#31HorrorFilms31Days Roundup (2)

Scary-movie1This is my second annual roundup for the 31 Horror Films in 31 Days challenge. I had such a great time doing it last year, that I just had to do it again. The rules are pretty simple — beginning October 1st watch 31 previously unseen horror movies by midnight of Halloween, tweeting each one with a descriptive blurb and the hashtag #31HorrorFilms31Days.

 

The real “challenge” comes into play cobbling together a list of 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and stand a decent chance of being good. I cheated only a little with The Birds; I had seen it before but this was the first time on a big screen, so I decided to include it. If you think you know Hitchcock but have never seen any of his films on a theater size movie screen then I’m telling you you’re missing out. You have no idea. It’s like seeing the movie for the first time (and definitely how Hitchcock envisioned the size of the canvas he was working with). This makes all the difference.

 

There seemed to be a lot more duds this year peddling plain sloppy examples of lazy and unimaginative movie making and storytelling. But coming out of that mixed bag of uninspired mediocrity were some of the scariest (and funniest) horror movies I’ve seen in a long, long, time, so I’m still calling this year a huge win.

 

lake_mungo_ver2_xlglake_mungo

Topping my list this year for outright scariest, achieving a surprising amount within its very modest indie budget is the Australian flick Lake Mungo (2008). Its simple but incredibly convincing faux documentary style relies on no special effects, no jump scares or loud music, and it still SCARED THE LIVING BEJEBUS out of me. It accomplishes so much with so little — this is as stripped down and bare bones as movie making gets, but it all felt so authentic and engaging, pulling you right into the heart of this family and the tragedy they’re experiencing. So not only is it a believable portrait of grief, it really digs at the psychological costs of grieving and how we might process an actual haunting. This is a movie that impressed me with its ambitious ending too. It’s a twisty narrative that when it finally departs from its straight-forward premise where you think you know exactly what’s going on, the movie is going to jangle your nerves, terrify you, break your brain (and then your heart). Watch it!

 

file_744248_wyrmwood-posterAnother winner from Down Under is the post-apocalyptic zombie flick Wyrmwood (2014). I’ve been burning out on zombies of late (and I place the blame firmly at the feet of The Walking Dead for my zombie fatigue — so glad I stopped watching). But this loud, action-packed, gory and edgy zombie fest from Australia is smart and innovative with some Mad Max thematic overtones to act as the cherry on top. The zombie genre is SO well-trod it’s really a challenge to pull off anything new, but Wyrmwood succeeds splendidly. Trust me, put this one on your watch list. And tell your friends! I want a sequel.

 

Another HUGE SURPRISE was the Lovecraftian romantic horror mash-up (yes, you read that right) — Spring (2014). This one was so unexpectedly spring-2014great, I almost gave it five stars. Not only is it a convincing love story set in a beautiful Italian landscape, it is a terrifying contemplation on body horror and metamorphosis. It’s subtle yet consuming, with great dialogue and fantastic chemistry between the two leads. And don’t just take my word for it: horror maestro and creative genius Guillermo del Toro tweeted that it’s “one of the best horror films of this decade.”

 

The FUNNIEST horror comedy that I watched this year had to be What We Do In The Shadows (though I finally got around to seeing Dale and Tucker vs Evil and that almost tied with it). Both of them I will watch again because they’re that good. What We Do In The Shadows is a mockumentary out of New Zealand from the creator of what_we_do_in_the_shadows_ver6Flight of the Conchords. If you weren’t a fan of that show, don’t let that stop you from checking out this HILARIOUS look at the life of a den of modern vampires sharing a house together trying to navigate their challenging condition and their annoyances with one another. It’s fresh, cheeky and a whole bucketful of bloody fun.

