Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Halloween 2013: October 19

Carrie (2013)

I can understand the desire to remake “Carrie.” The story is iconic. Every generation of students have to deal with bullying. There’s a Carrie White in every high school in the world. Perhaps each generation deserves their own version of “Carrie.” At the same time, is revisiting a story this well-known for the third time necessary?  Is there any chance of the 2013 version of “Carrie” dethroning the 1976 take as the definitive vision?

Director Kimberly Peirce maintains the original structure as much as possible. Carrie White: social pariah, crazy mom, psychic powers. Period in the shower, school bullies, pity prom date, pig’s blood, telekinetic rampage. The differences are minor. The school principal actually remembers Carrie’s name.  Margaret White has taken up self-mutilation. She cuts her skin in times of stress and clearly derives masochistic pleasure from it. Modern CGI-effects allows Carrie’s powers to be more visualized. She melts deadbolts, whips electric wires, and floats over the burning gymnasium. The screenplay attempts to modern-up the story for today’s kids. Carrie’s shower room break-down is recorded on a cell phone and posted to the internet. Carrie looks up videos of telekinesis on YouTube. Characters text each other a few times. Few of these elements have any effect on the plot. Otherwise, the tale remains the same.

The main attraction of "Carrie" is seeing Chloe Grace Moretz in the lead role. On paper, it seems like sound casting. Moretz is talented and has played sheltered, disturbed, violent young women before. Ultimately, Carrie is a rough fit for Chloe’s usual style. Her Carrie is too strong. She never comes off like a victim. Her interaction with her mother is too willful. This Carrie has not been wrecked by years of systematic abuse. She masters her powers too quickly and seems too willing to use them. You honestly wonder why she doesn’t just run away from home. Hit-Girl wouldn’t put up with this bullshit. On a far more nitpicking level, I dislike Chloe controlling her powers with her hands. Purely ascetically, I think it looks goofy.

People have harped on Chloe because she’s too pretty to play Carrie. She is. Everyone in this movie is too pretty. Every single girl that attends the high school is rail-thin. Every single guy has a six-pack and handsome stubble. There are two fat kids in the entire film. I know, I counted. Despite ostensibly being set in Maine, the décor of the surrounding homes scream modern-day Los Angeles. Everything is too slick, too polished. This extends to the CGI effects, which are overused and overdone. Carrie flying above the ground or lifting cars in the air is too much for me. This is just how it is with modern studio horror films. Hollywood doesn’t realize there’s a world outside of L.A., the place where everyone is beautiful and has perfect teeth.

It’s not that 2013’s “Carrie” is bad, per say. The character might not be her type but Moretz still gives a very good performance. Julianne Moore finds a suitable middle ground between Piper Laurie’s overdone theatrics and Patricia Clarkson’s subtle method acting. Her Margaret is still a crazy Jesus freak, damning the world and her own daughter, but she’s at least believable as a human being. Gabriella Widle and Ansel Elgort are serviceable as Sue and Tommy. Porita Doubleday as Chris Hargensen is so completely entitled, you really can’t wait to see her killed. The film makes time for quiet character moments and I ultimately found Carrie and Tommy’s prom night relationship to be fairly charming.

Even the prom night massacre isn’t bad. The movie doesn’t back away from Carrie’s cruelty. The effects and gore are well-engineered. Even though some of her victims are assholes, it still establishes that Carrie becomes a monster by wantonly slaughtering innocents. The scene even builds some decent tension, though Marco Beltrami’s uninteresting score really makes me miss Pino Dinaggio.

The ending falls flat for me. The film tries to establish that, despite the abuse, Carrie and Margaret really do love each other. This manifests itself solely as a few “I love yous” and nothing else. The film returns King’s device of Sue’s pregnancy while largely missing the point. Overall, Sue’s final discussion with Carrie is overdone and spells out the themes too blatantly. Moretz is least believable when crying over her dead mother. The voiceover aided final scene similarly spells out the movie’s moral. Is 2013’s “Carrie” a bad movie? No. Is it a good movie? Almost. Do the performances and stylistic changes justify the remake’s existence? I can’t say it does. Ultimately, this ranks on the same level for me as the 2002 version. Not bad by any means but wholly unnecessary. [6/10]

The Devil-Doll (1936)

Common knowledge would have it that, after “Freaks” proved too spicy a meatball for ‘30s audiences, Todd Browning’s career was over. While I can’t comment on the films’ performances, Browning did go on to make two minor classics: “Mark of the Vampire” and this film, “The Devil-Doll.”

