I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE & Justice in the Real World

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Directed & Written by Macon Blair.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, & Robert Longstreet.
Film Science/XYZ Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
img_0007Ever since seeing him in the fantastic indie Murder Party, Macon Blair draws me to his work. Just a couple years ago Jeremy Saulnier went ahead and gave him the spotlight in the story of amateur but passionate revenge, Blue Ruin, and last year Blair also turned up as a neo-Nazi with a heart still beating somewhere deep down in the immensely impressive Green Room.
A year after, Blair comes to us via Netflix with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, starring Melanie Lynskey (who along with her role in “The Birthday Party” from anthology horror movie XX is experiencing a big surge in her great career) and Elijah Wood. Channelling energy no doubt gleaned from his time working in front of the camera for Saulnier, Blair writes and directs like he’s been doing it for ages. The pacing, the directing, his tense, darkly comic, and at many times his cathartic script all make for an inventive debut feature. Even better, the timing of this film is on the nose; when North America’s been gripped by a steady stream of hate billowing out of the aftermath from the 2016 U.S. elections. I don’t think Blair anticipated such relevance, and wanted to just make a solid crime-thriller. Despite authorial intent, his work feels perfectly at home in this world heading on from 2017, surely expressing the feelings of many Americans in the story’s reluctant yet driven to the brink protagonist.
img_0008Everyone is an asshole. And dildos.”
The opening moments are awesomely comic and dark, as well. From an old lady’s vulgar last words to an awkward parking lot encounter, a look of existential frustration on the face of our protagonist Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) as oblivious shoppers cut in front of her in the cashier line or don’t bother picking up items they knock off shelves, to dog shit left on her lawn and a random man in a bar ruining the latest book in a series she’s reading – Ruth’s introduction to the viewer is a concise explanation of the film’s title. Watching her life in these short, informative bursts during the opener is a proper visual thesis.
Blair’s story is at once familiar and totally unique in its own skin, as we see the age old tale of person pushed to the limits of what their humanity and pride can tolerate. Ruth refuses victimhood any longer. After suffering the myriad of small injustices offered by the world on a daily basis, she snaps when a truly shitty act of criminality forces her past the point of silence, towards reclaiming her life via vengeance. Only, as in real life, the film shows us how even well-intentioned revenge doesn’t always go as planned. Perhaps the greatest aspect of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is its dedication to reality, in that it refuses to deny the messiness of being human.
img_0009Ruth: “What are we doinghere, this world?”
Tony: “Trying to be good. Or be better.”
A large focus of the plot becomes the idea that, in today’s society (and for a long time), the focus lies more on what a victim must do to prevent being victimised, rather than preventing and punishing criminals properly. We see this particularly in the case of rape victims, which contemporary internet culture and social media has made even worse, as women who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped often hear what THEY should have done instead of society working on the men who commit such atrocities.
For instance, the police officer assigned to Ruth’s case all but refuses to take her seriously. All because she left her door open. This is just about the epitome of the idea that victims are treated like they’ve done something wrong. The cop keeps bringing up the fact she left the door open, so it negates her troubles; there are better things to do for cops than worrying about people who are asking for it. And that’s the bottom line, that the police, sometimes, would rather blame someone for what they did to supposedly bring on the crime than do work to find the criminals responsible. Because sure, she left the door open, that’s still not an invitation to be robbed – robbery is still illegal – exactly how a woman getting too drunk or wearing sexy clothes is NOT an invitation to assault or rape or anything else. Not sure if this is what Blair was getting at. Regardless, he gets to the heart of the issue with Ruth’s journey towards civilising her small pocket of the world. And further than that, how the police won’t help and make it harder for her to find justice, we see how many people in this crazy world are pushed to take matters into their own hands and find vigilante justice.
img_0010There’s so much, too much, to love. A scene involving an old man pawnbroker morphs from a hilariously sneaky scene into something more surreal, slightly horrifying, though entirely funny in a grim sense. Then there’s one bloody, climactic moment of pure violent madness before the last few scenes that works wonders. Continually, from plot events to bloody violence, the film sticks to the idea of real life. Events occur as in real life: spontaneous, weird, ugly, brutal. The plot heads in unexpected, dangerous directions, as Ruth winds up from where she’d ever anticipated at the beginning, reflected in the blood and cracked windpipes and stabbed stomachs Blair offers up on screen.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has everything I expected. One of the most fun, and equally wild, film experiences I’ve had over the past year, definitely a contender for the films I love most at the end of 2017. Lynskey is pitch perfect in the lead, both innocent and strong in her own right, flanked by Elijah Wood in a role he owns; the others in the cast fill it out with class.
Blair does more than I could’ve imagined. I knew his debut would go over well because he’s got an old school sensibility about him as an actor; this translates to his directing with force. Every move of the story feels expertly paced, each scene directed and shot with precision. A crime-thriller that resonates with the modern state of America. Plus, yet another huge reason why Netflix deserves credit for letting directors – from TV shows to fictional and documentary features – take the reins of their vision and steer it how they see fit.

