The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The House of the Devil (dir by Ti West)


When was the last time you actually saw a good movie on Chiller?  Seriously, it doesn’t happen that often and perhaps that’s why, when, a few years ago, I curled up on the couch and watched 2009′s The House of the Devil on Chiller, I wasn’t expecting much.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that The House of the Devil is actually one of the most effective low-budget horror films that I’ve seen in a while.

The plot of House of the Devil is pretty simple.  Samantha (a likable performance from Jocelin Donahue) is a college student who has just moved into her first apartment.  However, Samantha can’t really afford to pay the rent so she agrees to take a babysitting job for the mysterious Mr. Ullman (Tom Noonan, who is just so creepy in this film).  Ullman offers her one hundred dollars to come babysit for the night.  Samantha agrees and, with her skeptical friend Megan (Greta Gerwig, who is hilarious here), drives out to Ullman’s home.  It turns out that Ullman lives in an isolated house out in the country and that he actually doesn’t have any children.  Instead, he wants Samantha to babysit his aging mother while he goes into town so he can watch the lunar eclipse which just happens to be happening on that exact night!  Samantha is reluctant but agrees to stay when Ullman offers to pay her $400.00.

And can you guess where this story is headed?

This film isn’t titled House of the Devil for nothing.

The_House_of_the_Devil

 

As I said before, I wasn’t expecting much from The House Of The Devil.  I was honestly expecting it just to be a typical, low-budget Chiller horror film, good for nothing more then maybe a laugh or two and maybe a few memorably silly gore effects.  Having now seen the film, I’m very happy to say that I was incorrect.  The House of the Devil is a well-made, effectively creepy horror film and it’s one that other horror filmmakers could very much learn from.

Don’t get me wrong.  The plot of House of the Devil isn’t going to win any points for creativity.  Even if the film didn’t open with a wonderfully self-concious title card informing us that the movie is “based on a true story” of Satanic activity, it would be pretty easy to figure out that nothing good is going to happen once Samantha goes into the house.  But that actually works to the film’s advantage.  The House of the Devil feels like an old ghost story told at a sleepover.  You know where the story’s heading but you get scared nonetheless because, ultimately, it’s the type of story that plays on the fears that everyone has.

Also, in the style of the scary ghost story told by a storyteller with a flashlight pointed up at her chin, The House of the Devil understands that the best horrors are the ones produced by an overstimulated imagination.  With the exception of two or three scenes, this is not a gory film nor is it a film that sadistically lingers over scenes of torture and carnage.  Instead, director Ti West takes his time to set up both the story and the characters.  This is a film where the horror comes more from a carefully constructed atmopshere than any sort of easy shock effects.  As a result, this is a horror film that actually stays with you after you watch it.

The House of the Devil is a film that I’m very happy to recommend.

Two Late Holiday Reviews: Santa Claws and Happy Christmas


So, Christmas is over and, at this point, you’re probably sick of hearing about Christmas movies.  However, before we say goodbye to 2014 and welcome the new year, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about two new holiday films that I saw this month.

Santa Claws

Directed by Glenn Miller and produced by the wonderful people at the Asylum, Santa Claws tells the story of what happens when Santa Claus comes into contact with three adorable kittens.  Unfortunately, it would appear that Santa is highly allergic to cats and he ends up sneezing so much that he falls off the roof of a house.  Of course, this means that it’s up to the three kittens to climb into Santa’s sleigh and deliver the rest of the gifts.  Fortunately, Santa’s sleigh is equipped with a GPS system and two talking reindeer.

Did I mention that the kittens can talk too?

Because they so totally can!

Okay, okay — this is the type of low-budget, straight-to-DVD family film that critics are always snarky about.  But you know what?  I’m a cat person and I think kittens are the cutest things in the world.  And when they’re capable of talking, it’s even better!  Whatever flaws the movie may have had (and it had more than a few), the kittens were cute and really, that’s all that matters.

Add to that, Santa Claws was full of Asylum in-jokes.  For instance, one creepy, Santa-obsessed character also happens to love (and own) Sharknado.  When the kittens pulls up the list of who has been naughty and who has been nice, one of the names at the top of list is that of frequent Asylum actor (and star of A House Is Not A Home) Gerald Webb.

