Horror Movie Survival: What to Take?

I was recently asked by Man Crates what would be the essential things I would want with me were I to find myself in a horror film. They’re a company that creates awesome gifts for men packaged in wooden crates opened with a crowbar; they wanted to know how I’d fill a crate to survive the whole movie.  It seems difficult, since the horror genre is so varied.  Wooden stakes would seem like a pretty good choice if you found yourself dealing with vampires, but what if you gather your wooden stakes only to find yourself in a werewolf movie, or a slasher?

This would be one's first thought.
This would be one’s first thought.

Depending on the vampire movie, wooden stakes may not even do you any good.  Ideally, you want something that’s easy to carry, lightweight, and can help you in the most situations.  Something that is an “I win” button against a particular type of monster that may be chasing you is putting all of your eggs in one basket, and that’s flirting with disaster.  So, the first question is:  Do you want to fight back or run away?

A weapon was my first thought.  You can only run in the movies for so long before whatever it is catches up to you.  Even previously drowned kids drowned and turned into lumbering psychopaths seem to have the speed of a cheetah when the cameras aren’t watching.  Eventually, you’re going to have to face that thing down.  Guns are right out.  Not only do you have to deal with the fact that ammo runs out at the worst possible time, many of the monsters you may face shrug them off.  If you’ve brought your Glock in the hopes of getting yourself out of the situation, you better hope that what you face is an ordinary human, zombies, or a werewolf (assuming you have access to silver).  Sharp things seem the next best choice, but swords and axes can too easily get stuck in whatever you hit, especially if they’re soft targets.  Bring that axe home in the killer’s shoulder, and suddenly you’ve given the guy a free axe.  If you go for a weapon, might I recommend the humble baseball bat?  It’s lightweight, strong, easily modifiable (Nails on the end for a sharp punch, sharpen the whole thing for a stake, burn a cross on the end for pesky devils), and it’s extremely plentiful, at least in the States.  A crowbar or wrench may have more utility outside of fighting for your life, but tools are heavy and awkward.  Additionally, you run the risk of damaging it caving in skulls, then you might as well have picked up a random chunk of metal in the beginning.  However, a weapon isn’t my final decision in this survival exercise.

Some sort of armor might be in order.  Running is less of an issue if whatever’s chasing you can’t hurt you.  A bulletproof vest wouldn’t be ideal, as you never see guns in a horror movie used effectively and Kevlar does nothing to stop knives and other sharp objects.  On the other hand, anything that’s going to stop sharp objects is rigid and bulky, and will only slow you down.  If Mike Myers has all the time in the world to suss out where you have a weak spot while you waddle, penguin-like away, you have failed at your task.  What you’d want would have to be homemade, rigid plastic plates to cover the obvious vitals (heart, neck, groin), with a helmet to match.  It wouldn’t stop everything, however.  The big bad could throw you from a height, or hit you with a blunt object.  Maybe he read my first paragraph and brought a nice solid bat.  This wasn’t my choice either, and as you can see, it really shouldn’t be anybody’s choice.  Not getting hit in the first place is the only effective defense for the threats we may face.

Surprisingly useful if dealing with monsters...
Surprisingly useful if dealing with monsters…

Attack and defense will not serve us in this situation, at least not the general attack and defense items we have discussed.  I would pick one of two other things to take with me in this excursion in the films I watch.  The first, and more obvious of the two, is knowledge.  More importantly, I would want a way of doing research, such as ready access to the internet.  Every monster has a weakness, be it some object, a person, or maybe a certain word.  Unfortunately, it can and will be different depending on the beast in question, and even the sequel in question.  You want a way to figure out what’s the winning play here.  Abraham van Helsing was not some square-jawed meathead who charged into confrontations with whatever he had on hand.  He was a scientist who studied the signs of his prey and the methods to stop them.  Armed with the means to find the path out of my situation, I can set out to escape.  If I can just have a handy book detailing all of the major players in horror, a genre Monster Manual if you will, all the better.

