I did one of these last year for the “Five Films That Scare” me and when I made the short list for this year, I realized that I had a lot of overlap, especially since I only had three horror films on that list. I could easily put Tomie and the Gremlins on this list as well, but they are worthy of at least honorable mentions. Tomie is a long running series over in Japan and there are some pretty bizarre and monstrous versions of Tomie in some of the later movies, and who doesn’t love the Gremlins? But anyway, this year I’ve got an all-new list and it’s all tied to horror this time, no funny business.
5.) Ju-On: The Grudge
Ok so I lied, this list isn’t 100% all new since this made my honorable mention last year, and even though the girl/young woman with long black hair over her face is a bit of a cliché, at least in Asian horror, and Sadako from The Ring is often considered scarier, I like Kayako better as the vengeful spirit inhabiting the house she was murdered in before spreading out in the later movies. There are some great scares and images in the first English Grudge movie, not only that but the sound design on her haunting throat rasp is chilling. It’s hard to hear that sound and not get shivers down your spine. And Takako Fuji has a great presence herself with the way she moves, there’s a reason that the director brought her back for every installment of the movie, of which there have been many, I think three or four in Japan, as well as three in English.
This is my first, but not my last broad category of movie monsters. I’ve been a fan of the concept of werewolves since I was very young, and enjoyed reading many different sorts of stories about them. I’m disappointed that the main reason that I have this as a broader category, is that I have yet to see what I feel is the definitive werewolf movie. There are just so many bad ones out there, though I’m a little abashed to admit that I’ve missed one that’s considered a classic of sorts, American Werewolf in London. If I did have to choose, I would probably go with the werewolves in the Underworld series, especially Raze who was surprisingly played by the writer of the movie. Underworld is great because is makes the Lycans sympathetic without making them overly tragic, which is often the way they are handled.
3.) Jurassic Park‘s T-Rex
It’s been too long since I’ve seen Jurassic Park, but there is no substitute for the feeling that I got when catching that first glimpse of the T-Rex on the big screen. It’s visually impressive even by today’s standards, which is pretty amazing when you consider that most other CGI from this period doesn’t hold a candle to today’s movies. But Jurassic Park not only holds up, it’s even better than a lot of poor excuses for CGI monsters that they’ve churned out in recent years. The size of it, the detail, even the subtleties of using the ripples in the water to sell the incredible size and mass of this creature. Not only that, but the fact that it’s not just CGI, a lot of the time it’s an actual giant animatronic that’s physically there with the actors. And who doesn’t love a giant dinosaur?
This is another one where I had to make it into a broader category. There’s no way I can choose just one movie vampire as my favorite. The only downside of making this into a broad category is that there are plenty of movie vampires that I would want to exclude, including some recent angsty vampires that I refuse to even mention. Vampires have some of the best qualities to them, they can be sexy but also menacing, even downright terrifying in some cases. There’s so much you can do with the vampire mythos when you pick and choose which qualities you want to highlight. But it’s almost always about the mystery and allure of the night, the parallels of sensuality with caressing and sucking on the neck and the exchange of bodily fluids. There’s so much that can be done with it and so many great ones out there I can’t list them all but I will list a few of my favorites: The Lost Boys, Coppola’s Dracula, Rise, Vampire Hunter D, Underworld, Interview with a Vampire, and plenty more that are escaping my mind at the time.
1.) The Insane
Movie monsters like my previous four are all still really fantasy creatures, but when you come down to what’s really the most horrifying when you stop to think about it are the monsters that actually do exist in real life. The criminally insane, the monsters that are actual people driven to do horrifying things because of a mental instability or just general lack of morality. Hannibal Lector is the one that first comes to mind, but there are plenty others like John Doe from Seven, even someone like Jack Torrence from The Shining. It’s one thing to be scared of something that’s not real, it’s another to be scared of something that is.
Nathan Witrow aka Bubbawheat
Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights
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by Steve Habrat
After 2009’s The House of the Devil, I was curious to see what director Ti West would do next. Turns out, he returned to the horror genre and made a film that was even better than his awesome if a bit flawed 2009 retro offering. The Innkeepers improves upon what West did in The House of the Devil, still brandishing the slow burn intensity but here, West doesn’t begin to fall apart in the final stretch like he did in The House of the Devil. The Innkeepers is old school horror, one that pokes fun at the jump scare approach in the opening moments and then quickly assures us, by the distant thumping and ghostly whispers, that this isn’t that kind of a horror film. Sure, West does slip in the obligatory fake out scare once or twice but it’s his images, ones that are incredibly spooky and borderline traumatizing, that really make this a film that you will hesitate to watch when the sun goes down.
