The Horror Effect's 2010 Awards

Well, 2010 was an interesting year. I'm not usually one to formulate a top ten list anyway, but looking back on the year, I think this would be a tough compilation. There certainly were some interesting horror films, but not too many standouts in a year of sequels, remakes, and independent efforts.

Instead of arbitrarily generating a ranked list, I'm going to give out awards!!! Yay for awards....well not all of them are good. Cheer 'em on or boo 'em off the stage. Your call.

The Best:
The Last Exorcism

I saved the best for first. How's that for being anti-climatic. This movie was really, really great. It was the only film I considered for this esteemed award. The writing, acting, and technical details all worked together in a beautiful marriage that created the most intriguing film of the year. Check out my review here.

The Most Fun:
Hatchet 2

Just like the original film, the sequel was all about sleeze, cheese, and gore (I wish there was another word that rhymed). Adam Green delivered on the silly fun once again, making Hatchet 2 a joyous watch. Check out my review here.

The Most Underrated:
My Soul to Take

Hey, I really enjoyed this movie. Wes Craven provided a light-hearted, teenage slasher movie that had me thoroughly entertained. While it's no classic, it's definitely worth a watch. Check out my review here.

The Biggest Disappointment:
Paranormal Activity 2

Why bother to remake a film and offer nothing new? Slow, repetitious, and ineffective. As a big supporter of the original film, I found myself awake at night thinking about this sequel - not out of fear, but out of frustration.

The Most Uncomfortable:

I was expecting a cool science-fiction film about the creation of a new species - perhaps something along the lines of Alien. Wishful thinking, I know. I've seen Species, so I really didn't need to see a more disturbing visual display of inter-species fornication. No thanks. Check out my review here.

The Most Half-Assed:

Come on now Robert Rodriguez, don't play me like that. Planet Terror is one of my favorite movies, so I dig the whole over-the-top grindhouse thing and all. What I don't like is how an epically trashy trailer was transformed into a convoluted piece of weak social commentary. Fail. Check out my review here.

The Best Remake:
The Crazies

Not bad, I found myself thinking after walking out of the theater. I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of George Romero's original film, so I was pretty interested in this remake. It had action, good actors, and a pretty generic script, but overall, I liked it. Check out my review here.

The Best Extended Scene of Carnage:
Piranha 3D

While the whole movie wasn't fantastic by any means, there is a scene in this film that blows everything else out of the water! The pun is most definitely intended here. After piranhas attack a group of spring break partiers enjoying a wet t-shirt contest, a scene of gore ensues that is absolutely glorious. The real point of this film is revealed: to watch drunk douche bags die grotesque, yet hilarious deaths. Check out my review here.

The Best Adrien Brody Film:

While I haven't seen Giallo cause of the whole payment fiasco, I have a feeling that Predators is still better. This reboot of a badass series could have been disastrous, but instead, it was a fun, slick presentation with lots of stereotypical action characters that we all like to see. This movie tried new things, without trampling upon the original lore and I definitely appreciate that. Check out my review here.

The Best Technical Achievement:

Congratulations to Adam Green for making my list twice and both awards are good ones. This movie was gripping, intense, and moving. A large reason for this success was the fact that the move was shot practically and entirely on location. No green screens. No backdrops. No CGI wolves. Real cold, real heights, and real filmmaking. Kudos to the Ariescope team for an outstanding film. Check out my review here.

The Best Surprise:

While I don't personally have a problem with M. Night Shyamalan, I can see why lots of people were concerned when his name was attached to this project. However, Devil turned out to be really good. With an intriguing premise and tight execution, the movie was suspenseful, engaging, and highly effective. I look forward to sharing this little surprise of a movie with others.

The Least Surprising Surprise:
Shutter Island

Aside from falling into the inevitable Scorcese trap of being too long, Shutter Island failed to be effective because so much of the film operates on a surprise that couldn't possibly be a surprise to anyone that's ever seen a movie before. Yes, the film had some terrific moments and a great performance from Leo, but I was bored less than 30 minutes in. Check out my review here.

The Most Blah:
The Wolfman

There's really not much to say about this one. It's an okay remake that didn't take advantage of the fact that it had great actors and great potential. The first mistake they made was promising all practical effects and the second mistake was not delivering on that promise. It's enjoyable enough, but not all that good either. Check out my review here.

The Most Unnecessarily Dramatic:

Okay. After I saw the trailer for Legion, I was like "Sweet. A movie that doesn't take itself seriously about angelic battles of biblical proportions." Yeah, how about a movie that does take itself way too seriously and can't help but give every single character a monologue to explain their sad life story. Snore. Check out my review here.

The Worst:
A Nightmare on Elm Street

Good lord, this movie sucks. Even though I thought the trailers kind of looked cool, I half-expected the train wreck that happened. So uninteresting and so pathetic it hurts, this remake will go down in history as one of the worst. Check out my review here.


Exam (2009): Highly original and thoroughly engaging

Every now and then I come across a trailer that causes me to stop everything and jump on Netflix to move the film to the top of my queue. This happened after watching the trailer for Exam, which I will share with you now...

While this isn't really a horror film, it's definitely something I think you'd all enjoy. It has plenty of horror elements and it relies heavily on suspense (hey, I just talked about this here). Exam's premise appears to be simple and that is the genius of it. 8 candidates for an extremely competitive position are in the same room. There is a test, of which they have 90 minutes to complete, and there is only one question. The only problem is no one can figure out what that question is. How far will each job-seeker go to uncover the question and eliminate the competition? Apparently, pretty far.

"Umm, could we get a question up in here?"

The film opens to a fantastic sequence of close-ups, all revealing tiny details about the candidates as they prepare for their final step towards obtaining a dream job. Just like the rest of the film, Exam shows without telling - using small character traits and acting moments to speak volumes about these people we know nothing about. Once all the candidates enter the guarded and sealed room, the proctor delivers a strict, yet bizarre, set of rules for the examination. They are informed that there will be one question before them and it will require one answer. After he leaves the room, the first moment of panic sets in for the candidates. Blank papers sit before them. Where is the question? 

Meanwhile, the timer is ticking. 90 minutes to answer the question. The candidates work together, as well as against each other, in real time. And it's incredibly interesting. The diverse group of highly intelligent individuals start to poke and prod their way through the room, attempting to find a question hidden under objects or discover a UV light that may reveal the question. The battle of wits is punctuated by terrific acting and writing. Just as the characters are guessing, so is the audience. At every moment, I was thinking about what I would do (and wouldn't do) in their situation.

"This is way worse than when I farted during the SAT."

As the time whittles down, so does their threshold for rational behavior. The film quickly propels towards paranoia and violence, as the world of ethics and morals begins to fade away under the haze of isolation. To say much more about the film would ruin the fun, so I'm going to leave this review short and sweet.

To summarize: Very highly recommended! An original film executed wonderfully.


Where has all the suspense gone?

While watching the remake of When A Stranger Calls, I started thinking about the lack of suspense in recent horror films. Though the movie was a watered down PG-13 remake of a terrific film, the movie still generated a decent amount of suspense. Despite some poorly directed action sequences, I actually enjoyed the 2006 version quite a bit. Yes, the original is well-known for a certain twist and the remake's trailer gave this away, despite the fact that the movie hinges heavily on that twist and it occurs towards the end of the film. Even though I knew the surprise that was coming, I was impressed with the taught line of suspense strung throughout the movie's 87 minute runtime. The clever use of set pieces and red herrings transformed what could have been painfully boring into enjoyable.

After you're done cursing me for not finding the When A Stranger Calls to be completely unwatchable, you can calm down and focus on this food for thought: Where has all the suspense gone? I had this refreshing feeling while watching the movie and I couldn't figure out why. What could be refreshing about a safely executed unoriginal Hollywood film? It was the suspense. I've missed it in recent horror movies. The more I thought about this, the more I realized how sorely modern cinema is missing out on the wonderful tool of suspense.

I'm reminded of the classic example of surprise versus suspense once illustrated by Alfred Hitchcock. Imagine a family eating dinner peacefully. A bomb explodes. Surprise! Now, let's take the same scene and add suspense to it. You see the family eating dinner, but you also notice that there's a bomb underneath the dining room table. Will they notice the bomb before it explodes? Will someone come to their rescue? That's suspense, keeping the audience guessing and wondering what will happen next.

Most recent horror films seem to operate primarily on surprise, utilizing a shock and gore campaign. While there's definitely a place for the well executed surprise and definitely a place for films that lean more on surprise than suspense, I can't help but miss all the suspense from yesteryear. It's no secret that the original  Halloween is my favorite film and a large part of why I love that movie so much is the suspense. In comparison, we have Rob Zombie's Halloween, which hardly contains any suspense. It's all bombs going off in your face. The 1978 film creates suspense through steadicam POV shots, lingering edits, and Dean Cundey's atmospheric cinematography. When Laurie Strode slowly explores the neighbor's house, anyone watching is on pins and needles. In contrast, Zombies Halloween shocks the audience with raw violence and disturbing imagery. Michael's lurking presence is just not felt in the same way. 

I've been thinking about this and trying to come up with recent horror films that rely more on suspense than surprise. The House of the Devil, Frozen, Antibodies, and Devil are a few superb examples that come to mind. At first, I thought of Inside and Them, but then thought about it some more...they really rely more on surprise than suspense to scare the audience. 

What are some recent horror movies that you guys feel were suspenseful? Why is surprise being utilized way more than suspense? Comments anyone?


