Fright Club: Best Reboots

What were we looking for? Reboots/remakes that are superior to the original. There are more than you think. In the podcast, we run through eight horror reboots that are superior to the original, kick around another handful that are Even Stevens, and argue about several that could maybe go either way (depending on which one of us you’re talking to). So, you know, have a listen.

5. Dawn of the Dead

Zack Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley). Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

4. Suspiria

Luca Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.

But even when this new Suspiria—a “cover version” of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo classic—is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.

3. The Ring/Ringu

Gore Verbinski’s film 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.

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 of Samara is brilliantly created.

Hideo Nakata’s original was saddled with an unlikeable ex-husband and a screechy supernatural/psychic storyline that didn’t travel well. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger did a nice job of re-focusing the mystery.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) But 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!

2. The Thing/The Thing From Another World

The 1951 original The Thing From Another World is a scifi classic, and every inch of it screams 1950s. The good guys are good, the monsters are monsters. Everything has its place. It’s reassuring.

John Carpenter’s remake upends all that with a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.

A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

1. The Fly

As endearing and fascinating as we find Kurt Neumann’s 1958 Vincent Price vehicle, it just doesn’t quite have the same impact once you’ve seen Jeff Goldblum peel off his fingernails.

Not because it’s gross—and it is gross AF—but because he’s fascinated by the process itself. It’s the scientist in him.

David Cronenberg knows how to properly make a mad scientist film, especially if that madness wreaks corporeal havoc. But it’s not just Cronenberg’s disturbed genius for images and ideas that makes The Fly fly; it’s the performance he draws from Goldblum.

Goldblum is an absolute gift to this film, so endearing in his pre-Brundlefly nerdiness. He’s the picture’s heartbeat, and it’s more than the fact that we like his character so much. The actor also performs heroically under all those prosthetics.

Fright Club: Best Jump Scares

We spend a lot of time ripping on weak and lazy jump scares. But today we want to acknowledge that, when done well, jump scares can be an incredibly effective tool for a horror filmmaker.

Here are our 10 favorite jump scares from horror movies.

10. It Follows (2014): tall man at the door

This movie is a freak show of scares beginning to end, and the different images the demon takes throughout is forever terrifying and fascinating. But it was the tall man at the door that really got to us.

9. Les Diaboliques (1955): alive in the tub

First of all, this is a spoiler. But the film came out 65 years ago, so if you haven’t seen it by now (we even showed it once!), that’s on you, man. It’s a classic, and a classic scare.

8. The Ring (2002): I saw her face

Again, here is a film chocker block full of utterly fantastic creeps, all told a moment at a time. But it was that first one, when we see Samara’s first victim, that set the stage and made us jump out of our seats.

7. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003): under the sink

So much nuttiness, so many confusing ideas to keep track of, such a master class piece of atmosphere building in this film. You just are not expecting jump scares in this one. And yet, as one dinner party goes wrong…

6. Hereditary (2018): signpost

Tell us you saw this one coming and we will tell you that you are a liar.

5. Carrie (1976): Carrie White’s grave

Oh holy shit. You think Sue Snell has been through enough, what with missing out on prom and watching every friend she has die in a flaming blood bath. But you would think wrong.

4. Audition (1999): What’s in the bag?

Ring ring. Ring ring. The way Takashi Miike frames this scene, lovely Asami’s hair draped in front of her, her spine showing, that loud phone – you can’t take your eyes off her, waiting for her to rouse, to answer. You might not even notice that burlap sack…

3. Jaws (1975): Hey, it’s Bruce!

Jaws has two classic jump scares, and it was hard to pick. Remember when Hooper’s digging that tooth out of Ben Gardner’s boat and then, all the the sudden, a human head! Well, that would have been enough for most movies, but after waiting nearly 2/3 of the film to see that shark, Steven Spielberg introduces his lead with authority.

2. The Conjuring (2013): bureau

James Wan’s instant classic haunted house movie also boasts more than one strong contender for this list. That hand clapping scene, showcased in the trailer, was reason enough for us to buy our tickets. But the one that did the most damage starts with a sleep walker and ends with the best jump scare in the last twenty years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOgC_YUyTYs

1. The Exorcist III: guy in the hall

There are so many utterly priceless moments in this underrated horror show: Patrick Ewing and Fabio as angels, Sam Jackson as a blind man, that terrifying confessional scene. But there is this one flash of white that is the reason everybody who sees this movie remembers it.

Fright Club: Best PG-13 Horror

Who wants to scare your kids? Because there is ample opportunity to do so without breaking any laws. Yes, year after year the cinemas are lousy with God-awful PG-13 horror (Rings, Ouija, Wish Upon, Bye Bye Man) aiming to cash in on the underaged market with jump scares and lazy writing.

But, if you look closely you can find some scary shit. Nightmares in the making. So, we looked closely…

6. The Grudge (2004)

The amazing thing about The Grudge’s PG-13 rating is the remarkable amount of violence in this film. There is a death, dismemberment or supernatural act in very nearly every single scene in the movie.

