Friday, September 30, 2011

Footloose (2011)

Stars - Kenny Wormald
          Julianne Hough
          Dennis Quaid
Directed by: Craig Brewer
Summary: City kid Ren McCormack moves to a small town where rock 'n' roll and dancing have been banned, and his rebellious spirit shakes up the populace. (via imdb). 
I have to say I went into the theatre not expecting very much, and, once again, I was pleasantly surprised. It's not a bad remake. It's faithful to the original, a little too faithful if I'm being honest, but throws in a few tweaks to modernize the story. But that, in its way, is what's wrong with the concept. 
Somehow, a southern town, even a deeply religious and scared town, choosing to ban dancing in public just doesn't ring true. And some of the additions, like showing that some of the town's youths partake in underground dancing, fill the plot holes of the original, but not in a way that helps.
So, what's right? The dancers are amazingly talented at what they do, which makes up for a little stiffness in their acting. They manage to pay homage to the original, and there are a veritable shit-ton of winks and nods to the original. 
Which leads me to what's bad. I could almost swear that they shot this movie off the script from the Kevin Bacon version. It also goes way out of the way to style the lead exactly like Bacon. Same outfits, same haircuts, and same dance moves. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but if you're mildly ADHD/OCD like me, it becomes so glaring that it distracts the storytelling. It didn't need to be that way. A nod here, a subtle tweak here would have sufficed. I mean the audience for this movie is not my generation, so who did they put these things in for? Also, they recycle virtually the entire soundtrack from the original, and in mostly the same sequences, with two distinct and variably effective changes. First, the version of Holding Out For A Hero is melancholy and morose, and, while well done, doesn't suit the tone of the lyrics. Secondly, and egregiously, they completely throw out the angry dance music, although that sequence is in this version. They instead choose to go in a hip hop direction, which frankly doesn't work as well. His dance is clumsy and frustrated instead of intense and angry. Opportunity missed.
Overall though, the movie is just fine. A watchable film which I would grade a 6 out of 10. If you survived the 80s and loved the original, you could take your kids, as I did, and let them enjoy their version. But you could just as easily grab the original off Netflix and enjoy it just as much.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 38: Best CGI in a Horror Movie

On the heels of the last entry, we jump to a good example of CGI. Sam Raimi makes great spectacle movies and knows good practical effects and when it's necessary to use CGI to fulfill his vision. Argue all you want that Spiderman 3 goes off the rails, and he probably wouldn't argue much back, but helming such big blockbuster movies allowed him to study CGI and apply it to his first love, horror.
I liked Drag Me to Hell overall, despite it's extraneous use of Apple products in blatant pandering. It's a solid movie with some good jolts and a decent plot. It uses its effects effectively (tongue twister) and it looks visually appealing. Raimi's not Cameron and so he doesn't have to create whole worlds, and he does what he can in practical effects to heighten the believability. The CGI is crisp and not distracting to the eye. It blends well and avoids the cyber blur that can happen when effects are rushed or underfunded (think Sharktopus).
It's a solid movie, and I would give it a 7.5 out of 10.
Bonus video:

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 37: Best Special Effects in a Horror Movie

I want to apologize for not posting yesterday. Between trying to keep my energy up for the first SlasherCast podcast and feeling pretty terrible for the last four days, I just couldn't get it done. Having said that, I was terribly excited to write about this issue, because I feel very passionately about it.
Jack and David just
 saw a glittery vampire.
CGI effects can be used to great effect, but in cases where practical effects can be done, it makes no sense to go the computer route. It always rings a little false and looks a little off, such as The Wolfman's CGI werewolf running across the rooftops of London. It looks fake and pulls you out of the movie almost as much as Benicio Del Toros's bored line delivery.
The werewolf transformation scene is probably one of the clearest examples to show. An American Werewolf in London came out in 1981, 30 years ago, and no one has yet to top this scene:
30 years later, we get this:

Uhh... yeah... so that happened. It loses the impact and just plain looks shitty in comparison. Some of the best special effects ever are done in a practical manner, and they almost always (unless you're trying to make 8 foot tall blue cats play basketball) work better. Aside from the amazing Rick Baker led transformation scene, there's loads of fantastic makeup work as Jack starts to decay and David's victims start appearing in his visions. And to top it all off, there's a brilliant pseudo-nazi-werewolf-stormtrooper (not the Star Wars kind) sequence that is one of the most disturbing things put on film.
American Werewolf in London would earn its 10 out of 10 rating on the effects alone, but even without that, John Landis makes a damn good movie.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 36: Favorite Contemporary Actor in a Horror Movie

It's been a while since someone's acting has blown me away in a horror film. So long, in fact, that I couldn't come up with a clear-cut example. But I was enthralled recently by the quite grace, the understated delivery, and the raw crazy of one man recently. Now, whether or not the movie, Red State, is technically horror is a discussion for another day, tomorrow in fact. The inaugural episode of SlasherCast will delve into the good and bad of Kevin Smith's first foray into darker territory.
But, as I said in my review earlier, Michael Parks is fantastic in his role. His manner is calm, even while pumping gunfire at ATF agents. He's at once grandfatherly and even tempered and completely, fantastically deranged. He is a great version of the crazed evangelist who is willing to go to extremes for his beliefs.
SPOILER ALERT!!!!
There's a moment I describe in my review where he is casually sipping coffee during a raucous demonstration outside a funeral. His manner is so understated in that scene, that you only realize much later in the film that he was quite likely responsible for that dead body and what his casual manner really means. He is hardcore religious and feels so righteous that this crime means nothing to him except vindication.
Additionally, Parks has a fantastic voice, as he demonstrates in the film and on a separately recorded album of spirituals. His rendition of "Closer Walk to Thee" is ethereal and toe-tappingly heartfelt. I highly recommend checking it out if you can appreciate that style of music at all.

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 35: Movie that Started Your Love of Horror.

The year was.... well, frankly I don't know. But a young Mike begged, and I mean that literally, begged to watch Kingdom of the Spiders. It's an older, nature and science attack movie starring the ever Shatastic William Shatner. This is one of my earliest memories period, but outside of reading Stephen King at a very young age, it's my earliest memory of a foray into horror.
Dr. Shock and his amazing eyebrows
It's not a great movie, but to a young man, it was fantastic. Until... let me just say that the movie didn't scare me at all, but my dad got the grand idea of cutting a spider out of a black trash bag and gently lowering it onto my leg during one of the more tense moments. Needless to say, I promptly lost my shit, screamed and ran away like a frightened squirrel. Ah, memories.
Anyway, that didn't deter my love of the macabre, and it just snowballed from there thanks to the Saturday airings of Creature Double Feature featuring Dr. Shock. It was love at first zipper-backed costume.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Real Steel (2011)

Stars - Hugh Jackman
          Evangeline Lily
          Dakota Goyo
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Summary: A boxing drama set in the near-future where 2,000-pound humanoid robots do battle. (via imdb). 
Okay, imdb, you let me down a little with that synopsis. It leaves out a huge portion of the plot. But, to be fair, that's all I was expecting out of this was a live-action Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, but it delivers so much more. 
At the heart of the movie, is a down on his luck former boxer who has lost all faith in himself, and the child he abandoned from birth. Of course, this being a Disney film (via Touchstone), the mother is naturally dead. I was pleasantly surprised by how touching and fun this movie was. It has a ton of heart and emotion. The action sequences were well handled and didn't seem to cartoonish in its CGI. 
This is more of a family movie than I had imagined as well. The crowd got really into the fight sequences, cheering and clapping.
The ending is somewhat predictable, but not entirely expected. The acting is great, especially the young son, Dakota Goya, who is like a talented Jake Lloyd, and bares a passing resemblance. Shawn Levy, more known for his family friendly films like Night at the Museum and The Pink Panther, does an admirable job with the action and keeps the reins in check on the pace. It plays well and is emotionally gripping. I highly recommend it for audiences of all ages.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 34: Horror Movie Ruined by the Ending

In horror, there are a few things you have to get right to make it work. You need a sympathetic lead, usually a virginal, attractive blonde. You need a few good kills with good effects. And you need an ending that doesn't piss off the viewer and ties up the story well (at least until the next sequel). Some franchises do that well, like the majority of the Saw films, that tie together all the plot points and manage to insert a new twist every time.
Then, there's Friday the 13th Part VIII, Jason Takes Manhattan. Okay, I know you're thinking, "but the same boat that was in a lake somehow pulls into Manhattan?" Granted, there are a few notable plot holes in this particular installment, but none of them, including Jason in Times Square (which is still a badass image), compares to the final moments in the battle against Jason.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

For those of you who didn't know, there is apparently toxic sewage under the streets of New York. And apparently, this sewage is strong enough to not only kill an undead maniac from a lake, but can also regenerate him to child form before he dies.
No, wait.... WTF? Seriously? Yes, that's what they did. I shit you not. That was their grand idea for the ending.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 33: Favorite Slasher Movie

The golden age of the slasher movie was the 80s, but it's finally starting to make a comeback. That's why I chose a modern example for tonight's selection. Adam Green (@ on Twitter) is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors of late. He knows how to appeal to the slasher mentality as well as go for more visceral scares as well. 
Ouch
Hatchet is a perfect throwback to the old style slasher movie. Add 1 part legend of a killer in a remote area, 1 part a tormented child who grows into a brutal mass murderer, 1 part of people too stupid to not venture out into an area purportedly containing said maniac. Stir together a little sex and violence and make sure your bad guy fits the part (the always impressive Kane Hodder, @KaneHodderKills) and bake into a frenzy with a special appearance by fan favorite Tony Todd, and you got yourself a tasty little treat.
Victor Crowley is an impressive slasher. Strong, deformed, and violent beyond the normal. Hodder, mostly known for being Jason in several Friday the 13th movies, gives an impressive performance. It's good old fashioned gore and splatter and a fun ride. 
On a side note, Green also made a great suspenseful horror entry called Frozen. It's far removed from the slasher style of Hatchet, but will stick with you longer. Friends trapped on a ski lift have to worry about freezing to death and how to get back down, and that's just the beginning.  It's a genuinely terrifying example of how horror movies don't have to have a kill scene every 8 minutes to deliver a great movie.

Friday, September 23, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 32: A Movie that Scared You as a Child

Well known nutbar
To me, nothing in a horror movie is very scary, even as a child. I've always been unsettled at the worst, except for one movie. I begged and begged to watch Helter Skelter. Yes, it's not a horror movie, but a reenactment of the investigation of and eventual capture/conviction of Charles Manson and his "Family", based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi, who was the prosecutor who led the trial.
It's an absolute chilling tale of a man with the charisma and control to convince the people who followed him to commit atrocious murders on his orders. It wasn't this that scared me. Even at an early age, I was aware of humanity's capacity for doing harm to one another. It wasn't the brutality and callousness of the people who committed the actual crime either, or the fact that they were willing to kill a pregnant woman during their rampage.
I don't remember specifically what age I was when I watched this, but I remember the part of the movie that scared me. In the closing seconds of the film, it explains that his death sentence was commuted when the death penalty was repealed. And then, it said that Charles Manson would be eligible for parole in the year 19XX. And whatever that XX was, was the year I watched it. I was convinced that they would have to let him go, and he would then continue his plans to create anarchy (helter skelter) by systematically destroying the "pigs" in our society.
I no longer fear this, of course, because thankfully, good old Charlie is out of his ever-loving gourd. Having watched a few of his parole hearings, I'm sure he'll never set foot outside a jail alive.

Cuckoo for Coco Puffs
But, I still remember that gut clenching fear I had upon seeing those words and knowing that, given the chance, he would never stop.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 31: Favorite Horror Movie Theme Song

This is another category that took absolutely no thought whatsoever. There are songs you hear that take you back instantly and provide total sense memory. They dig into your subconscious and burrow there to be awoken later. The easiest example is hearing Christmas carols. You automatically form sight and sound associations. Or, you can't hear the opening bass notes of the Jaws theme and not instantly know it.
For me, there's one horror theme that automatically makes me think of trolling the neighborhood in my cheap Sears-bought vinyl costume with matching plastic mask that dug into my skin and would leave a mark for days to come. Dragging behind me a pillowcase stuffed with loot acquired from my neighbors. It's an immediate reaction and is so tied to the season that it permeates the decorative lights that make sounds. Of course, I'm referring to the theme from John Carpenter's classic, Halloween.



I still feel a thrill each year as I plop down to watch it in my annual ritual and the lilting piano starts up. It's a masterpiece of minimalist cue music that builds the tension each time it strikes up and "the Shape" appears. 30 odd years later, it's still the first thing I think of when someone talks about halloween. The second thought is below:


Warning: It will get stuck in your head!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 30: Your Favorite Horror Movie

This fight was reminiscent of Tyson vs Spinks. It was over before most of the participants knew there was a fight. In the horror pantheon, this reigns supreme in my book, and shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows me. Honestly, this is the day I have looked forward to the most.
Ki-Ki-Ki-Ma-Ma-Ma
In 1980, on a summer's evening, the world was introduced to Camp Crystal Lake. 30 years later, the Friday the 13th franchise continues to be one of the most successful media franchises in American cinema, as much for it's box office grosses as for its continued licensing and references in popular media. As a whole, the franchise, and more specifically the look of its dominant character, Jason Voorhees, has continued to pervade the fabric of movies, television, comics, collectibles and more.
Of course, in the first movie, Jason isn't the killer and is only shown in a supposed dream sequence. It's a little late for spoilers on a 31 year old movie, but beware...
Jason Voorhees is a hydrocepahalic little boy who dies in a tragic swimming accident while the teenage camp counselors aren't paying attention. That's enough to make any parent mad, but in that time, you didn't sue the camp, so what's a mother to do? I know! Grab your handy kitchen knife, or anything else sharp and at hand, and take revenge on the sex-crazed camp counselors who ignored your drowning little boy while listening to the voice of said son repeat a "kill them mommy" mantra in your twisted head. Sounds reasonable, right?
Anywho, one of the girls, the virginal one, naturally, gets lucky and chops off Mrs. Voorhees's head. Problem solved, right?
Except that for the next 29 years, Jason would keep coming back to exact his unending revenge on anyone dumb enough to come back to Crystal Lake, or Manhattan, or even space (and Elm Street, which is conveniently in a neighboring town).
I personally enjoy all the films, although not at the same level, and will watch them in succession at least once a year. One of my biggest thrills was meeting Kane Hodder, one of the Jasons, and getting his autograph. So, whether it's a little boy in the lake, a demented, scraggly bearded hooded murderous Lenny hermit, or the hockey masked living dead unstoppable machine that is even good freeze dried, I'm in.
Here's their scores:

Friday the 13th (1980)  8/10
Part 2 7/10
3D 8/10
The Final Chapter 7/10
A New Beginning 6/10 (Jason only appears in this as visions/dreams, killings are by a copycat)
Jason Lives 8/10
The New Blood 6/10
Jason Takes Manhattan 6/10
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday 6/10
Jason X 5/10
Freddy vs. Jason 7.5/10
Friday the 13th (2009) 8/10

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 29: Worst Horror Movie

Oh, wow. There are a virtual treasure trove of bad horror movies out there. Fortunately, most of them fall into the "so bad it's enjoyable" mode, but there are those that rise above the horrible level to the rarified air reserved for such gems as "Showgirls" , a movie so bad that even the numerous nude women in it couldn't make it watchable.
No, wait... Seriously?
The first one that came to mind is the abomination known as Babel. No, wait, that wasn't a horror movie, although it was horrifically bad. Thank you, I'll be here all week! No, seriously, The Gingerdead Man is one of the worst movies made. I'm not talking about The Gingerbread Man. the Kenneth Branagh film noir movie, which is actually pretty dang good, I'm talking about the 2005 Gary Busey (yeah, Gary Busey) movie about a demonic cookie. I repeat. A demonic cookie... So yeah, that actually was made.
Where to begin... well, it was made in 2005, but has all the film quality of a shot on tape 80's porn (according to my friends who have told me about such things). The best performance in the movie is by Gary Busey, AS A COOKIE!! That should say something. I couldn't even enjoy it on an ironic level. I didn't even finish it, and I've watched virtually every Troma film made, which are purposefully bad.
As a horror villain, the cookie is so laughable, no one could ever take it seriously. I mean, it's mortal enemy is a glass of milk. How are you supposed to be afraid of that.
I think they must have figured that out after seeing test footage of the effects, because the movie tries to play straight until the killer crumb comes to life. After that, it tries to be a horror comedy, but it can't even do that right. Do yourself a favor and run, run, run as fast as you can away from The Gingerdead Man.

Monday, September 19, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 28: Horror Movie You'd Like to See Remade/Rebooted

This is a difficult one to think about. Empirically speaking, I'm against remaking movies needlessly. There's few movies that can be helped by being remade. However, I am open-minded enough to look at each proposed one on a case by case basis.
For example, I could totally understand making King Kong, because the technology has come so far that it could breathe a new life into the big ape. But, it's not like the original needed to be made. Sometimes we need to learn to just leave things alone. The remake is fine, a little overlong, especially at the beginning, but it doesn't add anything, except for the insect pit.
It's hard to say what makes a remake viable in my opinion, or even considerable. There are twice as many, if not more, poor substitute remakes than there are good ones. The relative merits can be argued, but, in most cases, the original is always going to come out on top. 
But, never one to shy from a challenge, I thought about a movie that, although it remains a favorite, could use an update, and possibly a more serious tone.
They Live is a masterpiece of cheese and, for its time, impressive effects. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper stars as a blue collar guy who happens upon a pair of special sunglasses that allow him to see behind the facade of aliens that are quietly infiltrating our society through hidden messages and subliminal messages. From there, Roddy tries to figure out a way to stop the invasion. 
It wasn't a high budget film, and it shows, unfortunately, and yet, it is somehow perfect the way it is. Roddy gets to chew scenery and say some of the best one-liners committed to film. My favorite is, "I have come to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm fresh out of gum." There's also one of the longest fight sequences ever, and it's brilliant.
So, why would I want to see it redone? I feel like it would be possible to take the exact same premise, turn it darker and take out the lighter tone, and make a different, if not better movie. I'd like to see it in the hands of someone like Chris Nolan, who can instill it with the proper gravitas.
I give the original a 7 out of 10.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 27: Your Guilty Pleasure Horror Movie

Guilty pleasure usually means a bad movie that you inexplicably love. And I had the perfect movie, Student Bodies all picked out. It's a goofy parody of typical slasher films. It's bad, but fun, especially the running body count. But I decided in the end to go a different route.
I picked a particularly brutal film. It's hard to watch, from the initial rapes scene to the lengths the victim goes to to get her satisfaction. It's an angry film about someone who experiences one of the worst offenses imaginable and has a psychotic break. I picked I Spit on Your Grave because it's not a film you should enjoy on any level. It revels in the violent revenge of its lead. It's an incredibly uncomfortable movie, but it's well made, if unapologetic. I haven't seen the recent remake yet, but my understanding is it's pretty true to the original, so I imagine it will be a similar experience. I call it a guilty pleasure, because it is such a good movie about such a horrible subject. I recommend it for those who aren't easily offended.
I give it an 8 out of 10

Saturday, September 17, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 26: Horror Movie for a Chicken

Not every horror movie is made for all audiences, and all audiences aren't made for horror films. So it's rare when there are films that can cross the two together. It's usually a more mainstream director that knows how to bridge that gap and bring the two together.
They're heeere!!!
Poltergeist was written by Steven Spielberg, yeah, you know, the cute and cuddly alien making guy. It's also widely rumored that although Tobe Hooper's name is down as the director, Spielberg had a heavy hand in guiding the vision. It makes sense. Hooper, best known for Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Salem's Lot, is not known as a family friendly movie maker. And although Poltergeist has some dark moments and even some lingering scares (that damn clown puppet creeped me out for years), it is, at heart, a movie about a family that really loves one another.
There are some genuinely scary, and sometimes revolting, scenes, but, it is a PG movie. Of course, this was before the advent of PG-13 came along. In re-watching it, I don't know that I would let young children watch it, but it's a nice introductory film for the horror novice. It's the kind of film you can use to slowly integrate someone into the horror fold. It holds up pretty well. Some of the pre-CGI effects are a little cheesy, but others still pack a jolt or two. Still one of my favorites and it becomes extra chilly once you start to look into the "Poltergeist curse" that struck much of the cast. Several cast members had unfortunate events. Some deaths, some serious illnesses, Craig T Nelson made Coach, it was brutal. But it adds that extra bit of shudder to watching it again.

Friday, September 16, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 25: Favorite Christmas/ Holiday Horror Movie

Once Halloween became a hit, there was an immediate push to come up with other "holiday" themed horror films, thus giving us such classics as the brilliant April Fools Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day (natch) and the ever gruesome Groundhog Day. No wait, strike the last one. But there were a wide variety of others related to anything even remotely geared to a holiday. I suppose you can even count Leprechaun (shudder).
I dismissed Halloween as being to0 obvious a choice, and was going to go with April Fools Day, a perennial favorite featuring a non Biff/Griff/Buford performance by Tom Wilson. But, due to the nature of that film (no spoilers) I had to disqualify it. I then thought about Trick R' Treat, but it seemed too recent to qualify.
So, of course I was left with the biggest holiday of them all. Christmas. There are a few contenders to the throne here, but I narrowed it down to two finalists. One a quickly made, murder by the numbers, campy good fun movie. One a much darker and scarier movie.
Silent Night/Deadly Night, the former of the two, is a good bare-boned approach to the slasher genre. Young Billy witnesses his parents being brutally murdered by a robber dressed as jolly old St. Nick. Obviously, this kind of trauma, mixed with a healthy dose of "the nuns messed me up by whipping me" leads to a grown up Billy snapping and going on a murder spree. Simple, to the point, and just the right thing for a quick and dirty horror thrill. You can see every move coming from a mile away, but that's part of the fun with these types of movies.
The other contender, Black Christmas (the original, not the weird Simpsons-skinned killer remake), is a reindeer of a different color. It has less to do with the mythology and practices of Christmas than the other movie, largely centering on being set during the holiday season. The girls of a sorority house are being harassed by a caller that spouts out some of the worst things possible. The girls, including pre-Lois Lane Margot Kidder, are picked off one by one in a brutal fashion. As a side note in horror history, this is the first horror film to include the "the calls are coming from inside the house" trope. Also an early appearance by the great John Saxon, who would later star as Nancy's dad in the Nightmare on Elm Street films.
For SN/DN, I would give it a middling 5 out of 10. Gets the job done, but isn't challenging or even particularly memorable, outside of the killer Santa Claus thing. Black Christmas earns a more respectable 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 24: Horror Movie Character that Describes You

