Tuesday, 10 March 2015

21st Century Horror (2000 - 2014) Part 2

Part 2 of an alphabetical list of horror films released since 2000 recommended by Bloody Terror. Please note that Part 1 has been updated.

Let the Right One In (Dir: Tomas Alfredson; 2008; Sweden)
Despite some iffy CGI, this is yet another interesting take on the vampire legend. Here, a bullied schoolboy befriends a girl who appears to be his age, but is in actuality not only decades older, but also a bloodsucker.

The Lords of Salem (Dir: Rob Zombie; 2012, US)
Zombie once again puts the focus on his wife, Sherri Moon Zombie, here as a radio DJ and former drug addict who finds herself the unwitting pawn of witchcraft and black magic in New England. Zombie thankfully restricts his fondness for the overuse of “fuck” and its variations in his dialogue, and this, along with The Devil’s Rejects, is an example of when his cult icon casting (Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Dee Wallace) works to the movie’s benefit.

Martyrs (Dir: Pascal Laugier, 2008; France/Canada)
Martyrs is a movie that twists in many directions before it settles into its disturbing final third. Part of the effectiveness in watching this film is in not knowing what comes next, but suffice it to say that it’s a grueling experience that you most likely won’t be re-watching over and over again for kicks.

May (Dir: Lucky McKee; 2002; US)
To be honest, it took me a second viewing before I got on May’s wavelength. My initial response was due in part to the film’s quirkiness, which upon my second time through worked in the movie’s favour, much like a representation of the main character’s unusual behaviour and ticks. What May eventually revealed itself to me as being is a character study of a lonely oddball and the repercussions of how she either does or doesn’t fit into Western society.

The Mist (Dir: Frank Darabont; 2007; US)
This film based on Stephen King’s short story bears a firm similarity to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and therefore Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, as a group of strangers are stranded in a single location while nature goes wild outside. In this case, it’s Lovecraftian creatures that come calling. Often criticized for its downbeat ending, I think this element is actually one of its strengths as it explores and exploits a common fear – the fear of making the wrong decision – that far too few films explore, and with this sort of insight and gravity.

The Orphanage (Dir: J.A. Bayona; 2007; Spain)
After conjuring imaginary friends, the young son of a couple disappears from their new home – an orphanage that they’re reopening – in this melancholy ghost story. Effective atmosphere, great ghosts, and a sadness that is missing from most takes on this, the most sorrowful of horror sub-genres.

The Others (Dir: Alejandro Amenábar; 2001: US/Spain/France/Italy)
A ghost story told in the classic style. Nicole Kidman is the mother of two children who suffer a strange allergy to sunlight. As they await the patriarch’s return from war, ghostly events occur.

Pontypool (Dir: Bruce MacDonald; 2008; Canada)
A late night radio DJ and his cohorts are trapped in a radio station as a virus passed by language turns the residents of a small town into zombies. An interesting take on not only the zombie subgenre, but on the effect of words.

[Rec] (Dir: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza; 2007; Spain)
Another zombie film, and another zombie film that doesn’t use the term “zombie”. Also, this is yet another variation on the found footage trope, as a TV host and her camera operator ride with a team of firefighters one evening. The difference – this one is scary!

A Serbian Film (Dir: Srdjan Spasojevic; 2010; Serbia)
Along with Martyrs, A Serbian Film is probably the most extreme film on this list. Hard to defend, the uncut version of A Serbian Film challenges the viewer to witness several disturbing atrocities, although an argument could be made that this is all in the name of addressing the political climate of Serbia at the time the film was made. Its one-line description: A retired porn actor is lured back into the business by dubious backers.

Session 9 (Dir: Brad Anderson, 2001, US)
After a group of men are hired to remove asbestos from an abandoned mental asylum, one of them discovers a patient’s counseling session tapes in the basement, and begins to listen to them. As the tapes build to their climax, so too does the antagonistic relationships among the men. For me, this was a truly scary movie, although I know others who have dismissed it as being too subtle.

Shaun of the Dead (Dir: Edgar Wright; 2004; UK)
One of the finest horror comedies ever conceived, this film takes on most of the clichés of the zombie subgenre, and even manages to incorporate some for the sake of drama rather than comedy.

The Skin I Live In (Dir: Pedro Almodóvar, 2011; Spain)
Director Almodóvar works with Antonio Banderas again after many years and creates this surprising and touching body horror film that transplants the horror from the corporal to the emotional. On the surface, it’s about a surgeon who experiments with synthetic skin. At its heart it’s much more than that.

The Strangers (Dir: Bryan Bertino; 2008; US)
A home invasion film that takes more of its inspiration from Halloween than from its nastier counterparts. In The Strangers, a couple are terrorized by three mask-wearing psychopaths. That’s pretty much it, plain and simple. But as the cliché says, it’s all in the telling, and this telling is scary and suspenseful.

