The Earth Dies Screaming (1965)

MAY 31, 2008


George Romero has frequently listed Carnival of Souls as a source of inspiration for Night Of The Living Dead, but I don't think The Earth Dies Screaming has ever been name-checked. Which is surprising, because it is even more similar than Carnival, in my opinion. Both feature a group of folks holed up in a single location (a hotel), our hero is hated by another, balder survivor, and everyone's dead EXCEPT our heroes, not the other way around.

It's a pretty good movie to boot, despite an abrupt ending. The movie is only 62 minutes long, and with only 7 to go they haven't really begun fighting back or making any real plans to escape their predicament. But then, all of a sudden, the hero begins rambling about finding a radio transmission by doing some simple triangulation (which he does wrong), they drive over to the radio tower, blow it up, and the movie's over. Did they have it in their contract that the movie could only be 62 minutes long?

As for the zombies, they are also rather short-changed. Our villains, robotic men that may be from our own government (our being the British - the American government would NEVER do something so shady!) occasionally ray-gun someone, and they come back as staggering, mindless drones with giant contact lenses to white out their eyes. They don't eat anyone (dammit) but they are, for all intents and purposes, zombies. But their cumulative screentime is brief, even relative to the film's already-brief length. Speaking of the robots, the best moment in the film comes when this is discovered by our heroes. They kill one and see all the robot shit inside its corpse. "A robot!", the hero exclaims, "That makes sense!" He's not being sarcastic.

The opening scene is fantastic. We see the immediate results of the virus that has killed everyone. A guy driving a car dies and the car instantly beelines for a brick wall, a train conductor dies and the train smashes off the rails; a pilot dies and the plane suffers a low-budget plane crash (it goes behind some trees and then we see some smoke); etc. But just when you think that perhaps the virus is limited to killing only folks who are operating transportation vehicles, a few Brits in traditional bowler hats suddenly drop dead for good measure. If they chose to pad out the running time by just displaying an endless succession of folks dropping dead, I would fully endorse the decision.

I also like that the movie always has corpses lying around in the background. So many post-apocalyptic movies are lacking in this department; everyone's dead, but they are nowhere to be seen. It's one thing when it's a full on zombie film, but otherwise it's always been an issue of mine. Blame my morbid sense of humor added to my love of background extras (an organization for which my 'membership' has recently run out - if Navy NCIs ever needs the return of my dockworker character, they will have to recast).

Incidentally, the only reason I rented this film was because it came along with a movie I actually wanted titled Chosen Survivors. I thought the film was a horror movie, but I checked the IMDb before I sat down to watch it and it is listed as Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi or something. The trailer made me think it was horror, so I will have to watch it and decide whether it qualifies on a day that I have time to watch something else if not. If any of you fine folks have seen it - do you think it counts as horror? Supposedly killer bats are in there but I don't know if they are the focus or just the subject of a single sequence.

What say you?


Séance (2006)

MAY 30, 2008


I hope the Blockbuster clerk was, like all Blockbuster clerks, completely oblivious to what I was renting/buying (or what anyone else in the store was doing, for that matter) the other night when I rented Séance, because I was also buying Highlander 5, and both films star Adrian Paul. I would hate for the sod to think I was some sort of Adrian Paul junkie, for as far as I know, there is no such thing and thus I would be the first. I’d also hate to think anyone actually realized that I was buying Highlander 5, for the love of Christ (excuses: I actually own all the others so I felt bad for the poor thing, and also they were doing 3 for 20 and I could only find 2 I actually wanted).

And it was not Paul, but the cover’s proud declaration that the film was “From The Writer of Vacancy” that piqued my interest. But sadly, it’s his script that is ultimately this film’s biggest problem. The cast is fine (more importantly, they look like regular college kids), the makeup and visual effects are good (other than some CGI rain in the first act – what the hell?), and it’s even a good looking film despite its digital origins. But the script was just too generic to really hold my interest. It’s yet another “kids fuck around and bring back a murderous ghost” movie, complete with a little “good” ghost girl, a Ouija board, the whole nine yards. There is nothing in the film you haven’t already seen in movies that weren’t that great in the first place. Luckily, since the other elements are perfectly fine, if you’ve never seen a film before, you will probably really enjoy this one.

There are a few nice touches, however. One line in particular made me laugh out loud; a girl says “He wasn’t there and then he was!”, to which someone responds “That’s how ghosts work!!!” Hahahaha, awesome. There’s also an odd moment where the girl is begging her boyfriend to “do something!” and he yells “Who do I look like, Harry fucking Potter?” and I swear to Christ she says “yes!” There’s also a delightfully nasty kill near the end involving an elevator (it’s not a particularly logical death, but it’s a good one nonetheless).

I would like to mention the music. There are two types in the film. One is a very Goblin-esque score that is pretty decent (and fits with the film’s sort of generic feel). But the other is just variations on "Itsy Bitsy Spider". Can we get a moratorium on horror movies using little kids’ songs from the past century and trying to make them creepy? It barely ever works, and it’s just ridiculous to boot. If you want to scare someone by singing a well known song, you gotta go with "Total Eclipse Of The Heart". “Turn around.... bright eyes....” - shudder.

There’s also a pretty hilarious moment where the heroine is breaking all of the lights (the ghost is only visible in the dark, another reasonably inventive notion). As she breaks the final one, the ghost appears and they begin a chase scene, which is lit by the obvious production lighting coming from the ceiling. It’s so obvious I almost expected Paul to grab the boom mic guy or maybe a key grip and kill him in the middle of the scene.

But while the film’s only real crime is being generic, the making of is just an abomination, making even the kissass-iest EPK piece of shit look respectable in comparison. Half of the footage (including the interviews) looks like it was stolen off of Youtube (I suspect the editor digitized the footage at low resolution in order to piece it together and never bothered to re-digitize at the proper resolution once he was done), the director interrupts his own actor’s interview, and there’s even a “hilarious” mock interview with a parrot. The editor also has never bothered to learn about audio tone, leaving jarring moments of complete silence in between clips. Or how to edit at all; a full minute is given to a PA bringing one of the actors a sandwich. Gripping footage. The only reason I would recommend watching it is to see Joel Geist, who plays the film’s resident loner turned hero, talking with a noticeable gap between his two front teeth, a ‘blemish’ that is covered in the film itself. Also, Adrian Paul discusses how he researched serial killers like “Ted Bundy and Robert Rodriguez”. While I am no defender of Spy Kids 3D or Sharkboy and Lava Girl, I would never go so far as to call Rodriguez a murderer for directing them.

(I assume he meant Richard Ramirez).

So it’s not a bad movie, just a by the numbers one. Like I said, if you haven’t seen the type before, it’s no better or worse than the others (well, it’s definitely better than that piece of shit The Brink, I’ll give it that much).

What say you?


Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942)

MAY 29, 2008


I wish I was a torch salesman back in the times of Frankenstein and his never ending number of fellow mad scientist family members. I would have made a mint, since it seems every resident of the town lights one up the instant pretty much anything happens. Ghost Of Frankenstein (who, like Bride, only has about 2 minutes of screen time) offers no less than TWO angry mob scenes, complete with numerous torches that someone sold for a great premium and proceeded to eat well for the next month.

