Sunday, July 19, 2015

Low-Budget Double Feature

The current resurgence of independent, low-budget horror, as we discussed in our review of A Dark Souvenir, has opened the door for some skilled new filmmakers in the horror genre -- a genre that's typically a bit trickier to get a foot in the door than most, as you have to take into account special effects and makeup. These were just recently added to the Netflix horror roster and are worth taking a look if you want some suspenseful, minimalist horror.

From the Dark (2014)

From the Dark is a very straightforward vampire movie from Ireland. It breaks absolutely no new ground in concept, but it's very competent and suspenseful in execution. Our main characters are Mark and Sarah, a couple traveling through the Irish countryside when their car breaks down. With evening coming on, Mark decides to hike to the nearest farmhouse, only to find its sole occupant badly wounded and incoherent. When he brings Sarah back to the house to try to help the old man (who made a terrible discovery at the beginning of the film and was attacked by the thing he unearthed), they find themselves under attack from a creature that seems to fear nothing but light.

This movie's simplicity works in its favor. It doesn't try to mix up the vampire myth at all. There's a vampire (the bald, ugly Nosferatu type), the people it bites turn into vampires eventually, and there are two people in a farmhouse. Sarah is the real protagonist here, as she's left to fend for herself before long. Niamh Algar is a fantastic physical actress and really sells how far she's being pushed as she tries to figure out a way to escape the farmhouse even as her sources of light dwindle -- she's got a flashlight, then a lamp, then a burning newspaper...a candle...a pack of matches. After a certain point there's really no dialogue at all, and the movie stands steady as a tense physical confrontation between woman and monster.

Available On: Netflix.

Creep (2014)

Creep is another two-person horror movie written and directed by, and starring, Patrick Brice as Aaron, a freelance videographer, and Mark Duplass as Josef, the lonely recluse who hires him for a day's work. Josef, diagnosed with cancer, has two months to live and an unborn son on the way, and he wants Aaron to film a typical day in his life to leave behind for his son. There's just something off about him. He's too eager to be Aaron's friend, too free with personal details about his life, and his attempts at social interaction grow increasingly unsettling, until Aaron begins to suspect that being around Josef might be dangerous.

Unlike From the Dark, Creep is a dialogue-heavy movie, and it's all delivered naturally by Brice and Duplass. Everyone's met someone like Josef before, and has probably been at least a little unsettled. A lot of the tension here comes from the fact that we're never entirely sure -- and neither is Aaron -- that there's actually anything to worry about. It's possible that Josef is dangerously crazy, but it's also possible that he's just a lonely weirdo looking for a friend. The ending took me entirely by surprise. This is a found footage film, and found footage is something I'm never entirely on board with. Creep has a few of the hallmarks of the subgenre (particularly a few scenes where you have to ask why the person's still filming), but at least in this case the pretext is there, and the cleverness of the dialogue, the relationship between the only two characters in the movie, and a dark sense of humor throughout raise Creep well above the level of the rash of found-footage horror movies that have popped up in the wake of Paranormal Activity (and above Paranormal Activity itself, which I thought was frankly crap).

Available On: Netflix.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Troll 2 (1990)

Troll was a B-movie that came out in 1986. These days it's mostly known for having a main character named Harry Potter who fights a troll and for featuring a number of actors who were pretty well-known at the time or would go on to be well-known (Law and Order's Michael Moriarty and The Neverending Story's Noah Hathaway, among others, but the most surprising would have to be Sonny Bono of all people). The film's non-sequel, Troll 2, is something of a cult classic among horror fans despite having considerably lower production values and exactly no one of note in its cast. It's often called the worst movie ever made, and was in fact the subject of a documentary called Best Worst Movie, which reunited as much of its original cast as possible to discuss the troubled production and the movie's subsequent cult status. I wouldn't quite call it the worst movie ever -- Robot Monster, The Beast of Yucca Flats and Horrors of Spider Island are my top (bottom?) three -- but it's a bad one, and it's certainly entertaining.

