Monday, October 10, 2011

"You Can't Tame What's Meant to be Wild:" Top Ten Werewolf Movies

Werewolves are a subgenre of horror more known for hits and misses than vampires or zombies. There are classics, to be sure, but the two aforementioned genres seem to have more of them. It seems there's just something about these toothy, hairy bastards that's hard to get right. So with that said, let's look at some movies that did get it right, and did it really, really well.

10. Silver Bullet (1985)- This movie, starring Corey Haim and Gary Busey, remains one of the most under-appreciated Stephen King adaptions to date. King penned the script himself, based on his short novel "Cycle of the Werewolf." The story follows the murders plaguing the peaceful town of Tarker's Mills through the eyes of young, handicapped Marty Coslaw... who eventually realizes the killings are the work of a werewolf, and must convince his sister and uncle (Busey in one of his best roles) in time to stop it.

09. Werewolf of London (1935)- Just a few short years before they struck big with "The Wolf Man" Universal made this little sleeper hit. While lighter on story, it oozes with atmosphere and the effects even outdo The Wolf Man, though this is the only place in which it is almost a superior film.

08. Trick 'R Treat (2009)- While werewolves aren't the only creatures stalking this film, that's part of the charm. This Halloween anthology brought back the sense of fun and mystery that make both Halloween and anthology movies in general so much fun. The werewolves aren't on screen very long, but they're well-worth waiting for and offer an inventive twist on the lycanthropes.

07. The Company of Wolves (1984)- This werewolf film from director Neil Jordan precedes his "Interview with the Vampire" by almost ten years, and while it is a much less well-known film and has a far smaller budget, it is just as atmospheric and portrays its monsters just as alluring and scarily sympathetic as he would go on to do in Interview. The story is also an inventive and unique take on the ageless Red Riding Hood tale.

06. Dog Soldiers (2002)- I've talked about this film before, but it's always worth mentioning. It's a terrific horror film from Scottish director Neill Marshall, surpassed only by The Descent (2006). The story follows a group of soldiers on a routine training exercise, who find themselves plagued by the werewolves roaming the countryside. It's almost like a lycanthropic version of "Predator" only with a better story, scarier monsters, and deeper, more rounded characters. If you haven't seen the film yet, do so now, as a sequel and web series are finally on the way.

05. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)- Hammer Studios came close to topping the Universal originals in their heyday, with movies like The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958), and this. This film stars Oliver Reed as a tragic man who has been doomed since birth to someday become a werewolf. It takes a while to build to the appearance of the beast, but when it happens it is well worth waiting for.

04. Ginger Snaps (2000). They don't call it the curse for nothing. There may never have been a more appropriate title for a horror movie before this. Ginger Snaps takes a unique (and smart) approach to the genre by exploring the werewolf as a metaphor for female adolescence. It seems off-balanced at first (before this, the werewolf had almost always been metaphor for man's testosterone and impulses, his hidden rage and "inner beast") but right from the get-go, this film works. It beautifully and frighteningly shows the transformation a young woman will go through, how scary that transformation can get. Especially when she's eating people.

03. The Wolf Man (1941). There really is no werewolf film more classic than this, and for admittedly good reason. This is one of the absolute best of the Universal classics. Lon Chaney, Jr. does a fantastic job portraying Larry Talbot, who is cursed to become a werewolf after being bitten by one in a gypsy camp. It's a very atmospheric, soft-spoken horror movie, and while the dual-performance of Larry and the Wolf Man is terrific and scary, most of the horror comes from how believably frightened Talbot is of his own condition. Chaney, Jr. reprised his role no less than three times, and no matter how silly the movies got, he always brought depth and integrity to the character.

02. The Howling (1981). It's a very ironic and interesting thing that the two best werwolf movies ever made came out in the same year. Before these two, the werewolf had always been a man with a lot of hair and fangs when portrayed on film. Both this film and the next on the list did everything they could to change that. The Howling is responsible for the monstrous, bipedal werewolf that has become the cinema staple ever since. On top of that, it is a very powerful mystery of a story with great performances all around that is, at its core, about the nature of repression.

01. An American Werewolf in London (1981). With that said, let's move onto the movie (which debuted two months before Howling) that edged it out of the top spot. Even more so than The Howling, this film was about bringing the notion of the werewolf into cynical, modern times. There are many references to the classics, it feels at first like it opens in an old horror film, and gets more and more modern as it goes along. That's the beautiful thing about this movie. Like it's cursed main character, it transforms gradually as the film goes on. It starts out almost as a comedy (it is after all from John Landis, director of The Blues Brothers and National Lampoon's Animal House) but as the werewolf threat becomes more real (and his best friend becomes more decomposed) it moves into new territory that is both scary and, in the end, very tragic.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Snubbed: The Top Ten Oscar-Worthy Horror Performances

Fall has arrived and that means we're headed for Oscar season as Winter sets upon us. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the best horror performances over the years that should have been nominated for Academy Awards... and weren't. The rule here is that they must not have even been nominated, let alone won. So Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Linda Blair in The Exorcist, none of them count.

So, with that in mind... let's count 'em down.

10. Elsa Lanchaster in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

She's only on screen for a few moments, but in those moments, Elsa Lanchaster steals the show as the title character. Her movement is based on animals, the only thing close to dialogue is a cat-like hiss and yet we sympathize with her completely. More than any character that had appeared in the movie before that climactic scene.

9. Nathan Baesel in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

It takes talent to play a truly creepy movie villain. It takes even more talent to play a movie villain who makes no apologies for who and what he is, and yet make him completely likable. Leslie Vernon (or Mancuso, as the case may be) has agreed to let a documentary crew film the moment he has been waiting for his entire life, his rise to fame as a newborn slasher star. He guides them step-by-step on who he is going to kill and how he is going to do it... but Baesel so convincingly shows how dedicated Leslie is to this and what it means to him that we actually want him to see it through. We're on his side when we (and the documentary crew) know we shouldn't be, and that is brilliance on the actor's part.

8. Robert Englund in The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Robert Englund will never win an Oscar for Freddy Krueger and he never asked for one. That's pretty far from the point of that character. But in this lesser-known adaptation, he played another famous boogeyman and he did a superb job. In this supernatural retelling, Erik is the victim of a Faustian pact and we can't help but feel for him. He is disfigured, mad, and terribly in love. Englund tapped into the tragedy of the character as a quieter, softer maniac than the one he's most well-known for. But certain scenes (such as buying a prostitute and telling her that her name is Christine for the night) work because of the talent of a prolific character actor who brings a sense of class to even the weirdest role.

7. Angela Bettis in May (2002).

Here's another pick from the previous decade with terrific genre star Angela Bettis as one of the few female boogeymen. May is a very sad, lonely, strange girl and is such an offbeat character in such an offbeat movie that she had to be played perfectly to be remotely convincing. Bettis pulled it off fantastically. May goes from a quiet veterinarian's assistant to a psycho killing people to steal their body parts in order to make a perfect, human doll. A friend who will never abandon her. And she makes the transition feel completely natural.

6. Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby (1969).

This one should seem obvious, but it really deserves a place on the list because, while she won some awards, she was snubbed at the Oscars and her performance in this film really deserves more credit than that. The entire film and the nature of the Satanic Cult would not have worked remotely as well if Farrow was just not as completely, hopelessly scared as she is in the film. Very few lead actresses in a horror movie have elicited more empathy than this.

5. John Amplas in Martin (1977).

George Romero considers this his best film, and one can see why. While he's best known for zombies, Martin is Romero's vampire film... sort of. You can get more info on the plot and nature of the film in my review, but just know that the whole idea of the movie hinges on how convincingly Amplas plays the title character. Martin may or may not be a vampire, all we know is that he thinks he's a vampire, and the movie almost feels like a documentary due to its low budget grittiness. It looks and feels more real than any vampire film before and possibly since. It seems that, in the end, Martin does not turn out to be what he claims to be, or what his demented Uncle claims he is, but one thing is for certain. We believe that he believes.

4. Tony Todd in Candyman (1992).

Here's another great horror actor who's been making his rounds in the genre ever since this film. Yes, Candyman is known now as another killer amongst the horror pantheon. Right up there with Freddy and Jason, only with less sequels. But if you look at the original and Todd's fantastic job as a tortured, mythic soul, you'll see why he's deserving of a place on this list. Candyman is an artistic, fantastic movie. Tony Todd makes an incredibly sympathetic monster, and also he did the climax of the movie with bees in his mouth... an extra step that most actors would not be willing to take. He stayed at the top of his game for the also-great sequel, and even in the lesser-quality Candyman 3, he was a professional who brought everything he could to the role.

3. Colin Clive in Frankenstein (1931).

Boris Karloff did an excellent job too, but his animalistic performance was still upstaged by Clive as the poor doctor, so driven by obsession that he risks his life, his family, and his mind in order to accomplish his dream. He was also fantastic in the sequel, but it's the original, in which we follow the Doctor down his descent, that remains wholly captivating. While other actors (Peter Cushing in particular) have done great things with the part, Clive's Frankenstein has never been topped.

2. Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).

Similarly, we have Gary Oldman in a much more recent take on one of the classic roles. So many actors have played the role of Count Dracula and while Christopher Lee remains my personal favorite, none have ever given a more tragic, romantic (and yet scary) portrayal of the character. Oldman plays the Count as a sort of fallen angel and for Coppola's artistic, bloody romance, it really works. This is also one of the few portrayals of the Count in which you really feel and believe the character's age.

1. Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960).

Really, there could be no other number one pick than this. Arguably, this is the greatest performance in any horror movie ever made. For me, it tops even Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs and Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Perkins is so quiet, empathetic and likable as one of the first modern horror monsters. Even though he was obviously unbalanced, I can't imagine the shock audiences felt when the big reveal came at the end of the movie. For this movie, Perkins remains one of my favorite actors to this day, making the blasphemy that was Psycho (1998) that much more unfortunate.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Today's Epic B-Movie Scene: Dead Alive

And here she is.

13 More of the Best Horror Movies of 2000-2009

Back in January I wrote a piece on the 25 best horror movies of 2000-2009, to show that despite the howlings of the internet, this was an incredible decade for horror movies. Well, now I've gone and picked 13 movies to further prove my point.

13. House of 1,000 Corpses (2003). Technically, the film was shot starting in 1999, but it stretched into the 2000's and the release was held off until 2003 because Universal was appalled by everything Rob Zombie shot. And when I first saw this movie, I had no idea what I was looking at. Now, however, that's one of my favorite things about it. This is a manic, in-your-face and repeatedly startling movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It truly kicked off the decade for genre film making and influenced many (or most) of the independent horror that came after it.

12. 30 Days of Night (2007). This film, based on a graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, should get credit for the brilliance of the concept alone. In Barrow, Alaska, where the sun disappears for 30 days, vampires have declared a new feeding ground. A small group of survivors band together, their only hope to last through the month alive. It's a tense film, and the vampires are savage and scary. They're not romantic, they're sharks. These monsters are so separated from humanity that they don't even speak our language, they made their own. It is, then, completely baffling that director David Slade went on to help The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

11. Diary of the Dead (2008). This is going to be the most controversial pick, and I'm not even sure why. Yes, I preferred this small indie to Romero's hugely anticipated return to zombies, Land of the Dead. This movie had a much smaller budget than Land, and I actually found that a good thing. It went back to what made Night of the Living Dead so good and it gave the concept a proper modern update. The first-person style has become its own genre, and of that genre, Diary of the Dead is one of the best. It's a harsh study of how detached someone can become from a worldwide crisis when all they do is record it.

10. Drag Me to Hell (2009). And here we have another and much more widely loved return of one of the masters, in this case Sam Raimi. After the now-classic Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi sort of disappeared from horror, going on to direct For Love of the Game and The Quick and the Dead, and then struck box-office gold with the Spider-Man trilogy. And then in 2009 he returned to horror with this flick that shows he can still capture the manic off-balance of horror and comedy of Evil Dead II and bring in his developed sense of character. And it also proved that PG-13 horror doesn't have to suck.

09. Zombieland (2009). What at first glance appeared to be America's answer to Shaun of the Dead, is a very character driven piece about found family that only happens to be about zombies and only happens to be hilarious. The entire cast owns this film, but of course Woody Harrelson's Tallahassee stands out (in Zombieland, your name only appears to be where you're going) and on top of all that, this film features one of the best cameos of all time in the form of Bill Murray.

08. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005). Here is another film, more than any other on the list, that relies on character more than scares. It is part supernatural exorcism tale and part courtroom drama and it leaves much to the audience to decide for themselves, including whether or not Emily is actually possessed. Tom Wilkinson and Laura Linney are excellent as always, but Jennifer Carpenter steals the show as the title character. Another fun fact, when she's (possibly) possessed, there's no makeup. That's all the actress, and scenes like that alone make it worth a look.

07. 28 Weeks Later (2007). Following up the best horror movie of the decade in the same decade is not an easy task. But this sequel does the smart thing by putting enough distance between it and its predecessor that it can move the story into fresh territory. There's a new group of survivors, and the film itself is all about rebuilding. Both rebuilding a family and rebuilding London as a whole. It's about putting rules back in place and trying to regain control and what to do when that all falls apart. There are incredibly tense moments, especially for Jeremy Renner's sniper, and it's no wonder he's gone on to become as big as he has. Also, the opening scene is the best opening scene of any movie in any genre this decade.

06. Bubba Ho-Tep (2004). What can I even say? This movie is already a goddamn cult-classic, thanks in no small part to star Bruce Campbell and director Don Coscarelli, who both know a thing or two about cult classics. Anyway, the plot. Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell under a significant amount of old age makeup) faked his death and became an Elvis impersonator and is now in a retirement home debating whether or not he has cancer on his penis and trying to convince the nurses that he's actually Elvis. His only friend is an old black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy. After many unexpected deaths at the retirement home (exactly) they realize a cowboy-mummy is responsible, that it has been sucking souls right out of the asses of the elderly and there is nothing you can say to that plot. Yet somehow, at times the film can be downright emotional. How are you not watching this yet?

05. Shaun of the Dead (2004). But even topping that, we land at the horror-comedy of the decade. Who hasn't seen this film by now, seriously? And if you have, you know exactly why it works. This is a romantic comedy with zombies. It stands out for its genuine, sincere heart even though dead people are eating the living people. Simon Pegg was boosted to stardom after this and hopefully Nick Frost is on his way there too.

