IT (2017)

A fear of clowns is one if the most common phobias, but for Stephen King fans, the first word that comes to mind when they think of clowns is not coulrophobia. The word is IT. Written in 1986, the paving slab of a novel about Pennywise the Dancing Clown gave people a whole new reason to be afraid. Then in 1990, it was first adapted to screen, starring Tim Curry as the title character. I have neither read the book, or seen the first adaptation. But the other night, I saw the rehashed version of the film. The trailers looked sufficiently hair raising (even to those of us not afraid of clowns) and the reviews were good, so I braved the Friday night cinema to give it a look.

Unlike the original, which was set in 1960, the 2017 version, starring Bill Skarsgård as the malevolent clown, was brought forward to 1988. Set in Derry (Maine), IT tells the story of seven teenage friends over one summer as they are terrorized by different manifestations of their own worst fears. Led by Bill Denbrough, whose own younger brother Georgie disappears, the friends – collectively known as The Losers Club – band together to try and bring an end to the horror, and to the murderous clown responsible for causing it.

IT opens really well, and the scenes where young Georgie encounters Pennywise in the sewer are in fact some of the best (and more affecting) parts in the entire film. But from there, it kinds of drops off. The first portion of the film is largely just an introduction to The Losers Club, interspersed with individual scenes where Pennywise appears to the kids in the forms of their worst fears. It had the potential to flow nicely but these scenes are singular and feel disjointed, not really building on each other enough to really work properly. The latter half of the film is where it all starts to finally come together, and where the Losers face evil not just from the shape shifting fiend who wants to devour them, but from the bully who is at the very least, equally intent on causing suffering. 

In terms of graphics and the special effects, IT does quite well. It’s a bit of a step up from the fake teeth and face paint of the original (no offence, Tim) and I actually think it’s the kind of film that could benefit from a 3D viewing to make it really pop, so to speak. There’s a particular scene involving Pennywise emerging ferociously from a projector screen that I’m fairly certain made the entire cinema jump. One thing I did really appreciate was that the film wasn’t heavy on the gratuitous gore. The violent or bloody aspects of the film (keep an eye out for the bathroom scene) were almost tasteful in comparison to some modern ideals of horror, and I think in this case it definitely worked to the movie’s advantage. 

In terms of actual scares though, I rather felt IT to be somewhat lacking. There were a couple of mildly tense moments, and there was at least one scene that got a scream from one of the other people in the cinema. But rather than the clown, for me it was his other forms that were more unnerving. In particular, the painted woman that plagues Stanley had a kind of menacing presence that gave me the wiggins, and Eddie’s leper was especially gruesome. As for Pennywise himself, I found no true horror there. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the voice adopted by Skarsgård is a kind of raspy lisp, which I found more grating than spooky. 

Honestly, IT felt a lot more like a kind of coming of age drama than a real horror, with perhaps more focus on the themes of friendship and (loss of) innocence, and less actual scares. Whilst the film was still enjoyable despite its shortfalls, I think I was expecting something a little more…creepy. With a second instalment in the works, I hope that chapter two will not skimp on the heart (and the charm) of the Losers, but improve on the scares, and give the opportunity to make something genuinely terrifying. 

Green Room (2016)

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I haven’t watched a lot of movies lately, at least not any that I haven’t already seen. So last night, I went straight to the horror section on Netflix and came across Green Room.  My best friend brought it to my attention a few months ago, and after reading a review for it yesterday, when it came up on Netflix, I decided it was a good time to check it out.

Green Room tells of punk band, The Ain’t Rights, performing their songs and struggling to get by. Following a disastrous gig that they don’t get paid for, they take the advice of local radio host, and book a show at an out of the way bar, run by neo-Nazis. What starts as just another gig for the band quickly turns to disaster after Pat (played by Anton Yelchin) returns to the green room to retrieve a phone, and unwittingly walks in on a murder scene.

