Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Day 120: The Others

The Others is probably one of my favorite horror movies I have only seen once or twice. It is one of those that is fun to show to other people (if they don't know the twist). One of my pet peeves with haunted house movies is, how do you make ghosts dangerous? If they can just look scary or make noises, there isn't much to them. If they can interact with the environment and even touch people, it makes them much scarier. The Others handles this one in a pretty great way.

I'm going to try to talk around the big twist so that anyone who hasn't seen this can still enjoy it. Nicole Kidman stars as a wife and mother who lives in England in the aftermath of World War 2. She is raising two creepy children who are photosensitive and can never be exposed to sunlight. Her husband has gone off to war and hasn't come back yet (things are looking grim). With a small staff in the house, she tries to keep her shit together when it becomes clear they are no longer alone in their home. Like other movies that figure out ways to raise the ghost stakes (like Below), the child endangerment factor means that the others don't have to punch or claw the children, they can just open a shade and it is potentially deadly. As the movie winds its way towards a cool payoff, we get lots of classic ghost story moments...pianos playing by themselves, doors slamming, footsteps...and it creates a perfect mood of tension.

If you like haunted house movies and haven't seen this, you are missing out for sure. I would highly recommend The Others for horror buffs, in general. If nothing else, it changed the discussion of what a haunted house movie could be.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Day 119: It Follows

Finally saw this highly recommended horror movie from...2014? I thought it was more recent than that. Oh well. The short answer is: I liked it.

The plot follows a pretty college girl as she catches a sexually transmitted ghost from a guy she is dating. The rules are like the Ring if the ring was an STD. Once you have sex with someone who is infected, a ghost starts walking towards you from an unknown location. Whenever you move, it reorients to you but always moves pretty damn slowly. So, you can drive for a few hours and that will give you a couple of days to relax. If the ghost catches up with you, it looks like it humps you to death (possibly bending your body in unnatural ways while doing so). If the ghost gets you, it moves back to the last person who caught it and so on. The only way out is to pass it on and then hope the ghost never catches the person you passed it on to.

Obviously, the metaphor for STDs is strong here with no one ever really looking like they use a condom. The movie gets a little into gender politics (the pretty girl is constantly ogled and lusted after, even by her friends). There is also the drama of the unrequited love where one guys feels rejected that she didn't choose him to pass the curse onto.

The kids try to get proactive in this and figure out a way to stop the ghosts but they do so in the dumbest possible ways. For example, when the main girl passes on the curse, she gives it to a guy who lives across the street from her. So, if and when something happens to him, the ghost is just that much closer to turning around and getting her.

The ending is nice and creepy. The movie moves at a fairly strong pace. The chase becomes very fun and provides strong thrills. I would give this a B+, only marred by the idiocy of the characters.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Day 118: Frailty

I just read that Bill Paxton, one of my favorite actors, died this weekend. I am postponing my random topic in favor of discussing Paxton's directorial effort, Frailty. This is one latter day classic, in my opinion.

Matthew McConaughey plays a man who has come to a police station to confess the crimes committed by his father, played by Paxton. Through a series of flashbacks we get the story of Paxton's patriarch, who sees demons everywhere and trains his sons to kill them. Of course, the horror of the movie is that these demons might all be in his head and he is killing innocent people. Most of the running time is spent in the flashback section as the boys learn to demon hunt from their father. However, by the end, some intense stuff happens in the frame story that I don't want to give away.

Expertly acted and directed, this movie takes a sideways glance at religious fanaticism. It delves into what it means to be a believer and how actions mean more than words when it comes to belief. The horror stays horrifying (all the murders are done by ax) and the dramatic turmoil of the disbelieving younger brother is well-portrayed.

If you like horror with a little something on its mind (but that doesn't get too preachy about it), check out Frailty.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Day 117: Dark was the Night

This is, finally, the last of the horror movies I watched last weekend. Kevin Durand (who I mainly know as Keamy from Lost) stars in this horror movie with very similar themes to The Hallow. Durand and Lucas Haas are the only two cops in a small town. When a logging operation drives out an ancient creature (like a Wendigo), it begins feeding on pets (including horses) in Durand's town.

The sheriff has to deal with his family being broken apart because of the accidental death of his oldest son, so there is lots of drama in between moments of finding giant hoof prints on the ground and claw marks on the trees. When the creature finally starts killing people we get the showdown inside a locked up church during a blizzard where the entire town has come for safety.