It's a loaded question to ask which horror character best describes you. I'm tempted to pick the guy stalking the woods with the machete looking for co-ed campers, but that may say more about my personality than I care to throw out there.
Anyway, that's the fantastical choice. In reality, I'd be more like the reluctant hero. Maybe someone with a bit of a snarky attitude, quick with some one-liners and not much of a people person. A guy who tries to be the hero, but occasionally messes it up a bit. And a bit of alright in the looks department too. Handy with a boomstick or a chainsaw. If only there were someone in the horror world who fit that description...
Oh yeah, the one the only (thank God) Ashley J "Ash" Williams. Part braggart, part smart-ass, part steampunk metallurgist, part ladies man, and Deadite killer. One of my all-time favorite actors in one of my-all time favorite roles. Bruce Campbell is the king of delivering the quick-shot one-liners. Even his throwaway lines are hilarious and perfect for his character.
I see a large part of myself in Ash, probably more than I care to admit to, but you can count on him in the final analysis.
On a side note, as a huge Bruce fan, I highly recommend his books. He's witty, smart, and talks honestly about the business of movie making and how a guy with a huge chin made it in Hollywood. Also, check out his directorial debut, "My Name is Bruce." It's funny, and especially made for his fans.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 23: A Great Quote from a Horror Movie

You could almost insert anything Bruce Campbell has ever uttered on camera in here and make a damn good argument for it, but the king is needed elsewhere, so I thought long and hard, and a great soliloquy from a great film came up. Christian Bale is a master class in acting in just about any role he's in. His dedication to his craft is evident in every performance. Whether it's the stomach churning gauntness and gravitas of his role in The Machinist (a hard to watch but brilliant film by the way) or his scenery chewing performance in the campy Reign of Fire (dragons in London for chrisakes), he brings his A game every damn time.
American Psycho is no exception. Without giving away major spoilers, you are witnessing the unraveling of a tortured, and eventually unhinged man. Every time I hear "Hip to be Square" now, I get chills and think of this movie. But the line I love from AP comes late in the film, based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis. It sums up the character perfectly and its delivery is perfect.

“There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it I have now surpassed. My pain is constant and sharp, and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis; my punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. No new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.”


Bonus Video: Do you like Huey Lewis?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 22: Best Death Scene

Wow. There are literally thousands of choices in this category. I point you back to day 19 for the best death. What could possibly beat having your head exploded mentally? I also love the scene in Halloween where Michael impales his victim about 6 inches off the floor and then just kind of tilts his head like he doesn't quite understand what just happened. There are probably a few hundred scenes you could point to as the best, either because they're memorable, or the effects are incredible, or the death itself is meaningful or a character you were kind of rooting for.
I honestly could not make up my mind, but, at the same time, I can't just list off a litany of deaths (a. this would get really long, and b. you might be a little worried about how many I can recite from memory). With that in mind, I tried to pick one that was indelible and stands the test of time. It represents a technical effects achievement, the turning point of its film, and is the catalyst of the terror to come... SPOILERS contained.
Congratulations, it's a boy!
It's chest bursting time! Alien is a
fantastic horror film, and way ahead of its time. It features a brilliant mix of psychological terror and the natural xenophobia we all carry. A group of astronauts land on a seemingly deserted planet. Finding a cluster of eggs, a creature attacks one of their own.
The creature, affectionately know as a facehugger, attaches itself to their comrade. They bring him back aboard the ship against regulations, and against logic, only to find the creature later dead, and their friend in a coma that he eventually wakes from. Crisis averted right?
It's dinnertime, and the venerable John Hurt is sharing a laugh with Yaphet Kotto and the rest of the crew and everything is back to normal, but not for long...


It's a scene that has stood the test of time, even being memorably parodied by Hurt himself in Spaceballs (see below). It marks the point in the movie when things go from wrong to "oh sit, we're in a lot of trouble" wrong.
I give the death and the movie a 10 out of 10.

Bonus: Water my ass! Get this man some Pepto Bismol!

Monday, September 12, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 21: Best Horror Franchise

Best horror franchise? What defines a franchise? Is it just having a shit-ton of crappy sequels that degrade a little further each time and prove the laws of diminishing returns? Or is it one that has an overall arching theme and plot line?
I could literally give a dozen or more examples of the former that would qualify here. But there are a mere handful of the latter that I would hold up to the spotlight. The first that comes to mind is the Hellraiser series, but it always felt like there wasn't any real cohesion beyond the tangential "Ooh look, a box. What happens if I open it?"
Hint: It ain't pretty.
To me there's only been one series that consistently ties itself back and has a cohesive storyline, a killer that survives multiple films, and still manages to innovate and throw surprises at its audience, drawing them into their little game.
Of course, I'm talking about the Saw franchise.
When I first heard about the original series, I expected just another gorefest, schlocky, horror-by-the-numbers movie. Of course, I was along for the ride. Those films can be enjoyable in their own right, but Saw delivered something else.
From the visceral fear of waking up in a bad situation that the audience feels as keenly as the protagonists do, to the mystery surrounding the serial killer only known as Jigsaw. He offers people who have forgotten their reasons for living a chance to redeem themselves, but it's going to cost them. It makes you ask yourself what you'd be willing to do to survive.
No spoilers, but the many twists and turns continue to build and surprise from start to finish. It boasts, perhaps, one of the greatest endings of any movie in any genre. As jaw-dropping as the Sixth Sense or Psycho or any Charlie Chan movie ever was. It still manages to shock, even once you've seen it.
And what makes the series so special, is that as you watch each consecutive film, the nuances of the previous ones are shone in a different light and you have to pick your jaw up just so you can drop it again.
The only objection I have, and it's one I gladly overlook because I understand the necessity of it, is that they had to consistently up the gore factor in favor of cleverness. The traps become gorier, and less survivable, even goofy in a few cases. And they feel the need to add additional circumstances outside the web of the central plot to feed the audience more deaths.
All that aside, Tobin Bell is note perfect, and almost made the short list for yesterday's favorite horror character challenge.
I give the first movie an absolute 10 out of 10. Each movie thereafter suffers for not meeting the same intelligence level, but none goes below a 7 for me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 20: Favorite Horror Character

