Thursday, October 29, 2009

Horror TV Shows

So there aren't that many horror based TV shows out there (which is a shame) and the few that show up often aren't that great. I am a purveyor of such shows however, and I am trying to come up with what I would consider the best horror TV shows of all time. The problem is that I haven't seen such classics as Kolchak: The Night Stalker or haven't seen that many episodes of things like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. So, I am going to do the 5 best Horror Themed TV Shows Since 1990. But where to begin?

*A couple points of criteria:
1. They have to be shows I watch(ed).
2. The shows need to be American in origin (sorry Riget).
3. Not miniseries or one-offs, actual series.
4. I need to consider them horror (Buffy and Angel, while good, are not quite horror enough for me).

5. Masters of Horror (Showtime 2005-2007): It only ran for two seasons (and the second season wasn't quite as good), but it definitely made me take notice. With episodes like "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" (Coscarelli), "Cigarette Burns" (Carpenter), and "Imprint" (Miike), the series could chill and frighten. It also showed that some directors still had the ability to make something good. I really enjoyed the overall run of the series, but when it went to Fear Itself, it pretty much lost me. But watch the 2 seasons of Masters of Horror for some great moments, even if not all the episodes are that great.

4. Millennium (Fox 1996-1999): Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, managed to create another gem with Millennium. It follows Frank Black (played wonderfully by the amazing Lance Henriksen), a detective who has the ability to see things from the mind of a killer and try to track them down. As the series progressed, Frank got deeper and deeper into a conspiracy involving the mysterious Millennium group, not knowing what he had gotten himself into. It was dark, scary, and unfortunately short. The series was so poorly wrapped up that Carter wrote an episode into a season of The X-Files in order to wrap up Millennium. It was a great run for this show, even if it was a short run.

3. American Gothic (CBS 1995-1996): Featuring the considerable talents of Gary Cole, Lucas Black, and Jake Weber, American Gothic was a nefariously overlooked show at the time. It has since gained a bit of a cult following, but it nonetheless remains a criminally underrated show. Cole plays a vicious Southern sheriff that is trying to take Black as his own son. As the series played out, you find that Cole has some very evil intentions (and equally evil powers) for our young hero, but Black has his dead sister and a friendly doctor (Weber) to protect him. With a tagline that still creeps me out ("Someone's at the door"), the show was a great mix of scares and serious storyline. Buy it on DVD if you have a chance!

2. Tales from the Crypt (HBO 1989-1996): Yeah, I said since 1990, but this is close enough for me. Quite frankly, no list of horror TV shows is complete without Tales from the Crypt. From the intros by the Cryptkeeper (which scared the hell out of me when I was a kid) to the theme by Danny Elfman to the many great guest stars, it was just an incredible TV series. I can't tell you what my favorite episode is, but I can tell you that anytime I go back and start watching them again, I still enjoy them. Anytime I find them on TV (which is rare), I stop and watch whatever happens to be on. It's just that good.

1. The X-Files (Fox 1993-2002): The show that redefined Sci-Fi and Horror television. It made people that didn't care about horror and sci-fi tune in week after week to see what would happen next to Mulder and Scully. I started off watching the show every Sunday. After a couple of weeks, my mom would sit and sew while sort of watching it with me. Pretty soon she wasn't sewing anymore and was just watching the show. That brought my sister and father in out of curiosity and pretty soon, it was a family viewing experience. The show was so well written, wonderfully scary, and just all around a blast to watch. I have the first 7 seasons on DVD (after Mulder left, I didn't like the show as much), and I still watch them. My mother will still tell me that her favorite episode is "Home", which features inbred brothers trying to produce offspring with their mother. The episode was banned from TV for a couple of years because of its graphic subject matter and it remains one of the best episodes of The X-files or any other TV series ever in my opinion. Plus, I bet if you start whistling the theme song, nearly everyone will know it (and probably get a bit freaked out in the process).

As always, what do you think?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Paranormal Activity vs [rec]

So after re-watching Paranormal Activity (sober this time) and watching [rec] this weekend, I started to compare the two movies quite a bit. They are both handheld horror, so that started the obvious comparison. But the main thing to remember is that they are both very good handheld horror. While the movies both have quite different plots, they are similarly terrifying and both highlight the idea that there is no escape from the respective terrors. I just had to wonder how they stacked up against each other. So we have a rumble on our hands folks!

First, a look at [rec]. This is the Spanish film that inspired Quarantine, in case you don't know that already. Well, the movie opens with a film crew doing a show about what happens when you sleep. They are following a group of firemen for a night when they get a call about an elderly woman who is hurt in her apartment. After the woman attacks a police officer already on the scene, the building is suddenly quarantined off and the survivors aren't allowed out. They find out slowly that whatever was wrong with the old woman can be spread to others and things start going very poorly for our poor residents. Things escalate into one of the creepiest final scenes in horror history.

Paranormal Activity is an American movie made about 2 years ago, but until recently never really saw the light of day in theaters. It follows a couple that recently moved in together and you discover that the woman has been haunted by something since she was very young, no matter where she was living. As the young couple begin watching the footage after each night, they discover that whatever it is that haunts them is getting bolder and stronger. Finally, things escalate into one of the creepiest final scenes in horror history.

Both movies rely on the cinema verite angle of film making, going for the found footage look to the movies. However, [rec] seems to be riding the wave of "zombie" films that have been permeating the film industry lately. I put zombie in quotes because while [rec] isn't a true zombie film in the Romero sense, it is close enough for me. That being said, [rec] is an exceptional zombie movie, so it does have that going for itself. Paranormal Activity is a unique story of a haunting in that it's not tied to a house or location, but a person being tormented by a demon. The two movies are both in established genres, but you don't see as many haunting movies like that recently, so the edge goes to Paranormal Activity.

Paranormal Activity relies a lot on the static shots of the bedroom at night. Those shots are the scariest of the film, and they are great because of their simplicity, but that's exactly why it's not quite as interesting on a cinematography level. [rec] is very shaky and frantic, often reflecting the tone of the action on screen. It gets a bit hard to watch at times because of the movement of the camera, but it's interesting to see what gets framed up. The best shots of the two movies come from [rec], framing up all kinds of scary things on the fly, rather than having the benefit of being statically set up. Therefore, [rec] gets the edge for cinematography.

Well, what is going to be the tie breaker? I have to go with scare factor on this one. Starting with [rec], you get some truly great scenes. The initial old woman attack is tense and taut. The scene where the little girl is on the loose is nearing brilliance with the way she shows up in frame. The shot of all the infected people in the staircase is one of the craziest, most frantic scenes in recent memory. It's full of scares.

Paranormal Activity is a fairly regular movie until the static bedroom scenes. Those scenes are where the movie really truly excels. The shot where the sheets billow up and the shadow moves across the door is amazing. The shot where talcum powder is put down and footprints appear from nothing is brilliant in its simplicity. And any of the shots with just sounds are wonderfully frightening.

So it comes down to the final scenes of both movies. Both are amazing. I won't say what happens in either, but when it finally came down to it, I had to think of which one was more original. Something I truly hadn't seen before. That went to Paranormal Activity. It was so brilliantly simple and creepy. While [rec] had an amazing creature in the end that I can't seem to forget, it's what is not shown in PA that makes it scarier. So in the end, Paranormal Activity is scarier to me and therefore, wins the battle.

The honest truth is that if you watch either of these movies, you will be scared and satisfied. They are both great, but I think PA seems to be a bit more ingenious in the way it is presented. Watch both of them and tell me what you think!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Death Watch Review

I was ordering things on Amazon, as I am often doing, and I needed to get my order up to $25 (so I could get the free shipping), and I saw Death Watch sitting there in my recommendations. I had heard some good things about this movie, so I blind bought it, eagerly awaiting its arrival. It came this weekend, so I popped it in and watched it. The question is, how did I like it? First, a brief plot synopsis:

In the brutal trench fighting of the First World War, a British infantry company is separated from their regiment after a fierce battle. Attempting to return to their lines, the British soldiers discover what appears to be a bombed out German trench, abandoned except for a few dazed German soldiers. After killing most of the Germans, and taking one prisoner, the British company fortifies to hold the trench until reinforcements can arrive. Soon, however, strange things begin to happen as a sense of evil descends on the trench and the British begin turn on each other.

As always, if you don't know my criteria, here's an explanation.

Cinematography: The movie mostly takes place in the trenches of WWI, so it's pretty claustrophobic. And that's exactly what it needs to be in order to show the immediacy of the action. The movie is a lot of close shots (with a few range shots thrown in when appropriate), but that's what makes it feel so scary. Everything feels immediate and right next to you. The entire movie gives a good sense of dread and the shots at night really set a great atmosphere. The use of fog is quite effective as well, adding an almost dreamlike state to the film, which works perfectly with the subject matter. The use of shaky camera style is used a couple of times, which I didn't feel was necessary and the first battle scene felt a little forced, but it was an otherwise very well filmed flick. I give it 3.5 out of 5 for Cinematography.

Execution: You don't see a whole lot of movies based around the time of WWI, so right away I was intrigued by that. The costumes and settings make it feel like you are watching people in that era, which I appreciate a lot. The actors are all quite good, with the only remotely famous actor being Andy Serkis, who is best known for being the basis for Gollum and King Kong. But the actors all carry the film along very well, each playing the role amply. The characters are ones we have seen before (the tough, grisly soldier; the inept officer; the cowardly new recruit), but they are all engaging. Even the people you don't want to see survive keep your attention, so I give Death Watch a 4 out of 5 for Execution.

Sub-Genre Comparison: Well, there aren't a whole lot of WWI horror movies as I said before, so the movie can't really be compared to anything on that front. Death Watch is, at its core, a haunting movie, so it should really be compared to other haunted house movies. The heavy hitters in that category for me are The Shining and Event Horizon. Death Watch isn't quite as good as those movies, but there's a pretty good reason why I consider them to be the comparison points: they are two of my favorite horror movies of all time. Death Watch is definitely one of the better haunting movies I have seen recently and more than stacks up against anything of the last couple years. Death Watch receives a nice 3.5 out of 5 for Sub-Genre Comparison.

Production Value: This is not a big-budget Hollywood film. It doesn't look like one either. You can tell this movie was done with a lower budget. That being said, it does well with what it was given. The make-up effects are pretty good when used and the gore is generally well done. However, the use of CGI is pretty apparent and a little off-putting at times. That being said, the CGI wasn't terrible (and the movie is 7 years old now, so it's somewhat excusable), but the traditional effects were much more convincing and powerful. As I said before, there is a bit of gore in the film, but it is only used when necessary and is used as an effective product. It would be nice to see this movie with a bit more of a budget, but for Production Value, it earns 3 out of 5.

Scares: Finally, the all important question: was it scary? Well, as I said before, the movie is claustrophobic and shot mostly in the trenches, which right away makes it creepy. One thing that Death Watch does very effectively is set an atmosphere that makes you want to look away. It has a great creepy vibe with rats all over the place and a bunch of dead bodies everywhere. There is a scene in particular where a character finds 3 people standing at the end of a trench, unmoving. When he gets closer, the people are found to be rotting corpses encompassed in razor wire, but standing up under their own power. As the soldier investigates them, you start to cringe just thinking about the situation. It's a very effective scene in the movie. Death Watch is very good at setting tense situations, so I give it 4 out of 5 for Scares.

And the final tally is a nice 18 out of 25 for Death Watch. This would put it above average, but not a must see movie. It's a good movie that I haven't heard a lot about though, so I encourage you to go and watch it. There are some great scenes and watching Andy Serkis hit things with a club with nails sticking out of it is almost worth the price of admission in itself. I recommend this movie!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reading? Who Does That?

I apparently find time to read a bit when I am not working or watching movies, and every so often I read something horror related. Okay, that's a lie, it's quite often horror related. So what was my last horror read, you ask?

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan! This is the first part of a vampire trilogy of books chronicling the events that lead up to a vampire infestation across the planet. It breaks down like this:

A plane comes into New York and goes dark on the runway. No lights, no contact, just entirely dead. Including the crew and passengers. But no decay on the bodies and no sign of terrorism or biological agents. In the cargo bay, they find a huge wooden box filled with soil and no one can figure it out. Then, after all the bodies are taken to the morgues, they disappear. But they reappear at their loved ones' houses, still walking around. What is happening?

The book does a good job of setting up the story. You meet a ton of characters in the book, all painstakingly nuanced and real feeling. The initial description of the dark plane on the runway is truly terrifying and I found myself reading it and looking around to make sure I was safe. It's a bit of a slow mover at first, but it never lost my interest. I love the way the vampires are introduced and how they work in this book (forget fangs, think stinger-like tongues). It's a great take on the vampire legend and reeks of del Toro's style the entire time. The vampire's seem to resemble the reapers from Blade II quite a bit with the way their mouths are opening and the gothic apartment seems to be reminiscent of some of the setpieces from his movies. It's got a lot of his influences showing through, which is a great thing!

The book is very good and I can't wait for the next two to come out now. Go and get it if you can!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pandorum: flying under the radar?

I saw Pandorum last week in the theaters and I am quite surprised I haven't heard much of anything about the movie. I was intrigued by the premise and was hoping to see a decent horror flick. But that was not what I got...

What I actually got was a good horror movie. No, it was a very good horror movie. I was pleasantly surprised by Pandorum. The basic premise of the movie is that the Earth was overpopulated and they had to find an alternate planet to colonize. They find one that is as close to Earth as you can get, so they launch a giant transport ship towards the planet. There are flight crews that are scheduled to work in shifts of two years and flight crew 4 has just woken up. Because of the after effects of hypersleep, they don't have all their memories, but they remember certain aspects of what they were supposed to do on the ship. Only the ship isn't working correctly and they weren't woken up by the previous flight crew, but instead by the ship somehow. And to make matters worse, there are a bunch of weird creatures stalking the people onboard. As the survivors start piecing together what happened, they find that pandorum (space dementia) may have something to do with their current situation.

The ending gets a little convoluted, but it works pretty well with the movie as a whole. The creatures are well done and greatly resemble the cave crawlers from The Descent, but they are tougher to kill in this movie. The movie keeps a very good, tense atmosphere the entire time and Ben Foster carries the movie with ease. I have liked him a lot in pretty much everything I have seen him in, so it's not a huge surprise that he is so good. But he is the linchpin of the movie (main character, in a lot of scenes on his own), so it was nice to see someone that could keep your interest easily. There are some really great sequences in the movie and it is quite freaky in a few parts.

I just can't figure out why this isn't getting more buzz in the horror community. It's not a perfect movie, by any means, but it's a great blend of Sci-Fi and Horror and makes for a fun theater experience. If you have a chance to see it (especially on the big screen), please do! It's one of the best horror movies I've seen recently, and that's a pretty good considering all the horror that has been out recently. It's Event Horizon meets The Descent with just a dash of Alien thrown in for good measure. If that doesn't sell you, then I don't know what will!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Zombies are the new vampires?

I recently saw this article over on IMDB and thought I had to retort. So read why zombies are not the new vampires first and then come back here for a response.

Done reading it? Well, it doesn't really matter, the fact is this article is wrong. It says that "zombies are the new vampires". With the release of Zombieland (a great movie), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a great book), and Jennifer's Body (a noticeably NOT zombie film, but instead one about demonic possession), apparently zombies are threatening to take over popular culture. It talks about how zombies will never supplant vampires in popularity because people find vampires sexy and blah blah blah.

Not that I really care that much either way (though I am far more of a zombie man than a "fang banger", to use some True Blood parlance), but I would have to point out that the vampire craze came to the public in the last couple of years. Sure, Dracula was written a long time ago, but the vampire craze has really taken off pretty recently. That's all well and good, but from a horror movie fan's perspective, they are the latecomers. With The Zombie Survival Guide being published 6 years ago and all kinds of people planning out the zombie apocalypse strategies for years now, vampires are really coming to the party a bit late.

The article even compares vampires to the "hot popular crowd" and zombies to the "Goth theater kids". I have two issues with this: first of all, that's great. That means zombie fans don't have to talk to a bunch of 12 year old girls about how much they loved Twilight. It separates true horror fans from the posers. The ones who waited in line to see Paranormal Activity opening night and bought Trick R Treat the day it came out from the people that didn't know Quarantine was a remake or didn't know Let The Right One In was the best vampire movie last year (or ever). Secondly, when did vampires suddenly not get compared to Goth kids? Did I miss that? Look no further than Google (which is God, apparently) for a comparison.

Google image search for vampire.

Google image search for zombie.

Which one looks more goth to you?

In any event, I don't think zombies will ever achieve the same popularity vampires will. I agree with the article on that point. But they aren't trying to be. Zombies will always be the lesser of the monsters, but that's exactly what they are trying to be. Zombies aren't the flashy show-offs vampires are, they're the ones that lurk in the shadows and wait for you to come past. I don't see people putting together vampire bar crawls, but the zombie bar crawl is all over the place. Vampires may have more fans, but they just can't match the tenacity of zombies.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trick R Treat Review

Well, I was not feeling particularly well today, so I decided to stay home from work. And I figured it would be a perfect time to watch my newly purchased Trick R Treat DVD. Finally, the greatly anticipated horror anthology came to DVD. But before I watched it, I decided to rewatch Creepshow to get myself in the right anthology mood. Also, it gave me a benchmark to compare against. I won't bother you guys with a plot summary because it's actually 4 movies within one really. There are some kids that died in a bus crash, an old man who no one likes, a principal that apparently kills people, and some girls looking to party in the middle of the woods. All the stories intersect several times and it follows all of them throughout the entire film.

*If you don't know my criteria for judging movies, here you go!*

Cinematography: The movie is very well shot. There are some incredibly well framed scenes and overall a great range of shots from close ups to nice far shots. The mise-en-scene for the movie is pretty amazing, giving it a cold, creepy feel from the very beginning. It reminded me of a chilly, October night in Wisconsin with red leaves on the trees and everything looking as though a cold rain had just fallen. The entire tone of the movie fits this very well and it just looks impressive. This is an easy 4 out of 5 for Cinematography.

Execution: While horror anthologies are nothing new, they aren't exactly everywhere. And to see one that is well done is something even rarer, so watching Trick R Treat was a blast for me. I love the intersecting stories. That was what impressed me the most about Trick R Treat: every time you watched one of the stories, you saw one of the characters from the other stories in the background. Or a person from a previous story is suddenly a victim in another story. The whole movie keeps everything very well interwoven. While the stories aren't anything ridiculously original, they definitely aren't cliche. The movie effortlessly keeps you wrapped up in the stories and characters, and for that it receives a 4.5 out of 5 for Execution.

Sub-genre Comparison: Well, as far as horror anthologies go, there's only one you really need to compare it to in my mind: Creepshow. Trick R Treat doesn't have the same pulpy fun feel that Creepshow does, but it's not trying for that. On a purely qualitative comparison, Trick R Treat is as good as Creepshow. That's saying quite a bit too. It's better than Creepshow 2 or Body Bags (both of which I enjoyed but wasn't in love with). It's really refreshing to see something like this come around and it's as good as anything this sub-genre has to offer, so I guess that gives it a 5 out of 5 for Sub-genre Comparison.

Production Value: The movie looks great. It's scenery is amazing, the blood and make-up effects are very good, and they didn't use very much CGI, if any at all. That last thing is a huge plus for me. About the only thing I could complain about is that some of the effects were shown a little too long (when Sam's mask is off, for instance), but the effects are very good and hold up. You can tell some real effort went into the look of the movie and if there wasn't a lot of budget, they fooled me well with it. For Production Value, it's got me with a 4.5 out of 5.

Scares: This might be the lowest point of the review because the movie wasn't particularly scary to me. However, this movie is not going for balls-out scare tactics. It's tense when it needs to be and the atmosphere keeps it creepy for most of the movie, but it never reaches the point to where I was stirring in my seat (after 15 years of horror movies, I still do sometimes and I love it). That being said, the movie is very much kitschy, creepy fun and will definitely keep you entertained. It's not as scary as some movies, but it's also not trying to be, going for more story telling than horrifying. It earns a well deserved 3.5 out of 5 for Scares.

All that being said, Trick R Treat gets a very nice 21.5. out of 25 on my meaningless, arbitrary scale. But that doesn't mean that I won't urge you to see this as soon as you can. It's a very well done movie and I enjoyed watching it immensely. It was worth all the hype, and it's a great entry for American horror! Go get it!

Monday, October 5, 2009

My triumphant return

Yeah, so it's been a while, but I have been on hiatus with work being stupidly busy. Oh well, it seems people have still been reading this thing, so I should probably keep writing it. I'll just have a brief update on what I have seen recently that is horror related. I'll be sure to write some more in-depth reviews in a bit, but here's something to whet your appetite with!

Zombieland: Pretty sure everyone should see this movie at some point in their lives. I can't decide if this or Shaun of the Dead is a better zombie comedy (zomedy) and that's quite the feat since Shaun of the Dead is one of my all-time favorite movies, let alone zomedies. It's a blast. I went in expecting gratuitous zombie violence and a few Woody Harrelson jokes, and got all of that plus a cameo by Bill Murray (I know, it may seem like it's a secret to some people, but he's the 6th person listed on the IMDB credit page). It's amazing.

9: An interesting little animated film. Visually very arresting and I couldn't look away from the screen, but the plot was a little weak. The voice acting was great, but really the story was kind of bland. However, the plot/story was good enough to keep your interest, so I would recommend seeing it, if for no other reason than the animation being awesome.

The Quick and The Undead: Yeah, I watched it via Netflix instant view. My thoughts: don't watch it. Watch "The Quick and The Dead" instead, which is also on instant view. Plus that one's directed by Sam Raimi.

H2: I wanted to like it, seeing as how I actually enjoyed Zombie's re-imagining of Halloween (though it was nothing compared to the original), but it wasn't very good. I just can't bring myself to get behind this movie. It hurts me to say that, but Zombie failed on this one.

Grace: I was pretty damn excited about this movie, especially because of all the hype Johnny over at Freddy In Space had been doing for it. I watched it and it left me with a resounding "meh". It wasn't bad and was an interesting story, but overall it was just kind of blah. It wasn't very scary and never really drew me in. I would recommend seeing it because it's refreshing to see some original American horror, but it's nothing that I want to watch over and over again.

Wrong Turn 2: I finally watched this movie after hearing so many good things about it and I have to say that if Henry Rollins weren't in it, I wouldn't have enjoyed any part of the movie. The characters pissed me off, the rednecks were on screen too much, and the movie just sort of felt like it was trying too hard. That's not to say there aren't some satisfying kills, but it is a pretty mediocre offering, especially because the first Wrong Turn actually surprised me with how good it was. Maybe if it hadn't been so hyped up to me.

Paranormal Activity: The movie that has been stuck in development hell for the last 2 years is finally released to select theaters, one of which is right here in Madison, WI! I saw the movie the other night and it was not that bad. I wouldn't call it the scariest movie ever like some people had been lauding it, but it was quite well done and the scary parts are pretty damn scary. I have to applaud it for the final scene, which was very satisfying. It was a movie that I need to watch again because I saw it at a midnight showing and was a bit drunk (so my attention span was less than stellar), but I definitely enjoyed it.

So that's what I have for you for now. I am writing a more in-depth review of Grace and will be picking up Trick R Treat tomorrow (finally!), so expect a review of that as well. I have missed writing! Back to the grind for now!