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Horror Movies Reviews

The House on Sorority Row (1982) and Sorority Row (2009) Reviews

This is an iconic poster. It is lurid, but it also shows off the gothic atmosphere that is created in the film.

I don’t have much to say about this poster. It is honestly kind of awkward.

The Summer of Spook

It has been a while since I last reviewed something. I had many more reviews planned for The Summer of Spook, but alas, life gets in the way sometimes. Hopefully, I can now begin reviewing some more films for The Summer of Spook. Today we look at 1982s The House on Sorority Row and the 2009 remake Sorority Row. Both movies have plenty of positives and negatives—the 2009 version has a bit more problems but is still fun. The House on Sorority Row is a classic and seminal slasher from the early 1980s. J.A. Kerswell has a very positive outlook on the original The House on Sorority Row and refers to it in his book The Slasher Movie Book as “one of the best slasher movies of the period,” and refers to it as, “exciting, suspenseful, and stylish” (Kerswell, 2012, #132). I can see where he is coming from in his assessment, particularly with the film’s ending, which is highlighted by a surrealist atmosphere that elevates the film’s climax.

Both films tell the story of girls in a sorority who commit a prank that ends in death and murder. In The House on Sorority Row, the prank is committed on the house mother, played by Lois Kelso Hunt. In the remake Sorority Row, the prank is committed on their friend Megan’s boyfriend, but the prank goes horribly wrong, and Megan ends up dead by being impaled through the chest with a tire iron. The remake has the character wielding a signature bladed tire iron that, to me, is a pretty unique slasher weapon, but the original has a much better pace and atmosphere. In The House on Sorority Row, the killings begin the same day that the house mother is accidentally murdered, while in the remake, the killings start a year later as the characters try and keep the secret of Megan’s death from getting out. Having the characters have to deal with the accidental death at the very moment creates a much more tense and thrilling atmosphere. The characters in both movies act incredibly selfish, except for the Final Girls from each movie wanting to call for help from the police or an ambulance. No one other than the Final Girls want to get help, afraid of the negative repercussions that their misguided prank and unintentional murders will lead to.

While I don’t have as much positive to say about the characters in these movies I do enjoy the performances from the lead character, Katherine (played by Kate McNeil), in the original and the performance by Leah Pipes in the remake, she plays the bitchy character, Jessica. I enjoy these performances for entirely different purposes. Kate McNeil does an excellent job—particularly in the final act—of relating the terror of the situation to the audience. One of the best scenes in the movie features a character hiding in a jester outfit in the attic where she is hiding. Kate McNeil does an excellent job expressing terror as she realizes that the costume is occupied. It is an effectively creepy and terrifying scene that increased my enjoyment of an already entertaining slasher movie. Leah Pipes does not get praised for the same thing; instead, her performance as Jessica is memorable because of how bitchy and selfish she plays the role. She ranks up there with Melissa from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood as one of the best bitchy characters in a slasher movie. No matter how selfish or vile she may come across she is always a joy to watch on screen and Leah Pipes steals the movie. We get a brief appearance from Carrie Fisher in the remake as the house mother but unfortunately, she isn’t given much to do; however, she does get a pretty decent scene where she fights the killer—I feel it’s important to note whenever the great Carrie Fisher was on screen.

Both movies feature boring twists but for different reasons. I’m not sure if the original is supposed to be a twist since it is telegraphed from the beginning, but the movie frames it in a way that is supposed to be shocking. The killer’s reveal in the remake is boring, and the motive behind the kills is rather lame and uninspired. Both films are entertaining but I think I give the edge to the original The House on Sorority Row even though the remake features the amazing bitchy Jessica. The remake has much gorier kills, most of which are well done, but the original has a unique atmosphere and remarkably uses colors and lighting to enhance the horrific atmosphere. Also, the original has a legitimately terrifying scene with the killer hiding in a jester costume. All in all, I think both are enjoyable flicks to watch on a hot summer night inside the AC.

The House on Sorority Row Rating 3.5/5

Sorority Row Rating 2/5

References

Kerswell, J.A. (2012). The Slasher Movie. Chicago Review Press.

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Horror Movies Reviews

Oldboy and I Saw the Devil: Double Review

Oldboy. Released in 2003.
I Saw the Devil. Released in 2010

The Summer of Spook 

An old Klingon proverb says “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” In Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, released in 2003, Oh Dae-su (played by Choi Min-sik), a man who has been imprisoned for fifteen years by an unknown person, goes to a sushi restaurant and asks to eat something alive. He has a conversation with the chef, Mi-do (played by Kang Hye-jung), about how the best sushi is made with cold hands. He then proceeds to shove a live squid in his mouth and bites the head off. Its tentacles wrap around his face, but he ignores this and keeps eating. Oh Dae-su’s imprisonment has changed him; he goes from being a man who talks too much to someone cold and seeking violence. He wants to be served something cold and alive. 

