Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Absentia: Fright Done Right

Sometimes it's hard to get your hands on a film. I've been waiting for months to see Mike Flanagan's Absentia, and when a film is independent and doesn't see a full-blown release, it's people like me who live out in the boondocks that suffer. It is times like these that I at least wish I lived a little closer to the city, in hopes that someone, somewhere will be playing some of these films at local film festivals and such.  But alas, it took me this long to see this beauty of a film.  I finally was able to rent it off Amazon, seeing as how Netflix still has it delegated to my "saved" section with no release date known. 

Absentia, or technically "in absentia", means in the absence of.  So you can quickly surmise what Death in Absentia means.  And this is what our lead character, Tricia (Courtney Bell), is dealing with as our film opens.  Her former drug-addict sister Callie (Katie Parker) has just arrived from parts unknown to help Tricia go through the motions of declaring her husband dead in absentia.  Daniel has been missing - zapped from the face of the Earth - for some seven years.  Gone. Without a trace.  A very pregnant Tricia welcomes her rehabbing sister home with welcome arms and they reminisce a bit about old times and what each has been up to before they get down to discussing laying her missing husband's memory to rest, both emotionally and legally. 

Callie takes to daily jogging, perhaps to clear her head and keep herself focused on her goals.  She is drawn to a local walking tunnel, a cement one under a highway that leads to a park.  But this is no ordinary tunnel, it's dark and creepy and full of a foreboding malice. No one in their right mind would actually choose to jog or walk through this tunnel, even in the daylight.  On one trip, Callie is startled to find a homeless man in the tunnel, and channeling her inner new-found Christianity, she talks to him - only to find him a rambling, disheveled derelict. He keeps mumbling about he fact that she can see him, and asks for a trade. Thinking he is asking for food, she promises to bring him something to eat and jogs home quickly.

Meanwhile, Tricia has been spending quality time with the detective (Dave Levine) on her missing husband's case.  She is feeling guilty, yet knows she has to declare Daniel dead and get the death certificate issued so she can get on with her life.  Once she does have intent to file the necessary paperwork, she starts having visions of Daniel.  Or are they visions?  With simple practical effects like pale face and sunken eyes, the "creepy Daniel" is downright chilling.  Just standing in a doorway, leaning over her bed, crouched behind her when she is mediating - these are the things that will keep one up at night.  It's suspenseful as hell, because Daniel just shows up - there is no obvious rhyme or reason, he just pops up to scare the crap out of you. 

Tricia begins having what she thinks are dreams about Daniel, in the strange, scary fashion as her daytime visions.  She visits a psychologist who tells her that once she has put the entire manner behind her, things will ease up and she can move on. 

But when she does just that and has herself a date with her baby daddy Detective, they are barely out the door when they see Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) standing in the street.  Alive.

Now here's where it gets tricky, folks.  "Ta-Da!-I'm-Alive-Daniel" is pretty much an unhinged mess, taken to babbling bouts of paranoia and in obvious distress.  He starts rambling about something coming for him and being in some sort of "underworld".  Before his release at the hospital, he was also found to have animal bones partially digested in his stomach, and of course there is the question as to why he still was wearing the same clothes he disappeared in over seven years prior. 

Callie, becoming more and more anxious with both Daniel's behavior and the disconcerting tunnel, takes to hitting the magic box she hid under the bed.  Seems her addiction isn't quite behind her.  So when she is higher than a kite the night Daniel is "taken" again, the detectives on the case certainly can't depend on her story being based in reality.
She claims that something came after him, a monster.
She does her own investigation on the internet and discovers that there have been way too many disappearances in the neighborhood, going back a few hundred years. Not just people, but pets as well. Something lurks in that tunnel.  Something that has been there a lot longer than they have.

To say more would be giving too much away. What is wonderful about this film is what you don't see. After just having seen Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and having the creatures from that film thrown right at you in broad daylight, Absentia is a breath of fresh air.  It uses techniques designed to invoke fear and will have you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next.  It's a character driven film, exploring the relationship between Tricia and Callie first so we get a handle on how close they are.  It also has us fearing David one moment and being fearful for him the next. 
As I've said a hundred times, it is so much scarier to try and process what isn't there than for it to be blantantly exposed to us.

Last thoughts?  See this film.  It's a slow burn, but you won't be able to take your eyes off the screen. It is vastly different than any of the reprocessed rubbish that continues to be green-lighted in horror today.  You will not be disappointed.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mindless Movie Monday: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2011)

Guillermo, you did me wrong! What were you thinking?

 Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is mind-numbingly awful, I might as well say it straight out.  It's just so...bad.

To be completely fair, I can't even recall the television movie of the same name.  I may or may not have seen it, but seeing this updated version certainly didn't bring back any memories, good or bad.

With both writing and producing credits to his name, Guillermo del Toro (The Devil's Backbone, Pans Labyrinth, among others) brings us a film directed by Troy Nixey that for being R-rated, brings less scares than an especially tense episode of Glee.  Having just witnessed on the big screen the marvel that is The Woman in Black, I am well aware that a PG-13 movie can still deliver the goods, so just knowing that DBAOTD is a film made for age 17+, just seriously appalls me.  What the hell gave it an R rating?  There was very little blood, few curse words, no nudity, and definitely NO intense frights.

Another house to add to my list of horror favorites, to be sure!
Ten year old Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent by her unfeeling mother to live in Rhode Island with her architect father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his interior-designer girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) at Blackwood Manor, which the couple is renovating with plans to not only sell it, but to get it onto the cover of Architectural Digest and revitalize dad's career.  The house itself is a hell of a gothic beauty- not just on the outside but the inside as well, filled with beautiful mahogany staircases and molding, ageless antiques, and equipped with the requisite creepy (yet amazing) basement, which we learn as the film opens was the site of a horrific family tragedy which has of course marred the house.

Wait, is that Suri Cruise?  Nope, Bailee Madison.
Sally (who looks strikingly like a young Katie Holmes) is a rather despondent little girl.  Mom has been dumbing her down with Adderall so she doesn't have to deal with with her, leaving Sally to be a brooding, eye-shifting, neglected mess. 
When Dad puts a carousel night-light in her bedroom to help her sleep, its little tune awakens something in the long-forgotten cellar.  We hear voices coming from the old fireplace, whispers that call to Sally and make her curious enough to sneak through the house in the dead of night with a flashlight to investigate.  Believe me, she's much braver than you or I would be in the same circumstances.

They're coming to get you, Sally....
We don't have long to wait to see what it whispering to Sally, they are shown to us fairly early on in the film.  Unfortunately, the little creatures (for lack of a better word) reminded me more of the sub-humanoid stop-motion monsters in the old Full Moon Subspecies features.  In twenty years this is all the farther we've come?  They are a ridiculous cross between a rat and a gargoyle, and the CGI is as annoying as it is sub-par.  I'm just so damn sick of crappy CGI, how many times must I say it?
These little scurrying monsters cast a spooky shadow, but when they present themselves and you could pretty much kick them to the curb like a hockey puck:  NOT. SCARY.  They also put me in mind of the Compys from the second Jurassic Park movie - but of course the wee compsognathus is a much more terrifying specimen than what have here.  These little jaspers growl and snarl and make crazy faces at Sally, and the more she tells her dad about them, the loonier he thinks she is, even calling in the child psychiatrist for a chat.

Meanwhile, Sally gets blamed for shredding a few of Kim's dresses with Alex's straight razor, and after a bit of a fit, Alex tells Sally to go to her room.  Knowing that the sharp-implement-loving creatures are behind the deed, Sally draws pictures of them that Kim ends up finding.  She becomes concerned (um, hello? No kidding!) and tries to convince Alex that something is going on.  Alex is too busy with his career and hosting a dinner party for his architectural friends to be in the least bit eager to leave.  Thankfully, Kim has a heart and she and Sally grow closer, determined to convince Alex that there is indeed, something to be scared of.

Naturally, the "terror" of the creatures escalates, but I really can't get behind what they are trying to do here.  Like I said, if the creatures were in the least bit scary, I might be more inclined to enjoy the atmosphere of the awe-inspiring yet ominous house, but I almost felt stupid for watching this film.  It actually started to make me a dumber individual! 

Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce in the most fantastic basement I have ever seen!
None of the acting is that bad.  In fact, Bailee Madison was quite convincing with her fear.  Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce are fine, but just fine.  Not excellent.  But when you factor in the dreadful script, they really didn't have much to work with. 

I expected so much more when I originally heard this film was being made.  I mean, del Toro has a reputation for exemplary work, even though he seems to be rumored to have about fifty different films in the works. Like one of the lines in The Breakfast Club, "I expected more from a Varsity letterman!" 
I have a sneaking suspicion that it may have been a scarier film if they would not have shoved the creatures down our throat, giving us glances of them at every opportunity.  The lousy CGI that generally kills any film of this kind did just that here.  In a world where things that lurk in the basement are made to jump out at us and say cheese, it just falls utterly flat. I am a much bigger fan of what you can't see.

Again, I have no idea what made this an R-rated film.  There are a few moments of blood here and there, but nothing even remotely hair-raising or even macabre. It has the usual haunted house enticements:  tragic past, dark corridors, voices in the darkness, warnings from the doomed hired help, etc., but there's not really much else to say about it.  It had serious potential, and flopped terribly.  I'm assuming it is supposed to be a "monster" movie, per se, but wow. 

What probably didn't help my lack of enthusiasm for the movie is the fact that 1) I don't particularly like horror movies with kids in them.  I watch them, but find that even the worst of kids (i.e. Damien or Esther) fail to make me shiver, and 2) I'm not fond of tiny monsters, such as leprechauns, evil puppets or dolls, the previously mentioned subspecies, Gremlins, Chucky, etc.  I don't hate them, but they just don't do it for me. They just seem silly. (One exception to this are those ventriloquist dolls.  Anything with one of those in it will have me wetting my pants by the time the opening credits have finished!)
Worse than that even, I read somewhere the creatures in this particular basement were supposed to be fairies.  Um, really?

Also detrimental was the oh-so predictable and anti-climactic ending.  One that I saw coming a mile away. But hey, at least there was an ending.  Too bad I can't get those ninety-nine minutes back...

Friday, February 24, 2012

She Is Woman, Hear Her Roar! : Thoughts on THE WOMAN (2011)

It is with the knowledge that everyone is entitled to their opinion that I am able to write about The Woman. I realize I'm going to catch a lot of flak for this post, but I am of the mindset that this film is just a little too over-hyped.  Having seen it recently makes me pause to wonder a bit how it landed on the top of so many best-of lists for 2011.  While I will readily admit some of the acting (in particular Pollyanna McIntosh as the title character) was very good, for me there were just too many other minor faults to be fair in lumping it with a "best of" list. At least in the 'list' I concocted. No, no, no - I didn't hate it.  I didn't even dislike it.  I just didn't love it.

The Woman is well directed by Lucky McKee, a fan favorite in the horror community, having already directed some noteworthy flicks (May being one of them, Masters of Horror Sick Girl another). He had an in as far as getting the attention of the horror crowd, as most waited with bated breath for the next project he'd do.  I actually am a bigger fan of McKee's The Woods than I am any of his other stuff, and so you can already surmise by reading that that The Woman wasn't going to replace The Woods anytime soon in that respect.

Writing credits include both McKee and Jack Ketchum, one of the premier horror novelists of our time.  Brutal, provoking, and at most times crude, Ketchum has written some crazy stuff - much of which has been brought to film (including The Girl Next Door, Red, and the "prequel" to The Woman - Off Season).  He never holds back, pushing outright horror down our throats like a runaway freight train barreling into a cement wall.  While The Woman never seems that fierce, it certainly demands attention and causes distress.
It seems at first like an experiment in misogynistic terror, but it's really just a horror film disguising itself as some sort of play on morality and decency, or lack thereof.  As in: when is it going too far?

The plot of the film is simple and straightforward.  Man sees feral woman in the woods.  Man brings feral woman home and abuses her. Feral woman takes her revenge.  The end. 
Of course there is a lot more going on here, as we had to have the man in the story have a truly dysfunctional family already - he even didn't need to add a female version of Mowgli.  The man himself, Chris Cleek (played to smarmy perfection by Sean Bridgers), is a small-town yet successful lawyer who has a beautiful house in the country and likes to go hunting on the weekends and treat his family like shit 24/7.  His wife Belle (the always fantastic and intensely interesting Angela Bettis) is a meek shell of a woman.  She wants to stand up to her husband but doesn't, time and time again.  Anytime you think she might be going to grow a backbone, she shrinks back away and cowers in the corner from her husband's ignorance - and his fist.  The rest of the family breaks down like this:  Lauren Ashley Carter as Peggy - the teenage girl who probably watches teen-mom reality shows for a reason, Zach Rand as Brian - a loner teen who gets off on putting gum in girl's hairbrushes and is destined for serial killer status, and Shyla Molhusen as youngest daughter "Darlin" (yep, I can't make this shit up), who just wants everyone to get along.

When the film starts the audience sees The Woman (which is how we must label her because naturally she has no name) in her wild environment, living in a cave and living off raw meat and the likes.  Dirty from head to toe, she still managed to find some ratty clothing that covers up her nakedness, as well as somehow cutting her hair into ridiculously ugly bangs and oh yeah, LIVING IN THE WOODS OF SUBURBAN AMERICA WITHOUT ANYONE EVER SEEING HER!  Chris Cleek owns a farm, sure.  But just how isolated is it?  How is it that no one has ever noticed a feral woman at the nearby creek, spearing fish with her hands and showing off her boobs when her holey shirt just happens to fall to the side? No one ever saw her?  I'm sorry, but Mr. Cleek doesn't live that far removed from civilization.  Yes, I'm aware we're supposed to suspend belief here, and normally I don't have any problems doing just that, but this was all just a little too convenient.

And lets face it, if most people found a wild woman in the backyard they would NOT chain her up in their backyard basement, ridicule, defile, abuse, and torture her.  Most people would probably head off in the other direction, call the cops from their cell phone (in their car, mind you) and point in the general direction when the authorities gather. I repeat, most people would NOT bring the untamed oddball home.  Additionally, most folks would not practically take her top layer of skin off with a pressure washer, feed her oatmeal that was three days old and dumped on the floor, or try to pull off her nipples with a pair of pliers.  Most importantly, they would not RAPE her.  Sure, they might think about it (you sick bastards), but seriously who would ever go that far?  Who even knows where her female parts have been? ( If you're answering that yes, you would go that far, then we are no longer friends.  Head on home to your grandma's cellar where you play video games all day, eat Cheetos, and call 900 numbers for fun.)

But hang on!  The Woman is not all bad.  Actually none of it is bad, just rather dull. I have listened for months while friends of mine have raved so enthusiastically about this film, and to be honest I couldn't wait to see it.  Perhaps it was the bombastic fervor that they had for it - maybe that is why I was somewhat disappointed once I finally saw it. I just kept waiting for something utterly insane to happen.  I had to wait nearly 90 minutes!  Maybe I've just seen too many of these kinds of movies? I don't know.

That being said, I have to admit the acting among the three main leads (The Woman, Belle, and Chris) is really way above par.  As previously mentioned, Bettis is in fine form here, as usual.  As a defenseless wife and mother who is wondering just what the hell is wrong with her husband, she shines.  From day one when Chris brought home the feral woman, her indifferent attitude towards her husband's sheer madness is puzzling yet well played.  When it's obvious that she has no say in anything Chris has to say or do, we watch her slowly unravel until she has an illuminating moment of cognizance: oh yeah! My husband is fucking nuts! Not that it does her any good, mind you.

Bridgers, as Chris, is simply the most uncouth, annoying, downright disturbing man I may have ever met in film. A respected man of the community, he sets forth with intent (after witnessing the feral woman washing herself in a creek) to capture her and try to civilize her.  Man, if it were truly as easy as tying someone up in manacles to get someone to have some decorum and culture, I'd be buying them in bulk and passing them out to the public at my day-job.

Chris and Belle's three kids are a prime example of putting the fun in dysfunctional.  Peggy is an obviously depressed teenage girl who is trying to hide a big secret.  Too bad we, as the audience, can figure it out in about ten minutes, and it's really not all that shocking.  Brian is oh, fifteen-ish and at first seems like the nice, quiet type. Not so, he's just harboring a menacing case of assholishness (yes I just made that word up) that he breaks out about a third of the way though the film and he certainly doesn't look back.  He's turning into his father right in front of our eyes.  And like I said, little sister Darlin' is basically filler.  Sad but true.

But if we're talking fine acting, we're talking Pollyanna McIntosh.  As the title character, she is a wonder in the film. A force of nature!  And she really has no lines, short of a whole lot of grunts, groans, screams, and indecipherable words. And how they got her to look so damned ugly is beyond me, with her shocking facial expressions and her enraged growling, she was more frightening that anything else in that entire film and probably the last hundred films I've seen.  It reminded me a bit of Mercedes McCambridge as the voice of Pazuzu in The Exorcist.
Her cold stare into the eyes of her captor tells a story without ever saying a word.  And it's for this reason that the film does redeem itself for me, because for a greater portion of the film, not too much is happening save a shaky domestic lifestyle and an abusive couple of males threatening and man-handling all the women in their lives.

The Woman
felt like several films I'd already seen, including the aforementioned The Girl Next Door (another film in which nothing happens except people poking, prodding, molesting, and torturing a woman strung up and helpless). I am trying so hard to understand why everyone thought this film was so far above everything else last year.  Slow year? 

So what was there to like besides the acting?  The ending.  It was a bloody good mess. I was disgusted by parts of the outcome, and thought the last few moments were more prosaic than poignant, but the gore was amped up and we finally got what I'd been waiting for: a bit of action.  Though I couldn't help but visualize the movie Sling Blade in my head.  It just wouldn't go away.

Regardless, I think my biggest fault with this film, though, is the music and the sound.  I'm not saying the soundtrack is utter crap.  I'm just saying its presentation is flawed.  Most times, I much prefer an actual music score, and find that in many cases when songs are substituted in lieu of background scoring that the films are the worse for it.  This film is a perfect example.  By trying to set up scenes with random indie songs blaring in the background, the film suffers because you cannot hear the dialogue that is so vital to said scene.  Films that use both a general score as well as a few songs here and there work out pretty well, if I'm being honest.  A good example of a song setting a scene is in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. Blonde cuts off that guy's ear while "Stuck in the Middle with You" plays in the background.  I also liked the use of "Freebird" in both "The Devil's Rejects" and "Forrest Gump". Two vastly different films, but the song is appropriate for both.  As a matter of fact, Forrest Gump did a great job of mixing score and song.  So did "The Craft", if I'm being honest.  But I just wasn't feeling it here. And again, it was so loud it drowned out my brain function.
Between that and those damn dogs barking,  I couldn't clear my head enough to enjoy what I was seeing.  Way. Too. Loud.
Suffice it to say the sound editing left a lot to be desired, and this thought is shared by many people I know. Some dialogue was wiped out by loud songs or barking dogs, and when you could hear people talking you had to turn up the volume, only to be blasted out when the song stopped.  Ugh. And it's not like my own sound system is lacking, believe me.  It wasn't me, it was them.
Please, next time:  a score.  Throw in some actual songs here and there, fine.  But don't be cheap.  It shows.

Yes, I know I'm in the minority here by not falling head over heels with The Woman. Perhaps a second look would garner a better opinion. But I've never been one to be a sheep and follow others off the cliff. If I'm not crazy about it, I'm going to call it like I see it.  I do recommend anyone reading this review take a look at this film though, because like I said, everyone is different.
In fact, for a great review of the film, click here.
For some great thoughts on Pollyanna McIntosh's chilling turn as "The Woman", you must read this.
And....for an insightful interview with the director, click away...

Final thought:  You may love The Woman.  But don't begrudge me because I didn't.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fifteen Favorite Female Horror Performances

In celebration of Women in Horror Recognition Month (and the fact that I am a HUGE list-maker if you haven‘t figured that out already), I thought there was no better time to highlight some of my favorite female performances in horror.

However, I have already done a month-long feature a few Februaries ago during Women in Horror month, so I hated to just rehash that all over again.  But considering those were all villains that I featured, there are still some women yet to spotlight.  Of course I loved Angela Bettis in May, as well as Kathy Bates in Misery, as well as many others.  But I wanted to pick some I haven’t already waxed poetic about.

Please remember this is by NO MEANS suggesting that these are “best-ever” roles or anything like that.  It is a run-down of my own personal favorites, so keep that in mind before you go all up in airs.

So here goes:

1) Daria Nicolodi in Mario Bava’s Shock -
When a woman moves back into a house once abandoned after her first husband’s suicide, strange happenings catapult her into the arms of madness.
With her peculiar looking son (okay, that kid was downright weird) seemingly possessed by her dead husband and driving her to the brink of no return, she has no choice but to surrender to the house’s secrets, allowing them to destroy her one nightmare-filled episode at a time.  Nicolodi is so famous for all her Argento roles, and while more than satisfactory in those, she truly shines (in all her madness) in this one.  If anyone does screaming better than her, they better let me know, cause in this one – she could run rings around Jamie Lee Curtis any day.
Best Moment:  The realization in the basement.

2) Sigourney Weaver in the Alien series -
I’m not sure there’s a better kick-ass heroine of any horror/sci-fi series, and most others would be inclined to agree.  Back in 1979 when Alien came out, there weren’t a whole lot of films that had women as determined and full of genuine chutzpah as Ellen Ripley was.  And with an Oscar nomination for Aliens, it just proved her worth in a field that is never dominated in any shape or form by a science fiction role.  It’s true I may be in the minority when I say I prefer Alien to the sequel(s), but I do give props to Weaver’s staying power and fans’ extreme devotion for her character.
While I’d be tempted to say her best moment was the “Get way from her, you bitch!” line, I’ve reconsidered and have decided on the moment in the first film where she and Jones settle back into their sleep pods, a few seconds of quiet reflection and anticipation of what’s to come.

3) Barbara Steele in Black Sunday (1960)-
Steele has so many roles I admire and love that it is hard to pick just one.  You can read about my love of her in the film Nightmare Castle here, and I love her in Piranha (1977) and even the re-imagining of the Dark Shadows series in 1991.…but Black Sunday is probably her most adored role.  As Asa the dark, sexy witch who is put to death yet later returns with a vengeance to settle the score, Steele is pure magnetism – you simply cannot take your eyes off the screen when she is on it.  I’d have to say this film was probably thought to be fairly controversial in its day, with all the macabre overtones and themes, but it is a true delight for horror fans, and if you haven’t seen it, you are truly missing out on one of the great horror performances.
Witchcraft, rising from the dead, evil incantations, crypts, murder, immortality, and even some good old-fashioned eye gouging is included for your viewing pleasure.
Best moment:  I’m partial to the moment when the steel mask is removed from Asa’s face and her face seems as youthful and untouched as the day it was hammered on….well, except for the nail marks that is.

4) Naomi Watts in The Ring (2002) -
Also the best part of this movie’s sequel, Watts lent seasoned star power and credibility to a role that could have been cast with one of those random younger actresses that grace the television on the CW.  I’ve heard both good and bad reviews of this film, but I stand by my opinion that it is a decent remake with a very worthy lead actress.
Watts’ starving reporter has an edge to it that adds so much to this movie. We know she wants to solve the mystery – at first it’s just to rectify what has happened to her niece, but when it becomes a woman trying to keep her son alive, it morphs into a whole other entity.  She becomes desperate, and it shows.
Best moment:  Down in the well with Samara.  It’s a moment that seems like it’s just around the corner from scaring the shit out of you, but it’s really just a minute or two of quiet closure, supposedly ending the story on a satisfied note.  But then…

5) Candace Hilligoss in Carnival of Souls (1962) -
From the moment she drags herself out of the river after a car accident to the time we finally come to the realization of what is truly going on, Hilligoss makes sure we are paralyzed by her haunting presence and just about as confused as she is.  Her genuine fear when she is unable to hear those around her, her confusion as she is continually drawn to the abandoned amusement park, and her terror as she deals with the mysterious and frightening ghoul gives the role a sense of plausibility it may not have otherwise.  And come on, those frightened eyes of hers are part of what makes this film so startling and overwhelmingly eerie.
Best moment:  Mary’s insanely wild organ playing that becomes a little too – shall we say frisky? – for the church scene?

6) Maria Bello in The Dark (2005) -
One woman’s quest to find her apparently drowned daughter turns into a bizarre mystery, combining Welsh legend and her mind’s own tricks to make for a puzzling yet entirely unique type of horror film.  The spectacular scenery and the acting chops of her co-star Sean Bean certainly don’t hurt this story any, but in the end, this film belongs to Bello, with her sexy voice and alluring beauty.  Oh, and the woman can act, as well.
Her heartwrenching misery when her daughter supposedly goes off a slippery rock and into the ocean is credible and straightforward – and the scenes in the abattoir (which is creepy enough on its own) are just downright disturbing.
Best moment:  At the end, when she finally makes it back home from the ‘afterlife’…and isn’t greeted quite in the way she’d hoped.

7) Sarah Polley in Dawn of the Dead (2004) -
The first ten minutes of this film were enough to let me know I was not only going to like it, but I was going to root for Polley’s character Ana to come out on top throughout the zombie infestation she is dealing with.  She starts out rather meek, obviously frightened by what’s going on, but soon gets a serious don’t-fuck-with-me attitude happening and takes no bullshit.  And she falls a little bit in love, just for good measure, which is never a bad thing.  Additionally, she’s a nurse, and quickly begins delegating jobs and taking care of the wounded.
Polley, in my opinion, is a great actress (and director/screenwriter) – and those beginning moments where she is fighting for her life shows that if you’re a good talent, you can pull anything off – even scrambling to outrun the undead and making plans to be one of the lucky survivors.
Best moment:  Shooting Steve, just like she promised she would.

8) Shauna MacDonald in The Descent (2005) -
Tortured by the gruesome death of her husband and daughter, she agrees to go caving with a group of close friends in the mountains of West Virginia.  Though at first she is apprehensive and skittish, even unsure of her sanity when she starts seeing things deep in the cave, Sarah becomes a force to be reckoned with when battling not only the creepy humanoid so-called “crawlers” in the cave, but someone she thought was a friend.
The entire bad-ass female cast is a welcome addition to the ranks of women in horror, and MacDonald is the cream of the crop.
Best moment:  The look on Sarah’s face when she lands the pick-ax into her friend’s leg.

9) Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This one is an absolute no-brainer, and she has the Oscar to prove it.  I couldn’t possibly omit it.  There are so many adjectives that could describe Foster’s fabulous multi-layered performance.  It’s so hard to imagine anyone else in the role, and to me that is indicative of a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic role.
I love it when Clarice finally discovers Buffalo Bill’s true identity, follows him down into the basement, discovers Catherine Martin in the pit and yells to her “FBI, you’re safe!”  (Um, not so much.)  But her faux confidence was a delight, particularly after Catherine’s response.
Best moment:  When Clarice hears Buffalo Bill’s gun cock, and she quickly turns in response and shoots him multiple times, ending his life with a couple of gurgling gasps as that butterfly wind sock goes round and round…

10) Amy Steel in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) -
Naturally one’s mind does not automatically run to the Friday series to mesh out good acting, but I have to make mention of one of my favorite final girls, Ginny.  While I’m certain she very well may be the only final girl with that particular name, Steel makes an impression as someone who isn’t there just to lay down and take a knife through the chest.  Overly curious and equally determined to find out the truth about Camp Crystal Lake’s secrets, she tries to piece together the answers, all the while trying not to get herself killed.
Best moment:  When she dons the infamous blue sweater and attempts to trick old potato sack Jason into letting her machete him.

11) Dee Wallace-Stone in Cujo (1983) -
A woman with no goal in life except to save the life of her son.  Always a powerful motivator, and Wallace-Stone has the added job of basically carrying this entire film on her shoulders.  Sure, little Danny Pintauro gave it his best, but a bunch of crying and screaming just really isn’t that hard to pull off,  I don’t care how old you are.  But sweating profusely while racked with fear as you try such a simple task as closing a car door before a giant beast of a rabid dog can get there first – now that’s asking a bit more.  While I liked her performance loads in The Howling, in particular her stellar wolf transformation, I still feel her shining moment came two years later in this little thriller.
Best moment:  The baseball bat….nasty.

12) Nicole Kidman in The Others (2001) -
As the over-protective and frantically strict mother of two children with a disease that forbids them to be in the light, Kidman is as scary as the creepy old estate she inhabits and the ghosts that share the space with her.  She’s the picture of English well-to-do, and while waiting for her husband to return from a war which has recently ended, she conducts business as usual.  Teaching her children proper grammar (a lost art these days!), manners, and school-work seems to be her only purpose in life, until strange things start to occur ‘round the house.  It is only fair to say Kidman was perfect in this role, and though at first you actually find yourself disliking her, as the film progresses you see the tables turn and eventually you end up rooting for the prim and proper mother whose only goal is to protect her children from the strange goings-on.
And let’s face it, Kidman is an Oscar winner, and it shows.
Best moment:  The look of sheer terror on her face when she finds the photographs taken after death of some people she realizes she already knows.  Still.

13) Meg Tilly in Psycho II (1983) -
While certainly not someone people would automatically think of,  I always like to throw a few surprises in a list like this.
Tilly had the difficult task of bringing a new character to an old story and merging the two into what passes as quite a good sequel if I’m being honest.  Charged by her mother (the sister of the Marion Crane character) to trick Norman into thinking he was losing his mind (again), she does the unthinkable.  She begins to feel bad for the helpless mama’s boy.  I may be jaded by my love of this particular film (and Bates in general), but I still find her portrayal honest and completely believable.
Best moment:  On Mary’s first night in the famous house on the hill, we see her in Norman’s old bedroom, sitting up nervously in bed staring at the door – which she has blocked shut with a chair.

14) Virginia Madsen in Candyman (1992) -
As Helen, a woman two steps away from completing a Masters thesis and hoping to get published, Madsen portrays a woman desperate to get the facts straight and flush out the urban legend that is Candyman.  Combined with the horrific Cabrini-Green setting, a cheating husband, typical gang violence,  and a menacing killer with a hook for a hand, Candyman sets the stage for a seemingly clichéd trip down urban legend lane.  But Madsen brings an authenticity to the film by her fierce determination to unravel the recent murder spree in the urban wasteland in which the fictional (?) killer supposedly resides.
Best moment:  The last scene, it’s a killer.

15) Michelle Pfieffer in What Lies Beneath (2000) -
While already lucky in the fact that her character Claire is married to a brilliant scientist (played by Harrison Ford, natch!), she lives in an idyllic house by a lake and gets to wander around alone all the time because hubby works extraordinarily long hours and daughter is off at college.  All is fine until memories start to return about a fateful night in the past, the neighbor seems like the new John Wayne Gacy, and Claire starts to see apparitions in mirrors and the likes. Pfieffer brings a sense of realism to the role of Claire, and isn’t better than when she has a friend over for a late-night séance…in the bathroom.
Best moment:  When she attempts to seduce her clueless hubby…as his collegiate girlfriend.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Bloody Sunday: The Guest Room

This week, something different.
First off, a guest post. Secondly, a unique take on the "bloody" part of Sunday.

I've been a little preoccupied with the trappings of real life as of late, and a few friends have volunteered to help me out with some posts here and there.  I've elected to label such offerings as contributions to "The Guest Room".  If you're a writer (or fancy yourself as one) and avid horror fan, hit me up if you have the inclination to show off your work on my humble blog.

This will be the first contribution from a fellow blogger, James Harris.
A special thanks to him for always supporting me and my blog, as well as being an especially awesome Facebook pal!  The internet can be a wonderful thing, bringing people of like minds together as a community and making lasting friendships. Okay, enough gushing.

On with the red stuff.  Or lack thereof...


The Stuff

The Evil Dead

Pot Zombies

Brain Damage

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Troll 2
*Dr. Jimmy Terror, more commonly known as James P. Harris, has been “writing your eyes” shut since 2010 with his horror themed blog Dr. Terror’s Blog of Horrors (whose name is a play on words derived from the Amicus film, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors). He is a contributor to The Liberal Dead and The Blood Sprayer.