Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lake Mungo (2008) Secrets, Sadness, and Scares

When it comes to horror movies, I've been around the block a few times. Seen some wild movies in my many years on this zombie-infested Earth. As I got older, I got wiser to the ways of filmmaking so that the old trope "it's just a movie" became ingrained.

But Lake Mungo made me turn the lights on.

The last movie to do that may have been my first-ever viewing of The Exorcist back in '88, and I was a semi-mature adult then. I'm still a semi-mature adult now, and I'm telling you, Lake Mungo gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I'm going to break tradition here and change up the recap a little. You know I like to run down the movie, even throw in some spoilers just to whet your appetite, but I want to take a different approach to this one. There's something special about Lake Mungo.

This Australian offering, written and directed by Joel Anderson, is filmed documentary style and has all the trappings of a serious documentary about a young girl's death: news reports, emergency call recordings, interviews with friends and family, and barely-there ambient music. This movie not only looks like a documentary, it feels like one.

Right away, we learn that 16-year-old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) has gone missing and presumed dead while swimming with her family. They hold out hope that she's still alive somehow, but those hopes are dashed when her body is discovered downriver. The Palmer family - father Russell (David Pledger), mother June (Rosie Traynor), and brother Mathew (Martin Sharpe) - must now deal with the death of their sweet Alice. By all accounts, she was bright, popular, and sweet, and it's true, the poor girl did not deserve this death.

A few days after her funeral, strange things begin happening, according to Russell. Unexplained sounds, realistic dreams, and doors closing on their own are some of those strange things. The family's dealing with stress of their own, as June relates she's not sleeping and entering other people's houses to "be inside someone else's life for a while."

Mathew is an amateur photographer, and captures an image of what he is sure is Alice in the backyard. Another man surveying the river levels captures what appears to be Alice in a photograph. Later, when Mathew sets up a video camera, he captures an image of someone coming out of Alice's room. Cue those sets of chills. June becomes convinced Alice is a ghost in their home and contacts a psychic, Ray Kemeny (Steve Jodrell). She brings him to the rest of the family in order to hold a seance, which Mathew videotapes. Sure enough, another image appears and yeah, the chills come right back.

When a couple out videotaping at the same river captures an image of someone there, the film takes an interesting turn. Things turn out to be not quite as they seemed, and it goes much deeper than that. But wait, the movie's not entirely halfway over yet. Surely, there's more to come.

Oh, yes. Much more. So much more is to be revealed about Alice. When the movie takes the aforementioned turn, we know very little about the young woman, other than that she was a vibrant, sweetheart of a girl whom everyone loved. Yes, there is so much more to be learned about Alice, and it is sad and it is heartbreaking.

"Alice kept secrets. She kept the fact she kept secrets a secret."

Not only do Alice's heartbreaking secrets come to light, it turns out she'd been following a path for a period of time leading up to her death. As her family uncovers clues, they're led to Lake Mungo, a prehistoric lake turned sand dune, where Alice had recently gone with her class for an overnight outing. What is revealed on cell phone footage is not only telling, but downright chilling. And I mean right to the bone. You might find your breath hitching, as if you're trying to wake up from your own sudden nightmare. It will hit you. Trust me on this.

Lake Mungo leaves you with a sense of immense sadness after the creepiness of the climactic scene fades (or does it really fade?). It's the story of a family reeling from grief, then punched in the gut by the secrets that Alice harbored. They strengthen their own bonds over this series of devastating emotions, but Alice is still dead. By the end of the movie, you feel the sadness of her life as well as her death. You might even want very much for her to have lived somehow so she could have grown past what we discover about her.

With a faux documentary, one of the traps is the actors are just that: actors. There is a difference between those trained to be in front of a camera and those that might be hurriedly coached. Recently, I caught a bit of The Fourth Kind. The "real" footage in that movie looks pretty good. In fact, it looks too good. It's framed too well and the nuances of the performances are too obvious. You can tell it's acted. In Lake Mungo, don't be surprised if you want to check around to see if this really is a documentary about the Palmer family. The acting is so natural, and they seem like real people you may actually know.

