Okay, so sometimes I like to pick a movie that is just kinda goofy. Maybe it didn’t have the biggest budget. Maybe it has its fair share of flaws. But what I love about Beyond The Gates is that it has such a good fanboy heart, that you can’t help but have a joyful time watching it. I have a serious soft spot for this movie. It is VHS nostalgia wrapped up in a delightful little caring package. Beyond The Gates is about two estranged brothers that have to return back to their hometown to close and pack up their family video store. It closed because their father, who ran it, has disappeared and now thought to be dead. The two brothers couldn’t be opposite each other. One is the slacker ne’er do well, while the other is the prim and proper businessman. While packing up and bickering along the way, the find their way into their father’s always-locked office. Inside they find an old VHS board game called Beyond The Gates, and of course they decide to play it. Well, that’s where shit goes downhill. But downhill is such a fun ride! Like I said before, Beyond The Gates is nostalgia overload. Its basic premise circles around those amazing VHS board games that we all had and played. NIGHTMARE was my favorite! But you’ve also got the entire video store scenario. Just seeing the character wander around an amazing, old school video store brings up all the feels for me. I worked in one for four years, and man does it bring up great vibes. But also, let’s talk about the host of Beyond The Gates. It’s none other than scream queen Barbara Crampton! Makes me want to watch Re-Animator again. Look, Beyond The Gates isn’t trying to be Shakespeare. It’s not trying to be anything else other than a low budget, damn good time. Overlook a few minor things and focus on the good. There are some fantastic PRACTICAL effects of major gore. There are some really fun moments of VHS gameplay, searching for keys and whatnot. I really enjoy Chase Williamson as an actor, and thought he was amazing in John Dies At The End. Plus, it’s all wrapped up in that nostalgia bow. If this kind of goofy entertainment sounds like it’s up your alley, then give it a spin.
Okay, okay, fine. You knew it had to happen. Every year I love to put a film or two in the mix that you can still see in theaters. Although, judging by the INCREDIBLE numbers this movie is pulling in, chances are you’ve already seen it… possibly even twice. You almost have to be buried in a hole for the past month if you haven’t heard of IT. It’s taken over pop culture for weeks now. And you know what, it deserves to. This movie was one where the hype was massive, and luckily for all of us, it lived up to every bit of it. Since most everyone knows what it’s about by now, I won’t dwell on the plot too much. Basically it’s about of “loser” kids that band together to take on an unnatural evil that comes in the form of a clown (usually.) Now yes, it has some great scares and Bill Skarsgard is a fantastic Pennywise. But to me, what truly made this movie special are the kids. The coming-of-age aspect of this story is so wonderfully nuanced that you feel for each and every one of those kids. Now, I’m one of the lucky ones that read Stephen King’s incredible book a long time ago, and was happy to see much of it given the right kind of treatment. Of course it’s more of a Cliff Notes version because the book is well over 1000 pages, but I think the feelings and relationships from the book are absolutely intact. The child actors are absolutely perfect. They are truly the reason this movie works so well. If there was one weak link in the mix, it wouldn’t work quite as well. But there isn’t. And if you think a studio film might hold back, it’s doesn’t. IT has some absolutely grueling and disturbing moments. Sure, there isn’t the famous sewer gangbang scene from the book (which I’m glad was omitted), but watch the Georgie murder scene and then you tell me if the studio held back. No way. It’s messed up. And that’s in the first 10 minutes! Look, there’s very little I can add here that hasn’t already been discussed at length by every critic, blogger, co-worker, friend and family member, but I’m just here to say if you are one of the few people in the world who HASN’T seen IT yet, make it a point to see it in the theater, exactly how it was meant to be seen.
Here’s a fantastic twisted movie that was a film festival darling for a long time, and is finally out there for the general public to give a view. So if you’re into original, warped, bizarre, eyebrow-raising, stomach-churning, French, cannibalism flicks, then boy do I have the movie for you. Raw is one of those movies that comes around and you don’t quite know what to do with it. It makes you uncomfortable in so many ways. And surprisingly to me, the cannibalism part wasn’t even the most uncomfortable part! Raw is about a girl that goes away to a prestigious veterinary school. She’s a first year student, extremely nervous and shy, and isn’t quite sure what to expect. The one saving grace she has is that her older sister is already there, and is a higher-level student, having been there for a few years now. Well, let’s just say her sister doesn’t really do her any favors. The new students are all put through insane and horrific hazing rituals. This hazing aspect is by far the most disturbing part of this film in my opinion. During one of these hazings, the vegetarian younger sister is forced by her older sister to eat a raw rabbit kidney. It not only makes her violently sick… let’s just say it changes her. Unfortunately, having been vegetarian for ages, she now craves nothing but meat. RAW meat. Yep, it goes downhill from here. The French really know how to push buttons. They don’t have the same boundaries we do when it comes to their films, and it’s all on display here. The sister relationship is already uncomfortable to start, but boy do they push it to levels we just wouldn’t in the states. This is why I love French horror flicks. It may start a little slower, building and building through numerous unnerving sequences, but holy cow does it get DARK. There are a few scenes in this movie that are truly stomach churning. We’re talking eyes-wide-open, holy shit moments. It’s not for the feint of heart, but for those of you that dare, oh baby you’re in for a treat. Just maybe don’t watch it on a full stomach. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Back to my good ole 1980’s. A time when people could make any kind of weird action or horror movie they wanted, and they didn’t have to answer for anyone. This anything-goes mentality is exactly how an awesome film like Maniac Cop was born. Maniac Cop is about a cop that is killing innocent people for seemingly no reason whatsoever. He’s a maniac. He’s a cop. He’s Maniac Cop! But this cop isn’t just any old killer cop. No way. This cop is quite simply the best damn cop anyone’s ever seen. This is Matt Cordell. MATT. CORDELL. Only now, he’s on the wrong side of the law. Why you may ask? Oh, there’s a backstory that comes out. And in typical 80’s fashion, it only partially makes sense. But who cares. This movie is just nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty, exploitive, cop, action, 80’s, slasher goodness. Let’s talk actors. There’s Bruce Campbell. Yes, you heard me. Ash is here. There’s Tom effing Atkins, say no more. Oh, and just for good measure let’s throw in Richard Roundtree. Yep, Shaft is in the house. This baby is chock full of macho badassery. Did I mention that Maniac Cop has a nightstick with a long freakin’ knife inside it? Lots of slit throats. Lots of questionable acting mixed with amazing acting. Lots of really misguided and dangerous messages about not trusting cops, thus creating trigger-happy anti-cop civilians. Look, this film is just bonkers and awesome. Some might say it’s more action than horror, and yeah, that’s kind of true, but I’d say it’s the first cop slasher film. I’ve heard they’re currently doing a remake so I’m extremely curious how they update this to today’s day and age. Until that happens, just roll around in this grindhouse-y, 80’s, grimy awesome flick and enjoy the hell out of it.
