Tag Archives: Thriller

Hidden Gems: Paul Andrew Williams’ The Cottage

I like films where an unassuming set of real world circumstances lead the main characters into a horror situation. It makes us feel as though we’ve started one film and by chance the narrative has wandered into the macabre as opposed to knowingly starting off the film like that (From Dusk Till Dawn is a nice example. The Cottage follows this effective motif with two petty criminals, one a meek pussy (Peter Shearsmith) the other a hotheaded asshole (Andy Serkis) who kidnap the daughter (smokin’ Irish model Jennifer Ellison) of a very wealthy man and hide out in a remote forest cabin to negotiate ransom. Her being an uncooperative little spitfire turns out to be the least of their problems though as they soon discover they aren’t alone in the cottage. Out of nowhere barrels in a deformed, nine foot tall, Jason Voorhees-esque monster farmer who’s out for blood and it’s now up to them to survive or they’ll never see any money, let alone all their limbs remaining attached to their bodies. The first half of the film sets up character dynamic nicely with Serkis naturally stealing the show and then later on its an all out grisly bloodbath as the farmer comes in swinging. Being a British horror film it has that wry underlying sense of humour to it as well as spectacularly gory visual effects and a suspenseful, chamber piece tone. Oh, and watch for a beat cameo by Doug ‘Pinhead’ Bradley from the Hellraiser films as an angry villager.

-Nate Hill

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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Michael Parks Performances

Michael Parks was one of those actors who could light up a scene, and although you hear similes like that thrown around about a whole lot of people on the business, he was one that more than deserved to have it applied in his work. Originally gaining traction in the 60’s and 70’s for television, feature films and westerns, Parks was put on the Hollywood blacklist for simply standing up to the integrity of a character/show he was working on, a testament to his spirit and refusal to let the work be anything but top notch. The latter half of his career saw him resurrected with a vengeance by the likes of Kevin Smith, Quentin and others and it was here that he provided us with some truly unique, compelling performances. Here are my personal top ten!

10. Esteban Vihaio in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2

His second role in the Kill Bill films sees him embody a mercurial Mexican pimp who provides the story with some purring exposition and Uma Thurman’s The Bride with vital information whilst slyly hitting on her at the same time. It’s only a quick scene but he grounds it with some deft humour and relishes every syllable of the Latin accent.

9. Dr. Banyard in Deceiver

More exposition! This is a weird little 90’s neo-noir about two troubled Detectives (Michael Rooker and Chris Penn) investigating the murder of a hooker (Renee Zellweger). Parks plays the psychiatrist they consult about a creepy suspect (Tim Roth) who suffers from a rare type of epilepsy. He’s essentially laying out information for the audience here but Michael was one of those rare actors who could do that and tell you so much about his character without, you know, *actually* telling you. This is pretty obscure for a such a great cast but it’s worth seeking out.

8. Abin Cooper in Kevin Smith’s Red State

Terrifying is the word for him here, playing the maniacal patriarch of a bunch of backwoods extremists who make the Westboro Baptist Church look like choirboys. The key is in the soft spoke dialogue, letting his energy simmer on the back burner so that when the fire and brimstone portion of his performance does show up, it blindsides us.

7. Doc Barrow in Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are

A small town doctor who gets suspicious when people including his wife go missing near a secluded rural area, Barrow discovers a family of cannibals living in the hills and must fend them off. This is a brilliant slow burn horror with solid performances all round but it’s his keen, quiet and observant husband who wins the day and becomes the most memorable.

6. Tommy O’Shea in Death Wish V: The Face Of Death

O’Shea is a reprehensible piece of shit Irish mobster who isn’t above threatening or killing women and children and rules his district with casual Joker-esque brutality until, naturally, Charles Bronson kicks the piss out of him. He’s one of the most memorable villains of the franchise in ironically the least memorable film it has to offer, but oh well. He redeems the film with his thoroughly evil portrayal and has a lot of fun along the way.

5. Ronny ‘Del’ Delany in The Hitman

This is essentially just another carbon copy, subpar Chuck Norris action flick but Michael owns villain duties as Chuck’s scumbag partner who betrays and tries to kill him. He’s only in the beginning and end of the film but the character bookends the whole thing and provides a classy, dashing evil prick to do battle with the hero. Too bad he doesn’t win in the end, because he’s eternally more watchable than that goofy ass cocker spaniel Norris.

4. Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter

Real life poet Bierce really did disappear, although he likely didn’t end up in an Aztec vampire bordello like this film imagines. Parks made an appearance in the first Dusk film and gets the lead here, making Bierce a well read, hard drinking, sardonic badass who totally steals the show.

3. Howard Howe in Kevin Smith’s Tusk

How do you bring dimension to the role of a walrus obsessed serial killer? Start by being Michael Parks. Smith gave him the role of a lifetime here and he chews it up enthusiastically, hitting so many notes in his performance that one could write a dissertation on the character. He makes the guy a monster, no doubt. But a funny ass monster, one with depth, charisma and the magnetism to pull off such an absurd premise.

2. Jean Renault in Twin Peaks

This masterful show is jam packed with villains both earthbound and of other planes so the competition to leave a lasting impression is high. Parks showed up during a season two creative drought as Renault, a psychopathic French Canadian drug kingpin with a taste for blood and the nerve to back it up. Stylish, confident and venomous, he’s one of the show’s great antagonist arcs and plus the dude has a retractable dagger up his sleeve, it doesn’t get any cooler than that.

1. Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1/Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn/Planet Terror

Parks is so good as McGraw that the character is pretty much an archetype by now, appearing multiple times across the Tarantino/Rodriguez multiverse to battle zombies, investigate the El Paso wedding chapel massacre and lament that retards are allowed to operate BBQ stands. The laconic nature, laidback yet keen attitude and no nonsense demeanour of this guy makes him stand out in whichever scene he chooses to amble in and grace his true blue presence with.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more content!

-Nate Hill

Revisiting Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs on the big screen

I got the chance to see The Silence Of The Lambs on the big screen last night and was very curious to see if it held up as I had only seen it once before, when I was like fifteen and on VHS no less. Well. This has to be one of the most airtight, hair raising, gorgeously produced psychological horror shows ever made and it really, *really* pops in a darkened theatre. I remembered bits and pieces, some of the iconic interplay between Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling as well as all the freaky pervo stuff with Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill and had retained the general atmosphere. I *knew* I loved this film already but getting to see it in that environment of the theatre with focused, uninterrupted absorption really reminded me not only of what a masterpiece this is but also why it’s important to see films theatrically to begin with.

From the moment we see Clarice running through those misty Quantico woods to that final extended shot of Lecter strolling down that street in the Bahamas this is fluid, brilliantly edited, first rate storytelling and the one aspect that stands out most to me is the way the characters relate to each other psychologically. Scott Glenn’s Jack Crawford handpicks Clarice in this assignment for a reason. Hannibal takes an immediate and intimate interest in her for a reason. Clarice toughs out the terrifying aspects of this case and taps into her own vulnerability for a *reason.* We the audience are never told exactly what these reasons are but they’re clearly spelled out in each mannerism, each glance, each performance, there for us to find and digest each in our own way. There’s a reason this film crushed the Oscars, the acting awards in particular. Hopkins lingers over every scene like a cobra, his voice that of an icy river and the horribly calibrated intellect behind it scarier still. Foster shows the wounded orphan in Clarice, toughened up by years of hardship and her training at the academy, all her innermost qualities brought out by Lecter’s presence in a relationship that’s hard to classify. “The worlds more interesting with you in it” he assures her later in the film and we silently beg to know what’s going on in his head. Levine is every bit as scary as we remember, finding the human notes in this egregious monster and making him one of the most iconic serial killers in cinema. Glenn is buttoned down and unassuming as Crawford but we slowly see from his acting that it’s a ruse and he’s as sharp as any of them under that well kept veneer. The rest of the cast are carefully picked and include the likes of Kasi Lemmons, Charles Napier, Tracey Walter, Daniel Von Bargen, Anthony Heald, Frankie Faison, Brooke Smith, Diane Baker, Roger Corman, George A. Romero and Chris Isaak all doing great work.

One sequence in particular demonstrates how well this film holds up and why it should be seen on a big screen, and it’s where Lecter escapes from federal holding, dodging dozens of agents, SWAT operatives and sheriffs along the way. It’s an extended scene full of law enforcement lingo shouted breathlessly, a sneaky elevator roper dope, bloody special effects, desperate mustering of FBI forces to stop him all set to Howard Shore’s exceptionally creepy and exciting score. All that plus Jonathan Demme’s tight, succinct direction make a sequence that just hums along and showcases the film’s firm grip on horror, suspense, police procedural, editing, music and overall storytelling. They don’t get much better than this.

-Nate Hill

Joe Dante’s The Burbs

Ever wonder what your neighbours are up to? Probably nothing, but there’s always that off chance that they are in fact spooky serial killers or occult weirdos. Or not. Joe Dante’s The Burbs plays with this notion of paranoia about those next door and gives us a hysterical social commentary on the white picket fence life while it’s at it for something decidedly different. Stressed out yuppie Tom Hanks is certain that the oddball German doctor family down his block are up to no good, and he whips up the rest of the folks who live around him into a fervent panic with his anxieties. It doesn’t help that the people he’s suspicious of are played by the oddball likes of Henry Gibson, Courtney Gains and Brother Theodore, but he still seems like a delusional schmuck and we’re never really sure exactly what *is* going on until the demented, ballsy ending which makes laugh like hell each time. His wife (Carrie Fisher!) thinks he’s lost it, we think he’s lost it and he desperately scrambles to prove otherwise by gathering any evidence against these dudes with the help of local kid Corey Feldman and persnickety Nam vet Bruce Dern who absolutely steals the show with priceless lines like “Smells like they’re cookin’ a goddamn cat over there!!” This one is a total scream, retaining Dante’s ooey gooey horror roots while almost reminding one of Spielberg/Zemeckis style fright flicks that take place in suburbia. The only thing separating people from one another in a neighbourhood like this are four walls and a roof, and within them anything could be happening right under one’s nose and several metres away, yet unseen. This is Hanks’ worst fear here and Dante plays it’s for absolute hilarity, mirthful menace and glorious black comedy. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Kevin Smith’s Tusk

I cant imagine studios giving the green light to anything as fucking deranged as Tusk, so thank god we have Kevin Smith to take the backroad channels through the system in getting it to us. This is one disturbing, bizarre, unclassifiable and defiantly loopy piece of Midnite-Movie horror madness that has to be seen and heard to be believed. It’s also pretty damn entertaining and well done considering, you know, it’s about a serial killer who anatomically transforms his victims into walruses.

Now Smith aside there is one key element that makes the film work, and without it I’m sure this would have been a resounding failure or nowhere as close to the inspired piece of abstract theatre it turned out to be. That element is the late Michael Parks, a brilliant but blacklisted character actor who saw glorious resurrection in both Smith and Quentin Tarantino’s work, bless their nostalgic hearts. He’s a masterful actor that never got his proper due but Smith lets him have a twilight encore here as Howard Howe, a lonely old freak-show who once spent days at sea marooned with only a walrus for company and just can’t let the companionship go. Why he doesn’t go rip off the local zoo and nab the real thing is his business but for whatever reason he sees fit to drug, imprison and mutilate victims to suit his needs. His latest is a brash, asshole podcaster from LA who travels up to Howe’s Canadian neck of the woods to interview him and finds his endeavour getting a bit more hands on than he planned. His fellow podcaster (Haley Joel Osment who first saw dead people and then the McDonald’s drive thru, it seems) and girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) attempt rescue by joining forces with French Canadian Detective Guy Lapointe, played by Johnny Depp in a performance so indescribably, hilariously off key that I could employ every adjective under the sun to impart it and still not quite capture the essence.

“The things your generation can get away with” observes Howe when told about the wonders of the internet and podcasting. He’s more right then he knows because in Parks’ heyday this film would either be buried deep in Grindhouse theatre town or not even made at all. Smith doesn’t half ass this or turn it into a lame SyFy original style monster flick, but takes these characters seriously even when they’re ludicrous and the result is something that defies explanation and shuns derision. Parks gives what might be the performance of his career, finding so many different notes in Howe’s soul that one might write a dissertation on this guy. He’s simultaneously ghoulish, endearing, captivating, terrifying and so over the top he circles back and reaches the realm of subtlety again. Depp is amazing, his Québécois accent a thing of misguided beauty (America’s vision of Canada is always consistently adorable) in several droning monologues that could be performance art. He has a flashback scene with Parks in which the guy uses a retarded vernacular to avoid detection and the whole thing is so maniacally staged it feels like a dream or something. For better or worse I’m glad this thing got made, Smith dives headlong into waters he knows are outlandish but cares not for mockery or ridicule (which he unfortunately gets aplenty) and I admire him for that. I loved this crazy flick, it’s as funny as it is scary and the power that everyone involved finds in a story so bizarre as this is something else.

-Nate Hill

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

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