***This post has a BONUS at the end for those of you who knew my wife Amy (www.amydixonfitness.com) in high school.
I just can’t help myself. After yesterday’s insane 80’s flick I just had to wallow in my nutty 80’s horror world yet again. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you a Corman classic, Chopping Mall. Man oh man, for a movie that most people (outside of the obsessive horror world) have never even heard of, there is SO much interesting trivia and tidbits about this movie. For instance, its original title was “Killbots” and it failed bigtime at the box office, so they decided to rerelease it later with probably one of my favorite all time horror titles ever. I mean just read it out loud in your deep scary voice and let your throat feel how cool it is – CHOPPING MALL. Bwahaha! Anyway, this little ditty is pretty damn basic. Bunch of teens hide out in a mall for a party, but the “high-tech” security robots were struck by lightning, see? And now they’ve malfunctioned and out for blood. This movie is friggin’ awesome for a ton of reasons. First, it’s a total Corman cash-in (like many of them), with this one being an obvious, “Hey Terminator did well, let’s do one of those except with way less money!” But that’s not a bad thing at all because this is like the full exploitation version of a borderline exploitation flick already. It’s no coincidence that it was directed by Jim Wynorski, one of the absolute kings of exploitation. The man who famously said, “Breasts are the cheapest special effect in our business.” Yep, that’s what you’re getting. Gratuitous nudity, gratuitous violence, one-liners that are just a delight, and especially you get… the mall. It is soooo much fun being in a mall back in the 80’s. Those of us with fond memories of record stores and food courts, this couldn’t be more nostalgic. Just wallow in and enjoy.
***BONUS. On a personal note, speaking of nostalgic, the main character Kelli Maroney looks exactly like my wife did back in her high school years. Here are two photos of Kelli in Chopping Mall followed by an utterly fantastic retro shot of my wife in high school. Maybe you don’t see it, but watching this movie, I always did.
Sorry, Amy. I had to.
Let’s get something right out of the way. Yes, this is another found footage movie. But you’ll have to trust me on this one. The Taking of Deborah Logan is on a whooooole other level. This baby is so well done and so downright terrifying that it demands to be toward the top of all the found footage lists. The story follows a grad student doing a documentary on the real life horrors of Alzheimer’s disease. They find a subject, a sweet old woman named Deborah Logan, that has the beginning stages, and will follow her as she proceeds through the disease. There are numerous things that set this movie apart, but this is the first key thing. Alzheimer’s in itself is terrifying, so even before the rest of the horrors begin, you’re already captured by the story and the characters. And the characters are the second part that pushes this movie beyond. They are real people. With real reactions. One of my favorite parts is when some seriously insane shit starts happening, members of the documentary camera crew leave. Just like they would in real life. They don’t stick around. I kind of loved that because it’s what would happen. And all of this added even more realism to the overall happenings. But let’s get to the real standout in the film, and that’s Jill Larson’s portrayal of Deborah Logan. She. Is. Incredible. You can’t take your eyes off her. She fills this entire movie. You feel for her. You are devastated by her. And yes, you become terrified in all holy hell of her. And when I mean terrified, I mean it. This movie has some SERIOUS scares. There is some serious dread inducing stuff, so if you don’t like to be really scared, stay away. But for those of us who love that shit, this flick is epic. I won’t spoil anything for you, but let’s just say there is one scene in this film that might be one of the most terrifying things I’ve seen in a very long time. SO well done, and SO effed up. Listen. See this movie. It’s worth every second.
Back to my childhood for today’s pick. Whoa, wait… is that a Disney movie!? Why yes it is. But listen to Daddy Jeff here. Do not let that dissuade you because this isn’t any ordinary Disney flick. Oh no. This little ditty was from back when Disney wasn’t afraid to make some seriously creepy movies. They knew that sometimes kids actually like to be scared. What a concept! Gee, I wonder why Halloween is so popular… but I digress. Something Wicked This Way Comes is based on a Ray Bradbury book, plus he actually wrote the screenplay, so it’s got the same feel. And as we all know, Ray knows how to deliver the creepy goods. The story circles around a small town that is visited by a traveling carnival (that mysteriously arrives and sets up in the middle of the night), and soon after the sweet townspeople start to disappear. The evil goings-on are discovered by two young boys who become embroiled in a battle of good vs. evil that is far bigger than their tiny town. The setting, characters, and overall vibe is all actually kind of similar to A Christmas Story, in that it’s set in the same time period, the main characters are kids, and there’s even some narration. Although, A Christmas Story never had themes that dealt around a demonic man catering to your deepest desires and/or darkest laments, then stealing your soul as payment. It’s these themes that are far more “adult” than Disney usually delivers, and that’s why this movie stands out to me. Many of the individual stories of the townspeople, and their sadness or yearnings, are kind of twisted. There’s the (creepy) barber who is lonely and yearns to be with women from all over the world. There’s the amputee barkeep that yearns to be the sports hero he used to be before his accident (which is oddly never mentioned.) Even our main characters have some pretty dark backstories that are not usual for a flick like this. And speaking of dark, the main villain Mr. Dark (played by the incredible Jonathan Pryce) is such a fantastic creation to terrify children. Anyway, you get my point. This isn’t an ordinary Disney. They weren’t even afraid to spill some actual blood! A few sequences stuck in my young brain for years, and that’s a good thing. Oh man, I still remember the spider attack sequence. Plus, there was that damn creepy witch’s face. And of course that damn carousel… and that incredible finale. Oh man, and it’s even got a scene with dwarf clowns! Not kidding. Dwarf clowns. Just trust me on this one, and bonus, if you’ve got kids that want to watch something this Halloween that won’t insult their intelligence, give it a whirl. You’ll all dig it.