When I finally watched The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I felt like I’d been hearing about this film for some time. Truth in advertising here, I’m friends with a few of the producers on this film so I was very aware of it from an early stage when it was called February. I knew it was a lower budgeted, dark, dismal creepfest that took place in the freezing cold. But I specifically stayed away from any storylines or any plot points. I wanted to see it fresh without any tainting. And I’m so glad I did. Such a fantastic little film. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is about two girls at an all-girls boarding school. It’s winter break and their parents aren’t there to pick them up so they have to stay behind. There’s an ominous feeling… there’s something… about this school, but you don’t know what. Then suddenly, you leave the school to another girl altogether. This one is played by Emma Roberts. She appears to have run away, but you’re kind of in the dark with her too. That’s what’s fun about this movie – you have to figure it out. It doesn’t just spell it out for you. It actually allows the audience to piece it together slowly over the course of the film. And once everything comes together, it’s utterly haunting. It’s directed by Oz Perkins, son of the late great Anthony Perkins. And I think the twisted horror gene was passed down in spades. This movie has mood in spades. The cold wintery atmosphere makes you almost shiver as you’re watching it. It’s slow paced allowing the mystery and dread to build, which is exactly the type of movie I love. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is one of those scary movies that I can recommend to anyone because I feel there’s broad appeal that everyone can relate to, and then a few moments of pure punch you in the gut that will knock you down.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Zombies. We get it. Enough. To that I say, if you can continue to present something fresh to me within the genre, I’ll watch zombie films until the day I become dust. The Girl With All the Gifts did just that. It presented something fantastic and original. I loved this film. It just feels smart and elevated. I know “elevated” is such a catchphrase in Hollywood right now, but in this case I feel it’s true. The Girl With All the Gifts opens with a young girl in a type of military prison. She, along with many other kids, are strapped down to chairs and treated like monsters. Only a schoolteacher is kind to any of them. At first you don’t realize why this is the case, but since it’s in all the advertising material, I’m not giving it away to say that it’s because the kids are infected with a zombie virus. They are essentially test subjects to find a cure. And that is where I will leave you. Because the film takes some crazy twists and turns that you will not expect. The acting is phenomenal, with Glenn Close and Gemma Arterton being standouts. But truly this is “the Girl’s” movie. The young girl played by Sennia Nanua is almost singlehandedly the reason to see this film. Her performance is so nuanced and gut-wrenching that she carries the entire film on her shoulders. Yes, it’s got great zombie and gore effects, some fantastic story turns, and wonderful suspense (the way the zombies “sleep” and how they must get through them is so utterly fantastic), but the standout is the young girl. If you love your zombie flicks with a bit more brains and complexity thrown in, you will love this film. It’s smart, it’s twisted, and in my opinion it’s got an ingenious ending.
Horror comes in all forms. Horror doesn’t have to be as easy as a ghost or a boogeyman. Sometimes true horror comes from within humanity itself. For this reason Green Room might be one of the most horrifying films of the last few years. Sadly, white supremacists and neo-Nazi’s are back in the cultural conversation, and that is what this entire film revolves around. Green Room is about a struggling punk band that is trying to find a gig anywhere. Somehow they book a gig at a bar in the middle of the woods that’s completely run by, and for, white supremacists. Well, the band plays their show, but as they’re leaving, they open the wrong door… and see something they shouldn’t have. The terrifying men lock the band in the Green Room until they call their boss and figure out what to do with them. Oh man, if you want suspense that will make you rip the armrests of your chair, look no further. This movie is seriously condensed dread. I saw this at Sundance and it blew my effing mind. One of the violent and visceral films I’d seen in a long time. *Note* I’d heard that the cut I saw at Sundance was FAR more gory than the cut available now, which is a shame, but the suspense is still very much intact. The directing of this film is pitch perfect. It takes a skilled director to truly deliver dread and suspense on this level, and Jeremy Saulnier does it incredibly. If you haven’t seen his film Blue Ruin, see it now. It’s not horror, but it’s incredible (Oh, and spoiler alert I just may have another of his films on this list later.) Plus, the acting. Holy lord. One of my favorite humans in the world and remarkable nice man, Patrick Stewart becomes the most horrifying human ever. Plus, you’ve got Anton Yelchin in one of very last roles. Such a shame. Anyway, just trust me on this one. This is one of the best movies of this past year. Even with some of the pivotal and otherworldly brutal violence removed, it will still punch you in the face. I guarantee it.