The Ring

Trivia question: what horror movie remake grossed a quarter of a billion dollars and helped spawn a horror subgenre in the U.S.? I am of course talking about the remake of The Ring, starring Naomi Watts. I would have watched Ringu – the original – but I can’t find it anywhere.

The plot: intrepid reporter Rachel hears an urban legend about a cursed videotape that will supposedly kill you seven days after viewing. After tracking the videotape down and watching it, Rachel’s hardboiled skepticism quickly turns to complete belief. Despite the danger, Rachel makes a copy of the videotape and shows it to her ex, who comes to believe her but isn’t angry that she, you know, showed it to him.

The videotape itself is a bunch of disjointed images that don’t seem to make any sense, and most of The Ring is devoted to deciphering them. Following a trail of lighthouses, falling ladders, dead horses and hidden wells leads our heroine to the ghost of a creepy little girl. Can Rachel decipher the angry spirit’s secret before her seven days are up?

Two things struck me about The Ring. The first is that certain plot elements of this movie most likely inspired It Follows. The second is the lack of jump scares; J-horror is infamous for its creepy children and jump scares. With the exception of the ending, The Ring isn’t all that scary. When it comes down to it, not a whole lot happens in this movie.

I also didn’t like Rachel, The Ring’s main character. If you found a cursed videotape that is supposed to kill you seven days after viewing, would you watch it? A lot of people might, especially skeptics. Would you make a copy and show it to your ex? Maybe, if you didn’t like your ex. How about bringing the videotape home and leaving it around the living room so your curious child can watch it? Thoughtlessness is one thing; blatant stupidity is something else.

I bought The Ring fifteen years ago. After watching half the movie, I hit the Stop button. Now I remember why I did it. Unfortunately, this movie just doesn’t hold up.


A good parasite wants to keep its host healthy. I know that because I read Parasite Rex, and you should too! So why not use parasites in medical research? I’m sure this is not an original idea, but as far as I know David Cronenberg was the first to use it as a plot point in a movie (way back in 1975). If I am wrong, please let me know. I just learned how to use the strikethrough feature on WordPress.

The plot: Doctor Hobbes decides that people are too uptight, man, so he develops a parasite that turns its hosts into sex-crazed maniacs. He inserts the parasite into his personal guinea pig, a nineteen-year old girl who proceeds to infect a number of men in her apartment complex. Remorseful, the doctor strangles her and then kills himself, a scene that manages to be both violent and sexual.

Cut to our hero and heroine: Dr. St. Luc and his sidekick, Nurse Forsythe. The good doctor works at that selfsame apartment complex, located on an island and thus cut off from civilization. Dr. St. Luc isn’t a very effective hero, twiddling his thumbs as the parasite gets cracking, multiplying itself and finding new hosts. Doc St. Luc knows that the Love Bug is on the loose, but doesn’t react very quickly. Maybe he’s surprised at the speed in which the parasite metastasizes and reproduces, or maybe he’s just not the action-hero type.

Things start getting hairy. Barbara Steele is infected by the parasite in a bathtub, a scene that has since become a horror cliché. A love-crazed middle-aged woman drags the equivalent of the pizza boy into her apartment. Bizarre sex and orgies abound as crowds of passion pilgrims roam the hallways in search of their next love fix. Can the uptight Doc and his nurse girlfriend escape the Sexual Revolution?

The plot of Shivers is similar to Cronenberg’s Rabid, but Shivers is a less polished movie. Please note that there are several scenes of sexual assault, which mostly consist of panting, fully dressed men flopping on top of women.  Be aware of this before watching.

Recommended for body horror and Dave Cronenberg fans.

Dark Water

Dark Water is a Japanese movie based on the novel written by Koji Suzuki and directed by Hideo Nakata, creators of The Ring. There are two movies titled Dark Water, the original and a remake starring Jennifer Connelly. This is a review of the original movie, which is available on Amazon Prime.

The plot: Yoshimi moves into a creepy apartment complex with her six-year old daughter Ikuko. Soon strange things start happening: a little red book bag that keeps coming back, the spreading stain on the ceiling, glimpses of a little girl dressed in a yellow raincoat. The little girl doesn’t seem to like Ikuko, who is drawn to the water tower on the roof (water is a recurring theme in this movie). How far will Yoshimi go to protect her daughter?

There are a few things left unsaid: Yoshimi is fragile, maybe suicidal. She has no money and is in a nasty custody battle with her ex-husband. There’s no question of the reality of what happens here, but the events that occur in Dark Water mirror Yoshimi’s downward spiral, which is the best type of horror. Yoshimi does some stupid things in this movie, but when your life falls apart that will happen. She’s holding on by tips of her fingernails, so she clings to Ikuko, but she also resents her daughter. It’s no coincidence that the monster of Dark Water is a child who wants love.

Dark Water has lots of good jump scares, but that’s not the point. This movie reminds me of a tragedy in a L.A hotel involving a water tower. There was footage of a girl in an elevator, which I’m not going to link to, because it’s easy enough to find on YouTube. People seem to think the video is spooky and that the woman is talking to ghosts, when what we’re really seeing is a person in the midst of a breakdown.

Highly recommended!


Horror Hotel/City of the Dead

I learned about Horror Hotel, aka City of the Dead, in an article I read about folk horror. To be honest, I’d never heard of this movie and thus didn’t expect much. I was pleasantly surprised. Released in 1960 in black-and-white, Horror Hotel is one of the better horror flicks I’ve seen in the past few months.

The plot: college student Nan Barlow travels to the town of Whitewood, Massachusetts on the recommendation of her professor (Christopher Lee) to research witchcraft. She goes despite the protests of her boyfriend and her brother, who are so obnoxious I think she makes the trek to get away from them. Nan picks up a hitchhiker named Jethrow enroute to Whitewood. When Jethrow vanishes upon arrival Nan doesn’t blink an eye, which means she either doesn’t believe in the supernatural or isn’t too smart. She definitely didn’t read the script.

Whitewood is the type of place that would make most sane people turn around and drive away. It’s always foggy and dark. The blind priest warns Nan off. Ghostly singing voices drift up from the trapdoor in our heroine’s room. The woman who owns the Raven’s Inn looks just like Elizabeth Selwyn, burned for witchcraft almost three hundred years ago. Clueless Nan soldiers on, at one point reading a treatise on human sacrifice to the head witch, who does a fine job keeping a straight face.

Horror Hotel is not perfect. Neither of the movie’s titles fit. The jazzy bebop soundtrack doesn’t work. Mr. Lee is great as usual, but some of the other acting is dreadful. However, Horror Hotel is well written and atmospheric, with a few genuinely disturbing scenes and a riveting ending.



Be warned that this review contains spoilers.

A mockumentary about creatures of the night, Vampires is as good an example of this axiom as I’ve ever seen. Do not confuse this movie with What We Do In the Shadows, another pseudo-documentary about bloodsuckers. Set in Belgium and Quebec, Vampires is in French with English subtitles and is more satire than horror movie. I didn’t laugh at  the jokes, but I might not have understood some of the cultural references. If you think vampires slaughtering minorities, children and handicapped people is funny, then this is the movie for you.

The plot: a film crew documents the exploits of a vampire clan – family head George, his wife Bertha and their two children, Samson and Grace. The kids aren’t George and Bertha’s biological children. I think ‘children’ means that they’re of the same bloodline, although this is never explained and I never saw the movies or TV shows the filmmakers are referencing. Sloppy writing is a problem throughout Vampires – dumb characters, dangling plotlines, unexplained incidents and utter impossibilities.

Bad writing aside, the main problem I had with Vampires is that George and Bertha are boring. They behave like middle-aged swingers who think they’re cool and end up embarrassing their kids in front of their friends. George is a self-satisfied prick and Bertha acts like she’s high on prescription meds. I will say that the nosferatu couple that lives in their basement is even worse.

Grace and Samson are more sympathetic than their ‘parents.’ Samson goes to vampire school to watch torture porn movies and practice his bite on a CPR dummy. His best friend is an ex-member of The Doors, who died and was reborn speaking fluent French. Grace likes pink and has a pink coffin because her dad spoils her. She keeps trying to kill herself because she can’t die, although she can die: just step into the daylight. So it’s not clear if Grace  wants to die or if she wants to be human. She has a human lover, who appears in the middle of the movie and just as suddenly disappears.

