Father Gore’s Top 205

In no particular order, these are 205 of Father Gore’s favourite films. Crossing all genres, sub-genres, and decades, not only limited to the love of horror. A little blurb added for each entry on the list.

Before you start, remember: it’s great if you have movies you think I should love, and if you do make a list. Otherwise, stick to telling me if you hate or love the choices I’ve made. I’ve seen over 4,000 films, I know there are plenty choices aside from these 205 picks.
But these are MY picks.
So here we go.


The Long Goodbye (1973)longgoodbyeAltman has many great pieces of work. The Long Goodbye is forever my favourite for a few reasons. One of those is Elliott Gould. Another is Leigh Brackett’s adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel, adjusted for the ’70s. And of course Altman’s style gives this film a feel very much its own.

Bullhead (2011)bullheadA contemporary Greek tragedy, set in Belgium amongst the world of the hormone mafia. Matthias Schoenaerts is intense and perfect as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a man who suffered a terrible assault as a boy which left him battling against violent masculinity for the rest of his life. One of the most devastating, tender, conflicted films I’ve ever seen. Masterpiece.

Antichrist (2009)antichristI know that Lars von Trier is a hugely divisive name even to mention in conversation, let alone in a discussion for one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers. But, here we are, and he’s at the top of my list as a director. Antichrist appears, on the surface, a misogynistic film in and of itself. Therein lies von Trier’s genius, as he uses the film to effectively dissect the many ideologies in which misogyny thrives, from psychiatry to Catholicism and more. Dafoe and Gainsbourg are fearless to have taken on these roles.

Don’t Look Now (1973)dont-look-nowCertain horror films don’t have to drown you in blood or jump scares or masked killers to be terrifying. Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier story Don’t Look Now is one of those movies that can trick you into feeling like it’s one thing, then shifting to reveal it is something else altogether. Great performances, masterful direction, and powerfully written, this is an examination of grief gone tragically wrong.

Videodrome (1983)videodromeIn this Croenenberg classic, one of his many, philosophy meets horror meets the human body, when James Woods’ Max Renn stumbles down the rabbit hole of a strange program called Videodrome. Also features a stellar performance out of Blondie’s Debbie Harry. And out of this world special makeup effects accomplished by the legendary Rick Baker.

Catch Me Daddy (2014)catch-me-daddyThis one stunned me. It’s a quietly unsettling thriller with characters coming together from various walks of life in a cultural melting pot which we see in all its beauty and all its darkness. Trust me: go into this one without knowing much, appreciate the depth of the story, its characters. Some films can help you understand people, other cultures, and the world better.

The Night Porter (1974)the-night-porterI’ll write about this one at length some time. Right now I’ll say that I can understand why some might not enjoy this film, especially if connected personally by family to the Holocaust. I can never understand how watching a film like this as a Jewish man or woman might feel. Nevertheless, from my perspective, I do enjoy this film because I believe it exposes uncomfortable truths, or at least presents them for us to see in the cruel light of day.

La Dolce Vita (1960)la-dolce-vitaI don’t care if people think it’s snobbish to love Fellini. Fuck that. One of the most revolutionary cinematic artists of the 20th century. I love this movie so much I have the title tattooed from my hip up to my arm on my right side. Just see it.

Talk Radio (1988)talk-radioWhen people talk about free speech, my mind never fails to sweep to thoughts of Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio. There might never have been an actor better suited to a role than Eric Bogosian to that of Barry Champlain. A searing look at free speech in its many forms, as well as how far people will go to silence it (in many ways). An important piece of cinema from a director who’s made several incredibly important films.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)a-lizard-in-a-womans-skinLucio Fulci is so well known for his various nasty horror efforts, whether Zombie or The House by the Cemetery and others. For me, outside of his campy horror fun, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is objectively his most interesting and well made movie. It’s a mind bender, so there are a lot of spectacular visuals, showing that Fulci wasn’t a one hit wonder on the same horror note for years. He was often capable of real good stuff, camp or otherwise.

Last Night (1998)last-nightWritten and directed by Don McKellar, this is possibly the most Canadian vision of the end of the world you’ll likely ever see. With a top notch cast including Sandra Oh and McKellar himself, David Croenenberg, Sarah Polley, you can’t go wrong with this one. Not only that, it’s one of those end of the world scenarios you’re never totally clued in on, and so part of the film’s joy is the ultimate mystery of things, leaving the focus totally on all the people scrambling to enjoy their last night on Earth.

Seconds (1966)secondsOne of the greatest sci-fi films in existence. John Frankenheimer – legend – directs Rock Hudson in this fascinating, and equally horrifying, story of what it might be like to start life over, literally, and take on a new face, a new path. Except things aren’t always as good as they seem at first. There is such gorgeously inventive cinematography that you’ve got to see it to believe that it was made in ’66. But of course it was, because artists were thriving and starting to open themselves up to anything and everything new. A great instance of innovative cinema.

Carnival of Souls (1962)carnival-of-soulsHerk Harvey’s low budget chiller is one of the few movies that genuinely makes me want to turn all the lights on. At first you feel like it’s going to be a generic bit of horror, then everything gets spookier and spookier until the nightmarish finale refuses to let you go.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)aguirreThere’s an aura surrounding every one of Werner Herzog’s films, no matter if it’s a documentary or a fictional feature, historic, whatever. He has a special feeling. And when you add Herzog to Klaus Kinski, it’s a game changer, in every film they worked on together. Their fiery friendship provided excellence on screen. This movie in particular hits the perfect notes with me, as you get to see the cruelty and madness and greed of man set against the gorgeous, humble qualities of nature.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)picnic-at-hanging-rockA horror mystery without any explicit horror. Picnic at Hanging Rock, one of Peter Weir’s finest, is a haunting look at the loss of innocence, the transition between when girls are girls and when they become women, among other themes. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, this is a classic, and one that will probably remain with you long after the credits finish rolling.

Tyrannosaur (2011)tyrannosaurSeveral reasons why this is a cinematic heavyweight. First, you’ve got actor turned director Paddy Considine giving us his all (and a deeply affecting screenplay), next to Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman in equally powerful roles. Second, the importance of the story is unimaginable until you’ve seen it for yourself, I won’t give any of it away. Just know that it isn’t an easy watch, there are a few moments of traumatic violence, though most is either suggested or after-the-fact edited; still, an at times tough experience. But again, an important experience.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)the-thin-blue-lineA handful of documentaries, maybe more, have actually changed the world, in various ways. This 1988 Errol Morris classic didn’t just give a boost of energy to the crime documentary as a whole genre, it also helped the case of a man in jail for a murder he insisted he did not commit. Saying anything more will ruin it. Trust me, Morris’ style mixed with the extraordinary details of this specific case makes for one of the most compelling documentaries you’ll ever watch. I can put this one on back to back. Also due to the fact Philip Glass gives us an original masterpiece of a score to enjoy along the way.

Spoorloos (1988)spoorloosMystery, tension enough to choke you. A fantastically written screenplay that defines the idea of intricate storytelling, and somehow manages to reel you in while also showing you (almost) everything. The remake is absolute garbage, don’t bother. This original is fierce, moody bit of horror that works on your psychological state with deliberately rough hands. And it works a charm. This is one of those films I’ll never forget as long as I live.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)beyond-the-black-rainbowSome say there’s no real plot, or that this goes nowhere. I say Beyond the Black Rainbow is the most original film of the decade. Like a fever dream, a collage of ideas moulding into one, director-writer Panos Cosmatos brings a unique vision of the 1980s and New Age psychiatry, feeling like part David Cronenberg, part David Lynch, part Ridley Scott. Yet somehow all its own beautiful thing.

Exotica (1994)exoticaAtom Egoyan; national Canadian treasure. There’s an Altman-esque cast of characters in this film, all of whom connect, each with their own desires and emotions running wild. I can never get this one out of my head. Egoyan is someone whose films I dig, very much, though Exotica constantly sticks out because of its simultaneous strangeness and normality rolled into one.

Scarecrow (1973)scarecrowSometimes a pair of actors come together complimenting one another in the perfect ways. Scarecrow is a truly classic American movie, joining the ever awesome Gene Hackman with an up and coming Al Pacino, as two down and out types trying to make their way in the world, despite their problems. There’s one especially harrowing moment, but other than that this is a heartwarming story in places, even if it’s as much a sad one at times.

Bulworth (1998)BULWORTHOthers might pass this off. I wouldn’t if I were you. Warren Beatty is just too funny in this political satire. As a politician ready to give up, Senator Jay Bulworth takes out a hit on himself, only to want to take the offer off the table when he meets a young black woman who inspires him. After which he becomes a rapping political sensation, turning his back on his previously Conservative ideals to a more socially progressive outlook. True perfection, one of the best comedies in history.

Three… Extremes (2004)three-extremesThis is a three-for-one deal, with three short films from three impressive Asian directors – Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, and Chan-wook Park. I won’t say anything else because these need to be seen fresh, you won’t see it coming! I will say this much, they’re all great. But if pressed to pick I’d choose Miike’s chilling short “Box” as my top pick. Nevertheless, they’ll all make you feel strange.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)paradise-lostIf, like myself, you grew up enjoying the darker side of life – horror movies, heavy metal, reading about serial killers and Aleister Crowley and other strange things – then HBO’s Paradise Lost is all the more chilling. A look at justice in small town America, where three young boys, one of whom has an IQ so low he is legally mentally disabled, were charged with a vicious crime they did not commit. This is every bit a documentary, though certain moments feel genuinely theatrical. Such a devastating movie, each time I watch it I can’t help imagine how these young men felt at the time.

Killing Zoe (1993)killing-zoeRoger Avary directed and wrote this 1993 gem, and its original feel, its strangeness, they suck you in quickly. When American Zed (Eric Stoltz) turns up in Paris to help his old friend Eric (Jean-Hughes Anglade) commit a robbery, events spiral out of control, and what once seemed a foolproof robbery descends into chaos. There’s excitement, there’s snappy dialogue, another solid performance from Julie Delpy, plus more! A weird, wild thrill ride from start to finish.

Absentia (2011)absentiaWith a string of great films already, Mike Flanagan is a fresh breath in the world of horror. His little flick Absentia is one that haunted me deeply after seeing it for the first time. There’s a quiet terror about the story, allowing for plenty eerie imagery alongside marvellous characters and even better performances. The human qualities of this ghostly, supernatural story are what anchors it in reality to make it get under your skin even further.

Pusher (1996)pusherBefore coming into his elevated style (which I do love), Nicolas Winding Refn explored the bare grittiness of Copenhagen’s underground, the drug dealing scene, through the eyes of a pusher named Frank (Kim Bodnia). There are all kinds of seedy characters, and as Frank makes his way through a hellish day or so he comes into contact with the worst of the worst. Refn takes us into his life with a cinema verite-type focus, making the audience feel like they’re right there in the streets.
My reviews of the whole trilogy are here.

With Blood on My Hands: Pusher II (2004)pusher-iiRefn continues his series with another entry that touches on issues you might never expect to see in most crime/drug-related films. Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) returns after the first film, fresh out of jail, and faces a life on the outside where his father hates his existence, he has an unexpected child with a woman who hates him, and everything is different than it was once upon a time. This is like a hard smack in the face, as we move just slightly adjacent to the first film to explore something other than drugs: a family under the pressure of hard living, from criminality to addiction to the longing for acceptance and love.

Brotherhood (2009)brotherhoodA beautiful, brutal, tragic film about two men entrenched in the violent ideology of white nationalism while also falling in love with each other. Brotherhood explores a topic we don’t often see, and does so with a rare tenderness. There are difficult ideas at play, but above all it’s a love story about two men wanting something they know they can have and rejecting it outwardly because they’re lost, lonely, looking for anywhere to belong. See this. Recommend it to racists and watch them seethe.

The Third Part of the Night (1971)the-third-part-of-the-nightAndrzej Żuławski is well known for his ’81 horror headtrip Possession. My personal favourite of his work is The Third Part of the Night, which takes us into a strange, internalised look at the effects of living under fascist rule. This is equal parts horror and equal parts philosophy. Go in with an open mind. Worth your time.
Need a full review? Click here.

Infernal Affairs (2002)infernal-affairsI’ll always dig Scorsese’s remake. The best, without a doubt, is the original Infernal Affairs. There’s so much perfect directing, editing, dialogue, tension. Scorsese had a bit more comedy in there, which worked. But this one takes a hardline, serious look at its plot, in turn giving the whole thing an added, thick air of suspense from top to bottom.

The Crucible (1996)the-crucibleOne of the greatest plays ever written, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible takes on a new life on screen. Daniel Day-Lewis is phenomenal, as are the rest of the cast; he takes the cake, from execution to preparation. Most of all, the analogy of the Salem Witch Hunt and the American witch hunt for Communists during Miller’s era is always compelling, and even when you’re fully sucked into the period piece story, the contemporary political leanings of the story are never, ever far.

The French Connection (1971)the-french-connectionThere are good directors, there are great directors. There are also directors in the pantheon of cinema giants, near the top of which sits William Friedkin. Several of his films are on my Top 200+ list. The French Connection is one of the best examples of pure action, and one which also exemplifies how to make an action movie with excitement, heart, and intelligence. Throw in a stellar bit of Gene Hackman, some Fernando Rey and Roy Scheider; what more could you want? And that fucking car chase. God damn.

Brick (2005)brickAs if Raymond Chandler wrote a YA novel. Rian Johnson’s Brick hit me like a ton of them. It is totally infectious in every way. Directed, written, acted, edited to perfection. Don’t read much about it. Go in unknown. The mysterious plot will keep you riveted, I can just about guarantee. Always love an eccentric cast of characters, too.

Maniac (2012)maniacIs it blasphemous to love a remake more than the original? Fuck it. Whereas the 1980 original is disturbing in its own right, the 2012 Maniac remake takes you into the eyes of a killer, literally. Shot in 1st person POV, Elijah Wood takes us inside a psychopath with chilling results. Not everyone’s cup of tea. To me, an inventive piece of horror that challenges our idea of empathy towards characters.
My full review over here.

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)bringing-out-the-deadAn unheralded Scorsese gem, same goes for the Cage performance. This is a weird journey through Manhattan with a burnt out paramedic who starts questioning his efficiency as a lifesaving agent. There are existential questions abound, as well as questions about how people handle the dangerous and nasty careers not everyone is cut out to do. Cage is like a tour guide through the dark depths of Manhattan and the human soul at once.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)millers-crossingThe Coen Brothers are treasures, so many great films under their belt. This one makes the list because it’s a gangster movie, yet it is so unlike most in the genre. There’s the typical wit and charm of the Coens’ writing, then the performances give impressive weight to the screenplay. Best of all, Miller’s Crossing is hard to pinpoint, and the story continues unfolding in such a fun, unexpected way that by the time it’s over you’ll wonder how you got there.

The Seventh Seal (1957)the-seventh-sealIngmar Bergman made plenty of quality films, several masterpieces; many, even. Forever, his depiction of the Medieval Age and the inevitability of death, its looming certainty, is one of the best visions of when the Black Plague took hold in Europe. There’s such a high degree of symbolism that you can find so much to enjoy. The two lead performances are magic, as well.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)dawn-of-the-deadI actually love Day of the Dead most of all. However, Dawn of the Dead is Romero’s most important zombie film. It takes subtle (and not so subtle) shots at the rabid consumerism of American culture, even just the setting itself stands in for sociopolitical commentary if you want to see it that way. Most of all, the strange look and feel, the zombies, Tom Savini, and lots of other fun makes this a memorable bit of horror. There’s also a palpable air of ultimate dread, and not many can tap into that like Romero. Even some of the other great zombie flicks can’t come close to touching its atmosphere.

Barton Fink (1991)barton-finkAnother Coen Brothers classic. This is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like to be a writer. But there’s more to Barton Fink than that. At once it touches on the madness of the film industry, the futility of being an artist in the Hollywood system, as well as dives into issues of anti-Semitism and identity. There’s too much to love about this one, not the least of which is one of John Turturro’s finest moments on screen.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)the-last-temptation-of-christRaised in a Catholic house, I eventually was given the choice to do what I wanted around 12 when my parents asked whether I wanted to keep going to church or not. I chose not, and for the past 19 years and counting I’ve been a non-believer. That being said, I still find religion and its stories intriguing. Scorsese dives deep into the humanity at the heart of the faith with which many identify. And at the core of this film are certain things I understand, despite my lack of religion. A testament to Scorsese’s power as a filmmaker and visionary.
Here’s a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry comparing the religious humanism of Scorsese’s film with Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The Proposition (2005)the-propositionMy personal favourite Western, John Hillcoat’s The Proposition takes the genre over to the Outback in its early days, as the law attempted to rein in the madness of an untamed land. The story and its execution are impressive. What I dig most about this Hillcoat film is its focus on aesthetic. Never will you feel so utterly filthy after watching cinema than when this is over. You can all but smell Guy Pearce. This is a disturbing, emotional, tension-filled Western which features a few fine tuned performances from Pearce, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, and the great Danny Huston.
And yes, I have more to say.

High Tension (2003)high-tensionA brutal slasher with a psychothriller twist, Alexandre Aja’s High Tension is an atmospheric bit of horror. Even after you’ve experienced the twist watching the film over again is a lot of fun. You can try piecing together the mystery afterwards from the start, and it may even help you notice some little clues. No matter – just as a gory slasher, the whole thing works.
Props to Cécile De France in particular for her performance, which required emotion and nuance at every turn. Also, Philippe Nahon does well as the serial killer at the centre of the plot.
Rip through a review with me here.

Sound of My Voice (2011)sound-of-my-voiceThis atypical look at a fictional cult is simultaneously creepy and heartwarming in doses. Two of The OA‘s producers-writers Zal Batmanglij (also director) and Brit Marling co-wrote this mysterious 2011 thriller, so if you’ve seen the Netflix show and haven’t yet seen this: dig in. There are common threads in the show and Sound of My Voice, although ultimately they’re vastly different. Above all, Marling plays a wildly believable yet out there cult leader, as Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius round out the cast with two characters trying to get to the bottom of this cult.
What happens throughout verges on something between dream and reality; it’s up to you to decide, in the end, which is which for each character.

The Man from Nowhere (2010)the-man-from-nowhereAsian films of all genres are amazing, there are so many of them that it’s hard to pick a favourite, or even a top ten of favourites (or a top twenty…). But on this list of 205 films, The Man from Nowhere deserves a spot. There’s a wonderful air of mystery surrounding the titular man, whose past – for much of the film – is kept under wraps, until it’s obvious he is a man with whom you shouldn’t trifle. We also get a beautifully loving story, as well as kick ass action and fight scenes. This one has everything. As the plot evolves, you’ll get sucked in tight to the screen until the final moments.

Nosferatu (1922)nosferatuThere’s simply no denying that F. W. Murnau made one of the greatest horror films in the history of cinema. Almost a whole century later, Nosferatu remains terrifying. Some film fans, though I question their validity, don’t dig on older films as much as more contemporary works. And that’s a major mistake.
Murnau utilised plenty of innovative techniques in order to make this unofficial Dracula adaptation a beacon of German Expressionism and a horror that would never lose its power. There’s an altogether eerie atmosphere from the first scene to the last. Another 100 years, people will still find this frightening.

The Jerk (1979)the-jerkOne of the funniest comedies ever made. Steve Martin is a hilarious tour-de-force as a white boy adopted by a black family, who believes that when he gets old enough his skin will change to match his parents, brothers, and sisters. When he discovers the truth and then sets out on his own, there’s no telling where he’ll end up.
But the fact is, Martin carries every single moment of the film in which he appears, and is the major reason why so many of the gags and jokes work to perfection.

Persona (1966)Persona (1966) Filmografinr: 1966/18My favourite Bergman experience is, bar none, Persona. Many of his films are so human that they hold immense beauty. Something about this one is both human and also otherworldly, as the characters played by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann slowly merge into one entity. Exactly why, how, all those questions, are left to the viewer to understand. As I said – this film is an experience. Not just that, since ’66 this Bergman classic has influenced everyone from David Fincher to Denis Villeneuve to many more, and will continue to do so until people don’t have eyes or hears.

The Chaser (2008)the-chaserHong-jin Na has since made The Yellow Sea and most recently The Wailing, however, it’s his 2008 film The Chaser that captivated me most. Inspired by the story of real life South Korean serial killer and cannibal Yoo Young-chul, this thriller is crafty and it’s likewise a thrilling 125 minutes. To say anything further would do you a disservice. Watch, enjoy, be disturbed and elated by the mystery, the tension. You won’t regret this choice.

Prince of Darkness (1987)prince-of-darknessThere are many John Carpenter flicks I absolutely love. None more than 1987’s Prince of Darkness. Because Carpenter merges the ideas of religion and science, making the concept of Satan into something far more ugly, sinister, threatening than just a name in a book meaning evil. The special effects, the score, Alice Cooper’s unsettling cameo, the creeping plot; everything adds up to a top notch bit of horror. Yet another JC gem!

Lady Vengeance (2005)lady-vengeanceChan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy is great, all around. One of my favourites is Lady Vengeance. It takes on the female perspective and also dives into a raw, disturbing story which culminates in the expected revenge we’ve seen from Park in his other films from the trilogy. Parts of the crimes involved are about as eerie as some of the disturbing bits in Oldboy, so buckle up.

Oldboy (2003)oldboyI remember hearing Quentin Tarantino rave about Oldboy after it was released, and he’s always been an inspiration to me as a writer/director hopeful. So I checked it out, fell in love. Sure, it is wildly disturbing particularly at the end. Something within that nastiness is riveting.
More than that the directorial choices of Chan-wook Park are so beautiful. No matter if he’s got his main character wielding a hammer and bashing people up, eating a live octopus, or learning about the world through television, Park makes every moment worth relishing in. Pure odd and wild delights to be had.

A Prophet (2009)a-prophetPrison films are a dime a dozen. Because of that there’s a wide variety of shitty ones. Just as many great ones, too. A recent amazing story set inside prison walls is A Prophet. When a young Arab man is sent to jail he has to do whatever it takes to survive, and after receiving an offer – either kill someone for one of the gangs, or the gang kills you – he ends up on a fast ride to the top of the food chain.
If you’re looking for a more realistic gangster movie, and one that takes place in jail, this is the ticket. Like parts of Scarface (the Arab’s feeling of being an outsider reminds me, a tiny bit, of Tony Montana’s struggle), Bad Boys (1983), and Animal Factory mixed together. But nothing’s lifted from any of the classics, nor its inspirations. A Prophet gives the goods, with flashes of absolute brilliance and violence in spades.

Altered States (1980)altered-statesWhatever Ken Russell does is, often, borderline genius and madness. Sometimes he falls off a bit. For the most part he’s a legendary director worth his weight in gold. The first time I saw Altered States was when I used to do drugs (been clean now as of this writing for almost 9 years), I took mushrooms and, boy… what a trip.
Later when I got away from all the drugs and I actually stopped drinking too (7 years sober), I revisited this Russell headtrip. Because I knew that there was something worth the effort. I watch it at least a couple times a year, finding new things to love. The heart of it never changes for me, and Paddy Chayefsky’s words beam like that first star in the night, never failing to catch me, grab hold. William Hurt is one of my favourite actors; here, he does amazing stuff, and in his first feature film no less. There’s nothing bad about this movie. Even in its zaniest scenes.

Caché (2005)cacheOn the list of my favourite directors, near the top sits Michael Haneke. He’s also a terrific writer to boot. Caché is my favourite of his, though that’s a hard choice either way. I sort of feel like Haneke is a less surreal version of David Lynch, and vice versa. They each deal in ideas that are hard to pin down, not necessarily easy to understand. And they make you think.
Caché takes on ideas of white guilt, colonialism, and inevitable vengeance. It deals with the stories people tell themselves, the narratives they create in order to live with the stories of their lives. All the actors are equally as wonderful in their respective roles, giving depth to their characters as an eerie tale precipitated by voyeurism wraps them up.
You want more?

Bug (2006)bugFriedkin takes a Tracy Letts screenplay, based on Letts’ own 1996 play, and transforms it into a psycho-thriller full of drama and horror alike. Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are unforgettable, as they go on a dual transformation fuelled by paranoia. What Friedkin does best is retain the aspects of the stage play which made it tense. He then amplifies everything using the medium of film, making the performances larger than life and the atmosphere thick with a terror not usually seen. Shannon, in particular, is part of that terror, bringing it on with every breath.

Shorts Cuts (1993)short-cutsLike a marriage made in Heaven – Altman and Raymond Carver. Perhaps best because of the director’s affinity for weaving around a multitude of characters. This fits so perfectly due to the fact Altman takes nine short stories and whittles them into a 3-hour film, encompassing 22 different characters altogether. Zipping through the various spaces of Los Angeles – changed from Carver’s Pacific Northwest settings – the legendary director makes every character interesting, worth watching. Some stories are more disturbing than others, yet they all hold both the sweet and the sour; something Carver was great at in his writing. This is one of the greatest films, not just my favourite. I genuinely feel this is one of the best ever made, certainly one of Altman’s best, too.

The White Ribbon (2009)the-white-ribbonAgain, a Haneke film appears on the list. I could’ve put a bunch on here, but needed to make room for other cinema I love. What’s so interesting about The White Ribbon is how Haneke explores the origins of evil, set in a German village just prior to World War I. He dives into an entirely universal way of seeing evil, through the lens of this strange place and its inhabitants. There’s a blanket of dread that Haneke lays atop every scene, never letting up. Even those not huge on black-and-white cinematography might find themselves drawn to the images on screen from one minute to the next.

Mysterious Skin (2004)mysterious-skinOne of the most difficult, if not THE most difficult films on this list to watch. Trust me though, if you can get through this Gregg Araki tale then it’s worth all the effort. I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving away parts of the plot. Just understand that, while disturbing during certain scenes, Mysterious Skin was filmed in the best way possible to protect the young actors. Plus, the story dissects the effects of child abuse on people as they start to age with a haunting, nuanced blade. Not many directors other than Araki could have made this film, definitely not as good or – believe it or not – as tender as him.