By far, this was the easiest of the selections to make. I think anyone who really knows me, knows my answer to this. The hard part was not using up any of his movies previously.
Jason Voorhees, the unstoppable killing machine of Crystal Lake, Manhattan and even outer space is my go to. I jumped on board the franchise early for my age. When the original came out, I was only seven, after all. My first Jason was the awesome performance of Richard Brooker in Part III (in 3D no less). This is the movie that would shape his iconic look. No longer the encephalitic boy, and far from the oddly-bearded, scraggly, mentally challenged, redneck with a bag on his head, he gains his iconic hockey mask, and an indelible image is born.
I like this version of Jason the best. He's not the undead zombie he later becomes. He's still human and feel pain and other human emotions. He's just as bloodthirsty, but seems stoppable.
Yes, it's real.
But for the hardcore Friday fan, we know that the real Jason is Kane Hodder. His Jason is, in a word, badass. Having had the privilege of meeting him, and feeling his grip on my neck, it's not hard to be intimated by them man as much as the character. His is the Jason most people picture when they think of the murderer of Crystal Lake. He is the one responsible for the most memorable kills in the series. The girl in the sleeping bag being swung into the tree. The girl's head smashed into the side of the RV so hard her face is imprinted, and, of course, the flash-frozen head exploded in Jason X. His unstoppable force and imposing figure makes him the best to don the mask.

Suprise, It's me!
Who's that man in the mask?
But, in all the movies, my favorite look for Jason, the sheer size, the mask, the clothes, the brutality, is from Freddy vs. Jason. Notice, I don't say it's my favorite movie, I just think his look in this one is the best.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 19: Best Use of Gore

I've changed my mind on this one three times since I originally sat down and planned out my viewing schedule. I ended up using Dead of the Dawn for my favorite zombie film. My next choice was a movie called Cannibal Holocaust, which I remembered watching in my teens, along with the Faces of Death series. I remembered it being a brutal faux documentary. But in re-watching it, it's still a brutal film, mostly for scenes of rape and, of course cannibalism, but the gore factor wasn't nearly what I remembered.

Tastes like chicken
Then, I decided Hostel would take its place. Again, it's a disturbing and gory film, and would be an excellent candidate, as its really the first of what people have named the torture porn movies. But for as many body parts and gore are seen, a lot of the actual violence that causes the gore is largely off camera, which lessens its impact.
Then I thought of a particular scene. One particular scene from a classic horror film that has stayed with me since I first saw it. It's a brilliant use of practical effects that hasn't been equaled in this CGI crazy digital effect world.
The opening sequence of Scanners features a man showing off his powers. He can explode your head with his thoughts... a young Mike pretty much looked like this after that scene...
His mind was blown, literally.
It's one of the most amazing scenes ever, and the cut in is as seamless as possible. It remains one of my all time favorite scenes, and if it wasn't so quick and I didn't need it here, it would be my pick for favorite death scene (coming soon). The rest of the movie is really good, but the proverbial money shot happens then and there, so what's left is a little anti-climatic. So, if you want to save a little time, here it is...


That scene gets an emphatic 10 out of 10, the rest of the movie, a solid 7.

Friday, September 9, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 18: Favorite Horror movie Filmed in Black and White

I almost had to toss a coin on this one. I had two highly influential black and white films in mind. Both are considered the master templates of their particular horror sub-genres. But one of them tangentially caused the birth of the Twilight franchise, and that's unforgivable, so Nosferatu, buddy, sorry, you're outta here.
Original Emo Hipster: He sucked blood before being shiny was cool.
All kidding aside, Nosferatu is a wonderful early example of horror and ranks up there with the Hammer version of Dracula in terms of generational influence. If you haven't seen it, you are missing out on a huge piece of the genre's history.
And speaking of influence, there are zombie films that predate Night of the Living Dead, but few have the kind of lasting impression George Romero's little independent film has. It would go on to inspire direct sequels, remakes, homages, spoofs, and the very idea of the lumbering undead for decades to come and into the future. And, because it's copyright expired, it's now public domain, so it continues to get played every year.
It's reached the pantheon of classic film. To today's gore-hungry, quick-cut, one death every 8 minutes audiences, it may seem a little plodding and slow paced, but that's where the true masters understand horror. It's not the actual violence and death that's scary, it's the buildup. That's something that goes missing all too often.
Romero's film is long considered an allegory for race relations, largely due to the casting of a black man as the lead protagonist, who (I don't know if there is a time limit on spoilers, but here's your warning anyway... SPOILER AHEAD!!!) is shot dead after being the only person to survive the undead onslaught and just as help arrives (white help who shoot him on sight).
I love zombie movies, and this is the one that started it for me.
I give it a full 10 out of 10.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 17: Favorite 80's Horror

The 80s was a boon era for horror movies, and witnessed the rise of the slasher genre as the new king of the hill. What followed was a wonderful mix of trashy camp, fun gore, and the occasional gem of brilliance, like The Thing or Halloween. This is not the latter, and technically, this isn't my favorite of the 80s, but the ones that would rank above this are called for on other days.
This is a fun romp and a Spanish director's view of American horror.
Pieces (1982) is not a complicated tale, and a lot of the plot points are either incomprehensibly unbelievable or so predictable, Stevie Wonder saw it coming. SPOILERS AHEAD...

Ready?

Here we go! In 1942 Boston (aka Madrid), a young boy is putting together a risque jigsaw puzzle when his intolerant mother comes in and scolds him. Like any other reasonable boy, he proceeds to then chop his mother into pieces with an axe and handsaw. When the cops come, the boy hides in a closet and pretends to be the sole survivor of a brutal attack (Let that be a lesson to all you moms out there, don't try to separate a teen boy from his naughty pictures).
Many years later, a serial killer is killing young co-eds on a college campus. He's back to rebuild his mother piece by dismembered piece.
Pieces is the kind of enjoyably bad movie you can love in spite of or because of its flaws. But, disregarding the 70s blaxploitation/porn music, there are actually some decent performances to be found. Primarily the young killer, who plays the cold calculation of his character a little too well.
I give it a loving 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 16: Horror Film with a Great Soundtrack

Oh, hells yeah. I originally had today's selection down as my guilty pleasure choice (coming soon), but absolutely had to change it to this, because it has one of the best soundtracks OF ALL TIME!!!

Why? AC(effin!)/DC! That's why! 

Maximum Overdrive is a pretty shitty movie by most methods of judging these things. Cheesy dialog? We have that! Bad melodramatic overacting? Call today! Stephen King is a phenomenal writer and a master of the macabre. Unfortunately, as a director, he makes one hell of a music fan. 
The only really redeeming thing about Maximum Overdrive, aside from a decent premise that quickly gets floundered by its ham fisted plot drivers, it boasts a great soundtrack of AC/DC at its prime, including the hit "Who Made Who?" which was written just for the film. AC/DC remains a perennial in my playlist because, well... because they're AC/DC and they just plain kick ass.
King has regretted this effort in the past and would be the first to point out its relative low merit. He may have learned at the feet of Romero, but he shows the directing finesse of my 10 year old. 
Having said that, I watch it at least once a year, sometimes despite my better judgement, for the delicious horribleness of it all. 
I give the movie a generous 6 out of 10 and the soundtrack a resounding 10 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 15: Favorite Monster Movie

I was tempted to go with my first love here. After all, you never forget your first, right? So yeah, I came really close to picking Godzilla, but then, how do you cull the impressive list of badly good Gojira (his real name) movies? Can you really rank Mechagodzilla against King Ghidora? I grew up with many a Saturday spent watching the green goliath lay waste to downtown Tokyo (seriously though, after the third or fourth time, wouldn't you jet the hell out of there?). My love for Godzilla is now firmly implanted onto my children, and as cheesy as they are, I can still find myself raptly watching men in rubber suits fighting amidst the rubble of cardboard buildings.
Really tall man in sunglasses
But, as much as I love him, the big guy just isn't serious enough for this post. So, I went with the best example of recent monster movie making, Cloverfield. From the second I saw the awesome teaser trailer, I was hooked. And it didn't let me down one bit. Not only do I not mind the shaky cam videography style, I think it really adds to the inherent drama. The story is also very human, and the people we follow through the attack are compelling and very easy to sympathize with.
Coming after the attacks of September 11th, it's given even more import and is even easier to get drawn into by the events that unfolded on television that day, and the erie realism Matt Reeves is able to capture in the way humans would react in such an instance. Obviously, given that it is a monster movie, you also have to throw in a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief, but it rings true at the same time. I absolutely love this movie and watch it quite regularly. To me, it's the perfect mix of my childhood love and my adult movie sensibilities. And, more importantly, it is inspiring a new generation, most notably Gareth Edwards, whose movie Monsters is a gripping, if low budget, example of the genre. It's so impressive, that Toho Pictures is counting on him for the very necessary Godzilla reboot that will hopefully take away the bad memories of the other American adaptation.

Monday, September 5, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 14: Favorite Indie Horror Movie

I was turned onto today's selection through a few horror blogs. It was listed as a comedy/horror on the level of a Shaun of the Dead. That was enough to bring me in. Then I read the plot synopsis (SPOILERS AHEAD):Suburban America gone haywire. In the midst of a serial abductor/killer's rampage, a beautiful young teen, Riley Lawson, goes missing. When her desperate parents, Will and Kate, are contacted by her kidnapper, an insufferable FBI Special Agent takes charge of the case.But, from deep within the psychopathic subterranean world created by Otis, Riley turns the tables on her tormentor, manages to escape and to contact her parents. And, fed up with the tragi-comic inability of the FBI to find their girl, Will, Kate, and Riley's brother, Reed decide to take matters - and justice - into their own hands.
Holy crap. This is a brutal and hilarious movie about misfits, modern, bottom-feeding journalism and the lengths people are willing to go to get what they want. Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas are insanely funny as the parents of Otis's victim. It goes exactly where you think it will most of the way through the film and then takes a Shymalian turn (and I mean that in a good way). There's also a great turn by the always delightful Kevin Pollak as a big brother with a big problem. I highly recommend you run out and get this. It is a perfect example of what horror can be outside of the studio, by the books, make sure we can make sequels play book.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 13: Favorite Zombie Movie

Since I blew my actual favorite zombie film under the comedy section (Shaun of the Dead for those of you keeping count), I had to wrack my brains and come up with a choice 2. I immediately jumped to the gold standard, the original Night of the Living Dead, but that's coming up for a later choice. So, where do you start.
Confession time...

I LOVE zombie movies!!!!

Be they comedic, good, bad, campy or honest. Social commentary? Bring it. Zombie strippers? Bring it. Slow, lurching zombies? I'm in. Running, almost intelligent zombies? Hells yes! I haven't met a zombie movie that's not enjoyable on some level. So, I'm stuck.
I thought about it for a long time, and decided to go with the one I watch the most. Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead is my go to movie when I'm in the mood for a zombie film I can just chill out and watch. Although a technical remake of the 1978 Romero classic, it both alters the story and makes some improvements in character development and story. It does away with the anti-consumerism message for a story about survival, and how, in a real crisis situation, what you were before the apocalypse doesn't mean a whole lot when your neighbor's kid is chomping on your neck. And, in my opinion, the running zombies are one hell of a lot scarier than the shuffling monsters of yore.
I admit that when this was announced, I was mostly ambivalent. Why mess with a masterpiece? Then, the studio did something out of the usual and aired the first ten minutes on national TV. I watched, and after I picked my jaw up off the floor, I added it to my must see list. And I wasn't disappointed. I thought the frenetic pace was great. It has a killer soundtrack and makes great use of a lot of practical effects, which always looks better than CGI. I know there are a lot of purists who say zombies shouldn't run, but why not have undead creatures you can't outrun on a mobility scooter with a half-dead battery? There are some great performances in it too, which you might not otherwise expect in a horror film. Most specifically, Sarah Polley does a great job as being the narrative heart of the story. This is a near perfect film for me. I give it a 9.5 out of 10 and recommend it wholly.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 12: Your Most Disturbing Horror Film

Most disturbing? That's a tough question. There's a lot of levels to disturbing, and many ways that a film can disturb you. I decided to choose The Strangers for this entry, because it's a film that hits on multiple levels.
If you haven't seen the film yet, please be aware, because I'm going to spoil it quite a bit. If you plan on adding this to your queue, stop reading now.


