Sunday, October 31, 2010

Candidate # 1


(January 2010)

Imagine being stranded on a ski lift, without anyone knowing you were there. Trapped way above the snow, in the dark, and the cold…
That’s the wickedly taut scenario writer-director Adam Green invites us to, not so much view, as actually partake in, in Frozen.

I’ve seen the term “experiential horror” being used to describe Frozen, and a bunch of other recent titles (like Buried and Devil), and that’s about as good a term as any. These are the sort of films that attempt to place the viewer in the situation they’re watching from the normally safe remove of their seats, films that strive to break the fourth wall by putting us alongside the narrative’s protagonists, to share their panic and terror. (All this without tacking on a few extra bits to the ticket price with that new-fangled whatchallit, 3D. Is that right? “Three-dee”?)

Now, if the best horror is meant to unsettle and disturb, then experiential horror ups that ante considerably, making the cinematic experience more horribly intimate by confining us in a circumscribed space, forcing us to undergo the suffering.

In Frozen, we’re on an open, swinging chair on a ski lift; in Devil, we’re in an elevator; in Buried, we’re trapped-- along with Ryan Reynolds-- in a coffin.

Given how intense Frozen is, I’m awfully curious to see how Devil and Buried will compare, particularly Buried, which is getting loads of attention, and took home this year’s Méliès d'Or Award for Best European Fantastic Film, edging out past ¡Qué Horror! titles like Tom Shankland’s The Children and Philip Ridley’s Heartless, to name just a pair of its eight competitors.

Whatever the case may turn out to be with Buried though, Green has a superbly crafted and distressingly disturbing film in Frozen, whose young cast (Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore, and Emma Bell, who we’ll be seeing more of on The Walking Dead) hits all the right beats, from the casual to the tension-filled.

I haven’t seen Hatchet 2 yet, but even if I end up not going crazy for it, between Frozen and Spiral, Green has got some excellent-- and pretty formidable-- pieces on his track record.

(Frozen OS courtesy of; design by The Refinery.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Parting Shot (Part 2)

And here're the rest...

(May 2008)

And while I had those “let’s keep it to one slot” quandaries, Australian horror actually grabbed up two slots this year (which only goes to prove that in the wake of Wolf Creek’s box office success, there’s been some noteworthy horror coming from our neighbours in the land Down Under).

Thus, an excellent title that got frozen out of the main list: Jon Hewitt’s Acolytes.
With three teen-agers, a convicted child molester out on parole, and a killer, as its main characters, Acolytes may sound more like a thriller, but this is a horror movie; the characters’ paths cross and collide in this disturbing tale that demonstrates how quickly schemes and manipulations can spiral out of control. Secrets lie at the root of Acolytes, secrets that can be traced to both childhood traumas and adolescent hormones, secrets that lie behind the veneer of teen bravado and adult suburbia.

It’s an interesting and pointed note that the only adult characters of consequence in Acolytes are the aforementioned child molester and killer (not once are we shown any of the parents of the three teens). It’s almost as if today’s youth have been cast adrift, without any moral compasses to steer by.

The fact that, on the surface, things seem to be triggered by that awful narrative copout of teens doing patently stupid things, when the truth is so much deeper and far more insidious, makes this one a solid piece that leaves us wrung out by the wayside.

Ultimately, we’re left with a bleak and haunting final shot, and the sound of the Midnight Juggernauts (“Si-yi-yi-yi-rens, sound of the sirens, Hell reigns above…”) guiding us through the end credits roll.

Powerful, twisty, unsettling stuff.

Incidentally, among the cast of Acolytes is Sebastian Gregory, who also appears in another noteworthy Aussie entry, Beautiful. If Acolytes rocks your boat, chances are, Beautiful will too.

(October 2009)

"[The script for
Splice] pushed me a little bit. It challenged me and made me feel very uncomfortable at times. I was fascinated by my own response to it, because it really does make you squirm in a deeply uncomfortable, ethical, emotional way that I wasn't necessarily prepared for."

