Thursday, October 4, 2012

some good rape-free horror movies.

Halloween is coming, so here are a few of my favourite horror movies from the past dozen years that don't have sexual violence in them.

Edit: I removed Let the Right One In from the list, and replaced it with The Others.

(G) - Gore.
(FS) - Foreign language/Subtitled.
(SA) - Stupid but awesome anyway.
(?) A caution.

1. The Others
It is perfect in almost every way, and builds atmosphere and tension as much through character as through setting and circumstance. It is creepy as fuck, and has a twist at the end that not only makes perfect sense, but which only makes the movie more interesting and satisfying to watch. I watch this movie at least once a year. It is a haunted house movie that understands why haunted house movies are scary. And it understands that sadness can be so much more chilling than gore.

2. The Ring
I love The Ring. I like it better than the original Japanese version, Ringu. Don't get me wrong - Ringu is an amazing movie, and it is not often that I like a remake better than the original film, but The Ring is so much fun. It keeps the creepy elements of the original while abandoning that film's slow tension in favor of a more streamlined thriller. It then wraps this all up in a nice mix of rural America and modern day city life, gives us characters we grow to like, and balances the jump scares with some really unnervingly strange images. This movie led to a whole slew of terrible immitators and other less competent attempts to bring J-Horror to American audiences, but don't hold that against it.

3. INSIDE (G) (FS)
This movie is MESSED UP and horrifying. Two women are locked together in a house. The first is a pregnant woman who survived a recent car crash, and the second woman is trying to take the first's unborn baby from her with a pair of scissors. If you want an insane French bloodfest, look no further.

4. Pontypool
This is a zombie movie where most of the violence and action takes place in the viewer's imagination. It is shot almost entirely in a radio station, where the people trapped inside are trying to make sense of the reports they're getting from the outside world. Zombies do show up, and they're pretty gross, but they don't pass the virus on by biting people. This is a zombie virus passed on mimetically through language! This movie is a lot of fun, as long as you can look past the strange b-movie final scenes.

5. [REC] (G)(FS)
The best of the "found footage" horror movies. [REC] follows a news reporter and her cameraman on a job-shadowing assignment with some firemen. Before long they are all quarantined in an apartment complex with a quickly dwindling group of tennants. Some GREAT scares in this one. If you don't enjoy subtitles, you should check out QUARANTINE, the American remake. It is a very faithful remake, and just as good as the original I think. [REC] 2 is also well worth your time.

6. Wake Wood
This is almost more of a drama than a horror, though it is a very creepy and supernatural drama. It surprised me, because I thought I knew what kind of movie it was going to be from the synopsis. But, while it is a movie about how far two parents are willing to go to be reunited with their dead daughter, it is a much subtler take on it than Pet Semetary's theme of "Sometimes, dead is better."

7. Altered (G)
A straight-to-DVD horror movie that deserved a theatrical release, I think. It's about a group of men who were abducted when they were younger, and who have now captured one of the aliens and are trying to figure out what to do with it. It's funny and often charming and it has some good tense scenes where they struggle with their need for revenge and the knowledge of what that revenge will cost them.

8. Shaun of the Dead  (G)
Good natured horror comedy about a well-meaning but selfish jerk trying to save his loved ones from an unexpected zombie apocalypse. Super fun, and often very gross. Lots of clever references both to other movies, and to other scenes within the movie itself. Fun forshadowing and visual echoing.

9. Splinter (G)
Another straight-to-DVD horror movie. Splinter takes place entirely in a gas station convenience store, where the characters find themselves trapped by some pretty insane looking monsters. The practical special effects in this movie are awesome, and it is plenty gross. I really enjoyed it.

10. Ruins (G) (SA)
Ruins was much more interesting and intelligent and CREEPY than I expected. And even when it starts getting stupider in the final 3rd of the movie, it's still a heck of a ride!

11. Thir13en Ghosts (G) (SA) (?)
Thirteen Ghosts is a movie in the true spirit of the William Castle original. It's totally more of a ride than a story. The big crazy mechanical house is a mechanism for moving the characters from one encounter to the next, and it moves us along with it. The alive people on screen are almost exclusively boring and obnoxious (with the exception of Matthew Lillard who is perfectly in his element here as a scenery chewing depraved psychic ghost hunting pillhead), but the ghosts are wonderful. The filmmakers put every bit of their love and care into the set design and the monster design, and as a showcase for those the movie is perfect. It's like a really interesting silent movie with the music replaced by idiotic dialogue. (?) The nude female ghost is implied to have killed herself, and cutting is almost implied - but in the most ridiculous cartoony way imaginable.

12. Amityville Horror (remake) (SA)
I should say first that I found the original Amityville Horror kind of stupid and boring. I really enjoyed this remake, even though it isn't really anything to write home about. It was well made, and Ryan Reynolds is charming and unexpectedly effective when he turns that charm off. There are also some great popcorn-horror weird scary scenes.

13. Behind the Mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon (G)
This was a fun faux-documentary style movie that turns into a more genuine horror movie at the end (which is the weakest part, I think.) The idea of ambitious journalists who are unsure how far to go in search of their story about a real life slasher is an interesting one. The killer himself is charming and candid in the behind the scenes parts, complaining about how much cardio he has to do and things. It's fun.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Logorrhea in space: Event Horizon (1997)

Event Horizon (1997) is a supernatural science fiction movie. This is a fairly rare thing, and I really appreciated that the movie doesn't try to explain away the supernatural elements as simply being alien technology that is advanced beyond our understanding. Unfortunately that is just about the only thing the movie doesn't explain. I don't understand why movies insist on having characters act like everybody they work with needs someone to describe how basic shit works.

"You have to be in this stasis module during transport, doctor, otherwise your body wouldn't be able to withstand the sudden acceleration and your bones would liquify,"

"Oh yes, that is super gross, and it is even grosser if I mention that I've seen the effect on mice somehow, even though I'm acting like I need this all explained to me. Also, I design spaceships and don't know how they work I guess?"

I do like Event Horizon, despite the fact that it thinks I am an idiot. There are some genuinely creepy images throughout, many of them involving people with empty eye sockets saying unsettling things to their loved ones. And there are moments that veer from creepy to gross, like they belong in a grindhouse version of Solaris. And the sets are all really attractive. They've taken the run-down aesthetic of spaceships from ALIEN and splashed blood and guts all over the wall. They've replaced H.R. Giger designed backdrops with something more fitting to Hellraiser. And it works. We're dealing with unknown evil from beyond space and time, here, and (aside from some cheesy late 90s CGI) the movie looks the part.

But I wish they had spent as much time on refining the dialogue as they did on the sets and makeup. There are some good actors involved here, Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill leading a cast of familiar ragtag-team types like Richard T Jones and Sean Pertwee, and they have all been given absolutely idiotic things to say all the time.

"Ah, now that we're awake I should tell you all why we're here, because (like always) a group of professional spaceship crew have agreed to go to the edge of the galaxy without knowing what the mission is. Well, we're here looking for the spaceship named Event Horizon, and..."

