Sunday, August 30, 2015

My Halloween Viewing 2015

I seem to get excited about Halloween at earlier stages each year. It typically starts around mid-September, but this year, the hype began at the beginning of August after I researched some information on the next Halloween sequel.

I'm going to update this post periodically with horror movies I'm watching in anticipation of Halloween. Most of these can be found on Netflix or on VOD platforms, but I've also got a few in my own personal collection. Here are the ones I've crossed off this year's list so far:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
  • German expressionist masterpiece about a travelling psychiatrist (Werner Krauss) and his sideshow attraction, a somnambulist named Cesare (Conrad Viedt) who has visions of the future
  • Quite simply a hallmark of the horror genre. You have no business being a horror fan unless you've seen this film!
  • Recently underwent a mind-blowing 4K restoration that looks better than some films released digitally today
    • I highly recommend finding the restoration on Blu-ray from Kino Classics. The Netflix version doesn't do the film justice.
Faust (1926)
  • F.W. Murnau's German silent film is a hallmark of the horror genre. Together with Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Murnau's own Nosferatu, Faust set the bar for horror stories on film.
  • Mind-blowing, state-of-the-art special effects for the time
  • Plot centers on an alchemist who is hoodwinked into selling his soul to the devil in exchange for youth. Little does Faust realize that he is the focal point in an ongoing war between God and Satan.
Dracula (1931)
  • Tod Browning (Freaks) directs Universal's classic interpretation of Bram Stoker's novel
    • Here, Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) travels to England where he begins to prey on the lovely Mina Harker (Helen Chandler). Mina's husband John (David Manners) teams with Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) to save her from Dracula's clutches.
  • Carrer-defining performance from Lugosi in the title role
  • Dwight Frye features as Renfield, Count Dracula's assistant. That man's maniacal laugh is as horrifying as anything I've ever heard.
Frankenstein (1931)
  • Universal's classic film adaptation of Mary Shelley's book about a young, crazed doctor who assembles a human being from stolen body parts and brings it to life
  • Main theme surrounds the "God complex" of Victor Frankenstein. (In the movie, his name is Henry) He seeks fame, fortune, and justice for his father for his ability to create life from dead tissue. Victor/Henry is "the modern Prometheus" for bringing fire to the people, so to speak, with his creation.
  • Boris Karloff is the man!
The Wolf Man (1941)
  • One of the classic Universal Monsters, Lon Chaney, Jr. plays a rational man who finds himself bitten by a creature of folklore and morphing into a hairy killing machine at each full moon 
Psycho (1960)
  • A secretary steals $40,000 from a client of her company. She goes on the run and finds herself checking in at the secluded Bates Motel, which is run by a man dominated by a mysterious relationship with his mother.
  • A personal all-time favorite for any time of year, I find this to be Hitchcock's most terrifying film.
  • Spawned the "slasher" subgenre
  • Hitchcock's unprecendented marketing campaign revolutionized the theatergoing experience. This movie is the reason we have prescribed showtimes today. Back then if you showed up after Psycho began, you wouldn't be allowed in until the start of the next show.
Black Sunday (1960)
  • A witch returns from the dead to possess one of her last living descendents.
  • Italian B-movie master Mario Bava directs this exercise in rich Gothic atmosphere
The Innocents (1961)
  • Deborah Kerr gives a marvelous performance as a governess who notices strange goings-on with the children she's watching. She becomes convinced that the grounds of the country estate she's staying in are haunted.
  • Based on the novel The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
    • Screenplay adapted by William Archibald and Truman Capote(!)
  • Assured direction from Jack Clayton
  • Criterion did a wondrous 4K remaster that can only be experienced on their recent Blu-ray. If you can't pick it up in time for Halloween, look for it during Barnes & Noble's next 50% off sale in November. 
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • George A. Romero's quintessential masterpiece introduced "zombies" to cinema and pop culture
  • The film is about a group of people trapped inside a farmhouse in Pennsylvania who fight off undead invaders
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
  • Whilst touring a famous crypt, five strangers come face to face with a mysterious hooded figure who tells them all stories of their deaths
  • Inspired by the series of British comic books
  • Ensemble cast features Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Patrick Magee, and Sir Ralph Richardson
The Vault of Horror (1973)
  • Five men find themselves trapped in the basement of their office building and decide to share stories of their dreams and nightmares
  • Sequel to Tales from the Crypt
  • Ensemble includes Tom Baker, Denholm Elliot, Curt Jurgens, Michael Craig, Terry-Thomas, and Glynis Johns
The Exorcist (1973)
  • A young girl (Linda Blair) is possessed by a malicious spirit. Her distraught mother (Ellen Burstyn) seeks the aid of two priests (Jason Miller, Max von Sydow) in order to recover her.
  • A classic that every horror fan must see. I never go a Halloween without watching it.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
  • A group of friends visit a family home in the Texas countryside. They are terrorized by the killer "Leatherface" (Gunnar Hansen) and his family of cannibals who live in a neighboring house.
  • This one was made on such a shoestring budget that it's easy to write it off for feeling dated. Rest assured this is still a grueling and harrowing experience that should not be missed even 40 years after its release. 
  • Look for the recent 4K restoration on Blu-ray from Dark Sky Films
Young Frankenstein (1974)
  • Victor Frankenstein's grandson (Gene Wilder) returns to the family castle and resumes his grandfather's work
  • This is THE original horror comedy and a perennial classic. One of Mel Brooks' funniest films.
The Omen (1976)
  • Creepy '70s classic about a foreign ambassador (Gregory Peck) whose young son Damien turns out to literally be the devil incarnate.
Suspiria (1977)
  • A young American girl accepts an invitation to join a prestigious German dance company. She gradually discovers that the school may be a front for something evil. 
  • A good place to start if you're curious about the Italian "giallo" subgenre
    • From horror maestro Dario Argento
  • The entire movie is horrifying, and I think it holds up rather well after nearly 40 years. 
    • The first kill is widely accepted as one of the most brutal and shocking in all of cinema
Eraserhead (1977)
  • A man (Jack Nance) living in a highly-industrialized environment struggles to come to grips with fatherhood.
  • David Lynch's mindbending directorial debut will mess you up and piss you off if you've never seen it before. This one rewards repeat viewings though.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
  • Remake of Don Siegel's 1956 B-movie classic starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy
  • Features groundbreaking special effects, an amazing soundtrack, and one of the best endings in horror film history
Halloween (1978)
  • John Carpenter's classic film about babysitters terrorized in a small town on Halloween night has become a hallmark of the horror genre and pretty much singlehandedly kick-started the '80s slasher craze
  • Introduced us to Michael Myers, now one of the most iconic characters in cinema
  • Spawned 3 decades worth of sequels and remakes
Alien (1979)
  • In outer space, a commercial towing vessel recieves a distress signal from an unidentified planet. When the crew land to investigate the call, they unwittingly pick up a nasty extraterrestrial passenger.
  • All-star cast including Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Sigourney Weaver who would become a superstar after this film
  • A hallmark of pop culture history
The Fog (1980)
  • John Carpenter's next big feature following the success of Halloween tells the story of a small coastal town terrorized by the ghosts of a shipwrecked crew who, at one time, all suffered from leprosy.
  • Many consider The Fog to be Carpenter's masterpiece. I still say that's Halloween, but The Fog is a classic in its own right.
  • As iconic as the musical score is for Halloween, The Fog's may be even better. Moody, atmospheric, and just downright spooky. I have chills just writing about it!
Friday the 13th (1980) 
  • Classic slasher was the first to have a killer running loose in the woods killing randy teens
  •  Set a precedent for all summer camp horror films in the 80s
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
  • Citizens of a small mining town are eager to celebrate Valentine's Day, but one traumatized miner is having none of it...
  • Bloodier and more intense than the first hour would have you believe
The Beyond (1981)
  • A woman (Catriona MacColl) discovers that the old Louisiana hotel she's inherited sits atop one of the seven gateways to Hell
  • Was originally censored and even banned in some regions for its graphic violence. Of course measured against today's standards, the special effects seem dated. Still, the kills are delightfully gnarly.
  • Frequently cited as the masterpiece of Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci 
    • Part of Fulci's "Gates of Hell Trilogy" along with City of the Living Dead and The House By the Cemetery
  • I've never seen this film before this year, but I can recommend it as superb Halloween viewing. The blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing is your best bet.
The Burning (1981)
  • Summer camp slasher capitalizing on the Friday the 13th craze is a loose adaptation of the Cropsey urban legend
  • Spectacular gore effects from Tom Savini
  • Debut roles of Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, and Fisher Stevens
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • One of the great classic werewolf movies is also one of the funniest horror comedies of all time
    • From John Landis, director of The Blues Brothers and Animal House
  • The film won an Oscar for Rick Baker's legendary makeup and special effects
The Evil Dead (1981)
  • A group of college students take a weekend trip to a secluded cabin where they find the Necronomicon, or "the Book of the Dead." Demonic forces are unleashed upon the unsuspecting youngsters.
  • This is a cult classic from director Sam Raimi and helped elevate Bruce Campbell's name to the height of geek culture
    • Known for its over the top, low-budget special effects, The Evil Dead is touted as one of the goriest films ever made. The film has a subtle, darkly comic edge that would become more obvious in its two direct sequels.
Madman (1982)
  • Kids at a summer camp unwittingly awaken a backwoods serial killer upon calling out his name around a campfire
  • A famously bad slasher that has its charms. Worthwhile if you enjoyed Friday the 13th and The Burning.
Poltergeist (1982)
  • Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg deliver this horror classic about a family terrorized by ghosts
  • Groundbreaking special effects and acting performances that still hold up. Better than its 2015 remake in every way.
  • Another perennial classic
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
  • Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) tries to uncover and overthrow a plot by toy maker Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) whose Halloween masks are the hottest items of the season
  • A criminally underrated film that gets hate for not being about Michael Myers
    • It was always John Carpenter's intention to turn the Halloween franchise into an anthology series. Season of the Witch was to be the second of those stories after Michael's was completed in Halloween II. Outrage from the fans and poor box office returns on Season of the Witch prompted producer Moustapha Akkad to bring Michael Myers back for all future sequels.
Videodrome (1983)

