Sunday, February 28, 2010

The most important Horror films of the past decade

The other night, a young friend of mine asked me to recommend some good recent movies to watch… something scary, of course. I immediately started to think of some of the movies in my own collection, but quickly realized that I didn’t really understand what she probably meant by “recent”; within the past year, past five, or past ten? Domestic, or are we including foreign? It was then that I realized this last decade came to a close and it was one HECK of a decade for horror. On all fronts, the entire genre got a huge boost in the arm with some massively successful franchise films and inspired film making. The internet played a big part in spreading the “word of mouth” success for many films that used to only trade hands at conventions and cult screenings.

Now, the truth of the matter is that while I do maintain a certain degree of arrogance in my knowledge of the horror genre, I also maintain a reasonable sense of reality and my tastes are not really the same as everyone else. If I were to create a “top ten” list, I’d doubtless run into one person or another throwing out a few gems that should have hit my list but didn’t… and while I have substantial bits of information at my fingertips, I’m too lazy to spend a lot of time on research. So what you’re going to get from me are a list of the movies that most stick out to me over the past decade… the ones that really made me sit up and pay attention. They’re not even my favorite movies by a long shot. But I do think they’re the most important films in the past decade or so.

5: The Ring:

I saw the Japanese version before the American was adapted for a Western audience. It was a long, slow, tedious build to one of the best and most frightening visuals in recent years as a long haired, soaking wet, young girl would crawl out of the television set to kill her victims and set their bodies in a rictus state of terrified fear. It was the western introduction to J-Horror by way of roughly a dozen remakes from the Land of the Rising Sun, each movie featuring it’s very own “Hair Ghost” and technological means of haunting. And as audiences grew bored with the same visual effects, plotlines, and imagery being recycled over and over again they sought inspiration from other foreign sources. We discovered the burgeoning French Horror market and re-emergence of Spanish Horror. With the help of new technological advancements, the foreign film market was becoming much more available to meet alternative demands of the Western market.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake

It’s not a film I hold a lot of affection for, but I can’t deny the impact this film had on the genre over the past decade. Its success suddenly paved the road for other remakes, and additional sequels to these films that would wind up taking their respective franchise stories in different directions. In addition to the remakes, we also had the “Retro” trend… current movies based on a retro formula from another era. Rob Zombie cashed in with House of 1000 Corpses and his “Devils Rejects” follow-up, while both Tarantino and Rodriguez teamed up to bring us “Grindhouse”. The whole “Retro” trend also inspired several DVD distributors to pick up cheap prints of public domain films, bundle them up in packages for a quick buck or, in some cases, purchase distribution rights to cult classics and give them a whole digital re-master with tons of special features.

3. Cabin Fever

Eli Roth also hit the scene with this little “cabin in the woods” feature, a movie that touched on current events and fears by developing a horrible flesh eating virus as the films main antagonist. The violent reactions to the virus from the films cast of characters were a horrible mirror to the panic and paranoia inspired by SARS, anthrax, and various other chemical weapons fears in the wake of 9/11. Roth’s films would continue to explore the fears and paranoia’s in a charged political climate over the next several years. His success also spawned a lot of first-time directors to get funding for their own little projects. Adam Green, Neil Marshall, and various other genre favorites were able to make the movies they always wanted to. Hatchet never saw much in the way of theatrical support, but Anchor Bay continues to hold this film up as its biggest money maker in DVD sales. These huge successes proved the viability for completely original films, with DVD genre films cutting out a huge chunk of the genre market in the past ten years.

2. Zombie Mania!!! Too many films to list!

Zombie films made a huge comeback this decade. First we had the Resident Evil franchise, 28 Days Later, a few Romero remakes and two returns, and sequels to the most successful franchises. Shaun of the Dead started the whole “zomedy” trend that spawned Zombie Strippers, Zombieland, and on and on. The huge market success of zombies even made it as far as video games, books, comics, fashion, and various media outlets. Zombies were cool and accepted, up to the point of a virulent spread of Zombie Walks throughout the world. Although they were all inspired by “Night of the Living Dead”, the truth is that zombie films only found a recent re-emergence after the success of a number of different films. We can’t really pin the success for the whole sub-genre on any one particular film in this case so you might as well take your own pick on this one. I’ll say it’s a toss up between “28 Days Later” and “Shaun of the Dead”.


