Reviews and Recaps at Sketchy Details

Escape from Tomorrow Review (Film, 2013)

escapefromtomorrowposter Escape from Tomorrow Review (Film, 2013)No discussion of Escape from Tomorrow can be divorced from the production of the film. Writer/director Randy Moore’s surrealist horror story was shot on location (and without permission) in Disney World. The black and white low budget film is about the real world colliding with the all too polished magic of the Disney World and the tensions that arise from misplaced expectations of escapism. Moore scrambles the geography and style of the theme park into a vision of paranoid terror all without the Disney machine realizing a feature narrative film is being made.

There is an unexpected level of bravery to a guerrilla approach like this. If anything went wrong with production, if Moore and the cast were found out, there would be no film. A well-meaning tourist or Cast Member (as the Disney park employees are called) could have pulled the plug on the story. In fact, if you pay attention, you can see there are quite a few scenes where green screen is used to cover for scenes they couldn’t shoot in the parks.

A knowledge of the Disney World parks is helpful in understanding everything that happens in the film. The first half takes place in the Magic Kingdom, which is geared toward younger guests. You have a couple thrill rides in Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but the rest is photo ops, meet and greets, and the super family friendly rides that don’t get much more extreme than a carousel.

Horror Thursday: Devil

My new Horror Thursday column is up at Man, I Love Films. This week, we’re diving into the M. Night Shyamalan film that was cleverly marketed as not an M. Night Shyamalan film to quell the revolt before it started.

Horror Thursday: Devil

The Stanley Parable: The Horror and Absurdity of Free Will

thestanleyparablemeetstanley 300x168 The Stanley Parable: The Horror and Absurdity of Free Will

Meet Stanley, a corporate cog in a machine he will never fully understand [click for full]

In the indie adventure game The Stanley Parable, you are given a simple choice: follow what the narrator says, or go against him. The first real game-changing choice is a room with two doors. Go to the left, as instructed, and you follow along a fairly linear story about what happened to all of your missing coworkers. Go to the right, and the narrator starts to fight against you.

This is the beginning of a bizarre experiment in surrealism and video games agency (how collective choices influence a game) from Galactic Cafe. The game is all about choice. The framework always goes narrator’s choice or other option. Move on as instructed or go off the path. The further you wander, the stranger the game becomes.

On my first playthrough (the scenarios vary in length, but it’s only a few minutes from beginning to restart), for example, I caused the total nuclear annihilation of my little world at work. That happened because of one anti-narrator choice. To call that a jarring start to a gaming experience is an understatement. Yet I was sucked right into this bizarre world because the creators went that far.

Gravity Review (Film, 2013)

gravityposter Gravity Review (Film, 2013)Lieutenant Matt Kowalski is in charge of a five-person mission to the Hubble Space Telescope to install Dr. Ryan Stone’s new monitoring equipment. Everything is going fine until mission control announces that a Russian satellite has blown up and the debris may be heading their way. That is quickly upgraded to abandon the Hubble and flee the scene to stay alive, which is promptly followed by Kowalski and Stone drifting in space in radio silence, the only survivors of a routine maintenance mission to space gone horribly wrong.

Alfonso Cuarón has crafted his true masterpiece in Gravity. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock create believable characters in Kowalksi and Stone, but it is Cuarón who is the star of the production. Everything is about a deft director handling his own screenplay (written with his son Jonás Cuarón) with incredible style and urgency.

Five time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, Children of Men) helps create some of the finest moments of 3D cinema ever projected on a screen. If nothing else, Gravity evokes its haunting terror by showcasing just how vast space is. The screen falls back for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to sell the narrative of two astronauts drifting through space with only the slightest chance of survival.

Carrie Review (Film, 2013)

carrieposter Carrie Review (Film, 2013)Director Kimberly Peirce and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) seem to be at odds over how to handle a Carrie remake. Peirce coaxes a very natural, almost underplayed, beauty from her cast of actors. She downplays the infamous abuse in the White household to turn Carrie into a Greek-style tragedy, with the massive punishment of The Destruction and the catharsis of the final moments. Aguirre-Sacasa lifts most of his screenplay wholesale from the (rightfully credited) Lawrence D. Cohen version and adds in a few cool details from the Stephen King novel. His biggest contribution is finding a brilliant throughline in social media and the pervasiveness of technology when it comes to bullying in modern high schools. Aguirre-Sacasa’s laser vision on the literal text of Carrie gives Peirce the freedom to mold it into biting social commentary through performance and technical craft.

In the remake, Carrie is still an awkward girl who unfortunately experiences his first period in the locker room showers. This time, Chris Hargensen leads the charge, starting the “plug it up” chant and filming Carrie’s humiliation on her cellphone. Margaret White quietly tries to regain control over her daughter after the state forced the girl into public schooling while Sue sets out to destroy Carrie through the wonders of the digital age.

