The Craft

I mentioned in my previous post that I watch a lot of crappy horror films in October. The Craft is one of those films. This supernatural teen horror film disappoints on almost every imaginable level and will probably be remembered mostly because Neve Campbell is in it, though she plays a somewhat limited role in the film. Having said that though, I could see how this could become a guilty pleasure for some as I was not at a complete loss for entertainment.

Lightning + Catholic school girls = Entertainment

The Craft was directed by Andrew Fleming (Dick, Hamlet 2) and stars Robin Tunney (End of Days, Vertical Limit). It was released in 1996 amongst a seemingly endless array of films that would collectively become known as “Teen Screams”—think Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), The Faculty (1998) and Urban Legend (1998).

The film revolves around Sarah (Robin Tunney), a troubled youth, seemingly oblivious to her supernatural powers and obvious witchness. She has just relocated from Northern California to Southern California but there’s little in the way of an adjustment period at her new school as she quickly meets the resident hottie, Chris (Skeet Ulrich) and catches the attention of three “angry at the world” type girls—Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and Rochelle (Rachel True). As it turns out, they are interested in witchcraft and make no effort to hide it.

Scouting the newest, hottest witch out there.

The girls decide that Sarah is quite obviously the 4th member of their coven and invite her out on the town for a night of typical high school shenanigans like stealing from a boutique full of witch stuff… Shortly after this, Sarah is harassed by a homeless man who is subsequently struck by a car, which naturally, the four girls attribute to their witch powers, therefore solidifying their undeniable bond to one another.

They forgot to tell Sarah that you need sunglasses to be a witch.

Following this unforgettable bonding experience, Sarah ends up on the rooftop with the aforementioned Chris. There is no seguing in to this scene… It just happens and we, as viewers are forced to accept it. I think this is the aspect that bothered me most about the film. It shifted gears so much from attempting to be dark and twisted to being light and fluffy in tone. Even the characters themselves go from being cold-hearted bitches to regular self-loathing teenagers and back again in a split second.

In fact, the only character that is really strong is Nancy. Fairuza Balk gives the best performance of the film—in that she perfectly portrays the psychotic, overly scary and maniacal character that is Nancy. Her backstory is nice and you can understand her need to be different or lash out against the norms of society or whatever. Aside from her though, we know very little about Sarah, who is supposedly the star of the movie. Bonnie has the physical scars and groundwork for having some depth as a character, but it gets brushed aside. Rochelle has little to go on, other than the fact that she is black and one of the school bullies calls her out on it. (That may seem shallow, but I find it to be a poor excuse for turning to witchcraft…)

Holy 1996! Have you seen these witches at your school?

After each casting spells/making wishes for some part of their lives to be better, naturally everything starts going right for the girls. It becomes a lesson in “be careful what you wish for.” The wise old sage aka the witch boutique shop woman warned them!

From there it simply becomes a huge mess of overblown spells involving rats and snakes and mice and cockroaches with Sarah and Nancy battling each other for witch supremacy. Expect extreme wind, thunder and lightning as each tries to “invoke the spirit” better than the other.

Memorable moments of the film include the light as a feather, stiff as a board scene (spoiler alert…she floats), Nancy walking on top of the ocean (an obvious indicator of being a witch—ask anyone from Salem, MA circa 1692) and Nancy’s pointed toes sliding across the floor as she attacks Chris in an all too common vengeful fit of rage.

Enough said...

Now, believe it or not, I did do some research on witchcraft (while I was at work…I hope no one actually checks our internet history) and the film is about as well-versed in witchcraft as a movie of this sort (again a supernatural teen horror film) can be. On a side note here…did you know that Saudi Arabia, India and parts of Africa, to this day, still condemn, torture and kill women, men and CHILDREN suspected of witchcraft. We’re not talking about a few sporadic cases here and there folks—we’re talking hundreds, each year. Crazy right?

Anyway, the film is obviously a testament to the young girls’ social stature as outcasts. Throughout history, cultures have always feared what they do not understand. These girls are untouchable at their school simply because of the way they dress, act and flat out don’t give a shit. Does that make them witches? Well in this film, yes. Yes it does. I think the film also attempts to appeal to the testosterone drowned senses of teenage boys. After all these girls aren’t the pointy nosed, wart-covered witches that we’re used to seeing on the Halloween cardboard decorations.