  • The life of cable TV magnate Max Renn (James Woods) begins to unravel after he acquires a new, provocative program for his network.
  • Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry stars as the female lead
  • Writer/director David Cronenberg is known for his graphic explorations of bodily horrors
    • Thus it contains some gnarly special effects from the legendary Rick Baker 

Cujo (1983)
  • A St. Bernard dog contracts rabies and terrorizes a small town
  • As B-grade as it sounds, this is yet another deliciously traumatizing experience from the mind of Stephen King
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
  • Campers begin mysteriously dying after Angela (Felissa Rose) and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) arrive at Camp Arawak
  • This cult classic features one of the most shocking climax reveals in cinema history
  • I'd argue that the film, as a whole, is much better than the summer camp "classic" Friday the 13th. Jason just had bigger franchise potential.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
  • A teen fights for her life against a killer who preys on his victims while they sleep
  • Debut role of Johnny Depp
  • My favorite Wes Craven movie
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
  • Two bumbling employees of a medical supply warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky accidentally release a noxious gas that reanimates dead bodies. Things get hairy when the gas seeps into the cemetery next door...
  • THE quintessential '80s zombie movie - complete with Linnea Quigley!
Demons (1985)
  • Italian horror about a group of individuals trapped inside a German movie theater who are terrorized by supernatural forces
  • Classic '80s video store cheese that stands up to anything of the like produced stateside
    • Synapse Films has a wonderful blu-ray available
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
  • Freddy Krueger possesses a teenage boy and terrorizes he and his loved ones.
  • A decent sequel with some excellent gore effects, but not as good as the original.
Troll (1986)
  • A troll king turns an apartment complex into his fantasy realm
  • The hero's name is Harry Potter
Night of the Creeps (1986)
  • Writer/director Fred Dekker's love letter to '50s B-movies follows two fraternity pledges and a wary detective teaming up to fight off alien slugs that turn their victims into zombies
  • Possibly the most taught, unabashedly fun horror film on this list. I could watch it over and over again.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
  • A young Michael Rooker stars in this film about real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas
  • Debut feature of John McNaughton (The Harvest) is appropriately unsettling Halloween viewing.
  • Microbudget visuals make the film appear 10-20 years older than it is
Evil Dead II (1987)
  • Ash (Bruce Campbell) returns to the cabin alone with his girlfriend and unwittingly conjures the demons once again. He and a group of strangers join forces in order to fight back.
  • This one is played much more like a straight horror-comedy than the first film
  • Bigger budget = wilder special effects
The Lost Boys (1987)
  • Cult classic movie about a teen's initiation into a gang of vampires
  • Great performances and production design
The Monster Squad (1987)
  • '80s classic involves a group of young kids who conspire to save their town from Count Dracula and his army of monsters, including Frankenstein and the Wolf Man
Hellraiser (1987)
  • An adulterer is confronted by the zombie of her dead lover. Things get dicey when demons come to bring him back to the underworld.
  • A classic monster feature that's actually scary 
  • Plenty of stellar gore effects
  • Gave us the monster "Pinhead"
Prince of Darkness (1987)
  • A team of college researchers discovers a mysterious cylinder in the basement of an old church. Opening it would unleash hell on earth.
  • Donald Pleasence stars in this criminally underrated thriller from John Carpenter
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
  • An anthropologist (Bill Pullman) travels to Haiti to investigate a local myth about black magic and people rising from the dead
  • A spooky chiller from the late Wes Craven
Scarecrows (1988)
  • Bank robbers are terrorized by scarecrows after their getaway takes a detour to a secluded farm
  • Decent horror elements but poor script and weak characters ultimately kill it
Night of the Demons (1988)
  • Kids throw a costume party on Halloween night at an abandoned funeral home
  • Cool gore effects and a great premise, but also suffers from weak characters and terrible acting
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)
  • Now a counselor, Angela returns to terrorize the campers at Camp Rolling Hills
  • The definition of '80s cheese
  • Plays like a bad spoof of summer camp slashers
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
  • So since everyone apparently hated Halloween III for not having Michael Myers, they brought him back on the series' 10th anniversary for a plot involving his young niece Jamie Lloyd 
  • Donald Pleasance returns as Dr. Loomis 
  • First appearance of "scream queen" Danielle Harris (Jamie)
Pumpkinhead (1988)
  • A farmer gets revenge on the teens who accidentally killed his son
  • Terrific atmosphere and a wonderful lead performance by Lance Henrikson
They Live (1988)
  • A drifter (the late Roddy Piper) finds a pair of sunglasses that allows him to see that the world around him is overrun by aliens
  • Another '80s gem from John Carpenter
    • Gave us the line "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubble gum."
    • The hand-to-hand fight scene between Piper and Keith David might be the greatest ever filmed 
 Child's Play (1988)
  • A dying serial killer (Brad Dourif) transfers his soul into a doll, which wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting single mother and her son
  • Along with Stuart Gordon's Dolls, this first film in the "Chucky" franchise is why dolls now sorta creep me out
Pet Sematary (1989)
  • A Chicago family moves to the countryside where they discover a mysterious power in the woods behind their new home
  • Screenplay by Stephen King, based on his book of the same name
  • Deals with seriously heavy themes and makes for one of the scariest King adaptations out there
Shocker (1989)
  • Underrated Wes Craven thriller about a serial killer sent to the electric chair who returns to get revenge on the teen who turned him in to the police.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
  • Mike returns to Haddonfield to terrorize his young niece Jamie once again. Y'know, since it didn't work last time.
Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)
  • Camp Rolling Hills has re-opened as Camp New Horizons, and Angela is out for blood once again; this time as a camper named "Maria"
  • I found this one to be more stupid fun than Sleepaway Camp II
Nightbreed (1990)
  • A man finds himself drawn to Midian, a secluded place in the Canadian wilderness that's inhabited by a variety of monsters and the undead
  • Written and directed by Clive Barker; adapted from his graphic novel "Cabal"
  • The film's history has been marked by controversy. Twentieth Century Fox & Morgan Creek improperly marketed this as a slasher film upon its theatrical release, causing very poor critical and commercial reception. Additionally, Barker was forced to cut several important plot elements in order to secure distribution. He has since restored them in two separate additional versions of the film: the 2-hour "director's cut" and the 2.5-hour "Cabal cut."
    • Shout! Factory released a limited edition set of the fully restored theatrical and director's cuts on Blu-ray. They have a budget release of the director's cut as well.
Troll 2 (1990)
  • Cult classic sequel to Troll features worse special effects and worse acting
  • Often heralded as the "Worst movie ever made," but gets its popularity from being "so-bad-it's-good"
    • Decide for yourself, but it's pretty awful.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  • An inventor (Vincent Price) creates a highly sophisticated automaton named Edward with scissors and knives for hands (Johnny Depp). Edward is discovered in the inventor's mansion by a friendly community woman (Dianne Wiest). She invites him to live with her family where he attempts to contribute to society after years in isolation. 
  • Tim Burton's classic tale is both tragic and heartwarming. For those unfamiliar, it bears many similarities to the story of Frankenstein 
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • In order to catch a malicious serial killer, junior FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) confides in Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a cunning psychiatrist with a taste for the finer things in life
  • One of only three films in history to win the "Big 5" Oscars - Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Adapted Screenplay
    • The other two are It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
  • Another cool Wes Craven thriller about a young boy who finds himself trapped inside the home of two crazed siblings & their kidnapped children
The Addams Family (1991)
  • This fun adaptation of the '60s TV show sees the delightfully macabre family as the target of a scheme to steal their family fortune
Society (1992)
