The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Chopping Mall (dir by Jim Wynorski)


This 1986 film tells the story of what happens when one local mall decides that it’s had enough of thievery and vandalism.

First off, automatic locks and shutters are installed.  What that means is that, at a certain hour, anyone who is inside the mall is going to be trapped there until the morning.  Secondly, three robots are used as a security force.  They’re called Protectors and they roll around, looking for thieves and keeping people safe.  Don’t worry about getting mistaken for a thief, of course.  As long as you’ve got a badge, the protector will just say, “Thank you and have a good day.”

It all seems perfect but …. what if the robots malfunction?  What if they ignore the badges and just start killing anyone unlucky enough to be trapped in the mall for the night?  Surely, that could never happen, right?

Of course, it does happen.  Thanks to a freak electrical storm, the Protectors come to life and set out to keep the mall safe from intruders.  First, they kill the technicians that are supposed to keeping a watch over them.  Then, they kill a janitor named Walter Paisley (played, of course, by Dick Miller).  Then, they set off after the six attractive people who were having a sleep-over in one of the stores.

So, what did I learn from Chopping Mall?

Well, I was tempted to say that I learned not to shoplift but actually, no one in the movie gets in trouble for shoplifting.  I guess the main thing I learned is not to walk around the mall in my underwear because that definitely seems to be something that will cause the Protectors to blow up your head.

I also learned that, if you’re tapped in the mall with a bunch of killer robots, the best place to go is the sporting goods store because that store not only has a lot of automatic rifles but also an unlimited supply of ammunition.  Of course, I already learned that from Dawn of the Dead but it’s always good to be reminded….

Anyway, Chopping Mall is a lot of fun.  It’s undeniably dated.  Just the fact that everyone’s life revolves around a mall tells you just how dated it is.  I guess if they made the film now, it would have to take place at an Ikea store or maybe an Amazon warehouse.  But the fact that the film is dated is a part of what makes it so much fun to watch.  Seriously, it’s amazing all of the stuff that apparently used to go on at the local mall in the 80s.

Despite the fact that they have a bad habit of killing people, the Protectors are actually kind of cute.  If nothing else, they’re unfailingly polite.  You have to love the fact that they’ll wish you a nice day even after they’ve killed you.  Surprisingly enough, the humans are just as likable as the Protectors.  For a film about killer robots, Chopping Mall is surprisingly well-acted by a likable cast.  Russell Todd, who was the best-looking man to ever be killed by Jason Voorhees, is in this film and he’s as broodingly handsome here as he was in Friday the 13th Part II.

Chopping Mall is a good mix of humor and thrills and robots and exploding heads and Dick Miller.  This is 80s mall horror at its best!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Dead Night (dir by Brad Baruh)


Hey, I’ve got an idea!  It’s Spring Break so why don’t we spend it in a cabin in the middle of a snow storm!?

Great idea!

Let’s go!

Oh, look — we’re at the cabin now and there’s some strange woman passed out front.  What should we do!?

Hey, let’s bring her inside!

Good idea!

Uh-oh, the woman’s inside and she’s alive but she’s acting kind of weird!

Hey, let’s eat dinner!

Now, in all fairness to the characters in 2018’s Dead Night, things are a bit more complex than that.  It’s not just that they decided to go up to a snowy cabin for Spring Break.  The cabin is actually supposed to be a therapeutic location.  James Pollack (AJ Bowen) is dying of cancer and it’s felt that the cabin will not only ease his pain but perhaps increase his life.  If nothing else, the wilderness will bring some sort of inner peace.  Accompanying James are his wife, Casey (Brea Grant) and their two teenage children, Jessica (Sophie Dalah) and Jason (Joshua Hoffman), and Jessica’s best friend, Becky (Elsie Luthman).

As for the mysterious woman who shows up out front of the cabin, they’re just trying to be nice when they invite Leslie Bison (Barbara Crampton) to stay in the cabin with them.  Even though Leslie can’t tell them how she ended up at their cabin, the Pollacks are not the type to just allow someone to die in the snow.  Really, we should all be more like the Pollacks, I guess.

Still, Leslie does turn out to be really obnoxious.  She makes inappropriate jokes.  She rudely asks which member of the family is dying.  She blows kisses at Jason and smirks when Jessica announces that they can’t eat until they’ve said grace.  In fact, the family is on the verge of kicking Leslie out when …. well, things happen.

