Synopsis: A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.
A couple days ago in the opening paragraph of my review on 2012’s Girls Gone Dead I asked if horror movie cliches had become cliches in themselves. The standard cut and paste job is why the genre fizzled out in the mid to late ’90s and the only time when the iron was put back into the fire was when film makers took a step back and looked at the most popular concepts from a completely different angle. One of the highlights of Schlocktoberfest 2014 was Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon which focused a majority of that film solely from the perspective of the slasher villain himself. A year later featured Tucker and Dale vs. Evil where a game of role reversal was played with a pair of Hillbillies being the normal ones and a group of college kids were the homicidal maniacs. Looking to top both of those The Final Girls throws a group of movie goers into a ’80s themed summer camp slasher flick that is a loving tribute (right down to the Harry Manfredini-esque theme song) to Friday the 13th. Ever since Scream established the rules one has to follow in order to survive who wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to jump into their favorite horror movie and see if you could out smart the machete wielding hock mask wearing killer when all of the main cast were done in by the over three decades worth of cliches that we spotted coming from a mile away. One of the movie goers even uses this knowledge to try and guide the rest through without any harm but the movie itself isn’t having any of that and uproots all those normal horror tropes to the point where there isn’t a playing field to try and get a level advantage from.
Whenever the buzz for certain projects hit the internet I always remain the reserved skeptic. It’s not that I don’t believe a lot of the positive word of mouth I’ve always kept my guard up until I’m about halfway through the feature. The Final Girls attention to detail is my favorite quality about it where the normal world is very crisp and sharp much like any high definition camera one would pick up at Best Buy. Once everyone is thrown into the 1980s though the look changes drastically to be more in tune with that of VHS tape where the contrast dial is turned all the way up and every now and then you could almost sense that there’s a speck of dirt that appears on the film grain. From top to bottom the casting is near perfect with Malin Akerman Alia Shawkat and Alexander Ludwig being instantly recognized by my subconscious. It took about a half hour to realize that Thomas Middleditch is also featured but quite honestly the only thing I know him from is a Conan ‘O Brien sketch. Where Final Girls stumbles a couple steps is an observation that many have brought up pertaining to red corn syrup or lack thereof. I don’t quite get that decision as Middleditch’s slasher horror aficionado even ponders if the movie’s characters blood is made up entirely of red corn syrup. I mean come on in my 35 years of life I’ve never heard of a thing as a PG-13 slasher film. The writers and directors can drop a couple F-bombs and various sex and drug references yet they’re too afraid to throw vats of fake blood on everyone? Makes me wonder if The Final Girls had an initial R rating and the studio up and stepped in to try and reach a wider demographic. Other than that if one wants to create an obscure horror trilogy of unrelated modern classics Behind The Mask, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and The Final Girls is an imposing trifecta of hilarious terror that everyone shouldn’t be afraid to tackle between now and October 31st. Don’t worry there’s still plenty of time… Right? Right!!!…
Synopsis: In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.
Guillermo del Toro’s obsession with the things that go bump in the night began at an early age. He distinctively remembers seeing monsters from his crib and would frequently wet his bed making his mother upset to the point where del Toro finally decided to make a deal that if the monsters would allow him to go to the bathroom he would be their friend forever. Then there is the story of his Uncle Guillermo (whom he is named after) being fascinated with the occult and horror in general. One conversation led to a ghostly visit in which the younger Guillermo told his beloved uncle that when one of them passes on to the great beyond that they should come visit the other to prove that there is such a thing as the after life. When Uncle Guillermo did eventually die del Toro inherited the guest room his uncle frequented whenever he visited. One night while doing homework Guillermo began hearing groaning and deep breathing. Curious to find out where these sounds were resonating from he quickly turned off the television and closed the nearest window only to discover that the breathing was following him around the room. It got to the point where Guillermo checked his pillow and the mattress itself where he made the eerie discovery that the moaning was echoing throughout the bed springs and not long afterwards decided to never sleep in that room again.
