Monthly Archives: December 2012

Crash Analysis: THE WIZARD OF GORE (2007)

VIDEODROME meets William S. Burroughs

A man’s amazement with a magician turns to an unhealthy addiction

Two things grab you right off the mark: Christopher Duddy’s noir-esque cinematography and Crispin Glover as Montag – a role he was born to play. And once you’re sucked into the movie, it has a hard time letting you go. After all, Brad Dourif, Jeffrey Combs, Bijou Phillips, Kip Pardue, and Joshua John Miller, also star.

The story follows fedora and suspender wearing Edmund Bigelow (Pardue), as if Peter Weller portraying Bill Lee in NAKED LUNCH (1991), and his vivacious little vixen girlfriend that is Maggie (Phillips). On Halloween, the pair visit a show with Montag the Magnificient, and after a masterful display of on-stage carnage, where he appears to brutally murder an audience member, Ed leaves spellbound. Captivated by the magician’s penchant for rattling souls and waking audiences from the dead, as if Montag were the mastermind behind the New French Extremity in cinema, intellectual Ed returns night after night as if to stay awake, because this passionless persona is missing something in his life – a connection – that he can find nowhere else except in the spectacle that is Montag’s show. And even when he learns that the surviving volunteer for the act was later found murdered, Ed can’t stop himself from attending, as if the show in which he bears witness is an all-powerful drug.

It’s hard not to be enthralled by the white tux wearing Montag with a codpiece the size of a small nation. Brilliantly played by Glover, who delivers scene after scene with vibrant intonations as well as great feats of physical showmanship, Montag may be one of the best on-screen villains to capture the screen since HELLRAISER’s (1987) Pinhead. With Glover’s panache, grace and over-the-top carinval barker-like belittling of the audience, one will find it hard not to fall in love. For Glover, this is one of his most animated roles and he plays it with abandon and unrivaled energy.

Other characters also spring to life, but in muted ways. After all, the characters, like the movie, are dark and subdued, as if the Necronomicon is real and had painted its bleakness over the world. The only soul truly alive and riveting in the movie is Montag, that bright shining, self-centered star of the stage. But he is only acting, spinning plates with his words to awaken a bored audience of Goth kids, punks, outsiders and anarchy loving lost souls desensitized by a sterilized modern world. Dr. Chong (Dourif) seems tough and respected, but he’s a charlatan of an accupuncturist hellbent on self-preservation and fleeting discourse, coroner assistant Jinky (Miller) is a reject from the Scooby-gang because of a bitter and often socially inept demeanor, Maggie seems like a weathered drug addict coming down hard from her latest high, and Ed is as detached as he is arrogant. Together, the troupe complements a watered-down America aloof and living in a bubble, following like sheep when they can’t even fathom that they’re being led to the slaughter.

Yet Pardue seems out of place in his own suit, which is oversized to his just over six foot frame (think David Byrne of the Talking Heads during their “Stop Making Sense” days from 1984). The shoulders of the jacket, the heavy black-rimmed glasses and the fedora’s brim make him look smaller than he actually is in reality. But costume Designer Carrie Grace is no slouch, and she made certain the clothes complemented every actor, even in the smallest of roles. Therefore, if we take into account Ed’s elitism, it’s no wonder he’s like a kid lost in a suit. The 1940’s look for Ed highlights the fact that he sees himself as something older and wiser than his fellow man. While trying to look hipper, older, more together and in charge, he’s actually laughable and out of his league. As Ed will soon discover, he doesn’t “have it together” and he is no wiser than bums in the street or seemingly vacant night owls in the shadows. He’s lost in a herd of the lost – but he’s the only one who doesn’t know it.

But why, with a mad magician, dead volunteers from the audience, and Cronenberg- and Lynch-like goings-on, does the movie seem to be missing something? The answer may be in first time scribe Zach Chassler’s script. The movie is riveting, fantastical, horrifying and satirical, yet amiss in what Pardue calls a “horror noir”. The horror is present and it’s perfect, though the mystery portion is sorely lacking.

