Friday, October 31, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Zodiac (2007) ****

R, 157 min.
Director: David Fincher
Writers: James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith (book)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Chloë Sevigny, Dermot Mulroney, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Philip Baker Hall, Zach Grenier, John Terry, Adam Goldberg, Clea Duvall, James Le Gros, Charles Fleischer, Jimmi Simpson, Patrick Scott Lewis, Pell James, Ciara Hughes, Lee Norris, Ione Skye

David Fincher’s “Zodiac” seems to be the moment in his career when he transcended all that had come before and entered a new era of his work. I don’t know if it’s because everything he’s done since “Zodiac” has been based on a book, or if he just broadened his scope in terms of depth and drama. But, “Zodiac” was certainly the start of a new phase in Fincher’s career.

What makes “Zodiac” such a powerful film is the way it captures how the investigation of the zodiac killer disintegrated after years of mistakes, lack of coordination, and just plain bafflement. It also parallels the obsession that drives a serial murder with those of the cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who was not part of either the law enforcement investigation or the journalistic one, but was responsible for the book upon which the film is based. The dramatic rewards, however, are not what concern me on this Halloween evening. I’m more interested in the horror aspects of the movie.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Black Sabbath (1963) ***

UR, 92 min.
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato, Anton Chekov (story “The Drop of Water”), F.G. Snyder (story “The Telephone”), Aleksei Tolstoy (novelette “Sem’ya vurdalaka”)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Jacqueline Pierreux, Milly Monti, Michèle Mercier, Lydia Alfonsi, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi, Rica Dialina, Glauco Onorato

The anthology format is one that seems to fit horror better than any other genre. I was quite surprised to find that Italian maestro Mario Bava had directed an entire anthology film. Filmed after Bava had moved into the color film format, it’s a good place to see the roots of the Italian horror movement’s signature look where lighting gels are used heavily to influence the atmosphere and moods of the most tense horror sequences.

Hosted by Boris Karloff, the movie tells three tales from short story sources. Almost as surprising as seeing Boris Karloff in a hosting role is learning that one of the tales is based on a short story by Anton Chekov and another is taken from a novelette by Aleksei Tolstoy. After seeing the movie, I’d be very interested in reading some horror by either of these literary masters.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—A Haunted House (2013) *½

R, 86 min.
Director: Michael Tiddes
Writers: Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez
Starring: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Marlene Forte, David Koechner, Dave Sheridan, Nick Swardson, Alanna Ubach, Andrew Daly, Cedric the Entertainer, Affion Crockett, J.B. Smoove, Robin Thede, Jordenn Thompson

The art of the spoof is a delicate art indeed. The Wayans family has long been some of the few who could actually pull one off. They know what works and what doesn’t in terms of structure, but the success rate is still very low, even if you know what you’re doing. Marlon Wayans’  “A Haunted House” is a send up of the recent surge in found footage horror movies sparked by the success of the original “Paranormal Activity”.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Signal (2014) ***

PG-13, 97 min.
Director: William Eubank
Writers: Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank, David Frigerio
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne

The last movie called “The Signal” that I watched for Horrorfest is one of the better zombie movies out there. This “Signal” is a very different one than in that film, however. This time instead of some sort of broadcast signal that turns people into mad savages, this signal is from an IP address used by a hacker, who lures three unsuspecting MIT students out into the American southwestern desert. The hacker’s purpose and identity provide the movie’s twist in a story that isn’t entirely original, but is well told here.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Walking Dead, season 4 (2013-2014) ****

TV-MA, 16 45-min. episodes
Developer: Frank Darabont

Directors: Greg Nicotero, Guy Furland, Dan Sackheim, Tricia Brock, David Boyd, Michael Uppendahl, Jeremy Podeswa, Ernest Dickerson, Seith Mann, Julius Ramsay, Michael E. Satrazemis, Michelle Maclaren

Writers: Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman (also graphic novels), Tony Moore (graphic novels), Charlie Adlard (graphic novels), Scott M. Gimple, Angela Kang, Matthew Negrete, Channing Powell, Nichole Beattie, Curtis Gwinn, Seth Hoffman,

Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohen, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson, Emily Kinney, Chad L. Coleman, Sonequa Martin-Green, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Alanna Masterson

Guest starring: Melissa Ponzio, Kerry Condon, Kyle Gallner, Vincent Martella, Sunkirsh Bala, Brighton Sharbino, Robin Lord Taylor, David Morrissey, Audrey Marie Anderson, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Meyrick Murphy, Kirk Acevedo, Enver Gjokaj, Kyla Kenedy, Juliana Harkavy, Sherry Richards, Aldis Hodge, Brendan Fobbs, Michael Cudlitz, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeff Kober, Marcus Hester, Denise Crosby, Andrew J. West

What could’ve been the season where “The Walking Dead” jumped the shark, the show runners pulled back on where they were headed and brought the series back to the basics of the zombie genre. Things got heated in season three with the introduction of The Governor, which was an interesting line of exploration but took focus away from what the zombie analogy is really about. Characters skittered on the edge of betraying everything they were about, but season four focused them in a deliberate manner.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ZAM Review—World War Z: Unrated Version (2013) **

This review was originally written for and published in Zombie Apocalypse Monthly.

UR, 122 min.
Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, J. Michael Straczynski, Max Brooks (novel)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kurtesz, James Badge Dale, Ludi Boeken, Fana Mokoena, David Morse, Matthew Fox, Peter Capaldi, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ruth Negga, Mortiz Bleibtreu, Sterling Jerins, Abigail Hargrove

In the year since the theatrical release of Brad Pitt’s big screen adaptation of Max Brooks’ zombie apocalypse fictionalized history novel “World War Z”, the general consensus on the film version has been that of disappointment. This is despite the fact that the film grossed over $200 million in the U.S. theatrically after an expensive reshoot of the film’s original ending. In fact, it was more like a reshoot of the entire last act of the film, which was totally rewritten.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) *

R, 86 min.
Director: Charles B. Pierce
Writer: Earl E. Smith
Starring: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Jimmy Clem, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Robert Aquino, Dawn Wells

The original 1976 version of “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is so bad I really don’t want to talk about it much. It’s an indie that came out a couple of years before John Carpenter’s original “Halloween”. I mention the Carpenter film because they both focus on serial killers who terrorize a small town. Both killers wear fairly non-descript masks and breathe heavily under them. I don’t recall much about Carpenter’s inspiration for “Halloween”, but I would find it hard to believe that “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” didn’t play some part. The killer’s are too similar and the sound effects of each film’s killer sounds as if they came from the same source.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Black Sunday (1960) ***½

UR, 87 min.
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Ennio de Concini, Mario Serandrei, Nikolaj Gogol (short story)
Starring: Barbara Steel, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri, Antonio Pierfederici

I think I prefer the original title of “Black Sunday”. “The Mask of Satan” has much more to do with the movie. I don’t think the day of the week is ever even mentioned in the film. And does it really matter what day it is? I suppose in 1960, it would’ve been difficult to get U.S. audiences of any kind to go see a movie that even mentioned Satan in its title. Hell, today’s Hollywood would be just as scared to release a film under such a title, but people would go to see it. People who will never see it would also lambast it in the media.

Friday, October 17, 2014

ZAM Review—Birth of the Living Dead (2013) ***

This review was original written for and published by Zombie Apocalypse Monthly.

NR, 76 min.
Director: Rob Kuhns
Featuring: George A. Romero, Larry Fessenden, Mark Harris, S. William Hinzman, Gale Anne Hurd, Elvis Mitchell, Jason Zinoman, Samuel D. Pollard, Chiz Schultz

Film critic Gene Siskel had an idiom about the success of a film that stated that the best measure of a film was to imagine if a documentary with the same actors having lunch would be more entertaining. Of course, when it comes to zombie films, that is what you’re watching—the zombies having lunch. The man responsible for realizing this vision was George A. Romero, who rewrote the rules of zombies into our modern notion of what a zombie is—a dead person who has been reanimated and desires only to dine on brains (and the rest of your flesh) while the only way to stop one is by destroying their brain. This is basically what Romero came up with in his first film, 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead”—originally titled “Night of the Flesh Eaters”. Watching this documentary, which includes a great deal of footage of Romero just talking by himself, you’ll find he’s as entertaining as his movie.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Sacrament (2014) ***

R, 95 min.
Director/Writer: Ti West
Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Kentucker Audley, Kate Lyn Sheil, Gene Jones

It’s true. Since “The Blair Witch Project” popularized the found footage horror subgenre, it has been done to death. And that’s putting it lightly considering the past few years. Found footage has even found its way into family films, like this past summer’s “Earth to Echo”.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why an already established and quite impressive horror director like Ti West would be inspired to make a found footage movie, but with his latest, “The Sacrament”, he puts in his bid on the horse-beaten gimmick.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) ***

R, 123 min.
Director/Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi

What Jim Jarmusch did for the spy genre with “The Limits of Control”, he now does for the vampire flick with “Only Lovers Left Alive”… for a little while anyway. I think if he’d stuck on his minimalist line with this one, he would’ve lost me; but the second half of the movie gets a little more conventional. In doing so, it finds its purpose.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Annabelle / ** (R)

Mia Gordon: Annabelle Wallis
John Gordon: Ward Horton
Father Perez: Tony Amendola
Evelyn: Alfre Woodard

New Line Cinema presents a film directed by John R. Leonetti. Written by Gary Dauberman. Running time: 90 min. Rated R (for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror).

I suppose most of us have a deep-rooted fear of dolls coming to life in some way or another. Whether it’s like the clown under the bed in “Poltergeist” or just the kid’s plaything-come-to-life ala Chucky in “Child’s Play”, Hollywood is no stranger to this fact. So, when last year’s sleeper hit “The Conjuring” featured a very creepy looking doll that had supposedly been the worst case the ghost hunters in that film had ever seen, it was inevitable that we’d learn more about it in another movie.

Now, we get “Annabelle”, titled after the doll featured in “The Conjuring”. The same people who made “The Conjuring” produced this move, which makes sense. The same producers are also responsible for the two “Insidious” movies. The feel and themes of both series make their way into this prequel of sorts. It has a similar period setting as “The Conjuring”, but its horror is more deeply rooted in the sinister machinations of the “Insidious” movies. It has some very scary moments indeed, but it never quite gels together as well as those previous films, and what’s left is creepy, but messy.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Strain, season 1 (2014) ***

TV-MA, 13 45-min. episodes
Creators: Chuck Hogan, Guillermo del Toro

Directors: Peter Weller, David Semel, Charlotte Sieling, Phil Abraham, John Dahl, Guillermo del Toro, Guy Ferland, Keith Gordon, Deran Sarafian

Writers: Chuck Hogan, Guillermo del Toro, Justin Britt-Gibson, Regina Corrado, Carlton Cuse, Gennifer Hutchison, Bradley Thompson, David Weddle

Starring: Corey Stoll, David Bradley, Mía Maestro, Kevin Durand, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Jack Kesy, Natalie Brown, Miguel Gómez, Ben Hyland, Robin Atkins Downes, Sean Astin, Roger C. Cross, Robert Maillot, Anne Betancourt, Ruta Gedmintas

Guest starring: Daniel Kash, Drew Nelson, Nikolai Witschl, Inga Cadranel, Adrianna Barraza, Francis Capra, Leslie Hope, Jim Watson, Pedro Miguel Arce, Stephen McHattie, Regina King, Alex Paxton-Beesley

I wanted “The Strain” to be like a “Breaking Bad” for the vampire mythos. I think many people had similar expectations for the television adaptation of Chuck Hogan and Guillermo de Toro’s novel series. When it didn’t quite blow the doors off the vampire mythology, there seemed to be a good deal of disappointment. I never read the book, so I don’t know if it achieved that sort of effect for the vampire myth, but I can certainly see where any disappointment might come from.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Dark Mountain (2014) **

NR, 80 min.
Director: Tara Anaïse
Writers: Tara Anaïse, Tamara Blaich
Starring: Sage Howard, Andrew Simpson, Shelby Stehlin

Can we all agree by now that going out into the wilderness with cameras to make a visual record of a ghost story is a bad idea? Not only does this movie reference “The Blair Witch Project” in concept and exact plot, but also it actually mentions it by name in one of its lines. It tries to add some new elements, like aliens and time travel, but never really takes them anywhere.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Big Ass Spider! (2013) **½

PG-13, 80 min.
Director: Mike Mendez
Writer: Gregory Gieras
Starring: Greg Grunberg, Clare Kramer, Lombardo Boyar, Ray Wise, Patrick Bauchau

As a Pest Control Technician I just had to add this little number to my Horrorfest this year. “Big Ass Spider!” enjoyed a very small theatrical run last fall before garnering much more publicity with its broadcast debut on the Syfy network earlier this year. While it does fit in with Syfy’s history of absurd schlock horror titles, like “Sharknado”, “Big As Spider!” is actually cut of a slightly finer cloth—not much nicer, but a little.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Gone Girl / **** (R)

Nick Dunne: Ben Affleck
Amy Dunne: Rosamund Pike
Margo Dunne: Carrie Coon
Detective Rhonda Boney: Kim Dickens
Desi Collings: Neil Patrick Harris
Tanner Bolt: Tyler Perry
Officer Jim Gilpin: Patrick Fugit

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by David Fincher. Written by Gillian Flynn, based on her novel. Running time: 149 min. Rated R (for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language).

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players. They have their exits and entrances, and one man in his time will play many parts…”
                                                —William Shakespeare, “As You Like It” Act II, sc vii.

What Shakespeare didn’t realize when he wrote those words was that he was at just the infancy of this thing called media, and that it would eventually play the biggest role in the world stage, not only playing its part but also appointing itself the world’s casting director, dolling out the roles for those men and women to play. Now, not everyone finds themselves in the media spotlight, but we chose our own roles to play in our lives and the lives of others. Once the media intervenes, those roles multiply on a scale relative to the scale upon which those lives play on the media’s stage. This is ultimately what David Fincher’s latest dark allegory “Gone Girl” is about, and despite the fact that there is a very frightening person orchestrating the events in this story, based on Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel, it is the role the media plays in these events that is most frightening.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) **½

R, 98 min.
Director: Wes Craven
Writers: Richard Maxwell, A.R. Simoun, Wade Davis (book)
Starring: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, Brent Jennings, Conrad Roberts, Badja Djola, Theresa Merritt, Michael Gough, Paul Guilfoyle, Dey Young

“The Serpent and the Rainbow” is a good effort, but I’m not sure it has decided just what it is an effort at. I suspect that Wes Craven saw Wade Davis’s book as a gateway to possibly get him out of the horror genre to which he’d been attached since his directorial debut “The Last House on the Left”, the modern horror shock revisioning of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”. Davis’s real life experience investigating a Haitian voodoo cult served as the basis of his study for this book, and Craven might’ve identified the real life aspect as an opportunity to be taken more seriously as a filmmaker.

Friday, October 03, 2014

ZAM Review—White Zombie (1932) ***

This review was originally written for and published at Zombie Apocalypse Monthly.

NR, 69 min.
Director: Victor Halperin
Writers: Garnet Weston (story & dialogue), William B. Seabrook (novel “The Magic Island”)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazier, John Harron

When I was in high school—way back in the late ‘80s—I was an avid comic book collector. Some of my favorite comics were those focusing on vintage crime heroes, like The Shadow. During their 10th Anniversary, the independent comic book publisher Eclipse put out a Shadow type of one-shot based not only on the vintage crime hero The Prowler, but also on the cult classic horror movie “White Zombie” titled quite simply “The Prowler in White Zombie”.

It wasn’t a great comic book. The Prowler was such an obvious rip-off of The Shadow and didn’t carry half of The Shadow’s mysterious nature. The villain, however, was taken directly from the “White Zombie” movie’s Bela Lugosi character, who looked like one of the coolest of the actor’s career in B-horror flicks. I had never heard of the movie at the time and quickly looked it up.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—The Believers (1987) ***

R, 114 min.
Director: John Schlesinger
Writers: Mark Frost, Nicholas Conde (novel “The Religion”)
Starring: Martin Sheen, Helen Shaver, Harley Cross, Robert Loggia, Elizabeth Wilson, Harris Yulin, Lee Richardson, Richard Masur, Carla Pinza, Jimmy Smits, Raúl Dávila, Malick Bowens, Janet-Laine Green

Do you remember video stores? I would go into a video store, and it would take me an hour to find something to watch because they had everything. Even though everything at that point was a whole lot less than it is today, it was too much. I wanted to see so much and couldn’t decide what to see. I think the current streaming services do a good job of eliminating that problem. Netflix really has an amazing amount of titles available to stream, but you only ever seem to know about a limited number of them at once. It makes choosing a title a much easier task. It also opens the possibilities up to titles you might not have considered otherwise, either because it was only on your periphery of knowledge, or you’d seen it before, but had forgotten it to some degree, or many other reasons.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Argento’s Dracula (2013) *½

NR, 110 min.
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, Antonio Tenori, Bram Stoker (book)
Starring: Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Asia Argento, Unax Ugalde, Miriam Giovanelli, Rutger Hauer, Maria Cristina Heller, Augusto Zucchi, Franco Guido Ravera, Francesco Rossini, Giovanni Franzoni

Dario Argento is the Italian cinematic maestro that helped put Italian horror on the map in the 70s with such visual gore orgies as “Suspiria”, “Deep Red” and “Inferno”. His extreme visual style all but defined this particular subgenre of cult horror filmmaking. So when news came that he would be tackling Bram Stoker’s horror classic “Dracula”, it was welcomed with much anticipation. While Argento’s more recent output hasn’t matched his earlier efforts, this was a master taking on another master’s work. It had to be worth watching, right?