Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Top 50 Horror Movies on Netflix Steaming

October is nearly here! The leaves are starting to show their true colors, a chill is in the air, and people are thinking, Fall! Some of you are also thinking, Horror Movies! Because for some of us, October is The Month for watching an absurd amount of that scary stuff.

But the amount of horror movies out there can be a little overwhelming, especially if you've never heard of half the stuff out there. That's where I come in - your horror movie mistress. I've put together a list of my 50 favorite horror movies you can find on Netflix Streaming. So turn out the lights and watch your movies in the dark!

The Classics
Burnt Offerings (1976)
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The (1919)
Creepshow (1982)
Creepshow 2 (1987)
Dolls  (1987)
Falling, The (1987)
Fog, The (1980)
Friday the 13th: Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan  (1989)
Graveyard Shift  (1990)
Hello Marylou: Prom Night II (1987)
I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Last House on the Left, The (1972)
Omen, The (1976)
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)
Slugs (1987)
Thing, The (1982)

The Good / The Fun
Absentia (2011)
Caller, The (2011)
Catacombs (2007)
Dead Snow (2009)
Descent: Part 2, The (2009)
Dread (2009)
Exit Humanity (2011)
Gravedancers, The (2006)
Hack! (2007)
High Lane (2009)
House of the Devil, The (2009)
Human Centipede II: Full Sequence, The (2011)
Human Centipede: First Sequence, The (2009)
Mutants (2009)
Night of the Demons - Remake (2009)
Piranha - Remake (2010)
Pontypool (2008)
Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)
Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010)
Rubber (2010)
Signal, The (2006)
Tucker & Dale VS. Evil (2010)
Wake Wood (2010)
Ward, The (2011)
Woman, The (2011)
Yellowbrickroad (2010)

The So Bad It's Good
2012: Zombie Apocalypse (2011)
5ive Girls (2006)
Autopsy (2008)
Creature (2011)
Grave Encounters (2011)
Hazing, The (2004)
Primal (2009)
Zombie Town (2007)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Genre:  Creature Feature
Director:  John Gulager
Country:  USA
Availability:  Amazon On Demand; Redbox (soon)

Let me first qualify this review by saying I was a big fan of not only the original 1978 movie Piranha, but also the 2010 remake - which admittedly had very little in common with its predecessor. Apparently when you put chicks in bikinis and then have them slowly being eaten alive by fish, it's highly entertaining in my book.

So I figure, how can you go wrong with another Piranha movie? Especially one with a tagline like, "Double the action. Double the terror. Double the D's."  Well, let's review.

The story itself is fucking stupid. I mean, in 2010's Piranha 3D I can understand when prehistoric piranha are released into a lake from an underwater prehistoric lake that was buried and then exposed after an earthquake opened a fissure in the lake's floor. Makes total sense right? (just nod politely)  So, in Piranha 3DD I'm to believe that the piranha from the first movie, before they were all blown to smithereens and after existing in Lake Victoria for oh, 3 days, laid eggs in that time in an underground river that leads into the piping system of a waterpark called Big Wet. And it's here, with certified water strippers and a fat waterpark worker who likes to stick his pecker into open water pipes and hump them, that the tiny baby piranha are released via the pipes to feast on swimmers who can't seem to make it the 12 feet to the edge of the pool to get out of the water before they are eaten alive? I don't fucking think so.

Add to this preposterousness a piranha living inside a girl's vagina for days. Days! She doesn't know this of course, because, why would you? Though the vagina piranha has the last laugh when he makes his presence known via biting a penis that suddenly moves into his territory. It's kinda like a Three's Company episode where there's all these misunderstandings and then someone totally overreacts. Anyways, the boyfriend (who is attached to said penis) pulls out and sees a piranha on his dick and he decides that the best course of action for this wacky situation is to cut it off. The penis. To cut the penis off. Then he bleeds to death on the kitchen floor. Like ya do. The girl however, having had a piranha living inside of her for days, DAYS, is like, totally fine. Of course she did have some unexplained convulsions and foaming at the mouth earlier while the piranha was narrowing in on its target. But now, covered in blood and vomit and mouth foam, she's aces. Man, vaginas are little wonder caves that can apparently house piranhas. Go vagina! (OMG.)

I'm sorry, am I spoiling the movie for you? Trust me. My silly little words will forever fail to illuminate the reality that is Piranha 3DD - a sight which you must behold yourself.

As I was saying. There are so many more completely absurd moments that I can't even begin to recount them all. David Hasselhoff guest stars, of course, as David Hasselhoff. He is so atrociously bad that he deserves a Razzie immediately. And the cherry on top... Ving Rhames. If you recall back when I was reviewing 2012: Zombie Apocalypse I stated that Ving Rhames needs to be in every horror movie I watch. I still stand by this statement, even though it actually made me sad to see him in this movie. Hell, I had more respect for him in 2012: Zombie Apocalypse. Which is saying a lot. Have you seen that movie? It's fucking horrible.

Which brings me to the end of this review, wherein I say, without hesitation, that you need to watch Piranha 3DD. IT'S HILARIOUS. Grab a friend or three (make it a threesome - hey-o!) and be sure there is copious amounts of alcohol to consume and watch this movie. You will totally regret it but it'll be one of those "had fun doing it" regrets like eating an entire box of brownie mix or blowing your paycheck on strippers and porn. Cause we've all been there, am I right? Ehhh? Yeah, I'm totally right.

2 out of 5 stars (but really more like 3.5 out of 5 stars)

Silent House (2011)

Genre:  Psychological, Slasher
Director:  Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Country:  United States
Availability:  Amazon On Demand; DVD; Redbox (soon)

The original  Uruguayan The Silent House has been on my radar for a while, and yet I just haven't gotten around to seeing it. So when it was announced that the movie, which was barely a year old, was being remade in America, I sighed and said, "Noooooo!". While there have been some terrific American horror movies remade by Americans (Dawn of the Dead; Texas Chainsaw Massacre; The Crazies; The Fly; Fright Night; The Thing), there have also been some really atrocious ones too (The Omen; A Nightmare on Elm Street; My Bloody Valentine; Prom Night; The Amityville Horror). We especially don't deal well with turning great foreign horror movies into great American horror movies. We have a tendency to like our movies to have a happy ending, we like things a little more polished, a little more easy to swallow. So when you have movies from France or Germany or Japan, countries who really know how to make a fucked up horror movie, we get our hands on them and... well, it's like when people say "make love" when they really mean "fucking".

Though being a connoisseur of the horror genre I don't really discriminate. I see them all. I do however try to watch the original material first, followed by the remake. There's a sense of order that I feel I must maintain in order to be properly objective. It's rare that I will watch a remake first and in fact most of those occurrences happen when I'm watching a movie that was remade from a movie from the '40s or '50s, like The Fly or The Thing or The Blob (all remakes). At any rate, it's not a hard-and-fast rule so there are times when I falter, and this was one such time.

Netflix and other sites have referred to Silent House as a "thriller". After seeing the movie I'd say that Silent House is no more a "thriller" than say, The Strangers, which is labeled "horror" (and is also a remake!). And while Silent House is certainly thrilling, it has all of the markers of a horror movie.

I'm not sure how this movie stacks up against the original, but I will say that as a stand-alone horror movie, it's quite good. Elizabeth Olson packs a punch as the jumpy, terrified and overwrought daughter. The house plays it own role in the movie, which ultimately, may have been the most important part of all. It's rare that you can make an environment huge and maze-like and also claustrophobic at the same time. With all of the locked doors and boarded windows and lack of power you feel helpless and trapped, even when what you're afraid of is vague and elusive.

