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.

Outcast – Season 1, Episode 1: “A Darkness Surrounds Him”

Cinemax’s Outcast
Season 1, Episode 1: “A Darkness Surrounds Him”
Directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, The Guest)
Written by Robert Kirkman

* For a review of the next episode, “(I Remember) When She Loved Me” – click here
Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 9.35.18 PM
Cinemax has blessed us. Let us indulge in the Adam Wingard-directed pilot of Robert Kirkman’s Outcast, shall we?
Even the credits sequence here is awesome, a nice ambient and unsettling bit of music over eerie imagery. This first episode begins with a boy that’s definitely not quite right. When he smashes a bug to death with his head (/face?) this only confirms suspicions. Downstairs his family is arguing. When he pops down to see them, covered in blood, they’re too busy arguing to notice at first. The way the boy moves is so creepy, you can tell his head is messed up. Finally, his mother notices he’s not eating chips like he was at first. Now it’s his finger.
Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 9.35.34 PM
Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey) is playing some cards with some colleagues from the local fire department and the local holy man Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister), too. They get interrupted by an urgent phone call from a Mrs. Betsy Austin (Lacy Camp). She owns the little boy, Joshua, whose body’s definitely being possessed by something.
At a rundown-looking house, Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) is sleeping. He dreams of another time before the nasty dilapidation of his current situation. He sees a woman, himself with her. But a knock comes at his door, he snaps back. In a room nearby there looks to be some things belonged to a woman. Instead of answering the door Kyle wanders around his home ignoring it. Finally, he opens the door and it’s Megan Holter (Wrenn Schmidt). Clearly a friend, but he is at a distance. She thinks he’s “punishing” himself. He doesn’t want any of her shit, or her charitable friendship. The house is his childhood home, he doesn’t feel like leaving.
Yet it isn’t all roses in his memories. Living with his mother there did not always feel like family time. By the looks of it his mother was possessed, similar to young Joshua. She’d lock him in the closet and that’s where he’d stay, for who knows how long. A traumatized young man. Why does Kyle want to stick around, though? How is it healthy? Or might there be unfinished business, a reason to stay close?


We discover Kyle shouldn’t be calling somebody. The woman in his dream. For her part, Megan does her best to encourage him positively. While they’re out shopping Kyle runs into some people who knew him. They also suggest he head back to church for a good rip roarin’ sermon. They further tell him about Joshua, who’s “fallen prey to dark forces“, which starts intriguing Kyle.
At the Austin house, Father Anderson is calling out the dirty demon. It starts kicking the shit out of everybody. Brutally. One awesome exorcism scene that both calls on films we know, plus adds its own creepy stuff.
Furthermore, it seems as if Kyle was once under the influence of Anderson. Yet now we know Anderson ain’t full of shit. Megan wants to have him over for dinner, though he isn’t so keen. He’s her adopted brother. And apparently people have… ideas about him, particularly nowadays. She’s married to Mark (David Denman) and he definitely does not want Kyle around. This is obviously a point of contention between the married couple. Surely we’ll see that develop the more this season goes on, as Kyle’s being around will impact a lot going forward. His little niece reveals a possible clue: she says he hurt his little girl, now Kyle isn’t her daddy. This upsets him, then he leaves. If this is really the case, that’s a devastating, heavy thing, and certainly paints Kyle as a character in a wholly new light within this first episode.


Kyle calls the woman he isn’t supposed to. She knows it’s him without his saying a word, and it unnerves her. He borrows his neighbour’s car, a man named Norville (Willie C. Carpenter). He heads over to the Austin household, asking for Reverend Anderson. Then inside he goes. Evidently to help. Anderson believes Kyle stopped whatever was happening to his own mother, so apparently he’s got a gift. Possibly.
Within the room, Kyle comes face to face with evil: “I know you,” says the thing inside Joshua. The way Kyle approaches it is from a rational, adult perspective. He sees it as nothing more than a kid pretending to get out of school. But the demon in the boy talks more about things he shouldn’t know, about the pictures in the pantry on the door, all those things. It’s terrifying. He evens scratches like Mrs. Barnes. “So long have we tried to find you Outcast,” the demon explains. Then it jumps Kyle, sucking something out him as Kyle flashes back to when his mother seemed to have done the same. What a god damn unsettling moment.
Afterwards, Kyle only has one bit of advice: run. He doesn’t have any faith or belief in a higher power. Pretty much the very opposite. However, it was what happened in the Barnes house that turned Reverend Anderson into an exorcising machine. So they’re at two different places, which is an interesting juxtaposition between the characters. Look forward to more of their relationship.


The tortured childhood of Kyle is awful. We get more flashbacks, as he goes to visit his catatonic mother in the hospital. He remembers being locked in that closet, similar to how she’s now locked inside herself, imprisoned in her own body. Some justice, I suppose, for all that terror. Later, he and Norville chat together, eating some stew. We discover Norville knew something terrible was happening when Kyle was a boy. The crew of characters that we’re being introduced to is excellent. I’ve never read the comics, though I certainly will not. And I’m already intrigued to see where a lot of these plots and threads end up weaving.
Kyle goes back over to the Austin place with Anderson. He starts to figure out further similarities between Joshua and his mother. First it’s the light that burns their skin. Then they begin to torture the demon, trying to hurt it. But the thing is strong and it fights hard. Sucking more of the essence out of Kyle, at least until he gets the upper hand and starts beating Joshua a bit. Love that this show has a grown man beating a little kid, evne if there’s a demon inside him. He goes a bit too far, but then the demon bites him, and Kyle’s blood burns him badly. Ah, interesting. The Outcast has power. Because this sends projectile, black vomit spewing out of the kid before dissipating into smoke-like fog. Luckily, back to the real world comes the boy, a little worse for wear but alive.
Of course Kyle ends up in cuffs after the whole ordeal. Although, he’s let go and Mrs. Austin doesn’t want charges pressed. Thankfully. That’d open up tons more cans of worms in Kyle’s life. As if he needs anything tougher to push through.


At the end of the episode, Kyle goes back to his house alone.
Then we flash back to a time before. Something had been possessing his wife, hurting his child. Love that we’re only getting bits and pieces, so as to draw it out. Keeps me wanting more. “Come and get me,” Kyle speaks into the dark sky at whatever darkness is surrounding him, right before the credits roll. Gnarly. Dig that line so hard.
Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 10.29.16 PM
Stay with me. When the series officially airs, as Cinemax has only given us a taste just yet, I’ll be continuing on following this series. Adam Wingard is a favourite director of mine, so I wish he were sticking around (at least he isn’t that I know of other than directing the first episode). Nevertheless, I have faith in Robert Kirkman, as well as Cinemax after The Knick and Banshee.
This one’s going to be a wild ride.

31 Days of Horror for Halloween Season

In an effort to try and diversify, I’ve done my best to not include anything I included on last year’s Halloween List. Not to worry: plenty of horror for you here.
Wade on in to find yourself something creepy; one title for every day of the month in no particular order but merely numbered for order.
I’ve tried not to do anything too obscure. Most of these titles you should be able to track down somewhere. But regardless, I wanted to try and name at least a few movies other lists don’t suggest this time of year. Huge fan of John Carpenter’s Halloween (my review here) and even the rest of the series honestly, except for the last couple entries. They’re the ones you always hear about! I’d rather try to go for some titles you either might not know or wouldn’t think to watch.
Now… Let’s get spooked! October is upon you. I watch horror just about every single day of the year. Though I always get excited to share that passion with everyone else leading up that creepy day we all know and love.


1) Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
lets-scare-jessica-to-death-movie-poster-1605114445An obviously low budget movie, this 1971 underrated gem takes us to the depths of the line between sanity and madness.
To say much of anything would ruin this for you, but the movie follows a young, emotionally and psychologically unstable girl who goes out to a little farmhouse with her husband and their friend, only to experience a living nightmare of sorts after meeting another young redheaded woman who is at the house, drifting and living there.
Some people say this is a vampire film, though, I think it’s mostly because there’s a legend of vampire activity in the story itself. Me? I’d say this is psychological horror at its finest with emotional problems and local legends at its root, driving everything that may (or may not) be happening in the plot. Check this one out! It’s been called one of the scariest films ever, as well as the fact Stephen King has often talked about it in various interviews and I’m always keen to see the movies he thinks are scary. But regardless, I find this is a creeper. I watch it, then there’s always a hesitation to watch it again the next time because it’s that damn unsettling.

2) A Horrible Way to Die (2010)
a-horrible-way-to-die-5
* My full review is here

Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have teamed up since this one to make an excellent slasher infused with dark comedy (You’re Next) and one of the best action-thrillers of the past few years with a throwback aesthetic (The Guest).
But honestly, it’s this film of theirs which really gets me in the gut, punches me hard and sucks the wind out of me. Some complaints I’ve seen are directed at Wingard’s directing, believing the handheld and more chaotic style of the film to be either distracting or simply not enjoyable.
For me, I think the handheld vibe helps A Horrible Way to Die because out of it comes a very intimate feeling. In every scene, whether it’s the serial killer (played by fabulous actor A.J. Bowen) or his sweet and emotionally devastated wife (played by an equally fabulous actor Amy Seimetz), no matter if it’s just them or they are onscreen with another character(s), there’s an incredibly intimacy from the style Wingard chooses to go with that really nails home the visceral feeling of this movie.
Not only that, Barrett’s screenplay is pretty great. It’s sparse and it doesn’t particularly telegraph a whole lot where the plot is headed. Then once the finale kicks in, again, it’s like a gut punch. It hits you hard, not once but twice before finally you can’t help but be in awe of how everything plays out. At least I didn’t see it all coming. I thought things were headed in a much different direction. This is one chilling movie; not really a date horror movie, not necessarily something you’ll want to watch with a group of friends, but rather a film you might consider taking in alone, a bit of a personal and riveting experience for a creepy fall evening.

3) Alone in the Dark (1982)
Alone_in_the_dark_ver1First off, this is clearly not the Uwe Boll shitfest of a video game adaptation.
1982’s Alone in the Dark is possibly one of my favourite ensemble horror cast movies, at least it’s near the very top. Featuring not only Donald Pleasence, we are treated to some horror with two other powerhouses: Jack Palance and Martin Landau.
I mean, isn’t that just the strangest combination for a slasher horror you could ever imagine?
Simple premise: when a massive power outage happens, a bunch of psychopathic patients from a mental ward break out, searching for the new doctor whom they falsely believe to have killed their old doctor. Honestly, it’s a top notch ’80s era slasher. Not to mention the fact, again, that the three top actors are amazing. For me, a lover of the first Batman from Tim Burton and many of his other works, it’s awesome to see Palance as a crazy, nasty maniac here. There’s one scene in particular where they’re driving around in this truck, or some sort of vehicle, and they’re just tormenting people like the mailman, et cetera; it’s classic dark comedy/horror. Great one to get your murder spree fix, especially if there’s a crew wanting to watch a fun and at times horrific slasher.

4) Carnival of Souls (1962)
carnival-of-souls-movie-poster-1962-1020198638 This is one of the best, creepiest, most unnerving low budget horror movies I’ve ever seen.
Basically, a woman experiences a car crash, flying into the water off a bridge, and after she survives begins to experience strange happenings: she sees people, a man in particular, pale faced, walking after her, stalking her, appearing almost everywhere she goes. She’s also being drawn to a rundown pavilion, an old carnival, where it seems the strange man and other ghostly people are living.
I have no problem with low budget look, as long as the story and the atmosphere of the film can still be achieved. Carnival of Souls does have a highly independent look, but it doesn’t deter from anything. It’s all black and white, which only adds to the creepiness. Director Herk Harvey uses his imagery in a great way, plus the story itself and the plot maintains its effectiveness. Pop this on for an irregular ghost-like story with some shots that will – I guarantee – haunt your dreams, if you let them.

5) Zombi 2 a.k.a Zombie a.k.a Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)
zombi-2 * My full Blu ray review is here

Despite the often confusing titles of the film, this is not a sequel, but merely a victim of silly, opportunistic marketing.
Lucio Fulci’s 1979 Zombie is one of the most incredible flesh eating films you’ll ever see! Fulci is classic. He was one of those horror filmmakers who went for broke and sought to bring as much bone/eyeball crunching, blood spurting, neck biting, flesh peeling action as he possibly could in an hour and a half or so.
This movie is no more elaborate than any other in the sub-genre – people are being turned into zombies on an island, the disease itself making its way towards New York City on the boat of a scientist. Horrific madness ensues.
If you’re a zombie enthusiast, or a horror fanatic in general, and you have not seen this: you need to, it is mandatory. You’ve not seen zombies until you see this!

6) The Beyond (1981)
TheBeyond1 Another Fulci classic – it’s hard for me to decide, though, if pressed The Beyond would be my top pick for his masterpiece (tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin).
Beginning with a woman inheriting an aging hotel in Louisiana, soon it becomes clear the Gates to Hell – The Beyond – sit just below its foundation. When she and a doctor try to escape, they discover The Beyond and earth are becoming one, as the gates have opened and the dead are walking the earth.
This is more of Fulci’s savage and visceral horror mixed with an awesome dose of the supernatural, and yes – zombies! Or at least undead, whatever you want to call them. Others may not agree, but I do honestly think this is Fulci’s best. It’s my favourite, anyways, and I’m always keen to tell people this is a great film for Halloween!

7) In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
in_the_mouth_of_madness_ver21John Carpenter is truly one of the masters of horror, up there with the greatest. He’s also got an excellent, darkly comic tone in many of his films. Plus, he does wonders with thrillers; he knows suspense and tension more than anyone else in the horror genre.
In the Mouth of Madness is often described as Lovecraftian, as it plunges into familiar territory to the amazingly creepy H.P. Lovecraft. Sam Neill plays an insurance man sucked into looking for a famous horror fiction author, eventually coming face to face with the author’s own creations all crammed into a tiny, supposedly fictional town. It is one amazingly terrifying movie, at times downright chilling, at others there’s that dark comedy Carpenter does so well. The whole time, though, you’ll find yourself beginning to question – like the main character – what exactly is reality and what is imagination. For a weird and involving bit of horror, take this one out on a scary night.

8) Session 9 (2001)
session_nine_xlgFor a full review, click here.

For me, this is one of the scariest movies of all time. Yes, there are a couple rough moments (re: acting), but you can pin that badge right on David Caruso; I actually don’t dislike him, though, I can’t defend him here. Most of the time he’s good, it’s just a few real stinkers sneak out here and there.
Peter Mullan is who you want to pay attention to. Even while Josh Lucas (before he got big) and Brendan Sexton III give two extremely solid performances, Mullan holds this all together.
Directed by Brad Anderson, written by him and Stephen Gevedon (who also plays a nice role in the film), Session 9 is a slow burn horror, which will gradually push itself under your skin like a splinter. By the time you’re near the end, after the climax has really rocked you and the finale begins, there’s this quiet sense of trauma you might feel. That’s a good thing; means this movie does its job.
Scene of note: when Jeff (Sexton) is running through an underground tunnel while the lights are going out behind him, one by one, his screams drifting out of the darkness, I honestly feel my heart race. Terrifying film, but this scene gets me something fierce.

9) The Sentinel (1977)
sentinelFor a full review, click here.

Haunted house horror movies are a dime a dozen. There are plenty I love, and even more I don’t like at all. However, The Sentinel is one of the most perfect haunted house stories, to me, on film yet.
When a fashion model moves into a Brooklyn apartment, an old building, terrifying appearances begin to emerge, people who are no longer living seem to be still inhabiting their apartments, among other things.
There’s something about this movie which will always draw me in. I only saw it for the first time about 4 years ago and it floored me. It’s a mix of supernatural horror, religious superstition, and psychological trauma/character study. Amazingly creepy at points, plus there are a handful of amazing actors here from a young Christopher Walken to Chris Sarandon to Ava Gardner and John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, and the delightful Eli Wallach. Oh and a mysteriously dubbed over Jeff Goldblum, which is kind of hilarious, and Jerry Orbach. Perfect haunted house film for when you’ve got a stormy night outside – this will draw you in and creep through your bones!

10) Prince of Darkness (1987)
PrinceOfDarkness-Bluray Already we’re back to Carpenter. But with good reason. Plus you may as well get used to it because there’s at least one more on here; not the one you’d expect, either.
1987’s underrated, overlooked, and only cult appreciated Prince of Darkness has a little bit of everything: religion, zombie-like people, Alice Cooper, Donald Pleasence, ’80s babes with hair to match, and of course – Satan!
When a green ooze is discovered in a canister (no you’re still on the right page this is not a review for the second live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film) below a church, a priest assembles a team of mathematicians and scientists in order to study the contents. Turns out, the ooze is as old as time itself: it is the devil, evil in pure material, sensory form. When the ooze begins to make its way out gradually, people are taken over by its terrifying power, from the homeless people wandering around outside the church to the mathematic-scientific team working inside. What begins is a struggle between good and ultimate evil.
This is just a downright awesome movie. Carpenter, as I said, knows how to really build up the suspense and execute his tension in the appropriate way. There are incredible effects (on the Blu ray Carpenter explains them in typically excellent Carpenter fashion; one involved the mercury from a crane, I believe, or something similar they were doing highly unsafely), the acting is good, and Carpenter’s writing is also spot on here – he merges the superstitions of religion, the idea of a pure evil, and brings it into the scientific, intelligible world. Interesting stuff and it’s a creepshow of a movie with more of Carpenter and his dark wit. Good for when you want a movie about good/evil/the devil without all the typical stuff.

11) Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
MR-SARDONICUSAnother movie it took me years to see, one of William Castle’s best, Mr. Sardonicus tells the tale of a man who digs up his father to find a winning lottery ticket with which he was buried, only to also discover his face has become distorted into a permanent and grotesque smile. When he makes a doctor treat him, the results might be worse than the smile itself.
There are certain classic horror movies you always hear about – anything with Vincent Price or Boris Karloff particularly, and so. Yet there’s never enough buzz about this brilliant Castle flick. I also love his gimmicks, he truly knew what audiences wanted. Screw all the same old 3D movies we see nowadays – Mr. Sardonicus let the audience use the ‘Punishment Poll’, letting them determine what Baron Sardonicus received ultimately as his punishment!
But this isn’t just gimmick. The movie is a gothic romp through the eyes of greed and jealousy and heinousness. Fitting for any wild Halloween night. Definitely a good one for a crowd or pair!

12) The Fog (1980)
fog_ver2For a full review, click here.

We’re back to Carpenter. Yet again! Of course we are.
This is another of my favourite Carpenter films, especially in terms of his pure horror. A great script, great actors, on top of the truly creepy zombies. Or whatever you want to call them – zombies, undead, ghosts, I don’t know.
The story is simple yet very scary – a coastal town’s long buried history literally unearths itself when the members of a disrespected and murdered leper colony return from the dead to come, in the fog, to kill anyone and everyone in their path.
Carpenter creates a wonderful sense of dread with all his tension and then the terror comes on hard once people start to die, once the fog knocks at each door and surrounds every little thing in sight. Pop this on for another spooky, stormy October night. Definitely will get you in a Halloween-y mood.

13) A Clockwork Orange (1971)
CSK_10275_0114For a full review, click here.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion most of you by now have seen Stanley Kubrick’s shattering dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange. I won’t bore with a recap of the plot. What I will say is this: Kubrick makes this story into a carnival of horrors. Perfect for any October evening, as the masks and lights and colours, the mayhem, the carnage of this film truly speak to Devil’s Night in many ways. Throw this on and get your fix of madness.

14) Livid (2011)
livid-poster I know not everyone is into subtitled films, but when it comes to horror you’re seriously missing out if you only watch English language movies. So I opted to only include one foreign title on this year’s list.
Livid is a French film about a young woman who begins training as a live-in caregiver to an old woman in a virtually eternal coma; discovering she has some kind of fortune kept hidden in her massive estate, the young woman and her two friends try searching for it. But when they make it inside during the night, things start to get extremely strange for the intruders. They discover it is not mere money, nor jewels, which is the actual treasure in the old lady’s home, but rather something far more sinister.
This is one savagely macabre film at times. There are great elements of a thriller, as well as lots of gothic style stuff happening. I can’t think of a creepier flick to add on to the haunted house viewings already on the list; it may not reinvent the wheel, though, it spins one hell of a tale. Lots of scary stuff lurking in this one, fit for any Halloween celebration when you want something aside from the regular tired recommendations on other lists. Even on mine, this one stands out.

15) Feed (2005)
225231This is perhaps the weirdest of all the films on this list. Absolutely no way to truly describe it without a full-on description and I don’t want to ruin ANYTHING. So go in without a trailer, but I’ll try and give you a bit of a… taste.
Cross a gritty cop thriller with strange and deadly fetishism, you’ve got Feed: a law enforcement agent falling off the deep end, after too long exploring the savage and rampant sickness floating around the internet, and comes up against one of the most depraved serial killers he has ever known.
Have you ever maybe heard of ‘feeders’ or a similar term? These are men who enjoy feeding women; they like to see them gain weight, they love to watch them consume food and drink, it turns them on. Not sure about the psychology, but it is certainly something different. Well, take that fetish to a truly deadly length.
Put this in only if you’re ready to be tested. While there’s very little blood, barely any at all to speak of, this is still a damn nasty horror. Though, there’s lots of interesting stuff happening. Plus you get a weird and wild performance from Alex O’Loughlin.

16) Angel Heart (1987)
angel_heart_xxlg I always hear people talk talk talk about both Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke, yet there’s rarely ever a reference to the fabulous 1987 Alan Parker directed Angel Heart. Recently it went up on Netflix Canada, so I suppose more minds will end up falling into this one. There needs to be more recognition for this one. It’s almost not really a true horror, rather a twisty supernatural thriller more than anything. Above all, I find the performance of De Niro absolutely fascinating – one role out of his vast filmography I believe is different than the rest and also like the film itself doesn’t receive the credit which it deserves – and Mickey Rourke gives us a level-headed effort which gives his character, aptly named Harry Angel, a very real, very sensible place in an otherwise unreal filmic space.
If you’re craving something dark, macabre, dripping of the filth and sleaze of a New Orleans underbelly packed to the brim with voodoo, murder, and double crossing criminal types, this is the film for you. There are some wonderful themes in here which I find fit the Halloween season perfectly.

17) When a Stranger Calls (1979)
when-a-stranger-calls-3* For my full review of this movie’s terror – click here

There have been films before this (think: original & fantastic Black Christmas) and after which use the ‘killer calling from inside the house’ trope. Almost none better than 1979’s When a Stranger Calls.
Babysitting one night, young Jill Johnson is terrorized by a psychopath who kills the children she is meant to be looking after. Traumatized by the experience somehow she manages to go on and live her life normally. Then seven years later, the same madman comes back to haunt Jill again; now older, a little wiser, she must somehow survive her second brush with insanity.
The best part about this movie, for me, is the fact it replaces the masked or hidden killer and early on in the film we see the killer – we know who he is, in fact we’re treated to a good portion of the plot where the focus is him, his mind, his life or at least his attempt at trying to have one. So instead of seeing a maniac without any real reason behind him, the killer here – played by Tony Beckley in fine fashion – is not so much sympathetic, as much as he is utterly, scarily, and wildly human. That’s the scariness here: without a mask, we’re forced to watch this killer be himself, we’re forced to see who he is and deal with everything it implies. Instead of forcing our feelings of fear off on a masked slasher, our fear is right in our faces.
When you need a slasher but want something actually terrifying without the need for jump scares and all the modern bells/whistles, When a Stranger Calls is calling you: view this one and you’ll no doubt find yourself checking the empty, dark bedrooms before heading to bed on Halloween.

18) Hellions (2015)
Hellions_poster_goldposter_com_1-400x593 * My full review is here

Only recently did this become available on iTunes, but what timing! This is a perfect viewing for Halloween; in fact, wait until the actual night, not just during October. This one is set on Halloween, it pushes the fears of masked unknowns roaming neighbourhoods on Halloween, and there is so much going on.
After discovering she’s pregnant, a young teenage girl finds herself home alone on Halloween, when a group of masked children lay siege to her house. Initially undecided about the child inside her, Devil’s Night will shape her decisions to come after coming face to face with pure evil in pint-size costume and form.
This is a unique movie and will not be for everyone. Director Bruce McDonald – a homegrown Canadian talent – used infrared cameras during the filming, which gives several extended sequences and a good bulk of the movie a pink-ish hue, with the whites, greens, and other colours becoming extremely vibrant. There’s an unbelievable Halloween feel through this technique, apparently it was meant to mirror the effect of the Blood Moon (the script set Halloween on such a lunar event). Not only that, the horror and the terror are all there, in spades, from the creepy creeps to insane moments of blood/gore.
You need a nice savage fix for Halloween? You’ve found the one. Support this one, support Canadian/independent film. Hopefully this will bring the fear, too.

19) Spring (2014)
spring_poster_art* My full review is here

This is one of the best horrors I’ve seen in a few years, honestly. Up there with some other great titles. Even further than that, you don’t get too many horror-romance hybrids, other than the awful excuse for whatever you want to call it in Twilight. This film from indie pairing Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead is a true mix between Lovecraftian style horror and a dramatic romance movie set abroad.
When Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) flees to Italy from his home in the U.S, precipitated by the death of his ill mother, he is not prepared for anything that’s about to happen. First, it’s more of an exciting, exotic adventure to a new place on a whim. But then he meets a mysterious woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker) and his life heads into a spiral; down into love, down into something deeper, more dark than just love. Louise is not who Evan thinks she is and soon he’ll figure it all out.
Part of Spring is Lovecraftian as I’ve mentioned – you’ll figure out how on your own. There’s good horror with an eerie atmosphere of dread hanging over every last scene, even in the more beautiful bits. Part of Spring is also a touching character piece of a man sort of running away from himself, running away from even being human – having to live and love and let people go – when he meets a woman who changes everything. There’s a lot to enjoy here. You’ll get something romantic, in a strange sense, as well as a good dose of creature feature-like horror. Looking for an interesting twist on the horror genre? Definitely find this one and give it a go (decent price on iTunes), it’s a unique piece of film from two interesting filmmakers.

20) The Last Man on Earth (1964)
the-last-man-on-earth-movie-poster-1964-1020144093Ever see I Am Legend and just think to yourself: this would be way better if it was Vincent Price?
The Last Man on Earth is an all around better film than that mediocre bit of post-apocalyptica. Taken from the same source material – Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend – this 1960s era horror/science fiction classic sees Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, the titular last man alive. Or is he?
What I like about this is the subtlety. I mean, the Will Smith-starrer was in a post-apocalyptic landscape, yet still there’s this huge blockbuster style as if Michael Bay were sitting behind the wheel. Honestly, it’s just not right. Yet in The Last Man on Earth, we get a real quiet, desolate feeling from start to finish. Even better, I love the way the vampire-humans look and act in this, as opposed to a bunch of CGI’d zombie-like infected humanoids. To each their own, but this is a far spookier vision of Matheson’s original novel than its more recent incarnation. And who can’t love Vincent Price? Here he’s a little less hammy than usual, which I love anyways, though don’t kid yourself – there’s always ham with Vincent. Part of his charm. Most of all this is a seriously creepy picture of a decimated world roamed by a single man and hordes of vampiric humans. Want to get creeped out, put this on alone and let yourself be drawn into the world of this terrifying post-apocalyptic vision out of a 1954 novel from one of the great science fiction writers of the 20th century.

21) Candyman (1992)/ Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)
1992-candyman-poster2 candyman_farewell_to_the_fleshSo what’s Halloween season without a couple double features? This is the first of three you’ll find in the last heap of this list.
Candyman is one of the first horror movies I remember seeing as a teenager which actually scared me bad enough to give me a nightmare. There’s something about Tony Todd’s performance, his voice and his demeanour all together that creeps the hell out of me. And the story itself, adapted into screenplay by director-writer Bernard Rose, is from Clive Barker originally titled “The Forbidden” out of Volume V from his Books of Blood. That in itself makes things interesting, but this is adapted well and the original story is just solid, so you can’t lose.
Basically this is an urban legend brought to life by the supernatural, as two women research a legend at Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, it actually comes into existence. The Candyman, long ago persecuted, begins to kill people and drive one of the women completely mad. The second film, subtitled Farewell to the Flesh, sees a family torn apart by the Candyman and a young woman become a target of his horrific longing.
I love Candyman, and I even love the sequel. Though, the first is still best. Part of it is Tony Todd, hands down. But apart from that, Bernard Rose does amazing stuff and creates a whole scary aesthetic, from the terror of the visuals to the creeping sound design and score. A scary, dark night is the right one for these two films. You should honestly watch them one after another in a double feature, they’re stellar and will chill you to the bone.

22) Black Death (2010)
black_death_poster_01 Oh man, what a work of horror this is – set in medieval times, as the black plague is spreading, an English monk is tasked with heading to a remote village, alongside a knight and his crew of nasty outsiders, in order to figure out where the witchcraft originating the disease is hiding.
There’s sorcery and witchcraft, action involving medieval misfit bounty hunters; there’s Sean Bean being a bad ass; there are medieval zombie corpses; and much, much more.
What I love in this is the story, the plot, as well as the solid acting from Bean and Eddie Redmayne, along with others you’ll surely enjoy. Medieval times are ripe for horror and do not get used enough, at least not correctly. This film in particular, directed by Christopher Smith (TriangleSeveranceCreep), gets just about everything right for this savage period piece. Plenty of weird darkness happening, lots of bloody horror, and you’ll love the finale: it’s a god damn barn burner!

23) The Wicker Man (1973)
wicker_man_poster_03For a full review, click here.

Ever see a movie you’ll never forget? One that leaves a mark on you forever?
The Wicker Man is one of those for me. About 15 years ago, I saw this one very late at night and during the climax of the film was absolutely jarred. Stuck to the screen, what happened in the final moments really leapt out at me and latched on, never letting go. Every time I watch this, I can’t get it out of my mind for a good while afterwards.
I won’t say too much, just in case you’ve yet to see it, trust me – it is a really unique experience. With Christopher Lee playing an absolutely delightfully demented local leader, a sort of enigmatic and lord-like cult figure, you’re sure to find this unsettling. Give it some time. At first, and for a little bit, the movie might seem to be something quite unlike any horror you imagined. But once things start moving, the horror is evident underneath it all. Put this on for a real fall-style horror night. Maybe in the early evening, as the changed leaves are hanging in shadow, and the October weather outside seems delightful… this horror thriller, set in the Scottish countryside, will change all that.

24) Starry Eyes (2014)
starry-eyes-poster * My full review is here

Never has the quest for fame ever been displayed so intensely and terrifying as it is in Starry Eyes. Following a young woman trying her best to break into Hollywood, or at least the outer fringes, the story takes us on an aspiring actress’ journey in the film world, which becomes more like a descent into the lower bowels of Hell.
This indie film was on my radar for a year or more before it came out, simply because the poster art was glorious and the synopsis looked to be pretty intriguing. Was I surprised, though! Most of all, amongst the horror and the insane body-horror coming out during the finale, Alex Essoe – who plays main character Sarah – cranks up the bar for indie film acting with her performance. There’s nothing else I can say without giving up too much. Go in without watching a trailer even and you’re going to see something unexpected. This will rock you. A good one for a group of friends, a pair, or solo; just let it grab you and the horror will blow you away.

25) Don’t Go in the House (1979)
0b6e1283327aadb61313d79ca1f4e2a7For a full review, click here.

A lot of people will probably say this is a horrible attempt at the slasher sub-genre. Somewhere, though, I remember reading one of the best analyses of Don’t Go in the House, and it accurately described how this movie was almost the film metaphor of the death of the 1970s. I won’t go on too much more, just consider that while watching.
Simple pitch? This movie sees a young man, whose tortured childhood under a ruthless and sick mother who burned him (literally and figuratively), stalk women, bring them to his home, then trap them in a steel room downstairs where he’ll burn them alive.
Nasty enough for you? There’s lots of silliness here, no doubt whatsoever. But there is more to it, there is some kind of really palpable atmosphere here amongst everything else. With disco music and burning humans, there is certainly a bit of Halloween-y goodness happening in a good portion of scenes. Naturally, there is ’80s cheese, too.
An amazing flick to choose if you’re going to have a few people over to watch some movies. Have a laugh with this, but remember – keep in mind there may be more to it, no matter how low budget or whatever else you deem it the movie may be. Despite any of that, there’s lots of nasty horror here in slasher movie form to please your needs and wants this Halloween season.

26) Asylum Blackout a.k.a The Incident (2011)
ensYQ* For a full review – click here

This one came out of nowhere for me. Usually I like to pride myself on keeping an ear to the ground for all sorts of horror; even the most diligent of us fanatics fall short some times, right?
Well Asylum Blackout, while deemed amateurish by others, is an awesomely creepy piece of horror.
After a power outage knocks the communications and electricity out at an asylum, the guards and staff members must band together in order to try and survive through the night, or at the least until some sort of help and hope arrives in the form of police. But the inmates overcome the main guard and some of the others, leaving only the staff, the young stoner musicians in the kitchen to face off against the violent and mentally unstable patients running amok in the corridors.
There’s lots of style in this one, but also some nice bits of substance. We get more character than you’d expect, though it isn’t exactly sprawling – still, it’s nice to get any when it comes to modern horror, so many movies opting only for scares and style without anything beneath as its foundation. With this movie, I found myself really falling into feeling for the guys in the kitchen, they weren’t all the smartest or all hugely stand-up guys, yet they were sympathetic characters and I was putting myself right in their shoes. The very last shot is a bit foolish and I wish the filmmakers opted for a different close. Other than this moment, I loved everything else.
Close to Halloween, when the mood is right, put on a copy of this one (available through Google Play at a great price to rent or buy). A group watch is definitely recommended; you’ll be talking to the characters, laughing at times, gasping at others. Hopefully this one will terrify you because it certainly pulled a number on me.

27) Murder Party (2007)
murder_party Admittedly I’m not huge on horror comedy. I love dark comedy in horror, and I do love comedies (obviously a horror hound). There’s just something about horror-comedy I’m not always game for, but time and time again there are movies which prove as exceptions – big time – to this self-imposed rule of mine.
One such film that many people I know haven’t yet seen, or even heard of, is Murder Party. This is a fantastic little indie horror-comedy from director-writer Jeremy Saulnier; you may have heard of his impressive indie revenge-thriller Blue Ruin, or perhaps the film I’m DYING TO SEE, his new Neo-Nazi versus punk band concoction Green Room.
Beginning with a nice, quiet guy who finds an invitation to a Murder Party on the street, this movie is full of hilariously hipsterized characters (who you’ll be aching to see perish), nasty horror effects done practically and wonderfully, and then there’s the main character’s journey which will make you laugh and cringe at times.
If you want a good movie for Halloween day/night, this is perfect! A great comedy with equal amounts of fun horror, this is not one you’ll regret spending time to watch. Lots of fun for the 31st here! Maybe even one to put on whilst the little trick or treaters make their way to and from your door.

28) Maniac (1980)/ Maniac (2012)
maniac-movie-poster-1980-1020197244 maniac-poster-exclusiveAnother double feature, this time a horrific, savage opus – the 1980 William Lustig-directed, Joe Spinell-starring Maniac versus the Alexandre Aja-produced, Franck Khalfoun-directed 2012 remake. Honestly, I’m a huge fan of both, for different reasons.
The original is a character study in absolute depravity, focusing in on Spinell’s version of a real, raw, genuine maniac whose issues with women have turned into something absolutely awful. There’s something painful about this character, which Spinell brings across in such a clear way it almost hurts you to see him resorting to the murders he commits out in the night, stalking the city streets.
Then in the 2012 remake, there’s not just Elijah Wood doing a great job with a partly sympathetic but mostly vile and horrible character, Khalfoun further makes things interesting by employing the use of 1st-person P.O.V throughout the entire film. There’s something really creepy about finding ourselves directly behind the eyes of the killer, only stepping outside his immediate perspective in a few brief shots.
Each of these movies has its merits, but for me I’m a bigger fan of the 2012 version. Seriously. I bet I’ll piss off tons of so-called horror movie purists. Whatever. I haven’t the time or effort to pretend I care. I love Wood as the character, even more than Spinell whose creepiness is astounding – and he’s a good actor generally – there’s something in this new one that just gets to me further. I think Spinell lent himself to the role because of his natural appearance and also his acting talents, but Wood’s boy-nextdoor appearance countered with the maniac in him becomes something wild over the film’s runtime.
Want gore and depraved characters, plus really incredible practical makeup effects? You’ve come to the right place. Double feature these two and you’ll be set for a Halloween season night when full-on, balls out horror is knocking at your door.

* My full review of the 2012 remake is here

29) Shivers (1975)/ Rabid (1977)
rabid_poster_05they_came_from_within_1975_poster_01.previewThis last double feature is from a favourite director of mine, a fellow Canadian – David Cronenberg. The master of body horror, a true auteur.
His 1975 film Shivers takes psychosexual horror to another plateau, as an apartment complex becomes overridden with zombie-like humans – not dead, these are humans with pulses. However, these living, breathing people are sex crazed, and they’re passing on a terrible virus, multiplying, over and over.
If there were ever a pre-It Follows classic concerning sexually transmitted disease – hell if there were ever a precursor to some of the epidemic films we see today – Shivers is one of the most significant out there. Word has it Dan O’Bannon saw this film and loved it, inspiring in part his ideas for Ridley Scott’s Alien four years later. You want to get terrified of sex and the human body? Shivers will get you and it will work its way under your skin, under your nails; it will get inside you.
Two years after Shivers, Cronenberg came back at it again with Rabid starring Marilyn Chambers – the story of a young woman whose experimental plastic surgery after an accident turns her into a unsatisfiable zombie-like creature, rabid, seeking out blood, and this soon becomes a city-wide infection, reaching far and wide.
Another foray into the epidemic sub-genre of horror, Cronenberg’s Rabid is a low budget, fierce piece of work that is very much a visceral experience. As is usual, this movie is all-out body horror right from the start and Cronenberg is right at home in this area.
I think if you’re looking for zombies this October/Halloween, forego all the typical stuff one night and opt for the David Cronenberg epidemic duo of Shivers and Rabid; a healthy meal of zombie-styled horror in a devilish, excellent Canadian wrapper.

My full review of Shivers is here.

30) May (2002)
MAY (2002) posterFor a full review, click here.

Lucky McKee attracted me immediately to his work with this modern reinterpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
May follows the young alienated titular woman whose only friend is a doll she’s had nearly her entire life; it helped her get through all the tough life moments, especially difficult for May with her lazy eye problem and distant nature. She has an obsession with hands and meets an interesting young guy whose love of all things weird draws her close. But after his rejection, May is determined that each person is horrible except for ONE SINGLE PART; or in this man’s case, two small parts. From there, her journey to find and create the perfect companion, the perfect friend and lover begins, and there is no telling how far May will go in order to secure a happy and fruitful relationship.
What I love about this? Everything. The acting, the plot, the writing, plus it has a great soundtrack to boot. Including a few costumes on Halloween, this is a perfect movie to spook you out, as well as make you laugh inappropriately a ton and feel awkward a little. What good horror doesn’t do those things? Okay, well not all make you laugh, but a real horror movie is absolutely going to make you feel uncomfortable at least once or twice. Dive in – this one is unique and a nice spin on an old story.

31) The Others (2001)
others_ver1 From the director of another fabulously chilling work of horror, Tesis, this is a stellar story of despair, ghosts, and haunted places. While you could say this is a haunted house style film, I think it’s more strictly about ghosts than an overall haunting. I say that for a particular reason, which I’m sure you’ll understand after watching.
The Others gives us a story of a reclusive family and their new caretakers, all of whom end up dealing with spooky presences all about the large estate on which they live. While the husband is off with the war presumably, the mother of the family looks after her children, doting on them, protecting at all costs. Once ghosts begin to all but leak from the very walls around them, the mother tries to discover exactly what is going on.
The performance from Nicole Kidman is solid, the music and atmosphere are all perfectly sinister and beyond scary with lots of suspense and tension. There’s nothing I can complain about here and it makes for some fine ghost story telling. The ending still surprises me now, even though I know it, simply because I find myself gripped by the plot and the aesthetic of the film overall just really works its magic. Perfect ghost film for an October night, certainly for Halloween when the night is dark and people are roaming the streets, sounds filtering through the windows in bits and pieces. This really has a fitting atmosphere for that type of evening.


I hope everyone found something worth watching off the list. If you’ve got any suggestions, I’m likely to have seen them but still want to hear what everyone else likes to watch for October and the Halloween season of fright.
Drop a comment if you want and I’d love to hear what you’re watching, as well as if you’ve been digging the movies here.
Happy Halloween to all, my friends!

Father Son Holy Gore’s Best of 2014

I wanted to try and get all of these reviewed. Alas, not all of us have the time we need or want. As time goes on, I will review every last one of these titles. These are my favourite films from 2014. I’ve gone by release date, and not filming, you’ll notice – some are billed to be 2013, but didn’t make it into Canada until last year some time. They’re in no particular order, I numbered them only for organizational purposes.

Without further ado – the best of 2014. Stay tuned for full reviews on the remaining few titles!

20. Nothing Bad Can Happen
NOTHING-BAD-CAN-HAPPEN-excluisve-620x400
A full review here.

19. Borgman
borgman_set_06
18. The Guest
the-guest-dan-stevens-slice
A full review here.

17. The Grand Budapest Hotel
grand-budapest-hotel-tony-revolori-saoirse-ronan-1
16. Proxy
proxy-poster-tiff
A full review here.

15. Starred Up
starred-up-poster-us
A full review here.

14. Almost Human
almost-human-poster
A full review here.

13. Cold in July
Best-Cold-in-July
A full review here.

12. Blue Ruin
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A full review here.

11. The Babadook
babadook_612x901
A full review here.

10. V/HS: Viral
VHS_Bonestorm_PRINT_TT-691x1024
My unpopular view & review here.

9. Enemy
enemy-jake-gyllenhaal-poster
My spoiler-filled review & subjective analysis of the film, here.

8. Cheap Thrills
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A full review here.

7. Nightcrawler
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A full review here.

6. Starry Eyes
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A full review here.

5. Foxcatcher
Foxcatcher still 1 (2014)
A full review, here.

4. Stranger by the Lake
stranger-by-the-lake
A full review here.

3. Interstellar
o-jessica-chastain-interstellar-facebook
A full review, here.

2. Nymphomaniac [Part I & II]
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1. White Bird in a Blizzard
white-bird-in-a-blizzard-1

Drowning in Love, Alcohol, & Serial Killing: A Horrible Way to Die

A Horrible Way to Die. 2011. Dir. Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett.
Starring A.J Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, Brandon Carroll, and Lane Hughes. Anchor Bay Entertainment. Rated R. 87 minutes. Horror

★★★★1/2 (Movie)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

HorribleDVD

I’ve been a longtime fan of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. Though, I did experience Barrett’s writing in the eerie Civil War-era horror film Dead Birds before I experienced his recent partnership as a writer-director team with Wingard. They are a really great pair. I think Wingard doesn’t just work well with Barrett in the sense they’re probably good friends, he seems to get what the writer is saying, or at least they appear to have the same sensibilities. This translates really well onto film. I don’t think they’ve exactly reinvented horror, but I do think they continually succeed in breathing new life into tired genre filmmaking.

Always hesitant to say it myself, Wingard belongs to the small group of horror filmmakers people like to dub with the yawn-worthy label “mumblegore” – an offshoot of “mumblecore, what I see as a silly labeling of films concerned with more natural approaches to dialogue, story, or any aspects really, as opposed to a lot of the fake, plastic genre filmmaking pumped out of Hollywood. “Mumblegore” then are simply horror films that look to achieve these sorts of aesthetics. A Horrible Way to Die is a new look at the serial killer horror movie, which is presented to us through Wingard’s unique eye from a script by Barrett. The whole thing might seem, to some, as an aimless sort of method towards telling a story and visually showing us the film. On the other hand, I think Barrett and Wingard present a truly humanistic version of what could be a simple story about the psychology behind that of a serial killer balancing his home life and his criminal life on a razor’s edge. It also doesn’t hurt there’s a nice little twist in the finale.
great-genre-filmsA Horrible Way to Die tells the story of Garrick Turrell (Bowen), a convicted serial killer operating in the southern United States. He escapes custody while being transported from his prison facility. He starts to kill his way back towards home. There, his former girlfriend Sarah (Seimetz) is drying out. Sarah spends her nights now trying to kick the alcoholism she adamantly believes caused her to overlook Garrick’s true personality. Through Alcoholics Anonymous, Sarah ends up meeting a guy named Kevin (Swanberg) with whom she begins to get close after slowly letting down her guard. All the while, Garrick continues a path of destruction trying to reach Sarah once more.
hjwvkI think one of the reasons this movie came across so well for me is due to the amazing cast. First of all I’ll mention Joe Swanberg because his role is the smallest in comparison to the two leads. His character starts out feeling sort of awkward, but not because Swanberg’s acting is bad; he conveys Kevin as a bit of an odd guy, obviously struggling with his own alcohol problems. Eventually, however, you start to sense something about him is not exactly quite right. You just can’t put your finger on it. I think Swanberg did a lot of subtle acting with this character and it really worked well for the plot. I think not enough focus is given to how well he plays off Amy Seimetz here. Partly because she is really great.

Seimetz does a great job playing a very conflicted women in A Horrible Way to Die. I think a lot of people, who just want to complain, might try and say Barrett writes her poorly as a strong female role. I disagree. Women don’t have to be perfect. Just as they don’t have to look pathetic and near complete helplessness like Stanley Kubrick’s portrayal of Wendy Torrance in The Shining. Sarah is a complex woman with difficult problems on her plate. If there hadn’t been such a great performance by Seimetz perhaps this character may have come off like a real pushover. Instead, I get the impression she’s someone who doesn’t want to give up. One scene shows her having a bit of a relapse and then proceeding to pour all the rest of her liquor down the toilet; you can tell, while she fell off the wagon briefly, a realization set her back in place. Unfortunately for Sarah, there are other, higher powers at work threatening to undo everything. It’s a really great role and I think nobody else but Seimetz could do it. She fits in very well with the style of Wingard.
a-horrible-way-to-die-aj-bowenThe ultimate best part about A Horrible Way to Die is absolutely A.J Bowen. I’ve been a fan of his for awhile now ever since I first saw a movie called The Signal; he was fantastic in it, and ever since I’ve paid attention to anything with him in the cast. Here, his portrayal of Garrick Turrell really does something for me. He’s a lot more dapper and charming than Michael Rooker’s titular character from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Still, there is something about him in this film which reminds me of Rooker. Underneath Bowen’s boyish good looks and disarming voice lurks the presence of evil – Turrell can barely go fifty feet without seeing another person he wants to kill. It’s like this part of him is engrained into his DNA, hardwired to his brain. He can’t forego the urges.
I think casting Bowen really helped this character. Very well-written, but Bowen brings the Ted Bundy-ish charm to Garrick Turrell. I can see how this guy would get away with things so long if he were being careful, just as Bundy himself was doing until he went even more insane than he initially was and got himself caught – the charming nature really takes people off their guards and leaves them vulnerable to Turrell’s sick whims.

I really loved the opening scene of the movie when Garrick is sitting in his car; he snaps awake, as if out of a nice nap, gets out and opens a trunk to  reveal a woman bound and gagged. He apologizes and tells the lady he must have dozed off. It’s the way he says it which really sets the tone for things to come. There are a few interactions Turrell has with people that speak to his chilling character, such as in a flashback scene to a night when he gets home to Sarah late, and naturally she has questions; coupled with what we know about him already and what we’ll learn more of soon after, the ease with which lies come out of his mouth to explain his otherwise unexplainable whereabouts is astonishing.
Again to reference real life, I imagine this might be how many serial killers have sounded to their significant others. Specifically I think of a man like Dennis Rader, a.k.a B.T.K (Bind Torture Kill), who went home to his wife and children every night while also going out to do heinous things, maybe after they all went to bed or maybe he made up a story like Turrell to explain his absence later. I imagine Rader probably sweet talked just like this. It’s very chilling. Bowen is amazing in this movie, and in general. His casting is genius here.
AtSw8As a film, I absolutely give this 4&1/2 stars. There’s nothing wrong with A Horrible Way to Die. Admittedly, some may not necessarily enjoy all the cinematography Wingard chooses to use. I think while the story tries to distance itself from the typical outings we usually get in regards to serial killers, as there are tons, the handheld camerawork Wingard does in this movie really sets it apart from what we’re used to – apart from a few unique slashers, Se7en, as well as more recent works like the Red Riding trilogy and HBO’s True Detective, there aren’t too many really fresh takes on serial killers floating around. A lot of the same old meal. I have to at least admire, above all else, the effort on the parts of both Barrett and Wingard to try and subvert expectations a little while still somewhat working with a formula familiar to audiences.
Most recently, they’ve moved into action-thriller territory with a fabulous film, The Guest, attempting to do the same thing with a different genre. I will always keep my eye on either of them, whether as a team or not. Great director and great writer.

The Blu ray release from Anchor Bay Entertainment I have also comes with three other films: WWE Films’ No One LivesHatchet, and The Alphabet Killer. While it does have a bit of extra content, it’s less than you might expect from a single release of the title. That being said, I really, really enjoyed the commentary with Barrett and Wingard. Lots of valuable insight not only into the film, but also into their thought process, both personally and artistically. They’re genuine guys from what I can tell, so it’s always nice to hear an audio commentary where the people talking are concerned first and foremost with discussing the film, and not themselves. Also, there’s a nice little featurette, “Behind the Scenes of A Horrible Way to Die” where you get to see a lot of fun little bits from the production of the film. I admire Wingard a lot as a director because he really loves to be hands on, and you get to see a lot of small bits where he’s basically doing the job of director, as well as director of photography (for those who don’t know – this would be the individual in charge of the camera/lighting crews).  While it is a small movie, it’s still great to see how much of Wingard’s vision is really coming across in the finished film.
ahwtddeath082410This is absolutely a fresh film on an old subject. If you’re a fan of Wingard’s earlier work, or even his latest, you should definitely see this – likewise with Barrett [Dead Birds is the first of his movies I saw & I really love it – own it on DVD – so if you’ve seen his other stuff please check that out also]. There are lots of visually interesting scenes in this movie. Some might not enjoy the frenetic look of the camerawork. I think it really fits the tone and subject of A Horrible Way to Die, and brings a unique perspective to the serial killer sub-genre. Not to mention the score of this film is totally ominous; this is one of those dark, brooding scores where the music really crawls under your skin, rattles your bones and teeth, and generally unsettles you. Everything works together here to provide horror with, at the very least, something different. A Horrible Way to Die is a great and non-typical experience amongst so many other movies trying to do the same thing while failing to actually do so. There’s an atmosphere and mood about this one that will haunt you for days. It haunted me. Still does.

For my review of You’re Next, the home invasion horror-thriller by Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett, click here.

The Sacrament: Found Footage in Jonestown

The Sacrament. 2014. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil, Gene Jones, and Kentucker Audley. Magnet Releasing. Rated R. 95 minutes. Horror/Thriller

★★★★★

Previously I discussed The Sacrament in my 15 Found Footage Films Worth Watching. Here, I’ll go much more in-depth on why I think this is a great film overall.

I only discovered Ti West once seeing his 2009 film The House of the Devil. I went back and secured a copy of his first feature film from 2005 called The Roost – a neat little movie with mutated killer bats and a few friends on a road trip headed to a wedding; I love every frame of this one. Included on the DVD I bought, luckily, there came his earlier short film from back in 2001, Prey. He later went on to do the fantastic modern ghost tale of The Innkeepers, and a couple of great segments in both V/H/S (the short called “Second Honeymoon” featuring Joe Swanberg – actually my favourite of the first film’s shorts), as well as the 2012 horror mega-anthology The ABCs of Death (a divisive short called “M is for Miscarriage”).

sacrament_ver3_xlgThen came The Sacrament – West’s retelling of the Jonestown Massacre )see: Jim Jones and the People’s Temple in Guyana). For those who don’t know, Jones was a supposed preacher who basically built up a cult of personality around himself using the faith, and money (and bodies/souls), of a congregation made up from lonely and lost, broken hearted people who wanted nothing more than to believe in something tailored to them. They all eventually fled to the Republic of Guyana on the coast of South America and, using the life savings of many members in the People’s Temple, built their own town – aptly named Jonestown. Jones convinced his congregation they were better off in Guyana. He also managed to convince many, not all however, the American government and certain agencies such as the CIA wanted to kill him, and in turn them – that people were, as the saying goes, “out to get them”, (as Father says in The Sacrament when a young member questions why their fate must be what it is: “(if not) they will come down here with their guns and bombs and wipe us out!”). Then one day, Jones finally went off the deep end, after having lived a double life for quite some time pretending to be the all-righteous preacher by day and then indulging his primal urges by night (including alcohol, drugs, and the homosexual practices he condemned – Jones claimed himself to be the “only true heterosexual male” and justified his sodomizing of other men in his church as his sole option in helping those men in realizing their own homosexuality). He brought everyone their little meeting area at Jonestown, a crew of people brought out big jugs of mixed up Kool Aid with cyanide, and everyone proceeded to drink up – some were force fed, et cetera. You get the picture.

The-Sacrament-pic-300x210This is essentially the plot of The Sacrament, however, West does not use this as a “based on a true story” tale. It never says this anywhere. I believe West used the Jim Jones story to translate things into a new modern era. This also explains the reasoning behind choosing VICE as a way to explore the Jones story through a different lens, as well as a neat way to help lend the film a found footage feel. People will argue it isn’t “true” found footage, but it is – using VICE, West is able to disguise this as one of their hands on trips to a foreign country, practicing what they call “immersionism”, and so under that he’s able to also incorporate little bits of editing and the like.
Which brings me to one of the things I really feel puts this movie over as a horrifying ordeal. Aside from all the imagery of terror throughout, especially in the final reel, the music really helps West’s film in regards to atmosphere and tone. The mood is immediately set when the VICE guys roll into the Eden Parish complex (the West-version of Jonestown) and soon the foreboding music begins. It’s really great. As things get more uncomfortable, and at times downright creepy, the score goes along: it gets dark and deep, slow, picking up its pace in parallel to that of the film itself. This is one of my favourite parts about the inclusion of VICE as part of the plot – West can account for the sense of editing inherent in the music by putting it off on VICE taking the footage back, editing later, as they do. This helps alleviate some of the pressures of the found footage sub-genre. West didn’t have to be too strict worrying about whether or not everything seemed perfectly explainable in as far as they had to perfectly fit the found footage “rules” in order for people to accept how things were being filmed (because we all know when it comes to horror and sub-genres specifically some fans are picky as all hell – to an unfair fault both to the filmmakers, as well as their own enjoyment of movies..). All that said, the music is just really wonderful. I couldn’t care less if it fit or not with the found footage aspect because it just worked so well for the film I really cannot complain one bit.
sacrament-880x320 For those who don’t particularly care for / follow Ti West, he often works in conjunction with a bunch of other filmmakers and actors associated with the “mumblegore” film movement (a particularly silly moniker I think doesn’t do their talent justice). These people include fellow directors Adam Wingard and Joe Swanberg (who regularly acts as well), actors A.J Bowen and Amy Seimetz, and multi-talent Kentucker Audley (everyone aside from Audley was involved with Wingard’s 2001 directorial effort You’re Next which was only just released last year; West acted in that one and got murdered fairly quickly).
In this movie, we get everybody mentioned aside from Wingard. Bowen and Swanberg play the VICE guys – each of them are very believable and because of their previous relationship were clearly able to appear natural together on camera + playing faux-real people in the documentary-styled film. I particularly love Bowen, and here he is very good. I thought he played the character of Sam well from start to finish – both as the confident VICE reporter and then later as the scared man trying to help himself while also worrying about helping others. Bowen worked well as Sam in those later bits because West played with the fact this man was an expecting father. While he clearly wanted to get out of there, as anyone would especially if they have no real personal attachment to the place, Bowen showed the struggle of a man who couldn’t fly back home to his pregnant wife, his unborn child, knowing he didn’t do anything and everything he could to help the men, women, and children at Eden Parish. There was some great stuff in there. Bowen helped get that out and make it part of why The Sacrament was effective.
Amy Seimetz, who is always fantastic and great at playing complex female characters, gives a great performance as the sister to Audley’s character; she is one of the lost flock who follow Father down to Eden Parish. In fact, the scene between Audley and Seimetz (you’ll know which one) later in the film is not only heartbreaking, it is a master class in acting. Each of them were in fine form, most certainly Audley, but it was definitely one of the most heartwrenching scenes of any horror film in 2014; without a doubt. I could feel the pain dripping out the frame. Classic scene.

6-the-sacramentI know some people wonder why Ti West chose a story such as that of Jones to use as a template for this story in The Sacrament. But again, I say it – nowhere does West claim that his film is whatsoever based on a true story. He knows we’re smart enough to understand where it comes from – even those younger moviegoers who may not be all that familiar with Jones will probably, through the internet, come to figure out this has some basis in reality.
Regardless, West crafts something better than just a Lifetime Biography on the Jonestown Massacre because he doesn’t hold it to the standards of the actual story. West could write a more diverse character in Father by not holding him strictly to the mould of Jim Jones. If he had based this completely on Jones, he would have had to stick with the period of time in which it happened – right there, not only does this eliminate any elaboration on the character types within the story, it also completely puts the kibosh on the VICE angle, and then all the threads start slowly wearing away. I think it was smart of West to choose this story, as it’s socially relevant in any time let alone the strange times we live in today, and by manipulating it and not sticking totally to a true story he is able to leave certain aspects unlimited.
For instance, the relationship between the brother and sister (Audley and Seimetz) could have been done through an unchanged version of the Jonestown story, however, it also risks not doing justice to actual survivors.
While people can argue it’s just as insensitive (or whatever else they want to say) that West would make a fictional story out of a tragedy which really happened, he really makes a great film and tells a rich story. By not making this the Jim Jones story, he also sheds some responsibilities – not only to the sub-genre of found footage film, but also to the real people who experienced Jonestown firsthand.
Bad taste? I don’t think so. Not by my watch. This is a great and powerful horror film for modern audiences. It satisfied me to no end. Having seen almost ever single piece of Ti West’s work as a director, I can honestly say his work gets better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing In a Valley of Violence. He’s a guy to keep your eye on.

The Invasion of Family in You’re Next

You’re Next. 2011. Dir. Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett.
Starring Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Rob Moran, and Barbara Crampton.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
Rated 18A. 95 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★ (Blu ray)

I’ve been into Adam Wingard’s films for a long while now.  Ever since I first got the chance to see Pop Skull (which I wasn’t huge on but thought showed a lot of promise on Wingard’s part as a director) I always made it a point to check out his films. A Horrible Way to Die really fascinated me. It was fresh and unique for a story about a serial killer. Wingard and Simon Barrett work well together. They both seem to have an eye for a certain type of horror; it isn’t all about the killing, it doesn’t go the modern teen horror route of showing tits and ass to gain a strange commercial appeal (which I myself don’t understand anyways). Barrett and Wingard manage to come up with new ways of looking at typical horror tropes. You’re Next follows in exactly that fashion.
Lane-Hughes-in-Youre-Next-2011-Movie-ImageThe film opens up with a great cameo from Larry Fessenden. Later we learn he’s been cheating on his wife with a young woman. In these first scenes, both he and the lady are having a good time. A drink, some Dwight Tilley Band on vinyl. Then the masked assailants who will later terrorize the main characters show up and spoil the little party. A little blood, and the ominously scrawled warning of “you’re next” in what can only be assumed to be blood across the window. Everything is set.

Yet things don’t exactly play out as they usually might in other horror slashers. A family, a rich one in fact, is meeting for a family reunion. Before anyone else arrives, the mother and father (played by Barbara Crampton in all her wonder and a snooty Rob Moran) go up to their presumable summer home, although it looks like a home worth several million dollars. While there the mother believes she’s heard someone in the house. Things seem suspicious. Meanwhile, Crispian (the always interesting AJ Bowen) is bringing his new-ish girlfriend Erin (the kick ass Sharni Vinson) to meet the family. Once they all get together things seem fine. The rest of the family shows up. There is Crispian’s sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and her filmmaker boyfriend Tari (Ti West), as well as her other brother Drake (Swanberg) and his wife. However, soon enough things get tense. Specifically between Crispian and his brother Drake who argue like two spoiled little boys. Yet everything goes haywire in a matter of seconds. Out of nowhere Tariq looks out the window and is greeted by a high velocity arrow in the forehead. The mayhem continues.

This could have been a typical slasher film about a family being offed one by one. Barrett writes this differently. Instead, it becomes less about the horror tropes like ‘the final girl’, and more about the tables ultimately being completely turned around on the killer. No longer is it a frightened young woman with big breasts in a little white t-shirt running around in a house, to all the wrong places no doubt. Here, Erin, played wonderfully by Sharni Vinson, subverts all the ideas about what a strong woman in a horror film is and should be. She doesn’t need to be transformed by a bunch of killers – she is already a tough lady. The minute things get crazy she kicks into gear. It doesn’t take long before the hunters are turned into the hunted.
wendy-glenn-and-nicholas-tucci-in-youre-next-2011-movie-image-650x432 But that’s not all. I sort of suspected there might be a twist to part of the story, and there was. Regardless, I didn’t exactly know what it would be. When it came I found myself impressed. Not that I was so fooled. Mostly due to the fact I thought it a clever little twist for a horror-slasher.
Also, You’re Next contains a lot of great dark comedy on Simon Barrett’s part. He is an excellent writer. His stories definitely have a voice. This film challenges certain things we think about horror movies. In particular, those of the slasher sub-genre. There are times when you aren’t sure if you should laugh. But that is the point – Barrett and Wingard both want you to laugh. They’re telling you – it’s okay.
A horror movie doesn’t always have to be dead serious for its full running time. It isn’t outright funny. At times I found myself chuckling and then feeling a little bad for it afterwards. Even though a lot of it is certainly intentional. It’s just the way things are presented.
One moment I notice over and over occurs just before Aimee takes a run out the front door. Felix (Tucci) and his girlfriend Zee (Glenn) are moving a table. An expensive looking vase on top of it topples over as they move it out of the way, and Felix’s father barks at him – as if, at a time such as that once absolute chaos has broken out, a stupid vase would even matter. Just a little touch I thought that’s worth note.
Once the end hits, you’ll know You’re Next is meant to both horrify and produce laughs. I thought the very final scene came off perfect. It blended the two sides of the film in one little moment right before rolling the credits.
A little side note: Dwight Tilley really does this movie a service. That song is way too catchy.

On the Blu ray release there are some great special features. The commentary with Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard together is really worth checking out. You get a feel of how much these two love movies. In particular, the horror genre. I loved how Wingard talked about being such a fan of Alien and Aliens, and Barrett mentions how that film introduced its characters; something they wanted to replicate in this film. There’s some pretty cool and insightful stuff to hear as they go through.
One of the scares in You’re Next is actually, according to Wingard, based on a scene involving Tom Skerritt from Alien. Also, there is a featurette called “No Ordinary Home Invasion: The Making of You’re Next” which is a nice little addition. I always love seeing at least a few scenes broken down, or some of the effects shown on the Blu ray release to see a bit of the process. As an aspiring filmmaker, I love to see indie filmmakers, or just smaller scale filmmakers, do their thing and give a bit of advice as to how to accomplish certain shots. Here there are a few good looks into things behind the scenes.
youre-next-next
As a horror film I absolutely give this a 5 star rating. This is a great addition to the genre, and really works on a different level from the usual slasher. Barrett is a consistently interesting screenwriter. Wingard also does great work. I continue to be a fan of his, having also seen and reviewed The Guest awhile back, which is another great film collaboration between Barrett and Wingard. I hope they’ll keep up doing fresh work. Also, I really love the ass-kicking heroine in a horror movie – You’re Next has one of those and then some.

I give the Blu ray release a 4 out of 5 rating. Simply because the only part of the whole release I was not satisfied with is the sound. The mix is very out of whack. Luckily, I don’t care about loud noises. But I think some people might find it a bit annoying. You have to really turn it up if you want to hear its dialogue without straining. Then, in a matter of seconds you might have your eardrums blown out when some of the action sequences kick in. However, this is not something that ruins the release. I still love it. The picture is so amazing. Wingard does interesting camerawork in his projects, and it’s nice to see in such high definition. The special features also make up for any of the sound issues. They’re really great.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, do yourself a favour and watch it soon. If you have and like it, or love it as I do, then go ahead and get this Blu ray – it is a really good release. Plus, help support some amazing indie-minded filmmakers.

I’m a fan of Rare Horror – here is their You’re Next review.

V/H/S is a Creepy Found Footage Treat

V/H/S. 2012. Dir. David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Mat Bettinelli-Olpin, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, and Adam Wingard.
Starring Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Kentucker Audley, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Sarah Byrne, Simon Barrett. 18A. Magnet Releasing/eOne. 116 mins.

4 out of 5 stars (Movie)
2.5 out of 5 stars (Blu ray release)

A film I highly anticipated when it was originally released, V/H/S on Blu-ray comes with a little extra for your viewing pleasure. The film itself looks great. Although most of it is shot with the intention of looking lower quality, as if on second or third generation VHS tapes, probably recorded over more than once, it looks even better here than on the big screen. You can see everything much clearer, even with the intentionally grainy look the filmmakers tried to inject. It’s wonderful.
VHS-2012-Movie-Poster-e1347981753499The film’s stories are also a lot of fun. The only particular piece I didn’t enjoy was Joe Swanberg’s short. Not because I don’t like him – I’m actually a real big fan. I recently saw his film Silver Bullets, and thought it was excellent. I just didn’t like this one. I thought it was almost too much jammed into one story. Things felt forced. Other than that, I really love the rest of the shorts. My favourite is Ti West’s segment, “Second Honeymoon”; funny enough, one of the actors in this short is Swanberg, who plays his character well (I almost like him more as an actor than director). There’s something really eery underlying everything throughout. West builds up the feeling of dread throughout, and the end is a quick, shocking conclusion that really got to me. The wraparound story of the whole film is fun.
I thought the filmmakers did a really good job of making things sort of plausible, as to why there were these tapes, what they were, why they’re even being shown. That’s one challenge of the entire sub-genre of found footage: how do the tapes even show up in a natural way? I thought V/H/S had a good story to go with this idea.
vhs10Next up are the special features on the Blu-ray. They have some generic stuff on here. Such as a small collection of clips and 10-second interviews with a few of the directors and writers. Most of the features are like this: fairly lame. Nothing to get too excited over here. Most of the extras involving each short, not all though, are fairly silly little bits.
There’s a little piece about 5-minutes long, if that, about the segment called “Amateur Night”, and it shows the filmmakers testing helium balloons with a compartment attached holding their camera (why will become obvious once you’ve actually seen the short itself). This part I enjoyed because they basically dissected the final shot of that segment, including some of the VFX/green screen stuff, and I thought it was well done. I never considered how they may have done those shots. But it was really neat to see it played out in front of me.
Other than this 5-minute section, the special features are a bore honestly. I mean, some of the interviews are okay, but with a high concept found footage film like this I would’ve liked to see more stuff sort of like the little section on “Amateur Night”. I bet some of the directors could show off some neat little tricks they used to achieve some of the effects. On the other hand, maybe a magician shouldn’t reveal all his or her tricks.
Calvin-Reeder-in-VHS-2012-Movie-Image-600x400
The film itself I give a 4 out of 5 stars. The Blu-ray is a 2.5 out of 5 honestly. I would definitely suggest picking it up, but don’t do so on the pretense you’re getting a good release full of some worthwhile special features. It’s worth the purchase to have the film in a great print of high quality. Aside from the film itself the Blu-ray is nothing special.
Maybe a few years down the road once the V/H/S series has peaked (I think they should keep going; I loved the latest installment called V/H/S: Viral) they will re-release the whole thing on Blu-ray as a box set and throw in a load of unused footage, et cetera, to treat us all. Until then we’ll have to do with this.  It’s decent.  I just hoped for a little more.
VHS-33900_5Nonetheless, the film is great. A fresh, unique movie with some thrills, chills, and a nice showing of gory bits – enough to satisfy me, anyways.

Found Footage – 15 Films Worth Watching

The found footage sub-genre can be one of division. Some people like certain found footage films. Others don’t like the entire category, can’t stand it. I’m one of those who likes the genre. A lot. But only if it’s used to an advantage, if it works well. Sometimes the concept just falls flat on its face. On the other hand, when a competent director gets ahold of a story and uses found footage correctly it can really be a treat. One thing worth noting is that a lot of times the actors involved end up shooting parts of the film. In the case of Blair Witch for instance a great deal of the footage (I can’t speculate how much but I’m sure near all of it) was caught on film by the actors themselves. Whatever the case may be, however it comes together, found footage in the right hands is a great sub-genre for filmmakers to use, and more often than not it can be frightening as hell.

Here are 15 of my personal favourite found footage films. Most of which I would consider to be the horror genre. And these are in descending order towards my favourite of them all.

15. The Collingswood Story (2002)
600full-the-collingswood-story-coverThis is one of the lesser-seen on this list, no doubt. If only because it hasn’t been widely available on DVD, and as far as I know it isn’t on Netflix. I was lucky enough to see it a couple years ago. Mostly, to be honest, it can be boring, but for me it’s all about the payoff. If I can make it through to the end of a film (check my mention of Soft for Digging in previous post) I find a little less than exciting and the finale blows me away, I will always be impressed. This is one of those films were it doesn’t have a lot going on. It’s the last 10 or so minutes that really change the game. A creepy story involving a weird house, typical. However, this film really uses found footage well as a concept, and I think that also gives this a spot on the list.

14. The Houses October Built (2014)
The Houses October Built MovieFor a full review, click here.

I’ve never seen the documentary of the same name (also directed by Bobby Roe). This movie terrifies me. The concept is simple: a group of friends seek out the most extreme scare, to find where the wildest haunted houses across America are located. Of course they get what they’re looking for, just not exactly how they expected to find it. One thing I really loved about this flick is that the acting seemed so natural. A lot of found footage films come off as forced. These people seemed like they were very familiar with one another. Certainly they probably are, as they all appeared in the documentary The Houses October Built together. So there must have been an advantage due to that. Either way, I thought that really helped when it comes to character development. It felt like I was watching a group of friends who’d known each other a long time, and it made me really invest in them. When the terror really hits it can get very creepy. At one point, you’ll know it, Brandy (essentially Brandy Schaefer playing herself) is slowly figuring out she may now be alone, without her friends to protect her, and it is an extremely chilling moment. Got to me. I highly recommend this one. It’s especially great when Halloween comes around again.

13. Afflicted (2013)afflicted-featuredFor my full review, click here.

This one came out of nowhere. Another film that really capitalizes on real life friendships. Derek Lee and Clif Prowse play themselves here pretty much. In the film, they’re taking a massive trip around the world, documenting everything on camera. However, the reason for doing so is because Derek has found out he’s got a serious disease, and it could very well take his life. So, all the more reason to do the trip of a lifetime with his friend Clif. While overseas though, Derek encounters a mysterious woman, and afterwards he seems to be changing. Into what, who knows. I really, really enjoyed this to the fullest. I won’t spoil this at all by telling you what Derek is turning into because it’s best left to slowly figure out. Not that it’s difficult. But it’s just worth discovering on your own. The realization setting in almost puts you in Derek’s shoes. All in all I think this is a good use of found footage, and really imaginative story with some well-done effects to boot.

12. The Conspiracy (2012)640px-Poster_for_The_Conspiracy_(2012_Film)For my full review, click here.

One of my favourite things about scary movies is that some of them can be terrifying without really being what you’d call a ‘horror’ movie. One in particular, when concerning found footage, is The Conspiracy. I for one love the whole Bilderberg conspiracy theory/theories. Not that I necessarily buy into it all, or dismiss it all either, but I just love it- so much excitement in those conspiracy theories, and the theorists themselves. This film plays off all that. A couple filmmakers are doing a documentary on conspiracy theories, but it gets very dangerous, very real once they discover links here and there to a secret society that has been around for years. This movie mixes Bilderberg and Bohemian Grove stories together, and it really works. The finale is something to be seen. I found it all fairly scary. It’s not a horror, but it will definitely get to you in ways most horrors will. My interest in conspiracy/all related matters is most likely the reason this one is on the list. Really made this film work for me.

11. Exists (2014)
exists_06There is nothing like a good creature feature. Essentially, Exists is a creature feature, but it’s dressed up like a found footage film. This works. Combining the real life typical plot of going into the woods up to a cabin with some friends and a really great looking sasquatch costume design, this film packs a punch. At times I was absolutely frightened to death. Bigfoot looks amazing. You don’t really get a great look at the creature most of the time; at first it’s a lot of quick, blurred images, slowly some more defined shots. Finally it all culminates near the finale when one of the characters comes literally face-to-face with the sasquatch. And is it ever wild. They did a great job making him look man-like yet still scarily ape, massive, and horrifying. I loved this. Worked really well.

10. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

For a full review, click here.
045072H3-1Everyone knows the classic mockumentary Man Bites Dog, and it is a doozy. Well this is my choice for the “serial killer makes a movie”-type plot. The Last Horror Movie is a frighteningly real depiction of a serial killer who decides he ought to make a true movie. He documents gruesome, horrific murders. There’s nothing much more to it. Though he does offer some psychotic ramblings to go along, it’s all mainly about the murders. Man, are they rough. There’s one in particular I actually cringe while watching (something which rarely happens nowadays as I’ve become almost desensitized on some levels) where he lights a person on fire and lets them burn. Very, very disturbing. Although I do recommend this one. It starts off as a VHS tape rented from the local video store; another little bit I really enjoy. Adds some character. So if you want some really depraved stuff, then go ahead, watch this one. It will bite on your nerves.

9. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
the-blair-witch-projectFor a full review, click here.

Everyone knows this one. I don’t need to describe it. What I will say is this.. when the movie first came out I was about 15-years old. I hadn’t seen it yet, but I knew I would love it. I asked mom to get it for me. For my birthday, or Christmas, who knows. Anyways, when I got it on VHS I remember watching it a bunch of times. It frightened the life out of me. It was the whole thing that did it. But specifically those last moments, when Mike is turned against the wall.. it kills me. There are several moments which chill me to the bone in The Blair Witch Project. I still think it’s one of the best found footage films out there, and certainly the one that really kicked off the modern fascination with this sub-genre.

8. Frankenstein’s Army (2013)Frankenstein's_Army_DVD_coverFor my full review, click here.

I love any kind of horror movie that incorporates World War II and/or Nazi Germany. It’s fascinating. Frankenstein’s Army works really well. It’s at a time when sound recording with film was still relatively a new and fascinating thing. The concept of found footage works well here. There’s even one point where Frankenstein himself (played by the always fascinating Karel Roden) asks about the camera being used, and remarks he has never seen one “of those types of camera… with sound“. Great little film. There are some genuinely weird and creepy moments in this one. A lot of Frankenstein’s forgotten toys, it seems. When they start spilling out the woodwork it’s really something to behold. I was frightened a few times, just trying to put myself in someone’s shoes back then, seeing things that we wouldn’t see until almost 70 years later, and only because of the imagination of film. It’s an impressive found footage horror, and certainly belongs on this list.

7. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
tGfBTG.pngFor my full review, click here.

I’d heard about this a long while before it actually came out, mainly because of Bryan Singer’s attachment as producer. Regardless, it turned out to be a super creepy little movie. Posing as a documentary about Alzheimers and those suffering with it as well as their caretakers, The Taking of Deborah Logan turns into something very scary. At first it seems like the disease is taking its toll on the titular Deborah. She scrapes her fingers until the nails nearly come off in her flower bed. At night, she’s climbing onto the counters while sleepwalking. Soon it becomes worse, and worse. And worse. Things get really scary, as Deborah’s past unfolds, and it comes back to haunt her. Literally. There are some extremely terrifying images in this one. The finale of the film is absolutely wild. I loved every second of it. I kept rewinding one part because I thought it was just so well done – the effects, everything. So satisfying. There were a few times I gasped out loud. I really recommend this to anyone tired of the same old plots in found footage, also.  This is a unique and fresh look at the sub-genre.

6. The Sacrament (2013)

For a full & in-depth review, click here.
large_sacrament Ti West is an absolute monster in the horror field. I mean this in the most wonderful way possible. I’ve been a fan of his since The House of the Devil, purchased his first feature film The Roost which I also really loved. His films are phenomenal. One of only two feature films West has not shot using film, The Sacrament is a found footage-style look at a Jim Jones-ish cult and its charismatic leader. There’s not much else to tell plot-wise. Other than a few minor bits, West uses Jones’ story almost verbatim at certain points. But that’s not for a lack of originality. West sort of gives Jones’ story to a modern audience, some of whom might not know the story (though who they are I don’t know myself), and sets it in a world where everyone knows VICE, and how they report on stories. West sets the story in a digital world. One where the cameras are rolling. Unlike the actual massacre, we get to see everything instead of just hearing bits of audio. We experience all the deaths, the throes of agony, the screaming, wailing children and men and women dying everywhere. We hear the gunshots and the merciless shouting and the tears. It’s all there. This is an unsettling film. Anyone who passes this off as merely a rehash of Jim Jones is wrong. The story is much the same, but it is worth the watch to experience all Ti West has conjured up for us.

5. V/H/S/2 (2013) & V/H/S: Viral (2014)

For my Blu ray review of the first V/H/S, click here.
For my Blu ray review on V/H/S/2, click here.
As well as a review of V/H/S: Viral here.

I’m a fan of the entire V/H/S trilogy, however, I think the 2nd & 3rd entries are both huge improvements on the first. The 3rd, being the best of all, is an even bigger improvement on the 2nd.vhs2_posterFor starters, V/H/S 2 contained two very well executed shorts: Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale’s “A Ride in the Park”, & Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s “Safe Haven”. The first is an absolutely fantastic POV zombie short about a man who goes for a bike ride in the park forest only to end up with the only disease worse than cancer: zombie. I really loved it. Great use of found footage and the zombie genre.
The second, “Safe Haven”, follows a documentary crew into an Indonesian cult’s complex where things slowly spiral out of control, and one of them discovers they’ve fathered more than just a baby with a good friend’s girl. This is a wild, wild ride. Lots of gore, lots of weirdness, and even a little dark humour to top things off. I really enjoyed it.
VHS-Viral-Glow-Faced-Body-Horror
V/H/S: Viral is, in my humble opinion, the best, or at the least most imaginative, of all three entries in this trilogy. The first short, Gregg Bishop’s “Dante the Great”, is a great little horror about a magician who discovers a cloak that can help him achieve even the most unknown of tricks. I really liked this one. Very unique take on horror, and honestly makes me crave a full-length feature about some sort of magician crossed with the horror genre; it works well here. The second is a mindbender from frequent mindfucker Nacho Vigalondo called “Parallel Monsters”. Basically it’s a view into another world. And it is god damn terrifying. I’ll say no more. The third segment (a fourth was cut from the first release on VOD but apparently will be added in later) is directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, who previously co-directed the interesting Resolution, is called “Bonestorm”. It’s a bunch of skater kids versus a strange Mexican death cult of some sort, who barrel out of the desert towards the as they kick flip and ollie around a skate park littered with animal feces and strange shrines. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, I think this is the best one of the lot. It’s pure horror. I loved it. Not that the other shorts in this 3rd installment aren’t great – they are – I just think Benson and Moorehead tap into the real horror, and it’s a great little bloody short with an almost homage to Evans’ previous ending in “Safe Haven”, although not as blackly comic as that. All in all, both of these V/H/S films are worth checking out, and even the first, but the latest two have really picked up in quality moving forward.

4. Lovely Molly (2011)

Read my review for the Blu ray release, which is spectacular and creepy as all hell.
gretchen-lodge-as-molly-in-lovely-molly-2011There are a lot of disturbing things going on in this one. Another Sánchez directed film (as were Blair Witch Exists if I failed to mention, and also “A Ride in the Park” from V/H/S 2 which I did mention). This is about two newlyweds who move back to the wife’s (Molly) childhood home, where she once lived with her seemingly crazy, cruel, demented father. Soon things begin to happen. The husband is worried. His new wife once had a serious drug habit, and it starts to come back. But something is spurring it on, leading her down that path again. Something very dark. There are some great shots in this. Particularly one later in the film where Molly walks out into the darkness, into the arms of something creepy, maybe dangerous. It’s highly unsettling. Watch this. There are some disturbing shots here that will linger on and on.

3. As Above, So Below (2014)

For a full review, click here.
AsAboveSoBelow_BenFeldman-1024x576Perhaps it’s my interest in strange history, alchemy (et cetera), or maybe this is just one well-done found footage film. Whatever. I think this is fantastic. The plot is great: a young explorer tries to carry on her father’s work searching for the Philosopher’s Stone. Along with some help, after discovering the key to a complicated map in the cave systems below Iran, she ventures into the catacombs below Paris, into hidden chambers where she believes the Philosopher Stone might just be found. I thought this film played out very nicely. There were some genuinely chilling moments. One is in the trailer, in fact. However, there is a moment where a hooded figure sits on a creepy little chair, and even though nothing really happens it’s just the atmosphere which really draws me in and captivates me. So scary. The end was not typical of most found footage films, and I have to applaud it for finishing on the note it did. Different. I think this is worth a watch. It’s unique. We don’t always have to see the same recurring plot over and over. It’s nice to mix things up a little with found footage, and it can work in a variety of ways. As Above, So Below showcases how it can work when mixed with a little history and adventure. This is like a found footage horror version of Indiana Jones at times. Great film.

2. Noroi: The Curse (2005)
0c04aaf109299e9f705e8a26aba_prevI already talked about this one in my previous Halloween list. If you want detail, head back there! Just know this is one of the creepiest found footage films ever, and just a fascinatingly scary horror in general.

For my full review of this horrifying film, click here.

1. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
poughkeepsietapes7* For a full & chilling review, click here.

The granddaddy of them all – The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Lucky for me I caught this a long while ago, and earlier this year actually it briefly appeared on VOD for a short time before it was pulled (just like how out of nowhere its theatrical release got pulled seemingly). Nobody can find it nowadays. Turns out this is by the same director who went on to do another of my favourites from just earlier in the list, As Above, So Below. I’m hoping with some success from his latest film it might prompt someone to distribute this one, because when I saw this film I was transformed. I couldn’t believe it. Every image seemed to horrify me worse than the last. Things escalate more and more. The whole thing is a series of tapes left by a serial killer who of course recorded all his crimes. He is the ultimate killer. His methods change from kill to kill. He is always one step ahead of police and profiles and FBI agents alike. It’s truly scary. Some of the masks the killer wears, including a Plague Doctor mask, are just the worst things you can imagine. Terrible, and perfect. This is truly a symphony of horrors. There is one scene where the killer answers his door and meets two little Girl Guides. As the audience watches, he teeters on the edge of either letting them go or killing them. You can never tell which. Until finally they walk out the door. It’s once they leave we get the real horror- one of his victims was underneath the coffee table the whole time. It is a horrifying moment. The whole movie sticks with you long after it is over. I highly recommend this. Definitely the most scary and wild found footage horror film I have ever seen. If you get the chance, check it out, and you will not be disappointed. You certainly won’t get any sleep.