Thursday, September 27, 2007

reVIEW (25)
DARKNESS [2 of 3]

The following is a slightly altered version of a previously published review entitled “The Wisdom of Darkness.”

Darkness is built around one of the hoariest chestnuts in horror cinema: the family moving into a new home, where strange things begin to happen. It is to director Jaume Balaguero's considerable credit that the film turns out to be a very tight, very chilling exercise in storytelling.

"This is going to be the best house in the whole world."

It is a wise move on the part of Balaguero and co-writer Fernando de Felipe to begin the script (after a short prologue set 40 years earlier) nearly three weeks into the family's move to the new home, so we are spared the usual—and now tedious—initial sight of the abode and the moving-in proper.
We are, in effect, introduced to the story in a sort of in medias res. We do not see the move itself, but we do see the effects of the move, the lingering feelings of displacement, with loads of boxes still waiting to be unpacked.
In quick succession, we are then introduced to Regina (Anna Paquin) and her family; her younger brother Paul (Stephen Enquist), father Mark (Iain Glen; Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead), mother Maria (Lena Olin; The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and recently, TV's Alias), and paternal grandfather, Albert (veteran Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini, seen a couple of years back in Roman Coppola's CQ).
It isn't long before the strange goings-on start, as the tension and dread gradually build till the movie's shuddering climax.

"It's different here. The dark."

And the strange goings-on here are decidedly low-key, unlike special effects horror movies of the Poltergeist school. Here, we have a child's handprints on the ceiling, or colored pencils rolling under the bed. Low-key, but very, very effective.
Darkness is chilling in a way that a lot of recent Hollywood "horror" movies aren't. And unlike some excellent foreign horror films like Ringu or The Others (which basically maintain a steady level of dread throughout the entire film, until the climax), Darkness—which unfolds over the course of a week, much like Ringu—actually builds the momentum of the tension and the sense of unease, spiraling upwards, drawing us inexorably along on a wave of dread.

"What you're saying is terrible. It's obscene!"

One of the strengths of the script is its treatment of the inter-family dynamics, and individual characteristics of each member. Regina is the rebellious daughter, constantly misunderstood and at odds with her mother, Paul, the haunted young boy apparently at the center of the sinister maelstrom brewing in the shadows of their new home. Mark (suddenly faced with the recurrence of a condition that causes him to have fits, and irrational, uncontrollable rages) is the head of the family trying to keep everything—and himself—under control, while Maria is the mother who is, at first, in denial of what is truly going on, until she is faced with the apparent brutal truth, and forced into action. We are even privy to the distance between Mark and his father; small wonder, since Mark grew up in another country with his mother.
All this family psychodrama plays off the horror elements well, so much so that the family unit is besieged on two fronts: there is the external, supernatural threat, and the internal, natural threat, with the script structured in such a way that even as the film builds to its climax, with the strangeness in full chaotic bloom, the filial revelations we uncover at the same time still hold a potent, poignant weight.
On the technical end, Balaguero is aided and abetted most admirably by his cinematographer Xavi Gimenez, editor Luis de la Madrid, and composer Carles Cases. Darkness is shot and cut and scored exquisitely, elevating what could have been just another haunted house story into something much, much more.

"We are our origin. And our origin is that. Evil. Disorder."

I suppose I should warn you though. The whys and wherefores aren't underscored neatly for the audience. But most of the cryptic clues are in place for us to piece this sinister puzzle together.
And trust me, this is all rather well thought-out. Even the bit with the colored pencils. What is, at first blush, foreshadowing, is also great symbolism, for isn't black the absence of color, the negation of it, as if darkness can indeed consume and annihilate the entire spectrum, as if inevitably, inexorably, we must all slide into the dark...

"Once begun, no one can stop it. There is no way back."

(Darkness OS’s courtesy of and; DVD cover art courtesy of

Monday, September 24, 2007

reVIEW (24)
(THE NAMELESS) [1 of 3]

In light of the upcoming [Rec], co-directed by Jaume Balaguero (with Paco Plaza), I thought to take a look back at Balaguero’s past films. We begin with Los Sin Nombre.

The year is 1999, and even as the seeds for a paradigm shift in cinematic horror are beginning to flower in audience reactions to Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, another horror revolution, this one less overt though just as important, is taking place in Spain, one of its leading proponents: Jaume Balaguero.

Based on Ramsey Campbell’s novel, The Nameless, Los Sin Nombre opens with Bruno Massera (Karra Elejalde), a policeman whose Missing Persons case leads him to the uncovering of a young girl’s mutilated corpse. Apparently, it’s the six year old girl he’s been looking for, Angela Gifford, and it’s his unwanted duty to inform the girl’s parents, Marc (Brendan Price) and Claudia (Emma Vilarasau, who won two Best Actress awards for the role) that their daughter is now gone.
Though all identifiable marks on the body (fingerprints, teeth, and the like) have been destroyed, Angela’s bracelet is found at the scene, and the case is closed.
Flash forward five years later, and Claudia, now separated from Marc, gets a call, allegedly from Angela, pleading for help. Claudia then enlists the aid of Bruno—who’s just quit the force due to some personal matters—to help her get to the bottom of the mystery.

Los Sin Nombre is an impressive feature film debut by Jaume Balaguero. Surrounding himself with a crack team which includes Carles Cases (original score) and the killer cinematographer/editor tag team of Xavi Gimenez and Luis De La Madrid (who would go on to win awards for their work on Los Sin Nombre*, and, along with Cases, work with the director once more on his second feature Darkness), Balaguero brings this disturbing portrait of the perversion of the innocent and the insidious nature of evil—a theme revisited in Darkness—to the screen with a sure and steady hand.
From the cleverly edited title sequence to its far-from-happy ending, Los Sin Nombre casts a riveting spell on the viewer, as we are plunged, along with Claudia and Bruno, into this dark world of cults and missing children.

