Friday, November 6, 2015

I still love Them (1954).

There are so many reasons to watch old, black-and-white classics. You get a peek into another time period, and as much as I like reading a good book, you get something so much more tangible with a film where you can literally see all the details (and even hear them). I'm sure a lot of this is romanticizing the past, but everything just seemed simpler back then. At least as far as movies go, they weren't afraid to give you a message, and I don't see anything wrong with that. It's a million times better than Transformers: Rise of the Convoluted Crap. Heck, Terminator 2 has a clear message stated outright at the end too, and it's a masterpiece. I have a special place in my heart for "old" films (the worst thing is when kids now think the '80s are old). I remember watching Them as a kid, and I was desperate to revisit it. I wasn't disappointed.

Sure, the giant ants are a little hokey at times, but I think they did an amazing job with them considering the limitations. Plus, the way they build up to that first reveal and use the sound of them is brilliant. I'm fond of all the characters too. People then seemed to have more manners and hold themselves to a higher standard although I know there were plenty of hideous problems then as well (the red scare for example, widespread smoking, less civil rights, etc.), but I always find it easy to like the actors in these films. You don't get a ton of moral complexity. Sometimes, it's nice to have obvious good guys and bad guys.

This film is still pretty harsh on occasion too. A good guy trying to rescue some kids get brutally slain by an ant. You also get the hallmark of every good movie: flamethrowers. Seriously, what more do you need?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Why I Hate Found Footage

I'll preface this by noting there are some good found footage movies (Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, etc.), but (and it's a BIG but) they are few and far between with most being absolute garbage. I'm so sick of it. Here's why:
1) Full of shaky cam and often ON PURPOSE.
2) Excuse for crappy picture quality (out-of-focus, overexposed, random awful angles, missing action, etc.).
3) Constantly trying to justify why they're filming (a flaw inherent in the concept). We don't need lame, pathetic reasons throughout why you're still recording... if we're watching, we already bought into it so stop reminding us that it makes no sense why you have 5 shitty cameras and keep shooting when you're about to get your head chopped off. Tell a good STORY.
4) NOTHING happens for most of the runtime. Entire scenes will literally do nothing to drive the story forward. That's because usually there is NO story. Most of these "films" you could cut out the first 40 min and lose nothing except filler.
5) Hand in hand with the above, you get scene after scene of horrible improv where young people are being dumb and "being themselves" aka almost always drinking, making unfunny jokes, etc. It's not character development just because people talk. They need actual, unique traits that differentiate them, they need to be memorable (actually funny helps too, not just your cast giggling while the audience slips into a coma), we need to root for them, etc. The cast having beers together doesn't do shit, and one character asking another character's name... wow.
6) Never get a good look at the monsters or FX. What was that? Was that something? What the fuck am I looking at? Welcome to found footage. How about a super crappy light on the front of the camera? Check. And you still can't see shit. Like blurry shadows? Here you go.
7) The whole thing just feels thrown together like they didn't have a script. Maybe they had an outline or you know put a couple words together for the title. Way to go guys. Let's insult screenwriting some more. Wait, you actually had a script? Stop lying to yourself. That toilet paper isn't a script. Did you storyboard? Not even stick figures? Oh geez, 3rd graders prepare more than you.
8) They're cheap and easy to make, which is why they look cheap and easy to make. It's also why most of them suck.
9) You often have amateur actors shooting who have no clue what they're doing so you get a lot of first-time, never-used-a-camera-before mistakes (yippie, there's a red lighty thingy blinky winky).
10) Trying to convince us it's all real. No one is falling for that shit anymore. It's fake. It's faker than fake, and stupid text at the beginning isn't going to change that. Stop.
11) More dumb excuses for why there is music, sound effects, etc. You're overthinking it, and it will never make any sense. We don't care. Give us a good movie (not a good one 50 min in) and we won't sit there questioning it.
12) Stop doing fuckin found footage! Do you have any idea how much of that shit is on Netflix right now? It sucks! STOP! Get a nice camera, put some fuckin thought into your camera angles, STORYBOARD (yes, that's a fuckin word!), use a dolly, write a real fuckin script, and quit shitting on the silver screen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: The Stuff (1985)

I never saw this back in the day so it was nice to find a good '80s flick I missed. The satire reminded me a lot of RoboCop, and the practical effects were a lot of fun. It got quite icky and gross when you see what the stuff does to people's insides. I love the dog being possessed, controlling the owner. That was strange. Hopefully, institutions like the FDA would protect us yankees from something like this, but obviously, sometimes things slip through the cracks or you get corruption especially if a product makes so much money. It's a bit scary when you think about it, and you see enough dangerous items on the market like those stupid energy drinks, etc. We all know that crap is bad for us but so many people still drink it.

I love the tagline, "Are you eating it or is it eating you?" I saw the Maniac Cop trilogy that Larry Cohen wrote and of course Phone Booth, but I haven't seen most of his other work like Q or It's Alive so I'll have to check those out. I always remember their posters especially the glorious one for Q, which I'm sure the low-budget movies can't live up to but still got to watch them.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Memories of Murder (2003) is deeply unsettling and haunting.

How can you not love Korean cinema with films like I Saw the Devil, Oldboy, The Host, The Man from Nowhere, A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, etc.? Unless you've been sleeping under a gravestone, you know they've been knocking it out of the stratosphere for a while now. Well, this film is no different except unlike the others, it's based on a true story, which really makes the reality hit home, and damn, is it quite disturbing. I don't want to spoil the movie, but I can't talk about it if I don't so if you plan on watching it, just know it's really, really good (IMDb's top 250). Now stop reading and see it. You can thank me later.

I'm going to ruin the ending, which actually doesn't matter and does matter more than anything all at the same time. Again, fair warning: don't read this until you've seen it. Seeing the journey of these two detectives and how they slowly switch places as they desperately try to solve a string of murders gets under your skin especially when you realize the deeper meaning at the end. Never catching this killer would be such an unbelievable hell to endure and coming so close would only make the pain that much worse. It cements the fact I would never ever want to be a detective. You have to admire these people. It's truly a terrible job.

