Saturday, October 31, 2009

I Know Who Killed Me

Well, here it is, the final film of YVIAHMMAOIHTNQ:Y2, and one I have seen a good 5 or 6 times before. This was the first time I watched it with a crowd, and after that experience, I fully expect this film to build up a cult following, to become a midnight movie. I keyed everyone into what the joys of I Know Who Killed Me are before the start of the film, so it was a lot of fun having a while group of people shout "blue!", "red!", and "owl!" at all the right moments.


Shenan and I went to a Halloween party (dressed as The Warriors), and I managed to slip this one in, to keep with my tradition of watching it every Halloween. I'm beyond making any comments about this film. If you don't recognize it as one of the all time horror classics, then your opinions on the genre are not to be trusted.


After the accidental death of their young son, a therapist takes his wife to their secluded cabin in the woods in a misguided attempt to help her deal with her grief. He wants her to face her fears in order to overcome them, unaware that her fears may very well be justified. A malevolent force seems present in the woods ("chaos reigns") and his treatment may be further pushing his wife towards the edge.

I've long wished that that more established, talented directors would take a stab a horror movies once in a while, even joking a while back that they should have hired Werner Herzog to direct the Halloween remake. Lars Von Trier has proved me right with Antichrist, the best and most genuinely horrifying horror film of the year, and although I'd have to see it again, likely one of the best of the decade.

Von Trier has a reputation for being something of a provocateur, so I'm a little surprised he hasn't gotten to this genre sooner. His main asset here is his uninhibited willingness to go epic, to chase after monumental and powerful images of terror, without regards for moderation. The film does brush up against camp on a few occasions (prompting a few uncomfortable laughs in the audience), but the power of the best images outweighs these moments, and in a weird way these moments fit the film's go-for-broke style.

Although Antichrist is anything but your typical horror film, ignoring usual plot conventions and delving much deeper into the realm of psychological horror than most films, Von Trier shows a mastery of horror imagery and atmosphere. The bulk of the film is a masterpiece of mood and tone, unsettling even when nothing seems to be going on, and the lead actors are both entrancing. The finale is as disturbing and intense as I've seen in the genre in a good long while. Antichrist is the real deal, the rare horror film that gets under your skin and into your mind, and sticks with you long after its ended.

My Sweet Girl (A Poem by Shenan Hahn)

(I'm a tad disappointed that Shenan was too busy to write more poems for YVIAHMMAOIHTNQ:Y2, but at least we're going out with a good one. This third and final poem is about Tourist Trap, a favorite of mine that I discovered last Halloween. It's a good poem and it references the infamous "Crackers Scene" that we all know and love. Shenan wanted me to note that this poem is written from the perspective of the killer, addressed to both his wife and the heroine of the film that he believes looks like his wife. Enjoy!)

You look just like a child,
hair like feathers, floating
down around your head, your tiny skull
weightless on the pillow.
Your lips kiss lightly,
still enough to just depart for sleep,
with one eye open slightly still, gazing
back as if to spring alive
at any hint of rising light combusting
in the distance, ready to return
to sparkling dynamism,
to the world of morning,
where your toys and dolls await you.
We’re not so different.
You spun in circles once,
arms outstretched, believing if they reached
out far enough, the tiny hands clenched at their end
would change from plastic,
porcelain, or plaster,
become warm flesh between your fingers.
All I want is to dance again with you,
my sweet girl,
breath warmth into your skin
as the soft white latex glop
burns into others’ flesh.
There’s no amount of fire
in the world I’ve found yet
that could reignite you;
the heat that boils
behind my eyes can only animate,
can’t cross the bridge between us,
can’t carry you to me.
So I don my plaster head,
and opt to join your world instead,
sitting down as we would often do
to sup on soup and crackers for two.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hellbound: Hellraiser 2

Picking up where the original left off, Kirsty is whisked off to a mental institution because of all of her talk of Cenobites and monsters and skin-stealing ghouls, but it turns out that the head doctor is actually a sinister creep who believes her stories and wants to use her to contact the Cenobites. He brings her wicked stepmother back from the grave (skinless, natch), where they use a puzzle-solving-savant girl to solve the puzzle-box, summoning and incurring the wrath of the Cenobites.

Even though Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 was rushed to be released just a year after the original, it's an all-around improvement. The cenobites are given far more screen time, actually showing us the Hell that they inhabit, letting the movie focus even more on its crazy, imaginative special effects. Best of all is the weird, mutating tentacle Cenobite that the evil doctor transforms into during the finale.

I'm not that fond of the fact that they give the Cenobites a backstory this time. Turns out they were regular people that become monsters, and not ancient gods. Kind of makes them less cool.

The Monster Squad

A scrappy, foul-mouthed group of 80's pre-teen who love horror movies finds their knowledge of the genre put to the test when their town is overrun by Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, the Wolfman and the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

I had not seen The Monster Squad since I was a little kid, when they ran it on HBO nonstop, and I'm happy to report that this likely Goonies ripoff still holds up as a lot of fun. Although structurally somewhat sloppy and rushed (the end credits start rolling at about an hour and fifteen minutes), the movie is funny, clever and exudes a lot of love for the old school monster movies. Not so much a surprise when you realize that the film was directed by Fred Dekker, maker of the classic 80's horror/comedy Night of the Creeps, who cowrote the screenplay with Shane Black. My one beef: they should have bit the bullet and gone for the R-rating. The kids say "shit" and "fag" and talk about sex enough, and the film is violent enough, that it's not really appropriate for children, and throwing in some "fucks" and gore would make a slight improvement.

The Innocents

A young governess is hired to take care of a rich dude's niece and nephew at their secluded country mansion. Strange happenings are afoot at the property, and slowly the governess comes to believe that the house is haunted, and that the ghosts are communicating with the children. The children deny this but behave strangely. So what's going on? Are there really ghosts, or is the governess cracking up?

The Innocents is an enjoyably spooky little movie, mostly due to the absolutely gorgeous black and white cinematography. The ambiguity of the story is enough to draw you along, but I mostly found myself appreciating the film as a feast for the eyes, the moody monochrome creating a palpably eerie atmosphere. This film makes a good case for my argument that more horror films should be shot in black and white.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


In what I trust is a highly fictionalized account, Gothic tells the story of Mary Shelley hanging out with Lord Byron and co. and finding the inspiration to write Frankenstein. In Ken Russell's vision, they all freak out on drugs, have transgressive sex and experience horrific visions.

If you're ever seen a Ken Russell film, you know that nobody does drug-fueled excess quite like him. The problem is, when there's nothing more than that excess, when it all boils down to debauchery and weirdness and nothing else, you aren't left with much of a film. It seems to me that Russell is best when he's working with a stronger narrative structure, where the insanity springs naturally from the story, like say Altered States. I'm not one to insist on traditional ideas of plot, I'm content if a movie meanders or even ignores typical narrative concerns, but Gothic tends to feel like a series of disconnected provocative images, heavy on style but never creating a coherent atmosphere or building towards any meaning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mister Frost

A mysterious serial killer with no identity (Jeff Goldblum) is captured and sent to a mental hospital, where a doctor tries to analyze him. Seems that the patient believes he is the devil, which the doctor initially scoffs at until his behavior slowly convinces her. Why would the devil allow himself to be captured? Because he wants to provoke her into killing him, in order to win some sort of victory over science and rationality.

Mister Frost is best when it sticks to the central premise of Satan (or a man who believes he is Satan) butting heads with a shrink. These scenes are taut and clever, playfully examining ideas of faith vs. science. Goldblum is, no surprise, fantastic in the role. He's charming, funny, creepy and brings his patented Goldblum oddness to the role, lending an otherworldly quality that I think few actors could match.

The film flounders whenever it strays. Subplots about Frost's possible influence over others, including inspiring a man to go on a shooting spree, are silly and boring, a distraction from the central drama. Personally, I also would have preferred more ambiguity. It's clear from relatively early on that Frost is the real deal and not just a clever kook, a mistake that saps some of the potential suspense and fun from the rest of the film.

I think Goldblum's scenery chewing is enough to recommend Mister Frost, but the film has a lot of potential in its premise that it does not live up to.

Trigger Man

Three friends take a little day trip to the woods to do a little hunting a drink a little beer. They don't know what the hell they are doing, find themselves a little lost, and wouldn't you know it, it turns out some nutcase sniper is on the loose, hunting the men and picking them off from a distance. Can they escape his sights, or do they have to fight back to survive?

I'd been curious to see some of Ti West's films, as he was the guy they tapped to do Cabin Fever 2 (which is never going to be released, it seems like) and his more recent 80's throwback House of the Devil has been generating some interesting buzz. I checked out The Roost a month or so ago, and thought it was okay enough to give this one a try.

Trigger Man takes some serious risks, but I'm not sure they pay off. I have mixed feelings about it, I admire the film more than I actually enjoyed it or thought it worked.

See, the thing is, almost nothing happens for the first half of the movie. I don't just mean in terms of plot or action. The three men walk, and walk, and walk around the woods for long chunks of time, they exchange dialogue only briefly, maybe they sit around for a while, and then they walk some more. Not quite as extreme as, say, Gus Van Sant's Gerry, but leaning in that direction. This goes on for almost 40 minutes before they are attacked for the first time.

