Fright Club: Best Found Footage Horror Movies

It is the most tired and tiresome of all horror film gimmicks, but are there worthwhile found footage movies to be celebrated? Or are they all simply the result of an inexpensive narrative device that allows for sloppy filmmaking and weak production values? Well, we did the research and found that there are many worthwhile offerings in this field. Yes, the bad outnumber the good 10 – 1, but there are good ones. Here are our five (OK – 6!) favorites.

Listen to the whole podcast HERE.

6. Trollhunter (2010)

All ancient cultures generated fairy tales. They passed on stories that wrapped the virtues most respected at the time inside common dangers to tell tales of heroism and humor. Norway’s fairy tales all involve trolls. Indeed, their entire national culture seems weirdly identified with trolls. Why is that? Well, writer/director Andre Ovredal’s Trollhunter suggests that maybe it’s because trolls are a real problem up there.

Ovredal’s approach is wry and silly – adjectives that rarely hang out together, but maybe we haven’t seen enough of Norway’s cinematic output. The FX are sometimes wonderful, and especially effective given the otherwise verite, documentary style. Ovredal makes droll use of both approaches.

Trollhunter is definitely more comedy than horror, as at no time does the film actually seek to scare you. It’s a wild ride into a foreign culture, though, and it makes you think twice about the Norway section of Epcot, I’ll tell you what.

5. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity, or The Little Ghost Story That Could, opened on a handful of screens in just a few cities around the country for midnight weekend shows only. All screenings promptly sold out. Powerful word-of-mouth and an aggressive marketing campaign propelled the modest flick into multiplexes worldwide. Why the hubbub? Well, for those patient enough to let it seep in – for those who do not require a jump, a slash, or a violent act in every fifth frame – Paranormal Activity is an effective, creepy little production.

A classic ghost story, the film evolves Blair Witch-style, as a couple pestered by something spectral begin cataloguing incidents with a night vision camera. The entire film consists solely of the video footage, tracking about three weeks’ worth of rising tension, most of it captured in the couple’s bedroom while they sleep.

The couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) is annoyingly believable in their pensions for doing the wrong thing simply to cater to each other’s insecurities. This, and the simplicity in the filmmaking – limited effects, incredibly limited cast and sets, minimal backstory – create an unnerving air of authenticity. The cam-corder timestamp rolls quickly forward, providing shorthand imaging of the couple sleeping, then slows to real time tracking just as something is about to happen. This repetitive gimmick proves so succinct and effective that dread begins to build while still fast forwarding. By the time the clock slows, half the audience is holding its breath.

4. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

A clever concept handled very craftily, The Last Horror Movie is found footage in that we, the audience, have found it recorded over the VHS tape we are apparently watching. What serial killer Max (a top notch Kevin Howarth) has done, you see, is made a documentary of his ghastly habits and shared them with an audience that’s shown, by virtue of the movie it intended to rent just now, its predeliction for someting grisly.

There’s a lot of “yes, I’m a bad person, but aren’t you, too” posturing going on, and while it is an idea to chew on, it nearly outlives its welcome by the time Max applies his theory to concrete action. It’s an idea explored masterfully by Michael Haneke in 1997 (and again, ten years later) with Funny Games, and by comparison, The Last Horror Movie feels a bit superficial. (Not a huge criticism – few could withstand a comparison to Michael Haneke.)

But director Julian Richards deserves immense credit for subverting expectations throughout the film. Just when we assume we’re seeing a predator anticipating the pounce – just when we’re perhaps feeling eager to see someone victimized – the film makes a hard right turn. In doing this, Richards not only manages to keep the entire film feeling fresh and unpredictable, but he enlightens us to the ugliness of our own horror movie fascinations.

3. Man Bites Dog (1992)

Oh, Belgium. How we do love your horror output. In a bit of meta-filmmaking, Man Bites Dog is a pseudo-documentary made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. It is about a documentary being made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. The subject of the documentary is the charismatic Ben – serial killer, narcissist, poet, racist, architecture enthusiast, misogynist, bird lover.

There’s more than what appears on the surface of this cynical, black comedy. The film crew starts out as dispassionate observers of Ben’s crimes – which is certainly morally questionable to begin with. Eventually their commitment to the project, fear of retaliation, bloodlust, or sense of camaraderie pushes them toward aiding Ben, and then finally, to committing heinous crimes themselves.

