Nov 3, 2014

31 of 31: The Houses October Built (2014)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Amazon Rental on Roku
Starring: Some folks I've never seen before

Well, I did it. I started watching this 31st film on Halloween night around 11PM, so it counts. It's taking me a few days to actually get to the review portion of the program. Mostly because I was deeply disappointed in this film. Not that it's inherently a terrible film. On the contrary, it's mostly a FANTASTIC film. But it all fell apart in the last act, especially the final denouement. Which I will leave un-spoiled, because maybe you'll enjoy it more than I did. But it left me scratching my head and wishing for more.

Here's the deal. A group of young adventurers are off to find the most extreme haunts in America. Not haunted houses, but Halloween-themed scare houses. You know the deal. They've heard of "extreme" haunts that blur the violent line between realism and fantasy, even some that have allegedly featured real deaths. Accidental deaths probably, but you never know. They rent an RV and pack their found-footage cameras and head off.

As they travel from town to town, haunt to haunt, they document the lengths that ordinary people go to for a fright or a thrill. They also encounter the dark underbelly of the haunt culture. Angry and/or sad interviews with customers and haunt actors. And they elicit some anger from the haunt community on their insistence to film the frights. Anger turns to danger as they are "led" from tamer haunts to the extreme haunts that they really want to experience. fare are they willing to go for the ultimate fright or thrill. That's the premise of the film.

Did they bring the scares? Yes. There are some honest-to-God frights in the film. Some of the creeps working at the haunts are truly terrifying. Well, I guess their masks were terrifying. Bottom line, the creeps were creepy. But the film never went to the truly dark places that I thought it was going to go. Don't get me wrong, the ending is dark. Just not the dark that I (or many other reviewers) wanted. It just wasn't satisfying. If the ending had been more in line with what I was hoping for, this would have been my best reviewed film of the year.

As it is? Merely meh.

Verdant Dude Rating: 2.5 out of 5 pumpkin ales

Oct 31, 2014

30 of 31: The Pact (2012)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien

One more day til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. One more day til Halloween, blah blah blah blah!

Our little experiment is winding down here, kids. And I have to tell you, I haven't been overwhelmed. Sure...I've found some diamonds in the rough. The Conspiracy, We Are What We Are, Willow Creek, Evil Dead, The Sacrament and The Taking of Deborah Logan were all top-notch. Four out of the six of those are of the found-footage variety. What ya gonna do. The state of the horror genre in the 2010's. I've got another one coming tomorrow, but I'm already thinking that one is gonna win the top prize. I try to save the best for last with these things, ya know.

The Pact has been cluttering up my Netflix queue for quite a while now. Or "My List" as they call it now for us streaming customers. Which bothers me because my Netflix queue was really the only reason I had to use the word "queue" on a somewhat weekly basis. And I dig that word. Sounds so much more posh than "My List". I picked it because it had a scary poster and it stars Caity Lotz, who is a semi-regular on The Arrow TV show, which I enjoy. Lotz proves to me that I have no specific type with women. I'm usually not a big fan of the freckly-faced, dimple-chinned, red-headed all-American type. But daaaaayum, girl! All that and a bag of freckly chips.

Here she plays Annie, a young woman with polychromatic eyes who has to deal with the funeral of her abusive mother as her older sister goes missing. She goes back to the old homestead, where everything looks like it was vacuum-packed from 1972. Terrible paneling, wallpaper, furniture and wall-to-wall carpeting. Pretty much my worst nightmare. Even the funeral home looks like it belongs in a Brady Bunch episode.

Crazy shit starts happening. Her cousin Liz disappears just like here sister did. Then she is attacked by some unseen force. Like unseen as in nothing was there. But she manages to escape the house with her young niece, Eva. She runs to the police who, of course, see some rather large holes in her story. Speaking of holes, she and the detective in charge of the case find a hidden room in her old home. With little peepholes into the other rooms of the house. Like someone was living there and spying on them while they were growing up. Cree...pee! With the help of a childhood psychic friend, we've all got one of those, she discovers a link to a serial killer named Judas who was never caught.

I managed to make it through the entire film even though I was staring lustily at Caity Lotz like the creepy fucking creep that I am. And even though I was warm to her form (eww), I couldn't help but notice that this was one chilling flick. Well made and often truly scary, at times. Certainly a worthwhile entry into this series.

Verdant Dude Rating: 4* out of 5 pumpkin ales.

*bonus points for this. I'm such a creep.

Oct 29, 2014

29 of 31: Grabbers (2012)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: A bunch of Irish folk

A group of villagers on a remote Irish island, including a police officer from the mainland, come under attack by what appears to be a bloodthirsty pack of tentacled sea creatures. Something fell/crashed out of the sky the night before just off the coast, with the sea creatures taking out an entire crew working on a fishing trawler. And then a bunch of mutilated dead whales wash up on the shore. And a local drunk lobsterman catches a small creature in one of his traps that is clearly not a lobster. In the evening, after his usual routine of getting absolutely hammered at the local pub, he is attacked by the small creature. He survives the encounter, kills the creature and dubs them "grabbers".

The local marine biologist, after examining the dead creature, deduces that they subsist on blood. That all they need to survive is blood and water. And he discovers that alcohol is toxic to them. Which is why the old drunk lobsterman was able to survive his encounter with the grabber, they theorize. And this is when the fun begins. Much like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost heading to the pub in Shaun of the Dead, the villagers decide to get their drink on. Makes sense to me. The only defense against these creatures is a solid bender.

I guess you can tell that this is in the comedy/horror genre rather than just straight horror. And what it lacks in actual frights, it more than makes up for in fun. The cast and the writing are both top-notch. I loved how they tested their theory and then deduced the proper amount of beer and whiskey that each of them would need to consume to fight off the beasties. Lots of fun.

Don't take it too seriously because it's not meant to be be taking seriously. If you like your horror with a side of comedy, of your comedy with a side of horror for that matter, then check this one out. And you may as well get pissed in the process. Just in case.

Verdant Dude Rating: 3.5 out of 5 pumpkin ales

28 of 31: Mine Games (2012)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: Briana Evigan, Julianna Guill, Joseph Cross

I almost said "fuck it" tonight and watched A Cabin in the Woods again. For the 15th time or so. God, I love that movie. But no, I'm trudging on. And in honor of ACitW, I'm watching a "cabin in the woods" kinda flick. An Aussie/American flick called Mine Games from 2012. And it is both exactly what you think it is and nothing what you would expect at all. Intrigued? neither.

A bunch of handsome kids head to a remote cabin in the woods for a little party time in their oh-so-sweet rape van. Three girls and four guys. The perfect "three couples and another dude" situation that all these films require. Might be one more couple than necessary, but let's not quibble. In a great series of genre tropes, we see vague warnings of recent murders in the paper, they run off the road briefly by someone flagging them down in the dark, they run out of gas and then someone suggests they split up to find the cabin. They don't actually do that, but you have to admire the gumption for someone to even suggest it.

They make serial killer jokes, one of the guys who seems a bit off forgets his meds, and then the lights go off. But there has to be a generator, right? Right. And then they hear someone outside. Loud noises and bumps that go thing in the night. You know, this is really beginning to feel like A Cabin in the Woods. All we need is a basement full of nerds to run the show. Or a mine shaft full of nerds. Maybe just a mine shaft. Yup...we've got that covered.

What happens next? Well, I believe the famed West Texan philosopher Rustin Cohle said it best. "Someone once told me, 'Time is a flat circle.' Everything we've ever done or will do, we're gonna do over and over and over again."

All right, all right, all right...
All right, all right, all right...
All right, all right, all right....
All right, all right, all right....
All right, all right, all right....

Verdant Dude Rating: 2 out of 5 pumpkin ales

Oct 28, 2014

27 of 31: The Den (2013)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: Melanie Papalia

Ugh...I know I'm either going to either love this one or really hate it. Meet Elizabeth, she's a Mac. Already I'm depressed. Elizabeth is a grad student who is doing her thesis on online activities of the people that she meets through a website called "The Den." It's basically Chatroulette, which I thought wasn't really a thing anymore. She is on the website 24/7, recording everything for her thesis.

Besides her friends and relatives, she encounters pretty much who you would expect her to encounter on a webcam site. Freaks, creeps, children and freaky, creepy children. I'm not sure why anyone would ever use a website like that. One of the feeds shows a still selfie picture of a young woman or girl. After waiting a few seconds to see if anything happens, she switches to a new user. She winds up back to that feed shortly and receives an instant message telling her to not switch the feed, calling her a dumb cunt in the process. While she is sleeping, we see that someone has hacked her password for the site. The same feed of the selfie of the young woman. This time with an audio track of someone in pain and screaming.

Seems as if our young Elizabeth has found a bona-fide hacker/stalker psychopath. And that's our horror premise right there. The entire movie plays out on the webcam of our heroine and stalker victim. The most obvious thing that we experience through her experiences is that the internet is a scary fucking place, and maybe we aren't meant to live online like that. Online trolls are awful, imagine if they found a way into your real life as well?

I hated just about everyone in this film. It's a terrible, terrible way to live. I guess that's the whole point of the film. That the internet might not be as private as you would like to wish. But it could make for a interesting thriller, if you aren't sick of the "found footage" genre. I guess. It started to annoy me after a while. It's only 81 minutes long, but I was pretty much done with it after just half that.

Enter The Den at your own risk.

Verdant Dude Rating: 1 out of 5 pumpkin ales.

26 of 31: Kill List (2012)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring

Jay and Gal are a couple of former soldiers, back from Iraq and working as hit-men. While Gal is easy-going, Jay has been deeply affected by a mission of theirs that went bad. He hasn't worked in close to a year, and he and his family are running out of savings. Jay's wife arranges a dinner party with Gal and his new girlfriend, Fiona. She hopes that Gal can convince Jay to take another job and support his family.

The dinner party has it's ups and downs, but it ends with Jay agreeing to the new job. Not before Fiona, who resembles a bit of a Goth, carves a crazy Blair Witch-y symbol on the back of the bathroom mirror. Oh and collects some scraps of toilet paper that Jay had used to clean up some bloody nicks on his face after shaving. You know...normal dinner party stuff.

The hit-men meet their client, who somehow knows about the last job that they did and how it all went wrong. He surprises Jay by slicing his hand and insisting that they seal their contract in blood. That's always good. The contract is for three kills. The first goes fairly easy, although the target seems to recognize Jay. He also thanks him before the deed is done. Weirdo. Same thing happens with the second target, although that one is much more complicated due to some particular circumstances that are too horrific for even these dangerous men.

Things begin to unravel at this point. They and their families lives are threatened when they decide to opt out of the contract. You remember...that contract that they sealed with blood. So they agree to finish the job. Fates are accepted, destinies met, stuff like that. But not before it all gets really weird. Like Wicker Man meets Straw Dogs weird. I think I'll leave it at that.

It's a low-key film that probably could have benefited from a larger budget, and maybe a bit more exposition. The main character isn't very likable, in fact he's downright unlikable. So that's a bit of problem, even if his mate Gal seems OK. Well, they ARE hired killers, so... I kinda saw where the whole thing was headed early on. I say "kinda" because I was only kinda right. Did I mention that the film got really fucking weird in the third act? Yeah, there were a few things there I didn't see coming.

Check it out and enjoy the insanity of that last act.

Verdant Dude Rating: 3 out of 5 pumpkin ales

Oct 27, 2014

25 of 31: The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsey

I'm admitting to knowing exactly bupkiss on this one when I picked it for this evening's entertainment. It was listed as being recommended for me by Netflix, and how often can that go wrong*? From the title alone, I'm assuming this has something to do with possession or kidnapping or something. Maybe they just take the titular (hehe) Ms. Logan to the DMV to get her driver's license renewed. Let's find out, shall we?

A film crew is invited to document the one woman's ongoing descent into the hell that is Alzheimer's disease. Yup, another entry into the faux documentary/found footage genre. Only about my 7th or 8th such type of film this month so far. After some initial hesitancy on the part of the subject, the film crew is invited into the Logan home to begin their project. The project involves documenting how Alzheimer's not only destroys the life of the victim, but also of the primary caregiver and/or the immediate family.

As the film progresses, Deborah falls deeper and deeper into madness and despair. But the film crew (and we the viewers) begin to notice some other things going on in the background. Supernatural things. It appears as if Deborah Logan is fighting this war on many fronts. For her body and mind with the Alzheimer's, and for her soul against whatever demonic force is trying to possess her.

That's a novel take for these types of films. Usually the victim is a child or a young woman. But Deborah Logan is a tough old bird. Raised her daughter as single mother after her husband died at an early age. She's the epitome of a strong, capable woman who has endured many trials and tribulations in her time. Her 40-something-ish daughter is not handling the current situation well, turning to the bottle as a way of dealing. Usually it's the parents in these films that go that route. So kudos to the filmmakers for taking something familiar and turning it on its ear.

Jill Larson, as Deborah Logan, is amazing in this character. I've seen her someplace before. A quick glance at her IMDB profile shows that she has mostly worked in television, daytime television at that. Soap operas and the like. But she truly shines here as a woman being destroyed from the inside and out. Her descent from early-onset dementia to full-blown possession is something to see. Pretty amazing stuff.

So some familiar territory, some originality. Some pretty decent frights mixed in as well. The backstory behind the evil entity is anything new though. Telegraphed from a mile away. So it's a bit of a mixed bag, but enough for me to recommend it. Check it out.

Verdant Dude Rating: 3.5 out of 5 pumpkin ales

*all the fucking time

Oct 26, 2014

Temporary Defeat (2014)

Just didn't have the will, energy or time to keep up with the 31 in 31 deal.

Consider this a temporary white flag. I may still rally during the week, double up some nights and finish this bad boy out.


Oct 24, 2014

24 of 31: The Sacrament (2013)

A vain attempt by a formerly prolific blogger to review 31 new (to me) horror films in the 31 days of October. We did it last year and it was a gas. Can we do it once more? Let's find out.

Platform: Netflix on Roku
Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, directed by Ti West

Another found-footage horror flick. I know...yawn. Been there, done that, re-wound that piece of footage. I'm not hater, but it's getting to the point where there has to be something special about the film for me to show an even rudimentary interest. Like with Willow Creek earlier this month. That was a movie I really wanted to see because of the director involved. Same this with this film. My interest is directly tied to the filmmaker.

Ti West is probably my favorite recent director in the genre. The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, his segment in V/H/S. All great stuff. And I wasn't too interested in a found-footage film that mirrored many of the events of the Jonestown Massacre, but when I found out that Ti West was involved I knew I was all in. I have high hopes.

Here we have a fashion photographer whose sister is a recovering drug addict. She joined a religious community in the South someplace as a part of her recovery. After not hearing from her from quite a while, he receives a letter from him stating that all is well and hoping he could come visit her. The letter included a contact telephone number. When he calls, he's told by the man who answers that his sister had moved out of the country with the rest of the community and that she could only be reached, mysteriously, by helicopter. VICE magazine convinces him to let them accompany him on his trip to document the adventure, and the game is afoot.

They arrived at a commune named Eden Parish only to be met by armed guards who are perturbed at the appearance of a film crew. After some initial tense moments, they are allowed through the gates where they are greeted by the man's sister who shows them around the place. Have you read or seen anything about Jonestown? looks like that. Have your read or seen anything about Jim Jones? Yeah...that's the guy who runs this commune. A older Southern gentlemen who everyone refers to as "Father".

At first, of course, the commune appears to be a true Utopia. It's a beautiful place and everyone seems to be genuinely at peace, but the journalists can't help but feel uneasy about the whole situation. Father treated them well and with respect, but he also dominated them with the power of his charisma. His message to them had an undertone of real danger. Then a young mute girl hands one of the journalists a note that says "Please save us". And the facade begins to crumble.

It's ever bit as disturbing, violent and tragic as what we might imagine to have happened that day  in 1978 when a charismatic cult leader decided that mass murder was the final solution. There are some truly difficult scenes toward the end of the film. Hard to watch. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Verdant Dude Rating: 4 out of 5 pumpkin ales