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Carrie (2013)

Director: Kimberly Peirce
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday
Rated R, 100 minutes

 With remakes coming each decade, Stephen King's classic novel CARRIE is moving into folk lore territory. It's not hard to see why; the twisted coming-of-age/revenge tale has universal appeal because we've all known a Carrie White, and we've all witnessed some degree of the high school cruelty she was subjected to.

With the exception of a bloody birthing scene as the prologue, the 2013 remake remains fairly true to the source material, in both the King novel and the 1976 Brian de Palma film. Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz, LET ME IN) is a socially awkward and shy girl being raised by her religious fanatic mother (Julianne Moore). After suffering a dehumanizing and humiliating experience in the locker room showers, Carrie earns the sympathies of her gym teacher Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer), who comes to Carrie's defense and punishes the girls involved,by demanding they go through a boot camp-style after school detention. Mean girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) refuses and is kicked out of school, while her co-conspirator Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) begins to regret her participation and tries to make amends by convincing her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom.  Through all of this, Carrie has been coming to terms with the telekinetic powers she possesses, powers which have led her mother to believing her daughter is a witch. As the fateful night nears, Chris and her equally unlikable boyfriend, Billy, conspire to set Carrie up for the ultimate prom night humiliation.

Despite being faithful, there are a number of huge problems with this newest incarnation of CARRIE. The first being the star: Chloe Grace Moretz. Woefully miscast as the troubled and emotional scarred teen outcast, Moretz lacks the weirdness and the vulnerability needed to portray Carrie White. In her defense there aren't many who could touch Sissy Spacek's role-defining performance in the 1976 film. Whereas Spacek brought a naivete and all-around oddness that sold the movie, Moretz doesn't have the edge or the fragility needed to be to a convincing Carrie. Julianne Moore and the rest of the cast are fine, but without a strong central performance, none of it amounts to much.

Even worse, the film's legendary climax, in which Carrie launches all-out psychic warfare against the bastards who mocked her, is made laughable by some ridiculous choices by director Kimberly Peirce. In order to avoid spoilers, I won't reveal them here, but I will say that Peirce demonstrates that she is utterly clueless in handling this material. Top it off with some very unfortunate CGI, and you have a finale that's more likely to provoke laughter than thrills.

This version of CARRIE plays more like a business decision than an organic project. While it attempts to update the clothing, the music, and the special effects, it fails completely at imbuing any of it with the feeling and shocks of the original. In the end, like most of the contemporary horror remakes, it's completely pointless.

2 out of 5.


XTRO (1982)

Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Starring: Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers, Danny Brainin, Maryam d'Abo, Simon Nash
Rated R, 84 minutes

The success of ALIEN spawned a slew of knockoffs, but perhaps none were as bonkers as this. XTRO is about a boy who witnesses his father being kidnapped by aliens. Of course, his mother doesn't believe him, and prefers to think that her husband simply abandoned the family. Several years pass, Mom (Bernice Stegers, MACABRE) has taken up with a live-in boyfriend (Philip Brianin), hired a sexy and hot-to-trot French nanny (Maryam d'Abo). Yet son Tony (Simon Nash) still believes his dad is living in the stars, and will one day return.

And he does, in grand fashion. An alien creature lands on earth and attaches a face hugger-style tentacle to a woman's face, and badda bing, badda boom, Dad is reborn in perhaps the screen's most painful, and bloodiest, birth sequence. From there, the film just gets crazier. Dad returns home and seriously disrupts life for all involved, and before its over, the son will be slowly turned into an alien, Maryam d'Abo will get naked, and toys will come to life and kill.

No plot description could ever capture the sheer lunacy on display here. Writer/director Harry Bromley Davenport apparently decided if he couldn't compete with ALIEN in terms of style and execution, he would just go nuts instead. As a result, XTRO is a complete mess of half-baked ideas and non-sequitirs. It feels like ideas for several movies hodge podged into one, and ends up playing like a long weird dream. While there's no known measurement that could qualify it as a "good" movie, it's definitely not a boring one. XTRO's kitchen sink approach to space weirdness must be seen to be believed.

2.5 out of 5.

WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

Director: Chris LaMartina, James Branscome,  Shawn Jones, Lonnie Martin, Scott Maccubbin, Matthew Menter, Andy Schoeb
Starring: Paul Fahrenkopf, Aaron Henkin, Nicolette le Faye, Richard Cutting
Not Rated 83 minutess

It's Halloween night in 1987, and a film crew from local news station WNUF is doing a live broadcast from the Webber House, a purportedly haunted house. Led by disinterested reported Frank Stewart (a great Paul Fahrenkopf) and accompanied by a pair of paranormal investigators (obviously based on huckster couple Ed and Lorraine Warren), the crew venture into the infamous house to expose the claims of ghosts and other weird goings on. And being live broadcast, the event is wrapped in commercials for everything from carpet to movies and shows airing on WNUF, a local station UHF station.

The "found footage" approach of the film is only marginally convincing, as its humorous tone is distinctly modern. Despite that, WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL is a good-natured tribute to a time before the big, syndicated media conglomerates ruined the airwaves by homogenizing programming and taking the fun out of local TV in the process. There was a wild west feel to television at the time; you never knew what would appear on the airwaves, for better or for worse. To that end, WNUF is successful in capturing that spirit. However, the act starts wearing thin about halfway through. Perhaps sensing this, the makers conveniently lean on the fast forward button (seriously) as the film heads towards its surprise conclusion.

While it's certainly nostalgic fun for those of us old enough to remember the glory days of local late night television, its charm may be lost on those below the age of thirty-five. If you were fortunate enough to be alive during the era, it's worth a look.

3.5 out of 5.

The Witch (2015)

Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Julian Richings, Ellie Grainger, Bathsheba Garnett
Rated R, 93 minutes

 THE WITCH tells a simple story: a banished Puritan family's new life in exile is shattered when they are targeted by supernatural forces. But it's director Robert Eggers minimalist approach to horror and and a set of incredible performances from its cast that give the film a richness and an unsettling power not often found in modern horror cinema.

The film takes place in the 16th century, decades before the Salem Witch trials, and immerses viewers in the world of fire and brimstone and superstition, where God smiles on the pure and the Devil is very, very real. Despite their religious devotion, the family is slowly succumbing to the hardships and isolation of their new existence. One morning, baby Samuel vanishes while in the care of eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). From there, an already dire situation spirals into a nightmare as tensions within the family begin boiling over, while an unfathomable evil living within the woods moves closer and closer to the distraught family.

This is a slow burning story with an oppressive and menacing atmosphere that never relents for its running time. Its intelligent and profound mix of family drama and out and out horror recalls the sort of dynamics employed by THE EXORCIST, another film that managed to balance intelligence with visceral shock tactics that left viewers equally unnerved. In his feature-length directorial debut, Robert Eggers shows remarkable control over every aspect of the film; he allows his excellent cast to convey the horrors of the unknown without resorting to the sort of cheap tricks that taint far too many of today's horror films. With its beautifully gloomy photography (by cinematographer Jarin Blashke)  and eerie score by Mark Korven, the film is an immersive experience in which the viewer is transported to a bleak and frightening world where the wilds are home to the sort of primal forces thought only to exist in nightmares.

THE WITCH bears all the marks of a great work of art; its simple story is vague enough to allow its meaning and subtext to be discussed at length, and does so without broadcasting any sort of hidden agenda. But most importantly, it is a perfectly conceived and executed horror film that will leave the viewer disturbed and unsettled long after it has ended. THE WITCH is a masterpiece that will take its place among the greatest horror films ever made.

5 out of 5.