This one offers a lot of stuff we haven’t seen in other Frankenstein films, such as a courtroom scene with the Monster sitting there on the defendant’s chair. We also have dueling mad scientists, a very intelligible Monster (he gets a new brain), and, before he even gets the new brain, a scene where he gives a little girl back to her father, instead of tossing her ass into the lake.

The movie also contains what may be the first non-fake scare in horror movie history. Our heroine (who is strangely a non-factor in the finale, she just stands around outside the lab where everything is happening) sees a shadow on the wall. She looks, and sees a hand at the window. She gets scared, the hand’s owner comes into view, and it’s.... the Monster and Ygor (Lugosi, two in a row for the gent!). Nowadays, it would just be her friend or her dad or whatever, but back in the day, they didn’t have time for such tomfoolery – a scary hand belongs to a scary guy, and thus the movie is 20 minutes shorter than the usual generic horror film.

Story writer, and one hell of a Panther coach.

It’s not as good as Son of Frankenstein, or, well, any of the others, but it’s still good. Unlike the Dracula films, the recasting of the Monster didn’t hurt, and the series is overall simply more intelligent and interesting. Then again I prefer monsters to vampires, so that’s not really a surprise. I would like to see them do something at the end besides have Frankie go apeshit, cause a fire, and destroy a building that falls around him while the two heroes go off into the sunrise, but hey. There’s still another film to go! And we can all agree that the two series are far better than Universal’s Van Helsing franchise, which stalled after one film due to the fact that it’s an abysmal piece of shit.

What say you?


Sex And The City: The Movie (2008)

MAY 28, 2008


While I love gore and insane prosthetic effects as much as the next guy, it’s nice to see a horror film that eschews all of that stuff in favor for more subtle horrors; a sort of ‘alternate’ horror film, much like Martin or something of that nature. Sex And The City: The Movie fits that mold; despite the R rating, there is actually only suggested violence in the film, along with a few morbid visuals.

Based on the TV show, the film is about three female best friends, each of them a different type of monster. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a vampire, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is a succubus, and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is a werewolf. There is also a fourth friend, a human named Charlotte (Kristin Davis) whose only role in the film is show off her perfect human life to her friends, all of whom aspire to find her happiness while retaining their own monstrous needs.

Carrie the vampire is the film’s main character. She is engaged to a fellow vampire, a man only referred to as Big even though his name is John something or other. Unlike most cinematic vampires, they are not harmed by sunlight (the film even makes a little joke about this – they turn down an apartment because it doesn’t get any sun), but they are immortal. We know this because they have been dating for 100 years and have broken up and gotten back together some 15 times (this is explained to us a few times via dialogue – I assume it was detailed in full on the show). Big stands her up at the altar, and she begins a downward spiral – she’s been with him forever, and was prepared to give up her immortality in marriage. Now she is faced with being immortal forever, and alone.

Next up is Samantha, the succubus. She doesn’t live in New York with the others, instead she lives in LA where her kind is more common. The film’s opening sort of “previously, on Sex and the City” thing shows her pre-devouring of several men, and then finding a man she truly loves and thus does not want to eat. Now they’ve been together for five years, and she is discovering that she misses her succubus ways, thanks to a new neighbor who is actually a male succubus, taking a new woman every night.

And then there is Miranda, the werewolf. Her problem is more simple – she’s not allowing herself to indulge in the pleasures that come with being a lycanthrope. As the film begins her husband, a nerd who obviously gets off on nailing a she-wolf, is sexually frustrated, and cheats on her. So she throws him out, and now has to make a new life for herself and hopefully rediscover her carnal instincts.

Finally the human one, Charlotte... well, she doesn’t really have a storyline, because she is not one of the undead. Like I said, she’s just there to sort of remind her friends that happiness is possible, though they never quite make clear if being human is essential. Later in the film she finally has something to do (she gets pregnant), but until then she’s merely just sort of hanging out with them. Ironically, she is the focus of the film’s sole gross out gag, a scene in which she contracts dysentery and shits her pants. It’s an odd moment, but mainly because it’s actually pretty funny, where the rest of the film is incredibly overdramatic and sour.

The little moments in which their monstrous sides are actually on display are among my favorites in the film. At one point, Miranda begins growing her werewolf hair all over her legs, and the succubus chastises her for it. She usually shaves it all in order to hide her lycanthropy from her coworkers (she’s a lawyer – another sly injoke to her true nature), but since her separation from her husband she is letting herself go. The three monster girls, particularly the vampire, also have an unnatural addiction to red wine (for contrast, the human only drinks water). I would have liked more of these type of scenes, but since the film is about the human side of monsters (and not the monstrous side of humans) it makes sense that they are kept to a minimum.

Still, it does have some scare moments. The succubus, who is the oldest of the group, strips nude and covers key parts of her anatomy with sushi (a nice reverse on the succubus way – she is inviting her lover to essentially eat HER), a ghastly sight. She also threatens on more than one occasion to devour two separate men’s manhood, which will give the male viewers a chill (the females in the crowd cheered at these lines).

In the end, it’s a decent attempt at doing something different. In the end, all of the monsters have accepted their true nature and found happiness, which is nice. I would have liked maybe one transformation or two, but the effects are pretty much limited to Dick Smith style old age makeup. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly the most unique horror film of the year.

What say you?


Black Dragons (1942)

MAY 28, 2008


Honestly, I can’t take another one of these movies. I can’t even tell them apart anymore. Even though Black Dragons has a spy plot (with lots of racist overtones – I wasn’t aware major newspapers referred to our enemies simply as “Japs”), it’s essentially yet another movie that takes place in a large house, features a butler, a horror icon (Lugosi here), a wise talking cop, and a dame who is there to see someone with ties to her uncle (or her uncle himself in some of them). Murders are largely off-screen, bodies disappear, people run in and out of a lot of rooms with swinging doors, etc. It’s the same crap I’ve watched a dozen times on this set.

The odd thing about the movie is that the synopsis gives away the film’s twist ending. It says it’s about a guy who is imprisoned after performing plastic surgery on six Japanese men who plan to impersonate six different US leaders. But none of that is really even mentioned in the film’s first 55 minutes or so, it’s only revealed in the final 10 minutes what exactly Lugosi was up to and why he was killing some dudes. It’d be like saying that The Usual Suspects is about a guy named Keyser Soze who fabricates a story to a detective while he awaits bail for his assumed alias of Verbal Kint.

Then again, the synopsis also mistakes Lugosi for Karloff, so I should have known better than to put any stock into it.

It’s also one of the lesser transfers on the set. An entire chunk of the film has white noise over it (it actually sounds like popcorn being popped at an alarmingly delicious rate), and certain reels have sections with what could only be described as electronic mud on the right side of the frame. Somewhere in the world there exists a man who considers this to be his favorite film, and it’s sad to think that he can’t get a decent copy.

