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The Survivor (1981)
Decent 80s Aussie horror/mystery
This interesting supernatural horror from The Lucky Country begins with an airplane explosion that kills all passengers aboard. The pilot of the plane (Robert Powell, dull and deadpan) is the lone survivor, and he suspiciously escapes without injury. As he wrestles with his guilty conscience and the mysterious tragedy, he finds himself haunted by a creepy little girl and the screams and cries of those who died in his plane. He meets the kooky psychic Hobbs (Jenny Agutter of "An American Werewolf in London" fame), and together they try to figure out what the hell happened. Directed by horror icon David Hemmings, "The Survivor" feels like an episode of "The Twilight Zone." Today's audiences would find it easy to guess where the story is headed (and if not, ginormous spoilers on the back of the DVD case will certainly point the way), but I can see how this movie may have been a doozy in the early 80s. It's based on a James Herbert novel, but it sort of feels like a loose remake of a low-budget 60s horror gem that shall go unnamed here. The good news is that the film is very atmospheric and eerie, and the sound editing adds an especially chilling touch. I think it's an effective horror film overall, but it is not without its flaws. The problem with the movie is that it touches upon several genre elements (ghost story, slasher) without actually exploring any to a satisfactory degree. There are also a couple death sequences that don't make sense within the context of the film. Most unfortunate is that the opening sequence is more amusing than horrifying, and I assume this is due to budget constraints. The pilot avoids crashing the plane into town after it explodes, but the focus of this terrible incident is a woman on the street nearby, clinging desperately to a blowing tree, screaming and flailing about. It doesn't help that whenever the pilot has a flashback to the plane crash, we're taken back to this funny scene. All in all, "The Survivor" is a decent movie, though a bit of a mess. Still, it's one of the better 80s Aussie horrors that I've seen.
These shrooms are laced...
I cannot remember the last time a horror movie irritated me to this degree...SHROOMS is about a group of American friends (who actually don't appear to like each other much) who go to Ireland for vacation. They're obviously spoiled brats because the only thing on their mind when they're in freakin' IRELAND is getting their hands on some magic mushrooms ASAP. They meet up with some Irish friend (who is obviously British faking a bad Irish accent) that the lead girl (played by the creepy little girl from JC's VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED--the rest of her face has now caught up with her forehead, thank goodness) is creaming over. They immediately go camping in the woods and searching for shrooms. VotD girl gnaws on a mushroom that the Irish-but-British guy specifically said not to eat because it's poisonous. Soon she starts flipping out and having flash-forwards about her friends dying. It's up to her to save her friends from the ominous backwoodsmen, the creepy black-hooded ghost that pops up between people legs and/or above their heads, and the obvious overused plot twists in the script.
It seems like every line of dialogue spoken by the obnoxious 20-somethings in this movie features the word "shrooms." And you thought JUNOisms were annoying! If you took a sip of your Irish coffee every time someone in this movie said "shrooms," you'd be dead before the first jump scare.
The only good thing about SHROOMS is the movie poster, which features a skull shaped out of SHROOMS in the moonlight. Cool!
Smiley Face (2007)
Kudos to Araki and Faris
Can it be? Another awesome Gregg Araki movie? Boyfriend's on a roll! Anna Faris plays the lead (and only she could play a part like this and make it hysterically funny), who gets stoned early in the day and then eats a plateful of her roomie's cupcakes without knowing they're chockfull o' pot. The film consists of her misadventures trying to get through a mundane day--getting more pot, replacing the cupcakes, paying her electric bill, going to an audition--while completely stoned out of her mind. It's funnier than "Harold and Kumar," without all the juvenile "boy humor" those movies coast by on. It features a great comedic supporting cast, too.
Unpleasant viewing, exceptional performances.
This is a very strange and unconventional horror/thriller with fantastic performances by Vera Farmiga and Jacob Kogan. Usually kid actors in horror films bug me (I'm lookin' at you, new OMEN kid!), but this little dude totally creeped me out in a Martin Stephens kind of way. It's an excellent performance and one of the best things this offbeat movie has going for it. This movie's plot sounds like typical "Bad Seed" ground, but it twists and turns into really bizarre territory, disorienting the viewer to the point where you have no idea where it's going or where it's been. I'm still not sure if I even liked it, but it did make me feel incredibly uneasy, and I guess that's worth something.
Don't Hang Up (1974)
Strange, quirky, and colorful low-budget horror film
A young woman reluctantly returns to her home town to oversee her dying grandmother's final days. While staying in the house where she witnessed her mumsy's murder thirteen years earlier, she finds more than a few secrets from her past have come back to haunt her. I appreciate that this movie has such strange execution. It's structure is very different from the typical low-budget horrors of this era, completely eschewing things like mystery (the killer's identity is obvious from the get-go) and resolution. Plot-wise, it borrows from proto-slashers BLACK Christmas and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. While it's lesser than both of those films in terms of quality, I did find it undeniably charming, entertaining, and even creepy at times. While the acting in the movie is generally amateur, Susan Bracken is a hoot as the spunky lead who gets to spout some amusing dialogue. She quickly flips the switch from headstrong heroine to full-on basket case and there's not a moment she's on screen where my eyes weren't on her face. It's one of the most memorable horror performances I've watched lately. The movie's biggest downfall is the irritating soap opera-ish theme song in the opening credits that pops up way too often throughout the movie. The freaky dolls in the opening sequence (who also pop up at other points in the movie) sort of make up for it. DON'T OPEN THE DOOR doesn't make much sense and it isn't going to be for everyone, but I found it to be a bizarre and unique viewing experience.
