Top 13 Favorite Horror Films Part 666: Sci-Fi Horror

Okay, I decided to do one more week of Halloween Horror Lists, and do a top 13 list because, well … spooky.

This week’s list details my favorite sci-fi horror features. Enjoy, and feel free to post your favorites in the comments section.

Please be aware that I tried not to have any repeats on these lists, so if you see something missing, it might be elsewhere.

Previous Halloween Horror Lists:

Part 1: The Classics

Part 2: Books

Part 3: Slashers

Part 4: Zombies!

Part 5: The Obscure

***

13) Hardware

Lucky number 13! This little sci-fi indie is not only related to the Dredd universe, it’s also pretty terrifying. The effects are terrific, and the atmosphere of the picture is both mesmerizing and haunting. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s damn cool. Honorable mention: Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I classify this one more as comedy than horror, but it’s a visual delight, and just as wacky and awesome as Hardware.

12) Forbidden World

This sleazy Roger Corman Alien knock-off is actually pretty inventive when you cut past the film’s inherent goofiness. There’s a sly sense of humor portrayed here that really works to the film’s advantage, pumping up the scares and adding an extra sensation to all the sexual exploitation. Plus, that scene with the doctor smoking a cigarette as someone else cuts into his gut to remove a cancer … yeah, it doesn’t get much better than that, folks.

11) Critters

This delightful Gremlins ripoff is actually petty damn scary (and the sequels are fairly fun, too). It’s got great effects, plenty of chills and some truly kickass bounty hunters. Plus it’s got Billy Zane in it. It doesn’t get much better than Zane, folks! Oh, in case you might have been wondering, I didn’t put Gremlins on this list, but don’t fret. It’ll make another horror list in a few months. Just you wait. Another honorable mention: Night of the Creeps. This one is more of a zombie film, with sci-fi elements, but it’s just as awesome as Critters, and it’s got some fantastic one-liners.

10) 2001

Stanley Kubrick seemed to enjoy horror, as quite a few of his films explore the concept, from 2001 to A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. Okay, so 2001 doesn’t really turn into horror until about the 70-minute mark, give or take. But once it does, oh boy is it a ride. And that finale, while gorgeous … so creepy. 2001 is a breathtaking sci-fi masterpiece, though it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who enjoy a slow brew, this film is a tour-de-force of awesome. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

9) Videodrome

Pretty much every David Cronenberg movie could, on some level, qualify as horror. My favorite is Videodrome (and The Fly, but that’s on another list). The film is a mixture of wild ideas that focus on our consumption of both television, and the extreme. What’s so brilliant about the film is just how invested you get into the mystery. By the end you almost feel as though you are part of the whole story, a piece of the puzzle. The film is dated, sure, but the ideas are not. Also check out eXistenZ, a kind-sorta sequel.

8) Event Horizon

I initially hated Paul W.S. Anderson’s jump-scares-in-space opera, but when I revisited the film on Blu-ray a few years ago, I found myself enthralled by the crafty visuals, the chilling story and the trippy sci-fi elements. Plus, watching Sam Neill fly off the deep end (again) … worth the price of admission right there. Also in the Sam Neill Madness Trilogy: Possession and In the Mouth of Madness.

7) Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The original Invasion is pretty good. The other two remakes aren’t too terrible, either. But I prefer the 1978 remake. I love the groovy ’70s vibe. The effects are cool, Leonard Nimoy is there, and Donald Sutherland … and Jeff “Mother Fucking” Goldblum. I mean, come on. Plus the film is freakin’ scary as hell. It’s an unrelenting sci-fi/horror thriller about paranoia at its absolute scariness. Also, pay close attention for the human dogs. My god … nightmares people. Nightmares.

6) Galaxy of Terror 

Another Corman masterpiece of bizarre sci-fi/horror. This one is largely fueled by James Cameron’s visual design, which bares a strange resemblance to his work on Aliens, which came just a few years later. The story itself is actually quite genius, baring a modest resemblance to several episodes of Star Trek (including The Cage), but with more amped-up gore and scares lurking around the corner. This film is basically A Nightmare on Elm Street in space, which is funny considering Robert Englund is featured in both films.

5) The Thing 

John Carpenter rocks. That is all. His 1982 sci-fi/horror redo is a landmark in that it’s one of the few times the remake matched or even surpassed the original film. Everyone should follow his lead. The Thing is a spiraling sort of horror mystery, where the monster is never same twice, and you’re always on edge, waiting for what’s next. Also give They Live and Prince of Darkness a gander.

4) The Mist

Another Stephen King adaptation from Frank Darabont. This one’s about monsters from another dimension who invade our world. But that’s just the surface. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. And that finale … damn. That’s really all I can say. It’s easily the most beautiful, emotionally wrecking finale I have ever seen. And everything that comes before it, well, it’s scary as all hell.

3) Jurassic Park

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s terrifying novel doesn’t get much credit for being horror … probably because it HAS Sam Neill, but he DOESN’T go mad (to Spielberg’s credit, Neill had only done Possession at the time). But you know you’re lying if you say you weren’t pissing your pants when good old t-rex came storming past his iron gates, heading for the kids and the sniveling lawyer. Nope. You were scared. You were also scared when the raptors invaded the kitchen. Yes, Jurassic Park is a horror film. It’s a sci-fi slasher … with dinosaurs.

2) Sunshine

Danny Boyle’s space drama starts off moody and tense, and never seems to quite. Some have complained about the film’s more Alien-like slasher third act, but that’s part of what I love about Sunshine. It’s a film that explores the very real and the very surreal, life and afterlife, god and man, and it does so in such a dazzling, memorable fashion.

