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Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… Craig Thomas

A BRIEF NOTE FROM STEVE:

Hey boys and ghouls,

It’s that hellish time I warned you about! Welcome to Anti-Film School’s Halloween Guest Week, where seven demented film writers are going to unleash terror beyond your wildest imagination. They are discussing five films that scare them and I told each of them to put their own creative spin on the topic, which means anything can happen. First up is a familiar name you’ve seen at Anti-Film School before. It is none other than our UK contributor Craig Thomas tackling the topic in a very unique way. So, lock your doors, say your prayers, and board your windows. They are coming for you!

-Theater Management (Steve)

PS: Body bags are available at the box office.

Without further ado, here’s Craig…

by Craig Thomas

Firstly, a confession. Films do not scare me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good (or bad) horror film as much as the next person but they are not scary. They can be disturbing, or very jumpy or incredibly gross. But not scary.

So I was a bit unsure about what to do when writing about five films that scare me.

I decided the best thing to do would be to trawl through my memory for films that either represented my worst fears or had a profound impact on my mental state, or both. I considered re-watching all of them to give a detailed re-appraisal but decided it would be better to write about them from memory, to focus on those scenes/themes that are indelibly etched into my mind. Therefore this may not be the most accurate guide to these films, but it will more accurately represent what scared (or should that be scarred?) me at the time.

Firstly, I’m going to go with a classic, namely, The Terminator. Yes, the second one is bigger, badder, louder and had the definitive robotic killing machine in the T-1000, and it did scare the pants off me when I was younger, but it is the original that makes the list. It is more visceral (it had an 18 certificate whilst T-2 had was certified 15) and as a child I remember being distinctly freaked out watching Arnie cutting his own eye out. But that isn’t what scared me. That would be the nature of The Terminator. That unstoppable killing machine. Completely relentless and pretty much indestructible.

I think the idea of such a monster is a historic constant, with every generation having its own version. Only this generation’s version could actually happen. Some might even go so far as to say it is inevitable. I am much more optimistic and think the human race will be destroyed by a nuclear war long before we are able to build our own destroyers.

Still, for years the idea of the unstoppable evil haunted my dreams and made going to sleep a potentially terrifying experience. Therefore, it makes the list.

Secondly, I’m going to go with one of my more recent fears. As I get older I find myself more and more concerned about my own mortality (whether or not this had anything to do with my discovering the works of Woody Allen is open to debate). But regardless of its origin, the scenario in this film is horrific and is essentially my second worst ever fear. The film is Buried.

A man wakes up in a coffin with a mobile phone. He has been buried in the Iraqi desert and has to raise an unrealistic amount of money or else he will be left there to die. Pretty grim, right?

Now, what makes this film so scary is not just the idea of being buried alive (which is second only to the fear of being cremated alive) but the way in which it is filmed. The entire movie is set in the coffin. It is shot from a million different angles, but it never leaves the box. It is so claustrophobic that you just want to switch it off and walk through open fields to get a sense of freedom. To get through it I had to consciously remind myself that I wasn’t actually in a coffin and that I didn’t need to conserve my air supply by holding my breath.

The third film is the only traditional horror film in the list. As with 95% of horror films these days, it uses the found footage gimmick. “Oh no” I hear you proclaim, “not another found footage horror film!” Yes, another one. Only this time there is a difference. This one is actually good. The film is called [Rec].

As with every moderately successful horror movie nowadays it has spawned a series of sequels ([Rec] 3 came out this year and [Rec] 4 is scheduled for 2013) to predictably diminishing returns. And because it is in a language other than English, it has had the compulsory remake (renamed Quarantine), of which I will speak later. But none of this should be allowed to take the shine off a great horror film.

As with a lot of these, the beginning is somewhat mundane, but once the action starts the pressure continues to build until the horrifically tense climax. This is one of the main reasons it made the list. There are no lulls in the action, no boring bits while you wait for the next jumpy thing. The stress levels never relent. To show how impressive this actually is, it is worth watching [Rec] and then watching Quarantine because the latter, despite being a shot-for-shot remake, lacks pretty much all of what makes the original so good.