But this film is so well done on so many different levels from cinematography to performances to writing. Absolutely everything is top notch. You get some humor albeit a bit dark at times then you get your gut-wrenching horror. Who knew pulling off a band aid would be such a cataclysmic event? And it really sticks with you particularly that final moment between the former detective and the little girl. Early on, you hate this guy for faking evidence and beating confessions out of people but by the end, you truly understand him. What makes him tick is haunting. That word perfectly describes this film. They don't need any cheap tricks here. Keeping it classy and clean makes it all the more heartbreaking and real. Sure, you get your dead bodies but they don't focus on blood or nudity or anything like that. You've really got to applaud them for making such an incredible movie. It makes you think and feel and sticks with you long after the credits roll.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Castle Freak (1995)

I'm a huge fan of Stuart Gordon (Robot Jox! From Beyond! Re-Animator!) so when I realized I had missed a couple of items in his filmography, I knew I had to immediately rectify that, and I wasn't disappointed. Castle Freak is a lot of fun just like you'd expect with Jeffrey Combs involved. The titular monster looks fantastic especially when he puts the bloody bed sheet over his body, and right from the get-go, we get treated to a nasty scene of him breaking his own thumb to escape from his chains. Over the course of the movie, there are times when you can sympathize with this creature because of his horribly long, barbaric imprisonment and treatment as well as his stunted childlike intelligence. I could almost see this beast as a metaphor for the dark, repressed side of Combs's character.

The acting was great with Combs definitely stealing the show, and I like how his character is quite flawed. I think the writing is actually very smart with the relationships and how the story unfolds. Gordon does an incredible job the way he shows the monster and doesn't show it. The location is obviously a big character in the film, and they take full advantage of it, roaming down vast corridors, exploring all kinds of different areas, etc. You even get a rooftop confrontation at the end in the rain. It's quite a sight. I really, really loved the ending, which was more emotional than I expected and a real tribute to how well the characters were developed.

Of course, being Gordon, you get a bit of sex then some quite disturbing gore during some potential lovemaking. I think it all works really well, and Stuart Gordon deserves a lot more credit. Sure, it's gruesome at times but the writing, the characters, and the delivery sell everything. This is definitely another horror gem from the '90s right up there with Demon Knight in my opinion.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Best Horror is Indie

I don't know why anyone would be surprised by this when Hollywood only churns out soulless remakes, reboots, and sequels, but the best horror films in the last few years have been independent:

Want to guess the budgets? $13.3 million for Under the Skin, which you might expect with a movie star like Johansson, $2 million for The Babadook (with $30,000 raised on Kickstarter), $1 million for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (according to Justin Begnaud's Slated page with $56,000 raised on IndieGoGo), and apparently, the budget for Starry Eyes was only the $52,000 raised for it on Kickstarter (at least, I couldn't find any indications they raised more elsewhere but I wouldn't be surprised if they did since the movie definitely looks like it has a higher budget although I read they shot guerrilla-style in LA without permits). It's clear you don't need a big budget to make a horror film. Micro-budget or no-budget, of course, makes it more difficult, but it isn't impossible.

There are plenty of other examples too: Jim Mickle's outstanding Stake Land, Ti West's The Roost and The House of the Devil, Lucky McKee's May, Adam Wingard's You're Next and The Guest, Brad Anderson's Session 9, etc.

Even the biggest horror franchises of the last decade came from indies: Paranormal Activity and Saw. You do occasionally (rarely, very rarely actually) get a good studio horror film like Gore Verbinski's The Ring and Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead but note those are both remakes, which started us on this awful trend that has definitely produced far more shit than anything.

It's true you get a ton of crappy indie horror movies but then you get the little masterpieces that blow away Hollywood's pathetic attempts to cash in on a "brand." Even going back to the '80s, the horror films most people still love today were indies: John Carpenter's Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chain Saw MassacreEvil Dead, PhantasmNight of the Living Dead, etc.

Indie horror films are why people embrace this genre. You get filmmakers taking risks and trying something new because they have a story they're passionate about.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: Crawl or Die (2014)

When I heard about this indie, I had no idea how they were going to stretch the tunnel scene from Aliens into a feature-length film without it getting repetitive and boring, but damn, they did a fantastic job. There is a lot of incredible tension throughout, using simple but perfectly effective sound design to keep you on edge. You get different types of tunnels with some being dirt instead of metal then they keep getting smaller and smaller so the claustrophobic feeling is undeniably palpable. I have no claustrophobia at all, but you can't help it watching this and imagining yourself in that situation. What they went through to make this especially the lead actress when she is breathing in that dirt is fuckin horrible. They really suffered for their art, but I think it pays off.

My only complaint is I wish they didn't show the creature's head so much because it resembles Giger's famous Alien except it looks fatter and not as textured or if they could've changed the design of its head to be drastically different, I think they could've sidestepped negative comparisons. The monster looks pretty amazing otherwise like that first tail shot. That was executed brilliantly. You get a part later on where these long spider-like tentacles or thin legs come out of the tunnel, and that looks awesome, showing enough to get your imagination going but not showing too much to spoil it. It's a fine line, and I guess people complained about wanting to see the monster in full, but sometimes, that just isn't a good idea if you don't have enough resources to pull it off convincingly.

I listened to a podcast with the director and he talked about an earlier cut where he didn't show the monster at all. They just had sounds, but I think the issue with doing that on a micro-budget indie is people assume (unfortunately) that you lacked the ability to do it, not that you artistically chose to never show it. Plus, I think you can show a little, and that can go a long, long way. For example, instead of just having a shot of a dark forest where there is supposed to be something out there and using sounds to get that idea across, I think it's much more effective to have a shadow move. You don't need to show what it is but have stillness and then have it move. I like the idea of just sounds especially being reminiscent of earlier horror films like Robert Wise's The Haunting, but people make incorrect assumptions and are extremely critical of no-budget horror. Audiences are more demanding now too. I also liken it to reading a book where you get a small vague description of a monster such as "an obese mishmash of teeth and claws swaying in the shadows with its tentacles stretched out like an enormous spider web," which is plenty to conjure up a gruesome picture in your mind without overdoing it. If that book had absolutely no description of what the monster looked like, would it be nearly as effective?