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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!

Cooties: It’s Okay to Kill the Children

Cooties. 2015. Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell & Ian Brennan.
Starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Miles Elliot, Morgan Lily, Sunny May Allison, and Armani Jackson. Glacier Films/SpectreVision.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Action/Comedy/Horror

★★★★
2490326_bigOfficially out now on iTunes, Cooties was announced a little over two years ago. I remember seeing the premise alone and thinking this would be, at the very least, a bit of a good laugh. Admittedly, I’m not actually huge on horror-comedies. Funny that I love comedy and I am way in love with horror, yet the combination of both isn’t something that immediately appeals to me.
That being said, there are definitely instances of horror-comedy I’ve loved. Like Shaun of the Dead, which is almost the pinnacle to me of the sub-genre. There’s also Dead Alive, Gremlins, pieces of An American Werewolf in London are definitely full of comedy, Return of the Living Dead, House (a favourite of mine), and many more.
Cooties isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best horror-comedy films to come out in awhile. There are lots of good laughs, solidly executed horror, and a pretty excellent script. This movie never takes itself too seriously; not to a fault, but enough to make it feel genuine. Some good performances help the whole film succeed, even in its slower moments. Rainn Wilson, of whom I’m not a fan, actually is pretty awesome. Not just him: Elijah Wood is great, Alison Pill cracked me up almost constantly, Nasim Pedrad played such an amazingly satirical character and proves she’s a real good comedian, and even the other much smaller roles had me in stitches.
But it’s the horror I love – the sweet, sweet horror.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.25.24 PMThe opening sequence of the film is pretty spooky, as well as nasty. Like churn your stomach nasty. Tainted nuggets… need I say more?
After this opener, Cooties shifts into comedy/dark comedy mode for a little portion. Which works extremely well. From a screenplay by Ian Brennan and Leigh Whannell, the comedy is genuine. It’s not awkward comedy, as some might expect seeing Rainn Wilson, however, it isn’t at all. There are some hilarious moments, especially from Elijah Wood whose character has a boyish charm while carrying the weight of the adult world on his shoulders; a writer trying hard to be whats he wants, stuck teaching when he’d rather be writing a novel as he says he is.
Still, things get intense fairly quick once the horror rears its fierce head. What I love is that the movie is only an hour and a half, not even, so the plot kicks in and runs wild without enough preamble to numb you. For a horror-comedy, this is an efficient technique and certainly made me enjoy Cooties even more than I might normally enjoy other movies in the sub-genre.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.35 PMKiller kid movies always freak me out. Something about the innocence of children combined with evil – and in this case an illness/virus – really just gets to me, in an awfully heavy way.
The kids in Cooties are creepy. Plain and simple. One of the first intense scenes is when Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson) finds himself trapped on the basketball court, surrounded by a bunch of the kids; they’re hissing, snarling, growls and blood and pus come out of them.
Something I enjoy about the killer kid sub-genre is how it subverts how we feel about children. You don’t feel any fear from them. When you see a kid, as an adult, there’s nothing threatening about them. Even when it comes to really messed up kids who might talk a good tough game, worst comes to worst you can pick a kid up and throw them if necessary. However, when the evil aspect comes into play – in film – there’s something in that subversion, something about how the children suddenly become threatening, which unsettles me at the core. It’s the innocence coming back into play, in a very sinister sense.
Even more so, Cooties pits school teachers against the kids they’re meant to be teaching, caring for, moulding into responsible young adults. There’s something even more wrenching about seeing these educators forced to kill the ones they’ve protected so long, similar to zombie films where we see parents have to kill their children or children forced to kill their parents. Something about this whole idea eats away at me. And even though there’s plenty of comedy peppered in throughout, I think there’s an absolutely relentless sense of dread happening from start to finish which never ever lets go.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.47 PMWhat I enjoy so much about this movie is the fact it balances so well the aspects of horror and comedy. This is the strength of any solid horror-comedy, if they can find a balance somehow that ultimately works equally on both fronts. What I found worked, for me, is that Cooties teeters back and forth between riotous moments and nasty horror. I mean, there’s a genuine dose of R-rated horror here a lot of other filmmakers would be too afraid to include in their own films.
