The Horror, The Horror: Part 5

Random horror movies watched at random.

Apollo 18 (2011)

The found footage film takes its first steps into space, with this low budget, no star name outing. The basic idea behind the story, one which keys rather nicely into our love of conspiracy theories, is that the aborted Apollo 18 mission actually did take place, but the crew were overcome by an alien life form, and it’s only now decades later with the discovery of this found footage that we are learning the truth. I really didn’t like this. The idea I guess is a good one, other than that I could have done with more of an explanation for (a) the secrecy behind the Apollo 18 mission and (b) where the footage came from when apparently the spacecraft was destroyed while in orbit. The story feels muddled and none of the characters ever came alive for me, with their dialogue filtered through background noise and distortion, while the bulky spacesuits made it hard to differentiate one from the other. The alien threat was intriguing while it remained a mystery who or what was doing things like moving the flag etc., but was singularly underwhelming when its nature was finally revealed. I’ll probably watch it again at some point as the circumstances of this viewing were not the best, but this time around it made me think of the moon set advertisement for baked beans when the astronaut betrays his presence to the monster by farting, and that’s not a good thought to have in your head when a movie is trying to scare you.

The Tall Man (2012)

Now this is much more interesting, a film with some intriguing plot twists that keep the viewer off balance right through to the end. Jessica Biel plays Julia, the district nurse in the dying town of Cold Rock where local legends tell of the Tall Man, a figure who steals children and they are never seen again. Julia’s doctor husband has died and she lives in a large house with a nanny and her son David, but then he is taken by the Tall Man and she sets out in pursuit, determined to get David back. Only nothing here is quite as it seems, and gradually an entirely different picture emerges of Julia and the people of Cold Rock, the reality of the Tall Man and what he is about when he takes the children. Having been sold a dummy the reader is prepared to learn the truth, but it is a truth that leaves us as much at sea as the people of Cold Rock, with decisions to be made regarding ends and means. At the heart of the story is the concept of the American dream falling apart at the seams, and what happens to the people who are left behind as the money moves off elsewhere, how do they survive and what is there of hope for their children. I had some doubts about aspects of the film – that the authorities would be quite so blasé about the continuing disappearances of children, that the actions of the Tall Man are necessary – but those aside it’s a decent little film, one that has a strong cast, with Biel especially in fine form, provides a modicum of action and threat, a villain we can all hate, has an engaging plot, and ultimately offers up moral dilemma that gives the viewer something to think about, one to which there isn’t really an easy, or right, answer. I liked it very much.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

And finally, one of the most famous of haunted house movies, based on a novel by Richard Matheson and scripted by him. A team of psychic investigators are hired to find conclusive proof of life after death by staying in the legendary Belasco House, the former desres of a millionaire satanist and pervert who disappeared within its confines. It’s claimed that the ghosts of Belasco’s victims haunt the House, and certainly whatever walks within its walls isn’t shy in showing itself to the team of investigators, with various minatory occurrences that make them feel decidedly unwelcome. There are, of course, echoes of The Haunting in all of this, with Roddy McDowell in the Richard Johnson role and Pamela Franklin as medium Florence Tanner, the vulnerable one whose presence actually stirs up whatever phenomenon is present, and as with Julie Harris’s Eleanor the others are only too ready to attribute the attacks on Florence as self-inflicted and cries for attention. Those comparisons aside it is a story more overtly driven by sexual tension, with Florence offering herself to the spirits and Gayle Hunnicutt doing an out of character turn as a borderline nymphomaniac. While The Haunting had understated special effects, relying primarily on atmosphere and psychology, in this film the spirits get to strut their stuff more obviously, with objects flung about and flames rearing up at the drip of a candle, though it stops short of a Poltergeist style sfx extravaganza. And perhaps the most important difference, at the end we are granted resolution of a kind, with the mystery of what happened to Belasco revealed as the prelude to a thorough cleansing of his house, and an explanation of sorts for psychic phenomena that, albeit I suspect nothing more than jargon and claptrap, allows for the supremacy of scientific method. More than forty years after it was made, the film stands up very well, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it over again. Bottom line, it’s easy on the eye, with more than enough thrills and spills to entertain, though it would have been more effective as horror if they’d left the door to the supernatural ajar at the end.

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