Sunday, October 31, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: AMC's "Walking Dead" Premiere


"The Walking Dead"
Rated MA (for disturbing images)

Directed by Frank Darabont

Starring:
Andrew Lincoln
Jon Bernthal
Lennie James
Adrian Kali Turner

"The Walking Dead" is based on the graphic novel of the same name, written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore. The series is directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) and premiered today on AMC.

In the first episode, sherrif's deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is wounded in a shootout with three criminals. He slips into a coma and when he awakes, he finds the town deserted . . . except for "the walkers". Rick decides to head to Atlanta to find his wife and son.

All I can say is "Wow". So far, this show is amazing. The acting is exceptional(aside from Lincoln's on and off American accent) and I was SO pleased to see Lennie James (Snatch) in a role that uses his wonderful talent. James plays Morgan Jones, a grieving widower trying to help his son, Duane (Adrian Kali Turner), survive. Darabont opted for a less-is-more philosophy, skipping excess dialogue and sticking to showing emotional reactions to the zombie carnage, which is far more effective. The desolation is palpable, but Darabont manages to sneak a few pleasant scenes in, most notably, one in which three characters get a hot shower for the first time in months. Morgan's grief over his wife's death is heart-wrenching and his breakdown had me on the verge of tears.

The most awe-inducing quality by far are the amazing makeup effecs created by veteran FX artist, Greg Nicotero. Nicotero is a genius with an enormous and impressive resume. His effects bump the series up to film quality and are arguably the lynch-pin of the show. I applaud the producers at AMC for not shying away from the kind of violence, gore, and gruesome makeup effects needed to create effective zombies. Finally, a channel that produces intelligent, boundary-breaking, and quality programming! (Keep it up, AMC!)

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of a possible 5

Tonight's episode was mainly about showing the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, but there were some majorly gory moments. If you're a zombie-lover, you'll adore this series, but judging from the premiere episode, the series will also be character driven and very cinematic. If you can deal with the gore, I highly suggest watching this series.

Tricks 'n' Treats

Happy Halloween!

Here's the Mad Scientist with his latest creation . . . the Chicken-Cat!!!
(Kris with our beautiful cat, Sullivan)

Photo by Erica Clark

Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Army of Darkness


Army of Darkness (1993)
Rated R (for violence, language, and gore)

Directed by Sam Raimi

Starring:
Bruce Campbell
Embeth Davidtz
Marcus Gilbert
Bill Moesely

I love the Evil Dead movies, but this one has a special place in my heart because it was the first horror flick I ever saw. Comedy Central had it on one year, close to Halloween, and I happened to be baby-sitting that night. My dad had planned to watch it, but had expressly instructed me not to, because he felt like it would be too scary. Needless to say, I was too intrigued not to check it out and it was awesome.

After a quick recounting of the first two movies, Ash (Bruce Campbell) finds himself in medieval England. He is captured by Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), mistaken for one of Duke Henry's soldiers. The village's Wise Man recognizes Ash as their foretold savior from the Deadites. Ash is thrown into "the Pit" and attacked by two Deadites, but is able to defeat them easily, making him the village hero. He is sent to retrieve the Necronomicon, the only thing that can send him back to his own time. He ends up fighting an evil version of himself and the entire Deadite army.

This film is campy, but it's supposed to be. I think I loved it as a kid because it was like a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" flick, but funny on it's own, without the commentary. Army of Darkness was not as well-received as the other films, but it's a great funny horror movie and you really can't go wrong with Bruce Campbell. I view it as less of a true sequel to the Evil Dead films, and more of a separate film that also features Ash.

Fright Rating: 1 gasp out of a possible 5

This flick is not really scary and the gore is played for laughs. If you like cult films or splatstick, you will love Army of Darkness (and the Evil Dead films).

Friday, October 29, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Silence of the Lambs


The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Rated R (for violence, language, and disturbing images)

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Starring:
Jodie Foster
Anthony Hopkins
Ted Levine
Scott Glenn

The Silence of the Lambs is based on Thomas Harris's novel of the same name. The film was extremely well-received and swept the top five Academy Awards. It did come under fire, however, from gay rights activists (for the perceived negative stereotypical portrayal of the transgender Buffalo Bill) and from feminists like Betty Friedan (who decried the depiction of the evisceration and skinning of women).

FBI Academy trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is tapped to interview infamous psychiatrist-turned-cannibal killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Initially, she is told that the interview is for a routine update on Lecter's file, but Clarice quickly figures out that the FBI is probing the imprisoned doctor to glean information on a vicious serial killer, "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine). Bill kills plus-size women and removes sections of their skin. She must develop a give-and-take relationship with Lecter and discover Bill's true identity before a prominent senator's daughter becomes his next victim.

This was an unusual film for Demme to direct. His previous experience had mostly been in comedies, but he presents a dark, malevolent world in Silence of the Lambs. The architecture and several of the sets have a large Gothic influence and Demme's close POV shots during discussions between two characters (particularly those between Lecter and Clarice) make the audience intimately feel like part of the film.

There are some particularly nice sequences in the flick. One, showing moths fluttering around a collection of multi-colored thread spools, is both beautiful and foreshadowing. A short scene between two entomologists playing chess with bugs is humorous and wonderfully lit. The "butterflied crucifixion" scene is also beautiful in its own grotesque way - a testament to Tak Fujimoto's excellent cinematography.

**WARNING: SPOILERS**

Concerning the two major criticisms of the film (listed in the first paragraph), I do not agree with them. Dr. Lecter assures Clarice in the film that Buffalo Bill is not really transgendered. He is a psychopath with a deep sense of self-loathing - deep enough that he would go to great lengths to change his identity. He never identifies as gay (although critics point to his poodle named Precious as a clear sign), and indeed, most gay serial killers murder men, not women. Bill's motives for his murders are a huge part of the plot in the novel and to adapt Harris's story well it was vital to keep it intact for the film. As for Freidan and other feminist's views, I do not think that the film denigrates women simply because it shows women as victims of violent murders. The simple fact is that women are murdered, and occasionally, those murders include mutilation. For some serial killers, it is part of their M.O. The film portrayed this kind of murder in a realistic way - not in a way that condemns the victims. In fact, feminist critics should be overjoyed to see a brilliant, well-rounded female hero played by a talented actress who looks like a "regular" woman. If this film were made now, someone like Angelina Jolie would probably end up playing Clarice Starling.

I do take issue with the interpretation of the "good" serial killer and the "bad" serial killer, however. Because Lecter is intelligent, charming, and cultured, moviegoers tend to see him as sort of an anti-hero. Bill, on the other hand, is a "weirdo". He kidnaps women and keeps them in a pit in his basement. He sews their skin into a "woman suit". He is reviled as the villain, but when Lecter makes his escape near the end of the film (killing two guards and a paramedic in the process), the audience almost roots for him to succeed. Yet, both these men are guilty of the same crime - the ruthless slaughter of human beings for their own pleasure.*

**END OF SPOILERS**

Like so many of my favorite films, the gorgeous camera work and captivating sets are only the icing on the cake. The film's strongest success lies with the performances of the three principal actors. Foster is an amazing actress and she is so good in this film. Her own innate intelligence (she is a Yale honors graduate) helps add realism to her character and her appearance and the way she carries herself is in keeping with a female FBI agent. (Incidentally, I have to give props to the costuming department. It would have been very easy to dress Foster in designer clothes for the flick, but by keeping her wardrobe simple and functional it made her character very believable.) Foster's few emotional scenes are also played very well and give her character depth. Hopkins is also a brilliant actor and he manages to make Lecter cultured and extremely creepy at the same time. The ways he holds himself and the intensity of his eyes do wonders for his character. Levine is skin-crawlingly creepy, and it has a lot to do with his voice, which is deep, but warbly at the same time (He puts this to good use in the film Joy Ride, playing the voice of the psychopathic trucker, "Rusty Nail"). He makes a very good villain, but is probably most recently known for playing Lt. Stottlemeyer on the television series "Monk".

