Month: December 2016

Favorite Things: Horror Films of 2016

2016 was another amazing year for horror. It was incredibly difficult to come up with a top ten list for my favorite horror films from this year. Even harder was putting those ten films in any kind of order. While I have changed my mind on my list multiple times since writing it, I’m going to go with my gut and stick with my current list as it is. Here are my top ten horror films of 2016 in order.

10. Last Girl Standing

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I had the chance to see this gem at the International Horror and Scifi Film Festival (IHSFF). While I didn’t know what to expect, I was definitely blown away. Every time I watch a slasher movie I can’t help but wonder what happens to the survivor after the movie ends. Writer/director Ben Moody gave the audience exactly that in his first feature length film. It’s exciting, mysterious, and shocking in turn. Click here to read my full review.

9. Under the Shadow

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This is another film from the IHSFF. There are so many things I loved about this film. Not only was it very creepy and atmospheric, but it also had a lot of interesting cultural aspects. It was like getting a bit of a historical and cultural lesson wrapped into a very creepy horror film. The mother-daughter duo were also delightful. Click here to read my full review.

8. We Go On

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We Go On was a film that I happened upon at Cinequest. I went in knowing nothing about the film except it was a horror film that fit into the movie schedule I made for myself. I am so thrilled I was able to see this on the big screen. It is such a unique and well acted film. I really can’t rave about it enough. Everyone needs to see it, whether you are a horror fan or not. Click here for my full review.

7. Don’t Breathe

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This was one of the most exciting thrillers that has come out in ages. It was a perfect storm of writer/director Fede Alvarex, actor Stephen Lane, and actress Jane Levy. This trio created a disturbing film that brings such a high level of intensity you almost never get a chance to breathe (no pun intended). Click here for my full review.

6. The Blackcoat’s Daughter

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I had the chance to see this film at Cinequest when it was known as February. Sadly, I missed the showing. Then, luck struck, and the film got picked up for the IHSFF. This is a film that is quite disturbing. It manages to work so well as a film that is not a linear story line. Everything is revealed to the audience in pieces that eventually create a complete, disturbing plot. Click here for my full review.

5. Train to Busan

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Train to Busan is one of the best zombie flicks I have seen in recent memory. It is scary and gory. At the same time the film addresses social issues of human nature and creates a dynamic cast of characters. It’s a film that will excite you while also tugging at your heartstrings. I wish I had seen it sooner, but I’m glad I saw it in time to put in my top ten list. Click here for my full review.

4. The Witch

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The Witch was the first great film of 2016. It is beautifully shot and creates a story of paranoia. Not only was I impressed at the beauty of this film, but all the actors were absolutely perfect (especially the lead, Anya Taylor-Joy). She is clearly an up and coming actress in the horror world, and I cannot wait to see more of her work. Click here for my full review.

3. Green Room

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This film is in my top ten for many reasons. It is an exciting story, it has absolutely stunning practical effects, and it stars the late Anton Yelchin. This film has everything going for it. It is another one that falls more into the thriller category, but as I always say, thriller is deeply rooted in the horror realm. Of the films on my top ten list, this is the one I’m looking forward to watching again the most. Click here for my full review.

2. The Monster

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For a while, The Monster was my number one film of the year. It is still one of the best films I saw in 2016. This film is one of the most gorgeous films I saw this year, filled with amazing cinematography. It also has a plot that drew me in with the deranged relationship between mother and daughter. I loved watching their dynamic and how it changed as they were thrown into peril. Click here for my full review.

1. The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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This film was so fascinating and terrifying at the same time, there was no way it wasn’t going to be in my top ten. What really bumped it up to number one was the insanely realistic practical effects. I also loved how they blended science with the supernatural. It made for a very unique film I can’t wait to watch again, especially since I’m sure there are details I missed the first time around. Click here for my full review.

HONORABLE MENTION: There are a few films that didn’t quite make my top ten I still feel deserve a nod. Those films are Blair Witch, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Lights Out, The Wailing, and Sadako vs. Kayako. While they didn’t quite make the cut, they are definitely great films in their own way and worth watching.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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The Wailing

A strange Japanese man arrives at a small village in South Korea. Soon after, people begin to go mad and kill their families. A local cop is assigned to these strange cases. His own daughter eventually starts to exhibit the same symptoms as the others who went mad. With the help of his friends, a priest and a shaman, the cop does whatever he can to stop the Japanese stranger from harming his daughter, or anyone else in town.

