Friday, August 30, 2013

Census Bloodbath: The Lonely Island

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WARNING: This post contains graphic images of cheesy 80's gore.

Year: 1980
Director: Joe D'Amato
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, Zora Kerova
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

A word on the Video Nasty: Around 1982, British censors started to realize that some of the horror films coming out nowadays were getting a tad gory. Instead of doing the polite British thing and turning their noses up but letting it happen, they ripped a page from America's songbook and took a wild stand against something they didn't totally comprehend (Commentary! I bet you weren't expecting that in your slasher review).

A whole slew of late 70's and early 80's slasher films (along with grindhouse, cannibal, and zombie movies) landed on what became known colloquially as the "Video Nasties" list, a strict censorship code which essentially blackballed films from ever playing in Britain, sometimes allowing them to be released in heavily edited (read: boring) formats.

Anthropophagus aka The Grim Reaper is such a film. Considering that the only other Video Nasties I've seen were The Evil Dead and The Burning (the former being a wonderfully campy debut for genre maven Sam Raimi and the latter being the single best slasher film of 1982), I was pretty excited. 

This film is in Italian (Questionably. More on that in another article. Italian cinema was weird about languages around this time.), but opens on a remote island in Greece as a pair of German tourists relax on the beach. I'm going to cut the subtitle editor some slack - maybe his recently deceased dog was a German Shepherd and he couldn't handle the associated emotions - but I had to rely entirely on my German 101A knowledge to understand any of the dialogue.

Example Scene:
"This water is ice cold!"
"Something something something sunglasses!" 
 Anyway, because they are a couple and they are in the first ten minutes of a slasher movie, they die.

Whoops, spoilers. Sorry, dude.

A group of tourists has just descended onto the coast of Greece so it's time to Meet the κρέας! This ragtag band includes Andy (who I swear was called Alan in the subtitles, but either way he's played by Saverio Vallone), the adventurer med student who had the bright idea to sail around the Greek archipelago; Maggie (Serena Grandi, who we'll meet again later as the title character in Delirium: Photos of Gloria), who is pregnant; her husband Arnold (Bob Larson) who isn't the most attentive person in the world, frequently leaving her behind to pursue other activities; Carol (Zora Kerova), Andy's sister and Master of Tarot Cards; her womanizing boyfriend Daniel (Mark Bodin); and Julie (Tisa Farrow) who isn't actually a part of the group but hitched a ride on their boat to come visit some friends at (dun dun DUN) an eerily familiar remote Greek island.

Julie is sorry to intrude upon their leisure trip, but due to unforeseen circumstances they're her only option. The men of the group are less sorry, going out of their way to flirt with the new girl to the dismay of Carol and Maggie.

As revealed through a series of heavy breathing-filled POV shots, Maggie sprains her ankle and decides to stay with the captain on the boat while the others explore the island. The village is deserted... The telegraph is broken... There are no phones... When they get back, Maggie has vanished and the boat is drifting out to sea... It's not all Greek to me, they're in trouble.

To make a long story short, they hole up in Julie's friends' empty house for the night and find themselves pursued by a cannibalistic madman (George Eastman) who has apparently devoured every living inhabitant of the island. He spends most of the time in shadow, which is a plus considering that his makeup looks something like a linebacker crossed with a lizard.

According to the backstory he's just really sunburned. No, I'm not kidding. Although, since this is Italian we will not call this stupid and allow it to represent the fact that he has become something less than human due to the insanity brought on by being forced to kill and eat his wife and child when adrift at sea. Yeah, that sounds more like it. Viva Italia!

Like most slashers, in between the kill scenes we get to spend some time with our characters and watch their relationships develop. Or, as with most slashers, we watch "characters" develop their "relationships." These scenes land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum because while they don't have a lot of, say, thematic weight, they are certainly entertaining and much more nuanced than your average hack 'n kill. 

Another element that makes Anthropophagus a cut above the rest (if you'll forgive that worthless pun) is that its characters are all adults, and as such their interpersonal drama has more heft and draw. And maybe this is just because they were speaking Italian, but the genre's typical bad acting was at an all time low. Kerova in particular burns with the flames of a thousand Mediterranean suns.

So the movie is content to trundle along on its fairly standard course, remaining an above average and fun slasher movie but not anything more and only being intermittently nasty. There's a cleaver in the face here, a severed head in a bucket there. It's pretty gory (and great), but it's nothing to write letters to the editor about.

And then. And then.

Things get real. After a series of three scenes that are much too long for their own good (I wrote in my notes that if the movie continued like this, I'd have to mark it down a grade), the blood fuel is poured on the nightmare fire and the real fun begins.

