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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 - June 2009

Otesánek (Little Otik)

June 30th 2009 07:00
Little Otik movie poster
Another strange, grotesque and disturbing tale of domesticity gone horribly wrong from inspired Czech Republic filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, Little Otik (2000) is based on a Eastern European fairytale, albeit one of the darker, grimmer ones, and although mostly live action it does utilise Svankmajer’s penchant for stop-motion weirdness when it comes to depicting the monstrous eponymous child.

When a couple, Karel (Jan Hartl) and Bozena (Veronika Zilková), learn that they cannot bear any children it causes the wife great distress and in denial she pretends she is pregnant. The husband tries to ease his wife’s suffering by presenting her with a pretend infant which he’s fashioned from a large tree root. She takes to it like a suckling to mother’s milk, which only aggravates the problem.
Little Otik Veronika Zilkova
Veronika Zilkova as Bozena
A supernatural turn of events sees the wooden baby come to life and swiftly starts to eat the couple out of house and home. No amount of milk and baby food is sufficient. Then the poor cat is consumed, and little Otik, or Otesánek, as Karel sarcastically calls it (referring to the dark tale), has grown substantially. Soon enough Bozena is making frequent trips to the local butcher and boiling up large hunks of meat to satisfy their insatiable little ‘un.
Little Otik Jan Hartl
Jan Hartl as Karel with Otesánek aka Little Otik
Events take a turn for the worse when the postman and a social worker go missing, and the couple’s neighbour’s become suspicious, especially grumpy veggie caretaker (Dagmar Stríbrná), and precocious young Alzbetka (Kristina Adamcová), who after hearing Karel referring to his child as little Otik, and observing him make a fake phone call to the hospital, makes a connection after reading the ghastly tale of the couple whose conjured baby, Otesánek, eats everything in its path, from its parents, to horses and shepherds, and herds of pigs and sheep. The baby grows to enormous size, and then arrives at a cabbage patch and its fearless grower.
Little Otik Otesánek
Little Otik is a hungry little boy!
Svankmajer’s movies are curious productions. On one hand they’re brilliantly accomplished on what seems like very modest budgets. On the other they often come across as only semi-professional, shot in standard 1:1.33 ratio, with clunky mise-en-scene (curiously he loves close-ups of mouths) and overdubbing. All his movies use post-synch sound, which does provide a heightened sense of the surreal, making the overall atmosphere feel like a dream, or nightmare to be precise.
Little Otik Kristina Adamkova
Kristina Adamkova as Alzbetka
His casting is spot on, and Little Otik features great performances from the female leads; Zilková, Adamcová and Stríbrná. I’d like to say that the actor playing little Otik steals the show, but he’s simply an animated character, but with spindly roots for fingers and toes, a branch knot for a mouth, with a hideous slavering tongue, crooked teeth and single eye that occasionally pops into the mouth to have a gander. The whole visual concept of little Otik is creepy as hell.

Little Otik Jitka Smutna
Jitka Smutna as the insistent social worker
Svankmajer, who also penned the screenplay, adapted the tale from the work of a popular 19th Century Czech author called Karel Jaromír Erben. I’m curious if all his so-called fairytales were as twisted and horrible as Little Otik. Certainly Svankmajer was impressed, and it makes sense since his previous movies have been adaptations of the myth of Faust and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Little Otik Little Otik fairytale
The monster baby from the original fairytale
Speaking of Carroll's Alice, I’ve been excited about Tim Burton’s latest project, although I’ve only just discovered he’s not sticking to the original story. He’s calling it Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which doesn’t sit well with me, since he screwed around with Planet of the Apes and it turned out miserably. But more on Burton’s version of Wonderland further down the track.

