Sunday, February 5, 2017

Some Horror Flicks I Liked in 2016

Long before John Goodman opened Lanford Custom Cycles (Roseanne), horror filmmakers had been setting their macabre tales in underground locations. They’re dark, they’re cramped, they’re isolated: perfect for eliciting fear from viewers.

In 10 Cloverfield Lane, that chick who tried to ruin The Thing’s legacy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a doomsday shelter next to a wackadoo who claims the outside world has been turned to shit following an apocalyptic catastrophe.

More conventional in approach than its predecessor, 10 Cloverfield Lane is engaging in its simplicity, delivering a fable that proves sometimes less is more. It’s one of those ideas you kick yourself for not thinking of.

Blending dark humor with immense tension, the movie is at its absolute best when John Goodman is on screen. Is he a crazy person who has imprisoned Michelle for his own corrupt gain, or is he a lifesaver who rescued her from certain death? Maybe he’s a bit of both. Goodman is perfect at portraying those creepily-kind weirdo roles that are usually reserved for gas jockeys and bathroom attendants.

It’s suspenseful and it’s fun and it has me wondering what they’ll do with the franchise next. 

Saying Ouija: Origin of Evil is pretty good for a Ouija movie is like saying Jared Fogle is pretty good for a rapist. He’s not. He sucks. And so do the submarine sandwiches he spent years peddling.

Mike Flanagan, however (he’s the guy who directed the new Ouija movie by the way), is quite good and so to is his straight-to-Netflix home invasion thriller, Hush. Starring Flanagan’s real life honey Kate Siegel as a deaf writer terrorized by a masked killer in her secluded home, Hush is a familiar yet engaging piece of horror cinema.

It is suspenseful and tense from title to credits earning it a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Flanagan, who first popped on the horror radar with his little scene urban mystery, Absentia, creates a highly effective gem that spins a few narrative twists into an otherwise conventional story.

I once submitted a script to a production house. The response was that the script was too “different.” That the studio was looking for stories that were “creatively mundane.” Hush would fit their criteria to a tee. It takes a simple yet believable story and enhances it with astute sound and imagery. Consider a scene that witnesses our heroine hiding in a bathroom. The soundtrack is stripped of all sound. We are able to substitutionally endure Maddie’s fear. Suddenly, light dances across the back wall in soft focus and we realize the killer has broken through the window.

It’s shocking, it’s creepy, it’s terrifying as hell.

A couple days after Christmas my daughter spent an afternoon lying in a cardboard box. When I asked what she was up to she responded, “I’m dead. I’m pretending this is one of those boxes they put dead people in.” I wasn’t overly concerned. At least until I saw I Am Not a Serial Killer.

Max Records stars as John Wayne Cleaver, a kid whose therapist warns has all the signs of a potential serial killer. Apparently fantasizing about the dead and nearly deceased can lead to some pretty serious ailments. Of course John hasn’t killed anybody. At least not yet. No, instead, he appeases the dark passenger within him with a regulated course of actions which includes lavishing his adversaries with compliments and hanging out in his mother’s funeral home. Once a serial slayer starts picking off his neighbors in gruesome fashion, however, those once repelled by John and his inner darkness will look to him for protection.

I  Am Not a Serial Killer was made for a fraction of the cost of most Hollywood genre films. It’s also about a gazillion times more creative than its big budget brethren. It’s a crazy inventive and legitimately eerie genre-bender that approaches death from the perspective of a coming-of-age tale while delivering all the grotesqueries of a horror pic.

Originality is a rarefied thing these days. The other mortuary-based movie of 2016, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, provided a morsel of inventiveness in its first hour before succumbing to convention in its final act. I Am Not a Serial Killer is artful and eccentric throughout. Its wry humor, creepy imagery and B-movie stylings practically ensure cult status.