This is a fine little flick. Durand can handle heavier acting than I think he gets credit for. Haas brings some humanity to the whole thing and the rest of the town is populated by various cranks, idiots and assholes. I won't spoil the ending twist but I did have a question running through my mind for the entire movie they finally answer in the last five seconds.

All in all, a solid C+ maybe even B- for the attempts at gravitas. No, no...C+ is the most I can go. Not a bad way to spend a few hours but not essential.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Day 116: Tusk

Oh, boy. Let me start by saying how much I used to love Kevin Smith. His first five movies are some of my favorites. Jersey Girl wasn't as bad as people remember and Clerks 2 is right up there with his classics in my book. I am thinking that it was when he started smoking weed that I lost interest in his writing. Cop Out was pretty damn bad. Red State, which starts strong, ends in the weakest possible way (rule number one: show, don't tell). So, I'm not surprised I kind of hated Tusk but I am saddened.

Justin Long stars as an asshole podcaster who travels to Canada to make fun of a kid who made a viral video. When that falls through, he looks for anyone he can interview and runs into Michael Parks as Howard Howe. Before you can say "Misery", Long is captured by Parks and slowly transformed into a Walrus through crude surgery. The second half of the movie is Haley Joel Osment and Long's girlfriend teaming up with a never-less-funny Johnny Depp wearing a fake nose and chewing on a Montreal accent.

I would say there are no likable characters in this movie but that would require most of them to be characters and not just one-dimensional sketches. Long is shown in flashbacks being a sonofabitch to his girlfriend and using his podcast to mock others. Depp is ineffective and boorish. Osment isn't even allowed to speak most of the time. The only actor used to good effect is Michael Parks (except for an unfortunate scene where he plays a mentally challenged man). He alone brings the gravitas that would be needed to sell this movie as either a horror or a comedy. Unfortunately, he is stranded on screen and the film fails to become either.

I don't know if Smith will ever return to form (he is still very funny and charming in his talks, so I have hope) but I can say, don't waste your time with this.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Day 115: Rigor Mortis

This Hong Kong horror is, apparently, an homage to the Mr. Vampire series of films that I have never seen. The star of those films moves into a run-down apartment block where he immediately tries to kill himself. He is taken over by the spirits of twin dead girls and swiftly exorcised by a retired vampire hunter who runs a noodle bar. Look, I am making this sound kind of awesome when it is, in fact, only average.

After the botched suicide, the second act is pretty slow as all pieces are put in place for a black magic artist to create a vampire that the twin girls can possess. I will say, I was happy with some choices they made in terms of who survives this building up period. A character that would never be harmed in a U.S. movie gets obliterated here. We get the backstory of the dead girls and the origin of the vampire as the suicidal guy befriends the vampire hunter and others in the apartments.

The final third is pretty fun as the main character does battle with the possessed vampire. A weird coda ends the movie on a weirdly hopeful but still dark as hell note. This is pretty much a downer all the way around. If you like high-concept, foreign horror, check this out. Otherwise, I would say watch Attack the Block instead. Oh, I will say the film looks pretty damn cool.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day 114: The Mummy (1959)

This was another Hammer production by the usual crew: Terence Fischer directing, Jimmy Sangster writing, Peter Cushing as the hero and Christopher Lee as the monster. This is almost a 28 Days Later version of a Mummy in that he moves quickly and is strong as hell but is still wrapped in bandages. Gone are the foot-dragging days of old, in this production, the mummy came with his A game.

The plot is pretty much the same as other mummy movies. Some white archaeologists disturb an ancient tomb and are cursed for it. There are extensive flashbacks to the period when everyone in the tomb was still alive and the set design on these scenes is on point. Cushing plays the son of an archaeologist who disturbs Princess Ananka and her guardian mummy. After the tomb is thoroughly looted (and Cushing's dad is left a gibbering idiot after a tame run-in with the mummy), the human guardian of the temple promises to re-unearth it and release the mummy on the trespassers. The action then moves to the UK where the human guardian has moved into the same neighborhood as Cushing and is dispatching the mummy nightly to kill a different member of the dig.