Kill List (2011)kill-listAnother of my favourite filmmakers, Ben Wheatley, turns up on this list a couple times. All his flicks are spectacular, in my eyes. Kill List takes the cake for me. Not just for its crime and horror mix n’ match story, but also for the way Wheatley slow burns through the plot. To the very last moment there’s a curiosity, a dark one, about where things are headed. And you’ll never guess where. That’s part of that dark excitement.

In the Bedroom (2001)in-the-bedroomThis Todd Field feature is powerful. So much potent drama involving families, the want for justice – or revenge – and all kinds of other themes. There’s a realistic feel to the people in this film, and the story is so organic that it flows in front of you like you’re hearing someone tell a story. Field is a fine director, and writer. Mainly he’s capable of taking us steady through a weaving set of lives which all make up the life of a small town, where everyone knows each other and what’s happening with everybody else. You won’t ever forget the climax or the resolution of In the Bedroom.

The Devils (1971)the-devilsYet again, Mr. Russell and his excellence returns to the list! This is one of those fabled films, blasphemous and wild in content, based on the true (dramatised, obviously) story of 17th century Roman Catholic priest Urbain Grandier, who was executed for involvement in witchcraft. Alongside Oliver Reed as Grandier is the ever perfect Vanessa Redgrave playing one of the mad nuns accusing the priest of having influenced them with black magic.
Put it this way – there’s a sequence called The Rape of the Christ, and if you can track down the uncut version of the film it’s a proper treat. A devilish good time.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)the-treasure-of-the-sierra-madreIf ever there were a story of greed, this one is king. John Huston is forever one of the greatest directors to have ever lived. There’s so much to love about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. From its wonderful cinematography courtesy of the magical Ted D. McCord (East of EdenThe Sound of Music; nominated for 3 Oscars), to Huston’s adaptation of B. Traven’s novel, to the fact Huston directed his father Walter alongside Humphrey Bogart.
Today, this movie still stands as relevant. I know that’s said a lot. Just take a cold, hard look at what the film is saying, how it navigates the brutality of greed in the name of the supposed American Dream. Nothing has really changed, only the medium of greed.

Possession (1981)possessionAndrzej Żuławski is one of my other favourite directors. Such an auteur, especially in his niche, which is somewhere between surreal horror and psychological horror, mixing in significant points of history now and then. Possession throws all those things into the bowl, though Żuławski goes into a Lovecraftian mode and takes a staggeringly frightening look at the nature of relationships in terms of how people – men – often wish to possess their mate.
But what happens when someone, or something, else possesses the person you want to possess? Dig in with me.

The Lords of Salem (2012)the-lords-of-salemNot everybody loves Rob Zombie. For me, he’s one of the more fun horror filmmakers post-2000 because he does the whole retro thing well. Not just that, he gets to the savagery and the nastiness many horror fans seem to want, and yet people are so fickle. I do understand, he isn’t for everybody.
The Lords of Salem is a different film out of his catalogue, though. This is a wild look at witchcraft, addiction and recovery, and the imagery is perhaps the best Zombie’s offered to date. This is different than his throwback pieces – still dig them, all the same – giving us another side of artistry than we’ve ever seen out of him. Weird, disturbing, horrific; a wonderful genre mix!

Inside (2007)inside Not many horrors should come with warnings. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside is one that ought to tell pregnant women: turn away! If you’re even squeamish about pregnancy, in any sort of sense, it’s likely best to watch through your fingers, or not watch at all.
When a crazy woman stalks a pregnant lady in her home, trying to break in, trying to kill her, one night becomes a fight for survival in the most visceral way. I won’t say anymore because you have to see it to believe the horror. Bustill and Maury are a fascinating team with a bunch of great titles to their names; they’re also the directors of the upcoming Leatherface many of us horror enthusiasts are dying to see.

I Am the Angel of Death: Pusher III (2005)i-am-the-angel-of-death-pusher-iiiWhile I love the other two films of Refn’s trilogy dearly, this third film might actually be my favourite, and my vote for the best of them. Zlatko Buric returns as the drug dealing gangster/hopeful chef Milo, likely the best performance of his career. There are a lot of things happening. However, watching Milo trying to balance a new sober life, his drug business, his daughter getting married (and him agreeing to cook for everyone) is a mesmerising experience. Refn keeps the gritty, realistic style of the first two movies and brings back characters we’ve seen before. The best of the film is Buric, as he allows a penetrating look into an ageing criminal whose guilt is catching up with him more everyday.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)monty-pythons-the-meaning-of-lifeEven some of Monty Python don’t think this movie was so great. Me? I fucking love it, every last segment, each second. There are too many funny characters to even gloss over in a paragraph. What I dig about this film is the scope: the meaning of life. Might’ve been a lofty goal. There’s something perfectly fitting, though. Watching the Pythons in all their glory navigating every aspect of our daily lives, including drips and drops of hilarious history, is breathtakingly funny. From “Every Sperm is Sacred” and the hymnal “Oh Lord Please Don’t Burn Us”, to John Cleese’s schoolteacher and his wife demonstrating sexual intercourse for the class, to Eric Idle’s “Penis Song” and the grotesque Mr. Creosote, every inch of The Meaning of Life is perfect to me.
Above all else, this Python flick contains my favourite Graham Chapman moment, as he rails to his wife (Idle in drag): “Look at them, bloody Catholics, filling the bloody world up with bloody people they cant afford to bloody feed.” After that his Protestant condom pride is enough to make me choke with laughter. Even before that when Michael Palin’s Catholic dad tells his many kids it’s “medical experiments for the lot of ya” I can’t get through it without a few chuckling tears.

The 400 Blows (1959)the-400-blowsFrançois Truffaut’s got a bunch of excellent films to watch. This one resonates with me because, although it was made in ’59, there are inescapable truths about youth. The 400 Blows takes a close look at how loneliness can become something else, when young people are left to their own devices they do learn things; just not all the right things. Still, watching Antoine struggle with figuring out independence is thrilling. As Sartre said: “Man is condemned to be free, because once thrown into the world he is responsible for everything he does.”

Ravenous (1999)ravenousThis Antonia Bird historical horror film is the stuff of dreams. The cast is outrageously great, the writing is so interesting you won’t want to miss a single moment. The production design, the costumes, the cinematography; all of it so well executed. On top of that is a uniquely odd score from Blur’s Damon Albarn and well versed composer Michael Nyman, you’ll never hear anything like it.
Also, Ravenous provides a unique look at manifest destiny, the desire to conquer, wrapped up inside a bloody cannibal story set not long after the Mexican-American War. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle shine in two vastly different roles which crash together, providing relentless suspense until the climactic and brutal final scenes.

Sightseers (2012)sightseersMr. Wheatley, a master of many genres. As opposed to the nihilistic (and awesome) Kill List, 2012’s Sightseers is a strange cross of drama, comedy, and very real horror. When an odd couple – Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) – decide to go caravaning for a few days in the country, things take an unexpected, homicidal twist. What starts as a vacation tumbles into a mess of bad timing and even worse decisions after Chris turns out to be quite different than who Tina knew before. But then again, Tina’s not exactly the woman he first met, either.
One of the darkest, funniest bits of comedy in the last decade or more. Wheatley knows how to hit the weirdest notes, no matter what genre he tackles. Check this out when you’re looking for something out of the way.

Festen (1998)festenThis Dogme film is my favourite of the bunch, if pressed to choose. It’s well conceived in the Dogme vision, touching on just about every base they hope to cover. Thomas Vinterberg (originally uncredited as per the Dogme manifesto) breaks through the uncomfortable exterior of a family with hidden secrets. The performance of all actors comes to make this an interesting – and tragic – experience, though it’s Ulrich Thomsen whose shine is brightest. He’s perfect, hauling you directly into his inner life to the point where even while the rest of his family questions his motives the audience feels firmly rooted in his perspective as truth.

Cruising (1980)cruisingThis is my favourite Friedkin film. That’s saying something, because he’s one of those classic masters of cinema in the director’s chair. Cruising is an incredibly intriguing film for a number of reasons. One thing I love is that, in the name of not exploiting the gay community, Friedkin got into a jockstrap and frequented the clubs instead of standing back like someone looking down on the BDSM culture of the story; in all fairness, he was later banned from a couple of the gay clubs, for whatever reason. Also, the screenplay is based on actual murders of gay men happening in the late ’70s. The production and release of the movie were both plagued by protests from the gay community. Personally, I don’t feel Friedkin ever meant anything in this work to feel anti-gay. Rather he wanted to make a movie concerning the gay community simply because of the murders, their impact on gay men, and so on. Either way it’s a twisty psycho-thriller, it’ll get its hook into you.

Halloween (1978)halloweenThe first appearance of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s horror classic is still to this day, and always will be, a horrifying creeper of a film. Nothing else to say. If you want more, I talk about it at length here.

Thief (1981)thiefMichael Mann’s debut feature Thief was an announcement of a passionate, talented, innovative filmmaker on the scene. He’s made a bunch of quality movies; at the top of his heap for me sits this one and Manhunter. In this James Caan-led flick, featuring Willie Nelson and Tuesday Weld, we get a realistic look at a criminal hoping for a bigger dream and a better life comes up against forces beyond his control. Like a microcosm of the elusive American Dream, Thief depicts what happens when the obsession of a criminal to find that last big score gets in the way of better sense.

Repulsion (1965)repulsionI don’t want to talk about Polanski, because that’ll require a whole other massive article. I can’t deny the power of a few of his films, Repulsion in particular. This is a hypnotic, haunting vision of what happens to a woman after an unnamed trauma in her past; or was there any? Until the end we’re never entirely sure, nor does the film provide us with any actual concrete answers, avoiding exposition at most points. What matters most is the imagery. The one above still passes through my mind ever so often, more than you might imagine. At the centre of the film’s powerful force is Catherine Deneuve in the lead role, taking us through a phantasmagoria of the pain in her mind.

Ichi the Killer (2001)ichi-the-killerTakashi Miike is a twisted man, whom I love dearly as a filmmaker. His adaptation of this manga title works me over, so much so I can’t watch it as much as other movies I dig a ton. That doesn’t change the fact it is a legendary piece of cinema. This is one of the most spot on manga adaptations you’ll find, simply for the fact it doesn’t shy away from painting the walls ridiculously with blood, nor does Miike shy from a bit of semen, either. Real stuff, too. Gross. Nevertheless this story is infinitely interesting and nasty.

Bad Education (2004)bad-educationPedro Almodóvar will go down in history as one of cinema’s best. No doubt in my mind he’s already attained such status. I could’ve chosen several different titles of his for my list – The Skin I Live InTalk to HerMatador, or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – but there’s a truly compelling story that Almodóvar tells in Bad Education from which I can never avert my eyes. A courageous central performance out of Gael García Bernal, an actor who’ll likewise be seen as a great from his generation, makes everything even better. Directed to perfection, Bernal acting circles, a screenplay to wow. Just an outright classic.

Black Christmas (1974)black-christmasI find many movies terrifying, and I’m glad I still do after seeing over 4,000 films – lots of them horror. Black Christmas is one that never fails to creep me out. The voice over the phone alone is the stuff of nightmares. A fantastic cast of women each goes up against the terror of an unseen killer. Nothing more I can say except dig into this vicious little slasher.

Dead Ringers (1988)dead-ringersCronenberg is the Canadian Jesus. Just kidding; Jesus isn’t real. But Cronenberg is, and he’s one of the best out of our country. The way he’s made body horror his own genre in a sense is a feat of unimaginable talent. Perhaps one of the eeriest of his works is Dead Ringers, loosely based on a story of identical twin doctor brothers who were found dead together in their apartment. It features Jeremy Irons, legend in his own right, as both brothers, next to Geneviève Bujold as the object of their creepy obsessions. This movie chills me and it’s not all the time I get genuinely unsettled; certain stories linger, this being one. Just like some of the characters, the audience will feel violated. This is Cronenberg’s intention.

A Bittersweet Life (2005)a-bittersweet-lifeJee-woon Kim is a stellar filmmaker, all around; he’s a powerhouse writer and director combo. This is his best film. Don’t get me wrong – I Saw the DevilA Tale of Two SistersThe Quiet Family, they’re all knockout cinema. I love them all.
A Bittersweet Life is a revenge story for the ages. Beautifully captured by Ji-yong Kim, the look will dazzle you. The characters are rich and they aren’t merely a bunch of people dropped into the plot for garnish. Best of all the climax and end are pure thrill. South Korea has plenty of talented filmmakers. You bet your ass Jee-woon Kim is in the lead of that pack.

The Woodsman (2004)the-woodsmanI enjoy difficult cinema. It doesn’t have to be glossy-looking, it doesn’t need to be artsy. It must, however, be well told from a storytelling perspective. One of the most difficult films I’ve ever seen, yet in a way one of the most rewarding, is 2004’s The Woodsman. Kevin Bacon plays the complicated lead as a man who once committed an unforgivable offence, though one for which he’s served time. Afterwards, facing life as a registered sex offender under watch of a crafty detective (played brilliantly by Mos Def in a career best role), Bacon’s character is faced with redemption or regression.
The way this sensitive material is handled, how it’s handled, is heartbreaking and important and yes, even beautiful. There’s no way to forgive people ultimately for certain acts. Problem being we’ve set up a series of institutions, from jails to hospitals (et cetera), in the name of not just housing criminals, but also rehabilitating them, we’ve already accepted the idea of giving them a second chance. This story digs into all sides of the issue at hand, from how a sex offender actively trying to change himself integrates with the local community and at his new job, to how even those who appear willing to accept them have a breaking point. A must see.

Spring (2014)springJustin Benson and Aaron Moorehead are fresh, fun new voices in the horror genre. I don’t want to say too much about Spring, for fear of ruining even the slightest bit of its surprise elements. It’s a great mix of romance and terror. There’s a weird fiction feel, like reading an awesome story somewhere between a romantic tale of adventure and an H.P. Lovecraft short. You won’t soon forget the wildest moments.

The Boxer (1997)the-boxerMy boy Daniel Day-Lewis is on this list a couple times. This is my top pick for his best role. A story of Belfast, the IRA, the human damage of the cause. Jim Sheridan is the right director for the material, too. There’s nothing fancy here, but the lens through which we see different sides of the IRA and the cause they say they’re fighting for is what makes it all worthwhile. Seeing the struggle of a man trying to live his life in spite of his former life nipping at his heels makes for an intense drama, especially with Day-Lewis bringing out the lead character’s soul with an electric performance.

Silkwood (1983)silkwoodI’m a big time Meryl Streep fan, so fuck the Donald.
But in all seriousness, Streep + classic director Mike Nichols + a screenplay from Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen = possibly the best biopic in the history of film. Honestly. Because it’s well made, well acted – including some Cher and Kurt Russell and Fred Ward and Craig T. Nelson and a dash of David Strathairn – and the steely focus is the tragic true tale of Karen Silkwood.
In a day and age where the conversation surrounding heroic whistleblowers is hotter than ever, with Snowden and Chelsea Manning and more, Silkwood requires a revisit.

Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989)elephantUp there with the likes of Ken Loach is Alan Clarke in dissecting socioeconomic spaces other filmmakers don’t bother to go. There are a few worthy entries in Clarke’s filmography. None better than Elephant.
On the surface this is a very basic short film, less than 40 minutes in length. You see a series of killings. Some short, quick like a shot in the night. Others are more intricate, more difficult. What Clarke does is present the ‘elephant in the room’ which were The Troubles and all the violence in Northern Ireland. The anonymity of the people in the film, characters killed without any development whatsoever, stand in for all the nameless who’ve died in the name of the cause. Another important bit of cinema, not to be missed or dismissed.

Sauna (2008)saunaThis Finnish historical horror is a total mindblower. Within a story about borders being drawn after a two decades long war between Russia and Sweden, director Antti-Jussi Annila weaves haunted imagery and creates an atmospheric period piece that defies explanation. There’s not just spooky horror, there is a slice of history, from the border drawing to early eyeglasses it’s fascinating to watch. Trust me, if you go in with only this little bit of knowledge it’ll prove a rewarding horror experience.

Left Bank (2008)left-bankI can’t say a lot without ruining this eccentric horror. Or is it a horror?
You’ll have to see for yourself. If you want to read a detailed review and be spoiled, head over here.

Beauty (2011)beautyRepressed sexuality is human dynamite. It is dangerous and even life threatening. This 2011 drama dissects the life of a man who exists entirely in the closet, unable or unwilling to let himself come out. He meets with other men in a group for secret sex. He’s a bit of a racist, too. He also lusts after a college-age young man, the son of a friend, which eventually tears open the repression under which he’s lived so long.
Beauty is are hard one to suffer. Make it through the film and there’s much to learn, in my opinion. The road may be hard, but the lessons understood are why the journey’s necessary.

Trainspotting (1996)trainspottingDanny Boyle’s a firecracker full of talent. The reason I love Trainspotting so much is due to the fact I was once addicted to drugs; not heroin, still hardcore addicted. I was also an alcoholic many years. Some of the depths of despair, between ridiculousness and dead seriousness, in the characters is recognisable when you’ve spent time around junkies, of any sort. The acting is impeccable, the story sobering. Irvine Welsh’s novel was tough to get through because of his use of Scottish slang. Once you break through that, similar to A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, it’s a treat. Boyle brings so much of the enjoyable qualities in the book to screen, and most of all makes the cast of often times pathetic, yet marvellous in their own sense, characters leap off the screen with the help of solid performances.

Alien (1979)alienAny horror and science fiction cinema fans who don’t love Ridley Scott’s Alien, to my mind, are utterly insane. I just don’t get it. There’s such terror, such quietly horrifying material that it makes no sense why people wouldn’t find it effective. There’s not much more I can say, other than that I could watch this at any given moment. It’s one of the first movies that made me fall in love with practical special effects work and set design because of its ingenuity in both costumes, the effects, and the many cool sets which Scott frames perfectly in this dark, gorgeous classic.

The Lobster (2016)the-lobsterA dark comedy and dystopian vision of human relationships in the all too near future. Yorgos Lanthimos, a peculiar director and writer. This is my favourite of his stuff, so far, though that may change when he and Colin Farrell get together again. This takes some work to understand fully, but if you let the weirdness flow and take it in one scene at a time, The Lobster proves rewarding.

The Godfather (1972)the-godfatherI love Coppola’s The Godfather for different reasons than most of the reviews I’ve ever seen. Mainly, it’s because Coppola and Mario Puzo wrote a perfect screenplay out of Puzo’s own remarkably mediocre novel. I read the book once, years ago, while out in the middle of the woods in a cabin, I remember it vividly. There’s a fair degree of nasty, lengthily described sex, which I found strange. But it’s just as a whole, the novel didn’t catch me, I finished it only to finish what I started. Coppola uses all his talent to make this an undisputed classic. Everything from performances to the locations to the music and cinematography is constructed with great care. And it shows, every inch of the way.

Prisoners (2013)prisonersAn intricately written mystery-thriller. I love Denis Villeneuve and here he proves how thrilling he can get, with a masterful script from Aaron Guzikowski. Hugh Jackman sears the screen like a burst of fire, actually scary at points. Jake Gyllenhaal transforms into Dt. Loki with every nuance his mind can manage. Viola Davis and Terrence Howard play a couple at the end of their rope, yet trying not to fall over the edge.
There’s too many things to love about this dark film. Prisoners, when first released, played on my Blu ray player about five times in one week.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Blu-ray ScreenshotOne of the most genuinely perfect crime-thrillers that will ever grace the screen. Ever. Also, a unique film in the ’90s with a heavily feminine perspective under the nasty bits of serial killer horror out of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter.
In the meantime, check out my review here, as well as a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry.

Se7en (1995)se7enYou’d be hard pressed to find another serial killer flick as horrific as David Fincher’s Se7en. The dark, moody cinematography. A brutal screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker. One surprising killer reveal, as well as two fabulous performances out of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. There’s a sick thrill of watching this movie, each time I see it. In an unnamed, rainy city, Pitt and Freeman’s two detectives are thrust into solving a series of murders which defy the imagination. I vote the ending as one of the top ten endings of any film in history.

Black Swan (2010)black-swanNatalie Portman gives a performance for the ages in this Darren Aronofsky work of magic. The film involves themes of womanhood, and the transition of a girl to a woman, sexual awakening, obsession. There are unforgettable images, such as the one above, and a lot more.
What Aronofsky does so well is get inside the mind, which he does in every one of his efforts, even Noah. He gets into the head of his characters, in the best of moments bringing the audience right inside with them. Black Swan is beautiful, terrifying, exasperating. It is many, many things, all of them of the highest excellence. Mix ballet, body horror, psychological horror, you’ve got a fraction of what this movie offers.

Taxi Driver (1976)taxi-driverI mean, what else can I say? Scorsese, baby.
My full review. Here’s a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry comparing Taxi Driver‘s depiction of PTSD and that of Alice Winocour’s Disorder. Tuck in!

Mystic River (2003)mystic-riverClint Eastwood has shit political opinions. His movies? Aside from that Chris Kyle masturbatory fantasy, they’re incredible. He’s a solid director. Mystic River, an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, is a subtly soul crushing drama and mystery. The story concerns a group of kids, one of whom was abducted at a young age by predators, who become adults and find their lives intersecting all over again.
This is like a Greek tragedy set in contemporary Boston. If you’ve not seen it, do yourself a favour. The trio of performances at the centre – Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon – all deserve the credit they’ve received, and more. So do the smaller performances from Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Chapmna, and Laurence Fishburne. Just a powerfully directed and acted movie, one I can watch a couple times a month and it never tires, every bit as potent as the first time I saw it.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)eyes-wide-shutNot everybody was sold on the final film of master auteur Stanley Kubrick. For me, it reached a strange place inside, one that partly touches on the emotion of love and also on the shadows of the dark nature within human beings. There’s all the recognisable traits of a Kubrick flick – massive tracking shots, visual symmetry, a proper use of fitting music. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise do well as the couple whose marital issues set off the plot’s events, proving they’ve each got the acting chops to carry such material. You may not get it right away, but trust me: there is a concrete plot, the story flows like a curious dream. Don’t get lost and you’ll figure it out. It’s not as elusive as some make it seem.

Amadeus (1984)amadeusMilos Forman has done great things. None better than Amadeus. Based on Peter Shaffer’s original stage play, this story about Mozart and supposed secret rival Antonio Salieri is riveting in its scope. You can never take your eyes off the screen. Even if manage to, the music will sweep you back. Tom Hulce does well bringing Mozart to the screen, as does F. Murray Abraham with his depiction of Salieri. If you don’t like classical music, this may not be your thing. Yet I feel there’s something universal in this story that’s capable of touching anybody. Give it a shot. If anything, the look and sounds and the production, it’s all enough to keep anybody interested.

The Game (1997)the-gameThis is my vote for Fincher’s best. It’ll drop you down the rabbit hole, pull you out again. Then toss you back down for another ride. Michael Douglas carries this with ease in a fantastic role, as a man who has everything is given a strange birthday present by his wayward brother (a solid Sean Penn performance) – an immersive experience, a game. Except you don’t ever know when it’s started, really. It begins out of nowhere. And Fincher will fuck your brain, too. Hard.

Terminator (1984)terminatorArnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are perfection here, as is Michael Biehn. This is one of those action classics that’s nowhere near overrated, and its many legions of fans, including myself, have made sure it won’t ever be underappreciated.
Terminator is such an exciting piece of sci-fi and action put together. Hamilton is so good, she’s really one of the anchors of it all, even if Arnold and Biehn are rushing around beside her. The effects, the writing, and every aspect puts other films of its kind to shame. Every time I put this on I almost forget how damn fine of a film James Cameron and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd gave us.
We’re not worthy!

Batman (1989)batmanBest Batman. Period.

Magnolia (1999)magnoliaPaul Thomas Anderson is one of his generation’s greats. He is fantastic. Again in Magnolia he channels the spirit of his mentor Robert Altman, weaving together a bunch of characters from all walks of life into a serendipitous, epic-feeling story crossing the San Fernando Valley.
The performances are the best part. Then there’s the editing and Anderson’s wonderfully exhilarating style that keeps ever segment of the film fresh. Drop in a strange though fitting musical moment, a sky of falling frogs, you’ve got yourself a gem from the tail end of the ’90s.

 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)close-encounters-of-the-third-kindI saw other Spielberg movies before seeing this one. Most of his work is just magical stuff. This is my favourite of his, simply because of my interest in life outside of Earth, the possibilities of what’s out there in the rest of the universe, et cetera. There’s a palpable feel of reality mixed into the science fiction, and there’s a humanist message to this idea of aliens coming to our planet, our connection with them. Many things about Close Encounters of the Third Kind to love, dearly.

U Turn (1997)u-turnI’m a huge fan of Oliver Stone. U Turn is weird, surreal, a different type of flick for him to handle. Stone churns out this weird bit of Americana with the help of a great screenplay by John Ridley, based on his own book. Along with a cast of colourful characters. Penn gives a paranoid performance to make his character feel as desperate as the situation into which he tumbles out in a desolate desert in a forgotten corner of the country.

Jackie Brown (1997)jackie-brownNot a typical pick for Tarantino’s best, this Elmore Leonard adaptation (from his novel Rum Punch) contains some of my favourite characters he’s brought to screen, namely Jackie herself (Pam Grier), Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), and Louis Gara (Robert De Niro). But everyone’s good.
The dialogue’s slick, the comedy is both outright hilarious and darkly comedic. A dash or two of violence. Most of all I love the twisting, turning plot that gets better and better right to the finish.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)the-blair-witch-projectIf you want my full opinion, click here.
This is a horror I’ll never forget. I got it on VHS soon as it was released, then watched it to death. Still scares the life out of me; the end does my head in bad.

