4 Shots From Horror History: The Wolfman, Insidious, Let Me In, The Cabin In The Woods


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we begin our current decade!

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Wolfman (2010, dir by Joe Johnston)

The Wolfman (2010, dir by Joe Johnston)

Insidious (2010, dir by James Wan)

Insidious (2010, dir by James Wan)

Let Me In (2011, dir by Matt Reeves)

Let Me In (2011, dir by Matt Reeves)

The Cabin In The Woods (2012, dir by Drew Goddard)

The Cabin In The Woods (2012, dir by Drew Goddard)

4 Shots From Horror History: Halloween, Paranormal Activity, Colverfield, The House of the Devil


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we complete to the aughts!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Halloween (2007, dir by Rob Zombie)

Halloween (2007, dir by Rob Zombie)

Paranormal Activity (2007, dir by Oren Peli)

Paranormal Activity (2007, dir by Oren Peli)

Cloverfield (2008, dir by Matt Reeves)

Cloverfield (2008, dir by Matt Reeves)

The House of the Devil (2009, dir by Ti West)

The House of the Devil (2009, dir by Ti West)

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes”


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This is gonna be one easy review to write because it all boils down to this : you really can believe all the hype, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is flat-out fucking awesome, and you need to go out and see this flick immediately.

My job is done, I’m finished, goodnight.

But I guess I do have at least a little bit more to say —

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I wasn’t a big fan of Cloverfield by any means, but I’m turning into a big fan of Matt Reeves. I know it’s heresy to some, but I thought that Let Me In was every bit as good as its Swedish progenitor, and with this latest — and, frankly, best — installment in the venerable Apes franchise,  Reeves has shown himself to be a director who is fully hitting his stride. The bigger and bolder the project, the more he seems to rise to the occasion. I frankly don’t even know how you go about eliciting good performances from actors who are only there for the purpose of having a bunch of hair overlaid onto their faces via computer, but he did it here. Andy Serkis, as ape leader Caesar, and Toby Kebbell, as his primary (and creepily duplicitous) rival, Koba, both turn in Oscar-caliber work on the basis of their facial expressions alone. They’re gonna wow you, folks, no lie.

As for the human actors playing — well, human parts, Jason Clarke is solid as stand-up guy Malcolm, apparent real-life asshole in the extreme Gary Oldman does typically competent (if, to be perfectly fair, unspectacular) work as survivalist head honcho Dreyfus, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is extremely convincing as Malcolm’s teenage son, Alexander (plus, he can be seen reading Charles Burns’ Black Hole, so bonus points for that). About the only weak link comes by way of nominal love interest Keri Russell, whose “concerned as shit” look at all times begins to grate pretty early on. But when you consider the fact that all these people spent pretty much the entire time in front of a blue (or maybe it was green) screen, getting only one subpar performance from the bunch is pretty good. And who knows? Maybe Russell simply can’t help coming off as worried 24/7.

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My only other minor quibble here is with the title — when a film called Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is followed by one called Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, you gotta wonder when the buildup is going to stop and we’re finally gonna get down to the shit. Or maybe we’re looking at a 20-part story here and we’ve still got plenty of stage-setting to go, in which case we’ll be treated to Prelude To The Planet Of The Apes and We’re Still Getting To The Planet Of The Apes next.

Hey, I did say it was a minor quibble, did I not?

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Apart from that, this has everything you’d want in a big-budget summer blockbuster, and quite a bit more than you’d honestly expect : there’s pathos, melodrama, palace (if your palace is a tree) intrigue, cheap scares, high-octane thrills, elaborately-staged battle sequences, and a genuine sense of urgency to the proceedings. Events — and tension — gradually build to the point of inevitability, and the film’s third act actually delivers in terms of its promised payoff.  And for those of you who are tired of James Franco’s ever-evolving shtick — whatever it is — rest assured that he doesn’t even pop up in a flashback sequence.

Ya know what? Let’s not even do Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes the disservice of comparing it to other summer popcorn flicks — this leaves typical blockbuster fare like The Avengers or Star Trek so far back in the dust it’s not even funny. What Reeves has made here is one of the very best films you’ll see all year, even if big-budget sci-fi grandiosity is not your thing. This is eloquent, spectacular, undeniably powerful drama of the highest order. It’s everything and the kitchen sink plus one of those nifty fancy programmable faucets all attached to a fancy-ass 300-pound granite countertop.