Anyway, I really recommend you check out this movie if you like indie horror. Tank is a cool character, and they made a very tense little film. I love the scene where she falls asleep, and it's slowly sneaking up on her. The cinematography and music are perfect as well. You can buy a signed copy of the film at So do it and support these talented filmmakers.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Harbinger Down Premiere

I was extremely excited for this new practical-FX horror film (seriously, we need more good old-fashioned REAL effects!), and I had never been to a premiere in Hollywood before so I knew I had to go. I never met any celebrities before either (I saw Savini at a convention once but didn't dare talk to Sex Machine). Of course, I had seen Lance Henriksen in Aliens, Terminator, Pumpkinhead, Near Dark, heck even Piranha 2, which really isn't that bad (Cameron improved it a crazy amount before he was unjustly fired... the foreign producer just wanted an American name on the movie while he ran off to shoot topless scenes on a beach! quite a behind-the-scenes story if you haven't heard it). So clearly I was a fan of Lance (Millennium! Hard Target! damn I love Hard Target and Lance plays the villain so well! Stone Cold too! over 200 acting credits according to IMDb). But I was a little wary... you know what they say about meeting your idols and I knew I would come off like an idiot fanboy, which I am! Bishop! I was going to meet freakin "not bad for a human" Bishop! And I haven't even read his autobiography yet (hey, I'm overseas... shipping is impossible and they don't sell it here). The guy learned to read by reading scripts! Buy his freakin book here!

Lance is the man.

The event took place at the historic Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Alien premiered there in 1979 (pics below!) so simply going there was a big deal for me. If you haven't guessed, I'm an absolutely insane Aliens fan: Kenner toys? Got them all. In their packages, and yes, I care. Snake Alien and all (sounds even more ridiculous when you type it). Even the original 1979 Kenner Alien doll. Saved up and bought it in high school. Posters, models, Chestburster shirt, even pins and puzzles. I ran the Alien Legend fan website since I was a teenager.

Wish I could've been there!

Not to mention, meeting Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., two of the biggest names in the FX business who worked with Stan Winston on Aliens and countless other phenomenal films (Winston's son even acts in the movie!).

Don't let this guy in!

True, I had a 13-hour flight to get there and the plane tickets were damn expensive but it was absolutely worth it. The film has some fantastic creature effects, and Alec was sure to thank all the Kickstarter backers at the beginning of the premiere (I was a bit worried we might be forgotten but he is a man of his word as Lance later told me). I won't go into spoilers, but immediately when the film started, you could sense the excitement in the air and everyone cheered at the first shot of space (and at Lance's classic introduction).

The after party was a lot of fun. These things can potentially be slightly awkward with everyone vying for time with the stars, but I had a chance to meet Lance and get a photo with him. He was very friendly and the type of kind, appreciative man you'd hope he would be. I chatted very briefly with him about James Cameron (my favorite filmmaker obviously... can't beat Aliens, Terminator, T2, The Abyss, True Lies, etc.). He told me how Cameron is an extremely hard worker. Always the first one on set and the last to leave.

I'm the idiot on the right.

I also spoke with the lead actress and a few more of the cast. They were all very nice and talked quite a bit with me. There was a cool little photo op in the courtyard in front of the theater where you could take pictures with one of the monsters, a piece of the set, and some of the props. I also exchanged stories with some other Kickstarter backers especially some guys from Chicago. I wish I would've done that even more. It's always great talking to fellow horror fans and movie lovers. I met a great Swiss guy who came all the way from France.

I got a picture with Alec, and to my surprise, he invited on a tour of Studio ADI the next day. That was pretty amazing, seeing a huge Tremors graboid on the wall and the brain bug from Starship Troopers along with life-size Aliens and Predators (even the Queen head from AvP... can't stand AvP but the Queen's head was cool). Alec was very laid back and honest. Felt like you could talk to him about anything. Then you remember this guy has worked with the very best in the business (Ridley Scott, David Fincher, James Cameron, etc.), but he was very down-to-earth and generous. We got to roam around and take photos. It was incredible. I grew up on Aliens, Tremors, Starship Troopers, etc. so the experience was pretty surreal, and like a lot of fans, I always wondered why Hollywood kept using so much CGI like for the awful remake/prequel of The Thing (tax incentives! I couldn't believe it when Alec explained it all in interviews... what's wrong with Hollywood? there you go).

Definitely be sure to check out Harbinger Down when it hits theaters this summer in the US on August 7th especially if you're sick of Hollywood's CG crapfests. For what it's worth, I don't hate CGI (superhero films pretty much require it and I love The Avengers as much as the next guy). I just hate CG blood and how overused CGI is now particularly in horror films where practical would be so much more effective. For my own films, it's all practical.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: The Hidden (1987)

This one was pretty disappointing. I saw the poster as a kid but never got around to watching it. Someone online mentioned it had some pretty good practical FX so I wanted to give it a shot. The premise also sounded promising and I'm a huge fan of '80s horror movies (who isn't?) so I tracked down the DVD. The opening scene is pretty good, and it has a lot more humor than I expected, but there are barely any alien FX despite there being plenty of opportunities (the creature takes over a dog!). Oh well, "grandpa" carrying a big boom box on his shoulder and beating the record store guy to death was so ridiculous I couldn't help but laugh (awww the '80s! the alien loves music haha get it? ugh). Michael Nouri does do a good job acting, but Kyle MacLachlan was a bit too silly at times. I wish the creature design was better too. It just looks like a bloated worm or something. The dog admiring itself in the mirror was hilarious.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Strangely obsessed with Split Second's killer.

I must be the only dumb nut who cares about this, but I can't help trying to figure out just what the fuck is going on with the heavy in Split Second. Design-wise, it's simply a crappy knockoff of Giger's Alien with a motorcycle visor built into its head, but was this thing human once or is it a shape-shifter? The reason I ask is because it writes "I'm back" in blood on a bathroom mirror, mails a half-eaten heart to the main character, uses guns, knows astrology well enough to paint the Scorpio symbol in blood on a ceiling, etc. I guess you could argue it didn't use the post office but rather dropped off the package at the police station; however, I have a hard time figuring out how no one would notice a 10-foot-tall black demon playing delivery boy. There are so many odd details about it in the movie. I forgot how much Durkin and Stone discuss it. We learn this serial killer only murders on high tides, and Scorpio is a water symbol. Charles Manson was a Scorpio and Stone is a Scorpio. Durkin thinks Stone and the killer are on the same psychic wavelength, which explains why Stone knows when the killer is about to strike or what time it killed the second victim. Does any of this add up to anything? No, not really. I mean why the high tide new moon babble? But it makes me curious what the hell they were thinking.

The writer must have had some reason behind it all, right? The killer is always taunting Stone like when it leaves his partner's gun at a new crime scene. It also draws an inverted triangle inside a circle on the ceiling, which Durkin informs us is "occult," and Stone says that the killer never did that before. The fact this is a new development in the killer's ritual suggests a change. Durkin questions if the baddie stood on the bed to paint it, causing Stone to ironically note the guy should be easy to spot since he'd have to be 10 feet tall. Now we found out before that the serial killer had disappeared for a while since they talk about this at the beginning of the film. 3 years ago it murdered Stone's partner and vanished sometime after that. So all this could mean the killer was human before it took its sweet little vaca and then somehow transformed into a creature after via occult methods, which is why it drew such a symbol after reappearing (or maybe it changed after killing the first girl we see, and that could justify how no one noticed it at the club). But that theory collapses in on itself thanks to the black-and-white flashback of Stone's partner being killed in which we see the killer is clearly not human even back then. Side note: I love how after his flashback, Stone is magically wearing a shirt with one cutoff arm sleeve (how convenient) to reveal the awful scars left by the beast. I guess that is the exact same shirt he wore 3 years ago... why would he keep that shirt and keep wearing it? Rather odd but Stone is eccentric to say the least.

The transforming theory has no evidence in the film to support it aside from the problem of why no one ever sees the monster aside from the club owner's dog and a little girl (why the girl isn't insanely terrified perplexes me since she seems to be smiling). Obviously, the real idea there was the creature was intended to be so fast you couldn't ever see it; hence, the title, the air blowing Stone's hair in the flashback as the killer races by (he should've known back then it wasn't human because of the fuckin gigantic claw marks it left on his arm but maybe he suppressed the memory), other people not seeing it, his girlfriend not even getting a glimpse of it when it bites her, etc. The problem with that is the way it's portrayed in the film since we can clearly see the thing charging out of a woman's apartment at one point although to be fair, they do show it very briefly, and it literally explodes out of a wall when it runs off. Still, that can't explain everything. So it roadrunners into the police station to deliver the heart? It would've had to rip through walls or security doors. I can't fathom UPS accepting a package from a customer like that, and how would it pay for the service? People would still feel the wind of the thing rushing by, and it'd still make a sound.

It's kind of a cool idea for a killer although I think Predator had a much better explanation for why people couldn't see the monster. Inhuman speed seems a little lame next to technology-advanced camouflage, but the forensic results on the police-station delivery of the heart are quite interesting. Fingerprints of Stone's dead partner and traces of the rat virus that causes Weil's disease. Then Durkin brings a report to the chief on the genetic fingerprints (yes, apparently, this is a different fingerprint report), stating that the killer has the DNA structure of all its victims. It has rat DNA (I guess it ate some rats? why would it do that?) and Stone's DNA (is this from scratching him?). Durkin later rants that the creature is "like the sum total of every serial killer" he studied as if someone rolled every serial killer into "one incredible being." Again, you have another pretty awesome idea there, but the movie doesn't really deliver on that. Who or what was this thing to begin with?

Durkin then explains the 25 78 refers to the Chinese zodiac and how they're in the year of the rat. Then he goes on about how the inverted triangle not only represents evil but also water and the circle is a symbol of magic and power so everything inside the circle is protected from what's outside. Scorpio is the sign most susceptible to the powers of darkness, and to a Scorpio, the idea of being joined to a supernatural being is of the utmost importance. He then declares the most powerful supernatural being to be Satan. All of this seems to imply the killer was a man who wanted to become supernatural, but a lot of it seems half-baked. I mean why the year of the rat thing? Just because it has rat DNA and ate rats or something? Durkin goes on about how it must believe by eating its victims, it's not only ingesting their DNA but also their souls. Then maybe it wants to take the souls back to hell. So it wants to take rat souls or it just got super hungry? I think it could pretty much pick anything it wants to eat so why rats? I do like how there are bigger mutant rats in this future apparently, judging by the pretty damn big one Stone blows away.

After Durkin gets the inverted triangle Scorpio circle symbol carved into his chest, Stone suggests maybe the meaning doesn't matter. Maybe it's just a map. So then all that Scorpio bullshit before was filler? Or they want to have their cake and eat it too? Well, you can read into that Scorpio crap if you like, but otherwise, whatever. This movie is definitely a little bit of a mess. Durkin mutters some more about the killer completing its circle geometrically speaking if it murders Stone at that spot. It seems like they didn't really know what to do with the killer so they threw a bunch of stuff together and don't flesh it out much. Hell, by the end, it all boils down to a stupid oversimplification: the monster is just Satan. Nice way to dumb it down. That's horribly weak. Why did the killer take a 3-year break then? Satan needed some time off or what?

Still, I have an odd affection for this movie. It's really not very good, but I like Rutger Hauer so much and his interplay with Neil Duncan as Detective Dick Durkin is hilarious ("We need some big fuckin guns!"). Dick's arc is awesome. After seeing the killer and shooting it but not being able to kill it, he pretty much freaks out and becomes more and more like Stone. Plus, you get Pete Postlethwaite from Alien 3, a nude goth Kim Cattrall, and Alun Armstrong doing a great job as the cliche hardass chief. True, all the kills are off screen, and the bad guy doesn't make much sense, but the atmosphere is pretty well done, I like the flooded locations, there are some interesting ideas, some funny lines, etc. You can't take it too seriously obviously, and it seems like everyone involved knew that too since there are some clever self-referential jokes.

The setup and everything reminded me of Predator 2, which came out 2 years earlier than this one, but Predator 2 is really not a buddy cop movie whereas this one uses that formula: reckless cop gets new by-the-book partner against his will, they both hate each other at the start, then become good friends, etc. Danny Glover's Harrigan didn't get a new partner. He is a loose cannon with an asshole chief, but he gets along very well with his partner.

