Tag Archives: creature feature

The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 2) by Paul J. Williams

Please allow me to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers will exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

LIFE AND TIMES OF THE LATE 2000s: A (Very) Brief Summary

The late 2000s continued the trend of worldwide heartbreak and despair:

Hurricane Katrina ravished the southeast United States and other areas in 2005, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, and the costliest in terms of damage.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 became the U.S.’s deadliest mass shooting, up until the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016, claiming thirty-two lives.

2008 brought the Great Recession, which was felt around the globe, with many still suffering from its fallout.

Haiti was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 2010, killing over 100,000 of its citizens and leveling scores of buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

LATE 2000s HORROR: Let the Fun Begin

2005 to 2010 gave us some of the best movies in the history of cinema, and especially horror. Low budget, huge budget, foreign and domestic; every demographic is represented and we are lucky to have been alive to catch it all…

A NEW SUBGENRE IS BORN: Torture Porn

Well, admittedly, it’s not my favorite, but we have to talk about it, don’t we? Film critic David Edelstein is credited with coining the term for a new subgenre (sub to the Slasher/Body Horror genres, I suppose) that emerged in the mid-2000s called “torture porn.” These films emphasized nudity, mutilation, and sadism, and though movies associated with this subgenre are not personal preferences, I can’t not mention them.

Eli Roth wrote and directed 2005’s Hostel, a story about a group of American college students traveling across eastern Europe, and historically, the first movie assigned to the torture-porn subgenre. These poor vacationers become kidnapped and sold off to be systematically tortured and killed. Over the years, proponents of this movie have tried to extract bigger meanings from it, most notably the socioeconomic implications and the consequences of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. Maybe; who knows? Quentin Tarantino, who was probably tangential to the production at best, smartly had his name plastered all over the promotion of the film that, despite mixed reviews, grossed over $80 million on a $5 million budget, and spawned two sequels: the second again being written and directed by Roth, who would then sit the third one out.

What followed was filmmakers trying more and more to gross out audiences:

Australia’s 2005’s Wolf Creek, using the tried-and-true promotion of being “based on a true story” has a Crocodile Dundee-type hunt and kill three backpackers in the outback. It received mixed reviews from critics, but was a hit at the box office, grossing $28 million on a $1 million budget. Wolf Creek 2 followed in 2013, but like most sequels, didn’t live up to the first film.

Turistas was released in 2006. This time harassing backpackers in Brazil, the film was received poorly by critics, but made a profit in ticket sales.

Captivity, from 2007, tried, mostly in vain, to ride the wave of success of Hostel and Saw, and ultimately grossed $11 million.

The Collector, released in 2009 from Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston, winners of Project Greenlight a thousand years ago, is a distant cousin of Saw, and now considered a cult classic. It tripled its budget, despite negative reviews, and spawned the sequel: The Collection in 2012.

ELI ROTH

With a dearth of worthwhile horror, or any horror at all, really, in the late 1990s, the early 2000s was up for grabs for anyone looking to be the next horror maestro. Love him or hate him, Eli Roth was the someone who stepped up. Starting in 2002 with Cabin Fever, which has since been remade (more on that nonsense later), Roth followed in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project with its online marketing, showed everyone who his influences are, became a hit with audiences, grossed $30 million on a $1.5 million budget, and even managed to get a lot of good reviews.

He followed with the aforementioned Hostel in 2005, also launching the “torture-porn” subgenre, and followed with Hostel II in 2007.

Since then, he’s mostly worn the Producer’s hat, being the man behind such films as The Last Exorcism and The Sacrament, and dabbles in acting, as well, with his most notable performance of him chewing the scenery as “The Bear Jew” in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 fantasy, Inglorious Basterds.

His next film looks to be a departure from horror, remaking the 1974 Charles Bronson classis, Death Wish.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND: Another New Sub-genre is Born

Obviously kicking off the modern “found-footage” subgenre is 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (shout-outs recognizing Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast), but what’s odd is that it’ll take years before another recognizable film of this nature is released.

Fred Vogel starts his August Underground “franchise” in 2001, but these are extreme genre films only a select few can sit through.

Zero Day, from 2003, though not a horror, dramatizes the Columbine massacre of 1999.

Septem8er Tapes, also not a horror, was released in 2004, and makes use of every penny of its estimated $30,000 budget, and puts a War on Terror spin on the found-footage subgenre.

