Monday, May 22, 2017

Day 203: The Frighteners

Long before the Hobbits were a twinkle in Peter Jackson's eye, he set out to revive the career of Michael J Fox by making a horror/comedy/action movie that exists outside of easy categorization.

The movie centers on Frank Bannister (Fox), who gains the ability to talk to the dead after losing his wife in a car crash. He employs three ghosts to haunt locals' homes and then charges the locals to "exorcise" the ghosts. It is a decent scam until someone gets a real, evil ghost in their house that Frank can't scare away. On top of this, a government specialist in the occult is brought in to investigate a new crop of deaths in town and the specialist has it in for Frank (the specialist is played by Jeffrey Combs in all his greasy glory). Can Frank stop the returned serial killer? Will any of his ghost buddies survive? Or "survive"?

The color palette is a little dour in this movie but the spirit is lighthearted until things turn deadly. Frank's scam and his romance with a recent widow are pretty entertaining to watch. When bodies start dropping, Jackson uses the world he's built to create a set of rules for action set pieces that push the bounds of what CGI could do at the time. Jake Busey is delightfully unhinged as the killer who has returned to finish his work. Combs is over-the-top in the best way. Fox centers it all with his likable charm.

If you haven't seen it and don't mind sudden tonal shifts, you should definitely check out The Frighteners.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Day 202: Nightwatch

Overshadowed in later years by the Russian Nightwatch, this little horror nugget came out while Ewan McGregor's star was on the rise. I first saw it in college, while I was working at a video store.

Nightwatch has a pretty simple premise, a young man goes to work as a night shift security guard at a morgue. There just so happens to be a sting of serial killings happening around this time and the guard (McGregor) keeps finding himself at the wrong place in the wrong time so that the man investigating the case (Nick Nolte) has no choice but to investigate him. So, to clear his name, McGregor tries to find the real killer and bad things happen.

The main thing I remember about this movie was how tortured McGregor's American accent was. In future movies he would learn to master it, he was still very much shaky in this one. Also, Nolte made some ridiculous choices regarding his character's hair. Ole Bornedal, who directed the original Danish version, was brought on board to direct this American remake. He did not seem to have a good grip on the actors here. Besides the Goonies, this is the first movie I remember seeing Josh Brolin in and I was impressed by his work here. Brad Dourif turns in another great creepy performance as a morgue doctor who you just know there is something wrong with.

If you can get past the weird acting decisions, there is a pretty solid thriller here. You will probably guess the real killer way before the movie gets there. I would say this is not an essential part of the horror cannon.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Day 201: Pitch Black

Not sure why I originally saw this besides it was something to watch but it impressed me more than I thought it would. I have never gone on to the Riddick movies or cartoons or anything, so it exists in my mind as a standalone movie.

Pitch Black is about a small group of mercenaries transporting a captured prisoner (Vin Diesel) back to confinement. Diesel's Riddick is built up as the baddest of the bad, with a surgery that allows him to see in the dark. When the transport ship crash lands on a planet with multiple suns, it doesn't take long for the crew to figure out that bad things come out when all the suns go down. If they have any hope of surviving, they may just have to free Riddick and hope he helps them.

Although a B-movie through and through, David Twohy (who also directed Below) brings all his considerable skill to making this a solid survival horror. The cast is small and each character gets one or two traits to set them apart from the others before the monsters start attacking in earnest. Diesel is able to deliver on the action promised by the hype they give his character. Seeing his anti-hero tearing through some aliens is a ton of fun.

In the end, that is what the movie is all about, some popcorn fun. It is not deep or significant but it is a fun way to pass some time. If you  wonder how Diesel became a star, this film is the answer. Worth a watch.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Day 200: An American Werewolf in London

I know this married couple and if you were to ask me how I know they are meant to be together, I would answer "An American Werewolf in London." They both rate it as the best horror movie of all time. And while I find it perfectly charming and enjoyable, there is no way I could see things their way on this.

David and Jack (played by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) are two ace American buddies backpacking across the UK. One night, on the moors, they run afoul of a werewolf who viciously kills one and passes the curse of the werewolf to the other. The rest of the movie is the ghost of Jack trying to convince David to kill himself before the next full moon. And then the next full moon happens and things go poorly.