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of a possible 5

The film has a combination of psychological and jump scares, as well as a few gory autopsy scenes, but the scariest scene is arguably Bill's dance (definitely NSFW!). This is an excellent, thought-provoking film and a wonderful flick for those who aren't usually horror fans.



*This is not the fault of the filmmakers, or even Harris, but the American moviegoers who interpret the film this way.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane


The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane (1976)
Rated R (for language and brief nudity)

Directed by Nicolas Gessner

Starring:
Jodie Foster
Martin Sheen
Alexis Smith
Scott Jacoby

The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane is a mid-70s thriller based on the novel of the same name by Laird Koeinig. Koeinig, who also wrote the script, adapted the story into a stage play shortly after the book was written.

The film opens as 13 year old Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is celebrating her birthday alone. She is interrupted by Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen) the obnoxious son of the Jacobs's landlady and a reputed pedophile. Rynn must explain away her father's absence to Frank, and to his nosy mother, Cora (Alexis Smith). When Mrs. Hallet discovers Rynn's secret, she pays dearly for her invasion of privacy. Brilliant and independent Rynn, along with her new love interest Mario (Scott Jacoby), must protect her lifestyle, lest she be forced to live like most children, under the thumb of adults and expected to act like a child.

This film really surprised me. Although it was very controversial when it was released, it's all but forgotten now. I came across it awhile back when looking through TCM's schedule and was intrigued by the plot description. It's a beautiful movie and the acting is amazing. Although it is classified as horror, no violence is shown. I loved the inclusion of Chopin's haunting piano concertos, but I could have done without the weird 70s porn-sounding score.

Because this film is mostly dialogue, the actors' performances are the lynch pin of the movie. Some people are just born to be actors, and Foster is definitely one of them. She was thirteen when this film was made and she is breathtaking. Her steely resolve only waivers when Mario is in trouble and Foster makes it exceedingly easy to believe that this young girl could live alone. Sheen is also good - and very creepy - and he is able to be menacing just by touching Rynn's hair or commenting on her beauty. Jacoby gives an endearing performance as Mario. He's very funny, and Jacoby and Foster have excellent chemistry.

Fright Rating: 1 gasp out of a possible 5

I highly recommend this film, especially for classic movie lovers. There is no violence and very little blood, but there are some sexual themes, so this is not a film for children.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Thing


The Thing (1982)
Rated R (for violence and language)

Directed by John Carpenter

Starring:
Kurt Russell
Wilford Brimley
Richard Masur
Charles Hallahan

John Carpenter's The Thing is loosely based on The Thing From Another World, a 1951 film directed by Howard Hawks, which was inspired by a short story called "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr. Carpenter followed the short story's plot more closely than his predecessor, updating it for the 1980s. The movie's box office showing was poor, but it has developed a cult following over the years and is a staple in most sci-fi and horror flick collections.

A research station in Antarctica is disrupted when a group of Norwegians attempt to kill a dog, shooting at it from a helicopter. The helicopter crashes and the research station's crew adopts the dog, adding it to the existing kennel of dogs. Things continue as normal until the crew finds the adopted stray dog has turned into an amorphous monster in the process of absorbing the rest of the dogs. They incinerate the Dog-Thing and the subsequent autopsy reveals that the dog was actually an alien being able to replicate its host. Slowly members of the crew are turned into things, and the remaining human crew is unsure who among them has been changed. This causes them to turn on each other, each man fighting for his own survival in an isolated, wintry world.

This film and Invasion of the Body Snatchers have many similarities. Of course, they are both alien flicks, but most importantly, they are about alien lifeforms that duplicate their human hosts. Because of this, both films deal with similar themes. The Thing's main themes are isolation and paranoia. Being stationed in Antarctica, the crew manning the research station were stuck, both in that location and with each other. Because the alien entity can replicate any life form, it is impossible to tell who is a "thing" and who isn't. This creates a paranoia among the still-human members of the crew, which is amplified by the isolation from other people and the claustrophobia created by the confines of the station.

Rob Bottin, the SFX artist for the film, produced amazing creature effects (before CGI!) for this flick. (The best one: The Norris-Thing) I'm not usually a gore fan, but the quality of these effects drew me in. I was lucky enough to find a documentary on special effects, Starz's Fantastic Flesh, that explained how many of the effects were done, and it made me want to watch the movie all over again. What was great about the creatures in this movie was that each individual piece and body part could develop into its own monster. It keeps you jumping, because if the whole creature isn't destroyed, even a leftover finger could grow legs and attack.

The movie has a great ensemble cast. Russell is an amazing action star, as always, and I loved seeing character actors like Wilford Brimley (Diabetes!) and Richard Masur. The sets are excellent and the music is so suspense building. This is one of my favorite films of all time and is a must-watch for sci-fi fans.

Fright Rating: 4 gasps out of a possible 5

There is lots of gore and gross-out scenes, but it is an amazingly done film. It may not be for the squeamish, but if you love sci-fi, put it on your Netflix queue immediately!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Invasion of the Body Snatchers


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Rated PG (for mildly disturbing images)

Directed by Phillip Kaufman

Starring:
Donald Sutherland
Brooke Adams
Jeff Goldblum
Veronica Cartwright

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a remake of a 1956 film of the same name, which was based on Jack Finney's novel, The Body Snatchers. The film has been remade twice since the release of this version, once in 1993 as Body Snatchers starring Meg Tilly, and again in 2007 as The Invasion with Nicole Kidman. Kaufman's version is the most highly regarded and received several awards and nominations from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.

1970s San Francisco is in the midst of the "Me Generation".  Pop psychology is at it's peak and the hippie sensibilities are waning as more and more adults get absorbed into the corporate world. Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), is a government worker with the Department of Health. He and his friend and colleague, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) begin noticing changes in people around them. Along with their friends, Jack and Nancy Bellicec, they discover that plant pods are creating alien duplicates of San Francsicans while they sleep, rendering them flat and emotionless, despite retaining the individual's memories and knowledge. The "pod people" are able to differentiate between other pods and those that are still human - shrieking in a shrill, inhuman way to alert other pods that they have found a human in their midst. Matthew, Elizabeth, Jack, and Nancy must run for their lives - and their humanity - to avoid being turned into pods themselves.

Modern alien flicks aren't usually my thing, but this one cuts to the core of one of my deepest fears: that the people you know and love best could look and sound exactly the same, but turn into a stranger over night. The beauty of this film is that beyond the opening scene, you don't think about it being an alien movie. It stands more as an allegory for how mainstream society tries absorb individuals and strip them of their unique qualities.

This movie starts out relatively normal. There's a few funny scenes (particularly Matthew's tour of the health code violating French restaurant), but as the pods take over, the film gets progressively darker, both in tone and color. There is less light and more shadowed areas. The pod people do little more than walk together in large groups, but Kaufman and cinematographer Michael Chapman manage to make them panic-inducing. The worst part of the film is that you can't tell who's a pod person . . . unless they emit that shrill scream, of course. Even from the beginning, you get hints along the way of something unusual going on. (One example: As Elizabeth heads to work after her boyfriend's, Geoffrey, behavior seems odd, several people run past her down the street.) It's great foreshadowing without being too obvious.