Joshua Waites has a crippling fear of goblins, because the ghost of his Grandpa Seth shows up at night to tell him stories about them. So he's not too happy when his family plans a vacation to the country town of Nilbog, where the townspeople, who are goblins in disguise but really make no effort whatsoever to act like normal people, capture tourists and other outsiders and feed them magic plant mush to turn them into half-plant, half-human hybrids, which are apparently their favorite food. Yeah, I have no idea what's going on here either.

 "You can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it!"

Anyway, Holly, Joshua's teenage sister, has a weird thing going on with her boyfriend Elliot. The first time we even see them together she punches him in the crotch and Elliot asks if she's "trying to turn him into a homo." Elliot and his dumbass friends follow the Waitses in their trailer and provide most of the movie's body count thanks to a run-in with Sheriff Gene Freak (really) and the town's resident witch, Creedence, who seems to be the only person in the movie who knows how awful it is and makes the most of it. She turns one guy into a tree, and later asks for more magic power from the Stonehenge rock that serves as the source of the goblins' power. This turns her into a hot witch and she wastes it all on a baffling scene where she has super-weird popcorn sex with another of Elliot's friends.

"They're eating her. And then they're going to eat me.
(Notice the fly that landed on his forehead.)

There's so much going on in this movie you'll never sort it out. There's a priest who looks sort of like Mankind, some really awful goblin masks, strangely upbeat (and genuinely catchy) music during chase scenes, and some of the worst dialogue ever. (This is because director Claudio Fragasso and his wife Rossella Drudi wrote the script in English, which Fragasso wasn't great at and Drudi didn't speak at all, and refused to let the actors ad-lib any of their dialogue.) The crazy drug store owner was played by an actor who was snatched up by Fragasso when he actually was on a day pass from the mental institution he was staying in, and really wasn't acting. Most of the characters are played by people who thought they were answering a casting call for extras and ended up in important roles despite their lack of experience. It was written partly as a diatribe against vegetarianism, as Drudi was annoyed that so many of her friends were turning vegetarian. It was shot in three weeks, and at one point had a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's no Apocalypse Now, but really, the whole production's an awful mess.

Grandpa Seth is obviously the best part of the movie. His ghost powers know no bounds. Well, maybe they do, but they're so nebulously defined as to be limitless. He can appear in mirrors as a floating head. Sometimes he can physically manifest. He can stop time (but only for 30 seconds). He can bring back stuff from the afterlife, like a lumberjack's axe, a molotov cocktail, a fire extinguisher and eventually a balogna sandwich, which defeats the goblins in the end when Joshua aggressively eats it. He can shoot lightning bolts. The movie would probably be over in about five minutes if his powers were consistent.

"Stonehenge magic stone. The goblins' magic power!"

This is the sort of movie by which you measure a person's ability to perceive that odd phenomenon we call "so bad it's good." The entire reason for Mystery Science Theater 3000's existence. I've had people ask me to explain this concept, and it's honestly impossible to do so. You get it or you don't. Anyone who knows me can tell you I'm not much of a comedy person. I prefer unintentional comedy, but I couldn't tell you why. Sitcoms bore me to death, but something like CSI: Cyber, with its naked technophobia and complete lack of research about any part of its subject matter, makes me laugh from start to finish. Standup comedy rarely makes me laugh, and most of the standup comics I actually do like are dead by now, but I'll sit through the new Fast & the Furious movie and it'll have me in tears. I don't know why this is. Maybe it's that it pisses me off when someone tells me to laugh, or to feel sad, or to be scared, and comedy, of all genres, is the least likely to dress up its intentions in any kind of artifice, while Troll 2 and CSI: Cyber are hilarious because they aren't trying to be. It's a concept I've tried to rationalize and explain dozens of times, and it's one of those things that can't be put into words, at least not to an extent sufficient to make sense of it to someone who doesn't already understand. Anyway, if someone doesn't find Troll 2 funny, they probably won't find any other b-movies funny.

No, there are no trolls in Troll 2.

Available On: Netflix, Amazon Prime.