Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Ceti Eel

I think that this is quite possibly the creepiest thing that I've seen in an hour.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

30 Days of Night - Terrifying New Vampire Vision

I think that humanity as a whole has goten far too comfortable with vampires. Think about Anne Rice's Louis and Lesat. Joss Whedon's Angel. Coppola's vision of Dracula. The new CBS show Moonlight. The vampires of the past 20 years embody raw, passionate, beautifully dangerous human sexuality; heterosexuality, homosexuality, virtiginous androgeny - the penetration and imbibing of fluids creating new sexual meaning. Sure, they have their pair of pointy mincers, but that's about it. It's interesting how vampires have anthropomorphized since Murnau's grotesque and iconic Graf Orlock in his 1922 film, Nosferatu. Now we have sympathetic visions of the vampire, poor creatures riddled with inner tumoil over their human/subhuman struggle, far removed from their animalistic primal origin.

But 30 Days of Night puts the monster back in the monster. The vampires in 30 Days of Night are quite possibly the most horrifying visions of the vampire that I have every seen.

The 30 Days of Night threat go far beyond the mere two sharpened canines. The vampires in this movie have a whole set of sharpened points lurking behind carnal sneers, their smooth sloping angular faces reminiscent more of sharks than of man. When they claim their victims, there are no clean bitemarks. Their victims are totally and utterly masacred. Unlike the our modern trend of vampires, who somehow manage to drain their victims of blood as cleanly and meticulously as a surgeon, their clothes and skin spotless, the vampires in 30 Days of Night unabashedly dig their teeth in, proudly wearing their victims' blood as a badge. As the movie progresses, the snow begins to fall over Alaska, white caresses the air, and blood red shines on the chins and bibs of the horrible night-stalkers. The direction is incredible and definitely creates visions of a terrorized paranoid town. The vampires created in this movie are monsters; there is no humanity left within them.

30 Days of Night is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name by Steve Niles. The concept is that a Family of Vampires target an Alaskan town that every year has an entire month of night. Director David Slade definitely creates an intense seige movie, emphasizing paranoia, fear, and claustrophobia. Josh Hartnett plays the believably altruistic hero and Melissa George the love interest. David Slade creates an ambiance so intense that I actually found myself holding my breath, feeling the quiet as the survivors huddled in fear and hiding.

I was definitely impressed with this movie. I went in with high expectations, and the movie held up ok (yes, only ok). The "only ok" rating comes from impending yet ultimately unsatisfying showdown (vaguely inferred so as to avoid spoilers).

But it's not that bad. I give it * * * *. Definitely a must-see for blood-thirsty vampire fans.

Dark Ride - Slasher Goes Amusement

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Yet another film of 2006's 8 Films to Die For (I've seen 4 so far), Dark Ride pairs an amusement park ride with a maniacal asylum-escaped killer.

Which amusement park ride?

Well, a dark ride, of course. I didn't even know that those archaic mechanical horror perambulators found at the corners and outskirts of every county fair and portable amusement center even had names!

I love dark rides! The last one that I had been lucky enough to take advantage of was at the Champlain Valley fair in Essex Junction, Vermont. My boyfriend at the time and I barely fit into that precariously rickety vehicle, and the only horror that passed through us was the unadulterated fear that we would be cast overboard around one of the tight turns... And not be able to scramble out of the wooden car of doom as the subsequent cars pile up and pile up and pile up...

Those rides aren't for adults, folks. Leave them to the skinny kids.

But I digress.

In this film, five teenagers have the presence of mind to spend the night in a Dark Ride, which ALSO happens to be the home of an escaped mental patient.

Obviously, it all goes downhill from here.

The Dark Ride itself is actually pretty creepy. The concept of being lost in a haunted house is certainly not novel, but is definitely interesting. Most of the scares come from the counterfeit apparitions that occupy the ride's every nook and corner. The killer himself uses a boy mannequin's face to hide his own, a visage that should be enough to send shivers down the audience's collective spine... But, yet, it's lacking.

I definitely have a penchant for not only all things horror, but all thing slasher as well, so movies like Dark Ride definitely catch my interest and hold a special place in my heart, even before it commences. But that's all it has going for it. It has formulaicly bad dialogue, formulaic bad acting, and formulaicly bad characters.

I'd kill them myself if I had a chance.