Here's the trailer (American, but don't let it bother you):


Little Otik DVD is courtesy of Siren Visual, many thanks!
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A Night Of Horror banner
This has been a wee while cooking, but finally I got my answers! Back in late March the 4th annual international film festival, A Night Of Horror, screened in Sydney. It was a mix of short films and features, mostly independent productions, many of which were enjoying their premiere screenings. Some directors came all the way from America to present their movies, and in the end an American monster movie took the award for best movie: Splinter (for complete list of award winners click here)

In its first year A Night Of Horror ran for just three nights, now it runs for ten glorious days. It’s a modestly-mounted showcase that is steadily building a reputable name for itself, as well as providing a forum for filmmakers to meet and discuss the genre and the industry. Thank God for the festival team; Dean Dertram, Lisa Mitchell, Grant Bertram, Shane K, Dalibor Backovic, Bryant Johnston, Jack Sargeant, and others, for their dedicated work.

There were some truly astonishing movies, especially within the multitude of shorts (AM1200, Snip, The Red Room were a few memorable examples). Unfortunately I only got to see a clutch of the features (The Broken, Left Bank, I Will Never Die Alone, and Splinter were the stand-outs), but I plan to catch up with others further down the track. I did however become acquainted with the festival’s two lovely founders and directors, and I was keen to pry some juicy tidbits from them to share with my readers.

Lisa Mitchell and Dean Bertram
Dr. Dean Bertram (yes, he has a PhD in Cultural History from Sydney University) is a freelance writer and filmmaker who recently completed production on his first feature, Sick Day. A deep love of the horror genre and a frustration that there was no such avenue to exhibit and wallow in such movies led to the founding of the film festival, A Night Of Horror.

Lisa Mitchell is a graduate of Sydney’s Actors College of Theatre & Television and is also a filmmaker having written, produced and starred in several short films, most recently co-producing and starring in Dean Bertram’s Sick Day. With Dean she shared his frustration and co-founded A Night Of Horror.

Has the ambitious job of putting on A Night of Horror - without any major corporate backing - got any easier? What are the most difficult aspects?
As with most endeavours, a lot of the work associated with the festival gets easier with experience. However, as the festival continues to expand there are always new challenges to deal with. But these types of challenges are usually exciting. The most difficult aspects are probably the mundane administrational duties attached to the fest: paperwork, invoicing, taxes, etc. Just because of the tedium. We particularly despise having to fill in classification reports for the OFLC each year.

The festival does get some corporate sponsorship of course, although, significantly, no government support. We believe - but would welcome someone to correct us if we are wrong - that A Night of Horror is the largest film festival in NSW, which relies entirely on private funding. This is something that we are proud of. To paraphrase Doug Turner, writer/co-director of I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer, which had its Australian premiere at ANOH 2009: “No tax-payer was harmed in the making of this film festival”.

Do you manage to screen all or most of the movies you pursue? What are your criteria for selection?
We screen a combination of features submitted to us directly by filmmakers, and features that we source. We strongly believe that talented independent filmmakers, who submit their films to the festival unsolicited, deserve the best possible chance of having their work screened. So unlike a lot of festivals, we actually reserve about two thirds of our feature slots for submitted films. It is worth mentioning that these films are often some of the audience’s favourites as well.

In regards to feature films that we pursue: we get most, but not all, of the titles that we want. There were only two films that we wanted for the 2009 fest that we were unable to screen. In one case, a sales agent wanted to charge us more for the Australian premiere of the film than we were prepared to pay (and it was quite frankly an unreasonable amount). So we had to let it go. The other film that we missed out on was almost locked in, but there was a last minute disagreement between that film's foreign sales agent and the soon to be Australian distributor over finances. The result was a gridlock - that had nothing to do with the festival and which we were powerless to solve - that meant we were unable to screen the film. Crazy really.

As far as the selection process goes, a film has to pass most of the following criteria: Is it a good story well told? Is the film original? Or at least, does it deal with genre conventions in an original way? Are the performances solid? Is it entertaining? Does it work as a horror film? Particularly, does it work as the type of horror film it is attempting to be? Is it: Scary? Disturbing? Funny? Thought-provoking? Would we be excited if we saw the film at a festival/cinema? Do we think it would appeal to the festival's audience?

