Death Note, Not Really A Horror Movie

imagesLast night, the husband and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix, and we came across this interesting looking “horror movie: called Death Note. The premise is that a teenage boy, Light (yes, that’s his name), comes across a leather journal labeled “Death Note.” In the book, there are a list of rules, but what it all boils down to is that if he writes down the name of the person while holding their face his his mind, they die. He can even pick the method.

He starts with the school bully. (That’s not a spoiler. If you couldn’t see that a million miles away, then this is probably the first movie you’ve ever watched.) Ryuk, presumably the creature who orchestrates the killings, appears to him and goads him into killing more people.

Sounds pretty cool, right? It’s apparently based on manga of the same name, and people who reviewed this vs. the manga on said that the creators got most everything wrong.

I haven’t read the manga, but the story felt off to me. The whole time I was watching it, I wanted to like it. But it was too much like bad TV movie instead of the quality I’ve come to expect from Netflix originals. Even worse, the premise was fantastic, and I saw how it could have been great.

What I didn’t like (SPOILERS below):

  1. It turned into a bad cop show. Now, I love cop shows. But this was supposed to be a horror movie. It was like a caricature, with the nameless “secret” detective not only believing that a single person could be responsible for the deaths of 400 people, but then figuring it out that it’s a teenage boy. Yes, Light has people leave his “signature” at their death scenes, but the police never heard of copycat crime?
  2. No real exploration of human nature. The kid starts killing bad people, starting with the bully and then the guy who was responsible for his mother’s death. Which is totally understandable. Light starts dating this girl who’s obsessed with death. At first they’re just killing bad people: rapists and murderers. But when detectives start getting too close to them, Mia wants to kill the detectives and Light doesn’t. This could have been such an interesting storyline, but they just left it flat. Light was the good guy, Mia was the bad guy. Black and white.
  3. The book falls from the sky. The first scene of the movie is that a storm rolls in, and the Death Note literally falls from the sky. Literally falls from the sky. Light picks it up and becomes the “keeper.” This is the dumbest way it could have happened to get the book. Off the top of my head, I can think of many better ways for this to happen. It’s too deus ex machina for me. But at least the opening scene set the stage for how the rest of the movie would go.
  4. Light never wonders what happened to the last keeper(s) of the book. Ryuk alludes several times the previous keepers, but Light doesn’t seem to pick up on it. Ryuk says only the keeper can hold the book for more than 7 days. And that Light can either give the book away, or Ryuk can find a new keeper. But the way he said it made me wonder if the last one died, and how.
  5.  I love when music blends seamlessly into the background, enhancing the mood. This didn’t do that. It led to that caricature-like atmosphere I mentioned before.
  6. The ending was ambiguous. I like ambiguous endings, when appropriate. The ending of Inception was cool because it wasn’t lazy storytelling; it was part of the story. In this case, how it ended would change the message of the entire movie. I understand why the writers did it; to leave it open to the audience to determine, like a commentary on human nature. But the rest of the story didn’t do a good enough job of this to have it end this way.

One thing I really liked:

Other than the premise, the one thing I really liked about this show was the fact that people started worshipping “Kira,” the entity who took credit for the killings. Criminals started turning themselves in to police, instead of waiting for Kira to kill them where they were. I found those two things believable and interesting.

In conclusion:

Overall, it was interesting to watch once. I wouldn’t have been as disappointed by it as I was if it didn’t have such great potential. It’s just that I like when horror explores human nature, and this was a let-down.

What Scares Me

img_6722I often tell people that the only movie that ever scared me was the Blair Witch Project.  I suppose that’s not entirely true.  As a kid, I caught Children of the Corn on TV, and I remember it giving me nightmares.

Not everyone who saw Blair Witch thought it was scary.  But I saw it back in 1999, when it first came out in theaters, before “found footage movies” were a thing.  Someone told me it was true, and I believed them.  I was living in Pennsylvania at the time, in a rural area, with a scary, dark forest in my back yard.

While all that scared me, what really did it for me with that movie was the fact that you never actually see the witch.  All these movies that conjure up monsters with teeth and claws and dripping blood make me laugh.  Because for me, it’s not what I can see that’s scary; it’s all the things I can’t see.

I don’t find comedies funny, but if you show me most horror movies, I’ll laugh and laugh.  The Ring had potential up until the bad guy was a little girl, crawling out of the TV.  With that scene, it went over into silly for me.  Intellectually, I found the first Paranormal Activity scary, but it didn’t make my heart speed up or give me any gut-wrenching moments.  It was more that I knew it was scary rather than I felt it.

Maybe that’s because I worked in mobile crisis for awhile, where bad things could actually happen to us.  I got lucky, and nothing ever did.  But other teams I worked with had some scary stories.

Nothing I can see is scary.  Blood and guts and gore don’t do it for me.  What scares me are the things I can’t see.  The monster who stays off-screen and won’t show it’s face, or the human monster who looks just like the rest of us.  Psychological horror, where something’s going on, and we don’t know quite what, but it’s messing with my head.

The Shining, by Stephen King, is one of the best examples of psychological horror.  Because yeah, there are ghosts or demons or whatever, but it’s what they do that’s so wonderfully horrible.  They make this mess of a man, who’s really trying to be better, devolve into someone who almost kills his wife and son.  That’s horror.