It gets * * . 5... But only because I love the slasher.

Save yourself the trouble; Halloween should still be available on DVD.

Penny Dreadful - Indie Take on Old Tale

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Penny Dreadful was one of the 8 Films to Die For 2006. It takes a fairly familiar story: The Hitchhiker. Two women pick up a hitchhiker. Car breaks down. Hitchhiker terrorizes women. Oh, and according to locals there has been a recent onslaught of gruesome murders. Oh, and apparently a woman has escaped from a local mental institution.


My pulp senses are metaphorically tingling with veritable delight.


"Penny Dreadful" by definition is a term for a specific type of British pulp novels sold to readers for, well, a penny. Strategically using this phrase as the title for this horror film definitely sets an initial tone of expected pulp (using the theme and set up of the hitchhiker; a theme that is not novel) as well as a certain sense of homage. The beginning of the movie, in fact, has a cameo of Michael Berryman of the original Hills Have Eyes fame, giving a well-done nod to seige-based isolated victim horror movies that have come before (not to mention a theme-based foreshadowing of what is yet to come). So it's clear, even at the beginning of the film, that director Richard Brandes was meticulous and attentive when putting this indie film together.

So we have a nice set-up for a cliched horror movie, but yet Brandes selects a script that does a new take on the hitchhiker urban legend mythos. In this version of the tale, Penny has an mortal fear of cars (being a survivor of a car crash when she was little), so she is already on edge at the start of the movie. Couple that with a killer who imprisons her in the car, and what you have is the typical stalker tale, but with an added sense of claustrophobia. Brandes definitely captures the car as an encasing prison with Penny as its victim.

The scares are good (definitely had me clenching my fists), the mood is certainly creepy (wonderful suspenseful build-up), and while the blood certainly does flow, it does not flow in an obscene sense.

Kudos to you, Brandes; fantastic new take of the classic urban legend.

I give it * * * *. REALLY liked it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fido - Another Zombie Movie... But... Different

Another addition to Horror Movie October, I just watched Fido, an independent movie that becomes another addition to the increasing tome of pop culture zombie myths and lore.

Movie Highlights:

  • A Vision of Life After World War Z. Fido takes place, presumably, immediately after Romero's Night of the Living Dead leaves off, a zombie-ravaged 1968. The movie opens with a mock 50s propaganda film extolling the benefits of the company Zomcon, who seemingly has created a way to control and manage the zombie outbreak; by enslaving them. The concept of using the undead to your advantage is not novel; the same device employed in Land of the Dead or, even the epilogue to Shaun of the Dead. The enslaving of zombies becomes a paradigm of human cruelty. Zombies are, afterall, human, though the extent to which one can consider them human is arguable. In Fido, the Zombie Plague is SO under control, in fact, that the survivors live inside a veritable bubble of zombie-free territory. The only persistent problem facing humanity is the radiation permeating through the atmosphere that had begun the horrible catastrophe (the "radiation" was introduced in a rerelease of Night Of the Living Dead, in an attempt to "explain" the cause of the rising), so, essentially, everybody who dies becomes a zombie. Suddenly the old and the infirm are society's greatest threats, which is an incredible notion. Funerals are now controlled and licensed by the government, a ceremony that assures that the head is completely separated from the body and that the undead will never rise again. So your choice upon dying: Either become an undead slave or a desecrated body: How delightfully macabre. The premises that has been set before us is most definitely a horror-buff's wet dream.
  • Period piece. Taking place after the great Zombie War, society is completely frozen in post-civil rights yet pre-feminist movement. Let's remember that NLD itself was social commentary of the race riots breaking out at the time, encapsulating the spirit of civil racial unrest. This is 4 years before Ira Levin would have ridden the ground-breaking Stepford Wives, a chilling view of the 50s nuclear family, consisting of their 1 car and 2.3 children. But in this world. The Stepford Wives haven't been written yet. The feminist movement has been frozen, so what is left is the quintessential 50s world. Fido creates a brilliant period piece of the post-war 50s, from the costumes to the cards to the sets to the brilliant dialogue and campy acting. Dylan Baker as over-worked, stiff, emotionally removed and prudent Dad, focusing not on putting food on his family's table, but on the assurance that he will be able to afford a funeral for all of them, a reverse of the classic model of the nuclear family. Carrie-Anne Moss plays a brilliant Mrs. Cleaver-esque Mom, clean, beautiful, submissive, and dedicated to keeping up appearances, which, in this context, means buying a zombie (Fido) to be the family butler. K'Sun Ray plays their child (aptly named "Timmy") who is the stereotypical ostracized student, beat up by bullies and ignored by his father. The juxtaposition of the 50s family with the civilized zombie culture is an obvious comparison, as in most zombie movies; Who are the real monsters? The metaphor is futher crystalized when Dad loses interest in his familial bonds and the family's zombie, Fido suddenly becomes a surrogate father to Timmy and a confidante to Mom.
  • Concepts. Life after death after undeath. People die. The become the undead. They are either decapitated or they become zombie slaves. What director Andrew Currie presents us with is a sympathetic zombie culture that can learn, develop, and even manifest some memories of life. Would you want your body desecrated after life? Or would you want to live as a zombie. Dad chooses to pay out for his family to all have elaborate funerals. But Mom and Timmy: They opt for the way of the zombie.
    In most zombie movies we see humans become monsters. However, can these monsters become human? In Fido, the answer is yes. While it seems clear that zombies are flesh-eating beasts when not under control, it seems that Fido is able to make the conscious decision not to hurt Billy or his family. He almost serves as a kind of Angel to billy's Buffy. Without, well, the gypsy curse of the sexual tension. I guess the concept of zombies having organic consciousness with the ability to choose right from wrong (NOT eating humans between eating humans), then are they actually zombies? And, biologically, how is that possible?

