Monday, August 27, 2012

The Long And Winding Road Is Fraught With Peril

Trying to determine where monster movies fit in terms of genres is rather tricky. All of them have touches of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, which only results in difficultly when making best of genre type lists, although that doesn't matter in terms of quality. The best monster movies are well crafted, often intelligent, and very enjoyable: films such as Godzilla (1954), King Kong (1933), The Host (2006) and Cloverfield (2007). Monsters (2010) is rather aptly named, and should rightfully be added to that list as it is indeed well crafted, with smart direction and is tightly paced despite containing enough layers and depth that it could have been maybe even three hours long instead of its 96 minute run time. However the rule of leaving your audience wanting more is wisely observed, and the base simplicity of the film which everything else is centered around results in a great, engaging movie.

Clearly made on a lower budget than most monster movies (the camera style is pure found footage type realism, which only gives the movie an added human touch and edge) and the score is quite minimalistic, which I rather liked as it enhanced the movie instead of distracting from what was happening onscreen. Furthermore, the movie features only two main characters, Andrew and Samantha, who are forced to journey through the so called "Infected Zone" in order to reach not only safety, but to get Sam home. Due to the creatures existing there, what was supposed to be a quick trip turns into a dangerous odyssey that also results in some truly gorgeous cinematography. Considering that the film picks and chooses when to showcase the alien creatures, Monsters has a romantic subplot filled with drama that makes the viewer wonder if this isn't a love story with monsters on the side. Even as the political implications of the movie are only thinly examined and looked at, this tender romance forms the film's strong heart, and results in Monsters being something more than just a creature feature with two people randomly walking through Mexico.

Not to mention the fact that the movie at times felt as if it was borrowing from equally stronger or better movies, as there are two scenes in the film that feel very influenced by Jurassic Park (1993), which I don't really mind-if you are going to steal or borrow, take from the very best. Those scenes also happen to be rather creepy and tense, so if you are looking for the horror elements of the film you would find them in those quiet, unnatural moments. There are plenty of haunting images, and of course the movie presents a type of running commentary on the problems of immigration (something that the filmmakers deny as being intentional according to's trivia section) which in the end really is not properly covered, something that is not entirely a bad thing since it would have sacrificed too much of the fascinating relationship between two different people.  Any good monster movie actually focuses on the people that are affected by these strange events in time, as they are people often brought together by forces they usually do not understand. Life works in that same odd sort of way, and we never know why. 95

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Never Trust a Corpse

Comedy and horror, as I've noted before, are strange yet good bedfellows. A horror movie will fail if its not scary or entertaining, a comedy is terrible if its not funny. I Sell The Dead (2008) manages to be a tad funny, and a little scary, although more so creepy, really. The film could have been better at doing both, yet the leads are so likable and the story captivated me enough to keep watching. If anything, this was one movie that deserves a sequel, or should have been longer-the stories Dominic Monaghan tells are truly interesting, and due to the film's short length details are lost or not fleshed out enough. Although granted budget restraints more than likely played a large part, in addition to the film obeying one of the standard rules of horror films: 90 some minutes is usually the ideal running time. Some great films of the genre have completely ignored that rule, and sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't. In this movie's case it could have been 2-3 hours long and I still would have tuned in.

Stuck in prison and due to be executed, poor Arthur Blake decides to give the story of, to quote him, "My life of crime," to some priest who is curious about the stories surrounding Blake and his partner Willie. What follows is countless depictions of violence, mayhem, hilarity, and the incredibly outrageous. A movie titled "I Sell The Dead" can be accused of not going far enough, but the moments when the film does actually cross the line there is a satisfying payoff. Endowing the film with a strong cheeky British sense of humor coupled with a decent amount of gore makes for a relatively engaging movie, certain clear limitations and flaws aside. I fully recommend this movie knowing well that its not pretentious or aspiring to anything too remarkable. Nay, its content to be good old fashioned fun, and right now the horror genre seems to be in short supply. 80

