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The Machine (2013), far from a dystopian robophobia film, this elegantly depicts the development of artificial sentience and deserves your attention.

November 22, 2014

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MY CALL: Hardly an action movie at all, this clever sci-fi film is much more about the gracefully naïve evolution of sentience in an artificial being. And at that, it does a fantastic job! You hardly notice the humble budget, which was handled very well. MOVIES LIKE The Machine: There are many movies which do well in the depiction of realizing self-awareness and conscious learning in cyborgs and other forms of artificial intelligence, yet I fail to find in proper similarity between any such movies as a whole and The Machine. Consider that a major selling point as to why you shouldn’t miss this one!

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During a Cold War with China in the future, a new kind of arms race begins to create artificial intelligence. And like SkyNet (Terminator, T2), HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey), ARIIA (Eagle Eye), David (Prometheus) and VIKI (I, Robot) have taught us, this never tends to turn out well. Kind of has me wondering about this Siri phone voice chick now. Speaking of which, there is a lady Cyborg in this movie named Suri.

This film captured my interest right away. In the first act of the story our lead scientist Vincent’s (Toby Stephens; Black Sails, Robin Hood) approach to assessing a program’s self-awareness and human-like cognizance involved thought exercises that are brilliantly simple, they make sense to us (the viewers), and we can tell when they’re successful or not. Adding conflict to the story, Vincent has a dying young girl with brain damage who lacks even the self-awareness of the programs he is assessing. But great things can emerge from conflict. And whereas this family-centric conflict finds little development through the course of the story, the film remains quite successful in its greater aims.

Vincent’s place of employment is a research facility littered with early prototype cyborgs made from brain damaged ex-soldiers that have lost their capacity for oral speech…and they all seem shady, untrustworthy and dangerous. They also seem to house a mystery.

Vincent takes young scientist Ava (Caity Lotz; The Pact, Arrow) under his wing to develop next-gen artificial intelligence and she is much more sympathetic to their Cyborg subjects. Ava is very curious, and that’s not good in an industry loaded with secrets.

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Long story short, Vincent makes a Cyborg with Ava’s consciousness. Cyborg Ava is smarter, more aware, and more compassionate than past prototypes and has an immediate attachment to Vincent. But she is also naïve, scared, easily manipulated, and modifiable. Caity Lotz does an even finer job playing the enchantingly child-like Cyborg as she does the scientist.

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When the action begins (towards the end), Caity Lotz convincingly moves with robotic precision in brilliant contrast to an elegant and tastefully shadowed nude dance scene humanizing her early in her development. The action is nothing special, but it’s every bit as good as it needs to be to keep our attention–with a few brutally cold, robotic, and entertaining moments.

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She reminds me of a better-acted version of Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier.

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Written and directed by someone (Caradog W. James; Little White Lies) of little experience in the sci-fi genre, I feel this film was extremely successful in concept execution, did a solid job of world-building (despite the limited sets and budget), a nice job in story development, and a perfect job in depicting Cyborg-Ava’s mental development.

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This tasteful dance scene shows Ava-borg discovering music and self-expression. It sounds lame, but this was a deep, impacting scene.

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This is surely a must-see for any fan of Sci-Fi. Just don’t go in expecting laser guns and six-armed monsters. This one is a bit more subtle.

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Birdman: Betting on a Long Shot

November 18, 2014

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Birdman is an amazing technical storytelling achievement. It is a one of a kind blend of acting, directing, writing and cinematography. There is a timely relevance to the story and in the days of comic books films and sequels is very welcome.

The story revolves around a washed up actor named Riggan (Michael Keaton) looking to reclaim legitimacy. He was the star of a billion dollar franchise called Birdman in which he quit after three films. The years haven’t been kind and he is betting everything on pulling off an adapted Raymond Carvers play.  His grasp with reality might be fleeting and Michael Keaton beautifully pulls of the pomp, insecurity, ego and depression of a lost man.

