Author Archives: Alex West

Alex’s 31 Days of Halloween Horror 2017 (October 16 – 31)

 

Alright, it’s mid-October. Are you tired yet? Thought not. Onwards!

October 16: Scream 2 (1997). Scream is a classic, but Scream 2 is a classic sequel. The original dynamics of my favourite Scooby gang (Sidney, Gale and Dewey) are at play and Wes Craven’s direction easily guides their story forward for a fun and violent late 90s romp. Also, Courteney Cox deserves all the praise for rocking those chunky highlights with minimal embarrassment.

October 17: The Omen (1976). It’s all for you Damien! Watch adults get whipped up into a tizzy over the son of the Devil that ends with one of cinema’s most chilling endings.

October 18: The Eyes of My Mother (2016) I want to talk about this movie to EVERYONE! But the less you know going into it, the better. So all I will say is, give it a watch.

October 19: I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016) Another recent film I’m shocked I haven’t heard more people talk about. I Am Not a Serial Killer is beautiful, gruesomely nostalgic and chilling, highly recommended. Again, the less you know going in – the better.

October 20: The Hills Have Eyes (2006) I prefer Aja’s remake for its visceral, unflinching violence that escalates in every screen. Aja and his team created images that are still seared in my brain.

October 21: The Strangers (2008) Quiet terror perfected, crush on Scott Speedman confirmed.

October 22: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004) A Faculty of Horror listener turned me on to this series (thanks Allen!) and since it’s all on YouTube you don’t have an excuse not to watch this joyfully bonkers cult-British series.

October 23: The House on Haunted Hill (1959) Speaking of joyfully bonkers, have you accepted our Lord and Saviour Vincent Price?

October 24: Under the Shadow (2016) I wanted desperately to love The Babadook, thankfully there’s Under the Shadow which is everything I wanted for my parent/child terror dynamic.

October 25: Cat People (1942) Classics are classics for a reason. Jacques Tourneur’s film holds up with elements of campy horror and female psychological dread. The film has gone on to influence a litter of other films because of its beautiful and stylistic simplicity. If you’re interested, here’s a longer piece I wrote about the film.

October 26: The Fog (1980) The film responsible for my lifelong dream of owning a lighthouse.

October 27: Prevenge (2016) Part horror comedy, part gore-stravaganza, part meditation on impending motherhood, all awesome.

October 28: Orphan (2009). One of the great contemporary camp classics held up with great performances all around.

October 29: Beware the Slenderman (2016). Sorry, were we having too much fun? Check out HBO’s documentary which examines the sociology of internet phenomenons and a chilling true crime case.

October 30: Black Swan (2010). I love Vincent Cassel. It also captures the competitive mania that artistic communities can breed with horrific accuracy.

October 31: Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982). Happy, happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. Happy, happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, SILVER SHAMROCK!

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Alex’s 31 Days of Halloween Horror

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Hi gang! I’ll be kicking off the list taking the first 16 days of October with a curated day-by-day breakdown and Andrea will follow up with her list for the second half of the month shortly.

My list is focused on horror films that veer more towards fun and that evoke an autumnal sense of terror in me (hence films like Black Christmas, The Thing and Inside are saved for winter). I hope you enjoy this list, I can’t wait to read Andrea’s and please comment with what your favourite Halloween movies are. Enjoy… if you DARE!

October 1: Prom Night (1980), starting things off nice and breezy with this early slasher featuring Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis. Prom Night takes a lot of now infamous slasher tropes and blends them nicely together for an entertaining thriller-chiller that takes itself about as seriously as that dance sequence.

October 2: Wake Wood (2009), slightly off the beaten track of contemporary horror films, Wake Wood provides an interesting analogue to the classic Pet Sematary while adding another film to the list of great British folk horror.

October 3: The Dead Zone (1983), terrified of the upcoming American presidential election? So are we! Now is the time to revisit Cronenberg’s under-appreciated classic meditation on life, love and liberty.

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October 4: The Silence of the Lambs (1991), a rare horror classic that swept the Oscars! Sit back, relax and remember a time when Anthony Hopkins tried to act in films rather than just show up in them.

October 5: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), I know I may be as alone on this one as Paul Rudd is in the actual film, but I love the silliness of it. It exemplifies everything horror audiences were getting tired of before Scream re-leveled the playing field rendering H6 a wacky, borderline parody.

October 6: Mr. Jones (2013), an underappreciated gem of a horror film which develops a really great mythology. And, if we’re being honest, it’s what I wish Blair Witch would have been like.

October 7: Ginger Snaps (2000), Ginger’s first period coincides with a werewolf attack – womanhood ensues.

October 8: Pontypool (2008), Canadians win at horror again with Bruce MacDonald’s nervy, claustrophobic and fresh take on the zombie apocalypse.

October 9: House of the Devil (2009), Ti West’s debut and best to date in my opinion. The film offers the slowest of burns that leaves you with an unsettled feeling that lasts for days.

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October 10: Pet Sematary II (1992), I went from saying this was my guilty pleasure to out and out loving it to the point where I currently wave my PS2 flag loud and proud. It’s a terrific sequel that incorporates the original without becoming subservient to it.

October 11: Candyman (1992), adult and supernatural all at the same time. One of the best films about urban legends that manages to be academic and supernatural without losing elements of either.

October 12: Creep (2014), another underrated found footage gem, but this one situates the horror firmly in the real world.

October 13: Eyes Without a Face (1960), lyrical, beautiful and a great grandparent to the New French Extremity movement.

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October 14: Blair Witch Project (1999), if there’s something more autumnal than getting lost in the woods and being terrorized by a witch, I don’t want to know about it.

October 15: The Loved Ones (2009), a near perfect balance of humour, terror and a pop song.

October 16: Trick ‘r Treat (2007), I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to not watch this movie in October.

**Bonus round: I add a sprinkling of all the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes throughout the month**

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYBODY!

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Review: The Final Girls (2015)

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When director Todd Strauss-Schulson introduced his newest film The Final Girls on the final day of the Toronto International Film Festival, he promised a love letter not only to horror, but to the slasher genre specifically. Strauss-Schulson, whose previous credits include A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, spoke about the impact the Friday the 13th series and The Burning in particular had on the film. He also spoke of the film’s emotional resonance, how it dealt with love and loss which were important elements to him after the passing of his own father. All things considered, it’s an interesting mix of thematic elements, especially when most of the film plays like a send-up of a forgotten ’80s slasher. When the lights came up after the screening, the film had crashed in at a lean 88 minutes and while it soared in some of those minutes, it came to a grinding halt in others.

The film begins with a trailer for the fictional slasher film, Camp Bloodbath setting up the campy (ahem) quality of the film-within-a-film that the rest of The Finals Girls revolves around. Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman) had several brushes with success but never achieved the big-time and is now raising her teenage daughter Max (Tessa Farmiga) alone. When Amanda is killed in a car crash, the film picks up a few years later when Max is coerced into attending a double-feature of Camp Bloodbath (where Amanda played the role of a doomed counsellor Nancy) and its sequel. During the screening, a fire breaks out in the theatre, leading Max and her friends to escape through the screen which transports them into the film, ergo into the sinister Camp Bloodbath. They are forced to live out the events of the film alongside the characters; most of whom develop into more fully formed characters as a result of the interlopers. Max, in particular, develops a bond with Nancy, the character portrayed by her mother, and attempts to save her from her fictional fate in the film. When the original Final Girl in the film is killed in an accident, it is up to Max and her friends to take up the mantle of Final Girl and save the day.