Despite Cushing looking too old for his part, he plays the hero pretty well. His wife (being a dead-ringer for Ananka) and some local cops get involved, with the mummy proving himself vulnerable to a pretty face. This moves much faster than Hammer's 1958 Revenge of Frankenstein and even spawned some sequels itself. Besides the magical powers of the mummy in the Brendan Fraser movie, this one is the most dangerous I have seen. Once again, Lee does some great emoting with his face covered in make-up.

Well worth a watch if you dig mummy movies. Just remember, even a faster paced 50s movie is still kind of slow by today's standards.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Day 113: The Hallow

This movie has been in my Netflix queue for a hot minute so I finally broke down and watched it. I believe it was recommended by some website but I'm not sure which.

The story takes place over about two days in the life of a British family who moved to Ireland so that the husband can help mark up a forest for demolition...or something. He also seems to be a scientist. So I am unclear on exactly what his job is but it includes marking trees to be cut down. He and his wife have a newborn and have not been in their new house long. A neighbor keeps trying to warn them about the fairie folk who live in the woods and steal children, but our heroes are skeptical. There is a weird side plot about an aggressive fungus that takes over your mind that is somehow tied into the creatures that live in the forest. Before long, the family is under siege during one long night and are trying to fend off magical beasts with iron and fire.

This movie could have used a couple of rewrites but it is perfectly fine. The acting is solid and the effects are convincing. There is a lot of eyeball threatening, more than I like to see. The rules of the Hallows are never quite made clear and the husband takes way too long to accept weird things are going on (after the claw marks show up on the car, it is safe to say this isn't your jerky neighbor). The geographical layout of the woods and their house is also hard to figure out at times. Some of the effects reminded me of Splinter and Evil Dead but this movie is nowhere near as fun.

I would give this a C or C-. No need to see it unless you like child endangerment stories.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 112: The Revenge of Frankenstein

This is the follow up to The Curse of Frankenstein that I wrote about not long ago. Cushing reprises his role and the movie picks up exactly where the first left off. In fact, the first ten minutes are so similar to the original, I thought I was watching the original on accident.

In this movie, Frankenstein has foiled his death sentence by having the useless priest who heard his confession in the first movie decapitated in his place. He is then free to move to a new town and begin work as Dr. Stein. When a young doctor recognizes him and asks to work with him, it isn't long until Frankenstein is back to his old tricks. This time, he puts the normal brain of a deformed man into a "perfect" body. Of course, the new body almost immediately gets into a fight with a surly janitor and the brain gets damaged. From that point on, the new monster wants to eat human flesh because something something.

Maybe it was switching back and forth between new movies and classics but this one bored me to tears. Without Christopher Lee as the monster and with the new monster really only wilding out a little, this was mostly about how Frankenstein helps poor people in exchange for their limbs. The last ten minutes or so are filled with incident but, by that time, the snooze has set in. Here's hoping the third one finds a better pace.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Day 111: Most Likely to Die

Anthony DiBlasi directed Last Shift, one of my favorite new horror movies I covered a few weeks ago. It has taken awhile but I finally psyched myself up to watch Most Likely to Die, which seemed super generic just from the title and description.

The premise is slasher 101, a group of former high school friends gather ten years after graduation for their reunion. They meet at the house of a classmate who has become a rich hockey player but someone traps them at the house and starts killing them one by one while dressed as a graduate (robes and cap with a fright mask). The murders all kind of relate in some way to what the individuals were voted Most Likely to do, until they stop relating and just happen.

I was hoping for more of the visual creativity that defined Last Shift but this movie was kind of a let down. Stock characters, boring murders and predictable "twists" add up to less than the sum of its parts. It was as if DiBlasi just really wanted to make a slasher movie and made a pretty generic one.

I will say the pacing is good, it starts strong and never really stops. Unfortunately, that is about the best I can say for it. Dialogue is underwritten and underperformed. Jake Busey shows up to watch a girl change clothes and provide the first of many red herrings. I have never seen him look more like his dad. Watch out, Jake.

Anyway, I wouldn't recommend this unless you are just a slasher fan who has been looking for something new (but not necessarily original) to watch.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Day 110: The Haunted Strangler

This movie is not only in the Essential Horror guide but is also a Criterion selection. It might be Boris Karloff's finest hour but that isn't saying terribly much. We follow a writer named Rankin (Karloff) and his protege McCall (an amateur psychologist) as they investigate a series of murders for which a man was executed twenty years earlier. I'm not sure how much to say about the movie so, if you are wary of spoilers maybe stop here.

