Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Movie Review: The Haunting(1999)

Here lies one of the worst remakes of the 90's, right beside Diabolique and Pyscho. Now don't get me wrong, this movie had some potential. It had a great cast(which the actors fit the roles perfectly), a great atmosphere, and the house actually looked cool, a perfect setting for a horror movie. So what went wrong? of course, it's the script, then it was the special  effects which looked extremely cartoonish but most of all, the movie was not scary in the least. What made the original so memorable was that it had really tight scares and moments that were skin-crawling. What's missing is the subtly of the suspense. And I know, what remake has any subtly these days? The truth is though, I was contemplating whether I wanted to watch this or not, but since I had a review to do, I said, "Screw It." Bear with me guys, this movie was a chore to get through. I was just waiting and waiting for something to happen and once it did it was right towards the end. RIGHT TOWARDS THE END! ugh.....Anywho, The Haunting is nothing more than your generic PG-13 horror fare.
The Story: After the death of her mother and problems with anosmia, Eleanor Vance, while looking at an ad in the newspaper, decides to volunteer as a test subject for Dr. David Marrow's experiment on sleep deprivation when in actuality it's a paranormal research on the notorious Hill House and his study of fear. Once Eleanor arrives, She meets the carefree Theo and the bumbling Luke as they stay in the mostly secluded house. Just then strange things start to happen and Eleanor sense there is another presence within the walls. Once she figures out the truth, it becomes certain that the house is indeed haunted....

The movie has a great cast and you can tell they at least tried with their performances.

The strongest of the four is Lilli Taylor's portrayal of Eleanor. I'm not going to compare so much on the acting just how the characters are portrayed because I think Julie Harris and Lilli Taylor were good in both movies. To just say this, Lilli Taylor was perfectly casted and did capture the vulnerability of that character. In the novel and the original movie, the house sort of fed on Eleanor's insecurities which dealt with her obvious crush on Dr. Marrow and her admiration of Theo. It's not so much the terror Eleanor is experiencing in the house, It's her psyche, her inner soul that is being haunted.

Though in this version, it loses the deeper meaning it tries to project in the original. It's more about Eleanor trying to save the spirits of the children from their evil caretaker. So Eleanor is sort of a savior, which is not bad but it doesn't develop her character any, we never get inside her head and feel what she feels. It's a missed opportunity that could've been explored here.

Catherine-Zeta Jones as Theo wasn't bad, she alright performance mostly . They made Theo less more haughty and more carefree and since this is the hip 90's, they made her into a full blown bisexual as opposed in the original where it was more ambiguous about her sexuality. It really doesn't add anything to her character than for her to say, "Hey, look at me, I'm a hot bisexual!"

Is it me or is the filmmakers really trying hard to turn up the sexual tension between Theo and Eleanor? In the 1963 film, it was just subtext, though I like that the sisterly bond is still there and at least it seems as though Theo actually cares about Eleanor. But the strong character dynamic between is how Eleanor see herself in Theo's lavish, independent lifestyle and only a catalyst for Eleanor's insecurities which made the relationship interesting to watch in the original film. Other than shoving her sexuality in our faces and making her much more gusto, There's really nothing more to the character.

Dr. Marrow played by the smokin' Liam Nesson was actually pretty good, though I know that Liam Nesson is a good actor in anything he's in, so no problems there. Though what confuses me about the character is how he is skeptic of Eleanor's explanations of the supernatural force within the house, knowing he himself is pretty much open-minded to the paranormal. Surely, it was his IDEA to bring his experiment to the house in the first place. It kind of makes him a jerkass. So the slap in the face Theo gives him, yeah, he deserved that.

But soon enough, he realizes what's going on and seems pretty much perplexed. I seem to question his motives here.