That's Not a Rabbit

Drawing from other successful horror movies as Alien, the sci-fi action film Aliens, Dog Soldiers, and also Tremors, The Burrowers is actually different than most of those films. While its not better than any of the ones I listed, I still thought this was pretty solid and even entertaining. The Burrowers also is a rather bleak western, portraying the Old West not in romantic terms but showcasing it as a place where if evil underground creatures don't get you, the Native Americans or even your fellow white man will. While the movie, like so many westerns, features stunning views of the great outdoors, the film's color scheme perfectly matches the film's tone. The drab, flat colors and the way the film is shot in a harsh, nasty manner adds to the overall proceedings, and is right at home in a western that, killer creatures aside, has the tone and style of a tragic and cruel western such as The Proposition (2006).

Having Clancy Brown in this film helps a bit, although he is not even the star of the film. Still he seems relatively at ease in an old west film, and most of the cast is okay for this sort of movie despite some of them seeming to be out of place in a movie set in the past. As for the creatures themselves, the movie wisely avoids showing them until later, which is good because the effects are sketchy, and when you actually get a good look at them you can tell this wasn't a particularly big budget movie. However I can admire the film's creators for going with a practical, mostly non-CGI approach, and the scenes where they attack are rather tense and exciting at the same time.

A final note: the movie does tackle the issue of the white man's genocide against the Native Americans, although it does in a relatively limited manner. Although the ending does address this issue a bit more in some regards, perhaps the director and company decided not to sacrifice the movie's scares for social commentary. In the hands of someone more talented you could have your cake and eat it too, but in this case I'll just let it slide. 83

Finally Those Capitalist Pigs Will Pay For Their Crimes

There are at least two horror films that I wish I could have seen back when they first came out: Friday the 13th (1980) and Saw (2004). Despite both being mostly spoiled for me by the time I got to see them, each of them had rather unique and rather famous, disturbing endings. There might be other films, but that's the first two that comes to mind, especially since I just finally watched Saw after avoiding it ever since it came out. The sequels might not be worth my time, but the original is quite possibly a modern horror classic, or at least one of the best horror films of the 2000s. The rather unique premise, the film's unflinching brutality, and the fairly solid cast all result in something that I actually ended up digging quite a lot. However this doesn't mean I'm wrong about the Saw franchise being nothing money than an exercise in money whoring, although the same can be said about most horror series from Friday the 13th to the A Nightmare On Elm Street movies.

Setting: two white guys chained up in a some random abandoned warehouse, completely unsure as to how they got there or even why they are there. Suddenly the lights come on, and the two men see each other for the first time. Dazed and confused, they begin talking about the situation, trying to make sense of current events and maybe even come up with a plan. Dr. Gordan, the main character of the film, quickly realizes that their chances of escape may in fact be rather low, although he keeps this to himself. Nothing ends up being what it seems, and throughout the film the actual truth emerges. What's fascinating about Saw is how the movie inspires discussion and poses certain questions. Some of those are probably answered in the sequels, but what I am referring to is in fact the philosophical topics at hand. Does the Jigsaw Killer truly have the right to be doing this? Who appointed this guy judge, jury, and executioner? Since he lets his victims die by their own hand, he technically is not a murder, and yet he's absolutely guilty for their deaths, an argument that was used to try the Nazis after World War II.

At the same time, there are some notable faults with this film, such as the awful and randomly hilarious car chase scene, or the fact that it doesn't go into the questions it poses deeply enough. Yet the cast keeps the film anchored well enough, and what is most interesting is that this film utilizes its gore, something that I highly doubt the sequels do. Some of the Jigsaw kills are shown, however none of them actually compare to a flashback detailed by a survivor that is rather chilling. Thus, when blood is actually spilled and something truly horrific happens, the viewer is not already numb to the point of not caring. Saw works primarily due to being largely an exercise in terror, making the viewer wonder what they do in a nightmare situation they have no control over, which leads us to not judge the actions of the main characters. Maybe that's really Jigsaw's true message, valuing life aside and admiring the gifts we are lucky enough to possess. Even if that means you have to violently slaughter the guy lying near you to escape that reverse bear trap. Yikes. 92

