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SCREENING ROOM | You say ‘Saw,’ I say ‘seen it’
It’s a mine field of bad films out there troops, and we at What’s Up certainly don’t want you wasting your Halloween night on the likes of “Man-Thing.” So we’ve put together a small and by no means comprehensive guide to get the cinematically inclined through the spooky season. Here’s what’s what:
The Motion Ickness Factor
If you’re looking to hit the theaters this weekend for a fright, your best bet is going to be “Quarantine,” a rocky, hand-held camera version of what happens when inhabitants of a barricaded apartment building, one by one, turn rabid.
The movie itself is a spawn of the “Blair Witch” era (of which there are many; really now, if you haven’t seen it or a sequel or spoof, it’s time to put down the can of beans and step away from the bunker.) A news crew follows its fire fighter subjects into what should have been a standard assistance call, but finds instead humans with a quickly advancing strain of I’m-going-to-eat-you-alive disease. “Quarantine” pulls off a decent approach and execution, though at times it dabbles too heavily with out-of-focus shots, but the real tragedy is its plot-line limitations. You know what a movie called “Quarantine” will be about before it begins, and only the first few raging, beady-eyed neighbors popping out of nowhere get the starts. The movie ends quickly — and mercifully it waits to go to night vision mode until roughly 80 minutes in — but for your theater fun it’s worth the short expenditure of time.
If you’re still looking for an excuse to take that Dramamine? Probably the highest budget motion sickness production out there is “Cloverfield,” J.J. Abrams’ disaster flick about a deep-sea something-or-other that destroys New York City. There is blood. There is gore. There are weird, spidery creatures that attack socialites in the dark, and it’s all captured by Joe Videocam, who happens to offer a rather funny monologic narrative. This one’s already on Blockbuster’s shelves, but if you haven’t seen it, give it a go.
Sick in the head
Sometimes there’s just nothing better (or more disturbing?) than watching the mental breakdown of characters on screen. A standard favorite: “Se7en,” a ruse from the brain of David Fincher (“Fight Club”) that’s all about trickery, sin and crime-solving. “Se7en” follows cops David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerson (Morgan Freeman) as they search out a surprise-identity serial killer. After Mills’ wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is put, er ... in jeopardy, the audience watches Mills make a choice that will change the rest of his life, and possibly prove the killer’s agenda. Be prepared to mimic Pitt’s “What’s in the box?” line long after the movie is over.
Others in this category deserving of note: classics “The Shining” and “Silence of the Lambs,” and while we’re going old school, check out oldies-but-goodies “Rosemary’s Baby” and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
I’ll haunt you for that
They’re here. OK, it’s also slightly ancient by now, but there may not be anything like Spielberg’s 1982 “Poltergeist” ... except “Poltergiest II” and “Poltergeist III.” But the original that spawned even a TV series is still topnotch. The movie depicts a suburban family living in a ghost-infested house. What first appears to be a visit from friendly Casper soon turns ugly, leading to the kidnapping of the family’s youngest member and totally ruining its lawn. “Poltergeist” made TV screen static scary long before “The Ring.” Other good hauntings include “The Changeling” (1980) and either version of “The Amityville Horror.”
No creepy compilation would be complete without word from Stephen King, who makes it on the list with 2007’s “The Mist.” Better than you’d think, this movie shows a group of townsfolk trying to survive an enigmatic mist that envelopes their homes and brings with it giant insects which are really, really gross. The giant insects are just the start of large-scale creatures that are nearly as frightening as the global warming crisis, and the shockingly dramatic ending of this film will stick with you for a while. (I mean it. Color me traumatized.) Other good creature creations include “The Thing” and “The Brood.”
Low voltage, please
Thanks to the brilliantly zany mind of Tim Burton, there are plenty of Halloweenish movies that don’t rely on your gag reflex to make a point. A personal, family-friendly fave: “Beetlejuice,” a 1988 movie about two ghosts trying to rid their home of live humans. Nothing’s as priceless as the moment a noosed Geena Davis pulls the flesh right off her face, eyes popping comically out in attempt to be scary. This Burton-meets-claymation adventure stars Michael Keaton in the wacky, electrified role of Betelgeuse, but most of Burton’s All Hallow’s Eve best feature Johnny Depp (see: “Sleepy Hollow,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” all excellent seasonal choices for an enjoyably tame evening.)