 

And lastly, while not strictly a horror movie per se, I finally got around to seeing Green Room with Patrick Stewart and the gone much too soon Anthon Yelchin. This is a gripping, edge of your seat, white-knuckle thriller that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final credits roll. It is INTENSE, extremely well-acted, and not easily forgotten. The violence is graphic, but not gratuitous, and the suspense and tension unrelenting. If you haven’t seen it yet, add Green Room to your queue. You won’t regret it.

green_room_background_2

 

Lastly, please share what scared YOU this October. I’m already working on my list for next year!

 

31. WYRMWOOD (Australia 2014) Mad Max w/ ? Yes please! Action-packed, gruesome & funny 4/5

30. FEBRUARY (2015) Sally Draper’s left behind at empty boarding school over holiday. Quiet & supremely unnerving 3.5/5

29. SPRING (2015) A mash up of body horror & love story profoundly, authentically beautiful in its themes & charm 4.5/5

28. CLOWN (Canada/US 2014) Like if Jeff Goldblum had morphed into a demon clown instead of a fly 3.5/5

27. CELL (2016) Cell phones turn people into fast moving zombies, sorta??? Confused & messy & kinda dull 2/5

26. CUB (Belgium 2014) Boy Scouts + feral wood kid. No. Just no. Graphic violence + animal cruelty 0/5

25. TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL The dumbest, clumsiest college kids mistake two hapless hillbillies as psycho killers. 4/5

24. DEMENTIA 13 (1963) Francis Ford Coppola’s mainstream directorial debut & weak attempt at ripping off Hitchcock 2/5

23. GOODNIGHT MOMMY (Austria 2014) Opens w. twin boys playing in a cornfield. You know this isn’t ending well.

22. THE HALLOW (Ireland 2015) The deep Irish woods are alive with… you don’t want to know. It isn’t leprechauns 2.5/5

21. THE DEAD ROOM (New Zealand 2015) Minimalist approach to maximizing suspense. Impressive sound fx 3.5/5

20. STAKE LAND (2010) Mad Max meets The Road via vicious vampires. Gripping apocalypse melodrama with great acting 4/5

19. HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995) Paul Rudd’s film debut and the final film of Donald Pleasence

18. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (New Zealand 2014) Loved it! The funniest goddamn vampire movie you will ever see 4.5/5

17. THE ONES BELOW (2015) Epic suspense fail when your audience can predict every plot twist 2.5/5

16. FOUND (2012) What sucks more than being 12 and getting bullied? Discovering your brother is a serial killer 3/5

15. LAKE MUNGO (Australia 2008) Utterly unnerving indie gem in faux-doc style. Don’t miss this one! 4.5/5

14. PURGE 3: ELECTION YEAR (2016) Very shoot ’em up this time and LOUD. The tonight was much scarier 2.5/5

13. BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) A horror western with cannibals starring Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson? Yes please 4.5/5

12. BAD MILO! (2013) This is why men don’t give birth. Utter schlocky nonsense totally worth it for Peter Stormare 3/5

11. ZOMBEAVERS (2014) Because sometimes you just have to opt for the truly ridiculous. Raunchy, gory fun 3.5/5

10. THE BOY (2016) Lauren Cohen gets nanny gig in English mansion. The Innocents meets Pinocchio meets Chucky?? Meh 2/5

9. BLEED (2016) Never go ghost hunting in an abandoned prison when you’re pregnant. Recycled schlock 1/5

8. MANIAC COP (1988) What’s not to love here? 1980s NYC, Tom Atkins, ‘s chin & eyebrows, & Raimi cameo

7. HOLIDAYS (2016) Very meh horror anthology that tries too hard to be clever. That bathtub scene though 2/5

6. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR What part of don’t open the goddamn door do you not understand?! Nothing new here 2.5/5

5. GREEN ROOM (2016) Punk rockers get a gig in a den of neo-Nazis and see something they shouldn’t. Intense!  4/5

4. SINISTER 2 (2015) Predictable jump scares pale in comparison to outstanding frightening unforgettable original 2.5/5

3. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2013) British sound engineer gets movie job in 70s Italy. Lynch-like weirdness ensues 3/5

2. THE BIRDS Small coastal town besieged by shrieking, screeching homicidal birds. Calculated silences=pure dread 5/5

1. CRIMSON PEAK Lush, gothic romance filled with terrible beauty and dread by the master 3.5/5

#31HorrorFilms31Days Roundup

Scary-movie1This was the year I decided to take the 31 Horror Films in 31 Days challenge. The rules are pretty simple — beginning October 1st watch 31 previously unseen horror movies by midnight of Halloween, tweeting each one with a descriptive blurb and the hashtag #31HorrorFilms31Days. This was a no brainer. In my world, watching 31 horror movies would be a breeze and a pleasure.

