Monday, March 2, 2015

¡Qué horror! 2015
Candidate #10

(November 2014)

"I loved how ballsy they were, issuing a trailer that said, ‘From the Master of Horror, Eli Roth.’”
--Eli Roth

Beginning its life cycle as one of those fake trailers that seem to be strewn all over YouTube, Jon Watts’ Clown is a nasty piece of work.
Helped along in its evolution into full-fledged feature by Eli Roth--who was billed as the film’s director in the initial fake trailer, and was suitably impressed, not just by the conceit, but by the makers’ cojones--Clown wastes no times before plunging into its simple but brutally effective premise: loving father turns into scary, evil supernatural creature thanks to a demonic clown costume.

There’s some solid cinematic storytelling here by Watts (in his feature debut), ably assisted by a cast that includes Awake’s Laura Allen and familiar genre face Peter Stormare.
It should also be noted that just beneath the onscreen horrors--right underneath the clown make-up, if you will--is the insidious and despicable real life horror of child predators, of the horrendous urges some individuals have, and their choice whether to struggle against them, or succumb.
So yeah, there’s some disturbing child endangerment (and fatalities) in this one, so be advised accordingly.

(Italian Clown OS courtesy of

Saturday, February 7, 2015

¡Qué horror! 2015
Candidate #9

(January 2014)

"I don't have to listen to you. You're just a cat."
"Well, a cat that can talk and reason, that’s a miracle for the ages.”
"So what?”
“But a guy who talks to his cat, well that’s one step away from the loony bin. Find someone else, kill them, and you’ll discover what it feels like to be truly alive.”

Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is the “new guy in Shipping” at Milton Fixture and Faucet International and outwardly, he seems the likeable sort. He lives alone above the shuttered Mellow Lanes bowling alley, and he’s doing “a great job” at work.
The thing is, he’s not taking the meds he’s supposed to be taking, and, as a result, he’s hearing the titular voices, apparently coming from his pets, Mr. Whiskers (the mean and nasty cat), and Bosco (the gruffly positive and supportive dog).
And, as you can probably tell from the above lines of dialogue, Mr. Whiskers starts telling Jerry to do some very dark and morally questionable things…

Marjane Satrapi, whose entry into the feature film world was via co-directing the adaptation of her own graphic novel Persepolis, takes the Black Listed screenplay by Michael R. Perry* and gives us what is, by and large, a very black comedy shot through with some dreadful, horrific moments, and some potent emotional weight.
And that’s all topped off with a pretty gonzo climax which segues into a pretty gonzo (yet oddly moving, given the context) end credits sequence.

Reynolds (who also provides the voices of Mr. Whiskers and Bosco, among others) does an excellent job at portraying a troubled yet sympathetic character who, over the course of the film, does some very dark and terrible things. And he’s backed up by a commendable supporting cast that includes Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver.
Oh, and props go out to Cairo and Hamish, for embodying Mr. Whiskers and Bosco.

As with many a ¡Q horror! title before it, The Voices is not for everybody, but if you like your horror laced with some strong black comedy (or vice versa), then you should really check it out.

“The medication, it smooths things out, and that’s okay, right? But even though there are bad moments…”
“Very bad moments.”
“Very bad. There are also moments of inspiration and beauty, when all the world makes sense, and the elegant secret mechanics of Man and God are revealed in their many dimensions, and the universe is laid out before mine eyes and it is a blessed place.”
“You totally stopped taking the pills, didn’t you?”

* The Voices took the number 3 slot on the 2009 Black List, a mere two votes behind Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for The Social Network. (For the uninitiated, the Black List is an annual year-end rundown of the most notable as-yet unproduced screenplays as voted for by a variety of executives in the Hollywood film industry.)

(The Voices OS’ courtesy of

Monday, November 24, 2014

¡Qué horror! 2015
Candidate #8

(March 2014)

After barging onto the ¡Q horror! 2012 rundown with Penumbra, Argentinian director Adrián García Bogliano is back with his English language feature debut, Late Phases, working off a script written by Eric Stolze.
Here, Nick Damici plays retired US Army officer Ambrose McKinley, who has only just moved into the Crescent Bay Retirement Community, when he is rudely made aware that something beastial seems to be active in the area, something that seems to have a monthly cycle…
So, yes, no need to be coy, it’s all over the trailer and the one sheet below: werewolf.

The beauty of Late Phases is, it doesn’t quite play like any werewolf film I’ve seen.
True, it’s got the familiar horror movie trope of the protagonist who seems to be the only one aware of the nature of the threat, but Damici’s crotchety (and blind) McKinley isn’t your average misunderstood horror movie lead.
With some excellent supporting performances by Ethan Embry and Tom Noonan, a practically unrecognizable Lance Guest, brief appearances by Dana Ashbrook and Larry Fessenden (also one of the film’s producers), and some noteworthy creature effects courtesy of Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps, Late Phases is a solid entry in the annals of werewolf cinema, which, let’s face it, needs a whole lot more of this kind of title to beef up its hairy, lupine ranks.

(Late Phases OS’ courtesy of

Sunday, November 23, 2014

¡Qué horror! 2015
Candidate #7

(October 2014)

The following film includes a partly edited medical documentary, outtakes, and surveillance footage from the scenes of the crime.

Adam Robitel’s feature debut takes the real life horror of Alzheimer’s disease and mashes that up with some supernatural goings on to produce a potent title in The Taking of Deborah Logan.
Here, medical student Mia Hu (Neighbours’ Michelle Ang) sets about centering her PHD Thesis film on the titular Deborah Logan (All My Children’s Jill Larson), hoping to document the effects of the disease, not just on Logan, but on her daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay, from Mad About You and The Secret Life of the American Teenager), as well.

While there are some heavy hitters in the mix here (the film is produced by Bryan Singer--the closing credits actually declare it a “Bryan Singer Presents” production) and some familiar genre figures are thanked in the end credits roll (Bryan Cranston, Guillermo del Toro, Michael Dougherty, James Wan, to name some) the onscreen MVPs here are definitely Larson and Ramsay, who ground the proceedings in a very real mother-daughter relationship, warts and all.

“I do all my little puzzles. I do crosswords. I’m lifting weights. I am doing everything that I… I have read will help to stave off the progression of this disease. Stave it off! There’s no cure. And so, when I am in the middle of something and suddenly, my mind just… leaves the premises…. There are no words to describe how distressing it is.”

Much of the potency of the film is rooted in the awful deterioration that sets in with Alzheimer’s, and as the narrative unspools, there are shades of The Exorcist, in that we are also witness to the horror when modern medicine finds itself unable to deal with a patient’s condition, when the doctors are just as in the dark as the besieged victim and family.
There is also at least one instance of a quick cut “subliminal,” again, ala The Exorcist.
Admittedly, the title mines all that it can from the horror movie idea of the Creepy Old Lady, which is sadly quite unfair to all the Nice Little Old Ladies out there, but the end result is nonetheless an effective little found footage-y humdinger.

(The Taking of Deborah Logan OS courtesy of

Sunday, November 16, 2014

¡Qué horror! 2015
Candidate #6

(March 2014)

So you're an actor. You can become other people. But can you be yourself? Can you put your inner being on the screen? Then come try out for Celeste, a young up and coming actor in our Tinsel Town terror tale: The Silver Scream.

It’s that notice that aspiring actress-slash-Taters Girl Sarah Walker (Alexandra Essoe) answers which leads her right up to the gateway to fame and stardom.
But does she have what it takes to step through that gateway? Is she willing to embrace all that she is, deep down inside, in order to ascend into the firmament of the Hollywood elite?

Starry Eyes--written and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer--takes a look at the idea of how Hollywood can really change a person, through the lens of the horror film.
Shot over the course of 18 days (with an additional 3 days of re-shoots), it’s a remarkable achievement that is a disturbing look at the entertainment industry.
And given that central idea of transformation and its ultimate costs, La La Land is the perfect setting for the narrative. A toxic environment where people reinvent themselves every day, where dreams are shredded and shattered every single hour. Where desperation is the drug of choice, mainlined by every waiter and limo driver and physical trainer, each and every one of them aspiring actors or writers or actor-slash-writers, all just waiting, yearning, for that Big Break.
It’s a film that asks, quite pointedly, how much are you willing to pay, how far are you willing to go, to answer the siren song of your ambitions.

“Sarah, if you can’t really let yourself go, how can you ever transform into something else?”

(Starry Eyes OS’ courtesy of &

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

At the 5th Philippine International Literary Festival and Book Industry Summit
(November 12)

Apologies for the very short notice, but stuff happened suddenly and swiftly, and it appears I'll be at the Bayanihan Center on Pioneer, tomorrow, Wednesday, November 12, from 1PM onwards, as part of the PILF festivities, which runs until Friday, the 14th.
You'll find the complete list of Visprint creators attending here.
Feel free to drop by with your copies of SEROKS or anything else you'd like signed!

Plus, not to forget, I'll be at the Bayanihan Center again on Saturday, November 15, for NovKon 2014, with the latest 'Verse releases!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

¡Qué horror! 2015
Candidate #5

(January 2014)

It's been six years since Carter Smith's debut feature, The Ruins (which wound up on the ¡Q horror! 2008 list), and he returns to these parts with another adaptation, Jamie Marks Is Dead, based on Christopher Barzak’s Locus nominated One For Sorrow.

Opening with the discovery of the corpse of the titular Jamie Marks (Noah Silver), it takes a while for the supernatural creeps to fully kick in, and when they do (at around the 20 minute mark), they’re pretty low key and actually have a lot of longing and aching poignancy in the mix.
But this in no way diminishes their unsettling and disturbing potency. (Note that the trailer is a tad misleading, seeming to suggest a fairly typical Hollywood ghost story, when the actual film is most definitely an atypical tale of the restless dead.)

Shot with a wintry melancholy by Darren Lew (his first feature work) and with Penny Dreadful’s John Logan as one of its executive producers, Jamie Marks Is Dead may not even register as “horror” for some, but there’s a gripping sadness here beneath the otherworldly elements that’s rooted in the horrors of existence and memory, of the need to belong and to be wanted, wrenching emotions that, sadly, even the quick are all too familiar with.

(Jamie Marks Is Dead OS’ courtesy of