The U.K.’s The Last Horror Movie from 2003 is a very disturbing movie, sort of like the found-footage version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes from brothers, John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, has become more about whether people are ever going to see it or not than about the movie itself, and in some ways, this has given more longevity to the film than if it was widely released as originally planned in 2007. First, I’ve seen it, and surprisingly, it lives up to the hype: it’s very disturbing and odd. Second, when is this ever going to be released permanently to the masses? Hell if I know, but it’d probably be the worst thing for it.

What starts off, what I guess we can call the postmodern “found-footage” frenzy, is Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. It originally premiered in 2007, then after a few ending changes suggested by Hollywood, and a fake story about Steven Spielberg being scared shitless of it, and we get the 2009 wide release, which you most likely viewed. If you don’t know what follows, then you must not be a horror fan: almost $200 million at the box office and, count them, six sequels to date. Not surprisingly, it has (almost) all the same ingredients that made Blair Witch a phenomenon: D.I.Y. filming and editing on a miniscule budget, amateur actors, more happening in the viewer’s mind than on screen, effective online and word-of-mouth marketing, and ultimately, perfect timing for a movie like this to come out.

[REC] is a 2007 Spanish found-footage/zombie film that shows just how much “fun” these types of movies can be. It doesn’t take long getting into the action with our attractive news reporter, watching the craziest 75 minutes of her life. [REC] became a huge hit and spawned a franchise.

Lake Mungo, from Australia, has several release dates between 2009 and 2010, but is ultimately a 2008 movie. More like one of these true-crime documentaries that are so popular today, the movie’s presented with interviews, news footage, etc. Ultimately a story about a family’s grief, Lake Mungo is very effective and downright creepy at times. I do see it listed on various “Top 10” lists every now and again, but I acknowledge it’s a divisive film and, admittedly, it’s a personal favorite.

Quarantine is the 2008 American remake of [REC] by the aforementioned Dowdle Brothers, and in my opinion, might actually be better. One thing I like about the movie is right from the beginning they shed the idea that this is actually real footage, using actors, including Jennifer Carpenter in the lead, that you have seen before. Just like [REC], we jump right into the action, following the reporter covering a local firehouse in L.A. Jump scares, creepy visuals, and claustrophobia follow, and it’s all a blast.

2008’s Cloverfield is what happens when you make a found-footage movie, which historically are independent and very low budget, by a Hollywood studio on a $170 million budget. A recipe for disaster, no? Nope. What you get is one of the best monster movies in horror cinema history. (Yeah, I said it.) J.J. Abrams and Co. make us hang out with a party of yuppies for a full half-hour before anything happens, but once it does, what a ride. Showing only glimpses of the monster throughout, he (or she) finally gets their close-up at the end (literally). A sequel has been talked about ever since, but it seems 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and the upcoming 2017 movie God’s Particle, described as being in the “Cloverfield universe” is as close as we’re going to get…and that’s fine with me.

The Last Exorcism, produced by the aforementioned Eli Roth, is a 2010 “young girl possessed by a demon” movie presented in the same way as Lake Mungo in “documentary” format. It starts off great: perfectly casted and acted by Patrick Fabian as Cotton, a fraudulent Reverend, and Ashley Bell, as the aforementioned young girl. For me, the ending soured the movie, but it was received well by critics and movie-goers.

Though, not technically a horror, I feel I would be remiss not to mention 2010’s Troll Hunter from Norway. Another “documentary” where we follow some poor documentarians who wind up finding way more than they bargained for, the movie is a real fun take on Norwegian culture and folktales.

ROB ZOMBIE

Always a horror movie fan, musician, and former front-man of the band White Zombie, Rob Zombie started his filmmaking career with House of 1000 Corpses. Filmed in 2000, this movie would go on an odyssey before being theatrically released in 2003, after being acquired and dumped by one distribution company after another. The concern, not surprisingly, the content and potential for an NC-17 rating. Once released, you can guess the reception: critically panned, but it did manage to make a profit, most likely due to loyal Zombie and horror genre fans, and people finally getting to see a movie with so much mystique surrounding it over the previous few years.

Lions Gate Entertainment, seeing the financial potential they had with Zombie, quickly approached him inquiring about a sequel to Corpses. What follows is what is commonly regarded as Zombie’s best movie in his filmography, with Lords of Salem in the running as well: 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. More grounded and visceral than Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects follows the Firefly Family who are on the run from just as crazy Sheriff Wydell. More successful with critics than Corpses and just as profitable in the box office.