That aside, the rest is the same as the others, so if you haven’t seen any of them (and judging from the lack of comments for these movies, you haven’t), there is some mild entertainment to be had from the story, particularly the scenes where Lugosi holds an imprisoned dude down and forces him to ward off visitors by telling them that he is fine and doesn’t need their assistance (Lugosi’s operation on his face left him monstrous). And the dame (Joan Barclay) is pretty cute, which makes it all the more puzzling why not only does she never kiss our hero, but she is also revealed to be an undercover cop in the film’s final act, an issue that is never brought up again or resolved. Why not have her onscreen more? You get eye candy AND resolution of your own generic subplots!

I only have about a dozen movies left on the Horror Classics set; I hope like hell none of them follow this story template. If so I may be forced to take drastic action (like, watch something else that day).

What say you?


The Strangers (2008)

MAY 27, 2008


Even though I knew The Strangers was very similar to Them (Ils), I still watched the latter knowing I was going to see the former in a few days. So knowing that, I think it’s even MORE surprising that I didn’t just like The Strangers, but liked it more than Them. Granted, some of the structuring was a bit less exciting than it might have been, but the differences were all for the better.

For starters, they don’t leave the house. Them really lost a lot of its tension when they went out into the open and into the sewers. I am afraid of being killed in my home, but not the sewer, because I’m never going to go in there unless I’m drunk and looking for Turtles or Barry Otto. Incidentally, the one time in Strangers that I felt myself relaxing was when they head out to their shed. Not that it’s a bad sequence, but the tension when they are inside the house is nearly unbearable at times, whereas the shed sequence seems a bit standard.

A big part of that is due to the fact that the house is rather small. It’s only one floor, so you know they can’t exactly back into a corner in the attic and be safe, because the killer might be walking around on the outside; a strong swing of an axe away. There are also only like four or five rooms, which limits hiding spots. Of course, there’s a trade off – without a lot of options, they need to find ways to keep the characters moving around, some of which are a bit clichéd (like the shed – they are going out there to use an old CB radio), but never flat out idiotic, which is good.

Interestingly enough, the film has a flashback which I think is just there to flesh out the running time, because it’s really not needed. I guess it’s nice to see the couple completely happy (they are on the verge of breaking up because she has just turned down his marriage proposal), but the cause of their issue is nicely (subtly) revealed before the flashback anyway. But since the movie is only 80 minutes with credits, I am guessing that people are already going to be pretty pissed off that even with trailers and such they aren’t even use up their whole two hour parking validation, so making it even shorter by cutting the sequence would make matters worse. Me, I like short films – better a 75 minute movie with a flawless pace than an 85 minute one with 10 worthless minutes.

The reason that the film is so short is that it’s simple. The poster pretty much gives away all the motive the film ever offers (they were home), and there are no dumb twists or tension-breaking backstory to flesh out either the heroes or the villains. You might have spotted a shot of Scott Speedman (hey pal, stick to stuff like this, not Underworld) being called a killer via blood on a mirror – don’t worry, it’s not a hint about his past or anything. It’s a movie about a couple being terrorized in their own home, and that’s it. Like my beloved Halloween, it’s the simplicity of the film that makes it work so well.

Does it work AS well? Well, no, of course not. There are a couple minor issues. One is the rather laughable opening narration, which tells us some statistics about violent crimes, and of course, that this film was based on true events. He also tells us that to this day, no one knows what happened in the house, which sort of spoils the ending (though this works to the film’s credit – if you think they are going to die, it becomes a guessing game of WHEN, as opposed to knowing perfectly well that they will live), but once the film concludes, one might take issue with this (highlight to read): One of them lives. Why doesn’t anyone know what happened if there is a survivor?

You may have noticed that Liv Tyler is the only one on two of the film’s three posters (I think this is the first film to have three posters all taken directly from the film itself). That’s because Speedman is absent for two large chunks of the film (he goes to get some smokes for like 15 min, and then is knocked out and hidden somewhere for another 15 later on). It’s all Tyler most of the time, which is fine by me, since she’s one of the most naturally beautiful actresses in ages. She (and Speedman, more or less) look like regular people, not movie stars, which adds to the film’s realism. Angelina and Brad would be impossible to believe in this situation, but not in Tyler’s case. And that’s even more impressive when you consider that she co-stars in my 2nd favorite movie of all time, a film without as much as a minute of anything resembling real life. So between that and her starring in a film with heavy Halloween influences (some of the subtle reveals of the killers are like the one in Halloween where Michael just sort of fades into view), she is now my de facto favorite actress.

The film’s writer/director, Bryan Bertino, has also shot an incredibly good looking film as well. Other than the cell phones and things of that nature, this film could easily be a well preserved relic from 1975 or so. No tripods, lots of rack focus shots, deliberate pacing, even the overall look of the film (particularly the final, day set scenes) remind me of all my favorites from the era: Halloween, Chain Saw, etc. Rogue better put this on Blu-Ray or there will be hell to pay! And hopefully Bertino gets another film soon, hopefully one that won’t be compared to an ultimately inferior (but still “first”) film.

One last note about the Them comparisons: (highlight for spoilers for both films) In Them the killers were young kids. Here, it’s suggested that they are young (we never really see any of the killer’s faces, but from the sides of their face and their overall size it is fairly clear that they are much younger than our heroes anyway), but never really spelled out. To me this was great, but I’m curious what you guys think – would you rather they had more explanation as to how old they were, why they were doing what they did, etc?

Goddamn you people, go see this movie. Ruins, Doomsday... no one went. Midnight Meat Train is looking at a limited release, and dog knows if Repo will even get that much. Why? I have no idea. Make up for it and go see The Strangers. I don’t care if movies are expensive and people are on their cell phones the whole time – we need to support stuff like this to ensure both the type of film and the people making them aren’t extinct in favor of remakes and kids horror. I also invite you to read this article by my good friend Uncle Creepy at Dread Central, which addresses many of the same concerns.

What say you?


[Rec] (2007)

MAY 26, 2008


Last night I was playing Halo with some fellow horror movie guys, and one of them asked me if I had seen [Rec]. I hadn’t, so it was a bit odd when I went over a different friend’s house today and he put it on for a post barbecue movie. I only wish the first friend had asked me if I had ever won the lottery, or nailed Rachel Nichols. Could have truly been a Memorial Day.

Anyway, he had thrown me off a bit by saying that it’s a movie in which the last 5 minutes are the best part. Therefore, I was assuming that it was a slow burn, that nothing happened at all for the first hour and twenty minutes. So I was happy to see that the first zombie attack happens about 15-20 minutes in, and that the pace more or less kept up (or got more intense) as the film went on. The story is told almost in real time, in fact, which makes it even more impressive (real time usually equals, well, nothing happening until the last five minutes).

