The Camera Never Lies



by George Wolf

I don’t know why it took so long to combine Network, Broadcast News and American Psycho, but Nightcrawler is here now, so buckle down for a helluva ride.

It is a mesmerizing film, propelled by a career-defining performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Years from now, his “Travis Bickle”  may very well be Lou Bloom, a strangely polite, utterly driven man in search of a purpose.

He finds it via an old camcorder, which becomes his passage into the life of a freelance videographer in L.A. Night after night, Lou waits by a police scanner for a chance to be the first at a crime scene and come away with footage that will fetch a high price from the local TV news stations.

Lou seems like a natural, and soon he’s got an assistant (a terrific Riz Ahmed), brand new equipment and a cozy relationship with a news director (Rene Russo, supporting award-worthy) who describes her broadcast as a “screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

But first, the weather!

Writer/director Dan Gilroy has several screenplays under his belt (The Bourne Legacy, Two for the Money) but may be best known as Russo’s husband. That should change, as his debut as a director is awash in style and biting creativity.

Call it poetic justice that Nightcrawler is opening just as TV news enters the November sweeps ratings period. Yes, the film hits the “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra and hits it hard, but doesn’t shrink from wondering just who that indicts:  the show or its audience?

As Lou’s sociopathic tendencies lead him to become more and more involved in the stories he’s covering, the film sharpens its satirical claws. Fear-mongering, class warfare, “bootstrap mentality” and more take a beating, with Gilroy showing great instincts for when to pull back before his hand becomes too heavy.

His gets a great assist from Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), who bathes the film in dark, sleek shine, making Bloom’s seedy world inescapable.

But the anchor here is Gyllenhaal’s can’t-look-away performance. He makes Lou Bloom an American psycho for today, unfazed by business cards but unable to tolerate anyone altering his plan for upward mobility. He’s all smiles and positivity, all the while analyzing your weaknesses he will unapologetically exploit when necessary.

Everything about Nightcrawler should be in the 2014 awards mix. Chase this ambulance down, and fast.




Halloween Countdown, Day 31

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Not everyone considers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a classic. Those people are wrong. Perhaps even stupid.

Tobe Hooper’s camera work, so home-movie like, worked with the “based on a true story” tag line like nothing before it, and the result seriously disturbed the folks of 1974. It has been ripped off and copied dozens of times since its release, but in the context of its time, it was so absolutely original it was terrifying.

Hooper sidestepped all the horror gimmicks audiences had grown accustomed to – a spooky score that let you know when to grow tense, shadowy interiors that predicted oncoming scares – and instead shot guerilla-style in broad daylight, outdoors, with no score at all. You just couldn’t predict what was coming.

Hooper also cast aside any concerns for dignity or fair play, a theme best personified by wheelchair-bound Franklin. Franklin is supremely unlikeable – whiney and selfish – ending horror’s long history of using personal vulnerability to make a character more sympathetic. Films such as Wait Until DarkWhatever Happened to Baby Jane, and Rear Window (all excellent movies) ratcheted up tension through the sympathy they could generate toward the helpless character. These films’ anxiety and payoff both owe everything to watching the vulnerable protagonist in danger, and waiting for them to overcome the odds.

But Hooper is after an entirely different kind of tension. He dashes your expectations, making you uncomfortable, as if you have no idea what you could be in for. As if, in watching this film, you yourself are in more danger than you’d predicted.

But not more danger than Franklin is in, because Franklin is not in for a good time.

So, poor, unlikeable Franklin Hardesty, his pretty sister Sally, and a few other friends head out to Grampa Hardesty’s final resting place after hearing the news of some Texas cemeteries being grave-robbed. They just want to make sure Grampy’s still resting in peace – an adventure which eventually leads to most of them making a second trip to a cemetery. Well, what’s left of them.

MaddWolf interviews Bruce Campbell!


Bruce Campbell loves Halloween. “Halloween is like Christmas for what I do,” he told us, “and I choose to spend it in Columbus, Ohio!”

We’re pretty giddy about that.

Bruce will be in town Friday for the Wizard World Ohio Comic Con at the Convention Center. He’ll be available for pictures and autographs with fans, as well as a Q&A panel where he promises to “destroy the audience!”

He was good enough to talk with us Thursday morning about the Comic Con, why the Evil Dead series is so endlessly popular, his advice for trick or treaters, and details on his own upcoming “Bruce Campbell Horror Fest!”

Click here for the full, groovy interview:  Bruce Campbell interview Oct 2014



Halloween Countdown, Day 30

American Psycho (2000)

A giddy hatchet to the head of the abiding culture of the Eighties, American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.

There’s an elegant exaggeration to the satire afoot. Bateman is a slick, sleek Wall Street toady, pompous one minute because of his smart business cards and quick entrance into posh NYC eateries, cowed the next when a colleague whips out better cards and shorter wait times. For all his quest for status and perfection, he is a cog indistinguishable from everyone who surrounds him. The more glamour and flash on the outside, the more pronounced the abyss on the inside. What else can he do but turn to bloody, merciless slaughter? It’s a cry for help, really.

Harron’s send up of the soulless Reagan era is breathtakingly handled, from the set decoration to the soundtrack, but the film works as well as a horror picture as it does a comedy. Whether it’s Chloe Sevigny’s tenderness as Bateman’s smitten secretary or Cara Seymour’s world wearied vulnerability, the cast draws a real sense of empathy and dread that complicate the levity. We do not want to see these people harmed, and as hammy as it seems, you may almost call out to them: Look behind you!

As solid as this cast is, and top to bottom it is perfect, every performance is eclipsed by the lunatic genius of Bale’s work. Volatile, soulless, misogynistic and insane and yet somehow he also draws some empathy. It is wild, brilliant work that marked a talent preparing for big things.

Released with an NC-17 rating, the film floundered immediately but has grown a worthy cult status over the years. It’s not for the squeamish or the literal minded, but for those open to an impeccably crafted horror comedy and a little wholesome Eighties tunes, it is a gem.

Halloween Countdown, Day 29

Hellraiser (1987)

“The box…you opened it. We came.”

Man, those cenobites were scary cool, weren’t they?

Hellraiser, Clive Barker’s feature directing debut, worked not only as a grisly splatterfest, but also as a welcome shift from the rash of teen slasher movies that followed the success of Halloween. Barker was exploring more adult, decidedly kinkier fare, and Hellraiser is steeped in themes of S&M and the relationship between pleasure and pain.

Hedonist Frank Cotton solves an ancient puzzle box, which summons the fearsome Cenobites, who literally tear Frank apart and leave his remains rotting in the floorboards of an old house. Years later, Frank’s brother Larry moves into that house with his teenage daughter Kirsty and his new wife Julia (who, oh yeah, also happens to be Frank’s ex-lover).

A gash on Larry’s leg spills blood on the floor, which awakens the remains of Frank, who then requires more blood to complete his escape from the underworld. Julia, both repulsed and aroused by her old flame’s half-alive form, agrees to make sure more blood is soon spilled.

Meanwhile, young Kirsty accidentally opens the puzzle box, and when the Cenobites come for her, she offers a deal:  let me go, and I’ll lead you to Uncle Frank.

What? A teenager in a horror flick doing some cool headed problem solving?

It was another way that Hellraiser rose above some weak production elements to stand out, and hail the arrival of Clive Barker as an important new name in horror.

Sympathy for the Devil


by Hope Madden

“Who’s the new girl at church?”

It’s a line brimming with innocence and temptation, filled with the possibilities of good versus evil, predator v prey. It’s a nice start to a crime drama steeped in surreal, Miltonesque imagery.

Along with a good line, Horns boasts quite a fantasy/horror pedigree. Helmed by French horror director Alexandre Aja (High Tension), written by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, and starring Harry F. Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), it’s sure to draw the attention of – let’s be honest – nerds. Like me. The beguiling if flawed effort can’t quite become greater than the sum of its parts, though. But it is a wild ride while it lasts.

Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is commonly believed by his community to have murdered his much-beloved girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). It’s a bit like Gone Girl, except that Ig’s crisis is compounded by the fact that he’s begun sprouting bony horns from his forehead. More than that, in the presence of the be-horned Ig, people compulsively confess their dark secrets.

Overripe imagery and symbolism inform a film that is comfortably over-the-top. It’s a glorious mess riddled with stiff dialog, and so tonally discordant – leaping from thriller to comedy to horror to mystery and back – that the effect is dizzying. Yet somehow Horns is utterly watchable.

Much credit for the film’s successes sits with Radcliffe, who seems utterly at home in a supernatural environment full of demons, tragedy, angst and earnestness. Temple also strikes the right innocent nymphette cord, and the young cast of the childhood flashback is especially strong.

The storyline itself carries the unmistakable odor of Stephen King, with the small town crime and flashback to the innocence of youth and the many untold dangers therein (Stand By Me, It, etc.) But King Senior never dove headlong into such blasphemous territory, while his son toys with recasting Satan, if not as hero, then as anti-hero.

Aja struggles gleefully to strike the right tone, and though his cast seems game, no one can quite overcome the symbolism gimmicks or stilted dialog.

Dense with color and texture, Horns invites you into a wild, often poorly acted and weakly written yet sumptuously filmed world of dark magic. It’s a fascinating mess.




Alphabetized Mayhem

ABCs of Death 2

by Hope Madden

Children’s stories can be so inventive! Tired of telling the old “a is for apple” tale? ABCs of Death 2 may be just the movie for you.