-- Sarah Polley

Though Vincenzo Natali hadn’t really thoroughly rocked my Film Geek boat with Cube, what put Splice on my anticipatory radar were a bunch of other things: I love me some Sarah Polley and Guillermo del Toro. And let’s face it, who can say “No” to some good old fashioned 21st-century Frankenstein horror?

As it is, in a slower year, Splice would most likely have ended up on the main rundown, but this year, it’s got to settle for runner-up status.

Polley and co-star Adrien Brody are superstar geneticists fiddling with DNA for a pharmaceutical company, who end up creating something unnatural, with disastrous results. (Natali displays his love of James Whale’s Frankenstein films by naming both characters after key actors Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester.)

Past is indeed prologue here, as the largely unseen histories of the characters impact on the narrative flow; in Splice, heredity and environment merge in the most terrible of ways to produce a cautionary tale for our times.

In addition, there’s also a lot of Classic Cronenberg in the celluloid genes of Splice; it can, in fact, be seen as a companion piece to his remake of The Fly. I’ll refrain from saying anything more, other than, if you’re into Cronenberg, you’ll know the themes and the imagery and the conventions when you see them.

(Reviews of some of del Toro’s films, the del Toro-produced-- and ¡Qué Horror! 2008 entry-- El Orfanato, the Polley-written and -directed Away From Her, and Paris Je t’aime, which includes a segment by Natali, can be found in the Archive.)


(August 2009)

And, speaking of 21st-century Frankenstein horror with Cronenbergian echoes, there’s Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence).

Like Ti West’s The House of the Devil, this one has got that late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s horror aesthetic which makes it play like a forgotten relic from the Betamax era, though it admittedly lacks the assured polish of West’s effort. Also, unlike Cronenberg, writer-director Six doesn’t seem to be interested in exploring the thematic depths beneath his surface assault on the audience’s sensibilities. Still, The Human Centipede has got its fair share of biological and scatological horror, and a mondo disturbo premise that has assured its cinematic infamy for years to come.

If the “mad scientists” of Splice had too much of a modern sheen for you (a little too “we’re so cool, we’re on the cover of Wired”), Dieter Laser’s portrayal of stark raving loony, Herr Doktor Josef Heiter should be just the old school ticket.

And, whilst on the subject, I should point out that Six has his follow-up (the ominously-titled Full Sequence) raring to go, and while the original is purportedly “100% medically accurate,” the Full Sequence teaser proudly proclaims the sequel is “medically inaccurate.”

Which just gives Six all the leeway he needs to take his twisted visions to heights unseen in First Sequence.

Oh, Lordy…


(March 2010)

And we wrap up with a film originally entitled The Repossession Mambo (after Eric Garcia’s novel, upon which it was based), Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men, where we have some excellent and disturbing future dystopia on display.

Though this may initially appear to be a SF-action vehicle, there’s definitely horror in this scenario, a future where The Union is ready to repossess artiforgs (artificial organs) from those unfortunate souls who fall behind on their payments.

There’s horror here; in the shadow of a looming, merciless System; in the foreboding sight of that Final Notice red; in a life dogged by bad debts and the hounds sent out to make the collections; in the proverbial shoe suddenly found on the other foot.
Aside from a killer cast (Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, among others), we also get visual echoes of Oldboy and Videodrome, as well as a narrative echo of a future dystopia classic that shall remain nameless; though that last echo is particularly resounding-- a point some may take against it-- Repo Men is still a noteworthy title that deserves an audience.

So, there we go. ¡Qué Horror! for another year.

Now, as we slide into the next 12 months, I’m going to try a little something in the build-up to 2011’s rundown.

I had the idea when I happened to catch up with Adam Green’s latest, the nastily intense Frozen, about 20 hours after the cut-off date of September 30, 2010.
That, in itself, was a bit of a blessing for me, because if I had caught Frozen before the deadline, I’d’ve had a bitch of a time wrestling a slot for it on the main rundown.
So, what I’m going to attempt here is to, every now and then, when I’m able, have short mentions of horror films I feel have a pretty good chance of staking out a slot in next year’s ¡Qué Horror! rundown.

