Halloween Countdown – October 21

and speaking of “Men on a Mission” horror-hybrids…

I haven’t seen Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector yet- it has a pretty good premise, sort of weirdly simple while also high-concept: a reformed 2nd story man is blackmailed into breaking into a mansion to steal a MacGuffin, only to find the house is rigged by a serial killer/torture freak who has been preying on the family- does the ex-con try to help them, or just escape with his own life.

The only thing really keeping me from it (other than “time”) is that “torture-porn” ain’t my thing- and while there have been claims that this movie doesn’t fall into that sub-genre, it was also originally pitched by Dunstan and writing partner Patrick Melton as a prequel to Saw. So there is that.

The sequel though, involves a group of hard-ass gunmen hired to rescue a girl from the same bad guy, and the protag of the first movie is forced to go along since he has some knowledge of The Collector.

Death-traps, I guess, have kind of become a new sub-genre of horror. Certainly the Saw movies are at the heart of this- that film series gets more heavily interwoven as it continues, picking up tiny threads from earlier films and following them to the end. A clever idea, and I suppose there can be a certain enjoyment to be found from witnessing the intricate death-traps (I know, I know- the concept of the series is that they are Life-traps, or something, semantics).

So The Collector and now The Collection seem like a logical progression from those design-heavy roots- Final Destination with a villain that can be hit with a crowbar, horror for engineering students (and gore-hounds).

Halloween Countdown – October 20

Here is the thing, some premises just grab me by the short hairs. If a trailer puts forward a theme or set-up that I love, I am hooked.

One hook that has successfully captured me my whole life- and probably always will- is the “guys on a mission” hook. I like guys on a mission! When I was a kid, I fell in love with The Magnificent Seven and The Wild Geese and that type of movie has long been a major favorite.

Cross “Guys on a Mission” with monsters? Or ghosts? Or monstrous ghosts?

ASS IN SEAT.

Ray Stevenson is simply awesome, he elevates everything he is in. Richard Brake does scumbag so well (he was Joe Chill in Batman Begins, the junkie-pusher space marine in Doom), casting him as an immoral mercenary in Eastern Europe is a no-brainer. Plus, he’s a Brit national who lived in the US long enough to do an effortless ‘Merican accent, so he must be a blessing to UK filmmakers who want an American character but need to stay within their UK casting parameters.

Also with, Michael Smiley! Julian Wadham!

Nazi zombies! Or Nazi ghosts. Some kind of Nazi undead? Well, at least we know who the bad guys are.

Apparently the production of Outpost was a financed by a Scottish couple who mortgaged their home in order to get the capital necessary. Thats dedication!

Halloween Countdown – October 19

I touched on the “Mumblecore” sub-genre a few days ago. Here is an anthology horror flick from a number of creators that have at least one foot firmly planted in that- Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid and “Radio Silence”.

V/H/S

So it is possibly Mumblecore (though not advertised or talked about in interviews as such), definitely Found Footage, and also an Anthology. Well, points for doing something different! I’m curious. I really enjoyed Ti West’s House of the Devil, and I’ve read good things about this one. Plus, the hand coming out of the floor and the shrinking window in the door are both really great looking effects.

Halloween Countdown – October 18

Clive Barker, Steven King and Sam Raimi. For my awakening as a neophyte horror fan back in the late 80s, they were the three most important creative forces at work. I wouldn’t stumble across Stuart Gordon or George Romero until later.

The first horror film I saw in theaters was Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, a mess of a movie but with a seed of something unique. I think I went back and saw it 3 or 4 times. I was 15. The movie led to the novella it was based on, CABAL, which lead to the rest of Barker’s Books of Blood short stories. I already was aware of King- mostly as a fantasist: The Eyes of the Dragon and The Gunslinger were both well-thumbed books. I knew he did some “scary” books, but I hadn’t mustered up the gumption to tackle those yet.

Barker’s work was heavily influenced by fantasy- or was itself a sort of darkly realized fantasy writing- not the “horror” that I would have expected, associated with the word. Raimi was just a leering jester, a hilarious (if unsettling) filmmaker channeling The Three Stooges through buckets of blood.

Dark Fantasy- when I first became a horror fan, that was what it was really about. The neo-gothic Universal Monster movies, the post-Anne Rice “vampire with a conscience” sub-genre of movies that peppered the video stores of the late 80s/early 90s.

Barker moved on from his horror roots- and fully embraced his place as a writer of dark fantasy. He has moved away from filmmaking- which is a shame, as he has a unique (if not easily realized) vision.

But some other filmmakers have adapted Barker’s works- with varying degrees of success. Other than his own unhinged Hellraiser, none of the Barker adaptations have particularly resonated.

Sometimes though, one will surprise me.