The most important horror film in the past decade has already seen six sequels with a seventh on the way. It’s unabashed treatment of bloody effects, morality, and a reworking of the Slasher premise paved the way for other film makers to push the envelope on violence and horror. Jigsaw became an iconic character for a new generation of horror fans everywhere. It gave birth to the controversial sub-genre definition that seemed to carry through the entire decade, with one “torture” film after another and another.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bloody Reunion, Opera, and Lo: 3 DVD reviews because I'm not going to bother with Shutter Island. CRAP!!!

I’m skipping this weekend’s Theatrical horror entry entirely and I have no interest in watching “Shutter Island” now or when it’s released on DVD. Shutter Island looks like the overly produced and fairly typical Hollywood “twist ending” thriller that have been flooding the market over the past several years. I’m broke, people… I can’t see every little faux horror feature that sees a theatrical run and I’m not exactly rolling with invitations to screen films with a press pass.

This is a blog, not a real publication type of magazine. You folks want due diligence to the art of film reviews than I suggest you check out some trade magazines, newspapers, and other sources. I’m just a dinky little fan who wants to yap about the movies he’s seen recently, and the movies he wants to see eventually. So it’s DVD time from Netflix, and I’m unlucky enough to not get the brand new releases I was hoping for. No “Cabin Fever” sequel yet, Miike’s latest Yakuza adaptation, or that other movie I was waiting for. Hey, I forgot the name, and I don’t feel like looking at my list at the moment. Sue me! So let’s see what I did get?

Bloody Reunion:

Japan doesn’t precisely corner the market on the Asian Horror scene. Korea is quickly jumping to catch up in leaps and bounds with their own films, including the Vengeance trilogy and “A Tale of Two Sisters”, among others. So when I noticed a little slasher entry on my “suggestions” list from Netflix, I decided to throw this little gem up to the top of my list for a quick review. The premise looked promising enough, with a group of children from the same class reuniting after some twenty years at the home of their sick teacher. They are systematically stalked and slaughtered in slasher-gore fashion with a special nod toward the “torture” films so popular over the past ten years. Good enough for me! Let’s roll the film and see what develops…

And in the opening moments, we see the teacher give birth to a deformed child, get abused by her husband, watch the same husband kill himself in front of their child, and various other flashes of her teaching these kids who are bound to meet some twenty years after the death of her husband. It takes less than five minutes to update us on all of this before the police barge in, turn on the lights, and reveal a horrible scene of blood and horror as her adult students have been killed. There are two survivors… the sickly teacher and one of the students, a young woman who then tells the lead detective the whole story that then proceeds to unfold for the next hour and then some. I have whiplash before the story really gets underway, but I’m sure all these flashes and quickly delivered bits of information will become relevant at some later point in the story so I keep watching. And we get gore… we get a lot of gore. We get one victim forced to swallow razor blades washed down with hot, scalding water. Another has their eyelids stapled open. And on and on it goes, with crucifixions and brutal beatings and on and on and on. And throughout the story, we get flashbacks to the class some twenty years earlier where Mrs. PARKS isn’t quite the wonderful teacher we originally are led to believe in. But who is the killer; the deformed son, the shy student once humiliated before his peers, Mrs. PARKS herself, or one of the other maladjusted children who have grown to resent and hate the teacher and the rest of the class? (Why is her name in all caps? Because that’s how the sub-titles kept reading throughout the entire film and I couldn’t tell if it was a language thing or just someone in the sub-title department having fun at my expense. Are we supposed to shout her name when we talk about the film? Is it really the way it’s spelled in Korean? What’s up with that? Why does no one else have their whole name in caps? Look, I don’t know the answer people; I’m just telling you why I’m capping her name for this review.)

The story is decent; if not something I’ve seen a few too many times to really deliver the shock it probably intends. Though subtitled, the film is sometimes a little hard to follow and leaves a few too many dangling threads with no real answers. The movie suffers from a host of too many squandered opportunities, including the introduction of iconic imagery with a “Bunny-Mask” killer. It is fairly generic, but I doubt it was ever attempting to reinvent the wheel. Despite its flaws, however, Bloody Reunion was a fun watch for me and one I would definitely recommend to a good number of my horror friends.