The key thing that makes me such a huge Guillermo Del Toro fan is never quite knowing where each new project of his is going to be focused. When he came up with the concept of Pacific Rim and excitedly described fusing the kaiju and mecha genres together as one I couldn’t wait to see how he would transfer his soul into each metropolis leveling leviathan. When Pacific Rim hit theaters in July 2013 I wasn’t disappointed and as I made my way toward the exit I began to wonder where Guillermo would hang his hat next. When it was announced that his next directorial project would see him return to telling another ghost story a sly smile formed across my face as I said to myself ‘This will be vintage Del Toro!’ For the most part Crimson Peak is a love letter to those who grew up with the golden age of Gothic horror of the 1960s and 70s. I say for the most part because the first 35 minutes feel like something out of PBS’s Masterpiece block of programming. It’s not what you’d call a slow burn especially when a romantic subplot goes from simple flirting to marriage quicker than a hiccup. That minor annoyance aside as soon as story shifts to the newlywed couple moving into the haunted family estate is where Guillermo lets his brilliance run wild and free. Every scene is beautifully shot and like every Del Toro production it doesn’t take long to get lost in the sense of scale. Reading the movie trivia on IMDB the house used was built specifically for this film as was every item in it so when production wrapped it was torn down to make room for studio space which is a shame because its one of those structures that if it was left standing a majority of people would take one look at it and go yep that place is undoubtedly haunted. Where Crimson Peak really dials in it at is with the beyond outstanding performances from Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. The chemistry between the two is so well executed to the point where everyone else has a difficult task keeping up. I’m not what you call an overly romantic type and there were several moments where I ended up rolling my eyes yet as soon as Del Toro got away from that and pushed the accelerator down to the floor board Crimson Peak rarely lost any momentum. I’m looking forward to giving it another watch since like any other Del Toro production there’s always going to be something you’re going to miss the first time around. That’s the power of Guillermo Del Toro though as long as those things still go bump in the night continue to haunt his memories he’ll keep the creative juices flowing.
Synopsis: A group of six ex-high school cheerleaders are stalked by a killer with a medieval war hammer and battle axe during their first Spring Break from college.
I often wonder if horror movie clichés have managed to become clichés in themselves. Jump scares, buckets full of fake blood, high body counts, scream queens with an impressive lung capacity. Each of these unique traits have built the genre and yet as soon as film companies found out that the general public had a rabid obsession for gruesome terror they began to crank out sequel after sequel after sequel at a relentless assembly line rate. Revolutionary concepts that were dreamed up over three decades ago by visionary directors don’t quite have the same bite when that idea is being dumbed down by people who’s biggest claim to fame are being behind the camera for music videos or a Victoria’s Secret commercial. The line between expanding a vision and truly making a genuine contribution to an established genre becomes greatly faded and it certainly doesn’t help matters when Hollywood goes into full on cash grab mode. Who cares if not everyone is satisfied? We’ve taken their hard earned money without remorse and there is nothing they can do about it. This is why I said that the clichés have become cliches in among themselves, go to a theater and check out any horror movie out in the market right now. Don’t over analyze too much just let your brain take in the current model of film making. I’m willing to bet by the time the end credits start to roll you’ll predict where 95% the suspense filled tension was supposed to be and maybe one or two of the jump scares actually got to you. On the one hand this ends up being a fun little game that you can play against friends however unless drastic measures are put into effect Hollywood will continue to be stuck deeper in an uninspiring rut.
