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Movie Roundup #3

(almost) Halloween edition!

Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2009)

I don't really pay that much attention to what the kids are watching these days, so the pre-show hype is pretty much lost in me. Personally, I wasn't expecting much out of it considering how sick I am of the handheld camera gimmick and exactly how much I don't trust any of my friends' tastes in movies. This wasn't that bad, though!

The first half hour or so was very good at setting everything up and giving us a first taste of what's to come. It's most definitely creepy and kind of awesome in delivering the A-quality heebie-jeebies just by using some well-implemented sound cues. The characters get more and more desperate and the scares get progressively creepier. You actually start looking forward to what happens during the night.

Ultimately though, predictability might be Paranormal Activity's downfall. It eventually settles into a monotonous rhythm of the "nothing interesting happening" part and the "oh-stop-your-texting-it's-THE SCARY PART~!" that quickly turns obligatory. And I don't mean the character-developing, tense kind of "nothing happening" that builds anticipation, but the kind that completely bores and polarizes. Not only that, but these two characters are so unbelievably stupid that it's pretty distracting (that's as much as I want to say in keeping this spoiler free) and the cringe-worthy improvised dialogue does not help, either. Also, the ending I've seen (I saw the screener copy) was straight out of a third-rate High School film project.

Realtalk for a moment, that chick is hot.

But as I said earlier, I can't deny how effective the scares are, and as cheap as they could be, they're still terrifying, with plausibility in mind. Much like (the superior) Blair Witch, it approaches the situations with the idea that less is more and it leaves what's around the corner to your imagination. And as much as I love the over-the-top violence as much as the next gore-phile, it's still an approach I wished more Horror movies would take nowadays. 6.0

Trick 'r Treat (Michael Dougherty, 2009)

What a great seasonal flick. I really think it will gain quite a following in revival theaters over the years, as it captures the spirit of the Halloween season in a wonderfully universal way.

The thing that strikes you immediately are its production values. The picture and cinematography are polished and most importantly, it creates a very effective atmosphere. It's a shame it never got a proper theater release. The setpieces are also pretty elaborate and nice to look at, and even the little things like visual cues that wink at genre conventions enhances the experience in so many ways.

I wasn't a fan of the narrative style at first, but in the end I thought it worked pretty well. The four main storylines are all somehow interrelated to each other, occasionally crossing each other's paths to decent effect along the way, and finally in the end where all four dovetail and neatly tie up together. Also, this disjointed style lets Dougherty fool around with a lot of disparate Horror styles, from gruesome Gore to sexy werewolves to...sackboy? On the other hand, the time constraints force the stories to drop out sooner than you might hope, in fact some of them end right before it gets interesting, in true Horror fashion. As a result, some of these threads totally seem half-baked and unresolved toward the end, leaving you hanging with no payoff.

Anyway, those flaws hamper the experience only slightly. What makes Trick 'r Treat really stand out in the pack is its originality and universal appeal. The stories are familiar but not derivative, humorous but not corny. And it strikes the perfect balance between genuine thrills and the light, fun, popcorn-entertainment factor of the more traditional Horror movies. A future Halloween staple. 7.75

Quarantine (John Dowdle, 2008)

With the original still super-fresh in my mind, I saw this on Netflix Watch Instantly™. There might be some pointless comparisons ahead. Because 85% of this film is a shot-for-shot remake, the wow factor of the original [REC] is completely gone. The major characters and scares are the essentially the same and besides a handful of pretty clever sequences that were not in the movie, what's the point? 

Well, it's a lot more polished in terms of the cinematography and production values. The lighting seems to be way too good and you always seem to forget that you're watching through someone's handheld lens, as the signature camera jerks (something I really didn't mind) are kept at a bare minimum. I think the purpose of the cinema-verite style is destroyed with the camera-work seeming so professional, though. Despite all this, by the time they enter the final act, the scares were decent, the eerie atmosphere is surprisingly well-done and the acting is okay.

And then the last 15 minutes. The story gets completely butchered towards the end. I remember watching the original with my cousins one time and they really didn't care what caused the outbreak or what was in that room upstairs and generally ignored that entire part. And I think that's what happened to whoever decided to write Quarantine, because you kinda get the feeling that they were obligated to give some sort of explanation and we get about a couple of minutes of half-assed plot development that would make even the most brainless Hollywood directors beg for an explanation. For shame. 4.5

Inside Deep Throat (Fenton Bailey/Randy Barbato, 2005)

Here's a documentary that goes into a.) the making of Deep Throat, b.) its subsequent popularity and immediate backlash, c.) the legal court battles (involving Harry Reems in particular) that came with Deep Throat's notoriety and d.) what happened to the people involved and the film's legacy, which leads to quite a bittersweet ending.

It's appropriately far-reaching and comprehensive, and I wish more of these seemingly "lighthearted" documentaries were as exhaustively assembled as this one. It mixes footage from the movie (including explicit ones), old interviews, old TV footage with new ones, and likewise perspectives from the people who were there and the ones who lived through the 1970's to be inspired by Deep Throat. It's always good to see John Waters on anything.

Some of the colorful cast of characters are more interesting than others and a number of incredibly dry segments didn't quite gel with me though. Still, overall it's a terrific story about what was destined to be this obscure little blip in the history of cinema that left such an overwhelming dent on American popular culture that its importance today is pretty much incalculable. See it.

PS: I've noticed that a lot of these "Golden Age" films have an interesting backstory attached to them, whether it's this or Behind The Green Door or Debbie Does Dallas. Quick, someone make a trilogy! 7.5

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