Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Day 212: Land of the Dead

This should finish up my reviews of all 6 of George Romero's Dead movies. Of all of them, this is the one I recall the least about.

I remember hearing about this movie coming out forever. It was originally going to be called Dead Reckoning and that name still gets used in the movie. I couldn't wait to see if it lived up to the hype of being the first new Dead movie in 20 years. The story is that Dennis Hopper has created a safe zone from zombies in Pittsburgh called Fiddler's Green. The rich stay up in a high rise while the poor scrounge for food and supplies at ground level. Simon Baker plays a guy named Riley who created and drives a versatile tank known as Dead Reckoning. Riley keeps getting caught up in the politics of the Green and has to face, not only his old second in command (John Leguizamo), but also Hopper as the poor and the rich begin to clash. Most of the movie is in-fighting between humans as the zombies start showing more intelligence. Eventually, the zombies get in the mix and all hell breaks loose.

Of what I can recall of this film, it is the best looking of any of Romero's zombie movies. The actual cast of actors, too, is something to be noted. Usually, Romero just has unknowns. As such, this is the slickest of the movies and it teases us with the idea of smart zombies (which never really got followed up on in the next two movies). Mostly, it feels like a Mad Max style action movie with some zombie elements. I don't remember being scared or disgusted by any of the effects. I would say this is the odd movie out in a lot of ways from the others. At least it still has glaringly obvious metaphors about class warfare.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Day 211: Vampire's Kiss

A friend of mine talked me into seeing this a few years ago on the rumor that Nicholas Cage gives a bugnuts insane performance. He was right.

Vampire's Kiss is all about Peter Loew, a literary agent who finds a bat in his bedroom one night and comes to believe he is being visited by a hot, female vampire. He proceeds to buy a pair of novelty fangs and live what he believes the vampire lifestyle should be. Things go very wrong.

Cage is pretty much the whole show here and he is phenomenal. His acting is way over the top even before he gets "bitten" by the vampire. This is the movie with the infamous alphabet scene as well as the cockroach eating scene. Cage really gives it his all and is hypnotically weird.

I'm not sure the movie ever gets to full-blown scary. It is very sad to watch this man's declining mental state. The commentary on the shallow lifestyles of the 1980s is just as sharp as American Psycho here. In fact, if you liked that movie's blend of horror and black comedy, you will probably like this.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Day 210: The Host

One pet peeve I want to address up front: in Korean movies with English dialogue peppered in (like this one) no one bothers to subtitle the English, just the Korean. I want to read it all people.

The Host is about a mutated river beast that goes on a rampage one day, stealing a little girl from her family. The father (Song Kang-ho), with the help of his own father, brother and sister goes after the girl to rescue her despite the entire country thinking he is carrying a deadly virus. We follow both the girl as she attempts to escape the monster's den and her family as they try to evade the government and find locate the girl. There is action, comedy, some intrigue and lots of sadness as things don't always go so well.

Like most Korean movies, this one kept me guessing as to where it was headed the whole time. I completely guessed wrong about the outcome of this movie. Song Kang-ho is, apparently, my favorite Korean actor as he has appeared in Thirst, Age of Shadows, I Saw the Devil and pretty much any movie I have liked from Korea. His character is almost mentally challenged in that he is like a child most of the time but prone to sleeping fits, too. The educated brother and the archery-champion sister make a pretty badass team, also.

The monster effects are strong and the storyline about the hunt for the monster's cave is compelling. Unfortunately, there is this weird secondary plot where the U.S. government is creating a panic based on a virus that doesn't exist just so it can unleash a chemical agent in a populated area of South Korea. It seems like a stab at the U.S. entering Iraq based on phony intelligence but the point never really gels for me. The more the movie focused on the family, the better it was.

So, I would recommend the Host with a few reservations.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Day 209: The Ring

Hard to believe that, before he shot Pirates of the Caribbean and Lone Ranger, Gore Verbinski was known for this horror work. I think he was a good choice for adapting this Japanese horror.

