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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best & Worst Horror of 2008

The end of the another year is upon us. I didn’t feel 2008 was as strong as the previous year – ’07 had five definite winners that I would all go to the mat for – but still had its share of excellent content. Let us begin with my top five of this past year.

Let The Right One In
Sweden, Dir: Tomas Alfredson

The only genre title that really, truly blew me away this year was this Swedish vampire flick. This is a feat of extra magnitude considering how high expectation was by the time it rolled around my neck of the woods in October. LTROI is part art house flick, part vampire romp, part coming of age story and is executed so beautifully, it made me proud to be a cinephile.

4bia
Thailand, Dir: Various

4bia is an incredibly fun Thai anthology that gave me a bit of everything. There are two stories stacked with scares in true Asian horror fashion as well as a comedy horror tale that is as funny as anything Hollywood has proffered in this post-Scream era. The segment ‘Tit For Tat’ suffers from terrible CGI and inadvisable editing, but doesn’t kill the production as a whole.

Cloverfield
USA, Dir: Matt Reeves

I still look back on my midnight screening of Cloverfield with absolute fondness. People tend to forget the films that come out at the beginning of the year when making their best-of lists. I do not. JJ Abrams somehow managed to produce this blockbuster in absolute secrecy – a near impossibility in this day and age. A lot of people were turned off by the nausea-inducing camera style, but I think the idea of filming a giant monster movie from the ground was a stroke of genius.

Vinyan
France/Belgium, Dir: Fabrice Du Welz

This film hasn’t technically been released here yet, but has had a run in Europe. Du Welz’s spiritual remake of the 1976 film Who Can Kill A Child? (and follow up to his debut Calvaire) has everything going for it. It is a haunting and devilish feast for the eyes and ears, with excellent performances from leads Rufus Sewell and Emmanuelle Béart. Keep your eye out for it when it appears in your area in ’09.

Funny Games
USA, Dir: Michael Haneke

Haneke’s second go-round is as ugly and affecting as his original 1997 version was. Always the manipulator, he flips off the audience and never makes them comfortable with the subject matter he lays out. Considering I had already seen Funny Games going into this – and this version is a virtual shot-for-shot recreation of the original – I was surprised by how much the addition of Tim Roth and Naomi Watts made me connect with it. I’ve said before that my emotional involvement in a movie has a direct correlation with the actress onscreen and thus made Funny Games ’08 possibly even more difficult to watch.

Honourable Mentions

Although I did enjoy both Quarantine and The Strangers a great deal, I couldn’t help but feel they were lesser versions of foreign films that were on my top five list last year.

Fever Dreams’ duo of Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police were perhaps the most consumable offerings presented to me this year. Machine Girl and I have concluded many drunken evenings together and TGP is one of the only films I can say I have seen in two different provinces. What is it about Asian girls in uniform and arterial spray that go so well together?

There can be no doubt that Martyrs is a nasty bruiser of a film. You will feel as beaten down as the protagonist by its end. However, for all its shocking ugliness, I ultimately didn’t feel that it had the thrill-ride gratification of its French predecessors like Inside and High Tension or the dark artistic brilliance of gut punch champion Irreversible. Martyrs was redeemed in my eyes when it showed its true colours at its conclusion though.

I know several people who weren’t all that impressed by The Ruins, but I really liked it. Having not read the book it was based on, my only frame of reference was what was onscreen. I think the fact they cast strong young leads, employed a strange, new locale and didn’t skimp on the gore, made this really stand out to me. Unfortunately, some bad CGI – some of those vine effects looked like they were drawn with MS Paint – did take away from it a bit.

And now, the worst. Continuing my policy of just avoiding films I think will be shite, things worked out fairly well in 2008. Alas, even with all those defensive measures in place, I still wasn’t able to avoid Deadgirl or Wicked Lake. But as much as I disliked those two, the distinction of worst film of the year goes to M. Night Shamalamadingdong's The Happening. This movie was just a parade of bad decisions with every cast member walking around in a daze, following a bunch of clumsy setups with no payoff. The Happening is not even good-bad. Sadly, I think it may be time, after his last trio of laughable attempts at cinema, to put the little guy down.

That's it for this year. Stay tuned for my upcoming 2009 preview.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Look For The Nines


For this month’s selection, here’s something I just recently watched after it having been on my DVR for months and months.


In The Nines, Ryan Reynolds plays three different characters – Gabriel, a video game designer, Gary, a burned out actor and Gavin, a successful television writer – in a trio of interconnected stories.