The real “challenge” I faced was cobbling together a list of 31 horror movies I’d never seen before (because I’ve seen a lot). Not only that, I wanted them to be movies I thought had a decent chance of being good. It’d be easy come up with a list of B-grade pieces of schlocky garbage. I wanted my challenge to be a labor of love, a genuine attempt at uncovering some diamonds in the rough and a perfect opportunity to catch some classics I’ve managed to miss along the way.

The verdict — I’m deliriously pleased to announce — is that horror is not dead. Despite too many baaad remakes and too many rip-offs and too many shaky cameras, the genre is alive and well. Not just good movies, but great movies are being made. Even M. Night seems to be back in the game after I’d sworn off his movies for good after The Happening, in which nothing actually happens other than people get the_nightmarescared by “gently rustling leaves.” Two hours of my life I won’t ever get back, fuck you very much. The Visit isn’t half bad though, with some creepy scenes and a “twist” that has a “the call is coming from inside the house!” kind of vibe. The kids are a bit overly precocious and annoying, but the old woman is TERRIFYING.

Listed below is my complete round-up of all 33 movies I ended up watching by Halloween. They were all previously unseen. I’ve assigned a rating out of 5. No movie scored 5/5 but two came very close — not surprisingly Jacob’s Ladder and the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Not necessarily the best, but the two that scared me the most (as in sleep with the light on nearly make me pee my pants level of scare) included most unexpectedly a new documentary called The Nightmare about sleep paralysis. The human brain is an asshole and some unlucky people fall under its torment nightly. Don’t miss this. I will say the same bansheefor  The Banshee Chapter. Ever heard of Shortwave Numbers Stations? Yeah, me neither. This movie makes use of them in a way that completely unnerved me. Sit alone in a dark room and listen to the swedish rhapsody. I dare you.

Also high on my list from Canada is Backcountry — a gripping man versus nature tale about an intrepid couple who go into the woods — and meet a bear. It’s beautifully shot and terrifying to watch unfold. Not as good as Open Water, but very compelling nevertheless in its convincing actors and in the confident execution of its simple plot.

Lastly, please share what scared YOU this October. I’m already working on my list for next year!

33) HALLOWEEN TALES | Anthology of ten ghoulish tales reminiscent of Creepshow & Tales From the Crypt 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days #Horror

32) THE VISIT | Old people be scary. Precocious kids can’t see dead people but get traumatized for life anyway 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

31) INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS 1978 “They’re already here!” 4.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days #MissionAccomplished

30) DEAD WITHIN Couple hiding from zombie-esque plague become unhinged in their isolation. Slow burn but good 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

29) HOUSEBOUND | Bratty adult with legal troubles is trapped at home with mum under house arrest. Funny & scary 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

28) HELLRAISER (1987) | Ugly characters. Ugly movie. Pinhead is a dick. How has this spawned so many sequels? Hated 0/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

27) BIG ASS SPIDER! As much scary fun you can have w/ a giant arachnid & it still be legal 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

26) STARRY EYES Bleak Faustian tale mixing Cronenberg body horror w/ Lynch weirdness. Compelling but difficult to watch #31HorrorFilms31Days

25) THE LAZARUS EFFECT | Didn’t little Gage teach you people nothing?! Sci-fi Pet Sematary 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

24) THE GALLOWS Is this House of Leaves high school? How big is it anyway? Silly shaky mess copycatting much better 2/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

