Category Archives: horrorfest
I’m Terry Willitts, and welcome to the third and final of my guest-blogging posts for Glenn Walker’s WELCOME TO HELL.
In parts one and two I’ve reviewed six of the eight movies of the AfterDark HorrorFest IV, starting at what I felt were the weakest and moving upwards. Today we will be discussing The Final and Lake Mungo.
THE FINAL is a phenomenal concept and though it falls a bit short of its potential, it still delivers an excellent story. Written by Jason Kobolati and directed by Joey Stewart, it is a revenge tale about a group of high school outcasts who decide to get even with all the popular kids, so they invite everyone cool/popular in school out to a secluded cabin for a big keg and boozer. Once there, they enact their revenge in a twisted and complex series of tests and tribulations.
There’s a fine line between a creative revenge fantasy and angry geek wank and this almost, but not quite, stumbles across that line – instead it creatively straddles it, jumping in to the latter for a few moments at a time, but stepping back into the former in time to salvage the plot and the enjoyment of the story.
I’m not sure the social commentary here will be taken as anything more than the backstory to the movie.. and that’s okay. (Unlike Zombies of Mass Destruction, it does not detract from the story… mainly because it wasn’t so ham-fisted and obvious in its delivery.)
I really enjoyed this movie, and give it an 8 out of 10. I was prepared to call this the best one of the year, until I watched the one movie I was not looking forward to viewing at all.
LAKE MUNGO surprised me. It’s the best movie of this batch of movies. Lake Mungo is an Australian psychological horror film written directed by filmmaker Joel Anderson, only his second movie. It’s presented in the form of a documentary, which in and of itself does not exactly lend to traditional horror storytelling. (Because of this, comparisons to The Blair Witch Project will be made – I find that this movie is vastly superior, as it does not attempt to go overboard with the scary.)
This is a subdued horror story. There aren’t many moments of shock, but rather an ongoing, underlying sense of creepiness. This movie gave me chills on multiple occasions and there’s not many movies that I can say that about.
It’s the tale of a family, dealing with the death of sixteen year old Alice. As the story progresses, we see that there was a lot more to Alice than anyone knew, and this movie somehow manages to masterfully jump from being fictional documentary to suspense to mystery and, of course, a touch of horror all throughout.
It’s wonderfully done, though I’m sure it won’t appeal to everyone – it’s not a fast-paced, action-packed slam-fest, but it IS an inordinately creepy and well-crafted tale. And you must, you MUST sit through the beginning of the final credits for the true twist.
As mentioned before, I did not want to see this movie. I was not looking forward to it, the only reason I watched it was because I had decided that I would watch all eight. And I learned a lesson. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” still applies.
This movie gets a rare 10 out of 10 for me. I understand that the makers of The Ring are going to be remaking this for American audiences. Normally, I’m open to remakes, I like seeing a different take on a story… I don’t see how this will be worth the remake, but again, I’m not going to judge it until it comes out. However, this Australian movie is perfect as it is.
Thanks to Glenn for letting me play in his sandbox, thank you for reading my reviews. You can follow me on Twitter, read my occasional blogging at This Is Really The Best Blog Ever, or visit my creative writing website, 770 Days.
Now, hopefully, you’ve already read part one, where I introduced my experience with the HorrorFest movies and started on the three weakest movies (of which, I only felt one, Zombies of Mass Destruction was not very good. Kill Theory meandered in mediocrity and The Graves was decent, but could have been better.)
Before I delve into the three movies for this post, I wanted to touch base on what I look for in a horror movie. Okay, most of you are probably going to say, “It scares you, right?”
Wrong. I don’t scare easily… in fact, I don’t scare hardly at all. And this isn’t internet braggadocio, this is just me. Granted, I’ll jump if startled, but that’s surprise, not fear. True fear… it’s hard for a movie to capture that for me. So what I look for in a horror movie is suspense, is keeping my interest, is drawing me in and making me forget/overlook the flaws of the movie… and if at all possible, give me the creeps. And, most importantly, entertain me.
That being said, let us move on to DREAD. Dread is based on the short story (of the same title) by Clive Barker (who, in fact, is listed as producer, so it’s entirely likely he gave his approval for the changes from the story.)
I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s not so much a horror movie, until the end; leading up to that, it’s a psychological-suspense-drama. And it’s a good one, no doubt about that. The acting is decent, the story is tense, several of the characters are (mostly) likeable.
In short, several students get together to work on a project, cataloging people’s fear, their dread, what scares them, what gnaws at their sense of security. From there, things get worse as the personal issues of Quaid (quite excellently portrayed by Shaun Evans, who’s done mostly British telly – including PC Kevin Hales in the second series of Ashes to Ashes) become a danger to everyone around him.
No spoilers, but the ending is pretty uncomfortable (but that’s a good thing in this type of story.) I felt the script could have been polished up a bit, maybe with a different director (Anthony DiBlasi wrote and directed this, and I wonder if that can be a detriment more than not. Not everyone can do it as well as Christopher Nolan and others.)
I give this a six out of ten – it’s well done, but has a sense that it should be been something a bit more. I feel that they were aiming for something special, something magical with this.. and it’s not.
