Monday, October 31, 2011
The first fifteen minutes of The Devil’s Rejects is as strong as any I’ve seen in modern horror. It’s hard not to feel that anyone criticizing Rob Zombie for doing the same old shit is doing so out of habit in this film. As focused and singular as House Of 1000 Corpses is scattershot, The Devil’s Rejects also benefits from the sense that Rob Zombie thought this might be the last film he ever got a chance to make. However the results of this impulse are totally different. Instead of the trying to stuff everything he ever might want to see in a film, it feels like Zombie took a deep breath, focused up and legitimately tried to make the best film he was capable of.
But those first fifteen minutes, man. The assault on the house, the crude homemade armor that the Fireflies don for the counter attack. The race through their underground dungeon where a few lucky survivors are still imprisoned, finally breaking out onto the rode to ambush some poor waitress while The Allman brothers croon. Damn that’s good stuff.
The Devil’s Rejects unfolds like a prolonged disturbed nightmare. Those who accuse Zombie of merely supporting psychopaths are looking at the film the wrong way. It’s true that Zombie certainly has a grim fascination with monsters, but in the long nightmarish hotel scene he makes no bones about whose side he’s really on. That’s us right there, Banjo and Sullivan and their wives aren’t some dumb squares who get what’s coming to them. They’re what happens when anybody crosses the Firefly’s path. And while much has been made of Zombie’s portrayal of Sheriff Wydell, (William Forsythe giving the best performance ever given in a Rob Zombie film) and the supposed equivancy it draws between their actions, I wonder if people aren’t quite copping to the amount of satisfaction they may feel in the final reel. Personally speaking it felt awful good watching the Rejects get paid in full for two films worth of cruelty, I’m not proud of that but I’m not going to lie.
The film plays like a walking tour of hell. Zombie’s infamous Mileu has rarely been put to better use. Every environment in the Devil’s Rejects looks like its been caked by a life time of filth and degradation. Zombie is one of the few of the neo-grindhouse filmmakers to copy the films of the seventies in philosophy as well as aesthetics. So much of modern horror attempts to get down right chummy with the audience. The Devil’s Rejects puts them under assault.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 12:44 PM
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Inspeaking of Old Friends, Crazy Dog is offering Things That Don't Suck readers a five dollar discount on whatever purchase they might choose. Just type SCAREME5 at the checkout stand and you'll get five dollars off your purchase.
We'll be back later to close the gap in 31 Days Of Horror a little further. Got some good stuff coming up.
We'll be back later to close the gap in 31 Days Of Horror a little further. Got some good stuff coming up.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 11:49 AM
Saturday, October 29, 2011
As someone who has written an awful lot in defense of Rob Zombie it recently struck me as odd that the only films of his that I haven’t covered are the only two that people actually seem to like. What was I afraid it wouldn’t be enough of a challenge otherwise?
House Of 1000 Corpses is an awfully strange film, argument. It looks like exactly what it is, a movie made by a life long horror fan who was unsure if he’d ever get a chance to make another movie. And as a result threw more or less anything and everything he’d always wanted to see in a horror movie into one 90 minute long pot. As a result it rarely feels like two adjoining scenes are from the same movie. The film’s approach is summed up when it cuts directly from a cheesy horror host doing his best Ghoulardi in black and white directly to what appears to be real autopsy footage. The high artifice of Captain Spaulding’s Murder Ride clash roughly with the snuff film 8mm asethic of others, both of which look odd next to the comic book over the topness of the ten foot tall robot zombie who chases the heroine around with a battle axe, which when placed next to the natural lit sadism of- well you get the picture.
This gumbo school of filmmaking pervades across the whole movie, Sid Haig (Got to give Zombie credit for getting their first), fuck yeah. Bill Mosely, well yeah you gotta get him in here. Saw Karen Black begging for change by the side of the road? Sure why the hell not it’s a party. Michael J. Pollard? Holy fuck he’s alive? And is that Shane from The Shield about to get his head blown off? And Dwight from The Office? It surely is. To a certain extent Zombie is not directing a movie here, he is giving us a tour through a living wax museum that he has decorated as garishly as possible.
And I can understand why some people don’t enjoy the expirience. House Of 1000 Corpses is a mess to be sure, but I contend that it remains kind of an intriguing mess. Call me forgiving but I find it almost impossible to dislike any film made with this much passion.
Besides it’s not all amateur hour (although like I said the sheer unpolished enthusiam is a lot of what I like about the film). You cannot tell me that anybody who can drum up a sequence as tense and just plain odd looking as The Scarecrow set piece is without some serious fucking chops. There are enough genuine scares, creepy moments and unique style to prove that Zombie is not a slave to pastiche. His films just feel enormously tactile in a way I respond to, people always complain about the grime of his films but I like it, his environments don’t just look lived in, they look positively burrowed in. The House at the center of the film does look like something you’d get if you had a family of lunatics nest in a place for a good couple of decades and then gave another lunatic a camera and a major studio budget to make a movie there. I mean that as a compliment.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 3:54 PM
Neil Marshall is one of those guys who I just find to be completely on my wavelength. I don’t know if I could go so far as to say that he’s like Rian Johnson in that he’s specifically making movies for me, but when I see something like the Cannibal free for all in Doomsday or any random fifteen minutes of The Descent, or the Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid Redux in Centurion, it’s tough for me to come to any other conclusion. What can I say, the man knows what I like and makes movies the way I like movies to be made.
Dog Soldiers is Marshall’s first film, and if it doesn’t quite hit my cinematic sweet spots with the eerie precision of Marshall’s other films, there is still much to enjoy and admire here, particularly for Marshall’s fans.
Dog Soldiers follows a group of British Soldiers sent on what they think is a training exercise in The Scottish Highlands. In reality they’re being used as bait so a group of Black Ops can suss out a werewolf. Unfortunately for the unlucky soldiers it turns out that they’re not hunting one werewolf, but a pack of them and unlike most of the civilized world the werewolves are more than happy to dine on British food.
The surviving soldiers make their way to an isolated farm house, where with the help of a friendly neighborhood zoologist they attempt to survive the werewolf siege.
Dog Soldiers is a good deal rougher than Marshall’s other films. Thanks to a late stage twist there’ a plot hole you could drive a plot through. The tone is a bit odd as well, though it’s nominally a horror comedy, Dog Soldiers plays it straight for the most part. As a result, when something goofy does come out of the woodwork it’s really distracting. Ther is a fisticuff’s versus werewolf scene that is just plain silly and the single most out of place Matrix reference I’ve ever seen. The effects are what they are, but at the very least get points for being practical. More problematic is that Marshall had yet to learn to ask himself, “Would these people be making puns at this juncture?”
But as I said there’s much to appreciate here. Including many of The Marshall trademarks, his innate skill at framing, likable characters, tense set pieces and his ability to make his beloved Scottish wilderness look like one of the most foreboding places on Earth (indeed the film loses much when it switches locations from the woods to the farmhouse). There are some nice touches throughout Dog Soldiers, including a well played fairy tale subtext. It’s the work of a naturally talented filmmaker making much out of limited means, and if it left room for improvement? Well that is how it should be.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 3:13 PM
Friday, October 28, 2011
Night Of The Demons 2 was the belated follow up to you guessed it, Night Of The Demons. The key difference is that this time the on goings are directed by Brian Trenchard Smith. Brian Trentchard Smith has of course given the world much by proving that the mentally insane can direct films too.