The Eyes of My Mother is fucked up. Not fucked up like Linda Blair clubbin' the clam with a crucifix, fucked up like Limburger cheese: it looks appetizing as hell but tastes completely foul.
The picture opens with a mother (Diana Adostini) and daughter (Francisca: Olivia Bond) strolling peacefully among a group of cows in a field. The mother, a former surgeon, rambles about the commonalities between cow eyes and those of human beings. Cut to the daughter examining a severed cow head at the kitchen table. Yuck.
Shortly after, a mysterious man with shaggy hair and soulless eyes forces his way into the home and murders the mother in violent fashion. Francisca reacts as all young children would, she chains the man in her barn and gouges out his eye balls. As Francisca ages (and the man withers away) a loneliness takes hold of her. She seeks victims, ahem friends, to keep her company.
A real polarizing movie, The Eyes of My Mother is graphic, it’s gnarly, it’s beautifully grotesque. It is surrealism at its absolute best. The darkness of the story permeates every aspect of the picture. Gray skies loom over monochrome landscapes, faces half concealed by shadow move hauntingly about as nightmarish chords blare away in the background. Yet despite its black tone, there is a poetic quality to its delivery. There is a rhythm and a beauty to the madness that makes it hard to look away.

Squeamish audiences may want to steer clear, but those willing to give this unrelenting video nasty a chance will be rewarded with an inscrutable and highly satisfying masterpiece of horror cinema.

True story: at seventeen, my buddies and I attended a punk show in the basement of a church in Hammonton. Hopped up on Fruit Gushers and Pepsi Blue, one of my classmates continued to jump on stage. His Less Than Jake T-shirt and Tim Armstrong hairdo failed to charm the loathsome artists who invited him backstage and took to beating the shit out of him for the remainder of the night. After seeing Green Room, I think he got off easy.

The late Anton Yelchin stars as Dee Dee Ramone wannabe, Pat. Desperate for a gig, his band books a show at a neo-Nazi bar outside Portland. Following their set, they return to the green room where they witness a horrible act of violence. Now they must fight to escape the bar and its fiendish owner (Patrick Stewart).

The highest touted genre flicks of recent years have offered insight into human behavior. The Babadook reflected on grief and maternal failure, It Follows examined the fears of growing up. Green Room is not that Daedalean. It’s a reminder that a well-told story is enough to satisfy audiences. A good cast and skillful direction don’t hurt either. While some horror aficionados will squabble over whether or not Green Room satisfies the conventions of the genre, it is without a doubt the most pulse-pounding movie of the year. Replete with unflagging tension and ruthless brutality it has a magnetism inherent in the best horror has to offer.

Jeremy Saulnier’s previous effort Blue Ruin about a guy that seeks vengeance against the man that killed his parents years earlier was a solid but unwieldy effort. It was also a bit too glum to win the eye of main stream audiences. The malevolent nature of Green Room likewise proved unmarketable. Thankfully, well after its festival run in 2015, Green Room saw a limited theatrical release mid-year. It is a riveting, full-blooded thriller worthy of your attention.

It isn’t bad enough that William (Ralph Ineson) and his family are banished to a barren land in 1600s New England, but now a fucking witch is haunting their cattle and eating their children.
Gorgeously shot in smoky greys and muddied browns, The Witch is a singular experience that will haunt you well after viewing. Rich in mood and atmosphere, the picture offers a spine-tingling diversion aided by an unnerving script and impressive production design. The movie feels as cold as the mud William treks through on his way to the outhouse, as dark as the thick paste that clings to his boots.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s wide-set eyes, stained with the color of chocolate, capture the weight of her character’s tale. She can now be seen starring opposite James McAvoy in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split. In both films she exudes vulnerability, her face looking like it would smile if only it could. Ralph Ineson towers over her. His baritone voice is scary intimidating.

This is a slow-moving movie, but the horror gets going early. The witch uses blood-filled cauldrons and the limbs of dead babies to brew evil. It is dreadful, it is eerie, it is the best horror movie of the year. 

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