The second of this post is THE REEDS. Highly touted as the cream of the crop of the recent Brit-horrors, The Reeds is directed by Nick Cohen, written by Chris Baker. Don’t worry if you don’t know their names, neither is (as of yet) prolific, though both seem to have experience in British telly as well as movies.
Again, we have a trope of horror movies – a group of (young) adults go out for a party weekend in a secluded area. This time, a boat trip out in the middle of nowhere of England. From the time they arrive at their destination, things go wrong – their original boat was made a mess and the proprietor won’t rent it to them, but they end up getting another boat from him, and after dealing with some punk kids, are on their way.
There’s a sense of unease, and when things start turning for the worse, panic quickly sets in. The story behind it all is rather interesting, especially once you start to figure out what really is happening.
The characters make a lot of the same stupid decisions that will grate on your nerves, but the acting is decent, the story isn’t bad… and the mystery, I really got into it.
My biggest problem was the ‘twist’ at the end. It seemed almost unimportant, unnecessary and made no sense whatsoever to me. I know I spoke before about how a good ending can save a movie, and I love a good twist as much as anyone, but this just seemed to have a twist just to have a twist, and that’s a shame, because for me, it actually degraded my whole enjoyment of the movie, and that’s why, where others are giving this high marks, I can only give it a six out of ten – had they done the ending differently, I would happily have given it a seven. Go watch it and let me know what you think.
Third, and final for the post, is SKJULT (HIDDEN), Norwegian psychological horror movie, written and directed by Pål Øie, which stars Kristoffer Joner, Karin Park and Bjarte Hjelmeland. It is the story of Kai Koss, a man who returns to his home after the death of his (cruel and twisted) mother, to take care of things. We learn that upon his escape, Kai inadvertently caused for another boy to lose his parents, and much of the drama of Kai’s return deals with that… as the movie goes along, we learn exactly what happened.
It’s a complex, almost convoluted story, one you have to stay focused upon. (Also, it is subtitled, which for some people is a turn off.) There are nuances which I suspect are cultural – as an American, I’m used to everything being explained in my entertainment. So many things are left open, and you have be able to just accept what isn’t and move on.
The cinematography is, as is common with Norwegian and Swedish movies, excellent. There is a strong sense of color, framing and contrast that you don’t see in every American film. If you’ve never seen one, I strongly recommend checking out some of the more recent films. (Another film, not exactly horror, but definitely graphic and suspenseful is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Granted, there’s an American remake in the works, but the original is astounding.)
Back to Skjult, this movie is a very good, creepy tale. I can’t go into too much detail, as there is a mystery to the story and I don’t want to spoil it at all. It suffers slightly from cultural differences, so I can only give it 8 out of 10.
That’s it for today’s post – one more to go, with the cream of the crop – The Final and Lake Mungo.
Hi, my name is Terry Willitts and I’m honored to be guest-blogging at WELCOME TO HELL, Glenn Walker’s pop culture blog. Glenn invited me to weigh in on the most recent AfterDark Horrorfest, the fourth iteration, as I’d just watched all eight movies over the past month. Not being one to turn away a chance to give my opinion, I was more than happy to accept.
I’m a huge fan of horror movies, and while my personal preference tends to either zombie flicks or psychological horror, I do appreciate a good slasher flick, weird monster movie, and even gripping personal suspense. I’ve seen quite a few of the previous AfterDark movies, though this is the first time I’ve gotten my hands on the entire run of a festival and watched them all in a short period of time.
Without further ado, let me start with what I feel are the weakest three of the series. (Yes, this the first of three posts, and I think it best to start at the bottom and work our way up.)
First off, we have ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION. Now, if you’re like me (reference that bit above about my personal preferences in horror movies if you must), you just had a nerdgastic moment with that title alone. You know you did.
The sad thing is, the title really has nothing to do with the movie, outside of there being zombies. That title is made of unadulterated win and they should write an entirely different movie, maybe a military experiment gone wrong, etc, etc, etc, and use that title. Instead, we get a sleepy New England island that is suddenly, and inexplicably, invaded by zombies.
This movie, directed by Kevin Harnedani (who co-wrote the movie with Ramon Isao), is billed as a comedy-horror, and rightfully so – it takes a very tongue-in-cheek approach to zombies. And that’s fine.. however, it suffers from a couple major problems.
First off, the characters, are pretty much two-dimensional caricatures of society. It’s almost as if they decided that what this comedy-horror movie needed was some social commentary. Now, I’m not the sort to say that my entertainment can’t have any depth… far from it, though I’m not sure that anyone going to a tongue-in-cheek zombie movie is going to want a serving of Deep Thought with it. (I don’t think I would, really.)
The only characters that I find remotely interesting AND funny were the gay couple, Tom Hunt (Doug Fahl) and Lance Murphy (Cooper Hopkins) – and while they went with a lot of the easy jokes with them, I didn’t find them to be insulting, but actually cute, clever and they were the only ones I found myself rooting for.
The other problem for me with this movie – pink blood. There’s at least one scene where copious amounts of blood, tinged pink, is involved. I cannot remotely take a movie seriously if the blood is tinged pink. At the sight of pink blood, my suspension of disbelief is just thrown out the window. (Let me clarify something – I’m a big fan of small-budget movies. BIG fan. I’m willing to accept/forgive a lot of things, but pink blood is not one of them.)
Unless you’re intent on watching all eight movies, I strongly advise staying away from this one. There are plenty of other zombie movies out there that are much better. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 3, and mostly for the gay couple.
Fortunately, that was the only true “dog” out of the eight movies. From there, we’re going upwards and onwards.
Next, KILL THEORY starts off with an inmate being released from a psychiatric facility. From the discussion with the administering psych, you can tell that he’s not one hundred percent… which, of course, begs the question why is he being released? (Though, it’d be a short movie… or at least a different movie, if he hadn’t been let go.)
We then jump to a trope of horror movies – a group of students getting together for a last weekend together in a secluded house on the lake. And, after meeting all the characters (most of them are stereotypical ones, too), the killings begin. This is a directorial debut for Chris Moore, though he’s produced quite a few movies (notably the first three American Pie films and the Project Greenlight show.)
I had a huge problem with this movie – focusing the camera tightly on a person and having them scream so loud it hurts your ears while you’re watching the movie does not equate horror for me. It equates aggravation. This movie was borderline obnoxious with the fat guy (one of the stereotypical characters in this movie) just screaming at everyone, at the camera.
However, despite all of that, there is a tension to this movie that cannot be denied. The plot, though nothing original, has a couple little twists that are interesting enough to keep you hooked. And the twist at the end really made up for a lot of flaws. (I’m the sort of person who can find a movie to be kinda disappointing-ish and then have a good ending save the movie. For me, this is what happened.)
This is straight slasher-gore with a good deal of tension-suspense. Nothing extraordinary, but a decent flick in general, once look past the flaws. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 5.
THE GRAVES is the story of two sisters who, on their last weekend together before the eldest sister goes to New York, go on a random drive into the desert and end up at the Skull City Mine roadside attraction. There, they find themselves struggling to survive against a threat both physical and supernatural.
The movie is written and directed by Brian Pulido, a comic book creator known for Lady Death and Evil Ernie. I guess this explains why the main characters are shown to be comic book geeks, though it serves absolutely no other purpose. (Well, perhaps to appeal to the geeky fan boys – the idea of two hot and sexy comic geeks is a good one – and the girls ARE very attractive.)
My biggest problem with this one is that it seemed to want to cram too much into too short a movie. (Ironic, considering that most super-hero movies do just that, and Pulido is known for being a comic creator.) I mean, this could have likely done well enough with the crazy blacksmith in the mine killing people, and perhaps a touch of the supernatural just to explain things and give it that extra edge. Instead, we also have a cult of delusional worshipers (led by a priest, played by Tony Todd – Candyman to most of you, but he’ll always be Sgt Warren to me) that just kinda… I feel that the plot meanders a bit too much, to its detriment.
In short, it’s a good movie. Not great, but certainly much better than ZoMD. Don’t go out of your way to watch it, but if you can get it for free through a free rental code for Redbox or Blockbuster Express, give it a shot. You might be more forgiving than I. On a scale of 1-10, it barely makes it past 5 to a 6.
And that’s it for part one; in the next installment, we’ll touch upon the middle 3 for me – The Reeds, Dread and Skjult (Hidden).
Penny Dreadful ~ Okay, I had another one of those nights completely without sleep. And, rather than do something constructive like do some writing, editing, reading or maybe taking a walk just for the health of it – I turned to my old friend, Comcast OnDemand. One of the newer services, or channels (for lack of a better word), is Fearnet. This is where I found Penny Dreadful. This was a surprise, a very small and simple film that gets right to the point and right to the very real horror. Excellent performances by Rachel Miner and Mimi Rogers, this is a must see for horror fanatics. I would advise however you see it on DVD rather than on Fearnet. Halfway through the flick OnDemand, Miss Horrorfest interviewed writer/director Richard Brandes, and while it was a good interview and Miss Horrorfest is so easy on the eyes, they give away the film, making the second half not such a surprise. I was very disappointed by the way this was presented.
The Host ~ Also known as Gwoemul, this 2006 Korean horror was the talk of the genre a year or so ago. I have to admit it gets to the action almost immediately and the giant (well, semi-giant) monster stuff is merciless and frenetic. The first ten to fifteen minutes of The Host are relentless and unlike anything I’ve seen before. Props to director Joon-ho Bong for dazzling us with something new. It’s a pity that it soon becomes standard fair after that, a little bit Mimic and a little bit Virus. I also think it suffers from what appears to be faulty translation from Korean to English. The best part of the DVD is when director Bong apologies to the citizens of Seoul for tying up traffic while filming. See the first fifteen minutes if you’re a kaiju fan – it will open your eyes.
The Last Broadcast ~ A lot of folks dismissed this as a rip-off of The Blair Witch Project when it came out but the reality is this came first. As one of the first digital films it’s innovative and original. It also gets points for talking about the Jersey Devil without getting silly. My only question is – who’s holding the camera in the last sequence?