Lastly, you have Luke played by Owen Wilson, who is just there for the most part. I guess he's supposed to be a comic relief, though there wasn't enough focus on him for us to be invested. In the novel and 1963 film, There is a purpose for him to be in the house. He is actually the sole heir of the property but in this version, he's just an everyday guy who happens upon the experiment Dr. Marrow is planning and he gets killed off maybe because the filmmakers didn't know what else to do with the character. By the way, Owen Wilson.....is just playing Owen Wilson. Not that that is a bad thing but there was nothing new or interesting about this character for me to be engaged.
Now I haven't mentioned the director of this movie, he goes by the name Jan De Bont whose best known credits include Speed, Twister, and unfortunately, Speed 2: Cruise Control. The main problem with this director is that he has no experience with horror films and it shows.

He's known for making big budget spectacles, which is why there is so much CGI. And said this once and I'll say it again for all the remakes to come in my next review, CGI is NOT SCARY. For instance, when all the statues come to life attacking the protagonists it's hilarious to watch. The biggest problem is the writing, you can't have too much exposition in a horror film and this movie has a lot of it. To make my point, the house was sort of it's own character and the mystery of whether there were spirits lurking was handled well in the original. And to also mention, there was no, I repeat, there was no outlandish special effects in the 1963 film. Till this day I would love to see a director craft that kind of talent.
Okay, here's for the most important part, The ending:
1963 Version:
So Eleanor, totally consumed by the house is driven to madness and once the house take over her fears, take over her entire being, she runs to the car and drive straight to a tree, killing her. That was the tragedy of the character, having the hill house fully possess her and her unwillingness to have any self-control.

1999 Version:

However, in this version, Eleanor sacrifices herself to protect the ghost children and becomes their surrogate mother. So off she goes with the computer generated ghost children and into the spirit world. Give me a break. You see the 1963 film did it so much better. It wasn't a supernatural entity that killed Eleanor, it was her psyche, that met her end.
There.....There was just no reason for this to be remade. The 1963 Haunting was a perfect movie on it's own. Hell, if the director of this movie know what he was doing, but quite frankly, he didn't know what he was doing. There was even one time where Wes Craven was set to direct this and it would've been much better movie. But sadly we are left with lame scares, a waste of good actors, horrible CGI, and an awful script
The verdict? Just watch the original and avoid this forgettable mess.
My Last Word: To save any precious time you have, skip this.



Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pyscho (1998)

Okay guys, out with the good and in with the bad, though, you probably seen this coming from my last review.
Gus Van Sant, who was riding high off his Oscar success from Good Will Hunting, came upon remaking Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller. Now this came out around the Scream Generation and everyone expected this to be a slasher bloodfest. But what everybody didn't know that this was going to be directed by GUS VAN SANT, known for films such as Drugstore Cowboy and My Private Idaho. I think he was going for an artistic approach with this version, but to me, there will always be red flags when a director, who's not particularly known for horrors or thrillers for that matter, would remake something like this.
Once it hit theaters, audiences(mostly teenagers) were very, very, VERY disappointed. What everybody didn't expect was that Gus Van Sant was doing a shot for shot redo. A shot for shot remake of a 1960 movie along with the same dialogue and camera techniques......ugh.
I was surprised to find out that this was a franchise:

I guess Psycho 2 did okay, at least it kept the mystery element and brought back the characters from the original.

Psycho 3, although it had the same critical praise........doesn't really hold up that well, turning into a generic standard slasher film.

Though Psycho 4 was a good character study of Norman Bates and how he became what he was. Not a great movie by any means, but at least it gave the original justice.
And now we have the remake to look forward to. Of course, certain people thought there was going to be a new spin to the Hitchcock classic but sadly that's not what we got here. Though there is an interesting contrast to the two movies, so there's that at least.
The story: You guys pretty much know the story by now, but for those of you who haven't, here's how it goes: Woman steals money from boss for her lover, Woman attempts to flee, Woman stops at a hotel, Hotel Manager creeps her out, Woman gets murdered in the shower, the Woman's lover and her sister investigate. There you go.

The cast in the movie are good actors, they just seem to be horribly micasted, especially Vince Vaughn, who I will get to later. The only good actors in this is Julianne Moore and Viggo Mortensen. They seem really in tune and try their best with what they're given.

Marion Crane played by Anne Heche is a bit mixed. Now this is a shot for shot, so there's nothing much to dwell on. The casting of Anne Heche was just questionable. Sure, she has a similar look to Janet Leigh but I felt Janet Leigh brought more to the character, made her much more human. Anne Heche just seems to be going by the motions. She does an okay performance I guess, But she just so forgettable that I have nothing say about this at this point. Moving On....

Here comes one of the worst casting decisions that the filmmakers could think on....Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. What made Anthony Perkins memorable in the role was that he had this Boy Next Door charm but was a deeply disturbed person. He came off so innocent and non-threatening, in fact, that Marion puts her trust in him, though that's what ultimately kills her at the end. Alfred Hitchcock wanted a much more attractive actor in the role of Norman since the book the movie was adapted from described him as a balding, overweight, middle-aged man. He thought the audience wouldn't be able to relate to him. So the casting of Anthony Perkins was actually a good idea, which made the audience sympathize with him and it was a great success.

Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, comes off incredibly creepy in this version and not at all sympathetic or even innocent. Right off the bat, you would know this guy is a killer. Hell, I wouldn't run into this guy in a dark alleyway. It's like Gus Van Sant or who ever the hell wrote the script completely missed the point of the original and therefore adds no mystery to him at all.

They also turn him into this sex-starved pervert by having porn magazines in his room and even showing this one of out place masturbation scene. I mean really? do we have to HEAR that?

Vince Vaughn with his intensive nervous gestures and overall awkwardness doesn't do the role any good. And let me point this out: In the original, once Norman finds the butchered body of Marion, he panics. So he wraps up the body, put it in the car and dump it in the lake. The suspense level in this sequence is extremely high because at this point we're on Norman's side, just by the way he nervously chews his candy. In this version, he just has smug look on his face like "Yeah I did it, so what?" This shows that Norman is the killer and there is just nothing to go from there.

Oh my god, wait till you see this nightmare. I do not ever want to see Vince Vaughn in drag again. By far one of the scariest things in the movie. lol. So Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates? one of the worst performances ever.

Lila Crane played by Julianne Moore was actually good. She's a lot more angrier in this version, more direct. Where as with the original, she's only deeply concerned about her sister's disappearance.  This is the post-feminist era, so it would make sense to have Lila to be more aggressive and take charge. But being a shot for shot remake, We never see Lila kick any ass, only a kick to the face once Sam Loomis grabs a hold of Norman.

There's not much to say about the character but at least Julianne Moore brought more to the role than the script does.

Sam Loomis played by Viggo Mortensen also did a good job, bringing this good o'l boy quality about him, and stretching out the character having  this laid back personality other than your standard hero in a horror film as he was portrayed in the original. Again, not much to say(whoever wrote this script was really lazy) but Viggo Mortensen did a good performance overall.

William H. Macy as the detective( don't remember his name) was kind of phoning it in. Good actor. Waste of character.

Did I mention that Flea from Red Hot Chill Peppers made a cameo? I think they're trying rile up an all star cast with this version.

Okay, now for a little retrospective. You see this poster right here. If you were a person in 1960 and haven't seen the trailer or the marketing for this, you would think this would be some type of romantic drama about a woman stuck in a love triangle, even though the movie is titled Psycho. And once you watch the movie you would think it would be a crime drama about a woman on the run since Hitchcock is also known for North By Northwest. But half into the movie it turns into the horror/thriller mystery that we know today. It's unexpectations like that the reason why the movie is such a classic.

The hype for the 1998 movie was insane, especially at a time where 90's slashers were at their prime. Now you see this poster here? the way it's marketed and advertised is telling you that you're in for a thrill ride, which is far from what the film actually is, let me tell you.

The kills is what you would've expect, since there's only two in the original after all.

But what Gus Van Sant tries to do different is by adding random images like these to make it more artsy or whatever. I really didn't know what he was thinking.
And if  you want to talk about the shower scene.....there's really nothing to talk about, except of how poorly shot it was:

First of all there's way too much light and it looks like someone is wearing black mask with a stringy wig.

What made the shower scene so memorable is the build up, the shadowy darkness of the figure approaching and when it hits, it hits hard, along with the screeching of the violins. The impact of it is almost poetic and it was quite shocking at the time. But with this version, the build up and suspense falls flat and the random shots doesn't make it poetic. Just pointless.

I would say one good thing though. The scene where Lila discovers the skeletal corpse of Norman's mother is quite creepy. The adding of birds and trees makes the setting more atmospheric.
I just....have nothing else to say. There was nothing new brought to the table, except that it's set in the 90's. You can tell because in the scene where Marion is at the car dealership  you can hear "Living Dead Girl" by Rob Zombie playing in the background. Even though the filmmakers set in the 90's, we still have the cheesy dialogue and even a green screen effect in one scene. Really? Yeah I got nothing more to say. This is just a waste of your time.
The Verdict? Stick with the original. Don't watch this because it's the same movie. Like literally.
My Last Word: The original is an all time classic. This movie, however......No Comment.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Diabolique (1996)

In 1955, A hitchcockian thriller called Les Diaboliques scared up French audiences with high tense suspense and a shocking surprise ending that had everybody talking. 41 years later, writers Herni-Georges Clouzot and Dan Ross and Director Jeremiah S. Chechik, whose best known for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Benny and Joon, decided to remake the movie starring Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, Chazz Palminteri, and Kathy Bates. Now I wouldn't call the original a "horror movie", It was just psychological thriller with horror movie elements. So I really don't see how a director, who's not particularly known for thrillers, would remake this.
Looking at this movie was like watching an overly long, over-the-top soap opera to the point where it becomes campy and unintentionally funny. Even Sharon Stone thought this was a black comedy, which the movie could've worked better that way. Most of the film drags on too long to the point where you just want to get it over with and it has no suspense what so ever. A Lifetime Movie Of The Week would have  better payoffs and suspense than this movie. Actually there was a Lifetime TV version of this that was much better in my opinion. In the end, it could've went well with what it was given but besides the great cast, it's wavered down by a bad script and bad choice for a director.
The Story: The wife of an abusive headmaster and his mistress decides to get rid of him once and for all by drowning his body and leaving it for dead in the pool. After that, strange events occur and panic and paranoia starts to creep on the two women. Which brings the question is the husband is dead or.....alive.

Again, you have really good actors for the cast, however, it still doesn't save the movie and you're kind of left disappointed.

Sharon Stone is playing her usual ice queen roles, a role that she plays best. Her character in the movie is sort of like the scary stern teacher trapped in a body of a glamorous movie star.

Speaking of which, it shows that the Nicole character lives in this rinky dink apartment in Pittsburgh. I know Teacher's salaries are pretty low these days but how the hell could she afford those expensive clothes?

Anywho, the movie tries to play up the ambiguity of the character whether she is with or against Mia, which works in a way I guess. Sharon Stone was actually the highlight of the movie. I thought her catty remarks and saucy spitfire attitude was just a treat to watch. It shows that she didn't take the movie seriously as much as the audience did.

Isabella Adjani was perfectly casted for a role like this since she's known for playing broken-down fragile characters. Though there were times where she's a little stiff but it was all about the emotion she put into the performance. Isabella Adjani is a very expressive actress and it was good that she was able to convey a put-upon character like Mia is.

But it all comes down of how the character is written. There were times where Mia comes off like a bumbling idiot and you just wanted to slap her. She couldn't just keep it together for one second after her and Nicole "murdered" Guy. I know the character is supposed to be paranoid and nervous, which is the catalyst for her weak heart, but the choices she makes make her less than smart. But I would say that Isabella Adjani gave an okay performance.

Chazz Palmentiri is pretty much known for playing menacing villains, especially in mobster films but I can't help to say he was kind of phoning it in. The same goes for Sharon Stone because she's good at what she does though Palmenitri was expected to play a role like this. So I'm not going to dwell too much on his performance, he was good either way.

As for the Guy character, one of the more abusive things he does to his wife is say how much she's lousy in bed and in one scene forces her to eat cafeteria in which all the teachers and students refer to as 'dog shit'(even though it doesn't look that bad) and is also implied to be something of a gold digger, marrying Mia so he can have full control of the school. So the Guy character is pretty much comes off like the generic villain and there's not much more to that really.

The one drastic change the movie did was by changing the detective character into a woman to have some sort of feminist underling to survey the plot of the story. Played by Kathy Bates, the detective seems a little bitter about men. It's one thing to have a strong female character, I would give the movie points for that, but to have her be this ball-busting crusader against men is a little contradicting and you sort of know where the film is going at the point. It's best to show not tell is what I'm saying. Even Sharon Stone's character bitches about her and says, "I hate that in-your-face survivor crap." You see comments like that makes me wonder why wasn't this movie turned into a comedy or a parody of some sorts.
There is absolutely no suspense or tension in this movie. I barely wouldn't even call this a horror movie even though the 1955 movie is called a horror movie in it's own right. However, this fails to capture any of the scarier moments the original had.

I would say the lesbian subtext that was in the original was just subtext. In this version, they try to play that up. Since Sharon Stone and Isabella Adjani are two attractive women, the movie tries to have sexual tension between the two characters just so it could be a ploy to have male butts in the theater. It's implied that Nicole is secretly in love with Mia and is jealous of Guy, even though she's in a sexual relationship with him but it doesn't go anywhere.  You're left wondering what if but it's all sexual tension and nothing else.
The original's ending after the shocking twist, really didn't dwell on me. The movie just abruptly ended and that's that. But this version changed that all right. So this is the moment you've been waiting for the twist ending that pretty much had everybody talking....though not in a good way:
So Mia, in full sense of panic and paranoia, is wondering whether she is hallucinating if Guy is alive or not, finally sees him in the bathtub, seemingly dead. Then all of a sudden, he rises, staring at her with dead white eyes. Mia in full shock, has a heart attack and dies. Okay just to add this here: what made the twist of the original great was how unexpected it was while the suspense and tension was on full high. Unfortunately in this version, it fails to capture any of that and also felt rushed.

So Nicole comes in and Guy is all happy that their 'plan' worked, then once Nicole looks down at Mia, turns out Mia is still alive and once Guy catches wind of this, the two women play a cat and mouse game until all three of them duke it out in the swimming pool until Mia and Nicole are able to drown Guy, again, leaving him dead once and for all.

Then Detective Voguel comes along and out of nowhere punches Mia in the face, claiming that will be evidence for self defense. And so as the two women leave off and move on with their lives, Voguel triumphantly smokes a cigarette while looking down at Guy's drowned body.
Wow. Just wow. I have never seen an ending so stupid. It had no excitement what so ever and it just left me blank the entire time. I wasn't really bothered that the movie kept Mia alive, I will give more points to that, but again like the original's ending, there's just no impact.
There's nothing more for me to say except this was marketed it as a sexy Sharon Stone thriller but it's neither sexy nor thrilling and the audience was therefore left unsatisfied as this was box office bomb upon it's release.
The Verdict? Watch the original or better yet the 1993 Lifetime version. Yeah, it's kind of cheesy but at least there's more to it. But for your amusement, you could probably give the 1996 a watch as well.
My Last Word: it's up to you, though this could be a chore to sit through.