Monday, August 27, 2018

Dead End (2003)

If you'd have told me this was an episode from the 1995-2002 run of The Outer Limits series I would have totally believed you. 

That's not meant in any way to disrespect Dead End - for one, I loved The Outer Limits! - but it's just that in its 1hr25min runtime it's so simple in premise and so restrained, almost coy in its gruesomeness, reminiscent of such TV-friendly horror back in the day. And it feels delightfully nineties, too, mainly due to daughter Marion's style (those highlights and that lilac palette!) and a passing mention of Marilyn Manson.

Alexandra Holden, Ray Wise as daughter and dad, Marion and Frank.

However, Dead End is indeed its own movie. Written and directed by French natives Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa, it's technically a French movie, even though it was filmed in the US, and all dialogue spoken is in English by a majority American cast.

The plot: It's Christmas Eve, and the Harringtons are driving to visit family when dad Frank (Ray Wise, always a delight to watch) decides to take a shortcut. What they encounter as a result is actually the opposite of a "dead end" in the literal sense, as for the rest of the movie they find themselves on a seemingly neverending road through a forest.

In frightening succession, horrible, urban legend-worthy things start to happen: they pick up a woman in white, standing dazed at the roadside clutching her baby; Marion's boyfriend Brad is seen being driven off in a hearse (hammering at the rear window, clearly still very much alive and terrified); son/brother/horny brat Richard meets a sticky end, and they pass a sign for a town that seems perpetually unreachable. The road never turns - cue some really lovely shots of endless trees and their little station wagon trucking along - and yet they keep coming back to landmarks from earlier on.

When the family begins to get picked off, some of the remaining members have a hard time holding it together, and it's these scenes above anything else that I found unsettling. Genre pillar Lin Shaye as the mother makes your skin crawl as she grapples with what's going on, reverting to a childlike insanity that is at once so horrible and very darkly funny (see: eating an entire pie, saying she's fine and then a quick cut to her puking in the background of shot).

The moments of the Harringtons just struggling, arguing and trying to remain calm are written brilliantly. Coming from a family not without its own dysfunction, I really enjoyed the dynamic of underlying love with a sheen of passive aggressive and irritated attitude. Just because you are all facing certain death together doesn't mean you're all suddenly going to get along!

I want to call this one "quirky" but I mean that in the best way. It's so odd at times but it all works together to make a solid, dark, entertaining film, right through to its "shock" ending - which also feels quite television script-y. Again, not a complaint! 

It's streaming on Shudder right now so check it out - and make sure to watch to the end of the credits.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

(trailer) Hold The Dark

Exciting news! Jeremy Saulnier, of Murder Party, Blue Ruin and The Green Room has directed an intense looking Netflix movie, due to drop September 28.

Saulnier's long-term collaborator Macon Blair wrote the screenplay, too. 

I was intrigued by the premise, but knowing it's Saulnier makes me full-blown excited for this one. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Triangle (2009)

Triangle really keeps the audience on its toes; seeming to be one thing before becoming something else entirely.

Written and directed by Christopher Smith (the man who also brought us solid British horrors Severance and Creep) and starring Melissa George and Liam Hemsworth, this takes us on a journey from shore to sea and back again - and there's a palpable sense of unease and doom the entire time.

Mostly empty yet symmetrical shot compositions are my jam.

I went in knowing minimal details and that really was the best way, so I'm keeping this short and sweet. This one is confusing and curious, with several moments of breathtaking beauty and grimness (in a good way!). There's also some questionable CGI, but just go with it, trust me.

For fans of horror of the mind-bending variety. Streaming on Shudder now.

Monday, August 06, 2018

I ❤ U The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project hits Shudder US today! To celebrate, I thought I'd jot down a Zombie Cupcake "take" on the movie, since I never actually have. After a recent re-watch I've been having some feels about this one!

For years I felt kind of embarrassed admitting I loved this film, but not any more. Watching it through recently, and then again with the thoroughly entertaining and informative commentary track, it clarified that this is definitely one of my favourite horror films for a few reasons. Over the years I confess feeling a tinge of embarrassment whenever I've been asked to name the scariest film I've ever seen... because honestly, nothing has ever come close to terrifying me as much as this did when I saw it in '99.

Yes, it's been something of a divisive movie ever since its release. The "slowness" of the story; the shaky-cam; the "why are they still filming" aspect and Heather being a "bitch"... Ugh, I don't agree but I get it. Like I said in my Blair Witch review though, whatever your opinion of The Blair Witch Project, you have to admit it was a milestone in horror history. 

Coming out of nowhere, successfully creating mystery around itself - the cast’s IMDB profiles had the actors labeled as "missing, presumed dead" for a full year! - and using the internet in a way that was unheard of at the time. This shit went viral before viral even existed.

"Missing" poster as marketing for the film.

Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the movie is a beautifully crafted piece of cinema where the more you learn about it, the more impressed you'll become. 

Compiled, as it claims to be, from the footage taken by Heather, Mike and Josh (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard) The Blair Witch Project was mostly shot over six days as the actors camped and hiked in the woods, working off of personal "this is your motivation" prompt notes left by the crew. What we see today is thanks to intelligent guidance, expert editing (the Sundance screening apparently showed a different cut) and immersed, improvised acting. The breaking-point exhaustion we see as the film advances was real, and by the final days the three were only given bare minimum food rations to increase their irritability and encourage more anxiety and conflict on film.

