Archive for September, 2013

Horrorpalooza 2013: 31 Days of Horror

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Movies
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31 Days of Horror!!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, folks!  Pumpkin spice is added to any drink you can imagine.  Your girlfriend has already decided what kind of costume you’re going to wear.  Hundreds of gore hounds have stacks of horror flicks lined up in a noble effort to have a frightmare every day leading up to All Hallow’s Eve.  And this movie geek is no different.

For the fourth year in a row, I intend to watch at least one horror film a day.  There’s a good chance this year I’ll do a bit more than that.  I’m on a roll.  There’s a strong international flavor to the offerings I’ve set aside as well as a handful of recent remakes.  Scream Factory has helpfully provided new Blu-ray editions of some classics I’m looking forward to seeing in a brand new light.  Throw in some blind buys and a few choice theatrical releases and it’s looking like it’s going to be a busy month.

And I can’t wait.  I’ll be updating this blog every few days to share a few thoughts on what I’m watching.  If you’re so inclined, tell me what you’re watching!  I’ll also be posting a few other “horror” themed blogs along the way so I hope you check back often.

I’m thinking I’ll be starting off with a nice, little French shock flick.  Yeah…that’s sounds about right.

1.  Martyrs (2008) – A sterling example of French New Wave horror.  At times it’s a brutal thing to watch but it’s a hell of a flick that never turns its cold, dead eyes from its shocking subject matter.  Not for the faint of heart.  The second half of the film takes a sharp, narrative turn into pseudo-religious material but it never comes off heavy-handed.

2.  Munger Road (2011) – It’s ballsy of a small independent horror flick to end with a ‘to be continued’.  Stupid, maybe, but definitely ballsy.  What’s here though is an interesting enough flick with parallel stories that evoke Carpenter’s Halloween and the 90’s slasher Urban Legends.  Nothing to write home about but if that sequel/second part ever gets made I’ll check it out.

3.  Insidious:  Chapter 2 (2013) – Following a brief prologue, the film jumps right into the action picking right up where the first movie left off.    Along the way we get some back story explaining the history of the creepy ‘Bride in Black’ that’s been haunting Josh Lambert his whole life.  It all feels a bit forced leading to an ending that sets up the inevitable and already announced Chapter 3.

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4.  April Fool’s Day (1986) – A group of college friends with terrible names like Arch, Skip, Chaz and Kit gather at equally poorly named Muffy’s island mansion for Spring Break.  After a nice first act that sets up the group dynamics, the film wanders into familiar slasher territory with a knowing wink and a smile.  It’s an unusually bloodless affair which all makes sense in the end.

5.  Carrie (1976) – A surprisingly restrained affair from provocateur Brian DePalma despite the somewhat skeezy soft-focus opening girls’ shower scene.  Sissy Spacek is perfectly cast as the mousy and timid Carrie White who discovers she can move things with her mind.  The movie reminds me how truly fortunate anyone is to escape high school relatively unscathed.  Carrier’s classmates?  Not so lucky.

6.  Misery (1990) – To date, this only film of the many based on Stephen King stories to receive an Academy Award,  Kathy Bates won the gold statue for her portrayal of the cockadoodie crazy Annie Wilkes.  The flick is all about the crazy fan and imagining just what the hell she might do next to her favorite author, Paul Sheldon, played gamely by an overshadowed James Caan.

7.  Cockneys vs Zombies (2012) – An enjoyable if forgettable flick that never strives to rise above its simplistic title.  Some Eastenders decide to rob a bank to obtain the necessary funds to save their grandfathers retirement home.  The robbery goes awry and our robbers find themselves in the midst of a full on zombie outbreak.  Meanwhile, Gramps and his senior citizen amigos fight off the horde.

8.  Cabin Fever (2002) – Eli Roth’s debut feature is as mean-spirited as anything he’s done since and I don’t really have a problem with that.  There’s a cabin in the woods.  There’s a bunch of disposable college kids.  There’s some flesh-eating bacteria.  There’s some inbred country yokels and a hick cop.  Throw it in a blender and you’ve got great gory fun.

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9.  The Entity (1982) – Barbara Hershey is repeatedly sexually assaulted by an invisible, malevolent demon in this odd sleazy affair that is supposedly based on a true story.  Of everything I’ve watched so far this month this made me perhaps the most uncomfortable.  I felt rather voyeuristic watching it.  Yeah, I don’t know what to think about this one.

10.  Resolution (2012) – A man tries to help an old friend, strung out on drugs and squatting in an isolated cabin in the woods, kick the habit.  There’s some great acting from the two buddies in this mega low-budget flick that barely qualifies as horror until a third act that becomes trippy and meta.  Some folks call in ‘the Primer of horror movies.’  If you know what that means, you might want to check it.