1) *tie* Alien/Aliens

Ridley Scott’s slasher-in-space is not only the best sci-fi/horror film out there, rich with tense set pieces, great characters and chilling effects, it’s also one of the best, most brilliantly designed sci-fi masterpieces ever made. In some ways, this one tops Star Wars and Star Trek for me. The attention to detail that Ridley Scott and crew put forth is simply staggering. This film doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels real. There’s an unprecedented authenticity to this picture, and that’s what makes it so damn scary.

James Cameron’s Aliens takes a more grindhouse approach to the series, with a blend of cheesy military tropes giving the film a war-like military action film motif. It’s not as scary, but it’s also a masterpiece in its own way, and one of the best sequels ever made, so don’t miss it.

Next up: A new season, a new series of Lists! Check back to find out more…

***

If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. Both are just .99 cents. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Advertisements

The Dark Knight Rises – A Deeply Personal Film Christopher Nolan Didn’t Want to Make

Welcome to Different Perspectives, an essay series designed to offer a new, more positive perspective on a piece of entertainment that viewers may not have considered.

Warning: Spoilers for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises ahead.

“I started out trying to make the greatest film in the world. I’m now halfway through and all I want to do is get the thing finished.”
-Francois Truffaut

I’m going to put this bluntly. Despite how much you might have wanted it, Christopher Nolan didn’t want to make The Dark Knight Rises.

Now, before you all light up your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, or take to the internet to fire off dozens of articles, quotes and interviews my way that may speak contrary to my words. Hear … me … out. That’s not to say Nolan and crew didn’t eventually get enthusiastic about the project. They did.

However, the death of Heath Ledger left a dark spot on the franchise, one that Nolan couldn’t quite overcome. Evidence of this is in the finished product. “Out of respect” for Ledger, Nolan doesn’t mention The Joker. Which is odd when you consider he was likely rotting away in Gotham prison when Bane lets everyone loose. You’d think someone would, at the very least, say something like “What about The Joker? Did he get loose?” and someone else would say “No, the inmates killed him.” or “No. Even Bane knew not to mess with a mad dog” or something to that effect.

Naturally, one could slough this off by saying The Joker was in federal prison. But without one single line of dialogue to indicate such a thing, it remains a mystery. One might also not consider this a plot hole. Technically, it’s not. It’s an omission, one that feels directly tied to Harvey Dent and the Dent Act. It seems only logical, within the film’s universe, that a character might bring up The Joker. I mean, we refer to our tragedies by name. It’s hard to talk about 9/11 without discussing Bin Laden.

Even more potent would have been a line toward the beginning of the film – something to punch home the idea that Gotham law enforcement had established its own form of vigilante justice. The exchange between Matthew Modine’s Foley and Brett Cullen’s congressman could have easily contained a line like this:

“Our first step toward the Dent Act happened the night Dent died, when we took justice into our own hands and did what The Batman failed to do. We killed The Joker.”

tdkr4-modine

Audiences could read that the SWAT team who found The Joker dangling on a wire simply shot the maniac in the head, thus ending his legacy and beginning a new, tainted era for Gotham. Hell, they could have even pinned the murder on The Batman if they wanted to. Why not? He’s a wanted masked murderer after all. This probably would have made Gordon even more distraught over lying about Dent’s death.

Instead, The Dark Knight Rises contains not a single Joker reference, thus leaving an enormous plot hole for fans to munch on. Is The Joker free to roam the streets of Gotham? Will the new Batman have to face off against The Joker for his first assignment? Talk about a tall order! Wayne was emotionally destroyed by The Joker, and Batman nearly died trying to stop him … and he had almost a decade of hardened training and skills behind him. That won’t be the case for poor little John Blake.

At times it also feels like Ben Mendelsohn’s Daggett was meant to be The Joker, albeit heavily altered to fit the financial/economic subtext of the plot. I imagine a different version could exist where Daggett is the assistant (who’s on the board at Wayne) and the Joker is the real enemy behind the curtain – the man who brought (not hired) Bane to crush The Batman (and the city). As it stands, it’s Daggett and a useless assistant.

Daggett even slithers his tongue in a few scenes, just like Ledger’s Joker. It’s hard to imagine how much more intimidating Bane would have been if The Joker was the man responsible for bringing him to Gotham. The exchange shared before Daggett’s death would have been far more terrifying.

Daggett: “You’re pure evil!”

Bane: “I’m necessary evil.”

the-dark-knight-rises-trailer-daggett

What a potent end to The Joker’s reign. The mad dog brings in what he thinks is another mad dog, and he loses at his own game. It’s not a hero that defeats The Joker, but an enemy of pure, unadulterated “necessary” evil.

I could go on and on about other issues, plot holes and mistakes The Dark Knight Rises brings to the table, but you’ve read all the little reports. You’ve probably watched the tremendously funny “Everything that’s wrong with TDKR” video (seen below). It’s all been done. But of all the essays, interviews, videos, reviews and blogs about The Dark Knight Rises, I’ve never actually seen one that dissects the deeper commentary that the film might be metaphorically suggesting.

The Dark Knight Rises is about Christopher Nolan’s reluctance to return to Batman.

Some context. Shortly after The Dark Knight took audiences by storm, Nolan expressed interest in shooting an epic but intimate romance completely in the IMAX format. He also pressed forward with a Howard Hughes biopic. Not much has been spoken about the IMAX romance since the release of The Dark Knight, but the Howard Hughes biopic stalled.