The Lovecraftian shorts, the Ozploitation shorts, and the midnight movie screening have become staples of the festival, are you looking at introducing other regular showcases or spotlights?
Well, the filmmaking forums are probably also becoming expected of the festival now. They always tend to sell out, and are very rewarding for everyone involved as they provide a fabulous opportunity for interaction between the festival's filmmakers and local aspiring filmmakers and horror fans. So the festival will most likely keep hosting these. As far as specific showcases, we really do like to let the submissions themselves help guide the program. So say, for example, that the festival received several incredibly strong short films about ghosts and/or paranormal phenomena: This might beg for a special “supernatural” shorts block. Or maybe we are aware of two feature films that compliment each other: Perhaps a double feature would be in order. We really do try and remain flexible.

What directors make the hairs bristle on your back in excitement? If you could programme a retrospective of any director, who would that be?
We both still get excited whenever Romero, Carpenter, or Argento make a film.

Dean: A Fulci retrospective would be a lot of fun. Maybe one day ...

Lisa: Yeah, Fulci would be cool... but for me I think it would be a toss up between Bava and Argento!
Day of the Dead Joe Pilato
Name a favourite vampire movie, werewolf movie, zombie movie, and psycho movie.
Dean: The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Howling, Romero’s Dawn or Day (alternates depending on which of the two I've most recently seen), Carpenter's Halloween.

Lisa: Todd Browning's Dracula, An American Werewolf in London, Dawn or Day [laughs], Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

With the recent glut of “torture porn” has it become more difficult finding truly scary movies? [Not that I’m against gratuitous gore mind you!] What movie (taking into account the age you first saw it) frightened you the most and what recent movie genuinely unnerved you?
Of the hundreds of films we watched when programming the 2009 fest, a very small percentage were torture porn (well less than 10%). So there is still an awful lot of diversity in the genre, particularly at the indie level.

Dean: John Carpenter's Halloween was the first film that really scared me. I saw it when I was ten years old, while on vacation with my family in Fiji. The resort ran these video nights and there was no sense of a ratings system or that little kids shouldn't watch adult/horror content (actually I think it was mainly kids who went to those screenings as all of the adults were usually getting pissed at the bar). Man, I didn't sleep the night they screened Halloween!

Lisa: I first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in my early teens. It freaked me out – truly it did! It actually took me a few attempts until I could watch the film all the way through. Now it's one of my all time favourites.

Dean: Ironically, given the above question, a film that I recently found unnerving was a “torture porn” piece: Martyrs. Some of the scenes, and imagery really bothered me. I think the concept of one person being entirely at the mercy of one or more people whose prime goal is to make their victim suffer is abjectly horrifying. And while the “torture porn” sub-genre has taken a lot of heat, when films of that type work, they really work.

Lisa: I actually had nightmares after watching William Friedkin's Bug. So that must have gotten under my skin.

What are the key elements/ingredients that make a great horror movie stand out from the rest?
As with all cinema, a great horror movie usually results from a good story well told, so most start with an exceptional screenplay, which is then realised through solid direction, performances, etc. An original concept, or a genre staple realised in a particularly original way, also helps. Of course, the horror genre also has its own specific demands: The importance of special effects for example. In addition, cinematography, editing, sound design, score etc should compliment each other in creating an unsettling, disturbing, or horrifying mood. So there are some cases where story takes a back seat to atmosphere, and the film is still spectacular. For example, some of the great Italian horror filmmakers - Bava, Argento, Fulci - excelled at this type of filmmaking. Their films remind us of nightmares, wherein narrative cohesion fractures beneath the oppressive weight of dread.

What have been some of the festival highlights of the past three years?
Anything involving an interaction between filmmakers and the festival audience is always a highpoint. Be it at parties, forums, Q&As, or just hanging around with audience members and filmmakers in a foyer or a bar after a screening. The horror community is unlike any other filmmaking community. No pretension.

