It’s 2013 and at long last the horror drought is over. Evil Dead, Lords of Salem, Texas Chainsaw 3D, Mama, The Conjuring, World War Z, Carrie, Insidious 2, Horns, V/H/S/2, The Purge, Last Exorcism 2, Curse of Chucky, Cabin Fever 3, Human Centipede 3 — and those are just the well-known ones. They’re of varying qualities and styles and while you don’t have to like all of them, you do have to acknowledge them. Horror has been languishing for a long time, each year more barren than the last. Our genre was on life support, guided through the murky night by occasional sleeper hits like a V/H/S or a Paranormal Activity — but now, for the first time in a long time, we have a slew of movies ready and waiting to give us nightmares anew. And they all have some pretty fucking stiff competition in Maniac.
Maniac, directed by Franck Khalfoun, is a remake of William Lustig’s seminal 1980 cult classic. Alexandre Aja, directer of the awesome High Tension and admittedly also the awful Mirrors, produced the film and wrote it alongside Grégory Levasseur and original Maniac co-scribe C.A. Rosenberg. Elijah Wood stars as the murderous Frank Zito. It comes out June 21st in the states and if it’s not on your radar already it absolutely should be.
Simply put, Maniac is the best remake of the modern era. Its source material is good, but definitely good with an asterisk. Lustig’s Maniac was dirt cheap, ugly, and hobbled together, driven into existence not with talent but with raw passion for the story. And that’s fine, it’s great for what it is — but this, this is Maniac fully realized. This is for Maniac what Sam Raimi lied and said the Evil Dead remake would be for Evil Dead. This is a movie that we loved almost in spite of itself turned into an instant classic of the genre that stands up against absolutely anything put out in the last 25 years.
The main strength of the movie is its lead. Elijah Wood becomes Frank Zito, the movie’s titular, well, maniac. His story is changed up a bit from the original film, but it works. Here, he’s a mannequin restorer moonlighting as a serial killer. He scalps his victims, all beautiful women, stapling their hair to his mannequins so he can keep them forever. In his mind he’s immortalizing them, making them his and his alone like a modern day Norman Bates. The movie follows him through this in first person perspective. As the audience, we are Frank Zito. I was worried that this forced viewpoint wouldn’t work, and in the hands of a lesser director or actor it definitely wouldn’t, but here they pulled it off masterfully. Every movement of the camera makes you think — because it’s not a camera that’s moving at all. It’s a window into the mind of both our pro- and antagonist. You combine this with Wood’s actual performance, which lives mostly in reflections and stilted, soulless, intentionally mechanical dialog, and the character comes alive in a way I haven’t seen a horror character do since Bill Moseley in The Devil’s Rejects.
That said, Maniac’s strengths go beyond just Wood’s contribution. Obviously, it’s effectively filmed — it’s a crass, tasteless, violent gore-fest but it’s shot like eclectic art-house cinema and it really excels. Another place it excels is the writing. Frank Zito is a well-rounded, fully-cooked character but — and this is the important part — so are the characters around him. You care about his victims, even the ones afforded only seconds of screen time, because the writers clearly cared about them too. The film’s only other lead, a French photographer played charmingly by Nora Arnezeder who seems at times like she might just be able to save poor Frank, is particularly well-written. The relationship between them gives you hope that maybe, just maybe, this won’t end badly. And in a genre where the actual characters are usually just a means to an end that’s both totally unusual and very powerful.
So. Yeah. If you weren’t aware of Maniac, get aware of Maniac. 2013 is the year horror came back, hopefully to stay, but it doesn’t matter how many releases we get this year because none of them are gonna touch this one.
I’m just going to go ahead and throw something out there before I go any further: I fucking loved The Lords Of Salem. It’s a nightmarish, drug-addled Frankenstein’s monster of a film; a bastard lovechild that slides swiftly between the various subgenres of horror to create a surrealist experience utterly unlike anything else you’re going to see anytime soon. There’s a reason this film is playing almost nowhere, folks: it’s just too weird for the nervous, number-crunching studios of the modern era to do anything with but casually brush under the rug. And that’s a shame because it has everything.
It’s got gore, it’s got jump scares, it’s got atmospheric tension out the wazoo. It’s got unmitigated, unrelenting, nigh-on constant creepiness even in scenes when it probably shouldn’t. But most of all — it’s got about as much nightmare fodder as one could hope to process in ninety minutes. It creeps into your head, slowly at first, and then pulls the trigger, setting off a mindfuck of a movie that stimulates your every sense and throws you through more than one loop, forcing you to process things you’re juuuust shy of being able to understand and then using them against you to absolutely masterful effect. It’s got the look of Suspiria, the dread of Rosemary’s Baby, and the balls of The Devil’s Rejects and if you like things that are good then you should fucking see it.
And now for something completely different: two reviews at once! A few nights ago, I finally got to see Let The Right One In. It was great. I liked it so much that I got my hands on a copy of the American remake, Let Me In, the very next day. Reviewing them seperately would get a bit redundant, I think, so I’m gonna ramble about both films in the same post instead. ‘kay?
The basic idea of each film is, naturally, the same. A gawky twelve-year-old boy, bullied at school and ignored at home, befriends a strange little girl who just moved into the apartment next door. The catch, of course, is that she’s actually a vampire. Both films center around their relationship with one another and the strength it brings each of them. It’s as deeply human a tale as any vampire story could be.
What makes both of these films so special — and, yes, they’re special — is their atmosphere. The original film is amongst the most unnerving and hauntingly beautiful cinematic affairs that I’ve witnessed. I was so worried that the remake wouldn’t capture the same magic… but it does. It totally does. I’m not sure either film is better than the other in this regard. The remake is certainly louder, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not insultingly flashy. In fact, it’s just as quiet, just as low-key, and just as eerie as its predecessor. Its high notes just ring a little higher — for better and for worse, depending on the moment. Both films marry horror and romance in a way that’s perfectly seamless, even if they sometimes use different methods to do so. It’s amazing.
The performances are also uniform in their quality. Each film is left to be carried almost entirely on the backs of the two kids who play the leads, and all four of them are stellar. In the original film, Lina Leandersson plays the vampire. Eli, she’s called. Her performance is just… unnatural? She seems old. Ancient. There’s something otherworldly about her. It’s chilling. You can see it in every frame. In the remake, Chloe Grace Moretz has the part. Abby’s her name this time around. It’s a different sort of performance — a bit more real, I think. Abby isn’t quite as… startling… as Eli can be, but in some ways that makes the story more convincing. Both girls manage to make the part their own. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d pick Eli — but it took me a few minutes to make the choice! The boys are great too, but their performances are essentially identical. Both are believably tragic. They anchor everything perfectly.
Above all else — beyond the atmosphere or the direction or the acting — it’s the way that both films make you feel that make them so important. They remind you of life and love and despair and everyone that you’ve ever lost or found. Everyone that has ever given you strength or left you entirely. They make you think about what you would be willing to endure for that one person who somehow manages to make you feel like you’re not alone in life. You’re left feeling some weird combination of happiness and sorrow. You’re left feeling human. They’re really not horror films at all.
I’m not picking a favorite, for the record. Both films are fantastic. Watch ‘em.
It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE Kevin Smith fan. Figuratively and literally. I’ve seen all of his films several times and have nearly 500 of his podcasts on my hard drive right now. I own Kevin Smith comics and Kevin Smith Q&A DVDs and Kevin Smith posters. Hell, I’ve met Jason Mewes. Suffice it to say, when Kev announced his first horror film, Red State, in 2006, I couldn’t wait to see it.
Unfortunately, I had to. The film was delayed for years as Kevin searched unsuccessfully for conventional studio financing for a film that promised to be radically different from the rest of his work. When the money never surfaced he put the project on the backburner, moving onto Zack and Miri Make A Porno, a wonderful, Apatow-esque comedy featuring Seth Rogen that did disappointing business due to confusing marketing and an awful Halloween day release date. Still unable to finance Red State, he directed Cop Out, the first Kevin Smith film not written by Kevin Smith. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly lacked soul. It was a critical—but not a commercial—failure.
Faced with the prospect of working within the Hollywood system for the rest of his career, toiling away on films like Cop Out, he opted instead to return to his roots. An independent filmmaker at heart—his career began with Clerks, which Kevin maxed out several credit cards to fund—he distanced himself from the studios and sought independent financing for the project he was so passionate about.
In 2010, finally, a minuscule budget was secured and the film was shot. In January of 2011, it was announced that Kevin would personally release the film instead of selling the distribution rights, in order to avoid wasting tens of millions on expensive print and television ads—media that’s, honestly, no longer relevant. Advertising the film directly to his audience on twitter and his SModcast podcast network, Smith has since recouped the film’s budget—and then some—through limited theatrical and widespread streaming releases. The film stands as indisputable proof that the traditional—and expensive—theatrical releasing model that Hollywood is so accustomed to is a broken one.
But is it worth watching?
Absolutely. I led with that massive intro because I find it incredibly inspiring, but believe me: the film works, with or without that story to sell you on it. I can’t necessarily recommend it to everyone, though, just because it’s so not a conventional horror film. The film’s plot is (very) loosely based on the exploits of the Westboro Baptist Church, centering around a group of extremist Christian homophobes that ritualistically sacrifice so-called “sinners” in an underground church. As such, your own views of Christianity do sort of dictate your perception of the film. I myself have never had a particularly positive relationship with religion—in my youth it was instilled in me that God is a creature to be feared—so the film really works for me. If you’re a more spiritual person, you may find it a bit uncomfortable.
That said, it’s probably worth shaking that off for the film’s stellar acting. Michael Parks, pictured above, plays Pastor Abin Cooper, the film’s central antagonist. His performance is—and I say this without any sense of hyperbole—one of the most chilling that I’ve ever seen. I put very little stock in the Academy Awards, but if that man doesn’t get nominated for something and win it’ll be a travesty. He’s that good. John Goodman is no slouch either—really, there’s not a bad egg in the bunch—but this is definitely Parks’ film. I’m getting chills just thinking about the sermon he delivers midway through it.
It’s also just a wonderfully clever film. The opening ten minutes feels like textbook Kevin Smith—not that there’s anything wrong with that. As if by design, you’re given a few minutes to get comfortable with a “typical” Kevin Smith movie, before things are turned on their head again, and again, and again. Every time you think things are going one way, they go another—and I mean that in a good way. It’s easy to make a horror film with a series of illogical twists for the sake of illogical twists; it’s not so easy to make one that manages to be both surprising and convincing. Kevin Smith achieves that with Red State.
Watch it. Now. I’ll wait here until you’re done. After all, it’s on Netflix.
Tonight I watched Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. For the first time ever. In a movie theater. At midnight. On a 35mm film print. With every single cent of the proceeds being donated to charity. It was fucking fantastic. As the pages of this blog can attest to, I tend to overdo it on the whole getting-into-the-spirit-of-Halloween thing and then burn out fairly quickly, but this experience really restored my faith in the best damn day of the year just in time to celebrate it properly. But I digress. Let’s talk about the film.
Halloween 4 picks up right where Halloween 2 left off. Odd, I know. Somehow, both Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis survived the—you’ve seen Halloween 2; this isn’t a spoiler—fiery explosion at the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and Michael has returned (again) to wreak havoc on his old hometown. Dr Loomis, being his Ahab, has returned (again) to stop him. It’s a contrived plot that devalues everything that made the end of the previous film (which, as we established, you’ve seen) so powerful, but… what the hell? I can suspend my disbelief.
My first impression of the film was: wow, this is a massive step down. The first two Halloween flicks are as close to high art as the traditional slasher formula can really get, and this… this is pretty paint by numbers. It isn’t clever enough to be Michael and it isn’t gory enough to be Jason. It’s just some weird hybridization of the two. I’d been warned more than once not to see the Halloween sequels, and it seems pretty obvious why.
That was my first impression.