But I'm probably imposing way too much thought into this...


The Downside:

As much as I found this movie an absolute delight to watch (and I do mean absolute delight; the brights were bright, the nights had huge glowing fanciful moons, and every smile expanded beyond the cheekbones), and as much as I find it unique and unprecedented... Fido was, ultimately... Boring. There is a part off me that argues that being boring was the intent
(consider "Leave It to Beaver" monotony... that lasts for an hour and a half), but I'm more willing to believe that this was just an innovative concept that ultimately ran flat.

I give it * * * .

Liked it... But that's about it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Horror Films So Far

So I've already ranted about Bug, but I figure I should list the movies that I have already seen this October... Using, of course, the 5-Star rating system.

* Hated It
** Didn't Like It
*** Liked It
**** Really Liked It
***** Loved It

  • Bug: * * * * * For my true and loquacious feelings about it, see my previous rant.
  • 28 Weeks Later: * * * * * Better than the original. No fooling. I actually feel so strongly about this conviction that I might have to dedicate a future blog in its honor. Zombie and post-apocalypse fans: go see it.
  • The Hidden: * * Kyle MacLachlan poses as an FBI agent pretending to bring down a serial killer who turns out to be... A PARASITIC ALIEN... The only thing that raised this abysmal little film above the 1-Star rating was the introduction to one of my absolute favorite actors, Kyle MacLachlan. But even his patented charmingly eccentric thespian skills couldn't save this dud.
  • Zombie Nation: * Reminded me of one of those Saturday Afternoon made-for-TV USA movies... We didn't get as much as 10-minutes into it until it was revealed that the "zombies" would be distinguished from the living by being elaborately decorated in... eye makeup. That's it. There's simply no excuse for poorly-made-up zombies. Take a page from Romero's book.
  • The Bad Seed: * * * * * Absolute. Classic.
  • Reincarnation: * * * * From director Takashi Shimizu, the same director of Ju-On, the original version of The Grudge. Fantastic direction, slow and chilling horror pace, and fantastic well-made twist in a pay-off.
  • Planet Terror: * * * * * The first of the two Grindhouse movies, this half directed by Robert Rodriguez, and definitely the outstanding one off the two. Like From Dusk Til Dawn? This is better. A perfect parody of 70s sexploitation films, Rodriguez creates another adaptation to the zombie mythos, the "plagued" created through a mysterious gas captured and carried by Bruce Willis and his band of army men. And who is set out to fight them? Why Rose McGowan with a gun for a leg... It doesn't get much better than that.
  • The Abandoned: * * * * Not a perfect ghost story, but it definitely has perfected thoroughly creepy ambiance.