A few years ago while bumming around on Amazon Girls Gone Dead was a film that would frequently end up in my suggestions in terms of my browsing habits. Jerry The King Lawler is when I caved and decided to give it a watch. As the film progressed whenever King would come on the screen I’d yell – ‘Do the Piledriver!’ and once things began to slow down I’d just sit there thinking to myself man if Jerry Lawler would just knock at the door and give someone the piledriver all would be right in the world. Then as luck would have it during the last 10 minutes old King-fish actually delivered it in grand fashion to the point that if Andy Kaufman were still with us he’d give a standing ovation. Get a hold of your pals,buy a couple six packs and every time The King comes on the screen start recalling your favorite moments from Memphis Championship Wrestling or some of his vintage heel commentary back in the glory days of the World Wrestling Federation (before the World Wildlife Federation laid the smackdown on Vince McMahon in court). What else can be said we’re now three days from the end of this year’s Schlocktoberfest and it will now most likely be remembered for Happy Gilmore’s Grandma and one of the most devastating pro wrestling maneuvers ever created. Variety is truly the spice of life!
Synopsis: Six young actresses auditioning for a movie role at a remote mansion are targeted by a mysterious masked murderer.
The lengths some actors/actresses will go to to deliver truly iconic performances are what separates those who set their sights on Hollywood because of their model good looks and just want to be famous for the attention to those who start out with simple bit parts as they slowly struggle their way up the ladder of success to one day be nominated for the biggest prize in the industry, a coveted Oscar. The late great Heath Ledger got his first big break as a heart throb in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and after the monster success of that film refused to be typecast choosing his next roles very carefully. By the time he accepted the role of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight the initial reaction from people was how could someone who did lighthearted comedies like 10 Things and A Knight’s Tale play the clown prince of crime? In preparation Health locked himself in a hotel room for the better part of a month keeping a journal and slowly created the Joker’s voice, laugh, and mannerisms. With Heath’s unexpected passing months before the film’s premiere there were some who wondered if he perhaps went a little too far down the rabbit hole in order to attain the performance of a lifetime. I never really thought of the events surrounding Heath’s death as more than a unfortunate tragedy and upon watching the first half of Curtains I can definitely see where that certain line of thinking can come into focus. An actress decides that in order to fully embrace a character that she is going to be playing convinces the director of the film to have her committed to a woman’s insane asylum and surround herself with individuals who have a wide array of disorders. At first she is able to play along relying on her acting to convince the staff that she has had a complete mental breakdown yet as the days wear on her interactions between fellow inmates legitimately begin to take their toll on her own mental stability. It certainly doesn’t help matters when she comes across an issue of Variety with front page news that the director has decided to hold an open casting call looking for another actress to play the role instead.
So what do you honestly think is going to happen when an aging actress is conned into being institutionalized and then finds out that the director of the film she was set to star in had little to no interest in using her in his production? Anyone… anyone… Bueller? Bueller? Congratulations, if you said that the emotionally crippled, highly jealous, now potentially insane former starlet was going to find a way to break out of the women’s asylum and begin plotting her revenge give yourself a pat on the back. Curtains has a solid dynamic behind the first 30 to 45 minutes where you’re naturally intrigued as to whether there is going to be a huge payoff or not. The director and writers go so far to introduce a second killer to really try and keep you second guessing but like any murder mystery of the week it doesn’t take much sleuthing to figure out who is behind the other set of killings. What’s even worse is there’s a point a good three quarters of the way through where the plot starts to drag itself around like the dead body of one of the film’s victims. I like the fact that Curtains takes the secluded approach of The Shining by having the main setting be a house that is out in the middle of nowhere while a blizzard has all the roads are snowed in. I love that John Vernon (National Lampoon’s Animal House and Killer Clowns From Outer Space) gives audiences another solid performance as a vile/cutthroat director that treats all the actresses auditioning for him as nothing more than mere set decoration. There’s certainly a sense of style here and regrettably its marred down by trying to do too much too fast and not allowing that much breathing room in between. While I understand that Curtains has developed a cult following over the years after my one and only viewing I think I’d find more enjoyment in comforts of a straight jacket and a comfy padded/soundproof cell.
Synopsis: Desert Storm vet who was killed in combat rises from the grave on July Fourth, to kill the unpatriotic citizens of his hometown, after some teens burn an American flag over his burial site.