His situation isn’t helped when a light drops on one of his actors heads and is forced to bring in Edward Norton’s broadway diva at the last minute. He is the kind of guy who only feels alive on stage and is kind of a dick everywhere else. When the two get together their chemistry is wonderful and their back and forth is a highlight of the film.

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The camera moves along fluidly while the jazz soundtrack blares in the background. The film was shot over thirty days and the rehearsals must have been exhausting. The film pinballs all over as it bounces around leaving the viewers mouth agape. It is a heck of a vision and it is clear why director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu put up a picture on set from the documentary Man on Wire (one of my favorite films).

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Everybody walked a tight rope and came out unscathed. Even if the film didn’t work it would have been in the words of Phililppe Petit a “beautiful death.”

Director Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel) and director of photography Emmanual Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men, Tree of Life, New World) have given us a grounded yet spectacular film. The film plays like one long take and it works seamlessly. I don’t think most people will appreciate what went into making the film what it is. Inarritu and Emmanual Lubezki have flipped the classic long shots (Hanna, Gravity, Children of Men,Atonement) and taken them out of a perilous setting. The long shots don’t feature epic battle scenes or fist fights. The scenes feature actors engaging in emotionally tense moments that last up to ten minutes. They walk, talk, and fight through slim corridors that must have given the steady camera operators nightmares. The closest example I can give is if the Spinal Tap lost in the corridors scene was one long take.

In an interview with EW Michael Keaton had this to say:

“You’d go home, and have dinner, and then you’d start to think about the next day’s work. And that’s when the panic would set in. These were all really good, accomplished actors. And everybody showed up every morning frightened. The crew too. I think we were all thinking, I don’t want to be the guy who lets everybody down.”

I was in constant awe of the film. It is a high wire act that has some balls. You could feel that that the actors all relished their roles and they all got a chance to shine.

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I’ve always been a fan of Michael Keaton. He has a distinct style that nobody can pinpoint. Beetlejuice, Batman, Multiplicity, Jackie Brown and The Other Guys are proof of a quirky career that never really adds up. He is always welcome in any film yet you never see that much of him. That is why he is perfect in Birdman. You sit there and watch one man range from crazy, sympathetic, selfish and caring in mere moments. The guy carries so many emotions on his shoulder it is hard to appreciate them all. I wouldn’t call it a comeback. I would call it a nice welcome back.

I hope that Edward Norton finally wins an Oscar and I loved seeing Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough given such great material. Riseborough has some of the best lines as Keaton’s long suffering girlfriend. She floats through the film and just goes with the flow as the people around her go a little bonkers. We will undoubtedly see some of these great actresses nominated for awards soon.

Watch Birdman. Appreciate the film making. Watch Multiplicity. I love that movie.

John Wick and the Art of World Building

November 17, 2014

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John Wick does something cool. It establishes a world with rules, hitmen hotels and gold coins. Keanu Reeve’s character is the man you call to murder the boogeyman and he gets reawakened when his dog is killed (shameless emotional manipulation via puppy death). It is a violent odyssey down a rabbit hole of death that builds a new world to explore.

The film kicks off as Reeve’s wife passes away due to illness. In order for him to not cope alone his wife got him an adorable puppy. During an afternoon drive his beautiful Mustang catches the attention of a crime lord’s son played by punk du jour Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones). The car is stolen, the dog is killed and all hell breaks loose.

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The violence is visceral and the close quartered gun fights play like an Equilibrium/Hard Boiled mash-up. Keanu once again proves he puts the work in when surrounded by violence. His action films The Matrix, Speed and Point Break are all action classics that feature a different variation of action Keanu. Wick works perfectly with his zen-like demeanor as words are kept to a minimum and gun/fist fights/slow motion walking are prevalent.

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John Wick has been twenty years in the making. Reeve’s met one of the directors Chad Stahleski when he was a stunt man on Point Break. He then met David Leitch on The Matrix films (similar to Keanu’s experience on The Man of Tai Chi). The three kept in touch and it led to John Wick.

Director Chad Stahleski has this to say about reteaming with Keanu

“Our rapport translates really well. Having known him so long and having a really good relationship with him, on many different levels. We just have a very good dialogue with him, which also translates into the action we wanted. … We know how he moves. We know his process. He’s just one of those actors who’s phenomenal in an action sequence, so I think that really helped.”