Ed expresses concern for the nightly murders of those who had earlier appeared on the master magician’s stage, though it seems as if his intrigue comes from a place where Ed believes he “has to” feel this way instead of any real pathos. Then Ed investigates – sort of. Although Duddy’s lighting and John Pollard’s production design capture that noir feel, Ed is no Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Where the aforementioned took the mystery into their own hands and turned over stones and knocked down doors to solve the mystery, Ed is a lump and does little exploration. Instead, he relies on what is given to him from the likes of Maggie, Jinky and Dr. Chong, and never gets dirty from getting too close to the truth. We never feel as if he’s in danger. If Ed were James Bond, he’d be a dapper Roger Moore instead of a rugged Sean Connery. The lack of Ed truly being on a trail of discovery, and without there being any real stakes for him, prevents THE WIZARD OF GORE from truly wowing the audience. Additionally, the plot does become convoluted, but if one pays attention, logic will win out, though the suspense akin to a vibrant thriller is clearly absent.

As a director, Jeremy Kasten has done it all in filmmaking: editor, producer, actor, writer and cameramn. But as the man at the helm, he is hit (2001’s THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS and 2011’s THE THEATRE BIZARRE) and miss (2005 and 2006’s THE THIRST and ALL SOULS DAY: DIA DE LOS MUERTOS). Most notable is that his “hits” are also full of elements that leave an audience feeling shortchanged, and THE WIZARD OF GORE is another feature that with a little more attention to story, could have made it one of the best in horror history.

Watch the movie and judge for yourself. The unrated edition is wonderful, loaded with great interviews and bonus segments for fans. As for Glover, his performance will resonate. To get in the mood, check out Scarling’s amazing tune, “Crispin Glover” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yc7hMWdG3Pg) because singer-songwriter Jessika could never get enough of him – and after THE WIZARD OF GORE, you’ll definitely want more of him as well. But why didn’t I mention long time horror favorite Jeffrey Combs? Watch for yourself.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: THE PACT (2012)

A low budget horror with some staying power 

A sister wants answers, but the ghosts aren’t talking…

Writer/director Nicholas McCarthy originally created THE PACT as a short, which played at Sundance. Three days later, he had a deal for this full-fledged feature – and the result doesn’t disappoint.

Annie (Caity Lotz) and her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) recently lost their mother. Blonde-haired Annie could care less, but Nicole encourages her sister to get to mom’s house before the viewing. After Annie arrives – there’s no Nicole, except a house of mystery that plays on the woman’s nerves as if the oppressive mother and her domination seeps out of the walls to smother her completely. When she discovers a secret room she simply can’t recall, Annie’s on a mission to find her sister, and to find out what kind of Hell mother had put them through in their childhood. Once again, we visit a home – a sanctuary and protective womb – that undermines that very notion and presents itself as another illusion of safety. The claustrophobic element turns this supposed oasis from the nightmares of the outside world into a house of terror.

Right from the beginning, we know this is not some third rate low budget feature to laugh at or easily dismiss. McCarthy gets it right by allowing Lotz to embrace her character and fly. Annie’s grit and concern, and her penchant for anger and vulnerability, presents a woman who has survived a tumultuous childhood, but won’t cry in a corner and beg someone to save her. Well, she sort of does with Bill Creek (Casper Van Dien), but only when Annie needs him to believe that she’s not responsible for a lost soul or two. Van Dien also brings a rough edge to his role, and instead of appearing like some stock cop from a glamorized television show, he looks like an Alcoholics Anonymous member that has fallen off the wagon and had one to many bottles of Thunderbird.

Even before we get to know the characters, however, Bridger Nielson’s cinematography completely establishes the mood with yellowed tones and the best possible lighting that keeps the bright areas bright, and the dark regions oh so dark. This excellent balance, and a camera that always seems to be encroaching, reluctantly drags the audience along towards the dark underbelly of Annie and her sister’s frenzied world of angst. Adding to the photography is Ronen Landa’s original music that neither gives away a coming monster (think of 1978’s HALLOWEEN), or serves as a distraction (such as 2012’s [REC]3: GENESIS from Spain). The established tone is further enhanced by a steady pace and an ambience of sheer unease, that keeps one glued to the screen, for at any moment, Annie’s world can come crushing down around her.