4 out of 5.


This is a film that is just full of surprises. Nearly the entire movie takes place in the confines of a small circle of candles set on the floor of a dark room. A young man summons the demon Lo in order to save his girlfriend from the nether pits. If the man breaks the circle with any part of his body, the demon and other foul monstrosities will have him and will devour him in eternal torment for all eternity. So the stakes are set and the audience is on the edge of their seat as both demon and man collide in a test of wills, their story unfolding in bizarrely acted flashbacks taking place on a small stage lit with spotlight. The boy and the girl meet, they fall in love, and a demon appears to drag the woman to hell as the young man is left to recover from his wounds.

What makes the film work are it’s limitations, capturing the story in the confines of a summoning circle allows the film makers to make the best out of a minimum budget and every dollar is shown on the screen. The simple make-up is helped along by good lighting effects, casting things in shadows that the camera tends to play with in order to express different moods. Sometimes played for laughs, the story is pure horror at it’s core and plays off themes developed in the classic tale of Faust.

Major credit for this film should fall square on the shoulders of its lead actor, a role that requires him to be sympathetic and somewhat awkward as he pits his will against that of an ageless demon. Certainly, it takes more than one to tango, but all other performances are heightened by this guys performance as he sells the gravity of the situation and could have come dangerously close to over reaching. He rips your heart in one moment while the next sees him playing various reactions for laughs, and he absolutely captures the camera throughout each scene.

4 out of 5.

Dario Argento’s “Opera”

I actually did some research on this film! Okay, I pretty much looked it up on Wikipedia and a couple of random fan sites, but the end result is still the same. I wanted to find out some additional information, and so I have a little bit of background to go on. Why would I go through this much trouble? Well, keep on reading and you’ll eventually find out.

This film is considered one of the last true Argento “Masterpieces” and was also a very troubled production for cast and crew on the set. Vanessa Redgrave was originally cast as the diva but dropped out of the movie due to scheduling conflicts, so her role was shot completely from her POV. One of the cast members died during filming, and many of the crows used for filming were lost or escaped during production. Finally, several distributors demanded various cuts to the finished film, and they withdrew any real theatrical support and chose to release the film directly to video at the time of it’s release. Argento himself believed that the production was likely haunted by the curse of MacBeth, a plot device used throughout the story.

When the lead actress for the latest production of Lady MacBeth is injured, her young study is propelled to stardom when she takes the part. The Opera is believed to be haunted by the curse of MacBeth and its new lead is stalked by a vicious killer who binds our antagonist and forces her lids open with needles taped to her lids. The film features some brilliant set pieces, great cinematography, and brutal killings. But all of that suddenly takes a quick and rapid turn toward the end of the film as every dangling plot thread is frayed, cut, and ultimately left to dangle in the middle a huge mess of nothingness! Seriously… this film is a prime example that you can build a great first, second, and even third act but then completely fall apart with an ending that very cleverly exposes the killer and leaves you wondering about every other bizarre character introduced and ultimately left to flounder throughout the story! What’s worse is that, even after the ending of the film and story, we’re left with another ten minutes or so of additional material that doesn’t actually go anywhere nor do anything. It’s just this big huge mess that wastes time and leaves you wondering why the director fought so hard to leave it in one piece.

Honestly, I was finished with the film but I wanted to know if I had seen some sort of cut up print with missing material lopped off so I logged on to the internet to find out. And the answer is that I saw the finished product, the one that Argento fought the distributors in order to have his vision released, and I couldn’t figure out why he would even want to. If there had been some additional revelation or transformation, I could have easily understood his desire to see the project through to the bitter end… but there was nothing! NOTHING!!! Everything that needed to be said or shown had already been explicitly detailed throughout the course of the film, and we were still left with dangling plot threads that never made a single move to make sense. I’ve seen better Argento films that came out much later than this one, and I’m not going to deny the greatness that this film could have been but it wasn’t even close to Suspiria and I thought The Card Player was much better than this thing.

2 out of 5.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Wolfman (remake) "FANTASTIC!"

I love the Universal Classic Horror films. As a young boy, I would scour the local library for these orange hardcover books that featured photographs and stories from the movies from a bygone era. I read up on the Mole People, the Wolf Man, and on and on. The Universal characters were probably where my love of horror found its beginning. So when the studio announced a remake of their classic "Wolf Man" story, I nearly leapt out of my chair with glee and started to dance. It was to star Benicio Del Toro, a fine actor in his own right, would be stepping up to play Lawrence Talbot. Joining him would be Anthony Hopkins, stepping into the shoes of Basil Rathbones Lord John Talbot. Joe Johnston would be directing the film, his previous credits include Jurassic Park 3, Jumanji, and several other noteworthy films. They had an amazing cast, a capable director, and a writing team that included the person responsible for the Sleepy Hollow script. Finally, they had Rich Baker in charge of the make-up effects. The man who created the single most incredible Werewolf transformation scene EVER shot on film, the American Werewolf in London.

News began to filter out as the production dragged on. Re-shoots, cutting, changing the music, pushing back the release date, and rumors that the film would wind up a franken-movie... some badly edited rambling piece of tripe that Universal quickly began to lose faith in. I tried to ignore the news, but found a sense of dread building as I watched one wretched failure after another hit the screen over the past few years.

On Sunday afternoon, plans were already in stone for me to check out the film that evening when I happened upon the DVD releases for several Universal Horror Classics at Costco. $6.99 got me a DVD and a free ticket to see The Wolfman, for each film that I picked up. The original classic with Lon Chaney, Dracula, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon have now joined Frankenstein in my DVD collection and I printed out my free tickets for the two friends that joined me at the theater. Now that you have the background regarding my mindset for the film... here's my review.

THE WOLFMAN: (remake)

After the disappearance of his brother, Lawrence Talbot is summoned to his ancestral home by the brothers' fiancee. Long estranged from his family after the death of his mother, Talbots return is met with suspicion from the local villagers and with dismissal from his emotionally distant father. He learns about his brothers death upon his arrival, and Lawrence immediately sets out to discover what sort of man or beast is responsible. Hopefully this won't count as a spoiler, but Talbot's investigation eventually leads him to a confrontation with a beast that results in the man becoming bitten. Cursed to become a wolf upon the rise of the full Moon, Lawrence struggles with the beast inside himself while still attempting to learn the identity of the beast who cursed him so.

Beautifully shot, the visuals harken back to the Universal Classics with deep shadows and heavy fog on a European countryside. CGI and traditional effects are both used, and there's plenty of grue to satisfy the gorehound. The Wolfman literally rips people apart, tearing through flesh and yanking out innards with a fury that seems unmatched. Body parts lie scattered about the moors, the wolfman howls to the moon, and the world is appropriately terrorized by the presence of such a beast. But Del Toro offers a restrained performance as Talbot, a man so afraid of what he could become but unwilling to leave the world unprotected from the beast that he wants only to stay alive long enough to stop the monster from striking again.

I loved nearly every moment of the film. There were a few faults, however... some scenes were a little clumsy or sequences seemed a little out of place with regards to the narrative. I thought the chase through London could have been trimmed a little bit, one moment especially seeming to have no point and even seemed so hastily thrown together that it lost any sort of emotional resonance. And, while brilliant, Hugo Weavings' "Detective Abberline" seems awfully wasted as the investigator from Scotland Yard charged with tracking down Talbot. There's more I'd love to talk about, but I don't really want to spoil the film for anyone who might be reading. It's important, though... so I'll give you some spoiler space after my rating.

4 out of 5.






You've been warned, but this is significant for talking about my experience with The Wolfman. The cyclical nature of abuse is such that victims are often terrified of becoming the thing they most despise. At the same time, there is a constant temptation to fall into these familiar patterns and to become the abuser. The victim is also made to feel that their abuse is their own fault, and they carry a guilt with them that rips and rends their heart and mind. It's a real issue that far too many people have experienced in their lives, and the Wolfman pulls no punches in using this very theme to tell its' story. Talbot has long carried a guilt over the death of his mother, his own imprisonment in a sanitarium, and his rejection by a father who sent him to live with relatives in America. Sir John is emotionally distant and, yet, codependant on the presence of both Lawrence and his other son to feel important and dominant in some way. Hopkins portrays a villain who is both pathetic and absolutely frightening... a man who has mastered the abuse and ill treatment of his children, justified it, and ultimately wanted nothing more than to pass it on to another generation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Grindhouse Experience Vol.1 (with some mention of vol.'s 2 & 3)

The Grindhouse Experience Collection Vol. 1

Cashing in on the presentation of the Tarantino/Rodriguez project, The Grind House Experience Collection is a project devoted to the DVD presentation of exploitation films that inspired the double-feature billing of Planet Terror and Death Proof a few years back. Truth be told, it’s a blatant rip-off cash-in feeding on sentimental nostalgia and fan-boy enthusiasm. That’s not a negative statement by any stretch of the imagination, because the whole of Exploitation films were devoted to the same basic principles of cashing in and pushing the envelopes on successful formulas with regards to sleaze and violence. I can respect that.

The latter 2 collections were devoted, largely, to some Spaghetti Western genre films. Vol. 2 did contain several films that weren’t actually westerns, but were related in various ways to the character of Trinity and the buddy-team of Hill and Spencer. The third volume of the collection dealt largely with the character of Sartana, played by various actors. Having already purchased Volumes 2 & 3 of TGE, I picked up the first little box set of 20 movies for the fabulously low cost of $25. Rather than focusing on one sub-genre in the world of “Exploitation”, TGE 1 offers a variety presented in a double feature showcase. Horror, Women in Prison, Kung-Fu, Spaghetti Westerns, and so on, so forth.

The movies aren’t presented in the best of possible formats. They’re low budget prints with various subtitles, dubs, and quality issues one would actually have found in the Grindhouse or Drive-In theaters. Sound comes off a little scratchy on some of the features; the screen is cut rather than reformatted to fit a television, and there are some other small quality issues with the presentation of the films collected. If you’re a “Hi-Def” perfectionist with regards to film quality, this collection will probably not be your cup of tea. With that said, the films being showcased through TGE are obscure enough that this may be the only way to catch them on DVD and the price is an affordable drop in the bucket for the hours of entertainment being made available. For some people, these films will be pure nostalgia. For other people, they could act as a window to another time and the source of inspiration for many modern film-makers of today.

The Movies:

Women's Camp 119

Tortured Angels

Savage Man/Savage Beast

Raw Force

Confessions of a Police Captain

Executioner 2 (personal selling point... loved this movie as a pre-teen. Vigilante with a flamethrower??? YES!!!)

Poseidon Explosion

Violent Professionals

Frank and Tony

Kung Fu Punch of Death

Return of the Tiger (YES!!!!)

Go Kill and Come Back

Bounty Man

Three tough Guys


The Children

Demon Witch Child

High School Hitch-hikers

Carry on Emannuelle

Friday, February 5, 2010

House of the Devil / Give 'Em Hell, Malone / GI JOE: Resolute / Murder Party = 4 Reviews


All I have heard about over the past several months is just how incredible “House of the Devil” was supposed to be. A throwback to horror films of the 1980’s, the film is both set in and filmed with the same traditional effects of that era. Ti West has been held aloft and praised as a savior to the genre by some of the most prolific horror sites and magazines. I’ve heard it before, of course… they said the same stuff about Adam Green and his film “Hatchet”, they said the same about “Grace”, they also said the same thing about “[Rec]” and the French horror market in recent years. Once upon a time, the same writers also held Eli Roth up to the same praise with “Cabin Fever”. So, in all the years of hearing the hype and buying into it, I figured there could be no way that “House of the Devil” could be a miss with the kind of praise it had gotten.

I popped the DVD in and proceeded to spend the next hour plus watching a girl poke around a nearly empty house with an eerie soundtrack playing in the background. The story is kind of simple: A young college girl in need of money takes a job as a babysitter, only to discover there’s no baby and the professional couple is actually in need of someone to care for the elderly mother of the wife. And while the monotony is occasionally broken up by some of the most brutal and horrific violence in recent years, the rest of the film is just one long meandering bit of nothing and more nothing. The girls’ pacing and wandering brings her close to discovering the horrifying truth behind her employees, but we’re usually just stuck with watching her try doors, pick up photographs, and refill her water bottle several times throughout the evening. I’m usually the first person to defend the same plot devices being used over and over again, so long as those devices are used well…. House of the Devil uses the plot devices well, but it’s really a thirty minute episode of the Twilight Zone stretched out for about another hour with some of the most patience grinding slow pans of doors, windows, and the approaching lunar eclipse that acts as a constant reminder that “something” is about to happen. It takes a long time, long past the moment where I actually stopped caring about what was going on and just wanted to see the principle character do more than just poke around the empty house.

