In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Dead Girl

After being popularized by the likes of Tarantino, Nolan and Inarritu, it seems that films that use non-linear storytelling are a dime a dozen these days. While it is true that the independent film market is saturated every year with efforts using this device, that doesn’t mean that a good number of them aren’t worth your time. Take Karen Moncrieff’s The Dead Girl for example.

Several points of view are explored after a dead girl’s body is discovered in the desert.

The Dead Girl is engaging stuff, apparently conceived from a murder trial that Moncrieff (who’s previous feature Blue Car was a festival darling in 2002) sat in on as a jury member. It is a shame that works like this often fall through the cracks of mainstream recognition. What really stands out is the huge ensemble cast assembled for this project. There are a dozen meaty characters in The Dead Girl and are all portrayed by a recognizable face. Marcia Gay Harden as the mother and Rose Byrne (a veteran Aussie actress just waiting to explode) as a young woman with a missing sister are especially strong. I almost didn’t recognize Brittany Murphy (who appears as the ill fated dead girl) at first. Not that playing a trashy character is anything new to her (see Spun among others), but she seemed different somehow. She looked taller, skinnier; even her speech patterns were different. I’ve always had a soft spot for Murphy, which made the inevitable conclusion all the more tragic. The subject matter is ugly and there are as many unlikable characters as there are likable, but most of them make it through their story arcs with a ray of hope; all somewhat facilitated by the death of the title character.

For excellent performances brought forth by quality storytelling, look no further than The Dead Girl.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Disney Horror

I found this amusing post by Tessa over at What would happen if Disney remade horror films? Some of the possible results are below.

These are scary on multiple levels. I love the Disne-cized J Lo butt on that last one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Do You Have Your Card On You?

The video store membership card.

With digital distribution and online rental services, the brick and mortar stores are on their way out, but in the eighties and nineties, video membership cards were cluttering up wallets and purses everywhere. I have accumulated more than a few over the years, as I am sure you did, too. Back in the golden age of home video – which just happened to coincide with my formative years – taking a trip out to the video store was a special treat and as big a deal as visiting the arcade with a pocketful of quarters. I mean walking into these places was like entering that cave at the beginning of Raiders Of The Last Ark… minus the traps, of course. Who knew what treasures you were going to find in there?

The names of the first two stores my family used to frequent in the early eighties have long escaped me, but I still have flashes of remembrance. The first store was in the indoor mall that I would end up working in many years later. They had a huge Maniac poster by the entrance. Sadly, I was well into my twenties by the time I finally able to see that one. The suburban area I lived in seemed to be under some sort of ‘video nasty’ ban because certain titles like Maniac, Evil Dead and Last House disappeared for a great number of years while I was growing up. It wasn’t until I started venturing into Toronto that I was able to cross off some of those hard-to-find titles. This was long before Blue Underground and the many other distribution companies that thankfully made re-releasing those vintage titles a priority. The second store used to keep their movies behind glass like it was fine jewellery. I suppose that wasn’t far off, considering that back then a blank tape cost twenty-five bucks and the retail price of a movie was over a hundred. How times have changed!

The first video establishment that I could stake as my ‘home’ store was a place called Reel Fun. It was a short bike ride from my house and I burned a lot of time there in the mid-to-late eighties. Their horror selection didn’t take me too long to get through – I probably wore out their copy of Evil Dead 2 – but they also rented Atari 2600 games. In retrospect, I’m actually surprised they didn’t kick me out after all my incessant loitering.

Major Video became my favourite store quickly when it opened circa 1988 and eventually became my first place of employment and the home of The Horror Section. As an employee, we had unlimited rentals, which I abused like no man. I remember there was some grief from the manager about me renting restricted titles – my first week I basically had to sneak out a copy of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover – but I was able to smooth things out eventually. In her defense, she was just sticking to policy (I was sixteen) and The Cook does open with someone getting a plate of shit rubbed in their face. Ah, memories…

As plentiful as the selection was at Major, I did have other haunts. There was, of course, Jumbo Video. It had this whole separate room set up behind this whole castle wall fa├žade, that I have spoken about before. Jumbo had goodies like Rats: Night Of Terror and Night Of A Thousand Cats. And free popcorn! It was also the place that ALMOST first supplied me with The Evil Dead… until I got it home and realized it was the Beta version. That didn’t go over well, let me tell you.