Vertigo (1958)vertigoHitchcock was a master. Vertigo captures a strange mood and the atmosphere throughout is one of unease, as we navigate a retired detective’s newfound obsession with a woman he’s meant to watch, keeping an eye on her for the fearful husband believing his wife is maybe suicidal. What follows is another trip into the rabbit hole, like many of my favourite psychological thrillers. Not only is the story and its plot enough to grab you, Hitchcock provides a handful of visuals that are forever iconic, such as that monumental shot of the spiralling staircase; just one of a few.

Brazil (1985)brazilPythonite Terry Gilliam made a cracking dsytopian picture with Brazil – a movie I remember seeing late in the afternoon one day as a teenager, on Showcase here in Canada. I only caught the last half hour or so, which is strange enough, let alone when you have no context.
Years later I tracked it down from vague memories of strange Asian-faced masks, a coffin, a vast and dilapidated building with a stage at the center where a man is held in a modified dentist’s chair. I scooped up the Criterion Collection DVD, coming with its several alternate cuts and a backload of exciting features, commentary, so on.
This is a dark and brutally satirical look at a future in which bureaucracy has buried us all.
Here’s my review.

Menace II Society (1993)menace-ii-societyA terrifying look at the lives of young men growing up in the Watts projects, suffocated by their desire to be something and their lack of resources (not their capabilities). Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O-Dog (Larenz Tate) are two guys that get hauled into the drugs lifestyle, the type of living where every corner is a possible death sentence, and the next bullet is only a block away.
What fascinated me most is to see the lives of these men depicted in such a way that’s realistic, honest. Although it’s rough and disturbing more often than that, Menace II Society shows us the bittersweet side of Caine’s experience when he finally tries getting away from the gangs, the drugs, hoping to start a new life.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)the-life-aquatic-with-steve-zissouLots of good Wes Anderson movies, I pretty much enjoy his whole body of work.
But a special quality of comedy exists in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Every bit of Anderson’s stuff is quirky, with its own unique flare. This film has so much to offer. A central, hilarious Bill Murray performance, amongst a cast of equally funny characters played by a group of stellar actors from Cate Blanchett and Anjelica Huston to Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe, to name but a few.
Check this out, don’t read about it. Let its strangeness and its dry humour surprise you as Anderson takes you through another one of his microcosms of odd lives.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)THIS IS SPINAL TAPThe team of Rob Reiner as director, plus Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer is comedic gold standard. There are too many funny lines to even begin to mention.
Probably my personal choice for funniest scene is when Nigel (Guest) is taking about the sustain and he goes on and on about how good it is, just absolutely slays me.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)leaving-las-vegasSay whatever you will about Nicolas Cage, he gave a huge performance for Mike Figgis in this film. It’s a horribly depressing piece of work, yet there’s something liberating in it; definitely part of that is Cage’s unleashed spirit. He and Elisabeth Shue are good together. Head into this one with an open mind. Sure, it’s grim, but not every inch of it’s so dark. There is a gorgeous human heart driving Leaving Las Vegas.

Hellraiser (1987)hellraiserI’ve always read lots of Clive Barker, ever since I was a kid and mom let me read him + Stephen King. There are many great Barker short stories, novels, et cetera. Hellraiser is based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart, and he brings every last ounce of terror that his regular writing usually holds.
There are many things at play in this horror film, it isn’t only an excuse to show off blood and gore and depravity. No, it’s about the nature of sin, what it might mean in its true context. Regardless of anything else, Barker makes all that brutal horror exciting, weaving a mythology involving the dreaded Cenobites into 90-odd minutes of pure fear.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)cool-hand-lukeWhat we have here is a failure to communicate
Where does the human spirit lie? Where does freedom come from, and can it exist under any conditions? Paul Newman’s Luke takes authority to the limit in this undisputed classic, directed with grace by Stuart Rosenberg (BrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich Village). There’s heaps of iconic material in this single film. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, snatch up a copy of this prison film that’ll leave you smiling at the spirit of a rebel like ole Luke.

Network (1976)networkChayefsky’s prescient screenplay for Network might be the best in film history, in my humble opinion. Because even in ’76, when media was already working its claws into the American psyche and not in the right way, he knew as a writer what was happening, and that it would only get worse.
One scene later in the film featuring Ned Beatty – an extremely brief role which netted him a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination – sort of jabs at both sides, not only the one Chayefsky rails against most of the film. You’ll know what I mean when you see it (or remember it if you already have). Peter Finch won the first posthumous acting award at the Oscars for his role; so it should’ve been. He lights your mind on fire as the prophetic suicide case who transforms from a man at the end of his wits into a TV prophet on during prime time. And you can’t forget the subplot involving Faye Dunaway’s character venturing into business with rebel groups, exploiting their causes purely for ratings without care for them or what their causes end up becoming in the end.
So much going on that it’s amazing how coherent the entire thing plays. A pure classic in every sense of the word. Amazing filmmaking, Sidney Lumet in his finest hour.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)who-framed-roger-rabbitMy full review of this fun and thematic film can be found here.
Always one of the best. Better than it’s ever gotten credit for being, more heart and innovation than ten movies combined.

Manhunter (1986)manhunterThe visionary aesthetics of Mann, the acting power of William Petersen and Tom Noonan and Brian Cox and Joan Allen, the eeriness of Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon.
What else is there to want, to need? Mann does great work with this adaptation. Not my favourite of the Harris adaptations, though close. Certainly at the top of my list of Mann’s best. The fever dream qualities of certain sequences, the neon and the shadows. This is just plain wonderful ’80s cinema.
All my Thomas Harris-related stuff is located here.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)the-texas-chain-saw-massacreTobe Hooper will, for eternity, be a scary fucking dude.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, while having a title that isn’t spelled correctly, is the scariest thing I’ve ever witnessed. To this day, that’s not changed. I saw this for the first time about 18 years ago, as of this writing. I’ve seen tons and tons and tons of horror since, yet nothing will top Hooper’s nightmarish backcountry tale.
The first appearance of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) is a shock. Once the family takes Sally (Marilyn Burns) inside their decrepit backwoods, two-story house, the shock keeps working you over until a numbness creeps in. Never does the terror stop. And when it’s all over, like the sole remaining character of the massacre, you might even want to laugh the fear away, too.

Blue Ruin (2013)blue-ruinEver wanted to see a revenge movie starring a character who’s not well acquainted with guns, or violence, or revenge?
Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a story of vengeance at all costs. We don’t see the Hollywood version of a revenge thriller. Rather, Saulnier offers an alternative look at a situation we’ve seen time and time again. Like his latest film Green Room, Saulnier uses Blue Ruin to create a heavy load of tension, letting it unravel in a messy, savage way that’s as unexpected as it is satisfying.

The Piano Teacher (2001)the-piano-teacherNever satisfied unless the material he works with is challenging, Haneke takes his reluctant though willing viewer into the hidden masochistic proclivities of a piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) who lives a lonely life with her mother at home.
There’s no way to describe what happens in the film without ruining the plot. You may want to turn it off halfway through. If so, fight that instinct. Hupper is always a talent to watch, here she unleashes herself in an emotional tour-de-force that’ll leave your head spinning. When you get to the end there may also be a feeling of the film having really gone nowhere. Yet if you know Haneke, this is simply not the case. So dig in deep, listen, watch closely. There isn’t a big twist or reveal or hidden meaning here like some of Haneke’s work. There’s a penetrating character study of a woman on the fringe, yet one who seems to sit in the middle of normality; often the case with those who hold sexual impulses below the surface. And sometimes those things bubble up from under the surface in threatening ways.

Life of Brian (1979)monty-pythons-life-of-brianFor a review, jump over here.
Python are the perfect group of comedians to take on a searing religious satire. They not only make you laugh, they make fucking excellent points.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)the-devils-rejectsZombie’s latest, 31, is pure brutality, and I dig that. The Devil’s Rejects is both brutal and full of interesting characters; the latter is something his newest movie lacks at certain points.
What I love here is that House of 1,000 Corpses is continued on in a more gritty, even more realistic sense.
We see the Firefly family move out into the world after their ranch is raided. Now, Baby, Otis, and their father Captain Spaulding go on the road trying to evade the authorities. In their wake they leave depraved murder and mayhem, every step of the way.

Mommy (2014)mommyXavier Dolan is a talented young man, younger than myself and he has a string of quality cinema under his belt already. Mommy is another riveting, emotional piece of work, examining a mother-son relationship plagued with issues.
Best of all, Dolan’s empathetic storytelling combines with his use of a 1:1 aspect ratio, very rare particularly for a feature film – these elements make the movie a unique experience, as the ratio forces us into closer quarters with the characters, always feeling directly in their face even without a close-up shot. I continually love Dolan’s films and this one is his best yet.

This is England (2006)this-is-englandI always said it’s a god damn shame the shitty white nationalists appropriated the skinhead subculture for its own use, making skinheads forever, sadly, synonymous with the idea of neo-Nazis and other white hate groups.
This is England is a study of socioeconomic groups left behind, and how they then become susceptible to the influence of hatred. Stephen Graham is electrifying in his role as Combo, the fierce white nationalist who corrals a bunch of people into his dangerous ideology. He’s also a man not totally convinced in his own view of the world. When he takes a young boy under his wing, a devastating act will make him question whether or not it’s worth continuing with so much hate in his heart.
The story is actually focused mostly on the young boy, played by the charming and confident Thomas Turgoose. Yet Combo is a massive part of everything important that happens.

Little Children (2006)little-childrenHow often can we all fall in love with Kate Winslet? How many times can one develop a man crush on Patrick Wilson? Who the fuck knows.
What I do know is that Little Children, another great feat by director Todd Field, will make you feel a gamut of emotions, ranging from disgust to fear to love and everything else in between. An Atlman or Anderson-like cast of characters takes us through the walks of life of many in a small neighbourhood. Go in blind, drink in the heavy drama.
Also, Jackie Earle Haley’s greatest work. Until the end of time.

Solyaris (1972)solyarisAndrei Tarkovsky is another giant of cinema, an auteur. This is his most compelling work, for me personally. It’s the one I resonate with most. Because humanist science fiction is my favourite type of science fiction, stuff where at the heart of the story lies a veritable human element. Something that reaffirms our soul. There’s a haunting quality about Solyaris, one that isn’t easy to shake.

Memories of Murder (2003)memories-of-murderDark. Mysterious. Based on a real serial killer case. Thrilling. Even funny in specific scenes.
This Joon-ho Bong feature is one I’ll never forget, no matter how long I go between viewings. Memories of Murder is spooky in such a realistic manner, it takes you through one of the single most frustrating cases in the history of South Korea. The performances will keep you hooked, and not a single second of film is wasted. Style and substance combined.

Role Models (2008)role-modelsI’m still not totally sure what it is exactly that kills me about this comedy. Both Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott do make me laugh, same goes for Jane Lynch. Bobb’e J. Thompson, too. But there’s an inexplicable quality that I wish I knew how to articulate.
Role Models is so fun, to me, because unlike other comedies about men who are either immature or just plain terrible boyfriends, it doesn’t condescend to women. A lesser film might have a more stereotypical nagging woman in the main character’s life, which is nonsense. Here, you can wholly understand why a woman wouldn’t want Rudd’s character around. He’s a childish and unhappy man, the latter most of all. So from there, it really does become a redemption story, and the lead isn’t entirely unlikable like the same types in other similar flicks. We want to see him do better, not just for laughs but because of an emotional connect.
So I guess that’s why I love the movie. It has a genuine feeling, instead of hilarity for hilarity’s sake. That’s not always bad. Sometimes disingenuous. Role Models comes off as real, even at its most outrageous. Herein lies the fun.
I wanna rock and roll all niiight, and part of every day.”

In the Name of the Father (1993)in-the-name-of-the-fatherPerhaps because of my Irish roots I often gravitate towards dramas and thrillers in a big way when they involve the IRA and the Troubles, so on. Then again, injustice and inequality and any of these concepts are things I’m interested in.
But you put Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson, and Jim Sheridan together, a screenplay based on Gerry Conlon’s book Proved Innocent, this will compel anybody with sense to watch.
The performances, Day-Lewis above all, are so powerful that it will rock you. In terms of DDL, this is what I’d consider his second best performance – behind his best in The Boxer and just in front of what I consider his third best, Plainview in There Will Be Blood. See it, relish every moment of him and Postlethwaite as father and son. Revel in the strength of the human spirit, the bond of family, the conviction of one man to stay the course of truth at all costs.

You’re Next (2013)youre-nextI love Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett as a director-writer team. They’re interesting filmmakers together, bringing us new takes on genres with their fresh, inventive eyes. Everybody who likes slasher horror always wants something different. My feeling is, You’re Next took home invasion horror and turned the sub-genre on its head. Not that the twist isn’t foreseeable by those with the smarts. Not to say it’s the bloodiest thing you’ll ever see. Simply put, Wingard and Barrett give us good kills, dark comedy, fun characters and in particular one kick ass female lead to take us through to the vicious end.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)dead-mans-shoesThe most bleak revenge thriller ever conceived, this Shane Meadows-Paddy Considine collaboration hits all the right, if not horrifically dark notes. Without spoiling any of the plot, Dead Man’s Shoes takes you along as a man returns home from the army and plans on visiting those who’ve hurt someone close to him. After that, all bets are off. Blunt and realistic, Meadows haymakers the viewer until there’s nothing left to do but submit to the onslaught of raw, vengeful violence.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)midnight-cowboyIm walkinhere!”
Speaking of bleak, the story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight before descending into Republican madness) and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman showing early on that he’s a top notch character actor) in the big city is a heartbreaking venture. There’s a disturbing, repressed portion of Joe that lingers throughout the whole story. You can never escape it, just like Joe who runs anywhere and everywhere to try and do so. A movie so iconic that even Seinfeld parodied its final scene. While Jerry and Kramer make it funny, Joe and Ratso leave you with an empty, terrible feeling in your gut, as the ever elusive American Dream hovers just out of reach once more.

Sexy Beast (2000)sexy-beastJonathan Glazer’s 2000 crime film starring Ben Kinglsey and Ray Winstone is in a league all on its own. There are some dreamy scenes peppered in amongst the intensity of its many scenes featuring Kingsley’s gangster of savage proportions. Also featuring Ian McShane and Amanda Redman, Sexy Beast has all of the artsy qualities you might find in an indie flick, in addition to a solid story about criminals; some of whom hope for more in their lives, some of whom wallow in their bestial nature.

Vampyr (1932)vampyrCarl Th. Dreyer made several masterpieces, including The Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath. Ahead of those in my books is the fantastical, ghostly Vampyr. I love the use of light and shadow in old movies because it was less an artistic ideal, more of a way for filmmakers to show off their genius by manipulating the only elements they had at their disposal. Not to bash modern filmmakers who’ve had their choice of colour v. black-and-white for many, many years.
What Dreyer does with this classic piece of horror is create an atmospheric landscape of shadow which is like a waking nightmare. The Criterion Edition comes with the screenplay, as well as other great features. I recommend it for any film lovers, the transfer is fucking beautiful work. Makes Dreyer look even better, as all the expert directorial work he did shows up in high definition glory.
Note: I believe Criterion does good work most of all due to the fact they make old films more accessible for younger audiences, and of course the die hard film lovers. But they do a service to those who want to see these landmark films and can only come across bad copies that survived the years.

Marathon Man (1976)marathon-manJohn Schlesinger is a director whose career gave us a handful of wonderful movies. The best of those being, while in stiff competition, Marathon Man. Featuring Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier, even a bit of Roy Scheider, this is an acting clinic. It’s likewise an exercise in tension. Schlesinger knows how to really take you to the limit, and the excitement never actually lets up. To say much of the plot is to spoil your fun. Although it’s worth noting this has stolen diamonds, an ex-Nazi, a government agent gone rogue, Hoffman being a charming bastard, in combination with directing, editing, and writing of the highest calibre.

Synecdoche, New York (2008)synecdoche-new-yorkI can’t begin to explain anything about this movie for you. To see is to understand, even then you might not. Took me a couple viewings before I knew I really enjoyed the film, then a few more until I feel like I understood what director-writer Charlie Kaufman was aiming towards. Centred on a theatre director struggling with work, Philip Seymour Hoffman (rest his beautiful soul) gives one of his best performances as Kaufman weaves another strange world around him. Existential questions everywhere, the movie deals in themes of art v. life, the weight of loss, on top of many further ideas. And that’s the tip of the iceberg, honestly. A visual stunning and emotionally gripping bit of drama, garnished with dark comedy.

Silver Tongues (2011)silver-tonguesA pair of lovers escalate a series of thrill seeking games to a dangerous point. Beyond that description, my lips are sealed.
Find this film. Watch. Lee Tergesen and Enid Graham show up for life altering performances. A relatively unknown drama, this one caught me off guard. The chemistry between the two leads is unreal, to the point you’ll want more after the credits roll. As far as finales go, Silver Tongues left me in a state of euphoria and simultaneously I felt walloped by the heaviness of what I’d just witnessed. You won’t see this one coming, neither first nor last.

Soft for Digging (2001)soft-for-diggingJ.T. Petty has since gone on to other things, bigger films. It’s his 2001 feature Soft for Digging which will never stray far from my darkest thoughts. A simple plot of a man looking for his cat in the woods and witnessing a murder spirals into something out of this world. The story is unique, which I love. The visuals of Petty’s spooky little plot are imprinted on my brain. Regardless of how you feel about the screenplay, those images are likely to burrow deep and settle in your unconscious, waiting to pop up again one day when you least expect. It stays with you, like the main character’s own experience.

Clean, Shaven (1993)clean-shavenDepictions of mental illness are almost always flawed. I can’t say the same for those in the films of Lodge H. Kerrigan. This is a disturbing, genuine, deep look at a young man with schizophrenia, whose struggle to get his daughter back from the family by whom she was adopted is tough to endure.
Kerrigan never condescends, he never tries to make his main character look bad. He simply shows the depths of the mental affliction through which he suffers. Peter Greene cements himself as a great actor, despite his many roles he never got as big as he should have; as evidenced by his career making performance in Clean, Shaven. If it weren’t for him, and Kerrigan’s tact, this might feel like an exploitative story. It isn’t, not even close. You’ll feel how real it gets almost immediately.

A Horrible Way to Die (2010)a-horrible-way-to-dieI love some films people actively hate. One of which is the Wingard-Barrett serial killer flick, A Horrible Way to Die. A frequent collaborator actor A.J. Bowen stars as the madman, and multi-talented Amy Seimetz as his ex-wife trying to move on after he’s put in prison.
This might feel like a typical movie, or just another slice and dice effort. The handheld camerawork, the inventive story with its jaw dropping twist, the chilling ease with which Bowen’s killer moves through the world; these are bits of the film’s greatness. Lots will talk shit about this one. That’s fine. Doesn’t change its ass kicking qualities. A slow burning, violent, human piece of serial killer horror.

Down to the Bone (2004)down-to-the-boneYou must see this Vera Farmiga-led, Debra Granki-directed story of a woman on the edge. I don’t want to reveal any more. This is a tale of woe, though one not totally devoid of hope. Farmiga shines in a role that isn’t easy, not because it’s so tough but because it’s a character we’ve seen so many times before. She brings out the best of the screenplay, allowing us a window into a woman juggling the weight of life all on her shoulders, trying to get by and barely able. Testament to the power of humans, both to overcome and to bury themselves in pain.

Race with the Devil (1975)race-with-the-devilSatanists. An RV attacked by a cult. Warren Oates and Peter Fonda. Guns.
Need more? If so, you need to look elsewhere. Race with the Devil is a thrilling slice of action mixed with horror. Enjoy!

A Bay of Blood (1971)a-bay-of-bloodMario Bava, one of the masters of gorgeously disturbing horror. This 1971 mystery is the precursor to slashers like Friday the 13th and its sequels, as well as other movies of its type. The plot concerns an heiress killed by her husband, devolving into a murderous rampage as people try to get their hands on the inheritance left behind for themselves. A shocking, nasty, glorious horror classic that won’t soon lose its impact, if ever.

The Selfish Giant (2013)the-selfish-giantInspired by the Oscar Wilde story of the same name, The Selfish Giant is a look at two boys who want to make money in their rural, working class little town, so they get involved with a criminal and local scrap dealer.
I don’t want to spoil the plot. This is directed with amazing depth, and the tragedy which eventually boils over feels like something you’d easily see in a small place. Also, you’ll revel in the performances of the young kids, as they prove you don’t have to be an adult or even a young adult to wow with a soul baring human performance.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)big-bad-wolvesTo the last minute, you’ll stay wondering: is this man evil?
That is all. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Revenge has never been so intriguing or darkly funny as in this gem out of Israel, another Tarantino recommendation I’m glad I took seriously.

Angst (1983)angstThis 1983 shocker, based on real life killer Werner Kniesek, is viscerally powerful, if not one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made. Hands down. Inside the gore and the depraved murder are impressive use of film techniques, inventive camerawork (from Academy Award winner Zbigniew Rybczyński). You literally go inside the headspace of the horrific bastard you follow through a couple days of carnage.
Want more? An in-depth review with spoilers, here for your (dis)pleasure.

Rolling Thunder (1977)rolling-thunderI’d see anything if Paul Schrader’s name is on it. Considering his recent Dog Eat Dog and his atrocious Bret Easton Ellis-penned The Canyons, sometimes it’s not great. Despite a couple misfires there’s a compelling aspect to Schrader, he always gets to the dark side of humanity.
1977’s Rolling Thunder was written by Schrader, directed by John Flynn (The OutfitBrainscan), starring a slick William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones in one of his first few film roles. A unique war story come home, as Devane’s Major Charles Rane and his family are assaulted, robbed one evening. Afterwards his wife and son are dead. His hand mangled after being stuffed into the garbage disposal. Major Rane recruits his army buddy Johnny Vohden (Jones), and they head off to find some vengeance.
A nasty, brutish piece of exploitation cinema that’s not simply a bunch of violence, it has plenty to say.

Cure (1997)cureUnrelated to the other fascinating director of the same name, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a special talent. One of his more recent films, Creepy, was solid. His 2001 horror-science fiction hybrid Kairo eventually got an American remake when the trend got big (original is definitely better). Point being, Kurosawa has several great movies.
Cure has haunted me for years. I saw it in 2003 while at film school. Ever since I’ve had several scenes stuck in my mind, little bits of the dialogue. This is a favourite of mine, yes, but I’d consider it objectively one of the best films of any I’ve seen. The pacing, the suspense, its unnerving story about a series of murders – Xs carved into the victims’ skin, though the killer different every time; there’s nothing about this film that disappoints. The way Kurosawa lets us see everything, watching from a distance as the events unfold, is fascinating to me.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)the-killing-of-a-chinese-bookieThere’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that John Cassavetes shaped independent film. He was keen at finding the humanity in every situation, not just the grandiose, Hollywood-type stuff that gets pumped out of studios constantly (not saying all that’s bad, at all). He looked into the everyday lives of men and women, as if they were people he knew personally.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie means a lot of things. To Cassavetes it was an allegory for his own struggle as an artist. To me, it’s a thrilling, artistic bit of crime cinema about a man caught between a rock and a hard place.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)lets-scare-jessica-to-deathI say it so much, this time I’m sticking right to it: not ruining anything.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a haunting movie in the eeriest sense of the word. A slow burning bit of Gothic horror for which I am extremely grateful.

Affliction (1997)afflictionSchrader’s back! Writing and directing, as he should.
His screenplay is based on a Russell Banks novel, also the author of The Sweet Hereafter (an amazing film). Affliction is some of the best from the ’90s. It’s a gritty rural story of a sheriff in New Hampshire whose demons haunt him, just as his abusive father does in his still living never ending rage. One thing piles on top of another, and another, and another, until the poor sheriff is left with not many options left except either go insane or keep going against the grain.

Black Sunday (1960)black-sundayIf you need Gothic horror, or maybe you just want to see one of the best horror films ever made, Mario Bava has you covered. Black Sunday plays like a story off the page, something you’d find in a dusty old tome at the library, in the creepy part.
See it. I won’t say a word. Bava’s film is perfect.

Rome, Open City (1945)Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, Italy 1945, 100 mins)There’s a special quality to this Roberto Rossellini film. Filmed in a still beaten up Rome, a year after Allies ran the Nazis out, Rossellini used this to make one of the early and greatest examples of neorealist cinema.
Rome, Open City isn’t what you’d expect, or maybe it is at times. This is another film ending that won’t ever be forgotten. The neorealism focusing on the fear of the Roman people is compounded by the final moments. A powerful movie.

The Swimmer (1968)the-swimmerFrank Perry’s adaptation of the short story by John Cheever, starring Burt Lancaster (my favourite of his performances) as Ned Merrill is a classic American film. On the surface, you’d think there’s no way to turn a story this short, though a great one at that, into 95 minute film. But the symbolism of Cheever turns into a surreal journey for Ned in the medium of film. What was already a spectacular story transforms into a cinematic tale of decadence and decay in the upper classes of American society.
I did an extensive piece on the film for Film Inquiry here.

13 Tzameti (2005)13-tzametiBeneath the threatening exterior of 13 Tzameti is a parable, about how the lower class and immigrants and those less fortunate are pushed to insane extremes in order to survive, how the promise of a fortune at any costs can lure vulnerable people into horrible situations. Or, is it just a story about a depraved game promising a huge payout?
You decide. Let me know.

Noroi: The Curse (2005)noroi-the-curseThis has my vote for best found footage horror. Scares the life out of me, every damn time.
Crossing together the lives of several people, each haunted in their own way by a malevolent spirit, a documentary filmmaker tracks down a woman supposedly cursed by a Japanese demon. And what he finds is far more horrific than anything he anticipated.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)bad-day-at-black-rockJohn Sturges’ 1955 crime-mystery was important upon release, important again in today’s political landscape 2017 and beyond. A man with one hand arrives in Black Rock, immediately getting the cold shoulder from the various locals, all of whom have something to hide. When the one-handed man makes clear he’s looking for a friend, a Japanese-American farmer, the locals are even more intent on icing him out. Whether with words or by force. This movie’s honestly perfect, and Spencer Tracy in the lead role (supported by the likes of Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) gives us a classic tough guy American performance.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)assault-on-precinct-13At first, John Carpenter’s lean action-crime-thriller combo feels like it has a tenuous plot that could fall apart. But then the master director-writer drenches the film in tension, making each character’s move possibly their last. Even better this feels like an old school Western, something which Carpenter intended, as his big inspiration was 1959’s Rio Bravo. The score, the cinematography and Carpenter’s direction, the stellar cast, they’ll impress you.

In a Better World (2010)in-a-better-worldSusanne Bier’s In a Better World stunned me the first time. The story deals with forgiveness, revenge, different worlds colliding. Its themes are powerful. Through a series of events the lives of two Danish families intertwine, and within the bonds of a new friendship forms the spectre of danger and violence.
Don’t read too much about this one. A small description like this is best. Go into it head on and experience this drama for its raw force.

Happiness (1998)happinessDon’t get it twisted – Todd Solondz isn’t out to make anybody happy with this one, despite its title. More so he uses the title as a way to indicate the deeply meaningless existential search for some elusive quality called happiness. Because most of these characters, almost every one of them, isn’t looking for it in the right places.
Happiness will disturb you. If not, you’ve probably got a head in your basement. And there’s no actual horror in this one. All drama; an intense, vexing, even sinister bunch of shit. The men portrayed by Dylan Baker and Philip Seymour Hoffman are two of the top ten worst people of all time in film. They’re rotten to the core, though in the way they could be living right next door in the next house, the next apartment, wherever. That’s one of the really disturbing bits to me. The normality Solondz injects into the depraved actions of his cast of characters.

The Fog (1980)the-fogAnother Carpenter flick I absolutely love. An American ghost story, if there ever were one to love!
The writing is so stellar, with Carpenter and Debra Hill conjuring up a neat little story that you could tell around the fire; ironic, considering the opening moments. Plus you’ve got Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh… what more could you ever dream of? I really can’t spoil even a drop of the story. My favourite thing is that it’s absolute American Gothic. If Carpenter and Hill put this in a book only as a novel, I think I’d still dig it as much as I do on film. One of those stories that reminds you of great, creepy literature.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)the-sword-in-the-stoneI do love animated films, they’re just not my favourite type to watch. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some I don’t absolutely die for, such as Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. I always loved it, but then I came to enjoy it more while doing my degree. I took two courses required for my Honours that were in Old English and Middle English. In both of them were a lot of works inspired by Arthurian legend. So after that my respect and admiration for this Disney flick grew, intensely. Not that it’s filled with all these academic references, that’d be stupid. After reading about Arthur so much, this movie hits the spot with a combination of what I’ve read recently and enjoyed, and the bits of why I loved it as a kid.
From Merlin to Archimedes, to the wild Madam Mim sequence, there’s something to remember out of every scene. I couldn’t even begin to choose a favourite moment.

Once Were Warriors (1994)once-were-warriorsAlan Duff’s novel of the same name dealt with domestic violence in New Zealand. His characters are a Māori family plagued by issues of alcoholism and poverty, leading to the violence.
Part of why I’m drawn to this movie is because I live in Newfoundland, a small island on the far East Coast of Canada. I live in city, though come from a smaller town where it was a mix of urban and rural. Though the family are Māori and they have their own particular complexities, their struggle reminds me of people I’ve known, families I grew up with and near. So despite its regional feel, compounded by Duff’s original material exploring issues specific to New Zealand, there’s also a universality in the story with which many can identify. A heartbreaking, tragic. But there’s a little hope, just a glimmer.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)mr-sardonicusHuman greed is a theme explored in literature since time immemorial. William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus uses greed as a vessel for this modern Gothic horror. The whole thing is macabre. Darkly thrilling. Original Ray Russell story “Sardonicus” was published in Playboy Magazine, then Castle snatched up the rights and had Russell do the screenplay, which is part of what makes the story so damn fine. A favourite horror I watch near Halloween. You should, too!

The White Sound (2001)the-white-soundNot many movies express the true feeling of taking drugs, nor do many get depictions of mental illness correct. Daniel Brühl stars in Hans Weingartner’s The White Sound as a young man named Lukas who takes a horrible trip on magic mushrooms. So intense that perhaps Lukas might never make it back from where he’s headed.
Paranoid schizophrenia is often depicted in violent ways, both through film and other media like certain biased news channels who aren’t sensitive to the mentally ill, and so on. What Weingartner does is produce an experience which takes us into the head of a man suffering from the inability of his brain to filter the world, precipitated by the mushroom high. A scary little film.

Vengeance is Mine (1979)vengeance-is-mineThis is a cold, sterile look at the crimes of Akira Nishiguchi (renamed for the film). The events of the film come to us through flashbacks, as we piece together the life of this man who is now in police custody. Even a dose of dark humour along the way. I can’t say much more, you need to get hold of the Criterion Edition. Perfection, all the way. What’s most interesting, above the style and feel of the film, is the dissection of this serial killing thief and his motivations, or lack thereof. A terrifying and provocative story.

Casino (1995)casinoI love just about every Scorsese film. He’s a master at work every time he works his magic.
Casino‘s my personal favourite. I know I’m in the minority, most likely. But can you deny the lure? We begin in media res with a shocking act of sabotage and violence, then we work back through the story as Scorsese takes us into the rise of Las Vegas with De Niro playing Ace Rothstein, based on Frank Rosenthal. There’s intrigue, betrayal, murder, brutality. There’s Joe Pesci stabbing a guy in his neck with a pen. There’s Joe Pesci squashing a guy’s head in a vice. Don’t understand how anybody couldn’t love this Vegas gangster picture. A crime classic.

The Breakfast Club (1985)the-breakfast-clubReleased the year I was born, this is such a great John Hughes movie. Resonates with me, and y’know, half of the world, because it’s the ultimate anthem for losers and at the same time for those in the popular crowd who never actually like they belonged.
Whenever the last scene plays I feel my heart start skipping beats. Always emotional when I watch, maybe more so as I get older. There’s a little bit of Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald in all of us.

Boogie Nights (1997)boogie-nightsThe opening sequence of PTA’s Boogie Nights is proof positive he’s the cinematic son of Altman. From there, we dive into a sordid tale out of the L.A. porn scene in the ’70s and ’80s. Starring a prosthetic-cocked Mark Wahlberg and a maybe never better Burt Reynolds, a knockout Julianne Moore performance to boot – and a host of awesome supporting roles from Don Cheadle and William H. Macy and more – this is just a mesmerising drama. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll be grossed out. Just as I’d imagine many did during these days in the porn industry.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)brokeback-mountainI can’t speak for how the gay community feels about this film. For me as a straight man, Brokeback Mountain changed my perspective, even as someone who’s always accepted gay men and never had a problem (because why would I?). But I remember loving this movie, seeing it in theatre, then buying it immediately on DVD. Friends – men, insecure with their own sexuality no doubt – made fun of me when they’d see it in my collection. A few woman, too. They’d ask “Why do you own this?” and I’d reply: “It’s a great fucking movie.”
Ang Lee is excellent. What he does with this beautiful yet bittersweet love story is so wonderful, and devastating, as well. There’s nothing else to say. Ledger and Gyllenhaal are both tremendous, as are Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway in their roles. Powerful and timeless cinema.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)the-neverending-storyThis is like a dream that never fades. Wolfgang Petersen has done such great stuff, especially his powerhouse Das Boot. For me, The NeverEnding Story makes me feel the feelings I did during childhood, the sort you can only vaguely remember. The way you felt before responsibilities and the state of the world bore down on your psyche, when all you had to worry about was a bit of school and your imagination. Alongside little Bastian Balthazar Bux, avid reader, we engage in a tale that’s prophetic in way, but one that mostly whisks you into fantasy where you can take control, like Bastian, and help change the world.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)dr-strangeloveBlacker than burned toast. The only description fitting for this dark political satire.
With characters named President of the United States Merkin Muffley, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, General Buck Turgidson, Colonel Bat Guano, Lt. Lothar Zogg, it’s hard not to see the utter hilariousness. At the very same time it’s about the possibility of all-out, accidental, nuclear war between America and Russia. Perfect Cold War comedy.
If you’ve never seen this Kubrick gem, get to work. The funniest film ever made.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)the-wizard-of-ozFeel the excitement and enjoy!
Great songs, even better performances. The whole production is pure magic.

Philadelphia (1993)philadelphiaGetting his break like many others in the industry from Roger Corman, Jonathan Demme made several masterpieces. One of which is Philadelphia, telling an important story about HIV/AIDS and the discrimination against gay men with the disease which persisted for so long, no doubt still does in many circles sadly.
Tom Hanks does perfect work, but don’t forget Denzel Washington – he plays an equally tough role that cannot be discounted. They’re magnificent, each presenting some of the many issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in the everyday lives of regular people.

Natural Born Killers (1994)natural-born-killersLong live Mickey and Mallory! Two depraved and motivated serial killers, each with their own troubles. Oliver Stone made such a damning comment about the state of media and celebrity in age where true crime was (and still is today, more so) exploited by any outlet with a voice, big or small. What we get is a vicious, macabre tale of Mickey and Mallory tearing through America down the highway, stopping here and there to kill, eat, fuck. Along for the ride later is a sleazy TV host willing to do anything to get a good story. Little does he know where that will lead him this time.
This is one wild ride. So get ready.

Being John Malkovich (1999)being-john-malkovichAnother film exploring the concept of celebrity, as well as our worship of those who attain such status, is the Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman collaboration Being John Malkovich. This is up there with the best, most innovative films in history. Such a strange movie in many ways and at the same time it is pure genius. Catherine Keener gives a fantastic performance, as do the others, but she’s just a real hit. And the sequence where Malkovich goes inside his own head is a psyche out, entirely surreal, such an accomplished bit of filmmaking. The whole thing is like having your favourite meal, it hits the spot every time.

Pinocchio (1940)pinocchioThe second animated feature film by Disney after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A whopping bit of animation, too. Gorgeous drawing. Story comes from an Italian children’s book. Groundbreaking movie all around, most of all in terms of the artistry. Light and shadow here is used as well as a live action bit of cinema.
One section stuck with me from when I was a kid – Pleasure Island. It frightened the shit out of me. Today when I watch it’s still an unsettling portion to an animated adventure. Poor Pinocchio. Just wants to be real, man.

North by Northwest (1959)north-by-northwestOpening titles may never be topped, credits to Saul Bass. Bernard Herrmann gives us a load of wonderful compositions to make up a classic score. And of course, master of the thriller Alfred Hitchcock takes us for a loop. There are too many scenes that WOW to get anything done here, so maybe if you want share your own with me in the comments!
Is this Hitchcock’s most exciting film? Is it his best? Which scene gets your adrenaline flowing?

Sling Blade (1996)sling-bladeWritten and directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, a movie that makes me weep. Also, a rural drama that’s actually got one of the most villainous characters ever in its workings, a.k.a Dwight Yoakam. There’s a lot to love about this little story. John Ritter plays an atypical Southern man to great effect. Natalie Canerday gives a great performance as a woman in the best situation she can muster, and you can’t ever forget young Lucas Black as the kid befriend by Thornton’s Karl Childers.
You’ll be hard pressed to get better drama in the ’90s, a feat by Thornton to do such good work from the page to the screen and behind the camera.

Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)boratThe genius of Sacha Baron Cohen lies in the way he exposes the bias and ignorance (and racism in this case) of others is by satirising, but in the way he looks to others as if he’s borderline being offensive. When his dressing up and acting as Borat Sagdiyev is actually a mask in order to get under the skin of others, helping to bring out their inner feelings about foreigners and foreign ideals. And like many of the greatest, Cohen borders on nastiness, outright riotous jokes, and gallows humour.
Not sure if anything’s funnier than Borat doing Driver’s Ed. Too, too ridiculous and perfect.

Battle Royale (2000)battle-royaleThis film has more guts than 20 other horror-thrillers combined.
When Japan becomes a nightmare, the youth overrunning the adults with chaos and disorder, the government implements the BR Program, where students from school are taken to an island then left to fight to the death. The last remaining young person is then reintegrated into society. Hugely controversial because of its sensitive subject matter. I’d imagine in America it was a bit sensitive, too; only a year after the Columbine High School massacre. But this is a dystopian vision of the near future, when class isn’t a big issue anymore, only age. It’s a unique vision based on the 1999 novel of the same name. If you’ve not seen it, snatch up a copy. This is exciting, nasty, brutal. Everything a horror fan wants.

Elena (2011)elenaI love films which explore socioeconomic situations, whether in my own country (Canada) or abroad. This 2011 Russian drama Elena follows the titular lead character as she navigates her own personal Hell. Elena, a woman from a working class background, marries a man she met while working as a nurse in a hospital, Vladimir; he is a rich businessman. Problems surface when Elena wants to help her son from a previous marriage to put his boy through school, so that he doesn’t have to go into the military. But Vladimir will not loosen the purse strings, neither for Elena’s family nor her even after he passes.
This story opens up issues about modern Russia, as well as its treatment of women.

Mother of George (2013)mother-of-georgeWe can’t just have diversity in casting, behind the camera, et cetera. What we need is diversity in stories. That conversation needs to be made even bigger, evidently.
Mother of George blew me away because it takes the audience inside the lives of Nigerian-Americans in Brooklyn. We’re brought into their cultures, traditions, the way they live with their families. And out of that comes a cultural problem many of us white people might not understand, or have ever known about. I won’t spoil a second, it’s worth going in knowing only the basics.

Lost Highway (1997)lost-highwayMany David Lynch films entice me. All of them, really. None of them so penetrating and scary as this headtrip. What starts as something like a paranoid thriller crossed with a story of mad jealousy eventually morphs into a psychotic journey across space and time. Is the man who goes to jail and wakes up another person still the same man? Or is it all a way of dissociating from reality? Or is it something more sinister?

Trouble Every Day (2001)trouble-every-dayClaire Denis. Vincent Gallo. Béatrice Dalle.
Tindersticks.
Love. Horror. Sexual cannibalism.

Van Diemen’s Land (2009)van-diemens-landStory of the infamous Irish convict Alexander Pearce, filmed with gorgeous cinematography in the wilds of Australia. A dark look at what happened when Pearce and other convicts at the penal settlement in Van Diemen’s Land escape into the untamed bush in Tasmania. What followed is a gruesome tale of man v. wilderness, in which man – or one man – loses his mind entirely. This is a bit of history we haven’t seen much on film. Glad to see such an exciting, grim retelling of the well-known Tasmanian story.

Images (1972)imagesThe intersection of Robert Altman and the psychological horror sub-genre is what makes up my dreams!
Susannah York stars as a children’s author who has mental troubles, undergoing a horrifying experience while staying in a vacation home far out in the country. She suffers from mysterious apparitions, which beg the question: what is and isn’t real? The whole film will have you reeling, right to the shocking finale. York carries everything so perfectly, as Altman does his usual dance. Not a typical film of his, yet there are landmarks of his style. What we get is an eerie spiral towards insanity where we’re never sure what’s happening and what is a figment of her excitable imagination.

Homicide (1991)homicideThere’s a reason I’ll always love Joe Mantegna and David Mamet’s Homicide from 1991.
Mamet has a body of work that could make even accomplished writers weep with shame, from the stage to the screen he’s undeniably a master of his craft, both as a director and a writer. This one is different. Wedged in between the crime and the drama which works as the catalyst for everything else is a biting take on anti-Semitism and other issues surrounding Jewish people in America. Best is the struggle of Mantegna’s cop character, not quite fitting in at work and simultaneously not quite fitting in with his Jewish people. Unique perspective for a crime movie.
Again, too much would ruin the fun. You get to see Mantegna, William H. Macy, Ving Rhames. In particular it’s Mantegna, his character stuck between duty and faith, who impresses. This isn’t just a favourite of mine, it’s a ’90s classic which somehow gets overlooked too often. Don’t make that mistake, and definitely not if you dig Mamet.

Revanche (2008)revancheThis 2008 Austrian thriller gives its all in weaving a story through several characters, as we witness the various sides of revenge – from the side of the one seeking vengeance, and from the side of the one who caused such a need. The beauty of the film’s look is juxtaposed against its human cruelty and ugliness. You don’t need to hear another word.

The Last Wave (1977)the-last-wavePeter Weir: fucking magician.
The Last Wave masquerades for a long while as a straight up piece of cinema, one that’s full of drama and mystery to the brim. During the lead up to what the Aboriginals of Australia believe will be a devastating storm of cosmological influence, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) must defend four men in the case of a suspicious death, an Aboriginal man. Soon, Burton unearths in himself the belief that the storm coming is indeed catastrophic, and he also starts having prophetic, disturbing dreams.
You’ll never, for sure, what happens. Weir leaves us in the last frames with a decision for ourselves.
Is the storm real, is it the coming apocalypse? Or maybe it’s all inside Burton’s head after being wrapped up tight in his own madness?

Feed (2005)feedPicture enough?
This is a uniquely disturbing bit of horror. Find it. Hate it, or love it. But you’ll never see anything else even close to its strangeness.

Los sin nombre (1999)los-sin-nombreI can’t get more creeped out than Los sin nombre (English title: The Nameless). A whole mix of horror, history, psychology, and Gothic Literature. Based on a novel by Ramsey Campbell, this early Jaume Balagueró feature chills with each scene, every revealed piece of plot. Enough creeping moments to make anybody shudder. And once the old smiling man turns up? Forget about it. New pair of shorts, please.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a happy ending of any kind, don’t look here. Nothing but a horrific and depressing conclusion. So fitting for the material.

 Keane (2004)keaneLots of people came to love Damian Lewis for his performance in the grotesquely racist series Homeland. He’s much better in Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane.
Again, the director-writer focuses his lens on the topic of mental illness and its struggle. Never are we sure if what he claims is real, or if it’s a product of his schizophrenia, with which he battles daily and fiercely.
William Keane (Lewis) has lost his daughter at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Except we can’t tell if he really has a daughter. And is his interest in little girls something else? These questions wrack your brain while witnessing the near total breakdown of William as he searches for the daughter he knows he’s lost.

Surveillance (2008)surveillanceJennifer Lynch followed sideways in her father’s footsteps, making her own brand of weird movies. Most of deliciously macabre.
Surveillance is a twisty little slice of crime and horror put together. When two serial killers terrorise their way along a highway, through various towns, the lives of a bunch of travellers. The cast of characters is spectacular. Although it’s Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman who steal the show in their roles as two FBI Agents who come into town after a police officer is killed on the side of the road with some tourists.
You may see some of it coming. Maybe. I didn’t, and even if I did, watching it now getting to the finale is still cool. Just good filmmaking, a fun script, several solid performances. Even French Stewart plays a great role as one sleazy cop. Trust me, at the very least you’ll find yourself surprised at some of what Lynch does with the story.

Animal Factory (2000)animal-factorySuch a top notch prison flick. Steve Buscemi directing, from a screenplay Edward Bunker and John Steppling (based on a novel by the former). Then, one of the actors I most admire, Willem Dafoe in one of the lead roles opposite Edward Furlong. Add in guys like Danny Trejo, Mark Boone Junior, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold? C’mon!
A simple tale of a young convict being helped out altruistically by an older criminal in the same prison isn’t the typical or expected film in Buscemi’s hands. He gets to the grittiness, showing us the brutality. Yet the story Bunker wrote also allows him to show us a different kind of con in Dafoe’s Earl Copen – a man who cares, if only not to see another soul washed down the drain. An interesting, real view of life on the inside, courtesy of Bunker who spent major time in prison throughout his life.

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)werckmeister-harmoniesCo-directed by Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, Werckmeister Harmonies is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. Also beautiful, dark, elegant. Many things.
In a small village, near madness occurs after a circus shows up with an odd attraction: the massive, bloated carcass of a real whale. Then people from elsewhere start to come, the town itself becomes bloated, and its natural order disturbed. A wild movie, I’m mesmerised by it every time I watch. Tarr is a genius, though I do find watching some of his works tiring, have to admit. Also love The Turin Horse; this film still takes the Tarr cake for me.

The Signal (2007)the-signalThis is the best romance movie. With a fine twist of infection horror, science fiction, lots of thrills. The story takes hold when two lovers are trying to meet across town after an outbreak of a signal across all electronic devices, proving difficult as the whole of mankind goes insane with savage violence around them. It’s a unique movie in so many ways. Great performances by A.J. Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn, Scott Poythress. Best of anything is the way we get the story in three parts, three directors on board, and the story comes at us from three different perspectives. A whole bundle of exciting, horrible, romantic events lumped into one great flick.

Sisters (1972)sistersDe Palma is up there with the other greats. Sisters, to me, is in his personal best. Even early on he had a style of his own, a look and feel cultivated from his talents. This horror-thriller never fails to unsettle me. Not just that, it’s thrilling; not in the way some thrillers claim to be then come out only half exciting. As it is in many of his works, De Palma uses his storytelling skills to make his plot so interesting. It’s a bizarre, Hitchcockian horror with Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, and Charles Durning, all in fine form.

Tom à la ferme (2013)tom-at-the-farmOn, Xavier Dolan! If I were a gay man, this guy would be the ultimate catch: he can write, he can act, and fuck me can he ever direct. Mommy‘s his most accomplished feature. Next to that is Tom à la ferme, though it’s no less incredible.
When Tom (Dolan) goes to see the family of his deceased lover, grieving and hoping to find some comfort in their company, he soon discovers they were unaware of him, as well as their son’s sexual orientation. After an uncomfortable welcome, Tom slowly awakens feelings in all of the family, maybe even himself. But there’s no telling if he’ll even make it off the farm once things get tense.
I can’t recommend this enough. Dolan works his way under your skin, in every one of his films in different manners. Here, you never know if this is going to turn out a vicious thriller or merely remain a tense drama. Either way, it’s so god damn perfect that I hate Dolan (just kidding, man: love you) for being this talented in all his roles. Based on a play, he lifts this into a whole other medium and gives it a breathing, snarling life off the stage.

Immortal Beloved (1994)immortal-belovedWorship, kneel at the altar of Gary fucking Oldman! DO IT!
Just kidding. But seriously, he’s up there on the Mount Rushmore of Character Actors.
Immortal Beloved tells the story of the famous letter to his ‘Immortal Beloved’ that Beethoven wrote, never naming the object of his amour. The always interesting Bernard Rose directs this gorgeous period piece, whisking us back through points in the great composer’s life to try and figure out: who was this elusive, nameless love of his? You’ll never see Oldman better, no matter how many awesome movies he does. There’s just such passion to the work he does energising the spirit of Beethoven.
That scene when he has to put his ear to the piano, playing what became his “Moonlight Sonata” later? Enough to take the breath out of your chest.

Hard Core Logo (1996)hard-core-logoAn impressive Canadian feature. Bruce McDonald greatness. Punk rock. Mockumentary. The origin of the band for Billy Talent.
There are things you’ll never see coming. This is NOT Spinal Tap, though it has its moments. It’s the chronicle of a band with its trouble, how it moves on or stays stuck in place, and we witness the tension, the love, the hate, all of it. Front row seat.
Oh, by the way – Hugh Dillon is a Canadian legend!

He Got Game (1998)he-got-gameThe best of Spike Lee, as he examines a father-son relationship plagued by a terrible act of violence by the former, and also he eviscerates the way young basketball stars – in the spotlight are those from urban neighbourhoods like Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) – are treated by recruiters and schools like paid peaces of meat, offering up irresponsible amounts of money + gifts to entice these young men away from their homes and their lives, their loves.
There’s so much to love, not least of which are the performances from Allen, a huge surprise to me, and of course the always charming Denzel Washington. I think Denzel’s performance and role are the best, the toughest, because the character of Jake Shuttlesworth is very unlikable. You don’t want him to be redeemed, though by the end you forget his original intentions and start to see him as a human again. I love Spike’s work because he never shies from the truth.


Thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far. Cheers!
Let me know what you thought in the comments, whether you hate or love the films I’ve mentioned.