Annie becomes a sort of wounded detective on the march, and soon discovers that her mother had hidden one horrific secret in a house that had been far removed from being a safe haven for two little girls. Though one can say THE PACT is “Bad Ronald” (the 1974 television horror) meets the mute ghost from (add Asian horror of choice here), they’re missing the point. McCarthy has created a strong dramatic horror that brings the suspense, and then some – and like John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), leaves some little mysteries behind for us to talk about. No, it is not perfect, and there are similarities to many other movies in the genre, but this remains a viable character study full of potent dialogue and disturbing subtlety. Most important, since he’s mastered the element of tension and tone, I cannot wait to see what he brings next – and I hope you cannot wait either.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Reports: My 50th Italian Horror

NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965) is a black-and-white feature directed by Mario Caiano, who  also penned the screenplay. The significance of this poorly shot and laughable romp is that it’s my 50th Italian horror.

As many fans of the genre know, Italian horror is normally held in very high regard. Bava (1960’s BLACK SUNDAY), Argento (1977’s SUSPIRIA) and Fulci (1979’s ZOMBIE 2) are renowned for their work, and the aforementioned films have all attained cult status. However, other than Brava’s BLACK SUNDAY, which is decent but not truly worthy of a “wow” factor, most of the Italian horrors I’ve seen do not satisfy on any level. Quite often, production is plagued by awful sound, over acting (scream queens abound), hack-and-slice editing, and stories that seemed to come from first draft scripts, though I often love the lighting and use of comic book coloring (especially by Bava and Argento), which add more to the fantastical atmosphere. Due to this constant string of disappointment, I normally shy away from such features since it has been repeatedly proven that all live up to low expectations.

This does not mean, however, that the lackluster tales and production value permeate all of Italian cinema. These are my favorites:

BLACK SUNDAY (1960) – 3.5 stars

In one of Bava’s best, Barbara Steele portrays a dead witch that comes back from the grave to possess her look-alike 200 hundred years after her death. Bava creates great atmosphere and some of the special effects for the time are quite solid. Enjoy the tale that takes place in the early 1800s.

BABA YAGA (Italy/France, 1973) – 4 stars

With the coolest music, fashionable look, and an intriguing tale of witchcraft, director Corrado Farina delivers on all fronts. Better still, Carroll Baker and Isabelle De Funes have the looks and verve to bring their respective characters to life in grand form. There’s much more than beautiful screaming ladies in distress, and the story stands firm.

DON’T LOOK NOW (UK/Italy, 1973) – 4 stars

No, it’s not the full-frontal nudity of Donald Sutherland that caught my eye, but the foreboding nature of Nicolas Roeg’s film, whose dank atmosphere came off as a full-blown plague of the senses. John (Sutherland) and Laura (Julie Christie) travel to Venice after the death of their daughter to discover a psychic woman that brings a vital message from the netherworld. But will they listen?

A WHISPER IN THE DARK (Italy, 1976) – 3.5 stars

Atmosphere abounds in Marcello Aliprandi’s haunting feature. With gorgeous cinematography, thanks to Claudio Cirillo, and a wonderful script from the Rienzis, many parents will begin to second guess how invisible their child’s imaginary friend is. (See my review under “Older Posts”.)

But the best of the rest is:

CEMETERY MAN (Italy/France/Germany, 1994) – 4.5 stars

Rupert Everett works in a cemetery, and must make certain the dead remain in their graves when they re-animate. This quirky horror comedy from Michele Soavi is based upon Tiziano Sciavi’s novel and the comic “Dylan Dog”, which looked like just Everett. With its wonderful story, interesting theme and characters, this is a hard one to beat.

Yes, I think Dario Argento is one of the most over-rated horror directors, though I’m sure many of you see it differently, and that’s fine by me. Whatever rocks your world and keeps you feeling creepy. I only hope you’ll give some of these other directors and their grand features a look, and you may just find something more worthwhile.

Crash Analysis: [REC]3: GENESIS (Spain, 2012)

And what a wreck

A lovely wedding annihilated by the new plague

Paco Plaza’s [REC] from 2007 had its moments, but I wasn’t as wowed like the majority of fans. Yes, he kept it real and atmospheric, and the conflict amongst characters provided great storytelling strength, but a fullblown suspense element seemed to be lacking, and the end took the story in a bad fantasy direction. I felt the same about the American version aka QUARANTINE (2008). Still, as found footage goes, this was pretty solid. The writer/director took us into the same nightmare with a different source, a SWAT team instead of a news crew riding with firefighters in 2009’s second installment. Like the first, he had kept the tale sharp and dramatic, but this appeared to be more like a shoot ‘em up video game, which allowed for little character development. The third, however, is a complete travesty.

[REC]3: GENESIS begins as if an homage to CLOVERFIELD (2008). We are introduced to many characters who all come together for an event, this time a wedding. This means a slow start, but it’s all for the characters so we know who to root and cry for. Sticking with the expected found footage subgenre, Plaza gives us several angles and interpretations from a few video cameras thanks to a hired wedding videographer Atún (played perfectly by Borja Glez. Santaolalla in his first acting role), and young Adrian (Alex Monner) as well as the bride’s younger sister. But once the carnage begins during the secluded reception, the groom destroys Atún’s camera and the editing transition from a fade to black cut brings us out of found footage mode. Instead, we are suddenly left in a typical Hollywood-like realm for the second and third acts. I guess no one wanted to film daddy eating Aunt Cecilia. The story not only loses its intimacy and authenticity, but the entire tone changes, and even Mikel Salas’s music becomes hokey as if we’re headed into sitcom central or the very worst of Sam Raimi. What once seemed to be a thrilling hellride to come, disintegrated into hackneyed and campy idiocy that will leave audiences scratching their heads at such a ludicrous and off putting turn for the worst.

It’s Clara (Letitia Delora) and Kolda’s (Diego Martin) wedding day, and nothing could be better: happy family, blue sky and fun all around. But Kolda’s concerned about the nasty dog bite on his vetenarian uncle’s hand, though no one seems to notice that the jovial doctor disintegrates into “weirdness”. All seems well until the reception when the good uncle turns bad and starts taking his own bites out of people.

Granted, the lovely Letitia Delora navigates many emotions, as does Martin, but their spirited performances are not enough to salvage an awkward, uneven and ultimately poorly written tale. Even Pablo Rosso’s almost too perfect cinematography and the wonderful effects paled as the original feel, tone and storyline went way off the rails to B-movie campiness and trite humor.

So what the hell happened? I’m not certain, but one must wonder if Plaza wanted to sabotage the franchise in order to prevent future features, like [REC]10: PLANET TAKEOVER or something, or maybe he dropped acid, or maybe he simply doesn’t give a damn. Whatever the reason, it’s led many fans I know to gasp and simply ask, “Why?!”

Additionally, Plaza got lazy. In the first and second features, it’s clear he’s paying attention to every detail in order to deliver a poignant narrative that keeps audience members on their toes. But several strange things happen. Once the uncle starts to chow down, the partygoers suddenly seem to be inundated by crazed zombie-like freaks from every nook and cranny – and we’re a far cry from where the original story takes place. At one point, it also appears that this may be Adrian’s story, yet after the first act, the boy and all youngsters vanish. They don’t even return as carriers. The dumbest element took place when characters in the kitchen tried to escape through a grate. The videographer had a screwdriver on his pockect knife, but it fell through the open metal slats. However, the kitchen is loaded with knives and other silverware, enough to warrant using one as a tool to remove the pesky grate, but that never dawned on anyone in the damn room. The worst part of all is that we’re thrust into a magical, mystical realm when the “zombies” can be frozen in place by chanting Roman Catholic prayers, and the reflections of the carriers appear as even more monstrous demons. Umm… What?

I have never seen a franchise deviate in such an atrocious manner from the foundation of its first two films. Well, not since HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), the only installment without slasher freak Michael Myers.

Granted, I expected a cool, honest and genuine fight for survival, but the comic nature of SpongeJohn (a guy dressed up as a SpongeBob ripoff to avoid copyright infringement), a chainsaw hostile bride, and the silly gorefest that follows (a far lesser version of Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE (New Zealand, 1992), left me with heavy sighs and a headache from rolling my eyes too often. Act two silliness completely obliterated all suspense and tension.

The thirty-nine-year-old writer/director has nothing coming up movie-wise, and that’s a good thing. Plaza needs to rest and clear his head, and maybe even detox (or maybe start drinking for that matter). Otherwise, if there is another [REC] venture, few may watch.

The 1.5 stars goes to the acting, cinematography and special effects makeup. Instead of proving how found footage could be done, Plaza made himself a laughing stock by wrecking his own series – probably for good.

1.5 of 5 stars

Crash Reports: My 1,400th Horror Film

Another milestone – and it’s clear I need therapy…

I’ve just watched my 1,400th horror movie.    