The music and sound effects are among the most terrifying aspects of the film. Danny Zeitlin's score makes even the opening shots of rain hitting various plants ominous and the ear-piercing screaming of the pod people is chilling, especially in the pivotal end scene. Zeitlin's score is all the more amazing when you consider that this is his only film score; he worked primarily as a psychologist and played jazz piano in his spare time.

Sutherland is particularly good in this film. As a government employee, his character tries to go through all the regular avenues of getting information and help; he is so straitlaced and so much of a rule follower that he has to be told that the police and the government might already be pods. The fact that he cannot rely on his own instincts is completely alien to Matthew, and Sutherland plays this very well. Adams's character works well because she seems like a level-headed, scientific-minded woman. When she becomes paranoid about her boyfriend's changed personality, the audience is able to accept that her fears are valid, even though she is convinced that Geoffrey is no longer Geoffrey. It is important to establish the two most grounded characters as the first who suspect the pods, rather than the more flighty, new-age Bellicecs. Cartwright is excellent as Nancy, the hippie space cadet. Goldblum is . . . well, he's Jeff Goldblum. He was 26 when this film was made, but his mannerisms and speaking style were still exactly the same. It works for this film, as his character is an eccentric failed poet.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of a possible 5

There is virtually no gore in this film. The fear generated by this film is almost completely psychological, save the few scenes with the extremely weird-looking pod duplicates. This is an awesome film, and I highly recommend it, even for those who are not usually sci-fi fans.

Monday, October 25, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: 28 Days Later


28 Days Later (2002)
Rated R (for violence and language)

Directed by Danny Boyle

Starring:
Cillian Murphy
Naomie Harris
Brendan Gleeson
Christopher Eccleston

Animal rights activists in Britain release a chimpanzee infected with "Rage", an Ebola-like virus, and are immediately infected themselves. 28 days later, a bicycle courier, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a deserted London hospital to find England has been decimated by the rouge virus. After being chased by infected citizens, he finds a small band of survivors. Together they must escape the city and the hordes of infected chasing them along the way.

Drawing heavily from Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and George Romero's groundbreaking film Night of the Living Dead, Boyle and writer Alex Garland created a genre-changing modern zombie flick. Boyle's feeling was that every generation gets the type of zombie they deserve. Brain-eating radioactive zombies were created in a generation terrified of nuclear attack. With recent fears about the spreading of disease, Boyle and Garland based their zombies on a viral apocalypse.

The most amazing scenes in the film are those of deserted London streets. One of the busiest, most congested cities in the world, filming deserted areas was no easy task. Boyle and his team managed to film for an hour at a time, setting up a ravaged scene and and quickly taking it down again before and after each sequence. Garland and Boyle thoroughly researched the aftermath of unrest in areas like Sierra Leone and Rwanda, replicating pictures they had seen in some of the film's scenes (most notably, the bodies piled in the church).

The main reason zombies are scary is that there are so many of them. This movie doubles that fear. Not only are there thousands, the infected in 28 Days Later are ridiculously quick and the virus transmits from an infected person to a healthy person in a matter of seconds. Even a drop of infected blood can transmit the virus.

The film was shot on digital video, which gives it a realistic, raw quality - almost like a documentary. Boyle used the slow motion feature on Canon XL1 DV camera to film the infected, which produces a "jumpy" quality, making the scenes appear as though they were trimmed and edited together. He also hired athletic extras to play the infected, believing that they would be able to move their bodies in ways regular people wouldn't. All of these elements work together to create frenzied post-apocalyptic world where survival is the only goal.

The cast in this film is excellent, but they are outshone by the infected zombies, who are some of the most terrifying movie monsters of this century, made worse by the fact that a world wide epidemic is - if not probable - at the very least realistic.

Fright Rating: 4 gasps out of a possible five

This film is scary, fast-paced, and bloody. Fans of zombie flicks will love it, but I highly recommend it for all adult filmgoers.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Exorcist Sequels


Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Rated R (for language, violence, and disturbing images)

Directed John Boorman

Starring:
Linda Blair
Richard Burton
Louise Fletcher
Kitty Winn

You know what? I'm not even going to bother describing this movie. It's terrible. It may be one of the worst films ever made and I'm pretty sure nothing you have ever done deserves the punishment of seeing this film. Just don't.

Even though I don't want to waste my time writing about this film, I will provide the trailer for your joy and amusement.




The Exorcist III (1990)
Rated R (for violence, language, and disturbing images)

Directed by William Peter Blatty

Starring:
George C. Scott
Brad Dourif
Jason Miller
Ed Flanders

The Exorcist III is based on Blatty's novel, Legion. Blatty initially wanted to make Legion as The Exorcist's first sequel, but after disagreements arose over pivotal plot points, he abandoned the project, turning it into a novel several years later. After the dismal failure of Exorcist II, Morgan Creek Productions agreed to allow Blatty to direct the film, but insisted it be called Exorcist III to draw in more viewers.

Exorcist III focuses on Lt. William Kinderman (George C. Scott) as he investigates a series of murders that mirror crimes committed fifteen years before by the Gemini serial killer (Brad Dourif). Kinderman thinks it's a copycat at first, since the Gemini killer was executed, but several items of evidence don't add up. A amnesiac psychiatric patient may be the key to the mystery, as well as the answer to what happened to Father Damian Karras (Jason Miller) in 1973.

The rich color and surrealistic imagery in this flick reminded me of an Argento film. (Look for the weird cameos - including Fabio, Patrick Ewing, and Samuel L. Jackson - in Kinderman's dream sequence.) Like an Argento flick, there are eccentric characters, inventive deaths, and supernatural elements.

Scott is one of my favorite actors; he's like your favorite cantankerous grandpa. The more he yells, the happier I get. (Watch the "carp scene", you'll be a Scott fan in no time.) Ed Flanders is a hilarious and caustic Father Dyer. The always excellent Dourif really shines in this movie and it's one of his few performances where he isn't hidden behind makeup.

I highly recommend putting this on your Netflix queue, especially if you are a fan of the original. You can also buy it very cheaply on Amazon. While not as widely regarded as the original film, Exorcist III is a solid, very creepy flick.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of a possible five

There are several fairly violent scenes, but nothing as shocking as the original.






Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
Rated R (for violence, language, and disturbing images)

Directed by Paul Schrader

Starring:
Stellan Skarsgard
Gabriel Mann
Clara Bellar
Ralph Brown

Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist was given up as a lost cause. After the film was nearly completed, Morgan Creek Productions scrapped the project, fired Schrader and replaced him with Renny Harlin, who made a completely different film - one Morgan Creek believed would be more commercially successful. Once Harlin's version failed at the box office, Schrader was given $35,000 to complete the film and it was given a small theatrical release.

Dominion centers on Father Lankaster Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) after he experiences a crisis of faith, following WWII. During the war, he is forced by a Nazi soldier to choose people of his parish to be executed in retribution for the murder of another Nazi guard. He takes a sabbatical and goes on several archaeological digs, the most recent on a British military post in East Africa. He is joined there by Father William Francis (Gabriel Mann), a young Jesuit priest who knows little about the world. Father Francis has been sent by the Vatican to assess Merrin's devotion to the church. Several mysterious occurrences happen after a young disabled boy is placed under the post's hospital care. The discovery of a Catholic church built over a pagan temple complicates matters. Merrin's faith will be tested once more when he must deal with his own demons . . . as well as literal ones.

