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Five Reasons Why the Paranormal Activity Franchise Should Rest in Peace

Well… it was fun while it lasted. After five years and five movies, the Paranormal Activity franchise is, at last, dead on arrival. The final nail in the coffin? The anemic debut of the so-called "spin-off" installment, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which attempted to capitalize on the first-week-of-January release date that's been so horror-friendly in past years (just look at the first-weekend grosses for Texas Chainsaw 3D and The Devil Inside) but wound up getting trounced by Frozen's dynamic duo of Elsa and Anna, who re-claimed the top spot following their film's seventh week in theaters.

The Hobbit — The Desolation of Smaug: Desolate This!

The interesting thing about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is that while it's ostensibly meant to continue the adventure that began in the previous installment An Unexpected Journey, it's equally concerned with setting up what's to come. And I'm not talking about the third and final installment in Peter Jackson's super-sized adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's slender fantasy tale There and Back Again (coming your way next December). I mean the original three films that started his soon-to-be-six-chapter Middle-earth opus, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's not just the extended re-appearance of Orlando Bloom's elfin archer Legolas that brings to minds buzzwords like Fellowship, Towers and returning Kings: Desolation of Smaug is filled with allusions to, in-jokes about and extensive set-up for the War of the Ring that rocks Middle-earth either 60-odd years from now (movie time) or 10 years in the past (real world time). A more accurate title for the movie might be: The Hobbit: The Lord of the Rings Begins… Oh Yeah, and There's Some Dragon Named Smaug Flying About, Too.

Carrie: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

by Ethan Alter October 18, 2013 6:00 am
Carrie: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Stephen King's Carrie is one of the great contemporary revenge stories, a macabre tale that satiates your desire to see justice done while also horrifying you in the bloody way said justice is dispensed. (Though the real horror may be how you find yourself rooting for those doing the victimizing to be punished painfully). The novel's original screen incarnation, Brian De Palma's 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek as the titular telekinetic avenger, excelled at its horror elements with images from the climactic Prom Night bloodbath searing themselves into moviegoers' imaginations. The new Carrie, helmed by Boys Don't Cry writer/director Kimberly Pierce, can't equal that and generally fails whenever it strains to try. But this interpretation does a nice job exploring the moral complexity of King's revenge premise… at least until Carrie (now played by Chloë Grace Moretz) is required by the plot -- and the movie's box office-minded producers -- to unleash hell.

You’re Next: Not Reinventing the Horror Wheel, But Still One Hell of a Fun Ride

"Hollywood always comes up with the same idea." It's a cry heard time and time again, especially from horror buffs. And perhaps they're right, but at the core of every horror movie, even the most berserk and original, isn't the main goal to scare the crap out of you? Whether it's creepy crawly things that go bump in the night in a haunted house or a masked menace, we go for the thrill of the idea of losing sleep. All horror movies, whether it's a slasher flick or a monster movie are slightly tweaked variations of one another, even the best ones, and when the genre does reinvent itself, it just regenerates those "new" ideas. In the past 20 years, it's been torture porn and found footage, both of which outstayed their welcome.

The Conjuring: Nice House, Shame About the Ghost

Since bursting into the business with the first Saw movie back in 2004, it almost feels as if every horror movie James Wan has made since functions as, in one way or another, an apology for kick-starting the franchise that’s become synonymous with torture porn. 2007's Dead Silence, for example, was a mostly gore-free ghost story where the boogeyman was a squad of possesses ventriloquists dolls, while 2010's Insidious channeled the spooky '80s favorite Poltergeist in its depiction of a young child seduced by forces from the other side. (That low-budget chiller performed so well, a sequel -- also directed by Wan -- is due out in September.) And now here comes The Conjuring, which is essentially Wan's unofficial remake of the 1979 hit The Amityville Horror. Like that earlier film, it takes place in a seemingly picturesque homestead that's revealed to be a hotbed of such paranormal activity as clocks stopping at an appointed time in the dead of night (3:07 AM to be exact, a mere eight minutes before James Brolin always felt compelled to head out to the boathouse), strange noises in empty rooms and freaky spirits who pop up out of the woodwork at inopportune, yet perfectly timed, moments. The Conjuring, though, happens to be the best Amityville Horror movie ever made, leaving the original and its many sequels, reboots and imitators in the dust.

Pacific Rim: Go Big or Go Home

by Ethan Alter July 12, 2013 6:00 am
Pacific Rim: Go Big or Go Home

It's a shame that Roland Emmerich's botched Godzilla remake already bogarted the tagline "Size Does Matter," because that phrase handily sums up the experience of watching Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim. In a summer that's been dominated by spectacles that feel small and self-contained despite the enormous wads of cash thrown at the screen, this is the first movie to come along that thinks big. Actually, "big" doesn't quite cut it. Try "giant," "gargantuan" or just plain "ginormous." And I'm not just talking about the size of the Kaiju (monsters) and Jaegers (human-powered robots) that are locked in near-constant battle amidst the windy, stormy Pacific seas. Unlike most America-centric Hollywood super-productions, Pacific Rim takes place on a grand, global stage, sporting an internationally diverse cast and a watery battlefield located far from the shores of the U.S. of A. Handed the opportunity to make the biggest movie of his career, del Toro meets the challenge head-on and delivers the one blockbuster so far this year that actually deserves -- nay, demands -- to be seen on an IMAX screen, extra ticket price bump be damned.

Indie Snapshot: Byzantium

by Ethan Alter June 28, 2013 1:39 pm
Indie Snapshot: Byzantium

A mother/daughter story trussed up in vampiric garb, Neil Jordan's Byzantium has the same gloomy atmosphere that suffused his previous bloodsucking tale -- 1994's Interview with the Vampire, based on Anne Rice's genre-redefining favorite -- but adds some notable tweaks to vampire legend. For starters, sunlight isn't a problem for ageless 18th-century hooker Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her teen offspring Eleanor (Saorise Ronan), her actual biological daughter whom she converted to vampirism two hundred years ago. Although the two do most of their "work" after hours, they can and do move about in the daytime without fear of going up in flames. Additionally, their bite only delivers death rather than a second chance at life. The only way a new vampire can be born into the world is for the candidate in question to make the pilgrimage to a cavern on a remote island, where they'll be met by a demon that satiates its centuries-long thirst with their hemoglobin, turning the waterfalls that rain down outside the cave blood-red in the process.

World War Z: Z Marks the Spot

by Ethan Alter June 21, 2013 6:01 am
World War Z: Z Marks the Spot

For reasons mostly pertaining to budget, the majority of movies that depict the zombie apocalypse tend to skip over the actual "apocalypse" part and cut directly to the resulting post-apocalyptic wasteland where the walking dead roam the landscape, feasting on the small pockets of survivors that remain. If for no other reason, World War Z distinguishes itself from the zombie movie pack by depicting how society crumbles in the face of these flesh-eaters, transforming in the blink of an eye from a law-abiding world to an every-person-for-themselves feeding frenzy. It's not unlike the sudden slide into chaos depicted in Steven Soderbergh's terrific viral thriller Contagion, albeit with far less conversation and lots more flesh-biting.

Indie Snapshot: Maniac

by Ethan Alter June 21, 2013 5:55 am
Indie Snapshot: Maniac

Did Elijah Wood come home from New Zealand with the One Ring still safely tucked away in his pocket? That's one possible explanation for the actor's ongoing fascination with playing dark, messed-up characters since going on his heroic journey in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There was Sin City's Kevin, Wilfred's Ryan and now Maniac's Frank, the most messed-up of the bunch. How messed up? Well, try this on for size: since the death of his mother -- a mannequin saleslady and sometime-hooker -- Frank lives by himself in her old store, surrounded only by plastic ladies. Small wonder he has trouble relating to flesh-and-blood women, an emotional problem he works through by -- what else? -- killing them. C'mon, this movie is called, Maniac after all.

Five Reasons to Purge The Purge From Your Moviegoing Plans

James DeMonaco's near-future horror feature The Purge has the kind of highly unlikely, yet highly compelling high-concept premise that makes you sit up and say, "Okay... tell me more." Here's the sit-rep: a decade from now, American society has been completely transformed by the "new Founding Fathers" who rose to power out of the ashes of a conflict-torn, economically troubled nation and devised a radical new plan for ridding the streets of violent crime. One night a year, the citizenry is granted 12 glorious hours to let their inner bad guy run wild. Every potentially criminal act -- including robbery, rape and murder -- is 100 percent legal and carried out with the complete absence of law enforcement and emergency services. It may sound crazy, but according to The Purge, this act of purging one's pent-up anger (not to mention the weaker members of society who are the victims of this one-night crimewave) works. The U.S of A is once again a prosperous and stable country, a place where you can feel good about living, working and raising a family... provided they aren't all slaughtered in the annual purge, of course.

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