Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Wyrmwood (2014, Kiah Roache-Turner)


Every time I think zombie films have run their course, that I am tired of my favorite horror sub genre, someone goes along and makes one that restores my interest. Wyrmwood (also known as “Road of the Dead”) is a ridiculous, gory, visceral horror experience that covers a zombie outbreak caused by, well, no one is quite sure, although the air is hinted at as being the cause. I don’t really care how zombies happen, all that matters is that the zombie film have engaging characters and be at least entertaining. Kiah Roache-Turner’s film checks all of those boxes and offers more than I expected, which is a nice bonus. Poor Barry has a bad weekend in the Austrian Outback, and things spiral from there, as he is forced to band together with others to survive a zombie attack.

One thing I really dug about this film is the zombie killing violence, which is heavy throughout the entire movie. Roache-Turner decides to make a fairly simple and energetic horror film, and it shows throughout. I really liked the character of Benny, who has plenty of wisecracks and a fairly wiry take on the entire situation. Oh and don’t forget the mad scientist elements, which reminded me of Day of the Dead (1985). Plus hey zombie blood is flammable, so you can use it for fuel. Finally they’re useful! I cannot reveal more about this film without compromising the last, intense final act, yet I will not forget what I have seen anytime soon. I like to call this movie a great cousin of the Evil Dead series, and I wonder what Roache-Tuner will do next for an encore.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Demons (1985, Lamberto Bava)


Oh man the 1980s had some crazy horror movies. Demons is one of them and I love how outlandish the film gets at times. It’s the foreign reaction to The Evil Dead and other zombie films, even though this movis makes for a good companion piece with Night of the Demons. This film takes place in a West Berlin theater that is massive and a character onto itself. Two college girls decide to cut class and go see a movie that turns out to be a horror film. Ah the old “Movie within a movie,” bit. If you end up watching a horror movie in a horror movie, you are clearly in one.

The film within the film has a great bleak line in “They will make cemetaries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.” Get scratched by one of these monsters and you’ll turn into a freak hungry for the soul and blood of the living. Like many 80s horror films this one has tons of gore and nasty violence, and at times it works more like an action flick than a horror movie. Does a samurai sword hanging around eventually get used? Of course. Is the dialogue mostly cheesy and the acting as mixed bag? Sure, but it’s part of the movie’s charm. Give me a film like Demons anytime. Oh and Demons has one of the most wicked horror movie soundtracks ever, featuring Mötley Crüe, Accept, Billy Idol and Rick Springfield. Nice.

Horrorfest 2016 Presents: Hostel (2005, Eli Roth)


Literally this is a nice homage/quasi remake of the 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with some notable twists. A trio of friends travel to an Eastern European hostel and discover unknown terrors. Jay Hernandez is the main leader of the trio which also includes one other American and a guy from Iceland named Oli. Eli Roth lures us in with the first, quiet fun half, only to dive into a second, brutal act.

One scene that is blood curdling is when a man proceeds to cut a girl’s toes off. You don’t see it happening, though, and the scene is shot in a way that pays homage to the famous Chainsaw Massacre moment when Leatherface clubs someone and slams the door shut behind him. Another scene involves creepy and brutal torture, displayed in unflinching realism. Which is what the film got unfairly criticized for, along with other similar movies of that time period.

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I’m sure that better writers have dived into Hostel, Saw and other horror films that depict torture as being awful and morally wrong. Others, however, argue in favor of these movies being a mirror into American horror after 9-11 and the use of torture on terror suspects. I feel that such movies are, for better or worse, in line with the later. Particularly with the movies commentary on Americans, consumerism, and even class and social politics. Even if such thoughts are obvious or not quite well illustrated.

Despite this film’s flaws I think Hostel is an engaging slasher film with more bite than many of its breatheren. The slasher was mocked for being dumb so Eli Roth and James Wan, among others, decided to make the genre leaner, nastier and smarter. I think they succeded, and I would prefer more films like theirs than usual mindless fare, even though I do enjoy the dumb ones, too.

Ten Years Dead: Night of the Living Dead Essay (Warning: Spoilers)


From 2005, no less. Whoa that’s 10 years since I wrote about George A. Romero’s masterpiece Night of the Living Dead (1968). Unfortunately I was unable to discuss the film in full detail without using spoilers and mentioning key plot points, although at this point if you haven’t seen George A. Romero’s classic film then you should go fix that ASAP.

