Saturday, December 28, 2013

Keep Calm And Say Goodbye To 2013: A Random Recap

Another year has come and gone, and though 2013 was a really rough year for me outside of horror, I made it through and am looking forward to 2014!

The horror genre saw some really good strides, with tons of horror on the small screen (more on that in a bit) and some decent films as well.  I'll be the first to admit I didn't see as many as I'd like, but for the most part what I did see I generally did enjoy.

This is by no means your normal countdown of the yearly best.  Some of these films are not even from this calendar year, that just happened to be when I saw them. (So no nasty comments, please.) I just wanted to say goodbye to 2013 by giving my thoughts of what I saw, enjoyed, and could have lived without!

So here's my random rundown of what impressed me the most (and what made me throw up in my mouth a little bit, too!)

BEST HORROR EXPERIENCE OF 2013:   Seeing The Shining on the big screen.  I was just a little too young to see it in theaters when it came out in 1980, so the opportunity to see it this year (on the day before Halloween, no less) was one I couldn't pass up.  To see Jack's face that close when he exclaims, Heeeeere's Johnny! probably made my whole year.

In second place would really have to be The Walking Dead.  I have never looked forward to Sunday nights (because of their place in the week that is eversoclose to Monday morning and the ugly thought of going back to work). But at least I have TWD to make me forget about it for an hour or so.  This season, though great, had me in tears more than once when we lost several main characters.  Can't wait for February when we see where the story goes then! Onward!

The Conjuring
FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE (BESIDES 'THE SHINING', OBVIOUSLY)The Conjuring.  I saw this one a few weeks after it came out and was lucky enough to be the lone person in the darkened theater.  Love that feeling! And I was rewarded with a pretty solid spooky flick.  More, please.

1) Carnival of Souls: One of my all-time faves, I got the Criterion edition this Halloween. It never fails to creep me the hell out. One of the best ghouls ever.
2) Eyes without a Face: Another Criterion edition I picked up this year. With a ghastly plot like this one, you've got to have it on your horror life-list.
3) Sleep Tight: One of the more disturbing films I've seen in a while.  A quiet creep fest that will have you looking under your bed for sure.
4) Evil Dead (2013) : While not the best film of the year by far, I still think they did a decent job with the content. However, it doesn't hold a candle to the original. 
5) The Awakening: Old fashioned ghost story that has good atmosphere and a great score.
6) Byzantium: And it's back to real vampires, finally! Great relationship-vampire film, if that makes sense.
7) Maniac: This was the best remake I've seen in years, hands down. Gritty, grimy, and great.
8) The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh: From the founder of Rue Morgue magazine comes one of my favorite films of the year.  Just an ever-so-quiet movie with loads of atmosphere and an affecting story.
9) Oldboy: The original. Because I never owned it until now. Woot!
10) The Uninvited: The 1944 classic ghost story, Criterion edition of course! Waited for this release forever!
11) The Rocking Horse Winner: A pal from the UK turned me on to this oldie but goodie.  And when a film involves horror AND horse racing, it's a surefire winner (no pun intended) for me! (Thanks Pauline, btw!)
12) Cold Prey II: Because I'd been waiting FOREVER for this one!

1) Jug Face: From writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle comes a backwoods tale of a community that worships a pit.  No, seriously.  And you have no idea what you're missing if you write this one off.
2) Dark Skies: Wasn't really expecting much from this one, but was surprisingly entertained and thoroughly spooked out. Finding a good movie about aliens or alien invasions is rather difficult to do.  This film will do quite nicely.
3) Kill List: From 2011, this British film seems a little all over the page, and has a rather surprising ending. But the violence is good, the story is wild, and the acting is very credible. Oh, and did I mention the ending??
4) Julia's Eyes:  A Spanish thriller from 2010, this one was recommended to me by The Mike of From Midnight with Love.  It's a bit of a slow burn, but it gets under your skin and is really a solid film.
5) The Bay:  Holy shit was this film disturbing.  I have this thing...this innate FEAR of creepy crawly things inside your body, and this movie almost did me in.  Everyone should see it - it makes a political statement while telling a ghastly story of a small town that has a growing problem...
6) Citadel:  I loved this movie. While I don't think it's for everyone, this little Irish film packed a punch and Aneurin Barnard's turn as main character Tommy may be one of my favorite performances in horror. A feeling of quiet, impending doom surrounds the entire film, an atmosphere which I can't get enough of.
7) The Call: Maybe I'll get some smack talk for putting this movie on this list, but I think it was a tight, exciting thriller with the added benefit of getting to look at Halle Berry (ever-important when trying to keep a husband awake through an entire film).
8) Stoker: This film really snuck up on me, and I think it was one of the best releases this year.  I certainly think it would have benefited from a different title, for I - like many I'm sure - originally thought it was a film about the author of Dracula. Just a beautiful piece of film making from Park Chan-wook.
9) World War Z:  Pretty shocked that I actually liked this one, considering I heard it was so different than the book, and the fact that I blatantly detest almost everything Brad Pitt has done.  But this one was fun!
10) All the Boys Love Mandy Lane: While I don't think I was as enamored with this 2006 release that finally made it to our screens in 2013 as many others were, I did appreciate the ending, as well as the music. It wasn't really all that unique in horror, truth be told.  But yeah, Amber Heard is all kinds of hot.

The Black Waters of Echo's Pond
1) The Black Waters of Echo's Pond:  Lotta pond scum here, folks.  Sorry Danielle Harris but this one reeks of stinky excrement.
2) Evidence: Though I hear it was a decent film, I almost immediately got sick from the found footage-type effects.  I just cannot watch those films anymore.
3) The Purge: I wanted this to be decent.  Ethan Hawke's Sinister topped my list last year. But this film was an uninspired, prosaic addition to the home invasion sub-genre. I could see the ending coming a mile away. Very dull.
4) My Amityville Horror:  While I can't say I wasn't semi-entertained with this semi-autobiographical mess, watching Daniel Lutz make a case for himself for an intense need of counseling made for some pretty insipid viewing.
5) The Tortured: We just didn't need another movie that combines revenge horror with intense Saw-esque elements. Stop. Now.
6) The Possession: I was a little late to this party, and I should've skipped it altogether.  If you want a movie about a box, watch Hellraiser, not this ridiculous waste. Sorry Jeffrey Dean Morgan (you beautiful man!). Sorry producer Sam Raimi (I still love you) but.....UGH.
7) The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Which took place in.....Georgia?  Why in the name of all things good and sacred would someone use an awful sub-title like Ghosts of Georgia? In fact, why would they even use any of that title? I'm still trying to figure it out.

Mama: While it did have some creepy moments, I would have been satisfied renting from Netflix or watching it one of the three hundred times they have played it on HBO.

1) Carrie: Heard nothing good about this remake, sorry.
2) I Spit on Your Grave 2: Capitalizing on a film title assures us this will be crap.
3) Hatchet III: While I didn't hate the first one, I didn't lose my mind over it.  Never saw the second one, so there you go.
4) Bad Milo: I have enough stomach problems that I really don't need to see a flick about an intestinal demon that kills its host's enemies. Say what?
5) The Last Exorcism Part 2: Why was this necessary in life?
6) Pacific Rim: Heard nothing good, but how can they say that when Charlie Hunnam is the star? I'll just stick to Sons of Anarchy I guess.

Curse of Chucky
1) American Mary
2) The Complex
3) Insidious Chapter 2 (just bought it so we'll soon see!!)
4) Warm Bodies
5) Curse of Chucky (want to buy it since most people loved it)
6) We are what we are (remake, and I hear it's really good)
7) The Battery (another I can't wait to see!)
8) Antiviral
9) Oldboy (2013)
10) Berberian Sound Studio
11) Sightseers

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh
1) The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh - As stated above, I really loved this movie. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere!
2) Byzantium - Vampires have returned. With teeth and without conscience.
3) The Conjuring - The clap game? No thanks!
4) You're Next - Compared to The Purge, this home invasion film is the I-Ching.
5) Stoker - What a stunning piece of film-making, profoundly affecting.
6) Maniac - Hands down the best remake in nearly ten years.
7) The Lords of Salem - Stop hating Rob Zombie and just watch this damn movie!
8) The Invoking (aka Sader Ridge) - Independent horror at its best. Just a creepy, persistent film.
9) Jug Face - Another indie winner that will keep people out of the backwoods...again.
10) Dark Skies - I really liked this X-Files-ish aliens-among-us movie. Give it a chance!
11) Resolution - One man tries to save his drug-addled best friend in a run-down crack house in the woods. With unusual results.
12) Evil Dead - Admittedly, it's nothing close to the original and yet it still managed to entertain. Gotta give it props for that.
13) World War Z - Brad Pitt saves the world. Or at least tries to. Great popcorn horror. 


1) Godzilla
2) 7500
3) The Green Inferno
4) Horns
5) Devil's Due
6) Oculus
7) The Quiet Ones
8) I, Frankenstein

Bates Motel
Even though it has been an absolutely banner year for horror on television, as mentioned previously I don't think anything could top my enjoyment of The Walking Dead this year, but two series came DAMN close.  American Horror Story and Bates Motel.
Finishing up in early 2013, AHS: Asylum was a rollicking good time thanks mostly to Jessica Lange's turn as Sister Jude.  She amped it up a little more in the fall as witch supreme Fiona when AHS: Coven came to the small screen to bring witches back to the forefront where they belong.  Throw in some voodoo tricks by Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau and Kathy Bates as the torturous, racist Delphine LaLaurie and it's a fine recipe of devilishness.
Bates Motel is the critically acclaimed series developed as a prequel to the 1960 film and stars Freddie Highmore as Norman and an excellent Vera Farmiga as his nurturing smothering mama. It's obviously a character-driven show, with enough frights to keep the viewer panting for more.  I love this show!

MY FAVORITE BOOK I READ IN 2013:  Joyland by Stephen King. 
King is my favorite author, so it was great to have him back at his best with this release in the summer of 2013. I still have Doctor Sleep on my nightstand to read and when all the hubaloo of the holidays is over I will get serious about this sequel to The Shining.  But Joyland was wonderful.  My review is HERE.

Horror Films FAQ: All that's left to know about Slashers, Vampires, Zombies, Aliens and More by John Kenneth Muir.
Muir is one of my favorite genre critics. He's a great writer/blogger and a helluva nice guy. And this is an awesome book with loads of info and even a few tidbits that seasoned fans may not know. Makes a great gift, too!

Gorezone! Back from the dead, this red-headed stepchild of Fangoria serves up a heaping helping of gore, violence, sex, and shock in every blood-soaked issue.  Available only by subscription, it is two tons of fun.

Byzantium by Javier Navarrete.  Sometimes chilling, sometimes just plain beautiful. A perfect accompaniment to an afternoon of writing....or whatever you may be doing!  The version of The Coventry Carol and the pieces that sample it and weave around it are just haunting. 

Moonrise Kingdom
Moonrise Kingdom.
I didn't get to see this one until January 2013, and watched it countless times this year.  It is one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Random Year-End Awards:

The Black Waters of Echo's Pond.  Gah! Nothing more I can really say about this bomb.

Maniac. An excellent, excellent redo of the 80's classic. Good job Elijah Wood! You made me forget Frodo for 90 whole minutes!

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane - A movie made in 2006 FINALLY makes it to American shelves.  Was it the almighty second coming of Christ? Nah. But it was a solid flick.

Evidence. As I mentioned before, too much found footage. I couldn't sit through it and never really figured out what was going on.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead (2013).  There was so much bodily fluid and blood in this one I doubt anything could compare.

The Conjuring.  For weeks, no - months, I'd heard about this movie. Over and over. It was going to be so scary! Have you seen the trailer? Oooh, James Wan has done it again!  Well folks, it was pretty much all true.

Oculus.  I really have no idea what it's about but if it is the same Mike Flanagan that brought us Absentia, I'm there.

The Purge
The Purge. They advertised this film like a raped ape but it fell totally flat for me and countless others.  On the opposite side of the coin: The Conjuring, which did indeed, live up to the hype.

*THE "I REALLY DON'T GIVE A SHIT WHETHER I EVER SEE THIS" AWARD:  Again I say: Bad Milo. I know a lot of people have it on their year-end lists in the "like" column, but you'll have to forgive me this one.

Honestly I can't think of a single film I would want a sequel for. But I'm sure there are several already in the works.... I know The Purge has one coming, among others. And that film was mediocre at best. Ugh...

*MOVIE I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2014:  Godzilla. Premieres May 16, 2014. Bring it!

*MOST EXCITING NEWS OF 2013: Both Marie and I were asked to join the writing crew at Eli Roth's new horror app, which is bound to change the way we experience horror forever! So, go to the App store and download the new (FREE) app for iPhone (Android access is right around the corner!) and keep an eye out for our contributions amongst some of the best writers in horror! It's interactive, too - so anyone can post on the community boards and get involved!  Do it now!

*THE "THIS IS WHAT I'M WATCHING TONIGHT SO I HAVE TO GET OFF THE LAPTOP" AWARD:  Insidious: Chapter 2.  Time for a trip further into the further. /ch

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Invoking (a.k.a. Sader Ridge) ~ Indie Horror Done Right

In horror, there must be a gazillion movies about a group of people heading to a cabin in the woods only to find themselves hunted down by a mass murderer/supernatural being/evil presence.  So what makes a film different enough to make an impression on a seasoned horror fan?

One word: Atmosphere.

For whatever reason,  a film that started out as Sader Ridge ended up with the much more horror-centric, cinema-friendly "The Invoking".  I for one, prefer a title that isn't so obvious, and therefore found the Sader Ridge title more to my liking.  That said, whatever the title may be, it is a film that should be sought out and watched - and one that I was pleased to have the opportunity to see while it is still on the festival circuit.

Written and produced by John Portanova and directed by Jeremy Berg, The Invoking  is an independent film that was made for peanuts but certainly doesn't appear any less impressive. Shot in a matter of days, it is the tale of Sam (Trin Miller), who has inherited a house in the country from an aunt she knows nothing about. She's brought along three friends, Caitlin (Andi Norris), Roman (Josh Truax), and Mark (Brandon Anthony), to explore the property and have a little vacay.  The trio is a relatively typical (or should I say typecast?) group, with Caitlin being the eccentric, fun friend, Roman reeking of jealousy because Caitlin is flirting like crazy with Sam's ex, Mark - who by all accounts is pretty much the asshole of the gang.  Sam herself is quickly established as your average, pretty girl-next-door type who is by far the most down to earth of her friends.

Adopted at age five, Sam has no recollection of her heritage, so when they roll up to the gate to the property nothing seems familiar. Even after meeting the caretaker to the property, Eric (D'Angelo Midili), who claims to have been a playmate of hers when they were little, Sam still can't recall anything.

A few words about Eric. At once peculiar, his quiet demeanor and reclusive nature is unnerving, only adding to the dread that seems to creep up on you throughout this quiet film. He seems to know more than he is telling, and even with prodding by Sam, he is still reluctant to say much.  He makes himself available to the group even when it's more than clear that the two other men aren't too thrilled with him being around.

Almost immediately after arriving, Sam begins to have some distracting and downright disturbing feelings being in the house.  She hears Caitlin saying prayers out loud at night, and witnesses on several occasions arguments and interactions between her friends that don't actually happen. Is she realizing repressed memories? Or is something in the house trying to tell her something?

While checking out the grounds, the four visitors run into the property line adjacent to what is called Sader Ridge and though Mark and Sam aren't too enthused, Caitlin and Roman talk them into crawling over the barb wire fence and checking things out.  As darkness falls, the group somehow gets separated and Mark ends up lost in the woods and Sam's visions take on a life of their own.

With a bare-bones film like this, the less said the better.  What makes The Invoking uniquely different from all the other "cabin in the woods" movies is the fact that we are only given tiny tidbits of information at a time to try to piece together the story.  We want so badly (perhaps because we are so used to this gimmick in most horror films) to have things explained to us that we almost feel frustrated when nothing here is black and white. There is no demon to contend with, no menacing killer outside the door- just a woman struggling to put together the story of her youth and find out what happened to her biological parents, as well as the reason she was given up for adoption at age five.  What she discovers is handed to us soooo slowly that fans of action-horror and gore will likely be disappointed here.  But for those of us who enjoy a slow burn, this is just the type of film that will get inside your head and plant itself there with no intention of leaving.

The cast, in particular Midili, is really effective here. They bicker amongst themselves and appear, for all intents and purposes, like a bunch of old friends who are so close they have basically all slept with each other and formed lasting friendships that are certainly peppered with relationship issues and raw feelings. Midili's Eric is downright creepy at times, but we're never really sure of his intentions until the climax sneaks up on us.

There are eventually some moments of sheer terror that are shocking and unexpected yet deserved. In a film like this there feels like there has to be a reward for waiting for something to happen, and we are compensated nicely here. When a plot isn't completely obvious and holds back on gruesome effects (there is very little gore), it really is so much more focused and effective.

But although the ending doesn't completely tie things up in a nice neat bow, it feels right.  A short running length helps things move along, but again I have to mention we are trucking along at a turtle's pace.
But the ominous sense of dread that wraps itself around the entire film more than makes up for any lack of action and gore.  In my book, atmosphere far outweighs blood and guts, and we've got the former in droves.

Keep your eye on this production company, The October People. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more quality work from them in the future. At least I certainly hope so!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mindless Movie Monday: Nothing Left To Fear (except mediocrity)


Ever heard of Stull, Kansas? Probably not, but this small town just a stone’s throw from Topeka was the inspiration for the 2013 film Nothing Left to Fear, produced by Guns N’ Roses guitarist, Slash; although you’d probably never guess that after watching it.

Nothing Left to Fear follows a picture perfect family of two daughters, Rebecca (Rebekah Brandes) and Mary (Jennifer Stone), a young son (Carter Cabassa), and sunny mother Wendy (Anne Heche) and her husband Dan (James Tupper, Heche's real-life partner as well) who has been chosen as the town’s new pastor. The family is instantly welcomed into the tight-knit community, receiving almost a little too much hospitality.

Dan is replacing the revered Pastor Kingsman, played by one of my favorite genre actors, Clancy Brown (Pet Sematary 2, Hellbenders, TV's Sleepy Hollow). While Kingsman takes Dan under his wing as he predecessor, Rebecca is getting to know the town hottie, Noah (Ethan Peck). Behind closed doors we are able to see that things are not as pleasant and peaceful as they seem, and Kingsman is encouraging some dark task upon Noah, who, naturally, plays it cool around his sweetheart.

At the same time, sister Mary has become the target of some strange events, and is being plagued by nightmares of the neighbors crowding silently outside her windows, and slack-jawed, hollow-eyed demons. It isn’t until she is kidnapped from the local carnival and subjected to a mysterious occult ritual that she becomes one of these hellions, and the sinister nature of the town is revealed.

The “real” legend of Stull condemns it as one of the seven gates to hell. The diabolical portal resides in the cemetery, founded in the late 1800’s. In Stull Cemetery there’s an old stone church (well, was, it was torn down in 2002) that is the rumored location of occult gatherings, rituals, and a hidden staircase that leads straight down to Hell, itself.

That is pretty much the extent of the legend, other than a few additional creepy little tidbits that will vary from whom you hear the story. The Hellmouth of Stull has also inspired the 2001 film Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal and an episode of Supernatural.

Upon hearing of this legend I was instantly drawn to Nothing Left to Fear because of my love of urban legends and modern folklore. However, the film turned out to be quite a disappointment, and not only for the fact that the legend serves no greater purpose than a “based on a true story” tagline. Rather than explore the ins and outs of life in the Hellmouth, we are forced to watch a boring film progress very slowly with no tension, texture, or terror developed.

Nothing Left to Fear is both director Anthony Leonardi III and writer Jonathan W.C. Mills' first feature film, and this could be the reason why the whole movie felt very awkward to me. The editing (sight and sound) left me feeling confused and detached from the narrative—which is easy to do when there is hardly a plot to grasp, at all.

A myriad of interesting ideas are neglected and the result is a bland, muddled mush with cheesy CGI and flat characters.