Finally

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Watch enough Horror films and you notice Trends. Trends eventually become tropes, which eventually become cliches. Cliches lead to parody which begets apathy. Once things went down this road, most fans and critics wrote off the slasher genre as outdated and passe. Then something interesting happened. Wes Craven brought self awareness to the game. The Scream films, and even his earlier New Nightmare, to some extent, allowed audiences to revisit old territory with new twists. Whether you are a fan of the Scream films or not (personally I am not), it cannot be denied that  their self awareness revitalized and preserved the sub-genre. Final Girl has much of that same spirit, though applied much differently.

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The concept of the Final Girl appears in almost every slasher film, depicting the one girl virtuous enough to avoid the obvious death traps of sex and drugs and overcome her vulnerabilities in an empowering battle of wills with the killer, whom she will ultimately triumph over (more or less). Director Tyler Shields tells us a visually entrancing story of an orphan girl who is trained to fight maniacs by a man who has lost his family to “Bad Men”. Veronica positions herself to be the perfect bait, then the swiftest of executioners by beating them at their own game. The film appears to be set in the 1950s, or at least is borrowing heavily from the look for the sake of visual appeal. Further adding to the appeal is a pseudo-surrealist set design with stark white lighting, improbable use of spotlights and framing reminiscent of a stage play. It’s not style over substance, but both style and substance make very bold statements in this film.

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The killers are a curious quartet of young men who get together and hunt pretty young girls in the woods. Led by Jameson, a charismatic boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it is implied he is used to getting his way in every scenario. To him, there are no limits. Whatever whim he has will be indulged, even those of a violent nature. Shane appears to be the Beta of the group, he is the only one with a long term girlfriend, but it is his insecurities with this relationship which feed his violent impulses. Nelson is the bland Momma’s Boy of the group. He has, what we are lead to believe is a complex, possibly dysfunctional relationship with his Mother and like many before and after, this fuels his violence towards women. Lastly we have Danny Boy. Danny is the frantic ball of unfocused energy that in later decades would be a poster-child for ADHD, but in the 50’s was just known as a Wild-Child. He is always on, can’t sit still or keep his mouth shut, and requires constant stimulation. The rush of the kill seems to be his drug of choice.

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Abigail Breslin makes it very easy to forget her days as a chubby yet adorable oddball in Little Miss Sunshine. She’s grown into a gorgeous young woman as well as a damn fine actress. Her portrayal of Veronica is subtle yet intense when the mood calls for it. She is as focused and calculating as she is dangerous, but can slip into a disguise of vulnerability at will. Her relationship with her mentor William is complex as well. Their Sensei/Pupil relationship complex, similar to a father/daughter kinda deal…but not without its share of sexual tension. They are both pretty fucked up, but its clear that they need each other. It’s a fun dynamic that I enjoyed watching and enjoyed thinking about even more. Final Girl doesn’t reinvent the wheel, because it doesn’t need to. What it does is shows us a different side of the wheel that allows us to appreciate it in ways we may never have before. This highly stylized, self aware Slasher receives my highest recommendations!

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Kung Fury: Why the Horror genre should take notice.

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If you haven’t heard about Kung Fury yet, I seriously question what you do on the internet. The brainchild of David Sandberg (Writer/Director/Star/Visual Effects Ninja), and his Laser Unicorns Production company, Kung Fury is 30 minutes of highly stylized 80’s inspired rad-ness. Inspired directly by Sandberg’s love of 80’s Action films, this short pushes all the right buttons and is the kind of throwback that many have tried to achieve but have fallen on their face while trying.

I can’t go any further without acknowledging that this film is not a Horror film by any stretch of the imagination, but it remains worth discussing all the same. Not only does this film pack enough violence and bloodshed, as well as over the top awesomeness to satisfy any fan of Cheesy 80’s horror films, but the approach and overall execution of the project should serve as both an inspiration, as well as a throwing down of the gauntlet to those who wish to make throwback cinema.