  • Bill (Billy Warlock) is a teenager living in the upper crust of Beverly Hills. A more down-to-earth guy, Bill can't shake the feeling that he doesn't quite fit in with his flashy family. Even some of his closest friends start acting weird. Bill's suspicions come to a head when he comes home to a raucous party thrown by his parents. 
  • Originally premiered at Cannes in 1989 but didn't get a domestic release until '92.
  • One of the most fucked-up final acts you're likely to see. Do not watch while eating, and do not watch it with kids.
Army of Darkness (1992)
  • At the end of Evil Dead II, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is accidentally sucked into a time warp and transported back to 1300 A.D. Now taken prisoner, he must lead an army of crusaders against the "deadites" and find the Necronomicon in order to get back home.
  • Funniest of the Evil Dead trilogy
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
  • Elm Street goes meta when Freddy begins stalking the stars of the original film, who return to play stylized versions of themselves
  • Lots of fun and a worthy follow-up to the classic original
The Prophecy (1995)
  • The angel Gabriel (Christopher Walken) descends to earth in order to collect a soul that will end the stalemated war in Heaven.
Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
  • The oft maligned "Curse of Thorn" trilogy comes to a conclusion when Michael comes after the baby of his niece, Jamie Lloyd, for the purpose of a black mass ritual. Tommy Doyle (whom Laurie Strode babysat in the original Halloween) teams up with Dr. Loomis and Kara Strode (Laurie's stepsister? Step-niece? Step-cousin?) to protect the baby from the cult's clutches.
  • Paul Rudd's second film appearance after Clueless
  • Donald Pleasence's last Halloween film 
  • Theatrical cut is on Netflix. The controversial "Producer's cut" can be found only on Blu-ray. In my opinion, the Producer's Cut is the superior version.
Scream 2 (1997)
  • Having survived the Ghostface Killer's initial attacks, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and her friends are now away at college. A movie about their ordeal has become a worldwide phenomenon, and now Ghostface returns to their lives with a sequel in mind. 
  • Doesn't quite match its predecessor's meta proclivities
  • Wes Craven's Scream franchise was the biggest thing in horror in the 1990s.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
  • This ultra-low budget horror flick follows 3 college students as they make a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch who lives deep within the Maryland woods
  • This film jump-started the "found footage" horror craze and was a huge hit at Sundance. 
  • Until Paranormal Activity came along 10 years later, this was the highest grossing independently-produced film ever made. I think it still holds the record for highest rate of box office return.
    • For every dollar spent on the budget, it grossed back over $10,000.
Ravenous (1999)
  • A captain in the Mexican-American War (Guy Pearce) is promoted to a new fort where he encounters a mysterious man (Robert Carlyle) who recants a frightening tale of cannibalism
  • Inconsistent tone had me laughing at parts that I don't think were supposed to be funny
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
  • Tim Burton brings his trademark touch for spooky atmosphere, stylized visuals, and Johnny Depp for this incarnation of Washington Irving's classic folk tale
  • Can't go wrong with this one in your Halloween line-up. Will get you right in the mood for the season.
Scream 3 (2000)
  • Sidney (Neve Campbell) visits the set of Stab 3, the third movie based on the Woodsboro murders. While there, she and her friends do battle with yet another Ghostface. 
The Others (2001)
  • Nicole Kidman stars as an overprotective, post-WWII English housewife who becomes convinced that her home is haunted 
  • Has a bit of an old-fashioned, Gothic horror atmosphere with a mind-blowing twist at the end!
Dog Soldiers (2002)
  • Director Neil Marshall's werewolf thriller follows a special forces squadron during a training exercise gone terribly wrong 
  • Original camera elements are on 16mm film, which has stirred some controversy among home video purists looking to add a good-looking transfer to their Blu-Ray collections.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
  • Halloween II director Rick Rosenthal brings Michael into the 21st century with this film about an new reality show taking place inside the Myers house. Naturally, this doesn't sit too well with Mikey.
  • The first 10-12 minutes are wonderful. As for the rest, well, Busta Rhymes is the star...
Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
  • Horror film from Japan about a young social worker sent on a house call where she encounters an evil spirit
  • Inspired a popular 2004 American remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
  • In this remake of George A. Romero's classic, strangers take refuge inside a shopping mall during the zombie apocalypse
  • One of the best horror remakes out there
    • Amazing practical gore effects, sharp humor, and a solid cast
Saw (2004)
  • James Wan emerged as the most exciting director in mainstream horror with this film about two men chained in a room who uncover clues and recall suppressed memories in order to escape the clutches of a madman
The Devil's Rejects (2005)
  • Rob Zombie's violent, disturbing tale of a band of killers known as "the Firefly family" as they elude law enforcement
  • There's a good story and strong performances here, but your enjoyment depends on your toleration for graphic violence and strong sexual content. Definitely not for kids.
Saw II (2005)
  • Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) continues his deadly games as a detective (Donnie Wahlberg) and his team work to save eight people stuck inside a booby-trapped factory building
  • Not as good as the original but still far less gory than the films to follow. To be fair, none of the sequels are as good as the original.
Saw III (2006)
  • Jigsaw's final hours are at hand. With his cancer eating away at him, John's new apprentice kidnaps a doctor to care for him while also sending one unlucky candidate through a maze rigged with deadly riddles.
Halloween (2007)
  • Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield in order to find his baby sister, Laurie
    • Rob Zombie directs this remake of John Carpenter's classic
  • Gives us a 45-minute backstory of how young Michael became the serial killer we all know him as today. Zombie presents him as a product of a poor upbringing as opposed to the mysterious embodiment of evil itself.
Saw IV (2007)
  • A SWAT officer is abducted by Jigsaw's last accomplice and thrust into a deadly game. He has 90 minutes to save his friends Det. Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and Lt. Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor).
Trick 'r Treat (2007)
  • This horror anthology film follows 5 sets of characters through interwoven tales that all take place in the same small Ohio town on Halloween night
  • This is one of my personal favorites for this time of year. Aside from the original Halloween and maybe Hocus Pocus, I can think of few films that capture the spirit of the season so perfectly. 
Paranormal Activity (2007)
  • This found-footage thriller chronicles a young couple's (Katie Featherson, Micah Sloat) episodic confrontations with a demon in their home
  • Relishes slow-burn thrills and the things that go "bump" in the night
    • It's the most realistic of the series which makes it pretty damn scary, but it may not be the series' most horrifying.
  • Made on a shoestring budget of less than $500,000
    • Biggest independent film of all time spawned a 6-movie franchise for Blumhouse and Paramount Pictures
Saw V (2008)
  • Jigsaw's last apprentice has been revealed. FBI Special Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) goes on the hunt while his enemy works to tie up loose ends. All the while, a new group of strangers confronts a series of traps.
Dead Snow (2009)
  • If you enjoy playing Zombies mode on "Call of Duty," then you'll love this Danish horror-comedy about a group of vacationing medical students who are forced to fight a horde of undead Nazi soldiers
  • Very similar in tone to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films
Cropsey (2009)
  • Haunting real-life documentary about the urban legend of the Cropsey killer on Staten Island
The Loved Ones (2009)
  • Lola just wants a date to the prom. When Brent turns her down, she concocts a plan for bloody revenge.
  • Debut feature of Tasmanian filmmaker Sean Byrne
  • This one's pretty creepy. Parts of it reminded me of Takashi Miike's Audition.
The House of the Devil (2009)
  • Ti West's spectacular slow-burning homage to horror films of the 70s plays off the paranoid idea of being victimized by a religious cult
Halloween II (2009)
  • After some time adrift, Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield to find Laurie and reunite his family in death
  • Offers some of the most mindfuckery of the entire series
  • Rob Zombie opts for a unique vision rather than a straight remake of the original Halloween II 
Zombieland (2009)
  • Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) join forces as they seek a safe haven during the zombie apocalypse.
  • Reset the standard for all horror-comedy films that have followed. This is a downright riot with enough gory violence and heartfelt humor to satisfy all genre fans.
Saw VI (2009)
  • The FBI draws closer to finding the lead perpetrator of John's legacy as their investigation of the Jigsaw murders continues. Elsewhere, a health insurance executive is put through a gauntlet of torture.
Monsters (2010)
  • Gareth Edwards's directorial debut about a journalist who must escort his boss's daughter from a hospital in Mexico to the U.S. border - a territory crawling with creeps from outer space!
  • This $500,000 sci-fi "creature feature" earned Edwards the gig for Godzilla (2014),
I Saw the Devil (2010)
  • A government agent (Byung-hun Lee) exacts bloody revenge on a serial killer (Min-sik Choi) through a series of false leads and close encounters
  • Widely considered a modern genre masterpiece. I now know why.
Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
  • Katie's sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her family are terrorized by a similar demonic presence which may be after their young son
  • Bigger budget = bigger house = more cameras; not necessarily bigger scares
Saw: The Final Chapter (2010)
  • A self-help guru (Sean Patrick Flanery) uses his story of survival to help other Jigsaw survivors cope, but his secrets literally set him on a deadly path as the battle for John's legacy reaches a head.
  • The seventh and supposed final film in the Saw series. There's talk of an 8th installment coming somewhere down the line.
    • Was released theatrically as Saw 3D
 The Snowtown Murders (2011)
  • A teenager is taken under the wing of his mother's new boyfriend, a relationship that leads to a spree of aberrant behavior and violence
  • Debut feature of director Justin Kurzel, the man behind the upcoming Macbeth and Assassin's Creed films
  • Snowtown recants dark true events but shines on its sense of realism
You're Next (2011)
  • Adam Wingard broke out as a director to watch with this home invasion thriller about a family who is targeted by a group of masked assailants. Unbeknownst to the killers, one among the family is well prepared to fight back.
  • Gorehounds and fans of dark, twisted comedy should be satisfied
Twixt (2011)
  • Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) writes and directs this ghost story about a struggling writer (Val Kilmer) who gets caught up in a real-life murder mystery during his most recent stop on a book tour
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
  • Travel back to 1988 where the activity all began. Young sisters Katie and Kristi befriend "Toby," an invisible entity living in their childhood home. 
  • My personal favorite of the series delivers jolts consistently from beginning to end
    • For my money, it's the scariest film in the franchise
Sinister (2012)
  • Spooky atmosphere and a strong performance from Ethan Hawke punctuate this story about a true crime author who inadvertently puts his family on a collision course with an evil deity.
Hatchet III (2013)
  • The conclusion to Adam Green's Hatchet trilogy finds a recovery task force torn to pieces by Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder while Marybeth (Danielle Harris) returns to Honey Island Swamp with the resources needed to vanquish Crowley for good.
  • If '80s slasher gore is your thing, look no further. Chock full of incredible practical effects. I had a blast.
The Conjuring (2013)
  • Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga give excellent performances in this true horror story about Ed and Lorraine Warren's paranormal investigation of a Rhode Island farmhouse in the early 1970s
  • Single-handedly renewed many fans' faith in mainstream American horror
  • A sequel is in the works for next year chronicling the Warren's investigation of England's "Enfield poltergeist"
Curse of Chucky (2013)
  • After the death of her mother, a young woman (Fiona Dourif) welcomes her visiting family into her home. Her niece takes a liking to a mysterious doll that showed up on their doorstep; this doll may be the key to strange disturbances around the house.
  • Why Universal Studios didn't go theatrical with this is beyond me. It's chock-full of the same practical effects, black humor, and chilling scares that made the original Child's Play a classic.
  • I've not seen the rest of the "Chucky" movies between the original and this one, but Curse is widely considered the best of the sequels by critics. I can see why.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)
  • The "activity" moves to an apartment complex in east Los Angeles where a teen is targeted by a demon following the mysterious death of his neighbor.
  • This isn't an official sequel to the Paranormal Activity series. It's more like a spinoff, but it's pretty freaky in its own right. Leaps and bounds more exciting than Paranormal Activity 4.
  • Refreshingly diverse cast to boot
Oculus (2014)
  • Doctor Who's Karen Gillan stars as a young woman who tries to exonerate her brother (Brenton Thwaites) by proving that the crime for which he was convicted was actually committed by a supernatural force living inside a mirror.
  • It's as good as any horror movie about a mirror can be.
Let Us Prey (2014)
  • A stranger is held in a Scottish police station. He begins taking over the minds of everyone there.
All Cheerleaders Die (2014)
  • A rebel girl joins the cheerleading squad at her high school in order to get back at the captain of the football team. The plan takes a sinister and often funny turn after an end-of-summer party.
  • Think John Tucker Must Die with witchcraft, the undead, and way more gore
Devil's Knot (2014)
  • Dramatization of the true-crime case of the "West Memphis Three" starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon
    • Three teen boys were accused of murdering three 9-year-olds in a satanic ritual in 1993
  • Screenplay by Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and Paul Harris Boardman (The Exorcism of Emily Rose)
Zombeavers (2014)
  • Teens in a cabin are terrorized by zombie beavers
  • Delivers all the fun, hilarity and wild practical gore effects that one would come to expect from a movie called Zombeavers
The Quiet Ones (2014)
  • Psychology students experiment on a teen girl to discover the mental and physical effects of her dark alter ego 
  • Decent, but doesn't live up to the Hammer name
The Guest (2014)
  • Adam Wingard follows up You're Next with this funny, violent throwback follows a mysterious young man as he asserts himself with a grieving family and begins perpetrating mayhem all over town.
  • Synth-heavy '80s style score, good writing, assured direction and strong performances set this thriller apart.
  • The last 15 minutes remind me, in form, of the original Halloween 
Honeymoon (2014)
  • A pair of newlyweds (Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway) visit a remote lakehouse where weird things start happening after Paul (Treadaway) finds Bea (Leslie) wandering through the woods in the middle of the night
Housebound (2014)
  • Horror-comedy from New Zealand about a girl placed on house arrest in her haunted childhood home
Mockingbird (2014)
  • Strangers are given video cameras with instructions to keep filming lest they desire to die
  • From Bryan Bertino, the director of The Strangers, this is one of those "found footage" horror movies that gives the subgenre a bad name
Ouija (2014)
  • Teens use a board game to solve the mystery surrounding the death of a friend
  • Just skip it
V/H/S: Viral (2014)
  • The third film in the V/H/S trilogy, which centers on several individual "found footage" horror short films put together like an anthology
  • In Viral, the framing story is pretty bad. The individual parts, as interesting as they are, don't make much sense in the context of the whole.
Horns (2014)
  • Daniel Radcliffe dons a bad American accent in this bizarre, R-rated fantasy-comedy aimed at the Twilight and Harry Potter crowd
  • It's about a young man (Radcliffe) who wakes up to find demon horns sprouting from his forehead following the mysterious death of his girlfriend (Juno Temple).
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014)
  • After his weekend getaway goes south, Martin (Vegar Hoel) finds himself on the run from a ruthless group of Nazi zombies. He enlists the help of three American zombie enthusiasts who help him fight back.
  • Where the first film drags in parts, this sequel is a gung-ho zombie epic that's impossible not to love.
    • It embraces the gore and the silliness to a greater degree than its predecessor.
Stonehearst Asylum (2014)
  • A recent medical school graduate (Jim Sturgess) takes a position at a mental hospital and makes a shocking discovery 
  • Based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)
  • The team behind American Horror Story brings us a meta-remake/sequel to Charles B. Pierce's 1976 film of the same name.
    • In this update, a high school girl (Addison Timlin) investigates a series of grisly murders in the small town of Texarkana. Could the "moonlight murders" be happening again?
  • This may be my favorite horror remake ever. It delivers all the cinematic artistry and genre thrills of a classic slasher while acknowledging the importance of Pierce's hyper-realistic film.
The Babadook (2014)
  • A single mother (Essie Davis) struggles to cope with the loss of her husband. Her unruly young son only seems to exacerbate the situation.
  • Davis gives an Oscar-caliber performance
  • Debut feature of Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent. She emerges here as a talent to watch.