The Innkeepers invites us into the Yankee Pedlar Inn, an old hotel that has been in operation for over one hundred years. We are introduced to the two slacker employees, Claire (Played by Sara Paxton) and Luke (Played by Pat Healy), who moonlight as amateur paranormal investigators, determined to find out if the Yankee Pedlar Inn lives up to its haunted reputation. The hotel is in its last days of operation and Claire and Luke are determined to find hard evidence of Madeline O’Malley, the woman they believe is their resident ghost. After a handful of old guests return to the Yankee Pedlar Inn, strange noises are heard and Claire has one hell of a close encounter, sparking the two amateur paranormal investigators to double their efforts. The more they begin to uncover about the hotel’s undead inhabitant, the more they put their lives in danger.
Director West knows how to expertly pace the events within his film, leaving us hanging on what will come in the next frame. He teases us here and there, a whisper is heard, a piano key suddenly plays, and then he backs off and dares us to ask for more. Like fools, we do and that is when he REALLY delivers the goods. The Innkeepers has a ghostly encounter that almost that turned me into an icicle. This scene let me know that West means business and in every tense scene after, my knuckles were white. To some, The Innkeepers may be boring or too slow, but the patient pace adds to the old school feel to the film. Throughout the run time, I was reminded of such otherworldly creepouts like The Innocents, The Haunting, The Changeling, and The Shining, all films that would be incredibly proud of West’s effort here and compliment The Innkeepers on a double feature night. West also pulls off the impossible and gives us a climax that doesn’t completely underwhelm or fly wildly off the tracks. The film remains consistent, something that most horror films of today fail to do, and boldly resists giving in to overkill, which was a trap that West himself tumbled into with The House of the Devil.
The Innkeepers features some incredibly convincing performances from its young leads. Sarah Paxton is a real treasure, possessing a cute girl-next-door pep while also sighing through disgust and exasperation over her dead-end job. She is incredibly charismatic and will charm your pants off. She works great with Pat Healy’s Luke, who slumps over the check-in desk and sips Schlitz beer while tinkering with his paranormal website. Luke seems like the American twin brother to Simon Pegg’s Shaun in Shaun of the Dead, as I kept getting the strangest feeling that they would have a ball together chattering on about video games, zombie flicks, and pot, all while Healy informs Pegg that he has red on him. Their performances coast on the waves of West’s solid dialogue that rolls off the tongue like real conversation. Their highlight moment comes when they decide that they are going to investigate the ominous basement, Claire calling out questions to Madeline O’Malley as West’s camera vacillates back and forth between Luke’s face, the recorder, and Claire’s face. West doesn’t give us multiple fancy camera angles or any flowing movement around the room. West jumps back and forth until finally he freezes on Claire’s wide-eyed stare at something behind Luke, just off screen for our imaginations to be sent into overdrive. Luke asks if she is here and Claire informs Luke that she’s right behind him. Talk about a new classic moment for the horror genre! The Innkeepers also welcomes in Witness’s Kelly McGillis as a former star with a drinking problem and who may have more of an understanding about what is going on in the hotel than the two kids do.
Throughout The Innkeepers, West paints terrifying images that will lock themselves into your brain until it is time for you to shut the lights off to go to sleep. His ghost has got to be one of the creepiest apparitions to haunt the screen in recent memory (and I was fairly convinced that the spook in The Woman in Black was pretty darn creepy). This thing is the stuff that nightmares are made of and West keeps her just hidden enough in the shadows, only showing her briefly so we can never truly process her. At one point in the film, Luke describes a paranormal experience that he once had and he says that it is hard to remember exact details of what he saw. West applies Luke’s description in the final frames when the guests who never left the Yankee Pedlar Inn come out to play with Luke and Claire. West either douses them in shadows or only briefly illuminates them with Claire’s trembling flashlight as they reach out for her to come join them.
Unlike The House of the Devil, I really didn’t find any aspect I was disappointed in while watching The Innkeepers. Usually, newer horror films let me down in some way, shape, or form, but The Innkeepers is an exception. With all the hype that surrounded this film, I was afraid that it would fall short of my expectations but I was steadily impressed every step of the way. The Innkeepers joins the ranks of some of the best recent horror films that I have seen and West is a new hero of the genre. I hope that he continues to operate just outside the major studio system, making smaller and tighter pictures than CGI laced garbage for the preteens to see on a Friday night. It’s safe to say that West knows how to really scare us, to leave out firm explanations that other horror films of today are so fond of. With The Innkeepers, West has earned my full respect and in the process, he has made a film that down the line will become a celebrated horror classic. Trust me.
The Innkeepers is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
In these indolent times that are plaguing Hollywood, it’s such a refreshing experience seeing a film that is not a direct remake of an older, often times superior original. It’s usually an iconic film that studios use to simply milk money from our wallets. They repackage the film, tie it up with a big CGI bow, throw in half-baked 3D, and we flock to see it because we are familiar with it. If they aren’t desecrating an old gem, they are lifting the material from a book, comic book, or graphic novel. It makes me wonder if any of these writers or suits out there in the City of Angels remotely consider picking their own brains for a good story. The genre that especially can’t seem to help itself is the horror genre. It seems that absolutely no one can come up with an original and relentlessly scary little horror flick these days. Instead, studios just look to rebooting tired franchises whose knives and machetes are showing signs of rust (Yes, I am talking about you Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th remakes!). It seems like every year we get one scary movie that is actually effective. Last year’s stylish American remake Let Me In was a standout. The year before saw the, in my humble opinion, good but not great haunted house thrill-ride Paranormal Activity. We’ve also seen an amped up remake of The Hills Have Eyes, the colorfully blood drenched Dawn of the Dead remake, the tribute to 50’s B-movie creature features The Mist, the claustrophobic monster movie The Descent, and the outstanding British zombie flick 28 Days Later, and the based-on-true-events chiller The Mothman Prophecies. That’s basically what we have had to work with since 2002. And three of those are remakes!!
While creativity is one portion of the problem, another reason why horror ultimately ran itself into the ground was the work of two men—James Wan and Leigh Whannell. They are the culprits who graced our movie screens with the torture porn clunker Saw. They ignited a frenzy of films that shamelessly bathed in body fluids and they also sparked a line of horrendous sequels that followed. While the only notable film in the series was Saw III, they influenced Hostel, Wolf Creek, and a slew of others that were less concerned about being scary and more concerned with making you squirm. And many of them were successful at making you cover your eyes but the genuine scares were non-existent. Yet in the past few years, torture porn has made itself scarce and horror has been attempting to embrace real fear again. It’s funny that the men who reduced horror to ashes, have played Dr. Frankenstein and risen it like a phoenix. Insidious is that phoenix.
Insidious is one of the scariest movies I have seen in quite sometime and is simply one of the best horror movies in years. Yeah, I said it. And it’s also original! Sure, it’s an unholy fusion of Poltergeist, The Exorcist, The Shining, and The Amityville Horror, but these days, we have to be carful when we criticize something that attempts to break new ground. Alas, Insidious does not but it sure makes a valiant attempt. Instead, Insidious conjures up some truly hellish images that are guaranteed to linger in your head for days after witnessing them. The film follows Josh (Played by Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Played by 28 Weeks Later’s Rose Byrne) Lambert and their three children as they move into their new home. All seems well until strange noises are heard throughout the home, objects are moved, and one of their children, Dalton, falls into a coma (Ya know, the usual!). But after a seriously spooky night in their home, they begin to wonder if the reason their son has fallen into this enigmatic coma is supernatural rather than medical. The Lambert’s call in a group of paranormal investigators who quickly determine that Dalton is trapped in a ghostly parallel universe called The Further.
If it sounds like you’ve heard all of this before, you have, as Wan has crafted a loving tribute to the horror films of old. He throws reference after reference at the audience and one could almost make the film into a game of spot that horror reference. It’s all quite fun but it’s the 180-degree shift in the quality of the work here that is really quite impressive. Wan’s chiaroscuro industrial aesthetic still lingers but the film itself is much more patient than Saw. It feels like there is discipline here and I think much of that may stem from the producers who were also responsible for Paranormal Activity. There is no over-reliance on blood and guts (The film is rated PG-13) and instead relies on loud bangs, growls, shadowy figures, and sudden music blasts to make you soil your shorts. But Wan also fries your nerves through some seriously haunting images; most striking of all is a shadowy apparition standing behind a baby’s crib and a demon lurking in the corner of poor Dalton’s room. Even Whannell’s script provides a few blasts of heebie-jeebies. One scene includes a character describing a dream that she had and all I will say is that it turned my insides to ice cubes. It gives me chills just think back to it! This scene demonstrates the beauty of your imagination getting the best of you.
What’s even more impressive about the film is the performances that Wan manages to capture. He has positioned two very talented actors at the core of the film and it doesn’t hurt either that Barbara Hershey (Black Swan) shows up as a concerned grandmother. Lin Shaye pops up and provides a fine performance as the psychic Elise Rainier. While sometimes the acting does dip and head into cheesy territory mostly from his child actors, it’s forgivable. What does end up hurting the film and causes it to loose some of its momentum is the final act, which falls victim to the you-never-show-the-monster syndrome. It causes the film to descend into the fun house realm. Someone should have explained to Wan that it’s what you don’t see that ends up being the most horrifying.
While the ending suffers a bit, the film is still astonishing in how uncompromising it is in its attempts to send you screaming from the theater. It will get you at least once. The film sadly chooses the same path that the final minutes of Paranormal Activity did and embrace the CGI trickery. In Insidious, however, you overlook it because the final minutes of this demon are unpredictable. Just get ready for an I-did-not-see-that-coming twist. But the first three fourths of the film is so good, that Insidious haunts its way onto the must see list. The film also redeems any potential talent that James Wan and Leigh Whannell have and it leaves me intrigued for what they do next. I will leave you with is this: Any film that makes me walk into a darkened room and quickly flip on the light is one you have to see (Seriously, it really did that to me.). Insidious is an inspired creep-out that will haunt your dreams. Grade: A
Insidious is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.