Tag Archives: scary

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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Shane Black’s The Predator

So.. Shane Black’s The Predator. Haters gonna hate I suppose, but I really don’t get the negativity thrown this one’s way, it’s a shit ton of fun. Admittedly a stark departure from any other film in the franchise, Black’s signature is to brand things with an irreverent comedic stamp, and they should have realized that when they handed over the torch to him. This is Predator in American suburbia, a much smaller film than those before, but no less gory, imaginative or propulsive, and certainly nowhere close to as disappointing as I’ve read in some of these hilarious reviews. After a jungle set opening that mirrors John McTiernan’s original classic both visually and musically, a device worn by one of the Predators gets accidentally mailed to the young son (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) of the military sniper (Boyd Holbrook, channeling 80’s Michael Biehn nicely) who managed to kill one of them, all hell breaks loose when the rest of the creatures come looking for it, and intergalactic war hits the home front. Holbrook is placed on a prison bus populated by the Loonies, disgraced ex soldiers with PTSD who serve as the perfect rogue unit to abscond with the bus and take on the aliens using guns, bad jokes, a constant stream of profanity and eccentric personalities. Elsewhere, Olivia Munn’s super scientist makes educated guesses about both the intentions and biology of the Predators, eventually joining forces with the Loonies. It’s madcap and almost has an adult Amblin vibe which actually works quite well. Scene stealer Sterling K. Brown makes an oddball villain as a snarky Fed with his own agenda, while Jake Busey slyly plays the son of his dad’s Uber Predator hunter from the 1990 sequel. Now, the Loonies are as off colour a bunch as you’d expect to see in a Shane Black flick, but for me their weird chemistry and crudeness worked. Keegan Michael Key is the coked up comic relief, a guy who punctuates every awkward silence with a severely raunchy joke, Alfie Allen is underwritten but present, Trevente Rhodes scores big as Nebraska Williams, a chain smoking ex CO who is the brains of the bunch. My favourite performance of the film is Thomas Jane cast way against type as Baxley, who suffers from Tourette’s except when the plot requires him to steadily hold a firearm. I’ve read a lot of people call his character insensitive and I’m not sure what they’re drawing from, I have a family member who has Tourette’s and Jane’s work here is one of the most realistic depictions I’ve seen on film, it’s probably just all the other comedic commotion around him that accents it. Alongside Jane, I really like Munn, who obviously doesn’t look the part of a brainy scientist but fully gets the vibe here and has a lot of fun with her role. The Predators themselves seem bigger, louder and more vicious than before, often seen in broad daylight, with nastier attitudes and, at one point, speaking in plain English albeit via translator. Their part of the story is definitely far fetched but has imagination and thought put into it. They’re less the hunters here (except for that eleven foot tall motherfucker) and more like space spies with their own private feud going on. This has obviously been a divisive film so far.. I’ve heard a buddy say that it’s ‘one of the worst movies he’s ever seen.’ I can’t imagine that’s anything but overzealous overkill, it’s not an instant classic or anything but it was bloody fun, entertaining stuff. Honestly, my only complaint? It wasn’t long enough. There are areas that feel patchy and I imagine that’s where this studio interference I keep hearing about took place, and although it doesn’t come close to ruining the movie, I’d really love to see a director’s cut from Black at some point. But what we got was a solid blast of a film from where I’m sat. I mean, you get a guy like Shane Black to make a Predator film, it’s not like this is some gun for hire, he’s his own specific artist and is going to make the thing his way. Studio cuts aside, he’s done a slam bang job here, an action horror comedy sci-fi hybrid that feels as retro as it should while injecting new life and flavour into the mythos. Call me crazy, I guess.

-Nate Hill

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

Peter Hyams’ End Of Days

Arnold Schwarzenegger versus The Devil. Just let that sink in. It had to happen at some point in the guy’s career, and I’m thankful it turned out to be Peter Hyams’ End Of Days, a slam bang action horror party of a film that is lowkey one of the best things Arnie has ever done, both in terms of production and the character he gets to play. As Jericho Cane, he’s a far cry from the competent badasses he usually plays, an alcoholic ex secret service agent dealing with the trauma of a murdered family. The last thing he needs is Satan setting up shop in Manhattan on his watch, but that’s exactly what’s in store, for every millennium or so, the red guy gets to take a vacation earth-side in a human host, and if he’s able to get laid with a carefully chosen girl, he gets to take over the world. Some dodgy theology there, but this is an Arnie flick. The human host in question happens to be slick stockbroker Gabriel Byrne, who is soon causing havoc all over the Big Apple in his search for Robin Tunney, the girl marked by a satanist cult decades before and groomed to be his concubine. Arnie’s hangdog private security tough guy and sidekick Kevin Pollak are unlikely heroes to stop the prince of evil himself, but Theron lies the fun, and Cane is actually one of his best, most unique characters to date. Throw in Rod Steiger as a priest whose middle name is exposition, Miriam Margoyles as Tunney’s sinister Aunt (also the only 5 foot tall, chubby middle aged woman to whip Arnie’s ass in a fight), Udo Kier as the freaky cult priest, CCH Pounder as a no nonsense NYPD bigshot, Mark Margolis as the melodramatic Pope in Rome and others, you’ve got one solid cast. Byrne really steals the show and is up there with my favourite cinematic incarnations of Beezle, especially in his smooth, smug and smouldering delivery of some truly patronizing, vicious dialogue to try and dispel Jericho. Arnie’s retort? “You ah ah fucking choirboy compared to me!!” Priceless. The action is big, loud and utilizes NYC to its full scope, with subway scenes, a daring helicopter chase sequence and all kinds of explosive mayhem. The horror element is spooky as all hell too, especially in the first third of the film where atmosphere mounts and dread creeps in (that weird albino dude on the train will forever haunt me), plus the score from “ echoes around like a spectre as well. Not one of Arnie’s most celebrated critically, but will always be one of my favourites.

-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

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear is a harrowing film, one with enough perverse psychosexual energy, dripping southern atmosphere, stalker suspense and domestic trauma to raise the dead from the swamps of North Carolina where it takes place. Technically a remake of an old 60’s black & whiter with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, I have to give Scorsese’s version the edge no matter how controversial that opinion may be, he just had the freedom to take it further and not have to be so tame as films were back then. He also benefits from having star Robert Deniro in the hot seat as Max Cady, a monstrous, homicidal lunatic out to get Nick Nolte’s Sam Bowden, the slick heeled lawyer who put him away for years. Disclaimer: this is a thoroughly fucked up, highly disturbing film that goes to places you don’t even want showing up on the fringes of your nightmares, and doesn’t shy away from showing these atrocities in wild screaming life. Cady is an extremely clever, resourceful southern gentleman when he wants to be, and when the facade comes off he’s an unabashed, mass murdering psychopathic beast who will get at Sam any way he can, including the harassment and abuse of his wife (Jessica Lange) and teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis). It’s a setup for a wild ride of a thriller that seldom lets up once the wheels are rolling, and flies towards a conclusion set on the bayou that will raise hairs. Lewis, in one of her earliest roles, was rightly nominated for an Oscar, her simultaneous terror and mesmerization when Cady eerily seduces her is magnetic. The Mitchum and The Peck have two fun cameos too, the former as a sceptical cop and the latter as a hilarious, bible spouting asshole lawyer who shamelessly defends Cady. Nolte and Lange are charismatic in their scenes, but this is Deniro’s show all the way, and he creates a villain for the ages. Whether he’s beating up the guys Sam hires to beat him up, cackling maniacally in a movie theatre to piss everyone off, giving off violent rapey vibes to both Lewis and Lange or using freaky disguises to follow them all around, he’s a charming, ruthless boogeyman that has since become iconic. This is one of the premier psycho thriller of the 90’s, an intense, evocatively shot southern gothic freak show that has only gotten better with age.

-Nate Hill

Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain

Not too many films can claim to be as certifiably, outright insane as Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain. Crazy, off the wall, nuts, there’s plenty of that in Hollyweird,

but Cain is so thoroughly deranged that I’m curious how De Palma arrived at such a specific brand of left field lunacy when he sat down at his typewriter. Get this: John Lithgow pulls an overtime shift playing Dr. Carter Nix, a slightly disturbed child psychologist who shows an unnatural budding interest in his daughter’s upbringing, so much so that it unnerves his wife (Lolita Davidovitch) to a degree. I describe him as only slightly disturbed because his level of mania pales in comparison to his multiple emerging split personalities, which is where the trouble really begins. Carter’s father (also Lithgow) was a psychotic Norwegian doctor who had a habit of using children for bizarre mind control experiments, and it seems that one of Carter’s multiples has decided to take up his work. Soon there’s a rash of baby kidnappings in the area and all hell breaks loose. His wife is too busy having an adulterous affair with a hunk (steamy Steven Bauer) to really take control either. Sounds crazy in writing? The film takes it way further than you could ever imagine. Lithgow always seems a bit nuts, even when playing straight-laced characters we always get this vibe like he’s a court jester who has lost his marbles, and he revs that organic looniness into overdrive here. Frances Sternhagen is a hoot as the obligatory exposition here, a stern doctor who lays out Carter’s complex, condition to two cynical detectives (Tom Bower and Gregg Henry, both great) who try to keep up with this whole circus. I can understand why this film didn’t do too well, I mean… how do you even classify it? Almost everything about the subject matter is highly uncomfortable stuff that threatens to siege over into the lands of taboo, and there’s all kinds of freaky shit in this screaming haunted asylum of a flick. That’s the fun of though, if you’re able to have some. De Palmer has always had a gift for shocker material even when he’s not operating in the thriller genre. There’s a cold, caustic edge to this film that barely contains the sea of menace and mirth roiling beneath, which is an odd, off colour and chilling mix. See it for yourself.

-Nate Hill