If you’re not familiar with Brian Trenchard Smith you really should be. He’s the man responsible for roughly half of the great clips in Not Quite Hollywood. Including Stunt Rock the only stunt and wizard theme Rock Opera yet made, Dead End Drive In and the immortal BMX Bandits.
The nineties proved a much leaner time for Smith, but he still managed to deliver this bizarre little number, which might have been made in the nineties but has eighties stink floating off of it like a fine layer of musk. Never have I seen a movie that rushed to fulfill the requirements of gore and T&A as quickly and thoroughly as it could.
Six years after Night Of The Demons Hull House and the stuff that has happened there have become the stuff of urban legend. Angela is still hanging around snacking on any Jehovah’s Witnesses unlucky enough to cross her threshold but is understandably getting a little bored.
Angela’s mousy little sister, named er- mouse, because that’s the type of movie this is, is now living at a Catholic boarding school after the Angela related suicide of her parents. This being a horror film, all the girls hate her and Mouse soon finds herself on the receiving end of the most intricately hateful and unmotivated prank this side of Trick R’ Treat. These kind of pranks always crack me up, kids are hateful and terrible to each other but they’re hateful to each other in terrible little mundane ways. If your prank involves blue prints and a time table it is most likely not going to ring true.
Unfortunately for these students their lucky stars are in retrograde. Some of them end up possessed and make it back to the Catholic School to cause some havoc. Faster than you can say “I kick ass for the lord.” The clergy and students retaliate, leading to one final battle at Hull House, where shit as they say, gets real.
Like I said, Night Of The Demons 2 may have been made in the nineties, but it has a definite 80’s vibe to it. There’s plenty of practical gore, wild monster design, thin characters and other assorted genre goodies, all delivered with that trademark unhinged BTS touch. Don’t let me oversell, this isn’t some kind of lost classic or anything, but for a belated sequel to something that wasn’t all that good in the first place Night Of The Demons 2 is a surprising amount of fun. The sort of movie you watch fourth in a horror movie marathon and perk up during because you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is real or the result of the dreaded Pumpkin Beer Delirium.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 10:14 AM
Thursday, October 27, 2011
My position on Horror remakes has been fairly well established at this point. As a general rule the most I hope for is for indifference, at worst I break out into hives.
But The Last House On The Left was singled out by Stephen King as one of the best horror films of the last decade and though King’s opinions do occasionally lead me to believe he is from Rand McNally (where people wear shoes on their head and hamburgers eat people) he has steered me towards more good films than bad. Here’s what he wrote about Last House On The Left,
“(The film) fills us with rage and sorrow, and if there’s an emotion more foreign to a Friday The 13th movie than sorrow, I don’t know what is. Our identification is all with the victim. The villains are bad people, they deserve what’s coming to them. What they do not deserve is a sequel they come back as our buddies.
Roger that in a big fucking way. There is another element at play here, being that the original Last House On The Left is a film that I care for not at all. I’ll let King take this one again…
The original Last House On The Left is so bad it rises to the level of absurdity- call it Abbot And Costello Meet The Rapists.
Too. Fucking. Right.
Unlike most of the other remakes it’s not exactly like this one could be worse.
In the final analysis, if The Last House On The Left is not as good of a film as King says it is, it at least tries to be as good of a movie as King said it is. The key phrase here is Victim identification. I haven’t seen a movie so unabashedly take the side of the victim in a long time.
Even in the original Last House On The Left there was the nasty subtext that by leaving the safety of home and going to the big bad city in search of drugs and rock n’ roll, that the girls got what they paid for, however inadvertently. Here they didn’t sign up for this, by any stretch of the imagination. The girls don’t go “looking for trouble” even the girl who drags along her friend in search of weed is just being irresponsible rather than self destructive. Hell if you look at it closely, trouble wasn’t even really looking for them. They weren’t being set up, it was just bad timing. A ghastly consequences of a terrible series of coincidences.
There is another crucial shift in the film’s narrative that has been more controversial. In this version of the story the girl survives the attack. Changing the situation from the parents merely getting gruesome revenge to the parents attempting to protect their wounded daughter (the fact that they have already lost a son in unrelated circumstances also a smart choice, making their resolve all the stronger and making the lengths they are willing to go to more understandable). As a narrative decision it’s gangbusters, adding a whole other of tension to the story.
Many have argued that by having the girl be alive the film has wussed out by giving the parents a much clearer moral imperative than they did in the original film. But let’s call a spade a spade here, if you’re watching a film primarily because you’re interested in the moral quandaries it poses, then you’re not watching The Last House On The Left 1972, unless it’s by some grievous error. You’re watching The Virgin Spring.
Director Iliadas directs with more flair and tension than Wes Craven has displayed in his entire career, comparing it to the porn production values of the first doesn’t even seem fair. The Cathedral woods are menacing, and the way he slowly but thoroughly desecrates the house is chillingly effective. If there’s a complaint to be had it’s the fact that you can see the Rob Zombie influence stamped clearly across the film (why wear grotesque art directed masks, if you’re going to A) Take them off after a few moments B) Kill all witnesses.) Particularly in the bizarre final fifteen seconds of the film which literally look as though they were tacked on from another film.
On the whole though, The Last House On The Left is a film of ambition and intense suspense. It might not be a great horror movie, but damned if it only misses that distinction by inches.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 7:12 PM
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I think it’s safe to say at this point in time that Locke And Key is one of my favorite things ever. Note I didn’t say favorite comics ever, or even horror stories. Just things. The story of the Lockes is one that I’ve become deeply invested in over the years and the idea of seeing it turned into a TV Show was as intriguing as it was worrying.
So you can imagine my reaction The Locke And Key pilot in a mysterious Lynchian package in the mail. If you can’t lets just say that it involved yelling “SQQUUUUUEEEE” for several minutes before going behind The Winky’s to thank the man who lives beside the dumpster (not a bad chap that).
As a work in and of itself Locke And Key isn’t exactly flawless, but taken as a pilot it showcases a lot of potential. Make no mistake if a certain network (coughMTVhack) was smart enough to pick up this show (and really in the wake of Walking Dead why wouldn’t you?) this really does feel like the right cast and creative team to bring Locke and Key to life. An intriguing mixture of old and new mysteries that suggests that the creative team could simultaneously be faithful to the source material and spin it off into bold new directions.
The Pilot Episode of Locke And Key condenses the whole of the first arc of the comics into just under an hour. The basic story is the same; a family tragedy drives the Locke family back to their ancestral home where they end up dead in the sights of a dark supernatural force and in position of a certain collection of reality warping keys. The abridgement works surprisingly well, no Nightmare “Readers Digest Condensed” version here. Really only the nightmarish attack on The Locke family that kicks things off, and Sam Lesser’s journey across America feel like they actually suffer from their abbreviations. But considering that this was first being developed for Network TV the impulse to tone down those two rather disturbing segments is understandable.