When the Powers-That-Be decided it was time to remake one of the best horror movies of all time, they chose Rob Zombie in 2007 to do his take on John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, and boy did he change things up. Despite my opinion about the movie (I prefer the original, to say the least), the film was a smash-hit with audiences and prompted the obligatory sequel in 2009, which fared far worse this time with both movie-goers and critics.

Zombie has remained in “the business” ever since, mostly with horror, but it seems he’s eager to reach out to other genres to write and direct.

KNOCK, KNOCK… Anybody Home?

Nobody was safe anywhere during the 2000s, and if you think locking yourself inside your house was the most secure place to be, you’d be dead wrong. The home invasion subgenre broke out big during this decade. Here are some victims:

2002 starts us off with Panic Room, though not exactly a horror. The famed David Fincher directs a stellar cast in this tale of a single mom, Jodie Foster, who protects herself and her daughter, the new Kristen Stewart, from a band of thieves. Ultimately not one of Fincher’s better films, the movie examines many themes and is still worth a watch.

Ils, the 2006 movie also listed in the New French Extremism category, opens with a great, Scream-esque prologue, then goes on to set-up a simple story of a young couple besieged in their huge home by a clique of criminals, who once their identities are revealed, turns out to have a pretty cool ending.

Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s 2007 American shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian movie, that does more than tell a terrifying home-invasion story, it plays with the audience. Characters break the fourth-wall, the movie rewinds to replay a scene giving it a different outcome, and ultimately, Mr. Haneke asks: If you think this movie is too nihilistic, then at what point did you stop watching?

2007’s Inside, also listed in the New French Extremism section, is a bloody revenge tale set on Christmas Eve as a very pregnant single mother fends off an intruder all night. The end reveal when the antagonist’s motivations are exposed is a really cool twist.

Strangers is a 2008 movie by first-time screenwriter/director Bryan Bertino, which also tells a depressing story of a young couple stalked and terrorized in their home for…well, just because. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter, the film is very effective and despite mixed reviews, grossed a sizable profit on its $9 million budget. Bertino was one of the rare spec-script stories of the 2000s, but oddly he has remained relatively dormant in the years since.

While, for whatever reason, Bertino did not produce any more low budget horrors for a while, other film-makers like himself sure did, which is where we’ll pick-up next time with Part 3 of 2000’s Horror…

(Photo of Lake Mungo from Pinterest.)

Crash Palace Support Team

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Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Hodgepodge of Horror IX

The Last Knock

No, Billy and Jonny aren’t trying to catch up to the Super Bowl type numbers, but they are getting there. With the ninth installment of “Hodgepodge of Horror” they travel the realms of horror cinema from Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered to Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Blood Wars – with some intriguing films in between.

So kick back, relax, indulge, and check off your  horror list about what to watch, and what to avoid like a zombie virus.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@LoudGreenBird @AFiendOnFilm @CrypticPictures @d_m_elms @dixiefairy @ThisIsHorror @RealJillyG @wilkravitz @Jimbomcleod @RonGizmo @UKHorrorScene @Tammysdragonfly @MFFHorrorCorner @GuyRicketts

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Alien Invasion

The Last Knock

In the 1950s, with the looming Space Race, Project Blue Book, and feared mutations from The Atomic Age, alien invasion films wormed their way into many a theatre to make audiences scream. Yet, even today,  aliens landing to meet and eat continue to be a mainstay in the horror/sci-fi splice. We look at the cool alien invasion films that may haunt you as we explore the sub genre in spacesuits and death rays in hand – just in case. Enjoy the journey from Xtro and Slither, to Altered and They Live – and more of course, because if you see one alien from another planet, you know there are many more ready to make their move.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@TuttleNTexas @KeyzKeyzworth @gothicgourdgirl @23halfFilms @horrorhq @hanalpixan @Talk2Cleo @PiloteXYZ @CPBialois @Sharayah1992 @OwenMcCuenQuest @hviff @RealJillyG @wheelchairjitsu @isaacrthorne @BleedingCritic @AmandaBergloff @cheeseandglory @dixiefairy @BleedingCritic @AmandaBergloff @CheeseAndGlory @d_m_elms @RSBrzoska @GTGMcast @palkodesigns @VicsMovieDen @Israel_Finn @WilliamFriedkin @dvdinfatuation @LoudGreenBird

