Search this blog and The Mike's favorite blogs!

December 21, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #207 - Santa's Slay

"Why, I'm just trying to spread a little yuletide fear!"
Starring: Bill Goldberg, Douglas Smith, Emilie de Ravin, Robert Culp.
Directed by David Steiman.
Rated R for the interior of a nudey bar and all it's sights, some choice language, cartoonish violence that produces blood and a whole lot of grunting and sneering. Also, for Fran Drescher's voice.
Santa's Slay in Six Words:
Goldberg as Evil Santa? Silliness next.
Why You'll Love It:
Love is a strong word for Santa's Slay, which is best viewed as a comedy (that's not really that funny) first and a horror movie (that's not really that bloody) second. Cheese is on the menu as WCW and WWF superstar Bill Goldberg stars as Santa, who is actually a demon that lost a bet on a curling match with an angel (Robert Culp, a welcome face in the goofy film) and was thus forced to spend 1000 years spreading joy. As you might guess from the title, that time is up and now the massive Santa is bringing terror to the town of Hell, Michigan. It's as ridiculous as it sounds and the whole thing comes off like one big joke, but if you have friends who love bad movies too and you want to celebrate Christmas then this is a good treat to find in your stocking (and then probably re-gift at a bad movie exchange next year).
The Highlights:
  • The opening dinner sequence, in which several cameos occur, should give you a good feel for how ridiculous this movie is going to be. If you can't have a little fun with it, you should probably stop the movie and save some time.
  • The writer/director Steiman clearly must have graduated from The Arnold Schwarzenegger School of Excessive One-Liners (I swear to you guys that that school is out there somewhere; I believe it) and every kill the massive Goldberg makes happened is assisted by some kind of corny add-on. If you're in a punny mood you'll probably laugh a couple of times.
  • The weird thunderbuffalo thing that pulls evil Santa's sleigh is pretty darn cool. Yeah, I'm stretching for highlights here. But it's Christmas and I assume you want to see Santa kill things.
Also Worth Noting:
  •  Hollywood heavyweight Brett Ratner was one of the producers behind the film, and his touch is visible through some of the names who cameo in the film. The "stars" involved range from the great James Caan and comedy hero Dave Thomas to less welcome faces like those of Chris Kattan, Fran Drescher, and Rebecca Gayheart.
  • Also randomly appearing is Tommy "Tiny" Lister, whose time as Zeus in the WWF (and the all-time classic/masterpiece of modern cinema No Holds Barred) makes him the second former professional wrestler in the film. Sadly, he and Goldberg never get to throw down.
  • Totally random tangent - In the real world, people are often very sensitive about saying it's "the holiday season" and not just saying Christmas. It's clear to me that horror movies do not share this sentiment. That's probably because there's not money to be found in a Kwaanza based slasher film, or maybe it's because kids love Christmas presents and dreidels are stupid. My point is this - Thanks for remembering Christmas, exploitative filmmakers.
Santa's Slay is for fans of...
Analyzing the impact of the decline of WCW on what was once it's biggest star, people who love corny holiday puns mixed with blood, Lost completists who want to see how this is actually a prequel to that show, and people whose standards are a little lower because they're just trying to get through Christmas alive. Which is all of us, right?

If You Like This You Might Also Like...
Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
Tales from the Crypt (1972) (Which is really, really good, and I feel bad for listing it here, but it has good killer Santa.)
No Holds Barred (1989) (The Citizen Kane of WWF stars in movies.)
See No Evil (2006)
Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)

December 13, 2013

Here Comes The Devil

(2013, Dir. by Adrian Garcia Bogliano.)

Review by The Mike.

There's a sequence in the middle of Here Comes The Devil that reminds me of some of the best horror movies ever made. It's one of those perfect moments where a character - in this case, the mother of two young children who fears something terrible has happened to her children - needs more information about what is going on and finds out things are much worse than even she imagined. Up until this point the film does a good job of convincing the viewer that something unnatural is going on with these children, but as the mother finds out more information from her children's nanny, the film hits a Rosemary's Baby-esque high point that is a thing of surreal horror beauty.

The rest of the film isn't quite as effective as this manic, dreamlike sequence, but Here Comes The Devil fits together as an incredibly inventive horror film for a lot of reasons.

The most obvious reason for the film's success is writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano, who has put together a psychological horror tale that preys on some of humanity's worst traits while it makes us wonder if something inhuman is at work as well. Bogliano also spends a lot of time building a correlation between sexual behavior and evil - which leads to some uncomfortable themes when the children are involved - which makes the film seem rather insidious as it works its way into the viewer's mind.

