Horrorfest 2015 Presents: What We Do In The Shadows (2015, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement)

Just when you think the found footage/fake documentary style horror film has run its course there comes along another film that proves the doubters wrong. What We Do In The Shadows is one such film, and it is a hilarious entry in the sub genre that has recently been overwhelmed by Parnamormal Activity and it’s endless sequels. Lately Twilight has caused a good response in terms of some great vampire moves, so that’s good, I guess.

Living in an old house, hidden from society are a bunch of old vampires. What I love about this movie is that the jokes are well executed and range from slapstick to witty, often all in the same moment. The cast is top notch and each member adds to the funny proceedings. One of my favorite jokes is the bat fight scene, which is as amusing as it sounds. Although the last act wears a bit thin you have to laugh at Vlad going on and on about “The Beast.” Not to mention smile at the idea of werewolves and vampires talking smack to one another. Based on this and Housebound New Zealand horror has a very bright future indeed.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: IT (1990, Tommy Lee Wallace)

All too many Stephen King adoptions don’t work out. Yet still there are ones that manage to at least properly tackle his material, IT being one of those adaptations that works rather well. Such a novel is immense and rather hard to tackle, especially considering the novel’s use of flashbacks, many which intercede with the present setting of the novel in the 1980s. And just like the novel the 1950s flashbacks work the best.

Oh and Tim Curry is wonderfully creepy as Pennywise, the villain of the piece. He has hilarious one liners and manages to even terrify in some parts. Particularly when poor grownup Bill recalls what happened to his brother Georgie. So much teeth…how they bite. Some of the adult versions of the young cast don’t quite fit with the novel’s descriptions of them, however. Especially John Ritter and Richard  Thomas, although both give quality performances. Also while I like Harry Anderson as Ritchie it oddly feels a bit too obvious of a casting pick. That said the rest of the cast is spot on, particularly with all of the young kids (Seth Green and Emily Perkins being notable standouts); also Annette O’ Toole is perfect as Beverly and Tim Reid is a great Mike.

Also they get Eddie right despite changing a few details. The second half isn’t as strong as the first, mostly since the kid actors play their parts with the utmost sincerity. Still I also enjoy the second half and naturally due to budget and length issues certain other aspects of the novel had to be cut. I wonder how the planned new version will work out, and I am hoping that it’s an improvement. Still I rather like and enjoy this slice of 1990s TV miniseries, a reminder of the days when such programs existed.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Campfire Tales (1997, Matt Cooper, Martin Kunert, and David Semel)

Overall this isn’t a bad anthology even though some of the tales are stronger than others. Also the overall wrap around story has what is now considered to be a cliche twist. I wanted to really like this film yet Campfire Tales is not consistent and has only really great story out of the whole bunch. Too bad since focusing on urban legends is a cool idea. Which reminds me that I need to watch Urban Legend at some point.

The film opens with a good yet very short tale, called The Hook. It’s a nice creepy beginning and is also notable for staring Amy Smart and James Marsden before either one became famous. This segways into the main wrap around story, called The Campfire, which stars Christine Taylor as one of the four young adults that share stories after surviving a car crash.

Now the best story of the bunch is The Honeymoon, which stars Ron Livingston and Jennifer Macdonald as a couple that have the misfortune to break down in the desert. It’s a really frightening entry and is mostly responsible for the film’s barely fresh rating. This is followed by People Can Lick Too, which although merely solid/good has a nice buildup leading to an eerie conclusion and is a modern day twist on an old tale.

Unfortunately the last story, The Locket, is really boring which is a shame considering it stars Glenn Quinn. Nothing of note really happens and the twist is rather awful in terms of being a bad attempt at shock value. Better anthology choices exist out there although Campfire Tales is not a complete waste of time.

MLB Playoffs Are a Beautiful Thing

Or my post season picks:

NL (Senior):

Pirates over Cubs
Cardinals over Pirates in 5
Dodgers over Mets in 4
Cardinals over Dodgers in 6

AL (Junior):

Astros over Yankees
Royals over Astros in 4
Blue Jays over Rangers in 5
Blue Jays over Royals in 6

World Series-

Blue Jays over Cardinals in 5

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Q The Winged Serpent (1982, Larry Cohen)

Out of all the monster films I’ve watched over the years Q: The Winged Serpent is rather bizarre. After all this is a movie about a cult that brings to life a freaky God creature that flies around and devours people. Plenty of awesome and entertaining moments there, not to mention Cohen once again directing a film set in New York where people are being killed by a strange force and the police are investigating.

What makes this film also interesting is the performances of Michael Moriarty and David Carradine. Moriarty plays a criminal piano player that stumbles onto the creature’s nest and being a crook naturally demands money for leading the police to the monster. Carradine’s police officer is a man too smart for his own good, who runs up against the fact that the police don’t like conspiracies. Much easier to simply tackle a beast flying around Manhattan as it kills people.

Despite being rather cheesy and not being quite as developed or as well made as some of his films this one is still rather solid. Also the creature effects are claymation, which is a nice touch. The 1980s didn’t have enough big monster movies save for the ones from Japan and a few others, which is kind of a shame as I love me a good big angry monster movie.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: God Told Me To (1976, Larry Cohen)

Opening with a killing spree that feels ripped from today’s headlines, God Told Me To feels all too relevant in today’s blood soaked present. The cop who tries to find out why a seemingly normal man would murder people without cause or reason is coldly presented with an eerie sentence where ever he goes: “God told me to.” The opener is chaotic and terrifying, ending in tragedy.

The police fail to see a motive even though others continue to kill, stating the exact reason the first murderer did. The cop, Peter (Tony Lo Bianco) runs up against his own police force and ends up digging into his own past, revealing unanswered questions that might lead to a nightmarish future. At the heart of all of this is a cult leader who may not even be of this world. Cohen frames all of this in stark, realistic and eerie fashon, crafting scenes of pure tension.

Even more interesting is that the film has two particularly strong female characters, played by Deborah Raffin and Sandy Dennis. How they relate to and figure into what Peter is going through establish and ground the movie in a plausible reality. They also realize only too late the deep issues that Peter has, although his wife mediates upon Peter’s obsession with religion. One harrowing scene involves Peter dealing with his perceived sins in a church, a moment that reminds me of the works of Abel Ferrera.

Naturally all of this craziness boils to a shocking and chilling finale. Cohen is an underrated auteur that made different and interesting films, some horror, some crime, often mixing the two and giving us a film such as God Told Me To. Not too many films made in the 1970s have stayed relevant, yet what may be Cohen’s finest creation is still very applicable today. Particularly with the recent killing sprees and the rise of religious fanaticism.

Wes Craven’s Final Nightmare

Back in high school when I was starting out as a young freshman getting more into horror movies I saw a film called Scream. I also watched Scream 2 also that night, and both films left a good impression upon me. Shortly after I also viewed for the first time one of his classics, A Nightmare On Elm Street. This is a creepy and effective horror movie with a freaky jump scare near the end and some great performances from its young cast. Therefore last night I was bummed when I discovered that Wes Craven had died from brain cancer. It’s truly a shame as the guy helped shape and influence horror many times over.

I’ve seen other films of his over the years, from the other Scream movies to cult flicks such as The People Under The Stairs and The Serpent and the Rainbow. Both underrated and enjoyable movies that are examples of how Craven also was able to work in social and political commentary into his films. I also had a blast viewing Scream 4 in theaters-it’s a fine send off for the current bunch and it’s why for better or worse that there is a Scream TV show.

There is also other famous Craven films such as his classic revenge flick The Last House On The Left and A New Nightmare, which I dig a lot. Thanks to the Scream films Craven and Kevin Williamson helped bring horror movies back from the fringe in the 1990s, and for that alone he deserves to be celebrated. Few people have the luck and the talent to be a part of two major series and to change an entire genre more than once.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Dust Devil (1992, Richard Stanley)

Operating as equal parts The Hitcher (1986), vampire film and pure nightmare, Dust Devil is a fascinating exercise in style that also mediates upon feminism, urban legends and the past coming back to haunt the present. Richard Stanley sets the film in the obvious dusty setting of Namibia, a place that becomes a strong aspect of the film and turns the movie into a quasi-horror western. The western aspects are particularly strong concerning the Dust Devil, who operates as a mythical killer who feeds upon the life force of those he kills. This ritual is explained by the film’s narrator, Joe, the film’s narrator, in the movie’s eerie opening. The Dust Devil is played with utmost sinister quality by Robert John Burke, who menaces the film’s heroine, Wendy Robinson, played by Chelsea Field, who acts as the film’s survival girl. Although the movie at times features the Dust Devil actually sparing her or expressing a twisted love for Wendy, thus offering a slightly different take on the slasher villain/survival girl dynamic. One can argue that in all slasher movies the villain has a murderous obsession with the unlucky woman that has managed to not be murdered by him (or her, in certain cases). Also I love that this film has cult film and horror actor Zakes Moake as Sgt. Ben Mukurob, a South African police officer who is convinced that the Dust Devil is a supernatural being despite others not believing him.

Although the film presents some apartheid and racial politics unfortunately the film does not properly dive into that issue, choosing instead to be more of an ominous and heavily intense slasher film. This is too bad considering the cast involved and the fact that this movie came out in 1992, yet it still does not prevent me from enjoying the film and considering it to be an underrated cult gem from the early 1990s. Despite the decade’s lack of consistency when it comes to horror movies the 1990s still had some great films to offer, and Dust Devil is one of those. I also loved how towards the end the film references the Mad Max series, and that it does not journey into a cliched finale. I wonder how much Stanley borrowed from The Hitcher, although tales of creepy murders being picked up by unsuspecting victims is an old tale, and there are other films I have not seen that also deal with slightly similar concepts. Furthermore I actually would have liked this film to get a sequel, which is a rare thought considering how so many second films do not always live up to the original installments. I wanted to know more about the Dust Devil, and the last shot is curiously open ended.

PS: I found the so called director’s cut, as the film was originally gutted by the studio that released it. I believe that version is the one on Netflix that I watched.

King of the Monsters


Back when I was in middle school I bought my first movie. It was on VHS and it was titled King Kong vs Godzilla. Made in 1963, it was Toho Studios featuring the big green guy against the huge monkey as they rampaged across Japan. Having viewed this movie numerous times since my purchase I can fairly say that its a favorite of mine. And that despite being one of the lesser entries in the series it is responsible for me becoming a Godzilla fan. Although I will admit that only over the last couple of years I have viewed more of the films. I have seen both of the American modern entries in theaters also, with the  1998 version being terrible while the latest one was fantastic. 

This year I spent Memorial Day weekend and the rest of the year viewing every Godzilla film that was on Netflix Instant Viewing. Some were rather disappointing (Godzilla’s Revenge and Godzilla Returns) while others were really cool (Godzilla vs Mothra). I’ve thus gained a deeper appreciation for a movie icon that has been around for over 60 years. What I like about the old school Godzilla movies is how they are wonderfully simplistic and yet manage to be highly entertaining. Also Ishro Honda is a constant director involved in the series, as he did create Godzilla with the original classic.

Horrorfest 2015 Presents: Phantom of the Paradise (1974, Brian De Palma)

Why there are not more gothic horror operas in cinema I don’t know. Perhaps it’s due to the few ones being released bombing or not being successful. Phamtom of the Paradise did poorly at the box office, which is a shame considering that it’s wondeful and entertaining. I loved the musical numbers and the film’s cast compliments the proceedings well. Jessica Harper is the standout, although Paul Williams’ wonderfully evil Swan and William Finley as the tragic Winslow/the Phantom also turn in fine performances. I also enjoyed seeing Gerrit Graham as Beef, a 70s style glam rocker who is funny and entertaining. 

Brian De Palma has always utilized different influences, particularly Alfred Hitchcock, although here he channels Orson Welles more. Especially in a great split scene take that reminded me of the classic Touch of Evil. The musical numbers are the film’s strongest aspect, although the best song is saved for the end credits: “The Hell Of It,” a nasty ditty sung by Williams himself. Harper has an equally great number with “Special To Me”-the dance she performs at the end of it is rather amusing. Finley’s “Faust” is strangely beautiful as well; “Dream a bunch of friends,” one of its lyrics, is poetry. 

De Palma manages to create what is possibly the best of the Phantom of the Opera adaptions. While this film is cheesy at times it’s engaging and fantastic,  humorous and creepy. This is the kind of musical that I can endorse, and it is also one of his best films. An overabundance of style and a quality helping of exuberance is never a bad thing, and De Palma’s films always have those aspects in bunches. “Goodbye goodbye goodbye…”


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