  • Rewards repeat viewings, as long as you can handle the nightmares. This is easily one of the most viscerally horrifying movies on the list. 
Spring (2014)
  • While on sabbatical in Italy, a young man (Lou Taylor Pucci) falls in love with a woman (Nadia Hilker) who harbors a dark secret.
  • Think Before Sunrise meets An American Werewolf in London
The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2015)
  • Following its Daniel Radcliffe-led predecessor, this sequel finds a group of schoolchildren evacuated to Eel Marsh House in the wake of the London bombing during WWII.
  • Atmospheric, but that's about it. Don't bother.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2015)
  • This microbudget Australian zombie flick is billed as Mad Max meets Night of the Living Dead. That description is apt, even if the film isn't as good as either of its influences. Still a wholly unique and worthwhile zombie feature. 
The Lazarus Effect (2015)
  • A strong cast (Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Donald Glover) leads an unoriginal story of medical students who create a serum to bring people back from the dead
  • Watch Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator on Netflix instead. Same concept, way more fun.
It Follows (2015)
  • After a sexual encounter, a teen (Maika Monroe) is pursued by a mysterious supernatural force
  • Heralded as "the finest American horror film in decades" among most critics, which sparked some controversy among general moviegoers who were hugely disappointed with the film.
    • I was rewarded by a second viewing in which I interpreted the entire film as a waking nightmare. In that regard, it may just be the "finest American horror film in decades."
  • Score from Disasterpeace and direction from David Robert Mitchell feel like '80s John Carpenter.
Unfriended (2015)
  • Teens are terrorized by the spirit of a girl they bullied; takes place entirely within the confines of a MacBook interface
  • Deals with heavy, timely themes and takes on a surreal quality when viewed on a laptop. Doesn't hold up on a television screen, and I suppose this is also why audiences didn't care for it in theaters.
The Harvest (2015)
  • Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton give amazing performances as a couple who keep their sick son at home, locked away from outsiders. Their controlled environment is challenged when a precocious young girl moves in next door.
  • Part Misery - part People Under the Stairs, The Harvest is a first-rate indie chiller from director John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer).
Area 51 (2015)
  • Oren Peli's long-gestating follow-up to Paranormal Activity profiles a group of idiotic twentysomethings as they attempt to break into, and discover the secrets of, the infamous military base.
  • Lots of running and dimly lit images. You won't miss anything worthwhile if you skip the entire first hour. You won't miss anything worthwhile if you skip the entire movie.
The Nightmare (2015)
  • This Sundance-favorite documentary explores the effects of sleep paralysis and fear on eight individuals
  • Real-life experiences are detailed in interviews and presented through intense dramatizations
  • The true-to-life nature of this film makes it as scary as anything on this list
We Are Still Here (2015)
  • In a snow-laden New England town, a couple moves into a new house that harbors a dark secret.
  • Debut feature from Ted Geoghegan establishes the intensity early on and never lets up during its trim 83-minute run time.
  • Great performances from Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, Barbara Crampton, and Andrew Sensenig
  • This haunted house flick relishes what lurks in the shadows but also features plenty of awesome gore effects 
The Gallows (2015)
  • Tragedy struck a Nebraska high school in 1993 when a student was accidentally killed during a stage performance. 20 years later, the school is resurrecting the play to honor the anniversary of the incident. The night before the play is set to open, some kids break into the auditorium to sabotage the set and find themselves trapped inside where they encounter strange, sinister goings-on.
  • Found-footage horror film features suitably spooky atmosphere. The old, dark school is a pretty scary setting. 
  • Poor acting, unrealistic music cues, and essentially zero cinematography kill it though. Most of it is just shaky cam shots of darkness. 
Exeter (2015)
  • Teens get more than they bargained for after throwing a party inside an abandoned mental hospital
  • Director Marcus Nispel's first original feature. He's been in charge of several remakes in the past - Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Conan the Barbarian are his biggest credits.
  • This one isn't amazing, but it's worth your time. It's like what Night of the Demons wants to be when it grows up. Humor and violence are in the vein of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead.
Sinister 2 (2015)
  • Sequel to 2012's Sinister follows a single mother and her two sons who become Bughuul's next targets
  • Well-acted and features some great scares, but it's sorely missing Scott Derrickson's eye for atmosphere behind the camera
The Visit (2015)
  • M. Night Shyamalan returns to his horror roots with this quasi-found footage chiller about two kids who spend a week with grandparents that they've never met.
  • None of the scares are cheap, and the kids are actually well-written. If you're looking for a good scary movie to watch in theaters this season, check out The Visit while you can.
Cooties (2015)
  • Fun horror comedy about a middle school's descent into carnage and madness after a student eats a diseased chicken nugget in the cafeteria. It's on the teachers to keep the zombie children in place. 
  • Wonderful cast including Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Allison Pill, Nasim Pedrad, and Jack McBrayer
The Green Inferno (2015)
  • A group of student activists travels to the Amazonian jungle in order to protest deforestation, but they soon fall prey to a tribe of cannibalistic natives
  • Eli Roth's controversial film is a love letter to the cannibal exploitation films of yore, namely Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust and Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox
    • Roth completed the film sometime in 2012/2013 but coldn't find distribution until Blumhouse finally bought the rights for a September 2015 theatrical release
Knock Knock (2015)
  • A loving family man (Keanu Reeves) is seduced by two young strangers (Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas) who turn up at his house in the rain. The following day, the girls rape and torture poor Keanu, but is it as penance for his sins or simply because the girls are insane?
  • Performances and dialogue are risible despite some subtexts on pedophilia and rape culture
Tales of Halloween (2015)
  • Ten stories from different directors transpire across an American suburb on Halloween night
    • Not much of an overarching story to thread these 10 pieces together; they're all linked simply by taking place in the same small town on the same night
    • Recommended for practically worshipping the holiday. Plus, each little entry is solid. There are too few good horror movies out there that actually center around Halloween as a holiday. That's why we need to support them when we can. It's not quite Trick 'r Treat, but Tales deserves your attention this season.
  • Features several cult-favorite actors, actresses and directors from both the old and new schools of American horror - Adrienne Barbeau, Lin Shaye, Lisa Marie, Barry Bostwick, Joe Dante, John Landis, Barbara Crampton, Alex Essoe, Kier Gilchrist, Adam Green, Mick Garris, and Sean Clark. Darren Lynn Bousman and Neil Marshall each contribute shorts to the film.
The Final Girls (2015)
  • Max (Taissa Farmiga) mourns the loss of her mother (Malin Akerman), a "scream queen" from a popular 1980s slasher film. On the anniversary of her mom's death, Max and her friends attend a screening of that film where they find themselves transplanted into the movie world. Max and company work together with her mother to stop the film's maniacal killer and return home.
  • Awesome young cast also includes Adam DeVine, Thomas Middleditch, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, and Alia Shawkat
  • Unique way to turn the '80s slasher on its head
Goosebumps (2015)
  • Teens unleash the monsters from R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" books on a small Delaware town. They team up with Stine (Jack Black) in order to stop the mayhem.
  • Tight narrative, breakneck pace, strong performances and very funny! Black shows a dark edge that we rarely see. 
    • '90s kid in me had a blast. The current me wishes they had played up the nostalgia factor a bit more.
Crimson Peak (2015)
  • Following a mysterious family tragedy, a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) from New York is whisked away to a mansion in the English countryside after she falls for an outsider (Tom Hiddleston) 
  • Guillermo Del Toro's unique visual style is on full display
    • The costume and production designers deserve Oscars
  • Not especially scary in the traditional "horror movie" sense, but the film revels in the macabre and nods to several hallmarks of Gothic cinema/literature. Some of the stylized visual effects are pretty unsettling though. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Straight Outta Compton" Review