What things?  We get some hints from a terrifically over the top true crime show, segments of which appear throughout the movie.  Hosted by Jack Sterling (Daniel Roebuck), the show deals with the question of how a perfect wife and mother like Casey Pollack could eventually go insane and chop up her family and friends with an ax.  Sterling tells us that, even though Casey called several people and told them that she had found a strange woman outside the cabin, the police were convinced that this was all just a part of an elaborate lie.

Hmmm….so, I guess we know what’s going to happen, right?

Well, no,  Not quite.  It turns out that the true story is a little bit different from what we might have seen on television.  For instance, Jack Steling’s show says nothing about the weird incident that happened in the early 60s, when a young woman got lost in the wood and was apparently impregnated with a piece of a tree….

If you go over to this movie’s imdb page, you’ll find a lot of angry reviews from people who felt that this movie didn’t have a real plot and that it was too gory but I don’t know.  I kind of liked it.  I mean, it’s a horror movie about people stuck in the middle of the woods.  What exactly are you expecting to get other than some nonsensical ax murders?  I mean, yes, the film doesn’t make complete sense but the cabin and the woods are both wonderfully creepy locations and the film also featured the great Barbara Crampton playing a …. well, I won’t spoil it.  Plus, I watch a lot of true crime television and I can tell you that this film’s satire of the particular genre is spot-on!

So, what can I say?  Suck it, imdb.  I kinda liked Dead Night.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Puppet Master (dir by David Schmoeller)


Since there’s been like 200 Puppet Master films made over the past 30 years — goddamn, 30 years of killer puppets! — I figured that maybe I should finally sit down and actually watch one of them.  I decided to go with the original film that started the entire franchise, 1989’s Puppet Master!

So, basically, this is a movie about little puppets that kill full-sized people.  Obviously, there’s a bit more to the plot but let’s be honest.  No one who watches this movie is going to be watching it for the specifics of the plot.  They’re going to be watching it because they want to see tiny puppets go on a rampage.  I have to say that the puppets themselves are pretty cute.  I mean, they’re murderous and a little bit pervy but they’re still really cute.  I understand that all of the puppets have their own specific names but, while watching the film, I just made up names of my own.

For instance, there’s Hooky, who has a hook for one hand and a knife for the other and looks like he should be the lead singer of an aging Prog Rock band.  And then there’s Drilly, who has a drill on his head.  He can be really dangerous, especially if you’re stupid enough to crawl around on the floor and just stay there, on all fours, while he’s running straight at you.  I mean, if you just stood up, you probably wouldn’t get that badly injured but …. well, what do I know, right?  And then there’s Leechy, who is a female puppet who spits up leeches.  What’s interesting is that she never runs out of leeches but I have to wonder, if you have that many leeches, why not just send them out on their own instead of stuffing them all into some poor little puppet?  I felt bad for Leechy.  She seemed kinda sad.  And then there’s Handy, who has big hands and Facey, who can assume several different facial expressions at once.  They’re all really adorable, to be honest.

Anyway, Puppet Master is about a bunch of psychics who all spend the night in a California hotel that was once home to the “last alchemist,” Andre Toulon (William Hickey).  Toulon had the power to bring inanimate creatures — like puppets! — too life but, when the Nazi spies were closes in on him, Toulon killed himself.  Many years later, a psychic named Neil Gallagher (Jimmie F. Skaggs) discovered Toulon’s hiding place in the hotel but then shot himself as well.  So now, Neil’s former colleagues are all trying to get Toulon’s power for themselves.  Or something.  As I said, following the plot is not always easy.  The main appeal here is watching the cute puppets do really bad things.

That said, who knew that a group of psychics and witches would prove to be so stupid?  I mean, you would think that — when all of you are having constant premonitions of death and destruction — you would be smart enough to take extra precautions or maybe just leave the hotel all together.  For instance, Dana (Irene Miracle) casts a protection spell over someone else but not on herself.  Meanwhile, Frank (Matt Roe) and Clarissa (Kathryn O’Reilly) make the rookie mistake of having sex in a horror film while our nominal hero, Alex (Paul Le Mat, looking like he’s trying to figure out how he went from American Graffiti to this), wanders around in a daze.