Eventually, the film does come to a fantastic climax with all the promised gore and violence I’d come to expect with all the rave reviews this movie had. But it was too late, because the film had already long ago lost my interest and I was now just thankful to see SOMETHING actually happen.

2 out of 5

Give ‘Em Hell, Malone

Thomas Jane is “Malone”, the hard drinkin’, ham-fisted, square-jawed, both-guns-blazing, anachronistic tough guy in this throw back to violent “film-noir” detective stories set in modern times…. Sort of? The film starts in the middle of a gun fight as Malone attempts to gain possession of a mysterious case, blasting away at the criminal thugs standing in his way. And right off, we start the whole movie with a brutal bloodbath with slow motion bullets plowing through body parts and sending the red stuff splattering all over the screen. This is “film-noir’ through the exploitation lens, with Jane gritting his teeth through just about every line of dialogue as he faces off against bizarre villains and shoots his way up to the main villain for a final showdown. Ving Rhames is exceptional as the featured henchman to the less than fabulous villain, a seasoned gunman whose own demons lead him on a deadly chase to bring down Malone.

This movie was CRAYYY-ZEEEE… not just a little insane or out of the ordinary, but that extra touch of something special to make it so bizarre that you ignore every little bad or cheese moment set up through the course of this movie. I have no idea why this film didn’t see just a little play in the theater, because it was a full throttle adrenaline rush and would have been a big cult hit for a large audience of freaks like me. So goes the Hollywood industry, though. They pretty much shovel the usual crap down our gullets while sending great films like this into forced obscurity!

4.5 out of 5.

GI Joe : Resolute

This quick animated feature uses many techniques from traditional anime in order to create a story in the traditional Joe universe of my youth. Growing up in the 80’s, GI Joe was a toy and afternoon cartoon staple for a lot of kids my age. Some twenty years later, Mattel continues to develop the product line with the occasional update for a new generation. “Resolute” was developed for the traditional fan, sort of a nostalgia piece for my generation with a mature edge. The film is more violent and graphic than the traditional series, featuring the graphic deaths of several characters. The films’ plot revolves around another threat from Cobra as the Commander uses a doomsday device to threaten the world for ransom. The Joes activate and embark on several missions that send their forces to deal with the multi-layered threat from Cobra.

The animation is top notch, with an interesting blend of styles. While they use some of the Japanese anime techniques to move the action along, the look is more in line with the traditional art of the television series. I thought the voice acting was a little forced with several of the characters, but others were spot on with the moment. Resolute was a perfect love letter to my childhood, and I recommend it for all fans of the older toy line.

4 out of 5.

Murder Party:

This morbid comedy won several awards on the Festival circuit before finding its way to my own DVD player on a lazy Sunday afternoon. A middle-aged parking enforcement officer finds an invitation to a “Murder Party” on Halloween. He creates a cardboard suit of armor and heads off into the night, finding several Art Students holed up in a warehouse. Our protagonist quickly discovers that he’s the “guest of honor” for a murder and the students bind him to a chair while they await the arrival of their ring-leader.

If you’ve ever spent an evening at an Art Show, open-mic poetry night, or some other form of self-indulgent pseudo-intellectuals waxing philosophic on the nature and appreciation for their art, you have a pretty good idea of the characters involved in this story. I’ve spent too many long nights with these people, watching them bicker, backstab, snipe, and create drama at every turn. Along the lines of “Very Bad Things”, the group dynamic begins to fall apart and revelations expose their insecurities and lies. The story threatens to crawl at a snails’ pace before the blood begins to splatter and chaos breaks free.

4 out of 5? I’m actually on the border with this one… it’s really good, but the slow parts really do start to grate on the nerves. There’s an almost endless stream of pretentious dialogue, but it’s all just a set up to the big moments later on in the film. The story basically places an extremely unkind mirror up to the Artiste Community, and the viciousness of that lifestyle is exposed.