Like all “found footage” movies, a big part of whether or not it works is providing a reasonable excuse for the character(s) to keep filming. Here, it’s the reporters’ disdain for the way that the cops are treating them (quarantining them in an apartment building, not telling them why, etc) that keeps them rolling – they want proof of how they were treated. It gets a bit odd when the zombies begin attacking in greater numbers (the cops more or less all dead by now) that they keep rolling, but that fabled final five minutes (more like 10 I think) again gives a good enough reason – the electricity goes out and they use the camera’s night vision to see. Works for me, though I usually don’t mind the rather illogical actions of the characters in these movies. I want to make a found footage movie in which as soon as the horror shit begins, the camera is thrown to the ground and you see fucking NOTHING for the next 40 minutes. And then I come back on camera, as myself, and say “Fuck you! If we don’t film there’s no movie!”

Unlike Diary of the Dead, it’s actually shot like someone shooting under heavy distress. Yes, that means shaki-cam and “what am I looking at” compositions, but you also won’t ever forget the type of movie you are watching (in Diary, I actually forgot it was “documentary footage” on more than one occasion, because Romero shot it quite beautifully). Also, strange for one of these movies, all of the footage is shot by one person, the news show’s cameraman, whose face we never actually see. It helps maintain the pace and tension, and also spares us from a scene in which we see the characters film each other filming.

As for that last five minutes? Yeah, it’s great. Terrifying in fact. However, an explanation for the zombie’s origin is shoehorned in, and not only does it kind of slow the film down at a really odd time, but it’s a lame explanation as well. Apparently the upcoming US remake changes this backstory (though it’s otherwise a shot for shot remake, from what I hear), so that’s good.

Then again, maybe the subtitles just made something else up, because it was the worst subtitling job I’ve ever seen (along with Botched’s idiotic ‘funny’ subtitles, this makes four films in a single week that were dampened by their subs. Everyone needs to watch Night Watch and see how it’s done!). In addition to numerous spelling errors and bizarre symbols on the head and tail of certain lines, it was also just badly translated to boot. At one point the character clearly says “Muy bien.” (“Very good.”) but the subs offer “Let’s go.” They also, like Frontière(s), often seem like they were run through a thesaurus beforehand, which results in characters saying things like “Use your agility!”. They are also confusingly presented and not in sync with the dialogue, which makes it hard to even tell who is saying what. And I can only assume that the person was saying ‘Keep filming, mother fucker!” and not “Keep filming for your fucking mother!”

Not sure when it’s coming out (I assume before the remake hits theaters, but who knows), but if you’re not sick of found footage yet, then you should dig it. It’s simple and fast, and that’s always a plus with me.

What say you?


Poltergeist III (1988)

MAY 26, 2008


Do you like hearing the name "Carol Anne"? I hope so if you plan to watch Poltergeist III, because it is said some 118 times in the 95 minute film. Some scenes, such as the one where she is trapped in a puddle, play out with a character saying absolutely nothing but "Carol Anne!" over and over. It's almost incredible to think that no one said "Hey, maybe Lara Flynn Boyle can shut the fuck up for 5 seconds instead of saying the same name over and over."

It's a shame that the movie is overall not very good, because the first half hour is pretty great. The subtle little mirror tricks are pretty creepy; my favorite is when the mirrored reflection of Carol Anne ("Carol Anne! Carol Anne!!!") enters a bathroom and talks to Boyle before it actually occurs. And once they write the rest of the Freeling family out of the movie, our new characters are pretty easy to accept as our new protagonists (Nancy Allen looking hotter than ever doesn't hurt). Some of the cutesy attempts to humanize them are overbearing (the nonsense about Tom Skerritt's fashion sense) but hey, at least they were trying to recapture the "lived in" feel of the first film, instead of focusing squarely on effects.

The other thing the movie does right is introduce a skeptic character in the form of Dr. Seaton, who runs the school Carol Anne ("Carol Anne! Carol Anne!!!") attends and often sounds like Stephen Tobolowsky doing a Paul Bartel impression. This guy is a delightful piece of work; in addition to being an insufferable prick (which we know he is, because he scolds his wife for forgetting the cilantro), he's also the most ridiculously skeptical man on the planet. He chalks everything he sees up to mass hypnosis/suggestion, even when it doesn't make any goddamn sense (he blames a colleague for breaking a mirror after watching a ghostly hand do it when Carol Anne ("Carol Anne! Carol Anne!!!") wasn't even in the room). He also has one of my favorite lines in the series; after Tangina (the only other person, cast or crew, to have a part in all three films) rambles some of her traditional nonsense, he snorts "There's a lot of crap that doesn't mean anything!". Oh man, I want to go drink with this guy. Sadly that is impossible, because he is killed a few moments later, in the series' first non-natural death.

After that, the movie just falls apart. Heather O'Rourke's death threw a pretty big wrench in the reshooting plans, which must be why the film's climax occurs out of nowhere and has almost zero tension. The fact that you don't even see Carol Anne's ("Carol Anne! Carol Anne!!!") face in the final scene is pretty telling, not to mention a sad reminder of her passing (you'd think they'd have the decency to use the ending she had shot, even if it wasn't a masterpiece). There are also some major unanswered questions, such as what happened to the Scott character, why his evil mirror double guy rips Boyle's face off, and why Allen or Skerritt's characters never bothered to call their sister and ask "Hey what do you do when Carol Anne ("Carol Anne! Carol Anne!!!") disappears into a shaft of light?"

There are some other plot contrivances that defy any sort of sense. Scott and Boyle sneak into a security office to shut off the cameras so they can fuck around in the pool, and Scott sees a security angle of a supermarket next door to the pool, which gives him the idea to buy beer. Fine, but why would a supermarket be on the 44th floor? That seems inconvenient for both shoppers and deliverymen. Also, Carol Anne ("Carol Anne! Carol Anne!!!") is shown being teased at her school; the other kids pretend they are ghosts and such and mock her. First of all, it's a school for special kids, which means they should be on common ground when it comes to their personality quirks. Second, why would a kid make fun of a girl who claimed to see ghosts? I would think that was awesome, and talk to her all the time! They also continue the complete ignorance of the other sister in the Freeling family; when Carol Anne ("Carol Anne! Carol Anne!!!") talks about how much she misses her family, she fails to mention poor Dana.

I did see this one as a kid, but recalled almost nothing other than it was about mirrors (that, and for some reason, Scott's hysterical delivery - "In the garage. In the garage! IN THE GARA-AH-AGE!") and wasn't as good as the others. My opinion hasn't changed, though again, it's a shame the DVD is completely feature-less. Like Poltergeist II, the trailer is better quality than the film itself. For that film it was simply better effects than what was seen in the final film, here it's a different aspect ratio. The movie is 1.85:1, but the trailer is scope (2.35:1, the same ratio that the other two films was shot in). It doesn't look cut off or anything, so why they'd go to the trouble is beyond me (especially since most trailers are presented full frame or in the smaller 1.85 format - I've never seen it go the other way). Maybe someday we will get special editions of the sequels, especially since the behind the scenes drama is far more interesting than the films themselves (moreso in this one's case).

In closing... "Carol Anne! Carol Anne!!!"

What say you?


Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead (2008)

MAY 25, 2008


I got to watch an advance copy of Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead because FOX was looking for quotes. I offered (truthfully) that it was “Better Than The Original!” but Mr Disgusting said he didn’t want that on there, because it implies that the movie was really great (and Horror Movie A Day is not a big enough site to get quoted, so it would be attributed to Bloody). It’s not GOOD by any stretch of the imagination, but the first one sucks, and this is marginally better, so it’s still true.