My 2010 Christmas Watch List

Rather than creating a top ten list of the best Christmas horror movies, I’m just going to make a list of the movies I plan on watching this year in celebration of the holiday season. No, Silent Night, Deadly Night, didn’t make the cut this year.
The Thing (1982)
Isolation. Snow. Cold. Frigid Cold. Nothing says Christmas more than those words, right? Really, this movie is just all kinds of cool and I could watch it anytime of year, but this gives me an excuse.

Black Christmas (1974)
Yes, I’m referring to the original. Maybe the remake will make next year’s list…heh, doubtful. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen the classic slasher and what better time of year to rekindle the ol’ magic?

Inside (2007)
Cryptic, I know. I don’t know of another movie involving Christmas that could rip me out of the holiday spirit more than this movie can. We’ll see if I can actually sit through the entire runtime again. Hint: It hasn’t happened yet.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Sue me. It’s not a horror movie, but you know what? It’s one of the most awesome movies ever made and I’m going to watch it no matter how trite it sounds. After Inside, I deserve it.
P2 (2007)
I already watched this in October, but I just may give it another go with a different audience. No one ever talks about this movie (which takes place on Christmas Eve), but I love it. Santa Baby, hurry down the chimney tonight…


In Memorium (Screener): Knocking on Death’s Door

A film that effectively delivers unique concepts in the quickly-tiring found footage format. One cannot help but immediately draw comparisons to Paranormal Activity on a surface level. Indeed, it’s about a couple living in a house with cameras capturing bizarre supernatural events. However, that’s where PA ends and In Memorium ’s plot begins. Recently diagnosed with cancer and given a couple months to live, Dennis, a filmmaker, and his devoted actress girlfriend, Lilly, decide to document their last days together with dozens of cameras and microphones wired throughout their rented house. It doesn’t take long before the cameras capture something unexplainable in the house. Is it the ghost of the home’s previous tenant? Or is it a manifestation of his impending death? The conclusion is genuinely surprising and wholly original.

The plot details themselves are what make In Memorium more interesting than your average found footage film. That said, I still wish the film explored the possibilities more. Given a unique premise and a short run time, there was definitely room to go all philosophical on us. Although I would have appreciated even more complexity in the story, I must say that I was never bored when watching this film. That is rare for a found footage movie. Whether it be Blair Witch or even Cloverfield, boredom is typically a necessary evil to gain authenticity. Having the immense variety of camera angles (detached from the hands of the actors) made the film move faster and freed the actors up to actually act as if there wasn’t a camera in the room.

This brings me to the topic of characters. In Memorium ’s cast is likeable and multidimensional. However, at times I felt like the characterization was being thrust upon us. Lilly and Denny's broish brother, Frank, provoke fights with each other for little to no reason. Some of the early scenes’ performances felt forced and showy. As the events unfolded, however, these faults began to disappear. When it mattered most, the actors were great and I was completely connected to the characters.

Now, the question everyone has been waiting for. Is In Memorium scary? At times, it is, but overall, I didn’t lose any sleep. It didn’t begin to compare to Blair Witch and PA’s scales of creepiness. Still, it succeeds in areas where these films failed. I would compare the movie to The Last Exorcism, where the film wasn’t all about the scares, but more about the characters unraveling the mystery of the situation. That’s not to say there are not some well-executed jumps and a superb tone of dread throughout the film.

This brings me to my next topic: the medium itself. A question kept re-entering my mind as I watched the film (and this is one I ask every film of this type): Would the film be more effective if it was shot in a traditional cinematic way? I still don’t know the answer to this question for In Memorium. There are so many cameras placed in non-security-camera-style angles that you wonder, why shoot with the limitation of found footage at all? Maybe it was cheaper for the filmmakers, but I’m not entirely convinced that this is the case. Despite all this, there is something to be said about the intangible creepy quality of found footage. Somewhere in the high angles and digital video characteristics, there is a voyeuristic element that tugs at us. In Memorium is effective in its existing medium, but my question still remains unanswered in my mind.

Clever, creepy, and engaging, In Memorium delivers. I may have minor quibbles here and there, but minor they are. A solid effort that doesn’t leave the viewer disappointed. For more information on In Memorium, check out the official site


Knuckle Supper: For those who hate Twilight and love charity

It has been called the anti-Twilight book. However, Drew Stepek’s Knuckle Supper is more than a simple rejection of the romanticized vampire. Indeed, it is a rejection of all things vanilla. Packed with violence, drugs, and anything revolting, this book will have you scrubbing your skin in the shower. It will also have you eager to read the next book in this humorously gross vampire saga.

