So, with the summer winding down, I thought I'd play a trailer for Night School, an eighties slasher I watched on the weekend.
Well, it finally happened. I am now old enough and seen so many movies that I have actually started to forget ones I have already seen. I was a full hour into this movie - the scene in the Boston Aquarium to be exact - until I realized that I'd seen it before. It must have been during my video store days. I remember recognizing the aquarium back then because I'd been on a school trip there only a few years before. I recalled absolutely nothing else about the movie though. Of course, the motorcycle helmeted killer was familiar, but I figured that was because there were several of those in the eighties with The Nail Gun Massacre and The Exterminator, etc.
A movie in the mainstream horror stable
that I’ve been excited about for some time is Fede Alvarez’s
Don’t Breathe. I've started shutting off trailers as soon as I
decide I'm going to see the film, so I knew pretty much nothing about
this one, except its setup. It looked solid, though after Lights Out
I made sure to keep my expectations tempered.
An easy score turns into a
life-or-death struggle for three petty thieves (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette, & Daniel Zovatto) when they break into
the house of a blind army veteran.
Don’t Breathe was a strong piece of
work that kept a remarkable pace once it got going. Alvarez decidedly
has a knack working in confined spaces, as the camerawork here was on
point, especially during the “one-r” sequence when the thieves were
investigating the house after they broke in. I thought the movie
flowed well from set piece to set piece and I was with it pretty much
from the get-go. Using Detroit as a backdrop certainly added to the
atmosphere, as well. More filmmakers should film there because at this point, it looks like
a horror film by itself.
It may be no surprise that the
highlight of this movie was the menacing presence of Stephen Lang as
the blind vet. He may be old, but that house was his domain. He
always seemed like he was in control, and all these thieves were
doing was making him more angry. When the movie took a turn in the
second act, he became even more diabolical. Man, it
really is so much easier to sell your antagonist when you don’t
have to rely on CGI.
I found the production as a whole a
step up from the Evil Dead remake. I remember my first uh-oh moment
during that movie when they flashed back to something that had
happened mere minutes before, as if we weren’t smart enough to
remember it. Don’t Breathe was much more confident storytelling and the emphasis
on visual narrative was extremely effective. And by visually, I
mean that the audio was often scaled back. Not every sudden scare had bombastic accompaniment. It knew when to be quiet to
prolong the tension.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the two fucking idiots sitting next to me in the theatre.
I so wanted Mr. Blind Guy to reach through the screen and strangle
those bitches. Seriously, can you not just sit still for ninety
minutes without feeling the need to open your fucking mouth??? But I
Don’t Breathe was definitely one of
the best titles that Ghost House has released to date. It’s taut,
tense and went to places I wasn’t expecting. Studios take note.
More of this, and less of Rings and/or Ouija.
No DKTM this week. Rather some words about some bad news I heard this week. Another video store, perhaps THE video store in Toronto, is closing its doors. The legendary Suspect Video which has been operating in Mirvish Village for twenty-five years will be shutting at the end of the year.
While it is true that the brand will still continue in online form, that little shop on Markham has been a chapel of underground film worship for decades. This saddens me deeply. The flagship location of Queen Video and Film Buff are now gone, as well, so that only leaves a handle left, like Eyesore Cinema (newly relocated to Bloor St W) and Bay St Video to carry the torch.
In the final months leading up to the closure, Suspect is having a clearance sale.
So, if you happen to be in the GTA, go on in and say hi to Luis. Tell them The Horror Section sent you.
So, I’m not looking at a vintage VHS title today, but
Christopher Phelps & Maxim Von Scoy’s cabin-in-the-woods slasher, Lake Nowhere very well could have been.
It was a long journey to get this movie made, as the
crowdfunding teaser pitch first surfaced online in 2013. After a very
tumultuous production with some additional footage being shot much later, the final product finally hit Vimeo last week. Lake Nowhere was made by
a collective called Ravaconthat, much like Canada’s Astron 6, revels in that
home video B-movie aesthetic. Although, Ravacon’s output is decidedly not as
overtly comical as their Northern counterparts.
