MOVIES: 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark,' 'Conan the Barbarian' and 'Final Destination 5'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK"
Wanna have nightmares? They're inevitable after experiencing the primal horror of this movie remake of the 1973 telefilm, a haunted house tale starring then-young Kim Darby.
After leaving her neglectful divorcee mom behind in Los Angeles, 9-year-old Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) reluctantly moves into crumbling Blackwood Manor in Rhode Island with her ambitious architect dad, Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce), and his new girl-friend, interior decorator Kim Raphael (Katie Holmes). They're hoping Architectural Digest will reward their renovations with a cover story.
"This house is unsafe for a child," warns the grizzled, old groundskeeper, Mr. Harris (Jack Thompson). And petulant, precocious Sally whimpers, "I don't like it here."
But no one listens to ominous warnings or whimpering. So, spurred on by intimate, rasping whispers that beckon her to the boarded-up lower level, lonely, little Sally discovers an army of tiny, beady-eyed, snarling beasties that devour children's teeth. But despite her incessant screaming, no one will believe her.
Indeed, when Kim's clothes are found shredded in her closet, Sally is suspected of causing the damage. "I feel like the evil stepmother," she complains. Eventually, conflicted Kim picks up on the clues and investigates the Gothic mansion's macabre history. It seems that 100 years ago, Emerson Blackwood and his son mysteriously disappeared in the basement, and ravenous, malevolent monsters still swarm in a deep, dark, secret space behind the grate of fireplace flue.
"I'm fascinated by monsters and secretive, dark places," confesses Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"). "To me, fairy tales were the cradle of horror narration. I love exploring that. I love insects and unborn things."
Serving as producer, Guillermo del Toro co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Robbins, leaving the atmospherically menacing directing to Troy Nixey, who shows what the sharp-clawed creatures look like, perhaps, sooner than one might hope. Sometimes it's creepier not to know exactly what savagery lurks in the shadows.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a suspenseful, scary 7, filled with spooky, supernatural terror.
"CONAN THE BARBARIAN"
Cashing in on the 3-D craze, this uber-violent action-adventure serves as a reminder of how much more memorable John Milius's 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger version was. I'm not saying the Austrian cad is a better actor. I think half-Hawaiian actor/model Jason Momoa showed great character as Khal Drogo, the intimidating Dothraki warlord in HBO's "Game of Thrones," evolving from his hunky "Baywatch" persona.
But Conan's still a misogynistic, stoic stiff who reveals the depths of his soul with: "I live. I love, I slay. I am content."
In the opening battlefield scene, Conan's father, Corin (Ron Perlman), slices his infant son from the womb of his dying wife (Laila Rouass). Corin is the leader of the doomed Cimmerian tribe and he's subsequently killed by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang from "Avatar"), Hyboria's most ferocious warrior. So you know there's going to be a vengeful, climactic confrontation between Conan and Khalar, punctuated by a search for the powerful Mask of Acheron, made from the "bones of kings."
On the distaff side, there's a campy, villainous sorceress, Marique (Rose McGowan), Khalar Zym's daughter, and a feisty temple priestess, Tamara (Rachel Nichols), Conan's romantic interest. But lest you think you're seeing Nichols' nudity, her bare-breasted scenes were done by an un-credited Bulgarian body-double. As Momoa reports, "I got to kiss Rachel, but then go in there with the Bulgarian girl."
Adapted by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood from Robert E. Howard's pulpy, original concept, the humorless screenplay revolves around revenge. Having refashioned "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday the 13th," German-born director Marcus Nispel again demonstrates strong visual style. Particularly memorable is a CGI sequence, produced by Tom Horton and Reliance MediaWorks, in which shape-shifting sand warriors materialize out of dust to torment Conan.
For the curious, the 6-foot, 5-inch tall, 43-year-old Momoa, who grew up in the Midwest, is married to actress Lisa Bonet and they are the parents of two small children.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Conan the Barbarian" is a savage 3, filled with visceral blood-and-guts carnage.
"FINAL DESTINATION 5"
Good grief! This horror franchise is 11 years old and still going strong. It's based on the premise that someone has a powerful premonition of an imminent catastrophe (like a car or airplane crash) and is able to help others escape. Problem is: fate -- a.k.a. Death -- doesn't like to be cheated and is relentlessly determined to claim its victims, hunting down the clueless survivors one-by-one.
Only there's a macabre twist. Supposedly, the Grim Reaper (personified by Tony Todd) will spare those who are willing to kill someone else -- until the rules change again.
The disaster this time involves the spectacular collapse of a huge suspension bridge which is foreseen by Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto), a sales rep for a paper manufacturing firm, who resourcefully saves seven young colleagues on a bus en route to a weekend corporate retreat, only to have them killed in even more dastardly ways, involving horrible `accidents,' including a gymnastics balance beam and laser eye surgery.
Characters like Sam's estranged girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell), corporate climber Peter (Miles Fisher), dodgy executive Dennis (David Koechner) and sexy Olivia (Jacqueline Macinnes Wood) are basically bland and uninteresting except, perhaps, sleazy, womanizing Isaac (P.J. Byrne) who, when he realizes many of his co-workers have been killed, steals whatever he can find in their desks, like spare change and a coupon for a free massage at a local Asian-run spa.
"Yum, yum, dim-sum," he leers before he, too, succumbs. Plus, now there's a skeptical FBI agent (Courtney B. Vance) investigating the bridge collapse in a freak wind storm.
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer and first-time feature director Steven Quale pile on the profanity and dish out gruesome violence, spiced with fleeting moments of nasty, ironic humor. And they adroitly use the 3-D gimmick for visceral impact, making you jump in your seat and gasp aloud, while scaring the wits out of you with piercings, flames and shattering glass.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Final Destination 5" is a suspenseful 6, preying on contemporary angst and uncertainty.