Horror mini-reviews (1 of 3)

Here's the first entry of my horror marathon. I managed to watch a big chunk of the horror films on my list, so I decided to divide my collection of mini-reviews into 3 posts, to be published during the end of October.

By the way, if you are not into horror, check out October's other mini-reviews, you might have missed. (link).

Scores of 7.4 or above are recommendations. I've tried to write mini-reviews without spoilers:

Sweeney Todd (2007)
The idea of horror and musical I was new to. Very well-performed, but I personally don't like the concept, and I think it was waaay too long at two hours. I'm not really a big fan of musicals. Depp is an excellent singer, better than Helena Bonham Carter is, anyway. After an hour I was bored with this one. The only surprises were in the last 5 minutes. All style and no substance.
I thought about giving it a very low rating, that would be unfair. Points for atmosphere, risk-taking, and singing. I like Tim Burton, but Sweeney Todd is simply not for me.
Rating 6.8

Hellraiser (1987)
Haunted house movie. Started out promisingly, quickly goes in a weird direction. It is quite entertaining, original and memorable. The pinhead character on the poster doesn't feature as prominently as I was expecting, he receives 15 minutes of screen time tops. That means when he does appear, he is all the more watchable.
A couple of minor things bothered me. Why doesn't she just go to the blood bank? Why do some characters speak British and others with an American accent? Never seen any of these actors before. There are a few well-made scenes, even though the special effects are not the greatest. Worth a watch, if you like horror, despite being unintentionally funny at times.
Judging from the trailer of the 1988 sequel, part 2 reveals things that are only hinted at in the 1987 original.
Rating 7.4

Children of The Corn (1984)
Adaptation of a Stephen King short story. Corn fields are really scary, because you can't see who's hiding in there. You have to ask yourself, what pushes these children to do these things? A 'what if' scenario.
Seems to be popular to hate on this film, I was entertained and definitely not the worst horror film you'll see, but I would have given the film a higher score, if it hadn't included a tonal shift for the last 20 minutes. There was really no need for that, and deserved a more mature conclusion that fits with rest of movie. Stephen King, I'm blaming you. King didn't like the movie adaptation.
Rating 6.5

Altered States (1980)
A smart, dazzling, and intense horror film directed by Ken Russell, starring William Hurt as a scientist obsessed with discovering mankind's true role in the universe. Both the novel and the film are based on John C. Lilly's sensory deprivation research conducted in isolation tanks under the influence of psychoactive drugs like ketamine and LSD.
A love it or hate it kind of deal, I thought it was overwhelming and captivating. The highlights of the film are a handful of stream-of-consciousness scenes, very imaginative and totally batshit crazy! The stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the best comparison I could come up with. Also there is a segment in the zoo which is very memorable.
To me, what holds Altered States back from being a masterpiece is the familiar path of taking an experiment too far, and that's been done before.
Favorite quote: "She prefers the senseless pain we inflict on each other, to the pain we would otherwise inflict on ourselves. But I'm not afraid of solitary pain".
Rating 7.8

The Beyond (1981)
Dubbed in English, my first foray into the world of Lucio Fulci, Italian horror director. Many have called this his best film and named it a cult classic. I was left with more questions than answers. Why does this guy keep shooting at the body of zombies, when he knows they only die from head shots? Why are the police not called? The story doesn't make sense, maybe it's a nightmare? Why doesn't the guy move when he sees the spiders are crawling on him? Who knocked over the acid onto the woman in the morgue? It is suspenseful, atmospheric, and genuinely creepy. The gore-filled murder sequences are at times unwatchable, especially the spider eating a guy's face. The effects are well-done, but I personally prefer a more restrained approach to horror that has more characterization. The gore genre is more about the effects than the characters. Was quite enjoyable, though.
As another reviewer writes, the cast are just there to be killed in various gore soaked ways. The film has a haunting ending, which stays with you.
I just wonder if the problems I had with the inconsistencies of the story were intentionally dream-like illogical situations, or simply sloppy filmmaking? Either way, mandatory viewing for any horror movie fan.
Rating 7.5

