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, May 31, 2008

The Strangers

After arriving home late one night, James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) are set upon by three masked assailants.

In the months leading up to its release, The Strangers has been compared to many previous horror titles. Everything from Vacancy to Funny Games to the French thriller Ils (Them) have been bandied about. The truth is, though it shares elements of all of those cat-and-mouse films, I think The Strangers stands on its own.

The Strangers is a movie of atmosphere rather than gore, and of action rather than dialogue. There is something incredibly non-Hollywood about it, not just in subject matter, but also in tone. The film is well shot (although the handheld was somewhat distracting at times) with great use of shadow and light. There is a ton of the poster fodder that we’ve been seeing over its long ad campaign. Newcomer Bryan Bertino holds his own, doing double duty as writer and director. I knew he was doing well when I heard the collective audience gasp of breath at the antagonist’s first appearance. Tyler and Speedman are serviceable in their roles, which is all you can really ask from two stars who have never been known as acting heavyweights. The great score provided by horror vets tomandandy gives an added punch to an already LOUD movie. They really crank up the audio in this, so expect a lot of jump scares.

The Strangers actually turned out to be much better than I was expecting and played out differently than predicted. Sure, there are some parts that you see coming, but never so much that it takes away from the piece as a whole. For those who have seen Ils – the film that The Strangers is most compared to, even so much as to call it a remake – you will know it has a certain ‘hook’. The Strangers concludes in such a way as to make that ‘hook’ seem almost irrelevant. It’s even more disturbing in a way.

The Strangers is a good back-to-basics horror film, proving that a filmmaker with a little talent can elevate a simple story into something more than the usual cookie cutter fare.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gasoline, Ethanol, Blood.

After being on my Ziplist for what seemed like FOREVER, Blood Car finally arrived in my mailbox this week. Blood Car is a flick that was at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival last year, but I was unable to attend due to a wedding. Yeah I know… the nerve of these people! I’ve told my friends not to get married in September/October – my busiest movie months – but do they ever listen? Anyway, I’d heard from some people that DID go that it was good, so I finally got to see for myself.

Blood Car is set in a future where gasoline is so expensive; no one can afford to drive anymore. Archie (Michael Brune), a young teacher, strives to develop a wheat grass fuelled engine. One night, he accidentally adds his own blood to the formula and his car engine comes alive! Now, with women lining up to be taken for a ride, he has to resort to extreme measures to keep his car running.

I have to say that Blood Car won me over early; like before I even pressed play. With a DVD menu like THIS –

- they were already ahead of the game. Blood Car is the epitome of the term ‘exception to the rule’. It feels like an elongated short, but never seems stretched out like low budget features often do. The bare bones appearance of the production, rather than being a detractor, almost comes off as charming at points. What really makes Blood Car work though, is that it is actually funny. There are several laugh out lines and some sequences that are just so absurd, all you can do is laugh. There are so many oh no you didn’t moments like the prolonged scene where Archie is wandering around town with his pellet gun looking for animal ‘fuel’. Blood Car also features the now grown up Anna Chlumsky, who I kept having to remind myself wasn’t Mena Suvari.

The music is a weird mix of classical and contemporary that seems like it may have been thrown together, but again somehow works. And for a movie called BLOOD Car, there isn’t a gratuitous amount of gore. This is yet another thing you would think would be a problem, but isn’t. Also, there’s not a lot of time spent explaining things either. Things just ARE, hence said absurdity. The creators were clearly aware of where viewers would expect the story to go and deliberately circumvent that by making the conclusion as ridiculous as possible.

When I was watching the behind-the-scenes stuff, someone mentions the date being August 20, 2007. That means they were still shooting two months before the finished movie screened at After Dark. That’s some quick post work guys! I know that a first cut was done at that point, but that’s still pretty impressive.

You know, I was kind of hoping Blood Car would blow, thus erasing my lament of having to miss it last year. Alas, no such luck. It would have been really cool to see it with an audience and hang with the filmmakers. I rank it among the best of the ’07 After Dark crop, probably third behind Alone and Mulberry Street.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Masked Mayhem!

The horror genre, more than any other, has its common elements. One of the more inventive of these tropes is the mask. It is a device that is often used to conceal a killer’s identity until the big reveal in the last act. Sometimes, a mask can also take on its own identity and become a trademark. However it is used, nothing gives a horror flick more zip than a killer with a cool and/or creepy mask. I’m sure by now, you’ve all seen the sweet posters for the upcoming movie The Strangers over the past few months. In honour of its release this Friday, I put together this special masked edition of Coverbox Wednesday. I’ll start with the obvious icons and move on from there.

Even though I’m pretty sure I know what to expect from The Strangers, I’m still looking forward to finally seeing it. I just hope I don’t get trampled by the droves of women clamouring to see the Sex and the City movie this weekend. Now, THAT’S a scenario much scarier than anything pictured above, my friends.