The most talked about aspect of the film is the world building. Keanu and crew introduce us to a hitman hotel where fighting is not allowed and non-compliance ends in death. The hitmen use gold coins as currency and there is a death like cleaner who will tidy up your place after murders. I like that writers Joel Zadak and Derek Kolstad established a dense world where honor is appreciated and Ian McShane waxes poetic over martinis. There is a supernatural vibe to the mayhem and further installments can really flesh out the world (without dog death).

John Wick has been rightly praised (84% RT) for its well thought out action and world building.. The cast is fantastic and comprised of some of my favorite actors like Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Alfie Allen, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Wire duo Lance Reddick and Clark Peters.

Watch John Wick. Appreciate the violence. Be glad Keanu is back.

 

 

John’s Horror Corner: Deadly Friend (1986), an 80s-modern teenage Frankenstein meets Weird Science, Short Circuit and Re-Animator…all of which featured creations behaving badly

November 15, 2014

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MY CALL: This playful creation-gone-wrong film by a young Wes Craven brings back a wonderful 80s nostalgia to this lifetime horror lover. Just enough zany gore, silly scenarios and a wack-tastic ending to overcome a severely limited budget. MOVIES LIKE Deadly Friend: Man’s Best Friend (1993) comes to mind, along with the MUCH more gory Re-Animator (1985) and Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993). All three movies involve creations that get out of hand.

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The 80s loved robots… The Terminator (1984), Short Circuit (1986), Chopping Mall (1986), *Batteries Not Included (1987), Short Circuit II (1988)… and here’s another one!

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A teenager on a university scholarship studying the human brain, young inventor Paul (Matthew Labyorteaux) creates artificial intelligence. Let’s just stop right there. This “kid” develops a free-thinking robotin the 80s…with the computer technology we had IN THE 80s…and he’s somehow not bitches’n’hoes, rap-video-rich and sprinkling crushed diamonds in his food already? I wonder, in the movie-verse, how the events of this movie would affect Skynet going live at 5:18 pm ET on July 25th, 2004 and attempt to eradicate Sarah Conner along with all of mankind with terminators. Paul is already lecturing to students at PolyTech… I’m assuming one of his students was Miles Dyson.

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We meet Paul’s cute neighbor Samantha (Kristy Swanson; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Swamp Shark) and her uber-creepy sweaty abusive dad (Richard Marcus; Enemy Mine, Tremors, The Being), his creepy old neighbor Elvira (the mean old villainess from The Goonies), and some local punks who get their balls squeezed by a protective BB. Speaking of which, BB is super cute but he seems to take note to those who have wronged him.

Paul’s robot “BB” is nothing short of absolutely adorable and he sounds like Disney’s Stitch or a Star Wars Jawa. At one point when he was meeting the teenage neighbor boy I think he said “Houtini.” BB is always getting upgraded and, as a result, smarter. Meanwhile Paul is making decades of scientific progress in mere weeks, already developing the circuitry to jump-start the nervous system of a cadaver.

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When a prank-gone-wrong results in creepy Elvira shotgun-blasting BB to robot Heaven, Paul loses his robo-bestie. Worse yet, the very night of his first kiss with Samantha, a domestic dispute with her father sends her to the hospital with a fatal injury. So naturally Paul steals Samantha’s body, surgically implants BB’s “spare brain” (a motherboard, basically) into Samantha, and then Weird Science meets Re-Animator as he reanimates BB-Sam complete with remote control. Why there is no button to turn his Cyborg-girlfriend into a sex droid is beyond me. I guess as a teenage neuro-robotics prodigy he gets plenty of play already.

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This poster kind of goes with the sex droid theme. A bit misleading if you ask me.

Let’s just say that the remote control doesn’t work out as effectively as Paul would like, because BB-Sam goes on a killing spree to snuff out everyone who ever wronged BB or Samantha. This in mind, maybe it’s a blessing that he didn’t go the sex droid route. Although it would have made for a great death scene! LOL.