While the cinematic interpretation of N.W.A's story is no doubt littered with some corny dialogue and melodramatic "Hollywood movie" moments, they never distract from how special the story is.

Director F. Gary Gray has crafted a film in Straight Outta Compton that is timely in its themes and delivers all the betrayal, deceit, violence, and folly of a Greek drama. This movie doesn't just explore the true-life twists and turns of N.W.A's journey to the top. It chronicles the birth of an entire genre of music at a time when racial tensions in Los Angeles were at a historic high. 

With founding members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre in the producers' credits, you can be sure that anything less than total reverence for the subject matter was unacceptable. It's obvious that Gray doesn't try to sanitize anything about the world these young men came from. Though not without fault, the performances, production design, and screenplay do satisfying justice to N.W.A's legacy.

The cast is largely full of unknowns. Ice Cube's son O'Shea Jackson, Jr. fills his dad's shoes while Corey Hawkins stars as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Neil Brown, Jr. as DJ Yella, and Aldis Hodge features as MC Ren. Hawkins and Mitchell are the true standouts, as we are riveted to the edge of our seats during Dre's tense moments with Suge Knight and E's fight to keep Ruthless Records afloat while his health begins to deteriorate. Mitchell delivers all the right emotional cues to paint E as a tragic hero, and he is easily the most fascinating character in the film. Gray does well to balance a satisfying amount of screen time between Cube, E, and Dre's stories. Perhaps screenwriters Jon Herman and Andrea Berloff thought that audiences would connect best with the group's 3 most recognized faces, but it certainly feels like Ren and Yella, two important founding members, get the short end of the stick. 

Another minor quibble with the screenplay is that the dialogue too often resorts to corny, fan-service remarks. When Dre confronts Suge about his desire to break away from Death Row Records, Dre touts his plans for a self-managed company. "What you gonna call that shit?" Suge asks. As the score builds to a dramtic swell, Dre stops and turns as he's walking out the door and says, "Aftermath." The movie doesn't really suffer as a whole because of it, but there are too many moments that feel like on-the-nose fan service.

There are also one or two scenes that took me out of the drama of the moment, such as when Dre leaves the studio in a fit of rage and leads police on a high speed chase through downtown L.A. in his Ferrari. Allegedly this really happened, but it feels like something out of The Fast and the Furious, as if it were tacked on for the sake of having a big-budget action scene. 

On that note I would've liked to see the narative explore even more of the characters' alleged troubles with the law. Dre's assault charges (likely either Denise Barnes and/or Damon Thomas) are all but glossed over in a passing remark by N.W.A's manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). Heck, I would've even liked to see more behind-the-scenes on Ice Cube's early film work with Boyz N the Hood and Friday. As it stands, though, I have a hard time truly begrudging the filmmakers on this simply because those subplots are extraneous to a story that's supposed to be exclusively about N.W.A. If Gray's alleged 3.5 hour-"director's cut" ever sees the light of day, perhaps it'll offer more individual, post-fame character insight.

Despite the flaws, I can't say I didn't love Straight Outta Compton. The story of N.W.A is an electrifying one outright, and its told affectionately here thanks to terrific performances and confident direction. It's as timely a picture as Selma. I cannot wait to see this film again soon. I wouldn't be surprised if Cube, Dre, and Legendary Pictures build an Oscar campaign around this thing.

-the Music! 
-Strong cast
-F. Gary Gray's direction
-Authentic production design
-Timeliness of the story
-Narratively well-constructed

-Some corny dialogue
-Flashy "Hollywood" moments prematurely remove you from an emotional payoff
-Not enough room for more individual, post-fame character insight


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"The Barn" 2016 Trailer/Indiegogo Review

Folks, this is it. This is the slasher film that horror fans have been waiting for. This is... THE BARN. Creator/director Justin M. Seaman and the rest of the crew at Pittsburgh-based Nevermore Production Films are looking to bring '80s horror back in a big way, and if the trailer is any indication, they're on track to succeed with flying colors. All the right pieces look to be in place. There's the cheesy epic trailer voiceover (from Honest Trailers' Jon Bailey), the grain of the video quality, the gore, the music, the practical monster effects, and to top it all off, a "coming soon to videocassette" tag on the end. The Barn just shot to the top of my must-see horror list.

Justin is in the final days of an Indiegogo campaign to pick up some extra post-production and marketing funds. If you take a look at the perks you can earn for donating, this guy could use all the help he can get. He's offering the usual posters, DVDs and social media shoutouts, but what sets The Barn apart and really cements that '80s vibe are the custom-made action figures, VHS tapes, and even NES cartridges for their own licensed video game! I mean, seriously!! The world needs this movie, and it needs this kind of fun tie-in marketing again.

I made a couple separate donations in order to get the DVD and this amazing poster for myself. I'm disappointed I won't have my hands on the film itself in time for Halloween this year, but I can tell that it's going to be worth any kind of wait in order to get this thing finished properly.

Help make The Barn the next indie horror smash by donating to the campaign and snagging some of this cool merch before time runs out:

Share the link with friends and spread the word about The Barn!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"Irrational Man" Review

Writer/director Woody Allen's latest "dramedy" Irrational Man features clever noir-ish sensibilities, some sharp dialogue, and fine performances. Yet somehow it's a largely forgettable affair.

The story follows a burnt-out philosophy professor named Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) as he takes a new position at a small Rhode Island university. After seeking self-worth in the arms of an adulterous colleague (Parker Posey) and a precocious student (Emma Stone), Abe finally realizes that he must commit one existential act to turn his twisted perspective around.

This late in Woody's career, audiences should know what they're in for with any of his films. Enjoyment depends almost entirely on how one appreciates his style. For me, I've always thought Allen had a singular skill for writing repartee. The characters all talk very fast and typically muse about life's deeper meaning. In Irrational Man, this tactic establishes a great pace for the narrative and makes for interesting conversations between the characters. In fact, at times it feels like the film moves almost too fast for its own good. I found myself struggling to piece together how certain scenes connected to one another. Some jokes even whizzed by so quickly I had to rely on the giggly couple sitting behind me to cue my own laughter.

The story also takes a long time to get going. Allen doesn't get to the crux of the plot until at least 30 minutes in, but again, it's the lively dialogue that keeps those first 30 minutes engaging.

Aside from well-written speech, the characters themselves really aren't that interesting. Abe evolves a bit over the course of the film, but he really just changes from a depressed shithead to a delusional or, dare I say, an "irrational" one. Stone's character Jill acts as his "femme fatale" of sorts, as she ropes Abe into a relationship he originally rebuffs and also unwittingly sets him on the path to commit his life-changing act. In the end though, Jill seems to take nothing from her schoolgirl infatuation with Abe. She initially falls for how complicated he seems but once she learns the truth about Abe, and following their climactic encounter at the piano studio, her life goes back to exactly the way it was when the film began. That's not to say Phoenix and Stone don't give their all, though. The film is practically worth seeing for the two of them alone.

(As a side note, I know it's popular these days for up-and-coming storytellers to try and craft complex characters for actors of color, and it's easy to get upset over the lack of diversity in most Hollywood productions. One should rarely, if ever, expect to see involvement from any persons of color in a Woody Allen movie. I counted one Asian-American woman and one African-American man, but if I had blinked I would've missed their screen time. I realize that the story takes place in preppy Newport, Rhode Island, but this is about as whitewashed a production as I've ever seen. If that kind of thing offends you, then you've been warned.)

No matter how you scratch it, though, Allen remains one of America's finest auteurs of original cinematic storytelling. That has to be worth something.

-Fine performances from Phoenix and Stone
-Noir approach
-Sharp dialogue...

-...but often moves too fast for its own good
-Bland characters


Saturday, August 8, 2015

"The Gift" Review

Joel Edgerton (Warrior, The Great Gatsby) writes, directs and co-stars in The Gift, a timely thriller about ego, ambiguity, and the consequences of bullying; how a seemingly inconsequential lapse in judgement or character can affect someone else for the rest of their lives. It's just a good, old-fashioned, slow-burn chiller that acts as the perfect shot in the arm this late in the summer moviegoing season.

Meatier themes aside, the film focuses on Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) whose idyllic marriage and personal lives start to unravel when Gordo (Edgerton), an acquaintance from Simon's past, leaves several mysterious gifts at their doorstep and threatens to reveal a 25-year old secret.

The marketing made this film look extremely one-note and predictable, as if it were another in a line of mediocre home invasion movies destined for trash day. That couldn't be further from the truth. The Gift is supremely harrowing and unpredictable, which is a testament to Edgerton's skills as a writer and his astute direction.

This film is gorgeously shot by Eduard Grau (Buried, The Awakening) and tightly edited by Luke Doolan (Animal Kingdom). Nothing feels gratuitous or stylized in what could've been a severely unrealistic endeavor. The audience is presented with only the pieces necessary to understand the conflict at hand. It's yet another testament to Edgerton's direction that those pieces also reveal the film's deeper themes without feeling too didactic.

Those "pieces" include the mise-en-scรจne, the cinematography, the editing, and the performances. At times, Edgerton pays homage to Carpenter with his economic utilization of space within the frame. This contributes to the film's sense of slow-burn suspense. As for the performances, the three leads are terrific. Edgerton pulls off the creepy persona rather well, and in his facial tics, he effectively conveys a suppressed sense of emotional trauma. It's a chillingly understated turn from the actor, and it works so well for Gordo. Hall is also strong as Robyn. As much as the movie is about the conflict between Simon and Gordo, it's also about how the lies and intrigue affect those around them. Unfortunately Robyn adheres to too many tropes of the "distraught housewife" archetype. Much of her concern throughout the film revolves around having a baby with Simon, and when she starts peeling off the layers of her husband's relationship with Gordo, she turns to pills to help her cope. Hall is game enough for the job, however, in which she perfectly captures an evolving level of dread and suspicion reminiscent of Tippi Hedren in any number of Hitchcock thrillers.

The most electrifying performance, surprisingly, is Jason Bateman as Simon. Bateman is most well-known for his snarky comedic roles in movies such as Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief, as well as the hit TV sitcom Arrested Development. He's always been a funny guy and has never really disappeared into a role before. We usually always see just "Jason Bateman," and everyone's happy. His turn as Simon blows the lid off of this movie. Bateman leaves no trace of his funny streak and commits completely to this dramatic turn. Simon is still a bit of a snarky, douchey character, but he has an edge that Bateman doesn't usually get to work with. His performance alone is one of the year's biggest surprises. I love Arrested Development as much as the next person, but this is hands-down the finest performance of Bateman's career.

It would be a shame for The Gift to fall by the wayside as yet another underrated thriller that gets talked about but never seen. Everyone needs to set aside the time and money to support this movie. It deserves far more credit and far more buzz than I fear it's going to get from the general public. For its taut construction, heady themes, and harrowing conclusion, I think I'm going to remember this Gift for a long, long time.

-Great performances
-Technically well-constructed
-Confident direction from Edgerton
-Timely & timeless themes explored with restraint
-Subversive homages to Hitchcock, Carpenter
-One very well-executed jump scare...

-...The rest (1-2 others) feel cheap
-Stereotypical female characters


Friday, August 7, 2015

"Fantastic Four" Review

The new Fantastic Four movie puts a darker spin on Marvel Comics' "first family." Led by a strong cast which includes Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell, this latest iteration sadly lives down to the hype. I desperately wanted to enjoy this movie, but I actually walked out afterwards in a state of depression.

The story sees the team coming together to crack inter-dimensional travel; in doing so, however, they find themselves imbued with unique abilities and bodily features. Reed Richards (Teller) can stretch himself like putty, Sue Storm (Mara) can turn invisible and create force fields, Johnny Storm (Jordan) can fly as well as conjure fire, and Ben Grimm (Bell) is a massive, Hulk-like rock monster.

Beyond that, nothing remotely interesting happens in this movie. There is no semblance of any stakes whatsoever, which makes it difficult to root for any of the characters at all. Everyone creatively involved simply phones it in. The typically wonderful Teller gives a performance that starts well enough but turns to middle-school play territory in the film's last 15 minutes. That guy is too old and too talented to still be doing Pine Tree #2.

I shouldn't really hold that against any of the actors, though. The script from Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Josh Trank is positively joyless and shockingly devoid of action. It resembles Ang Lee's Hulk in that way. There's little good that any actor could do with this material or with Trank's misguided direction.

Even the way that the characters obtain their powers feels painfully contrived. Obviously something about the science experiment goes wrong, and somehow each of them is affected differently despite being exposed to the same adverse conditions. Why is Ben the only one to get hit with rubble? How on earth does Johnny catch fire? What happens in Reed's capsule that he can somehow stretch and the others can't? And Sue isn't even with them. How the f**k does she get her invis-abilities? *Lolz*

The other character affected by this event is Victor Von Doom (Kebbell), a friend-turned-enemy of the Fantastic Four. The writers get absolutely everything wrong with this guy. First of all his look is horrendous, and secondly he somehow hatches a quick plan to destroy the world that's dispensed with about as quickly as it's brought up. A good villain needs to make the stakes personal for newly introduced heroes. They need to build up to the apocalypse over a couple of sequels so that the audience has time to get invested in the characters and their abilities. This is why most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been so successful. Anything other than that never works. See Green Lantern, Man of Steel, Thor 2, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Even if "Dr. Doom" returns for the already green-lit Fantastic Four 2, any evil plot that the writers devise for him will not matter. The entire world is about as high as the stakes get, and now that's done with. In about 20 minutes of screen time, the arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four is ruined for this whole rebooted franchise.

From a technical standpoint, the costume design is drab, the color palette is too dreary, and the visual effects are hit-or-miss. The character animations on "Human Torch" and "The Thing" are good, but the artistic praise pretty much stops there. There's a brief sequence that looks almost half-rendered where Reed stretches his face back into place after disguising himself in a shop in Central America. It's ridiculous enough that Reed goes from dark tan back to pasty white. I don't recall my Play-Doh ever changing colors like that when stretched. The poor animation just adds to the stupidity.

There are also some scenes with green screen work of similar quality to your nightly TV weather forecast. It's nearly impossible to miss when the crew first lands in the alternate dimension.

I would've liked to see more diversity in the color palette instead of constant grays and navy blues. The Fantastic Four inhabited some pretty psychedelic worlds in the comics, and it would've been nice to see the production design reflect that.

I could rant on and on, but I think you get the point. I honestly struggled to stay awake for this 100-minute downer. The 2005 and 2007 movies with Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are more fun and offer truer representations of the characters than Fant4stic (fant-four-stick) does.

-Great young cast

-Corny dialogue
-Misguided directing
-Contrived character development
-Almost zero action
-Dr. Doom
-Inconsistent VFX
-Dreary production design
-Takes itself waaaay too seriously


Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Shaun the Sheep Movie" Review

The team behind Wallace & Gromit brings the lesser known "Shaun the Sheep" to theaters in his first big movie. It's another hit for the stop-motion wizards at Aardman! Shaun the Sheep Movie follows the titular ewe and his flock as they journey from the country to the big city in order to recover their misplaced farmhand.

This movie recalls some of Aardman's earliest shorts in that they all thrive on "silent film" sensibilities. The removal of dialogue allows individual character traits to shine through. Shaun the Sheep Movie is filled with terrific slapstick humor that gives way to hilarious little character moments, like the dog dressing as a surgeon and accidentally stumbling into the operating room at a hospital. The whole production feels like a classic Buster Keaton adventure.

It's wonderful that we've had now two great animated films this summer from studios with winning pedigrees. Both Pixar's Inside Out and now Aardman's Shaun evoke shades of material that's wiser, more clever, and more involved than most young children are prepared for. Inside Out still takes the cake between the two for its manic-but-heady fun where Shaun often feels just plain manic. Several key plot elements early on also feel as if they've been hoisted straight from Aardman's own Chicken Run. Overall that makes Shaun feel slightly contrived from a narrative standpoint, but the character development single-handedly makes up for it.

-"Silent film" sensibilities
-Slapstick humor that works
-Great character moments
-Master craftsmanship we've come to expect from Aardman

-Narrative feels contrived early on
-Manic tendencies lack some depth


Monday, August 3, 2015

"The Wolfpack" Review

No, it's not a spin-off from The Hangover. The Wolfpack is a documentary that's been making rounds on the indie & festival circuits this year to high acclaim. It centers on the six Angulo brothers who have essentially been confined for their entire lives in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. All they know about the outside world comes from the movies they watch. "We have around 5,000 movies; DVDs and some VHS," says one of the boys. They often spend their days building props and costumes from whatever scrap materials they find around the apartment and use them to re-enact some of their favorite movies, from The Dark Knight to Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. The brothers' lives change when one of them leaves the apartment in a rebellious act against their father, whose paranoid ideologies have kept the boys so isolated.

The Wolfpack tells the Angulos' unique story with reverence and intrigue. It really feels as if director Crystal Moselle has gained access to another world within our own; one in which it feels like outsiders are infrequently, if ever, welcomed. Such a taboo feeling makes the payoff that much sweeter when the boys start to venture out on their own behind their father's back. But it also softens the hit when we discover that walking out is not exactly the big no-no we've been led to believe. The parents eventually encourage the boys to get out and discover the world for themselves. A first-time trip to Coney Island in the daytime curiously begets a night out on the town with mom and dad happily seeing them off. That makes the stakes feel somewhat diminished, but it doesn't make the journey any less interesting.

The Angulos are quite a cast of characters, and I'd be interested to see where they all end up in 5-10 years. Hopefully Moselle is able to get ahold of them for a sequel. The Wolfpack is one of the best documentaries you'll see this year.

-Real life coming-of-age story
-A movie about movies!
-Unique perspectives from the characters

-Diminished stakes