Friday, August 26, 2011

Review - Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

I was never really excited for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark but I was curious to see how they would be able to improve on an already cheesy 70’s TV show. When I saw the trailer for it, I thought it looked amazing but at the time I didn’t know it was a remake. As time passed I forgot about the movie until my friend watched the original TV show and said it was really cheesy. So, on the eve of its premiere, I was beginning to show a little excitement. This was a chance for the filmmaker and Guillermo (as the producer) to construct an homage to 70’s horror where the music and the mood are the scariest pieces. In the end, I walked out of the theater with a feeling of “eh.” It certainly isn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. It was okay. The film centers on a father, his young daughter and a stepmother who is NOT evil like any other horror movie. The young daughter, Sally, begin hearing voices coming from an old gated up hole in the basement. The voices say they want to be her friend but she quickly learns they want to attack her. Thinking that his daughter is crazy, the dad believes all the attacks are staged by Sally to get attention. Sally’s dislike for his new wife may have been the cause of that, however, the “no so evil” stepmother does a little sleuthing and finds out that little creatures that eat the teeth of young children inhabit the house.

One of the biggest problems that I had with the film, and it doesn’t tarnish the entire movie, was the willingness to show the creatures in extreme detail. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with a movie that feels like a demonic version of The Borrowers but I didn’t need to see all the details. By doing a Google search on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, it seems as though the original did the same thing. The beginning of the movie has a man, named Blackwood, who chiseled his teeth and his maid’s teeth out and offered them to the creatures in exchange for his son. While in the process of sticking his head through that hole in the wall, something grabs him, we hear screams and then his entire body gets sucked into it. That was creepier than anything else in the movie. By showing your monster too much, you lessen the scare value and it reveals just how funny the creature or creatures are. I think if we saw small movement, or even a silhouette running in the shadows, it would have built up a better mood. If they had to show you what the creatures looked like, I think the best part to do so would be when Sally is lifting up her bed sheets and one of them pops out. It’s fast, it shows you it’s face and it’s a great teaser.

Perhaps Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was marketed for horror fans that are within the R-rating. I can’t help but think of Insidious when I talk about it because they both seem to rely heavily on the same scare techniques of the 70’s, loud abrupt orchestral pieces and a very definitive mood. As a side note, I wonder why Insidious got a PG-13 and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark got an R? There wasn’t any swearing any either of them from what I remember. However, in the case of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, it wasn’t so much moody as it was loud noises. I’m fine with that because a lot of horror flicks use the loud noises to scare it’s audience but what made Insidious so good was the mood and it’s willingness to use silence as a means of scaring the audience. For younger horror fans, loud noises and foreboding music works and it’s a staple in the horror genre, I just wish they did something a little more different.

With all that said, and this goes for Insidious too, I love that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark isn’t just your typical haunted house movie but rather something much more with a creature that is very reminiscent of old world demonology. The tooth-snagging creatures could be interpreted as teeth fairies seeing as how they steal your teeth and leave a piece of silver in it’s place. They almost seem like they drew inspiration from Medieval and Colonial takes on fairies where they were seen as monsters or demons that attacked children. I love that idea that there are things that live within the walls of my home, which is why that line, “Are you feeding that thing that lives in the wall again?” from People Under the Stairs freaked me out. I know this is a remake and I’m sure all this more appropriately applies to the original but I haven’t seen it yet, so I am basing all my assumption on the remake.

All in all, it wasn’t a near-flawless movie but it was still entertaining at times. I guess what separates me from a majority of the new horror fans is that I like it when the monster is left to your imagination. On the way back from the theater, my friend leaned over to me and told me that it would have been far creepier if they only revealed the creatures in the forms of the drawings. I couldn’t agree more. Otherwise, the acting is what you’d expect from a horror movie but the little girl was fantastic. It always seems to be the case. The mansion was creepy and I felt like it owned something to The Haunting remake. I also really enjoyed the bitter ending; I didn’t expect it and it was pretty cold. I won’t spoil it but it’s pretty sad. I wouldn’t rush out to see it but it’s a good movie to watch if you have surround sound and have nothing better to do on a dark stormy night.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Children of the… Grendel?

