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“Invitation to Dance - It’s a Dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Even in the Dark. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?” --- Stephen King ::::::::::: MY CRITERIA FOR DISCUSSION ENCOMPASSES THE HORROR GENRE AND BEYOND, SO I USE THE TERM "NIGHTMARE MOVIES". SPOILERS CAN OCCUR WITH OR WITHOUT WARNING. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Horrorphile - December 2008

Horrorphile's BLOODY BEST of 2008

December 29th 2008 04:01
Let the Right One In
It’s been a very full-on last few weeks. No rest for the wicked. I’m a professional DJ so the silly season is the busiest time of the year for me, with the three most important sets over the next three days. It was my 40th birthday the weekend before last and the theme was film noir. A lot of speakeasy fun was had. Then there was the Christmas festivities, and now the New Year’s shindigs.

Apologies to my loyal readers for the lack of posts over this period, but I’ll be gettin’ back in the horror swing in the new year.

It is time to post my list of favourite horror movies of the past year, and a few more than last year’s top five bloody best. The criteria this time round includes movies that were "released" in Sydney during the last year, whether it be a screening or two at the Sydney Film Festival or ended up released straight-to-DVD.

So without further adieu, here they are, and there was some quality Darkness this year, although a little difficult putting them in order of favourites, apart from the first few.

Let the Right One In
1. Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One In)
Directed by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Along with 30 Days of Night this Swedish troubled romance is the best vampire movie in many, many moons. Top notch in every department, and an instant cult classic. I’ll be making sure I own a copy on Blu-Ray.

The Orphanage
2. El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, this good old-fashioned ghost story had some of the best atmospheric scares and creepy suspense seen in a supernatural yarn for a long time. Like the Swedish vampire movie, this Mexican-Spanish co-pro had all the right boxes ticked. A beautifully poignant end too.

3. Quarantine
Directed by John Erick Dowdle
A very rare case of a Hollywood remake equaling, and in many ways actually bettering, the original (the Spanish [Rec], which was very good). Pure palpable chaos and genuine horror with solid acting to boot.

4. Frontière(s)
Directed by Xavier Gens
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in France. Derivative, but sensationally made, and fantastically over-the-top. Better than Eli Roth’s brand of “torture porn”, and infinitely better than the turgid Saw series.

5. Los Cronocrímenes (Timecrimes)
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
If you liked the brilliant sf headfuck Primer, but wanted something darker and more visceral, then this Spanish entry into causality and the paradox of reverse time-travel will be your cup of bittersweet tea.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
6. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
More consistent in tone and more imaginative (if that’s possible!) than the original, the sequel pushes the boundaries of dark-edged science-fantasy into a whole new realm of grotesquerie beauty like only Guillermo can.

Funny Games 2008
7. Funny Games
Directed by Michael Haneke
I loathed Haneke’s original, but inexplicably found myself utterly engrossed in his American shot-for-shot remake. A case study of the de-sensitization of on-screen violence packs a thoroughly polarising punch to the solar plexus of your sensibilities.

8. Cloverfield
Directed by Matt Reeves
I love a good monster movie, and despite the immense Hollywood hype surrounding this old-fashioned “Godzilla”-style re-envisioning I was along for the shaky-cam ride with much gusto. The unexpected ending was a small treat too.

The Dark Knight
9. The Dark Knight
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Watching this on the giant IMAX (with footage actually shot with the 65mm IMAX cameras) was a mesmerizing experience. Amazing production design and awesome visual style, and Heath Ledger probably does deserve a Supporting Actor Oscar, he worked The Joker something wicked.

Sukiyaki Western Django
10. Sukiyaki Western Django
Directed by Takashi Miike
I’m a huge fan of maverick director Miike. This mutant samurai cowboy fantasy fable is rammed to the hilt with pure unbridled stylistics; blood and snow abound. The anglicized accents are impenetrable, but the cinema experience is all-embracing.

And of special note: Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III were utter crap, but Sylvester Stallone's Rambo (which should’ve stuck with its working title of John Rambo) is one of the most graphically violent movies Hollywood has ever made; it’s post-modern horror soaked in monsoon rains and covered in mine-shredded mud, and much better than you’d give it credit for.

Bad Santa

December 24th 2008 04:54
Bad Santa movie poster
“I've been to prison once, I've been married - twice. I was once drafted by Lyndon Johnson and had to live in shit-ass Mexico for 21/2 years for no reason. I've had my eye socket punched in, a kidney taken out and I got a bone-chip in my ankle that's never gonna heal. I've seen some pretty shitty situations in my life, but nothing has ever sucked more ass than this!”

