Saturday, October 8, 2011


¡QUÉ HORROR! 2011
The Wrap-Up

So, there we are. Thirteen primary titles, plus four additional ones. And yes, one of those additionals wasn’t really a runner-up, but Little Deaths is an anthology that must be seen by those horror fans who aren’t put off by sex and sexual situations. And though it snuck onto the list because Simon Rumley’s “Bitch” was in it, I must also point out that Andrew Parkinson’s “Mutant Tool” was quite definitely one of the most bizarre horror tales I saw within the past twelve months, regardless of length. Heh.

Now, before we get on with the candidates for ¡Qué Horror! 2012, I’ll be going through another new ¡Qué Horror! feature, the Auxiliaries, titles that may not be what people will automatically think of as horror films, but were nonetheless some of the most noteworthy movies I had the privilege of viewing over the past year. I’ll kick off the Auxiliaries in November: four batches, ten films.

I’d also like to stress that there’s nothing stopping you from checking out each of the 2011 candidates. Just because they didn’t make the final cut, doesn’t mean they’re no longer worth your time; there are good reasons why each of those films became a candidate in the first place. (Two of the Auxiliaries actually come from the candidates list, so you’ll be seeing them there anyway.)

Other than that, I guess the only other thing to say is, once again, have a Happy Halloween.

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


TROLLJEGEREN

(THE TROLL HUNTER)

(October 2010)



These days, like the zombie movie, the found footage genre boasts a new title every couple of seconds it seems. But it’s titles like André Øvredal’s Trolljegeren (The Troll Hunter) that make wading through the clutter such a rewarding experience.
Plunging headlong into the deep, dark woods and sprawling mountain ranges of Norway, Trolljegeren is an absolutely fun ride through folklore and conspiracy as a camera crew stumble onto the most darkly amusing secret a government could ever hope to cover up.

“The most important film of our time is Norwegian” trumpets one of Trolljegeren’s trailers. And with what it manages to blow the lid off of, you’d better believe it!

Michael Moore (name-dropped in the trailer as well) would be proud…


(Trolljegeren OS courtesy of impawards.com.)

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


SECUESTRADOS
(KIDNAPPED)
(September 2010)


Intense, grim, and merciless, Miguel Ángel Vivas’ Secuestrados is home invasion, as told in a series of protracted scenes; about a dozen, I think. I tried to keep track, but, well… things get wild and hairy in this one, so my count may have gotten muddled at a certain point…
Like Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried, this one’s an audacious bit of cinema that both impresses in the clearly high ambition of its storytelling, and disturbs with its uncompromising darkness.


Home Invasion Runner-up:
CHERRY TREE LANE (June 2010)


The home invasion sub-genre continues to bust down some doors, and Cherry Tree Lane, brought to us by writer/director Paul Andrew Williams, is a nasty piece of work that keeps the atrocity off-camera, and yet plays just as potently as other titles that have their horrors visible for all to see.
Instead of the violence and bloodletting, it’s the terrible intimacy that comes into existence between captors and their prisoners that gets centre stage here, that horrible sense of violation that comes when the sanctity and safety of hearth and home is infiltrated by foreign and unwelcome elements.
In my review of Williams’ The Cottage (lurking in the Archive), I believe I mention that while I wasn’t too fond of his second feature film, I did like Williams’ debut, London to Brighton. For the record, Cherry Tree Lane is definitely Williams’ best feature effort thus far.
With very controlled cinematography by Carlos Catalán, music by UNKLE, and a very lean, mean seventy-seven minute running time, this one is certain to unsettle, and to make you want to double- (and maybe even treble-) check the locks on your doors and windows, and be extra-careful when answering the doorbell.


(Secuestrados & Kidnapped OS’ courtesy of impawards.com; Cherry Tree Lane OS courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com; Cherry Tree Lane DVD cover art courtesy of amazon.co.uk.)

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


BLACK SWAN
(September 2010)


I truly can’t say enough good things about Darren Aronofsky’s latest, Black Swan. Everything in this-- from the camerawork by longtime collaborator, Matthew Libatique (who’s shot everything for Aronofsky except The Wrestler), to the script by Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz, and John McLaughlin (from a story by Heinz), to the music, to the cast-- meshes like an exactingly choreographed and executed ballet piece.
It’s about the brittle fragility of bodies and psyches pushed to-- and beyond-- their limits. It’s about desperation and passion and pressure, and about the cruelty of perfection.
And yes, given that this is a horror movie in much the same way a landmark 1960’s film by Roman Polanski was, it most definitely deserves a slot on the main ¡Qué Horror! rundown.
Given the manner in which it takes the Swan Lake narrative as well as its motifs and applies them onto the high pressure world of ballet, I’d like to think Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky would appreciate this one.


Parting shot: Black Swan’s BAFTA nominations: Best Film, Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Hershey), David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing (Andrew Weisblum), Best Production Design (Thérèse DePrez and Tora Peterson), Best Costume Design (Amy Westcott), Best Make Up/Hair, Best Sound, and Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects; Portman’s win would be the only BAFTA it would take home.
Its Oscar nominations: Actress in a Leading Role (Portman), Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, and Best Picture; again, only Portman would walk on up to the podium…

(Black Swan OS’ courtesy of impawards.com.)

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


SRPSKI FILM
(A SERBIAN FILM)

(March 2010)



There are certain films that are so singular and potent in their effect that the post-screening haze they leave me in, as I gradually re-adjust to the real world after my first viewing of them, somehow has a different texture from the wake of other movies.
Films like Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or David Cronenberg’s Videodrome or Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, films that leave an impact and an imprint, both indelible and quite unforgettable.

Well, I can now add Srdan Spasojevic’s Srpski Film (A Serbian Film) to those ranks.


Here, Milos (Srdan Todorovic), noted star of such stellar titles as Milosh the Filthy Stud, is lured back in front of the camera from his current domestic life by mysterious filmmaker Vukmir Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), for a production whose plot and script is a secret.

Needless to say, things go, not just terribly awry, but total gonzo batshit insane, in a film I can perhaps best describe as the ultimate Hot Blood movie; Hot Blood being the successful erotic horror anthology series that has had writers like Grant Morrison as contributors.


Srpski Film
is, quite pointedly, transgressive cinema (yes, some will use the term “perverse”) and there are moments in this film that are nothing short of evil. I’ve made it a point at the Iguana to stress which reviewed films have particularly strong and graphic content; consider my warning regarding Srpski Film the direst I’ve ever given here.

No joke, this one takes the cake.

It’s also got the single most audacious kill I’ve ever seen captured on film; and that’s saying a lot for a film that has a number of atrocious kills during its running time.

If you’ve ever wondered why a porn film is a brainless series of sexual acts, one after another, well, Srpski Film will show you how potentially dangerous porn with a philosophy can be.


(A Serbian Film OS courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com.)

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


OUTCAST
(March 2010)


Directed by Colm McCarthy, from a script co-written by McCarthy with Tom K. McCarthy (apparently no relation), Outcast is a truly excellent dark urban fantasy that transposes ancient myth and folklore onto a modern setting.
What makes Outcast an even more impressive achievement is the fact that it’s McCarthy’s feature film debut, a very confident piece that’s got some notable performances in it, from Niall Bruton’s first feature role as “Fergal,” to those delivered by one of the resident cuckoos on Game of Thrones, Kate Dickie, and Rents’ Da from Trainspotting, James Cosmo.

(Outcast UK quad courtesy of impawards.com.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011


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


RED WHITE & BLUE
(January 2010)


Simon Rumley’s The Living and the Dead made quite the impression on me (unearth the review from the Archive), so much so that when I first got a whiff of Red White & Blue, I kept track of its development and production, knowing I was eventually going to check it out.
And while this is a different sort of cinematic animal from The Living and the Dead, it’s got the same kind of jarring disquiet in its onscreen action, action that also takes place in that viciously desolate wasteland where psychology and tragedy collide. But just as Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles had its volume jacked up in the U.S.-set Volume Two, Rumley’s narrative sensibilities are likewise amped to better reflect the tone and atmosphere of this American tale of love and isolation, of desperation and revenge.
The performances (by Noah Taylor, Amanda Fuller, and Marc Senter) are raw and unpolished, the editing jarring, the narrative’s trajectory and propulsion coloured by its staccato rhythms.
This is sordid stuff and it’s interesting how Rumley and his cast can make an audience involved and invested in a tale whose characters are not especially likable.
Now I’m even more excited to see Rumley’s contribution to the upcoming horror anthology, Little Deaths.

Speaking of…

Another Simon Rumley Must-See:
“Bitch,” contained in
LITTLE DEATHS (February 2011)


Multi-contributor anthologies are always a tricky proposition.
Given that there are X number of stories by X number of contributors, there’ll always be a variance in the quality of the collected tales.
There’s also the distinct possibility that, for whatever reason, some stories may work for some of the audience, while others may not, and that’s perhaps more to do with the subjectivity of art than the actual pieces themselves.

The horror anthology Little Deaths is a rarity in that all three stories are excellent, without a real weak link in the lot.
Still, as much as Sean Hogan’s “House and Home” (which kicks off the anthology) is a well-made little bit of sex and grue, it’s still overshadowed by the truly mondo bizarro “Mutant Tool” by Andrew Parkinson, and Simon Rumley’s “Bitch,” where the power and dominance games played in a very atypical sexual relationship reaches a dangerous tipping point.

As made readily apparent by its title (which it shares with an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow), Little Deaths is a showcase for erotic horror, and what’s on display in the contributions of Parkinson and Rumley is rather disturbing and unsettling and not for the squeamish nor prudish.
You’ve been suitably warned…

(Red White & Blue OS courtesy of impawards.com; Little Deaths OS courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com.)

Monday, October 3, 2011


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


THE VIOLENT KIND
(January 2010)


“… it’s been a really weird night…”

By the time the sh*t hit the fan in The Violent Kind’s climax and “Lights in the Sky” began to play over the end titles crawl, I knew that, once again, from out of the clear blue, The Butcher Brothers (AKA as Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores) had just whacked me on the side of the head with some kicka$$ cinema.
I came into The Violent Kind knowing nothing more than, this was the new film by the same people who’d notched a pretty high point in After Dark’s very first Horrorfest with The Hamiltons, and that’s pretty much the way you should go into it as well. Any attempt at a synopsis will just spoil things.
Suffice it to say that there are shades of David Lynch in The Violent Kind, which features some familiar faces from The Hamiltons; let’s leave it at that.

Parting shot: A review of The Hamiltons can be found lurking in the Archive.

(The Violent Kind OS courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com.)

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


YELLOWBRICKROAD
(January 2010)


One morning in 1940, the entire population of Friar, NH, walked north up an unmarked trail into the wilderness.
Some were later found frozen to death. Others were mysteriously slaughtered. Most, however, were never found.

This is the mystery that lies at the heart of Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland’s feature film debut, Yellowbrickroad, where a team led by Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) walks the very same trail in an attempt to uncover the truth beneath the legend.
It’s a truly excellent piece of distinct unease, of oblique and inexplicable horror, brought to us with the help of Smallville’s own Tess Mercer, Cassidy Freeman, who’s an executive producer on this, along with her rather appropriately named brother, Clark. (The Freeman siblings also appear as Erin and Daryl Luger.)
If you can enjoy your horror without the requisite zombies, vampires, masked slashers, or shambling monsters, then Yellowbrickroad is for you.

Parting shot: Smallville’s Chloe Sullivan, Allison Mack, is also afforded some thanks in the film’s end titles crawl.

(Yellowbrickroad quad courtesy of shocktillyoudrop.com.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011


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


BURIED

(January 2010)



There isn’t much more you need to know about Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried other than that it’s a cracklingly intense bit of film-making that, unlike other recent examples of “experiential horror” (like Devil, or Frozen, or Altitude), never once leaves the environs of the protagonist’s circumscribed agony; we spend the entire running time of approximately 95 minutes trapped in a coffin alongside Ryan Reynolds.
And here, as in John August’s The Nines, we really do realize that Reynolds can honest-to-goodness act, as opposed to playing Ryan Reynolds on camera, which, sadly, he seems to do most of the time.

From its great Saul Bass-inspired opening title credits (by Spain’s Royal Cow Studios), on through to that final, telling shot, this is tense, claustrophobic cinema executed with dollops of skill, talent, and bravura.



Parting shot: As I’ve mentioned ‘round these parts before, Buried won last year’s Méliès d'Or Award for Best European Fantastic Film.
Do yourself a favour and see why…


Experiential Horror Runner-up:
FROZEN (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,
Green has a superbly crafted and distressingly disturbing film, whose young cast (Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore, and Emma Bell, who was subsequently seen on the first season of The Walking Dead) hits all the right beats, from the casual to the tension-filled.

(Buried & Frozen OS’ courtesy of impawards.com; Buried UK quad courtesy of empireonline.com.)


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


THE CLINIC
(November 2009)


There are some horror films that you simply don’t show expectant mothers, films like Fruit Chan’s Dumplings or Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s À l'intérieur or Paul Solet’s Grace. Based on the one sheet above, I think it’s clear that James Rabbitts’ The Clinic is another of those films.
If you can get past the unsettling aspects of the material, The Clinic is an absorbing and interesting look at maternal instincts, at just how far a mother is willing to go to protect her child. It also cleverly plays with genre expectations, giving the audience a cinematic experience that may have familiar elements, but nonetheless feels like something we’ve not quite seen before.
For Gabriel or Spartacus fans out there, this one’s also got the late Andy Whitfield in it.

Aussie Horror Runner-up:
THE LOVED ONES (September 2009)


Aussie horror plants a very decisive flag with Sean Byrne’s feature debut, The Loved Ones, a film for all those iconoclasts who ever thought that prom was just some antiquated tradition best left by the cultural wayside.
“Prom is Hell”? In The Loved Ones, that truly is the case, as we bear witness to the Worst Prom Date captured on film since Sissy Spacek got all dolled up just to take a shower in pig’s blood.

Writer/director Byrne triumphs on a number of fronts with The Loved Ones, beginning with the fact that he’s able to counterpoint the blood and brutality with genuine emotional pain and mental anguish (and not just from the film’s main protagonist, played by Xavier Samuel).
Also, The Loved Ones isn’t just about the teen-agers. There’s a significant adult presence in the film, as we’re shown the strained dynamic between parents who no longer seem to understand their rebellious offspring, and children who feel a complex welter of emotion towards these estranged dinosaurs who sired and raised them, when the truth is, that both sides are reeling from the same pain.

There’s also a disturbing parent-child relationship here that, unsettling though it admittedly is, is still grounded in a sick and twisted sort of love.


So Byrne not only delivers the shock and the gore, he also populates the narrative with characters with actual thoughts and feelings, as opposed to the one-dimensional sketches we sometimes see in horror films.

All that, while establishing that not all the “weirdoes” and “losers” we know (regardless of age) share the same sort of scars; some could very well be psychopathic, that’s always a possibility, but some will really be just troubled and traumatized individuals, trying to numb the pain the best way they know how…


(The Clinic OS courtesy of wrongsideoftheart.com; The Loved Ones OS courtesy of impawards.com.)


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


LA HORDE (THE HORDE)
(August 2009)



Guns and drugs, blood and guts, adorn Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher’s La Horde, where the unfolding scenario interrupted by the latest zombie apocalypse is a violent vendetta.
And as the running, ravening undead lay siege to a decrepit, condemned building, enemies must enter an uneasy truce to survive the ordeal.

With Alain Figlarz as stunt coordinator (Figlarz also choreographed the fight scenes in Babylon A.D. and Chrysalis and worked on Aurélien Poitrimoult’s Green Hornet short), this one’s a kick-ass, adrenalized ride. Things move so quickly and decisively, that there’s precious little time afforded to question why the dead are coming back to animated life and why their bites are contagious. Of course, given that the main characters of La Horde are cops and crooks, we really shouldn’t expect any lengthy bouts of circumspection regarding the situation they all find themselves in.


Parting shot: A review of Chrysalis can be found lurking in the Archive.

(La Horde OS courtesy of impawards.com.)


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


THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES
(April 2007)


“I’ll tell you one place we’ll be watching. If this documentary thing you’re making ever gets to the theatres, he won’t be able to help himself. He’ll see this movie as many times as he can. We’ll keep an eye on as many screenings as we can because he’ll be there.”
-- Leonard Schway, FBI Field Agent

Though this was the film that brought the Dowdle brothers (John Erick and Drew) to the attention of Hollywood, to date, it’s languished in releasing limbo (more on that later). Thus, it’s actually the latest film of theirs I’ve seen, getting to lay eyes on Quarantine and Devil first, two gigs they got on the strength of the faux doc, The Poughkeepsie Tapes.
Like former ¡Qué Horror! title, Lake Mungo, The Poughkeepsie Tapes plays like a documentary you might catch on cable, this time, about a serial killer’s depradations, culled from 2400 hours of video tape-- the eponymous Tapes-- he left behind for the authorities to discover.
This is a convincing piece that plays the faux doc card all the way through the end credits, not even naming the actors who appear in it (one or two who may look familiar to film geeks out there). The disturbing nature of the low-fi video clips are also effectively disquieting, without needing to resort to loads of on-screen violence; like Lake Mungo, The Poughkeepsie Tapes gets a lot of mileage from minimalism.
It’s clear to see why Hollywood has knocked on the Dowdles’ door.


Parting shot: The Poughkeepsie Tapes had its festival debut at Tribeca in 2007, but hasn’t yet seen the light of releasing day because of the recent bankruptcy troubles of MGM, which has also kept Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods in limbo, and delayed the productions of The Hobbit films (to the point where Guillermo del Toro had to back out of the director’s chair) and the next James Bond movie…

(The Poughkeepsie Tapes OS’ courtesy of moviemaze.de & bloody-disgusting.com [Tribeca OS].)