The plot, in its simplest form, is about two children who go hiking on an ominous hillside and disappear while their parents are fooling around in the car, and who are simply different when they are found the next morning. Their mother (played by Latina pop star Laura Caro), becomes incredibly concerned about their behavior and doctors and psychiatrists get involved too, but as time goes on she starts to believe something more evil might be going on here - which leads up to that great reveal I already mentioned and the tense final act that follows it.

Caro makes her film debut here, and gives a rather fantastic performance at the front of the film. I had not previously heard of her musical work, so I was shocked to find out she was not an established actress. She works well off the child actors in the film, who are also pretty new to the trade, while never breaking under the dramatic pressure of playing a mother who's face-to-face with evil. 

The film doesn't hit all the right notes - there are a few twists that seem unnecessary and I felt like a few secrets that were revealed too early - but Here Comes The Devil is a dark and unique horror film and the few quibbles I did have didn't prevent the movie from sticking in my mind well after it ended. There's a bigger horror story that could probably be told based around what we learn in this film - in many ways, it plays like the origin story of what could become a gigantic evil - and Bogliano's family-based horror film definitely can be called one of the most interesting horror films of the year.

Here Comes The Devil is playing in select theaters as of December 13, and is also available on all those VOD platforms for rent. You can check out the Unrated trailer on YouTube at this link here.

December 12, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #206 - Dead Ringers

"I've often thought that there should be beauty contests for the insides of bodies." 
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold, Heidi von Palleske.
Directed by David Cronenberg
Rated R for being a David Cronenberg movie and lots of vagina talk and implied vaginal mutilation.
Dead Ringers in Six Words:
Twin gynecologists invent tools, spiral downward.
Why You'll Love It:
By some standards, Dead Ringers might be one of David Cronenberg's least weird films of the '70s and '80s. I mean, it's nearly a drama about two unstable identical twins who lose their way in the rough and tumble world of feminine care. But, it's also a movie directed by David Cronenberg, which means that at some point there's going to be mutations of the body and skin eating and people losing their freaking minds. And when Cronenberg's control of that line between what is real and surreal combines with the lead performance(s) of Jeremy Irons as Eliot and Beverley Mantle, the end result is a surprisingly somber but entirely fascinating drama...with dreams about flesh eating and mutations and lots of pointy instruments.
The Highlights:
  • Irons is both the first and the second best reason to watch the film, and the range he shows as both brothers is quite impressive. It is at times hard to tell which brother is which, but that's due to Cronenberg's devious plot than and not a flaw of Irons' work.
  • The most macabre pieces of the film are probably the bizarre instruments that the brothers develop, which are sure to give anyone with lady parts a few shivers.
  • The relationship the brothers have with their first "mutant" lover, played by Genevieve Bujold, leads to the most Cronenberg moment of the film, a dream sequence that belongs right next to his most bizarre scenes from films like Videodrome and The Brood.
Also Worth Knowing:
  • The film was set to be titled Twins, but Cronenberg lost an arm-wrestling contest against Arnold Schwarzenegger (because he couldn't get Jeff Goldblum to arm-wrestle in his place) and the title went to Ivan Reitman for that comedy about Arnold and Devito being brothers.
  • That last point was not entirely true, as you might have guessed. The film was set to be called Twins, and the title did go to Reitman, but only because Cronenberg had worked with him before and sold him the title.
  • The film is based, partially, on a real life pair of twins and is a loose adaptation of a non-fiction book, which was also titled Twins.
Dead Ringers is for fans of...
Drug addiction and depression, codependent siblings who share everything, the terrors of surgery, the terrors of the vagina, mutations that don't make any kind of sense (which is what makes them mutations, naturally), and Jeremy Irons not having his Die Hard with a Vengeance accent.

If you like this, you might also like...
Sisters (1973)
Videodrome (1983)
Raising Cain (1992)
Adaptation. (2002)
American Mary (2013)

December 5, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #205 - Dorm

"We have a lot in common, you know? No one cares about either of us."
Starring: Charlie Trairat, Chinatra Sukapatana, Sirachuch Chienthaworn.
Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan.
Not rated. Includes Taiwanese boys in various states of undress (but not fully undressed), said boys swearing, ghost stories, death, and unrequited lust for baton twirlers.
Dorm in Six Words:
A ghost story. With friendship too.
Why You'll Love It:
I'm not proud of it, but sometimes I get stuck in the mindset that most Asian horror movies (which is a stupid grouping anyway since that's a whole continent) are the same thing about long haired ghosts and jump scares. It's true that there was a type of horror film that became a fad after the success of The Ring and Dark Water, but there were also several horror stories from the far east that offered a touching and human twist on the age old ghost story. One of the most shining examples of this is the Taiwanese chiller Dorm (or, if you're Taiwanese "Dek hor") in which a teenage boy is sent to a dreary boarding school where his closest friend ends up being the spirit of a boy who died years earlier. With a healthy balance of chills and real world drama, Dorm is a rare treat that offers an original tale while providing some classic chills.  The final product is a touching coming of age story, but also a heck of a horror film.
The Highlights:
  • An early film sequence in which several boys try to scare the new kid with stories of ghosts haunting the dorm provides several eerie visions, leading to an unforgettably tense scene where even the dogs are terrified.
  • Also jaw-droppingly effective is a sequence at an outdoor movie theater, where '80s cult hit Mr. Vampire helps produce a big reveal about the haunting at hand.
  • While director Songyos Sugmakanan provides striking images throughout the film, he also gets fantastic performances out of the young actors involved. Without their work, the film probably would have lost much of its power.
Also Worth Knowing:
  • The film has been released with two different covers at two different times in the good ol' USA, both by the usually excellent Tartan Asia Extreme label. However, both covers sorely misrepresent the film. One features a picture of a boy standing in front of a house (that looks nothing like the titular Dorm) while a long haired ghost hides in the window, while the other makes us assume the boy is possessed by a demon that needs to be exorcised. Rest assured, this poorly marketed film is not what you would expect based on the awful cover art.
Dorm is for fans of...
Stephen King-esque stories where kids deal with horror and the fact that they are kids, ghost stories, dorms that don't look anything like what Americans think dorms look like, women with a reputation for being mean who have incredible posture, and kids who can act.

If you like this, you might also like...
Stand By Me (1986)
Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1991-2000)
Stir of Echoes (1999)
Dark Water (2002)

November 30, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #204 - Se7en

"If we catch John Doe and he turns out to be the devil, I mean if he's Satan himself, that might live up to our expectations, but he's not the devil. He's just a man."
Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey.
Directed by David Fincher.
Rated R for some seriously sick stuff, including creepy fat corpse, nearly dead dude with no tongue, knife rape, and Brad Pitt saying the F word a lot.

Seven in Six Words:
Serial killer makes world seem doomed.
Why You'll Love It:
Less than twenty years after its release, Seven (I can only type that number in place of the V so many times before I go crazy) is one of the more well known serial killer films ever made. It spawned a sea of imitators, in both plot and style, but none of them matched the bleak outlook of Fincher's film or its vivid message about society's evils. Most impressive to me is how the director turns an unnamed metropolis (it feels like New York, but the script intentionally avoids labeling it as such) into a kind of purgatory, with Freeman's character often summing up the despair that lives in this place perfectly. 

The Highlights:
  • It's probably not too soon to reveal the plot's surprises, but for the sake of anyone who might not have seen it I'll tread lightly. But it's safe to say that the reveal of the killer and the final step in his plan is what gives this film its initial power over the viewer.
  • After the film's been seen and the surprise has been revealed, the film takes on added meaning upon repeat viewings. References to literature about hell and the deadly sins that provide the killer's gimmick are obvious clues to the filmmaker's intentions, and for me they've seemed to improve with age.
  • Pitt was dismissed by many as the average "hot" young star around the time of release, but his performance here deserves more praise than it has received. There are moments where he's in tune with his Oscar nominated performance from 12 Monkeys during the same year, and his character's chaotic mindset is perfect opposite those who accept the fate that surrounds them in this bleak setting. 
Also Worth Knowing:
  • Pitt only got the part in the film after Denzel Washington turned the role down, saying the film was "dark and evil." He regretted his decision after he saw the film, which may be why he starred in Seven imitator Fallen shortly after.
  • As noted earlier, the location of the film is intentionally not revealed. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker has noted that he was inspired by his time in New York City, but did not want to saddle the film with any specific location that would mute the setting's power.
  • Dreamers, take note: Walker was relatively unknown at the time of production and had written his script while working at a Tower Records store.
Seven is for fans of...
A-list stars doing dark things, serial killer mind games on film, surprise cameos, religious allegories, Morgan Freeman's soothing vocal patterns, and rain.