Despite the snubbing the horror movie genre receives from many critics, there are actually a good many horror films that have received substantial praise from both critics and fans. One such film is original Night of the Living Dead, made in 1968 by the famous and renowned director George A. Romero. I’ve heard it referred to as the Citizen Kane of horror movies, and while I haven’t seen enough to agree with that statement, Night is indeed a landmark in the history of horror movies, and in cinema.

Before I begin my attempt to discuss the film’s plot, stars, and the finer points of human flesh, I feel the need to say how I discovered this film in the first place. It was back in the fall of 2001, when I was a sophomore at my local high school. Being that it was Halloween, we decided to rent a couple of horror movies, thus continuing a tradition of sorts that we’ve done every year since the 8th Grade.

After walking through the door and being greeted by one of the store clerks wearing some freaky mask, we wandered into the video store aisle marked “Horror.” While my friend picked Scream 3, which was a fairly new release, I noticed a VHS cover, which I think had a zombie on it (my memory is kind of fuzzy). I read the back of the movie, which said it was about some people getting attacked by zombies, and I thought it would be gory fun. Get this: there were two copies of Night of the Living Dead, both the original and the remake. I thought I was getting the remake. But no, when my friend and I popped the tape in back at his house, I discovered to my surprise that it was an old black and white film instead.

Being young and wanting quick scares, my friend didn’t like the film and I found it to be alright at best, with the ending quite shocking and the famous “girl zombie” scene to be gruesome. Turning to the fun of Scream 3, which I found scary at the time (I only saw the rest of the trilogy two Halloweens ago), we both forgot about the other film. That was roughly four years and four viewings ago. Multiple viewings quickly changed my thoughts and views on the flick, but one could say that about a number of movies. I could go on all about me, but I’d rather focus on the film itself.

As the movie opens, we see Johnny boy and his sister Barbara on their way to place flowers on some dead person’s grave. Who that person is isn’t relevant to the story, but instead it serves as an ample plot device, since Johnny is reminded of how he used to scare Barbra, going on to say “They coming to get you Barbara,” with a stupid look on his face. He should have kept his mouth shut, because one of them comes alright. He’s defiantly not human, looks like Lurch’s long lost cousin, and he proceeds to bash Johnny’s head into a tomb stone. Lurch attempts to grab Barbara, but she ditches her car (“Johnny has the keys” is what she says later on), and runs like hell, finally reaching an abandoned farmhouse. This scene marks the change in the movie from quiet and relaxed to a freaky, heavy sense of dread, and I find the zombie attack to be somewhat surreal and almost out of place, which is why it works. Rising from the grave, clearly awakened by gongs being banged by crazed Buddhist monks, dozens of zombies slowly converge upon the farmhouse. All hope seems lost for poor Barbara, who by this point has become a buddle of fried nerves, scared out of her bloody mind, and clearly in no shape to battle the undead hordes.

That’s when the protagonist of our film comes in out of nowhere, riding in an old broke down car and wielding what looks like a tire iron. His name is Ben, and he is her knight in shinning armor, or, in actual reality, an African-American male completely surrounded by whitey. Seriously, Ben is the only black man we see in the entire flick-even the zombies are white! While Romero claims that his decision to cast Duane Jones in the role wasn’t motivated by race, the film’s events (which I will get to later) make me wonder. Completely unfazed by the fact that he’s surrounded by flesh eaters, he walks out on the front porch and sets some of the creatures on fire, and also quickly boards up the house. The guy even finds a lever action shotgun, and starts loading the weapon; Ben is a man of action, and here we witness what has become a common cliché in many movies: the quick thinking man of action, who stays calm, knows what to do, and isn’t afraid to act.

The movie wouldn’t be complete without some drama within the house itself, and this is supplied by Harry, a racist, his wife and child, and the young couple Tom and Judy. Harry doesn’t trust Ben’s decisions and wants to be in charge, providing the film with an added and interesting dimension: Harry feels that he is the bigger man, that he’s right, that he has to be the alpha male of the group. It’s not just a matter of race, but also a matter of serious pride; this pride ends up leading to the destruction of the group, and a bitter irony: that Harry was right about the basement of the house being the safest place to hide. Well at least in the end for the most part; although at the same time staying up in the main house, where there are multiple escape routes makes sense too.