As the island crew is whittled down to only a few stragglers, Julie and a blind French girl who can smell the killer (Another overwhelmingly Italian plot point that works beautifully. It adds tension like you wouldn't believe.) are trapped in the very house where they learn the killer's story (that he's a man who went insane after being forced to Donner Party his own family). Driven to insanity (for to return to being sane would be to return to a world without his beloved wife and child, forever haunted by the knowledge that he was personally responsible for their demise), he has become a ravenous beast stripped of all human dignity.

This is underscored by a moment where Maggie, the pregnant girl who it turns out is a lot hardier and more alive than we thought, tries to convince the Beast not to kill her for she is with child. He responds by choking her to death, ripping out the fetus, and eating it. Video nasty you say? Yeah, it's pretty gross and gory and immoral and whatever, but 1) It's freaking awesome, 2) It's the most bizarre, jaw-dropping horror scene I've ever witnessed, and 3) It's actually relevant to this man's character arc and descent into barbarity.

So we have elements of shock and awe being put to good use for the first time in, well, ever. We have a Final Girl who does pretty well for herself, smashing mirrors and commanding spineless friends around and generally kicking butt. Her young ward gets her scalp ripped off and her throat devoured (they must have saved their entire effects budget for this finale, and they were absolutely correct in that decision), and then scary things happen! In a slasher film!

Julie ends up hanging by a broken wrist on a rope inside a well, with the Beast beneath her steadily climbing the ladder toward her. This is terrifying, well-shot, and tremendously effective in a way few American slasher movies could have ever hoped to compete with. She gets out but she is still restrained by the rope, but Andy saves the day by burying a pick axe into the monster's gut.

And then, the monster does what we never would have expected but secretly knew in our gut all along - he devours himself, the final link in the chain of torment and hunger.

Part of a balanced breakfast.

Is it Nasty? Yes. Is it great gory fun? Yes. Is it thematically resonant? Weirdly, yes. This is no Shakespeare obviously, but it has its own very straightforward arc that really makes you think.

I know, right?

One final thing before I wrap this up - the cinematography was inexcusably good. What I was primarily startled by was the fact that I could actually see what was happening. What luxury!

There are a couple deep focus shots that use background elements to comment on foreground elements, which is totally film 101 stuff but at least they're doing it! There are clever frame constructions using reflections in cleavers and dark pools of shadow over the Beast's eye sockets and it's generally not a hilariously ugly affair.

This movie is by no means perfect, but it's a little-seen gem that I would highly recommend for gorehounds and genre fans alike.

This picture really shouldn't make me feel good, but I'm just so relieved that one of these films has some value to it. And not half bad effects considering the region and time period.

Killer: Nikos Karamanlis aka The Beast (George Eastman)
Final Girl: Julie (Tisa Farrow)
Best Kill: Did I mention he ate a baby?
Sign of the Times: Since I have such a ball writing descriptions of the musical scores to 80's slasher movies, allow me to present you with several options of from which you can pick your favorite:
  • Somebody farting into a Vocoder.
  • The Phantom of the Opera playing bagatelle.
  • Crazy Frog hiccuping.
  • The Main Street Electrical Parade as interpreted by Bernard Herrmann.
  • A xylophone made of macaroni noodles.
Scariest Moment: A girl pops out of a wine cask, stained red, and attacks Daniel in the basement.
Weirdest Moment: There is a particularly endearing Spring-Loaded Cat scare in which an adorable kitten is dropped onto the keys of a piano.
Champion Dialogue: (Arnold to his wife as she vomits overboard) "Don't worry dear, I'm feeling a little seasick myself."
Body Count: 13; not including Ariette's parents or the entire village, but including the fetus.
  1. German Girl is killed by a Jaws ripoff camera angle.
  2. German Guy gets a cleaver in the face.
  3. Sailor gets his head ripped off.
  4. Daniel's throat is ripped out.
  5. Irina hangs herself.
  6. Nikos' Son dies of exposure.
  7. Nikos' Wife is accidentally stabbed. 
  8. Arnold is stabbed to death.
  9. Maggie is torn apart.
  10. Maggie's unborn baby is devoured.
  11. Carol's throat is slit.
  12. Ariette's scalp is ripped off as she is pulled through the roof.
  13. Nikos is stabbed in the stomach and devours his own intestines.  
TL;DR: Anthropophagus can drag occasionally, but it has fairly well-realized characters, fun gore scenes, and a killer final twenty minutes.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1822

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Final Round KO

21. Best Family in Horror: The Myers Family

Well, let's see. There's Laurie Strode and her brother Michael Myers (whoops, spoilers), her daughter Jamie Lloyd - who survives two whole movies as an 8-year-old - and her son from an alternate universe who is Josh Hartnett and thus a modern Hercules.

22. Worst Recent Horror Movie You've Seen: Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

The very first movie I reviewed, way back when when I was on Tumblr and I called myself Blogreel. Those times have since been lost to the wind. Unfortunately, this movie has not. It will forever go down in history as the horror movie that got so obsessed with itself that it forgot to be scary.