23) DIABOLIQUE Stripped to its bare essentials this classic is effective but sorely missing Hitchcock’s stylings 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

22) BACKCOUNTRY (Canada 2014) | Open Water in the woods with a bear. Lush & nerve-wracking 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

21) HIDDEN (2015) Intense, claustrophobic survival story about a family hiding underground 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

20) WE ARE WHAT WE ARE | If Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a subtle, lyrical well-acted movie. This one surprised me 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

19) THE HAUNTER (Canada 2013) Teen caught in time loop in haunted house. Must unravel sinister mystery. Nice twist 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

18) THE AWAKENING (2011) | Jimmy McNulty is a British boarding school teacher. There is a boy ghost. And a twist. 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

17) THE GIFT (2015) | More psychological thriller but still intense and creepy. Bullies suck. Karma is a bitch. 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

16) WE ARE STILL HERE Never bring hippies into a haunted house with ancient curse. Good! 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

15) THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME (Spain 2013) | Well plotted ghost story genuinely frightening and emotional Rating 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

14) DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS. DEAD | Russian zombies kick Nazi zombie ass. Gory slapstick fun! 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

13) INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 | Pissed off demon in a breathing mask torments teen girl. Intensely scary for a sequel. 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

12) DEAD SNOW Cabin in the Norwegian mountains movie w/ NAZI zombies. Spectacular cinematography, splatter and fun. 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

11) CABIN FEVER: PATIENT ZERO | “No, I’m not on my period. Why do you ask?” Flesh eating disease is an asshole. Rating: 3/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

10) THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL | Adventures in babysitting. Nostalgic 70s stylings & slow build make this a real gem 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

9) THE PYRAMID Can a movie be so bad it’s good? Yes. Just not this one. What a laughable mess in every way. Rating 1/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

8) THE BANSHEE CHAPTER Effing scary!! Sound effects are unnerving. Lovecraft + hallucinogens = bad news Rating: 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

7) GRABBERS Creature feature with drunk Irish and tentacles. Hilarity abounds. Nearly peed myself laughing. Rating 4/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

6) JUG FACE Hicklit meets The Lottery. Young girl cheats Pit. The Pit wants what it wants. Backwoods chaos ensues 2.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

5) THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT Found footage. 5 friends. Haunted houses. Hells no! Scare tactics on crack 4/5 #PeedALittle #31HorrorFilms31Days

4) JACOB’S LADDER | Vietnam vet has hellish visions. Doesn’t know what’s real anymore. Terrifying and beautiful 4.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

3) RE-ANIMATOR Sometimes dead is better. Ayuh. Above all else, keep your head. Cheesy gory fun. My rating: 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

2) THE NIGHTMARE 2015 | Dramatized documentary about sleep paralysis. Scary! My rating: 3.5/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

1) HERE COMES THE DEVIL – (Mexico 2012) Creepy kids get lost in a cave overnight. Come home acting even creepier 2/5 #31HorrorFilms31Days

My Favorite Movie Endings of All Time

the_end_small_2Just recently a friend and I had an animated discussion about our favorite movie endings. It turned out to be so much fun that I thought I’d compile my picks into a blog post.

Neither one of us is a rabid cinephile or film critic; we just love movies. So our respective lists turned out to be hodge-podges of personal favorites and guilty pleasures (as opposed to a more sober, hypercritical assemblage of undisputed “classics”). Sorry no Casablanca, Chinatown or Citizen Kane here. That’s not to say that I don’t take the movies on my list seriously; I take them very seriously. I love them all. Especially their endings.

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

(more…)

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

greenriverGreen River Killer ★★★★
by Jeff Jensen, Jonathan Case (Illustrator)
Dark Horse Originals, 2011

My reading/reviewing year is really getting off to an excruciatingly, abysmal slow start. I blame my Netflix addiction that includes a recent binge viewing of The Shield (from which I’m still recovering). In November, I became obsessed with Sarah Koenig’s Serial podcast and literally lost weeks. Archer is back in full throttle splendor — “We need a minute Captain Shit Nuts!” — soon to be followed by the return of Season 3 of The Americans on the 28th.