The Ring is about this cursed video cassette. If you watch it, you die within seven days. Pretty simple set up. We get to see a couple of teenagers find out the hard way that the curse is true. Next, we follow Rachel (Naomi Watts) as she picks  up the thread of investigation and finds her own way to the tape. She is a single mother raising a creepy kid so she can't really afford to be killed by a video. The rest of the movie is the seven day hunt for answers and a way out of the curse. It includes visiting an island of suicidal horses and the creepiest cabins for rent in the world.

I feel like, if you are a horror fan, you have probably seen The Ring by this point so I want to talk about that ending for a second. {Spoilers} For years, I had grown tired of the "ghost needs a hug" ending to horror movies. A lot of times, the ghost needed some slight avenged and then they could move on. I liked this one because it subverted that trope by having Samara trick Rachel into thinking she just needed to be freed from her unfair imprisonment. Rachel hugs the ghost, but the movie doesn't end. Turns out the ghost is just pure evil and was using Rachel the whole time to become more powerful. She isn't a mistreated little girl, she was pretty much the devil. I loved that twist and hoped it would put an end to ghost hugging forever. {End Spoilers}

The visuals are dark and lush in this movie. The video within the movie is a work of creepy art. Samara's big entrance is as frightening a visual as I have seen on the big screen. This was followed by the lesser Ring Two but I think this one still holds up as a modern classic.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Day 208: Road Games

This is one I watched with some friends of mine last October. I was surprised I had never heard of it. It might be hard to track down if you are interested.

Road Games is about Stacey Keach as a long haul trucker taking loads of meat across the Australian outback. He has his pet dog and he likes to make up little back stories for the families he passes on the road. One day, he runs afoul of a serial killer who decides to play a little game with Keach that takes them all over Australia. Jamie Lee Curtis is a hitchhiker who gets caught up in these road games and tries to help Keach out of his predicament.

The movie is very well done for a "trucker being messed with" movie. Keach plays it very charming and not as intense as he can be. Curtis is lovable as always. The one thing that struck me weird was how there are only about a dozen people in the outback and they end up everywhere Keach is. The coincidence seems to be a bit too much at times but it doesn't completely shatter the suspension of disbelief.

This is a fun little movie from the 70s that I would recommend. It won't change your life or the way you see horror movies but it is a fun ride while it lasts.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Day 207: You're Next

Adam Wingard has been hit or miss for me as a director. I liked a Horrible Way to Die and his Blair Witch follow-up was fine. I didn't go crazy for the Guest like everyone else, but I thought it was good. You're Next remains my favorite work of his and probably why I keep giving him chances.

Erin is dating a rich boy who is going home to visit his family and bringing her along. Once the entire wealthy clan is gathered, men in animal masks begin stalking and killing the family one at a time. The only thing they didn't count on was Erin being a badass who actually knows how to fight back. She tries to rally the remaining family members as the faceless goons work their way into the house. Horror ensues.

I initially avoided this movie because it looked like another riff on the Strangers. Boy, am I glad I gave it a chance. It is sort of a love letter to the current indie horror movement as Wingard hired Joe Swanberg, Ti West and Larry Fessenden to play roles in this movie. AJ Bowen is great as the boyfriend and Sharni Vinson steals the show as Erin, who refuses to be a passive final girl. The arc of the movie from pure horror to pseudo-action thriller is very smooth and fun to watch.

If you like survival horror where the heroes are pitted against men in masks, this is a great example of the genre.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Day 206: What Lies Beneath

This is a latter-day HBO find for me. I think my parents saw it before me and I watched it soon afterwards having seen some of it with them.

The tricky thing about this movie is how much to give away. I enjoy stories where they take a sharp turn in the middle so I will try to keep this on the spoiler free side of things. Michelle Pfeiffer is Claire Spencer and the action starts when a new couple moves in next door to her and her husband Norman (Harrison Ford). The wife is in an abusive relationship and confides to Claire that she fears for her life. Before long, the wife vanishes and Claire suspects the husband of murder. To make matters worse, she begins experiencing strange things around her house, leading her to believe she is being haunted by her neighbor's ghost. Where her investigation leads her might surprise you.

I was pleased to see this was written by Clark Gregg (a favorite actor of mine). Robert Zemeckis directed this with fewer digital effects than you would think considering his work in that field. Ford and Pfeiffer handle the material very well. James Remar as the neighbor husband is just the right kind of creepy. All in all, this is a pretty fun little movie. It doesn't reinvent the wheel or anything but it is a nice creepshow.

I would give this a solid B.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Day 205: We Are What We Are

I kind of stumbled across this little gem digging through Netflix. It is a slow burn but man, that ending...

We Are What We Are follows the Parker family after the matriarch dies under strange circumstances on a grocery run. Frank, the father, is fasting in advance of a holy day and his daughters, Rose and Iris, try their best to make up for their mother's absence. The girls help take care of their little brother, deal with inquiries from the local police and help their father in his preparations. The less known about this movie, the better it is. I knew it had something vaguely to do with cannibalism but I had no idea what I was in for otherwise.

Jim Mickle directs this with an eye towards performances, letting the actors have their space. He never gets showy or bold, but tells the story in a straightforward way. Once all the secrets in the family have been revealed, things get messy but never over the top. The already-missed Michael Parks has a role as a medical examiner whose daughter went missing years ago. He carries around his sadness as he discovers why Mrs. Parker died at the beginning.

This is a great indie horror movie. I would give it a B+ and recommend it to people who like good character work.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Day 204: Holidays

Another anthology horror movie based around a loose theme, in this case, holidays. I caught this on Netflix and you probably can, too.

There are 8 stories in this of differing quality. Valentine's Day is about a bullied little girl who has a crush on her gym teacher. Things go wrong. St. Patrick's Day is about a teacher who wants children seemingly being granted her wish by a strange little girl in her class who never smiles. Things go wrong. Easter is about a kid whose mother tries to explain what the Easter Bunny has to do with Jesus and Easter, resulting in a visit from a hybrid creature that is funny and terrifying. Mother's Day is about a woman so fertile that others have nefarious plans for her overactive womb. Father's Day was my favorite of the bunch in that the mood is perfect even if the pacing is slow. A girl whose father disappeared when she was young gets an audio tape with instructions from her father on how to find him. Things go wrong. Halloween is Kevin Smith's entry about an online webcam sex show whose owner is a violent abuser of the girls he employs. When the girls decide the turn the tables, things go wrong. Christmas is about Seth Green taking advantage of a dying old man to get the last pair of virtual reality headsets for his kid. The headset seems to show you your darkest fantasy as well as record whatever you do based on them. The final story is New Year's Eve and it was a fun little nugget as a serial murderer goes on a blind date with a girl who has a dark secret of her own. Things go wrong.

Not constrained by rules like found footage or having to be three to five minutes, this anthology fares a little better than other recent ones. The stories are dark but well shot and acted. The biggest weak link is Kevin Smith here, unfortunately. I find it super creepy he casts his own daughter as a sex show worker. Her acting is also not the best. If anything, this reminded me of something like Creepshow, where it could be light-hearted one minute and cold-blooded the next.

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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Day 196: The House of 1000 Corpses

Rob Zombie's music was part of the soundtrack to my angry, high school years. I enjoyed his theatricality and darker obsessions while he still made some pretty catchy tunes. That said, I was primed to really enjoy his feature film debut. THAT said, I did not.

The premise of the movie is pure grindhouse. A group of young people hoping to find odd roadside attractions are sent to find a tree from which local legend, Dr. Satan, was hanged. They run across a hitchhiker named Baby and soon get a flat tire. All this leads them to the house of Mother Firefly and her freakish offspring. Of course, the group starts getting picked off one at a time and much horror ensues.

Sounds like a recipe for a fun horror movie but, like Tim Burton identifies with the freaks in his stories, Zombie identifies too much with the killers in this one. He seems to be under the impression that these characters are so fascinating we will just watch them murder and torture at will with no consequences and be delighted. And that's just what they do for the running time of the movie. None of the victims, or the people trying to find the victims, get any sort of break. The Firefly family is just too well-prepared for hunting and killing innocent people for any hope to show through. There is a moment towards the end where you are supposed to think someone has escaped but it doesn't last long enough to register as a catharsis before more evil crap happens. Like a similar horror movie I hate, The Strangers, there is just no relief from the horror and that leaves you without the best part of a horror movie, the safe outlet for your psychic turmoil.

Zombie got it right with the sequel, The Devil's Rejects, by making the Firefly family into the victims of a sinister cop bent on revenge. This first one though, is for people who revel in watching evil win. I wouldn't recommend this but I know plenty of people who like it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Day 195: Dead Snow 2

Once again, putting the sequel up before I review the original. This random topic generator is stubbornly against going in order.

Dead Snow was a moderate little Norwegian hit very much in the Evil Dead vein. The fact that it did so well in the U.S. led to a contingent of American characters being introduced in the sequel, led by Martin Starr. But I get ahead of myself. The film picks up exactly where the first one left off, Martin (our lone survivor) has returned the gold to the zombie Nazis and is making his escape when he realizes he still has one piece of gold on him. The zombies attack and he narrowly escapes when the leader (Herzog) loses his arm to a passing truck. At a nearby hospital, Martin is given Herzog's arm and is charged with murdering his friends. Herzog's arm causes some very darkly funny moments as it seeks only to kill while Martin is trying to protest his innocence. Eventually, Martin gets the American Zombie Squad (Starr and two ladies who I did not recognize) to come help him as the zombie Nazis invade Norway again. The big promise of the movie is that you will see zombie Russians fighting zombie Nazis and it pays off.

Tommy Wirkola, the director, has a decent sense of what people want to see from his movies. There is comedy all over the place but mostly in the form of gory, inappropriate deaths. There is more than one moment in this where I sat up and said, "Wait, what the hell?" You'll see things you didn't epect to see, for sure. While it takes a super long time to get to the final Russo/German battle, it is mostly worth the wait. The Russian zombies don't have quite as much personality as the Nazis but it is still fun to watch them slug it out.

This is a fun little movie for horror fans. If you like inappropriate humor with your zombie action, this is definitely for you. While not quite as fun as Evil Dead 2, it comes close on many occasions.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Day 194: Nailbiter

Say what you will about digital comics but sometimes they (Comixology is the one I have used the most) offer free downloads. Those free downloads led me to trying the first issue of Nailbiter and I was immediately hooked on this Image horror title.

Written by Joshua Williamson and drawn by Mike Henderson, the comic tells the story of a small town named Buckaroo, Oregon. The town has spawned about 18 famous serial killers in the past 30 years, the most infamous of whom is the Nailbiter. He chews off the ends of his victims fingers when he kills them, you see. The plot kicks in when Nicholas Finch, a former military interrogator, is summoned by an old friend in the FBI to find out exactly what is going on in this sleepy little town. Finch teams up with the local sheriff and a rebellious teen to slowly unravel why so many killers come from the town...and who will the next set of victims.

While I have tried his other supernatural series, Ghosted, I prefer Williamson's work on Nailbiter hands down (pun intended). The whole thing plays out a bit like Twin Peaks with various colorful characters coming and going and adding to the mystery. There are moments of high tension and great cliffhangers. My only real complaint is the seemingly abrupt ending. The series ended at issue 30 but it felt like a huge exposition dump that could have been spread more artfully over a few more issues.

As with all comic art, your enjoyment will be subjective. The cartoonish quality of Henderson's work keeps it from being stomach churning in some of the more gruesome moments. A more detailed or realistic style would definitely lean it more into gore, which doesn't suit the story.

If you want a good, suspenseful horror comic with lots of creative killers, check out Nailbiter.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Day 193: Vampires

This is not a movie review but another examination of a monster type.

Vampires are pretty much the only monsters people actually want to be. It is said that vampires increase in popularity when liberals are in charge of the nation (zombies rule during conservative times) and it is theorized that this is because they represent libertine values and are literal parasites (if you are curious about zombies it is because they are mindless followers who are only good for consuming). Vampires are sexy, and besides maybe certain temptress demons or ghosts, are the only inherently hot thing that can kill you.

The original lore was born out of the finding that hair and nails seemed to grow after a person died, implying some secret life lived out of the sight of normal people. They would rise from their grave and drink blood (also because blood was found around the mouths of the recently deceased). Of course, all these observations could be tied to simple putrification and the slow desiccation of a dead body. Panicked believers thought the only way to stop these fiends from rising and drinking the blood of the living was to stake them into the earth so they could not rise, usually through the heart.

Over the centuries lore expanded and evolved. Garlic became a thing to scare vampires away. They must hate sunlight if they sleep during the day. Religious symbols got in on the action by claiming crosses could scare them away. Then, of course, their powers grew, too. From just wandering the night to feed, they began to transform into various animals and hypnotize their prey. For every new weakness they gained, they also seemed to gain a new ability.

As the years go by, they also get more cuddly. Twilight gave us glitter vampires, What We Do in the Shadows gave us wacky vampires and shows like Blade and Preacher have good guy vampires in them. We really don't want these beings to be evil.  Because who doesn't want to live forever and be seductively appealing? Sure, there is that little caveat that you have to literally drain the life force from others to live but surely we can True Blood our way around that one?

What's your favorite monster? Do you think there are any more popular than vampires, as a class?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Day 192: The Bay

Barry Levinson is not the first name you think of when you think of horror. He directed nostalgia fueled movies like Diner and The Natural, eventually moving into political satire with Wag the Dog. The Bay is Levinson's first stab at horror and, as such, he brings a touch of class to the proceedings.

The Bay is found footage horror assembled from a variety of sources. Over a Fourth of July weekend, a high level of pollution in a local river has triggered the development of aggressive parasites that essentially turn people into zombies. Not only is the movie an environmentalism fable, it also examines how pervasive technology has become to our lives. While the "main" plot is about a reporter and her camera man caught in the middle of the outbreak, there are half a dozen side plots taken from Facetime recordings, video recordings on smartphones and even security cameras that examine the outbreak from multiple points of view.

The smart way this movie is made makes it very watchable if not exactly scary. There are a few good creepy moments here and there but mostly the different stories reveal themselves with a sort of inevitable queasiness. I couldn't name a single actor from the movie (but some faces will no doubt look familiar). This adds to the realism factor of the whole thing.

I would give this one a solid B or even B+ if you catch me on the right day. It won't join the ranks of horror classics but it is definitely worth a watch.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Day 191: Over Your Dead Body

Takashi Miike directed one of the most disturbing horror movies I have ever seen (Audition), so I like to check out some of his other work. Movie like 13 Samurai are actually pretty entertaining. This one is a horse of a different color.

Set in the world of a theater production, this movie follows the lead actress as she pulls strings to get her lesser known boyfriend a lead role in the production. As the various actors develop crushes on each other, the world of the play (which is a ghost story itself) and the real world start mingling. Before long, things go very wrong.

This is one of the few foreign films I have seen where I felt like my lack of cultural knowledge was a real hindrance. I think you would get a lot more out of this movie if you were familiar with Yotsuya Kaidan, the ghost story that is featured in the play. According to wikipedia there is all sorts of murder and subterfuge in that play which would explain some of the grisly things that go down in the last act of this movie. Miike isn't afraid of gore but it feels less horrific here than in Audition.

If you like Miike, check it out, it is worth a watch. If you are a casual viewer, I would recommend against it without some homework and a strong stomach.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Day 190: The ABCs of Death

Yes, I covered the sequel not too long ago...that's what you get with a random topic generator.

The ABCs of Death is a fairly decent idea for a horror anthology, assign out 26 topics to various directors and see what you get. Unlike the follow-up, which seemed a little more...cohesive...this one was pretty all over the place in terms of quality. With directors like Angela Bettis, Nacho Vigalando, Ti West, Adam Wingard, and Ben Wheatley you expect a certain level of quality. Unfortunately, the segments that stick out in this edition are weird one-offs like Japanese Schoolgirls with deadly farts (F), a stop motion movie about a killer turd (K), an experimental short that just seems like sex noises (O), etc.

A few, like B for Bigfoot and Q for Quack stick with you for the right reasons (they achieve their goal) but mostly, it is all forgettable. The two most disturbing shorts are L for Libido and Y is for Youngbuck, both of which dabble in profane and taboo subjects. Unless you are a big fan of these directors, I would keep on moving. There is nothing much worth seeing here and especially not at the time investment it takes to watch 26 shorts.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Day 189: The Woods

This movie will probably always be remembered as a footnote rather than on its own merits. This movie and M. Night Shyamalan's The Village were in production at the same time with the same name (The Woods). Shyamalan graciously changed his title rather than making Lucky McKee change his.

This movie follows a troubled teen girl played by Agnes Bruckner. Set in 1965, she is sent away to a private school after some minor arson. The school is plenty spooky and Heather (Bruckner) is haunted by dreams of a classmate covered in blood. She is also being tormented by another student and on top of all this, there are rumors that the academy was founded by witches. Heather's discovering of the secrets of the academy take up the better part of the movie but let's just say, bad things happen.

Bruckner and the mostly female cast do a fine job of acting, it is just that the story is a little rote. The school with a secret seems like an ancient horror trope well before McKee got to it. The one shining light is the involvement of Bruce Campbell in a role much larger than I thought he would have. I guess if part of your movie involves trees attacking someone, you need an expert on the evil dead.

In all, nothing about this is particularly original but it is well-executed. The drab color palette and school uniforms kind of make the whole exercise dreary. I would give this a solid C.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Day 188: Watchers

If any of you reading this (both of you?) like Stranger Things, this movie was almost certainly a huge influence on it.

This movie means something to me for a couple of reasons. First, it is based on the first Dean Koontz novel I ever read. Second, and more important, the style of story it tells became a template I really enjoy. One of my favorite comics of all time, Suicide Squad (don't judge it by the movie) used to be really good at the same story style. That is to say, you get a primary antagonist and a secondary antagonist (who may be at odds with the primary) and both are after the protagonist on totally separate tracks. In the end, all of them come together and the odds against the protagonist seem insurmountable unless one bad guy takes out the other first.

To make this more concrete, this movie is about a government experiment where they have designed a monster killing machine and a dog that is psychically linked to the monster. The idea is that the dog goes in and finds a target, the monster comes in and kills the target. Corey Haim stars as the boy who finds the escaped dog and adopts him as his own. Not only is the monster on the trail of the dog, a government assassin is on the trail of the boy. Both the monster and the assassin leave a ton of bodies in their wake as they close in on Haim from different directions. The climax is pretty fun.

I don't know where you can currently find this movie but it is an afternoon killer for sure. It might not be the best acted or directed, but I have a soft spot in my heart for it.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Day 187: Late Phases

Werewolf movies, one of my favorite subgenres besides haunted (blank) movies. I just dig the werewolf modus operandi.

Nick Damici plays Ambrose, a blind man sent to live in a retirement community by his son (Ethan Embry). On his first night, the woman who shares his duplex is murdered and he is attacked by a werewolf that kills his beloved dog. Ambrose vows vengeance and pretty much immediately figures it was a werewolf. He remembers the werewolf had breathing issues so he assumes the human form must as well. From that thought process we get a race against time as Ambrose tries to not only figure out who in his retirement community is a werewolf but also how he can defeat them given his blindness. A colorful cast of characters is involved and the ending gets pretty clever.

This is just a solid werewolf movie. The investigation and preparation segment is entertaining enough to not feel draggy and the coming of the next full moon is the perfect ticking clock for this genre. That all the characters are either late middle-aged or elderly makes for some fun commentary on the graying of America. Mostly, it is just fun to watch an old blind war vet kick some werewolf ass and deliver pithy one-liners.

All in all, this is a less silly Bubba Ho-tep. You already know if it sounds appealing to you. If it does, you should definitely check it out.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Day 186: The Mist

The Mist was one of the first Stephen King short stories I ever read and it definitely had a huge impact on my creative life from a young age. In late middle school or early high school I wrote a short story called And the Shadows (horrible title) about a group of Entertainers stuck in a nightclub while mysterious creatures hidden in the shadows of the night picked them off one by one. It was very much a Mist homage.

The King story and the Frank Darabont movie take place mostly at a grocery store in Maine. When a man and his son go into town for supplies following a rough storm, they find themselves trapped inside the store they visit by a thick fog from which no human emerges. If you wander into the fog, you are pretty much dead. There are all sorts of Lovecraftian creatures lurking inside to tear you apart and, without the aid of your vision, you are all the more vulnerable. Of course, the mist isn't the only thing to be afraid of as the trapped and panicked shoppers begin turning on one another thanks to a busybody religious zealot who thinks sinning has caused the mist.

It is hard to screw up a premise this strong and Darabont does not drop the ball. The scenes with various people trying to explore nearby stores or just get to their cars are very nerve-wracking. While the religious zealot (played wonderfully by Marcia Gay Harden) is painted in broad strokes, the intended effect of the audience kind of hating her still works. Thomas Jane is very strong in the lead role as a father watching out for his son in the middle of a very bad situation.

Of course, the controversial part of this movie is the bleak, bleak ending. I mean, I can't even begin to tell you what a downer it is. The short story ended with frightening ambiguity but the movie decides to let us know exactly what happens to everyone. If you can deal with a certain amount of soul-crushing (and not in any way you are guessing right now), check this out. It is one of the better King adaptations and I promise some solid scares.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Day 185: The Last Exorcism

This week has inadvertently been a week of negative reviews. I haven't been in a bad mood or anything but this is the way the randomizer works, I guess.

The Last Exorcism is almost a really good horror movie. I have one problem with it but it is a pretty big one. We'll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, this movie is another found footage beast with a camera crew following around a preacher who performs exorcisms. Almost immediately, the preacher admits he is a charlatan and that he has a series of little tricks and gimmicks he can pull off to make people feel like they are getting the full treatment. He says psychology does the rest so most people walk away feeling better than when they came in. Of course, putting all this in a documentary means he is giving up his role as a preacher and moving on. Also of course, he has agreed to film one last "exorcism" for the cameras to show them how he does it.

With that kind of setup, I was already more intrigued than with a normal exorcism movie in that it was coming from a place of cynicism rather than belief. So when the preacher finds out (spoiler?) this exorcism needs to be real, things start going sideways fast.

The cast of this was really spot on. Patrick Fabian plays the preacher with high charisma and intelligence, making him a formidable lead for a horror movie. The creepy family with the possessed daughter hit all their notes just right with Ashley Bell as the girl giving a limber performance if nothing else.

Really, 90% or so of this movie worked for me. The one part that didn't was the end. I can't go into the whys without getting into spoilers but I will say they lose any pretense of suspense. The movie goes all in the final seconds and it kind of ruined the ride for me. Your mileage may vary but I prefer movies that involve the audience by making us use our brains to decipher the action, rather than spelling things out.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Day 184: Nightmare Code

Indie horror seems to be the most popular genre for aspiring filmmakers to dabble in but it also is the genre that lives or dies by its monetary restrictions. Nightmare Code has high aspirations but ultimately, fails to deliver the horror.

The story is about a tech company looking to launch a new suite of software that can predict human actions. The last person to act as lead designer shot up the office and turned the gun on himself. The new guy they bring in is a hacker who has previously gotten into some trouble. Before long, the hard work and endless hours start affecting his mind...or is the program screwing with him? The more he looks into the program, the more he finds signs of a consciousness in it. And then bad things happen.

The found footage gimmick works pretty well on this one as there are constantly four screens active at once reflecting various webcams, security feeds and other intrusive eyes on our hero at all times. Like Timecode, it is intuitively easy to know which quadrant to watch. Unfortunately, and without giving away the plot, the ultimate revelations of the movie are too big for the modest budget. Some scenes are slightly laughable despite the earnest nature with which they are presented.

The cast is all game for what they need to do. They are sometimes called on for wild mood swings that don't always chart. The romantic subplot develops pretty organically. The presentation style keeps everything at arms length so it is hard to get too invested in anyone.

I would say it is not essential to see this. If you do watch it, there are a couple of clever things that will make you feel like you haven't completely wasted your time. Looking forward to seeing what else this crew has up its sleeve.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Day 183: 1408

Some Stephen King adaptations are a little hard to watch, I'll be the first to admit. 1408 is a refreshing anomaly in that it actually works quite well.

John Cusack is a professional skeptic who stays in supposedly haunted hotels and then debunks the hauntings in a successful series of books. Things get weird when he gets an invite (or disinvite as it tells him to stay away) to room 1408 at the Hotel Dolphin in New York City. Sam Jackson plays the hotel manager who attempts to refuse Cusack access to the room where 56 people have died in the past 95 years. He goes on to say that no one lasts more than an hour in the room.

The idea of the movie isn't so much a haunted hotel room as an evil hotel room. Everything the room can do to drive a man to suicide, it does, including allowing previous guests to make an appearance. There are lots of moments where one's eyes can't be trusted and the room changes the rules of the game arbitrarily. Most of the movie takes place in that first hour in the room, giving it a real time feel. Most of the effects look seamless (although a few weird CGI choices are almost laughable) so kudos to the director (Mikael Hafstrom) for mostly pulling it off.

Cusack does a great job bringing his cool, sarcastic intelligence to these big, weird moments. Jackson does fine in his small role. As far as evil hotel movies based on Stephen King works go, this will always be  distant second to The Shining but it is still worth your time.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Day 182: The Fourth Kind

When the Blair Witch Project came out, I heard stories of people believing it was real. I never knew anyone who thought it was real, of course. The same cannot be said of this movie, Olatunde Osunsanmi should be given some kind of credit for fooling people I know into believing this was more than a fictional narrative.

The story itself is sort of bare-bones: through hypnosis, a group of people in Alaska start recalling what might have been an alien abduction. There are psychotic episodes and violent breakdowns as the truth comes closer to being revealed.

Really, any artistry in the movie is in how hard it works to convince you it is a documentary. From the director playing himself to Milla Jovovich breaking character to tell you she is playing a real person. There is footage of the "actual" doctor that Jovovich plays and then "real" footage set up against staged footage for you to compare and contrast. Except that it is all staged. Everyone is an actor and none of this ever happened.

How much you enjoy this will depend on how much you are willing to suspend disbelief. I was unable to relinquish my skepticism and therefore, did not enjoy it. Your mileage may vary.