Yes, contrary to belief, I do have a life (even though I keep a list of every horror I’ve ever seen). However, I’m on a quest to find those few good horrors in a sea of foul smelling waste that seems perpetual.

I indulged in the 1991 limited release feature DOLLY DEAREST. A doll becomes possessed by a 900-year-old demon and reeks havoc on an American family in Mexico. The movie starred Denise Crosby with not enough Rip Torn. Though far from scary, there was a decent moment or two, but young Chris Demetral stole the show. The worst part was the doll’s twisted and demonic face, which was clearly Chucky – with a bit of Regan from THE EXORCIST (1973) for good measure. For better “dolls alive” stories, I recommend the best of the best: DOLLS (1987) from Stuart Gordon of RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and FROM BEYOND (1986) fame. I watched it again after a twenty year break, and still find the movie enjoyable.

As a horror fan with 1,400 films behind me, I’ve watched a ton of garbage to find 80 great tales. And for the best of the best, I’ve given the following 4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars:

 

Them! (1953)                                                                                  

The War of the Worlds (1953)                                                 

Peeping Tom (UK, 1960)                                                                      

Psycho (1960)                                                                                  

The Pit and the Pendulum (1981)                                          

The Haunting (UK/USA, 1963)                                                                                

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)                                                             

The Andromeda Strain (1971)                                                

The Legend of Hell House (UK, 1973)                                                       

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia, 1975)                                                           

Eraserhead (1977)                                                                       

The Last Wave (Australia, 1977)                                                                             

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)                              

Alien (1979)                                                                                                

The Changeling (Canada, 1980)                                                                         

The Shining (UK/USA, 1980)                                                                                 

Possession (UK, 1981)                                                                                   

The Thing (1982)                                                                         

Videodrome (Canada, 1983)                                                                               

Lifeforce (1985)                                                                                       

Hellraiser (1987)                                                                       

Lair of the White Worm (UK, 1988)                                                       

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)                                                             

Jacob’s Ladder (1990)                                                            

Dust Devil (UK, 1992)                                                                                  

Dracula (1992)                                                                          

Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) (Italy, 1994)                       

Interview with the Vampire (1994)                                  

Habit (1996)                                                                               

Scream (1996)                                                                           

Cube (Canada, 1997)                                                                                            

The Devil’s Advocate (USA/Germany, 1997)                                                           

Office Killer (1997)                                                                 

Wishmaster (1997)                                                                             

Perfect Blue (Japan, 1998)                                                                            

eXistenZ (Canada/UK, 1999)                                                                                   

The Ninth Gate (France/Spain, 1999)                                                                      

Ôdishon (Audition) (Japan, 1999)                                                            

The Sixth Sense (1999)                                                        

Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan, 2000)                                                 

Ginger Snaps (Canada, 2000)                                                                         

Bijita Q (Visitor Q) (Japan, 2001)                                                               

Earth vs The Spider (Television, 2001)                                                            

Frailty (2001)                                                                            

She Creature (Television, 2001)                                                                           

Dog Soldiers (UK, 2002)                                                                              

May (2002)                                                                                  

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)                                     

The Ring (Japan/USA, 2002)                                                                                  

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea, 2003)                                                          

Gozu (Japan, 2003)                                                                                           

Identity (2003)                                                                         

Dawn of the Dead (2004)                                                      

Love Object (2004)                                                                

Shutter (Thailand, 2004)                                                                                     

The Uninvited Guest (Spain, 2004)                                                          

Yogen (Premonition) (Japan, 2004)                                                       

Constantine (2005)                                                             

Isolation (Ireland, 2005)                                                                                

The Skeleton Key (2005)                                                   

Grimm Love (Germany, 2006)                                                                        

Head Trauma (2006)                                                         

30 Days of Night (2007)                                                    

Blood Car (2007)                                                                

The Orphanage (Spain, 2007)                                                                  

Red Victoria                                                           

Paranormal Activity (2007)                                            

Sublime (2007)                                                                     

Deadgirl (2008)                                                                    

Let the Right One In (Sweden, 2008)                                                        

Martyrs (France/Canada, 2008)                                                                                 

Pontypool (Canada, 2008)                                                                            

Grace (2009)                                                                           

The Skeptic (2009)                                                              

Suck (Canada, 2009)                                                                                       

Triangle (UK, 2009)                                                                                 

Wyvern (Television, 2009)                                                                                   

Black Swan (2010)                                                               

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (USA/Canada, 2010)                                                 

Excision (2012)                                                                    

I’m sure you’ll notice that many “classics” are missing, but I certainly have my reasons. And you’ll see more of that soon when I post my “Most Over-rated Horror Films of All-time”.