As far as specifics: In 2009, Ian Hunter's visual effects lecture at International Film School Sydney was amazing (Ian was visual effects supervisor on a plethora of films including: The Dark Knight, The Chronicles Of Narnia, Spider-Man 3, and War of the Worlds). The horror feature fimmaking forum at Metro Screen with Mike Masters (Reel Zombies), Ursula Darbrowsky (Family Demons), Stacey Edmonds and Doug Turner (I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer) and chaired by Jason Di Rosso (ABC Radio National, Movietime) was another highpoint. Also, of course, having Antony I. Ginnane as one of the fest's judges was almost surreal – we had grown up on the fantastic Ozploitation classics that he produced in the 70s and 80s.

In 2008, the “How to Make a Short Horror Film” seminar at the Mu-Meson Archives was also great (with local, multiple award winning, short filmmakers: Dalibor Backovic, Daniel Giambruno, and Shane K.) It was particularly gratifying when filmmakers who had been inspired by that forum actually made short films and submitted to the following year's fest; nice to know that the festival also inspires people to get out there and shoot their own horror flicks.

Of course, opening night in 2007 was a buzz as well. Being the fest's first ever screening, both of us had no idea if anyone would even show. So to see the cinema's foyer fill up with a couple of hundred horror fans, and then, after this audience had been ushered inside the cinema, to stand up in front of them and introduce some of the best short horror films in the world was a memorable beginning.

If you could invite a legendary horror star (including the guise of a horror character) as a celebrity guest to the festival, who would that be?
If only we could resurrect Lugosi or Karloff ...

What’s your favourite Australian horror movie?
Dean: Howling 3: The Marsupials, isn't it everyone's? Seriously though, in the last two decades: Wolf Creek. Patrick was always a favourite back in the day.

Lisa: People still debate whether or not it is a horror film, but I've always found Picnic at Hanging Rock particularly haunting.

Can you tell me a little about where you find the movies that you screen, especially the shorts? Do you attend overseas film festivals or do you have contacts and/or agents who source stuff for you?
The festival is open for submissions for about 7 months each year (from early June to end of December) and we receive 100s of films from all around the world. In 2009, we screened 70 short films. Around 90% of these were submissions from filmmakers: in other words they were unsolicited entries that we hadn't seen before they arrived at the festival's office. The remaining 10% might be short films that already have a buzz on the international festival circuit, or something that a director or programmer from another festival recommends that we take a look at.

Does censorship present much of a problem when it comes to programming the festival?
It is a national embarrassment that this country has a censorship board. On a practical level, the major problem for ANOH is the incredible number of man hours that we have to waste each year in preparing the detailed classification reports for each and every film that we intend to screen. But in fairness, our actual dealings with the OFLC have always run smoothly. The staff are friendly and accommodating, and we have never had a film refused ... yet ...
The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow movie poster
You make an effort to screen as many short films during the festival as possible, often with two shorts before each feature, and there are four mini-programmes of short films. What are some of your favourites from the past three festivals?
That is a tough question! There are so many. And every film that we screen we're obviously committed to, or they wouldn't get programmed. But just some of the short highlights have been:

2007: Addiction is Murder (dir. Adam Brooks), The Ancient Rite of Corey McGillis (dir. Dalibor Backovic), By Appointment Only (dir. John Faust), Criticized (dir. Richard Gale), The New Life (dir. Daniel Giambruno), The Tell Tale Heart (dir. Raul Garcia – and narrated by Bela Lugosi!), From Beyond (dir. Michael Granberry).

2008: Kirksdale (dir. Ryan Spindell), The Call of Cthulhu (dir. Andrew Leman), The Eyes of Edward James (dir. Rodrigo Gudino), Peekers (dir: Mark Steensland), Eel Girl (dir. Paul Campion).

2009: AM1200 (dir. David Prior), A Wolves' Tale (dir. Christiano Donzelli), Excision (dir. Richard Bates), Snip (dir. Julien Zenier), Treevenge (dir. Jason Eisener), Allure (dir. Ian Hunter), The Facts in the Case of Mr. Hollow (dir. Rodrigo Gudino), and A Break in the Monotony (dir. Damien Slevin).