Other than that, it’s all good. Keyhouse and Lovecraft both feel just right, a ton of atmosphere and history. Though I have to admit I was expecting something a bit, well showier given that Mark Romenak was directing. Most of the actors do feel slightly broad in their roles, but that’s just par for the course with pilots and I’m sure by a few episodes in things would have been much smoother. Nick Stahl as the wounded Duncan Locke and Ksenia Solo as the androgynous, creepy as all fucking hell Dodge were already spot on.
Locke And Key promised(s?) to be a great adaptation and a greater variation (just where were they planning to go with their suggestions about Duncan?) Let’s just say that should it be picked up, I would be confident that one of my favorite pieces of comics material was in the right hands.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 7:13 PM
Monday, October 24, 2011
Now this is a strange one.
Trollhunter is the Norweigan not quite horror comedy. Done in found footage style the film follows a group of students who think they’re making a documentary about poaching, until they discover that their would be poacher is actually a government agent whose job it is to hunt and exterminate Norway’s troublesome troll population.
These trolls are giant ill tempered beasts who rampage through the countryside, searching for the blood of Christians (which in one of the film’s funniest moments rather abruptly necessitates the hiring of a Muslim Camerawoman). Hans, our mysterious hunter, is on a more less single handed mission to put them down (see it pays to specialize) in a very of matter of fact fashion.
The film straddles a lot of different lines, it’s a horror comedy but it’s not done as over the top as the premise might lead you to believe. Everyone plays things more or less straight. Hans, the troll hunter, is a blue collar guy, who treats Troll’s with the same amount of exoticism as a plumber treats a clogged toilet, when he dons his absurd Troll protection armor or his blasts away with his giant UV cannon its just another tool, like watching someone put on a hard had. He uses the opportunity of having a camera trained on him to bitch about the troll hunter bureaucracy and his lack of benefits and overtime pay.
The matter of factness and restraint make things funnier but it’s a double edged sword. Those expecting a fast, crazy horror film in the Raimi/Jackson vein should prepare themselves. The first half hour is a slow burn, and not in a good way either. The film takes a lot of time to set up things that don’t particularly feel like they need setting up. It’s the type of movie where it feels like a given thirty minute stretch could be reduced to five without particularly missing anything.
Yet once again this kind of attention to detail occasionally pays dividends. The TSS (Troll Security Service) keeps disguising the troll attacks and bear attacks. Where do they get the dead bears? At one point a van advertising a Polish Redecorating service drives up and drops off a bear corpse for the TSS. The driver speaking in broken enthusiastic Norweigen is happy about the whole thing, apparently he gets an order from these guys a couple times a month. When the kids quiz him about whether or not he’s curious what these people want all these bear corpses for, he smiles and shakes his head, “Why ask question when you just know it be problem?”
On the whole Trollhunter is such an unexpected movie that I can’t help but kind of like and recommend it. With the major caveat that it is probably best that you make sure you’re in the right mood for it before you watch it. If you’re expecting a fast gory piece of splatterpunk you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re receptive to the art of the Shaggy dog story you just might have a good time.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 4:49 PM
Stake Land is the kind of film that I feel bad bitching about. It’s a movie with some real ambition, one that makes a lot out of obviously limited means. A film whose spirit and ambition I really admire. But there’s no getting around the fact that it just doesn’t quite have the means to accomplish what it sets out to. As a book or a comic one could imagine Stake Land being a really affecting piece of work. As is I ended up too distracted by the zippers running down everyone’s back.
Like I said, this is the kind of thing I absolutely hate complaining about, particularly on an independent film, but if something took me out of the movie I have to be honest about it.
Stake Land wants to play it big. It takes place in an America decimated by a Vampire apocalypse, where small townships face against the growing encroachment of bloodsuckers and doomsday cultists who are often times even more dangerous. The film follows Martin, a young teen whose family is killed in a vampire attack. He’s saved by and apprenticed to The Mister, last of the vampire hunters and winner of this year’s Mickey Rourke look alike contest. The Mister takes Martin under his wing, trains him in the way of Vampire killing and guides him through post apocalyptic America. They form up a ragtag family with some other survivors which includes the ever appealing Danielle Harris.
Like I said, you really have to admire the film’s ambition, what it goes for would be tough to pull off for a film with ten times its budget and for the most part it does it reasonably well. The characters are likable of well drawn and I like its take on Vampires, transforming them into bestial, barely sapient creatures driven by unthinking hunger and not much else. Director Jim Mickle, has a real knack for atmosphere and action. Though not always convincing there is a real sense of place in Stake Land, the feeling that Mickle has lived here in his head for quite a while.
On the downside the film is choppy. It feels like a film made from a script that was chopped down to save on budget and time. Characters disappear and reappear with no explanation. At one point the group stumbles upon the corpse of one of their members, who I didn’t even realize was missing at that point. It also leans a little too heavily on Malickian ellipses, if I had to see one more magic hour shot of stake practice it might have driven me around the bend.
Yet despite it’s flaws its hard not to like Stake Land and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who has a real interest in the horror genre. Sure Stake Land’s reach may exceed its grasp, but it is still refreshing to see a horror film reach that far. Would only that, “too much ambition” was a problem that more horror films had.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 3:16 PM
Friday, October 21, 2011
Horror comedy is one of the toughest subgenres to do right. As I’ve written before part of my fascination with both genres is how involuntary they are. How they completely bypass most of the usual criteria that we use to judge films and live or die by the gut instinctual reaction that they cause in the viewer. That’s a tough thing to do when you’re just going for one reaction, but when you’re going for two gut reactions that run directly counter to one another, well then you’re spinning plates while riding a unicycle.
I can say without hesitation that Tucker And Dale Versus Evil is the most successful horror comedy since Shaun Of The Dead. If it misses that movie’s heights well that’s because most things do.
Tucker And Dale follows two good hearted, slightly dim witted Good Ole Boys, who plan to spend the weekend fixing up the old shack they’ve bought deep in the heart of Appalachia. Unfortunately their trip coincides with a group of college kids led by the loathsome Chad, who quickly convinces the others in the group that they are about to star in an unauthorized remake of Just Before Dawn. After their rescue of the kids is misinterpreted as a kidnapping attempt, Tucker and Dale find themselves under siege. And before you can say “Mass Epidemic of Suicides” they find themselves dealing with quite a body count.
The strength of Tucker And Dale is the effortless way it swings between goofy splat stick and comedy of errors material (such as an early encounter which has Dale holding a scythe, giggling menacingly and asking “Y’all going camping.” But builds to it in a way that feels totally natural) and some genuinely witty material. Somehow the film manages to become more than a one joke movie.
It’s a genre lover’s treat of course, with a flashback to “The Memorial Day Massacre” proving that Eli Craig has just as good of a feel of/affection for the subgenre of the slasher film as Edgar Wright has for the zombie movie. The atmosphere is creepier and more consistent than most straight horror films released these days and needless to say the gore gags, including the already classic “head long dive into the woodchipper” bit are pretty great.
If the film has one flaw, which I will admit is kind of a nitpick to the point where I was genuinely trying to figure out whether to bring it up, it’s that the balance of the characters is a bit off. If you think back to Shaun Of The Dead (and yeah I know I’m bringing this up a lot but it’s the gold standard) the balance between Shaun, Ed and Liz is just perfect, with each character getting equal weight. With Tucker and Dale I feel like the balance is just a little off. The film does a great job establishing the relationship between the two, but after the first third it takes kind of a back seat to the budding romance between Dale and one of the “college kids”. With Tucker popping up mostly to deliver a few of the gags, and then act as a hostage. He becomes more of a supporting character than a co lead and I think the movie suffers for it.