From there, it turns into a fight for survival; band members pitted against violent neo-Nazis, led by the quietly insidious Darcy (played by Patrick Stewart). One of the things I really loved about this film is how real it is.There are no malevolent spirits or hideous beasts; there is just man, and a self serving agenda. For the band, their motivation is to break free of their green room confines and make it safely out of their nightmare. For Darcy and his men, it is simply about silencing the witnesses. They handle their planned violence like a business deal, with the kind of cold resolve that is part of what makes Darcy such a powerful antagonist.

Jeremy Saulnier, who both wrote and directed this film, has a clear grasp of what it takes to have an effect on his audience. In just 95 minutes, he presents a simple and effective plot that propels itself forward smoothly, aided by the raw performances by the cast, and the darkness that the film is steeped in. Green Room is edgy, confronting and totally believable, and definitely worth the watch.

Wytches Review

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Last night I read the first volume of Wytches, the ongoing graphic novel series from Scott Snyder. I bought it on a recommendation from my best friend who, if I’m honest, is pretty much responsible for all the cool shit I’m into. And, as ever, I wasn’t disappointed.

This captivating horror comic begins in the year 1919, with a woman seemingly trapped in a tree, and quite anxious to be out of it. Her young son appears before her, and asks where she is been. She replies that someone ‘pledged her to them’ and begs him to break her free. There is a sense of urgency here; something big and bad is coming, and it’s coming fast. Yet instead of helping his mother, the boy grabs a rock and unexpectedly uses it to bash her across the head. He looks at her and chillingly says ‘pledged is pledged.’ before something grabs her and drags her into the dark.

Now I don’t know about you, but right away I wanted to read more. Who, or what was our victim referring to when she said them? And how it is possible that a simple word like pledged could carry such menace?

Jump forward to the year 2014, and we are introduced to the Rooks family. Young Sailor is about to begin her first say at a new school, and she is understandably nervous, but not just for the usual reasons – though her anxiety does play a large role in this comic. The thirteen year old protagonist carries the weight of a dark past on her shoulders, and as the story continues, we learn more about her, and why her family made the move to a new town. But things in their new home are not going to be a smooth as they hope, and something is lurking in the nearby woods, something menacing and deeply evil. And that something wants Sailor.

The thing I liked about Wytches is that, aside from being a well written and awesomely illustrated horror comic, there were some great themes as well. Sailor fights a constant battle with her anxiety, and must face up to a particularly nasty bully. Her father, Charlie, struggles with guilt over incidents in the family’s past, and like any father, worries about his daughter, and his ability to be a good parent. The underlying themes in this comic add a cool spin to the plot, because it makes the story easy to relate to and adds a great contrast to the whole notion of evil and the perhaps more fantastic aspects of the series.

Snyder’s simultaneously creepy and engrossing story, coupled with the gritty illustrations by Jock, and Matt Hollingsworth’s dark, moody colours, make Wytches a thoroughly enjoyable read, and worth the time of any person who calls themselves a horror fiction fan. 4.5 stars for me, and the only reason it didn’t get a full five is because I felt the story in parts to be slightly rushed. But otherwise, an excellent beginning to what I hope will be a long running series.

Ten Reasons Why I Hate Horror Films

First off, I want to clarify something. Despite the title of this blog, I actually love horror films. The truth is, unless it’s a spider crawling across my hand or a moth flying into my face, I actually rather enjoy being scared. Don’t look at me like that, it’s perfectly normal! The problem with being a horror fan however, is that there are so few good scary films out there. I tend to find them all largely overrated and underwhelming and I can count the number of good horror movies I’ve seen recently on one hand. Or maybe even on one finger. And if you’ll permit me to, I’ll explain why.