"Like the movie's title?"

"Yes! Yes, exactly. Well, this is all classified Code Black by the NSA which sounds pretty cool even though I am not sure why the NSA has space-jurisdiction, but the Event Horizon was actually on a super secret mission a decade ago to test a new kind of faster-than-light-travel engine that I probably invented. Everything was going really super well, but then they turned the engine on and vanished and I guess we just gave up on the whole "faster-than-light-thing" and forgot all about the billion dollar spaceship until we received this distress call."

*plays a tape of insane demon screaming sounds with maniacal chanting*

"So that's why I've brought you all across the solar system. Those insane demon sounds there, which apparently don't freak me out. Also, I should say, it sounds like no known human language and I should know. I went to space university."

"Wait, play it again," the ship's trauma doctor says.

*more screaming*

"That sounds like... Latin? Could it be Latin? Is that a language creepy demon screams ever use?" he asks.

"Lat... Latin? I'm not sure what word you're even saying to me right now," Sam Neill replies, bewildered and afraid.

"Play it again, I will try and translate it because that's my other skill I have."

This is a movie that would be ten times better if people would just be quiet for a bit and let us be creeped out by the atmosphere. It is already pretty creepy that the naked lady has no eyeballs. We don't really need the mechanic screaming, "You messed with the laws of physics. Did you really think there wouldn't be a price?" And yet it winds up being the best line in the movie.

Throughout the whole movie, he's the only character who acts rationally and doesn't immediately believe the hallucinations are real. ("My six year old son? Heck, what's he doing here? I thought he was on the other side of the solar system. I better follow him down this creepy corridor and not get killed.") It's like he's a character from a completely different movie, where people make sense.

So maybe it's foolish to wish Event Horizon had better dialogue. There's a very distinct pleasure to a movie this stupid and gory, and it is pretty hilarious to have a character scream the movie's theme in an angry panic. Why don't all movies do that? They might as well have had creepy eyeless Sam Neill turn to the camera right at the end and say, "I guess that really was [PAUSE FOR EFFECT] an Event Horizon."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

5 horror movies to pick for movie night if you are an asshole.

1. Sorority Row (2010) First off, I should say that I actually kind of love this movie. It is terrible in a really fun "logic doesn't matter" sort of way, and has some ghoulish kills. What it does not have, however, is respect for any of the female characters. So, here's what you do. Tell your friends that you are going to be bringing a movie called "Sorority House Massacre or something." Be sure to say, "It was written by lesbian feminist writer Rita Mae Brown, and is directed by a woman, too!" Talk about how you think it'll be an interesting deconstruction of the misogyny of slasher films. Then, on horror movie night? Put this fucker on.

2. Teeth (2008) But what do you do if sexist sorority house boob-fests are what your friends normally want to watch on movie night? If that's the case, you might opt instead to bring the movie Teeth. It has an innocuous enough title for a movie about a girl with Vagina Dentata. Make up some lie about what the movie is about, and then just sit back and enjoy their reactions as character after character gets his penis torn off and eaten by a vagina.

3. Dreamcatcher (2003) Are your friends the sort of people who "don't watch Hollywood movies" and instead only watch capital f Films? Then perhaps they will enjoy Dreamcatcher, which you will describe as an independent film examining the co-opting of Native American culture. The actual film is about a group of pals who talk with insane made up slang, share a common bond because they once rescued a mentally disabled kid, and are soon attacked by flesh eating ass weasels from space.

4. He Who Gets Slapped (1924) Is your movie night group filled with people who love gore and try to one up one another with the grossest movie ever? Are they the sort of horror fan who, when asked why they love horror, reply, "BLOOD!" Do they roll their eyes if a movie is in black and white? Boy are they going to love this movie. He Who Gets Slapped is a silent movie, and my favourite Lon Chaney movie. Put all hopes of killer clowns out of your head, though, because Chaney does not play Pennywise the clown, here. There are no fangs and no monster eyes. He plays a man who has his dreams taken from him, who is humiliated and broken and driven mad. It is a strange, heartbreakingly sad movie. His clown character allows him to relive the worst moments of his life over and over in front of a laughing and jeering audience, night after night, until finally his chance for revenge comes. 

5. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) That said, if you have a friend that genuinely suffers from Coulrophobia (the fear of clowns!) then holy shit have I got a movie for you. Everything about this movie is amazing. The creators take the premise "clown aliens attack earth" and they take it much farther than you expect. Not only do they aliens look like horrifying clowns (the makeup in this movie is really great) but their spaceship is a big-top tent. They ride around in a tiny clown car. They kill people with pies to the face, wrap them up in cotton candy and drink their blood through giant loopy crazy-straws. There are funhouse mirrors! There is killer popcorn! If you are gonna traumatize your coulrophobic pal, then you might as well do it right! 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Because it makes me pretty: Cherry Falls (2000)

In Cherry Falls, a slasher is killing virgin teens and carving the word "virgin" into their corpses because otherwise it would be kind of ridiculous for the cops in the movie to see virginity as a pattern in teen deaths. Especially since the first murders occur while the teens are making out in a car. I didn't go to medical school or anything, but if the killer had not been carving the word "virgin" into the corpses, it probably would be a bit weird that the coroner would check for hymens.

Everything I expected to like about this movie wound up being disappointing. The premise - a town full of panicked teens desperately trying to save themselves by getting laid - is funny, but then the movie is jam-packed with horror movie cliches and mediocre scares.

And yet, in the scenes between the infrequent murders, I found myself loving this movie more and more. It is just inexplicably WEIRD. Like, there's an early scene where we meet Brittany Murphy and her boyfriend parked in front of her house. We learn that they haven't "gone all the way" yet, and he's frustrated. This leads him to break up with her. Then her mother pulls up in a car, and conspiratorially warns her to be careful not to wake her father sneaking in. We follow as Murphy sneaks into the house, and this is how we learn that her dad is the town sheriff. This is all pretty standard on the page, but the director must have been behind the camera just yelling insane prompts at the actors.

"Okay, now flirt with your daughter's boyfriend! Really eyefuck him. And you! Boyfriend! Make a joke about the mom's headlights, and leer! LEER! You're a single man now!" and then, "Okay! You're going inside! You were just broken up with. Kiss your mom on the lips for some reason! Then go upstairs! Dad? Dad are you hiding in your daughter's bedroom in the dark yet?"

Later on in the movie, there's a scene where the father goes in to her bedroom again to wake her up and ask if she's a virgin. He's just found out the killer's M.O. and he's worried about her. But he really takes his time with the asking, and afterward, she takes his hand and asks if he's disappointed that she's a virgin. Bewildering!

The movie doesn't seem incestuous by intent, though. I suspect that scenes like that one are a sort of collateral damage. Every single scene in the movie is sexualized, and it does lend a distinct personality to what would otherwise just be another I Know What You Did Last Summer. Everybody seems to be constantly eyefucking everybody at the school. Long vacant lustful looks. The camera will randomly flash to the word "Erected" on the building's dedication. Characters with only one line come into the principal's office to announce, "the sheriff is here," with their words, but seem to announce "I want to fuck you right now, sir. Or your chair. I don't care what I fuck, oh god I forget what my name is," with their eyes.

There's a scene midway through the film, where Cindy, one of the "experienced" girls, is explaining to an audience of virgin girls that unless they're talking about masturbation it would be foolish to expect an orgasm from the boys. They are all going to be having sex at this secret orgy, but they need to manage their expectations. "Girls have to do everything. Boys are totally clueless when it comes to sex. It starts with them trying to unhook our bras, fumbling around, and it never changes. Wait until they try to put their dick into you."

"Please don't say they need help with THAT!" someone says.

"Always," Cindy tells her.

One of the other girls seems skeptical and asks, "Aren't we being a little hard on the boys?"

Cindy just looks at her with pity.

When Brittany Murphy and her boyfriend Kenny finally do get around to their sex scene, it is so unexpected and dirty. This is a movie with no nudity, and hardly any on screen gore. It relies almost entirely on innuendo and insinuation and schoolyard gossipy jokes, and so when Murphy decides to fuck her boyfriend, her directness is actually kind of shocking. And it's refreshing that this is clearly on her own terms, too. She's not laying back and letting him fumble at her bra, she's got her toe stuck in his mouth and she's giving him orders, "Bite it. Bite it harder. Harder." And she's sort of kicking him in the face at the same time. He's terrified, and it's an awkward and genuinely sexy moment.

After that, the murders escalate, as you would expect. There are some twists, but there aren't many surprises. It doesn't really matter. The plot is easy to ignore. The performances are all likeable, especially Jay Mohr and Brittany Murphy, and there are some great lines in the climactic scenes. All of a sudden people are spouting one-liners like crazy, and it feels chaotic and fun. A killing spree in the midst of a teen orgy is just as ridiculous as you would hope, and the scenes of the teenagers pairing off like it's a high school dance are sort of sweet.

In the end, Cherry Falls is completely ineffective as a horror movie, but it is a charming and surprisingly funny teen sex comedy dressed up like a horror movie, with a fright wig and garish makeup and everything.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Now I understand why people get into murder vans: House of the Devil (2009)

Ti West's 1980s babysitter horror throwback House of the Devil is weird but strangely pleasant.

It first caught my attention because it looks like a love-letter to 80s horror, but that's a trick! There's nothing of the simplicity of those babysitter exploitation films here. This is a very modern horror movie all dressed up in costume to look like our rose-coloured nostalgia. It's not a tribute, it's a period piece. Everything about it feels exactly the way you remember 80s horror looking, but there were no actual movies like this in the 80s. House of the Devil is beautiful and measured, and it benefits from a more modern sensibility in camera work and especially in its pacing and attention to character.

I was drawn to The House of the Devil because the retro setting and look, but I loved it because it was so careful and subtle and effortlessly charming. Tom Noonan, in particular, demonstrates how creepy gentleness and kindness can be. He is soft spoken and humble even as he explains to the main character that she has been called out to this creepy house in the middle of nowhere to babysit a child that doesn't exist. There is no child. Instead, he explains, he needs someone to watch his grandmother. It is hard to not like him, despite knowing that this is a crazy suspicious thing that he's done. And that makes his kindness all the more creepy. You can't help but thinking oh shit, this is how serial killers get people into their creepy murder vans! They're super charming and you start thinking, "Oh just one look in the murder van will be okay. I don't want to let him down."

It's a slow movie, but it never drags. The main character is so likeable that it's nice to just spend time with her, to order pizza and dance around with walkman headphones on. And there is always just one more slightly off detail to promise that the end is coming. Ti West knows that anticipating violence is scarier than violence itself, but he also seems to understand that if you are going to be wandering around a spooky house for 90 minutes, then a) there better actually be something batshit crazy behind one of these doors at some point, and b) it is important to have a character who we want to wander around an empty house with. The main actor Jocelin Donahue conveys charm and intelligence in a role that requires very little speaking. It is never boring, following her as she tries to figure out what is going on.

And how can you not love a movie that sent out its review copies on VHS in a proper white plastic case and everything?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The benefit of the doubt: A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

I hated A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) the first time I watched it. Well, to be more specific, I loved it until the very end and then I hated it. It was the story of two young sisters moving into an old house with their father and their new step-mother. It was beautiful and slow and involving, and then I got to the end and was so frustrated by the twists that it ruined the whole movie for me. It seemed like the only way it made sense was if everyone in the movie was crazy. I felt betrayed by my investment in the characters and the film itself.

I never really intended to give it another chance. But then last year I watched another film by the director, Kim Jee-Woon. His revenge thriller I Saw the Devil was also beautiful, and held together so perfectly that I wondered if maybe I had missed something when watching Sisters.

So I sat down to watch it again, this time already knowing the movie's secrets, hoping that I'd been wrong. And right from the very beginning, I could tell that I had. Everything was intentional, from the timing of certain shots to the smallest expression on a character's face. All of it hinted at something coming, every shot served to build up just the right tension.

And again I was impressed with how beautiful it was, with how amazing the actors were (especially Moon Geun Young as Su-yeon, whose constant confused sadness is heartbreaking, and Yeom Jeong-ah as the now-sinister, now-manic Eun-joo). In some ways this movie is a spiritual sister to The Others. It is beautiful and sad and strange, and it is much more about tragedy than about horror.

But then the horror is amazing as well. A scene early in the film starts out as just another Japanese-influenced "long-black-haired girl-ghost" scare, until you notice that the ghost's head is twisted strangely to the side. And then you hear the slight creaking sound, and the gentle back and forth swaying of the ghost, even as she walks forward. She is hanging. It's a connection between the ghost and her death that suddenly makes that same old black hair frightening again, like when I first saw Samara's inhuman movement in The Ring.

Kim Jee-Woon is a meticulous and imaginative director. There are twists, at the end, and then there are reveals unrelated to that twist. It is a layered and uncommonly satisfying ending. My original impression, that the movie only made sense if every character was crazy, is sort of embarrassing now. I could only have come to that conclusion because I wasn't paying enough attention.  This is a careful and intelligent film. The director was giving me the benefit of the doubt, and I didn't hold up my end of the bargain.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A quick non-spoilery review of Prometheus.

There is a lot I want to write about Prometheus, but first I need to watch it again, and to revisit Alien as well. For now I just wanted to post a non-spoilery quote that made me sit up and pay even more attention to a movie I was already loving. Prometheus is amazing. It is ambitious and thoughtful and beautiful and horrific all at once. I wrote before about how Joss Whedon took the ideas of motherhood from Alien and Aliens and really went crazy with them. Ridley Scott has come back to the series, not to explore motherhood, but to move on to questions without answers. This is a horror-action movie about what life owes to its creators, and what those creators owe to their creations.

Michael Fassbender's android character David is fascinating (matched only by Charlize Theron's wonderfully restrained Vickers) and early on the in the movie he very politely (as always) and in an almost offhand way, says, "But doesn't everyone want to kill their parents?"

Prometheus is not a prequel to Alien. It takes place in the same universe, and answers some questions about Alien, but calling it a prequel sells it short. This isn't Star Wars: Episode 1. This is the Godfather II. Prometheus is equal to Scott's Alien, and while not without its flaws, it often reaches further and with more confidence.

Monday, April 30, 2012

It turns out that flowers can be scary: The Ruins (2008)

The plot of The Ruins (2008) is charmingly simple. We meet a group of young American tourists at a Mexican resort. We spend some time with them, getting a vague idea of their personalities, and then we follow them on an "adventure" to an ancient Mayan ruin they've heard about that, of course, is not on the maps. Traveling with them are a German tourist looking for his brother, and a Greek tourist looking for a good time. They arrive at the temple, and are immediately surrounded by natives who speak neither Spanish or English. These natives will not allow the young people to leave the ruins, though nobody can figure out why. When their Greek traveling companion tries to confront their captors, he is shot in the face.

And so they are trapped on top of this vine covered ruin. In the novel, this is a problem in itself. They don't have much food or water, and they are out in the hot sun. But the movie glosses over this and moves right along to the weird stuff. The vines. We see the faintest hints of the vines moving in these first scenes of them exploring the ruins. We see slight shifts in shadow, and at the edges of the screen. It's subtle in a way that I wasn't expecting. It's also an effective way to build tension. We're watching them explore, knowing that they aren't seeing everything.

But when the tension is broken, it's not because of the strange moving vines. The group is lowering the German into the ruins in the hopes that he can find his brother's satellite phone. They've heard it ringing several times now, and it is their only real hope of getting help. The rope snaps, though, and the German becomes paralyzed from the fall. When one of the girls goes down to rescue him, she falls too, badly gouging her knee. This specific detail becomes important later. Eventually they find a way to get everyone out of the hole. This involves a lot of visceral broken back sounds, and is a pretty good argument for not moving someone with a spinal injury.

The next morning when the girl with the gouged knee wakes up, a vine has snaked around her leg and into the open wound. It has worked its way deep into the flesh of her leg, and it does not come out easily. Outside the tent, the paralyzed German starts screaming about something being wrong. His legs are wrapped in the vines too, though they've been doing much more damage there. The bones are visible beneath the exposed red flesh and the green twisting vegetation.

I was waiting for the vines to attack someone, to lunge out and grab one of them and pull them away like a monster. But this was so much more effective. The plants attacking gradually through the night, being drawn to blood. It feels so much more plausible, not so different from a venus fly trap.

So, they're trapped on a ruin in the burning sun, surrounded by armed Mayans and flesh eating vines. It suddenly starts to seem worth the risk to go back down into that hole to find the satellite phone that keeps ringing. They go down into the dark, following the sound deeper into the ruins. It stops as they enter a large chamber, and they discover a body wrapped in vines, clutching a cell phone. 

But on closer examination, the cell phone is broken. And, while one character is pointing this out, the ringing starts up again. The other girl lifts her torch to look closer at the wall where the sound is coming from, and she sees the small red flowers of the vine. The ringing comes again, and the realization that the flowers are imitating the sound is amazing. So creepy. Such a perfect and simple lure, imitating animal sounds.

Unfortunately, the movie goes on to have the vines be more and more sentient, imitating certain sounds in order to play with their minds? How do plants know about jealousy? And now they really are lunging out to attack them. Suddenly they are like any other B-movie grade monster. 

Still, even though the plant itself becomes less plausible, the film still uses it sparingly, instead focusing on the characters and their failed attempts to cope with this insane situation. Most of the horrific scenes in this movie come from watching things the characters do to themselves out of panic. The girl with vines in her body goes bonkers and tries to cut them out with a hunting knife. It is gory and awful and so completely understandable. I would not be able to handle having something moving under my skin like that. "I can feel it down by the bone," she says. Ugh!

The things that The Ruins does really well are surprising and intelligent, while the things it gets wrong are common enough to easily ignore. Inconsistent characters, hand-waving explanations of plot holes, these are things well worth sitting through to see a movie that genuinely makes plants scary. It's not a perfect movie, but it is imaginative and fun, which I like better than perfection anyway.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

That's not a feminist... THIS is a feminist: The Stepford Wives

When I first sat down to watch the 1975 version of The Stepford Wives, I hadn't read the book. It's hard to come to that film completely fresh, though, as "Stepford Wives" is very much a part of our cultural dialect in North America. I knew it was a movie about creepily perfect wives, but not much else. I may even have been conflating it with The Midwich Cuckoos in my head. What I'm saying is, I was not expecting to have my mind blown.

The film follows a young wife and photographer named Joanna, as she moves to the small gated community of Stepford with her husband and children. She finds herself suddenly surrounded by wives with perfect TV hair, who talk like the women in appliance commercials. They only seem interested in cooking and cleaning and staying busy, busy, busy. Joanna finds it first shocking, and then disgusting, the way these women cater to their every whim and need of their husbands. More frustratingly, her own husband doesn't seem to find it troubling at all, and he joins with the local men's club. 

She finally makes friends with a couple other women who seem normal, by which I mean flawed. Lazy, selfish, sloppy, and interested in the world around them, these are women that Joanna can relate to. A lot of the film is dedicated to building these characters, and letting us get to know them before suddenly taking them away. And when one of Joanna's new friends suddenly has perfect hair and a perfect smile, suddenly wants to talk only about being a good wife, it DOES feel like they have been taken away.

This was a measured and very effectively uneasy film, and I liked it right up until the ending. The ending changed things for me, it took a creepy film and made it downright chilling. Joanna figures out very late in the game that her friends, and all the women of Stepford, have been replaced by robots. The husbands have been duplicating their wives physically, but replacing them with robots that feature more "agreeable" personalities. Joanna stumbles upon her own robot, not quite finished, and the robot strangles her to death. In the end, we see Joanna once more, hair perfect, smiling a greeting as she passes another wife in the grocery store.

It was an uncompromisingly bleak and sarcastic ending, making it clear that recognizing a power imbalance and being morally in the right aren't enough to change things. It is still one of the most effective feminist films I've seen. 

Joanna discovers that the wives are being brainwashed (also, confusingly, she seems to find evidence that the wives are being replaced  by robots?) and then begins a whole mess of confusing twists. Joanna's husband pretends to go along with brainwashing his wife, but has secretly been convinced by her argument not to? Oh, and the head of the men's club is a robot that was created by his wife because she was frustrated with her earlier career woman life (!?) which drove her actual husband to have an affair?! It is a nightmare of meaningless surprises. And the film ends with the husbands of Stepford dressed like perfect husbands, smiling at one another in the aisles of the grocery store.

It was like the people remaking the film did not understand the original at all. "Oh, let's change the ending so that the women win! Ha ha and they'll make the MEN into Stepford Husbands! That will be MUCH more feminist!"