I'm guessing that West is trying to lull the audience into complacency, and maybe he's reaching for a "realistic" or natural feel for the movie. It might have worked if the film established some sort of disquieting, uneasy tone, but West's visual strategy sabotages any chance of that. He chooses to shoot the film in an almost documentary-esque style. Not just the bouncy handheld camera work, but also abrupt zooms in and out many during shots. I assume he was trying to give Trigger Man a sense of immediacy, but it works chiefly as a distraction. I'm a patient guy, not one to become bored easily of slow or deliberately paced movie, but I found the first half of Trigger Man almost completely unengaging.

Naturally, it picks up in the second half when the men are under attack, and the visual strategy finally pays off. The movie is still slow and quiet and features a lot of scenes of people walking around and not talking, but the threat of violence makes the style compelling. It's more interesting watching them walk when you know they might get shot at any time.

I'd be more on board with Trigger Man if the second half of the movie was fucking classic, a genuinely exciting and intense thriller. It would make the first half seem more like build-up and less like filler. The later part is engaging, entertaining and more satisfying, but it's not great. My nails remained unbit and my ass stayed on the back of my seat instead of moving to the edge.

It took balls for West to make a horror film so dependent upon silence and stillness (something I hear he goes for again in House of the Devil, reportedly to greater effect) and I respect that. I bitch a lot about horror movies that skip right to the payoff and aren't willing to take the time to build a moment. Trigger Man is not one of those movies. It is serious about earning its thrills and is committed to its style. And the result is only moderately effective. I give it a pass.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Let's see, where to start. Some asshole solves this ancient puzzle box thing that unleashes the Cenobites, sadomasochistic demons from Hell, who subject him to unbearable pain and unspeakable pleasure (or whatever) and splatter his body to bits. Later, the asshole's brother and his family move into the asshole's house, but it turns out the asshole is still somehow alive and trying to reform his body. Using the brother's wife (who he was having an affair with), men are lured back to the house to be killed so the asshole can harvest their blood and organs to rebuild his body.

I'm not really sure that Hellraiser is a good movie in terms of story, or characters, or structure, or anything like that. Even the interesting theme it raises (the whole pleasure/pain thing) isn't explored, it's just window dressing for the special effects.

But what effects they are! I must admit, I'm a big fan of the first two Hellraiser movies, mostly because they have such a wicked, grotesque visual imagination. Clive Barker's gothic vision of unfathomable horrors never comes to fruition in the story; the Cenobites just seem like weird dudes with awesome make-up and not the all-powerful evil they are supposed to be, and the audience never really gets a taste of the boundless pleasures and pain their world is supposed to encompass. Yet it does come across somewhat in the visuals, especially in the special effects. It's all of the skinless bodies, dismemberment by chains, hammer murder, strange creatures, etc. etc., that make these movies kinda awesome.

I make it sound like a geek show, but Hellraiser's not really trying to rub your nose in filth as much as it tries to delight you with its wicked excesses. It may not have much in the way of narrative interest, but it's a feast for the senses for those of us who like this sort of thing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Eden Lake

A couple spending a romantic weekend together by the lake have an unpleasant brush with some local teenage cretins. It starts harmless enough, with an awkward argument on the beach, but soon things go too far and the couple find themselves fighting for their lives against the punks' sociopathic leader.

Eden Lake started off strong, but stumbled somewhere in the middle before collapsing on itself by the end. The opening act or so had me hooked. The couple was convincing and sympathetic, and the early confrontations with the teenagers were effectively unsettling. It's horror right out of real life: you ask some asshole to turn his music down, they respond standoffishly, there's a vague threat of violence and you feel unsettled. We've all been there.

It's when things escalated that the film started to lose me a little. The violence perpetrated by the teens goes too far. I don't mean that in a moralist sense, as if I was offended by the movie. And I don't mean that it's not plausible that seemingly regular teenagers could be capable of such atrocities. What I don't accept is the manner and speed in which the violence escalates, the lack of hesitation shown by the lead creep, and the relative ease with which he convinces his nervous cohorts. To the filmmakers' credit, they try to show how he bullies and scares the other teens into following his lead, but the execution is rushed and it rings false.

Still, the middle segment of the movie remained competent and engaging, and I could have accepted Eden Lake as an effective, if too contrived, thriller. Then the ending killed it. The final act asks us to accept the exact same plot twist three times in a row (someone offers their help to the couple, but it turns out they have some sort of connection to the teens!), each one worse than the last. The final scene really turned me off, in which the parents of the teens turn out to be just as vicious as their offspring.

I have no problem with a horror film ending in misery and cynicism, if that's its goal, but it has to earn that sort of conclusion, not fabricate it. I'm sure the filmmakers are trying to make some sort of statement about how the cruelty was taught to the children by their families, and that's fine, but the final moments rang so false to me, so forced and lacking in credibility, that it tainted the whole experience.

Trick 'r Treat

A quartet of horror stories all set in the same town on Halloween, connected by a weird malevolent little monster disguised as a trick or treater named Sam (for Samhaim!): an elementary school principal who moonlights as a serial killer, a virginal college age girl who runs afoul of some weirdo dressed as a vampire, a group of kids who play a mean prank on a lonely girl and suffer bizarre and gruesome consequences, and a cantankerous old man who learns the true meaning of Halloween. In a novel twist, the movie somewhat cuts between stories instead of simply telling them one after another.

I mentioned before when I watched Trilogy of Terror that I had a soft spot for horror anthologies. Trick 'r Treat is one of the best I've seen in a while, a winning combination of flashy style, gruesomeness, and a heavy dose of dark humor. And I mean it when I say dark, I can't remember another movie that even attempted to mine laughs from a sequence about a child being murdered and buried in a makeshift grave, let alone make such a sequence hilarious. Trick 'r Treat is most comparable to the Tales From the Crypt TV show, playing up the laughs, outlandish violence and crazy twist endings.

Witchfinder General

During the English Civil War, a man claiming to hold the nonexistent title of Witchfinder General (Vincent Price), goes around persecuting those he claims worship Satan, mainly as a pretext for accumulating power.

Witchfinder General sounded great to me on paper, but I wasn't so keen on the execution. I like Vincent Price, but he hams it up a little too much in what is essentially a serious minded horror film. I tend to prefer my Price films to be funny and over-soaked in atmosphere; this one attempts to be relatively more realistic and suffers for it. Too serious to be fun, and not well made enough to be taken seriously, Witchfinder General did not work for me.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

12 years after the original massacre, a pissed off Texas Ranger (Dennis Hopper, overacting like a champ) tracks down the sickos responsible and plans to wreak bloody revenge (he's related to some of the kids from the original). Meanwhile, the vicious Sawyer family sets their sights on a local radio DJ who accidentally recorded the sounds of the family murdering one of her callers.

Though not exactly a switch in genres, TCSM2 is the rare sequel that strikes a wildly divergent tone from the original, which is especially surprising since both are the work of director Tobe Hooper. This one plays more as a manic, disgusting, visually extravagant dark comedy.

I don't think I had seen this one since high school, and I'm glad I picked up a copy, because it's even better than I remembered. I have a fondness for the over-the-top horror/comedies of the 1980's, and TCSM2 is one of the most exuberant.

Resident Evil: Extinction

Most of the Earth's population, wildlife and natural resources have been wiped out by the deadly zombie virus from the first two films. The few survivors travel in packs, rolling from small town to small town trying to gather whatever supplies are left, looking like a community college theater troupe performing a stage version of The Road Warrior. The sexy Milla Jovovich returns, now with magical psychic zombie killing powers.

I kind of dropped the ball not seeing Resident Evil: Extinction in theaters, something I did with both prior films. I don't think any other modern film series has been this consistently, entertainingly bad. Paul W.S. Anderson again scripts this one, and again he provides what feels like an Indiana Jones film with all the good parts taken out and replaced with tired zombie cliches. For the third time we have a scrappy band of unmemorable heroes who trade unfunny, innocuous banter and involve themselves in no interesting action scenes or set pieces. And like the other films, it just wants so damn bad to seem smart and exiting, to be be a classic adventure film, and fails so, so deliciously hard.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dark Country

Thomas Jane stars and makes his directorial debut in this kooky little horrorish noir. Jane goes on a road trip with his new bride (Lauren German, way sexier than I realized) who he barely knows and married after one of those drunken what-happens-in-Vegas kind of evenings that mainly happen in the movies. On the road, they come across a nasty looking car wreck, and pick up the badly disfigured survivor. The passenger acts bizarre and becomes increasingly hostile, and next thing you know they're burying his corpse in the desert and trying to cover their tracks. Then things get weird.

Dark Country has a certain scrappy charm to it, and reminds me a little bit of the oddball, low-budget noir classic Detour. It exists in an exaggerated version of the noir universe, though not as heavily stylized as Sin City. Not even the same ballpark as that one, really, but maybe the same game. It becomes increasingly strange as it goes along, eventually working in plot twists that are fantastical or supernatural or science fictiony or something. I guessed the big final twist early on in the movie, which is strange because I don't know that it actually makes any sense. Either way, it didn't detract from Dark Country's minor but genuine pleasures.

The Children

Two married couples and their children are taking a winter vacation to one couple's quaint home in the woods, when the children contract a bizarre virus that turns them into homicidal murderers. If it came down to it, most people could probably kill a child to save their own life, but could they kill their own child? God, I hate kids.

Although it never milks its premise as fully as I would have liked, The Children is a capable and unnerving horror movie, aided by stronger writing and acting than we usually get in movies this violent and transparently exploitive. The film neatly avoids my usual complaint about killer children movies (kids aren't a credible physical threat) with the whole it's their own children angle, although it does have to contrive pretty fucking hard at times in figuring out how some little tot could murder a full grown adult. Still, after Offspring and The Children of the Corn remake, I'm naming The Children the best killer-kids movie I saw this month.

Saw VI

Picking right off where the last one stopped, the sinister Detective Hoffman is still trying to frame the newly deceased Agent Strahm for the Jigsaw murders, while his superiors close in on the truth. Meanwhile, Jigsaw's supposedly final game is put in motion, where a heartless insurance executive is forced to choose which of his colleagues lives and dies, based around the very policies he determined for accepting/deny insurance claims.

By far the most standout element of Saw VI is its attempt at some form of social relevance, which has been entirely missing from the series until now. Not just the health care stuff I mentioned above, there's also a part where predatory lenders are forced to pay the Shylock toll (pound of flesh) to save their lives. I'm not sure if the filmmakers genuinely wanted to express their political beliefs, or if it was cynical stab at being topical in an effort at grabbing a few more dollars. If it's the former, I'm not sure that it's either effective or appropriate commentary, but it is novel and highly amusing that they went for it. If it's the latter, then it didn't work, because Saw VI just had the worst opening weekend of the entire series, by a long shot. (I'm still hoping we get a part VII, but the prospects are looking less hot).

I think overall this was an improvement over part V, more consistently fun, better traps, tighter screenplay that answers more questions, a good twist near the end, and an overall sense that more was being accomplished (part V felt at times more like a detour or backstory than it did a full fledged Saw sequel). Yet it has almost the opposite problem as part V. V felt slight but built up to a highly satisfying conclusion; VI was better all around, but when the credits rolled I felt like it was missing the last 5 minutes. Hoffman is finally tested, as promised in part IV, but a) the test involves a trap we've already seen, b) there's no irony or cleverness to the test, and there's not even a tape-recorded message from Jigsaw, and c) it's over too quickly without much payoff. I almost wished they had left it as a cliffhanger.

I think it's official now that the series peaked in III and IV, the filmmakers are never going to top the delicious absurdity of those films. Still, I'm on board if they do go ahead with Saw VII. I'm hooked into Saw's ongoing, soap opera-esque convoluted storyline and not ready to give it up yet. Plus, how many other sequels do you know that open by showing you the pulverized corpse of the previous film's protagonist? That alone was funny enough to cover the cost of admission.

Paranormal Activity

A young couple being haunted by a demon decide to document their experiences on their video camera. The movie takes the form of their footage, and it's essentially them playing Scooby-Doo, exploring things that go bump in the night.

Something about the trailers for Paranormal Activity rubbed me the wrong way. It looked like something I would hate. Part of it was the "found footage" gimmick, I didn't like it 10 years ago when The Blair Witch Project tried it, and (with the notable exception of REC/Quarantine) I haven't liked it since. Part of it was the way they tried to pretend like it was true or based on the truth, I really hate that kind of shit. Do people really fall for that bullshit? And of course I'm sure a large part of it was my own well documented biases against the haunted house genre.

Well, although I don't think the movie is ultimately successful, I'm happy to report that I didn't hate it, and even have respect for its (minimal) achievements. Much like Blair Witch, the film's strongest point is its cast. The charm of the actors far outstrips any of the events of the film. The leads make a credible couple and, considering how much of the movie they spend bickering, both come off as likable and sympathetic.

Most of the fun in Paranormal Activity is in the anticipation. The characters investigate a strange noise or whatever in their house, and it's not so much what they find that's theoretically scary as the build-up to it, when you don't know what the hell is going on. I didn't find myself getting too scared (although it was clear that a good chunk of the audience felt otherwise), but I must admit feeling a little anxiety during one sequence, involving the boyfriend sticking his head up into the attic. And hell, most horror movies don't generate any suspense at all, so the fact that Paranormal Activity worked for about 5 minutes for me is not something I'm going to discount.

The problem is that most of the other similar sequences weren't effective, and too often downright unconvincing or underwhelming. (Repetitive too, there's only so many sequences you can watch of people waking up in the night to investigate a strange noise before it gets boring.) It's not as bad as Cloverfield, where the unconvincing special effects clashed horribly with the verite style of the filming, but there's a similar cognitive dissonance in many sequences. The most distracting example is the sound design. The presence of the demon is represented on the soundtrack by a low, rumbling bass noise. It's a kind of sound I've heard used effectively in many horror films, the problem being that it sounds designed and recorded, not like an ambient noise you would actually hear in someone's house. It's supposed to be diegetic, but it doesn't sound that way, and it pulled me out of the film every time.

I maybe could have given this one a pass, except that I have a problem with films that are 99% buildup if the pay-off is no good. And let it be said that Paranormal Activity has an infuriatingly crappy payoff; brief, unconvincing and feckless.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Some weird half-man/half-machine serial killer who kills people with his car runs down Mel Gibson's Jesus's wife. Jesus goes on a five year quest to track the fucker down and kill him with his own car. Lots of car stunts and weirdness ensue.

Highwaymen was just too oddball for me to resist. The plot is all lunacy, the visual style (directed by the guy who did the original Hitcher) is over-the-top, and all of the actors brilliantly deliver absurd dialogue with the gravitas befitting an Arthur Miller play.

Scream 2

The survivors of the original Scream are now off at college, when Stab, a movie based on the events of the first film, is released. (Oh, the delicious meta-ness.) Soon its' clear that a copycat killer has emerged, specifically targeting our intrepid gang of heroes. Murder, mayhem, and lots of discussions about the shortcomings of sequels ensue.

I don't think I had seen Scream 2 since it originally came out in theaters, and I was a little shocked at how clearly I remembered it. There are movies I watched just last week that I have a fuzzier memory of. I liked it back when it came out, but I think it might actually be a little better than I realized. Although I think it shows some tell-tale signs of being rushed into production (a little structural sloppiness, a little too much fat) I was very much tickled by how, in true sequel fashion, it takes everything you liked about the original and kicks it up several notches. The meta elements in particular; there's a movie within the movie about the first movie that imitates and satirizes scenes from the original, there are constant discussions about how sequels are always worse than the original, etc.

Yeah, it most definitely is a step down from the original. But like the Halloween and Stepfather sequels I recently watched, it's more entertaining than it has any right to be. Scream 2 succeeds because of Wes Craven's deft handling of the set pieces, because it retains the humor of the first film, and because it's the rare sequel (along with Gremlins 2 and Escape from LA) that seems to exist mainly to mock its very existence.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

28 Days Later

After some animal activist assholes release infected monkeys from a testing lab, the fearsome Rage Virus decimates England. The virus is essentially a fast acting zombie plague; within moments of exposure, the victim is turned into a mindless, bloodthirsty automaton that kills everything in sight. A scrappy group of survivors try to make their way out of London and into the countryside in search of a mysterious rescue beacon.

28 Days Later is one of my favorite horror movies of this past decade, and what I like about it (and what I suspect many genre fans don't like) is that it is uniquely sentimental and humanist for a zombie apocalypse film. Most zombie films are about defeat, about the loss of hope, about how mankind has to sacrifice its own humanity in order to survive. Even if the ending leaves room for some hope, like Dawn of the Dead, it is only a faint glimmer, somewhat ambiguous. It's such a prevalent attitude in the subgenre that even this one's sequel, 28 Weeks Later, takes the defeatist route.

Not this one. 28 Days Later is about how we need other people to survive. The heroes in this film live because they care about each other, because they form a family unit, because they protect each other. The film is a rare exception amongst horror movies in its willingness to take time out to share sweet, intimate, touching moments with its characters.

The end result is that, unlike so many other horror movies (including a lot of good ones), I actually care about the characters in 28 Days Later. It's not just scary when one of them dies, it's upsetting emotionally.

My boy Patrick has a theory that a good horror movie should leave you feeling like shit, scared and depressed, otherwise it wasn't doing its job. I think it's a fair point for a certain type of horror movie, but 28 Days Later earns its happy, cathartic ending. I wouldn't want it to end any other way.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stepfather 2: Make Room For Daddy

That nutty stepfather is at it again! He breaks out of the mental institution, sets up a new identity for himself, and once again worms his way into the life of a single mother in an effort to create his utopic vision of the perfect family. In a fun twist, this time he poses as a marriage counselor and nobody notices how warped and silly his antiquated, 1950's values and meaningless platitudes are.

In preparation for The Stepfather remake, I thought I'd go back and re-watch the original, which is something of a minor classic. I couldn't find it at the video store, unfortunately, so I figured I might as well watch the sequel, which I only vaguely remembered. Anyways, it turns out that the remake is PG-13 and was made by the same assholes who did the execrable remake of Prom Night, so I'm pretty sure I'm not going to bother with it now.