This could just be me. Or the simple fact that I prefer Tudyk to Labine (who I was actually a fan of from way back on Reaper, a show I wish had gotten more of a chance, but who has played out his persona to diminishing returns ever since). He plays a hell of a straight man to the chaos here and the understated way he delivers lines like “That Chad kid has got some issues” raised some of the biggest laughs in the theater I was in.
But like I said, that’s just me. On the whole Tucker and Dale is a blast, a nostalgia piece that doesn’t rely on it and a horror comedy that delivers the goods on both fronts.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 1:00 PM
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The Dark Half has never exactly had the greatest of reputations. On the scale of George Romero films that no one really gives a fuck about it ranks well above Bruiser but below Survival Of The Dead.
After watching The Dark Half I can’t help but feel that this is at least just a bit unfair. I wouldn’t go so far as to call The Dark Half a lost gem or anything. It certainly is a flawed film. But it is not without merit and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as completely as it has.
Of course The Dark Half has never exactly been what you would call a beloved Stephen King novel. Not bad certainly, but not great. It’s the kind of book you shelve next to The Tommyknockers and oh I don’t know- Insomnia. Not bad not great, just one of the books that King puts out so he can be sure he has a book out every year. The kind you devour and then struggle to remember any specific detail about when you pick up the next one a year later. The Dark Half is notable for it’s unusually dark ending and not much else.
Not that it doesn’t have a good hook though, Thad Beaumont is an unsuccessful literary writer who happens to run a cottage industry publishing hardcore pulp novel’s written by “George Stark”. Thad Beaumont also had an ingrown twin removed from his skull when he was ten. I leave it to you to piece together whether those two events are connected.
When a fan finds out what Beaumont is up to and tries to blackmail him, Beaumont decides to “kill” the pseudonym rather than pay up. You get three guesses to figure out how well that goes and the first two don’t count.
For the most part this is pretty effective. Hitchcock’s Wrong Man syndrome is always going to be effective on a very primal level unless the filmmaker is incredibly incompetent, which Romero is not. The film actually has more in common with the likes of Season Of The Witch and Martin than it does the Romero’s Dead gorefests. Most of the violence is offscreen, and what does end up happening on screen is heavily implied more often than it is explicitly shown. It’s a smart approach in many ways running counter to the ultra violent novel that King wrote, with winning results. Romero builds an unseemly amount of tension in the film.
That said, the movie is not without its flaws, Timothy Hutton (or Princess Timothy as I have it on authority that he is known) is fine as the beleagured yuppie who finds his security threatened, but is a lot harder to swallow as a stone cold sadistic badass who will strike the fear of God into you with a single look. The film ends abruptly and tones down the darkness of King’s novel just a touch too much. All leading to a muddled home stretch.
Yet as a whole the film works surprisingly well. It might not be Dawn Of The Dead, but Romero fans who have had much to shake their heads at post Land Of The Dead would do well to check it out.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 11:10 PM
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Hey guys, Today's 31 Days will be up later tonight, should be a good one.
In the meantime here's a look I took with inReads at The House On Haunted Hill.
And in speaking of horror literature...
I guess I'm a published fiction writer now, which is kind of weird. A story of mine was accepted in the anthology State Of Horror: California. Kindle users can pick it here those of you who want the book (or perhaps if you're The Last Lovecraft want a book to burn) can order that here.
In the meantime here's a look I took with inReads at The House On Haunted Hill.
And in speaking of horror literature...
I guess I'm a published fiction writer now, which is kind of weird. A story of mine was accepted in the anthology State Of Horror: California. Kindle users can pick it here those of you who want the book (or perhaps if you're The Last Lovecraft want a book to burn) can order that here.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 12:34 PM
Monday, October 17, 2011
It is always interesting to me just how many characters in a horror movie act as though they know they’re in a horror movie. Whether it’s the dopey teens lining up to be next years urban legends, or the scowling scholars looking up various portents everyone seems to more or less know what is coming.
Of course the horror films that tend to really hit hard are the ones that buck this trend. Films like The Strangers, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original Halloween, films about ordinary folks who too a wrong step and wound up in hell. It’s all about taking away a degree of remove. Think this won’t happen to you? Think again.
Watching the original The Thing for the first time since childhood that’s what really struck me. These people have no idea what’s coming. They are, like all the characters in Howard Hawk’s films professionals. They’re out there to do a job, even the scientist who ends up on the wrong end of The Thing’s wrath is just trying to do his damn job. When said job goes from “transporting personal” to saving the human race from extinction at the hands of a hostile life form, the boys roll with it with a certain blue collar matter of factness. It’s just another damn thing they’ve got to deal with. The cast of dependable B Movie faces may not have the charisma of the Dean Martins and Cary Grants that Hawks normally dealt with, but they’re cut from the same cloth.
Of course how much of The Thing Hawks actually directed is something we’ll never really know for sure. Though the lowball figures tend to be “some of” while the high end estimate is “most of”.
In either case it bears so many of his fingerprints it’s tough to see how much of a difference it would make. It’s all here the overlapping dialogue, tarted tongued dames (Even in the Artic Circle you can’t escape them in a Hawkes film), aforementioned obsession with competence and professionalism, the sense of male camaraderie, unshowy long medium shots, the bonding over small items like cigarettes. If sheriff John Chance was caught battling aliens its tough to see how the outcome would be much different.
Hawks (or whoever) creates a surprising amount of tension for someone who never tried his hand at the horror genre before or since. Though the artic base is a good deal brighter, efficient, cozier and much more obviously a set than Carpenter’s grimly functional installment, it retains its sense of isolation. The imagery holds up surprisingly well for what is essentially a low rent monster movie from the fifties as well. Though when seen in full the large domed James Arness can’t help but look a little silly, when seen from far off and obscured, as when the men watch him rampage through the dog pen, or in silhoutte as he often appears, or best of all when he’s lit on fire by the soldiers and runs through the pitch black artic night like a living torch he remains suitably creepy.
Yep The Thing sure is a great film. Strange that it inspired just the John Carpenter remake and nothing else.
And. Nothing. Else.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 3:20 PM
Whelp here we all are for one
final time. Intially supposed to end the series with a bang, a
3D!!!! bang (Seriously you haven’t seen this much stuff fly at a movie screen
in a horror film since Friday The 13th Part 3), The Final Destition
brought back David Ellis to take things out with a bang, and a kapow… and a
brain hemorrhage (Too bad that James Wong didn’t direct Part 5 in order to keep
the symmetry going).
I have to say I do like the Ellis installments significantly more than the Wong ones. Ellis ups the ante, knows how to build tension and most importantly seems to have an innate skill at misdirection that makes some of the modes of shuffling off the ole mortal coil genuinely surprising. As well as pretty funny.
You know how it goes by now, premonition, disaster; all deaths will be answered in the order that they were received.
This time the twist is that the lead continues to receive premonitions as events continue, because death wasn’t being enough of an asshat I guess. And also that most of the people saved were fairly reprehensible.