Movies coming up on the Netflix queue (I can hardly wait!):

We'll see how many I can get through by Halloween.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Dionaea House

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Possibly one of my favorite modern horror stories... Epistolary horror lit adapted to the World Wide Web... Gave me chills the first time I read it... And I'm not generally one for reading stories online.

The Dionaea House

Apparently the plan is to turn this unique gem into a movie, though I highly doubt that it'll translate as well as it does in its current format. The problem with adapting something like this to the big screen is that it resides within a certain branch of the haunted house mythos that is ultimately difficult to depict; the sub-genre of the possessed house. Think Amnityville Horror, Poltergeist, The Shining. I use the term "possessed house" to contrast to the hunted house sub-genre of the slasher, such as Halloween, Friday 13th, and even to a greater extent, Alien.

In the latter sub-genre, the House merely serves as a medium; a means to trap our heroes and provide our monsters with a vehicle in which to haunt, stalk, and kill. In the former sub-genre, the House is the monster. Unless you are an individual with a penchant for the supernatural, the former sub-genre generally requires a bit more suspension of disbelief. Sure, there are the elements of the supernatural in Mike Meyers and Jason, but it doesn't fully come to fruition until the later episodes in the series. And I am more likely to believe in the unleashed psycho-killer than I am in a possessed house (think the Simpsons' spoof in their first Treehouse of Horror).

GOD, I love the Simpsions; What ever happened to them?

But I digress...

I think that the modern possessed haunted house story is going more in the direction of Japanese horror artisans such as Takashi Shimizu, director of Ju-on (The Grudge) or Reincarnation, one of the "8 Films to Die For" in 2006. Sure, the "monster" still is the House, but the House takes the physical manifestation of its ghosts and skeletons (literally) that extends beyond the its walls for the purpose of pure revenge (and not just of the Indian Burial Ground type).

At any rate, I guess the point that you can find within this tangled web of ranting is that The Dionaea House is a quality read... Definitely check it out. 'Tis the season, aftere all.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Time for Horror - BUG

So it's that time of year again...


And, naturally, being the crazed horror movie fan that I am, it's time to root out the best horror movies out there and watch as many as humanly possibly ("humanly" being a relative term of course).

Last night we started with the movie Bug, a modern yet not cliched take on the paranoid psychological-thriller genre.

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Bug started off as an off-Broadway play (Michael Shannon, who played the male lead actually starred in the stage version in the same role), and is now adapted by William Friedkin, the acclaimed director of The Exorcist. The script is intense and minimalistic, relying heavily on writing that not only slowly builds character development, but also creates a gradual and deliberate tension between the two main characters to illustrate their descent into paranoia. Fridkin's direction serves to emphasize the frailty of the human spirit and create a feeling off claustrophobia and tension that kept me holding my breath until its final scene. The movie stars Ashley Judd, who I am more and more beginning to view as an incredibly underrated actress of our generation, Harry Connick Jr., and the aforementioned Michael Shannon in the backdrop of a melancholic and dingy trailer park in Oklahoma.

The movie has a simple plot: Down-and-out Agnes (Judd) lives alone in a trailer park, constantly fearing the return of her abusive Ex, Goss (Connick), until she meets the acquaintance of enigmatic Army Vet Peter (Shannon), whom she takes in. Agnes' life seems to be taking a turn for the better until Peter begins to become paranoid that her tiny abode is infested with bugs. Soon Agnes absorbs Peter's fears and the couple turn their home into an enclosed salvation from infestation, draping themselves with flypaper and bathing in spray.

But it's not the plot that is the main feature of the film; as Agnes and Peter become obsessed with the notion of infestation, they become paradigms for the latent paranoid yet human gravitation toward to self destruction. Friedkin expands on the psycho-thriller and creates a horrific, tortured tension while we are forced to see these two characters descend.

In short: Incredible writing creates believable yet empathetic characters while the outstanding acting of Judd and Shannon really brings the script into horrifying color. Incredibly underrated and overlooked when it came out, Bug is a tense psycho-thriller that definitely should be on your list of horror movies for this up and coming Halloween.

GOD I love good horror films. I'm not sure WHY they are so difficult to produce, yet within the bar age of serialized, cliched, unadulterated vacuous gory tripe put out by Hollywood, I am relieved that I can say that I am refreshed every once in a while. And between grasping my boyfriend's hand and holding my breath, I was certainly refreshed with Bug.

Go. See. It.