It wasn't all a loss though, as it inadvertently turned my Wednesday night into an "Unnecessary Sequels That Don't Live Up to the Original, Yet Conversely Are Better Than They Should Be" double feature with Halloween II.

Stepfather 2 loses a lot of the great social satire/commentary of the original in favor of becoming a more standard slasher-y movie, but it's done with some skill. The crucial element is of course Terry O'Quinn's performance as the stepfather. His work is still strong, and the filmmakers have fun with his character even if he's lost some of the nuance this go-round. (Also, I think it was a mistake to try to explain or reconcile some of his contradictions, when those are what made him fascinating in the first film.) I especially like his queasiness about sex; late in the film, when his diabolical plan is exposed, he complains that his fiancee made him sleep with her, as if it was some sort of burden. How can you be mad at him for all the murder and manipulation when he's been working so hard to make you happy? He even had premarital sex with you, you ingrate!

It's got one of those classic exploitative 80's horror movie endings where the killer is killed by a little kid. It probably would have sent Roger Ebert into convulsions if he ever saw it. The kid is played by a very young Jonathan Brandis, a child actor I remember from Sidekicks with Chuck Norris and Ladybugs with Rodney Dangerfield. It's always weird when I see him in an old movie every now and again, because after 5 or 10 minutes I remember that he killed himself like 5 or 6 years ago.

Whoops, sorry to end this post on a downer.

Halloween II (the original sequel, not the sequel to the remake, hope that's clear, thanks)

Picking up exactly where the original left off (actually a few minutes earlier; it replays the final scene, though inexplicably changes the music and adds in some different shots), Michael Myers is still on the loose, Dr. Loomis is in hot pursuit, and Laurie is rushed to the hospital. What ensues is essentially rehash, albeit amped up in the violence and nudity department to compete with the wave of slasher movies that was drowning America at the time. There is also a fairly awful plot twist where it turns out that Laurie is Michael's sister, I guess inserted as a pretext for why he'd still be trying to kill her.

Halloween II's biggest sin is, well, being the sequel to Halloween. The original is a masterpiece, one of the best horror films ever made, so how could a silly, crass, generic slasher film hold up? The legion of other silly, crass, generic slasher films from the early 80's aren't held to such a high standard, they are only judged against the Friday the 13th watermark. And you know what? Going by that criteria, Halloween II holds up pretty well as a respectable entry in the subgenre. It's mostly entertaining, looks nice (same cinematographer, Dean Cundey, as the original), has some half-memorable set pieces (apparently John Carpenter did some uncredited reshoots), and a lot of the one-uping outbursts of graphic violence that this species of horror film is known for.

Yet it's hard not to compare it to the original at least a little. First off, the whole idea of sequel kind of ruins the brilliant, ambiguous ending of the original. The genius of the original ending was that it leaves you hanging, the fear never subsides because you don't know what happens next. Only now we know what happens next.

Like many cash-in sequels, Halloween II tries copying several memorable elements from the original with diminished effect. We get the extended POV shot opening, Dr. Loomis's weird ramblings about evil, Laurie locking herself in a confined space... none as well executed as in part one. Most glaring is probably the music; they took the theme from the original and reworked it, spiced it up with a fuller, more synthetic feel, and it loses its minimalist magic in the process.

My favorite tell-tale sequel sign in the film is what they do with Jamie Lee Curtis. She gets the Steve Guttenberg Police Academy sequel treatment. She's barely in the movie for the first hour and change (and spends most of her screen time unconscious or in bed), only to have the movie pretend she's the lead role during the climax. My guess is that she was only willing to work on the movie for a few days.

But look at me, doing exactly what I said I wouldn't. On its own terms, Halloween II works. The mood is nice, the kills are fun, Donald Pleasence is always a joy to watch. At one point a dude slips in a puddle of blood and knocks himself out, that was pretty funny. He has a concussion so later on he passes out in the front seat of his car with his head on the horn, alerting Michael to his location. That and several other clever moments help Halloween II rise above mediocrity.

One last note - this movie has one of the worst, funniest tag lines of all time: "More of the Night He Came Home."

X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes

A scientist who is convinced we haven't harnessed the full potential of our vision begins experimenting on himself. He achieves x-ray vision, as first just seeing through people's clothing, but then eventually their skin. As his condition evolves, he begins seeing things... things no man should see!

This somewhat trippy early 60's Corman film is good fun, but not as interesting as its reputation led me to believe. My biggest complaint is that, for long periods of time, it's simply not a horror film. It plays as comedy in parts (X seeing through women's clothing, extended Don Rickles cameo), and follows too many subplots about X trying to exploit his condition (pretending to be a psychic, using his powers to work as a con artist). The film comes to life more as he slowly loses his mind because of the horrific visions he sees, and the ending is admittedly awesome. Still, I would have preferred if the film explored more of its Lovecraftian vast-horrors-beyond-our-imaginations them more so than its clever x-ray gimmicks.

Premature Burial

An old-tymey rich guy obsesses over premature burial. He believes it happened to his father and is terrified that the same fate will befall him. His wife and friends try to calm him down, but he persists, going so far as to build himself a crypt with several escape methods. Can you guess what's going to eventually happen to him by the end of the film?

Premature Burial is a 60's Roger Corman film adapted from a Poe story, and it is very similar in style and content to another Poe adaptation he did that era, The Pit and the Pendulum. And that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. Though neither film is a classic, I do take pleasure in their polished, colorful, shadows-and-fog heavy Gothic style. I always had this image in my mind of Corman being some sort of sleazemeister, but I've caught up with a few of his films in the last year or two, and they are less exploitation films and more cleverly executed low budget films.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Children of the Corn (Remake)

A mildly obnoxious Vietnam vet and his terrible, horrible, nagging harpy bitch of a wife are driving through the middle of nowhere when they accidentally hit a kid. Thing is, the kid had already had his throat slit. The couple head in to town to see if they can alert the authorities, but the town seems empty. This is, logically, because all of the town's adults have been killed off by an extremist religious sect of children who worship a corn deity.

Although none of them were probably actually good movies, I had a certain fondness for the Children of the Corn series when I was a teenager. I dunno, just one of those things I guess. Some people had their Bob Dylan phase, I had a Children of the Corn phase. I didn't even realize that a remake existed until we saw it on the new release wall at the video store. I figured it couldn't be anything but terrible, but I also couldn't resist the allure of a new CotC movie.

The remake is a bad movie, but I'm happy to report that as far as bad horror movies go, it's somewhat fun. It's not incompetent or boring like many DTV horror movies, just stupid and corny. It brought me to the verge of entertainment on several occasions. It has one really funny (though woefully underused) idea, which is that the main character is a vet and goes all Rambo on the kids. I was hoping for a wholesale child bloodbath. We're not that lucky, but it is fun seeing the guy kick the shit out of and kill at least a handful of the kids.

Afraid of the Dark

Some creep is going around slashing up the faces of blind women with a razor. A young boy with a blind mother decides to play detective and find the slasher himself. Only things aren't exactly what they seem, and the true threat is something entirely different.

All throughout the first half of Afraid of the Dark I couldn't help but assume that the filmmakers were big fans of Italian horror/giallo movies. (A cameo by the beautiful Catriona MacColl seems to confirm this). It has all the hallmarks: mysterious gloved killer, exploitation of the blind, obsession with eyes/vision, weirdo high-stylization.

Then the film takes a rather unexpected turn in the second half, becoming an altogether different type of film. The first half could be categorized as a slasher movie, but the second half is a moody psychological drama/thriller. I'm not sure either half is entirely successful on their own terms, but there is something unique and interesting in the way the film splices them together. If nothing else, Afraid of the Dark deserves credit for its ambition, and for trying something different.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Cujo, a big ol' lovable St. Bernard, gets bitten by some rabid bats and goes apeshit, killing everyone he comes across. A mother and her young son become trapped in their broke down car in the driveway at Cujo's owner's house, slowly dying of dehydration and unable to open with door without Cujo pouncing.

I read Stephen King's Cujo many years ago. It is a great idea for a horror story, seemingly tailor-made for me as I am fucking terrified of big dogs. Problem is, it's a great idea for a short story more so than a novel. The movie runs into the same problems as the book. Its premise can't sustain its length, so it opts to fly off into useless, endless subplots about extramarital affairs, cereal commercials and divine retribution. I expected they might excise much of this material in the adaptation, but no such luck. Hell, the mom and the boy don't even get trapped by Cujo until halfway into the film.

The parts of the novel Cujo that worked were mostly internal/psychological. It was about what was going through the woman's head as she and her son were becoming more desperate, and what she was willing to do to save his life. That doesn't come across as strongly on film, and the more visceral elements don't pan out. The car, instead of feeling intensely claustrophobic, becomes a limiting and uninteresting location. Cujo's attacks are repetitive and generate precious little suspense. To cap it off, it swaps out the book's memorably bleak ending for a generic, underwhelming happy conclusion.

I should be more receptive to this film than most audiences, and it left me bored and unperturbed.