Barring that, I would want charisma.  Strange, but remember we are not in a horror scenario, we are in a horror movie.  I know I am not making it to the end, likely.  I am, after all, male and they don’t call them Final Girls for nothing.  However, I am playing out my life for the audience, and if they like me, the audience will compel the scriptwriter to keep me around.  With a little bit of leadership, or maybe just all around likeability, I could last quite a bit into the film.  Maybe I could be one of the rare few, the boyfriend who makes it to the end.  I’ll likely be taken out in a stinger mid-credits, but it’s as wonderful a life as any could ask for in this situation.  What do you think?

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Damaged Hearing: To Avoid Fainting

A sound collage from the DAMAGED Hearing 2006 Halloween Special, utilizing musical loops, movie clips, soundboards, sound effects, high frequencies and low pitches, backwards masking, and villainous unmasking. Constructed by Louis Fowler and recorded live on the air at KRFC Studios on October 31st, 2006.

Film Review: Some Kind of Hate

Lincoln Taggert (Ronen Rubinstein) is a teen who is tormented by his classmates and his father (Andrew Bryniarski). One day he lashes out against one of the bullies at school injuring him, so Lincoln is sent to a camp for troubled teens. Lincoln makes fast friends with a fellow outcast named Isaac (Spencer Breslin, yes Abigail’s older brother) and an attractive young lady named Kaitlin (Grace Phipps). That’s pretty much where the good times end for Lincoln as he is swiftly targeted by the camp’s bullies led by the preppy and arrogant Willie (Maestro Harrell). Enter Moira (Sierra McCormick), a vengeful ghost that Lincoln inadvertently summons when he wishes all of his tormentors dead. What follows is sort of like if Moaning Myrtle killed Draco Malfoy and his friends on behalf of Harry Potter and Co.

Ronan Rubinstein, Grace Phipps, and Spencer Breslin lead the cast.
Ronan Rubinstein, Grace Phipps, and Spencer Breslin lead the cast.

First-time director Adam Egypt Mortimer does a competent job presenting the screenplay that he wrote with co-writer Brian DeLeeuw. My blood boiled as I watched Lincoln pushed around by all of the assholes in his life and I wanted to them reap the whirlwind as much as the character probably did. Ronan Rubinstein really sells the tortured teen bit during the first act of the film. His performance succeeds in bringing the audience on as an ally. It’s when the stakes are raised and the supernatural elements are trotted out at the end of the second act that we see cracks in the facade. When gravitas is called for in some of the dialogue driven scenes, Rubinstein’s delivery plays comically understated. This could be a deliberate choice, but it doesn’t jive too well with the film’s otherwise heavy subject matter. That said, Rubinstein is a striking screen presence that reminded me a bit of a young John Travolta.

Sierra McCormick and Grace Phipps having a cutting session.
Sierra McCormick and Grace Phipps having a cutting session.

Grace Phipps as bad girl Kaitlin also delivers a good if somewhat uneven performance. I was reminded of Harrison Ford’s famous quote about George Lucas’ screenplay for the first Star Wars movie: “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it!” Some of the scenarios that Phipps is tasked with playing out are very challenging and hard to take seriously. It’s a rock and a hard place situation for the actors. When Lincoln and Kaitlin discover that a ghost is killing their classmates they seem nonplussed. A bigger reaction might have been better since the “big scream” moment has become somewhat of a horror movie cliche. The alternative that the filmmakers chose feels a little weird and underplayed.

Some Kind of Hate shines as a technical craftwork. The films palette is green, yellow, dark blue, and black shot in what looks like natural lighting. I’m becoming a fan of the work of cinematographer Benji Bakshi. His work on Some Kind of Hate and this year’s standout western picture Bone Tomahawk hint at Bakshi becoming a go to for classically styled camerawork. As an auditory viewer myself, I really appreciated the sound design of Some Kind of Hate. The camp’s setting feels immersive. The sounds of the terrain and the nighttime chirping of crickets eases the viewer into a sort of hypnotic state and opens the senses to what’s coming next. The setting feels as remote and as dangerous as Friday the 13th’s Camp Crystal Lake.

