Slimy, icky, yucky and gooey don’t even begin to cover James Gunn’s Slither, a corrosively funny low budget schlock-fest that took the genre by storm a decade ago, charmed horror fans all over and put him squarely on the map. A throwback to many mindless low budget creature features of yore, but still with enough brains in its head (and some splattering the wall) to have decently written characters and a monster that doesn’t feel lame or copied and pasted. When a strange asteroid lands in the forests outside small town USA, it’s only a matter of time before someone stumbles across whatever it contains and becomes infected. That someone happens to be Michael Rooker, here playing the deftly named Grant Grant, local bigwig and proud husband to trophy wife Elizabeth Banks. There’s a deadly parasite with the rock, one that takes him over, turns him into a giant disgusting inbred octopus, and has apocalyptic plans for our planet. Nathan Fillion, who is in literally every Gunn film, does a sly and charming turn as the local Sheriff, never losing his cool long enough to let up with the attitude, and backed up by his trusty deputy (the lovely Jennifer Copping). Gregg Henry, another Gunn veteran, steals the show as the town’s sleazy, foul mouthed mayor who laments “I’ve never seen anything like this before, and I watch Animal Planet all the fuckin time!!!”. Rooker is a champ for sitting through all the makeup, as most of his scenes are him whipping around tentacles that chop people up and covered in a deluge of slimy deformations. There’s slug like parasites that’ll make you suirm (careful getting in that bathtub), morbid obesity to hilarious lengths, gore galore and a tongue in cheek attitude that’s irresistible. What more do you need from a horror comedy?
One should go into The Fourth Kind aware of a single important fact: Despite claiming to be based on a true story, and featuring numerous realistically creepy candid accounts, it’s essentially entirely made up stuff. People seemed to have a huge bee in their bonnet about that, but curiously weren’t bothered by it in The Blair Witch Project, another film guilty of the same gimmicks. Cinema is make believe anyways, and if the story works, then what does it matter. This is one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen, thanks to a few well orchestrated and very bizarre moments that transcend what usually gets passed off as horror these days. It tells the alleged story of several incidents and encounters with paranormal beings in and around Nome, Alaska, from the perspective of psychologist Abigail Tyler, played by Milla Jovovich in elaborate, atmospheric reenactments, and by Charlotte Milchard in terrifying newsreel testimonials. Something has come to Nome, and is causing not only disappearances but very, very weird behaviour among the townsfolk, and a general aura of poisonous unease. Abigail does her best to work with patients and locate the source ofnthe trauma without losing her mind or having an encounter herself. Her patients babble and rave, but there’s consistency to their claims, prompting her further belief and summoning of other experts, including a language specialist (Hakeem Kae Kazim) and an old colleague (Elias Koteas), who are equally as stumped. The town sheriff (Will Patton) believes her to be a complete whacko and does everything to hinder her efforts at every turn. Patton starred in another film that’s very similar to this, Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies, and his grave presence only perpetuates the same kind of eerie supernatural vibe, albeit far closer to outright horror than Mothman. The way the film shows the ‘real’ Abigail sometime following the events chilled me to the bone. She’s broken, haunted and speaks as if there’s a stain on her soul from some otherworldly force. The film knows what gives people that creeping, cold dread fear that we seek so desperatly in the genre, and gave me a fair helping of it. Whether or not the story is even remotely true is trivial; they’ve made a gruesomly scary tale out of it, and that’s what’s important. Also, you’ll never look at owls quite the same way after seeing this. Top shelf horror.
Sam Raimi’s Army Of Darkness completes his demented Evil Dead trilogy in high style, and with way more off the wall humour than the first two, which made you laugh while simultaneously going straight for the jugular with gore. Slapstick seems to be the theme here, as Ash and his trusty accessories of destruction find themselves catapulted straight into the heart of the Middle Ages, where the denizens of the Necronomicon have somehow once again found him. Joining forces with a medieval King, and hopping into bed with a shapely princess (Embeth Davidz), Ash uses his modern day know-how and sassy disposition to battle hordes of skeletal beasties and flying deadites, with occasional breaks for absurd humour and near surreal set pieces. My personal favorite is when he finds himself under attack from numerous pint sized versions of himself after setting off an ancient spell in the nearby dark forests. “Ramming speed” they chirp as they jab him in the ass with a metal fork and giggle like demonic Borrowers. Only in these movies, man. The change of setting from a cabin in the woods to a castle allows for a much larger scale of action, involving entire armies and much more moving parts. The deadite horde has a satisfyingly creaky, Harryhausen-esque way of moving, and look great when blown to bits by the ol’ boomstick as well. They also inherit the silliness and near constant mischief of the demons from the first two films too. Whether it’s trees, deer heads, zombies or skeletons, anything that materializes as a result of that book just seems to have a flair for bizarre and childish shenanigans, kind of like their trademark mode of behaviour. That too is what makes these films so distinct; they’re horror comedies, yes, but not in the sense that Scary Movie or Young Frankenstein is. They’re like a clown with ADHD prancing about the place and destroying things in their own special and unhinged way. Different from the other films in the series, no doubt, but a welcome and very successful departure.
Stephen King’s Silver Bullet is one of the most charming werewolf flicks in the stable, one that combines adult orientated, gory horror with the fable-esque, childlike sensibility that seems to permeate King’s work. It’s also quite funny, thanks to the presence of a boisterous, rotund and quite young Gary Busey. Young Marty (Corey Haim) lives in a sleepy little town where not much of anything happens, until a rash of brutal murders occur in the area. Attributed to a serial killer by townsfolk, Marty has other ideas, specifically that a werewolf has taken up residence among them, and is snatching victims in the night. Taken seriously only by his sister (Megan Follows) and kindly Uncle Red (Busey) he bravely stalks suspect number one, who happens to be the creepy town priest (an intimidating Everett Mcgill). Things escalate into a series of gooey, effects driven set pieces that drip with wonderful 80’s schlock and awe, as of course is the tradition with anything based on King’s work. Other notables include Terry O Quinn, Bill Smitrovitch, Lawrence Tierney, King’s own son Joe Wright, and late great character actor James Gammon in an opening sequence cameo. It’s not all that scary, but more about the beloved tropes of such stories as these, the timeless monsters that inhabit them, as well the the intrepid young heroes whose lives growing up and finding themselves equally as important and high stakes as the horror elements.
Eduardo Sanchez is a name you may or may not know, but title the title of the film which put him on the map you will most definitely remember. The Blair Witch Project was the little horror indie that caught the snowball effect and went on to become one of the most legendary fright flicks ever made, as well as unfortunately spawning the found footage sub genre. So the question was, how would a filmmaker who accidentally captured lightning in a bottle top such an achievement? Well, by not trying to recreate said lightning, that’s how. By branching off, by breaking new ground, and by giving us a terrifying little character study of a horror like Lovely Molly, which has unsettled me like no other in the past couple years since I’ve seen it. It’s a character study in the sense that the horror comes mostly from a psychological place, with the slightest suggestion of external and paranormal torment, a subtlety that goes a long way in scaring the pants off us. The story focuses on Molly (Gretchen Lodge, superb), and her husband Tim (Johnny Lewis, or halfsack for anyone who watches Sons Of Anarchy). They are a young newlywed couple just starting life together, until some restless demons from Molly’s past come back to haunt her. Tim is gone for extended periods of time with his trucking job, leaving Molly alone in their secluded house, a sitting duck for supernatural and psychological forces to hunt her. Raw, disconcerting terror sets in as we witness a tragic downward spiral of disturbing sexual behaviour, unseen phantoms and unending torment befall the poor girl. Scarier still is Sanchez’s blatant refusal to spell out in bold fonts just exactly what is happening to her. Is this just extreme mental illness cauded by residual trauma leftover from an abusive childhood that is hinted at? Are there actually percievable paranormal entities at work? It’s the murky deliberation to not draw lines or give solid answers that makes the film work so well, right up until a climax from darkest nightmares. Lodge is beyond capable with the role, taking Molly’s mania and sickness to levels beyond comprehension or reprieve, truly gone to a place of boiling internal horror. This is a different kind of horror for Sanchez, and he proves to be just as adept with the slow cooker style as he was in frenzied found footage. Don’t go expecting any clear cut answers here though, this is the realm of feverish ambiguity. Some people take issue with that and need a breadcrumb trail laid out for them. I for one love not knowing, just increases the intrigue and the creep factor. A horror gem.
Jim Mickle’s Stake Land is one of my favourite vampire films of the last twenty years, ousted only by 30 Days Of Night, but that one is tough to compete with in anyone’s book. The vampire movie and all it’s trimmings has been done to death a million times over, under every stylistic filter and narrative tweak you could imagine, so this one can’t really break too much new ground simply by default, but what it does do is show us a bleak, lived in and worn out world, a world that has been under attack from vampires for a long time, and as such is starting to fray at the seams. These aren’t quiet, regal, brooding vamps either, they’re quick, feral nasties who actually pose a threat and cause a lot of damage, as our young hero Martin (Connor Paolo) finds out in an arresting opening sequence set in a farmhouse. Left without a family in a world he not ready for, he’s taken under the wing of gruff and rugged Mister (Nick Damici, also the brilliantly talented writer behind Mickle’s films), and the two set off on an increasingly tragic, Cormac Mccarthy esque trek across a broken world, finding lost souls and ravenous monsters at every turn. One thing that seems to escape many vampire films is an emotional core, something to latch onto amidst the cold and clinical happenings, but this one finds that in several key places, including the father son dynamic between Mister and Martin, as well as an encounter with a wounded pregnant girl (Danielle Harris in what is probably her best work so far). It’s sad, downbeat stuff though, without much hope or solace for anyone involved. Kelly McGillis of all people has a brief appearance you can keep your eyes peeled for. Grungy, desolate, tragic, extremely well made, touching and unique in the vampire subgenre. Highly recommended.
The Witch offers up an oppresively freaky folktale that still manages to go for broke with demented and disturbing stuff, whilst still keeping it moody and reigned in in equal measure, walking an admirable tightrope with style on one side, substance on the other. The substance lies in the interpersonal relationships between a hapless New England pioneer family trying to hack it alone in the land, living next to a deep dark forest that serves home to the titular cretin, plaguing their existence at every turn. The style lies in that forest, as well as a musical score that kwill shake your bones up and then some, accenting a tale of religious dread, insidious distrust and primal paranoia in a time before reason had grasped humanity, it seems. Plus there’s a big scary fucking goat called Black Philip who seems sentient, which was enough to give me the creepin willies. The family is booted from a plantation for some vague religious politics involving the haughty patriarch (Ralph Ineson is excellently fervent and riled up). Tryon to start a homestead on their own proves to be one nightmare after another out there though, especially when virginal daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy, a striking beauty) loses the young baby during a split second game of peekaboo on the outskirts of the forest. Things go depressingly downhill from there as the collective sanity of this clan starts to evaporate into feverish mania, while the woods and the witch constantly loom over everything. The dialogue is all period specific which helps with authenticity, and as far as atmosphere goes, you practically drown in it, quite an achievement really. I took quite a long time in getting to see this, and I didn’t quite expect then level of literal horror on display. I was thinking it’d be more unseen, metaphorical, slow paced. It really does mean witch though, as well as that nasty damn goat. You’ll watch your back at the petting zoo after sitting through this one. Well done.
The Sentinel is one of the weirdest thing you’ll ever see. It’s less of a horror and more just a parade of bizarro world situations strung together loosely by a vague haunted apartment story. A young model (Christina Baines) has found a sweet deal on an uptown flat, inhabited by only herself and a blond priest (John Carradine). It’s just too bad that when a deal seems to good to be true in these kinds of movies, there’s almost always some kind of sinister agenda behind it. It’s not too long before spooky stuff comes along, starting with strange physical problems, creepy encounters with her odd lesbian neighbors, flashbacks to her attempted suicide and psychic disturbances that can’t be explained. She soon realizes that she has been brought to this building for a very specific and decidedly sinister reason. The way I described all that sounds kind of routine and pedestrian, but trust me when I say that there’s nothing generic or run of the mill about this absurdity of a film. Everything has a very disconcerting and surreal feel to it, particularly in a whopper of a climax where a portal to hell is opened and all sorts of babbling loonies pour out, deformed, whacked out and adorned in some of the most creatively gross practical effects that will give your gag reflex a solid workout. The film also speckled with a diverse group of actors, some of them quite young looking when you remember that this was 1977. A chatty Eli Wallach shows up as a detective, with a youthful Christopher Walken in tow as his partner, Ava Gardner of all people has a cameo, and watch for Burgess Meredith, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, William Hickey, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Dreyfuss, Chris Sarandon, and Tom Berenger in what must have been one of his very first gigs, a literal walk on part. Very distinct and memorable film, one that pushed the boundaries considering the time period, and never let’s the weirdness mellow down for a single minute.
You’ll think twice about taking that shortcut through through the tunnel on your way home from work after watching Absentia, a spooky little indie with its heart in the right place and the filmmaking talent to back it up. There’s a tunnel that’s home to some unspeakable scuttling fiend in a local neighborhood, and two sisters who live nearby, as well as a few unfortunate other folks, stray directly into it’s path. Pregnant Tricia (Courtney Bell) and her younger sister Calley (Catherine Parker) are just trying to get by, literally and figuratively, but every routine trip into this hellish part of the neighborhood ends in disappearances, freaky apparitions from a spindly Doug Jones, this time not playing the monster, and tragic loss of life. I won’t give away what the threat is or what it even looks like (you’ll piss your pants), and such is the beauty of a minimalist scarefest like this. You go in not knowing much beyond the hype or word of mouth, and have your pants scared off. There’s a wonderfully atmospheric score at play here, no psycho strings of operatic swells, the film instead favoring a quiet, emotional melody that contrasts the extremely bleak story arc and grim happenings rather nicely. Jones is the only prolific actor we see here, but his work amounts to not much more than a cameo anyway, the brunt landing on our two protagonists, and a local detective (Dave Levine) who assists them, and they all give very solid efforts. The tunnel is a pure unbridled nightmare though, the fates of those who wander in something that you pray never happens to anyone ever, as you cling to whoever is closest to you on the couch (or bed, preferably). Horror should illicit some empathy from viewers as well as scare them, which will in turn be more disturbing for all. This little baby does just that with it’s characters, truly making you feel sorrow and dread for these poor people and their predicament, adding to the creep factor. A gem.
Hush is a pulverizing little exercise in extreme suspense. I’m not talking about this year’s Hush, a sleek little home invasion shocker that’s worth your time too. No, this Hush is a little seen British flick from back in 2008, and it’s a proper nerve jangler. In the tradition of Duel, The Hitcher, Joyride and others, it takes place on a bustling motorway somewhere in great Britain. A young couple trundle through the night on a highway, and find themselves behind a great big creepy semi truck. In one split second, the doors of it’s trailer come unstuck and open just a crack, allowing the to see what’s inside. It’s only a glimpse, but it’s unmistakable: a girl, badly hurt and tied up, screams for help before the motion of the vehicle causes the doors to slam shut again. What would you do? This couple bravely pursues the truck and it’s villainous driver across many miles of road, trying to rescue the girl inside, avoid getting killed themselves and put an end to whatever is going on. It’s one merciless ride into gut churning suspense, and I marveled at the film’s ability to keep such high tension up for a streamlined ninety minutes of pure horror nirvana. It’s not too lenghthy, never sags or drags and always keeps the vibe as taut as the ominous chain holding those truck doors in place. Swift and sensible in resolution, stylish as all hell and scary in spades. Any horror fan owes it to themselves to take a look.