Regular readers will know that I have a Love/Hate relationship with throwback films. I love the spirit, but sometimes it just feels like the filmmakers go out of their way to be silly and the quality suffers. Kung Fury manages to cram in more ridiculousness than I’ve ever seen in 30 minutes, but somehow manages to play it straight while simultaneously not taking itself too seriously. The soundtrack is fucking epic and even features David Hasselhoff singing “True Survivor”, which may be my favorite new song of the year. Visually, this film is on another level, combining conventional photography with digital 3d animation. The finished product looks both retro, and cutting edge in the same breath. Shot almost entirely on green screen and then composited together, Laser Unicorns demonstrated that a limited budget can still generate jaw-dropping work when applied with passion and dedication. Granted, I am a die-hard supporter of practical effects being used whenever possible, but projects like this are certainly an exception. The lesson to be learned here for Horror Filmmakers is that the throwback genre is alive and well…and will now be held to a much higher standard (I’m looking at you, Mutantis…seriously what the fuck even was that?)

So what if it’s not Horror? It’s still awesome in all the ways we love and well worth a view, so without and further delay, I present: KUNG FURY!

“Attacked by ‘uge fookin ‘owlin things!”

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Werewolf films are often quite stagnant. Steeped in folklore, with tropes we all know far to well, the opportunity for growth within the genre is often very rare. Then along come Neil Marshall’s directorial debut and while even borrowing heavily from other films, manages to give us a breath of fresh air. How did he do it? He didn’t make a Werewolf film that has Soldiers in it…he made a Soldier film with Werewolves in it.

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Our story finds a squad of Soldiers dropped into the Highlands for a training exercise against a Special Forces group. Unbeknownst to them, they are intended to be used as bait for a pack of Werewolves in the area, in hopes of capturing one of them. As one can expect, plans go pear-shaped and the plucky squad must retreat to a local cabin and try to fend off the furry brutes. The squad is led by Capt. Harry Wells(Sean Pertwee), the second in command is Pvt Cooper, and is rounded out by Spoon, Joe, Terry, and Bruce. The bond between this group runs very deep and despite their good natured bickering back and forth, you can tell that these are men who will be prepared to lay down their lives for each other. One criticism I’ve heard is that the squad seems too calm and cool when faced with a Werewolf assault. I’m not the least bit surprised, these are Soldiers, trained to kill, trained for combat in hellish conditions, and more than that, they have each other to keep their mood light. If any of these men were to face the same situation alone, I would expect far more terror.

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The beasts look very unique, and leave nothing to the imagination as to their nature. You look at these creatures and you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are seeing a fucking werewolf. Not some escaped Looney (although Cooper does reference this possibility…), not some giant wolf, no. These walk tall on two legs and have shaggy Lupine heads. With a small budget, the practical effects aren’t the best around, but still serve the purpose quite well. Cinematography, setting, score, and performances create a great atmosphere of both mirth and genuine dread. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about this film, but whenever we get a brief glimpse of one of the creatures, be it a blood-soaked snout fogging up the window, or an out of focus reveal in the background, there is something so unnerving about these wolves. Somehow, “the little monster film that could” has tapped into something primal. I almost wish the direction had been tweaked slightly and the film had played this up more… Almost.

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Just as the creatures hunt with a relentless pack mentality, the Squad has no quit in them either. Sarge is a hard as nails man of experience who sadly spends most of the action portion of the film on the sidelines after having his guts literally slashed out and then stuffed back in. He’s not afraid to die, and in fact takes several opportunities to order that he be left behind to give the rest a better chance of escape. Cooper is calm and cunning, he leads well in the absence of the Sarge but doesn’t seem comfortable in the role. During the siege on the cabin, Cooper mostly goes back and forth helping his lads in their skirmishes rather than standing and fighting by himself. And then there is Spoon. Fuckin Spoon! This is a scrappy little bastard with a penchant for smart quips. Between using a kitchen pit to bash snouts, hammers to dash fingers and genuine fisticuffs to combat the wolves, Spoon has not an ounce of quit in him, even down to his last words before being eaten.

There have been rumours of a sequel for years, and in recent times, even a few false starts…whether we ever see anything else from this property or not, this film stands as true original…that somehow borrows heavily from An American Werewolf In London, The Evil Dead, and The Howling. Werewolves in film can be so hit and miss, the bad is really bad, but the good is really good. This is a perfect example of a Werewolf film done right!

Overlooked Event

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Anytime I mention this film to someone, I’m always met first with confusion, then vague recollection. “Event Horizon? No, I don’t think I know that movie”…” Oh yeah, that one, totally forgot about that…”. Admittedly, 1997 was not the greatest year for major studio Horror Films, with such releases as An American Werewolf in Paris, Leprechaun 4: In Space, and Alien Resurrection. This was the same year we got Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer firmly establishing the new wave of Teen Horror films. Say what you will, but for better or worse, they made money! We also got some great under the radar films such as Lost Highway, Cube, and Event Horizon. These last 3 films defy conventional classification and often are forgotten by fans…but never by Dr. Havok!!!

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Event Horizon is essentially a Ghost story told aboard a derelict Space Ship, and makes use of the common tropes you would expect. We’ve got jump scares, ominous noises, bad CGI (although for the time it looked great!), and derivative script elements. How derivative you ask? Let’s just say I would bet good money that the last 3 films watched by the director prior to filming were 2001: a space odyssey, Hellraiser, and Alien. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation…the influences are worn proudly on sleeve throughout the feature, but if you are going to draw heavy influence from other films, that’s a damn fine list to select!

Everyone knows that the Event Horizon blew up on her maiden voyage seven years ago, it was the biggest Space Disaster in recorded history. So you can imagine the surprise when a distress signal is received from the Horizon in a decaying orbit around Neptune. During the journey, the designer of the Horizon briefs the crew that the EH was built to test an experimental Gravity Drive capable of faster than Light travel. Dr. Weir explains that the gravity drive opens dimensional portals between two points in space allowing the Event Horizon to pass through instantaneously. The Gravity drive functions by creating black holes which are used to rip holes in our dimension and…y’know what? I don’t need to pseudoscience to be totally sound, and nor should you.

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Once aboard the Horizon, the rescue crew finds ominous logs left by the EH crew, mutilated corpses, and a ship that may in fact be sentient. Seems that when the ship jumps through these portals, it travels through a dimension of pure chaos and evil, not unlike hell. That should be spoilers enough for you, but the rest should be seen firsthand. The effects are well done, the score and tone are perfect, and the talented cast is full of enough “holy shit its that guy” moments to keep you entertained.  Also, there is a blood orgy. Why don’t more films have blood orgies? I’m frequently asked “What are some good Horror Movies I should watch?”, and this is one of the films I often recommend. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

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The Northwest Horror Show!!!

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It wasn’t that long ago that i wrote about the Authentic feel of Grindhouse cinema being largely lost(https://doctorhavok.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/42nd-street-forever-bring-back-the-grindhouse/), and now Northwest Nightmares Entertainment decides to roll out a Festival tailor made for Doctor Havok! I’m egotistical as fuck, so I’m going to pretend the organisers are readers of mine and did this solely to please me, despite any and all improbability.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I was not able to take in the full festival, as I would have liked, so I had to pick carefully. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to catch anything on Saturday night because of my commitments to ECCW Wrestling, so that limited my viewing choices somewhat. Friday nights line up was 1985’s Demons (preceded by shorts “M” is for Montage, and Inder Nirwan), and 1988’s Brain Damage (preceded by shorts Pumpkin Spice, and Seeing Red), and concluded with Cannibal Holocaust (preceded by short El Gigante). Saturday saw screenings of Massacre: Mafia Style(1975), Gone With The Pope(1976), Trailer Apocalypse (a collection of trailers presented by Grindhouse Releasing), and Pieces(1982). I didn’t bother to find out which shorts were shown this day because…well, I knew I couldn’t attend. Sunday wrapped it all up by screening the 1980 schlock-fest Nightmare City (with short Say What!?), and Lucio Fulci’s 1981 classic The Beyond(preceded by short Fruit of Thy Womb). I wound up seeing Cannibal Holocaust, Nightmare City, and The Beyond. I bought some Blu Rays from the Videomatica booth, I won a “Demons 2″ steelbook, I got some free posters and tips about upcoming festivals and genre screenings, and I got to talk to other genre fans. All in all, I would say that for a first outing, despite modest attendance, The Northwest Horror Show was a success!

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Each film was presented in 35mm print, and as you can expect, the quality was seriously degraded. Scratches, distortions, breaks and patches in the reel were all on the menu…and it was incredible! It felt raw and dirty, just the way these films were meant to be viewed. The venue felt like an odd fit though. Maybe I’m biased, but The Rio would have felt more fitting for a show such as this. Hopefully this will be an annual event and the NWHS will grow bigger and bigger. I see no reason why this couldn’t expand to a weeklong fest, with panels, short film contests , seminars and more classic films. If we want to see more events like this, we need to contact the organizers and demand more! As always, check your local screenings and stay informed, because you never know what awesomeness might be playing near you.

Mutant Clusterfuck

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Right, So awhile back i received an email from a chap who’s name I’ve forgotten and am far too lazy to look up, nor do i care to shame the man. He asked if i would be interested in reviewing a film he had been a part of creating, called Mutantis. He described it as an “old School Horror-Comedy/Sci-Fi gorefest”. It sounded promising enough, so I agreed and provided my address for a screener copy to be sent. Months went by and no DVD, and when i made attempts to contact this chap and inquire, I got no response.  I had resigned myself to selecting something else that had been emailed to me by readers, but due to an email mishap, any and all fan submissions were lost. Fuck! Still the spectre of Mutantis lived on…so much so that my Girlfriend ordered the damn thing from Amazon, because she HAD to see it. I feel I need to say that I’m not mad at this afore mentioned chap, maybe a bit annoyed, but thats the way shit goes. At the end of the day I can’t complain about not receiving something for free, so I just need to assume that he didn’t give a fuck. So, Amazon comes through, we watch it that very same night…and it becomes painfully clear that NOBODY involved with this film gave any fucks at all.

Go ahead and watch the trailer…not only does it paint an accurate depiction of the film, but this brief glimpse is actually far more watchable than the film itself. Lord knows I am a fan of Campy Retro Horror films, and even the wave of modern homages flooding the market…but this is just too much. Far too often will I see a newer film trying to pay tribute to the cheesy gems of old by intentionally making a shitty movie, but they are missing the point! For the most part, filmmakers were trying to make the best film possible with their meager means, or had accepted the fact that their budget wouldn’t allow for much, so just had fun with it. Mutantis can only be explained as the filmmakers getting together a very small budget, and TRYING to make the shittiest film possible. The costumes are worse than the Peace River High School Drama Department(Highschool shout-out!), the acting is ridiculous, almost every actor is in bad drag for no reason, characters are played by multiple actors again for no reason, and all the dialogue is horribly dubbed in the most annoying way possible. Everything about the movie is designed to suck. There are poorly focused shots, heads out of frame, dialog exposition, colour grading issues, etc. Whatever can be done badly, has been done badly.

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Mutantis itself looks appropriately crap, a throwback to the creature features of yesteryear. I’m reminded of the classic “It Conquered The Earth”. Nothing that looks like this can be taken seriously. The whole thing is laughable, and damn it all, i did get some laughs out of the film. Props to the writers for the inventive kills Mutantis enacts on its victims. Penis dismemberment, death by extreme fellatio, cunnilingual face mastication, titty chopping, this film has it all covered. Sure the FX are amateurish and cheap, but at least it’s not CGI (No way they could have afforded CGI gore…)and it’s quite gruesome and rather funny. You have not lived until you see a man die from an explosion of semen pouring out of his eye sockets and a giant monster penis bursting out the back of his head, let me tell you.

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How do I feel about this movie? It’s harmless I suppose…at least it KNOWS it’s crap and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. I’ve recommended it to a few friends, but even then it was pretty much in a “Troll2″ kind of way. Since the bar was set so alarmingly low for this film, it was easy for the filmmakers to achieve what they set out to do, so as long as you can keep your expectations similarly low, then this may be worth checking out.

Let’s get NASTY!: Contamination (’80) and Dead & Buried (’81)

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Yet another Italian film makes the list, yet another film with a score by Goblin, another run of alternate titles ( Alien Contamination, Contamination: Alien on Earth and Toxic Spawn), and still another film that I have no idea why it was banned. The film itself is nothing special, with a great score, decent gore, and mediocre story. A derelict vessel drifts into New York Harbour. Seemingly abandoned, the ship is discovered to be carrying large containers of coffee, hidden inside of which are a series of football-sized green eggs.

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The crew sent in to explore the ghost ship find the mutilated remains of the former crew gathered in one place, and they soon discover the reason why: when heated up enough, the green eggs explode, spraying a viscous liquid over everything. The liquid is toxic to living creatures, and causes the body to immediately explode. The ensuing investigation links the eggs to a secret mission to Mars and results in the trio of a sarcastic New York Cop, an attractive Military Scientist(or at least I assume she is supposed to be…her face looks kinda weird. Almost like someone spent good money to buy a “Beautiful Woman” mask, and then didn’t bother to apply it properly) and the lone surviving astronaut from the Mars mission journeying to Coffee headquarters and discovering an alien plot involving a Cycloptic Octopus with slimy munchy parts…

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I won’t waste time going into fantastic detail about the plot, because even at the best of times, it is pretty flimsy. How this film wound up on the Nasties list, I will never know. It is worth noting that while the film made the DPP list, it was NOT successfully prosecuted. At the end of the day i suppose I’ll have to write this one up as a victim of the times. While the image of humans exploding outward in slow mo in all their bloody glory is pretty tame by today’s standards, i can imagine that Stuffy Olde England might have thought differently. As a Nasty, I can’t help but feel this falls very short of any expectations I had going in. I was expecting a cross between Zombie Flesh Eaters and Street Trash, not a cheap Alien rip off. If you take the film for what it is, and weren’t aware that it had been banned, maybe it would have been a more enjoyable viewing experience.

 

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Just one title? Made in America? Holy shit! Time for something different! Dead & Buried surprised me quite a lot, and it wasn’t until half way through that i realized I had seen this years before and forgotten. Going through no less than 3 separate production companies, this film was a bit of a Nightmare behind the scenes. At some point Dan O’Bannon was attached in some capacity as a writer, but the finished product bears little if any of his influence, and he has since disowned the film.

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The plot concerns a sleepy little town called Potters Bluff whose Townspeople act as a Murderous Mob, collectively murdering their victims right under the nose of the local Sheriff who tries in vain to learn the identity of the killers and their motive. Red Herrings abound with suspicious behaviour from the Sheriff’s wife, as well as discussion of Voodoo and Witchcraft, all adding to a genuinely creepy atmosphere and a conclusion that reminds be of the old EC Horror comics.  The murders are brutal! The first victim is lashed to a pole with a fishing net, set aflame, only to somehow survive! After being bandaged up at the local Hospital, an assailant sneaks in and finishes the job by jamming a huge needle into his eye…and all right under the nose of the Sheriff!

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Stan Winston provides superb FX work in this film, making great use of puppets to achieve stunning shots that even impress by todays standards. The scene in which the Mortician rebuilds the head of a deceased girl, undoing the damage inflicted by her attacker, making her fit for her funeral display, making her beautiful again is shown in a brilliant time-lapse type shot, switching seamlessly from the puppet and the actress. Another film that was acquitted of Obscenity charges, this film stands out from other Nasties in terms of quality as well. Creepy and effective, low-key and full of twists, this is a genuinely good horror film that really does make you wish they still made them like this today. If you get a chance to see it, please take it! You won’t be disappointed.