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In Defence Of & In Love With SCREAM 4

Scream 4. 2011. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Starring Neve Campbell, Alison Brie, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, Erik Knudsen, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Anthony Anderson, Mary McDonnell, & Adam Brody.
Dimension Films/Corvus Corax Productions/Outerbanks Entertainment
Rated R. 111 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
poster-scream-4When a franchise stretches out over a few decades, often times fans – horror fans in particular – can get fickle over what they want to see. And I don’t blame them. If you’re a huge fan of a series then it’s understandable to be guarded over the original film(s), to feel like even the original director-writer team might not be capable of matching what they did so long ago.
All those ideas go out the window with Scream 4. Sure, it’s 15 years later, and the generation of young people involved has changed significantly. There’s new technology, new rules to the slasher horror game. At the core, this both pays tribute to the original in huge ways, as well as forges its own path as a worthy sequel.
Craven and Williamson don’t get every little thing right. But they worked hard to give this the same creepiness and excitement as the first Scream, providing brand new characters in the landscape of Woodsboro and never forgetting the tried true originals of the franchise. Old meets new in the best, most genuine kind of way.
Scream-4-movie-imageThere’s always a stellar opening, even in the previous, lesser instalment. Craven and Williamson do not slouch here, either. One girl complains of no character development before characters die in Saw, when in fact we watch the young women in this opener die without any development whatsoever, similar to Drew Barrymore’s character in the original Scream. Williamson’s self-referential, tongue-in-cheek writing once more, as we cut to two other women watching Stab 6. They talk about the conventions and tropes of horror, so on, and then we again cut to two more girls watching Stab 7, further questioning the genre’s trappings. You almost, for a second, believe it’ll keep going, and going, one girl stabbed after the next. Great way for Craven and Williamson to poke fun at themselves, too.
One thing I dug about the last film was that composer Marco Beltrami used new pieces in the score, alongside some familiar ones, as well. The new compositions are fresh and interesting, they make the score feel new, yet at the same time we get those old sounds. With a new sequel 11 years since the previous entry in the series, Beltrami picked up where he left off while offering depth to his Scream repertoire.
Some gnarly kills worth seeing. One of the opening girls has her throat slit, and it is downright savage. When Perkins (Anderson) is stabbed in the head some find it funny, because of the “Fuck Bruce Willis” line. And yeah, it’s funny. Nasty all the same.
SPOILER ALERT: Charlie’s death is a disturbing one, very brutal. And when Jill does her best Tyler Durden I always find it pretty sickening, though fascinating; she thrashes the life out of herself, as the dying bodies of friends and family lay bleeding around her.
scream-4-2Part of what makes the screenplay work so well is the contempt of remakes, or at least the many awful remakes out there. In a fourth film, that’s sort of confident. This is not a remake, obviously, of the original, just a continuation of the story concerning Sidney Prescott (Campbell). But still, much of what they satirise in terms of remakes – mainly through snappy dialogue from Charlie (Culkin), Kirby (Panettiere), Robbie (Knudsen) – could be aimed at sequels, and definitely at sequels a little ways down the line.
Regardless, Williamson forges on with what made the first two films really impressive, that self-deprecating, self-referential style. It’s not all satire, though. We go back to the original by way of some Ghostface killing. Such as when Kirby watches Charlie from behind a glass door as he’s tied to a chair, just as Drew Barrymore’s character watched her boyfriend in Scream. Poor Kirby’s even subjected to another scary movie game. In other films this could feel cheese-filled to the brim. In the hands of Craven and Williamson, the scene comes off genuinely tense and, ultimately, horrific.
The biggest thing I love, story-wise, is that the Maureen Prescott’s been buried; pardon the pun. There’s no stretch, as in Scream 3 at times, to try attaching her character to the motive of the killers. Rather this story puts Sidney in the spotlight, even her family, cousin Jill (Roberts) and aunt Kate (McDonnell) get dragged into the terror. Whereas Sidney’s always been the main character, technically in that spotlight, the focus of the series in terms of why the murders were happening was Maureen. This entry in the series shifts focus wholly onto Sidney, which is, for her, unfortunately tragic.
scream-4-3Effectively, Williamson’s screenplay gets back to the interesting motives of the first two films. The motives have evolved, as have the killers. Here, the killers speak to the modern murder explanation of how the lust for fame can drive unstable people to untold, utterly insane lengths. Media begets the sick mind, in that a quest for fame can become out of control when celebrity is literally but a stab away. More relevant as of my writing in 2017 than even when it came out in 2011.
Scream 4 is a whole lot of fun, and holds its share of gruesomeness. Sidney has become like her mother in a way, as once Maureen loomed over Sidney and Woodsboro, but now her daughter looms over everyone. The terror she experienced at the hands of the various Ghostface killers encompassed a further generation of her family, creating all new dynamics, and in turn a new set of killers.
The callbacks to Scream are done so well, switching up situations and characters, self-parodying and being critical of sequels and remakes even when Craven himself has produced remakes. It’s just an example of why the first movie worked, why the second was also a powerhouse. Testament to the wonderful teamwork of Craven and Williamson. The willingness of this slasher franchise to be simultaneously satirical and also deadly serious from one moment to the next is a big part of why the movies have succeeded. A huge part of why I’ll always love them, and why Craven was a master.

SCREAM 3: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Scream 3. 2000. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger.
Starring Neve Campbell, Liev Schreiber, Roger Jackson, Courteney Cox, Patrick Dempsey, David Arquette, Scott Foley, Roger Corman, & Lance Henriksen.
Dimension Films/Konrad Pictures/Craven-Maddalena Films
Rated R. 116 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★
poster-scream-3For some the Scream franchise dragged on. For others, such as myself, we couldn’t get enough of it. Although it isn’t hard to admit that, at least for Scream 3, the prior quality dropped off. Not entirely. I can throw this one on and enjoy it while still acknowledging its glaring flaws. Mostly I dig that Ghostface is like a floating entity, sort of how in the Batman comics with Red Hood and the identity became one various criminals and others took up.
Craven does a nice job directing. This time around, Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road, The Ring) wrote the screenplay. And one of the problems, I feel, is that between Kruger’s draft and whatever Craven did during re-writes some of the story’s problems weren’t fine tuned. Something got lost along the way.
Nevertheless, I’m still fond. Scream 3, no matter how many blemishes, is an exciting slasher, warts and all. I have my beefs, but at the end of the day Ghostface’s return is a welcomed one. The story gets convoluted, simultaneously becoming even more twisted than the overall Maureen Prescott ever was before.
scream-3-2An excellent, fine tuned opener starts the film. I’ve always loved Liev Schreiber because I have a soft spot for the Ron Howard flick, Ransom (first time I remember seeing Liev in a role). And as Cotton Weary, he’s become a wildcard-type element in the Scream franchise. His time in the second movie setup a hopeful appearance here. Unfortunately for him he’s the first killed at the hands of our new Ghostface killer. Plenty of good, brutal horror fun. Also, we get a new, sinisterly playful dimension concerning the killer’s use of the voice changer over the phone. This introduction before the title makes clear: all bets are off.
There’s honestly a lot I love about this one. So sue me. For instance, my area of study is actually John Milton and his epic poem Paradise Lost. Well, that very name is used for the character played by Lance Henriksen, an old school Hollywood movie producer, who has something to do with Maureen, mother of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell).
Once we discover the underbelly of Hollywood sucked Maureen in, Mr. Milton providing the path for her to walk on down, the reference takes on more life. In regards to Paradise Lost, it’s the story of man’s fall from grace, Garden of Eden, all that, and specifically we see Satan as the fallen angel – he goes to Earth, to try and tempt Adam and Eve into sin, so on. It’s a minor reference linked to a plot point. Props to Craven and Kruger for using it, though. An interesting little inclusion.
The two things I love most: the score from Marco Beltrami, his best stuff yet in the series, as he experimented with recording techniques to give a new sound to the familiar musical progressions we’ve heard in the other two films; and, the legitimately unsettling scenes involving Sid’s new home out in the woods, particularly when she has the dream of an apparition of her mother at the window, so creepy.
scream-3-1Biggest faults of Scream 3 are in the characters. In the mix, character development – other than Sidney, thankfully – gets lost, and their underdeveloped nature always leaves me wanting something more which never comes. Like Roman Bridger (Scott Foley), he could’ve been an awesome character. He’s left too generic to actually feel three-dimensional, and that becomes a big problem.
One of the film’s worst offences is the performance of Parker Posey. And if there is a god, strike me down, because I LOVE PARKER! I do. She’s so excellent most of the time. Here, she’s excruciatingly over the top. I don’t agree that’s part of the character; it is, only to an extent. She goes too far into the satirical where it becomes something out of a slapstick comedy, and that gives Scream an overload – the dark comedy, the self-deprecating lens, these are things Craven does well. Posey just takes it to a level that doesn’t work well with the other elements.
Herein lies the problem. Instead of mixing appropriately in a combination which compliments each aspect – such as the way the previous two entries in the series do satire and serious horror at once so well – Scream 3 wallows in a muddled tone. Feels like Craven could’ve used Kevin Williamson around to help iron things out.
scream-3-3The saving grace is truly Ms. Campbell. She’s fallen further into Sidney as a character with each movie. This time, even though she isn’t on screen as much as the first two, she anchors the rest of the performances to keep things solid. Even as other performances descend into parody instead of satire. Campbell is my generation’s kick ass Final Girl. The ultimate moment of Scream 3 is a proper bit of metafiction: Craven has Ghostface attack Sidney on the set of a new Stab movie, which is the exact replica of where she was first attacked in her home during the events of the original Scream.
I mean, it does not get any better than that!
Doesn’t matter to me that there are issues, even Posey’s terrible performance, the underdeveloped characters surrounding Sidney and the main core (Cox and Arquette are still enjoyable enough; at times the latter’s slightly irritating in this sequel). None of it matters too much. Although I don’t enjoy this one near as much as the first two, I still watch and enjoy. There are a couple classic Scream kills, splashes of blood, a depraved new addition to the Maureen Prescott story, and Roger Corman shows up for a cameo.
So maybe this doesn’t match up with any of the other entries. I actually dig Scream 4, way more than this one. But I don’t care because it mostly fits in with the entire series, and Craven still manages to freak me out now and then. I hope at least a few other people feel the same.

DON’T BREATHE or You’ll Choke on the Tension!

Don’t Breathe. 2016. Directed by Fede Alvarez. Screenplay by Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues.
Starring Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, & Emma Bercovici.
Screen Gems/Stage 6 Films/Ghost House Pictures.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Crime/Horror/Thriller.

★★★★1/2
poster-dont-breatheFede Alvarez did a bang up job with the Evil Dead remake. Not only did he and co-writer Rodo Sayagues come on like a couple madmen upping the bloody horror, they also took the story and made it their own with a twist on the original. Coming into Don’t Breathe, I knew that with Alvarez at the helm and Sayagues in the seat again alongside him writing once more, chances are this film would be exciting.
And they did not disappoint. For most of the runtime this is a movie totally reliant, for good reason, on suspense. There’s an inarguable tension that Alvarez rarely, if ever, lets up. He gives us an ebb and flow of the suspense, a rise and then a fall; all to lull us in for the bigger jumps and surprises and jolts of pure adrenaline.
With three fantastic actors leading the way – Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, and Dylan Minnette – the story’s in proper hands. Added to that is the textured, gritty cinematography of Pedro Luque (The Silent House), capturing the Blind Man’s home in a spectacular spectrum of darkness and light, all shades of colours. There’s so much to enjoy, even when we’re taken down the rabbit hole of depravity after the secrets of the house are finally revealed.
dont-breathe1There’s something thrilling about beginning in media res, as it sets the stage to either reach that pinnacle of terror exactly as we see it, or take us on a winding road to explain it to us differently, to show us the truth and perhaps make things more intense than they once seemed. So the ominous opener of the Blind Man (Lang) hauling an unconscious Rocky (Levy) down the road in a dilapidated Detroit neighbourhood is a powerful way to start the film, as it brings up a lot of questions, ones that remain unanswered right to the last minute.
Nice character development in the beginning. Rocky isn’t just a female character, she doesn’t get tossed in and used as a generic part of the story. Some horror movies do the Final Girl trope, and not to say that doesn’t happen to a certain extent here. But before any of that happens we’re introduced to her life, the hell from which she wants to escape. It isn’t a case of young girl wants to run away and start a new life, it’s a case of young girl lives in near squalor with a horrible mother and her neo-Nazi boyfriend and she’s got to get her kid sister OUT.
What’s more is that I like the relationship between Rocky and Alex (Minnette). It gives the film a romantic sort of story, as Alex pines quietly for his good friend. And we get it without any of the forced romance, there’s no cheesy love story. Rather, Alvarez and Sayagues make it part of the characters and use it mostly as the basis for Alex’s character/his motivations. Truly a solid bit of writing in the screenplay. Too many movies fall prey to the supposed need for romantic intrigue and in the course of that ruin characters, drag out portions of story to unneeded lengths, among other mistakes. Don’t Breathe gets this angle right, part of why it’s one of the better written horrors in the last 6 or 7 years.
dont-breathe-2This next part might need a disclaimer. I’ll just say that I’m not trying to be insensitive, because I don’t meant to be, this is merely an opinion.
I’ve seen a few reviews stating they wished a blind actor were used for the part Lang plays. And I have a problem with that. This isn’t the same as a black character being whitewashed, an Asian character being replaced with a white woman, or anything racial. Logistically, could they have used an actual blind person to fill the role? Maybe. I’m not saying there’s no blind actors who couldn’t handle the part. What I’m saying is that this is a movie. There’s only so much time they can film, there’s only so many takes a crew can do, and at the end of the day I think that acting is called acting for a reason.
Lang does some of his best work as The Blind Man. Furthermore, Alvarez and Sayagues don’t write him as a cliche, trope-ified blind character in that they don’t make his sense of smell and hearing A MILLION TIMES BETTER, because while no doubt some who are blind come to use their other senses with a keen edge, being blind doesn’t make you into a superhero of some sort. Between the character as written and the way Lang portrays him, I’d hope that it comes off as genuine. Also, I applaud the fact the Blind Man is, in essence, the villain of the story. The filmmakers don’t pose as trying to put all sorts of pity on this man, instead this disabled veteran is the monster in the shadows, the big bad. And that’s a lot of fun. Able bodied people take for granted the fact we see ourselves in all lights represented through cinema. What I love here is that, for anyone disabled, they get to have the experience of being represented as the villain, and through fiction these types of scenarios and characters allow us to understand the humanity of everybody; the able bodied and the disabled alike can be heroes and heroines, villains, any kind of character. Something often times forgotten by writers.
dont-breathe-3The nature of Don’t Breathe‘s plot – robbing the home of a blind man – allows for easy suspense. The choice of shots, the tension as the would-be robbers move through his house, the dead quiet of many scenes which raises the heart rate; these put that suspense up on blast. Alvarez draws it all out as the Blind Man’s home unleashes upon us the horror held within its walls. Keeping a story basically in one location for a whole film isn’t always easy. He does so with a feel of true claustrophobia which never eases.
What a finale. The final 20-25 minutes circles around a depraved edge. The bulk of Lang’s lines come here, the delivery and the writing together are like a sledgehammer. Lang has a special, subtle way of being ferocious, which he uses to full advantage in these moments. For a minute or two you feel anything, even the most brutal possibility, is wholly possible. Accompanied by the eerie score from Roque Baños (Sexy BeastThe MachinistCell 211) these are dreadful scenes worthy of awe.
I can’t stress enough that Don’t Breathe is one of 2016’s best horror films, the consensus is astounding. There will always be detractors, of any movie, but especially horror – so many fickle fans. Many of whom love to hate movies other horror fans enjoy a ton, like they get a thrill from being a contrarian. There are certain undeniable things about films, particularly horror, that aren’t subjective, and Alvarez – by all honest accounts – gives us amazingly palpable suspense the likes of which don’t come around often enough. Let this movie sink its hooks in, I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER: Step Into a Place of Madness

The Blackcoat’s Daughter. 2016. Directed & Written by Oz Perkins.
Starring Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, Kiernan Shipka, Lauren Holly, James Remar, Peter J. Gray, Emma Holzer, Jodi Larratt, & Douglas Kidd.
Paris Film/Travelling Picture Show Company/Unbroken Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-12-14-52-amBetween this and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, director-writer Oz Perkins (son of the great Anthony Perkins) has had a couple great years. He’s proving to be a master of the slow burn. Some might not be keen on that type of horror. Myself, and plenty others, find it fascinating; when done correctly.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (also renamed as February throughout its drawn out release) is a compelling, almost hypnotic fever dream. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it hinges on a big twist, a grand reveal. However, Perkins does tell his story through a curious lens, one that kept me thrilled to the last beat. Part of the way through the pieces start coming together and when they do the climax hits like kick in the teeth, bringing us towards a tragic and violent end.
Not everyone will find the film their cup of tea; no film’s going to touch on everything, it’s impossible. If you’re a fan of those slow burn horror efforts, Perkins offers nothing but the best. The central performances, specifically Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka, are totally engaging, and honestly if you can’t give them that then you’re not being honest. Above all, the style of the film, its gradually revealed plot, the score, they’ll haul you into this world and haunt you, too.
screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-12-12-44-amThe film moves in what feels like an erratic fashion, jumping between the three main young women in the story – Joan (Roberts), Rose (Boynton), and Kat (Shipka). For a little while I actually felt the screenplay wasn’t coming out smooth, then after several scenes things came together and made clear the story was non-linear. Once you settle into the plot and its progression, the film gets even more interesting; the vagary of its elements become clearer and clearer.
What I dig most is the sparse dialogue and the sense of subtlety throughout. It’s a quiet film until the madness of the last half hour. Even then it’s gentle, in a way. A genuinely unsettling atmosphere is provided through gorgeously captured, dark cinematography making the boarding school particularly, the main location of the film, feel ominous at every turn. Kudos to cinematographer Julie Kirkwood, who also worked on Perkins’ I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and also on Bryan Bertino’s spectacular little flick The Monster last year.
Something which gives presence to the eerie darkness of the film is also the score. Beautifully strange music. Certain parts sound like a theremin, off playing in the distance somewhere. Other times an echoing, grating sound of strings, and so much more. The score altogether, every piece, fits where it sits. Just great stuff that takes the sombre mood and tone of the film to another level.
screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-12-53-19-amPerkins could’ve told this story through a straightforward presentation of scenes, moving through all the expected moves one anticipates in a film such as this one. Again, I don’t necessarily feel that the ‘reveal’ of the plot is a twist, or that it’s meant as a huge surprise. But the slow burn leading up to it makes that revelation exciting, in a darkly enticing manner. Perkins writes well without exposition, telling his story through imagery, which in turn makes the whole thing more captivating as we move through its murky mysteries.
He does a fine bit of work as director. The quick shots of a strangulation. Then a gunshot in the darkness. A view of Joan’s bullet scar. Blood on a door frame. Kat sees Rose in the corner, as an evil entity rises up nearby. All these things are so finite, brief, all vague and unnerving respectively. Specifically I love when we’re introduced to Joan. As we figure her out, the flashes of her memory are pure storytelling without the need for words.
And this is, once more, part of why the revealing moments of the story hold their weight. Because even if you’re not actually surprised by the – for lack of a better word at this point – twist, at this point there’s an anticipation built up that has you expecting something fierce. Does Perkins ever deliver. Tension snaps, then art and nastiness collide. Believe it or not, Perkins opts to show very little in comparison to what he could have shown for the sake of gruesome horror. The relatively tame nature of the final 20-25 minutes is what makes it such a gruelling experience. Then all those cryptic memories of Joan, her odd giggle in the bathroom, the scar, Kat and Rose’s situation at the boarding school, everything tangles up into a vicious burst of blood and terror.

This is absolutely one of the best horrors I saw from 2016. Perkins is a talented director and storyteller, his writing is the sort which draws me in, keeping me glued. Not everyone likes that slow burn aesthetic. I do. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is expertly written, and through that comes its gorgeous, devilish imagery to tell the story on its own. There’s no substitute for great artistry, Perkins has it in spades.
You can’t talk about this movie without mentioning the massive talents of Roberts and Shipka. They’re both utterly fabulous, gliding through the material with what looks of ease. They make their characters feel real, which isn’t only necessary it is wholly disturbing. The story comes down hard on the audience not only because of the writing, but because these two young women make Joan and Kat come off the page with terrifying results.
I keep telling people about this one because it deserves to be seen, it deserves to be studied in terms of its visuals and learned from for those who write and want to tell a story without only resorting to dialogue; this aspect I love and can’t stress enough. So many people want this type of horror, then when they get it they don’t know what to do with it. Not saying everybody has to love it. Just try and let the images and the flow of the film take over, listen to the sparsely placed words carefully. I hope that maybe you’ll get even a fraction of the same enjoyment I did, and will continue to as I watch it over and over again, relishing in its horrific glory.

Repression Unleashed in THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA

The Witch Who Came from the Sea. 1976. Directed by Matt Cimber. Screenplay by Robert Thom.
Starring Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown, Rick Jason, Stafford Morgan, & George ‘Buck’ Flower.
Cinema Epoch.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★
the-witch-who-came-from-the-sea-images-0068abac-94e2-43d8-9916-64630b0aa42During the early 1980s, a bunch of films were classified on a list as Video Nasties, which reached all the way back to 1959’s Obscene Publications Act – amended in ’77 to include erotic films. The U.K. stamped these films as some of them were prosecuted, others were not. The Witch Who Came from the Sea was on the list, though it later was unsuccessfully prosecuted (alongside 32 other films) and the Department of Public Prosecutions dropped it from the list.
For a time it reigned on high as one of the Video Nasty movies many horror fans were eager to see, if only for the thrill of being nasty on their own. However, this 1976 horror offering is more than just a bit of shock or a gimmick to carry thread bare chills. The Witch Who Came from the Sea is a devastating, trippy, and brutally honest movie which tackles the terror childhood abuse wreaks on an individual as an adult.
On top of that, the legendary Dean Cundey provides uncredited cinematography, and anyone who’s a horror fan will know Cundey being attached means something special – HalloweenThe FogEscape from New YorkThe Thing, just a few of his best works behind the camera. And in front of the camera in the lead role, the metaphorical and titular witch, is Millie Perkins, known for her first appearance as Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. If it weren’t for the impeccable talents of Perkins, the dramatic horror of the story might never have played so well. She takes us down into the dark corridors of her character’s soul, and threatens to never let us go.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-3-21-30-pmWhat ails you, Molly?”

This might be seen, by many eyes, as exploitation cinema. Another rape-revenge flick. And in a sense, it is, but at the same time it’s so much more. For instance, the title itself and its significance to the plot is excellent. The film opens on a shot of a vast, lonely yet beautiful beach, then right on the edge of the shore we settle where the tide flows in, and here we’re first introduced to Molly (Perkins). Immediately, director Matt Cimber concentrates on the sea, and we know, with Molly walking and the tide flowing at her feet, the sea is linked to her in a significant way. Literally and figuratively, she is always at the edge of the sea, at the mercy of the tide.
What’s so intriguing right away about Molly is her fixation on the male figure. She’s taking care of her nephews, then by the beach at an outdoor gym she notices a couple muscle men working out. Seeing them, by the sea no less, triggers her into seeing the men flash between alive and pumping iron, to bloody and choked to death, as well as other brutal imagery. From the first scene, Cimber sets up all the main themes he’ll work off for the entirety of the film. I compare this opening to the way in which an author does well by starting off their novel with a beginning sentence, or paragraph, that means even more once the story is over.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-3-25-23-pmThose symbols of supposed masculinity (or what you might call popular masculinity) come up time and time again, from the muscles and the fit physique, to tattoos. Molly comes across many of these men. She even works at a bar, where most of the men who come in as patrons are sexist and grabby and all that. She’s surrounded by these ideals of masculinity, and for some initially inexplicable reason she doesn’t so much reject these symbols. Rather, she plays into them, and then her bloody fantasies move from her daydreams into reality. Everything masculine becomes a playground for her revenge fantasies. Men in TV ads for razors aren’t even safe; she imagines the razor used to cut a guy’s throat. Soon she’s with football players in bed rolling around and the savagery commences, to brutal effect.
All this boils down to her want for revenge. Of course we don’t discover what happened to her, nor the extent, until over an hour into the film. That doesn’t matter, we know before that there’s a deep trauma in her. One linked to the concepts of masculinity, and also to the ocean. She seems a contradictory character – at once eternally angry at big, tough men; all the same she turns around looking oversexed, driven into the arms of these same types of men.
Why is that?

Note: following this notice, I’ll be spoiling the central plot point of the film, so if you’d rather find out on your own turn back now, come back once you’ve watched and chat!

The reason Molly is so devastated emotionally is due to the horrific trauma she faced at the hands of her paedophile father. He was a sailor, and the abuse itself even happened while on the sea, the two of them in bed together. While there is a disturbing scene involving the abuse, Cimber and writer Robert Thom opted not to do anything overtly graphic. Yes, it’s still emotionally vicious and even visceral, just not explicitly disgusting. The film instead offers an, often ties, nuanced look at child abuse. Molly worships her father while her sister realises the truth. She idolises him and then falls into depraved fantasy as her repression takes hold, never knowing the source of her anger against the men after whom she lusts. At one point she even sleeps with the owner of the bar where she works, he looks like her father. So what The Witch Who Came from the Sea does best is tell the tale of a severely, tragically repressed woman wrestling with the demons in her mind.
Perhaps my favourite and the most gruesome of the imagery is after the repression finally breaks – Molly sees a haunting image in her mind of being at sea, bodies chopped to pieces, blood everywhere.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-3-05-37-pmSo many of these types of horrors – the rape-revenge archetype – opt to make the viewer experience the trauma alongside a victim. Despite the presence of a scene depicting the abuse, The Witch from the Sea works more on the psychological horror of Molly’s past trauma, and doesn’t require such an ugly display of sexual violence such as something like I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left. There are cryptic glimpses of flashback memories, although never are we subjected to outright nastiness.
Forever and ever this film will be associated with the other Video Nasties, and it’ll get lumped in with the rape-revenge sub-genre. But it’s more than the sum of its parts, it’s more than a lot of the other Video Nasty titles, definitely worth your time above so many tired rape-revenge scenarios that won’t ever add up.
If you’re looking for an at times surreal and intermittently brutal dramatic horror which is heavier on psychology than anything else, this is your game. If you can grab up a copy, do yourself a favour. This might look like a lot of other similar movies. You can take my word for it, even if you don’t dig it as much as I do there’s a huge chance you’ll find it unique in its execution and storytelling. Might not be perfect. It’s still a shiny little gem.

RINGS: The Sequel I Never Knew I Wanted

Rings. 2017. Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez. Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, & David Loucka.
Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker, Zach Roerig, & Laura Wiggins.
Macari-Edelstein/Parkes+MacDonald Image Nation/Vertigo Entertainment.
Rated PG-13. 102 minutes.
Horror.

★★★1/2
posterDisclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. If you want to go in fresh, and I suggest you do, then DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW! For thou will be spoiled.