Yep The Final Destination ditches the whole likable cast and clever plot thing from Part 2 and instead focuses on running through as many kills as possible. The characters are transparently meat puppets filled with blood, even by the somewhat lenient standards of character depth in the fourth installment of a horror film. The film barely limps past the 80 minute mark and that’s with significant padding. Also problematic is a depressingly predictable over reliance on CGI. I doubt that so much as an ounce of Karo or latex was used in the film and it’s so distracting that originally I wondered if the film was going for a PG-13 before realizing, “No they’re just really bad at this”. Needless to say the film plays faintly ridiculous in 2D with CGI models of hooks and nails and shit occasionally flying at the screen inbetween scenes for no other reason than Holy Shit 3D.
And yet I have to admit I had more fun during this installment then I had during either one or three. Look no ones going to mistake this for a great horror film- ever. I know it’s derivitive, I know it’s a cash grab I know it’s kind of dumb. But it’s also the only installment that manages to have an ending as deranged and chaos filled as its opening, has at least one sequence (The salon) that legitimately had me on the edge of my seat.
Not bad for the fourth installment of something I wasn’t that crazy about in the first place.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 12:48 AM
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Well one step forward two steps back.
Death got bored again and unable to think of any clever plot contrivance ala Part 2, he decided, “Maybe that cute girl from Scott Pilgrim and Death Proof will notice me if I send her psychic visions.” So like a nervous schoolboy leaving a note on her desk, Death sends a fiery vision of death via rollercoaster, and then after she saves the lives of yadayadayda instead decides that he’s better off just killing everyone again. (If these movies have an inherent flaw its that they’re front loaded. Without exception the most impressive scene has been the opening one.)
The film brings back original writing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Wong returns to the director’s seat as well. Unfortunately it kind of shows. I may have had my issues with the first Final Destination, but one thing you can say for it is that it played things straight. Final Destination 3 tries to blend the approaches of Part 1 and 2. Going for over the top kills during the death scenes and solemn gravitas inbetween. It’s classic have your cake and eat it too and the mix just doesn’t work.
The fact is that it’s pretty clear that Wong and Morgan don’t have a whole lot of ideas this time out. I mean there’s no way you can tell me that they wrote the original Final Destination with the word Franchise in mind. They don’t feel all that invested in the characters, every one is stock and not particularly well written stock (Wait why is the Goth Kid even at the popular girl’s funeral, let alone making a scene “defending” her there.) Even as an intensely likeable and crush worthy actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, can only do so much with her unlikable, flat character. It feels like Wong’s most frequent direction to her must have been, “Furrow your brow.” The most they can come up with to shake up the formula this time out is to make all the main characters atheists this time out. Er- edgy?
As for the death scenes, they’re fun, if not as much fun as the one’s in the last installment. They’re pretty far over the top (like the tanning bed fry up) and go for short punchy shocks over complex Rube Goldberg machinations. This actually isn’t that bad of a trade off. What the film loses in momentum thanks to this it gains in shock. The weight lifting death is possibly my favorite in the series.
Out of the three Final Destination films I’ve seen so far this is probably my least favorite. It’s still not bad, but it feels just sort of there. Without part one’s earnestness or part two’s gleeful over the top savagery. And the absence of Tony Todd knocks things down at least one full notch for me. In short, if you’re a fan of the franchise this deliver’s the goods, albeit not as well as the others. If you’re a doubter stick to Two.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 12:14 PM
Friday, October 14, 2011
Whelp, ask you shall receive.
Most of the time when I describe a sequel as “The same thing but moreso,” I mean it as a criticism. But with Final Destination 2 that turned out to be just the right approach. Final Destination 2 is just what a horror sequel of this kind should be, bigger, bloodier and actually a good deal more clever than it has to be.
As in the first Final Destination a young woman receives a premonition of a disaster and her actions then prevent several people from dying. Death slaps his bony hand against his forehead and gets to work balancing his ledgers in a manner suggesting that Death has a lot of time on his hands and is awful bored. Probably lonely to, I imagine after flawlessly executing (hur hur) one of his Rube Goldberg Body Counts he turns around to give someone a high five, only to slump his shoulders in the realization that no one is there. Poor little fella.
Ali Larter returns from the last round, having shed the black locks after producers realized that she made the least convincing Goth in the entire world in the first movie. Here she looks ready to bash death over the head with a field hockey stick. Also returning, the man with the voice to turn your bowels to water, the man with a voice so deep it made Keith David say, “Damn.” The one the only Tony Todd returns to bring a Tony Todd shaped ray of sunshine to the proceedings. Then once again leaves after one scene to the crushing disappointment of all.
Still his absence doesn’t hurt this time, simply because there’s a lot more going on. Director David Ellis, stepping in for the team of Morgan and Wan, has a long history as a stunt coordinator in Hollywood and he puts it to damn good use. The deaths here have a visceral feel that was absent to the first one. Again looking at the opening scene, semi trucks and sedans get smashed up all over the place in your average Hollywood film, but if this one doesn’t make you flinch you’re one cold fish.
The death scenes are cleverer too. Playing off your expectations in unexpected ways. In one scene a seemingly doomed character makes his ways through dozens of death traps only to be killed by a left over plate of spaghetti. So in the next scene when it looks as though the character in question is about to snuff it thanks to something ridiculously mundane we buy it. Only to have his death come in the most over the top manner in the film. The movie manages to keep you off guard. No mean feat for a franchise whose entire gimmick is based off of the fact that you know these people are going to die.
The same kind of care is taken with the plot. Instead of just rehashing the events of the first film, Final Destination 2 actually comes up with a plausible (well you know what I mean, interesting anyway) reason for death to stalk these individuals. Final Destination 2 beats it’s predecessor in care, creativity and energy. It’s a whole lot better than it has to be.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 12:33 PM
Thursday, October 13, 2011
So I’ve never seen one of these.
Now hold on just a second. When Final Destination first came out there was no real reason to. It didn’t look special, it was that dumb looking movie with that puffy faced Devon Sawa kid and Stifler. I was too young to know who Tony Todd was.
Just when did these movies get respectable anyway? I remember when the last one came out people were still referring to the series with out and out disdain. Yet when I mentioned to a few horror fan friends that I’d never seen a Final Destination flick, they acted as if I had just said “You know I’ve never gotten around to watching Night Of The Living Dead. Halloween neither.”
I figured I might as well check one of The Final Destination films for 31 Days Of Horror. But which one? Well probably best to start at the beginning right? Then again I have heard that Part 2 really is the one to see. But Part 3 stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and she’s ahem- er… Well best to just watch them all then. So for the next four days (The fifth Final Destination just left the damn dollar theater) It’s Final Destination Fest here at 31 Days Of Horror. We will find out just how many ways you can skin a teen.
Things get off to a relatively low key start with Final Destination. Upon boarding the plane our hero receives a vision of the plane going up in a giant fireball (Truth in criticism this is a pretty darn impressive sequence). Understandably freaked out by this, he panics and gets himself and a random selection of students kicked off the plane. Which then explodes. Dun dun dun.
39 Days later after the memorial service and the unveiling of a statue dedicated to the victims, the random selection of students begin to die off. Why, Death decided to wait until after the memorial service to begin offing the principles is a little sketchy. I guess he just wanted to give everyone some time to pay their respects. Death may not be proud but you cannot say that he isn’t polite.
I’ll admit I’m still not entirely sold on this one. I mean it’s fine, but there’s nothing to really differentiate it from the host of WB horror that was being released around that time, save Tony Todd’s great one scene appearance. The whole mechanic it devises for “Death passing people over” is pretty sketchily drawn. And it even does that annoying thing that horror films were doing at the time of naming all their characters after famous horror figures (Valerie Lewton? Ker-rist).
The death’s are all pretty low key, without any of them reaching the Rube Goldberg craziness I’m told the series reaches earlier. Only one, involving a cracked mug, a bottle of Vodka, a house fire, some kitchen knives and a spice rack really hits any entertainingly ludicrous heights. Like I said there’s nothing really wrong with the film, it just feels sort of workmanlike.
Then again I have always been told that Part 2 is where shit gets real. So we shall see.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 11:00 AM
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Phenomenon has always been to a certain extent, been the odd man out of the Dario Argento films (you know before the coconut accident). A big American star, a PG rating. A plot about a girl who psychicly controls bugs and uses them to solve a murder that even by Argento standards is “fairly nutty.”
Yet despite all of the above being entirely accurate I was surprised by just how well Phenomenon fit into his oeuvre. Like Suspiria before it, Phenomenon is essentially a fairy tale (I mean it begins with a young girl entering a black forest woods and approaching a house that may as well be made of ginger bread). Despite the fact that it heavily features a chimpanzee with a distended ass that refuses to get any less distracting no matter how many times you see it (said Chimpanzee may or may not have bit off Jennifer Connelly’s finger during filming).
Phenomenon stars Jennifer Connelly as the daughter of a movie star sent to a European boarding school. She is also a sleepwalker/psychic/bug wrangler. Because you know, Argento. Unfortunately, said boarding school is the site of several gruesome murders (
How this movie
got a PG is beyond me. The woman next to me spent the film actually moaning in
revulsion. Ah by cutting thirty minutes out of its initial US release never
mind) and Connelly is compelled to solve them, with the help of her insect
friends. Although her fellow students are so bitchy one has to wonder why she
bothers. She’s joined in her hunt by Donald Pleasance, a kindly old paralyzed
etymologist, who cheerfully sends Connelly off on her own to go hunt a serial
killer in what is perhaps not the most believeable moment in cinema history.
But then again when seen through the prism of fairy tale logic it works much
This leads to several trademark awesome Argento, “Brian DePalma off his meds” set pieces and imagery. Still in command of his talents they are masterpieces of suspense and style. You can start to see the cracks around the edges that would widen into chasms in his post Opera career. While Argento is able to sell most of his truly lunatic concepts, there are a few that slip through the cracks, culminating with a shot of a Chimpanzee with a distended ass, wielding a straight razor walking into the woods, seeking revenge. This is not an image the movies have given to us prior to Phenomenon.
The film also features Argento’s trademark- er let’s just say lax, dubbed dialogue (sample: “He just stays up in his room alone with his crazy thoughts”) and Goblin music score. Actually Goblin shares scoring duty with the likes of Iron Maiden and Motorhead, which would normally be pretty great, but in this case just illustrates how much Argento’s films lost when they ceased to be scored by Goblin. The disjointed score kind of sums up Phenomenon on the whole. Fascinating but disjointed. Sadly one must face the fact that this is the film where Argento’s grip first began to slip. He recovers and sticks the ending with a last fifteen minutes as crazy and wonderful as anything in the oeuvre. But that can’t change the fact that at least for awhile it looked as if Argento had no clue what he was doing.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 9:58 PM
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
You know how there are certain movies where you hear about how great they are so you kind of accept it and figure “I’ll get around to it eventually.” And when you finally do see it, you go “Wow that was really great.” As if everybody hadn’t been telling you this for the past couple of years.
Yeah Curse Of Frankenstein is one of those. It’s really great. I know I’m only like sixty years behind the curve on this one. Seriously though, despite it’s status as a genre classic I was more than a little bit unprepared for this one. I mean as much as I love The Hammer Dracula films, I think that Curse Of Frankenstein is superior to all of them (with the exception of Brides Of Dracula which is my favorite Hammer movie period. Though I suppose there can some debate on whether or not that is a Dracula movie), pretty much across the board.
The story like the Universal one is a pretty loose adaptation of the story. Baron Frankenstein gets bored, decides to create life, marries his cousin resurrects ghoul. What makes it special is Cushing’s approach.
Peter Cushing plays Victor Frankenstein as a magnificent bastard. I know that, you know that but it’s another thing to see it. There’s a selfishness to Frankenstein, a veneer of aristocratic entitlement that he brings to every action he performs, whether it’s boffing the help in the back passage or trespassing in God’s domain (I read an interesting interview with Christopher Lee the other day where he said that it was this entitlement that he really thought he brought to Dracula, as opposed to sexuality. That goes double for Frankenstein.) Cushing plays it to a hilt. You buy every aspect of his character, his ruthlessness, his curiosity, this is a man who was born feeling like he deserves everything. I must admit after watching Tales From The Crypt and Curse Of Frankenstein back to back I have a new found appreciation for Cushing. The man had range.
He’s helped by the character Paul, who goes from Frankenstein’s tutor, to partner, to enemy. There usually is a character to spar with Frankenstein and appeal to his conscience in these films, but he’s also usually dead by the second reel. The elevation of Paul makes a big difference, not to mention the fact that he really manages to create a sense of intimacy with Cushing. He’s the only one who really knows who he is and can see what he’s doing in every scene. There’s one great moment where he walks into a room, and immediately shoots Frankenstein a look that says “I can’t believe it, you’re about to murder this fucking old guy aren’t you.” It’s not easy getting that sort of communication to seem authentic.
Of course, Cushing is only the half of it. Christopher Lee plays the creature in a performance that manages to feel completely different from The famous Karloff take on the character, yet completely valid. No easy feat especially considering the relatively small amount of screentime he has. His take on The Monster is less cognizant then Karloff’s. Even further from the eloquent creature of Shelley’s novel. There’s no soul behind the monster’s eyes. He’s all reaction to outside stimuli. In what is perhaps the film’s best scene (seriously it deserves to be up there with the “flower girl” sequence in terms of importance to the mythos) the monster murders an old blind man, and somehow manages to look as confused during the entire ordeal as his poor victim.
Terrence Fischer directs the film with his usual flair. Making the most out of an obvious limited budget (I’d be shocked if the movie has more than five sets). The film moves at clip and Fischer makes the intimacy work for him. Though he certainly doesn’t skimp when it comes time to bring the horror on.
But at the center of it all is Cushing darkly driven by his monstrous ambitions. Not merely unremorseful, but unaware that anybody would even consider remorse possible.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 12:22 PM
Monday, October 10, 2011
I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again I have a real soft spot for the horror anthologies that Amicus put out in the sixties and seventies. To me they hit a real sweet spot when it comes to the idea of “fun horror”. They manage to be gruesome without being ghoulish, dark without being bleak and contain some real moments of sick humor without being gratuitous. They tell fast paced punchy stories that usually manage to have a punch line worth sitting through and if they come off as a bit campy, well that’s all part of the fun isn’t it. Besides it’s always a good time watching old British character actors looking appalled.
Many consider Tales From The Crypt to be the best of the Amicus films, I still have to give the nod to the fairly loopy Asylum, but it certainly stays in the running. The film was directed by Freddie Francis (The man behind the immortal Trog). Unlike other directors always seemed comfortable in the anthology format. In a lot of ways he was the Terrence Fischer of Amicus. It certainly is the funniest of The Amicus films I’ve seen. “All Through The House” in which a treacherous housewife (are their any other kind in the EC universe) attempts to cover up a murder on Christmas Eve, takes the well worn cliché of the killer Santa to new heights. While “Wish You Were Here” an incredibly over the top take on The Monkey’s Paw plays like a Monty Python skit of itself. Complete with a middle aged stammering witness to the mayhem so ineffectual he might as well be played by Graham Chapman.
The highlight, for me anyway, is Poetic Justice, in which a real estate developer dedicates himself to ruining the life of Peter Cushing’s kindly old pensioner, only to face some unexpected consequences. Alright not that unexpected it is Peter Cushing he is harassing after all. This is a story you have seen before, hell let’s face it almost by definition every single one of these Amicus segments are stories you’ve seen before. But the sheer amount and unmitigated force of the EVIL Real Estate agent’s unmotivated dickery is truly impressive.
Blind Alley, in which the residents of a refuge for the blind get rather baroque revenge on the stingy head of the institute is good fun as well. Bonus points for such great use of a hallway lined with razor blades. Really only" Reflection Of Death" can be said to be a dud. It’s fine, but it’s the very definition of a one joke premise. You know the punch line far ahead of time and just patiently wait for the film to catch up.
Still four out of five isn’t bad for any horror anthology, and for an Amicus one that’s a batting average to rival Ty Cobb. Tales From The Crypt might not be my personal favorite of The Amicus anthologies. But I’d be hard pressed to think of a better place to start.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 3:31 PM
After a fair amount of pre release excitement Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark came and went with a bit of a shrug. Sometimes the reactions that films get baffles me. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark may not reinvent the wheel, but it is a creepy little sleeper that generates a good amount of unease and at a time when horror becomes more and more generic it has a voice of its own.
That voice is of course Guillmero Del Toro’s, though he only co-wrote and produced the film it contains all his hallmarks. The collision between folklore and modern life, the bonds between children and surrogate parents and the instability of and inherent pleasures and miseries of childhood. Really what it maintains from Del Toro’s work is its philosophy. Most filmmakers approach the supernatural with fear, Del Toro approaches it with a kind of awe a distinction that gives even his lesser films a very real power.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark follows a little girl who moves into the house her father and his new fiancé are renovating. As shown in a prologue the house can be a bad place for children and after a sealed off chamber is discovered, things begin to contact the little girl. It’s classic horror as metaphor stuff, with the anxieties of new family life neatly dovetailing with the anxieties of discovering that a race of creatures forgotten by time and the good people of the earth are now living in a burrow under your house. But the ingenious thing about Del Toro’s script is the way he taps into the richer vein of folklore beneath the metaphor. If you follow any subtext long enough, eventually it just becomes text again.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark first gained notoriety when the MPAA refused to give the film a PG-13 and then explicitly requested that Del Toro not recut in an attempt to get the rating. Frankly it’s a little tough to understand what all the fuss is about. This is after all a film which, past its prolouge cannot even be said to have a body count. There’s only one shot in the movie that screams “R” (a nasty leg break) and it’s seems as if it could have been omitted easily enough with a judicious leg break. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nasty implications in the film, the prologue in particular contains a truly stomach churning moment and the scene where the handy man is attacked is probably the most intense I’ve sat through in a horror film this year. But it’s all implications, editing, and some extremely well done sound design. There’s a very nasty edge to the mayhem present in Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. Like the eldritch creatures who populate it, its not afraid to bite.
All in all I’d say that Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is the best horror film released by a major studio this year (which might not be saying much but is saying something)
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 11:25 AM
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 10:50 AM
Friday, October 7, 2011
As you well know I'm not the only 31 Day game in town. One of the best is being run over at my On The Stick, the home of my internet homeboys. Like The Wu Tang Clan, they ain't nothing to fuck with.
Just like last year when they did The Twilight Zone I'll be guesting a few times over there. My first a look at Splatterhouse 3 went up today.
Check it out.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 1:46 PM
Sometimes the mere fact that you haven’t heard about a movie is enough to make you nervous about it. Take Innocent Blood made by John Landis, who is at the very least semi beloved by the horror community. Why according to Showtime he’s a Master Of Horror. I mean this guy made American Werewolf In London and The Twil- well American Werewolf In London was pretty great anyway. So why have I never really heard of his only other straight horror film?
Turns out that Innocent Blood is unfairly, well not maligned, but ignored. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a lost classic but there is plenty of fun to be had for the genre fan looking for a film this Halloween that they haven’t watched a billion times before.
The film follows Marie (Anna Parillaud fresh from La Femme Nikita) a vampire who doesn’t prey on “innocent blood.” This sounds good in theory but in practice she ends up giving a vicious mobster played by Robert Loggia a bad case of vampirism. This goes about as well as you might expect.
One of the main hang ups that people seem to have about the film is why combine The Gangster film and The Vampire film. Frankly the answer is probably because no one had made a Vampire film set in gangland before. The twist on the genre gives a way for the film’s other lead, Anthoney La Palgia as an undercover cop, to get into the film and doesn’t add much else. It’s not as if Loggia does anything all that special that any other Vampire bad guy wouldn’t do. Well aside from run to his lawyers house first thing anyway.
The film is more character than plot driven anyway. Marie is an intriguing mix between the soulful romantic vampires who so dominate the archetype today and the feral blood feasting predators of yore. Call her the maniac pixie nosferatu.
If we follow the three great scenes, no bad scenes law of what makes a great movie, Innocent Blood is one of those movies that gets about half way there. It does have at least three great scenes; one in which Loggia runs out of the morgue and into a press conference that’s pure Landis anarchy, a sex scene with enough genuine heat that I’m kind of shocked it made it past the American studio system and the MPAA and the film’s greatest creepy moment and gore shot, both which takes Don Rickles as their unlikely subject. If you have ever wanted to see Don Rickles explode like John Cassevettes at the end of The Fury look no further. But it also does have a lot of filler, an intrusive voice over, the cops subplot does slow things up, and there are some strange details (bullets work pretty well against Vampires for some reason).
But while it’s undoubtedly imperfect Innocent Blood is also a lot of fun for any horror or Landis fans. It Includes plenty of Landis’s signature vehicular destruction, old monster movies (one of the films best running gags is shots of minor characters becoming inappropriately enraptured by old horror films) and cameos (This time including Forrest J. Ackerman, Tom Savini, Dario Argento, the ubiquitous Frank Oz and Sam “The Man” Raimi). Like I said, Innocent Blood won’t change anybody's life. Bu the dedicated genre fan could do worse than to check out this neat little sleeper, despite the fool screen only DVD release (for shame Warner Brothers).