Another reason for its inclusion is that it mixes a bunch of my favourite horror conventions and comes up with something fresh. It’s about a group of people trapped in an apartment building trying to avoid flesh-eating zombies and the flesh-eating zombie disease whilst the government lurks mysteriously (and brutally) in the background. What more could you ask for?

Watch it alone in the dark. You will be scared of what is lurking in the shadows.

Number four on the list (and the second non-English-language movie) is I Saw The Devil. Directed by Jee-woon Kim, it is the film that made me aware of the brilliant work that has come out of South Korea in the past few years.

This is easily the most difficult film to watch on the list. Indeed, after the first ten relentlessly brutal minutes I didn’t think I would be able to watch it all. But I persevered and it was well worth it. It is a brilliant film, but not for those with a weak stomach. At times it walks the line between horror and torture porn, with explicit violence being splashed across the screen and whilst it can sometimes be somewhat a bit much (and therefore a bit of a distraction), it is nonetheless a great film.

It tells the tale of a vicious serial killer who kills the pregnant girlfriend of a cop who then plays an increasingly violent game of cat and mouse with the killer, where he captures him, tortures him and lets him go only to hunt him down again.

It makes the list, not only for its unrelenting bleakness, but because it’s a tale about the thin divide between good and evil and how easily it possible to slip from one to the other and become the thing you hate the most.

It was difficult to decide on a fifth choice. I considered writing about a number of films, which I think deserve an honourable mention.

The Cube is a tense, sci-fi horror about people who wake up trapped in a series of booby-trapped cubes and is a great film.

Julia’s Eyes is worth a mention for touching on my fear of blindness, whilst she investigates the mysterious death of her twin sister.

Despite not being a fan of David Lynch, I nearly included Eraserhead, which whilst it bored me to tears, left a lasting imprint in my memory with its desolate scenes and horror-like depictions of married bourgeois life.

I’m also going to include Death Wish 3, which I saw at far too young an age. Death, drugs and extreme violence which really stayed with me, particularly the super-violent booby traps. A proper scar from youth.

But the film which makes the list is in fact, not a horror film and to be honest it doesn’t really scare me. But at the time I did find it deeply disturbing and to this day think that one particular moment was a bit much for the rating, which was Universal. Yes, the final film is for children.

It is The Neverending Story.

No, seriously.

I’ve never been a fan of fantasy and always found the genre as a whole somewhat unsettling, but there is one particular scene that really scarred my psyche, probably more than any of the violent films that were a staple of my formative years. I remember little of the plot, though it involves a young boy going on some kind of adventure through a magical world for some reason, with his best friend who happens to be a horse.

The particular scene which added this film to the list is one where the horse get trapped in the Swamp of Sadness and just stands there, sinking deeper into the swamp waiting to die as the young boy watches on helplessly as his best friend essentially commits suicide in front of his eyes. I state again, this is a children’s film.

This is why it is properly disturbing and that is why it makes the list. Perhaps if I re-watched it, it wouldn’t seem so bad and it was just my youth and hazy memory that makes it seem so terrible, but I have no intention of checking that out, so it will always be a disturbing childhood memory and one of the ways cinema has scarred me for life.

And on that happy note, I leave you to watch the ultimate film for Halloween (or any other occasion, for that matter), Ghostbusters!

Happy Halloween!

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

by Steve Habrat

Ever since I first laid eyes on the trailer for Panos Cosmatos’ science fiction head-trip Beyond the Black Rainbow, I was just dying to see it. Well, my friends, that day finally arrived and I have to tell you, if you consider yourself a fan of cult cinema and midnight movies, this is a film you have to see. It will be a dream come true. Heavily indebted to early David Cronenberg films, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch’s surreal horror, and blippy John Carpenter scores, Beyond of the Black Rainbow is a film that takes control of your senses and refuses to let them go. While you can’t even begin to pretend to know what the film is about, Beyond the Black Rainbow is something else to look at, a film that fills you with terror one minute and then guides you into ethereal tranquility the next, all in the matter of five minutes. Composed of haunted performances that look like holograms from Mars, a nerve frying analogue synth score, and quasi-futuristic visuals drenched in a neon glow, Cosmatos spews out a maddening and frightening nightmare that Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey may have if he dared to dream at all. I just warn those who are willing to approach the film, do so with an open mind and remember that none of this will truly add up in the end.