As for the ones I love, there is a common denominator: An intriguing story with compelling characters. That’s fairly simple, but it holds true. I’ve seen movies that look great but don’t hold up due to bad acting, clichés and weak stories, or others that had killer scares, but everything else fell apart. I can even forgive weak special effects if the narrative is decent enough.

Granted, the list does include some guilty pleasures. SyFy’s “Wyvern” for TV just wowed me for whatever reason (no, I wasn’t drinking). Feature-wise, I love WISHMASTER and can practically quote the entire movie.

But with a list like this, I’m usually asked the inevitable: What’s your top ten list? Hard to say, though Ridley Scott’s ALIEN would be number one due to story, characters and atmosphere. But I won’t go too heavy into why I love it so because I may just do what my friend and fellow scribe Randy Brzoska suggested: Post “Horror Classic” reviews. I’ll work on the first one soon enough.

Some quick recommendations:

For one of the most unique horrors of all time, with a truly intriguing story, check out PONTYPOOL. If you love ghost stories, THE CHANGELING should blow you away. For werewolves, DOG SOLDIERS and the quirky GINGER SNAPS. If you prefer off-beat character studies, enjoy MAY, LOVE OBJECT and EXCISION. A personal sub-genre favorite is the vampire, and though I’m sure you’ve seen LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, don’t overlook the dramatic tension of HABIT. For those who love disturbing cinema, you can’t pass up MARTYRS, DEADGIRL and GRACE. When it comes to riveting, dramatic features, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, THE ORPHANAGE and ROSEMARY’S BABY – who would be forty-four today, and on the cusp of taking over the world – are paramount.

Horror is not some second rate genre of escapism. These movies unsettle us and remind us that we have a heartbeat. They keep us on our toes and sharpen our minds. Whether they leave us screaming or laughing, it’s great to know that we can be transported to fantastical worlds beyond our own – or simply appreciate that the uncanny can leave us questioning the illusions of safety in our own homes.

Enjoy, indulge and may horror deliver that little jolt to remind you that you’re alive.

Crash Reports: My 100th Japanese Horror Film

An odd milestone, if you can call it that – but a definite milestone for a horror geek like me.

I indulged in my 100th Japanese horror movie: EXTE: HAIR EXTENSIONS (2007). Shion Sono’s film dealt with the subject matter of many a Japanese horror, most Asian horror for that matter, a pissed off ghost out for revenge. This time, a young woman had been kidnapped, scavenged for body parts, and had her precious hair shaved off – and when her hair is used as extensions for others, well, the person doesn’t live too long afterwards. Although it had some fine acting and creepy moments (if you have a hair phobia, you’re totally screwed), the Sam Raimi-esque hokey comedy put a damper on the proceedings, as well as some questionable special effects. Sadly, lucky 100 earned a mere two stars. Oh, well.

This does not change the fact, however, that several of my favorite horrors are from Japan, especially those from Takashi Miike, who is one of my all-time favorite directors. Miike works fast and isn’t afraid to take chances or deliver crazed moments to make you wince and cringe. And the one thing I’ve learned from watching his films over the years to keep on my toes and take nothing for granted.

Now, here’s the list of the best Japanese horror you can rent or buy:

PERFECT BLUE (1998)           

This is Satoshi Kon’s well received and animated horror thriller. A renowned director and writer, Kon also brought MILLENNIUM ACTRESS (2001) and the trippy PAPRIKA (2006) to screens around the world. Unfortunately, we lost him to pancreatic cancer in 2010. However, PERFECT BLUE has that special something that would have made Hitchcock proud. Just follow the young pop singer turned actress and see what happens when the world crashes around her.

ÔDISHON (AUDITION) (1999)

For international audiences, this one put Miike on the map – forever. After all, his film is a bit deceptive, like the dying light of the day where darkness eventually smothers all things. Then again, that’s what Shigeharu gets for holding fake auditions for a movie when he’s actually looking for little Ms. Right. Not a smart move. Thankfully, Daisuke Tengan’s script (based on Ryû Murakami’s novel) leaves us in a twisted story full of great characters, and a climax that will leave you cringing for days.

BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE (2000)           

This is not Chris Nahon’s pathetic and campy, live action 2009 version, but Hiroyuki Kitakubo’s fantastic animated feature. In this action tale, Saya enters a school on an American airbase during the Vietnam War to route some vampires – and that’s no easy thing when she’s outnumbered and has a sword of questionable worth. The art from the animation department is as detailed as it is amazing, and ranks up there with the ultra-phenomenal work of GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995).

BIJITA Q (VISITOR Q) (2001)           

Another vibrant and captivating tale from Miike, this one involves a dysfunctional family that befriends a dysfunctional man, and abuse and control weave together to deliver everything from playing with the dead, to a child brutalizing a parent, and to a woman who can shoot her breast milk ten feet or more. Oddly, the black comedy elements and off-kilter quirkiness only makes the movie darker and far more foreboding. Along with AUDITION, add it to your list of most disturbing films.

THE RING (Japan/United States, 2002)           

If you didn’t realize the American remake of the original classic was a Japanese co-production, well, I hadn’t either. In this version, the brilliant Naomi Watts unravels a mystery as to why a videotape kills the viewer seven days later. Special effects make-up artist Rick Baker was on hand to truly blow our minds, and Ehren Krueger’s story adaptation kept us guessing while the suspense continued to climb. Unlike the over-hyped original, this one won’t put you to sleep – not that you’d want to.

GOZU (2003)

Another wonderful romp from Miike, we follow a criminal on a journey to find his missing brother. This may sound simple, but we are brought into a labyrinthine world that is askew on every level. At first viewing, I remember thinking how much this reminded me of a David Lynch film – only to discover that this is exactly what Miike had in mind. And oh, what a homage! Consider it a crime/horror/fantasy/comedy/drama/romance – and more. If you love the road less traveled, with one hell of an eccentric plot, as well as riveting characters, this one’s for you.

YOGEN (Premonition) (2004)           

Don’t be fooled by the title or its implications. This is not some trite and cliché ridden tale about some questionable sixth sense or intuitive feelings. Sure, that’s part of the story, but where other movies fall short, Norio Tsuruta takes us on an intriguing journey that leaves a father trying to save his family with only one way out. The atmosphere alone is enough to unsettle and engross, and Hiroshi Mikami’s acting will have you far too emotionally connected to let the story go.

As for old-time horror…

KWAIDAN (1964)           

An anthology of four Gothic tales, director Masaki Kobayashi delivers a mood and abstract visuals that earned the film an Oscar nomination. However, the final tale in the quadrology truly stands out. “Hoichi the Earless” involves a young, blind biwa, a singer/musician who plays a traditional stringed instrument, and what he endures when he enters a mysterious village. The creep factor is high, the atmosphere captivating, and the stories intriguing. Thing of it as CREEPSHOW (1982) without the silliness.

I’ve found Japanese horror to be thrilling and exotic, though recent movies seem to rely on too much comedy business for my liking. And I must admit, the overly saturated ghost theme is wearing thin. Yes, I know vengeful spirits are a mainstay of Japanese horror cinema due to cultural importance, but I long for a vibrant tale that can rival the impressive narrative of THE RING.

But before you hit play, make certain to bypass any horrendous dubbing whether it be English, Spanish, French or something else. Choose the subtitle option to be entranced by the language, and to let the genuine emotion of the characters shine through.

I’m not sure what the next J-horror will have in store, but I’m so looking forward to more from Miike and company.

Crash Analysis: THE SHRINE (Canada, 2010)

Intriguing enough to win you over in the end The Shrine

A trio heads to Poland to discover why people go missing…

Carmen, a reporter played by Cindy Sampson, wants to cover a big story instead of local fodder. So when a young man from the area goes missing in Poland, she heads to eastern Europe with her photography boyfriend, Marcus (Aaron Ashmore of “Smallville” fame), and intern Sara (Meghan Heffern). There, they discover a creepy little village where the traveler was last seen. The village folk don’t take kindly to the likes of foreigners poking around, and the trio’s told in short order to leave. They remain, of course, and uncover the secret as to why many have gone missing for decades.

Sound a bit cliché? True, but writer/director Jon Knautz, along with co-writers Brendan Moore and Trevor Matthews, twisted the tired and true into something subtle yet compelling – especially during the third act, which counts the most for a great yarn. They also did something else – no subtitles for when the Canadian cast speaks Polish. A risky move for impatient moviegoers.