To start, I’ve always loved both the original Ringu from Hideo Nakata and also Gore Verbinski’s remake The Ring. They’re equally disturbing and eerie, in their own rights. I was a lot less impressed with Nakata doing the sequel to the remake, The Ring Two, which I’d hoped would’ve been better. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed bits. Overall I love the mythology of the original story, how the remake handled it in his own way, and of course the first film from Nakata with its truly ghostly feeling. They’re each the type of horror that works its way under your skin until it’s inside you. Remember that first hideous, dead face in the closet in Verbinski’s film? I don’t even have to watch it again to picture it in my mind.
So, once Rings was announced, I actually – honestly – did not give a shit. Total honesty. A few days ago while I had the day to myself, I wandered into Cineplex and bought a ticket. Again, full disclosure: I wanted to see Split (which I will soon). Seeing as how there wasn’t a showtime soon enough for me, Rings got my money.
Although there are a few things I didn’t like – namely the last couple minutes with its reveal, and some issues I had concerning the time frame of certain events – there were a ton of other things I enjoyed, a hell of a lot. Never expected it, either. And maybe that helped. No matter what it was, part of the credit is certainly F. Javier Gutiérrez’s directing. Plus I was impressed by the writing team of Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, and David Loucka, who managed to deliver a screenplay that, while faulty in spots, felt imaginative, Gothic, and paid tribute to the original story in a fresh way.
rings1At first I felt like the opening was cheesy, as it’s the same plane scene we saw in promos recently. Then, as I sat in the theatre, it felt much more dreadful. Really pulse pounding, stressful stuff. Worked great on the big screen. This is an example of the writers bringing Samara (Bonnie Morgan) onto (and in through) the screen in intriguing ways. Later, perhaps my favourite appearance of Samara through a television screen happens as Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) hides in a bathroom – the victim tears a TV from the wall to try stopping the inevitable, and then Samara emerges as the screen lies flat on the floor, pushing her way out into the world (see: picture below). The opener and this scene alone gave us enough new, exciting appearances by the girl at the heart of the story that I feel Estes, Goldsman, and Loucka deserve a pat on the back. They could’ve focused totally on the story itself, the mythology, and left Samara’s television high jinks by the wayside, unoriginal, stale. They chose to try covering it all.
Brings me to another part of Rings I loved: the mythology opens up. The story takes us into a whole new era, literally. We bridge the gap between VHS and MPEG-4; the first interesting plot point. Johnny Galecki plays a professor named Gabriel. He ends up buying a VCR from a sale, and it winds up containing a stuck tape – you know which one! From there, this leads him into an existential search for answers after discovering, as Naomi Watts and others before him, that to survive you must make a copy of the tape, and the cycle continues. He begins a sort of secretive research project involving people watching the tape, then another person hours later watching the copy (a ‘tail’ as Gabriel calls it). Amazing setup for another chapter in The Ring‘s mythology.
rings2That’s not all, though. A man named Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio) turns up later, and the town he lives in played a significant part in the life of Samara. It also holds the key to where she came from, before poor Brian Cox and his wife had their lives – and horses – destroyed by the little girl. This is where the Gothic feel of the story comes into play. This calls us back to that feeling Verbinski tapped into with The Ring, where the country-type settings return and the Gothic sense of secrets brimming under the surface of the town come alive once more. I won’t go on and spoil the twist they have in store, because I didn’t actually expect it, though maybe I should have according to some other, more snooty reviewers. Apart from the twist, there’s such a palpably eerie feeling that hovers like a fog over the last third of the film when Julia makes it to the little town where they discovered Samara’s bones are supposedly buried. This Gothic portion is another beautifully circular piece of the puzzle, as everything in the mythology of Samara seems to circle back in on itself.
I’ve also got to commend Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz. Not that I have anything to compare this performance with, never having seen her act before, but she does good work here. Personally I love Naomi Watts, but Lutz does a far better job giving her character Julia depth, as opposed to a relatively flat performance from Watts in her role as Rachael (over two films no less). This girl Julia gets sucked into the world of the tape and Samara in whirlwind, in a much different situation than Rachael. Lutz’s is the best performance by far, a mixture of apprehension, fear, curiosity. This isn’t one of those run and scream roles, much more than that. And this young actress is someone I hope to see again soon.
RINGSDefinitely not for everyone, Rings will probably only appeal, or mostly, to die hard fans of the first remake. It honestly may not even appeal to Ringu fans, though you never can tell. Despite any of that I feel that Gutiérrez (who did a fantastic film just under a decade ago called Before the Fall) did interesting things as director, and he crafted the compelling new story into a moody, Gothic piece.
Sure, if you watched only the initial half of the film you might feel there isn’t much for this sequel to stand on. There are a couple intriguing things going for it. The real fun doesn’t start until a little ways in, when the mythology not only creeps into the contemporary world of technology but also goes back to the original and expands further. And even though I actually did not like the last few minutes when we’re revealed something that could’ve been suspected earlier, I do dig the very contemporary take on social media that’s offered in those final moments (you’ll understand more if you’ve actually seen the film).
So I’d recommend any non-jaded horror fans who are willing to stop being so judgemental constantly and ready to have fun, plus fans of The Ring and particularly its Gothic-ness, check out Rings. Have some fun. I know I did. I’m not ready for another sequel or anything, I’m just glad Gutiérrez injected life into a sequel I never asked for or knew I wanted.

Barrett & Wingard Deal Another Terrifying Blow with BLAIR WITCH

Blair Witch. 2016. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay by Simon Barrett.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, & Valorie Curry.
Lionsgate/Room 101/Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterThis movie was a loaded gun for me when it hit. First, since I first saw The Blair Witch Project I’ve loved it completely. In all honesty, the marketing got to me when it was released, and for those who experienced it in the early days of internet there’s this buzz that still gets you going every time the movie plays. You get taken back to those trailers, the opening scenes, all the faux-reality, but the terrifying faux-reality that gripped horror lovers.
Second, I dig Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator writer Simon Barrett. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, yet every project they take on is unique. They have such an excellent rapport as a director-writer team, which translates well into each film. A Horrible Way to DieYou’re NextThe Guest; each of these, for me, was a thrilling experience, albeit in their respective ways.
When it came out finally that The Woods, their latest collaboration, is in actuality Blair Witch… well, needless to say, I got excited. Taking on a sequel to one of the most groundbreaking horror films ever made, after the first fairly miserable sequel Book of Shadows failed to impress, is a monumental task. Not everyone is going to love Blair Witch. People seem to fall into a couple categories: either they think it strays too far from the original (to which I smirk questionably), or they think it’s too similar (there goes that smirk again).
Me, I find Wingard and Barrett’s film admirable, in a lot of ways. It gets more intense than its predecessor, that alone is saying something; hard to beat, but this sequel gives many of the best scenes from the original a run for their money. More than that Barrett’s screenplay, as opposed to the improvised and looser style of The Blair Witch Project, does wonders for the tension and gives the actors good stuff with which to work, ultimately allowing for better performances. Not every last person is going to love this. I do, and I hope others were as thrilled as me when they sat through its terror.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-29-18-pmOne of the immediate aspects I noticed, and enjoyed a ton, is the great sound design, helping to put it above the intensity of the first film in specific moments. There’s a feeling of being lost in the woods alongside these people because of the sound; a hovering, pulsing sound wraps the audience up, as it surrounds the characters. This, in conjunction with the camerawork – chaotic and frenzied in the more mortifying moments – makes for good scares. The original movie does well with its bare sense of reality, having the actors sent out into the woods relatively on their own and manipulated into being scared. Blair Witch succeeds in its mission to creep people out partly due to the sound and the visuals together, plus the fact Wingard did things similar to The Blair Witch Project‘s directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.
Mainly, Wingard used an air horn in the background of scenes in order to attain the right amount of jump from actors. And some will say, “That’s what an actor is for, they should just act!” – I say nonsense. Sure, don’t go William Friedkin and fire a gun next to somebody to scare them. I feel like the air horn is fine, it did elicit appropriate reactions. There are honest places actors sometimes aren’t going to get simply because they need to be genuinely scared to get there, not pretend scared, and Wingard gets the actors under his care to that place, manipulating horror from them in an unexpected way. Moreover, the actors just haul you to the darkness of that woods and far too many times, in the best kind of sense, you’ll feel as lost as they do, disoriented, frightened, paranoid; the whole gamut of terrifying emotion.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-29-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-30-23-pmThe acting is great, aside from any of the jump scares or the pure bits of scary madness. And it’s strange, because I’ve seen people complain that the acting is no good, or that it takes away from the tension. Totally disagree. Each of the actors gives it their all, as well as the fact a couple of them give absolutely awesome performances.
Wes Robinson & The Following‘s Valorie Curry as Lane and Talia, the would-be guides into the Black Hills woods, don’t only play interesting characters Barrett penned in addition to the others, they’re two of the best in the cast. Robinson particularly gets to the core of the paranoia driving so much of the story’s suspense. Once things progress to a certain point, both Robinson and Curry take us into a horrific space that gets eerier by the minute.
James Allen McCune (whose stint on Shameless was incredible) plays the brother of Heather Donahue, the catalyst of the adventure, and he does a nice job straddling between non-belief and belief until the situation becomes painfully clear near the end. I also can’t forget to mention Corbin Reid as Ashley. She plays a role that could’ve easily been lost in a bunch of blood and moaning and crying; while there’s a little of that, Reid brings an uneasy feeling to the gut when we see her character descend into the forest’s terror. Everybody involved brings their A-game, even the couple more minor characters. With a bigger cast this time, in contrast to the original’s trio, Blair Witch utilises every one of them to the fullest extent.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-36-52-pmI don’t want to spoil any of the best moments, although I have to mention one, hopefully without giving away too much. Just before the final half hour takes us into a frightening place, a scene involving the wooden Blair Witch figurines takes their presence to a whole new level. I can’t say much more – other than the actors’ reactions combined with the editing, and again the sound design, make for the moment that both shocked and pounded me into a state of horror.
Blair Witch is about on par with its original. Maybe a lot of others don’t think so, but damn it, I do. And I can’t deny that. I went into this expecting that there was a possibility I wouldn’t be thrilled. Regardless if Barrett and Wingard made this, two artists I admire and love to see working in any capacity (the latter’s stint with Cinemax and Outcast did wonders for the TV horror lover’s soul), I didn’t count out disappointment.
Yet no part of me was really disappointed. Barrett and Wingard did interesting things with the legacy of such a beloved piece of horror cinema. They refused to move too far from the film Myrick and Sánchez. Likewise, they branched out a bit, too; they didn’t retread too many paths. I loved the ending because it goes out on a similar note to the first, and in doing so almost shows us how the first actually ended. Dig it. As well, there’s an interesting conception of time in the screenplay; that’s all I’ll say. This does wonders in terms of writing to make the movie different, yet similar in a weird vein to the original film. If you want a good spoiler-filled look at this idea, check Screen Crush’s interview with Wingard here.
So even if there’s no general consensus, or even if that consensus is that this sequel doesn’t hold up, I dig this one. Barrett and Wingard confirm once again they’re worthy of helping to carry genre film forward, year after year. And who knows, maybe this will help a franchise get going, which I’d love to see. This didn’t wow at the box office, but it did make a profit for a relatively low budget film in today’s Hollywood system. I know that I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one more film surrounding the legend of the Blair Witch, no matter who takes it on. This movie proves you can update or reboot films years later without being totally derivative and without straying too wildly from what made the original so popular.

BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 is the Epitome of Wasted Potential

Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. 2000. Directed by Joe Berlinger. Screenplay by Berlinger & Dick Beebe.
Starring Jeffrey Donovan, Tristine Skyler, Erica Leerhsen, Kim Director, Lanny Flaherty, Lauren Husley, & Raynor Scheine.
Artisan Entertainment/Haxan Films.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Adventure/Fantasy/Horror

★★
posterYou’d almost expect Joe Berlinger to have done more with the concept for this sequel to Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s groundbreaking horror, The Blair Witch Project. By this point in 2000 he already did two of the HBO Paradise Lost documentaries, another great (and equally as tragic) doc called Brother’s Keeper. With the screenplay from him and co-writer Dick Beebe, I imagined Berlinger could spin his documentary style into an interesting sequel for the story Myrick and Sánchez began.
That’s not the case, unfortunately. I’m sure that even this movie has its fans, a cult following. But whereas other cult films feel justified in their love, often due to the project released at the wrong moment in time, Book of Shadows stinks not only of a cash grab, it’s also one majorly wasted opportunity.
Parts of what I feel Berlinger aimed at work. So much of it doesn’t, and falls into cheese; not even the good kind. You can watch this as a biting, murderous, supernatural satire re: diehard fans of the first film. Not well written. Although definitely, at least partly what Beebe and Berlinger tried to get across. It didn’t come too quickly after the original, that isn’t the reason this did poorly. Plain and simple, this falls well short of being a good movie. The dialogue is brutal, to the point of cringing in many a scene, then it gets far too expository to take seriously. If only the screenplay were tighter, the acting better, and most of all: if only it were found footage. That’s one of my biggest gripes. Beyond that Berlinger tried doing something that would’ve otherwise been good. Somehow he stumbled, fumbling just about every last drop of potential.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-21-48-amThere are a few genuinely unsettling images, I must admit. An early dream sees one of the women having a dream about drowning her unborn baby in a river, blood bubbling up from the water. It’s jarring because we enter the dream seamless, no indication, and then a nice smash cut out of this nightmarish image to see her lying in a tent. A great scene that always gets me.
These gnarly moments are few and far between.
One scene that particularly pisses me off is when the group first wake up to find all the paper essentially snowing down on them. I never judge people TOO much on the decisions they make because they don’t know they’re in a horror movie. But fuck, man. This one chaps my ass. When they’re rationally trying to figure out what’s gone on, they never once question WHY AND HOW THE HELL IS THE PAPER SNOWING DOWN ON US? It’s clearly dropping out of the sky, and they don’t make one reference to maybe looking in the trees to see if anyone is playing tricks on them, et cetera. I mean, I can forgive a lot of stupid stuff screenplay-wise in horror. I love the genre, though I know sometimes the writing isn’t perfect, even in movies I actually enjoy. This screenplay is chock full of garbage writing; glaring omission, poor and unbelievably character decisions, amongst more mistakes. Too bad because, as I mentioned, the concepts alive in the script die on the vine instead of blooming to make the sequel a worthy successor.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-26-41-amI can’t help but be mad at the writing. And I do know that, against his will, the studio shot some scenes to make this more a straight-forward horror, whatever the hell that means. So part of this isn’t totally Berlinger’s doing, regardless of his co-writing the script. Maybe one day we’ll get a version that shows us what Berlinger originally wanted, which would be nice. Either way, this version ends up with bad writing choices dominating everything.
So much wasted potential. Even down to Erica Leerhsen’s witch character and her worry about The Blair Witch Project reflecting negatively on actual witches, such as her and fellow Wiccans. This, along with the satirical eye towards die hard lovers of the first film insisting on the Blair Witch is real, wound up as fodder.
And that’s the frustrating part. Berlinger could’ve made this into a horror containing social commentary, satirising modern film culture, fanaticism, and other big ideas. Instead of following the first film with a powerhouse, this falls just about entirely flat. The original worked because of its reality angle, the rawness and the gritty qualities of the mainly improvised script. This one should have been capable of improving, and yet with a fully formed script this never comes close to achieving any of the goals it lays out theme-wise.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-32-14-amscreen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-41-22-amMaybe giving this two out of five stars is even too much. But there’s enough to keep me watching Book of Shadows, so I don’t feel too guilty; though a bit of guilt exists, all the same. Don’t get me wrong: this is a bad movie. Especially when you consider The Blair Witch Project and how great it was, in many ways. Berlinger deserves better, I’m sure there is a better cut of the movie somewhere in existence, or at least pieces of which that can be assembled into sequel worthy of what Sánchez and Myrick started.
A handful of scenes, or more so moments, does not a movie make. When I compare this with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s recent Blair Witch, it’s easy to see what works and what doesn’t, at all. This is a huge mess. It’s a good one to throw on when you’re bored, doing something else, or for a night when you want to watch something foolish with a group of friends. And if you’re all fans of the original, it’s even more fun to laugh as you watch.
Nevertheless, you might find a couple things that appeal to you. Or, maybe it’s a total trash bin. I don’t disagree, no matter how you feel. I’m going to rally behind anyone who wants to see a Berlinger-approved cut. Behind the mess a Book of Shadows worth the time and worth carrying the Blair Witch name may exist. If the latest entry in the series spawns a sequel, themes from this failed sequel would be exciting to revisit, if they were better written and more extensively explored. Here’s to hope!

Balagueró’s TO LET is a Haunting Story of Moving Day Hell

Para entrar a vivir (English title: To Let). 2006. Directed by Jaume Balagueró. Screenplay by Balagueró & Alberto Marini.
Starring Macarena Gómez, Nuria González, Adrià Collado, Ruth Diaz, Roberto Romero, & David Sandanya.
Estudios Picasso/Filmax/Telecinco.
Rated 18+. 68 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterJaume Balagueró’s given us a good deal of enjoyable horror cinema. His first feature film Los sin nombre is an eerie adaptation of a Ramsey Campbell novel that still sticks with me. From there he moved on to two underrated little movies called Darkness and Fragile before rocking our world with the mostly awesome [Rec] series, as well as the tense thriller Sleep Tight.
Surprisingly enough one of my favourites out of his catalogue is this made for TV movie, To Let (original Spanish title: Para entrar a vivir) – a disturbing, haunted piece of work about a couple who stumble upon a deal too good to be true while looking for a new apartment.
This film is well-directed and Balagueró does great things in terms of tension. Not only that, the horror is visceral, exciting.
To Let could’ve used a slight tweak in the screenplay, although nothing major. The story is creepy enough to reel you in and keep you in suspense. There’s impressive cinematography, horrific twists and turns within the film’s main apartment building location, and a genuinely satisfying(/terrifying) finish.
screenshot-2016-11-02-at-9-50-32-pmThe opening is a disturbing scene with screaming noise, a bloody mother and child in a darkened apartment, eerie whispers all around them. What could be happening? And what’s already happened? Immediately, the excellent production value, considering this is a television movie, is noticeable. Really good stuff. Part of Films to Keep You Awake, the cinematography and the locations used are stunning. They picked a perfect building to film, it has a character and life of its own, which always bodes well for a horror capitalising on setting as part of the plot.
There’s a shot winding up the stairs of the building, cutting from the couple to the real estate agent, and back again, that’s so beautiful and well put together. Visually strikes you as soon as you see it. One of those touches which turns a pedestrian moment, climbing the stairs of an apartment building, into a much more engrossing series of shots.
All around there’s stellar camerawork. Good shaky camera angles and jump cuts to fray the collective audience nerves, as the situation in the apartment building deteriorates fast. Quite intense with smart use of cinematography. While we can get a clear, though still spooky understanding of the plot ahead of the main character, it is a suspenseful, tense ride due to how everything’s shot.
Maybe my favourite sequence in terms of the drawn out tension is one where our main character is trying to escape. She ends up outside a window, grasping at a drainpipe, and lord, is it ever a good scene. Makes you want to bite your nails.
screenshot-2016-11-02-at-10-16-18-pmscreenshot-2016-11-02-at-10-18-58-pmThe story plays out nicely. I truly feel the plot is spectacular and even if you can see certain things coming, Balagueró manages to subvert expectations with visceral bits of horror, pure thrills. At one point I expected a ghost story, like a haunted apartment building similar to the 1977 Michael Winner film The Sentinel. Instead it’s an altogether different tale, so human and real that the concept alone is chilling. The apartment’s inhabitants are each scary in their own way, imagining how long they’ve all been there, what’s happened to them, where they were before; a true creepshow.
At the end, the resolution is appropriately unsettling to boot. You could almost see a few movies about this awful, old apartment building with its eerie landlord, so many tenants. The scariest part of the film, to me, is the utterly horrifying concept of not having control over where you live, forced to stay in a home you don’t want.
screenshot-2016-11-02-at-10-54-41-pmOur protagonist, played by Macarena Gómez, is a treat. There are, as is the case with many horrors, moments where you’ll question her decision making, but then again, nobody’s ever been in quite this same situation. Still, she is tough, she’s relentless. Gómez draws you in and she’ll hold your attention throughout the sparse 68-minute runtime of the movie. If it weren’t for her, the characters wouldn’t be near as engaging. Playing the husband, Adrià Collado also does fine work opposite Gómez. They work great together and as the situation in the building spirals out of control, their reactions, their emotions, everything keeps you charging towards the finale.
To Let is criminally under-seen. Not many people I know have even seen it, which is a shame. It’s certainly better than being relegated to the realm of the dreaded TV movie. While Balagueró has done better work, this one is still up in the ranks of his greatest. [Rec][Rec]2DarknessSleep Tight; these are tough movies to beat. But To Let hangs in there with them and in just over an hour this story will haunt your thoughts.
It’s not easy to track down and took me awhile. Although if you’re able, this is worth your time to find. Balagueró delivers a damn horrific psycho-thriller, at times playing to expectations, other times subverting them to fantastic effect. If you walk away from this one unsatisfied, it’s fine, but I’m not sure why. Because this is the type of horror I’d put on right after watching it through, ready for another round right away. The film isn’t hard to follow. Yet the plot is engrossing, remaining embedded in the mind long after the credits roll.

WER Brings Fierce Werewolf Game

Wer. 2014. Directed by William Brent Bell. Screenplay by Bell & Matthew Peterman.
Starring A.J. Cook, Simon Quarterman, Stephanie Lemelin, Vik Sahay, Fran Drescher, Sebastian Roché, & Brian Scott O’Connor.
FilmDistrict/Incentive Filmed Entertainment/Protoype.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Action/Fantasy/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterMany people put this in the found footage sub-genre of horror. It’s only partly found footage oriented. There’s use of it amongst the story, which crosses from action to fantasy to thriller in a breath.
Wer has a lot to offer. Director (and co-writer) William Brent Bell does a fine job directing, as many of his choices are what makes the movie exciting. Not everybody loved his previous works (Stay AliveThe Devil Inside). Me, I dig them both, but they’re nothing overly special. With this film Bell capitalises on his strengths, mixing in some found footage while doing his best work as director to give us impressive visuals. Certainly doesn’t hurt to have a group of solid actors.
But best of all is the werewolf component of the story. I’m admittedly not a big fan of werewolves. Not sure why. That being said, I do love the great werewolf pictures. The way Bell and his co-writer Matthew Peterman (also the writer of Bell’s other aforementioned films) weave modern science, rural v. city politics, and a drop of superstitious fantasy together is striking. The plot will grab hold and the action, the horror, they’ll whisk you away.

The first scene involves a boy being eaten alive. Of course we don’t see everything. The suggestion, what we HEAR instead of SEE, those briefly visible bits of blood and gore, it’s unsettling. To start like that kicks things into gear fast. Lots of mystery and intrigue then with a frenetic view of clips, a victim’s video statement about what happened, and the pace really gets pumping out of the gates.
Then we take a side step, as the whole thing involves the criminal investigation of this vicious attack. A.J. Cook (Criminal Minds) plays attorney Kate Moore, and she is a natural on camera. Her range works well for the role, as she must first deal with legal fallout before coming to understand exactly what’s been happening concerning the defendant picked up for the werewolf murders. Right away, this guy – Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor) – is one physically intimidating character. He’s shot in such a way that any movement from his is pure suspense, his quiet demeanour renders him even more a scary presence. Plus, he’s made to look like a wild animal trapped in the body of a human: hairy, dishevelled and unkempt, a shaggy dog-looking man. Both Cook and O’Connor are perfect, giving life to the characters at the centre of the storm.
Love the screenplay. Its story is compelling because there’s so much going on, from Talan’s family and his condition, to his mother’s belief that the police are targeting her son due to the state wanting their land. A proper mix of drama, horror, mystery, and some of that fantasy in terms of the werewolf angle. Bell and Peterman do well with the werewolves. When one character is scratched by Talan early on it’s nearly forgotten. Until later it becomes evident we’re definitely in werewolf territory, after tiptoeing around being sure if the story’s headed there or not. This scratch becomes an excellent part of later plot developments.
screenshot-2016-11-02-at-11-30-00-pmscreenshot-2016-11-02-at-11-42-02-pmPLOT SPOILERS AHEAD

The scene when Talan escapes custody while being examined at a hospital is absolutely incredible. There’s a strange mood and tone. Science can’t even help, it has no idea what it’s up against when they test for porphyria then accidentally trigger his true condition. A pounding score starts right along with Talan’s powerful rage, and a bloody bang sets an entirely other bran of the plot into motion.
There are great effects, from big blockbuster-type stuff to the more small makeup effects and even the bits of CGI involved. Once the finale comes around this evolves into a straight up action-horror. I consider this one of the better recent examples of action and horror as a hybrid. Sure to get the heart pounding.
This is a werewolf movie, but one that combines folklore with modern science in order to create an entirely other look at werewolves. And there’s no official explanation as to what Talan is, we’re merely led to believe what we will. The screenplay does well using our expectations against us, never implicitly moving into werewolf mythology and yet never shunning it, right down to medical diagnoses and also Talan’s Romanian blood; there are many avenues down which to travel, not pinning us solely to one answer. In this way, we wind up with more action and intensity all around, which is killer. Movies like this one, Wolfen and Late Phases, bring their own unique vision of the sub-genre with fun results.
screenshot-2016-11-03-at-12-02-40-am
Wer has just about everything I look for in a horror. Bell uses Romanian locations to his advantage, going from handheld camera to using pieces of found footage throughout. The cinematography really is nice, which is always a bonus. Not to mention there’s an A+ score – ominous strings that take on an Old World feel, crossed with some darker, electronic compositions. On the technical side this movie’s an ass kicker.
Again, I’m not the biggest werewolf movie advocate. The others I’ve mentioned, plus classics like John Landis’ landmark An American Werewolf in London, each bring their own innovative sensibilities about the sub-genre to the table. A sea of others just miss the mark, never giving us anything new.
I highly recommend Wer. Well-acted and directed. The visuals are fun, the pace becomes chaotic in the best ways. And yes: there’s a nice portion of blood. Some of the action-styled sequences will have you almost rooting at the screen. So dig in and get hairy!