Set in an alternate 1983, there exists the Arboria Institute, a psychiatric complex that promises to fill its clients with pure happiness. This futuristic complex is run by Dr. Mercurio Arboria (Played by Scott Hylands), a guru-esque figure that appears in a promotional video at the start of the film. It is here at the Arboria Institute that the orphaned Elena (Played by Eva Allan) has been imprisoned and heavily sedated by the perverted Dr. Barry Niles (Played by Michael Rogers), who seems to get sick enjoyment out of tormenting the young girl. As Barry begins to loose his grip on his sanity, Elena, who seems to posses certain mental powers, decides to try to escape the confines of her neon prison. As she wanders the seemingly deserted hallways of Arboria, she stumbles across a bizarre, bloodthirsty mutant and wandering alien-like Sentionauts. Soon, the deranged Barry learns of Elena’s escape and he sets out after his prized patient, willing to do anything to get her back.

While many may be turned off by the agonizingly slow pace of Beyond the Black Rainbow, those who have found enjoyment in Canadian body horror auteur David Cronenberg’s early work (Rabid, The Brood, Videodrome, and even Scanners) will be hooked right from the beginning. There are hints of Kubrick everywhere, from the visual symmetry of the futuristic architecture of Arboria to the unnerving score that could be a mash up of John Carpenter’s score from The Fog and the famous jingle from A Clockwork Orange. Cosmatos transitions from scene to scene in slow fade-outs and fade-ins, at times seeming almost abstractly poetic and lyrical but always smacking us with splashes of bright red, orange, and white. There were moments where I felt the film was intentionally trying to alienate itself from me, which in turn drew me even more to it, almost like a moth to blinding light. At times I would be hit with a wave of severe boredom to be suddenly steamrolled by a wave of traumatic terror and panic, yet I always felt paranoid right from the beginning. I felt like I was being forced to sit patiently until something really awful happened and soon enough, it does. Trust me, you won’t be ready for it but yet the awful events that play out do nothing to give us closure, meaning, or simple elucidation. Before the film slips into slasher mode at the end, Cosmatos confirms my paranoid shakes at the beginning with the face of Ronald Reagan taking to the television to warn of looming nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union, adding a backdrop of apocalyptic doom to the throbbing digital chill.

While the visuals take center stage in Beyond the Black Rainbow, there has been quite a bit made over the performances from the leads. The performances are incredibly contemplative and muted, especially Eva Allan as Elena. While Elena is mostly seen and only heard once, she gives a remarkable performance that marinates in emotion right before our eyes. When she wanders the landscape outside the Arboria Institute, Elena is so fragile and lost, she almost resembles a fallen angel that is trying to find her way in an alien world. She is the soothing calm of Beyond the Black Rainbow while Rogers, who looks a bit like Christian Bale, is the creeping wickedness in a bad wig. He is absolutely terrifying as Barry, a character that I just wanted to be away from with at least a hundred miles between us. The end of the film has him wandering about in a trance-like state with a hellish dagger that looks like a fang snatched from the Devil himself. While we know he has a screw loose when we first see him, the screw completely falls out when he suffers a trippy flashback to 1966 and hangs with his mentor, Dr. Arboria. Hylands is marvelous as the doped up guru who is rotting away in front of a giant television screen that is filled with serene images. There is also Marilyn Norry as Rosemary Nyle, Barry’s wife who always seems to be trying to shake herself out of a prescription med coma and Rondel Reynoldson as Margo, an Arboria Institute employee who seems to be completely oblivious to what is going on in the halls of Arboria.