The Wailing is the second great Korean horror film I have seen this year. Similarly to Train to Busan, the focus of this film is the relationship between a father and his young daughter. Once the daughter is thrown into peril we see the father grow as a person and try to rescue her. The father adds a comedic aspect to the beginning of the film up until the point when his daughter gets sick. From there the film takes a more serious turn. It also does an interesting job of blending different types of mythology. There are satanic rituals, shamanism, ghosts and spirits, a zombie-like illness, and possession. The filmmakers expertly weave all of these aspects together into a chilling, and often times humorous, story. The only issue I had with the plot is that the ending felt a bit convoluted. It seems like the filmmakers are trying to insert too many twists and turns to the point where the audience is left with one too many questions.

This film has multiple amazing performances that lure the audience into the story. One standout is Do-wan Kwak (The Berlin File) as the cop and father, Jong-Goo. The fact that his portrayal of Jong-Goo shows him as a rather dopey and fearful cop who finds his strength when his daughter is in danger feels natural and compelling. Do-wan Kwak manages to make me laugh and make me feel compassion for Jong-Goo and his family. I also love Jun Kunimura (Kill Bill: Vo. 1 and 2) as the stranger. He doesn’t have many speaking scenes until later in the film, but it is hard not to feel his presence. With just a stare, Kunimura is able to send chills down my spine and add to the unsettling ambience of the film.

The effects of this film are subtle, which works well with the story. The infected people first get strange rashes. These rashes eventually cover the whole body, and the eyes of the infected turn white before they become violent. The rashes are grotesque and very well done. One scene involves an infected person having a convulsive fit that results in a bone protruding from the skin. It is disgusting, but also beautiful in how they are able to achieve it with the practical effects. There is another scene at the climax of the film that involves a different kind of transformation. This one I can’t get into too much detail for, but it is one of the most unnerving scenes in the entire film.

While The Wailing isn’t my favorite Korean horror film I have seen this year, it is definitely a memorable one. It has a unique and intricate plot that will keep you hooked through to the end, which is impressive considering it is over two and a half hours long. While the climax does get a bit tangled and confused, it still makes for a riveting mystery. This is another film to add to the rather long list of great foreign films that have come out in the past year. It will appeal to a multitude of horror fans and non-horror fans alike.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

The Eyes of My Mother

A young girl learns about anatomy and death from her mother who was once an eye surgeon. After a strange man appears and brutally murders her mother, the girl grows up to have many morbid fascinations. The older the girl gets, the more she feels the need to live out these fascinations. She also increasingly has abandonment issues. Eventually the girl’s loneliness comes to a head, and her actions get out of hand.

This is a film that is deeply morbid and visually stunning. The filmmakers chose to shoot the entire film in black and white. This decision adds not only to the unsettling images we see, but it also adds an artistic edge. If the film had been shot in color it would have taken the scenes from dark and beautiful to pure gore and carnage. The plot adds to the strange beauty by having a seemingly innocent girl at various stages of her life doing horrific things. Seeing what happened to her as a child makes you have a certain level of sympathy for the girl, but as time passes she becomes more and more deranged. It creates a very unsettling atmosphere (which, in a way, felt somewhat like the 2002 film May).

While the film is generally interesting and beautiful, it felt like it was lacking a bit in substance. I’ve noticed a common theme among films that focus more on the style of the movie than the actual content. While The Eyes of My Mother falls in with these other films, it at least has enough of a plot to keep the audience intrigued. There are still many times where it felt like the film was moving slowly or there wasn’t anything going on. The fact this film is only about an hour and fifteen minutes long only further shows the lack of content. There are also actions taken by some of the characters that simply don’t make sense to me. For example, the actions taken by the father after the mother is killed are completely nonsensical. It is something you can imagine the daughter doing since she is deranged, but there is nothing in the character development that leads you to believe the father would choose this path.

Much like with the plot, there is not a lot going on in terms of the acting. It makes it difficult to judge. There is really only one actor who has a substantial amount of content in the film. Kika Magalhaes (City of Gold) stars as Francisca. This is only the second role in a film for Magalhaes. Because she has few speaking parts it makes it somewhat difficult for me to critique her acting. I can say that Magalhaes succeeds on portraying a disturbing character with what seems like no conscious, while still making the audience feel sympathetic towards her. The other characters feel more like props in Francisca’s twisted little world.

It is harder to appreciate the practical effects in this film since it is in black and white, but if you pay close attention you can really see how marvelously done they are. While the injuries on the victims are well done, what stands out to me comes before any of the injuries occur. In the beginning of the film, the mother teaches Francisca about anatomy (specifically of the eye) by dissecting a cow head. Even without the advantage of color you can still see how realistic the cow head and the removed cow eye are. It is also a bit of a fun anatomy lesson for those of us that aren’t as familiar with the anatomy of eyes.