Undoubtedly, this is not what audiences would have expected from an Exorcist sequel. It is less an outright horror film than a psychological thriller with a few minor supernatural elements. This movie takes a far more "realistic" approach to the nature of evil than Harlin's version.

Schrader's film is far more artistic and stylized than Harlin's version. Merrin's flashbacks to WWII are differentiated from the setting of the film by a subtle change in color palette. The post war scenes are gradients of brown, but the browns are rich and saturated. The war scenes have more gray, and appear washed out. Schrader uses inter cut scenes of a tribal birth presided over by a medicine man and doctors operating on a boy's infected leg, showing the divide between the old and new worlds. He mirrors the opening sequence of the Nazi soldier's random shooting of an innocent girl with the Sarge ant's similar action after his men are found brutally slain.

Skarsgard cannot match Von Sydow's original performance as Father Merrin, but he does his best. He conveys Merrin's tortured soul, but not his wise kindness. Mann is very good as the naive and sheltered Jesuit priest shocked by what he experiences in the desert.

Dominion isn't very good, but it is a better film than Exorcist: The Beginning. The movie is clearly unfinished (the special effects are primitive at best), but it would have been interesting to see how it would have turned out had Morgan Creek had a bit more faith in Schrader's vision.

Fright Rating: 1 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

*Editor's Note: Although this trailer says "Exorcist: The Beginning", it is Dominion's prequel. This trailer was created before Schrader was replaced and the movie was remade.




Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Rated R (for violence, language, and disturbing images)

Directed by Renny Harlin

Starring:
Stellan Skarsgard
Izabella Scorupco
James D'Arcy
Ralph Brown

This is the second version of the Exorcist prequel. Merrin's back story is the same, but the rest of the story was rewritten to create a more traditional horror film.

Father Merrin (again played by Skarsgard) has given up the priesthood to become an archaeologist. He is paid to supervise the dig of an ancient Christian church and finds the project in turmoil. The tribal people believe that the church is evil, but the British are determined to uncover it. A number of strange events precede the fight of Merrin's life, one that will restore his faith, but earn him a terrible demonic enemy.

This flick is not very scary and not very good. It relies on conventional "gotcha scares" and gross out scenes - stuff that, when overused, makes for a very mediocre horror movie. It opens with the aftermath of a gruesome medieval battle, complete with several hundred soldiers crucified upside down. Morgan Creek gave Harlin a bigger budget because they wanted a more "Hollywood" film. This flick is slicker than the first version, with more special effects and a lot more gore. Even so, the effects are pretty bad and the exorcism scene is a joke. The film spirals into an almost-spoof of the original 1973 film. Merrin's return of faith is far less believable than that portrayed in Dominion and the plot does not follow the canon of the original film. (Merrin is said to have exorcised a young African boy.)

The Merrin in this film is much more jaded and seems far more corrupt. While in Schrader's version, he is tormented by his guilt and the horror he saw during the war, Harlin's portrayal of the priest is that he has turned his back on God because of what he has experienced. Brown also reprises his role as the Sergeant Major, but his performance is more sinister than the merely arrogant bigot he plays in Dominion. The recasts are equally disastrous. D'Arcy's Father Francis is far less earnest and more self-righteous than Gabriel Mann's portrayal in Dominion and Scorupco is colder and far less likeable than her predecessor, Clara Bellar, who played the doctor role in the first film. The one bright spot is Alan Ford, who plays crass project manager, Jefferies, an entirely new character. Ford is at his best when he plays jovial assholes (He also played Bricktop in Guy Ritchie's Snatch), which means he is perfect for this role.

Fright Rating: 1 gasp out of a possible five

This film is gorier than Dominion, but not scarier. It's better to skip both films, unless you are curious to see how two completely different movies can be made of the same story.

100th Post: I Heart My Readers!

How apropos that my 100th post is during this time of year, since Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I want to thank my readers for being so great. I appreciate all of you!

I also want to apologize for slacking a little on my horror film reviews. Unfortunately, my vacation and suffering through one of the worst colds I've had in a few years took their toll on my writing motivation. (Sheer laziness from enjoying not having to work also probably figures in.) Thanks for bearing with me. Now that I've caught myself up, you can look forward to reviews of some of my absolute favorite horror flicks leading up to Halloween on Sunday, Oct 31st.

There's no accounting for taste (especially not mine), so I want to reiterate that these are my favorite films, not an ultimate list of the best movies. As always, feel free to disagree and post your own favorites in the comments.

Also, I'd really like to make this a yearly thing, so please tell me what you enjoyed and what I can work on for next year.

Here's to 100 more, guys!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Exorcist


The Exorcist (1973)
Rated R (for violence, language, and disturbing images)

Directed by William Friedkin

Starring:
Linda Blair
Ellen Burstyn
Max Von Sydow
Jason Miller

The Exorcist is based on the 1971 novel of the same name, written by William Peter Blatty. The film is a very faithful adaptation of the novel and considered by many to be the scariest film of all time.

Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), a popular actress, is filming a movie in Georgetown, near Washington, D.C. While filming, she and her 12 year old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), have rented a house in town. Regan is a regular girl who deals well with her mother's fame. Her mother finds it strange, then, when she begins to act out, swearing and exhibiting bad behavior. After trying everything science has to offer, Chris is at her wit's end and Regan's behavior becomes frightening. Chris turns to local Jesuit priest, Father Damian Karras (Jason Miller) for help. Father Karras is having a crisis of faith and dismisses the idea that Regan might be possessed . . . until she starts showing the classic signs. A priest experienced with possession, Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow), is brought in to conduct the exorcism - an event that will change the lives of all involved, including the audience.

It is easy to see why this film shocked and terrified audiences in 1973. The special effects were unlike anything anyone had ever scene and the obscenities that Regan spewed were unheard of. People fainted in the theaters, became sick to their stomachs, and suffered serious medical symptoms as a direct result of the film. They also lined up around the block for over two years to see the film, some multiple times.

Friedkin created one of the most beautiful horror films ever shot with The Exorcist. The iconic image of Father Merrin standing outside of the MacNeil house is a prime example of this. The lighting, which looks natural, was actually a complicated lighting effect inspired by the Rene Magritte painting, "Empire of Light". Another beautiful sequence is Chris's walk home from the movie set, which occurs near the beginning of the film. It is close to Halloween and Chris passes laughing trick or treaters and two nuns wearing white, billowing habits. These lovely scenes offset the horrifying exorcism sequences that follow. Friedkin was rumored to be a tyrant on set, however. He kept the set ice cold while filming the exorcism scenes and both Burstyn and Blair suffered back injuries from the director violently pulling them back in their harnesses during stunt scenes. When Father William O'Malley, who portrayed Father Dyer, didn't give the emotional performance Friedkin wanted, the director slapped him hard in the face to make him more upset.

That veteran special effects artist Dick Smith was not nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup is a travesty. Beyond the fabulous demon makeup, Smith was able to transform the 44 year old Von Sydow into an old man. So convincingly so, in fact, Von Sydow had trouble getting work for awhile because filmmakers assumed that he was much older than he really was.

All of the actors give fine performances in this film, but a few deserve special mention. Von Sydow, an accomplished actor most known for his role in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, did a fantastic job as Father Merrin and Miller, a stage actor in his first film, looked and acted exactly as I imagined Father Karras from the novel. Of course, Blair and Burstyn get credit for their emotionally and physically demanding roles, but the unsung hero of the film is Mercedes McCambridge, the actress who provided the unedited voice of the demon. McCambridge went unrecognized for her role in the film for several years and had to sue to get her name in the credits. She put herself through physical rigors to achieve the deep, rough pitch of one of the scariest voices ever recorded.