It’s not very often that you get a chance to see a horror flick where the children are the enemy. It’s not very often you get a chance to see the children being possessed by a renegade kid who speaks of some mystical deity. It’s also not very often that you see children worshiping a false god while living in a secluded section of their town contemplating on killing their parents. I am of course not talking about Children of the Corn, but rather a cult classic from Troma Entertainment called Beware! Children at Play. It would be easy to get the two confused since their premise is pretty similar although if anything, Troma’s movie acts as sort of a prequel to what would be Children of the Corn. Renegade children being led by somebody who is clearly out of his mind, although there doesn’t seem to be any real hint of supernaturalism in Troma’s movie. But the similarities between the two movies are uncanny and I think that Troma did a somewhat good job of parodying King’s story.

Children of the Corn takes place somewhere in Nebraska and Beware! Children at Play takes place somewhere in the rural South. People who have a strong belief in Christianity apparently populate both towns but it’s never directly seen in Children of the Corn… only stated. Each town is secluded from any type of large populated area and people that stumble into it have that city quality to them. In Children of the Corn, the couple that ends up getting involved with everything seems to have that city quality to them considering they are on their way to Seattle. In Beware! Children at Play, though I don’t think the protagonist family ever states where they are from I think they scream “suburbia” in just the way they dress. While most of the town’s men dress in plaid flannel shirts, t-shirts, overalls or work coats, the father of the family is wearing a nice blue polo shirt. I think these are all just really over-analyzed observations that I am making, but the real similarities are when comparing the two groups of brainwashed children.

See, both groups of kids are seriously screwed up and believe in their leaders insane rambling, however it makes more sense in Children of the Corn because there is actually a supernatural creature that lives in the corn. Further investigation states that the monster is actually one of King’s great villains known as Randall Flagg who appears as the main antagonist in The Stand. In Beware! Children at Play, there doesn’t really appear to be any type of supernatural force. Some kid, 10 years prior to the film’s current setting, decides to become a cannibal after eating his literature-teaching father who was caught in a bear trap for survival. Now that somehow gave this kid incentive to kidnap the rest of the town’s kids to brainwash them by reciting Beowulf lines. It makes no sense but I guess in this world, young rural children are easily persuaded into killing and eating their parents by simply reading Beowulf. Their base of operations looks like a kid-friendly reenactment of a Native American village with teepees and bonfire pits. I get it, it probably looks makeshift because the movie is very indie and honestly I can’t complain about it.

But what about the leaders of both groups? Well, before I get into that lets talk about their “martyr” so to speak. The children in the corn worship a god named “He Who Walks Behind the Rows,” and their sub-god (I guess) is the Blue Man who happens to be the rotting corpse of a mailman. It’s creepy and very disturbing. Now, the children of Grendel worship their leader named Glen Randall (bad pun) and their “sub-god” appears to be the rotting corpse of Glen’s dad, the one who got his foot caught in the bear trap. It’s not disturbing so much as it makes you say, “Oh you kids and your crazy fads.” The similarities between The Blue Man and Glen’s dad is pretty uncanny because they are both rotting corpses who are being hunt on crosses that oversee the entire camp. Now the leader of the children of the corn is Isaac, who happens to be one of the creepiest ominous kids in the horror genre. His right-hand man is Malachi, the long red-haired teen who swings his machete around screaming, “Outlander!” The children of Grendel’s leader is also some long-haired teen who doesn’t seem to pose any type of threat and doesn’t, in any way, look scary or ominous. Other than using kids to kidnap women to rape, his motivations aren’t as creepy as Isaac’s or Malachi’s. They even go as far as to shout the same infamous quote, “Outlander!”

I don’t think I also mentioned that both cults are set up in a relatively secluded area of the town; a cornfield and the woods. But you know what Children of the Corn was missing that Beware! Children at Play had? That’s right, a montage of pointless child homicide. Yep, the townsfolk are convinced that God has turned their kids against them as a test to see if they will kill them in his name… they are that deluded over the bible. I think they even recite a story in the bible, the story of Abraham who killed his son to prove his allegiance to God. So the townsfolk gather their things, invade the camp and begin shooting, maiming, stabbing and cutting their children in one of the most hilariously bad massacres I’ve ever seen. I’m kidding; Children of the Corn didn’t need that because it was actually good. As much as this movie is really bad, I found myself enjoying it at times because it has that distinct 80’s low-budget feel that makes me feel all nostalgic.