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.