Dinosaur Valley Girls (1996)
Open the door, get on the floor...
This is an unforgivably awful movie about a dude who transports back to an era where stop-motion dinosaurs attack "cavewomen" that somehow possess ginormous breast implants. Karen Black plays some sort of Cave Mom to the clan of cavewomen. She has a small handful of scenes that she cowers and grunts through, and they aren't really related to the rest of the film. When the cavewomen are off seducing the heroes, battling dinosaurs, or engaging in unnecessary dance sequences that look straight from the "Walk the Dinosaur" video by Was (Not Was), the scene will randomly switch to Black, writhing up against a wall, eating meat on a stick. It's embarrassing and she deserved much better than to be stuck in cameos like this in the 90s. She does look great for her age here (which, depending on your source, is anywhere between 48 and 57) and she does get to try her hand at physical comedy in her three scenes. So, if you're a die-hard Black fan, than it may be worth watching just for her quick funny bit, but otherwise, it's an intolerable mess to sit through.
The Lost Room (2006)
"The Lost Room is a fantastic miniseries! So-good-I-refuse-to-believe-Sci-Fi-Channel-Produced-It! The show is really well-written and engrossing. The story, involving a key that opens any door into a mysterious hotel room, is innovative and eerie. The lead character accidentally loses one of the Fanning girls in the room (oops!) and goes on a quest to figure out how to get her back. He discovers this weird underbelly of socialites and freaks obsessed over magical objects that once belonged in "the lost room." Way weird but fun stuff here. Unfortunately, it seems the writers were a little too smart for their own good, because it really loses steam by the last couple episodes. Still, it's great and I think most genre fans would appreciate it.
In my quest to see every thing Parker Posey has ever done, I put this miniseries (and it's successors) on the back-burner. I finally got around to it and was very impressed! What a fascinating and engrossing show. It has this magical atmosphere that really made me wish I was living in SF in the 70s. Parker is only in it a bit, but she's got some great dialogue. Olympia Dukakis is lovely and Laura Linney (who I find somewhat overrated these days) shines in the lead as a naïve Midwestern girl moving to the big city for the first time. It's probably the best work I've seen from her. My only complaint about this (and I suppose the fault lies with the source material) is that so many of the story lines take such an abruptly dark and twisted turn in the final episode. Even though I typically go for dark themes in my entertainment, it seems to come out of left field here. Still, it's great overall, and even features a cameo from the notorious Karen Black, playing herself as a candy bar craving fat farm attendant!
Good, if you can overlook the juvenile aspects
First off, I can't believe I was charged $3.25 for 3D glasses when I could have just brought my own. Ugh! Anyways, I enjoyed "Beowulf" much more than I thought I would. It has a slew of flaws, but it's still good entertainment. Some of the animation bugged me because instead of thinking "this is Grendel's crazy monster mom," I kept thinking "Oh look, it's a cartoon big lipped Angelina Jolie!" Also, it seems like the filmmakers wanted to go for an adult demographic with this animated adaptation of the epic poem, but it misses the mark by being chockful of juvenile humor and moments. Despite these distractions, it's still a good ride.
The Mist (2007)
Gut-wrenching horror--one of the best of recent years.
BING-O! After sitting through some mediocre Stephen King adaptations this month, I wasn't expecting much from this. Well, holey dooley! "The Mist" is easily my favorite movie of the year, and maybe my favorite horror of the 00's. I cannot remember the last time I left a movie theater feeling so depressed, emotionally exhausted, and just plain drained (127 minutes long!) because I was so invested in the movie I was watching--and a horror movie to boot! "The Mist" is R-rated horror for grown-ups: no shaky came here, no annoying teen TV stars, no bad dialogue, and no obnoxious music. At the half hour point, I was turned off by some Sci-Fi channel caliber CGI and I wasn't sure I was going to like where the movie was headed. But it was only uphill from there. I wish that scene was shot differently, but the FX throughout the rest of the movie were impressive and really it's just a perfect horror apart from that. Thomas Jane is flippin' awesome as always, but Marcia Gay Harden is the real star here. She takes a role that anyone else would turn into an irritating caricature and she NAILS it. It's really one of the most brilliant genre performances I've seen in a long time. Too bad "The Mist" appears to be a bomb at the box office. It could have set a precedent for well-written and mature scary movies filling our multiplexes. Oh well. It'll be a cult classic in a few years time.