The Raven

And I thought those last two were loose adaptations of Poe: The Raven stars Bela Lugosi as a mad surgeon with a Poe obsession who has a torture chamber in his basement. The characters do go see some sort of interpretive dance version of The Raven at some point, but otherwise there is no real connection.

The Raven fares the same as the other two Lugosi/Poe movies I watched: okay without being particularly good. This one stands out as the weirdest, with some memorable sequences involving Lugosi's torture devices, but otherwise you have plenty of better things to do with your time, and plenty of better movies from this era to watch, than to bother with this one.

The Black Cat

I don't think I've seen a work adapted into movies as many times as The Black Cat has. Lucio Fulci did a version (additionally, his giallo Seven Notes in Black owes a lot to Poe's story), Dario Argento did a version for his half of Two Evil Eyes, Stuart Gordon did it as an episode of Masters of Horror, Sergio Martino's best-ever-titled giallo (namesake of my horror movie marathon) Your Vice is a Locked Door and Only I Have the Key is a loose adaptation.

This version may be the loosest of them all. Bela Lugosi, with a newlywed couple in tow, goes to visit his old friend Boris Karloff who turns out to be some sort of Satanist who wants to sacrifice the wife to the lord of the underworld.

Like Rue Morgue, The Black Cat has some nice atmosphere and some weird touches but doesn't add up to much; what little it has going for it isn't helped by its overly talky plot and lack of a memorable set piece.

Directed Edgar G. Ulmer went on to direct the weirdo, low budget noir classic Detour, but The Black Cat shows little of Detour's spunk or alluring peculiarity.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

Bela Lugosi stars as some weirdo mad scientist/carney who goes around murdering young women by injecting them with the blood of his pet ape. Meanwhile, some amateur sleuth type tries to solve the mystery, which is a little uninvolving and ultimately anticlimactic considering the fact that the film openly tells you who the killer is and what he's doing from the beginning.

On Thursday night I watched a trio of films from the 1930's starring Bela Lugosi that were (loosely) based on Poe stories. (Two of them also starred Boris Karloff!) I can't say I was particularly enamoured with any of them, but each one did have certain merits and charms. Other than some effectively moody cinematography, I think the most memorable aspect of Murders in the Rue morgue is the ape, particularly his death scene (shot at close range, knocked off the rooftop and into the canal below).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

End of the Line

A bunch of strangers on the subway have to band together when a group of bible-thumping weirdos start murdering everybody in sight with knives hidden in their crosses. Seems that their cult believes that the end is nigh, and that it's their job to go around "saving" everybody before demons show up to drag them to hell.

Judging from it's flat made-for-TV-movie-esque look, blandly affable cast and, it has to be said, frequently cheesy tone, I surmised after only a few minutes of watching that End of the Line was of Canadian heritage. Yet despite it's Degrassi Jr High production values, I have to admit that it's a lot of fun. It takes the premise into all sorts of unexpected directions, has a number of clever sequences and delivers exactly the right amount of over-the-top gore. It's never as scary or disturbing as it sometimes tries to be (like so many other things Canadian, it's just too darn likable to have any edge), but it's frequently a hoot.

Long Weekend

An Australian couple with some deep-seated relationship issues go camping in the "bush" or whatever the fuck they call it there. In the process, they manage to disrespect Mother Nature by littering, hitting animals with their car, etc. So the outback bites back, the animals all go apeshit on the couple (no actual apes though).

Picnic at Hanging Rock is already something of a horror movie, but that said, Long Weekend is kind of a more generic horror movie version of similar ideas, mining horror from the fathomless mystery of the Australian outback. The couple (and I hate to say it, especially the bitchy woman) are kind of tough to spend so much time with and I'm not so sure you like them enough to fear for their safety, but Long Weekend is offbeat enough that it deserves maybe a cursory glance.

Tourist Trap

As befits this genre, a sexy group of youngsters on a road trip break down off the beaten path. They are picked up by a friendly old man who owns a run down tourist trap, filled with weird mannequins made by his mysterious brother Davey. What could have been a decent Texas Chain Saw Massacre ripoff turns into something far more strange, eerie and fun than its premise would indicate, an oddball and darkly humorous riff on House of Wax, heavy on atmosphere, with a quirky Pino Donaggio score.

I watched Tourist Trap last year for the original YVIAHMMAOIHTNQ and knew immediately that I had to own it. Despite the fact that the story makes little sense and doesn't adhere to much continuity, this is a classic, an all time favorite of mine, genuinely creepy and unique. Where to begin? Davey likes to kill people and turn them into mannequins, but the mannequins are still somehow alive (maybe haunted?) and Davey can also control them with psychic mind powers. Davey is not a mannequin, but he likes to dress up as one, sometimes dressing up as the person he last killed.

Tourist Trap is a masterpiece of set design. I've always known mannequins were creepy, but no other movie has exploited them so well, or in such a strange manner... grotesque mannequins, disembodied mannequin parts, people turning into mannequins, mannequins turning in to people, the film is wall to wall mannequins and they are all scary as fuck. I'm not sure the movie makes much sense from one scene to the next (Davey and his mannequins seem capable of anything, their powers seem to change from scene to scene), but that matters not. I bitch a lot about arbitrariness in horror films, but it's a moot point in a movie like Tourist Trap when all the arbitrary stuff is effective at skeeving you out.

Stand out scenes include suffocation by plaster, attack by cowboy and indian mannequins, the infamous "crackers" sequence, and a twist near the end that has to be seen to be believed. I love this movie.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Best Friend is a Vampire

Robert Sean Leonard is your average 80's teenager... until a bite from a sexy vampire turns him into the undead! Will his parents find out? Will his best friend accept his vampirism? Will his vampire powers help him win the girl of his dreams? Is Dan really going to count a shitty, generic Teen Wolf ripoff towards YVIAHMMAOIHTNQ:Y2?

(Respectively: No, yes, yes, and fuck yes because I want to improve my numbers)
I bet I've watched this 3 or 4 times in my life, and that's incredible because this movie sucks.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Return to Sleepaway Camp

20 some years later, Robert Hiltzik, the same man who made the original Sleepaway Camp made this, only his second film, a direct follow-up to the original, even bringing back some of the original cast. A fat, unpleasant weirdo named Alan is getting picked on at summer camp when, much like in the original, all the kids picking on him start turning up dead. Is Alan the new Angela?

I like Sleepaway Camp a lot, but the Return is in a class of its own, for my money one of the strangest and funniest slasher films of all time. It takes all of the memorable elements of the original (the foulmouthed humor, the bizarre murders, the bratty New York attitude), turns them up to 11, adds a layer of self-awareness and then goes hog wild. Hiltzik isn't anyone's idea of a great director, but in the 20 some years between films he clearly learned a thing or two; some of the set pieces in this film are kind of ingenious in their rapidly building tension/hilarity.

In one part, the killer ties a fishing line to a man's dick, with the other end tied to a jeep, and scares the driver into driving away. It's all false starts and stops (the car won't start, but then it does. The car gets stuck in a hole, but the driver remembers it has four-wheel drive.), toying with the audience and dragging the scene out beyond all reason. The movie would be worth the price of admission for this scene alone, and its not even the best one. My favorite scene involves a couple of moron campers taking turns looking through a hole in the floor that is almost certainly about to have a sharp object shoved through it.

I have watched this 4 or 5 times in the past year and it does not get old.

Sleepaway Camp

Young Ricky and his shy cousin Angela go to sleepaway camp for the summer. Ricky's a little overprotective of Angela, good cousin that he is, but could he be responsible when the kids who pick on her start turning up dead? Only time will tell if... oh, fuck it, SPOILER WARNING Angela has a dick and she's the one killing everyone.

Of all the Friday the 13th ripoffs that came out in the 80's, Sleepaway Camp is by far the best. It has a foulmouthed sense of humor, some bizarre/graphic murder sequences, and a truly fucked up ending that includes a graphic shot of a penis... and it all involves actualy children, not 20-somethings pretending to be teenagers like you usually get in these films. What the film lacks in polish it makes up for in attitude, an inexpressible weirdness and a sort of indelible 80's sensibility that is often imitated these days but never matched.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Trilogy of Terror

Karen Black stars in three unrelated tales of horror. In the first, a professor is date-raped and subsequently blackmailed by a creepy student... but is there something even more sinister going on? In the second, an uptight young woman claims that her free-spirited twin sister is some sort of Satan worshipper. In the third, a lonely shut-in is attacked by a fucked-up little voodoo-doll thing.

I am fond of the horror anthology format. A short story, tightly and economically told with a strong central idea (often with a twist ending) can often be a more effective piece of horror than a feature length film. Formulaic perhaps, but it hearkens back to the old "campfire story" kind of horror, that eschews all excess details in favor of the horror. Tales From the Crypt (movie or TV show), Vault of Horror, The Twilight Zone, Three... Extremes are all highly approved by me. I think one of the reasons the Masters of Horror TV series was such a mixed bag was that it didn't stick to formula. Instead of telling small, well-crafted stories, the hour-long format led to a lot of episodes that felt more like abridged feature-length films.

Trilogy of Terror is an acceptable anthology film, worth seeing the once. The first and third stories bring the goods, but the film is hampered by its second story, which is plodding, uneventful, and depends entirely on a twist ending that you will guess within the first 30 seconds. The overall structure, namely having Karen Black play the leads in all three stories with each story being named after her character, seems to lend itself to some sort of feminist perspective. Instead, the filmmakers don't really exploit that element, except arguably in the first story, which takes the commonplace victimization of women in horror films and turns it on its head.

The Thaw

The girl from Superbad and the twin brother of the guy who played Iceman in the X Men movies, along with some other young folks, go to visit an Arctic expedition site (run by Val Kilmer!), only no one seems to be there when they arrive. Turns out that the team discovered a well preserved woolly mammoth, which was unfortunately infested with an ancient parasite eager to snack on some new hosts. The kids go from terror to paranoia to murder trying to avoid getting infected by the nasty, giant, man-eating tapeworms. Turns out that global warming is to blame (god damn you George Bush! or whoever created global warming!), so as an added bonus we're treated to a bunch of heavy-handed dialogue and preaching in between the nasty-bug scenes.

The Thaw is an acceptably entertaining gross-out monster movie, nothing special, dragged down somewhat by it's awkward and inappropriate desire to preach. I'm not really sure what global warming has to do with giant parasites, or which dipshit thought that a horror movie was the right place to talk about it. Seriously, what were they expecting, that the audience is going to take life lessons away from a movie about giant tapeworms eating sexy college students? Like people are going to stop driving their Hummer because they watched The Thaw.

This one reminded me a lot of The Ruins, though not as good, which is interesting because that film actually did star Iceman and not his brother. Both films have a group of young people forcibly quarantined with a terrifying and bizarre monster, both feature extensive sequences where nasty little creepy-crawlies burrow under peoples' skin, both have showstopper scenes involving impromptu amputation.

Anyways, after-school-special sermonizing notwithstanding, there are enough well executed squirm-inducing moments in The Thaw to warrant it a slight recommendation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

White Zombie

A young couple goes to Haiti to get married. They are extended an invitation from a local millionaire to come over for dinner... turns out he's obsessed with the girl and is conspiring to steal her. The millionaire hires Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi), who has hypnotized half the population into being his zombie slaves to work in his factory, to use his powers over the girl.

It didn't dawn on me right away, but now I think White Zombie is a racial description. Legendre's zombie slaves are all black Haitians, so when he turns the girl into a zombie slave I guess that makes her the white zombie. So it's not just a cool sounding title.

Whatever problems White Zombie has due to its age and independently financed budget (some bad acting and dialogue, corniness), they are largely negligible. The film is heavy on atmosphere and even genuinely creepy in places, its under plotted story is glossed over by its nightmarish ambiance. I've been guilty of not always giving a fair chance to horror movies this old, but let me be clear that this is one of the good ones.

The Body Snatcher

A morally flexible doctor and his young protege employ an amoral cabbie (Boris Karloff) to steal corpses from the local graveyards for their medical experiments. They get more than they bargained for, when the cabbie decides to skip the hard work digging holes and starts bringing them the bodies of people he's killed. The student wants to turn him in, but the doctor isn't so keen on this idea, as the cabbie has all sort of dirt on him.

I'm slowly catching up with all the Val Lewton produced/RKO 1940's horror movies, I think I only have one or 2 left. This is a solid entry, not as tense or atmospheric as I Walked With a Zombie or The Leopard Man, but still a typically tightly structured and entertaining horror/thriller, with a memorable Karloff performance to boot.

I taped this one of TCM, and wouldn't you guess it, just like with Jules and Jim, the recording cut off the last minute or so, I didn't see the ending and had to look it up. A damn, annoying shame.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


A couple of sniveling teenage cretins are rooting around an old abandoned mental hospital when they find something rather disturbing: a young woman strapped to a gurney, seemingly abandoned. One of the creeps wants to contact the authorities, but the other talks him out of it. Instead, creep #2 uses the girl as his sex slave, eventually inviting other people from high school to join in. Here's the thing though, this isn't any ordinary girl, she's some sort of zombie beast with the requisite taste for human flesh.

Whatever potential Deadgirl had is squandered by a screenplay that, despite some interesting ideas, is poorly written, has no sense of direction, and is maybe a little dishonest. The filmmaking struck me as competent, effectively establishing atmosphere here and there, and the acting was uniformly strong given the material. But from pretty early on you know the script is bullshit, not really interested in exploring the ideas it presents so much as using them for shock effect, inevitably copping out on dealing with their implications.

For instance, I'll buy the central premise that some sociopathic creep would rape a girl he finds tied up and keep her hidden. Theoretically, its an effective idea for a disturbing movie. But the two leads, who are only supposed to be teenagers, under-react to finding the girl, and one of them already begins to suggest rape within a few spare minutes. There's no build to it, they don't panic or try to untie her or have a long argument. The movie isn't interested in wondering why some sick fuck would want to do awful shit like this, it just wants to skip right ahead to the awful shit.

Making the girl into some sort of zombie is an evasion. It shifts the movie from a psychological thriller about vicious, sociopathic tendancies in teenage boys into a run-of-the-mill zombie movie. It aims to shock by posing the question "is an average teenager capable of something this heinous?", then it promptly ignores the question once it achieves the desired effect. In my book, you don't get to do that. You either make the disturbing, cynical psychological drama your premise implies, or you leave those toys in the toy box for the big kids to play with.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a terrible movie. The villain's performance gets under your skin, there is occassionally some effective dark humor, and a handful of effective sequences. If I'm being extra negative about Deadgirl, it's because it seemed on the verge of being good, but never made it there.


It starts small, a man in a little Japanese village becomes obsessed with snails because of the spiral (uzumaki) pattern on their shells. Slowly, his sickness starts to spread, the whole town becomes obsessed with spirals, as if the spiral is some sort of sinister, omnipotent force. People start drawing spirals everywhere, collect anything with a spiral on it, kill themselves by contorting into spiral shapes, turn into giant snails.

Kind of a neat premise, I know. I read a few issues (or whatever they call them) of the manga that this was based on a few years back. It was not a great comic, I didn't think the execution quite lived up to the concept, but it was memorably bizarre and somewhat creepy.

The film retains the bizarre but loses all the creepy and instead replaces it with absurdism. I don't know who this Higuchinsky fellow is that directed Uzumaki, but as best I could tell, he interpreted the material as almost comedic instead of horrific. If I'm misunderstanding his intentions, it's because the film is all bombast and no atmosphere. The actors have all been instructed to turn it up to 11, constantly shouting and mugging. The film is a never ending series of fast zooms, whip pans, sped up footage, slow mo, fish-eyed lens... you name it, they stuck that obnoxious gimmick right in there for the world to behold.

What I'm saying is that I kind of hated Uzumaki.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

100 Feet

A woman fresh out of prison for the murder of her abusive husband, finds herself being haunted by his ghost in their old home. Why doesn't she leave? Because she's still on house arrest, if she leaves, she goes back to jail.

Except for his collaborations with Kathryn Bigelow, I have not been too impressed by the work of Eric Red as a writer or director. Sadly, 100 Feet is no exception. The premise is acceptable, I guess, but it just descends in to the normal bullshit I hate about ghost movies. For example, sometimes the woman physically struggles with the ghost, fighting him off... exactly how much strength does a ghost have? How does one overpower a ghost? Does the ghost get tired? Why are ghosts sometimes solid and sometimes intangible?

I don't hate haunted house or ghost movies as a rule; Sam Raimi's horror movies are every bit as arbitrary as 100 Feet, but his are staged for maxim entertainment. Raimi's filmmaking is exuberant, glossing over any metaphysical concerns. Red's direction is rote, and therefore I'm disengaged from the film and left to ponder the implausibilities.

There are isolated moments in this film that work, it's not a terrible film by any means. For instance, I've seen a lot of movies where someone is hiding a dead body and a small clue threatens to give them away; this is the first time I've seen one where they hid the body in the ceiling, the ceiling slowly gives way, and the corpse falls out and lands on a cop. That was almost worth the price of admission right there.

Eyes of a Stranger

A rapist/killer is on the loose, and a local TV anchor begins to believe that it may be one of her neighbors. She begins to investigate, but by doing so, she may be putting herself and her blind and deaf sister (played by a young Jennifer Jason Leigh) in danger.

I will admit that I probably did not play as close attention to Eyes of a Stranger as I could have, but I caught enough to know that it's an above average slasher movie. It's well shot and entertaining, with effective slashing/stalking sequences and good performances. Way better than these movies usually are.

The best is the finale, where the killer sneaks into Leigh's apartment unbeknownst to her. He doesn't just outright assault her, he fucks with her first, moving shit around to confuse her until it slowly dawns on her what happens. It's tense and clever and that's more than we can usually ask for from this genre.


The world has been overrun by nu-zombies (the kind that run fast, not the classic kind), and a ragtag group of survivors (referred to not by name but by hometown) travel across the American wasteland to the West Coast, where there are rumors that one of the amusement parks is a safe haven. In a clever touch, the main character is some sort of obsessive-compulsive type with a list of rules for surviving the zombie-holocaust that he strictly adheres to. I don't think it's been addressed before in apocalypse movies, but of course it makes sense that obnoxious type-A personalities would be best equipped to survive the end of the world.

Zombieland is not as heavy on the undead as the title implies. Though much humor and action is mined from all the walking (or, as it were, running) corpses, the zombies are often more a background detail, even forgotten for long chunks of running time. Think of it more as a feature-length version of the shopping spree sequences in Dawn of the Dead; yes, there are zombies, but it's more a comedy about what it would be like if America became your own personal playground.

Though mystified at the critical love Zombieland received on its release (you ever notice that critics always hate horror movies, unless it's a horror-comedy and then they love it), I still thought it was a lot of fun. As far as zombie comedies go, it's not a puss-filled boil on Shaun of the Dead's undead taint, but it has laughs, an agreeably cartoonish visual style, a likable cast and a handful of memorable sequences. More entertaining as a comedy and an action film than it is as horror, Zombieland provides solid fun for the casual zombie fan.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

I don't think I need to bother describing this one. If you've never seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre before, then I don't think you can be considered a fan of horror movies. Plus, the title says it all.

I got a free DVD of this at FYE this weekend because I spent more than $30 or something. Kind of fucked up that I didn't already own a copy, I guess, but it worked out for the best.

It's Alive (remake)

Lenore, pregnant, drops out of grad school to live with her boyfriend in sinful, sinful cohabitation and raise their bastard child together. The baby begins growing too fast and labor has to be induced. Then, during the procedure, all of the doctors are mysteriously butchered, with only Lenore and her baby Daniel left alive. Is some sort of maniacal killer to blame? Of course not. You saw the original or you at least saw the DVD cover of the remake, you know that little Daniel is a cannibalistic mutant freak baby. Daniel proceeds to eat every god damn living thing he comes across, with Lenore desperately trying to cover up for her baby.

I can't blame It's Alive, but it suffered greatly from the fact that I had just watch Grace the week before. Turns out, much like Grace, this remake plays up the angle of the mother trying to protect her child. Unfortunately, compared with Grace's thematically rich treatment of the material, It's Alive's crass provocations ring hollow. Hell, even though it's gorier and, in it's way, slicker in it's production, this remake is less satisfying than the original It's Alive.

Still, if all you're looking for is a few laughs and some gore, this is a decent killer baby movie.

Seventh Moon

Eduardo Sanchez (one of the Blair Witch Project guys) directs this tale about an newlywed American couple honeymooning in China. They end up lost in the countryside during a festival about evil spirits or the gates of hell opening during a particular lunar cycle or... anyways, some sort of Chinese, mythic voodoo shit where creepy white naked demon men want to chase them down to sacrifice them.

I wanted to like Seventh Moon, I really did. It had a lot going for it. It establishes a likable, believable couple (Amy Smart and Tim Chiou, giving much better performances then we usually get in this kind of fare), has a perfectly serviceable premise, a few good ideas for set pieces and chase scenes, and some creepy as fuck villains. It seems so close to working, but I have to be honest, Sanchez's poor filmmaking sinks it.

In my view, there's nothing inherently wrong with the whole handheld, fast-cutting style popular these days. When done right, as in The Bourne Ultimatum, the results can be exciting. But if you're going to go for the whole intensified continuity approach, you have to know what you're doing. You have to be conscious of your framing to make sure that the subject of your shot is clear. And if you're going to cut fast, you have to be very careful in your shot selection, so that each images clearly and logically leads to the next one, helping the audience to understand the action/geography/progression of each scene.

Too much of Seventh Moon is visually incoherent. Sanchez doesn't go nearly as overboard with the shakey cam as some directors do, but it doesn't matter, too often his shots are too tightly framed, or too dimly lit, and it's hard to understand what they are communicating, especially since they are all so brief. I'm not big on fast-cutting in horror movies in general (not as an absolute, but as a general guideline) because I think it's not conducive to creating the right kind of atmosphere. Seventh Moon is especially egregious. The actual cinematography (sans some of the framing) seemed nice, it was colorful, had a crisp looking image, I thought maybe they were trying to do some interesting things framing ominous details in the foreground, but none of that mattered because the shots were too brief to register. And they weren't edited together to create a coherent whole.

This is not nearly as ugly of a movie as Blair Witch, but it suffers from a similar lack of craft.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Evil Dead II co-writer (and Sam Raimi BFF) Scott Speigel directs this slasher movie set after hours in a grocery store. The staff is staying over night to do some inventory when one's creepy ex-boyfriend, fresh out of prison, shows up to start some shit. They kick him out, but soon thereafter a mysterious killer shows up, picking off the employees one by one. Could it be the creepy ex-boyfriend? Obviously not, or they wouldn't be keeping his identity a secret. Intruder features a Raimi-tastic cast, in addition to Raimi-regular Dan Hicks, there are small roles for Sam and his brother Ted, as well as a Bruce Campbell cameo.

Intruder has a lot of problems, not the least of which is how much it seems like an early Raimi movie without being nearly as good as an early Raimi movie. It's clear that Spiegel has a similar sensibility to (and has taken much influence from) his buddy Sam, with the goofy sense of humor and overblown, kinetic visuals, but too often the film feels like a failed imitation. There are too many shots that seem like Raimi shots minus the style and wit; a POV shot from a rotary phone isn't clever, it doesn't even make any sense, it's just a meaningless affectation. And not even an amusing one at that. (As I recall, Spiegel also pulled a lot of this kind of bullshit in From Dusk Til Dawn 2.) It's like a kid trying to impress his friends by doing a jump on his bike and he ends up crashing; Spiegel's trying to show-off but he doesn't have the skills to back it up.

That said, I'm giving Intruder a pass. Enough of the film is funny and off-beat, toying with your expectations of the genre, that it can be ranked as a slightly above-average slasher film. I am not recommending it, but if you like this kind of shit then it's not a total waste of your time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Jack Ketchum adapts this nasty little movie from his own novel. A tribe of feral children roam the wilderness, raiding homes in the night to murder and cannibalize the inhabitants, and to find a woman to abduct so she can breast feed their baby.

I'll say this for Offspring, it doesn't fuck around. I definitely wasn't expecting to see this many children get shot in the head in a horror movie. The movie is decidedly a mixed bag. Let's be honest here, the premise is kind of stupid. It would probably lend itself better to a fun horror movie rather than the grim, disturbing, outrageously violent final product.

To varying degrees, I've enjoyed all the other Jack Ketchum movies I've seen (Red, The Lost, The Girl Next Door). The different might have been that Ketchum didn't adapt those works himself, I don't get the sense he's much of a screenwriter. The dialogue is often over-written and clunky, the movie is too brief and builds little momentum, the structure is way fucked up. Too many characters are introduced, cutting between 3 or 4 different groups of people, just to have most of them unceremoniously killed off before they do anything. There is one instance in the film where this is effective, where someone I assumed was the main character ends up biting it relatively early. Mostly it's just unsatisfying, for example we spend 10 or 15 minutes with this one guy, establishing that he is an evil, cruel prick with the potential for violence, but this just turns out to be a red herring, he spends the rest of the movie as a victim and eventually dies.

Some of the violence is effective and disturbing, and the film is never boring, but I have to give it the thumbs down. It's simply too absurd to be so grim.


In the distant future, a war is waged on a mining planet over the control of a powerful substance that has eliminated mankind's energy problems. Realizing that he and his men have been left out to dry by their commanders on Earth (turns out the war was already won 2 years ago , but the soldiers haven't been told because the government doesn't want them returning home and telling everyone how awful the war was. And we thought Bush was a shithead), a commander (Peter Weller) leads a group of soldiers over to the enemy base to make peace. The problem? The wasteland between the two bases is overrun with "screamers," vicious little robots that hide underground and kill anything with a pulse, designed by the "good guys" to help win the war. The screamers are crafty little bastards, scavenging corpses for raw materials (harvesting methane from their rotting flesh, using their vitreous jelly as gear lubricant) and worse, they are learning how to upgrade themselves, building new models, becoming smarter.. evolving, if you will.

No surprise this is based on a Philip K. Dick story ("Second Variety," which I haven't read), with its dark humor, deeply cynical point of view, and twisty turny plot that questions the nature of humanity. Screamers is top notch sci-fi/action/horror for about 90% of it's running time; engrossing, exciting, well-written (co-writer credit goes to Dan O'Bannon, who I mentioned in my Lifeforce post) and with an agreeably sardonic performance from Weller. The finale is something of a god-damn shame, even if it contains the film's best line ("you guys are moving up in the world - you're learning to kill each other"), shoehorning in an inappropriate romantic angle and ending on a stunningly anticlimactic "twist." Still, like I said, 90% of this movie is imaginative, exciting stuff, and although I can't say personally how close it follows the original story, it's one of the most faithful PKD adaptations I've seen in terms of tone.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lady in White

It's 1962 in your typical idyllic American town, and little Frankie gets locked in the coat room at his elementary school as part of a mean prank. That's scary enough for a little kid, but it gets worse. First he is visited by the ghost of a murdered little girl, whose murder is reenacted in front of him. Next, the killer shows up in person, looking to dispose of some crucial evidence. Frankie barely escapes with his life, but continues the be haunted by the little girl, whose murder remains unsolved, so he sets about to play detective and see if he can help find the wandering soul some peace.