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Films of Frankenstein

The Last Knock

Mary Shelley shocked the world with her “Frankenstein” novel in the mid-1800s, and it’s still a shocker today. We not only indulge in her tale and questions it raises, but how Victor Frankenstein and his monster have been interpreted and reinterpreted through many decades of film, from Boris Karloff to Robert De Niro. Even so, the Frankenstein mythos comes with many thematic layers explored in many a movie, so join us on the operating table as we put together a podcast piece by piece and bring it to life.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@AmandaBergloff @MFFHorrorCorner @playvioletmovie @mercershark @SunshineBoyProd @kevin_sluder @jensluder @baron_craze @stevecourtney79 @PasspChells @LividEmerald @RealJillyG @MelanieMcCurdie @RonGizmo @dixiefairy @Isaacrthorne @iamgoreblimey @Tammysdragonfly @LoudGreenBird @GTGMcast @EmilyFlory @corybrin and Paul J. Williams from Facebook

Crash Analysis Support Team: Gays in Horror (Part II) – Guest Post from David McDonald

monstercloset7Well, after a couple of false starts, I finally got off to an auspicious beginning. Not the one I’d hoped for, but it turned out well just the same, sending me fast-forward into a more recent past (the 80s) where I stumbled first upon one of those throwing-caution-to-the-wind projects Troma Entertainment likes to toss out:

Monster in the Closet from 1986.

At first I was at a loss to figure out what possibly possessed Wiki to put this on a gays-in-horror list in the first place, unless it was a tribute to style: it was campy enough for eight movies, to be sure. And quite appropriately, Monster in the Closet had no intention of taking itself seriously, including a veteran cast that fits right in with the hyperbole. With the film’s relaxed pace, it looks like everyone had a blast making this goofball enterprise, practically cheering on writer/director Bob Dahlin as he co-opted one classic after another, from Superman to War of the Worlds (the 1953 version) to (yet again) Alien. No matter, though. It’s quite watchable, and is guaranteed to leave you chuckling.

The plot is terminally juicy and stalwart in the face of brazen clunkiness: An evil creature makes its lair in the clothes closets of its victims’ homes, snatching them at opportune moments. The dialog is extraordinary; pearls of unabashed cliché drop with unflinching regularity. Bespectacled Richard Clark, a cub reporter, played by handsome Donald Grant, wrangles his way into investigating the murders and teams up with Sheriff Ketchem (Claude Akins), who spits his chaw into any handy receptacle. Ketchem has already given the brushoff to biology professor and love interest Diane Bennett (Denise DuBarry). Eventually, the Eccentric Scientist Dr. Pennyworth (Henry Gibson) gets involved, determined to communicate with the creature, with Army General Turnbull (Donald Moffat) nipping at his heels, determined to destroy the menace. Several unsuccessful attempts are made to vanquish the beast, until—

What did you say? … What’s this have to do with gay people? I thought you’d never ask!

Turns out the Monster (Kevin Peter Hall), on closer inspection of its victims, gets the hots for Clark — who promptly goes unconscious — and carries him off to find the nearest closet where presumably they both can live in domestic bliss. Meanwhile, Diane’s 10-year-old son and Imperiled Tyke, “Professor” Bennett, figures out the only way to kill the creature is to destroy every closet in the kingdom — Sorry, in the country — and so they do…except one! And so, off trudges the Monster, carrying his oft-catatonic beau (he riles briefly from time to time) to the top of the Transamerica Building. In deference to those who want to screen this film for themselves, I won’t reveal the ending, but as in every tragic love story (which is pretty much what this film turned into plot-wise) suffice it to say that it’s bittersweet.

So, okay. Why did Wiki decide to put this on the “gay” list? According to the article, the decision was based on two assumptions, one pivotal and another incidental. First: Is the Monster male or female? Hard to say, because there’s a contradiction: It had the musculature of a male, but not the plumbing. Had I watched without being forewarned, I’m not sure I would have jumped to the same conclusion Wiki did. Second: The part was played by a male, presumably to make the beast larger and more intimidating – or… was it a sly statement on the part of the filmmakers? In the long run, no one really knows for sure.

Also, as part of the title, the now-iconic phrase, “In the closet,” could make a case for a gay theme. But not necessarily. Those three words represent only half a hint, and it depends largely on the prefix. For example, a “skeleton” in the closet is a generic phrase coined in the 19th Century, which refers to any secret that would damage the reputation or credibility of a person or persons — including homosexuality. Conversely, “coming out” of the closet doesn’t necessarily denote hiding or shame.

But there is one correlation that I believe deserves some mention. In 1986, the full horror of AIDS and its impact on society in general and the gay population in particular was in full swing. At this point many of the misconceptions and much of the panic surrounding AIDS was still going strong. A nasty fight still raged between NIH Director Dr. Robert Gallo with the original French researchers, vying for the prestigious claim of isolating HIV; attorney Geoffrey Bowers was suing the Philadelphia law firm who employed him, which later inspired the 1993 film, Philadelphia; and speaking of Philly, beautiful lesbian model and veteran druggie Gia dies of AIDS from an infected needle, followed by the eponymous film with then-newcomer Angelina Jolie in the title role.

Not that I believe the Monster in the Closet represents AIDS or those with the disease per se; instead, I interpret it as representing the fear engendered by it. And noteworthy is that the “Monster” killed indiscriminately, just as AIDS did (and does): the beautiful co-ed, the blind elderly man, the little girl, the cavalier authorities (cops, military) out to destroy it, and the scientist seeking to understand it.

In the end, the evidently invincible Monster was destroyed by preventing its retreat back into the closet — or put another way, the fear was eliminated by forcing it out into the open once and for all to be dealt with.

In terms of form, however, it’s still a low-brow, silly romp, and quite enjoyable on its own flaky terms. Or as my editor would say, “Check your brain at the door.” Just remember: pick your brain back up on your way out. Just sayin’.

David was born in Baltimore into a military family and moved across the United States throughout most of his childhood. He received a BA in Liberal Studies from Thomas Edison State College and has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has written critiques for prose and film for various publications while writing screenplays, four of which have placed in competitions, his last being the psychological thriller, “Little Girl Found,” a Second Rounder at the Austin Film Festival. He has worked as a producer on three films with a fourth in the works, including his own short screenplay “Gambit.” Meanwhile he is finishing the first in a series of male-on-male vampire fiction entitled “Shared Blood,” due to be published early Summer 2015. You can follow him on Twitter: @deepfocusllc and on his website at: http://davidemcdonald.com

(Photo from Rely On Horror.)

Crash Discussion: WOLFCOP

 

The Last KnockIs THE LAST KNOCK team howling at WOLFCOP or ripping it to shreds? Find out in this episode

devoted to a B-movie creature feature with bite, comedy, and action. Billy and Jonny claw their way through Lowell Dean’s film about the new cop in town, and whether you should support your new furry cop to put him down for good..

Crash Analysis: OUTCAST (Ireland/UK, 2010) – 4 stars

Atmospheric, fantastical and intriguing

One tries to use magic to kill a teen, another uses it to try and save him

Colm McCarthy knows a thing or two about keeping an audience engaged with the sound Outcast-2010and vision before them. After all, this screenwriter/director has helmed many a television show where hooking the audience before each commercial break and right before the end credits is a must. Mastering the cliffhanger on the small screen, McCarthy has brought his directorial and storytelling skills to theatres.

Co-written with his brother, Thomas, the pair fell back on some fatherly folklore from their youth, according to Colm McCarthy’s interview with FearNet. And the result is a suspense-filled creature feature in one of Scotland’s projects (Dalkeith near Edinburgh to be exact).

The story: A mother uses magic to protect her son from men set out to destroy him. A simple tale that isn’t that simple. First, this emotional and imagery based magic is hardcore and not something out of Disney or a candy-ass G-rated film. Second, the tale is a mystery because of the final element: the characters.

Renowned Scottish actress, Kate Dickie (of non-horror RED ROAD (UK/Denmark, 2006) fame and the disappointing Ridley Scott venture, PROMETHEUS), plays the rough and ready mother on a mission. She leads a solid cast that also includes distinguished Irish actor James Nesbitt (who appears in Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT franchise), and the inspiring Hanna Stanbridge who seems to be the love child of Phoebe Cates and Jessica Alba if they could spawn. Together, they bring us solid characters Mary, Cathal and Petronella, respectively, that are emotional and driven.

After all, nothing works best like characters on a mission they believe is ethical and just. And this is the crux of the McCarthy brother’s tale: From the beginning, even though we know the players, we are not offered much of a back story, which leads the audience to question who’s the “good guy” and who’s the villain. Yet, even at the story’s conclusion, moviegoers may still ask that same question. This is a good thing because if a movie cannot generate thought after the credits roll then what’s the point? In this sense, OUTCAST is reminiscent of Paul Solet’s remarkable low budget horror, GRACE (2009) where picking a character that’s in the wrong is not an easy task.