04. Grace (2009). Grace is about a woman who, after her baby dies while in the womb, refuses to believe it is gone and decides to carry the corpse to term. What surprises everyone but her is that the the dead baby is alive when it is delivered. And the more blood she feeds to it, the more alive and happy the infant seems to be. Grace is a damned chilling tale of the bond between mother and child.

03. Grindhouse (2007). Technically, this is two movies, and if you go buy or rent them now, you will see them as Planet Terror and Death Proof, which they are. But damn it, that's the point. And not the point at the same time. These films, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino respectively, were released in theaters as Grindhouse, promising a return to 70's exploitation cinema because that's all either of them directs anyway. But it was also a return to double-features, and while one of the best cinema-going experiences you could ever have, it only proved through its box-office that modern audiences just don't have the attention span to sit through two fantastic movies and doubly fantastic fake trailers. Even though one of those fake trailers did become a movie.

02. The Strangers (2008). Yeah, this is pretty much the scariest home invasion movie ever made. There's almost no blood and just about nobody dies and the film is still terrifying. In a very un-cliche turn, things are very tense between the two leads before anything scary starts to happen. And when the scary comes, it comes. The Strangers themselves are unrelenting in their torment and deliver the scariest, simplest motivation a movie maniac could ever have. When they are confronted as to why they are making this attack, one of the strangers answers simply, "because you were home."

01. Session 9 (2001). One of the most haunting and fantastic psychological thrillers of all time. An asbestos crew is brought in to clear out an abandoned mental hospital and make the ridiculous suggestion that they can do it in one week, so now they have to bust their asses. They all seem like friends, but as they succumb to the haunting place, it's clear that each of them has their personal demons. Meanwhile, one of the crew has stumbled onto some old recordings of a female patient from decades ago, her multiple personalities and what exactly she did to get here. And who exactly is Simon? While the group breaks apart, he goes through the sessions day-by-day until he reaches session 9. The film takes the cake because it's haunting, it's terrifying, it can be disturbing, but overall, it's completely brilliant.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Fright Night (1985)


Starring: William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell.

It's long overdue, especially with my not-so-softspoken love of this movie. So with the remake having just hit theaters, here's my review of the original Fright Night. This 1985 vampire-next-door tale was directed by Tom Holland, who had previously written Psycho II and would go on to direct Child's Play in 1988 (again with Chris Sarandon).

The story follows Charley Brewster, an honest and refreshing depiction of a geek in the 1980's. He loves horror movies, yes, but not as much as his best friend, Evil Ed (played perfectly over-the-top by Stephen Geoffreys). Charley also has a girlfriend, Amy, with whom he's been desperately trying to find "the right moment." Charley is also obsessed with the TV horror-host show "Fright Night" and its star, Peter Vincent. And Charley thinks he may have found that right moment with Amy... until he looks out the window and sees two men carrying a coffin into the house next door.

Thus begins a series of events leading to Charley's discovery that the man who has just moved in next door to him, Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire. And when his mom, his girlfriend, and his best friend don't believe him, Charley's last-ditch effort is to turn to help with Fright Night's host, Peter Vincent himself.

Now, at this point in the 80's the vampire genre was dead. The Lost Boys and Near Dark, the decade's other two big hits, would follow two years later. Fright Night was the first movie to usher vampires into the modern age. Using Peter Vincent to bring an element of old school (in particular, the Hammer era of the '50's and '60's) charm, the film both satirized and paid respect to the classics of yesteryear in a way that would not be so perfectly done again until 1996's Scream. The characterization in this film is top-notch and not one character is left one-dimensional or without something to do. Charley and Peter in particular stand out as two very well-rounded heroic leads. One being a seventeen year-old forced to do the right thing when no one else will, the other so perfectly characterized because he is not a hero, he just plays one in the movies. Charley's heroic journey and Peter's battle of faith and courage alone make this stand out amongst other horror comedies of the era.

The thing to carry this home, acting wise, has to be the vampires, though. Chris Sarandon is perfectly charming and monstrous as next-door-neighbor Jerry. So charming that no one in their right mind would believe he was a vampire, unless they had seen the things Charley had seen. Still, Jerry is far from a two-dimensional monster. He claims to Charley that he does not want to kill, he simply has no choice. And his pursuit of Amy seems to be some hopeful search to reclaim something of a long-lost sense of love, and less to get back at Charley, until the last act or so.

The technical aspects of the film also stand out. The make-up effects are astounding and really create a whole new idea of how terrifying the vampire can be. These are not counts with slightly-overgrown canines, but creatures that can look as monstrous as they choose. They do all the classics, mist, wolves, bats... but in a very modern (for 1985, at least) way. And that's perfect, because that's what the film is about at the core, it's a horror with comedy elements about modernizing classic themes. The score, too, really provides both a haunting and sensual atmosphere. Combined with everything above, the film is a solid 9/10, a masterpiece of vampire cinema, and the first of Captain Cadaver's Essentials. If you haven't seen it, or have seen the remake, or plan to see the remake, or just want to see a good vampire film or coming-of-age story in general, do yourself a favor and check this one out. Because, remember, if you love being scared, it'll be the night of your life.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Stake Land


Starring: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis and Danielle Harris.