It’s a good way for me to keep a running, online track of the possibles, and it’ll put the spotlight on titles that I feel deserve the attention.

If I can’t do the full-length reviews the way I used to before, I can at least try to do this…

Thus, in a few, you’ll have ¡Qué Horror! 2011 Candidate #1: Frozen.

There you go, Mr. Green. Officially the first title with an eye on a 2011 slot. Truth to tell, Mr. Green, given what a nasty little number Frozen is, it’s your slot to lose at this point…

To everyone, hope your Halloween’s a happy one, and here’s to the next dozen months of horror…

(Splice, The Human Centipede, Repo Men OS’s courtesy of; Acolytes French OS courtesy of

The Parting Shot
(Part 1)

So there we are, this year’s rundown.

Now, in any given year, there are always a bunch of titles that didn’t make the final cut, some of which might actually have been on the list for a time, before being bumped off by other films I subsequently viewed and found more worthy of the honour.

The past 365 days have been busier than some other years, and a number of noteworthy films came this close to the final list. Now, since the Iguana isn’t as populated by current reviews as it once was, I figured I should at least make mention of the titles that almost made this year’s cut.
As I said, it was a busy year, a good one for horror. How else to explain the fact that both Christopher Smith’s latest and a Guillermo del Toro-produced title ended up off the main rundown?
At any rate, here are the ones that nearly made it this year…


(January 2007)

Now, I owe this to Adam Green, whose Hatchet I wasn’t terribly fond of (the review’s lurking in the Archive; go on and hunt it down); I owed Mr. Green the fair shake of mentioning Spiral (which he co-directed with Joel David Moore), even if it got bumped off the main list…

Spiral is a tight, well-constructed and excellently-acted film, that’s, hands down, one of the best psychological horror pieces I’ve seen in a while. It’s also a labour of love, brought to us by Green, Moore, and their other friend, Chuck Bartowski.
Well… actually Zachary Levi, who also appears in (and co-produces!) the film, alongside Joan of Arcadia herself, Amber Tamblyn.

If you haven’t seen this one, make an effort. If you require added incentive, Six herself, Tricia Helfer, is also in this in a small role.

So hop to it, yeah? Psychological horror and Tricia Helfer. How can anyone resist?


(September 2007)

I love this movie-- how could I not when it puts Blondie’s “Picture This” on such prominent display?-- but this was one of those instances where other titles that wound up on the main list were clearly more “horror,” among them, another entry that dealt with pretty much the same themes. That film is one of the 2010 13, thus, Nacho Vigalondo’s Los Cronocrimenes isn’t. Still, if you haven’t checked this one out, please do. It’s been optioned for the English-language remake treatment, so no better time than the present to check the original out.

Heh. “Time.” “Present.”

See what I just did there?


(October 2009)

If I could only have one faux documentary in this year’s rundown, it most definitely would be (and is) Lake Mungo.

Still, Olatunde Osunsanmi’s The Fourth Kind deserves some attention.
The conceit of bridging purported “actual” video and audio recordings with “dramatizations” featuring the likes of Milla Jovovich and Elias Koteas may not have been 100% effective (some telling bits that betray the fiction can be found in them), but it was certainly interesting, taking the audience one welcome remove from the Hollywood trend du jour of the “found footage” format.

The harrowing events surrounding Dr. Abigail Tyler (played in the “re-enactments” by Jovovich) are ultimately unsettling and involving, and it’s interesting to note that while the more overtly horror movie elements-- the dead language bits, the Exorcist contortions, all a tad too Hollywood compared to your standard documented UFO/abduction cases-- are those that more readily point to the fictional nature of the entire film, they’re also some of the most disturbing aspects of The Fourth Kind.