As noteworthy a debut as it is, Los Sin Nombre is not without its flaws though, particularly in the character of Quiroga (Tristan Ulloa; Abre Los Ojos), a reporter for a parapsychology magazine who becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding Claudia and her daughter. Introduced about a third of the way into the film’s running time, the character isn’t given enough screen time to convince the audience of his motivation for risking his job and health in his decision to pursue the sinister matter. Ostensibly, it’s because he’s sick and tired of writing about faux occult rubbish and wants to get to the truly hairy stuff, but that doesn’t really come across. He seems more a narrative appendage, to help move the plot along, than an actual person.
In addition, the film may also move somewhat slowly, for those unwilling to settle into its web of anxiety and dread, which oftentimes reduces to a simmer, but never entirely goes away.

Ultimately, Los Sin Nombre may not be perfect, but it’s nonetheless an arresting debut for Balaguero, and is an excellent warm-up act for his subsequent English-language feature, Darkness.

* Among the many awards Los Sin Nombre won in the year 2000, were the CEC Award for Best Editing and the Sitges (Catalonian International Film Festival) award for Best Cinematography.

(The Nameless OS and third image courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Like Open Water and Wolf Creek before it, Ils (Them) is a short, savage little number based on a true story.
In it, a French couple, Clementine Sauveur (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas Medev (Michael Cohen), recently relocated to Snagov, Romania, are terrorized in their home by unknown assailants.

For anyone who’s read my review of Open Water (reVIEW 23; see Archive: September 2007), you may very well come to the conclusion that these sort of films don’t particularly float my boat. These are the sort of films that, even as the end credits begin to roll, I nearly always find myself asking, Well, what was the point of it all?
Here, the assailants are portrayed decidedly as Other, since the narrative’s focus is locked onto Clementine and Lucas. And since the film covers only the event itself—the aftermath limited to short blocks of text before the end credits—we don’t really get to delve into the motivations, the “why” of it.
So the film’s end-all, be-all is the tension engendered by the action onscreen. This is, perhaps, its point: to make our pulses quicken and keep us on the edge of our seats. (And on occasion, get us to jump out of those aforementioned seats.)
And if this is Ils’ point, it’s raison d’etre, then its existence is justified.

The film itself is a tense little bugger, and the credit for that achievement should go to co-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud. It’s because of this skilled handling of the narrative’s suspense that I found this a better cinematic experience than either Open Water or Wolf Creek.
In addition, the fact that the next project of Moreau and Palud is the upcoming English-language remake of Khon Hen Phi (The Eye), gives me a healthy sense of anticipation for it. And yes, I am aware that Jessica Alba headlines the redux, so for me to actually say I have “a healthy sense of anticipation” for The Eye should say volumes about just how impressed I was by Moreau and Palud’s achievement on Ils. (I’m also extremely grateful that Parker Posey and Alessandro Nivola are in The Eye, so I can at least be assured I’ll be seeing some good acting.)
With The Eye, Moreau and Palud will have more of an actual plot at their disposal, and I’m curious to see how they handle a story (as opposed to the situation presented in Ils).

In the meantime though, what we ultimately have in Ils is a sobering and unnerving thrillride. After all, as with Open Water and Wolf Creek, this is the dramatized version of an actual event, with the fates of real people up on the screen for us to see.
As I said in my Open Water review, this sort of material isn’t “entertainment” in my books. To witness actual persons in this sort of context seems somehow wrong for me.
If, however, you’re up for this sort of horror, then Ils is definitely your ticket.

(Ils DVD cover art courtesy of; Them OS courtesy of

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Five childhood friends from Ebensee, Austria, have just graduated from high school. Just before the graduation dance, they each receive the same text message: In 3 tagen bist du tot. Translated: In 3 days, you’re dead.
When one of them goes missing at the dance, then is found dead, the police take the youths’ claims seriously. But even as the investigation tries to get to the heart of who would have a vendetta against them, the killer stalks them one by one and exacts cold, bloody vengeance.

Directed by Andreas Prochaska, In 3 Tagen Bist Du Tot is an assured and controlled throwback to the slasher heyday of the 80’s. It’s a familiar set-up, after all: a bunch of friends being picked off one by one, a perhaps too-suspicious suspect, a couple of interesting and effective killshots.
And of course, the secret that lies at the heart of the film is not readily divulged to the audience; a semi-cheat, admittedly, particularly when there aren’t any significant clues to indicate there is even a secret in the first place. It does however, prolong the mystery and suspense rather neatly, and the tension established by Prochaska manages to keep a hold on the viewers’ interest till the climax.

Granted, this is the still the sort of film where characters make stupid and annoying decisions, where there’s a last minute jeopardy pawn, and where you have to wonder, why the frak did the killer wait all that time before actually starting the kill spree.
Ultimately though, the film gets the job done: throw in some good cinematography by David Slama and a bunch of fresh faces that aren’t readily recognizable*, (always an advantage so the suspension of disbelief is easier to maintain), and In 3 Tagen Bist Du Tot manages to be an agreeable thrill ride.
Think of it as a Eurohorror variation of I Know What You Did Last Summer, if need be. But if you love your slashers, you could do far worse than watching this one.

* We all know that if this were a Hollywood movie, the cast would be made up of random samplings from the latest batch of young Hollywood du jour, recognizable from TV or the gossip rags.
Who knows, we could get an English-language remake with Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, and one of the Olsen twins (which could potentially be more frightening than the original, if you think about it).

(In 3 Tagen Bist Du Tot OS courtesy of; Spanish OS courtesy of

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Season 1 Episode 3

The episode kicks off with Rankol doing his Evil Floaty thing, which is probably the high point of this sad, lonely hour.
A wild rift opens up on Nick‘s brother’s wedding day and Nick gets bitten by a “joybug,” a species native to Mongo whose venom causes the ultimate ecstasy high, killing you as you get happier and happier.
There’s a cure, but it’s only available from the Omadrians of Mongo, so Flash and Baylin open a rift to retrieve the cure, while Dale is left on Earth to try and keep Nick alive by making him miserable.