The Final Girl trope was named by film scholar Carol Clover in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws in 1992, which we’ve talked about multiple times on our podcast. For me, the Final Girl was a big hook that led me down my path to horror lovin’: when I was younger, slasher films interested me because I got to see strong, kind, independent, “normal” women fighting back. Many people have sought to tackle and re-imagine the Final Girl in multiple ways, some more successfully than others (for my money, my favourite Final Girl is Sidney Prescott from Scream) and these re-imaginings even resulted in a similarly titled but much worse film, Final Girl (2015) starring Abigail Breslin. The problem with Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls is that it never seeks to understand what truly makes a Final Girl, other than an intact hymen. It never bothers to explore the idea of multiple Final Girls (as the title implies) and winds up standing around making fun of ’80s-style films and tropes. In the film-within-the-film, the characters deduce that there are a series of boxes that must be ticked off in order for Max to enter battle with the Jason Voorhees-like killer, Billy Murphy. The problem is, those boxes – which can be boiled down to the new Final Girl – must be a virgin and must kill the Killer with his own weapon, are some hella cherry-picked emblems of what makes a Final Girl. Yes, the Final Girl is chaste and possibly a virgin, but the film puts so much emphasis on virginity and the exposure of breasts and sex as an alert to the Killer to kill that it becomes a stretch to believe that these slasher films are about anything else, making it less a love letter to the genre and more of a kiss-off. The Final Girls of note are not always chaste and virginal, but they are almost always strong, compassionate and intelligent. Oddly enough, The Final Girls spends time revealing these traits in multiple characters in the film but never values them.

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The film boasts a uniformly strong cast which unfortunately slow it down as they are all allowed to vamp and improv on screen – resulting in some truly funny moments but none that really add to the themes and plot of the film. The Final Girls does manage to earn some genuinely emotional moments between Max and Nancy as well as Vicki (Nina Dobrev) and Gertie (Alia Shawkat) which helps elevate parts of the film outside of the male gaze of the slasher narrative, which is heavily reliant on boobs and the showing of them. These emotional moments are what render The Final Girls tragically flawed. They suggest that the filmmakers know that the emotional bonds between the female characters are perhaps the strongest areas in the film but weren’t able to fully integrate them into the plot of the story which stems from a purposefully dated slasher. The characters don’t get to subvert or change their fates, they only succumb to them.

The Final Girls is an inoffensive semi-tribute to the slasher genre but rarely demonstrates any true understanding of it. It attempts too many things to be good at any one of them; it’s a coming of age story, a love story, a love lost story and a goofy horror film all in one. To truly get at the heart of what slashers and horror films have to offer, filmmakers have to be able to pull the intangible elements that have made these kind of films an industry all their own and explore what makes them tick – not just follow in their footsteps.

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Coming Soon: Ashlea Wessel’s Ink

Toronto based visual artist, award-winning photographer and friend to The Faculty of Horror Ashlea Wessel is about to make her mark in the world of film with her upcoming short, Ink. Merging body horror with Wessel’s own unique visual style, Ink has the makings of a tantalizing and evocative short film. While Ink is still in its development stage, the project is currently seeking funding to realize the vision on screen. The Indiegogo page features videos, interviews and wide range of perks for those who are able to donate as well as a teaser description for the film.

“JOEY lives alone.  She’s independent and self-reliant and her life is exactly how she’s decided it should be. After a pregnancy scare, Joey marks the occasion with a new tattoo and a drunken night of forgetfulness. When Joey arrives home in the early hours of the morning, she’s confronted with the truth about what she really wants, and the past that she’s trying to come to terms with.  Her desires and circumstances intersect to awaken a bond between her and an ancient force; a monster from unknown depths who’s mysteriously drawn to her.”

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Ashlea has been a great supporter of the Faculty of Horror and we’ve both donated to help this exciting film get made. If you can, consider throwing in some money and if you can’t swing that right now a few shares on social media are another great way to show support.  To see more and donate, visit the Ink Indiegogo page here.

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Review – REC 4: Apocalypse

Alex checked out TIFF’s Midnight Madness 2014 and caught a bad case of seasickness

 

REC 4: Apocalypse director Jaume Balagueró began his post TIFF screening Q and A with an answer to the question, why did you move away from the found footage format? Balagueró replied, because I wanted to give the audience something new. While many at the screening cheered at his answer I couldn’t help but feel a wave of disappointment wash over me.