And yet, watching the film, I could see why it became so popular.  The puppets are memorable and well-designed and the backstory, with Toulon and all the rest, is actually pretty interesting.  Puppet Master is one of those films that defines “stupid but fun.”  No wonder the puppets came back!

2016 In Review: The Best of SyFy


Well, here we are!  We have reached the end of the first week of January, 2017 and that means that it is time for me to start listing my favorite movies, books, songs, and TV shows of the previous year!  Let’s start things off by taking a look at the best that the SyFy network had to offer in 2016!

Below, you will find my nominees for the best SyFy films and performances of the previous year.  The winners are listed in bold and starred.  As you’ll quickly notice, it was a good year for films about zombies, spiders, and sharks!

(Please note: When it comes to determining the nominees, I have used the credits for each film as listed on the Internet Movie Database.  If anyone feels that they have been miscredited, feel free to let me know and I’ll correct the mistake.  Thanks!)

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Best Picture

2 Lava 2 Lantula, produced by Neil Elman, Anthony Frankhauser, Lisa M. Hansen, Paul Hertzber

Atomic Shark, produced by Tanya Bellamy, Diane Boone, Matt Chiasson, Angela Meredith Furst, Griff Furst, Stephen Furst, M. Juan Gonzalez, Ross Herbert, Howie Klein, Som Kohanzadeh, Yoram Kohanzadeh, Isiah LaBorde, Kevin Lamb, Daniel March, Will Matherne, David Poughatsch, Lee C. Rogers, Miguel Sandoval, Arthur Scanlan, Ben Yimlimai

Dead 7, produced by Paul Bales, Nick Carter, David L. Garber, David Michael Latt, David Rimawi, Micho Rutare, Dylan Vox

Isle of the Dead, produced by Paul Bales, Lauren Elizabeth Hood, David Michael Latt, David Rimawi

*The Night Before Halloween, produced by Blake Corbet, Priscilla Galvez, Christina O’Shea-Daly, Marek Povisal, Lance Samuels, Mary Anne Waterhouse

Ozark Sharks, produced by Kenneth M. Badish, Sam Claitor, Eric Davies, Daniel Lewis, Jordan Lewis, Pierre-Andre Rochat, Tommy Talley

Best Director

Nick Lyons for Isle of the Dead

Nick Simon for 2 Lava 2 Lantula

Misty Talley for Ozark Sharks

*Sheldon Wilson for The Night Before Halloween

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Best Actor

*Nick Carter in Dead 7

Steve Guttenberg in 2 Lava 2 Lantula

Justin Kelly in The Night Before Halloween

Michael Papajohn in Ozark Sharks

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Best Actress

Jessica Blackmore in Dam Sharks

Laura Cayouette in Ozark Sharks

*Bailee Madison in The Night Before Halloween

Maryse Mizanin in Isle of the Dead

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Best Supporting Actor

Raymond J. Barry in Day of Reckoning

*D.C. Douglas in Isle of the Dead

Alex Harrouch in The Night Before Halloween

Thomas Francis Murphy in Ozark Sharks

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Best Supporting Actress

*Allisyn Ashley Arm in Ozark Sharks

Barbara Crampton in Day of Reckoning

Kristina Hughes in Stakeland 2: The Stakelander

Kiana Madiera in The Night Before Halloween

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Best Screenplay

*2 Lava 2 Lantula, Neil Elman, Ashley O’Neil

Isle of the DeadJacob Cooney, Brandon Trenz

The Night Before HalloweenSheldon Wilson

Ozark Sharks, Marcy Holland, Greg Mitchell

Best Cinematography

Atomic Shark, Don E. FauntLeRoy

*The Night Before Halloween, Daniel Grant

Planet of the Sharks, Mark Atkins

Stakeland 2: The Stakelander, Matt Mitchell

Best Costumes

*Dead 7Sarah Sharp

Isle of the Dead, Cailan Calandro

Planet of the Sharks, Mary-Sue Morris

Stakeland 2: The Stakelander, Brenda Shenher

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Best Editing

Atomic Shark, Stephen Pfeil

Isle of the Dead, Rob Pallatina

The Night Before Halloween

*Ozark SharksMisty Talley

Best Makeup

The Crooked Man, Laurie Hallack, Laura Morton, Hannah Schenck, Eric S. Wilson

*Isle of the Dead, Leslie Burdick, Dennis M. Chavez, Michael Robert Cypher, Lleva Radina