Some Kind of Hate is a fresh take on an often retreaded ghost story. The performances are good and the visual effects and technical work are solid. The film would have benefited from some dialogue workshopping and a little more “showing-not-telling” filmmaking. The cinematography is top shelf and cast are all very watchable. Simply put, its an above average ghost story.

***/*****


Some Kind of HateTITLE:  SOME KIND OF HATE

DVD AND BLU-RAY RELEASE DATE:  November 3, 2015

DIRECTOR:  Adam Egypt Mortimer

WRITER:  Adam Egypt Mortimer and Brian DeLeeuw

CAST: Ronen Rubinstein, Grace Phipps, Sierra McCormick, Spencer Breslin, Michael Polish

SYNOPSIS:  Relentless bullying has turned Lincoln’s life into a nightmare. But he soon learns the true meaning of terror when he is sent to a remote school for troubled teens and the harassment starts all over again. Only this time, someone is watching – a teenage girl named Moira who was driven to suicide by vicious bullying years ago. When Lincoln accidentally summons Moira from the grave, he unleashes a vengeful and unstoppable force on a mission of blood-soaked revenge. Hell on earth has a new meaning in this gruesome shocker “guaranteed to please any and every type of horror fan” (Fangoria)

GENRE:  Horror, Thriller, Troubled Youth, Teenagers, Teen Terror, Teen, Ghosts.

DISTRIBUTOR:  RLJ Entertainment


 


 

Film Review: Krampus

The holiday season is generally seen as the most magical time of the year, but not all of that magic is seen as good magic. In ancient European folklore, particularly German and Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore, the horned-devil known as “Krampus” is the darker magical counterpart to St. Nicholas. While St. Nick rewards the good children with gifts and treats, Krampus is said to punish naughty children and take them back to his underworld – and this holiday season, the Christmas villain took the the screen once again in the not exactly self-titled movie, Krampus.

 

In this movie telling, the premise varies slightly from the original folklore legend in that the creature comes to punish not only misbehaving children, but anyone who has lost the Christmas spirit – children and adults alike, no one is safe from the Krampus. Summoned initially by a child who has become disillusioned with Christmas, the demon of the movie also seemingly grants one wish for that child, albeit in a very twisted way.

krampusstillletter_large

Directed by Michael Dougherty of Trick ‘r Treat fame, the movie stars Adam Scott and Toni Collette as parents Tom and Sarah Engel, Emjay Anthony as Max Engel, and Krista Stadler as the German grandmother Omi Engel. When Max loses his Christmas spirit due to the particularly horrible behavior of his cousins and their visiting family, he unwittingly summons the spirit of Krampus. What ensues is part horror, comedy and redemption story reminiscent of A Christmas Carol – and at one point, Omi explains the “Krampus” legend and describes her own personal experience with the demon during her childhood.

kramp.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2

As the movie progresses, the initially disparate members of this dysfunctional extended family find they have to work together if they are to survive the onslaught of Krampus and his minions. They are still picked off one by one until only Max is left to face Krampus alone. He reiterates that he only wished that Christmas could be like it used to be before Krampus throws him into the fiery pit after his other family members.

 

The final scene in which everyone is somehow returned to the hearth on Christmas morning is open to much interpretation. The family seems to have learned to appreciate each other and rediscovered the Christmas spirit, but the darker presence of Krampus still looms over the scene via his apparently viewing it through one of his many snow globes. Not entirely a cut and dry story and up for much discussion, the two most prominent theories are that Krampus either uses the snow globe as some sort of crystal ball, and the family has been returned from the dead after redeeming themselves as per Max’s wish, or the family is truly dead and trapped in the snow globe for all eternity.

Krampus

Critic and audience reviews have been mixed, with most coming in as middle-of-the-road, calling the movie overdone in many ways and drawing parallels to movies such as Gremlins and A Christmas Carol. In many ways, critics have said the movie tries too hard to be funny, horrifying, and warm and fuzzy, all at the same time. Described as borrowing creature elements from such as Gremlins, Christmas spirit morals from A Christmas Carol, and dysfunctional family elements from the likes of Home Alone and A Christmas Vacation, this Krampus retelling is seen as trying too hard to roll several themes and genres into one movie, with limited success.

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This isn’t the first film adaptation of the German folklore, though. Recently, the story of Krampus has become more commercialized and mainstream, and this year alone can be seen in various film adaptations of the legend including Krampus: The Reckoning (streaming info) and A Christmas Horror Story (more info). All hold an entertainment value key to horror fans during the feel-good holiday season but in the end, Krampus,  although considered entertaining, is unfortunately just another one of the pack. However, with the recently renewed interest in the creature from the folklore, it may yet have a place in the variety of darker Christmas cult classics for years to come.

Did You Lock the Door? 7 Terrifying Home Invasion Movies

The Strangers

It’s the time of year when the weather gets colder, the leaves change color, and horror films bound across your cable channels each and every night leading up to the 31st. Horror films have us gripping the edge of our seats at the best of times, but never more so than during Halloween. In honor of this spooky holiday, we’re detouring into the particularly devious sub-genre of home invasion horror – films that play on our deepest fear of never feeling safe again even in our own houses.

Funny Games

Funny Games (2007)

Two young, seemingly wholesome, boy-next-door types turn out to be psychopathic killers playing sadistic games on vacationing families. These games are played according to a strict and preordained set of rules that end with the deaths of their victims before a predetermined deadline. This film adds an artistic and sometimes literary twist as it utilizes the “breaking of the fourth wall” effect since the killers acknowledge an outside audience (us) and even “rewind” the action when one of their victims is perceived to be acting outside the rules of the game.

Panic Room

Panic Room (2002)

A recently divorced mother, Meg Altman played by Jodie Foster, and diabetic daughter (Kristen Stewart) take refuge in a panic room built into their recently purchased Manhattan brownstone when three men break in to steal several million dollars’ worth of bonds. This story was inspired by the vast amount of news on panic rooms at the time and was praised for its portrayal of feminism and diabetes. In retrospect, Meg probably could have taken advantage of their high tech security system as the thieves broke into their house with incredible ease.

You're Next

You’re Next (2011)

You may never be comfortable attending a family reunion again after seeing this gem. A father, mother, adult children and their significant others all gather at a vacation home for the reunion, but find themselves being picked off one by one by attackers in animal face masks. While one of the guests, Erin, reveals serious survival skills, she somehow fails to utilize them to ensure the house’s security before the mayhem starts and only locks all doors and windows after the intruders have already infiltrated the place.

 

The Strangers

The Strangers (2008)

This is likely the most chilling of the movies on this list due to its claim of being based on a true story. A couple return from a wedding to a remote vacation house in the middle of the night, only to be terrorized by three strangers in various masks throughout the remainder of the night. Again, much of their troubles could’ve been avoided with a little common sense and security, like locking the doors and windows and making sure cell phones are charged before they’re needed. Of course, if the victims did all of that, we wouldn’t have this movie to enjoy.

Inside

Inside (2007)

A newly widowed and very pregnant woman is stalked and attacked by a deranged psychopath intent on taking the unborn baby for her own. Once again, although the attacker is first seen outside of the house, the soon-to-be mother apparently fails to lock her door before retiring for the night. Not only that, but now finding herself completely alone and about to give birth to a newborn, you’d think she would’ve considered taking extra precautions to help protect her from home intruders – particularly since the police in this film are portrayed as particularly inept as well.

The Purge

The Purge (2013)

This is the only film on this list with a futuristic plot, telling of an America riddled with crime and unemployment. The government’s answer to this situation is to have an annual 12-hour period known as “The Purge,” during which all crime becomes legal. The film is as much psychological thriller as horror, with characters questioning their morality and humanity in a world temporarily devoid of consequences for crimes. It has spawned two sequels, with the third coming this summer.