Practical Magic (1998)
I don't even know what genre this is, fantasy? Didn't win me over, probably more of a girl movie. Besides Nicole Kidman's boyfriend trouble, there was little else to latch onto.
The very loose structure of the plot will not appeal to all, perhaps this is exactly what the fanbase like about it.
The soundtrack to me often felt out of place. Reportedly cost $75 million, what did the budget go towards?
Rating 6.2

Don't Torture A Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino) (1972)
Italian giallo film dubbed in English. (giallo=crime fiction and mystery)
At first, the narrative shifts about a lot, so tough to get to grips with. Basically a whodunit murder mystery with many potential suspects.
The music is quite eerie and creates a sense of dread.
There is one nasty torture scene involving chains, and one other body horror scene, but overall not as gory as director Lucio Fulci's later zombie films.
Quite involving, and keeps you guessing to the end. The focus is on storytelling, and to a lesser extent on gore.
Rating 7.5

Zombieland (2009)
Quotable horror comedy. Love the early part of the film, worth it for that alone. Does become less and less funny after the 40 minute mark. Bill Murray cameo wasn't as effective as it should have been in my opinion. You care about the main characters and their survival. Enjoyable, light entertainment. Not really scary, because tongue-in-cheek. The rules on how to survive the zombie apocalypse was a fun idea. Cult classic potential.
Favorite quotes: "This woman could have avoided becoming a human happy meal"
"You are scary happy..."
Rating 7.5

Ghost Stories (Kwaidan) (1964) 
Atmospheric and colorful. Surprised I'd never heard of it until recently. Above are a selection of beautiful screenshots from the film. An anthology of four fantasy/horror stories that have a timeless quality, and a slow building tension. Based on Japanese folk tales. My first thought, is this horror, or a Samurai movie?
The stories are not connected, and each makes you think. My favorite was the tale in the snow. A couple of the sunsets look like background set pieces, which took some of the magic away for me, but mostly the film is gorgeous to look at.
I don't think it succeeds as horror (and I'm not even sure it was attempting to be frightening?), but it definitely is a one-of-a-kind experience I recommend.
Won the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Part of the Criterion Collection.
Rating 7.9

Agree or disagree? Have you watched any of these? Which horror films did you see this month?


  1. I agree about Murrey's cameo in Zombieland - it's massively overrated. Sorry you didn't like Practical Magic or Sweeney Todd more, those were in my top 100 since I watched them for the first time :)

    1. @Sati: The Bill Murray scenes felt kind of forced to me. I think Practical Magic is an acquired taste, it has a very unusual mood.

      I didn't see Sweeney Todd until now, because I knew I didn't like musicals. For those who enjoy the genre, I'm sure it's alright.

  2. Sorry you didn't care for Sweeney Todd, but I'm glad you liked the performances and the singing. Ghost Stories (Kwaidan) looks great. I'm adding it to my watchlist.

    1. @Josh: I could admire the singing of Sweeney Todd for sure, I'm just not a musical buff, even the famous ones like Singing in the Rain I don't get excited about. I do love Wizard of Oz, though!

      Ghost Stories (Kwaidan) is kind of under-the-radar, curious to read your reaction!

  3. Oh shit, I'm going to watch Kwaidan this weekend for my own Halloween marathon that is currently ongoing at this moment.

    1. @thevoid99: Look forward to your review of Kwaidan ! Have to check out your Halloween marathon too.

  4. Practical Magic is definitely a woman's power film. Its a film basically about women having the power to be able to fight men who brutalise them - a very important topic for women. I adore that film and all my female friends do as well. (The midnight margaritas scene is one of my favourite cinema moments)
    As for its budget, you have three academy award winning actresses there, one of them (Diane Weiss) has won two academy awards and the third (Stockard Channing) has won a Tony award. All four of them have won many Emmy's. They are four of the greatest living actresses - and that don't come cheap!
    Great Post! Im not into the Halloween thing, but I LOVED being reminded of Practical magic! Thanks heaps!

