Thursday, April 21, 2011

Haunted "Houses"

I will say again that I don't like top ten lists. I tend to like--at least a little--almost everything that I see, so it's hard for me to decide what goes first and what goes last, especially when it's been awhile since I've seen something. That said, here is a list of 12ish notable haunted "something" movies I've seen in the last few years. I have defined the parameters of what is haunted and what is a house to suit my own purposes.

In no particular order:

In the Mouth of Madness (John Carpenter, 1994)--This is more like a haunted town movie. And it's more demon-possessed than haunted. But maybe all ghosts are demons anyway, so whatever. This film was craaaazy intense. It's about the power of the written word, or something. I need to watch it again.

The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 2008)--Aha! This will get you talking. I know everybody hates this film and will probably debate its inclusion in a list like this, but it definitely had the feel of a haunted house movie to me. Except that the world is haunted. By plants. Ooooooooh! Yes, the ending was a bit of a fizzler, but up to that point, when you still don't know what the hell is going on, it's golden. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I have not yet given up on M. Night, no siree.

The Orphanage (Juan Bayona, 2007)--If you haven't seen this, I don't want to say too much to risk ruining any bit of it. But the way it turns the traditional ghost story on its head is wonderful/chilling. And the ending even more so. It's a bit like The Others in its mood, though the story is completely different. WATCH IT. And tell me what you think.

Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987)--Yes, I know the catalyst is the cube, but the portal to Hell ultimately is in the house, and all the nasty things that happen in the house happen just like they do in haunted house movies. The Cenobites--man, there's some crazy sh**. Those guys don't mess around. This is a classic, and Pinhead is a classic character. Say what you will about the eighties, but those folks knew how to manage a horror franchise. We haven't had iconic horror characters like the eighties gave us before or since.

Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)--Yeah, you're all like "Damn, why didn't I think of that one?" It's because you have no imaginations, that's why. You realize this film was entirely stop-motion animation? It blew me away when I read that, because it's clean and smooth and ambitious. I will say here that I am a big stop-motion animation fan--from Faust and Alice to Wallace and Gromit to Clash of the Titans to Davey and freakin' Goliath, I'll watch it all. The amount of work that goes into stop-motion demands my respect almost every time I watch it, and it always fascinates me. But back to Coraline. Stylistically beautiful, and cohesive narratively (thanks, Neil!), this film doesn't miss the mark much.

Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 (Oren Peli/Tod Williams, 2007/2010)--The first one was fun and scary, the second even better. But the second is only better because of the first. Sort of like Kill Bill. They need to go together to get the most out of them. I loved how the second fleshed out the first with details about the characters from the first film, but without detracting from the second. It's rare for a horror sequel to be distinct but compatible with its forbear in the way PA2 was. It's hard to impress me with a horror film these days, but I was impressed here.

Cube (Vincenzo Natali, 1997)--Oh, I know, I know. But you have to admit this has the feel of a haunted house film. The terror is unseen and seemingly ubiquitous. Same kinds of thrills as a haunted house. Only it's a cube.

Night at the Museum (Shawn Levy, 2006)--What? They come alive at night and no one ever sees them! If they're not haunted, what are they?

Walled In (G. Paquet-Brenner, 2009)--Okay, this isn't really a haunted house movie, but it makes you think that it is, and it's got one of the best locations for a horror film I've seen in a long time. It takes place in this really creepy concrete apartment building in the middle of nowhere. I actually wouldn't be surprised if the whole movie was written for the location.

Blackbeard's Ghost (Robert Stevenson, 1968)--Blackbeard haunts a book, sort of, but the inn is named after him, so it's fair to say (I think) that his ghost is attached to a location. Disney made a bunch of great live action films in the sixties and seventies that no one has ever heard of. It's a shame that the animation, good as it is, always gets all the glory. This movie is a bit of all-around, rollicking good fun. John, if you haven't seen it with your girls, you must.

Castle of Blood (Corbucci/Margheriti, 1964)--Edgar Allan Poe appears as a character in the beginning of the film, which claims to be based on a short story of his (but isn't). A man interacts with a bunch of ghosts while trying to survive a night in a haunted house. It's got a bit of that odd sixties Italian horror vibe going for it, but there are also some truly tense scenes. It's immensely entertaining. I got to see this at the Dryden with Adrienne awhile back.

Ghosts of Edendale (Stefan Avalos, 2003)--I probably shouldn't include this because I don't remember much about it other than I enjoyed it, but I wanted to give some indie film props to Avalos, who crafts a solid story with believable effects on a limited budget. Throw in some Hollywood film history, and you've got something distinct and worthy of a recommendation.

Now for a few comments on the previously mentioned titles...
The Shining--YES! Not on my list because it's not a top ten list! But one of the best out there! Awww, snap!
Poltergeist--Enjoyed it, but not really scary. ET was better, Spielberg. And pretty much everything else you've written or directed.
The Others--Also YES. The ending was a complete surprise to me. I showed it to my wife, who is NOT a horror fan, and she liked it. It's true that there should be more horror films like it. But not all of them, because I need my severed heads, you know.
1408--liked it, but unremarkable. I think I'd watch it again, though.
I've only seen the remake of The Haunting, if you can believe it. I liked the special effects.

Other stuff:
I had to watch the ending of Zodiac three times because I kept falling asleep. I know Brandon has said he needed to give it another go before he could really appreciate it, but I'm not sure I want to take the chance.
Eastern Promises: good film, but...Viggo's junk. His JUNK, man.
No Country: great film, but sheesh. Let's talk about something else already. Or at least something else by the Coen brothers besides that and True Grit. And Lebowski. Like, for example, HUDSUCKER PROXY, which might be my favorite Coen brothers film. You know, for kids.
Watch Hot Fuzz, Jeff. It's some all-around, rollicking good fun.
I should watch The Fugitive again. I really liked it the first time I saw it at the theater.

Brandon, I have a very short "Movies I Don't Like But Think I Should" list. Can you guess what's on it?
I even watched another of his films--Pierrot le Fou--and liked it better, but still found it pretentious and inaccessible. And what's with him always killing off his protagonists? Stupid. But I feel like a chump saying so because, of course, the first three letters in Godard are...

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