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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 8: Byzantium

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 8: Byzantium

Vampires. They have been the subject of numerous films throughout the decades. They have appeared, according to ranker.com, in over 197 films. To begin to entertain the idea of producing a new edition that will resonate with audiences surely must be a daunting task. To be able to offer something new that isn’t formulaic nor a simple rehash takes talent beyond measure.

I’ve stated before, (and based on the number of films, television programs, novels, and video games that continuously get released, it’s apparent I’m not alone), that I enjoy these celluloid exhibitions featuring the notorious creatures of the night. I recently heard about today’s film whilst reading an issue of Empire magazine. They stated that the film was a four star affair. I instantly knew that I had to view this film. I originally had a sequel to a rather storied franchise queued up and ready to go, bucket of freshly made stove-top popcorn at the ready, wife and children tucked away snuggly in their beds. Instead, I did a switcheroo and opted instead for this nocturnal tale.

31 Days of Frights and Films – Day 8: Byzantium


Director: Neil Jordan
Year: 2112
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Specs: 118 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★★ / A

A pair of mysterious women descend upon a small unsuspecting town, hiding from a mysterious organization that is attempting to locate them. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the town, they bring death with them, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.

Not since Ludwig Von Drake recorded The Spectrum Song has there been an occasion where I was instantly immersed in a world of vivid color. The use of hues by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt was amazing, and made me all the more grateful I chose to view this on a 52″ HDTV as opposed to an iPad on my train ride into work. I was instantly taken in by the mesmerizing score that opens the film. Whereas other films I’ve written about feature over-the-top musical scores that overpower the senses, Jordan opts for a more subtle, yet beautifully melancholic soundtrack, only elevated by the haunting cinematography that unfolds from the start. The film continues to play slowly, thanks to the superb editing from Tony Lawson (Michael Collins, End of the Affair, Straw Dogs), allowing each scene to breath, even during the few gruesome images that are peppered throughout. During an upsetting decapitation, instead of cutting to the beats of the latest techno mix, we are allowed to take in the atmosphere of the locale, which only serves to up the emotional impact.


I thoroughly appreciated Jordan’s ability to effectively utilize imagery in a way that most viewers will remember elements and/or scenes to the film that never actually appeared. A film about a stripper who is also a prostitute, the men she has slept with, numerous occasions of unlawful entry, and we never are witness to any of the acts nor images of humans in their “au natural” state. Pure genius. Proof positive that the imagination is much more powerful of a tool than any canvas can ever paint.

Saoirse Ronan shines in her role as the tortured soul to Gemma Arterton’s femme fatale. Her eyes are stunningly mesmerizing, and hold the viewer every single time she looks into the lens, harking back to the famous Steve McCurry photograph that graced a National Geographic cover. The rest of the cast, who are equally as impressive in their own right, also bring life to their characters in a way that never hints at mediocrity. Jordan truly displays his gift of finding such a stellar cast.


If you enjoy atmospheric films that are light on the action and heavy on the illustrative character studies, I strongly recommend this film. I’m positive you will be thrilled.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 7: The Possession

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 7: The Possession

I try to reserve judgement until after I’ve seen a film in it’s entirety. I owe that much to the filmmakers who’ve spend a large portion of their year (or more if you are making Cleopatra) attempting to put together something worth my hard earned ducat. However, after watching today’s film, I find that practice more arduous to do.

Ghost_House_Pictures_logo_2

Not having had any prior knowledge of today’s film preceding my viewing, I was surprised to see the logo that opens the film. As soon as I saw Ghost House Pictures insignia, I had reservations. Afterall, I found the last two films I’ve viewed from Sam Raimi’s company (Drag Me to Hell and 30 Days of Night) to be less than stellar. I also didn’t find their foray into television programing (Legend of the Seeker) anything noteworthy, although I did stick it out for the entirety of its two campy seasons. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps the films are rather futile for horror films, feeling more like a big budget action flick than a atmospheric horror film? Perhaps it’s the over the top sound effects, the clean and sterile lighting, the same cookie cutter characters in each film, or the fast paced jarred editing? Either way, today’s film fell squarely into the fold of their previous efforts.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 7: The Possession

possession_ver2_xlg

Director: Ole Bordedal
Year: 2012
Cast: Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick
Country: United States
Specs: 92 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35.1 / MPAA Rating: PG-13
Rating: ★★★ / C

A young girl, after finding an antique wooden box containing mysterious symbols carved into it, begins to suffer abnormal behaviors, much to the consternation of her recently divorced parents. It soon becomes apparant she is possessed by an entity not of earthly origins, and the race against the clock to rid their prepubescent daughter of the demonic spirit begins.

From the very first scene, I knew I was in for more of the same. An old woman stands in front of a box, demonic voices coming from within, when suddenly, timed to the frantic editing, she becomes possessed and begins to contort and fling across the room.

We then are introduced to the characters that we soon care nothing about. They take actions that don’t make sense. For instance: Why does the girl get startled by the old woman who is the neighbor? Why does she slowly follow her and peer into the window. Who is the bandaged freak who screams at her? Why is the girl allowed to stop off and pick up the box? Why does she want it? Why does an entire room of supposed God fearing Jews feign fear at the mere sight of the box? Or are they truly afraid? Are they all really faithless? Too many odd questions.

Frustratingly, in addition, there are scene after scene of odd edit decisions. There are numerous instances in which the tiniest semblance of suspense is building, the camera is dollying, the tension is at a high, and it cuts to black mid-beat, mid sound cue, sounding like a piece of the soundtrack is missing, rather than a meticulously timed trim. Not sure what effect they were going for, but I found it jarring and annoying.

I also found vexing plot devices that simply come across as slipshod or indolent, although I know that certainly wasn’t the case. However, I’m not sure how else to react when situations such as “Little Girl is vegan, and is ravenously tearing into a raw steak, therefore she MUST be possessed” are a major plot point. Why else was that silly conversation that opens the film there? Am I instead supposed to see it as a message? Either way, it strikes me as stodgy and amateurish.

possession-steak-movie

Maybe it was the title that doomed this film? A quick search of other films with the same title show that film critics such as Leonard Maltin are rather dismissive of them, as well (1981-★½, 2002-★★, 2010-★½). However, to avoid sounding uncouth, I will admit that it did deliver on some scares. Nonetheless, whereas the frights found in a film like The Exorcist certainly command repeat viewings (if one so dares), this film is too marred by the aforementioned issues to warrant any kind of further thought. It was simply an average film. C rating.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 5: A Nightmare on Elm Street

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 5:  A Nightmare on Elm Street

For these weekend posts during this marathon of horror films, I’ve decided to simply post brief reviews from my files of the Nightmare on Elm Street films. These reviews will likely be shorter than my daily posts, and may even be a bit more unrefined, but they fill the list out on those days when most people, myself included, are doing something other than spending time on the world-wide webs.

After all, this is a great time of year to do more than stay inside watching films. Cider mills, pick up games of touch football, and hay rides at the haunted fairgrounds all are worthy excursions to be had! Enjoy.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 5: A Nightmare on Elm Street

nightmare_on_elm_streetDirector: Wes Craven
Year: 1984
Cast: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Country: United States
Specs: 91 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★ / B

Nancy and her teenage friends are being tormented by a serial killer in their dreams, who happens to possess the power to make events that happen in their dream state a reality.  She must race against the clock to figure a way to defeat this menacing figure, before he successfully slays each one of them, one by one.

The original that started it all. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this film, not having seen it for a number of years.

The story itself is a very clever one. If you die in your sleep, you really die. The reason being, there is a killer in there! Now, there are many plot holes, silly exposition, goofy special effects (the tongue coming out of the phone), and rather bad acting (the drunkard mother). However, the film still does a good job of avoiding the norms for films of this type. There isn’t any real nudity, there isn’t any real drug use, and there IS a plot. I especially appreciated how Craven acknowledges that evil can be overcome if we have faith.

Of course, that makes the ending all the more confusing. But I’ll save that for another day.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 4: 30 Days of Night

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 4:  30 Days of Night

We’ve recently seen coming from the dream factory a number of films that have their basis on a comic book or other form of graphic media. We’ve had movies about superheroes, movies about hit men, even movies about alien invasions. Of course, the current, and possibly hottest property that has found its way from the funny pages to the live action front is Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, which has been nominated for a Golden Globe and the recipient of an Emmy, to name a few of the accolades it has garnered.

I had heard about today’s film many years ago, when I saw the giant billboard featuring its blood-red background towering over the local In-N-Out burger on Sunset Boulevard. At the time I had counted it off as an advert for a 30 day film festival of horror films (not all that uncommon in Tinseltown). I would only later learn that I was grossly mistaken, and that it was a feature film about the most nocturnal of nemesis’, vampires.

I’ve long been a fan of vampire films. I count among my favorite vampiric entries The Lost Boys, Dracula ( the one with Bella Lugosi, not the one with Keanu Reeves, natch). I’ve enjoyed games based around the vampire mythos, such as Castlevania, and Bloodrayne, spending hard earned cash to obtain an out-of-print entry for a system I had not yet owned. I’ve equally enjoyed an old yarn fashioned around the bloodsucking mythological creatures of yore, as in The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, The Vampire Archives by Otto Penzler, Bram Stoker’s masterpiece, and Salems’ Lot, from the master of macabre, Stephen King. Not to be left out, I also have enjoyed reading comic books set in the world of these creatures of the night. Having met Marv Wolfman, the author and creator of one of my favorite vampire series of all time, Tomb of Dracula, has been a highlight of my career in entertainment.

Thankfully, in my recent search for new and interesting comics to fill my iPad’s memory, I came across a series on Comixology from writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith that I later found to be the basis for today’s film. So it was no surprise when I noticed the film that I chose for today’s entry on the local video mart DVD rack.

With that, I give you:

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 4: 30 Days of Night

Director: David Slade
Year: 2007
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 109 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★ / C+

A group of bloodthirsty vampires descend upon a small Alaskan town during the time of year when the town has 30 days without a moment of daylight.

I enjoy films that take a format that is perhaps bordering on tiresome, or lack of originality and bring something new. Even when it’s a reboot of a familiar film, or franchise, if it contains a little editing here and there to enhance what was already a proven formula, I welcome it with open arms. Sadly, in this case, I can’t say the same.

I didn’t find the film abysmal, nor boring, by any means. But neither did I find it to be a masterpiece, a film that belongs on every DVD shelf. It simply was a vapid entry in a genre that is a bit long in the tooth.

That’s not to say the acting wasn’t stellar. In fact, because of Hartnett, George (Amityville Horror), Huston (Children of Men, 21 Grams), and Foster (3:10 to Yuma), the film was much better than it would have been had it contained a less commanding cast. The setting also was very enjoyable, lending to a believability to the locale of Barrow, Alaska (in that it was actually shot in New Zealand).


Sadly, it simply plays like a by-the-numbers action movie, set in the world of horror. The film is far from scary, spooky, suspenseful, or horrifying in any way. That is, unless you find gruesome bloodletting horrifying, which I do at times. Predictability is another aspect that haunts this film. The scene that involves a little girl with her back turned to us would only surprise the most inane banal mind viewing it. The reveal was so foreseeable, I used the interval between it and her appearance as the timer for my tea bag to stew in my freshly brewed pot.

I did find little interesting touches, such as the creation of a new dialect for the vampires, to be intriguing and original. I’m sure there are some linguistic lovers that likely learning another language based on the lexicon found here.


The films grammar simply felt platitudinous, at best, and I’m saying that as a fan of the original material. It just feels like something a film student might learn in action screenwriting 101, with more blood added for good measure.

All in all I’m saying it was an average film. You never know, I may come back and boost that rating up once I finish the rest of this series. I know I’ve got some stinkers just ahead.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 2: V/H/S

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 2: V/H/S

On this, the second day of my month long series on films in the horror genre (or a variation thereof), I decided to take a trip down memory lane. I pondered what film ought I sacrifice two hours (more once I’ve written this post) to as I rummaged through the mess of Blu-rays, DVD’s, VCD’s, and Laserdiscs that I’ve accumulated over the years. Many of these films remain in the original cellophane (no comments about that please, that is a blog for another day) and haven’t been touched since I chose to store them in the box. I reached high atop the towering stack within the darkest recesses of the closest within my office. I tilted the box that hadn’t been opened in ages, ghosting myself with the inch or so of dust that had accumulated on top and now slid down like a massive mudslide coming from the sides of Mt. Fuji resting in my hair and on my face. I cracked the box open, and saw something that peaked my interest. I instantly recalled images I had recently come across in the local newspaper. I had seen pictures of a grim grinning ghostly exponent heralding the release of the newest addition to the massive franchise of films featuring the ghastly Sadako, or as U.S. readers may know her, the girl from The Ring. Sadako 3-D2 4-D.


Behold, in front of me, was a DVD of a movie that I hadn’t seen in years, long before the reality of ingesting octopus balls and the carcass of Mr. Ed would become a reality. I wondered if I ought to revisit the film, that being The Ring 0? Then I remembered, the film was featured as a major plot device an object that happened to be a video format I had neglected. A format long ago forgotten, unless you shop at the library, or are an overseas missionary. Not Betamax, no no no. Something far more available in its heyday. Not HD-DVD, neither. VHS. The Ring movies focused on a VHS tape. Thankfully, that was the moment when I recalled a newer movie I had not yet seen. Another film with a sequel in the local cineplex this very season. Rather than skip straight to the overpriced shopping mall to gaze upon the newest entry in all it’s ear piercing glory, I chose to go back to my queue, to visit the original entry.

Because of that not so quick witted decision, I am now able to bring to you:

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 2: V/H/S

Director:
Adam Wingard
David Bruckner
Ti West
Glenn McQuaid
Joe Swanberg
Radio Silence
Year: 2012
Cast: Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Lane Hughes, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Jason Yachanin, Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 116 mins. / Color / OAR N/A / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★ / B

A group of petty thieves are contracted by an anonymous 3rd party to break into a house and retrieve a mystery VHS tape. Finding the presumed homeowner dead, they begin to rummage through hundreds of found VHS tapes, viewing each on a television next to the corpse, in hopes of locating the tape requested. Startled, they soon realize that each cassette contains a grim video of some poor unsuspecting victims demise.


I am thankful that I had zero knowledge of the film prior to my viewing. It made my “enjoyment” of this terrifying anthology all the more startling with each haunting segment. The film is comprised of 5 short-films, posed as found footage films within the main story-arc (Tape 56) of the petty thieves and their home invasion. Perhaps the strongest of the shorts, Bruckner’s Amateur Night, was also the most terrifying. The aspect that I enjoyed most, with all of the segments, was the “reveal” at the end of each, akin to a gorified episode of Twilight Zone, or Night Gallery (itself a more gruesome take on creator Rod Serling’s seminal classic.)

In recent cinema history, we’ve seen a glut of films of this sub-genre grace the local silver screen. Apartment 143, Paranormal Activity, The Last Broadcast, and of course, The Blair Witch Project. This film, however, stands apart from those others. It is unpredictable at times, which, for this genre, is rarer than a Caucasian in the town I currently reside.

Each film was created entirely autonomous from the others, with its own cast and crew, and it makes for a stronger whole, in my opinion. While not all of the subjects are equal in their caliber, I appreciated the variety of styles of each creative team.


There certainly is a fair share of scares, an equal amount of gruesome imagery, and creative and inventive plots to hold the interest of even the most jaded of horror film fans. While not a masterpiece in and of itself, it is a film that I would happily recommend to anyone that hasn’t just finished off an extra large portion of lasagne from their local Italian eatery.

In conclusion, it’s a film best viewed with the lights on. However, if you choose to not heed my advice, I heartily suggest watching an episode of lighter fare afterwards, such as the latest episode of Dads.

On second thought, that’s worse. Forget what I said. Enjoy the nightmares…

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Howl-oween: Day 28 – Night of the Comet

I remember as a youth that my cousin loved today’s film, even considering it one of the best zombie films ever.  I, however, had never seen the film.  I’m not entirely sure why, as I remember hearing about it throughout my childhood.

Perhaps I had gotten all the “Night of the” films (“Night of the Living Dead”, “Night of the Iguana”, “Night of the Blood Monster”, etc.) confused, and wasn’t sure which one to rent when I went to the local video rental mom and pop.

Because I’ve never seen most of the “Night of the” films (even though they are not related), I decided to give this one a look for today’s review.

31 Days of Howl-oween

A Review of Films Filled with Frights

Day 28

Film #28


~ Night of the Comet ~

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Posted by on October 28, 2010 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Howl-oween: Day 24 – Captain Kronos

It’s rare that I don’t somewhat enjoy a classic Hammer film.  The company essentially made household names of staple stars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Ingrid Pitt.  Occasionally, however, they would have a film that did not feature their regular cast.

Today’s film was one of those.  Besides featuring a primarily different cast, they chose to put a twist on familiar territory, giving audiences a glimpse at a variant on a long portrayed monster.

Although not initially received with praise, the film has gone on to garner a rather devoted cult following.

31 Days of Howl-oween

A Review of Films Filled with Frights

Day 24

Film #24


~ Captain Kronos ~

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Posted by on October 24, 2010 in Movies

 

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