Due to my extremely busy social diary (read: laziness) taking up the majority of my time, I’ve not written, well, anything lately – so until I get my ass into gear, here’s some stuff that featured on a blog I once ran. I’ll try to get something new up ASAP. But, uh, yeah, don’t hold your breath.
Halloween II (2009)
Grindhouse meets arthouse in Rob Zombie’s second assault on the Halloween series, a continuation of the metal mosher’s critically riled 2007 remake that blends the raw brutality of his earlier pics with lashings of Lynch-lite surrealism. “I know he’s not gonna come back just because of some stupid holiday,” declares a bedraggled, strung-out-looking Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) during a session with her shrink (an equally unkempt Margot Kidder). Sorry to break it to ya, Laurie, but big bro’s already on his way home. Much like Zombie’s first foray into sequeldom (The Devil’s Rejects), H2 severs all ties with its predecessor and spins off in its own wild, unpredictable direction. Zombie’s relentless fixation on Ms. Strode’s mental disarray lends a fair amount of dramatic depth to the narrative, while gorgeous fantasy sequences starring snowy cemeteries, pumpkin-headed demons and a spectral Ma Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) provide plenty of eerie eye candy. As a filmmaker, Zombie hasn’t quite mastered the art of suspense yet, and he should give it a rest with the hillbilly caricatures, but this bizarre, imaginative flick cements his place as one of modern horror cinema’s most daring auteurs.
Saved from mediocrity by compelling leads and a bonkers twist ending that shouldn’t work but does, this killer-kid frightener from Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax) sees tween orphan Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) charming the pants off her new parents (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) – then scaring the bejesus out of them, big style. Orphan leaves no cliché unturned – the playground bully who gets her just deserts, the nonchalant husband who’s convinced there must be a logical explanation, the frozen pond that’s bound to be play a part in somebody’s demise – but it’s occasionally quite funny (on purpose) and the OTT scares are handled with morbid aplomb. Its real saving grace, though, is Farmiga, whose heartwrenching performance is far better than the material deserves.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
With the exception of dreary supernatural spooker The Gift, Sam Raimi’s output has been virtually horror-free since he brought his iconic Evil Dead series to a close with Army of Darkness back in ’92. The insanely successful Spider-Man franchise may have catapulted him into the mainstream, but fear not: Raimi’s latest proves he can still deliver the gross-out goods – and then some. Whilst competing for a promotion at work, an ambitious loan officer (winsome, wide-eyed Alison Lohman) falls victim to an ancient curse – which promises to claim her soul in three days’ time – after refusing creepy old crone Lorna Raver an extension on her mortgage. It’s pure, unadulterated nonsense, but the beauty of Drag Me to Hell lies in its masterful execution: whether he’s hurling mud, maggots and goodness knows what at poor Lohman, or going completely overboard with insane camerawork and Looney Tunes-style violence, Raimi (clearly having the most fun he’s had in years) orchestrates every mad, mischievous minute with sly ingenuity and furious enthusiasm. Forget remakes, ripoffs and Saw sequels – this fiercely entertaining fright flick is the real McCoy. Welcome back, Sam. We missed you.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Easily offended by sex, violence or cursing clowns? Then avoid The Devil’s Rejects – Rob Zombie’s sort-of sequel to his 2003 debut, House of 1000 Corpses – like the plague. This time around, the deranged Firefly clan take off on a cross-country killing spree after a vigilante sheriff (William Forsythe) comes-a-gunnin’ at their farmhouse of horrors. Dirtier and deadlier than its psychedelic sibling, this bloodstained blend of Badlands, Bonnie and Clyde and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre feels like some long-lost ’70s exploitation pic, complete with crude visuals, Southern-fried soundtrack and wicked helpings of humour. If you thought your family was messed up, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Haunting (1999)
This frivolous adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House is visually impressive, but the pure psychological terror contained in Shirley Jackson’s novel (and the original 1963 film version) is nowhere to be found. Thinking they’ve been invited to the extraordinary Hill House to partake in a study of insomnia, sleep-deprived guinea pigs Lili Taylor, Owen Wilson and Catherine Zeta-Jones soon realize that group leader Dr. Marrow (Liam Neeson) has ulterior motives. A prime example of style over substance, The Haunting snubs restraint for enormous sets and CG wizardry, and the dialogue raises frequent giggles. Jan de Bont (Speed) orchestrates some decent scares, however, and there’s something almost endearing about the sheer, brazen exeuberance of it all.
The Hitcher (1986)
“My mother told me never to do this!” jokes San Diego-bound Jim (C. Thomas Howell) as he picks up a hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) during a thunderstorm. Moments later, his passenger is waving a knife and making disquieting chitchat (“Any idea how much blood jets out of a guy’s neck when his throat’s been slit?”) Fortunately, Howell manages to shove him out of the car, but the nightmare is far from over. Thoroughly deserving of its cult status, this taut psychological thriller boasts plenty of action, an eerily beautiful desert setting – as seen through John Seale’s stark cinematography – and a seriously scary Hauer, whose cunning villain could rival Dr. Lecter in the psycho stakes. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
The makers of a late-night reality TV show find themselves trapped in a quarantined apartment block full of flesh-hungry stiffs in this pant-wettingly scary Spanish shocker. After a gentle prologue in which cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) and presenter Angela (Manuela Velasco) document the rather mundane goings-on at a Barcelona fire station, [Rec] kicks spectacularly into gear – and keeps on kicking until the very last frame. Captured in real time through a single handheld camera, the unfolding events feel distressingly authentic, and whilst comparisons to Blair Witch and 28 Days Later are inevitable, co-directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza have assembled a lean, mean fright machine that’s every bit as effective. Nail nibblers: approach with caution.
The Abandoned (2006)
A word of advice: if a complete stranger phones to say that you’ve inherited a creepy old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, hang up and stay the hell away! That’s exactly what Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille) should have done; alas, she hops on a plane to Russia – her homeland – to check it out. Tsk. Has she never seen a scary movie? Lo and behold, it isn’t long before she’s wandering around the derelict crib, flashlight in hand, discovering unnerving truths about her past. It’s as familiar as it sounds, but The Abandoned has more to offer than mere clichés: Spanish filmmaker Nacho Cerdà knows a thing or two about atmosphere, and ensures there’s bucket loads in every scene; the grey-green cinematography (courtesy of Xavi Giménez – The Machinist) is impeccable; and it’s a welcome relief to see a heroine who’s over the age of thirty – and resourceful to boot. It doesn’t really get going until the final act, and the script tends to raise more questions than it answers – but if dark cellars, creaky floorboards and whistling winds are your bag, The Abandoned should give you something to scream about.
The Omen (2006)
Anyone who’s seen the The Omen (the ’76 version, that is) needn’t bother sitting through John Moore’s superfluous remake; narratively, it’s a carbon copy, but it lacks the graceful delivery of its source material – not to mention the gargantuan scares and electrifying Jerry Goldsmith score. Liev Schreiber steps into Gregory Peck’s shoes as hotshot diplomat Robert Thorn, who relocates to London with wife Katherine (Julia Stiles) and son Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) upon being appointed U.S. Ambassador to England. He finds himself in one hell of a predicament, though, when a priest claims that six-year-old Damien is the spawn of Satan. Despite lashings of post-millennial gloss, the new Omen feels frightfully stale, and the majority of the players are miscast; especially Davey-Fitzpatrick, whose pint-sized Antichrist is about as intimidating as a bowl of Cheerios. Go watch the original again instead.
The Forgotten (2004)
When every trace of her son’s existence vanishes – fourteen months after he allegedly passed away – Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) sets out to prove that he isn’t just a figment of her imagination, as claimed by her husband and therapist. It’s a great setup, but what starts as an intriguing psychological thriller soon dwindles into second-rate sci-fi hokum – at times it’s like watching a really rubbish X-Files episode, sans Mulder and Scully. There are some tepid scares courtesy of veteran B-horror director Joseph Ruben (The Stepfather, Sleeping With the Enemy), and the autumnal visuals are a treat; but Gerald Di Pego’s script is too vague to make any real sense, and the talented cast is wasted.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Perhaps the most talked-about film event of 1999, The Blair Witch Project revolutionized movie marketing and reinvigorated the horror genre, whilst becoming the most profitable independent pic of all time. Slicker and more expensive, BW2 isn’t anywhere near as chillingly effective as its predecessor. Give it a chance, though, and it may just surprise you. In the wake of Witch’s release, a group of thrill-seekers on a guided tour of Burkittsville, Maryland set up camp in the town’s now-famous woods; but a nights’ worth of booze and dope marks the beginning of some seriously crazy goings-on. Whilst it refers to the first film as “just a movie” and touches upon the “Blair Witch mania” that swept the world in ’99, Book of Shadows is more concerned with atmosphere and imagery than sly Scream-style knowingness. The disjointed narrative – chronology takes a backseat to macabre ambiguity for the most part – won’t be to everybody’s taste, and it’s a shame the acting isn’t always up to scratch; but this is still far superior to the average horror sequel.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Stylish, absorbing, and laced with dread, The Ninth Gate is everything you’d expect from the man who gave us Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, a cynical, chain-smoking New York ‘book detective’ who’s hired by millionaire demonology expert Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to authenticate his copy of “The Nine Gates”, an ancient work which, legend has it, was partially penned by Lucifer himself. But Corso’s assignment – which takes him to Portugal and France to obtain the two other existing copies – isn’t nearly as straightforward as expected. Based on Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s acclaimed bestseller, El Club Dumas, this deft blend of neo-noir and occult horror boasts stunning locations and a delectably deadpan Depp. The story’s ambiguity may rile some viewers (what on earth is going on in those final frames?), but Polanski’s typically sumptuous camerawork, an incredible score by Wojciech Kilar, and atmosphere so thick you could slice it make Gate compulsive viewing from start to finish.
The Dark (2006)
In desperate need of a vacation, Maria Bello and daughter Sarah (Sophie Stuckey) flee to Wales to visit estranged hubbie/daddy Sean Bean at his remote farmhouse. But a bizarre chain of events unfolds when Sarah disappears on a local beach and a ghost girl bearing a striking resemblance to her shows up. Whilst it borrows heavily from such films as The Ring and The Wicker Man, The Dark has enough interesting ideas up its sleeve to stand on its own feet. Ginger Snaps director John Fawcett makes the most of the arresting scenery – much of the film was lensed on the Isle of Man – whilst milking dread from a succession of creepy set pieces, and Bello does a great job as usual. Flashbacks disclosing mother and daughter’s turbulent home life are an awkward distraction, and it all gets a tad confusing once the story veers off into ‘twist’ territory; but this bleak, haunting pic will impress those in search of an alternative to the usual cheap schlock.
The Cave (2005)
“They fly! They freakin’ fly!” yells Piper Perabo, clinging for dear life to a cave wall as a winged beast swoops in for the kill. It’s a ridiculous scene, but this formulaic fusion of Alien, The Abyss and Pitch Black just about gets away with it. In the ruins of an ancient abbey, a group of scientists uncover a subterranean network of caves; but when an explosion leaves them trapped, they fall prey to a pack of carnivorous creatures. There’s a few things to admire about The Cave: a lavishly convincing set and some decent underwater photography for instance. Less rousing are the déjà vu scripting, leaden performances and, surprisingly, the monsters themselves, which are kept offscreen for the most part and appear only in brief, shaky-cam snippets. There’s also none of the intense claustrophobia one would associate with this kind of setup (think The Descent); a problem which diminishes the scare factor considerably. That said, The Cave is still a mildly diverting bit of creature feature fluff – if you’re into that kinda thing.
Hatchet may look like any other assembly-line slasher, but don’t let that fool you: writer/director Adam Green has crafted a film so riotously entertaining, it’s scary. When a group of tourists looking for adventure in New Orleans hop aboard a ‘haunted swamp’ tour boat, they become the unwitting prey of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), a deformed madman thought to have perished in a fire years previously. Sure, it’s not the most original setup, but Green isn’t afraid to poke fun at the clichés, and the gore scenes are deliciously gross. There’s no real suspense; just the requisite smattering of “boo” scares. But this is still a highly efficient horror film: goofy, gooey, and oh-so-’80s, Hatchet lives up to the hype.
Silent Hill (2006)
Hot on the heels of Tomb Raider, Resident Evil and Doom, TriStar’s big-screen version of the wildly popular Silent Hill videogame series doesn’t quite qualify as standalone entertainment, but it’s still the best game-to-film adaptation to date. In a bid to root out the cause of daughter Sharon’s recurring nightmares, Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) flees to the West Virginia town of Silent Hill; a place Sharon mentions only in her sleep, which we learn was evacuated decades ago in the wake of a violent mine fire. But events take a menacing turn when Rose finds herself at war with the town’s oddball inhabitants. As a fiendish feast for the eyes and ears, Silent Hill is nothing less than exemplary: desolate, fog-filled landscapes ooze permanent, disquieting dread, while clever sound design renders some astonishing scares. Proceedings are partly undermined by stiff dialogue and a sluggish subplot involving Rose’s husband (a reliably dull Sean Bean), but Mitchell holds her own as the hapless heroine, and fans of the games will devour every twisted drop.
Paradise Lost (2007)
Six young adventure-seekers get more than they bargained for when they go backpacking through Brazil in this sporadically effective Hostel wannabe. After a nail-biting start which sees a decrepit tour bus careen off a mountain road, things mellow out when the aforementioned hotties stumble upon a secluded beach, where scantily dressed locals ply them with booze and promises of a good time. But the party turns predictably sour when the naïve travellers awake the next morning to find their cash, clothes and passports have been stolen. Desperate for help, they venture into the nearby jungle, where a fate too terrifying to imagine awaits. Though it comes excruciatingly close on a couple of occasions, Paradise Lost isn’t quite as sadistic as some of the recent “torture porn” horrors; what sets it apart are a handful of truly suspenseful sequences (an underwater pursuit proves particularly unnerving) and some striking cinematography. Forgettable, but fun while it lasts.
Dead Silence (2007)
Saw creator James Wan ditches the gory shenanigans of his debut for an altogether more traditional type of horror tale. When Jamie’s (Ryan Kwanten) wife dies just moments after an old ventriloquist dummy arrives on their doorstep, he takes matters into his own hands by returning to his hometown – after uncovering a clue on the anonymous gift – to do a spot of detective work. Along the way he learns of Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), a renowned ventriloquist who, accused of a young child’s brutal murder, was executed by an army of vengeful townsfolk decades earlier. Since then, various members of the community – all relatives of those involved in Shaw’s demise – have met abhorrently grisly fates; could it possibly be the work of Mary’s enraged, revenge-seeking spirit? Well, duh. Dutifully indebted to the black-and-white horrors of Universal’s golden era, Silence offers creative sound design and handsome sets, but bland central performances and a useless final twist fail to impress. Still, based on this and his (admittedly superior) first feature, Wan’s future in the genre looks bright.
Fright fans spat feathers when it was announced that hard rock icon turned horror filmmaker Rob Zombie had been hired by Dimension Films to write and direct a ‘reimagining’ of John Carpenter’s seminal ‘70s slasher. Well, it turns out that Zombie’s version is more of a prequel than a straightforward rehash – and it’s (arguably) the best instalment this franchise has seen in ages. Like a white trash Wonder Years, Halloween ’07 focuses first on a pre-pubescent Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch), whose descent into psychosis – the result of rigorous bullying at the hands of a cruel stepfather and abusive classmates – triggers a murderous impulse that leads to a brutal killing spree. Myers’ incarceration at Smith’s Grove comes next: here we watch Michael interact with his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, filling Donald Pleasance’s iconic shoes), before fast-forwarding seventeen years to the inevitable escape of adult Myers (Tyler Mane) from the sanitarium. It’s at this point that Zombie shifts into full-on remake mode, introducing us to high schooler Laurie Strode (JLC replacement Scout Taylor-Compton) and her gang of girlfriends, who find themselves at the wrong end of a kitchen knife when Myers returns to his hometown to continue his rampage. This Halloween swaps the composed elegance of its forefather for sheer exorbitance, and purists are bound to be appalled by the script’s reckless demystification of their beloved boogeyman; but there are plenty of decent scares along the way, and kudos to Zombie for putting his own unique stamp on the well-worn material.
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)
Fans of Deep Blue Sea, The Relic or, heck, even the awful Anaconda will surely enjoy this silly sequel, which throws a team of curiously good-looking scientists into the jungles of Borneo to seek out a rare plant; the orchid of the title, and the alleged “pharmaceutical equivalent to the fountain of youth” (no, seriously). Events take a venomous turn, however, when our protagonists find themselves at the bottom of the food chain courtesy of a bunch of unusually exertive anacondas. Wearing its bargain-bin lineage firmly on its scales, Anacondas manages to be ever so slightly better than its craptacular counterpart, thanks to a modest dollop of action-adventure (one setpiece involving a ramshackle boat and a waterfall is an exhilarating highlight) and a crafty line-up of critters: spiders, leeches and even a bad-tempered croc are unleashed before the fork-tongued fiends rear their unmistakably CG’d heads.
Thir13en Ghosts (2001)
The, uh, imaginatively spelt title is by far the most original aspect of Thir13en Ghosts, an overblown redo of William Castle’s campy ’60s scarefest in which broke dad-of-two Tony Shalhoub inherits one helluva haunted house from his nefarious uncle (F. Murray Abraham). Dark Castle – the production company founded by Robert Zemekis and Joel Silver – did a reasonable job of recycling another of the late director’s works (House on Haunted Hill), so it’s a shame their second endeavour is such a waste of time. Admittedly, Ghosts features splendid set design and makeup work, but any kind of suspense is squandered by slapdash pacing and noisy, impetuous camerawork. And the less said about the acting (drab) and dialogue (Scooby-Doo level), the better.