Throw in work, sleep, eating, alcohol consumption and Words With Friends, and it’s no wonder I’ve fallen way behind.

Zodiac_DVD_WS_Front_Final

Zodiac (2007)

I don’t have a real penchant towards reading about serial killers. I don’t even like them in my movies usually. However, like most things, there are exceptions. One of my favorite films of all time is David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). It’s an incredible movie that takes a cold case with a million moving pieces that went unsolved for decades and distills it down into this cerebral and frightening coherent narrative about obsession and loss of self. To this day, the Zodiac killer remains unidentified and the lingering torment and regret laid on the shoulders of the men who chased him in vain cannot be underestimated.

The Green River Killer was another notorious serial killer who almost got away. Gary Ridgway was eventually convicted of murdering 49 women but it’s believed his kill count is much higher. The Green River murders began in 1982 and hit their peak in 1984. However, Ridgway would not be identified and arrested until 2001 thanks to DNA evidence.

Gary Ridgway

Gary Ridgway

The lead investigator for The Green River Killer was a man by the name of Tom Jensen. When the Green River Task Force was eventually disbanded, Jensen became the sole investigator. It was a case that would continue to haunt and obsess him right up until the day of Ridgway’s arrest. It’s a story that Jensen’s son wants to tell, an intimate look at his father’s entanglement with evil and desperation, frustration and determination.

I never would have believed this story could be contained in the black and white panels of a 200 page graphic novel. But contained it is. Jensen’s version is a remarkable example of gritty police procedural balanced with a son’s touching tribute to a father he obviously respects and cherishes deeply. The storytelling is sharp and rhythmic, bouncing back and forth from past to present in a seamless montage of events that is impressive. There are hardly any visual or textual clues to orient the reader in time; nevertheless, I was rarely left wondering ‘where’ and ‘when’ in the story I was.

This is one graphic novel that packs an emotional wallop. Not just because of the subject matter, but for the way in which the story is told.

The horror! The horror!

The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead ★★
Adam Rockoff
Scribner, May 2015

This is an advanced review. Reader copy provided by NetGalley.

horrorofitallI always feel guilty when I snag a book from NetGalley and don’t love it. But hey — impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all crave, right? So I get over that guilt pretty quickly.

Adam Rockoff has a great idea here. While my real passion is to watch horror movies (not read about them) every once in a while a book like this sneaks past my defenses with a come hither look I can’t resist. That’s what this book did with its great cover and catchy (if wordy) title.

Essentially what Rockoff is attempting to do here (and largely fails) is what Stephen King accomplished decades ago with flair and brilliance in his nonfiction study of the horror genre Danse Macabre. What did I want this Christmas season? What do I keenly long for every year that passes? A goddamn, updated sequel! Get on that Uncle Stevie, before it’s too late!

dansemacabre

Danse Macabre ©1981

King’s masterpiece covers horror in all its manifestations in print, and on the big and small screens. Rockoff narrows his focus to just the movies, and that would be enough if it had been a wide view of horror on the big screen, but Rockoff’s kink is the slasher / exploitation films (the subtitle for this book should have been my first clue).

Rockoff has already written a book about the rise of the slasher film called Going to Pieces — heh, cute title — and without having read it, I’m left with a sneaking suspicion that this follow-up book treads a lot of the same ground. In The Horror of it All Rockoff has a major rant against Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for a special edition episode of their show Sneak Previews aired in 1980 in which the film critics lambast these “slasher” flicks as a dangerous and despicable trend in film both demeaning and dangerous to women (these men are so high up on their high horse here I can’t imagine they can still see the ground). Don’t get me wrong — I love Roger Ebert, he remains one of my favorite film critics — but boy, was he mostly a fuss bucket when it came to horror movies in general. It wasn’t his genre of choice and it showed in many of his prejudicial (and often undeserved) negative reviews of some great movies.

