Monday, December 30, 2013

What I'd Like in Horror 2014

The new year is almost upon us, and after composing my list of the best horror movies from 2013 I'm turning towards the future! I've been thinking about what I hope the horror scene will deliver in the coming calendar year. There are a lot of trends I'd like to see more of, and a few I'd like to have go away. Here's a completely non-comprehensive list of some highlights that jumped out of my brain.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Best Horror Movies of 2013

2013 was a solid year for horror movies. There was a fairly continuous stream of quality flicks in both the theater and direct-to-video spaces. I'd be remiss if I didn't give a quick list of my favorites from the past twelve months in no particular order, with a few words on why I enjoyed them. Now I present to you "Terrorphoria's Best Horror Movies of 2013"

American Mary

This gory tale of surgery and success directed by the Soska sisters is smarter than your average torture flick. Following anti-hero Mary Mason as a medical student who rises to stardom by performing underground surgeries, it touches on fringe social elements and ideas of what it means to be "a success". Not for the faint of heart, there is a bunch of quality gore and splatter in this one.

Evil Dead (2013)

When I first heard the words "Evil Dead remake" I cringed. I'm happy to say when I finally saw this remake in the theaters I came away impressed. Fede Alvarez did a great job of channeling the rawness of the original Evil Dead films while adding his own twist on the formula. With some nice homages to the source material and some stuff that will make even hardcore horror fans squirm, this is easily the best horror "reboot" since the Dawn of The Dead surprised everyone.

Pacific Rim

OK, so I know a lot of you are saying "Pacific Rim  wasn't a horror movie!" but technically it is. Godzilla and his Kaiju friends were classic Japanese horror films, and this is a love letter to the monster movies of that era. With so many fright films falling into the categories of "extreme gore" or "PG-13 ghost movie" this was a breath of fresh air. It combined action, humor and a really cool scenes featuring robots fighting giant sea creatures. If you missed it in theaters I recommend watching it on the largest, loudest possible home theater you can.

V/H/S 2

Far and away the best "found footage" and best "anthology" style horror movie I've seen all year. V/H/S 2 surpasses its predecessor and includes some really original ideas combined with sharp, concise story-telling. Featuring a "who's who" list of currently popular directors and ample amounts of blood and guts, this is one you definitely don't want to miss. If you're interested in a more details you can read my full review of it here.

The Conjuring

I guarantee The Conjuring will make a lot of "Best of.." lists this year. A modern spin on the classic haunting/possession story, this movie hits all the right notes where so many others seem to fall flat. James Wan does a masterful job of adapting the recorded details of the Perron family's ordeal and their relationship with the Warrens into an effective film. Full of old school frights and some admittedly cheesy jump scares, it set the bar high for all other full theatrical release horror movies this year.

So there's my short list. Did I miss anything? (I probably did.) Share your favorite horror movie(s) from 2013 with me down in the comments. I'd like to know what you felt was the cream of the crop!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Haunting Starring Polterguy Retrospective

Polterguy. The undead Bart Simpson.

Here's a horror classic from the glory days of the Sega Genesis!

Haunting Starring Polterguy was a gem from Electronic Arts back in the early 1990's when they were still willing to take chances and be creative. It had a unique premise and to this day I've still never played another game quite like it. You star as Polterguy, a totally tubular nineties kind of dude who ends up getting killed by a faulty skateboard. These cheap skateboards are the product of Vito Sardini's sleazy company, so the only recourse you have is to come back as a ghost with a totally sweet leather jacket and haunt the crap out of Sardini's family!

Haunting is all in 3/4 view which will be familiar to anyone who has played EA's popular Sims titles. Your revenge plot involves scaring Vito and his family out of their home, but you're a ghost so you can't physically hurt them. This means your main method of scaring them is to inhabit and interact with objects around the dwelling. One of the things that makes this game great is that there are so many different things to play around with in the houses. You can jump into the couch and make it try to eat them, make kitchen knives fly around at people in the kitchen, or even have a troll climb out of the toilet and throw poop everywhere.

When you manage to get the family's "fright meter" high enough they'll head for the hills and leave the house screaming, and more importantly leave globs of ectoplasm to fuel your ghostly powers. You really don't want to run out of ecto, because if you do it's time to head into the UNDERWORLD. The Underworld is a frustrating maze-like level full of weird traps and demon arms that try to molest you as you make your way back to the land of the living. You can also die there which means you'd be extra dead, since you were already a ghost. If you manage to get the entire family out of the house, they will move to a new one. However, if Poltergeist and Insidious have taught us anything, it's that once you're haunted, you stay haunted. You effectively relocate with the Sardini's and then start the fright fest all over again in a new mansion.

Going back and replaying Haunting after so many years taught me a few things. First, the controls kind of suck. Polterguy is tough to maneuver as he floats around rooms and down in the Underworld. Second, there are brutal difficulty spikes in the Underworld and a few other areas like the tacked-on end boss battle (because every game needs an end boss!) Even though the gameplay was a bit repetitive across levels it was great fun to watch Vito and his scummy kids pee their pants or have the eyes comically pop out of their skulls when you make demons jump out of the refrigerator.

