Wednesday 24 December 2008

Finally! It's door #24!

I’m making a list, I’m checking it twice... Yes, it’s the top horror of 2008, according to Anchorwoman In Peril!

10. APPARITIONS: Here’s an outsider to start with – the BBC’s recent six-part horror/drama serial about a Catholic priest turned reluctant exorcist (played by Martin Shaw). Yes, it was slow and, yes, it was sometimes silly – but how often does prime-time TV basically amount to a slasher movie with Satan as the killer?

9. DIARY OF THE DEAD: While not as epic in scope as Land of the Dead (or, really, as jaw-droppingly brilliant as any of Romero’s previous zombie outings), Diary still delivered. (Full review here.)

8. WHILE SHE WAS OUT: A classic woman-in-peril TV-movie plot is beefed up with extra (and I mean extra) gore, plus Kim Basinger and a Christmas-time setting... I’m sold! (Full review here.)

7. THE RUINS: Scott Smith’s adaptation of his own novel (which was fantastic, by the way) made Stephen King’s list of the 10 Best Movies of 2008, and who am I to argue? Truly nasty stuff.

6. DUMA KEY: And, speaking of Stephen King, his most recent novel was a fine return to form, and one of his most purely enjoyable ghost stories.

5. THE MIST: Sheesh! It’s King again! This adaptation of his open-ended novella came out in the US last year but didn’t arrive in the UK until March. It was definitely worth the wait, however, as it quickly became one of my favourite monster movies ever.

4. MOTHER OF TEARS: Yep, I’m aware that this list seems to be revealing me as a slavering fanboy but I really DID enjoy the poorly-received final part of Argento’s Suspiria trilogy – at least on the level of a wild fantasy-adventure filled with Dario’s unique imagination.

3. INSIDE: This French film is what people are talking about when they describe a horror movie as “extreme”. It’s a nightmarish scenario that just... keeps... getting... worse! Gruellingly spellbinding.

2. THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN: After being buried by its distributors in the US, I almost couldn’t believe it when this Clive Barker adaptation got a cinema release in the UK, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it. Brutally gory set pieces mix with black humour and dingy mystery to produce an unusually original horror film.

1. DEAD SET: Big Brother + zombie apocalypse = modern British horror at its best, all the more surprising (and effective) for having been made for the small screen. Definitely recommended to anyone who enjoyed Shaun of the Dead or 28 Days Later, and the year’s horror highlight for me.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

What's behind door #23?

It’s the Spanish made-for-TV horror film The Christmas Tale! I’ve not yet seen this creepy-looking festive story (which was released in America as part of a DVD box set called 6 Films to Keep You Awake) but it’s showing on UK TV tonight at 2.20am on BBC2. You can read a review of all six films in the series over at Kindertrauma.

Monday 22 December 2008

Door #22 blows open

Today’s the day I set off on my Christmas holiday to Vegas but, thanks to the recent snow storms there, it doesn’t look like it’ll be the break from the wintry British weather I’d anticipated. At the very least, I’m hoping the plane doesn’t skid off the runway, crash into the Luxor Hotel and explode in a blazing fireball. (I mean, I’d rather it was warm, but not that warm.)

I’m afraid my departure does also mean that the final two doors of the Anchorwoman In Peril! Madvent Calendar™ will be pre-scheduled auto-posts. I’m sorry – I know they’ll seem so hollow, but at least you’ll know that, as you read them, I’ll be having a fantastic time sipping fabulous cocktails in Sin City. Or burning to death in a flaming inferno.

Have a great time over the holidays. Thanks for reading, and best wishes for 2009!

Sunday 21 December 2008

What's behind door #21?

While it might not even be Christmas Eve yet, it's worth giving some thought to what you'll be doing on New Year's Eve... Otherwise you'll just end up doing the same boring thing you do every year: murder a bunch of people in a gimmicky way. Ho hum.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Who's behind door #20?

It’s the queen of TV movies! Yes, Tori Spelling and Christmas go together like pine trees and vacuuming. She’s starred in a festive TV movie... on first-name terms with Santa...

...and her mom even has a gift-wrapping room in the Spelling family mansion!

If I get chance before I go away for Christmas, I’ll post a review of The House Sitter... No, not the Goldie Hawn comedy laugh-fest, but a surprisingly good telemovie thriller in which Tori stars alongside her husband, Dean McDermott. And, after that, I’ll be reviewing Tori’s new animals-run-amok horror flick, Wildcats

(Not really.)

Friday 19 December 2008

Door #19 creaks open...

There's nothing better than a good ghost story on a cold Christmas night, and the 1940s/50s radio show Inner Sanctum Mysteries produced some of the best, featuring stars like Orson Welles, Boris Karloff, Mary Astor and Claude Rains. Listen to episodes online at Obscure Horror or, if you want to get spooky on your iPod, download MP3s from Old Time Radio.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Who's behind door #18?

It’s Donald Pleasence! Or, since the beloved actor sadly died in 1995, technically it’s... wait for it... the Ghost of Christmas Pleasence! (Oh my sides.)

Christmas in Britain just isn’t complete without a screening of The Great Escape on TV, meaning that I’ve come to associate old Dr Loomis as much with December 25th as I have October 31st. Like his character in this film, Donald Pleasence actually was an RAF officer during WWII, and really did spend time in a German POW camp. Also less known is the fact that there’s a 1988 TV-movie sequel called The Great Escape II: The Untold Story, in which Pleasence, the only returning cast member, played a Nazi... How’s that for acting range?

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Slashing through door #17

Tell your granny you don’t want another knitted sweater this Christmas... You want a knitted Freddy Krueger!

I’ve been hanging out at The Adventures of Cakeyvoice a lot recently, where horror-loving crafter Hannah displays woolly wonders like a knitted Michael Myers, a knitted Ash from The Evil Dead and, my favourite, Dawn of the Knitted Dead. It’s like watching Romero’s masterpiece again For The Very First Time... Only plushier!

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Monday 15 December 2008

Oozing through door #15

OMG! This could be you if you eat too much on Christmas Day!

Sunday 14 December 2008

The Stalker

Way, way, way before the craze for stalker movies (well, 1977) a middle-aged Witchita woman received a string of taunting threats by phone and post from a sinister criminal the police dubbed “the Poet”. Twenty-one years later, along came the TV movie version of her Lifetime-baiting true story, which starred Mare Winningham in the lead role and was entitled Little Girl Fly Away.

There’s a reason for that perhaps strange-sounding title (later changed to the more straightforward The Stalker) but before we get into all that, let’s play a quick game of “Complete The Threatening Note!”. I’ll give you the first few lines of one of the Poet’s endeavours and all you have to do is pick the missing lyric. Ready?

Hickory dickory dock
I know you are Cathy Brock
Your clock has run out
Only I can hear you _____
Hickory dickory dock

(A) Shout (B) Pout (C) Scream, you fucking trout

Hmm, I think the author just scrapes by with that “poet” nickname, personally, but the answer is, in any case, A – although C would’ve been far more threatening, don’t you think? Let’s try another!

Wherever you go on water or land
I’ll make sure everybody knows about your _____

(A) Brand (B) Post-punk band (C) Soon-to-be-chopped-off right hand

Yep, the answer’s A, somewhat disappointingly. Apparently, Cathy was attacked and “branded” by a sex offender back when she was a teenager. I think C would’ve been much scarier. The Poet really missed a trick there! One last one:

Frank can’t save you, nor the cops
I’m too clever for all them _____

(A) Slobs (B) Fops (C) Cock-sucking candy-pops

It’s a toughie, I know, but the answer is... A again! It doesn’t even rhyme, does it?! Quite frankly, I would’ve made a much better deranged literary stalker myself – as would you if you picked all C’s. But we can’t all be sadistic geniuses, can we, and this is a TV movie after all.

I mentioned earlier that The Stalker was originally known as Little Girl Fly Away, which admittedly sounds less like a scary thriller and more like a heart-warming drama. Basically, the reason for this is that The Stalker does err more on the side of heart-warming drama, but to explain why takes us into spoiler territory...

Now, it’s not a major spoiler if you’re in any way familiar with the real-life case of the Poet, or the book this movie’s based on, but it’s something the film chooses not to reveal until halfway through. And that’s the fact that ... SPOILER ALERT! ... Cathy, the supposed victim, is herself the Poet. That’s right: she’s stalking herself – composing the scribbled notes, leaving a jar of urine on her own doorstep, stabbing herself with a knife and, at one point, even going so far as to go missing from a local mall, only to turn up bruised and battered many hours later, having been “kidnapped”.

So why is she doing all this? And what’s with the “Little Girl Fly Away” stuff? Well, it’s not just a case of drawing attention to herself, nor was it diagnosed as multiple-personality disorder; the second half of the movie deals with Cathy’s quest to understand the motives behind her behaviour with the help of a therapist (played by CCH Pounder). I’ll not spoil it all here but, as you might expect, the roots of her problem go back to her childhood.

Yet another title this movie goes by

The Stalker is filled with good actors. Mare Winningham makes the slightly frumpy, unlikely victim role her own, with Bruce Davison sympathetic as her bewildered husband. If you’ve ever wondered what a psycho-stalker movie would be like with a middle-aged couple at the centre instead of a glamorous TV anchorwoman played by Morgan Freeman, well, there’s clearly something wrong with you, but the good news is: this is the movie for you. Anne Haney plays it cool as Cathy’s distant (suspicious?) mother, while Clayton Rohner (still displaying signs of hotness) is a cop on the case who suspects that the Poet is someone Cathy’s been having an affair with. Finally, there’s CCH Pounder, who’s so white-hot I’d happily fake mental illness just to have her as my shrink.

Despite its (new) title, this is a long way from being a thriller, but I still found it pretty gripping – more so, in fact, than some outright thrillers. With that cast, a decent script and a touching final scene, can The Stalker really be blamed for the fact that the most lasting impression it leaves is the mental image of Mare Winningham peeing in a jar? I think not.

Rating: 3/5

Who's that behind door #14?

It's Anne Haney! This distinctive and delightful character actress, with over 100 credits on the IMDb, starred in not one but two classic seasonal TV movies, The Night They Saved Christmas (1984) and The Christmas Gift (1986), not to mention 1986's The Thanksgiving Promise, before taking on roles in some major Hollywood films in later life. Genre fans will also recognize her from the TV-movie remake of The Bad Seed, Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho, and the spooky Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

I've just seen her in the 1998 TV movie The Stalker, which I'll be reviewing shortly!

Saturday 13 December 2008

What's going on behind door #13?

What could be nicer during the run-up to Christmas than a nice romantic meal for two? Good food, fine wine, the candlelight sparkling off the glasses... Wes Bentley's even dressed up in his Santa suit. But Rachel Nichols doesn't appear to be very amused. In fact, she seems quite uncomfortable. It almost looks like she's been tied into that chair...

Friday 12 December 2008

Door #12 opens

AiP is putting together the songlist for its annual creepy carol concert. Do feel free to add your own suggestions...

Away In A Mangler
Blood King Wenceslas
O Little Town Of Deathlehem
I Saw Three Shivs
In The Shriek Midwinter
Slay Amid The Winter’s Snow
We Three Kings Of Gorient Are

Thursday 11 December 2008

Behind door #11...

It’s Bess Armstrong!

Since today is the 11th, I thought we’d take a look at 11th Victim, a TV movie from 1979 that I dimly remember watching as a teenager. Bess plays a TV journalist in Des Moines who finds out about her younger sister’s secret life as an L.A. prostitute after said sister is murdered (she’s the titular eleventh victim). Apparently, the story was inspired by the Hillside Strangler case, itself dramatized several times since. With no video or DVD release, however, 11th Victim has become a bit obscure so there’s little chance of me seeing it again, which is a shame because it sounds like prime Anchorwoman In Peril fodder.

TV Guide said it “had potential, but was defeated by the usual TV-movie budgetary restrictions and desire to exploit rather than explore a ‘hot’ issue”. I know... Like exploitation is a bad thing! Anyway, I must have agreed on some level because I reviewed it in my own film guide at the time thusly: “Slick TV movie succeeds as an exploration of the sleazy side of life in Hollywood but, as a thriller, is flat and unexciting”. Did you know I’ve been keeping a record of all the films I watch since I was 13? Eat your beard off, Leonard Maltin!

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Time to open door #10!

With year-round snow and a population consisting entirely of elves and reindeer, Norway is the most Christmassy country in the world... Really. It also gave us one of the best straight slashers of recent years, Fritt Vilt, a.k.a. Cold Prey, which is twice as scary as it is icy (making it very scary indeed!). A sequel was released in Norway in October, and will hopefully be making its way around the rest of the globe soon, no doubt on the back of a flying reindeer. Rejoice!

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Who's behind door #9?

TWO beloved actors with DOZENS of TV-movie roles between them share a birthday today. Yes, it's Beau Bridges and Michael Nouri... Love the hats, guys!

Beau, who turns 67, will be forever remembered (by me) for his association with two of the most memorable titles ever given to TV movies: 1992's The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom and 1989's Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure. (Seriously, I don't think there's a day that goes by without some TV station in the world showing that one. And I think it's usually Movies24.)

Nouri's just 63, and his sterling TV-movie work includes the excellent, Barbara Eden-starring thriller Eyes of Terror (1994) as well as a host of Danielle Steele and Sidney Sheldon adaptations.

Happy 9th Day of Madvent, gentlemen! Oh, and enjoy your birthdays too.

Monday 8 December 2008

Who's behind door #8?

It’s Roddy McDowall in a cravat to die for!

If you’re feeling like a little Yuletide fun with the Rodman, you could look out for his turn as Bob Cratchet in the George Burns Comedy Week episode Christmas Carol II: The Sequel, but I’ve absolutely no idea how to get hold of it. For an easier festive fix, try the superior snowbound psycho-thriller Dead of Winter instead... You won’t regret it. My review here!

Sunday 7 December 2008

Something fishy behind door #7

Betcha forgot Jaws: The Revenge was a Christmas flick, didn’t you! Not only that, but it features today’s Unconvincing Shark Attack Of The Day! Read on, you lucky, lucky people...

Unconvincing shark attack of the day: The festive edition!

Today in USAOTD, we take a look at a shark attack sequence that relies purely on clever editing and a technique known as “flying shark teeth comin’ atcha” to achieve its effects... Someday I’ll write a proper, full-length article about the brilliant, highly TV movie-like Jaws: The Revenge but, for now, let’s concentrate on its memorable opening scene, featuring Sean (son of Martin) Brody:

Picture it... Amity... 1987... It’s Christmas time but – oh no! – a buoy-type-thing has got all tangled up in the bay!

“No worries, I’ll poke it with a stick.”

“Argh! Flying shark gnashers!”

“Argh! No arm!”

We interrupt this shark attack to bring you shots of a joyful Christmas scene for maximum irony. (And, why, yes... Christmas IS annual!)

“Hello! Still missing an arm here! Perhaps if I lean tantalizingly over the edge of the—”

“Argh! Flying shark gnashers again!”

Sean’s been swallowed whole... and now the boat’s sinking. On the plus side, it looks like he managed to fix the buoy.

But what a MESS!

Saturday 6 December 2008

Do you see what I see on Day 6?


It’s killer Billy from my Number One Christmas-themed Slasher and Third Favourite Christmas Movie Of All Time, Silent Night, Deadly Night! Read my thoughts from when I watched the film for the first time last Christmas or, for the ultimate SNDN experience (short of actually watching it), head on over to the scarily exhaustive Silent Night, Deadly Night Resource.

Friday 5 December 2008

Let's unlock door #5

Jeez, wouldn’t you just know it? It’s Christmas-time commuter chaos...

One woman who finds herself in the middle of holiday shopping hell is Della (played by Kim Basinger) in While She Was Out, a rather excellent new woman-in-peril thriller produced by Guillermo Del Toro. Read on for a full review!

While She Was Out

It’s a clich√©, true, but every so often a modest little film seemingly comes from nowhere and manages to completely blow you away. The first to have this effect on me in quite some time is While She Was Out... and, no, it’s not a mind-blowing masterpiece, nor is it something that’ll occupy a “special place” in the hearts of generations to come, but – damn – it’s a good time and a great thriller.

Y’see, it’s pretty much identical plotwise to one of those women-in-peril TV movies from the 70s/80s that I rave about constantly – albeit with one major difference: it’s nasty... REAL nasty! We’re all used to the straightforward, linear and cosily familiar style of TV movies like She Cried Murder – and While She Was Out slots easily into that mould. But, whereas the worst thing that might befall Lynda Day George and pals was a twisted ankle, and the cops would always show up at the end, there’s no such security here. Kim Basinger is on the run from some truly dangerous thugs with only a toolbox grabbed from her car for protection – and, believe me, she’s not afraid to use its contents in ways that would give Tobe Hooper nightmares.

First rule of suspense filmmaking: give us characters we care about. Basinger, who’s just been getting better and better in recent years, is Della, a suburban mom with a borderline abusive husband (Craig Sheffer) but two nice kids. After a Christmas Eve domestic, she escapes to the mall in search of a little retail therapy. But the snowy roads are lethal, the car park is gridlocked and, to add insult to injury, a black Plymouth is taking up two parking spaces. Incensed, Della writes an angry note and leaves it on the windscreen, before parking down the road and enduring a miserable time in the mall, where such events as running into a smarmy school friend and having her name misspelled by a dull-eyed cashier subtly remind her that Women Are Socially Disadvantaged and Commercialism Is Bad.

Back outside, Della’s in for a nasty surprise when the drivers of the badly-parked Plymouth – four punks led by Lukas Haas (who seemed like such a nice boy in Witness) – show up and corner her at the outskirts of the parking lot. I’ve decided not to tell you any more than that, suffice to say that things turn very nasty very quickly, and Della’s soon running for her life through a hazard-strewn construction site. And you thought the Black Friday sales were scary!

Hurtling along and bombarding you with shocks, While She Was Out is what those of us in the movie-reviewing business refer to as “a rollercoaster ride”, and what people in the rollercoaster business refer to as “technically, just a film” – although I’m sure they’d agree it’s a pretty good one. Kim Basinger makes as compelling and resourceful a heroine here as she was in Cellular, while Lukas Haas’ gang of youths make frightening villains not because they’re intimidating or sinister, but simply because they’re stupid, reckless and dangerous – exactly the sort of people who give darkened parking lots a bad name.

Because so few films are directed by women – especially in the horror/thriller genre – you can’t help but look for notable differences when you come across one. Susan Montford certainly doesn’t pull any punches with her directorial debut (which she also scripted from a short story by Edward Bryant), and creating an interesting female lead is obviously a priority, but genre fans won’t find any “special spin” on the material to distract from the thrills. That said, it’s intelligent enough, with a build-up that sets up a disconcerting, melancholy tone, and a double-payoff that finishes off the expectedly cathartic climax with a nice little twist of the knife.

One word of warning: don’t be tempted to seek out and watch the trailer. In fact, avoid all trailers for this in case they’re the one included on the UK DVD release, which basically condenses the entire film into two minutes, ruining every single plot development along the way, including the ending. Other than that, if you come across any opportunity to see While She Was Out, you grab eet, you watch eet, you love eet!

Apologies to anyone with a fake Mexican accent.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday 4 December 2008

Door #4 opens

It’s the Ghost of Christmas Present – a.k.a. Carol Kane, one of the most distinctive (and funny) actresses around. I’ve sung her praises before, and she’s taken on some extremely kooky horror roles in the past in such films as Pandemonium, Office Killer, When a Stranger Calls, When a Stranger Calls Back, Transylvania 6-5000 and Don’t Ring the Doorbell. But none beat her hilariously disturbing performance as a psychotic Christmas fairy in this – probably my favourite holiday movie – Scrooged. Altogether now: “Look, Frank! It’s a toaster!

Wednesday 3 December 2008

What's lurking behind door #3?

Argh! It’s one of those glass unicorns like in Black Christmas! Those things can be fucking lethal in the hands of a deranged killer. Watch out Margot!

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Who's behind door #2?

Ho ho ho! Who’s that jolly bearded fellow? Why it’s Lucio Fulci! While I don’t think Mr Fulci ever made an all-out Christmas film, he did give his fans a little present back in 1990 in the shape of A Cat in the Brain, which offered up more of the man himself than any Fulci fan could shake a candy cane at. Full review below!

A Cat in the Brain

“I think I’m going crazy... as if my brain is being eaten by a cat!”

That’s how it feels to be an aging horror movie director, according to this spoof-autobiographical piece from celebrated goremeister Lucio Fulci. And, in case you still don’t get it, the idea is represented by the unforgettable sight of a stiff-legged cat puppet pawing at some minced beef. Yes, 1990’s A Cat in the Brain (also known as Nightmare Concert) finds the 63-year-old Fulci indulging in a bit of postmodern malarkey in much the same manner that Wes Craven would in his New Nightmare four years later.

Fulci plays himself in what essentially boils down to a kind of wraparound story, in which he believes himself to be going insane while a serial killer strikes wherever he goes. Meanwhile, clips from a few of his recent films – as well as some he merely supervised – play out in gory clip-show fashion, presented as hallucinations, dreams and supposedly real murders.

When it gets to the point that Fulci can’t even pop a ready-meal in the microwave without seeing visions of melting faces, he decides to visit a psychiatrist. And that’s when things get really strange, as Dr Schwarz appears to be having some sanity issues of his own... By his second session, the shrink claims to have watched all of Fulci’s films (57 according to the IMDb) and read all the scripts. No wonder he’s going a little crazy! And, sure enough, he’s soon hypnotizing Fulci and setting off on a killing spree of his own (or is he?).

It all sounds confusing and incoherent but, in reality, A Cat in the Brain is quite entertaining (much more so than some of the dire films from which footage is plundered, anyway). Whether this is due to Fulci’s bemused performance or the sheer amount of outrageous gore is hard to say, but there’s a light tone that makes it hard to take too seriously – which is perhaps why it got through the BBFC uncut (eventually). It is cheap and choppy, but that’s part of the charm. There’s even a sequence where the spliced-in violence is spookily effective, as Fulci wonders around a villa while murder victims are hacked up left, right and centre, seemingly oblivious to his presence.

Ultimately, the film is the product of a director having a little fun, and when it’s a director who’s provided his fans with as much fun over the years as Lucio Fulci, it’s hard to begrudge the man. As ever with Fulci films, I can’t leave you without quoting some of the more memorable lines from the script...

Psychiatrist: Now, you say the first manifestations of your illness have been the fear of hamburger and gardeners...

Fulci: The film we’re watching is the one I’m in the throes of shooting at the moment... and the violence in it is making me, mentally, deeply disturbed!

Fulci (describing a dream): It was a girl who was a pocket... and they shot a ball into her... on a pool table.

Newsreader: So far, there have been few clues to the identity of the killer, who is believed to be of middle-age and probably an apparently normal person.

Psychiatrist (to wife): Damn you! You’ve made a mess of my life. Damn you to hell! But now I’ve had enough... Enough!

Movie producer: If you’re trying to create a sensation like you do in your films, well, this time you goofed!

Rating: 3/5

Monday 1 December 2008

AiP Madvent Calendar: Day #1!

Do you like scary snow globes? Yikes! It’s the weird Christmas decoration/piece of handmade Scream merchandise I bought on eBay... naturally! This delightful festive figurine is not available in shops. Or, at least, I doubt it ever was, considering it’s the only one like it I’ve ever seen and the base is made of hand-painted wood. Is it fan-sculpture? Or was it a prototype for a range of Ghostface snow globes that never made it to the production line in Hong Kong? Who knows? But Scream + Christmas = Joy To The World in my book!

Sunday 30 November 2008

It’s a theme month!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that tomorrow is the first of December. And, even if you have been living under a rock, the wide availability of wireless communication technologies these days means you’re probably perfectly able to keep up with current events from your subterranean boulder-based dwelling. So who am I to question your lifestyle choices? I’m sure it’s very pleasant under there.

In any case, starting tomorrow, Anchorwoman In Peril! is marking the countdown to Christmas in the shape of its very own virtual Madvent Calendar! ’Tis true... Join in with me every day (and, yes, I’ll require a doctor’s note if you miss one) as we open up the little doors to find out who or what’s lurking behind. But remember: they’re not actual doors – they’re just digital ones – so don’t go prising open any holes in your computer screen because that’s potentially dangerous. And rather unsightly.

It’ll also be a countdown to another kind of holiday for me... in America! Yessiree bobtail, I’ll be spending Christmas in “fabulous” Las Vegas this year. I sure hope I don’t run afoul of the Night Stalker. Or the Switch Killer. Or end up getting hacked up into little (murder-set) pieces! But, don’t worry, I’ll ensure there’s enough pre-scheduled posts to take us right up to Christmas Eve, Madvent-style, whether I’m here in Leeds or flying across the Atlantic in a big ol’ plane.

Tell all your under-rock friends!

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Lessons in terror: Horror 101 & 102

You may have noticed I went AWOL for a little longer than usual last week. Well, blame the teachers – ’cuz I was in school... Horror school! I planned to watch Horror 101 and send a review your way shortly afterwards but, on completing the course, I realised that the film was just so nothingy, I didn’t have enough to say about it. The solution? Sign up for the sequel, Horror 102, of course! Surely seeing both films would give me enough ammo to fire off a spectacular double-whammy review! Ka-blammy, mofos!

Hmm... well, not quite. Horror 102 turned out to be nearly as nothingy as Horror 101. It’s not scary enough to scare, not thrilling enough to thrill, and not funny enough to, er, fun. But I’ll let you into a little secret: I liked it... and I liked Horror 101 too!

Now you’re giving me that blank stare again. I know what you’re thinking: Horrors 101 and 102 sound like a double-helping of horror dog-doo, right? Who wants to watch a pair of nothingy movies? Has Ross gone quite, quite mad? And is “nothingy” even a proper word? Well, to answer these questions, we’ll have to look at each movie’s individual report card in a little more detail...

STUDENT: Horror 101 (2000)
DESCRIPTION: A group of students attend an evening class on the “nature of fear” or something (honestly, they give degrees out for anything these days) but find themselves trapped inside the school and picked off one by one. Bo Derek, who’s quite watchable but disappears after the first 15 minutes, plays their teacher.
BEHAVIOUR: Horror 101 is a non-slasher movie. That is, it follows the structure and conventions of a slasher movie except for the fact that, instead of getting slashed, its characters simply vanish. And there aren’t any bloody bodies popping up √† la April Fool’s Day, either. They just disappear. C
Something about Horror 101 works, however. It’s reasonably well made, suspenseful in a slow-burning way, and kept me entirely entertained from start to finish. Director James Glenn Dudelson apparently does nothingy quite lovingly. B+
Killer Rottweilers, snakes, spooky shadows in the hallways, and a twist ending. I'm happy. B+
ORIGINALITY: None... until the very end, which I have to admit got me. Otherwise, Horror 101 is total TV-movie territory, perfectly suitable for a Sunday afternoon screening. B-

STUDENT: Horror 102: Endgame (2004)
DESCRIPTION: No relation to 101, other than the fact that this new bunch of students appear to attend the same vaguely-referenced college, VDBU. This time, they’re trapped inside a disused mental asylum while taking part in some hazily-explained fieldwork assignment and, when the killings start, the bodies do actually pile up.
BEHAVIOUR: There’s more gore in the opening minute of Horror 102 than there is in the entirety of its predecessor. And that’s just because they write the title in red. The gory stuff here is mild but, conversely, quite strong for a PG-13. B+
APTITUDE: Horror 102 is a better film than 101, I thought, although perhaps not quite as professionally made. Building to another clever ending, you could almost make a case for this series being a Saw forerunner. (Or “Sawrunner”, if you will.) A-
Again, Horror 102 has a bland feel and mainly consists of a lot of running around searching for whoever the currently unaccounted-for character is. But scratch the surface and there’s an interesting investigation into just about every explanation for the supernatural you can think of, ranging from drugs, hallucinogens and poisons, to mental illness, paranoia and fear. A-
Is it supernatural? Is it madness? Is there an actual killer at work? You won’t find out until the end when, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be quite surprised. But, then again, I’m a sucker. A-

So, there you go. Please sign and date the above report cards and return them to me at your earliest convenience. And don’t be afraid to give these two movies a go if you like horror films but don’t want anything that might put a strain on your heart medicine. Also please note that the first film is called “Horror 101” and not “Horror LOL”, which is what I originally saw when I read the title, and am now going to rename my blog.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Stranger and stranger

In case you’re in any doubt about the pointlessness of most “unrated” versions of horror films released on DVD, check out this description of the two whole differences between the Theatrical and Unrated versions of The Strangers (but only if you’ve seen the movie already, ’kay? Otherwise, it’s mondo spoilo).

Now, I’m not against including alternative endings on discs – in fact, this one’s even quite interesting. What I am against is labelling them as “UNRATED!” and “Too terrifying for theatres” just because they haven’t been formally submitted to the MPAA and hence don’t have a rating. There’s nothing included in the unrated version of The Strangers that’s any more disturbing than that in the original cut – so, DVD people, give it up and get a new gimmick. We’re not fooled!

While we’re on the subject, oh, how I pine for the days when a horror movie had a coherent directorial vision behind it, rather than a toned-down theatrical release, followed by either a juiced-up DVD version or a selection of redundant deleted scenes edited back in to justify the unrated tag. The Strangers’ DVD release only underscores for me how negotiated the entire affair seemed when I saw it at the cinema. However much I love a little extra unrated nastiness in a film, I respect a little passion and personality a whole lot more.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Unconvincing shark attack of the day: The revenge!

Last time on USAOTD we saw what happened when an overconfident tour guide found herself up shark creek in Red Water... Today’s unpersuasive date with toothy destiny comes from Shark in Venice – not a film I particularly liked, but I have to admit it has its moments, including the following... And check out those plastic urns!

It’s an intimate moment on one of Venice’s less impressive bridges.

“Oh Johnny, where’s your class?”

“Go and stand pointlessly close to the water’s edge.”

“OMG! Watch out for that Unconvincing Shark Attack!”

“You’re flying!”

“And I’ve completely vanished in the next shot too!”