  1. Horror plots are often completely lacking in originality. Whether it’s a ghost, an axe wielding maniac or the creature from the black lagoon, it’s always about a seemingly immortal villain chasing after some scantily clad girl until the inevitable ‘trip, scream, die’ combination. They tend to all follow the same plot with absolutely no variation, which might be good once or twice, but after a while it becomes predictable and dull.
  2. All the characters in these films seem to suffer from an extreme case of stupidity. Logic just goes out the window, and it’s almost pathetic how easily they die. Of all the defences they could use, screaming at the villain is the least effective and yet still the most utilised method of survival. I get so frustrated when I watch these movies, and even though I know they can’t hear me, I spend most of my time imploring the characters to grab a weapon, or listen to the wise old guy, or get out of the house, or stop talking and just shoot already!
  3. The villains just won’t die. I mean really, that dude in that movie (let’s face it, I could be talking about any number of films in the genre) was human, and it took shooting him twenty times, burning him alive, chopping off his head and then feeding him to pigs before he was actually down for good. And even then his damn ghost came back in the sequel. Let’s be reasonable, people. Coming back once, while overdone, is ok for a bit of scare factor. Coming back six or seven times is just ridiculous.
  4. The absence of real scares replaced by an abundance of cheap thrills and over the top gore. Often, horror films just focus on how much blood and guts can be spilled in a two hour period. Believe it or not, horror is not all about bodily fluids. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bit of a sucker for a creative death (don’t look at me like that!), but sometimes less is more. If more filmmakers focused on creating actual terror instead of just hacking and slashing, the genre might be greatly improved.
  5. So many terrible horror films have even worse sequels. It’s not bad enough that the first film was appalling, then they have to go and make a second one too? I guess I can understand wanting to capitalise on the popularity of a bad film – even if that popularity is entirely based on the inability of people to appreciate what decent horror is – but they’re giving the genre a bad reputation!
  6. There’s a ridiculous amount of superfluous nudity. Now before you go calling me a prude, I would like to point out that I love a nude woman as much as the next person. But I don’t see why nudity has to be an essential part of horror. Unless a girl has a monster bush and teeth in her vagina (oddly enough, the second part is actually a plot of an obscure horror film called Teeth), naked bodies really have no place in a scary film. And if there is nudity, it should at least not be a main focus point.
  7. So many supposedly scary movies lack terrifying villains. A lot of more recent films have been advertised as ‘the scariest film of the year’ or something of the like, but when it comes down to it, the villains are no more frightening than a ball of cotton wool. I mean hell, I’ve seen kid’s films that are more terrifying than some of these horror movies. It’s simple; if you want to scare people, make a scary movie. If you want to bore people, make Sinister.
  8. The dog always gets it. It seems that whenever a horror film features a pet of some kind, it always ends up dead. Who does that?! If you want to kill all the idiot characters, fine – most of them deserve to die anyway – but leave the dog out of it!
  9. A lot of so called horror is actually thriller, and people are too stupid to know the difference. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve picked up a movie labelled horror, and when I’ve sat down to watch it, it’s not in the least bit frightening. Don’t get me wrong, some thrillers can be pretty creepy, but that still doesn’t make it horror. If I pick up a film that is meant to be scary, I don’t think it’s expecting too much to be scared.
  10. After years of watching scary films, it’s getting harder and harder to spook me. Admittedly, that isn’t the fault of the horror genre. But I’m counting it in this list because with all the technology and creativity at their disposal, filmmakers should be able to make movies that test the limits. However most horror films that I’ve watched are so tame that they’re boring. There is nothing even remotely shocking or affecting about any of them, and often the only reason I remember them afterwards is if they’re particularly appalling. If you want to make a great horror film, break the boundaries. Cross some lines. Make people feel uncomfortable. Bottom line? Scare us.

So there you have it; ten reasons why horror films are lame. It’s bad enough that I can think of even one reason why the genre is failing to be entertaining, much less ten. But being a horror fan means that more often than not, I end up disappointed. Maybe I should look into paying people to jump out at me unexpectedly. At least that way I know I’d get scared.