Again, as with episode 2, the narrative is split into two, but this time, neither plot thread is particularly weighty.
Dale saving Nick‘s life by making it a living Hell is peppered by Panou‘s irritatingly goofball performance, while Flash’s encounter with the rabidly feminist Omadrians (they turn their men into eunuchs!) is standard selfless hero schtick: you can do anything to me but I need to save my friend, and no, I’m not leaving Baylin behind because it’s just so wrong to trade one life for another even if I don’t really know her as well as I know Nick, etcetera, ad nauseum.

There’s also some awkward sexual parrying between Flash and Aura which is kind of a tired, repeat performance of Flash and Baylin’s corridor fight from the previous episode, except it’s on a bed. Yawn.
And for the double yawn, there’s that heavy-handed look from the Omadrian leader woman, the look that says, “This young male stranger shows promise, and understands the tyrannical stranglehold Ming has over our world.” Hurrr. I wonder where that’s going, wink wink.

After the previous passable episode, this one just nosedives into I’ve-got-better-things-to-do-than-commit-myself-to-this-floundering-mess-on-a-weekly-basis territory, so it looks like I’m off the Flash for now.
Maybe I’ll check in on Flash and company at some point in the future and maybe the show would have gotten better by then, but in the meantime, Rankol will just have to float down the halls of Ming’s castle unseen by me.
Which is too bad. Like I said, Rankol is creepy in a really cheesy sort of way, so I’m gonna miss the old floater…

Parting shot: They really need to dump that awful opening credits sequence. And jettison that horrible theme.
I say reinstate that Queen standard! Since there already appears to be a healthy amount of cheese in this show’s recipe, what can an old Queen song hurt? And get Sam Jones for a cameo! (If Smallville’s made it a mission statement to offer gigs to Superman alumni, the least this Flash Gordon incarnation can do is show some respect for those that came before.)

(Image courtesy of

Monday, September 17, 2007


17.1 Well, this year’s Emmys have all been given out, and I’d just like to say “Congratulations” to the following for their well-deserved wins:

79th Annual Academy Awards
Outstanding Art Direction for Variety, Music or Nonfiction Programming (J. Michael Riva, Production Designer; Gregory Richman, Art Director; Tamlyn Wright, Art Director)
Outstanding Music Direction (William Ross, Music Director)

Battlestar Galactica
Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series (“Exodus, Part 2”)

Outstanding Main Title Design
(Eric Anderson, Creative Director; Josh Bodnar, Editor; Lindsay Daniels, Designer; Colin Davis, Main Title Producer)
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series (Elena Maganini, Editor)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
(Jeremy Piven)
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half Hour) and Animation (“One Day in the Valley”: Steve Morantz, C.A.S., Production Mixer; Dennis Kirk, Re-Recording Mixer; Mark Fleming, Re-Recording Mixer)

Family Guy
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation
(Steve Fonti, Storyboard Artist: “No Chris Left Behind”)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
(Terry O’Quinn)

South Park
Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)
(“Make Love, Not Warcraft”)

In his acceptance speech, Terry O’Quinn said, “Sometimes when we’re hitting each other and stabbing each other and shooting each other and they’re pouring blood and turning on the sprinklers, I wonder what it would be like to bake a sheet of cookies on Wisteria Lane and get one of their checks. But then I think about my cast mates and crew mates represented here by the glorious Michael Emerson, and I realize why I have the best job in the world.”
Hear, hear.
And wouldn’t that be an odd sight? John Locke in an apron, baking cookies, while a dead woman does a voice-over.
Season 4 should open with that shot.

Check out all the winners here. (Lists are downloadable in PDF and Word format.)

17.2 Congratulations should also go out to Bryan Fuller and everyone involved in Pushing Daisies.
Broadcasting & Cable asked a panel of critics to rank the best and worst of this fall’s pilots, and Pushing Daisies ran away with 63% of the vote. Second on the Best list was Reaper, with a distant 15%.
The worst pilot this fall? Cavemen, with 51% of the vote.

Check out the complete list here. (It just saddens me that Chuck wasn’t anywhere on the list.)

17.3 And finally, congratulations to Tim Burton, for receiving a Golden Lion lifetime achievement award at this year’s recently concluded Venice Film Festival.
Burton was praised as “one of America’s bravest, most visionary and innovative directors.”

(Images courtesy of [Battlestar Galactica]; [Dexter]; [Entourage]; [Lost]; and [Pushing Daisies].)

Season 4 Episode 8
“Gary’s Desk”

E decides to get his own office, as working out of the condo isn’t really working for him.
His first order of business: get in touch with Peter Jackson, to try and get Vince some work on a video game. But no one knows who Eric Murphy is, so E tries to take an ad out in Variety. Of course, he doesn’t have any official paperwork to prove he’s actually Vincent Chase’s manager, so that idea goes belly up pretty quickly.
The aborted attempt at an ad reaches Shauna’s ears though (yay, Shauna!), who arranges a short profile on E. But the profile turns into a hatchet job as E is singled out as a prime example of Hollywood’s “New Nepotism” (stars’ friends riding on the coattails of celebrity).
The Variety profile does reach Jackson however, and he gets in touch with E, and they arrange a sit-down to talk things out.

The boys, meanwhile, set off to find a proper desk for E’s new less-than-glamourous office. They set their sights on a $42K piece with history: it was on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Robert De Niro once owned it.
But it’s already been bought, by none other than Gary Busey (back for his third Entourage go-around)! Busey agrees to part with the desk, if he can paint Drama, which he does, literally, turning him blue.
But the crisis isn’t over. The desk is far too big to get into E’s rathole office, so the boys get an expensive office to go with the expensive desk, swanky work space that’s got offices for Turtle, Drama, and Vinnie too.

The episode’s subplot also kicks a$$.
Just as Mary J. Blige is about to come in for her annual meeting with Ari, there’s trouble that explodes between twin employees: one of them slept with his twin’s wife. To keep the office peace, Ari has to let one of them go. And the numbers indicate that the guy who diddled his sister-in-law is making the agency more money, so the other guy gets the boot.
It turns out though that Mary J. likes that particular twin, and when she finds out exactly why he was fired, she bails on Ari too.
Capping this one off, Ari goes on the warpath and fires the other twin as well.

This one more than makes up for the previous lackluster episode, and with the return of the Busey and the guest spots by Jackson and Blige, this one’s a keeper.

(Images courtesy of

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) returns to the sheep farm he half-owns fifteen years after the misfortunate confluence of a tasteless practical joke and a family tragedy caused him to develop ovinophobia, the irrational fear of sheep. What Henry doesn’t know is that his brother Angus (Peter Feeney) has been conducting genetic experiments on the livestock.
Soon, there’s a massive flock of killer sheep, and Henry receives some hard therapy to get over his phobia.

Black Sheep, written and directed by Jonathan King, is B-movie horror/comedy by way of New Zealand. Think of it as the spiritual successor to Peter Jackson’s early low budget efforts like Dead Alive.
Appropriately enough, Jackson’s Weta Workshop executes the creature and make up effects for Black Sheep, which involves lots of old school, practical effects that make the film a fun, little bloody romp through the rolling hills and woods of New Zealand farm country.

Though the film does get some laughs at the expense of new age thinking and environmentalists, the narrative does address filial legacies and sibling rivalries; in its own B-movie way, of course. It also affords Henry a neat little character arc as he must come to terms with his ovinophobia, and all the underlying issues that the fear is a symptom of.

Granted, Black Sheep does lack a little something that keeps it from the wildly entertaining heights of recent B-movie horror/comedies like Slither and Feast, it is nonetheless a solid entry in the genre, fun, and funny—and naughty—when it needs to be.
It also plays a lot better than the mad cows of Ireland’s Dead Meat, so if B-movies are your thing, you should seriously check out Black Sheep.

(Black Sheep OS courtesy of

Saturday, September 15, 2007

reVIEW (23)

Daniel and Susan (Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan) are off on a hastily-planned vacation, little knowing that they will face an ordeal that will test their will and resolve, an unpredictable twist of fate that leaves them stranded in shark-infested Open Water.

Shot by director/writer Chris Kentis with a regular camcorder—which gives it the look and feel of a faux documentary—Open Water is a decidedly uncomfortable film experience. Which is not to say it’s a bad film; it isn’t. The performances and the dialogue are rather good, giving us real people to identify with, as opposed to the annoyingly bland ciphers we had to endure in The Blair Witch Project, one of the films Open Water has been compared with. (More on that later.)
It’s just that it’s a film I don’t really care to watch a second time. Now, I’ve watched other films that I feel are far more harrowing than Open Water. Darren Aronofsky’s blisteringly hypnotic Requiem for a Dream and Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible come to mind, but the former is a horribly effective cautionary tale against drugs, and the latter’s storytelling technique (story’s end first, working our way towards the story’s beginning, ala Memento) manages to at least elevate the sordid material. Actually, Requiem also boasts of Aronofsky’s visionary and kaleidoscopic storytelling technique, so I think that’s an important point.

Not that technique is totally absent from Open Water, but other than a stand-out sequence as we near midnight (the couple having been drifting for over half a day), most of the film is presented to us in a pretty straight-forward manner, contributing greatly to its documentary feel. Now, some may argue that without fancy camera movements and angles and MTV-editing, we are not distracted from the story. My problem here is this is not so much a story as it is a situation.
At the risk of generalizing, a film can either entertain, or it can actually say something; sometimes, a film can do both. Now, though what is “entertainment” is largely a subjective thing (I may think South Park is entertaining—and I may think it says something too—but to others, it may just be crass and offensive; in the same way, what others may find entertaining could be, for me, some Hollywood feel-good claptrap) but watching the discomfort and agony of two people is certainly not entertainment in my books.
And since the majority of the film is just us watching the poor couple suffer, we are even left with an unwelcome sense of having been a perverse and sadistic voyeur to the proceedings. The fact that the film is based on a real-life incident makes the viewing experience even less savoury: two people really were abandoned out in the middle of nowhere.
Open Water doesn’t seem to say anything either (except perhaps that bad things happen for no good reason). So if it doesn’t entertain, and it doesn’t really say anything significant or profound, then what is it there for? All it really seems to do is document an unfortunate couple’s suffering without leaving any signposts to tell us how this could have all been avoided.

Now, the film has been glibly described by some as “Jaws meets The Blair Witch Project,” which is really doing a disservice to Jaws, still one of Spielberg’s best, after all these years. Open Water though, does resemble Project (but it is a better film, if that’s any consolation). Both are low-budget films that really don’t have a story per se, but just throw individuals—and the audience—into an uncomfortable, tension-filled situation, and let the cards fall where they may.
And though I do believe horror is the great democratic leveler of all, and is there to jostle us and wake us up from complacency, I also want a story as the foundation and framework upon which that horror will be draped, not some situation. (Also one of the big problems I had with The Blair Witch Project.)
In the end though, if you intend to watch Open Water, prepare yourself for an unpleasant experience. And don’t expect any kind of comfort or even sense to the proceedings. This is a document of suffering, plain and simple.

(Open Water OS courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

(The above is a slightly altered version of a previously published review entitled “Terror on the High Seas, Agony at the Multiplex.”)

