Friday, 27 February 2015

21st Century Horror (2000 - 2014) Part I

The 21st Century is still a pup, but fifteen years in, of course there are a number of horror films which are noteworthy. Any selection of personal recommendations is going to by subjective, so here for better or worse, are the horror films released since 2000 (and listed alphabetically) that I recommend.

28 Days Later (Dir: Danny Boyle; 2002; UK)
A great take on George A. Romero's first three zombie films from outbreak to military intervention, 28 Days Later owes as much to John Wyndham's classic novel The Day of the Triffids. Director Boyle manages to make the living dead scary and dangerous again, while referencing "rage" rather than "zombies".

American Mary (Dirs: Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska; 2012; Canada)
The time was definitely ripe for the Soska Sisters' look at rape culture and body modification. Katherine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps (see below) is featured as a med student who discovers the bod mod underground as the result of some harsh lessons learned at med school.

Brotherhood of the Wolf (Dir: Christophe Gans; 2001; France/Canada)
This genre-blending tale puts the emphasis on horror as a killer wolf stalks the countryside in 18th Century France. Brotherhood, however, manages to get all its genres right.

Bubba Ho-Tep (Dir: Don Coscarelli; 2004; US)
An ancient mummy is the prey of an aged Elvis Presley and an aged, black John F. Kennedy at a seniors home in this black comedy from the director of Phantasm.

Calvaire (Dir: Fabrice Du Welz; 2004; Belguim)
When the van of a traveling entertainer breaks down in the countryside, he discovers the surrealistic horrors of being a woman.

Cloverfield (Dir: Matt Reeves; 2008; US)
The found footage trope is given new life as a kaiju attacks New York City. The jerky-cam format works well here as it adds an immediacy and an air of reality to a genre that hasn't been given this treatment previously. The only downside is that the 20-somethings who populate the film are hard to relate to unless you're the shiny on the outside but dull on the inside offspring of well off socialites.

The Conjuring (Dir: James Wan; 2013; US)
Director Wan's post-Saw supernatural films are so affable that it's hard to be mean to them, even if you're not a fan. Here, the 1970's setting works in favour of this parapsychologists-in-a-haunted house flick. Wan attempts to scare his audience as often as possible, and succeeds more often than he falls flat in The Conjuring. In fact, this film is like a Marx Brothers movie with rapid fire scares standing in for laughs. One note to filmmakers: Dolls are creepy enough as they are, so you rarely have to do much to convey that creepiness. Adding outrageously "scary" artifice almost mostly serves to diminish the desired effect, adding a comic and over the top touch instead.

Dagon (Dir: Stuart Gordon; 2001; Spain)
The director of Re-Animator and From Beyond returns to H.P. Lovecraft for this tale of a shipwrecked couple who discovers that the island where they're stranded is home to... well, Lovecraftian creatures and things.

The Descent (Dir: Neil Marshall; 2005; UK)
Trapped spelunkers versus sightless cave dwellers as interpersonal dramas play out in this suspenseful and exciting flick. Beware the US version of the ending.

The Devil’s Rejects (Dir: Rob Zombie; 2005; US)
Although Zombie is one of the most divisive filmmakers in the horror genre, I got into this nasty revenge flick about the killing spree exploits of the Firefly family. Terrific performances and interesting cult favourite cameos help immeasurably. Oddly, the only part that I feel Zombie fumbled is the confusing and therefore disengaging opening gunfight.

A Field in England (Dir: Ben Wheatley; 2013; UK)
An alchemist's assistant and three soldiers meet the Devil(?) in this sometimes psychedelic horror flick set entirely in... a field in England... during the 17th Century and Civil War. The scene in which Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith from the absolutely essential League of Gentlemen) exits O'Neil's tent is one of the most striking and disturbing images in 21st Century Horror.

Ginger Snaps (Dir: John Fawcett; 2000; Canada)
Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) Fitzgerald are two of the most interesting characters in 21st Century Horror. Not your typical teen horror movie fodder, these two morbid sisters face becoming women via a werewolf metaphor.

Grindhouse (Dirs: Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino' 2007; US)
In its original theatrical format (big screen, short versions of both films) Grindhouse is a lot of fun as two directors who have been inspired by genre films pay official tribute to exploitation movies of the 1970's and 80's. Sure Tarantino's Death Proof has one too many conversations, but this pseudo-double bill spawned more imitators than anything Tarantino's done since Pulp Fiction.

