Monday, June 30, 2014

First Ten Minutes: AFTERSHOCK (2012)

Time for another round of First Ten Minutes. If you're unfamiliar with FTM,  it's basically just that.  We watch the first ten minutes of a film (because of the beauty of Netflix Instant Watch) and give an opinion on where the movie is headed and if we think it will be a worthwhile watch.  In other words, if nothing happens in the first ten, it will probably never get a legit review here on FWF.  So make something happen, filmmakers.  Impress me or lose me forever.

Okay.  I'm a big fan of disaster films.  Love 'em, can't get enough.  I don't just like films, I like books and television shows about disasters and extreme weather and watch The Weather Channel exhaustively.  So when I heard Eli Roth's name attached to a film called Aftershock, I was psyched.

So it was pure logic for me to test the waters of Aftershock.  Starting out with credits, we quickly learn Eli Roth is the star.  Naturally I already knew this, but there it is - top billing. More credits....ho-hum. Roth produced it.  Roth co-wrote it. Oy.  As more and more credits announce themselves on a black screen, at least we get some sort of noise - a siren?  Finally - Eli Roth appears on screen with drink in hand, in Chile, apparently. He's at a noisy club having a glass of (is that really) wine and taking in the sights. Cue the bad music and awful dancing, along with air kisses and cell phone snapshots, etc.  Your basic nightmare.  I'm already sighing, hoping things will turn around quickly.  After all, it's Eli Roth!  Where is the blood?

Sorta looking like The Hangover Part 4 to me...
Soon there has been too much partying and Eli is sprawled out against a wall, drunk as a skunk. Two seconds later he's passed out, which is where we finally get the title of the film across the screen. We're at the three minute mark....

Then we switch altogether....back in time?  Moving forward? Who knows. But now Eli and his two friends are taking a walk through the vast vineyards of Chile with a tour group. Eli is psyched to learn they grow all kinds of varietals including Merlot but his two bored pals are ready to stab him in the throat.  At five minutes we're deep in the winery where Eli has convinced the employee at the winery to take a pic of him and his friends (who are rolling their eyes in dismay). It's clear Eli is a total geek at this point. Khakis and a button-down, a giant camera, and a glass of Chardonnay. And I'm getting a little bored.  If I want to learn about wine I'll just pull out my copy of Sideways, thanks.

After a road trip in which the three men discuss the etiquette of dating (yawn), they end up at another dance club/party/rave, where more semi-naked women flaunt their stuff and even more horrific dancing ensues. Can we move this plot along, Eli? I don't even know your character's name yet!! And here we are at 7:35!  I guess, in retrospect, Roth's Hostel was an extremely slow and boring start (all except to horny young teenage boys), so I'll hang in there a few minutes more. 

Eye can't find the cooter....
So here we have Eli chilling on a couch with a cup of coffee (WTF?) and flirting with a beautiful Chilean broad who seems to be inebriated enough that he might get lucky...until his cell phone vibrates - and he actually takes the call.  (Gah!)  We find out it's his daughter and he's telling her he'll be home soon. 

We're at 9:30 and we meet three women (because we have to be boy-girl-boy-girl-boy-girl, ugh) who are shouting above the noise but we are given nothing else.  Could we have something that resembles a horror movie, please? I'm relatively patient when it comes to horror, but come on....

We end at the ten minute mark with Eli losing his chance with the hot drunk chick after he sees her being carried off by another dude as he makes his way back to her after his family phone call. 

Apparently there IS blood eventually.
Honestly, I'm bored.  I would probably hang in there for another five minutes or so just to see if something is indeed, going to happen.  I mean, correct me if I'm wrong - but the movie (because I just can't say film here) is called Aftershock, correct?  As in, earthquake?  So come on, Eli.  Throw me a bone. A bloody one if you don't mind.

So I guess I'll have to continue on for a few minutes more, but I swear - at the 15:00 mark, if it's still all geeks and girls, I'm outta here.  Has anyone else seen this movie and enjoyed it? Does it get better?  Do tell....