Sharknado 4Krystal Bagorio, Stacy Bisel, Haley Coats, Rebeca Ovadia, Magali Serrano, Melissa K. Webb

Stakeland 2: The Stakelander, Raven Dee, Jill Demaer, Lindi Edge, Pete Gerner, Nina McArthur, Brian Spears, Krista Stevenson

Best Score

*Dead 7Drew Lerdal, Bryan Shackle

Isle of the Dead, Chris Cano, Chris Ridenhour

Ozark SharksAndrew Morgan Smith

Sharknado 4Christopher Cano, Chris Ridenhour

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Best Production Design

2 Lava 2 Lantula, Yana Veselova, Megan Sunzeri

Dead 7, Caitlin Langen, Mikki Mamaril

*Isle of the Dead, Kalise Wallace, Taylor Jean

Sharknado 4Kalise Wallace

Best Sound

Atomic Shark

Isle of the Dead

The Night Before Halloween

*Sharknado 4

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Best Visual Effects

Atomic Shark

*2 Lava 2 Lantula

The Night Before Halloween

Shadows of the Dead

 

Congratulations to all the nominees!  Thank you for keeping us entertained in 2016!

Want to see my picks for last year?  Click here!

Click here for my picks from 2014!

And here for my picks from 2013!

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the best from Lifetime!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016

 

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #12: Day of Reckoning (dir by Joel Novoa)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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The next film that I watched off of the DVR was Day of Reckoning, a film that premiered on the SyFy network on October 8th.

Day of Reckoning was one of the handful of films that premiered as a part of SyFy’s 31 Days of Halloween.  There was a time when the SyFy network used to air a new film every week.  That was a golden age for those of us who enjoy live tweeting and snarking online.  Unfortunately, it would appear that the network made a change in their business model and SyFy drastically cut back on the number of original films that they produced and/or bought each year.  Now, if you want to see an original film premiere on SyFy, you either have to wait for Shark Week or October.  It’s unfortunate but that’s the way things are.

This year, it seemed as if almost all of SyFy’s October premieres were essentially remakes of It Follows.  Day of Reckoning is unique because it went the opposite route.  In no way is this film a rip-off of It Follows.

Instead, it’s more of a rip-off of The Purge: Anarchy.

16 years ago, during an eclipse, Earth was attacked by a pack of dogs from Hell.  That’s not just me being overdramatic.  Fissures literally formed in the ground and these dogs sprang out from the depths of Hell.  For 24 hours, the hellhounds terrorized and killed.  And then, much like a wealthy, mask-wearing murderer at the end of the annual Purge, they just vanished.  Naturally, the survivors built barriers over the fissures and hoped that the dogs would never return.  But now, another eclipse is approaching and some people are terrified that it’s going to happen again.

And you know what?

Those people are right.

Day of Reckoning follows one family and their effort to get to safety during the canine apocalypse.  The father (Jackson Hurst) is still feeling guilty for not being home when the dogs first showed up.  He’s determined not to fail his family for a second time.  His wife (Heather McComb), meanwhile, just wants a divorce and his teenage son (Jay Jay Warren) just wants to hang out with his girlfriend.

Fortunately, a crazy uncle is coming to the rescue!  Crazy Uncle Ted (Raymond J. Barry) has built an underground bunker and he’s invited the family to come join him and his wife (Barbara Crampton).  However, the family first has to reach the shelter and that’s going to mean dealing with not only dogs but a lot of stupid people as well.  You know how that goes.  Can the family survive 24 hours of hellhound purging?

Crazy Uncles have been getting blamed for a lot lately.  As of right now, you can go to about a hundred different sites and find all sorts of guides for how to talk to your crazy uncle during Thanksgiving.  Apparently, the solution is to repeat tired soundbites.  Personally, I would think a better solution would be not to worry about it and just enjoy your holiday but what the Hell do I know?  With the character of Ted, Day of Reckoning pays tribute to the occasional wisdom of the crazy uncle and therefore, it’s essential Thanksgiving viewing.