High Tension (Dir: Alexandre Aja; 2003; France)
Praised for its retro slasher suspense, but criticized for its ending, High Tension is one of the most audacious slasher films of the 21st Century. Great performances from Cécile De France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon add to this gory flick, and in my eyes, the ending only serves to add an additional kick to the proceedings (stayed tuned for a piece about this).

Hostel: Part II (Dir: Eli Roth; 2007; US)
As divisive a figure in the horror community as Rob Zombie, director Eli Roth upped the ante quality wise for this sequel to his hit Hostel. Though I'm not a fan of the original, the sequel is more of a giallo than a straight horror flick with some terrific set pieces.

The House of the Devil (Dir: Ti West; 2009; US)
This nicely atmospheric throwback to the slasher films of the 1980's finds a babysitter unexpectedly in charge of an aged invalid. Great cameos from Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, and terrific performances from Jocelin Donahue (babysitter) and Greta Gerwig (her pal).

House of Wax (Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra; 2005; US)
Entertaining and grisly updating of the original that is really just a remake in name only. Paris Hilton is fine as a secondary character.

Inside (Dirs: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury; 2007; France)
It's Béatrice Dalle versus Alysson Paradis in this outrageously bloody and suspenseful flick about a woman who wants the as yet unborn child from the belly of a very pregnant widow. Dalle makes a great (sympathetic?) villain in this disturbing debut from Bustillo & Maury; Here's hoping their two follow up films - Livid (2011) and Among the Living (2014) - become available to North American audiences soon.

Ju-on (Dir: Takashi Shimizu; 2002; Japan)
Shimizu also directed the English language remake of Ju-on (aka The Grudge), a film that along with Ringu and its American remake The Ring, is probably most responsible for the overseas popularity of J-Horror in the early 2000's. It's a creepy and entertaining flick that updates Japan's particular brand of ghost story.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Bloody Terror Movie Checklist

Last week I asked a few people on my Facebook page, people from whom I've either read writing or comments on the subject, or people whom I've talked to about this, to give me some suggestions for... what do we can them... Midnight Movies? Cult Movies? Subversive Cinema? Underground? Psychotronic? You get the picture... Movies that have either been ignored or forgotten by the mainstream, rejected by it, or in some cases, never even hit its radar.

Friends of these people began commenting, and pretty soon I ended up with a terrific list of movies worth seeking out. Some of them you'd expect to see on a list of this types (Eraserhead), but many were unique to similar lists I've seen (You Never Can Tell). I had no intention of publishing the list, but it was so good that I had to.

Though I didn't contribute to this list, others who did, in order of comment, were: David Nicholson, Brian Bankston, Robert T. Daniel, Dennis Cozzalio, Maitland McDonagh, Ray Ray, Robert Humanick, Robert Monell, Curt Duckworth, David Zuzelo, Kevin McDonough, James Dempster, Michael Hinerman, Jeremy Richey, Sam Shalabi, Peter Nellhaus, Mark Allen, Christian Mux, Shelley Jackson, Anthony Lamanto, Thomas Ellison, Phillip Scot, Marilyn Ferdinand, Salem Kapsaski and Heather Drain.

Click on each of the images below to enlarge and to print. If you're interested in these sorts of movies, you'll no doubt find some suggestions here that you'll want to hunt down.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

"The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist"

"The Exorcist" is an important film to me personally for a number of reasons - for its nostalgia, for the impact it had on me both in terms of hype and in living up to that hype, for the film's quality, for my varied interpretations of its theme, as a lesson in filmmaking, and on and on. And I wasn't the only one obsessing on William Friedkin's film version of William Peter Blatty's best seller; it was a worldwide phenomenon.

This entertaining Youtube clip entitled "The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist", made at the time of the film's release, illustrates the effect it had in North America back in 1973/74. Interviews start around the 1:50 mark.

Click here for "The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist".
Click here for a previous post about my experience with "The Exorcist"
Click here for my interpretation of "The Exorcist".