This is a film I don’t love, but I don’t hate it either. There always seems to be one film horror critics rave about that I just can’t get on board with. Sadly, this is that film. The Eyes of My Mother delivers on the creep factor as well as some disturbing images. The downside is that it lacks a bit in content and relies heavily on the images. There are some wise decisions made by the filmmakers, such as the use of black and white coloring. If the bloody mutilation had been in color, the film would have felt more like a B-movie than an artistic indie film. Either way, this is a film I would recommend people see at least once, but it doesn’t have great rewatchability.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Train to Busan

A father who works too much barely knows or spends time with his daughter. For her birthday all she wants is to go stay with her mother in Busan. The father reluctantly agrees to take her in order to make amends for his lack of presence in her life. Soon after the train leaves the station an infected person spreads a zombie virus throughout the train. The survivors must try to get to a safe station to escape from the zombies on board, as well as to avoid the rapid spread of the virus happening across the country.

Train to Busan is a very well done zombie film. The main thing I look for in a zombie film is not only that it is exciting and gory, but that it shows the truth about human nature. This film does an excellent job of showing that humans are the worst monsters during the zombie outbreak. There is a dynamic group of characters that demonstrate the many sides of human nature. Some sides are good, some are borderline evil. The characters are also very well developed. Especially when looking at the father and daughter, the audience is quickly captivated by their relationship and rooting for them to survive through these horrific events. It is also fascinating to watch their relationship develop, and how the father develops as a person, as they ford their way through the zombie outbreak.

Having a grasp of social issues can’t be the only successful aspect of a great zombie film. There has to be a lot of action as well. As if zombie films aren’t already intense and exciting, this film ramps up the sense of urgency by having the film set on a train. The claustrophobic feeling, coupled with the fear of zombies and infection, makes for an adrenaline filled two hours. The filmmakers decided to go with swift moving zombies, which works well for this film. Fast zombies in an enclosed space definitely makes for some cringe-worthy scenes.

There are so many standout performances in this film that it is hard to narrow down. Since the film focuses primarily on the story of the father and daughter, I will highlight their performances. Yoo Gong (The Age of Shadows) portrays the father, Seok Woo. Not only does Gong do an excellent job, but his character also has one of the more compelling story arcs. With the help of his daughter Seok Woo goes from being an absentee father, to a man who will go through anyone to protect his daughter, to a good person who realizes he must try to save everyone. It is a fascinating and realistic progression that Yoo Gong brings to life. Soo-An Kim (Mad Bad Sad) is phenomenal as the daughter, also named Soo-An. She is clearly the heart of this film and shows the good that can come out of stressful situations. She is meant to shine as the exact opposite of the evil parts of human nature, and Soo-An Kim shows us that in spades. She is another example of the many great child actors that have come out of the woodwork this year.

The look of the zombies in this film is really unsettling (in the best way). The zombies have black veining, their eyes are whited out, and they move in exceedingly creepy ways. The zombies do a lot of jerking movements and arch their backs in inhuman ways. These are also very fast and strong zombies. Once they catch sight of you, you better run. While most of the scenes on the train are of human actors with zombie makeup and contorted bodies, many of the wider shots outside the train utilize CGI. I understand why CGI was used for many of the scenes where hordes of zombies are falling all over each other and falling out of windows. That would take a lot of stunt work and insurance policies to achieve with real actors. It unfortunately also takes away from the realism that is felt throughout most of the film. The CGI made it nearly impossible not to draw a connection to the zombies from World War Z, although I can say that Train to Busan far surpasses that film.

Train to Busan is a thrilling and gory zombie flick with a lot of heart. I’m not afraid to admit that it even made me cry. There are honestly very few things I can say about the film that are negative, aside from the bit of CGI use. It is exciting, scary, intense, bloody, and it brings up the many sides of human nature. The more social/political aspects of the film even feel reminiscent of the older Romero zombie films. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you gasp, and it will make you cringe. This is one of the better zombie films of the past decade.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

A young nurse gets a new job caring for an elderly horror author. The nurse, who is afraid of everything, is unfamiliar with the author’s work. This includes her most famous book about a woman named Polly. The nurse moves in with her charge to provide around the clock care. As time passes for the nurse living in the elderly woman’s home, it becomes more and more clear there may be someone (or something) else in the home with them.

This is the second film by writer/director Oz Perkins I have seen this year, the first being The Blackcoat’s Daughter. While I loved his previous film, this one left me feeling underwhelmed and unsatisfied. The essential premise is a nurse going to live with an elderly horror author to take care of her. The problem is that this nurse is terrified of everything. She can’t even get through the first chapter of one of the books the horror author wrote. On the first night living in the author’s house the nurse has a small experience with what may be a ghost, but then there aren’t any other happenings for almost a year. There is an interesting idea in this plot. The problem is that the story is underdeveloped, and the primary focus is on the house rather than the characters.

The main issue I have with this film is the writing. While the monologues are beautifully written and interesting, there is just too much dead space throughout the rest of the film. The only character that really has any lines is the nurse, which leaves a lot of time in between any speaking parts. It also means that the main character primarily talks to herself. The film ends up feeling one-dimensional and lacks any true depth to keep the audience interested. Perkins is known for leaving some aspects of his films ambiguous, which worked well in The Blackcoat’s Daughter, but in this film things were a bit too ambiguous. The “why” of what is happening is left unclear, and it felt like hints were scattered throughout the film that never came to a satisfying conclusion. This just adds to the somewhat empty feeling of the film.

One thing Perkins did better with was the style of the film. It felt unique in that much of the film consists of the inner monologue of the lead character. The film was very visually interesting, using light and shadows, as well as some beautiful blurred effects. The set of the house is also gorgeous. It often times feels like the house is its own character during the film, and it is actually one of the more well-developed aspects of the film. This unfortunately seemed to be where all the focus of the filmmaker’s efforts went. The film is quite stunning, but the lack of substance makes me wish this had been made as a short consisting of about thirty minutes as opposed to a feature length film.

Because there were so few speaking parts in the film it is very difficult for me to truly judge the acting. Ruth Wilson (The Affair, The Lone Ranger) starred as the nurse, Lily. I know Wilson is a good actress from her other work, but her performance in this role gave the impression that she didn’t put much effort into it. The way the character is written is partly the problem. The fact she is afraid of everything and spoke like an 80-year-old woman created a very unrealistic character. I couldn’t help but cringe when she said things like “Oh, heavens no.” The character is supposed to be in her late twenties, and as someone that is the same age it is hard to imagine a single person my age who speaks like that (no matter how timid they are). The highlight of Wilson’s performance is the monologue she recites at the beginning of the film, and that is also the highlight of the entire film.

As a whole I am vastly underwhelmed by I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. It is stylish and beautiful, but lacked the substance to make it a complete story. The film is also plagued with unrealistic dialogue and underdeveloped characters. I know Perkins can do amazing work, so I look forward to seeing what he does in the future. This is just a bit of a stumble on his road to becoming a successful writer/directer.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The body of a woman is found partially buried in the basement of a home with multiple murder victims. The identity and cause of death is clear for all the victims, except the woman. Not only is there no clear cause of death, but no one knows who she is or where she came from. The sheriff entrusts the body with a father and son coroner team to find out who she is and how she died before the press gets wind of the situation. As the father and son work through the night to conduct their autopsy strange things begin to happen. There is more to this Jane Doe than meets the eye.

This film is a horror lover’s dream. Director André Øvredal has dabbled in the horror genre with the delightful Trollhunter in 2010, but this is the first truly terrifying film he has worked on. The audience is immediately thrown into the crime scene where the body of Jane Doe is discovered. At once we are apart of the mystery and the investigation into the odd circumstances surrounding what happened in the house and who this woman is. When we are introduced to the father and son coroner team, the filmmakers do an excellent job of quickly developing their characters and their relationship. This allows the plot to move swiftly into the autopsy phase. There is further character development during the scientific study of Jane Doe, but you feel like you already have a grasp of the characters before that.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe perfectly blends science and the supernatural. As the coroners are performing the autopsy they try to find a way to rationalize all the unexplainable wounds they discover. Things eventually become more and more strange, leading to the supernatural happenings and the realization that nothing about the corpse is normal. It is filled with secrets and things that should not be possible. The further into the autopsy the duo goes, the more strange and terrifying everything becomes. On more than one occasion I hid my face behind my hands in anticipation of what scary things were to come, but at the same time I couldn’t look away.

The two leads in this film are wonderful. Emile Hirsch (The Girl Next Door, Into the Wild) gives his usual excellent performance as the son, Austin Tilden. While he is science-minded like his father, Hirsch shows that Austin is the first to notice the strange happenings and accept them for what they are. I especially enjoyed Brian Cox (Morgan, Trick ‘r Treat) as the father and widower, Tommy Tilden. Cox creates a perfect blend of characteristics for Tommy. Tommy is sad and lonely after the death of his wife, but he gets through each day by burying himself in his work as well as with the support of his son, but he does it all with a sense of humor. This is conveyed by Cox in such a way that Tommy feels like a real, complex person. I also have to give a nod to Jane Doe herself, played by Olwen Catherine Kelly (Darkness on the Edge of Town). While she plays a lifeless corpse throughout the film, I was impressed by the fact that not once did I look at her as a living person. I can’t even imagine what the workday would look like laying naked on the slab each day, trying to hide your breathing and minimizing any movement during filming.

