Sunday, March 2, 2014

And the Winners is... MMM Awards 2013 Winners

Welcome, Whores of Salem, to the First Annual Montana Mancave Massacre Excellence in Horror Awards!



I know all 22 of my readers have been waiting, huddled 'round their monitors for the suspense to be over. Fear not Cavecrawlers! The winners of the first annual MMMies are assembled below and just a'waitin' to receive their prizes. What prizes, you may ask? Each winner will receive, upon written request, a framed printout (from my very own shitty Kodak printer) of the MMMie statuette pictured above. But wait, that's not all. Additionally, each winner will also receive a no-expenses-paid trip to Helena, MT, where they can spend a magical evening watching a hand-picked selection of horror films with yours truly, in the legendary Mancave. That's right, imagine, if you will, the glamour of sitting on my paint-stained hand-me-down sofa and swilling micros from the Blackfoot River Brewery straight from the growler while screening Dawn of the Mummy on my 24-inch VHS/DVD combo TV. I can feel your genitals tingling just thinking about it. So without further to-do... The Winners!

 

The Best Actress Winner is...

 

 

Meg Foster for The Lords of Salem


Go ahead, call it a comeback. I was just too jazzed about Meg Foster's triumphant return to the silver screen that I couldn't help but give her the prize. She owns Lords of Salem. While on set, she had a daily habit of putting Rob Zombie into a headlock and demanding, "Who owns Lords of Salem?" When Rob would concede with a whimpered, "You do," she would only squeeze harder and say, "I do what?" Not until he answered with the appropriate, "You own Lords of Salem Ms. Foster," could that day's shooting begin. But don't feel sorry for the distinguished Mr. Zombie. He loved every minute of it.

The Best Novelization Winner is...

 

 

The Lords of Salem by Rob Zombie and B.K. Evenson

Another reason not to feel sorry for the distinguished Mr. Zombie. He's been awarded an MMMie in a category that wasn't even announced. There was literally no competition in this category, because while there were some novels adapted for the screen this year, I'm pretty sure this was the only honest-to-gods novelization of a horror movie in 2013. It's a pretty fun read too. It was written by Brian Evenson based on Rob Zombie's original screenplay, meaning that it is Zombie's vision for the film before budget constraints and other realities of filmmaking came into play. There are a few scenes I really wish would have made it into the film.  For instance, when they first play the Lords record over the air, their phones start ringing off the hook with women begging for them to play it again, and men who violently hate the song. After each time they play it, a woman in Salem murders her husband or boyfriend in grisly, ritualistic fashion. But for every scene I wished had made it were about 3 things I'm glad he changed in the film. So, if you're obsessed with Lords of Salem like I am, pick this one up for sure.


The Best Actor Winner is...

 

 

Toby Jones for Berberian Sound Studio

 

When I first conceived these awards, I was convinced that Best Actor was going to A.J. Bowen for You're Next! Bowen is awesome in everything, and the subtle choices he makes in it add up to perfect, especially on the second viewing. But the more I thought about it, I became convinced that no other horror movie this year was as completely dependent on its lead's performance than Berberian Sound Studio. And honestly, I was a little disappointed with the film. But I was absolutely impressed with Mr. Jones, who finally gets to be the star of a movie after a career's worth of fantastic character acting.


The Year's Most Pleasant Surprise was...

 

 

Would You Rather?

 

I wasn't expecting much from this one. I love Jeffrey Combs, but his presence doesn't guarantee a movie won't suck. Other than him, the big names were Sasha Grey, who you might know from porn, and Britanny Snow, who starred in the infuriatingly bad Prom Night remake. Well, Ms. Snow completely redeems herself here, turning in a convincing and powerful performance. While there's darker places a movie with this premise could have gone, there was some pretty shocking violence and a banquet full of tension. This one came out under the IFC Midnight imprint, which should have been a tip-off that


The Best Screenplay Winner is...

 


Don Coscarelli for John Dies at the End


There was some stiff competition in this category, but Coscarelli gets the MMMie simply for writing the coolest dialogue since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. While Simon Barrett and the Brothers Hayes get major points for their mastery of structure, John Dies at the End is a labyrinth of weird. Around every corner is a scene even stranger, funnier, and more imaginative than the last. And yes, David Wong gets major credit for penning the source material, but Coscarelli took that divine madness and turned it into a funhouse of a movie every bit as addictive as Soy Sauce.

 

The Year's Biggest Disappointment was...

 

Pretty much my expression during the whole movie.

 

The Last Exorcism Part II

 

Now I love a good slow-burn horror movie, but this one was more of a no-burn. And I'll admit I didn't make it to the end. The Last Exorcism Part 2 bears the distinction of being the only film that's ever made me walk out of the theater. So, I guess there's a chance it got really good in the last 15 minutes, but I can't imagine sitting through the first dismal 75 again just to get there.

The Best Director Winner is...

 


James Wan for The Conjuring



I'm just uber-impressed with how far James Wan has come as a filmmaker, and since this may be the last opportunity I'll have to give him an MMMie, I took it. Who knows, he might delve back into horror again someday, but I expect it will be a good long while. Cheers, Mr. Wan, I'm looking forward to subjecting you to Shriek of the Mutilated when you finally make it 'round to the old mancave to collect on your prize.

Special Achievement in Gore Award goes to...

 

 

 
If a picture's worth a thousand words, an animated gif is worth, like... more.

Evil Dead

 

While it didn't make the cut for my top 5 best horror films, I really enjoyed Fede Alvarez's gruesome remake of Evil Dead. I suppose the film was just too light on character to push it to the top of my list, but the special effects kicked every other film's proverbial ass. This one's really fun, and I'm glad most of the initial naysayers came around.


But now, it's the moment a couple of you might have been waiting for...

And Winner of the First Annual MMM Excellence in Horror Award for Best Picture is...

 



You're Next!



I've been firmly aboard the Adam Wingard bandwagon since I saw A Horrible Way to Die, and many of the same things I love about that film are the very reasons I'm so enamored of this one. The characters and dialogue are very natural, very believable. While I don't always like them, I always relate at some level, or at least recognize them in people I know (okay, except for the psychos). I think the newly-dubbed mumblegore subgenre does everything that found footage movies are trying and mostly failing to do: adding that level of realism that makes the film all the more frightening. At times, particularly during the dinner scene, if feels like it could be a documentary of a real family, and it does it without having to explain why one of the characters never puts the camera down. Khalfoun's Maniac also achieves this, and is certainly more disturbing than You're Next! In fact, it was originally going to win the Best Picture MMMie, but after rewatching them both, You're Next! had the edge. Maniac is a great horror film that's easier to appreciate than to love, but You're Next! is a perfumed love letter sealed with a big, wet smootch to horror nerds everywhere.


Bonus List: Top 5 Kills of 2013 
As the credits roll on the first annual MMMies, here's a list I wrote that originally appeared on the If We Made It Podcast. It's way better when you hear those guys read it aloud, but in case you prefer the written word, here 'tis:

Marvin the Macabre’s Top Five Movie Kills of 2013:


#5 – The Blender Kill from You’re Next

So, You’re Next is going balls-out, blowing everyone’s tiny minds with homicide after brutal homicide, and the next thing you know, it turns full-on ridiculous when Australia's sweetheart Sharni Vinson jams a broken blender into a dude’s skull and plugs it in. Now, I know the homeowner is a former defense contractor and can probably afford a top of the line blender, but the human skull is somewhat thick. I’m calling bullshit.

So why does it make my top kills list?  Because it’s the set-up to the year’s second greatest line of dialogue:

A.J. Bowen: “Where’s Felix?”

Sharni Vinson: “I stuck a blender in his head and killed him.”

It doesn’t look like much on paper, but it’s all in the delivery. (The year’s best line, by the way, is “That door cannot be opened!” Again, it doesn’t really work out of context.)

#4 – X is for XXL from The ABCs of Death

The ABCs of Death is a wildly uneven compilation of shorts that range from dumb to boring to hilarious to truly disturbing. The cumulative effect of 26 batshit horror stories delivered rapid-fire was to make me honest-to-god sick to my stomach. A lot of that had to do with Xavier Gens’s third-to-last segment, X is for XXL. In it, an obese girl who gets picked on for her weight takes matters into her own hands by carving herself into her ideal shape. It takes some effort not to gag during this one.

#3 – Opening Kill from The Thompsons

So there’s this couple about to get it on in the woods, then they stop because they see someone watching them. Then they start hearing these weird sing-songy chants coming from different directions. They decide to get the fuck out of there, but too late--they're already being chased by two masked men. The masks turn out to be severed human faces. When the murderers catch up to the couple, they force them to continue the show, making them strip down and have sex in front of them. Then, mid-coitus, one of the psychos starts stabbing the dude in the face. Blood pours out onto the screaming girl as her boyfriend’s face is removed. It’s times like these I really have trouble justifying my taste in movies.

#2 – RedLucie86 from Maniac



It was difficult choosing just one kill from the incredibly violent, incredibly awesome Maniac. But RedLucie’s death really packs a punch because as an audience, we experience the whole thing, from the intial online chat to the date, followed by the seduction and finally the murder, through the eyes of her killer. I don’t know about you, but I was charmed by her during the date, and I was seduced by her afterward. And there’s no surprise that she’s going to die—we knew that from the beginning. There’s just this growing dread as the date goes on, and the more we start to like Lucie, the greater the dread becomes.

The murder itself is a simple strangling, but the pain on Lucie’s face is almost unbearable. And to top the whole thing off, we are treated to a graphic scalping that I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to get through without looking away. That’s right, for a hardcore horror geek, I’m kinda squeamish.

#1 – Jane Levy Chainsaws her Deadite Doppelganger in Evil Dead

For pure, unadulterated, gleefully-rendered gore, 2013 saw no film that came close to Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead. This one turned the violence and viscera up to 11 within the first half hour, so how do you top that? With a climax that literally rains blood and features the most over-the-top kill in recent memory. Our heroine faces off with the deadite version of herself, and chainsaws her in half from the guts straight through to the top of her head. The cherry on top comes when we see the vanquished deadite on the ground, splayed out in two halves with her eyes still twitching. Just magnificent.

Honorable Mention: Marconi Meets the Meat Monster from John Dies at the End

I couldn’t let this list go without paying respect to the badassness that is Clancy Brown as Marconi. He manages to make a demonic manifestation explode with a phone call, proving that Clancy Brown is God’s favorite human and reminding us that he will always be cooler than us, even when he’s just phoning it in.





Friday, February 28, 2014

MMM Awards 2013 - Best Director/Best Picture Nominees

You know how the winner of the Best Director Oscar almost always goes to the director of the movie that ends up winning Best Picture? This is unsurprising, given that the director is the person most directly responsible for the (artistic) success of a film. While I tried to be all contrarian and nominate Rob Zombie for best director, but not Lords of Salem for Best Picture, ultimately I decided to make the nominations the same. The awards, however, will remain separate categories. So without further ado... Noms, Beeotches!

 

Don Coscarelli / John Dies at the End


Among the horror luminaries of the late seventies, who is currently making the best films of their career? If you answered Dario Argento, that’s funny, smartass. If you answered, “None of them,” then you obviously haven’t been keeping up with Don Coscarelli. While Coscarelli is more known for delivering truly strange cinematic experiences than gonad-shrinking horror films, I think we can all agree he plays to his strengths and that it serves him well. More comedy than horror, John Dies at the End is probably the single-most rewatchable film of the year. Coscarelli keeps the pace fast and the one-liners in steady supply. Tonally, the film has more in common with the comedy classics of the eighties (I’m thinking Ghostbusters, Better Off Dead, Weird Science, etc.) than the current Apatovian generation of comedy. It’s not afraid to dip into the absurd, veering into the unexpected at every turn. I also love how Coscarelli has concentrated on creating unique visuals, making this movie his most iconic since the original Phantasm. Hopefully “This Movie is Full of Spiders” is in the works.


 

Neil Jordan / Byzantium


I didn’t see this one in time to nominate either of the two leads in the best actress category, however, please consider both Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan retroactively nominated (swelling the nominees to a heaping 12). Every frame of Byzantium is visually stunning, the performances are impeccable, and the storytelling the work of a veteran filmmaker still in his prime. Like most modern vampire films, Byzantium isn't out to scare anyone. It's a character study that examines human mortality through the lens of mythical immortal beings. As for its vampire lore, it bucks convention in several ways, most noticeably the absence of fangs. These vamps have a retractable thumb claw they use to pierce jugulars. While it seems like a small detail, the effect it has is to make the killings look like murders rather than sexual encounters. And these vampires, while impervious to sunlight, aren't super-powered creatures. They are as vulnerable as the humans they hunt and must rely on wits and surprise to earn their meals. Not only is Byzantium one of the best horror films of the year, it's one of the best vampire films period.

Vampire Gemma turns some dude into a drinking fountain.


Franck Khalfoun / Maniac


Maniac is easily the most horrifying film of 2013. From the shocking opening murder and scalping to the quickly-deteriorating would-be romance that goes terribly awry, this movie feels real, and reality feels gross. What this remake gets right is that Frank Zito can’t go straight from the most out-of-control homicidal freak in the western hemisphere to a super-suave ladies man from one scene to the next, which was the downfall of the original (also, imagining a beautiful, successful photographer would have any interest in a dude looking like Joe Spinell is too much disbelief to suspend). This version of Frank makes much more sense because he’s attractive in Elijah Wood’s non-threatening, boyish way, he’s mostly capable of blending into society, and he shares a very specific niche passion with his love interest, lending the attraction some credibility. Khalfoun’s decision to shoot the movie almost entirely from Frank’s point of view was a risk that ultimately paid off in spades. There’s a side of Frank that clearly doesn’t want to be doing what he does, but he’s powerless to stop. Shooting POV-style with the audience as the killer puts us in exactly this position. We don’t want him to kill all those women, but we’re forced to bear witness. Oh hell, who am I kidding, we’re horror fans, obviously we want him to kill those women, and we even manage to enjoy it, excruciating a viewing experience as it is.



 

James Wan / The Conjuring

Sorry James, my parents told me how babies are made when I was eight.

The Conjuring is the only film on this list that I actually reviewed, so I don’t feel the need to write about it at length (Here’s the review, if you’re interested). I’d just like to note that, for me, half the fun of the movie was seeing how themes and elements from James Wan’s previous films came together so effectively. Prior to The Conjuring, I knew James Wan as a director who made good-but-not-great horror films. I always find plenty to like in his movies, but I’ve never felt like he was getting everything right. However, The Conjuring is the work of a man who has finally mastered his craft. And while we’re losing the man to big-budget action films, I get the sense that he’s not leaving horror with contempt for the genre, but rather a fond, "My work here is complete."


 

Adam Wingard / You’re Next!


 
Did you know that up until You’re Next!, every wide-release horror film to come out in 2013 was the number one release for its respective weekend (with the exception of World War Z, which was #2, but it made more money than most of the #1’s). It seemed like Adam Wingard’s year to hit the big time, and the box office forecasts agreed, predicting it too would open at number one. It was one of my most anticipated movies for two years running; I was desperate to see it and I figured everyone else would be too. And then it debuted at number a miserable #6. This was all the more surprising because it was so freaking good! I figured word of mouth would get out and make it a sleeper hit, but ticket sales dried up quickly and it soon disappeared from theaters. Despite this disappointment, the movie is still a hit, considering it grossed, like, 18 times its budget. But still, I thought it would be this generation’s Scream.



Box office aside, the movie is fast, fun, and rewatchable as hell. It’s not so much a game-changer as it is a sign that the filmmakers doing horror today take their craft seriously and are elevating the genre by injecting it with actual characterization and attention to storytelling. I love Jason Voorhees as much as the next guy, but honestly, even at the time those slashers were seen as throwaway cinematic junk food. And while You’re Next! is a piece of entertainment that doesn’t pretend to have loftier goals, it is a cleverly-conceived, expertly-executed gem of the genre, and a horror fan’s wet, bloody dream.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

MMM Awards 2013 - Best Screenplay Nominations

Simon Barrett - You're Next!



Here's a trick for you. How do you write a slasher/home invasion flick that's both effectively horrifying and truly funny without descending into self-parody? And how do you write a movie that's funny, yet contains no real jokes? Also, how do you write this movie in such a way that if the horror elements were removed, it would still be an engaging family drama? Ask Simon Barrett.  Not only are the characters and dialogue genuine, but the tightly crafted plot unwinds expertly, with each reveal perfectly timed. While I was watching it, the first big reveal seemed to come too soon in the movie. I felt like, I'm not supposed to know that yet, but Barrett knows what he's doing. This information sets up some truly Hitchcockian tension later on. This guy knows his horror, and plays with audience expectations like a true veteran. Here's to a long, productive career, Mr. Barrett.
Best line: "I stuck a blender in his head and killed him."

Moira Buffini - Byzantium

 

Adapting her own stage play: A Vampire Story, Moira Buffini penned some of the most eloquent dialogue even spoken in a genre film. The story itself is relatively simple, yet the way Buffini structures it endows the film with enough mystery to keep it compelling while keeping the central focus on her characters. The device of having Eleanor tell bits of her story to various people keeps the narrative non-linear and allows Buffini to time her reveals with surgical precision. Eleanor and Clara are two very different women with wildly different experiences in their formative years, yet who have been together for two centuries. The fun of Byzatium is that we see these women at a specific point in their lives, get to know their wildly different personalities, and bit by bit, get pieces of insight about what made them the people (okay, vampires) they’ve become. A compelling story, beautifully told.

Don Coscarelli - John Dies at the End


I'm not sure how much of it is Don Coscarelli and how much is David Wong, but I will be quoting dialogue from John Dies at the End on my deathbed. From what I understand, adapting a book as insane and expansive as this took some doing. People who've read it complain that Coscarelli used only about a third of the book, picking and choosing scenes he wanted to include and leaving out major events. To me, this only proves his skill as a screenwriter. Instead of trying to jam everything in, he created something distinctly different, yet in the same spirit as the novel. It's also encouraging to see that someone who's been in the horror game as long as Coscarelli is only getting better while his contemporaries fade from the spotlight.
Best dialogue (aside from "That door cannot be opened."):
David: "Are you familiar with the old human saying, 'I want to shoot you so bad my dick's hard'?"
Roger North: "I don't believe I do."
David: "Well maybe you'll hear it again in the next 24 hours if you don't fuck with me."

 

Chad and Carey Hayes - The Conjuring


The Conjuring is one slick, tightly-crafted thrill ride of a movie. Make no mistake, this is mainstream Hollywood stuff, but it's not the cynical, just-out-to-make-a-buck piece of Michael Bay-produced shit. This is quality horror, lovingly created by people who actually give a shit about making an awesome movie. And while director James Wan gets the lion's share of the credit for the film's mood and pacing, he was building on a rock solid foundation laid down by the Brothers Hayes. They deserve major props just for the decision to not only open with a pee-your-pants-scary possessed doll sequence, but to spring that little bitch on us again in the third act.

 

Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, and Amy Jump - Sightseers

 

Written and conceived by the films two stars, Sightseers is the anti-Natural Born Killers. It portrays perhaps the most low-key killing spree ever committed to film. Tina is a reserved, homebody barely able to stand up to her overbearing mother, while her new boyfried Chris is an avid sightseer with interests as fascinating as tram museums and injection-molded plastics. He also happens to be completely unhinged when it comes to things like littering. Lowe and Oram perfectly capture the mundane details of life as an ordinary, boring couple on holiday, yet infuse the film with violence and gore that leaves you mildly shocked despite your laughter. While it is a comedy with a fairly absurb premise, the characters are fully realized, and half the fun is watching Tina bloom from a mousy little victim into someone in charge of her own destiny. Not to spoil anything, but the last moments of the film are completely unexpected, yet make perfect sense in terms of the characters and their motivations. Sightseers barely qualifies as horror, because it doesn’t even try to scare you, but it should satisfy horror fans who prefer to take their comedy black.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

MMM Awards 2013 - Best Actor Nominees

While I had trouble cutting down the best actress list to 10, pickings were slimmer in the Best Actor category. Say what you will about the misogyny of horror films, but women clearly get the best roles. However, the dudes performed admirably as well. Here are the nominated dudes:

 

A.J. Bowen - You're Next!

 


Maybe there's no such thing as a "Scream King," but A.J. Bowen is getting close with his contributions to The Signal, Hatchet II, House of the Devil, Rites of Spring, A Horrible Way to Die, Chillerama, and Ti West's upcoming The Sacrament. But in You're Next! he really gets to shine. His performance rewards repeat viewings because you pick up on subtle choices he makes that pay off later. His interactions with his onscreen family have a familiarity and realism that make the movie work. And yeah, he's really playing a supporting role to Sharni Vinson, but he plays it perfectly.

Jeffrey Combs - Would You Rather?



Did I say there's no such thing as a "Scream King"? Jeffrey Combs's contribution to the horror genre hearkens back to the days of Karloff and Price. And like those luminaries, he's been in his fair share of schlock. But he's also been brilliant. And lest you think this nomination is a sort of lifetime achieve award, this may be Mr. Combs's most menacing role ever. He's the ultrarich monster we've all come to fear, hosting a dinner party where only one guest can emerge alive from his twisted parlour games. As scary as this character is, the element that pushes the performance into MMM Award territory is how charming he manages to be, despite it all. While Brittany Snow plays the leading lady admirably, it is J-Combs (his hip hop name) who we miss every second he's off-screen. This is Jeffrey's movie. Everyone else is just visiting.

Toby Jones - Berberian Sound Studio



I avoided this movie for a long time, thinking it was called Bieberian Sound Studio, which would be too horrifying even for me. Obviously I made that up. I had heard wonderful thing about this movie and couldn't help but come away a touch disappointed. The first 3 quarters of this movie are amazing, until you realize all that build-up never pays off. The one thing about this film that doesn't disappoint is the lead performance by Toby Jones. I see this actor all over the place, but he hardly seemed leading man material. Not only does he carry this movie, he shows that as an actor, he can throw down with the very best of them. His character is a quiet, gentle soul who is thrown into a snakepit of shady Italian horror filmmakers and backbiting actresses. He does sound design, but mostly for nature documentaries. It's doubtful he's ever watched a horror movie. Half the fun of Berberian is watching him squirm when he has to foley murders and torture. The audience never sees the horrors onscreen, but it's all written in his face.

 

Rob Mayes - John Dies at the End

and

Chase Williamson - John Dies at the End



I had never seen either of these actors before, but both could be huge stars if the right casting directors are watching Coscarelli movies. Rob Mayes as the titular John brings a cool-yet-slightly-hyperactive presence to the film, with his up-for-anything attitude and his roguish charm. In fact, if Disney decides to make a movie about Han Solo's early days, this has got to be the guy. He also has the distinction of speaking the single best one-liner of 2013: "That door cannot be opened!" It doesn't look like much out of context, but trust me, it get a huge laugh every time. Chase Williamson is the yin to Mayes's yang. Or vice versa. But anyway, he's the more serious half of the duo, rarely smiling, constantly exasperated, and somehow equally appealing. As the narrator, he gets more than his fair share of mind-blowingly amazing dialogue. He also gets much more screen time. It's his flat, deadpan delivery that sets the tone for this ridiculous, ridiculously entertaining movie. I think it's fair to say, it would not have been the same film if either of these actors was not in it.

That's it for the dude noms. Now tell me, friends. Who did I totally miss in this category?

Back soon with the nominations for best screenplay.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The First Annual MMM Excellence in Horror Awards - Best Actress Category

Hey all,

Shit's a'brewing at the old mancave. This month will bring the resurrection of Films My Spouse Made Me Watch, the film blog I write with my wife. I'll also continue contributing to From Midnight With Love starring The Mike, and I contributed a list of 5 Best Kills of 2013 to the 2013 Liststravanganzatacular Episode of the If We Made It Podcast.

But most importantly, I'm returning to my abandoned post here at the mancave. 2013 was a draining, tumultuous year, and I rarely poked out my head here on the old blog. Here's to hoping 2014 be a better and more productive year.

In that spirit, I'd like to announce a celebration of the juicy year in horror that I almost entirely neglected to cover. I know most peope made their best of 2013 list back in November, but out here in BFE we must wait until the DVD release to see late-year films. And of course there are plenty I haven't seen yet, but fuck 'em. If they're so damned good, why didn't they make more of an effort to attract my attention? (Okay, I regret not having seen Here Comes the Devil, Stoker, and Byzantium.)

I'm gonna be rollng out the nominees here every couple of days, and since February is known across this great internet as Women in Horror Month, I will kick things off with a celebration of the asswhippin' performances the ladies gave to the world of horror in 2013. You know how the Oscars bumped the nominees for best picture up to 10? Well, I'm doing it with the Best Actress category instead. Best picture? As good a year as it was, I've only got 5. Actresses? My list overfloweth.

So here they are in alphabetical order:

1. Nora Arnezeder in Maniac

Maniac is a great horror film. Let's just get out of the way right now. There's no room for argument or nitpicking. It's just great. Accept that as fact and we'll get along just fine. Elijah Wood is damned good in it, but believe it or not, his casting was not nearly as important as the role of Anna. Anna is what gives the film its heart, and if the audience couldn't fall in love with this character, the film just plain wouldn't work. Fortunately, the filmmakers cast Nora Arnezeder, an actress it's impossible not to fall in love with. From her initial charm and excitement over Frank's mannequins to her grief over her agent's death to her absolute fear when she realizes she's in danger, Nora has to play the full range of emotions and does so effortlessly. She's what gives Maniac real emotional stakes which makes it so gut-wrenching to watch.

2. Jessica Chastain in Mama

So, Mama isn't a great horror film. It was a lot of fun, and I was endlessly amused at the pre-teen girls in front of me screaming like they'd never seen a horror movie before. I think one of them was actually crying in fear. And honestly, there were a couple of very scary sequences in there, but it wasn't enough to outweigh the film's many problems. The acting, however, is not among these problems. Jessica Chastain gives a restrained, nuanced performance as the punk rocker chick turned reluctant caretaker of her husband's troubled nieces. Honestly, she's just a great actress who will elevate any material you give her.

3. Meg Foster in The Lords of Salem

I was ridiculously excited when I heard this bit of casting news. Meg Foster had long since retired from movies, and I missed those haunting, ice blue eyes. Yeah, she's a huge 80s crush for me. But then I saw Lords of Salem and it was jarring. Meg spends a good portion of the film completely naked, and I was in no way turned on. In fact, as an immensely powerful witch, she uses her nudity as a weapon. Her emaciated frame repulses, while the confidence with which she carries herself while completely uncovered exudes menace. And holy shit can she sell the menace. The greatest thing about her performance in Lords of Salem is that she isn't holding back at all. Whereas some actresses would consider horror unworthy or lowbrow, you can see that she really respects the material, the director, and the audience. And you can tell she's having a hell of a time with each blasphemous line of Rob Zombie dialogue that she utters.

4. Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace, and Patricia Quinn in The Lords of Salem


While Lords of Salem might have 99 problems, a witch ain't one. In my original iteration of the Best Actress category, I had but 5 spots, and I gave them all to the women of Lords of Salem. However, I knew there were just too many great performances in 2013 to ignore the other ladies. So many other ladies, in fact, that I had to cheat and put these 3 actresses into the same nomination. It makes sense though, since they function as a unit and are rarely seen apart. Judy Geeson gets the juiciest role as the leader of the sisters. She comes off as this supremely confident, capable, older-but-still-lovely free spirit who is cooler at her age than you ever were. Then she's suddenly 100% pure grade A terrifying during her scene with Bruce Davidson when her demeanor turns on a dime. "Did I say something funny?" Patricia Quinn plays a great eccentric who, from the very beginning, seems dangerous and predatory. Then there's the perennial favorite Dee Wallace, who is hilarious as the bubbly Sonny, who practically skips around crooning about chocolate chip scones before she gets down to her true vocation of homicide. The scene where Whitey encounters the 3 sisters on the stairs is the dictionary definition of quietly terrifying.

5. Katherine Isabelle in American Mary


Excellent choice Soskas, excellent choice. Katherine Isabelle long since won the hearts of horror fans everywhere in her role as the lycanthropic Ginger in Ginger Snaps. I kind of thought she dropped off the face of the Earth after that, but a glimpse at her filmography shows that she's been working steadily ever since. But I was glad to see her return to horror, especially in a movie as hotly anticipated as American Mary. Just by virtue of being Katherine Isabelle, she's immediately likeable, and the nonjudgmental way she treats her clients makes her something of a saint. Just... don't cross her. She'll use her considerable surgical skills to put you in a great deal of pain. Both sides of her personality are underplayed perfectly. Whereas a lesser actress would ruin this role with histrionics, Isabelle keeps a cool distance between herself and her actions, which is perfectly fitting for the character.

6. Jane Levy in Evil Dead

Apparently Jane Levy was pretty well-known for being in some sort of TV show that I never saw. But I went into Evil Dead not knowing a thing about her. What I saw was an exceptionally cute, sweet girl who, when faced with heroin withdrawal, becomes a raw nerve, then a cursing screaming monster. And that's before the demonic possession. Ms. Levy plays a deadite gleefully, relishing every grotesquery that comes out of her mouth and luxuriating in some of the most disturbing self-mutilation scenes I've seen. She turns the intensity up to 11, just shy of going completely over the top, but never quite tips it in that direction. This girl's got the goods.

7. Lily Taylor in The Conjuring

Is a Lily Taylor performance ever anything short of flawless? (BTW, I no longer believe The Haunting remake actually happened. That was just a fever dream). Well, she does it again here, starting out as a somewhat meek, loving mother who ends up a terrorized victim of supernatural violence, then becomes a murderous, possessed creature. Purportedly a movie about the ghostbusting Warrens, The Conjuring is really Lily Taylor's movie. She's so relatable that you can't help but feel her terror, and then feel the terror of others as she transforms into a would-be child killer who can levitate while tied to a chair. And you get the sense that she's having a really good time doing it.

8. Juno Temple in Magic Magic


I didn't really know Juno Temple before I saw this movie, but you can count me as a fan now. She gives an incredibly realistic performance as a girl abroad who is having a mental breakdown in the worst possible circumstances. Her character, Alicia, just kind of lets things happen to her, never taking control when she needs to. She is meek and mousey most of the time, but as her mental state deteriorates, she gets more desperate and forceful. As an actress, Temple makes all the right choices, and really makes you care about this troubled girl.

9. Sharni Vinson in You're Next!

SPOILER ALERT: My favorite newcomer of the year is a final girl for the ages. Imagine if Nancy Thompson racked up a body count bigger than Freddy and you have You're Next's Erin. She begins the movie as an instantly likable, charming grad student who is visibly excited to be meeting her boyfriends parents. Because of her own weird upbringing, she sees Crispian's as the ideal family, overlooking the many signs at all is not well at home. When the home invasion starts, however, she shows her survivalist side, which is more than a little brutal. She never goes full-on antihero though; we're solidly rooting for her the whole time. I'd love to see a sequel with her character, provided it's nothing like its predecessor.

10. Sherri Moon Zombie in The Lords of Salem

Let's get one thing clear. All this SMZ hate has got to stop. Yes, you're right. She was annoying in House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. But that was the character. Yes, she wasn't great in Halloween II, but it was a weird part and no one could have played it convincingly. But this is the 2nd rock-solid piece of evidence that homegirl can act. She was fantastic in Halloween, and she's even better here. The best thing about this performance is that it seems a lot like her real-life personality, and she's cool as they come. I'd totally hang out with her and so would you, admit it. That's key for a good horror protagonist, you have to get the audience to like you. They have to care, or they won't give a shit that you're being used as a vessel for the antichrist. I think SMZ plays the mental turmoil perfectly, and as someone going through considerable mental turmoil when I watched this, the performance really affected me. She truly made me feel what this character is going through, which is, after all, the point of acting. So forget what you know about Rob Zombie's muse, watch Lords of Salem with fresh eyes, and show the girl some love. 

So them's the noms. I'll be announcing the winners on Oscar night, because why would a horror fan possibly watch the Oscars, right?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

New Gig Y'all

'Sup Cave Crawlers?

Apologies for the neglect. I somehow lost my motivation to update the ol' blog. No worries though, motivation has returned thanks to an invite from the venerable The Mike over at From Midnight With Love. He's embarking on some top secret project and has recruited a couple of writers to pick up the slack. I was lucky enough to make the cut.

So please check out my new post over there. It's mostly me introducing myself to FMWL readers, but there's also a list of my Top 5 Favorite Flawed Horror Films.

And it's got pictures!



And an animated gif!


Won't you check 'er on out please?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Conjuring: One Hell of a Haunted House Movie Mixtape


When I heard that James Wan's next project would be Fast and Furious 7, the horror buff in me deflated a little. "There goes another talented horror director-sucked into the mainstream Hollywood machine." After watching The Conjuring I'm thinking, "Smart move." After you've made your horror masterpiece, where can you go from there?

Oh shit, did I just call The Conjuring a masterpiece? Maybe that's taking it a little far, but even so, I can't imagine a scarier, more intense haunted house movie.
It's not that The Conjuring is at all original. It's bursting at the seams with nods and homages to every great haunting and possession movie before it. In fact, it plays like a mixtape of horror's greatest hits. While that may not sound terribly appealing, for some reason this exercise in consolidation and repackaging works on just about every level.

In horror, pacing is king, and Wan has got this shit down cold. The film begins with a creepy-as-fuck opening featuring a possessed doll that puts Poltergeist's clown to shame, then settles us in with a low-level tension that slowly crescendos for the next 90 minutes, building to a balls-out climax that pounds the audience mercilessly in the face with a malevolent joy unseen since that caveman-looking fucker who kicked your ass in the seventh grade. Alright, I'm overstating things again. But give me a break, I just got out of the theater and I'm still floating on that good movie buzz.
The Conjuring should play very well with your average cinema-goer who enjoys the occasional scary movie, but for the seen-it-all nothing-scares-me horror movie junkies, it may be a harder sell. While I count myself among the horror-addicted, I have an uncanny talent for shutting off my inner critic and enjoying the ride. One common complaint among horror fans is the overuse of jump scares, and if this is among your list of peeves, I'm sorry to inform you that The Conjuring is from beginning to end a jump scare extravaganza.

But here's the thing about jump scares: deep down we all really love them if they are done well. Hack directors will substitute jump scares in lieu of real tension, but Wan doesn't hand us that platter of steaming turds. There's not a leaping, screeching cat to be found here. Again, it all come down to pacing. Wan builds the tension to the breaking point, peppering the film with minor scares so that you can never tell when he's about to hit you with a real zinger. And yeah, there's a heavy reliance on doors creaking open, but now and again one will slam into someone's face, knocking them into a pitch black basement.

The threat of physical violence looms large in The Conjuring, giving the haunting a real sense of danger. But Wan never veers back into Saw territory. The gore is minimal, which gives the few appearances of blood a real punch.

I seem to be giving Wan all the credit here, but was really makes it all work is the quality of the performances. Lily Taylor really shines in this one, coming off as naturally when she's as a sunny sixties housewife as she does when the demonic influences begin breaking her down. Watching the preview, I wasn't too thrilled with the prospect of the movie's leads being an ultra-square husband and wife paranormal research team that dresses like rejects from Awkward Family Portraits. But honestly, it is that very squareness that gives the film a classic feel that has been lacking in most horror since Kevin Williamson put pen to paper and turned every horror film into Dawson's Creek -Now with Murder! Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga keep the film grounded with nuanced performances that let you feel the burden of helping countless people survive demonic infestations. As characters, they're the very picture of Christian charity, putting aside their personal well-being (and kinda neglecting their own daughter, oops!) to help others in need. The five daughters aren't fleshed-out characters, being more or less only identifiable by their ages, but then, do we really want the extra thirty minutes of character-building scenes before we get to the scary shit? I think not.

While it doesn't fit neatly into my review, I just gotta say that I loved the scene where Patrick Wilson shows the reporter around his in-house repository of haunted objects. And while you'd think that real haunted objects might be more mundane, say, a haunted toaster or nail-clippers rather than a suit of samurai armor, I'm still converting my mancave into an exact replica of that room.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Very Own Pet Leatherface - A Review of Texas Chainsaw 3D


I'd feel the need to place a spoiler alert here at the beginning, but how do you spoil a heaping pile of bullshit? I know, I know -- What was I expecting from a 6th sequel in a played out horror franchise? Well, I suppose I was expecting something along the lines of the last 2 films, which were clearly inferior to the original, but suitably tense and creepy reimaginings of Hooper's classic. What I wasn't expecting was a cynical cash-in with a ludicrous script slapped together with a "fuck-it-it's-only-a-horror-flick" attitude.

Conceived as a direct sequel to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, TC3D opens with a highlights reel of kills and other iconic moments from the 1974 original, post-converted into 3D for a strange, but interesting effect. The intro flows fairly seamlessly into the new footage, which does an impressive job of capturing the look and color palette of the original. Storywise, we've got the police investigating the Sawyer farm based on the reports from Sally Hardesty of the family of cannibalistic murderers who killed her brother and friends. While I've been led to believe that they do things BIG in Texas, apparently multiple murders only warrant one investigating officer. Then again, this might be  a commentary about the state of race relations in Texas in the late 70s, seeing as they sent they black guy out solo on a clearly dangerous mission. Or it could have been a convenient plot device to make sure the cop was hopelessly outnumbered by the redneck vigilante mob that shows up and massacres the whole family, which has apparently grown by a dozen members since the original.

Did I say they massacre the whole family? We could only be so lucky. No, rather, one of the mob finds a baby Sawyer and sneaks it to his barren wife to raise as their own. This, of course, forms the basis of all the lameness to come. Oh, and Leatherface (or Jed as he's known in TC3D), manages to survive as well, despite being mentally challenged.

Fast forward damn near 40 years and Baby Sawyer has grown into a buxom 20-year old goth chick. Yeah, the filmmakers apparently didn't pass 2nd grade math. Actually, the director takes pains not to show the year on any of the newspapers, even when highlighting the date. But come on, when you open with footage of the original and everyone is clearly wearing 70s fashions and hairstyles, you can't just pretend its the early 90s so your lead will be the right age in the present. But, you know, Fuck it--it's just a horror flick.

He had to say that or they would have taken away his Executive Producer credit.
Heather is played by he gorgeous-but-acting-challenged Alexandra Daddario. I'd blame her flat and divorced-from-reality performance on the script, but I also saw her in Bereavement and found her lacking there too. The script certainly doesn't help though, as it forces her character to emotionally contort into unnatural postures to fit the ridiculous ending the filmmakers had in mind.

Heather inherits the Carson family mansion from a grandmother she never knew about, but who had been keeping tabs on her for years, because the Carsons are somehow related to the Sawyers. Heather, her boyfriend (Trey Songz), her slutty friend (Alex from Lost), and her boyfriend's friend\friend's sorta love interest Kenny (actually a pretty accomplished actor\musician\tech guru who's totally slumming in this movie) take a road trip down to Texas so she can sign some inheritance papers. The problem with inheriting houses from long lost relatives, though, is that sometimes Leatherface lives in the basement and kills all your friends.

The gore in this movie is copious and well-done, but only interesting from a special effects standpoint. The characters are only remarkable for their Hollywood good looks and their douchiness, so there's no emotional impact to watching them die. Although, this may be exactly what the filmmakers were going for. After all, when you ultimately want Leatherface to end up the hero, you don't want him to kill off anyone the audience may genuinely like. Plus, if we got all attached to them, we might think it kind of suspect when Heather suddenly reverses her opinion of good ole Jed after reading about the massacre of the Sawyers, who were, after all, just innocently making furniture from the bones of people they'd murdered and eaten when the vigilantes unjustly set them ablaze.

Been Caught Cheatin' - TC3D is a study in douchey characters who deserve to die

Anyway, Heather makes the mistake of letting the town's powers that be know that she knows what they did in the summer of '74, so they've got to get rid of her. Then she's on the run from both Leatherface and the cops. The cops catch her and tie her up, then leave to freshen up their hair or something and give Leatherface the chance to finish her off. Cousin Jed has the chainsaw to her throat when he discovers she's got a lazy plot device on her chest, marking her as a Sawyer. And you know how much blood means to this family, so suddenly she's safe from Leatherface, who frees her. But LeatherJed isn't safe. The cops attack and are getting ready to toss Old Leather into an industrial meat grinder when heather goes all Sawyer on their ass.

The film ends with Heather reading a letter from her grandmother explaining that she will have to take care of Cousin Jed, but that he'll be there to protect her. So now he's got her very own pet Leatherface. This was actually my favorite part of the film, not only because it's so ridiculous that it finally took TC3D over the top into absurdity, but because admit it, how cool would it be to have your own Leatherface?

I gave this movie several chances to change my mind, continually hoping that the filmmakers were just using the laziest slasher cliches in the biz to set up false expectations that they would then demolish in high style. At every turn, I was proved wrong. The filmmakers just didn't care enough to try to do something different with the film besides the standard small-group-of-young-people-go-to-a-remote-location-and-get-killed storyline. I got pretty excited at one point when Heather actually managed to escape the Carson estate and run into the middle of the town fair. I just knew I was in for an insane bloodbath unlike anything in the TCM series. There were teenagers left and right, crowded into small lanes between carnival rides and packed too tight for easy escape. And Leatherface is in the middle of it all with his huge chainsaw roaring like the Grim Reaper's Harley-Davidson, and you know how many teenagers her mows through? Zero. Fucking no kills at all in that scene. He just chases Heather the whole time and fucking fails utterly.

Somebody let me out of this fucking movie!

I was prepared for the movie not to be scary, but I at least though there would be limbs flying this way and that, splattering buckets of blood in gloriously cheesy 3D. Aside from 2 scenes where Leatherface is cutting through shit, there is absolutely no reason for this film to have been shot in 3D (Okay, 2 bucks extra per ticket is a fair reason, I suppose). Really, the only entertainment I got from TC3D was in thinking about how I was going to trash it in my review, and there's so many things wrong with the movie that it was actually a fun exercise. I recommend you either avoid this film, or hate-watch it with a big group of drunken friends. So, who's going to be my drunken friend?