There’s also the larger, scarier idea of a contagious haunted house. You’re not just in jeopardy when you’re in it. This shit comes home with you.

The Grudge is one of the rare American remakes of J-horror that stands up, partly because the antagonists from the original are involved (Yuya Ozeki as the terrifyingly adorable Toshio and Takako Fuji as the just terrifying Kayako). It’s also a benefit that director Takashi Shimizu (who also wrote and directed the original, Ju-on) is back, and that he keeps the setting in Japan. Plus those creepy-ass sounds!

5. Insidious (2010)

Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell took a break from each other after a disappointing follow up to their breakout 2004 collaboration Saw (Dead Silence—yeesh). The the pair were back strong in 2010 with a wildly imaginative descent into “the further.”

This is the film where Wan finds his way as a director, and a director of horror in particular. Whannell’s bold story offers plenty of opportunity to work, and the atmosphere, practical effects and clever use of jump scares has become the trademark of the filmmaker.

They are also the elements that help this genuinely frightening effort maintain a PG-13 rating. Man, this guy knows how to milk that rating, doesn’t he? That lady in black, that red-faced guy, the whole organ thing, that kid? Tiptoe through the Tulips?

The pair takes a ghost story premise and does what very few people can do well: shows us what we are afraid of.

4. The Sixth Sense (1999)

Oh, you totally didn’t figure it out. Don’t even start.

A troubled child psychologist (Bruce Willis) treats a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) carrying a terrible burden. The execution—basically, seeing ghosts in every corner of Philadelphia—could have become a bit of a joke, but writer/director M. Night Shyamalan delivers a tense, eerie product.

With his 1999 breakout, Shyamalan painted himself into a corner he found it tough to get out of: the spooky surprise ending. And though this would nearly be his undoing as a filmmaker, it started off brilliantly.

Part of the success of the film depends on the heart-wrenching performances: Toni Collette’s buoyant but terrified mother, Willis’s concerned therapist, and Osment’s tortured little boy. Between Shyamalan’s cleverly spooky script, a slate of strong performances and more than a few genuinely terrifying moments, this is one scary-ass PG-13.

3. The Woman in Black (2012)

Director James Watkins was fresh off his underseen, wickedly frightening Eden Lake. Screenwriter Jane Goldman (working from Susan Hill’s novel) had recently written the films Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, both of which are awesome. And star Daniel Radcliffe had done something or other that people remembered…

I’d have been worried that Radcliffe chose another supernatural adventure as his first big, post-Hogwarts adventure were it not for the filmmaking team putting the flick together. Goldman’s witty intelligence and Watkins’s sense of what scares us coalesce beautifully in this eerie little nightmare.

A remake of a beloved if rarely shown BBC film, the big screen version is a spooky blast of a ghost story. It makes savvy use of old haunted house tropes, updating them quite successfully, and its patient pace and slow reveal leads to more of a wallop than you usually find in such a gothic tale. Glimpses, movements, shadows—all are filmed to keep your eyes darting around the screen, your neck craned for a better look. It’s classic haunted house direction and misdirection laced with more modern scares.

Ten points for Gryffindor!

2. The Others (2001)

Co-writer/director Alejandro Amenabar casts a spell that recalls The Innocents in his 2001 ghost story The Others. It’s 1945 on a small isle off Britain, and the brittle mistress of the house (Nicole Kidman) wakes screaming. She has reason to be weary. Her husband has still not returned from the war, her servants have up and vanished, and her two children, Anna and Nicholas, have a deathly photosensitivity: sunlight or bright light could kill them.

What unspools is a beautifully constructed film using slow reveal techniques to upend traditional ghost story tropes, unveiling the mystery in a unique and moving way.

Kidman’s performance is spot-on, and she’s aided by both the youngsters (Alakina Mann and James Bentley). Bentley’s tenderness and Mann’s willfulness, combined with their pasty luster (no sun, you know), heighten the creepiness.

With the help of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and supporting actress Fionnula Flanagan, Amenabar introduces seemingly sinister elements bit by bit. It all amounts to a satisfying twist on the old ghost story tale that leaves you feeling as much a cowdy custard as little Nicholas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISch6Fi-q0A

1. The Ring (2002)

Gore Verbinski’s film achieves one of those rare feats, ranking among the scarce Hollywood remakes that surpasses the foreign-born original, Japan’s unique paranormal nightmare Ringu. 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 Buñuel, 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.





Fright Club: Single Parent Horror

All the single ladies, all the single ladies – unfortunately, life does not always turn out as well for us as it does for Beyonce. Today we celebrate and fear the horror that can befall the single parent. Your kids may be monsters. Monsters may be after your kids. You may be the monster. Maybe it’s all three at once. Whatever the case, horror filmmakers have found a way to hit some very effective buttons when exploring the horror potential in a single parent home.

