Category Archives: Horror

#326 An American Werewolf In London

(1981, John Landis)

“Beware the moon”

It’s no longer Halloween, but it appears that today we still have the horror bug, and this is a movie that has it all. Werewolves! Gore! Murder! Yorkshiremen! Frank Oz in a non-puppet role! Today we’re looking at An American Werewolf In London.

Two American students are inexplicably on holiday in the Yorkshire Moors. After David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) wander into a spooky pub filled with terrifying Yorkshiremen, the two end up venturing onto the moors at night, where they’re attacked by a beast. Jack is killed, but David is saved when the scary Yorkshiremen shoot the beast. David is taken to hospital in London (as opposed to, I don’t know, Leeds) where he begins to experience strange visions of a horribly mutilated Jack who tells David that he’ll turn into a werewolf. David also falls for his nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), and the two begin a relationship.

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#321 & #322 Night Of The Living Dead & Dawn Of The Dead

(1968/1978, George A. Romero)

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra”


So while other movie blogs have seen reviewers watch horror movies all through October, I kept up my regular thing of a special horror review on Halloween itself. But I reviewed Halloween last year, so where could I possibly go this year? A quick glance at the 1001 Movies list showed me that two of George Romero’s Dead movies were on my to-watch list, so I figured, how about a double review of these classic zombie movies?

After all, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid zombie fiction lately what with the success of games like The Last of Us and The Walking Dead being one of the most popular shows on TV right now. So why not spend this Halloween taking a look at where the modern zombie image came from?

Night Of The Living Dead, the first in the series, starts out with siblings Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) visiting their father’s grave. Soon things turn sour when Johnny is attacked and murdered by a strange, lumbering man. When Barbra runs away, she finds herself trapped in a farmhouse surrounded by more of these murderous people with a man named Ben (Duane Jones), an embittered married couple with a sick child, and a teenage couple who fled when they heard emergency broadcasts. Then shenanigans.

Dawn Of The Dead, released ten years later, is set in the midst of the zombie outbreak, and two SWAT team officers, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger), join forces with two employees from a local TV station who have stolen the station’s helicopter, Stephen (David Emge) and Francine (Gaylen Ross). Together they journey to a shopping mall for supplies, and decide to turn it into their own personal base to hide out from the apocalypse. Then shenanigans. Read the rest of this entry

#318 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

(1956, Don Siegel)

“They’re here already! You’re next!”

Imagine if you will, an ordinary day, with an ordinary man, wandering through the streets as if everything is as ordinary as can be. But this ordinary man is not an ordinary man. He is something else. He is a facsimile of a man. A duplicate of a man who had his body snatched. What you are imagining is the scenario presented in Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

One of the most well-known, influential and well-respected movies of the 50s alien invasion b-movie canon, Invasion of The Body Snatchers stars Kevin McCarthy as Dr Miles Bennell, a doctor who has recently returned from a trip and finds his hometown acting a little strange. Numerous people are coming to him claiming that their relatives aren’t who they say they are, the normally buzzing diner is devoid of customers and a resident reports a mysterious body appearing on his pool table. Something fishy is going on in Santa Mira, and Miles intends to find out what.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is definitely a b-movie, although it is one with slightly better production values than the average alien invasion flick. That said, it’s still a very ropey and slightly cheesy movie that falls flat on an awful lot of things.

First of all, the acting. While certainly a step up from the acting you typically came across in 50s b-movies, it’s still shaky as hell at times. Characters often feel a little too stoic where they really should be shocked or scared, and the square-jawed emotionless hero kind of got a little silly after a while, especially as it began to become difficult to tell the difference between the emotionless clones and the hero. At least until the end when he starts freaking out.

Also, the plot is really not consistent. Certain things move too quickly, meaning there’s never really a strong sense of dread going on. Miles and his lady-friend wander through the town experiencing weird thing after weird thing, spending very little with each weird thing until eventually there’s a body on a table slowly growing features and I feel like I skipped a few pages of build-up.

And when it’s not doing that, the movie has an alarming tendency to over-explain itself. Quite often we’ll be told of extra weird things, or we’ll get frequent summaries of the movie so far. Very rarely does the movie just stop and let the tension build. And it definitely makes the experience feel weaker. There are also some logistic issues with the way the “body snatchers” operate. There are times when the clones are created separately from the original, but other times it feels like the original body is taken over, and there’s a constant clash on this front.

