Director – Andrew Monument
Cast – Lance Henriksen, Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Darren Lynn Bousman, Mick Garris, Tom McLoughlin, George A. Romero, Brian Yuzna, Dennis Fischer, Roger Corman, Anthony Timpone
Release Year – 2009
Reviewed by John of the Dead
In my years of reviewing horror films I never expected to write on horror documentaries as much as I have, mostly because I rarely watch them, but this one was so informative and well-executed that I felt the need to spread the word. As genre fans we are (usually) always on the look out for great flicks that we have yet to see, both new and old, and Nightmares in Red White and Blue will aid you in at least knocking off the classic and influential horror films that paved the way for American horror. Please keep in mind, this documentary strictly focuses on American horror, so don’t expect any mention of Italian giallos or the great spookfests coming from Spain. In addition to this, Nightmares in Red White and Blue also gives us a fantastic and intriguing look into how much the horror film has changed in about 100 years – and we all know how important knowing your history is.
Narrated by horror veteran / manliest voice ever Lance Henriksen, this 96 minute information-fest is told and executed in a way sure to please fans of the genre and introduce newbies to the films we love so dearly. From early expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to the traditional monster films like Dracula / Frankenstein / Wolfman, to Psycho, to Halloween and Friday the 13th, and all the way up to the modern day horror films, this piece covers the major elements of American horror history up to its debut in 2009. On top of this the film also covers society’s take on horror and why certain horror films give us different types of horror, giving us more than the dumbed down experience some may expect from this. Periods of horror are also gone over in this experience, and along with that the directors and film critics explain why horror had to change to accommodate its changing audience. While this is narrated by Lance it comes with lots of director / writer cameos delivering their input on the genre and its related topics, and those cameos include: George A. Romero, Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Darren Lynn Bousman, Tom McLoughlin, Mick Harris, Brian Yuzna, and Roger Corman. I could go on and on about why you should see this documentary, but take my word for it; if you want to see the best documentary out there on American horror, this is it.
Overall, Nightmares in Red White and Blue is a great horror documentary that I suggest to everyone who loves or is interested in horror films. Extreme horror fans with knowledge of its history may not learn anything new, but the eye candy and fanboy-ism of seeing lots of our favorite directors speak in this film should make it worth viewing. I find this especially helpful to those who are just getting into horror and want to better understand the films and the history behind them, as well as be exposed to a plethora of flicks to add to your queue.
Director – Pål Sletaune
Cast – Noomi Rapace, Kristoffer Joner, Vetle Qvenild Werring, Stig R. Amdam, Maria Bock, Torkil Høeg
Release Year – 2012
Reviewed by John of the Dead
After a long break from non-English language horror I decided it was time to venture from the mainland and give a watch to this Norwegian horror film that debuted last year, The Monitor. After escaping her abusive husband Anna and her 8 year old son move to a secret location where they will start a new life. Terrified that her ex husband will find and take her son from her, Anna buys a baby monitor to keep in her son’s room. She begins to witness strange noises coming from the baby monitor that appear to be the sounds of another child being murdered, forcing her to relive the nightmare she just escaped. Not all is what it seems though, and with the child custody battle far from over Anna picks the worst time to start losing her mind.
I figured this would be a creepy film given I always find it scary when electronic/inanimate objects create noises they are not supposed to. The story starts off OK and quickly builds to the initial horror where Anna brings the baby monitor home, sets it up in her son’s room, and then hears noises late that night that clearly sounded like her son was being attacked. She frantically runs to check on him only to discover him sound asleep. The initial explanation from the electronics salesman, Helge, is that she is tuning in to another person’s frequency and should just change the channel, but the vocal disturbances do not stop. Living in constant paranoia leaves Anna on the fritz, and the caseworkers assigned to the child custody case are taking notice to Anna’s inability to serve as a suitable mother. She has lied to them about her past, and with her history of lies exposed they then question whether her husband really did hurt them, creating even more conflict for the troubled mother. Around the halfway mark we then begin to discover that something is really wrong with Anna. She is seeing things that are not really there, and we are left to question whether it is something supernatural or if she is just delusional. This continuously plays on for the rest of the film and never built up to anything worthwhile. The horror was pretty tame and also never built up to anything worth mentioning, and in fact was a big letdown given the potential that can be reached with the story’s general concept. All in all, this story is one confusing mess that leaves many questions unanswered and little to enjoy despite whatever theories I have been able to come up with. It is as if the writer purposely threw obstacles in the way to keep the viewer from understanding what is going on, and in this case I was not fond of it.
