Saturday, April 24, 2010

Orphan (2009) That Is One Creepy Chick

Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed. Macaulay Caulkin in The Good Son. Felissa Rose in Sleepaway Camp.

Probably a good idea to add Isabelle Fuhrman of Orphan to that list of utterly creepy kids in film.

While I was mostly give or take with the film itself, Fuhrman's performance as the titular character, named Esther, was a definite standout. It's a lot to put on the shoulders of a child, but if the theme of the movie is "crazy batshit evil kid," it's expected that the best performance should come from said youngster. Those other actors I mentioned, think about it: you remember them. They carried those movies, and made it look easy. Same with little Miss Fuhrman.

As the story goes, John and Kate Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) are ready to adopt a child after the horrible loss of their youngest child during labor. They already have two children, grumpy pre-teen Danny (Jimmy Bennett) and cute Max (Aryana Engineer), who is also deaf. Through the magic of exposition, we discover that the Coleman family is a flawed family. John apparently cheated on Kate, and Kate herself is a recovering alcoholic. The nightmare Kate has at the beginning tells us about the pain the death of their unborn child caused.

So once John and I'm not going there. Anyway, once John and Kate are approved to adopt, they hit up the local orphanage to scout out the rugrat talent. Who will step up and be perfect kid number three? It isn't long before they're charmed by 9-year-old Esther, a precocious (and I do loathe that word, mind you) little girl hailing from Russia. She says all the right things, paints really well, and seems like the perfect child for sure.

Yeah, right.

It doesn't take long for Esther to start her mind games. She's got some pretty glaring quirks to work through as well, including but not limited to the following:
  • Fierce protectiveness of an odd Bible-like book.
  • NO ONE allowed to touch ribbons on wrists and neck.
  • Absolute, adult-like privacy, especially in bathroom.
  • Obsessive drawing and painting.
  • Well-articulated threats.
  • Bad things seem to just "happen" around her.
  • Staring. A lot of staring.
She's also a hell of a manipulator, zeroing in on the family's weaknesses with little - almost practiced - effort. Most of her evil seems to be focused on Kate with an unusual case of "adopted Electra complex." The "unusual" comes with the twist later in the movie. Esther takes steps to alienate Kate and intimidate the other kids.

She's forward-thinking enough that she knows cutting Kate's orchids - which were dedicated to her stillborn daughter - will send Kate into a frenzy. To add to the effect of her arm being grabbed, Esther puts her own arm in a vice and breaks it. That's dedication to one's craft.

Kate feels insane. She's the only one who seems to notice that something is off about Esther. "Off" is putting it nicely. Esther has the kids so frightened of her, they won't tell. Max witnesses her murdering Sister Abigail (the great CCH Pounder). Esther puts a knife to Danny's twig and berries, threatening to do some pruning if he ever crosses her. No, Kate's not the one who's insane.

In the midst of uncovering Esther's past, Esther nearly kills Danny twice for organizing a mini-uprising with Max: once by setting the treehouse on fire and causing Danny to fall, and once by smothering him with a pillow. Kate lashes out, but is subdued. This leaves Max with her grandmother, Danny barely hanging on to life in the hospital, and Esther...gulp...with John at home.

Now, here's where it gets creepy and somewhat divisive among horror fans. There's no denying that Esther is one creepy chick. What kind of creepy chick is part of the twist that has some fans cheering and others booing.

The twist? Scroll over this to see the spoiler-y words: Esther is actually a 33-year-old woman with hypopituitarism which stunts her growth - in addition, she is also batshit INSANE.

The final showdown between Esther and the Coleman family isn't without some tragedy and some laying down of the smack, and I don't think there'll be a sequel. At least, and this is spoiler material, not with Esther anyway.

I asked quite a few people what they thought of it, and I read some opinions here and there. While not as polarizing as Rob Zombie's Halloween 2, I saw and heard a lot of "oh, I loved it" and "oh, I hated it." Very few stood in the middle. The twist was admittedly a strange kind of deus ex machina, but I didn't have as much trouble with it as I imagined I would. The film looks good, has decent pacing, and is carried by very strong performances from Vera Farmiga and Isabelle Fuhrman. One of the basics of writing a story where it's one entity versus another is that those two parts should be the strongest foundation of building said story. The antagonist and the protagonist should at least appear strong, and in this case, that held up.

So, yeah, Orphan...not great, but definitely not bad. Check it out and form your own opinion.

Until next time, remember, we all have to get along in these shelters, so keep those insane urges to draw inappropriate scenes on your wall that can only be viewed with a black light in check.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chiller Theater Expo 2010: A Few Hours Of Horror Heaven

Hey, there, survivors. The WGON Helicopter landed for the first time in Parsippany, New Jersey, to attend the Chiller Theater Expo, and oh, what a beautiful experience it was, and not just because of Twin Peaks' Sherilyn Fenn:

It was a gathering of pop culture goodness, with the strongest concentrations in horror. The Hilton was packed to the brim with fans that were not only happy to be there, but happy to be amongst others of their kind: horror aficionados that wanted a personal experience with the stars and items of their favorite genre.

Overwhelming? You bet. Mostly in a good way, but "convention regret" did set in. So many things to buy, so many people to meet. Next time, I may have to bring enough money to feed a small country to do everything I wanted to do. In reality, I don't regret a single thing about my first experience there. I just wanted to be there. Any loot I scored was going to be a bonus.

Now, without further ado, some sights from this year's Chiller Theater Expo, starting with cult film legend Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners, Re-Animator):

One of the most charismatic actors, and one who seemed to be entirely charming, William Forsythe (Devil's Rejects, Out For Justice):

Over on b-sol's report on the show, he focused on these dolls as well, but I had to show the awesome Nurse Zombie and Shaun of the Dead dolls on display:

As a young kid, I once had a terrifying night terror about these Zuni dolls from Trilogy of Terror, an incident that steered me towards the excitement and allure of the horror genre:

One of the main reasons I wanted to go was to meet people from the original Dawn of the Dead. There were several to choose from, and I really wanted to interact with them all, but I chose one to get the autograph and picture with using my limited funds. David Crawford, who plays Dr. Foster in the film, has a short part, but delivers some of the most memorable lines in any horror film:

Yeah, that's pretty damn awesome. Well, I have to say David Crawford was equally awesome in person. A friendly, funny guy who offered to "reenact" the scene with me:

Plus, he signed a picture with the exact quote I'd hoped he would include, without me asking:

To me, that was amazing. Thank you, sir!

I also was able to score this sweet print of the British poster of Dawn of the Dead, which features prominently in the British TV series of which I seem to have an obsession, Spaced:

Worth every meager penny spent, Chiller Theater was worth it. You can rest assured that the helicopter will be fired up and flown to it next year, without hesitation.

Until next time, fellow survivors, remember to always hose off the front of your vehicle after plowing through the undead. Trust me on this.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Plague Town (2008) Sometimes "Rustic" Means "Creepy"

In the world of horror, if someone has some real estate they call "rustic," you might want to reconsider what that word means. For this reality, it might mean a beautiful, ancient home or a quaint village, but open the doors and you'll find deformed mutants whose nighttime games include torture and sadism. Oh, and the villagers aren't much help either. So go ahead and try to sell me "rustic" in a horror world. I'll stay in my zombie- and evil mutant child-proof shelter, thank you very much.

Plague Town is a neat little creeper penned by John Cregan and David Gregory, and directed by Gregory, about an unhappy family (plus one cheeky British hanger-on) getting caught in the backwoods of Ireland and stumbling upon the residents of the title town. Sounds pretty straightforward and The Hills Have Eyes-ish, doesn't it? Yeah, it's pretty similar in tone to that early Wes Craven offering, but Plague Town stands well on its own.

In a prologue, we see that this unnamed town has had some kind of curse on it that causes its newborns to be deformed, ugly little mutants. A priest declares that the children must die as they're born, but one father stands up and murders the priest, declaring the children will live.

Jumping into the story proper, in a largely unsuccessful family bonding outing to Ireland, father Jerry (David Lombard), fiancee Annette (Lindsay Goranson - who looks like a younger Sigourney Weaver to me), mouthy oldest daughter Jessica (Erica Rhodes), brooding younger sister Molly (Josslyn DeCrosta), and aforementioned cheeky British hanger-on Robin (James Warke) leave a tour bus to explore the countryside, but not without having sniping family battles. Jess and Robin wander off to make out somewhere and cause the family to miss the bus. Solution? You guessed it. Find the nearest sign of civilization and call for help. Yeah, that always works.

Wandering down an old road, the group stumbles onto an abandoned French car, but not after Molly sees a grinning face leering out of the woods like the Joker saying a quick hello. The family takes shelter in the car. Robin decides to swagger off to look for help, and Jess runs off to catch up with him. They hear laughing and discover a quaint little home, empty when they enter. After almost engaging in a game of Slap and Tickle, they hear sounds and investigate, finding a strange farmer who makes odd advances at Jess. When Robin tries to defend her, the farmer shoots Robin in the face. Jess runs and hides in the woods.

Hearing the gunshot, dad Jerry storms off into the foggy night to look for his daughter. Instead, he finds the same quaint little home, now occupied by two giggling, freakish little girls who like to play games. Creepy games with sharp objects. Oh, and piano wire, which leads to a pretty impressive little death scene when they wrap the wire around Jerry's head and...well, Jerry flips his lid. Heh. Yeah, just kick me now.

Back at the car, Molly and Annette hear strange noises, but refuse to go off into the woods. Pretty good idea for the time being, but short-lived. Several mutant children viciously attack them. In one of the more disturbing scenes, one of the children bludgeons Annette into oblivion (read: in the face) with a hubcap. Molly escapes and tears off into the woods.

In the meantime, Robin is somehow still alive with a massive wound to the face. A woman finds him and takes him back to her home so he can meet "Rosemary," her grandmother. The old lady makes strange allusions that Robin can't leave and that he's meant to meet Rosemary. Oh, and he does. She's a sprightly young thing and as evil mutant girls with the intent to mate and kill go, she's fairly hot. She also has no eyes, save for the fake ones attached to the lace mask on her face. When Robin rejects her, wanting to go get help, they decide he's not the one for her anymore. Robin barely gets away, but by then, grandma's calling in the mutant troops.

Jess, in the meantime, has been strapped to a tree and whipped with branches by the kids until they hear the old lady's alarm to flush Robin out of the woods. Two strapping young lads stay behind to play Throw The Sickle At The Girl for a while, until Molly appears and rescues her sister. Angry and scared, the girls fight back with a vengeance, slaughtering the two boys.

Eventually, Rosemary catches up with Robin, and has one of her brethren thrust a stick into his neck, finally killing him. They weave sticks into his face and eyes, then hang up him to throw objects at him. Really, rejection is not handled well in Plague Town.

Molly and Jess work their way into town, where they find a pregnant woman who pleads with them to take her away. Jess and Molly are subdued by townsfolk, who extract blood from them, wondering if they'll be "cleansed" this time. In another daring attempt at escape, Molly, Jess, and the pregnant woman nearly make it out of town before they're overwhelmed on a bridge. When Molly awakens, she's in a room with three other young girls and a baby with no eyes. One girl is speaking French, presumably from the car found earlier. One girl explains that she's had numerous babies by the townsfolk, each a mutant. It's with this horrible realization that Molly now knows she's intended to be a brood mare, one of many in an attempt for this town to have "normal children."

Plague Town is very low-budget, but very impressive with what is done with that budget. No fancy special effects here. You get creepy lighting and reliable suspense to support the ghastly images and occasional gore. There are a few missteps with the whole thing, most notably the script. Some of the dialogue is noticeable, and not in the best way. That said, it's pretty easy to overlook the silly phrases and strange word choices - as well as some of the shaky camera work - when the creepiness and great pacing keep drawing you in, and that's fine with me. What also struck me was the wonderful score by Mark Raskin: minimal, surreal, and reminiscent of Akira Yamaoka's work on the Silent Hill games.

It's a straightforward movie, offputting and creepy at all the right moments. Give it a chance, and you may like it as well.

Hopefully, I won't land the ol' chopper in a town like this. Got enough to worry about with the undead all over the place. Take care out there, survivors, and you out there in Ireland, don't go wandering into "rustic areas" without taking an axe, or a gun, or...well, you know.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

In The Helicopter Bay 4-8-10

Nice weather + non-horror films in my mail = laziness.

Yeah, I've been slacking again lately, but I'll have more reviews coming soon. In the meantime, it's another edition of The Helicopter Bay while I do some routine cleaning of the chopper. Zombie brains are pretty hard to clean off the blades, but I was showing off during that last rescue.

Onto the tasty tidbits:

* While I had no horror movies to report on, I did manage to see a few others of varying degrees of quality:

didn't fail to disappoint. I knew going in that it was going to be a simple, over-wrought disaster movie. But even the scenes of wanton destruction left me hoping for a more spectacular end to the world. The movie was about an hour too long and was full of convenient deus ex machina. "Oh, hey, he happens to be a pilot!" Yeah, lots of those.

--On the other hand, the brilliant Black Dynamite was like a hidden treasure. Slightly more subtle and closer to a real homage than the very funny I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, the movie was simply a great time with an intentionally so-bad-it's-good script and blink-and-miss sight gags. Highly recommended.

* It's looking more and more likely that a trip will be made to attend this year's Chiller Theater Expo in New Jersey. More details to come because I don't want to jinx it.

* Horror movies are on their way to me now, including Orphan - which I've heard both good an bad things about (mostly bad, to be honest) - and Plague Town, which I know nearly nothing about. I need to take more advantage of the instant watch gimmick on Netflix, too.

* With "The Walking Dead" really moving along as a TV series at AMC, I'd definitely like to write a blog about the comic, as it is quite honestly a brilliant book. Recently, another plague-centered comic, "Crossed," finished up and is about to have a spin-off called "Crossed: Family Values," written by David Lapham and drawn by Javier Barreno. I'd like to do a write-up on the original series before the spin-off is released.

Well, that's about it from here. I'd better get the hose going to spray off the chopper's windshield before it gets too gunky. Take care out there and don't hesitate to radio if you need assistance. That approaching loud recording of Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades" will be me.

Be safe, survivors!

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