But that’s not to say Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is an inherently bad movie. Far from it, in fact. The central concept is definitely intriguing and it plays itself out nicely. We get reveals at appropriate times and despite the general lack of tension, there are scenes where tension does pop up briefly, and these are probably some of the stronger scenes in the movie. A scene late in the movie where the whole town moves in sync with one another is eerie and particularly notable.

The effects are also surprisingly good for an old sci-fi b-movie. Okay, admittedly this mostly stems from the pods and the resulting pod people, but these are still things that worked fantastically well. The pods looked creepy and organic, and the unfinished clones were creepy and unpleasant in all the right ways.

I think perhaps the monster being other people also worked in the movie’s favour as it allowed it to keep its effects minimal and create a sense of paranoia instead of the shock of seeing plastic flying saucers floating in on strings. It’s easy to see how the movie was taken as a McCarthyism allegory, since the fear of other people is strong here.

Overall, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a ropey and somewhat shaky movie that tells an interesting story in a flawed way. It’s a low-budget sci-fi b-movie that sits firmly at the higher end of the quality scale for the genre. It’s clear why this has endured the way it is. It has moments of tension and action, while also remaining somewhat charmingly silly at the same time.

Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan & Carolyn Jones
Written by Jack Finney (novel) and Daniel Mainwaring
Produced by Walter Wanger
Music by Carmen Dragon
Cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks
Edited by Robert S. Eisen

Favourite Scene: The town moving in unison and preparing to deliver pods out of town is easily one of the more unnerving sights in cinema history.
Scene That Bugged Me: There was something very silly about the pod people casually explaining their whole plan and then gathering in a separate room expecting Miles to sit still.

Watch it if: You like cheesy 50s alien invasion movies, because this is one of the best
Avoid it if: You like your alien movies to be full of spaceships and little green men

#301 The Wolf Man

(1941, George Waggner)

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”

I was sitting in my big leather armchair wondering what it would be like to be a werewolf. Then I realised it probably wasn’t that good an idea and I decided to watch a movie about a werewolf instead. And why not start with the werewolf movie that started them all, The Wolf Man, one of the classic Universal monster movies?

It’s 1934, and Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) has heard about the death of his brother and returns to his ancestral home in Wales to reconcile with his estranged father, John (Claude Rains). While there, he takes an interest in antiques dealer Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), and purchases a walking stick with a silver wolf head, supposedly representing a werewolf, a local legend. When Larry is attacked in the woods by a wolf, he manages to kill it using the cane, but ends up bitten in the process. I’ll let you figure out the rest.

The Wolf Man may be a classic, but it’s definitely on the b-movie end of things. The first indication of this comes fairly early on when it becomes apparent that the movie is intent on drumming the werewolf legend into your head at every point. It does this by insistently repeating a poem about wolfbane that’s supposedly a local legend, pretty much to the point of tedium. Every character offhandedly tells Larry the poem, who seems amazed by it every single time, while I began to groan every time someone started saying it.

Of course, not much of the film’s other dialogue is much better. From comments about a pentagram-shaped scar being nothing because “that scar could have been made by any animal” (are you sure?) to some incredibly awkward flirting, this movie isn’t going to win any awards for writing. The flirting especially annoys me because it results in a forced love story that doesn’t make any sense and starts by Larry spying on Gwen with his dad’s telescope and then casually dropping personal information about her into their first conversation based on this. This is more terrifying than the movie’s actual horror!

The acting isn’t much better. For the most part, everyone is either phoning it in or seems to not care. The only actor who seems to be putting some degree of effort in is Claude Rains, which makes John Talbot the best character in the whole movie because he’s the only person who feels believable. Of course, this doesn’t make his relationship to Larry believable, because there is no way to think these two actors share any genes because they’re so vastly different in terms of body type and demeanour.

But of course, no one comes into a werewolf movie expecting a deep story and believable characters, we come to watch horrific transformations and see people get attacked by hairy men. How does it do on that front?

Well, it does…okay. It’s kind of a fun watch once the transformations start happening, but marred by some dated effects and makeup that make the “wolf” man look more like a man with an unfortunate medical condition. The first transformation we see is also a major letdown, as Larry’s feet calmly fade to a pair of fuzzy slippers which then walk out of a door.

But it has charm. At least it has that going for it. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a creaky old Universal horror movie from the 40s. It’s there for silly entertainment as you watch a man in questionable monster makeup stalk around.

So, The Wolf Man. Not great, but charming and entertaining enough.

Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patrick Knowles & Bela Lugosi
Written by Curt Siodmak
Produced by George Waggner
Cinematography by Joseph Valentine
Edited by Ted J. Kent

Favourite Scene: The wolf attack in the woods is pretty exciting.
Scene That Bugged Me: That pentagram scar line. Not many animals would make a scar that shape. Just saying.

Watch it if: You like creaky old monster movies
Avoid it if: You like nuanced art pieces with complex plots

#289 Jacob’s Ladder

(1990, Adrian Lyne)

“The only part of you that burns in Hell is the part of you that can’t let go of life”

I am a big fan of the Silent Hill video game series, at least in terms of its earlier entries, and one major inspiration that the developers have cited over the years was a little independent American thriller movie from the early 90s called Jacob’s Ladder. So imagine my joy when it turned up on the 1001 Movies list. But how good is this psychological thriller and is its cult success justified?

Jacob’s Ladder is set in the late seventies, where Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a Vietnam veteran now working as a postman in New York with his girlfriend Jezebel (Elizabeth Pena). During the war, he experienced an episode where members of his division started experiencing abnormal behaviour, and in his present life, he seems to suffer severe hallucinations, and begins to get increasingly paranoid that demons are coming to kill him. He sets out to discover the truth for himself, and stop the nightmarish hallucinations once and for all.

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#259 Peeping Tom

(1960, Michael Powell)

“Do you know what the most frightening thing in the world is? It’s fear”

We’ve talked about The Archers before. A British production duo consisting of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with Powell doing the directing and Pressburger doing the production, and the two of them sharing writing duties. Their films were typically very stuffy British movies about things like ballet and nuns.

That was until Powell decided to go solo and make Peeping Tom, a movie about a serial killer. So a detective movie then? A Hitchcock-style thriller of mistaken identity? Well, not exactly. The serial killer is the protagonist, and this controversial choice caused the end of Powell’s directing career as a result of the backlash the movie received. Interesting. Let’s take a look.

Peeping Tom follows Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), an amateur filmmaker in the process of making his secret masterpiece, a film about death that captures the expressions of women about to be murdered in gruesome detail. And how does he achieve these shots? Why, he goes out and kills women using a sharpened tripod, of course! Meanwhile, his neighbour Helen (Anna Massey) takes an interest in him and attempts to befriend him, unaware of his psychotic nature.

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#256 Safe

(1995, Todd Haynes)
“I know it’s not normal but I can’t help it”

I love movies about quirky subject matter, especially when the subject matter has a sense of mystery about it. I love movies that make me wonder what the hell is going on, that make me feel uneasy but I still love every minute of them. Safe is one of those movies.

Safe is about a housewife named Carol White (Julianne Moore), who one day starts to get mysteriously ill, suffering random nosebleeds and coughing fits. When her doctors find her strangely healthy despite this, she discovers that she may have a strange illness known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which is seemingly set off by chemicals in everyday life.

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#249 The Host

(2006, Bong Joon-ho)
괴물

It is lurking behind you

I seem to have a good relationship with Korean cinema. So far I’ve enjoyed 100% of the movies that I’ve seen that came out of South Korea. Admittedly, that’s been exactly two movies so far, but that’s still a good track record. Will The Host keep up this record or will it break that streak?

Thankfully unrelated to the Stephanie Meyer novel of the same name, The Host starts with an American scientist dumping formaldehyde into the Han River. Six years later, a sleepy and somewhat slow-witted man named Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is working on his father’s snack bar when a strange creature emerges from the river and causes chaos. His daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-Sung), is captured by the creature, leading everyone to believe her to be dead.

However, Gang-du receives a phone call while under a quarantine ordered by the US Army, seemingly from Hyun-seo. He decides to break out of quarantine and find his daughter with the assistance of his father, Hee-Bong (Byun Hee-Bong), his medal-winning archer sister, Nam-joo (Bae Doona), and his alcoholic brother, Nam-il (Park Hae-il).

At its heart, The Host is a monster movie, putting an unsuspecting populace face to face with a terrible monster that terrorises their livelihood. But aside from that, it’s also a black comedy mixed in with political commentary. It’s also not quite as good as The Good, The Bad, The Weird or Oldboy.