So what is The Dark Knight Rises? It’s a couple of things. For one, it’s both the epic romance and the Howard Hughes story tucked into the Batman template. But it’s also a film about Nolan’s journey to making this third and final Batman film.

Evidence of the romance/Hughes plot should be obvious. The shoehorned romance between Miranda Tate and Bruce Wayne, followed by the brutal betrayal of that affair feels pretty damn epic, yet intimate, to me. And the Howard Hughes references in the film are even more obvious, with Wayne living in seclusion following his stint as Batman. Even Nolan himself confirmed the Hughes influences in TDKR to Empire magazine saying, “Luckily I managed to find another wealthy, quirky character who’s orphaned at a young age.”

Dark Knight Rises

But these two elements of The Dark Knight Rises are not simply the whimsical dreams of an acclaimed artist. Rather, they represent Nolan’s own frustration with making a third Batman film. Allow me to break the plot of The Dark Knight Rises down, explaining each element and how it relates to Nolan’s career decisions.

The film starts with Wayne in seclusion, wrecked after losing Rachel Dawes (despite death being Wayne’s catalyst for becoming Batman, but I digress). He’s bagged Batman and cut off communication with Gordon. When Bane shows up, Wayne decides to dust off Batman once again. It seems like more of an obligation (or a death wish) than anything else. His best friend and mentor Alfred, a character formally quite fine (even encouraging) of Batman, now seems to have a deep contempt for Batman, claiming he never wanted this life for Bruce.

The opening of the film is where Nolan is, mentally. He’s lost a good friend in Heath Ledger. He no longer sees a happy ending for the world of Batman, or at least the ending he had always wanted. To him, there’s no reason to return. But, Nolan is constantly bombarded with questions about a third Batman and can’t seem to escape the shadow of the franchise. He’s tied to the series. So, he returns to Batman, even in the face of relaunching Superman, a project he seemed curiously more invested in right before working on The Dark Knight Rises (hence why Wayne is hard at work on a secret energy project at the beginning of the film). Alfred likely speaks to what Nolan’s closest friends were telling him. “If you don’t want to do it, why return? You’re an artist. This isn’t the life we wanted for you.”

With this metaphor in mind, Bane represents the fans, sorry to say. Bane is a tyrannical mercenary whose plan is simply to bring about the destruction of Gotham, and Batman. He claims he wants what’s best for Gotham but his real motives are to destroy the city. And deep down he’s doing it out of blind love and affection for a character tied to Batman Begins.

Dark-knight-rises-movie-image-magazine-scan-bane

Bane represents the force of nature that is fandom, which starts slow and mostly silent, but quickly the fire rises and the heat from clamoring fans is intense and occasionally brutal. Don’t believe me? Take a look at how fans are shaping the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is Coulson still dead? Nope. The fire has certainly risen.

In the case of TDKR, fans fell in love with Batman Begins and have driven the franchise to great financial heights since then. This is woven into the narrative of TDKR, hence Bane’s secret love for Talia al Ghul, a character that’s tied directly to Batman Begins. In other words, without that picture, and the fandom born from it, Bane does not exist.

Also, fans don’t just want another Batman. They want the best damn Batman film that Nolan can give them … or else. The fight sequence between a worn out Batman and Bane is evidence of Nolan’s struggle to give audiences a good sequel. And Bane literally breaks Batman, mocking him for being old and worn out … or unoriginal and derivative.

Even stranger is Bane’s goal to steal Wayne’s fortune. This seems less like a metaphor for our current financial crisis and more Nolan commenting on the sometimes negative financial influence of moviegoers, who often steal a director’s artistic desires and dictate what films and franchises survive and what art eventually gets made with their money. Wanna make that Howard Hughes biopic? Hell no! The fans want Batman 3. And Batman 3 is what they get.

the_bat_conceptartcatomwn2

The tools and tech of The Dark Knight Rises also play into this metaphor in clever ways. The Bat is an excessive and completely needless tool for most of the picture, only conveniently serving the plot in the final minutes of the climax. For the rest of the film it feels like an accessory ripped straight out of Transformers or GI Joe.

Nolan’s third Batman film arrived on the heels of yet another Transformers picture – a series that has elevated its action, tech and tools tenfold since the first chapter. And moviegoers have eaten this sloppy junk food right up, fat and all. Since Nolan already sees his audience as aggressive and hungry, like Bane, and he’s got a studio breathing down his neck (acting much like Daggett), asking for something bigger and better with this third film and trying to steal the series out right from under his nose, he ends up mocking audiences and studio heads with The Bat – an admittedly slick little tool that serves no other purpose for most of the picture other than to be cool. In fact, it’s easily the most traditionally “comic book” piece of tech in Nolan’s entire series, and feels better suited for a mindless popcorn yarn than a Nolan Batman film.

Oddly, even the narrative template of The Dark Knight Rises is borrowed from Transformers 2 and 3, with Bane controlling a city and threatening its citizens with doom. I can only hope Nolan is mocking this plot device. If not, he’s stealing from Transformers: Rise of the Fallen. And no one wants that … or do they? After all, the Transformers series has made a few billion since it was launched in 2007. The fans have spoken, sadly, and they love their junk food!

optimus_prime_transformers_dark_of_the_moon-wide

Which brings us to the middle of the picture. Wayne if left crippled by Bane and forced to live in a tomb, watching Gotham crumble at the hands of Bane (and to a lesser extent, Daggett). This is Nolan in his own mental pit of sorts, watching fans and studio heads hijack TDKR, a film he never wanted to make. The studio wanted it big. The fans wanted it bigger. And now it’s about to consume itself.

And it’s in this place that Nolan finds peace.

He finally accepts his fate. Christopher Nolan was always meant to direct The Dark Knight Rises. It was, after all, his own damn story. And he can do with it as he pleases. But he can also provide the slam-bang action bravado this generation of Transformers-loving fans crave while placating studio desires for a bigger, better picture that can sell more toys and other merch while also wowing the audience.

But he’s gonna do it his way, dammit!

Nolan opts to shoot the film almost entirely in IMAX, a slap in the face against current digital filmmaking trends. He even becomes vocal in the press about his disinterest in digital cinema, favoring classic film over the digital age. He writes in the epic romance and the Howard Hughes subplots to serve his artistic interests.

TDKRFavMomentsScenesShotW5-3

And Nolan crawls out of the tomb, free of constraints. He’s not answering Bane’s call anymore. He’s taking control of his actions while using the film to slyly mock his critics, studio heads and his fans.

When Batman returns to the city, he’s able to defeat Bane quite easily. But he’s nearly undone, though, by Miranda Tate, who’s actually the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul – the man who influenced Batman in the first place. This serves as a reminder that the franchise circle is now complete. Ra’s al Ghul begets The Joker begets Bane begets Talia al Ghul.

Reclaiming the narrative, Nolan now has control over Batman’s fate. But he has a mess of a film on his hands. The picture opens with a disjointed Hughes hybrid story that makes little sense if you break it down, a wonky love story that switches love interests halfway through the film with little coherence, and a Michael Bay-inspired narrative arch that also makes little sense in spots. It’s time for Nolan to do the right thing. It’s time to kill The Batman and end things on his own terms.

oizc2ut

So Nolan’s film quite literally apes a scene from Batman: The Movie, with Batman carrying a bomb away from the city, saving the day. “Some Days, You Just Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb!”

The only real difference is that, on the surface, it looks like Batman died saving the city. The fans get what they want, yet the vocal minority is defeated at the same time. Batman is no more. Nolan is free. Everyone is happy, disappointed, sad and curiously satisfied.

Then there’s the Ocean’s 11 twist.

Things were not what they seemed. Batman didn’t really die. And stranger yet, Robin has been in the picture this whole time, we just didn’t know it! Joseph Gordon Levitt plays John Blake, a cop who figures out who Bruce Wayne really is by, umm, looking at him once. This leads to some quick mentoring, a few lazy lessons about hiding your identity and then Blake receives the mantle of The Dark Knight.

Tumblr_m7kns39UYa1rtegtu

Glorious ending, right? Nope!

The ending feels energetic, exciting and emotionally stirring. But Wayne has just damned Blake to a world he hated so much he had to fake his own death to escape it. He’s just damned him to a life with no ending, with no love – a world of regret. And worse, Blake doesn’t have the money or resources to take on the mantle of Batman. Hopefully Bruce gave Blake some contacts at Wayne R&D and a few bucks to hold him over.

Rather, Blake represents the next Batman director. In this case, it represents Zack Synder, who will take on Batman in his own still untitled Superman sequel, currently being billed as Batman Vs. Superman, a cheeky title I hope does not stick. When Blake rises from the water and the film fades to black, Nolan is quite literally handing the franchise off to the next director, damning them to a difficult but potentially rewarding journey.

Now, I’m not saying this was Nolan’s literal intention. I don’t know Christopher Nolan. I have no idea what his struggle was really like. There’s an old saying I like to remind myself of nearly every day: “There’s the way people think Hollywood works, and then there’s the way it really works.”

The Dark Knight Rises might actually be Nolan’s commentary on how kittens are cuter than puppies for all I know.

puppykitten2

But I love Nolan’s films and I find him to be one of the most fascinating filmmakers working today. And you can’t deny some odd correlations about the narrative and Nolan’s career. Some of the decisions feel more subconscious than anything – something that was swimming in the back of Nolan’s head when he jotted down the story and screenplay of The Dark Knight Rises with David S. Goyer and Nolan’s own brother, Jonathan Nolan. But maybe not.

I’ve long contended that TDKR is a messy movie that could have used one really good rewrite before they started shooting in order to tie up all the loose ends and terrifically wide plot holes that exist within the narrative. However, I find the film mysteriously entertaining. I like it … a lot. I have this desire to watch The Dark Knight Rises over and over again. To consume the movie bit by bit. I loathe the picture for delivering a somewhat disappointing final chapter in Nolan’s Batman saga, but I love watching the film regardless. And I think it’s because The Dark Knight Rises gives me an inside peek into who Christopher Nolan really is, and as a huge fan of his, that’s a real treat. Nolan is an artist, pure and simple, who was tossed into the Hollywood machine and has faced incredible odds to maintain his dazzling artistry.

Director-Christopher-Nolan-in-The-Dark-Knight-Rises-2012-Movie-Image-2

The Dark Knight Rises is possibly messy on purpose. It’s what happens when too many people offer their hand. When fans influence a director negatively. When you don’t want to make a film that everyone wants you to make. And the ultimate conclusion is Nolan’s own. He takes back the picture, restores his artistic integrity and hands Batman off to someone else.

It’s no shock that the final image of The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most memorable. Nolan has reclaimed his art form. And he’s moving past Batman into the next, exciting stage of his career. And like Bruce Wayne, who found love in the end, perhaps Nolan will finally get to make that epic IMAX romance, or whatever film he wants … and make his friends (and hopefully fans) smile once more.

But the truth of that final image is also indicative of the contradictory message of The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan has continued to slap his name on both Man of Steel and the untitled Batman Vs. Superman project. He’s still around, lurking in the darkness like Bruce Wayne. It makes one question … could the real Batman really stay away?

Perhaps Batman isn’t just a name, but the man who embodies him.

Statue_detail_2

***

Different Perspectives series:

Rob Zombie’s Halloween II: The Sequel That Gets No Love

Movie 43 Isn’t That Bad

Curse of Chucky Indeed

Fright Night II: New Blood- A Deserving Sequel

***

Check out more of my work at Permanently Geek. And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Top 11 Favorite Horror Films Part 5: Obscure Horror

My Halloween Horror Lists continue with my 11 (not 10) favorite obscure(ish) horror films. I began this series with the most obvious horror films, now let’s explore the strange, the obscure … the hidden gems.

Be sure to comment and let everyone know what your favorites are. Please be aware that I tried to not have any repeats on these lists, so if you see something missing, it might be elsewhere.

Previous Halloween Horror Lists:

Part 1: The Classics

Part 2: Books

Part 3: Slashers

Part 4: Zombies!

***

11) House

Do you want something completely wacky? House is the film for you! No, this isn’t the Sean S. Cunningham film, this is the obscure Japanese horror film that must be seen to be believed.

10) Splinter

An engrossing, character-driven slice of horror that freaked me the hell out when I first saw it, and still scares me to this day.

9) Demons

A rapid-fire horror film with tons of gore and a great premise: demons are released in a movie theater. The sequel is also worth a look. It basically remakes the first film in an apartment complex.

8) The Funhouse

Tobe Hooper’s eerie mood piece about a group of kids trapped in a carnival. Haunting and scary as hell … this film almost plays like a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

7) Prison

Hands-down, the best Stephen King story that Stephen King had absolutely nothing to do with. Plus, you get to see a young Viggo Mortensen. Plenty of creepy chills and thrills. And the new Blu-ray from Scream Factory is pretty great, too.

6) Possession (1981)

A slow-brewing sliver of horror that continues to escalate until it’s almost impossible to look away. Toss in some fantastic performances and riveting direction and you’ve got all the ingredients for a horror classic.

5) Vamp

A trippy vampire film that almost feels like a sequel to the 1985 cult classic, Fright Night (which is a masterpiece, and should be required viewing for any horror fan). This one boasts a chilling atmosphere, weird characters and a hypnotic tone similar to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours.

4) Murder Party

A hilarious little indie that my wife and I try to watch every other year. It’s not very scary, but it’s a clever, fun ode to horror and the macabre.

3) Brain Damage

Writer/director Frank Henenlotter is a strange filmmaker. His films are never what you expect, and are feel like an exposed nerve to the weary and unknown. His Basket Case series is simply a trip. And exploitation gems like Bad Biology and Frankenhooker are just divine. But Brain Damage is Henenlotter firing on all cylinders, delivering a haunting tale of murder, violence, sex and seduction. Crazy stuff.

2) Crawlspace (1986)

Nobody does it better than Klaus Kinski. I could rattle off a slew of horror gems he’s appeared in, but this one is my absolute favorite. That finale in the vents is the stuff of nightmares. Honorable mention: pretty much everything Kinski has ever been in.

1) Alone in the Dark

And here’s the real reason I did this entire series of lists. Alone in the Dark. No, not the Uwe Boll film. This random slasher features Jack Palance, Donald Pleasance and Martin Landau. It’s a proto-punk splatter picture with a very clever premise. I won’t spoil it here. Just watch and enjoy!

But wait … there’s more! No, I’m not done just yet. I’ll be back with another Horror Favorites list next week! This time it’s Horror-Sci-fi!

***

If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. Both are just .99 cents. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Top 10 Favorite Horror Films Part 4: Zombies!

This week’s list details my favorite zombie features. Enjoy, and feel free to post your favorites in the comments section.

Please be aware that I tried to not have any repeats on these lists, so if you see something missing, it might be elsewhere.

Previous Halloween Horror Lists:

Part 1: The Classics

Part 2: Books

Part 3: Slashers

***

10) House of the Dead

Yup, you read that right. Uwe Boll’s camp “masterpiece,” House of the Dead, made the list. Why? Because I laughed my ass off the entire film. Plus, it’s gory as hell and unabashedly strange. I kinda love the big shootout in the middle of the film, not to mention the hilariously awful flashback to the big shootout that happens not five minutes after the scene is over. So bad it’s good, folks.

9) Warm Bodies

This is a newbie so it’s ranking a little lower, but I can see it rising in the coming years. Warm Bodies takes zombie conventions and spins it in new, refreshing direction. It’s a tender, sweet and clever film that shouldn’t be missed. For another new(sih) zombie film, check out ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction or the Canadian hit, Dead Before Dawn.

8) Cemetery Man

A trippy piece of Italian cinema that’s required viewing for any zombie lover. This one is quite strange. I highly recommend checking it out in the middle of the night, when your mind is ready to travel elsewhere.

7) Day of the Dead

George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s damn close. The effects are incredible, and Bub is probably one of zombie cinema’s finest creations. If you like him, also check out Fido. Also give Land of the Dead a look. It’s grown on me over the years, and while I wouldn’t rank it as one of my favorites, it’s well worth a midnight screening.

6) Braindead (Dead Alive)

Here’s a film that starts out slow and unsuspecting, but quickly escalates into the absurd, the wacky, and the positively gonzo. The finale alone is worth the price of admission. I wonder where director Peter Jackson ended up with his career? Also check out Re-Animator for something equally gory and off-the-wall.

5) 28 Weeks Later

I loved 28 Days Later, but I found the sequel a far more riveting, character-driven film that took the genre in a new direction. Plus, 28 Weeks Later was Jeremy Renner’s first memorable role, ahead of The Hurt Locker and a little thing called The Avengers.

4) Zombieland

Of all the zombie comedies, this one is my favorite. I could pretty much watch it every day. It never ceases to entertain. The cast is awesome, the gore is great, and the story is clever as hell. VERY honorable mentions: Shaun of the Dead and Dead Snow. Both almost made the list, but they weren’t quite my favorites.

3) Zombie

Zombie vs. shark. Eye vs. wood shard. Zombie barn battle. These are the reasons why this one ranks so high. There’s a scene where a zombie fights a real shark. Yup. The film’s epic finale, a showdown of man vs. zombie, is positively one of the best ever put on film. This one is a masterpiece of zombie cinema, and one of the best Italian “Dawn of the Dead” knockoffs out there.

2) Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead is probably one of the very best horror films ever made. It is everything that we know and love about zombies all tied up into a fun package filled with gore, horror, comedy and brilliant characters. The remake is also pretty great, and well worth a look. And, of course, the original cult classic, Night of the Living Dead, deserves some love, too.

1) The Return of the Living Dead

Hands-down my favorite, go-to zombie feature each Halloween. It’s clever, funny and that middle act switch from comedy to flat-out horror is simply fantastic. But don’t start here. Watch Night of the Living Dead first, then watch this. Skip the sequels (okay, watch the second one). Also, check out Night of the Creeps.

Next week: My top ten favorite obscure horror films! We started with the most obvious horror choices (The Classics), let’s finish with the obscure.

***

If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. Both are just .99 cents. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Different Perspectives: Movie 43 Isn’t That Bad

In early 2013, Movie 43 was unleashed upon audiences. Don’t remember it? Really? It starred pretty much ALL of Hollywood, even the likes of Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Emma Stone, Seth MacFarlane, and Oscar darling Kate Winslet … among dozens of other accomplished, likable stars and up-and-comers. In fact, there are so many stars in the film, I could spend an entire blog post just listing their names.

No, you don’t remember Movie 43.

Well, maybe you do, but most people don’t. The film came and went in a matter of weeks. It was trashed by pretty much every living, breathing critic, and forgotten by most audiences. Even some of the cast wanted little to do with the film.

Curiously, Movie 43 actually did make some bank. According to Box Office Mojo, the film cost roughly $6 million to produce, and grossed close to $30 million worldwide, with a mere $8 million of that coming from the U.S. But it was still a moneymaker, kind of. And it’s more than likely made money on home video, the rental market, and through TV distribution deals.

Still, there isn’t a whole lot of love for Movie 43. For just a moment, let’s focus on the hate. The film ranks a dismal 4.4 out of 10 on IMDb, a 4% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a 19 out of 100 on metacritic, and a 26% approval audience rating on Flixster.

In less words, people don’t like Movie 43.

But I have a confession … I kind of loved it.

No, it’s not a flawless film. And there are plenty of things to complain about. For example, the film is annoyingly flat. There are more misses than hits in this one. The sketches tend to end on weird notes, and most of the jokes aren’t much different from what you can get for free on sites like College Humor, Funny or Die, or even Youtube. In truth, you could probably collect ten or twelve of the best shorts from any of those sites and put together a better, funnier sketch anthology picture.

But I still dig Movie 43.

There is some rather potent, and oddly subversive, humor in the film. I get a sense that the picture was meant to spoof blander-than-bland anthology comedies like New York, I Love You, Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve. It was sold to comedy lovers as a “Kentucky Fried Movie” for the modern age. While Movie 43 hardly ranks as high as that wonderful cult classic, it’s clear that a great many people involved cared deeply about this project and wanted it to succeed, even when actors like Richard Gere allegedly tried to vacate the film at all costs.

For a detailed, and rather sordid, look at the history of the making of the film, check out Movie 43’s Wikipedia page. It’s an interesting read.

I struggled to put a finger on what I loved about the film, but I do love it. I admire the writing. There’s a lot going on under the surface of this disturbing, crass little picture. A great many of the film’s more impressive metaphors seem to have gone over people’s heads. That’s probably because most focused on the obvious gross-out aspects of the humor. This was certainly not a film for everyone’s taste, in that regard.

A great many of my absolute favorite actors, writers and filmmakers worked on this project. And the project itself is so wacky, crass and gonzo, I relish in watching the actors involved go to the extremes to find a laugh. And while many of the jokes don’t always work, I love watching actors dare to be different. It’s refreshing and enticing.

For example, there’s a sketch in which Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry go on a date and end up competing in an EXTREME game of “truth or dare.” The sketch isn’t all that funny, but watching Halle Berry mock her picture perfect persona by doing something crass, and even a little vile, felt almost … human.

Allow me to explain. Our stars strive to create images for themselves. Brands of painted perfection. They are flawless. Their skin is perfect. Their hair is trend setting. Their clothing is staggeringly beautiful. And their personalities are ones that everyone strives for.

But that’s not who people are. That’s all an image. All spectacle. Actors are real people. That sounds absurd to even write, but so many fans honestly forget that. It’s especially noticeable when someone asks an actor to recite a line from a movie they did 25 years ago, like they’re some kind of trained puppy doing tricks.

When I watched Movie 43, I saw the people behind Hollywood. I saw human beings having a fun time exploring the comfort zones of their image, and taking audiences along for the ride. I saw a film where Hugh Jackman wasn’t afraid to put a prosthetic pair of balls on his neck just to get a rise from his fans. Or a sketch (writen and directed by Elizabeth Banks, mind you) in which Chloë Grace Moretz has her first period, and the men all around her act like … well, the fools who control women’s rights in congress. It was a gross sketch, but there was something deeply revealing about it, too.

And here is a look at one of my favorite sketches in the film:

There is a lot going on in this scene outside the beaten-into-the-ground joke. Did you catch the real point of the skit?

Movie 43 is not a win by any stretch, but it’s a fascinating look at the edges of comedy, where the crass, disturbing and subversive meet and do some rather dark, rather bad, and rather wonderful things. There is a lot more going on in Movie 43 than people give it credit for. There’s a hidden theme in nearly every sketch, a hidden message — a metaphor that went unnoticed. And that’s where the film’s strength derives. Movie 43  is not a masterpiece, but it is a work of controversial art. And like all works of that style, it has its haters and it has its fans. Count me as one of the latter.

***

Shameless plug time! If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Different Perspectives: Chucky: The Complete Collection and Curse of Chucky

Chucky The Complete Collection

Chucky: The Complete Collection. This awesome little box set arrives on Blu-ray on October 8, 2013. You can buy your copy here.

The set compiles all six films in the Child’s Play/Chucky series. The first disc is the same as the previous MGM release (review here), but Universal has also included first-ever Blu-ray releases for Child’s Play 2-3 and Bride of Chucky. Also included in the set is a brand-new direct-to-video sequel titled Curse of Chucky, which was written and directed by series creator Don Mancini.

The Chucky franchise is an interesting one. The movies aren’t necessarily very scary, but they’re almost always fun. I’ve rather enjoyed each entry in the series (even the lesser efforts, like CP3 and Seed of Chucky), and I genuinely love that writer Don Mancini has stuck with this series since it began way back in 1988. It’s rare to see a writer stay on board his own creation as the series progresses. He’s even taken to directing a few of the movies, too, which is equally awesome.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect from the new film, Curse of Chucky, especially after the wayward Seed of Chucky, which took the franchise in a very bizarre, meta-centric comedic direction that seemed largely inspired by John Waters (who also appeared in that film). Thankfully, the new film, also directed by Mancini, is actually quite great, especially when factoring it’s the fifth sequel and a direct-to-video production. Here’s a trailer to fill you in on the core story:

What I love about Curse of Chucky is that it’s a return to form for the series. Chucky’s token love it or hate it wit is still intact, but there’s a refreshing sense of style and menace that hasn’t been a part of the series for some time. It’s also probably the scariest entry in the franchise since the second film. I literally jumped twice, a feat I can’t recall doing with any other film in the series.

A great many of the thrills hinge on when Chucky is going to, well … become Chucky, and that actually worked for me more than I expected. Just waiting for him to do his thing became the most unnerving aspect of the entire experience. Even better, the film is stylishly shot in a way that evokes classic storytellers like Dario Argento, Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. Yes, you read that right. It’s clear Mancini is (at least somewhat) aware of the negative stigma surrounding DTV films, and it was refreshing to see such style in a low-budget, usually phoned-in, effort. His work here is truly admirable.

There’s a quirky bit of melodrama, too, that adds to the themes of family this series has explored for the past few entries. The back-story aspect of the film was fascinating, though it’s a bit too confusing. The film also has a loose placement in the series canon. I honestly can’t tell you where it fit with the other chapters. Chucky mentions the events of the previous five films, though the new movie almost seems to take place at the same time, or roundabouts, of Bride of Chucky. I’ll leave that mystery to the Chucky diehards on the forums of IMDB to dissect and analyze. Have at it!

Obviously, if you weren’t a Chucky fan before, the new film won’t win you over, but for fans of the series, Curse of Chucky ranks as one of the best entries in the franchise. There are plenty of thrills, an interesting story, and a few AWESOME cameos that make the whole experience worth it. Seriously, stick through the credits for one of the single best cameo gags in any film seen this year!

***

The Blu-rays for Chucky: The Complete Collection are pretty decent. The first film is simply a port of the already released Blu-ray. There are a decent assortment of bonus features on that disc (super fans should also check out Tom Holland’s own Child’s Play commentary). There’s also a slew of goodies for Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, ported over from the DVDs. Child’s Play 2-3 are scant, with only trailers. It’s a shame Universal didn’t toss in the deleted scenes as well. You can find those below:

Curse of Chucky includes a commentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a featurette and three Blu-ray exclusive featurettes. Picture and audio quality on all five films is about average. The first film looks the worst of the bunch. The second films looks great. The third looks pretty mediocre. And the rest get better with each entry. Also, audio didn’t seem to work properly for Child’s Play 3 when played through my PS3. Not sure what that was all about. But it worked fine on my backup player.

So, that’s what I’ve been watching these past few days. What are your thoughts on the Child’s Play series? Which film is your favorite, and which is your least favorite? Sound off in the comments and let me know!

Also, be sure to check out my buddy’s thorough Child’s Play retrospective, where he discusses all six films in detail, and offers his own ranking of the series.

Different Perspectives: Fright Night 2: New Blood (Review)

Let’s get this out of the way … Fright Night 2 has no reason to exist. Yawn.

There’s probably gonna be a lot of narrow-minded fans and critics telling you the film is “shit” or “a typical direct-to-video waste” and so on. We’ve all heart that crap before. It’s the boring mantra lazy journalists like to spin when they’re phoning in a review they didn’t have much interest in working on. Sometimes it’s true. And sometimes it isn’t. Trust me, I’ve been that guy. I was handed dozens of films over my years as a professional film critic that I had ABSOLUTELY no interest in reviewing, and my reviews were not always very kind to those films. That’s the nature of the business and it’s one of the reasons why I vacated the career. I wanted to talk about things I loved, not things I hated. I wanted to create and respect, not destroy.