The distorted recordings (video and audio) succeed in getting under the skin and go a very long way in clothing the proceedings in an air of authentic inexplicability.

In the end, The Fourth Kind may be an elaborate fiction dressed to the nines as a purported “truth”-- in many ways, it’s the anti-Lake Mungo, with all its narrative bells and whistles-- but that really shouldn’t deter you from appreciating it for what it is: an unsettling and effective piece about the unknowable things of our world.


(May 2010)

If Christopher Smith could only have one slot in this year’s rundown, it most definitely would be (and is) occupied by Triangle.

Still, his latest effort, Black Death, deserves some attention. (Have I said this before? This sounds awfully familiar.)

In it, Sean Bean plays a crusading soldier of God tasked with retrieving a necromancer purportedly keeping a village safe from the plague through diabolical practices. It’s a grim little number that puts faith and belief under a harsh spotlight, and features Severance alumni Andy Nyman and Tim McInnerney in roles quite unlike their past work with Smith.

It’s also worth noting that, a) this is the first time Smith has directed a piece that wasn’t written by him as well; Black Death’s screenplay comes to us courtesy of Dario Poloni, who also wrote Wilderness; and b) Black Death took home 4 awards in the recently concluded Screamfest in Los Angeles: Best Director, Best Actor (for Bean), Best Cinematography (for Sebastian Edschmid), and Best Score (for Christian Henson).

(Reviews of Severance and Wilderness can be found in the Archive, while Triangle, is of course, on the ¡Qué Horror! 2010 list.)

(Spiral and Timecrimes OS’s courtesy of; The Fourth Kind OS courtesy of;Black Death German OS courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[13 of 13]

[REC] 2 (September 2009)

Contrary to the louder, “sound and fury” mentality of Hollywood’s hollower sequels, [REC] 2 targets higher ground in more significant ways. Not only are the shots more ambitious, but so is the narrative structure.

Read the entire review here.

Parting shot: Well, as it turns out, we’re in for two more [REC] films: Paco Plaza will direct [REC] Genesis, a prequel set for a Fall 2011 release, and Jaume Balagueró will helm [REC] Apocalypse, which will reportedly close out the series in Fall 2012, “… with the pandemic spreading to unknown proportions.”


Meanwhile, Flatmate, the Balagueró film I mention at the tail end of the original [REC] 2 review, has apparently now been rechristened, Sleep Tight; note the one sheet below.

([REC] 2 OS courtesy of; Sleep Tight OS courtesy of

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[12 of 13]

(August 2009)

Ever since Philip Ridley made me stand up and pay attention with The Reflecting Skin, I’ve waited for his return to the cinema. Thus, having missed the opportunity to see The Passion of Darkly Noon, it was with a fair amount of excitement that I looked forward to Heartless; I wasn’t disappointed.

Though Ridley’s Faustian Heartless (with Jim Sturgess as the luckless schmuck who falls for the Devil’s siren song) is much closer to the mainstream than The Reflecting Skin was, it’s nonetheless a beautifully constructed piece that allows a smidgen of ambiguity to inform its climax, setting it above the majority of other films that follow its by-now familiar narrative structure.

And Sturgess also sings songs that are on the film’s soundtrack (as he did on Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe), so aside from suffering at the diabolical whims of Old Nick, he also gets to exercise his pipes.

At the very least, it’s an interesting deal he got himself into…

(Heartless OS courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[11 of 13]

(August 2009)

As I made mention in my Severance review (lurking in the Archive), I wasn’t really taken by Christopher Smith’s feature debut Creep. So while I looked forward to his third effort, Triangle, I approached it with a certain degree of caution.
At a 1-1 score, Smith could still go either way in my books.

I’m glad to report that the score emerged 2-1, in Mr. Smith’s favour.

