Tag Archives: Sam Neill

Fright Club: Best Cosmic Horror

Author Hailey Piper joins the club this week to tear through about 25 different cosmic horror movies, eventually landing on some fuzzy math favorites. Join us, won’t you?

6. Hellraiser

“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 suited to the Eighties horror landscape. It’s easy to see the film as an occult or supernatural horror, but it’s just as likely a cosmic tale of a dimension you could open without even trying, another reality on the other side of an afternoon’s puzzle past time.

5. Spiral (Uzumaki) (2000)

Higuchinsky’s mind bending 2000 Japanese horror went underappreciated upon release – likely because of the interest in ghosts and digital horror during that period. That’s too bad, because his adaptation of the not-yet-released Manga Uzumaki is a delight.

It starts with a snail shell. It ends with a town in chaos. If you missed it, you should remedy that now.

4. In the Mouth of Madness

Sutter Cane may be awfully close to Stephen King, but John Carpenter’s cosmic horror is even more preoccupied by Lovecraft. The great Sam Neill leads a fun cast in a tale of madness as created by the written world.

What if those horror novels you read became reality? What if that sketchy writer with the maybe-too-vivid imagination was not just got to his own page, but god for real? This movie tackles that ripe premise while ladling love for both of the horror novelists who made New England the creepiest section of America.

3. The Endless

There is something very clever about the way Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s movies sneak up on you. Always creepy, still they defy genre expectations even as they play with them.

Camp Arcadia offers the rustic backdrop for their latest, The Endless. A clever bit of SciFi misdirection, the film follows two brothers as they return to the cult they’d escaped a decade earlier.

It is this story and the pair’s storytelling skill that continues to impress. Their looping timelines provide fertile ground for clever turns that fans of the filmmakers will find delightful, but the uninitiated will appreciate as well.

2. Annihilation

Alex Garland’s work as both a writer (28 Days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go) and a writer/director (Ex Machina) has shown a visionary talent for molding the other-worldly and the familiar. Annihilation unveils Garland at his most existential, becoming an utterly absorbing sci-fi thriller where each answer begs more questions.

Taking root as a strange mystery, it offers satisfying surprises amid an ambitious narrative flow full of intermittent tension, scares, and blood—and a constant sense of wonder.

Just his second feature as a director, Annihilation proves Ex Machina was no fluke. Garland is pondering similar themes—creation, self-destruction, extinction—on an even deeper level, streamlining the source material into an Earthbound cousin to 2001.

1. The Mist

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son head to town for some groceries. Meanwhile, a tear in the space/time continuum opens a doorway to alien monsters. So he, his boy, and a dozen or so other shoppers are all trapped inside this glass-fronted store just waiting for rescue or death.

Marcia Gay Harden is characteristically brilliant as the religious zealot who turns survival inside the store into something less likely than survival out with the monsters, but the whole cast offers surprisingly restrained but emotional turns.

The FX look amazing, too, but it’s the provocative ending that guarantees this one will sear itself into your memory.

Crazy Train

The Commuter

by Hope Madden

In 2014, Jaume Collet-Serra directed Non-Stop, a Liam Neeson thriller that saw the down-on-his-luck Irishman with a particular set of skills trapped on a speeding vehicle with a killer, a mystery, and an outside force looking to pin some wrongdoing on him.

In 2018, Jaume Collet-Serra directed The Commuter. Same movie. Train this time.

This go-round, happily married devoted father Michael MacCauley (Neeson) gets chatted up by the lovely and mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) as he heads home on his nightly commute. She poses a question: would you do one little thing—something you are uniquely qualified to do—if it landed you 100k and you had no idea of the consequences?

Well, it’s not a game and next thing you know he’s dragging his lanky frame up and down the train cars trying to find a mysterious person with a mysterious bag before his family is nabbed or someone else gets killed.

How many times do we have to see this movie? We get it, Neeson is not a man to be messed with. He’s savvy, noble and he can take a punch.

Farmiga’s always a welcome sight, plus Sam Neill and Patrick Wilson contribute as they can. But mainly it’s just you, Neeson and a host of stereotypes trying to test your mystery-solving skills but not your patience.

At its best, The Commuter is a B-movie popcorn-munching ode to the forgotten middle class good guy. At its worst, a boldly predictable waste of talent littered with plot holes and weak CGI.

It’s a Liam Neeson movie. What do you want?





Halloween Countdown, Day 24: Possession

Possession (1981)

Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?

Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government (or are they?) agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it strikes me as David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing I can get behind.

Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job – a mysterious position with some kind of lab. He’s being offered a lot of money to stay, but he needs to go home. We don’t know why.

Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). I love that his name is Bob. Bob – it’s so normal, and yet feels so unusual for a small child. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob. There’s nothing normal about Anna.

Mark and Anna’s relationship boasts an intentional artificiality- a queasying sexuality- that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?

These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking that mocks the idiocy, even insanity of obsession and boasts a handful of weirdly excellent performances. And sex with a bloody mollusk-like monster.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!





The Wild Life

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

by Hope Madden

Sandwiched between his adorable vampire flick What We Do in the Shadows and his upcoming journey into the Marvel universe, Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi gets lost in the New Zealand bush.

The Kiwi filmmaker, whose career up to now has been marked with silly wit and gentle humor, offers a buddy comedy along the lines of Pixar’s Up.

Rotund Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) finds himself deep in New Zealand nowhere with his newly appointed foster parents Bella (Ti Waita, wonderful) and Hec (Sam Neill). Bella offers and endless amount of genuine care, while Hec is quick with a grunt or a grimace. But one mishap after another projects the wrong image, and soon the lonesome boy and grumpy old man are off on an exotic adventure.

The manhunt that follows Ricky and Hec into the woods offers plenty of opportunity for sight gags, and Waititi (who adapted Barry Crump’s novel) gives the comedy an equal dose of absurdity and sweetness.

A mash note to outsiders, family and masculinity, Wilderpeople also showcases Neill’s gravelly talent in a way no film has done in years. Truth be told, were it not for the strong performances from the two leads, the film could easily have become stiflingly quirky. But Neill’s work offers more layers and authenticity than your usual grizzled coot routine, and Dennison’s confidence and timing ensure his is not the same old adorable kid looking for a dad.

No, both characters are equal parts frustrating and charming, which is why the adventure works as well as it does. There’s no wink and nod “let’s learn a lesson” backbone to their quest, just an admirably naive sense of freedom.

The supporting cast in its entirety delivers wry laughs, but the real showstoppers are Waita (who was equally enjoyable in Housebound), and Rachel House as Paula, the alarmingly tenacious social worker.

The script veers toward sentimentality once or twice too often. Like Waititi’s previous features, Wilderpeople, in the end, lacks bite. But the filmmaker possesses such an extraordinary talent for good natured, quirky comedy that it will be really something to see what he can do with a super hero, and whether his sincerely individual vision can remain intact.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Tonight There’s Gonna be a Jailbreak!

 

by George Wolf

 

As nonsensical, potentially offensive and completely ridiculous as it is, Escape Plan does enough things right to render it more entertaining that you might expect.

Think of it as residing in the Face/Off neighborhood, where a film embraces its outlandishness so convincingly you eventually surrender under the weight of the escapist fun to be had.

Of course, that film had two of the all-time greatest hambones, John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, operating at maximus overacti. Escape Plan has Stallone and Schwarzenegger, two aging action stars trying to prove they still have box office juice.

To its credit, the film doesn’t even address the age factor, even though it is very easy to imagine stars such as Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg in the lead roles.

Sly is introduced as Ray Breslin, the leading expert in structural security. He routinely puts his skills to the test by assuming the identities of inmates in various prisons and then going full MacGuyver to expose security weaknesses by busting out with little more than toilet paper and a used carton of chocolate milk.

Breslin’s firm gets an outlandishly lucrative offer to test the limits of a…cough, cough…”off the grid,” black-ops type prison in an undisclosed location. Despite concerns from his co-workers, Breslin goes in, realizing almost immediately he’s been set up, and must enlist the help of a mysterious new friend on the inside (Arnold) to break out for reals.

Director Mikael Hafstrom (The Rite/Derailed) wisely chooses to keep matters focused on action and away from any cheesy attempts at tongue in cheek humor. Less successful are his depictions of Muslim inmates and scenes of enhanced interrogation.

Giving the film a “Blackwater” setting may have been an attempt by screenwriters Miles Chapman and Jason Keller to address a timely topic. Instead, they toss the dark realities of torture around so flippantly the film comes dangerously close to making light of the entire issue. Muslim stereotypes don’t help either.

Still, there’s action aplenty amid some clever twists, an effective supporting cast (Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D’Onofrio and a surprisingly emotive Jim Caviezel), and Arnold, at least, seems to be having a blast getting back in the saddle.

Maybe they’re not too old for this shit.

 

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars