Saturday, March 31, 2012


My Palanca Award-winning short story, "Kaming Mga Seroks," can now be found online here, at the mighty fine InterNova, run by the mighty fine Michael Iwoleit. (Look! Downloadable as a PDF!)

I mention this not only to help shed light on both the piece and the InterNova website, but also because there are plans afoot at the moment that will open up the dystopic future world I first visited in "Kaming Mga Seroks" to further scrutiny.
When those plans come to fruition, you'll be sure to hear it here at the Iguana.
In the meantime though, if you're at all interested, please check out the original short story.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Candidate # 16

(March 2012)

These days, the found footage film is like the zombie film: ubiquitous.
Seemingly, all I have to do is turn around, and there’s at least one making the rounds, there’s at least one waiting to be released, at least one that’s deep in post-production, at least one that’s filming, at least one that’s being cast, at least one that’s in development, ad nauseam.
Given the sheer amount of terribly mediocre titles that quickly begin to blur into each other, it’s sometimes quite the task to find the ones that deserve to be noted, to be set apart from the rest of the hordes.
Well, allow me to honour Howie Askins’ Evidence with that distinction.

What begins as an amateur documentary about camping gradually becomes what initially seems to be a rather good “strange goings-on in the woods” shakycam horror deal, then, ultimately, becomes something more.
I’ve always greatly admired found footage films that are not only well-made and well-executed examples of the form, but are also ambitious pieces in their own right, and Evidence is certainly that.
Like [REC] before it, there’s a certain point in Evidence’s running time where the constricting walls of the found footage genre are blown wide open as the audience is given a glimpse of the bigger picture within which the film’s POV narrative exists.

As always, I don’t wish to spoil anything for the potential viewer, so let me just leave it at that: the ¡Qué Horror! seal of approval on Evidence.
May that be enough for you to check it out.

Parting shot: I don’t think “ubiquitous” is hyperbole any longer when shows like The Walking Dead and The River are on television (and in Dead’s case, getting boffo ratings).
Think about it: The River is brought to us by Steven Spielberg and ABC, which is, ultimately, Disney.
Weekly shakycam horror hijinx courtesy of Spielberg and Disney. Never in my wildest dreams…

(Evidence DVD cover art courtesy of

Candidate # 15

(September 2011)

OBSERVATION: Between 1914 and 1919 war and influenza have claimed more than a million lives in Britain alone.

CONCLUSION: This is a time for ghosts.

So author Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall, from The Prestige and Red Riding: 1974) tells us in her best-selling Seeing Through Ghosts, where she lays out her pragmatic belief in the non-existence of ghosts.
So what happens when she’s asked to visit a boys’ boarding school where a child’s ghost may very well haunt the halls?

Nick Murphy’s feature directorial debut, The Awakening, is, quite simply, an excellent and exquisite film, whose script (by Murphy and Stephen Volk) has a welcome and surprising layer of emotion that gives the piece added heft as the story unfolds (is there a ghost or isn’t there?) in its stately, paced manner.
And while we get the solidly reliable acting presences of Dominic West and Imelda Staunton here, the central performance by Hall is the one that definitely impresses. It’s both a controlled and heart-wrenching one that anchors a film about the longing the living have for the dead (and vice-versa), and about the different kinds of guilt that haunt the quick.

It’s a worthy companion piece to films like El Orfanato and The Others and The Sixth Sense.
And yes, I’m aware that’s high praise indeed.

Parting shot: Stephen Volk also had his hand on the screenplays of the late Ken Russell’s awesome Gothic, William Friedkin’s interesting The Guardian, and Pen Densham’s not-so-awesome The Kiss.

(The Awakening UK quad courtesy of

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Candidate # 14

(May 2008)

It’s frustrating that the marketing people couldn’t think of a better tagline for Agnès Merlet’s Dorothy Mills than “Evil Chose Her.”
I’m not sure what that “better tagline” might be, but I’m fairly certain there’s one out there that would better represent what the film is really about.
This sort of misleading tagline could either, a) drive off a certain section of the potential audience who might otherwise have enjoyed this kind of film, because they thought, quite mistakenly, that it was that kind of film; or, b) leave a certain section of the actual audience dissatisfied because they went into the movie thinking, quite mistakenly, that it was the kind of film the tagline was suggesting.
Suffice it to say that Dorothy Mills isn’t the sort of horror movie you may think you’re getting with a tagline like “Evil Chose Her.” (I’m not even sure the Exorcist blurb from Variety makes things any better…)

Ultimately, Dorothy Mills is a film about guilt and remorse, both personal and communal, and the terrible weight that accompanies its burden, with excellent central performances by Carice van Houten (seen more recently in Christopher Smith’s Black Death and in the upcoming second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones) and Jenn Murray (who subsequently appeared as Natalie in The Fades).

(Dorothy Mills DVD cover art courtesy of

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Candidate # 13

(April 2010)

I think the most surprising thing about Pang Ho-Cheung’s Wai Dor Lei Ah Yut Ho isn’t the killer’s female gender, but that a film this gore-laden with over-the-top grue came to us from Hong Kong.
Given a Category III rating in its Hong Kong release (no one below 18 years of age is allowed to see the film; pretty much the NC-17 rating in the United States) and still trimmed down a bit before its official theatre run, this one brings back fond memories of the slasher heyday in the ‘80’s, when the splatter was both audacious and inventive.
Sure, there’s some slight commentary about the down economy and the housing shortage, but really, that’s just a little something to legitimize the violent on-screen madness.

(Dream Home OS courtesy of

Based on the life of Latif Yahia, Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double showcases the acting prowess of Dominic Cooper, who plays both Yahia and Uday Saddam Hussein, whom Yahia happens to resemble, so much so, that he’s made an offer he simply can’t refuse: take the role of Uday’s double.
From that point on, Yahia becomes engulfed in the delusions and distortions of the hellish hall of mirrors in which he’s been consigned.

I first took note of Cooper in Nicholas Hytner’s film adaptation of The History Boys, where Cooper reprised the role he originated on stage, and he made an appearance more recently as Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger, but it’s here, in The Devil’s Double that he displays his steadily maturing acting chops, taking on the dual role with confidence and certitude, in a film that depicts the terrible consequences of power unchecked and the horrors of a life lived in servitude and fear.

(The Devil’s Double OS and UK quad courtesy of

Thursday, March 8, 2012


“Something’s not quite right here. I’m not sure what, exactly. But something.”

If anyone would have once told me that Sean Penn in Robert Smith drag would be such a heartbreaking sight, I’d’ve laughed in their faces.
At the very least, I’m so glad that Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be the Place proved that assumption so very wrong.
Here, Penn is Cheyenne, a singer who no longer sings and yet still retains a faded and tired echo of his rock star persona, who is forced to take a good long look at himself and his life when news of his father’s impending death reaches him.

“Then, during the Inferno, we, too, from the other side of the barbed wire, we, too, looked at the snow, and at God.”

While this is the sort of the film that is admittedly not to everyone’s tastes, if you do find it to your liking, you’ll discover that it’s both funny and poignant in perhaps equal measure. It’s a film full of oddities and grace notes found in the unlikeliest of places.
Like Liev Schreiber’s adaptation of Everything Is Illuminated, the narrative arc of This Must Be the Place takes the form of a journey, as Penn’s frazzle-haired, eyelinered and lipsticked Cheyenne takes a road trip through the United States in an attempt to come to terms with his estranged relationship with his father, a Holocaust survivor. It’s a journey that’s as much temporal and psychic as it is geographical and physical, with Penn’s excellent portrayal as its riveting lynchpin.
Some 39 minutes into its running time, you’ll find what should very well have been Penn’s Oscar Clip, but alas, This Must Be The Place was just one of a number of titles overlooked by the Academy Awards this year… (And if that clip won’t do, the brief and fleeting look of deep, existential despair Penn flashes at the mention of Mariah Carey’s name would do nicely as well.)
And while there are also notable performances in here by Frances McDormand and Shea Whigham, and oh-so-briefly, Harry Dean Stanton, and original music by David Byrne (who also appears as himself), it’s Penn you’re really gonna come in to see.
And, even if you aren’t particularly a Sean Penn fan, if you’re a Robert Smith/Cure fan, or even a David Byrne/Talking Heads fan, this one should be on your radar too.

“Home is where I want to be… but I guess I’m already there.”
-- Talking Heads
“This Must Be the Place”

(This Must Be the Place OS and UK quad courtesy of

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Candidate # 12

(September 2011)

As it turns out, Para Entrar A Vivir (¡Qué Horror! 2012 Candidate #10) didn’t have to tide me over for too long before I luxuriated in my next Jaume Balagueró fix.
In Mientras Duermes, Clara (Marta Etura) is waking up groggy and progressively out of sorts, and is being harassed by text messages, email, and yes, apparently even snail mail.
Clara’s got an obsessed stalker, and he’s a lot closer than she might expect.

Scripted by Alberto Marini (who co-wrote Para Entrar A Vivir with Balagueró), this one has a similar premise to the recently reconstituted Hammer production, The Resident, the difference being, Balagueró and Marini handle the material a lot more intelligently, creating a disturbing portrait of a sociopath who should be quite at home in this day and age of haters and Schadenfreude.

And while this dark little number is yet another Balagueró film that I love, I will admit to missing his collaborating with Xavi Giménez; Pablo Rosso has been Balagueró’s go-to cinematographer since Para Entrar A Vivir.
Of course, Giménez has gone on to directing, and I’ve been trying my darnedest to check out his feature directorial debut, Cruzando El Limite (Yellow), so maybe, everyone concerned is just spreading the love and astounding talent around a little more…
Rosso, after all, is one mean shooter too, what, with all the tricksy stuff he pulled off in the [REC] films.

So, while I eagerly await Paco Plaza’s [REC] 3: Génesis (and, quite naturally, Balagueró’s [REC] 4: Apocalypse), it’s Mientras Duermes’ turn to keep me all warm and snugly…
Allow it to do the same for you.

(Mientras Duermes and Sleep Tight OS’ courtesy of

Candidate # 11

(September 2010)

Loosely based on actual Japanese serial killer cases, Sion Sono’s Tsumetai Nettaigyo is an excellent and sordid piece that chronicles the manner in which an unassuming tropical fish store owner is dragged towards dark and violent depths due to a chance encounter with a rival pet store owner.
Makes for an interesting but rather heavy double bill with fellow ¡Qué Horror! 2012 candidate, Snowtown.

(Tsumetai Nettaigyo OS courtesy of; Cold Fish UK quad courtesy of

Candidate # 10

(March 2006)

Since I’m proud to be a self-confessed Jaume Balagueró slut, it shames me to admit that it’s only now that I’ve finally gotten around to checking out the Filmax/Telecinco TV co-production, Peliculas Para No Dormir (6 Films to Keep You Awake), in particular, Balagueró’s contribution, Para Entrar A Vivir, which he directed between Frágiles and his collaboration with Paco Plaza on [REC].
Following the travails of a young couple (played by Dagon's Macarena Gómez and Adrià Collado) as they check out an apartment, this one turns out to be a twisted little number, a nasty piece of work that should tide me over till I get a chance to see Mientras Duermes (Sleep Tight).
If you haven’t seen this one yet, please do.

Parting shot: These six television movies looked back to the original ‘60’s TV series, Peliculas Para No Dormir, and one of the 6 Films, La Culpa (Blame), was in fact directed by the show’s creator, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador.

Parting shot 2: Reviews of Balagueró’s other feature films can be found lurking in the Archive.

(Para Entrar A Vivir DVD cover art courtesy of; Peliculas Para No Dormir screenshot courtesy of