In Triangle, Melissa George and company encounter strange phenomena and the resultant engendered terror on the high seas; the exact nature of the phenomena and resultant terror should be withheld for maximum audience satisfaction.
Suffice it to say that Smith constructs a, ahem, watertight exercise in the horror of inevitability and continues to evolve as a filmmaker in graceful leaps and bounds.
Of course, given my unalloyed joy with Triangle, I went into Smith’s subsequent film, Black Death, with high expectations; again, I’m glad to report that the score is now 3-1, in Mr. Smith’s favour. (To try and spread the ¡Qué Horror! love though, I allowed him only one slot on the rundown, so Black Death ended up on the runners-up list, which I’ll tackle after we get through the main 13.)

(Triangle UK quad courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[10 of 13]

(July 2009)

Of the 3 recent Clive Barker film adaptations (the other two being The Midnight Meat Train and Book of Blood; reviews shambling about in the Archive), Anthony DiBlasi’s Dread is the one that can arguably be said to be even better than the source material, and considering the original is a Barker short story, that’s saying quite a lot.
What DiBlasi does here, is to personalize the phobias established in the original Books of Blood short story; fears are grounded in very specific childhood traumas. For example, in the film, we are made privy to the root cause of Cheryl Fromm’s vegetarianism (which, if you’ve read the short story, you’ll know is the crux of the powerful set piece that lies at the diseased heart of “Dread”).

There’re also some trade-offs (protagonist Stephen Grace-- played by Jackson Rathbone-- gets a new fear, while his phobia from the short story is fobbed off to another character), as well as a couple of new characters, setting up the film’s grim third act, which looks vastly different from the short story’s climax. It’s a darker, far more harrowing close that nonetheless still makes perfectly sick sense given the manner in which the narrative unfolds.

It’s also good to know that Rathbone’s sulky, pouty non-presence in the Twilight movies is all on the character and not a reflection of the young man’s acting abilities. He acquits himself well here, as do the other young cast members.

is one of the best Barker adaptations out there and should be seen by any horror aficionado, even those who aren’t familiar with Barker’s work.

It’s powerful, dark stuff, this. The kind of indiscriminate horror that works in an amoral universe, where no one is exempt from dastardly fates.

(Dread OS courtesy of

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year

[9 of 13]

(May 2009)

Like Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist has gone down in the annals of cinematic infamy as one of those Cannes films: the ones that detonate like atomic bombs, that repulse and enrage and provoke.
In Antichrist, tragedy befalls Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who took home the Best Actress prize from Cannes for her troubles), and the couple subsequently retreat to a cabin in the wilderness where things go spectacularly awry.
Von Trier has gone on the record as saying Antichrist was very much therapy, a creative act meant to help his rehabilitation in the wake of a mental breakdown. The result is indeed something potent and difficult. On certain levels, it plays like one of those tests of cinematic endurance the French have bombarded us with in recent years. There is none of the quirky humour evident in von Trier’s previous excursion into horror territory, Riget; here, there is only bleak, arty, and rather carnal nihilism.
Antichrist is a film where sex happens at the indiscriminate drop of some trou, and where the act is either an evasion of psychological pain, or a foretaste of unsettling brutality.
Very. Unsettling.

Does Antichrist deserve its Cannes infamy? It does.
There are, however, other films that are harder to sit through, films like Martyrs or Irreversible, for that matter.
But that’s all really relative in the end.
Antichrist savages and assaults, housing disturbing horror film elements within the cinematic framework of the art film.
Like a wild fox ready to sink its teeth into hot, fleshy meat, it is not to be approached casually.

(Antichrist Australian OS courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[8 of 13]
(February 2009)

In the wake of [REC], the found footage, shakycam sub-genre finally found firm footing in horror cinema, achieving the sort of credentials Hollywood producers pay close attention to. Naturally though, given the flood of these low budget, potentially big box office earners that came pouring in (including the [REC] English-language remake Quarantine), some intrepid filmmakers chose to toy with the format, producing works that would stand out from the crowd.
Written and directed by Joel Anderson, Lake Mungo is one such title.
Though there is “amateur” footage in here (including cell phone video clips), these are contained within a structure that emulates those true-to-life documentaries that you can sometimes catch on cable, chronicling supernatural cases like possessions or haunted houses.

