Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Subspecies (1991)

Genre: Vampires
Director:  Ted Nicolaou
Country:  United States
Availability:  DVD

Subspecies is one of those horror movies that is beloved by all who saw it as a kid, and bemoaned by those who see it for the first time as adults. Unfortunately I am of the latter camp and therefore this review will be decorated with words like ridiculous and silly.

I am actually quite the fan of ridiculous and silly and my tastes walk a fine line of the qualities that those words often times possess: sword fight between ugly vampire dude and hot vampire dude in a dank castle with babes in nightgowns fighting each other with fire - awesome ridiculous; girl gets a cut on her arm and is henceforth thrust into a constant fevered sleep which allows ugly vampire dude to feed on her undetected - dumb ridiculous.  The movie is rife with examples like those - there are awesome tiny claymation demons that are created by the severed fingertips of the ugly vamp dude, a bloodstone that looks like a bleeding teet that all the vampires suckle from, the aforementioned sword fight, a captive chick with her boobs hanging out of torn clothing, and the burgeoning love between a beautiful woman and a hot vampire guy who share not only passionate kisses, but also the same hair cut.

Subspecies could have been gold if not for the mundane scenes that take up most of the movie. Too much screen time is devoted to the three, rather uninteresting women who serve as the movie's vampire fodder. Still, the lovely scenery and atmospheric castles add a lot of weight to the authentic feel of the movie. The evil vampire serves his creepy role well (though admittedly a bit too silly to be taken completely seriously - he kind of looks like Robert Smith from The Cure) but for a movie called Subspecies (named for the demonic claymation creatures) there was a woeful lack of them.

Surprisingly, there are a total of five Subspecies movies - all which continue to revolve around the main female character and the dorky bloodstone - I may just be convinced to give the second one a try...

2.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hell Night (1981)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Tom DeSimone
Country:  United States
Availability:  Netflix Watch Instantly

Hell Night! An 80s' slasher flick about sexy teens partying in a supposedly haunted manor starring Linda Blair! What could possibly be bad about something that sounds so awesome?  Well, let me tell you...
Linda Blair cannot act. Sure, she was terrific as Regan - the demon possessed little girl in The Exorcist - but maybe it's easier to act like a demon than it is to convincingly portray a regular teenage girl. A few months ago I had the misfortune of seeing her in an atrocious movie called Roller Boogie. And while it was clear from that movie that her abilities must have not made it past the age of 14, I had high hopes for Hell Night bringing Blair back to her horror roots. Not so.

Alas, Linda Blair's performance was not the only element making Hell Night a ridiculous bore to watch. The script was obviously written by a 12 year old boy, "Scott: What a little twat. We should have left her behind.
Peter: Why? Her behind is the best part. We should have kept her behind and left the rest of her." Oh yeah, the movie is full of gems like that. As well as gag scares, quick kill shots with little to no gore, an over-the-top end chase scene and extremely cumbersome and killable killers. Despite all of this, the movie could have been salvageable if not for the dull "character building" scenes that dragged out the middle of the movie. The very last shot of the movie was pretty terrific though and it made me sad that any potential that Hell Night had was squandered by its creators.

2 out of 3 stars

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Innkeepers (2011)

Genre:  Ghosts
Director:  Ti West
Country:  United States
Availability:  In Theaters

Ti West immediately won me over with his brilliant House of the Devil, a loving tribute to the 70s' and 80s' style of horror movie that we rarely see today. So, naturally my interest and expectation of Ti West's new film The Innkeepers, was extremely high. And while the characters are likable and fleshed out, and the script was sharp, in the end The Innkeepers failed to deliver a punch. First off the movie was much too slow. Many of the scenes are simply of the two characters hanging out and talking about ghosts. When we finally do get to witness their "investigation" of the supposed haunting at the inn it lacks in suspense and reward. The story of the haunting itself is pretty basic, but what's frustrating is that aside from rumor and heresy the major story elements - the reasons and whys to the haunting story - were never explored. Apparently the entire idea for The Innkeepers was born through Ti West and his film crew actually staying at the Yankee Pedlar Inn (the inn in The Innkeepers), while they filmed House of the Devil. They learned that the inn was supposedly haunted and thus it became Ti West's new movie. And while the critics seem to be applauding West's recent effort loud and clear, this horror movie fan was hoping for something a little more compelling.

3 out of 5 stars

The Legacy (1978)

Genre:  Supernatural
Director:  Richard Marquand
Country:  United Kingdom
Availability:  DVD

The Legacy is a wonderfully atmospheric 70s' horror flick that, like most horror movies of its time, is more laced with mystery than it is with actual horror. Katharine Ross is fetching as the natural beauty and Sam Elliott balances her smooth elegance with his gruff and rugged handsomeness. The chemistry here is fantastic and the characters are interesting and likable, an important quality for the film since it's these two that we follow through most of the story. The gorgeous scenery is like a third major character, from the Gothic mansion's grand and elaborate rooms to the sprawling England estate's landscaping and rolling hills, it's this eye candy that makes the often erratic plot actually interesting and continuously compelling. It's a bit of a slow go at first, they take their time setting up all the characters and the situation that brings them all together, but once the ball gets rolling it's actually quite fun. The deaths, for the most part, are nothing too spectacular but the end reveal is what makes the whole movie come together. A must for fans of slow 70s' horror like Burnt Offerings, The Changeling or Audrey Rose.

3 out of 5 stars

Cold Fish (2010)

Genre:  Serial Killer
Director:  Shion Sono
Country:  Japan
Series:  Bloody Disgusting Selects
Availability:  Netflix Watch Instantly

I don't even know where to begin. From the trailer of Cold Fish I knew I was in for a rather bizarre movie but I guess I just didn't see this crazy, bloody, pornographic and abusive freight train of a movie coming. When we were twenty minutes in and they suddenly showed the opening title of the film it prompted us to look up the running time. 146 minutes! 146 minutes! At times throughout the movie it really felt like I had been watching Cold Fish for my entire life. Miraculously, the movie maintains a level of strange intensity for the majority of the film's storytelling, peppering the plot with subtle sexuality and then overt, somewhat violent sexual encounters that leaves you unsure as to what kind of movie you're watching and where it's really going. You're essentially always waiting for the other shoe to drop and when it finally does, it fucking clobbers you. The movie suddenly turns into an absolute bloodbath, quite literally, and the gore and depravity that spins us into our final scene is horror movie work at its finest. I wasn't the biggest fan of Cold Fish while watching it, mostly because it seemed to never end, but the last 40 minutes combined with a lot of reflection and afterthought I would have to say Bloody Disgusting Selects has once again offered up a surreal and quality horror movie.

3 out of 5 stars

The Dead (2010)

Genre:  Zombie
Director:  Howard Ford, Jonathan Ford
Country:  United Kingdom
Availability:  Amazon Instant Video

I briefly met George Romero at a NYC comic book convention some years back. He was wearing a t-shirt that read, "fast zombies suck". Someone asked him about it in the Q&A and he said, "Dead things don't move fast." And he's absolutely right (I mean, probably right), but then the question is, how fucking scary are slow moving zombies? In the movies they seem to have that eerie Jason Voorhees ability of always being one step behind you even though you're running your ass off and they're slowly lumbering after you with a broken ankle or a busted knee cap. And then, BAM! when you looked the other way for a moment they're suddenly right beside you sucking your brains out through your ears. But for the most part slow zombies are coming at you for like, ten minutes, and it's totally your own fault if you stand there fiddling with the safety of your gun or trying to tie your shoe lace or something and then Oh Noooos! they're biting your leg in half.

My point is, slow zombies are fucking slow so treating the story like an apocalyptic tale where the greater population is being decimated by them is just a little ridiculous and frustrating. This flaw is The Dead's  greatest one. Aside from that The Dead suffers from being an incredibly slow, rather boring story of a two men trying to locate a boy and find an airplane. On the positive side of things, the movie is well done, the performances are solid, the cinematography is at times downright beautiful and there are some nice gore scenes. If I had known I was in for a zombie-drama I may have adjusted my expectations and enjoyed the movie more instead of spending every 15 minutes sighing loudly and looking at my watch.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Woman in Black (2012)

Genre:  Ghosts
Director:  James Watkins
Country:  United Kingdom
Availability: Theaters

I'm a hard sell for ghost story horror movies, they tend to rely too heavily on jumpy scares and bombastic music, seeming to forget that less is more and quiet is creepy. The Woman in Black is no exception. While the atmosphere is dripping, perhaps overly so, with the ghostly and ghastly feel, and while all of the players seem to be so pale and scared they look like ghosts themselves, it doesn't stop this story from being formulaic and a little drab. Having been a huge fan of the book the film would have benefited to stick more closely with the elegance of keeping the story simple. Sometimes when you don't try to impress your audience, you end up knocking their socks off. Unfortunately this movie adaptation of an unforgettably scary book will end up being completely forgettable.

3 out of 5 stars

Deathdream (1974)

Genre:  Zombie
Director:  Bob Clark
Country:  USA
Availability:  Netflix Watch Instantly

Deathdream (also known as Dead of Night) was an interesting movie, if not a little vague and corny. It's got a great 70's feel, exasperated acting, ominous music, awesome outfits, and ridiculous characters. It's not exactly a zombie movie but it's not not a zombie movie. In fact, what is wrong with the boy goes unexplained and unexplored and instead we just watch him slip slowly into insanity while he craves blood and kills things. The ending is pretty great and is probably what makes the movie not completely disposable.

3 out of 5 stars

Salem's Lot (1979)

Genre:  Vampires, Stephen King
Director:  Tobe Hooper
Country:  USA
Availability:  Amazon Instant Video

For a vampire movie that runs an arduous three hours in length, Salem's Lot tells little of the monsters that are supposedly "taking over the town" and instead embarks on an exhaustive journey of exposition between the characters. The elements of the book that made the story rich and interesting are completely lacking here, instead of a wide cast of flawed & unique characters we are stuck with silhouettes of people so generic they are practically puppets. Instead of a town full of people dropping like flies we see a handful of victims and only hear verbal accounts of more. The creepiness and horror of our heroes having to hunt down friends and neighbors-turned-vampires for slaughter is completely missing in the movie adaptation and as a result the movie lacks tension, menace and devastation. I wasn't the biggest fan of the book but it did have a lot going for it and unfortunately the movie plays like a hollowed-out version of King's story. I don't know how this Salem's Lot movie became such a horror classic but being a fan of King, Hooper and 70's horror, and also being a sinfully forgiving viewer, I feel confident believing that nostalgia probably plays a big part of this film's continued praise. As a new viewer who is not 12 years old, I was bored and disappointed, finding no redeeming qualities in the longest three hours I have recently spent.

2 out of 5 stars

Mutants (2009)

Genre:  Creature Feature, Virus
Director:  David Morlet
Country:  France
Availability:  Netflix Watch Instantly

Whoever wrote the synopsis for the movie Mutants is taking advantage of the audience's love of zombies by leading us to believe that this movie is in fact about zombies. I suppose it's shame on me, seeing as the title for this movie is Mutants and not Zombies, but hey, the movie title Zombies is already taken so maybe they were just trying to be clever? Yeah, not so much. Zombies are typically people who die and are reanimated either by supernatural forces or by a virus. They usually no longer have their wits about them and crave human meatloaf. Zombies are not people who are bitten and infected with a virus, turn into cannibals (without dying), and grow extra teeth and loose their hair and develop extra nostrils. Those, I guess, are mutants. This is all just to say, if my expectation were set a little more clearly I think I would have enjoyed Mutants more. But instead of a fast paced exciting zombie movie I got a slow, bleak, stark and frustrating movie about a man slowly turning into a mutant while his girlfriend waits for him to do so. The end picked up the pace and there was fighting and running and gore galore. All in all Mutants was an artfully done horror flick with beautiful scenery, solid actors, and some really gross moments. Recommended for any fan of the genre, just know what you're in for beforehand.

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 16, 2012

YellowBrickRoad (2010)

Genre: Supernatural
Director: Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton
Country: USA
Series: Bloody Disgusting Selects
Availability: Netflix Watch Instantly

YellowBrickRoad is a fragile horror movie built with a foundation of tension, confusion, disbelief and despair. The less you know about this movie going in, the more chance you’ll have to truly be affected by the intended experience of the film. And the experience is what makes this little indie horror movie such a gem. Don’t expect shocks and gore, and don’t anticipate brilliance. Instead just sit back and allow the movie to take you on a journey that will hopefully worm its way into your brain so that for days after you sometimes find yourself still there. A riveting and chilling movie with stark imagery and a handful of gruesome moments, this movie kept me waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it did I was totally confused but satisfied by its complete weirdness. It's slow going at times and at one point I felt like I'd been watching it forever. But if you can muster the patience you will be rewarded with a unique and odd horror flick. Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Welcome to Movies In The Dark

Horror movies. No other genre can garner such fervent reactions from people. Emotions ranging from disgust, shock and revulsion, to amusement, joy and laughter. I’ve personally experienced the gamut of feelings over the 26 years that I’ve been watching horror movies, but no nightmare or terror or abhorrence can keep me from them. I’ve often wondered why people, and more to the point why I, love horror movies the way we do. I don’t think anyone can challenge the protests of people who can’t stomach them, but what is it that keeps horror audiences coming back for more? One theory is that people who watch horror movies are sensation seekers. They crave adventure and danger, a taste for something unusual, perverse and exhilarating. But given that most of us are normal people with average jobs and loving families, our real lives don’t come anywhere close to being that thrilling. So we experience those emotions vicariously, in the safety of our homes, through the intensity of the horror movie. 