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 9:50 AM
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Don’t ask me why I was surprised. Actually strike that, surprised is too strong a word. Don’t ask me why I was mildly perturbed that Beyond The Reanimator kind of sucked. It is after all a decades late sequel to the cult hit (Even if you factor in Bride Of The Reanimator this baby is still coming down the pike thirteen years after the fact) that didn’t much demand a sequel in the first place, let alone two. Chalk up the absence of Stuart Gordon and we are pretty far into “Have no one to blame but myself” territory.
I guess I just didn’t expect a Reanimator movie to be so dreary, so lifeless (Rimshot). Directed by Brian “Overrated” Yunza (Have you ever actually SEEN Society? It’s fucking boring. The very definition of a one scene wonder.) with production values that scream “European tax shelter.” Beyond The Reanimator is a plain dispirited movie. Like going to see a legendary rock band at the midstate fair, only now the bassist has an artificial leg, the drummer is drunk, and the lead Singer is a replacement from a cover band after the real guy hung himself in his garage seven years ago.
Beyond The Reanimator starts in suburbia where some Herbert West instigated mayhem goes down. A child survives the attacks and becomes obsessed with West, who he saw reanimate the dead. West is arrested and sent to prison. The child grows up, goes to med school and then gets a job at the prison, in order to help West continue his research. Things go about as well as you would expect.
If there’s one bright spot in the whole mess its Jeffery Combs, who is clearly relishing the chance to play his signature character again. He plays West, as older, wiser, and if no less single minded than at least a great deal more mellow. It’s a progression of the character and an interesting one. Unfortunately Combs is just about the only one who did put any thought into it and he can’t save the movie because he’s kept off screen for most of it, shunted aside for the bland younger cast.
Mayhem does eventually break out at the prison, as the tension between West, The Young Doctor, and a sadistic prison warden (are there any other sort in movies?) heats up. But it feels strangely perfunctory. When Stuart Gordon made a severed head perform a terrible pun it felt like a work of transgressive, lunatic imagination. When Brian Yunza shows a close up of a severed penis, it looks like well a severed penis. Which can only hold so much interest (the fact that said penis is reanimated and fights a rat in the closing credits does not help as much as you think it might). It’s not that the novelty wears off, there’s just no novelty in the first place.
So yeah, don’t waste your time with Beyond The Reanimator, even if you’re just DVRing it off IFC wondering “What have I got to lose?” A good non refundable hour and a half of your time is the answer. You can find something better to do with it. Trust me it shan’t be hard.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 7:20 PM
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Despite the richness of its possibilities horror always seems to have such a narrow perception of itself. Most people wouldn’t consider Melancholia a horror film, even though horror is its sole subject matter.
We all deal with horror every day. Most of us have just gotten awful good at distracting ourselves from that fact. Able to look the other way from the giant planet that will obliterate everything in time. What is depression then but the inability to look away? To be transfixed by horror to the point that it blocks everything else out, becomes the world Not an undercurrent of life but its overriding theme.
Von Trier has made two horror films before, The Kingdom and Anti Christ, and neither were like this.Both of those films were out and out assaults on the viewer. Full fledged attacks on the viewer’s thresholds of on screen violence and any kind of narrative sense. Melancholia isn’t like that. After the strangely beautiful and horrifying opening, which features imagery that looks like it was pulled directly from Von Trier’s night terrors, awful in the true sense of the word, the film hardly shows anything terrible at all. The film takes on a hushed, almost funeral tone, as is appropriate.
The film is divided into two parts the first set during a wedding reception for Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, held at the manor of her very rich sister Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsborough. At first Dunst is bubbly, luminescent, but it quickly becomes apparent that she is a woman with some very real problems. It’s a much subtler performance than you would expect from Dunst, at the beginning of the film her mask is so firmly set that you can’t help but mistake it for the real thing. Then it starts to crack, slowly at first and then with increasing inertia. It becomes clear through the interactions with her family that this is a group of people who have done some real damage to each other over the years (This is to be expected as after all they are characters in a Lars Von Trier film).
The second part of the film has Justine returning to her sister’s home after her depression returns full force. This happens to coincide with the news that a new planet has been discovered, followed by the somewhat belated news that said new planet is going to crash into the Earth and destroy it utterly. For the rest of the film it hangs heavily on the horizen (“It looks… friendly” Claire marvels at one moment). This makes little difference to Justine, to truly live with depression is to live every moment waiting for a planet to come out of the sky and crush all live on Earth out of existence.
I’ve never been all that much of a Von Trier fan. All his movies to one degree to another are pranks. While I can’t say that Melancholia is all that different in that regard, there has been a perceptible shift in Von Trier’s point of view. One could hardly call him humanist (though he does draw some remarkably good performances out of the cast. Including Kiefer Sutherland) but it is as though he is genuinely sorry to see the things that his characters are doing to themselves and others this time around. But maybe that is to be expected. In the face of obliteration empathy is all we have.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 5:37 PM
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Seeing the original Fright Night at The Aero’s horrorthon last year was one of the most pleasant surprises I had at a movie last year. I was somehow all but virtually ignorant of the horror classic in all but the broadest strokes. This despite the film being so far down my alley that it was practically breaking into my house to steal shit.
Yet I was still skeptical about seeking out the sequel. This after all was not just any sequel but an Eighties Sequel. And it’s a general rule of them that an eighties sequel is going to be beat for beat like the original, expect a lot less enjoyable. I mean we are talking about a sub classification of film that requires the line of dialogue “I can’t believe this is happening… AGAIN!!!” to appear in nearly every single one of its entries.
But the lure of 35 mm and The Alamo Drafthouse proved too straong, and I ended up seeing Fright Night Part II with a crowd better and more primed for the film than the ones who sat through the film in 1988.
I wasn’t exactly wrong about what Fright Night Part II would be, but there was a surprising amount of fun to be had to it. Once expectations had been suitably lowered. Fright Night Part 2 takes place three years later with Charlie Brewster just getting out of a stay at a mental institute and into college. In this time period he’s been convinced that vampires don’t exist (This is more than a little hard to swallow, but it’s another staple of eighties sequels. If you’re going to repeat everything again you have to reduce everything back to square one). This gets tricky when wouldn’t you know it, a bunch of Vampires move into Charlie’s neighborhood and start stalking him and Peter Vincent.
This time it’s a posse of Vampires, (They’ve also brought along a ghoul and a werewolf played by ultimate 80’s genre character actor Jon Gries) and unlike the suave, urbane, Chris Sarandon they are totally 80’s. You have no idea how unintimidating a vampire on rollerblades is until you actually see it.
But it is fun to watch William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowell deal with it again, their chemistry intact (The film does suffer from the absence of Amanda Bearse whose quintessential girl next door performance added a lot to the film. Though her replacement is appealing as well.) McDowell in particular gets one extremely fine moment where he gets to articulate his reason for being to the incredulous patrons of a dingy bar. It may not justify the movie in and of itself, but it goes a long way towards doing so.
The film also carries over the top notch practical gore and monster effects from its predecessors. There’s no getting around the fact that Fright Night Part II is just a fun movie to look at on a very basic level.
Watching Fright Night II is like clammering onto a carnival spookhouse at the midstate fair for the second time. It’s predictable, more than a little cheesy and you know every beat before it arrives. But there’s still some fun to be had. Albeit not nearly as much as you did the first time around.
Posted by Bryce Wilson at 4:27 PM