When Johnson (Wilson) kills the first kid with a fire extinguisher, I knew it was coming but there’s still an effective scare in that moment. Particularly I love the makeup special effects, the blood spray all over Johnson and the wall behind him, speckled red dots everywhere. A true horror scene. Often times there’s a comedic aspect to kills in horror-comedy; this is not one of those kills. In the midst of the comedy comes a brutal, vicious scene. Not only that, the weight is evident on the character of Wade Johnson, as he sorts of loses his fun loving attitude afterwards and takes a bit of time alone.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.27.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.00 PMThe cinematography all around is pretty awesome. There’s a genuine atmosphere from start to finish, which sort of evolves from section to section. Lyle Vincent is the one responsible for the camerawork here – he also did 2012’s Devoured, a decent little indie horror with some teeth, and also the downright fantastic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (you can see a marquee poster for this movie at around the 1 hour 17 minute mark, or a little after, as the survivors pass a theatre). So knowing those two pieces – liking the latter more than the former – it’s no surprise Vincent is able to give Cooties an interesting look and feel. At the start, even in the creepy/nauseating opening sequence, there’s this real bright, shiny type of aesthetic happening – this leads through a bit to when the darkness comes into play. Following the “turn” of the children, a more gritty yet still colourful scheme begins. The vividness of colour persists, only darker now, along with the shadowy halls of the school, lit here and there with neon Exit signs, and the dull, sickly makeup of the kids, bloody and diseased looking. Tons of great visual stuff happening in terms of how the cinematography is both bright and gritty.
Also, there’s a rocking score from Kreng (Pepijn Caudron) – lots of cool electronic stuff happening. Unlike many modern horror movies trying to evoke a retro 1980s style soundtrack, I found this goes for the electronic sound while not necessarily trying to riff off the ’80s particularly. It might have that type of vibe, but for me it’s not the typical modern horror score. Helps the different aspects of Cooties become more intense, along with Vincent’s cinematography, whether it be the action-horror scenes near the end or the plain creepy horror moments throughout. A great horror score, definitely a bit different than some of the other stuff as of late from the indie horror scene.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.24 PMI have to mention one of my favourite scenes. It’s very close to the end, so without spoiling anything, the group of teachers trying to fend off all the infected/zombie children wander into a sort of McDonalds PlayPlace type of building. They find the PlayPlace itself, a massive jungle gym full of infected kids, frothing at the mouth, hissing and screaming, laughing like maniacs. The part I love is the lead-up, where first the group comes inside and the dark closes everything in, the flashlights give us enough to see bright party decorations, half eaten cake and nuggets; there’s this eerie quality to the scene I found incredible. Then when the lights go up, a neon multicoloured disco light ball turns, there’s this WHOA second where you can’t get over how wildly creepy the scene has become.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.47 PMWith a decent ending, that doesn’t try to wrap things up cleanly and to a precise point, I think Cooties overall gets a 4 out of 5 star rating. I loved the excellent mix of horror (good dose of blood/gore) and comedy. Plenty of good laughs, but horror wins out above anything else. There’s a lot of great intense kid-centric horror. This doesn’t shy away from showing any kids infected, bleeding, or straight up being killed. Though it isn’t malicious in the sense of useless violence. Mostly, as I said before, the subversion of the roles of the teachers in this film really makes things interesting, and horrific at various times for both the audience and the characters.
This is out now via iTunes, so get a copy! Maybe not everyone will love it like I did, but as someone not often drawn into horror-comedies, I’d at least suggest you give it a try.

Drop Something on a Walk Down Toad Road

Toad Road. 2012.  Directed & Written by Jason Banker.  Starring James Davidson and Sara Anne Jones.  WTFilms.  Unrated.  76 minutes.  Horror/Thriller.

3.5 out of 5 stars

I didn’t know until recently, but Elijah Wood and his company SpectreVision were the ones to present Toad Road.  They’ve been starting to bring some interesting films to the world including this one, the recent Open WindowsCooties [which I can’t wait for], and my personally most highly anticipated horror of 2014, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [which people have been raving about a lot lately – dying to get a chance to see this].
Toad-Road-FRONT-COVERToad Road has been described as being a cross between Kids and The Blair Witch Project.  I’d definitely agree there is an aspect of Harmony Korine in there, not only in the characters but also in the way Banker shot everything.  Aside from that alone, I don’t think I’d really try and draw any parallels between Toad Road and The Blair Witch Project; to my mind, there isn’t anything really paranormal, supernatural, or whatever, going on here.  One of the best descriptions [albeit coming from a negative review] is a contemporary annotated version of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.  To this, I can draw comparisons absolutely.

The story isn’t anything really challenging, or complex – James [Davidson] is a guy who hangs around with a group of people that get their kicks out of drugs, everything, anything they can get their hands on, but mostly psychedelics.  He then meets a girl named Sara [Jones], who has the false belief she can find herself, find something, in drugs.  While James tries to talk her away from all of this, Sara is unmovable.  She wants to experience more through drugs.  Soon, James drops the name of Toad Road into conversation, telling her drugs are a path similar to that place; an urban legend about a path in the woods behind a mental institution, which goes through the Seven Gates to Hell.  Sara becomes obsessed, believing Toad Road to be a beautiful legend instead of creepy.  Eventually, James and Sara go down Toad Road, as she believes going through the Seven Gates will be some sort of revelation; not the Christian Hell, but something real, and possibly miraculous.  Reluctantly, James goes along with Sara.  Nobody has ever made it past the fifth gate, where time starts to warp, and change.  No one has ever gotten to the sixth or seventh gates, apparently.  She wants to take drugs, and experience Toad Road like some sort of literal path to enlightenment.  Sara says “something attached itself” to her after her experience on mushrooms earlier.
As they wander further through the gates, it’s evident there may be a lot more to the legend of Toad Road than James had ever thought.
Toad Road 5The whole film has a very documentary style feel.  I’m not positive if the people in the movie were taking actual drugs or not.  Regardless, they did a good job of showing what it’s like to be on drugs.
For people who’ve never experienced drugs or the people who have while managing to never really slip into the whole lifestyle, the characters in Toad Road may seem unrealistic, maybe even foolish.  Yes, they’re definitely a bunch of druggies, fairly ridiculous crowd, but for those like myself [luckily I turned my life around – that’s a whole other tale unto itself] who’ve been into that lifestyle, these characters are all too painfully real.

For an indie film, this has a decent little story.  It’s simple yet effective.  The message isn’t particularly anti-drugs or anything, but the plot really does help work against any decision people might make soon about dropping acid and heading out into the woods.
As James and Sara head down Toad Road, The Seven Gates of Hell mirror the plot.  Soon, Sara is missing, and time stretches out much longer than James conceived it to be.  He makes it out of the woods, she is nowhere in sight.  Suddenly, the police, friends, family are looking for her.  They all think James knows something more than he is letting on.  Essentially, The Seven Gates of Hell come to represent the whole lifestyle James and Sara were falling into, and while they went further and further down the road, The Gates took on real meaning in their lives.  They made it all the way down Toad Road.  And they also paid the price.
toad road 3The acting is fairly good, as I mentioned before.  If they were taking drugs for real, it’s certainly a testament to the fact they could still be coherent at times to do any dialogue.  If not, the acting is even better because they really put forth the feeling of being under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, and the like.  Davidson and Jones carry things nicely, even more so when the plot focuses in solely on them as they begin their journey down Toad Road.

One of my favourite bits concerning the acting was Jones’ voiceover as Sara.  It played over various portions of the film.  Most effectively, Banker used the voiceover narration to really drive home the points where James is really going insane, straight off the deep end, near the film’s finale.  She narrates his spiral downward, as he essentially is recalling her tell him about what happens as you pass through each gate on the way to Hell.  Some really chilling moments, which I enjoyed a lot.  Very quiet, subdued moments coupled with great cinematography, a few beautiful locations.  This really worked.  Jones’ voice is beautiful and kind of guides us down Toad Road in a way.  Spooky stuff.
I think the real problem with Toad Road overall as a film is that even though there are things happening, a lot of time gets chewed up almost feeling like a documentary about a bunch of drug addicts.  Though there are some good moments, and certainly scenes which add to characters of both James and Sara, the pacing starts to really drag in several spots.
toad-road-3I also think the finale of the film is a bit hindered by the fact there’s no real huge climax.  It almost feels as if there should’ve been more additional scenes involving the aftershock of Sara’s disappearance – it seems like the police went really soft on James.  Although we see a few scenes where James is being interrogated, I feel like those were the scenes which ultimately lacked sincerity.  We get a lot of reality, documentary style moments in the early half of Toad Road, but once it starts to shift into a more mystery/thriller genre for the last half [which could have worked wonderfully] it lacks the composition of a real drama.

The switch from the reality-based portion of the beginning to a forced dramatic and thrilling angle didn’t work.  I didn’t particularly think the cop interrogating James was really great either.  Not terrible, just not great.  It didn’t feel as if those bits matched up to the rest of the film.  Even the closing moments of the finale, those worked very well with the atmosphere and tone built up by the first half of the film.  I just think they would’ve benefited by either giving the cops more screentime and making it feel as reality driven as the earlier scenes, or just cut out those parts; they could’ve just as easily focused mainly on James trying to evade police, talking to his friends [bits of which they did include], and then went with the finale they’d chosen.  Instead, the parts with the cops really throw off the balance, and make the last quarter of the film a bit sloppy.
Toad Road 1Though there are some flaws here, I think Toad Road is a pretty decent horror outing.  Certainly for an independent horror film.  There’s a lot of visual flair here, and you can tell Banker has an eye for beauty in horror.  That being said, I did have a problem with some pacing issues here, and if they could be ironed out I think this would be an even better film.  I still loved it.  Once the credits start rolling [with an appropriate dedication to one of the film’s stars, Sara Anne Jones, who died of a drug overdose just as Toad Road started screening in different places], there’s a haunting little song to go along.  It really all works.  Toad Road stuck with me for days and days after I first saw it.  You can get it on DVD now I believe, as well as through Amazon and other VOD options.  I had to come back to it after seeing it a long while ago when I got the chance, and while there were small bits I felt held it back, overall Toad Road is good, and definitely a lot better than the hordes of low budget horror out there tackling the same zombies and vampires and masked killers as the hundreds which came before them.  This film at least aims the bar higher.  I hope to see more from Jason Banker, and look forward to his upcoming Felt, which recently found distribution.

Get yourself a copy of Toad Road.  Even if you’re divided after watching, it’s hard not to admit the film has a certain charm to it, and a creepy, haunting quality.

Maniac is an Innovative & Horrific Remake

Maniac. 2012. Dir. Franck Khalfoun. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur; based on the original screenplay for the 1980 film by Joe Spinell.
Starring Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, and America Olivo. Canal+.
Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

First off, I really enjoyed the William Lustig directed original Maniac with Joe Spinell from 1980 (click for a review of that one from Rare Horror). There is a certain gritty, low-class charm to that movie which just really works. Spinell, of course, really terrified me, and most everyone who watched him become that insane killer onscreen.
But along comes Alexandre Aja, producing as well as doing some writing with Gregory Levasseur, and recreates Maniac, with help from director Franck Khalfoun. This vision of the film is even more crazy, more intense than the original, in my opinion. They took an idea, fleshed it out, changed it up a little, and came out the other side with something even more bizarre and frightening.

maniac_2012-en-1-750x1116_big-previewNot only do I find it more disturbing and more frightening than the original, it also uses unique techniques to really get the audience inside the killer’s head. The entire film, save for a rare few shots here or there at opportune and specific points (each with their own reason), is shot from the perspective of the killer, Frank (Wood). This means we see his whole life right from the windows of his soul. It is creepy. Also highly engaging: everything Frank sees, we see. We experience his experiences. The blood gets on his hands, and it feels like we’re there. Great way to immerse people in a character. Not forgetting how difficult it can be at times, depending on the story and situation, to film a movie as if right in the killer’s direct point-of-view.

The whole plot of Maniac revolves around Frank and his delusions. He restores mannequins in a shop his mother used to own. It becomes more clear as time goes by, the influence of his mother looms larger over his life, and has obviously damaged Frank in some way; it’s clear to us which way, very clear, immediately. Frank later meets Anna, and this shows some promise of maybe taking Frank out of his delusions. Although soon enough we see this will not be the case, whatsoever. Frank likes to scalp women. He likes to take the scalps home and staple them to his mannequins. He wants to build a life; one full of lifeless, obedient, perfect mannequins of his choosing. Frank is certainly a maniac.

Aja, whether he is directing or producing, always manages to dowse his films with incredible effects. Maniac, beyond its fresh use of point-of-view filmmaking, is ripe with blood and guts and disgusting things. Not only the blood, but there are some other images, horrifying sexual ones at times, that really stick with you long after the credits roll. A lot of the effects in Maniac are beyond visceral.
photo-Maniac-2012-17In fact, one of the best effects happens nearly right off the bat. The first scene depicts Frank stalking his newly discovered prey. He follows a young woman from a bar, all the way right up to her apartment door. Frank then ambushes her viciously, and takes his prize: a fresh and sloppy scalp. As he holds the girl by the back of her head, gripping her hair and slicing away, the scalp slips off, as its poor owner falls in a pile of dead weight on the floor. Sets the tone for Maniac and lets you know it will not be skimping on any of the horror, any of the gore for this remake. This kick starts the film’s pistons, which never stop pumping.

Another noteworthy mention about Maniac is the score. This film’s music blows me away. I can listen to it on its own, which I don’t often do with a film score or soundtrack either way. But the music is haunting. It’s a mix of piano and electronic music. The sounds get under your skin. There’s something about them that draws you in, taking you to Frank’s world. The score is beautiful and creepy, all at once. There’s something elegant and terrifying in the main theme especially. Sets the overall mood and jives well with Khalfoun’s atmosphere.

On top of the effects present, the film is really carried by Eljah Wood and his eerie performance as Frank. Khalfoun mentions in the Blu ray’s Making Of featurette how there is something more disturbing about a killer who does not look the part; for instance, comparing Spinell’s brutish character to Wood’s more slim look. One of the things which really works for Wood is the fact he doesn’t particularly appear imposing. You take one look at Wood and you don’t really feel the same fear as you might when meeting Joe Spinell in a dark alley, whether in a film or not.
Wood draws out Frank’s character with a lot of subtle acting. There are times when he goes wild, of course, however, it’s mostly the small, quiet moments where Wood really gets into things, and the character goes to fascinatingly creepy places. Without a really strong central performance a lot of horror films fall flat on their faces. With Wood and what I believe are his wonderful talents, Maniac really soars above most modern horrors where filmmakers often go for effects, whether CGI or practical, over character and plot.
Maniac2012_3As a horror film, Maniac is a 5 star experience. A lot of people expect a remake to expand on the original concept, as well as maybe step it up a little – if you feel that way and don’t believe Maniac delivers, then I have no idea what you’re really looking for in a remake. On its own this stands as a great modern horror, which to me will be a classic one day down the road. Even as a remake, this still holds its weight. The 1980 Maniac is loved dearly by a lot of hardcore slasher and horror fans. But I don’t see why people can’t get with this one. It is a fresh update; creepy, frightening, and gory at times. With, as I said, a spectacular lead performance in Elijah Wood. 5 out of 5 all the way.

Concerning the Blu ray release, it’s a 4 out of 5 stars. There is a great Making Of featurette, as well as a poster gallery, and some good commentary with Khalfoun and Wood. But there isn’t anything that really bumps this Blu ray above anything else in terms of being packed with extras. The quality is phenomenal. There’s nothing like watching a horror with style on a good screen in real high definition. You get to really dig into the effects. Not to mention the sound is quality – top notch.
Check this out. The Blu ray is beyond worth it, but don’t really expect there to be anything too amazing. The one featurette included is an hour long, so that’s not disappointing. You’ll get your money’s worth that’s for sure. Just not particularly my favourite release in terms of extra features that I have on my shelf, personally. As a movie, you can’t go wrong. This is a solid horror with many creepy, creepy scenes. This still lingers with me, even when I haven’t watched it in months.

Another Rare Horror review can be found here – this time for the remake.