Did you love the Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy romance Before Sunrise, but always thought it would have been much better if it had a disturbing horror element added to it? Boy, then have I got the movie for you. I love Spring. Mainly because it feels like no other horror movie out there right now. This uniqueness, along with its strong character development, sets it apart from everything else you’ve seen recently. The premise of Spring is simple. After the death of his mother, and a few difficult ensuing events, a man leaves the country in order to escape and clear his head. After travelling Europe a bit, he meets an intoxicating woman in Italy that takes his breath away. Because of her, he decides to stay a while. This budding romance, his focused pursuit of her, her strange flipping between interest and avoidance of him, all adds up to a masterfully crafted experience. You find yourself SO invested in these characters. And when answers slowly start to be revealed, it really shocks you, because, trust me, you definitely weren’t expecting it to go certain directions. It has a few of the strangest scenes you will ever see in what is essentially a romance/horror hybrid. Spring is the brainchild of Benson and Moorhead, two guys quickly making a name for themselves. They made another movie I loved that I wrote about last year called Resolution. Their writing is authentic and real. The acting is as raw and emotion filled as it gets, even when things get… really weird. The direction and cinematography is beautiful. The sweeping drone shots of this breathtaking Italian coastal town just put you right in the location. Trust me, even with the craziness involved here, you’ll want to book a ticket to this place asap. As usual, I won’t spoil any surprises, but trust me when I say that Spring is one of the most unique horror experiences you’ll have. I don’t normally recommend romances, but I guess there’s a first for everything.
In years past, I’ve always picked one of my all time scary favorites for the Halloween selection. In 2010, I picked Martyrs (the most disturbing movie ever made.) In 2011, I picked John Carpenter’s Halloween (um, duh.) In 2012, I picked Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (still one of the best hooks ever.) In 2013, I picked Rosemary’s Baby (more haunting with every view.) And now in 2014, I am picking something a little different. I’m venturing less into the purely scary universe, and a bit more into the horrifically comedic territory. What’s funny is that of all those movies I just mentioned, Trick ‘r Treat is probably the most “Halloween-y” of all of them. I will be honest and say right up front, no, it doesn’t share the same on par status as those other films. But to me, Trick ‘r Treat is by far the most entertaining, flat out Halloween nostalgic movie out there. If you’re a real fan of the holiday, you will absolutely love this movie. Everything you’ve ever enjoyed or remembered about Halloween, especially if you grew up in a small town, is in this film. But what makes Trick ‘r Treat different from most horror flicks that showcase this holiday, is that this movie isn’t setting out to disturb, or truly frighten, it’s mainly here to have fun. That’s the key word – FUN. Exactly how Halloween felt as a kid, Trick ‘r Treat is flat out playful and fun. That playfulness is apparent even in its structure, which is completely open. It tells multiple stories much like a horror anthology, but instead of multiple short films one after another, rather they all intersect and play out in pieces throughout the film. Think of it as a horror version of Pulp Fiction. I’d really like to not ruin anything if you haven’t seen it, so I’m not going to explain any of the stories. That’s for you to discover. But essentially they include their own versions of urban legends, known traditions, serial killers, and mythical beasts. Each one is unique, interesting, and has a killer twist. Plus, you get a little evil burlap sack boy named Sam. Man, I love him. Many of you may remember that this film was delayed for years with no explanation from the studio (rumor was it was so original that they just simply didn’t know what to do with it.) And that was a real shame. But after all these years, it really doesn’t matter, because Trick ‘r Treat has since achieved cult-like status, and thankfully, Trick ‘r Treat 2 is on its way soon. Very pumped for that. Hey, if you love this holiday as much as I do, do yourself a favor and watch a movie that has just as much reverence for all things Halloween. Turn off the lights, light a pumpkin, and just have a ball with it. But whatever you do… don’t blow out that candle until its over. Bwahaha.
Happy Halloween fellow freaks. Thanks for following my picks this year. It’s been a great 2014.
If you’ve been paying any attention to the festival rounds or the independent horror circles, you’ve definitely heard of today’s pick, hailing from Ireland. The Canal is one of those movies that has been the subject of a lot of horror talk in 2014. And I’m here to say that it’s for good reason. After you see this film, it sticks with you. You will think about it. You will want to talk about it. It just unnerves you in a way that most films try for and never attain. The Canal earns a lot of love from me because it doesn’t fall into the “jump scare” school of lazy horror. Its methodical slower pace earns all its scares, by building an atmosphere of dread, a chilling mystery, and truly slick directing and editing. There are glimmers of other films in here for sure – The Ring, The Grudge, Sinister, to name a few. But overall, The Canal is uniquely its own. It’s actually a simple premise. A husband discovers his wife is having an affair, and that same night he sees her with her lover, she is found dead. While the police suspects him as the killer, he begins to suspect a ghostly presence is to blame. In one of the more interesting twists in the story, the husband, who is a film archivist, comes in contact with an old reel from 1902 that shows a brutal killing in his same house. He’s convinced it’s the same man that killed his wife, and he sets himself on the mystery of proving a ghost is the murderer. Much like a movie I wrote about a few weeks ago, Lovely Molly, there is a nice ambiguity to much of the film where you truly question our main character’s decomposing psyche and mental state. Whenever the audience takes the same journey as the fragmented soul, it’s usually going to be a fun ride. Especially when you’re in the hands of a really great director. And that’s where a lot of the kudos should be given. The writer and director, Ivan Kavanagh, knows what he’s doing here. Even small nuances like the jump cuts during scenes help add to a feeling of uneasiness. It’s slick, stylish, and shot with masterful eye for detail. And let me just tell you, the slower pace builds to one of the most disturbing climaxes I’ve seen in a while. There are a few scenes in the end that will stick with you like glue, long after the credits. Trust me, if you’re looking for something smart and scary, skip the cheaper jump scare stuff, and check out The Canal. You won’t be sorry.
Yep, Saw. Deal with it. In honor of its 10th anniversary today, and thus it being rereleased in theaters, I had to put Saw on this list. I know a lot of people can’t stand this movie because of its uber-violence. Hell, it even helped usher in a legion of copycat “torture porn” films, which mostly all sucked. But to dismiss Saw is a complete mistake. There’s a reason why Saw spawned so many sequels. There’s a reason why every single Saw movie made a shitload of money each Halloween. There’s a reason why Saw stuck in our collective brains when so many other horror films came and went. Saw is a clever, unique, and twisted little movie. This was James Wan’s debut as a director, a horror genius I’ve already talked at length about because of The Conjuring, Dead Silence, and Insidious. Here with Saw, he comes out of the gate with a film that packs a serious punch, has a ridiculously intriguing hook, and some fantastic twists (not to mention a jaw-dropping ending). I had tickets to the premiere of this at Sundance back in January of 2004. What’s that you say? Sundance? Yep, shocker, ladies and gentleman, but Saw was a Sundance movie. You forget that before all the studio love, this was a small indie horror flick made on a tight budget. As most of you know, the fantastic hook of this movie is that the serial killer here doesn’t outwardly kill anyone, but rather forces them to take place in sadistic games that gives them a chance to survive if they solve the riddle correctly. Aptly named Jigsaw, this killer creates these punishing games with a moral sensibility. Each victim has made a bad life choice, and he’s trying to teach them a lesson. This is wonderfully exposed in the character of Amanda, the sole survivor of one of his “games”, and *SPOILER ALERT*, someone who plays a much larger role in the upcoming sequels. It has a fantastic opening of two men waking up in a room, chained to the pipes, and a dead body between them. Why are they there? Who is each man? Who is the dead man in the middle? Oh man, such a great way to open a film. And of course there’s the lines, “He doesn’t want us to saw through our chains. He wants us to saw through our legs.” Those lines in the ad campaign sent this film through the roof. Yes, it’s brutal. Yes, it’s hardcore. But yes, it’s also clever and worthy of all the love. On its 10th anniversary, if you haven’t seen it, finally bend, and give it a view. Just know you might be watching certain parts through your fingers.