Tag Archives: Thriller

Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered

Imagine a game of tug of water against an alien who’s holding onto your intestines like a rope while you struggle to keep them from further unravelling. That’s a horrific thing to even picture but in Eduardo Sanchéz’s Altered you get to see it happen in graphic detail and it ain’t fuckin pretty. Sanchéz is part of the creative team that pioneered the horror genre with The Blair Witch Project, he’s a guy that doesn’t mince his words with horror and always puts out quality disturbing content, this being no exception.

After a group of friends experience a collective alien abduction in their youth, they come up with a plan decades later to turn the tables: kidnap one of the extraterrestrials responsible for their trauma, take it to a remote cabin in the woods and exact some much deserved payback on the fucker. Their idea goes well for a bit but then naturally everything that can go wrong does when they discover that they’ve grossly underestimated their quarry and are in for quite the night from hell.

This is a minimalist premise and the execution reflects that but it’s tense, uncomfortably gory in all the right ways and you get a genuine sense of terror that emanates from these guys. You’ll understand why as well when the aliens show up, these aren’t cute and cuddly things or even feral beasts, they resemble cunning, sadistic warlords who are used to dominating other species and don’t appreciate these guys bearing arms against them. The late character actor James Gammon has a grizzled cameo as the local sheriff who when confronted with the knowledge that the intruders he was called to investigate are aliens, dryly replies with “Shit. That’s fucked up” and if you know Gammon you’ll be able to hear his gruff delivery of that line in your head and chuckle some. It’s good stuff and proves that Sanchéz wasn’t just a one hit wonder with Blair Witch, also going on to make the awesomely terrifying psychological chiller as well as this panicky, nasty creature feature.

-Nate Hill

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

What’s your favourite movie version of Dracula? For me its always been Francis Ford Coppola’s lavish, eccentric, audacious and full bodied telling of Bram Stoker’s book, brought to life fiercely and passionately by Gary Oldman in what has to be one of his best works. This may be an unpopular choice among the older generation of folks who love this story/character but the old black and whites just don’t do it for me like this one does. Lugosi and Lee had their day but in my eyes Oldman freshness and innovation in his headlong portrait of supernatural evil ravaged by centuries old heartbreak, a romantic angle that wasn’t in the book or most previous adaptations of it but adds a dimension the story never knew it needed.

Coppola makes production design the star of this beauty, beginning with a fearsome prologue showing Oldman’s Transylvanian knight and how the man became a dark prince of vampires, before shifting the action to Victorian London. Dracula is searching for the spirit of his long dead wife who just happens to have been reincarnated as Mina Harker (Winona Ryder). People start turning up dead all over town though and Mina’s friend Lucy (Sadie Frost in an uncelebrated encore performance) has restless dreams, waking night terrors and finally goes full on vamp. This prompts the arrival of Anthony Hopkins’ hilariously blustery, borderline senile Abraham Van Helsing and the beginning of a bloody fight to save Mina, her husband Jonathan (Yes Keanu Reeves tried on a British accent but we’re not discussing that here) and most of London.

Stoker’s book is mostly made up of journal entries, letters and other written correspondence and as such the film has an episodic pace to it, but what really makes it flow are costume design, music and the wonderful performances from the varied, eclectic cast. Oldman is sensational and can almost be said to play multiple characters because of how different each manifestation of Dracula is. He finds sadistic evil in the character and accents it with love that still simmers on the back burner, spinning the character into something, dare we say, sympathetic. Ryder is terrific, her doe eyed naïveté suiting the gradually emerging horror nicely. Other excellent work comes from Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Monica Bellucci, Billy Campbell and Tom Waits in a deranged showstopper of a turn as the lunatic Renfield. Costume designer Eiko Ishioka outdoes herself here with the kind of work that begs for Blu Ray action, showing Dracula in several getups from creepy old Count to full on From Dusk Till Dawn style monster, Oldman embodying each one with grace and style. Composer Wojciech Kilar turns in a portentous rumble of a score that fires up the baroque horror elements but also finds the aching romantic notes in the eye of the orchestral hurricane.

My favourite scene of the film isn’t even in the realm of horror; Dracula and Mina share a moment together with one of his wolves who he has momentarily tamed. She strokes the beasts fur in awe while he looks at her in mournful adoration and quietly says “He likes you.” Oldman finds wonderful opposites to the character in this moment and becomes something so much more than the campy monster that Hollywood has envisioned this character as before. There’s a gentle tenderness to this scene and it’s contradictory elements like that that make it stand out and accent the horror with immediacy. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

I never bothered too much with the TV version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and didn’t even know it was based on a movie until I saw that it’d be playing on the big screen this week. Slight, silly and saturated in 80’s style, this was an absolute blast, a ton of fun and a totally hilarious culture clash between brooding gothic bloodsuckers and mouthy, fashionista valley girls. Kristy Swanson is Buffy, an attitude driven high school chick who spends her days at the mall, planning dances and hanging around with her jock boyfriend. That all ends when the mysterious Merrick (Donald Sutherland) recruits her for a centuries old battle against immortal vampires that’s about to play out right in the valley. She’s cynical, skeptical and reluctant as most teenagers are to do anything outside their usual bubble but rises to the occasion and discovers she has badass hidden talents for kicking vampire ass. Joining forces with moody bad boy Pike (the late Luke Perry), she goes head on with the evil vampire king Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his goofy henchman Amilyn (Paul ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Reubens) in a deadly battle that spills into the senior prom dance for hilarious results. I really didn’t expect to like this as much as I did but the thing is just so damn fun. Swanson has way more charisma and beauty than Sarah Michelle and really gives a good turn as someone who is outwardly insufferable and spacey but reveals that’s all an act, something we all remember doing in high school at some point. Sutherland plays it grave and serious and as a result comes off as hilarious but has terrific exasperated paternal chemistry with Buffy. Hauer is a typically implosive and intense but here he’s having an extroverted ball, playing this debonair vamp like a pimp from hell in a smoking jacket and swanky white gloves. Reubens is straight up silly and gets one of the most inexplicably bizarre and hysterical death scenes that’s so melodramatic it needs to carry over into a post credits scene. The cast is stacked and includes early career work from Hilary Swank, a loopy David Arquette, Sasha Jenson, Natasha Gregson Warner, Stephen Root, Candy Clark, Sasha Jenson, Slash, Thomas Jane, Ricki Lake, Seth Green, Alexis Arquette and Ben Affleck. Wow. I loved this and loved how I didn’t expect to be so hot on it but got blindsided. Beautiful production value, wicked sharp comedic scrip, fun performances and an appropriately synthy 80’s score. Oh, and watch for the Mystery Machine from Scion Doo too.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: William Lustig’s Maniac Cop 2

Maniac Cop is one of the great hidden gem trash trilogies of the 80’s and has now been picked up for a reboot by Nicolas Winding Refn, which I couldn’t be more excited for. It’s time to revisit my favourite of the sequels, William Lustig’s Maniac Cop 2, which sees undead psycho cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar and his epic jawline) come back for some more supernatural police brutality and wanton carnage. Originally arrested for excessive force, he was assaulted in prison and came back from the dead as something else, something way worse than your garden variety rogue cop. This is one of those slash n’ burn sequels that kills off the heroes of the first film within minutes of getting underway, which I always find hilarious. As such we only see Bruce Campbell’s Jack Forrest briefly but any appearance from him always helps a film. This time veteran Sergeant Sean McKinney (Robert Davi, never more badass) is on the hunt for Cordell, along with a police psychologist (Claudia Christian). Cordell has plans beyond simply killing everyone in his path this time though, and begins to recruit similarly minded lowlifes for his own personal army starting with a Manson style serial killer (Leo Rossi) who targets strippers. This is trash, there’s no beating around the bush. But it’s gourmet trash, it knows it’s groove and hums along beautifully within it. Cordell is a spectacular villain, a physically imposing juggernaut, whether he’s beating people senseless or Terminator-ing an entire police precinct singlehandedly. Check out the first and third ones too, they’re epic although this has always been the pinnacle for me. These films are perfect relics of a lost era when seedy genre stuff ran the show, and I can’t wait to see the spin Refn will give to them.

-Nate Hill

Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia

Scared of spiders? This is the perfect movie for you and no it’s not Eight Legged Freaks. Seriously though if you’re one of those people who are mortally, terminally and irrationally afraid of them then Arachnophobia will flare up just that kind of reaction. It’s produced by Spielberg too so it has that special kind of ‘menace in 80’s suburbia’ feel, this isn’t some cobwebby haunted house or fearsome jungle setting, this is killer spiders in the small town California which is all the more disarming. There is a jungle set prologue though because we gotta see just how these things did make it to Cali and you can thank scientist Julian Sands for that when he accidentally lets a breed of deadly arachnids hitch a lift in a coffin back to the states. There they slowly but surely begin to breed and wreak havoc on unsuspecting townsfolk until they’re basically everywhere. Jeff Daniels steps in for hero duty as a doctor who just moved into town and is getting a pretty suspect first impression of the area thanks to these creatures. It’s up to him and an intrepid posse to take them on while evading their deadly bites in the process. John Goodman shows up and steals the film as a boisterous, beer swilling exterminator who knows a maximum threat when he sees one and breaks out the non FDA approved methods for dispatching them. His character provides the film with levity and laughs as a kind of cross between Chris Walken’s kooky exterminator in Mouse Hunt and one of the Ghostbusters. This film is actually terrifying because it isn’t just giant spiders like in Harry Potter or The Hobbit and they’re not CGI or schlocky like countless other horror films, there’s actual craft and artistry put in and they use real spiders too so it’s pretty gnarly. There’s one scene where Daniels and his family are in the middle of the living room and there’s spiders literally everywhere.. the couch, ceiling, walls, appliances, floor… covered. We all know that feeling of seeing just one of them somewhere over in a corner, now amplify that by like a thousand. Yeah. It’s a great fright flick that never gets too gooey or gory and always maintains humour amidst the horror.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Steve Barker’s Outpost

The rate that teams of mercenaries seem to run into ghosts, creatures and demons seems to be awfully high in cinema but I guess their jobs take them to some pretty dark corners of the world where anything could be lurking. In Steve Barker’s Outpost the dark corner is an abandoned WWII bunker in Eastern Europe, the team is a hard scrabble bunch led by Ray Stevensen and Richard Brake and the gathering menace is… well you’ll see.

This one is cool because these guys are essentially trapped between one bad scenario and a severely worse one. As bloody war rages above them on the surface, they descend deeper into this long forgotten bunker for refuge and discover that naturally they aren’t the only ones down there. For the most part it chooses atmosphere over gore as the menacing forces gradually encroach on them surrounded by ghostly mist and they realize that this is one right corner they can’t just shoot their way out of. Stevensen has a great stalwart screen presence and heads up this dirty dozen style posse nicely, while Brake also provides his usual sly charisma. There’s a sequel out there by the same director no less but I haven’t seen it so I can’t recommend yet. This however is a chilly good time, a serviceable action horror that doesn’t go too far overboard or become obnoxiously silly but reins it in just enough.

-Nate Hill

Boogeyman

Boogeyman probably wouldn’t scare me too much these days but to sheltered thirteen year old Nate in iMax back then this was fucking traumatizing. I haven’t seen it since and I might keep it that way because the raw nostalgia still kicks in whenever I see the poster in a streaming queue or the DVD in stores and I feel like if I revisited now, that magic would dissipate quickly.

So obviously the Boogeyman is real here and has chosen to terrorize a family seemingly at random, scarring a young boy for life by snatching his father away in the middle of the night in a chilling prologue. Flash forward years later and the boy grows up into a man played by onetime heartthrob Barry Watson, who I only remember from this and Ocean’s Eleven where he’s playing poker with Topher Grace and Brad Pitt. He decides to visit the old town and dilapidated house he grew up in to confront his fears and prove that it was all in his head, but of course it wasn’t and the boogeyman comes roaring back into his life to create all kinds of fresh hell.

I enjoyed the lack of backstory and explanation for this thing… he’s not some vengeful ghost with an origin montage in the third act, they just never even bother to say anything more than he’s simply a boogeyman thing, and there’s both power and potency in that. There are numerous effective jump scares from what I remember and some welcome turns from genre regulars Lucy Lawless, Emily Deschanel and Skye McCole Bartusiak. Like I said it’s been so long since I saw this, I only saw it once but let me tell you at that age it fucked me right up. Such would most likely not be the case now but oh well. I’ll hold onto the memory I have of seeing it theatrically.

-Nate Hill