Archive for September, 2012


31 Horror Films, 31 Days

As a tumultuous and troublesome September comes to an end, I find myself headed into my favorite month for home movie viewing.

On October 1st, I’ll be watching The Cabin in the Woods for the first time since I saw it the theater. On October 31st, I plan to enjoy the ridiculously entertaining cult classic in the making,Trick ‘r Treat. On the days in between, I hope to watch at least 29 other scary delights as part of my third annual October horror marathon.

Masked spree killers. Vamps. Zombies. Werewolves. Supernatural monsters. Evil kids. Demons and devils. Restless spirits. Haunted houses. It’s all fair game come the harvest moon.

There will be a revisiting of recent faves like Drag Me To Hell and The Innkeepers. There will be ashamed to admit first time full viewings of classics like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But most importantly, there will be blood and screams. And thrills and chills. That’s why we love the horror flick. And that’s why I love October.

I hope you have a frightening month.

Now…go watch a scary movie!

I’ll be updating this list every few days to share some brief thoughts on what I’ve been watching so feel free to check back in.

(unless noted otherwise, all movies are available on DVD or Blu-ray)

1.  The Cabin in the Woods (2012) – Joss Whedon and frequent collaborator Drew Goddard present a clever entry in the genre.  Part homage, part parody yet totally original with a curveball third act that works even when it shouldn’t.  For further thoughts on the film, check this out.

2.  Intruders (2011) – Clive Owen as a protective father whose beloved daughter is being terrorized by a faceless entity that steals into her bedroom at night.  There’s a nice parallel story with a young boy dealing with the same creature that ultimately serves up the big reveal, but despite some good jump scares & creepy imagery it’s all kind of disappointing.

3. The Hills Have Eyes (2006) – A remake of the Wes Craven 1977 genre classic.  I’ve never seen the original but here director Alexandre Aja delivers the blood and sudden violence that he previously brought to his French shock flick, High Tension.  Nothing tricky here, it’s a straightforward survival tale of fish-out-of-water city folk and nuclear irradiated inbred mutant assholes with heavy casualties on both sides.  Surprisingly enjoyable.

4. Daybreakers (2009) – Vampires have taken over the world and use the few surviving humans as a food source that is quickly dwindling.  A very solid flick, a little more sci-fi than horror, but perfectly suitable for the season.  Bonus points for a fun performance from the ever reliable Willem Dafoe.

5. Lovely Molly (2011) – A relatively disturbing tale from one of the directors of The Blair Witch Project, which may or may not deter you from checking it out.  A newlywed couple moves into the bride’s childhood home, abandoned since the death of her father.  She begins to hear and see disturbing things that other’s seemingly can’t.  Some bad stuff goes down.  Great lead performance by the young bride.

6. Frankenweenie (2012) – Tim Burton’s best movie in years.  It’s not Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice but it is a lot of fun and has some genuine creepy moments in it.  Lighter horror fare that should play well with the kiddos and the kids at heart. (IN THEATERS)

7.  V/H/S (2012) – A found footage anthology flick filled with lots of good jump scares and disturbing visuals.  There’s always a clunker in an anthology film and this  one is no different but there’s always great fun to be had as well!  If you don’t like the sub-genre you should probably avoid it but if you don’t have a problem with it than I recommend you check it out. (ON DEMAND & IN THEATERS)

8.  The Woman in Black (2012) –  Not just a damn good ghost story, but a great movie in and of itself.  Daniel Radcliffe distances himself from Mr. Potter.  Great production design and sound editing help make the affairs all the more frightening.  Well worth your time.

9.  Rabies (2010) – Israel’s first horror film is misleadingly titled but spot on in its delivery.  Not sure why it’s called Rabies (translated from the Hebrew “Kalevet”) and, honestly, I don’t care.  What at first seems to be a typical slasher turns into anything but with solid performances from all concerned.  Darkly comic with some real honest moments of terror.

10.  Dog Soldiers (2002) – Werewolf movies can quite frankly suck.  There haven’t been a whole bunch of good ones.  And while this can’t compare to classics like An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, it comes pretty close.

11.  The Revenant (2009) –  A U.S. soldier serving in Iraq is sent home in a body bag.  The night after his burial he awakens filled with embalming fluid and a hunger for blood.  He takes refuge with his best friend to figure out what the hell is going on.  It’s a fun twist on the usual zombie stuff but it get’s a bit repetitive in the second act and runs about 20 minutes too long.

12. Sinister (2012) –  More than your typical jump scare movie.  Don’t ge me wrong, that’s exactly what it intends to do and it succeeds at it quite swimmingly.  Ethan Hawke portrays a true crime writer researching a case that has ties to the home he and his family have just moved into.  His presence lends the film some weight that other films of this ilk might not have. (IN THEATERS)

13. The Hole  (2009) – Legendary filmmaker Joe Dante returns to a genre he helped reinvent in the 80’s with a light kid-friendly horror flick.  There’s nothing too scandalous and it’s certainly not on par in terms of violence, horror or quality with the classic Gremlins.  It would make for some nice Saturday viewing with the young ones, though.