  5. @Lisa: Thanks for your comment on Practical Magic. Yes I agree it's about power to be able to fight men who brutalise them.
    I also wondered whether it was a subtle gay themed movie, in that they talk about 'coming out' and accepting themselves as a witch. Not that the girls ARE lesbians necessarily, just that gays might relate.
    I took a look at the wikipedia page, and the $75 mill budget is partly the salaries, but apparently the filmmakers built a house by the ocean, which was pulled down after the movie was released.

    1. I like your idea about the gay theme - I can see that. It's a good call. What a shame they pulled the house down! I would have loved to live in it. Its gorgeous.

    2. Thanks Lisa, I think it's a valid interpretation, despite not being as obvious as femaile power you mentioned. That house is gorgeous, I agree.

  6. That's an interesting list :) But, what's not interesting is I'm yet to watch some films from the list, which I intend to do soon. Great post.

    Here's my blog - Do check out sometime - http://movieroundup.in/

    1. @Haricharan Pudipeddi: Thanks for showing an interest!

      Shall take a look at your link.

  7. In The Beyond, David Warbeck keeps shooting at their bodies because he refuses to accept that they are the dead brought back to life, he is a man of logic. You're right though, there are loads of inconsistencies and I feel that that is due to it having the atmosphere of a nightmare. Just as in a nightmare you can never run away quick enough, the bloke can't escape the spiders (even the pipecleaner ones). The way that Fulci dwells on inconsequential details also adds to this feeling. More evidence for it being a nightmare is the way that they end up back in the basement at the end even though it is miles away from the hospital. The ending as you say definitely stays with you, the music is stunning. It is one for gore fans but I think it has more to offer than just gore. It feels like a trip into hell.

    Kwaidan looks great too but I'm not that keen on anthologies. Still, might give it a go.

    1. @keith: You make some solid observations, the change of place at the ending, and not being able to escape spiders, I agree both point towards the film as a nightmare. I liked the film, even though I'm not a fan of gore. The blindness aspect was also quite interesting, and may have a secret meaning.

  8. Embarrassed to admit, Zombieland is the only one I've seen! That's a shocker. Need to see Children of the Corn and Hellraiser for sure!

    1. @Pete Turner: Good luck! Hellraiser is good and worth a watch. Children of the Corn has an interesting premise, but is not essential viewing in my opinion.

  9. Good stuff, Chris. I have similar thoughts on Hellraiser and Children of the Corn. In fact, I liked the first Hellraiser enough that I immediately jumped into the sequel. Let's just say that I didn't get any further than that one. Not good at all.

    I really want to see Altered States. Sounds like a film I would love.

    1. @Eric: I don't often go for horror sequels, that Hellraiser 2 trailer has me curious. Sequel probably isn't as good as it appears.

      Altered States is worth seeking out, not for everyone, sure stayed with me.

  10. I'm glad to see Kwaidan appears as the high point of your mini-reviews,Chris.My favorite story is the monk without his ears.

    I need to see more Giallo films,man,the only director whose work I've seen is Dario Argento,but I know there are many more there.

    1. @David: Thanks for recommending Kwaidan for your 20 criterion horror list, I wouldn't have discovered it otherwise.

      I haven't watched that many Giallo either, I think they were popular in Italy in the 70s. I particularly like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). Don't Torture A Duckling is a good one too, that I listed here.

  11. Sweeney Todd just didn't work for me. Altered States was inspired, although it passed my "suspension of disbelief" line when it got into physical changes, rather than just mental. I saw Practical Magic and don't remember much other than a joke about cursing someone with chicken pox. I liked Zombieland a lot. The graphics on the screen to emphasize the rules were the capper.

    1. @Chip Lary: Altered States isn't too realistic, I don't think we should take it at face value, because he's taking drugs and maybe having a mental break-down. Perhaps the director was trying to make the audience feel like we are inside his warped mind.
      Zombieland was a fun watch, I also enjoyed the graphics on the screen.


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