Director Pal Sletaune did well and is basically the only reason I made it through the film in one sitting. His gloomy atmosphere is very much in line with the storyline’s sad tone, and he made the most out of the poor story he left himself to work with. The few scenes of horror were executed well and the tension was high, but sadly the story never allowed for much tangible horror to surface. The acting performances were mostly positive, with lead actress Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / Who Played With Fire / Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, Prometheus) carrying the film on her shoulders. Playing a battered wife who is also suffering delusions and going through one hell of a child custody battle brings extreme emotion to the table, and she portrayed her character well and probably made for the best thing this flick has to offer.
Overall, The Monitor is a flick that comes with much potential but suffers thanks to its confusing story. At times I felt like I could make sense of it, but a few minor details would derail every theory I came up with. The direction is okay and Noomi Rapace was great as the lead, but this is not an experience I would recommend unless you feel like dissecting and making sense of it for me.
Director – Nicolas Lopez
Cast – Eli Roth, Nicolás Martínez, Ariel Levy, Lorenza Izzo, Natasha Yarovenko, Andrea Osvárt, Marcial Tagle
Release Year – 2013
Reviewed by John of the Dead
When my buddy told me that Aftershock was coming out on May 10th, 2013 I asked him “What the hell is Aftershock?”, because I had yet to here anything about such a film. After looking it up online I saw that it starred Eli Roth and had something to do with an earthquake in Chile, so I figured I would give it a watch if such a non-marketed film were to come my way. Well, an industry friend alerted me that Aftershock would be debuting at my local discount theater, which immediately had me excited. “WHY is it bypassing the premium cinema and instead heading straight to the discount/dollar theater?” I asked myself. “Is it too gory? Is it something the masses won’t love but something genre fans will adore?”, like The Midnight Meat Train (only released in discount theaters), and after viewing this piece I now know why it achieved the release it did. Aftershock is not an experience I would outrightly recommend to anyone, but it did come with its fair share of positives and good horror at times that may make this worth its discount price.
While at an underground nightclub in Chile a group of friends find themselves in a fight for their lives when a strong earthquake buries them underground, only to realize that their horrors are just beginning when they finally reach the surface.
So why did this achieve the release it did? Well, this piece is just not good enough. “But the majority of horror films that reach the big screen are not worth premium pricing!” Yes, I understand that and that is why most of us despise Hollywood. In a sense I am relieved to see this film go directly to discount theaters instead of sucking up our money at premium theaters and wish more distributors would be this “sincere”. OK I’ll stop with my pseudo-rant / Hollywood commentary and get on with the review.
The story, written by director Nicolas Lopez in conjunction with Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo, starts off well and begins its onslaught on playing with our emotions regarding the characters (more on that as I progress). The first 40 minutes or so are spent getting us to like and fall for the six main characters that we follow. There is the traveling friend and recently divorced father, lulzily only referred to as “Gringo”, who despite trying to find love and romance in a new country also happens to miss his daughter very dearly. He is accompanied by his two friends, Ariel, who is still hung up on his ex and is written to provide much comic relief, and “Pollo”, a rich asshole and womanizer who provides most of the film’s laughs. They meet up with three pretty Hungarian girls looking to have a good time, a time only the guys can give them, but most of the attention is focused around the three bros. Once the earthquake hits all hell begins to break loose and that is when people start dying. I was very surprised at how the characters were used after the earthquake, with characters that you expected to survive until the final conflict being killed off rather quickly. I did enjoy that the deaths were in pretty heartbreaking fashion given the story invested a lot of time in getting you to like them. Sadly it is also after the earthquake that the film becomes worse when it was totally supposed to become better. Several faults and execution issues arise and at times I was left not caring for whatever happened next. The story did seem to find itself again when the first act kicked in, but its predictable climax was as bittersweet as the overall experience.
