Friday, October 6, 2017

Worth Mentioning - A Million Thrills to Thrill Millions

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Vampires, a possessed doll, a strange ice cream man, and a music-loving phantom.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007)

Produced by Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi and directed by Hard Candy's David Slade, 30 Days of Night is a film I haven't revisited nearly enough times during its ten years of existence... And the fact that it has already been ten years since it was released is staggering to me. Scripted by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, and Brian Nelson from a comic book story crafted by Niles and Ben Templesmith, it's a horror film that has a brilliant concept - the small Alaskan town of Barrow is besieged by vampires during a time when the town, the northernmost town in the United States, has just entered a period of 30 days of darkness.

Barrow is actually a real town, and this story even cuts down the amount of darkness it endures by more than half. During winter in the real Barrow, the sun doesn't shine for 67 days. In the summer they get more than 80 days of nonstop sunlight; the vampires definitely wouldn't want to drop by at that time.

The film begins on the last day of sunlight, when the town population is dropping down from 563 to 152 - most of the residents want to get out of there before the darkness begins. Those who leave are the lucky ones, because on this day a stranger arrives in town, a filthy fellow played by Ben Foster, and his arrival is accompanied by odd occurrences. Murdered sled dogs, vandalized vehicles, the town helicopter put out of commission. The stranger is arrested, but he's not the real problem. He's just the herald for the horror that's coming, a human servant of the vampires who is hoping to become one of the bloodsuckers.

Sometimes you can understand the allure of being a vampire, but I would not want to be one of these vampires. 30 Days of Night has its own brand of bloodsucker with a mouth full of sharp teeth and vicious, animalistic behavior. They aren't mindless beasts, though. They're organized, they have a leader (Danny Huston as Marlow), and they even speak their own language. They are not charismatic, though.

When darkness falls, the 150+ people left in Barrow become a buffet for the vampires to feast on, and these creatures aren't very subtle about picking their meals. One approach would have been for the vampires to gradually pick off the townspeople over the course of the 30 days; they'd probably have more regular meals that way. Barrow is in the middle of a snowbound nowhere, the nearest town is 80 miles away, the vampires cut off their communication abilities and destroy anything that could get them across the snow. They could pick off a few people a day, get the others really scared and confused, wipe the town out before the sun back and get out of there. That's not the approach they take. The begin their time in Barrow with a full-on assault, tearing people apart in the streets during a sequence that Slade captured an awesome aerial shot of.

After that initial attack, a small group of survivors join together in an effort to survive the month. This group includes local sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett); his estranged wife, fire marshal Stella (Melissa George); Eben's brother Jake (Mark Randall); and some other Barrow residents played by the likes of Mark Boone Junior, Amber Sainsbury, Nathaniel Lees, Rachel Maitland-Smith, and Manu Bennett, among others.

This is basically a zombie movie scenario with a different monster in the place of shambling ghouls, and it plays out in an interesting way. The characters manage to survive for quite a while, hiding out in various locations around the town, but inevitably they have to have a confrontation with the vampires from time to time. There's some great violence and gore during these confrontations, my favorite moment being when a person turning into a vampire has to be beheaded with an axe... and that decapitation takes more than one swing for their head to come off their shoulders. I remember when I saw that effect for the first time, during my theatrical viewing of 30 Days of Night. Not only was it great to see it in the moment, but it also made me excited for the future - I knew there was a new Friday the 13th movie coming in 2009, and if this movie could get that decapitation past the MPAA, I was very hopeful there were going to be some awe-inspiring kills in that F13. While the kills in that F13 are fine, none of them ended up being as spectacular as what can be seen in 30 Days of Night.


This isn't all about the gore and spectacle, either. There are some effective emotional moments as well. The one that pulled on my heartstrings the most is when a bitten character says he doesn't want to live forever because he needs to see his family again in the afterlife.

With a genius set-up, excellent execution, fun action, and cool special effects, 30 Days of Night still holds up as a fantastic horror movie ten years later.


While Marvel, DC, and Universal have been getting a lot of press for the cinematic universes they're building, New Line Cinema has been taking a much more subtle approach to building a cinematic universe of their own - the Conjuring Universe. At the center of this universe are the Conjuring films (The ConjuringThe Conjuring 2, and the now-in-development The Conjuring 3), and it is expanded by an ever-growing series of spin-offs. A possessed doll briefly featured in the first Conjuring got her own spin-off with the 2014 film Annabelle. A demonic nun seen in The Conjuring 2 will be getting her own film (appropriately titled The Nun), as will a creature called The Crooked Man.

But before The Nun and The Crooked Man arrive, New Line has released a prequel to Annabelle.