One of the most entertaining elements of Silent House was the mystery of it all. When the pieces start to fall together and you begin to suspect a larger story than what's initially being presented you get to play the fun Maybe game. Maybe it's a ghost! Maybe it's the Uncle! Maybe she's crazy! Maybe there's a giant squid from Mars and it totally loves to play the "Im in ur house, makin u scream" game! Ah giant squids. Good times.

Now, on to see the original! Which has a "The" in front of "Silent House", just so we know the difference.

4 out of 5 stars

Deadly End (2005)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Graeme Whifler
Country:  USA
Availability:  Amazon On Demand; DVD

When a movie boasts about being the "most disturbing movie ever made" I scoff wholeheartedly. I have seen disturbing. My eyes have been witness to such twisted delights that if I were to string the images together in one film it would be banned from the planet. After all, I did watch Human Centipede 2 and A Serbian Film back to back in the same night. And I felt kinda dirty afterwards.

And yet, upon doing research for this review I looked into what others have deemed "The Most Disturbing Horror Movies Ever", and shockingly, I have yet to see most of the ones listed. Take a look for yourself. It seems one of the trends I'm finding (aside from graphic rape) is existing real footage of wartime atrocities and animal abuse (think Faces of Death) mingled in with fake footage of gore and plot to make a "movie". For as much as I love horror movies I don't dig on real horror, so call me a lightweight but I'll keep my "disturbing" fictional.

With that being said, Deadly End wasn't "the most disturbing" thing I've ever seen but it certainly was more shocking and gruesome than I had anticipated. And well done, too. Something I did not expect from such a under-the-radar b-movie.

The story is pretty straightforward - a young couple moves into a strange neighborhood and suspects/discovers that one of their neighbors is poisoning them. From here we watch as this young couple goes through a myriad of horrible situations, from shitting themselves in public to being in a hallucinatory/coma-like state covered in boils and blisters and bleeding out their many orifices. But none of this is the "disturbing" part. The real stomach-churning bits take place with the twisted neighbor, Adrian. I'm not going to go into details because quite frankly, these moments with Adrian are what make the movie, but I will say that kudos to Deadly End for making me squeal and squirm and pace and pause the movie for a breather. Your efforts to disturb me were a success and will not be forgotten.

"Bob, he said Meow Meow Meow."

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 15, 2012

Madison County (2011)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Eric England
Country:  USA
Availability:  Redbox; Amazon On Demand

Madison County has all the fixin's of a mediocre yet enjoyable slasher hick movie. There's the group of beautiful young friends who are fun and in love! There's the road trip to the middle of nowhere. There's the lack of cell phone signal. The creepy locals. A killer with a fucked up mask. A dirty half naked girl who's been captive for days. And the woods. And yet somewhere down the road Madison County goes from potentially good, to unremarkable. I'm not sure if it's a lack of truly interesting characters or a lack of creative or gruesome kills. Maybe it's because the movie takes place in complete daylight, a brave decision for a horror movie but not really an effective one. Either way, the story is too straightforward to standout among its countless peers, and although I enjoyed Madison County for what it was, I'm pretty sure it's going to fall into that forgettable horror movie abyss that hides in the recess of my mind.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wreckage (2010)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  John Mallory Asher
Country:  USA
Availability:  Redbox; Amazon On Demand

Wreckage. A movie so ridiculously bland that the only remarkable thing about it is its tagline - Beware. The spare parts may be your own.

Get it? Spare parts? Like a car! Because it's called Wreckage and they need spare parts... ha! Ahem.

So this was a movie. And bad things happened. The worst of which was me having to watch it. Ba-dum-ch!

But seriously folks. Wreckage is a movie that suffers from too much plot, if you can believe it. If the movie was done better then these little side stories would flesh out the film and make it a rounded story. But it's done so poorly you just sit there wondering why Wreckage isn't just a movie about a crazy killer stalking people in a junkyard. The kills are, for the most part, pretty dull. And the acting is just... wow.

It's a testament to Redbox and whoever chooses these horror movies to be carried in their kiosks because without them these low budget flicks would probably never even make it onto my radar. Sometimes there's nice surprises, like Die and Mother's Day. And other times you're sitting there wishing for your dollar back.

2 out of 5 stars 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Roost (2005)

Genre:  Creature Feature, Zombie
Director:  Ti West
Country:  USA
Availability:  DVD

The night that I finally decided to watch The Roost I was feeling particularly unenthusiastic about horror movies. I've watched a lot of terrific horror lately - The Theatre Bizarre, The Cabin in the Woods, Chernobyl Diaries, The Divide, The Loved Ones - and the burden that comes with an overabundance of unique and original horror movies is that it heightens your cravings for something great, while at the same time lowering your tolerance for the standard, mediocre drivel.

I'd started my night out on Kill Katie Malone, a thoroughly boring and sophomoric effort in horror making, and was on the hunt for something reinvigorating. I scoured Netflix Streaming and Amazon On Demand and Redbox and remained uninspired. Sometimes the time it takes me to choose a movie is time I could have spent actually watching one. But the pleasure that comes from a quality horror movie night is the very reason that my excitement for this genre exists. And on certain nights, when my mood is finicky and my expectations are high, the process of picking a movie takes time.  

So I abandoned my online queues and lists and revisited my personal collection of DVDs. This special mood I was in required that I watch something new but I was out of ideas so I thought my collection might inspire something. That's when I saw, The Roost. I'd purchased The Roost a while ago, spotting it at CD/Game Exchange for only $1.00 and knowing it was Ti West's first film there was no question that it was going home with me. But it's been sitting among my DVDs, unwatched, for nearly a year. When I initially brought the movie home I looked up reviews and watched a trailer. The reviews were poor and the trailer looked kind of... bad. So there it sat.

But when I saw it there, all unwatched and mysterious, there was no hesitation - I put it on.

Right from the beginning I knew I was in for something special. The movie opens in black and white with a slow panning across fake tombstones and cardboard cutout trees, finally setting on a charcoal sketch of a spooky mansion on a hill. It cuts away and we are then introduced to an imposing man dressed in a suit and holding a lantern - The Host of Frightmare Theatre!

When I was a kid I used to stay up late and watch  Elvira's Movie Macabre and Joe Bob Briggs's Drive-In Theater. They would introduce b-movies and make commentary on kill scenes or nudity. It was hilarious, it was raunchy, and the movies were always b-movie gems. So when The Roost opened as a macabre TV show that introduces b-movies, I was in love.

The score that runs throughout the whole movie is reminiscent of classic b&w horror with a touch of the '70s and '80s more energetic style.  And once we begin watching The Roost you'll notice that the film is grainy, like you're watching an old movie on VHS with occasional tracking blips. This is the third Ti West movie I've seen - the writer/director that gave us House of the Devil and The Innkeepers - and it made me realize that the man has a definite style that has been apparent in all of his movies. For one, he loves a silent slow-moving scene. There are moments of glacial pacing and spatial silences that fill the flashlight illuminated darkness. For two, he loves flashlight illuminated darkness. He also seems to pick very "real" kind of actors. That is to say, no one is too beautiful and they all seem to have a raw, basic quality about them that is instantly relatable. The characters are never your cliche "slutty blonde", "grounded brunette", "asshole jock" which are the standard horror movie fodder. And one of his strongest attributes as a filmmaker is his true understanding of the genre. He not only knows how to build tension and create atmosphere, but he has an eye for framing, in almost, dare I say, a Hitchcockian way.

However, for as creative and original as The Roost may be, it still maintains a b-movie, low budget feel with cheesy looking special effects, mediocre acting and over-the-top moments. Combined with its rather straightforward plot and slow pacing I fear it's not a movie that a broad audience would appreciate, and perhaps instead one that only a true connoisseur of the horror genre will love.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 4, 2012

Kill Katie Malone (2010)

Genre:  Supernatural, Ghosts
Director:  Carlos Ramos Jr.
Country:  USA
Availability:  Netflix Streaming

I knew going in that Kill Katie Malone was going to be a low budget movie with subpar acting and bad special effects.  I've certainly watched my fair share of low budget horror movies and am not opposed to them by any means, but I can think of many better ways in which to spent two hours of my time so the movie in question has got to be compelling enough for me to give it a shot, and my mood has to be just right. Usually I'm drawn more to low budget zombie movies. There's something charming about the amount of genre-love it takes to put on really bad zombie makeup and wander around moaning and feigning threat. Most of these movies come off more like a student film than anything resembling a real movie, but sometimes that just adds to the appeal. And sometimes you get lucky and find a real gem buried there - like Zombie Town.

Kill Katie Malone was no such gem, but it wasn't terrible either. I enjoyed the premise of the movie: buying a ghost on Ebay (called "Ubid" in the movie) and then  having that ghost "do your bidding" (pun probably intended) as it starts picking off your enemies one by one until it sets its sights on you. But aside from some cool imagery closer to the end, and a long scene shot mostly in the dark, the movie was neither gory nor scary. Aside from simply knowing that people were dying, and that dying is bad, there was no discernible tension or feeling of genuine menace. And the acting was just okay, there were times that it felt labored and fake,  and other times where it was convincing enough that I forgot they were Actors!, but the characters themselves  were generally lacking anything remotely compelling. Overall, I just kept getting bored.

2.5 out of 5 stars  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Die (2010)

Genre: Slasher
Director:  Dominic James
Country:  USA
Availability:  Redbox

Die really reminded me of Saw, even though I've only seen Saw I and Saw II and it wasn't really like either of them. Still, you have a group of people selected because of some bad thing that they've done and miraculously they're all connected to each other and being held against their will by Mr. Bad Guy who wants them to suffer for their sins because he has, you know... issues.

It may sound like I'm poking fun but Die was actually a pretty good movie. While we're introduced to our players before they wind up in cells, and we see and hear of their particular faults beforehand, we never truly know how they're connected until the bitter end. There's a detective running around in the streets of the city trying to draw the clues together to solve a few cases that appear linked, and it's here that we learn of our killer, his motivations, and the scale of what's going on. Throughout the movie we have flashbacks of the characters in their normal lives - giving us glimpses of the clues that may bind them. These characters, though fitting into their roles appropriately as The Doctor, The Whore, The Politician, The Gambler, The Cop - all felt complex and interesting enough that it kept me wanting to explore their stories.

While the kills weren't too terribly creative they didn't really need to be, gambling for the lives of strangers and knowing full well that your turn will eventually come was interesting enough. I enjoyed the proper level of confusion and terror that each one of our players possessed. No one seemed to be ruining the show with yelling or freak outs, while it's true that those are somewhat plausible reactions, they're not too terribly enjoyable ones to have to sit through. And our Bad Guy was interesting, too. Not only was he somewhat charming, but he also appeared to be a sympathetic and levelheaded host. There were times where it almost seemed to pain him to do the horrible things he was doing, and this made him likable despite his role as the villain.

Die doesn't exactly fit into any genre neatly. It's not torture porn, as my previous comparison to Saw might have suggested, nor is it truly horror. But it doesn't really seem to be truly crime thriller either. I think it is perhaps a smattering of all of those genres, and in this way Die seems more fulfilling than most.

3 out of 5 stars

Spiderhole (2010)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Daniel Simpson
Country:  United Kingdom
Availability:  Netflix Streaming

It's been a long time since I've watched a horror movie that was so bad that it sucked all of the fun out of watching bad horror movies. So, way to go Spiderhole! You did... something!

Usually when I rate a horror movie 2 stars there's a part of me that still enjoyed watching it. Take Hell Night for example. It wasn't a so bad it's good movie, but it was still fun to make fun of. I gave it two stars because it was a shitty movie, but I still enjoyed watching it. Spiderhole on the other hand, was a truly unsatisfying experience. Instead of cheerily proclaiming the idiocies of the characters, I found myself angry at their ridiculous situation. I couldn't stand to watch them overreact and flutter uselessly about instead of getting their shit together and being proactive. At 81 minutes Spiderhole ran about twenty minutes too long.

So, the movie is about some art students that squat in a gross, creepy mansion for the summer so they don't have to pay rent anywhere, right? And instead of bringing things that they might need when living in a gross, creepy mansion, like a first aid kit and a tool box, maybe a crowbar or a sledgehammer, they bring throw pillows and knick-knacks to make the place homey. And instead of exploring the place to make sure there are no psychos lurking around (oh hello pile of bloody clothes) before bolting themselves into a place that seems to have sheets of metal covering every window and door, they break in, take one look around a few rooms and proclaim "home sweet home".

It really just goes from bad to worse with every scene as this group of sprightly twenty-somethings can't seem to fight back against an old man in scrubs. I would have much rather watched actual spiders coming out of holes in the walls while frantic teens scurried to smash them all like some kind of gross whack-a-mole.

2 out of 5 stars

Mother's Day (2010)

Genre:  Home Invasion
Director:  Darren Lynn Bousman 
Country:  USA
Availability: Redbox, Amazon On Demand

I'm not generally the biggest fan of home invasion movies. They fall loosely under the Torture Porn umbrella, a gratuitous and violent subgenre that I rarely get any enjoyment from and so I generally ignore them. But how can you say no to Rebecca De Mornay playing a polite but sadistic villain in a loose remake of the 1980 schlocky B-horror movie by the same name? The answer is, you don't.

The majority of my familiarity of Rebecca De Mornay is from the 1995 thriller Never Talk To Strangers. It's a potent Who Done It thriller with Antonia Banderas's bare ass, Rebecca De Mornay's boobs, and some pretty awesome cage sex. So my expectations were mildly confused with Mother's Day, as I didn't understand how they were going to work De Mornay's boobs into the movie. Sadly, they didn't even try. Quitters.

Fortunately, Mother's Day soldiers on without them as Rebecca De Mornay proves that just because you're a middle-aged woman, doesn't mean you can't be a commanding, sadistic, twisted bitch. Yay, girl power!

Usually when you watch as many horror movies as I do you get familiar with the faces that continuously pop up in the genre. Mother's Day was a mecca of random horror movie actors that you've seen in Burning Bright, Kill Theory, Sorority Row, Pick Me Up, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, Land of the Dead, The Tripper, Frozen, The Ruins, My Soul To Take, and more. Normal people would probably recognize the majority of these actors from television instead, but considering I don't have television I had to consult IMDB to learn that these stars played in popular shows such as Battlestar Galactica, 24, True Blood, Smallville, CSI, Prison Break and other TV shows I've heard of but never seen.