At its core, Night of the Living Dead is many things. It’s clear that the movie is a horror version of those old westerns where the cowboys are holed up in a small cabin or fort, with the savage Indians attacking it, trying to break in and scalp everyone inside. Of course the Indians never ate the cowboys (last time I checked), but that seems to be the main reason why most of the movie takes place inside an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. The claustrophobic feeling of the house has a clear effect upon the inhabitants, and this only ups the film’s slowly building sense of tension. I also feel that the movie in a way mirrors the social and political upheavals that were taking place at that time in America. Ben and Harry’s struggles for control certainly reflect upon the racial conflicts that had exploded in many American cities, along with the film’s ending, which caught me completely off guard. Also, the movie’s few extremely violent scenes are perhaps references to the Vietnam War; in that American troops mowed down countless, nameless Vietnamese communists-only replace the communists with flesh eating zombies. I also have to note that many of the zombies had the look of dirty, druggy hippies, which makes me wonder if Romero was commenting on the country’s counterculture as well.

A final theme I think the movie touches on is the horrifying thought that mankind at its worst reverts to its most primitive, primal and gruesome instincts, and I think the zombies reflect this. That at any time, any place, and your loved one may go berserk and decide to either gnaw on your flesh, or stab you to death with a garden trowel. They are no longer human, and reasoning with them won’t save you. Which is to me a very scary thought indeed.

“Night,” like most horror movies isn’t well known for its actors, or good acting in general. That seems to be an extra bonus, especially if you take a look at the slasher films of the 1980s. But even on a shoe string budget Romero manages to get some pretty good acting out of some of the movie’s cast, especially Duane Jones. Jones as Ben is really the film’s strongest character, and while it’s not an entirely fleshed out role, Jones does a wonderful job portraying a man surrounded by what one could call a surrealistic nightmare. What makes Ben so damn cool is that he takes no prisoners, refuses to surrender, uses everything at his disposal to kill the zombies, and until the second half of the film, he has a plan. What also makes his character so fascinating is how Ben slowly comes to realize that even he is human, and that despite all his planning everything goes terribly wrong. This feeling is further explored in a scene where Ben is trapped in the basement, haunted by the fact that he is now all alone, and that the bastard hippie people eaters have finally broken into the house. Ben has been defeated, and he knows it.

As for the other actors, Karl Hardman as Harry, we see a man who is the complete opposite of Ben. Harry seems to be nervous, racist, (one could say that Ben was racists at times also), and paranoid. His struggles with Ben and the distrust that exists between them do indeed add the needed dynamic to the film, and his demise is equal parts gory, tragic, and horrifying, and showcase’s the film’s third theme about lack of true humanity. Judith O’Dea, who as Barbara is stuck in the role of the woman in need of rescue, is the film’s truly realistic side, in that she’s scared out of her mind. While most of us think that we’d act like Ben in such a situation, more than likely many of us would be frightened, and wondering whether or not we would survive. Oh, and what happens to poor Barb is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and is horribly ironic.

The film in itself has plenty of irony, some people who get their just deserts, and others who were unlucky enough to be caught of the middle of two angry men and the horde of the undead. Romero by the way smartly only has a few scenes of gore, and so their shock value and the effect of disgust they aim to project are seared onto the audience’s mind; this is in sharp contrast to the rest of his zombie series. Although the part where the zombie girl stabs her mother to death with a garden tool is a clear homage (or rip off if that’s your opinion) of the famous shower scene in “Psycho,” with the blood splattering, the screams of the dying, and the sharp musical notes in the background. That scene gets me every time, simply because the image of a woman’s spawn butchering her is to me quite cringe worthy, and somewhat shocking.

Stamped with Romero’s unique vision, driven by tension, gore, a cast of realistic characters, and a thoughtful commentary on humanity that may or may not have been intentional, Night of the Living Dead is a movie experience every horror fan should have. The movie proves that not all horror films are mindless, gory thrill machines, and that the genre has contributed more to the world of cinema than is generally acknowledge.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Prom Night (1980, Paul Lynch)


From the eerie opening flashback to the suspenseful last act, Prom Night is a well made early 1980s slasher that is another quality entry in the subgenre. Long before slasher movies fell into parody and tired cliches Jamie Lee Curtis made a couple of them after doing the first two Halloween films. She was a great scream queen and here she plays a girl who is still dealing with her sister’s death years earlier. Also her father is Leslie Nielsen and prom night is approaching. The stage has been set for terror and mayhem.

Unlike later slasher films this one has a lower death count and the first kill doesn’t even happen until much later in the film. Prom Night takes its time building up the chills and thrills while also keeping the audience guessing who the killer could be. After all that’s part of the fun in a movie like this. Well that and the disco scenes which have some pretty radical music. This film feels more like a 1970s one to me although it is campy at times. I much prefer smart slasher films such as this one even if I also enjoy the dumb ones.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Humanoids From The Deep (1980, Barbara Peeters)


Produced by the legendary Roger Corman Humanoids of the Deep is a wonderfully trashy camp film that was more in tune with the 80s despite being made at the start of the decade. What you basically have is women being attacked by rape monsters from the sea who want to mate. Gross. The special effects are not half bad even though the storyline is rather weak. Also the last act consists solely of gory and entertaining monster attacks at a carnival. Which happens to be a good setting for an orgy of gore and mayhem.

Doug McClure is the well meaning hero of the film while Vic Morrow plays the local big shot racist and Ann Turkel is the scientist who knows what is really going on. Unfortunately Peters, the film’s director, did not approve of the changes that were made to this film by Corman. Still a woman directing any film, much less a horror movie, was an even rarer thing back in those days so even though Humanoids is a cheesy camp fest at best I still kind of like and enjoy it. Those types of films are really not made now a days and the cult film seems almost dead sadly. I would like to get my hands on the Shout! Factory 30th Anniversary copy as I viewed this movie on Netflix.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Grabbers (2012, Jon Wright)


The British have given us plenty of quality and classic horror films over the years, and Grabbers continues that nice tradition. It’s a horror comedy science fiction movie that once events spiral out of control the film becomes relentlessly entertaining, even though like many films this one borrows from other classics. Still director Jon Wright and a really good cast offer a unique and humorous spin on the whole “Aliens invade small town and try to eat the residents” shtick that has been done before. And the creature effects are quite good in this case for a cult film that doesn’t have a big budget; one of the things I like about horror movies is that since many of them are not well funded you get to see directors trying to create fictional realities the best they can on a limited scale and budget.

There is also a bit of a romantic element, as cops O’ Shea (Richard Coyle) and Lisa (Ruth Bradley) fight and argue while suppressing a growing attraction for each other. Also in the cast is Russell Tovey as Dr. Smith, and David Pearse as Brian, the local pub owner. Most of the jokes are alcohol related in nature, because the aliens are repelled by booze-if the people drink the aliens cannot suck out their blood. One of my favorite parts is when a drunk Lisa stumbles around-something that recalls many a night out either drinking or being around drunks. Even though the last act does borrow a tad from Aliens this film is really awesome, and I enjoyed watching it. Sometimes a horror movie doesn’t have to be really scary or gore filled to be a good or great movie.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Night of the Demons (1988, Kevin Tenney)


Thanks to Scream Factory I was able to view another 80s cult film, this one being titled Night of the Demons. By the late 1980s the horror film genre was tired of slasher movies, and so films like this one were more the norm, although of course a group of teenagers wander into some abandoned building and get horribly murdered. However “Night” has a more slower pace, as it builds up the tension until events really get out of hand. And naturally a film like this has a morality tale of sorts included, offering up why one should not mess with forces beyond our world, or something like that. Not really a complex message, although this movie is pretty straightforward, which is part of its charm. Also the opener is darkly humorous, as it features an old man preparing to lace his candy apples with razor blades. How that side story concludes, is um, with a quite gruesome surprise.

This is the type of horror movie where you have character names such as Angela, Judy, Helen, Max and Roger. Although of course you have a guy like Stooge, who by the end of the film truly lives up to his human pig reputation. Most of the film doesn’t contain humor and is a suspenseful movie, turning into a chase style trying to escape movie by the conclusion. Despite having some cliches “Night” has some surprises, and I was entertained despite the film’s low budget limitations. I also liked that the film saves its gory elements for later on, and doesn’t become too campy, the bizarre plot aside. Oh and the film has a really good soundtrack, with one of the tracks being sang by Bauhaus, who also contributed a track to the 1980s horror classic The Hunger. I’m not sure why or how this film spawned multiple sequels (plus the typical horror remake) although by the 1980s franchises had become the norm for anything halfway successful or notable.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Zombie (1979, Lucio Fulci)


Lucio Fulci sure loves his zombies, as evidenced by many of his movies. Especially the aptly named cult classic Zombie, made in 1979 and styled as a quasi sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. However this film is more graphic and violent, which is the usual hallmarks of a Fulci movie. This one starts out with a brutal killing followed by a freaky and gory incident on a boat in the New York harbor.

A reporter and the daughter of a doctor team up together and decide to travel down to the island to find him. This leads to them using a pair of vacationing adventurers and a mysterious island where a strange doctor is conducting bizarre experiments. Nothing is what it seems and the undead lurk around every corner, set on devouring the living. This is made especially clear during a horrific scene where a woman is powerless to stop a zombie from attacking her in gruesome fashion.

From that point on the film turns into a walking nightmare, as the undead rise and begin to attack. Most zombie movies have a siege moment at one point or another, and Zombie sure provides it. Funny how cowboys vs Native Americans are incorporated in many horror films, as the heroes must blast their way out and prevent themselves from becoming monster food. Also it helps that they have enough guns to battle the zombie menace.

Despite the low budget and the cheesy acting this is a really well shot horror film. Also the film has one of the coolest moments ever when a shark battles a zombie. Plus the ending is fantastic and eerie, a fitting conclusion to what could be Fulci’s masterwork. Also the film could be seen as a case study in different awesome ways to slaughter a zombie. Even though its not really dived into more there is also a subtitle yet also obvious commentary on how the island’s inhabitants get revenge/seek to devour their seemingly white colonial masters, in addition to the island’s curses that plagued its Spanish rulers coming back to haunt the living centuries later. I can’t wait to see some of his other films, as I have already viewed and liked a few of his other works.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Immortality/The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998, Po Chih Leong)


Made before Jude Law became famous, Immortality is a film that I decided to watch after looking through the horror selection of Netflix Instant Viewing and deciding “Hey this looks interesting.” This is as much a monster movie as it is a vampire film, although Law’s seemingly normal doctor kills his prey in the manner of the vampire so it counts. He has a strange disorder that requires not just blood but also the emotions of his victims; therefore he fests only on women who he meets by pretending to being a charming stranger. The problem he encounters is that he finds a woman that he likes from the beginning: in turn he starts to experience feelings of love that complicate his ability to feed and survive. If a vampire falling in love with a human and not killing her sounds familiar, well that forms the basis of the Twilight series. While I’m not sure that a series I really despise ripped off this movie, it wouldn’t shock me. Anyways Innocent Blood from 1992 really did the whole “Vampire and human fall in love bit” even earlier, and I’m sure there is another film that also covered a similar subject.

However in this case Law’s Steven has bigger problems: the police are on to him after a couple previous “girlfriends” died mysteriously, and there happens to also be a menacing gang of street toughs. He is forced to protect Anne from such thugs in a scene that is funny yet also kind of cool. Apparently being a vampire means you know how to fight, although perhaps Steven like most vampires has enhanced powers. Still that’s not even the highlight of the film-I much prefer the scene where Steven and the cop pursing him, Inspector Healey (Timothy Spall) discuss the nature of evil and what it takes for someone to lie to people, to be a truly horrible person. A moment like makes this film more above the typical level of a vampire film, and not enough of them properly flesh out or even dare to humanize their main vampire characters.

Tragic, romantic, and actually creepy, Immortality was a pleasant surprise during my Horrorfest viewing. Elina Löwensohn is a natural as Anne, a woman clearly in over her head yet refusing to give up Steven despite her judgment telling her otherwise. This film has a sense of both style and grace that is intoxicating and engaging, mediating upon the nature of the beast and the beast’s interactions with others. I also much prefer the other title The Wisdom of Crocodiles because it fits the movie better and is a more accurate representation of what the film is truly about. Particularly since at times Steven has the manner and habits of the crocodile, a great watery reptile that lurks in the reeds, waiting to pick off its dinner at the most opportune moment.

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