Lower V. Upper Class: THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK

The House on the Edge of the Park. 1980. Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Screenplay by Gianfranco Clerici & Vincenzo Mannino.
Starring David Hess, Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Marie Claude Joseph, Gabriele Di Giulio, Brigitte Petronio, Karoline Mardeck, & Lorraine De Selle.
F.D. Cinematografica.
Unrated. 91 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
posterRiding on the coattails of The Last House on the Left, Ruggero Deodato came on hard with 1980’s The House on the Edge of the Park, another violent and borderline vile film starring David Hess as one of the aggressors. Of course Deodato is forever infamous for the found footage which started it all – Cannibal Holocaust. But this movie has some equally brutal bits, as well as has a few things to say amongst all the violence.
This is another movie that found itself on the Video Nasties list; sometimes this is a badge of honour for certain films worth the effort, others it’s simply a way of telling whether a horror is outrageous. The House on the Edge of the Park is part of the former group. Not all of its scenes play right, the screenplay could use a nice bit of work to tighten things up. Apparently Hess re-wrote lots of his dialogue, he was given half the film’s rights in order to secure him as a star, so I’m willing to bet the script suffered a bit with so much of the actor’s control exerted over the production. Despite any of its faults, this is one horror-thriller that hits deep with hints of class disparity, cruel violence, and a disturbing look at how tragic events push people into becoming someone far from themselves.
pic1As opposed to Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, this one starts out with brutal violence. Instead of lulling us into a bit of complacency Deodato begins in nastiness, then transitions into a more unsuspecting film with shades of class division in its themes, as we watch two men from a much more street life come in contact with the bourgeoisie in nasty, supremely violent ways.
Hess’ character Alex is the physical representation of hedonism – food, sex, violent delights, and more. He only cares about getting off, getting his; whether that’s rape or murder or whatever else. Regardless of this side to Alex, he is aware of his separation from the upper class; he understands his supposed place in the chain of class command. In parallel, his less menacing buddy Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is like a more unaware, less conscious member of the lower class. He doesn’t see the people making fun of him for his apparent differences. It takes Alex to make him realise this is what’s happening, thrusting him into that violence he knows well.
When Alex and Ricky crash the party, this borders on Les Liaisons dangereuses in the form of an exploitation flick. The best way to see the class disparity is how the upper class torture Ricky, they act from a privileged position and treat Ricky like a sideshow to watch instead of someone with whom they can party. But then their treatment of people they perceive as lower class is regrettable, as Alex rises up and makes them regret their privilege and how t leads them to treat others. After this the night spins out of control.
pic2SPOILERS AHEAD!
All around the movie’s chilling. During the assault Alex begins this feeling amplifies. Everything is so quiet, there’s an absence of music. Fear is so viscerally present. However, the plot is slow going, and not in a good slow burn manner. The tension dies out after awhile which kills things. It isn’t even as violent as you’d expect, outside of a couple moments that stick. Almost a softcore porn at times, a bit boring. Although the film makes up for these missteps once Alex goes wild near the end.
One of the best moments of tension is the difference between Hess and his partner. This provides a sense of relief from some of the horror involve with the home invasion, though not much.  The ending is bittersweet – it isn’t great, Alex gets shot in the dick followed by a hilariously fun slow motion scream. But the two criminals get what’s coming to them, despite their differences and Ricky’s reluctant complicity with the crime.
In the end, the partygoers take their own revenge. Question is: are they any better for wanting to hurt and kill Alex particularly? They taunt him, pushing him into a pool, and plan to cover up everything afterwards. Not that Alex doesn’t deserve what he gets; he does, indeed. It’s simply that there’s no moral high ground for the victims by choosing to let Alex die, almost killing his partner with a dose of brutish, violent revenge. So what’s left in the end is a group of upper class people dragged down to the level of the disgruntled lower class. But following this encounter, they’re forever changed, and some aren’t sure death wouldn’t be better than living after such viciousness.
What matters is that its all over
But at what price?”
pic3Deodato could’ve done more. Once more, I feel like Hess being too involved, being given such a wide berth as to what he was able to do re: dialogue and the screenplay, this hindered The House on the Edge of the Park. He does wonderfully devilish things with the role of Alex, no doubt. Simply put, Hess should’ve stuck to the acting instead of trying to hard to take control over the writing.
Through it all there’s a sense of violent class warfare above all the nasty bits. Deodato didn’t really focus on that much intentionally, not that I can tell. Outside of using it to drive the violence. Then again, I can’t count him out. When many see no point to Cannibal Holocaust I feel Deodato, in his best works like that dangerous bit of found footage, he’s getting at what are just as dangerous ideas and messages.
Give this a chance. Although there are a good many flaws, The House on the Edge of the Park is one of those movies on the Video Nasties list that’s actually enjoyable. I consider this one of the better Deodato offerings – up there with Live Like a Cop, Die Like a ManCut and Run, and of course Cannibal Holocaust. You might not discover your favourite movie in this one, but if you’re a horror hound it’ll tickle that urge to indulge something disturbing.

BE MY CAT: A FILM FOR ANNE is One Blurry Line Between Movies & Murder

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne. 2016. Directed & Written by Adrian Tofei.
Starring Adrian Tofei, Sonia Teodoriu, Florentina Hariton, & Alexandra Stroe.
Produced by Tofei. 87 minutes.
Not Rated.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★posterFound footage annoys certain people. Me, I’m always willing to give it a chance. There’s a lot of good stuff out there – unique, innovative stuff. No shortage of it, but now and then you’ve got to dig through a heap of trash to find the diamonds. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne uses its found footage premise well, driving the main theme of the film: obsession.
Director and writer Adrian Tofei blurs the line between fiction and reality so well that at times it’s easy to forget you’re watching a film. Using the idea of trying to get the attention of Anne Hathaway in Hollywood, Tofei puts himself in the lead role of a director badly wanting to make a movie with her. This isn’t exactly a totally original premise. It’s the way Tofei enacts his plot, the dread which follows and everything in between that makes this slice of found footage different.
As is the case with most of the sub-genre, this entry doesn’t have much style to it. That matters not. Tofei’s acting, his eerie presence, and the raw qualities of the filming, these are elements which make this a worthwhile watch for any fans of the found footage style.
img_4032There are plenty films involving stalkers in this sub-genre, but they’re so often masked, or unseen behind the camera’s lens. Tofei is upfront and centre the entire time. This allows us a way into his mind, giving the audience a passenger side seat to the psychosis that overtakes him gradually; or maybe it’s been with him the whole time. Either way, it’s ugly. Not in a way which detracts from the story. There’s a compelling feel to watching this guy unravel.
Obsession is the theme driving everything. Underneath, this film is about the blur between fiction and reality. Philosopher Jean Baudrillard talked about the simulacra and how the world’s become hyperreal, in that everything real has more so become just a form of something fictional we all recognise (that’s a very liberal take on his extensive concept). In a way, this is how Be My Cat is structured. Tofei dives deeper and deeper with each scene into that psychosis I mentioned, along with the audience. The further he gets into the movie he’s making to send Anne, the more he feels justified in the things he’s doing. “This is the sacrifice Im making,” he tells the camera, as if urging us to believe in him. What happens is a process of dissociation. Tofei dissociates from the self, becoming his character – Adrian, himself – far too literally. Reminding us that he is in fact this character Adrian and not the real Adrian, he says: “I would never do something like this.” Real murder becomes mere character action, the progression of his psychosis is then development in his dangerous metafiction view of the world, through his film. It’s like method acting gone past the point of normal psychology.
img_4029The story’s trajectory is relatively obvious. Early on we understand there’s something not quite right with Adrian. Doesn’t take long. It’s how he takes us there that makes the plan uniquely terrifying. Adrian’s kinda crazy, kinda nonchalant attitude is unsettling, at the same time not wholly without charm either. His character, gradually flipping from fiction to reality to metafiction, engages the audience even in the slower scenes. You can’t help wondering what he’ll do or say next, which keeps you off balance, and never quite capable of pinning him down with any understanding.
A pivotal moment for his character comes when he says that “boys and dogs are bullies” when he talks about girls and cats. We hear a bit about why he likes cats, or why the character likes them. And this is one major point of division between Adrian and his fictional character Adrian. There’s a clear line you can follow, watching the dissociation get worse.
This movie isn’t built on shock value, either. You expect it to be, but what the story focuses on most is Adrian’s descent into fiction that becomes brutally real. Along the way there’s obviously blood. Rather than go for a gory mess constantly, the blood is at times partly off-screen and the full nastiness is hidden. What’s worse is one scene where a victim comes upon a slow realisation that Adrian is actually preparing to do a homemade dissection on her. Too creepy. He fully dissociates from reality at this point, the ultimate separation, and doesn’t for a single second come to grips with the real murder he’s committing.
img_4031I remember hearing of Be My Cat and just the short description, the Twitter account, caught my attention. There’s an edgy psychological aspect that sinks its teeth in and never lets go. Admittedly, I know that some may not find it as compelling. Not everyone wants to do a slow burn into madness in found footage format. And that’s fine, I understand. I suggest giving it a chance. Tofei has done something here that’s on the verge of greatness.
There are times you might feel the acting isn’t up to par. I disagree. Tofei’s uncomfortable moments are used to good effect, and that also plays into the worrisome metafiction of the film overall. The performances of the actresses are equally as impressive. When you fall down the rabbit hole of despair alongside the fictional Adrian Tofei and his unsuspecting victims it’s all the more troubling that the performances on either side of the murder-victim aisle pull you into a space where fiction gets questionable.
Can’t recommend this film enough. I’ve seen it described as revolutionary for the found footage sub-genre, as dangerous, many other things. They’re pretty much all right, as far as I’m concerned. Looking forward to whatever this guy takes on next. If Be My Cat is any indication, Tofei has an intriguing perspective on the horror genre.

The Exorcist – Season 1, Chapter Nine: “162”

FOX’s The Exorcist
Season 1, Episode 9: “162”
Directed by Bill Johnson
Written by Franklin Jin Rho & Jeremy Slater

* For a review of Chapter Eight, “The Griefbearers” – click here
* For a review of Chapter Ten, “Three Rooms” – click here
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With Chris MacNeil dead, where does the Rance family go from here? Angela (Geena Davis) tells her bullshit story while Pazuzu rules from inside. Henry (Alan Ruck) and Kat (Brianne Howey) don’t know much what to make of it, but it’s clear the demon works hard to cover things up. More than that, Superintendent Jaffey (Tim Hopper), possessed himself, is present. The demon in him recognises the one in Regan.
Then we see a flash to Regan, watching her daughter about to have her neck snapped. And time freezes: “Ah, together again,” says the Salesman (Robert Emmet Lunney) as they become one after so long.
So what will we see from the demons, working in legion as a whole entity? Very interesting, and very troublesome.
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Casey (Hannah Kasulka) is back at home. All the people are gone, only a memorial to Chris, discarded signs, candles remain. But we’re constantly seeing Regan become more ingratiated to the demon’s personality.
In other news, Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels) is forever on the case. He still has the help of Cherry and Lester Rego (Keira Naughton & Ken Marks). They’ve got a line on a bit of information concerning Brother Simon (Francis Guinan). Now they’re worried that if Bennett’s in trouble, which he is, then they may know about everything – Mother Bernadette (Deanna Dunagan), the Rances, maybe even Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) and his involvement with it all. Speaking of Tomas, he’s having dinner with the Rance family, who are getting over the loss of their grandmother and the tumultuous times they’ve gone through as of late. At the table, Casey is incredibly quiet; her eyes speak volumes. And Kat, she notices the nonchalant way in which Angela tosses of her own mother’s death. Eerie few moments. Plus a little later Henry talks about hearing a lot of voices, murmuring in his head; the voices all mash together and repeat the number 162.
The Regos are out taking pictures of Brother Simon and they might’ve been spotted. Although the old priest heads on in to meet with the Superintendent of Police, Maria Walters (Kirsten Fitzgerald), and others. Then? Pazuzu arrives. They talk of Father Merrin, plans for Pope Sebastian, so on. Looks as if Pazuzu is much more powerful than any of the other demons present. So powerful, he makes just about every one of them kneel; well, grovel to the floor on their bellies. He makes Simon kiss Regan’s shoes, too. They’re all in line finally, bearing down on the “sanctimonious whores” they’ll target next.


Bishop Egan (Brad Armacost) talks with Father Tomas. He offers up a bigger position elsewhere, as well as the fact they’re closing St. Anthony’s, where Tomas has his parish. And it’s through this conversation the young priest tries divulging his recent sins. However, the bishop doesn’t exactly care too much. Most of all he wants Tomas and his prying ways out of their hair in Chicago. No matter if the priest has been unfaithful to his vows.
The ever sly Father Marcus is sneaking around in the back of the church while Tomas is out chatting. They discuss the pending transfer. But Marcus knows more. He advises “mind your back” and to keep an eye out. Then he’s called away by the Regos.
Casey’s recovering, although her mind weighs heavy. She still doesn’t seem herself even if Kat tries to treat her normally. She’s feeling guilty because of the dead paramedics, regardless if it was actually her doing the killing. “You survived,” Kat tries assuring her. Sometimes, though, that isn’t enough.
When Marcus gets back to see Cherry and Lester, he finds them dead. Bullet holes in them. He says a prayer over their corpses, searching the place for a few bullets to take with the gun. At the same time Mother Bernadette receives a visit from Angela: “We shouldve killed you when we had a chance,” the nun says plainly. Thus follows the death of Bernadette, and who the hell knows what’ll happen to the other sisters who show up immediately afterwards. When Marcus gets there, he finds a massacre (note: a great instance of what sometimes we DON’T see is scarier than what we DO see).
At home, Angela talks to Casey about her possession. “At a certain point you asked for it,” mom tells her daughter. That’s so… gross. Pazuzu tries forming a bond between mother and daughter, though I can’t help feel like Casey’s going to start noticing there is something not quite right with mama.
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There’s a big ceremony going on, Superintendent Jaffey, Mrs. Walters, Bishop Egan, Father Tomas, and all sorts of guests are present. Maria takes the stage to give a little speech for everybody. She speaks of Pope Sebastian and his ray of light amongst the darkness in Chicago. Everyone’s quite excited. Some, obviously, much more than others.
In bed, Angela and Henry get close for the first time in so long. Then she starts choking him, rough. To the point it isn’t remotely fun. I think, finally, Henry’s getting that something is wrong with his wife, more than ever. I worry for him, as well. Then there’s Casey – she witnesses Pazuzu in her mother, running hands all over Kat’s body in a sexual way. HOLY SHIT, that’s disturbing. The demon wants what he wants, and that’s it. Casey can see what’s happening. She knows.
Brother Simon sits in his suite, drinking, eating oysters and other tasty treats. Definitely not what you’d expect of a holy man; he sucks caviar from his fingers and laps it all up. Before Father Marcus barges his way inside, kicking the shit out of the old demon before filling a bathtub with water and a bit of sacramental salt. He dunks the demon’s face in, asking for more info. Except Brother Simon tells him about how the coming death of the Pope is inevitable: “Romes shame, come full circle.”
Marcus is now at the mercy of Brother Simon – he’s got the bowl of ash out, the vocare pulvere dish. Is he going to try possessing Marcus?!?
Under cover of night, Casey gets Kat and her father ready. They’re leaving without Angela; the demon Pazuzu has her. But the demon wants a family meeting. Nobody’s going anywhere. Pazuzu and the girl formerly known as Regan have become fully integrated. Permanent possession. The demon then talks about their history, how God cast them all down after creating Man, et cetera. Turns out the demon is also going to have to hurt one of the family, to make sure they’re punished properly. And it’s Casey. Pazuzu chokes her until Tomas arrives: “Get the hell away from her.”


Oh shit! Another gorgeous, disturbing, compelling episode. As it’s been from the beginning.
The finale is next. Wow, I hope they give us another season. We need it. Last episode is titled “Three Rooms” and I’m not even able to imagine where it’ll take us. Hopefully FOX will renew the show, if not I’m sure Slater & Co. have a fun ending for the season to take us away.

The Exorcist – Season 1, Chapter Six: “Star of the Morning”

FOX’s The Exorcist
Season 1, Episode 6: “Star of the Morning”
Directed by Jennifer Phang
Written by Laura Marks

* For a review of Chapter Five, “Through My Most Grievous Fault” – click here
* For a review of Chapter Seven, “Father of Lies” – click here
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After the longest break of my god damn life, The Exorcist returns after dropping the bomb that Angela Rance (Geena Davis) is in fact Regan MacNeil. We start on an old television show where young Regan and her mother are being interviewed about the whole Georgetown incident. She doesn’t remember much, though her mother insists she does. “The demon girl” obviously had to do some distancing to get away from her past since that show. I find it fascinating they did this, plot-wise, as the whole thing opens up a lot of great paths the show can take from here. Dig it wholeheartedly.
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Chris MacNeil (Sharon Gless) has shown up on the Rances doorstep. She and Kat (Brianne Howey) try to do a little bonding, sort of, while Angela is decidedly unhappy about her mother showing up. Unfortunately there’s the whole cover-up asect to Angela’s marriage, Henry (Alan Ruck), very appropriately, is upset about what his wife has hidden. Can he blame her? She was exorcised, she saw several people die – albeit while possessed – and went through a terrifying ordeal. It’s sad that she couldn’t tell her husband at some point, however, I don’t blame her.
Everyone’s clearly worried for Casey (Hannah Kasulka), who is god knows where and doing who knows what. Right now Henry wants to take his chances with the mother-in-law. All to find his daughter; she’s now on the lam and people are left dead in her wake. I’m even more worried for Angela right now. Her old life is clawing back. She even hears strange noises in her head for just a moment. All the same, Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) feels pissed about not having all the facts before going into Casey’s room. “Possession is like a virus,” he tells the scared mother and makes painfully obvious what the consequences are if they can’t find her daughter in time. “Integration” – the next step – is a permanent destruction of the soul, when the girl’s soul will come inextricably linked to that of the demon. Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) feels that his counterpart is a bit harsh. They simply don’t have enough time to piss about.
A press conference is called, the Rances in attendance with famous grandma in tow. They’re the centre of a publicity carnival. But not everyone is so concerned with the Rance family. People were murdered – butchered, and brutally – recently and nobody seems too quick to seek out the answer on that. Meanwhile, we see some of the dastardly, wholesale nastiness of those that killed these victims, using the organs taken for sinister purposes. A woman at the press conference calls out the names of the victims, hoping for justice. Nobody there understands exactly the significance of those murders, not just yet.

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The police are curious about Father Marcus, having been arrested after performing the exorcism. They want to shut the whole “possession” story down, so as not to confuse the public. Of course they show Angela and Henry the pictures of what happened during the ambulance ride Casey took. Upstairs, Chris tries to talk with Kat about what happened to her mother, formerly known as Regan. A media circus ensued, partly because Chris needed to keep her career alive. She talks about the Ouija board and “Captain Howdy.” Eerie fucking conversation, to say the least. Kat believes her grandmother is victim blaming a little by attributing it all to Regan not listening about the Ouija being no good, although Chris admits she failed her own daughter ultimately.
Father Bennett (Kurt Egyiawan) and Father Marcus are still getting a bit of help from Cherry and Lester Rego in their quest outside the reaches, and know, of the Church. And in a defiant statement, as per his bad ass usual, Marcus tells Bennett: “I dont care about Gods will.” At the very same time something terribly ungodly calls Angela over the phone, taunting her about Casey. The demon produces a horrific image for the frantic mother. All a dream. Has Pazuzu returned for Regan?
Then there’s Jessica (Mouzam Makkar), she’s left her husband and found herself a new apartment. A place where there’s no “guilt” and no “shame” for neither she, nor Father Tomas. He still resists, even though he loves her. Deeply, too. His faith has been shaken in so many ways at once it’s likely he doesn’t know where to turn.

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Poor Henry’s having a lot of trouble. With his recent head injury there are gaps in his memory. He says what held that together is his wife, his family. Most of what hurts him is the fact Angela couldn’t trust him enough to reveal her former life as Regan MacNeil. There are more problems for Angela, as well. She isn’t happy about her mother returning, dragging the media into their home all over again. “You used me,” Angela yells at Chris. Worse than any of that the coroner calls. They may have Casey.
Simultaneously, a report of wild dogs going mad in a neighbourhood prompts Father Tomas to text Marcus, which sets the renegade priest off to check it out.
At the party Maria Walters (Kirsten Fitzgerald) throws for the upcoming papal visit, Father Bennett comes across Dr. John Rexroth (Michael Patrick Thornton), whose talk of angels on Earth draws his attention. Bennett believes what the doctor is actually talking about are demons in our world trying to influence how it works.
At the coroner’s office everyone awaits the news of whether Casey is dead. In go Angela and Henry to make the identification. Gladly, their daughter is still alive. Yet surely in a great deal of existential agony. Finally, Chris and the girl formerly known as Regan embrace. Maybe those wounds can heal. Someday.
The real excitement is in the journey of Father Marcus into the underbelly of the city. He finds a tunnel filled with homeless, possibly possessed individuals. He searches for Casey, calling her name. One woman looks him dead in the eye, repeating: “Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it.” All around him are the signs of evil at work. Then from nowhere Marcus is attacked. He commands them in the name of Christ, which holds them at bay temporarily. Behind him Casey crawls the walls and the floor doing the spider walk her mother did down the stairs all those years ago.

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At the Walters party we come to discover that Dr. Rexroth, Maria herself, one of the priests, among others, are in fact working together in order to complete the vocare pulvere ritual. They even have the little bowl of ashes those killers filled with the ashes of the organs they’d stolen. Wow. I didn’t see this coming, at all. “Star of the morning” is a reference to Lucifer, The Morning Star. Brother Simon (Francis Guinan) leads the ceremony.
All of a sudden, HE IS COMING doesn’t only signal the coming of the Pope. And what’s worse is the fact there are so many influential people at that table, including the police superintendent. “Please take me” everyone around the table declares, as the priest at the table blows ashes into the air. It is in fact the superintendent who receives demonic power from the ashes, and something other takes over his body.
Everyone present looks very, very pleased. A delighted, evil laughter rises from the table. Maria doesn’t look particularly happy; she wanted to be chosen. How sad when the devil passes you over.
On the shore near the tunnel Father Marcus locates Casey feasting on a sea bird. He approaches her, reciting Christian incantation. Before the demon attacks him, trying its best to murder the priest. A perfect place, kinda. Marcus uses the water to in effect baptise Casey, releasing the demon. Then she returns, herself once more.
Except she tells Marcus: “Hes coming back. Help me.”

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This was the best episode yet! Creepiest, nastiest, wildest, most intriguing. So much going on. The preview for Chapter Seven “Father of Lies” looks insane. Seems Pazuzu is back for revenge against the girl able to survive his wrath. Excited to see what’s next.

Channel Zero – Candle Cove, Episode 4: “A Strange Vessel”

SyFy’s Channel Zero
Season 1, Episode 4: “A Strange Vessel”
Directed by Craig William Macneill
Written by Erica Saleh

* For a review of the previous episode, “Want to See Something Cool?” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Guest of Honor” – click here
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With Mike Painter’s (Paul Schneider) daughter Lily (Abigail Pniowsky) at his mother’s step in Iron Hill, will we discover more secrets behind his childhood? In 1988, Mike and Jessica talking about Eddie, the kids starting to go missing. Then Mike shows her a Pirate Percy doll his brother made recently. No sooner does Candle Cove come on, the skull-headed figure announcing: “Do you sense it? Something is coming. A strange vessel is headed for the cove!”
In the present day Mike tries to figure out how his daughter got all the way back to his hometown, at grandma Marla’s (Fiona Shaw). Lily’s spaced out, no answers for her father. But you know that deep down Mike understands this connects with Eddie, the other missing and dead children. And maybe Marla understands that, too.
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Standing in the hallway of the hospital Jessica (Natalie Brown) can clearly see there are multiple children all witnessing strange things. Candle Cove characters appear all over the wall in kids’ drawings. At least Jessica’s kids are making up. Uh oh – she also notices her boy Dane is missing a tooth. That’s because Katie has it, and the grin across her face as she looks at it is disturbing.
While Mike tries to explain to his wife their daughter showed up in Iron Hill, Jessica goes to see her husband, Sheriff Gary (Shaun Benson), as he sits behind bars. I mean, he fucked up. He’s still convinced Mike is dangerous, advising his wife to go home and get his gun, to keep it close. Just in case. However, husband Gary isn’t aware that his wife’s reconnected online with Mike as of late, before his breakdown and his trip home.
Amy Welch (Luisa D’Oliveira) is busy running things at the station, between actual work and turning down a fellow officer’s sort of sweet advances. I hope to see more of her. It’ll be nice to have her take on a bigger role at work because of Gary’s situation.
Switch back to ’88. Jessica doesn’t particularly like Eddie much, preferring Mike’s company. Especially seeing as how Eddie went pretty weird after watching too much Candle Cove. In the present Jessica meets Lily, who’s still pretty spacey. When she asks the little girl what she likes, Lily replies: “I like pirates.” Oh, for fuck sakes! Then, in the wall of the living room, she pulls out the Pirate Percy doll. She also says she isn’t Lily. Her doctor dad tries to do his thing, analysing; is Lily channelling the spirit of her dead uncle Eddie? Speaking of, we go back to ’88 again when he tells Mike about how every time they send somebody off to Candle Cove, “it gets stronger” – the Tooth Child? Regardless, there was a division between the brothers, and clearly Eddie felt that slipping, worried his brother would love a girl more than him. Tragic, really, as well as part of growing up, figuring life out.