It’s hard to be objective when you’ve been watching horror movies for as long as I have. To me, horror movies are more about atmosphere, tone and experience, than they are pulse-pounding methods of excitement. It’s always a welcome surprise when I get scared from a horror movie but that rarely happens anymore. I fear that I’ve become desensitized. I can watch damn near anything now and, while sometimes still shocking or gross, I can stomach it all. From the head bashing and rape scenes in 2002’s French thriller Irreversible, to the triple human abomination of 2009’s Dutch horror The Human Centipede, to the full body skinning in 2008’s French horror Martyrs.

In 1985 I was 7 years old and while spending the night at my best friend’s house I watched my very first horror movie. The movie was 1980’s Prom Night starring Miss Scream Queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis. My best friend and I lay on the floor in front of the television, we were wide-eyed and scared and eating popcorn and candy with the lights off as we watched beautiful teenagers being picked off, one by one, and slaughtered on the day of their prom. I was hooked. We both were. And from that day forward we would watch horror movies whenever we had a sleepover, sometimes to the frightened objections of our other little girlfriends. But that didn’t stop us. By the time I was 14 years old I had seen Carrie, The OmenHalloween I and II, most Friday the 13th movies, Sleepaway Camp I and II, most Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Children of the CornReturn of the Living DeadApril Fool’s DayWitchboardDollsProm Night 2The GateLost BoysGremlinsPrince of DarknessReturn to Horror High, Child’s PlayThe Lady in White and Pet Sematary. To name a few…

Not many people share my passion for horror and over the years I’ve become accustomed to watching the majority of them alone. I turn off the lights, light candles, pour myself a glass of wine, make popcorn and settle in with my cats to watch teenagers run for their lives, stealthy creatures decimate populations, or unknown viruses turn good folk into crazed killers. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve met a few people who enjoy horror movies (almost) as much as I do. A few of us have a semi-regular horror movie night once a week wherein we pick two movies, drink wine, smoke hookah and eat popcorn and candy and heckle the night away. They are some of my favorite nights.

I have seen 645 horror movies (by today’s count) since that very day in 1985 when I watched Prom Night. Sure, it’s a hefty number, but considering how many more movies that I have yet to see - classics and B-movies, foreign ones and brand new ones - I still have a ways to go.

My Top 15 Favorite Horror Movies! (to date)

April Fool’s Day - 1986 US slasher movie
The Changeling - 1980 US supernatural movie
Dawn of the Dead - 2004 US zombie movie - remake
Demons - 1985 Italian satanic movie
The Exorcist 3 - 1990 US satanic movie
The Fog - 1980 US supernatural movie
Halloween - 1978 US slasher movie
High Tension - 2003 French slasher movie
Martyrs - 2008 French slasher movie
The Mist - 2007 US creature feature
The Return of the Living Dead - 1985 US zombie movie
Scream (series) - 1996 US slasher movie
Suspiria - 1977 Italian supernatural movie
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 2003 US slasher movie - remake
The Thing - 1982 US creature feature

I have nightmares near constantly. I dream of zombies and Apocalypses, horrible creatures and crazed stalkers, satanic cults, epidemics and hauntings. Just last night I dreamt that Jason Voorhees was stalking my mother and me in my childhood home. I looked out the window, it was dark, and he emerged from the woods slowly, very slowly, walking across the front yard and coming to stand under my bedroom window. He looked up at me, giant machete in hand, and just stood there unwavering. I ducked down quickly and when I peeked out again he was gone, and then there was pounding at the front door. I woke up, heart hammering, terrified and having to pee. When I got up from bed I looked out my bedroom window, which is ground level, and was convinced Jason was going to appear. I’m not immune to getting scared or having nightmares, I just happen to like it. It’s a fake, safe fear that allows your imagination to run rampant, lets your heart race and your skin crawl without actually being harmed. It’s a damn good time! 

Horror movies are my passion and through this site I will share with you my thoughts and critiques on the movies I watch every week. Sometimes I will watch them alone or with friends, while drinking wine or eating dinner, with cats on my lap or while folding laundry… the company and the situation surrounding watching a horror movie may always differ but one thing will always remain the same, I watch my horror movies in the dark.