23. Favorite 1970's Horror: Suspiria (1977)

A violent Italian surrealistic Technicolor horror fantasy epic (the more words it takes to describe a movie, the better it is), Dario Argento's masterpiece of horror cinema is one of the most truly bizarre and off-putting films ever to grace the silver screen.

24. Favorite Horror Theme Song: Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Honestly one of the flat out weirdest slasher movies to come out of the late period. I talk about it in more detail at CinemaBeach, but let's just say the guitar wielding killer sings an ode to his drill called "Let's Buzz" and leave it at that.

25. Best Version of Jason Voorhees: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

This film features Kane Hodder in his first appearance as the hockey-masked curmudgeon, and just look at that attention to detail. It's no big surprise that director John Carl Buechler was also a make-up artist. With his inexplicably massive frame and impeccable physical acting, Hodder is the ruler of the kingdom of Crystal Lake.

26. A Horror You Can't Wait To See: The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)

I've been obsessed with this film ever since Randy mentioned it in Scream 2. Don't ask me why, because I couldn't tell you. I think I'm drawn to the title. But anyway, it has been nearly impossible to find in a non-janky edition but I got it! It's coming in the mail! I am so Excitebike right now.

27. Best Beheading: Friday the 13th (1980)

Oh, Pamela Voorhees and her man hands (played by Tom Savini). A blissfully crass ending to a wonderfully bad horror movie that ignited a generation (and the flames of my burning heart).

28. Favorite B-Movie Horror: Eight Legged Freaks (2002)

You could film David Arquette eating a potato and I would give it a five star review. But throw him in the mix with giant spiders, and I'm so down I've come through on the other side of the globe.

29. Most Righteous Killer (For Good): Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

He murders the hell out of Trey Songz and for that, I thank him. Also, he does pretty great at protecting his cousin.

30. Horror With An Ending You Didn't Expect to Happen: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Spoilers: [                   PENIS                         ]
Word Count: 502
Reviews in This Series
Horror Lover Challenge Part 1 (August 16, 2013)
Horror Lover Challenge Part 2 (August 25, 2013)
Horror Lover Challenge Part 3 (August 28, 2013)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Census Bloodbath: Silence Is Not Golden

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Year: 1980
Director: Denny Harris
Cast: Rebecca Balding, Barbara Steele, Brad Rearden
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Oh man, where do I even start with this one?

Silent Scream was not an easy film to make. Nor is it an easy film to watch, but I'll get to that in a bit. Principal photography began in 1977 (making the initial scripting of this movie take place long before Friday the 13th and it shows), but after a year it was plagued with endless reshoots, several recastings to incorporate big names, short production schedules, and multiple rewrites. Many shots are filmed with stand-ins (at several points a male crew member poses as several of the female characters) and the director had to pay for the rough cut out of pocket, only twelve minutes of which can actually be seen in the completed film.

After such a traumatic production, it would be such a relief if the film was actually good, but you know where I'm going with this, don't you?

She knows.

Silent Scream follows the escapades of young college student Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding), whose bowl haircut and androgynous name instantly let us know she's the Final Girl before the film hits the two minute mark. Evidently she didn't think to make sure she had a place to live and the dorms have all filled up by the time she comes to register.

She finds a last-minute room for rent in a house owned by the mysterious Engels family. Mason Engels (Brad Rearden) is a high school boy and with his chunky brown hair and dead eyes I can't decide whether he reminds me more of the Log Lady from Twin Peaks or the log itself. He takes care of the business because his mother (Yvonne De Carlo) is much too sick to work.

Mason's sister Victoria (Barbara Steele, who should not be in this movie. How this happened I'll never know) is said with a knowing glance to be off in the East Coast and Scotty is given her room. Without further ado we get to Meet the Meat, and man, there just is not a lot of meat to go around these days.

There's Doris (Julie Andelman), a chunky and spunky sweetheart; Peter Ransom III (John Widelock), a privileged young heir wearing a windbreaker that wouldn't be out of place at a Village People concert; and Jack (Steve Doubet), a motorcycle-riding dreamboat - one of those "only hot in the 80's" types.

Mason tells Scotty to be quiet when she passes his mother's room, for fear of disturbing her. I feel shades of Psycho but the movie throws up a massive twist when it turns out his mom isn't actually dead. Oh well.

Honestly, a Psycho retread is the best I could've hoped for.

Doris matchmakes the hell out of their little group and she and Peter and Jack and Scotty go on a double date. When night falls, the real terror begins. 

Oh, sorry, did you think I meant it was scary? No, I was referring to the cinematography. Every set is swathed in a thick blanket of darkness to ensure that we don't see anything unsavory. Or... anything. Ever again. 