Monday, May 26, 2008

FOF '08

This morning I was sitting at my desk anxiously awaiting the stroke of noon. Why you may ask? The lineup for this year's Festival of Fear was announced today!

August can't get here soon enough! Click here for more info on the Expo.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cannes and Other Stuff

Well, another festival year has wrapped up on the French Riviera and here are some of the upcoming genre offerings I heard about over the last week or so.

In the tradition of recent Japanese low budget hyper violent offerings Machine Girl and the upcoming Tokyo Gore Police comes Killdroid. This flick from the Philippines also appears to have a sexual element mixed in with its splatter tubes. I can't believe no one has thought to cross horny schoolgirls with killer cyborgs before. It sells itself, really. Check out the promo over at Twitch here.

4bia, a Thai horror anthology intrigues me because they seem to be the only Asian filmmakers keeping things fresh in a sub genre that has run its course. The duo (Pisanthanakun & Wongpoom) behind two of my faves Shutter and Alone contribute to 4bia, as does Yongyoot Thongkongtoon of Iron Ladies fame. If this anthology is anything like 2004’s Three Extemes, this should be an eclectic bunch of shorts indeed.

Brit James Watkins, writer of My Little Eye and the upcoming sequel to The Descent, is taking a turn behind the camera with his new film Eden Lake. As you can see from the poster and synopsis, this will seem very familiar to fans of the hardcore. However, Eden Lake has been getting a lot of buzz and was quickly snatched up by the Weinsteins, which means it likely won’t see the light of day any time soon. Eden Lake; meet Mandy Lane. Mandy Lane; Eden Lake.

Perhaps the most talked about genre title at Cannes is Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs though. I think by now it’s been established that the French are the ones on the cutting edge of horror right now. Since 2003’s High Tension, we’ve been witness to a renaissance of intense and extreme titles like Ils and Inside coming out of the big F. Martyrs sounds like it aims to shred our nerves even further. Viewing this film was described to me as “like being hit with a sledgehammer”. It appears that Laugier may usurp even Gaspar Noe as the ultimate cinematic gut-puncher.

Aside from Cannes, but still on the subject of the French, Twitch gives word of the promising anthology series Terror Project 6. Conceived by filmmakers Xavier Gens (Frontieres) and Fabrice du Welz (Calvaire) as a collaboration of stories by French speaking directors, this is definitely a project to watch.

Lastly, the home video branch of Sam Raimi's production company Ghost House Underground has acquired the film Dance Of The Dead. The movie about zombies at a high school prom was a hit at SXSW earlier this year, so it’s refreshing to see somebody has stepped up to make sure this movie gets seen.

Well, that’s it for this year. Hopefully, some of those titles make their way to upcoming festivals in my neck of the woods, so I can pass along my thoughts to you.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Battle Of The Sexes

This month I wanted my non-genre selection to be on the lighter side. Sometimes a little brevity can be quite refreshing while taking a break from all the carnage. I present to you Dylan Kidd’s 2002 film Rodger Dodger.

When a seasoned womanizer Roger (Campbell Scott) is visited by his nephew (Jesse Eisenberg) asking for advise about the opposite sex, he decides to take him out on the town and show him the ropes.

Kidd (who also wrote the screenplay) lets his dialogue and characters take centre stage here. Underrated actor Campbell Scott really shines at the title character, showing that after a myriad of previous emsemble pieces, he is talented enough to carry his own picture. Roger is probably one of the biggest bullshitters in film history and never let’s anything phase him. He really makes you realize how much of a factor confidence is when attempting to pick up a woman. Jesse Eisenberg is great as the doe-eyed newbie, as well. The numerous speeches Roger gives to his young protégé are quite hilarious because they feature as much truth as they do absurdity. And remember, this movie came out a full three years before Neil Strauss’ renowned seduction bible “The Game” hit bookstore shelves.

Rodger Dodger may also set the record for number of cigarettes smoked by a main character. Scott looks like he’s enjoying every drag, so if you are a smoker (or ex-smoker) you will want one after watching this. And of course, what would a movie about the make ego be without the ladies? The movie features Elizabeth Berkley, Jennifer Beals and Isabella Rossellini among others, as the objects of affection.

Rodger Dodger is a great guy film that is sure to get many smirks of recognition from any player.

Friday, May 23, 2008


You know, the Japanese never cease to amaze me. At times, their culture seems so different from ours. I mean, no matter how many fucked up things I uncover (thanks, mostly, to the Internet), there’s always another layer of insanity waiting underneath. And by no means am I being derogatory when I say this, for countless things from the rising sun have made their way into my beloved lexicon of cool over the years. I’m just saying that a country that has vending machines that dispense soiled ladies’ panties can be a little hard to decipher now and then.

Anyway, that was a bloated lead-in to this…

I was at my buddy Darryl’s place the other day and he asked me if I’d read Junji Ito’s Gyo. My knowledge of printed manga is limited at best, so I told him no. I had some time to spare so he handed me the two volumes and I rifled through them that afternoon. Gyo is about a vacationing young couple that are one night, attacked by a fish. That, in itself, would not be so unusual, except that they were on land... and the fish had legs! As things escalate, all aquatic life invades the city, throwing the entire island into chaos.

I’m still not fully clear on how to READ manga. I know you read it backwards sure, but I’m more referring to how the panels flow. I sort of have to take the page in as a whole and go from there, which can be a little overwhelming sometimes considering Gyo’s subject matter. With every page turn (back not over, of course), the story becomes more fantastical, and often disturbing. Thanks Ito. It never once occurred to me that sharks could evolve to facilitate walking on land… Until now. FUCK! I won’t go into too much detail, as Gyo is one of those things that has to be seen, rather than explained.

The stuff nightmares are made of.

I agree with Darryl that Gyo would make a crazy movie, but I can’t even begin to imagine how it could be adapted. It has a ‘marine steampunk’ style that would be very hard to pull off practically and even harder with CGI. Takashi Miike is certainly certifiable enough to try and tackle it, but the logical choice would likely be Ukrainian director Higuchinsky, who brought Uzumaki – another Ito manga – to the screen in 2000.

Uzumaki is another story that’s hard to describe. I saw the movie several years ago and all I really remember now are images. It was a strange experience that included schoolgirls with fifty-foot curls and dudes jammed into washing machines. And lots and lots of snails, which would lead me to believe Ito has a preoccupation with all things slimy; kind of like Lucio Fulci and eye trauma.

Gyo was something I absorbed very quickly and I didn’t really have an answer for Darryl when he asked what I thought. The imagery must have subconsciously had an effect on me though because two nights later – much to my chagrin – multi-legged sharks invaded my dreams.

So, that was my recent foray into manga. If anything, it got me back into reading graphic novels again. I’ve heard many favourable things about Charles Burns’ Black Hole (David Fincher is already working on the film adaptation), so yesterday I went and picked it up. I’ll be sure to let you know how it is once I’ve dug into it, but I still have that pesky Dark Tower to get through before that can happen though.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's Not You...

I apologize for the lack of posts this week. My absence is due to a combination of factors (none of which is GTA IV surprisingly). I'm working on a few things for this weekend though, so please stay tuned. I haven't forgotten about ya.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Let the Love-in Begin

For some time now, I have been eagerly awaiting the Blu-ray release of one of my faves from last year, The Orphanage. I had to go through Amazon because Canadian retailers, in their infinite wisdom, decided not the carry it here.

So, I’ve spun J.A. Bayona’s debut a few more times and I can safely say that, yep, still unbelievably awesome. The Orphanage is one of those movies where another viewing actually increased my appreciation of it. THIS is how genre films are supposed to be made and first time director J.A. Bayona deserves a shit-ton of credit. Since Guillermo Del Toro has his name attached as producer, that’s who most people associate with this project, but The Orphanage is all Bayona.

I remember the first time I saw it, I thought it a bit slow at points, but on subsequent viewings, I found that not to be the case at all. I was entranced by the attention to detail and realized that not a frame is wasted. Masterful storytelling is employed here with much being told visually. Even the score is often low-key, letting the action onscreen lead and not the other way around.

"I believe 'fucking creepy' is the phrase you are groping for."

The Orphanage has the uncanny ability to be scary - I still can’t watch the ‘1-2-3 knock on the wall’ sequence without involuntarily holding my breath – and yet somehow shift at the drop of a hat, to be quite touching. Belén Rueda is fantastic as the mother figure in the film. She’s in almost every scene and just nails it.

On Blu-ray, the film just SHINES. It is definitely one of the best transfers I have seen to date and the sound (utilizing new fangled DTS-HD) is superb, whether it’s rumbling thunder or every little creak in that old house. Anyone who says Hi-Def is overrated might want to take a gander at this and then adroitly shut the hell up. There is about an hour’s worth of featurettes on the disc that are pretty much the standard talking heads stuff, but just the movie itself is money well spent in my opinion.

Fans of horror films with substance (or just films in general) are doing themselves a disservice by not checking out The Orphanage, Blu-ray or otherwise.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rental Royalty

Since I don’t have a theme cooking this week, I thought I’d just throw up some random captures from my trip to Queen Video a few months back. Our Victoria Day holiday IS coming up this weekend after all.

Queen still remains a Mecca for film aficionados in Toronto (especially since the flagship Suspect Video store burned down last February) and I wish to thank them once again for letting me document their VHS archives.

Enjoy this perilous pot pourri edition of Coverbox Wednesday.