It’s a bitter view of their chosen industry, and – much like The Last Horror Movie – a bit of a condemnation of the viewer as well. The fact that much of the decidedly grisly content is played for laughter makes it that much more unsettling.

2. [REC] (2007)

[Rec] shares one cameraman’s footage of the night he and a reporter tagged along with a local fire department. The small news crew and two firefighters respond to a call from an urban apartment building. An elderly woman, locked inside her flat, has been screaming. Two officers are already on the scene. Bad, bad things will happen.

Just about the time the first responders realize they’re screwed, the building is completely sealed off from the outside by government forces. Power to the building is cut, leaving everyone without cell reception, cable, and finally, light. Suddenly we’re trapped inside the building with about fifteen people, some of them ill, some of them bleeding, some of them biting.

Filmmakers Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza make excellent use of their found footage approach, first by way of the news report, then because of the need to use the camera to see once power’s been cut. They play the claustrophobic nature of the quarantine to excellent effect, creating a kind of funhouse of horror that refuses to let you relax. The American reboot Quarantine is another excellent choice, but our vote has to go with the original.

1. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

BW is, of course, the now famous instigator of the found footage movement. Yes, Cannibal Holocaust was the first film to use the found footage conceit, but a) it sucked, and b) it didn’t show the audience this footage exclusively. Cannibal Holocaust built a narrative around the film canisters, and then looked at them. One of several truly genius ideas behind Blair Witch is that the filmmakers made the audience believe that the film they were watching was nothing more than the unearthed footage left behind by three disappeared young people.

Between the novelty of the found footage approach and the also novel use of viral marketing, the film drew a huge audience of people who believed they were seeing a snuff film. Nice.

And those two cutting edge techniques buoyed this minimalistic, naturalistic home movie about three bickering buddies who venture into the Maryland woods to document the urban legend of The Blair Witch. Twig dolls, late night noises, jumpy cameras, unknown actors, and not much else blended into an honestly frightening flick that played upon primal fears.

Hey, What’s That Z About?


by Hope Madden

Doran and Yoav Paz have hit upon a ripe premise. Inside the walled city of Jerusalem is the epicenter for three of the world’s largest and most eruptive religions. If Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all share one holy land, is there something about this place – something otherworldly? And wouldn’t this be the likely spot for the Armageddon to begin?

Jeruzalem opens promisingly enough, inviting you into this microcosm of faith and humanity to witness an event too big to even be called biblical. Unfortunately, the filmmaking brothers derail the effort almost immediately with a found footage gimmick.

Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) receives Google Glass from her father as a gift. The entire balance of the film is basically a first person shooter video game with precious little in the way of shooting or action and far less in terms of character development.

It is so hard to do a decent job with found footage, a stunt that has far outlived its novelty. By virtue of some early-film contrivances, the Paz brothers manage to eliminate some of the obvious pitfalls of found footage, but the fact that we spend the film’s entire 87 minutes with that unnatural seeing-eyed view is Jeruzalem’s greatest drawback.

Sarah and her bestie Rachel (Yael Grobglas) are going to Tel Aviv and then onto Jerusalem. Sarah’s been unhappy since her brother’s recent death and Rach things this will perk her up. Running into that hot archeologist on board the plane (because archeologists are always gorgeous twentysomethings) did seem to boost Sarah’s mood, and now the girls have decided to hit Jerusalem first so they can spend more time with their own personal Indiana Jones (Yon Tumarkin).

Too bad they show up just in time for the end of days.

The Pazes unearth similarities in the judgement day tales of the three faiths, weaving them together into a kind of zombie myth, which, again, should have felt much more ingenious than it does. Their clever concept is utterly hamstrung by the film technique.

Watching as Sarah falls behind every time anyone runs, listening to her unrelenting and unrealistic breathing, sighing, crying, and screaming – it all becomes too tedious to bear. More than that, though, the fact that you are basically watching a zombie shooter video game in which zombies are almost never shot is incredibly frustrating on the most basic level.

It’s just a waste of a great idea.


Breaking the Waves

The Finest Hours

by George Wolf

Plenty of films have created genuine tension telling stories where the outcome is already known. The Finest Hours may not reach the lofty heights of say, Argo, but it crafts a true-life adventure tale with an earnest and sometimes thrilling respect for the bravery involved.

