RECOMMENDATIONS FROM 2016
What a great year for film fans, and inparttiular, horror fans.
WE ARE STILL HERE
Director - Ted Geoghegan
Writer - Ted Geoghegan
Michael Patrick Nicholson
Wow. I have only recently had the pleasure of watching We Are Still Heree, and was instantly drawn into the intense drama which this intelligent screenplay provides. The tale of a middle aged couple moving to an isolated house in New England to grieve for the loss of their son, Bobby, unsettles the viewer from the start. As the narrative progresses we are treated to supernatural scares that also keep the viewer guessing as to the true history of the house, and its terrifying secrets.
Before long we discover the dark past that the local townsfolk have been hiding, culminating in the worst possible nightmare imaginable.
We Are Still Here offers everything. Genuine characters, being played by the likes of Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden. The atmosphere that Geoghegan manages to create is fantastic, as this 'ghost story' offers some genuinely unsettling moments. The film then successfully moves into one of my favourite territories, possession, and the violence and gore is beautifully unforgiving.
Director - Paul Hyett
Writer(s) - Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler
Another late entry this year was Paul Hyett's much anticipated Howl, and it didn't disappoint. Maybe I'm biased, but British horror will always tend to emit that feel of genuine drama which relies heavily on the characters, quite often with effective results. Howl is no exception, as we join a group of late night commuters traveling back from London on a midnight train. The train has a downtrodden guard (played superbly by Ed Speleers), who is doing his best to remain interested in his job, while he struggles to deal with the colourful collection of characters onboard.
Halfway through the journey the train breaks down however, leaving this small group of people stranded in the middle of a forest. If the situation wasn't tenuous enough, we quickly learn that a werewolf is on the prowl, and begins to pick its prey off one at a time.
I don't think I've enjoyed a werewolf film this much since Dog Soldiers, as Howl provides great fun mixed with a fine balance of humour and shocks. The relationships that develop amongst the characters are as entertaining as the werewolf attacks, in this fun and entertaining creature feature.
Director - Ivan Kavanagh
Writer - Ivan Kavanagh
The Canal is an effective ghost story which impressed me with its pace and imaginative premise. We follow the life of a man called David who lives with his wife and young son in their old house, which harbours a dark past.
David has been researching the history of this house, and discovers that it was the scene of a brutal murder over 100 years ago. In addition to this discovery David also finds out that his wife is having an affair, as she is murdered soon after on the bank of the local canal. The film then takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride of scares, as David tries to solve the historic murders in addition to his own wife's fate.
An intriguing supernatural affair, The Canal keeps the viewer entertained as the subplots and twists lead us to a shocking conclusion. A particularly (and unexpected) moment of gore towards the end of the movie, will stay in your mind for quite a while!
Director - Jon Watts
Writer(s) - Christopher D. Ford, Jon Watts
Who doesn't like a film about a killer clown? It's almost a golden formula within the horror genre, and I couldn't wait to see what all the fuss was about.
Director Jon Watts introduces the audience to an idyllic family backdrop, within an environment that many of us can relate to. This makes what is to follow extremely effective. After being introduced to this young family the drama builds nicely, with an unsettling tone throughout the narrative. Clown successfully holds your attention, not with shocks and violence initially, but with a fantastic sense of dread and tragedy involving characters that actually interest you.
As the premise unfolds and we follow the unfortunate Kent, it becomes an intriging and thoughtful piece of drama, watching a victim in serious distress trying to cope with his daily routine. Then comes the horror element, and it doesn't disappoint.
Once the truth of Kent's affliction is revealed, we witness a visual treat that will please any fan of demonic possession. The effects are gory, yet relevant, as we slowly see the transformation take place as the violence increases. After a few bloody murder sequences we witness what is effectively a clown/demon hybrid. What a combination. All this plays out against the struggles of a mother and wife, who has lost her husband through this demon, and must stop at nothing to save her young son.
Clown is a thoughtful touch of class within a saturated genre, which offers a fresh spin on the classic killer clown narrative. I was as much entertained as I was shocked, and I would recommend this future classic to anybody looking for a fun, and effective movie.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN
Director - Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer - Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
With some of the unjust negativity surrounding remakes, it can be difficult for filmmakers to put their stamp on such work. Some viewers will simply dismiss the film entirely due to the fact it is a 'reboot', however good the movie. Sad, but true unfortunately.
What Gomez-Rejon has done is genius. If you ever needed an example of a reboot which can effectively prove the relevance of such work, this is it. Paying homage to the original movie with a film-in-film concept is superb. This pays huge respect to the classic, while creating a new film around, and based, on the idea itself. To top things off, this new film is an extremely strong movie in its own right.
The cinematography is superb, with innovative picture-in-picture shots and slow-motion cross-overs that add to the shear class of the film. The premise is not too convoluted, as Gomez-Rejon delivers slasher fans what they want - a masked killer on the loose serving up violent murders.
Keeping the original movie in mind at all times, the twist is smart enough to make this new film memorable due to its own merits, rather than simply cashing in on the strengths of its predecessor. The characters are likeable, and the acting is of a good level. We also see a few familiar faces, mixed in with some new talent.
'Sackhead' is a great slasher villain, and doesn't disappoint in his simple yet brutal demeanour. This throwback narrative is bought up to date in a stylish, and intelligent manner. The gore level is higher than some of the more polished remakes we have seen, and the film manages to hold on to a cult-like tone.
Beautifully shot and oozes class, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is simply not to be missed.
A big welcome back to the slasher film.
Director(s) - Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Writer(s) - Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
After feeling shortchanged by a few big names this year, I was delighted to find a film that finally delivered the goods - on all fronts.
What an incredibly cool, and stylish movie this is.
Starry Eyes grabbed my attention, and didn't let me go for the full duration. This film is a highly charged piece of story telling, that effectively tells a tale of two halves. Firstly, we have the fantastic character development of our young actors, as they suffer that familiar journey that all actors do. The young cast are superb, in particular our lead Alex Essoe, and Noah Segan (who I thought was also superb in Cabin Fever 2).
Throughout the movie we are treated to a retro-synth soundtrack, accompanied with slow-motion shots that benefit from overlaid dialogue of previously haunting scenes - nothing short of mesmerising, in parts.
The finale, which sees our tortured actress massacre her friends, is as brutal as it is disturbing and realistic.
I felt the movie drew on elements of the witchcraft and slasher sub-genres perfectly, while using a fairly original narrative that successfully draws the viewer in. Starry Eyes is quite possibly the best viewing experience for me this year, so far.
Full respect goes out to Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer - nice one lads.
Director - Todd Strauss-Schulson
Writer(s) - M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Billed as a 'love letter to the '80s slasher', this was one piece of satire I couldn't wait to view!
Quite simply, If you are a fan of '80s slasher movies, you will enjoy The Final Girls. While not a direct parody of the genre, the film successfully manages to pay tribute to the slasher films of old, while building on its own original premise. The story follows a young girl, Max Cartwright, who's mother was an actress in a cult '80s slasher film, Camp Bloodbath. Years after her mothers death, Max and her friends find themselves trapped within the movie Camp Bloodbath after a bizarre occurrence at the local cinema.
Offering all of the clichés that are synonymous with the '80s slasher, I found that this film actually managed to offer something new at the same time. Mixing the young characters of the present with the teen victims of the '80s was a great concept, and one that kept my attention. An entertaining piece of meta fun, that embraces the '80s slasher era wonderfully.
Director - Miguel Angel Vivas
Writer(s) - Juan de Dios Garduno, Alberto Marini.
The zombie sub-genre is notoriously saturated and manages to bore the hell out of most fans (myself included). Every year I tend to find one that successfully manages to break the mould and offer something new, and Extinction does just that. A virus has turned the population into zombies, leaving only a small group of survivors living in what is now a frozen wasteland.
The entire film focuses primarily on three characters, two men and a young girl named Lu. This concept allows for a character driven piece, with depth and warmth which draws the viewer into the unfolding drama with genuine interest. In addition to the superb character development we are treated to some tense and gory moments that will please most genre fans.
Forget the boredom of stereotypical zombie movies, Extinction feels very much like a personal film that also delivers the goods.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN
Directors - Various
Writers - Various
You can't compile a list like this without including an anthology - a Halloween anthology at that!
Tales of Halloween is comprised of ten short stories that are all interwoven through a related subplot. The film deals with the devil, child killers, demons, ghosts, witches a serial killer and much more. Although not particularly dark in tone, I found each segment to be entertaining and fun, which is what I expect from comic book tales of this nature.
The movie is also littered with familiar faces from the genre, which gives a novel appeal to the avid genre fan. It was great to spot the likes of Caroline Williams, Robert Rusler, John Landis and Felissa Rose amongst the characters. We will hopefully see the birth of a new series of Halloween anthologies due to the success of Tales of Halloween, and I would be more than happy to embrace them.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE: VENGEANCE IS MINE
Director - R.D. Braunstein
Writer - Daniel Gilboy
Harley Jane Kozak
I need something nasty on my annual menu, and this is it. The remake of I Spit on Your Grave is a guilty pleasure of mine, so I was looking forward to seeing Sarah Butler reprise her role for this third entry. I found the second film a little too exploitative for my taste, and felt it lost its way amongst the extreme rape revenge violence. I was pleased to discover that this film took a slightly different tone.
Our victim, Jennifer Hills, is now back home in LA and trying to get on with life after her horrific ordeal. Struggling to come to terms with the past, Jennifer is extremely aggressive toward men, and attends a counselling group in an attempt to deal with her demons. She befriends another girl at the group who has experienced her own traumatic past, and the pair decide to seek their own justice against a local rapist. This becomes a habit, as the girls begin to tackle a number of offenders, as the police close in.
This third film was a much better offering than its predecessor. While still providing the blood and innovative shocks that one would expect, there was much more thought to the narrative, with a real purpose put back into the characters actions. Sarah Butler was once again superb in the role, and a twist at the end leaves the viewer's curiosity wanting more.