“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!

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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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42nd Street Forever! Bring back the GRINDHOUSE!

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Did you see 2007s Grindhouse in the theater?  I hope to fuck that you did. Im not sure how many times i went, but I know it was more than 3, less than 7…so lets say 5. the last 3 times were at the departed Granville 7 cinema. You had to see this place, i never saw more than 20 people show up for any screening, so the place always felt nearly deserted. it was dark, creepy, and felt seedy. Located at a spot downtown that could be either skeevy or decadent, depending on which way the wind was blowing, I don’t think anyone who entered Granville 7 was ever in any real danger of being mugged or raped, but there was that subtle vibe all the same…

 

This did wonders for the viewing experience! Here I was, paying very little money to watch a double bill of Violence, Gore, Sadism and Thrills, complete with shitty image quality, and ridiculous trailers for films that if they existed, i HAD to see! Sadly, this is as close as i would ever get to the Grindhouses of New Yorks 42nd street. Actually, that isn’t true, Vancouver still had The Fox Cinema, a XXX theater institution on Main Street. I had gone to the Fox several times, and soaked in(figuratively speaking at least…literally speaking was always a risk you took) the spectacle and the sleaziness of it all. On any given occasion, you could see what looked like deranged 80’s time travelling hookers nodding off in the seats and benches, creepy dudes doing their best Joe Spinelli in Maniac impression, shifty looking dealers offering even shiftier looking drugs, The occasional public display of fucking by patrons…which sometimes had other patrons lining up for their turn. And of course there was the gay cruising. Apparently there was a whole system of etiquette and codes associated with this, something about which rows you sat in and changing rows to express interest…I dunno, I found that if anybody made me any kind of offer i didn’t want, a simple “Fuck Off”, was enough to get them to leave me alone. Why would anyone other than a dedicated pervert (no shame, perv hard!) venture into this place? For the experience. Sure it was dirty, and skeevy and you can’t imagine what the fucking bathroom smelled like, but it had that element of danger that I crave in cinema.

 

Back to the topic at hand, Tarantino and Rodriguez gave me, and presumably others, a taste of something magical we had only heard about, knowing it was long gone and never to return. We wanted more! Why not a film showcasing franchise jumping Sheriff Earl McGraw? Maybe the Backstory of El Wray, that was only hinted at in Planet Terror? What about those incredible fucking trailers? Machete, Werewolf Women of the SS, Don’t, and Thanksgiving had me more excited for upcoming(?) films than i had been in years! Over the years since, I had heard various reports that these films may one day see the light of day. We saw Machete, which i felt lived up to expectations but i would have enjoyed more if it had a more degraded film look and DID NOT use a body double for the Lindsay Lohan nude scenes. We also saw the release of Hobo With A Shotgun, which started as a contest winning fake trailer, tacked on to later screenings of Grindhouse. Since then, there have been several new films that seem intent on capitalising on renewed interest in grindhouse style films. Astron 6 pretty much owes their careers to Grindhouse with releases like Fathers Day, Man-Borg, and The Editor. Other modern gems such as Dear God, No!, and Run Bitch, Run! bring the goods and wrap them in a vintage grimy package…there are tons more, keep your ears and your eyes open.

 

Im currently in talks with several other like minded fellows to put together a proposal and acquire sponsors to rent local theaters with a certain “Charm” to host regular Grindhouse nights, complete with trailers, double bills, buckets of bodily fluids and every manner of chills and thrills imaginable. We’ll never be able to go back to the Glory days of old, sensibilities have changed, and the world of Cinema has moved on. Grindhouse Cinema died young, left a ragged but slutty looking corpse, and was buried by the mainstream. But dammit, we might be able to bring it back for a few nights at a time. It won’t be easy, but if enough of us demand it, then our voices will be heard by someone determined to make a buck off of us. Don’t get me wrong, the Multiplex and Blu Rays might be enough for the majority…but it’s not enough for me. I want my films to be dangerous again. I want an Exploitation Explosion! I want a new rise of the Nasties! I want to go back to the Grindhouse.