If You Like This, You Might Also Like...
Theatre of Blood (1973)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Copycat (1995)
Primal Fear (1996)
Arlington Road (1999)
Mr. Brooks (2007)

November 21, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #203 - Grabbers

"I need a photograph of it for National Geographic. And Facebook." 
Starring: Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey, Lalor Roddy.
Directed by Jon Wright.
Not Rated. Includes tentacle overload, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive silly behavior due to excessive alcohol consumption, and angry Irish vocal tones with foul language.
Grabbers in Six Words:
Sea things attack! And also beer.
Why You'll Love It:
Good old fashioned monster comedy turns a small Irish island into the site of an infestation, as giant-squid like invaders plague a seaside town. Two mismatched police officers - one an uptight young female from the city, the other a homemade man with a taste for beer - have to figure out what's going on and how to keep the town safe, while the grabby creatures close in on the shrinking population.  Like Tremors did in 1990, Grabbers keeps a light-hearted tone while providing some entertaining monster action - complete with great special effects - and adds a nice comedic twist to the battle against the creatures before the final showdown.
The Highlights:
  • I'm not usually the sappy guy, but the budding relationship between the two police officers - played charmingly by Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley - is cute and effective. Their differences create some good banter back and forth, but they're perfectly compatible when the film needs them to be.
  • That said, there's nothing cute about the monsters at hand. When the film gets to the full sized grabbers in the final act there are plenty of slimy and impressive visuals.
  • Without being too tongue in cheek and/or losing it's originality, the film manages a couple of nice throwbacks to films like Shaun of the Dead and Aliens without seeming too desperate. 
Also Worth Knowing:
  • Needing to make sure the actors knew how to act drunk for some crucial scenes, director Jon Wright took his leads out drinking before filming - and filmed their real world drunkenness. That's method acting at its finest!
Grabbers is for Fans of...
Less intense horror movies, deep sea creatures, Irish accents, Irish accents on women who look kind of like Anna Kendrick, beer, and those quaint looking pubs that are all over European movies.

If You Like This, You Might Also Like...
Piranha (1978)
Night of the Creeps (1986)
Lake Placid (1999)
Trollhunter (2010)
Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012)

November 14, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #202 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers

"In an hour... you won't want them to. In an hour, you'll be one of us." 
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Virginia Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum.
Directed by Philip Kaufman.
Rated PG for not-quite-nudity, gooey huge fetuses, Veronica Cartwright's tears, rat turds, and lots of screaming.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers in Six Words:
Pod People seduce '70s San Francisco.
Why You'll Love It:
I doubt any film has had two better remakes (this one and Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers) than Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The original film still packs a punch despite some heavy-handed politics, but Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake stands on its own as a thoughtful and dramatic retelling of the original story. Kaufman's film is dark and serious, with only a few nods to the original's tone (like the cameo by original star Kevin McCarthy). It's a rather intense tale of lost identity that adapts well to its new setting, with a great cast led by Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy offering excellent performances.
The Highlights:
  • Any scene featuring a young Jeff Goldblum, who reacts in a perfectly cynical manner to the idea of pod people. He's only a small part of this film, but it's easy to see how he became a star through this performance.
  • Going along with that point, a mid film scene in which the female leads discuss the possible infestation and its floral roots with a skeptical Goldblum starts to bring the film together as it prepares for a high paced finish.
  • I've never been entirely fond of the film's final ten or fifteen minutes - I think I want more from the story than this rushed finish - but most will tell you the final scene is one of the most iconic moments in modern sci-fi/horror.
  • Also there's the human faced dog. Yeah, you gotta see it.
Also Worth Knowing:
  • Donald Sutherland was hit by a Volkswagen beetle while performing his own stunts for the film. Who wants to be the guy who hits Donald Sutherland with their car? Not this guy.
  • As noted earlier, this is the first remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Ferrara's Body Snatchers was released in 1993, and the forgettable The Invasion, starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and a returning Veronica Cartwright, was released in 2007. So we can probably bet on another version by 2019.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is for Fans of...
Spock, curly haired Sutherlands, paranoia, San Francisco based cinema (Has any city had more great movies set in it? I say NO.), cynical sci-fi, and human faced dogs.

If You Like This, You Might Also Like...
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955) (Obviously.)
Village of the Damned (1960)
The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
Magic (1978)

About the future of this little horror/genre movie blog...

I hate that I'm sitting here writing this, but I've been putting it off for too long. Part of me doesn't even think it's necessary, but on the off chance that people are still interested in what's going on here at FMWL I wanted to be up front about some things with those who have been fantastic toward me and this little site over the last nearly five years.

If you are a dedicated reader - and if you are, God bless ya - you've probably noticed that the last year or year and a half has been a little slower here at the site. From Midnight, With Love is still my baby, and it's one of the things in life I'm most proud of. Being able to share my love of horror and cult flicks with the void and occasionally get feedback on said love makes me feel like a part of one big crazy happy universe and I get a delicious kick out of that. But, unfortunately, I haven't been able to keep up with it like I want to.

Now would be a good moment to point out that I'm not saying I'm leaving!  That is not where this conversation is going. So don't freak on me.