To truly appreciate this film, I suggest seeing it in the theaters your first time around. Many local theaters with "Midnite Movies" show it around Halloween, and occasionally Fathom Events will screen it in theaters across the nation. Few films evoke a different experience in the theater, but this is definitely one of them. If you have the opportunity to see this film on the big screen (and you think you can handle it), go. This flick is iconic for a reason, so if you haven't seen it, you should, even if it's just on TV.

Fright Rating: 4 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

There are several disturbing sequences in this film and it is NOT for the easily frightened. If you get scared easily, I suggest reading the novel first (so you'll know what to expect) or watching the film with someone who has seen it (and watch it in a well-lit room during the daylight).

Friday, October 22, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Ring Two


The Ring Two (2005)
Rated PG-13 (for language and disturbing images)

Directed by Hideo Nakata

Starring:
Naomi Watts
Sissy Spacek
Elizabeth Perkins
Simon Baker

Six months after the events in the first film take place, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) has moved her son Aidan to the small town of Astoria, Oregon to start a new life. Rachel has job editing the Daily Astorian, grateful to have a low-stress job that allows her to spend more time with her son. Things change suddenly when a homicide occurs and the details are eeirly similar to the previous deaths in Seattle. Rachel discovers that more copies of the cursed tape exist and that Samara's evil has followed them. When Aidan begins to act strangely, she discovers that he is under Samara's influence and she must find away to get rid of her for good.

Water is again a strong theme in the film, but the moody blue-gray-green palette is not as well-executed. The movie is sharper, with more saturated color and more sunlit shots than the first film, which creates an entirely different mood. Ironically, despite having the director of the first two original Japanese films, this flick feels much more like standard Hollywood fare when compared with the first one.

There's a few scary moments, but this film doesn't have the pervading sense of terror of the orginial. There's a few more "gotcha" scares and more reliance on special effects, but the bottom line is that it's just not as frightening as the first film.

Watts and the other actors are fairly blah in this film, but David Dorfman, who plays Aidan, is the film's saving grace. He pulls off an extra creepy performance, even amidst the lagging plot and lackluster acting.

Fright Rating: 2 gasps out of a possible five

There's very little violence in this film, but there are a few disturbing scenes. It doesn't live up to the original, but it's worth a watch on Netflix if you want to find out what happens.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Ring


The Ring (2002)
Rated PG-13 (for language and disturbing images)

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring:
Naomi Watts
Daveigh Chase
Martin Henderson
Brian Cox

The Ring is an American remake of the Japanese film, Ring. Both films are based on the novel Ring, written by Koji Suzuki, which in turn takes elements from the Japanese folktale "Bancho Sarayashiki".

Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), a journalist, is investigating the mysterious death of her neice, Katie. After spending a weekend with her boyfriend and his friends in a remote cabin, Katie dies a week later of a heart attack. Her friends claim that a tape rumored to kill the viewer seven days after being watched is to blame. Rachel laughs it off, but soon she discovers that the three people her neice was with all died on the same day, at the same exact time. She goes to the cabin and watches the tape, horrified by what she sees. Moments after the video ends, the phone in the cabin rings and a little girl's voice says, "Seven days." Disturbed, she shows it to Noah (Martin Henderson), her former boyfriend and father of her young son, Aidan. When they both begin experiencing the same symptoms and hallucinations, the two are convinced and start a race against time to find out the origins of the tape and try to stop it before it kills them.

This was the first American remake of Japanese horror (or J-Horror), and it remains the best, due in large part to Verbinski's skilled directing. The cinematography pays tribute to the original, evoking the same suspense and somber mood. Verbinski uses every day items to create that suspense. Even as something as banal as water dripping off of a glass door knob can induce scares. The film's palette is made up of blues, grays, and a sickly green, enhancing the mood. The one item saturated with color is the red Japanese maple that reappears throughout the movie, and the stark difference in color signals its importance to the story. Rain (and water in general) figure heavily both in the plot and furthering the dark mood.

In the tradition of Japanese horror, there is very little actual gore in this film. The focus is on psychological terror and the scariest scenes stem from supernatural scares. The famous "cursed tape" is the most recognizable of these. The tape is a series of disturbing images strung together, like a bad student film. Initially, it's just weird, but as elements from the video start appearing in real life, the tape becomes more ominous. Arguably, the most frightening scene in the film is the one in which Samara (Daveigh Chase) breaks the fourth wall. This flick is all about blurring the line between fiction and reality, and no scene shows that more than this one:



Although the film work overshadows the cast, there are some good performances. David Dorfman, who plays Aidan, is the consummate creepy kid. He's got pallid skin, with some major dark circles around the eyes, and seems eerily wise beyond his years. Dorfman does an excellent job portraying a kid who's more parent than child. Watts is also good in this respect. She makes it easy to believe that her character was a young mom who wasn't (and probably still isn't) completely prepared for motherhood. The few scenes Chase appears in are chilling; she seems like the epitome of pure evil embodied in a child.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of a possible 5

This flick's scares come mostly from suspense and classic "gotcha" moments, but it is a movie that stays with you after it's over.* It's a good ghost story and fun to watch on Halloween, so I definitely recommend it for adults and kids over 13.

*Case in point: Kris and I saw it in the theaters and were so rattled we decided to watch The Princess Bride to distract ourselves. We both fell asleep before the movie ended, and since the movie was VHS and we didn't press "Stop", it played to the very end of the tape and we woke up in the middle of the night to static. I don't think I've ever been that scared in my life.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Omen Sequels


Damien: Omen II (1978)
Rated R (for violence)

Directed by Don Taylor

Starring:
William Holden
Lee Grant
Jonathan Scott-Taylor
Sylvia Sidney

Damien: Omen II is second film in the Omen series. Producers adjusted the timeline for this film to allow Damien to have grown into a teenager, despite the movie being released only two years after its predecessor.

Robert Thorn's brother, Richard (William Holden), and Richard's second wife, Ann (Lee Grant), have taken over guardianship of Damien Thorn (Jonathan Scott-Taylor). Damien is now 12 years old and enrolled in a prestigious military school with his cousin, Richard's son from his previous marriage, Mark. Mark and Damien get along well, but not every one in the family is so fond of Damian. Richard's Aunt Marion (Sylvia Sidney) despises the boy and threatens to cut Richard out of the will if he doesn't separate him from Mark. At his school, Damien finds his new protector, Sgt. Neff (the great Lance Henriksen), who informs the boy of his true identity. Damien is initially distressed about his demonic lineage and destiny, but eventually he comes to accept it, actively harming and killing people, both to protect his secret and to further his ambitions.

This film, while decent, doesn't really live up to the original's standards. Some of the death scenes are unintentionally comical, but Jerry Goldsmith's score continues to make this film somewhat frightening. Scott-Taylor is an effective older Damien and resembles original Damien, Harvey Stephens, closely enough to make the film's timeline believable, despite the short span between the two films' release dates. It's an adequate sequel, and far better than some other sequels I've seen.

Fright Rating: 1 1/2 gasps out of a possible 5

Some of the deaths are gory, but they are less frightening than the ones in the original.




Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)
Rated R (for violence)

Directed by Graham Baker

Starring:
Sam Neill
Lisa Harrow
Rossano Brazzi
Barnaby Holm

The third film in the Omen series, it follows Damien Thorn (Sam Neill) as he rises in politics, hoping to become the President of the United States. Producers again adjusted the series's timeline to allow Damien to reach adulthood.

Damien is the American ambassador to England (the position his father held in the first film), the head of lucrative Thorn Industries, and a rising star in American politics. He has fully embraced his diabolical heritage and is actively trying to stop the second coming of Christ, the only thing that can interfere in his plans. In the meantime, he has become romantically involved with a British journalist, Kate Reynolds (Lisa Harrow) and turns her adolescent son, Peter (Barnaby Holm), into bhis slavish disciple. Damien does not go unopposed, however. A group of Jesuit priests, including Father DeCarlo (Rossano Brazzi), are planning to kill him with the seven daggers of Megiddo (mentioned in the first film as the only earthly weapon that can kill the Anti-Christ).

Reviews were mostly negative for this film, but it is my personal favorite of the sequels. Made in 1981, the deaths are gorier than the first film, as audiences were more accepting of graphic violence. The slaughter of England's first born males (reminiscent of the biblical story of Moses) is particularly disturbing. I find it effectively scary, as Damien has hundreds of followers that act on his command, rather than one specific protector. It seems realistic, as Damien works within the political world, using connections and favors to realize his goals, as many real-world politicians do. The ending is a little hokey, but the overall story is a fitting end to the saga of Damien Thorn.

Neill makes this flick as good as it is. This was his first Hollywood film, and he is excellent as the demonic and charismatic adult Damien. It's also a treat for me to see Brazzi - he also played a priest in one of my childhood favorites, Ladyhawke.

Fright Rating: 2 gasps out of a possible 5

This is the goriest of the Omen films, and the scariest, next to the original. Despite being panned by most critics, I think it's worth the watch.




Omen IV: The Awakening (1991)
Not Rated

Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard and Jorge Montesi

Starring:
Faye Grant
Asia Vieira

Omen IV is the third sequel in the Omen series and the only one filmed for television. Gene and Karen York (Faye Grant), both lawyers, adopt a female baby after discovering they can't have children. They call the girl Delia (Asia Vieira) and she grows into a spoiled and precocious child. Bad things start happening to the people around the Yorks, and Karen discovers that Delia is actually the daughter of Damien Thorn. Like Katherine Thorn, Karen is pregnant and fears for her baby.

This film is the worst of the sequels, and really only worth watching for curiosity's sake (or, if like me, you are sick and twisted enough to like watching bad horror flicks). It was plauged by problems: the first director (Othenin-Girard) quit in the middle of filming and the plot was poorly developed. To work around the problem of the Anti-Christ being male, Karen's doctor explains that Karen's baby is actually the Anti-Christ and Delia's twin, who she absorbed in the womb. The embryo was placed into Karen so he could be born. This plot device is ridiculous, to say the least and makes the whole film laughable.

Despite the film's suckage, Vieria's performance is the one bright spot. You really believe she is evil and she is remarkably scary for being a little girl.

Fright Rating: 1 gasp out of a possible five

This flick was made for TV, so it's not as gruesome as the others, but I still wouldn't let little kids watch it, as it has some disturbing images.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Omen


Editors Note: The next few days will be devoted to horror films with sequels. The original films will get a full post and the sequels will be combined in a second post.

The Omen (1976)
Rated R (for violence)

Directed by Richard Donner

Starring:
Gregory Peck
Lee Remick
David Warner
Billie Whitelaw

With three sequels and a 2006 remake, The Omen is a familiar story. Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) agrees to adopt an orphaned baby after his own child is stillborn. His wife, Katherine (Lee Remick), is kept in the dark, believing that their son, Damien (Harvey Stephens), is her biological child. Until the age of five, Damien grows up without incident. During his fifth birthday party, however, a menacing black dog appears and Damien's nanny hangs herself from one of the upper windows of the Thorn's mansion. (Hands down the scariest moment of the film.) This event is the catalyst for the Thorn family's destruction, as evidence falls into place that Damien is anything but an ordinary little boy.

The film lulls you into complacency. The Thorns begin as a loving couple who obviously care a great deal for their young son. After Damien's birthday, the tragedies fall upon them like dominoes and as Katherine starts to question her sanity, Robert cannot stop himself from discovering the horrifying truth about his own child. Jerry Goldsmith's chilling score practically makes this movie. It is easy to see why it won the Academy Award in 1976.

The whole cast is excellent, but Stephens may be the most terrifying child actor in movie history. He had very few lines, but his facial expressions were chilling, particularly his horrible little smile at the end of the film. His performance is proof that sometimes less is more. My favorite actor in this film is Billie Whitelaw, who plays Damien's new demonic nanny, Mrs. Baylock. Whitelaw is a wonderful British character actress with a distinctive gravelly voice. She has appeared in several BBC adaptations of classic literature (including her turn as the vicious Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities) and had a minor role in one of my favorite Hitchcock films, Frenzy. She is probably most recognizable to recent American audiences as Joyce Cooper in Hot Fuzz.

I watch this flick (and its sequels) every year during Halloween festivities. It's a beautifully made scary film and a true classic. (If you're an Omen fan, I suggest buying the box set. It's a great deal for all the Omen films, including the recent remake.)

Fright Rating: 2 gasps out of possible 5

This is a classic horror film, but it does have a few shockingly graphic (for the time) deaths. This is not a film for children, but I do highly recommend it for your Halloween horror flick viewing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Jennifer's Body


Jennifer's Body (2009)
Rated R (for violence, gore, sexuality, and language)

Directed by Karen Kusama

Starring:
Amanda Seyfried
Megan Fox
Adam Brody
Johnny Simmons

Jennifer's Body is a horror-comedy written by Diablo Cody (famous for writing Juno) that combines the suckage of being unpopular in high school with the terror of interacting with a demon. At the start of the film, Anita "Needy" Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) is a dangerous prisoner in a psychiatric facility. She flashes back to when she was a regular high school student and best friends with the most popular girl in school, Jennifer Check (Megan Fox). Needy has a boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), but is jealous of the attention Jennifer receives from the boys at school. After surviving a traumatic event, the two girls get separated and the next time Needy sees Jennifer, she knows something is seriously wrong. The boys in town start dying, and it is up to Needy to save everyone she loves from her best friend.

After the success of Juno, many critics felt that this flick was a let-down. It does try a little bit to hard to be hip and John Hughes-esque, but where it succeeds is in pairing biting wit and satire with horror elements. (Think of it as a horror movie version of Mean Girls . . . or an even darker Heathers, if you're old school.) The genius in this film is that it explores the experiences every high school girl goes through (insecurity, dealing with backstabbing chicks, finding a boyfriend, and the like), but with a horror sub-plot. The best part of this flick? There are some really funny moments. My favorite was the reccurance of a lame indie song (one that Needy hates with a passion) that her town has taken on as its anthem.

While I am not usually a fan of Fox's, I can honestly say I can't imagine anyone else in this role. She was the perfect bitchy popular girl turned demon, and she worked this part, even when she was supposed to look ugly. While the film's publicity campaign centered around seductive pictures of Fox (mouth dripping blood), Seyfried is the true star. In the regular world, she is a very beautiful girl, but she played insecure, nerdy girl beautifully. She gives a brilliant sarcastic performance in this flick, a refreshing change among some of her more sweet and sappy roles. Without Seyfried's portrayal (and Cody's witty dialogue), this would have been a middling hipster horror movie.

