Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Horseman (2008) How Far Would You Go?

Revenge thrillers are a slippery slope.  If you're making one where the protagonist is simply killing others without much backstory or sympathetic motive, then what separates that character from the serial killers and deranged crazies that serve as antagonists?  Ah, and there's the rub.  The very question of a good revenge thriller is just that:  what separates our hero from the villains he or she is hunting?  In order to remain human or on the "side of the angels," the hero has to have something rooting him or her in reality, something that reminds them that they may be on the path to being monsters, but will never become one.  We hope.

One revenge thriller that really set the bar high was Korea's entry, I Saw The Devil, which I reviewed a couple months ago.  That was an amazing character study on both sides of the fence.  But ranking really high was another great character study in vengeance and violence from Australia, The Horseman.  A relatively quiet film - except for moments of intense screaming, crying, and yelling - it showcases the considerable acting talents of Peter Marshall as the distraught, relentless father-in-mourning as well as the fantastic directing of writer-producer-director Steven Kastrissios.

Christian (Marshall) is a father mourning the loss of his daughter from an overdose of heroin, among several other drugs.  When he discovers that she participated in a low-rent porno film and was left for dead by someone involved, he takes it upon himself to hunt down each and every person connected with the film.  Collecting his tools and hopping in his van, he takes out his vengeance on a variety of people, some who are sorry and some who are not.  Along the way, he meets a young, pregnant runaway, Alice (Caroline Marohasy) who definitely reminds him of his daughter.  Up until then, the guy was a juggernaut with a tool box, but Alice brings him back down to earth, for a short time anyway.  Christian soon discovers that not all of the men are what they seemed, or what he believed.  He also uncovers a web much darker than he ever could have imagined.  Where it looked like Christian was the force of nature, and the scummy filmmakers were the weak villains, tables turn horribly on the father and he has to reach deep down to not only exact vengeance, but survive.

The film is impeccably-paced, with stretches of introspective calm peppered with growing swells of brutal violence.  Marshall is utterly tremendous as Christian, a man we can identify with as he tracks down those responsible for his daughter's death, despite the fact that she sought them out to make a quick buck.  He chooses to see past that, to the little girl he once protected and cared for in his own home.  His role as protector shifts to Alice, played wonderfully by Marohasy.  Marshall brings moments of intense compassion, violence, determination, and even confusion to the role of Christian.  He's tough and wants revenge, yet desires to just be a father again.  When he's weeping at the end of the film, you see what he's feeling, you see why he's crying.  All those pent-up emotions finally break the gate, and it's stunning.

Take a chance on The Horseman if you want a revenge thriller that's a cut - or crowbar smash - above others.  Fine acting, great directing, a haunting score, and the question of just how far would you go?

Until next time, enjoy the official website and this trailer:

In The Helicopter Bay 9-18-11

Trying to nail down a rhythm in my blog-writing, and I think it'll come around once I'm used to my new schedule.  What I need to do is write about non-film horror subjects, like I had always intended.  Well, here are a few tidbits for this beautiful almost-fall day:

*  Speaking of writing blogs, I'd better get my rhythm together because I have decided that I will indeed write a comic book blog.  Its theme and tone will be similar to this humble blog, and I hope to delve into the mythology and symbolism of certain stories as well.

*  I also think I may try expanding into more genre films on this blog as well, such as martial arts films, grindhouse goodies, and whatever I think would be a good fit.

*  Recently, I received a very nice award from Pixie over at Pixie's Horror Galore, the "I Dig Your Blog Award."  It's always nice to be given a little recognition, and so I thank Miss Pixie for this and will place it over in my sidebar.  Now, the award comes with some criteria, but I'm going to go against the grain and modify some of them just a tad.  The first three criteria, I'll keep the same, which were to gratefully accept the award (which I did above), link to the the person who gave it me (which I also did above), and jot down three interesting facts about yourself (which I'll get to in a minute).  I'm going to add a few nice words about Pixie and her blog, and modify the original bestowing of awards on other blogs.

First, let me say that Pixie is a fresh new voice in the horror blogosphere.  Her enthusiasm and love for the horror genre cannot be measured, and that energy comes through in her written voice.  She's very funny and very nice as she engages all of her readers in conversation.  So thank you, Pixie, and keep up the good work!

Three mildly interesting things about me:
  • I lived in Sweden for a year as an exchange student, and can still reach deep down in my subconscious to speak/read the language despite it being AGES ago.  It was one fantastic year.
  • I worked at Walt Disney World in the 90's, first at Magic Kingdom then what is now Hollywood Studios (Disney-MGM back then). Three AMAZING years full of fun, mischief, and friends with whom I still keep in touch.
  • I did play-by-play commentary for numerous wrestling companies throughout the midwest and also in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in the 2000's.  Some of the greatest adventures I ever had came during those road trips.
Now, as far as giving out awards, it's a slippery slope.  I know there are some that don't care for getting awards, especially those that require you to do something, like continue to pass it on.  I know there are some that absolutely love it.  So here's what I'll do:  see that list of blogs over there on the right?  Scroll down, you'll see all of them.  I list them here for a reason.  They're worthy of any award that finds its way to them and therefore if you have a blog listed there, consider yourself a recipient of this award.  I may also let you know in an e-mail or something at some point, and you can decide what to do with it.  If you do post it on your blog, consider it coming from me.  If you don't want to do anything with it, hey, that's why I'm doing it this way.

That being said, if you're reading this, have a really good blog, and think I should include it on my sidebar, then get a hold of me and show it off!

As for me, I'm going to put it on my sidebar and once again, thank Pixie for the award.

*  OK, what else is there today?  The weather here is getting cooler and crisper, and that means my favorite time of year is not far behind.  It's almost October, which will bring Halloween and of course, Chiller Theatre in Parsippany, New Jersey.  I am planning on being there, but won't be set in stone until I actually buy the tickets in advance.  Hopefully, my plans won't change!

Until next time, fellow zombie apocalypse survivors, enjoy the approaching autumn!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil (2010) And A Classic Is Born...

I remember reading somewhere - it may have been Stephen King's fantastic dissection of horror, "Danse Macabre" - that horror and comedy were the two most difficult genres to write.  Combining the two is like doubling the difficulty level.  Combining the two successfully takes some real skill.

Over the years, I've placed some horror-comedy hybrids very high in my pantheon of films:  Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and Evil Dead II:  Dead By Dawn just to name a few (all of which I haven't reviewed...yet).  Easily joining that pantheon of yuks and yucks is the 2010 film Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil.  Not since the most recent of those horror-comedies, Zombieland, have I doubled over laughing quite like I did during the adventures of lovable, misunderstood hillbillies Tucker and Dale.  Snappy dialogue, memorable characters, and an absolutely classic twist of perception and mistaken identity made this film a true party, a blast while watching and over far too soon.

Written and directed with admirable skill and timing by Eli Craig, the film follows the titular Tucker (Alan Tudyk of the Firefly TV series) and Dale (Tyler Labine of the Reaper TV series) as they joyfully travel to their "vacation home," a rundown, deserted house that may or may not have been the home of a serial killer (animal bones and articles about murders adorn the walls).  Tucker is the obvious leader, always admonishing the good-hearted Dale for not standing up for himself and believing that he is good enough to talk to pretty college girls like Ally (Katrina Bowen).  Already spooked by their appearance, the college kids all believe Dale is certifiable when he approaches Ally to strike up a conversation (while holding a scythe, incidentally) and begins laughing nervously.  They nervously leave, led by hotheaded, asthmatic, and somewhat psychotic Chad (Jesse Moss).  The fun really starts after Chad tells a campfire story about murders that had happened in the very woods in which they're camped.  As usual in a horror film, the kids decide to go swimming in a nearby lake...a lake upon which Tucker and Dale happen to be fishing.  Ally sees them and, startled, falls into the lake, hitting her head on a rock.  Dale clumsily, but successfully, rescues her.  However, the college kids think the two buddies are kidnapping her.  Tucker doesn't exactly help things by calling out, "hey, we have your friend!"

What follows is a hilarious and twist-filled love letter to all the tropes of an 80's teen horror movie.  It takes those tropes - kids in the woods, deranged hillbillies, a past history, among others - and turns them completely around.  All Tucker and Dale want to do is make sure Ally is okay and return her to her friends, but Chad is out for blood.  Why he is so gung-ho is one of the many neat surprises in the film.  But the real highlights are the side-splitting misunderstandings that almost make you question those "killer in the woods" horror films so prominent in the 80's.  For example, when Tucker saws into a log filled with bees, he panics, running away with his chainsaw swinging wildly.  What do you think that looks like?  Leatherface, anyone?  It just works so perfectly.

And the characters...this is one of those rare occasions in which I really hope there are sequels.  The take-charge, more pessimistic Tucker is such a great companion to lovable, low self-esteemed Dale, who only wants to fall for Ally, the smart and sweet therapist-in-training.  Chad starts as an egotistical "frat boy" (popped collar and all) who relies on his puffer and bullies his friends, but he ends as a one seriously messed-up young man.  Even the "cannon fodder," if you will, were tropes in themselves, providing some good laughs during their fatal misunderstandings. I even loved Jangers (Weezer), Dale's dog who is just like his owner:  a big, friendly lug.

Writer/director Eli Craig hit one seriously funny home run with his feature film debut.  The film just flows from one event to the next, telling one story while building one just under the surface.  It never lulls, never skimps on the body count yet never overdoes the bloody bits, and definitely never lets up in the laughs and character development department.  It was truly one of the best horror-comedies that I've seen, and a film that I hope is the start of a successful and hilarious franchise.

By all means, see this film.  If you haven't been able to tell until now:  I loved Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil.  Welcome to my list of favorite horror-comedies, you well-meaning, charming hillbillies.

Now here, enjoy the official website and the trailer to prepare you for the fun times:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

In The Helicopter Bay 9-3-11

Well, it has been a while, hasn't it?

Last time I checked in with a blog, I was in the middle of a vacation.  Since then, I've been rather busy, but have been rewarded with a new career after a very long search.  There was also the matter of that pesky Hurricane Irene.  I hope you dear readers who had to put up with that storm came through unscathed.  Real-life terror is far more frightening than what we see played out in fiction.  

Let's move on with this edition of In The Helicopter...

*  In taking an unintentional break from horror, I'm thinking of including more genre films under the banner of this blog.  Hey, it's my baby, I can basically write about what I want, but horror will always be the core genre featured here.  We'll see how that goes, but I'll still stick with the easy-going, drama-free, and friendly tone I've always maintained.

*  Speaking of blogs, I've been tossing around the idea of starting a blog about another strong interest of mine, comic books.  I've been reading them since 1974 and while I realize there are a million comic blogs out there, I'd just want to write a few words about the medium in the same tone as this horror blog.  None of the poison, none of the bitter dismissal of The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy, just a guy who grew up loving the art form writing about it.  Again, we'll see what I do with that.

 The Anti-Monitor?  Do not want.

*  Earlier this evening, I went to see Apollo 18, directed by Gonzago Lopez-Gallego for his first English-language film and produced by Timur Bekmambetov (director of Wanted and Night Watch).  While presented as "found footage," I did recognize one of the actors as Lloyd Owen, who played chaste James in three episodes of one of my favorite British comedies, Coupling.  The film's pace didn't gel well with me, but the performances of the three leads as well as the bleak, claustrophobic feel made it a pretty good movie.  I felt it should have been a different kind of movie, maybe more terrifying - and it could have been done - but it wasn't all that bad in my opinion.  It also made me think of the mixing of horror and science-fiction, and why we don't see more of that out there.

*  I'm also thinking of writing some "horror primers."  The approach:  what if someone who has never seen horror films asks me "give me five good movies to watch and tell me why I should watch them"?  Taking it a step further, what if they want to know five good movies I'd recommend in any given subgenre, like zombie movies or ghost movies?  What I'd like to do is write short paragraphs about each film and why I think they're important to the genre.  Maybe, if I'm lucky enough, I could have some of my horror blog buddies write about what they would recommend for their primer.  Stay tuned.  It might be fun to write.

Well, that's all for now, dear readers.  Back to regular programming for the next blog, and until then, take care of yourselves and make sure your door is barricaded.