After a boy dies and turns, the prison nearly falls. But even after the walker threat is contained, a sickness spreads quickly, and a quarantine is in order.
Cell. 2016. Directed by Tod Williams. Screenplay by Adam Alleca & Stephen King, based on King’s novel of the same name.
Starring John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacey Keach, Joshua Mikel, Alex ter Avest, Griffin Freeman, E. Roger Mitchell, & Wilbur Fitzgerald. The Genre Co./Benaroya Pictures/Cargo Entertainment.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Cell is one of the few Stephen King novels I’ve not yet read at this stage. He’s one of my favourite writers, as well as a huge influence on me as an author myself. His influence is large and encompasses generations of weird kids who read his work growing up, whose touch made us more confident in mining the darker regions of our minds. Not only does he inspire readers, writers, he further has left a mark on horror directors, many of whom cut their teeth in the genre first by reading his books. Regardless of who you are or what you do, King is able to get to you. My mother was an avid reader. Then she passed his books on down to me, as they always interested me on the shelf and she’d say “Not until you’re a little older” and so eventually I read them all, devouring each page until there was nothing left. Now, 31 at the time of this writing, my bookshelves at the home which I share with my girlfriend are filled with a small library of solely Stephen King books. His writing is almost like a family tradition between myself and my mother. His work transcends genre, which is funny because those only familiar with a few of his stories always peg him as a horror writer, or that guy who writers creepy stories, and other descriptions. But he is capable of crossing genres and while captivating you with scary moments King always has something bigger happening underneath.
With the film adaptation of Cell, King had a hand in the screenplay alongside screenwriter Adam Alleca (wrote the remake of The Last House on the Left). Some King films suffer because his writing isn’t always easy to adapt for the screen, so I’m inclined to give the movies he’s more involved with a better shot. A Good Marriage was, to me, enjoyable even if it wasn’t great. Because the writing was good, even if the casting wasn’t spot on. Here, I can’t judge versus the book. I can only come to this adaptation with fresh eyes. Although it can’t be too bad to take another ride into creepy King territory with the likes of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, right? Add in Isabelle Fuhrman, who was amazing in Orphan, and that’s a solid three leads to keep things grounded.
One of the more initially unsettling moments is just after the half hour mark. A bunch of the infected people scream in unison, their mouths open, and it’s super eerie to watch and hear at the same time. Quite Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a nice homage without being a rip-off. A trippy, brief scene that only gets creepier right afterwards. The imagery shows us the horde of people together in a scary huddle, then the shot goes up, fading into the cell tower, and then we cut to a beautiful waterfall. There’s an excellently juxtaposed feeling of nature v. man-made structures, further in that we’ve perverted nature and now this return to a primitive state has thrust people back into a more basic, more savage world. Subtly, the camera work takes us through that amidst the small trio’s efforts to understand the situation around them. Not long after is the terrifying scene where Charles Ardai (Stacey Keach) introduces the stadium full of infected, laying in piles, all lulled by the cellphones. Almost a parallel to those hordes of people out on the sidewalks, walking with their heads down and face, eyes, everything stuck on a screen. That’s the wholly intriguing aspect to this King story, in either form. It takes on our nearly disease-like addiction to technology in an appropriate way. Sure, this takes the form of what we’ve seen many times before, another zombie flick, another form of the same story, the same types of characters. A certain amount of that still applies. Something I dig is that these characters are a little atypical, in that they’ve come together more randomly than other movies – another one I like in that regard is the Dawn of the Dead remake. So you’ve got less of that stale family first ethic, instead focused on just a bunch of people, all with their own fears, emotions, thoughts, plans, hopes, et cetera.
Another scene that got to me was the nightmare Clay Riddell (Cusack) had – the imagery all around was scary as hell. Loved it. Not only that it leads into them all having a collective dream about the same character, one that Clay drew in his comics previously. But simply that brief scene where Clay finds the red hoodie man getting a blowjob in a decrepit bathroom, the tear in the man’s cheek, the blood, his odd demeanour, everything adds up to be totally unnerving.
I do think Alleca and King wrote a decent screenplay. There’s nothing wrong with what they’ve done. However, disappointingly enough I feel like neither Cusack nor Jackson does anything worthwhile with the characters. You can’t say there’s nothing interesting about the characters themselves. First you’ve got Clay, he’s a guy who draws comics, he has a tough family life with a son he loves, and all kinds of personal stuff. Problem being maybe we’ve seen this character type too many times from Cusack, and no longer is there anything to mine from that starved patch of ground. Secondly, Tom McCourt (Jackson) is a Vietnam veteran, he’s a tough son of a bitch. And maybe again, we’ve seen this style of character from Jackson so often that seeing him in a zombie-type story to boot only makes it more cliché. However, that’s meant to be the power of an actor, if they can make you believe them and their portrayal, over and over. Though I do love both Cusack and Jackson in their own rights, having performed a ton of great characters between them, they don’t give us what we need here.
That task is left to Isabelle Fuhrman. Her portrayal of Alice Maxwell is really good. She doesn’t always get the right amount of time to do her thing, but when she does it’s solid work. If only her character were given more then it’s possible that could have made the movie better than it comes off. She’s a talented actor who I hope will get some bigger, better roles. Here, she’s able to root us emotionally before destroying us after the arc of her character breaks your heart.
Ultimately, I’ll say Cell is about a 3-star zombie flick. There are a couple elements that make it less typical, mainly in its approach to the entire infection sub-genre of horror. Stephen King and Adam Alleca adapt King’s novel into a decently creepy piece of work. Plenty of flaws to boot and there are definitely lacklustre performances out of Cusack and Jackson. At the same time, I found myself creeped out at times. More would be better, but the terror King’s story is able to bring out makes this better than most low budget zombie movies floating around out there. In addition to the writing, there’s great atmosphere; some nice cinematography, as well as a score that’ll keep you on edge while it swells and falls and sucks you in.
Some scenes will stick out, from the one in the bar to a short time later when Clay unmasks an infected man he – for a moment – believes to be his son. There’s enough to enjoy and to make this worth watching. Plus, I really enjoyed the ending. Not near one of my favourite King stories adapted to film, though. Perhaps I’ll enjoy the novel more once I get around to giving it a read because the premise alone is horrifying. The execution of the film is what leaves much to be desired.
Snyder and Gunn, above all else, help make zombies terrifying again.
Condemned. 2015. Directed & Written by Eli Morgan Gesner.
Starring Johnny Messner, Michel Gill, Jon Abrahams, Ronen Rubinstein, Lydia Hearst, Dylan Penn, Michael Drayer, Jordan Gelber, Genevieve Hudson-Price, Anthony Chisholm, Kea Ho, Michael DeMello, Perry Yung, & Tuffy Questell. Caliber Media Company.
Not Rated. 83 minutes.
Director-writer Eli Morgan Gesner is obviously a lover of New York City, setting Condemned in the Big Apple, as well as previously directing the documentary Concrete Jungle and serving as a consultant on 12 episodes of How to Make It in America. So I’m not sure if he’s trying to make a statement at all with this one, or if it’s simply easiest to set his grossout, low budget horror in a city he knows best. Either way, I can’t say this is spectacular. Its cheap style shows in many places, as do its influences. What Condemned lacks in style and overall execution it makes up for in a few good laughs, plus a heft dose of weirdness.
There are gore horrors, then there are grossout horror films. This falls into the latter category. There are certain parts of the grossness which really work well for its horror, then other scenes are simply too nasty for no good reason and it turns even me off. Don’t get me wrong – I love a nice gory horror flick. However, there’s a limit to how badly things are done that I will reach. This movie surpasses my limit, simply because it doesn’t do enough with all its other elements to justify such nastiness. For instance, movies like Dead Alive and Cabin Fever are blood-filled, gory movies I enjoy; the first because Peter Jackson brings an incredible pace to the film and pumps gallons upon gallons of blood onto the viewer, the second due to Eli Roth’s campy sense of humour and ability to turn our stomachs with body horror imagery. But Gesner’s film never amounts to anything near either of those, ultimately falling short in pacing. Although, a couple of the characters and the actors by whom they are played lend enough interest that I sat through this and chuckled a few times. I also chose, after the first little while, not to get a snack.
After Maya (Dylan Penn) gets fed up with her parents and their constant fights, she moves in with her boyfriend Dante (Ronen Rubinstein). Only thing is Dante lives in a building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where everyone is squatting. The place is ‘run’ by an older man named Shynola (Anthony Chisholm) and is filled with the strangest kinds of people. Included among the residents are junkies Vince (Jon Abrahams) and Tess (Lydia Hearst), a massive drugged up Jew called Big Foot (Jordan Gelber), Cookie (Perry Yung), Gault (Johnny Messner) and his human toilet Murphy (Michael DeMello), among others.
