By Ezra Stead
If I had to pick a favorite month, it would most likely be October. The weather is perfect and I have all the excuse I need to watch practically nothing but horror movies for a month. This year I watched or revisited 25 films of varying quality, and I’m passing along the recommendations to you. I’ve broken them down into three basic categories, with a fourth “Other” category for those that don’t fit any of the big three. The Undead includes zombies, vampires, Frankensteins, and of course the immortal curse of the Candyman; Mutants & Monsters covers genetic freaks, giant animals and other Things That Should Not Be; Werewolves is pretty self-explanatory. All films are ranked from highest recommendation to lowest, ***** being the highest rating and * being the lowest. Happy viewing! Read More
By Scott Martin
Red State, USA, 2011
Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
Maybe the most interesting thing about Red State has little to do with the film that we watch, but the reaction it incites in critics. Upon its debut, it seemed that nobody could figure out what the film was supposed to be – horror, action, comedy, good, bad, watchable. Writer-director Kevin Smith obviously knew what he was doing, but it’s almost like he refused to let anyone in on the joke. Oddly enough, though, it worked.
This is a film about sex, Adult Friend Finder, Christian extremism, the Westboro Baptist Church, the overuse of violence by our American government, terrorism, torture, and some more fun stuff. Smith has said that the purpose of this film was to make his audience uncomfortable, like “when they go to sit in a chair, then I turn the chair over and they sit on one of the legs, and then we repeat the process”. That’s the essence of unpredictability, sure, but even a comedic director like Smith understands what horror movies are mostly about: obsession. Read More
By Ezra Stead
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, USA / Germany, 2009
Directed by Werner Herzog
Completing a triptych of unconventional horror films by directors not known for making this type of film, I have decided to make Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done the subject of my final entry in my self-imposed Halloween Movie Month experiment. It’s an odd choice on which to go out, but that is fitting, as My Son is an extremely odd film, even for Herzog. To be honest, it’s kind of surprising that it’s taken me this long to see and write about the film, since it is the result of a dream collaboration between to of the weirdest filmmakers alive: co-writer/director Herzog and producer David Lynch. It is definitely not a horror movie in any traditional sense, though Herzog describes it on his official website as “a horror film without the blood, chainsaws and gore, but with a strange, anonymous fear creeping up in you.” Personally, I didn’t find it particularly frightening at all, but it is a rather fascinating portrait of increasing madness centered around a typically intense performance by the wild-eyed and always captivating Michael Shannon. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Dean Koontz’s Phantoms, USA, 1998
Directed by Joe Chappelle
At the suggestion of a couple of fictional gentlemen by the names of Jay and Robert, as well as one close, non-fictional friend (hint: we co-wrote this movie together, but he did not act in this one) who recently reminded me of their recommendation, I decided to finally check out “Affleck [being] the bomb in Phantoms.” I can only assume all three parties were being highly sarcastic; after all, one of them was played by Kevin Smith, a longtime friend of Mr. Affleck, but not necessarily someone known for his unadulterated sincerity, Jersey Girl (2004) and the jail cell speech in the third act of Clerks II (2006) excluded.
Dean Koontz’s Phantoms is awful, in that special way in which films like Lawrence Kasdan’s 2003 Stephen King adaptation Dreamcatcher are awful. Author and screenwriter Dean Koontz is often considered the poor man’s King (Koontz fans, please note: I have not actually read any of his books, I am merely recording the popular consensus as I understand it), so it is fitting that Phantoms should have so much in common with that unintentionally hilarious travesty of cinema. Unfortunately, Phantoms lacks the over-the-top craziness of Kasdan’s film, and is therefore substantially less entertaining, albeit mercifully shorter. This is not to say there is no unintentional comedy to be found, as there certainly is, but overall the film is more of a by-the-numbers bad horror movie that lacks the overreaching ambition of the amazingly insane Dreamcatcher. It also borrows heavily from far better films such as Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and John Carpenter’s The Thing, which only serves to remind the viewer how truly low-rent this already mediocre film is in comparison to those classics. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Blank City, USA, 2010
Directed by Celine Danhier
Celine Danhier’s documentary Blank City is an invigorating love letter to a bygone era, a time when guerrilla filmmakers ran wild in the streets, freely shooting their cinematic visions without the hindrance of Hollywood extravagances like permits, budgets and stars. It is the kind of film that inspires not only nostalgia, but also a forward-thinking desire to follow in the footsteps of its many sometimes deranged but always passionate and interesting subjects. It is a lively documentary, one that celebrates life and manages to revel in nostalgia without ever getting sappy about it.
Blank City follows the rise and eventual fall (or, at least, evolution) of the so-called “No Wave” independent filmmaking scene of New York City in the late 1970s and beyond. A few of the renegades seen in the film went on to become famous and successful – perhaps the biggest names interviewed for the film are John Waters, Jim Jarmusch and Steve Buscemi (Vincent Gallo is also seen in archival footage) – while others remain noteworthy cult figures, highly respected in some circles, but far on the fringes of mainstream renown – Lydia Lunch, Richard Kern, John Lurie. Many of the rest faded completely into obscurity, but the legacy of their approach to filmmaking can be seen in some of today’s indie cult success stories made on extraordinarily low-budgets; the DIY approach advocated by this film’s subjects can easily be seen in the making of films like Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (1992), Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994), and Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project (1999), to name just a few. Read More