This is all to say that the acting in Mother's Day is superb. These people really sold the show. It was an intense and unpredictable little romp through one night of hell that nine friends go through at the hands of a crazy-ass criminal family. It will satisfy the gorehounds and the torture porn lovers alike without being gratuitous with either. And it's got a nice twist ending that, while I saw it coming, it was still nice that they went there.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 28, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

Genre:  Creature Feature
Director:  Bradley Parker
Country:  USA
Availability:  Still in theaters

If my horror movie doesn't start off with a group of beautiful twenty-somethings piling into a vehicle to journey out to some unknown and questionable location that will inevitably get them all killed, then I don't want to see it. (I'm only kidding.) (kind of.) Luckily, after your standard montage of video clips which establish that this particular group of beautiful twenty-somethings are fun and goofy and love each other, and after a few short scenes establishing the relevant relationships of everyone involved, we do just that.

Our players are the usual cast of horror movie stereotypes. You've got Ineffectual Nice Guy, Sarcastic Arrogant Guy, Ineffectual Blonde Girl,  Take Charge Brunette, and since we're in a foreign country toss in a few adventurous backpacking Australians and our imposing Ukrainian "extreme tour" guide Yurii, and our players are complete.

As we know from the trailer, they all set off to visit the abandoned city of Prypia, which was near the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster of 1986. Here in the city we have crumbling, hollowed out shells of apartment buildings and dark underground recreational facilities, a decaying ferris wheel, a creepy river which is the home to mysterious deformed piranha-like fish, a disintegrating bridge, a giant field of rusty cars and buses, the nuclear power plant that looms in the hazy distance, overgrown walkways that are choked with vines and trees, and scattered remnants of the lives that used to occupy this space. An extremely potent location for a horror movie, to be sure.

The movie kicks into high gear once they've established that they're stranded in Prypia overnight. It's then, once darkness falls, that the beasts come out and terrorize the shit out of them. It's pretty clear from the get go that the wild animals are aggressive and dangerous. Yurri makes a claim that it's unusual for the animals to come this far into the city, but it matters not, they're here and they want to eat you. One of the aspects that I actually appreciated is that the first night passes relatively quickly, and once daylight comes there's this sense of relief that gives birth to bravery. Usually in a horror movie of this nature the first night is the only night and it's then that all of the action takes place, the coming of dawn means the end of the movie. But in Chernobyl Diaries the story takes place over the course of two days and two nights. Though we never see anyone use the bathroom or eat any food, and no one ever complains about needing to do those necessities, such is the ways of the horror movie.

It's not until day #2 that we're introduced to the mutants, the real threat to our dwindling players. The mutants are apparently camera shy though because we never get a clear look at them, a decision made from the result of a low budget or a storytelling decision, one can't be too sure. But they're there, and they're numbers are great. They lurk in the background, closing in as though a pack of wild dogs, diverting your attention over there so they can sneak up behind you and take you unawares. The tension and scares throughout Chernobyl Diaries are potent, and whether you expect the jump or not there's always another one waiting in the dark corners to catch you off guard.

And then there's the silent threat of radiation. The levels are low in certain parts of the city, safe enough for exposure for short periods of time, and they have a Geiger counter that starts to beep once they enter a place where the radiation is dangerous. This is of course an issue once they're on the run and being drawn out of the city toward the nuclear power plant. The Geiger counter goes off constantly but they can't turn back, they can't run in the other direction because they're being herded like cattle.

The end of Chernobyl Diaries has a nice little twist that I didn't see coming. And it was refreshing to see a horror movie that was atmospheric, intense, and scary, set in a location that was completely unique and offered no shelter, no place to hide. And they made full use of this set. They explored many buildings and and tunnels and rooms, both in the daylight and in the dark, so your senses were always on edge in unexplored, new territory. However, they never explain why the title of the movie eludes to the idea that this is a diary of what happened. It's not a "documentary style" movie, nor is this "found footage". They do use the shaky cam method of filming but the cameraman isn't an actual character so it's simply a stylistic choice of shooting. Ah well, it's hardly a gripe that I will hold against it.

Chernobyl Diaries was written by Oren Peli, the same man who brought us Paranormal Activity 1 & 2, so it's no surprise that the jumps scenes are plentiful and the atmosphere is heavy with the anticipation of all that is bound to come.

But my positive take on Chernobyl Diares is not a popular stance. In fact, both critics and audience alike seem to flat out hate this movie. One reviewer's review was a simple, "Fuck you". Normally I don't really address the bad reception that a horror movie gets. As a fan of the genre I have a very deep understanding that the qualities in a horror movie that I find to be enjoyable, others find to be "tired" or "cliched". I know that some people hate too much gore, and others never seem to think there's enough of it. Not everyone is a fan of the "less is more" school of horror movies, and yet others don't enjoy anything too jumpy. Every single person who claims to be a fan of the genre, whether they're a reviewer or just an average audience member, has something that they're tired of seeing, a pet peeve, a gripe. Some are overly critical to the point where I wonder why they watch horror movies at all. It's like shopping at a thrift store and being surprised that everything there is used. I'm not saying that in order to enjoy a horror movie you have to throw out all expectations. That you just have to assume they're all going to be bad or cliched. But a good horror movie, not just enjoyable in the so bad it's good way, but a tried and true good horror movie, is like a diamond in the rough. There are maybe 5 truly good horror movies that come out a year. Compare that to the 80 or so horror movies that are released every year and you can see that the odds are working against them. Was Chernobyl Diaries a great horror movie? No. Was it a very good one? Absolutely. And it doesn't deserve such an onslaught of negativity.

I watch a lot of horror movies. It doesn't mean I have a low expectation when I pop in any particular horror movie, but my expectations are adjusted for the genre. Am I surprised when the dialog isn't stellar or the characters are cliche and making bad decisions? No. Do I hold it against the movie? Not necessarily. Am I surprised when the movie is full of horror movie accessories: flashlight, dark hallways, vehicle that won't start, wounded friend, boobs, no cell phones, pointless arguing etc.? No. Do I hold it against the movie? Rarely. In fact, a horror movie can have all of these elements and more if it does its job effectively - scaring and/or shocking me. And I don't know if I liked this movie because I saw it on the big screen while sitting next to a hefty man who visibly braced himself against the scares whenever he anticipated one, or because the movie was simply doing its job effectively, I can't say for sure. But I do know that once Chernobyl Diaries hits DVD it will be added to my horror collection and will be watched on many a dark and stormy night.

4 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Exorcist III (1990)

Genre:  Satanic
Director: William Peter Blatty
Country:  USA
Availability:  Amazon On Demand

Last night I watched one of my top 5 favorite horror movies of all time, for about the tenth time, The Exorcist III. A movie that, despite familiarity, still gives me chills when I watch it. I debated whether or not to put up a trailer because every "official" trailer that there is for The Exorcist III is misleading. Yet another example of how the studio tried its damnedest to market this movie as a scary horror movie about demons, instead of staying true to what the movie is really about, which is scary enough. More on that later.

There are no less than three different official trailers for The Exorcist III. All of which are mostly a slight variation of each other, none of which show what the movie is really about therefore maintaining its misleading expectations for new viewers more than twenty years later. While perusing YouTube for a fitting trailer to show you I came across this fan made trailer here, which is by far the best Exorcist III trailer out there, if not a little too long and a little too revealing.

The Exorcist III isn't about an exorcism. It's not about the head-twisting, split pea scares that made the first Exorcist movie so memorable. It's not about screaming and crying or chaos or shock. It's quiet. It's stark. It's compelling in its mysteries and it's chilling in its restraint. It's about old friends, and old demons, and a dead serial killer who seems to be back from the grave and killing again. And it's one of the scariest and most satisfying horror movies ever made.

