Inhumanoids (again)

I’ve ranted about the Inhumanoids before. Because I just can’t get enough, here’s a video by awesome YouTuber, Toy Galaxy. If you’re into this sort of thing, check them out, leave a like, and maybe even subscribe, because it’s the future and those words apparently have meaning now?

I have to re-emphasize that this was a kids’ show, one which I watched fairly regularly. I had the Metlar figure. It was animated horror, and oh my god, so so good.

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Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Garbage, is what this is. Just irredeemable crap. Review done!

I mean, hi, everyone! I’m back in Japan for the holidays. My wife is working crazy 12-hour days at her university, and I’m left with a lot of time to be irresponsible. Today I used that time (irresponsibly) to watch Annabelle: Creation, because I have Netflix and I’m rapidly running out of reasons to continue having Netflix. This did not help!

The story is skeletal. In the 1940s, a group of orphan girls get a new foster home with a couple whose daughter was hit by a truck years before. The husband is weird; the wife hides away in her room all day and is never seen. The children are accompanied by Sister Charlotte, a nun who inexplicably can take confession, because who needs research when you’ve got a massive budget and Wanfluence on your side? So, whatever, the dead girl’s ghost is haunting the house, only not really, it’s a demon, and it has possessed the spooky doll (not yet called “Annabelle,” which is the name of the deceased daughter), and it wants, I guess, a body? I don’t know, it’s just a demon doing demon shit. None of this matters.

I’d love to say something good about this film, but I just can’t. It’s everything I’ve come to loathe about the post-The Conjuring film making: predictable, lazy, garish, and loud. It equates loud noises and fast edits with “scares,” and endlessly repeats the unforgivable sin of the multi-fake-out jump scare: it forces you to look one way, expecting a scare, then provides none; then it forces you to look back the other way, and again there’s nothing. The fake-outs are layered up, one on top of another, ad nauseam. I’m sure by the next Conjuring or Annabelle film these things will be 6 or 7 fake-outs deep.

Already in this second Annabelle filmthis technique is a self-conscious parody of itself: you go through several “look over here!” scrolls or edits only to have the ghost/demon jump out of a third (or fourth, or fifth) place that wasn’t even shown before, because that would be too predictable! Need something new? Add another redirect. Ooo, is the demon in the corner? No! Behind the bed? Nuh-uh! Behind the main character? Nope! It’s actually up on the ceiling, because that’s scary now! Are you scared? People don’t walk on ceilings! Scaaaaary! Listen to this old low-fi record player playing some public domain jazz song! Ghosts!

The acting is, appropriately enough, terrible. Everyone, from the younger actors comprising the group of orphans, to the bereaved couple, to Sister Charlotte are just acting so hard you guys. And they’re all doing it terribly. Not that it’s wooden: it’s just unconvincing, unnatural, and poorly written. In fairness, it may not be the actors’ faults. The script is so bland and stupid that a rewrite by Shakespeare’s ghost possessing Stephen King’s body and a recast directed by a two-headed Alfred Hitchcock/Martin Scorsese hybrid starring Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Derek Jacobi, and seven clones of Dame Judy Dench couldn’t make it good.

Did I mention I hate this movie? I hate this freaking movie, you guys.

“The Changeling” (1980)

(Wikipedia)

At long last I got off my ass (by which I guess I mean I, you know, I sat down on my ass) and watched The Changeling. And I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it, for reasons which will become clear.

This is a pretty good film, see. I like slow supernatural thrillers, and this is very much that. Only it’s exceptionally slow. It reminds me of Ghost Story and The Omen in several ways. All three films feel like they were made thirty years earlier than their actual release dates. In the case of The Changeling, very little happens, besides dialogue, for long, long stretches. But it’s good dialogue by great actors. BUT but I also didn’t pay suuuper close attention to it, because it’s hugely formulaic and slow and just kind of dull.

George C. Scott, who totally owned the brilliant and underrated Exorcist III, plays John Russell, a composer who has recently lost his wife and daughter in a freak car accident. He moves to Washington state, where he rents an incredible old gothic mansion which anyone in their right mind would IMMEDIATELY assume was haunted, but, I dunno, grief? So, you know, Weird Stuff happens, and it turns out that there’s the ghost of a young boy. Russell has to help the boy find peace or something, because ghosts.

There’s a lot more to it than this, of course. Political intrigue figures into the narrative in an unexpected way. The scary elements are just the ghost’s way of communicating with Russell, who’s pretty stoic about the whole thing. (I can’t imagine George C. Scott ever acting scared in the way we’d otherwise expect in a scary movie.) It’s never really frightening, but it’s moody and full of George C. Scott, so… net gain?