Beyond that, Day of Reckoning is pretty much a typical SyFy film.  It’s a bit more serious than most but, ultimately, it follows the same pattern.  A group of characters have to get from one location to another without getting killed by a paranormal threat.  It won’t take you by surprise but Raymond J. Barry and Barbara Crampton are both well-cast and, if you’re a fan of SyFy movies, you’ll probably enjoy Day of Reckoning.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Road Games (dir by Abner Pastoll)


Road Games is an odd film.  On the one hand, it’s such a slow-moving film that there’s really not a whole lot of plot to describe.  On the other hand, what little plot that does exist all hinges on a big twist that I really can’t reveal.  Considering how offended some people get when I reveal the end of a Lifetime film on this site, I can only imagine the reaction if I spoiled this film.

Jack (Andrew Simpson) is a depressed British guy who is stranded in France.  He’s been hitchhiking across the country, hoping to make his way to Calais so that he can catch a ferry back to the UK.  Oddly, he’s traveling with no bags.  When we first meet Jack, he’s frustrated because nobody is willing to stop and pick him up.

Jack does eventually meet another hitchhiker, Veronique (Josephine de la Baume).  Despite the fact that Jack speaks little French and Veronique speaks little English, they have an immediate chemistry.  Veronique even lets Jack know why nobody wants to pick him up.  Apparently, there’s a serial killer in the area!

Shortly afterwards, a car actually does stop.  The owner of the car, Grizard (Frederic Pierrot), offers them a ride.  Jack quickly gets in the car but Veronique is weary of the rough-spoken Grizard and only reluctantly gets in the back seat.  They drive.  Grizard asks way too many personal questions.  He stops to pick a dead rabbit off of the road.  He gets mad when Jack tries to turn on the radio.  He also mentions that, because of a strike that neither Jack nor Veronique had heard about, there are no ferries from Calais.  He offers to let Jack and Veronique stay at his home for the night.  Though Veronique is reluctant, Jack readily agrees.

Grizard’s wife is Mary (Barbara Crampton).  Grizard insists that Mary is British but Mary tells Jack that she’s actually from the States.  Veronique doesn’t trust either Grizard or Mary but Jack says that they’re probably just lonely.  Veronique is offended that she and Jack are given separate rooms.  Jack replies that they’re probably just old-fashioned…

And that’s all I can tell you about the plot!  There’s a really big twist and it’s actually fairly clever.  But, my God, it takes forever to get there.  Road Games is a very slow film.  I know some of that was to build up suspense and the film is certainly not a failure but it’s still hard not to feel that Road Games was basically a terrifically effective 20-minute short film that was unnecessarily padded out to 95 minutes.

Road Games did the festival circuit in 2015 and got a release earlier this year.  It’s currently on Netflix and I guess I would give it a partial recommendation, especially if you’re a fan of the horror road genre.  There was a lot I did like about the movie: the cinematography is gorgeous and the original score is evocative of the best of giallo.   The acting is okay, though Barbara Crampton is really the only stand-out in the cast. Throughout the film, the characters speak in a combination of French and English and Road Games makes good use of the language barrier to keep us off-balance.  (How much is Jack understanding? we constantly wonder.)  But the film itself is just so slow!  I’ll be curious to see what director Abner Pastoll does next.  I just hope his next film has a steadier pace.

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Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #5: We Are Still Here (dir by Ted Geoghegan)


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The fifth film on my DVR was the 2015 haunted house film, We Are Still Here.  I recorded We Are Still Here off of the SyFy channel on March 20th.  Sad to say, I really can’t remember what I was doing or watching on March 20th while my DVR recorded one of the best horror movies of the previous year.  I was probably watching something pn Lifetime.  That usually seems to be the case.

But anyway, let’s talk about We Are Still Here.

As a self-professed lover of both horror and old grindhouse exploitation films, there is really no excuse for it to have taken me this long to see We Are Still Here.  We Are Still Here is one of those wonderfully low-budget indie films that mixes a traditional genre — in this case, the haunted house film — with a far less traditional view of humanity.  With its mix of bump-in-the-dark horror and cynicism about human nature, We Are Still Here feels like a mix of the Coen Brothers and H.P. Lovecraft.