While the film never made a lick of sense, I still can’t seem to shake Beyond the Black Rainbow from my mind. The film feels so much like a dream that you almost question whether you have actually seen it or if it was something you imaged. Funny enough, Cosmatos has said that the film stemmed from his childhood, when he would wander a local video store and study the covers of horror films. He was never allowed to see these horror films but he would imagine what they were like when he would go home. I could only imagine the warped film he would make if he had seen them. I can promise you that Beyond the Black Rainbow will terrify you, especially if you watch it in the dead of night with the volume cranked up to the max. For me, Beyond the Black Rainbow just missed unhinged genius by the abrupt ending that seems almost like a sick joke (maybe it was meant to be a sick joke). I will honestly say that the ten minute black and white flashback sequence scared the living hell out of me and I watched this sucker in broad daylight. Another touch I really liked where the scratches that can be found on the Blu-ray picture. They may have not been intentional but they definitely add to the abstract retro terror, making the film seem like an undiscovered relic from 1983. While it may not be everyone’s mind trip, Beyond the Black Rainbow certain makes an impression on those who choose to experience it. If you find yourself in the target audience, I highly recommend it. Just be warned, you are in for one hell of a freak-out that you won’t soon forget.

Grade: A-

Beyond the Black Rainbow is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

A trailer that must be seen!

Hey readers,

Last year I saw the teaser trailer for this film, which premiered at the 2012 Whistler Film Festival. The film, which is a Canadian science fiction/horror film,  is called Beyond the Black Rainbow and it is directed by Panos Cosmatos. Filled with startling images that look like they are ripped from the minds of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg and brimming with sinister synthesizers and a meticulous retro 80s style, Beyond the Black Rainbow looks like a film that cannot be missed by any film fan. I can’t wait until I can see it. For now, enjoy the work of art that is the trailer. I bet you’ll watch it at least twice!

-Steve

The 25 Horror Films That Have Scared Steve…Pt. 1

by Steve Habrat

Over the course of the next few days, I will be listing off the 25 films that have scared the hell out of me. This is not a definitive list of the scariest films ever made but rather recommendations of films that I think will spook you. Feel free to comment on this and let me know which films scare you. Let the terror begin!

25.) The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

            In the opening moments of this silent film chiller, a man explores the underground tunnels of a Paris opera house. He is alone in the dark and armed with nothing but a lantern. The camera remains stationary in front of him so we only get to see his reactions. Keep in mind there is absolutely no sound. All of a sudden, he sees someone or something. Not anything or anyone he recognizes. We the audience are not permitted to catch a glimpse. Judging by his reaction, I do not think we want to. This is the magic of the crown jewel of the Universal Movie Monsters heap. We are not assisted by the luxury of sound effects. Our brain fills in the horrors for us and sometimes that can be the most effective way to send an icy chill down your spine. While many of you probably are familiar with Lon Chaney’s legendary hellish phantom and you do not even realize it, he plays the phantom like he may never have had the chance to star in anything ever again. And it also features a breathtaking sequence in color (gasp!). This is a truly unforgettable epic that mesmerizes and horrifies.

24.) The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Many have expressed their disapproval at this remake of the 1977 Wes Craven classic of the same title. But in a rare case, French director Alexandre Aja actually improves upon it. And it refuses to play nice. Vile, upsetting, disgusting and downright repulsive, it hits the ground running and barrels at you without slowing down. The opening sequence and credits are enough to give you nightmares for a week and all it consists of is a few scientists in HAZMAT suits testing radiation who meet a grisly end. This is followed closely by lots of stock footage of atomic bomb tests. Following a family who ends up getting trapped in the hills of New Mexico and who begin getting terrorized by colony of mutant miners who were subjected to radiation from bombs set of by the US government may not sound all the brutal, but trust me, do not enter lightly. It’s an unapologetic and unflinching little movie. About half way through the film explodes like a ticking time bomb and it’s incredible to me that this avoided an NC-17 rating. Oh, and I should tell you that the family has a newborn baby with them. And the mutants kidnap the child and plan on eating it. Start covering your eyes and chewing off your fingernails now. Not for the faint of heart.