I was warned by my fellow blogger The Jaded Viewer that I might turn the lights on during this movie. I thought, "sure, that'll happen." It did. And I'm not ashamed to admit it, either. This movie was creepy for all the right reasons. It gets under your skin and into your head. You won't forget it. For now, enjoy the trailer:

OK, dear survivors, it's time to get the chopper up in the air. Remember, get some earplugs if the moans of the undead start making you feel a little batty.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Thaw (2009) Global Warming Might Suck

I can recall a time when global warming was the scary scenario du jour and no matter which side you stood on the debate, it was a rich topic. Of course, when the zombies rose, it kind of got shuffled to the back of our collective brains. Those brains that weren't being dined on, that is. In movies, we were treated to the grand spectacle - with a sizable grain of salt - to the effects of global warming in The Day After Tomorrow. The spectacle in The Thaw, written by Mark A. Lewis and Michael Lewis, and directed by the former Lewis, is less grandiose but still a little chilling to think about.

So after we see some video footage of a bug peeking cutely out of a wound on a woman's forehead, there's a montage of warnings about the end of the world, mostly through global warming. There's even a nice cameo by William B. Davis aka The Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files. Once we settle in, we meet Dr. David Kruipen (Val Kilmer) and his crew trying to tag a polar bear. They do and they get a bonus...well, sort of. Turns out the bear was gnawing on the carcass of a perfectly-preserved wooly mammoth buried in the glacial flow.

"Did you know I was in Real Genius?"

Back in the lower forty-eight, a group of students is gathered to join Dr. Kruipen. In the meantime, Kruipen calls his estranged daughter, Evelyn (my good friend Andre, wait, Martha MacIsaacs) to join him as well. She's still pissed at him over her mother's passing, but eventually gives in.

Things get weird when Kruiper and his colleagues have to put down their dog and talk about "being ready." One of the scientists, Jane, seems a little under the weather, too. Something ain't right.

Whoa, that's a lot of bugs.

Evelyn joins students Federico (Kyle Schmid), Ling (Steph Song), and Iceman...I mean, Atom (Aaron Ashmore) along with non-WGON helicopter pilot, Bart (Viv Leacock) to journey to Kruipen's camp. Bart indicates that Evelyn is not to come along, citing a sudden change of plans directly from Kruipen himself, but she is insistent.

The camp's deserted, except for the previously-mentioned polar bear, now dead and rotting in a lab. While posing for a picture with it, Bart is bitten by something. Finally communicating by radio, Kruipen tries to tell Evelyn she shouldn't have come. On-the-rocks but horny couple Feddy and Ling have a semi-romantic roll on the floor, interrupted only by Feddy's sissified reaction to seeing one of the bugs skitter under Ling's sleeping bag. Seems he's a little scared of bugs.

After a messy gun battle at the outer camp, Sara leaves Kruipen for dead and motors back to the camp. As morning breaks, she arrives in pretty bad shape. And things are getting worse for the makeshift Scooby gang, as Bart's arm is infected, Ling is breaking out in weird sores, and Feddy's peeing blood. Just before dying a seriously icky death, Sara warns Evelyn to not "let them leave." Turns out she has the same sores and egg growths that the polar bear had, and that Bart and Ling have.

"I'm supposed to have ice powers, but this'll do."

Turns out the bugs aren't actually insects at all. They're vertebrates, and that becomes their nickname for the rest of the movie. They're sort of the evil tag-team of the prehistoric world, as the male bites a victim's skin, creating a hole for the female to crawl into and lay eggs. Lots of eggs. More eggs than should be allowed. Ling is then quarantined and Bart decides to have his arm chopped off to stop the spread through his body. You know those "stop the infection by removing a limb" moments never turn out pretty, and this one doesn't disappoint.

Things go from bad to aw-what-the-HELL bad when the bugs multiply like little crawling reality shows. The scene of what's left of the polar bear entirely covered by a shimmering blanket of bugs is - despite the obvious computer effects - pretty unsettling. Feddy, in his confusion and phobia, shoots the extremely infected Ling, but she survives the shot. In a final act of compassion, Bart enters the bug-infested room and cradles the girl as the bugs close in on their bodies. Brrrr.

A desperate Feddy is killed by a returning Dr. Kruipen and it's a joyous reunion for about five seconds. See, Dr. Kruipen is an extreme environmentalist. Sure, he's respected, but he has some rather radical views. It's revealed that he has infected himself so that he'll be a "Patient Zero" of sorts, spreading a disease that will, in his mind, surely be contained but only after the danger of global warming is made glaringly obvious.

And most people just do a Power Point presentation.

Didn't know flatulence was a side effect of hosting prehistoric parasites.

Kruipen tries to leave on a rescue helicopter, and strand Evelyn and Atom at the Arctic station. He knows it's harsh, but he thinks she'll be safe there. Atom tries to throw off the chopper's flight by hanging on, but he's thrown off to the ground in a fatal fall. Evelyn then displays more badassery and fires a rifle at the chopper until it crashes into the station, killing all aboard and presumably the vertebrates inside. Climbing into a grounded chopper, Evelyn remains until another rescue chopper arrives and takes her to safety. According to the epilogue, she's eventually hailed as a hero for bringing to light the disaster that never happened.

I like it when my friends save the world.

Although, during said epilogue, a dog is shown chewing on a dead bird. A dead bird chock full o' prehistoric parasitic vertebrates. Yum. He then joins his master for a drive...towards a city.

The Thaw is a decent little movie, part of the Ghost House Underground movie collection. The acting is not bad at all and the gore will keep the bloodhounds fairly satisfied. I expected more creepy-crawly sensations, but it didn't skeeve me out as much as I hoped it would. You'd think it would be a more "political" movie, since the real evil of the film is man's ignorance of an increasingly ruined world that he may have created. There isn't really any preaching because the balance is struck between that ignorance and the radical methods Dr. Kruipen wants to employ and that Atom endorses until he comes to his senses. No preaching, no politics, and an easy viewing make it something okay to watch once and be done, or to catch late-night, perhaps watered-down on SyFy. It's nothing bad, but nothing memorable either.

Little did they know about the other disease that changed our world, eh, fellow survivors?

Until next time, be safe and bar the windows...

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dead Snow (2009) Chainsaws, Nazi Zombies, and Outhouse Sex

Years ago, and I mean MANY years ago, I was an exchange student to Sweden. It was easily one of the greatest years of my life, and a great memory of how things were before the undead rose. There were definitely no Nazi zombies on any of the ski trips my host family took me on and I don't remember any machine gun snowmobiles. One thing I can tell you: northern Scandinavia during winter is absolutely gorgeous.

Dead Snow (aka Død Snø) is a fun little Norwegian movie directed by Tommy Wirkola, and written by Wirkola and Stig Frode Henriksen. There was considerable hype leading up to my viewing of it, and while it didn't replace Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland as my favorite zombie comedies, it was still a joyful, bloody little romp through the snow-covered mountains of Norway.

When the film opens, a young woman run in pure panic through the dark Norwegian wilderness, pursued by something we can't quite see. She tumbles down a hill, breaking her leg and ending up trapped in a thicket. Whatever was chasing her catches up and engaging in a growling feast as the main title appears on the screen.

From there, we meet a couple groups of cheeky medical students. The men: catalog model-esque Vegard, studious Martin, dirty-minded Roy, and nerdy Erland. They're on their way to Vegard's girlfriend Sara's cabin for a little ski trip full of snow and a high potential of bumping uglies. In the other car are three of the four women: sensible Hanna, sexy-nerdy Chris, and quiet Billie Piper-lookalike Liv. The fourth is Sara, who we later learn is legging it through the wilderness to get there. Uh-oh. That means the woman in the beginning...? Yep. That was Sara.


The vacation kicks off just fine, as they typically do in these movies. Vegard brought his prized snowmobile and after setting out ahead of the others to warm up the cabin, gives everyone inner tube rides. No, that's not a euphemism. Everyone wonders where Sara is, but the party rages on into the night. There are couples, as Martin and Hanna have paired off and Chris periodically flirts with Erland, much to his surprise. A knock on the door might mean Sara's joined the party, but alas, no. It's a strange hiker who somehow - don't ask me - found the cabin and wants nothing more than a cup of coffee and to share a terrifying story of a cruel Nazi officer named Herzog. Seems Herzog held the local town - a port for the Nazi navy - in his iron fist, robbing and slaughtering townsfolk until they rose up against him. He was forced to head into the hills, where he and his men were never found. After his rousing story, he's off to continue his hike. Not long after he sets up camp, some fast-moving shapes slit his throat and attack him in his tent.

The next day, Vegard decides to take the snowmobile to look for Sara. He instructs the others to go get help if he isn't back by the following day, then takes off into the mountains. The others, though originally spooked by the hiker's story, continue the party after Vegard leaves. While groping for more beer, Erland finds a box full of gold trinkets and German medals. The medical students are overwhelmed with joy and some proclaim to do what I'd do: pay off their student loans. Vegard, meanwhile, not only finds what's left of the old hiker, but falls into a snow-covered cave.

After night falls, things start getting darker and I'm not talking about the sky. It's all fun and games at first. Erland shuffles out to the outhouse to have a bit of a dump, and we all know outhouses in horror films are bad news. In one of the most outrageous scenes in the movie, Chris finally makes her move on Erland. In the outhouse...AFTER he "releases the hounds." And to add to the gross-out factor, she sucks on his fingers. I thought employees were supposed to wash after using the restroom.

Outhouse sex...this can't end well, zombies or no zombies.

Well, they have their fun and Erland returns to the party so Chris can use the facilities. You know someone's going into the toilet when a horror film includes an outhouse, and sure enough, in goes Chris. Sadly, she'll never get to profess her continuing feelings for Erland. Instead, she meets Herzog's men and they didn't bring flowers or even a six-pack of Carlsberg.

The zombies attack the cabin, forcing the students to barricade the place. Erland, the resident horror movie nerd, proclaims them zombies and tells everyone not to let them bite. Not long after that, Erland is ripped apart by several zombies in one of the wackiest on-screen deaths in a while. Basically, they pull his skull apart until his brain plops neatly on the floor. Insanity, I tell you. Erland's body seems to be enough for the Nazi invaders at this point, so the other four are able to last the night.

Vegard, as it turns out, isn't dead. He wakes up and explores the cave, finding Nazi flags and helmets, not to mention Sara's severed head. He fights off a couple of the zombies, even using one's intestines to keep from falling into a gorge. This doesn't, however, prevent him from being bitten badly on the neck. After stitching himself up - medical student, after all - Vegard scores a sweet machine gun from the bunker and attaches it to his snowmobile.

Hell. Yes.

Back in the cabin, the four survivors decide to split up. The men set out to distract the zombies while the girls make a break for the cars. Hanna and Liv run, then split up to escape throngs of zombies. Liv is taken down and disemboweled, and in a very cool perspective shot, we see it through her eyes. She smartly sets off a hand grenade attached to one zombie and is able to take out a couple. Hanna keeps running, doing battle with a zombie on a cliff as she intentionally cracks the ice shelf holding them up and they tumble into a valley.

What they wouldn't give for showshoes right about now.

Roy and Martin discover the shed has all sorts of handy weapons and in a scene obviously in tribute to Bruce Campbell arming up in Evil Dead II, they prepare for battle with chainsaws, hatchets, and sledgehammers. In a truly fantastic battle scene full of zombie cannon fodder and stark gore on white snow, the pair actually win the first round, but not without casualties. Vegard shows up and mows down a ton of Nazi undead before being literally ripped apart. Hanna survives the fall earlier and makes it back, only to be accidentally killed by Martin while in a battle rage. Never, ever try to grab a guy covered in zombie blood and swinging a hatchet. Still, a victory is a victory...

That is, until Herzog bellows for reinforcements.

Oh, shit.

Another battle ensues, but Martin is bitten. Remembering what Erland had said about zombie bites, Martin takes his own arm off with the chainsaw. Hardcore.

Herzog calls for even more zombies, so Plan B. Plan B involves running really fast. It works for a while, but Roy is cut down by Herzog. Before devouring Roy, Herzog loots him. This gives Martin an idea. Remembering the box of gold things in the now-burnt-down cabin (thanks to Roy's poor Molotov cocktail-throwing skills), Martin returns there and digs up the box, handing it over to Herzog. This seems to please the undead officer, and Martin makes his getaway. He reaches the cars and tries to start one, but notices a gold coin fall to the floor. Martin picks it up and slowly straightens to see Herzog outside the window. The Nazi officer smashes the window and reaches for Martin...and that's the end.

Dead Snow didn't totally blow me away. There were some moments that seemed like a stretch, but hey, if the purpose of the movie was to throw some crazy images, beautiful scenery, and wild zombie kills my way, then it succeeded. Unless I missed it, I would've liked to have a touch more of a hint as to how Herzog and his men became the undead. The ill-fated hiker mentioned the area had an "evil reputation," but that's not quite enough for me. I've been to some bars with an evil reputation, but didn't come out undead. Felt like it the next morning, though.

The acting was quite good and once you know who's who, you do grow attached to some characters. The scenery is gorgeous, but at the same time reminds you how isolated the area is. Herzog made for a menacing villain, with subtle facial expressions that gave him a definite air of evil. As if the Nazi uniform wasn't evil enough. And you can't totally fault a movie that has chainsaws, sledgehammers, and a friggin' machine gun snowmobile:

Those of you in a winter state, use that as a manual to deal with the undead outside your shelter gates.

See you next time, survivors!

Halloween 2 (2009) I Think I Missed A Class

You ever have one of those dreams where you know you're long past high school - or in my case, college - and you know it, but suddenly you're back there searching in vain for a classroom in order to take a test you're sure you missed all those years ago?

That's kind of how I felt watching Rob Zombie's Halloween 2.

Now, I'll preface this by saying I believe Zombie's got incredible potential to go down as an influential and important voice in horror filmmaking. I actually liked his version of Halloween once I accepted that John Carpenter's original version will always been seen as the measuring stick of modern slasher horror. I felt it was a decent remake/reimagining.

Halloween 2 just felt about an hour and a half too long. I appreciate what Zombie was trying to do. It just left me feeling like I missed an important test in college, and years later, can't find the classroom.

The first twenty minutes or so of the movie were, I have to say, pretty damn good. The image of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) wandering the streets of Haddonfield after the gruesome climax of the first remake was striking. Laurie's surgery to repair her broken body was wince-inducing, but not out of place. Michael Myers (Tyler Mane aka Big Sky - obscure early 90's wrestling reference!) escapes his ambulance after the inept workers slam into a cow while discussing necrophilia.

Laurie awakens and finds Annie (Danielle Harris) in her own hospital room, still in grave condition. The nurse escorts her out, but leaves to answer an emergency call. In what I thought was a brilliantly taut series of scenes, Michael goes on his rampage in the hospital, slaughtering the nurse and several others off-screen as he pursues Laurie. It's very similar to the original version by Carpenter, but as you may know, that entire movie took place in the hospital. Just as Michael finally catches up to Laurie in a guard shack, we're provided the truth: it's been a dream, and it's actually two years later. Michael is presumed dead, although no body was found. Laurie and Annie survived, but are both scarred, physically and emotionally. They live with Annie's father, Sheriff Brackett (the great Brad Dourif) and have become hardened, even when Laurie tries to confide in her therapist (Margot Kidder).

From here, the movie gets...well...I don't know. It's like I said, I felt like I missed a class somewhere and started getting anxious when I couldn't find the classroom to take the test. Michael is indeed alive and living like a rabid hobo in some abandoned barn. He's also hallucinating his long-dead mother (Sherri Moon Zombie) and his younger self. It's them that compel adult Michael to pursue Laurie because she's family and they need to be "together." There are dream sequences, party scenes, oodles of post-teenage angst, and interesting cameos from people like Howard Hesseman and Daniel Roebuck.

I feel like I should break tradition on the recap here. This movie has been reviewed so many times in the horror blog community, and I've found it to be one of the most polarizing films. A lot of people really don't like it. It's safe to say it makes some people quite angry. Yet there are those who really do like it, and they'll defend it to the end. For me to give a rundown of the events in the movie would be pretty repetitive.