So what kind of horror can you expect from a film about the aftermath from an earthquake? Well, like most disaster films the horror stems from humanity’s reaction to the tension, turmoil, and societal breakdown around them. Looters are ravaging the streets, single mothers are packing pistols and shoot anyone, good or bad, who tries to use their territory for shelter, and violent criminals are roaming free after a nearby prison collapsed during the quake. Once the horror gets settled it is the criminals who provide the most horror when they see the remaining survivors and the three pretty Hungarian girls that they want to use for their own sick purposes. The remaining tension stems from the survivors hiding and trying to evade the pursuit of the criminals who are slowly but surely catching up to them as they run out of places to hide in the crumbled city.
Director Nicolas Lopez did well with this film and was especially effective during the developmental phase. His execution of the party scenes was fun and he got the most from his male actors in providing much humor for us to enjoy. The female actresses were also positively used but they seemed to have served a different purpose, naturally. Once the horror got going after the earthquake his execution was still pretty solid, giving us lots of gore as we watched partygoers get crushed by falling debris, as well as dismemberments that include a hilarious scene where someone loses a hand. Eventually the tension shifts from gore and falling debris to humanity’s social breakdown, and it was there that the film started to lose me. The execution was OK, but it was far from the positive level that it was before people started acting like animals. Thankfully the tension was still good and made these faults bearable.
Overall, Aftershock is a decent experience that was fun at first but slowly drifted into a horrific tale that failed to hit as hard as I wanted it to. The faults are made forgivable by Lopez’s direction at times, but all in all this is not an experience I would recommend you go out of your way for, but at least you won’t pay premium prices if you do so.
Director – Chris Walas
Cast – D.W. Moffett, Pamela Gien, Aubrey Morris, Janet Hubert, John Kassir
Release Year – 1990
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Now THIS is a “Tales from the Crypt” episode that feels right in the vein of the episodes that scared the crap out of us when we were kids. Logan Andrews is an ambitious business man who may have just made a very poor investment in building a luxurious hotel deep in the swamplands of Louisiana. When the eccentric and very rich widow Margaret makes a vacation visit to his hotel, the desperate Logan sees an opportunity to use her money to get him out of this mess. He visits a local voodoo priestess who conjures up a love potion that will make her fall in love with him, but he makes a grave mistake in overdosing her with the potion, forging a pact that they will take to their graves…literally.
This is a truly simple story of “love”, greed, death, and undeath. The horror begins to surface when Logan makes the decision to acquire the love potion so that he can convince the “hard to get” Margaret to marry him and save him from financial ruin. The priestess tells Logan that one drop will make her his wife, and two drops will make her his for life. Well, Logan decides to dump almost the entire bottle into Margaret’s drink, and the overdose soon kills her. When the priestess told Logan that more than one drop would make Margaret his for life, she really meant it, as Margaret soon returns from the grave to be with her one true love. While she looks the same as she did when she was buried, she has brought with her a sinister tone, brutally killing those around Logan. To make matters worse, she is also slowly decaying and by the end of the episode he has a very scary corpse willing to do anything to make him happy. This story is heavy on the consequence of taking advantage of someone and it does so with a very fun and horrific tone.
The Fly II director Chris Walas directs this piece and he did a darn good job with it. The performances were solid and he made the most of the horror element by executed it very well. The atmosphere was great, although it does not really sell the film, but it set the tone for the horrific events that would eventually erupt onscreen. I loved the look of Margaret as she slowly decayed during the final half of the film, giving us live-action execution of a creepy lover none of us would want to scorn. It really is sad to see good horror experiences from Chris Walas limited to this episode and The Fly II, because this guy, an FX man by trade, can deliver good horror.
Overall, “Till Death” is an awesome episode that gives us an engaging story heavy in horrific consequences. The direction is solid and it delivers a good amount of horror in a short and very tight package.