Samson has sex with the head vampire’s wife, which gets the whole family banished to Quebec. George has to get a real job. Samson falls in love with a human woman and becomes a subway busker. Grace starts transforming back into a human, for reasons way too muddled to go into. That’s one of the utter impossibilities I was talking about, and I’m not going to waste another hundred words describing why. Trust me on this one.

Not recommended.

General Cemetery

General Cemetery is the second Peruvian horror movie I’ve seen in the past week; the first was Secret of Evil. I watched both flicks courtesy of Netflix Streaming and will say that General Cemetery is a better movie than Secret of Evil, which is not the same thing as saying it’s a good movie. General Cemetery is a hard movie to classify, part found-footage, part young-girl-possessed-by-Satan and part evil-demon-wreaks-bloody-vengeance-on-a-gang-of-dumb-teenagers.

The plot: Andrea is a fifteen-year old girl whose father dies. Luckily, she has her friends and schoolmates to support her: Gabriel, who we know is a jock because his hat’s turned backwards; Julito, who everyone calls ‘Fatso’ and whose only personality trait is that he’s heavy; and Pablo, who films everything. Finally there’s Andrea’s best friend Mayra, whose aunt has given her a Very Special Ouija Board. Pablo is our main character. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to come across as sympathetic. At the movie’s start he tries to film up a girl’s skirt, so to me he seemed creepy rather than likable.

Andrea and her friends attempt to contact her father with a homemade Ouija board. It doesn’t work. They then decide to take a road trip to the cemetery where he’s buried and try again, this time with the Very Special Ouija Board. For some reason Andrea brings her little sister Evita along. Unless Andrea read the script, there’s no sane reason for her to do this. The ritual at the cemetery produces results, if you call Evita becoming possessed by Satan results.

The possession scenes are hilarious. The Scooby Crew chases after the possessed Evita. When they catch her she hisses and they turn tail and run away. This chase sequence is repeated three or four times and you can clearly see a few of the characters laughing. We soon learn that everything that’s happened is the result of a revenge plot, which I will not reveal because spoilers.

Besides a few jump scares, General Cemetery isn’t scary. The cemetery itself is certainly large and impressive, but I didn’t think it was scary. That might be because I don’t believe in ghosts. The plot is fairly complex but falls apart at the end. As one of the characters says – ‘but I didn’t do anything!’

Too bad life’s not fair.

Grave Encounters

You know you’ve watched a special movie when there’s a disclaimer at the end saying: no rats were eaten during the course of this film. Grave Encounters isn’t the best haunted insane asylum movie I’ve seen – that would be Session 9 – but it is fun, especially if you like found-footage.

Grave Encounters does not break any new ground. The cast and crew of paranormal reality show Grave Encounters spend the night in the Collingswood Psychiatric Hospital. They set up cameras to record spooky footage and talk to people about how the abandoned hospital is haunted. When the groundskeeper locks them in for the evening they are never seen again…until the footage of their Night From Hell ™ is found by the authorities.

One of the best things about Grave Encounters is how the characters are in on the joke. The Fourth Wall stays intact, but the cast and crew are engaged in the act of creating fiction. Lance and co-host Sasha don’t believe in the supernatural, so they’re just making shit up as they go. Lance slips the landscaper a twenty to say he’s seen a ghost. His actor friend Houston Gray does a schmaltzy psychic act. T.C. and Matt are the crew.

The problem is that Collingswood really is haunted. Wheelchairs move. An invisible entity pushes T.C. down the stairs. Invisible fingers play with Sasha’s hair. Matt the camera guy vanishes. When the groundskeeper doesn’t let our heroes out in the morning they break open the door and find endless miles of corridors. Soon afterwards, the ghosts start to manifest physically, and that’s when the real jump scares start.

Grave Encounters does a fine job of poking fun at found-footage tropes. None of the characters believe in the supernatural. The interviewees are awkward, with one guy asking where he should look while another curses on-camera. A bored Matt and T.C. toss a football back and forth. The words Death Awaits are spray-painted on the entranceway and instead of being scared, everyone laughs and thinks it’s hokey.

Recommended for found-footage fans.