Then, there was Metro Video. This place was pretty shady. They did however, have some obscure titles like Intruder (which I would not realize was heavily cut until many years later), Junior and Terror On Tape, which made it worth the trip. If I remember rightly, Metro got shut down for renting bootleg copies a few years later.

As you can see from the card, Entertainment For You was pretty bare bones, a glorified convenience store to be honest, but it was the closest to my house and serviceable for last minute occasions.

Mammoth was another store that popped up in the mid-nineties. I didn’t go there often, but I do remember picking up episodes of this really cool UK horror anthology series called “Chiller”. You can also see that this was back when anime was still sometimes referred to as Japanimation.

Video 99 was more known for its porn section, than its horror. It was a lot less conspicuous detouring into that little curtained room in a legitimate video store than having to actually go inside those seedy adult ones with the soaped over windows. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. What I mostly remember about Video 99 though, is the strained broken English phone conversations with the Korean owner. Even though they were way across town, Major Video’s tapes would accidentally get returned there all the time.

Unfortunately, Major Video went into receivership in the summer of ’92 and was swallowed up by Blockbuster. It was all downhill from there. They even pulled their “family video store” bullshit right out of the gate, by giving the underage employees a hard time about renting restricted titles. It wasn’t a big deal for me as I was only a few months shy of the big 1-8 by that point, but that didn’t stop my co-workers from taking the piss and printing me off my own ‘special’ membership card, of course.

Rogers is ying to Cockbuster’s wang. I haven’t spent too much time in there over the years, mainly just rented a video game or two because they tended to have better rates. Though, these days, on the rare occasion I do have to go the brick and mortar route, I will opt for Red over Blue. And speaking of colours…

I’m not sure why “Scary” is blue. Wouldn’t black or red be more appropriate?

Highlander’s was a store that came and went pretty quickly a few years ago. They had this huge painted mural of Connor MacLeod on the wall. Highlander’s specialized in carrying early films of Hollywood stars, like Sandra Bullock’s Fire On The Amazon, Russell Crowe’s Romper Stomper and Tom Hanks' He Knows You’re Alone. Sadly, their downfall was a really shitty location, hence the over explaining on the card.

And at long last. Queen Video! This is where the journey ends. It was literally like discovering a whole new world. They had so many titles I’d only read about in magazines and the Web and so many more I’d never even heard of. I always had to go with a list; otherwise I would just wander around entranced by the sheer volume of vids. They had so much stock in such a small space that the VHS sleeves were flattened down and you flipped through them like vinyl records. It was at Queen that I finally found Maniac, as well as countless others. I filled in the blanks of my Argento catalogue, including the (STILL somehow unreleased on DVD) final part of the animal trilogy Four Flies On Grey Velvet. You should have seen this copy. It was dubbed in English, but would randomly switch to French at points and had Japanese subtitles throughout. And yet, still, I loved it! Queen also had gobs of Asian cinema, which I ate up with a rather large spoon. The first time I ever saw Battle Royale… Hot damn, I was in love! Best opening EVAR!!!

I’m getting off track here, but let’s just say that the fourty-five minute drive to rent a couple of movies was worth it every time. I also don’t want to leave out Suspect Video either because they were very important in my cinephile development, as well. Alas, they used a password system, thus no card. That fateful day last February stung something awful. However, Suspect still lives on in the Markham St. location and the newly opened Eyesore Cinema. I visited there a few months ago and when I spied Noriko’s Dinner Table wedged in between Erotic Werewolf In London and Maid In Sweden, I knew the spirit of underground video was alive and well.

So, I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane as much as I did. Please feel free to snap a pic of any old cards you have lying around and send them to me. I’ll add them to the collection. Here’s to the sweet smell of newly laminated plastic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pot Pourri

That's code for I got nothin' theme-wise for this week's Coverbox Wednesday. Here's a completely random slew from the list.

The Ripper was one of the first shot-on-video movies I ever saw. I'll always remember Savini's response to when someone brought up the movie during his appearance at the '91 W.O.H. in Toronto. He jokingly got down on his knees and simply said, "I'm sorry."

