Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween: 13 More Scary Movies You Might Have Missed

Last Halloween I featured 13 horror movies (well, 15) that might have escaped your attention. This year I've got 13 more to recommend for a chilling evening's diversion. This year's a little top-heavy with zombies (zombies are cool), westerns (surprise!), and at a glance 2008 was a vintage season. But there's still a little something for everyone....

#13   La Horde (France 2009)

This brutal little film opens at a funeral. A band of crooked cops have lost one of their own and are planning revenge on a gang of Nigerian criminals. They enter an abandoned Paris highrise housing project, and after a tense shootout, find themselves in the middle of a zombie acopalypse. The action is gripping and gory and there are some really cool sequences, like when the downstairs guard realizes something has gone horribly wrong, and when the "hero" (Jean-Pierre Martins) realizes he's not getting out. You'll notice the word "hero" is in quotation marks. That's because if there's a quibble I have with this film, it's that it's pretty bleak. You know you're in trouble when the most sympathetic character is a vicious Nigerian warlord (Eriq Abouaney). Still, it's well worth a look. (In French with English subtitles)

#12   Slither (US 2006)

Slither is both cover-your-eyes gross and utterly hilarious. Nathan Fillion is Sheriff Bill Pardy, who's mooning for his lost sweetheart when the local deer hunting festival is overrun with alien slugs, who begin, in the immortal words of the local mayor "driving people around like skincars." I highly recommend buying the DVD for the kick-ass extras. (Hi, I'm Bill Pardy!) This film features one of my favorite movie scenes of all time:

#11   Fido (Canada 2006)

Keeping the humor vein momentarily, Fido is a zombie comedy set in happy 1950's-esque suburbia where, following the Zombie Wars, the Zomcon Corporation has found a way to fit the dead with remote control collars to turn them into servants. With a really good cast (Billy Connelly as Fido, Carrie-Ann Moss and Dylan Baker as a suburban mom and pop, Henry Czerny as the face of Zomcon, and Tim Blake Nelson as the eccentric next door neighbor), this is really a delightful little film. (In Canadian without subtitles.)

#10 Dance of the Dead (US 2008)

Yet more zombies, as high school outcasts prepare for the school prom and find that there's been a mishap in the local graveyard and the dead have risen. This indie film looks a million times better than it's budget should probably indicate. The acting is really good (I'm partial to Jared Kuznitz, who looks so like one of my best high school friends) and the writing is sharp and funny. Shows that indie films can outdo mainstream films, especially when it comes to keeping a genre fresh and entertaining.

#9   The Midnight Meat Train (US 2008)

An adaptation of the Clive Barker story of the same name, The Midnight Meat Train is about a photographer (Bradley Cooper) who find himself on the trail of a subway serial killer. He's really not going to like what he finds at the end of it. One of the few adaptations that does justice to the bloody, unsettling dread in Barker's work, this is the kind of movie that makes you turn the lights on.  Top notch supporting cast, including Vinnie Jones as a creepy butcher, and really fine directing make this an instant classic that WILL give you nightmares.

#8   Romasanta (Spain 2004)

With lyrical cinematography and understated performances, Romasanta is loosely based on the mid-19th century Werewolf of Allariz case, in which a series of murders, mutilations, and disappearances were blamed on Manuel Blanco Romasanta (portrayed by Julian Sands), who admitted to the murders but claimed he was a victim of lycanthropy. It's an interesting treatise on the intersection of myth and murder, and the understanding of the modern serial killer. (In English)

#7   The Valley of Gwangi (US 1969)

When we were kids, my brother and I were quite the little cinephiles. And, boy, did we love the fantastic and the frightening. One of our early favorites was The Valley of Gwangi. We must have watched it scores of times. Starring James Franciscus as a cowboy stuntman and Gila Golan as his feisty ex -- an equestrienne and owner of a failing circus -- the movie featured everything a kid could want: an dusty old archeologist wandering the desert, a gypsy brimming with curses, cowboys roping dinosaurs, and a spectacular ending when the monster finally gets loose and goes on a rampage. This still ranks as one of my childhood favorites.

#6   Tremors (US 1990)

Speaking of favorites, Tremors is an almost perfectly crafted monster movie and a deserving cult classic. Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon are spot-on as Earl and Val, itinerite handymen in the tiny desert town of Perfection, who band together with the townspeople against giant subterranean prehistoric worms, dubbed "Graboids" by the local general store owner (Victor Wong). Funny, scary, and thrilling, while it was a box-office disappointment, it exploded on DVD and spawned numerous (inferior) sequels. It's one of those movies I never get tired of watching.