I was going to review The Nightmare Before Xmas (1993), but it’s rated G, and that ain’t Horrorphile is about. So then I decided to watch Bad Santa (2003) again, ‘cos I like how filthy, obnoxious and reprehensible Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is, and he makes for a wicked alternative to the ho-ho-ho everyone is familiar with.

Bad Santa Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton as Willie
Jack Nicholson read the script and wanted to do it, but was already committed to another movie. Seinfeld creator/writer and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator/writer/star Larry David was considered for the role of Willie, and Bill Murray was signed on, but dropped it to star in Lost in Translation. Murray would’ve been great, but Thornton captures that disheveled wrongness even better, and curiously Thornton admits he was genuinely inebriated during much of the filming. I do love a Method Bad Santa.

It features John Ritter’s final movie appearance as an uptight Department Store manager (some hilarious outtakes on the DVD), and director Terry Zwigoff (who made the brilliant documentary Crumb and the delightful Ghost World) dedicates movie to him. There’s also a deleted scene featuring Sarah Silverman as a Santa Trainer.
Bad Santa Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox
Willie and Marcus (Tony Cox) love the crybabies
Willie is an ex-con with a drinking habit and a mouth like an ashtray. He swears like a fucking trouper and has a penchant for fucking womens’ asses, especially if they’ve got thick calves. He steals whenever he can, yet always ends up pissing the money away so that he has to return to playing Santa at Xmas time in the department stores alongside his partner in crime, Marcus (Tony Cox), a small person who dresses as Santa’s elf … and then he gets fired for verbally abusing kids and/or their parents.
Bad Santa Billy Bob Thornton and Brett Kelly
The Kid (Brett Kelly) befriends Bad Santa
To add complication to Willie’s already complicated life comes The Kid (Brett Kelly) an overweight, very needy, naïve young boy who sees Willie’s Santa guise in a Holier Than Thou light. Then there’s bartender Sue (Lauren Graham, cast curiously against type) who loves the way Santa screws her (“I've always had a thing for Santa Claus. In case you didn't notice. It's like some deep-seeded childhood thing … Fuck me, Santa! Fuck me, Santa! Fuck me, Santa!”), and they way he matches her consumption for alcohol. The Kid and Sue tag along while Willie and Marcus get themselves embroiled in one social nightmare after another.
Bad Santa Lauren Graham
Lauren Graham as Sue
Bad Santa John Ritter
The late great John Ritter
Bad Santa boasts 170 “fucks” (including its variations), definitely a record for silly season movies. There are enough “profanities” to make the genuine Kris Kringle blush the colour of his red suit. The screenplay, while dredged in pitiful behaviour, actually has a heart of fool’s gold, and Willie’s letter to The Kid at movie’s end captures this mistletoed irony in a few colourful sentences. Good on ya Willie! Originally penned by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, the script was then revised by producers Joel & Ethan Coen (whose black sense of humour shines darkly) and director Zwigoff. From the DVDs outtakes it appears Thornton was allowed to improvise a fair deal too.

Bad Santa is a guilty pleasure and a damn fine way to round off an unnecessarily clean Christmas celebration with the family. So, pour yourself a stiff (yeah, baby) bourbon, roll up a fat one and pass it around your dirty-minded grinch mates, then kick the Xmas tree over and kick back on the sofa to watch Billy Bob get Santa’s boots real grubby.
Bad Santa Billy Bob Thornton and Lauren Graham

Here's the trailer:


The Strangers

December 19th 2008 01:29
The Strangers movie poster
This movie was very disappointing, and it really annoyed me too. I’ll admit I had high expectations; I had originally caught cyber-wind of it a while back and it sounded good, I liked the trailer, and two close friends saw it on the big screen and were very impressed (albeit they don't really watch horror movies). I had meant to see it in the cinema, but missed its brief run, in the interim I saw the brilliant French-Romanian Ils (Them, 2006) and wondered if The Strangers (2008) was some kind of American re-envisioning.

As it turns out The Strangers was originally penned two years before Them (under the title The Faces). Like Them, The Strangers claims to be based on real events (whereas Them deals with an event that was documented in European media, The Strangers is inspired by a less sensational event that occurred in director Bryan Bertino’s neighbourhood when he was a boy). The whole “true story” angle is always meant to add dramatic-thriller gravitas to a movie, and if it’s a horror movie then even better.

The Strangers opening scrawl about 1.4 million violent crimes in the States every year is pointless, and hardly surprising, but the statement “the brutal events that took place are still not entirely known” scuttles the entire movie … and it's confusing as well, especially after you’ve watched the extended DVD version (more on that later).
The Strangers Scott Speedman
Scott Speedman as James
James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and his (would-be) fiancée Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) arrive at James’ parents secluded home off the main road. It’s 4am, and they’ve both been at a wedding reception. They have the house to themselves. It’s revealed that James proposed to Kristen and she turned him down.
The Strangers Liv Tyler
Liv Tyler as Kristen
They mope around; Kristen takes a bath and reflects on the awkward moment back at the party, James peels the top off a tub of ice cream and cracks the champagne he’d had on ice in anticipation of a celebratory nightcap. The two eventually begin to make-out in commiseration, as you do, when suddenly there’s a loud knock at the door.
The Strangers Gemma Ward
Aussie model Gemma Ward as Dollface
A young blonde woman, her face half in shadow, asks for "Tamara", then leaves. James and Kristen are a little bewildered. Kristen has run out of cigarettes, so James offers to drive to the nearest all-nighter to get some. In his absence the blonde girl returns to knock loudly at the front door, but now she’s joined by two others. The three strangers become assailants, each disguised behind a mask: the blonde girl in a doll-face mask, a brunette girl in a glam pin-up mask, and a tall guy in a sack mask. They begin to terrorise Kristen, and once James returns they continue to terrorise the couple ‘til dawn …
The Strangers Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler
A house invasion warrants the use of dad's shotgun and the hidden stash of ammo
Writer/director Bryan Betino is skilled in the visual narrative department, but his screenplay is thoroughly frustrating, and irritating to boot. It doesn’t help that I’m not a fan of either of the two leads who are renowned for whispering their lines and looking perpetually angst or forlorn. The three “psychopaths” - Dollface (Gemma Ward), Pin-Up Girl (Laura Mangolis) and Man in the Mask (Kip Weeks), as they’re credited - are never properly revealed, although Gemma Ward’s unusual face is partially seen when she’s at the front door (although at this point the audience doesn’t know she’s one of the assailants). The other two are briefly glimpsed, but not enough to establish their looks.


I have too many gripes; the blurb at the beginning which states the events are not entirely known suggests Kristen and James do not survive, yet Kristen is seen regaining consciousness and screaming at the very end (in a Carrie moment) as a Mormon boy who'd been passing by reaches out to touch her, so theoretically she’d be able to tell police everything unless she’s so traumatized she can’t remember.

Kristen is obviously so ignorant she doesn’t know that when you plug a mobile phone in to re-charge you can operate it immediately, unless its completely dead, then you’d only need to wait a few minutes (the whole mobile phone out of range/dead battery conceit in movies is starting to grate on me). Why the hell didn’t she call 911 on the landline instead of James anyway?!
The Strangers Glen Howerton
Mike (Glen Howerton) turns up in the nick of time ... 5am!
All these implausible elements bugged the hell out of me; the assailants have chosen three particularly difficult masks to see out of and yet they keep them on the entire time (apart from the very end) and manage to do all manner of stalking, chasing, and elaborate maneuvering throughout the movie with no hint of any hindrance.

The assailants, who are supposedly serial killers because one of the girls tells the other “It’ll be easier next time”, reveal themselves to the two Mormon boys on the roadside (one of the girls takes their religious pamphlet, admitting that she sins from time to time), then drive away only metres away from the murder crime scene which the boys then discover; real smart serial killers, these ones!
The Strangers Liv Tyler
Aha, the ol' hide-in-the-slatted-closet trick
Even more infuriating is in the "unrated and extended" DVD version (a whole extra minute or so, but no more blood!), after Kristen crawls to get the male killer's forgotten mobile phone ringing on the floor, the male killer returns but decides not to finish her off. Yeah, these eccentric killers are real professionals.

And what’s James’ wedding buddy Mike deciding to come to pick James up early at 5am?! And no neighbours, even if they were several hundred metres away, heard the shotgun being fired several times in the early hours of the morning?! James does mention he's heard no cars or dogs, but that's a bit too bloody convenient for the killers isn't it, especially when Dollface reasons matter-of-factly with James and Kristen "'Cos you were home".
The Strangers Liv Tyler and Laura Mangolis
Pin Up Girl (Laura Mangolis) lets Kristen squirm a little
Perhaps I’m being particularly picky on this movie, but I couldn’t help but compare it to other horror movies using similar tactics to much better effect. Every time I saw the masked assailants standing in the background or in long shot trying to look ominous I thought of Michael Myers, and how much scarier he was. And when James and Kristen were holed-up with the gun acting desperate I thought of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) and how that was far more tense and frantic.

And then there’s Them, which deals with very similar circumstances (couple terrorized in house by unknown assailants), yet does it with oodles more style and more plausibility. And it’s a damn sight scarier than The Strangers, which is just riddled with clichés.
The Strangers Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Manglolis, Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman
Kip Weeks realises he doesn't look nearly as cute as his killer accomplices
It’s curious but the three masked killers in The Strangers never once gave me the chills; their noisy, calculated antics only seemed to annoy me. Yet the hooded assailants in Them, and Michael Myers of course, I found to be genuinely terrifying. For once the attempt at realism didn’t pack the punch I thought it might. It’s the supernatural veneer and edge of Them and Halloween that works so much better.

Here's the trailer:


King Kong

December 17th 2008 00:29
King Kong movie poster
And the prophet said “And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day was as one dead.” --- old Asian Proverb

King Kong (1933) is a strange beast. On one hand it’s a terrific, albeit rather talky, fantasy adventure tale with nightmarish overtones. On the other it’s little more than an excellent vehicle for Fay Wray as Ann Darrow, the beauty that killed the beast, despite King Kong being listed in the cast of characters as “The Eighth Wonder of the World

[ Click here to read more ]

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht

December 15th 2008 23:06
Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht movie poster
When maverick filmmaker Werner Herzog took it upon himself to direct a remake of what he felt was one of the most important German feature films ever made he ended up making a movie just as richly atmospheric, but burnt with a searing melancholy that brands itself to the viewer’s soul.
Nosferatu spectres of death
Mummified spectres of the undead
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) is more than a just remake of F. W. Murnau's silent masterpiece; it is an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that doesn’t have to hide behind the guise of changed character names (although curiously Stoker’s novel is again uncredited). Klaus Kinski, Herzog’s muse, plays Count Dracula, Isabelle Adjani plays Lucy, Bruno Ganz plays Jonathon Harker, Roland Topor plays Renfield, Walter Ladengast plays Dr. Van Helsing, Martje Grohmann plays Mina.
Nosferatu 1979 Isabelle Adjani and Bruno Ganz
Isabelle Adjani as Lucy and Bruno Ganz as Jonathon Harker
Herzog wrote, produced and directed, and made two versions of the film: one in his native German tongue (aka Phantom of the Night), and one for, primarily, the American market; Nosferatu the Vampyre. All the sound in the movie has been dubbed in post-production, which adds a heightened theatricality to the visuals. Much of the cinematography has been shot using available light, and the entire movie (like Murnau) was filmed on location around Europe. Dracula’s Transylvanian castle is an extraordinarily eerie, yet beautiful location

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The Ruins

December 12th 2008 02:21
The Ruins movie poster
This silly, but rather enjoyable tale of nature turned very nasty has some high calibre talent attached to it, but it died a death at the US box office. The Ruins (2008) is directed by Carter Smith and based on the novel of the same name by Scott B. Smith, who also did the screenplay adaptation.

Amy (Jena Malone) and her best friend Stacy (Laura Ramsey) and their respective boyfriends Jeff (Jonathon Tucker) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) are holidaying in Cancun, Mexico. They meet a German tourist, Mathias (Joe Anderson) and a Greek friend of his Dimitri (Dimitri Baveas). The six of them travel into the jungle to rendezvous with Mathias’s cousin Heinrich who has been romancing a Dutch archeologist and is visiting her at her dig, a Mayan temple

[ Click here to read more ]

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

December 9th 2008 23:46
Nosferatu movie poster
Subtitled A Symphony of Horror, or A Symphony of Terror (although the literal translation is "A Symphony of Grey"), F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece of silent cinema Nosferatu (1922) is one of the great landmarks of German Expressionism, alongside Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), and a seminal horror movie to boot.

Nosferatu original movie poster
An original movie poster from 1922
Nosferatu also happens to be one of the very best interpretations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, although due to copyright infringement the novel is uncredited, and in fact, Bram Stoker’s widow successfully filed a lawsuit that demanded all existing prints of the film be destroyed, however – miraculously – several of them surfaced in other countries

[ Click here to read more ]


December 9th 2008 02:25
Descent movie poster
Co-written by Brian Priest and Talia Lagucy and directed by Lagacy, Descent (2007) is a confused rape-revenge art-house drama masquerading as a socio-political diatribe that fails to deliver its deep-rooted racial and sexual issues in any kind of coherent or significant way. It stars Rosario Dawson, who co-produced the movie. Why she attached herself so fervently to this ill-conceived nightmare one can only wonder …?

Maya (Dawson) is at a university campus studying psychology. She is shy, but curious, and one night at a party meets lanky-haired Jared (Chad Faust). He badgers her until she agrees to join him for a drink on the porch where they chat. He makes a pass, but Maya is wary. Jared seems relatively harmless, but a little desperate. As she leaves Jared on the porch she casually refers to the possibility of a date

[ Click here to read more ]


December 5th 2008 01:09
Altered DVD cover art
After co-directing low-budget cult fave The Blair Witch Project (1999) with Daniel Myrick, and enjoying extraordinary box office success unlike anything since Halloween (1978), it took six years before Eduardo Sánchez directed again. The result was Altered (2006), which was finally released a year-and-a-half after filming was completed, but went straight to DVD. It’s a shame the movie didn’t receive better treatment, as it kicks ass in many ways, but it is ultimately a seriously flawed movie.

Fifteen years ago a group of five close-knit buddies were abducted by aliens. Four of them were released after some rather traumatic prodding and probing. Wyatt (Andy Kaufman), Duke (Brad William Henke), Cody (Paul McCarthy-Boyington) and Otis (Michael C. Williams) are on a dangerous mission. They want revenge for the loss of their friend. The aliens have returned and they’ve caught one of the vicious bastards. The tables have been turned. Or have they? It seems Wyatt knows something about the alien intelligence the others don’t

[ Click here to read more ]

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans Rhona Mitra
The silly season is officially upon us. I love this month; partly because it’s my birthday in a couple of weeks, but also ‘tis the season to be merry, and I love merriment. Horror and merriment go severed hand in severed hand.

So to celebrate the good stuff here are six pretty narly trailers to movies being released overseas in January and February next year, expect them down under not too long after. We’ve got a prequel and two remakes, a directing debut from respected screenwriter David Goyer, a Japanese director making a Clive Barker story in Hollywood, and an Oscar-nominated newbie adding his own stylistic touch to the horror-thriller genre

[ Click here to read more ]

Frankenstein (Sydney Theatre Company)

December 3rd 2008 00:18
Frankenstein Sydney Theatre Company Yael Stone
The novel Frankenstein (or The Modern Prometheus) was written by 18-year-old Mary Shelley in 1816. It has been adapted into numerous film and theatre productions in many different guises from outright melodrama to comedy, straight horror to wild camp. The most famous production is the 1931 Hollywood movie directed by James Whale which features Boris Karloff as the monstrous creature clomping around in huge concrete boots his arms outstretched in a somnambulist zombie-esque gesture.

It is this classic posture of Frankenstein’s monster that the cast and crew of the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf2Loud troupe have struck in single file - as the central image of the play’s programme - immediately projecting a sense of the absurd. The troupe includes the two lead actors – Benjamin Winspear as Dr. Frankenstein and Yael Stone as the creature - three support players who also happen to be key crew – Simon Cavanough (props maker), Stefan Gregory (composer/sound designer), and Lally Katz (playwright/lyricist) - and director/designer Ralph Myers

[ Click here to read more ]

Day of the Dead title card
I had to follow up my previous post – 13 Scariest Movies Ever Made – with this one. It just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t. However when it comes down to it, compiling this list is a lot more difficult. I thought it would be easy. But the ugly truth of the matter is there are a lot more graphically violent movies than there are intensely scary ones. To be precise; the kinds of movies that meet my criteria for “scariest” are fewer than the ones that meet my criteria for “goriest”.

Braindead 1991 baby carnage
Splitting headache courtesy of zombie baby
Firstly I had to eliminate the ones that are full of bloody carnage, but the blood doesn’t look real (i.e. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Argento’s Suspiria). That gets rid of quite a few. Then I had to disregard the ones that try to gross the audience out with dismemberment and disembowelment, but the guts look like plastic tubing and the severed limbs look like papier-mâché. That’s another bunch dealt to

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December 1st 2008 03:16
Frontiere(s) movie poster
It is Paris, 2002, and the city is in the middle of rioting as the conservative candidate for the Presidency is polarising the people. A small band of young thieves with a bag of stolen cash plan to escape to Amsterdam, but Murphy’s Law intervenes and governs the rest of their short lives.

Sami (Adel Bencherif) is shot and mortally wounded. His pregnant sister Yasmine (Karina Testa) and Alex (Aurélien Wiik) take him to hospital emergency, but he dies in Yasmine’s arms. Authorities are aware they are criminals, so Alex and Yasmine hop it. Meanwhile Tom (David Saracino) and Farid (Chems Darmani), who are several hours ahead, decide to spend the night at a rural inn some distance from the city. They arrange for Alex and Yasmine to join them and re-group

[ Click here to read more ]

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