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Playing a Very Dangerous Game

Even though Dario Argento's Cat o' Nine Tails fails to be better than some of his more famous work such as Deep Red and Suspiria, its still a relatively well made giallo that features a few creepy moments. Most of the deaths do not stand out particularly, yet the reason this film ends up being better than expected is largely because of the legendary actor Karl Malden as one of the main characters, and that in addition to to this Argento has him play a blind man, which is a great touch. If anything its something that Hitchcock would have thought of, although one cannot say for certain. From the beginning there is a good dose of paranoia, which is only furthered by the actual plot. After all, this entire nasty business starts off with a blind mind and his adorable niece overhearing a rather odd conversation between two men, thus setting the film's plot in motion.

Really though Malden's Franco at first thinks of his investigation into murder and corporate theft as being something of a game, or a puzzle to be readily solved. Despite people's lives being at risk, its not until his own world is threatened by the killer that he begins to realize that he shouldn't have even bothered to intrude on the case, although maybe he also thought it was his civic and moral duty to intervene. This is contrasted with a newspaper reporter who Franco teams up with and who is actively involved mostly because its his job to seek out the truth, even though in movies such as this one reporters end up turning into amateur detectives, hunting down clues and unraveling the mystery before the police even do. If today's modern reporters were this good, we wouldn't have gone to war in Iraq among other things, but of course fiction has always fed us this myth of the intrepid reporter who risks their life to uncover a hidden conspiracy. Sometimes that actually happens in real life, but only because reality is stranger than fiction.

Much like his other 70s films, this one has style and the usual high end visuals that make Argento's films better than some of the even more low budget, trashier giallo fare. Also Argento got the legendary Ennio Morricone to do the score, and its another under praised piece from him that compliments the movie quite well. Its remarkable that Argento was able to constantly rope in great talent for his films one way or another, and even though the times seem to have passed him by we will always remember him through films such as this one. Even with a lesser effort, you get that brutal nightmare, one that makes you glad that your own dreams are not as dark and as gruesome as the ones had by the man who brought you the movie fashioned from his own twisted visions. 88

#Cats #Argento #Giallo #Horror Films

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beware of Deep Dark Secrets Lurking Below

Despite achieving a rather dubious reputation the 1984 film C.H.U.D.  is actually a fairly good monster movie, one that is actually a throwback to the 1950s monster movies. Movies where the creatures were born out of radiation and or toxic waste, thus inspiring fears common in the nuclear age. Considering that the 1980s reflected the 1950s paranoia and worries about nuclear war, it makes sense that someone would create a film in the 1980s that would touch once again on such concerns. Furthermore, this film has something slightly in common with the also underrated 1972 horror movie Raw Meat, but only in terms of killer underground dwellers. A double bill featuring both films would truly be rather enjoyable.

Anchoring this rather solid effort are two relatively good actors, John Heard and Daniel Stern. Despite sketchy characterization and some weak dramatic moments, the movie does an okay job of making you care about these characters, with a wary police captain named Bosch thrown into the mix. Made in the same year as Ghostbusters, its also really interesting to note how both movies tackle the issue of sinister government bureaucracy being responsible for not only a coverup, but being the problem as well. Despite Hollywood being liberal, its rather intriguing that there are example of movies in the 1980s condemning the rather liberal notion of large government, expressing fears of uncaring governmental agents who end up making things worse, not better (E.T., made in 1982, also in some ways touched upon this aspect as well).