11.  A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) – Platinum Dunes serves up another warmed over remake of a classic horror film though this one is not near as bad as some of their others.  This one is helped out by some pretty cool nightmare sequences and a rather good performance by Jackie Earl Haley stepping in for Robert Englund in the role he made famous.

12.  Fright Night (2011) – A remake that gets it right.  It honors the source material while doing its own thing and in my opinion actually surpasses the original.  Not the most popular opinion but I’ll stick by it.  Colin Farrell is great as Jerry, the vampire next door, and David Tennant is excellent as Peter Vincent who is a Vegas show magician this time around.  Lots of fun stuff here.

13.  28 Days Later (2002) – The film that helped launch the resurgence of zombies in pop culture is over 10 years old and doesn’t even feature zombies (if you ask some people.)  Danny Boyle’s masterpiece is a bleak, personal affair focusing on a small group of folks trying to avoid the rage virus running rampant through England.  And it turns out humans are the biggest monsters of them all.

14.  Lifeforce (1985) – This movie is bat-shit insane.  There’s no other way to put it.  Astronauts find a giant spaceship in the tail of a returning Haley’s Comet.  Inside the ship, they find the incredibly hot Mathilda May in suspended animation with some equally good-looking model dudes.  Of course, they bring them back to earth.  Wackiness ensues with much death and great practical effects.

15.  Land of the Dead (2005) – Romero’s last great zombie flick though great might be giving it a bit more credit than it deserves.  It’s definitely better than the last couple.  The director’s usual social commentary can be found this time with a none too subtle statement on class warfare and social rights.  The decision to humanize the undead and make them more intelligent is controversial but interesting.

16.  The Hand (1981) –  Oliver Stone directed this odd flick which to my knowledge is the only horror flick in his oeuvre unless you count that Alexander flick.  It’s neither terrible or great.  Oddly stylish but occasionally flat.  Plus it has one of those endings that I hate without having the guts to stick with it.  Vague enough for you?  Oh yeah, there’s a severed hand.  It kills people.  I think.

17.  Prince of Darkness (1987) – John Carpenter had a hell of a run in the 80s.  This was the only flick I hadn’t seen from that period and thanks to the wonderful Scream Factory that’s been tended to.  An ancient sect of Catholic priests has kept the Son of Satan bottled up for centuries but he’s decided he wants out and a gaggle of research students is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Fun stuff.

18.  Severance (2006) – Some sales reps for a weapons manufacturer go on a team building retreat in Eastern Europe.  Eastern Europe is a bad place to go for any reason.  Seriously,  have you seen Hostel?  Or Hostel 2?  Or the news?  No es bueno.  Which is Spanish.  Anyways, turns out Eastern Europeans are a murderous bunch which they should have known for the aforementioned reasons.

19.  Modus Anomali (2012) – For some reason, this is called Ritual on Netflix Instant.  It’s an Indonesian movie that was curiously filmed in English.  That aside it’s a pretty good bit of horror.  A man wakes from being buried alive in a freshly dug grave.  He has no memory of who he is or how he got there.  We follow him as his pieces together this puzzle to reveal  the shocking, twisted truth.

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20.  The Roost (2005) – Director Ti West has become known to genre fans as a master of the ‘slow burn’.  It’s a device he used to great effect in The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers.  Here, in his first feature, it’s a bit less effective owing perhaps to the material.  The film focuses on a group on friends en route to a wedding who get involved in a killer bat/zombie situation.

21.  Poltergeist (1982) – One of the many fantastic film of that awe-inspiring summer of 1982.  It’s quite frankly the perfect PG rated horror film.  Legend has it that Steven Spielberg (the executive producer) actually ghost-directed the film for credited helmer, Tobe Hooper of Chainsaw Massacre fame.  It definitely has a lot of Spielberg elements but there’s an edge to the film that screams Hooper.

22.  Dance of the Dead (2008) – A zombie overtakes a small town on the same night as the big high school prom.  All those poor suckers unfortunate enough to be without a date team up to save their schoolmates who are sitting ducks for the undead horde.  A low budget flick with a lot of heart and some genuinely fun performances.

23.  Sauna (2008) – Finnish horror.  Two brothers tasked with charting the border that will separate Sweden and Russia discover a hidden community that claims allegiance to neither.  There the sins of their past and those of their Russian compatriots will come back to haunt them.  Strange, creepy and slightly off-center.  Requires some attention but worth it.

24.  Maniac (2012) – For a flick starring Elijah Wood there’s surprisingly very little Elijah Wood in it.  But his presence hangs over the entirety of the film.  A remake of an 80’s grindhouse classic, the film is told entirely through a first person perspective which makes for an interesting film watching experience.  Ultra violent and very stylistic.  If you like horror, this is a good one.

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25.  Sleepaway Camp (1983) – Make no mistake, this is a watered down, ultra-cheap Friday the 13th knockoff as an unseen killer lays waste to a gaggle of counselor and campers at your typical boy/girl summer camp.  You’ve seen it all before.  But what you haven’t seen (unless you’ve already seen this gem) is one of the absolute best twist endings in the history of cinema.

26.  The Fog (1980) – Tom Atkins.  Adrienne Barbeau.  Jamie Lee Curtis.  Hal Holbrook.  John Houseman.  Janet Leigh.  All directed by John Carpenter with a typical synth-infused soundtrack.  Some people take issue with the big bad.  Ghost leper pirates?  Whatever.  I’ve got no problem with that.  Ghosts is ghosts, creepy is creepy and Carpenter delivers both with spades.

27.  Come Out and Play (2012) –  An appropriately creepy killer kid movie.  A young couple on vacation before the arrival of their third child finds themselves on an island seemingly void of adults.  The truth behind this odd happening is shocking and may cost them their lives.  Dark and pessimistic, you probably won’t feel real swell after watching this remake.

28.  Halloween (1978) – Another Carpenter?  Why the hell not?  This one’s the granddaddy of all slashers.  Some folks find it boring but I think it’s a masterclass in suspense.  When you go back and watch it, you realize there’s not many ‘kills’ in it but what the few that are there are highly effective.  Watch this to see what all other slasher flicks have stolen.

29.  Halloween (2007) – The Rob Zombie remake goes with an extended first act that establishes Michael Myers’ troubled upbringing serving, in part, to justify the evil that is within him.  Questions of nature or nurture aside, once the film lands in familiar remake territory it loses a little steam.  It’s a rough and raw film and a sore point for devotees of the original.

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30.  Children of the Corn (1984) – It’s the somewhat decent little movie that launched a terrible franchise.  To say that this is the best of the films based on the Stephen King short story is light praise indeed.  There’s a great opening sequence involving those old, reliable killer kids but then things go sideways once we’re introduced to He Who Walks Behind The Rows.  And those visual effects?  Laughable.

31.  Hellraiser (1987) – Now this movie has aged very well.  Clive Barker reveals a sadistic side as wide as a country mile.  One gets the feeling the monsters that populate the film based on his story are a pale reflection of the nightmares that fuel his writing.  And even then, Pinhead and his crew of Cenobites may suffer in comparison to the nasty humans that drive this tale.  Good stuff, Clive.  Good stuff indeed.

32.  Creepshow (1982) – They don’t make anthologies like they used to.  Hell, they just plain don’t make anthologies with one notable exception (more on that later.)  Here, Stephen King teamed up with zombie maestro George Romero to create a crackling good series of twisted tales any EC Comics fan could be proud of…even with King’s over-the-top acting in one bit.

33.  An American Werewolf in London (1981) – Quite possibly the best werewolf tale ever put on film.  Joe Dante’s tale of two college students’ jaunt through the British moors gone terribly awry features the without a question best transformation scene using practical effects that put today’s CGI infused wankfests to shame.  In turns terrifying and hilarious, it’s a perfect little tale.

34.  Let the Right One In (2008) – One of the best movies of the last 10 years, this Swedish film (based on an equally good novel) is cold and bleak.  It tells the story of Oskar and Eli, a boy and a girl who meet cute in a snow-covered playground.  Their friendship is the heart of a film that illustrates just how monstrous some people can become.  Beautifully shot and hauntingly elegant.

35.  Carrie (2013) – Horror remakes get a bad rap.  More often than not they deserve it.  While this film is certainly not among the best of its ilk, it by no means deserves to be lumped in with the worst.  Chloe Grace Moretz assumes the title role and delivers a very, strong performance as the young, confused girl torn between her burgeoning sexuality and the mother who stops at nothing to repress it.

36.  Halloween III:  Season of the Witch (1982) – John Carpenter’s attempt to expand the Halloween brand into an annual anthology format me with great resistance from a viewing audience desperate for more of Mike Myer’s evil shenanigans.   Those people were too busy wanting what they weren’t getting to enjoy the fun, clever and wryly subversive film they got.  Tom Atkins kills in the lead role.

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37.  Trick r’ Treat (2007) – Quite possibly the perfect Halloween film and the savior of the anthology horror format.  After sitting on a shelf for several years, it was finally released on home video for an eager audience who had only heard tales of its greatness.  We were not disappointed.  Move over Mike Myers, there’s a new boss in town.  His name is Sam.  And he’s the cutest murderous ‘boy’ around.

 

Well then.  I guess that’s it.  Another October down in the record books.  But remember my fine friends, horror doesn’t belong to October.  It belongs to us to enjoy whenever the hell we feel like being scared.