At one point there is a solid seven seconds of total blackness and a good five minutes of the film are not much better, featuring one point of light or, if you're lucky, the dim outline of a dress. Most of the time all I could see was my own reflection in the computer screen.

An artist's rendering of the film.

Peter gets killed on the beach at knifepoint and I get the bit of Psycho I was so yearning for a couple paragraphs ago. Knife goes up and down, score shrieks shrilly. Check and mate. Now that's all fine and dandy for Psycho. Hitchcock didn't need to show a lot of blood. His raw talent allowed him to imbue the scene with terror without resorting to gore. 

This movie is not Psycho. Where most slasher films compensate for their lack of true scariness by throwing buckets of blood on set, Silent Scream is downright parsimonious, as if they bought a thimble of stage blood and were determined to make it last.

Accompanying the tidal waves of darkness and the inexplicable absence of tidal waves of viscera is a tremendously ugly VHS transfer. At one point my DVD's frame was so fuzzy, I thought I was watching Poltergeist for a second.

So, back to the movie. Jack and Scotty go for a swim at the exact same beach where Peter died. Nothing happens.

Mason watches a TV show depicting a woman being raped. This is weird, but nothing happens.

Mason and his mom share intense staircase glances after the cops come by to investigate. Nothing happens.

In case you haven't picked up on the pattern, Silent Scream is exceedingly dull affair.

Its three major movie sins (poor video quality, lack of gore, and monotony) form a triumvirate of torture and pain from which the movie can not break free.

This is what I felt like by the 45 minute mark.

The most notable scene in the film is when Scotty and Jack have sex, if only because it's so uncommon for a Final Girl to be involved in such lecherous activity. So after meandering around for a little bit, the movie finds a foothold when Doris is killed in the basement and Scotty is kidnapped by Victoria, who it turns out has been hiding in the attic this whole time.

What could've been an OK Final Girl sequence is instead superseded by weird family drama as a series of revelations shows that Victoria once attempted suicide after attempting to murder a cheating boyfriend. She was institutionalized and lobotomized, leaving her mute. Also she's Mason's mom.

Yeah, I don't know either. It's weird.

Silent Scream is really not much of a slasher. Only two of the killings count as true body count deaths (they were perpetrated by the killer with a sharp weapon), two more people are killed by gun (come on! This is a slasher! Let's get real), there is absolutely no even semi-reasonable motive, and the title and tagline don't make any sense. There's nothing quiet about any of this.

Mad Brennan is mad he spent money on this DVD.

On a more positive note, the acting really doesn't suck. Balding is a likable lead and Steele isn't exactly turning in her best work but in a film of this magnitude she's an obvious shining star.

Fun Fact: I watched the first minute and a half of this film on mute accidentally and I didn't notice because I figured it was supposed to be "Silent."

Killer: Victoria Engels (Barbara Steele)
Final Girl: Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding)
Best Kill: Doris dies at the exact moment that Scotty orgasms, her moans masking her friend's screams.
Sign of the Times: $75 a month for rent is much too high. Scotty practically has a heart attack when she finds out.
Scariest Moment: Scotty is pulled through a hole into a secret room in the attic.
Weirdest Moment: Mason dresses in his father's army uniform and takes on his persona. Also he shoots his mom.
Champion Dialogue: "How about a small orgy?"
Body Count: 5; 2 killed by Victoria, 2 killed by Mason, and Victoria herself. Weaksauce.
  1. Peter is stabbed to death.
  2. Doris is stabbed to death.
  3. Mrs. Engels is shot to death.
  4. Victoria is pushed onto her own knife.
  5. Mason is shot to death. 
TL;DR: Silent Scream is tedious at best with murky cinematography and no real plot to speak of.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1287

Monday, August 26, 2013

C (S) U Later

It is with heavy heart (and backpack) that I inform you of the beginning of CSULB's fall 2013 semester, meaning that I will be unable to post daily on this site, and most likely not very frequently at all. I'm taking five classes, TAing a sixth, on the board for the GSA, and working so I'll barely have time to watch movies, let alone write about them.

I'm gonna do my best though, and I know this is hard on you so I've made you a little back-to-school present,

10 TV Shows to Watch on Netflix Instead of Doing Homework

30 Rock (2006 - 2013)

Seasons: 7
Time Wasted: 2 days 2 hours 36 minutes

OK, so the seventh season technically isn't on Netflix yet but it will be soon! If they answer my prayers.

30 Rock is a witty behind-the-scenes comedy that is a not-so-veiled look at Tina Fey's life as the head writer of SNL. She plays socially inept Liz Lemon, a woman on a quest to balance work, love, and having it all. And eat as many sandwiches as she possibly can.

With Alec Baldwin as her boss (a man as conservative as he is wealthy) and mentor, providing 30 Rock's core, the show survived way more seasons than the ratings should have allowed by always remaining as sharp and clever as the very first episode.

Also featuring Jack McBrayer, Tracy Morgan, and Jane Krakowski.

Scrubs (2001-2010)

Seasons: 9
Time Wasted: 2 days 18 hours 44 minutes

A screwball comedy set in Sacred Heart Hospital, Zach Braff plays J.D., a young intern on his way to becoming a doctor. Chock full of fast-paced gags, creative fantasy sequences, and a surprising amount of heart, Scrubs is so good that you won't even notice that the last two seasons mostly suck. 

Also featuring Donald Faison, John C. McGinley, and Sarah Chalke.

Arrested Development (2003-2013)

Seasons: 4
Time Wasted: 1 day 3 hours 35 minutes

Quite simply one of the funniest sitcoms ever. The story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son (Jason Bateman) who had no choice but to keep them all together, it's... Arrested Development.

Full of structural humor, bizarre in-jokes, and zippy punch lines that keep you on your toes, this show bombed in initial ratings, leading Fox to cancel it after three increasingly short seasons. Netflix picked it up for a fourth. Reviews were mixed, but the new season returns to the characters with as much zeal and wild experimentation as ever.

Also featuring Will Arnett, Portia de Rossi, and Michael Cera.

How I Met Your Mother (2005 - Present)

Seasons: 8
Time Wasted: 2 days 19 hours 28 minutes

With one season not yet on Netflix and another (its last) in production, HIMYM still has some crackle in it yet. Although the main premise, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) telling his kids the tale of... how he met their mother has long since worn thin, the show is kept alive with a brilliant ensemble cast - the first show since Friends to truly succeed with the "twentysomethings hang out in a place" formula.

Also featuring Alyson Hannigan, Jason Segel, and Neil Patrick Harris.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005 - Present)

Seasons: 8 (with a ninth on the way)
Time Wasted: 1 day 10 hours 28 minutes

The simple story of a bunch of self-centered lunkheads who own a bar in South Philadelphia is a pitch black comedy starring Charlie Day. Mostly improvised and never tame, It's Always Sunny panders in filthy humor, shrill arguments, and the hilarious antics of truly awful people.

In the second season, Danny DeVito joined the cast as the disgusting Frank Reynolds, a role he was clearly born for.

Also featuring Rob McElhenny, Glenn Howerton, and Kaitlin Olson.

Undeclared (2001 - 2002)

Seasons: 1
Time Wasted: 6 hours 14 minutes

Judd Apatow's college comedy and spirit sequel to his cult classic Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared is the story of Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel), a nerdy kid trying to reinvent himself in his first year of college. Perfectly capturing the drama and the magic of freshman year, Undeclared will have you looking back fondly on your first college friends, overbearing RAs, and the time when Adam Sandler was still relevant.

Also featuring Seth Rogen, Charlie Hunnam, and Monica Keena.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)

Seasons: 7
Time Wasted: 4 days 12 hours

Buffy is Joss Whedon's ultimate cult classic. Taking the horror trope of the Final Girl and turning it on its head, Buffy stars a butt-kicking Sarah Michelle Gellar as the Chosen One of Sunnydale High, defending the world from vampires, demons, and creatures that go bump in the night.

Also featuring my lover David Boreanaz, Alyson Hannigan, and Nicholas Brendon.

Twin Peaks (1990 - 1991)

Seasons: 2
Time Wasted: 23 hours 18 minutes

Twin Peaks is David Lynch's surreal masterpiece of small town intrigue. Kyle MacLachlan stars as Special Agent Dale Cooper as he searches for the answer to the question on everybody's lips: Who killed Laura Palmer?

Also featuring Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick, and Dana Ashbrook.

Portlandia (2011 - Present)

Seasons: 3 (so far)
Time Wasted: 9 hours 54 minutes

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's sharp satire skewers Portland, the hipster capital of the world. As with most sketch comedy, it's sometimes a mixed bag, but it is always insightful, hilarious, and full of weird celebrity cameos.

Also featuring Kyle MacLachlan, Chloë Sevigny, and Aubrey Plaza.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (2010 - 2012)

Seasons: 2
Time Wasted: 4 hours 24 minutes

Simultaneously uproariously funny and oppressively dark, Todd Margaret is an acquired taste. Starring David Cross as a bumbling corporate employee sent across the pond to sell a putrid energy drink, this BBC comedy is crass, sophisticated, wry, and exceedingly British.

Also featuring Will Arnett, Sharon Hogan, and Blake Harrison.

And because I have my super anticipated horror class today, I would be remiss if I didn't include

BONUS: Five Horror Films to Watch on Netflix Instead of Writing Your Essay

Dead Snow (Død Snø) (2009)

Time Wasted: 1 hour 32 minutes

A bitingly fun Norwegian zombie comedy that pays magnificent homage to the gore pictures of yore.