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Director Wes Craven (Scream 4, Deadly Blessing, Cursed) was playful with his low budget-limited few moments of gore. A violent dream sequence has Samantha killing her father and then being doused by his blood as if pouring from a spout. We also witness the exquisitely goretastic use of a basketball for a detonation-like decapitation. Not to mention the unreasonably stupid but equally super-fun gory surprise ending.

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Well this is totally reasonable. You see, BB’s robot spirit caused genetic changes such that under the skin her organs were replaced with circuitry and metal. Isn’t pseudoscience fun?

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The basketball scene and the ending alone are worth owning this movie, but it offers a lot of 80s horror nostalgia and a story that works in its own zany way. I really enjoyed it.

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John’s Horror Corner: Deliver Us From Evil (2014), and deliver ME from this uninteresting, boring possession movie.

November 11, 2014

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MY CALL: I wasn’t sold, scared, or really even interested in this possession film whose scenes lacked any sense of synthesis and whose story never maturely developed. MOVIES LIKE Deliver Us From Evil: A mainstream crime-mystery-horror that I loved was Fallen (1998), another meta-genre possession movie with a great cast and excellent execution.  BETTER POSSESSION MOVIES: The Unborn (2009), The Last Exorcism (2010), The Quiet Ones (2014)…and even The Possession (2012), which I described as the “diet coke of possession movies,” was better than this.

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New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana; Deadfall, Hanna) has recently started getting some strange cases. A woman in a drug-induced manic craze, a call of “strange sounds” coming from the basement in a “possessed” house, a crucified cat, some self-mutilated crazies in animal enclosures at the zoo…but that’s New York, right? As Sarchie investigates further, these strange incidents appear to be darkly connected.

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You are charged with one count of trespassing in the lion’s enclosure and eight counts of being creepy.

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During his investigations Sarchie is approached by a drinking, smoking, edgy Jesuit priest named Mendoza (Édgar Ramírez; Wrath of the Titans, Zero Dark Thirty) who offers his help, but is met only with skepticism. No clue why. I often solicit the advice of leather jacket-wearing Jesuit priests who wander into my place of work unannounced and offer assistance. There’s nothing weird about that.

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As we slowly accumulate clues Sarchie starts hearing things, seeing things, weird things are happening in his home, and everything gets really… “satanic.” Scratching sounds abound, lights burn out as if extinguished by evil, chiseled bloody fingernails on perps, insane Latin babble, and dark etchings on walls set an abyssal tone and it is effective for the most part. Realizing the darkness that has befallen him, Sarchie chooses to work with Mendoza, who is (of course!) well-studied in demonology and exorcism.

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Not really sure where the cat fits in to all this, but whatever.

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I really like writer/director Scott Derrickson’s (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) past work and I admire his ability to recruit mainstream actors into his horror casts (e.g., Olivia Munn of Magic Mike, The Newsroom playing Sarchie’s wife and Joel McHale of Community). Olivia Munn handles her very minor role well and Joel McHale brings some often out of place yet totally welcome humor.

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But despite the cast and all this cool “evil satany” stuff I just never found myself caring about this movie…like, at all. There was just something–something big–about the whole story, the characters and composition that didn’t work for me. I wasn’t sold or scared and, not to sound mean but, I was never really even interested. I mean, some individual scenes were sort of working for me. They just didn’t have anything close to the kind of synthesis I needed to suspend my belief and immerse myself in the movie.

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Ultimately, I found this film boring. Even during the exorcism scene, which I’m sure was meant to be intense and climactic, I was legitimately bored and waiting for the movie to end.

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I won’t say don’t see this movie. A lot of Amazon reviewers loved it. I’m just clearly not one of them. And on a totally random note, this movie made me hate Jim Morrison. Watch it and you’ll learn why.