I normally don’t address other criticism in my own reviews, but I have to make an exception for Carrie. There is a disappointing throughline in most reviews that suggests this remake isn’t necessary because it doesn’t add anything particularly new to the plot. I think that’s a gross oversimplification of what Peirce pulls off with the help of a strong cast of female actors.

Horror Thursday: Mutant Girls Squad

This week on Horror Thursday over at Man, I Love Films, I review another Tak Sakaguchi film. His starring turn in Deadball was featured in my first column over there and Mutant Girls Squad is even more ridiculous.

Horror Thursday: Mutant Girls Squad

Sketchy Details @Home #8: Alien Rotisserie Action

This week on Sketchy Details @Home, I play along with the dark alien performer challenge on SyFy’s Face Off. The results of the challenge were really cool (but totally not what the judges wanted, which is always a riot) and I knew the only way I could step up to the plate was to use radically different materials. You know how I really haunt? With recycled materials. Whether it be new paint on last year’s props, renovations to yard sale cast offs, or straight up garbage (cardboard boxes and yard trimmings are my favorite curbside finds), I’d say at least half of my haunts are made with recycled materials. It’s why I love papier mache. Newspaper plus homemade glue (flour, water, liquid starch) equals durable building medium.

As always, watch the video, then click through for all the behind the scenes shenanigans.

Animation Domination Halloween 2013

animationdominationhalloween2013 Animation Domination Halloween 2013

Guillermo del Toro opens the Animation Domination Halloween specials with great style.

I have to give Fox credit for one thing. For the second year in a row, The Simpsons Halloween episode will be airing before Halloween. That’s a big deal when they’ve aired the weekend before Thanksgiving before more than once. In fact, all four Fox animated shows currently on the air–The Simpson, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and American Dad–are airing their 2013 Halloween episodes tonight. That’s a major improvement for American Dad that used their Halloween episode (the amazing Cee-Lo Green composed Little Shop of Horrors parody with a hot tub) as their season premiere last year.

This is a great way to kick off the most festive time of the year. Since I’m so dedicated to amazing horror content, I’ll be reviewing the Halloween episodes. All four of the shows pull out all the stops for Halloween. Who will come out on top? The smart money is on American Dad but Bob’s Burgers does really wry holiday episodes. Family Guy is totally hit or miss and The Simpsons are only as good as their worst sketch of the night.

First up is The Simpsons. This is “Treehouse of Horror XXIV,” which means only one season did not have a Halloween episode. Guillermo del Toro is tasked with the opening sequence and it’s amazing. My favorite parts are the Pan’s Labyrinth references. The sheer volume of horror references is stunning. It flows in a very logical way and ends beautifully on his most critically acclaimed dark fantasy/horror work. If nothing is this good the rest of the night, I will be satisfied.

The Awakening Review (Film, 2012)

theawakeningposter The Awakening Review (Film, 2012)The Awakening is a haunted house film told from the perspective of a skeptic. Florence Cathcart is England’s leading paranormal investigator, debunking the schemes of spiritualists and delusions of regular people alike. In 1921, she is invited to a boarding school where the boys claim to see a ghost. A death happened on school grounds during the fall session and Cathcart is believed to be the last hope to ensure any students return for the spring.

Writer/director Nick Murphy and screenwriter Stephen Volk hit on a pleasing combination of Gothic storytelling and 1970s/80s Hammer pictures. Everything in The Awakening doesn’t quite make sense but it doesn’t have to because it sells you on the merits of Florence Cathcart and the principle conflict before it loses meaning. The sprawling school, formerly a mansion, is filled with Victorian decadence long-forgotten by the contemporary cast members. This alone justifies the moments that don’t have logical explanations. If the characters don’t even understand where they are, why should the audience understand everything that happens?

Metallica: Through the Never Review (Film, 2013)

metallicathroughtheneverposter Metallica: Through the Never Review (Film, 2013)Metallica: Through the Never tries something very unusual for a modern concert film. The band members worked with writer/director Nimród Antal to develop an original story set to their set list to play out during the live concert footage. Dane DeHaan plays Trip, a young roadie sent on an important mission during the concert to retrieve an item for the band. What he wanders into is a world strewn in chaos. It’s as if the music of the band has altered reality, creating riots and nightmarish monsters on every corner. It’s an intriguing concept that breaks up the concert footage very well.

What we have here is a bit of fan service so well-executed that anyone not totally averse to the music of Metallica will find something to enjoy. I, personally, was in it for the Dan DeHaan narrative while my brother was there for the music. Everything is really well shot. The editing is solid. The 3D is clean and immersive without too many gags or distractions.