I'm curious what happened behind the scenes on Split Second since Tony Maylam is credited as the director, but in the actual end credits of the movie, the first name that comes onscreen belongs to Ian Sharp for directing the "Subway Train & Additional Sequences." Does that mean the other guy got fired or they didn't like what he delivered so they shot new material to spice it up with more action? Interestingly, there are apparently a lot of deleted scenes in a TV version (it's 6 minutes longer according to IMDb). The movie was shot in eight weeks, which actually isn't that short. A lot of films are only shot in a month or less (20 days for John Carpenter's Halloween), and this one had two months, but the pre-production was quite short (only 21 days) so that could explain some of the story issues or there was some post tinkering. I wish someone would do a making-of documentary on it, but I guess the odds are slim on getting that.

Still, I think it's a pretty fun movie worth watching. It isn't anywhere near the brilliance of Alien, Predator, Blade Runner, etc. but it's a guilty pleasure of mine, and I love the original poster. The monster standing behind Stone with the big gun. BFG to the rescue.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dead Birds deserves some more love.

A victim of some undercooked CGI but overflowing with a foreboding atmosphere and a very unique setup, I can't help praising this creepy little gem. Let's not forget it's a horror western as well. How many of those can you count? There are also some fantastic detailed explanations for it online, and I think a lot of the seemingly-ambiguous elements become more clear on repeated viewings. The look of the monsters is pretty outstanding (despite again, the CGI, which ranges from fairly good to slightly weak), but I love the anti-hero characters, the sense of something greater and more sinister going on in the shadows, the way the story starts and progresses before coming full circle, etc.

I don't think the fact it's so good is surprising given the writer Simon Barrett who has done fantastic work recently on VHS, You're Next, and The Guest (hell yes). According to IMDb, this is the first feature written by him, and it's an incredible debut if you ask me. Some people were annoyed The Guest doesn't spell everything out for the viewer, but I think if you're really paying attention, it tells you all you need to know. The same can be said for Dead Birds in my opinion, and I'm a big fan of Mr. Barrett's approach. Of course, I think the directors of said projects also should be congratulated, because their contributions are phenomenal too. I just wish screenwriters were appreciated more. Everyone thinks they can write but really most people can't, and truly great screenwriting takes an insane amount of hard work, discipline, and determination.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Raid 2 and Under the Skin are tied for my favorites of the year.

I can't really pick between them, and they're so insanely different yet both are masterpieces in my opinion. I loved The Raid, but I think I could watch the sequel a million times more. Gareth Evans knows exactly what he's doing, and he's fuckin kicking ass. Sequels are so often pale imitations of the original, just trying to cash in on the brand name especially these days, but The Raid 2 says fuck you to pathetic sequel conventions and blazes its own blood-stained path, enlarging the world of the first film a thousand fold. You get Japanese Yakuza, rival Indonesian gangs, corrupt cops, badass assassins (Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man... hell yeah!), etc. The action is still there but on a much grander scale, and it's unbelievable. I think it easily lives up to the hype and crushes its skull in. My favorite moment (spoiler alert): Rama beats the crap out of a guy in self-defense, brutally burns his face, and then at the last second, we see that man was a cop too (end spoiler). This film doesn't pull its punches, and it never felt long either. I don't think I can say one negative about it.

Under the Skin is, of course, another creature entirely, but damn, it's good. It actually reminded me of Kubrick's The Shining because of the haunting atmosphere it sustains and the eerie way it uses sound and music. You really don't know what you're in for with this movie. I expected it to be a little slow, and maybe some might claim that, but I didn't think it was at all. I mean it was never boring to me. (spoiler alert!) I absolutely love the mature way it handles a disfigured man (end spoiler). It's really a crazy brilliant movie, and I think it will stick with you long after you see it so definitely seek it out.

Honorable Mentions: Nightcrawler and Starry Eyes

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Human Race is one of the best indie horror films I've seen.

True, it does have some CG blood, but it's extremely original, full of surprises, and completely engrossing from start to finish. I really don't understand the negative reviews out there. Did they watch the same movie? I've seen a lot of indie horror, and most of it falls flat, but this film is incredible. It's also quite gory and brutal. No one is safe. The actors are fantastic too especially Eddie McGee, Trista Robinson, and T. Arthur Cottam.

The writer/director Paul Hough plays with your expectations constantly, and the body count is insanely high. I love Battle Royale, which this movie does remind me of. but it's still very much its own beast. I highly recommend you check it out. I can't believe it was shot over 4 years, filming for a few days at a time and then taking 2-3 month breaks. That is just insane, and I had no idea watching it. I couldn't tell they did that at all.

The only negatives are the CG effects and maybe some of the acting, but it still kicks ass. The fact the leads aren't your typical stupid teens but two deaf people and a man with one leg really should be applauded especially since they're real characters, not silly stereotypes. Why can't Hollywood put out something daring and truly horrific like this? Oh, that's right. They only care about brand names and easy cash grabs.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rewatching Killer Klowns

Since it's the greatest month of the year, what better way to celebrate than forcing your Chinese girlfriend to sit through Killer Klowns from Outer Space? And damn, I forgot how creepy this movie is. I mentioned my love for the Mooney puppet eons ago, but one of the clowns trying to lure a little girl outside is beyond disturbing. The huge mallet he's holding behind his back and how you think for a second she's toast as the camera does a slow reveal, showing she has wandered off while her parents blab on without a clue.

I like seeing it with someone who has never watched it before and knows absolutely nothing about it since it helps me view it with fresh eyes. The acting is a bit dodgy and campy at the beginning especially from the old man and Mike, but of course, John Vernon is excellent. The guy playing Dave actually gives a pretty good performance too. I don't think anyone really watches this movie for the acting anyway. "Another door! ANOTHER door! Another door!" Wow, they should've cut those lines. It doesn't bother me though. I just love the thing.