Monday, November 17, 2008


Just a couple of recent things that I wanted to mention while I have a moment.

First, waaay back in January, I posted a teaser for an upcoming South American film called Descendants (aka Solos) that looked promising. Well, that film is now almost ready and a full trailer just appeared on Twitch. Check it out here. Something must be going on in Chile right now. First, we are given their first martial arts flick (the excellently balls-out Mirageman) earlier this year, and now their premier zombie effort. Could we be seeing the beginnings of another genre powerhouse to compete with the current frontrunners from France, Spain and Thailand?

And speaking of the French, what have those crazy bastards got in store for us in 2009? Well, according to recent news from AFM '08, there are two coming down the pipe; the survivalist horror Humains (aka Humans) and The Pack.

And finally, a new trailer appeared for Dario Argento's newest Giallo. I'm not gonna sugarcoat it. It doesn't look good. However, speaking as one of the few people that actually liked Mother Of Tears, I'm still holding out hope.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And Furthermore...

While we're on the subject of video games, here's two other tidbits that popped up this week.

First, it was revealed that there is an unlockable Nazi zombie level in the newly released Call Of Duty: World At War. I can't get the video to embed for some reason, but click here if you want to check it out.

That may have to serve as my Left 4 Dead replacement, since those jokers over at Valve snubbed the PS3 on a release.

Also, here's the first ten minutes of the upcoming feature length animated movie Resident Evil: Degeneration. Sure, it looks like a ninety-minute video game cut scene, but it's a ninety-minute RESDIENT EVIL video game cut scene starring series icons Claire Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Console Carnage

Survival horror gaming has typically been the domain of the Far East. Japanese companies like Capcom and Konami have reigned supreme for years now, especially with crown jewel Resident Evil 4 recently revolutionizing the genre. When Electronic Arts – a company known more for cranking out yearly ‘updates’ of its many sports franchises, than for innovation – announced they were throwing their hat into the horror gaming ring, the initial response was skepticism. Then, in early 2008, the first trailer for Dead Space was unveiled.

It looked pretty snazzy to be sure, but it was going to take more than flash to win over people anxiously awaiting the next RE4. Dead Space finally released last month – into a ridiculously crowded fall season – and I’m here to tell you that this game is a bloody masterpiece. Buy, rent, steal, do whatever you have to do, but PLAY THIS GAME!

Here are TEN reasons why you should.

The variety: As wicked sick awesome as de-limbing monsters with a plasma cutter is, it could have gotten a little boring after the third or fourth level. Fortunately, the developers were on top of it and made sure to pack a hefty bag of tricks. Each level (there are a total of twelve pulse pounding chapters) offers a new challenge and always keeps you on your toes. How you interact with your environment also changes as several sections take place in zero gravity, adding an exciting new dynamic. And it that weren’t enough, you even go spacewalking OUTSIDE THE SHIP!

The Necromorphs: Again, variety is the order of the day. At first, it seems like you are just cutting up the same baddies over and over, but then they get deadlier, nastier, and BIGGER! The creature designs are as grotesque as they are innovative, so have fun peering around every corner.

The weapons: You are onboard a mining vessel, so the items at your disposal – and there are a ton of them – are all tools that a miner would use. Some real thought went into these and you really have to see them in action to fully appreciate them. Each weapon also has a secondary function that can come in handy, as well. Hopelessly surrounded by an enemy? Never fear. Throw up a 360 burst with your pulse rifle and shred anything within a ten-foot radius. Your suit (or rig as it is called) can also help you out of numerous jams. Your stasis module can slow down time to get you out of sticky situations and kinesis gives you the ability to lift and push heavy objects, much like Jedi force power. All of these options together give you countless ways to engage a situation.

No HUD: Probably the most innovative thing that Dead Space brings to the table is the removal of the HUD (heads up display) menu. In all previous games of this ilk, you had to go outside the game play to check your map and/or inventory, which ultimately took you out of the moment. In Dead Space, everything is projected out in front of you via in-game holographic displays. Tell me that other developers aren’t going to rip THAT off! Your health bar (and this is the coolest thing EVAR) is on the back of your suit and can be clearly seen at all times via the over-the-shoulder camera that Resident Evil 4 perfected in 2005.