 

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Prisoners (Grade:  A-)

There is a chill in the morning air.  Leaves have begun to fall from trees.  The football season is in full swing.  All of this can mean only one thing.  Oscar bait is about to land on your local multiplex with an unrelenting fury.  That means Hollywood is about to serve up a passel of serious dramas, biopics, and costumed period pieces.  And while French Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve’s thriller can stand proudly among films of this ilk, it is unlikely to be remembered come January 2014 when this year’s Oscar noms are announced.

But that’s neither here nor there.  It ain’t all about trophies and there’s been hundreds of movies that are better than most Best Picture winners.

Prisoners is a chilling and chilly film.  Set in a small Pennsylvania town, it opens on Thanksgiving Day as two families gather to celebrate the holiday and break bread.  Their post meal doldrums are interrupted when they realize that the younger daughters of both families, having earlier walked to the visiting family’s nearby home, haven’t returned.  Their fathers and siblings race out onto the streets desperately searching for them.  A wintry mix of rain and sleet has begun that permeates the rest of the film and sets a gloomy and dire tone.  The girls are nowhere to be found.

A young detective with a perfect record picks up the case when he is called to investigate the sighting of an RV that matches the description of one seen along the street that the girls had been playing on prior to their disappearance.  He’s convinced that the man within, a man-child of low intellect, knows where the girls are and we will not rest until them suspect tells him what he wants to know.  The man claims to know nothing and eventually is freed for lack of evidence.

The film proceeds to track parallel paths of investigation.  The detective following leads and the fathers following their guts, leading to a final confrontation where those twin paths fatefully and fatally collide.

The cast is top-notch.  Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard are the two fathers desperate to mend and reunite their devastated families.  Jackman especially shines.  His character is a bit of a survivalist, his basement filled with essentials, who stills finds himself helpless and hopeless to protect the most innocent of those he most loves.  Maria Bello plays his wife, the weakest role in the film, who has little to do but cry in her bed.  Howard, with far less screen time, gives control of the situation to his wife, played by Viola Davis, who shows a steely indifference to any questions of morality that might arise from that which must be done to uncover the truth.

Paul Dano is the man accused who perhaps suffers more than anyone else.  He doesn’t understand what is happening around him.  He doesn’t understand what he may or may not have done.  And that childlike innocence and ignorance may lead to his end.

Jake Gyllenhaal is stellar as the determined cop willing to follow any lead to find the girls.  He’s instinctual and stubborn.  He knows he’s circling the truth but he just can’t put the pieces together.  He’s twitch and constantly blinking, fighting back sleep that would waste precious time because he knows.  He knows the longer the girls are missing the more likely they are to never be found or to be found dead.

The film never lets up on the pressure surrounding all of these characters as they do indeed become prisoners of their pursuits.  Someone has to break for all the lies to come unraveled and there will be consequences.

The film becomes almost too heavy at points and because of this its 2 and 1/2 hour running time is about 20 minutes too long.  There is at least one subplot that diverts the investigation that could have been cut, the pertinent elements that contribute to the conclusion easily folded into the rest of the story.  But that one quibble aside, I’ve nothing bad to say.

It’s just good old-fashioned quality Hollywood film-making and, really, that’s never a bad thing.

 

 

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American Mary

Stepping out on a limb for you fine folks and recommending a niece piece of ‘body horror’ that just dropped on Netflix Instant.

I saw this a few weeks back on a Blu-ray that had been cooling its heels in my collection for some time.  Direct-to-video horror is always a dicey proposition.  For every 10 or so I watch, there is a true diamond in the rough and that was exactly what I found when I watched this second feature from the twin sisters, Jen and Sylvia Soska known affectionately as The Twisted Twins.  Their first feature, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, is a throwback and homage to the zero budget grindhouse fare they grew up watching and while it wasn’t necessarily to my liking they obviously learned a lot from that experience.

Here they were working with a similarly small budget but whatever money they did have shines on the screen.  Katharine Isabelle plays Mary, a university med student having some difficulty keeping up with her bills.  Desperate for some fast cash, she finds herself in the wrong place at the right time while ‘auditioning’ to be a dancer in a local strip club.  Her medical skills are put to task to help out an associate of the shady club owner and she receives a sizable hush payment.

Her money problems behind her she resumes her normal life but falls victim to some predatory doctors at an after hours party and finds her career derailed.  Emboldened by her actions at the club, she sets down a new path performing back room body modifications all the while seeking vengeance on those who wronged her.

There is some nudity though it’s never TOO gratuitous and, yes, some of the body mod stuff and violence is a little upsetting but it all serves the story quite well.  My only real problem with the flick was the ending where a minor story element from the first act comes back unexpectedly to provide a too tidy, if bloody, conclusion.

Ms. Isabelle is an absolute knockout in the lead role.  It may be one of the best individual performances I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time.  I had seen her in Ginger Snaps (of the cult fave teenage werewolf series) and little else.  I’m hoping that she as well the Soskas keep churning out great films like this one.