What scares you?



My Top 10 Horror Movies

DSCN2618I recently wrote a blog about how awful the Chernobyl Diaries was, and I wanted to link to a previous blog about the best horror movies of all time.  I realized as I looked through my archives that I had never written one!  I don’t know how this oversight could have happened.  I am rectifying it immediately.

These are in no particular order.

  1.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984):  There’s nothing else quite like a villain who can find you in your dreams.  Sleep is a basic human need, and not having it can make you crazy.  I literally had nightmares about this movie for months after I saw it.  That didn’t stop me from seeing the others in the series, but none of them matched the terror of the first.
  2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010):  I was skeptical when I saw that they were re-imagining this iconic horror movie.  Someone other than Robert Englund as Freddie Krueger?  Blasphemy!  However, Jackie Earle Hayley did a spectacular job as Freddie, and it was close enough to the original to satisfy fans like me, yet edgy and different enough to keep my interest.
  3. Shredder (2003):  This is camp horror at its finest.  A group of young, attractive adults go to a remote cabin for some snowboarding.  Murder comes to visit, and they… can’t… escape… (insert maniacal laugh here)
  4. Dead Snow (2009):  I thought I’d seen everything when it comes to zombie movies, but apparently, I hadn’t.  This Norwegian movie is subtitled, but well worth the effort.  A group of med students go to a remote cabin and find some treasure under the floor.  Zombie Nazis kill the students to get their gold back.
  5. Rec (2007):  The one is a another subtitled zombie movie, this time in Spanish.  The fire department gets called out because an older woman is acting strangely.  They later get quarantined in the building, and the group struggles to escape.
  6. The Descent (2005):  Nothing is scarier (to me) than being trapped underground in a small space.  The women in this movie went underground on purpose, spelunking.  After that, it just gets creepier as they explore this uncharted cave and find thing that probably should have stayed buried.
  7. The Blair Witch Project (1999):  This movie redefined the genre.  Many of us think of the shaky camera and first person shooter point of view in horror movies as nothing special, but in 1999, this was all new.  When I went to see it, I actually believed it was from actual footage, and it scared the socks off me even after I realized it was fiction.  I lived in woods just like those!  And since you never saw the Blair Witch, you didn’t know exactly what was coming for you.  It’s a classic for a reason.
  8. Paranormal Activity (2007):  I had a friend who thought this movie was real.  It was so well done in a realistic manner with unknowns, that it fooled her, even in this era of movies trying to pass themselves off as documentaries.  There were good jumpy moments in it, and some things that stuck with me for weeks.  Even knowing it was just a movie… I wondered.
  9. The Shining (1980):  Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this movie is scary because it’s one man turning against the family he loves.  Ghostly influences convince him that his family is against him, and they’re all trapped in this huge, isolated hotel.
  10. Psycho (1960):  If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend renting it.  It’s classic for a reason.  I’m very interested to see the new movie coming out about the making of it.

Honorable mention: Dale and Tucker vs. Evil:  It’s not a “real” horror movie.  It’s a spoof of horror movies, a comedy of errors.  It’s one of my favorites for the way it nails the genre.

The Traveler- Movie Review

The Traveler, released in 2010, starring Val Kilmer, was a pretty good horror movie.  It goes into my “worth watching once” category.  The premise is that a man walks into a police station on Christmas Eve and confesses to murder.  The stranger is a bit creepy, and starts by freaking out everyone in the police station.

Halfway through the movie, the plot hinted to a twist in the story that I thought was going to be pretty awesome.  That promise wasn’t fulfilled, which disappointed me, and is what put it in the worth watching once category.

The story doesn’t offer anything terribly new, but it’s entertaining.  It’s available on Netflix (which is how we found it).  The season for horror movies is approaching!  Happy watching.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil- Watch It Now!

As you can probably tell by my title, I recently watched Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and I have to say, it was one of the best horror/ comedies I’ve seen in awhile.

I love horror movies, but I usually find them to be funny, whether they’re supposed to be or not.  C’mon now!  The hot chick ran up to the second floor screaming?  We know the guy in the mask is going to “find” her.  He’s not stupid just because he’s trying to kill her.  People post on Facebook when they’re cooking dinner or using the bathroom.  Okay, you can’t get to your phone… can you Facebook that there’s an ax murderer in the house?

So, “horror” movies usually make me laugh.  I’ve found a few really good, really scary ones, but those are few and far between.  Tucker and Dale vs Evil made me laugh.  On purpose.  It took a lot of horror movie conventions and made fun of them.

A group of college kids go camping for the weekend.  In the convenience store before they get into the woods, they encounter a couple of rednecks who look a little dirty and creepy.  The college kids (hot chicks included) decide that they must be serial killers.  When they decide to go skinny dipping later that night (cliche!), one of the girls hits her head and would have drowned if Tucker and Dale hadn’t saved her.  They take her back to their cabin so that her friends can come get her.

In the meantime, the friends decide to rescue her, and decide not to get the police (cliche!).  Hilarity ensues as the friends meet with freak accidents.  I really recommend this movie.  It’s funny, well enough written to keep me engaged, with fun characters.  Plus, I really love Alan Tudyk, and he plays one of the rednecks.  Tyler Labine kind of steals the show as Dale, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for comedies he appears in.

Grab some popcorn and settle in and watch the show.