2008’s Midnight Meat Train was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, and starred Bradley Cooper right before he became Hollywood’s go-to frat/jock lead.

The trailer is appropriately disquieting. Kitamura shows The City as if it constantly blocks the sky. Interiors are all high-ceiling, but starkly furnished.

Vinnie Jones- he’s no 1st rate actor, but he is a very strong presence, and is perfectly used here.

Lion’s Gate dumped this movie- an unceremonious 100 screens in a dead August slot. It got a special premiere on Hulu not long after- when I first watched it, and enjoyed it immensely.

Barker has said that this isn’t a movie that will go away, that fans will find it- and I agree with him. It is scary, stylish, and smarter than your average bear. Er, horror film. It isn’t just a slasher film (though for gorehounds, it is full of splatter and squick). There is a haunted, haunting thru-line of how living in “The City” changes people, makes them part of “The City”- and a meat-eater thematic aspect that mirrors the “vegetarian agenda” Guy Pierce and Antonia Bird layered into 1999’s Ravenous.

The more you know.

Halloween Countdown – October 17

There is something incredibly charming about the artificial world that the old Universal Monster Movies take place in. The vague period setting- villagers (torches!) who dress somewhere in between European peasantry of the 19th century and mid-20th century film extras… the quaint cobblestone villages in Germany or Wales that have a large population of American accented people…

Of course, it was just One world, wasn’t it? Crossovers abounded- Frankenstein’s Monster and Larry Talbot crossed paths with Count Dracula a number of times…

It is tragic, of course, that the only recent attempts to revisit the old well of classic Universal Monsters be the utterly wretched Van Helsing. My wife swears it is enjoyable as a comedy, but the ability to agree to disagree on some issues is part of why we’ve made it so long.

While Van Helsing stinks of missed opportunity (and the lingering smell of rotting shit), and the recent The Wolf Man pretty much bombed- at least 1999’s The Mummy was fun.

Some horror should be fun- maybe Van Helsing wouldn’t infuriate me so much if it wasn’t indicative of what is just wrong with the studio tent-pole releases- B-movies are a blast. They are fast, fun, breezy- sometimes they have layers (Val Lewton, what up!), sometimes they are just a roller coaster ride (thank you, Mr. Corman and Mr. Arkoff).

Van Helsing and the oft-delayed upcoming Hansel & Gretal: Witchhunters should but fun little adventure/horror movies. Instead, bloated, self-serious, ponderous messes bog down the potential for dashing and derring-do. The need to top the last spectacle, the need to go to 11- it kills the fun of B-Movies. (the fact that B-movies now regularly cost hundreds of millions of dollars is just another drop of acid in the bucket of my enjoyment).

And sometimes, every so often, some little B-movie shows up and reminds me of what I love. Neil Marshall did it with Dog Soldiers. Dracula 2000 almost pulled it off. Reign of Fire is a fun way to kill an hour and a half. I love a good backstory, a fully realized world- I love them even more when the filmmakers don’t have to shove it down my throat.

The overly heavy title of Werewolf: The Beast Among Us aside, this looks like some B-movie fun.

Stephen Rea, Nia Peebles and an unrecognizable Steven Bauer (that’s him with the eye-patch and the fur hat, duel-wielding a pair of cut-down lever-action rifles) are the only names I recognize in the cast list- but so what? A group of diverse, scruffy monster hunters in a world plagued by such issues, a world that is sort of kind-of-maybe in the 19th century…

The taciturn American gunslinger, the smarmy Brit with rakish flare and throwing knives, the tough chick, the blowhard trapper- in a big movie, I am annoyed when the script uses archetypes instead of characters. In a B-movie, it’s kind of the point.

Confession: I liked what the trailer promised, and after an encouraging review from Brian Collins at the awesome Horror Movie A Day blog, I checked out the first 40 minutes on Netflix Instant and kept giggling with delight.

For all I know, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us turns to shit in the back half. But I’m not gonna care- it’s fun, and it is a B-Movie: proudly. Making the best of its Lot, rather than suffering from lazy film-making, it seems to relish the challenge to heighten the material.

Halloween Countdown – October 16

So won’t you come and make it… 8?

My love for William Castle is well-documented and remains strong to this day. My wife shares my appreciation for the more goofy horror films of the late 50s and early 60s- the Del Tenney and Samuel Z. Arkoff B-pics.

8 years ago, coincidentally, she officially joined me in celebrating Halloween until death or divorce do us part. Well, neither looms on the horizon… unless the kids have been plotting some diabolical act of evil…

Happy Anniversary, Bettie. And happy Vincent Price trailer, Halloweenies!

