Summer of Horror: Annabelle, The Stuff, Nosferatu The Vampyre Summer of Horror 2016 officially begins

Annabelle

Annabelle

Call it “The Conjuring lite”, and you really wouldn’t be very far off – but you’d also be selling Annabelle short just a little. Sure, it doesn’t have the clockwork mastery of build-and-release suspense rhythm that James Wan has seemingly perfected, and it also lacks much of the polish of its spinoff progenitor. But what it lacks in, well, let’s face it, story, characters and acting, it makes up for in what we in the industry call “gags”. Its scare scenes are pretty great.

Ten minutes into the exposition and character introductions, I was already (figuratively) checking my watch. The dialogue seemed to be dropping details meant to pay off later, but in all honesty I can’t tell you whether any of them did. It was just… talking. And the characters themselves are just so bland, I knew it was going to be a struggle to care. It’s not that the writing/acting/directing was bad, just thoroughly middle of the road. 

But those gags… I’ve been known to say we need more killer doll movies, and the best parts of any killer doll movie are invariably the second act scenes where you might never SEE the doll move, but clearly something is amiss. That feeling of being totally in the dark (in both senses) works so well with this kind of monster. There’s a quick, simple scare early on that really gets the pulse racing. You could call it a jump scare, except that the “monster” is completely exposed, center frame, the whole time. Reminiscent of the “demon on top of the wardrobe” scare in The Conjuring. Another set piece involves a dark basement and an elevator and the tension is nearly unbearable.

However, as good as some of the scares are, as the credits rolled I couldn’t help but feel a little duped by the “killer doll” quotient. Without getting into spoilers, the actual threat is demonic (because it is ALWAYS demons), and much of the physical conflict doesn’t involve Annabelle at all. This is supposed to be some legendary haunted object, pure evil housed in a child’s toy, and yet Annabelle almost seems like a spectator in her own movie.

*Keep your eyes on the background in the second-to-last scene for a cameo by the “real” Annabelle doll!

 

The Stuff

The-Stuff-poster

Let’s just get this out of the way up front: Even by the standards of 80’s “cult” horror movies, The Stuff is terrible. It seems like a movie written and directed by a child, but with adult actors.

It starts with one of the coldest cold opens in history. No production logos, no credits, just some guy on a construction yard at night for some reason. He finds a white substance oozing from the ground, tastes it, and quite literally says aloud to himself “Hey, this tastes pretty good! I bet I could sell this!” And so begins The Stuff. Screenplay by Brandon, age 12.

The movie then lurches from scene to scene with only the barest semblance of chronology stitching them together. The Stuff has been packaged and distributed to grocery stores nationwide – and of course become immensely popular – without a single person being aware of what it’s made of. A kid sees a carton of The Stuff moving around on its own in his fridge and tries to warn the populace in the most nonsensical way possible. A major ice cream conglomerate (?) hires a PI to discover the formula of The Stuff so they can copy it. The PI inexplicably talks with a stoned Southern drawl like a bad McConaughey impersonation and likes to punch people.

If it sounds like I’m describing a madcap comedy… well, I honestly can’t really tell what’s meant to be comedic and what’s not. I get the distinct impression that most of the “comedy” is just an excuse to wallpaper over the multitude plot holes and illogic. Since this movie was directed by a kid, the actors never seem to know what emotion to go for in any given scene. Immediately following a brush with death in a confrontation with Stuffies (people addicted to The Stuff), the very next scene will have the actors smiling and chatting casually. In fact, you can often catch actors failing to keep a straight face in scenes meant to be intense.

I’m conflicted over whether this counts as a Bad Horror Movie Night contender. It’s certainly baffling enough, but drags on a little too long. Could have used a few more ludicrous gore scenes.

Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
Nosferatu 1979

Not to be too much of a hipster about it, but the original Nosferatu (1922) is my favorite Dracula adaptation of the myriad that have been made. It was a literal ripoff – the exact story of Dracula, but with character names changed to avoid copyright infringement (which didn’t even work) because the filmmakers didn’t have the rights to the Bram Stoker story. And yet it’s so creepy, so atmospheric, and so weird that it transcends the languid pace that afflicts every version of Dracula on film, including the lauded 1931 version.

Perennial German weird guy Werner Herzog directed this 1979 remake, using the visual style of Nosferatu but the now-public-domain character names of the legit Dracula. For such an odd filmmaker, this version is remarkably faithful to the original. In essence it’s the exact same movie, but with sound and color. Meaning, it moves just as slowly as all the classic Dracula movies, but happens to feature a vampire not suave and vaguely foreign like Bela Lugosi, but withered and monstrous, hunched over and rodent-like.

Personally, I’ve found every adaptation of Dracula from the 1922 Nosferatu up to the Francis Ford Coppola 90’s version to be too slow for my liking – this one included. But the 1922 Nosferatu compensated for that with gloriously bizarre, impressionistic visuals that still pack a vintage creepy punch to this day. While the 1979 version is visually beautiful, it’s also stuck in that limbo of being both too modern and too old fashioned. I’ve seen half a dozen movie versions of this story now, and while this is in the upper 50th percentile, I can’t really recommend it over the original.

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