I Saw the Devil, released in 2010 and directed by Kim Jee-woon, explores revenge similarly, although it engages with the horror genre much more directly. After losing his fiancee to a demented serial killer, Jang Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik), Special Agent Kim Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) begins routinely torturing the serial killer to get his revenge. As he executes this process the characters and the audience start wondering if Kim Soo-hyun is losing his soul and becoming a monster. Both Oldboy and I Saw the Devil feature the antagonist calling the protagonist a monster, or mention how they created a monster. This concept of monster creation has been present in horror fiction since the beginning. Books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein deal with the literal creation of a monster; whereas, Oldboy and I Saw the Devil use the monster creation as a metaphor. 

Neither one of these movies is for the faint of heart, and both feature traumatic endings (which I will not spoil here. Seriously, watch these movies). They deal with the subject of revenge in a dark and nuanced way. How much would someone be willing to lose for revenge? Both films explore the cyclical cycle of revenge and violence and how once someone starts getting vengeance, everything resets, and bloodlust and revenge reemerge. Western movies–I talking regionally not the genre–such as Death Wish, released in 1974 and remade in 2018, along with its subsequent sequels, and John Wick use the revenge narrative as a vehicle for an action film. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. John Wick is one of my all-time favorite action films, but what I Saw the Devil and Oldboy offer is much more poignant and shows just how much is sacrificed in the name of revenge. Also, even though Oldboy and I Saw the Devil use the revenge narrative in a much more visceral and intense way they are still very satisfying action movies with Oldboy featuring one of the most well executed fight scenes of all-time. 

Both I Saw the Devil and Oldboy also bridge the horror genre, which is why I’m looking at them under The Summer of Spook banner. I Saw the Devil engages with the horror genre in a much more direct way, some moments reminded me of films like Silence of the Lambs, and I should add that Choi Min-sik gives a performance in I Saw the Devil that is equal to the intensity and power of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. I classify Oldboy as bridging the horror genre only because some revelations and moments are horrific to watch; the film is much more in line with the thriller or neo-noir genre. These are two excellent films that explore the theme of revenge intensely and profoundly, making the audience question the morality of vengeance and violence. 

Both Movies Receive 5/5

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Horror Movies Reviews

The Summer of Spook Review: Jigoku (1960)

The Criterion Collection cover of Jigoku.

The Summer of Spook Review #3

People fear death and the afterlife. They fear the punishment that they will receive for their sins and misdeeds. Films have explored death, the afterlife, demons, Satan, and Hell, but none have explored it with the same emotional and psychological horror present in Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku. Jigoku doesn’t position the demons or devils of Hell as the tormentors but instead has the people in Hell tortured through their own guilt. The tormentors of Hell do torture and harm the people who have descended into Hell, but the movie shows people as their own tormentors plagued by guilt, and that manifests into torture and horrific bodily harm.

Jigoku tells the story of a young man named Shiro (Shigeru Amachi). Shiro is a theology student that is well-liked by his professor. He has recently gotten engaged to his professor’s daughter, his fiancee is possibly pregnant with their child, and everyone seems to think he has a bright future ahead of him, but Shiro is tormented by a hit and run that he and his friend Tamura (Yoichi Numata) committed one evening that left a man dead. Tamura is much more cold and lackadaisical about the manslaughter, but Shiro is haunted by guilt. It isn’t long before more tragedy begins to befall Shiro. His fiancee dies, and their unborn child dies in the process, his mother becomes mortally ill, he discovers that his father is an uncaring and philanderous man who refuses to aid his ailing wife, and the lover and mother of the man killed hunt Shiro wanting revenge. Nakagawa’s presentation of this material is quite dreamlike–nightmarish probably makes more sense–and surreal. The character of Tamura is unlike any other in the film, and his presence in the film adds to the surreal quality that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Tamura’s actor, Yoichi Numata, even expressed his confusion in the role and was unsure how exactly to play him. He comes across as devilish, and I was waiting for the film to reveal that he was tormenting Shiro as a ghost or Prince of Hell, but instead, he ends up in Hell tormented for his multitude of sins. 

Tormented by the fires of Hell.

Jigoku is an incredibly cynical film. There is no sign of hope or paradise anywhere to be found. The only redemption that anyone can receive comes in the form of endless torment in the depths of Hell. Nakagawa never dangles an ounce of hope in front of your face. From the start of the film, you know that it ends in Hell and torment. The end did leave me questioning whether or not Shiro had gained some form of redemption. In the end, Shiro’s lover and sister beckon him from afar, and where they are standing looks nothing like the Hell that he has just gone through, but having watched the movie I feel that the end may be a trick and a false sense of hope to lure the audience into believing that is some form of a happy ending. Ichiro Miyagawa joked about Heaven being in the sequel, but that was only a joke.

