Thursday, October 31, 2013

¡Qué horror! 2014
Candidate #3

(November 2012)

It's a familiar set-up: the Dades (Milo Ventimiglia, also serving as an Executive Producer, and Person of Interest’s Sarah Shahi) are living out in the country. Their marriage isn’t in the best of places. Meanwhile, the arrival of a stranger (Sara Paxton, no stranger to ¡Q horror! territory due to Dennis Iliadis’ The Last House on the Left remake and Ti West’s The Innkeepers) throws things even more of out of whack, and Static’s tale begins in earnest.

Though this is largely an entry in the home invasion sub-genre, there’s more that goes on here, courtesy of director Todd Levin, working from a story and screenplay credited to himself and three other individuals (Gabriel Cowan, Andrew Orci, and John Suits).
And while a home invasion entry is certainly nothing new these days, not to mention that where Static ends up also isn’t particularly new, the execution is nonetheless commendable. Also, there’s a certain slant that’s given to the proceedings that is admittedly an uncommon angle.
We also get to briefly see Lost’s William Mapother, so that’s always a plus.

To say more would unduly spoil things, so the best I can say is, stay alert and observant; you may, after all, get an inkling of where the film is going before the climax.

Parting Shot: A review of The Last House on the Left remake (incidentally a ¡Q horror! 2009 title) lurks in the Archive.

(Static OS courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

¡Qué horror! 2014
Candidate #2

(August 2013)

In a bid to become a counselor at Camp Kaya, troubled Gillian (Degrassi: The Next Generation’s Annie Clark) needs to spend two nights camping out by herself on an isolated island: the titular “solo.”

Of course, given that this is a horror movie and not some teen romantic comedy romp, things go horribly wrong for Gillian, and instead of hooking up with the boy of her dreams, instead she…
Well… let’s leave that for the viewing, yeah?

Writer/director Isaac Cravit’s debut feature is a commendable exercise in suspense with a most excellent appearance by Daniel Kash (Aliens’ own Spunkmeyer, seen more recently in Alphas, as Rachel’s pops, and in Orphan Black, which I've yet to set my peepers on).
For those of you who need yet another horror movie reason not to go camping, well, you can now add Solo to the list…

(Solo OS courtesy of

¡Qué horror! 2014
Candidate #1

(May 2013)

America. 2022.

Unemployment is at 1%.
Crime is at an all-time low.
Violence barely exists.

With one exception…

That exception is The Annual Purge, a 12-hour orgy of chaos and destruction sanctioned by the U.S Government, during which “… any and all crime, including murder, [is] legal.”
The thinking here is, if you can just keep all that rage and all those violent tendencies bottled up inside yourself for 364 days, then you’ll have the Purge in which to vent all of it without any legal repercussions whatsoever.
Hate your boss? That bullying head cheerleader? Your wife who cheated on you with your best friend? The barber who gave you that sadass haircut?
There’s always the Purge…

Brought to us by James DeMonaco (who co-wrote Skinwalkers, of which I must admit, I was not a fan), The Purge is a hard-hitting, tense little exercise in cautionary horror that manages to give one pause to consider the nature of violence and the costs of a “stable” form of governance.
99 out of every 100 people may have a job, but this is a world where doing the right thing just makes you an idiot who brings down grief on the heads of those you care about, as well as your own, a world where anyone killed during the Purge is considered a “sacrifice to make [America] a safer place.”

Of ¡Q horror! note: Rhys Wakefield, as the “Polite Leader,” plays an even bigger douchebag here than he did in last year’s ¡Q horror! title, +1.
Lena Headey (familiar to ¡Q horror! territory due to The Brøken) is also in this one, though sadly, she does not get to deploy any of her Many Bitch Faces of Cersei Lannister here. And as we all know, she’s a bloody expert at those…
Ah, well.
Can’t win ‘em all…

“Blessed be the New Founding Fathers for letting us Purge and cleanse our souls, Blessed be America, a nation reborn.”

Parting Shot: Reviews of The Brøken and +1 can be found lurking in the Archives.

(The Purge OS’ courtesy of

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Brief Look at Bron/Broen and Its International Spawn

I found a significant portion of the first season of the original Bron/Broen excellent and riveting procedural television. Even with the issues I ultimately have with it, I think it’s a better freshman season than that of Forbrydelsen. (Although I do think the second season of Forbrydelsen is better than Bron’s first season.)

My issues with Bron’s season one? That point in the narrative when the apparently socio-politically motivated serial killer turns out to be… something else. (For those who’ve yet to see Bron, I shall steer clear of spoilers.)
That plot point wasn’t a deal-breaker, but it did impact on my view of the season as a whole.