Everybody good?

Ok, let's lock the doors and go down a dark road.

The movie starts with a couple caught in a bad situation. Not a horror situation, but horrific nonetheless. They've just come from a wedding out to an isolated vacation house in the woods. He, Scott Speedman, has just asked his girlfriend, Liv Tyler, to marry him. And she said no. And here they are, oat the vacation house together. Not really talking and not really sure what to do now. It's clear they care for each other quite deeply and don't want to end things, but how do you move forward after such an embarrassing and emotionally traumatic event? This part of the movie is almost painfully excruciating as we, the onlookers, have to pay witness to it. So the movie is disturbing on that level and is uncomfortably emotional.
And that's when the evil people show up. They have no agenda other than to terrify, and that they do. Quietly and purposefully. This isn't a gory film at all and there's no typical slasher backstory. Their simple answer for why? "Because you were home." It's disturbing in its realistic vibe. You really feel like this could happen. So much so, that it's not surprising when you find out that this is loosely based on a true story. Well, actually, an amalgamation of a few stories, but mostly the 1981 Keddie Resort murders. When the couple fight back, they end up killing his best friend. Which somehow even adds to the disturbing nature of the incident. 
It's a perfectly chilling and perfectly believable horror film. My score a 9 out of 10.

Friday, September 2, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 11: Favorite Horror/Comedy

One of the best things about this challenge is having a good excuse to go back and watch some of my favorite movies. There is a very narrow definition of what makes a true horror comedy in my mind. It has to be a horror film at heart and follow certain conventions. There are plenty of comedies with horror elements and comedies that parody known horror tropes (the Scary Movie series) or are loving comedic homages to particular horror titles (Young Frankenstein). But it's the rare gem that takes a horror premise and wraps it in a nice candy comedy shell.
Of these films, there is one clear king, Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead. It does pay careful loving attention to other zombie films, and includes numerous nods and winks to other films, including mocking 28 Days Later and including the line "We're coming to get you, Barbara!" in a tip of the hat to Night of the Living Dead. There several other categories IK originally wrote this down for, but it really just belongs here. Simon Pegg's Shaun is a well-meaning but clueless sort whose personal life is a mess. He has a crap job, his stepfather is on his ass, and his girlfriend just broke up with him. What else can go wrong? How about a zombie apocalypse?
With the "help" of his best friend, he's gotta get back and save the girl, his mum and find a place to hole up. What can go wrong?
Shaun of the Dead is a seriously funny movie and a satisfying horror entry too. If you somehow missed out on this gem, for fuck's sake run out and get it! How's that for a slice of fried gold?

Honorable mention: Tucker and Dale vs Evil. I recently saw it and reviewed it on my site. It's a close second and a damn funny movie. Check it out too!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Red State (2011)


Red State (2011)
Stars - Michael Parks
          Melissa Leo
          John Goodman
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Summary: Set in Middle America, a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda. (via imdb). 
Wow. That's literally the first thing that popped into my head when the credits started rolling. Kevin Smith, mostly known for his sharp, if profane, comedic dialogue has crafted one hell of a thriller. 
It's fairly evident early on that you're not watching a typical Smith film. This is a dark and complicated tale of right and wrong with some amazing acting and, I'll say it even if he won't, some superb direction. Smith is well known for editing his own work, and this one is cut perfectly to the second. There is not an ounce of wasted time in the 80 some odd minutes the tale unfolds itself in. It;s a lean mean storytelling machine. The picture painted is of fundamentalists so out of their minds that Pastor Fred Phelp seems almost rational in comparison. 
Michael Parks is a revelation and gives a tour de force performance as the charming, and almost paternal preacher. This is a man so tied to his belief, he is willing to do anything to save his flock from the dangers that face modern society.
It's easy to write him and the rest of the film as being anti-religion, but that's a narrow, pedantic view. Smith himself is a self-avowed Christian. It's not religion or a belief in God that he shines his spotlight on. It's the point in that belief when temperance ceases to exist and rationale walks out the door. Parks is all too believable in the role, and makes it almost easy to see why the people under him follow his words. 
There is a moment, a perfect, quiet moment, early in the film where Parks is idly sipping coffee as his troupe picket outside a funeral that shows the more diabolical nature of his persona. He is so cold and calculating in that one moment, that the rest of the movie feeds off of it, even though it probably escapes the average eye. 
John Goodman is fantastic as the reluctant ATF agent sent to deal with Parks' group. He is at once a dominant force and a man so clearly out of his element and unsure of his place that his dynamic alone could make the film. Add to that Parks and the zealots, and the movie reaches a whole new level. 
Smith has announced that his next two-part film will be his last, and that's a shame, because he has really shown that he is capable of making outstanding films beyond his usual comedic brilliance. So much so, that he does himself a disservice making this his penultimate film. Hit Somebody has some mighty big shoes to measure up to. I hope he really does see where the puck is headed and can score like old number 99. 
Do yourself a favor and immediately set your video on demand service to record Red State and, if given the chance in your area, go out to see it.