 

 

 

Black No.1

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Hammer films has a rich legacy of making Gothic Horror masterpieces. While prolific in the 50s -70s, their output almost totally dried up and the studio lay dormant until the early 2000s. I’d love to go on more about Hammer Horror Films, but I’m saving most of that material for a separate post. The Woman in Black is a damn fine return to form for the iconic studio. With a sequel looming on the horizon, I felt this was a good time to take another look at this retelling of a contemporary British classic.

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Originally a 1983 Novella, and then a 1989 Telefilm, The Woman In Black is probably best known for its 1987 stage play which went on to be the second longest running play in the West End of London. By the time the 2012 film came around, the story was pretty well worn territory…for Brits anyway. Director James Watkins manages to craft a film that plays up the Gothic traditions of Hammer as well as play to the sensibilities of a modern audience. Casting Harry Potter as your lead definitely helps with that as well.
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Yup, that’s right. Daniel Radcliffe turns in a dramatic performance not long removed from his days of saving Hogwarts. He plays Arthur Kripps, a widowed lawyer who is sent to help close out an estate called Eel Marsh House. Eel Marsh is surrounded by marshes and is only accessible by a narrow causeway which disappears when the tide is high. It is within these shadow filled corridors that Arthur begins his encounters with The Woman in Black, and learns of the haunting legacy she has visited on the nearby village. No spoilers, go watch the goddamn movie.
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Where the film really shines is its use of atmosphere and setting. Stolen glances of the spectral woman from deep within the shadows of the lonely house. The isolation, oppressive fog, the festering marsh land. These elements work wonders towards establishing a bleak, hopeless atmosphere. The colors are muted, the score is haunting, and the shadows are everywhere. Each role is perfectly cast, the villagers genuinely looking terrified and superstitious, while Radcliffe looks like a man struggling to maintain his grip.
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Then of course there were these creepy wind up toys. Seriously. Who the fuck would think these would be a good toy to give a child? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good creepy clown as much as anyone, but even I think that lil wind-up clown is too fucking creepy. No wonder turn of the Century England produced such twisted folks that Jack The Ripper was able to blend in so well.

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 31

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I was a Monster Kid. Shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise…And to every Monster Kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was no movie cooler than Monster Squad! Imagine if all the classic Monsters showed up in Suburbia to wreak havoc, and the only ones who can stop them are a group of wise-assed, swearing(sort of) adolescents. What Monster Kid wouldn’t go nuts for this?

The film centers around a group of friends who have a Monster Club, and by that virtue alone are thrust right into the center of a centuries old conflict between the forces of good and evil. De Facto leader, Sean is gifted an old book by his Mother…and it just so happens to be the Diary of Abraham Van Helsing…which she bought at a fucking Garage sale! About this time, Dracula literally mails himself and Frankenstein to Sean’s town (Eightiesville?), where they meet up with a Werewolf, a Mummy from the museum awakens to join them, and a fucking Gillman just happens to be living in the local waterways. After overhearing his cop dad talking about reports of a Werewolf, and a missing Mummy, Sean notices his mom has left a note saying someone named Mr. Alucard(read it backwards), called about the Book. OK…so a few things are sticking out for me right now. How the fuck did Dracula know Sean had the book? When did Dracula learn proper telephone etiquette, let alone how to use a goddamn phone? Why the actual fuck would he use such an obvious alias? And why…OH FUCKING WHY…does Dracula look the way he does? He doesn’t look like Dracula. He looks like somebody’s bad-joke cracking Dentist who thought it would be a hoot to dress as Dracula for Halloween. Maybe this movie isn’t quite as awesome as I remembered it.

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Anyway, Sean calls a Monster Club meeting to inform the rest of the kids of his suspicions and to formally name their group The Monster Squad. They decide to visit the local Scary German Guy to get help translating the diary. They learn that there is a mystic medallion thingy that keeps the balance between good and evil, and once every 100 years, the amulet can be destroyed. If Dracula can get ahold of the Amulet (and he does, it was hidden in the basement of some creepy house), He and his Creatures of the Night will be able to rule the world and Blah Blah Blah…Fuck!

I’m not sure if it’s just that I’m still full of Piss and Vinegar over the questionable use of the Universal Monsters, or if this film hasn’t aged well or what. Did I just never notice these flaws before? Or did I overlook them simply because this is a Monster Movie. How often have I forgiven or even praised a truly awful film, simply because they were Horror films? Am I such a slave to the genre that I’ll forgive anything?

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So, the Squad rounds up supplies to fight Monsters, prints up business cards, and sends a crayon written note to the US military (Army Guys)asking for help. Along the way, Sean’s little sister Phoebe makes friends with Frankenstein’s Monster proving once and for all that the creature was always just a big softy. On the big night, the boys sneak into Dracula’s lair, kick Wolfman in the Nards, steal the amulet and rope a few virgins into reciting a spell that will propel the Monsters into Limbo. Finally the film starts to pick back up! Fat Kid and Rudy are the real hero’s as between the two of them, they take out The Mummy, 3 Vamp bitches, The Gillman, and the Wolfman! The details of exactly how they do it, I’ll leave for you to see.

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Fuck it, I changed my mind. This Movie does hold up. In fact, it still kicks ass! The effects are pretty decent, but in more of a Halloween party sort of way. It’s funny, insane, totally saturated in the 80’s, has completely unnecessary gun play, foulmouthed kids, and Iconic Movie monsters! Sure, the film has lots of flaws, but then again so does just about EVERYTHING in the genre. If you’ll permit me to get philosophical for a minute…we’re all Misfits. Each one of us is weird, broken, or “flawed” in our own way. Sometimes it’s the flaws that make us so wonderful and unique. So there we have it, That’s the Monster Squad, and that concludes the 2014 edition of #31DaysOfHorror. As weird as it may sound, after all that I feel somewhat renewed. I have plenty of new ideas, and plans to expand my output and content with Audio and Video. The Documentary I was a part of, called Retail Of The Darkest Kind should be available for download soon, and I have a few other surprises up my sleeve. Thanks for reading!

Retail of the Darkest Kind Trailer: http://youtu.be/EkRoyjo4bjQ

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 30

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At what point does our fiction become our Mythology? When does our Mythology become passe? The Universal pantheon of monsters is firmly entrenched in pop culture to the point that not only have these properties been re-made, re-imagined, co-opted and assimilated into virtually every medium, but the Monsters themselves have become…loveable.

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Horror Icon Boris Karloff captured the imaginations and nightmare of generations of Fright Fans by bringing Frankenstein’s Monster, as well as The Mummy to life. We all know the images, most of us know the stories, but do they hold up?

It seems almost every time someone mentions The Mummy, they are talking about the remake starring Brendan Fraser. Now I’m all for paying respect to the classics, but as much as I hate to admit it, the remake is a vastly superior film in just about every way you care to name. Sure, it may have some really awkward CG effects, but the original has almost NOTHING happening in it! Aside from Karloff using a truly chilling stare to pierce its way into our nightmares, the film is a total bore. Yes, I know that the standards and expectations for Horror films were much different back then, however this film just does not hold up. Full stop.

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Similarly the Wolf Man was also treated to a modern remake (which I reviewed here:  ), yet perhaps has a richer legacy the the Mummy. Lon Chaney Jr plays the cursed Lawrence Talbot, along with other Horror Icons as Bela Lugosi, and Claude Rains. Thanks to the Crestwood series of Monsters books (the ones with the Orange logos that you always tried to take out of the Library at school), I knew all about the story of the Wolf Man, as well as the rest of the Monsters, long before I had seen the film. I knew that Chaney’s character is meant to be portrayed as cursed, his affliction being a tragedy. When I finally did watch the film I was somewhat surprised at how so many aspects seemed cliche. The slow transformation, the Gypsy, the Tormented protagonist, etc. These tropes had been incorporated heavily into pop culture to the point that seeing them in their original context was almost humorous. Two things really stood out to me though, the setting and atmosphere and overall look is phenomenal. To be fair, ALL the Universal Monster films have this in common.

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What I’m getting at is these films have a legacy of greatness, reputations that precede them, and have kick started the Nightmares of Movie-Goers for generations…yet when I first viewed them, I was bored. Could it have been that I had already watched more frightening films? As filmmaking has evolved, so have the tactics used to scare us, so by the time the late 80s/Early 90s rolled around I wasn’t too concerned with Drac, Wolfie and Franky…I was more worried about Jason, Freddy and Chucky! Or maybe it was because by this time, I had already seen these monsters reduced to Saturday Morning Cartoons. Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, the Flintstones and others have all featured the iconic Monsters, and always seem to portray them in an unflattering light. Sure, they are established as supposedly scary, but they end up being bumbling boobs. When the Dracula character is bested by Barney imitating a Rooster crowing, then something is seriously wrong. I know these are intended for children, but our Monster Gods deserve a bit better than that!

Over the years, there have been several attempts to re-launch the Universal Monsters, and with the exception of the UKs Hammer Films(Full article forthcoming), and the Francis Ford Coppola produced remakes of Dracula and Frankenstein, the attempts have fallen flat. Either the films were plagued by turmoil behind the scenes, or the films drew poorly at the box office, or the films were successful for the wrong reasons. The Brendan Fraser remakes of the Mummy are a prime example of success for the wrong reasons as the films were moved away from Horror and into Action/Adventure. As I mentioned previously, I actually enjoyed these films more than the original Mummy, but it gave Producers the notion that taking the Monsters away from Horror was the right choice. As a result we got garbage such as Van Helsing, and the newly released Dracula Untold. Both are overly CGI heavy and employ little to nothing in the way of scares.

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What is my point with all this off topic rambling? That these films are classics and should have a rich and respectable legacy, but instead have been rendered little better than Cartoons and Cereal Mascots. Newer generations will never get a chance to appreciate the Monsters for what they were intended to be, they have been de-clawed long before us youngsters ever got a chance to be afraid of them. As a child, I was more afraid of Paul Reubens as a Vampire from Buffy The Vampire Slayer than I was Count Dracula. There is something profoundly wrong with that!

For my final review of October*Editors Note: Yes I know this is coming extremely late, but it’s my life and I’ll be like Dale Keown if I fucking feel like it! *, I’ll be tackling one of my favorite films from childhood. It’s also a film that may be responsible for a bit of the tarnish upon the Monsters Legacy. It’s Nostalgic, it’s funny, it’s dripping in Halloween awesomeness, it’s an 80s bomb that turned into a fantastic, awesome, kick-ass classic…The Monster Squad!

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 27

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Straight from the Grindhouse cinemas of 42nd street! This film is easily one of the most infamous to make it’s way onto the Video Nasties list. Audacious full page adds showing the bloody image of a screaming victim getting drilled in the head were one of the main causes of outrage amongst stuffy Brits. I’ll save the really in depth examination and history for the Let’s Get Nasty write up.

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This film is understandably pretty low on plot and high of sleaze and gore. It can pretty much be summed up as “Creepy looking New York Dirt bag artist can’t pay his rent or bills, and is annoyed by Punk Rock music, so he starts mutilating the homeless with a powerdrill”. Directed and starred by Abel Ferrara, The Driller Killer is a film that perfectly exemplifies the feel and atmosphere of the Grindhouse era. Everything, especially the main character looks sickly and dirty. The Gore is really the only reason to watch the film, and holy fuck, it doesn’t get much more gory than boring a hole in someone’s fucking head!

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This is a film to watch when you just want something violent and sleazy to play in the background, or if you decide that watching and reviewing the 72 most infamous exploitation films of all time seems like a good idea. Don’t watch this movie unless you want something unnecessarily violent, exploitative, sexist and idiotic. And since I know that ALL of you want to watch something like that, I’m posting a link to the full film below.