Anne (Barbra Crampton, a veteran of horror films like Castle Freak and You’re Next) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig, who played the mysterious antagonist of Upstream Color) are a married couple who are struggling to deal with tragedy.  Their son, Bobby, was recently killed in a car wreck.  Anne is trapped in a prison of depression, while Paul just wants to move on with their lives.  Hoping that it will help them to forget their sadness, Paul and Anne buy a house in New England.

(New England, not coincidentally, was also the home of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as being the setting for some of his best-remembered stories.)

But, of course, the house proves to be anything but therapeutic.  From the minute they move in, Anne is convinced that they are not alone.  With every mysterious sound and strange happening within the house, Ann becomes more and more convinced that the spirit of Bobby is with them.

If you’re a horror fan, you will not be surprised to learn that they are not alone.  There is a presence in the house but is it Bobby or is it something far more sinister?  Shortly after moving in, Anne and Paul meet their new neighbors.  As friendly as they may be, there is definitely something off about Dave (Monte Markham) and his wife, Cat (Connie Neer).  Dave tells them that the house was originally a funeral home an about how it was owned by the mysterious Dagmar family.  The Dagmars were reportedly forced to leave town after it was learned that they were selling the bodies brought to them for burial and burying empty coffins.  Could this have anything to do with the strange vibe that Anne and Paul both get from the house?

Despite Paul’s skepticism, Anne invites her friends, May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden), to come for a visit.  May and Jacob are both spiritualists and Anne hopes that they can contact Bobby’s spirit.  Again, it’s not a spoiler to reveal that they do contact something.  The surprise comes from what they contact and what happens as a result.

We Are Still Here is a chilly and dream-like film, one that wisely devotes as much time to creating and maintaining a properly creepy atmosphere as it does to all the expected scare scenes.  When the presence in the house is finally revealed, it’s a scary moment but for me, the most haunting scenes in the film are the shots of the snow-covered landscape surrounding the house.  The icy roads are as cold and unforgiving and as potentially dangerous as anything that might be living in the old Dagmar house.  And, just as the weather cannot be controlled, neither can the paranormal.

We Are Still Here is a deliberately paced film.  In fact, it’s probably a bit too deliberate to really be effective when viewed with commercial interruptions.  We Are Still Here works because it creates an atmosphere of foreboding and certain doom and it’s hard to maintain an atmosphere when, every 20 minutes or so, the action has to stop for a commercial about Tide pods.  To best appreciate this film and what it has to say about loss, faith, and delusion, it’s necessary to watch the story unfold without any pause to the narrative.

Fortunately, this intelligent and well-acted horror film is currently available on Netflix, where it can be viewed without commercial interruption!  If you’re a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to watch.

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The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Castle Freak (dir by Stuart Gordon)


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Originally released in 1996, Castle Freak is a film that I watched a few years ago and seriously, it totally freaked me out!  Seriously, this is one truly creepy, scary, and disturbing film.  I imagine that I’m not alone in having nightmares after watching Castle Freak.

Castle Freak takes place in Italy and yes, the main setting is a castle.  (One the reasons why Castle Freak was so effective in freaking me out is because I have actually been to Italy and I have stepped inside castles much like the one featured in this film.)  The castle belonged to a duchess who has recently passed away.  The duchess’s son, Giorgio, is still alive.  The duchess it seems was a bit insane and, after being abandoned by her husband, she was so angry that she had Giorgio chained up in the basement.  After being trapped for years, Giorgio has reverted to a feral state, speaking in grunts and growls.  Horribly disfigured, Giorgio is served a meal a day by a frightened maid.  When Giorgio finally escapes (via breaking off his own thumb so he can slip out of his manacles), he is looking for revenge against humanity.

Giorgio is probably one of the most frightening monsters in cinematic history but yet, like all great monsters, he is as much a victim as a villain.  One reason why the film works is that, even though you’re terrified of Giorgio, you can’t blame him for being angry.  Indeed, one of the film’s strongest moments come when Giorgio sees his reflection for the first time and wails at the sight.  Jonathan Fuller gives a great performance as Giorgio.

Just as Giorgio escape, the duchess’s last remaining descendants move into the castle.  John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs) is a recovering alcoholic.  Years ago, a drunk John had an automobile accident, which led to the death of his son and the blinding of his teenage daughter, Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide).  His wife, Susan (Barbara Crampton), cannot bring herself to forgive John for the accident.