Although C.H.U.D. is really quite cheesy, its still very well crafted all things considered. The monsters are not even shown until midway through the film, and the whole picture is smartly paced at around 90 some minutes. Despite the conclusion being somewhat unsatisfying, the film makes up for that by being quite entertaining, and even sporting some actively creepy moments. Besides, there's nothing quite like witnessing cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers rising up from the sewers to get their revenge upon the human, a very Roger Corman-isque idea if there ever was one. 83

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Crossing A Sacred Line

This is a film that goes beyond the pale, trafficking in violence, hate and despair. Lucio Fulci, its director, was well known from creating horror movies featuring gore, extreme violence, and for being made on relatively low budgets. Even though I found the only other movie I've seen from him, The Beyond (1980) to be a messy and mediocre film, I actually thought that Don't Torture a Duckling, made eight years prior, to be somewhat decent. Perhaps this is due to his obvious giallo film being far more focused than The Beyond, which was meant to be a nightmarish landscape devoid of hope, joy, puppies or love, a hell feeding on our own fears.

Instead, Fulci creates what almost amounts to a crime mystery driven slasher film of sorts, as the police desperately try to solve a string of horrific and shocking child murders. Fulci's attempts to keep the viewer guessing probably worked better in the 1970s, as having viewed too many slasher movies at this point I kind of guessed who was and who wasn't responsible in the end. Furthermore, the film does drag a bit, taking way too long to finally get started and thus only becoming truly interesting in the second half. Based on what I've seen and read this movie dials down the gore factor a bit, although a scene where a woman is savagely beaten is quite disturbing, and Fulci cannot help but toss in some stark, bloody violence near the end of the movie.

Even though Fulci does also attempt to address religious intolerance, he tosses that bit aside in favor of trying to horrify the audience, as he did make a movie where children are the victims-something quite rare when it comes to horror movies. Certainly in the hands of a better director this could have been a rare gem, but having finally viewed a movie from him that I actually liked perhaps I'm willing to give Fulci another chance. Even though I will have to upgrade my Netflix plan to be able to see some of his more famous and well known movies. 70

Horrorfest 2012

Hello there creepy kid who sees dead people. What's that? You saw the ghost of Haley Joel Osment's career? Oh, too soon? Nah, its all in good fun. But you probably should heed the warning sign posted on his wicked cool blanket fort, because from now until November (or whenever the hell I feel like stopping) I am going to be watching horror movies. This my own personal Horrorfest, which I started back in 2008 with a simple slate of movies. I viewed on Halloween Friday the 13th (1980), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), all in one night. By the last bit of credits I was completely terrified out of my skull, and a new tradition was born. This had a previous basis in the fact that, as kids, my buddy and I would view tons of horror movies every Halloween, which lasted from middle school up until high school, actually. Another friend and I have sort of carried on that tradition, but this is something completely different. See I try and watch as many horror movies as I can during the fall year, although yes I am well aware that it isn't fall yet. August is a so called dress rehearsal, a pregame warm up to the final festivities. So for the next couple of months I will be reviewing every single film I view, and also updating my list for the proceedings. For anyone who actually reads this blog, you're in for a treat, or a bad trick. One of the two, anyways. A final note: I don't go in actual order of my planned lists. Its all based on my mood, and whether or not I can afford to go without sleep or not. Not because I'm scared, mind you. Maybe just a little...



    1.    The Masque of the Red Death (1964), Instant Viewing, Satanic
    2.    Santa Sangre (1989), Instant Viewing, Revenge
    3.    Pontypool (2008), Instant Viewing, Zombies-
    4.    The Last Exorcism (2010), Instant Viewing, Satanic
    5.    Red State (2011), Instant Viewing, Rednecks
    6.    The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971), Instant Viewing, Giallo-
    7.    Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), Instant Viewing, Giallo-
    8.    Saw (2003), Family Video, Slasher-
    9.    Rogue (2006), Family Video, Killer Animal
    10.    Wolf Creek (2005), Family Video, Slasher
    11.    C.H.U.D. (1984), Instant Viewing, Creature Feature-83-
    12.    The Burrowers (2008), Family Video, Creature Feature-
    13.    I Sell The Dead (2008), Family Video, the Undead-
    14.    Monsters (2010), Family Video, Creature Feature-
    15.    Session 9 (2001), Family Video (also available on Netflix Instant Viewing), Supernatural
    16.    Saw (2004), Public Library, Slasher-