I thought Lake Nowhere was pretty entertaining. In typical
retro fashion, the piece starts out with some highly amusing faux trailers. The
Italian gillao The River Runs Red was as spot on a representation of that
subgenre as Edgar Wright’s Don’t from back in 2007 and the extended trailer for
Harvest Man played out like a cross between Treevenge and an old GI Joe cartoon
I remember watching as a kid. These trailers book-ended a beer commercial for
Wolf White that made me momentarily question if I wasn’t watching a Canadian
But, onto our feature presentation. Lake Nowhere was a super
authentic portrayal of the home video era horror. If Phelps & Scoy were
trying to emulate the dark and washed out look of The Evil Dead, they
succeeded. Helped out by extensive VHS degradation that thankfully died down
before it got too distracting, this movie was almost indistinguishable from its
They look so happy, don't they?
The story was fairly standard and contained your average
genre setups, but I did appreciate that it wasn’t clearly evident who the final
girl (of the three lovely actresses Laura Hajek, Wray Villanova and Melody
Kology) was going to be. The main antagonist was pretty menacing in that he
towered over the rest of the cast in much the way Kane Hodder did in the later
Friday the 13th films. As for the gore gags, they were fairly well done, almost charming in that lo-fi kind of way.
Lake Nowhere came to a close in fifty minutes, which meant
that not only did it not overstay its welcome, but that the filmmakers shied
away from committing the crime made by so many indie horrors of padding out their
product to feature length. Though this curt length naturally made traditional
distribution avenues problematic, it has fortunately found a home on Vimeo.
If you’re a fan of vintage slashers and Don Dohler’s age-old
adage “blood, boobs and beast”, then head on over to Vimeo to rent Lake Nowhere
for a mere three dollars.
The TIFF schedule came out today, and while I recover from negotiating their insufferable website, I thought I'd post a trailer for a classic that screened at Midnight Madness's inaugural year waaaaay back in 1988.
I actually only saw this for the first time just recently. Well, if five years can be considered recently. Jesus, time flies! Anyway, here's hoping I see something this year that is as zany and resilient as FrankHenenlotter's oeuvre. Talk soon, kids!
Hey kids. Hope you enjoying your weekend, as there are only a few left this summer. Here's a few video nuggets before I shoot off to the city today.
Toronto artist (and sometime filmmaker) Matthew Therrien recently went down the YouTube horror short rabbit hole and was inspired to create his own one evening for zero dollars. Here below, is Houseguests.
I think it's pretty effective, and starts with the great nugget (as most good shorts do) of what would you do if you went to take a piss in the night and there was someone in your bed when you came back? Plus, Therrien got to plug some of his own artwork in the short, too.
Land of the Rising Scare.
I found this neat video from last month that I wanted to share. See below how The Film Theorists broke down what makes Japanese horror so scary and compelling. They bring up some really accurate points about the differences between Western and Eastern horror. Enjoy.
Road To Nowhere.
The retro slasher Lake Nowhere from Christopher Phelps & Maxim Van Scoy dropped this week on VOD. Click here to rent it from Vimeo for a couple of bones. Here's the trailer below.
Volume 1 of the soundtrack to the Netflix series
Stranger Things came out last week, and it's pretty glorious. I have since wedged it into my writing playlist between Perturbator and Videogram,
and they are getting along swimmingly.
I think what grabbed me the most was how symbiotic the score is with the show. I hear tracks like Kids, Biking To School & Dispatch and it immediately recalls the events of the show. Ultimately, how I feel about this soundtrack is
pretty much almost exactly how I felt about the show itself. Kyle
Dixon & Michael Stein, like The Duffer Brothers, have wonderfully
captured the essence of the seventies and eighties. Although, on occasion maybe too well.