Heather (Heather Donahue)

Heather Donahue's casting is called the single best decision of the entire project, and is a powerful but often maligned force of a character in this film. I always had a fondness for her, but my appreciation of the depiction of her has only grown as I've gotten older. Heather is something of a control freak, and she knows what she wants and how she wants it (umm, I can relate). The word "project" is right there in the film's title, and it's her project. Much of the movie is taken from her point of view as she's the one that insists on keeping her camera rolling, even after things take a sinister turn.

Mike (Michael C. Williams)

We meet Heather as a pitch perfect self-righteous film maker, and we leave her running through that house screaming - the audio accompanying her footage coming from Mike's camera making it all fantastically disjointed and unreal - and finally, she's on the floor of the basement. Fade to black.

Much we take for granted in this movie was actually a decision made by the actors (or a happy accident) as they were left to their own devices. If, after reviewing the day's footage Myrick and Sánchez thought someone needed guiding in a slightly different direction, then that was done. But generally they took what the actors gave them, discarded what they thought didn't work (much more, much nastier bickering between the men and Heather found its way to the cutting room floor in an effort to make the audience more sympathetic towards them) and then they spun indie horror movie gold with the rest.

Josh (Joshua Leonard) who lost that sick tooth necklace in the woods :(

Did you know that some of the townspeople at the start were real townspeople from the area? The actors presented themselves in-character so they got natural reactions from the public. Some were plants, too; actors hired and given a story to tell. The stand-out, the lady with the little kid who says "no!" was a real person who made her tale up on the spot (and had to be tracked down to sign a release form!).

Many clever shot set-ups were accidental or actor-driven, rather than anything suggested by the directors. Heather's iconic confession was self-scripted, and the framing of this shot was by mistake. The Blair Witch Project is a wonderful combination of glorious group effort and luck.

As for my personal reaction, marketing and trivia aside, it still creeps me out to this day. When I first saw it I don't remember necessarily thinking it was real, but I did get completely sucked in by the found-footage approach - and remain to this day a fan of imaginative found-footage movies. Whether I was just unaccustomed to horror (or this kind of horror) on the big screen or whatever the reason may have been, I was in full foetal position in my seat with a pounding heart by the end of the movie. Definitely one of those moments you love/hate and spend years trying to recapture!

Even watching the collection of alternative endings (spoiler: none of them work as well as the one they chose) spooked me. There's just something about that final sequence; the hysterical screaming, the house, that basement... I still find it frightening.

It's so cool that Shudder is adding this to their catalogue. But don't forget that there are some great extras on the Blu-ray if you feel like owning it permanently. There are so many amazing little details given in the commentary (the "taco" code word if anyone needed to break character; the stick-man affectionately named Chewbacca) so if you are a fan, it's an excellent investment.

The sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 also hits Shudder today. I remember not being wholly convinced when I saw it, thinking it felt too much like a studio cash-in. Kind of excited to watch it again and see if that still stands.

What's your opinion on the original, or even that 2000 sequel? Lover, hater? Let me know!

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Lake Nowhere (2014)

*kisses fingertips*

Coming in at a mere 50mins long (including the amazing fake trailers and ads at the start) Lake Nowhere is a small but perfectly formed homage to 80s slashers, complete with its own deliciously weird spin on things.

If you're old enough to be nostalgic about watching scary movies on VHS and all of the character-building little details it involved, like murky visuals, tracking lines and glitches, then this film is something you're going to want to check out.

Written by Ryan Scott Fitzgerald and Christopher Phelps, and directed by Phelps and Maxim Van Scoy, Lake Nowhere keeps it simple but strong in two important aspects.

Story. A group of friends (and a dog) arrive at a remote lakeside cabin for the weekend and set about merrily exploring, chopping wood, and settling down for a couple of days of fun. They drink, smoke some pot, have some sex - the usual.

What they don't anticipate is a masked killer lurking around outside (cue lots of cool POV peeping shots). To say any more would give too much away... but rather like a micro budget version of The House of the Devil, this largely sticks to well-worn horror paths. Where and how both elevate themselves above mere imitation and remain an actively enjoyable watch, is due to the fact they're so clearly made with a deep love and understanding of the genre.

Lake Nowhere gets so much, so right. Plus there's also enough of a twist in the tail to still shock.

One of my favourite shots.

Style. I've never had a movie so perfectly mimic the behaviour of VHS, to the point where ancient muscle memory kicked in and I almost found myself reaching for the remote to try and stabilise the playback.

To the haters on Amazon leaving bad reviews because of the picture quality: I truly pity your misunderstanding of this aspect of the movie! ️🤦

The titles and soundtrack/score too, are spot on. Bright red words glare at us over grainy shots of the shoreline, and the upbeat rock music played by the kids sits perfectly next to scuzzy atmospheric electro.

I debated showing the screenshot directly above, but want to draw attention to what a simple, eerie choice this was to have the killer's eyes upside down when shown. These shots are extremely creepy as they punctuate the film. Genius idea.

This is honestly the kind of horror movie that makes fans want to make movies. It took a little over a year from concept to screen; was funded by the makers themselves and an Indiegogo campaign, then shot in just 6 days at a last minute back-up location. Lake Nowhere is a solid gold example of creating something beautiful if you have the guts to go for it.

I wrote simply "YES" and the end of my notes for this.

Seriously considering buying one of the posters from their aptly dated looking official site.

See it, see it, see it!

I watched on Shudder but it's also available on Google Play, Amazon Prime and Vimeo.