Thursday, April 24, 2014

Top Ten Alien Horror Movies

Ready for some scares from outer space? Something that makes horror so effective is our fear of the unknown, and there's nothing more alien (yeah, I went there) than creatures from beyond the stars. Click the break for my top ten list of alien horror movies!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

'I Spit on Your Grave' Double Feature (Movie Review)

A tale of two Jennifer's

Last November I ran across a discounted gem on Black Friday. Sitting in the Walmart DVD bargain bin amongst various kids movies (an employee prank?) was the I Spit on Your Grave double-feature for $7. It's a no frills 2-disc set that has the original movie along with the unrated edition of the 2010 reboot. I'll be honest and tell you that "exploitation" films aren't my favorite genre by a long shot, but I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of The Woman) has such a notorious reputation that I felt the need to add it to my collection. Now that I've watched both films back-to-back, lets talk about them!

(Click the jump to see my entire review)

Monday, April 14, 2014

'Oculus' (Movie Review)

I had the chance to check out Oculus this weekend and I have to say it certainly surprised me. I walked into the theater with tempered expectations; holding out hope based on its R rating but nervous based on its distribution partnership with WWE Films. Luckily by the time things wrapped up I wasn't angry about the price I paid for the ticket!

Oculus focuses on Kaylie and Tim Russell, a brother and sister haunted by the events of their childhood. Tossed into the foster and psychiatric care systems after witnessing their father murder their mother, the two are reunited over a decade after the events when Tim is released from the mental hospital. Shortly after Tim's return, Kaylie explains that she has found the object that ruined their lives; the "Lasser Glass", and that it's time to "keep their promise".

What I expected from Oculus was 90 minutes of a family running around a house tormented by ghosts jumping out of a mirror. Lots of the tired "OMG their reflection is doing something different than they are!" scenes. Luckily, it seems director Mike Flanagan knew there were people like me out there and kept that stuff to a minimum. Instead, what we get is a smarter-than-average movie that makes highly effective use of time and intelligent cuts to disorient the viewer and create a really creepy atmosphere. It's very effective at telling the story in a disjointed fashion without getting annoying.

Rather than focus on the monster in the mirror, the movie stays glued to the Russell family's descent into madness, with Rory Cochrane doing a passable Jack Torrance impression as he slowly loses his mind. Katee Sackhoff also does an impressive job and creates some of the creepiest moments in the film. It's not a gore-fest by any means, but when the gross outs arrive they get results. There are also a lot of still camera shots in Oculus that I really appreciated, and they help to build tension nicely. There were a few scenes where Karen Gillan (Kaylie) tossed some extra ham on the plate, but they're forgivable because she also provides some darkly humorous moments too.

No spoilers here, so I'll tell you that Oculus is worth your time and money. Its faults are easily overlooked since it manages to avoid a lot of the tropes that sink so many of the current "PG-13 ghost movies" that get shoveled into theaters. It also provides some genuinely clever and scary moments that I totally didn't anticipate. Check it out if you're at all interested in a good horror flick that will mess with your head!

Grade: B
Reviewed in Theater

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

'Outlast' (Game Review)

It takes a lot for a video game to frighten me. Most survival horror games rely on contrived jump scares and eventually fall flat when your character acquires overpowered weapons and equipment. Outlast from developer Red Barrels provides a different approach to the genre. It's a constant fear fest that keeps you on the edge of your seat and always looking over your shoulder.

You play as Miles Upshur, a journalist investigating the Mount Massive Asylum. The mysterious Murkoff Corporation has supposedly been conducting shadowy experiments at the facility and you decide to check it out after being tipped off by a whistleblower. Outlast is a survival horror game in every sense of the word. Miles has no weapons, and no formal combat training. He is armed only with his notepad, wits, and camera with a night vision function. From the very first moments you get out of your truck and break into the Mount Massive Facility, you'll have to constantly be on guard.

Outlast certainly has its share of jump scares. I went the full route of playing in a dark room with headphones on, and there were numerous times I leaped out of my seat or found hallways I just didn't want to walk down for fear of what was lurking in the shadows. What sets it apart though is when things DON'T attack or engage you. As you make your way through the Asylum recording evidence, you'll encounter inmates and experiments known as "Variants". Not everything is out to get you, which heightens the tension, because you'll be ready to run and nothing will happen. It adds a level of unpredictability that makes things even more frightening. Speaking of running, you're going to do a lot of it. Running and hiding are your main methods of defense, and your only way to survive. You can also use the darkness to your advantage by enabling the night vision on your camera, although you'll need to scrounge around for batteries to supply juice for it.

Sound also plays a major role in setting the mood and heightening the sense of dread. The score and effects will make the hair on your neck stand up, and Miles will start breathing heavily the more frightened he becomes, even when just recording the horrific sights he encounters. Things become even more intense when you're trying to escape from enemies. There is a real sense of panic when you're running for your life, scrambling to find a place to remain unseen before something makes it around the corner and finds where you hunkered down. The ability to look backwards over your shoulder while running is a great touch and only adds to the sense of fear when a chase ensues.

I can't recommend Outlast enough to horror fans. Even non-gamers will find its simple controls lower the barrier of entry, and I've never played a game that does as great a job of making you feel like you're starring in a "found footage" flick. If you're a survival horror fan this is a must play, especially since it is heavily discounted on Steam, and currently free on PS4 with a Playstation Plus membership.

Grade: A
Reviewed on PC via Steam

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

'Night of The Living Dead (1990)' (Movie Review)

There are two horror movies that are intrinsically burned into my mind from my childhood. The first is Graveyard Shift, and the second is the Tom Savini remake of Night of The Living Dead. I still remember sneaking downstairs late at night to watch Showtime and this movie being on almost weekly. It later fell into rotation on "Spine Tingler Theater" which was a Saturday horror double-feature program on the local NYC affiliate. I have the utmost respect for the original NoTLD and everything it did to essentially spawn an entire sub-genre, but one thing Romero's original vision lacked was pre-Candyman Tony Todd going totally bonkers.

There are so many conflicting opinions about this movie. In 1990, there wasn't a high profile "reboot" being announced every week, and even then people asked "is this really necessary?" Apparently George Romero thought it was, and put Tom Savini in the director's chair. What resulted was a faithful re-creation of the 1968 original with a few important elements shaken up and a much cooler soundtrack.

The movie is essentially a shot-for-shot remake with a different stylistic approach. What I love most is Patricia Tallman and Tony Todd's sublime level of over-acting. It's incredible. Most scenes feel like they were re-created "dialed up to 11" because everyone is either screaming, crying, or running around bashing zombies in the face while screaming and crying. A major change arrives about thirty minutes into the flick when Barbara goes from "lunatic" to "angry lunatic-mercenary" and becomes an expert marksman. It's unexplained, but works somehow. Harry Cooper is also portrayed as far more of a douche in this version and is totally unhelpful to the group in any way. I won't spoil the alternate ending suffice to say that it's ironic and ties into both Dawn of The Dead and Day of The Dead a little more smoothly.

The special effects are leaps and bounds better than the original, and I remember the shrieking window zombie in particular scaring the hell out of me as a kid. The undead are portrayed in a frightening yet strangely comical and incidentally dangerous way. They stupidly shamble around bumping into walls and eating bugs. Their origins are a mystery and luckily Savini didn't feel the need to address a back story. In fact, the TV and radio segments are more sparse in this version. I remember that feeling of extreme isolation freaking me out when I watched it so many years ago.

Almost 25 years after its creation and Night of The Living Dead is now on Netflix for everyone to enjoy. It suffered in obscurity for a while, not receiving any official modern home release until sometime around 1999. I have to say as an adult I enjoyed it for a host of new reasons. The insane overacting and extreme sweatiness of Harry Cooper, along with that cheesy grittiness only late 80's and early 90's horror movies achieved. Patricia Tallman is absolutely out of control as well, to the point where a lot of viewers will probably hate her. If you're a fan of the original, you owe it to yourself to check out this version. Hopefully you'll love it as much as I still do.

Grade: A
Reviewed on VOD via Netflix. Running time 92 MIN.