Wednesday 28 October 2015

21st Century Horror (2000 - 2014) Part 2

This post was originally published on March 10, 2015, but was deleted.

Part 2 of an alphabetical list of horror films released since 2000 recommended by Bloody Terror. Please note that Part 1 has been updated. 

Let the Right One In (Dir: Tomas Alfredson; 2008; Sweden) 
Despite some iffy CGI, this is yet another interesting take on the vampire legend. Here, a bullied schoolboy befriends a girl who appears to be his age, but is in actuality not only decades older, but also a bloodsucker. 

The Lords of Salem (Dir: Rob Zombie; 2012, US) 
Zombie once again puts the focus on his wife, Sherri Moon Zombie, here as a radio DJ and former drug addict who finds herself the unwitting pawn of witchcraft and black magic in New England. Zombie thankfully restricts his fondness for the overuse of “fuck” and its variations in his dialogue, and this, along with The Devil’s Rejects, is an example of when his cult icon casting (Judy Geeson, Meg Foster, Dee Wallace) works to the movie’s benefit. 

Martyrs (Dir: Pascal Laugier, 2008; France/Canada) 
Martyrs is a movie that twists in many directions before it settles into its disturbing final third. Part of the effectiveness in watching this film is in not knowing what comes next, but suffice it to say that it’s a grueling experience that you most likely won’t be re-watching over and over again for kicks. 

May (Dir: Lucky McKee; 2002; US) 
To be honest, it took me a second viewing before I got on May’s wavelength. My initial response was due in part to the film’s quirkiness, which upon my second time through worked in the movie’s favour, much like a representation of the main character’s unusual behaviour and ticks. What May eventually revealed itself to me as being is a character study of a lonely oddball and the repercussions of how she either does or doesn’t fit into Western society. 

The Mist (Dir: Frank Darabont; 2007; US) 
This film based on Stephen King’s short story bears a firm similarity to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and therefore Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, as a group of strangers are stranded in a single location while nature goes wild outside. In this case, it’s Lovecraftian creatures that come calling. Often criticized for its downbeat ending, I think this element is actually one of its strengths as it explores and exploits a common fear – the fear of making the wrong decision – that far too few films explore, and with this sort of insight and gravity. 

The Orphanage (Dir: J.A. Bayona; 2007; Spain) 
After conjuring imaginary friends, the young son of a couple disappears from their new home – an orphanage that they’re reopening – in this melancholy ghost story. Effective atmosphere, great ghosts, and a sadness that is missing from most takes on this, the most sorrowful of horror sub-genres. 

The Others (Dir: Alejandro Amenábar; 2001: US/Spain/France/Italy) 
A ghost story told in the classic style. Nicole Kidman is the mother of two children who suffer a strange allergy to sunlight. As they await the patriarch’s return from war, ghostly events occur. 

Pan's Labyrinth (Dir: Guillermo del Toro; 2006; Spain)
Though not a horror film in the strictest sense, Pan's Labyrinth provides enough atmosphere of dread, brutal violence, and fantastic creatures to qualify. del Toro follows The Devil's Backbone (see Part 1 of this list) here with another story set during the  Spanish Civil War. This time a young girl enters into a fantasy world to escape the real world horrors around her. A sad movie, and a beautiful one on all levels. 

Pontypool (Dir: Bruce MacDonald; 2008; Canada) 
A late night radio DJ and his cohorts are trapped in a radio station as a virus passed by language turns the residents of a small town into zombies. An interesting take on not only the zombie subgenre, but on the effect of words. 

[Rec] (Dir: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza; 2007; Spain) 
Another zombie film, and another zombie film that doesn’t use the term “zombie”. Also, this is yet another variation on the found footage trope, as a TV host and her camera operator ride with a team of firefighters one evening. The difference – this one is scary! 

A Serbian Film (Dir: Srdjan Spasojevic; 2010; Serbia) 
Along with MartyrsA Serbian Film is probably the most extreme film on this list. Hard to defend, the uncut version of A Serbian Film challenges the viewer to witness several disturbing atrocities, although an argument could be made that this is all in the name of addressing the political climate of Serbia at the time the film was made. Its one-line description: A retired porn actor is lured back into the business by dubious backers. 

Session 9 (Dir: Brad Anderson, 2001, US) 
After a group of men are hired to remove asbestos from an abandoned mental asylum, one of them discovers a patient’s counseling session tapes in the basement, and begins to listen to them. As the tapes build to their climax, so too does the antagonistic relationships among the men. For me, this was a truly scary movie, although I know others who have dismissed it as being too subtle. 

Shaun of the Dead (Dir: Edgar Wright; 2004; UK) 
One of the finest horror comedies ever conceived, this film takes on most of the clichés of the zombie subgenre, and even manages to incorporate some for the sake of drama rather than comedy. 

The Skin I Live In (Dir: Pedro Almodóvar, 2011; Spain) 
Director Almodóvar works with Antonio Banderas again after many years and creates this surprising and touching body horror film that transplants the horror from the corporal to the emotional. On the surface, it’s about a surgeon who experiments with synthetic skin. At its heart it’s much more than that. 

The Strangers (Dir: Bryan Bertino; 2008; US) 
A home invasion film that takes more of its inspiration from Halloween than from its nastier counterparts. In The Strangers, a couple are terrorized by three mask-wearing psychopaths. That’s pretty much it, plain and simple. But as the cliché says, it’s all in the telling, and this telling is scary and suspenseful. 

Three (Dirs: Kim Jee-woon, Nonzee Nimibutr, Peter Chan; 2002; South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong) 
Three… Extremes (Dirs: Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park; 2004; China. Japan, South Korea) 
These two anthology films each feature three shorts by different Asian directors and of varying quality. Combined, they serve as a concise introduction to those uninitiated in Asian horror, and an eerie reminder for those who are. 

Trick ‘r Treat (Dir: Michael Dougherty; 2007; US) 
A great seasonal viewing alternative to John Carpenters’ classic, Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology film with a terrific cast (Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker), and a by times haunting and/or grisly undercurrent. 

Trouble Every Day (Dir: Claire Denis; 2001; France/Germany/Japan) 
Béatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo are the leads in this vampire film that is more in the spirit of George A. Romero’s Martin than most other bloodsucker flicks. Both are great in this moody character study that features one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve witnessed in a millennial horror film. 

Under the Skin (Dir: Jonathan Glazer; 2013; UK/USA/Switzerland)
Horror or not? Alien walks among us, seducing victims like an extraterrestrial Aileen Wuornos. Perfectly and deliberately paced. 

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Dir: Lynne Ramsay; 2011; UK/USA)
The always impressive Tidla Swinton, here as a new mother, begins to suspect that her baby boy hates her. He grows into a troubled teen who becomes adept at hiding his true nature. Uncomfortable watching, and that's a good thing.  

Wolf Creek (Dir: Greg Mclean; 2005; Australia) 
Based on the true story of a serial killer who preyed on visitors to the outback, Wolf Creek is a nasty little flick that has you rooting for its lead characters even while it shows you the inevitability of a sharp blade. 

You’re Next (Dir: Adam Wingard; 2011; US) 
The trouble with some home invasion flicks is that they can be an unpleasant viewing experience. Not so with You’re Next, which wends some nice twists on the sub-genre while keeping the proceedings entertaining.

21st Century Horror (2000 - 2014) Part 1

This post was originally published on February 27, 2015, but was deleted.

The 21st Century is still a pup, but fifteen years in, of course there are a number of horror films which are noteworthy. Any selection of personal recommendations is going to by subjective, so here for better or worse, are the horror films released since 2000 (and listed alphabetically) that I recommend. 

28 Days Later (Dir: Danny Boyle; 2002; UK) 
A great take on George A. Romero's first three zombie films from outbreak to military intervention, 28 Days Later owes as much to John Wyndham's classic novel The Day of the Triffids. Director Boyle manages to make the living dead scary and dangerous again, while referencing "rage" rather than "zombies". 

American Mary (Dirs: Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska; 2012; Canada) 
The time was definitely ripe for the Soska Sisters' look at rape culture and body modification. Katherine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps (see below) is featured as a med student who discovers that revenge is best served through the bod mod underground. 

The Babadook (Dir: Jennifer Kent; 2014; Australia)
A great movie about dealing with grief. Terrible title. 

Brotherhood of the Wolf (Dir: Christophe Gans; 2001; France/Canada) 
This genre-blending tale puts the emphasis on horror as a killer wolf stalks the countryside in 18th Century France. Brotherhood, however, manages to get all its genres right. 

Bubba Ho-Tep (Dir: Don Coscarelli; 2004; US) 
An aged Elvis Presley and an aged, black John F. Kennedy try to stop an ancient mummy who's killing the residents of a seniors home in this black comedy from the director ofPhantasm

Calvaire (Dir: Fabrice Du Welz; 2004; Belguim) 
When the van of a traveling entertainer breaks down in the countryside, he discovers the surrealistic horrors of being a woman. 

Cloverfield (Dir: Matt Reeves; 2008; US) 
The found footage trope is given new life as a kaiju attacks New York City. The jerky-cam format works well here as it adds an immediacy and an air of reality to a genre that hasn't been given this treatment previously. The only downside is that the 20-somethings who populate the film are hard to relate to unless you're the dull offspring of socialites. 

The Descent (Dir: Neil Marshall; 2005; UK) 
Trapped spelunkers versus sightless cave dwellers as interpersonal dramas play out in this suspenseful and exciting flick. Beware the US version of the ending. 

The Devil's Backbone (Dir: Guillermo del Toro; 2001; Spain)
del Toro introduces the world to his kind of ghost - sad, bleeding visions in search of peace - in "The Devil's Backbone", the tale of boys at an orphanage/school haunted by "he who sighs" during the Spanish Civil War. At the centre of the story and the schoolyard is a terrific metaphor for dormant violence waiting to ignite - a bomb, crashed into the earth, but unexploded.     

The Devil’s Rejects (Dir: Rob Zombie; 2005; US) 
Although Zombie is one of the most divisive filmmakers in the horror genre, I got into this nasty revenge flick about the killing spree exploits of the Firefly family. Terrific performances and interesting cult favourite cameos help immeasurably. Oddly, the only part that I feel Zombie fumbled is the confusing and therefore disengaging opening gunfight. 

Final Destination 2 (Dir: David R. Ellis; 2002; US) 
Arguably the best instalment in the Final Destination franchise, Part 2 features exemplary examples of everything this series is famous for - spectacular set pieces, Rube Goldberg-style deaths, and a sense of humour. 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour; 2014; US) 
It astounds me how often filmmakers have been able to find new ways to tell zombie and vampire stories, as a number of films on Parts 1 & 2 of this list will attest. Even when the notion of sitting through yet another flick featuring the living dead or the undead bores me to tears, the advance word about the rare film that breathes new live into either sub-genre will induce me to seek it out. Such was the case with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. From its evocative title to its black and white cinematography (it's great to see a contemporary horror film in Black & White), this is a film that uses its low budget to its best advantage by focusing on the loneliness of the vampire while evoking positively both Film Noir and the early Black & White films of Jim Jarmusch. 

Ginger Snaps (Dir: John Fawcett; 2000; Canada) 
Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) Fitzgerald are two of the most interesting characters in new Century Horror. Not your typical teen horror movie fodder, these two morbid sisters face becoming women via a werewolf metaphor. 

Grindhouse (Dirs: Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino' 2007; US) 
In its original theatrical format (big screen, short versions of both films) Grindhouse is a lot of fun as two directors who have been inspired by genre films pay official tribute to exploitation movies of the 1970's and 80's. Sure Tarantino's Death Proof has one too many conversations, but this pseudo-double bill spawned more imitators than anything Tarantino's done since Pulp Fiction

High Tension (Dir: Alexandre Aja; 2003; France) 
Praised for its retro slasher suspense, but criticized for its ending, High Tension is one of the most audacious slasher films of the 21st Century. Great performances from Cécile De France, Maïwenn and Philippe Nahon add to this gory flick, and in my eyes, the ending only serves to add an additional kick to the proceedings (stayed tuned for a piece about this). 

The Host (Dir: Joon-ho Bong; 2007; South Korea) 
CGI is well used here to create a terrific amphibian kaiju in this, one of the best giant creature features of recent years. Though it may sometimes be difficult for Western audiences to grasp the intended humour at points, The Host is exciting, entertaining and unexpectedly sad. 

Hostel: Part II (Dir: Eli Roth; 2007; US) 
As divisive a figure in the horror community as Rob Zombie, director Eli Roth upped the ante quality wise for this sequel to his hit Hostel. Though I'm not a fan of the original, the sequel is more of a giallo than a straight horror flick with some terrific set pieces. 

The House of the Devil (Dir: Ti West; 2009; US) 
This nicely atmospheric throwback to the slasher films of the 1980's finds a babysitter unexpectedly in charge of an aged invalid. Great cameos from Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, and terrific performances from Jocelin Donahue (babysitter) and Greta Gerwig (her pal). 

House of Wax (Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra; 2005; US) 
Entertaining and grisly updating of the original that is really just a remake in name only. Paris Hilton is fine as a secondary character. 

Inside (Dirs: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury; 2007; France) 
It's Béatrice Dalle versus Alysson Paradis in this outrageously bloody and suspenseful flick about a woman who wants the as yet unborn child from the belly of a very pregnant widow. Dalle makes a great (sympathetic?) villain in this disturbing debut from Bustillo & Maury; Here's hoping their two follow up films - Livid (2011) and Among the Living (2014) - become available to North American audiences soon. 

Ju-on (Dir: Takashi Shimizu; 2002; Japan) 
Shimizu also directed the English language remake of Ju-on (aka The Grudge), a film that along with Ringu and its American remake The Ring, is probably most responsible for the overseas popularity of J-Horror in the early 2000's. It's a creepy and entertaining flick that updates Japan's particular brand of ghost story. 


Monday 19 October 2015

"A Child's Garden of Verses" (2015)

After "The Rehearsal"(no nod to Bergman intended), I went back to something I'd shot years ago, but hadn't completed. I first filmed a version of "A Child's Garden of Verses" in the greenery of The Dunes Cafe & Gallery in Brackley Beach, PEI with Kelly Caseley, Cynthia King, Rob MacDonald and Ed Rashed, on 16mm and MOS ("motor only sync"). The plan was to bring the actors into the Island Media Arts Co-op offices at a later date to record their dialogue. That never happened, and in the years since filming, the film itself disappeared. This past summer, we went back to The Dunes, and I shot the new version that you can watch below with Kelly, Rob, Lennie MacPherson and Bonnie MacEachern, assistance from Dave Morrow, and musical accompaniment from Rob MacDonald.

Sunday 18 October 2015

"The Rehearsal" (2014)

After a big break from making very low budget short films, a horde of new generation local filmmakers, a significant improvement in the ease of filmmaking, technologically speaking, and a blood cancer diagnosis made me want to get back into it. Last year, a few friends helped me out in the filming of an idea I'd had for quite a while, and the result is "The Rehearsal", available for viewing below. I won't say what that idea was, because any impact this short has comes from just that - its concept. My typical answer to this question, though, is "It's about three women preparing for the most important performance of their lives."

I wrote and directed "The Rehearsal". It features Kelly Caseley, Rob MacDonald, Carly Martin and Laura Chapin. The DOP was Brian Sharp with camera assistance from Madhi Selseleh. Kelly also provided hair and make-up, Brian and I did the editing, and Dave Morrow was the Production Assistant.

Thursday 29 January 2015

The Bloody Terror Movie Checklist

Last week I asked a few people on my Facebook page, people from whom I've either read writing or comments on the subject, or people whom I've talked to about this, to give me some suggestions for... what do we can them... Midnight Movies? Cult Movies? Subversive Cinema? Underground? Psychotronic? You get the picture... Movies that have either been ignored or forgotten by the mainstream, rejected by it, or in some cases, never even hit its radar.

Friends of these people began commenting, and pretty soon I ended up with a terrific list of movies worth seeking out. Some of them you'd expect to see on a list of this types (Eraserhead), but many were unique to similar lists I've seen (You Never Can Tell). I had no intention of publishing the list, but it was so good that I had to.

Though I didn't contribute to this list, others who did, in order of comment, were: David Nicholson, Brian Bankston, Robert T. Daniel, Dennis Cozzalio, Maitland McDonagh, Ray Ray, Robert Humanick, Robert Monell, Curt Duckworth, David Zuzelo, Kevin McDonough, James Dempster, Michael Hinerman, Jeremy Richey, Sam Shalabi, Peter Nellhaus, Mark Allen, Christian Mux, Shelley Jackson, Anthony Lamanto, Thomas Ellison, Phillip Scot, Marilyn Ferdinand, Salem Kapsaski and Heather Drain.

Click on each of the images below to enlarge and to print. If you're interested in these sorts of movies, you'll no doubt find some suggestions here that you'll want to hunt down.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

"The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist"

"The Exorcist" is an important film to me personally for a number of reasons - for its nostalgia, for the impact it had on me both in terms of hype and in living up to that hype, for the film's quality, for my varied interpretations of its theme, as a lesson in filmmaking, and on and on. And I wasn't the only one obsessing on William Friedkin's film version of William Peter Blatty's best seller; it was a worldwide phenomenon.

This entertaining Youtube clip entitled "The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist", made at the time of the film's release, illustrates the effect it had in North America back in 1973/74. Interviews start around the 1:50 mark.

Click here for "The Cultural Impact of The Exorcist".
Click here for a previous post about my experience with "The Exorcist"
Click here for my interpretation of "The Exorcist".