FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Aug 31, 2015

R.I.P. Wes Craven

One of the best things about the horror community is that it's...well, that it's a community. We squabble like siblings when we have different tastes, we bond over favorites. Sharing the tales of our introductions to the genre brings us closer together. We nerd out together at conventions and it comment sections. We're like a really big, incredibly strange family.

When someone involved in the horror world dies–be it a writer, a director, an actor, or even a fellow fan–it stings because we're losing one of our own. Even if we've never met the person, our mutual love of monsters and mayhem means they're near and dear to us.

Wes Craven, ever a champion of and for horror, has died at the age of 76, still too young. I'd wager there isn't a genre fan out there who hasn't been greatly affected by one or more of his films, for he left us with a legacy of some of the best movies that horror has to offer. We can take comfort in that, but it still stings. He had more to give us–more to give the world of cinema–but we've lost one of our own.

Thanks for all the nightmares, Mr. Craven.

Aug 28, 2015

Until Dawn (2015)

It can be a hard knock life out there for a console-tied horror lovin' gamer like me. Sure, there are classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but there is room in my heart for more. However, in recent years horror games have generally morphed into action games with a horror skin; while scaring the player still figures into the equation, newer titles tend to be fast-paced and combat heavy instead of atmosphere-laden mood and exploration pieces. (One need only look at the evolution of the Resident Evil games to get the gist–it's hard to believe that Resident Evil and Resident Evil 5 are in the same series.) Don't get me wrong, there are still flashes of brilliance–P.T. terrorized me more than anything else in my life ever has, Alien: Isolation is a fantastic fright fest, and even the lo-fi aesthetics of games like Home and Lone Survivor can belie some gripping experiences. But by and large, I'm always thirsty for new horror games that don't solely revolve around shooting monsters.

You can imagine, then, that I was really fucking excited for Until Dawn, a survival/adventure horror game that emphasizes story, character interaction, exploration, and decision making.

The plot features a setup that's straight from the early '80s heyday of the slasher flick: Ten friends spend the weekend at a remote mountain lodge, but after a prank goes awry, two of the party members end missing and presumed dead. A year later, the remaining eight friends return to the lodge for another weekend, but guess what? They're not alone. Yep, it seems there's a masked killer on the loose. Go figure!

When dawn finally comes, the number of survivors remaining is up to the player. You're frequently faced with choices, from seemingly insignificant ones (do you give a sincere or a snarky response to an innocuous question?) to ones that can immediately result in life or death for a character (the killer is chasing you, do you run or hide?). Anyone who's ever yelled at the screen during a horror movie will delight in taking control of characters normally deemed moronic...and they'll find out how damn difficult it is to make a split-second decisions when you're in a panic.

Once the game gets rolling, it doesn't stop. The train is inexorable, and it chugs along...until dawn. There is no going back if you make a wrong choice or if you miss a clue whilst exploring, and you can only live (or not live, as the case may be) with your decisions. While some mistakes are obvious, the game will tell you what "butterfly effect" an earlier action has had. You know, like maybe that snarky response of yours hours earlier means that someone isn't exactly rushing to come to your aid now.

The characters, as you might expect, are also straight out of early '80s horror: there's the jock, the jokester, the mean girl, the probably final girl, the horny couple, etc. Before the action begins, you've got to wade through some dopey dialogue, and I admit I found myself saying "I don't care if any of these assholes makes it through the night." After all, most of the victims in a generic slasher flick are just there to be killed. If you can tolerate them before that, great...but chances are there are some you can't wait to see die just so they'll shut up.

But I'll be damned if everyone didn't grow on me during Until Dawn. I'm not saying the characters end up more than the archetypes they start out as, or that they ever have, you know, depth. But listen: when you are tasked with seeing a character through a particularly grueling sequence of events, you become very invested in their survival. I was shocked when I realized that the character I liked the least ended up being the one I was rooting for the most. Seriously, early on I was thinking that I'd try to get her killed intentionally I hated her so much. Her personality never really underwent a change, but damn, she endured so much that I wanted her to live. Ultimately, she didn't make it and it was sort of devastating, for the interactive nature of the game had us buddied up. I fucked up, and she died. As active participants, players bear a responsibility in Until Dawn that they don't in passive entertainment such as Friday the 13th. For a lifelong horror fan, it's a unique, terrific experience.

Gameplay is accessible even to those new to video games. Yeah sure, you need to have fast reactions much of the time, but it's generally little more than matching onscreen button prompts, moving a stick in one direction or another, or–in the most nerve-wracking sequences–not moving the controller at all because doing so will give away your location.

Until Dawn is frequently beautiful to look at, and also frequently very strange to look at. The odd mix of motion capture and animation often dips low into uncanny valley, leaving characters looking more like creepy robots than actual people. (It doesn't help when characters are made to resemble their familiar real-life counterparts, such as actors Peter Stormare and Hayden Panettiere.) More often than not, however, your mouth will be agape at the visuals in, like, a good way. And also because of the gore. Oh yes, there's enough blood and gore here to do Tom Savini proud.