Ultimately, Santa Claws is cute fun for cat lovers.  Watch it on a double bill with the Grumpy Cat Christmas movie.

Happy Christmas

And, after you watch Santa Claws, you can watch a film that basically takes place in an entirely different universe.  Happy Christmas was this year’s film from director Joe Swanberg.  Swanberg, of course, is one of the major figures in the mumblecore movement, making films that feature improvised dialogue and which treat the mundane realities of life with the same reverence that most mainstream films reserve for chase scenes and CGI explosions. Swanberg’s previous film, Drinking Buddies, was one of the best of 2013.

Happy Christmas never works as well as Drinking Buddies but fans of both Swanberg and the mumblecore movement will probably enjoy it.  Anna Kendrick plays Jenny, an irresponsible woman who might be an alcoholic.  When she breaks up with her boyfriend, Jenny ends up moving in with her older brother Jeff (played by Joe Swanberg, himself).  The rest of the film follows Jenny as she goes to parties with and embarrasses her friend Carson (Lena Dunham), dates an amiable pot dealer named Kevin (Mark Webber), and bonds with Jeff’s wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynesky).

Kelly is a novelist who has been suffering from writer’s block.  With the help of Jenny and Carson, she starts to work on what Jenny refers to as being a “trashy, sexy mom novel.”  Probably the best scene in the film features Jenny, Carson, and Kelly just sitting around and debating the best euphemisms to use while writing a sex scene.

(As well, I think that any writer can relate to Kelly’s situation here.  Who hasn’t been tempted to just sell out and just write something that’s totally commercial and goes against every idealistic dream you’ve ever had about being a serious writer?)

Many viewers will probably dismiss Happy Christmas as being a film where nothing really happens but I think they’re being shortsighted.  There’s a lot going on in Happy Christmas — you just have to be willing to look underneath the surface.  Though Happy Christmas rejects the melodramatic conventions that we’ve come to expect from most movies, that doesn’t mean that the film itself is plotless.  By the end of this rather short film, neither Kelly or Jenny is the same person that she was at the start of the film.  They’ve both changed for the better but — much as in real life — that change isn’t always obvious.  But the change is there, waiting to be discovered by those perceptive enough to notice.

Finally, it’s interesting to see both Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynesky playing against type here.  Kendrick especially seems to be having a lot of fun, finally getting to play a character who doesn’t always do the right thing.

And so, next Christmas, watch Happy Christmas when you want to think and watch Santa Claws when you need an excuse to go, “Awwwwww!”

 

My 2012 Emmy Nominations


So, for the past few days, I’ve been happily hopping around my section of the Shattered Lens Bunker and do you know why? 

Because it’s awards season, that’s why!  With the conclusion of the 2011-2012 TV season, Emmy ballots have been mailed and votes are being cast and, come July, we’ll know which shows and performers have been nominated for the 2012 Emmys. 

Before that happens, however, I would like to play a little game called “What if Lisa Was Solely Responsible For Picking the Nominees.”  Here’s how it works — I looked over and studied the complete list of the shows and performances that have been submitted this year for Emmy consideration.  And then, from that list, I picked my personal nominees.

(A complete list of every show and performer that’s been submitted for Emmy consideration can be found here.)

Below are my personal nominations in the major Emmy categories.  Again, note that these are not necessarily the shows and performers that I believe will be nominated.  Instead, these are the shows and performers that I would nominate if I was solely responsible for picking the nominees.

A complete list of my nominations in every single Emmy category can be found here.  (And yes, there’s a lot of Lifetime on the list.  There’s also a lot of Community.)