Horror films can often feel real, depending on the content and how they are made. The scientific aspect of this film keeps it somewhat grounded in reality, but what really makes this film feel so real is the effects. Before seeing the film I was expecting the autopsy itself to happen slightly off camera so the audience never really sees anything. What surprised me is this film successfully hides certain terrifying aspects while keeping others in plain sight. Much to my delight you never really see the things lurking in the dark, yet you see everything that happens to Jane Doe on the slab. Not only do you see the entire process of the autopsy, but the practical effects are so well done that it feels like you are watching an actual corpse being dissected. Everything is masterfully done from the smaller effects like cutting into the skin, to the bigger ones like cutting open her ribs to examine the organs. It was all beautiful, terrifying, and lifelike.

This is a very successful jump into the horror genre for André Øvredal. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a truly frightening film. It contains many of my favorite aspects of horror films: science, supernatural happenings, great acting, a unique story, excellent practical effects, and it doesn’t reveal so much that it takes away from the scares. This is the kind of film that makes your hair stand on end and gives you the feeling that someone, or something, is lurking behind you. I imagine you could watch this film repeatedly and see new, small details you never noticed before. I can honestly say this is one of the best horror films of 2016, if not one of the best I have seen in years.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Favorite Things: Christmas Horror Films

Horror isn’t just for Halloween. Over the years there have been a number of great Christmas horror films to come out. Apparently Santa and his counterparts can be just as terrifying as any witch, ghost, vampire, or werewolf. When you really take the time to look at holiday horror there is to offer this time of year you may be surprised at the wide selection available to you. Keeping that in mind, I have decided to come up with my five favorite Christmas horror films. They are in no particular order, but all are beloved for their own reasons.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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Anyone who has read my site or looked at my social media knows that I count kid horror ever chance I get. It deserves as much attention as the scariest movies. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a classic film from my youth that not only encompasses both Halloween and Christmas, but it’s a great way to get younger audiences into horror. All Jack Skellington wants to do is get to the true meaning of Christmas and we as the audience get to watch things go wrong in the funniest ways. This is the perfect family Christmas horror film for all ages to enjoy.

Gremlins (1984)

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This is another great holiday horror flick that appeals to people of different ages. It is equal parts adorable, creepy, funny, and festive. While you may think this is another kid horror movie, keep in mind that there are actually a couple fairly gory scenes and many people die horrible (albeit funny) deaths. It’s hard not to love the fuzzy little creatures that multiply and become scaly green monsters that wreak havoc on the poor little town. Just try watching this film without wishing you had your own mogwai.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

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This is one of the most iconic Christmas horror films out there. I just saw it for the first time earlier this month and it is already one of my favorites. After seeing his family brutally murdered a boy grows to be a teen before witnessing another crime that makes him snap. This leads to an often times hilariously cheesy killing spree, all while wearing a Santa suit and telling his victims that they have been “naughty.” After one viewing, this film has already been added to my required holiday films that I will watch every year.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

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This Finnish film is not just a great holiday horror film, but an all around great movie. A group of workers accidentally unleashes the first Santa upon a small settlement in the countryside of Finland. The first Santa is not the fun-loving, present-giving Santa we have come to know and love. This one comes to punish bad children by whipping them and kidnapping them. Of course there is only one child that figures out what is going on, but it doesn’t take long for the adults to catch on. This film is exciting and creepy with a lot of dark humor thrown in. It also has one of the biggest “WTF” endings I have ever seen in a horror film, but it is an absolutely perfect way to end the story. One could argue that this is another film that could be watched with the family, but it all depends on your nudity comfort level (there are a lot of naked men, but the vast majority of nudity is in the shadows).

Krampus (2015)

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This film is probably the most frightening on my list, but this is also one I will likely show my kids as they grow up. It contains many of the same themes as A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life in that it is about a person (a young boy in this case) who loses his Christmas spirit and has to find it again. It can be terrifying at times, but there is also a lot of humor to it. I may be slightly biased about this film since it follows the German legend of Krampus, and much of my heritage is German, but it is still one of the best Christmas horror films out there. If you pay close attention you will also notice nods to other horror films, as well as other Christmas films. (Click here to read my full review for Krampus).

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD FRIGHT!