10.31.2015

Horror Lately

The last week or so I've been seeing a handful of lists all being written on the same subject: the best horror films of the last 15 years/2000's/21st century. Ten years or so ago, it would be difficult to imagine that so many offerings could be placed on the list. The genre wasn't really in a good place in the early to mid 2000's, but somewhere in the last 5-7 years an incredible resurgence has occurred and the genre has seen some fabulous highs. It is my intention to celebrate these new modern favorites with this list of 25 (technically there's 26, but no one needs to know about that.) Please note: I do not claim this to be a "best" list, rather a "favorite" list. Taste is subjective, and this just happens to be the horror movies that struck my fancy. Also I don't always get around to seeing some of the obscure offerings that many do, but I'll get to them. Simply put: no need to complain about such and such being left off the list. I simply don't like that movie as much as you. Since there's so many, I'll try to keep it brief. 
25. Cooties


There's been a lot of highly thought of zombie films this century: 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Warm Bodies (okay that wasn't that highly thought of,) and World War Z (okay probably no one thought that much of that one either.) All of them probably better than this entry and none will be on this list... Cooties got horrible reviews, but it didn't stop me from enjoying it immensely. Yes the ending is a bit of a mess, but I just love the cast, concept and laughs too much to hold it against it. Please don't hate me.

24. Tie: Crimson Peak & The Visit

And odd pairing to be sure, but these two Fall 2015 entries are neither the straight horror films we expected of them. There's more going on with both and that's a good thing. Both directors of each film superbly set their moods, even if it took one of them a lot longer to get going. The twisty payoffs here are what work. 

23. What We Do in the Shadows

The first time I saw this horror comedy from Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords I thought it was hysterical. The first viewing benefits greatly from shock value, but there's enough humorous bits to help with subsequent viewings. This vampire mockumentary is all kinds of silly and clever at the same time as it examines vampire culture in a modern New Zealand. 

22. Oculus

Everyone knows the creepy power a mirror possesses that it's a little surprising there are so few horror films made trying to channel their creepy powers. The parallel storytelling of Oculus allows the audience to witness the childhood and present of two siblings interwoven together. We know they have a tragic past, but the sister of the pair is determined to get the better of it. The end is hit or miss for some, but I really enjoyed where it went. It would rank higher for me if it were just a bit scarier. 

21. Trick R' Treat 

An anthology of tales set on Halloween night make up Trick R' Treat. Unfortunately some of the stories are a LOT stronger than others. Basically Anna Paquin's storyline brings the whole thing down, and you can't help but wish that an entire film focusing the school bus myth. Moments of this film are genius and terrifying. Just wish the entire film was. Still, gotta give credit that what works, really works. 

20. Insidious

Insidious seems to be too mainstream and PG-13 to be showing up on most people's lists, and that's really unfortunate. The film is practically the modern equivalent of Poltergeist and used a fun twist on the expectation of your typical haunted house movie. The filmmakers are great at constructing a world unique to this movie, and the tension exists everywhere you go--whether you are awake or in "the further," you are never safe. Only problem is whether or not the design of some of the ghosts and demons work for you... But if you just accept the Darth Maul muppet, a lot of fun awaits.

19. Sweeney Todd.

Dark horror musicals really aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I really love this movie. It isn't exactly your typical horror movie, so i understand why I haven't been seeing it pop up on many lists. It's not scary, it's just incredibly dark. How exactly can jump scares exist when almost every line is sung? For me, it's all about the story. That and I love Tim Burton, and this is him at his best. 

18. The Final Girls  

If you love horror movies, you can't help but love the idea of what would happen if you were trapped in one. The Final Girls takes this concept and runs wild with it. The result? A stylish film with awesome cinematography, campy humor and a lot of fun. This is destined to be a cult classic and I can't help but itch for a sequel.

17. 1408 

1408 is oft forgotten, but I really enjoy it. It helps when your film is carried by the immensely likable John Cusack. The setup and story is simple and effective. The room has your typical jump scares and weird ghosts, but it also loves to mess with you psychologically....which gets you a little bit deeper. What if you were trapped in a room with your worst fears? 

16. The Others

The others does a fantastic job of setting and maintaining a creepy mood. Nicole Kidman gives a fantastic performance here as the mother of two light sensitive children. Isolated and always in the dark, anything can happen. Especially when you just hired 3 creepy servants. While The Others might be light on the scares, it features a truly tense ending and a fabulous twist.

15. Sinister 

Sinister is quite honestly one of the scariest movies (and maybe partly due to the circumstances I watched it under,) I have seen in the last five years. The murder films that Ethan Hawke finds in his house are utterly disturbing and left me constantly on edge. This would have ranked in my top down if it weren't let down by its ending. All I can say is the scene of the kids in the hall just took me out of what the movie had previously set up so well. Still, I can't deny it shook me and had to receive a spot. Sadly though if not for that scene it would have been in my top ten.

14. Let Me In 

Before you get mad that I didn't include the foreign original, I must confess I haven't seen it. But I will! I love this remake all on its own though. The cast is great and the tension is on point. All the previous entries have their flaws, but Let Me In is pretty solid.

13. Evil Dead. 

Remaking The Evil Dead was a pretty big gamble. I believe the filmmakers knew they could never top Raimi's original, so they tried to pay homage and yet make it as different in tone as they possibly could. As expected, they did not top the original... but the happy medium they settled on is great in its own right. I love the look of this film and there's thankfully a lot more to the setup. You get why the kids are more reluctant to leave. The other thing the movie has going for it is that the intensity in it is non stop. It's simultaneously relentless for both the characters and the audience. As someone who loves The Evil Dead and wants good modern horror, I was beyond satisfied with this offering.

12. TIE: The Strangers 

Sometimes the simplest and most realistic plots are the scariest. There's really not much to The Strangers, but it's the idea that this could feasibly happen to anyone is what's so unsettling here. Some people are just evil and what to do bad things to others. This is a movie all about being in the wrong place at the absolute wrong time. Anyone can relate to that which is what makes this movie so effective. 

12. TIE: Fright Night 

 I didn't intend to have two ties, but midway through writing this list I realized I left off one of my absolute favorites of the last 5 years. Fright Night is so much fun. Not a full blown horror comedy, but rather a horror film with touches of dark comedy thrown in...it hits all the right notes. It's scary when it needs to be scary and funny when it needs to be funny. It also benefits from a good cast. Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell and Toni Collette in a small supporting role are all solid. This remake is probably one of my favorite takes on Vampires since The Lost Boys. 

11. The Babadook

 There is pretty much beauty in every shot in The Babadook. Both the cinematography and editing are as perfect as can be. But the film doesn't just look great, it also features an incredible performance from lead Essie Davis and a chilling story that works on many levels. On the surface the horror is about a children's book with a sinister character, but underneath lies a wonderful story about dealing with grief. The ending might leave some underwhelmed, but in the sense of the bigger picture it's the only ending that would work. 

10.  Shaun of the Dead

You'll see how much I gravitate to horror comedies when you see the rest of my list. Shaun of the Dead is clever and witty, but it doesn't pull any punches when it comes to being a zombie flick. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are wonderful as two best friends dealing with an untimely zombie apocalypse (but really? Is there ever a timely one?) The dialogue here is terrific and it's really a film that holds up to multiple viewings.

9. Saw

While a lot of stupid sequels may have tarnished its legacy, the first film of this series is really well done. Watching it this Halloween season it really scratched me where I itch while other hyped films had been huge letdowns. The concept is truly terrifying of a sadistic killer who makes his victims kill each other to prove they deserve what he sees as the privilege to living your life. You'd think two guys alone in a room, chained to opposite ends for a film's entire runtime would be dull. But the constant flashbacks keeps you in a state of discovery. More than anything, Saw is a whodunnit mystery of sorts and very well done. 

8. The Witch.

This probably shouldn't qualify as it hasn't seen wide release yet, but seeing it at Sundance earlier this year blew me away. The atmosphere of this puritan period tale is dark an moody. It's an unsettling slow burn that by the end, features some of the most horrific imagery I've seen out of a horror film. 

7. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil takes a cliched familiar horror premise and turns it on its head....with hilarious results. This film is so clever in the way it unfolds to keep the misunderstanding constantly getting worse and more comical. Everyone here is having fun and it's pretty hard for the audience not to join in.

6. Zombieland

 I know this is sacrilege to many people that I rated this higher than Shaun of the Dead, but I just slightly prefer the mayhem that Zombieland provides. I love the characters, I love the dialogue, I love the rules and I love that it features one of the greatest cameos of all time. Zombieland is an adrenalin rush that the first time I saw it, I immediately wanted to (and did) watch it again. It never gets old. 

5. The Cabin in the Woods 

The Cabin in the Woods is basically a love letter to the genre and if you're a horror fan, this film is basically tailor made to you. It's so smart in both paying homage and taking apart all the horror tropes we've come to expect. The greatest thing about it is the underlying meaning to it all that when it comes down to it, it's all about the audience and what they expect to see from the horror genre. 

4. The Conjuring.

 Atmospherically speaking, The Conjuring is one of the finest horror films to come along in a long time. It feels like an ode to the classic haunted house stories told all throughout cinema's history and takes all of those greats and condenses them into one film. The Conjuring gives us two protagonists that for a horror film are exactly what's needed. You believe they are capable and we're happy to be in their hands. Especially during the chilling final act. 

3. Drag Me To Hell. 

This movie. This movie!!! It grabs your attention and holds it hostage in its outrageousness for its entire runtime. From the garage scene on I was hooked. It's such a bizarre horror comedy that I just can't help but respect it. This might just be the movie that got me really obsessed with the genre within the last 6 years. It's certainly not a movie for everyone, but if you're in the joke this movie is just absolutely incredible. I love it more than words can say.

2. The Descent

 This movie is so freaking terrifying. I watched this last Halloween season and found myself clutching my best friend through almost the entirety of it. This movie is nonstop, and near the end...it just becomes something else entirely. The less said about it, the better...but this movie is almost as scary as they come. 

1. The Ring.

Maybe it was the fact that the time in my life that I had seen this I hadn't dabbled very deep into this genre, but this film affected me probably the most of any horror movie I can remember. For months I was worried about having nightmares. It'll never be as scary as the first time you've seen it, but it still really holds up every time I've watched it over the last 13 years. The videotape itself is disturbing, and the mystery in solving it is great. Sometimes a horror movie is only as good as its story, and I just love the story beneath The Ring's surface. Too bad the sequel was so disappointing, but this will always remain one of my favorite horror movie experiences and the only movie to haunt me for months. If we're going by effective, this one really got to me and I still can't help but adore it. 

The end. I hope you enjoyed it, even if you felt something was missing or that my choices weren't your favorite. I'd like to add that I retain the right to altar this list at any time to add something I haven't seen yet. Or that have yet to be released (cough Krampus cough)


10.30.2015

Horror 101: The Essentials

I've been soooooo busy all month, I feel like I've barely had time to breathe! But don't you worry. I've been watching my horror movies and THEN some. Sites everywhere have been popping up with their lists of the best horror movies of the last 15 years (and mine is coming too hopefully, tomorrow...), but that got me thinking that the CLASSICS needed some love. I haven't always been the horror junkie I am today. It's been a gradual ascent these last five years, but if you'd rather take a short cut to becoming a horror expert... you're going to need to watch all of the following.

10. Scream. 

The Number 10 spot was the hardest to fill. There were SO many great options that were so close to sneaking in here, and while I didn't necessarily want to crowd my list with slasher flicks (not that I'm against them, I just wanted to diversify my list...) I couldn't help but think the meta take Scream goes for was a game changer for the genre. Also, like another film on the list, it made the brilliant choice to shockingly kill off the character you'd least expect, far too early on. Unfortunately after this film, the sequels didn't dare take the same risks and played it safe with who was able to survive. Still, this film is a lot of fun for horror buffs and full of just the right amount of scares. And gory deaths.

9. Evil Dead II.

Like #10, this spot was incredibly hard to fill as well. After consulting my friend Kent, I agreed that putting the best entry from the Evil Dead series was a must. Evil Dead 2 is absolutely outrageous, but so much fun. It might be the first and still best film to truly master the horror comedy (though its predecessor is pretty funny itself.) It has absolutely made a lasting influence on that subgenre as other subsequent horror comedies seek to match its ability to blend exaggerated, yet humorous gore and genuine scares.

8. Poltergeist.

Poltergeist might just be the best haunted house movie ever made. At first it starts off innocently enough, where it seems that whatever entity is in the house, it's simply performing parlor tricks. Eventually the terror is dialed up, and there are moments that really stick with you. My favorites undoubtedly are the SPOILER (highlight to read) pool full of skeletons and the nightmare where he pulls off his face. /end SPOILER. Plus it creates a world where the unseen is more terrifying than anything you can imagine....which is one of the problems surrounding the sequel. Sometimes less is more.

7. Rosemary's Baby.

Rosemary's baby is the perfect example of how unsettling a horror film's atmosphere can be. There is a sense of claustrophobia to knowing how much danger Mia Farrow's Rosemary is in, but has no one to turn to. Her situation seems utterly hopeless, and that fills the audience with unbearable tension. The direction and style here is pitch perfect; its artfulness elevates it from your typical horror movie. The last scene is honestly one of the most unnerving scenes in cinema history.

6. A Nightmare On Elm Street.

I finally got around to watching this one this year (I know, I'm awful...) and I loved it. The premise is so fantastic: a killer who can only kill you in your dreams. Sleep is a necessity in life and attempting to go without it is literally exhausting. That exhaustion transfers onto the audience and you start to feel the impossibility of defeating Freddy.... which of course, led to a billion sequels. Not having seen all of them, I can't comment on their quality, but nothing can be better than the original right? Plus with time, there's just something fabulous about this particular horror film. It's campy, horrifying and fun all at the same time.

5. Halloween.

With so many knockoffs, you might not think there's much use to watching Halloween...but you'd be wrong. The opening scene and its reveal alone are completely worth your while. That setup makes Michael Myers particularly sinister because he basically has no soul. He is an absolutely ruthless villain, and his counterpart Laurie Strode (played by Jaime Lee Curtis) is absolutely one of the finest final girls of all time. Unlike films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Friday the 13th, we actually get closer with our heroine and as such we're more invested in her survival.

4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Even though Halloween has the superior final girl, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre manages to be so incredibly INTENSE. The film gets off on the right foot immediately with the introduction of the mysterious hitchhiker. You can tell from the get-go that this guy is OFF, and this to me is one of the most effective sequences in the film. The film makes a commentary of how much trust we place in strangers that they will follow a certain code of conduct, but what's horrifying here is the notion that you really can't just trust everyone. Even after that intensely creepy beginning, it still manages to continually top itself through the film. The finale pumps up the adrenaline in a way that not many horror films have been able to match. Truly terrifying. 

3. The Shining.

If you're a fan of the horror genre, there is SO much to love about The Shining. For starters, we have perhaps the most iconic Jack Nicholson performance of all time playing Jack Torrence, a father suffering writer's block who has agreed to be the caretaker for a haunted and isolated hotel. Then there's Jack's son Danny and his creepy imaginary friend who constantly takes over warning of MURDER. And that's not even to mention all the horrific imagery that hides within the hotel's walls. The Shining is expertly made and an absolute must for horror fans.

2. The Exorcist.

I finally bucked up and watched this one this year, because I knew I couldn't wait any longer to get this particular horror street cred. I was expecting the very worst from this one, but luckily I've built up enough of a tolerance that it didn't disturb me quite as much as I expected. That's not to say it isn't disturbing. There are parts in this movie that are downright messed up and the definition of horror. For me though, when I set out to write this list, I expected this to be the clear #1 (and I'm sure for many of you it is,) but the first half of the film is undeniably slow. Its setup isn't as great as its payoff which is why I'm giving the #1 spot to...

1. Psycho.

Psycho isn't just a great horror film, it's a great film period. In fact, it's perfect. It's Alfred Hitchcock's most famous film, and in my opinion, his best. This film has had such a great impact on the genre and really defined it. Psycho was a game changer that made it so anything could happen. It changed our expectations on both protagonists and villains... and it made twists a staple of the genre. Psycho is an absolute must see film and perhaps the single greatest influence of my love of the genre.

Honorable Mentions: The Changeling, The Ring, Friday the 13th, Carrie, The Omen, Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project, Night of the Living Dead.

10.16.2015

Gothically Grotesque

A good haunted house movie, if done well can be one of the most effective offerings of the horror genre. To succeed in standing apart, it must possess two things: a good story and effective chills. Crimson Peak manages really only one of the two elements. However, despite what the previews and even opening lines of the film tell you, being a story about ghosts might not be its first and foremost purpose. While there's intrigue with the ghosts, the real mystery of the film surrounds the human characters and their past. If you watch the movie for them, you'll enjoy it so much more than if you're just longing to be scared. Unfortunately, that can be a hard thing to reconcile yourself to when the mood is set so perfectly for a good old fashioned haunting.


A creepy haunted house is not the only mood that director Guillermo Del Toro sets. There is an unmistakable air of "gothic romance" to the proceedings that feels very much in the vein of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Like those novels, we're introduced to a similar young heroine named Edith, (Mia Wasikowska) who is drawn to a mysterious man by the name of Thomas, whom she should probably steer clear of (Tom Hiddleston.) Persuaded by love, Edith agrees to become Thomas's wife and leave her home in America for the childhood home that he and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) share. But soon she discovers that the house, as well as her new family, are not all that they seem.

From a visual standpoint, Crimson Peak is a gorgeous movie to behold. The set design of the mansion is incredible, and the costumes are top notch. And don't get me started on that wonderful cinematography. The only visual element I'm not fond of is the design of the ghosts themselves. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Peak is not the ghost's story, so they don't necessarily need to be the ones causing the fear in the audience. Still, their design and its excessive use of CGI took me out of an otherwise fabulous story. Basically, if you make a movie with ghosts in it, you can't really blame the audience when they want to be scared by them... even if it's not about them. So why don't they pack a punch? Their look is definitely a stylistic choice that I get, but don't really love, and put simply: we just see too much of them. The same problem occurred in another Del Toro involved film, Mama where the filmmakers relied too heavily upon showing the supernatural. If just a little more had been left to the imagination, the effects might have been more haunting. As it is, the film is much more concerned with its living characters than its dead.


Crimson Peak manages just enough to overcome its expectations of being full fledged horror due to its story, style and strong cast. It's a solid movie, but you can't help but wish that it was just a teeny bit scarier... even if it didn't want to be. EMILY RATING: 7.5/10

10.09.2015

Panned

There's really no delicate way to put this, but Joe Wright's Pan (prequel to the classic J.M. Barrie tale Peter Pan) is all kinds of awful. Trust me, I take no pleasure in bearing this news since I'm a fan of Joe Wright's work and thought the lore of Peter Pan would be a natural fit for the filmmaker. The trailer too only instilled confidence in me that though the idea was risky, this adventure seemed to be full of enough magic. Boy was I wrong. The latest iteration of the boy who could fly never gets off the ground and takes off, in fact it's pretty much dead on arrival. I really wanted to like this film...but I couldn't.

Throughout the film I told myself, "Maybe it will get better once such and such happens." In the beginning it was "once they get to Neverland" then it became "once they leave the mine and meet Tiger Lily" until eventually I realized there was no coming back and turning it around. It's hard to even know where to begin with identifying what let this movie down, but let's start with the story. For some inexplicable reason, Peter's story begins in London during World War II (...even though J.M. Barrie wrote the story in the early 1900's,) where he's living in a horrible orphanage run by a Mrs. Trunchbull-esque nun figure. He's lived there since a baby, because his mother who loved him tremendously had to give him up for mysterious reasons. One day he's abducted by pirates who inhabit a flying pirate ship and take him to a strange world called Neverland. Only there can he discover his true destiny and some other convoluted nonsense. The story starts predictably and dully enough, then turns to preposterousness and later descends into madness. It's kind of like watching a car wreck. Elements from Barrie's original tale are randomly and carelessly thrown in to create this bastardized version of the beloved story.


The story is bad, but it's not helped by the uneven tone that surrounds the film throughout its entire runtime. The film is off from the get-go, and I attribute that to the blandness of our Peter (Levi Miller.) For a character as dynamic as Peter Pan, the kid is awfully one-note. Also near the beginning, it seems like Wright wants to make the Peter Pan version of Moulin Rouge --complete with Nirvana chanting, then quickly abandons the idea. He's committed to nothing because he's thrown everything in the kitchen sink to see if it will work. Even the usually capable Hugh Jackman can't sell you on the random mix of contemporary, fantasy and period. Nor do Garrett Hedlund and Rooney Mara, try as they might. And instead of trying to add more depth to the story, the filmmakers decide instead to add more CGI wackiness. When that didn't work, in addition to taking elements from Peter Pan, the filmmakers also decided to throw in some Star Wars, Harry Potter and even Spaceballs into the mix. Literal face palms were occurring consistently.

Can I say anything positive about this film? Sadly, really not much. As with any Joe Wright film, it has moments (and people?) that are really beautiful to look at. In this particular case, much of it is over done by its CGI. Some of the set pieces are cool to behold, but become repetitive quickly. I guess I liked Tiger Lily's costume design (though let's not even get into the race issues here...) Sadly, this prequel is an utter disgrace to the story that once made you say "I do believe in fairies." For all the talent involved, this is one of the worst movies of the year. EMILY RATING: 2/10. 

10.02.2015

Earth to Mars

When an unexpected storm hits Mars, a group of astronauts make the call to leave behind one of their crewmates whom they believe to be dead. Unbeknownst to them, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon,) is alive and well...and now stranded on a desolate planet with the hope of a rescue several years off. Before I proceed, no I'm not talking about Matt Damon's character in Interstellar. It just happens to be a coincidence that these two characters he played found themselves in such similar circumstances! And that Jessica Chastain happened to appear in both movies too.



For the third consecutive Fall movie season, an astronaut-themed adventure is out in cinemas. In 2013, we had Gravity, the Sandra Bullock led movie about a woman lost in space (review HERE)... then in 2014, Christopher Nolan's grand opus Interstellar graced the screen (review HERE) and now in 2015 Ridley Scott gives us an adaptation of The Martian. For films tackling such similar subject matter, each director chose vastly different aspects to prioritize, and thus the three films are actually quite varied in what they achieve. In Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron sacrificed characters that were fleshed out for the sake of the audience getting swallowed up in the suspense of the situation. Here in The Martian, Ridley Scott does the polar opposite. Our lead, Mark Watney has plenty of personality and heart, but because he's so capable the audience rarely finds themselves on the edge of their seat in desperation for his situation. Instead, they're too busy laughing at his wisecracks.

In a case such as this, it really comes down to personal preference. Some might prefer the constant tension Gravity provides (and might find The Martian disappointing in that regard,) while others bemoan what that film lacks. As someone who values character and story above almost all when it comes to filmmaking, I found The Martian to be an incredibly winning film and almost a breath of fresh air for the genre. It's the most un-Ridley Scott movie that Ridley Scott has ever made. It does not take itself too seriously as there is a real humor and personality to this film. What's missing though that Gravity and Interstellar accomplished, is the anxiety we feel over the life and death situations represented. At a film that clocks in at nearly two and a half hours, you almost always feel like the situation will come to a happy solution... which means that some of runtime tends to drag. Scott does a good job for the most part of moving things along by intercutting between Watney and his adventures on Mars, with the NASA crew back in Houston trying to figure out the mess on their hands. But at some point in the middle, you can't help but want to move forward with the story. Luckily, that feeling doesn't last for long, and Matt Damon's likability carries you through any slumps there might be.


The Martian is a solid space journey buoyed by Matt Damon and a strong supporting cast surrounding him. It has the humor and heart to make an impression and is more rewarding in the end because of it. Because I was invested in these characters, I was much more emotional about their outcomes...even if I wasn't stressed out about them the whole movie long. The journey is much more enjoyable if you can appreciate the characters you're taking it with. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10