23.) Inland Empire (2006)

            What’s it about? I couldn’t tell you. What’s the underlying message? Beats me. What’s the point? The point is that it scares the living hell out of you and it’s impossible to know why. David Lynch’s three-hour grainy epic that appears to be about a remake of a film that was cursed blurs the lines of what is real and what is a nightmare. Half way through you will give up trying to follow it but you will not be able to avoid it’s icy glare. The trailer alone will have goose bumps running up and down your arms. What elevates it is Lynch’s use of surreal imagery. There truthfully should not be anything particularly scary about it, but there is. Through his use of close ups, every single character takes on the look of a deformed specter that is staring right into your soul. And wait for one particular image of a deformed face that, in my opinion, is one of the most disturbing images I have ever seen on film. I understand that the film may frustrate you on what is actually happening and what isn’t, but I can assure you that that is exactly what Lynch is going for. To drive you mad.

22.) The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

            Have you ever had someone tell you about his or her encounter with something paranormal? I would guess that while they are telling the story, your imagination was busy bringing their story to life. The story was creepy because you were not there but you believe this person is telling you the truth. Plus, your imagination has filled in what took place. Long after they have told you the story, it still plays in your brain like it was your own experience. That is kind of what The Mothman Prophecies is like. And it’s based on true events that happened in the late 60s. Through the strong performances by Richard Gere, Debra Messing, and Laura Linney, they make you feel every ounce of their confusion, frustration, horror, and weariness that is brought on from the events take place throughout the film. Centering on the sightings of an otherworldly winged creature with “two red eyes” in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the film has an unshakeable sense of doom woven throughout. We are constantly left with some strange account that leaves us gripping our seats or a notion that something truly horrifying is lurking just around the corner. Pay close attention to the details in this one. It’s what doesn’t jump right out at you that is actually the creepiest. The Mothman is everywhere even if we never really get a good glimpse. But it’s like your reaction to your friend’s paranormal experience, you do not know, but you can imagine.

21.) Repulsion (1965)

Going mad has never been this unsettling. Roman Polanski’s portrait of a young woman (played by the gorgeous Catherine Denuve) who is seemingly losing her mind after her mother goes away for a weekend is all the more surreal because we cannot pin point the reason why. She is so normal! Turning an apartment into a claustrophobic living nightmare, the film makes exceptional use of space. Polanski makes the audience actually feel the walls closing in. And when someone knocks on her door, talk about tense! What truly makes Repulsion work is that it is a patient horror film. One that is all the more unsettling because this could be happening a few doors down in your apartment complex or just a few houses down. And to such a lovely woman at that! It’s a shame that Polanski’s other horror film, Rosemary’s Baby, overshadows that gem. Through it’s gritty scope and enclosed spaces, after seeing it you may want to evaluate your own sanity, go stand in an open field for a couple of hours, and you’ll never want to eat vegetables again.

Drop by tomorrow for more of the films that have scared the shit out of me. You know you’re intrigued and the terror has hypnotized you. And feel free to let us know what horror films scare you. Also, if you have not voted in our tiebreaker poll yet, Click Here to do so.

Drive (2011)

by Steve Habrat

To anyone who is considering seeing Drive, the new action thriller starring Ryan Gosling, you should be warned about what you will be getting yourself into. I say this because this is a fierce film. There are moments that are downright repugnant and not for those who disconcert easily. I had to search long and hard for the picture I used above because I felt that the main picture had to convey what this film really turns out to be. This noir-inspired, 80’s influenced retro picture thrives on its breakneck action, dismal atmosphere, ethereal electronic score, head-stomping violence, and a performance from Gosling that should guarantee him a spot in the Best Actor category at the Oscars. It will no doubt leave you in a state of shock, as the beginning of the film is relatively patient and discreet. Much to the dismay of the audience, it displays moments of pure, pretentious splendor. However, once Drive kicks things into high gear and it revs it’s supped up engine, this baby means business. And so does Gosling’s Driver. It all adds up to one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