The idealized small town setting, the mixture of the supernatural and the everyday, and especially the framing device of a horror novelist recounting his youth all suggest to me that Lady in White writer/director Frank LaLoggia is a big Stephen King fan. Hell, if you had told me this was based on one of King's novels I would have accepted it without question, it's the most Stephen King-y story Stephen King never wrote.

I don't mean that as a put down, Lady in White is very enjoyable, equal parts ghosts story and coming-of-age drama, told well and with humor. Again, like King, LaLoggia has an unfortunate knack for cramming too many subplots and sidetracks into his story, but regardless of that the film is an agreeable mix of old-fashioned ghost story and Americana nostalgia.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (a Poem by Shenan Hahn)

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is Italian horror maestro Dario Argento's first film, and it's also one of his best and, relatively speaking, most normal. Though not as luridly violent as his later giallos, it is a highly entertaining expression of his visual style, already crystallized (if you don't mind the pun) at the beginning of his career: over-the-top and baroque while still maintaining a certain formal elegance. I think Shenan's adopted style perfectly pays homage to this.

Shenan notes that her poem is "in three parts, with each part from the POV of a different character,and written in a different form; first is the shaped verse with an iambic4-3-5-3-4 foot metric pattern and an abcba rhyme scheme; second is pureiambic pentameter; third is a seriers haikus."

Perhaps we'll try to squeeze in a viewing of our Blu-ray copy of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage this month so I can do a blog entry about it.

I. Guilia
This city’s still-born every morning. Rome’s
been baking steadily
for hours beneath the sun, and thirsting all
the while, she readily
accepts the day in kodachrome

but lies immobile, aches and waits
for all its souls to rise
and take to living just like her. We stir,
pour coffee in surprise
that we’ve awoken, fill our plates

with eggs in awe that such a calm
could show its face when it
had fled and left us here for dead last night.
For now the window’s lit
in gold, ensconced by morning’s balm,

but look- that candlestick! Still stuck
there like a stab wound, eye
inside the hurricane of radiating
cracks, the scars of my
attempts to free myself. I struck

the glass as he was hacking at
the door, but fruitlessly:
there was no exit, no redemption, no
kind God to rescue me
in righteousness. Last night I sat

here witnessing my death, the fight
a loss accepted. Now
I’m told to live again? Beneath that candle,
laughing at how
nightmares linger in the light?

II. Sam
That call- there’s something strange about it still
that haunts me. Something in his voice, perhaps?
Some pitch or timber that I recognize,
a certain brogue or telling turn of tongue
to place the man I heard?

That isn’t it,

it wasn’t him that struck me, captivating
though his homicidal chit-chat was.
It’s what came through between his words-
that noise! Like moaning crickets, menacing
and strange, like lullabies that howled outside
your window as you’d lay, the blankets tucked
around your ears, a child too young to know
just who or what composed the tunes that rocked
the streets at night.

That sound was crying

from the background, singing in a language
distant and entrancing, calling me
to rise as if I were a cobra, rapt
within its rhythms, to pursue it, run
it down, caress it hungrily, to speak
its notes and translate fluently, ease meaning
from its otherworldly aria.

III. Monica
Gallery at night.
Geometric harmony
in marble silence.

No sound can be heard
behind this glass. A turning
key locks in your screams.

Two pairs of olive
legs entwined. A milky tide
of cotton rising.

A half carafe of
Montepulciano left.
Radio playing.

A vigilant clock.
Pillows cold and stiff without
your head at rest there.

But all of this is
elsewhere, out among the world
that lives, even now.

No comforts for you
here, no soft loves, no warm wine,
no story telling.

There’s only you: held
by a knife, by a woman
you thought you knew once.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


A team of astronauts finds a giant alien spacecraft hidden inside of Halley's Comet. Within the enormous craft they find the corpses of thousands of weird bat-like creatures, as well as what appears to be three peacefully sleeping naked people (one of them a hot-ass lady). All but one member of the crew dies under mysterious circumstances, and the naked alien people are brought back to Earth for study. What are they? Motherfucking space vampires, that's what, and they intend to conquer Earth by sucking away our lifeforce and turning us into their exploding zombie slaves.

To call Tobe Hooper's output inconsistent would be generous, but I would rank Lifeforce amongst his best films. If nothing else, the man can pump up the visual style, and Lifeforce is a treat for the eyes, trippy and jam-packed with unconvincing but fun 80's special effects. You get a cavernous alien spacecraft, swirling vortexes, emaciated exploding space zombies, vampire blood that erupts out of Patrick Stewart's face and transforms into a naked lady. And so forth.

The insanity of the story (co-scripted by Dan O'Bannon of Alien, Dark Star and Return of the Living Dead fame) adds much to the fun. I was expecting naked space vampires, but I wasn't expecting demonic possession, psychic mind powers, bat monsters or a zombie apocalypse to factor into things. It's overlong and overstuffed but that's all part of its charm.

The Deadly Spawn

A giant alien toothed worm-beast thingy lands on Earth and holes itself up in some family's basement, where it eats the mother and father. The alien gives birth to nasty little baby worm-beasts and uses the corpses to nurse/feed them. Only gradually does the rest of the family realize what's going on, and soon they are fighting for their lives against the deadly spawn, especially the young son, who likes old horror movies and wears a cape around and turns out to be uniquely qualified to fight off an alien invasion.

The makers of Home Sick should take note, this is how you do a low-budget, gore heavy horror movie right. The Deadly Spawn follows a style of 80's horror films that I have a soft spot for; in love with and paying homage to old-fashioned horror and sci-fi movies while updating them with over-the-top gore and a heavy dose of irony. It reminded me somewhat of Night of the Creeps and Reanimator... not quite as funny as those, and with an even lower budget, but still made with a respectable amount of imagination and humor that helps it transcend its shortcomings.

It may look a little cheap (some of this probably more the fault of the shitty DVD transfer than the filmmaking), the acting and dialogue are not always stellar (though good enough), but the writing and directing are dynamic, interesting, playing with your expectations and trying to make the film better than it needs to be. Home Sick, by comparison, wasn't just cheap, it was uninspired; it contained too many scenes where the camera is pointed flatly at characters standing around in empty locations, trading dialogue of little interest. It only comes alive when it brings the gore, it never works to build a memorable sequence, only scattered money shots. The Deadly Spawn gives more of a shit. It too has some surprisingly graphic gore, but the gore is worked into effective, well-crafted sequences and set pieces.

Take for example my favorite part of the movie, an extended sequence where the young hero finds him self trapped in the basement with the monsters. It sets an eerie tone by having the kid walking around in the dark with only a flashlight, catching only brief glimpses of things moving. Then he finds his parents' bodies, being eaten by the spawn. It's a great gross-out payoff, but it doesn't end there. The monster pops out of the dark (it looks fake, but still awesome) and the kid notices that the little spawn are everywhere, squirming around the basement. And slowly he figures out that they can't see him, they have no eyes, they can only hear him. So he's got to figure out a way out of the basement without alerting them to his prescence, using their lack of sight to his advantage.

I mean, this is not exactly a brilliant sequence, but it's light-years beyond what you get in most cheap horror movies.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Lawnmower Man

A frustrated scientist (Pierce Brosnan) developing a virtual reality program that somehow boosts intelligence begins using his retarded lawnmower man Jobe (Jeff Fahey) as a guinea pig. Things seem to be going great at first, as Jobe becomes somehow non-retarded and normal and attractive to women, but surprise surprise things go horribly wrong as Jobe develops frightening powers, becoming almost god-like, eventually going insane and trying to take over the world.

The Lawnmower Man is an unbelievably terrible movie that bears no resemblance to the not very good Stephen King short story it takes it's name from. Apparently the filmmakers took a pre-existing screenplay they had, and bought the rights to King's story so they could slap his name on their movie. King sued and had his name removed from the film. Awesome.

This film came out in 1992, and I must say, its antiquated misconceptions about the internet and its Sega Genesis quality CGI effects are rather hilarious when viewed today. Were people really falling for this shit a mere 17 years ago? We must have been a bunch of fucking savages back then.

I've never been a big fan of Jeff Fahey as an actor, but he can be perfectly serviceable in the right role with the right filmmaker (White Hunter Black Heart, Planet Terror). In The Lawnmower Man, well, let's just say I bet he wishes this one wasn't on his resume. His performance in the first half of the film as simple Jobe, with his oversized overalls (with one strap always falling off), his messy blonde 5-year-old's hair and his goofy "Aww gee shucks Timmy" line delivery comes dangerously close to Tug Speedman's "Simple Jack" in Tropic Thunder.

I have nothing nice to say about this film. The story is silly. The performances are embarrassing. The special effects are overwhelmingly bad. There is not a single scene, moment or idea that generates any true interest. Not even the violence is fun.

Wait, there is one thing I liked: Jenny Wright (the cutie from Near Dark and I, Madman that I discussed a few posts ago) briefly shows her breasts. That part was worth watching.