Dean can you tell us a little about your feature Sick Day and will it premiere at next year's festival or elsewhere at an earlier date?
Thanks for asking Bryn. I co-directed Sick Day with my brother Grant. Lisa co-produced and stars. The Hollywood-style logline for the film would be something like: When a talented young woman who works in the pharmaceutical industry is abused by her co-workers, her sweet persona crumbles and she enacts a sicking revenge.
Sick Day Lisa Mitchell
Lisa Mitchell in Dean Bertram's Sick Day
But as disturbing as some of the set pieces in the film might be, at heart, Sick Day is primarily about the failure of people to communicate. It deals with the ramifications of treating people carelessly, the nature of erotic obsession, and ultimately the abject destruction of three human beings. It’s a love story, really [laughs].

The film is still in post. It won’t premiere at A Night of Horror 2010, although it will possibly screen in a future year after it has played some other festivals. Folks who are interested can stay updated by becoming a fan of the film on Facebook or by befriending the film on MySpace. The official site for the film is here

And Bryn, we’d both like to thank you for all of your thoughtful questions. Keep up the great work at Horrorphile! [Yes, well, any horrorphiles who name Possession as one of their favourites are bloody good friends of mine!]

4th Annual A Night Of Horror International Film Festival screens in Sydney March 25th – April 3rd, 2010. For more information, archives and submission details visit the site.
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Splinter

June 24th 2009 01:39
Splinter movie poster
I missed the screening of Splinter (2008) at the recent A Night Of Horror international film festival here in Sydney. It turned out to win three festival awards; Best Actor (Shea Wigham), Best Special Effects and Best Film. I ended up ordering the DVD from the States, I couldn’t wait for a local release (who knows when that could happen).

I was very impressed indeed. It’s a relatively conservative affair; set almost entirely in and around a lone Oklahoma gas station, with a cast of only six actors, and a running time of just over 80 minutes. But it makes up for its budgetary constraints with a tight script, solid acting from a charismatic cast, and inventive special effects that skillfully blend good old fashioned gruesome prosthetic appliances and sly CGI work. There’s plenty of dark blood and bodily goo, and a few sensationally wince-inducing moments.
Splinter Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner, Shea Wigham
Paulo Costanzo as Seth, Jill Wagner as Polly and Shea Wigham as Dennis
Seth (Paulo Costanzo), a wimpy biology thesis student, and his spunky girlfriend Polly (Jill Wagner) pull off the road to set up tent for a romantic sex-under-the-stars weekend, but Seth accidentally breaks the tent. He was more keen on a motel anyway, so much to Polly’s disappointment, they head back out on the road. Next thing they know they’ve been carjacked by a dangerous escaped convict Dennis (Shea Wigham) and his strung-out meth addict girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Kerbs).
Splinter parasite victim
Not what you want to find in the gas station toilet
After running over some very strange roadkill which freaks Lacey and Seth out and causes an oil leak, the two couples are forced to pull into a gas station for fuel and repairs. The lone station attendant is nowhere to be found. Well, actually, Lacey discovers him on the floor in the outside toilet, looking decidedly worse for wear covered in blood and gore, with huge black spikes protruding from him, begging to be killed. Something very nasty is going on, and it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
Splinter hand
Dance of the parasitic hand
Splinter is a monster movie that pulls influences from a variety of classic and not-so-classic horror movies. The first that came to mind was Prophecy (1979), suggesting chemical interference with the land has resulted in a mutant form of parasite, in this case a voracious and relentless creature that turns living beings into ghastly, hideous mutilated hosts that are still alive, but no longer human. There is also inspiration from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), where parts of the parasitic creature can be broken off and become their own living entity. There’s actually a direct reference with a severed hand with broken fingers scuttling around the floor, although this was also provoked an unintentional moment of comedy as the scene reminded me of Ash’s severed hand running amok in Evil Dead 2 (1986). This spider-like extremity also reminded me of the face-huggers from Aliens (1986).
Splinter infection
Some splinter infections are worse than others
These overt references don’t hinder the movie though. The screenplay by Kai Barry and Ian Shorr wisely doesn’t try and explain what this monstrous beast is, it simply lets it exist and create havoc and carnage. Even more wisely director Toby Wilkins, a special effects whiz on his feature debut, skillfully directs the camera (along with the terrific editing) so that you never get to linger on the creature long enough. It’s a rapid-moving, limb-failing, splinter-spewing, blood-pissing piece of nightmare flesh and bone. Imagine a xenomorphic parasitic zombie, and you’re close.
Splinter Shea Wigham and Jill Wagner
Dennis and Polly seek shelter in the cool store ... at least there's beer
How Seth, Polly and Dennis manage to fend themselves against this fiendish species is inventive. There’s also a nice touch (prick?) with Dennis receiving a splinter early on (from the roadkill on the tyre of the Toyota), letting the audience in on some bad news that is bound to erupt into worse news later on, as it does, which results in a particularly horrendous amputation (my only gripe being no one would be holding a lucid conversation after that kind of makeshift surgery!)