When a Stranger Calls

When A Stranger Calls (1979)

This classic urban-legend based story tells of a babysitter, Jill Johnson, being terrorized over the phone by a killer who is already inside the house and has murdered the children. Although it seems this was an isolated incident, we come back to Jill seven years later as she is once again receiving threatening phone calls from the same unknown stranger. Though with the caller ID we have today, it seems as though this premise would most likely be impossible.

In the event you seek something more than simple hack and slash classics, take your fear factor to the next level with these home-invasion horror films. Just make sure you’ve locked all the doors and drawn all the drapes first.

Film Review: A Christmas Horror Story

A Christmas Horror Story
ROB ARCHER (Kick-Ass 2, Bulletproof Monk) as “Krampus”
WILLIAM SHATNER as "DJ Dan"
WILLIAM SHATNER as “DJ Dan”

A young family deals with their son’s sudden strange behavior after a visit to a secluded Christmas tree field. Students film a documentary in an abandoned building where unsolved murders occurred. A prodigal nephew goes to a country manor to beg money from a wealthy aunt, only to put his entire family in danger of being slaughtered by Krampus. All this plays out, while Santa deals with a zombie elf outbreak in the toy shop. Interwoven throughout the action are scenes of William Shatner doing his Shatner thing in all of its hypnotic glory.

Fans of the Ginger Snaps films will be happy to return to the little town of Bailey Downs in the new anthology feature A Christmas Horror Story. The film opens on a computer generated North Pole (one of Christmas’ few weaknesses is this cheap looking fractal landscape and architectural animation). A wounded, battle-ready Santa Claus stands in the reindeer stable, chest heaving, a bleeding claw wound on his face. The structure is under siege from an unseen force banging at the doors. Bright white light shines through the widening gap in the doors as whatever waits outside tries to get in. The film cuts to 12 hours earlier and DJ Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) is broadcasting from a lonely radio station on Christmas Eve. It’s just Dan and his Scrooge-esque producer, Norman. Visibly disgusted by Dan’s Christmas cheer, Norman storms out of the station, DJ Dan tells listeners that Norman is on his way to the Bailey Downs Mall for a radio remote broadcast.

Adrian Holmes and Oluniké Adeliyi
Adrian Holmes and Oluniké Adeliyi

The film is cleverly constructed. The Dangerous Dan scenes seem, at first, to serve as a classic horror anthology wraparound. However, in A Christmas Horror Story, it dawns on the viewer that characters crossover into each others’ storylines. Other than the gonzo segments featuring Santa’s bloody battle with undead elves at the North Pole, the tone is consistently spooky and dark throughout. The four concurrent and interconnected stories somehow lead to Santa’s predicament in the stable from the film’s opening. The Santa segment feels like a square peg in a round hole until it is brilliantly linked to the overall story at the film’s climax.

A Christmas Horror Story is a cut above most good horror movies of late. The CG North Pole that opens the film is quickly forgiven because the storyteller’s resources were devoted to loftier ends. Care was taken to serve the style, tone and story and to bring out the best in the cast. Oluniké Adeliyi gives the standout performance as the tormented mother of a little boy who acts strangely after disappearing at a family outing. Adeliyi is one of the most riveting and watchable actors that I’ve seen in a genre film in years. The entire cast treats the material with a reverence that is missing from most contemporary horror films. Their focus elevates A Christmas Horror Story, and guarantees that viewings will be an annual tradition by many horror fans. After all, Christmas and horror stories go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

 

FINAL RATING: ****/*****


A Christmas Horror Story

 

TITLE:  A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY

THEATRICAL, VOD AND iTUNES RELEASE DATE: October 2, 2015

DIRECTOR:  Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan

WRITERS: James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier

CAST:  William Shatner, George Buza, Rob Archer

SYNOPSIS:  Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, peace and goodwill. But for some folks in the small town of Bailey Downs, it turns into something much less festive.  When Krampus – the anti-Santa who punishes the naughty children – is summoned by a young boy, everyone’s fight for survival begins.

GENRE:  Horror

DISTRIBUTOR:  RLJ Entertainment