Most of that respect goes to Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), the young Coast Guardsman who directed the greatest small boat rescue in the group’s history. In 1952, Bernie and a small crew braved brutal elements off the coast of Cape Cod to search for a stranded oil tanker that had been broken in half by the storm.

Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Million Dollar Arm) seems most engaged by the set pieces involving the floundering tanker. As a desperate crew relies on the crafty ideas of Mister Sybert (Casey Affleck) to stay afloat, Gillespie creates a nicely paced contrast between the shrinking confines of the ship and the vast timelessness of the rising waters.

Back on land, we see an idealized, one-dimensional version of the 1950s. Bernie’s courtship of his future wife Miriam (Holliday Grainger) is sweet but superficial, as is most of the setup at Coast Guard base. The screenwriting team of Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (The Fighter) draws parameters quickly, and for obvious purposes.

Bernie is a stickler for regulations, on a mission loaded with impossible obstacles. The more both points are labored, the less impactful it becomes when they fall away.

Pine has genuine movie star charisma, and he underplays Bernie nicely, but it is Gillespie who ultimately saves The Finest Hours. Not only does he make the sentimentality of the period details seem awkwardly appropriate, but lines such as “sometimes men die” and “not on my watch!” are more quickly forgiven amid spectacular storm sequences and the palpable tension of the actual rescue.

As effective as its finest moments may be, what The Finest Hours needs most is a deeper humanity to make it resonate after the credits. You end up saluting these heroes more than caring about them, keeping any lasting sea legs at bay.



Fright Club: Oscar Nominee Skeletons in the Closet

The Oscar nominations are out, and – as is the case every year – the nominees with horror movie skeletons in their closets are fully accounted for. We’ve discussed the great Mark Ruffalo’s not-so-great The Dentist in previous podcasts, so we’ll leave that one in the closet this week. Rooney Mara just missed the cut, as well, with only a cameo in her sister Kate’s Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. The only problem with Tom Hardy was basically determining which bad horror movie to choose (which basically means Tom Hardy is filling in for George “Oh So Many” Clooney this year.)

Who made the grade? Who might take home an Oscar regardless of this horrific offense in their background? Provocative!

Listen to the whole podcast HERE.

5. House at the End of the Street (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence starred in three films released in 2012 – The Hunger Games (maybe you’ve heard of it?), Silver Linings Playbook (winning her first Oscar), and House at the End of the Street. One of these is not like the others.

Lawrence plays Elissa, high school badass who moves into a secluded new house with her single, doctor mother (Elisabeth Shue). Legend has it, out in the woods behind the house roams the crazy-ass, murdering sister of the cute if damaged neighbor boy, Ryan (Max Thieriot).

House at the End of the Street is a smorgasbord of ideas stolen from better films and filmmakers, although it is not a god-awful mess. Whatever success it has is thanks to Lawrence, whose talent knows no bad screenplay, no clichéd character, and cannot be overshadowed by a tight, white tank top.

4. Blood Creek (2009)

What would be more compelling viewing than Superman Meets Batman? Henry Cavill’s run-in with a Nazi zombie played by Michael Fassbender. Clearly.

A Nazi scientist finds a Viking runestone on a West Virginia farm, where blood sacrifice turns him into an ageless monster, and a weird, runestoney ritual keeps him bound in the farmer’s basement. That guy – that Nazi zombie – is played by Michael Fassbender. Whose mind is blown?

Cavill comes into the picture when his character Evan reunites with long lost and presumed dead brother Victor (Dominic Purcell). Some crazy farmers have had him locked up all this time, taking his blood for god knows what purpose.

Truth be told, Cavill offers a fine turn full of longing and regret, and Fassbender is mesmerizing. The guy cannot turn in a bad performance. He’s completely feral, totally unhinged. It’s like he has no idea that the movie he’s in is so, so, so very bad.

The effects are terrible, the medieval Viking hocus pocus is beyond ludicrous, Purcell cannot act, and the script’s lack of logic actually makes you long for director Joel Schumacher’s better efforts, like Batman and Robin or 8MM.

Seriously, that’s how bad this is.

3. Critters 3 (1991)

Long before Django Unchained, Titanic, or even What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a barely pubescent Leo DiCaprio donned a day-glow t-shirt and a pre-teen scowl to battle Gremlin rip-offs in Critters 3.

They are furry, toothy, ravenous beasts from outer space and, until episode 3, they were content to terrify rural folk. But now they’re in the big city, and (in a clear rip off of the not-quite-as-terrible film Troll), they are pillaging a single apartment building and terrifying all those trapped inside. It’s a comedy, really, the kind with farting furballs and dunderheaded people. Which is to say, one that’s not particularly funny.

Serving up the same derivative comedy/horror pap you can find in one out of every three films made that decade, Critters 3 has a lot of hair in scrunchies, oversized blouses belted over colorful leggings, stereotypes, and actors on their careers’ last legs. And Leonardo DiCaprio, which will forever be the only reason this movie was released to DVD.

2. Minotaur (2006)

Oscar nominee Tom Hardy is truly one of the most talented actors working today, and I’m sure he’s proud of all his films. Except maybe this one.

The film plays like Jabba the Hutt’s palace set in Middle Earth, except in place of Jabba we have Candyman (Tony Todd, whose actual character name is Deucalion, but he’ll always be Candyman to us). Todd is king of the realm, and beneath his castle lives a Minotaur who requires a blood sacrifice. Periodically he rounds up youngsters from Theo’s (Hardy) village and drops them down below.

Hey – just like the Rancor!

Theo secretly takes the place of one of the sacrificial lambs and hits the underground to slay the Minotaur and reclaim his (probably long dead) love. Hallucinations, danger, and stilted medieval dialog await below the castle, while up above, Deucalion wants to get it on with his sister, who wants to get it on with Theo.

The sets are pretty terrible, as are the accents, props, costumes. Oh, and the Minotaur! He’s like an angry Muppet. But Hardy acquits himself reasonably then quickly goes on to better things.

You will, too, but why not indulge?

1. Dead Space (1991)

A distress signal from a research lab on the planet Fabon draws in maverick space cowboy Steve Krieger (Marc Singer, from such superior films as Beastmaster 3) and his cyborg shipmate Tinpan. Oscar nominee and billion-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston plays an infected scientist more sympathetic to the creature he’s created than to the crew this merciless muppet feeds upon.

Jesus God this movie is bad.

The story is utterly nonsensical. No, not that scientists removed from earth have unwittingly created a monster. But why do they feel obligated to share all their secrets with some rando space ranger, why does he take charge of the vessel, why does everyone wear blue unitards underneath their lab coats, who on earth thought Laura Mae Tate could act – well the unanswerable conundrums are legion.

But Cranston tries. He tries to create a character, tries to generate chemistry with other actors, tries to be both villain and victim, tries not to look like a mannequin when the giant mutant tears his head clean off. He totally fails, don’t get us wrong, but damnit, he tries.

Here’s Part One of Our Trilogy


The 5th Wave

by George Wolf

You know the old slam on modern art, right?

“I could paint that!’

Everything about The 5th Wave is so cooly calculated, it feels like the result of watching “young adult” trilogies rake in millions, and copping that same attitude.

All the building blocks are here, but like so many of the other imitators, the finished product just reminds you again how much more effective The Hunger Games is at assembling them.

Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is just a normal teenage girl in Ohio when the first wave of alien attacks hits. The incredibly lazy device of voiceover narration assures girls in the audience Cassie is just like them, so the film’s extended metaphor about surviving adolescence will resonate more quickly.

Cassie is conveniently separated from her parents, and she has a young sibling to protect, so those two boxes are quickly checked off. A love triangle you say? Cassie pines for her high school crush Ben (Nick Robinson), but then the hunky Evan (Alex Roe) saves her after she takes a bullet, and the aliens apparently haven’t touched his supply of hair gel or workout equipment so..conflicted emotions!

Even with all the usual trappings, there are possibilities hiding in The 5th Wave. Rick Yancey’s source novel includes a twist that could have been mined for effective social commentary, no matter how quickly you see it coming (hint: quickly).

Director J Blakeson (The Descent: Part 2) and his screenwriting team seem more interested in just feeding the YA beast. There’s no emotional payoff here, only cliched dialogue and convoluted padding to set up future installments, plus one unintentionally hilarious scene that metaphorically depicts teen sex.

Moretz has talent, and her charisma does manage to sell some of the action sequences, but as was the case with the woeful If I Stay, she plays down to the material and forgoes depth for mere posing. Her young co-stars are just more window dressing, but at least Maika Monroe (so good last year in It Follows) gets to say, to a barracks full of young soldiers being trained for alien battle, “Any of you touch me….and I’ll kill ya!”

Five bucks if you yell, “Lighten up, Francis!” at the screen.

Sorry, kids, that a reference to a stone-age movie called Stripes. Your parents will understand, and tell them to watch that again while you watch The 5th Wave.



Dirty Work

Dirty Grandpa

by George Wolf

Hey, I’m a simple man. When I see a guy in a horse head mask, I laugh.

Dirty Grandpa has a guy in a horse head mask, along with plenty of other funny business to offset the weak spots.

By the way, that “dirty” in the title is not there just for show. Grandpa (Robert DeNiro) is definitely dirty, and he has ladies on his mind about five minutes after his wife’s funeral. Playing the guilt card, he convinces Jason, his yuppie lawyer grandson (Zac Efron), to drive him down to Florida for a little family bonding.

And by “bonding,” Gramps means partying in Daytona for spring break, where he tries to get “Alan Douche-owitz” to forget his upcoming wedding and be Grandpa’s wingman.

Much of John Phillips’s debut screenplay is a scream, with DeNiro vigorously chewing on merciless putdowns or raunchy sex talk. An unusually chipper drug dealer (Jason Mantzoukas) and a pair of sarcastic cops (Mo Collins and Henry Zebrowski) also bring inspired nuttiness, but MVP honors here go to Aubrey Plaza.

As Lenore, a young spring breaker with a blank space next to “old man” on her to-do list, Plaza goes toe to toe with DeNiro in a riotous series of hilariously awkward who’s-gonna-blink-first exchanges. Their interplay is the consistent high point of the film.

Peaks, meet valleys.

The well of certain jokes is revisited once too often, and director Dan Mazer overplays his attempt to be an equal opportunity offender, as some of the gags – particularly those with sexist leanings – take on mean spirited edges. In a similar vein, “laughing with” quickly turns to “laughing at” when Grandpa grabs the mic for some painful rapping on karaoke night.

Jason’s relationship with his bitchy fiancé Meredith (Julianne Hough) is lifted straight from The Hangover, and expect the requisite mood music when it’s time for life lessons about fatherhood, chasing your dreams, and true love.

Will Jason be inspired to put aside what others expect from him and follow his heart? Can Jason’s attraction to cute coed Shadia overcome the complete lack of chemistry between Efron and co-star Zoey Deutch? Will Lenore and Grandpa get busy? Just who is under that horse head mask?

You’ll only care about half of those questions, and Dirty Grandpa will leave you laughing about half of the time.



Desperate Men Go Into the Desert


by Hope Madden

“I’m into motiveless malignacy. I’m a Shakespeare man.”

So begins the battle of wits and wills at the center of Mojave, writer/director William Monahan’s meditation on the alpha male.

Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) is having an existential crisis. He’s been famous his entire adult life, and now that he has everything, there’s nothing left for him to want. His downward spiral leads him into the desert, where he happens upon a drifter (Oscar Isaac).

The duo’s hyper-literate fireside exchange is tinged with predatory tones, each man intrigued by the shifting ground of dominant/submissive beneath the wordplay.

The stilted, noir-esque characters – including bizarre cameos from Walton Goggins and Mark Walberg – are too hard boiled to be authentic. Instead Monahan and his cast create entertainingly dead-eyed facsimiles of humans, each floating (often meaninglessly) in and out of the battling pair’s dilemma.

What is that dilemma? Well, something happened out in that desert, and as drifter Jack says, “The game is on, brother.”

The wealthy, handsome Thomas misjudges his lowlife adversary, but Jack is equally guilty of underestimating the superficial pretty boy he’s set as his mark. Don’t look for a good guy in this battle, though, because the world would be better off without either party, and they both know it.

Isaac ranks among the most talented actors working today. If you only know him from Star Wars, you need to look deeper into this chameleonic performer’s work. He struggles here and there with Mojave, though, because Monahan’s writing makes it hard to find a real person beneath all the machismo.

Hedlund is no Isaac, but it’s fun to see the chemistry between the two (who shared a similarly uncomfortable chemistry during their fateful car ride in Inside Llewyn Davis).

Ultimately the cat-and-mouse thriller drowns in its own testosterone – the pair of utterly suicidal antiheroes buckling beneath their burdensome masculinity. Still, as literary references abound and the more-alike-than-different outsiders bristle at societal constraint, this over-written mess remains curiously fascinating.


Boy Meets World

Boy and the World

by Hope Madden

Often a joyous riot of colors and sounds, and just as often a somber and spare smattering of dehumanizing imagery, Boy and the World poignantly encapsulates the clashing emotions and evolving comprehension of the human spirit.

Ale Abreu’s Oscar nominee for Best Animated Film offers deceptively simple animation to pull you into complex ideas. Boy – the wee, titular character who is about to start quite an adventure – sees a wondrous, kaleidoscopic world saturated with confusing but fascinating sounds and images, colors and experiences.

But as thrilling and vibrant as these early moments are, Abreu’s vision is edged with cynicism. It’s an idea that takes hold sporadically, when industrialization depletes the chaotic energy from the screen, when scores of stooped stick figures lose their meager jobs, when urban blight changes the tone from primary colors to smoky browns and greys, and finally when animation gives over to live action footage of deforestation.

Though the filmmaker’s themes are always evident – occasionally less subtle than they might be – the heartbeat of the story is that of the imaginative, innocent Boy. It gives the whole film a touch of sadness, but balances the anger with an optimism and innocence that’s often beguiling.

A contagious score from Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat emboldens Abreu’s pictures, emphasizing the vibrancy of the individual’s spirit as well as the celebration of human connection.

Boy’s journey is a circuitous one, a coming of age and acceptance informed by struggle and nostalgia but brightened with bursts of color.

There is something terribly lonesome but simultaneously jubilant about Boy and the World. It’s a heady mix from a confident new filmmaker, and a welcome addition to an entirely laudable set of animated Oscar contenders.


Fright Club: Best Female Vampire Movies

An aching loneliness tends to be the overwhelming theme of any vampire film that focuses primarily on the female predator – unless, of course, the focus is girl-on-girl action. But even then, aching loneliness, too. Whether evil bloodsuckers or just tragic and doomed to feed off the living, there’s something peculiarly spooky about these ladies. Here we celebrate the vampiress with our countdown of the five(ish) best female vampire movies.

Listen to the podcast, complete with a live studio audience, HERE.

5. The Hunger (1983)

Director Tony Scott’s seductive vampire love story has a little bit of everything: slaughter, girl-on-girl action, ’80s synth/goth tunage, David Bowie. What more can you ask?

Actually the film’s kind of a sultry, dreamily erotic mess. Oh, the gauzy, filmy curtains. Catharine Deneuve is the old world vampire Miriam, David Bowie is her lover. But he suddenly begins aging, and she needs to find a replacement. Enter Susan Sarandon as a medical specialist in unusual blood diseases and a fine actress who’s not above smooching other girls.

There are three reasons people will always watch this film: Bowie, Catherine Deneuve’s seduction of Susan Sarandon (classy!), and the great dark-wave Bauhaus number Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Together it’s a Goth Trifecta! And Goths do love them some vampires.

4. Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Seduction, homoeroticism, drowsy lustfulness – this one has it all.

Countess Bathory – history’s female version of Dracula – checks into an all-but-abandoned seaside hotel. The only other guests, besides the Countess’s lover, Ilona, is a honeymooning couple.

Effortlessly aristocratic, Delphine Seyrig brings a tender coyness, a sadness to the infamous role of Bathory. Seyrig’s performance lends the villain a tragic loveliness that makes her the most endearing figure in the film. Everybody else feels mildly unpleasant, a sinister bunch who seem to be hiding things. The husband, in particular, is a suspicious figure, and a bit peculiar. Kind of a dick, really – and Bathory, for one, has no time for dicks.
Caring less for the victims than for the predator – not because she’s innocent or good, but because her weary elegance makes her seem vulnerable – gives the film a nice added dimension.

The accents are absurd. The outfits are glorious. The performances are compellingly, perversely good, and the shots are gorgeous. Indulge yourself.

3. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Leave it to visionary writer/director Jim Jarmusch to concoct a delicious black comedy, oozing with sharp wit and hipster attitude.

Great lead performances don’t hurt, either, and Jarmusch gets them from Tom Hilddleston and Tilda Swinton as Adam and Eve (perfect!), a vampire couple rekindling their centuries-old romance against the picturesque backdrop of…Detroit.

