Tag Archives: creepy

David S. Goyer’s The Unborn

There’s a lot of ideas running around in David S. Goyer’s The Unborn, ideas that a terrific cast do their best with but ultimately this was one big WTF of a letdown, a boring waste of time that deserved better execution than it got. It’s essentially another Exorcist retread, given a twist, with Odette Yustman (whatever happened to her? She was sort of like Megan Fox Lite) playing a girl who is tormented by something called a Dybbuk, some sort of mythological Jewish entity but also just a fancy way of saying demon. It has something to do with her unborn twin who never made it past utero, her institutionalized mother (Carla Cugino, wasted in a heavily cut role) as well as history dating back to Joseph ‘Angel of Death’ Mengele, the infamous Nazi surgeon who had an obsession with twins, a theme that also plays on here. This thing haunts and eventually possesses her, until she finds help from two priests played by Gary Oldman and Idris Elba, in roles beneath their talent. There’s one nicely written scene where she and her boyfriend (Cam Gigandet, who can’t act to save his life) ponder the universe and all its terrors while in bed that would have been better brought to life by different actors. Various scenes show her interaction with her loving father (James Remar), but they’re underdeveloped and feel edited. Mostly it’s just her running from freaky scuttling apparitions, loose plot threads hanging about like wires in an abandoned warehouse and just.. bleh. There’s definitely something there in terms of brainstorming script ideas, but they screwed it up big time by making a haphazard, boring, generically glossy PG-13 dud instead of putting some actual style, personality and genuinely frightening elements in. Big ol’ missed opportunity. It’s a shame, because there’s some neat, spooky special effects thrown at the wall here that deserve a better film, and I’d expect better from Goyer too. Oh well.

-Nate Hill

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Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP: Alien Vs. Predator

Here’s the thing: much of what is needed was in place to make an epic, badass Alien/Predator crossover flick. They had a solid premise, a director with a sure footing and visible background in horror, an able cast with a genre/franchise titan as a callback to earlier entries, and all the special effects they could want at their disposal. So how did AVP: Alien Vs. Predator end up being an oven roasted, inexcusable slice of shit? Well, script and execution I suppose, the whole thing just has a murky, suspiciously rushed feel to it and no trace of memorable pedigree at all. However, to me their first mistake and cardinal sin was to rate the thing PG-13. These are two intense, extremely graphic and gruesomely violent horror franchises, and as such any amalgamation should, of anything, step up the carnage, so whoever had final say as far as that goes should have a face-hugger attached to every orifice of their body. So what does work? Well, Lance Henriksen for one, but he has a history of being the best thing about many films he’s been in and it’s hard for him not to shine through any amount of muck. He plays the dying CEO of infamous Weyland Yutani corporation and gives all the grit and gravity he can amongst a flurry of inconsequential CGI. Recruiting a team of scientists and mercenaries, he plans to descend into an Antarctic pyramid where centuries ago, the mythic Yautjas and the primal Xenomorphs had a Royal Rumble. Star Sanaa Lathan is actually great as the ‘final girl’ of sorts in this slasher game, other team members include Ewan Bremmer, Raoul Bova and Tommy Flanagan, but most are lost in the confusion, poorly written or forgotten entirely. The battle scenes are haphazard and sloppy, the dialogue barely there and the colour scheme is this kind of shitty, subdued blue-hue nonsense with no personality it’s own, like an icy deodorant commercial that just happens to have monsters in it. Many people blame director Anderson, but who really knows. People forget that he’s responsible for the first Resident Evil film which is solid, gutsy horror and has the type of energy meant to be found here, as well as Event Horizon, one of the scariest, well wrought sci-fi/horror flicks of the century, so he was a reasonable candidate to helm this. In any case, it’s a big ol’ mess, a titanic wasted opportunity and a dark stain on both respective legacies. There’s a sequel which I haven’t seen, but it’s probably just as wretched.

-Nate Hill

Platinum Dunes’ The Hitcher

I won’t pretend to be a fan of horror remakes other than Rob Zombie’s Halloween, but when they cast Sean Bean as iconic highway madman John Ryder in the inevitable second lap of Robert Harmon’s horror classic The Hitcher, I perked up. Bean, like Rutger Hauer in the original, is one of my favourite actors of all time and I had to to see what he did with the character (he pulled out of another contract and jumped a plane just to accept this gig). The good news is.. he lives up to Hauer’s original asphalt angel of death, and I’ll fight anyone who argues. The bad news? The film doesn’t. It’s one of those dodgy, hit or miss Platinum Dunes horror updates (avoid Jason and Freddy like the plague, but their first Leatherface incarnation is quite good) and really misses out on the atmospheric, haunting pace of the first, where nightmares and reality blend into the mirages appearing on the desert horizon for lone motorist Jim Halsey… the thing is, here Jim isn’t alone at all but travelling with his girlfriend and that takes some of the primal fear out of it. Zachary Knighton fills C. Thomas Howell’s shoes and a surprisingly adept Sofia Bush plays the gal, on a road trip for spring break when they’re suddenly tormented by Bean’s Ryder, an intense creation by the actor that carefully avoids any callbacks or mimicry of Hauer. How could he though? Rutger made that role his own and Bean wisely does the same with a sardonic, smouldering aura all his own, and wins a spot in horror pantheon as a worthy update on this boogeyman of the backroads (he’s also better than Gary Busey’s kid was in that god awful sequel that no one wants to admit was even made). Everything here gets a torqued update, from the infamous body tied between two trucks scene (yuck) to the car chases (that Trans Am tho) to the violence itself, to legendary highway super-cop Lt. Esteridge, trading in cucumber cool Jeffrey DeMunn for hilariously hammy Neal McDonough, who kills it as the only officer who isn’t a bumbling moron. But who needs all that sound and fury when you’re trying to throwback to an atmosphere classic? I guess go your own way, but it really doesn’t do the Hitcher legacy any justice. Aside from Bean who elevates his scenes to horror greatness, it’s a slapdash, needlessly gruesome slice of knockoff cash grab slasher fare that takes everything that was spooky, shadowy and mysterious about the first one, shines a big broad daylight aesthetic on it that shakes off the cobwebs we never wanted gone in the first place, like Bon Jovi trying to cover a song by The Cure. There is, however, one moment that gets it right and rises to a level of quality deserving of the Hitcher brand. It’s right at the end, everything has gone haywire, all the cops are dead, all the cars have been thoroughly blown up, and Ryder makes one last dash to escape. Sofia Bush takes up a dead cop’s shotgun and musters one final confrontation with him, as the score by Steve Jablonsky swells to adrenaline heights and we get an exchange of dialogue between the two, both beautifully delivered, that is the first shred of originality the film displays and almost, *almost* redeems itself. Where was that for the previous eighty five minutes? In any case, this holds a spot in my heart simply because I’ve watched it enough times and has crystallized into something nostalgic, which as we all know sometimes supersedes what we know is quality from that which we know is not. Worth it for Bean, the score and that supersonic final scene.

-Nate Hill

Ghost Stories

It’s always hard to find a horror flick these days that’s actually genuinely scary, not to mention fun as well. You have your endless found footage stuff, a consistent parade of ghost/exorcism fare, various creature features, and in the columns of hit or miss, unfortunately the latter weighs heavier. But once in a while there’s that terrifying ruckus of a haunted house flick that comes along and knows how to assault you on all sides with the creep factor, the laugh cannon and be a smart, well told and unexpected tale too. Ghost Stories is just that, a gleeful throwback to the BBC anthology horror of the 80’s that pulls the rug right out from you and frightens in a big way.

Set up in three distinct segments plus a kicker of a final fourth act, it follows a paranormal debunker (Andy Nyman) as he revisits three decades old spooky cases that have never been solved and haunt the afflicted to this day. The first and scariest sees a night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) on shift at an abandoned asylum who’s plagued by a restless spirit. In the second, a young boy (Alex Lawther) is harassed by a devilish creature as he drives through a forest in a stolen car. Lastly, father to be Martin Freeman is terrorized by a poltergeist in his home. These stories work great on their own but they really serve as a tapestry of clues to what’s really going on, and later down the line there’s some chilling revelations that are far more disturbing than any ghost going bump in the night. This is like the best, strongest points of Twilight Zone, Tales From The Crypt and Goosebumps done right with just a flourish of Black Mirror on the side. Freeman gives the best work, becoming cheerfully psychotic later and injecting delirious amounts of extremely dark humour into every mirthful grimace and off the wall mannerism. This is what horror should be.

-Nate Hill

John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place

John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place surprised me by investing more in its fright flick concept than just shrieking banshee monsters and a flurry of hastily shot chase action/close calls. For a film that focuses so much on hearing and an auditory mood-scape, Krasinski is an excellent visual storyteller and as far as first time directors go, should be very proud. Not to mention the fact that he tells a human story amongst the horror, one that actually gets us feeling closer to the characters until we really give a shit when they’re being hunted by the screamers. It doesn’t hurt that he and real life wife Emily Blunt give two breathlessly alive performances that paint a dual portrait of parents who will stop at nothing to protect their children. Sometime in a desolate future, vicious predators of unknown origin (could the brief shot of a newspaper clipping claiming “meteorite hits in Mexico” have anything to do with them?) invade the world and slaughter humans en masse. They’ve got mutant ear drums that can hear a wood-bug sneezing from sixty miles out, but they’re also blinder than Stevie Wonder. Using your inside voice, or no voice at all if possible, is an imperative mantra for Krasinski and clan, as they must exist in monk worthy silence for fear of being run down by these things. The trailers tend to spoil a lot of things, and I guess marketers think that just because a sequence is in the prologue that people wouldn’t want it to still be left a surprise, but oh well. Early on there’s a tragedy that causes kind of a rift in the family, particularly between Krasinski and his deaf daughter (Millicent Simmonds, brilliant work). Flash forward a year or so and he’s built an impressive rural stronghold for his family on an abandoned farm, complete with grain silo watchtowers and a homemade electric light alarm system. It’s this innovative and careful design that sets it apart from other horror flicks that just go for the throat without and character development or world building to draw you in. Eventually the screamers do come for them, in one long extended night from hell that plays out like the most stressful chain reaction of mishaps you could imagine, with enough suspense to bring on a heart attack. I call them screamers, and I read one review on Facebook whining that they’re the same CGI clicking beasts in every other horror flick these days, but I think that’s an unfair assessment. They’re neatly rendered and have a clearly visible biology to explain their uncanny sense of sound, and I never once tuned out or felt removed from the atmosphere while watching them. The human element is well done and treated with care here, and while I can’t quite understand why they would decide to have a baby, which are notoriously loud individuals, in a world that’s gone so badly to shit (maybe they couldn’t find condoms when scavenging abandoned towns), they’re resilience and love for their children are brought fiercely to life by the two actors, who knock it well out of the park. You gotta love Marco Beltrami’s original score too, which is shadowy and ominous in one instance and switches gears quickly to orchestral catharsis when needed. A real surprise out of horror-town, this one was, and one of the best I’ve seen so far this year. Oh, and try to find a more badass, adrenaline soaked ending scene to a film so far this year, I dare ya.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Furnace

A haunted Furnace that starts murdering convicts in the cluttered boiler rooms of a maximum security prison. Who thinks this shit up. It’s actually not as inept as it looks both on paper though, and does in fact get its act together for a few earned scares. It doesn’t hurt to have actors like Danny Trejo, Tom Sizemore and Michael Paré around either, who boost the quality. There really isn’t much to it other than a furnace eating people though, which leaves not much expository filler to pad the review. Ja Rule plays the head honcho convict who realizes something is up pretty quick, Sizemore is the violent, corrupt captain of the guard, Trejo is a short lived inmate who shouldn’t have gone looking down that ominous corridor, and Paré is a detective brought in to investigate the deaths. There’s a backstory to the supernatural aspect involving a pervy Warden from the building’s past and his unfortunate granddaughter (you get the picture there). The real magic with this flick has to do with the DVD though, and it’s extensive behind the scenes interviews. There’s all kinds of stuff with the actors, and you get a sense of just how crazy Sizemore can be in real life sometimes by his incoherent ramblings, gloriously unedited. The film itself is run of the mill grindhouse type stuff, done with enough flair, gore and gusto. But get that DVD and watch the extras, they’re unreal. Plus the cover art is straight out of the 70’s man, fuckin love it.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Vault

I miss films like The Vault, and it’s refreshing to see there’s still artists out there who care enough to make them. You see, in today’s hyper meta, incredibly self aware age of remakes, redos, reimagining and reboots, everything has to be bigger, better, have cutthroat innovation and just be… more. Neglect often rises in terms of making good old, straight up, no bullshit genre flicks, the kind we fell in love with in the first place, the kind which without, we’d have none of the throwbacks of our era. I suppose you could in fact call this one a throwback because these days the lines of definition are impossibly blurred, but there’s just something so earnest, endearing and straightforward to it’s formula that reads as effortless and totally in it’s groove. Picture this: bank robbers unwittingly siege a branch that turns out to be haunted. It’s obviously more complicated, but come on man.. a haunted bank! The concept alone gets one giddy. During a hectic warehouse fire that conveniently gridlocks a whole city block, a roughneck crew of outlaws take hostages, led by sisters Francesca Eastwood and Taryn Manning, who have bad blood for each other right out of the gate. Outside, a wearily sarcastic Detective (Clifton Collins Jr) tries to keep the peace, clueless of the crime in progress a few doors down. Inside the bank, all hell breaks loose, literally and figuratively, as the perps slowly discover that beneath the building’s modern veneer, deep in the old abandoned vault, something evil has awoken. It’s a neat premise, and both the crime and horror aspects are handled well enough to keep one glued to the screen. Manning is an actress I haven’t seen in a while, but I’ve always enjoyed her scrappy tomboy style, and she’s a hyperactive gong show here. Eastwood has quietly been putting out great work for some time now (check out her brief but affecting cameo in Twin Peaks), she does the tough but sexy turn really nicely. Q’orianka Kilcher has been all across the board since she came onto the scene playing Pocahontas in The New World, showing up in the least expected places, like a cool bank teller role here. James Franco has a solid supporting turn as the bank’s strange assistant manager as well. Much of the film is a hyper kinetic, pulsating thrill ride with stranglehold pacing, eventual pauses coming for the schlocky elements to breathe and the scare tactics to effectively come forth, a great mixture. This one is simplicity itself in terms of genre, with no cheeky pretence or smirking, meta undercurrent, just a good old school horror hybrid, and a damn enjoyable one too.

-Nate Hill