Thursday, September 13, 2007


The nominees for this year’s Scream Awards have been announced, and some of the nominations I’m jazzed about are:

28 Weeks Later
The Ultimate Scream;
Best Horror Movie;
Best Sequel;
“Jump-From-Your-Seat” Scene of the Year (Zombie Attacks Glass Window)

All-Star Superman
Best Comic Book

Battlestar Galactica
The Ultimate Scream;
Best TV Show;
Sci-Fi Siren (Katee Sackhoff)

Children of Men
Best Science Fiction Movie;
Sci-Fi Siren (Clare-Hope Ashitey);
Sci-Fi Star (Clive Owen);
Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron);
Best Scream-Play (Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby)

The Descent
The Ultimate Scream;
Best Horror Movie;
Breakout Performance (Shauna MacDonald);
Best Director (Neil Marshall);
Best Scream-Play (Neil Marshall)

El Laberinto Del Fauno
The Ultimate Scream;
Best Fantasy Movie;
Most Vile Villain (Sergi Lopez as Captain Vidal);
Most Memorable Mutilation (Mouth Sliced Open and Sewn Back Together);
Best Director (Guillermo Del Toro);
Best Scream-Play (Guillermo Del Toro);
Best Foreign Movie (Spain)

The Fountain
Best Science Fiction Movie;
Sci-Fi Siren (Rachel Weisz);
Sci-Fi Star (Hugh Jackman)

Grindhouse (Death Proof)
Scream Queen (Rosario Dawson);
Best Cameo (Quentin Tarantino);
Breakout Performance (Zoe Bell);
Most Vile Villain (Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike);
Most Memorable Mutilation (Dismembered in Car Crash);
Best Director (Quentin Tarantino);
Best Scream-Play (Quentin Tarantino)

Best Horror Movie;
Best Foreign Movie (South Korea)

The Ultimate Scream;
Best TV Show;
Best Superhero (Masi Oka as Hiro Nakamura; Milo Ventimiglia as Peter Petrelli);
Sexiest Superhero (Ali Larter as Niki/Jessica; Hayden Panettiere as Claire Bennet);
Breakout Performance (Hayden Panettiere);
Most Vile Villain (Zachary Quinto as Sylar/Gabriel Gray)

Best TV Show;
Fantasy Fox (Evangeline Lilly);
Fantasy Hero (Matthew Fox)

Masters of Horror
Best TV Show

The Prestige
Best Science Fiction Movie;
Sci-Fi Siren (Scarlett Johansson);
Sci-Fi Star (Christian Bale);
Best Cameo (David Bowie)

The following films (all reviewed here: see Archive) were also nominated in a number of categories: 300; Transformers; 1408; Spider-Man 3; Sunshine; Vacancy; Disturbia; Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer; Black Christmas; and Ghost Rider.
The following films, which I have yet to see, were also nominated: Grindhouse (still haven’t seen Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror); Hostel: Part II; and Stardust.

Congratulations, one and all, and best of luck.
You can vote for your favorites here until October 19. Spike TV’s Scream Awards airs Tuesday, October 23.

Parting shot: Last year’s winners included Brandon Routh (Best Superhero: Superman in Superman Returns); Battlestar Galactica (Best TV Show); Haute Tension (Best Foreign Movie); Evangeline Lilly (Fantasy Fox); and Hostel (The Eye Removal scene won for Most Memorable Mutilation and The Holy Sh%T! Award).

(Images from last year’s Scream Awards courtesy of

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


So April March’s “Chick Habit” is jangling around in my head, and it’s one of the things I’m taking away from Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof.
Originally Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse, Death Proof has apparently taken on the role of favoured son, having its script released in book form, and having driven its way to Cannes, leaving Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror abandoned by the side of the road.
Much has been made of Grindhouse’s failure at the American box office (a discussion of the whys and wherefores of which would take up an article or three), but now that the two features have been split for their international and DVD releases, what we’re looking at here is to address the question, So is Death Proof any good?
And the answer is (he says rather coyly)…

Just as Grindhouse was split neatly in two, Death Proof itself is basically two vignettes of serial killer Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), as he terrorizes sweet young things with his car.
Said young things include Sin City’s Rosario Dawson, CSI: NY’s Vanessa Ferlito, Scream’s Rose McGowan, Cabin Fever’s Jordan Ladd, and Kiwi stuntwoman Zoe Bell (as herself!).
So there are some car stunts, gruesome deaths, and a lap dance. Oh, and talking. A whole lotta talking.
Of course, we all know Tarantino loves his Chatty Patties, and Death Proof is chock-a-block, wall-to-wall, pedal to the metal yadda yadda. Which is fine, actually, but when each vignette is basically one long, protracted discussion, topped by a car chase and violence, there isn’t much to warrant the feature-length treatment.
If only Tarantino had fueled Death Proof with a little more Kill Bill (the momentum of the moving image as narrative engine) and less Jackie Brown, this might have been a far more enjoyable ride.

Having said that, Death Proof does have its moments (and I did end up liking it more than Jackie Brown).
There’s Eli Roth and Nicky Katt in small roles, there’s Three Kicks to the Head Part Three, there’s the Ship’s Mast gone wrong sequence, there’s the moment the second vignette bursts into glorious, eye-popping Technicolor, there’s Zoe Bell as herself.
And then of course, there are the Kill Bill nods. (And sure, one of them was pure expository device, but it was an entertaining expository device nonetheless.)

Ultimately, Death Proof is fun—provided you can enjoy the lo-fi, no-budget grindhouse aesthetic the production adopts—but would have been far more effective at a shorter running time.
Ironically, perhaps the best place for Death Proof may have been within the confines of a grindhouse-themed anthology (as opposed to the double bill approach Grindhouse took), where it would have been freed of the burden of a feature length running time. As it stands, this just feels like a short story that’s been padded, force-grown into a novel.
Maybe if Tarantino had filled in the time with more narrative nuts and bolts from the School of Cause-and-Effect Plot Action instead of all that blather, we could have enjoyed a top-down, wind-in-your-hair, radio-blasting-“Chick Habit” ride down the freeway rather than the erratic, fluctuating, stuttering trip we’re taken on.

Parting shot: Before Dimension does the double-dip (and I can only assume that giving Grindhouse the proper DVD treatment is somewhere in the cards), where do the faux trailers get their chance to grace TV screens?

(Death Proof OS courtesy of; UK quad courtesy of; script book cover art courtesy of

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


15.1 Congratulations to all involved with the following TV shows, for being chosen for Time’s 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME list.

Battlestar Galactica
“A stark, well-imagined story of a war in a galaxy far, far away, yet too close for comfort.”

“The finest, funniest and quirkiest of the '90s explosion of young-adult dramas, this WB bildungsroman was a rare soap about a young woman in which her personal growth was as important as her love life.”

“In a way it's a misnomer to call Lost one of TV's best shows—it's a fine show on the level of character and writing, but what makes it a classic is that it's the finest interactive game ever to appear in your living room once a week.”

Six Feet Under
“Alan Ball's all-in-the-funeral-family drama expanded on the themes of his movie American Beauty: families keep secrets, people maintain facades, and while death may be final, life is messy.”

Twin Peaks
“The story of a teen girl's death in the Pacific Northwest—and the pie-eating, deadpan-soliloquy-spouting FBI agent investigating it—carried on the theme, from Lynch movies like Blue Velvet, of sordid secrets and ancient horrors hid behind a facade of wholesome Americana, proving that TV could equal or surpass film in its storytelling ambitions.”

The X-Files
“… for years this conspiracist gem drilled into our reserves of horror and mistrust, and struck black oil.”

Hey! J.J. Abrams wound up with two of his shows on the list. Sweet.

All quotes are from the article. For the complete list, go here. (Each title above brings you to that particular show’s entry.)

15.2 Meanwhile, Lucas and Spielberg have apparently made up their minds: it’s officially Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I’d referred to the fourth Indy film once or twice here at the Iguana as Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, which was actually merely one of several rumoured titles.
I still like the sound of City of the Gods more than the official monicker, but hey, it’s their movie.

(Images courtesy of [Battlestar Galactica]; [Lost]; [Six Feet Under]; [Twin Peaks]; and [The X-Files].

Monday, September 10, 2007

Season 1 Episode 2

This episode is split neatly into two stories: one set on Earth, as Tyrus (Mark Gibbon) tracks down the “violent Mongo lady” (aka Baylin; Karen Cliché, from Mutant X), who was left stranded on our planet at the end of the Pilot, even as Zarkov tries to come up with a functioning rift blaster so Flash can return to Mongo to search for his father; the other, set on Mongo, as a man is caught ice-smuggling (a capital offense punishable by death), an unlikely event which manages to shed light on both the political milieu on Mongo, and Aura’s relationship with Ming.

Curiously, it’s the latter story that proves to be the more interesting, as the father-daughter relationship is given more complexity, even as the seeds for a revolution are planted.
And while that subplot makes the episode noteworthy, the Earth sequences prove to be distracting with light, sitcom-y humour, and Tyrus, who appears to be a caveman armed with two formidable weapons: a laser whip and too much eye liner.

Parting shot: I really love that name: Karen Cliché.

(Image courtesy of

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Mad cow disease has mutated in the Irish countryside, and now, not only are infected cattle attacking humans, but they’re passing on a virus that turns anyone bitten into a zombie!

Yup, it’s another zombie movie.

Written, edited, and directed by Conor McMahon, Dead Meat is the sort of low-budget horror movie that lives and dies by its gore, the sort of over-the-top, fairly ludicrous school of schlock seen in early Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. This is the kind of movie where eyeballs are sucked out by hoovers, and shovels and high-heeled shoes become deadly weapons when hurled just so.

Sadly, this is nowhere near as horrific as The Evil Dead, nor as ridiculously entertaining as Dead Alive. Save for some passably effective bits once night falls on our erstwhile heroine Helena (Marian Araujo) and her fellow uninfected, most of Dead Meat just lies there, much as its title suggests, rotting under the merciless gaze of seasoned horror geek eyes and the shadow of far better horror/comedy efforts from the past.
Admittedly, Dead Meat is perhaps a better watch than, say, Dead And Breakfast, but it’s still far from a good way to spend an hour and some twenty minutes.
As ridiculous as the song that plays during the end credits roll is (“Dead Meat,” written, composed, and performed by David Muyllaert, who also plays local gravedigger and male lead Desmond), it does signal an end to the less-than-stellar proceedings, and that’s always a good thing.

(Dead Meat DVD cover art courtesy of

Saturday, September 8, 2007


“A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane and smells like Cheetah.”
-- Ronald Reagan

After a brief prologue set in 1967, in the Northern California lumbertown of Carlisle, we flash forward to the present, where Carlisle is set to host the Free Love Festival, a weekend bacchanalia of sex, drugs, and rock and roll organized by one Frank Baker (ol’ Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens).
Throw in a bunch of modern day hippies (among them Jay himself, Jason Mewes), Carlisle’s “de facto peacekeeper,” Officer Buzz Hall (the Punisher himself, Thomas Jane), and a mad Ronald Reagan mask-wearing killer, and you’ve got The Tripper, co-written and directed by Deputy Dewey himself, David Arquette.

Given that this is a film that kicks off while the fires of the Vietnam war rage, set during a time when the war in Iraq continues to drag on with no apparent end in sight, and featuring a killer who dons the visage of a President who reigned over an America characterized by excess and conspicuous consumption, it’s obvious that Arquette is attempting to use the slasher film as a stage for some biting socio-political commentary.
Anyone who’s visited the Iguana before knows I love me a good horror film that actually says something, and though what The Tripper is saying is not necessarily anything new, my main problems with it are its ill-paced script, and the fact that a majority of the narrative’s characters are dope fiends who don’t really seem to deserve any audience sympathy.

Thus, not only does the film meander badly (I’d love to have used the adverb “trippily,” if the experience had been entertaining, which it ultimately wasn’t), but the gorehound in me found himself blasted back to the bad old days of the slasher film, when all I ended up doing was wait impatiently for the next victim to wind up dead. These are characters who are in a perpetually fraked-up state, and sympathy for these sorts is pretty hard to come by.
It’s always a challenge to get an audience to take a ride with characters like this, and when the film is a Trainspotting, or a Spun, or a Requiem for a Dream, you know all involved did their jobs splendidly. In films like these, you end up caring for and sympathizing with individuals you probably wouldn’t want to be seen in the same room with in real life.
Now, the average slasher film does have sex, drugs, alcohol, and wayward youth as some of its conventions. Not only does The Tripper up those particular antes exponentially, but Arquette asks us to spend most of our time with this host of druggies who seem to display no redeeming qualities at all. In the end, I don’t see why I should care for these people in the slightest.
And yes, we do have Samantha (Jaime King; from Sin City and TV’s Kitchen Confidential and The Class), who is currently abstaining from drugs because of a recent Bad Experience, and who is clearly the Last Girl-in-waiting, but she’s one out of six, and not a particularly compelling, charismatic screen presence. (Hey, if you’re gonna be the Last Girl, you better have some chops to deserve that honour.)

It’s also sad that some interesting actors (Balthazar Getty and Lukas Haas) are in this but aren’t really afforded anything meaty to chew on. Jane’s is perhaps the most noteworthy performance as the sane voice of authority, but of course, it’s a voice that’s drowned out by all the chemical hi-jinx going on.

One of the things The Tripper seems to be saying—an idea reinforced by the film’s end credits roll—is that while the American Powers-That-Be are evil, ineffectual passive resistance to that towering monolith is not really any better either.
Where The Tripper fails, I feel, is in not really presenting us with an alternative; in what is perhaps a gross oversimplification, the narrative doesn’t really put forward a stance between the ultra-left and the ultra-right which would make any sort of sense in this day and age.
I realize this may not really have been Arquette’s ultimate intent in the first place (this is, after all, a slasher film and not a Michael Moore documentary), but if you’re gonna get into this particular sandbox, you should at least play the game, right?

I wanted to have fun with this one, but in the end, it just didn’t float my boat.
Maybe if it had been funnier, or gorier, or more thrilling, or if it had had something more substantial to say, then The Tripper might have been worth the time and the price of admission.
As it is, re-watching a double feature of the Masters of Horror episodes, “Homecoming” and “The Washingtonians” (review in Archive: September 2007)—both effective exercises in horror as socio-political commentary—would be a far better prospect.

Parting shot: For those interested, Arquette also appears in the film as the redneck Muff, while the missus produces and has a teeny cameo.
Another name of note on The Tripper is comic book writer Steve Niles, whose 30 Days of Night has been adapted for the big screen and is just about to be unleashed on all of horror geekdom.

(The Tripper OS courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

Friday, September 7, 2007

Season 4 Episode 7
“The Dayf*ckers”

In what is arguably the weakest episode of the season, the boys get into a $5K wager: due to Drama’s belief that E cannot have unemotional sex, he places his money on Turtle getting laid with a complete stranger before E can.
Over the course of the episode, E sees Sloan (whom he broke up with because of the whole going-to-Italy-right-after-shooting-in-Colombia thing) and tries to re-establish communication lines, but it turns out Sloan’s met someone else.

Turtle meanwhile responds to an Internet personal ad and winds up with a hottie furry, a fetishist who has sex in animal costumes, and she wants Turtle to dress up as a pink rabbit.
In the end, E, reeling from Sloan’s rebuff, wins the bet for Vince, and Drama, cutting his losses, winds up getting laid in the bunny costume since Turtle’s too freaked about the furry scene. (In Johnny’s mind, if he’s gonna lose $5K, he may as well get something out of it.)

There’s also a subplot about Ari finally getting Jonah into the exclusive private school the Golds have long targeted.
It’s kind of sad though that we get two priceless moments in an otherwise lackluster episode: Turtle in the rabbit costume, and Ari actually shedding tears and begging to get his son into private school.

(Images courtesy of

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Season 2 Episode 12
“The Washingtonians”
Teleplay by Johnathon Schaech and Richard Chizmar; based on the short story by Bentley Little; directed by Peter Medak

Horror is at its best when it is used as a platform from which to say something, to make some statement regarding society or culture or the human condition; when it is more than just some stalking slasher chasing after nubile, photogenic co-eds, or some long-haired, contortionist ghost.
Based on the short story by Bentley Little, “The Washingtonians” posits that America’s founding father was in truth, a cannibal, and that there is a fringe society of fanatics who not only strive to keep that truth a secret, but also have a taste for human flesh.
As outrageous as its central premise sounds, “The Washingtonians” is nonetheless one of the most effective and telling tales of MoH’s second season.

Directed by Peter Medak (best known to horror geeks as the man who gave us The Changeling), from a teleplay co-written by Johnathon Schaech (The Doom Generation, The Forsaken; Schaech also plays the lead role of Mike Franks), “The Washingtonians” is a savage portrait of history-as-perpetrated myth and America-as-eater of its young, with a sly, comedic wink at its very end.
Despite the slight awkwardness of the protracted exposition during the climactic Washingtonian feast, this, alongside Joe Dante’s “The Screwfly Solution,” is the best of season 2.

(The Washingtonians DVD cover art courtesy of

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Okay. Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.
Chae Min-young (Kim Seo-hyeong) and her daughter Joo-hee (Kim Yoo-jeung) move into an apartment complex, where strange things begin to happen, and it soon becomes clear that there is a vengeful ghost in the area, who will not rest till she gets what she’s after.

Now, despite that hoary Asian horror set-up, Nebeonjjae Cheung (Hidden Floor aka Forbidden Floor) actually turns out to be a better viewing experience than 2 Wol 29 Il (February 29; review in Archive: August 2007). I make the comparison since both are part of the “One Day Suddenly” quartet of Korean horror films.
Having said that, it still doesn’t mean Nebeonjjae Cheung is off the hook for being the derivative movie that it is: Iconography is strictly standard Asian horror, and the ghost is of the Cousin It School of Contortion and Sudden Startling Movement.