But it’s a close one. There are issues with The Host, but many of them are fairly minor. I did have a bit of an issue with how early the monster is shown, something that seemed to take a great sense of mystery out of the movie. I like my movie monsters to be gradually revealed over time, but this one cropped up straight away and in broad daylight. It felt a little disappointing to see it so clearly so soon.

I also felt the anti-American political commentary was a little heavy-handed. Pretty much every action performed by an American within the plot was horrendously callous and destructive, and the movie seemed to go to great lengths to make the Westerners look absolutely awful across the board. There’s even an American doctor portrayed with cross-eyes just to make him look stupid. It does get a little tiring quite often.

The movie can also feel a little meandering at times, leaping from event to event as it tries to cram a bunch of ideas in. There were times when I felt a little bit lost and wanted the movie to pace itself a little better.

However, these issues failed to get in the way of making the movie highly entertaining. The movie is loaded with comedy throughout the whole thing, largely through the slow-witted protagonist, drunk brother and hesitant sister (who, it must be said, ultimately turns out to be a pretty badass archer). Just like other Korean movies I’ve reviewed on here, comedy turns up in unlikely places, and quite often you’ll find yourself bouncing between horrified and amused without warning.

The monster effects are also pretty phenomenal. The designers chose to keep the monster as close to a mutated fish creature as possible, and it actually feels like a plausible creature when it’s not doing crazy acrobatics. But even then, the acrobatics are exciting to watch, and pretty scary at times. It’s easy to forgive seeing the monster so much when it looks this good.

The Host also manages to be tense and exciting even despite the lack of mystery over the monster. It does this by cleverly matching up the mystery of what the creature actually does with the horrific actions of the Americans, with the release of an unpleasant chemical agent onto the populace being one of the more uncomfortable parts of the movie, in a good way.

All in all, The Host is flawed, but still manages to keep up a 100% approval rating for Korean cinema in my eyes, and that’s what really matters here.

Starring Song Kang-Ho, Byun Hee-Bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona & Go Ah-Sung
Written by Baek Chul-hyun & Bong Joon-Ho
Produced by Choi Yong-bae
Music by Lee Byung-Woo
Cinematography by Kim Hyung-Ku
Edited by Kim Sun-Min

Favourite Scene: Nam-joo making up for her earlier hesitance by shooting a flaming arrow right in the creature’s face? Yes!
Scene That Bugged Me: Did we really need the cross-eyed scientist?

Watch it if: You’re a fan of Korean cinema and/or monster movies
Avoid it if: You’re bored of anti-American messages

#230 The Blair Witch Project

(1999, Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez)

“We’re gonna die out here!”

It’s Halloween, which means that yet again I am here to review a horror movie. I already reviewed Halloween itself last year, so I feel that this year I should take a look at another flavour of horror movie, away from the slasher flick. After reviewing Paranormal Activity ages ago, I feel it’s a good time to look at the movie that helped really bring the found footage genre into the mainstream – The Blair Witch Project.

The movie presents itself as the lost footage of a group of student filmmakers who went missing in the woods in October 1994. The students, Heather, Mike and Josh (guess which actors played which character!) were investigating the legend of the Blair Witch, a ghost story in the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland. The movie tracks their progress as they lose their way in the woods and increasingly weird things begin to happen to them.

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#210 & #211 Nosferatu

(1922, F.W. Murnau & 1979, Werner Herzog)

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht

Nosferatu is possibly one of the most famous silent movies ever made, and a massive influence on horror films for years to come. Essentially a name-swapped unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu is one of the earliest vampire movies and certainly the most influential. But how many people are aware that it received a remake in 1979 by the equally German director Werner Herzog? Well, today we’re going to look at both and see how well they hold up.

Both films follow the story of Dracula to a tee, with a man named Jonathan Harker Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangeheim/Bruno Gans) receiving word that a man from Translyvania wishes to buy a property in their small town. He ventures to Transylvania, where he is met with fear from the villagers when he says he wishes to visit the mansion. At the mansion, he meets Count Dracula Orlok (Max Shreck/Klaus Kinsi), a strange-looking man who sleeps during the day and lives by night. However, once the deal is done, a reign of terror falls on our hero’s peaceful town when the curse of the vampire takes over.

Basically, exactly what you’d expect from a vampire movie that doesn’t involve teenagers and sparkling. Both are pretty standard stories and don’t really hold many surprises today. But they are mildly entertaining.

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