Ok, if you are still with me, there is a plot twist about halfway through the movie that I guessed in the opening seconds of the film. To say that it was frustrating waiting for the movie to catch up with me was a bit of an understatement. The way things are staged in the cold open, it is pretty obvious that Karloff himself if the real killer and the man they put to death was innocent. Luckily, this twist was not saved until the end of the film so you get half the running time to deal with the idea that Karloff has been leading an investigation into his own life without knowing it.

Once the murders begin again, the movie takes on an interesting strategy of having Karloff try to convince people he is guilty during his lucid moments. It is sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde style as Karloff bounces from twisted face lunacy to sober regret. After the big turn, the movie doesn't go where I thought it was going to go. It kept me guessing a bit as to the final outcome but it could also be because it meanders all over the place.

Well worth watching, especially for Karloff fans as I am fairly certain he didn't use much if any prosthetics for his transformation into the Strangler. I could have done without the Can Can dancing going on so long but there is a genuinely creepy graveyard scene that had some amazing sound design.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Day 109: House 2

Growing up, my family had HBO and I watched the crap out of it. Some movies would show over and over again and House 2 was one of those. You know what movie they never showed? House 1. So, I still don't think I've ever seen it all the way through. But I would probably be able to quote alone to House 2 if I were to see it tomorrow.

Arye Gross (of Perfect Strangers) moves into a house where his parents used to live before they were murdered. He and a friend eventually find a crystal skull (like the one Indiana Jones wasted our time with) and accidentally resurrect Arye's Great-Great-Grandfather, an old west treasure seeker. Most of the movie is about "Gramps" and his descendant exploring all the space/time portals in the house (that is built on a Mayan temple?) until Gramps arch-enemy, another cowboy, returns from the dead to steal the skull. There is then a weird mix of old west action and horror and comedy as Arye Gross confronts a cowboy zombie, essentially.

I remember being entertained as a kid by the antics of Gross and John Ratzenburger (Cliff from Cheers) as a rogue adventurer/electrician. I am guessing the comedy is probably very bad and the horror isn't scary but for a 10 year old, this was pure gold.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Day 108: Prince of Darkness

This is the second  movie in John Carpenter's loose collection called The Apocalypse Trilogy (see The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness). This particular entry focuses on a group of researchers and a priest who have found living physical embodiment of Satan on Earth in the form of a green liquid trapped in a cylinder. As the group learns more about it, the liquid seeps out and possesses people. A group of homeless people barricade the church the team is in so they cannot escape. Eventually, Satan gets out and attempts to bring something called The Anti-God to Earth. Can this rag tag group stop Satan himself? You'll have to watch.

While there are some good creepy scares in this movie, it feels a little like sci-fi horror more than pure horror. Carpenter tries very hard to explain the existence of Satan in scientific terms and ground the action in a secular reality. It reminds me a bit of how Marvel insists Thor is an extra-dimensional being and not an actual god. At any rate, most people remember this because of Alice Cooper as the leader of the homeless human barricade who murders anyone trying to escape the church where all the action takes place. Besides that, you get a decent turn from Donald Pleasence as the preacher who is trying to Mulder up all these Scullys he has invited into his church.

The effects don't age so well but this is still a solid 80s horror flick. I would give it a C+.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Day 107: Sleepy Hollow

Or as I like to call it, probably the last good Tim Burton movie. But then I remember I like Sweeney Todd and have to correct myself. Anyway, I remember watching the Disney Halloween specials when I was a kid and they always had (besides the truly frightening Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia) the Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. The story always fascinated me and I was pretty excited when I heard Tim Burton (at that time, on a hot streak) was handling it with Johnny Depp.

I was not disappointed and I am still a fan of this flick today. Christina Ricci as the love interest and Christopher Walken's cameo were nice decisions. The whole thing, starting with Christopher Lee as the Burgomaster, had a very throwback feel to it. The sets were creepy and the whole thing evoked dread as much as anything. Making Crane a constable and not a school teacher was an interesting way to make the story into a mystery rather than a single incident. In the cartoon, there was always some debate over whether the horseman was really Brom Bones but in this one, that notion is put to bed fairly quickly. As a horror adventure, I think it works pretty well. Also, it helped that Depp was eager to make himself look foolish at every turn.