Okay, I’m finished with the italics, promise. If you don’t like this, you don’t like movies. My job here really is done.

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (dir. Matt Reeves)


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(Poster by Matt Ferguson)

When ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ came out, I wasn’t excited; I didn’t even see it in theaters. I am a fan of the original franchise (one and three mainly), and still had the bad taste of the terrible Burton remake in my mouth. So the idea of a prequel/reboot was one of the last things I wanted at the time. Still, I gave it a chance when it was released on home video, and it blew me away. I, like so many, was surprised by just how good it was. So good in fact, that I desperately wanted a sequel. Luckily the film was a success (both financially and critically) and that inevitable, albeit desired, sequel was made. Having now just seen it, the question now becomes whether it lives up to both that first film and the enormous expectations I had built up between films (especially more recently with the “prequel” shorts). The answer, thank god, is a resounding “Hell yes!”

It was so good in fact that I’d go so far as to say that this franchise has become my favorite since Nolan’s ‘Batman’ films. This is why the easiest way for me to describe how this compares to the first film is to say that ‘Dawn’ is to ‘Rise’ as ‘The Dark Knight’ was to ‘Batman Begins’. ‘Rise’, like ‘Begins’, was an exceptional origins tale; but it was a story that felt rushed or overshadowed in place for the development and establishment of  only the central character. ‘Rise’ still had an emotional resonance, and the final twenty minutes are incredibly thrilling, but it ultimately felt incomplete.  With ‘Dawn’, like with ‘The Dark Knight’, the film makers were free to use what was already established with their new hero to tell a much more complete, more complex and emotional story on a much grander scale.

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‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ takes place ten years after the events of the first film. The world has been devastated by the Simian Flu. Humans have spent the last decade fighting the virus and themselves. They live in a post-apocalyptic world, struggling to survive, but are making progress. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his troop on the other hand have built themselves a community, a tranquil home in the Muir Woods that is thriving according to their needs.  That peace is interrupted when a group of humans enter their territory. They are led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who is trying to find and fix a hydroelectric plant that could help bring power back to San Francisco. The actions of one in that group lead Caesar and his family to have little trust in their intentions, but allows them to proceed because they are clearly desperate. Caesar is one of the few apes that has seen the good in human’s and also knows cooperation could keep the peace.

As the bond between human and ape grows there is still one among Caesar’s troop that does not believe that peace is possible. That ape is Koba (Toby Kebbell), who was beaten, tortured and used for medical testing his entire life. Koba’s distrust only grows when he learns that the humans, led by a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), have access to military stock piles and are willing to take control of the area surrounding the dam by force if it were to become necessary. Thinking Caesar is weak and too loyal to humans, Koba decides to take it upon himself to protect the apes, and his actions set off a chain of events that could only lead to only one thing…war.

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When the film ended and I walked out of the theater I felt completely satisfied with what I had just seen. My expectations for the film were already incredibly high, but I would be lying if I said this didn’t actually exceed them. What makes the film such a resounding success for me is the way in which the story puts everyone on equal grounds. There are no true villains here, and even those that assume that role do so for reasons that were easy for me to empathize with. Dreyfus may want to kill the apes, but he does so because he is a man who has lost everyone he ever loved and will do anything to protect the remaining humans that have put their trust in him. Koba, as selfish as some of his actions may be, is someone who was physically and mentally abused his entire life. His revenge might seem cruel, but one could hardly blame him for wanting it. Everyone is fighting for the survival of those that they love and the homes they established. I couldn’t help but want everyone to succeed. Unfortunately, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the pain and damage under the surface of both man and ape make the idea of peace between the two impossible. Some differences are irreparable. There is definitely an allegory here of war that reflects current and past conflicts.

Luckily those themes of warfare, family and survival are all expressed effortlessly through the actions of its characters. It manages to be intelligent and complex without being thematically overbearing, while maintaing an intanacy. That is mainly because the film is handled with exceptional craftsmanship by Matt Reeves. The direction and cinematography, especially within Caesar’s settlement, is wonderful. It is never flashy, and is often much darker and moodier than one might expect. The editing and pacing is near perfect, which is rarely the case with these sorts of films. It only ever slows when it needs to, but the story is always moving forward. Every scene matters, even the quieter moments, for which there are many; again, something one might not expect, especially given the action heavy trailers. The score is perhaps the best Michael Giacchino has done since ‘Up’, adding to the moody atmosphere, and I LOVED his little nob to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in the opening sequence. Everything here is done with purpose and execution of it all is nearly flawless.

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Lastly, I would be remiss to end this review without mentioning the performances, which were the soul of the film. Even with the way everything else was handled, I am not sure ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ would have worked without these specific performances. The human cast of Clarke, Oldman and Russell were all fantastic. The film’s only real flaw was that there actually wasn’t enough focus on them. I understand that the heart of the story is Caesar and his apes, but the human characters could easily have been developed more. Still, what development and emotional connection we did get was due mainly because of the actors portraying them. They make us care for these people, making the inevitable conflict even harder to bear as the film approached its climax.

The motion capture for the apes was mind blowing. Andy Serkis is in a class of his own. The visuals and animation here are some of the best I think I have seen; but it is the emotion and talent of the actors behind all that CGI that makes those ape characters feel so real. Serkis plays Caesar as someone filled with grief and the weight of the responsibility of caring for his troop bleeds through. Toby Kebbell plays Koba with a ferociousness that is equally terrifying and mesmerizing; and I also really loved Nick Thurston, who played Caesar’s eldest son Blue Eyes, and how he managed to expressed so much in just his gaze. I mentioned early in this review how this film compares on some level to ‘The Dark Knight’ for me. That film was speculated to be in the run for an Oscar nomination for Best Picture but it never happened. The backlash was so strong that some think it was the reason the Academy increased the number of films that could be nominated. I truly hope that Serkis will receive some form of recognition for his work here; and if not, I hope all of us praising him so greatly now will be vocal enough when the time come that maybe the Academy will make another change to who and what it nominates.

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I am not sure where I would place this film among others I have seen in 2014 but I know I’d put it somewhere near the top. This isn’t just another intelligent summer blockbuster; it is really an exceptionally crafted epic, a thrilling action-drama with an emotional and thematic resonance that future films should make a note of. And, as I felt when I first watched ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, I eagerly await the next installment – which will thankfully be directed again by Matt Reeves.

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Official)


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One of my most-anticipated films this summer of 2014 has released it’s latest trailer and it shows the central conflict which will drive this sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

It’s been many years since the pandemic from the “simian flu” tore through the planet as shown during the end credits of the first film. Now the surviving humans must now contend with the growing population of hyper-intelligent apes led by Caesar from the first film.

While the first film showed the rise of Caesar as a revolutionary leader it looks like this sequel will now put him in the role of war leader as his apes must now gear up for a war with the surviving humans that can’t seem to be avoided.

Plus, all I can say is this: Apes on horses with assault rifles.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release date.

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

To say that 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes went a long way in washing out the taste out of fans mouth after having seen Tim Burton’s reboot of Planet of the Apes would be an understatement. Rupert Wyatt was able to bring the franchise back to prominence by actually treating the story as a sort of scifi allegory instead of a platform to once again exercise one’s filmmaking quirks.

It was a no-brainer that a sequel will follow up the success of the 2011 film. But with a fast-moving schedule there were several casualties. Rupert Wyatt didn’t think he had enough time to shoot the film the way he wanted to so he was replaced by Matt Reeves. James Franco is also gone from the project. Instead we get several veteran actors like Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kirk Acevedo joining Andy Serkis.

The film seems to take places a decade or so after the release of the deadly virus at the end of the first film. Humanity has survived both the virus and the wars which followed it, but civilization as we know it now are a thing of the past. With humanity trying to rebuild it must now deal with a rising nation of genetically-enhanced apes led by Andy Serkis’ Caesar. With Gary Oldman on one side seeming to be the leader of humanity’s survivors I don’t see peace as being a goal in this film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release.

Review: Let Me In (dir. by Matt Reeves)


In 2008 a little film from Sweden swept through the film festivals and earned a rightful and well-deserved place in many film critics and film circles “best of 2008” and “top ten” lists. This was Swedish filmmaker’s film adaptation of the John Ajvide Lindqvist vampire novel, Let The Right One In. It was a vampire film that appealed not just to horror genre fans hungry for a vampire film that was the polar opposite of the current “Twilight” vampire craze. Horror fans wanted something that wasn’t watered down and emasculated to better appeal to the tween girl set. So, Alfredson’s vampire film was embraced by these horror fans and when news came that the rights to the novel was licensed by British-studio Hammer Film and an American-remake was set for production the reaction was decisively negative.

Fans of the original Swedish film were quite protective of the film and saw any plans to remake it for the North American audience as a cynical cash-grab. Their argument was that the original film was such a great one that there should be no need to remake it. Why fix something that wasn’t broken was another point made. It didn’t help the side of those supporting the remake that Matt Reeves was chosen to direct the remake. Reeves was better known as J. J. Abrams friend (some would say Reeves owes his success to Abrams and that he was coattailing the successful producer-director) and the director of the POV monster film, Cloverfield.

As strident fans of the original continued to vent and complain about the remake already failing (despite not an inch of film being shot) the producers were gradually filling the roles in the remake with some very interesting names. Fresh off her break-out performance in Kick-Ass was Chloe Grace Moretz taking on the role of Abby (the vampire child in the original was named Eli) with Kodi-Smit McPhee (The Road) taking on the role of the young boy Owen who befriends her. One name after the other filled out the cast with some very good veteran actors from Elias Koteas to Richard Jenkins (taking on the role of Abby’s Renfield).

Matt Reeeves’ version of Lindqvist novel from Alfredson comes from using the novel itself as the base for the screenplay Reeves himself wrote for the remake. While Let Me In shares many similarities in characters and situations from the original Swedish film, Reeves film does use more of the themes and details from the novel than Alfredson did for his adaptation. Let Me In definitely has enough about it which will distinguish itself from its Swedish counterpart and stand on its own.

The film switches locales from a suburb of in Sweden to a snowy Los Alamos, New Mexico (yes, it does snow in New Mexico). We learn quickly that Owen has become quite the loner due to the constant bullying by classmates. He spends time alone in the plaza area of the apartment complex he lives in with his mother (played by Carla Buono who we never fully see). He fantasizes of getting back at those who have and still bullying him even to the point that he buys a small pocketknife and practices his retribution on one of the trees in the plaza. It’s during one of his nighttime practices with the pocketknife that he first encounters Abby. There’s a certain wariness during their encounter with Abby proclaiming that Owen will not become a friend. But in time the two do become friends with Abby becoming quite protective of Owen once learning about the bullying he has to endure on a daily basis.

The change in Abby’s relationship with Owen doesn’t sit well with Abby’s Renfield. He asks Abby never to see Owen again as he goes out to procure Abby more fresh blood (a previous attempt goes awry forcing Abby to go out into the night to hunt). It’s in the scenes between Abby and Jenkins character that we see more of the duo’s relationship mirroring the novel’s. The novel explores the theme of pedophilia and while Reeves adaptation wasn’t quite obvious about it there are clues and small character interactions which hint at this pedophilic relationship which the Swedish original never really touched upon.

It’s in these small character interactions that Reeves’ film begins to differentiate itself from Alfredson’s version. The narrative between the two films still remain the same, but Reeves’ version explores the darker themes in the novel source while Alfredson concentrates more on the growing relationship between the two primary characters. These differences could be seen in how Reeves films Abby’s attacks while hunting her prey to be more animalistic (though at times the CGI seems too apparent when Abby attacks) and Abby’s subtle manipulation of Owen. I say manipulation because Abby seems very intent on trying to befriend and put Owen at ease despite the earlier comment that they will never be friends. Not to mention her Renfield admitting to Abby that he has gotten tired of what he has done to keep Abby safe and that maybe he wants to get caught to just end it all.

The film moves along quite leisurely but with a sense of growing dread not just between Owen and his bullies, but between Abby, her Renfield and those suspecting the duo. Owen gets caught in the lives of these two newcomers and soon gets confronted by Abby’s true nature and his own reaction to this. It’s a reaction that at first shows Owen fearing Abby and wanting to escape the growing bond between the two of them, but seeing how Abby’s been nothing but helpful to Owen he chooses to remain at her side. Abby rewards Owen’s protective nature by saving Owen from a near-deadly encounter with the school bullies at the school swimming pool.

This is the one sequence in Reeves’ film which many fans scrutinized to no end. The original film shot the scene with an almost arthouse eye despite the obvious violence involved. It was a scene where Alfredson filmed it as “less is more” and let the audience’s imagination run wild. Reeves’ does the same but adds his own stylistic touches to the sequence. not too much to make it so different from Alfredson’s version, but enough that it’s not a shot-for-shot copy. Again Reeves’ chose to show Abby’s violent predator aspect in this scene, but still keeps the focus of the scene on Owen as he struggles underwater. It’s only once he is out that we see — just as he does — the aftermath of Abby’s promise to protect Owen.

The question remains whether this American-remake stands up to the original. In terms of storytelling it more than holds it own from the original film and at times actually surpasses Alfredson’s version. This Reeves version journeys through the darkside more than the original film. It definitely strips away much of the arthouse sensibilities of Alfredson’s film which made it such a beauty to watch even if at times the narrative became more than too slow to keep one’s attention. Reeves’ adaptation doesn’t ramp up the pacing of the film, but keeps it moving forward even if at a gradual pace. When violence does occur in the remake it happens quickly and with a sense of brutality that the original film fails to deliver. The remake doesn’t linger on the gore and violence, but does show enough of it to remind everyone in the audience that this is a horror film first and foremost.

If there was one quibble to be made about this remake its that Reeves relies too much on CGI to show Abby at her most dangerous. Each attack made by Abby was shot at a wide-angle and we see every move but with each move done using CGI which gives it too much of an artificial look to it. It’s a testament to Moretz’ performance as she switches from a friendly Abby when interacting with Owen during their time together at night to one of a predator older than anyone in the film doing what was necessary to attain the blood needed to survive. Reeves could definitely have used less CGI and went for a more natural approach using sudden edits to show the ferocious nature of Abby’s attacks.

The film’s cast does a great job with the roles given to them. While it was Moretz’s and McPhee’s performances as Abby and Owen that keeps the audience’s attention and keeps it from wavering it’s the supporting cast around them which provides the glue. Koteas as the detective who begins to suspect Abby as having to do more with the attacks than previously mentioned was very good, but in the end it was Richard Jenkins in the Renfield role who would steal every scene he’s in. His character’s fatalistic acceptance of his role when it came to Abby was palpable. We watch him do horrible things to people and to himself, but we also get a sense that he couldn’t stop on his own if he wanted to. He has been doing the role of blood procurer for Abby for so long that he doesn’t know what else to do. I will say that Jenkin’s with the garbage bag mask when out hunting for victims will be the images that will stick to people’s minds long after they’ve left the theater. Some will even unconsciously check the back seat of their cars at night before getting in.

In the end, this remake of Let The Right One In doesn’t feel, look and sound like the cash-grab that cynical fans of the original have proclaimed it to be. Matt Reeves does a great job in adapting more of the novel in his version and using some of the darker themes in that source to allow his film to stand on its own when compared next to Alfredson’s version. The performances by everyone involved was wonderful and keeps the story’s slow pacing from losing the audience. While this remake doesn’t have the arthouse quality of the original film it does have a certain grittiness to its look which lends quite well in pointing out how brutal the narrative really was not just in physical violence but in how one of the two leads manipulates the situation to benefit it’s survival even if there was some genuine affection between Abby and Owen. In the end, Abby gets everything and continues to exist for another boy’s lifetime.

Fans so vocal of their negative attitudes towards this film will not have their minds changed, but those keeping an open-mind will be rewarded with one of the better horror films of the year. If the original Swedish adaptation never existed I’m quite sure that all the accolades heaped on Tomas Alfredson’s film would be given to Matt Reeves instead. A remake should never be discounted because its one of an original that’s already lauded for its quality. There’s been bad remakes but thankfully Let Me In is not one of them.