It’s a shame director Wilkins has gone on to directing a straight-to-DVD production of The Grudge 3 (2009), his talents deserve better than that. I wish I’d seen Splinter on the big screen, I’m pretty sure it will end up on shelves down under. It’s been given an Australian rating (MA), so keep your eyes peeled.
Splinter DVD artwork


Here's the (very average) trailer:

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Martyrs

June 23rd 2009 02:13
Martyrs movie poster
Supposedly the word “martyr” is derived from the Latin word for “witness”. They are those rare humans that suffer agonizing pain, but will not be broken, finally seeing beyond death into the mysterious void. Does it exist? Only the martyrs know, but none have ever survived to actually relate their experience, their vision.

Until now


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2nd Annual Horrorphile Hall Of Infamy 2009

1. The Exorcist
(USA, 1973) Directed by William Friedkin

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I recently was sent a link through to a true or false quiz. Twenty movie titles separated into ten true or false questions. You had to decide which was a real movie title and which was the fake one. The first and last ones were the easiest: Diary of the Dead or Cookbook of the Dead? Bed of the Dead or Document of the Dead? Providing you know your George Romero movies they were dead easy. The others were a tad more difficult as the question masters had dug up some very obscure, but very real, movie titles, such as Legion of the Dead, Orgy of the Dead, Cruise Ship of the Dead, and the clincher, Nudist Colony of the Dead. Yup, it seems a lot of fly-by-night filmmakers have been very keen to try and cash in on Romero’s seminal series of exploits of the zombie kind.

It gave me inspiration to concoct a new quiz (since I haven’t posted one in nine months!). A series of straight forward multiple choice questions. But with a twist: choose the real sub-genre movie title amidst the fake ones, or is it the fake sub-genre movie amidst the real ones? You decide


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Shadow Of The Vampire

June 18th 2009 00:59
Shadow of the Vampire movie poster
Legend has it that German Expressionist director F.W. Murnau made a Faustian pact with his star Max Schreck whilst filming one of the greatest vampire tales of all-time: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922). If we’re to believe the events of Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Schreck was a real vampire whom Murnau believed would infuse his motion picture with an unprecedented level of authenticity and provide its silver (nitrate) lining with a supernatural kudos. In return Schreck would get the neck of his female star Greta … for real.

Director E. Elias Merhige, who made the extraordinary and otherworldly avant garde Begotten (1990) dispatches any overt surrealist touches, in favour of a more conventional style of narrative. However he elicits superbly stylized performances from the entire cast; John Malkovich revels in his usual histrionics, but brings to megalomaniacal life the role of Murnau, a tortured and driven cineaste artiste, but it is Willem Dafoe as Schreck who not only captures the role of Graf Orlock with effortlessness, but as Schreck he brings the man (rather ironically) creepily and passionately alive


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El Rey de la Montaña

June 16th 2009 02:38
King of the Hill movie poster
The international title for this relentless, violent Spanish thriller is King Of The Hill, but I much prefer the literal translation: The King Of The Mountain, as it reminds me less of the U.S. animated comedy series which I was never a fan of. The King of the Mountain commands a darker edge and tone. Mind you I quite like the French title, which translates roughly as The Prey.