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We get a strange reenactment in the shadows, what looks like kids wearing papier-mâché replicas of the Candle Cove characters. Then there’s an amazing matching shot of young Mike and Eddie playing cards, which then cuts to Mike playing cards with his daughter; more evidence of the fact she’s channelling uncle Ed. Also, a terrifying figure lurks in the shadows as father and daughter/brother play. What is it? A pirate?
Only problem with the whole channelling dead Eddie thing is that it really gets to Marla. She’s a good woman, whose family was just torn right open. Mike has been immersed in this weirdness his entire life, or most of it; she’s only been experiencing the truth behind everything recently. And she doesn’t know exactly how to handle all those emotions. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep it together. At the same time, Mike talks to his brother through Lily; about his murder. Basically Eddie’s soul needs to get put to rest. Until then Lily ain’t Lily.
Those creepy mask wearing kids are no doubt those crazies Mrs. Booth has been training. Deputy Welch winds up talking to the old teacher, worried about what she saw them doing recently by the roadside – stabbing the shit out of a mannequin. They speak a bit of ’88, Jacob… then we’re back to that time once more, as Eddie goes to see Jacob Booth. Oh, my. I can see it coming now. Candle Cove comes on. Mother hugs her son Jacob tight, kissing him with tears in her eyes. Is she doing what I think she’s doing?
Eddie once tricked Jessica and tried sending her to Candle Cove. So brother confronts brother. Eventually, Mike gets the upper hand by pulling back those injured fingers on Eddie’s hand and running off. Present day once more, there are other nasty children skulking about. Amy tries to track down those kids at the school only to stumble into a darkened room where computer screens with Candle Cove screensavers pop up. On she goes to the gym where the mask wearers shout “Protect the ship” before Amy interrupts. Jesus, these kids are creepy.

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Mike and Jessica go the morgue where Eddie’s body lies shelved. They’re taking the next necessary step to try returning Lily to normal. They burn his remains out in the woods. Simultaneously, grandma can’t seem to keep her eyes off her granddaughter, the spirit of her dead son looking back. If all this works, that spirit will be gone soon enough. Good, and sad in a way for Marla.
In other parts of Iron Hill bad things are on their way. Deputy Welch is at home with her Chinese food, the friendly law enforcement suitor from earlier in bed next to her. Little does she know there are awful kids coming for her. In a last minute move she heads over to see Mrs. Booth. No answer. So Amy finds the spare key and lets herself in. Noises lead her down to the basement. There she finds unpleasant jars, a Candle Cove doll, a dead Daphne being feasted on by a cat. GET OUT, AMY!
It seems the masked kids didn’t go to see the deputy after all. Jessica discovers them in her home, wielding knives. They start stabbing her, so she pulls the gun. But who could kill a kid, right? This sends her outside, as the kids crowd her in the little pool and stab her repeatedly under the watchful eye of Mrs. Booth.
Later in the night Lily wakes. She’s herself again, finally. Although she doesn’t remember a single thing. It was all a “nightmare” her father says. But the nightmare’s just beginning.

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What a savage episode. This one frayed my nerves, genuine fright a couple times. There’s just this true sense of dread and suspense. I never expected Jessica to come across those kids. That really threw me for a complete loop.
Next episode is titled “Guest of Honor” and I’m in awe trying to think of what they’ll do next on this series. Love this show. Give me another 5 seasons, right now. So many great, classic Creepypastas they could use.

Digging Up the Past in THE TRIANGLE

The Triangle. 2016. Directed & Written by David Blair, Nathaniel Peterson, Adam Pitman, Andrew Rizzo, & Adam Stilwell.
Starring Andrew Rizzo, Lee Rizzo, Brick Patrick, Nathaniel Peterson, Ciara Rose Griffin, John Budge, Nicholas Daue, Hendra Mylnechuk, Andy Greenfield, & Karen Jean Olds.
Firework Brain/BadFritter Films.
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
img_3997When found footage films go for different concepts from what we see so often, there’s always a bit of worth in watching them. Not that it automatically makes them good; not at all. But credit where credit’s due. Every inch of found footage could be the exact same plot, over and over, if it weren’t for a few great titles out there. Even a few that follow the repeatedly lifted plot of The Blair Witch Project are still good, simply for the fact they’re actually scary.
The Triangle is a horror, yet it isn’t traditional. Having loved Ti West’s The Sacrament and its fictionalised retelling of the tragic Jim Jones story, my initial worry with this movie was that it might follow too closely in line with his, either ripping it off or just feeling way too similar to be any good. It actually goes in its own unique direction, to surprising lengths. The story starts out as a real documentary, in that the postcard these guys receive from an old friend is true to life. From there, reality gives way to beautifully organic plot, to strange horror bordering on science fiction.
This is one found footage flick that has great camerawork, which is an added bonus to all the weird, wild plot developments over the course of a lean 94 minutes. You won’t quite know what to expect, and part of that works on your nerves. A lot of complaints I see online are simply due to the slow burn plot. So, if that’s not your thing maybe you’re not the target audience here. I’d still suggest giving it a chance because of the unique events that unfold in front of the camera, as well as some of the questions you’ll be left asking later.
img_4001Just starting from the premise it’s an interesting way to begin this faux-documentary. A vague, mysterious opening with the postcard, holding endless possibilities. Wondering about many of those sketchy possibilities is a reason why the initial scene is kind of tense. There’s also this hopeful mood, too. Still, a lingering sense of uneasiness accompanies the postcard and even once they decide to head out after their friend there’s an undeniable apprehension inside them all. Like them, we feel on the precipice of a life changing adventure, never knowing if what’s next could be something terrible dark, or if it’s all worry for no reason. You might doubt your thoughts, which is a recurring feeling, and it’s in those moments The Triangle catches you in its tangled web.
There’s talk in the community, as it is with these types of places, about self-sufficiency. What does that really mean, in the end? What must one sacrifice in order to gain it? Or, do these cult-like people simply give themselves over to something or someone else to replace modern society (et cetera)? Often so-called self-sufficiency in these communes, in reality, requires devotion to an Other: a god, a deity, or in these situations a charismatic leader in Rizzo. And when there are these hierarchical positions amongst supposedly open, free communes, there are always secrets, things kept from people and those people kept in the dark about something. Of course we find this is truer than ever throughout the course of the plot.
Any horror, mystery, thriller needs suspense and tension. If not, there’s nothing to grasp onto and even an interesting story can end up plenty less compelling. From the time these guys get to the Ragnarok commune there’s a great deal of slow, mounting tension while the documentary crew – representative of the modern world, that old society from which the commune tries escaping – clashes with everyone they meet. Not in a totally overt way, either. That’s  one reason why it feels dangerous. There is a gruelling passive-aggressiveness about their behaviour, especially Rizzo; he’s the number one. His sense of domineering status and narcissistic attitude comes out more and more after we get to know him a bit. At first, he doesn’t seem to hold that narcissism. He’s open, welcoming, friendly, foolish. As the time passes this changes, and Rizzo emerges, subtly, as absolutely like all those other cult leaders in history. That’s his, and their, ultimate aim is to talk the talk, walk the walk, no matter what lies behind the veil. Perhaps scarier is the fact Rizzo isn’t the only narcissist in the cult, that he’s a mere figurehead for a main group who all share something in common that others in the commune don’t – what that is, you’ll have to find out on your own. Such a thick tension goes on for a long while, then once the mystery of the plot breaks the impact of the coming horror feels significant. We get time with all the main characters, not only Rizzo, so after having spent that portion of the film getting into their lives and their emotions, et cetera, it’s gripping to watch what goes on past the halfway mark.
img_3999SPOILERS: from here on in there’ll be a bunch of spoilers – turn back, lest ye be spoiled!
The commune is named Ragnarok, based on the Ragnarök of Norse mythology which is most commonly translated to mean “the final destiny of the gods.” Later in the film we discover a core group in the commune has had what they call “the dream” and it’s about being led on a journey by this shapeshifting creature, at the end of which it disappears leaving a dinosaur skull – a tyrannosaurus – and then, as one of them puts it, “at the end of the dream, were gone.” Certainly by the time this dream comes up we’ve seen the skull they’ve dug up in a nearby cave, we get the sense it has an effect on people emitting a high-pitched noise the closer you get to it. When the end of the film comes, the main group from Ragnarok who’ve had the dream are all ill, going a bit crazy, and they wander off up into the hills. We see a flash of light in the cave, and everyone is gone.
What does it all mean? Here’s my take.
One of the purposes of their commune was to try and get back to a time they felt was lost in modern society. These people reject the modern world so much that when it comes time for them to sign releases for the film crew, at first there’s significant contention. This changes, yes, but Rizzo even talks about simply not having time for the logistics because they live in the middle of a desert, no real houses, self-sufficient, so they’ve rejected that entire system of living. Point being, they wanted to go back to a lost time, a time before, another place almost. In the end, as it went in their collective dream, a nearly genderless woman comes to take them up to the dinosaur skull, and then they’ve disappeared (“at the end of the dream, were gone“). Have they been transported through time, back to another place? Did they will it to happen through their collective brain power and wanting it to be true? They strip down, almost in a primitive sense. As if going somewhere closes aren’t needed. Everything speaks to going back to the past. Right on down to the fact they’ve dug up the past, literally, by finding the fossil. We’ll never know where they’ve gone. Not for sure. We can only assume from what we’re given, and it’s good fun trying to piece the puzzle together.
img_4002I’ll probably be in the minority, although I couldn’t care any fucking less. The Triangle is an interesting addition to the found footage heap, definitely nearer to the top of the pile. When I felt it was about to rip off West’s recent Jim Jones-inspired effort, the plot threw me for a loop. Not everything was perfect. Even for a slow burn this one takes its sweet time drawing out the story.
All the same, no matter its mistakes this is a weird, worthy little movie. The camerawork is top notch for found footage, giving it more credibility than about half of them in the sub-genre. Better still, I enjoyed the performances and they help make this faux-documentary feel more like the real thing, giving the emotionally charged moments a sense of gravitas. You can do much worse than this movie, as the suspense does a fine job making the stretched out plot feel like an enjoyable breeze.
The Triangle deserves a watch. At least one. Maybe you’ll be pissed off, having felt it was a waste of time. Or maybe, like me, you’ll enjoy trying to figure out the answers to all the questions left after the finale. Either way, it makes you think. And that can’t be said for so many other found footage horrors out there. This one isn’t filled with shaky camera angles, screams, or even blood. It works on your brain until the last moment.

There’s Twice the Psychosis WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK

When A Stranger Calls Back. 1993. Directed & Written by Fred Walton.
Starring Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow, Karen Elizabeth Austin, Babs Chula, John Destry, Duncan Fraser, Jenn Griffin, Gary Jones, Terence Kelly, & Kevin McNulty.
Krost-Chapin Productions/MCA Television Entertainment/Pacific Motion Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
poster1979’s When A Stranger Calls is a favourite of mine. There are far too many people who either don’t know it, or they don’t appreciate it enough. Tony Beckley’s performance as Curt Duncan, the titular stranger, is the stuff of pure nightmare. And somehow, 14 years later, Fred Walton’s sequel When A Stranger Calls Back nearly hits all the same eerie notes with a different story and some of the same characters.
Walton gets a bit wilder in this sequel, although just about every bit of it works. Charles Durning and Carol Kane return again as John Clifford and Jill Johnson respectively, each hardened and experienced due to their experiences with Duncan in the first film. In the position of Kane’s Jill this time around is Jill Schoelen as Julia Jenz, a woman whose life becomes a horrorshow at the hands of a demented, relentless stalker.
The sequel goes for a more outlandish stalker. His psychosis is much stranger than that of Curt Duncan’s urge to kill. Some might find the stalker’s gimmick cheesy. Me, I find it terrifying.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-25-amMimicking the original, Walton starts off with a suspenseful opening sequence with Julia babysitting. However, he sets it apart from the first film by not opting for an outwardly foreboding, unnerving phone call. So much so that Walton’s actually taken the phone out of the picture by literally having it cut dead. This allows the sequel to tread its own ground rather than march straight through the original material all over again. It’s the same, yet isn’t, and the familiarity solely helps as a jumping off point for the tension. At one point Walton cuts back to shots of the doorknob, ratcheting that tension to a maximum. The viewer waiting on seat’s edge to see it turn, or move even in the tiniest way. This moment never comes. Sidestepping the payoff leaves Walton with unresolved tension, poised for a wicked crash once the perverse and threatening action of the titular stranger breaks loose.
When it gets genuinely disturbing is the second stalking. Like Duncan, this stranger comes back again after the first time. But what this guy does as opposed to Duncan is play a far more psychologically threatening game with Julia than Duncan did with Jill; not to say she didn’t suffer, but boy, this stalker is a doozy. Here, the stranger plays sick games to ingratiate himself with Julia, to put himself in her life, somehow in a twisted frame of mind. When you find out what he’s doing later in the film, it is a trip.


Having both Kane and Durning back brings with them credibility, as well as a degree of continuity instead of a sequel that feels like a cash in, put together to get a quick payday for everyone involved, maybe boost the sales of the original. This way, their characters make the story more interesting; there’s more depth, more at stake. Of course it works out well because Jill’s experience in When A Stranger Calls is sort of how we also saw Sydney Prescott in the Scream series eventually become a victim counsellor over the phone – she provides a unique perspective that plays into Julia’s predicament with her own stalker. While the stalker feels weirder in a spooky way, this sequel is less psychological horror – even though there’s plenty of that – and more a dark, emotional thriller full of mystery.
Still, Walton does play well with the psycho-horror of this screenplay. He makes Julia’s apartment into an ominous, paranoid location where each shadow means potential danger. With lingering shots and choice edits, the apartment is like a haunting character in and of itself, which lurks around the viewer, and of course Julia. Walton and cinematographer David Geddes (Legends of TomorrowHalloween: Resurrection) give the film a great look, especially considering this sequel is a TV movie after all.
There are quite a few spectacularly creepy moments and scenes. At one point, the stalker stands over Julia as she lies in a hospital bed – he slaps her over and over, and it’s so horrific because you can clearly see the psychotic behaviour brimming along the edges, past ready to break out fully. SPOILERS! SPOILERS AHEAD! When we get a look at the stranger in his element – a ventriloquist painted black, a dummy on his knee with no facial features – there’s a shocking element to this revelation. Suddenly you understand, all of it. Honestly, this scene starts out funny. Then gradually it becomes unbearable. Totally unsettling shit. Particularly once people start leaving, weirded out by this ventriloquist act, and the owner of the club all but kicks the hell out of the stranger, there’s a sad, pitiful aspect to this man. Sort of emotionally crushing because he’s obviously got issues. Although there’s no connection, no empathy for him – we’ve seen what he does. The final showdown between him, Jill, and Julia is crazy. Very fitting and just as intense. A legitimately frightening finish, at times as frightening as Curt Duncan from the original.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-57-amI’ll always love the original most, and I do feel that it is rightfully the better film. That being said, When A Stranger Calls Back is one of the more underrated sequels to a classic horror that, for whatever reason, never gets its due. That’s probably in part because this went out as a TV movie. Not sure why it ended up that way, because it has the makings of a genuine film and Walton follows his own footsteps lightly, treading carefully in most of the right places.
My only complaint is that I wish we were given a bit more insight into the stalker. We do get plenty later once everything kicks up a notch. But there easily could’ve been more. Perhaps that’s part of it being a TV movie. If we got a full fledged theatrical release movie from Walton on this sequel, there may have been changes in that department. We’ll never know.
Despite any small complaints, this Halloween you need to see When A Stranger Calls Back. This one gets a bit more disquieting simply for how it gets a bit more out of control with a stalking stranger even more unhinged than Curt Duncan; if you can believe it.

SHELLEY: What Would You Accept to Replace a Dead Child?

Shelley. 2016. Directed by Ali Abbasi. Screenplay by Abbasi & Maren Louise Käehne.
Starring Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Cosmina Stratan, Kenneth M. Christensen, & Peter Christoffersen.
Profile Pictures.
Not Rated. 92 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★1/2
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-02-07-pmThere’s an especially horrific aspect to horror movies which focus on pregnancy. There have been plenty of those, most recently an awesome little movie called The Ones Below. Certainly the famous Polanski chiller Rosemary’s Baby is one of the films that kick started the genre fascination with such a subject.
Now, there is Shelley.
For a debut feature Ali Abbasi does impressive work. Well, it doesn’t hurt that the two lead actresses Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Cosmina Stratan pull more than their weight to bring the characters alive. Their efforts together with Abbasi’s creeping atmosphere make the slow burn screenplay – co-written by Maren Louise Käehne – so much fun to wait out.
Although not everybody’s a fan of the slow-moving horror, but trust me, if you give the story a chance to play out the reward is much better than you might expect. A great story is one thing. If you’ve got the brooding, eerie atmosphere to go with then it doesn’t matter how gradual a build the terror takes work under your skin; the time you take to get there becomes all the more enjoyable for the payoff.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-03-58-pmWithin Shelley‘s dream-like atmosphere, the characters are setup well. The initial half hour spends the time wisely doing so. Eventually when the genuine suspense and tension kicks in, along with full-fledged paranoia, there feels to be much more at stake. Because we’ve grown into knowing these people, the horror visited upon them feels scarier and much more genuine than horror where flimsy characters are thrown into terrifying situations without the viewer taking any interest in them or what happens to them.
By the time we figure out what’s actually happening the revelation is near devastation level, setting in with quick fright. On the way there’s lots of eerie ambiguity to haul us into the story. A particularly upsetting instance is when Elena (Stratan) wanders in the woods, feeling strange, only to stumble upon a baby amongst the leaves. Or should I say, a dead baby. At least that’s what it looks like: dead, in the dirt, worms crawling all over its corpse. This is dream, or should I say nightmare, imagery and it takes us deeper into the core themes of the film. Paranoia starts driving the suspense after this point, as we’re walked through a tense, personal drama always with echoes of the supernatural hovering around the characters. The best horror can often keep you questioning reality, right alongside the characters, and Shelley succeeds due to how actively the screenplay keeps the viewer cloaked in literal and psychological darkness, giving us over to images like the baby, which come at the best times to knock the viewer out of their seat.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-05-19-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-17-23-pmObviously the movie channels Polanski and Rosemary’s Baby, although its setting and use of character skews in a different direction, which does well for its refreshing feel. Any pregnancy-related horror always gets the Polanski comparison. Shelley does purposefully homage, but never strikes as trying to copy any of Polanski’s work. It is far more ambiguous in nature. Not in any bad sense. For all its vagaries the film is well-directed to give off an atmosphere full of dread, and rather than give us all the answers Abbasi chooses to root us in emotional depth rather than a bunch of twisting, turning exposition. Most of all we dive deep through themes of loss and how we each individually deal with loss. Plus, the entire film works as an allegory about the wrong that can be done to oneself, one’s partner, and those around you trying to replace a dead child. The danger, especially here, can get very real.
The standout performance from Stratan will take you above and beyond. If you’ve got problems with the slow burning plot, Stratan can usher you through to the meaty goodness of the story. There’s a bunch of great stuff, but two scenes stick out in my mind particularly. One is when she sits at the table with her hosts and their friends, she stares at a little boy, and then the child suddenly runs to her, punching her in the pregnant stomach. It’s a bone rattling, resonant moment of innocence attacking innocence, unforgettable. Stratan’s reactions are what sell the moment and its terror. Secondly, there’s another belly-striking scene, but this time it’s Elena alone with the woman whose baby she’s carrying, Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen). Out of nowhere, Elena loses her mind, punching and smacking her belly, thrashing about. Just a frenzied moment that will leave your jaw agape. The look in the eyes of Elena after Louise calms her to the bathroom floor is stunning. An all-around terrific performance, and a solid role in general.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-11-18-50-pmSuch a quality screenplay, which also helps Stratan in her role, as we’re never totally sure – until late in the film – if Elena has gone completely mad from pregnancy and hormones, or if some evil thing truly grows in her belly. It’s the not knowing that terrifies. Along the way every aspect of the production helps ingratiate you into the plot’s darkness. An element I dig, so much, is the sound design: often we get a low, crackling hum that adds to the paranoid moments the audience spends feeling trapped in Elena’s mind and body, and this also extends to the other characters later; you just need to see how that plays out to understand why it’s so wonderful. On top of that is an atmospheric, ambient score that bleeds into the sound design to create such a developed, creepy mood throughout.
Shelly is a slow burn, though a tour-de-force. From the opening shot – a crooked, dead tree grows up in the middle of a healthy green forest, the screen turns bloody red – there’s a sense of constant fear, a choked feeling that grips hold. Considering all the Polanski comparisons, this film goes where his didn’t, allowing the last 20 minutes as an epilogue to show exactly whether Elena went insane, or if she knew some horrible evil had been growing, stronger all the time, inside her.
I can’t recommend this enough. Going in I hadn’t expected such brilliance. And again, if you’re not into the slow plot you may find yourself unimpressed. But please, wait for the reveal in the end. There’s much worth in it. You spend most of your energy trying to determine who or what is influencing all the problems Elena experiences from one scene to the next, that once you’ve discovered the truth it’s a spooky shock. One of my favourite films of 2016, a pleasantly spine-chilling surprise.

Science Fiction Icarus in X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. 1963. Directed by Roger Corman. Screenplay by Robert Dillon & Ray Russell.
Starring Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, & Don Rickles.
Alta Vista Productions.
Not Rated. 79 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★
posterRoger Corman helped a lot of young directors and writers, as well as actors, get their start in an often ruthless business; one he knew plenty about. We can’t forget his genius as director, though. He might not get the praise he deserves, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out here praising him. I’ll gladly add my name to that list of folks.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is, as I see it, one of his best pictures. It’s such a unique and fun, old school movie with a sci-fi brain and a horror heart. The script comes from Robert Dillon (French Connection II) and Ray Russell (Mr. Sardonicus), together making the character of Dr. James Xavier one of the more tragically mad doctors of cinema.
While special effects heavy due to the nature of the plot, Corman does a fine job directing this to make it stand out as one of the more interesting films of its kind during the 1960s, when sci-fi had already been pumping out for years and only continued to more so afterwards. The psychological nature of this tale and its examination of a doctor with a God complex, to an extreme length, is a personal favourite of mine in the science fiction genre.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-33-43-pmWe start with a macabre opening on a loose eyeball, which is then bobbing in a test tube of fluid. Followed by the hypnotic spiral that pulls us into this strange film. As if preparing us for the oddities to come; the weird and unexpected are about to unfold. Corman’s best films, of which X most certainly is one, are amazingly vivid in terms of visuals. Especially those shot by Floyd Crosby, including this film, and the Corman Poe adaptations The Fall of the House of UsherThe Pit and the PendulumThe Premature Burial, and the loosest of all Poe movies The Raven. The gorgeous, colourful widescreen beauty is in full force here. More than that, Corman and Crosby used some interesting techniques to visualise the x-ray vision of Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland). Hell, even when the doc has eye drops put in Corman opts to include a point of view shot from the eye itself, blinking lids and all. This serves as a method of immersing us in the experimentation of Xavier along with those fun x-ray shots and other similar sequences.
The inevitable seeing people naked is a fun moment, if not a tad disturbing as Dr. Xavier finds his ability to control the x-ray vision slipping. Moreover, he’s a constant invasion of privacy, privy to your most private birthmarks. That ethical breach then extends, as the doctor uses his vision in order to push his way into surgery, to prove himself as the best in the profession. Of course this proves correct when Dr. Xavier can see exactly what’s wrong with a patient by looking inside her; this is the definitive commencement of his newly formed God complex – or at least recently exacerbated complex – which only gets worse, the hubris building him to scary heights. So high, in fact, that the only fall imaginable is on the same tragic level as that of Icarus, plummeting out of the sky.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-59-23-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-11-46-pmI consider the plot on par with great sci-fi literature, the likes of which Richard Matheson might dream up on a dark, stormy night. There’s wonderful thematic material. Most importantly, great power – no matter how beneficial – when mishandled and disrespected can lead to nothing except woe. The proud doctor goes from top surgeon to sideshow carnival freak to a desperate gambler at the end of his rope. Another doctor tells him during the first scene: “only the gods see everything.” Almost as if taking that as his mantra, a challenge to achieve, Dr. Xavier makes the God complex of doctors into something which ultimately proves near lethal; at the very least, capable of destroying one’s sanity.
In the end one of the biggest concepts is, essentially: if/when man finally witnesses something so much bigger than himself, god-like, will he then also be able to handle the sight of such pure, magnificent power? At the centre of his new vision Dr. Xavier can’t seem to see that one last radiant glow of some Other right behind the wall. It drives him mad. Partly, this speaks to an idea that religion, in whatever form (Christian, Muslim, Pagan, anything else), doesn’t have all the answers, nor does science. When Xavier gets to the point he thinks he’s utterly at the top of the food chain, in a manner of speaking, he discovers there’s still a final dimension which he cannot see. At least not in life.
During the final scene, the doctor proclaims to a pastor and his flock that at the core of our existence lies “the eye that sees us all.” And this is what drives him over the edge, that he – merely a man – cannot ever rise to the level of a god. He can be a doctor, perhaps the closest literal occupation to that of a god, wielding life and death right in his hands, but he will never be god-like, not really. That is still something too powerful for even his scientifically engineered eyes to grasp wholly.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-16-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-18-19-pmThere’s much to love about X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Milland does a fantastic bit of work as Dr. Xavier, making us feel sorry for him even after watching his out of control hubris get the best of his better self. The progression of his intent on becoming a god is at times uncomfortable, simply because we can smell a downfall coming a mile away. But that doesn’t mean this story is predictable.
Corman is a great director, whose interest has always been to make the films he’d like to see, in hopes that others share his macabre sensibilities. He runs the gamut of pure horror to more sci-fi-type stuff such as this flick. His influence on genre filmmaking is nearly unparalleled; truthfully, nobody else has touched as many movie making lives as him. He deserves the genre community’s love as much as any other director in the business.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes in this day and age probably looks, in title, cheesy to people. To me, there’s not an ounce of cheese in this movie. There are little funny moments, such as the dialogue from Xavier at a party when a woman says she’s noticed him across the room and he replies that she has “sharp eyes” – the screenplay is not void of humour entirely. Mostly, this is a serious look at a doctor falling headfirst into the deep end, sinking quick and harsh into the mess he’s made fro himself. The God complex in doctors has never before felt so tragic because at the end of the day Xavier did all this to himself, rather than test it on another person. So, in line with poor Icarus and his ill-advised flight, the doctor with his x-ray eyes is more sad than scary, although no less horrific in psychological terms.
All I know is that this film doesn’t ever get enough love, and more people need to see it. We should all be talking about this when the conversation about top science fiction crossed with horror comes up; in Corman we trust.