14. Drag Me to Hell (2009) – If I’ve learned one thing from the moving picture shows, it’s that gypsies hate fat dudes and perky, ambitious loan officers.  Here, Sam Raimi returns to his pre-Peter Parker form with a twisty affair chock full of  gag worthy moments.  You can tell that the man who brought us Ash is having fun in his old playground.  And you will, too.

15. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) – It might surprise you but this 30-year old made-for-TV horror flick might be my favorite of the films I’ve watched this month.  A gang of redneck bigots chase down and exact vigilante vengeance on a mentally challenged man accused of a terrible crime  for which he is later proven innocent.  The gang is able to get out from under murder charges having but as the unfortunate man’s mother proclaims, there is justice outside the law.

16. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) – This campy homage to 50’s era alien invasion/horror drive-in fare just never clicked with me.  The movie has a bit of a cult following so I know there are many who might take umbrage with my general apathy towards the film.  More power to ’em, I say.  I did find one particular scene involving John Vernon (Animal House’s Dean Wormer) pretty creepy so it’s got that going for it.  Your mileage may vary.

17. ATM (2012) – Three disposable young professionals on their way home from a company Christmas party are terrorized by a mysterious stalker who will not let them exit the ATM vestibule they are trapped in.  The premise is okay, the acting competent, and the film is well shot with the director making great use of the snowy, dark environs.  At best, a pleasant diversion.

18.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – One of the greats of the genre.  I’d never seen it completely prior to this viewing.  It’s raw, dirty, awkward and surprisingly free of the red stuff.  No, the horror here lies in the sudden randomness of the violence, the whole wrong place wrong timeness of it all.  And of course, there’s the crazy guy in the skin mask with the chainsaw.

19.  Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) – The big Halloween horror franchise of the moment.  I guess I’ll keep seeing them as long as they keep churning them out but with a promised Latin spin-off flick and 5th American iteration scheduled for next year, one hopes they start to clean it up a bit.  While better than the 3rd film, this one doesn’t have nearly enough ‘jump’ in it and falls victim to the series’ increasingly (and unnecessarily) convoluted back story. (IN THEATERS)

20.  The Last Exorcism (2010) –  A jaded televangelist recruits a documentary crew to pull back the curtain on the exorcism sham but is surprised when he runs smack dab into what might be a fully and properly possessed young girl. Her religious fanatic father and over protective brother are the least of his concerns when the girl’s soul might be at stake.  A late third act twist kind of fouls the works but otherwise a very solid entry in the ‘possessed child’ genre.

21.  Excision (2012) – An awkward high school senior is fascinated with the human body and desires to be a surgeon.  Nightly she wakens from bizarre psycho-sexual fantasies.  She’s trying to lose her virginity.  Her parents don’t particularlly like or care about her.  And, her peers and teachers are certainly no help.  It’s a perfect storm that builds to a desperate cry for attention.  This is a very accomplished film from a first time feature director.

22. Event Horizon (1997) – A sci-fi romp set on a ghost infested space ship.  The hit-or-miss director, Paul W.S. Anderson, delivers here with a game and more than capable cast, headlined by Larry Fishburne and Sam Neill.  There’s genuinely scary stuff to be found here.  Very underrated movie.

23. The Barrens (2012) – This movie has the wrong name.  It should totally steal the name of a film discussed earlier in the blog.  What we have here is a sturdy little creature flick where the actual existence of the creature is left in doubt for the majority of its running time.  ‘Vampire Bill’ Stephen Moyer portrays a man vacationing with his family in the same woods said to be roamed by the legendary Jersey Devil.

24.  Silent Hill (2006) – Shockingly good for a film adaptation of a video game.  It’s a little long with a whole subplot that could have been excised leaving only the meat of the story which is a mother looking for her lost daughter in a really run down town.  There’s a lot of cool nightmare fuel here even if the story is a bit disjointed.

25.  Juan of the Dead (2011) – More Shaun than Dawn but still pretty damn good.  Cuba’s entry into the crowded zombie field dares to shine a light on issues political, sexual, and familial…all with a knowing wink and a tongue planted firmly in cheek.  It’s dirty and fun, and while it never quite reaches the lofty heights achieved by the best of its sub-genre, it certainly makes a noble effort.

26. The Innkeepers (2011) – Director Ti West is a master of the so-called ‘slowburn’ as seen in his previous effort, The House of the Devil.  Here he serves up a chilling entry in the ‘haunted hotel’ sub-sub-genre with great performances from the uber-cute Sara Paxton and the geekily cool Pat Healy.