This one at least doesn’t bother with the ‘funny’ hijinks that we had to endure in the original (mainly courtesy of Steve Zahn, a man who is only amusing in VERY small doses). In fact they are intent on getting things moving ASAP this time, and thus they have the least original setup in breakdown history. Literally, the requisite dumb character (Nik, played by Kyle Schmid) says “Let’s take this shortcut!!” and within seconds the car breaks down. Honestly, it seems to occur so quickly that it’s a wonder they don’t just turn around and walk back to the turnoff, but another character claims it’s been a couple hours (clever use of exposition to hide confusing scene transitions!). One thing I loved about Leatherface: TCM III was that the ‘shortcut’ is offered by Viggo when he's posing as a good guy. When the crazy gas station clerk allegedly kills him, the heroes see that Viggo was really trying to help, and thus taking his shortcut suddenly seems like a good idea. It’s not exactly Oscar caliber, but it’s at least reasonably clever, and makes the characters feel a bit more intelligent than many of their breakdown movie peers. But Joy Ride 2 screenwriters James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin don’t even try; we know they will break down anyway, might as well get right to it.

And from then on it’s fairly well done, more or less. Rusty Nail does the same sort of shit, tricking our heroes (among them Nicki Aycox) and forcing them to do terrible things, but it’s enjoyable. It all comes down to a torture sequence in which the two male heroes are playing a life or death game of Craps, in which certain dice rolls translate into a different torture mode (i.e. a seven means you get a crowbar to your kneecap). Luckily, it ends with the death of the film’s most annoying character, a poseur who one of the girls met on Myspace. It’s kind of funny that FOX would produce a film in which a Myspace (which is owned by FOX) user is depicted as a whiny loser with fake tattoos and no backbone. Granted, it’s realistic, but still rather surprising.

Myspace is just one of many prominent websites to get namedropped in the film (Google, Youtube...). Perhaps it’s the screenwriters’ attempts to make their film more identifiable to their target audience, but if so, they should realize that most people, even Myspace users, aren’t stupid enough to take random shortcuts with an old car owned by someone who doesn’t bother putting oil into it. Remember: if it really were a shortcut, it would just be “the way”. How about, just for once, making horror movie characters easy to identify with by having them act like actual human beings?

This one is directed by Louis Morneau, who also made the unnecessary sequel Hitcher II. It’s a very similar film, but he fares better here, since the script actually has some decent ideas (killing off a traditionally “safe” character for starters) and delivers about what you’d expect out of a direct to video sequel, which Hitcher II couldn’t even manage.

Hell, maybe I’ll submit “Better than Hitcher II!”

What say you?


Botched (2007)

MAY 24, 2008


There's a reason why so few horror-comedies work - a lot of people just simply can't write funny stuff. Actually scaring an audience is something so rare for a horror film, it's hardly an issue anymore. So when a movie like Botched attempts to wring laughs out of the umpteenth "Robbers and hostages unite to fight a common enemy" horror movie, and pretty much fail miserably, the result is a film that really isn't worth much of anything, though I should point out it does have its fans (such as HMAD reader Damian, who recommended it to me months ago.), somehow.

On the positive side of things, it's a well made/shot film, and despite a rather confusing geography (the entire movie takes place on a single floor of high rise, and I never could get the general idea of the layout), it's edited together quite well. And the pacing is never really an issue - it may not be very interesting a lot of the time, but it moves along all the same.

But that's really all I can say about it that can be considered positive. Otherwise, it's, well... botched. It's never funny; I think I smuckled (that's a smirk crossed with a mild chuckle) maybe three times during the entire film. The horror elements are rather weak, after the first kill (which is presented mysteriously, leaving the audience to wonder if its a supernatural force or not) the carnage is incredibly bland and half-assed (one kill is off-screen entirely, which is fine for a big body count movie, but not one with only like six kills, two of which are just shootings.

The problem with the humor is that the characters aren't actual characters, they're caricatures. Stereotypes. We get the nerdy meek guy, the good hearted criminal, the tough girl hostage who will fall for our good hearted criminal, etc, etc. The reason films like Shaun of the Dead and Severance work is because they are well developed characters you care about. And that's why Shaun simply asking if anyone wants a peanut is 10x funnier than the best joke in this film, which is about a guy getting angry over a sandwich (and that was only funny because I have a strange affinity for the word sandwich - it pretty much makes me laugh in any context). This movie's idea of high comedy is misspelling the subtitles that accompany a character whose mouth has been injured (so like "Move!" is spelled out "Mooof!" - which doesn't even make sense when you think about it, why even have the subs at all if they aren't going to translate his muffled delivery?).

The film also has the absolute worst "cut off hand" prosthetic I have ever seen in a motion picture. Not only does the stub look incredibly fake, but the guy's arm is noticeably LONGER after the hand is lopped off, not to mention a fairly visible bulge where he is hiding his real hand. When you don't have a good makeup effect, just skip the gag entirely! It's not like his lack of a hand has any real bearing on the plot; it could just as easily have been broken or something.

Stephen Dorff is the star of the film, and I feel sort of bad for him. He used to get good roles and star alongside top tier actors, but now he's relegated to this sort of junk. He's fine in the movie, but since he's playing the "straight man" to the alleged comedy around him, he becomes sort of a non-factor in his own film. Dexter's Jaime Murray, playing his eventual girlfriend, is sexy enough to keep you interested, but it's not even nearly enough to warrant a recommendation of this dull by-the-numbers entry in the increasingly prolific "Gore and laughs" sub-genre.

What say you?


Sick Nurses (2007)

MAY 23, 2008


If there’s one thing you don’t often see in Asian horror films, it’s the characters goofing off with one another. Everyone’s ususally so dour and serious, so it was almost strange to see a few of the titular Sick Nurses (aka Suay Laak Sai) do things like, well, smile. They tease one another, make faces, etc... just like regular girls! Of course, it’s not long before they are all crying and being terrorized by long black hair (it IS an Asian horror film, after all), but while it lasted, it was definitely appreciated.

One “back to back” movie coincidence I never thought I’d encounter is “Lazy subtitles”, but that is exactly what I got on Nurses, much like yesterday’s Frontière(s). It wasn’t nearly as bad; basically, they just didn’t bother with the titles that (I assume) denoted the time in which the scene took place (like “yesterday” or whatever). But since the movie was told with a lot of flashbacks, it got a bit more confusing than it would have been had the subtitler just paid the fuck attention.

On the subject of language, I should note that there is actually an English dub on the disc, something that is increasingly rare, especially with Asian films. Not that I have any use for it, but if you are the type who doesn’t like to read your horror movies, you can still feel free to check this one out! However, you run the risk of missing out on one of the film’s best small pleasures. Two of the girls are named Ae and Am. When pronounced by the real actresses, they sound like “Eh?” and “Um.” So you have scenes of a girl going “Eh? Eh? Eh?”. Definitely a chuckler.

The plot is fairly straightforward – a girl who was wrongly killed comes back to seek revenge. Nothing new. But director/writers Thospol Sirivivat and Piraphan Laoyont bring out the originality when it comes to the execution. Rather than the usual stuff, the ghost actually possesses the girls one by one and has them kill themselves or one another. They also toss in some Italian style non-logic; one girl is killed when another one removes the simple stitching that is keeping her head attached. She’s perfectly fine, but then the stitching comes out, and the head just falls off. Uh, bones and veins? And in the movie’s best kill, a girl devours a fistful of razor blades, which results in her jaw being completely severed. Awesome, but then one of those jar-based fetuses flies out of its bottle and lodges itself in what’s left of her mouth. Huh?

There’s also a transvestite.

It seems at time that the film is showing us someone’s imagination, or perhaps even just an exaggeration of something that occurred. The amount of blood would certainly suggest as much. Granted, it’s hardly a very serious film, but the kill scenes don’t seem to be played for laughs either. How else would one explain a scene where a group of hospital personnel sing a song about compassion while they are being drenched with blood? A little more clarification would have been appreciated, especially since the film is abnormally short (82 minutes) for an Asian film. These things always clock in at 100 or so.

The DVD has a very brief making of that is mainly just a few of the girls talking about their roles. Entirely skippable, except for when the girl involved in the aforementioned jaw scene says “When I eat the baby...”. It’s the only extra, but since distributor Magnolia gave us a wealth of stuff on The Host, it’s easily forgivable.

Anyway, I liked it. It was short, fun, and far gorier than most Eastern fare about vengeful ghosts. The fragmented storytelling isn’t without a few problems (without spoiling anything, there is a seemingly huge plot hole regarding the transvestite character), but for the most part it works. And bonus – the ghost never once uses entertainment technology to kill someone.

What say you?



MAY 22, 2008


It figures that one of the few good movies that After Dark has acquired over the past few years would get the most limited release. Frontière(s) was released on approximately 8 screens for about as many minutes just two weeks ago, sans any sort of advertising or press. Granted, it was due to hit DVD 4 days later, but still, it would have been nice to see the film in the theater. And since it has an NC-17 rating (which is a nice surprise; I am so used to movies simply being 'unrated' it's almost charming to see the rating again), Blockbuster won't carry it (no R rated cut like Inside, I guess) even on its online service, which STILL limits its audience.

But while I demand you move heaven and earth to see Inside, Frontière(s) is merely a decent movie you might like, though dying without ever having seen it won't keep you up nights (especially since you're dead). There's not much originality on display here, with just about everything in the film taken from any of the Chainsaw films (even the remake/prequel ones), Hostel, Saw, and whatever movie writer/director Xavier Gens happened to see that had a "they are being kidnapped for breeding purposes" subplot. Take your pick!

However, Gens is a fantastic shooter, and despite some too-rapid cutting during some of the 'horror' scenes, the film is quite well made. The confident shooting, coupled with some truly gory/effective sequences, is just about enough to forgive the script's lack of originality, not to mention focus.

Early on in the film, our "heroes" (they have robbed a bank - fuck em as far as I'm concerned!) are trying to escape a riot that has been caused due to outrage over a right wing political candidate (one character exclaims "great, France has their own George Bush!"). But these elements are clumsily shoehorned into the film (even moreso at the end, when a radio broadcast brings it up again, long after we've forgotten about it in the first place), and stink of simply trying to give the film some social relevance. It doesn't work though, because it's clichéd for one thing and left out of the film for nearly 90 minutes for another. Originality issues aside, the film at least works fine on its own; randomly tossing in some half-assed 'commentary' is just distracting and eventually pointless. The bank robbery angle is also fairly pointless in the long run - why make your protagonists unlikeable right from the start when the money has no actual bearing on the plot? I could see if it was used to try to bribe the bad guys, or if the group fought over the money which led to their capture, but like the political stuff, it's essentially forgotten once the horror starts; not even consequential enough to qualify as a Macguffin.

I also wish that J.R. Media Services in Burbank, CA (the subtitler credits himself the second the film fades to end credits) had done a better job with their goddamn subs. In addition to occasional nonsense like this:

There are also several occasions where they are doing an exact translation that doesn't quite work (no one says "Go away!" to their friend who is trying to rescue them, they would be saying something like "go! run!"). But the most annoying blunder is constantly putting two characters' lines in a single scene. This completely betrays dramatic tension at times, because they will have someone's response on the screen long before the character actually says it. At one point, our head Nazi villain says "What do you want?" to one of the heroes, who replies, after a few seconds' pause for dramatic effect: "Kill me!". However, the subs give us both lines at once, so we are essentially knowing his response before the question is even finished.

Sadly, the DVD is completely featureless other than trailers for other LG releases (lucky us). Thus I cannot really condone a full price purchase, but if you come across it cheap (or for rental) then you should enjoy it for the most part. It's good to know that the French can make generic knockoffs just as well as we can!

What say you?


Non Canon Review: Psycho (1960)

MAY 21, 2008


When I saw that my beloved New Beverly would be screening Pyscho, I knew what I had to do: go see it. But before that, I had to get the night off of work, because there was no way in hell I would miss it. See, I had serious atoning to do, because not only had I never seen the film in the theater, I had seen the goddamn remake TWICE in such a matter. The first time is one thing - I was curious. But why in the name of Christ would I subject myself to that monstrosity a second time?*

Psycho is also one of the first DVDs I watched once I bought a home theater (I love irony – it’s a goddamn mono film), and at the same time, the first full beer I ever consumed (I was out of hard lemonades, which is all I drank until that point). Yes, anyone who knows my age and has a familiarity with when the film was released on DVD now knows I somehow went all through high school without drinking a beer. But let’s stay on subject.

Hitchcock’s film is, quite simply, a masterpiece. You all know that. But what you DON’T know, possibly, is how suspenseful it still is after a half dozen or so viewings. I know everything that’s gonna happen, but some sequences still make me feel nervous, such as the first scene between Norman and Arbogast. Watching Norman screw up his story still carries an incredible amount of “Oh shit!”, making me feel uncomfortable still to this day, a feat most movies can’t even reach on my first viewing, let alone my 6th or so (more if you count three views** of the shot for shot remake). And even knowing perfectly well that he is the killer, his ‘discovery’ of Marion and subsequent cleanup is also still quite suspenseful (oh no, a car!).

It’s also a hilarious film, something I always forget (I actually don’t think I have watched it all the way through since that time with the (non)surround sound and beer – two elements I recreated last night). I love the other broad at the beginning who assumes that the business man didn’t bother flirting with her just because she had a wedding ring on, and not that, no offense, she’s nowhere near as hot as Janet Leigh. And Norman’s pleased little smile when the car finally submerges is classic. Also, the Sheriff’s wife has the most ridiculous look on her face during the entire scene where Loomis and Lila go see them in their home.