Despite what the title might lead you to think, this doesn’t feature the 1930s equivalent of Chucky slashing through flapper girls. Instead, the gimmick is similar to “Dr. Cyclops.” The story starts with two escapees slinking away from infamous Devil’s Island. One of the convicts is Lionel Barrymore and the other is a not-quite mad scientist. The scientist has whipped up some phelbotinum that shrinks people, making them slaves to the shrinker’s psychic will. He dies, leaving his research to Barrymore. Lionel grabs the formula and heads to Paris, planning to use the tiny people to murder the men who framed him. As you do.

That I expected. I didn’t expect so much cross dressing. Similar to ‘The Unholy Three,” Barrymore hides in plain sight by living as an old woman. I’m not exactly sure why Browning was so fond of guys dressing up as old ladies but, at the very least, Barrymore is convincing in drag. The criminal opens up a toy shop, selling the miniaturized people as dolls, using them to dole out his revenge.

“The Devil-Doll” does have three stand-out sequences. In the first, a female doll squirms out of a little girl’s arm before sneaking into the victim’s bedroom. In a moment just as much about special effects as building tension, the little person slowly climbs into the man’s bed, moving around on the furniture. When the doll finally strikes, the camera cuts away to Barrymore’s leering face, screams echoing through the night. During that murder, a rare emerald was stolen. A cop comes to Barrymore’s toy shop, unaware that the incriminating jewel is in plain sight. This is the movie’s most suspenseful moment, the protagonist coming very close to being found. Finally, in the climax, another devil doll comes for the final victim, creeping up under the chair, preparing to strike. These moments make the movie worth seeking out.

A large portion is focused on a romantic subplot. Barrymore keeps an eye on his estranged daughter, who has grown to resent her missing father. He hopes to win the girl back and talks to her while in disguise. The daughter is in a budding relationship with a cab driver. Maureen O’Sullivan does well as the daughter and Frank Lawton is never annoying as her love interest. Still, you wonder when the movie’s going to get back to the more interesting devil doll business.

In a surprising move, Barrymore gets away with his crimes, the one person linking him to the murders conveniently blowing themselves up. The emotional climax has Barrymore meeting with the cab driver at the Eiffel Tower, preparing to reveal himself to his daughter. The way this plays out is sweet and satisfying, even if it conflicts with the overall tone. “The Devil-Doll” is just as much a melodrama as it is a horror movie. The special effects are quite good and Browning seems more interested then he did while making “Dracula.” Its tonal shifts make it an odd one. [7/10]

Tales from the Crypt: “Lower Berth

There’s nothing to suggest that the different “Tales form the Crypt” stories inhabit the same universe. It seems more likely they don’t. The Crypt Keeper host segments definitely don’t seem to co-exist with the stories he telling. After all, they’re all collected in his book. “Lower Berth” at the very least suggests otherwise.

The story is set at an old-timey carnival, always a fun location for a horror story. We meet the cruel proprietor of the freak show and his star attraction, Enoch the Two-Faced Man. Despite his monstrous appearance, Enoch is a nice guy. He’s treated as property and abused by his “owner.” All Enoch really wants is a family. Meanwhile, the freak show owner comes in the possession of an ancient mummy princess via a shyster. Enoch is immediately smitten with the busty mummy. Things play out mostly as expected.

The focus on Enoch gives “Lower Berth” a different perspective then most “Tales.” Instead of watching an asshole get his just desserts, we instead watch a sympathetic monster struggle to escape his current situation. It’s actually sort of heartwarming that Enoch finds the family he desires so much at the end. The make-up is impressive and Jeff Yagher acts well under the latex. The direction is moodier and the music stronger then in most episode. This is probably one of the most famous “Tales” since the end reveals it as a Crypt Keeper origin story. This serves as more of a cute coda then a conclusion, though it is interesting to discover that the Crypt Keeper is the offspring of a circus freak and an undead mummy! [7/10]

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