Director David F. Sandberg made his feature directorial debut with last year's Lights Out for New Line and producer James Wan (who also produces the Conjuring Universe films and directed the two Conjuring movies), and they were so satisfied with his work on that film that they immediately gave him a Conjuring Universe movie to direct. Taking the helm of Annabelle: Creation, Sandberg had an uphill battle to fight from the moment he signed the deal. There weren't many people asking for an Annabelle follow-up - Annabelle was not a well received movie, so if Sandberg was going to be making another Annabelle movie he would have to justify its existence by making a much better film than its predecessor.

Impressively, Sandberg managed to pull it off, even while working from a screenplay by the first Annabelle's writer Gary Dauberman. Dauberman stepped up his game this time around and turned in a script much better than the one he wrote for the 2014 movie. Maybe because he had more time to polish this script into shape, since the first Annabelle was a rushed production.

Annabelle: Creation lives up to its title by beginning with the creation of the creepy doll that will go on to be possessed by a demonic entity. The doll is made by Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia), a man who runs his own business making handcrafted dolls. The doll we know as Annabelle was meant to be #1 in a run of 100, but it doesn't appear that Mullins made any more dolls of this type. His plans were derailed by the fact that he and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) suffered the tragic loss of their young daughter soon after the doll was completed.

Jump ahead twelve years to the 1950s and the Mullins have opened their home to nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and the six young orphan girls in her care, despite the fact that Esther is now suffering from some sort of affliction that causes her to remain shut away in her bedroom, wearing a mask over half of her face.

The lead girls are Talitha Bateman (sister of Lights Out star Gabriel Bateman) and Lulu Wilson as Janice and Linda, a pair who consider each other sisters and are hoping to be adopted together. On their very first night in the Mullins house, Janice goes into a room she's not supposed to enter and accidentally unleash a demonic entity upon herself and her fellow orphans. Things have gotten very strange in the Mullins house over the last twelve years; you don't want to go messing around in this place.

Janice learns well the error of her ways, because the demon in the Mullins house is absolutely relentless in its mission to torment her and the other girls. Annabelle: Creation is nearly composed entirely of scare scenes - pretty much every scene descends into darkness and tension, ending with some kind of jump. If this movie doesn't scare you or at least creep you out, it's certainly not for a lack of trying.

I wasn't scared, but I appreciated that Sandberg and Dauberman were trying so hard to deliver something that was both scary and superior to the previous Annabelle movie. Annabelle: Creation, which I saw in a theatre in Brazil while visiting the blog's own Priscilla, was an enjoyable viewing experience that erased any misgivings I had about the Annabelle series. The first movie was generic and lame, this one was well-made and featured great performances from its stars.

Now that New Line is being open about the fact that they're putting together a universe here, the films are apparently going to start featuring Easter eggs, references to other installments in the franchise. Creation has a nice one on the form of a picture that Sister Charlotte shows Samuel Mullins. It's a picture of a group of nuns at a convent in Romania... and in the shadows, only visible when light hits the picture in a certain way, is the demonic nun that will soon be seen in The Nun. Sister Charlotte shrugs off this hidden nun when it's pointed out to her, but audience members familiar with this universe will know what they're seeing there.


The Ice Cream Truck first caught my attention due to the fact that writer/director Megan Freels Johnston is the granddaughter of one of my favorite authors, Elmore Leonard, but then the film was able to appeal to me on its own merits. Johnston made a movie totally different from the works of her grandfather, a horror film most easily described as a slasher, which saves her from any comparisons. While I was curious to see what something made by a descendant of Leonard would be like, that wasn't the primary reason why I watched The Ice Cream Truck at the first opportunity - I watched it because it sounded like an intriguing slasher, and I love slasher movies.

The film centers on Deanna Russo as Mary, a thirty-something married mother of two who has moved back into the suburban neighborhood she grew up in. Mary has arrived several days ahead of her husband and children, and while there is work to get done she also has a whole lot of free time while waiting for them. Time enough to get into some trouble while trying to "reclaim her youth" a bit during this time alone - which happens to be the first time Mary, who became a mother at a young age, has had any alone time in twelve years.

Causing even more trouble is the local ice cream man (Emil Johnsen), who drives around the neighborhood in his old ice cream truck and takes a strict traditionalist approach to his trade. This ice cream man serves cones and shakes, but no store-bought confections. Mary finds something creepy about his old school demeanor, and she's right to be creeped out by him. The ice cream man is a slasher, a serial killer who targets teenagers that drink, do drugs, and/or indulge in sex out of wedlock.