Many people who loathe the movie call upon the lack of subtitles as their biggest turn-off. But they’re missing the point. The call to keep the movie subtitle free works because the audience is in the dark as much as the characters on the screen. And by film’s end, if you can’t figure out what the hell happened and why, maybe you should indulge in mindless Hollywood entertainment instead.

The acting is pretty damn solid, especially from the frustrated Ashmore, and woman on a mission, Sampson. Their portrayals totally connect with the viewer and we feel for them. In fact, every time Ashmore hesitated or made a move, I felt my body doing the same thing. Here, Knautz should get the thanks for bringing a strong story to life while maintaining suspense at a steady rate. Admittedly, with what seemed to be a rehashed tale, I let down my guard a bit only to be surprised and impressed by the climax.

Cinematographer James Griffith maintained a steady look and feel throughout, which created a vibrant yet subdued atmosphere. Even in the movie’s darker moments, lighting-wise, that is, it’s easy to see what’s transpiring with every frame. Kent McIntyre, responsible for art direction, did his best to present the rural parts of Ontario as that of backwoods Poland, but he could have tried a bit harder, especially with the vehicle choices that would most likely not be found in a poor section of a former Eastern Bloc state. Set director Patrick Tarr kept things simple and generic, and did a pretty fine job in making us think this was filmed far across the Atlantic. The major problem may have been the language coach. Many Poles have been upset that their language doesn’t ring true.

To round out the movie’s finer points, many thought THE SHRINE’s soundtrack was fabulous enough to warrant a Grammy nomination. Then again, noted composer Ryan Shore was the man behind the music. You can hear his work in many a film, including notable horrors, such as OFFSPRING (2009), CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER (2009), and JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER (Canada, 2007). The latter is also Knautz’s previous feature.

This movie has one distinct element that proves to be extremely refreshing, but to share it would ruin far too much. Instead, forget the ratings and the tumult from the naysayers and rent the damn thing. You might just find it worthwhile – just don’t bail on it.

Check out Knautz’s phenomenal short STILL LIFE (2006) on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La6T8Bq6CsU

3.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Reports: TOO MANY PREDATORS – Complete and Festival Ready

My short horror film TOO MANY PREDATORS is complete.

Actress Ella West, Director Bill Shimp, and actress Shannon Kelly.

Whew.

I had the pleasure of reviewing the movie with Chris Messineo today, the man behind the New Jersey Film School (http://www.njfilmschool.com/). Chris taught the Advanced Filmmaking Workshop from the school’s home in New Providence, New Jersey, and the students devoted their time and talents as crew. Thanks to his teaching prowess, kindness and passion for film, TOO MANY PREDATORS is ready for contests and film festivals.

From the countless hours of pre-production, casting, shooting, and thirty hours alone for editing (thanks to Chris’s diligence and expertise), the final cut is 3:45 seconds. Everyone on the film: actresses Ella West and Shannon Kelly, special effects make-up artist Paul J. Mason, composer Justin R. Durban, cinematographer Randy Lao, camera assistant Rolando David Jr., assistant director Kelly Allen, script supervisor Kisha King, sound Ganesh Padhy, behind-the-scenes videographer Mark Menditto, director Bill Shimp – and Chris Messineo, brought their time, skills and professionalism to make it all possible.

As the screenwriter, I think I may have had the easiest time of it, but to see my work go from page to screen is as humbling as it is thrilling. I am not only grateful and appreciative of everyone’s hard work and dedication, but I learned much during the process. And I will take this knowledge to my next script as I broaden my vision of what a movie should be to better suit the needs of cast and crew, and audiences, alike.

For now, TOO MANY PREDATORS is in this month’s Short Film Contest at MoviePoet (http://www.moviepoet.com/) and once the contest ends, a link will appear on this website.

I can’t imagine the hours that go into a full-fledged production, but I certainly hope to find out in the near future. In the meantime, I will work on the full-length script for TOO MANY PREDATORS in the hope we can create an even bigger and better miracle.

For now, I am happy, and I thank all of those involved from the bottom of my bloody heart. Special thanks go to Chris Messineo, a dear friend who found my script worthwhile enough to best represent what the students of the New Jersey Film School can do – and they can do wonders.

More to come…