Rockoff is justified in tearing a strip off these two men in an instance where they show complete ignorance about a genre and its fans. Neither Siskel or Ebert appear to have actually sat through any of these movies they are so quick to dismiss as sleazy and misogynist. They show no awareness of “the Final Girl” who often survives to slay the “monster” herself, as well as suffering from the common misconception that it’s only women killed in slasher films. Quite the contrary; studies show men are just as likely to die violent deaths on screen in horror movies as their female counterparts.

But I get it. As a fan of the genre since before I could tie my own shoes, I’ve come up against that kind of prejudice many, many times. Horror is a genre where the consumer is attacked as often as the content itself. Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to accept, people who will look at you with a wary expression as they ask “how can you read/watch that stuff”? As if we should be ashamed, as if we are somehow mentally warped or our moral compass dangerously askew. Don’t worry, it isn’t. Horror appeals to many of us for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons, I swear. And it appeals just as equally to men as it does women. And that doesn’t make the men misogynists, or the women failed feminists.

But I digress. Back to Rockoff. His goal here is to really champion for the slasher films and the deranged and disturbing pushing all the boundaries it can possibly think of exploitation films. And I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. But it gets a bit repetitive and tiresome and a lot of the movies he winds up talking about are pretty obscure if you’re not a complete and utter fanatic for everything underground and out of print (I’m not).

Adam Rockoff

Adam Rockoff

In his introduction, Rockoff promises to approach horror in a very personal essay, knitting together his experiences of the genre using memoir as a lens. I love that idea. I love hearing about people’s personal reactions to movies or what was going on in their lives when. One of my favorites of these sorts of anecdotes came from my own mother. She was dating my father at the time of the theatrical release of The Exorcist.

It was a date movie for them (these are my genes). They had to park the car at the very back of the mall parking lot. When the movie let out after 11pm the mall was closed and the parking lot was almost empty. They walked to the dark, abandoned hinterland of the lot to their car. When my mother went to open the passenger door (this was 1970’s Newfoundland – people rarely locked their car doors) a giant looming shadow of a man sat up in the back seat and groaned. My mother screamed. My father cursed (and probably shit himself). Turns out that while they were watching the movie, this guy stumbled out of the bar drunk and crawled into my parents car to pass out mistaking the car as belonging to his friend.

Rockoff has a few personal stories like this, humorous and charming, but not nearly enough of them. He can’t help but slip into the film school analysis voice, reviewing and critiquing. Too much of the book’s contents feel like grad school essays, a little pompous and righteous. In an effort to “legitimize” horror and testify to its importance and validity, Rockoff comes off sounding like a bit of a haughty dick.

Then there’s some sections that just don’t work at all, and their inclusion confounds me. Case in point — in Chapter 5 “Sounds of the Devil” Rockoff talks about the (un)natural marriage of heavy metal music to horror movies. The two go together like PB&J in some ways, in other ways it’s a misfit experiment gone awry.

Tipper Gore 1985

Tipper Gore, 1985

He raises a few interesting points and then inexplicably goes right off the reservation with a blow-by-blow account of the time in 1985 Tipper Gore helped found the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and brought the fight to Washington in the hopes of compelling the music industry to adopt a voluntary rating system warning of the explicit lyrics destined to corrupt and warp innocent children.

Halfway through this chapter I felt like I was reading a completely different book that didn’t have anything to do with horror movies at all. It just seemed really out of context and ultimately onerous. I remember when this bullshit was going on at the time — even at 11 years old I scoffed then, I scoff now. Plus, it’s not nearly as interesting a story as the Comics Code Authority and the war against horror comics of the 1950’s (check out The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America and Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America). And I’m really looking forward to seeing this 2014 documentary Diagram for Delinquents.

If you’ve made it to the end of this lengthy, rambling review I thank you. You are a good sport and too kind. I didn’t hate this book but it failed to really engage me or entertain. I don’t recommend it; instead, pop some popcorn, turn out the lights and cue up your favorite scary movie.