With that in mind, the criticism that Fright Night 2 is a retread is valid, on some level. Hell, anger was my first knee-jerk reaction to the film after I saw the trailer. It didn’t look good. When I watched the film with my wife I even said to her, “Now, keep in mind, this will probably be really terrible.” Just take a look at the trailer (below) and you will see exactly what I mean.

The film is practically a beat-for-beat riff on Fright Night, with elements and ideas borrowed from the original sequel, Fright Night Part II, and the remake. As far as the story template goes, Fright Night 2: New Blood is creatively empty.

Yup .. and so was Evil Dead 2, and a plethora of other horror classics.

Retreads are not that uncommon in the horror genre. Just look at the Friday the 13th series. Virtually every film sports the same narrative template. People go into the woods. People are warned of their doom. People are killed by Jason. Someone survives. Rinse and repeat for about ten sequels.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t gems within that series (there are) and that doesn’t mean Fright Night 2: New Blood should be passed by simply because the story borrows from it’s big brothers and sister. Because, in truth, there’s A LOT to like about the film. You just have to get past what it is, and focus on what it’s trying to be.

For one, Fright Night 2 is mostly done with practical effects. No crappy CG vampires. No silly monster faces that look like cartoons. Nothing. This film was shot on the cheap, and the filmmakers do their best with practical effects and lighting. And they even have enough money in the budget to scrape together a fully vamped-out vampire monster at the end of the film. This is a big win for those of us who complain about too much CG in monster movies. Fright Night 2 had the balls to stick with the practical stuff (or the lack of money, perhaps) and it pays off. There’s a sonar hunting sequence in the film that’s seriously unnerving, not because of CG, but because of old school trickery, like stylish lighting, editing and shot composure. It all works, and it works well.

FrightNight2

In fact, the film is actually pretty scary at times. There’s a scene in which Charlie Brewster and co. end up stuck in a subway train with a rather powerful vampire. What works is that they can’t leave. They’re totally and completely trapped there with this horrific beast, who wants nothing more than to tear them apart. Again, that scene works like gangbusters because it is seriously inventive.

The story itself tries to actually have some surprise to it. On the surface, the Peter Vincent character (played here by Sean Powers) felt a bit flat, mostly because it seemed as though someone on the production didn’t even want to include him. And, to be honest, the way it was handled actually gave the film some suspense, albeit probably accidental. I wasn’t sure how Peter Vincent would factor into the finale (if at all) since he wasn’t as integral a character to the film as previous chapters.

By altering Peter Vincent, the filmmakers actually created tension. Most criticisms you might hear about his character won’t be guided in the right direction. Most will complain about what his character isn’t (a copy of the first iteration of Peter Vincent) while complaining about how the rest of the film is copying the first one. Oh, the irony of that.

Now, obviously, the film isn’t flawless and I could nitpick. Here are a few gripes: the cast isn’t all that great (sorry). The heroes come off a bit bland. I’m guessing it’s a mixture of bad character development mixed with limited availability to a wide range of actors (the film was shot in Romania). Also, Fright Night 2 could have very easily been a sequel to the remake with literally less than one hour of re-writing. Change a few plot details (maybe the vampires lured Charlie to Romania to kill him), alter Evil Ed so he’s someone new, and make Peter Vincent a reality star now who actively hunts vampires on a TV show because of what happened in the first film, and you’ve basically got a sequel instead of a retread.

0x5.1280x720

But there are more positives, like Jaime Murray, who kinda owns her role of Gerri Dandrige. Groan all you want about her playing a character who was not only male, but died in the last film. Sure. But Ms. Murray knocks it out of the park, giving us the film’s best vampire lead since the original role, played by Chris Sarandon. Murray is terrifying, seductive, sexy and foreboding. Her Jessica Biel-like chiseled features make her a great choice for the role — a combination of alluring and powerful. She really is good in the film, and almost worth the price of admission alone.

Then there’s Eduardo Rodriguez‘s sharp direction and Yaron Levy‘s equally effective cinematography. Fright Night 2 was clearly a cheap production, but Rodriguez and Levy give life to nearly every scene, taking full advantage of the film’s gothic Romanian architecture, while injecting a nice Italian sense of color to the film, with vivid reds, blues, greens and neons splashed across the screen. Again, whenever the story or characters fail this sequel, there’s something else about it that seems to overcome the obstacles.

Frankly, I don’t care if you watch Fright Night 2: New Blood or not. If you like the series, it’s well worth a look. But I wanted to defend the film against its growing league of unfortunate haters. I wanted to defend the film for being a creatively clever, occasionally very refreshing little engine that could. Fright Night 2 is making the very best of a bad situation. It’s visually appealing, there’s a great villain, a few solid set pieces and a few clever bits of makeup effects and gore. Sure, the story could be more original. It could actually have tired to be a sequel. And the characters (or actors portraying them) could have been better. But Fright Night 2: New Blood is among the very best direct-to-videos efforts I’ve seen (and I’ve seen A LOT), not because of the story, but because the film is daring to be different. It’s daring to be real cinema.

fright-night-2-blu-ray-s

The Blu-ray: The disc sports an unrated version of the film, an above-average transfer with terrific 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio. Bonus features include a commentary with director Eduardo Rodriguez and producers Alison Rosenzweig and Michael Gaeta, webisodes and a featurette.