Saturday, June 28, 2014

First Ten Minutes: OLDBOY (2013)

First Ten Minutes is a new feature here on the blog in which we pick a film and watch - you guessed it - the first ten minutes.   In nearly all the horror movies I watch I can tell within the first ten minutes whether it is going to be worth my time or not.  Generally most films start with the title sequence and/or critical credits, and sometimes even this is a valid indicator of the quality of the film - or at least the level of interest that I will acquire.  If it grabs my attention in that short of a time period, I'm probably going to finish it.

First off, the remake of OLDBOY.  I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this film, even though I am a Josh Brolin fan in most cases.  So I thought I'd take a chance and see what I get.  It's playing on Netflix Instant Watch, which makes this feature oh-so-much easier. I'm not really giving away too much by sharing the first ten, so let's break this thing down...

Right off we get a straight-forward title sequence that just spells out the title while attaching the star's name.  We move directly into the movie without further ado, which pleases me.  (Nothing grinds my gears more than a ten minute barrage of boring credits. Please stop, I'm already losing interest!)  As mentioned, Josh Brolin stars as the main character and we immediately find him leaving a bar with friends, making plans to get together again then promptly heading into the liquor store and following up with pissing in an alley.  You can already gauge that he's a real class act.  Furthering that example of impeccable breeding is a shot of him adding vodka to a plain-jane styrofoam cup to conceal an obvious drinking problem. He heads in to work (was he on a lunch break? is he just coming in?), late and being bombarded by the secretary with the irritated messages of people that probably count on him for one thing or another and are obviously being let down.  Getting the impression that he's more or less a loser.

Vodka. The breakfast of champions.
His boss enters his office and (after we discover our loser's name is Joe) explains in no uncertain terms that if he blows the important client meeting he has that night, he's fired.  Then he gets an ugly call from his unruly wife (ex-wife?) who growls at him about his daughter's 3rd birthday party that night, eventually screaming at him and calling him a fucking loser because he argues that he can't come because of work.  The call ends VERY badly with a shouting match of profanities and we cut to him getting ready for his big dinner meeting.  He's checking out his man-boobs and bulging tummy in the mirror as we hear the conversation between him and the client at dinner.  Cut to the dinner where he is making a fairly big ass of himself in a demonstrative and over-zealous pitch to a rapper about what they can do for him. We are also deliberately shown an Asian woman at the bar who gives him a wink.  We're meant to remember her face, so I tuck it away in my memory for later. Meanwhile, Joe and said client seal the deal and shake, and the rapper heads off to make a call, leaving his significant other at the table with Joe - who unhesitatingly hits on the beautiful lady.  She calls him on it, saying she'd rather fuck a corpse (good one!) and unfortunately his client overhears the insult and hits him, assuredly ending the deal.

At this point we're only 6.45 in and I'm fairly interested. That's not to say I like it better than the original because I doubt that could be possible.  But it's keeping my attention.

"I'll give you three reasons I'm an asshole..."
Joe is then seen out on the street, drinking right out of a bottle (of vodka?) and shouting about getting more alcohol.  I mean top-of-his-lungs shouting.  Soon he's lying on the pavement in the fetal position, puking all over himself and crying.  Wow.  This is almost like an adult after-school special about the dangers and embarrassments of alcoholism.  Joe manages to make it to Chinatown, staggering through the rainy streets talking to himself. He buys a crappy Chinese trinket for his daughter's birthday (father-of-the-year!) and wanders off into a dark alley and up to the doors of yet another bar (apparently owned by a "friend" who is in fact Michael Imperioli) but his pal won't let him in as the place is closed. He angrily saunters off until he sees the Asian woman standing under a yellow umbrella (with Chinese letters/symbols on it) and disappears under this umbrella.

At the 10:00 mark we see Michael Imperioli opening his bar door, ultimately changing his mind and looking for his friend.  Instead we see the Chinese toy Joe had purchased for his daughter on the ground at the door. 

Shades of things to come...
So. What we have learned is that Joe is a real asshole in pretty much every aspect of his life.  He chooses work over family and botched that up as well by being a dick.  He drinks 24/7 and likes to shout in the rain.