Haunting may be a little bit more difficult to find than some other games I've written about on here. If you have a working Genesis, you might be able to grab a copy on Ebay, it was also part of a collection called "EA Replay" for PSP and on Playstation Network that also contained the superb horror-themed sports title Mutant League Football. Bottom line is that if you can figure out a way to play it, do so. It's fairly short, a lot of silly frightful fun, and unique. There aren't many games where you get to play as a crazy ghost and terrify people like Beetlejuice. Electronic Arts certainly doesn't make 'em like this anymore.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Twixt' (Movie Review)

I love it when famous directors lose their minds.

Twixt, the latest directed project from Francis Ford Coppola, is a masterpiece of "so bad it's good" horror. I can't tell if this movie is supposed to be taken seriously or it's some sort of elaborate joke at the expense of whoever green lighted it.

The story opens with a setup narrated by Tom Waits. Right from the start it walks a fine line between "horror" and "completely ridiculous". We're introduced to a town that kind of feels like Twin Peaks and our hero Hall Baltimore, played by modern Val Kilmer (not to be confused with Top Gun or Batman Forever Val Kilmer). Hall's career as a horror writer is on the decline and he's passing through town promoting his latest novel. While conducting a book signing he meets crazy sheriff Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern) who professes to be a fan and almost immediately asks him if he wants to see a dead body. LaGrange then tries to draw Baltimore into a number of schemes including solving a murder, co-authoring a story about it, and placing the blame squarely on a group of goth kids who live in trailers down by the lake.

If this all sounds insane, that's because it is. Twixt is just the right kind of self-indulgent and bizarre movie where each scene captivates by being more nonsensical (and comical) than the last. It has an earnest quality to it; both Kilmer and Dern appear to take license with the script and the overacted interplay between them is spectacular. Things quickly escalate when Baltimore begins to have crazy dreams involving a dead girl named "V" (Elle Fanning) and his spirit guide Edgar Allan Poe.

The dream sequences are easily the highlight of the movie. They are strange, melodramatic, and shot using a knock off of the special effects from Sin City. Hall and Poe travel deeper into the dark reaches of his psyche, to find the truth behind the young girl's death. This culminates with a scene in a windy clock tower that looks like one of the models from Beetlejuice. It's like they hired the dollar store equivalent of David Lynch to write these, and he took the work very seriously.

To be clear, Twixt is not a good movie. It's slow at times, full of plot holes, and makes you continually question how Francis Ford Coppola actually directed this. However, there are so many gems strewn about the 88 minute running time that you can't help but have a good laugh at it. This includes the scene where Val Kilmer drives out to a lake and interrogates a bunch of goths at a dance party. I  see this one being generally panned by critics especially considering the pedigree of its director and cast, but it totally deserves a nod and cult status in my book. Check it out on your next bad movie marathon night.

Grade: B-

Reviewed on VOD via Amazon. Running time 88 MIN

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Top 10 Tiny Terrors

SPOILER: Munchies didn't make the list

Ever since I was a kid, tiny monsters scared the crap out of me! I don't know why pint sized predators would creep me out more than some giant creature or humanoid maniac, but to this day the thought of evil little creatures makes my skin crawl. With that, I give you my list of the top 10 tiny terrors!

Click the jump to find out why scary things can come in small packages.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

'The Beast' (Movie Review)

Creating short films is difficult.

They are a challenging medium to work in, because the limited time you have to tell a story means having to be very concise and get the message across as quickly as possible. I've been on a short film and horror anthology jag the past few weeks, and found Youtube is a gold mine for horror shorts. The Beast is a stand out that I watched over the holiday weekend.

This homage to classic monster movies stars Bill Oberst Jr. as Michel, as man struggling to deal with his son being a werewolf. The Beast focuses on Michel figuring out what to do with his son Jacob on the night of a full moon. His friend Douglas comes along to assist and make sure Michel brings an end to his son's curse. 

Writer and director Peter Dukes does a smart job a packing plenty of drama and tension into the quick 12 minute running time. It's tough to review short films without giving anything away, but I was engaged for the entire story and really enjoyed the ending. The short is well shot and even has some decent creature effects given the low budget. Dukes uses some savvy old school style by not showing the creature until late in the story. The entire cast delivers great performances, and while there's a little bit of over-acting it fits the classic monster movie vibe.

If you're a fan of classic monster movies, definitely check out The Beast. It's a polished short film and at the price of free and less than 15 minutes of your time, you can't go wrong. You can watch it here on the Dream Seekers Productions Youtube channel and subscribe to stay in the loop when they release something new.

Grade: B+

Reviewed on Youtube. Running time 12 MIN.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'V/H/S 2' (Movie Review)

I was a fan of the original V/H/S. It was rough around the edges but that rawness gave it a lot of character. Anthology movies tend to be hit-or-miss but overall I liked what it had to offer, and came away satisfied.

Now here we are with the follow up V/H/S 2 and I can honestly say I loved it. I'm always pleasantly surprised when a sequel outdoes its predecessor and V/H/S 2 tops the original in almost every way. The sequel has a higher budget to work with, and it really shows. The writing is much tighter, without losing that gritty, raw feeling of the original. The overall formula remains the same, with the shorts being encapsulated inside an overarching story with VHS cassettes as a theme. Even though the peripheral story "Tape 49" is probably the weakest of the bunch, it still does a good job of driving the movie forward, featuring solid performances by Kelsy Abbott and Lawrence Michael Levine as two private investigators searching for a missing student.

The other segments are great, delivering a variety of scenarios that are smart, extremely gruesome, and even funny at points. Pulling in buzz-worthy directing talent from the likes of Eduardo Sanchez and Jason Eisener among others, each story is a surprisingly fresh take on the "found footage" sub-genre and makes clever use of the first person camera motif. Viewpoints from an unfortunate bicyclist with a helmet cam and a family dog are new perspectives I haven't seen yet and make for some cool moments.  At no point did I ask the question "Why would someone be lugging around a camera to film this?!"

Everything is briskly paced, and never wears out its welcome. The films feature insane amounts of gore, especially Timo Tjahjanto's "Safe Haven" which follows the doomed exploits of a group of journalists documenting a cult. Each story managed to keep me on the edge of my seat and even get a few "awwww, gross!" reactions. That's a mark of quality. Also, at a short running time of 96 minutes, the movie never loses momentum.

I would recommend V/H/S 2 to anyone interested in "found footage" horror. It's a great example of how to do things the right way and breathes life into a horse I thought was violently beaten to death a long time ago. If you're a fan of the original V/H/S and somehow haven't caught the sequel, stop reading this review and go watch it right now.

Grade: A

Reviewed on VOD via Netflix. Running time 96 MIN.

Monday, November 25, 2013

'The Walking Dead' and Character Development

If there is one issue I have with The Walking Dead as a television series, it is character development.

Season 4 is now helmed by showrunner Scott Gimple, who mentioned a return to form and wanted to deepen the development and ties between the characters. I understand the reasoning behind doing this, and while it fundamentally increases the divide between the books and the television series. Is that such a bad thing?

There has been a widening gap between the show and the books since the divisive second season. At this point I've compartmentalized all Walking Dead media into their own separate-but-related universes ( books, television, video games) because that way I can enjoy each of them as a stand-alone piece of entertainment without that pesky fan rage making me shout "UGH! That's not how it happened!".

The problem I'm having with the show right now is its aim to nurture some character development while sticking to source material that has fundamentally poor character arcs. Yup, I said it. The Walking Dead comics have poor character development. The books are good at telling a story, but the dialogue and cast leave a lot to be desired. Most of the time you'll have players appearing and then being killed off within the course of a single issue or chapter, and it's common to flip 10 pages where the only words are profanity and onomatopoeia "SHRRRRRPT". When you actually get to major blocks of speech in the books, it's not anywhere on a level with dialogue in the show. I have no problem with this since it's a comic book after all, but unlike Spiderman that can be fun and cheesy in screen adaptations, TWD is held to a different standard since it's billed as a drama. A serious drama...based on a comic book.

What makes the books so effective in the early chapters is the pacing. They are a very quick read, and there are very few moments of safety for the characters to sit back and chat. The books know what they are; a glorified zombie movie put on paper. This is why it's really easy to look past the limited dialogue and character depth. There's a story moving along and won't stop for anyone. Unfortunately television works a bit differently. AMC clearly needs to extend these seasons into what amounts to a yearly 12 hour long zombie flick. However, there's a reason most zombie movies have two-dimensional characters. It's more about the situation the people are in than who they are. I think The Walking Dead show needs to remember that to avoid pacing problems while it tries to flesh things out enough to satisfy the needs of a television audience.

What do you think? Should the show steer further from the source material and tell us more about Daryl's past? Or should it embrace the comics again and give us a more action packed program that worries less about people's history and motives and more on their dire circumstances?


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Horror Movies and Digital Distribution

I miss video stores.

The recent announcement of the final nail in Blockbuster's coffin made me nostalgic for the days when I used to patronize (and work at) a video store. I still miss the "mom and pop" shops way more than that corporate behemoths that killed most of them, but even Blockbuster gave me a place to wander around and explore; plus buy snacks!

I'm not saying I don't like digital distribution. Netflix, Amazon Video, and all the other VOD services are great for instant gratification, but I feel like there are certain things about the horror genre specifically that were better when you had to get off your couch to go to a store.

Most chain had their movies carved up by section, but where I worked there was the "House of Horrors". It was a closed off section (but not curtained like the adult videos!) that had orange lights and all sorts of ridiculous decorations you'd find at the Halloween Superstore on discount after October 31st. It had atmosphere, which is what good horror movies are all about! You knew when you stepped into that section that you were going to find weird, grotesque things too frightening to be anywhere else in the place. Even in the big chains, horror movie box art stood out. When you perused the "New Releases" section, something like The Howling III was gonna jump out at you amidst a sea of look alike romantic comedies. Scrolling through an overwhelming list of compressed digital images using an Xbox controller just doesn't evoke the same feeling.