I have to say that Ryan Reynolds really impresses in this movie. He is in almost every scene and excels in bringing three distinct personalities to the screen. The small supporting cast of Melissa McCarthy (who I’d never seen before and really liked here), Hope Davis and Elle Fanning are all complimentary, as well. The Nines reminded me a little of Brad Anderson’s The Machinist, with its recurring themes and carefully constructed release of information. The story is very strong and although similar subject matter has been explored previously, I’ve never seen it handled in such a character driven and grass roots manner before. Writer (and first time director) John August had taken a giant leap forward here, as his usual output is decidedly lighter fare. The Nines just works on so many levels and is one of those films that your mind will be playing around with for days.

It is this kind of smart filmmaking that should be celebrated and not shelved like it so often is these days. If you are walking through the video store or sifting through your on-demand list, The Nines is the perfect little gem for people who like a little weight with their entertainment.

Friday, December 26, 2008

You Better Watch Out

Determined not to be bullied by the extreme weather conditions of the GTA, I braved the treacherous roadways to make it to a special screening of the festive 1980 film Christmas Evil on Tuesday. This 35mm print of the film is one of the only – if not THE only – left in existence. It was a little red in places, but for the most part it had the usual amount of grain and love lines that you would expect from a much-enjoyed print.


A lonely toy factory worker named Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) loves Christmas. Maybe a little too much. He has a plan to reward those who have been nice and punish those who have not. You better pray you are not on his naughty list!

I remembered Christmas Evil from my tenure at the video store, but realized quickly while watching it, that beyond the first scene – which I must have caught in one of those old clip movies like Terror In The Aisles – this was my first time seeing it. The movie itself was a little rough in places, but generally an entertaining ride with one hell of an enjoyably outrageous finale. I think one of the most interesting things about Christmas Evil is the air of plausibility that went with it. Now obviously, some of the specific subject matter in the movie borders on the absurd, but considering how obsessed some people get around this time of year, is it completely out of the question that one might just snap and start believing they ARE Old Saint Nick? Another observation to be made here is – and this could just be due to both films being made in the same time and place – how much Christmas Evil shares in common with Bill Lustig’s Maniac. Though I think Maniac has a lot more to offer, there are several parallels between both movies. Nevertheless, that is some good company to be keeping.

Christmas Evil director Lewis Jackson was in attendance and stayed for a Q&A afterwards. One of my favourite things about engaging filmmakers about their old projects, is how appreciative and humbled they are that people actually still truly care about stuff they did when they were young and green. Jackson, speaking with an animated enthusiasm, that reminded me of Marty Scorsese, talked at length about how for years he was absolutely hated for his part in making Christmas Evil. It was only after finding new life on home video and being championed by a few select filmmakers like John Waters (who maintains Evil is one of his favourite films of all time) that it has endured. It took a long time for general audiences to catch up to it and see the embedded dark humour that a lot of horror works of this era utilized.

Director Lewis Jackson

It was a good night and I was glad that my inadvisable choice to be out on the roads that evening was worth it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

MC



Merry Christmas to you and yours from The Horror Section!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Something Evil Under The Tree

Tomorrow morning, all the good little boys and girls will be getting mass amounts of toys -- well, these days it'll be more like Wii, Xbox and PS3's with a smattering of Yu-Gi-Oh booster packs and Jonas Brothers paraphernalia. Back when I was a kid, we got toys. The simple stuff, ya know. However, in the world of horror movies, anything is a potential danger. Even something as innocuous as a doll or stuffed animal. Behold!



Note to all the parents out there: If that really hard-to-find toy is being sold dirt cheap by a homeless person in an alleyway - THERE'S PROBABLY A REASON!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Left 4k For Dead

My Sony fanboyism may have deprived me of enjoying Valve's new multiplayer zombie actioner Left 4 Dead, but at least a computer savvy dude by the name of Markus Persson has come up with a Java based Lo-Fi version for the rest of us.

His web game Left 4k Dead was made for the 2009 Java 4k Competition and miraculously uses no more than 4k of memory for the ENTIRE game.

Check it out here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Black & Blu

Okay, Christmas is just around the corner, so let’s get festive. Anchor Bay recently released the Canadian classic Black Christmas on Blu-ray. Now, I’ve already commented before on how superb and influential the actual film is, so this post is mainly about what this new Blu-ray edition offers. First, I’d like to mention that the sleeve artwork is excellent. I’m so glad they went with this and not the other atrocious cover I’ve seen slapped on this edition.


As far as the transfer goes, it looks pristine. However, the reality is that this film is over thirty years old and will never be as clear as something produced today, but it still looks great and the best it possibly can. The 5.1 audio also impresses. Every creaking floorboard and clock ticking inside the house can be heard with as much definition as the spoken dialogue. But, I’m sure you would rather hear about the special features on the disc. Sadly, there are no new Hi-Def extras, just the same ones that were present on this edition’s original release in 2006. Black Christmas historian Dan Duffin, creator of the expansive fan site itsmebilly.com, oversaw this edition. Once you have finished with this disc, I highly recommend you visit the site because there is some great material there, my favourite being a tour of the Toronto locations used in the film.