However, I do have to put FMWL on the back burner of my life for a little while. I've already started this process with less posts, refusals of some screeners and press releases I've gotten (and boy, that part bugs me the most. I miss my indie horror community, and I'm sorry I can't be there for them like I used to), and other cutbacks.  The real world has slowed me down considerably, and I can't continue to focus on the blog the same way I have in the past.

But that's not what's pushing me to pump the brakes.

The truth of the matter is that I've got a pretty big dream right now. I've been working on this site for a long time and I want to try something a little different. I'm not gonna talk about what it is here - I'm afraid of jinxes and I'm afraid I'll make myself look stupid if I fail - but there are three or four people I trust who know about it and are supporting me and I'm realizing that if I want to get this dream done I have to really focus on it. Which means less focus on FMWL, which is sad for now. But, if I get this dream out there I think it will make the kind of people who read sites like this very happy and will make all the people who love horror and want to share their love the way I do very proud.  And I want that more than anything right now.

What does this all mean for you? Two things.

  • FMWL will still be here. I'm keeping the Midnight Movie of the Week going, but I'm going to work on a truncated format that will take me less time and hopefully still be interesting.  I reserve the right to post reviews and or commentaries from time to time, but I can't promise they'll be frequent.

  • Secondly, I'm thinking about taking on a co-writer or two if anyone's interested. FMWL has a decent readership built in and I get a lot of review proposals and press releases that I'd be happy to share with another genre lover who can write a thing or two. I want to keep promoting great horror and other stuff and the best way to do this is to open the forum up a little bit.

If you're interested in joining the FMWL team and getting your own love of horror and genre entertainment out there, you can email me at There are no expectations from me, other than a) being a stand up person who will review things they accept for review and b) being able to write complete sentences and string thoughts together.  So if you always wanted to write about stuff or see independent horror flicks or just have a place to share your thoughts on this stuff, email me and we'll talk.  If not, no worries.

That's what I know. Like I said, I'm not leaving. I'll still be here as much as I can, you can still find me on all the Facebooks/Twitters/Instagrams I generally haunt, and I'm still gonna be loving genre flicks like a madman. So stay in touch, and I'll do the same, and hopefully someday soon I'll have my dream come true and we'll all have a victorious party.

Now that that's all said, this week's Midnight Movie of the Week post will be coming soon. Be well, Midnight Warriors.

November 9, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #201 - Fortress

The prevailing message of most Australian horror films - or at least most of the ones I've seen - is that you're pretty much screwed if you're not safely in a big city. Many Aussie flicks, like '70s masterpieces Walkabout and Wake in Fright (a rather obscure little gem that y'all should find in its new blu-ray format), former Midnight Movie of the Week Roadgames, and modern torture flick Wolf Creek, warn us about traveling in less populous areas of that island continent, while others like Dead Calm and Rogue focus on watery dangers around the terrain. I'm not sure what it is about Australia that makes people so afraid of traveling around or being in rural areas, but there's definitely something there that they want people to be afraid of.
A newly found entry into the "dangers of Australia" subgenre is Fortress, in which a teacher (Rachel Ward of the Phil Collins-flavored '80s drama Against All Odds) and her students are abducted from a one-room school house by a group of men in masks who throw them in a cave and ask for a ransom. Naturally, the kids don't like this, but their teacher gets them pumped up and a little bit of a war for survival follows.
Fortress was originally released on HBO in late 1985, as the network put up half of the budget in exchange for debut rights. But no punches were pulled for the TV broadcast, and the result is a survival thriller that still feels as sleazy and violent as theatrical productions of the era. The film tiptoes around some of the violence due to the cast of young characters, but still offers a few surprisingly vicious moments, like a well placed severed head in the middle of the film.
More tension comes from the trio of kidnappers, whose appearance in various masks - one a duck, one a cat, and one as Santa Claus (or, to these Aussie kids, Father Christmas) - reminded me of the aggressors in recent horror favorite You're Next. The kidnappers are large men (one of them is played by the well-known Vernon Wells, who co-starred in The Road Warrior and Commando, and also appeared in Stuart Gordon's unrelated 1992 sci-fi film Fortress) who look even bigger next to the young children and their feminine teacher. There's a definite statement about male domination of women and children being made here, and director Arch Nicholson does a good job of building up the difference in size and strength between the kidnappers and their victims.
But the film gets most interesting when it puts power back in the hands of our teacher and her students, who adapt to their surroundings in attempts to first survive and later fight back.  Ward gives a solid performance in the lead, but all of the children around her do a fine job of keeping the film moving. By the time the teacher and her students are ready to take a stand the film has already created a large amount of empathy for the characters, which leads to a final act that wraps the film up in a manner that is both satisfying and chilling. And the end result leaves Fortress as a great piece of survival cinema and one more example of why you appear to be safer if you never go to less populous parts of Australia.

November 1, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #200 - Halloween

Not gonna go in depth on this one, you all know what Halloween is. I've spent 200 weeks writing these columns now, and as we roll toward the end of the horror family's favorite holiday I just want to say how much I love being able to share my love for horror with you all. When I started this list almost four years ago I was trying to convince myself that I could keep this thing going on a weekly basis, and - despite some real world hurdles and plenty of good old-fashioned lack of motivation, we made it to another Halloween together.
If you need to know why you should watch Halloween - just like I once did as a teenager who thought horror movies were just fun and stupid and not on par with really great movies in other genres - I'll tell you that I believe nothing about any movie more than I believe that Halloween is a movie about man (or woman, in the case of Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode) vs. nature, not man (or woman) vs. man. People get it wrong and see this as just another slasher movie, or even worse they get it wrong and think of Michael Myers as an inhuman monster going on motor function and killing for the sake of killing.
I know that stuff about fate and evil that is peppered into John Carpenter's script feels like fluff, but if you buy into it it really pushes Halloween to a new level of fear. That might sound similar to asking an atheist to believe in the Bible, and I've wasted more time than I'd like to admit over the years trying to convince people of this when they don't want to see Halloween the way I do.
People come to horror for many reasons. My reason for loving horror, for being moved by horror, and for continuing to seek out horror all the time is because I'm looking for movies that dare me to feel that there is evil in this world that I might have to feel with. And I believe Halloween does this as well as any other movie. I'd compare it's conflict between humanity and the nature of evil to that presented in The Exorcist, which sits next to it as my second favorite horror film. That film approaches evil more directly than John Carpenter does, but both films create the same underlying fear in me.
In short, Halloween is the movie that made horror a cinematic power in my mind. I'd always loved horror, and there are probably a dozen other movies that I love now that I could have seen when I was young and that could have inspired me to feel the way I do about horror movies. Thanks to fate, Halloween was that movie that hit me and made me believe horror cinema could be great cinema. And I'm still indebted to it. Without it there might never have been one Midnight Movie of the Week, let alone two-hundred. It inspired me, and I hope that anyone out there who might be trying to love horror can find a movie that makes them feel as excited about their pursuit as Halloween makes me feel.

October 25, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #199 - Cemetery Man

Most horror fans I know are quick to point out how lackluster the genre output of the 1990s was.  As with any time and any genre, there were several very good films released during that time span. (A few years back I listed these as my favorites.)  But, with fond memories of the 1980s in our minds and several impressive serious horror films hitting audiences in the new millennium, it's easy to see why the '90s are held in such contempt.
The horror subculture that might have taken the biggest hit in the 1990s was the Italian horror scene, which peaked with Argento, Fulci, and Bava through the '60s and early '80s but produced very few horror hits after the '80s ended. The biggest outlier to this train of thought is certainly Cemetery Man (originally titled Dellamorte Dellamore in its native tongue), which stands out to me as one of the most interesting horror films of its time and place due to its bizarre tone and chaotic plot.
British actor Rupert Everett, who would go on to much success starring romantic comedies like My Best Friend's Wedding and doing vocal work for Shrek movies, is at Cemetery Man's center as Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of an unholy cemetery where the dead often rise and walk seven days after their demise.  Many horror films would present a man in this position as an empowered hero, but Dellamorte just seems kind of annoyed by his predicament, sulking through much of the film and struggling to put much effort into sending the dead back to their graves. Cemetery Man uses his indifferent attitude as a platform to great things and Everett is a perfect fit for the moody and disinterested role.
There is one thing that inspires Dellamorte to feel passion, and that - of course - is a woman with huge breasts. She's played by Anna Falchi, who might be the most perfectly endowed woman in horror history, and her place in the caretaker's life drives the film toward the darkly comic tone that pushes it to surprising heights as a star-crossed romance and as an existential fantasy. Falchi first appears and captures the caretaker's heart as a widow who is turned on by the dead, and later shows up in two more roles to throw more salt on the wounds of Dellamorte's tortured love life.  The sexual encounters between the two leads are presented in ridiculously humorous ways - think of that awkwardly hilarious sex scene from Watchmen and you'll start to get the idea of what the director does here - but the caretaker's obsession with this woman through all of her different incarnations is always presented as a serious and somewhat deadly affliction for him.
While this sad sack is wondering what he has to do to hold on to the most beautiful pair of breasts woman he's ever seen, everything around him is increasingly bizarre and wild. His assistant and closest friend is a large bald man named Gnaghi who can only grunt and who also develops an obsessive love for the young daughter of the mayor after he vomits on her. Everyone around the cemetery seems rather uninterested in the fact that these "returners" continue to come back from the grave so Dellamorte can shoot them in the head, and the personification of Death even shows up to warn the caretaker that he should "stop killing the dead."
Everything in the film could be played for straight up laughs, and if that didn't work the story could also have been taken to gory extremes for the horror crowd. But director Michele Soavi seems to have an almost Shakespearean approach to the material, and the spirit that he gives Cemetery Man might be the biggest key to establishing the film as one of the most fascinating horror films of its era. A tonal comparison could be made to Peter Jackson's much loved Dead Alive, but the more human and less slapstick approach gives Cemetery Man a more tragic, thought-provoking edge over other splatter films like it.
Initial viewings of Cemetery Man may puzzle viewers - especially after the abstract ending - but returns to the film have really made me appreciate just how much this quirky horror film has to offer. It pushes the boundaries where many horror films stand pat, and never really suffers from its more abstract and existential choices. It's a movie that you don't want to look away from, and not just because you might see Falchi's God-given gifts at any moment. (Seriously, when she has a shirt on it looks like she's smuggling tetherballs.) The dark comedy, the ill-fated romance, and the zombie splatter all fit together perfectly here, establishing Cemetery man as a one-of-a-kind winner.

October 22, 2013

FMWL Indie Spotlight - The Studio on Mars, The ABCs of Death 2, Two Cool Horror Filmmakers, and You

I admit it, I skipped The ABCs of Death when it came out. Word of mouth was not good and I just never got around to it. Still, I appreciated the idea of a 26 part horror anthology film and was even more appreciative of the opportunity that the project afforded to independent horror filmmakers, who were given a chance to enter their own submissions and win a spot in the final film.

Well, The ABCs of Death 2 is on the way, and the same opportunity is being given to a new batch of horror filmmakers. Among the competitors for this honor are two good friends of FMWL, BJ Colangelo and Zach Shildwachter, working with the fine crew over at The Studio On Mars.  Their entry into the competition, entitled M is for Missionary, is something you other Midnight Warriors out there might want to check out.
For more from The Studio on Mars, check out their website and/or their Twitter.

Follow this link right here to go to the contest page for their submission, which you can watch there or watch below. For my money, it's a short and sweet home invasion story with a nice twist on societal expectations and some well-done brutality. Colangelo (who is directing for the first time) and Shildwachter (who once sent FMWL the grimy little treat Thrill Kill) have a good handle on the technical side of the film, teaming with their crew to create a good looking presentation that features top notch visual effects and sound effects that made me cringe a couple of times. As with most good short horror tales, it left me wanting to know more about what's going on here - which to me is the sign that they're doing something right.

I'm not going to tell you who you should vote for in this contest - I haven't checked out any of the other submissions yet, so I haven't voted yet either - I'm simply saying that I'm proud of these guys for their work and that you should check their entry out because it's a diabolical piece of gory fun.

You like diabolical and gory things, don't you?

PS - If you do want to vote for BJC and Zach's fine work, you should go to the main link (which is right here again in case you forgot it) and follow the instructions below.

October 18, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #198 - Fright Night

I'm not entirely sure, but I think Fright Night was the first R-rated horror movie I ever saw. That probably makes me biased, but remembering the experience that 10 year old me had while watching people turn into vampires (and other monsters of the night) makes me think that it might be the perfect introduction to "adult" horror for a younger horror fan. I was old enough (or was I just smart enough?) to know that the things I was seeing were both not real and really cool, and that helped make a big difference in my path toward horror fandom.
Today, Fright Night still seems like the pinnacle of '80s vampire films thanks to its respect for the past and its secure footing in horror's most excessive decade. William Ragsdale stars as ordinary teenager Charlie Brewster, who likes horror movies, his girlfriend (future Married With Children... co-star Amanda Bearse) and trying to have sex. So when he catches a view of his new neighbor Jerry (Chris Sarandon) with an attractive topless woman, he stares like most ordinary teenagers would. And then he sees fangs, and then Fright Night becomes a glorious vampire story.
If the set up sounds simple, it's because Fright Night is heavily a horror update of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (my favorite film of all-time, if we're sharing), but it doesn't settle for just being a play on Hitchcock. Writer/Director Tom Holland (who also directed previous Midnight Movies of the Week Child's Play and Thinner) adds something of a horror-movie-superhero to the proceedings in Peter Vincent, an aging star of Hammer-esque vampire films who now hosts the late night spook show for the local TV station.
I've long held the belief that the portrayal of Vincent by Roddy McDowell might be the finest performance given by an actor in a horror film. I realize that there's a bit of hyperbole to that statement - not to mention a bit of an insult toward Anthony Perkins and Psycho - but McDowell it has to be said that his performance is more than just a parody of actors like Peter Cushing and Vincent Price who gave him his name. The real treat in McDowell's performance is his emotional range as Vincent, perfectly presenting as both the aged actor who doesn't believe in real world evil and the confused old man who is forced into vampire hunting duty...for real.  The moments where McDowell is able to change his presentation in an instant - the scene in which he first meets Charlie, for example - push the performance further toward greatness, and the moments when the great Peter Vincent suddenly seems shocked and saddened by what he sees feel incredibly genuine.
The film's villains are another highlight, as our lead vampire is surrounded by a lot of bizarre and surprising creatures. Sarandon is the centerpiece of the conflict as the suave but devious Jerry Dandridge, and he seems to always have a smirk on his face that lets us know he's got something evil going on in his mind. The film refuses to rely on him only, and the final battles hold a few great surprises as the minions assisting our lead vampire reveal themselves in different ways. There are some special effects that still look fantastic on display as numerous transformations occur, and the battle that Charlie and Peter have to take part in feels deadly and exciting because they make us wonder where the film could be going next at every turn.
Though it's not the most serious take on the mythology and suffers from a few post-'80s side effects, Fright Night stands up on multiple viewings as one of my favorite vampire films of all-time. Maybe I'm biased again, thanks to my early connection to this film, but it's one of the most fun and endlessly watchable horror films I've ever seen. With great performances, fantastic monsters, and an A+ premise, Fright Night simply is one of the best horror films ever made.

October 11, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #197 - The Wicker Man

Antony Shaffer and Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man is one of those films that I just always want to talk about. Of course, it's also one of those movies that it's hard to talk about, because it has to be experienced to be understood. I don't know how to explain what is awesome about The Wicker Man to someone who hasn't seen The Wicker Man, because it's probably impossible for someone to feel the full impact of the film if they know what is going to happen in the film.
Of course, the biggest rule about The Wicker Man is not to talk about the ending, which helps this one of a kind horror film stand out as one of the biggest shockers - if not the biggest, and I don't say that lightly - of all-time. I will never forget how I felt, physically and mentally, after my first viewing of this film. The Exorcist had that kind of impact on me, Inside recently had a similar impact on me, and The Gate may have had that kind of impact on me when I was a kid....but I don't think any of them made me as uncomfortable as The Wicker Man - a film without gore or monsters - made me feel.
The film builds its power thanks to a two-headed approach. Firstly, it takes place on a bizarre island where everything looks like reality but seems like something out of a nightmare. The township of Summerisle feels like something you could find anywhere in the United Kingdom at the time of the film, yet the actions of everyone in town makes us feel like we've slipped into something of an alternate universe. The story's stance on religion helps make it seem so weird - as do my own religious beliefs, which make me an easy target for Shaffer's script - but everybody can probably see that a town with this much random singing and dancing and Christopher Lee's wig is kind of off-kilter.
The bizarre universe the film exists in is intensified by the actors within it, led by the late Edward Woodward, who gives one of horror's finest performances.  His turn as the religious policeman who descends on the town only intensifies how odd everything there is, and it makes the other stars - like the oft-nude temptress Britt Ekland and the deliciously hammy Lee (who seems like he was having a real good time playing Lord Summerisle) - seem that much more perfect in their roles. The disconnect between Woodward's character and this town's beliefs would make for a great piece of drama - but it's even better for what Hardy and Shaffer had up their sleeve here.
All of this odd behavior in the setting and by the characters doesn't seem like something you'd find in a movie renowned as a great horror film, which is a big part of why the ending means so much to the film's legacy.  Most of the film plays more like a fairy tale told by someone on acid than a horror film of the 1970s, and even the final act doesn't offer many traditional scares. But The Wicker Man offers viewers an intoxicatingly weird experience, and when that experience twists into its final reveal it's hard to not feel shaken by the film's power.
I've seen The Wicker Man probably a dozen times in the last decade, and it still leaves me speechless at times. I've covered it a few times over the years already, and feel like I don't have a lot to say about the movie tonight, but I just felt the need to bring it up one more time and get it on this Midnight Movie of the Week list. (Especially since I once chose the unintentionally hilarious remake for this list, which means I have to point out that this one's the good one or I might as well quit.) When October rolls around it simply feels like the season of The Wicker Man (as does May, considering the film's plot) and I'd be doing you all a disservice if I didn't point out how important this film is to horror and cult cinema. If you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to seek it out. If you've seen it and loved it...well, then I'm willing to bet you want to talk about it to people too. It's one of the most powerful midnight movie experiences that has ever been created.