Not an all time great but certainly the comfortable old sweatpants of horror films.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Day 106: Spring

In honor of Valentine's Day, I am writing up the most romantic horror movie I have ever seen. Spring is all about a young man who, after a bad turn of luck, ends up in Italy on a "get his shit together" getaway. He runs into a young woman who is in the manic pixie dream girl mode and the two hit it off. Of course, she has a terrible secret. She is really a 2,000 year old monster who must become pregnant every spring to remain immortal (she absorbs the fetus back into herself, thus prolonging her life). The trick is, if she really falls in love, she will lose her immortality and turn into a normal person.

With that premise, it sort of becomes a race against time to see if the young man can make her fall for him before she transforms into a lizard and kills him. Most of the movie reminded me of Before Sunrise with these two young adults getting to know one another while they wander around some beautiful scenery. The two actors have a natural way about them that makes their increasing attraction to one another feel right. The effects are good, but used sparingly. I think most of the budget went to filming on location.

If you have a horror fan in your life and need a flick to watch tonight, check out Spring.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Day 105: Asylum

Anthology horror is becoming popular once again with movies like V/H/S and Southbound. However, the first glory days of this mini-genre took place in the 1970s with flicks like Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Asylum fits nicely in this boom period with a decent framing story to boot.

A young Dr. Martin has come from far away to gain a job at an asylum. When he arrives, he finds that B. Starr, the former director, has been replaced with a wheelchair bound Dr. Rutherford. Rutherford explains that Starr went insane and had to be locked in his own asylum. Martin says he could figure out which patient is Starr so Rutherford makes a wager: If Martin can figure out who is Starr, he can have a job. If not, adios. So Martin is turned over to the upstairs orderly who takes him to four patients rooms where he hears tales that sound quite mad in an attempt to deduce who is the former director of the asylum.

The first tale is all about a woman sleeping with a married man who convinces him to murder his wife. The husband chops her into pieces and wraps her in super crinkly butcher's paper, storing her in the freezer. Things then go very wrong.

The second story is from a man who was once a tailor until Peter Cushing came to him and asked him to create a suit from an odd fabric that constantly changes colors. Being desperate for money, the tailor accepts the job. When he goes to deliver the suit, things go very wrong.

The third story is about a woman who was recently released from a mental institution returning home to live with her brother. When her "friend" comes to visit, things go very wrong.

The fourth story kind of dovetails into the framework as we meet a surgeon who has created perfect tiny robot versions of himself and people he knows. When he tries to transfer his own mind into the robot body, thing go very wrong.

I'm not entirely sure the solution to the frame story works but the whole thing is pretty fun. You will be ahead of all the stories, probably, but that doesn't mean there isn't enjoyment in the journey.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Day 104: Castle of Blood

This French-Italian joint was a little strange to watch in that, for long stretches, the dialogue would lapse into a foreign language there was no attempt to translate. I don't know what they were talking about, but I sure wish I did. The only other real complaint I have is the slowness of the first 20 minutes or so. It is literally just a guy walking around an empty blood-free castle. Snore.

Let me set the scene: Alan Foster is a reporter who has tracked down Edgar Allen Poe (?!) to ask him about his stories. Poe is dining with a Lord Blackwood and they invite Alan to join. Poe basically says that all his stories are thinly veiled descriptions of things that really happened to him. Then he speaks in a foreign language for a long time. The next English dialogue is Lord Blackwood betting Foster that he can't spend the night in Blackwood's haunted castle alone. This leads to the interminable scenes of Foster wandering the castle and checking it out by candlelight. He finally runs into Elizaneth Blackwood, the Lord's hot sister played by Barbara Steele. Foster and Elizabeth hit it off but are cock-blocked by Julia, a blonde lady who lives at the house for no known reason. Foster thinks she is foxy, too, and hits on her as well. People keep vanishing and appearing and before too long, Foster figures out he is surrounded by ghosts. Or vampire ghosts. Or something. This movie is kind of vague.

The ghost of a previous guest who took on Blackwood's bet, a spiritualist named Carmus, becomes Foster's guide through the horrible history of the house. Foster gets to see every death played out in front of him by the ghosts. Kind of late in the game, one informs him that they need his blood to live again this time next year and thus the last ten minutes or so become Foster running for his life inside a haunted castle.