Three (Dirs: Kim Jee-woon, Nonzee Nimibutr, Peter Chan; 2002; South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong)
Three… Extremes (Dirs: Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park; 2004; China. Japan, South Korea)
These two anthology films each feature three shorts by different Asian directors and of varying quality. Combined, they serve as a concise introduction to those uninitiated in Asian horror, and an eerie reminder for those who are.

Trick ‘r Treat (Dir: Michael Dougherty; 2007; US)
A great seasonal viewing alternative to John Carpenters’ classic, Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology film with a terrific cast (Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker), and a by times haunting and/or grisly undercurrent.

Trouble Every Day (Dir: Claire Denis; 2001; France/Germany/Japan)
Béatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo are the leads in this vampire film that is more in the spirit of George A. Romero’s Martin than most other bloodsucker flicks. Both are great in this moody character study that features one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve witnessed in a millennial horror film.

Wolf Creek (Dir: Greg Mclean; 2005; Australia)
Based on the true story of a serial killer who preyed on visitors to the outback, Wolf Creek is a nasty little flick that has you rooting for its lead characters even while it shows you the inevitability of a sharp blade.

You’re Next (Dir: Adam Wingard; 2011; US)
The trouble with some home invasion flicks is that they can be an unpleasant viewing experience. Not so with You’re Next, which wends some nice twists on the sub-genre while keeping the proceedings entertaining.

Friday, 27 February 2015

21st Century Horror (2000 - 2014) Part 1

The 21st Century is still a pup, but fifteen years in, of course there are a number of horror films which are noteworthy. Any selection of personal recommendations is going to by subjective, so here for better or worse, are the horror films released since 2000 (and listed alphabetically) that I recommend.

28 Days Later (Dir: Danny Boyle; 2002; UK)
A great take on George A. Romero's first three zombie films from outbreak to military intervention, 28 Days Later owes as much to John Wyndham's classic novel The Day of the Triffids. Director Boyle manages to make the living dead scary and dangerous again, while referencing "rage" rather than "zombies".

American Mary (Dirs: Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska; 2012; Canada)
The time was definitely ripe for the Soska Sisters' look at rape culture and body modification. Katherine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps (see below) is featured as a med student who discovers that revenge is best served through the bod mod underground.

Brotherhood of the Wolf (Dir: Christophe Gans; 2001; France/Canada)
This genre-blending tale puts the emphasis on horror as a killer wolf stalks the countryside in 18th Century France. Brotherhood, however, manages to get all its genres right.

Bubba Ho-Tep (Dir: Don Coscarelli; 2004; US)
An aged Elvis Presley and an aged, black John F. Kennedy try to stop an ancient mummy who's killing the residents of a seniors home in this black comedy from the director of Phantasm.

Calvaire (Dir: Fabrice Du Welz; 2004; Belguim)
When the van of a traveling entertainer breaks down in the countryside, he discovers the surrealistic horrors of being a woman.

Cloverfield (Dir: Matt Reeves; 2008; US)
The found footage trope is given new life as a kaiju attacks New York City. The jerky-cam format works well here as it adds an immediacy and an air of reality to a genre that hasn't been given this treatment previously. The only downside is that the 20-somethings who populate the film are hard to relate to unless you're the dull offspring of socialites.

The Descent (Dir: Neil Marshall; 2005; UK)
Trapped spelunkers versus sightless cave dwellers as interpersonal dramas play out in this suspenseful and exciting flick. Beware the US version of the ending.

The Devil’s Rejects (Dir: Rob Zombie; 2005; US)
Although Zombie is one of the most divisive filmmakers in the horror genre, I got into this nasty revenge flick about the killing spree exploits of the Firefly family. Terrific performances and interesting cult favourite cameos help immeasurably. Oddly, the only part that I feel Zombie fumbled is the confusing and therefore disengaging opening gunfight.

A Field in England (Dir: Ben Wheatley; 2013; UK)
An alchemist's assistant and three soldiers meet the Devil(?) in this sometimes psychedelic horror flick set entirely in... a field in England... during the 17th Century and Civil War. The scene in which Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith from the absolutely essential League of Gentlemen) exits O'Neil's tent is one of the most striking and disturbing images in 21st Century Horror.