John’s Horror Corner: Annabelle (2014), an incompetently made evil doll movie and a MAJOR disappointment to this MAJOR fan of The Conjuring

November 6, 2014

      NENfqI5WroSXRS_1_1 MY CALL:  I think evil doll movies practically make themselves. But this is an absolutely incompetent horror film that should disappoint fans of the genre whether they were birthed in the era of serious slashers, classic Hammer releases, or campy 80s slapstick gorefests. The only way this made it to the big screen was by riding the tidal wave of hype created by its link to The Conjuring. I feel genuinely cheated!  MOVIES TO WATCH INSTEAD of Annabelle: There are really soooo many wiser choices you can make for your scare-tastic Saturday night.  Maybe Dead Silence (2007), Dolls (1987), Poltergeist (1982) or The Conjuring (2013).

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Let’s start with a little disclaimer here. I absolutely adored The Conjuring (2013)!  I viewed it as an instant classic which also stylistically paid kind homage to the classics while maintaining a more contemporary intensity.  So when I heard they were making a movie about the creepy doll introduced to us in the Warrens’ cursed menagerie, I was giddy like a school girl.

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The story is very simple. A young soon-to-be doctor gets his pregnant wife a gift, an antique style doll for her collection.  She adores it.  After some random cultists randomly choose their home to invade the police dispatch the murderous satanic cultist assailants, the blood of a dying cultist coming in contact with the Annabelle doll and presumably completing some ritual opening a gateway for some other-worldly demonic spirit to possess the doll and use it as a conduit on its soul-procuring mission.

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From here, we learn the particulars about the cultists, demons and how a soul must be “offered” to them. And then we watch as the twisted, possessed doll manipulates our young family (specifically the mother) in order to get what it wants.  Is it the young couple’s new born child?

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At this point I feel the need to say that there are a lot of positive reviews out there about this movie.  THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM.

I won’t spoil anything, but the movie itself left a spoiled taste in my mouth. I was impressed by nothing, affected by nothing more than cheap jump scares and blaring sound effects, and utterly bored by a story whose end I couldn’t see coming largely because of the disconnected randomness of the events that were meant to build urgency.  Creaky chairs and slamming doors can be scary, and creepy dolls can really make a horror movie work all by themselves, but the mood just wasn’t developed to maturity for me.

Was the doll creepy? TOTALLY…perhaps even in an over-the-top way.  I mean, that doll—would anyone actually make a doll that looked that evil even before it got possessed and dirtied up?  Those cheek bones and thin eyebrows felt reminiscent of the Wicked Witch.  But the doll’s creepiness and a few jump scares are all the good I have to say about this.  The Warrens were mentioned once, but we got nothing more than that little tease of something better…and that something better never came to my aid.

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Instead of the Warrens I got mysterious baby carriages in ultra-creepy basements with no explanations.

Some may say it’s not fair to compare Annabelle to The Conjuring.  But I’d respond with the fact that the entire advertising campaign was designed around linking the two movies by the very tagline: “Before The Conjuring, there was Annabelle.”  More like “Before The Conjuring there were lame horror stories that weren’t told well.” The only way this made it to the big screen was by riding the tidal wave of hype created by its link to The Conjuring. I feel genuinely cheated!

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Things seldom work out well for the good-intentioned priests in these movies.

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Let’s talk about what The Conjuring had that Annabelle did not: a director who had proven himself in horror, experienced writers, and an absolutely legit cast.  What does Annabelle have?  Director John R. Leonetti, whose biggest prior accomplishments were The Butterfly Effect 2 and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (if we’re considering these “accomplishments” at all), led the project.  He worked with the foundation of an inexperienced writer and an almost completely unrecognizable cast offering forgettable performances and a stale story.  The only thing that haunted me about Annabelle was all of the promising hype that got me to waste my money on it.

In my perhaps overly critical eyes, this is an absolutely incompetent horror that should disappoint fans of the genre whether they were birthed in the era of serious slashers, classic Hammer releases, or campy 80s slapstick gorefests.

Horror Wardrobes: The Fall/Winter Edition

November 5, 2014

Hello all. Mark here.

I recently watched Deliver Us from Evil and was perplexed by the barrage of form-fitting leather jackets and slim fitting shirts. The film went out of its way to make everyone look slick and it was distracting.