Featuring Jeppe Beck Laursen, Vegar Hoel, and Charlotte Frogner.

Read my full review here.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Time Wasted: 1 hour 25 minutes

Essentially the movie Dead Snow pays homage to in the highest, The Evil Dead is Sam Raimi's gleefully gory, somewhat campy (the outrageously slapstick humor of its sequel is not present, although the film does have some comedic elements) zombie flick that isn't really about zombies.

Candarian demons are released by an accidental reading of a passage from the Book of the Dead and attack five unwitting college students spending their break in a secluded cabin in the woods.

Featuring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, and Richard Demanincor.

Re-Animator (1985)

Time Wasted: 1 hour 26 minutes

What can I say? Netflix is really on top of zombie movies. Re-Animator is the tale of med student Herbert West, whose experiments with a serum to bring the dead back to life go terribly awry.

Read my full review here.

Featuring Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, and Barbara Crampton.

The Host (Goemul) (2006)

Time Wasted: 1 hour 59 minutes

This Korean monster movie has it all. Monster kidnappings, shoreline mayhem, and a surprising vein of  good humor and family satire.

Featuring Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, and Hae-il Park.

The Initiation (1984)

Time Wasted: 1 hour 36 minutes

How could I not include a slasher movie? The Initiation is the story of a sorority hazing gone very wrong. I'll cover this one on Census Bloodbath before you know it, but I'll call it now. It's one of the top 5 films of the year.

Featuring Daphne Zuniga, Hunter Tylo, and Vera Miles.

Have a good day at school, everyone! (And screw you, UC people!)
Word Count: 1323

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Level Two

Again, thanks to Freddy in Space for the inspiration to to this challenge. On with the next questions!

11. Most Ditzy [sic - this is from Twitter, sorry] Character: Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt)

The girl who somehow survives both I Know What You Did Last Summer and the insipid I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. During the course of the two films, Julie spends her time running full speed down the wrong track after red herrings, refusing to get out of the way when a killer is after her, and once even manages to get herself locked in a tanning bed. In fact, the entire plot of the second film is based on the fact the she doesn't know the capital of Brazil.

12. Favorite Horror Movie From the Past Year: You're Next (2013)

In my rave review for You're Next, I talked about the butt-kicking Australian lead, the whip smart dialogue, and the pitch perfect balance of terrifying and hilarious. This is all still true.

13. Best Impalement: Final Destination 3 (2006)

Just when it seems like everything is safe and a girl is saved from accidental lynching, a flag pole is sent launching straight through somebody's abdomen. The clincher? The flag says "Liberty or Death." God, I love these movies.

14. Killer Who Has the Best Weapon: Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund)

No need for a second thought on this one. I barely needed a first thought. Freddy Krueger's razor glove (designed by Wes Craven to emulate the common fear of animal claws) is one of the most creative and terrifying inventions of the horror genre. I have so much to say about A Nightmare on Elm Street, but you guys are just gonna have to wait on that. We've got a big day planned.

15. A Horror-Love Story: Cold Prey (2006)

The beautiful Jannicke (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) is hesitant to move in with her boyfriend for fear of moving things too fast. The awkward and single Morten Tobias (Rolf Kristian Larsen) has been nursing a crush on her for quite some time. When their snowboarding group gets attacked by a deranged mountain man, the truths come out, but unfortunately Morten Tobias doesn't live long enough to see his dream realized. One of the only times my heart has been broken by a slasher film.

16. Best Throat Slicing: V/H/S 2 (2013)

Another one that I have previously talked about. In the segment "Safe Haven," directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto, a documentary crew visits the compound of a cult on what happens to be their Armageddon day. Things don't quite go as planned and the throat slitting is one of the most visceral and exciting gore effects in the entire film, which is chock full of bizarre and off-putting sights.

17. Favorite Sequel to a Horror: Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

I love this film, and the whole Prom Night gang. While the original was a fairly run-of-the-mill slasher flick (although it did feature Leslie Nielsen and Jamie Lee Curtis and seven minutes of disco dancing), its sequel is an absolutely nutso balls-to-the-wall post-Nightmare on Elm Street special effects extravaganza that owes just as much to Carrie as it does to Freddy Krueger.

18. Best Horror Movie in the Woods: The Burning (1981)

I know I'm snubbing my beloved Friday the 13th series, but even I know they're bad movies.

With special effects by Tom Savini and a raft massacre scene that landed it on the Video Nasties list in the UK, The Burning is a surefire slasher classic. The first time I saw this film was at a midnight movie in LA with Shannon. I was expecting to show her first dumb slasher movie. I was disappointed. This movie is fantastic.

19. An Actor You Enjoyed to Watch Get Murdered: Michelle Trachtenberg


The remake of Black Christmas was a dream come true.

20. Most Attractive Horror Movie Killer - Adam Carr (David Boreanaz)

Sorry about spoilers but mmmmmmmm....