Light as a feather, stiff as a board (coincidentally, I probably could have summed up the plot of this movie with this same phrase)

All in all, while the film is entertaining at times and downright silly at others, don’t go in to this movie expecting any sort of reverential spiritual awakening. Expect a Neve Campbell movie…

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A Tale of Two Sisters

October is that time of year when I start spending a vast majority of my time watching grossly underwhelming horror films on a regular basis. There are always my go to films like Evil Dead, Halloween, American Werewolf in London, The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, 28 Days Later, Blair Witch Project, the list goes on but I generally save these for the last remaining days before Halloween.

I spend the rest of the month scouring Netflix or video stores for the obscure, cheesy, exploitative and downright terrible horror movies out there. Yes, I try to intersperse a classic tale or two and even some foreign horror films in to the mix. There’s just something about the chill in the air, the turning of the leaves and the smell of autumn that gets me going. Add a horror film and football to the mix and you have the perfect recipe for my favorite time of the year.

A Tale of Two Sisters is a film that I’ve heard murmurings about in the past. Prowling around Netflix the other night, I came across it and was pleased to see that it was available instantly. I turned off the lights, tucked myself in and prepared myself for what I hoped to be a great story. I was not disappointed.

A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon) is a Korean Film written and directed by Jee-woon Kim and stars Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim and Geun-Young Moon. The film starts in a hospital where we meet one-half of the referenced Two Sisters but is a ghost story at heart with underlying themes of mental disturbance.

I will preface my review by saying that this film is not for the faint of heart. I kid you not, I experienced some chest pains at different points in the movie. I’d like to believe I’m a relatively healthy 27 year old guy that has no reason to be experiencing chest pains for any reason other than experiencing bone chilling terror. I may have even let out an audible squeak at one point. The movie is terrifying in a good old fashion horror film sort of way with its rubber band effect of build up and release. In fact, the movie excels at this suspense building in a way that no horror film has in a long time.

As can be expected, the music of Byung-woo Lee plays a huge role in the build-up, ranging from a low droning sound in times of grueling apprehension to cheerful flutes and violins, returning us to the safe and peaceful world and reminding us ever so soothingly, that everything is okay (no monsters under the bed…or cupboard…).

So tranquil...

The movie becomes a tug of war with your senses as the scariest scenes play out in typical horror movie fashion where you know something’s going to happen…you keep waiting…and waiting…and it doesn’t happen. You exhale…you didn’t even realize you were holding your breath. You become angry with the director of the film for playing with…BAM IT HAPPENS!

Insert string of curse words here...

The acting is terrific. You come to love the two sisters and their relationship with one another, which makes the somewhat predictable reveal (no spoilers here) towards the end that much harder to stomach. The film is technically sound as well with beautiful cinematography (possibly, the best I’ve seen in a horror film) from Mo-gae Lee. In an effort not to give anything away, I will say that the ending gets to be a bit jumbled with a lot of back and forth. It becomes difficult to keep up with what exactly is going on.

Surely, nothing bad could happen to these two adorable and loving sisters...They're whistling for cying out loud. Nothing bad happens to people who whistle!

Finally, the thing that I think this film accomplished, other than being an immensely enjoyable and utterly terrifying film, is the fact that it allows you to forget that you’re watching a foreign film. There are very few things, if any, that seemed to be lost in translation. I’m not only referring to the dialogue but to the feel and production value of the world in which the story takes place. There wasn’t one particular thing that made the film stand out and make you say “oh yeah, this is happening in another country…” This may seem light a hoighty-toighty, American way of looking at it but I feel it’s an important element to any film’s success in attracting a large audience in a foreign market (which admittedly, A Tale of Two Sisters did not do). American films are no different in that they need to make it visually appealing and relevant to the masses, not just Americans.

Overall, this film far and away surpassed my expectations and probably even landed itself on my list of annual horror films to watch in October. Yes, it’s that good and I look forward to watching it again. I would definitely recommend it to any horror fan. Dust off that old blanky and get ready to squeal…and maybe consider a mouth piece for the teeth grinding that you’ll be doing.