I've listened to Vol. 1 about a dozen
times through now, and you do start to recognize the patterns and
blatant similarities. Tracks like Cops Are Good At Finding,
Friendship, Castle Byers are almost interchangeable with the stuff
Tangerine Dream were orchestrating in their heyday.
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is quietly judging you.
Same goes for the latter half of the
track Upside Down if you put it side-by-side with John Carpenter & Alan Howarth's work on Halloween III.
However, this emulation is not restricted
to days gone by, as I could hear shades of the more recent work of
Disasterpiece on It Follows in tracks like One Blink For Yes.
Now, I know this all may sound like an accusation, but it really isn't. After all, at the end of the day, who
really gives a shit? The whole point of the show was capture a period in time, and I don't think anyone can dispute that everyone involved did a bang-up job. Besides, the music does kick ass, and obviously has re-playability if I've now listened to it ump-teen times.
Volume 2 releases today, and I've been listening to that over the last few days, as well. It features more of the original score from Dixon and Stein, including some reprises of sections from Vol. 1. Even though there are some “hey I know this” moments, namely on tracks Rolling Out The Pool and They Found Us - I don't even have to say what they reference as it will be immediately apparent - but overall it's just a fantastic tapestry of genre music.
As you may have noticed from the banner
on the right, The ABC's of Death 2.5 released last week. For those
who don't know, 2.5 is a collection of the best 26 letter “M”
contest entries from Part 2. The entry that I co-wrote with my buddy
Schwartz (M is for Manure) thankfully made it on there, but today I
wanted to post about my personal faves from 2.5. Here they are in no
I remember supporting this one quite
heavily during the competition. I think the dark humour really lands,
and Johnson really commits to it. Three minutes is pretty short-form,
yet it often made me wonder about the events beyond the frame. Why
was he dressed like that? Where were these kid's parents? What was
that “green stuff”? A great piece of work.
Doubling as a proof of concept for a
larger project, the idea of Freeman's short is an intriguing one.
What if one could physically manifest someone's emotional trauma? I
really like the look and tone of this piece. The feature version,
entitled Love Sick, had a positive showing at last year's Frontieres
in Montreal, so I hope to hear about the next phase sometime soon.
Guerrero has been tearing up the short
film circuit for a while now, and I had previously thought the first
thing I'd seen of hers 2014's El Gigante. Not so. Upon watching 2.5,
I realized it was here. I should have recognized it, as all her
recurring traits, like punishing violence, unrelenting choas and
production design that oozes through the screen were all present
here, as well. It was just announced that her feature film project,
El Cucuy will be shopped at this year's Fantastic Fest Film Market
and I'd say she is more than ready to make the leap from the short to
This one shouldn't surprise you. There
have now been a few shorts now that have been set inside this Edmonton
video store - they even have there own web series called Straight To Video.
I love the energy these guys bring to their projects and think it
every bit as relevant as higher profile stuff like Turbo Kid –
which coincidentally also started out as a contest entry for the
first ABC's. I could also say that of the highly amusing
Mad-Max-on-Big-Wheels entry, M is for Marauder by Steve Daniels.
I was pretty taken by this short by
Austrian filmmaker Matzl during the competition, as well. Though I
figured it wouldn't win as his style was similar to that of Robert Morgan, who was already a part of ABC's 2 (actually the same can be
said for Chris Younes' M is for Maeusiophobia that also featured a sequence
similar to Part 2's crowning jewel Z is for Zygote), but I really dug
the look and style. It's a simple and easy premise, but it works so
well in a short form like this.
Overall, 2.5 is a pretty solid
culmination of the best the contest had to offer. I certainly saves
you the trouble of having to sort through the chaff of over five
hundred entries that were originally entered.
Hey all. This edition of Don't Kill the Messenger is going to be decidedly retro. Here's what I've got for you this week.