So when news first broke that FX was mounting an American version--The Bridge, trading the Sweden/Denmark settings for US/Mexico--I was naturally curious.
And as I got further into The Bridge, I appreciated those elements of the American iteration that skillfully exploited the US/Mexico dichotomy to bolster its storytelling. These were, I felt, among the show’s strengths, angles and story beats that weren’t imported from Bron.
I felt this so strongly that I hoped The Bridge wouldn’t copy that pivotal plot detour that, at least for me, marred Bron somewhat.

Sadly, they did. (Every time I’d see a variation of a familiar Bron beat play out on The Bridge, gradually edging the narrative ever closer to that damned plot twist, I’d sigh and go--in an internal Scandinavianish voice--“Åh nej!”)
But then, after getting the basic plot skeleton of Bron out of the way, in the tail end of the first season, The Bridge displayed a side of itself that promised to be a riveting show in its own right, away from the long, formidable shadow of Bron.

Though Bron’s leads are, for me, still the best and purest distillations of the main characters (Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia originated the roles, after all), Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir acquit themselves well, particularly Kruger, who had the unenviable task of walking in the footsteps of Helin’s Saga Norén.
The welcome surprise of The Bridge was its supporting cast, in particular, Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill himself, Ted Levine, who brings a gruff, paternal charm to the proceedings as Hank Wade, and Matthew Lillard, as addict douchebag reporter Daniel Frye. Plus the quirky oddness of Lyle Lovett’s Monte P. Flagman, who I sincerely hope we see more of in the second season.

So, yeah, while , interestingly enough, the weaker sections of The Bridge are the parts where they tried to stay too faithful to Bron,* by the time the thirteenth episode winds up, it’s with a show that promises to be something far more interesting in its sophomore season--its own exotic narrative creature, removed from its Scandinavian roots.

Meanwhile, as I was enjoying my journey on The Bridge, I was also looking forward to the Sky English/French iteration, The Tunnel; this version’s initial dump site: the Channel Tunnel.
And here we are with the first episode aired…

It’s still too early to tell how this will ultimately shape up, but it’s a promising start. Though it does follow the same general structure of Bron’s first episode, there are also some slight deviations.
My biggest takeaway from episode 1? That haunting theme song (“The End of Time”), with vocals by Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Plus, it’s a bit bizarre to see Stannis Baratheon himself on the case… (Every now and then, I'd half-expect Carice van Houten's Red Woman to come traipsing out of the woodwork.)
Stephen Dillane's “Karl Roebuck” character, by the way, seems to have become an even bigger man-whore in this iteration. While in Bron, the character has three children in a current marriage and one child from a previous one, and in The Bridge, two and one, in The Tunnel, he’s got five kids from three different mums…

Here’s to 9 more episodes of The Tunnel, and here’s to hoping it revels in its Britishness/Frenchness, and doesn’t take that same plot detour its predecessors chose to take.

Doubleplus, there’s also the second season of Bron to look forward to (four episodes have already aired in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland).

* I should point out, in all fairness, that I nevertheless appreciated the efforts of The Bridge writers to tighten up the plot elements taken from Bron, as well as delineating more clearly, the characters and their relationships with one another.

(Bron DVD cover art courtesy of; The Bridge OS courtesy of; The Tunnel image courtesy of

Thursday, October 17, 2013

¡Qué horror! 2013
The Wrap-Up (Addendum)

And, on the tail end, a couple of titles that I got to see past the ¡Q horror! cutoff date of September 30, 2013… 

I’ve been with Whitechapel since Series 1 (to use Brit TVspeak), and while they’ve managed to Scooby-Doo any possibly supernatural goings-on in the past, Series 4 sees the show apparently going whole hog supernatural, with the sinister “Louise Iver” (Falling Angel/Angel Heart’s Louis Cyphre not enough for you, eh?) suggested as the Big Bad, who’s (supposedly) been orchestrating all the show’s murderous shenanigans since the get-go.

I have no idea if this has been the Game Plan from the very start, and for all I know, they could attempt to convolutedly Scooby-Doo all this away in Series 5 anyway… As Steve Pemberton’s Ed Buchan says, despite mounting evidence to the contrary: “She’s not immortal! She’s not the Devil! She’s just a very nasty old lady.”
Still, whatever the possibility of a fifth series may hold (and whatever you may think of this narrative development), the tone and atmosphere of the six episodes of Series 4 is commendable and a lot more effective than any number of recent lackluster horror titles. (Plus, Pemberton wrote a pair of them, so “Hurrah!”)

As for another non-horror title (it truly bugs me that Variety describes it as a “dramedy”; ugh, I hate that word), I present Matt Johnson’s The Dirties, about a pair of aspiring filmmakers incessantly bullied in high school, and what they do in reaction.
Kevin Smith (who’s helped its release through his Kevin Smith Movie Club) has gone on the record by saying it’s “The most important movie you will see all year.”
Now, whatever your personal opinion on Smith is, The Dirties is undeniably a powerful look at the dangers of bullying and how personalities can be warped by simply soaking up media content without understanding what it all actually means.
It’s a fascinating tale presented as a faux doc, with a killer last shot, and a killer end credits sequence (by Josh Schonblum), which also took home the Grand Jury Award for Feature Narrative and the Spirit of Slamdance Award from this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.
And if it hasn’t become fairly obvious from the onesheets, this one takes on school violence head on… Fair warning.

With that, we’re all wrapped up on the 2013 edition of ¡Q horror!
Once again, have a Happy Halloween!

(Whitechapel Series 4 DVD cover art courtesy of; The Dirties OS’ courtesy of

¡Qué horror! 2013
The Wrap-Up

And there we have it.

As promised, here’s a quick rundown of some non-horror titles that I saw in the past 12 months and had hoped to write about individually, but alas…

Sound of My Voice (January 2011), dir: Zat Batmanglij
Errors of the Human Body (July 2012), dir: Eron Sheean
Frankenweenie (September 2012), dir: Tim Burton
Upstream Color (January 2013), dir: Shane Carruth
Downloaded (March 2013), dir: Alex Winter
This Is The End (June 2013), dir: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

They all get my heartiest recommendation.

Plus, a title that I actually wrote about and that would really have gotten a ¡Q horror! slot this year, had it not been for the fact that writer/director Peter Strickland would “never call it a horror [movie] in a million years”: Berberian Sound Studio. (Review here.)

Also, as far as television goes, some other horror titles from the past 12 months that are worth a look at: Bates Motel, American Horror Story: Asylum, and In The Flesh.

Now, for some quick Halloween treats, I present to you the links to a couple of short films, Abe (by Rob McLellan) and BlinkyTM (by Oscar-nominated Ruairi Robinson, and which stars Where The Wild Things Are’s Max Records).

McLellan’s Abe has been optioned by MGM, who plan to give it the feature-length treatment, with McLellan at the helm. (McLellan’s official website here.)

Meanwhile, Robinson--whose first “name is pronounced ‘RAW-REE,’ NOT ‘Roo-ahh-reeh” according to his official website--had his feature debut, The Last Days on Mars (starring Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Olivia Williams), screen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
I’m actually waiting on his next short, Imaginary Forces (teaser here), on which he’s reportedly in post-production.

Both Abe and BlinkyTM are about cuh-ray-zee robots! (And you thought the T-800 was scary…)
And Happy Halloween!

Parting Shot: 30 more seconds of awesome from RAW-REE Robinson; this plays like a silly season Gwoemul

(Berberian Sound Studio OS courtesy of; Abe OS courtesy of; BlinkyTM stills courtesy of

A Rundown of the 13 (+1) Best Horror Movies I've Seen in the Past Year
[13 of 13]

(March 2013)

“So. I have many surprises in store for us tonight. Enjoy the festivities.”

Director Dennis Iliadis storms back into ¡Q horror! territory with +1, where David (Rhys Wakefield) and his friends find themselves at the strangest party ever.
Bill Gullo pens the screenplay here, from a story by Iliadis, and it isn’t really spoiling much to say that the film takes an intriguing angle on the idea of the doppelgänger (you’ll gather as much from both the trailer and the blurb--courtesy of Evan Dickson of the one sheet).
Layered and disturbing like a particularly excellent Twilight Zone tale, +1 is another solid title from Iliadis.

“May your good health be twofold.”

(+1 OS courtesy of

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Rundown of the 13 (+1) Best Horror Movies I've Seen in the Past Year
[12 of 13]

(January 2013)

Chad Crawford Kinkle’s feature debut, Jug Face, walks firmly and comfortably in the fine horror tradition of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, where a secluded community harbors a long and dark tradition steeped in sacrifice.
Here, Lauren Ashley Carter is the luckless Ada, whose desperate need to keep her shameful secret safe upsets the unsettling status quo of her small backwoods community; Carter was one of the voice talents on Antoine Charreyron’s The Prodigies, and also appeared in Lucky McKee’s The Woman (McKee executive produces on Jug Face).
Other familiar genre faces, Sean Young and Larry Fessenden (hurrah!), are also in here as Ada’s parents.
This is certainly not your standard Hollywood horror affair, and it’s all the better for it!

(Jug Face OS courtesy of

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Rundown of the 13 (+1) Best Horror Movies I've Seen in the Past Year
[11 of 13]

Yes, I'm perfectly aware that the tie in this year's rundown is held by two television shows, but the fact is, there's a lot of really excellent TV going on, and some of it happens to fall into the genre that we celebrate at the Iguana every Halloween, so, just think of these as extra-long movies if you must, so long as you give them a look.
And so, without further ado...

(November 2012)

I mentioned Robin Campillo’s Les Revenants (They Came Back) ‘round these parts before in passing.
Allow me now to expound on that film further…

Unleashed in 2004--about a year and a half after Danny Boyle and Alex Garland gave us 28 Days Later, and just two months after A) Zack Snyder managed to get the brilliant Sarah Polley in a zombie movie and inadvertently ignited the slow vs. fast zombie debate with his impressive debut, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and B) Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost kicked off their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy with Shaun of the Dead--Campillo’s Les Revenants emerged in the very early days of what would eventually develop into an unlikely revival of zombie cinema.

Even back then, Les Revenants felt, at least to me, like a breath of fresh air, a radically different approach to the idea of the dead returning to walk the earth.
Here, in a narrative co-written by Campillo with Brigitte Tijou, there were no rotting, shambling corpses intent on ripping into warm human flesh. Instead, there were the recently deceased (within the past decade), who suddenly appear, whole and seemingly unharmed, wanting only to return to the lives they’d been rudely evicted from by their deaths.
Here, Campillo focused on the living as well, those left behind, who now have to suddenly adjust to the reality that what they might have prayed for--the return of their departed loved ones--had, quite unbelievably, come to pass.

Flash forward to November of last year, and in the eight and a half years since Les Revenants, zombies had moved into the mainstream and become the monster du jour of horror, with an American zombie cable television show perennially breaking ratings records with seeming impunity.
Zombie, you’ve come a long way, baby…
It’s into this strange new world that Canal+’s television adaptation of Les Revenants emerges, and once again, we’re given an atypical depiction of the zombie phenomenon, one needed now more than ever, with so many bland and derivative entries in zombie cinema littering the sidewalks and the cineplexes.

Expanded into an eight-episode first season (with a second season that’s expected to debut early next year), the TV version of Les Revenants employs the same subtle creep and dread of Campillo’s original, eschewing a portion of the art house ambiguity of the film for some more traditional drama of the serialized sort, as well as some more overtly supernatural goings-on (though the exact nature of those aren’t really explained either).
And though the TV show’s narrative does not really follow the film’s (save for the central conceit of the dead returning and how that event impacts on the living), there is one major cast member carry-over: Frédéric Pierrot, playing different characters in either iteration, of course.   

The last time I put a TV series into the ¡Q horror! milieu was Dead Set. But just as that show rightly deserved its ¡Q horror! spot, so does this one. (Just imagine you’re watching an 8-hour long movie, with a sequel waiting in the wings…)

Plus, Mogwai scored the damned thing, so hey, one more reason to check it out!

Parting Shot 1: It should be noted that AbbottVision and FremantleMedia Enterprises have purchased the English-language remake rights, and intend to produce a show under the title, They Came Back, so I’d advise you to hunt down the French original before then.
This show should not be confused with ABC’s mid-season title, Resurrection, which is based on the novel, The Returned, by Jason Mott. (Though honestly, Mott’s novel, to be released in August, has a central conceit that’s pretty much the one in Campillo’s original. As Publisher’s Weekly puts it, “A family gets caught up in a worldwide event in which loved ones return from the dead exactly as they last were in life.” Hurm.)

Parting Shot 2: Also, if the atypical zombie’s your thing, then you should check out the 3 episode BBC show In The Flesh, which might have gotten this ¡Q horror! slot, but it’s particularly less “horror” than Les Revenants, so…
Still, it’s worth your while, if you want more from your zombies than AMC’s The Walking Dead can give you…

(Les Revenants OS' courtesy of; They Came Back DVD cover art courtesy of; Les Revenants OST sleeve art courtesy of

(April 2013)

For the record, I love Bryan Fuller’s TV work (though the Mockingbird Lane pilot did leave me wanting), and the show of his I really, truly, and completely loved was Wonderfalls.
So the fact that Caroline Dhavernas is part of the cast of Fuller’s adaptation of Hannibal is all sorts of awesome.

Of course, that’s not the reason why Hannibal has tied with Les Revenants for a ¡Q horror! slot this year; Dhavernas is many things, but a “horror” she most certainly is not.
Hannibal is here because this is a solid adaptation of Thomas Harris’ serial killer novels featuring Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter.
Ostensibly, Red Dragon is the main source material for the show, a novel which has already been adapted to film twice, in 1986 by Michael Mann under the title Manhunter, and in 2002, by Brett Ratner.
According to Fuller’s roadmap of the show though, Hannibal Season 4 would be the adaptation proper of Red Dragon, while, if the stars align, we may actually see a television adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs,* envisioned as Season 5 of the show, should we get that far.
And if the level of creative quality remains constant (or hopefully, actually increases), then that’s a future I’d very much like to see. 

In Season 1 alone, we’ve got some heavy directorial hitters like David Slade (whose excellent Awake Pilot was one of last season’s TV highlights), Michael Rymer (who solidified his geek cred with his work on Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica), and 75-year-old Peter Medak (who scarred many an audience member with the chilling quiet horror of 1980’s The Changeling).
Then there’s Guillermo Navarro, frequent cinematographer for Guillermo del Toro (including the 2 hours and 11 minutes of awesome kaiju madness that is Pacific Rim), who won a whole slew of awards--including the Oscar--for his work on El Laberinto del Fauno. Navarro had previously worked with Fuller as DP on the Mockingbird Lane pilot, and here, he directs a trio of episodes (as do both Slade and Rymer, taking a lion’s share of the season between the three of them).
Some Twin Peaks episode helmers are also in here: James Foley (who also brought us the big screen adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross) and Tim Hunter (no, not the Books of Magic kid).

All that livewire creativity and talent behind the camera, and we haven’t even gotten to the excellent cast.
The cold, clinical detachment Mads Mikkelsen brings to his Hannibal is a fine offset to the twitchy, tortured nature of Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham. And, you know, Mikkelsen had to walk in the intimidating footsteps of both Brian Cox and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Plus, there are those guest star turns:
Gillian Anderson, who enters at the midpoint of the season, under the beautifully unlikely name of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier;
Fellow Chris Carter alumnus, Lance Henriksen;
And other past Fuller collaborators: Raúl Esparza, Eddie Izzard, Ellen Greene, and Ellen Muth (but that was a pretty evil way to wrap up her guest starring stint, Mr. Fuller, an evil way…).
So with both Dhavernas and Muth having made their appearances, all we need are either Lee Pace or Anna Friel (or both) to enter Hannibal’s world, and we’ll complete the Past Fuller Leads Trifecta.

In a world where TV procedurals have reached well beyond saturation point, one of the things that saves Hannibal from the potential pitfall of becoming just another one of those “serial killer of the week” shows is the serialized nature of its narrative.
Coming into the show with a general idea of the overarching narrative (from the Harris novels and the previous film adaptations of the material), the audience is hooked. They want to see how the cards fall, they can’t wait for the other shoe to drop, for Graham and company to discover exactly what kind of a monster Lecter really is.
It’s the same approach to story that was successfully utilized in Smallville (at least, for the first few seasons), and more recently, in Bates Motel.
We all know Clark Kent eventually becomes Superman, we all know Norman Bates eventually kills his mother and a whole string of unfortunate motel guests, we all know Hannibal Lecter eventually ends up in the loonybin where he gets to play cat and mouse with Clarice Starling.
Part of the fun lies in watching how we get there.

And thus far, this is some morbid, gruesome “fun.” (Network television is getting away with a lot these days…)
If I could ask for something though, I’d ask for a bit more psychopathology; the show doesn’t really bother to explain the whys of their killers. We meet them fully (mal)formed, without any significant idea of how these sick puppies got so ill, without knowing the twisted road they walked to get here.
It’s almost as if Fuller and company are saying, serial killers really are inexplicable.
It’s almost like they’re saying, there is no “Why.” Serial killers simply are.
And that’s a truly horrifying thought…

* A possibility that both intrigues me (because there were some bits of the novel that were dropped in Jonathan Demme’s adaptation; among them, Jack Crawford’s turmoil, the seeds of which, have already been planted by Fuller and company in Season 1) and terrifies me (because The Silence of the Lambs is one of those brilliant lightning in a bottle moments in cinema, where everything seemed to align exquisitely).
Again, for the record, Demme’s Silence is, thus far, the only Harris film adaptation that I’ve been completely floored by. All the others--from Mann’s Manhunter, through until Peter Webber’s Hannibal Rising--haven’t come even close.
Here’s hoping Fuller’s Hannibal can ultimately succeed where all those others failed…

(Hannibal OS’ courtesy of