They were wrong. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

My mom is an insane badass: Alien: Resurrection

Alien: Resurrection is a wild departure from the tone of the previous films. Where the dirty run-down Blade Runner aesthetic of the previous films got progressively more bleak, the visuals in Resurrection seem to delight in the idea of the future. Everything is falling apart and old, sure, but it's brightly lit and colourful. This is very different from the future of run down and spartan ship designs in the earlier movies, and yet still distinct from the pristine 2001 visuals that Alien felt like an argument against. Partly this can be explained because it takes place hundreds of years after the events of Alien 3, but mostly this is just the very particular vision of the director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

The Alien quadrilogy of films is unique in that each one is handle by a talented director. Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, and now Jean-Pierre Jeunet. And I think each of the films is also in a different genre. Alien was a horror movie. Aliens was a Vietnam war movie in space. Alien 3 was a prison movie. And Alien: Resurrection was a crazy French dark imaginative joyride.

Who hires the director of Amelie and Delicatessen to take the reins of an Alien movie?! And then they hire Joss Whedon to write it? Such an insane choice, but one that I'm glad they made. Because what we get is a very interesting exploration of a theme that has become pretty central to the Alien movies: Motherhood.

In Alien 3, Ripley becomes a mother, of a sort. Motherhood in Alien 3 is tied up in ideas of sexual violence and self-sacrifice in a strangely superficial way, but at least here Ripley is not defined by her motherhood. In James Cameron's Aliens, Ripley's strength and survival instinct are recontextualized as a maternal desire to protect Newt. Every awesome and badass thing she does is suddenly because she's got someone to protect. The movie has seen a fair amount of criticism for this depiction, and I tend to agree. It is frustrating that we can't have Ripley be the strong and extremely competent woman she was in the first film without explaining away how a woman could be so strong. She becomes like the mother who can lift a car when her child is trapped underneath it. An amazing feat, but one directly explained by motherhood and protecting future generations.

On the other hand, why can't we have a strong mother character without it being an attack on female autonomy? Motherhood is a part of the human experience, and is just as valid a theme for exploration in a horror movie as any other. Unfortunately, this isn't a way to further explore Ellen Ripley's character. Often in Aliens the character seems completely eclipsed and replaced with trite expressions of motherhood. Aliens is also notable for introducing the alien queen.

Alien: Resurrection plays out like Joss Whedon heard the criticisms of motherhood in Aliens and then laughed to himself and dialed it up to 11. Ripley has been cloned, and the alien queen that was growing inside of her when she killed herself has been saved. But now the two mothers are almost one and the same. Their genetics have become confused. Ripley is now more alien, stronger, more animalistic, less caring. And the alien queen has changed too, developing a human style womb rather than laying eggs.

Whedon has gone on record saying he hated the final movie. He doesn't like the way that Jeunet and the actors interpreted his words and ideas, and it is very clear when watching Resurrection that this is not how Joss Whedon would have done the movie. In this case, I think that's a good thing. Joss Whedon likes ideas, and he likes cleverness and layers of meaning and they serve this movie well. His re-imagining of the android type as young and idealistic is refreshing. And you can even find a group of smugglers that read like early character sketches for his TV show Firefly. But Whedon's style is also very straightforward, and Jeunet's strange and almost impressionistic visual obsession with biology and the body make this film so much more fun to watch. There's even a scene where Ripley stumbles upon a room full of early failed attempts at clones of herself, suspended in glass tanks. And, in a scene later echoed in Baldur's Gate 2, one living creature begging for death.

Alien: Resurrection is not even remotely scary, and to its credit it never tries to be. This is a deeply weird and crazy film, and well worth another viewing now that some time has passed and nobody is expecting another Aliens. This is not another Aliens, but I also think its unlikely we'll ever see another Alien Resurrection.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

To be honest, I would go into the basement too: The Innkeepers (2011)

I sometimes come out of the theatre angry, thinking, "Why couldn't they just take a bit more time to make us care about the characters before they murder them to death?" It seems so obvious that things will be scarier if you care about and empathize with the characters who are threatened. But, like all obvious things, it isn't quite that simple.

Building character takes time and subtlety, two things that cost just as much as special effects. If you are working with limited resources, which most horror movies are, then you're faced with the question of whether to focus more on character and story, or on scares. And paying audiences love scares.

And so when a movie like The Innkeepers comes along, with its almost bloody-minded focus on character, it feels fresh and surprising, because the director doesn't seem interested in scares at all until the last half hour. We are here to spend time with the two main characters, a couple of listless minimum wage employees working the final weekend at an old hotel. There are no archetypes here - no final girl, no jock or geeky loser. It is set now, in the modern world, where those "classic" horror movie character types don't make any sense. Both of our characters are geeky losers, and both of them are also the cool kids.

Claire and Luke work behind the front desk at the Yankee Peddler Inn. Their days are spent fetching towels and being treated like garbage by the guests. But like all seasoned customer service employees, they keep their spirits up by sharing their frustrations through in-jokes and by never being foolish enough to take any of it too seriously.

There's a scene early in the film, where Claire wonders why everyone is so hung up on what they are going to do with their life. Why does everyone seem to think planning out the future around their career is important? This isn't the fake-rebellious question of a dumb college kid, it's the question of somebody starting to realize that they don't have the same values that everyone told them they would have.

Claire and Luke aren't defined by sitting behind that front desk. Their personalities emerge when they are breaking the rules of their job, when their break comes, or when they sneak up and scare one another. These scenes take their time, letting us see the characters just hanging out and being themselves, showing us how they amuse themselves, how they deal with boredom.

The Innkeepers is the first horror movie in a long time where I felt like I was watching people I knew. These are characters that could actually live in the real world as I know it, could work just down the street at a boring call center job, could pass me at the bus stop wearing their headphones. They were cute and awkward and stupid and a bit self absorbed, but they were people.

So, the characterization is great, but where does the horror come in? This is where the movie surprised me again, and went from good to great. I expected that we would get to know the characters, and then horrific things would start happening. This was what happened with the director's previous film, House of the Devil. But The Innkeepers never stops exploring the characters. At night, they wander the dark halls alone, with homemade ghost hunting equipment. The Yankee Peddler is supposedly haunted, and this is the last weekend before it closes down. It's the last chance to find proof that the ghosts are real. It's a way for them to kill the long hours of the night, but it's also interesting how we see Claire come more alive and engaged. Jobs and careers aren't important questions, but this is. Horrific things don't just start happening to them - they go looking.

Luke and Claire want to be scared. This is something I really related to, that a lot of horror fans must relate to. I was the kind of kid who watched scary movies even though they terrified me, who played Bloody Mary (and then later, Candyman) in the dark bathroom mirror. There's something really satisfying about that desire to terrorize yourself, because it also feels like it will be worth it if those bloody fingers come through the mirror and wrap around your throat. The world will be so much more magical and interesting, and so you kind of hope that it does work. It's a much more interesting search for meaning than asking what your five year career plan is.

But this is all a really delicate balance. We have a satisfyingly slow boil of anticipation, as we grow to know the characters better. Even the charming funny scenes are in the shadow of what is coming. We know this is a horror movie, and we know bad things are going to happen. If those scares don't ever show up, then all this subtlety becomes a trick, loses its meaning. All this tension would become a broken promise. So it is a relief when, in the end, the movie goes completely insane. We get the scares that the whole movie has been promising, and leave the theatre satisfied.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nature VS Nurture ha ha ha: The Bad Seed (1956)

(Note: I will be discussing the ending in detail, if that is the sort of thing you try to avoid.)

I always expect old black and white movies to be sort of tame and bland in some ways, even though I've seen plenty of black and white movies which have blown my mind. (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? kills me every time.) I suspect I have this prejudice because most of my experience with old movies when I was growing up came from boring middle-of-the-road "classics" on network TV. But The Bad Seed is nowhere near the middle of the road. This is one of the strangest, and most subversive movies I've seen in a long time.

This is the story of a mother and a daughter in the 50s. There are other characters, including a mostly absent father, but the mother and daughter are the heart of this film. The mother is a very traditional and unassuming seeming 50s mom, and the daughter seems angelic and sweet. The premise of the movie is that the daughter is not what she seems. She is a cold blooded killer. But neither, it turns out, is the mother. She starts off very stereotypical and timid, but as her suspicions mount about her daughter, she begins to ask difficult questions about what is going on but also about what it means. What it means about her as a mother, to have raised this murderer. There is a surprising amount of nature-vs-nurture debate in this movie, with men (and it is always men, which is interesting) very authoritatively informing her that criminals are only ever a product of their environment. The idea of people being born bad is just ludicrous, they tell her.

There is very little traditional horror-suspense in this movie. We know, almost immediately, that the daughter is a killer. And we never see any actual murders, we only learn about them from other characters, or hear the details from the television. The tension comes almost entirely from watching the mother fight against something that is simultaneously obvious and impossible to believe - that her perfect daughter is empty inside.

And what does she do, once she learns the truth? The movie doesn't try to get away with any easy answers, here. Even as she accepts the facts of the murders, she still tries to understand why her daughter did it, as though there might be some rational explanation. As though there might be some way her daughter could reassure her. And one of the creepiest exchanges in the movie happens when the daughter tries to do just that. She smiles and laughs, and bats her eyelashes and scuffs her shoes in the same adorable way she did when we first met her. Her mother is pushing for details about a boy she murdered, and the only way the daughter can think to change the subject is to wrap her arms around her mother and repeat one of their cute mother-daughter jokes, "What would you give me for a basket of kisses?"

This movie has one of the harshest scenes I've ever seen in a movie. There's not a drop of blood, but there is a scene late in the movie where we essentially watch a murder take place over the course of a few minutes, and I couldn't believe they'd gone there. The mother has decided that she can't let her daughter keep killing, but she can't let the authorities punish her, or lock her up for observation like some kind of lab rat. So she fills a vitamin bottle with sleeping pills, and then that night she offers a handful to her daughter.

"Why so many?" Her daughter asks.

"It's a new kind of vitamin," the mother says. "Don't worry, I'm having some too." And then we sit and watch as the daughter does what a perfect daughter does. She takes the pills a couple at a time, gulping them down with juice and smiling before reaching out for more. She takes pill after pill while the mother sits with her hand out offering them, staring off into the distance. Then she reads a bedtime story to her daughter, who drifts off a little too abruptly for it to be natural.

I couldn't believe what I was watching. It was so heartbreaking and so harsh, which I would never expect under that slightly phoney veneer that movies from the 50s all share. This was a ten minute scene where we watch a desperate and broken mother murder her own daughter. And then carry her limp body off to the bedroom. Oh, I wish the movie had ended there. What a perfectly devastating note to end on.

But the film doesn't end there. The mother goes and shoots herself (despite that haunting promise that she was taking the vitamins too). Then we see her in the hospital, where the doctors are working on her. And of course, the gunshot attracted the neighbours, and the daughter was saved.

And in the original play this is how things ended I think. The daughter lives on and the mother dies. But the Hays Code wouldn't allow movies at that time to show crime paying, which I guess is the same as the bad guy winning. So, the mother begins to recover, and the daughter... well, the daughter dresses up in a rain slicker and heads out into the night. At first we think she is going to finish the mother off, but it turns out she is headed to the pier where she killed the boy. She wants his spelling bee medal.

So she walks down the pier in the pouring rain, while the clouds thunder overhead, and then she is struck by lightning. The end.

I laughed out loud. It was so ridiculous. I couldn't believe how ridiculous that ending was. But I loved it. It has a bizzarre sort of brilliance, really. After two hours of fisticuffs between nature and nurture, it was nature who got the last word.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Is horror comedy still horror? The Cabin in the Woods.

A lot of the reviews for The Cabin in the Woods say that the movie plays better if you know almost nothing about it, but I think the exact opposite is true. This is a movie that delivers more with every viewing. And those reviews give the impression that this is a twist movie. The "twist" is obvious and clear right from the start. The movie doesn't even treat it like a twist, it treats it as the premise.

From the very opening shot, we know this isn't an old school American horror movie with teens in the woods. The first characters we're introduced to are a group of technicians behind the scenes. Their dialogue lets us know what's up. These teens are to be an offering. A sacrifice. Right from the opening scene we know this is the premise. Nothing relies on twists and turns. The execution of this premise alone is what provides the pleasure.

I'm tempted to say that The Cabin in the Woods is not a horror movie. It is for horror movie fans, and certainly it is packed full of horror movie references, but it doesn't play like a horror movie. We spend at least half the time with the technicians as they work out every humdrum detail of the horror (with a truly charming gallows humour, like you might find as a tech company approaches a project launch.) It is not a spoof of horror movies, either.

Maybe it is a love letter to horror movies, but that doesn't do the film justice either. This was clearly made by people who have an understanding and love of horror movies, and they fill every inch of the movie with references and inside jokes. But these references and inside jokes are the setting. They're the background. The story is something else entirely.

This is a science fiction/fantasy movie about an office environment on a very stressful day. They just happen to be in the business of creating horror. If this were a haunted house, it would be The Haunted Mansion at Disney, but on a day when the ride was closed for maintenance. The wallpaper is all horror, but this is a movie about the interior decorators putting the wallpaper up. We see gruesome murders and horrific monsters, but there's no genuine scares. Because we saw the man pull the lever to open the monster's cage. We hear his muttered joke to cut the tension.

In fact, on my first viewing, the only moments in this movie that felt like missteps were the early deaths. They were played so seriously. The characters being murdered seemed to be so genuinely scared and hurt that it was jarring against the rest of the film. But, having watched the movie a second time, maybe these weren't missteps at all. Certainly they were genuinely upsetting, and they did provide an even stronger contrast to the behaviour of the technicians. The genuine-seeming suffering provided context for when the technicians occasionally broke from gallows humour into quiet serious moments, and the odd faraway look of regret.

I've seen this movie twice now, and enjoyed it even more the second time. It isn't a horror movie the way the trailers implied. This isn't The Evil Dead meets the Truman Show. I guess it is more like Evil Dead 2 meets the Truman Show?

I have difficulty defining the lines of horror sometimes, especially with horror comedy. The Evil Dead is horror. No question. It is funny, sure, but often unintentionally, and it has some genuinely chilling moments. Sam Raimi was making a horror movie, with The Evil Dead. That was his intention. But was he making one with Evil Dead 2? That's a more difficult question. There are fewer genuine scares in Evil Dead 2, and I'm not sure they were going for scares. It's a comedy. A ghoulish and gore-soaked comedy, to be sure, but is that a horror movie?

At the end of the day, I have to say yes. Evil Dead 2 is a horror movie. I would never put it on any shelf except the horror shelf. How much of that is because it identifies itself that way, because it dresses itself up like a horror movie?

I said earlier that maybe The Cabin in the Woods isn't a horror movie, but I think I was wrong. It is dressed like a horror movie, and when people ask what it does for a living, it tells them, "I'm a horror movie." And I think that self-identification in these cases is probably the strongest argument. Because genres are so vague. Are they meant to describe what a movie is like? Do horror movies have scares? If that's the definition, then Cabin falls short. But so does The Devil's Backbone. So do the later instalments of the Nightmare on Elm Street films.

But if horror movies are movies that people who like horror movies will like, then Cabin in the Woods goes on the shelf right beside Evil Dead 2.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A quick impression of movies I watched in 2011.

So, the blog is a year old now!

I didn't think every movie I watched this year was worth writing individual posts about, but I enjoyed reading Emily's book list (and Ryan's!) so much that I thought it'd be fun to do a horror movie version for my year.

1. 28 weeks later - A stronger movie than the first one, in a lot of ways, but it lacks the intensity and the manic feeling that Danny Boyle can create when his characters go feral like Cillian Murphy does at the end of 28 Days. Still, Robert Carlyle is great in this, and the premise was fun.

2. 30 Days of Night - The visuals of bloody splashing on snow and of completely animalistic brutal vampires are high points in an otherwise just okay movie. And Ben Foster is as weirdly captivating as always.

3. Addams Family Values - So dorky, and so fun. I have a weakness for this ghoulish sort of gentle comedy. I can't imagine enjoying these movies quite as much without Raul Julia and Angelica Houston. They are two very talented actors who commit themselves to such silly material completely. I have a lot of respect for that. And Christina Ricci will always be Wednesday Addams to me.

4. Behind the Mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon - This was a fun faux-documentary style that turns into a more genuine horror movie at the end (which is the weakest part, I think.) I normally don't enjoy the faux doc style, but the idea of ambitious journalists unsure how far to go in search of a behind the scenes story about a real life slasher before their morals get in the way is an interesting one. The killer himself is charmingly candid in the behind the scenes doc parts, complaining about how much cardio he has to do and things. It's fun.

5. Black Christmas (original) - I think Courtney told me to watch this one. It's Canadian, and sometimes claimed as the first slasher? I found it sort of slow, though. There were moments of creepy brilliance, and I enjoyed seeing a young Andrea Martin in it, but I just couldn't get into it.

6. Constantine - I love this movie. It's nothing like the comics, which gets people up in arms, but with its weird occult procedural elements it's like a movie version of Supernatural. It knows exactly how to use Keanu Reeves' limited range, and how can you go wrong with Tilda Swinton as an androgynous sociopathic angel?

7. The Crazies (remake) - One of the best remakes ever, I think. It's stylish and smart and creepy as hell. Timothy Olyphant sure does play a lot of sheriffs, though.

8. Cronos - Part of my early-year obsession with Guillermo del Toro, I bought the Criterion Collection version of this, sight unseen, and hated it. I don't understand Criterion sometimes. They released a version of this - a sort of emotionally empty and uninteresting vampire movie with good special effects, but not The Devil's Backbone? Ron Perlman is a highlight here, and I suspect it is his acting that gives his character its depth, as no others have any. There IS however, a sort of hilarious short horror film del Toro made in film school included. It's insane and not "good" exactly, but it made me laugh.

9. Dark Water (original) - This movie didn't do it for me. But I LOVED the idea of water haunting people. Water where it isn't supposed to be can be scary! Who knew? Scenes in the apartment with water pouring down were really unsettling.

10. Dark Water (remake) - Liked this slightly more than the original, but only because of John C Reilly's slimy landlord. Still almost entirely ineffective as a horror film.

11. Devil's Backbone - this movie and Pan's Labyrinth are the reasons I became obsessed with Guillermo del Toro early in the year. Sad and chilling in about equal parts. Love the tagline, too - What is a ghost?

12. Drag me to Hell - Sam Raimi's newest. I liked this okay at first, but grew to love it on rewatches. It isn't perfect, but it has a giddiness that makes it easy to love. And holy shit does Raimi ever get the most out of his PG Rating. Not a lot of blood, but some seriously gross scenes.

13. Evil Dead II - I had a chance to see this on the big screen actually! A local indie theatre got it around halloween. I usually say that Evil Dead 1 is my favourite, because it is actually trying to be scary (even if it fails sometimes) where ED2 is going for laughs, but I had forgotten how often this movie is actually really freaky. It was wonderful to see it in a theatre. This movie was a big part of my teen years and has a place in my heart.

14. Evil Dead - Showed this to a lady who hadn't seen it, on a date. And let me tell you, I turned pretty red when I realized I'd forgotten the tree-rape scene existed. In my head I can make allowances for scenes like that, and still enjoy the rest of the movie, but here I'd been gushing about how inventive and fun it was all night and bam - tree rape. Anyway, they didn't seem to mind, but yeesh. This just goes to show you - Evil Dead 2 is the better date movie.

15. Final Destination - not as much fun as I remembered. Except that I forgot Candyman is death! Awesome. Also, whatever happened to Devon Sawa? It made me want to try and find a copy of Idle Hands. Also, unrelated but strangely, it made me want to watch American Pie again?

16. Friday the 13th (original) - I always forget how great this movie is. In my head Nightmare on Elm Street is the superior series, because Freddy is so much more awesome (and the first Nightmare is so great) but that's because I always think of Jason. Jason isn't in this one, really. And Betsy Palmer is fucking AWESOME as Mrs. Voorhees.

17. Fright Night (remake) - David Tennant! I will admit that Doctor Who is what drew me to this remake originally, but he was only a small part of why it was great. If the vampires in 30 days of night were pure savagery, then Colin Farrell was PURE SEX. Jesus.

18. Ghost Ship - Almost entirely stupid, but with a great opening scene involving a cruise ship ballroom and a long length of wire. Part of my OTHER early-year obsession, Robert Zemekis and Joel Silver's production company Dark Castle Pictures.

19. Hatchet - another date movie, and I couldn't even finish it. Too stupid for my tastes.

20. The Haunting (1963) - based on a Shirley Jackson novel, this movie is more charming than scary, but is a lot of fun.

21. His name was Jason - the first documentary by the people who later made Never Sleep Again (which was amazing) I found this earlier look at the Friday the 13th movies sort of boring. Way less gossipy. Way less fun.

22. House of Wax (remake) - another Dark Castle picture. Hated it, I think. I can hardly remember it at all to be honest.

23. House on Haunted Hill - another Dark Castle picture! This is one that I really liked. Cheesy, but a lot of fun. Not quite as over the top awesome as Thirteen Ghosts, but well worth your time if you like special effects heavy tongue-in-cheek-but-not-parody horror, which is sort of what Dark Castle excels at.

24. I Saw the Devil -  A cop hunts a serial killer who killed his wife, doing increasingly horrible things in his quest for revenge. Totally amazing, and a movie I have to write something more about. Made me laugh out loud with happiness during a late movie scene where the serial killer shakes his head in amazement and says "This guy is crazy."

25. Inside - great french horror film. Two ladies in a house. One is pregnant and one has a pair of scissors. Clearly made by people who love horror movies.

26. Insidious - The previews for this almost kept me away. "From the people who brought you Paranormal Activity (which I HATED) and Saw (which I haven't seen, but which in my head is the starting point for the torture porn movement)"  But this was a very clever haunted house movie with some really well constructed scares. It was funny too, unexpectedly. One of the best modern ghost movies I've seen.

27. Jaws - rewatched Jaws this year, and it is every bit as amazing as ever. I'm always surprised by how fucking awesome the shark in this movie looks. And it's just a great thriller.

28. The Mist - also a rewatch, although this time I watched the special edition black and white version. The CGI monsters felt sort of cheesy in the color version, but in B&W they have an old monster movie feel that matches the rest of a movie that is a love letter to horror. It also introduced me to the work of Drew Stoddard, the cover artist. Or anyway, drew my attention to him. William Sadler and Marcia Gay Harden are both compelling in their supporting roles too.

29. Martyrs - Hated this movie. Very well made, and had a conceptual purity that I admired, but it was just too unpleasant for me. Too hopeless.

30. Mimic (Director's Cut blu-ray) - Another del Toro movie, and maybe the end of my obsession. So damned stupid. I held out for the director's cut, believing that maybe it would strengthen the movie to have it be his original vision, but it is muddled and idiotic. Even the always amazing Charles S Dutton couldn't save it.

31. Monsters - Super low budget film that seemed interesting. More like a road trip movie where the monsters were sort of in the background, just a part of the devastated future landscape. Boring and sometimes obnoxious.

32. Mother - One of my all time favourite movies. I wrote a bigger review here.

33. Never Sleep Again - a super gossipy look at the nightmare on elm street movies. I was 4 hours in before I realized it was 6 hours long. I watched it all in one sitting. So fun.

34. Night of the Demons (original) - Watched this one twice. The first time, I came away thinking it was awesome. I wrote that it was Evil Dead level awesome. But on a rewatch, it is a lot less impressive. It is more like an Evil Dead rip-off with some insane choices that keep it fun. Still worth watching.

35. Night of the Demons (remake) I went through a phase this year where I watched movies and their remakes back to back. The Night of the Demons remake made me sad both because of its low quality, and because Ed Furlong looks like he's been having a rough time lately.

36. Night of the Demons 2 - This movie is a) stupid, and b) the only time I've ever seen a movie where the best scenes are actually just footage from another movie. Did they think we wouldn't notice that it was actual scenes from the first just spliced in? Jesus.

37. The Others - Another favourite. I wrote a big post about it, too.

38. Pan's Labyrinth - I loved this. I'm not sure that I really enjoy the modern fairy tale thing, but this was so strange and lovely visually, and so weirdly dark that I overcame my skepticism. I still prefer Devil's Backbone, but this is an amazing movie.

39. Pet Semetary - I remember hiding my face throughout this whole movie as a kid. Now it's a little less impressive. It has a TV movie feel to it, but I still really got a kick out of the line "Sometimes dead is better" and it was never boring.

40. Piranha (remake) - terrible for the first hour, then a work of demented art for the last 30 minutes.

41. Pontypool - a canadian zombie movie set in a radio station. The zombie virus is transmitted by language, rather than bites. It loses some of its strength toward the end, as it embraces insane b-movie characters, but Stephen McHattie is great as the radio DJ, and the ideas are neat.

42. Quarantine/Rec - essentially the same movie. I enjoyed Rec (the spanish original) slightly more, but I suspect that is just because I saw it first. A good "what the fuck" moment movie.

43. Rec 2 - I enjoy sequels that overlap with the original. This first part of this takes place during the first movie. Otherwise it's fairly standard, and not as interesting as the first, I felt.

44. Red Dragon - Loved this movie, despite feeling like Hannibal was cheesy in it. The real heart of the movie was Ralph Fiennes as the disfigured serial killer and Emily Watson as the blind woman he begins a relationship with. I am fascinated by sympathetic portraits of villains. I find it much more compelling than just showing them as monsters.

45. Shutter (original) - an unexpectedly intelligent thai horror movie. I expected just another j-horror influenced ghost story, and instead got a horror movie about the ways men lie to themselves about what they've done.

46. Shutter (remake) - almost exactly the same as the original in terms of plot, clearly made without any understanding why the original was so brilliant.

47. Silent Hill - This movie made no sense, but looked AMAZING doing it.

48. Sixth Sense - first time I've seen this since it came out. Cheesy in parts, but all in all a strong movie with a nice feeling of sadness that hangs over every scene. Knowing the twist doesn't make it any less watchable.

49. Perfect Host - great serial killer thriller/comedy starring David Hyde Pierce. He's clearly having fun playing such a crazy character, and it makes it so much fun to watch.

50. The Thing (remake/prequel?) No good.

51. Thirteen Ghosts (remake) I could watch this every year. The best movie to come out of Dark Castle. I wrote a big post about it, too.

52. Tucker and Dale VS Evil - a really REALLY charming comedy about two hillbillies who head out to the woods to fix up their "summer home" a run down creepy cottage, and get mistaken for crazy backwoods murderers by idiot college kids. A one-joke premise that is carried along easily and enjoyably by the incredibly likeable lead performances of Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine and Katrina Bowden.

53. Wake Wood - HAMMER is making horror movies again. This is a good horror/thriller about a family whose daughter dies, and they bring her back (sort of like Pet Semetary, but also, sort of not like that.) Cheesy, and occasionally predictable and stupid, but fun enough, and worth a watch.

54. Wrong Turn - a killer hillbilly movie that I really enjoyed. I'm not sure how I missed it the first time around, but Eliza Dushku is great, and the movie is tense and propulsive. The final scenes in the treetops (?!) were really inventive I thought. Not brilliant, but really solid horror movie. Far better than the Hills Have Eyes, if you are itching for some killer redneck mutants.