Horror movies 101: rules of survival

How to Survive a Horror Movie ★★★★
Seth Grahame-Smith
Quirk Books, 2007

how to surviveHorror movies and I? We go way back. I’ve been a voracious consumer since I was eight and my enthusiasm for the genre hasn’t diminished with … ahem … maturity and wisdom. So yeah, it’s been a lifelong love affair, one I don’t hide, or feel I need to apologize for. Because even amidst the dreck, there exists some awesome cinematic gems, and amidst the classics there are film moments of hair-raising, heart-stopping, enviable genius.

The naysayers who decry: “how can you watch that garbage” are rude asshats, unimaginative douchebags or big fat chickens. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. Rationally I know horror movies aren’t for everyone, but there’s that rabid part of my brain that thinks if you’re not with us, you’re against us.

In writing this little manifesto on how to survive a horror movie, Seth Grahame-Smith (the guy who gave us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) proves that he understands horror and humor are a marriage made in heaven – the two go together like Butch and Sundance, Sam and Dean and that other celestial match – Sam and Bruce. Horror indulges in all forms of comedy – satire, slapstick, black, blue, Freudian, farce, irony – you name it, it’s been done; in some cases to humbling effect, either deliberately with great focus, or by happy, moronic accident.

Bruce Campbell (Ash) battles with his possessed hand.

Bruce Campbell (Ash) battles with his possessed hand.

Don’t believe me? Look no further than these cinema classics: An American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead I and II, The Return of the Living Dead, Creepshow, and Shaun of the Dead.

Frank (James Karen) realizing the movie lied.

Frank (James Karen) realizing the movie lied.

All of the above are prime examples of why I’d rather be watching horror movies rather than reading about them. But every now and then a book of this sort breaks through my defenses, giving me that “come hither” look I just can’t resist. This book has giggles, a few gut busters, and a whole lot of in-jokes delivered with tongue firmly planted in cheek. There are some sections that fall flat being over-written and a little dumb, but there are also shining moments of pure cleverness. Any die-hard horror fan who reads this little book is going to think “I could have written this and probably done a better job”; maybe, but you didn’t, and neither did I so we’re going to shut our pie holes and give props where they’re due.

More than anything, this little book is pure goddamn fun. Plain and simple. However, it is not a classic – for that you have to read If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor and Danse Macabre. These definitive texts will teach you everything you need to know about the industry, the genre, the people who make their living by it, and the people who love it. Seth Grahame-Smith wants to make us laugh, but it also comes across how much he loves celluloid horror and because of that I know he is one of us and therefore to be trusted.

There are just too many delightful nuggets to quote from here and rather than trying to capture them all I’m just going to say go read the book. But I can’t resist throwing out a few of my favorites:

The Seven Deadly Horror Movie Sins:

      3rd Deadly Sin: Independence – “Screw you guys I’m going home”. Actually you’re going about a third of the way home.

     5th Deadly Sin: Curiosity – “Do you think it’s dead?” No. Go ahead and poke it with a stick.

How to Defeat a Killer Doll: Kick the Crap Out of It. Why are you running away from something that could be imprisoned with Legos?

How to Kill a Vampire: Interview It.

What to Do If Your Corn Has Children In It (I still can’t say this out loud without giggling my ass off)

The Amityville Horror (1979) – Bad things happen in house. Family buys house. Bad things happen to family.

Carrie (1976) – If you haven’t seen this masterpiece yet, pelt yourself with tampons and go to your prayer closet.

The Hitcher (1986) – How many times do I have to tell you: Never pick up Rutger Hauer!

Seven (1995) – I went to see this film by myself on a cold, rainy Boston day. I haven’t smiled since.

The Sixth Sense (1999) – Hi, my name’s M. Night Shyamalan. Trust me…you’ll learn how to pronounce it.