As the film went on, I fell in love with it. I stopped expecting something as inventive and ingenious as the film’s older brothers, and began to realize that I was sitting in a theater—a jam-packed theater, might I add, even though the showing took place on a rainy night in a town with a scant 3,255 people—watching fucking Halloween 4. It was in that moment that my inhibitions lowered and I accepted the film for what it was: a fun, if somewhat unspectacular, continuation of one of my favorite cinematic narratives that had a fantastic ending and brought the series full circle. Exactly what a film called Halloween 4 should be.
But, more importantly, it was just a wonderful halloween film. It nailed the feel of the season so perfectly and reminded me of everything that I like about scary movies. It made me want to rush home and marathon view all of my old favorites in a way that I haven’t felt like doing in years! It made me feel like a kid again, to be perfectly honest. And I’ve been needing that sort of shot in the arm for a while now. I feel great. Horror movies rock.
Happy almost Halloween, everyone. Enjoy it!
Frozen (2010) is the most depressing film in the history of forever. It’s a good movie but it’s not a feel good experience. I was going to review it properly but I feel so damn miserable after watching it that I’m just going to go curl up into a ball and die now okay bye.
Written and directed by first-timer Gareth Edwards and shot for pennies, Monsters (2010) somehow manages to stand gracefully alongside two wonderful contemporaries: The Mist and Cloverfield. While The Mist is an unrelenting experiment in abject bleakness and Cloverfield is a gripping, jump-out-of-your-seat popcorn movie, Monsters gives us a tale that, while quieter in scope, is no less riveting. And I’m gonna ramble about it now.
In Monsters, we don’t see the start of the invasion and we don’t see the end. Instead, we see the infestation six years in: we see a world that has acclimated to the film’s titular foes, contained them in highly regulated “infected zones”, and then cut their losses. Inside the infected zones, the military works diligently to contain the threat. Outside of them, life continues on in relative normalcy. And, of course, our heroes find themselves pulled out of the latter and thrust into the former.
It’s the chemistry between these heroes—jaded photographer Andrew Kaulder (played by Scoot McNairy) and mysterious tourist Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able)—that makes the film work. And, make no mistakes: it works. Their performances are rock solid and it’s those performances that the film is built around. Monsters is a film that somehow manages to make the ROAR GIANT MONSTERS concept the backdrop for a character-driven picture and McNairy and Able pull off that less-than-enviable task rather perfectly. Their chemistry makes an ending that could’ve fallen terribly flat really soar. It was oddly beautiful.
There’s more to it than just good acting, though. The characters and their story is what hit me the most, but trust me: Monsters’, um, monsters do deliver. They’re nocturnal so they don’t pop up much, but when they do it looks real. It looks about as real as it can look, actually. It looks much more real than its microscopic budget should feasibly allow it to. The effects are used sparingly but to very strong effect, coupled with great lighting and wonderful cinematography (also by writer-director Edwards) that makes them jump off the screen. Just don’t expect them to hog that screen.
In short: Monsters is a monster movie. And a damn fine one. Watch it!
Insidious scared the hell out of me. It’s that rare breed of horror film that manages to pack a punch in a time when almost everything has been done. And done. And done. And what a punch it packs. Insidious stands alongisde Paranormal Activity and Inside as the only modern horror film that have truly unnerved me.
The film is the story of a family’s attempt to save their comatose son from demonic entities that pursue him in a mysterious dream realm called The Further. The plot doesn’t sound terribly original on paper, but in execution it’s a film unlike most others. It’s a film that sticks with you. It’s a film that, days after watching, you can’t get out of your head.
The visuals are stunning. James Wan is nothing if not a visually talented director, and it’s on his back that Insidious truly soars. It’s his flair for creating iconic imagery and his ability to build unmitigated tension that makes the film work. The quieter horrors of Insidious are unsettling; the louder ones have you jumping out of your seat. Every scare works.
There’s a particular scene involving a shotgun that my mind just keeps snapping back to. There’s a lot I keep snapping back to, actually. I run the risk of ruining the movie for the uninitiated if I divulge too much detail, so I’ll say this: once the evils of Insidious finally begin to manifest themselves, you don’t forget it. It’s like plunging yourself into the darkest depths of a nightmare. It’s like a tangible representation of every bad dream I’ve ever had.
I’ll concede that the movie has its problems. Only two, though. For starters, most of the dialog is really hokey and only Lin Shaye is talented enough to rise above that. I’ve never seen her give a bad performance, actually. Also, the music sounded like it was taken straight from The Shining, which I found rather awkward considering the movie is predicated on the concept of a haunted child and even contains a “creepy little kid in a hallway” scene. That really stuck out to me in an otherwise highly creative film.
That being said, those complaints are practically microscopic when juxtaposed against all of the good things in Insidious. It’s a terrifying film with visuals that burn themselves into your mind and create a lasting impression in a way most horror films no longer can. If you haven’t seen it by now, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice. Watch it.
I’ve always had a strange fascination with the concept of the cash-in sequel. Write a movie and throw in something I loved from another film and—more often than not—I’m sold. It’s better to see Freddy vs Jason than not to see Freddy or Jason at all, y’know? I never let my expectations get too high with cash-ins; I just watch for the novelty. Tonight I saw Psycho II for the first time in my life. As usual, I expected something decidedly “okay” and I was absolutely cool with that. My expectations were dead wrong.
Psycho II is a brilliant film. No, it’s not Psycho. It never was Psycho, it will never be Psycho, and it was never supposed to be Psycho. Now that we’ve cleared up what it’s not, let’s talk about what it is: a quasi-logical continuation of Psycho. Norman Bates is there, the house is there, the hotel is there—everything is there, right where it’s supposed to be. And I was happy for that. It didn’t feel like some cheap imitation of Psycho—see: Van Sant, Gus—it felt like a believable and, more importantly, unique expansion of the Psycho mythos. I don’t think I’ll see the original movie quite the same way next time. And I love that.
The film revolves around the premise that, after 22 years, Norman Bates has been released from a mental institution with a clean bill of health. He moves back into his old house and gets a job at the nearby diner, where he makes friends with a waitress conveniently in need of a place to live. He invites her to stay with him and—of course—things begin to go awry.
Could we call it “Psycho II” if things didn’t go awry?
Anthony Perkins is brilliant. He was more brilliant in Hitchcock’s film, sure, but I think that’s to be expected. His evolution into a sympathetic character and the constant questioning of allegiances that follows makes for a great film. The blending of slasher sensibilities with pacing not dissimilar to the original really puts his performance over the top. Seeing Vera Miles reprise the role of Lila was fun too. No one else really lights the world on fire, but I didn’t visit the Bates Motel to see any of them. I’ll admit that Meg Tilly is adorable, though.
If you like Psycho and you’ve never seen this film: see it. You’ll have fun.
I saw Scream 4 last night. It was the first horror film I’ve seen in a movie theater since the decidedly forgettable Piranha 3D, because horror movies (that aren’t horrible) never come out in theaters anymore. I’ve been a little burnt out on the genre for a while now, because it’s a pretty unexciting time to be a horror fan, but Scream 4 was jusssssssssssst the shot in the arm I needed!
And, hopefully, Scream 4 was the shot in the arm the genre needed.
If you’re on the fence about seeing Scream 4: do it! You won’t be disappointed. It can get a bit too silly from time to time, and I wish it would’ve ended about ten minutes before it did, but these are relatively small complaints about a genuinely wonderful film that I found engaging from beginning to end. Every twist, every turn—I was on board. Watching the mystery unravel was, as it usually is with Scream, something to behold. As were the genre homages. And the “rules”. And the cast of teenagers that, in true Scream fashion, somehow managed to not be annoying. It was perfect.
I’m a big fan of the original Scream. Scream 4 is, in some ways, its mirror image. It was so nice to see a horror film—a real horror film, that didn’t rely on some ridiculous gimmickry like shakycam or 3D—in theaters again. I’m begging you: go watch this film, so maybe we can get some more of those!