17 October 2010

Fright Fest: Somethings at my window

What would a Halloween movie marathon be without things that go bump in the night? Monster's of all shapes and sizes have been terrifying us for decades. Personally, these are my favorite kinds of horror movies. Give me vampires, werewolves, satanic dolls, clowns, zombies, and the genetically altered any day!

"Dog Soldiers" - Neil Marhsal ("The Descent", "Centurion") makes his directorial debut in this tale of werewolves deep in the Scottish Highlands. On a routine training mission, a group of soldiers (what's up Kevin McKidd!) discover the mangled corpses of another battalion. Soon they are being hunted by whatever killed their comrades, so they high jack a small cottage in the woods.

A few years ago my Dad called me to talk about a movie he had seen. All he could remember was that it was Scottish, had werewolves, and was awesome. Cue a few months later and he's figured it out and bought this movie for me. Wow, was he right! Marshal has a tight script that kept me enthralled from beginning to end. The pacing is steady and the twist at the end seems to come out from left field (you may figure it out just before it's revealed, but nothing will be lost). I highlight this film as another reason CGI should be used only in extreme circumstances. The practical FX here are more terrifying and bloody because they are real. If you haven't seen this movie, queue it up immediately!

"An American Werewolf in London" - see my review here

"Ginger Snaps" - Everyone knows being a teenager sucks, and we all know now how easy we actually had it back then. So, what would happen if you were attacked in the woods while staging your own death photography and discovered come next full moon you were going to turn furry? It would certainly put a crimp in your social calendar.

One thing I really miss about video stores is the ability to wonder the aisles for hours, looking for things you've never heard of, being attracted to cover art. Sure, we can do that on Netflix, kind of; but it's not the same. I discovered this movie in Blockbuster and probably would have scrolled right past it online. Oh Canada, I heart your eccentric ways. Is this a movie about pubescence? Is it about family and the power of sisterhood (that's my guess)? Or, is it simply a vicious werewolf film with a high body count and gallons of blood? Actually, can I change my guess? I think a major reason I loved this movie was because I could identify. I too was the weird goth/punk chick in school. I was the kid who wrote a paper about medical autopsy for English. I was the girl who's parents were called when she designed an ad in Economics using a dominatrix. Come on, sex sells! So, a story with two goth-y chicks trying to keep their sanity and talk to boys is right up my ally. Don't be frightened guys, there's plenty of blood, guts, and pot to keep you interested too. Another practical FX masterpiece.

"Near Dark" - Before she became the first woman to win a directorial Oscar, Kathryn Bigelow helmed this ode to vampires and outsiders in 1987. Starring Adrian Pasdar (whatever happened to him?), Lance Henriksen (always a good sign), and Bill Paxton (good sign #2!). Pasdar gets seduced by this hot young thing into joining her gang but of course this is no typical band of misfits. They have a secret and a hungry thirst.

This movie is great for all the right reasons. It is atypically 80s and it's gory. There are some serious prosthetics going on here. It has been recently remastered and released on DVD so get crackin!

"Slither" - Equal parts camp and disgusting FX, Slither turns the classic zombie picture on its head. Alien slugs infect a small town, turning the residents into ooey gooey zombies in this homage to B-horror by James Gunn (writer of "Dawn of the Dead" 2004).

All I needed to know to see this movie was it starred Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker. Sold! I literally fell out of my seat in the theatre laughing ("That looks like something that fell off my dick in the war"), then covered my eyes a moment later.

"Puppet Master" - A psychotic puppeteer turns his life's work into demonic killers who end up stalking and killing a group of psychic's trapped in an old hotel. Original spawned a series (9 by last count) that are still produced today.

As a child, dolls freaked the shit out of me. Sure I had plenty of Barbie's, but I kept them locked up for fear they would come to life at night and exact their tiny plastic revenge on me. I made my sister turn her porcelain doll around at night so it wouldn't look at me. Is it any wonder that the Puppet Master series freaked me out? I love movies that take the seemingly innocent toys of our youth and turn them into killing machines. Throw in some "ancient Egyptian magic" and I'm there.

"Mimic" - Sexy etymologist Mira Sorvino (the curse of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar strikes again!) accidentally creates a race of larger than life bugs that terrorize Manhattan. The great Guillermo del Toro directs in his English language debut based on a story by Donald A. Wollheim.

The aesthetic we've come to crave from del Toro gets its start here. Dark tunnels, wide shots, great lighting, and awesome FX are used to amp up what could have been a complete crapper of a movie. Much better than "The Relic" which came out at the same time in terms of style and horror factor. (I don't hate "The Relic", heck I own it and thought the book was great; but is it scary? Not hardly). PS- Jeremy Northam should be in more things.

"Alien" & "Aliens" Double Feature- Ridley Scott and James Cameron take us to the depths of the universe in two of the scariest movies ever made. I feel a little silly giving a synopsis of these classics but here goes: Sigourney Weaver, in her first leading role, stars as Ripley; an officer on a towing ship headed to Earth. Awoken from cryogenic sleep early to answer a distress call (when will people learn?), the crew find their ship taken over by angry bloodthirsty aliens of the nastiest kind. In "Aliens", Ripley finds she is the laughing stock of the intergalactic community over her account of what happened to her crew. All that changes when another crew goes missing and she leads a team of Marines (Bill Paxton again!!) in to investigate.

In a perfect world I would be the owner of the "Alien Quadrilogy": 9 discs of movies, making of features, and behind the scenes. Oh, to live in that world. Instead, I have a VHS copy of "Alien" with "Aliens" inside. Damned used book store! Not to worry, these movies have been on TV all month. I know it's sacrilegious to say, but I liked "Aliens" better. I can't remember when I first saw these movies, but it must have been on TV. My mother would NOT have approved of my seeing them so young, but I think I must have been 10 or 12. I promis this will be the last time I talk about practical FX (in this post), but CGI heavy movies don't hold up well over time. We can see that it's fake. I hate that flat shine everything seems to have. A huge 9 ft alien queen is a lot scarier.

[side note: There was a travelling movie FX show I saw at the Dallas Fair Grounds when I was a pre-teen. They had one of the adult aliens and the lifter rig (seriously, what is that? Someone help me out) that Ripley uses to push the alien out the air lock. There was also the werewolf head from "An American Werewolf in London" that grew hair, Norman Bates' mom, and more. I wish I could remember more about this exhibit. I want to see it again!]

"Dawn of the Dead" - Zack Snyder ("300"- groan, "Watchmen"- yea!) pumps blood into Romero's legacy with his remake of the 1978 classic. Zombies are taking over the US and a group of survivors try to stick it out in a mall. Sounds great, except the zombies have a little shopping to do.

When I first heard they were remaking Romero's classic, I was disgusted. Then the cast list came out and I was intrigued (Sarah Polley? Really?). Finally, I saw a trailer and was sold. Romero may be the grandfather of zombie entertainment, but Snyder recognizes that and instead creates a solid update for the ADD generation. Here the zombies are faster (but just as dumb thank god), and the survivors are still idiots trapped in a shopping mall (how long before you hit up the sporting goods store?). Do you have your zombie escape plan in effect?

"28 Days Later" - A refreshing take on zombies, this one started by a PETA-esque troop who unleash a deadly virus into the world while trying to save monkeys from genetic testing. Cut to Cillian Murphy (can he be in everything too?) waking up in a hospital bed alone. The whole place is deserted and we (the audience) are now cast as fellow travellers as we troll the streets of London looking for survivors and answers. Later, an oasis has been found, but is it everything it claims to be?

What can Danny Boyle not do? He's covered moral and ethical questions ("Shallow Grave"- really great), druggie culture ("Trainspotting"), fresh family fare ("Millions"), and won an Oscar for "Slumdog Millionaire". Seems only right that he should have his toe or hell his whole foot, in the horror/sci-fi arena. "28 Days Later" shifts the focus from a lone survivor to a group of nomads to the corrupt military, all the while making a paean to human nature verses human desire.

"Hellraiser" - I think we can all agree, Cliver Barker is a demented genius. I totally want to hang out with him. Here he directs his own work about an unfaithful wife haunted by her former lover (and her husbands brother) who has lost his corporeal body to the Cenobites who want him for their own twisted fun. A mysterious puzzle box is the key to unlocking Hell and bringing the Cenobites to Earth. Spawning a series (8 by last count) that should primarily be avoided, this first film holds up well with time and and is still disgusting and twisted. Sure to give nightmares to young ones, infirm, and adulterers.

Oh Pinhead... how I love your deadpan ways. When they replaced our beloved Cenobites in the 3rd installment they lost me. Is a guy with a boom box head that spits CDs supposed to be scary or funny? Either way you should avoid it. The torture scenes between Pinhead & co and their human victims are inspired. I don't mean that in a creepy you-should -call-the-cops way, but more in a hey-does-this-remind-you-of-"Saw"? kind of way.

See Also: Child's Play, Dolls, IT, The Howling, Wolfen, The Hunger, Piranha, The Blob, It's Alive, Pumpkinhead, Skinwalkers (it's so bad it's good), and Meet the Applegates (not a horror movie per se, but giant Amazonian bugs disguised as people is hilarious),

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