 

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While many will crack jokes about the over usage of the found footage conceit in horror, the films still manage to do well. They still get theatrical releases and many more find distribution and fans through festivals, VOD and Netflix. It’s still a format that being mined for stories and most importantly, found footage horror is an economically feasible format for young filmmakers. When REC arrived on the horror scene in 2007 it garnered solid reviews and loyal fans. The sequel which continued with the found footage format takes place 20 minutes after the events of the first film. The first two films delved into the crisis of a viral zombie-like outbreak in an apartment building in Barcelona, Spain and imbued the story with commentary on the Catholic church as well as the use of control and propaganda during General Francisco Franco’s fascist rule which still permeates the Spanish cultural landscape.The found footage format lent itself beautifully to the story. By eschewing traditional narrative shooting techniques, co-directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza were able place the action in the hands of the terrified people inside the apartment building and delve into the notion of a government cover up, driving the stakes of the film through the roof and creating a reason for those trapped inside to just “keep filming”.

 
REC and REC 2 function as two of the best examples of found footage horror. Terrifying, visceral and intelligent they set a standard for horror fans. With the release of REC 3: Genesis two years ago, the formula shifted. This time found footage was only used for the opening sequences of the film which took place at a wedding. Ideologically REC 3 moves away from its predecessors in favor of gory humor. Some of it worked, but a lot of REC 3 was a lame attempt at a slickly violent horror comedy. The undercurrent of commentary was lost in favour of gratuitous shots of a woman in a wedding dress wielding a chainsaw which is nifty for about 30 seconds.

 
Initially I was quite excited for REC 4. Balagueró said that it would be the last in the series and that Angela (Manuela Velasco) the hero/villain of the first two films would be returning. REC 4 takes on an Aliens tone with the entrapment of the characters on a boat, surrounded by the military and no one coming to get them. Angela wakes up on what she is told is a quarantine ship after the events of the second film. She and the other survivors, two SWAT team members that got her out of the apartment building and an elderly woman who is the sole survivor of the wedding in REC 3, wait to be released from the ship. Waiting around on the ship doesn’t work out when a test subject of the virus is released on the ship by someone or something. The survivors band together as the virus sweeps through the crew members.

 
The unfortunate thing about REC 4 is nearly the entire mythology is dropped. While the villains of the film are clearly the evil scientists who are doing evil experiments on evil test subjects, there is no searching or questioning why they are doing it and who sanctioned this. While the fear of the characters in the first two films is palpable when they are trapped in an apartment building with the government shooting at them if they attempt to leave, REC 4 is simply content to have its characters abandoned at sea with little to no reference to the outside world. There are no cultural or societal stakes in this film, once the first crew member is infected it simply becomes a matter of the main characters getting good at running away from things.

"No! Plot! I'm looking for plot!"

“No! Plot! I’m looking for plot!”

While I initially thought REC and REC 2 co-director Paco Plaza’s REC 3 was the faltering point of the series, that dubious honour can now be passed on to Balagueró REC 4. As is the case with many film series’ REC offered diminishing financial returns. While the first film made over 30 million dollars worldwide, REC 2 made 27 million. After initially seeing REC 3 at the Toronto After Dark festival, I heard very little about it and it wound up making a disappointing 10 million worldwide. The fading returns of the series are present in REC 4. The production quality ranges from awful to God-awful with manic editing in an attempt to cover up logic and plot holes within in the film.

 
REC 4: Apocalypse is a mess of a film with none of the viciousness or inventiveness of the original. It’s as dull and flat as many other hastily produced zombie/demonic possession film that shuffle their way onto VOD or Netflix. By attempting to conform REC’s DNA to a more typical plot and method of storytelling, Balagueró managed to turn in film that is only memorable because of how disappointing it is.

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