I came away from the experience feeling like questions I didn't have or want to ask were answered quite loudly. I didn't really want to know everything about what drove Michael. That was the draw of the first two original Halloween films. Michael was a juggernaut, a force of nature. We felt what Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis in her amazing role) felt: confusion, the instinct to stay alive, and most of all, unfathomable fear. No psychoanalysis, no elaborate backstory, no wild visuals. And no white horse.

The cast is really good, especially Dourif. To me, he felt like the one true character I could feel sympathy for. His reaction to SPOILER Annie's death was heartbreaking. Harris and Compton are also very good. While I love Malcolm McDowell, his Dr. Loomis was far, far away from what I always liked about the character. In this, he was brash, arrogant, and lecherous. I could write it off as this was his reaction to his near-death experience with Michael in the first film, but it was tough.

Seriously, I like Rob Zombie. I have a lot of respect for him as a creative person, although I'm sure there might be some who disagree with me. That's okay, too. Everyone will have an opinion, and I can definitely respect that as well. I don't feel this was the best showcase of his talents. I'm hoping down the line, we'll get to see what Zombie's capable of. If it's anything like the first part of Halloween 2, right up until Laurie awakens violently from her dream, then he'll have a fine career.

Ironic that the director's name is "Zombie" when I'm trying to rescue survivors from that very undead thing in this crazy world. Heh.

And hey, remember how I said Big Sky was an obscure wrestling reference? Well, here: enjoy Tyler Mane a.k.a. Big Sky as he wrestled for WCW in the 90's...

Speaking of zombies, the movie I'll be reviewing next time comes from our friends in Norway, and I'll be taking a look at Dead Snow.

Oh, and there's still time: go vote for my strange self over at the Mr. Horror Blogosphere Contest at my buddy Chuck's great blog, Zombies DON'T Run. If you've already voted, great! If you voted for me, thank you so much, and drop me a message so I can thank you personally when it's all said and done.

Until later, watch the skies. I might be there.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The House Of The Devil (2009) Never Trust Francis Dollarhyde

I remember being a young boy in the wilds of Michigan, well before the dead started rising, and hanging out at my friend Bill's house. Back then, HBO was relatively new and they would show just about anything. One of the movies I remember seeing was the cheesy horror flick The House Where Evil Dwells. It was distinctly early-80's in everything from plot to cinematography to the general look. It was rated R, and we were like nerdy rebels, staying up late to watch the gore and the sex and the ghosts. It was an easy time in my life. I like being made to remember easier times in my life, and 2009's throwback The House Of The Devil, while not mind-blowing, pleasantly brought me back to those times.

The House Of The Devil is written and directed by Ti West, and it's safe to say it's a love letter to the low-budget horror offerings of the late 70's-early 80's that didn't pander to the major studios. Back then, it was "here's a plot, let's do a movie" and there was a certain risky charm to that method. The horror films always seemed to be filmed during a perpetual autumn - at least it seemed that way to me. That seemed to give it a shadowy feel, but with the feeling that the air in that fictional town or wherever it took place had a crispness to it. The House Of The Devil scored big with me for that feel.

The movie opens with some foreboding text about unexplained disappearances and Satanic rituals, and we're pretty much told things might not be all that sunny for those involved. A pretty young girl, Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), falls in love with a house but still needs money for the rent, despite being given a break on the price by the landlord (a nice cameo by Dee Wallace). As she walks off with the hope of a new place, there's a title card of the movie in a freeze frame, and we all know I'm a fan of those. And she's wearing a Walkman. Not the slim, barely-there kinds we have now. I'm talking the enormous boxes like the first one I ever had, blasting Asia and Scorpions in my young ears.

Samantha goes ahead with a phone call to a babysitting job for the Ullman Family. Mr. Ullman (Tom Noonan) tells her they'll meet on the university campus, but he never shows. Later, as we're given more clues that an eclipse will soon occur - always a must when a movie deals with dark forces - Samantha talks about her money problems with her friend Megan (Greta Gerwin), who offers to call her father for money. Samantha's just at the end of her rope as she cries in the dorm bathroom.

Later, Mr. Ullman leaves a message for Samantha, and she returns the call. He apologizes profusely and arranges for the babysitting assignment to start immediately that night. Samantha agrees and Megan drives her out to the Ullman's house, a big, old place in the middle of nowhere. Mr. Ullman greets them at the door, and imagine my happiness to see reliable portrayer of soft-spoken creeps, Tom Noonan, playing the part. I can never forget him as Francis Dollarhyde a.k.a. The Tooth Fairy in Manhunter.

Tom Noonan as Mr. Ullman (above) and as Francis Dollarhyde aka The Tooth Fairy in 1986's Manhunter (right)

Mr. Ullman appears urgent and somewhat exacting, along with having an almost regretful air about him. While Megan entertains herself in the other room, Mr. Ullman explains that the babysitting job isn't for a child, but for his wife's mother, who's bedridden in an upstairs bedroom. Samantha is apprehensive, so Mr. Ullman ups the pay and Samantha accepts. Megan is pissed - this is all too weird for her. Samantha defends her decision since she needs the money. Still angry and worried, Megan leaves Samantha to her task.

Megan travels down the driveway, trying to light a cigarette. A strange man, who we come to know as Victor Ullman (A. J. Bowen), offers to light it for her, scaring her. When he asks if she's the babysitter, and she replies that she's not, he shoots her face off - literally - before taking her car.

Back inside, Samantha meets Mrs. Ullman (Mary Woronov), whose every line oozes with uncomfortable relish. The Ullmans finally leave, and give Samantha some cash and a number for a nearby pizza place. Alone, except for the shut-in figure upstairs, Samantha explores the house, giving us some quite exquisite shots of a lonely girl with no idea of the looming danger that we, the viewers, barely recognize at this point.

After dancing around to The Fixx, Samantha breaks a vase and cleans it up, finding photos of a family that is decidedly not the Ullmans standing by the car the Ullmans just drove off in, and in front of the house itself. Victor arrives as a pizza delivery guy shortly thereafter with the pizza that Samantha ordered. At this point, you may want to scream to Samantha not to eat the pizza. She won't hear you.

Getting spooked and hearing strange sounds, Samantha tries to explore further into the house, barely missing the room where the family in the picture is sprawled out, brutally murdered. The pizza turns out to be drugged, and Samantha starts losing grip on her consciousness, but not before seeing a strange hand emerge from the attic.

When she wakes up, it's not in a comfy bed in her new apartment. She's tied to a slab, satanic symbols everywhere. The Ullmans enter, dressed in robes. They're followed by a wizened, ugly little thing that I can only describe as a demonic...uh, demon. Said demon paints symbols on Samantha's belly with blood, then tries to get her to drink from the skull of some strange animal. Let your imagination run wild with what kind of animal, because it may not be from the mortal plane.

Samantha breaks loose and escapes upstairs after giving Victor slight vision problems. Lucio Fulci would have been honored. She makes it into the kitchen, tripping over Megan's faceless body. Armed with a knife, she manages to cut Victor's throat before Mrs. Ullman catches up with her in a bedroom. Samantha gets away from the crazy woman by stabbing her in the back while she admires the lunar eclipse. Among flashes of a severe tummy ache and leering demonic faces, she runs out of the house, with Mr. Ullman not far behind. He pursues her to a cemetery, telling her that Satan will arrive when the eclipse ends. With no choice in her mind as she figures it out, Samantha fires a bullet into her own head.

But it ain't over, folks. Samantha wakes up in a hospital to a nurse's "comforting" words that she and the baby will make a full recovery.

That right there provides enough creep factor for your evening. The movie ends, but we know the story doesn't. In fact, if this is a parallel world, I don't want to go there, thank you very much. Has that kind of Prince of Darkness-ish sense of "something's coming and you can't do anything about it."

Like I said, I wasn't blown out of the water by House of the Devil, but that's not to say I didn't like it. The atmosphere, the slow burn sense of danger, and the cinematography were stellar. It truly was a throwback to the old low-budget who-cares-how-wild-this-plot-is movies made in the early 80's. We don't see a lot of the carnage that has happened (the Ullmans disposing of and replacing the family who really lived in the house) and that is about to happen (hello, the girl has a Satan in her belly). Like many great forms of entertainment, our minds fill in the blanks. Performances that stick out to me are Jocelin Donahue playing a cute, truly innocent Samantha and the awesome Tom Noonan as Mr. Ullman.

And what our minds are capable of is quite terrifying.

So, see it, judge for yourself. Me, I'll be that chopper flying overhead. Leave a sign outside your house if you need rescuing...unless you're the Ullmans.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mr. Horror Blogosphere: It's A Fun Thing!

Just a quick note today:

The Mr. Horror Blogosphere pageant is in full swing. Pageant? Wait, I don't think I will excel in the swimsuit competition. Maybe I should go with "contest." But I digress...Yes, it is in full swing over at Zombies DON'T Run, so head on over there and vote for me, or vote for any one of the other great bloggers that are also in the running. There are good fellows listed there, and they write some tremendous blogs. It's all to have fun and get to know some of the individuals behind the words. And there's a pretty damn nice prize to aim for as well!

If you voted for me (three have at this writing - that's three more than I expected!), I appreciate it very much. Drop me a line and let me know who you are so I can personally thank you!

Coming up on the WGON Helicopter are more reviews, as I finally finish my review of House Of The Devil and take a look at one of the most polarizing horror films of the last few years, Rob Zombie's Halloween 2. Other movies I have on deck are Ink and Dead Snow.

And remember, even if you don't vote for me, I'll still fly the chopper over to pull you out of an infection zone.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The WGON Helicopter Turns One!

One year ago, I decided to do something about my love of horror movies.

I already had two blogs, one about writing and one about random musings, but they didn't take. I'd been reading a couple horror blogs, and realized over time that I wanted to share my voice when it came to the genre. I'd been writing a lot, but felt like shifting gears into something other than fiction...or attempts at fiction. I thought it would not only be good practice, but maybe I could share my light-hearted views about the genre I love the most.

The first movie review had to be, of course, the original Dawn of the Dead. The whole blog is named for the helicopter the characters take to escape the city. Please enjoy that first review right here.

Now, a year later, I am so glad I decided to do this.

It makes me as happy as Gary Busey eyeing a fresh endocrine system that I've had the opportunity to connect with so many new friends and peers, other horror fans, writers, filmmakers, and bloggers that have welcomed me into the horror blog family with friendliness and open arms. I've received so much support from a number of people - too many kind words to single out, so look over to the right in the side bar for the blogroll. Those are people who have been kind to me, supported my efforts, made me laugh, or gave me a good read. That list continues to grow, and if it's missing anyone, rest assured they'll be there. Go visit them, read their blogs, and get to know them. They're one of the main reasons I'm inspired to write a horror blog.

One thing you're likely not to find on this blog is drama. It's not what I started this thing for. That's not to say I wouldn't address a problem if it became personal, but I try to avoid drama. I'm in this for the fun and the friendship, bound together by the common thread we all share in things horror. I don't mind being the guy people vent to or confide in - it's just I have enough stress and don't need to be a major player in some kind of drama play. I'll listen behind the scenes, but this blog is for horror.

What's ahead for The WGON Helicopter? I'll just keep doing what I enjoy doing: writing. I've focused mostly on film, but as you might go back and find, I do have some posts on music and television. I'll try to throw in more variety. I'd been wanting to do a post on Avatar Press' insane infection horror comic "Crossed," and the last issue just came out, so that's a definite. I created a YouTube account for the site, but haven't used it yet. There is a chance I'll do some vlogs at some point - that might be a blast although I don't know if the webcam would flatter me. Oh, well. If it's fun, who cares if I look like Steve Zahn just woke up?

So, one year gone and hopefully many more to come. More reviews, more musings, more things to help you smile while the undead groan outside your windows. Should you ever want to say hi, my contact info is at the top - that may grow, too, as I add more chat places.

Thanks to all of you who read, who comment, who have become friends, who will become friends, and who have supported me this entire time. Thanks to everything that provides fuel for the helicopter.

Now back to work. I heard there were some survivors just west of here...

HorrorBlips: vote it up!