Final Destination 2 (Dir: David R. Ellis; 2002; US)
Arguably the best instalment in the Final Destination franchise, Part 2 features exemplary examples of everything this series is famous for - spectacular set pieces, Rube Goldberg-style deaths, and a sense of humour.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour; 2014; US)
It astounds me how often filmmakers have been able to find new ways to tell zombie and vampire stories, as a number of films on Parts 1 & 2 of this list will attest. Even when the notion of sitting through yet another flick featuring the living dead or the undead bores me to tears, the advance word about the rare film that breathes new live into either sub-genre will induce me to seek it out. Such was the case with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. From its evocative title to its black and white cinematography (it's great to see a contemporary horror film in Black & White), this is a film that uses its low budget to its best advantage by focusing on the loneliness of the vampire while evoking positively both Film Noir and the early Black & White films of Jim Jarmusch.

Ginger Snaps (Dir: John Fawcett; 2000; Canada)
Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) Fitzgerald are two of the most interesting characters in new Century Horror. Not your typical teen horror movie fodder, these two morbid sisters face becoming women via a werewolf metaphor.

Grindhouse (Dirs: Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino' 2007; US)
In its original theatrical format (big screen, short versions of both films) Grindhouse is a lot of fun as two directors who have been inspired by genre films pay official tribute to exploitation movies of the 1970's and 80's. Sure Tarantino's Death Proof has one too many conversations, but this pseudo-double bill spawned more imitators than anything Tarantino's done since Pulp Fiction.

High Tension (Dir: Alexandre Aja; 2003; France)
Praised for its retro slasher suspense, but criticized for its ending, High Tension is one of the most audacious slasher films of the 21st Century. Great performances from Cécile De France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon add to this gory flick, and in my eyes, the ending only serves to add an additional kick to the proceedings (stayed tuned for a piece about this).

The Host (Dir: Joon-ho Bong; 2007; South Korea)
CGI is well used here to create a terrific amphibian kaiju in this, one of the best giant creature features of recent years. Though it may sometimes be difficult for Western audiences to grasp the intended humour at points, The Host is exciting, entertaining and unexpectedly sad.

Hostel: Part II (Dir: Eli Roth; 2007; US)
As divisive a figure in the horror community as Rob Zombie, director Eli Roth upped the ante quality wise for this sequel to his hit Hostel. Though I'm not a fan of the original, the sequel is more of a giallo than a straight horror flick with some terrific set pieces.

The House of the Devil (Dir: Ti West; 2009; US)
This nicely atmospheric throwback to the slasher films of the 1980's finds a babysitter unexpectedly in charge of an aged invalid. Great cameos from Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, and terrific performances from Jocelin Donahue (babysitter) and Greta Gerwig (her pal).

House of Wax (Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra; 2005; US)
Entertaining and grisly updating of the original that is really just a remake in name only. Paris Hilton is fine as a secondary character.

Inside (Dirs: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury; 2007; France)
It's Béatrice Dalle versus Alysson Paradis in this outrageously bloody and suspenseful flick about a woman who wants the as yet unborn child from the belly of a very pregnant widow. Dalle makes a great (sympathetic?) villain in this disturbing debut from Bustillo & Maury; Here's hoping their two follow up films - Livid (2011) and Among the Living (2014) - become available to North American audiences soon.

Ju-on (Dir: Takashi Shimizu; 2002; Japan)
Shimizu also directed the English language remake of Ju-on (aka The Grudge), a film that along with Ringu and its American remake The Ring, is probably most responsible for the overseas popularity of J-Horror in the early 2000's. It's a creepy and entertaining flick that updates Japan's particular brand of ghost story.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Bloody Terror Movie Checklist

Last week I asked a few people on my Facebook page, people from whom I've either read writing or comments on the subject, or people whom I've talked to about this, to give me some suggestions for... what do we can them... Midnight Movies? Cult Movies? Subversive Cinema? Underground? Psychotronic? You get the picture... Movies that have either been ignored or forgotten by the mainstream, rejected by it, or in some cases, never even hit its radar.

Friends of these people began commenting, and pretty soon I ended up with a terrific list of movies worth seeking out. Some of them you'd expect to see on a list of this types (Eraserhead), but many were unique to similar lists I've seen (You Never Can Tell). I had no intention of publishing the list, but it was so good that I had to.

Though I didn't contribute to this list, others who did, in order of comment, were: David Nicholson, Brian Bankston, Robert T. Daniel, Dennis Cozzalio, Maitland McDonagh, Ray Ray, Robert Humanick, Robert Monell, Curt Duckworth, David Zuzelo, Kevin McDonough, James Dempster, Michael Hinerman, Jeremy Richey, Sam Shalabi, Peter Nellhaus, Mark Allen, Christian Mux, Shelley Jackson, Anthony Lamanto, Thomas Ellison, Phillip Scot, Marilyn Ferdinand, Salem Kapsaski and Heather Drain.

Click on each of the images below to enlarge and to print. If you're interested in these sorts of movies, you'll no doubt find some suggestions here that you'll want to hunt down.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

"The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist"

"The Exorcist" is an important film to me personally for a number of reasons - for its nostalgia, for the impact it had on me both in terms of hype and in living up to that hype, for the film's quality, for my varied interpretations of its theme, as a lesson in filmmaking, and on and on. And I wasn't the only one obsessing on William Friedkin's film version of William Peter Blatty's best seller; it was a worldwide phenomenon.

This entertaining Youtube clip entitled "The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist", made at the time of the film's release, illustrates the effect it had in North America back in 1973/74. Interviews start around the 1:50 mark.

Click here for "The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist".
Click here for a previous post about my experience with "The Exorcist"
Click here for my interpretation of "The Exorcist".

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2

Imagine that you’re a filmmaker in the position to create the follow up to your biggest success to date. Adding stress to the opportunity is the fact that this success is one of the key touchstones in horror movie history. With this as his starting point, Tobe Hooper must have been under an enormous amount of pressure when making the sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

Revisiting the sequel almost 30 years later, I think Hooper performed an amazing feat. To recreate the perfect storm of elements that made the original what it is would have been an impossible task – something that both fans and critics didn’t fully appreciate at the time of the film’s release. Instead, Hooper and co-writer/co-producer L.M. Kit Carson updated the scenario and again commented on the social climate at the time in which the film was made, but now it was the 1980’s with which they were dealing.

With that in mind, Chainsaw 2 is a dayglow gore fest (some of the over the top FX were cut during the film's initial release, but they've been reinstated in subsequent versions) that fits in perfectly with the comedy-horror vibe that defined the genre in that decade (see Re-Animator, Night of the Creeps, Evil Dead 2, et al). Gone is the realism and harsh horror of the original, replaced by fantasy and fanaticism – an understandable reaction to the Reagan Era. The difference is there, right from the beginning when we first hear Hopper and Jerry Lambert's terrible synth score that really emphasizes the potential annoying weakness of the instrument at the time. Happily, there are a number of great tracks from 1980's bands like The Cramps and Concrete Blonde on the soundtrack (some of the film is set in a radio station) that help balance it.

Present in the first film, black humour is more obvious in Part 2. The family homestead is replaced by the Texas Battle Land amusement park, taking the threat away from that of the dysfunctional family and its interaction with youth culture, and placing it entirely in the realm of entertainment. This conscious choice away from the sensibilities of the 70’s and into the 80’s is reflected in Tom Savini’s effects work, Cary White’s Production Design and Richard Kooris’ cinematography.

The cast of the original, so natural in their performances, are matched in their effectiveness by their 1980’s counterparts, albeit in a “heightened” manner that connects with the film’s tone. Caroline Williams as Stretch delivers an outstanding performance and the only one grounded in reality; Dennis Hooper, a returning Jim Siedow, Lou Perryman, and Bill Moseley as the unforgettable Chop-Top are all terrific too.

In 1986, a fan of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre expecting more of the same would be greeted by a film that seemed to revel in the exact opposite of what the 1974 classic offered: over the top onscreen gore (trimmed, but the build up if not always the payoff was there), broad comedy, overtly sexualized violence... Where was the fear, the ferociousness of the original? The fact is that 1986 was a far different time than 1974, and the differences between the two films are the differences between the two decades. That in itself makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 definitely worth another look.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

RELEASE ME AGAIN! More Movies That Need a (Decent) Region 1 DVD Release

In 2011 I created a list of movies that I felt should be given a decent release on Region 1 DVD or Blu-Ray. You can find that list by clicking here. Happily, many of the titles I listed are now available, paving the way for a second list, and that what you'll find below:

(USA, 1973; Dir: Georg Fenady)

Blood and Roses
(France/Italy, 1960; Dir: Roger Vadim)

Deranged (Uncut Version)
(Canada/USA, 1974; Dir: Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby)

The Devils (Uncut Version)
(UK, 1971; Dir: Ken Russell)

The Early Films of John Waters:
Hag in a Black Leather Jacket/Roman Candles/
Eat Your Makeup/The Diane Linkletter Story

(USA, 1964-1970; Dir: John Waters)

Photo by Anton Perich

The Farmer
(USA, 1977; Dir: David Berlatsky)

I Was a Teenage Frankenstein
(USA, 1957; Dir: Herbert L. Strock)

I Was a Teenage Werewolf
(USA, 1957; Dir: Gene Fowler Jr.)

Island of Terror
(UK, 1966; Dir: Terence Fisher)

(France, 2011; Dir: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury)

Symptoms (UK/Belgium, 1974; Dir: José Ramón Larraz)

Der Todesking
(Germany, 1990; Dir: Jörg Buttgereit)

(USA, 1971/1972; Dir: Daniel Mann/Phil Karlson)

White Reindeer
(Finland, 1952; Dir: Erik Blomberg)