Scott himself was a Great Actor (with capital letters!), but not at all a Sympathetic Actor. It’s just hard to care about him in this role. He’s George C. Scott playing George C. Scott, an upper-class, slightly snobby, hard-assed, overachieving skeptic. It’s great to see a powerful old-school actor playing a powerful old-school character; but this film was made in 1980, and as I write this it’s 2018, and alas, some things don’t hold up well. Even in 1980, Scott’s acting must have felt exceptionally old-fashioned.

Worst of all, it’s all just kind of boring, which is the worst thing a scary movie can be. (Slow does not equal boring, but unfortunately this is both.) Also, I don’t understand Russell’s motivation for solving the mystery of Joseph’s death. Why not just leave? Why waste so much time trying to figure it out when he could have just bought a nice condo down by Pike Place or whatever? (I have no idea if there are or ever have been condos down by Pike Place. It’s just one of like two Seattle landmarks I know.)

I’m sure others have noted this, but there’s a particular sequence that clearly influenced The Ring. A ghost whose body is buried in a well beneath a house is a major plot point, and the protagonists have to dig it up and get the police involved–I can only imagine that Suzuki Koji was a fan of The Changeling, because it’s too similar to be a coincidence.


Muse: “Pressure”

I’m hard-pressed to think of anything more Halloween-y than this super-self-conscious ’80s throwback video by Muse. It stars Terry Crews as a high school principal exterminating Critters-like furballs at a deadly homecoming dance. What more can you ask for?

Slender Man (2018)

If you generally didn’t like horror films but wanted to make one that cashed in on a sweet, sweet Internet trend from nearly a decade ago, this is the one you’d make after reading a Wikipedia article about it and maybe a quick Googling of recent successful scary movies.

It truly is the epitome of lazy genre work. Once again, the director’s mental checklist practically leaks out of every scene:

Unlikable group of idiot teenagers (not because all teenagers are idiots, but these ones sure are!)
Scary drawings
People with distorted faces
Fake-out jump scares (nothing’s behind you), followed by real jump-scares (it’s in FRONT of you!)
Misunderstanding-based jump scares (e.g., it’s just a normal person lurking in the dark and now wondering why you’re screaming in the library, you weirdo)
“I looked up a tutorial on Lynda.com”-level computer animation at every goddamned opportunity ✓✓✓

There’s hardly a story to speak of. Some teenagers hear about Slender Man and decide to summon him, which apparently is accomplished by watching a stupid YouTube video. Of course they don’t think it’s real, just a stupid game, and of course it actually is real, and predictably monstery things happen.

Slender Man genuinely isn’t worth summarizing beyond this, because it’s so unbearably generic. I left the theater to use the bathroom at one point and missed precisely nothing of importance. A few years ago I wrote up a list of what I think are the most common, essential steps in contemporary horror plots. Going by that formula, Slender Man progresses thusly: 1B, 2B, 3A, 4B, 5B. (In this case, it could perhaps be argued that “something happens” first, and then the characters find out that there’s an established pattern. It could also be argued that shut. Up.)

As is often the case, there’s nothing outstandingly wrong with this film. Visually it resembles a Hollywood release, if not a Blumhouse blockbuster. It’s just immensely boring. It borrows from countless better movies, but does so poorly, without any real awareness of what made the tropes it so gleefully steals scary the first time around–if they ever were scary at all. Droopy black-eyed demon faces superimposed on random people no longer have the same punch they did back in the days of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. They didn’t have a huge amount of punch even then. (And I love Emily Rose.)

The obvious question, of course, is why? Why make this movie now, so long after Slender Man was relevant in a way that would seem to justify a major motion picture release? Even if the filmmakers were cynically trying to capitalize on the emotional furor surrounding the Waukesha, Wisconsin stabbing, that much-publicized event happened over four years ago. The question hangs over Slender Man, lending the proceedings not a sense of dread but of Hollywood desperation. Tedious is the best word to describe this film, and it’s one of the most damning words in a horror critic’s vocabulary.

You may know that in my day job I’m a folklorist, and I’ve researched Slender Man at some length. My disdain for the film isn’t based on any sense of professional ownership. It’s just not a good film.

Hiiiiii!

Wow. Just, you know. This year, man. This year. It sort of got away from me.

I’ve been meaning to get back to this forever, but, you know. This year, man.

I’ve just started a new faculty gig, at long last. (And naturally I pick this, possibly the busiest time I’ll ever experience, to start blogging again.) While I don’t know how many films I’ll be watching in the weeks ahead, I’ll try to crank out the odd post here and there. Hopefully I’ll settle into a rhythm with work and be able to develop something like a regular schedule.

Until then, here’s another great Castlevania music cover.

Hope everyone’s doing well and staying scared.

Muse: “Thought Contagion”

Excellent ’80s horror throwback video by Muse, one of the greatest bands around. I want every individual frame of this video on a separate neon-colored t-shirt.