In plot terms, this is a very simple movie. Like Late Phases, you have to deal with the downtime between the initial werewolf attack and the grand finale. Luckily, this movie is full of humor and the love story between David and his nurse, Alex. Most of the downtime is spent with with David in denial and a decomposing Jack getting more belligerent. Of course, the transformation scene is pretty famous as a marvel of practical effects in the age before CGI. The scenes of the werewolf stalking its victims are mostly POV, probably for budgetary reasons. This gives them some immediacy which works well.

All in all, the movie is very well-done. It never really gets to the point of being scary but it is entertaining. While I would never mistake it for the greatest of all time, it is worth a watch if you haven't seen it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Day 199: The Conspiracy

Almost lost in the deluge of actual conspiracy theory documentaries that were popping up on Netflix at the time, this found footage horror movie turned out to be worth a watch.

Jim and Aaron are two documentary producers who decide to focus their newest project on a local conspiracy theorist named Terrance. Aaron starts getting sucked into Terrance's beliefs while Terrance becomes more and more paranoid that someone is following him. Eventually, Terrance vanishes and the guys are left with his mountain of newspaper clippings to work with. All signs point to a mysterious organization that may perform pagan rituals. Things get rough from there.

The real world phenomenon of Bohemian Grove and the meetings between the elite that take place there is scary enough. Now imagine infiltrating one of those meetings and seeing things only a select few are ever meant to see. It is the final act of this movie that stuck with me and, unlike the Last Exorcist, it works exceedingly well in landing the ending. I really enjoyed the immediacy of the found footage. While it takes a while to get to the payoff, I think it is worth it.

If you like conspiracy theories about the illuminati or other clandestine organizations, this movie gives you a safe way to explore some of the darker theories behind them. Well acted and well made, I would give it a B.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Day 198: Frozen (not that one)

Adam Green has done some fun schlock horror by directing Hatchet. When I saw he had another horror movie out, I jumped to check it out on Netflix and was glad I did.

Frozen is one of those movies I enjoy showing horror fans. With only three people really in the cast, it is one of the most purely economical thrillers I have ever seen. Three friends (a couple and their tag along single friend) decide to go skiing right before a long weekend shuts down the ski lodge. They take the last possible lift out and, due to some personnel issues at the ski lift, they are forgotten. The lift stops halfway up the mountain and the lodge workers go home for the long weekend. This leaves our heroes dangling sixty feet in the air with no shelter from the rapidly dropping temperature or the approaching snow storms. Talk about your nightmare scenarios. To make matters worse, a pack of hungry wolves roam the slopes, just waiting for one of the trio to jump down.

This movie is very much in the Open Water mode of humans versus nature. Cut off from help and all hope of rescue, what do you do? I'm not going to lie, things get pretty bleak for our heroes but the time spent character building and exploring the dynamic between the three makes the eventual horror all the more realistic. Shawn Ashmore is the most recognizable face in the cast but all three acquit themselves fairly well to what amounts to an impossible situation.

For fans of Open Water or minimalist survival movies like Buried, you should check this out.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Day 197: Cemetery Man

It has been awhile since I've seen this Rupert Everett vehicle so my memories of it may be a little dim. Take this review with a grain of salt.

To begin with, let's get the story out of the way. Everett stars as a Cemetery attendant who is dealing with a plague of undead as people are coming back to life 7 days after being buried and attacking the living. He has a mentally challenged helper and a bad reputation in the surrounding community. When he spies a beautiful widow, he falls in love and that is when bad things start getting worse.

The whole production is Italian and has a very foreign feel to it. Everett plays frantic but depressed pretty well. The tone gets more artsy as it goes in that Anna Falchi (who plays the hot widow) comes back for two other roles that also tempt our hero in various ways. By the time he starts committing murders just to be recognized, you realize this isn't a straight ahead horror movie but a complicated parable of some sort. I'm not sure I entirely got it when I first saw it.

If you want some horror with a splash of European pretension and comedy, Cemetery Man is the movie for you.