The movie has a lot of sex in it for a black and white film (even nudity, that I found surprising) and deals with it in a frank way. Foster is a complete goober so we never really pull for him but Barbara Steele's Elizabeth makes a sympathetic figure in that EVERYONE in the castle wants to bone her and she just wants true love. All in all, not essential but interesting enough to watch once.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Day 103: The Awakening

This film is a very classy production that stars Rebecca Hall and Dominic West (McNulty from The Wire). Ghost stories, as I often say, are hard to do well but this movie manages to keep things moving very well. It is centered on a boys home in England where strange things have been happening. The headmaster finds Hall's Florence Cathcart, a writer who helps debunk hauntings and spiritualists. She comes to the school and quickly figures out there is no ghost, just some tragic circumstances and some bullies.

The real fun starts once all the children leave for the half-semester break, leaving Cathcart with a skeleton crew running the building and one child whose parents are away in India. The mysteries, threats and desires of the various people who remain build at a fairly heated pace until revelation upon revelation keeps changing the nature of the movie. Why is Cathcart attracted to the old house where the school is located? How does her childhood in Africa fit in? Are there any ghosts in the house? Will Cathcart and the headmaster get it on? All these questions are answered over the course of the film and it is a pretty enjoyable ride. Well made and creepy, this is one of the better horror movies I have seen on Netflix in recent years.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Day 102: Night of the Hunter

Night of the Hunter really stands out in my mind as a classic despite the fact I have only seen it once. Directed by Charles Laughton (who you may remember as Moreau from The Island of Lost Souls), this is based on the true story of a guy who traveled around killing widows and children.

Robert Mitchum is great as Powell, the "preacher" who drifts from town to town killing sinful women. When he ends up in a cell with Robert Graves, who has just robbed a bank and hidden the money with his children, he hatches a scheme to grab the hidden money after Graves is executed. Mitchum seduces and marries the now-widowed wife of Graves (played by pre-fat Shelly Winters) and terrorizes the kids to try and find the loot. When the new wife gets suspicious, Mitchum gets to murderin'. The titular night takes place as the orphaned children flee from Mitchum to an older woman's house. I won't spoil anymore if you haven't seen this classic yet.

The whole thing feels like a thriller wrapped around a subtle jab at organized religion. By making Mitchum's character a preacher, Laughton demonstrates the power of the pulpit to make common people blind to gross indecencies. The townsfolk love Mitchum's character but just as quickly turn on him later in the movie. These fickle hypocrisies leave one with lots of tough thoughts about just which wolves the Shepherd is protecting his flock from.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Day 101: Death Proof

I have to tread lightly here because this is the favorite flick of a friend of mine. Luckily, I really enjoy Death Proof, although it isn't for everyone. Basically, it is a play in two acts with act one following a group of doomed girls as they socialize and run afoul of Stuntman Mike. After he kills them off, he picks a new group and the terror begins all over again.

This was, of course, Tarantino's contribution to the Grindhouse double feature that pretty much bombed in theaters. I saw it in an empty theater with two friends and we had a great time. Unlike the goofier Planet Terror, Death Proof is a pretty straight ahead thriller. Stuntman Mike, as played by Kurt Russell, is charming despite his age and rough appearance. He gets close to his victims and observes them (even getting a lapdance from one through a series of contrivances). The performances are great across the board, from Rose McGowan's hippie chick to Rosario Dawson's tough leader of the second group of women Mike targets. Uma Thurman's stunt double also has a juicy role as a stuntwoman who wants nothing more than to play Captain's Mast...you'll see.

People complained about the pacing of this one but Tarantino has really gotten into the slow burn since his early days. Unlike most horror movies, you really know these ladies when they get killed. The set up is pretty essential to the whole thing working. The last half hour is about as thrilling a chase sequence as I have seen. Not for everyone's tastes but a very solid flick.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Day 100: Predator

The year before John McTiernan made his immortal classic, Die Hard, he filmed one of the best sci-fi horror movies of the 80s, maybe of all time. What I like about McTiernan's storytelling style is that he takes time to set up characters, even if only one or two traits. Just like the 13 terrorists in Die Hard, the 7 soldiers in Predator give us a concrete understanding of just who is at risk. Even though the action takes place in a wide open tropical rainforest, it feels tight and claustrophobic as the soldiers get picked off one by one.

The plot is pretty barebones, Arnold S. and his battalion are sent on a mission in South America that is typical 80s action fare. They wade into hostile territory to find some missing service men only to discover something has skinned them alive. At first they think it is an enemy combatant going too far but eventually they figure out it is an alien who has come to earth to hunt our most dangerous humans.

Even though there has been only two proper sequels (not counting the Alien vs. Predator movies), this original built a strong antagonist in the Predator. It had a set of rules it played by and even had a sort of sore loser mentality built in. All in all, the creature that could mimic and appropriate human speech was a big enough character to challenge one of the eras most beloved action stars in Arnold. It was truly some special chemistry that made this the last great American horror creation until the Scream killer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day 99: Interview with a Vampire

Boy, you have to be of a certain age to remember all the hype that came out around this movie. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt teaming up with Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas and a fresh faced Kirsten Dunst to bring a best selling novel to life...what could go wrong?

Honestly, this isn't a terrible movie. It moves along at a nice clip and looks gorgeous. Cruise was playing against type and Pitt was in one of his "acting in a trance" phases. The idea was that Pitt has tracked down Christian Slater in order to tell his life story. The whole movie is told in flashback as Pitt's foppish weirdo runs afoul of the Vampire Lestat (Cruise), who turns him into one of the undead. Seen from the distance of time, it is very much a pro-gay rights movie as Lestat and Louis form a couple and adopt little Kirsten Dunst as their vampire daughter (although she gets tired of never growing up, shades of Near Dark there). Banderas plays the leader of  vampire clan who have less than peachy plans for Lestat and his family.

The acting is spot on. The vampire action is compelling enough and frequent enough to keep fright fans entertained. The subtext is pretty rich and the whole thing is at least fun to watch. Not a particularly well written movie and it will never be an all-time classic but you could do worse with a weekend afternoon.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Day 98: The Horror of Dracula

Hammer had such a hit with the Curse of Frankenstein that they decided to try their hand at more horror with a retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula titled The Horror of Dracula. Peter Cushing is once again front and center, this time as Van Helsing, the vampire hunter. Christopher Lee is once again at odds with Cushing as the evil Count Dracula himself.

They take a few liberties with the source material (making Jonathan Harker a vampire hunter sent to infiltrate Dracula's castle gets the plot moving a little faster) but overall, this is a zippy, fun retelling of the old story. We get lots of staking and a nice final battle between Van Helsing and Dracula that is very physical. There aren't many scares per se, but the action movie approach to the horror works pretty well. Once again, as in Frankenstein, the monster is not the center of the show. Van Helsing's slow deputizing of Michael Gough (Alfred from the 90s Batman movies) as his new assistant is fun and brings the audience up to speed. Like all good origin stories, it makes me want to see where this series could possibly go next.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Day 97: Curse of the Demon

I will say this for my Essential Horror book, it is all over the damn place in terms of quality. From real stinkers like The Maze to great films like The Picture of Dorian Gray, you really get a feel for the full history of horror by following their suggestions. Luckily, Curse of the Demon (aka Night of the Demon) lands way closer to the high quality mark than low. Directed by Jacques Tournier, who directed Cat People, this is an older horror film that captures just the right shade of ambiguity...sort of.

The film opens with an attack by the titular demon right away. The effects are pretty impressive for what was surely a low budget film. Apparently, Tournier never wanted the Demon to appear onscreen, thus making a case that the horror was all due to the power of suggestion. But the studio said, "screw that noise" and built a demon suit for someone to wear. He thought it ruined the ambiguous nature of his movie but I disagree. Since the demon looks just like the one portrayed in the old wood carvings the characters review at the beginning of the film, I think the idea of suggestion holds up.

Anyway, the story is that Dana Andrews is a psychologist flying to England for a symposium on parapsychology. The poor schmuck who dies in the opening sequence was a colleague who planned to expose a Devil worshipper named Karswell at the conference. Andrews runs afoul of Karswell almost immediately as well as the hot daughter of his dead colleague. Together, he and the daughter investigate whether or not Karswell can really summon a demon before they get to October 28th (the day Karswell says Andrews will be killed). You have the ticking clock of The Ring along with the psychological ambiguity of Cat People. One sequence, at a seance, is so ridiculous that you can't help but believe it is fake just like Andrews (he is definitely the Scully of the duo).

The ending is very satisfying and nerve-wracking. Along with Andrews attempt to break into Karswell's home, the movie is full of memorable sequences (and one useless trip to Stone Henge). For fans of psychological horror, I highly recommend this one.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Day 96: The Beast With Five Fingers

This movie is sort of an inversion of the Hands of Orloff, in that a famous pianist dies and his hand comes back from beyond the grave to murder people...or does it?