Actually, it started two years ago, when fans of the horror short were challenged to endure a marathon event – 26 shorts, each dedicated to one letter of the alphabet. ABCsof Death pulled together 26 up-and-coming horror directors (or directing teams), each with their own letter. Their product varied from inspired to horrifying to extreme to forgettable to lame with a lot of middling efforts in between.

If nothing else, the filmmakers truly seemed to be having fun, which explains why 26 new directors (or directing teams) wanted in. Brace yourself for the sequel: 26 new alphabetically inclined films about death.

This time around the quality of the efforts is a little better balanced. Only two films really stand out as weak, and even those boast professional workmanship. The films in the sequel feel less like a cinematic dare and more like a well thought out, if brief, horror film.

On the other hand, the original work felt more vital where the sequel feels safe. The sequel lacks some of the maverick WTF quality of the first, with far fewer extreme moments. There’s also far less toilet horror, so at least there’s that.

Highlights include Robert Morgan’s D – an animated nightmare that’s part Kafka, part Burroughs yet somehow uniquely bizarre.

Dennison Ramalho’s J offers a well made piece of social commentary, as does the film for the letter T by Jen and Sylvia Soska.

The highlight from last year’s effort belonged to Frenchman Xavier Gens, whose take on X was startling and exceptional. Once again, the letter X falls to the French, and once again, the French film is among the very strongest. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo re-team with Beatrice Dalle – the muse at the center of their brilliant 2007 feature Inside – to unsettle and horrify.

You’re unlikely to be disappointed by any individual piece. The whole may be less memorable than its 2012 predecessor, but for genre fans, it’s always fascinating to glimpse work from new filmmakers and to see what established directors can do with three minutes and a letter.


Look! Up in the Air!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

by Hope Madden

You’ve heard the buzz. It’s loud and merited. The sharp and beguiling Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) sees a brilliant director and a magnificent cast at the height of their creative powers.

Playful and dark, the film follows a washed up Hollywood actor best known for a superhero franchise (an Oscar bound Michael Keaton, who certainly resembles that description). Struggling to regain relevance, he writes, directs and stars in a Broadway play. Meta from the word go, Birdman’s incisive exploration of the entertainment industry and the compulsion to perform couldn’t be more spot-on or more imaginative.

Director/co-writer Alejandro González Inárritu and his fluid, stalking camera ask a great deal from this ensemble as together they dissect fame – its proof and its power – in the digital age. From first to last, they are up to the task and then some.

They clearly relish a script that has such an insider’s perspective, skewering the self-absorption, insecurity and need for attention that fill the business. The performers embody these weaknesses and still create a tenderness for their characters. The comedy isn’t mean, though it is dark and edgy.

Edward Norton is hilarious in a bit of a self-parody as the true talent who pushes boundaries and strives for honesty – on the stage, anyway. He’s hardly alone. The entire ensemble – Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan and Amy Ryan – impresses.

Each has his or her own story, conflict, world, and Inárritu allows that to enrich the world he creates, but it’s all in support of Keaton in the finest turn of his often underappreciated catalog of performances.

He never falls back on the ticks and gimmicks that mark most of his comedic turns – quirks that made efforts like Beetlejuice so enjoyable. This performance is volcanic and restrained, pitiful and triumphant. His desperation is palpable and his madness is glorious. That Keaton can hit these disparate levels sometimes simultaneously inspires awe. Keaton has long been a unique talent, and while this role seems almost awkwardly custom made for the former Batman, the performance still could not have been less expected.

Inárritu, master of beautiful tragedy (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful), may be in impish humor with this effort, but Birdman is as dark and poetic as anything he’s created. Impeccably written, hauntingly filmed and superbly performed, Birdman is the first real contender Boyhood has faced for the best film of 2014.


Halloween Countdown, Day 28

Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Jacob’s Ladder isn’t exactly a horror film, but it is as unsettling and creepy as any movie you’ll watch. The entire 113 minutes transpires in that momentary flash between life and death, with both light and dark trying to make a claim on Jacob Singer’s soul.

Tim Robbins plays Singer with a weary sweetness that’s almost too tender and vulnerable to bear. In a blistering supporting turn, the recently (and far too soon) deceased Elizabeth Pena impresses as the passionate carnal angel Jezebel. The real star here, weirdly enough, is director Adrian Lyne.

Known more for erotic thrillers, here he beautifully articulates a dreamscape that keeps you guessing. The New York of the film crawls with unseemly creatures hiding among us. Filmed as a grimy, colorless nightmare, Jacob’s Ladder creates an atmosphere of paranoia and dread.

By 1990, the Vietnam film has run its course, but with some distance from the post-Platoon glut, the “flashback” crisis that underlines Singer’s confused nightmare feels less stale. It allows the movie to work on a number of levels: as a metaphysical mystery, a supernatural thriller, and a horror film.

