We’re back. It’s October, horror movies need to be watched, and Justin and I gladly accept responsibility for doing so. If you don’t remember from last year, I’m a big fan on the genre (I watch horror movies in other months too!), and Justin is…not. He scares easily. Definitely make fun of him for that. But, bless his heart, he’s trying to broaden his horizons and strengthen his will, so for the second year in a row he’ll be joining me on my endless search for great horror movies. I’ll be covering fifteen movies this month because I love virtually everything about the genre (and, let’s face it, have much more free time), and Justin will be watching five. Unfortunately, my list (which is below) trends newer this year, with nothing pre-1980s. Although I guess that isn’t exactly new anymore, I’m just old. However, I will be watching two theatrical releases, something I’ve never tried before. We’ll also be covering a movie together (because Justin loves Kevin Smith…for some reason), which hopefully proves interesting.
At any rate, we’re excited to be doing this again, and we hope you share the sentiment. And now, let’s get started with my list and my first set of reviews:
1. Creepshow (1982)
2. The Green Inferno (2015)
3. Cube (1997)
4. Starry Eyes (2014)
5. Session 9 (2001)
6. The Monster Squad (1987)
7. Pontypool (2008)
8. Crimson Peak (2015)
9. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
10. Re-Animator (1985)
11. Tusk (2014)
12. Backcountry (2014)
13. The Changeling (1980)
14. Hocus Pocus (1993)
15. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The brainchild of horror masters George A. Romero (who directed) and Stephen King (who wrote), Creepshow is a horror anthology film that tells five separate, unrelated tales, each ripped from the titular, fictional magazine that resembles the horror comics made popular in the 1950s. The film isn’t quite an homage, but more a nostalgic recreation of the aforementioned comics that clearly inspired both of the movie’s creators throughout their careers. The whole endeavor is reminiscent of what Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino did with Grindhouse, with the results being similarly uneven.
That unevenness is something of a prerequisite for most anthology films – each vignette is ultimately compared to the others it shares running time with, even when the individual pieces don’t, and aren’t even supposed to, add up to something more than the sum of their parts. Creepshow inevitably succumbs to these inherent structural trappings. King and Romero provide a loose framing device for the five stories, but each entry is meant to be enjoyed on its own merits. For the most part the duo is successful, as these simple, straightforward, and often silly tales relish walking the line between horror and comedy. It’s as innocent as a movie featuring a back from the dead, revenge seeking zombie grandfather can be, one where the overall feel of the film is dictated more by the tone the filmmakers set than it is the material they present.
What’s striking watching Creepshow 33 years after its initial release is how the pleasure Romero and King so obviously gained from bringing these stories to life jumps off the screen. Even in the segments that don’t work – like the goofy The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill (based on King’s short story Weeds), a one man show about a country bumpkin who discovers a meteorite and has delusions of getting rich quick – you still get the sense that Romero and King (who also stars) are enjoying the hell out of themselves. They even have the wherewithal to cast Leslie Nielsen in a rare serious role, that of a psychotic scorned lover. This love of what inspired them is genuine and infectious, and in contrast with most modern horror. Everything these days feels so aware of what came before and so interested in commenting on that (“meta” is what the kids might call it) that it becomes difficult to sit back and just enjoy something for what it is. Creepshow isn’t a great or ambitious movie, but it’s one that recognizes the simple, adolescent pleasures of watching cockroaches crawl out of a dead man’s mouth, or witnessing a beast devour a drunken, abusive, bitch of a wife as a gory, hilarious form of comeuppance. And for that, it’s a worthy entry into the genre.
For what it’s worth (which is literally zero dollars and zero cents), I’d rank the vignettes as such:
- The Crate
- Something to Tide You Over
- They’re Creeping Up on You
- Father’s Day
- The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill
The Green Inferno (2015)
Eli Roth is mysteriously one of the biggest names in horror, despite directing a paltry three feature films (of varying quality), the last of which was released eight years ago. That film was Hostel: Part II, a movie so bad my only memory is of a dog eating a man’s dismembered penis. So, yeah. His fourth, The Green Inferno, was recently released into theaters two years after it was completed due to the financial difficulties the film’s production company, Worldview Entertainment, incurred. It’s fair to say that most moviegoers wouldn’t have minded if the movie had remained shelved permanently.
Inspired by the exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust (the title is a film-within-a-film in that movie), Roth attempts a balancing act between highbrow art horror and, oddly enough, stoner comedy. The concept – a group of idealistic college students boards a plane and flies to Peru with the hopes of stopping the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants – is perfect for both the carnage Roth wants to display and the social commentary he’s interested in. The film does a decent enough job of showing the misguided naiveté of the “let’s change the world” mentality prevalent across college campuses. The group’s ultimate punishment – being eaten alive by those they’re trying to help – is a fitting means to an end. This impossible to miss metaphor works for a film that’s interested in making a visceral, explicit statement about the repercussions of adopting this mentality. It’s a cynical, disillusioned outlook that most probably won’t agree with, but it’s at least a legitimate artistic point of view.
The problem is, whenever an opportunity arises, Roth undermines the film with some sophomoric attempt at humor. In one scene, after the vegan in the group realizes she’s just eaten part of her friend and cuts her own throat, one of her still-alive-for-now friends stuffs marijuana down the dead girl’s throat. The strategy is to get the tribe keeping them captive high from eating the meat and attempt an escape. This is something that might work in a spoof, but in what is a film filled with some of the more gruesome scenes and images you’re ever going to encounter (it’s people eating other people alive, after all), these attempts to lighten the mood are absurd. This is the most egregious example of the jarring tonal shifts of the film, but it’s a problem that persists throughout. Roth needed to either drop the attempts at humor and make the artsy, hardcore exploitation movie the film was clearly intended to be, or drop his ambitions and turn the film into a satire. What we’re left with is a movie that mirrors many college-aged kids – a desire to be taken seriously but lacking in credibility. So they get high instead.
Made for $350,000 in 1997, Vincenzo Natali’s Cube has all the hallmarks of a low budget indie film – horrible acting, minimalist set designs, sparse use of special effects – to go with a heady premise more attuned to sci-fi than horror. Still, the psychological ramifications of what the movie is doing, and what it ultimately says, are absolutely terrifying.
Five people wake up in the titular cube, with none of them remembering how they got there. The cube is like a Rubix cube, except if each block of the cube was a room and all the rooms interconnected. Some rooms are booby-trapped and others are safe to enter. The film consists of the five main characters being forced to work together to find an exit before they die at the hands of the cube itself, or from dehydration. A heavy dose of math is thrown in for good measure – prime numbers, factors, other stuff you haven’t really thought about since high school – but it’s not terribly integral to the film. On the surface this sounds like an intellectual gimmick of a movie, but Natali is after much more than you’d initially expect.
Recalling Terry Gilliam’s masterful Brazil, both in the harsh, almost comically absurd angles employed in many of the shots, not to mention the thematic link, Natali is able to comment on the absurdity of the machine. The machine being not the cube, but the world and the way it functions. The cube however, serves as a literal prison for these people (my reading on the film tells me that each character name references a real life prison), reinforcing the dark statement Natali is trying to make about humanity. Lines of dialogue here and there make Natali’s point clearer, sometimes bordering on over-explanation, but never quite crossing the line. It’s heavy, existential stuff, but it grounds the abstract nature of the film in a very real idea.
Ultimately, Cube can’t completely overcome the trappings of being made on such a tiny budget, but the concept, and the way it’s brought life, is often fascinating. It’s a movie that will likely benefit from multiple viewings, as it’s for people who like to actively think about what they’re watching as opposed to passively letting it wash over them.
Starry Eyes (2014)
The best horror movies take ideas or feelings and manifest them literally. Often, this happens in the form of some kind of monster whose single-minded determination to eliminate the protagonist almost always stands for something larger. In rare cases, a horror movie will turn the protagonist against him/herself, as these ideas and feelings are realized in self-mutilating fashion. The result is typically an unsettling psychological experience. Such is the case with Starry Eyes, a film that focuses on Sarah (Alex Essoe), an aspiring actress, and her struggles to become a star in Hollywood.
Sarah works at a knock off Hooters that goes by the moniker Big Taters, has a group of friends she generally doesn’t care for (and you get the sense the feeling is mutual), and spends so much time going to auditions that it’s interfering with her job. She eventually has a weird, creepy audition for a horror film, as the film begins its simultaneous descent into Hollywood’s underbelly and Sarah’s psyche. What’s fascinating is that, for about half the movie, you aren’t entirely sure anything sinister is actually going on. Sure, the individuals Sarah encounters are odd, but creative types often are. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s safe to say the film eventually goes bonkers in the best way possible. The result is a mix of Cronenberg-esque body horror and brutal unsettling violence that combine to make a scathing indictment of Hollywood as well as a critique of how far people are willing to go to satisfy their ambition.
Starry Eyes is able to take the well-worn and make it feel original by presenting it in a fresh, exciting way. The actress who sells her soul to make it big it normally the stuff of high drama, but writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer are able to bring out the disgusting nature of this commonplace tale. It’s the kind of movie that’s so good, and makes such perfect use out of its concept, that you wonder how it hasn’t been done more often once you see it. A near perfect horror film.
And now… the scaredy cat!
John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
Last year, my favorite film of the four that I watched was John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. It was super creepy (obviously), timeless, and ultimately, horrifying, as Michael Myers proved to be the serial killer head and shoulders above the rest. Knowing that, I snagged another John Carpenter film from my buddy and decided to give his Kurt Russell horror flick a shot. I knew very little going in: There’s an alien in Antarctica that can take the form of whatever it kills. And there was a remake of it a few years ago that I skipped. End of what I knew.
If Carpenter wanted to start things off by making me curious/angry, he did a very good job. Cue a beautiful husky/wolf running through the snow and getting shot at by crazy Norwegians in a helicopter. And then the intrigue mounted as it definitely seemed like that beautiful husky was way more than meets the eye and thankfully Michael Bay was nowhere to be seen. And then… 1982 special effects took over.
Allow me to say this first: the story is fantastic. It’s a tense film that allows Carpenter to create an atmosphere that every single person is the exact opposite of what they appear to be. It’s exactly the type of thing that makes horror movies special (or, rather, what makes the good ones special). It allows for the film to be a tremendous metaphor for how we don’t trust our common man and acts as a suspenseful tale that always has you wondering which of the scientists/workers/red-shirts is a human and which has already been mutilated and replaced by the ugliest effing monster I’ve ever seen…
But there were two things that really caused the film to suffer in my mind. The first is the monster itself. While it’s ugly and at-times menacing, it’s overall appearance dates the film a ton. You can absolutely see why modern filmmakers would want to remake it… The second thing that crushed my overall feelings of the film was the final scene, which ends the movie nearly mid-Kurt Russel sentence. Unlike his earlier mentioned masterpiece (which also leaves you cliffhanging) this ambiguous ending just left me saying “What? That’s it?!?” and not being sure how there wasn’t at least another five minutes. You can create a hopeless situation for your characters, sure, but I felt like their acceptance of the futility of their actions was a little TOO futile… and that’s coming from someone who absolutely adores The Mist.
In the end, I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was expecting to be and it left me wondering how many of the other Carpenter films I would put on this film’s level instead of that of Halloween. I won’t know for awhile, but at this point, one of the all-time horror kings is now 1 out of 2 in my mind.
The rest of my list that is coming up later this month (unless something else jumps out at me, which, if it does, I’ll beat it with the nearest blunt object I can find):
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Crazies (2010)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)