Exhumed Films Twenty-Four Hour Horror-thon 2014

 

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I was privileged to have been able to attend the best film event in the world for the seventh time in my life.

This year included fifteen 35mm films, dozens of trailers, vegan ice-cream delivery, prize giveaways, free morning cereal, no sleep and once in a lifetime memories.

Here are the line-ups from previous years:

2013 Line-up
2012 Line-up
2011 Line-up
2010 Line-up
2009 Line-up
2007 Line-up

As usual, we were able to try to guess the films based on the clues below, which was nearly impossible. (I guessed 1 correctly). The winner only guessed three correctly, but he walked away with a mondo poster of The Fog signed by John Carpenter for doing so.

In terms of movie quality, this was another consistent year. Only three films screened that I did not care for. The other twelve films I enjoyed, and a few I would say were stellar.

Now, onto the movies!

#1 – Stylish, star-studded cosmic  horror film worthy of rediscovery

A bizarre cult film based off of the famous horror novel of the same name. This early entry shows Mann applying his signature style to some of the set-pieces, which were really intense. But the film has severe pacing issues and feels like it is missing too much information to make the script comprehensible. I won’t even attempt to summarize it here. Still, it is a film that deserves an impressive presentation and I’m very glad to have seen it in 35mm to get the full effect. Great score by Tangerine Dream, too.

#2 – Influential Asian horror movie that created its own subgenre

I’m not too familiar with the sub-genre to comment on this film’s place in its history. But I can saw that as a stand-alone Shaw Brothers horror/sleaze exploitation film, it was definitely entertaining. 

A woman attempts to get the better end of a love-triangle of sorts by hiring a magician to create a love spell for her. The situation escalates quickly until a death spell (or two) are needed. Soon, a second magician enters the film to battle the first. It’s fun, goofy, over-the-top, and the pace never lets up. Highly recommended for those that appreciate films like this.

#3 – Quite possibly the dumbest giant monster movie ever made

It is quite possible! If you are a fan of the big guy and want to see all his films, than check this out. It’s about a young kid dreaming of monster island, meeting the son of Godzilla, and learning to overcome bullying.

You’ll probably enjoy it for its goofiness. Personally, I don’t have that attachment to the franchise. I hold the philosophy that if you’ve seen three of these films, you’ve seen then all. This print was dubbed, but what do you think it would be like watching this in the original Japanese?

#4 – Earnest entry in an iconic horror movie series that doesn’t live up to its predecessors, but is still infinitely superior to the terrible sequels and do-overs that followed 

Through some good producing, this film manages to get by due to being better than the sum of its parts. The script isn’t special, but it does provide plenty of opportunity for creepy thrills: A young cross-country driving couple run across a family of cannibals in the Texas countryside.

Add in Viggo, Foree, and some solid direction from B-movie studio-horror journeyman Jeff Burr and you have yourself a slick and entertaining horror film. Definitely better than most of the series.

#5 – Fun, rarely screened sci-fi/horror inspired by 1950s-era atomic monster movies

I have never heard of this film before but I’m glad I got to see it. It played really well in the theater due to a variety of factors, but what I liked about it most was it’s adherence to that great style and character set-up used in 70’s disaster films.

This one involves a poisonous plant infecting someone with a parasitic worm. It leads to a full scale monster film set in a quarantined hospital. It has great build-up, good characters, and some impressive effects. The action was very poorly directed, but watching the story unfold was a joy.

#6 – Creepy “living dead” fan favorite

Brutal! I never realized how brutal and viscous this film was until this viewing. Based on the novel by Stephen King, it tells the story of how every parent’s worst nightmare can lead them to do unspeakable things.

Mary Lambert directed the hell out of this. From working with the creepy kid, to perfectly employing flashbacks and dream sequences. The story is a simple idea, but that is why it works so well. The sister with spinal cancer? The funeral scene? That ending? Unforgettable stuff.

#7 – Silly, low-budget horror sequel to the silly, low-budget original which played at a recent Horror-thon

The original is very nostalgic for me, having been one of the scariest viewing experiences of my young life. Without the nostalgia factor, watching it as adult, is is revealed to be charming but forgettable.

That is exactly what the sequel is like, although this one was tinged with a lot more humor. The gate is reopened by a teenager attempting to get wishes out of the demonic lords. But of course, every wish has its price and pretty soon everyone is scrambling to close the portal for good. Cool creature effects in this one!

#8 – Infamous and brutal 1970s gore/exploitation film that lives up (or down?) to its reputation as one of the sleaziest and most disturbing movies of all time; you’ve been warned

I don’t know what the film-maker’s were attempting with this one. Yes it’s graphic and sleazy, but the director/star  really appears to be trying to make art. Not that it works. This tale of a ex-con making snuff films for revenge could have been much more straightforward if they were only trying to tap the sleaze market.

As it stands, the film straddles both worlds: half failed indie early-Scorcese film, half poorly made gratuitous exploitation film. It doesn’t work as either.

#9 – Ridiculously bad, anachronistic “period piece” horror film from a divisive director that folks tend to love or hate… or love to hate

Oh, Andy Milligan, why do people hate you so? I don’t have much experience with the director. I have only seen Blood, which I quite enjoyed, and this one.

It involves an evil priest who gets money for his church by dealing with vampires, corpse robbery, and murder. The low-budget is charming, but the performances are a bit too poor. Blood had something going for it with plot, character, and spirit. This one might have been able to produce that magic for me if it wasn’t 1:30am.

#10 – Goofy, absurd, and yet strangely charming 1970s creature feature

This film seemed to be made by and for an older crowd. No one in the movie seemed to be under fifty years old. In fact, there was a very awkward and funny love scene between two of the elderly leads.

There isn’t much to it. A swamp creature is awakened and starts killing people. The cops and some intrepid civilians attempt to stop it. Poorly made in many ways but stupid and good-natured enough to be entertaining.

#11 – Gruesome, satirical horror/exploitation favorite

This one I unfortunately couldn’t stay awake for. That wasn’t the fault of the film, just a fault of the screening time. (3am-ish?) The first half appeared to be a perfectly serviceable slasher film, with some good character set-up and tension building.

I drifted out for the payoff and awoke to a freeze frame of hairy woman-creature jumping out at the screen and then the credits rolling. I was intrigued enough to want to see this one again in its completion.

#12 – Clever and enjoyable supernatural “sequel-in-name-only” that may actually be a bit better than the original

I have not seen the original, but this sequel was a staple of my pre-teen childhood since I had a copy on VHS that I used to watch. Back then, though, I wasn’t watching it as a film fan.

Now that I’ve seen it as an adult, I can safely say that this story of ghostly possession is a clever and enjoyable film. Mary Lou died at an accident during prom. Now she comes back to possess perfectly innocent Vicki, turning her into a sexy and evil instrument of revenge.

#13 – Obscure, gory 1980s slasher film

Usually I’m not a slasher-movie fan. There has to be some technical chops or interesting twists to keep me engaged. I don’t just like the films of this genre because of the tropes. 

This one definitely has the chops and the twists! The tropes are there, sure, but there is a lot more as well. It’s about twins, where the evil one tricks everyone into thinking that his good brother is the one that has been committing the murders. It culminates in a bloody night of killing and an ending that had me applauding at how off-the-wall it was.

#14 – Totally awesome, totally creepy “Animals Attack” movie

Spiders. Lots and lots of spiders. Tarantulas to be exact. They are invading a small Arizona town. Who could possibly be the only one to stop it? Yes, you are right. William Shatner!

This was a lot of fun, and definitely creepy if spiders aren’t your thing. And it has that great 70’s feel that is comprised of practical effects, energy, and lack of rules. Caution: Hundreds of spiders were harmed in the making of this film.

#15 – Zombie movie fan favorite that should be a fun film to finish the festival

I had just watched this recently, and have seen this in the theater a few years ago. But that doesn’t diminish how much fun it was to see again on the big screen.

Alien slugs land on earth, invade people’s brains, and turn them into zombies. Generic plot, yes, but told with so much humor and talent that the whole things feels fresh. All performances are great, but Tom Atkins is a standout. It’s definitely a classic for a reason.

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The House of the Devil

HouseOfTheDevilTi West, USA, 2009, 95 min.

It’s October, and for me that means it’s time to look for that one really great modern horror film. To that end, I recently watched Ti West’s well-received House of the Devil.

It’s a period piece, taking place in the 1980’s, with a great title-sequence right out of that era. It’s an admirable idea to make a period piece on a low-budget, and for the most part it works. Unfortunately, it is about the only thing that works for this film.

Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha, a college student who is in need of some quick cash to secure her optimal off-campus living arrangement. That leads her to accept a slightly strange baby-sitting job from Mr. Ulman, the always creepy Tom Noonan. Her friend (Greta Gerwig) drops her off at his country home, leaving her alone with her new charge.  Things are not as they seem and eventually the true nature of her employers are revealed.

If you are thinking that the plot seems really thin, then you are correct. There aren’t many more moving pieces than what I already described. The plot or characters do not bring anything new or interesting to the table. Maybe that would have been okay if there was some style to the proceedings, but that is also sorely lacking.

The film is severely padded. Scenes are too long, or not needed at all. Shots constantly overstay their welcome by a second or two. There just isn’t enough plot to fill up the runtime. Maybe Ti West was trying to build atmosphere but there wasn’t much to be had with what he was giving the audience.

Unfortunately, this is poor film-making. The plot is razor-thin. The direction and editing are trying to mask that fact, but instead of distracting us, they just highlight what is missing. This is the third film from Ti West (The Innkeepers, Trigger Man) that I have felt this way about. The one-note plot ideas are just not enough to make a film with, and House of the Devil is no exception.

 

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Tusk

tuskKevin Smith, USA, 2014, 102 min.

Kevin Smith has had an interesting career. Clerks and Mallrats introduced us to his clever dialog, juvenile but fresh humor, and lack of directorial artistry. He has had some great ideas since then, but when Red State rolled around it was clear that things had changed.

Red State was a straight horror film, but it was stylish, had good performances and a knock-out ending that was really interesting even if it didn’t quite work. It had its problems for sure, but it was a step in a new, more mature direction for Smith. At least in my opinion. In Tusk, Kevin Smith moves even more in that direction, and the results, albeit a bit messy, are unique, captivating, and very fun to watch.

The story involves a lewd podcaster (Justin Long, obviously playing Kevin Smith), travelling to Canada in order to meet a famous youtuber who accidentally cut off his own leg on video. When that interview falls through he finds a more interesting subject via a flyer in a bar bathroom. An old man with stories to tell and, as it turns out, some big secrets, too.

The introduction of the old man, played with relish by Michael Parks, moves the film into a strange poetic-splatter-horror zone. Parks carries that section of the film with his considerable talent. But Smith keeps things interesting himself by supplying lots of interesting dialog and stories as well as some odd but affecting directorial choices.

Justin Long’s girlfriend, for example, has a great monologue straight into the camera. One very long take full of emotion that on paper may be out of place but instead adds to the tone. To balance scenes like that out, the third act introduces comic relief from an over-the-top French-Canadian investigator played by Johnny Depp (uncredited). These segments do go on too long, but they add to the off-the-wall feel to the film. And the perfect ending for this film cements the whole thing place.

If any film ever needs the right tone to work properly, it’s this one. It can’t be played too serious, or too goofy. There is a fine line that the film needs to walk in order to pull it off. And Kevin Smith doesn’t just walk the line. He draws his own crazy one that works just as well. It’s a unique experience, which, nowadays, is very rare. Kevin Smith’s immaturity hasn’t disappeared, it’s just matured, and Tusk shows it off perfectly.

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Things I love about Films

Today is a day where I just feel like making a list of all the things I love in movies. Little moments that make me want to stand up and cheer, or pump my fist in the air, or sit back and sigh with delight, or just cry because my whole body is filled with that feeling that only a great scene in a film can make you have.

So in no particular order, just off the top of head, here are some things that make films great for me.

The smash-cut ending of Cronenbergs’s The Fly.

In The Warriors, Swan stopping the girl from fixing her hair when they are riding the subway with those prom teenagers.

Eriq La Salle, wet from the rain, looking at the camera in Coming To America.

The noise the dancing skeleton makes when it leaps off-screen in Evil Dead 2.

Daniel Plainview being baptized in There Will Be Blood.

The limbless man crawling through the mud with a knife in his teeth in Freaks.

The velociraptor smashing into the mirrored counter while chasing the kids through the kitchen in Jurassic Park.

Ben and Elaine sitting in the back of the bus, not smiling in The Graduate.

Buster Keaton’s face in the last shot of Sherlock Jr.

The moment when Takashi Miike’s Happiness of the Katakuris first breaks out in song.

The over-the-top cut to the funeral scene in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, with that great music!

Danny Huston going crazy and spanking Sean like a madman in Birth.

That whole final monk/amazon-women fight in Jackie Chan’s Armour of God.

Bruce Lee not fighting in first film for a good 40 minutes and then FINALLY losing control and kicking butt.

That goddamn montage at the beginning of Up.

The crucifixion musical number in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Everyone trying to get the seeds to grow in My Neighbor Totoro.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s drug freak-out/rescue in Wolf of Wall Street.

The moments before the pig-blood wire is pulled in DePalma’s Carrie.

The reversed go-pro style camera work in Requiem for a Dream.

The energy behind the opening incarceration scenes in Old Boy.

Leon literally melting in and out of shadows in the beginning of Leon: The Professional.

Chris Tucker’s OVER THE TOP performance in The Fifth Element.

The iconic shots of Lola running in Run Lola Run.

The turning-set fight in Inception.

The penis spliced into the last shot of Fight Club.

That final chase scene in Carlito’s Way.

The climactic dance in Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi.

The touching and perfect punch-in-the-gut ending of Sabu’s Postman Blues.

Everyone beating up Tim Robbins and crushing him with an air conditioner in High Fidelity.

Melanie Lynskey’s musical number in  Away We Go.

Falling in love with the music of Once.

The zoom out into a snow-globe in Dellamorte Dellamore.

The breast-feeding scene in Pixote.

Wow, now I want to go watch some films. I hope this list made you want to do the same. I’ll have to do this again sometime. Same time next year?

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Obvious Child

ObviousChildUSA, 2014, 84 min.

Obvious Child is a rare treat. A film full of indie-spirit, real humor, and small moments of truth and beauty. That’s a lot to say about what appears to be a small romantic-comedy about a young commedienne who deals with the consequences of getting pregnant from her one-night stand.

Jenny Slate is the star, and really carries the film with her natural performance. Whether she is up on stage doing comedy, goofing around with her friends, or having a private moment with her father or mother, she always feels real. Nothing is ever forced in the acting or the writing.

The film does the broad strokes right. Pace and story, character arcs, and an ending that works really well by not taking a more obvious and dreadfully melodramatic turn. But it’s the little things that make this film shine. The true moments. Jenny eating spaghetti with her father (Richard Kind), for example, feels completely real and unscripted.

But the best part of the film is Jenny Slate’s Donna, a genuinely funny character that doesn’t use humor as a crutch, or to hide shortcomings, or in place of character depth. Credit goes to both Slate and writer/director Gillian Robespierre for creating a character that is real and funny and easy to relate to. A character that feels like she exists in the real world.

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