The horror is peppered throughout, and there are several scenes that will make your skin crawl.

The storyline is challenging and may seem like a sleight of hand more than anything, but Robins’s deeply human performance and some memorable scares make it a standout for the season.

Countdown of Age Appropriate Scares

It’s nearly Halloween, and it turns out that children’s hunger for age-appropriate scares rivals their taste for those elusive, full size trick-or-treat candy bars. Mmmmmm … chocolatey age-appropriate scares. Well, we’re here to help stave off starvation with these new and old school viewing options.


For the Very Young

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Hayao Miyazaki – often called Japan’s answer to Walt Disney – shares the sweetly magical tale of a budding young witch. Fun adventures befall the little witch-in-training, who becomes a baker’s courier to gain broom-flying skill. Kids will like the holiday feel, the cat and the hijinks with no worry of big scares.

For the Still Quite Wee

Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

This film is so utterly enjoyable, charming, and silly that you almost miss the true ingenuity and craft in the animation itself. British placticine duo Wallace – inventor and cheese lover – and his silently worried dog Gromit, take on the bunnies upsetting town gardeners. But things go all Halloweeney on them. This is the kind of film that begs to be scanned for its clever details (the town barbershop is called A Close Shave, for instance), but it’s the unselfconscious, innocent comedy and remarkable animation that make the film a stunning success.  Wallace & Gromit belong in the highest echelon of doofus and silent sidekick comedy teams, and everyone in your family has reason to see their first full length feature.

Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Honestly, this is not one of Pixar’s greatest efforts, but a second tier Pixar film still beats the pants off most anything else you and your kids might watch. The animation is stunning. (Who doesn’t, right now, want to have a fuzzy blue Sulley doll?! You? What are you, a sociopath?) A couple of best buds living in Monstropolis have to keep it under wraps that a child has infiltrated the city. She’s a serious risk of contamination – this is a real danger, actually, because children are filthy germ bags. And they’re often quite sticky. Pixar knows this, and alerts us to the potential epidemic via fuzzy monster characters.

Frankenweenie (2012)

In stellar black and white, Tim Burton animates the tale of a quiet young scientist and his undead dog. Odes to the classics of horror will entertain the parents (maybe even grandparents) in the audience, but the lovely boy/dog friendship, quirky school kids, and science-related peril will entertain the kids. Plus, Mr. Rzykurski (Martin Landau) is the most spectacular science teacher ever, as depicted in his speech to parents at the PTA meeting: Ladies and gentlemen. I think the confusion here is that you are all very ignorant. Is that right word, ignorant? I mean stupid, primitive, unenlightened.

For The Not Too Wee

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Back in 1993, Tim Burton produced the classic goth holiday extravaganza The Nightmare Before Christmas, having handed over his own sketches and story to director Henry Selick and the world’s coolest stop-action animators. Burton’s team, including Danny Elfman on tunes, assembled a lightheartedly macabre fantasy that artfully yet cataclysmically mixed America’s two most indulgent and excessive holidays. It was inspired.

Corpse Bride (2005)

The first animated film Tim Burton directed is equal parts wholesome and gruesome, somehow effortlessly combined. A nervous groom practices his wedding vows in a forest, unwittingly awakening a bride murdered on her wedding night. She misunderstands and accepts is promise of love. The reluctant groom is ushered into the afterlife, which is more like a cool blues club than a cloudy resting place, where he is welcomed by a delightfully grisly cast of characters.

The comedy is clever, the bride’s heartbreak is often genuinely poignant, and the rotty flesh is just as natural as the pre-wedding jitters. It’s no Jack Skellington, but it is close.

Monster House (2006)

This one is likely to scare little ones, what with its super creepy sideshow circus backdrop, scary old man and a house that actually eats people. Loads of endearing and interesting characters fall upon the kinds of everyday scares that bloom in a child’s imagination. Well written, honestly spooky, and eventually quite heart tugging, Monster House was a surprise Oscar nomination back in ’06, and is still an underseen Halloween gem.

Coraline (2009)

Coraline is a two-sided cautionary tale. For kids wishing for more attentive parents, be careful what you wish for. For parents disinterested in their tweens, danger lurks and lures your girls. Adapted for the screen and directed by Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas), Coraline offers darkly magical visuals, quirky and creepy characters, and a surprisingly disturbing storyline. The film is clever and goth-gorgeous, but may be a little too creepy for kids under 10.

ParaNorman (2012)

“I see dead people” takes on new legs with this animated tale of the supernatural. ParaNorman celebrates cinematic horror with the story of a little boy whose closest buds are the goofy new kid and his own long-dead grandma. But Norman’s gift of seeing ghosts proves pretty beneficial when some witchy chicanery threatens the whole town. Plus, big props for including a gay couple in a family-friendly flick.