I'm pretty sure David Boreanaz is an actual undead vampire because he has aged maybe three months since Buffy started in 1997. 

Valentine is an absolutely fabulous movie because of how much it sucks. Despite coming out after Scream and Buffy, two genre-bending self aware horror genre tentpoles, this film is still just a straightforward slasher flick, which I have a lot of respect for despite the stigma that comes attached to that.
Word Count: 746
Reviews in This Series
Horror Lover Challenge Part 1 (August 16, 2013)
Horror Lover Challenge Part 2 (August 25, 2013)
Horror Lover Challenge Part 3 (August 28, 2013)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Undead Again

On that fateful day in May 2012, Cassidy and I sat down to watch this Spanish movie called [REC]. We were both profoundly affected by the experience and that summer we pretty much exclusively watched zombie films, trying to sate our desires for more bloody mayhem.

We tore through Land of the Dead, Zombie Diaries, [REC] 2 and countless others, both good (Dead Snow) and bad (Zombie Diaries 2: World of the Dead). Despite our voracious appetites, we barely skimmed the surface of the fertile fields of zombie cinema and when second semester ended, we set out to plow through even more.

Summer of the Living Dead: 2013

Dawn of the Dead

Year: 1978
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger
Run Time: 2 hours 7 minutes
MPAA Rating: X

A group of zombie outbreak survivors holes up in a Pennsylvania Mall.

We waited a long time for this one, having unsuccessfully tried to watch it in late August and again in October. So naturally we opted to open our summer with Dawn of the Dead - only the most critically acclaimed zombie film of all time, at the top of every list and carrying a solid 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. We excitedly popped in the DVD and found it... underwhelming.

Now, I can definitely see why this movie made a splash in the 70's. Tom Savini's gore effects (which later landed him on a little slasher film called Friday the 13th) are decades ahead of their time and the score by Dario Argento's frequent collaborators, the band Goblin, is delightfully weird and off-putting (I thought it worked, but Cassidy found it hilarious).

The satire of American consumerism provides a level of depth uncommon to most undead pictures (and let's face it, the lauded anti-racist undertones of Night of the Living Dead are mostly accidental). It is a good, well-made film in terms of the art of cinema but it features a slate of thoroughly unlikable characters (especially its pregnant heroine) and does not do quite enough to earn its punishing run time. These factors don't totally diminish the film's historical power, but in today's world where we have access to hundreds of other movies like this one, I'd much rather shoot for a film that's less well-made but more fun.

Rating: 7/10


Year: 1985
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton
Run Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: UR

An ambitious medical student creates a serum that can bring the dead back to life.

About as related to H.P. Lovecraft as a McDonald's hamburger, Re-Animator is nevertheless a loose adaptation of his short story "Herbert West - Reanimator." It is a barrel of campy fun that critics have somehow mistaken for a good movie. Holding a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, this makes Re-Animator rated higher than Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, and The Texas Chain Saw Masssacre. There is no world that exists in any of our manifold alternate universes in which this is true.

Re-Animator is a bad movie. But it is so gleefully, irrepressibly bad that it's a blast to watch. Barbara Crampton (who's featured in my go-to movie of the summer, You're Next) gives a hilariously uneven performance in a hilariously uneven sweater opposite Bruce Abbott's "only hot in the 80's" heartthrob performance and Jeffrey Combs's hammy mad scientist deadpan.

Featuring my first experience with a post-coital Spring-Loaded Cat scare, a German physician named Hans Gruber (3 years before Die Hard, so let's not call it a rip-off), a secretly pretty great severed head performing cunninglingus, a man being strangled with a large intestine, and a doctor's office full of battered silver trophies, I have no doubt why this film became a cult classic.

Top it off with music cues that rip pages directly from Psycho's songbook and an evil doctor that looks exactly like John Kerry whose "acting voice" is so affected that he sounds like Siri, and you've got an A+ B movie on your hands. Gory, silly, and effortlessly cheesy, this is one to treasure.

Champion Dialogue: "He's got a secret folder filled with napkins and hair!"

Rating: 8/10

Diary of the Dead

Year: 2007
Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn Roberts
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Film students capture an account of the zombie apocalypse on tape.

Ah, Diary of the Dead, the much maligned black sheep of Romero's Living Dead franchise. Being found footage, it didn't find a lot of friends in the horror community at large. However, it is frequently ignored that in the beginning, Diary solves a lot of problems of the shopworn found footage genre. It is made very clear that the footage is edited (by one of the characters, at that) and that she added in some music at crucial moments.

This is not cheating.

Many films like The Last Exorcism, The Zombie Diaries, and portions of the V/H/S anthologies have used multiple camera angles and background score without ever once addressing that the very presence of such things flies directly in the face of the nature of the genre. Romero took that flaw and made it a strength - at least in the relative authenticity of the film itself. Unfortunately this also creates a lot of problems that certainly would not and could not be present otherwise.