But it's also been a good ten minutes in my opinion, establishing the character, adding mystery and possible intrigue with the Asian woman (twice), and ending the first ten minutes in fine fashion by having Joe disappear.  I have to say, it made me want to continue to see what happens next. Obviously if you're like me and have already seen the original (which would be near-impossible to top) you know the story, but if not then it could still be a surprise to you.

The decision of whether or not this is a good film has yet to be determined, but for all intents and purposes, it's off to a decent start.  It's quite possible a full review will be forthcoming - which is the ultimate marker of whether or not a film is worth it to me. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shutter (2004) : A Fine Slice Of Asian Horror

I'm very into foreign horror at the moment, and this 2004 Thai film directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom is one of my favorites!  Forget the remake from 2008 with Pacey Joshua Jackson....this is the real deal and packs a punch in the fright department. 

Professional photographer Tun (Ananda Everingham, the Thai version of Orlando Bloom in the looks department) and his girlfriend Jane ((Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) are driving home after a night of partying with friends.  Jane's behind the wheel and the two lovers are flirting with the intention of a love fest once they get home.  Suddenly a woman appears out of nowhere on the road and they slam into her, sending her up over the roof and onto the pavement as they wreck the car into a road sign.

After both Tun and Jane have a momentary loss of consciousness, they come to and glance around, first checking to see if the other is okay, and then apprehensively peeking behind them to the unfortunate victim. Jane turns to open her door to check on the young woman but Tun grabs her arm, stopping her.  They then make the worst decision of their lives.  Tun screams for her to drive away, and she quickly does just that.  

[Okay, STOP.  It really should be painfully obvious that making that particular decision never bodes well in the course of a horror movie.  We've seen it all before, in films like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Creepshow 2 - NEVER (EVER!) HIT AND RUN!! Because you know you're in for it.  Regardless, Tun and Jane apparently don't watch horror films and they slam the young woman and bolt.]

Soon after, Tun begins to experience strange occurrences.  Apparitions in photographs, disembodied voices, friends that commit suicide without reason.  He even sees (or thinks he sees) a dark haired woman emerging from the sink in his darkroom.  Jane begins to suspect that he is being haunted by the ghost of the woman they hit with the car, but Tun tries to convince himself the events are not supernatural.  He also begins to have severe neck pain, but blames this on the accident. 

For reasons not clear, Jane is not equally as haunted. Perhaps because she initially wanted to help the crash victim, and is wracked with guilt about what they had done.  But it is Tun who is relentlessly pursued by the dark haired ghost. Jane decides to look into the origin of the photographs with the strange figure in them and discovers that in college, Tun had a girlfriend that he kept secret from his friends because they made fun of her for being quiet and very shy. They had a very bad breakup and after Jane draws this whole story out of Tun and they both finally are convinced that this ex-girlfriend, Natre (Achita Sikamana), is holding one hell of a grudge against Tun.   Investigating, they soon turn to a local photography shop owner and discover there is more to spirit photography than meets the eye. 

When some unfortunate secrets are eventually revealed, the film drives off in a whole other direction than what you originally thought. Just when you thought you knew the whole story - BAM!  They slam you with the truth, and believe me, the truth hurts.  Literally.

In Asian horror, there are a few key components that are always dredged up.  The first and most important is there is always one helluva curse.  Add to that a ghost with long dark hair and a penchant for horrible revenge and you've got yourself a movie. Shutter is wrought with tension and at times the visuals (as they so often are in Asian horror) are terrifying and tend to last long after the final reel. 

So while it may seem that Shutter is just another formulaic "J-Horror" flick you've already seen, it's actually a really good take on the vengeful ghost story - and there are some excellent creepy scenes that had me thinking twice about heading to bed the dark. 

Which should be reason enough to check out this eerie and unsettling film.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dark Arts: Ghoulish Gary Pullin

H.P. Lovecraft
~by Marie Robinson

Gary Pullin, or 'Ghoulish Gary', is an extremely important name in the horror genre, and for good reason. This incredibly talented man is the art director for Rue Morgue magazine, and if you are familiar with the rag than you’ll recognize his artwork in the iconic masthead and in many covers and artwork throughout the issues. He has worked with many other magazines and even with Rob Zombie and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. He also makes beautiful movie poster art for Mondo, Skuzzles, and others.

Gary’s loud and colorful prints vary in styles; you can see examples of realism, pop art, and traditional tattoo artwork. Ghoulish Gary’s artwork is a treat for any hardcore horror fan, as he pays constant homage to classic actors and monsters. Check out a few pieces I picked out below, and view all of his gorgeous art on his website, here (



Fright Night


Goblin poster

Immaculate Pumpkin

Monday, June 16, 2014

Fusions Of Fright: Synth In Horror Is Alive And Well!

~by Marie Robinson

Do you ever miss those delightful synth-fueled soundtracks that used to accompany slashers? Charles Bernstein’s score for A Nightmare on Elm Street is a favorite example that comes to mind, and, of course, the film score work of Goblin.

If you are a fan like I am, then have no fear! Because this genre—dubbed horror-wave—is not dead, and talented artists are still making fresh tracks. Rather than highlight a single band, I would like to introduce you to Giallo Disco, a Berlin-based record company that puts out records with that classic pulsing synth.

I have listened to every album put out by Giallo Disco and I can assure that each one is gold. They spin like actual soundtracks to lost films, and as you listen you can nearly see the movies playing out in your head. What is even more fun is that the artists seem to treat their albums as I’ve just described them, and often provide a synopsis to go with their record.

Alessandro Parisi does a near-perfect job of capturing the sound and essence of a giallo film, and as an Italian, himself, it only makes sense that he should. In the first track off of his album La Porta Ermetica, “Athanor”, you can almost picture a frightened teenage girl running down a foggy, shadowed alleyway, pressing herself against the wall while her eyes search wildly for the fiend that pursues her. The entire album oozes with it’s own life, and I find it best to listen to while driving through an urban setting at night, where the steam rises from the sewer grates in colored fog, and an ominous silhouette is peering down from every window.
Bay of Blood EP is another exceptional record from Greek artist Vercetti Technicolor that, complete with awesome throwback cover art, immerses you in its created setting. Imagine a tropical island, overrun with a primitive and savage race of people. You’ve found yourself trapped there and now you must escape, or at least survive, with only your wits and a machete.

There are several other artists on the label, and each record is sure to provide you a fun, inspirational listen. While I encourage you to purchase any albums you end up enjoying, you may conveniently stream all of the music for free via their Bandcamp (

For your first taste, here is a biting track from La Porta Ermetica, “Azot Et Ignis”.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Trifecta Of Terror: The British Ghosts Gone Wild Stakes

In today's installment of Trifecta Of Terror!, we reach into the world of spirits.  Ghosts are a pretty popular subject when it comes to horror, and there is a plethora of films to choose from. I've incorporated a more specific theme here, in that the characters in these films are quite literally attempting to create (or at least entice) an entity to appear. In all three, someone is actually trying to disprove the existence of ghosts. Additionally, these are all "period" films made-in-the-UK, lending an international flavor to this "competition".

To recap, in each Trifecta of Terror!, I choose three films with a similar topic or like-minded theme that would compliment each other and put them in the order that represents a win (the best film of the three), a place (second place finisher) and a show (the third place finisher). And with a Triple Crown of horse racing on the line tomorrow in the Belmont Stakes, I couldn't miss the opportunity to get this post in before post-time! (See what I did there?)

First up is our "show" film.  This third-place finisher is 1995's HAUNTED, starring Aidan Quinn and the (sometimes naked) Kate Beckinsale.  Quinn stars as Professor David Ash, an expert in the field of parapsychology.  He's literally written the book on how to debunk ghosts and when the film opens he has been summoned by the Mariel family to come and investigate a supposed haunting at their estate, Edbrook.
David struggles with his desire to disprove the existence of ghosts because of the untimely death of his twin sister when they were young.  He blames himself and in turn seems unwilling to believe that she at times appears to him.  At Edbrook, he meets the charismatic and flirtatious Christina (Beckinsale), who with her brothers and their fragile-minded Nanny Tess (Anna Massey) make up a very strange and exceptionally "close" family.  Brothers Simon (Alex Lowe) and Robert (Anthony Andrews) are less than enthused when Christina seems to take a particular interest in David and try to discourage him from staying on at the house.  Adding to this, during David's investigation he begins to have what he believes are hallucinations- including seeing his dead sister who repeatedly warns him to leave Edbrook. 

While there are no ghastly scares to be found - and certainly none of the red stuff - Haunted does present a cohesive plot and certainly puts the fun in dysfunctional family.  As Christina makes her mind up to seduce David, her brother Robert seems a little too pissed at the idea, and further evidence of the strange family ties is indisputable when David witnesses Robert painting a portrait of Christina.  A nude portrait. 
Regardless, Haunted does have appeal for the ghost-story loving crowd and is certainly worth a look.

Coming in as our "place" film, we have the recently released  THE QUIET ONES, in which we travel back to the 70's to Oxford where Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) is entertaining the idea that anything that is deemed unexplained or supernatural is indeed mental illness.  He's gathered a few students together to set up an experiment at a house in the country in which he will "prove" that a young woman's supposed ability to cause paranormal activity is a psychological disease and not an unearthly skill of unexplained reasoning. The subject, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel), has been living in foster homes most of her life and has been continually subjected to loud rock music while locked in a tiny room in order to try and produce the desired effect (in other words, paranormal activity).  As the Professor continues with his increasingly unethical experiments, one of the students, Brian (Sam Claflin) takes a particular interest in Jane and delves into her disturbing history which leads him to - of all things - possible devil worship as well as the predictable demonic possession.

This film had mixed reviews when it came out, and in fact performed poorly at the box office - but I saw it at the theater and enjoyed it.  While I wouldn't say it blew me away, I did like the concept and thought the acting made it worthwhile, in particular Cooke, whom I had only seen in Bates Motel (where I like her character very much and think she is an above-average actress).  There were the obligatory jump scares, which dumbed-down the plot a bit, but for the most part the film reeked of foreboding atmosphere, particularly in those shadowy corners of a dark house. You could do a lot worse than this recent Hammer production on a rainy Saturday afternoon. 

And for our winner: 2011's THE AWAKENING.
We've already reviewed this film (in fact it was Marie's first review here over two years ago!) but it is a great, atmospheric haunted house film that deserves to be mentioned once again. Rebecca Hall stars as Florence Cathcart, a woman with a lost love in her past and a chip on her shoulder.  She's taken to debunking supposed ghosts and like our hero from Haunted, she is also a published author on the subject. When she is called upon by Robert Mallory (Dominic West), a teacher at a boarding school to investigate a "real" ghost on premises, she at first declines, but has a change of heart and makes the trip.
In the process of investigating by setting up "traps" for a spirit to trigger, she discovers that the "ghost" may be that of a boy that had a fatal asthma attack after being reprimanded by a harsh teacher.  As school lets out at the end of a semester, only a few adults (including herself, Mallory, housekeeper Maud (Imelda Staunton), and one student -Tom (Isaac Hempstead-Wright)- remain behind.  When Florence is about to leave for good (feeling her work is done by assuming that the boys at the school have been pulling pranks since the other boy's death), she nearly drowns after falling into the pond.  Thinking that a hand had pulled her in, Florence deepens her scrutiny into the ghost theory and finds much more than she bargained for. 

At once atmospheric and ominous, The Awakening has a lot to offer fans of ghost and hauntings.  The acting is superb and there are heaps of fun scares that aren't in the least bit cheap or predictable.  Hall carries the bulk of the film with ease and it's a pleasure to watch her get caught up in all the supernatural mystery of the plot. The best parts are when she is bound and determined to unravel a hoax and she instead falls further into the abyss.  As such, I wouldn't put this in the same category as say, The Haunting (1963) or The Innocents (1961), but it's an above-average tale of ghostly antics that is a breath of fresh air in amongst all the blood and gore we call horror, and by far one of the most beautifully shot films I've seen in quite some time.