Halloween Countdown – October 15

Last year, the trailer that started the most conversations (not just the times I started yelling at strangers) was for Cary Fukunaga’s moody and atmospheric Jane Eyre. Not a horror film by the most common stretch of the imagination, it nevertheless was a haunting trailer, one which oozed gothic horror.

Gothic horror- equal parts romance and terror, with a strong dose of melodrama. Leaving the stuffy clothing and mannered England of it’s original tradition, it found a strange but perfect match in the American South. “Southern Gothic”- decayed homes, disturbed people, heightened emotion.

Now, that isn’t to say that American Gothic has to be in the South. The rest of the country can pull off grotesque, moody horror just fine thanks.

But maybe sometimes it takes a Korean director to pull it off?

I don’t know if anyone will count that trailer as “horror”, but who cares about anyone? I love it. Mia Wasikowska seems to really thrive in gothic settings, don’t she? And I haven’t been this happy to see Nicole Kidman in ages. And just how creepy is Matthew Goode in that trailer anyways?

Chan-Wook Park has directed a number of highly regarded Korean films, including the wonderfully unhinged and melancholic vampire drama Thirst. Based on that alone, I’m gonna be checking out Stoker. That the film shares a name with one of the most influential gothic horror writers, cannot be a coincidence.

Halloween Countdown – October 14

TROOOOOOOOOLL!!

Here is one where the trailer is just full of some fuzzy, half-clear money shots- no plot.

The movie is vastly better than the trailer- but the trailer isn’t bad, it sets up pretty simply the idea that a) there are Trolls and b) someone hunts them.

Oh, and c) some of the Trolls are REALLY BIG.

The wonderfully dry Norwegian sense of humor- usually about bureaucracy – and the level of design in the movie is terrific. One thing to remember is that Norway has a long-existing folkloric mythology of Trolls of varying types. It is always a treat to see a cultural movie that explores it’s own legendry.

Good stuff.

Halloween Countdown – October 13

If you haven’t seen Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, I am sorry for you.

It was on Netflix Instant, just a few weeks ago.

And it is worth seeking out on VOD or at a brick & mortar store (if such things still exist anywhere). Hell- if you like horror movies even a little it is worth seeking out.

Smarter than your average slasher (by like a million), and really, really, really funny.

This year, I have been trying to focus on the Trailers, not the movies themselves- sometimes it is harder than others. With Leslie Vernon, it is very hard. I really love this movie.

Also- I am stalling, because if you haven’t seen it, you should maybe skip the trailer. It doesn’t tell you anything you couldn’t figure out, but the movie is a great collection of tonal shifts, and the trailer kind of gives them away (and glosses over a lot of the nearly constant, brilliantly deconstructive comedy).

That said. Good trailer! It puts most of the horror cameos up front (Robert Englund doing a pitch perfect riff on Donald Pleasence, a wonderful turn from the late-great Zelda Rubinstein), a really terrific turn from Scott Wilson and holy wow do Nathan Baesel and Angela Goethals rock in the lead roles. Especially Baesel- not to take away from Goethals, but Nathan kills in this one.

Crypt Keeper says EEEE-HEEEE-HEEEE-HEEEEE!!!!!!

Halloween Countdown – October 12

Whaaaat? another UK tenement horror movie from recent years? Also with James Cosmo?

If I was James Cosmo, I might have moved by now. First Outcast and the pikey mages, now feral children in Citadel.

Urban youth run amok- hmmm.

If this was an American film, and a dangerous inner-city hood was full of feral kids- presumably of various shades of brown- it would be dubbed a “Racist” movie. Or would it be a “racial” movie?

We have touched many times on how horror often displays the deep-rooted fears of a given era. Kids in low-income neighborhoods without options often enter gang life- so in a horror movie they become monstrous (in visage or merely in action). We could argue that the rise of “psycho killer” movies of the 70s was a reaction to the (perceived) changing morals of the world. This sort of extension seems logical to me- and it grounds the horror in a recognizable place.

Youth gang violence is often reported as being on the rise in the UK- I don’t know how much of it is sensationalism. But class warfare lives everywhere, and touching on the fear of poverty-stricken youth lashing out violently- that doesn’t seem like exploitation to me (at least not in the 3 movies we’ve looked at trailers for this year- I’m not saying UK exploitation horror doesn’t exist).

By making the protagonist a local himself- someone who lives in the projects (in today’s Citadel, and yesterday’s Outcast) rather than an outsider (ala Virginia Madsen in Candyman) some of the class issues are blurred. Reading the crime reports, we quickly learn that gang violence usually falls in the areas where gang-members live.

In a perfect world, an American version of Citadel would take place entirely in the projects- set it in East LA, or West Baltimore, or where-have-you. But I bet- in the US Version- the protaganist would end up being Skeet Ulrich. (With Danny Trejo or Edward James Olmos in the James Cosmo part).