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MOVIES: 31 days of Halloween

MOVIES: 31 days of Halloween

Jane Levy stars in a scene from "Evil Dead." Photo: Associated Press/Sony-TriStar Pictures

There’s no better way to get into the Halloween spirit than by watching some scary movies. Check back each weekday in October for a new spooky movie recommendation, courtesy of George Wolf.

Disclaimer: We take no responsibility for nightmares you may have from watching these films.

>> Movies 1 – 5 | 6 – 10  | 11 – 15 | 16 – 20 | 21 – 25 | 26 – 31 <<

Day 20: We Are What We Are (2010)

Ambyr Childers from the film "We Are What We Are" poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival at the Fender Music Lodge, on Friday, Jan.18, 2013 in Park City, Utah.Photo provided by Victoria Will/Invision/AP Images

We Are What We Are | 90 min | NR

Give writer/director Jorge Michel Grau credit, he took a fresh approach to the cannibalism film.

His Spanish language picture lives in a drab underworld of poverty teeming with disposable populations and those who consume flesh, figuratively and literally.

In a quiet opening sequence, a man dies in a mall. It happens that this is a family patriarch and his passing leaves the desperately poor family in shambles. While their particular quandary veers spectacularly from expectations, there is something primal and authentic about it.

It’s as if a simple relic from a hunter-gatherer population evolved separately but within the larger urban population, and now this little tribe is left without a leader.

An internal power struggle begins to determine the member most suited to take over as the head of the household, and therefore, there is some conflict and competition – however reluctant – over who will handle the principal task of the patriarch: that of putting meat on the table.

We’re never privy to the particulars – which again gives the whole affair a feel of authenticity – but adding to the crisis is the impending Ritual, which apparently involves a deadline and some specific meat preparations.

Grau’s approach is so subtle, so honest, that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a horror film. Indeed, were this family fighting to survive on a more traditional level, this film would simply be a fine piece of social realism focused on Mexico City’s enormous population in poverty.

But it’s more than that. Sure, the cannibalism is simply an extreme metaphor, but it’s so beautifully thought out and executed!

The family dynamic is fascinating, every glance weighted and meaningful, every closed door significant. Grau draws eerie, powerful performances across the board, and forever veers in unexpected directions.

We Are What We Are is among the finest family dramas or social commentaries of 2010. Blend into that drama some deep perversity, spooky ambiguities and mysteries, deftly handled acting, and a lot of freaky shit and you have hardly the goriest film in the genre, but certainly one of the most relevant.

An intriguing American remake of sorts is forthcoming, but do yourself a favor and check out the original.


Day 19: The Ring (2002)

The Ring

The Ring | 115 min | PG-13 |

Not going to lie to you – this one we love. Gore Verbinski’s film achieves one of those rare feats, ranking among the scarce few Hollywood remakes that surpasses the foreign born original, Japan’s unique paranormal nightmare Ringu.

The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of the fledgling director. Verbinski’s film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.

This is basically the story of bad mom/worse journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts) investigating the urban legend of a videotape that kills viewers exactly seven days after viewing.

The tape itself is the key. Had it held images less surreal, less Bunuel, the whole film would have collapsed. But the tape was freaky. And so were the blue-green grimaces on the dead! And that horse thing on the ferry!

And Samara. From cherubic image of plump cheeked innocence to a mess of ghastly flesh and disjointed bones climbing out of the well and into your life, the character is brilliantly created. (It’s actually a full grown man who climbs herky-jerky out of the TV, but who cares?)

Verbinski punctuates Rachel’s journey with unexpected moments and scares just as surely as that lighthouse beacon will round the room again and expose Brian Cox’s bloated, pock-marked glory in the back of the living room.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) Still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”

At this point we realize he means us, the audience.

We watched the tape! We’re screwed!


October 18: Severance (2006)

Businessman

Severance | 96 min | Rated: R

Genuinely funny and exhaustingly brutal, Christopher Smith’s British import Severance offers a mischievous team building exercise in horror.

A handful of would-be execs for global weapons manufacturer Palisade Defense are mislead and slaughtered in what they believe to be a mandatory weekend excursion in Hungary to build corporate camaraderie.

Smith and co-writer James Moran’s wickedly insightful script mocks corporate culture as Smith’s direction pays homage to the weirdest assortment of films. The result is an uproarious but no less frightening visit to an area of the world that apparently scares the crap out of us: Eastern Europe. (Think Hostel, The Human Centipede, Borat.)

Epically watchable, Severance boasts solid performances, well-placed bear traps and land mines, a flame thrower, and an excellent balance of black humor and true horror.

To say more would be to give too much away, but rest assured that with every scene Smith and crew generate palpable tension. It erupts with equally entertaining measure in either a good, solid laugh or in a horrible, disfiguring dose of horror. How awesome is that?!


October 17th: Dead Alive (Braindead) (1992)

Skeleton

Dead Alive (Braindead) | 104 min | Rated: R

Rated R for “an abundance of outrageous gore,” Dead Alive is everything the early Peter Jackson did well. It’s a bright, silly, outrageously gory bloodbath.

Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) secretly loves shopkeeper Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver), but she has eyes for someone less milquetoast. Until, that is, she’s convinced by psychic forces that Lionel is her destiny. Unfortunately, Lionel’s milquetoast-iness comes by way of decades of oppression via his overbearing sadist of a mother, who does not take well to her son’s new outside-the-home interests. Mum follows the lovebirds to a date at the zoo, where she’s bitten (pretty hilariously) by a Sumatran rat-monkey (do not mistake this dangerous creature for a rabid Muppet or misshapen lump of clay).

The bite kills her, but not before she can squeeze pus into some soup and wreak general havoc, which is nothing compared to the hell she raises once she comes back from the dead.

Mama’s boy that he is, Lionel can’t bring himself to do what he must until it is spectacularly too late. He chains up an entirely unwholesome family down the basement, which works out well enough as long as he keeps from being bitten, and keeps conniving Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) out of there.

Braindead is so gloriously over-the-top that nearly anything can be forgiven it. Jackson includes truly memorable images, takes zombies in fresh directions, and crafts characters you can root for. But more than anything, he knows where to point his hoseful of gore, and he has a keen imagination when it comes to just how much damage a lawnmower can do.


October 16th:  Inside (2007)

Pregnant

Inside (À l’intérieur) | 82 min | Rated: R

Holy moly. Inside is not for the squeamish.

Beatrice Dalle’s insidious performance is hard to shake. Fearless, predatory, pitiless and able to take an enormous amount of abuse, her nameless character stalks a very, very pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis). Sarah lost her husband in a car crash some months back, and now, on the eve of Christmas, she sits, enormous, uncomfortable, and melancholy about the whole business. She’s grown cynical and despondent, more depressed than excited about giving birth in the morning.

Alexandre Bustillo’s film seeks to change her mind, make her want that baby. Because Dalle’s lurking menace certainly wants it. Her black clad silhouette is in the back yard, smoking and stalking – and she has seriously bad plans in mind.

Bustillo and directing partner Julien Maury swing the film from intelligent white collar angst to goretastic bloodfest with ease. The sadistic humor Dalle brings to the performance adds chills, and Paradis’s realistic, handicapping size makes her vulnerability palpable.

The film goes wildly out of control, and by the third act, things are irredeemably out of hand. And yet, this is a 2/3 brilliant effort, a study in tension wherein one woman will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.

>> Movies 1 – 5 | 6 – 10  | 11 – 15 | 16 – 20 | 21 – 25 | 26 – 31 <<

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