Evil Dead (2013) – epic fail

Evil Dead (2013) ★
Director: Fede Alvarez
FilmDistrict and Ghost House Pictures
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez

evil-dead-remake-movie-poster-2013So I finally got my ass to a theater to see the much anticipated remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic Evil Dead. I have to be honest — I did not want this remake. For the most part, I’m leery of remakes no matter the purity of intent or the talent and ambition involved. Certain films especially are such products of their time and the people behind them that any attempt to catch lightning in a bottle a second time is bound to fail. You’re either left with a painful pastiche or a hot mess. All parties involved are so determined to either “hold true to the original” or break away to become “its own movie” that the effort seems agonized and confused one way or the other, defeated before the first scene is even shot from trying too hard or not hard enough. Rarely does something emerge that’s new and exciting with its own unique vision of a story.

My problem with remakes is that if you can’t do it better,  why bother doing it at all? Yet people continue to try.

I’ve been a diehard fan of the Evil Dead trilogy for years, and while I did not think a remake of this sort could succeed, I was willing to give it a chance. It did have the blessing of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell after all and maybe a young new director could bring a freshly terrifying spin to that cabin in the woods and the inadvertent awakening of sleeping demons.

Then again, maybe not.

e3Without even comparing it to its source material (there is no comparison), this remake is an epic failure. Yes, there are some gooshy, icky splatter effects to make you squirm and wince and gag and a few loud bangs and demons jumping out of dark spaces to make you startle — BUT — that’s all there is and I’m sorry, anyone who tries to argue any different is wasting your time.

I was shocked by how little plot set up there is (the ludicrous intervention / detox getaway weekend is so throwaway and unconvincing). What’s worse, there is hardly any tension or buildup before the gore starts to fly. Hello!! Where’s the foreplay, people? This isn’t a porno that needs a sex scene in the first 15 minutes. Yeah it’s a horror movie, but one that claims to be more evil-dead-2013-critique-L-S0Cu8cthan a B grade slasher flick, boasting in fact to be the most terrifying film I will ever experience, so where’s the goddamn character development? I need a hero to root for, I need someone to really like and relate to who’s going to act as my gateway into this nightmare landscape. All of the characters are so underdeveloped and just not that likable that when the possessions start (too soon, way too soon) I felt neither frightened for them nor invested in the outcome. I don’t scare if I don’t care, it’s as simple as that.

Horror 101 — anticipation is everything, an addictive emotional, visceral response. Create suspense please, let my imagination do a little bit of work first, give me some room to savor the dread. The approach here is heavy-handed and obnoxious. I did not feel like an active participant but rather someone who is being dragged along for the ride.

evil-dead-2013I was also disappointed by the visuals, not just the demons, but how dark this movie is shot. Throw on some lights! Dark isn’t always the scarier choice. This is the only time I will mention Raimi’s original in which he shoots a lot of his most violent scenes cast in bright light (I’m thinking of Cheryl and the pencil stabbing here). It’s in our psychological makeup to feel safer when there’s light, so that when something horrific happens it’s even more frightening because we’re not expecting it. This remake is too dark as to be almost monochromatic, and with no contrast that very quickly translates into visual boredom.

Horror and comedy may seem like strange bedfellows, but any horror junkie knows that the juxtaposition of scary with funny is a magic combo that is one of the genre’s greatest strengths. When the tension is coiled just tight enough, a slap dash of comedic relief is always welcome. That is sorely lacking in this movie. There are no comedic moments, no absurd occurrences to get you giggling right before you scream, and god knows this bleak piece of work needed that more than anything else. If it’s not going to serve any other purpose than to make your characters more likable, locating those natural moments to exploit for a laugh is paramount.

evil-dead-jane-levyAnd as for those demons? Meh. The possessed looked more like a cross between a vengeful Japanese ghost and a Romero zombie. Nothing about the way they move or speak impressed me as new or particularly frightening.

Was I grossed out? Yeah, you bet, but that’s not the same as being terrified, and wasn’t that supposed to be the whole point?

%d bloggers like this: