So, I think it may be fair to say that of most of the posters on this great site, I am probably the one who least enjoys the horror genre…or at least is never as excited about it as everyone else. It isn’t that I do not like horror films – there are quite a few I really love – but I just expect a lot from them. Probably – unfairly – more than I expect from other films. Why? Because I honestly think that when done right, horror films can be some of the most emotionally affecting films from any genre. But when done wrong – as I think far too many of them are – it just feels cheap and manipulative – and as someone who loves film, who loves how they can generate empathy and tell interesting stories, it always just feels like a slap to the face.
This love/hate relationship usually makes me hesitant to watch most horror films, which of course is an issue come October. This month is wall to wall horror from 12:01AM on the 1st – to midnight on Halloween. With this comes the pressure to watch a ton of horror films, and although in the past I have watched a few, I’ve never taken part in any sort of marathon that so many bloggers partake in this time of year…until now. This is part one – of what I hope will be a month long series – of quick reviews for horror films I watch this month. I hope to watch at least one a day.
October 1st: ‘Thale’ (dir. Aleksander Nordaas)
A very low budget Norwegian fantasy/horror film, with a lot of interesting ideas, that sadly doesn’t execute on enough of them to reach any level of greatness…which I think was possible.
‘Thale’ is about two friends, working in a crime scene cleaning service, who stumble upon a hidden basement at one of the locations they have been hired to clean. Within they find a lab of sorts, and a beautiful young woman who is unable to speak – and is most certainly more than she appears to be. The result is a rather unique horror film with fantasy elements; one that thrives on atmosphere for the first hour or so, building a genuine level of suspense and mystery. It is an intriguing story, one that is slow to build but never boring. There is certainly a lot under the surface.
The only real issue I had was that there is narration throughout that tries a bit too hard to add depth to the story, both narratively and thematically, without much success. Mainly because the exposition within would benefit more from a ‘show don’t tell’ approach – and also because the actual narrative comes off as so simple that many of the themes expressed through the narration have nothing to do with what we have actually been shown.
This isn’t too big of an issue really, and I can’t fault it for trying to give more meaning to the story, but had it executed on some of the ideas it alludes to under the surface than maybe this wouldn’t have been an issue at all – especially if it had been a half hour longer, and explored the fantasy element in more detail.
Still, the performances are very good and – given its very low budget – so are the effects and overall production. It certainly has its flaws, but it still warrants a recommendation.
Oct. 2nd: ‘Pontypool’ (dir. Bruce McDonald)
‘Pontypool’ is a mostly lean – though often convoluted – and creative horror film that builds slowly and contains just the right dash of humor. It is at times essentially ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ in film form.
It stars Stephen McHattie as an ex-shock jock who has reached a point in his career where he is stuck doing an early morning radio gig in a small Canadian town. He is quick to try to cause a stir, but his producer reminds him that the listeners just want to know the weather. As the morning slowly passes by the station begins to get weird reports of people, herds of people, swarming the streets. Whats seems to them to initially be a joke begins to turn into a life or death emergency situation where a virus is infecting the town, keeping the workers at the studio locked indoors, trying to figure out how it all started.
This isn’t the scariest horror film you will ever see, neither is it the most suspenseful – yet the development of the story, the unraveling mystery and the urgency of the performances make it an absorbing viewing experience. Things do start to get a little convoluted as we begin to better understand how the “virus” infecting people is being spread. The film seems to be making it up as it goes, and ironically it can’t seem to think of the rights words to explain what is actually happening.
But it does managed to create an interesting subtext on how language has been simplified and diminished by gossip, social websites and the media. It would also probably benefit from multiple viewings. But for now, I recommend you at least watch it once.
Oct. 3rd: ‘Pumpkinhead’ (dir. Stan Winston)
‘Pumpkinhead’ is a creepy, cliche and cheesy as hell horror film about revenge, that manages to overcome all its faults with its brilliant creature design, a great central performance, and an emotional core that gives all the supernatural violence some resonance. The result isn’t a masterpiece – by any stretch – but it is a damn near perfect horror film for Halloween/October – especially with its eerie supernatural aesthetics.
The film stars Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, a single father raising his son on a farm in the south. One day a group of teens (including a few blondes and a douchey “bad boy”) arrive in town. Their destination? A cabin in the woods…of course. On their way they encounter Harley at a local store he owns, which accidentally results in his son being killed by one of the teens in a dirt bike accident. The group heads for the cabin, fearing the repercussions, while Harley tracks down a creepy old lady who, according to local legend, can summon a demon-like creature to avenge the wrong doing done to a man.
From there we get a rather unoriginal creature feature – as the demon, called Pumpkinhead, hunts down the group of teens one by one. What kept this interesting, for me, was the structure of the events of the film and the development of Henriksen’s character. Henriksen is a great actor, and the bond that is built between him and his son, and the emotions he displays as he struggles with his son’s death and the revenge he seeks, manages to ground the film and gives it enough of an emotional relevancy to excuse the cheesiness of the supernatural horror elements – and some truly shitty dialogue.
On top of that are the great spooky horror aesthetics and atmosphere – moody lighting, fog…pumpkins – as well as the awesome design of the Pumpkinhead by special effects legend Stan Winston (‘Aliens’, ‘Terminator’) – who actually directed the film. It all adds up to an above average horror flick that I recommend everyone watch this October.
Not every comic book film is about superheroes. There’s been quite a bit of comic books adapted to film that has no superheroes, capes and superpowers at all. One such film came out in 1999. It was a film adapted from Chuck Pfarrer’s Dark Horse Comics mini-series titled Virus. This was a comic book that had a unique art-style to it that lent itself well to its scifi and body horror tale.
The film itself skews close enough to the comic book with some minor changes. Instead of a Chinese research vessel where most of the story takes place we find the film set on a derelict Soviet research ship. Even with the changes from comic book to film they both shared one common denominator and that would be the alien lifeform that has decided to systematically kill all humans aboard the ship.
Virus stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland in two roles they probably wish they took a pass on or asked more money to do. While the film has some imaginative set pieces involving the melding of robotics and scavenged human body parts to create something bigger and homicidal the majority of the film involves pretty much every cast member in one stage or another of hysteria, incredulity and denial. Really, the only person in the whole film who seemed to go through the story with a clear and level head was Cliff Curtis’ seaman Hiko. All this means was that he would be one not to survive to the end of the film.
While the comic book itself was a nice piece of scifi horror storytelling then film stumbles right out of the gate not just because of the terrible acting, but just a dull and boring adaptation of the story. While, as stated earlier, some of the robotic designs were quite good and the use of practical effects made the killer robots something terrible behold, director John Bruno didn’t seem to have any ideas on how to put together an exciting sequence to take advantage of these inventive pieces at his disposal.
Virus was one film that comic book fans who read the mini-series were quite excited to see when it was first announced as a film in production. Stills of gruesome effects work would be admired and just add to the high expectations. What we got instead was a huge pile of a mess that was neither horrific, terrifying or remotely entertaining. Virus is one such film that I wouldn’t even bother catching on TV being shown for free.
Now that I’m back home from my vacation, it’s time for me to post yet another installment in my raison d’être, Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers! In keeping with this month’s theme, all of today’s trailers are horror-related.
1) Virus (1980)
Let’s start things out with the end of the world. From 1980, it’s the story of what happens when the world gets hit by the “Italian flu.”
2) The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
It’s just not October without some Hammer horror.
3) Horror of Dracula (1958)
And wherever you have Frankenstein, you have to have Dracula…
4) The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)
As long as we’re taking a look at Hammer horror icons, let’s not forget the Mummy.
5) Baron Blood (1972)
This film is from the great Italian filmmaker, Mario Bava.
6) Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972)
“They plant the dead and harvest the living!”
Steven Soderbergh has always been an indepedent-minded filmmaker from the time broke-out with his Sex, Lies and Videotape and up to his dabbling into microbudgeted, HD-shot films like Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience. In-between such arthouse fares he’s also managed to churn out commercial-friendly works like the Ocean’s Trilogy and to a certain extent both Erin Brockovich and Traffic.
While he surely has earned the ability to choose his projects his last major production didn’t pan out as some have thought it would. I’m talking about the passion project and, one I call the ego-project, epic biopic about Che Guevara which ran so long that it had to be released as two films: The Argentine and Guerrilla. His latest studio offering in The informant! also didn’t light up the box-office or even do marginally well.
Hopefully, the announcement broken by The Playlist site about his upcoming major project will change this pattern. Soderbergh has put on the fast-track the production of a film from Scott Z. Burns’ Contagion script. He will direct this action-thriller which some have labeled as Traffic meets The Stand/Outbreak. The premise of the script details the reaction of the cast of characters to a developing viral pandemic which goes global. The film will take place across four continents and already has snagged quite a talented rollcall of actors: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet and Jude Law. We’re sure to get more news about further cast developments the closer to the start of filming.
While I like Soderbergh’s “Sundance” films I also think that he can make commercially-entertaining films and has proven that he could with the Ocean’s series. Here’s to hoping that he could create an action-thriller w/ some horror aspects to it with this latest project. It’s always exciting to see a director try on a new genre and see how well they do in it. I’m betting on Soderbergh hitting a home run instead of fouling out.
Source: The Playlist