#5   Frailty (US 2001)

The directorial debut of Bill "Game Over, Man" Paxton, this psychological thriller will keep you off-balance to the very end. With great performances by Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, and Powers Booth, this is the story of an apparently psychotic father who drafts his two young sons into his mission to rid the world of "demons," but nothing is ever as it seems. Tense and well-crafted, this will have you thinking about it long after it's over.

#4   Shiver aka Eskalofrio (Spain 2008)

Suffering from a rare case of photophobia, a young boy (Junio Valverde) and his mother must move from the city to small village in the mountains of Spain that is almost always in shadow. Once there, a series of murders place suspicion on the boy, so he and some newfound friends attempt to unravel the facts behind the crimes. While the film begins slowly, it builds to a terrifically suspenseful conclusion and a dandy little mystery.(In Spanish with English subtitles.)

#3   Dead Birds (US 2004)

This is a truly creepy indie film, starring Henry Thomas as a leader of a group of Confederate soldiers who rob a bank and hole up in an abandoned house in the midst of an abandoned cornfield. Bad things ensue. Really bad things. While it borrows a lot of the conventions of both horror films and westerns, it puts everything together so well, it doesn't matter.  The film is dark and lovingly shot, building up to understated ending.

#2    Night Visions (US 2001)

This isn't a movie, but an anthology series that lasted one season (13 two-story episodes) on Fox. Narrated by Henry Rollins, the show features top-tier talent on both the acting and directing sides, and great scripts, many from excellent short stories. The problem with TV anthologies is you've often got a lot of clunkers: pieces that just didn't work, or relied on cheap twists, or were dumbed down from the source material. This is the rare exception in that every story works, and some work really stupendously. While it's not on DVD, it's well-worth trying to catch repeats on SyFy or Chiller. My three favorites: "A View Through a Window" starring Bill Pullman and taken from the superb and terrifying short story by Robert Leman; "Harmony" starring Timothy Olyphant as a guy who stumbles onto a town where music is outlawed (think "Footloose" gone terribly wrong); and "Patterns" with Malcolm McDowell as a psychiatrist that tries to cure a patient (Miguel Ferrer) of his obsessive compulsions with disastrous results.

#1   The Burrowers (US 2008)

The Burrowers is a great little film that works both as strait horror and as a pretty swell western. The premise is simple: a pioneer family has disappeared and a posse, thinking they've been abducted by a local Indian tribe,  is put together to go find them.  The cast is excellent (Clancy Brown, William Mapother, Laura Leighton, Karl Geary, Sean Patrick Scott) and while the film unfolds slowly, it allows for a real investment in the characters and the building of an internal logic that really makes the film feel authentic. The movie also explores racism, genocide, and ecological disaster in a way that most horror films would just gloss over. The creatures, when you finally see them, are superbly awful and the ending is real punch in the gut.

Have a scary movie to recommend? Leave a comment. And until next year - leave the lights on.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Your Daily Awesome 10.28.11

I'm moving to San Francisco, just so I can vote for Ed Lee. (Well, there are other reasons I would move there, but, still.) This is the most awesome campaign video EVER.

And in news on the home front: Kid #2 (the Marine) has just announced that he's going to be stationed in New Orleans. YAY!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love October. I would love it more this year if it was not a) fraught with mini-disasters and b) not so damn jam-packed. Before the week is out I hope to have the annual Scary Movies You Might Have Missed feature, and a short expose on the dangers of home improvement. Till then, enjoy Kid #4 (eaten by Mr. Halloween), Kid #5 (saving the galaxy) and Pete & Wilson, who would take their show on the road if they weren't so busy sleeping.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

14 Blissful Years

And three additional kids.... I dunno, does he still look somewhat skeptical?

Yes, we are smooching in the Wal-Mart to embarrass the children.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NSFW Wednesday

I always tell my kids there are no bad words, only words used badly. (Swiped from George Carlin.) So, a salute to the most useful word in the English language. All you delicate flowers may turn your head.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Come Into My Parlor

Meet Argiope aurantia, commonly known as the "writer spider" or the black and yellow garden spider. She's on the neighbor's fence waiting for a passerby. Hopefully she's been more productive this weekend than I have.