OUTCAST does fall a bit short, however. The subtlety of the story may be a bit too subtle at times, though a second viewing may clear up some minor plot concerns, especially when it comes to the neighborhood kids and their relationship with Petronella and her brother, Tomatsk (Josh Whitelaw in his only film appearance to date). But if this is the film’s only fault, it isn’t much to worry about.

Kate Dickie and James Nesbitt are absolutely brilliant, Darran Tiernan’s camera work is fabulous, and Tom Sayer’s excellent art direction helped create that visually stunning blue-toned look of desperation and dystopia. Overall, OUTCAST is a feast for the eyes as well as a thinking person’s horror. Hell, a grad student can write a thirty page essay exploring the notions of good and evil, the element of family, ignorance versus innocence, and coming of age, all from this one movie – and that alone makes this one to watch.

Other great Irish horrors: ISOLATION (2005), WAKE WOOD (2011), and GRABBERS (2012).

(Photo from Back Up.)

Crash Anaylsis: BIG ASS SPIDER (2013)

A Big Ass Blast!

Horror/comedy at its creature-feature best

Mike Mendez, the man behind the often overlooked THE GRAVEDANCERS (2006), maxresdefaultwhich is one of the best of the “Films to Die For” series, brings us BIG ASS SPIDER a horror/comedy of immense, eight-legged proportions.

Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) is an exterminator who just can’t seem to enjoy his day off. After helping out an old lady in need of pest removal, he’s bitten by a brown recluse spider and ends up in the emergency room. But he’s better off than the dead guy who just rolled in – which leads to the spawning of a very special arachnid. And this is just the beginning of our hero’s quest as he sets out to save Los Angeles and win the day.

While watching BIG ASS SPIDER my wife, Ally said she hadn’t heard me laugh that loud in a long damn time. That’s because Gregory Gieras nailed the idiosyncratic dialogue and brought the comedy in fantastic ways. Better still, there was a laugh a minute.

Grunberg delivers as the snarky, sarcastic side commentary guy who’s neither a wimp nor a wallflower. He comes fully loaded with the confidence to be the man of the hour, and regardless of obstacles, presses on. His “Mexican Robin” sidekick is the equally awesome Lombardo Boyer who plays Jose Ramos – the security guard devoid of the stereotypical rent-a-cop trappings. Together, this two-man crew is out to prove to the military that an exterminator, with his trusted partner, can bring down a spider monster without launching sidewinders from fighters in the city of angels. But Major Braxton Tanner, played straight by the always amazing Ray Wise, which creates its own level of hilarity (think Slim Pickens in DR. STRANGELOVE), won’t take orders from a blue collar like Alex. Even his number one, Lieutenant Karly Brandt (Clare Kramer) pays little heed to any of Alex’s pleas or demands – because she’s cocked, and locked, and ready to rock.

And this is the best thing about BIG ASS SPIDER – no weak-minded characters. All of them are strong and ready for action, which leads to conflict because all comers think they have the best solution to their monster-sized dilemma. It was especially wonderful to see a strong female character in Lt. Brandt that didn’t need to be “transformed” to face up to the challenge. Even Jose stepped up into his role as if he refused to play second fiddle.

The only weak spot some have noted is the CGI. It seems as if all the money went into the spider, and the rest is akin to something from the Syfy Channel. But the low budget CGI actually caters to the comedy, as if a nod of nostalgia to the cheesy B-movie monster films of the fifties.

The comedy is fabulous and the horror is more about a BIG ASS SPIDER than gore or jump scares. Even so, Mike Mendez’s movie is a non-stop entertaining treat and highly recommended. In fact, I’d love to see a triple feature with BIG ASS SPIDER, SLITHER, and GRABBERS. Now that would be a creature-feature frenzy of epic proportions.

4 out of 5 stars

(Photo from You Tube.)

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Crash Analysis: GRABBERS (UK/Ireland, 2012)

Grab it  – Before it Grabs You!

The UK’s best horror/comedy – take that SHAUN OF THE DEAD!

Upon a recommendation, from artist/teacher/Polish movie poster collector, Douglas McCambridge, I rented Jon Wright’s grabbers_ver6_xlgGRABBERS. From the posters it was clear I’d be in for a comedy creature feature, and I certainly needed a brain break from life, so I tossed it in and sat back. Little did I know the ride would be so entertaining that my troubles would be laughed away.