The atmosphere: This is a huge part of what makes any horror game a success and Dead Space fires on all cylinders. The surround sound is used to its full effect and I had several complaints about the noise, even at HALF volume. Check out my favourite trailer below, which also plays if you leave the main menu running idle.

The universe: Dead Space had a large promotional machine in motion long before it hit shelves. In addition to Downfall, the feature length animated prequel that came out in October; an animated comic (the prequel to the prequel) started releasing in six parts on Xbox Live, PSN and YouTube back in March. I haven’t seen Downfall yet, but the animated comic, with artwork by Ben “30 Days Of Night” Templesmith was quality stuff and a perfect primer. Aside from that, the game itself is a living, breathing environment filled to the brim with detail.

The graphics: This game is gore-ious to look at. Dead Space was not rushed out the door. It is as slick and polished as any game I’ve ever played. I think I saw maybe two glitches the entire playthrough. That’s a credit to a development team that nailed every T and poked every I before unleashing their creation onto the world.

Save points: Your game automatically saves at what seems like every turn. That means if you walk around a corner and get sucker punched by a flying tentacle, you appear back where you were moments before. That may seem that it cuts down on the difficulty, but let me be frank; I’m in my thirties and have a full time job. I don’t have excess time to devote to just travelling to the bit I keep dying at (cough GTA IV cough). It really cuts down on the frustration when you don’t have to stress about that sort of stuff. I’d go so far as to say that the actual save points are only necessary when you have to stop and go do other annoying things like sleep and work.

Space Hoops: Just when you thought things couldn’t get any cooler, you are presented with a mini-game called Zero-G basketball in Chapter 10. Yes, it is what it sounds like, but even better as you use kinesis to score baskets. Even though humankind was on the brink of annihilation, I had no qualms about burning fourty-five minutes on the court trying to beat my high score on Level 6.

First person Asteroids: This section just comes out of nowhere and launches Dead Space into the stratosphere. Growing up in arcades, I always wished I could play Asteroids from inside the ship. Well, thank you Dead Space; you fulfilled that dream. And it was awesome!

So, that’s ten. Why ten reasons? Because – and I shit you not - this game is a freaking TEN OUT OF TEN. Excellent job EA, you’ve made a believer out of me. Altman be praised!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Horror On The Tube: Fall '08

When NBC’s ill-fated anthology show Fear Itself died a quiet death in July, the airwaves became a little less bloody. Fortunately, as summer came to a close, genre television made a comeback in a big way. Here’s what’s been keeping me in front of the idiot box lately.

Everyone’s favourite serial killer Dexter is back for a third season of vigilante justice. Six episodes in, I’m likin’ it. The storyline is definitely moving faster in the top half than it did in previous seasons. The direction the show is going with the inclusion of Jimmy Smits’ character is an intriguing one. I’m not really crazy about the relationship side of things and where that’s headed, but that’s a minor gripe. Word came out a few weeks ago that Showtime has ordered two more seasons, so it looks like Dexter Morgan isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

True Blood, the new vampire show from Alan Ball (creator of Six Feet Under), started up this September on HBO. Much like SFU, it is quietly gathering followers in its inaugural season. True Blood didn’t grab me at first, but has grown on me quite a bit over the following seven episodes. I liken my initial reaction to that of Dexter in 2006. I liked the main character (played by Anna Paquin in True Blood’s case) but thought everyone around him/her were just thinly veiled caricatures. Then, as time went on and the characters were fleshed out, I warmed to them. Over the first few episodes of True Blood, it became apparent that they were setting up their own ‘Buffyverse’, which is an exciting notion indeed. In this reality, vampires are real, which means all things that go bump in the night could also be real and waiting to be revealed in future episodes. I’m not crazy enough to say that True Blood is as good as Buffy, but I will say that it is a serviceable replacement for the void left by Joss Whedon in 2004. The whole vampires ‘coming out of the coffin’ and integrating into society thing is rife with all sorts of racial subtext to explore. I find the format – where every episode starts where the last one left off with no recap – refreshing, as well. You know, even if I didn’t like True Blood, I’d still have to stick around just to find out what the deal is with that freakin’ dog!