I also love the completely tactless shrink at the end of the movie. “Did he kill my sister?” Lila asks. “Yes,” he says, as if she was asking if it was raining. But then he says “And no!”, which, if it were me, would sound like he meant my beloved sibling wasn’t dead after all. Jerk.

Another oddly puzzling thing – what’s with everyone getting out of their cars on the passenger side? When Marion does it when she first arrives at the motel, it’s one thing – it’s raining and the passenger side is closer to the sheltered porch (she gets soaked anyway). But why does Arbogast do it?

Man, if you don’t like this movie, you simply just don’t like horror movies. The shower scene may not be as effective anymore (and on that note, since Janet Leigh is billed under just about everyone else, it’s a wonder her death was such a shock. If you’re the “And...” cast member in a horror movie, you’re either the old professorial character with all the answers, or you’re dead!), but the movie as a whole is just wonderful in both technical and creative terms. And when Gus Van Sant goes to hell, I hope Satan cockpunches him twice as much as anyone else for his horrendous remake stinking up its legacy.

What say you?

*Answer: a really cute girl. One I never hooked up with anyway. Double waste of time!
** I actually watched the remake again on DVD, with commentary, to see if they explained themselves in a manner I could accept. They did not.


Son Of Dracula (1943)

MAY 21, 2008


I learned something today that changed my entire outlook on ridiculous plot twists. For years, I thought “Alucard” was something invented by the creators of Castlevania III, only to discover that Son Of Dracula had come up with this ‘genius’ concept some 45 years previous. Credit where credit is due! It’s not quite as idiotic as “Nilbog”, but it’s not as clever as “Dr. Acula”, either.

It would be one thing if this was implemented and quickly understood, but no – they actually try to make it some sort of mystery. The first time it is shown, the guy looks at the name, and begins to puzzle over it, only to shrug it off. WHAT COULD IT MEAN?!?!? (is what I assume we in the audience are supposed to be thinking).

Stupidity is actually the order of the day in this movie. Take, for example, this bewildering exchange from later on in the movie, after Drac’s enemy has escaped from jail:

Professor: “Did you hear him do any talking?”
The Dumbest Cop Alive: “Some kind of trick he pulls... he pretends to talk in his voice and then hers!”
Professor: “Did you listen in like we asked you to?”
TDCA: “Yeah but it was too crazy to bother about.”
Professor: “For instance?”
TDCA: “Well, the girl’s voice said something about getting him out of jail...”
Professor: “Well that wasn’t too crazy – he’s out!”
TDCA: “Yeah I never thought of that....”

It doesn’t seem to be played for laughs.

Also problematic is Lon Chaney as “Alucard”. He’s fine in the other monster roles, but he just doesn’t work as a vampire (not even a spinoff of one). He is lacking Lugosi’s charm, and big does not equal menace for vampires. And since none of the other cast members have stuck around by now, it makes the movie feel even more of a cheap knockoff than the real deal.

Still, it has some good moments, and of course, the effects are pretty impressive for back in the day (this was the first to show Drac transforming into a bat). I particularly liked the mist effects, such as when a real puff of smoke slowly becomes an animated one, which in turn becomes Dracula (this moment is a bit botched due to the fact that the other characters in the scene somehow don’t even notice it). Since they obviously weren’t spending any money on developing the script, it’s nice to see they went all out for the FX guys.

One nice touch – Universal has kept in the original ad for war bonds at the end of the film. The ad essentially says “Buy a war bond.” I wish modern advertisements were as direct, instead of the abstract bullshit we get nowadays. The other day I watched 3 commercials in a row that I had no real idea of what was being advertised until the announcer said so. Why would watching computer animation of a guy getting tortured make me want to drink a goddamn Sprite?

What say you?


The Cave (2005)

MAY 20, 2008


What the fuck is the point of a movie like The Cave going into theaters? It offers absolutely nothing that the weekly Sci-Fi original movies doesn’t provide for free (hell, I’d even argue that the SCOs are gorier – more on that later), unless you live in some sort of alternate universe where Eddie Cibrian and Cole Hauser are big stars, beyond what Sci-Fi can offer. But yet, shocking as it may seem, The Cave actually opened in theaters in August 2005, against films like Four Brothers and 40 Year Old Virgin. The fact that it even made 14 million is pretty surprising. I suspect it may have even been meant for TV, as there at least four fade to black moments in the movie after a big revelation or (lame) death of a character, the perfect place to stick ads for Battlestar’s next episode and maybe a car or two.

The only thing a theatrical release can offer that Sci-Fi cannot (at least, when it comes to generic “Monster in the water” movies like this) is R rated violence, profanity, and maybe even nudity. The PG-13 Cave offers none of these things. Gore? Half of the deaths are offscreen entirely, and the only blood is seen on minor wounds. Even SCOs offer one or two reasonably graphic kills per movie. Nudity? Well, I wasn’t really expecting any, but no. Profanity? Cole Hauser’s big final line to the monster is “Come on mother f.” Not “F-“, as if they cut away before he could finish. No, he actually just says “F.”, and the shot lingers on him for another second as if to reassure us that he’s not actually daring to swear.

Now, I’ve said more than once (twice) that PG-13 is not an automatic kiss of death for a horror film – Spiral, The Ring, Poltergeist, etc. all manage chills without resorting to these sort of things (and more importantly, never feel like they are MISSING them either). But for a movie like The Cave, which is about allegedly vicious sea monsters tearing people apart, who the fuck wants a PG-13 version of that? Go all out and offer the audience (who are likely just looking to escape from the heat for 97 minutes in August) the occasional visceral thrill.

See, without gore or anything, all the movie offers is the same old “team of folks run afoul of SOMETHING in the _____” (jungle, water, mountains, desert... take your pick!) monster movie. The closest it gets to doing anything original is instead of having a corporate team member who sells the team out to save his own ass, we have Cole Hauser slowly becoming one of the monsters (he gets stung by one early on). And thankfully, this doesn’t result in a finale in which Hauser stalks his own friends, but instead he uses his newfound insight into their world to help his friends escape (albeit with the occasional violent outburst).

Everyone else is standard monster movie fodder, and the only suspense stems from the fact that whoever built the opening credits put them in a weird order that doesn’t reflect either the actor’s ‘starpower’ or their amount of screen time. For example, Daniel Dae Kim, who at this point was one of the stars of the biggest show on TV, is billed after a few no-name actors, even though his character survives longer than any of them anyway. In fact, the movie takes its sweet ass time killing folks off (again, the only reason we are watching), with more than half of them still alive with only 15 minutes to go.

The survival elements are rather weak too - I never once really felt they were trapped or in danger from anything but the monsters, despite a few attempts to make you feel otherwise. Granted, seeing The Descent sort of ruins whatever little a movie like this could achieve, but still. There's more claustrophobic feeling in any one second of Marshall's film than there is in the entirety of this (and, given the PG-13ity of it all, you'd think they'd try to play up the survival elements to earn the suspense/scares).