    1.   The Stuff (1985), Creature Feature-
    2.    Hellraiser (1987), Demonic, Instant Viewing
    3.    Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Slasher, Instant Viewing
    4.    Audition (1999), Foreign Horror, Instant Viewing
    5.    Lord of Illusions (1995), Supernatural, Instant Viewing-
    6.    The Relic (1997), Monster Movie-
    7.    Candyman (1992), Slasher, Instant Viewing
    8.    Pet Sematary (1989), Supernatural, Instant Viewing-
    9.  Mimic (1997), Creature Feature, Instant Viewing
    10.   Return To Horror High (1987), Slasher, Instant Viewing-
    11.   The Hunger (1983), Vampires, YouTube-


    1.    Ganja and Hess (1973), Vampire, DVD rental-
    2.    The Driller Killer (1979), Slasher, DVD-
    3.    The Nesting (1981), Supernatural, DVD rental/Instant Viewing-
    4.    Homicidal (1961), Slasher, DVD rental-
    5.    Strait-Jacket (1964), Slasher, DVD rental-
    6.    Dead & Breakfast (2004), Zombies, Family Video-
    7.    The Mist (2007), Monsters, Family Video-

    8.    A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989), Slasher, SyFy Channel
    9.    Leprechaun (1992), Creature Feature/Slasher, Family Video-
    10.   The Plague of the Zombies (1966), Zombies, TCM
    11.    Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (1971), Mummies, Instant Viewing
    12.    Fiend Without a Face (1958), Creature Feature, IFC-
    13.    The Uninvited (1944), Ghosts, TCM-
    14.    Dead of Night (1945), Supernatural, TCM-
    15.    The Innocents (1961), Ghosts, TCM
    16.    Bug (2006), Creature Feature, Family Video-
    17.    The Hills Run Red (2009), Slasher, Family Video-
    18.    Kwaidan (1965), Ghosts, Criterion/DVD rental-
    19.    Torso (1973), Slasher, DVD rental-
    20.    Village of the Dammed (1960), Aliens, TCM
    21.    Games (1967), Slasher, TCM
    22.    Family (2006), Slasher, Family Video-
    23.    Freaks (1932), Supernatural, TCM
    24.    Bedlam (1946), Supernatural, TCM
    25.    London After Midnight (1927), Supernatural, TCM-
    26.    Dark Water (2002), Ghosts, Family Video
    27.    Island of Lost Souls (1933), Monsters, TCM
    28.    Circus of Horrors (1960), Slasher, Instant Viewing
    29.    Hour of the Wolf (1968), Ghosts, Instant Viewing
    30.    Scarecrows (1988), Monsters, Instant Viewing       
    31.    The Gate (1987), Demonic, Instant Viewing
    32.    Carrie (1976), Supernatural, DVD rental-
    33.    The House of the Devil (2009), Demonic, Instant Viewing
    34.    The Innkeepers (2012), Ghosts, Instant Viewing    

Thus concludes Horrorfest 2012. A big thank you goes out to those who read the write ups, and it was fun. My final totals ended up being 33 viewings over 3 months, with an average of 11 horror movies per month. Whether or not I will continue doing this remains to be seen next year, but I will keep watching horror movies no matter what. Cheers.

Favorite Films By Decade

These are my favorite films of each decade. Its always fun to do this types of list because they're really easy, plus they are a clear indication of what you've viewed from each decade that cinema has existed. 

1920s: Journey To The Moon (1902)

1920s: The Gold Rush (1925)

1930s: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

1940s: The Third Man (1949)

1950s: Rear Window (1956)

1960s: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

1970s: Apocalypse Now (1979)

1980s: Blade Runner (1982)

1990s: The Big Lebowski (1998)

2000s: The Life Aquatic (2004)

2010s: Drive (2011)

#Favorite Films #60s #70s #80s #90s #2000s #Drive