Fright Rating: 2 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

This film is more about the wit than the scares, but there are a few seriously violent/gross scenes. Worth the watch for a different take on horror, but definitely not for kids.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: 30 Days of Night


30 Days of Night (2007)
Rated R (for violence, gore, and language)

Directed by David Slade

Starring:
Josh Hartnett
Melissa George
Danny Huston
Ben Foster

30 Days of Night is based on the graphic novel of the same name, written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. Once a year Barrow, Alaska experiences a 30 day period of total darkness. Some of the townspeople leave for more populated areas, but for those that decide to stay, a nightmare has begun. A group of vampires has been led to the town by The Stranger (Ben Foster) for a lengthy, uninterrupted feast. Barrow's sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) must lead a small band of survivors - including his ex-wife Stella (Melissa George) - to safety before the entire town is decimated.

The darkness and blizzard-like conditions do wonders setting the mood for this film. Things start to go wrong from the beginning, but it starts out as petty vandalism and escalates quickly into brutal violence, first against animals . . . and then towards people. The majority of the movie was shot with a day-to-night effect, which enhances the creepiness.

The vampires are nothing short of bad ass in this flick. They are fast, bloodthirsty, and vicious - just as vampires should be. There is nothing romantic or beautiful about them and they leave a wake of carnage behind. I highly recommend this film for horror fans, vampire lovers, and comic book/graphic novel enthusiasts.

Foster's performance in this movie is a departure for him. He started out as a child actor and appeared in several teen comedies as he got older. He does in excellent job in this film and is very effective as the disgusting and disturbing Stranger. His role is small, but he makes the most of it. I fully expect him to have an awesome career as an accomplished character actor. Harnett is also good, but it is Danny Huston in the role of the lead vampire, Marlowe, that shines the brightest. Even without having any real lines, Huston is terrifying in his ruthlessness.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of a possible five

This film is very bloody and the frenzied violence makes it a flick for those with strong stomachs who don't mind fast paced scares. It's Rated R for some pretty extreme blood and guts.

Friday, October 15, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Poltergeist III


Poltergeist III (1988)
Rated R (for violence and disturbing images)

Directed by Gary Sherman

Starring:
Heather O'Rourke
Lara Flynn Boyle
Tom Skerritt
Zelda Rubinstein

This is widely regarded as the worst of the three Poltergeist films, but for some reason, it's actually my personal favorite. I think it has something to do with seeing it on TV as a kid and being scared out of my gourd. If you're familiar with the first two films, you'll know that poor Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O'Rourke) and her family have been repeatedly attacked by ghosts, stemming from their purchase of a home built on an ancient Indian burial ground. Hoping to get some peace, the Freelings send little Carol Anne to live with her aunt and uncle in their Chicago high-rise apartment. Carol Anne is enrolled in a school for gifted children, but her wild stories about ghosts raise the ire of her psychiatrist, Dr. Seaton. Convinced she is faking and manipulating her family, Seaton forces her to relive the terrifying events over and over, making it possible for her arch-nemesis Kane to discover her location. Kane uses the mirrors to get to Carol Anne and sucks her into the "Other Side". Carol Anne's new guardians must risk everything to get her back and defeat Kane once and for all.

Admittedly, this film is laughable. O'Rourke's appearance is strange due to the medicine she was receiving to treat misdiagnosed Crohn's disease, causing her face to look bloated. The plot is a little hazy - we're never told why Carol Anne was sent away and one of the minor characters disappears and his fate goes unexplained. The acting is TV Movie of the Week bad, but at least the special effects are decent (for the '80s) and the use of mirrors enhances the scares. In fact, this movie is almost single-handedly responsible for my dislike of mirrors. Seeing this as a child was a terrifying experience, but watching it now, it's not scary at all. (Except for the mirrors, those still freak me out.)

Fright Rating: 2 gasps of a possible five

There's some mild violence and a few scary scenes, but it's a relatively harmless so-bad-it's-good horror flick.

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Funny Games


Funny Games (2008)
Rated R (for violence and language)

Directed by Michael Haneke

Starring:
Naomi Watts
Tim Roth
Brady Corbet
Michael Pitt

This film is a shot-for-shot remake of the Austrian film of the same name, also written and directed by Michael Haneke. It received mixed reviews among American critics, but the original Austrian version was well-received in Europe.

Ann and George Farber (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) are a typical upper class couple. Along with their son, Georgie, they plan to stay in their posh lake house for a week. As they pass their neighbors' equally beautiful home, Ann calls out to them, reminding them about a planned golf game for the following day. The neighbor seems distant and distracted, and the Farbers debate about the cause, chalking it up to visiting relatives after noticing two men standing with Fred, the husband. As George and Georgie launch their boat outside, Ann begins preparing a steak dinner. She is interrupted when the two young men from their neighbors' home, Peter and Paul (Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt), arrive and ask for strange favors. Hoping to get rid of them, she indulges their requests until George asks them to leave. Suddenly, the men become violent and corral the family in the living room, holding them at gun point and forcing them to participate in sadistic games. If the family is still alive by 9:00 the next morning, the men will let them go.

*WARNING: SPOILERS*

It's hard to say I "like" this film. The story is very disturbing, the majority of the characters are pretty unlikeable, and watching what the family has to go through over the course of the film is very uncomfortable. On the other hand, this flick defies all major American movie-making conventions, which makes it fascinating to watch. Pitt's character breaks the fourth wall several times throughout the film, the antagonists' motives are never explained, and none of the sympathetic characters survive. The two horror film taboos - violence against animals and children - are broken, and the violent murderers get away scot free, continuing on to the next family.

*END OF SPOILERS*

Specific sequences in this flick were nothing short of amazing. The opening, for instance, sets up the rest of the movie beautifully. The audience knows immediately that they are in for something completely unusual:



Ultimately, though, this film is about the performances. Watts plays the rich, WASPy wife to the hilt, and is equally good in her terrified scenes. Pitt is both ruthless and smarmy - the epitome of the banal kind of evil that can only exist in suburbia. I feel like Roth (one of my favorite actors) was a bit underused in this role. Corbet was the biggest surprise. A relative unknown, he blew me away with his soft-spoken but menacing performance. He was almost more scary than Pitt, who was far more aggressive.

Fright Rating: 2 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

Most of the violence happens off-screen, so the bone-chilling tension is the scariest part of this film. The fear is psychological, but will effect the easily rattled. I recommend this film for film buffs and people looking for something they've never seen before, but it may not be for casual viewers.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2010 Fright Fest: Planet Terror


Planet Terror (2007)
Rated R (for language, violence, and sexuality)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Starring:
Marley Shelton
Rose McGowan
Freddy Rodriguez
Josh Brolin

Part of the Rodriguez/Tarantino homage to Grindhouse films, Planet Terror centers on an unlikely group of people fighting against a zombie-like hoard, while dueling with a military unit for control of the small Texas town they hail from. The warriors include Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), an exotic dancer who is disenchanted with her life, Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton), the abused wife of a surgeon who is having a torrid affair with her female lover, Tammy (Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson), Cherry's boyfriend El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a mysterious loner who's handy with a gun, and JT (Jeff Fahey), the owner of BBQ joint The Bone Shack.

The group has to deal with both the increasing numbers of zombies and the deranged military unit led by Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis). Muldoon and his men have been infected with the zombie virus, but to keep from mutating, they must continue to inhale the deadly agent that causes it, DC2 - codename "Project Terror". As the group starts to die off, there are less and less places for them to hide.