Director – Marino Girolami
Cast – Ian McCulloch, Alexandra Delli Colli, Sherry Buchanan, Peter O’Neal, Donald O’Brien, Dakar, Walter Patriarca
Release Year – 1982
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I have always been a fan of cannibal and zombie films of the 70s and 80s, and this early 80s flick that combines both sub-genres is one that had always escaped me until now. When body parts go mysteriously missing at a New York hospital, evidence points to a cannibalistic tribe located in the Moluccas (East Indies), and the hospital sends a team of doctors and journalists there to investigate thr matter. Soon after arriving the team is immediately bombarded by the cannibal tribe, but they will soon learn the true dark secret residing within the island.
The story takes off quickly, with the hospital staff fretting over the continuous mutilation of their cadavers until they finally catch the culprit and discover the link to the cannibal tribe of Mollucas who worship a god known as Kito. Fast forward a bit and their team lands on the island and from then on out the usual cannibal film antics kick in. We watch as the crew and their native guides are brutally disemboweled by the cannibals lurking within the jungle, but things take a sharp turn for the worse at the 47 minute mark when the zombies show up. I found it pretty damn awesome that these writers chose to mix the cannibal and zombie sub-genres together, but sadly this idea was not used to full potential. I felt the cannibal element was dead on and that stemmed from the cannibals being the true focus of the film. While initially awesome in their introduction to the story, the zombies were not used very well and took a severe back seat to everything else going on. I did enjoy the concept behind why they were on the island to begin with, but not once do we see the zombies kill anyone, eat brains, or do anything zombies normally do aside from walk slow and look like Barney Frank. I found this to detriment from the film because even though the cannibal element was used to potential there was much time wasted on the zombie element that never flourished.
Director Marino Girolami did an OK job executing this piece, which was shot at the same location used for Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, which also stars the same actor, Ian McColloch You can expect the usual acting performances associated with these types of films, such as overly emotional women and overly manly men, all with those dubbed voices we love to hear. The kills were pretty fantastic and we are given loads of live-action gore, which makes this a bearable flick despite the story’s failures. At first the zombies looked great as well but eventually it became obvious they were just people with a bit of mud caked on their faces and that became lame pretty quickly. Overall Girolami’s execution was good enough and came with enough gore to satisfy both cannibal and zombie fans who need their gore fix, but he does not offer much more than that.
Overall, Zombie Holocaust is another run of the mill cannibal film that tries to incorporate zombies into the mix but fails to use them to potential. Those seeking a zombie film, which the title hints at, should know that this is far from a zombie flick. The gore is good and we get the usual sleazy cheese associated with cannibal flicks, but this is far from anything great.
Director – Fred Dekker
Cast – Miguel Ferrer, Teri Hatcher, Kyle Secor, John Kassir, Laird Macintosh
Release Year – 1990
Reviewed by John of the Dead
“The Thing from the Grave” is as simple as it gets – a straight to the point episode that builds up to an awesome climax. Stacy is a beautiful widowed model whose abusive agent/boyfriend, Mitch, brings their relationship woes to light in front of her photographer, Devlin Cates. Devlin convinces her to ditch Mitch and offers her refuge in his home, and they soon fall deeply for each other. After giving Stacy a necklace as a symbol of love and his promise to protect her forever, Devlin is killed by Mitch and buried in a hole outside town. Mitch thinks he has conquered his nemesis and can use Stacy’s grief to win her back, but Devlin intends on keeping the promise he made to her…
As I mentioned earlier, this is a very simple tale but it comes well told and from one of the genre’s best writers, Fred Dekker (House, Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad). It opens with Mitch killing Stacy’s husband, a premonition of the type of careless and brutal man he is. When Devlin offers her the respect and affection Mitch lacks she immediately falls for him, but Mitch won’t have any of that and kills him without her knowing. The majority of the story consists of these scenes and lacks much horror until Devlin is killed towards the end of the episode, and from then on out it is utter hell for Mitch. Without giving too much away, Devlin keeps his promose to protect Stacy forever and rises from the grave to free his love from her terrible captor. A fitting way to end this awesome tale.
Fred Dekker’s direction is equally enjoyable, expertly executing the characters and their relationship with each other to provide plenty of drama and tension until the horror kicks in. Miguel Ferrer was excellent as Mitch and stole the role as far as performances and dramatics go, but the other actors Kyle Secor and Teri Hatcher did well. Once the horror finally did kick in I loved everything Dekker had to offer. We see a full-frontal resurrection and a grotesque, live-action Devlin to deliver the horror I knew was coming from the get-go but still found very much enjoyable.
Overall, “The Thing from the Grave” is another enjoyable episode that gives us good horror in a very simple fashion.
Director – Richard Bates Jr.
Cast – AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, Roger Bart, Jeremy Sumpter, John Waters, Malcolm McDowell, Marlee Matlin, Matthew Gray Gubler, Ray Wise
Release Year – 2012
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Horror films centering around teen angst interest me because most of us who are not teenagers anymore can relate to the conflicts felt by the protagonist. Excision plays on high school culture and the societal norms forced on young girls, but it takes things up a notch; or should I say, several notches. AnnaLynne McCord stars as Pauline, an 18 year old with more siblings than friends, and she only has one sibling. Pauline is weird, ugly, and has a face adorned with acne and cold sores, but her worst trait is not one others can see. Dead-set on becoming a surgeon despite her failing grades and poor study habits, Pauline’s vivid and maniacal fantasies build and build inside of her until she finds the perfect opportunity to act on them.
I can say right off the bat that I have not seen a horror film like this in quite some time. Lately I have stayed away from slow burning experiences and instead focused on more fun and adventurous flicks, so it was great to delve into this again but at the same time I am reminded of why I strayed from these films in the first place – unless you have really good direction, they are pretty boring. Excision comes in auteur fashion, written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., who first broke onto the scene in 2008 with his short film of the same name that eventually spawned this full-length piece. The film begins by giving us a full-frontal view of what life is like for Pauline. The pretty girls hound her, the guys stay as far away from her as possible, her mother is an overbearing bitch, her father loves her but gave her a strain of herpes when he gave her CPR following a childhood drowning incident, and her sister has a worsening case of Cystic Fibrosis. Oh, and she has horrific dreams of performing gory and sensual surgeries. The extreme majority of the film plays on Pauline’s conflicts and her slight struggle with being accepted. She does not care in the least bit for her cohorts, but she at times wants to experience what they experience, like sex and friendship. Despite the trouble that she is and the trouble she creates she carries a creepy sense of innocence and naivety, which comes to light more and more as the story progresses. Her parents are unable to produce the funds for professional psychiatric treatment, so they instead rely on the priest of their church to counsel her, who just so happened to be portrayed by filmmaker John Waters – the most awesome in a list of cameo roles that includes Malcolm McDowell and Ray Wise.
So how is the horror in this piece? Well, it is there but at the same time it is not. Up until the end sequence the only horror we see comes via the vivid dreams Pauline has, written and executed in a melancholy fashion. The subject matter of the dreams is sensual, gory, and horrific, which to me makes for good horror. My only gripe is that these were the only moments of horror until the final scene that ends in very shocking fashion. Had the remainder of the film given us some tangible horror I would feel differently, but while dreams can be very scary Pauline’s were not. Simply put, this flick is 80% drama and 20% horror.
Richard Bates Jr. did well in keeping my interest in this slow-movie piece. He perfectly executes the world Pauline lives in, from her taunting classmates to her quirky family lead by her overbearing mother, and the horror as well. Her fantasy scenes were vidid, visceral, and came with lots of live-action gore to give us a decent amount of horror to suffice until the horrific climax. The beautiful AnnaLynne McCord donned cosmetic FX on her face to make her appear ugly and neanderthal-esque, and she portrayed this “seriously effed up girl” very well. Her mannerisms were dead on and her facial expressions were that of a girl you never want to be alone with over fear for your life. Overall I was happy with Bates Jr.’s execution and felt that he did well in directing the necessary elements that make for a good horror film.
Overall, Excision is a positive horror film that may turn off some viewers due to the little horror it provides until its satisfying climax. This is not a film I would recommend to everyone, especially those seeking a “fun” / exciting experience, but for those of you who want something different this might be for you.