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.