All very matter-of-fact and low key in its approach, Lake Mungo is an exquisite slow burn that nonetheless leaves a chillingly unsettling imprint on its audience. It’s all the more laudable an achievement due to the stripped-down, yet very skilled manner in which the film is put together.
Additionally, Lake Mungo has been optioned for the Hollywood remake treatment, though the last I heard, the redux would forego the faux doc approach and present the tale as a straight-forward narrative. Trust me, you should do yourself the favour of seeing Anderson’s original first.

(Lake Mungo OS courtesy of

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[7 of 13]
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (February 2009)

Ti West’s The House of the Devil is an interesting sort of oddity: it’s a film set in the ‘80’s, executed in ‘70’s style horror. Strains of the cinematic approach taken by West can still be detected in late ‘70’s fare like John Carpenter’s Halloween. In point of fact, if the slasher sub-genre hadn’t appropriated the very specific set of elements that it did from Halloween, subsequently running riot with them, we might have seen more of this subtler kind of film in the ‘80’s.
For a lifelong horrorhead, West’s House plays like a particularly well-made yet forgotten gem from that period, dusted off and rescued from some cobweb-laden cinematic vault.
West’s exacting approach to the material-- erstwhile babysitter gets into nasty trouble on the night of an eclipse-- is quite ably assisted by a solid cast that includes Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, and The Signal’s AJ Bowen.
We even get a sonic blast from the past, courtesy of The Fixx.

Granted, I’m honestly unsure how this will play to today’s generation of cinemagoers, whose definition of “horror” is understandably informed by 21st century Hollywood trends.

Then again, one never knows.

Whatever the case, for any horrorheads out there who experienced the Betamax revolution firsthand, The House of the Devil should play like a case of déjà vu that never was. (There’s actually a limited VHS edition of The House of the Devil out there, for any hardcore old school horror collectors.)

Parting shot: The Signal-- whose review can be found lurking in the Archive-- was on the ¡Qué Horror! 2008 rundown.

(The House of the Devil OS courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[6 of 13]

(January 2009)

[Writer/director Paul] Solet delves deeply into the primal anxieties that inform the entire process of conception, gestation, and childbirth, those universal fears of something, anything really, going so very terribly wrong.

Read the entire review here.

(Grace OS courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[5 of 13]

(October 2008)

Even as it chronicles the final death throes of a relationship gone horribly toxic, [Long Weekend] also shows in no uncertain terms, the callousness and presumption with which we, as a species, treat our planet.

Read the entire review here.

(Long Weekend OS courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[4 of 13]

(October 2008)

... if you’re looking for some fun Halloween viewing, Trick ‘r Treat is most definitely the ticket.

Read the entire review here.

(Trick ‘r Treat OS courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[3 of 13]

(September 2008)

In Seventh Moon, [director Eduardo] Sánchez captures the anxiety and fear that develops from the darkness of the deep country night, bereft of the neon glow of the cities, of hearing voices speak in a foreign tongue, of having nothing familiar and comforting to latch onto, as the stuff of nightmare comes forcefully into our limited perception of the real world.

Read the entire review here.

(Seventh Moon OS courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year

[2 of 13]
PONTYPOOL (September 2008)

If the ubiquitous zombie hordes have gotten you down, then I strongly suggest you check out Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool (adapted by Tony Burgess from his novel, Pontypool Changes Everything), which sports an infection whose vector is as atypical as they come.

(Pontypool OS courtesy of

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Rundown of the 13 Best Horror Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Year
[1 of 13]

(September 2008)

Antti-Jussi Annila’s Sauna focuses on sin and the horribly steep price of atonement. A period horror film that follows a group of people facing sinister and inexplicable forces in a remote wilderness, this one left me with the same disquiet I recall from Avery Crounse’s Eyes of Fire.

(Sauna OS courtesy of