The vampire genre is all over the place in terms of quality and very in-your-face these days, but one movie like this almost makes all of the Twilight nonsense worth it. Well, not really. But this film, just having hit DVD a few weeks back after a festival run in 2010, is spectacular.

Stake Land is set in a post-apocalyptic America overrun by vampires. It's a quiet, somber tale about people trying to get by, Hell, just trying to find a reason to want to. Despite the title and premise, while the film does kick ass, it is a very human, very emotional piece. The film follows a young man named Martin (possible reference to George Romero's incredible vampire tale) who is traveling north with a vampire-hunter known only as Mister. They're headed for New Eden, supposedly vampire free, which may or may not even exist.

As they move on their journey, they come across a nun being attacked by what seem to be two inbred hicks, but are in actuality two members of a crazed religious group called The Brotherhood. They don't kill vampires, they worship them, but they have little problem with killing people. As the film goes on, they also pick up a pregnant girl (instantly recognizable to horror fans as Danielle Harris) and a former soldier and integrate them into this found family. The family aspect too is a very powerful dynamic of the film. Mister is a father figure to Martin, but almost seems to neglect the role until dire situations in which he absolutely has to. Harris's character and Martin also have a strong, almost brother/sister bond.

The film plays a little like The Road meets I am Legend (the book) with just a taste of Zombieland. It is a far more serious, poignant film and the chosen style, especially with the western setting, certainly works. There also seems to be a coming-of-age story here. Martin is forced to become a man quicker than a boy his age usually would, because the world has gone by, and everyone needs to be capable of taking care of each other. Mister is, at his core, a compassionate mentor, though to keep the boy alive, he rarely shows it. He himself seems to be battling with what exactly his role is supposed to be.

While there's plenty of antagonists lurking the night in this flick, there's one core beast in the leader of The Brotherhood, who seeks vengeance on Mister for killing his son (one of the men trying to rape the nun when they found her). Like the best post-apocalyptic horror, this is a study of both how kindhearted and how horrifying people can become when the world goes to Hell.

All in all, this is an incredibly worthy addition to the vampire genre. Along with Let Me In, it is the best American vampire film in many years. Don't let the monster's over-saturation fool you, this is a very innovative, compelling take on the genre and a film that absolutely begs to be checked out.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: John Carpenter's The Ward


Starring: Amber Heard, Jared Harris, Lyndsey Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker and Mamie Gummer

As every horror fan knows, this film marks the directorial return of Carpenter after a ten year hiatus following 2001's less-than-spectacular Ghosts of Mars. In that time he did a couple episodes of Showtime's Masters of Horror that helped to get old Beer 'n Cigs back in a directing mood.

The film follows a young woman named Kristen (Amber Heard) who is committed to an institution after burning down a house. The trouble is, she can't remember anything before that. We are then introduced to the other girls of the ward. Emily (Mamie Gummer) is one of the most evidently troubled, next to Zoey (Laura-Leigh) who always carries a stuffed rabbit and is trapped in a child-like state. Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca) is the most immediately warm and welcoming to Kristen, and Sarah (Danielle Panabaker) is your stereotypical coldhearted bitch who sees herself as above the other girls, in particular the newcomer. An interesting role for Panabaker, as it's the polar opposite of her character in the Friday the 13th reboot. Each girl is, in their own way, a playoff of a stereotype, but in a way that is revealed to be fairly clever.

When we meet Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) the film kicks into high gear. Kristen sees brief glimpses of a monstrous looking girl, some of the girls begin disappearing while the staff refuses to say where they've gone, and Kristen keeps hearing the name "Alice Hudson" tossed around, but no one will tell her who the girl is. Or was.

I won't give away any plot details, but the film is a well-paced ghost story with characters that are certainly strong enough to carry it, and results in one of the few twists of recent years that actually makes sense. As for the direction, Carpenter is a master behind the camera and his presence is clearly felt. This IS John Carpenter's The Ward. There are long, wide, brooding shots that just ooze with his trademark style.

If there's anything that could throw this movie off, it's definitely the score, which was lacking. Carpenter has scored nearly all of his movies, though some of his best, like The Thing, had scores by others. He used to be very particular with music, but with The Ward it seemed he settled for a generic, modern horror movie score. We're treated to one of the best opening credits sequences of his career, but after that, I could have sworn there were pieces borrowed from the Friday the 13th reboot.

