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!

Oct 31, 2015

Day 31: DEAD WITHIN (2011)


If Dead Within were sitting here beside me, I'd be awfully tempted to give it a pat on the head, say "Good for you!", and hand it a ribbon that says YOU TRIED. Hmm, that came out a lot more condescendingly than I meant it to. The thing is, you see, that Dead Within admirably attempts to do something different with the ol' zombie genre, but there's a lot holding it back from making said attempt successful. That "a lot" includes the script (which likely includes a great deal of improvisation), a through line and ending telegraphed so early on that the dramatic stakes are dramatically lowered, and very dodgy acting. Toss in a low budget that limits the quality of the effects, a few too many static-y jump cuts, and it's surprising that Dead Within wasn't completely dead on arrival. But like I said, at least it tries an offbeat approach to the material–in that regard, my "good for you!" is indeed a wholehearted one.

Six months into an infectious plague, married couple Kim and Mike have barricaded themselves in a secluded cabin. Despite the danger, Mike ventures out in search of supplies almost daily while Kim stays behind, cleans the house, and indulges in fingerpainting the walls and teaching herself to play the guitar. They dress for dinner every night and occasionally have quiet sex. It's sort of a Bizarro World picture of domesticity, but is this semblance of normality sustainable? Will Mike be attacked by one of the homicidal infected and die or bring it home to his wife? Will Kim succumb to cabin fever and prove more dangerous than the monsters lurking outside?

You won't be questioning things for long, because the answer becomes obvious fairly early on. Rather than proving to be an unreliable narrator, Kim is reliably delusional. It's a small but important distinction that robs Dead Within of nearly all of its tension. Through flashbacks that show how Mike and Kim arrived at this point–and what it cost them–it's obvious that guilt, tension, and monotony have caused Kim to have a nervous breakdown. From here, the film stalls and at its conclusion an hour later, you'll likely shrug and say "Yeah, well, of course." But hey–at least Dead Within tried. What did you do today, huh?

Oct 30, 2015

Day 30: HELL (2011)


In the very near future, the sun flips out for some unexplainable reason and temperatures rise by 50 degrees (or by 10 degrees for everyone, like, not in America). It doesn't take long for society to collapse when it no longer rains and an hour of exposure can cook you right up.

Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), her little sister Leonie (Lisa Vicari), and Marie's boyfriend Phillip (Lars Eidinger) drive through the barren wasteland in search of the waters that are rumored to flow to the north. The journey is difficult; gasoline is in short supply, the environment is deadly...and Leonie really dislikes Phillip's alpha male ways and the fact that Marie capitulates to him so readily simply because he has a car. Eventually they take on another passenger, Tom (Stipe Erceg), who can lend survival skills to the group but may not be trustworthy. Leonie in particular takes a shine to him, however, and Phillip's role as the de facto leader is suddenly not so assured.

These interpersonal dynamics are soon abandoned when the group gets suckered into a trap and Leonie is taken. Hell then begins to check off items from the post-apocalyptic thriller checklist: "Hell" is other people, the hungry will go to extreme lengths to survive, attractive young women must become baby machines, we must live for our loved ones, and so on. It is familiar ground for sure, but it's capably trod by director/co-writer Tim Fehlbaum.

Ultimately, Hell is Marie's journey towards something like autonomy. Throughout the film, Leonie questions why Marie isn't more proactive: why does she put up with Phillip's shit? Why isn't she strong instead of weak? When her sister is at risk, will Marie finally grow a pair (of ovaries) and take control? Her growth is "Final Girl"-esque, really, especially when you consider how many comments there are throughout the film about how important it is to have a man around (he can fix stuff and protect the womenfolk!). That's nice and all, but it's also nice if the women can protect themselves, too...especially when the world and pretty much everyone in it are trying to kill you.

This is not a Mad Max-style apocalyptic scenario, though. There are no leather-clad weirdos with crazy names, and there is not a mohawk to be found. These are ordinary people largely ill-equipped to deal with the scavenger/survivalist lifestyle. Marie doesn't turn into some dual machete-wielding badass drenched in blood as she chops her way to her sister, and the "villains" are equally subdued. This initially feels sort of anticlimactic, but in the end I appreciated this low-key approach. There's a place in post-apocalyptic cinema for character-driven stories, after all, and if I want nutso action, I can go watch Fury Road.

That said, as a character-driven story, Hell is a little weak. The acting is terrific and the characters are compelling even if we know nothing about them beyond the here and now. The script is fairly insubstantial, though, and a promising beginning becomes a series of genre tropes in the film's second half. I wouldn't say it's disappointing, necessarily–it had my attention all the way through, and I was invested in Marie's and Leonie's welfare. But overall it feels a bit like two approaches to the material battling for supremacy and neither really nabs a decisive victory.

Oct 29, 2015

Day 29: ZOMBEAVERS (2014)


Back around 2002 or whenever it was that you could buy bootleg VHS copies of Jason X on the street in Chinatown, a friend handed me a bootleg tape of Jason X he bought in Chinatown. "Have you seen this movie? You have to see it. Here, take it, you have to watch this movie." I had not seen Jason X, because I'd given up on new Friday the 13th films after catching the abysmal Part VIII in theaters. But hey, when someone hands you a tape and says "You have to see this!", what are you gonna do? Even if you end up unleashing a ghost girl with long, wet hair, you gotta watch that shit. So I watched Jason X, and tried to give it back to my friend, but he wouldn't take the tape back. "This was terrible!" I said, to which he replied, "I know, it's unwatchable! I turned it off halfway through."

I bring up this story because recently I've felt a distinct sense of déjà vu. You see, some weeks ago a friend asked if I'd seen Zombeavers. I replied that I had not and probably never would. In the interim, he would periodically ask again if I'd seen it yet; eventually this morphed into "You have to see it" or "I really want you to see it." Calling his own personal relationship with Zombeavers "complicated", he wanted to know if mine would be equally so. Not to be prejudiced (whilst being totally prejudiced), I didn't see how one could have a complicated relationship with something like Zombeavers. And so I've responded to every mention of it with a hearty "mleehhhhhh" and a vague not-promise that I'd get to it someday, maybe, perhaps, if I'd watched every other movie ever.

But here we are in SHOCKtober, right? And the SHOCKtober spirit says we must cast aside our prejudices! Watch that movie on Netflix you never thought you'd watch! Break free from your brain shackles and live! LIVE! LIVE I SAY!

I'll admit, all the talk did have me curious so I agreed to add Zombeavers to the lineup to, you know, get it over with. Like pulling off a bandaid, or jumping into a freezing lake, or closing your eyes and thinking of England: exactly the way a movie should be approached! At least I wouldn't be alone, for I made my Zombeavers friend watch with me.

SPOILER ALERT: when Zombeavers was over, my friend–he of the "complicated relationship"–said "I never would have watched that again. I didn't want to watch it again." And so the parallels to the Jason X story continue!

But here's the thing. You don't go into a movie like Zombeavers without expecting it to be...well, like a movie called Zombeavers. For the incredibly brisk 75-minute runtime it's Zombeavers's world and you're just living in it. I wasn't going to fault it for being stupid–it's about zombie beavers, for fuck's sake–I only hoped it wouldn't be excruciating.

After learning that her boyfriend made out with another gal, Jenn and her sorority sisters Mary and Zoe retreat to the country for a girls' weekend. In classic Slumber Party Massacre style, though, the boys don't take "no boys allowed" for an answer and show up for sex and booze. Unbeknownst to all of them, however, a wayward barrel of toxic waste spilled onto a beaver dam and as any horror fan would anticipate, the bright green goo renders regular beavers into flesh-eating beavers. Chaos and endless beaver jokes ensue.

To my great surprise, it wasn't excruciating! Obviously the majority of the humor is totally juvenile and nothing makes sense. The characters are uniformly unlikable, but dare I say...I found most of them to be charmingly so? The actors are 100% committed to the ridiculousness, and that is something I always admire regardless of my feelings on the movie as a whole. Everyone in the film must, at one time or another, go toe to toe and/or mano à mano with a zombeaver puppet and while it always looks as corny and silly as it sounds, the actors scream and flail for their lives and it's a treat to watch, dammit. Before I knew what was happening, this dumb movie endeared itself to me.

And this is partially why my friend called his relationship with Zombeavers "complicated." It is a competently-made garbage movie that you shouldn't like whatsoever, but then a part of you sort of does. More than that, however, I was stunned to find that Zombeavers refreshingly played around with some genre tropes. I'm not talking some meta "let's list the horror rules" shit, either. Zombeavers just does what it wants! During its final act, I said "I'd like for this to happen. It won't, it never happens in horror movies, but that's what I want to happen." And then it did happen and I gave the movie a high-five. Mind you, this isn't some big earth-shattering, mind-blowing, pants-busting horror revolution, but it was still shocking in its small way. So now maybe my relationship with Zombeavers is complicated. It's not "good" by any stretch (if that matters), and I wouldn't recommend it. But it had some genuine quirks I found very appealing, so...

Have you guys seen Zombeavers? You really gotta see it!

Oct 28, 2015

Day 28: BENEATH (2013)


Environmental lawyer Sam (Kelly Noonan) has returned to the small town where she grew up to celebrate her father's imminent retirement from the local coal mine. Though she is still well-loved by everyone in town–including her former flame Randy (Joey Kern)–her job puts her slightly at odds with her family and old friends. Sam explains that it's not the workers she's fighting against, but the greedy corporations who put profits before safety. The men counter that no one really cares about the environment or any of that so long as the lights stay on and there is food on the workers' tables. The back-and-forth ribbing escalates until Sam decides that in order to prove...something...she will head into the mine with everyone on the morrow for her father's last shift.

As you might expect, things go poorly.

By "poorly" I mean "there is a collapse and rescue is three days away." Although the prospect of sitting out the 72-hour wait in a rescue chamber (basically a small shipping container outfitted with water and oxygen) isn't ideal, it soon becomes apparent that boredom will be the survivors' smallest concern. Voices and noises lure the men out into the darkness–is it other survivors, trapped, or is it something else? Members of the small group disappear without a trace. Supplies are sabotaged, forcing the men (and Sam) to go deeper into disused mine shafts in search of oxygen tanks and maybe a way out. There are tales of other miners trapped below decades earlier who were never found. Some of the men show signs of an infection of sorts, and an alarming propensity for violence. So what gives? Is there some supernatural explanation? Is it simply coal mine madness brought on by the dwindling amounts of oxygen in the air?

Beneath works best when it maintains its ambiguity, when we are full of questions about what's lurking out there in the dark...or if there's anything lurking at all. But eventually–unfortunately–the scary CGI faces come out and this turn of events is a big boner killer. The bigger issue, though, is that while the CGI faces explain too much, they don't really explain anything at all. Beneath straddles the line and ends up planted firmly in some weird, unsatisfying neutral zone. It feels like a smart, subtle movie that succumbed to "horror trappings", right down to a pretty beat, low-key last minute genre sting. It brought to mind my beloved The Haunting (or The Haunting of Hill House, if you prefer) with its "...whatever walked there, walked alone." Less can be so much more if the writers and director believe in that notion, and for Beneath to ultimately cop out with a "less isn't enough" was disappointing.

It's especially disappointing because what works in the film works quite well. The survivors are essentially the same types we've seen in every other "group of survivors must survive" scenario (they're usually facing off against zombies). Yes, we've got the rookie, the fish out of  water, the irritatingly pragmatic self-preservationist, the hotheaded tough guy, and so on...but the serious tone and capable actors (including a grizzled Jeff Fahey and a few other "hey, I know that person from somewhere..." faces) help elevate the characters out of the murky depths of tropedom.

In its best moments, Beneath recalls some of The Descent's best moments, where it's claustrophobic panic that gets your pulse racing, not the monsters or violence. Trapped in pitch black, narrow passages as the mountain creaks and groans above, threatening collapse...it's a nightmare scenario. From there, however, it's as if the filmmakers don't commit to a particular direction, neither going with all-out "horror movie" chaos, nor trusting themselves enough to maintain the mystery. It's still worth a watch, but you may end up frustrated by what could have been.

Oct 27, 2015

Day 27: HOUSEBOUND (2014)


After a botched ATM robbery, surly ne'er-do-well Kylie (Morgana O'Reilly) is sentenced to nine months of house arrest. With a bracelet on her ankle and a sneer on her face, Kylie must readjust to life in the home she fled years ago. Mostly this readjusting consists of taking over the TV, making her mother and stepfather miserable, eating everything in the house, and being a total slob. Just when it seems the situation can't get any more dire for the lot of them, there is increasing evidence that the house is, as they've always suspected, haunted. Kylie isn't too worried–she'll just punch any ghosts who give her shit–but events quickly spiral beyond the point where problems can be solved with paranormal fisticuffs.

Listen, if Housebound doesn't end up as beloved a horror comedy as Shaun of the Dead, then we'll all know for sure that there's no justice in this cruel, cold world. Lawd oh lawd blessed be, this isn't a satire, an homage, or meta anything. Rather, it achieves that difficult balance between genuine frights and genuine laughs as it twists and turns along as a ghost story, a murder mystery, and more. I had no idea where the film was headed, but the journey sure was terrific (if, admittedly, a bit bloated and perhaps a touch overlong).

Comedic horror ain't usually my bag; sure, I like Shaun of the Dead as any rational person must, but generally it's a subgenre I avoid. Housebound completely won me over almost immediately, however, with its sometimes sharp, sometimes broad humor, its charming characters, and especially with its true horror leanings. It's two great tastes that taste fucking great together.

A Tribute to...

GOTH CHICKS IN HORROR MOVIES!

Don't you just love these scrappy, sassy gals? What, with their pale pale skin and their chokers and lace and fishnettery and their dark lips and their kohl-smeared eyes (the blackest eyes...the Devil's eyes!). You follow in their wake, desperately hoping they'll take notice of you, desperately terrified they'll take notice of you. You'll join a coven, sneer at the squares, whatever it takes to win their approval. You'll tell them you stole that bottle of Wet n Wild Black Creme nail polish from Walgreens when really all it took was a sideways glance from the lady restocking the L'Eggs pantyhose for you to scurry to the counter and dig a dollar seven in change from the bottom of your bag. You'll never be one of the goth chicks, but they'll let you think you are long enough for you to get in trouble, and you know the trouble is coming but you don't care. Once in a blood moon they make it to the end of the movie, emerging victorious from the chaos that they likely created, and come morning they're gone. That bottle of Black Creme sits on your bureau so long the color separates; you think about giving it a go, just to be a bit weird on a whim, but the cap won't turn. You put it back on the bureau top and tell yourself you'll throw it away soon, soon.

Anyway, goth chicks in horror movies are pretty great.



Kim Diamond, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2


Tosh, Urban Legend ("TOSH"!!)


Annabel, Mama


Slack, Land of the Dead






Nancy Downs, The Craft (Queen Goth Chick in Horror Movies Forever and Ever Amen)


Oct 26, 2015

SHOCKtober: The Week to Come

It's the final countdown! Do do do doooo, do do do do dooo, do do do doooo, do do do do do do dooo. (Ugh, I really don't want that song stuck in my head all day, sorry if it gets  stuck in yours.)

Also, sorry if your SHOCKtober ends up feeling woefully incomplete because I skipped out on the weekend, but life occasionally happens. What matters is that we're here now, and it's all winding down already, can you believe it? I mean, you probably can because at this point in your life you're fully aware of how time works, but still. It went by quickly and we're all older now. Wiser, maybe. We've been through something, my friends, and it ain't over yet.

Before I get to the month's final lineup (do do do doooo...dammit!), however, here is some news you can maybe use:

The fine fellows of the BoneBat podcast kindly asked if I would contribute to their recent "horror in space" episode, and I sure did! I wrote a list of five franchises that should get all spaced out (and the ways in which they can do it), and then they read that list on their show. If you want to hear said list, well, it starts around the 1:06:00 mark in Episode 136. Check it out, and thanks to the BoneBat crew for including me!

Also, I got to talk to The New York Times about Final Girls, and that was super dope. You can read it right here! Giving props to Ginny Field in The New York Times, what a world, what a wonderful world.

Okay, that's all the Me News I have right now. Without further ado, here's yer lineup–when I'll be talking about what–for the rest of the month. SHOCKtober, we hardly knew ye!

Tuesday 10/27 - HOUSEBOUND (2014)
Wednesday 10/28 - BENEATH (2014)
Thursday 10/29 - ZOMBEAVERS (2014) (I know...I KNOW. But I have my reasons, I promise.)
Friday 10/30 - HELL (2011)
Saturday 10/31 - DEAD WITHIN (2014)

Day 26: INFINI (2015)


I fully admit that I have a weakness for space horror, even if the films I categorize as such are all a tad samey-samey. You know, Event Horizon, Pandorum–movies where someone comes down with space madness. Whether it's brought on by alien microbes or wormholes or nonsense science jargon, I don't care, I'll give it a watch. And I'll probably like it, because I'm so forgiving. Digging Infini, then, should have been a given. So what happened?

A search and rescue crew heads to a farthest-of-far mining facility to shut down operations and rescue the lone survivor of a mysterious biological plague-type thing. Unsurprisingly, things escalate quickly and the rescuers become infected. Cue violence, etc as our lone survivor attempts to ensure continued survival.

Yeah, it's all fairly par for the course. The super elite search and rescue team comprises the usual suspects: a black dude, a hothead smartass, an Asian woman, some "no memorable characteristics" folk, a guy who just wants to make it home to his daughter, and so on. There is grossness in the eerily quiet mining facility: frozen miners, body chunks, mysterious goo. Dubious science abounds, enough to likely cause Neil deGrasse Tyson to take furiously to his Twitter account. Basically, Infini was a movie after my own heart! But then...ugh, people get infected and it goes something like this:

*two people find each other* "FUCK YOU! RAARRRRRR!" *punch punch slam slam punch slam RARRR slam punch*

Over and over again. For a really long time. It's loud and obnoxious and ultimately dull...sort of like watching a sidewalk fistfight between two 'roid raging pituitary cases from the first season of Jersey Shore, but in space. (Okay, I might actually want to watch Jersey Shore in Space.) All the rockin' 'em and sockin' 'em leads to our lone survivor giving the sentient alien goo a stern talking to and a guilt trip that sets up the lite-twist ending; while the ending is marginally interesting (if fairly predictable), though, it's certainly not worth enduring the tedium of the hour-plus that precedes it to get there.

Oct 24, 2015

Programming Note

Dear Fine People: We interrupt your regular SHOCKtober programming to inform you that SHOCKtober will return on Monday. Your guide to the totally macabre thought she could simultaneously manage real-life entertaining duties and cyber entertaining duties this weekend but it turns out that she has not leveled up sufficiently in time management or multi-tasking.

SEE YOU NEXT MONDAY (scary Vincent Price voice from Michael Jackson's Thriller video)

Halloween: The Night He...Looked Like This

Oct 22, 2015

Day 22: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2013)


I kind of want to wait another week to write a review of We Are What We Are, because I feel like I'll need at least that long to come down, to process it. I knew nothing about this movie going in (it's a remake of a 2010 Mexican film, what the heck!), and when the Netflix description mentioned a family of cannibals keeping up traditions and all that, well, I certainly wasn't expecting...this. I didn't anticipate the movie would be drenched in sorrow from beginning to end. I figured I was in for exploitation and gore, you know, and to find my guts twisted up from tension and melancholy was a pleasant–no, make that a heartwrenching, bittersweet, terrible in the best way–surprise.

The Parker family has always kept to its ancestral ways, but as more...responsibilities...fall to teenage daughters Iris and Rose, they begin to have doubts. Why can't they be like everyone else instead of what they are? Does the Maker truly forgive, and will the unceasing rains and rising waters wash away their sins?

While it's one of the more depressing horror movies I've seen, I can't say enough good things about We Are What We Are. As I said, it's still working its way around my brain and I'm basically just a meat sack full of feelings right now. Everything floored me, everything. The gloomy-ass atmosphere, the subdued script and pitch perfect acting that brings these rich characters to life–oh, the acting, I want to marry the acting. Actually, I might have to cancel the rest of SHOCKtober not only because come on, it's all downhill from here, but because I want to marry the whole movie and spend the remainder of the month honeymooning with it. THIS MOVIE, YOU GUYS.

Oct 21, 2015

Day 21: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)


Dear marketing departments, will you ever learn? I know that sometimes a film will come along and it doesn't fit neatly into one-a-dem genre boxes. You sit around your big cherry wood table in your glass-walled conference room with your uneaten pastries and your padfolios and your potted plants in the corner, and then Amanda Woodward comes in and she's asking an awful lot of questions about your boyfriend Billy and it's so awkward, like is Amanda just trying to make you uncomfortable, you know, get in your head and psych you out, or does she really have designs on Billy? She's your boss and your landlord and you want to tell her off, but the personal risks are too great, and then you remember that time you were molested and also you realize that you have a stalker and--

Sorry. My understanding of the world of business is that it's pretty much just like D&D Advertising on Melrose Place. The point is, surely it's a PR conundrum when a movie isn't plainly one thing or another. "Thrillers" are expected to play out like this while "dramas" go like that...and if it's just some kind of mish-mash...eh, fuck it, throw it to the horror kids. They'll take it! It's like as a people we learned nothing from the horrible mis-marketing of William Friedkin's Bug, which did a great disservice to the film and pissed off horror fans who were expecting...well, something scary, or at least horror-y.

And so here we are with Berberian Sound Studio, which is supposedly a "tribute to the giallo." Here we are with Berberian Sound Studio, wherein "A sound engineer's work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art." I mean, if you go into Berberian Sound Studio with those seeds a-planted in your head, you would have certain expectations of the cinematic harvest, would you not? If so, well, spoiler alert, you're gonna experience some cognitive dissonance. Whether or not that affects your enjoyment and/or appreciation of BSS...I have no spoiler alert for that because I'm not your brain, sorry.

From the moment Gilderoy (Toby Jones) arrives at Berberian Sound Studio, he is a man out of place. His quiet, unassuming nature does not serve him well in the brash world of the Italian horror industry. In fact, he was unaware that he would be working as a sound engineer on a horror film–the typically giallo-esque title The Equestrian Vortex led him to assume it was the type of nature film that usually composes his wheelhouse. Instead, actresses scream in the recording booth as foley artists hack up watermelons with machetes. Poor Gilderoy is hit with all sorts of culture shock.

Things only get worse as time goes on. The toxic relationship between the actresses and the men making the film reflects the violence in The Equestrian Vortex, violence we only hear and have described to us. In the film-within-the-film, women are stabbed...drowned in boiling water. Their hair is ripped out, and red-hot pokers are thrust into their vaginas. Gilderoy is the only one to find any of it repellent, and the producer admonishes him with the ol' "It's only a movie!" The effect is a bit sobering as a horror fan. Hearing those acts described, they sound positively degenerate, but haven't I seen much of that and more in the works of Fulci, etc? Sure, it's only a movie. But an unexamined life is not worth living, right? Basically it brought to the forefront of my brain place various questions I've had and still have about my relationship with horror movies.  This is not a bad thing, I don't think, and it's very personal.

Meanwhile, in the studio, the actresses are treated like meat: pushed beyond their breaking points, berated, and sexually assaulted by the director. All of it is too much for Gilderoy. Compound his discomfort with acute homesickness and financial issues (he can't get reimbursed for his plane ticket) and he is a man on the edge. But the edge of what? If you're expecting "a terrifying case of life imitating art", well, I'll tell you this: Gilderoy does not, you know, flip out and start stabbing people. While events absolutely lead to a mental break and life and art do mesh together, Berberian Sound Studio does not evolve into a "horror movie" in its final reel. Nor is there a neat-little-package resolution.

I didn't find this a disappointing ending or a disappointing film; in fact, I rather loved it. It is scrumptious to behold (those DRESSES), and the limited sets never feel redundant. It's definitely an arthouse thriller that gives a high-five to gialli without attempting to be a giallo in any way, so it's understandable if fans expecting a straight-up horror flick were peeved at what they got. That's not Berberian's fault, however, and all complaints in that regard should be directed to Amanda Woodward, President of D&D Advertising.

Oct 20, 2015

Day 20: STONEHEARST ASYLUM (2014)


WATCHING STONEHEARST ASYLUM 

by 

Final Girl

INT. FINAL GIRL'S APARTMENT - LIVING ROOM - NIGHT

It is the small hours of the morning and most of the world is asleep. Occasionally we see lights from a passing car through the darkened windows. The sound of a light rain can be heard in the quiet moments. FINAL GIRL enters with a mug of tea. She briefly eyes the heater, thinking; it is chilly enough to warrant turning it on, but it is loud. After a moment of consideration, FINAL GIRL leaves the room and returns with a blanket. She sits on the couch, presses a button on her game controller, and Stonehearst Asylum begins to play on the TV.

FINAL GIRL (V.O.)
I am so ready for this! A big, luscious, gothic flick based on a work by Edgar Allan Poe...Brad Anderson giving good asylum like he did in Session 9...there's no way this won't rule.
Onscreen, a carriage pulls up at the gates to Stonehearst Asylum. There is fog and snow and bare trees; when the distant asylum finally comes into view, it is monstrous. Gables pierce the skyline like teeth from a giant beast. There is a great sense of foreboding as young DR. NEWGATE stares.

FINAL GIRL (V.O.) (CON'T)
Oh fuck yeah!
Twenty minutes later. FINAL GIRL's mug sits on the table, empty. She has sunk down some, further under the blanket...although whether this is from the cold or lethargy we cannot yet tell.

FINAL GIRL (V.O.) (CON'T)
That was quite a twist they gave away fairly early...hmm. It was a good one! I am enjoying myself, yes, I certainly am, although this film is not in the slightest horror-flavored. I admit, that is a disappointment, but it's not really the movie's fault, now, is it. It is still an old-timey lunatic asylum, which is of interest to me. Yes, I am certain I will continue to enjoy this movie.
One hour later. FINAL GIRL now lies on her side, blanket up to her chin. It is chilly! Despite the hour, she is awake; Stonehearst Asylum seems to be holding her attention, at least. She reaches out and presses a button on the game controller.

FINAL GIRL (V.O.) (CON'T)
Holy fuck, how does this have another half hour left? I'm not really hating it or hating my life or anything, it's...this feels a bit bloated. I don't mind a two-hour movie, and I don't mind a slow movie, but this could use with some judicious editing, I think. I'm not bored per se, and I'm curious about how things will proceed. I just...want them to proceed already. And now I'm a bit bummed that this isn't horror. This is SHOCKtober! What a drag. How in the hell am I going to write about this...?
We have reached the end of the journey; Stonehearst Asylum has about seven minutes left. FINAL GIRL is now sitting upright.

FINAL GIRL (V.O.) (CON'T)
Are you fucking kidding me with this? I was rooting for you, Stonehearst Asylum. We were all rooting for you, and then you give me this? I accepted you on your own non-horror terms! I was willing to love you for what you are! You started out just fine, and I was into you. I wasn't even mad that Kate Beckinsale kind of only has one facial expression. But this nonsense ending, no. No, I won't accept it. Congratulations, your last ten minutes gets five fart noises out of five. And now that you're finished, I'm going to think about whether I'm really going to use the term "fart noises" when I write about you. See what you've reduced me to? Do you see?
FINAL GIRL turns off the TV, moves to the lamp on the table. Cut to black.

THE END

Oct 19, 2015

Day 19: THE CANAL (2014)


Well, well, what have we here? Another sneaky little gem with a bad cover, another film I checked out only because of SHOCKtober–for everything she taketh away from my soul, she surely giveth! Or something.

While reviewing a newly-discovered reel at work, film archivist David (Rupert Evans) learns that the home he shares with his wife and young son was the scene of a brutal murder in the early 20th century. While reviewing lingering glances and surreptitious touches at a work party, film archivist David learns that his wife may be having an affair. It's a bad week for film archivist David!

But it only gets worse when he follows his wife on an evening when she is "working late." It turns out that David's suspicions were correct–the only thing she's working on is extramarital fornication. David's wife ends up missing, and his memories of that night are hazy: did he see someone push her into the canal? Though foul play cannot be proven, the police consider David to be Suspect #1. David has bigger problems, though, as he is convinced that he and his son are being stalked by some kind of evil. Is the house haunted? Is David simply flipping out with grief and/or guilt? Is history repeating itself? Will anyone believe his claims that it's totally a ghost?

Oh yes, The Canal certainly covers well-trodden horror ground, and there is a loonnnng stretch in the middle where you may find yourself asking whether or not this film has much new to offer. That's not to say it isn't fairly compelling–there's a mystery afoot, after all, and I love a mystery the way Jessica Fletcher loves...well, mysteries. But to a seasoned genre vet, it feels a little like the wheels are just spinning, that you know how things are likely to go and for fuck's sake let's just get there already. So then The Canal is like, "Okay fine! Let's get there!" and it gets there and man, is it worth the wait. Again, the nods to other horror movies are rather blatant ("You're telling me!" --Sadako) but the finale is done so well that you probably won't mind. It's creepy, haunting, and a bit jaw-dropping on occasion, enough that you'll be like "Damn, The Canal, I didn't think you had it in you!" and The Canal with give you a small nod and a knowing smirk. Such a sneaky little gem!

Oct 18, 2015

SHOCKtober: The Week to Come

Chug chug chug along, that is what we do here even though V/H/S 2 made us want to throw ourselves into The Void. Hooray movies!

Monday 10/19 - THE CANAL (2014)
Tuesday 10/20 - STONEHEARST ASYLUM (2014) (wtf this is a Brad Anderson movie!)
Wednesday 10/21 - BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
Thursday 10/22 - WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2013)
Friday 10/23 - INFINI (2015) (yeah space horror)
Saturday 10/24 - HOUSEBOUND (2014)
Sunday 10/25 - THE BRAINIAC (1962)

Et voilà! We are so close to the end now, I hope we get to finish strong. I'm not gonna lie, there is a part of me that wants to cheat and break the "I haven't seen it before" rule and watch stuff I know I like but I've yet to review. Which part of my brain will win this moral battle? Only time will tell!



Day 18: V/H/S 2 (2013)


I fully admit that I didn't want to watch V/H/S 2. I whined and hemmed and hawed like a four-year-old who doesn't want to pick up her toys and go to bed. I went through all seven stages of grief. I decided that I hate myself, I hate horror movies, I hate this blog, I hate SHOCKtober, I hate you. Finally I couldn't put it off any longer, and I started it, reminding myself that I only had myself to blame for this predicament; there are plenty of movies on Netflix that are not V/H/S 2, after all. I think I added it to the SHOCKtober lineup as some kind of exposure therapy; like if I were to just confront the movie head on by sitting through it, perhaps I could overcome my loathing of "bro horror." Maybe I'd even like it!

SPOILER ALERT: I did not like it.

In the first story, a young slob gets an experimental camera eye implant and soon discovers that it allows him to see ghosts–or at least, they are people who are sort of grey and they have dark circles under their eyes and they look glum. A fellow patient named Clarissa shows up at the slob's house and (ahem) explains it all: she got a hearing implant that allows her to hear the ghosts. The only way to get them to go away is for Clarissa to get her tits out and have sex with the slob. I was reluctant to watch the movie, sure, but it wasn't until this point in the proceedings that I was questioning every life choice I've ever made, and how I had come to this moment.

The second story features a mountain biker with a GoPro camera strapped to his helmet; he runs afoul of some zombies and soon becomes a zombie himself, the camera running the whole time.

The third story follows an inept news crew (I guess? who fucking knows who these people are) as they investigate a cult and then there are demons.

The last story has awful children playing pranks on an older sister and her friends, and then there are aliens.

The framing narrative is so pointless that beyond "someone watches all the stories on VHS tapes", I don't even care. I turned it off a few minutes before the end in order to reclaim my life, take back the night, etc etc.

I know this is an anthology and there isn't time to really dig in and indulge in amazing storytelling, but here's the thing: each story in V/H/S/ 2 feels like the result of "Wouldn't it be cool if this happened?", which, you know, is perfectly fine. Build your segment around a premise! That's what many writers and directors do. But for fuck's sake, if there is going to be dialogue, the premise alone is simply not enough. The only successful story in this film is the second one, the zombie with a GoPro. It's entertaining and it works because it's a rare case where the idea alone is enough. The main character is like "I'm gonna ride my bike!" and then he does, and then he gets bit, and then he attacks people, the end. It's novel and kind of funny, and that's all it needs to be.

But every other story is brought down by dialogue that consists largely of "What the fuck?" "Fuck you!" "Fuck fuck!" "Fuuuuck!" and so on. Now, I am certainly not averse to such colorful language; you might even say I am a connoisseur des cusses. But thinking back on some of my favorite anthologies–films like Creepshow–it's the writing that sets it apart. More to the point, it's the characters. Creepshow is nothing more than a bunch of "Wouldn't it be cool if this happened?" stories–wouldn't it be cool if mean ol' dad came back from the dead? Wouldn't it be cool if there was a monster in the crate? But the script, although full of plenty of "fuck"s, puts the characters over the premises, and that's a huge reason why it's so memorable.

Granted, I realize that none of the dudes behind V/H/S 2 are on the level of Creepshow's George Romero or Stephen King. But still, it's worth trying to go beyond "What the fuck?" *jump scare* "Fuuuuck!" *head blown off with shotgun* "Fuck fuck fuck!" *gore*

I don't know, maybe it's me. And that's fine! There are many flavors of horror, after all. It's just that this exposure therapy doesn't seem to be taking, and honestly, I'm not going to try anymore.

Oct 17, 2015

Day 17: JUG FACE (2013)


If I were the type to "learn" "lessons", I would have seen Jug Face months ago. But noooo! I'd pause on it when scrolling, but then I'd think "'Jug Face'? Come on now. And that Photoshopped cover, blecch. No thank you!" And I scroll on by, then watch something obviously superior like Hellraiser 65. I should know by now not to judge a film on the superficial marketing elements, but I continue to do so and I continue to be the worst. Oh well, maybe by the end of SHOCKtober the lesson will sink in forever...at least I was forced to finally watch Jug Face and guess what? I liked it bunches.

Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) is a teenaged member of a small, rural community that prays to a muddy pit deep in the woods. If you're thinking "What? That's nuts, one should only pray to invisible sky daddies," well hold up, son, 'cause the pit gets shit done. Or, at least, the entity that inhabits the pit does. On occasion, the entity puts local simpleton Dawai (Sean Bridgers) in a trance, during which he molds and sculpts a clay jug that bears the face of the person to be sacrificed to the pit. No matter who it is–son, daughter, mother, father–the community gladly obliges because the pit keeps them safe and healthy. When Ada learns she is next to be sacrificed, she hides the jug in order to save her life and that of her unborn child. But she soon learns that this may not be enough, for "the pit wants what it wants."

Jug Face is a fascinating glimpse inside an insular community at its most pure. Unlike films such as The Wicker Man or The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, here we get no outsider's perspective. There is no stranger in these strange lands questioning the morality of the locals' beliefs. The pit simply provides, and its call must be heeded. Ada is an outlier in that her will to live is stronger than her faith in tradition–it's just a matter of which is stronger in the end. At its roots, it's a relatable scenario that people in plenty of walks of life may face: gay teens who risk being disowned by their parents should they come out, family members shunned when they choose another religion, etc. Should you choose the family and friends who choose their faith and beliefs over you?

Because of the subtleties in the script and the uniformly terrific cast, Jug Face never devolves into a stereotypical hillbilly freakshow. Family patriarch Sustin (Larry Fessenden) tries to foster a good relationship with his children while his wife, Loriss (Sean Young) (Sean Young! I know!) is harder and willing to do whatever necessary to ensure the family keeps to "the ways." It's sort of a pagan/horror-flavored Winter's Bone, and it works.

The film falters, however, when some supernatural elements are introduced, in particular the ghost of one of the "shunned", who appears in order to guide Ada. It's not terrible, but the "ghost voice" and CGI wispies are out of place and unnecessary in an otherwise grounded southern gothic horror story. These scenes are brief and far between, however, and this is really nothing more than a nitpick and overall, holy crap, Jug Face was a great surprise. Solid performances, a story that resonates, a bit of blood, and an ending that packs a wallop despite of–or maybe because of–its quiet, understated starkness. I should have watched this sooner! I bet there's a lesson in this somewhere.

Oct 16, 2015

Day 16: DEAD SNOW (2009)


Ah, the zombie Nazi. Or the Nazi zombie, depending on your grammatical tastes. They're oh so great and oh so surprisingly underutilized in horror cinema. I love that they're the ultimate evil, especially in zombie form, and there are no moral quandaries involved with hating them. There's none of that "oh, that zombie used to be my mom, how can I kill it" sappiness. Forget about the "who are the monsters, them or us" business. They're Nazis. They're the monsters. The end.

Zombie Nazis (and non-zombie ones as well) make great bad guys in video games because they're just so satisfying to kill. I honestly never get tired of it, whether it's sensitive meathead B.J. Blazkowicz taking them out in Wolfenstein or sharpshooting French resistance fighter Marie Chevalier getting it done in Zombie Army Trilogy. Even pixellated Nazis are assholes, and I love taking them down! Who wouldn't want to kill zombie Hitler? Only a jerk.



Video games: so violent, so gross. What a world!

Now that you know how I feel about Nazi zombies, you can imagine that I was on board with the Norwegian flick Dead Snow, wherein a group of young doofuses are set upon by long-dead Nazis who have returned in search of their ill-gotten gold. ("Damn, even I'm not that greedy!" -- Leprechaun)

I didn't really expect much from Dead Snow and well, I basically got what I expected. It's way-gross, heavy on the humor, and light on the logic. The characters are generally irritating and lame, essentially there to ensure there's a body count. On the other hand, the zombies themselves are fairly unique to the genre–they're not solely interested in "brains", and they don't just bite. They punch and push and use equipment and they still act like a regiment, following commands given by Colonel Herzog. They also run pretty damn fast for being roughly 50 years dead.

This take on zombie behavior is the freshest aspect to Dead Snow, for horror fans have seen pretty much everything else it has to offer, from the nods to The Descent to the obligatory chainsaw/power tools massacre. Despite giving the film a shit ton of leeway with regard to "suspension of disbelief" (I mean, it's zombie Nazis–you just gotta go with it), I was still left with a few head-scratchers when all was said and done. What was the deal with the guy who warns the kids and gives them the history of the area? And would anyone–no matter how horny–actually screw on the shitter in an outhouse?

Although I don't think Dead Snow is ever going to be considered a horror classic, it's not without its moments of charm. Whether it's the zombies rising out of the snow (à la the Conquistadors in Fulci's Zombi) or a decapitated head getting booted high up into the trees, you'll find that--wait, did I just call "a decapitated head getting booted high up into the trees" charming? What a world!

Oct 15, 2015

Day 15: THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS (2013)


After a business trip, a man returns to his swanky pad only to find his wife has gone missing. As he searches for her, he's drawn into the phantasmagorical world of sex and violence hiding behind the doors and walls of the apartment building.

Sort of. I think?

Writers/directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani aren't particularly interested in telling a coherent story or giving you oodles of plot; rather, they've distilled the ideas of the Italian giallo down so much that it's little more than visuals and vibes. (Yes, somehow The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears has less story than your average Argento flick.) Events unfold in an endless array of disorienting angles, stark colors, and odd compositions. While every frame is undeniably a work of art, the assault on your senses becomes too much on occasion–perhaps it's too much of a good thing. The repetition of scenes and shots–even when time isn't literally folding in on itself–might be too much for viewers who wish Cattet and Forzani would just get on with it already.

This lite-on-plot approach means you can assign whatever meaning you want to the film and it works. Maybe it's just about the black-gloved killer lurking in the building. It could be about voyeurism, about the perils of looking in places you weren't meant to see. Or maybe it deals with the pains and pleasures of love and romance.

I found it to be a statement about the fear of women's sexuality, about what happens when women truly take control of their own bodies and sexual agency. One character deals with the banality of married sex by lying still, eyes closed, as her husband silently humps away on top of her. Another discovers what she truly wants and flees. Yet another masturbates her way into mortal danger, and then out of it again as she releases both monsters and protectors. There is a fear of liberation and sexual freedom, and a desire for them. And lawd a-mighty, there are vaginas everywhere. I know, I know–you think I'm being a little too "that song from the Tootsie Roll commercial" about it ("Whatever it is I think I see...becomes a va-gin-a to me!"), but come on now. They're everywhere, from wounds (your body's "tears"–that's \'ters\–indeed) to wallpapers. It is the Where's Waldo of female anatomy. Have a small sample:







As I said, for you, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears may be something else entirely, and that's what's so remarkable and frustrating about the film. Maybe it means nothing! Maybe it's just a bloodied-up fever dream by way of David Lynch, Dario Argento, and Roman Polanski's The Tenant. There's a sort of...hmm, in the interest of not spoiling it, let's call it a nesting dolls made real sequence that for my money is nothing short of brilliant. It's gruesome and nightmarish and one of the finest scenes in modern horror. Still, this film is absolutely not going to work for everyone, so if you don't have the patience for "arty nonsense" or you enjoy, you know, coherence, then buyer beware. Maybe it is just pretty piffle...but I couldn't take my eyes off of it.

Oct 14, 2015

Day 14: THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN (El ataúd del Vampiro, 1958)


Doctor Mendoza and hired thug Barraza do a really dopey thing when they disentomb the coffin of Count Karol de Lavud...but they do this dopey thing in the name of science! Well, Medoza does, anyway. Barraza does it for money. But the point is, they haul the coffin within back to a medical clinic where Mendoza intends to examine his prize, the body of a vampire. He argues that although reports of strange phenomena are often woven into legend, their roots lie in the rational reality of the perfectly explainable. Legends say that vampires succumb only to a stake through the heart, that they give no reflection, that they cannot survive in the sunlight...can this all be explained on a cellular level?

Before Mendoza can even bust out a beaker or some other science thing, however, Barraza sneaks back into the clinic and fucks shit up. To get the shiny, jewel-encrusted medallion around Lavud's neck, he must remove the stake from Lavud's heart which wakes the vampire. As reward for this good deed, Lavud hypnotizes Barraza and makes him a manservant, tasked with finding a new place for Lavud's coffin and basically whatever else Lavud doesn't feel like doing himself: killing pesky people, washing Lavud's capes, etc.

Mendoza and his cohort Doctor Saldívar try to find the vampire and put an(other) end to him before he can hypnotize young nurse/theatre hoofer Marta and make her his unholy bride.

The Vampire's Coffin proceeds as a series of starts and stops; there are lengthy stretches where characters talk and talk and open and close doors, but the charm of the whole thing prevents it from feeling slow or dull. We get some humor, a little sizzle with a dance routine, and a whole lotta gothic beauty. Sets and shots are all shapes and shadows, and the visuals are undoubtedly the highlight of the film.


In particular is a sequence that finds Lavud following a young woman down stark alleys and backstreets after her flirtation turns to fear. She picks up her pace, his cape billows...it's a scene that would do Jacques Tourneur proud.


While the visual style certainly elevates the film, it's very much in the Saturday afternoon Creature Double Feature realm: you'll find shocking moments here and there, but there's also a "you can see the strings on the flying bats" goofy sort of appeal. It's the kind of movie that characters in a horror movie would watch, you know, the way Tommy and Lindsay watch The Thing in Halloween.

The biggest letdown in The Vampire's Coffin, unfortunately, is the vampire himself. Lavud is perhaps the most milquetoast of all the cinematic bloodsuckers. As the Count, Germán Robles simply doesn't cut an impressive figure. He gets knocked about and frightened off, and he lacks the charisma and presence of other famous fang-wielders like Christopher Lee, who certainly didn't need a medallion in order to hypnotize men and women to be his friends or brides. And here I thought vampires were supposed to be scary and cool...Count Lavud is such a square!

Oct 13, 2015

Day 13: [REC] 4: APOCALYPSE (2014)


Well then. You know, way back in 2008 or whenever it was that I saw [REC] for the first time there is no way I would have or could have predicted that for SHOCKtober 2015 I would be talking about [REC] 4 and that it would end with (spoiler, I know) an exploding ocean liner, for Chrissakes. But here we are, what a world! Life, right? Totally a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get, etc etc. Although really, you should know what you're going to get because boxes of chocolates have those maps that tell you what chocolates are where.

Intrepid reporter and star of [REC] Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) has been rescued from that infected-riddled apartment building in Barcelona. Hooray! Now she is quarantined on an ocean liner with other survivors, a group of doctors working on a cure, and a small army tasked with making sure no one escapes. Boo!

Anyone who's seen a horror movie before knows that it will only be a matter of time before we come to a VIRUS, THOU ART LOOSED! moment and the infection will spread and people will die. And...that's pretty much what happens. The virus mutates and it's like [REC] jacked up on bath salts and PCP; everyone is super gross and super fast and super strong. The action feels very 28 Days Later, if you know what I mean–quick cuts, flashes of blood and gore, teeth, heads pummeled. That sort of thing.

Wait–"quick cuts"? Yessir! While [REC] 3 ditched the found footage format a third of the way in, Apocalypse is like "Hey, why bother at all?" We get a bit of security camera footage (and clips from the first two films because Ángela's camera was recovered), but that's it. This is a zombie movie. (Yes, yes..."infected." You know what I mean.) As such, it's perfectly serviceable, but nothing remarkable and certainly not scary whatsoever. If [REC] is Alien and [REC] 2 is Aliens, Apocalypse is like Aliens directed by Marcus Nispel. It's fine, but disposable–much like Genesis, however, the change of style and tone is surprising since it comes courtesy of Jaume Balagueró, one of the franchise's co-creators.

Unfortunately, our heroine spends at least half of the film basically wandering around, looking on as things happen around her. I don't need her to be a "badass" or anything, and I understand she's had a couple of really really terrible days. Exceptionally terrible! But even when she snaps out of it, she's still fairly blah, running solely on fumes of self-preservation. This is not the Ángela Vidal we know and love, the one who's in front of the story, the one who insists the camera keep rolling. I guess I wanted her to take control and figure shit out and help herself and anyone she could rather than stand around until her life is threatened and then she runs away. I don't know–this isn't the awesome girl reporter I wanted, but maybe this is the one I deserve.

The nature of the virus is further explored, and boy, the reasoning behind the infection mutates faster than the infection itself. Is it simply a rabies-type virus, demonic possession, or...something else? I mean, this is the fourth film, and explanations are about as good as they're gonna get. I suppose I was satisfied enough, although frankly I was perfectly satisfied in 2008 and didn't need anything else. I certainly didn't need the last five seconds of Apocalypse...please, please let this be the end. We had a good thing together, [REC], but it's time for you to shuffle back upstairs and lock yourself in the dark attic again.

Oct 12, 2015

Day 12: [REC] 3: GENESIS (2012)


Listen, I know that some of y'all out there don't like found footage/P.O.V. horror movies. Or maybe you did like them at one point but now you find them totally played out and tired. I get it! After the runaway success of Paranormal Activity, it's no surprise that film producers and filmmakers alike popped the boner heard 'round the world. Found footage can be cheap to make, so a film with a theatrical or wide release will likely bring a huge return on investment. It also means that anyone with a camera can have a go at the genre. For every one P.O.V. flick that does something original or interesting, there are 20,000 piles of crap. I know, because I've sat through most of them! Yes, let me say it loud and say it proud in case you did not already know: I loves me some found footage, even if it's mostly garbage.

The point is, I was predisposed to enjoy [REC] 3–and I would have been even if I didn't love love loooove [REC] (2007) and like a lot [REC] 2 (2009).

As Genesis begins, "we" fire up the wedding DVD of Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martín) and it's just...it's perfect with the corny titles and graphics that accompany their love story. I settled in, because this was some serious found footage goodness, and I was riding a high like the one I get after mainlining Crystal Light Raspberry Ice. (By "mainlining", I mean "mixing it with water and drinking it like a normal person would, what did you think I meant?")

Then we get to footage from the wedding day, shot by various guests and a professional videographer. We meet some of the cast, including Uncle Pepe, who sports a bandaged-but-bleeding wound on his hand from a dog bite ("HMM, CURIOUS." - everyone who saw [REC]). We get a sense of the size of the wedding reception–it's freaking huge, and there are a fuckton of people in attendance. And then, much like the first film in the series, things go to Hell in the blink of an eye. One moment, Uncle Pepe seems drunk and barfs everywhere; the next moment, he's biting someone's face off.

As I said, there are a lot of revelers in the reception hall, and so the virus passes quickly and brutally from one guest to the next. It's pure, bloody chaos, very much like the first film on amphetamines. Everything is jacked up to eleven due to the sheer size of it all. During the initial frenzy, Koldo and a few others–including the videographer, Atún–find safety in the kitchen. Koldo is stunned that Atún has kept his camera rolling; when Atún replies that people "need to see" what's unfolding–a line pretty much ripped straight from [REC]–Koldo smashes his camera.

And then there's a title screen. And before you can think to yourself, "Wait, did [REC] have a title screen?", Genesis continues...as a...movie movie. That's right, director/co-writer/co-creator of the series Paco Plaza answers the question every P.O.V. fan has asked at one time or another: "Why do they keep filming?" by changing the game completely. Koldo has literally kicked the found footage concept to pieces, and I'm not sure whether or not it's brilliant or infuriating. One thing is for sure, though–the effect is incredibly jarring. To go from handheld shakycam footage to regular ol' hi-def footage with cinematic angles and a soundtrack...holy crap. It all seemed so fake, which I suppose speaks to how well found footage can work.

It took a lot of getting used to. Sure, there's the extreme shift in visual style. But it's more than that. Not only does this third film cast off the P.O.V. shackles of its predecessors, but it also lightens up the self-serious tone established in the first two entries. Genesis is nearly a horror/comedy, with jokes and over-the-top violence and gore reminiscent of early Peter Jackson and even Lamberto Bava's Demons. After I acclimated to the fact that this wasn't simply another [REC], I came to appreciate it enough on its own merits. It's pretty stupid and loud, but it's also pretty fun in that Dead Alive vein. A good time, if you will. As Koldo and Clara try to find each other, there's all manner of "zombie" violence. I mean, once a character busts out a chainsaw, you kind of know what kind of movie it wants to be.

Genesis is sort of the Halloween III of the series–they're trying something new and shaking up the formula. Though it expands the [REC] mythos a bit (if you want to go so far as to call it a "mythos"), this film stands alone, an outlier than can absolutely be ignored if that "something new" doesn't work for you. At the very least, they get a gold star for trying, right?

Oct 11, 2015

SHOCKtober: The Week to Come

I'm not entirely sure anyone is still playing along, but once upon a time people asked that I post the movies in advance. Listen, I get it if people split. SHOCKtober is not for the weak. It is a true endurance test, especially this year because Netflix is mostly garbage. I swear, it's as if they knew what I had planned and purged all the good stuff (and 99% of the movies made before 2012) on October 1st. But no matter–we soldier on. Not only to the end of the month, but to the grave! Time, she is a cruel mistress. As are bad horror movies. Here's hoping we (or I) will avoid any real stinkbombs this week (*gives V/H/S 2 a side eye*):

Monday 10/12 - [REC] 3 (2012)
Tuesday 10/13 - [REC] 4 (2014)
Wednesday 10/14 - THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN (1958)
Thursday 10/15 - THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS (2013)
Friday 10/16 - DEAD SNOW (2009)
Saturday 10/17 - JUG FACE (2013)
Sunday 10/18 - V/H/S 2 (2013)

SHOCKtober keeps on keepin' on!


Day 11: DEVIL SEED (2012)


I try as best I can to live a life without regret. Please, don't get me wrong; like everyone else on the planet, I have made mistakes and done bad things and made poor choices. I've done a lot of regrettable things! My 8th grade mullet and penchant for hawaiian shirts? Beyond regrettable. Not buying that prop newspaper from Co-Ed Call Girl at Tori Spelling's yard sale? Ugh, what, did I not bring my brain along with me that day? When I say "a life without regret", I don't mean I haven't done asshole things to myself and/or others, or that asshole things haven't happened to me because of decisions I've made. What I mean is that I try to learn from these incidents. Make amends, make changes, whatever, and move on. Living saddled with regret means you're weighed down my those awful things, and you're not going forward. Basically, I try not to wallow.

That said, sometimes it's hard. Sometimes you end up in a situation from which you cannot easily extricate yourself, and your failings just sit there in front of your face, teasing you mercilessly. "Bet you wish you'd made a different choice, huh? Bet you rue the day this idea came into your head!"

YES THAT'S RIGHT, DEVIL SEED. I regret the day I chose you as part of the SHOCKtober lineup. I regret that by the time I am done with this review, I will have spent several hours in your company–hours I will never get back. And I could use them! I have a finite time on this planet, and I have a lot of shit to do.

I just...arrgh. It wasn't five minutes into this steaming hot pile of garbage that I wondered why in the hell I added it to the SHOCKtober schedule. In those five minutes, there was one exorcism boob on display (because...of course) and two sex boobs and a "cool" "rock n roll" credit sequence. Look, boobs are great, and I am obviously very cool (mullet and Hawaiian shirts, hello) and the Joan Jett version of "I Love Rock n Roll" is pretty much my life story. But the first five minutes of Devil Seed gave me a very bad feeling, and I knew that I'd made a huge mistake. And when you realize that early on in a movie that you've made a huge mistake, well, it sets a certain tone for the evening. A tone of DOOM.

After a night at the bar, some college girl and her drunk roommate (fuck learning the names of anyone or anything, my life essences are draining away) stop by a psychic's place for a palm reading. For some reason, some college girl becomes possessed.

We know she's possessed because totally weird things start to happen: items move around on their own, weird doodles appear in her books, she's fondled by invisible hands as she sleeps, she says inappropriate things, and children look at her. We're subjected to countless conversations that are either

"You don't remember doing that? You totally did that."
"No, I don't remember."
(continues for five minutes)

or

"What's the matter?"
"I feel like I'm going crazy!"
(continues for five minutes)

Things sort of escalate. We find out that Some College Girl is a virgin, and if you think, "Oh, so the word "seed" in Devil Seed...I guess Satan wants to plant a baby garden!" then you know what is up. Some College Girl gets occasional corn teeth (duh, of course she does, she's possessed) and I guess she's raped by Satan and like an hour in there is another pair of boobs–shower boobs this time, but they're the same boobs as the sex boobs so I don't know if they really count toward a final tally, for those of you out there on Boob Watch.

None of this isn't the same thing we've seen done better at least ten to the tenth times, you know? And when I say "the same thing", I mean that Devil Seed actually decided to be be the Dollar Tree Exorcist and give us a bargain basement spider walk and pee on the floor scene. I felt...why, I felt indignant. I mean, how fucking dare you, Devil Seed? At that point, I wanted to fight this movie. Like physically. I wanted to get all Krystle vs Alexis on Dynasty and grab Devil Seed by the hair and throw it in the fucking pool. Fuck this movie!

Although I have to admit, this made me laugh for several minutes, and I rewound it many times, so my time spent with Devil Seed wasn't a complete loss.


Look, if you want to know how fucking janky Devil Seed is without actually having to endure it, here you go.

from the (useless) prologue:


from the end credits:


Is it 1972 or 1970? If you can't even give a shit enough to keep your own stupid timeline straight, Devil Seed, then why should I care? And I will spare you the indignity of bringing up those all-cap names. WHY ARE THEY--oh wait, I'm sparing you.

To anyone out there who actually watched this pile because it was a part of SHOCKtober, I am truly sorry. Self, I am sorry. I absolutely regret it, but we must move on! We cannot wallow in the misery this wretched film has shat upon us. We're only 1/3 of the way through the month, and I'm sure many more bad movies await!

Oct 10, 2015

Day 10: DARKNESS (2002)


"Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Is it better? I'm not so sure. After all, if you've never loved anyone, you don't really know what you've missed. You live day to day without regretting or missing or pining or loathing the past. You don't wait for "the next" and compare him or her to "the last." You just sort of exist–but is your life truly lesser for it if you're ignorant as to what "it" is and what it feels like? I suppose Tennyson is saying yes, that even mucking about in the pits of despair is better than not doing that, for the despair is what lets you know you're a human and not, say, a rock. It's like bringing a dog or a cat into your life: we all know by know that they are just tragedies waiting to happen, timebombs ticking away to heartbreak. "I have, at most, about 20 years with you until you're gone and then I have to deal with you not being around anymore and what that feels like." It all comes down to those 20 years, right? Whether or not they're good enough to make the eventual enduring of the crushing blows of mortality worth it?

Okay, before I suck you into the temporal vortex of my ongoing existential crisis, let me assure you, this all super vaguely ties into Darkness, a rather forgettable Dimension Films film! You see, when Darkness was over, I says to meself, I says: "Hmm, I wonder, is it better to have loved the last five minutes of this slog of a movie than to have hated it all the way through?" Those last five minutes were a teasing glimpse of what we could have had together! Had those minutes not existed, I could have written Darkness off entirely...but now I'm saddled with the crippling knowledge* of what could have been.

*By "crippling knowledge" I mean "the brief thought: 'dang, that movie woulda been better if it had more of the last five minutes and less of the everything before that last five minutes. Also, let's be real here: in a year, if someone brings up Darkness I'll say 'Yeah, I saw that' and my brain, having purged nearly everything about it to make room for something else, will react with but a whiff of disappointment."

A family moves into home that used to be an orphanage or something maybe, I don't know, there were some kids there and six of the seven kids were killed for some Satanic ritual to bring about the "Darkness" but because the seventh kid lived the ritual failed and the dad of the family is the surviving kid all grown up and it's time for the ritual again because there's an eclipse coming.

There, that's the gist of it, and it sounds pretty good, right? I'm all about a Satanic ritual! But aye yi yi, Darkness takes forever in the getting there. I don't mean it's some slow burn–I'm all about a slow burn! No, rather this movie likes to tell rather than show, so it's largely a bunch of people talking in circles at each other...which might be fine if not for the truly fucking leaden performances. It's time for me to come clean: look, I just don't get Anna Paquin. Yeah, I know she won an Oscar when she was a baby or twelve or whatever, and sure, The Piano, as I remember it, is good. But since then, I don't really get how she has a flourishing career. Her facial expression doesn't change and she rarely makes eye contact with her fellow actors and everything is sort of mumbly and monotonous, and it's like she's more an actor computer program from Looker than a real human who actually won an Oscar that one time. I don't know, maybe she's great in things I've yet to see, but here she is like a big loaf of Wonder Bread taking up space.

But really, everyone is sort of Wonder Bread-y in that they're lifeless, even when yelling really loud. Everyone is awful in their own way, and the idea that these four people constitute a "family" is ludicrous. Dysfunction is fine, nuclear families are fine...but they don't relate to each other as anything beyond "four strangers in a house"; there's more warmth and familiarity, in fact, between "seven strangers in a house" on the first episode of any season of The Real World.

So overall, a huge disappointment. I was hoping for some hidden gem, particularly since Darkness was written and directed by Jaume Balagueró, who gave the world my beloved [REC]. Well, at least the last five minutes was pretty good. Tis better than the whole thing stinking...or is it? Ah, my existential crisis is flaring up again. Damn you, SHOCKtober!

Oct 9, 2015

Day 9: A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)


I've been trying to suss out my feelings regarding A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and it's tough, man, it's tough. "Mildly disappointed and slightly misled coupled with a dash of 'aw, dang' but I still enjoyed it and gosh it was pretty" is the best I can do to sum it up. Everything about this movie was so damn intriguing. The Girl (Sheila Vand) is a captivating figure as she stalks the dark streets, her pale face striking in her black chador. The film was touted as the "first Iranian vampire western", which...come on! Who doesn't want to see that? Yeah, it's Iran by way of southern California (Taft is a stand-in for the fictional Bad City), and while I'm not sure exactly what I expected regarding the "western" bit, but I thought it would translate to something beyond a Morricone-esque soundtrack.

At least the "vampire" part is true. The Girl does indeed sprout fangs and make with the bite-bite on occasion. There are also figurative vampires who suck the life and souls from everyone around them...why, there's even a plastic-fanged imitation Dracula. It's a metaphor-riddled quasi-horror film more than a straight bloodsucker flick though, closer kin to Abel Ferrara's The Addiction (1995) than Nosferatu. There are strains of Let the Right One In here, too, in the central love story that explores how far a young man will go in his devotion to a monster. Unfortunately, the relationship between The Girl and her suitor Arash (Arash Marandi) lacks passion of any kind...and you know, that's sort of my problem with the film as a whole. It's gorgeous. Stunning, even. Bad City is an interesting, if unexplored place; the glimpses we get of its freaky inhabitants and...uh, the ravine full of bodies...call to mind some kind of David Lynch city/circus of the damned. Ultimately, though, the entire affair comes off as cold and lifeless as The Girl herself. I like a sense of mystery–we learn nothing about our protagonist beyond her apparent affection for pop music–but the framework surrounding that mystery is too thin to support it.

All that said, I look forward to whatever writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour cooks up next, because A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night certainly has a lot going for it. "I wanted more from it" ain't a bad complaint to have.

(Side note: this was the real star of the film. A++ kitty acting for sure!)


Oct 8, 2015

Day 8: ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (2013)

"Crazy wicca bullshit."


I knew nothing about All Cheerleaders Die before giving it the good ol' fashioned SHOCKtober go (which sounds a lot hotter than it is, trust me). Wait, that's not true: I knew it was co-written and co-directed by fan fave Lucky McKee, but that didn't get me all excited because I didn't dig May (2002) (holy shit, 2002? that came out in 2002?? how fucking old am I? *turns to dust*) as much as most people. I mean, yeah, I liked it. Of course I liked it! Anna Faris and Angela Bettis are in it, and so is the dude who played Elton in Clueless, and as we all know, Clueless rules. I just mean that everyone seems to hump May's leg, and I'm like, well I could hump it, but I've seen better legs. You know how it is. The point is, I thought this was going to be some postmodern slasher movie or something because nobody seems to be humping All Cheerleaders Die's leg, so I hadn't bothered to read up on it. Turns out, this is not a slasher flick, postmodern or otherwise. It also turns out that I loved this movie so much, why isn't everybody humping its leg??

Look, this imdb.com summary does a really good job of, you know, summarizing the plot:

A rebel girl signs up a group of cheerleaders to help her take down the captain of their high school football team, but a supernatural turn of events thrusts the girls into a different battle.

But there is so much waiting for you to discover, as All Cheerleaders Die goes to unexpected and delightful places. It reminded me of two other films that I heart oh so very hard: Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and The Convent. All three movies have humor, sure, but more than that there's a kind of glee running through them. They are goofy and dorky and take their non-seriousness very seriously. The FX are generally fakey-looking, but it doesn't matter. All Cheerleaders Die is the tamest, least sort-of-gonzo of the trio, but it's a good time just the same. They're fun. And sometimes fun is fun! Yes, even when it's mixed with horror.

All Cheerleaders Die has a lot of the charms that make up the charm bracelet of my life and the things I love: supernatural horror, witches, lesbian witches, clearly defined "bad guys", the simple guilt-free catharsis you sometimes get from revenge movies, and more. The end of the film left room for a sequel–quite literally, in fact, as a title screen called this "Part One." While yesterday I didn't know All Cheerleaders Die from a hole in my head, now everything has changed and I hope that "Part One" business wasn't just a joke because let me tell you, I'm humping Part Two's leg already!

Oct 7, 2015

Day 7: MANIAC (2012)


It's been 35 years since Maniac was released, but the film's notorious reputation clings to it still. Its explicit, hateful violence continues to shock even the most jaded horror fans; it's a wholly repellent movie that–while undoubtedly deserving of its place in the genre's hallowed halls–is perhaps more appreciated than enjoyed. I can't say I was surprised when the remake was announced, as every movie in the history of ever is up for grabs as far as that goes. But, with a finger on my chin and a faraway look in my eye, I certainly wondered: would it be as hardcore as the original? And what of the casting of this so called "Elijah" "Wood"–could he sweat and mumble enough to make an adequate replacement for Joe Spinell, or would his Frank be something else entirely?

Well, let's get this out of the way: Maniac '12 is French, so yeah, it's pretty hardcore. If you're looking for gore and violence, it's as typically stomach-churning as most other horror films hailing from that country. As for the rest of it...

Frank is a part-time restorer of antique mannequins and a part-time maniac. He stalks women he sees on the street, or women he picks up through an online dating service...just basically any woman who catches his eye. It's not long before Frank's copious mommy issues rise to the surface and he moves from stalking the women to butchering, taking their scalps and clothing as a prize. Back home, he puts the matted, bloodied scalps on clothes on the mannequins and talks to them as if they were real women. Soon he meets Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a pretty photographer who wants to use Frank's mannequins–the ones in the front of the shop, natch–in a gallery project. They strike up a friendship, but how long can Frank keep his serial killer urges in check?

Make no mistake: this isn't some dopey slasher flick where a masked psycho offs teenagers for regressions real or imagined. Maniac is about the violence perpetrated against women on the regular. It's a cautionary tale that plays on the fears nearly every woman accepts as a part of life: don't go home with that nice guy you met on the dating site. Don't walk home alone, especially after dark. It reinforces every "don't" that women are taught ("I warned you not to go out tonight.") if they want to stay safe. There are maniacs out there, and they often seem harmless, like Frank does. Maybe you'll have dinner with him first. Maybe he'll stare at you on the subway and then follow you home. Maybe he's hiding under your car. Maybe he's your friend. Beware, ladies! The danger is real.

As I noted in my review of 1980's Maniac, I don't think that a movie about misogyny is always misogynist in and of itself. It's the approach to the subject matter employed by the remake and not necessarily the subject matter itself that I found severely lacking. In both versions, Frank is a victim of abuse at the hands of his mother, which renders him unable to relate to women on a level of basic humanity. It's a horror tale as old as Psycho, and I don't know, I guess I'm a bit over the "castrating mother" trope...or, again, the way it's used in Maniac '12, which is shot in the first-person view for most of its runtime. We're forced to see the world through Frank's eyes, to somehow identify with him, which...well, why force the audience to do that? Is it just to make us uncomfortable? That's a thing, I guess. Was it simply a "Hey, let's do the opposite of what they did in the original version!"? That's a thing, too. In 1980, first-person perspective was also used, but generally in order to see through the eyes of the victims. We saw tables turn as this unremarkable man suddenly became a maniac, and not only was it was a more terrifying technique from a "horror movie" perspective, but it made us empathize with the women, not the killer.

Although we did empathize with Frank in 1980, too. He sickened himself with his behavior and was tortured by his demons. They hint at this in the remake, going so far as to give us a literal vomit scene after Frank kills his date, but again...the first-person P.O.V. gets in the way. We never see Frank as a normal, average guy the way Anna does because we're relegated to glimpses of him every once in a while in a mirror, only seeing Frank staring blankly at himself. Sure, he hems and haws and gets headaches which make the camera go blurry, but ultimately it doesn't come across as anything more than a gimmick.

While the film didn't work for me overall, I would like to give a shoutout to the hardest working extras in Maniac '12: the green Bath and Body Works-looking hand soap and lotion who showed up in nearly every apartment in Los Angeles.