But soon they’ll all be living in worse squalor than ever. A virus spreads throughout the apartment building, made up of all the disgusting waste and garbage from the rotten mess of all its tenants, and one after another people are infected. They become angry, dangerous killers, which eventually turns the building into stories of madness.
As the city outside lives on, the people inside are dying to get out.
Certainly, if anything, you can enjoy some hideous practical effects. Many of the warts and boils on the people as they become infected are spot on gross. Probably most of the budget went towards making the near neon vomit, the puss-filled sacks, and so on. There is a decent look and feel to the movie, it attains a gritty, grim atmosphere with a dark visual style. But mostly, Gesner aims to disgust. Alongside those brutal effects, from hanging eyeballs to torn up guts to leaking yellow-cream pus, the sound effects themselves are enough to make you sick. Part of all that makes the grossness effective. In other movies that just go for gore, gore and more gore, often times it’s all visual; just throw a load of blood in the frame. At least Condemned opts to work with the sound design by using it appropriately in tandem with the bloody mess created onscreen.
Some of my favourite gore: 1) Tess takes a knife in the forehead/eye which is awesome enough, but then she goes on a manic rant about New York; 2) a hand gets ripped off and it looks good, even better Dante apologies frantically for having torn it away from the owner’s body; 3) someone’s stomach is disemboweled, then the guts get pulled on like a rope; and 4) a perfectly executed chopped off head reminiscent of some of the best in horror. Also, the makeup itself is best on Gault on Murphy, the gay muscle couple, once they start to find themselves infected; almost reminded me of a Rammstein video, in a great way.
I’m not a fan of horror-comedies per say. Though, I am indeed a fan of horror films which go for darkly comedic stories, dialogue, et cetera. There are a couple scenes where I actually laughed out. Most of the movie is straight up grim and savagely gross, but some moments are really funny. Such as the aforementioned Tess rant re: New York, the “NAZIS!” scream from Big Foot, even the two musclebound gay guys are funny (until they’re ultra frightening). This screenplay is nowhere near amazing. It is competent enough to provide some black comedy. Unfortunately, Gesner never provides us with enough to justify the plot, he only gives us what’s needed; nothing more. A grossout gore flick doesn’t really need to have a ton going on, but there’s simply no way to put this above any other films of its kind, there’s just nothing elevating it beyond mediocrity.
There are definitely a couple decent performances. Overall, the cast isn’t great; some of the characters were highly underused, some were made out to be more important than others then found death quickly. If I gave this any higher than a 2&1/2-star rating it would bother me. There’s nothing here, even the makeup effects, which takes it above and beyond that level. Whereas there are a few effects here worth seeing (see: head chop), the majority of Condemned is easily forgotten. If anything, see this to be a completist if you’re like me. Another gory, nasty little flick to tick off the list of films floating around out there. Other than that, throw on something else with more to offer.
AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 6: “The Good Man”
Directed by Stefan Schwartz
Written by Dave Erickson & Robert Kirkman
* For a review of the Season 2 premiere, “Monster” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Cobalt” – click here
Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis), along with Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), are getting ready to leave so they can try and retrieve the lost family members – while Nick is alive, unfortunately Griselda has already died and been shot in the head to prevent her zombifying.
Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) and her father Daniel (Rubén Blades) are at odds because of what happened years ago in their home country, El Salvador; Daniel lied to her about it all, placing himself as victim when in fact he tortured people. This causes a rift at a terribly important time, when they need to be on the same page especially once they find out what happened to Griselda.
At the big lab, Dr. Bethany Exner (Sandrine Holt) is preparing to haul ass out of Los Angeles along with everyone essential to the operation. Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is concerned about her son, but also tries to negotiate as best she can to have Travis also go along. Tentatively, this seems like a deal. However, you can be sure Travis will not go without Madison. I can already feel the tension mounting.
Back at the house, as everyone prepares to roll out, Andrew Adams (Shawn Hatosy) – still in the group’s custody – pleads with Travis to be taken along with them, as there’ll be maneuvering needing to be done once inside the facility where the family members are being kept.
The lively Daniel concocts a plan to make a diversion: he lets out the zombies contained inside the arena from the end of the previous episode. While the National Guardsmen are battling hordes of the undead, far as the eye can see, Daniel is pissed with Travis for trying to do the right thing and bringing Adams along.
Caged up still, Victor Strand (Colman Domingo) talks with his new friend Nick Clark (Franke Dillane). Then, all of a sudden, out go the lights. Things are starting to break down. Bullets fly out in the background, the noise of people shouting, scrambling, everything gets louder.
I’m really enjoying the brief bond between Strand and Nick, there’s something real sly and greasy about Strand yet I feel like he might be an important character in the second season. Whatever happens, I do think he’s going to be of use in terms of the show’s plot. Already he starts to give Nick advice, telling him that helping others could actually hurt them; tragic to have to say so, yet in the new post-apocalyptic landscape certainly a true statement.
Dr. Exner is trying to have her patients and staff extracted, but the infected have began to lay siege to the building. The entire operation all but literally crumbles right in front of Exner, poor Liza along for the ride realizes she may have to leave behind her family. Even worse, Exner is left with a room full of patients who won’t be leaving the facility alive, or so it appears.
At the car, waiting for the rest of the group, Chris and Alicia are harassed by some National Guardsmen who want their vehicle. When one of them makes lewd, suggestive comments at Alicia, Chris steps in to defend her and gets knocked out. Good on him, though, protecting his step-sister.
There is a ton of excellent tension and atmosphere in general happening in this whole sequence. As the entire facility starts to go down in figurative flames, the horror and action pick up. Liza witnesses a National Guardsman get a savage bite in the neck, blood gushing from the wound, then kill himself by running into the rear blades on the tail of a helicopter; GNARLY!
My favourite bits here come when Nick and Strand make their way through the halls of the hospital facility – which is actually a local college – they see a bit of nasty zombie gut munching. But we can already tell what sort of character Strand is, how conniving in a good way he’s already proving to be, just in the way his head is totally on straight in terms of their current situation. Even in the casual way he acts from moment to moment, even in danger, it shows him as to be incredibly slick, and wildly fun.
For those who’ve been complaining about the lack of horror/zombie presence, this episode kicks things up a notch. When the group all ends up together – Travis and Madison, Daniel, Ofelia, Liza, then Nick and Strand – the horror action comes alive with skull cracks, forehead shots, hammer smashes, and more! You can already tell there’s going to be more of this next season, once the epidemic truly gets underway and things become more and more desolate zombie-wise with every passing day, each week. The grim, macabre second half of this finale gives us a preview of the horror we’ll surely be able to expect when Fear the Walking Dead returns next year.
I think I was most chilled when Dr. Exner is found alone with all the patients, hydraulic cattle gun by her side, all of the remaining ill with holes in their heads. Just the way she’s sitting there, finishing her ‘work’, the blank and disaffected look in her eyes, the lack of any humanity remaining in her face… it is scary stuff. At first, I thought she was mostly a real bitch, but seeing her take up the gun while all the others leave, I honestly feel bad for her. It’s tragic to have to see a doctor, someone who swore an oath to try and sustain the lives of her patients, ultimately resign herself to – what appears to be – suicide.
Outside, the group witnesses a huge stack of ashes and dust, consisting of the dead from the makeshift hospital facility. Big heaps, two piles, sit in the parking lot with a bulldozer next to them. Almost as intensely frightening as the previous scene with Dr. Exner.
But UH OH – Andrew Adams crops up again, gun drawn and pointing it at Daniel. Only he doesn’t shoot Daniel; he blasts Ofelia with one shot. Reeling from that? When Travis pins Adams to the ground and beats him into bloody chunks of pulp, you’ll be jaw agape. I was, anyways. It wasn’t shock, merely the fact I was amazed at Travis, his character – there’s a switch which happened in him from the guy who was optimistic, trusting the military and the government to set things right and work it out, to the man now who is embracing the crossover to humankind becoming more primitive, more animalistic, something everyone will need to learn to do in the coming weeks, months, years. Just to see Travis so quickly turn himself into a beast, it was really something, and totally necessary.
Strand takes everyone back to his grand home to decompress. He’s upstairs packing when Nick asks where he’ll be going; no direct answer, only that he’s going to stay in constant motion. He tells Nick nobody can stay there, though. Then he shows Nick an ocean liner out on the sea, where they’re headed: Abigail.
Liza takes a stroll down to the beach by the water, Madison following along behind her. Turns out, Liza is infected with a terrible scratch on her stomach. She wants Madison to do the job and get it over with, as Travis shows up right in time. I mean, what an emotional moment! Terribly tragic moment to see Travis, with the women he loves and the woman he once loved, and having to watch one of them literally go away; forever.
The moment when the shot rings out is unbelievably sad. So weighty. Juxtaposed with a shot of Chris and Alicia smiling, eating popsicles together and laughing, there’s a wave of emotion that hits with great impact. Such a quiet moment when the shot blasts into the air, then the aftermath unfolds with a quiet song underneath, and I honestly can’t think of a better, more emotional way to finish the season. Particularly, again, having to see Travis sort of turn around from the person he was at the start of the season to become a man who will be able to last through the hard times ahead is a very interesting, intriguing point for Season 1.
To be honest, I won’t apologize – I loved this first season. Others found it uneven, or flat-out did not enjoy the whole thing. Not sure why, maybe it wasn’t what they wanted in terms of zombies, but I came into this assuming it would be a prequel and we’d see the before, then move into the full-on zombie epidemic. So perhaps the marketing of the show wasn’t clear enough? I don’t know. I thought the family dynamics happening in this season were excellent, getting bits and pieces of a bunch of different stories. Not only that, I’m finding already in the first season the contrast people who people were before the infection started and after has already begun to feel really exciting and interesting. Like I’ve already mentioned, the metamorphosis of Travis specifically throughout Season 1 has brought out a quality of all people, in him a microcosm – how we’ll all eventually devolve and revert to primitive human behaviour after the apocalypse, whether willingly or pushed over the edge such as Travis was after seeing Adams shoot Ofelia.
So come back for the new season of The Walking Dead which I’ll be reviewing, as well as other series’ on television like American Horror Story if that’s your cup of tea. Otherwise, I’ll see you back here again next year for another season of Fear the Walking Dead!
Without going for too many of the obvious choices, I wanted to come up with another list of horror for the Halloween season.
Opting to go with anything from traditional zombies to the Romero zombie to infection films and so on, there should be something for everybody on this list. Maybe the more seasoned horror veterans out there have seen just about all of these. But I’m hoping those of you out there looking for a few good flicks to indulge during the lead-up to Halloween might get a good new scare for yourselves and find something new.
These aren’t in any kind of order, just in a list. I’m not saying these are all my favourites either, though, I’ll let you know which ones I love most.
Nightmare City (1980)
For a full review, click here.
This Umberto Lenzi classic is the genesis for fast zombies. It’s been said already – the remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? Would never have been without Lenzi. Sure, someone would have made zombies fast in a cool way, but I still think Zack Snyder owes a ton to Lenzi’s film. There’s something about this one that will get you from the star. Immediately, there’s a sense of chaos, and then the streets are flowing the undead, moving at a face past, fighting the living.
When it comes to zombie films, fast or not, Nightmare City packs the goods. This is a real great movie to put on and watch with a few people or a big group, as you’ll be hooting and hollering at some of the undead action going down under direction of a master like Lenzi.
Day of the Dead (1985)
For a full review, click here.
It’s hard to pick a favourite out of George A. Romero’s films, even considering his others outside of the Dead films; The Crazies and Martin are both pretty excellent, more so the latter, and Creepshow is a wonderful collaboration between him and Stephen King.
But honestly, even above the two previously amazing films, Day of the Dead is my favourite of Romero’s zombie work. There’s something truly dystopian for me above this one. As always, the plot keeps things claustrophobic, even worse the characters are in an underground military base. The best, though, is Bub – Romero introduces a zombie who has essentially been taught, like a primitive human or an animal, to respond and do things more than just eat brains. And if you look at the progression of Romero’s zombie series, include Land of the Dead and how active the zombies become there, I find there’s a lot to enjoy. Plus, you get cool imagery, a great colour scheme as is always the case with Romero, and lots of zombie goodness.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
For a full review, click here.
Lucio Fulci will often turn up on any horror list I make. Not because I think his films are all the best made, though some I think are fucking incredible, but mostly it’s because Fulci swings for the fences on just about horror film he’s made.
In City of the Living Dead there are a bunch of practical horror effects which are going to blow your face off. While I don’t think this is one of Fulci’s best, I do feel it has some of his wildest blood and gore.
From throwing up internal organs, priests committing suicide and dead babies, to heads being torn apart or heads being subjected to power drills, this is one zombie flick you’ll most certainly want to watch around Halloween. Any time you look out and see kids roaming the streets on the 31st, it’s always creepy in a way. After this Fulci film, it might look even creepier.
Dead and Buried (1981)
From a screenplay by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon (particularly of Alien fame), Gary Sherman crafts a pretty unique and horrific film which you can definitely consider one of the living dead variety.
In a small New England town, Potter’s Bluff, visitors seem to be continually murdered and Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) is trying to get to the bottom of it. Unaware the other townsfolk have an idea about what’s been happening, Gillis may or may not survive the events transpiring in his own little jurisdiction.
To say a whole lot more than the simple plot synopsis would do you, the viewer, a disservice. Ultimately I’ll say only this – Dead and Buried has a wonderfully dreadful atmosphere, like a bad nightmare torn out of The Twilight Zone, and there is a classic type of feel to the film which makes it feel almost at home amongst William Castle flicks and the Hammer Horror catalogue at times. Perfect for a bunch of friends, but it does have a nice plot so it isn’t only horror-tainment; it also has some horror teeth with a solid script, full of dread and terror.
Shock Waves (1977)/ Dead Snow (2009)/ Blood Creek (2009)
This is honestly a pretty gnarly triple feature. A lot of people would tell you Dead Snow is the only real great movie out of these three. Me? Oh, I’d disagree with that.
First, Shock Waves takes us to an island where Peter Cushing plays a former SS Commander out of Nazi Germany, in charge of a troop of aquatic zombies. There’s lots of madness on the island, lots of almost gothic-like stuff going on.
You can never go wrong with Cushing in a horror, for me anyways. He is classic. Here bringing some of that class to a Nazi zombie movie, a precursor to the next film – Dead Snow.
A newer Nazi zombie flick out of Norway, this one sees a group of friends on Easter vacation in the mountains at a cabin; unfortunately, they run afoul of some buried Nazi troops who are more than happy to unfreeze, come back from the dead, and lay siege to the cabin and the unsuspecting friends.
This is a happily, unapologetically gory film, tons of splatter, blood everywhere. But it’s not one of those types of horror movies where it starts to get boring, because who doesn’t want to see Nazis die? Only Nazis, one could imagine. So get your fill here with tons of nasty horror kills.
Next up is another Nazi horror, though, in a vastly different vein. Blood Creek, also known as Town Creek, did not make an impact in theatres on a limited release, it hasn’t particularly enthused a lot of others since. But I thought it was a nice bit of fun. Featuring Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell and Superman himself Henry Cavill as brothers out for revenge, as well as an incredibly low key and make-up’d Michael Fassbender (of whom I’ve been a big fan for a while), this is mostly a good popcorn romp in the horror genre, with a nice dose of Nazis to boot. Fassbender plays a Nazi officer who was dispatched to track down ancient runes, eventually becoming a nearly immortal, terrible and undead monster whose entire being consists of consuming human blood, and other creepy, nasty, Nazi business. Don’t expect director Joel Schumacher to do anything hugely innovative, but throw this one on after the others to give a different spin on the Nazi living dead sub-genre.
I honestly recommend this as a triple feature. You would not regret it, especially if you’re looking for a group movie night!
[REC] (2007)/ [REC]2 (2009)
For a full review of [Rec], click here.
These are subtitled Spanish films, so those who don’t dig on that may want to move on. Though, I stress as I usually do: if you only watch English language movies, you’re not doing yourself as a filmgoer justice. Horror has some amazing stuff going on in other countries.
Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza take the found footage sub-genre and horrified audiences with their infection horror film [Rec] which takes us inside a fire station with a news crew, on a night when they’re called to an apartment building where all hell breaks loose; inside, an epidemic begins. The second film [Rec]2 begins straight after the events of the first, taking a GEO team inside the same apartment building in order to combat the infected humans that are beginning to swarm the entire building and threaten to turn the whole city into a massive horde of infection. But it turns out there aren’t only the interest of police and medical authorities at play, as the Vatican has their hand in things.
Both of these movies do found footage proper justice. So many of the low budget efforts in this sub-genre come out terrible, while only a small number are excellent and more importantly effective; these two movies are in the latter category. Amping up on suspense and tension, Balagueró and Plaza really grind home the terror from beginning to end. There’s a lot of scary moments and the zombies/infected are creepy as all hell! Love the blood and gore here, as well as the jump scares; I don’t often say that, but the jumps here aren’t cheap, they’re the result of good atmosphere and tension, as I mentioned before. Great movies. More for a solo viewing, or just a pair; you don’t need a crowd talking a bit here and there during these, ruins the mood. But you’d be wise to do a double feature viewing on these two movies – awesome continuity and you’ll get your fill of zombified mayhem.
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
More Dan O’Bannon, this time he’s directing.
Honestly, if you’re a horror-comedy fan (I’m actually not a huge one) and you don’t know or enjoy Return of the Living Dead, I don’t know what’s going on with you. I mean, this is just about the perfect marriage of zombie horror and hilariously foolish comedy. On top of all that, it’s slightly meta-fictional in a way.
After two bumbling meatballs end up releasing toxins from the government, which inspired Night of the Living Dead, the living dead begin to rise once more and the world is threatened by zombies walking the earth, tearing and eating human flesh, consuming all which stand in their way!
A classic entry in the zombie sub-genre of horror, this is not one to be missed. Great for a pair or a crew of people, you can never go wrong with this one. There is plenty of goofball comedy and lots of zombie nastiness to boot, not many as great as this out there.
The House by the Cemetery (1981)
For a full review, click here.
Lucio Fulci returns on the list! This time with a different take on the living dead horror movie.
When a new family movies into a house and begins discovering a bunch of unsettling, the house’s past lurches forward from the darkness and into the present.
Victorian era illegal surgery, zombified and rotten corpses, neck stabbings, slashed throats and decapitated heads – Fulci is in fine style here, a (pardon the pun) full-blooded horror.
This is a nasty one with plenty of the director’s signature style. You could also say this fulfills the haunted house quota, even though it’s more of a living dead horror, but still – lots to take in for an October evening, better yet on Halloween night.
Mutants (2009)/ Open Grave (2013)
Another double feature, slightly different; these aren’t exactly the same type of zombie/infected horror movies, though, I think a certain vein runs through the both of these gnarly flicks.
Mutants is a French film about an epidemic turning human beings into mutant-like creatures, basically zombies. The plot concerns a young couple, Marco and Sonia (who is pregnant), attempting to find refuge in a military base. But when Marco contracts the virus, Sonia has to defend herself against her husband, best friend and lover in order to try and survive; for herself and for their baby. So you get a mix of zombie horror, emotional and personal drama, as well as a good deal of horror-action throughout the film. A high intensity and at times downright scary epidemic film.
In a similar more personal sense, Open Grave starring Sharlto Copley examines the epidemic sub-genre of horror through the eyes of a man who wakes up, with no memory, in a pit of corpses, only to eventually come across a group of others who woke under similar circumstances.
I can’t say much else about the plot, and honestly saying that it’s an epidemic/zombie type movie is saying too much, but just know Open Grave packs a real good punch. Copley adds lots of authenticity to the film playing a very believable, real type character. But the screenplay itself is the strongest bit of the movie and drives everything, making this one of those horror films that’s really going to draw you and keep you interested, riveted from the top until the impressively tense finale.
These two movies would fit together in a great way for a double bill, I highly suggest you try these out even if on their own, though. Both a good and terrifying ride.
Night of the Comet (1984)
If you want an interesting, tongue-in-cheek style horror with comedy, then look no further: Night of the Comet is the film you’re searching out!
When a strange astral event involving a comet happens, much of humanity is devastated leaving two young ladies to deal with the few humans, madness, and zombies which remain.
A true classic ’80s movie, this one will satisfy a ton of criteria depending on what you want – there are zombie types, there is throwback music, there are funny women, and there is science fiction abound.
This is a lot of fun and I think it’s definitely a zombie movie, just in its own way. You’re not going to find a ton of gore or anything like that. This is first and foremost a retro comedy with horror and science fiction thrown in, but the post-apocalyptic landscape of Los Angeles and the living dead roaming the streets makes this a proper entry on this list.
The Signal (2007)
Honestly I don’t know how this movie hasn’t gotten huge. That’s all right, though. Some movies are meant for a cult classic status, in another 20 years this will find the proper appreciation, the kind it deserves.
The Signal takes place in several sections, taking place in a city after an epidemic occurs spurred on by the signals transmitting through radio waves and television sets, et cetera. One woman tries to make her way to meet a lover after her husband and everyone seem to go crazy from the signal. For her, it becomes an absolute struggle for survival. As her lover does his best to track her down across the devastated city, they both encounter their own trials and tribulations.
When I first saw this one I was blown away. The acting is solid, which helps put the plot over; notably, a favourite actor of mine A.J. Bowen does a spectacular job with a menacing character. Most of all it’s the mix of science fiction and horror I find real interesting. Lots of weird infected-zombie-like action happening, as the citizens of the city all start to just revert into animalistic, primitive men and women only concerned with fighting and killing the next person before they themselves are fought or killed. Scary stuff, but also there’s a good, organic love story built in which I enjoy – when the love stories are forced into horrors or thrillers, I find it so tiring, this one is primarily a romance honestly yet the horror/sci-fi becomes a huge part of it and makes this an epidemic sub-genre film, absolutely. You could do a lot worse than this one, it’s going to find a bigger audience as time goes by. Good one for two partners who want to watch something creepy while also wanting to watching something together: ideal for the pair who’ve got different tastes slightly. Something for everyone here with this romance-horror-science fiction hybrid.
Splinter (2008)/ The Battery (2012)
One last double feature for the horror hounds. This one is the ultimate indie horror tag team, two vastly different movies but very much innovative and lots of fun in their own respect.
To start is the 2008 Splinter – a couple find themselves trapped in a gas station with an escaping criminal, all trying to find off a virus which splinters the bones and insides of its victims, contorting them into awful, terrifying shapes.
This one is nasty and also has great drama going on. The splinter parasite/virus was so intriguing, adding something fresh to the zombie/living dead sub-genre. A fantastic indie film you really have to see.
Then, you’ll need to throw on The Battery, another hugely satisfying indie horror with a premise not always tackled. While still in a zombie apocalypse, this film goes for a much more microcosmic view of the dystopian-horror landscape: two former baseball players try and make their way through the living dead infested countryside of New England, each with their own grating personality to test the other’s patience. This one also has tons of nice drama, while it continually pushes into the zombie sub-genre with good use of the deadheads in the background. First and foremost, you find yourself interested immensely with the relationship between these two men trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic, zombie world. Second, the zombies, the death and the loneliness of the epidemic stricken world all makes this a worthwhile horror.
Two awesome indie horror movies which fit together real nice! A good double bill, fit for a solo viewing or with a friend. These will suck you in and keep you interested with that indie screenwriting, but you’re going to get a nice swift helping of horror to ring in Halloween right here!
Pet Sematary (1989)
Not all of Stephen King’s wonderful stories end up translated onto the screen appropriately. I’m a huge fan of his writing, yet there’s always problems with the films adapted into film from his work.
Pet Sematary, for me, does not fall into the category of problem films. Some others say differently, I’m pretty sure even King himself isn’t a real fan at all, but this one did a number on me, still does each time I see it again. Of course there are parts that could’ve obviously been better executed (maybe this would be fitting for a remake nowadays other than the endless films being remade which don’t need to be). Still, bottom line is that this horror is actually horrific; its tension is there, the atmosphere of dread pervades almost each solitary scene to which we’re treated, and some of the imagery is truly scary.
One scene in particular, involving the wife’s now dead sister, still scars me to this day. Even when I think about it (she’s in the bed forgotten in a room of their house calling out for help; she looks hideous like a person twisted into a monster), the hair raises on the back of my neck. And the rest of the film is pretty chilling, to say the least. Ignore a few of the flaws and you’ll find yourself taken away into a land of terror. The living dead angle of Pet Sematary is another much more personal, intimate take on the whole sub-genre, in a way only Stephen King can tap into so emotionally. Not all of his original novel makes it through in translation, though, I can’t say there’s any missing horror.
Here’s to hoping you’ve enjoyed some of these films before, or that you discovered them here/somewhere else similar and now have come to love them the way I do!
Cheers to a good October and I’m going to have myself an epic movie marathon over the last week leading up to Halloween. Check back for more lists and movie reviews as we get closer to that beloved devilish night of candy, fun, horror and mayhem.