Speaking of feelings, I also miss the surprise that I got when scouring through racks of VHS and DVD's and finding "that movie". You know, the one you heard about from a friend of a friend who was a horror nut too? It was supposedly banned in four countries and set a record for the most decapitations in under 30 minutes. I miss those moments of unintentional accomplishment where I stumbled across a gem that totally rocked my weekend. Now the best you'll usually get is someone saying "This is pretty cool. You should put it in your Netflix queue before it's not available."

This hurts the status of "cult" movies a bit, since everything has become so widely available. Can something be a "cult hit" based on the number of times it gets streamed off a server? Maybe by the number of people who love it when the general population rates it 2 stars? I feel like over saturation has changed the terms we use to define a "cult classic".

There's no doubt that digital distro services help smaller teams and directors get their stuff out there, but I also think funneling generalized ratings through such a huge audience might cause their films to be unfairly down voted as well. In the video store, maybe you talked with other horror buffs perusing the shelves, or the movie geek behind the counter who could turn you on to the latest Troma release or Critters 3 because they were in an elevator with Leonardo DiCaprio. That was fan interaction. It's very rare you meet someone who says horror movies are "just OK". It's a love/hate genre, and I can't tell you how often I see reviews on digital services that basically say "ugh" or "this was stupid". The "reviews" seem like gross generalizations from non horror fans.

Again, this is me being nostalgic, because outside of a convention, now you only get these kinds of cool conversations on blogs or places like Reddit. It was fun to have them in the moment, and the closest I get today is someone being nosy while I'm in line at the Red Box.

There's no turning back from this brave new world of "all digital, all the time", but there are still a few things you can do to recapture a bit of that old feeling. I find browsing discount sections at the big box stores like Walmart and Best Buy occasionally scratches that itch of exploration. You'll find some crazy stuff when you're elbow deep in those white wire bins. Buying movies may seem archaic in this day and age, but when you're scouring the bottom of the barrel the prices are usually manageable. I subscribe to the "Dollar Bin Horror" blog, because Rhonny Reaper and crew have some good insights for fright fans on a budget. Plus while you're at the store you can recreate that classic "movie night" ritual with some over sized candy bars or a giant tub of microwave popcorn.

Are you like me and look back fondly on the days of the brick and mortar rental houses? Share some of your favorite memories down in the comments!

Monday, November 18, 2013

'MANIAC (2013)' (Movie Review)

Momma's Boy

L.A. Noir

It takes a special kind of director to really pull off an 80's remake.  Franck Khalfoun manages to nail the noir effect in his reboot of the infamous William Lustig slasher Maniac. Evoking the same neon-soaked grime found in recent throwback gems like Drive and Hobo With A Shotgun, everything from the lighting to the synth soundtrack are an homage to the low budget cult cinema of that decade.

Khalfoun makes two major changes to the formula of the original. He sets the story on the "left coast" in Los Angeles, and uses a fairly consistent first person perspective to put us "in the mind of the killer" Frank Zito. Unfortunately I don't feel like this always worked. Elijah Wood does an excellent job as Zito. Further proving he can be absolutely terrifying after his villainous performance in Sin City, Wood never fails at convincing us he is mentally unwound. Unfortunately the POV camera work does a disservice since we rarely get to see him interacting with any other characters, which I felt took something away from the tension and interactions. The strongest scenes were the ones where Zito is alone or with his work and trying to rationalize his horrible actions.

Speaking of horrible, Maniac is not for the squeamish. It's graphic, and even someone as desensitized to movie violence as I am found myself wincing with sweaty palms during a few scenes. It's a gritty, ugly movie, and it doesn't pull any punches. Similar to the 1st person camera work, I felt like this really drove home the intensity of a few scenes, and sabotaged others where the gore drowned out any kind of tension or suspense. Sometimes I wonder if there is a team of people at IFC who revel in green lighting the most offensively brutal horror movies possible. See: The Human Centipede.

With a short running time of 89 minutes, the story quickly plays out between Frank and Anna (Nora Arnezeder) without a lot of filler or background. I personally liked the limited scope, and didn't mind letting my imagination fill in the details, but others might see it as shorthanded character development. I feel like too much background detail into the players take away from the sense of urgency the story has, which is what elevates it above the average slasher flick.

Maniac definitely isn't for everyone. It's a re-make of a cult film that arguably didn't need to happen, but I have to give credit to the cast and team for trying something different with the source material, even if it doesn't always work out. If you're looking for a quick jaunt of intense and violent film making, Maniac could be right up your alley. Love it or hate it, it will definitely stick with you for a while.

Grade: B

Reviewed on VOD via Amazon. Running time 89 MIN.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Zombies Ate My Neighbors Retrospective

I fired up my Wii Virtual Console yesterday and sat down to reacquaint myself with one of my favorite games from the 16-bit era. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a classic, and if you haven't played it, you don't know what you're missing! I have fond memories of renting this from my local video store and having no clue what it was about, but thinking it had to be great because of the zombies on the box art. I miss the "pre-internet" days of gaming when you could still be surprised by something.

The basic premise takes cues from Gauntlet and casts you in the role of Zeke and/or Julie, who battle hordes of monsters through their neighborhood and various other locales while trying to save their neighbors from the evil beasts. You'll fight all manner of creatures from classics like vampires and werewolves, to Martian invaders and blob monsters. You'll even face off against Jason and Leatherface wannabes. What I loved about ZAMN was its sense of humor. It was offbeat and fun which differentiated it from darker horror games like Splatterhouse. It's a love letter to the fun side of classic horror.

LucasArts (RIP) put a lot of passion into Zombies Ate My Neighbors, as they did with so many of their titles. You collect all sorts of wacky weapons and items in your travels, and they make logical sense to anyone who grew up watching horror films. Throwing silverware at a werewolf is an instant kill, as is using a crucifix against a vamp. Other creatures like blobs hate fire extinguishers. It's this fan service and all the tiny extra details that serve to show the developers were creating an homage to the genre.

The attention to quality also shines in the excellent soundtrack. It conveys all the spookiness of a B-Movie through the buzzing Sega Genesis chipset. While the graphics aren't anything phenomenal by early 1990's standards, they definitely have an original and very colorful style to them. This has prompted plenty of amazing fan art from folks like Bones and was copied in the lackluster sequel Ghoul Patrol and Monster Madness:Battle for Suburbia that is considered a spiritual successor.

Although its solo play still holds up today, ZAMN is at its best when played co-op, and having a friend really helps tackle the challenge of its 55+ levels. Unless you're a collector and want to snag a copy on eBay, you should definitely download it on your Wii and to try out. Every horror gaming fan should experience the pure elation of an extended Zombies Ate My Neighbors session.

Have you played Zombies Ate My Neighbors? If so, let me know what you think about it!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Top 5 Horror Movies Concerning Connecticut

SPOILER: The Haunting in Connecticut didn't make the list
Connecticut is a scary place. I should know since I grew up here. Massachussetts steals a lot of the thunder what with Salem and all those witches, but there are a bunch of spooky stories and places in CT that have inspired or hosted some great horror movies. Read on for my list of the Top 5 horror movies that are associated with the Constitution State!

Friday, November 8, 2013

How Not to Name Your Sequel

I just finished watching Fright Night 2:New Blood and was compelled to write a quick post. While the movie didn't totally offend me, its title did. What bothers me is that it is not a sequel.

Unlike Fright Night 2 (1988), this movie is not actually a true sequel. About twenty minutes into the flick I realized that it's yet another reboot of the original Fright Night from 1985. What we have is a re-hash of the original story with the same characters, only a different setting and a gender swap for the main villain. It is in no way a follow-up to the 2011 Fright Night reboot starring Colin Farrell.

I find this irritating because it comes off at best as misrepresentation, and at worst, a cash grab. All they had to do was drop that pesky numeral 2 and market New Blood as another mulligan, or kept the 2 and made an honest effort at putting a modern spin on the true sequel. Ironically, that Fright Night 2 also featured a female vampire as the villain.

If you're interested in a more in-depth look at the movie, Scott Weinberg over on FEARnet did a great review that pretty much sums up my thoughts on it.

If any aspiring horror movie writers or directors happen to read this, do yourself and your potential audience a favor. Don't try to trick anyone with a misleading title or "in-name-only" sequel chicanery.


'Saturday Morning Massacre' (Movie Review)

Scooby Don't

What would happen if the gang from Scooby Doo was thrust into a gruesome real life horror scenario? That's what director Spencer Parsons aimed for with his horror-comedy Saturday Morning Massacre (also known as Saturday Morning Mystery). It follows the misadventures of four meddling kids and their dog Hamlet as they debunk paranormal happenings and try to apprehend criminals.

Unfortunately, things haven't been going so well for them and they are on the edge of bankruptcy until their leader Nancy (Ashley Spillers) finds a job for them investigating an old boarding school that reportedly had some heinous activity going on. Little do they realize what's waiting for them inside the Kaiser House!

This sounds like a promising setup, and the movie starts by dropping us back into 1994 right in the middle of the gang trying to solve a case. After the opening scenes however, things start to go awry. Part of creating an effective parody or spoof is clever use of the source material. Parsons and the writing team for Saturday Morning Massacre really only went as far as some costumes, a van, and an adorable pooch. Besides a few other nods to the Hanna Barbera mystery classics, there isn't much parody happening. It's barely reflected in the oddly delivered script.  Apparently much of it was improvised, which may be why it seems to have a lazy, meandering quality to it. By the time the kids make it to the house and start investigating with Officer Lance (Paul Gordon), their "casual conversation" comes off as the actors being on Quaaludes.

Strange Satanic happenings begin setting upon the gang in the house, but it's all so obtuse that outside of a few cool moments (like a hallway chase scene) it's more confusing than scary. There were a LOT of writers credited for this script, and unfortunately it seems like that lead to its schizophrenic behavior. There's even a romantic sub-plot thrown in that feels unneeded and forced.

By the time the first act wraps thanks to a convenient plot device, we get to the gory second half. Now the action heats up! Things go sideways and its a total splatterfest as the group tries to survive and escape from the Kaiser mansion...wait, isn't this supposed to be a parody of Scooby Doo? Once the script really gets focused it degenerates into a by-the-numbers (but watchable) bloodbath. Sadly at this point there is zero reference to the source material and everyone (including the writers and director) seem to have forgotten what they set out to do in the first place.

Saturday Morning Massacre (I wonder if they re-named it Mystery to make it less "obvious"?) is a really clever premise. The costume design, ideas and special effects are all solid but it suffers from extremely poor delivery. My suggestion is this team regroups and takes another swing at aping Hanna Barbera classics. Maybe get a computer generated shark and call it JabberJAWS.

Grade: D+

Reviewed on DVD via Red Box. Running time 83 MIN.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From Dusk Till Dawn Becomes a Television Series

Say WHAT?!

I loved From Dusk Till Dawn. I even didn't hate that mostly contemptible sequel starring the T-1000. So you'll forgive me if I'm a little freaked out that it's currently being turned into a television series.

While I'm a big fan of Robert Rodriguez in general, he's not perfect, but I'm hoping that this show will be done justice as the centerpiece of his new "El Rey Network" that is premiering next month.

Here's an excerpt from an interview about the shows early stages:

The 10-episode serialized drama, created, directed, and executive produced by Rodriguez (Sin City, Machete, Desperado) and based on the 1996 cult classic he created with Quentin Tarantino, will feature a principal cast including D.J. Cotrona (Dear John, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) as Seth Gecko, the role that famously launched the film career of George Clooney. Zane Holtz (Holes, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) stars as Richie Gecko, and Jesse Garcia (QuinceaƱera, "Sons of Anarchy") plays Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez, a new character created for the series. Don Johnson (Django Unchained, "Nash Bridges") joins in a recurring role as Sheriff Earl McGraw. Other cast will be announced in the coming weeks.

Miramax, producing studio and distributor of the original film, is distributing the series internationally in all territories with the exception of Canada, China, India, and the UK.
Rodriguez said: "If the movie's the short story, the series is the novel." He added: "We have assembled an amazing cast and crew, and viewers can expect to be part of a wild ride when the series premieres on El Rey Network next spring."

Rodriguez said: "If the movie's the short story, the series is the novel." He added: "We have assembled an amazing cast and crew, and viewers can expect to be part of a wild ride when the series premieres on El Rey Network next spring."

Here's hoping that with the right direction and cast that they can capture the gory spectacle and humor of the original movie, and have it turn out like some of the more successful movie-to-television adaptations like Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Fingers crossed for the "Gecko-verse".

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

'How To Survive' (Game Review)

 Kovac's rules!

It seems a lot of recent survival horror games are pretty heavy on gore and action, but a bit lacking in the "survival" department. Eko Software and 505 Games aim to change that with their new zombie murder fiesta How To Survive.

Hit the jump to find out more!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Freddy vs. Jason...on The NES!

Part of being an icon in the 1980's meant a few things. At some point you met Michael Jackson, did a Pepsi commercial, or starred in your own video game. If you were a mega-star, you did all three. It's no surprise then that horror figureheads Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees starred in their own digital adaptations.

I recently re-visited these two 8-bit thrillers to see which (if either) stood the test of time better. So read on after the jump for a clash of the terror titans back when they had more limited color palettes.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fangoria Channel on Hulu

In a never-ending attempt to minimize my traditional cable television viewing, I am always on the look out for ways to find new horror content on the cheap. I suppose this post can be classified as a sort of PSA for anyone whose bored and wants to watch free fright films (alliteration!)

I read Fangoria, I have a Hulu account, but I didn't realize that as of this month Fangoria curates their own Hulu channel.

They keep 30 movies in active rotation. Not all of them are winners, but there are definitely some solid picks including Audition, Inferno, and Maniac Cop 2 starring our hero Bruce Campbell.

If you don't have a Hulu account, it's free to sign up, and they seem to be the least offensive of the alternative-cable streaming services. Now go, armed with this new knowledge, and watch Beverly Hills Vamp on your iPad.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

'Aftershock' (Movie Review)

Shaky ground.
I generally trust Eli Roth. He didn't steer me wrong with Cabin Fever or Hostel. I've even enjoyed his over-the-top acting in movies like Piranha 3D and Inglorious Basterds. So I held out hope that Aftershock would have some redeeming qualities with his name on production and in the cast. Eli has broken my circle of trust.

The basic premse of Aftershock is a lot like Hostel. A group of friends takes a trip outside the United States in an attempt to "find themselves" for various reasons. This particular group goes to Chile, and thus begins the horrendous first third of the movie. The first third of this movie is mind numbing. I'm not quite sure what director Nicolas Lopez was aiming for. There is no action, a completely pointless set up, and the dialogue is abysmal. I can see there was some attempt at character development in order to garner sympathy for the soon-to-be endangered group. These are fairly ineffective, however, due to the painful and contrived script.

Once the quake hits, things quickly shift gears into total chaos where the dialogue is (thankfully) minimized and it's one gory death after another. I will give Aftershock credit for remaining unpredictable in the way it eliminates cast members, and for a few twists and turns along the way, but by the time the finale rolls around you've had to endure 80 minutes of eating a crap sandwich. I don't want to forcibly eat an entire crap sandwich just to get to my dessert.

Brutal violence and scantily clad women have a storied history in horror movies. They've also been ramped up quite a bit as tropes in the past decade, and while there is totally a place for those things, you can't compensate for a complete debacle of a movie with gore and short shorts. It's unfortunate that Eli Roth wasn't able to have a little more influence on the final product so it would live up to the quality of the material he personally directs.

Grade: D-

Reviewed on VOD via Netflix. Running time 89 MIN.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Splatterhouse Retrospective

I've loved the Splatterhouse franchise for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the 1980's amidst a steady stream horror movies and pizza parlor brawlers like Double Dragon, when Splatterhouse first arrived I felt like it had been created just for me. "It's a game where you play as Jason!" was the general description and review it first received from everyone in the neighborhood. It was a gruesome and "controversial" game at the time, in an era long before video game violence was fodder for network news.

With so many incarnations, a few sequels, and a reboot, I wanted to pen a short retrospective on what I feel is an important series of entries in the horror gaming sub-genre. Check out my full write-up after the jump.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut Hits PC on Halloween

Lone Survivor is one of my favorite survival horror games from the past few years. Classic "limited resource" game play, cool retro graphics, and an engaging story make it a standout supernatural thriller.

The extended Director's Cut version of the game was released last month on PS3 and Playstation Vita, and wasn't slated to hit PC for a few months. On Monday developer Jasper Byrne announced that Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut will hit PC  and Mac on Halloween!

If you're a fan of retro gaming or the glory days of survival horror games like Resident Evil then this is a must-play. Plenty of replayability as well with multiple endings.

Be sure to check it out!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

'Magic Magic' (Movie Review)

A different type of horror.

While marketed as a horror movie, Magic Magic should really be classified more as a psychological thriller or suspense piece. It revolves around Alicia, an American girl with a shrouded past who joins her cousin Sara and a group of friends who are vacationing in southern Chile. Right from the start, plans get mixed up and she is forced into an uncomfortable situation amidst unfamiliar people and surroundings.

Tension begins building as Alicia (Juno Temple) has auditory hallucinations brought on by insomnia and is oddly antagonized by her cousin's friends, especially Brink, played by Michael Cera, who walks a fine line between eccentric and sociopath. Cera and Temple really give the standout performances with everyone else fading out as background noise. They manage to build a ton of anxiety without ever really doing anything particularly wrong. It's that excellent brand of suspense that makes you start guessing who "the bad guy" is, or when something really awful is going to happen.

Unfortunately, this is where Magic Magic runs into issues. After a constant stream of escalating events, including a bizarre scene where Alicia may or may not be hypnotized, there is no pay off. Writer/director SebastiƔn Silva does fine work building things to a fever pitch, but ultimately doesn't deliver. The movie becomes a character study in mental illness, and never really seems to go anywhere, outside of the finale that steers things in a slightly different direction. This is one of the cardinal sins of horror/suspense/thrillers. Good stories go somewhere. If you're going to build up massive tension then there needs to be a catharsis for the audience, otherwise they'll end up feeling cheated.

Non-ending aside, Magic Magic is still an engaging film with excellent atmosphere and a good soundtrack. It definitely held my interest through the end, so I wound up slightly disappointed (and frustrated by the studio's deceptive trailer marketing) but not hating it. If you're looking for something that's downbeat and frightening in a less traditional way, give it a shot.

Grade: C+

Reviewed on DVD via Red Box. Running time 97 MIN.

Friday, October 25, 2013

'Apartment 1303' (Movie Review)

Far from the scariest thing in Detroit.

Maybe you're like me and pondered out loud "What would happen if Mischa Barton and Rebecca De Mornay got together to make a horor movie?" Director Michael Taverna's Apartment 1303 3D answers that question for us. Frankly, now I wish I hadn't asked.

This re-make of a modern Japanese ghost story takes place in lovely Detroit, Michigan. Young Janet Slate (Julianne Michelle) is no longer capable of living with her musician-turned-alcoholic mother (De Mornay) so she moves into a great apartment that just happens to be right in her price range. Unfortunately, the budget rent comes with more than a silver fish problem. Janet is soon plagued by frightening noises and visions at night in her new home, prompting a lot of runny eyeliner and "OMG I am so freaked out" monologues. She also contends with a rude little neighbor girl, and her perverted superintendent O'Neil (Gordon Masten) who is easily the highlight of the entire movie. His delivery is the only thing that transcends from "bad" to "so bad it's good" territory.

After a short while, Janet meets her untimely demise and her sister Lara begins the search for answers behind her disappearance. Mischa Barton portrays Lara Slate with all the emotional intensity of a robot. In fact, Taverna should have pitched the name Android Girl Fights Apartment Ghost because I think it's snappier than Apartment 1303 3D. She teams up with her sister's boyfriend Mark (Corey Sevier) who says he is a cop, which she seems to take at face value since she never really sees him doing anything that would indicate he is a police officer. I chalked it up to her robot brain running all sorts of statistical calculations on the likelihood of him telling the truth. Thus begins their "investigation" that ends up being a bunch of poorly timed jump scares wrapped in a bow of limited tension.

The movie rounds off with some closure, a few plot holes, and a lot of amazing overacting by Rebecca De Mornay. Seriously, the acting quality in Apartment 1303 3D ranges between "Lifetime movie" and "middle school sex education video" but I have to give some points to Rebecca for going over the top as a lunatic drunk. She never phones it in.

I can't recommend Apartment 1303 3D unless you're really hard up for something to watch. It's available via VOD but most people probably won't have the 3D capability (I didn't) that is tacked on. It's unfortunately a cobbled together mess that never garners any scares, or enough laughs to move it into ironic territory.

Grade: D

Reviewed on Amazon Video. Running time: 85 MIN.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

AMC Fearfest 2013 Schedule

Every year I look forward to AMC's Fear Fest. Since the days of basic cable regularly showing horror movies are dead and gone, besides extended cable like FearNet and Chiller TV. October is the only month we get the chance to see gems from the genre on broadcast television.

While there is a plethora of horror titles ranging from classic to complete garbage between Netflix and Red Box, sometimes it's nice to see horror movies "the old way" (DVR is cheating!) when you didn't have as much control over them, and the goriest parts might be edited out and left to your imagination to fill in since you've most likely already seen what you're watching about twenty times before.

Plus, you can't argue with Flight of The Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane

For those interested, here's a schedule of the remaining days leading up to Halloween.

Thursday, October 24th
1:00AM-Scary Movie
3:00AM-Scary Movie 2
4:45AM-Violent Midnight
8:00AM-Comic Book Men
8:30AM-Comic Book Men
9:00AM-Silver Bullet
11:00AM-Puppet Master
1:00PM-Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
3:00PM-Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
5:00PM-A Nightmare on Elm Street(2010 remake)
7:00PM-Seed of Chucky
9:00PM-Bride of Chucky
11:00PM-Child's Play 2

Friday, October 25th
1:00AM-Child's Play 3
3:00AM-Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
8:00AM-Creation of the Humanoids
8:45AM-The Omen (original)
11:15AM-Damien:Omen 2
1:45PM-Omen 3: The Final Conflict
6:15PM-The Exorcist
9:00PM-The Walking Dead
10:00PM-The Mummy

Saturday, October 26th
12:45AM-The Mummy Returns
3:45AM-The Walking Dead
4:45AM-Slaughter of the Vampires
5:00AM-Comic Book Men
5:30AM-The Mummy Returns
2:00PM-Alien 3
4:30PM-Alien Resurrection
7:00PM-The Amityville Horror (2005 remake)
9:00PM-The Omen (2006 remake)
11:30PM-The Last House on the Left (2009 remake)

Sunday, October 27th

4:30AM-Comic Book Men
5:00AM-Silver Bullet
7:00AM-The Amityville Horror (2005 remake)
9:00AM-The Return of the Living Dead
11:00AM-Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane
1:00PM-Survival of the Dead
3:00PM-Land of the Dead
5:00PM-I Am Legend
7:00PM-The Walking Dead
8:00PM-The Walking Dead
9:01PM-Talking Dead
10:00PM-The Walking Dead
11:00PM-Comic Book Men
11:30PM-The Walking Dead

Monday, October 28th
12:30AM-Talking Dead
1:30AM-Comic Book Men
2:00AM-The Walking Dead
3:00AM-Survival of the Dead
8:00AM-Comic Book Men
8:30AM-Comic Book Men
9:00AM-Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane
11:00AM-Land of the Dead
1:00PM-Thirteen Ghosts
3:00PM-A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake)
5:00PM-The Amityville Horror (2005 remake)
7:00PM-Friday the 13th Part 3
9:00PM-Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
11:00PM-Friday the 13th-A New Beginning

Tuesday, October 29th
1:00AM-Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives
3:00AM-Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood
8:00AM-The Three Stooges-I'll Never Heil Again
8:45AM-Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
10:45AM-Friday the 13th-A New Beginning
12:45PM-Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives
2:45PM-Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood
4:45PM-Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan
7:00PM-Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
9:00PM-Jason X
11:00PM-Friday the 13th (remake)

Wednesday, October 30th
1:00AM-Friday the 13th Part 3
3:00AM-Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
8:00AM-Return to House on Haunted Hill
11:45AM-Tremors 2: Aftershocks
2:00PM-Tremors 3: Back to Perfection
4:30PM-Temors 4: The Legend Begins
7:00PM-Halloween (original)
9:00PM-Halloween 2
11:00PM-Halloween 3: Season of the Witch

Thursday, October 31st (Halloween)
1:00AM-Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
3:00AM-Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
9:00AM-Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
11:00AM-Halloween (original)
1:00PM-Halloween 2
3:00PM-Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
5:00PM-Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
7:00PM-Halloween 5: the Revenge of Michael Myers
9:00PM-Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
11:00PM-Halloween (original)

Bruce Campbell Confirms Army of Darkness 2

Usually when I hear about a horror movie sequel or remake, my reaction ranges somewhere between ambivalent and totally enraged. However, with news coming from Ash himself (Bruce Campbell) that a sequel to Army of Darkness is currently being written and that he will be directly involved, I was ecstatic.

The additional tidbit that Sam Raimi is at the helm only further solidifies my excitement, even though I actually felt that the Evil Dead property wasn't mishandled in the recent re-imagining headed up by Fede Alvarez.

I'll be patiently awaiting more information in the coming months.