2016 My Year in Review: Top Horror Film Favorites and Other Stuff

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Both 2015 and, this year, 2016, was a strain on me as a member of the Fright Meter Awards. Part of it has something to do with my age. As of this writing, I am 51 years of age. I’m not really sure if I was the oldest member, but I have good reason to believe that I was. I believe this did lead to the final straw that made the decision to leave easier, especially, since I had planned on leaving at the end of this year. But, more on that later.

I believe the main reason for me leaving, really, is that I felt it was a chore in watching so many horror films in the year. I wasn’t watching them for pleasure anymore. It was feeling like a job, one that I wasn’t being paid for. It took me a couple months after leaving to shake that feeling and get back to seeing horror films again. I did watch a few during that period, but not many.

I think the age thing is part of what happened, as well, that led to the early departure. It’s the way I perceive the genre, I guess. In part, it’s the fact that I was a horror fan for nearly ten years before the 1980s even existed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great and, now, classic horror films from that decade, especially the first half of it; I just don’t have the view that it’s as great a time for horror as many people, my age and younger, do. That may be the time that many became a horror fan, due to the films being released at the time as well as the volume of releases. There’s far too many people that seem to stop at the 80s when it comes to having a favorite horror film on their list. My favorites can go back to the silent era. One of my top favorites is 1941’s The Wolf Man. Many of the people I’m referring to here won’t go back very far with their favorites. Night of the Living Dead might pop up. But, that may only be because zombies are hip nowadays. I simply can’t relate to that point of view and I often feel alienated by it.

Feeling alienated and the reaction to my suggestion of Barbara Steele for the group’s lifetime achievement award. One of our group had suggested that, upon his death, Christopher Lee was the last of the “classic” horror actors. I disagreed with that. Steele had been a contemporary of Lee, Cushing, and even starring alongside Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum. She starred in one of the best Italian horror films of the 1960s, Black Sunday. It seemed like a no-brainer to me. In my view, there was a disrespect for classics in evidence. But, there was no question that there was clearly a misogynistic attitude from at least one other member of the group. This person felt it was being “too politically correct” to choose a woman for the honor. That was it for me.

Truth be told, I didn’t mean to make the above statement as long as I did. But, there it is. On to other things.

Besides leaving The Fright Meter Awards, this year saw me becoming a regular reviewer at Horrornews.net. So if you’re interested check me out there as well.

The Fright Meter Awards would have their best of horror within the last month of the previous year on until November of the current year as the points of eligibility. Since I no longer have that restriction, I have also considered films released 12/2016. There’s also an issue that I have not been able to see many films that others have deemed worthy for their respective lists. But, I did try very hard to do as best as I could.

So, now onto my Favorite Horror Film of 2016 List:

1.The Witch

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2. The Eyes of My Mother

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3. Emelie

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4. Green Room

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5.The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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6. Don’t Breathe

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7. Lights Out

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8. The Wailing

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9. I Am Not A Serial Killer

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10. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House 

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I would also like to toss in two of my favorite non-horror fantastic films within the post. The first is my favorite film of the year, Kubo and the Two Strings.

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And my favorite superhero film is Doctor Strange, even though Deadpool came pretty close to winning that honor.

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Well, folks, that’s it! Sorry about that rant above. It seems that I really needed to say it.–Charles T. Cochran

The Black Tape (2014)–movie review

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Several news media outlets receive a package containing a video. The package has no return address, but is simply labelled “The Black Tape”. Aside from a prelude set sometime after the main events, this video cassette details the tragic month of December 2009 for the Wilson family.

 

Parents, Robert and Alana Wilson (Allen Marsh and Elina Madison, respectively), their teen son, Paul (Parker Coppins), and, little daughter, Mary (Viktoria Stonebrooke), welcome the oldest daughter and college student, Stephanie (Melanie Thompson), home for the holidays. Most scenes in the home are viewed with strategically placed hidden cameras situated throughout the house. And, at times within or without of the home by a handheld camera. Nothing seems to go unseen in this family home, even one dark secret that figures in the story later in the film.

 

These cameras are set up by a masked and robed villain who has, for reasons yet to be revealed, targeted the Wilson family. First there’s mind games, but soon things get worse as one of the children is abducted and held for ransom. Murder, a frame job, and blackmail soon follows.  

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One of the things that makes this flick stand out is the style of the editing. Part of the tagline includes “Cut by me”. Besides it’s obvious double meaning, it adds to the character of the villain as well as the family within this story. The movie isn’t completely linear in its presentation; it includes flashbacks to inform the audience what the makers and villain wants them to know about the situation and characters. Some scenes are cut off just before a reveal, but soon is revisited to show what the audience needs to see for better understanding. It also has flash forwards to suggest foreshadowing.  The villain is often shown between sequences with titles written on cardboard to introduce the segments. This, at times, felt like a sort of Greek Chorus. These are great touches and helped pulling me into the film.

 

Even though it moves at a brisk pace and I am praising the cutting of the flick, there are times when scenes drag a bit. This slows it down during their time on screen. Some trimming would’ve helped. Plus, the opening sequence suggests something that never is explained.

 

But, for the most part these are truthfully small quibbles with a pretty satisfying horror thriller. With a solid cast, intriguing story (written and directed by Ramone Menon), and a great score by Abhimanyu Malhotra any viewer of this movie is sure to come away having a good time.–Charles T. Cochran

 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars   

HALLOWEENY HORROR FILMS THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE HOLIDAY

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4 HORROR FILMS WITH A HALLOWEEN VIBE THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE HOLIDAY

Each year many of us try to find the right film or films to watch on that most special of holidays, Halloween. Of course, anytime is a good time for that good ol’ Halloween feeling. I know I don’t wait for October 31st for a good creepy film fest or two. So the list below can be good for any month or day for your viewing pleasure throughout the year.

For many years I usual would go with the Classic Universal Horror Collection for my Halloweeny needs. But why limit myself? Sure, those films set the foundation for what makes for a great creepy Halloween feeling in cinema. There are many filmmakers since the 1930s and 1940s that took those lessons from those films and made their own statements.  

One thing in common that all these films have is that they all are supernatural. I do tend to feel that films with a Halloween vibe should have something to do with the supernatural. Sure James Whale’s Frankenstein isn’t supernatural. But it does come from that gothic tradition and that does help. But for this list I stuck with the supernatural.

PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

Directed by the late great effects master Stan Winston Pumpkinhead tells the tale of Ed Harley as played by Lance Henriksen and the grief-stricken choice he makes after the accidental death of his young son. A college-aged group of friends on their way to a cabin in the woods stop by Harley’s roadside general store. A couple of them decide to break out their dirt bikes and have themselves a ride around the hilly terrain near the store. This leads to the death of the boy. With a mind toward revenge, Harley remembers actually witnessing the handiwork of the local legend, Pumpkinhead: a demon that can be conjured up to enact vengeance on those who have done a person wrong. Harley heads out deep into the woods to a crone of a witch who helps with the conjuring. But she warns him that there is a price to pay for such a wish such as his. Harley pays no heed the witch’s counsel though. And when the demon starts his killing Harley must see it all through the eyes of the demon.

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The success of this film starts with the mood that’s first set with the setting in the wooded areas used. Trees have a natural disjointed look to them and once the day turns to night they develop a sinister look. Add to that a creature that not only has a great design to it, but a personality to go with its wicked look. This thing likes what it does and is having a good time tormenting and then killing his victims. The title character also has his very own storm that follows him around, which turns out to be a great touch for the mood of the film.

The success of the film then ends with the outstanding performance of Lance Henriksen. The audience can truly feel his pain from the loss of his son. There’s a wonderful scene early on of the both at home in their everyday life. After the accident and after things are put in motion a scene springs up that truly breaks your heart. Driving home from his meeting with the witch, with his son’s body next to him, he sees a vision of the boy sitting up and asking what he had done. This and the sights seen through the demon’s eyes tell Harley that he had done wrong. He sets out to stop the creature if he can. And this is the heart of the piece. And it’s a big one.

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

This film tells another revenge story. This time it is for a crime that was committed one hundred years in the past. As Antonio Bay California is celebrating its one hundred year in existence a fog rolls in from the sea with something in it: it’s contains a ghost ship and a crew of murderous ghosts.

The first to see that something isn’t right about the celebration is Father Malone as played by Hal Holbrook. Late at night as the church’s handyman is leaving for the night a brick from the office wall falls to the desk below revealing a secret. Behind the wall is a journal written by Malone’s grandfather detailing a crime against a ship load of people who were planning to start a leper colony near the Antonio Bay. His grandfather was part of a group of conspirators who planned to lure the ship of lepers to the rocks to sink it and kill its passengers. While Malone is discovering this, a fishing boat with three friends is attacked by the ghosts, killing them all. These are the first of the descendants of the conspirators to feel the ghostly wrath of those who had been wronged so long ago.

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Most of the film is from the point of view of those who are not descendants of the conspirators. Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), a friend of the three on the boat and a young female hitchhiker; Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh), a woman who is on the planning committee for the celebration as well as wife of one of the crew killed on the boat and her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis); and the local radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) make up this group that is caught in between the ghosts and their intended victims.

Carpenter’s film was meant to be more in the look and feel of an old EC comic story. This look and feel is perfect for a Halloween film. But it doesn’t have the heart that Pumpkinhead has.  What it does have is a lot of ghosts, fog, and fun.

BLACK SUNDAY (1960)

No list of horror films can ever be complete without as least one film by Mario Bava. And for films with a Halloween feeling his Black Sunday is hard to beat.

The first scene starts off with the witchy vampire Pricess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) being executed for the usual crime that witches and vampires are usual executes for. But this sentence in brought forward by her very own brother. Before she is finally put down and the spike filled Mask of Satan is hammered upon her face to seal her doom, Asa promises to return to be a curse on the house of Vajda in the name of Satan. For its time this scene is rather graphic with Asa suffering a branding and the mask violently hammered on to her face.

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Two hundred years later her words become true when Asa is accidently brought back to undead life by two traveling doctors, Thomas Kruvajan and Andre Gorobec (Andrea Checchi and John Richardson, respectively). After their horse-drawn carriage breaks down the two physicians venture into the crypt that houses Asa’s remains. Curiosity gets the best of one of them when the glass on the vampire’s coffin breaks and he removes the mask. They both see that her body may be wounded but is still intact. As they walk away to their repaired carriage blood left from a cut dips from a shard of glass onto the face of Asa. She then rises from her tomb with the plan to take over the body of her look-a-like descendant Katia Vajda (also played by Barbara Steele).

With more crooked trees, wind howling, low-lying mist, a ruined crypt, a gothic setting, and filmed in glorious black and white this film might just be the film on this list with the most horror show mood to offer. Bava sets great tension with some of the simplest tricks. When a darkened doorway suddenly is filled with movement that only turns out to be the door closing elicits a scare, you know you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker. Black Sunday is filled with such moments as well as very grim and sometimes violent ones.

SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

In this Johnny Depp portrays Ichabod Crane who believes that the best method to solving of crimes is to use science. Putting this belief to the test Crane is sent to the remote town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the decapitations of three men. But upon his arrival the town leaders lead by Baltus Von Tessel (Michael Gambon) assures Mr. Crane that they know who killed the men; it was a supernatural being known as the Headless Horseman. Crane proves to be a skeptic and doesn’t believe in the supernatural so he proceeds with his investigation. But even after an actual encounter with the Horseman there’s too much evidence of a motive for the killings (more murders do happen during the course of the film) that Crane can’t help but believe there’s someone guiding the being’s actions.

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This is director Tim Burton’s tribute to the British studio Hammer which made many gothic style horror films much like this one. It has many of the trappings that you’d expect films like these to have like misty dim forests, sunless skies, witches, and a ruthless murderous monster. Filmed with rich yet muted colors Sleepy Hollow is by far Burton’s best looking film to date. And he doesn’t forget the scares. The murdering of family—father, mother, and small boy—is profoundly frightening. Though, as usual in a Tim Burton film, there is humor (mostly very well used), but there’s a moment or two that a bit too goofy for my tastes. But this is a small complaint for a mostly very successful film.

Happy viewing!

Absentia (2011)–Movie/DVD review

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Katie Parker plays Callie, a recovering drug addict in town to visit her sister Tricia (Courtney Bell). Tricia’s husband has been missing for seven years at this point and she is ready to sign the document that would make him legally dead in absentia. Tricia is also pregnant and the father is Det. Mallory (Dave Levine) the officer investigating her husband’s disappearance. As the date approaches for the signing Tricia begins to see visions of Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown), her husband, and he doesn’t look too happy. It’s never made clear if these dreams and visions are part of what’s going on or are just part of the guilt Tricia is having about moving on with her life. Truth be told, this may very well be the only thing I have a problem with in regards to this flick.  

Meanwhile, Callie encounters what she believes is a homeless man (Doug Jones, the Hellboy films) lying in a tunnel down the street from Tricia’s house. He seems surprised that Callie can see him and mutters that something must be asleep. She thinks he’s crazy and wants to get away. Later, due to her new found Christian faith, she feels she must at least bring some food out to the man. She finds that he is no longer in the tunnel, but leaves the food anyway. She is warned not to do this by a young man who also leaves a sack at the mouth of the tunnel. After this jewelry and the like starts popping up in the house, including Callie’s bed.

Tricia signs the document and finally can have an open relationship with Det. Mallory. Leaving for their first official date she sees Daniel on the street. At this point, she is so used to ignoring the visions that she does the same here. But she’s surprised that Mallory and Callie also can see him. Daniel, her husband, has actually returned. And much like the man Callie saw in the tunnel Daniel is shocked that people can truly see him. Later he also let’s Callie know that he wishes she hadn’t started trading with “it”. It seems that this thing “fixates”.

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As written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Absentia has the look and style of something the Duplass Brothers (Jeff, Who Lives At Home) might do: something that’s grounded in reality with actors delivering natural and charming performances. But, the tone—staying indy in style—is more like Lance Weiler’s brilliant Head Trauma. There’s an ominous, albeit mildly presented at first, feeling right from the start. This rises throughout the film, but never becomes overbearing. By grounding the film in reality it becomes rather jarring when something supernatural occurs. And I mean that in a good way. The acting is top notch with the cast employed to not only exhibit fear, but complexities of emotion that would occur even if this was a domestic drama and not a horror film. Absentia has complexity with emotions and plotting that are missing from most films these days. Not just within the horror genre. And I loved the connection Flanagan draws with the classic fable of 3 Billy Goats Gruff. Great film.

The DVD:

Audio/Video

Viewing the DVD in its 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound was a treat. The sound design and Ryan David Leack’s great music was well used and mixed within the surround sound. This may very well be the best I heard to date. Outstanding. Rustin Cerveny’s cinematography is well represented here. Great color and rich blacks. This is a very good looking film.

Special Features

There are two commentary tracks: one for the actors and one for the director and producers. Both are exceptionally informative and entertaining to listen to. Details on the making of a movie on a micro budget are covered in the extreme.

The 30 minute “making of…” feature Absentia: A Retrospective details the conception of the film to the raising of some of the funds through KICKSTARTER to the movie winning awards at film festivals.

There’s a Camera Test Teaser included. This is a mock trailer to help drum up funds. But also it was a test of the Canon 5D camera that would later to be used on the film. Great camera.

Rounding out the DVD are deleted scenes and the film’s trailer.

The Flick: Rating: 4 stars

The DVD: Rating 5 stars

 

The Caller (2011)–review

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Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight) is Mary, a recent divorcee who has just moved into a new apartment. She also has a stalker problem. Her abusive ex-husband doesn’t acknowledge that there’s a restraining order issued against him, and Mary is also getting unwanted phone calls that are from a woman named Rose, calling from 1979.

Rose’s boyfriend once lived in Mary’s new apartment, and the old rotary phone that came with the place somehow works as a connection to its past. At first the calls just get on Mary’s nerves, but after some bonding regarding the respective ladies’ troubles with the men he their lives, Mary says something that she lives to regret. Rose takes it to heart, though, and after there’s a disturbing change to the apartment both ladies realize that whatever Rose does in the past can change the future. Shocked by this new turn of events, Mary unplugs the phone to block out Rose’s daily calls. This doesn’t sit well with Rose. When Mary finally plugs the phone back in-she can’t get a signal on her cell phone-she finds that Rose has discovered Mary as a child. Now the threats begin. And they turn deadly.

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Even though, at times, what Rose does can be predictable that’s really not what makes this film thrilling and terrifying. It’s the question, “How can one battle a monster from roughly thirty years distance?.” Screenwriter, Sergio Casci has not only presented this interesting premise, he’s created believable and likable characters. Lefervre, True Blood’s Stephen Moyer, Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights) and the rest of the cast breathe life into their roles. They all seem like real people. Even Rose, who we barely get to see, comes to life when played by Lorna Raver (Sylvia Ganush herself from Drag Me to Hell). She’s even scarier here than in Raimi’s film, and let’s not forget the director, Matthew Parkhill. He handles the film with a sure hand and he never falters. I believe he’s a talent worth watching out for.

This thrill ride of a film had me sitting on the edge of my seat ‘til ending. An ending that is both triumphant and tragic.–Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 4 out of 5

Silent House (2011)–review

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Three family members are cleaning up a summer home before it is to be sold.  Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene), her father John (Adam Trese, Zodiac), and her Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens, As the World Turns) make up this team. As Peter leaves to run an errand, John gets on his daughter to do a better job than she’s been doing. A crash and a large strike on the wall from the room her father went into sends Sarah to investigate. She finds her father bloodied on the floor but not dead; just unconscious. She is unable to leave the house for all the doors are locked from the inside and she is without a key. She also becomes aware that there’s someone else in the house. After some toil, Sarah makes it out of the house and down the road. Here she spots a young girl just before being hit by her uncle’s vehicle. The little girl then seems have disappeared. Peter makes it back into the house as Sarah stays in the car. This is until someone tries to grab her there. Both Sarah and Peter discover that John is now missing. Saying more would give too much away.

Of course, that bit up top makes it sound like a home invasion flick. But, during the course of the film I wasn’t sure if it was that or something supernatural. Directors, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) maintain a somewhat level balance of things between the different possibilities. At one point things lean heavily toward one over the other; but later the rug is pulled out from under you. Silent House is a well-executed mystery that moves at a breakneck pace. And, it has a very satisfying ending.

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Silent House is a remake of a film from Uruguay called La casa muda. I’ve yet to see the original so I can’t say anything in regards to it. But, it’s my understanding that both films use a technique that make the film appear to be shot with one continuous take. I was going into the film believing this would be nothing more than a gimmick. But, Kentis and Lau use it as a tool to describe to the audience Sarah’s altered perceptions during the whole ordeal. The limited viewpoint with the one camera and a heavy use of extremes in focus are rather successful in maintaining an off-kilter feel. The choreography of actors (mostly Olsen) and the camera was so well done that  there seemed to be no misstep.

Even though both Trese and Stevens do very well with their respective parts, the show really belongs to Elizabeth Olsen. She’s on camera all of the time. She plays a believable mature young woman that witnesses horrible things and is trying to survive and escape. After this performance, along with the one she gave in Martha Marcy May Marlene, I do believe we have a true talent here with Miss Olsen.–Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

 

The Shiver of the Vampires (1971)–review

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A newly married couple, Isle (Sandra Julien) and Antoine (Jean-Marie Durand), have decided to stop by her cousin’s castle for a visit before embarking upon their honeymoon. She hasn’t seen them since childhood and would like to reconnect. The Cousins (Michel Delahaye and Jacques Robiolles) have been vampire hunters for years. Just two days before the couple’s visit they had been killed and turned into vampires themselves. Having researched their family’s religious background, all the more obscure ones from the past, led them to the most underground religion of all: vampirism. They become hunters of vampires.  In battling the undead they finally succumbed to their own prey.

This is unknown to the couple at first. Yet, Antoine does stumble upon the Cousins as they finish off a victim and Isle is seduced by another resident of the castle, a female vampire named Isolde (Dominique). She is revealed to Isle in a rather striking shot emerging from the bottom part of a grandfather clock. Isle is very open to the seduction. The only conflict is that Antoine becomes wise to the plan to make his new bride into the undead and his struggle to stop it.

The Shiver of the Vampires is much more traditional of a vampire film than Jean Rollin’s previous film The Nude Vampire. The trappings are all there: a cemetery, crosses, an old castle. There’s also a Mario Bava-like color scheme. It’s still not really scary, yet the first ten minutes are rather creepy with its atmospherics. Despite the traditional nature of the film, the score was handled by 70s prog-rockers Acanthus. The mix of old-style images with contemporary music (for that time, anyway) makes for an interesting experience. What also makes the experience fascinating is Rollin’s inclusion of humor. The first sign of this is when Antoine, while visiting the castle’s library, is attacked by books jumping off the shelves. But, most of the humor is delivered by the Cousins themselves. Delahaye and Robiolles performances are quirky delights and they are fun to watch.

The thing that let me down despite my overall enjoyment of the picture is that too much is revealed too soon. There doesn’t seem to be much mystery or suspense that would keep me captivated. It seemed pretty clear where is story was headed.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5