The 12 Days of Black Christmas is a twenty-minute doc featuring interviews with cast and crew, including stars John Saxon, Doug McGrath and Lynne Griffin. There is also a Q&A from a 2004 midnight screening with director Bob Clark, John Saxon and composer Carl Zittrer, mediated by Marc Edward Hueck, who I recognized from his stint on Comedy Central’s Beat The Geeks. There are also extended stand-alone interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle and Margot Kidder. Hussey’s is probably the best, with her coming off as lovely as you would expect. Art Hindle’s interview is of special note because he talks about the exact locations of places used in the film – I’m planning on doing a little tour myself next year. The thing that unites all three interviews is their absolute surprise that Black Christmas has survived all this time and garnered such a huge cult following. Unfortunately, the commentaries that were included on the Collector’s Edition released previously are absent from this disc.


So, if you’re looking for some good Christmas viewing this holiday, I suggest the ‘yule-ish’ Bob Clark double bill of Black Christmas and A Christmas Story. I’ll keep a bottle of sherry hidden for you.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Treevenge Clip Online

Just a quick post to let you all know that a clip of Jason (Hobo With A Shotgun) Eisener's fantastic new short Treevenge is now online. Check it out!



Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"First Goddamn Week Of Winter"

Well, we got dumped on last night and the forecast says we can expect about a foot more of the white shit by Sunday. Fantabulous!

I know that the Golden Horseshoe is a good region in which to live - we somehow avoid (knock on wood) the really bothersome weather anomalies like tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes that devastate other parts of the world on a seemingly increasing basis - but that is hard to remember sometimes while enduring the four months plus of bone chilling cold and debilitating snowfalls each year.

Back in August, when we Canucks were all basking in the glorious sun's rays (well, actually this year we pretty much got rained out of our summer too), I did a Coverbox Wednesday on the lazy days of summer. So, in the interest of keeping things even, I bring forth movies featuring summer's antithesis this week. For those of you north of the 49th parallel; bundle up. I think this one's really gonna suck.

Monday, December 15, 2008

And The Winner Is...

The reality show Scream Queens wrapped up last night – in Canada anyway, I think it finished on VH1 a few weeks ago. For those not familiar with Scream Queens, the concept was ten actresses competing for a role in Saw VI. Each week, they competed in horror-themed challenges and were axed one by one, down to one winning Final Girl. I won’t spoil the ending, in case anyone who might stop by has it DVR’d, but the actress I was routing for didn’t win unfortunately. However, I can’t say the judges made an undeserving choice either. Scream Queens was one hell of an enjoyable guilty pleasure that entertained me from start to finish.


You know, I just “might” end up watching Saw VI to see how things turned out. I hope – due to my evasion of parts IV & V – I won’t be totally lost (note sarcasm). So, from their end, if this reality show garners Lionsgate's latest Saw entry a few more ticket sales, then it was worth it. I’ll be keeping my eye out for the two runners-up because I have a wishful hunch that I haven’t seen the last of them either.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

To Development Hell And Back.

My friend Schwartz recently showed me a promo trailer for a project called Worst Case Scenario, an oft-delayed Dutch production from Gorehound Canned Film. The first promo trailer hit the web in 2003, and their site has been intermittently updated since then. For some of you, I’m sure WCS is old news, but for those who have never heard of it (I was one until last weekend), check these two promos out.





I want to see this get made. The art design is awesome and Nazi zombies are back in style with Norway’s Dead Snow coming out this year. You may have noticed horror veteran Brian Yuzna’s name in the trailer. Well, that was a ballsy move on the part of filmmakers Bart Oosterhoorn and Richard Raaphorst to get Yuzna attached to the project. Raaphourst had worked with Yuzna in the past and showed him the trailer at the Utopiales Festival in France. Yuzna was obviously shocked to see his name up there, but fortunately his reception of the goods was favourable.

“I was so proud to have my name on something of such high quality that my heart attack turned into a scheming for how to keep it on there."

Initially, things seemed to be moving forward quite nicely. The promo reel garnered some favourable press from Fangoria magazine and Volkomenkut.com (a popular weblog based in Holland) and they were able to score a production deal at the Cannes Film Market in 2004. Things were good to go… and then stalled. Eventually they had to cut ties with said investors, burning another two years retrieving all the rights to their product. So, in 2007, Oosterhoorn and Raaphorst found themselves starting from square one. The last update on their website (from last February) said Gorehound had new backers and were gearing up for production, while still accruing stuff for their upcoming shooting date.

Who knows if this project will ever come to pass, but I hope so because Gorehound Canned Film and their volunteer army of almost five thousand strong – who are affectionately referred to as Gorehound’s Guerillas – have put their undead hearts and souls into this project. Fingers crossed!

