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

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Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)–review

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Since the successes of fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series Hollywood has been making many other films of the genre to bring in the audiences. Some have been pretty good like The Golden Compass; and some not so good like Red Riding Hood. The latter was a fairy tale film about a werewolf, but it had no edge. Snow White and the Huntsman is also based on a fairy tale. But this one has so much of an edge that parents need to be warned that it’s not for small children. Mature fantasy film fans should really love this one. I believe this film will be seen by many as worthy of being held up with the best of fantasy/fairy tale cinema.

The story does stick to some of the beats of the fairy tale. Snow White’s grieving father, King Magnus (Noah Huntley, Your Highness) rescues Ravenna (Charlize Theron) from an army that is easily defeated in battle. Too easy as we later learn. He falls instantly in love and marries her quickly. But it turns out that Ravenna is a witch that conjured up a phantom army for Magnus’ forces to fight. It is nothing but a trick to usurp his kingdom. On their wedding night Ravenna kills Magnus and with her real army takes the castle. In the confusion the still very young Snow White isn’t able to escape with the others that flee and is left behind. Ravenna puts her in a cell in one of the castle’s towers.

In the meantime, Ravenna sucks the youth out of young maidens in the kingdom while the lands that surround the castle became dark and infertile. Her magic power comes from her beauty and she must maintain it always, even by drawing the life that surrounds the castle. It’s not only to remain beautiful, but to sustain her command of those around her. She’s not only vain, she’s power hungry a well. And she’s been driven to madness due to it.

When Snow White (Kristen Steward), comes of age, Ravenna is informed by her mirror that she is no longer the fairest of the land; Snow White now holds that title. But Ravenna is also informed that Snow White’s heart can be used to not only maintain her beauty for all-time; but, also, to make Ravenna immortal. But Snow White escapes before the Queen can kill her. After which, a grieving widower huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) is sent after her with a promise that cannot be fulfilled. The huntsman later realizes this and decides to help Snow White on her journey to the castle of a Duke, friendly to her family.

First time director, Rupert Sanders and his crew have made a wonderful film here. And dare I say, it turned out to be a masterpiece. The adaption of the fairy tale to the screen is surprising straight-faced and mature. It never becomes goofy with a wink and nudge at the audience. It’s handled with great respect for the material and the audience. It is also so well-conceived that it never feels like it was made with a bunch of nifty set-pieces patched together by chewing gum or some such flimsy substance. It feels like a nice solid work of art. This is a film that should please the hardcore fans of such entertainment as well as mainstream audiences.

As I stated above, this film is not for children. It gets pretty dark and frightening. Theron’s Ravenna is rather mad and she alone would give the kiddies nightmares. At one point she takes the heart of a bird and eats it. Another time she’s giving a psychotic rant while standing in a pillar of flame with her skin burning then healing itself all the while. Also, there’s an evil forest where the spores of the native fungi causes the most horrifying hallucinations. Horror fans would love this film. I know I did.

I know there are many that have a problem with Kristen Steward’s acting. I’ve never seen any of the Twilight films, but I’ve never had an issue any of the times I’ve seen something she’s appeared in. And she’s just fine here as well. In fact, she holds her own up against Theron and the British acting heavyweights that perform as the dwarves (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and Eddie Marsan). And Hemsworth does as well, by the way.  Actually, Steward has to give a Braveheart-like speech to some troops before storming the castle to reclaim it and she does not embarrass herself in the slightest.

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You may have noticed that the list of actors portraying the dwarves is filled only with regular-sized men. The effect that makes them small enough to pull their duties off is by far the best effect in the movie. And with a movie that’s chock-full of amazing effects that’s saying something. The only effect that didn’t life up with the rest is that of the fairies. They looked bit too cartoony for my taste. Luck would have it, their appearance is short-lived.

First time directors rarely make films this good. With hopes that he can maintain this quality in the future, Rupert Sanders is a talent to watch.–Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 5 stars

2015: Films of Interest

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I’ve been really enjoying the REC film series from Spain and this fourth installment looks to be just as good as the previous flicks.
REC 4

I’ve been hoping that Guillermo del Toro would get back to something on the level of Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and, the more popular, Pan’s Labyrinth for a while now. This film seems to be promising in that regard.
Crimson Peak

After being disappointed by District 9 director, Neill Blomkamp, with his film Elysium, I was really hoping he would get back on track. Based on this trailer, he may be getting there.
Chappie

Everytime I think I’m getting sick of superhero films something like this film comes along.
Ant-Man

I’ve been hearing some buzz about this flick for a bit now. Even as a teenager, I wasn’t much of a “teen Horror” fan. But, there’s times it can be done right. I’m sensing it here.
It Follows

–Charles T. Cochran

Dracula Untold–movie review

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Vlad, Prince of Transylvania, was sent to fight in the Turkish army as a boy, along with many others his age, by his father to appease the Sultan. In time, Vlad became a fierce warrior who impaled Turkey’s enemies he won over during battle. Thus, he was dubbed the Impaler. For his service, when it became time, Vlad became the monarch of Transylvania under the rule of the Sultan. The practice of sending Transylvanian boys to serve in the Turkish forces had then ended. Or so Vlad had believed. The new Sultan, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper, Captain America: The First Avenger), the son of the previous man to hold that title, changed that deal. This time, he doesn’t just want one thousand boys, he wants Vlad’s son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson, Game of Thrones) as well. After violently refusing this order, Vlad must come up with a way to defend Transylvania from Mehmed’s armies.

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He decides to go to extremes by going to a cave that holds the Master Vampire (Charles Dance, Alien³). There he finds the creature accommodating to his wants. It agrees to help Vlad since there’s a good chance what it grants him could set the vampire free from his prison. By drinking the vampire’s blood Vlad will, for three days, have the monster’s powers, from great strength all the way to its power of transformation. But, during this time, if Vlad drinks blood–which he will have an insatiable thirst for–he will be doomed to become a vampire himself. It will then set the Master Vampire free and Vlad would become its slave if need be. The plan becomes rather effective. But at what costs?

I sat in the movie theater giddy pretty early on during most of this movie. Even though it has contemporary trappings this film still has a very overwhelming classical feel to it. Strip away all the modern frills and scale it down to size it would play much like a Hammer Studios production. Not like that studio’s Dracula films though. Their version was a monster right away. This film, as we all know, is an origin story. A man who was a monster on the battlefield who wants to change into the family man he now sees himself as. And the being forced to become an even worse sort of monster to save his family. It’s a great old-fashioned melodramatic horror story.

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Luke Evans (from The Hobbit films) plays this conflicted character very well. I know he can play a monster well having seen him in Ryûhei Kitamura’s No One Lives. So, if the character develops like he should in this series I know he’s up for that challenge. The other four leads—Dance, Cooper, Parkinson, and Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis), who plays Vlad wife, are all good in their respective parts. Sadly, the supporting cast isn’t really given much character. They come out as most background scenery. I’m not blaming the actors. This just seems to be a problem from the writing, most of which is just fine.

The art direction is wonderful. It’s well photographed. Some of the CGI isn’t great. But for the most part the effects are pretty good. The score could’ve been better. At least, it never got annoying.

There ended up being one problem that struck down the rating I’m giving this film from 4.5 stars to 3.5. I didn’t like the last little bit that sees Vlad in modern times. It was rather jarring and I’m disappointed that the next film won’t be period piece.

But, overall, I think if Universal keeps things this well done, I’m going to like their return to their classic monsters.

Movie Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Dead 2: India–movie review

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The Ford Brothers are at it again with The Dead 2. At this point, it seems clear to me that this duo could, in time, become the best at making zombie flicks. I know there is improvement shown here from the previous film. If they continue with this series they may come up with best zombie flick of the new century.

The film opens up in India as a day-laborer feverishly walks home after he was bitten by a “mad woman”. He later dies in his bed from the wound. Quickly, the villages and slums are overrun by zombies. While this is all going on an American engineer named Nicholas (Joesph Millson, Casino Royale) is working on some wind turbines in a remote area. On the phone with his girlfriend, Ishani (Meenu), a local girl, informs him she’s pregnant while the area around her breaks into chaos as the dead attack. Nicholas becomes desperate to travel the 300 miles to get to her. So, with the help of an orphaned boy named Javed (Anand Goyal) Nicholas starts off on his journey.

There are complications on Ishani’s end as she’s dealing with a traditional father who wants his daughter to have nothing to do with an American. But, what is much worse is the zombie hoard outside their door and a dying mother who has been bitten by a zombie. To serve the story I’m sure she takes a lot longer to die than the above mentioned day-laborer. These scenes at their home are filled with a lot of melodrama and enclosed sets. They bring the film down a bit. Thankfully, there are many wide open spaces and zombie attacks at Nicholas’ end.

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There’s more action this time around. As a result there’s a less moody feeling, which is a good thing. I do like moodiness in films but the first one seemed to use its mood to cover up the fact that not much happens in it. (I did like the first film, but, not as much as this one). As expected there are some great zombie set-pieces within the film. My favorite sees Nicholas dealing with a family stuck in a car with a group of the dead approaching. And, of course there are loads of close calls that will get your blood pumping. Another sees the results of a father trying to get back to his children.

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I really like the Ford’s decision to film these movies in exotic locations. It helps with the old fashioned Euro-exploitation feeling that these films have. It’s not quite Lucio Fulci, but it’s the closest we have in this day and age. But, there seems to be a great modern touch with what appears to be the Ford’s discovery of the joys of getting shots from drones. It adds a nice dynamic to the camera-work.

The look of both films is another selling point for me. A lot of bright sunlight and sand-filled wastelands with zombies scattered around is a rather striking feature both films share. Still, if they make a third one they may want to consider something different. It just might get too repetitious.

In the end, this is not just a worthy sequel to the original flick, but, I think it’s a better film than the first.

Film Rating: 4 out of 5

Here’s my review of the first film: http://www.killerfilm.com/film_reviews/read/the-dead-blu-ray-review-100063

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes–movie review

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I became a fan of the Planet of the Apes films first when I saw the first two films in the original cycle on television. I’m a child of the 70’s and was able to see the last three films in that cycle during that time period on the big screen. Later down the line I read the original novel by Pierre Boulle (aka Monkey Planet or the French title, La Planète des singes). The thing that I noticed from this reading was that the first, third, and fourth films in the original Apes cycle came directly from that novel.

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Being the Apes nerd that I became while watching those films back in my youth, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about them respecting the source material. Tim Burton’s film had a screenwriter that had not only no respect for the material, he had contempt for the subject matter. So when they decided to do another one with Rise of the Planet of the Apes I was very apprehensive to say the least. I didn’t even bother to go see that film at a theater. When I eventually saw it on DVD I was pleasantly surprised, in fact I loved it. That film was clearly a remake of the second to the last film in original cycle, Conquest for the Planet of the Apes. The new film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, continues with the remake trend with this being a remake of Battle for the Planet of the Apes. But, even though Rise is based on Conquest and that film was taken, in part, from the original novel, Rise has nothing to do with that source material. And, neither does this new film. But, these films has so much respect for the subject matter, it isn’t a problem for me. These films seem to be getting it right.

In this film the virus that was introduced in the previous film has wiped out most of the human population. The apes have built a small but well-functioning prehistoric style community in the forest near San Francisco. Meanwhile, a group of surviving humans still occupy some of San Francisco. They have a need for electricity so a small group of humans venture into the forest to get to the nearby dam to see if they could start it back up again. Two Apes bump into one of the humans; a meeting that leaves one of the Apes shot by the startled human. This starts the theme of trust/distrust that continues throughout this film.

When the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, the Lord of the Rings films) decides to help the humans in their goal, the beginnings of distrust with Caesar’s leadership develops in the mind of Koba (Toby Kebbell, Wrath of the Titans), the equally advanced albeit emotionally and physically scarred chimp featured from the previous film. He tries to go along with the decisions by Caesar but his hatred for the human stays just too strong. And, this is where the major conflicts that highlight the second half of this film really start off from.

Though a little over long this film is a major achievement. It has a very good storyline with complex character development that helps us understand most of the characters motivations in this film, either good or bad guys. Aside from that, the special effects are shockingly good. I kept on having to remind myself that I wasn’t watching real apes portraying these characters. I accepted the effects that much.

The final verdict is I think I like the previous film a little bit more. This may be due to some slow moments here and there in this new film making it seem a little over a long. But, this is the film to beat this summer blockbuster season.

Rating: 4.5 out of five stars

Fright Night 2 (2013)–very quick review

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The overwhelming amount of disrespect shown to the fans of any and all the Fright Night films before this as well as the contempt for horror fans in general is unforgivable. This isn’t a sequel to anything; besides some superficial differences this is just another remake of the original film. Besides that, it’s not really a good film either. Aside from the vampire played by Jaime Murray, we have nothing but bland performers. Director Eduardo Rodriguez shows here more of a talent for action than terror or comedy. Don’t make the same mistake I made and stay away.

Rating: half a star