Botching things even more is director Bruce Hunt, DP Ross Emery, and editor Brian Berdan’s mutual insistence on making the action scenes as incomprehensible as possible. I am a defender of the three Bs of confusing camerawork (Bourne, Blair Witch, and Bay), and even I had no idea what the fuck was happening during certain scenes. At one point, Eddie Cibrian and Lena Headey are about to travel down a current. She gets stuck, and he cannot fight the current in order to help her. So he is whisked away while she screams “Noooo help!” and things of that nature. 300 closeup shots and 12 seconds later, Cibrian is at the end of the current, he sees a monster or something, and then viola! Headey is right next to him. What the fuck?

And while the image is fine (and to be fair, the special effects are generally quite good), the sound is also pretty lackluster. The surrounds have a lot of use, but the overall level of sound keeps dropping down at times (I checked my system with other movies and it seemed fine), and there is almost zero bass on the track (something other reviews have mentioned, though the level problem may be unique to my copy?). It’s really odd when a large rush of water is shown on screen and your subwoofer is barely making a whimper.

The extras are actually decent, strangely enough. One is about the technical advisors, who cave dive for a living. The two of them are far more interesting than anyone in the movie. The other is about Patrick Tatopoulos’ (part of why I wanted to see this movie is the inordinate number of crew who worked on Dark City, one of my all time favorite films) creature designs, which are pretty decent and wasted in this film. There are two commentary tracks as well, but I have a feeling that they won’t quite be worth my while.

What say you?


Ils (aka Them) (2006)

MAY 19, 2008


Since Blockbuster is just fucking awful lately when it comes to foreign and independent horror*, I had to re-activate my Netflix account in order to watch movies like Ils (aka Them), which I have had at the top of my Blockbuster queue for over a month and yet to receive (the stores I've been to don't have it at all). With Netflix, I was watching a reasonably decent, widescreen copy of the film within 4 minutes of my signing up for an account. I was also able to queue Frontiere(s), a film that BB won’t even carry, apparently. Asswipes.

Note - I don’t like to watch movies on the computer (not counting old public domain ones from Mill Creek), but since the transfer was widescreen (some of the Netflix streaming movies are full frame) and the movie was shot on video anyway, I felt an exception could be made (plus my new computer monitor is only a few inches smaller than the TV I watched every movie on up until a couple years ago, and I have surround sound on the damn thing to boot). I won’t be making a habit of it, at any rate. And I paid for a Netflix account to do it, rather than download a torrent.

I’ve never been to Europe, so I am curious: does anyone actually live near anyone else? Do they have “neighbors”? It seems every horror movie I see from France, Ireland, Italy, etc takes place in a secluded house (or school) in the middle of nowhere. This actually makes the 3rd in a row (actually, The Hand’s 2nd half took place in a secluded cabin too, but that was America). Maybe these people wouldn’t get themselves killed so often if they tried the goddamn suburbs. I’d like to see what a team like David Moreau and Xavier Palud, or even Inside’s Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (these French work best in pairs!) would do with a straight up Halloween style “neighborhood” slasher.

Random ranting aside, this is a solid little movie. Like High Tension and (again) Inside, it presents the killer’s identity/motive as a twist, but with two major differences. One – it doesn’t damage the film in the slightest (in fact it’s pretty goddamn chilling), and two, it prevents me from listing the film under a certain sub-genre. And since it’s just hitting DVD and never got a real theatrical release here, I will refrain from spoiling anything concerning the killers’ identity/motive (the fact that there is more than one is hardly a spoiler – it’s the name of the goddamn movie).

A lot of people have noted (and even praised) the film has very little dialogue, which is odd because it didn’t seem like it had any less than any other film of its type. In fact, the couple is almost always shouting each other’s name, or saying things like “run!” “go!”, etc. I will say that even though the movie is in French, one does not really need the subtitles, because the dialogue is pretty easy to understand from the body language and tone of voice (not counting the minor character stuff early on – he’s a writer, she’s a teacher, he can’t cook, etc).

Another minor gripe is that it’s another of those films that are described as something that doesn’t even take up the majority of the film. Anyone will say “a couple is terrorized in their home” is the plot of the film, but the terror doesn’t begin until the 30 minute mark, and they escape their home with another 20 minutes to go. I only note this because while I liked the slow build, I didn’t care for them leaving their home for the final act. To me that was the most terrifying thing about it – your home is your sanctuary, where you have the most control - and the attackers seem to have had the upper hand. Once they leave, it’s sort of a typical chase flick. The surprise conclusion helped to erode some of this disappointment, however.

And in another similarity with The Cottage, Ils has a great “killer on the other side of the door” scene. The payoff is similar (not played for laughs here, obviously), and again, it’s timed out perfectly – I’ve seen probably 50 of these scenes, and yet here it got me, and I jumped a bit.

My good friend Matt, who runs, recently bemoaned how sick he was of hearing how much superior foreign horror is to its modern American counterparts (not that he disagrees, but that he didn’t want it rubbed in). And after watching this movie, it’s easy to see at least part of the reason why – our unfamiliarity with the actors. I don’t know either of these two folks, so when they are in danger, I believe they might be killed, even if the movie isn’t at the end yet. As far as I am concerned, there is no risk of losing box office potential because Michael Cohen is killed at the halfway mark (he isn’t, for the record). But take a similar movie like Vacancy, which I enjoyed until the end, when they pussed out and let Luke Wilson live. Even if he had died, there was no chance he was going to die anytime before that final scene, because he’s Luke Wilson, and there’s no way in HELL Kate Beckinsale is going to die even then. So even though the film was enjoyable, it wasn’t nearly as suspenseful as it could have been with two no-name actors in the roles, because their star persona inadvertently made them safe. Hell, it’s why the Drew Barrymore sequence in Scream worked so well, before it became a trademark of Dimension to kill off a big star in the opening scene of all their movies, never to be effective again (with the minor exception of the otherwise worthless Scream 3, which killed off one of the series’ most interesting CHARACTERS in the opening reel, rather than a big actor).

Moreau and Palud did a great job shooting the film as well; only the attic sequence suffers from some digital-y looking imagery. It’s also surprisingly shot in scope widescreen, something you don’t often see in low budget films anymore. Then again, given the killers’ predilection for toying with the couple, and the fact that they are kept largely in the shadows (I don’t think you ever see one of them in full reveal/focus until the very end), it’s obvious that Halloween was an influence, so the scope is fitting.

I highly recommend this film. I am almost sad I watched it on Netflix, it’s definitely worth owning (but since I just watched it, if I bought it now I wouldn’t get around to seeing it again until, I dunno, 2015 or so). Hopefully, unlike me, you don’t depend on fucking Blockbuster for your horror movie needs.

What say you?

*They also only carry the worthless “R rated” cut of Inside. Normally I wouldn’t care, but since they have exclusive rights to rent the film out, the only way to see the film properly is to buy it. And granted, the film is amazing and one does not need to worry about a blind buy, but I understand some folks just can’t afford to spend 20 bucks on an 80 minute horror movie sight unseen. And since BB rents plenty of unrated cuts of horror films (what they rent for Henry, for example, is unrated), it baffles me why they would opt not to at least give their customers a choice. Then again, between this, Ils, and Frontiere(s)....maybe they just hate the French.


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget