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


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?