But The Exorcist III was not born easily. It was first conceived as a movie idea by the author of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty. Upon trying to write the script, the creative team dismantled due to conflicting opinions and the project fell apart. Blatty then decided to take his idea for The Exorcist III and turn it into a novel called Legion. It was a bestseller. After the book's success he decided to turn the story back into a screenplay and make the film. And then the real problems began.

After the film was complete the movie studio said, "An exorcist movie with no exorcism? Well, we can't have that. Redo! Redo!" And so Blatty had to reshoot the ending to add in a new climax scene of an exorcism. And then came time to market the movie and release it. After the commercial and critical failure of The Exorcist II (a film which had nothing to do with either the first nor the third movie and was not done by Blatty), Blatty requested that his new movie be called Legion. But, the studio insisted that the title maintain the word "exorcist" in it, and so it was done. The Exorcist III did poorly at the box office and was initially met with mixed reviews. It's not until some time has distanced us from its release that The Exorcist III succeeded in creating favorable impressions on its audience. Now it's a movie that you'll often see on those random "Best Horror Movies" lists that are so popular come October. And by all means, it has every right to be there.

The Exorcist III is gorgeous. Blatty, who also directed, had a way of capturing a scene that made something like, a building, look ominous and looming, the entire movie has Presence. And then there's the scenes of the religious iconography that solidified the film's religious overtones, giving feelings of security and yet overwhelming menace. There is also a sense of pacing that is like listening to the long whining of the wind through a small crack. It's hypnotic, sensual and eerie. It's calming in its fluidity and yet maddening in its relentlessness. The effectiveness of this measure of film making is remarkable. And it's only for the few impatient horror movie watchers that long for blood and violence and SCARES! that find fault with this method. And it's funny! Intentionally. Man, the dialog in this movie just snaps with sharpness. The characters are aware and don't miss a beat and the chemistry between George C. Scott and Ed Flanders, who play old friends, is a dynamic that helps makes this movie so rich. And you don't get any more original in an idea than you do with The Exorcist III. It's solid and daring story telling at its finest which makes not only for a fantastic horror movie, but for a timeless film.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Splintered (2010)

Genre:  Creature Feature
Director:  Simeon Halligan
Country:  United Kingdom
Availability:  Netflix Streaming

Splintered has a lot of good things going for it. The atmosphere, for one, is dense and dark. It adds to the gritty fairy tale feel that seems so prominent throughout the movie. Our heroine, for two, is strong and resilient. She doesn't let a little thing like captivity keep her down. She's resourceful and thinks on her feet and she's not afraid of the big bad wolf.

Splintered also has a lot of things working against it. Like, they never really seem to commit to any particular idea, instead they give us splinters (hey-o!) of nightmares and lores and then leave it up to the audience to make assumptions. And aside from Sophie, our heroine, the other characters just seem like fodder for the kills. Which is fine, I know the rules of the horror movie, I know these people aren't going to live to see tomorrow. But it doesn't hurt to make them interesting or hell, even likable. Instead we get the generic, hopelessly dedicated best friend who seems more like a whipping dog, and her insensitive, over-reactive dick of a boyfriend. Throw in some half-assed love interest and a random quiet dorky guy and you've essentially got the supporting cast for Splintered. Clearly, they put little thought into this.

For the majority of the movie we're whisked from one scene to the next without knowing the clear motivations for why we're going there. Why do her friends follow her into the woods to investigate a werewolf lore if by when they make camp, they all seem pissed to be there? Why, out of five people, is Sophie the one locked up to be protected? Why does her apparent virginity matter? And is the man-beast really a werewolf or just some feral dude who has lost his mind? We never find out the answers to these things but that doesn't stop the movie from charging ahead and using each one of those points to move the story forward.

Fortunately, despite its flaws Splintered remains a fun romp. It's stylish and intriguing and at times even frightening.  And of course the English accents make everything a little more awesome too.

I didn't catch it at the time, sometimes the dialog is a little hard to understand, but the male character's names are Sam, Dean and John. As in the characters from Supernatural. It makes sense once you know. The whole movie kind of feels like a Supernatural episode - curious twenty-somethings go into the woods to investigate a lore only to get themselves into trouble when they find out the lore is real. Except this time Sammy and Dean didn't show up to save the day. Instead, they were slaughtered. C'est la vie.

3 out of 5 stars

ATM (2012)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  David Brooks
Country:  USA
Availability:  Amazon On Demand

"This is going to be the best movie ever, I can already tell." - Nat (best friend)

There are certain qualities that one must possess in order to be a true lover of horror movies. Here are a few that came to mind while watching ATM.
1.) You must have an appreciation for formula.
2.) You must have patience for bad decision making.
3.) You must accept motiveless killings.
4.) You must believe the unbelievable.
5.) You must be drunk.

That pretty much sums up the film right there, but seeing as that's not much of a "review" I'll start from the beginning.

I love a good horror movie that traps its characters together in a small space and then puts them in some kind of danger. There's a claustrophobia that comes with not being able to run away, a helplessness that opens up that dark fear within us that tells us, "you are not free". The characters are then forced to be resourceful, to use their wits to get them out of their predicament. Take Misery as the absolute best example of this, here's a guy trapped in a bed at the complete mercy of a mad woman. His resourcefulness was truly inspired. He was not only clever - hiding his pills and trying to drug her with them, swiping a bobby pin and trying to pick the lock, drinking his own urine when forced with dehydration - but he also used his charms to try to win her favor. Other movies that were adequate representations of this type of movie were: Frozen (trapped on a ski lift); Devil (trapped in an elevator); Black Water (trapped in a tree); Hunger (trapped in an underground room); Windchill (trapped in a car).

So when a movie comes out about three people being trapped in an ATM vestibule, I am immediately on board. The writers who pen these silly little movies generally get pretty creative. I mean, you'd have to, right? Otherwise the characters are just standing around not trying to do anything to improve their situation. Oh wait...

The first and most major of flaws with ATM is that they are not trapped. Not technically anyways. So the entire fucking movie you're just screaming at the TV, "Just open the door and run!" Yeah. I guess the writer thought it would be more interesting if he left the door broken and unable to lock so that there's always the threat of the killer dude coming inside. Except, a.) that would make for a really short movie, and b.) he never even attempts to come inside so, why bother? Instead, the characters are trapped by their inability to take matters into their own hands. They stand around and wonder aloud what the ominous dude in the Urban Legend jacket is doing as he hangs out in the parking lot and has a staring contest with them.

Toward the end of the movie the film escalates into a frenzy of bad decision making, which works out well for no one but killer dude. After it's all over, night turns to day almost instantly and a deserted parking lot is suddenly swarming with a hundred people. We never learn of killer dude's motives but we discover that this was not his first rodeo. A fact that, by this point, we don't much care about.

ATM was not a good movie. It had not cleverness nor likability. But it was incredibly fun to make fun of so for that alone I'm giving it three stars. And much like operating heavy machinery, don't do it alone and be sure to get really drunk beforehand.

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

Genre:  Anthology
Director:  Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley
Country:  USA
Availability:  Amazon On Demand

Being a regular reader of Rue Morgue Magazine and of various horror movie websites it's always rather a surprise when I come across a new horror movie that I haven't heard of, especially one of such quality like The Theatre Bizarre. I stumbled upon this gem while watching trailers for new horror movies on Amazon On Demand in preparation for my weekly horror movie night with my best friends. Sure, the trailer looked awesome, but so often we are fooled in the horror world by fancy trailers when in reality the movie ends up being nothing more than a regurgitated, underwhelming mess. Not so with The Theatre Bizarre - we get what we paid for, and so much more.