The slasher side of things is very standard. The kills are merely serviceable and the killer plays by the established rules of the sub-genre. However, Johnston was not playing by any rules when crafting the rest of the film around the ice cream man. This is not your average slasher movie - in fact, the movie wouldn't be substantially changed if the slasher aspect were removed entirely. More than anything, this is an indie drama about a mother making the most of getting a few days of "me time" and doing some questionable things along the way.

It's tough to talk about The Ice Cream Truck without bringing up the ending, and while I won't spoil it I will say that it is the main element that will determine whether or not a viewer felt the film was worth the time they spent watching it. Some may like it, some may find it interesting to ponder, but others are likely to be let down, if not outraged. I did not see the ending coming, I didn't expect it at all, and while I still found the rest of the movie enjoyable enough that I'm glad I watched it, I am really not sure about those final minutes. I would have preferred a different ending.

The ending may not be the first time viewers are bothered by the film, as Mary's behavior provides plenty of moments to disapprove of. She is not your average slasher heroine - she smokes pot, she drinks, and she clearly has a desire to cheat on her husband with the teenage neighbor (John Redlinger) who provides the aforementioned pot. I was very surprised by how far Johnston allowed things to go... I just wish it had turned out differently in the end.

Through all of Mary's ill-advised choices, I remained interested in following the character thanks to the performance delivered by Russo. Mary's a bit awkward and messed up, and Russo makes her feel real. You may be baffled by some of the things she does, but she always seems like someone you might really encounter in the suburbs.

This might be odd to say, but I almost think I would have liked The Ice Cream Truck even more if it had simply been a drama about a mom sowing some wild oats, without the ice cream man stalking around. At the same time, though, I did really like watching Johnsen as the ice cream man, so I'm glad I got to see him in the role.

Whether or not The Ice Cream Truck would have been more satisfying without the slasher, the version that does exist is a solid, entertaining, well-made film with strong performances from its leads. Just beware of the ending.

The review of The Ice Cream Truck originally appeared on


Eighteen years after releasing the classic 1925 silent version of The Phantom of the Opera, which featured the legendary Lon Chaney in the disfigured title character, sporting makeup that is still well remembered to this day, Universal Pictures made another adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel, this time in wondrous Technicolor.

Shot on the same opera house set that was originally constructed for the '25 film, the '43 version of the tale stars Claude Rains (The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man) as the title character, who is introduced as down-on-his-luck violinist Erique Claudin. With the fingers on his left hand failing him, Claudin's playing no longer meets the standards of the opera and he is let go. The maestro assumes he has saved up a "tidy little fortune" over his twenty years of playing at the opera, and that may have been the case at one point, but Claudin has since blown all of his cash making years of anonymous donations to Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster), an up-and-coming singer he is secretly obsessed with, funding her singing lessons.

An attempt to sell a concerto of his own just brings more tragedy for Claudin. His music is stolen, leading to a violent confrontation that ends with Claudin getting acid thrown in his face. Now disfigured, Claudin steals a costume and masks from the opera, retreating into the sewer beneath it.

The Phantom of the Opera's origin established, the screenplay by Samuel Hoffenstein, Eric Taylor, and Hans Jacoby moves on to the story that most people are familiar with: the masked Phantom spying on Christine from the shadows of the opera, manipulating situations to improve her career, doing whatever it takes to help her climb the ranks and earn more publicity. Even if what it takes is killing her competition.

The Phantom has some competition himself, if he wants to win Christine's heart. She's already engaged in a love triangle of sorts - two men are vying her affections, but she won't enter a relationship with either of them. Maybe she's waiting for a masked murderer after all. At one point in the making of this film, the plan was to reveal that Claudin was actually Christine's father, unbeknownst to Christine. There are some hints to that in the finished movie, but it seems less likely when the Phantom, completely off the deep end, kidnaps Christine and takes him to his lair, telling her that they'll be together forever down in the sewer, her singing while he plays. Rains is still delivering his lines in a somewhat fatherly manner, albeit an insane father, but this seems more the action of someone who wants her as his own than of a father.

This film does take a decline in quality once Christine steps forward as the lead and Claude Rains, who is fascinating during that "origin story" stretch, has to retreat into the shadows. Still, it holds up as an interesting take on the Phantom concept that moves along at a quick pace. The opera performance scenes are a bit long for my taste, but you have to expect movie that has Opera in the title to have its share of opera in it. Actors singing words I don't understand in that style has just never appealed to me.

Phantom '43 is often overshadowed by Phantom '25, but it's really a more watchable film as far as I'm concerned, simply because I have some trouble sitting through most silent films. With some exceptions (like Nosferatu) I'll typically choose sound over silent, even when sound bombards me with opera.

Things wrap up in a nice manner, with Christine making a surprising choice for a character in a 1943 movie. The filmmakers were ahead of their time.

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