Its safe to say that there are many people who can’t wait to put election day behind us especially for those who are trying to make any logical sense out of the current presidential race. I myself am not what you’d call a political even though I do have my personal views and opinions on things I’ve always refused to get caught up in the nonstop insanity that constantly follows the two most popular political parties around like a lost puppy. I know that there are numerous amount of issues we have to deal with on a daily basis and I’ve always tried to help whenever possible through various means including charities and donating man hours to trying to make the world a better place. The one thing I will not allow to consume me is negativity so whenever a political ad comes in the mail, ends up on my answering machine or flashes across my television screen I brush it away as nothing more than an afterthought. Sorry if that sounds harsh but anyone who wants to cast judgment on me I’m giving you the permission to go ahead and do so I’ll still be doing my civic duty by voting on November 8th and immediately afterwards I’m not going to pay attention to any media coverage not because I’m worried about the outcome nope instead I’ll go back to trying to maintain an even balance in what should matter – everyday life.
Boy oh boy its not everyday you’ll stumble across a politically themed slasher flick so for those of you who enjoy waking up every morning and turning the television or computer on to see what headlines will make your blood boil this is especially for you. Upon my initial discovery of Uncle Sam my thoughts immediately flashed back to Paperboy where here was another director trying his damnedest in using a pry bar to make something fit into a horror mold. I don’t really have a clue in terms of web traffic who exactly visits my blog so anyone who embraces politics 24/7 will definitely take offense that I even got a few chuckles out of Uncle Sam but come on I do a yearly horror marathon called Schlocktoberfest go and take a look at anything else that I have covered in the last three years. If I haven’t somehow offended you by now I guess what I really should asking is why are you still here? I mean hell you really want to be offended Hollywood already beat me with the punch with The Purge: Election Year. Who knows maybe in another year’s time someone will crank out a slasher film featuring an orange skinned blowhard with an atrocious comb over. On second thought we’ve already lived through that horror long enough, it won’t be much longer where we can bore that painful memory out of our brains forever.
Synopsis: In an abandoned house in Poughkeepsie, New York murder investigators uncover hundreds of tapes showing decades of a serial killer’s work.
There has been a point in time in everyone’s lives where we’ll catch a brutal true crime story on the news and for some morbidly fascinating reason we can’t pull ourselves away from the television screen. The stories of The Zodiac Killer, The Manson Family, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Aileen Wuornos are not the easiest to digest but thanks to seminal docudramas ala Unsolved Mysteries, The FBI Files, and The New Detectives viewers were given a fact driven narrative on serial killers early beginnings, what drove these people to kill, and in most cases (apart from The Zodiac Killer) how law enforcement were finally able to crack every case and bring these murderers to justice. In an age where media sensationalism can draw us in no matter if its newspapers, television, Youtube, Wikipedia or even Facebook or Twitter when a newly discovered piece evidence in a cold case becomes a trending topic the entire world reaches that same exact tipping point from when a serial killer initially started to gain prominence.
The most effective way of bringing person’s fears out into the open isn’t by watching some silly ‘scary’ movie but by focusing on the horrors of the real world. War, conflict, murder, death, crimes of passion while I’ve found myself ignoring the headlines in general nowadays I do know that doom and gloom sells over sunshine and roses. The creators behind The Poughkeepsie Tapes obviously did their homework using the docudrama format as their foundation in order to keep the audience emotionally invested. Noted serial killers throughout history have been known for keeping mementos and again the film makers decided to use that by giving the killer an obsession of documenting his descent through a camcorder and hundreds of VHS tapes. And this is where The Poughkeepsie Tapes become completely unnerving because where its completely a work of fiction the real life influences start to stick out in the back of your head to the point where you feel you shouldn’t continuing watching and yet through macabre curiosity you want to see how things play out. One particular scene shook me up and put me in a place emotionally that I haven’t felt in quite a while and this is where the serial killer enters the home of a 19 year old college student and hides himself in a closet waiting for the opportune moment to strike. The 19 year old invites her boyfriend over for a movie night and they casually walk around the house not knowing there is someone lurking in the shadows. As a horror movie aficionado I’ve felt nearly every form of terror known to man however The Poughkeepsie Tapes really took me out of my comfort zone. In checking out the backstory of the making of this unique horror/thriller it was interesting to read that this was made in 2007 but for some reason not explained the film’s initial theatrical release was pulled. In July 2014 The Poughkeepsie Tapes made its debut on Video On Demand via Direct TV but less then a month later it was once again removed from distribution. Director John Erick Downe has gone on record that MGM is considering a wider release for it so whether or not that even happens is currently unknown. Tracking down a copy is absolutely mandatory, yes the subject matter and the way its presented does sort of have that controversial aura surrounding it but lets not forget so did the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The conventional ways that Hollywood goes around trying to scare us every year has fractured the system from within so we as movie goers have to step off the beaten path and explore the unconventional in order to keep our hearts racing and the adrenaline pumping.
Synopsis: In 1906 a British anthropologist on a Chinese expedition discovers a frozen prehistoric creature and must transport it to Europe by train.
Which is the greatest pairing in all of cinematic horror? Is it Abraham Van Helsing vs. Dracula? Perhaps Dr. Frankenstein vs. The Monster he created. In terms of the iconic movie characters this list would go on for all eternity yet if one were look at two men who were given the opportunity to play those four characters mentioned above a lot of film historians will universally proclaim that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are the greatest match up in the genre. Perhaps no set of actors have worked more with one another starring in well over 20 productions together. You’d almost expect when searching for the definition of typecasting in the dictionary to see portraits of Lee and Cushing next to one another. Than again sometimes you meet a person who is a kindred spirit and an absolute privilege to share quick-witted dialogue with so what’s to stop you from signing on when a movie studio calls and asks ‘Would you consider doing a new picture with your one of your dearest friends once more?’ Horror Express is one of those rare projects where Christopher Lee wasn’t decked out in makeup or acting through prosthetics. Instead he is a rather uptight but highly intellectual scientist who has recently found a scientific discovery that will change the history of mankind forever. Along for the ride is Cushing who plays a doctor and friendly rival who is naturally curious to see what sort of find has been unearthed. On the way from Shanghai to Moscow the discovery suddenly wakes up breaking free of its containment and starts killing a group of hapless victims in a very unique manner – draining all of their intelligence out through the eyes.
The most popular adaptations of John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? conjure up images of James Arness stumbling around as a weird looking plant alien right as he’s about to be lit up like a Christmas tree or how in 1982 Rob Bottin’s revolutionary special effects made audiences sick to their stomachs. The gentlemanly Lee and Cushing are the last two actors anyone would expect to find offering a much different take on the popular sci-fi/horror novella. Depending on your expectations Horror Express might disappoint as it relies more on being the slow burn murder/mystery rather than a full on gore fest and no I’m not talking Bottin level Thing-outs here since this is 1972 after all. While there is a fair amount of blood and even a graphic little autopsy scene when the otherworldly being reveals itself my immediate reaction wasn’t one of fear or revulsion but rather my mind wondered if several camera angles influenced James Cameron when he shot the original Terminator (the initial being has a bright red eye that in shadow sort of looks reminiscent of everyone’s favorite T-800). With the passing of Christopher Lee earlier this summer I wanted to give him a proper Schlocktoberfest send off. I truly hope wherever he is now both he and Peter Cushing are catching up and putting on some more great performances. With every passing day we get closer and closer to losing other classically trained actors from this golden era so value every piece of artistry they’ve given us, they’ll remain forever timeless. Thanks for the memories Mr. Lee.
Final Grade: B
Hell is when the VCR starts eating your VHS collection & spitting the remains back out at you…