Quim (Leonardo Sbaraglia) - yes an odd name for a man - is intending to rendezvous with his girlfriend, although the relationship is strained while h econverses with her from a service station payphone. A beautiful stranger nearby, Bea (Maria Valverde) pricks up her ears, and follows him into the unisex toilets where they have urgent sex. She leaves as quickly as she arrives, stealing his wallet, and drives away. He pursues her, and makes the fateful decision to follow her car up a mountain road


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Død Snø (Dead Snow)

June 15th 2009 04:34
Dead Snow movie poster
Dead Snow (2009) is Norway’s answer to The Evil Dead (1982), although it’s played mostly for laughs, so it’s closer to Evil Dead 2 (1986). Watching it with a packed Sydney Film Festival audience I admit I was caught up in the grotesque hilarity of this zombie spoof, but overall it wasn’t nearly as impressive as I hoped it would be.

A group of young university medical students are on an Easter vacation. They arrive at the cabin belonging to Sara’s folks. In the movie’s prologue we had witnessed a terrified Sara (Ane Dahl Torp) being chased by menacing figures in dark attire and helmets through the snow. Now Sara’s boyfriend Vegard (Lasse Valdal) is sure she’s just been delayed in her alpine trek to rendezvous with the others. A dodgy wanderer (Bjørn Sundquist) bursts upon the hapless students and demands coffee (as you do). He spills forth the local legend harking back to WWII when Nazi soldiers were chased into the mountains by villagers for raping, murdering and pillaging. Evil permeates the region


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werewolf baying at the full moon
This post is a special bulletin for all my loyal blog subscribers, but also to all those readers who’ve yet to subscribe but no doubt will, and to those of you who found yourselves at my blog by accident and are curious but undecided.

Firstly a huge thank you to all my subscribers; the hundreds that receive an almost daily link in their email to let them know that I’ve posted a fresh movie review (reviews make up about 80% of my blog), rambled on in-depth about a particular sub-genre, added another selection of images to the poster gallery or art lair, created a new crazy quiz, perhaps spouted some vitriol, teased with a trailer for an upcoming movie, or maybe it’s just another damn list


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Pontypool

June 9th 2009 00:47
Pontypool movie poster
An intellectual zombie flick?! Well, not quite, but Pontypool (2008), which I saw yesterday as part of the Sydney Film Festival, is far more academic in its satirical approach than anything George Romero has made. But it also gets bogged down in its own literate mire, to the detriment of any sustained horror viscera, which an audience demands of a movie that features viral infected flesh-eaters.

Pontypool is a weird little movie indeed, directed by Canadian Bruce McDonald, who has dabbled in the arthouse throughout his career, whilst directing television in order to finance those independent cinematic desires. I remember seeing his early feature, the quirky road movie Highway 61, years ago at a film festival. I couldn’t process his recent experiment The Tracey Fragments, finding it too self-indulgent and avant-garde to work as compelling drama, coming across more as a kind of curious “cinematic installation


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Van Diemen's Land

June 5th 2009 04:51
Van Diemen's Land movie poster
It’s curious that two movies about Alexander Pearce should be made so close to each other. Not a strange thing in Hollywood, but the Pearce movies are not products of Tinseltown, they’re products of Australia, where Alexander Pearce was a penal colony convict in the first half of the 19th Century.