Best Comedy Series

Bored to Death (HBO)

Community (NBC)

Girls (HBO)

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Raising Hope (Fox)

Veep (HBO)

Best Drama Series

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Breaking Bad (AMC)

The Client List (Lifetime)

Downton Abbey (PBS)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Homeland (Showtime)

Pan Am (ABC)

Ringer (The CW)

True Blood (HBO)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Outstanding Miniseries or Movie

Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Five (Lifetime)

Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Hatfields & McCoys (History Channel)

The Hour (BBC America)

Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Outstanding Variety Series

Conan (TBS)

Fashion Police (E)

Key and Peele (Comedy Central)

The Soup (E)

Tosh .O (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Variety Special

Betty White’s 90th Birthday Party (NBC)

Celtic Women: Believe (PBS)

The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen (Comedy Central)

TV Land Awards (TV Land)

Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV (Showtime)

Outstanding Nonfiction Special

Bobby Fischer Against The World (HBO)

Catholicism: Amazed and Afraid (PBS)

Crime After Crime (OWN)

God Is The Bigger Elvis (HBO)

6 Days To Air: The Making of South Park (Comedy Central)

Outstanding Nonfiction Series

America in Primetime (PBS)

American Masters (PBS)

America’s Most Wanted (Lifetime)

Beyond Scared Straight (A&E)

Inside Story (Biography)

Outstanding Reality Program

Antiques Roadshow (PBS)

Dance Moms (Lifetime)

Kitchen Nightmares (Fox)

Scouted (E)

Storage Wars (A&E)

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program

The Amazing Race (CBS)

The Bachelor (ABC)

Big Brother (CBS)

The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)

Hell’s Kitchen (Fox)

Project Runway (Lifetime)

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)

Survivor (CBS)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series

Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

Johnny Galecki in The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Danny McBride in Eastbound and Down (HBO)

Joel McHale in Community (NBC)

Lucas Neff in Raising Hope (Fox)

Jason Schwartzman in Bored To Death (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Jeffrey Donavon in Burn Notice (USA)

Damian Lewis in Homeland (Showtime)

Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead (AMC)

Timothy Olyphant in Justified (FX)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Idris Elba in Luther (BBC America)

Rob Lowe in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Steven Weber in Duke (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Dominic West in The Hour (BBC America)

Ben Whishaw in The Hour (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl (Fox)

Lena Dunham in Girls (HBO)

Tina Fey in 30 Rock  (NBC)

Julia Louis Dreyfuss in Veep (HBO)

Mary-Louis Parker in Weeds (Showtime)

Martha Plimpton in Raising Hope (Fox)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

Claire Danes in Homeland (Showtime)

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Ringer (The CW)

Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Client List (Lifetime)

Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife (CBS)

Elizabeth McGovern in Downton Abbey (PBS)

Anna Paquin in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Kristin Davis in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Anne Heche in Girl Fight (Lifetime)

Rose McGowan in The Pastor’s Wife (Lifetime)

Emily Osment in Cyberbully (ABC Family)

Sara Paxton in Blue Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series

Charlie Day in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)

Danny DeVito in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)

Donald Glover in Community (NBC)

Nick Offerman in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Danny Pudi in Community (NBC)

Matt Walsh in Veep (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama

Bruce Campbell in Burn Notice (USA)

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Giancarlo Espositto in Breaking Bad (AMC)

Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Alexander Skarsgard in True Blood (HBO)

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries or Movie

Powers Boothe in Hatfields and McCoys (History Channel)

Justin Bruening in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Hide (TNT)

Sir Roger Moore in A Princess For Christmas (Hallmark Movie Channel)

Tony Shalhoub in Five (Lifetime)

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy

Alison Brie in Community (NBC)

Kristen Chenoweth in GCB (ABC)

Anna Chlumsky in Veep (HBO)

Gillian Jacobs in Community (NBC)

Cloris Leachman in Raising Hope (Fox)

Aubrey Plaza in Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in Drama

Christine Baranski in The Good Wife (CBS)

Kristen Bauer Von Straten in True Blood (HBO)

Kelly MacDonald in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Christina Ricci in Pan Am (ABC)

Sophia Turner in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Deborah Ann Woll in True Blood (HBO)

Supporting Actress In A Miniseries or Movie

Tammy Blanchard in Of Two Minds (Lifetime)

Kaley Cuoco in Drew Peterson: Untouchable (Lifetime)

Lisa Edelstein in Blue-Eyed Butcher (Lifetime)

Jessica Lange in American Horror Story (FX)

Jena Malone in Hatfields and McCoy (History Channel)