Though neither is initially aware of the other’s existence, there’s an obvious bond between John and Giorgio.  Much as the duchess never forgave Giorgio, Susan will never forgive John.  Giorigio was held prisoner by chains while John was held prisoner by both his own guilt and Susan’s anger.  Both of them are capable of monstrous acts with the only difference being that John has yet to totally surrender his humanity to his rage.  It’s somewhat appropriate that, after John picks up a prostitute from town, it’s Giorgio who ends up killing her because Giorgio really is John’s id unleashed.  And now, John’s entire family is in danger to falling victim to that id.

Castle Freak is a frightening movie, one that mixes shocking gore with other more subtle scares.  Director Stuart Gordon makes good use of the castle’s ominous atmosphere and he also gets wonderful performances from his entire cast, with Jeffrey Combs as the stand-out.  This is a scary and gory film that was truly made for intelligent adults.

And finally, that scene where the blind Rebecca talks about her hopes and dreams while Giorgio stands unseen beside her?

Pure nightmare fuel.

Netflix Halloween 2014 : “You’re Next”


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Okay, so here’s the deal : over at my “main” site — http://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com , for those up you not aware — I’m spending the month of October looking at various horror flicks currently available in Netflix’s instant streaming queue. So far there have been some semi-winners, some semi-losers, and some real clunkers, but I promised myself that if I ever found one that was an absolute, indisputable home run, I’d write about here on TTSL and thereby hopefully spread the word about it a bit father and wider than a post on my blog alone would accomplish. I’m pleased to say I’ve found just such a film.

I’m not sure why or how I missed “splat back”/”mumblegore” director Adam Wingard’s 2011 offering, You’re Next, when it hit theaters — I certainly found the ads for it intriguing and meant to go check it out, but I never did. My loss — but not anymore, since I finally caught it the other night and damn, was I impressed.

Seriously, this has everything you want in a horror movie : an involving premise, a few characters you want to see live, even more you’d love to see die, plenty of first-rate gore, suspense, intrigue, and all kinds of ass-kicking. You might ask for more, I suppose,  if you’re picky, but come on — how often do you get it?

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Anyway, friends, you know how it goes — you’re gathered together for a family reunion full of not-so-subtle tension and disdain (think the kind of situation where everyone would be stabbing each other in the back, except for the fact that they’re doing it out in the open), when suddenly assailants in animal masks armed with crossbows start firing away and, presto! Next thing you know, you’re all under siege and fighting for your lives.

What? That’s never happened to you? Well, it’s what happens to the family here (who, curiously enough, are never given a last name), a very well-heeled clan who have gathered at their family’s palatial “summer estate” to celebrate their mother and father’s 35th wedding anniversary. Roll call : there’s struggling- academic brother Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his Aussie girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vison); douchebag brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) and his wife, Kelly (Sarah Myers); younger douchebag brother Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his emo/goth “squeeze,” Zee (Wendy Glenn); darling baby sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz);  and presiding over the whole houseful of ungrateful, self-centered whelps we have dad Paul (Rob Moran) and mom Aubrey (the still-drop-dead-gorgeous Barbara Crampton). We get to know each of these characters just enough to give the first half-hour or so a strong dose of Woody Allen-esque upper-class dysfunction when the shit starts hitting the fan.

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And when it hits, boy does it ever. Aside from the mere fact that it’s gleeful fun (well, at least for me) to see members of the 1% finally get what’s coming to them,  Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are to be commended for not taking their collective foot off the gas pedal until the end credits are rolling, and while we quickly learn that only Erin has the smarts and guts to survive the situation thanks to her weird survivalist upbringing in the Outback, the other character revelations along the way come in measured steps and and at just the right points (usually as a means of breaking up what would otherwise be a non-stop  series of creatively brutal slayings). Still, you probably won’t see the end coming, simply because you’ll figure you’ve got the whole thing sussed out already — even though, trust me, you don’t.

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To be completely fair, I do have some relatively minor gripes with said ending — I think there was a way Wingard could have made it even more shocking, but shit, I’m not gonna complain. The conclusion he serves up is still a doozy even if it’s not exactly the one I would have gone for. If I think I’m so fucking good at this kind of thing, then maybe I should just go and direct my own movie, right?