Monday, May 12, 2008


No, this ain’t the Keira Knightley romance flick from last year, what do you take me for? THIS Silk, or Gui Si, is a Thai (all the interesting Asian horror seems to be coming out of Thailand these days) ghost movie from 2006.

A cop (Chen Chang) is recruited by a research team because of his exceptional eyesight and ability to read lips. The team, led by cripped scientist Dr. Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi), have captured a ghost and are looking to harness its energy for their experiments into anti-gravity.

This would have been just a generic solve-the-mystery-of-the-unruly-spirit ghost story if it wasn’t for the mixing of other genres. Silk also has a science fiction element to it, sprinkled with some action and family drama. The idea of the Menger Sponge (which is the Hellraiser like cube on the DVD cover), a device made out of human protein that captures energy, is quite a unique one. A lot of the tired Asian horror staples are utilized here, but within this new context, some of them seem fairly fresh. The story is deep enough that it keeps you interested and there are some genuinely cool moments throughout.

"How do you say 'you're fucked' in Mandarin?"

Unfortunately, the main detractor is some pretty dodgy visual effects work. It can be very distracting at times as Silk serves up one of the worst CG car crashes ever. I was pretty forgiving of some of the rougher shots earlier, but I couldn’t let that one go. I think you just have to bite the bullet and do a fade to black with accompanying sound effect if you don’t have the money or time to pull off a visual effect properly.

If you are going through the Tartan Asia Extreme catalogue, Silk is an entry that gives you a little bit more than the usual textbook horror we’ve come to expect from the Far East recently.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

You Want Me To What?!

I was over at Serena’s a few weeks back and a friend of hers was talking about a screener he had turned off halfway because it was just this chick running around nude for most of the movie. I, of course, asked the name of it, but he could only remember that the word Naked was in the title. So, because I really have nothing better to do, a little investigative work resulted in the acquisition of Naked Fear shortly after. I figured it couldn’t be worse than the movie we watched while at Serena’s that night – an Anchor Bay stinker called The Cook, which really deserves its own review, but all you need to know is that it’s absolutely atrocious, yet mildly entertaining when watched with a group of like minded individuals – so why not?

Diana (Danielle De Luca) is stuck in small town New Mexico. While working to make enough money to pay off her debts, she is abducted and wakes up naked in the desert. At first she thinks she’s alone, but soon realizes her kidnapper (J.D. Garfield) is hunting her down like wild game.

Half an hour in, as advertised, Diana really was stumbling around the wilderness completely in the buff. God bless her. Now, before you mark this film as sleazy exploitation, you may be surprised to learn that Naked Fear was actually written by a woman.

"They never mentioned this back in drama school."

I have to say that I found Naked Fear oddly intriguing. I’m not going to lie to you though. When they cut away from the chase, it could be downright horrendous. Some of the supporting characters, like the bouncer with the freakishly low voice and Diana’s roommate (who makes everyone else look like Olivier by comparison) were quite laughable. And if I saw one more insert of a mounted deer or elk! Though, like I said, when it came Diana and her pursuer, I was interested and I think(?) it was due to more than just the gratuitous nudity. Naked Fear could have easily been torture porn, but very little is actually shown. I imagine that might be due to budget constraints rather than any conscious choice, but the result is still the same. The ending, which was familiar though still fulfilling, was not what I was expecting either.

I should touch on Danielle De Luca’s performance. I’m not going to say she’s a fireball of talent or anything, but considering all that she goes through, I want to give her credit where credit is due. She approaches the likes of Marilyn Burns and Camille Keaton in terms of enduring what must have been a gruelling shoot.

I wouldn’t recommend you seek this film out, but it is definitely watchable fare. It’s extremely low grade in stretches, but at its core there were some elements that kept me from doing what Serena’s friend did when he was watching it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Made In Japan.

One of my very first posts here was about this magnificent Japanese trailer for an extravaganza of gore called Machine Girl. Well, this past weekend I was lucky enough to catch it at The Royal in Toronto. It was the closing film of the Over The Top Festival that was running all last weekend. It was a midnight show, but it didn’t actually get rolling until quarter to one though. Apparently, Crispin Glover hijacked the theatre, as his film It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine was playing before it and he was mingling in the lobby. That’s all right though. I was in no hurry.

Machine Girl was a blast. If you watched the trailer, you can get a sense of what you are in for and it certainly delivers. It is equal parts grindhouse, cheese and hyper-violence like only the Japanese can provide. They have refined the ridiculously random into a fine art. Watching a couple of Japanese cuties slice up countless Yakuza is time well spent on a Saturday night as far as I’m concerned. Machine Girl gets released on DVD June 3rd, so if the trailer strikes your fancy at all, I recommend you check it out.

I’m totally stoked for the company Fever Dreams’ next venture, Tokyo Gore Police. From the trailer, it totally looks like they (somehow) managed to raise the bar. See for yourself.