Not since the David Bowie/Catherine Deneuve pairing in The Hunger has there been such perfectly vampiric casting. Swinton and Hiddleston, already two of the most consistently excellent actors around, deliver cooly detached, underplayed performances, wearing the world- weariness of their characters in uniquely contrasting ways.

There is substance to accent all the style. The film moseys toward its perfect finale, casually waxing Goth philosophic about soul mates and finding your joy.

2. Let the Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

Let’s be honest, we’ve combined these two films just to make room for an additional film in the countdown. In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flicks in years. A spooky coming of age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure. Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

Hollywood’s 2010 version is the less confusingly entitled Let Me In. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) managed to retain the spirit of the source material, while finding ways to leave his own mark on the compelling story of an unlikely friendship.

While the original had an ominous sense of dread, a feel of bleak isolation, and a brazen androgyny that the update can’t touch, Let Me In scores points all its own. Reeves, also adapting the screenplay, ups the ante on the gore, and provides more action, scares and overall shock value.

Together the films set the standard for child vampire fare, and neither one should be missed.

1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour has made the world’s first Iranian vampire movie, and though she borrows liberally and lovingly from a wide array of inspirations, the film she’s crafted is undeniably, peculiarly her own.

Set in Bad Town, a city depleted of life – tidy yet nearly vacant – Girl haunts the shadowy, lonesome fringes of civilization. The image is highly stylized, with a hip quirkiness and stationary camera framings that noticeably mine Jarmusch’s early work. Indeed, Amirpour seems an avid fan of American indies of the Eighties and Nineties, as well as the films of endlessly imitated French New Wave filmmakers and Sergio Leone – so that’s a mish mash. But Amirpour effortlessly balances the homages and inspirations, the cultural nuances alive in Girl giving every scene a uniqueness that makes the whole effort surprising.

Amirpour is blessed with a cinematographer in Lyle Vincent capable of translating her theme of loneliness in a dead end town, as well as the cultural influences and Eighties pop references, into a seamless, hypnotic, mesmerizingly lovely vision. The film is simply, hauntingly gorgeous.

Bay Really Tried

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

by Hope Madden

While it may be tough to separate the release of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi from the US presidential race, there’s little question that the tale itself offers the kind of compelling material suitable for the big screen.

Director Michael Bay helms the film chronicling the disastrous consequences of understaffing the security detail surrounding an American ambassador and a secret CIA installation in one of the globe’s most unstable nations.

The trivia section for this film’s IMDB page notes that this is Michael Bay’s third film based on true events, after Pearl Harbor and Pain & Gain. That does not inspire a lot of optimism. And yet, for a Michael Bay film, 13 Hours is surprisingly restrained, respectful, and solid.

Had it been any other director, the word “restrained” would probably not appear in that sentence, but Bay dials down his own bombast to a degree that is genuinely surprising.

The screenplay, written by Chuck Hogan from Boston Globe reporter Mitchell Zuckoff’s book (co-written by surviving members of the security team), offers the point of view of the veteran security detail hired by the CIA to police and protect their compound. Staffed by retired Marines, Navy SEALs, and Army Special Forces, the security team on the ground on the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks had the skills, but not the number, to contend with the organized militant attack.

John Krasinski and James Badge Dale anchor the film with believable if under-dimensional performances of two of the security contractors in a by-the-numbers combat procedural.

Sidestepping politics in favor of nerve-shredding action, Bay creates set piece after explosion-and-firebombing-ready set piece. His tendencies and crutches are on full display, though the film feels relatively simply crafted when compared to his other atrocious efforts. It’s a welcome change of pace because self-congratulatory violence would undermine this truly harrowing ordeal.

Yes, CIA agents are painted as one-dimensional pencil pushers jealous of and abusive to their physically superior security guards; yes, individual character weaknesses are exaggerated; yes, tragedies and fatalities are telegraphed from the opening scene. And, yes, the story these survivors have to tell would likely have been better handled by another filmmaker.

13 Hours, though, is not a terrible film. It’s no Zero Dark Thirty, not even a Lone Survivor, and perhaps the sheer volume of blood spilled for the sake of excitement and hoo-rah is too great to consider the film deeply respectful of its subject matter. But I think it’s safe to say that Bay really tried, and, to a limited degree, he succeeded.