A while back, I spoke of an indie comics project from the UK called Slashermania. The brainchild of Russell Hillman, he seeks to combine the best elements of Friday the 13th and The Running Man into one big, well, Slashermania.
The Kickstarter campaign has just begun, so check out the pitch trailer below.
If this seems like your bag, check out the campaign page by going here.
Last year at Sitges saw the premiere of Luciano Onetti's modern giallo, Francesca. Now, it is set to be released on home video by Unearthed Films on September 27th. Check out the Blu-ray artwork and trailer below.
Here is the new poster for Rob Zombie's newest flick 31.
As we all know, Zombie is pretty hit and miss, but I'm still interested in checking this one out, even if it does look more like 1000 Corpses than Devil's Rejects. 31 is set to be released on October 21st.
Every year at TIFF, my most anticipated programme line-ups are Midnight Madness and Vanguard. Offering up the newest in off-the-wall entertainment, the titles in these two groups are invariably what us genre geeks will be talking about - for better or worse - for months afterwards. Here are my top five picks for my most anticipated in both Midnight and Vanguard.
Action flicks have always had a stellar history at Midnight (Ong Bak, Chocolate, SPL and both Raid movies to name a few) and this newest effort called Headshot from Indonesian filmmakers Timo Tjahjanto & Kimo Stamboel starring Iko Uwais & Julie Estelle looks to be on point.
A name you can count on is Ben Wheatley and his newest Free Fire will be here this year. Including a cast such as Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Brie Larson, I'm sure this one will deliver, as well.
Does the mix of Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) sound awesome to you? It does to me. And that's what were getting in this year's survival horror comedy The Belko Experiment.
Filmmaking icon Paul Schrader returns with Nic Cage in this crime thriller, Dog Eat Dog.
I should also mention that I'm stoked for the new Blair Witch film and the adaptation of the Mike Carey novel, The Girl With The Gifts. But fortunately, the rest of you won't have to wait long for those as they release wide later in September.
Festival favourite Nacho Vigalondo teams up with Anne Hathaway to give us his take on the giant monster movie, Colossal.
Last weekend, I attended the fourth edition of LEFT (Lost Episode Festival Toronto) to catch a screening of Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow. After its successful showing at Sundance – and my missing it at
Fantasia – I was very excited to see what all the fuss was about.
Tehran, 1988. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) must not only protect
her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) from the constant bombing attacks, but also
a supernatural force that has set up residence in their tenement complex.
Under The Shadow was an excellent film. I had expected to
enjoy it, but I had no idea it was going to be such an exceptionally well rounded piece of
work. Everything about this effort was top notch, right down
to the eighties production design. Although, the themes were so timeless, it
could’ve just as easily been set in present day.
I’d heard about the comparisons to 2014’s The Babadook and
they are valid, as both tales involve a mother and child, supernatural forces
and have metaphorical underpinnings. However, Under The Shadow was far
less flashy, and I believe that worked in its favour. A lot of The Babadook’s
appeal was in its visual style and production design, whereas this relied solely on its characters. I also saw shades of 2002’s Dark Water in here too, but
this was way more articulate and affecting.
Narges Rashidi (right) & Avin Manshadi in Under The Shadow
The way Anvari was able to convey so much about the
political climate and attitudes in such a short time was really impressive.
Using the tenement building in which Shideh lived as a microcosm of Tehran
itself, where communities were orphaned of their able-bodied men through conscription, was really interesting to me. As her complex emptied out, she and
her daughter became more vulnerable to the unknown force lingering inside.
The more I think about it, the more I appreciate how well it
all linked together. Rashidi was terrific in this film, and her character was
extremely well written. It wasn’t a surprise to see that she was credited as a
writer, as there was a perspective here that no man would have been able to
As a genre film, this movie packed a punch due to its
double-pronged approach. It had several conventional scare moments, including
one or two well conceived jump scares, but there was also an underlying sense
of dread throughout. Imagine living in a place where you could be blown to bits
at any moment. Anvari used this to full effect by making even the most mundane
scenes thick with tension. There was an early scene where Shideh was talking on
the phone, but the shot was a lot wider than it needed to be to frame in the large window behind her. All I could do was stare at it, sure that an explosion was going to shatter it at any moment. Tremendous stuff.