If you want more info on Worst Case Scenario, check out the Gorehound site here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Heh. Heh.

What was I JUST saying about being easy to please?!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Got A Fever!

It was about a year ago that I first laid eyes on the trailer for Machine Girl. I wasn't sure whether it was real or just some faux trailer like the stuff in Grindhouse, but I DID know that it was love at first sight. After two gore-soaked batshit loco opuses in 2007, it looks like Fever Dreams aren't letting up in the coming year.

Word came out this fall about Noboru Iguchi’s next project The Drill Bra Sisters, and now according to Twitch, there is also some sort of companion short film to Machine Girl called Hajirai Machine Girl on the way, as well.


Needless to say, I'm always up for yakuza-ninja-tempura-REVENGE! I am so easy to please sometimes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And So It Begins Again...

I love this time of year. Well, I love everything except the sack shrinking cold, of course. Not only is it the Christmas season - which brings time off work to spend with family & friends and consume all sorts of things that aren't good for you - but the film festival cycle is gearing up to resume once again. December brings tidings of the Sundance Film Festival, which runs the following January in Park City, Utah. My list of must-see festival flicks of 2008 are mostly crossed off at this point (Timecrimes, Eden Lake and My Name Is Bruce are the last), so '09 lies before me like an undisturbed field of newly fallen snow. This year's Sundance offers these three new titles to look forward to in the coming year.

I'd been hearing about this Norwegian zombie romp called Død Snø (Dead Snow) for quite a while and now it is just around the corner. The trailer below says it all.




The premise of The Killing Room - about four people volunteering for a research study being exposed to something a lot more sinister - sounds interesting, but the fact that it is directed by Jonathan Liebesman (the TCM prequel, Darkness Falls) doesn't instill me with confidence. Also, anything with Peter Stormare has a high possibility of turning into a cartoon whenever he's onscreen. I'm hoping the producers printed up a big sign saying "sometimes less is more" and made those two stare at it each day before shooting.

Lastly, Grace is about a young pregnant woman (Jordan Ladd) who loses her baby, but insists on having it anyway. When the baby comes to life after delivery, it is considered a miracle, but the mother soon realizes that Grace is no ordinary infant. I'm glad Ladd is still kicking around after a fairly inactive 2008, following small appearances in two flops the previous year. This looks like the kind of role where she really has the chance to shine.

As always, thanks be to Twitch for keeping me apprised of all things strange and off the beaten path.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

365


Who'd have ever thunk it? Thank you to everyone who has been looking in over the last year. Cheers all!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Exercising My Right.




Thank you. That is all.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Zombie Lite & Dark


I recently watched the two newly released zombie offerings, Dance Of The Dead and The Zombie Dairies. I didn’t feel too strongly about either one, so I figured I’d bundle them together for this On The Shelf.



Dance Of The Dead is a title that has been on my radar for what seems like ages now and has finally seen the light of day through Sam Raimi’s video distribution company Ghosthouse Underground. Dance Of The Dead is good, but not great. It is enjoyable fare with surprisingly good production values, which elevates it above other recent undead indie offerings like Automaton Transfusion and Kevin Tenney’s Brain Dead. It plays heavily on its influences, but having said that, what zombie movie doesn’t these days? I’m actually shocked that it took until 2008 for someone to marry George Romero with John Hughes. For those keeping score, all the usual high school stereotypes are represented. Dance Of The Dead is a fun yarn that had enough fresh ideas to keep me interested, but I guess I was expecting something more earth shattering, considering how it was tearing up the festival circuit all year.


The Zombie Dairies, released on the Dimension Extreme label, is a lot more serious an affair. You know, it’s a real shame about this current wave of cinema verité filmmaking. Since Cloverfield came out at the beginning of this year, it would appear to the layman that all these titles like REC, Diary Of The Dead jumped on the bandwagon even though they were all produced at the same time or even before the JJ Abrams blockbuster. I’ve said before that I have no problem with this style as long it is done well and the filmmakers are skilled enough to show you what you need to see. This aspect of Zombie Diaries is fairly hit and miss, which is frustrating at times. It is also extremely lo-fi, which can also get distracting. The story is broken into three groups of survivors, which all happen to be documenting their exploits via handheld cameras. As is always the case with this format, the issue of “why would you film this?” comes into play almost immediately and only one of the groups really addresses it with any believability.


What sets The Zombie Diaries apart from the herd is the direction that it takes in its third act. This disturbing turn is its saving grace. The subject matter of its conclusion – in a movie that was largely forgettable otherwise – stayed with me for days afterward. And it’s not even that the message brought forth by TZD hasn’t been covered before; it has. It was just that I wasn’t expecting it and caught me off guard.

So, there’s two more for the fire.