I’ll tell you straight, this is an art film dressed up in action threads. It prefers complex characters to walking clichés. Gosling’s Driver is a man of a few soft grunts and sparse words. He flashes the occasional preoccupied smile at his next-door neighbor Irene (Played by Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio and he mostly keeps to himself. He effortlessly shrouds himself in mystery. The Driver (we never learn his actual name) drives stunt cars for movies, works in an auto mechanic shop, and also acts as a getaway driver for criminals. He has a strict line of rules that he lays down for the thugs that get in and out of his wheels. They have five minutes once they are inside, he does not carry a gun, when they are out, he belongs to them, and he only works for them one time. When Irene’s husband Standard (Played by Oscar Isaac) returns home from prison, some goons that are coming to claim protection money demand that he robs a pawn shop to get them their riches, or they will kill Irene and his son. The Driver offers his services, but during the heist, things go horribly wrong. It turns out that this is just a small piece of a larger crime puzzle that is being controlled by two mobsters, the Jewish Nino (Played by Ron Pearlman) and Bernie Rose (Played by Albert Brooks). The Driver gathers himself and sets out to protect Irene and her son from the mobsters who are slowly closing in on them and are hell bent on wiping everyone out who can link them to the heist.

Drive feels like a synthesis of David Lynch films (Lost Highway especially), Quentin Tarantino, a forgotten 80’s action flick, Clint Eastwood’s The Man with No Name, and Miami Vice swagger. It helps that the synthy score conjures up nostalgia every time it thumps over the speakers. The hot pink credits help too. But it’s Gosling’s unvoiced antihero that feels like the real relic. He feels like a lost hero from the Regan era. He’s emotionally complex, but also tough no matter what happens. Nothing fazes him and we play by his rules. He even nibbles at a toothpick, reminiscent of Eastwood’s cigar chewing Man with No Name. The film takes a hokey turn at the end when the Driver just begins finding all the mobsters he has set out to kill with little effort. Who knew it would be that easy? One would think that the writer and director would have added more of a build up before the end confrontation. The climax is sadly rushed, showing prominent similarities to Super 8 and Green Lantern (I understand they are drastically different movies, but their endings are extraordinarily similar). It just ends tersely. For a film that packs this much suspense and brute force, it left me wanting much more.

This film’s atmosphere, which is menacing and downright intimidating, adds to its own spellbinding success. At times, all you can do is laugh to soften the blow of its dead serious tone. It almost becomes a coping mechanism while watching the brutality of this film play out before you. The Driver always seems to lurk in the shadows. He works as a Hollywood stunt driver so it’s easy to assume he would live glamorously. Here the film evokes images that would seem appropriate in David Lynch’s Inland Empire, Mullholland Drive, or Blue Velvet. There is evil lurking below all that glitz. There is also an existential haze to the film. The Driver lives on the edge, in the thrill of the moment. Every day could be his last. Director Nicholas Winding Refn has called the film a tribute to Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of cult experimental films El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre, whose films usually have a character on a quest for the meaning of existence. The viciousness of Drive certainly takes a page from Jodorowsky, as the film has some extreme gore, most notable is the elevator sequence. Gosling stomps a hit man’s face in to the point where it’s reduced to just red goop. Somewhere, French director Gaspar Noe is howling with delight.  The audience I saw this with was howling in horror.

Drive consistently makes us ask the screen “Are you really going to go THERE?!” It always does, but it does have an unpredictable streak to it. You can never fully envisage it even if it is familiar. The film doesn’t rely on its violence and action (there is plenty, but not enough to satisfy some action fiends), but instead allows the chemistry between actors do the heavy lifting. Though the dialogue is limited between Mulligan’s Irene and the Driver, the moments they spend together are tender. When the Driver confronts gangster Bernie Rose, they fight with words rather than bullets or fists. “You will spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder,” Rose promises. It’s scenes like this that make every hair on your body stand up and churn your guts. Ron Pearlman’s Nino hams up the screen and he’s delightfully cartoonish. The film is the Gosling show, however, and with this role, I have to deem any project he is attached to in the future a must-see. He has become one of the most eccentric actors around.

Once you see Drive, you will never forget it. It’s like a parasite that worms its way in and posses you. I’ve found myself shaken up in the mere hours since I went to the theater to see it. The friends I went with were rattled and in a state of shock. You should know what you are getting yourself into when you see this. It’s not your conventional action film with clear-cut baddies and good guys. Everyone seems to have darkness in his or her hearts and cracked souls. Come year end, I will be singing its praises for all to hear. Drive is like a restored muscle car. It’s great to look at and when you see it, it pulls you in, but it’s what’s under the hood that counts. And Drive has a lot going on under the hood. Grade: A-