Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Preliminaries (1)

It’s getting to that time of year again, when I have 12 months’ worth of film viewing to look back on so I can compile a rundown of the 13 best horror movies from that time frame.
Given that when I put together ¡Qué Horror! 2008, I had yet to have seen certain key titles from that period, and this past year has proven to be a time to play catch-up as best I could, there’s a bit of an overlap between ¡Qué Horror! 2009 and last year’s batch.
So I decided to tweak the parameters of the list somewhat. Instead of a rundown of the 13 Best, Most Recent Horror Movies, I just chose the 13 best horror movies I’d seen for the first time in the past 12 months, regardless of initial public screening date.* (I did, in fact, manage to finally see a key 1995 vampire title earlier this year, but as you’ll note, it didn’t make the list; wasn’t too enamoured of it…)

Also, another deviation from last year’s ¡Qué Horror! will be its frequency: last year, I posted one entry a day for the last 13 days of October, culminating on Halloween.
Now, you’ll have noted that the Iguana isn’t as active as it was in the heyday of its first two years (long, involved story not really pertinent to this post). As such, I can’t really say I’ll be able to replicate last year’s feat, so I’ve decided to start posting as early as October 1, on an irregular basis. I may even post more than one title on any given day. That should give me enough wiggle room to get through all 13 films before October 31 comes around.
That should also give you time to hunt this year’s baker’s dozen down for a Halloween frightfest marathon, should you so wish it.
(The cut-off viewing date for this year’s batch is September 30, and there are only about 7 hours left of that; any horror film I may see for the first time this October will be eligible for ¡Qué Horror! 2010.)

Now, before I leave you to it, I’d be terribly remiss if I didn’t publicly thank my nephew Jeb, who’s responsible for my having had the opportunity to see eleven of this year’s formidable batch.
Many, many, many thanx, Jeb. This would have been a sad-a$$ ¡Qué Horror! without your invaluable help.

Next, in The Preliminaries (2), I’ll have a rundown of ¡Qué Horror! 2008.

* Which is the date listed with each title.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Brick’s Noah Segan) are two high school misfits who’ve been friends since forever, and now, they’ve just discovered something in the bowels of an abandoned mental hospital, something that will deform not just their relationship, but their psyches as well.

Deadgirl is a disquietingly impressive feature from co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, working off a script written by Trent Haaga.
Haaga expertly takes a horror staple,* placing it firmly in a high school milieu we’ve hardly seen it in before (and certainly never dealt with in so serious a manner), a disturbing narrative that touches on, among other things, the cruel societal hierarchies in high school, the objectification of the female form, and the fantasies that buoy us through the seas of alienated adolescence.
Deadgirl also manages to examine friendships built on the foundations of circumstance and reinforced by their surroundings, and how extenuating factors can impact on those relationships.
The two main leads, Fernandez and Segan, are a large part of why Deadgirl works as well as it does. Though neither portrays a completely sympathetic character, they both nonetheless deliver terribly effective performances, finding the humanity at the core of their characters, even when they’re committing repulsive, heinous acts.

This is very strong stuff, horror not to be taken lightly, and that doesn’t treat its audience with kid gloves.
This may be about high school kids, but Deadgirl isn’t one of those PG-13 Hollywood horror films featuring some teen-ish TV stars on hiatus.
It doesn’t mess about, and rather single-mindedly, goes straight for the gut, and, in a very welcome surprise, also goes for the heart. For anyone who’s survived the psychic minefield of high school, there are some rather familiar feelings on display here, amidst all the blood and gore.

Another interesting characteristic of Deadgirl is that it implicitly acknowledges that all those huge, widescreen horror epics can find their roots in the smallest of stories, in the narrow divide between friendship and love.
It’s certainly a great gift to horror cinema from Haaga, Sarmiento, and Harel, that they chose to tell that small story (fittingly enough, about very big things), a tale of desperation and desire, of resentment and revenge, of life and death, and the yawning abyss that separates the two.

“[Deadgirl is] an important movie for me, because it examines how horrific being a teenager can be. Were you a f*cked up kid? Did you wish chicks dug you? Did you wish that just once you had control, a little right to something, the right to be the boss? Deadgirl put me in the position to answer those questions I've been asking since I was 13. These are real feelings in a surreal world and it helped me a lot, as terrifying as it was to dig down and bring up all that horrific truth and vitriol. I hope people see the movie as a metaphor and not just a horror movie.” -- Noah Segan

* Or what could very well be one (in fact, a particularly popular staple at the moment); we’re never told exactly what it is during the running time, though we can guess, given the evidence at hand…

(Deadgirl OS’s courtesy of; images courtesy of &

Thursday, September 3, 2009



Ever since Michael Bay’s brazen culpability in the decision to redo Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre—officially kicking off the 70’s/80’s horror remake wave we’re still in the clammy grip of—I’ve been waiting for that particular remake that would actually stand on its own as a valid piece of modern horror cinema.
I look at Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead, or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead redux; we didn’t particularly need them, but they were excellent updates of their originals nonetheless.
I’ve also yet to see this generation’s The Thing or The Fly, remakes that actually transcend not just the original source material, but also the boundaries of genre cinema as well.
And while Dennis Iliadis’ grimly violent The Last House on the Left—a reworking of Wes Craven’s infamous debut feature—may or may not be in that esteemed league,* it’s certainly a very adult and ballsy piece that effortlessly leapfrogs over its recent remade ilk and is officially the first 70’s/80’s horror remake that I’m actually satisfied with.

As with the original, Iliadis’ Last House follows the ordeal of a family who gets the chance to turn the tables on a bunch of criminals who have just perpetrated a heinous act on one of its own.
Iliadis takes a script by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth (who wrote Disturbia, and previously worked with Craven on the script for Red Eye), and with a pretty solid cast, crafts a tense and disturbing portrait of the strength of filial bonds and the universality of violence.
It’s brutal, this, and Iliadis gets some excellent performances from the likes of young actors Spencer Treat Clark (Bruce Willis’ son in Unbreakable, all lookee-he’s-growed-up-now!) and Sara Paxton (Aquamarine’s mermaid, and soon to be seen on TV’s The Beautiful Life), and more seasoned thespians like Monica Potter, Tony Goldwyn (who I still think of as either Tarzan, or the bad dude in Ghost), and Garret Dillahunt, who stole most of the best bits in the second and final season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, playing the ultimate role-playing geek living in his mother’s basement, the awesome John Henry.
With Dillahunt and Goldwyn as the heads of their respective families, Last House presents an unflinching depiction of how far ordinary people are willing to go to avenge a loved one.

This one’s intense, and yes, I’ll say it again—brutal, with some great work by KNB EFX, including a gloriously gory kitchen appliance-assisted Grand Guignol bit. (True, it’s a scene that, arguably, may have been unnecessary, but it’s still a shocking bit of grue!)
Hands down, this wipes the floor with the collective a$$es of all those other recent horror remakes, including those of Craven’s Hills Have Eyes films.
By pairing the onscreen violence with performances that manage to delineate personalities that elicit our sympathies (or our antagonism), Last House quickly proves to be much more than a misguided exercise in reheating cinematic leftovers in the hopes of cashing in on a recognizable brand name.
No, this is a grand, catered affair, whose dishes rework the classic recipe into something very contemporary, and yet, ultimately timeless.
So come on in, if you’ve the stomach for it. Just bring lots of napkins to sop up the mess.
Lots and lots of napkins…

* It would be difficult for me to judge whether Iliadis’ take transcends Craven’s version, as I’ve yet to have the opportunity to see the original…

Parting shot: Aside from Iliadis’ Last House, the only other recent ‘70’s horror remake I actually like is John Moore’s The Omen.
I do still have a bunch of issues with it (and yeah, that was another remake we really didn’t need to begin with), but it does have some great cinematography, courtesy of Jonathan Sela.

(The Last House on the Left OS courtesy of; images courtesy of