Besides, the clowns are the real stars, and they're absolutely fantastic. Their nasty yellow jagged teeth and the revolting way they laugh. One slightly disappointing thing I noticed more this time is how their true Alien form seems to just be a big green crystal. That's a little weak (I guess a spider is slightly better sadly), but maybe that's just how they die. I do think they put quite a bit of thought into it even explaining several possibilities for the clowns' origins, and it's very clever all the crazy things they came up with like popcorn sneaking across the floor, cotton candy cocoons, the harvesting parade (the stuff of nightmares), the lethal shadow puppet, etc. The design of the clowns is just brilliant, and their space ship is so much fun. I love how you only see a few cocoons in it at the beginning, and then it's full of them at the end. Bye bye small town. That's a devastatingly high body count if you think about it.

I really hope the Chiodo brothers get to do their sequel one day. The practical FX in this movie are incredible.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Damn I love Starship Troopers!

Paul Verhoeven was really on a roll there for a while: RoboCop, Total Recall (fuck that remake! in fact, fuck all remakes! well, not The Thing or The Fly or The Blob... dammit '80s remakes don't count, just the money-grabbing bullshit they pump out now), Basic Instinct, and this glorious bugs vs. human bloodbath. Sure, we also got Hollow Man and Showgirls, but the man gave us ED-209 blasting huge red craters in a corporate numskull and don't forget about "Quaaaiiiiddd" or the freakin awesome Johnnycab scene. Heck, RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers are pretty much a perfect holy trilogy. They're masterpieces. Any filmmaker would be lucky to make one of them, much less all three.

"You have 10 seconds to comply." Best line ever.

And did I mention Michael "I make fuckin Highlander II good" Ironside? Alright, Highlander II still sucks, but Ironside is the king of awesome. I'm actually tempted to re-watch Highlander II because of him. That has to be some kind of miracle. Seriously, no one should ever be subjected to that film again. I'm pretty sure that'd be a human rights violation. Fine. I confess. I like that movie. It's awful, but Sean Connery and Michael Ironside make everything better. Not to mention, there are much, much worse movies out there (Raptor comes to mind... jeez it's definitely a whole new level of wretched when you're reusing footage from your other crappy movie).

Back to Starship Troopers. What's not to love here? Sure, they have some CGI, but it's done well, and they also have a ton of practical FX too. This movie is a great example of how to blend the two and not overdo the computer shit (take note studio dipshits! yeah, they don't care). Plus, the characters are great fun, you get some fantastic gore, and even a bit of nudity. Don't forget the badass score by Basil Poledouris (he also did the incredible music for RoboCop). The real question is why the hell didn't the studio give Verhoeven and Neumeier a bucket load of cash for a sequel instead of the embarrassingly small, straight-to-DVD crap they put out. Oh well, at least number three was better but nowhere near the original and still obviously hampered by a tiny budget.

I actually cared about Johnny Rico and his high school buddies. You even get Clancy Brown in a great supporting role and Doogie Howser. This is how you do an epic, sci-fi war movie. It's funny with plenty of satire, but it's also gripping and good. It doesn't shy away from showing the horrors of war. Even an imaginary war with giant bugs. I'm not a huge fan of '90s movies, but there were some damn good ones (Demon Knight!). So all I got to say is Paul Verhoeven, I salute you. Now, take over Hollywood again!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Blob (1988) shares a lot of similarities with John Carpenter's The Thing (1982).

Obviously, they're both remakes and quite dark, gory ones at that (long live the '80s!), but I forgot the extremely gruesome Thing-esque ways the Blob consumes its victims. You get faces melting, tentacles wrapping around people, a nice gestation dinner courtesy of the hobo, etc. Rob Bottin pretty much influenced all the FX artists that came after him with Carpenter's masterpiece (talk to any practical effects guy and they'll almost always cite it as the fuel for their dream), and it's easy to see that here to a degree I was never aware of as a kid. Heck, you even get flamethrowers. How can you not love flamethrowers? The Blob also has fantastic storytelling, making you care about the characters long before any blood hits the screen. In fact, it does an excellent job surprising you with who lives and who dies. Some deaths are horribly tragic. I think a huge part of this must be the writing of Frank Darabont. He clearly gets character development, and the acting doesn't disappoint either (Jeffrey DeMunn! aka Dale on The Walking Dead, a Darabont regular who knocks it out of the park here). These two movies would be the perfect companions for an awesome horror marathon (hell throw in David Cronenberg's The Fly while you're at it!). Unlike so many other remakes, these actually do something new and take the stories in different directions. They're not copying and pasting the originals. They're not afraid to kill people you love either and then melt their faces off right in front of your eyes. I love that.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hot Girl of Horror #30: Yvonne Strahovski

I first saw her on Dexter... if only the ending to that show wasn't so terrible. I did actually like her character though. She was also in Chuck and now 24. Besides her two-season stint with TV's most infamous serial killer, she also appeared in Gone, a 2006 Australian movie (not very surprising since she was born in the "land down under"), and I, Frankenstein. Not the best horror movies by any means, but Gone doesn't sound too bad. TV tends to be far better than film these days anyway with Breaking Bad, Dexter (except the finale), Game of Thrones, etc.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Slasher Movies: Dead or Alive?

I'll admit it: I'm not the biggest fan of the slasher sub-genre. There are some classics, of course, that I love like Psycho II (yes, I actually prefer the sequel over the original... I'm in a weird minority on that one), Halloween II (same thing... I can't deny Carpenter's original, but I love the ending to this one, I love the beginning, "You don't know what death is!" I love the mask and Loomis, etc.), Friday the 13th Part VI, Scream, but almost all the new ones fall flat for me. It doesn't help that no-budget filmmakers tend to do a slasher with the same old tired formula of teens getting picked off one by one. If it doesn't try to do something new, I just get bored. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is actually phenomenal in my opinion, and I absolutely love the concept behind Maurice Devereaux's Slashers. It has to be one of the most original, exciting ideas for a slasher film in decades. I'm sure the sub-genre isn't really going anywhere. I just wish more filmmakers would take risks with it and try something entirely new like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. That was another excellent one, and if you count The Cabin in the Woods as a slasher, I'd include it as well. I don't think it's really that difficult to change it up. For example, I found a new Kickstarter project called The Orange Man that does something I love: your typical teenagers are replaced with middle-aged men. I'm not a huge fan of comedy hybrids, but I think that is a brilliant idea for a slasher. I'm sick to death of seeing teenagers. Maybe I'm just turning into a bitter old man, but teenagers are freakin annoying unless the characters are done extremely well, and most of the time, they're not.

It's funny I started writing this thinking I hated slashers, but actually, all those films above I love so my problem is with the bad, half-assed ones. I tend to agree more and more with my friend Jason about wanting to see the monster get killed. I hate slashers where the victims don't fight back, and it happens so often. It drives me nuts or the damn protagonist trips and falls. Stop doing that! Yes, it might actually happen in real life, but it has been overused so much in slashers that it's unbearable if you've seen any. Probably like most horror fans, I'm dying to see something different, and actually, I want to see more monster movies with practical FX. Those are quite a bit more tough to do than slashers though, which is why we don't have many, but I'd love to see another new, good slasher movie. I'm just a bit tired of being burned by the crappy ones.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Feast Sequels

It's hard to say anything good about them. Ok, there's the Rambo III gag in Feast III, which is pretty funny, and for some reason, I enjoyed the outrageous, out-of-nowhere twist at the very, very end, but you have to suffer through a lot of crude, bad-taste bits to get there. I wasn't even a big fan of the first one since it had a fair amount of shaky cam and humor that just didn't work for me. You also didn't get a good look at the monsters, which the sequels proved may have been for the best. The clever introductions for the characters and not knowing who would die was probably the original's biggest asset, but by the third film, the formula becomes predictable (you also realize compared to the sequels, the first movie was a masterpiece). Feast II has an embarrassingly-awful rooftop sequence where the background is obviously green screen, and it stands out like a sore thumb. Then they go so over the top with toilet humor. Plus, the characters are severely lacking. I know they're not supposed to be your typical protagonists, and that's a cool choice, but unfortunately, they're not interesting either. They're pretty boring. So often the jokes fall flat because they're too obvious and infantile.

Comedy is very difficult to pull off particularly if you decide to just use a ton of bodily fluids and monsters with giant wangs. That doesn't equal funny. You can't just think of the most inappropriate, outlandish thing and call that a joke. Good humor actually has some intelligence and truth behind it. I knew pretty much what these sequels were when I sat down to watch them and I didn't expect much so I wasn't really disappointed. It's just a shame because they could've been a lot better. The faces of the monsters look great even if their bodies are pretty poorly designed. These sequels just come off as thrown together with very minimal effort like no one really cared.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hot Girl of Horror #29: Nora Arnezeder

Maniac (2012), which was actually pretty good as far as slashers go and especially as far as remakes. I love the way they recreated the image of the original poster in the film. Despite not seeing the original until a few years ago, that poster was always stuck in my head from the days of roaming VHS rental stores as a kid. That's all of the horror she has done, but it's definitely not a bad one to have on your resume. It's not like Children of the Corn IV. Poor Naomi Watts. But heck, a credit is a credit, and actresses usually can't be too picky at the start of their careers. I think it's safe to say Nora has a bright future ahead of her, and maybe, just maybe, it'll include a couple more horror flicks. Probably not but you never know.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Interview with Kyle Rankin, Director of Infestation, Nuclear Family, etc.

He's currently running a Kickstarter for a new zombie comedy film with Ray Wise called Night of the Living Deb. Be sure to check it out here and pledge! You can even read the first 16 pages of the script, and trust me, it's going to be good!

1. I really loved Infestation. How long did it take to write that and what sparked the idea? It really reminds me of Aliens sometimes.

Firstly, thanks for watching AND for the comparison to a great film. It took me about two months to write a first draft. Then, when Mel Gibson’s company (Icon) got involved, I did more polishing while we were casting and pre-producing. The idea started with a visual for an opening scene, and also a common question screenwriters ask themselves: ‘what if?’ In the case of Infestation it was ‘What if a normal guy wakes up encased in a cocoon and has no idea how he got there?’

2. How were you able to get that film financed?

I sent it to a producer I know and he brought it to Icon. Like a lot of luck in the film business, it was all about timing. Icon had recently had a meeting and decided to make a lower budget genre film. I’m just happy they were willing to fund a genre hybrid (horror/comedy) because that tends to scare away the big studios.

3. You shot that movie in Bulgaria. Was that just for budget reasons? I actually had no idea it was filmed there so it definitely turned out well.

Thanks. Bulgaria was a great place for us because every production dollar meant more. We were able to get cool locations, a smart crew, nice accommodations, and talented US ex-pats to fill our smaller roles. All this while also experiencing another culture. It was a fun learning experience.

4. Were you involved in the distribution of Infestation? Any tips for filmmakers trying to get a widespread distribution deal?

That was all Icon and their affiliates. As an indie filmmaker myself, I certainly understand how difficult it is to get your films out there. I guess my only tip would be: make the best movie you possibly can... not one you CALCULATE the masses will buy, but one you feel passionate about.

5. Do you recommend finding a sales agent or going to any of the film markets?

I never hired a sales agent because they always asked for money up front. If you’re anything like me, you’re broke by the time your film is finished because you’ve invested everything into it. I’ve also never been to a film market for the same reason: they cost money. What I have done is the film festival route... and it’s paid off for me. I found folks who liked and passed along my work and THAT led to distribution, and I’ve also paid for more festival travel and entrance fees by winning money at this or that festival. It can be a great way to connect with like-minded people.

6. Have you heard any horror stories about distribution deals gone wrong?

Yes. I’ve even experienced one myself. There are a LOT of disreputable distribution companies out there that prey on desperate artists. In my case, the company made about $50,000 off of my old films... then produced a bogus report saying that that’s what they paid to make copies of my film and send it out, etc. My advice to anyone would be to enlist the help of a lawyer. If a company is legit, this won’t scare them away.

7. How did you deal with nudity on set? Was that as awkward as everyone says? Anything that helped make that process easier?

It can be a bit odd, but I always insist on a closed set with a skeleton crew when nudity is being shot. This way, the actors feel they’re being taken care of, and you can mitigate uncomfortable feelings.

8. Any chance of a sequel to Infestation?

That would be so much fun... but probably not. In the end, it must not have made enough money to get a sequel greenlight. That’s what sequels are all about: money, based on the original title's performance (domestically and overseas).

