Saturday, November 14, 2009

Out Of The Ether 11/14/09

 This is probably not news you're average movie goer is very interested in, but it's big, big, big news whether or not they are interested. MGM is officially up for sale, as reported by Variety. We're talking about a 4,000 film library that includes the James Bond Franchise, The Wizard of Oz, and so many more I'm not even going into it. We're talking about one of the cornerstones in film history. I can only hope the executives over there end up eating in soup kitchens for the next five years (but we all know there's a really big, very golden parachute for them), but the catalog of titles they own is important, and who it is that ends up owning the rights to those films determines what kind of access we have to them in the future, and the quality of the presentation we're offered. MGM has been the king of the half assed DVD release. The image quality is always passable (rarely stellar), but everything else is second rate, at best. They've got a vault full of classic film which deserves a really strong representation and has long term financial viability. The DVD releases of those classic films usually include the film, and if you're really lucky, an original trailer from that film. What they always contain is the trailer for MGM Home Entertainment, just to remind you of the number of other classic films you can see get the bargain basement treatment.

For all of my friends out there whom I know to be Cormac McCarthy fans, and who enjoyed the hell out of The Proposition, there are 10 new clips for The Road. I'm extremely excited about this one. Thanks to Bloody Disgusting for the clips. I haven't watched them, because I'd really like to go into this one having seen as little as possible, but they're here in case you want to.

Let me make something clear here. I am in no way inherently opposed to the big budget studio blockbuster. Iron Man and The Dark Knight are among my favorite films of the last few years. And no, it's not just because they're based on comic books (wise ass), it's because they are good movies. Roland Emmerich, director of such classsic films as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Universal Soldier, and 10,000 BC, had his latest epic open yesterday. The latest in what has now been dubbed "disaster porn", 2012 is a film I've been thinking is going to not only be more of the same, but actually probably worse. "Hey Pony, I've seen that trick. Got any more?" Over at AICN, Massawyrm's posted a review basically confirming my suspicions. Since you more or less know where I stand on Roland Emmerich and his latest disaster, here's Capone's review from AICN as well. Decide for yourself whether or not to drop ten bones on this one.

Let's go on to something which is worth celebrating. Neither of those first two items really ring with happiness and excitement, do they? This should. Roger Corman is an icon of independent and cult film. He's the guy who gave people like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, Robert Deniro and Sylvester Stallone their first jobs in film. He's also the guy who produced countless drive-in classics like, well, see the three hundred film catalog for yourself. He's finally going to get some recognition for the part he's played in helping to shape the film industry, and inadvertently helping to create a market for independent  and cult film. He's getting an honorary Oscar. Good for you Roger. A legion of geeks, freeks and tweakers are out here celebrating for you.

In other Oscar news, this is going to be the very first time the Best Animated Feature will have a full field of nominees to choose from. For a full five nominees to be chosen, sixteen films have to be submitted for nomination. This year, there are apparently twenty films submitted. /film had the original story, and has now posted a list of the submitted films as well. It's a list of twenty films alright. Does that make them all worthy of nomination? Not on your life, but see for yourself.

Are you over thirty? Are you a horror film fan? Do you remember an awesomely fun little film from the eighties about a teenager whose life gets turned upside down when he realizes his new neighbor is actually a vampire? You do? Well Fright Night fans, pay no attention to the large sharp object in my hand, and put yours right here on the table. Why, you ask? Because I know you've been thinking you'd give a finger to see a remake of this deeply loved favorite, and now I'm going to make your dreams come true. This is really like an arrow right in the heart for me. I've probably seen the original Fright Night almost one hundred times. I don't know that it even gives me any solace to have Marti Noxon, one of the former Buffy scribes working on the remake either. This is almost like seeing someone exhume my childhood pet, just to take the skull as a souvenir. I even loved the artwork for this one.

In more news of unnecessary remakes (the kind of news which isn't ending these days), there's a trailer for the A Nightmare On Elm Street remake. Jackie Earle Haley has done some really great work in the last few years. I can't for one second suggest otherwise, and if they were just going to have to go through with this, he is absolutely the best choice for a new Freddy Krueger. The trailer is kind of interesting. We'll see.

WOW. I'm just realizing how much of today's news is related to either sequels or remakes. They're really running out of ideas out there in the land of plastic and pollution aren't they? Well, here's the trailer for the Clash Of The Titans remake. 

This is the last of the sequel/remake news for this installment, I promise. Is anyone interested in Scream 4? If you're one of the three people in the country raising your hand, here you go.

Over at Bloody Disgusting, Mr. Disgusting himself is raving about a film he's caught at the American Film Market. The Phillipino film, Slice, has apparently impressed him. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for it, though I have a feeling it's going to be a straight to DVD release here in the States.

Good news for Stephen King fans, his latest book "Under The Dome" is headed to HBO as a mini-series. I've always been secretly disappointed that "The Stand" ended up on network television, because let's face it, the book was pretty graphic, and deserved to stay that way. I'm glad to hear HBO is picking up his latest book. Over at Dread Central, they've got that story, a video of one of his book signing's in which he provides an update on the progress of a film for his novel "Cell", and......................................................................
there's a new Dark Tower novel on the way. Here's the link. King is an interesting guy in general.

There's a Hansel and Gretel film on the way. I'm a long time fan of Grimm's fairy tales (I hated that damned Brother's Grimm movie), and I would like to see some more films based on them. This one is apparently going to be more in the tone of Shaun Of The Dead. They've got the story over at Bloody Disgusting.

Here's something that is just plain interesting. The American Film Institute hosts a variety of different programs, and apparently a number of them can be found and heard via podcast. I've been going through some of the older programs, and some of them are really interesting and really entertaining. Some of them are just not my thing, but I figured instead of just posting links to the one's I like, I'd post the link to where you can find whatever YOU might like. AFI PODCASTING is a pretty cool thing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Out Of The Ether, 11/10/09

We've got a slew of good stuff to get to.

Let's start with my favorite thing, a movie to get excited about. I love few things more than stumbling across an article on some site that makes me excited about a film for one reason or another. This is one of those things. Ravenous (previously known as Burning Bright), a film about a girl, with her autistic younger brother, locked in a house with a hungry tiger during a hurricane, might not be a horror movie specifically, but sure as hell could be something extremely exciting to watch. A TIGER(!!!!) chasing a girl around a house could prove for some extremely tense situations, and in the hands of someone who could really handle the material, could be a really fun film. Apparently, from the review over at Bloody Disgusting, that's exactly what it is. I'll be looking forward to this, and trying to see it as soon as possible.

 The Spiderman 4 news is and rumors are starting to swirl. Expect to here this for the next year. Marvel certainly has their hands full with Iron Man 2, Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers films. It might actually be good for the old web head that this franchise was started before Marvel figured out that they should be the one's in creative control of their properties, and not letting the studios put out crap like The Fantastic Four. Anyway, in Spiderman news, we're getting conflicting reports regarding casting. over at IGN, they're reporting that Rachel McAdams is in talks to play Felicia Hardy a.k.a The Black Cat in the next celluloid installment of Spidey's adventures. For those of you unfamiliar with the Spideyverse, Black Cat is thief, and occasional challenge to both Spidey and Peter Parkers loyalty to Mary Jane. I can definitely see this being a very Raimi story, unlike Spiderman 3, which wasn't a story Raimi ever wanted to tell. The conflict in reports comes from /film, where they're reporting that Romola Garai is auditioning for the role as well. Basically, it seems like no one has the role, but we can count on the fact that casting has actually begun, there's a new female lead involved, and there's good chance that lead is Black Cat.

Another huge franchise is making some news as well. Guillermo Del Toro will be suiting up to play a unimportant background character in The Hobbit, which he is directing and Peter Jackson is producing. Ian McKellen, John Rhys Davies and Viggo Mortenson are all saying they'd like to return to hallowed Tolkien ground of Middle Earth. IGN is carrying that story here.

 In news that for me falls into the category of "THERE REALLY MIGHT BE A GOD AFTER ALL!!!", Ain't It Cool News is reporting that Steven Spielberg and Will Smith are not going to get the chance to do an adaptation of the manga Oldboy, which Chan-wook Park has already directed an insanely incredible South Korean version of. The title of the article is How Tough Is Hollywood? I actually like both Steven Spielberg and Will Smith, so I'm not going all "I hate A list Hollywood because I think I'm a hipster deuche bag", I just don't see these guys being able to do anything nearly as effecting and downright mind boggling as has already been done, and I don't really think it's necessary to remake films just so Americans don't have to read subtitles. See the original or miss out.

Hears a question, did you like Se7en? If so, you might be happy to hear that David Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker, the team who brought you the detective team of Morgan Freeman and Bradd Pitt chasing Kevin Spacey's serial killer only to find Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box are teaming up again. I'm happy about it. The Reincarnation of Peter Proud is apparently a remake. Thanks again to Ain't It Cool News for bringing us news that is actually cool.

Darren Aronofsky came into national recognition with his first feature, Requiem for a Dream, and proceeded to piss almost every one of those people who had high hopes for him in releasing The Fountain as his second feature. His third film The Wrestler drew critical praise and may have given Mickey Rourke a shot at an acting career which allows him the opportunity to play more than just an over the hill tough guy. Now, he's working on a new project, The Black Swan. The story of a ballerina whose chief rival may or may not be a figment of her imagination has attracted Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel and Winona Ryder. AICN again.

I've been looking forward to this one for a little over a year now, and the date of release is getting ever close. Terry Gilliam's newest The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus has a new poster, which /film has had the good sense to post. I really can't wait to see this one.

James McTeigue's feature directorial debut was V for Vendetta, a film I absolutely love and adore. It may not be fashionable anymore and it may not be "cool", but I do. His latest, well, the chances are pretty good that it's not quite as philosophically or intellectually grounded, but it sure looks like it's going to be one hell of a good time for martial arts/action fans. Check out the new clips for Ninja Assassin over at BD.

There's also a new one sheet for the Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson film After.Life. Follow the link here, to find it and some other images from the film.

The first decade of the millennium has brought us a number of films which haven't had a theatrical release, but have found large followings in their humble straight to DVD roots. There is probably no better example of what the combination of word of mouth, internet buzz and some respectable backing by a distributor creating a monster than Hatchet. I enjoyed the film, but I'm not among it's legion of rabidly loyal fans. Either way, it seemed appropriate to post a link to the first poster art release for sequel, Hatchet 2.

Two of the directors who made my Decade of Horror list have new films coming out soon. Chris Smith, who brought us Severance, is now visiting The Black Death upon us. The film is the story of a group of men trying to bring a woman believed to be the demonic source of the plague to her exorcism. BD has stills. Brian Yuzna has a new 3-D feature on the way called Amphibious 3-D. You can get a first peek at it here.

I've been reading and hearing some pretty good things about Macabre and would like a chance to get to see it myself, but since I'm in Richmond, that chance may not come until it hits DVD. But to you folks who may be in a location more friendly to non-multiplex movie going, here's something about it.

And finally, Dead Snow the festival hit featuring zombie Nazi's is coming to wide release DVD. So far, it's been a Blockbuster Exclusive, which kind of sucks for those of us who enjoy freedom of speech and choose not to spend our money at Blockbuster. We're all going to get a chance to see it and buy soon. Get the details for that and the DVD for Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 here.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Box

Previous to The Box, writer/director Richard Kelly has brought two films to the screen. The first, Donnie Darko (a truly  bizarre, puzzle website)has become a hotly debated cult film with a loyal and relatively large following. Personally, I love Donnie Darko, even though I know it doesn't all add up after you've seen the film a few times. The first viewing was so striking I'll continue to suggest it to people, and I just really love the characters in that film. I also think part of the reason that it's so hotly debated has as much to do with the fact that it's gained so much popularity. I get the feeling it's the kind of film a good number of people just love to hate for that reason and that reason alone.

The second film Kelly brought us, the hotly anticipated Southland Tales was an annoying mess. I like science fiction. I like meandering, half intersecting plotlines, which might serve to do little more than add color to a story. I like deus ex machina events in stories when they're well done. Southland Tales was just a bloated, over drawn, over done, boring, incoherent narrative thrown together around some relatively funny lines and some relatively interesting ideas. It was crap, in whole and total. If you haven't even seen five minutes of that utter barge of ego-tastic crap, count yourself among the lucky.

Now comes, The Box. Can Kelly (a Midlothian native) redeem himself for the degree of disappointment movie goers felt with his second film after developing such a following for his first film as to catapult him into the "Directors to watch" category?

The answer: That depends.

Did you enjoy the ride Donnie Darko took you on enough to be a little less critical of some of it's shortcomings? If so, the chances are pretty good you'll enjoy The Box. This is a leap of millennium and dimensions away from Southland Tales, so I'm not even going to attempt to compare the two.

I can say The Box kept my attention for two solid hours, enough to be mesmerizing in it's own dread, gloom soaked way. I was definitely sitting there, trying my best to figure out where it was going to go next. I'm familiar with the original story, "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson, and I've always loved it, but it gives you no real idea where this film is going. Since the story was so short, to get a complete feature film out of it, you'd absolutely have to add to it. And what Kelly adds is interesting, bizarre, conspiracy theory science fiction which is pretty good all in all. It definitely works as you're watching it. You're following it, and it moves along fast enough to kind of hurry you through some of the less grounded aspects of the reality it creates for itself.

If you're not familiar with the original story or the plot of this film by now, here it is. A married couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) are approached by a man who brings them a box. Inside the box is a device with a button on the top. The man (played by Frank Langella) explains to the couple that they are being presented with a choice. They can press the button, at which point they will be given one million dollars. At the same time though, someone they don't know will be killed. They are given twenty four hours to decide. If anyone else is told, the deal is off, no money. From there, you figure it out. 

Both Cameron Diaz and James Marsden handle their parts with competence. Neither of them puts in performances they are going to be remembered for in either the incredibly powerful or incredibly ridiculous varieties. Frank Langella, on the other hand, takes his role as Arlington Steward, the role that is not only the hardest because it has the most exposition and the most outlandish dialogue to deliver but also because of the degree to which the film fails without it working, and nails it. Langella is great as the vaguely creepy, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes apathetic Steward. I really wish Langella was showing up in more films, because he is always gives such great performances.

This film doesn't have the kind of characters to really fall in love with the way Donnie Darko did. But it does have an even more twisting, turning, topsy, turvy narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat and trying to not only keep up, but get one step ahead. This is probably for the fans out there who really like their sci-fi to come with big BIG ideas. Like Donnie Darko though, I think that after the first viewing and the rush to keep up with it and try to figure it out, I really don't think this film is going to stand up to it's own logic in further viewings. I think there are probably just holes in there big enough to drive a tractor trailer through. Maybe if we get a Director's Cut on Blu-Ray and DVD, it will all be explained further in deleted scenes or something, but as of now, I really don't think it's all there.

For those of you reading this from the Richmond Virginia area, there are Easter eggs galore in this film. Richmond residence are going to be able to watch this film repeatedly just to try and catch all of the extremely Richmond specific things in the film. It's really pretty cool. I was definitely sitting there watching it going, "HEY! That's.........." Those of you who were here in the seventies may even recognize even more of it than I did. That was definitely pretty entertaining, and an added aspect of fun for my Richmond friends.

All in all, this is a fun film, with some flaws that are pretty apparent. It does a really great job of establishing and keeping going an atmosphere of dread, doom and impending calamity. It presents some really fun ideas and some great science fiction tropes in fun and new ways. It also doesn't completely add up once you're done with the initial viewing and try to piece it all together. I could be wrong about that, I'd have to see it at least one more time to be completely sure, but I'm pretty confident I didn't miss anything so necessary that what doesn't make sense to me now would if I'd have caught that sliver of info. If you liked Donnie Darko, you'll be entertained by The Box. If you didn't like Darko, this one is going to infuriate you further and you're probably going to start demanding the death of Richard Kelly. If you do happen to be a Richmond resident though, it may have repeated viewing value for the "is that really in Richmond" game.

Out Of The Ether 11/8/09

Time for the second edition of Out Of The Ether. YEAH!!!

First, I'd like to introduce to you to........

Yes. This is the poster for the new Wolfman remake/reboot/reimagining starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt. If you're really excited, and want an image large enough to use as a wallpaper, head on over to the original posting on AICN. As you can see on the poster, you can catch this in February of next year. If you head on over to Cinematical, there's another, less interesting poster.

One of the more anticipated films of the upcoming holiday season is the new Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams. There's a new trailer. Click HERE to see trailer #3 for what's basically guaranteed to be one of the biggest movies of the year.

Another name connected with another mega-franchise of late is J.J. Abrams. The man who brought us a hugely successful (and really damned fun) new Star Trek is trying to get a film off of the ground based on the Japanese toy Micronauts. That, and other bizarre news popped up in the Wall Street Journal of all places. Thanks to AICN for the heads up. 

The new trailer for Season of the Witch has many things going for it. It also has one thing working against it. Can you tell who it is? 

One of the films more or less guaranteed to be a big splash next year, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, has released the trailer. It's not looking too bad.  I'm not sure what to make of this. Most of the video game to film adaptations have been horrible, in the just poor, poor quality way, not the fun way. It gives me some hope to see Jake Gyllenhaal taking on the role of the Prince in question, because the guy can more or less do what he wants these days, and he has a reputation for taking on films with a weightier script, but we'll see. He was also in The Day After Tomorrow whose date is apparently, 2012

In news related to 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days, the sequel to 30 Days Of Night, the first image from the film has emerged over at Bloody Disgusting. I can only hope the sequel matches the original in ferocity, even if they're doing that most horrible thing of changing actors for a main character between films. Melissa George didn't die, as is the most acceptable reason for this, she just didn't want to come back for the sequel. Over at Dread Central, they've got a few on set pictures, and will have some on set coverage coming in the future.

Here's one I'm excited about. I've particularly liked to two original films Eli Roth has directed so far, Hostel, and Cabin Fever. Here's a look at the first images from Cotton, his newest project. Expect a good deal more news in connection with this one as we get closer to release. Eli is not what you would call "press shy".

Also in the category of someone who isn't press shy, rapper Eminem has signed on to produce and star in a 3-D horror anthology (a la Creepshow, Trick 'r Treat, Tales From The Darkside), apparently to be titled Shady Talez. Some of you might be wondering why on earth I'd be posting news of this. I honestly think Mr. Mathers might have what it takes to recognize a strong horror story, and though there was probably little acting at all involved, 8 Mile was a much better film than any of us had reason to hope for. IGN has the story.

John Landis has a new feature on the way entitled Burke and Hare. This sounds like it could be the perfect project for someone with Landis's absolutely perfect ability to mix scares, chills and humor. Apparently based on the true story of 19th century grave robbers who find a lucrative business in providing cadavers for a medical school in Edinburgh, the casting news has been great so far. Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and David Tennant (the latest Syfy channel incarnation of Dr. Who), have previously signed on. Now, a legend of supernaturally comedic films, Dan Akroyd has been announced as joining the cast. Landis is someone I have seen and read a few thousand interviews with, and from the kind of impression he leaves, I love seeing him succeed, so I'm pushing for this one.

How about news of the "are you talking about the same movie?" variety. Apparently both of the films Seven Days and The Tortured have stories that revolve around parents who decide to take justice into their own hands in dealing with their child's murderer. I've honestly gone back twice in the last two days to make sure both of these announcements had to do with different films.

The struggling Dimension Films is still trying beyond hope to revive their planned Hellraiser remake. I have a deep and abiding love for the original film, though I can see where some things may be fleshed out (unintended pun stays) given a more substantial budget and the right creative team. Do I for one second believe Dimension will be able to bottle the kind of lightning necessary to pull that off? No. I have no confidence in that possibility. Apparently they are trying to do this one in 3D. Need I say more?

It seems Moonstone Entertainment is trying to resurrect another horror franchise as well. According to, they are touting the hiring of a writer/director at the AFM. The Howling Reborn is the title their working with right now. It's not absolutely clear as to whether this is going to be a sequel or a remake/reboot to the series. Joe Dante's original was a fun, film, specifically for adults. The sequels were fun for those of us who can stomach bad horror films and have fun with them, but no cinematic gems.

I am interested in the French zombie film The Horde which has apparently been picked up by IFC films. I guess they don't want to miss out on the explosion of interest in foreign made horror films that Magnet Releasing, Anchor Bay and a few other distributors have been capitalizing on. This one was apparently produced by the Xavier Gens, director of the worth seeing The Frontier(s).

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

I rarely see a film which gives me the kinds of heebie jeebie's that I'm making sure my windows and doors are locked. This one did.

I just sat through my first viewing of The Poughkeepsie Tapes which was directed by John Erick Dowdle and written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle.

This film takes the "faux-documentary" idea very seriously, as the entire film plays out exactly like a documentary would. It's supposed to be documenting the hunt for, exploits of, and the eventually found videotapes of The Water Street Butcher, a serial killer who prowled Poughkeepsie, New York during the nineties. The thing is, these guys did an incredible job of creating the documentary feel. This is actually poor in all the places so many of "true crime" documentaries we've come to be so familiar with are poor. They have almost perfectly written the parts for the police they've interviewed, and certainly did a great job with casting. I've read a few reviews in the past which took some of the performances to task, but now that I've seen it, I honestly don't think the reviewers in those cases fully understood the intent. If you watch the kind of "true crime" documentary this film is supposed to recreating, you will find a number of the people interviewed for them are not at all used to being on camera, and that's exactly how this comes across. I don't know if it's just a product of poor acting or something the Dowdle brothers specifically tried to get in the movie, but for me, it worked in service of the film.

Then there's the "found footage", which isn't the most graphic thing I've ever seen by a very long shot, but still manages to be downright creepy and weird because of the very bizarre nature of it. Some of the degree of truly creepy and unsettling nature might just be the degree to which it isn't all that shocking. I think it got to me because it really did come across in a way which really suggested that if some serial killer had recorded all of his exploits, this is exactly what we, as the general public, would be allowed to see. A documentarian has considerations a narrative fiction film maker doesn't have, especially if they were covering a subject like the one this film is supposed to. If this had been a real documentary, you'd never have seen a shot in which any of the victims were actually killed. It just would not happen, it would be too much, too sensational, too graphic and so on. It would literally become a snuff film, and it would never get made, have a prayer of getting released or distributed or anything. A documentary on the horrors of war, absolutely, you will see people actually die on film. But a documentary on a serial killer or serial killers in general, even if tapes like these actually did exist, the general public would never be shown an actual murder on tape. And if they were, the chances are better than not that it would cause the kind a kind of uproar the likes of which have not been seen in a very, very, long time, possibly ever. As a society, a movie going public, the chances are better than not that we wouldn't accept it. Sure, people bitch and moan and whine about the "immoral nature" of violence in fiction (especially horror films), but this is one of the few ways in which somehow, some way, on some instinctual level, we understand there is a difference between reality and fiction. The Brothers Dowdle know exactly where to stop to keep the film both riveting and also keep the reality of the "documentary" real enough to have kept me deeply uneasy from about a quarter of the way in.

The Pougkeepsie Tapes manages to be disturbing and unsettling without being very graphic at all. There is very little blood, very little on screen violence and very little to satiate the gore hounds who would inevitably be flocking to this. But I'd honestly be less likely to suggest someone let a younger child or someone with more sensitive sensibilities see this film than something like, say, Hostel, because what is in this film is, to me, much more disturbing, unnerving and hard to wrangle with mentally or intellectually. With almost no gore at all, it takes certain ideas and themes which are at the base core of something like torture, and puts them front and center with a spotlight on them.

I can absolutely see that there would be a contingent of the movie going public, especially a few communities in the horror movie going public who would really just crap all over this film because to them, it wouldn't be scary enough or bloody enough. I can see how there would definitely be people to whom none of this would be very effecting. At the same time, for some odd reason, it got me where I live to a degree which after almost thirty years of obsession with horror films is extremely unusual.

Here's the troublesome aspect of The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Like Trick r' Treat and Paranormal Activity, this film hit the festival circuit in 2007 and was picked up by one of the major film studios. MGM is still sitting on this film and are basically refusing to release it. Though I can't offer any explanation with any absolute  conviction, I think I might understand why this film hasn't been released yet. They are in a no win situation as far as the marketing is concerned. There's no way to market this film without setting up public expectation that it will more or less be a "faux-documentary" Saw rip off. If they can't dispel that, the film loses in every way. All of the people going to see a film which they are hoping and expecting to be the same kind of blood soaked festival of gore that something like Saw  is are going to be disappointed. The movie going public who are tired of poor imitations of Hostel and the original Saw, are the people who should be seeing this movie, but it's impossible to put together a trailer and marketing campaign which will tell them that without ruining some of the more important aspects of the film and doing that ever more popular, completely useless and stupid thing of telling the entire story, surprises and all, in the trailer.

There is definitely, definitely an audience for this film. That I have no doubt about. It's obvious a good deal of time, and more importantly, thought, was put into this film. The Dowdle Brothers have managed to create a stirring, disturbing and unusual piece of cinema here. It's the kind of thing which would find it's way into some corner of cinema history which future generations of horror fans would visit in their constant quest to satiate their appetites. I don't know this would necessarily become a "cult classic" kind of film, but more something that genre lovers would respect and enjoy and in the future would definitely talk about as among the best of the "faux-documentary" style horror films. It's definitely the kind of thing any future film makers considering venturing into the "faux-doc" style should be advised to see.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is something I wouldn't have felt cheated to have spent movie theater money on, that I'd recommend to friends with a leaning toward genre films, and I'd give a 7.5 out of 10, possibly an 8.  

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Maybe you've seen the trailers or you've seen or heard one of the many interviews lately being conducted with the man who wrote the book, Jon Ronson. Though the book "The Men Who Stare At Goats" is  non-fiction, it wasn't exactly a narrative so much as a collection of bizarre facts about different things the United States military has tried through the years. The film basically takes those same facts and organizes them around a fictional narrative, so when at the opening of the film, it reads, "More of this is true than you would believe", they're not actually lying.

I am somehow not able to bring myself to believe that attempting to train psychic super soldiers is either the stupidest or silliest thing the military has ever tried in order to gain the upper hand on, well, everyone. So, I'm not going to write a review of the film basking in the ridiculousness of the premise it suggests, because it is ridiculous, which is why a movie about it exists.

The movie itself is successful in delivering some good laughs. It's also successful in delivering a narrative that kept me guessing enough to keep me interested through it's ninety minute running time. Is this a new classic? No. Is it entertaining? Basically yes.

The Men Who Stare At Goats is a decent film. The cast does a great job of running with the material as far as they can, and it's a pretty good cast. George Clooney has been in this territory before, so it's not as if there's a long stretch here, giving new depth to his acting abilities. This character is slightly different than those he's played in Burn After Reading, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, and LeatherHeads. It's not the best material he's had to work with before, but he does a good job with it.

Ewan McGregor has also played characters not so different from this wide eyed journalist as well. If I'm honest about it, he was adequate, but I've seen him do much better in Nightwatch, A Life Less Ordinary,and Big Fish

Jeff Bridges is also reprising a role he's played before. The Big Lebowski has become a cult favorite, and might be Bridges most popular work (though recently I've been finding Tron fans coming out of the woodwork). Here as brain trust behind the crazy ideas the Army allows him to try, Bridges equally entertaining. His pony-tailed Bill Django is Lebowski if he'd been in the military.

Kevin Spacey shows up three quarters of the way through the film and adds some snap to things as the overly ambitious new recruit. We've also seen Spacey in territory like this before. He's convincing as a self absorbed asshole. Isn't he always though?

Honestly, I think that's the story of this entire film. It's not a bad film, there are definitely a few good laughs in there, but like all of the actors in the roles, there's nothing really risky going on here. I'm not sure if the film makers were relying on the novelty of the narrative to get them through, which I guess it does. On the one hand, it seems to rely too heavily on this novelty for it's story, and on the other hand it doesn't seem to deliver enough laughs when you look at the basic premise of the film. It's not something I'm walking away from regretting having watched, but it's not something I'd either be excited to watch again or I'd be enthusiastically recommending to friends. If you're a George Clooney fan, it will entertain you for ninety minutes. If you like the Coen Bros. less idiosyncratic comedies (Raising Arizona being more idiosyncratic), you'll be entertained for ninety minutes.

The only real critical comment I can relate about it is this, after that ninety minutes is over, you won't care about it anymore. Take that for what it's worth.

I can suggest this one as a rental or if you're not in the mood for something more risky that might be really great, but could also be absolutely terrible.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Out Of The Ether

In the last few months, because of my repeated postings on Facebook regarding Paranormal Activity and Trick r Treat, a number of people have asked me where the hell I'd heard of these things. The sad truth is that I spend a number of hours every week scouring the internet for news of films I think will be interesting. There are a few film related sites I visit almost daily. There are others I check up on more or less weekly.

I've been trying to come up with some new things to do with Bleed For It, and it occurred to me that I might be able to do a service to some of my film fanatic friends who don't have time to pour over film websites for tidbits of information. I don't think it's only a matter of interest, for a number of people it's also a matter of time. Maybe you have kids or a job that requires many long hours, or maybe it's some other variety of interest which takes up good chunks of your time. You can have any and all of these things and still be a film fanatic, just one without as much time for news about what's going on, what's coming, what's getting squashed and so on in the movie community. Maybe you're not really very internet savvy.

I've decided that a few times a week I'm going to start putting together a list of links to news regarding films I'm interested in following or that I think some of the folks who'd be reading this might be interested in. It won't be devoted entirely to horror films either. Even the most avid of horror film fanatics are interested in other kinds of films as well. There will be plenty of Sci-Fi, , fantasy, and other genre goodness. Out Of The Ether is going to be my attempt at separating the wheat from the chaff so far as movie news is concerned and delivering as much of it to you, dear reader, as I can find over a few days period. If you come across something you think I should mention or you'd like to see me start covering regularly, give me a shout and let me know. I'll try to keep it as spoiler free as possible and notify you if I know there are spoilers of any variety in the article I link to. Personally, as much as I like to know what's going on, what kinds of deals are being made, what films are coming out, what films have been dropped from production or distribution, I hate to know too much about a movie when I see it. I'd rather have a general idea of what a film is about and get to go in and experience the story and so on as it unfolds.

Coming to theaters tomorrow is The Box. Directed by Richard Kelly, the writer/director of the superb Donnie Darko and the down right annoying Southland Tales, I have hope for this film specifically because it is adapted from a story by the icon Richard Matheson. Matheson was a regular writer for the Twilight Zone television series, and wrote some incredible books including "I Am Legend", "The Shrinking Man", and "Hell House." Bloody Disgusting has an interview with Kelly about his new film. CLICK HERE to read it. I'm a fan big Donnie Darko fan, so I'll check this out sometime in the next few days. Expect a review. It's also worth noting that Kelly is a Virginia native, having apparently grown up in Midlothian.

Reviews for The Box-
Also hitting theaters tomorrow is The Fourth Kind, starring Milla Jovovich. Apparently a yarn about alien abduction (from what the trailers are more or less suggesting), and being touted as "based on a true story". I'm not sure what to make of it, but there are some genuinely unsettling looking moments in the trailer. We'll see. I might try to catch this one this coming week. 

Here are some reviews:
Rumors about a sequel to Paranormal Activity  are swirling. No one is saying much of anything other than "we're thinking about it". Even though I think a sequel is doomed before it starts, I'll keep you up to date should any details start to emerge. I'm sure it's only a matter of time considering it's now become the most profitable film of all time. Yes, the most profitable film, ever.

Dread Central has a collection of interesting articles to check out. As if further proof were needed, Hollywood's need to push things beyond cultural saturation into the land of inevitable backlash has another example with the upcoming Amy Heckerling film Vamps. Heckerling has previously found success with Fast Time At Ridgemont High, Clueless, and according to Dread Central, the Look Who's Talking films. Why am I not excited about this?

In news of the, "Excuse me? Did you just say what I think you just said?" variety, Kelly McGillis turns up in a new vampire flick called Stake Land, also starring Danielle Harris (Halloween 4,5,6 and Rob Zombie's Halloween and Rob Zombie's Halloween 2...... a favorite among male horror fans). The trailer looks interesting.

One part of me wants to get excited about this. Another part of me wants to find the home of the studio executive who said this guy was a good idea for this movie and burn it to the ground. Marcus Nispel, of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th remakes is set to direct a new Conan film. Here is a plot synopsis and sales art. I enjoyed the TCM remake, even though I was sure I wouldn't, but I thoroughly deplored the Friday The 13th remake, and I mean thoroughly as in absolutely and completely. There was nothing about that film worth seeing. And I loved the hell out of some Conan movies as a little kid, so I just don't know what to think about this. I will probably try to read one or two of the actual books, because from what I understand, they are great reads.

/Film has a great article relating to Hollywood trying to save it's dying ass via anti-piracy technology which is a little too Big Brother-ish for my tastes. Read that HERE.

If you're a fan of Brett Easton Ellis (writer of the book "American Psycho", which was later adapted as the film that brought Christian Bale to stardom), you're in for good news. Bait is his latest screenplay, Bloody Disgusting has the story.

I'm really looking forward to the big screen adaptation of the Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s comic sensation Kick Ass. The three comics which were my favorites growing up have already been adapted to the big screen, and as much as I love those stories and some of those films, Kick Ass might just be a concept which lends itself to the big screen much more easily. The first set of character one sheets have shown up at IGN. If you're a fan of super hero films, action movies and/or fantasy films, this is something to be excited about.

Last and definitely least, the American Film Market is currently under way. If you're not familiar, follow the link behind the name to the Wiki page, explaining all. Anyway, one more piece of news comes out of this capitalist blood orgy of cinema- the sales art for Scream 4. No, that's not a joke. Follow the link and find the art and some more on the story over at Shock Till You Drop.

And.... I'm spent.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Killer Movie

Maybe you're seeing a pattern here, but there wasn't meant to be one. I've ended up picking two consecutive films whose plots relate to films somehow.

Killer Movie is about a reality show crew shooting in some back country town when someone starts knocking off members of the crew and people in the town. This one succeeds in actually having a plot, and it also succeeds in being satirical and relatively entertaining.

This movie does a decent job of sending up a bunch of the cliche's of the horror genre, without being Scary Movie stupid. I've definitely seen worse movies. The last movie I reviewed, being one of them, by far. 

Killer Movie is well served by not being what it presents itself as. I was expecting a more straightforward, run of the mill slasher film, so it was fun to get something a little more unusual and which is actually trying to be a little bit smarter. This isn't a Scream kind of parody or satire either. It's as much a satire of the Hollywood stereotypes as it is of the horror films or reality television.

It actually does succeed in being a mystery. In watching the entire film, I didn't know what was going to happen or who it was that was doing the dirty deeds. I have to give them some credit for that. Considering the number of movies I watch, it's getting increasingly difficult for me to find a plot mystery I can't figure out in short order.

The short version of the story is that Killer Movie doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does work pretty well in the same way many of the slasher films from the eighties do. It is descended more from the original Prom Night or the old  Italian giallo's than it does with most of the films being released right now, including the remakes of those films. Killer Movie isn't exactly a killer movie, but it is entertaining, well done, and while the cast isn't exactly Oscar worthy, it almost makes the film work a little bit better because they are all a bunch of Hollywood wannabe's and rejects, they should act like bad actors, because they are bad actors, who want to be taken seriously.

It might not be for everyone, but if you're hanging around on a rainy day with a few hours to kill, you could do worse than Killer Movie.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Midnight Movie

If you go back and read the reviews I've posted here so far, you'll find that basically everything has been a recommendation. I was actually thinking recently that I would eventually have to write a review saying something less than positive about a film.

Midnight Movie, is that film. I found this horrendous turd on The Movie Channel's Video On Demand service. 

Honestly, I want to enjoy movies, especially horror movies. If a film has something it does extremely well, if it has one specific aspect which is truly well done, original or even really interesting and compelling, I can forgive many of it's mistakes.

The killer from a cult horror film is somehow coming out of the film and killing the theater goers who are watching the film. There are probably film makers who could do something interesting with this premise. These film makers didn't.

I could absolutely forgive poor production quality, really poor effects, soap opera quality acting, because I've seen them all before, in better films really. The thing is, there is nothing to redeem this film. There's just nothing here of any value or consequence. It's not even that kind of bad  which is infinitely entertaining. It's just bad, and that's it. There's nothing here to win you over. Even for the hard core horror fans, there's nothing inventive or new about the villain/slasher. He's a retread of a bunch of villians from past films, which really just makes you wish you were watching one of those films,  because they were all infinitely better.

Part of me really hates to say all of this because there was probably someone who really loved the idea of making this movie, and wanted very badly to make sure this was going to get made.The thing is, it's a bad movie, no matter how badly someone wanted it to get made.

I'm suggesting keeping Midnight Movie in the can and making sure it never makes it to a screen near you. This is a terrible, terrible movie. It is a turd.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I happen to have come into possession of a Playstation 3 recently. A friend of mine came to his senses in realizing he's probably best off obtaining the degree and license for the post graduate education he's going to be paying for, instead of mastering the variety of stunts in Grand Theft Auto or learning to complete Metal Gear Solid 4 with as few kills as possible. I applaud this decision. And let's face it, if you're as obsessed with film as I am, Blu-Ray has been calling to you for a long time. I'm quite happy to take the thing off of his hands until his last year at school is finished.

Last night, I picked up a copy of Splinter on Blu-Ray while on date night with my girlfriend at Barnes And Noble. Splinter is yet another film which made a splash on the festival circuit and never a nationwide theater release. I can't really nail down a reason one of the major studios didn't pick this film up, because it could have done pretty well at the box office with the right marketing, but they passed on another good one. Magnet, the genre/foreign film arm of Magnolia pictures have been putting together a solid, respectable catalog of releases. They've added another title to that fast growing list with Splinter.

There's one thing I have to say up front. This was shot digitally. Digital filming can often lead to real problems with quality of image. Though it's usually extremely clear, it can produce an image which audiences in no way relate to being cinematic or of film quality. There's too much depth of field, the lighting can be problematic, any number of things can cause issues with digital filming. Though I appreciate the kind of grand, cinematic style of films like There Will Be Blood or No Country For Old Men and absolutely love the beauty of the photographic quality of the worlds they create, I in no way think it's an absolute necessity in making a good film or telling a good story. A good story, well told, is a good story, well told, and sometimes lack of quality in the image can be useful, depending on the story itself. I'm not mentioning all of this because Splinter has the problems so often related to digital imagery, I'm actually mentioning it specifically because it doesn't, and in the Hi-Def Blu-Ray format, it's gorgeous. Director Toby Wilkins and cinematographer Nelson Cragg really did a great job with the look of this film. It has some great warmth and depth in the spots it needs to and a very hard, icy cold feeling where it's needed as well.

With that out of the way, a short synopsis. A couple on their way to a hotel from a botched attempt at a camping expedition run into something they weren't expecting in the form of another couple. The two couples, then run into something even less expected as they continue on down the road.

That doesn't tell you anything, does it? Well, that's the point. You're better off seeing this one with as little information as possible. I'll give you one more piece of information, because it might specifically be the kind of thing to make you decide whether or not you're going to see it. It's essentially, a really well made monster movie.

Monster movies have made something of a comeback in the last few years, with both Feast and Slither making good money on DVD, Cloverfield raking in the dough in theaters, The Host making a big splash in the overseas market and a load of other films doing relatively well. Splinter is without a doubt one of the better monster movies to come along in a good while. It lacks the tongue in cheek, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, quality of Feast or Slither, the grandiosity of Cloverfield or the melodrama aspects of The Host. Don't get me wrong, if you've read through my entry A Decade Of Horror: And It Was Good, you know I really liked at least three of those films. The fourth, Cloverfield, was a fun film in the theaters, but specifically because of it's grandiose scale lost some of it's luster on DVD. No one's living room is quite the same as a theater full of people, and I've never seen anyone's living room contain a screen large enough to convey the scale of the monster.

Splinter avoids all of that because three quarters of the film takes place in a convenience store/gas station. There are a total of six characters in the film, from beginning to end, and a creature which is ingenious. Of the many things which work well in this film, one of the strongest is the choice to not linger on and show the creature off. There's none of the camera falling in love with the monster, holding a long, drawn out shot, as if the director is saying, "Look how cool my big latex covered monster is!" It's always shot from the point of view of the other characters, which makes it even more creepy and unnerving. It's a great example of the theory that you don't have to show the entire monster, but just aspects of it, to create some real tension and give the sense that the characters are in real danger.

It manages to be solid storytelling, with good performances, an interesting, unusual and unnerving creature, well designed and executed effects, and very well shot. This isn't the best film of the year, but I'm willing to bet that the statement on the cover claiming it to be the best monster film of the year is true. Splinter is absolutely worth a look.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Hallowed Holiday Spirit

As my good friend G.W has already noted, over at his blog Secret Mountain Laboratory, our favorite holiday is fast approaching. You can't find a better set of suggestions to prepare for Halloween than G.W. has brewing over that the Lab. El Senor' Ferguson has recently  suggested a set of short films to help get you in the mood for the holiday. I'm jumping in to add my two cents and suggest some feature length films to help you get ready for the wonderfully insane holiday we love so much.

10) Let's get the obvious out of the way from the start. Halloween. In 1978, John Carpenters little film that could was unleashed on the unwitting suburban masses. Inspired by a combination of Hitchcock films and Italian giallo's from the 1960's, Carpenter takes every bit of slow build suspense he can and stuffs it into the suburban setting. The titular Michael Myers became a part of the cultural vernacular, a film franchise was spawned, and it scared the hell out of teenagers everywhere. If you've never seen Halloween, you're missing out. I'm betting that you've probably not seen it because it has the reputation of being the beginning of the slasher genre. Here's what you don't know. Unlike the imitations that came afterward, this is a nearly bloodless film. Halloween doesn't rely on blood and guts to achieve it's aims. There's some great cinematography in this film, as well as the completely awesome, over the top Donald Pleasance  performance that's incredibly entertaining. Jamie Lee Curtis is introduced to movie going audiences as Laurie Strode, the character fans of the series that followed couldn't wait to get to see again. If you've never seen it before, it can really still throw the fright into people. 

9) I'd put this higher up on the list, but it's the only of the films that is in theaters now (opening nationwide this weekend). Paranormal Activity is a great scare. That's really all there is to it. If you were ever one of those kids who dared your friends or were dared by your friends to go running into the local house with the haunted history attached to it, Paranormal Activity feels very much like that. Except, you're an adult now, and you're just not used to being that damned scared anymore. It's pulse pounding, suspenseful and the film succeeds in making you basically do that to yourself because it shows you so little. I've been beating the drum for this movie for a few months now, and I'm not going to stop because it has gotten a nationwide release and it has already become incredibly successful for the $15,000 it cost to make. I've been beating the drum for this film, and have continued to because it is just that fun to watch. GO SEE THIS IN THE THEATERS NOW!!!! 

8) Halloween is a fun holiday, and it should involve some kind of imagination, that kind you used to have when you were a kid. That's why Phantasm makes the list. It's all about imagination. Don Coscarelli did a great job of putting something on film which is familiar enough to keep you going, but which has enough imagination that it really takes on a kind of dream like quality. It's not for everyone, for that reason. You're not dealing with a reality you understand, but it is a reality which does have all of it's own logic, and sticks to it. Coscarelli manages to really get the feel of that childlike imagination into the fabric of the film, and that's not a small thing for any film, much less one started, and completely in such a D.I.Y. kind of way. I also can't get away without mentioning the seventies vibe to the film. It makes for some good laughs now. Angus Scrimm puts in a great performance as The Tall Man, a character which has developed it's own cult following in the horror community and the festival circuit.

7) Speaking of fun, another ghoulishly good flick for the Halloween season is Night Of The Creeps. This one is finally coming to DVD and Blu-Ray on Oct. 27th. We've got an alien invasion film, a zombie film, bits of slasher film, and fifties B movie all wrapped up into one decidedly absurd package by one Fred Dekker. You might not be familiar with the name, but the chances are that if you're in your early to mid-thirties (or are just a film geek like me), you've heard of The Monster Squad, Dekker's other film from the 80's. Night Of The Creeps is a lot less kid friendly than The Monster Squad, if only for the level of gore thrown about. Take heart if you're a non-horror lover, most of the gore in this one is strictly for gags. It's both a send up of the B-movie monster flicks from the fifties, and a loving homage at the same time. It's got a little bit of everything and is generally well made enough, and doesn't take itself seriously enough for most people to enjoy it.

6) It's time to get a few genuinely scary flicks in, because after all, it is Halloween, and what better time of year to allow yourself to get the pants scared off of you from the comfort of your own living room. Hence, I give you The Shining.Aside from the obvious, the things people always say about The Shining being terrifying, Jack Nicholson being brilliant, Kubrick being one of the greatest film makers of all time, and the beauty of the location and cinematography, there's something else I absolutely love about it. When I talk to people who don't generally like horror films, it's invariably the exception they make. When you bring up The Shining, they'll say, "That was a great movie. It scared the crap out of me." In other words, it's one of the truly rare gateway films the horror community shares with the rest of the film community, The Silence Of The Lambs being the other big one.  There's never a bad reason to watch The Shining. This and the next film were the first two horror films I ever saw, and they scared the living daylights out of me. From that point forward I was hooked.

5) I've met a few people who have seen The Exorcist and claim it was not at all scary. Somehow, I don't believe them at all. If nothing in this film unsettles you or downright scares you, I'm going to throw in the suggestion that you may not be human or you may really need to go in and talk to someone about that. I saw this for the first time when I was ten or so years old. Some of you might be thinking that is way too young for a kid to see a film like this. Unfortunately for my parents, I'd picked up a voracious reading habit, and believe me, there are much more disturbing books in the world than this was a film. I was looking for them. 1984 probably frightened me more than this at that age, and probably still does. The point is, I can remember seeing both The Exorcist and The Shining and being scared to pieces as a kid, and never wanting them to end. This might be a strange twist of personality, but there seem to be a lot of us out there, so I'm not too worried. It was the very first blockbuster film, also incredibly controversial (the two were probably connected), and remains a must see for all up and coming horror fans. It also touches somewhat on some of those weird, strange superstitions that Halloween and many of it's traditions have come from. Namely, keeping evil spirits at bay. Maybe a Jack-o-lantern would have done Reagan some good, but somehow, I don't think so. Truly scary stuff. Kudos to Dick Smith for a make-up effects creation and William Friedkin for a film that a miscarriage, fainting, vomiting, and people leaving the theaters in tears have all been attributed to. Beyond all of that though, like The Shining, this is masterful film making. There are some actual adult, serious themes at work in the film, beyond just the creature effects and disturbing nature of the content. There are also adult performances (something missing from too many of the contemporary scare flicks). Every performance in this film is outstanding. Some of you might know that for a good while, I usurped the name Damian Karras as an nom de plum on the intrawebs. That was specifically a tribute to the character and the actor who played him because this film and the character are so perfectly crafted. As a side note, if you don't know much about Jason Miller, the actor who portrayed Karras, his is an interesting story in it's own right. He was a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, among other things.

4) The classic. The one. The only. Night Of The Living Dead gripped audiences and changed the course of cinema history. That might sound a little hyperbolic. If you think so, consider this, Night Of The Living Dead was originally being shown as a Saturday matinee, basically for children, because that's when horror movies were being shown in 1968. If you haven't seen the film, I can tell you this much, the difference between the horror films which had been shown to kids in matinees then and what NOTLD was is the difference between Star Wars and Schindler's List. Both of those films are about saving people from oppressive regimes. One of them is light hearted, fantasy, the other is a grim, horrifying, and emotionally traumatic. Night Of The Living Dead got yanked from the matinee spot as soon as critics got their shot at it, as it should have. It then went on to become the first of the Midnight Movies, achieving cult status and establishing the idea that there was a population of people out there who specifically wanted to see films that were out of the mainstream. It's been placed in the Library of Congress National Film Registry as a film deemed "historically, culturally, or aesthetically important." This is serious horror. I also contend that without it, the independent film movement we all enjoy so much today either wouldn't exist or at the very least, wouldn't be something which could be accessed by people outside of the largest metropolitan areas. It's one of those rare films that changed everything. Here's the reason it makes the list of Halloween horror flicks: we're still celebrating Halloween. Horror films still make big, big money. We still get dressed up in costumes, put out jack-o-lanterns, give out candy and all of that stuff. Given the difference in what we know now scientifically, and where we are religiously (almost all of these customs date back to pre-Christianity), why the hell are we still doing these things? Night Of The Living Dead, the film and it's history are a better explanation for that than any sociology textbook could ever give. It's the tie between those ancient fears and our modern society and what they have in common. A bonafide masterpiece.

3) From the horrifyingly unsettling to the horrifyingly absurd. Dead Alive is one of Peter Jackson's (you know, that guy who made that trilogy for nerds and geeks called The Lord Of The Rings) early works. A.K.A Brain Dead, depending on where you live, this is often referred to, as the line on the poster says, as "the goriest fright film of all time". But, this is in no way a serious film. Dead Alive has more in common with The Three Stooges than it does Night Of The Living Dead. All of the gore in the film is meant to make you slap your forehead and exclaim "oh WHY?!", not make you wretch. It's fun stuff, and Brain Dead may have been a better name for the film because it is essentially brain dead. The only intent here is to make you laugh at how gloriously insane and gory this film actually is. Jackson uses some semblance of a plot about a monkey from Skull Island (oh yeah, he did that remake about the huge monkey as well) which is dragged back to New Zealand as a zoo attraction. Well, apparently anyone it bites becomes a flesh eating zombie. Our hero, on a clandestine date, finds his smothering mother has been following him when she's bitten by the ugliest simian you've ever seen. From there, things go downhill, and it's funny as hell. It's really fun stuff from a man who later proved himself to be a master film makers, and who horror fans are happy has shown he sure has a love for gore.

2) This film laid the groundwork for so many that followed, it's hard to leave it out of  any list of horror films. But, considering the general tone of the film, it fits here on a list of Halloween films. It's fun, kind of scary, kind of weird, experimental, and do it yourself, imaginative film making at it's best. Evil Dead 2 is as much Three Stooges as it is horror film, it's the #1 reason Bruce Campbell has become a cult hero, and it was the very first suggestion that Sam Raimi could possibly be a master film maker.  I saw this for the first time when I was probably fourteen or fifteen, and my reaction to it was, "I didn't know you could do that in a movie!" and not just in the sense of the incredible gore (because there's lots of it, again comedic in tone), but in the way the story is told and in the cinematography as well. There is a kind of kinetic quality to this film that is extremely rare. It just seems to be moving along at an incredible pace, that even when the on screen action slows down, it's either in service to the comedy or the suspenseful aspects of the film. This is just a great, fun, incredibly inventive film. 

1) There's a new king in town. As of this year, Halloween has a new favorite film for the season. Will I always love John Carpenter's Halloween? Yes. Will it always have a special place in my heart because it was one of my very first and longest lasting "favorite movies"? Absolutely. But, the thing about Trick 'r Treat is that it's an anthology, with every film being related to something that is directly related to so many of our different Halloween traditions. It's a lot of fun, extremely well made and the love for both this style of film and for the holiday itself are palpable in viewing the film. Like Paranormal Activity, this film made a big splash at the film festivals and got picked up by a larger studio, and sat on the shelf for two years. This didn't get released to theaters specifically because the studio was afraid to release it opposite any of the Saw films, which have ruled the Halloween box office for some six years now, possibly a seventh if this year continues the trend. I can't think of another film which is so specifically about Halloween, and which tells it's stories with such skill. In short, it gets the top spot for the combination of great content related to Halloween, and really good film making. Trick 'r Treat is the kind of film that needs more support and more attention from the masses. If you're of the mind that horror has become too focused on torture, degradation and lost it's eye for the fanciful and fantastic, this is perfect for you.


Thursday, October 15, 2009


The first thing you should probably know is that Zombieland is NOT A HORROR MOVIE. I say that with no intent of encouraging people not to see this film. In fact, I encourage you to see this film. And remember, I don't get a cent for telling you this. But Zombieland is without doubt, hilarious. It's a damned good movie.

Zombieland has already started getting compared to Shaun Of The Dead and tonally it is very much the same. But it's still a very different movie than Shaun Of The Dead. First of all, Shaun of the Dead didn't have Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, and that's a lot. I think most people forget that Harrelson came into the public consciousness by portraying Woody on Cheers. In case you're either too young or you were living at the bottom of a lake or something, and never saw it, he was hilarious. It seems that either because of his choices in roles or the occasional pieces written on him in gossip rags, people don't realize that the guy is extremely funny. Tallahassee is really the kind of role Harrelson is not only best in, but probably meant to be playing. It's a great, ass kicking, over the top, insane character with a huge heart. Tallahassee is the reverse of Shaun in Shaun Of The Dead.

Then you've got Jesse Eisenburg playing Columbus. Eisenburg got his big break in Roger Dodger, opposite Campbell Scott. Here, he's working opposite Harrelson, and it's really one of the best on screen duo's in a long time, right up there with Pegg  and Frost, of Shaun of the Dead. Eisenburg succeeds in making a character which could have been annoying into a really sympathetic character you root for and never fails to deliver on the laughs. He's an extremely talented young actor, and if his success continues, there are going to be some great roles and great chances to prove the strength of his talent. The rules of survival Columbus comes up with, and are the center of the narration in the beginning of the film, are hilarious. In showing his first romantic encounter the film is great in the balance it strikes between the truly hilarious and disgustingly unsettling. I don't think any of us are looking for our relationships to go where that one does.

Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin show up and really turn things on their heads. As two girls trying to survive in Zombieland, at all costs, they give our two protagonists quite a dilemma to deal with. They both give good performances and are the perfect foils to Harrelson's balls to the wall machismo and Eisenburg's scared of his own shadow nerd.

Let's also not pass up the fact that there are some really great effects in this film. The film makers came up with some new and inventive ways to dispatch zombies. It's no Dead Alive or Evil Dead, but there's no shortage of gore of in Zombieland either. Instead of being designed to turn your stomach, it's all played for laughs, and it's done extremely well.

Zombieland is more expansive than most of the other zombie films we've ever seen. It does a great job of really selling you the idea that it is an entire country now over run with zombies. Unlike most zombie films, the characters in this film are on the go, they're not holed up somewhere, fighting off the zombie hordes from within some position they've tried to fortify. As a fan of horror movies and zombie films, this was a refreshing change. Personally, I'm waiting for the zombie opus that shows the world disintegrating as the zombies take over, not just jumping immediately to the world which has already been taken over by zombies, but I guess I'll have to keep waiting or write it myself. The film makers did do a great job of designing and the world as it would be should it have been taken over by zombies. I probably appreciated this more than most people would, but I had to give them credit for it.

The short story on Zombieland is that it's extremely entertaining. Zombie films as a genre have had a long tradition of being extremely dark and deeply bleak. If you go back to Night Of The Living Dead, you're dealing with an extremely unsettling, nihilistic take on the state of human affairs, and with a few exceptions, that's been the standard. Zombieland will easily take it's place alongside the few zom-com's (as they're being called now) people really have a soft spot in their hearts for. It's a good film and deserves to be enjoyed and passed along from friend to friend just as it's predecessors, Shaun Of The Dead and Return Of The Living Dead have been.

You won't regret having spent the money on a ticket to see Zombieland, and considering the majority of films being released these days, that's saying a whole hell of a lot.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Paranormal Activity

In todays world, you can get a lot with $15,000. You can get an economy car, options stripped, of course. You can get a pretty damn nice motorcycle. In my case, you can get two pretty damn nice scooters. You can get an extremely nice home theater system. A week long vacation overseas could be done in style for that amount of money as well.

Last night, I learned you can also scare the holy hell out of an audience for $15,000. That was the budget for writer/director Oren Peli's terrifying feature debut.. I went to a 7:40 pm showing of Paranormal Activity in Georgetown, Maryland. Mind you, I live just outside Richmond Virginia. It's a two hour drive, under the best of conditions. Why would anyone in their right mind drive two hours to see a movie?

Well, that particular question doesn't take into account a few particular details. I make no claim to be of right mind, especially when it comes to a good movie, much less a good horror movie. I also have a friend attending law school in Washington DC, and any reason to go visit is a good one.

Under normal circumstances, that would basically explain it. But, the circumstances surrounding this little fright flick, have been anything but normal. If you click on the poster for Paranormal Activity and enlarge it to a size which makes the print big enough to read, you'll see the second line on the right hand side says, "Most frightening ghost story of 2007". No, it's not a misprint. Paranormal Activity was originally screened at film festivals in 2007, to an uproarious reaction from festival goers. The film community, especially the horror film community, were screaming, not only in the theaters, but the films praises at every opportunity. Dream Works, the production company Steven Spielberg is a partner in, bought the rights to the film back in 2007, with the intent of funding a bigger budget remake. Well, things with Dream Works and their distribution company, Paramount Studios, got rocky for a while, and a remake Paranormal Activity ended up getting shelved indefinitely. After all was said and done, and the dust had cleared, someone came to their senses and realized there was no rational reason to remake this little piece of low budget genius. Those of us who don't get to film festivals every year, and who are out here in the world pouring through articles and reviews on the internet, looking for a film which might just be a nugget of gold among the mountains of dung that are released to theaters, have been waiting two years for an opportunity to see Paranormal Activity. Driving two hours after a two year wait for any opportunity to see the film, is not much at all. It was worth the two hour drive, and the two year wait.

Now to the actual experience of seeing the movie. I have to tell you, there was some kind of street festival earlier in the day in Georgetown. I think it was the Georgetown Food Festival. And, if you've never been to Georgetown before (I'd never been until yesterday), it's streets have no shortage of bars, restaurants and high end shops of every variety. Given those facts, when the theater started filling up with people from their mid-thirties on down, I was a little worried. I really didn't drive two hours to see a film in a theater full of drunk or slightly toasted folks who were going  to be texting, talking on their cell phones or making some kind of stupid exclamations through the whole thing. There are some movies which are absolutely meant for audience participation, this summers My Bloody Valentine remake is a good example. Paranormal Activity isn't that kind of movie.

Maybe I was somewhat wrong about the crowd pouring in, but I don't think so, and you'll find out why a bit further on. Either way, it doesn't matter much, because throughout the entire film, especially in those moments of absolute silence in the film, you could have heard a pin drop in the theater. Dead silent. The entire audience, including myself, were completely engaged in the movie. It was slowly, steadily, patiently turning up the pressure on an audience which was absolutely riveted by each scene, and it was doing so with basically nothing. The only time anyone in that audience made any sound was when they were screaming and jumping out of their skin or making some breathless exclamation in direct, almost involuntary response to what they were seeing on the screen. If your not familiar with the plot, Paranormal Activity is about a young couple who move in together, at which time, they suspect something strange to be going on in their home. They get a video camera to attempt to catch some evidence of whatever it is that's happening at night when they go to sleep. It shares the same "found footage" idea as The Blair Witch, a film it's already being compared to. I think it's a poor comparison in more ways than not, if for no other reason than that I honestly believe Paranormal Activity is a vastly more effective film. With nothing at all, it produces so much more tension and suspense than not only The Blair Witch, but also the majority of other films out there, that the comparison just doesn't do the film justice. The Blair Witch was a good movie, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. But it's almost as if Oren Peli, the writer and director of Paranormal Activity had seen The Blair Witch and saiid, "Really? That's the best you can do with that concept? I'll show you something REALLY SCARY." And then goes on to do just that.

Peli did a few things with this film which were just great to see. First and foremost, he finds a way to explain away one of the most common problems people have with what are essentially haunted house films, "Why don't you people just get the hell out of that house and never, ever, ever, come back?" It's a common thing heard from people who may not dislike horror films, but find some of those kinds of details hard to get by in order to let the film take them on the ride it has in store for them. I'm not going to tell you how he does that, but I will tell you that if you're on board with the film and the story (which it is terribly hard not to be once it starts), it's a plausible explanation in the situation, and actually becomes central to the plot as the film moves forward.

One of the other absolutely incredible things about this film is how little Peli uses to send the audience over the edge into squirming, gasping, whispering, tension. There is not one CGI effect in this film. There is not one money shot of the horrible creature designed in a work shop, made out of latex, and covered in stage blood or some other kind of liquid meant to scare the audience. The most terrifying aspect of this film, bar none, is exactly all the things you can't see. All the film does from the first moment to the last frame, is feed your imagination more information about why you should be afraid, and gives ever increasing, almost completely unseen, evidence as to how scared you really should be. Paranormal Activity puts exactly what you are afraid is going on in the dark, in the dead of night, up on the screen and says, "You're right. It's there. And you not only should be scared, you should probably be more scared than you've ever thought to be." If you were ever a kid who was absolutely terrified of what was in your closet or under your bed, to the point that you wouldn't move in hopes that whatever it was wouldn't know you were awake and come to get you, you know the feelings Paranormal Activity induces. Adrenaline is produced when you watch this movie and let it take you where it's wants to. I walked out of the theater laughing like a loon because of the amount of adrenaline pumping through my veins. That is, for me, the sign of a truly successful fright flick. It was just bluntly effective. Take notice of the fact that I keep calling it either a "fright flick" or "scary movie". I do that because most people have an association of guts and gore with horror films, and that's one of the most common complaints I hear about them. This film has none of it. No gore, no guts, no blood. It's essentially bloodless, and it will scare the living crap out of you.

Another of the things impressive to me about this movie is it's economical use of not only it's monetary resources, but also it's intangible resources. There's no fat on it. It never provides too much information, it never goes over board with the interactions between the couple or anything else. It's always just enough to ratchet up the tension a little bit more than the last scene. It's always just enough information about the characters to keep you interested in them, empathizing with them, and caring about what's happening to them. It never steps over the line to where you all of a sudden find yourself sitting there, thinking about the fact that you're watching a movie, because something you were just shown or just heard seems like something which only ever happens in the movies. The degree of economy and the success of that aspect of the film is something you rarely see from first time film makers. If Oren Peli can produce, with any regularity, films even close to the degree of success Paranormal Activity achieves toward it's goal, he is going to be everything so many people in the film industry and the community of people who love film hoped M. Night Shymalan would be.

The last piece of the what makes Paranormal Activity a truly above average, possibly even great film, is the performances. This is the kind of script which shares the qualities of films which have been adapted from small plays. There are a total of four characters who appear on screen through the entire film. Two of them, the couple who are being terrorized by the unseen force in their home, are on screen for the entire film. If we don't buy their performances, the film sinks, frankly it crashes and it's inexorably boring. But you do buy their performances, and more than that, you genuinely like them, feel for them and identify with them in many, many ways. You've had conversations like those. There's a good chance you know people very much like them. And even as the events in the house get more bizarre and terrifying, you're with them every step. There's never a moment during the film in which you feel like they are doing or saying anything disingenuous. Some of that is the script, certainly, but most of it is the strength of the performances. Like the rest of the film, their performances are perfectly pitched. When they're terrified, they're not too terrified, and I never had that thought, as I do often in horror films, "You are just not understanding the depth of shit you are in." Even as that's an early part of the story, and you understand why one of them isn't completely serious about what's going on, you can completely understand why, even if you would be taking it more seriously, you know a lot of people who wouldn't. I can't really give enough credit to Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat for how uncinematic their acting really is in this film, and I mean that as one of the highest compliments I could possibly give. There are moments in the film which many actors would recognize as extremely meaty, the kinds of things which can really help give an actor a reputation for possessing gravitas. Not once do you get that feeling while you're watching these two at work together. I'd shake their hands if I could, because if that weren't the case, the entire film would be absolutely silly non-sense, and it's not, for even once second.

When the film ended, and the screen went black following the last shot. For a minute there was dead, stunned silence in the theater, and with a black screen looming over all of us, the lights yet to go up, a girl somewhere down toward the front said, "Oh... We gotta go!" It was in no way something said in an attempt to be rowdy and funny, but an honest expression that if that's not the end, and something else pops up on the screen, I don't think I can take it. A second or so later, someone put their hand in front of the projector, and the theater erupted in screams........... from the shadow of a hand on a black screen. That's the kind of effect Paranormal Activity has on the audience. A friend of mine once commented that when it comes to horror films, you don't go looking for nuggets of gold, you go looking for flecks of color. More often than not, that's what you get, flecks of color. Sometimes though, you grab for that fleck of color and realize it's a nugget of gold. Paranormal Activity is one of those nuggets of gold, which spent two years buried in the mountain of muck, mud and crap that is the Hollywood studio machine, and I'm damned glad we finally got chance to find out it isn't just another polished fleck of color being hawked by a snake oil salesman. It's the real deal.

As of next weekend, Paranormal Activity is going to be released nationwide due to the demand it's gotten from movie goers nationwide. I don't care about Paramount's marketing plan, people did well to demand it, and will be well served by seeing it. Don't let the marketing or the hype get in the way, this film is better than all of that. There have been two films since the beginning of the summer which absolutely benefit from being seen in a theater. The first was Drag Me To Hell, because of it's purely cinematic quality. The second is this one, because it should be seen with an audience. If you have even a passing interest in scary movies, if you enjoy them at all, you owe it to yourself to see this film in theaters, with a big audience. And SOON!