Jigoku is an emotionally taxing movie. The literal and figurative Hell that Shiro goes through is devastating and horrific to watch. Jigoku is a nightmarish portrayal of guilt and Hell. It is probably one of the most terrifying portrayals of Hell I have seen put to film. It is a masterpiece of horror cinema and an essential entry into the genre that shouldn’t be overlooked, but prepare to be tormented by the psychological, emotional, and violent horror present on the screen.

Rating 5/5

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Horror Movies Reviews

The Invisible Man (1933) and The Invisible Man (2020): Side by Side Review

The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man (2020)

The Summer of Spook #1

James Whale’s The Invisible Man, released in 1933, is a classic of horror cinema. Released during Universal Studio’s reign in the horror genre, James Whale adapts H.G. Wells’s novel to the big screen with gusto and flair. The film features incredible effects, a wonderful performance from Claude Rains, and a campy tone and atmosphere that adds to the film’s charm. In 2020, Leigh Whannell, a modern icon of horror cinema, updated the classic sci-fi/horror tale and created something arguably just as classic. I watched The Invisible Man (1933) a few weeks ago but decided to wait on my review until I could talk about these movies together. Each director takes the material and crafts something unique to their visions and unique to the period in which they were created.

Let us start with The Invisible Man (1933). In this version of the tale, a scientist, Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), discovers a way to become invisible, and this method takes a toll on his sanity. He becomes murderously insane, committing atrocious acts of mass murder, and terrorizes a quiet countryside. James Whale, along with Claude Rains’ performance as the titular Invisible Man, uses dark and macabre material to tell a campier and lighter horror film. Leigh Whannell leaves that campy tone at the door and weaves a tale much darker and sinister. One of the primary differences in both Invisible Man movies is how the titular Invisible Man is portrayed. Claude Rains cackles his way through the film, his character is tragic and a victim of his tampering with science; Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), is much more sinister. He is not a victim of science but rather a victimizer and abuser who uses his ability to gaslight and target his wife, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss).

The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man (2020)

The protagonists of each movie are incredibly different. In James Whale’s The Invisible Man, Jack Griffin is the protagonist. Even though he commits horrific acts, the movie is about his journey into madness. Leigh Whanell’s The Invisible Man has Cecilia Kass as the protagonist. They are both victims of the science that creates The Invisible Man but for many different reasons. Leigh Whannell uses the science of the story to create a very relevant tale about abusers and how people overlook or refuse to believe victims of abusers. Adrian Griffin does everything in his power to control Cecilia’s life. He knows no one will believe her and finds joy in torturing and abusing his power. One thing I find interesting is how both movies use empty space to try and make you guess where the Invisible Man may be. Leigh Whannell uses this to make you guess where the threat may be coming from. I found myself searching the frame for clues of where The Invisible Man could be. This approach is fantastic and helps build the horror and atmosphere. I love how the camera panes to empty spaces making you unsure if you are “looking” at the Invisible Man. Both directors start their narratives in the middle of the action. James Whale starts the film after Jack has already become Invisible, and Leigh Whannell opens his movie with Cecilia in the process of leaving. Whale uses this to create mystery, and Whannell uses it to aid his claustrophobic nightmare. One thing I was happy Leigh Whannell didn’t do was try and make the audience question Cecilia’s story or the reality of the film. I feel like many filmmakers would try to make a twisty narrative that tries to make the audience confused on whether or not there is an Invisible Man but Whannell takes the genre and story seriously, and that is beneficial to the film. The film never feels like it is trying to trick you; instead, it feels genuine in how it plays with the narrative elements of the Invisible Man story. Both movies also feature, what I would call, iconic moments. The 1933 film has the excellent reveal of The Invisible Man as he removes his bandages and his clothes revealing the nothingness that hides beneath. The iconic moment from Leigh Whannell’s remake features a restaurant and a knife–this movie isn’t old enough for me to spoil it. The restaurant scene is truly terrifying and made me let out an audible gasp of shock–I would assume that the 1933 reveal left audiences feeling the same way. These are the kind of moments that are etched in the minds of the audience forever.

People groan when they hear of a classic film getting a remake, and we see this a lot in the horror community, but The Invisible Man proves that remakes are not always terrible. James Whale’s 1933 film is a classic of horror cinema, and Leigh Whannell takes that familiar story and spins it in a new way that makes it relevant but still terrifying. I love that I can watch these two movies and get something unique and special from each viewing. The performances, the direction, the style, the atmosphere, and the tone are all unique. You get familiar concepts and themes but played in a unique way that is not only relevant to the film but to the time in which the film was released. The Invisible Man (1933) is a classic of horror cinema, and Leigh Whannell takes The Invisible Man (2020) to those same heights creating a modern classic of horror cinema.

The Invisible Man (1933): Rating 5/5

The Invisible Man (2020): Rating 4.5/5