9. What are the most difficult challenges you've faced as a filmmaker?

Money would have to be number one. Heck, it may even be two and three, too. I have an endless stream of ideas and several screenplays ready to go... I also know a gaggle of talented actors who would love to be working more. With money, I’d simply go film to film without stopping to gather funds.

10. How did you overcome them?

I told myself that I’d never overcome the access to money hurdle unless I wrote scripts that people and companies wanted to pay for. This isn’t easy, but I’ve had the pleasure of making it happen several times. The thing I’m trying now is Kickstarter... because I love the idea of interacting directly with my backers and creating a product I love.

11. Provided they have the time and the money, do you think directors should rehearse with their actors before filming? Why or why not?

Yes. Time on set is usually so limited, so any discussion about character, situation, motivation, etc., that can happen beforehand is only going to benefit the final product. The first few days of a project can also be stressful as far as getting on the same page with the actors, so if there’s already agreement and accord... rehearsal time pays for itself.

12. What do you think is the key to collaborating with actors?

Being fun. I think of them as children, but I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. They are pretending, so anything I can do to facilitate and elevate that activity is going to help the film. I’m a task-master where my crew is concerned, but not my cast... I don’t want to mess with their freedom of thought.

13. Any advice on how to deal with egos and difficult crew or actors?

Once or twice I’ve pulled someone aside and asked if they’d rather leave than be part of what we were trying to accomplish. This is an important discussion to have. I mentioned treating actors like children, and that also means acting like a parent myself. Part of being a parent is setting and maintaining firm boundaries.

14. How do you get your actors comfortable so they can give the best performances possible?

As director, I set the tone on set. I can’t, for instance, joke around with everyone and then later discipline someone for laughing and ignoring their job. In that same vein, it’s my job to keep everyone safe. You mentioned physical nudity earlier, and it made me realize there’s also emotional nudity. It wouldn’t feel good to an actor to get emotionally nude in a scene and then see a crew member, say, looking at their phone and laughing at some text. It wouldn’t make them feel honored and cared for. It’s my job to make sure everyone’s on the same page in regards to creating a comfortable space.

15. What is it like working with Ray Wise?

Super fun. We’re old friends, so it’s like hanging out and laughing with a good pal.

16. Do you give him much direction at all or just let him do his thing?

I let him fly for the most part. After all these years, we’ve built up a shorthand, so if I need him to tweak a performance... I just say one or two words and he gets it. Similarly if he wants to tell me something, it’s done sometimes just with a look.

17. How did you first meet Ray Wise and get him aboard your initial project together? You guys have collaborated quite a few times.

I was a broke 25-year-old in Maine and read an article about how to get your short film noticed. It mentioned zeroing in on ONE actor you respect and courting them. I picked Ray and sent nice letters to him and his manager. He ended up liking a short script I sent, so he flew to Maine for a weekend and acted in my film. I was blown away by the kindness back then... and I still am when I think back on it.

18. Any suggestions on how to find good actors? Did you use a casting director or contact agents or actors yourself?

It’s very difficult to get to actors, but sometimes you meet someone who KNOWS an actor, or you run into someone out and about (a benefit of living in LA). Also, I never do a shotgun approach to casting. Instead, I pick, say, the five people I need that I think will be great (names within reason considering my budget) and I go after them, sometimes through their representation and sometimes using other means.

19. What do you think is the biggest mistake of most indie filmmakers?

Not making a film that fits into a specific genre. When you’re unknown, a great way to get noticed is to make a film that has its feet firmly planted in a particular mold. For instance, I think that making a kickass horror movie is better than making a sci-fi romantic comedy (if getting noticed is your goal). Blends are difficult to get distributed and even tough fits for festivals... as they want to program similar films together in blocks.

20. What is your process like for working with a composer?

Fun and exciting. I’ve worked with a great composer named Steven Guntheinz on my past few films and he’s a treasure. It’s important to me that film scoring aid and magnify the emotions I’m going for in a particular scene instead of telling the audience what to feel. Steven understands that.

21. What kind of guidance do you give him? How do you tell him what kind of music you want?

Instead of being specific about instruments I want to hear or anything, I give him emotional notes the way I would an actor. Since he’s an artist, too, he then feels free to pull something great from his heart.

22. What have you learned about the business side of moviemaking?

Mostly that I’m not very good at it. I think it’s tough for artistically-minded people to understand business and how to sell their own products. It’s something I’m working on and, I’d like to think, getting better at... but man, it doesn’t come naturally.

Kyle Rankin and Dario Argento

23. How crazy was the Project Greenlight experience? I'm sad that show isn't around anymore.

Me, too. It was crazy because I moved from Maine to LA and then 8 months later I’m in Park City with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck saying they’re excited to work with me. It was a rollercoaster. The filming itself was a lot of fun... I didn’t love how I was portrayed in the show, but all that’s lost to the ages now. The best things it did for me was give me lots of experience... and get me an agent, manager, and lawyer.

24. Why did you choose Kickstarter to finance Night of the Living Deb?

It’s a challenge. I wanted to see if I could crowdfund something. I ALSO want to make this special film the way I want to make it. I don’t want notes from studio suits because they need to justify their paychecks. I believe in this story, and I want to be personally responsible for this film’s destiny.

25. What are the most helpful books you've read on filmmaking and screenwriting?

I immediately think of two: The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and The Conversations with famous editor Walter Murch. They’re both wonderful and have influenced me greatly.

26. What's the most important piece of advice you'd give an aspiring filmmaker?

That it’s important to make an entertaining film. I know this sounds simple, but it’s a lesson I had to learn. My first film was a slogging, dark, emotionally heavy movie because I thought that’s what great ART was supposed to be. Now, I make films that please me but I also ask myself ‘is this something people would spend $12 to see?’ Or: ‘Is this something a couple would be happy to pay a babysitter AND buy their tickets to see?’ If I can envision people spending the money, I want to make something they’ll enjoy and tell their friends about. I don’t want them to go home feeling like they need a shower or, in general, regretting their choice.

Thanks for the support & interest, Doug!

Thank you so much, Kyle!

And don't forget to visit his Night of the Living Deb Kickstarter!
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