The real star of the film is the sound design. The balance between the music and the live audience is perfect. You’re allowed to experience the band’s skills within the context of the natural energy of the audience. Arena tours have notorious sound issues because the physical arenas are not designed for live music and this team recorded everything beautifully.

It continues on with the Trip’s story in the film. The sound effects added in–car crashes, explosions, police batons, etc.–sync well with the music. It’s a bit more subtle than the manipulation of levels in the pure concert scenes but it’s solid work. It would be all too easy to distract from the music or the storytelling by shifting the balance too far one direction or the other and that never happens.

What does happen is the sad realization that Trip’s story is under developed. It’s basically a long form music video punctuated by scenes of live performance from the band. The individual vignettes are good on their own. I’m quite fond of the opening sequence where Trip rides his skateboard past fans and band members prepping for the concert, as well as a rather unsettling sequence where Trip wanders through streets filled with hanged bodies. They just don’t actually add up to a satisfactory story.

metallicathroughtheneverdesign Metallica: Through the Never Review (Film, 2013)

The style of Metallica: Through the Never cannot be denied

The early vignettes are clearly connected. Trip is enjoying the concert until a backstage manager pulls him aside and sends him to find a broken down truck with an important package for the band. The young roadie sets out in his van after taking some medication–prescription or street is unspecified and does color your opinion of what happens–and quickly gets into an accident. The city is being overrun with angry people while a mysterious masked horseman executes public dissenters.

There is never an attempt after the villain’s introduction to explain what’s causing the chaos or even stick to the basic narrative conceit. It shifts, quite honestly, to a series of post-apocalyptic horror cliches and music video trends that fell out of favor in the 90s. The technical execution and, indeed, Dane DeHaan’s performance as Trip, are both excellent. It’s the story itself that becomes a bit too elusive to be satisfactory.

Metallica: Through the Never is part heavy metal concert film, part experimental musical and will probably be best appreciated in a movie theater. The sound design is so key to the experience and so delicately handled that something will inevitably be lost in all but the most advanced home theater sound systems. Anyone interested in the film should seek it out in theaters. Fans of the music will undoubtedly be pleased to see such a strong and stylish presentation of the music and performance style of Metallica.

Rating: 7/10

This review is part of 31 Days of Horror at Sketchy Details. Click through for more great horror content.

John Dies at the End Review (Film, 2013)

johndiesattheendposter John Dies at the End Review (Film, 2013)If anyone could make a sensible adaptation out of David Wong’s bizarro horror/comedy novel John Dies at the End, it would be writer/director Don Coscarelli. He gets weird. From the first two entries in the Phantasm series to the wild ride of Bubba Ho-Tep, Coscarelli has made a name for himself as a director of weird films. The quasi-Lovecraftian nightmare of Wong’s fictional blog turned novel is right in his wheelhouse. His approach just might not be what you would expect.

In the present, Dave is meeting with a newspaper reporter named Arnie to come clean with his story about an alternate dimension’s drug and monsters infecting our world. Dave tells Arnie the story of how he and John came to discover this disturbing alternate world that is invisible to the naked eye. Only a scant glance out of the corner of your eye can show you the horrors lurking everywhere if you do not take the Soy Sauce.

Wong’s novel is very episodic in nature. It tells three interconnected stories with the same beats and locations about Dave and John fighting against the intrusion of an alternate dimension. The reason it works is that there are humans cooperating with the alternate dimension to control the world. They basically hit the reset button, erase the evidence, and leave John and Dave to take the fall for everything.

Horror Thursday: The Dunwich Horror

My new Horror Thursday column is up at Man, I Love Films. This week, we’re looking at one of the least and most faithful Lovecraft adaptations to ever grace the silver screen. It’s the Schrodinger’s Cat of Lovecraft films.

Horror Thursday: The Dunwich Horror

Face Off 5.07: Living Art

faceoff5.07alana 200x300 Face Off 5.07: Living Art

Alana’s Constructivism [click for full]

Last week on Face Off, the nine remaining artists competed in my favorite challenge ever on this show. It just stepped above the season one finale where the contestants had to create a dynamic fairy tale scene through an incongruent art style. Nothing is more inspiring for an artist of one medium than to be told to go play in another medium’s sandbox. The results are always wild and unexpected. You can’t guarantee quality. You can guarantee that the designs will be a radical departure from the artist’s previous work.

Oddly enough, this was also an art challenge. The contestants visited a huge art gallery to choose a Modern art style (capital M, people, except for Pop Art which was not of that period) to inspire a living work of art. The results were amazing.

I already took my crack at Cubism with a wild and massive eight foot by eight foot Halloween mural of a bat flying over the moon (if I have more time, I’ll add highlights and shadows to really go full Cubist), so let’s get right to the contestants.