Add in fun little cameos from the likes of fellow “new horror” icon Ti West and some wink-and-nudge homages to other genre classics, throw in a throbbing musical score that’s more than just a bit reminiscent of Goblin (hold your horses, I’m not saying it’s as good as Goblin, only that it’s stylistically similar to their justly- legendary efforts), keep the blood flowing, and you’ve got a recipe for a sure winner. Whatever you’re doing right now can wait — if you’ve got a Netflix subscription, You’re Next deserves your immediate attention.

 

 

Film Review: You’re Next (dir by Adam Wingard)


If Luis Buñuel had ever made a slasher film, it would probably have been a lot like You’re Next.

You’re Next tells the story of the ill-fated Davison clan.  Paul (Rob Moran) has recently retired from his job as a defense contractor and now, he and his wife, Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) are looking forward to celebrating their anniversary at their isolated vacation home.  Soon after they arrive at the house, Aubrey is convinced that she can hear someone else in the house.  However, since the frail Aubrey is obviously emotionally unstable, Paul dismisses her concerns.

Over the course of the day, Paul and Aubrey’s children arrive at the house.  Though, in the best tradition of all troubled families, the Davisons attempt to maintain a facade of peace and harmony, it quickly becomes clear that each member of the family is dealing with his or her own issues and petty jealousies.

For instance, oldest son Drake (Joe Swanberg) obviously feels that he’s superior to his siblings.  His wife, Kelly (Margaret Laney), is just as obviously unhappy with their marriage.

Crispian (A.J. Bowen) is a neurotic academic who is struggling financially and is viewed as being a weakling by the rest of his family.  His girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vinson) has a secret in her past that will become unexpectedly important as the day progresses.

Daughter Aimee (played by Amy Seimetz, who was so good earlier this year in Upstream Color) tries so hard to be cheerful that you know that she has to be secretly be on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.  Her boyfriend, Tariq (Ti West), is a struggling filmmaker who is scandalized to discover that Drake prefers to watch commercials as opposed to documentaries.

Finally, there’s the youngest son, Felix (Nicholas Tucci).  Felix appears to be the most well-adjusted of all of the Davison children but his quiet girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) is a different story.

Once the family has gathered together for the anniversary dinner, the bickering begins.  What the family don’t realize is that a group of men (all of whom wear animal masks) have previously slaughtered the neighbors and have now surrounded the Davison house.  The bickering is interrupted by a brutal attack that leaves one dead, one seriously injured, and the rest of the family fighting for their lives.

You’re Next starts out as an effective but rather standard home invasion film (think of The Strangers or even Michael Haneke’s Funny Games) but the film features two twists which set it apart.

The first twist is that Erin turns out to be as effective and determined a killer as the men laying siege to the house.  I’ve sat through a lot of horror movies and I love movies where women get to kick ass and I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that there’s probably no other horror heroine who kicks as much ass as Erin.  As played by Sharni Vinson, Erin is destined to become an iconic character in the history of horror.

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The other twist is one that I can’t tell you about because it’s this twist that literally turns the entire film upside down.  What I can tell you is that this twist forces you to reconsider everything that you’ve seen up until that point.  Most impressively, director Adam Wingard reveals this twist to us long before he reveals it to the film’s characters.  As such, just when the viewer is getting used to the idea of You’re Next being just another home invasion film, a whole new element of suspense is added to the story.

Some reviewers have referred to You’re Next as being a comedy.  I disagree, if just because the film’s violence is too brutal and the gore is too graphic for this film to be considered anything other than primarily a horror film.  That said, there is a strain of dark humor that runs through the film and occasionally provides a much needed relief from the nonstop tension onscreen.  A good deal of the film’s humor comes from just how incredibly screwed-up the Davison family is, even before they find themselves under attack.  This is a family of people who, even while they’re trying to plot their escape from the house, can not resist getting into argument about who can run the fastest.

Ultimately, You’re Next works as both a brutally effective horror film and as a satirical portrait of an All-American family that’s secretly so dysfunctional that — even if they weren’t being attacked by masked men with crossbows — they probably would have eventually ended up killing each other anyway.  It’s a genre film that manages to transcend the rules of genre even while embracing them.  In a year that, so far, has been dominated by surprisingly intelligent and effective horror films, You’re Next is one of the best.

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