The editing is episodic, and after each episode we get a bit of pointless narration to accompany some pointless recapping of previous footage. This sucks, except for in the final moments of the film. If I wanted to listen to a deadpan film student pontificate about what makes us human ("It's us against them... Except... They are us), I'd have taken that summer course.

Also, being film students, most of the characters are supremely unlikable to the point where I actively wished for their throats to be chomped out by hordes of the undead. The main character, Deb (Morgan) has such an acidic personality that she treats even her boyfriend, whom she at least nominally loves like a piece of gum on the bottom of her shoe.

People wander off into the woods, open the doors to strange men, and generally behave like lobotomized toddlers, and I swear if the movie were only this, it would be a dreary mess.

But when it's good, it's good, babydoll.

To start, there's some fabulous gore here including a zombie child stuck to a wall with an arrow, a horde of zombie shot through a hole in another zombie's head, a man stabbing himself in the head with a scythe to get to a zombie who's biting his neck, and a zombie head dissolving in hydrochloric acid.

Huzzah! All we need is the red red krovvy and Romero delivers.

The very best parts of Diary of the Dead are often the weirdest, but that's probably because it is so divorced from any other zombie film or even any of the director's previous work. 

Here's my two absolute favorite parts of the film:

1) When a dude in a mummy costume is driven crazy alone in a house full of zombies. It is unexpectedly sweet and truly hilarious, like Stu Macher's scene at the end of the first Scream.

2) A deaf Amish guy (I know, right) throws a stick of dynamite at a horde of zombies (I know, right?) and then... this.


And the obligatory social satire - this time of the tendency of our generation to mindlessly record events and post them online without considering their real impact - is solid. Honestly, I found this to be one of Romero's most well-developed satires thematically. Unlike some of his other movies, where it comes in fits and starts, it actually feels like a deeply considered thought process.

Champion Dialogue: "He's a state trooper."
"How do you know?"
"His hat is a stupid looking hat."

Rating: 8/10

Now, because Cassidy and I got distracted by unimportant things like work and major life events like Prom Night, we actually didn't get around to as much zombie mayhem as we were hoping. My final review is going to be of a classic, one that we watched ages ago but that I recently revisited with my friend Henri.

Dead Snow (Død Snø)

Year: 2009
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Vegar Hoel, Charlotte Frogner, Jeppe Beck Laursen
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

A group of young med students decides to spend their break at a secluded cabin in the mountains, but unfortunately a clan of Nazi zombies has the same idea.

Norway, man. Those American-fed lunatics are at it again with a gory romp through the alpine heights, think Cold Prey but instead of the mountain man it's an army of undead Nazis. Due to Norway's seemingly intense fascination with slasher films, we get a fairly straightforward Meet the Meat section when we're introduced to our characters.

The characters are virtually indistinguishable, but as far as I can figure, there's Martin (Hoel), a med student who's scared of blood and thinks smothering his girlfriend with a pillow makes for a fun Saturday night; Hanna (Frogner), his dread-sporting girlfriend; Erlend (Laursen), a movie buff; Chris (Jenny Skavlan), Hanna's cousin who apparently thinks it's appropriate to bang dudes while they're sitting in an outhouse; Roy (Stig Frode Henriksen), the horniest man in Norway; Liv (Evy Kasseth Røsten), who is blonde and nothing else; Vegard (Lasse Valdal), the only reasonably attractive member of the group; and his girlfriend Sara (Ane Dahl Torp), who has the brilliant idea of skiing to the cabin alone. Needless to say, she doesn't make it.

The first act good-naturedly stabs at some meta humor with Erlend pointing out what a common trope a group of teens going to a cabin in the woods is. Unfortunately, the ensuing conversation about movies with that plot prove how very few there actually are. This is only a minor nitpick, but April Fool's Day? That's in a mansion on an island. Friday the 13th? A campground. Maybe their translations are off.

Anyway, it turns out when World War II ended, a squadron of Nazi officers was driven out of a nearby town, left to freeze to death in this very mountain range. And who should come a-knockin' but Colonel Herzog himself, looking for his long lost Nazi gold?

What the film might lack in technical prowess (the lighting is a little flat, some equipment can be spotted along the edge of a couple frames, and those zombies have some awfully healthy pink skin if you peek between the folds of their jackets), it more than makes up for in pure ambition as the second half picks up and transforms the peaceful cabin into a whirling dervish of bloody hilarity.

Heads are pulled in two, a man is separated from his limbs like a starfish, and Vegard hangs off a cliff, using a zombie's intestines as a rope. It's gross, it's fun, and it's a thrill ride that doesn't let up, all accompanied by typically bizarre Norwegian death metal.

Rating: 8/10
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