It’s actually probably a blessing that Nebeonjjae Cheung is part of the “One Day Suddenly” quartet, as it looks so much better when placed alongside 2 Wol 29 Il; the acting is better, and the cinematography is closer to that Korean visual vibe I groove on.
It does however, suffer from pacing issues. Some judicious cutting from director Kwon Il-soo would perhaps have turned this one into a leaner scare machine, relieving us of the burden of plodding through periods of slow tedium.

As it stands though, there is nothing blazingly original here (a sad trait it shares with 2 Wol 29 Il), and one can only hope that the two other “One Day Suddenly” films (Roommates and Dark Forest) prove to be better movies than this.

(Nebeonjjae Cheung OS courtesy of

Monday, September 3, 2007


Good Stephen King film adaptations are hard to come by, kind of like ghosts, if you think about it.
Michael Enslin (John Cusack) is a jaded soul, who believes in nothing, not even God. He is also the author of a series of “Ghost Survival Guides” (with titles like 10 Haunted Hotels, 10 Haunted Lighthouses, and yes, 10 Haunted Graveyards), a job which entails spending the night at purportedly spectre-plagued establishments and writing cheesy guide books about them.
The dreary routine of his so-called life is thrown into disarray however, when, along with pamphlets of establishments hoping to be written up by Enslin in his next Ghost Survival Guide, he receives a postcard in the mail, which warns him not to stay in Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in New York.
He does, of course, kicking off the disturbing goings-on in Mikael Hafstrom‘s 1408.

Based on a short story by King, 1408 is largely set in the eponymous hotel room, as we watch Cusack attempt to weather the paranormal attack the room wages on him. Duly warned by Dolphin Hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), Enslin doggedly insists on staying the night, thus paying the price for his cynical arrogance.
With a set-up of this sort, the majority of the film’s running time is spent with Enslin in 1408, in real time, as he is assaulted by the sinister force that lives in the room. It’s to the credit of Hafstrom and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme (Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering and John Hillcoat’s The Proposition) that a hotel room that looks perfectly innocuous seems to exude a malevolent air, once the disturbances go into full swing.
And it’s to Cusack’s credit, that Mike Enslin comes across as a protagonist we can empathize with. Cusack submits a tired, wounded man for our close inspection, a man bereft of hope, who comes face to face with the irrational, forcing him to come to grips with his personal demons, or die trying.

Swedish director Hafstrom made his mark on global cinema with notable films like the Oscar-nominated Ondskan (Evil) and Strandvaskaren (Drowning Ghost), before entering the Hollywood mainstream with the Clive Owen/Jennifer Aniston-starrer, Derailed.
In 1408, he presents us with a cinematic experience that plays like a particularly effective funhouse ride: by turns creepy and disturbing, yet ultimately, entertaining.
There are no deep truths to be found in 1408, just good old fashioned scares. This may not be a stand-out, potential modern classic in the annals of cinematic horror, but it does have a number of sequences that get the job done (the CSI moment is memorably chilling).
This also does for The Carpenters what Final Destination did for John Denver, and any film that can turn an overplayed oldie into a total creepfest really should be seen solely on principle.

(1408 OS courtesy of

Sunday, September 2, 2007


I’ve been waiting a long time for the Sci Fi Channel to come up with another show that would kick my a$$ into orbit the way the Battlestar Galactica redux did.
Well, my wait isn’t over.
Which is not to say that their Flash Gordon redux is a total waste, but it’s got some ways to go before it can reach a level where I can actually say it’s a good show.

Steven “Flash” Gordon (Eric Johnson, who played Whitney, Lana Lang’s boyfriend from way back in Smallville’s freshman season) is a star athlete whose father Lawrence is a physicist long believed dead. But it soon turns out that Flash’s father discovered a rift to another world and could still be alive, possibly lost in that other realm.
Meanwhile, incursions from that other world begin to occur just as Flash’s ex, Dale Arden (Gina Holden; Final Destination 3 and TV’s Blood Ties) returns to town, and a mysterious stranger driving an RV (Jody Racicot; incidentally enough, also from Final Destination 3 and Blood Ties) shows an interest in the young man.
All this activity leads to Flash and Dale inadvertently entering a rift and winding up in Mongo, where they meet the local tyrant Ming (John Ralston), who wants something called an “Imex” from Lawrence Gordon’s belongings.

The premise and set-up of this latest incarnation of Flash Gordon are pretty standard, and the writing and performances are passable without being particularly noteworthy. Mind you, I’ve seen far worse, but it’s the sort of show I wish were smarter, so it could be a lot more entertaining than it actually is.
As it is, the characters are agreeable without being overly interesting: Flash is written as the modern, capable hero, schooled in the Joss Whedon Academy of Flippant Heroics, while Dale is the modern, capable heroine who apparently also went to the same alma mater. Meanwhile, “RV Dude” turns out to be Zarkov, of the high-strung, twitchy scientist school, whose inventions aren’t particularly effective.
But while Johnson and Holden submit performances that just pass muster, Racicot comes off as a tad too annoying. Ralston‘s Ming is, thankfully, not overplayed, though at the same time, is not particularly a powerful presence either, and the Floaty Dude (Rankol; Jonathan Walker, from George Romero’s Land of the Dead), who is his right hand flunky, is creepy in a cheesy sort of way.
Some of the series’ other characters include Aura, Ming’s daughter, played by Anna Van Hooft, and Dale’s fiancée, Joe Wylee (Giles Panton): the presence of these two pretty much blares “romantic tension” for the two leads.

The Flash Gordon Pilot, awkward and clunky as it is, is pretty underwhelming. It’s not particularly atrocious—as I’ve said, I’ve seen worse—but it clearly lacks the wit and verve of some of the other new Pilots I’ve taken a look at in the four installments of TV Watch (see Archive: August 2007).
Having said that, I’ll be checking out a couple of its succeeding episodes, if only to see if this gets any better.

(Image courtesy of