Score aside, this is a strong return for one of the genre's top masters. At times, it feels like it's not sure what type of movie it wants to be, but it moves along and certainly keeps the viewer engaged, and as noted above, much is explained at the end in a satisfactory way. It's not at the level of Halloween or The Thing, but I don't think anyone, including Carpenter, expected it to be. So now that after a long purgatory, the film has finally hit DVD and Blu-ray, I suggest you check it out.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance trailer has arrived

Let's settle on not being sure what to make of this, shall we, folks? On the one hand, it ignores the previous film completely. On the other hand, it still stars Nicholas Cage, so that move actually doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Let's just see how it works out.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hellraiser: Revelations trailer has hit

Here's a look at the first trailer for the latest Hellraiser sequel, Hellraiser: Revelations, hitting DVD October 18th from Dimension Extreme. It stars Steven Brand, Jay Gillespie and Stephan Smith-Collins replacing Doug Bradley for the very first time as Pinhead. Looks interesting if VERY small budget, so let's remain optimistic for now.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hidden Gem: Fright Night Part II

I've discussed Fright Night before. At least, I've discussed the character of Evil Ed before. But Fright Night is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. It's smart, it's sleek, it brought the vampire genre back in a way that it really should get credit for. Every actor in it does a damn fine job and writer/director Tom Holland is at his best, even topping his work on Child's Play. Fright Night is my favorite vampire movie, and the ultimate self-referencial mix of humor and horror before Scream came along.

We're here to discuss its sequel. Thing is, a lot of horror fans know Fright Night is a gem, including the people just now meeting it for the first time, or who will rediscover it when the remake hits this August. It's got a crappy DVD out, but it's not very hidden. The sequel, however, has been out of print for years, but even when the DVD (even more crappy) was available, it wasn't the most well known or well respected of films. And I guess that's understandable. If Fright Night is Scream, this is surely not Scream 2.

Why, then, do I dare to call Fright Night II a hidden gem? Because I love the original so much, and once I got over Evil Ed not being in the movie, I really started to see what this sequel has going for it. We do have original characters returning. Both boy next door Charley Brewster and washed-up horror host Peter Vincent return from the original and their exchanges are priceless. There's more humor in this one, but for the most part (vampire bowling is the other part) it works. I dare even say Roddy McDowell's performance as Peter tops his great performance in the original. The effects are good too, though they certainly don't come close to topping the first.

There are references to the original film that are nice, and with the accompanying Brad Fiedel score, the sequel is simply a must for every fan of the first. The plot is an interesting twist too, in that while the first film was mostly circumstance, in Fright Night II the vampire (Regine Dandridge) is out to destroy our main characters, making her at least close to as scary as Jerry Dandridge was in the original. The back-and-forth between who believes and who doesn't is also hilarious. Yes, this was supposed to be Evil Ed's time to shine, but it does alright without him.

Now, this is not a review, I'll add. It's a hidden gem feature. That means this movie is out there, but you're not allowed to have it. Maybe it's on youtube. But maybe you're so intrigued now that we can wait together and hope that the new remake means a decent (or any) DVD release of this movie.

Because I, for one, can't wait to be sat down and welcomed to Fright Night again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The 25 Greatest Horror Movies of 2000-2009 (Part 2)

Continuing on. Obviously, read the first part first.

13. Trick 'R Treat (2009)

This film is really, really great. And fun. And the best movie about Halloween since, well, Halloween. A pretty major cast, all of whom does a good job, great script from the writer of X-Men 2, and great direction. Also, it brings anthology horror movies back in a big way and does things with time like I've never seen before. On top of that, little Sam is just too damn adorable. And frightening.

12. Dread (2009)

Another movie based on a Clive Barker short story. Much more small-scale than Midnight Meat Train, which really suits the movie. It's not just gritty... this film is very intimate. It's personal. And that's exactly what the story is about, exposing people's deepest dread. In a movie like this, the characters have to be very complex to see them broken, as they do get. And they are. All the major points of Barker's story are there, and this is just as unnerving.

11. The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Okay. Pretty much everyone is in love with Guillermo del Toro now and every movie he even thinks of making. But listen, honey. He was mine first. I saw this ghost story (which, like Pan's Labyrinth, is set during the Spanish Civil War) before his Hellboy was even a thing. It remains one of the flat-out scariest movies I have ever seen. And it manages to scare equally on both the supernatural and realistic level, which I've rarely seen done.

10. Hard Candy (2007).

Like Dread, this is a very intimate film... only, intimate in the sense that the entire movie is basically a dialogue between two characters. A very traumatized girl and the (possible) sex-offender who invited her over to his house, without so much as an Ackbar to shout "It's a trap!" to either of them. And even though we know throughout the movie that this girl is in the right, she terrifies us. That's only a small part of what makes the movie incredible.

09. Martyrs (2009). And the award for "most disturbing film of the decade" goes to... but seriously. It's all kinds of fucked up. The film deals with people who want to study the afterlife by examing (and by examining I mean orchestrating) the deaths of young teenage girls to try and record what they see as they die. In addition, the one girl that got away brutally murders an entire family at their breakfast table because one of them probably had something to do with what happened to her. Even though she's right... holy shit.

08. The Descent (2006).

Remember Dog Soldiers, and it's director, Neil Marshall? Remember how I said he got even better? This is that better. In this one, he works with an all-female cast (directly opposed to the all-male cast of Dog Soldiers) and focuses on a woman coming back from the brink of losing her husband and child on a cave-diving trip with her friends. There are things in that cave. Things that eat. From there, the title comes through on multiple levels. The American theatrical release bastardized the hopeless ending, and that bastardization sadly led to an even more monumentous bastardization of a sequel.

07. May (2002)

Talk about an original film. May is the debut of the terrific Lucky McKee (as far as I know, totally his real name) and Angela Bettis, who has already gone on to become a genre star. May is a girl who is a little weird, and all she wants is a friend. As her mother always said, if you can't find a friend, make one. So she does, taking all the best parts from the best people she knows. Grotesque and funny where it shouldn't be.

06. The Devil's Rejects (2005).

Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses really set the standard for movies in this decade, and almost made the list... but the sequel is just so much fucking better. In the first one, the sick and twisted Firefly family torture and kill a group of students making a documentary on roadside attractions. It's a very Texas Chainsaw style movie, and that's the intent. In the sequel, all of a sudden the monsters become the protagonists. They're on the run for their crimes and we're all, "oh no! Run, Captain Spaulding!" even though they all totally, totally deserve to die.

05. Let the Right One In (2008).

This Swedish film is a really beautiful study of a boy who wants to kill the bullies that are mean to him, and the little girl who tells him it's okay, and she can show him how. She (?) is a vampire, and he may not know it, being eleven, but he is a killer. Together, they're still really cute. Very quiet, almost peaceful-feeling movie, even though it's terribly violent and unnerving. There's still something beautiful about it. I still have yet to see the American remake, but I hear good things.

04. High Tension (2004).

And the French strike again, this time leaving a nice, scarring impact. Two friends are on a trip, staying at one's house. A maniac comes, kills the whole family in minutes, and kidnaps one of the girls. All of a sudden, it's all on the other girl to track him down. The film is great retro-exploitation all the way to the shocking ending, where it's revealed what the film is really about, which makes it that much better.

03. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2007).

I've put up a full review of this on the blog before. So I'll just say that this tongue-in-cheek movie is an incredible breakdown of the slasher film. It does everything Scream attempted, and does it even better. It's funny and really unsettling, in all the right places. The script, acting, documentary-style and direction are all spot on in a pretty much near perfect film.

02. Funny Games (2007).

Funny Games takes this spot for being where many of the other films on this list were, and taking the extra step. Going just a little further. Not in terms of violence, per se, but in terms of horror. The entire film is a descent. It goes further and further into darkness for this family, terrorized by two yuppy teenagers who look like a couple of pricks, but otherwise completely harmless. It literally gets worse for the family with each passing second, and while it FEELS like it's very hard to watch... well, you're still not looking away.

01. 28 Days Later (2002).

Think about how many times you've heard about zombies this week. Alright. Think about how many times you've heard about zombies today. You may not think that's a big deal, but if you were in the '90's, you may remember that zombies weren't. They took to comedy in the late 80's and totally fizzled out... until this British horror from director Danny Boyle changed everything. Now, the people in this film are infected by rage and are not true zombies, but it's the same genre, and this movie singlehandedly revived that genre in a big way. It harkens back to the best days of Romero in that this movie is not just about the infected cannibals, or even survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It is, in particular, about the survival of the human spirit. About keeping your humanity when everyone around you has lost theirs. It succeeds admirably as the best horror movie of the decade.

Honorable mentions: 28 Weeks Later, House of 1,000 Corpses, Jenifer, Bubba-HoTep, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland. And a lot of others. It was a damn good decade, and I can only hope this decade will hold a candle.

The 25 Greatest Horror Movies of 2000-2009 (Part 1)

Well, it's been awhile off, but here I am again with one of the hardest lists I've ever had to come up with for this thing. There's a bit of backstory here too. This list was spawned when I overheard people talking about how they hoped horror movies would be better in this next decade, because this previous one was terrible and we got nothing but remakes. There was no originality anymore, they said. I'm sure you've heard it all before. So here I am to prove them (and frankly the majority of the internet) wrong. I believe this previous decade was horror's best since the 1970's and I'm here to tell you why. I wanna show you that not only were there some damn original horror flicks, but some amongst them were some of the most original of all time. So here we go.

25. Hatchet (2006)

This movie certainly had its flaws, but it was fun. And that was really all it tried to be. It advertised as a fun, throwback slasher romp (including an impressive cast of genre stars like Robert Englund, Kane Hodder and Tony Todd) to bring a little of that old-fashioned 80's slasher feel back to screens. And it did exactly that. Good humor, grotesque and gratuitous violence, and Victor Crowley is nice contender for a new horror icon. Can't wait to check out Hatchet II (starring Danielle Harris) when it finally hits DVD/Blu-Ray.

24. Saw (2004)

Okay, you all knew this had to be on here somewhere. In fact, I'm guessing a lot of people thought it would even be in the top spot. If this was a list of the most successful horror movies of the decade, it would no doubt take the cake. But most of the movies on this list are very small, independent pictures that flew under the radar, and this movie serves as a good explanation as to why. None of the other movies got the exposure Saw did to spawn six sequels. I'm sure they would have if they were put in the same situation. But very few of those movies needed a sequel, and that includes this one. It just suffered from overexposure. Nonetheless, this is a great psychological horror if left to its own merit.

23. Dog Soldiers (2002)

A Scottish movie about troops on a routine training exercise who run into a pack of werewolves. The plot is simple, but the film is superbly done, especially for a debut and a film as small as this one. Neil Marshall has gone on to prove himself again and again as a director (as you'll see later on in this list) and this exciting, fast-paced, and brutal film remains one of the best werewolf movies in a very long time.

22. The House of the Devil (2009)

The decade seemed filled with movies trying to recapture the feel of older horror films, mostly following on the heels of Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses. But whereas those films tried... this one succeeded. Completely. Shot on '80's cameras, scored with '80's synthesizers. Even reused a couple of 80's actors. The tone and the script nailed an early 80's thriller, and the special edition DVD case was even designed to look like an old VHS box. If you flipped by this movie on the TV you would have no idea it wasn't made in 1985. It's the first time I've felt nostalgia watching something completley new. All that, and it's pretty spooky to boot.

21. The Mist (2007)

Frank Darabont scored big with his two previous Stephen King adaptions (Shawshank Redemption and the Green Mile) but The Mist was his first attempt at adapting some of King's actual horror and by God he pulled it off. This is a very tense, very scary film made all the more scary by the shockingly realistic characters. Overall, the film about a group of people locked in a store fighting off legions of unkown beings is very faithful to King's novella, save for the dismal ending, which even the King himself admitted was better.

20. Ginger Snaps (2000)

Another werewolf movie, and it couldn't be more different than Dog Soldiers. Ginger and Bridgitte are two young sisters, teenagers who are fascinated with death and want nothing to do with any of the other kids. Blossoming isn't even in their vocabulary. So enter the werewolf, which in this film is a thinly-veiled yet brilliant metaphor for a girl's, er, coming of age. The tagline even reads "They don't call it the curse for nothing..." Both of the girls do a remarkable job of acting, Katharine Isabelle as the transforming Ginger, and Emily Perkins as the quiet Bridgitte. Followed by a good sequel and... odd prequel.

19. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

In stark contrast to Saw, this movie--based on a short story by Clive Barker--was criminally underexposed. It was pulled days before its theatrical release because the name sounded like a porn. Instead of changing or telling people to grow the fuck up, the movie was pulled from release altogether and slapped onto DVD. Which is really too bad, because this is a brooding, psychological, very brutal and well-acted film that absolutely deserved to be seen.

18. The Girl Next Door (2007)

Based on the equally heartbreaking novel by Jack Ketchum, The Girl Next Door is a fictionalized account of one of the worst crimes in American history. One one level, it is the account of a girl who was so brutalized and tortured by her aunt (who in turn, let all the neighborhood kids torture her as well) that she eventually died. On another level, it is a study of '50's culture, how people could turn a blind eye to anything, and how children will literally do anything with an adult's permission. Deeply unsettling. Another film made at the same time, An American Crime, is based more on what actually happened, but does not go as far in showing the horror.

17. Wolf Creek (2005)

Australia is a really scary place. It's not just enough that every animal is designed to kill you, but, well... then there's Mick. While it starts off feeling like an Australian version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this quickly turns into a very unconventional film with a really scary bad guy, played brilliantly by John Jarrat. I liked the film from the beginning, but it won me over when Jarrat repeated the infamous line "you call that a knife? THIS is a knife" with a terrible new meaning.

16. Teeth (2008)

Remember how I said some of these movies were among the most original ever? Well, here she is, folks. This tongue-in-cheek feminist study of a horror film depicts a girl who--as she burgeons into womanhood, discovers she has teeth in her vagina. During her first sexual encounter, it saves her from rape. And then again. And again. With every other man she meets, who also tries to rape her, until the wonderfully vomit-inducing...uh... climax of the movie where she uses it as a tool. Or possibly a superpower.

15. Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

And again with the originality. And brilliance. And song and dance and blood and guts. Really, Repo is the story of the distance between a father and daughter, the family dynamic, and how secrets can destroy each other's lives. More than that, it's about how far people will go to be considered beautiful, inside and outside. Also, this girl's father repossesses people's designer internal organs. So that destroys lives too. Oh, and it's a gothic rock opera. And Paris Hilton's face falls off.

14. Paranormal Activity (2009)

This film is on the list for a couple of reasons. It's effectively, pants-shittingly scary, for one. Two, it does everything that The Blair Witch Project set out to do (and completely failed at doing) and does it right. But the winning thing about this movie is that it was made for literally nothing. Most syfy channel original movies have three times the budget of this movie. But it took what it had and used it like I have just never seen before. I don't know what the hell the ending means in either version of this, but I did scream like a little girl.