The story twists and turns, hitting plenty of beloved genre tropes and touchstones, and the horror pedigree of co-writer Larry Fessenden readily apparent. (Do you love Larry Fessenden? I do. I don't love everything he does, but he's a cool cat and it seems like he loves horror as much as you or I.) If you like horror movies and video games, Until Dawn is absolutely a no-brainer.

My first playthrough saw only two of the eight characters survive. Can you believe that? I thought for sure I'd make only the right decisions and everyone would waltz out of that lodge alive and happy in the light of a new day. I mean, I have a horror blog. You don't get more expert than that!

Until Dawn is a PlayStation 4 exclusive.

Aug 19, 2015

Let's Talk About Lists, Baby

Aw yeah, here's the part where someone spends time compiling data in order to create a "best of" list and then I read the list and I'm like "Pfft, that list is mostly lame" and so I write my own list and then people read my list and they're like "Pfft, that list is mostly lame" and so they write their own lists in the comments. And the great möbius strip of internet life continues until we are all dead. Or maybe even for a while after that! An Eternity in Listicles.

Anyway, over at yon Movies, Films, and Flix, writer Mark Hofmeyer has posted the results of a readers' poll for The Top 21 Horror Films of the 21st Century. Here are the Top 10:
  1. Drag Me to Hell
  2. Mulholland Dr.
  3. Shaun of the Dead
  4. The Babadook
  5. It Follows
  6. Let the Right One In
  7. The Descent
  8. 28 Days Later
  9. Pan's Labyrinth
  10. Cabin in the Woods
To this list I say: hmm. Some of it, yes! Some of it, no! Some of it, I have no opinion on, specifically regarding Pan's Labyrinth because I haven't seen it yet even though I know I should. We've just never been in the same room at the same time, but I'll rectify that one of these days/years/lifetimes.

I loves me some Mulholland Dr, and I can see how one would qualify it as "horror", but personally I would not. (But that dumpster scene...) Shaun of the Dead? A delight! One of the Top 10 horror films of the last 15 years? Yehhhh. And I know I'm for sure in the minority on Cabin in the Woods, but that film didn't do much for me at all. For whatever reason, I am immune to its charms, and even more perversely, the more other people like it, the less I like it. That never happens! Cabin in the Woods really brings out the Newton's Third Law of my heart. I am not sure why, nor am I sure what this says about me. But oh well. I hope you like it.

Because I minored in list battling, it is only right that I counter this Top 10 with my own Top 20. (SPOILER ALERT: Cabin in the Woods is not on it.) Are these the "best" horror movies of the 21st century, or are they simply my favorites? Are those two things interchangeable since I have such exquisite taste? "You smell like White Diamonds, Stacie," you're probably saying. "Of course you only like the best things." That is sweet of you, but you might think some of my Top 20 is garbage. That's why we list battle. But my Top 5–and particularly my Top One–constitutes a hill I'd probably die on, so bring it!

20. Sinister (2012)

Okay, this one kind of embarrasses me, but I can't help it. I like it way more than it deserves to be liked. I feel about Sinister the way the majority of people feel about The Conjuring: it was scary, what else do you need? Yes, it goes off the rails a bit the more that it shows. Overall, it's pretty stupid. I wouldn't want a steady diet of stupid horror, but every once in a while simply being scary is enough. I mean, man (probably) cannot live on Combos alone but fuck, they're great once a year.

19. Triangle (2009)

Underrated mindfuck whose logic may not hold up to scrutiny, but so what? Also, Melissa George. She's great!

18. It Follows (2014)

I read a lot of praise for this movie before I saw it and I was crazy excited. Despite the killer soundtrack, terrific premise, and good looks...I don't know, about 2/3 of the way in it lost me and it never got me back. It was sort of like really connecting with someone online and everything's nice, then you finally meet up for a drink or whatever and something feels off and you go home deflated, thinking ugh we were supposed to fall in love. We were supposed to fall in love, It Follows!

17. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Remember a time when there were no Paranormal Activity movies? Me neither! I can't believe the series is still going, because it has got to be the flimsiest excuse for a franchise I've ever seen. And honestly, I picked up the blu-ray a couple of months ago for $1.75 and gave it a whirl and it doesn't really hold up to repeat viewings. So why is it here at #17? I don't know! Leave me alone.

16. Lovely Molly (2011)

Have you seen this? You should see it. Gretchen Lodge is fantastic as the troubled (to put it mildly) Molly, and it incorporates found footage without feeling like...well, like a tired old found footage flick. (And I say that as an unabashed lover of found footage flicks.)

15. The House of the Devil (2009)

One of the finest examples of the "uncanny" in horror. It is a love it or hate it kind of deal, I think, so maybe you hate it. Have fun being wrong, sucker!

14. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

It's not as "flashy" as other movies you might think of when you think "Asian horror"–it doesn't have the iconic ghost faces of Ju-on or the violence of Audition, but what an experience. It transcends the simple label "horror", I think, and as I'm writing this I'm wondering why it's not higher on my list.

13. The Children (2008)

Listen, I find the idea of spending a Christmas holiday surrounded by children horrifying enough, even without them trying to murder me. Therefore, this movie really appeals to my cold, black heart.

12. 28 Days Later (2002)

It's included if only for the first 3/4 alone. It's a genre classic at this point, isn't it?

11. You're Next (2011)

I was not expecting to like this, but I ended up loving it and here it is at #11. What a world! It's tense, it's fun, it's gross, and Barbara Crampton is in it. If someone had told me that before I saw it, well, I would have expected to love it. When pitching something, always lead with the Barbara Crampton, geez. (That said, I ultimately wasn't all that wild about We Are Still Here, another recent film starring CramptonGo figure.)

10. Let the Right One In (2008)

Grim, unrelenting, and–wait, you don't need me to tell you about this, do you? It deserves every bit of praise it gets.

9. The Babadook (2014)

Is it more horror-flavored drama than horror? Yes. Is it as terrifying as the hype would lead you to believe? No. So what? It's a beautiful, perfect depiction of depression. I love watching actresses act the shit out of stuff, and man, Essie Davis acts the shit out of this.

8. The Ring (2002)

I sort of feel like The Ring is fifty years old. The Asian horror remake fad has come and gone, long-haired ghost girls are all but a joke, so many movies have that fucking bluish tint now...but The Ring is still awesome and you know it.

7. The Innkeepers (2011)

That's right, it's here! Fuck you, I love The Innkeepers! It hits all the right notes for me: noises in the dark, big empty haunted houses, quiet creeping dread. I don't even care if anything happens! It's a campfire ghost story, and I am so on board.

6. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Yes, I agree, there is some jarringly wonky CGI in Drag Me to Hell, but it matters not. There is a dark, delicious mean streak in this movie and it's a mile wide and I adore it. This movie is so disgusting and over the top and batshit insane that it just makes me happy. Like cackling-with-glee happy.

5. Session 9 (2001)

Not even David Caruso's smarm can diminish my fondness for this film. It gets under my skin even as I'm sitting here thinking about it.

4. [REC] (2007)

I can't decide if I'm cheating on The Blair Witch Project with [REC] or vice versa. All I know for sure is that I tell each of them that they're my favorite P.O.V./found footage horror movie, and I always mean it. I am constantly astounded by the camera work in [REC] because for all the chaos and choreography, it consistently feels authentic. I love the way it builds to a frenetic crescendo and then quiets down for an unbelievably terrifying finale. And who doesn't love a spunky girl reporter hero like Angela Vidal? She's horror's Lois Lane and deserves all the Pulitzers.

3. The Descent (2005)

Neil Marshall, Neil Marshall, where have you gone, Neil Marshall? I know you're doing, like, TV or whatever, but come on. Horror needs you! Horror needs characters like the little babies in this picture, characters that feel like they have depth even if maybe they don't actually have much depth and you feel terrible when their lives get screwed. Horror needs something that's not the same ol' same ol' but feels comfortingly familiar anyway. I love this movie so hard, totally in a heart-with-an-arrow-through-it kind of way.

2. Lake Mungo (2008)

If I could sponsor a movie in a Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association kind of way, it would be Lake Mungo. I adore it so very much and I feel like no one ever talks about it, so I want to take it around everywhere and let it know it's loved. (Am I cheating on The Blair Witch Project and [REC] with this documentary-style P.O.V. film? Probably.) Why is it so ignored? Is it because the word "Mungo" is unpleasant? Is it because it was released in the U.S. under the "8 Films to Die For" banner and that scared people away because those movies are generally garbage? I don't know. I don't get it. Lake Mungo is a compelling exploration of grief, and you know what? It's slyly, quietly terrifying. Seriously, this movie fucks me up. It fucks me up before I know it's fucking me up. It unsettles me like nothing I've experienced–I mean, it kept me awake at night the second time I saw it. Maybe it won't move you like it moves me, but my dying words may well be "Lake Mungo".

1. Martyrs (2008)

Look, if you've ever visited Final Girl before then you probably knew that this would be NUMBER ONE and you probably also know that I've yet to write about this film. Well, I am twirling my metaphorical (YES, METAPHORICAL) moustache right now, but I cannot tell you anything yet except that...Martyrs is my number one. So there.

ALMOSTS: In My Skin, Inside

So what did I miss? I'm sure I'm forgetting some movies, and you'll mention them and I'll be all "Aw dang, that woulda been number 12!" or something.