The film contain six stories, each inspired by Paris’ legendary Grand Guignol theatre. Each story is roughly 20 minutes long and each is directed by a different director. The movie begins with an odd looking woman walking into an abandoned theatre only to discover that on stage is a strange looking marionette man that comes to life and starts to perform for her. He begins by telling the story of "The Mother of Toads", which in turn is our introduction to our first film. After each story we come back to the theatre where we watch our host bring out new and unusual marionette people who usher us into the next story. The theatre scenes are all beautifully done and sufficiently creepy, and sometimes it's so dreamlike that they start to remind us of a nightmare we're sure we had once.

The six films, while vastly different in style, all contain the same currents of theme running throughout - betrayal, comeuppance and addiction. Sure, we've all watched these topics surface and resurface time and time again in our entertainment. For the most part they're tired old themes, but they're human themes and the emotions that orbit them - like passion, rage, despair, sorrow, penance and need- are powerful tools for storytelling.

These six films: "The Mother of Toads", "I Love You", "Wet Dream", "The Accident", "Vision Stains", and "Sweets" (probably my favorite) - are all done with such style, force and disgusting gore that they leave you horrified and breathless and wanting for more. Bizarre indeed.

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 23, 2012

Creature (2011)

Genre:  Creature Feature
Director:  Fred M. Andrews
Country:  USA
Availability:  DVD

Any movie that starts off with skinny dipping in the swamp has got to be good. Am I right? And Creature IS good, if you like backwater hicks, local legends, ridiculous creatures, weird cults and lots of boobies. But you also have to like movies that are gratuitous, empty shells of entertainment. And I do like those things. All of those things. So it's no big mystery why I had a ton of fun watching Creature (I'm sure the wine helped).

Like any self-respecting horror movie, we start off (after the skinny dipping in the swamp) with sexy teens on a road trip. We're all nice and paired off in the car, joking and cuddling and being lewd, and then dun dun dun... creeeeepy gas station stop for a pee break. It's here we're introduced to the ever-entertaining Sid Haig, playing yet another skeevy hick, and David Jensen - who has been in everything, ever. These two actors give a little credibility to this otherwise random creature feature.

Also in Creature is True Blood's Eggs - Mehcad Brooks. The man is as fine as ever and even if this movie sucked I'd watch it again just for him, all covered in mud and with an animalistic fury that will make your toes curl.

I guess since this movie is called Creature, and it's about a creature, maybe I should mention the creature? Yeah, he's kinda absurd. Supposedly half man, half crocodile, he resembles neither and ends up looking more like a demon snake man or something. Is he scary? Not really. Only in the respect that he's practically invincible and super strong. But his story is a sad one so I felt a sympathy for the creature which automatically makes him less menacing. Honestly, they could have done better.

And then there's the weird, out of left field sex scenes. We've got lesbianism, voyuer masturbation and incest. Surprised? So was I. But it immediately threw this, so far bland, horror movie into another bracket and I found myself intrigued by the sudden little twist, and wondered, where is it was going now? I will leave the answer to that question for you to find out on your own.

If you do decide to give Creature a go, don't take it too seriously. It's a silly creature feature so have fun with it. I know I did.

3 out of 5 stars

Tourist Trap (1979)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  David Schmoeller
Country:  USA
Availability:  DVD; Amazon On Demand

"God help those who get caught, in the Tourist Trap!"

The Tourist Trap was an obscure, strange little horror movie that slipped under the radar when it was first released in '79. It wasn't until frequent showings on cable in the '80s that it gained any notoriety. Now, more than 30 years later, it's regarded as a classic. And rightly so. The score alone, written by Italian composer Pino Donaggio - the man who wrote the score for Carrie and Piranha, and has worked with Dario Argento - is enough to put this one on the map. Its eccentric opening features whistles and wooden blocks and breathy female whispers. It's the kind of song that would be right at home in a twisted carnival. But I suppose Tourist Trap is a bit of a twisted carnival. There are unbelievable tricks to mystify the mind and creepy mannequins that seem to come to life. It's a ride that you don't want to take and that you might not come back from.

The art direction and props in this movie is fantastic. I mean, we're not looking at Oscar performances here. Nor is the script very creative or the characters very interesting. So the rest of the movie has to work for all of the parts its lacking. Luckily, Robert A. Burns, the same man who did art direction in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (brilliant art direction), came to the rescue. The mannequins used here, tricked out with a ventriloquist-style hinged jaw and breathy cries, are enough to give you nightmares for the week. Not to mention death by face plastic. Ouch.

Tourist Trap is one of those movies that reminds you of a dozen movies and yet it's still uniquely its own. Here we have elements of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (hulking man wearing creepy humanesque faces), Carrie (weird elements of telekinesis), House of Wax (wax museum setup and crazy brother element), and every slasher movie you've ever seen with sexy teens going on a road trip.

But like I said, Tourist Trap is its own beast. A completely bizarre horror movie that skimps on the gore but deals you other terrors in spades.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Genre:  Slasher

Director:  Drew Goddard
Country:  USA
Availability:  Theaters

I'm actually not going to post a trailer for this one. When the trailer hit online a few months ago I watched about half of it, until shit started looking peculiar and intriguing, then I was afraid of learning too much and I shut it off. After seeing Cabin last night and watching the whole trailer today I'm thankful that I never watched the whole thing prior to the movie. It gives away too many of the surprising twists that, while may not be meaningful without context, you still go in expecting to see those scenes.I think the less you know about The Cabin in the Woods, the better. Which is why this review will be very short. And no spoilers, I promise!

The Cabin in the Woods is probably the best horror movie I've seen in a very long time. It's well written, for starters. Its smart and funny dialog does not hide the fact that Cabin was co-written by Joss Whedon. It's got great characters that we actually don't want to die. It's got Thor. THOR! That man IS a god. It's got one of my favorite horror movie elements - beautiful teens pile into a vehicle and go on a road trip! And then suddenly their cell phones don't work! And there's a creepy gas station they have to stop at! It's also got gore galore. It's insanely creative. And the end... well, I was like a kid in a candy store. SO MUCH FUCKING FUN! (And it's getting 92% on Rotten Tomatoes!)

Of course what makes this movie really unique is the commentary that it makes on horror movies. In the beginning it gives us the cliches in spades but it's not without purpose. We're forced to examine the exploitation that horror lovers expect and want to see. And then it all turns itself on its head and you start wondering about the genre as a whole. Is it a fuck you to the horror genre, or what it's become? Perhaps. But it's the finest middle finger I've ever seen.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that even if you don't like horror movies, you should see THIS movie. It's spectacular. It's phenomenal. It's... wait. Am I building the hype too much? Now you're going to be disappointed, aren't you? Well, I take it all back. This movie blows. It's overrated. It's abysmal. But go see it anyways. If you like things that suck, you'll probably like this.

5 out of 5 stars (omg! it was so awesome!)

The Loved Ones (2009)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Sean Byrne
Country:  Australia
Availability:  Currently N/A in the US

Sometimes, through a friend of a friend, I am able to see certain horror movies before they're actually released. Such was the case with The Loved Ones, so I apologize that I am about to review a movie that has no current US release date.

If ever a twisted tale was told about an awkward young girl going to desperate measures for a prom date, this would be it. Girlfriend is diabolical. Sure, we know from the get go she's going to kidnap her crush and have some wacky torture party prom at her house. We see that in the trailer. But what added the creepy to the crazy was the relationship she has with her father. This behavior is clearly a lifestyle that has been going on for many years. It's exciting to watch all the creative ways crazy girl and her daddy torture her prom date, but the fun stuff comes in the small details like, what's happening with her mother, and the glimpses we get of her photo album, and then the basement... oh god, the basement!

There's a lot of horror movies out there that phone in the fun. They try to convince us that we're having fun because the characters are having fun. A car full of teenagers all sexy and drinking and making out and laughing - they're going on an adventure! Yay! (yeah, I actually love those dumb movies) But movies like The Loved Ones are rare. They're like cotton candy laced with razor blades. It's like going to the circus where all the clowns are actually serial killers. There's this evil bubblegum appeal here that is unique and intoxicating. They don't have to convince us we're having fun because we're having it, bloody good fun. Just don't forget the corsage, or else!

4 out of 5 stars

The Divide (2011)

Genre:  Apocalyptic
Director:  Xavier Gens
Country:  USA
Availability:  DVD

The opening scene of The Divide gave me chills. We see the world catching fire and falling down all in the reflection of a woman's eye, tears falling, while she stares out of the window of her apartment building, one hand on the glass as if she could stop it all if only the world would abide her. On September 11, 2001 I stood on the 14th floor of my office building in downtown Manhattan about 15 blocks or so from the Twin Towers. The wall that I looked out from was made of glass, my view - two burning, smoking buildings. I stood there, watching them burn, watching them fall, with tears streaming down my face and one hand on the glass, as though I could stop it all if only the world would abide me. It's rare that I ever identify with a horror movie. It made my blood run cold and my heart beat faster. Yeah, I was hooked.

After this gorgeous opening scene that, in my opinion, doesn't last nearly as long as it should, we're thrust into the chaos of an evacuation. An entire apartment building in the middle of a city, flushing its bowels onto the streets and into the basement when the shit hits the fan. Those who chose to run to the basement are now locked in with about 10 other residents. And it is here we are faced with your typical man vs. man scenario. We've got the man in charge, the men who threaten his authority because they're dicks, the whimpering scared woman, the tough chick, the wimpy dude and a few other fillers that will no doubt not last long.

We face the standard threats and concerns given the circumstances and each one is met with hostility and argument from our key players. This is not a fun movie to watch. It's all about being shut in a basement while the world is falling down above you. You're trapped with people you don't like and don't trust. You're trapped with little to eat, little to drink, and an unknown threat of radiation or war or god knows what. And then things go from bad to worse. After a while, the crazy starts to show.

The Divide could have been a mediocre movie at best, and a terrible movie at worst. But it's done so phenomenally well that instead it was translated into this sad, heavy, barren piece of cinema that just, takes all of the air out of your lungs. Aside from the terrific casting, the movie had two strong elements going for it 1.) the score - it's beautiful and haunting and hangs in the air like the poisonous dust they're trying so desperately to avoid. 2.) the art direction - every scene of The Divide is a dark, twisted piece of art. The devil is in the details, indeed.

I read in an interview with the writer/director that much of the dialog was improvised by the actors. That essentially every day the actors would go to him and present him with new ideas for their character, new lines to say, new directions to go. And that he did them all, he rarely said no to them. Old ideas and dialog were thrown out, people's lines were cut, new focus was drawn to what may have once been a minor character. This contest and popularity atmosphere caused a lot of hostility among the actors, which translated well into the movie.

To say this movie is bleak is an understatement. If you need for things to work out in the end, steer clear. But if you like your horror movies to kick you in the balls and slap you around a few times, The Divide may just be your cup of tea. It's intense and gory with great actors and a fucked up plot. And it doesn't play it safe. Which is just what this seasoned horror movie lover admires.

5 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 30, 2012

Rabies (2010)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Country:  Israel
Availability:  DVD

As the very first horror movie to come out of Israel, Rabies (or Kalevet), has been highly anticipated in the horror community since it's extremely successful debut at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. And there's so much shit clogging the horror pipes these days that I get extremely excited for any flick that's well reviewed, so my expectations were high. However, I didn't know this was a slasher movie going in, and with a name like "Rabies" I was expecting some kind of virus movie. Boy, was I wrong. The movie is essentially about various normal people who get stranded in the same area of woods, which we soon discover is littered with active mines, and they all make really poor choices which mostly end with Murder Death Kills.

The movie is actually quite strange at times. It's kind of all over the place and while you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop you're surprised that when it does, it wasn't exactly the shoe you were waiting for.

The actors were all very good and I was pleasantly surprised (as I always am when I make this observation), that the script was very well written with moments of bizarre conversation, humor and heart. There are small side stories that we glimpse of but never explore, and a supposed serial killer who we never actually see kill anyone. And whereas in most horror movies the line is clear between the good guys and the bad guys, here the lines are blurred so it's strange when you're not actually for or against anyone.

The one real complaint that I had with Rabies was that I thought it ended abruptly. I guess I just felt there was still more story to tell and was disappointed by all the unexplained motivations of certain characters.

Still, Rabies was a fun little blood-fest, so grab some friends and a bottle of wine and mock the inexplicable reason for a group of tennis players in uniform to be lost in the woods.

3 out of 5 stars

2012: Zombie Apocalypse (2011)

Genre:  Zombie
Director:  Nick Lyon
Country:  United States
Availability:  Netflix Watch Instantly

I'm actually quite conflicted on 2012: Zombie Apocalypse. There are so many redeeming elements to this low-budget zombie feature that they almost make up for the really bad elements - which are mainly really shitty zombies and the casting of Taryn Manning, who is fucking horrible.

We'll start with the good so I can sufficiently get your hopes up, and then end with the bad so I can adequately squash any dreams you may have of there finally being another good zombie movie out there, because naturally you dream of such things, as do I.

The movie starts with a thorough playback of the fall of the world due to a virus that turns every living thing into, that's right, (really shitty) zombies. These quick snapshots of a world falling to pieces gives us a solid feeling of desolation and despair. We're then quickly introduced to our main players, first to the three individuals who have spent the last 6 months in hiding and who are ill-equipped to deal with defending themselves against zombies, and then to the four individuals who swoop in and save their dumb asses. The story continues like most zombie apocalypse stories do, the group of survivors band together and travel the dangerous roads on a mission to find that "safe zone" that everyone hears rumors of. They take refuge in various abandoned buildings, some of our players die and we're introduced to new players, and there is always the scene where their beloved friend turns into a zombie and someone has to shoot him in the head, female crying ensues.

The casting of our characters was actually solid picks, these actors work hard to pull their weight in the face of some truly dorky dialog ("There was a zombie, so I killed it.") and of course there's Ving Rhames (wielding a sledge hammer for the whole movie, which he only puts down once in order to wield a fucking CHAINSAW) who should be in every zombie movie ever made. Ever.

The wide shots of the city our characters are travelling through is actually quite effective in helping the perception that the world as we know it is dead and gone. The city that they show is grey and abandoned, smoke hangs in the air everywhere from the fires burning out of control in various neighborhoods. There's no sound, no movement... just a stillness that is only broken with, ZOMBIES!

The script actually introduces us to some fun zombie labels, some of them we were already are privy to thanks to the Dawn of the Dead remake, like "runner" and "twitcher", and others have been used in the likes of The Walking Dead comics, like "packs" and "hordes", but the few I hadn't heard before were "newborns", "rotters" and "burners" (zombies you set on fire that then attack you, so now you're not only still being attacked by a zombie but now it's a zombie on fire).