I was also pleased that there was limited CG used in the
film. The scares, for the most part, came from the threat to the main
characters, and that’s how it should be. And thankfully, Anvari didn’t go for
that one last jump scare, something that’s almost required in North American
scare flicks these days. Under The Shadow was highly effective and concentrated
on all the right elements that make a great horror film.
Lastly, I just wanted to give a shout-out to Johnny
Larocque and LEFT for an impressive line-up this year. They may not be as
visible as some of the other genre fests in Toronto, but with the acquisition of high
profile titles like Under The Shadow, they soon will be. Excellent job, guys!
This review was a long time coming.
Stranger Things released on Netflix the day I left for Fantasia, so I wasn't able to tear into it until after I returned. Of course, by
that time, pretty much almost everyone had binged watched it, createdmemes and moved on. So, I wondered if it was even worth posting about. But, in
the end, it seemed wrong not to.
As you would expect, I really, really
enjoyed this series. It was a simmering pot of so many things I hold dear.
Imagine the three witches from Macbeth perched in their cave,
throwing in every scrap of beloved eighties pop culture they can get their hands on. Let's break it down...
Stranger Things succeeds in large part
due to its casting. I was impressed by the instant camaraderie built between the four friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) In real life groups of chums,
there are always smaller pairs that are closer than the rest, and this was the best portrayal I've seen of this
since Stephen King's Stand By Me. But, as you no doubt realized early
on, Stranger Things was seventy-five per cent Spielberg and King.
Rounding out the young cast was Millie Bobby Brown as the mysterious Eleven. She was superb, having to
run the gamut of emotions from rage to sadness.
McLaughlin (left), Matarazzo, Wolfhard & Brown in Stranger Things.
Most importantly, I was so happy to see
Winona Ryder in this. I heard some online
chatter about how sobby she was, and I'll never understand that. She
played it perfectly in my opinion. Do you know how hard it is to play
someone that wrecked with grief? Not only that, but make you want to, at
times, reach through the screen, wrap them in a blanket and
tell them everything is going to be okay. During the bit with the Xmas
light messages showed up, I think that was where I went, yeah there's really something to this. Oh, and Matthew Modine doing his best David
Cronenberg impression, that was ace!
The music of Stranger Things played a
huge part in this series. First off, Netflix has proved once again
that they have more money that God to be able to afford all those
wicked eighties songs they put in there. Then, to furthermore have it accentuated by a ton of synth-wave goodies from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein that sounded like the
resulting offspring of a three-way between John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
and Tangerine Dream. I can assure you that upcoming soundtrack
release is going to do very, very well.
When most people were talking about
Stranger Things, they weren't only praising the show, but also pointing out all the references of which were legion, as almost
every scene, character and set dress harkened back to that age of pop culture. It brought a lot of smiles to my face, and
there were only a few times where I thought perhaps they were
reaching (just how easy were posters of Evil Dead and The Thing to
come by in 1983?). However, I did love that, “take that down, it's
inappropriate” bit in regards to Raimi's aforementioned masterpiece.
Even though I did really love this
show, I have to admit that I liked the first four episodes better
than the last four. It was those first few episodes that, even though
they were built on the backs of two iconic Steves, there was a lot of
originality, the characters felt real and
there was tremendous thematic weight. Then around episode five-ish, I
found myself having to suspend my disbelief where I hadn't before. Rather than doing things organically, characters began to more noticeably do them to drive plot. Whereas before I was thinking to myself, geez if my
brother & I watched this back in '83, would we have known?, I then began to see more modern conventions, like the CG monster that consequently became less scary the more it was shown. Even the more we saw of the “upside down” (which, by the
way, was a fucking awesome name for a parallel dimension), the more it
reminded me of Silent Hill. I was always enjoying myself, and it by
no means went off the rails like the similarly-themed Super 8, but the last few episodes were difference between super great and just great.
Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers In Stranger Things
So there, I think I've said my piece. I
will definitely watch this through again before Season 2 comes around because it really is something special beyond all its nostalgic ingredients. Mainly, it gives me hope, as I am
currently working on a script that borrows from a lot of beloved
eighties tropes and it's nice to know there is still an accepting
audience of it.
Hey guys, squeezing this in before hitting the trail this morning. Here's what I got for you.
Fantastic Fest announced its lineup this week and among them were three particularly anticipated titles.
One of these years, I've got to make it down to Austin. I hear it's a blast and more and more of my Toronto brethren are making it out each year. Maybe one day. Fantastic Fest runs September 22nd-29th.
Let Her Out!
A trailer has arrived for Black Fawn's latest title in their deal with Breakthrough Entertainment, Let Her Out.
I like the look of this one, so hopefully it shows up here sometime during festival season.
A psychopath (Kip Niven) leaves a trail of bodies
on his way to a New Year's Bash celebration hosted by popular VJ
Diane Sullivan (Roz Kelly). Will she still be alive at the stroke of
Now, I say re-watched, but I remembered
very little of it, as this was another title that I saw through
Elvira's Movie Macabre in the early nineties. As far as eighties
slashers go, this is pretty low on the totem pole. The movie featured
very little gore, was overly convoluted at times, and seemed to often
forget that it is a slasher, like when the killer suddenly decided to
start wearing a mask well into the last reel.
Black Christmas styles!
Having said that, New Year's Evil does
have some entertaining qualities. The theme song was so catchy that
the filmmakers decided to use it in its entirety a total of three
times. The depiction of “New Wave Rock” culture was pretty
laughable, as seen when the band was playing some weird blues-y riff
and the crowd basically looked they were moshing to a ballad. It
was also pretty amusing to see them try and fill the venue with thirty or so extras. You can actually hear the echoing emptiness of the
room as they shuffle around.
I think the filmmakers were trying to
create another slasher icon by naming him Evil, but he's actually
kind of shit at his vocation. I admit that the idea of a guy who
kills people every hour leading up to New Year's Eve – representing
each time zone – was pretty cool, but the closer he got, the more
he started mucking things up. I suppose I should say SPOILER here,
but do you really give a shit? By the time he reached Diane
Sullivan, and it was revealed that he was, in fact, her husband – I
wonder if Nightmares in A Damaged Brain scooped this twist from here
– the gig was pretty much up.
He proceeded to spew out some misogyny
just before the cops showed up and he threw himself (or at least a
poorly disguised mannequin) off the roof. The movie then ends with
her son Derek (Grant Kramer), who has spent most of the running time doing all sorts of
weird stuff with pantyhose, picking up where his father left off. As
We need to talk about Derek.
In complete contrast to the films of
today, almost everybody in the movie is played by someone who is
older than they should be. I think in that regard I prefer it the way
it is today. It also had a scene in a Drive-In and I always like
those. If I'm not mistaken, the movie playing may have been footage from an earlier Cannon release (The Lady In Red Kills Seven Times). There's a bit of free trivia for you. New Year's
Evil isn't great, but it's serviceable, much like a lot of the
horrors that were being churned out by this point in the early
Sorry, I'm falling behind a bit here. To be honest, I kinda burned myself out after script writing all last week. Everything else, including a post about Stranger Things, has just fallen by the wayside. Anyhoo, here's a trailer for 1980's Beyond Evil.
Well shit, this trailer just keeps better and better. John Saxon AND Lynda Day George (the BASTAAARDS! lady from Pieces) AND laser eyes!!