2/16/2014

The best horror films of 2013



2013 was a poor year for horror cinema, plain and simple. From the selection in which even the best titles belong, more properly, to the half-assed "not too bad" category, I made the following list.


1. LORDS OF SALEM
USA, 13
***(*)       3+

2. STOKER
USA, 13
***   3+

3. CURANDERO

MEX, 05/13
***  3+

4. BYZANTIUM
UK, 13
***        3

5. RESOLUTION
USA, 12
***       3+

6. LESSON OF THE EVIL
JAP, 12
***       3

7. THE CONJURING
USA, 13
***      3-

8. INSENSIBLES
SPA, 12
***      3-

9. MANIAC
USA, 13
**(*)    3-

10. EVIL DEAD
USA, 13
**(*)    3-

11. CURSE OF CHUCKY
USA, 13
**(*)      3-

12. YOU'RE NEXT
CAN, 13
**(*)        3-

13. BAD MILO
USA, 13
**(*)     3-

14. ENTITY
UK, 12
**(*)    3-

15. BLIND ALLEY
SPA, 11
**(*)    3-

16. HORROR STORIES
KOR, 13
**(*)     3-

17. TALES FROM THE DARK
HK, 12
**(*)      3-

18. THE ABCS OF DEATH
USA etc, 12
**(*)    3-

19. ANTIVIRAL
CAN, 12
**(*)      3-

20. NO ONE LIVES
USA, 13
**(*)     3-

21. VHS 2
USA, 13
**(*)     3-

22. HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2; GHOSTS OF GEORGIA
USA, 13
**(*)    3-

23. HANSEL AND GRETEL, WITCH HUNTERS
USA, 13
**(*)    3-


The 23 titles listed above are more or less watchable.
Those below are mediocre, or worse. Listed in no particular order.

           
AMERICAN MARY
CAN, 12
**         2+

THE COLLECTION
USA, 12
**(*)    2+

MAMA
USA, 13
**(*)    2+

COME OUT AND PLAY
USA, 12
**        2-

Dario Argento's DRACULA 3D
ITA/HUN, 12
*(*)     2-

MODUS ANOMALI
13
*(*)     2-

KISS OF THE DAMNED
USA, 13
**(*)    2+

DEAD SHADOWS
FRA, 12
**        2

EXPIRATION
S. AFR, 12
**(*)    2+

DARK SKIES
USA, 13
**        2+

UNDER THE BED
USA, 13
*(*)       2-

ZOMBIE ASS
JAP, 12
**        2+

HOME SWEET HOME
USA, 13
**        2
  
STRANDED
USA, 13
**        2

LA SENDA (THE PATH)
SPA, 13
**(*)    2+

100 BLOODY ACRES
AUS, 13
**(*)    2+

THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT
USA/RUS, 13
**        2+

THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH
CAN, 13
**(*)    2+

JUG FACE
USA, 13
**        2+

THE BUTTERFLY ROOM
ITA/USA, 12
**        2

SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY
AUS, 13
**         2+

FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY
13
**(*)     2+

THE CONSPIRACY
CAN, 13
**          2+

WORLD WAR Z
USA, 13
**          2+

KILL ZOMBIE! aka ZOMBIBI
HOL, 12
**          2+

WITHER
SWE, 13
**(*)      2+

NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR
USA, 13
**          2+

DARK TOUCH
UK, 13
**(*)      2+

BIG-ASS SPIDER!
USA, 13
**(*)      2+

HAUNTER
USA, 13
*(*)        2-

HELLBENDERS
CAN, 13
**(*)      2+

CARRIE
USA, 13
**          2-

CULT
JAP, 13
**(*)      2+

CONTRACTED
USA, 13
*(*)       2-

TOAD ROAD
USA, 13
*(*)       1+

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
USA, 13
**          2

HERE COMES THE DEVIL
MEX, 12
**(*)      2+

BATTERY
USA, 13
**           2

THE COMPLEX
JAP, 13
**(*)       2+

INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2
USA, 13
**(*)       2+




11/13/2013

An Interview with Laird Barron

 

            If you read modern horror fiction, then you must've come across the name Laird Barron. And remembered it. Not only because it is pretty unique and memorable in itself, but because his writings are, too. Laird Barron is certainly one of the best new horror authors. He has a recognizably vivid, pictorial, no-nonsense style while his themes are commonly connected with the kind of cosmic horror that H. P. Lovecraft made all his own. Now Barron is putting his own distinct stamp on this fertile field – with more testosterone than found in your usual bookish antiquarian HPL-inspired works.  
His latest collection came out a few months ago, titled The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All (published by NightShade Books, just as his two previous collections and the excellent novel The Croning). It contains some of his best work ever: my favorites are the novellas "The Men From Porlock", where the mystical horror of the woods leads to an even darker horror of the caves, and "Blackwood's Baby", about hunters becoming hunted by the primal Beast… but all of the others are more than worthy additions to cement his recent reputation as "the scariest writer alive". 
            Here's the interview I did with him for the RUE MORGUE magazine: parts of it were used for the article which appeared in the April issue (a big thanks to its editor, Dave Alexander, for allowing me to publish this online). This is its first appearance in its full, original form.


- How do you feel about the label "Lovecraftian" on your prose? Of course, not implying that it's derivative and imitative, but merely as a tool in description. What's your attitude to the Old Man from Providence and his prose? How did his writing affect you? And how do you feel about some other "pulp" SF-horror writers from that era?


It is, as you say, a tool, critic/reviewer shorthand, and it doesn’t faze me. Although, I am occasionally bemused when something of mine is labeled Lovecraftian and is quite objectively not. I count Lovecraft as a strong influence, but no stronger than that exerted by Peter Straub, TED Klein, or Cormac McCarthy. At the top of his game HPL was a much better stylist than his detractors will admit. Before I found my own voice, and that was an age and a half, I was enamored of his baroqueness. While that luster has faded for me, I remain an admirer of his vision.

Growing up, I read a lot of H. Rider Haggard, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber, and a slew of other authors who staked out pulp territory back in its glory days. Those are some of the guys who taught me the fundamentals. How to tell a story being lesson one.

- In terms of genre, horror seems to be pretty central to your interests as seen so far. There are spices of SF, action, spy, adventure, noir, western... but the main meat is usually horror. Do you have plans for stories or even novels where the main meat would be something other?
Basically, this question is about another label – how do you feel about the term "horror" (do you prefer "weird" or "strange" or...?) and, regardless of the term, what are your feelings about the genre?

I enjoy horror in its numerous manifestations. Much as I like category horror, it bores me a bit these days.  My preferences increasingly lean toward its use as a spice, rather than as a course. The great strength of the genre is its mutability, its chameleon nature, the way it can be insinuated into other genres. Take McCarthy’s Blood Meridian —there’s a historical western that’s energized and transformed by the infusion of horror and dark mysticism. It’s a landmark horror novel that will never be recognized as such by the main body of readers or critics, and in a perverse way, that’s the ultimate compliment a genre author can be paid.

I’m working on a crime novel and a number of stories that are horrific, if not explicitly of the horror tradition.
 

- It seems to me that some very interesting things are happening in horror literature today, with the overall level of quality higher than in the golden days of mass popularity brought by Stephen King in the early 1980s. Do you agree? Please discuss.
What do you think about horror literature today? Which contemporary colleagues would you single out?

It’s a tough call, comparing the eras. Hard to beat a young King, Barker, or Straub. Michael Shea and Karl Edward Wagner were smashing stories out of the park. TED Klein, too. So were many others. On the other hand, yes, the racks were glutted by dreck and that led to an implosion, not just commercially, but also perceptually. The average reader identifies horror with garbage from the ’80s and ’90s. In some respects the subsidence of mass market horror has done a great service to the genre —the rise of independent and small presses and their willingness to publish literary takes on the subject matter has led to a kind of renaissance. There might be less volume, but the quality is often impeccable.

There are a number of exemplary figures at work, but let me point to a handful of them: Livia Llewellyn, Sarah Langan, Dan Chaon, Stephen Graham Jones, Gemma Files, Kaaron Warren, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Gary McMahon, Simon Strantzas, Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, Joe Pulver, Matt Cardin, Norman Partridge, Lucius Shepard, Chesya Burke, and so on. I’m giving some terrific authors short shrift because the list would be too long. Suffice to say, the field is healthy. We’ll look back fondly on this era, I am certain.


- This is your third story collection and you have two novels published. Is this predominance of stories over novels a matter of circumstances or of your general preference to the shorter form (stories, novellas)?

Oh, it’s a little from column A and a little from Column B. I’m addicted to the short form, and have been since childhood. Collections from Dahl, King, and Barker very much sustained my creative soul and influenced my own writing. That said, I’ve written a couple of novels and am in the process of completing more. I imagine my bibliography will be fairly balanced between the forms when all is said and done.


- What's next coming from you? Any novel in preparation? Would it in any way be a continuation of the mythos of your previous novels?

I’ve a number of short stories scheduled to appear in 2013 and 2014, but mainly I’m working on a crime novel at the moment. Very dark stuff. After that, there’s a collection and another novel, both set in Alaska, both horrific and at least peripherally connected to material from my previous works.

8/28/2013

TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE (2000)


Country :
South Korea

Genre:
SF / Action

Running Time:
60'

Director:
Gee-woong Nam

Cast: Lee So-Woon, Kim Dae-Tong, Bae Soo-Baek, Kim Ho-Kyum, Yang Hyuk-Joon

GHOUL RATING:
0 (ZERO)

Story: The first 7 minutes, out of the 60, are made of opening credits. Nothing interesting whatsoever happens during them. In the following 32 minutes, a hooker (I'm not sure if she's teenage, but she's certainly nothing to write home about) is impregnated and killed by her 'teacher', revived by hack-saw 'scientists' and turned into a poor man's cyborg. She is unleashed upon her wrongdoers in the 39th minute of this mess (that's only 17 minutes before the end credits). Of course, nothing interesting whatsoever happens during the entire 49 minutes of the film proper. The end credits are mercifully shortened to mere 4 minutes, and, of course, just like in the opening 7, nothing interesting whatsoever happens during them. 

Review:  TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs!
 
I'm not against opening credits: they can be an art-form in themselves. They prepare you for the film, introduce the mood, the setting, the atmosphere, they can be enjoyable in themselves, like a short movie of a kind... But, those you get in REAL cinema. The opening of TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE perfectly announces the insipid time-waster that follows by showing 7 worthless minutes of a girl roaming around the city streets, accompanied by a forgettable, stupid music and the endless crawl of names no one should ever bother to read or remember.

TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie. It is a title that never bothered to provide a substance to be attached to. And by 'substance' I do not mean a profound meditation on human condition and the plight of raped schoolgirl hookers around the world. No, I mean the kind of substance one can reasonably expect from something that advertizes itself as a TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE. Rape, tits, perversity, mayhem, slaughter, gore, body parts, imaginative death scenes, weird cyberpunk imagery. Stuff like that.
 
None of that will be found here. The only 'sex' scene consists of repetitive close up shots of a guy's ass (luckily, in trousers) pumping at the 'teenage hooker' against the wall. Cyberpunk imagery? How about a group of giggling 'scientists' with a hack-saw, whose overlong 'operation' is intercut with a pointless opera singer? Their creation is surrounded by cheap plastic tubes. GHOST IN THE SHELL, eat your heart out! Gore and mayhem? Gotta be kidding me. A tit blown-off, a few splashes of red, and that's all. Here's a free advice: if you're after sleaze which, unlike this crap, actually delivers, try GUTS OF A VIRGIN and ENTRAILS OF A VIRGIN for a change. They ARE stupid, but at least they do not cheat you with endless nonsense. They deliver on their promise.

It is one thing to try something, and fail. But it is a completely different, and most despicable affair when a product (I refuse to consider this a movie) does not even try. TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is a spiritless affair whose makers were assured there would be enough morons in the world to buy or rent a DVD solely because of its title, cover and basic plot. Since the director Gee-woong Nam was too lazy and talentless to even bother trying to develop the concept into something resembling a movie, he decided to stretch scenes way beyond the running time they require, so as to forcefully fill the 60 minutes. Other than the 11 minutes 'worth' of credits, you're also treated with a 2 minute long wailing of a granny who hates the noise in the streets. Two minutes of an ugly crone thrashing on the floor: "Why are they making all this noise? Why don't they leave an old woman like me alone? Why, oh, why? etc." Other memorable scenes include the 5 (five!!!) minutes of the hooker's single uniterrupted close up in which she slowly mumbles insufferable platitudes about her love to her teacher, willingness to leave the job for him etc. Whatever could be stretched – was stretched. Emptiness had to be filled somehow. With no budget, no imagination, no spirit, no inventiveness, no care, no regard for the audience – all they could think of was: prolong everything. This may be 'only' 60 minutes long – but if you're foolish enough to watch it, it'll seem like eternity. 

Because this thing is not a movie, it does not deserve to be treated as one. That's why this is not a movie review, but a warning: TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs! TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME A KILLING MACHINE is not a movie but a terrible cheat: don't be fooled. Avoid at all costs!

6/30/2013

VARIOLA VERA: DISEASE AS A METAPHOR



AN INTERVIEW WITH GORAN MARKOVIC
THE DIRECTOR OF VARIOLA VERA

Conducted by Dejan Ognjanovic



Goran Marković's Već Vidjeno (Déjà vu, aka Reflections, 1987) was the purest horror effort made in Serbia to that date; it is included in the second edition of Phil Hardy’s Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror (1994). I wrote about Déjà vu in BFI's 100 European Horror Films (Steven Schneider, ed.), British Film Institute, London, 2007, pp. 63-64, and about Marković in Steven Schneider's 501 Movie Directors, Quintessence / Barron's, London / New York, 2007, p. 498. 
Variola Vera (1982) is a title which refers to the Latin name for smallpox, and the film is loosely based on a real event. In 1972, an Albanian Moslem from Kosovo was infected by smallpox on his pilgrimage somewhere in the Middle East, and upon his return to Serbia he caused an epidemic in the Belgrade City Hospital, since his symptoms were not immediately recognised. The film's director, Goran Marković, uses the disease as a metaphor: it provides a distorted mirror for an unhealthy system... He explains how he came to make this cult film which mixes disaster and horror movie formulas with an auteur approach.
(My review of this film is HERE)

 

-- In your film, it is the society who is generating horror and psychosis... What is your attitude to horror films and how consciously did you use horror genre in making Variola vera?  

What I have done was to abuse the elements of the genre. I've never made a real genre film, primarily because I didn't think I was able to, and also because I felt no need to examine the possibilities of a genre. Variola vera is, I would say, first of all, a disaster movie, where these elements of horror, so to speak, are used sporadically. 
What I did was to gather material that was concealed, regarding the real event, the epidemic of smallpox in Belgrade in 1972. It was 1982 when I was making the movie, and all the time, in those ten years in between, the truth about the epidemic had been concealed. I was conscious that there must have been some kind of cover-up.
When I reconstructed the events I found out that there was a disease that had not only its biological but also social aspects. And the story of the epidemic to me has served to place doubt on the validity of the society in which we lived.
I carried this film with me when I taught film classes in New York. The American students who saw it, they only perceived a story about the epidemic. What they failed to see is that it's also a story about a society, about a sick society. But that sort of thing happens when you try to use metaphors, symbols etc. But such were the times back then.

--- What kind of research did you conduct?  

During the research I was very much helped by a brochure on smallpox, and a voice recorder that I used with doctors who wanted to talk to me. I was afraid that they would not want to talk if they knew I was recording them, but once it so happened that it clicked when the tape came to an end and then they found me out. I was ashamed.
That's what I basically did: a reconstruction of the story. When people enter the quarantine they wear those white protective suits, it's one of those horror elements which seemed attractive to me.  
It is interesting that Erland Josephson came to shooting the film immediately after working with Bergman, on Fanny and Alexander, and he asked what language to use and I said 'In English'. The first scene was with the Albanians from Kosovo. We found them at the railway station and took them to play the relatives of the deceased Rexhepi. When they came to the set, it was the first time that they've ever seen a film camera, and we had Josephson speaking in English, they are using Albanian, there are also Serbian actors... It was an incredible set of people!


--- You mentioned the Albanians, and this inevitably imposes a comparison of coincidence of the premiere of your movie which happened just one year after the massive Albanian demonstrations in Kosovo, in 1981. Was there an intention to present the disease as a metaphorical version of this type of risk coming from there?

No, it was factually quite authentic, I just changed the name of the man who brought the smallpox virus to Belgrade: in the film he is called Halil Rexhepi, while in the real case his name was Rexhep Halili.  
As for the opening sequence, I also had this one idea that horror fans would've liked. It was supposed to happen on a cult place for Islam, and that is the tower in Samarra. It is absolutely a masterpiece of architecture and rhythm. It somewhat resembles the Tower of Babel, it's like a pyramid, made up of a spiral road which climbs to the summit. This path is widest down, at the base, and as you get above, it gets very narrow. So, the idea was for this Albanian pilgrim to climb the spiral, and I wanted the originator of the disease, with his flute, to be on the very top.
But it is true, at the time of premiere, there was a critic from Zagreb, who wrote that Variola vera was anti-Albanian film and that I suggested that evil comes from the Albanians...

--- At the time of the film's premiere it caused some controversy because some people recognized themselves or their relatives in certain characters of the film. 

It was only a matter of relatives of one of the nurses. I have a character whom I presented as the mistress of a doctor on duty, but that was my creative freedom, it was not based on any specific real character.

--- Could you summarize, in a nutshell, what Variola vera is about?   

The theme of an individual against the dark forces is what haunts me and I think that's what surfaces from the initial analysis of a society in which there is little hope for individual happiness and harmony.

5/07/2013

BAD TASTE by Jim Barratt



BOOK REVIEW:
BAD TASTE by Jim Barratt
Wallflower Press
(London, UK – distributed in the US through Columbia University Press)
2008

106pp


The guys of the 'Cultographies' series are back at it again, with some new titles! We've already presented their first three books on this site: THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, DONNIE DARKO and THIS IS SPINAL TAP. You'll remember them as the slightly more accessible variety of what BFI is doing in their 'classics' series: small, serious but readable accounts of the production, evaluation and influence of some major modern titles – in this case, devoted entirely to ''the weird and wonderful world of cult cinema''. The series editors, Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton, now proudly present Jim Barratt's analysis of Peter Jackson's cult classic, BAD TASTE.
            In its form, the book stays close to that envisioned for the whole series: it opens with a personal note (how the author came across the film, what it meant for him back then, what it means for him now), continues with behind-the-scenes facts of the painful birth process (always a fun read when it comes to the usual guerilla filmmaking in the low budget arena!), culminating, of course, with the analysis (what, exactly, makes the particular title the object of a cult following? what does it all mean? what's the significance? etc.) and further relevance for the genre it belongs to and to (cult) cinema in general.
            The author, Jim Barratt, is a fine choice for this book: as a former Film and Video Examiner for the British Board of Film Classification he can provide some rare facts about the various censorship issues that BAD TASTE sometimes encountered, and how, eventually, it was cleared of that danger in most countries, passing uncut in spite of its copious amounts of splattering gore, vomit, goo and the like. Obviously, BAD TASTE was one of those rare instances in which someone actually paid attention to the context of its set-pieces, and the context justified the exception. 
Even the censors were able to recognize that all of the 'bad taste' on display, including exaggerated dismemberments, geysers of blood etc. were used for obvious humorous purpose, in a context that's more infantile than 'nasty'. Barratt also rightly points to the similarities between Jackson's peculiar 'splatstick' (splatter + slapstick) and Monty Python's memorable uses of similarly extreme and intentionally goofy effects, like in the famous gore-galore sketch of "Sam Peckinpah's SALAD DAYS" or in the unforgettable episode from MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE with the gluttonous, obese man who gorges himself (and vomits every once in a while) until he explodes all over the fancy restaurant.
            Because of its comedic elements, together with bits and pieces of other genres (Sci-Fi, action, etc.), Barratt claims that BAD TASTE is not really a horror film at all: other than the splatter effects (used for comedic effect), there is no evidence of suspense, fear, creepiness or anything remotely scary (unlike, say, some other splatter-horror comedies, like THE EVIL DEAD or RE-ANIMATOR). Thanks to its light-hearted tone BAD TASTE could expect a better understanding among the frowning censors around the world, and it is certainly one of the keys of its general appeal. Nothing is really dark or edgy about it: it's a series of juvenile 'sick', but essentially inoffensive jokes in which no one (and nothing of value) is really hurt. There is no deeper point, no relevance, no subversiveness to speak of, except the most basic puerile provocation of lavatory humor and childish 'bad taste'.
            It's an exercise in style by a budding filmmaker trying to draw attention to himself by a calculated effort to make a CULT film. There is plenty of evidence in the book that Jackson knew what he was doing, right from the start (see the excerpt from the letter in which he asked for financing from the officials). "BAD TASTE was actively marketed and distributed in ways designed to solicit cult status", says Barratt (page 52). But, significantly, he adds: "But for the film to be adopted as such by its audience, it has to offer them something different, some special qualities worthy of their devotion." Jackson did offer something new and, eventually, rightly got where he is now. 
            The first three films analyzed in the 'Cultographies' series all dealt with some significant issues: gender roles in ROCKY HORROR; time, death and sacrifice in DONNY; rock culture and documentary genre in SPINAL TAP. Unlike them, BAD TASTE is not really about anything, and that may be the reason why this volume is some 20 pages slimmer than the previous entries. Although short, this book is by no means lightweight, and serious tools are used to analyze what little there was to be analyzed. 
It also provides numerous amusing anecdotes and facts about the film (especially the local, New Zealand specific references lost on many international viewers), but one feels much more of the similar material could've been used to make the text somewhat weightier. At least, the book points to numerous sources (articles, books, even web sites) which might be valuable to those cultists willing to explore more background of one of the most inauspicious debuts in the history of cinema. From rags (BAD TASTE) to riches (LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Oscars etc.).   
        
The other new 'Cultographies' titles are devoted to Orson Welles's TOUCH OF EVIL and SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY. On the other hand, those interested in BAD TASTE's older (and better) splatstick brother can eagerly anticipate the announced EVIL DEAD volume. Stay tuned!
 
Originally published at Beyondhollywood