There were nice homages, a strong black female character wielding a samurai sword (The Walking Dead), a zombie cheerleader still holding onto her pom-pons (Romero's Land of the Dead), a mention of a dead guy named Kirkman (creator of The Walking Dead), the concept that the zombies are learning (Romero).

But have I mentioned the zombies are shitty? They SO are. First off they are completely inconstant with each other in terms of appearance. I'm pretty sure they had an open casting call for zombies and told everyone that they were in charge of their own makeup. Some of them look like their faces are covered in white paint with some blood around the mouth, some of them aren't in any makeup at all and just have blood around the mouth, and some of them are in like, monster movie style "What the hell is that thing supposed to be" kind of makeup. They don't even resemble zombies, they just look like fucked-up creatures who look like they're either burn victims or demons going to a KISS concert. And none of them act like each other. Some of fast runners, but like normal chasing your dog down the street kind of running and not like, I'm going to eat your fucking brains kind of running. And others, I shit you not, act like gorillas. Some are doing that lame limp and drag your leg thing while others are just slowly lumbering with their arms outstretched like they're The Mummy. This movie was in desperate need of a Zombie Coordinator because the zombies, well, they're supposed to be the best part. Their name is in the title. Their name is the name for an entire genre of movies. Without them, it's just people running around an empty city looking for something to be afraid of.

Speaking of being afraid, this movie was not scary at all. The kill scenes looked like they were happening in a video game - completely fake CGI awfulness. The movie takes place mostly during the day and mostly out in the open so you rarely ever have that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped with zombies and no way out.  And for a world overrun with zombies there are surprisingly few of them when, for 80% of the movie these people are walking the empty streets of a city and no zombie is in sight. The zombies don't wander off alone so you never have just random zombies filling up the background, instead they're always in hordes and they're always attacking you like some crazed football team, running together full charge ahead. Ooooh, scary.

But! The end is pretty amazing in a so bad it's good kind of way. "Here kitty, kitty."

Despite my better judgement I still liked 2012: Zombie Apocalypse and recommend it to any of you who are hard up for a zombie movie. But it's not a good movie. And it's got really shitty zombies.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Tobe Hooper
Country:  United States
Availability: DVD

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - for a film that is now 38 years old its reputation for being brutal and horrifying still precedes it. The history of the horror movie genre is just as long and as rich as any other genre in movie making.  There have been scary movies that have tested the tolerance of its audience since the silent film, and the controversies surrounding their violence, gore and gratuitous sex and nudity are just as old still. Thousands of movies have been made under the blood-soaked umbrella of the horror genre and yet to this day there remain very few that are remembered past their shelf life. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one such movie.

The first scene that we're introduced to is completely surreal. We're forced to look at a decaying, gooey corpse posed awkwardly atop a tombstone in midday as we listen to a radio broadcast play. The unsettling part comes in when you realize that you're so caught up with listening to what the broadcast is saying about the recent brutal murders and the discoveries of bodies that you forget that you're staring at this horrifying, unwavering statue of death and decay for over a minute. And for all of you horror movie buffs out there you'll note that the opening sequence of the photographs being taken introduce us, perhaps for the first time ever, to that creepy camera sound effect (later to be reused in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake as well as other slasher flicks that follow).

The movie setup is one that is tried and true - a carload full of friends on the road to somewhere end up in the middle of nowhere and soon after tragedy befalls them one by one. The characters aren't particularly remarkable, nor is the dialog, but the places where TTCM shines makes all the difference - like the gritty home video feel; the complete helplessness and clumsiness of the wheelchair-bound brother; the utter unpredictability of the hitchhiker; the atmosphere of all of the buildings and so forth. And that's all before we even get to Leatherface. The terror truly starts when Leatherface makes his first appearance, bursting through the rusty metal door like some faceless Frankenstein's monster, swallowing you up before you've even had the chance to scream. The violence starts from there and while it's horrific it's practically bloodless, your terror is born with the endless screaming and flailing and running and ... screaming. There is a lot of screaming. Let's talk about the screaming.

The performance given by Marilyn Burns, who plays Sally - the main female character, is unrelenting and intense and one of the most remarkable elements of the movie. She goes from zero to one hundred in moments and never stops, never lets up. Her fear and her reaction to that fear just grows and becomes more manic and desperate, in the end she more resembles a tortured, mad, blood-soaked wild animal than anything resembling a person.  And the final scene is so iconic in horror movie history that even if you haven't seen TTCM you're probably familiar with the image of Leatherface standing in the road, chainsaw raised over his head as he spins wildly in circles. To this day, 38 years later, TTCM is still regarded as one of the most important and influential horror movies ever made. And having only just seen in for the second time in ten years, I might just have to agree.

5 out of 5 stars

Near Dark (1987)

Genre:  Vampires
Director:  Kathryn Bigelow
Country:  United States
Availability:  Amazon Instant Video

It seems like every time I watch Near Dark I have a completely different opinion about it. The first time I saw it, some 7 or so years ago, I actually turned it off about an hour in - I was bored and the movie was terrible. I gave it a second chance last year and I think my expectations were so incredibly low that I actually found myself enjoying the movie and walked away giving it four stars. Having recently purchased Near Dark I was looking forward to rewatching what I remembered to be a gritty, gory vampire movie that lacked all of the cheesy romantic melodrama that most vampire flicks drown themselves in. Before I go any further let it be said, here and now, that I have a terrible, terrible memory when it comes to movies. It's one of the reasons why I tend to rewatch them so many times because I genuinely don't remember much about them.

So imagine my surprise when my expectations were yet again thwarted and I found myself, mouth agape, at the absolute horrific dialog and over-the-top acting and ridiculous plot. Once again, like in so many movies that want to fit a romance into the story but don't want to dedicate the time to make it realistic, a boy and a girl meet and fall in love in a matter of hours. She turns him into a vampire and he doesn't want to be one. Then her crazy friends come into the picture and things go from bad to worse. And by worse I mean Bill Paxton. I don't doubt than sometime in the 90's Bill Paxton hired an acting coach and became somewhat competent at his craft, but in the 80's he had the power to single-handedly ruin an entire film just by being in it (see Aliens). Then add that dorky strange kid from Teen Witch, Joshua Miller, and you have downright unwatchable scenes throughout much of the movie.

Vampire movies tend to run in trends. Right now the trend seems to be smart, sleek, dangerous and gory. The trend in the 90's was sex, lust and partying. The 60's and 70's seemed to be gothic, mysterious, frightening and ... lesbianism. But the trend in the 80's? Awful. We had vampire comedies and rebellious, rowdy vampires. But what The Lost Boys got right with their rowdy vampires, Near Dark got all wrong. These vampires are not only rowdy, they're obnoxious. They're the loud frat boys at the party that you're constantly muttering "douchebag" to behind their backs. They aren't funny or sexy or charming. In fact most of them don't seem to shower. They're like a pack of wild dogs eating and humping their way across the land. And what's with them constantly losing track of time and then having to race against time to beat the impending sun rise? Seriously, after being alive for hundreds of years you'd think these guys would get their priorities straight and invest in some serious timepieces. And the ludicrous ending was just the icing on the roadkill.

One of the fun things to come from Near Dark (aside from my constant heckling) was that during the bar scene I noticed what eerie similarities there are between The Vampire Diaries vamps Damon and Stefan and the Near Dark vamps Severen and Caleb.

2.5 out of 5stars