In Italy, the pianist in question is living out the end of his life in a villa with his assistant (Peter Lorre), his nurse, some staff and the occasional visit from the chief of police or a musician/con man who sells fake antiques to tourists. The pianist has only one good hand and uses it to play special music arranged by the con man. The one-handed gent is also quite wealthy and decides to leave all his estate to his nurse. This angers Peter Lorre and the man's remote relations, who arrive to sue for the estate once the old man eats it after falling down some stairs. Once a crooked lawyer is killed off and the piano begins playing by itself, the characters gather to find the murderer.

All signs point to the one good hand somehow removing itself from the corpse and escaping the crypt in order to play piano and gain revenge. Lorre gets obsessed with the hand and seemingly does battle with it throughout the library. You'll have to watch to see what else happens but, needless to say, don't trust everything you see. This is a better little flick than I expected.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Day 95: Theatre of Blood

My friend called this movie ambitious and he was pretty right to do so. Vincent Price stars as a washed up actor who has seemingly returned from beyond the grave to enact a series of gruesome murders on his former critics. Each murder is styled after a death from the works of Shakespeare. In that way, it reminded another friend of mine of Se7en. With all the themed murders, and the police seemingly helpless to stop them, can any of the critics of London survive?

Diana Rigg co-stars as Price's daughter in the movies most confusing aspect. The filmmaker seems to want us to wonder about Rigg's complicity in the crimes but she appears in a series of the worst disguises I have ever seen, obviously aiding her father. At the end, there is a big reveal that she was Price's right hand man all along but, unless you were hit in the head with a brick before viewing, you already knew that.

The movie is worth the cost of admission for Price's series of bizarre disguises alone. When we were approaching the Othello murder, I thought "uh-oh...blackface?" but they avoided that pitfall. Unfortunately, the next scene has Price portraying the ultimate swishy homosexual, a hairdresser named Butch with an afro...it...it was troubling. 

At any rate, the movie is filled with UK character actors, including Miles O'Shea who I know best as the doctor from Oz (the prison show, not the wonderful land of...). It is campy and cheesy, telegraphing most of the horror. It still manages a few chilling moments. I would say this is entertaining enough to watch but don't expect any real scares.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Day 94: The Monster Club

Knee deep in monsters this week, this was a movie from my last October horrorthon. Vincent Price and John Carradine star in the wraparound segment in which Price, as a vampire, bites Carradine (but doesn't do much harm), a horror author wandering the streets of London. Price takes Carradine to The Monster Club where they see live performances by Night, The Pretty Things and The Viewers. In between music sets, Price regales Carradine with tales of horror.

The first is about a creature called a Shadmock who has hired a young woman to be his assistant. She sticks around despite his horrific appearance thanks to her jerk boyfriend, who convinces her to gain the Shadmock's trust and then rob him. Bad things happen.

The second story is a funny bit about a vampire family who are being hunted by Donald Pleasance. Things almost take a grim turn (and the comedy is pretty dark to begin with) but it kind of turns out all's well that ends well. Well, mostly.

The third story is about a movie director looking for a perfect location for his horror film. He finds a seemingly quaint village but it turns out to be overrun by corpse-eating demons called Ghouls. Bad things happen.

This is a fun little romp of a movie from the early 80s. As far an anthologies go, not any worse than the old Tales from the Crypt movies.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Day 93: Dog Soldiers

Before he made The Descent, Neil Marshal came out swinging with this superior Werewolf movie. The premise is that a group of Scottish soldiers are doing war games in the wilderness when they stumble upon a group of Black Ops soldiers who have been torn to shreds. The big cast is quickly narrowed down until only a handful of soldiers and special operatives (plus, a local woman who gets caught in the middle) are trapped in an empty house in the countryside, fending off a handful of werewolves.

The soldiers each get distinct personalities here. Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham round out the who's who of Scottish actors not named Ewan. There are a couple of hidden werewolves among those in the house, so the interplay gets tense. The biggest badasses get sidelined early on so that only the naive younger soldiers remain to do the fighting. It smacks a little of Aliens, to be sure, but is that a bad thing?

The werewolf design is top notch, the violence is gory and the acting is first rate. Without a doubt, one of my favorite horror movies. If you like werewolves, you should check it out.