Tag Archives: horror

William Eubank’s Underwater

I’m pumped that I got to see William Eubank’s Underwater in theatres, because it’s the kind of giddy, delightful escapism that you don’t get on the big screen too often anymore. I love creature feature flicks, love SciFi, love films set underwater, there’s a feel akin to outer space that is just so immersive and enchanting. Throw in Kristen Stewart, who I love as an actress no matter how much hate y’all throw her way, and well this thing seems like it was made for me!

Seven miles down the Mariana Trench, a vast drilling expedition has made a bit to much of a racket and awoken something up on the ocean floor, something big, pissed off and scary as fuck. Stewart and her research team feel the repercussive effects about a mile further up on their rig, and in the first couple minutes of the film, all hell literally breaks loose. This is after a brief, moody and atmosphere setting introduction to Stewart’s Nora, a tough but damaged and fatalistic engineer whose survival instinct kicks in the minute things go haywire, evading extreme pressure, aquatic dementia, claustrophobia, panic and undersea monsters to stay alive along with her captain (Vincent Cassel) and crew that includes T.J. Miller as hysterical comic relief, John Gallagher Jr and Jessica Henwick as their research assistant who brings a sense of warmth and humanity in her excellent performance.

This is a tight, no nonsense B movie that hits the ground running, basically takes place in real time, has some very inventive biology for the creatures that I won’t spoil (there’s a WTF reveal in the third act that gave me chills) and feels like one long extended scene that somehow finds a few moments to actually make you feel for these people. Stewart rocks a blonde crew cut and sports bra, vaguely evoking Ripley from the Alien films but finding her own bleak, badass groove. Her final ‘fuck you’ to the aquatic beasts is a stand-up-and-fucking-cheer moment that solidifies her character as a capable, selfless and gritty heroine. This isn’t going to win any awards but it’s a shining example of the type of thing I want to go see at the multiplex: thrilling escapism, heroes to root for, nasty monsters from the deep places of the earth, a beautiful sense of style brought by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and wonderfully spooky, cathartic score composed by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts. I couldn’t recommend this enough.

-Nate Hill

Jan De Bont’s The Haunting

It amazes me that anyone involved in the making of Jan De Bont’s The Haunting thought they were doing anything that could be classified as remotely ‘scary.’ The film barely deserves its PG-13 rating and quite honestly I’ve seen spookier ghosts in that Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion thing. Now, having said that: I do recommend seeing it for the absolutely stunning, breathtakingly elaborate production design and set artistry. The visuals are so beautiful they really deserve a better film to showcase, but oh well.

Basically silly professor Liam Neeson wants to study fear and it’s effects on people, so he places an ad and soon a few people have agreed to spend a night in gargantuan Hill House manor under the guise of a sleep deprivation experiment. Lili Taylor, who is no stranger to haunted houses now that she headlined The Conjuring, is someone I usually love but her performance here as the lead is grating, weird, shrill, dull, stilted and bizarre just to use a few adjectives. Catherine Zeta Jones fares better as a sassy bisexual babe who relishes line delivery and whose ornately beautiful aura slinks in nicely with that of the baroque estate. Owen Wilson is unfortunately also cast and gets saddled with the weirdo comic relief thing, falling flat in every scene and just coming across as vaguely neurologically damaged. Others fly by in smaller roles including Alix Koromzy, Todd Field, Virginia Madsen, Michael Cavanaugh, Tom Irwin, M.C. Gainey and Bruce Dern as the cranky caretaker.

There’s this half baked plot around the guy that built the place, kid’s souls trapped within and something about Taylor’s character being the reincarnation of his wife, which is a horror motif I’m honestly just so sick of. Really it’s just the cast bumbling about these gorgeous sets while things go bump, and occasionally unforgivably bad CGI giant hands reaching out of walls to give them a spank or two. It’s an unrepentant mess. But like I said before, these are some jaw dropping sets they’ve built, full of ornate detail and embellished craftsmanship, from a house of mirrors built into a carousel to a glass solarium complete with spiral staircases to a water featured corridor with book shaped stepping stones to what has to be the world’s largest walk-in fireplace and so much more. Honestly I’d just put it on with no volume, pull up an atmospheric playlist on Spotify and enjoy it sans dialogue or even it’s own score, to saturate yourself in the visual aspect.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Mary

There are worse ways to spend your lazy Sunday than watching Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer on a haunted sailboat. Mary is one in a handful of lower budget things that Oldman has insisted on doing lately despite being a desired actor of high acclaim (I didn’t write that last bit with a straight face FYI) and for the most part they’re to be avoided (the two pulpy crime ones with Jessica Alba and Olga Kurylenko are just shit), but I kind of enjoyed this maritime horror yarn for what it was. Oldman plays a fishing tour guide in coastal Florida who dreams of one day having his own boat and patching up his rocky marriage to spitfire Mortimer. Fate tracks him down in the form of the Mary, a mysterious derelict schooner up for auction. It needs a bit of work but there’s nothing a good montage can’t fix, then soon enough it’s out to sea for her maiden voyage with their two daughters and his trusty first mate (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who is getting great traction these days). Midway through the voyage strange, supernatural stuff starts happening and it appears that this vessel is indeed haunted by the vengeful spirit of a drowned witch. I’m not going to talk up this thing for more than it is, it’s essentially a cheapie horror time killer and I probably wouldn’t have paid it any attention whatsoever without the presence of Oldman, who I’m a super fan of, and Mortimer who I have always really loved. This is the first time they’ve worked together and it’s really nice to see them onscreen, neither of them phone it in at all despite the fact that the material is clearly beneath them. Decent scares, atmospheric cinematography and solid performances from them make this worth a look. Just don’t get out the top hat and monocle or try and get really critical, because the only person you’ll disappoint is yourself.

-Nate

Yuletide Yarns: Nate’s Top Ten Christmas Films

Tis the season to check out Christmas in cinema! There’s a whole ton of festive films out there revolving around this time of year, ten of which I’ve picked out here as my cherished favourites! Oh and keep one thing in mind: A Christmas movie is a subjective thing and each individual is allowed to have whatever the hell they want in their Yuletide canon without a bunch of blockheads screaming “That’s not a Christmas movie” to the winds. Home Alone is a Christmas movie to many and perhaps to some The Mummy or Top Gun are also Christmas movies too for whatever personal reason or memory they hold dear. Anything you damn well please can be your “Christmas movie” and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Got it? Good! Enjoy my list 😉

10. John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games

An underrated one, to say the least. Pulpy, nihilistic and packed with ironically nasty energy substituting for holiday cheer, I love this ultra violent heist/revenge flick to bits. Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron and an off-the-chain Gary Sinise are various degenerate characters involved in a casino robbery and the ensuing aftermath, murder, betrayal and tough talk. They’re all having a blast and there’s great supporting work from Danny Trejo, Donal Logue, Isaac Hayes, James Frain, a scene stealing Clarence Williams III plus the late great Fennis Farina.

9. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas

A Christmas slasher yay!! This predates John Carpenter’s Halloween as the original genre prototype and is just such a fun, spooky old stalker flick with healthy doses of camp, plenty of creaky atmospheric portent and one of the freakiest villains the genre has to offer based on his voice alone. It’s Christmas break for a house of sorority girls in small town Ontario, which should mean rest, relaxation and good times. A deeply disturbed prank calling serial killer has other ideas though, tormenting them with perverse phone-calls and eventually outright hunting them through the drafty halls of the manor. Starring the beautiful, classy Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, Margot Kidder and Nick Mancuso as the killer’s terrifying phone voice, this is a holiday classic for me, it practically fills up your living room with atmosphere when you put it on.

8. Joe Dante’s Gremlins

This is one of those ones that kind of works at Halloween too because it’s so gooey and horror-centric, but the quaint small town Christmas vibe is so pleasant and wonderful, right from the joyous opening titles set to Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas.’ One young man’s Christmas present goes haywire when cryptozoological Mogwai Gizmo and his clan get right out of control and cause a bigger holiday riot than Boxing Day at the mall. It’s like a Christmas party gone ballistic in the best, most mischievous ways and the fun lies in seeing these little green monsters terrorize, blow off steam and run around town destroying everything in their wake.

7. Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2

I know what you’re thinking, but I actually prefer this rambunctious sequel over the iconic first Die Hard film. Switching up the action from a skyscraper to hectic, bustling and heavily snowed in LAX on Christmas Eve is just such a cozier, more festive setting, not to mention ripe for so much action, villainy and comedic bits. Way more characters, tons of cool cameos, a blinding snowstorm to create atmosphere and so many gorgeous explosions.

6. Robert Zemeckis’s The Polar Express

What a majestic film. People rip on this for being way too elaborate and hectic when compared to the simple, direct timbre of its source children’s book, but I love how far they took it. It’s a thrillingly cinematic, highly immersive rollercoaster ride to the North Pole packed with Carols, stunning motion capture animation, Tom Hanks in like four different roles *including* Santa, breathtaking swoops over northern landscapes and a genuine sense of wonder.

5. Ted Demme’s The Ref

Christmas ain’t always a loving, cherished time of year as you’ll see in this acidic, cynical and jet black comedy of family dysfunction, misanthropy and petty crime. Denis Leary is one pissed off cat burglar who hides out from the law with a couple played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis who are basically the most unhappily married, hateful pair of grinches you could find in white suburbia. It’s a brilliantly satirical sendup of Christmas in the Midwest with terrific, off the wall performances from the three leads, a wicked sharp script and hilarious supporting work from J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski, BD Wong and Raymond J. Barry.

4. Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

Christmas goes Gothic in my favourite of the initial four Burton/Schumacher Batman films. This is a seriously gorgeous gem of a film with Keaton at his moody best as Batman, Danny Devito creeping’ it up tons as the freaky weirdo Penguin, Christopher Walken embodying corporate evil like no other and Michelle Pfeiffer as the most absolutely sexy, dangerous, funny and commanding take on Catwoman ever. The film takes place over the holiday season in a Gotham highly reminiscent of bustling New York, all austere wintry edifices and decked out super malls.

3. Tim Burton/Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

A double edged sword that works wonders as both Christmas and Halloween film, this is just a classic, iconic festive singalong with the OG beautiful Burton/Selick stop-motion animation and a wonderful host of vocal/singing performances from Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Glen Shadix, Paul Reubens and Danny Elfman.

2. Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest

Another counterintuitive one, this is an icy, sardonic black crime comedy about a mob lawyer (John Cusack), his untrustworthy associate (Billy Bob Thornton), a slinky stripper (Connie Nielsen) and a big city gangster (Randy Quaid). They’re all neck deep in an underworld embezzlement scheme on Christmas Eve, out to kill, deceive, screw over and get rich by the time midnight rolls around. I love this film, it’s a Yuletide noir with healthy doses of deadpan comedy, a mournful rumination on what it means to be a family member around this time of year and how morality plays into a life of crime. Plus positively everyone steals the show including the lovable Oliver Platt as Cusack’s drunken buddy.

1. Robert Zemeckis’s A Christmas Carol

The number of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carols film adaptations is near infinity but for me this one tops them all. Dazzling motion capture animation gives larger than life vitality to the classic story of Scrooge, his three ghosts and Victorian London. Jim Carrey outdoes himself playing the old dude and *all three* spectres while the cast is filled with beloved performers like Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, Colin Firth, Fionnula Flanagan, Cary Elwes and the late great Bob Hoskins in multiple roles. Zemeckis’s sure hand with this dynamic style of animation gives the film an impressive aura of sweeping visual movement and immersion, the performances capturing the essence of each actor in various modes while the colour, carols and rousing action make this the best produced version of this story I’ve ever seen, I watch it once a year without fail.

-Nate Hill

Adam Randall’s I See You

A lot of thrillers promise you’ll be “on the edge of your seat,” “white knuckling it” or other sensational claims, but few follow through on such guarantees. Adam Randall’s I See You doesn’t merely make good on the edge of your seat bit, it’s so fucking suspenseful it has you hovering *above* your seat in anticipation and screaming back down into it when the multiple instances of nerve shredding payoff hit. It’s a fantastic home invasion thriller, a skin drawling horror flick and somehow has this odd, surreal aura to it that it never fully explores but maintains on the fringes of our awareness like the unsettling memory of a mostly forgotten nightmare. I literally can’t explain more than the super basic premise here or I’ll ruin the many amazing, tantalizing and eerie surprises it has to offer, you just have to dive in blind for this baby.

So basically there’s this small town homicide detective (Jon Tenney from True Detective Season 3), his wife (Helen Hunt, where has she been this past decade?) and their kid (Judah Lewis) and they’re really not on great terms as a family. Young boys are disappearing around the town and he’s forced to put most of his energy into investigations while his wife and son try and coexist with civility. Then all of a sudden weird shit starts happening around their house like things gone missing, out of place, odd bumps in the night etc. Is it all connected somehow? The fun is in this superbly twisty guessing game of a narrative that will *actually* keep seasoned pros who think they’ve seen every turn of events in the dark. Some of the camera work here is downright brilliant, with swooping crane, fluid dolly and pan shots that give the illusion of gliding through this diabolical story. The score by William Arcane must be mentioned as well, not since the Sinister films have I heard a more disorienting, otherworldly collection of wails, moans and such ghostlike auditorial menace, it really adds to the whole deal in a dreamlike way. Aside from a few slightly murky plot details (to be fair, this is a tough rig to navigate through the canyon flawlessly) this is as close to a perfectly orchestrated thriller as I’ve seen in a while, not to mention about as suspenseful, immersive and scary too. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Vincenzo Natali’s In The Tall Grass

Stephen King adaptations are all across the board, especially these days, but Vincenzo Natali’s moody, atmospheric In The Tall Grass (a Netflix film) pleasantly surprised me and it further surprises me that it’s getting such negative reception. This is essentially a fairly simple premise whipped up into a complex spiderweb of narrative tricks and elliptical turns which could have overall put people off but there’s no denying that it grabs you with, sticks to and squarely lands its story with effective atmosphere, immersive storytelling and, for the most part anyways, solid performances.

Director Natali also directed the cult horror flick Cube, and one can see the similarities in setting when you consider this is set in a giant shifting maze of tall grass with an ever present, omnipotent malevolence brewing away within it. A brother and sister (Laysla De Oliveria & Avery Whitted) are driving through the states to San Diego when they hear a child’s voice calling for help from a vast field of tall grass lining a desolate highway. When they step inside to investigate and help… well that’s where the fun begins. This labyrinth of whispering vegetation traps them in confusion, moves them mysteriously around and becomes increasingly sinister. Things get especially weird when when they meet the father and husband (Patrick Wilson) of another family who strayed into this maze a while ago and are still wandering around wondering wtf is going on. Soon reality shifts, time begins to have no meaning or linear progression compared to events unfolding on the outside of the grass and everything seems to be controlled by a strange, hypnotic monolith at the heart of the maze with weird cave paintings all over it.

It’s a bizarre, whackadoo premise but also kind of right up my alley; I love horror films about people stuck in otherworldly places where the rules of physics, time and space don’t seem to matter. The performances range across the board and aren’t all up to par but Wilson steals the show as usual, doing a delicately hysterical balancing act of straight arrow affability and diabolical menace, he really sends it in every role. The atmosphere within the maze is overpowering and brought to life by an ethereal score from Mark Korven, kaleidoscopic framing/editing choices and a prevailing sense of disoriented, panicky hopelessness, while the story itself is one that can get pretty complex and seemingly incoherent but actually does work itself out step by step if you’re paying strict attention and letting everything wash over you. Definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Dennis Hopper Performances

One of Hollywood’s most infamous screen outlaws, Dennis Hopper’s career stretched all the way from black and white 50’s westerns to voiceovers in PlayStation platform games. His epic and resounding career saw him take on countless roles including cowboys, psychos, politicians, detectives, terrorists and all manner of extreme portrayals. He had an intense way about him, a clear and distilled form of verbal expression and half mad gleam in his eye that made any scene he appeared in fiery and memorable. Here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Victor Drazen in Fox’s 24

One of the more heinous and tough to kill villains that Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer ever went up against, Drazen is a genocidal warlord from a fictional country who turns up near the end of Day 1 to make life hell for everyone. Cold, dead eyes and hellbent on escaping captivity so he can resume ethnic cleansing and blow shit up, Hopper gives him a formidable edge and makes a terrific final boss baddie for the season that kicked everything off.

9. Paul Kaufman in George A. Romero’s Land Of The Dead

Even in a post apocalyptic zombie world there are still greedy billionaire developers, Kaufman being the chief one in a ruined, decaying Detroit. He presides over the coveted skyscraper community Fiddler’s Green with an iron fist of elitism and Donald Trump megalomania, isn’t above wantonly discriminating against the poor or murdering shareholders in the business to get ahead. His response when the zombies finally bust down his doors and invade this sickened utopia? “You have no right!!!” It’s a darkly hilarious, deadpan, tongue in cheek arch villain role that he milks for all its worth and steals the show.

8. Billy in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider

A seminal 60’s counterculture biker picture, Dennis directs and stars as an outlaw of the road who along with his compadre (Peter Fonda) embarks on a strange, prophetic and ultimately violent journey across an America that seems to resent and coil towards the two of them at every turn. This film didn’t strike the profound chord in me it seems to have in most viewers and while I’m not it’s hugest fan, the impact that Hopper’s words, direction and rowdy performance has made on cinema and pop culture itself is remarkable.

7. Deacon in Kevin Reynolds’ Waterworld

Another post apocalyptic villain in a very misunderstood and under appreciated film. Deacon is essentially the big daddy of an aquatic desolation after water covers most of the planet and forces the dregs of the human race to adapt to marine life. He’s got one eye, legions of henchmen at his beck and call and runs his operation from an enormous derelict freighter ship. Deacon is a larger than life and a definite scenery chewer but Hopper calibrates the work just right and doesn’t go too far into ham territory, which he has sneakily done so before (remember that weird ass Super Mario film where he played King Koopa? Lol).

6. Feck in Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge

A crazed, one legged drug dealer with a blow-up doll for a girlfriend, Feck is just one of many maladjusted small town rejects in this arresting, challenging drama. Forced to confront an act from his past when a local teen murders his girlfriend for the sheer hell of it, his true nature comes out and he arrives at the ultimate decision. It’s a performance that’s terminally weird and off the wall but there’s a strange gravity in amongst the madness, a juxtaposition that Hopper handles like the expert he was.

5. Lyle from Dallas in John Dahl’s Red Rock West

Texas hitman Lyle doesn’t even show up until midway through the film and at least two characters are mistaken for him before then. When he does show up though, this deadly desert neo-noir really kicks into gear and churns put some darkly funny scenarios. Lyle is killer good at what he does but at first he’s just baffled at how all the other players managed to muck things up so badly while he was on his way there, and there’s some delicious comedic bits to go with the fiery violence he brings into play.

4. The Father in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish

This angelic arthouse gang flick sets up a hypnotic tone for an ensemble cast to dreamily wander in. Hopper is a rowdy drunken dad to Mickey Rourke and Matt Dillon, two wayward street kids on a collision course with inevitable trouble. The father/son banter between these three has a beautifully improvised, organic feel to it and you really get the sense that this trio rehearsed, spent time together and wanted to make their collective dynamic something truly special, which it is and can definitely be said for the film overall as well.

3. Clifford Worley in Tony Scott’s True Romance

A stubborn, tough as nails ex cop and father of the year, Clifford and Christopher Walken’s mobster Vincent get some of the best passages of dialogue from Quentin Tarantino’s script in their brief but blistering standoff. It’s a galvanizing, hilarious and now iconic scene in cinema with Hopper in full on Hopped up mode.

2. Howard Payne in Jan De Bont’s Speed

LA’s finest ex cop turned mad bomber, Howard is disappointed by the department’s meagre pension fund. His solution? Arm a city bus with enough C-4 to level an entire block and detonate it if the vehicle slows below 50 MPH. It’s up to super cops Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels to nab him, but both his plan and Dennis’s performance are something to be reckoned with. “Pop quiz, hotshot!” He taunts Reeves with that maniacal glee only this actor could bring out.

1. Frank Booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet

What can I say about Frank. He huffs oxygen to get high, prefers Pabst Blue Ribbon over Heineken, loves kinky S&M sex and is an unstable, volatile psychopath who engages in every kind of reprehensible behaviour and illegal activity you can think of. It’s an unhinged piece of acting work that carries both Lynch’s and Hopper’s distinct brand of eccentric sensibilities and off kilter lunacy.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill