Thursday, October 28, 2010


The Disappeared (2008)
Directed by Johnny Kevorkian

This is the first feature length film by Johnny Kevorkian.  If that is his real name.

I wanted to like this film.  I really did.

There's something good here, but unfortunately it gets lost under a forced supernatural narrative.  I understand that they wanted to make a ghost story, but someone somewhere along the way needed to tell them that it really wasn't necessary.  The story about a young man going crazy with guilt over his missing little brother is much more effective and scary than a story about ghosts and a cliched serial killer.

There really wasn't a single "ghostly" moment in this film that was necessary.  If the visions and whatnot had been in the kid's head, then it would have been disturbing.  And much more powerful.  There was no need to reveal the killer (especially with a brief shot of glowing red eyes), much less have him mysteriously escape in the end.

Oh yeah.  Spoiler alert.

I really don't understand the urge to put these supernatural elements into the films when the basic ideas are plenty disturbing.

Harry Treadaway's performance as Matthew was admirable.  He did a lot with a weak script and elevated the material into something that could have been much more effective if the writers and director had been willing to take a chance.  Indeed, if they had ditched the whole supernatural element and left the ending as an unsolved mystery disappearance, this could have been something altogether different.  The sort of film that people pay attention to.  The sort of film that makes careers.

Instead, it turns into a hodge-podge of ghost story cliches that the Japanese grew tired of 10 years ago.

Although, to be honest, the Japanese films worked better because there was never any question about whether or not the ghosts were real.  In J-Horror, the ghosts are most definitely real, therefore the threat isn't entirely psychological.  When you're watching, you know what's going on, even if the characters don't.  That's what makes the horror work.

If you're going to pretend that the ghosts might not be real, but then have them save the day by revealing important information that can't be discerned by other means, then the ghosts become a plot device rather than a conflict.  The ghosts become a shortcut way to solve the mystery, rather than anything scary, and any psychological depth becomes two-dimensional, shifting the storytelling focus from character to plot.

Character is always superior to plot.

Madness trumps ghosts any day.

Unless, of course, you stop dicking around and focus on making the ghosts an obvious part of the narrative with as much reality as the living characters.

At least, that's my opinion on the matter.

And this forcing of the supernatural into situations that are scary and disturbing enough without them, just cheapens the drama, the performances, and the overall effect of the stories.  Deathwatch did it first this week, and now The Disappeared follows suit.

Serious horror is difficult to pull off.  You can't afford to cheapen the experiences and emotions of the characters with cliches and easy-outs.  That's why horror, infused with comedy to humanize the characters, is so much more satisfying.  Trying to be serious, but then copping out with absurdities, just makes your work pretentious and laughable.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The Cottage (2008)
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams

I didn't really look into what this film was about before adding it to the list.  It was just one of a batch of UK Horror films from the past few years that was getting some buzz.  Then, upon receiving it from Netflix, I realized that it had Andy Serkis in it.

I've not been a huge fan of the man.  I mean Gollum was a nice performance, but I didn't really know anything about him, and honestly couldn't remember seeing him in anything else.  But then, earlier this week, he was one of my favorite parts about the film Deathwatch.  His crazed character was maybe the most distinctive character in the film.  He was certainly the most memorable.

The name Reece Shearsmith was familiar, but I couldn't place it.  Then, as the movie was about the start, Dr. Girlfriend placed him.  He's one of the talents behind The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville!

Boy did I feel dumb.

Serkis and Shearsmith play feuding brothers who've gotten together to do a shady deal, make a load of cash, and never have to see each other again.  Serkis does a pretty good job of playing a thug, and Shearsmith is perfect as a nebbish, whipped husband.  Together, they kidnap the daughter of a local club-owner (who's clearly more dangerous than anyone they have any right messing with), and hold her for ransom in a small house in the country.

But, as one might expect, there's danger in the country.  This time it's not werewolves or terrorists (as in the last two films), but a mangled, insane farmer.  And after about an hour of very entertaining bickering and absolutely clueless attempts at criminal activity, the horror-show begins.

The gore is extreme and surprising after the long build-up, and when death is being dealt, writer/director Williams doesn't hold anything back.

Now, I'll admit.  I'm biased toward this film based on the casting.  For some viewers, the first part of the film may drag a bit, but I found it a joy to watch.  Serkis and Shearsmith work with each other beautifully.  Whether it's the little things like Shearsmith lighting cigarettes for the both of them, or Serkis trying desperately not to beat his brother to death over every little annoying thing that he does.  Their relationship is funny, tragic, and the heart of the film.

Like I've said repeatedly this week, little bits of humor and humanizing elevate what could be a standard film to something special.  And that's the case here.

I really enjoyed this film.  I didn't think it was as visually and narratively creative as Severance, but it was just as enjoyable.  Both as an entertaining comedy and as a gruesome horror film.

This is turning out to be a pretty successful film festival, if I do say so myself.


Yeah, tonight was supposed to be a rewatch/reevaluation of Neil Marshall's The Descent, but we just couldn't bring ourselves to watch it again.  We didn't care for it the first time through, and figured our time was better spent watching something new.

Oh well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Severance (2006)
Directed by Christopher Smith

This film is awesome!

Easily the best film so far, and quite possibly the best horror film I've seen in a good long while.

The story is simple enough: A sales group for an international weapons company are off for a Team-Building Retreat, when they are sidetracked, hunted, and murdered by... well, I'll let you watch the film to see what's what.

Christopher Smith is without question the most inventive and entertaining young director of any of the films we've watched so far.  Not only is the writing clever and frightening at the same time, the direction is inventive and energetic, bringing a flair to the storytelling that neither of the previous films came close to even attempting.

I truly believe that the best, the most enjoyable, horror films are the ones that use humor to soften us up and make us like the characters before the really violent and horrible stuff starts happening, and this film is a textbook example of this technique.

The cast is diverse and funny.  The writing is intelligent and clever.  The violence is bloody and disturbing.

What more could one want?

I can safely say, without hesitation, that I will watch anything Christopher Smith directs from this point on.  As soon as we were finished watching this film, I immediately put his earlier film, Creep, and his later film, Triangle, into my Netflix queue.  I can't wait to see them!

And as soon as Black Death is available, I'm all over it, too.


Wild Country (2005)
Directed by Craig Strachan

This is a film with a lot of promise.

It tells the story of a 16-year old girl, who's just given up her baby for adoption.  Shortly after this occurs, she goes on a Church Youth Group overnight hike, and that's where things go off the rails.

Not with the filmmaking, but with the story itself.

This group of kids (two girls and three boys - one of whom is the father of Kelly Ann's baby and isn't supposed to be there), are accosted by a perverted shepherd and then hunted down in the darkness by a massive wolf-like beast.

A good portion of the first half of the film is set during the first night and a combination of poor lighting and overly restrained filmmaking instincts make it virtually unwatchable.  Not for the quality of the performances of the story itself, but it's literally too dark to make anything out.  There are a couple of murders, but we can just barely see what happens.  There's a huge monster, but we really don't see much of it at all.

There's a lot of pointing and shouting as if we should be able to see what's happening, but we can't.

By the time we get down to three survivors (mum, dad, and extraneous boy), I had lost interest.

Along the way, Kelly Ann finds a baby, takes it, and essentially sets off the killing that follows.  Because, of course, it's a baby Werewolf.  The monsters are mainly just trying to get their baby back, but this concept is never really brought to the forefront of the storytelling.

In fact, it's only driven home when we get to the end, with a finale that was just ridiculous and silly.

It seems that while breast-feeding the found child, Kelly Ann is bitten, and thus when we reach the climax of the film, she turns into a werewolf, with a werewolf pup hanging from her teet, and then strolls off into the wilderness with her werewolf mate, taking the place of the she-wolf she'd murdered earlier in the film.

It's all rather silly, and isn't helped by the design of the monsters.

If the first half of the film was hampered by a lack of lighting and avoidance of showing the monster, the back half gives us way too much monster to be enjoyed.  The design is big and bulky, more bear than wolf, with a huge, thick head with a nose that kept reminding me of something phallic and disturbing.

That might just be me, though, I admit.

In the end, this was a pretty average concept without much visual flair or inventiveness.  There are good bones here, and the story had potential, but ultimately it just couldn't find a way to tell the story that was the least bit interesting.  There's not even any good gore, which, while it's not a necessity, could have helped distract from the passionless presentation.


Deathwatch (2002)
Directed by Michael J. Bassett

There just aren't enough films set during World War One.

Especially when it comes to horror films.  Because, if you ask me, there's not much more horrifying than the reality of life in the trenches during WWI.  What with the mud, the stagnant water, the rats, the corpses, the shelling, the gas, the barbed wire, the madness, and the mindless killing, it's the perfect setting for a horror story.

Of course, in that setting you don't really need anything supernatural.  You just need the setting.

And with that said, we have Deathwatch: a film that could be so much better than it is, but is still pretty good.

Warning: There are spoilers on the way!

Deathwatch is the story of a group of British soldiers in WWI who survive a devastating attack, only to stumble out of the fog to discover a German trench, which they then take and feel obligated to fortify and defend.

But they're not alone in the trench.  They have a German prisoner who pleads with them to leave, telling them that there is Evil there and they're all going to die.

As one might expect, the soldiers slowly begin turning on one another, and one by one kill each other, until finally one one man survives.  And by man, I mean the 15 year-old who lied about his age so he could go off to war.

There's a lot to like in this film.  Gollum himself, Andy Serkis plays a thoroughly demented chap with a penchant for violence and murder, and Billy Elliot star, Jamie Bell plays our hero. The filth of life in the trenches is scary enough without the supernatural elements and, ultimately, that becomes the film's main shortcoming.

I just didn't think we needed the supernatural element at all for this to be an effective horror film.  Watching these soldiers turn on one another in what is clearly an extremely disturbed situation would have been enough. Instead, we get a story where our characters all turn out to be dead, and the German soldier is testing them to see who is damned and who gets to move on.

All in all, it's a very disappointing ending to an extremely promising idea.  But depending on one's mindset going in, it's still a nicely done piece of work.  The horrors of WWI are honest and disturbing, and there's not really a poor performance in the lot.  I enjoyed the film quite a bit, but just wished the ending had been more realistic instead of the fantastic ghost story twist it seemed to feel obligated to provide.

Halloween Film Festival: NEW UK HORROR!

Back in June I read this in The Guardian.  It's a very interesting article about a new wave of British Horror Film and the directors involved.  And with that, a future film festival concept was born.

And with Halloween coming up, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to launch ourselves into a New UK Horror film fest and see what happens.

I'll be posting reviews of each of the films we watch, as we go along.  I might not be all that speedy, but I hope to be fairly thorough.

Here's the schedule:
Sunday: Deathwatch (2002) - Dir. Michael J. Bassett
Monday: Wild Country (2005) - Dir. Craig Strachan
Tuesday: Severance (2006) - Dir. Christopher Smith
Wednesday: The Descent (2006) - Dir. Neil Marshall
Thursday: The Cottage (2008) - Dir. Andrew Williams
Friday: The Disappeared (2008) - Dir. Johnny Kevorkian
Saturday: The Reeds (2009) - Dir. Nick Cohen

And if we have time, I'm interested in seeing The Dead Outside (2010), directed by Kerry Anne Mullany, and maybe more by Christopher Smith.

And to be quite honest, we're only watching The Descent to re-evaluate it, as neither Dr. Girlfriend nor myself enjoyed it the first time around, but just about everyone else we know seems to have loved it.  We might watch Dog Soldiers instead if the urge hits (since they're both directed by Neil Marshall and we both already know it's good).

And we're off!

What Looks Good #332: The Walking Dead Are Coming!

This week's What Looks Good is a Halloween Hootenanny of awesome holiday television, DVD, BluRay, and Movies!


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What Looks Good #329: TV Eye on the Fall Schedule

This week's What Looks Good is pretty much devoid of comics talk.  Sorry about that.  But it's got a list of 10 Hour-Long Shows I think people should be checking out.  At least so far.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Mondo Marvel #27 - July 1964

I'm back with another installment of Mondo Marvel, where I look at the origins of the Marvel Universe, one book at a time.  Until it kills me.