of AWESOME-tober-fest” week, I looked at the novelization for the movie Jason X, of which I am a fan.  I thought maybe for Fangoria Movie Friday I should revisit the movie itself and see if I do still, in fact, enjoy it.  A 15 years later retrospective on a very maligned movie.

In the late 90s, when Freddy vs Jason was still in “development hell”, Friday the 13th creator Sean Cunningham wanted to make another Jason movie to continue fostering interest in the character. Writer Todd Farmer pitched “Jason in space” and develpment began on what would become the 10th Friday the 13th movie, Jason X.

Jason X poster

The movie starts off in 2010. Jason has been captured by the government and kept in the Crystal Lake Research Facility. They have been testing his ability to regenerate tissue and stay alive. After several failed attempts to kill him it is decided to put him in cryo stasis, but certain other shadowy government departments want him for further study so they prep him for transfer to another facility. However, Jason escapes and kills nearly everyone. One of the researchers, Rowan, traps him in the cryo chamber, but Jason pierces the chamber with his machete and both Jason and Rowan are trapped in cryo sleep as the facility goes into lockdown mode.

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Over 445 years later, a scientific team stumbles upon the two and transports them to their ship. The crew revive Rowan from cryo sleep with nanotechnology and just as she is about to warn them about Jason he revives and starts killing all of the scientists. Rowan and the few survivors must figure out a way to stop Jason and get off the ship before it is destroyed.

That’s the elevator pitch, there’s a little bit more to it. But not much.  Getting this out of the way, the movie is ultra low budget.  Especially for being in space.  The actors are mostly unknowns but the lead girl, Rowan, was on Andromeda, as was one other cast member.  The cast is as good as any other standard Friday the 13th.  The kills are pretty good.  One of the more infamous being the “liquid nitrogen head smash”.

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For the characters, Rowan is pretty good as the female lead. The other “lead” if you want to call her that is an android a la Data from Star Trek: TNG named KM-14. You also get the typical smattering of other character types; “the tough military sergeant”, “the computer dork” and “the outspoken one with loose morals”. They work as well as any of the other F13 movies. Certainly no worse than Jason Takes Manhattan or New Beginning.  But saying “they work as well” and “they are good and interesting characters” are two different things.  They do what they need to do but they aren’t great.

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As far as the story goes, I like the idea of the government wanting to test the captured Jason’s supernatural healing abilities. He has this ability to regenerate after nearly 100% damage. Of course the government is going to want to study him.  I also like the idea of trapping people on a spaceship with a hunting Jason. You can tell the premise of this movie was “borrowed” from Alien. As a plot device, for me, it works.  What also works for me is the idea of Uber Jason.  Towards the end of the movie, the android character gets “an upload”, becomes Rambo and “kills” Jason by shooting off his leg, part of his rib cage and part of his head.  And despite the fact that Jason hasn’t died from some seemingly fatal wound at least 5 times before this, everyone assumes he’s dead.  Then the damaged medical station thinks Jason needs to be fixed so it takes over and rebuilds Jason.  As a cyborg.

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And so is born the best thing in this movie, Uber Jason.  We get precious little time with Uber Jason.  He’s awesome and should have been onscreen more than 20 minutes.  He’s relentless and kills gloriously.  The movie really picks up and seems more fun once Uber Jason is on the scene.  Here’s a nice gallery of Uber Jason pics.

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At one point they trap Uber Jason in a simulated 1980 Camp Crystal Lake environment.  He gets to kill two simulated co-eds by smacking their sleeping bags against a tree.  It’s a pretty great homage to past movies (the sleeping bag stunt was done back in Part VII).

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So, is this a great movie? No, not really. But it’s fun. It has fun with the concept of Jason and the idea to move him into outer space and turn him into a futuristic cyborg Jason was a clever idea. Did everything 100% work? No, of course not. The budget is uber cheap and you get what you pay for with the actors. But I had fun with what the filmmakers were trying to do and I still say I enjoy this movie.


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Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.