The five part miniseries Dead Set just bloodied up televisions in the UK. This zombie yarn further reinforces how much better British TV is than ours. Not only do the Brits cast more ordinary looking people, thus adding an extra sense of realism, they also aren’t bogged down by puritanical censors. Dead Set is best described as Big Brother Meets 28 Days Later. In fact, it has so much in common with the latter – with its sprinting undead and gritty camera – that I was SHOCKED to find that Danny Boyle and Alex Garland weren’t involved somehow. So, it comes as no shock that I enjoyed the hell out of this. This shit is my bread and butter and I loved every minute of it. The only question that remains is whether it will be imported or remade for North American consumption as it is certainly good enough to grab an audience over here.

Lastly, there’s a little program that came out of nowhere and quickly ensnared me called Scream Queens. Reality television is a heartless beast that has been with us in the mainstream for almost ten years now. I was an avid watcher for ages, but did eventually manage to break free of its empty embrace. Then, a few weeks ago, VH1 hit me with a low blow and (ahem, insert Pacino voice here) PULLED ME BACK IN! Ten actresses vying for a major role in Saw VI compete in several horror themed challenges judged by Saw stalwart Shawnee Smith, acting coach John Homa and writer/director James Gunn. This show is just so entertaining, that my initial feelings of guilt fell by the wayside very early on. I can’t describe it to you; you just have to see it for yourself. I’m in awe of how something so bad, can be soooo good. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe; you’ll wonder how they got these girls to do some of this stuff. Yet you won’t be able to stop watching. I certainly couldn’t. That is the plague of reality television, isn’t it?

I can’t wait for the next episode.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hail Satan!

I actually wanted to review this title last week on Halloween, but ran out of time, so I bumped it to this Friday. For this On The Shelf, I wanted to go back a few years and pull out a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s a little indie called Satan’s Little Helper.

Dougie (Alex Brickel) only wants two things this Halloween. Go trick or treating with his older sister, and to meet Satan. When he meets a mysterious costumed man that afternoon, Dougie immediately thinks he is the Prince Of Darkness and brings him home.

Jeff Lieberman is a director who has been around forever, but has always worked outside the mainstream. Even though he has several significant genre entries to his credit, not a lot of people know him. If you were a child of the eighties, who must have walked by a copy of the killer earthworm flick Squirm at your local video store. You can also not forget his mind altering Blue Sunshine, a parable about recreational drug use (which featured a prophetic scene involving a police chase with a White Ford Bronco) and the criminally under seen survivalist slasher gem Just Before Dawn. Then in 2004, after a sixteen-year absence, Lieberman returned with Satan’s Little Helper.

Have you ever see a movie that you shouldn’t like as much as you do? Satan's Little Helper is one of those movies for me. The low budget should have been distracting, the little kid should have had me reaching for the remote and the ridiculousness of it all should have been a write off but… it wasn’t. The first time I saw it, I sat there transfixed. I’ve heard the word ‘quirky’ bandied about a lot for this movie and I can’t come up with anything better as it really is that. There are some parts of this movie that are just so ghetto, but somehow come off as charming. I love movies that can pull that off because it’s very hard to do. I think the more absurd parts avoid bringing the whole thing off the rails because it is established early on what kind of film this is; a silly horror yarn that wants to entertain you above all else. And entertain me it did.

There were several moments that had me chuckling to myself, some with (like Satan Man’s animated gestures) and some at (like how Dougie’s insistence that he’s going to marry his older sister someday is considered acceptable behaviour) the movie. Although the costume device is nothing new, it works well and I like how the story plays out. It doesn’t feel the need to over explain things. It also can’t hurt that the female lead Jenna (played by Torontonian Katheryn Winnick) is a fucking rocket! Also making an appearance as the flaky mom is Amanda Plummer who is well... Amanda Plummer.

This is a movie I checked out solely because of Lieberman and I wasn’t disappointed. He is a guy who always brings something new to the table and it is a shame he is not more prolific.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The N's Have It!

November is upon us and fall is in the air. This edition of Coverbox Wednesday is brought to you by the letter 'N'. That's 'N', as in nunchucks, necrophilia and nihilism. Take a look at these old things and try to forget that winter is just around the corner.

NGM makes The Toolbox Murders look like a masterpiece.

Brian Thompson FTW!

One of my personal faves.

Let's show some love for Savini's version.