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I’ve already written about Tank Top Horror films (The summer edition) and  was inspired to do something new. The trendy outfits of Deliver got me thinking about better usages of wardrobe in horror. Since fall is upon us and winter is coming (Sorry Ned) I put together a list of costumes that could get you by in the colder months. Some of these costumes weren’t meant for cold weather (Freddy chills in a boiler room whilst wearing a sweater) but depending on your geographical location they will be needed. If anything this is a list of costumes that further the story and  build characters instead of showing off their muscles. Thought was put into the outfits and more often than not they’ve become characters all their own. For instance, Three Amigos isn’t a horror films but everybody remembers El Guapo’s sweater.

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This list may be odd but it was fun to write.

The Shining Jackets and Sweaters

All sweaters and no coat make Jack a dull dressed boy. Shelly Duvall and Jack Nicholson rock some iconic gear in The Shining. The cold weather and drafty house made it necessary to bundle up . I wonder how many iterations of costumes Kubrick ran through before he decided on these get ups.

The Shinging Jack Sweater

Duvall sweater

Drag Me to Hell Coat

Woman buys beautiful coat. Woman gets dragged to hell. A great-coat is wasted.

Drag Me To Hell coat

The Wolfman During a Full Moon

Full moon + Furry coat = A whole lot of warmth. Thanks for the idea @aaronsagers.

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Rosemary’s Quilt Chic

Are you pregnant with something evil? Is it kinda cold outside? Is the house drafty? No worries. This night quilt will solve all your problems!

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Patrick Wilson/Ethan Hawke Rocking the Cardigans in Insidious 2 and Sinister

These cardigans say “we’re literate but still laid back.” These costumes brought in a new era of good actors elevating low-budget horror material.

Patrick Wilson Insidious 2

Ethan Hawke Sinister

Freddy’s Sweater in The Nightmare on Elm Street Series. 

This sweater is so synonymous with Freddy it has made it impossible for people to wear it without drawing comparisons. Wes Craven chose the colors because red/green are the two most clashing colors to the human retina.

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Sam’s One Piece Fleece/Burlap Sack Thing in  Trick ‘r Treat

Comfortable, relaxed and warm enough to get you through October-November. Also, he might be trying to start a ski cap that covers the whole head craze.

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Tippi Hedren Looking Great While Being Attacked By The Birds

You gotta look good when getting attacked by birds. Hitchcock chose the green suit because he felt it had a cool quality that set Melanie apart from the residents of Bodega Bay.

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Norman Bates and the Nerdy Chic

Warm yet relaxed. The outfits scream “mamas boy” and we all know how that goes.

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Kurt Russell’s Hat and Jacket in The Thing

I wish I could consider the beard an article of clothing. The hat really ties the outfit together and Carpenter had the hat ready and waiting for Russell’s arrival.

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Candyman’s Massive Coat.

You gotta look fabulous when patrolling the netherworld. Imagine the surprise of unwitting victims when that jacket comes through the mirror.

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Kathy Bates and the Flannel/Sweatshirt Combo of Misery

Just because she looks like a run of the mill country woman doesn’t mean she won’t smoosh your legs with a sledgehammer.

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Jack’s Jacket in An American Werewolf in London.

The coat compliments the beautiful makeup work. There are rumors that Griffin Dunne wore the  jacket long after filming wrapped.

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Nosferatu and His Warm Looking Hybrid Jacket of Doom.

Probably the greatest horror jacket ever. I read through some comment boards and the debate is still looming over what exactly to call the jacket. The mystery of the jacket continues.

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Near Dark and fancy leather jackets

I would hate to be a bouncer at this bar. The leather jacket screams late October motorcycle ride and perfectly fits the hillbilly vampire.

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Blair Witch and the tuque

There has never been a more iconic ski cap.

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They Live Flannel and sweatshirt

If your movie is gonna feature the greatest fight you need the greatest/toughest flannel and sweatshirt. Mission accomplished.

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There you have it! Did I miss any sweet fall/winter horror gear? Let me know!

 

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