In GRABBERS, the lovely and polished Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is a Garda coming to a small Irish island to fill in for a couple of weeks. She soon meets up with her alcoholic partner, Ciaran O’Shea (Robert Coyle), and learns that much doesn’t happen on the fishing island. Until a storm comes in and brings with it a monster from outer space hellbent to feed on anything big – like humans. But Lisa never realized that the only way to save the island’s inhabitants would be to get as drunk as her partner.

Beautifully shot, thanks to Trevor Forrest, we’re ensconced in a small town environment without the usual tropes. Locals don’t give Garda Nolan the stink eye, and she doesn’t act too much like a fish out of water – just a cop that needs to take it down a notch. In Kevin Lehane’s well crafted script, characters are as idiosyncratic as one would hope without going into ludicrous territory. We can relate for certain, and laugh along with the islanders as they try to determine what the hell is snatching people from their homes, ships, and the pub.

The pace in GRABBERS is pretty quick, and once again, tropes be damned. Sure, Nolan and O’Shea have a hard time believing a town drunk about a sea monster, but in short order, everyone’s on the same page and searching for answers. Of course, due to a coming storm, they’re on their own, but they do understand that they have one weapon working in their favor: A drunk human makes the beast vomit. This idea came about during a hike Lehane once took. To keep mosquitoes at bay, he turned to alcohol. Ta da. GRABBERS was spawned, and in short order, he had backers and the whole production was in motion.

In the fishing village, the few in the know want to keep panic to a minimum, so they invite the locals to the pub for free drinks. Sure, Lehane played off of the Irish stereotype, but he’s from Cork and it’s all in good fun, so leave him the hell alone. While everyone’s getting drunk – but not too drunk, one hopes – the monster makes it move…

Yes, CGI abounds because a guy in a suit certainly wouldn’t cut it, but as director Jon Wright said, the special effects have come such a long way, he wasn’t afraid of giving it a go. Paddy Eason, the visual effects supervisor, and his fabulous team, did one hell of a great job in bringing the beast to life. In fact, some of the effects are downright awesome.

The balance of horror and humor is spot on. Unlike SHAUN OF THE DEAD (UK/France/USA, 2004), which bored the hell out of me, GRABBERS kept me in the perfect state of mind to enjoy every frame. Admittedly, at times I wish the movie had been serious, but with alcohol proving to be the bane of the creature’s existence, a more dramatic angle would have failed. Lehane chose the right path, and with Wright’s directing and an excellent cast and crew, the stars aligned. Some may know Wright from his comedy/horror TORMENTED (UK, 2009). That film had much potential but ultimately failed due to some jarring edits, far too many scene changes, and an often questionable storyline. But the director certainly grew from that mess and delivered a solid sea shanty.

Can our Garda heroes save the day? Will the small fishing village live to see another dawn – or another sequel? You’ll have to indulge in GRABBERS to find out. So if you like laughs with your decapitating monsters, give this feature a shot – of single malt Irish whiskey, that is. Thanks for the sorely needed entertainment therapy, cast and crew. I’ll definitely have another round, and I’m buyin’ Doug…

3.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Analysis: HELLRAISER (1987 UK)

Great Story, Great Gross-Out

People play with a mysterious puzzle box – and lose…

Barker’s acclaimed HELLRAISER holds no punches when it comes to the disgusting meter, but that’s just an aside to a riveting story inhabited by intriguing characters.

The always phenomenal Andrew Robinson, character actor extraordinaire, leads a cast of the damned, the innocent and the two-faced. And Clare Higgins, Robinson’s on-screen wife, Julia, is remarkable as the torn and ultimately downcast fool.

Right from the beginning, when Frank is encircled with candles as he begins to open his new puzzle box, we instantly know the ride will tear us apart and rock our world.

Though made on a small budget, the special effects are disgustingly amazing and add tremendously to a tale that put “Pinhead” on the map as a horror icon. In regard to said effects, the only reason this exceptional horror tale falls shy of a perfect five, is because of the cheesy “electrical” effects scratched into the film due to lack of cash.

Enjoy the experience in its beautiful ugliness, ask yourself if you’d play with the puzzle box, and get ready to quote Doug Bradley’s “Pinhead” every chance you get. (HELLRAISER quotes are always a hit at parties or in the bedroom.)

4.5 out of 5 stars