The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (2009) was a more elaborate telling of the events of Pearce’s incarceration, escape, journey through the dense Tasmanian wilderness with seven other convicts, their demise to cannibalism, Pearce’s re-capture, his second escape (after his story of cannibalism was dismissed as cover-up for the other at large convicts), his capture again, the discovery of a mutilated body close by, and his confession and subsequent execution


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Paranormal Activity

June 4th 2009 00:15
Paranormal Activity movie poster
Holy shit, er, ghost! I haven’t been this spooked for a long, long time. Paranormal Activity (2007) is genuinely frightening, and this is coming from a man who has seen a lot of so-called scary movies. As a hardened terrorfreak I yearn for horror movies that are able to palpably scare the bejesus out of me, it’s an essential part of the exhilaration, but unfortunately it’s also a rare thing for me. There aren’t that many horror movies I’ve seen since being an impressionable teenager that have actually scared me. I can’t use the word terrify, that’s just too strong a word to use in relation to the fabrication of movies, but spook, frighten, scare. Yeah, there have been a few.

When I was much younger Poltergeist (1982) and Alien (1979) did it for me. Later Halloween (1978) and Suspiria (1977) were added to the list. Then there was a long hiatus on the genuine scare front, one that lasted for nearly fifteen years. It wasn’t until I saw an advance DVD copy of The Blair Witch Project (1999) (it had yet to be released in cinemas down under, so the only information I knew about it was the convincing website purporting it to be genuine “found footage”), that I watched a movie that gave me serious heebie-jeebies (I’ll come back to this movie soon


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The Island

June 3rd 2009 00:27
The Island movie poster
Not to be confused with the Michael Bay supertrash sci-fi Scarlett Johansson/Ewan McGregor vehicle of the same name, The Island (1980), directed by Michael Ritchie, is a turgid little shocker screen-written by the late Peter (Jaws) Benchley based on his own novel. When I say "shocker" it may have raised a few eyebrows nearly thirty years ago, but I'm actually referring it as lame as a dead duck in the water.

The Island Jeffrey Frank and Michael Caine
Jeffrey Frank as Justin and Michael Caine as his father Blair
One of the countless pieces of trash Michael Caine has on his resume (whether he likes it or not). Caine is a man with a very strong work ethic. He has some fabulous quotes to justify it: “First of all, I choose the great roles, and if none of these come, I choose the mediocre ones, and if they don't come, I choose the ones that pay the rent.” Then there’s this doozy: “I’ve made an awful lot of films. In fact, I’ve made a lot of awful films.” But he reminds us that, “You get paid the same for a bad film as you do for a good one.” And that’s why Michael Caine is fabulously rich. He doesn’t care that he has more turkeys gobbling around the video store than most A-list actors, he’s a professional, he enjoys his craft, and he likes the money. Still, he’s made a shit load of crappy movies, and The Island is one of many (Anthony Hopkins was first offered the lead, then Caine, who is known to make jokes about the amount of times he’s been second choice


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Bully

June 2nd 2009 05:39
Bully movie poster
Director Larry Clark started his cinematic career as a photographer focusing on the raw sensuality of young pretty wastrels and lost soul nubiles. It garnered him both artistic acclaim and notoriety. He took it to the next level and directed a feature, Kids (1995), made to look and feel like a documentary using mostly non-professional actors and capturing a disturbing urgency and apathy amongst NYC street kids. It featured the debut performances of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson.

He followed up Kids with an even more controversial expose, Ken Park (1999), which was considered too offensive and too subversive for Australian audiences and was subsequently banned (one of only a handful of contemporary mainstream movies). Even after a concerted effort to have the ruling overturned by respected film critic Margaret Pomeranz, it still remains on the Australian censor’s black list. I haven’t seen the movie, but would like to. Apparently it features scenes of adolescent auto-eroticism that were deemed too dangerous for discerning adults


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56th Sydney Film Festival banner
I love this time of year: Sydney Film Festival. Fifty-six years old and going strong. Kicking off this Wednesday June 3rd and going through until Sunday June 14th. It’s twelve days of cinema heaven. Although the pickings are a little slim on the hardcore horror front, the lean selection promises to be intense, visceral, memorable, and destined for cult status (with one already holding that honour). Here are the six titles worth checking out.

Coraline movie poster
Coraline
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