The best thing about this flick is the cast. There are several stars in main roles, as well as in cameos and you never know who's going to pop up next. (Some of my favorites: famous FX veteran Tom Savini as a cop, "Lost" alumni Naveen Andrews as Abby, the biochemical weapons dealer, and Quentin Tarantino as "Rapist #1")

The flick is supposed to be campy, but it's also an excellent example of true blood-and-guts horror. Along with flicks like Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive, Planet Terror falls clearly into the "splatstick" genre - horror films that use over-the-top gore for laughs. The film scratches and missing scenes are intended as part of the tribute to the low budget Grindhouse films that Rodriguez and Tarantino loved as kids.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of a possible 5

This is a very gory film, so it will mostly appeal to true horror/Rodriguez fans. It's got some very funny moments and some great action scenes, but it's definitely a "hard" R, so adults only.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Event Horizon


Event Horizon (1997)
Rated R (for violence and disturbing images)

Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson

Starring:
Laurence Fishburne
Sam Neill
Kathleen Quinlan
Jason Isaacs

In the year 2047, the crew of rescue ship Lewis and Clark receives a distress signal from the Event Horizon, a ship that disappeared behind Neptune seven years before. The crew of the Lewis and Clark, along with the Event Horizon's designer Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) decide to make the trip out to see what's left of the ship. When they arrive, they find the Event Horizon intact, but empty. The crew members are gone, save one - a frozen corpse, sans eyes. The ship holds an experimental gravity drive, which was used to create an artifical black hole, something Dr. Weir hoped would allow for space/time travel. Instead, the drive seems to have propelled the ship to another dimension, driving the original crew of the Event Horizon insane. The longer the Lewis and Clark crew stay on the ship, the more likely they are to experience the same fate. Their only hope is destroy the Event Horizon before it destroys them.

Usually modern alien/space movies aren't my thing (I'm more of an Atomic Age kind of girl), but this one worked for me because it's really more like a ghost story that happens to be set in space. (Writer Phillip Eisner pitched it as "The Shining in space".) Like Ridley Scott's Alien, this flick has a very Geiger-esque feel and the Event Horizon sets were reportedly based on the Notre Dame cathedral - both have multiple archways and cruciforms within their designs.

This role starts out as a common one for Neill - the uber-intelligent, slightly eccentric doctor who specializes in a unique field (a la Jurassic Park) - but he is quickly sucked under the ship's control, and he becomes the physical manifestation of the Event Horizon's evil. Neill has done horror before and since (The Omen III, Daybreakers), but this is an unusual turn for him compared to the rest of his filmography. Laurence Fishburne is good, as always; in addition to possessing one of the coolest voices in Hollywood, he seems to revel in leadership roles (The Matrix, "CSI", et al.) My favorite character, however, was Cooper, played by Richard T. Jones. Jones has done mostly televison work (he had recurring characters on "Judging Amy" and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles"), but he brings excellent comic relief to this film (and he's not bad to look at either!).

This film has some pretty serious gore, and Anderson's original director's cut was even gorier before Paramount ordered it to be cut in both length and content. (Word of warning: if eyes creep you out, stay away from this one) The violence is not gratuitous, however, and is artfully done. I usually don't like a lot of blood and guts, but this flick was worth suffering through the gross scenes.

Fright Rating: 3 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

This flick is both scary and gory, so those without strong stomachs and/or who scare easily - watch this film with someone in the daylight.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Wind Chill


Wind Chill (2007)
Rated R (for violence and some disturbing images)

Directed by Gregory Jacobs

Starring:
Emily Blunt
Ashton Holmes

This film is a little-known indie horror flick that I happened upon through Fearnet. It's sometimes shown on the Lifetime Movie Network, but is heavily edited for time and content. Wind Chill centers on two unnamed college students driving home for winter break. The girl (Emily Blunt), looking for a ride to her hometown, checks the college ride board and lucks out when a fellow student (Ashton Holmes) is also heading to Delaware. After showing up two hours late and making fun of his car, she spends the majority of their ride chatting to friends on her cell phone. After her ride's annoyance is clear, she hangs up and the two get to know each other. Blunt is a stuck-up engineering major and Holmes is a socially awkward Eastern religions major who has a crush on her. Blunt's character soon realizes that Holmes doesn't live anywhere near her and begins to get creeped out. When he decides to take a "scenic" route, her anxiety builds. In the midst of an argument, the two are run off the road by an oncoming car. The car is undrivable and as the temperature starts to drop, the two students realize they are in more trouble than they thought. Along with the frigid cold, they are tormented by the ghosts of others who died there and they may not survive the night.

In the first hour, this film had serious potential. The cold and the isolation work to create an appropriately eerie mood and had the flick stayed with the "girl trapped in a car with a stalker" plot, it could have been a decent, if predictable thriller. The gotcha subplot about the ghosts and maniacal cop is both lame and confusing, however. I guess the film gets points for originality, but I would have much rather seen where it could have gone if it followed a more common path.

If you happen to catch this flick on LMN or it comes on Fearnet again, it's worth watching for sheer weirdness sake, but don't spend your money on this one.

Fright Rating: 1 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

This film has mild violence the ghosts are vaguely disturbing, but it's not overly scary. It is Rated R, but mostly for language.

Monday, October 11, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Single White Female


Single White Female (1992)
Rated R (for violence, language, and sexuality)

Directed by Barbet Schroeder

Starring:
Bridget Fonda
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Steven Weber
Stephen Tobolowsky

Single White Female is a thriller based on John Lutz's 1990 novel SWF Seeks Same. Allie Jones (Bridget Fonda) is a talented software designer who has just created a revolutionary fashion merchandising program. Allie is hip, beautiful, and lives in a gorgeous building in New York City. After finding out her loving fiance Sam (Steven Weber) cheated on her with his ex-wife, she breaks up with him and kicks him of their apartment. This presents a problem as she cannot afford her beautiful apartment alone. She auditions several roommates before settling on Hedy Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a shy, naive girl who admires Allie's sophisticated style. The two women bond quickly, helped along by Hedy's gift of an adorable puppy.

Hedy begins to be clingy and starts copying Allie's look and mannerisms, which Allie finds unsettling. The relationship sours further when Allie reconciles with Sam and the two discuss him moving back in, meaning that Hedy will have to move out as soon as she finds a new apartment. Allie quickly learns that her new roommate is a dangerous person intent on taking over her life . . . and her identity.

What makes this film work is that it preys on the superficial sense of self (especially for women) associated with a person's appearance and the way they dress. While these things don't truly represent who we are, they are the outer image presented to others. When someone else has a similar look, or especially when they actively copy our own, it feels weirdly like a violation. Single White Female is so scary because the audience watches as the seemingly innocuous Hedy slowly rips Allie's life apart stitch by stitch, seam by seam. Indeed, the most horrifying scene occurs in a hair salon when Hedy descends the stairs to show off her brand new haircut - a carbon copy of Allie's, right down to the color.

Leigh is excellent in the film. From the beginning, she seems like a lonely, self-deprecating and slightly frumpy young woman who is in awe of her glamorous roommate's life. As the movie progresses, her psychosis becomes more and more obvious. Leigh plays both sides of Hedy well, but she makes the audience truly believe in her craziness.

This is a movie that will make you think twice about you who let into your life, and especially your home. It's a good example of how the right filmmaker can make ordinary objects (a haircut, a pair of shoes, etc.) induce fear.

Fright Rating: 2 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

There are a few violent scenes, but the majority of scares come from the suspense-building moments where Hedy reveals her true self. Single White Female is a classic thriller, but is Rated R and not for children.