Knuckle Supper is a truly unique take on the vampire genre. Based in Los Angeles, the story follows RJ, the leader of a brutal vampire gang known as the Knucklers, who will stop at nothing to satisfy their drug addictions. Equally as important as blood to Stepek’s vampire are drugs. There is no glamour in this world of addiction and violence. The author spares no disgusting detail in describing the manner of dispatching human beings for their blood, nor in the decrepit day-to-day dealings of a nasty drug addict. RJ’s world is quickly interrupted by the arrival of a 12-year-old prostitute, nick-named Bait. Perturbed his conscious, he cannot bring himself to kill her or throw her out on the street, much to the dismay of his fellow gang members. As he becomes more and more attached to the girl, the more he separates himself from the vampires and the more of a target he becomes.

To describe too much of Knuckle Supper would destroy the fun of learning this world. There’s no way I can begin to explain the bizarre violence of this novel. As a seasoned horror fan, I have never read or seen anything quite like this. Still, it’s not all the violence and grime that make Stepek’s work of fiction so engaging. Rather, it’s the candid depiction of characters that you want to discover more about. The reader is equally as curious as RJ about his species’ origins. You actively seek to unravel each terrible secret Bait unveils. More than anything, you wonder how it’s all going to end for a gang leader and his newfound tweenage friend.

Admittedly, it took me a while to truly connect with the book. Pages and pages of macabre accounts had me interested on a superficial level, but I didn’t find myself turning those pages with anticipation at first. It wasn’t until about half way through the book that I found myself so eager to finish. Indeed, getting readers to relate to a slimy bunch of vampire junkies is no easy task. But give it time and the characters will inevitably grow on you.

Highly recommend for any horror fan, Knuckle Supper is a great read. Plus, the book has teamed up with one of my favorite charities: Children of the Night. This non-profit organization aims to rescue and aid child prostitutes. 10% of hardcover profits and $1 from every digital download will be donated to Children of the Night. Knuckle Supper hits shelves this Tuesday, November 16th, so pick it up and not only support original horror literature, but also a terrific cause.


Because the truth is always more horrifying

In celebration of two upcoming documentary events, I thought I’d share some of my favorite documentary films with you all. Firstly, the wonderful Kristy Jett of Fright-Rags fame has decided to take her love for the 1991 film, Popcorn, to a whole new level. She is now in pre-production on a documentary all about Popcorn. Visit the production diary here to show your support. Secondly, Best Worst Movie is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on November 16th. Documenting the cult phenomena surrounding Troll 2 and its cast/filmmakers, Best Worst Movie promises to be a hilarious yet heartfelt look at an endearing film. Check out the official site here.

Now, back to the title of this post.  Here are some of my favorite documentaries ever made—some involve the horror genre and some are simply horrifying. I’ll start with the most horrifying documentaries and work my way down.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
This film tops the list because everything about it is horrific. From the documentation of the most heinous crime imaginable to the subsequent deconstruction of justice, I have never been so enraged by a viewing experience. Chronicling the sadistic rape and murder of three children in West Memphis, Arkansas, this doc censors none of the terrible details. Following the murders, three teens, who listen to metal and explore the goth scene, are arrested and the trial is documented. What follows is the destruction of more life, as stereotypes and ignorance outweigh reason. I cannot recommend this powerful film enough, and I also encourage you to visit the Free the West Memphis Three site to learn more about their ongoing struggle for justice.

Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
No film has ever made me cry like this one. I’ll admit it, I literally sobbed uncontrollably during an interview. This documentary follows the exploits of a single Catholic Priest, who was moved from congregation to congregation to cover-up his abuse of far too many children.  This film not only captures the immense suffering of the families whose trust was violated so deeply, but it exposes a sickening corruption scandal in the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Another film dealing with a miscarriage in justice, acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris was so effective, his film literally saved a man’s life. How many movies can claim that? Utilizing reenactments and interviews, Morris studies the conviction of an innocent Texas man wrongfully accused of the murder of a police officer. While this movie is not as entertaining as others on the list (this was back in the day when docs were shot on film), it is most definitely an important documentary that exposes the weaknesses of our justice system and human prejudice.

This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)
Censorship. Yup, that’s pretty frightening, especially for fans of the horror genre. Kirby Dick’s documentary aims to expose the unfair practices of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Tackling an entity that is shrouded in secrecy, Dick hires a private investigator to find the identity of the ratings board members. Although horror fans may not appreciate the way the documentary tackles violence, it is definitely worth a watch for any cinephile or student of the First Amendment.'

American Movie (1999)
What’s so horrifying about a documentary that captures an amateur filmmaker’s attempts at completing a horror movie? To anyone that has ever tried to make a movie, you’ll understand. Fear of failure is almost as scary as death. Milwaukee native Mark Borchardt, the film’s tragic hero, is perhaps the best documentary subject ever committed to film. Full of passion and conviction, but with hardly any resources to support his dreams, we watch Mark work through a struggle that is terrifyingly familiar for any artist. Highly recommended to even those who don’t care for documentaries, American Movie glides between hilarious and moving without pause.


Happy Halloween from The Horror Effect!

The big day is here! Time for us to act like six-year-olds on Christmas morning. Halloween is here!!! I'd like to wish you all a happy and safe holiday, whether you spend it watching AMC's FearFest followed by the premiere of The Walking Dead, getting inebriated at a party, dressing up for an elaborate costume contest, attending haunted houses and corn mazes, or maybe even tick-or-treating. Unfortunately, I didn't host a party this year, but I do plan on attending a local haunted forest this evening. A report will follow in November.

And of course, last weekend Nick and I carved ourselves some pumpkins. Mine was a mere 26 pounds, while Nick's weighed in slightly under 30. Needless to say, there were plenty of orange guts to clean up after words. Definitely worth it though!

Becky's Jack-O-Lantern: Boo, the ghost from Mario.

Nick's Jack-O-Lantern: Predator

And with Pumpkin Spice Mousse and Pumpkin Pie Ice-Cream for later, I'm looking forward to a festive dessert! Hope your holiday is equally as tasty.


Romero Week at The Death Rattle

Head on over to The Death Rattle for George Romero week! What better time to celebrate everyone's favorite zombie maker? Not only is Aaron creating a Top 13 list of Romero films, he has also asked yours truly to contribute a guest post. I prepared a mix between a retrospective on the original Night of the Living Dead and an analysis of the decline of the zombie sub-genre. Sounds fun? You bet! Plus, you'll also find great pieces from the minds behind I Like Horror Movies, Agitation of the Mind, and Cool Ass Cinema. And if you're not following The Death Rattle, be sure to start doing so. Aaron is one of the best horror bloggers out there.


My Soul To Take (2010): Better than you think

Firstly, this movie is actually pretty unique. Despite the baseless claims that Wes Craven was borrowing from his previous works, My Soul To Take has a completely different style than his other films and a storyline that resembles no other teen slasher. There was something almost refreshing about My Soul To Take, almost similar to a feeling of nostalgia as if I were returning to a long-lost form of cinema. Dramatic reminiscing aside, it's a good film with a few matters of contention here and there.  

The premise is this: the soul of a serial killer, the Riverton Ripper, enters the body of a child born on the same night of his death. Seven local kids share a birthday with the famed killer of their hometown, but which one will take the Ripper's place? Sixteen years later, the film introduces us to the Riverton Seven struggling through the cruel politics of high school, while participating in annual rituals to keep the Ripper's ghost away. The intricacies of the social environment at this high school is rather ridiculous, but it all strangely works for the movie. Building strong myth in a modern era, it was nice to see a town shrouded in some old school superstition. It's fun not to have a million conversations about how ghosts, spirits, and other supernatural elements don't exist. I appreciated a group of kids that lived in the shadow of the past and feared the unknown powers of evil. 
First sign of evil: high school hipsters surround you.

Though Wes Craven calls this his most personal film, it's all still executed in a fun, but grounded way. Hyperbolic examples of high school hierarchy and elaborate Ripper ceremonies show a lighthearted aspect of the horror genre that is seriously lacking. As stated, the film is still grounded in a dark reality. Much of the film's heavy thematics revolve around Bug, the film's lead. Suffering from some clear psychological issues and an inability to realize his masculinity, Bug has a strange aura of innocence and dangerous anger. This works so well for the film and is really what drives the suspense forward. It was a pretty bold move to make the title character so strange. And indeed, his actions become so bizarre, you'll definitely start questioning whether or not he may be taking the place of the Riverton Ripper. 

Max Thieriot's performance as Bug is exceptional. In fact, all of the teens are surprisingly good. Ironically, when the movie first began, I thought the actors would be the downside of the film. The adult performers are stiff and awkward, especially in the opening scenes. However, once the Riverton Seven are introduced, performance becomes one of the film's greatest assets. 

Bug says, "No more post-conversion."

It's not all songs of praise for My Soul To Take. The film is not scary at all. I know I'm rarely actually scared by a horror film, but I still feel a rush of anxiety during intense scenes and I still feel scared for the characters every now and then. But in My Soul To Take, I didn't ever feel those things. I did like the lead character and connected with him, but I never feared for his life. Perhaps that's because in the back of my mind I was wondering if he really was the murderer. There's still plenty of mystery and suspense to keep the film moving, but don't expect anything along the lines of Scream or Nightmare on Elm Street. Think more like Shocker...but not as silly.

My Soul To Take may not be great, but it is good and it is original. If a movie fails to scare me, then it can at least entertain me with new ideas. Craven achieves that here. Unfortunately, creative horror films like this are too often at the shallow end of the box office, while we all know what brings in bank. Give it a shot if you can still find it playing. 

P.S. I didn't bother with 3D on this one.


T-Shirts, T-Shirts, Everywhere!

If you're feeling the Halloween spirit and would like some new festive attire, check out some of these websites to bulk up your horror wardrobe:

Crazy Dog T-Shirts:
The site has kindly offered readers of The Horror Effect $5 off of their purchase from now until Halloween. Just enter the following code: HALLO5Check out their zombie section, Halloween shirts, and Halloween costumes. I really want this hoodie:

These guys are also running a Halloween sale until November 1st. All Halloween shirts are just $10. Plus, they will send a "Trick or Tee" mystery shirt from their Halloween collection for $5 extra with your purchase. Let fate decide your wardrobe. This shirt, "When Pandas Attack," makes me very happy:

Of course, you all should know about Fright-Rags, but in case you haven't heard, they're amazing. I own five of their shirts, including a special edition Friday the 13th print and special edition Ladies of the Evil Dead print. You get 10% off of your first purchase, if you sign up for their newsletter (which is not spam; it's always useful). One of their newer shirts:


My First Feature Horror Film

So I’ve been up to something lately. You may have noticed my sporadic bouts of absence from the horror blogosphere over the past couple of months. I wish I could say I was out saving the world or something, but I’ve been working on the next best thing: my first feature horror film. (Besides the one I made in junior high--that doesn't count because it's terrible)

The film is titled Break and here is the synopsis: Reunited for the weekend, a group of friends are driven to violence when an unknown force seems to bring out the worst in them. Who will be the first to break?

Melissa Fisher as Angela

My husband and I made Break in about two weeks for a couple thousand dollars, using non-professional actors and hardly any crew. Relying on friends, family, and film students, Break was somewhat of an experiment to see if we could really make a feature film. Well, our hypothesis was correct: we could do it and we did.

Break was one of those projects that kept evolving over time. The story was changed to accommodate budget, the cast was swapped at the last minute due to schedules, and Nick and I found ourselves constantly filling in crew (and even cast) positions at the last minute. However, I believe that the best directors are those who understand every job on set and the best way to understand those jobs is by actually doing them. Ideally, it wouldn’t be all at once, but hey, at the end of the day the movie needs to get made regardless of who does what. We learned so much from the experience of Break and I wouldn’t trade all of the trials and tribulation for a smooth ride.
Danny Bauer as Kane

I just created a blog for the film, which you can find here. Follow for updates on the future of the project, as we send it out to contests, festivals, and whatever else comes our way. We just entered the film into the “Big Break Movie Contest,” which is sponsored by Rogue and offers the chance to have your feature film screen at 50 AMC theatres. There are some awesome films submitted already, so go check them out. And if you feel compelled, please rate the trailer for Break here. I don’t think the rating actually impacts the contest, but it can’t hurt.

If anyone is interested in obtaining a screener, just let me know and I’d be happy to send you one—don’t worry, no rave reviews required. =P I know the movie isn’t perfect, but I am curious to see what people (especially horror fans) think of it.


The Final Chapter on the Big Screen

Before tonight, the only films in the Friday the 13th series that I had seen in a theatrical setting were Freddy vs. Jason and the remake. So of course when I had the opportunity to see one of the most beloved of the sequels, I was excited. Central Cinema in Seattle not only screened Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Part IV), but also held a pre-show from the Bloodsquad--in which they improvised a live version of a slasher film.

The comedy group first asked the audience to pick a fake name for a slasher movie. Someone immediately shouted, “Let’s Kill a Co-Ed.” And with that, the Bloodsquad improvised a ten-minute collegiate slasher on stage. Poking fun at Final Girl clichés and creating a rather impressive beatbox version of Manfredini’s F13 score, I can’t think of a better way to get ready to watch some classic 80’s Jason carnage.

Luckily, the audience was just as excited as I was. Guffawing at Crispin Glover’s hideous dancing (the theatre also screened an extended version of his dance from the outtakes prior to the film) and cheering whenever Ted White's Jason graced the screen, I was in horror fan heaven. My favorite part about the night was when the audience counted out the deaths, yelling “1” after the first death and so on. Some began to lose count and others got confused about the mother’s off-screen death. However, myself and a couple other faithful fans knew the real score. In the end, Jason kills 13.

Seeing a classic Friday film on the big screen was way more fun than I could have anticipated. There’s something about the high-pitched score surrounding you and seeing girls catapulted out of windows in slow motion. The Final Chapter still plays great to an audience. Now let’s hope I get to see Part II (my personal favorite) in a similar fashion someday.


The Craft (1996): When California teens dabble in witchcraft

Not nearly as frightening as the sensationalism surrounding election season, The Craft brings us the dark world of the occult as seen through the eyes of a thirteen year old. Jammed with young 90's stars and an alternative rock soundtrack, this movie is nothing more than a  time capsule for the modern audience.
Going to a wealthy private school in Southern California is soooo hard.

With Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Breckin Meyer, Christine Taylor,  and the stereotypical goth chick--Fairuza Balk, The Craft plays like a 1996 yearbook. The setup is equally as dated: three wannabe witches convert the new girl into their coven so they can wreak havoc on fellow high schoolers who wrong them.  So it sounds like Heathers, but with a 90's goth twist, right? Unfortunately, The Craft doesn't believe in satire. Nor does it have the nerve to blatantly execute jocks in the middle of the woods. If only...

If only The Craft took some risks, it might have actually been good. Instead, we see the girls using "glamour" to change their hair color (and with laughable special efx), removing scars, and casting love spells for half of the runtime. Where is all the revenge stuff? Where is the dark humor? The Craft's all-holds-barred attitude shows that this was marketed towards young girls just entering high school, because an older audience can't possibly get much from this. The R-rating on the film is especially surprising, as there is hardly any violence.
Find the one that doesn't belong.

This isn't to say that there are no good moments in The Craft. There are. Skeet Ulrich's performance under Tunney's love spell had me chuckling. The "light as a feather, stiff as a board" game actually looked good. And after conjuring up a spirit by the ocean, Balk rejoices over the site of several dead sharks washed ashore, which was probably the most effective scene in the whole film.

With another draft of a script and some more attitude, The Craft could have been good. The cast was capable of taking this film up a notch if the story allowed them to. However, the characters have forced motivations and the premise falls apart with unnecessary story twists. Oh well. Better luck next time if this film is ever remade. Ha.


Case 39 (2009): Playing it safe

There’s nothing particularly special about Case 39, but there’s nothing bad about it either. A solid film that just doesn’t do much to stand out from other killer kid movies in the genre. And no, Renée Zellweger is not a standout.

A passionate social worker becomes obsessed with rescuing a child from what appears to be an abusive, psychotic household. Eventually taking custody of the disturbed child, she discovers that the crazy parents may not have been so crazy after all. From the trailers, you can tell it’s a killer kid story, but you don’t know whether or not the child is evil or if something else is manipulating the child. The movie makes it pretty clear—the kid is a demon. And that’s not a spoiler.

The happy family.

It’s a shame though, because I wish there was more suspense surrounding the little girl. Is she a demon? Is she followed by an evil force? Did her religious fanatics for parents do something to her? The movie would have been more fun if the plot was more complex, but then again, sometimes it’s nice to have a straightforward villain in postmodern cinema.

As for the girl, with Lilith of all names, she is genuinely creepy. However, most of this is not due to her performance, but rather some cleverly written and directed moments. You may recognize her from Silent Hill, as she has a great look for horror and was a good casting choice here. Still, she’s no Esther. In fact, The Orphan was probably the reason the theatrical release of Case 39 was postponed. Unfortunately for Case 39, The Orphan had a better cast, a more interesting story, and some great twists.
Duct tape fixes everything.

As a fan of director Christian Alvart, I was pretty disappointed in Case 39. The brooding tone and compelling performances of Antibodies cannot be found in this movie. Nor can the intense cinematography and thoughtful themes of Pandorum.  The visual design was uninteresting (too many overhead shots and high angles) and sloppy editing (unusual for Mark Goldblatt) make Case 39’s average story appear even more average. All the right players were there to make this movie better than its logline, but the result just leads me to believe that Alvart may not do as well in a studio setting.
No one reads her diary.

Like I said, there’s nothing really wrong with the movie and it has some good scenes. Still, the suspense, scares, and story just don’t match up to similar films in the genre. 


Hatchet II (2010): Citizen Kane Hodder

Has anyone else made that joke before? I’m not sure, but I like it. Hatchet II is the Citizen Kane Hodder of slasher sequels. What the heck does that mean? It means the movie is gratuitous, hilarious, ridiculous, and insidious. It’s not every day you get to use all those adjectives in a positive way. But then again, it’s not every day you get to see an unrated horror film in cinemas either.

Hatchet II picks up right where the original left off á la Halloween II. The very first frame of the film? A tight close-up on Victor Crowley’s mangled, gurgling face of course! Next we see Danielle Harris take on the role of Marybeth, as she frees herself from Crowley’s grasp and emerges from the swamp. After rounding up a group of hunters with Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), Marybeth returns to the swamps to defeat Victor Crowley and avenge her family. While the formula is similar to the original, there are many differences that I appreciated.   
Jamie's uncle is the boogeyman! 

The origin story is more detailed this time, as more supernatural elements are weaved into Crowley’s identity. While this may be a strange route to go with a slasher film, I think it capitalizes on the mythos often found in bayou culture. Plus, we get to see more of Kane Hodder without makeup (playing Crowley’s father again). I was rather impressed with Hodder’s performance and hope this results in more face time in other films. The only downside to the more extensive backstory is the overlap for fans of the original film. The tricky thing about sequels is finding the right balance between recapping information from the first film for new audiences and not boring the crap out of those who have already seen the original. Unfortunately, a little too much time was spent on exposition, causing the first act to feel pretty long.

Speaking of pacing...Much of the pacing problems from the original were improved upon. In the first film, it took too long for the main action to get rolling. Hatchet II gets the cast into danger much quicker (or at least it feels that way) and it was much appreciated. The characters, while not as diverse, are more fun to follow and the character jokes work better. Yes, we all got a little tired of the cat fighting between the airheads in the original. The sequel brings us a colorful collection of rednecks with names like Cleatus and Layton.
The Projects or New Orleans...take your pick.

This film had a lot to live up to in terms of gore. Victor Crowley’s methods of dispatchment are so over-the-top, they are played as comedy. Revolting but funny. Personally, I like the death scenes in the original better, but that doesn’t mean the sequel doesn’t deliver. Intestinal gore, boat propeller to the face, the return of the belt sander, and so much more make Hatchet II the crazy blood bath that it is. In grand sequel tradition, the body count is much grander, including a fantastic montage of deaths at the swamp. Was that a Joe Lynch cameo I saw? Heehee.

Cameos and nods. There are lots of them. Not just in the form of actors either. Adam Green’s directing credit hits the screen next to a shot of the director himself puking the nastiest looking vomit ever. Green inserts lots of little references to his films and others. In Reverend Zombie’ s shop, there’s a little advertisement for the “Jack Chop” with Paul Solet’s smiling face. He’s also watching something on the news about a group of skiers caught in a chairlift. My personal favorite reference is from one of the hunters talking about how he knows of a legend like Victor Crowley in a place called Glen Echo and a man who goes by the name of Leslie Vernon. As a huge fan of Behind the Mask, I was gleeful upon hearing that well-crafted plug.

Crowley mostly comes out at night...mostly.

Through and through, Hatchet II is all about having fun with the horror genre. It’s never making fun of horror; it celebrates the outlandish nature of the genre. Perhaps there are some moments in the beginning when Danielle Harris’ performance is a little too somber and Green is taking the characters a little too seriously, but none of that lasts long before we are treated to mutant-redneck-ghost mutilation.

In the end, Hatchet II is an improved film over Hatchet. The actors, jokes, and structure are better, even if I do prefer some of the deaths from the original. Shot for 2 ½ million dollars without studio support, Hatchet II does a lot with very little. With about zero advertising, it will be difficult for Hatchet II to make money this weekend, which is unfortunate because it deserves a chance to be seen.


5 Reasons to see Hatchet 2

Hatchet 2 hits AMC theatres unrated on October 1st! Will you be there to show your support? Here's five reasons why you should be out there watching Victor Crowley power up the ol' gas-powered belt sander this Friday.

1) If you're a fan of the first Hatchet, then things look promising. All the gore and camp that made the original so fun are said to be doubled in the sequel. I can't tell you how many times I've re-watched the various death scenes in Hatchet, showing them to friends who were almost in tears from laughter. Now, that's a good time! On top of Kane Hodder and Tony Todd, throw longtime genre favorite Danielle Harris and new genre star AJ Bowen into the mix and you have yourself a formula for success.

2) Are you in the camp that finds Hatchet overrated? Get off any high horse you might be riding and consider this: it was Adam Green's first real feature! (His first was Coffee & Donuts shot for $400, so that hardly counts). Green has been improving with each film he has made. He himself has admitted that he learned a lot since Hatchet, which is something I've heard just about every director say about his or her first few films. Let's see what a new and improved Hatchet looks like this weekend.

3) Support this exciting UNRATED theatrical release! As horror fans, we constantly complain about pseudo censorship from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and NATO (National Association of Theatre Owners). Commercial viability is the key to any change. Now, we have a chance to show that we will fill the seats, regardless of a MPAA rating. Find out which AMC is playing Hatchet 2 near you!

4) How are you going to welcome in the month of October? Go see an ORIGINAL, INDEPENDENT horror film instead of yet another mass-marketed remake. I'm not categorically against remakes (even if I think remaking a boring Swedish film made only two years ago sounds like a bad idea), but if I have the opportunity to show filmmakers, studios, and distributors that I want to see original horror, I'm going to to do it.

5) Give Adam Green a shot. Even if you don't like Hatchet, or Spiral or Frozen (hey, what's wrong with you?), you gotta' love Green. He's a true lover of the genre and does a lot for his fans. Check out Ariescope pictures if you don't believe me. He's always working on something because he loves what he does. Whether it's a feature film or the hilarious Halloween shorts that he does every year ("Jack Chop" is the best!), Green is someone who deserves a chance to get a real wide release someday.

And don't forget to wear your Hatchet Army shirt. I'll be sporting mine!