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2

Imagine that you’re a filmmaker in the position to create the follow up to your biggest success to date. Adding stress to the opportunity is the fact that this success is one of the key touchstones in horror movie history. With this as his starting point, Tobe Hooper must have been under an enormous amount of pressure when making the sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

Revisiting the sequel almost 30 years later, I think Hooper performed an amazing feat. To recreate the perfect storm of elements that made the original what it is would have been an impossible task – something that both fans and critics didn’t fully appreciate at the time of the film’s release. Instead, Hooper and co-writer/co-producer L.M. Kit Carson updated the scenario and again commented on the social climate at the time in which the film was made, but now it was the 1980’s with which they were dealing.

With that in mind, Chainsaw 2 is a dayglow gore fest (some of the over the top FX were cut during the film's initial release, but they've been reinstated in subsequent versions) that fits in perfectly with the comedy-horror vibe that defined the genre in that decade (see Re-Animator, Night of the Creeps, Evil Dead 2, et al). Gone is the realism and harsh horror of the original, replaced by fantasy and fanaticism – an understandable reaction to the Reagan Era. The difference is there, right from the beginning when we first hear Hopper and Jerry Lambert's terrible synth score that really emphasizes the potential annoying weakness of the instrument at the time. Happily, there are a number of great tracks from 1980's bands like The Cramps and Concrete Blonde on the soundtrack (some of the film is set in a radio station) that help balance it.

Present in the first film, black humour is more obvious in Part 2. The family homestead is replaced by the Texas Battle Land amusement park, taking the threat away from that of the dysfunctional family and its interaction with youth culture, and placing it entirely in the realm of entertainment. This conscious choice away from the sensibilities of the 70’s and into the 80’s is reflected in Tom Savini’s effects work, Cary White’s Production Design and Richard Kooris’ cinematography.

The cast of the original, so natural in their performances, are matched in their effectiveness by their 1980’s counterparts, albeit in a “heightened” manner that connects with the film’s tone. Caroline Williams as Stretch delivers an outstanding performance and the only one grounded in reality; Dennis Hooper, a returning Jim Siedow, Lou Perryman, and Bill Moseley as the unforgettable Chop-Top are all terrific too.

In 1986, a fan of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre expecting more of the same would be greeted by a film that seemed to revel in the exact opposite of what the 1974 classic offered: over the top onscreen gore (trimmed, but the build up if not always the payoff was there), broad comedy, overtly sexualized violence... Where was the fear, the ferociousness of the original? The fact is that 1986 was a far different time than 1974, and the differences between the two films are the differences between the two decades. That in itself makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 definitely worth another look.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

RELEASE ME AGAIN! More Movies That Need a (Decent) Region 1 DVD Release

In 2011 I created a list of movies that I felt should be given a decent release on Region 1 DVD or Blu-Ray. You can find that list by clicking here. Happily, many of the titles I listed are now available, paving the way for a second list, and that what you'll find below:

(USA, 1973; Dir: Georg Fenady)

Blood and Roses
(France/Italy, 1960; Dir: Roger Vadim)

Deranged (Uncut Version)
(Canada/USA, 1974; Dir: Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby)

The Devils (Uncut Version)
(UK, 1971; Dir: Ken Russell)

The Early Films of John Waters:
Hag in a Black Leather Jacket/Roman Candles/
Eat Your Makeup/The Diane Linkletter Story

(USA, 1964-1970; Dir: John Waters)

Photo by Anton Perich

The Farmer
(USA, 1977; Dir: David Berlatsky)

I Was a Teenage Frankenstein
(USA, 1957; Dir: Herbert L. Strock)

I Was a Teenage Werewolf
(USA, 1957; Dir: Gene Fowler Jr.)

Island of Terror
(UK, 1966; Dir: Terence Fisher)

(France, 2011; Dir: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury)

Symptoms (UK/Belgium, 1974; Dir: José Ramón Larraz)

Der Todesking
(Germany, 1990; Dir: Jörg Buttgereit)

(USA, 1971/1972; Dir: Daniel Mann/Phil Karlson)

White Reindeer
(Finland, 1952; Dir: Erik Blomberg)

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Monsters I Have Loved

Like most Monster Kids, the Universal monsters are where my love of horror films truly began. It's impossible to post about these iconic creations, however, without mentioning make up artist Jack Pierce who established the look for each save for The Creature from the Black Lagoon. He was designed by Millicent Patrick with input from Bud Westmore.