27. Long Weekend (1978) – A quarreling couple ventures out over a long holiday weekend camping trip to get some quality time together and to hopefully address the issues in their marriage.  They show a shocking lack of regard for the environment and the creatures that inhabit it.  Nature shows them their error of their ways.  The Aussie film makes great use of the landscape and features two of the most unlikable protagonists you’re ever likely to see.

28. Psycho (1960) – I must bow my head in shame at never having seen Mr. Hitchcock’s classsic of horror and suspense prior to this fright fest.  Sure, it looks old but it taps into primal feelings that are universal and timeless.  My familiarity with the plot (I did see the unfortunate remake after all) did nothing to lessen the impact of that shower scene.  Anthony Perkins nails his performance as the disturbing and charming Norman Bates.

29. Burnt Offerings (1976) – Another classic I first saw on television way back in the day.  The only thing I could remember about it was this pale, menacing chaffeur pushing around a coffin.  It took me years to identify the movie but I’m glad I did.  Oliver Reed & Karen Black move into a ridiculously affordable mansion for the summer.  Strange things begin happening. And, the house does not want them to leave.  Builds to a really effective ending.

30. The Mist (2007) – One of the best horror flicks of the last 10 years.  Director Frank Darabont adapts his second Stephin King novella with a top-notch cast that has many familiar faces for fans of The Walking Dead.  The Blu-ray has a special black and white version of the film that really plays up the old-school vibe of the story.  Seriously, one of my favorite flicks of recent memory.

31. Trick ‘r Treat (2007) – My seasonal fave.  A great anthology film taking place over the course of one evening in one Halloween obsessed town with multiple characters bleeding into each other’s stories.  There really isn’t a weak link in the bunch with each of the four main tales and the connecting story all delivering their share of scares and charm with the highlights being a pair of perfomances from Dylan Baker as a Dad teaching his son the value of honoring the traditions of the holiday and Brian Cox as his grumpy, old neighbor with a deep, dark secret.  If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t wait 365 days to remedy that.  You’re only cheating yourself.

And that’s that.  31 horror films in 31 days without missing a day.  I feel like I accomplished something akin to a dorm room full of drunken frat boys carefully building a beer-a-mid over the course of a long 3 day weekend.

Hope you enjoyed the ride and thanks for coming with me!


Because some things demand your immediate attention

Compliance (w & d by Craig Zobel)

**** of 5 stars

A crew of fast-food restaurant employees show up for their shift. They spend their first moments at work catching up with each other & gossiping about their co-workers and significant others. Things get busy as the lunch crowd shows up. The manager steps into her office to take a phone call. It’s the police. They are with a woman who claims a cashier on duty stole money from her purse and there is surveillance footage to corroborate her story. The officer asks the supervisor to detain the employee until he can arrive on the scene. The confused young girl is taken to the office and is told of the charges against her. She professes innocence. And that’s when things get really interesting.

Writer/Director Craig Zobel creates in these first few scenes a sense of everyday mundanity that cleverly hides the dark and disturbing places the film, based on a true story, will ultimately go. He works with a stellar cast led by Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker (far removed from her role in ABC’s occasionally amusing Don’t Trust the B*tch in Apt 23) who play respectively the manager, Sarah, and the accused, Becky.

Sarah is harried. Officer Daniels has kept her on the phone while he performs a search of the cashier’s home. Pulled between the drama unfolding with Becky and her need to be on the restaurant floor, she is having difficulty finding anyone who is willing to acquiesce to Daniels’ (voiced and portrayed with icy cold condescension and confidence by Pat Healy) increasingly odd requests in interrogating the young woman and locating the missing money.

Sarah calls her fiancé Van (Bill Camp) to watch over the girl and to follow the lawman’s orders over the phone until he can get there. Van takes to this duty with great ease and it is in his actions in response to Daniels’ requests that the movie takes a nightmarish turn.

I knew that the film was based on a true story and was even slightly familiar with the incident that inspired it. However, as I watched, I kept telling myself that surely these events had been exaggerated for dramatic effect. I was shocked when I read the Wikipedia entry and discovered that Zobel had taken no such liberties.

The movie is disturbing and true. There’s nothing exploitative about it. Any violence is only suggested and nudity is used sparingly for effect. The director shows the viewer what happened in all it’s unvarnished ugliness. And like a knuckle punch to the arm that leaves a deep bruise, that ugly truth will linger with you long after you’ve seen it.

Compliance is playing in limited engagements around the country. Hopefully, it will open wider near you. If it does, I highly recommend you check it out.

[Editor’s Note: Please wait to read the Wiki entry until you’ve seen the movie. After that, check out the entry on something called The Milgram Experiment. It goes a long way to perhaps explaining how so may people could make the many poor decisions that allowed this situation to get so out of hand]