5. The Ring (2002)

Let’s be honest, Rachel (Naomi Watts) is not much of a mother. Were it not for her sloppy parenting, her precocious son Aidan (adorable and creepy David Dorfman) might not even be in this mess. But she left her VHS tape laying around, paid no attention to what he was up to, and now Samara is coming for him.

Gore Verbinski one-upped Hideo Nakata’s 1998 Japanese original Ringu with this deeply creepy, well-executed nightmare, much of it centering on questionable parenting. Both Watts and Dorfman are excellent, each creating a character that is somehow rigid and distant, but you long for tenderness between them. Dorfman’s wise-beyond-his-years performance feels both chilly and vulnerable, and the relationship here creates an off-kilter foundation for the horrific mystery unfolding.

Everything about this film is done well – the images on the video tape, the looks on the faces of the victims, that horse bit on the boat, Brian Cox in the bathtub, Samara climbing out of the well! Verbinski strings together one nightmare image after another, but the tension of whether or not Rachel has the wherewithal to save the son she hasn’t paid enough attention to in the first place is what holds these together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PkgRhzq_BQ

4. Goodnight Mommy (2014)

There is something eerily beautiful about Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s rural Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh).

During one languid summer, twin brothers Lukas and Elias await their mother’s return from the hospital. But when their mom comes home, bandaged from the cosmetic surgery she underwent, the brothers fear more has changed than just her face.

Inside this elegantly filmed environment, where sun dappled fields lead to leafy forests, the filmmakers mine a kind of primal childhood fear. There’s a subtle lack of compassion that works the nerves beautifully, because it’s hard to feel too badly for the boys or for their mother. You don’t wish harm on any of them, but at the same time, their flaws make all three a bit terrifying.

Performances by young brothers Lukas and Elias Schwarz compel interest, while Susanne Wuest’s cagey turn as the boys’ mother propels the mystery. It’s a hypnotic, bucolic adventure as visually arresting as it is utterly creepy.

3. Under the Shadow (2016)

The tale is set in Tehran circa 1988, at the height of the Iran/Iraq war and just a few years into the “Cultural Revolution” that enforced fundamentalist ideologies.

Shideh (a fearless Narges Rashidi) has been banned from returning to medical school because of her pre-war political leanings. Her husband, a practicing physician, is serving his yearly medical duty with the troops. This leaves Shideh and their young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) alone in their apartment as missiles rain on Tehran.

When a dud missile plants itself in the roof of the building (shades of del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone), Dora starts talking to a secret friend. Maybe the friend would be a better mommy.

Frazzled, impatient, judged and constrained from all sides, Shideh’s nerve is hit with this threat. And as external and internal anxieties build, she’s no longer sure what she’s seeing, what she’s thinking, or what the hell to do about it.

The fact that this menacing presence – a djinn, or wind spirit – takes the shape of a flapping, floating burka is no random choice. Shideh’s failure in this moment will determine her daughter’s entire future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fhejr94P14

2. Psycho (1960)

Was Norman Bates psychotic from the start? Or was he smothered into madness by his mother?

Hard to say – Mrs. Bates can’t speak for herself, can she? Although Norman’s mother is not a character in Hitchcock’s classic, her presence is everywhere. But to be fair, we don’t get to see her as she was, we only get to see her as Norman sees her.

Whatever the case, Norman has an unhealthy attachment to his late mother, a single parent whose relationship with her son may have driven him to some very bad deeds. Part of Hitchcock’s skill in this film is to play with our expectations of the characters.

The heroine has done some questionable things. The villain is the most sympathetic character onscreen. The most relevant character in the story isn’t even in the film. Was Mrs. Bates really a bad mom, or does she just seem like that to us because we see her through Norman’s eyes, and he’s a psycho?

1. Babadook (2014)

You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. You let him choose a book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.

Filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

Likewise, Wiseman delivers as a tender, confused, dear little boy you sometimes just want to throttle. Their naturalistic performances genuinely showcase the baggage that can exist between a parent and a child.

Much of what catapults The Babadook beyond similar “presence in my house” flicks is the allegorical nature of the story. There’s an almost subversive relevance to the familial tensions because of their naked honesty, and the fight with the shadowy monster as well as the film’s unusual resolution heighten tensions.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.





Fright Club: Evil Children

If horror films reflect the hysteria and fear of the moviegoing public, then we, as a planet, are definitely afraid of our children – or of children in general. There are countless examples of murdering, mutant, bloodthirsty, demonic youngsters. Whether they are born monsters or have been claimed by the Dark One, whether they belong to roving bands of toughs or happen to be your own evil offspring, children seem to play upon our deepest fears. So let’s celebrate that today with a count down of the scariest children ever!

6. Let The Right One In (2008)

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 environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure. Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar, with his blond Prince Valiant haircut, falls innocently for the odd new girl (an outstanding Linda Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. Reluctantly, she returns his admiration, and a sweet and bloody romance buds.

As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Oskar and Ali grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can. The film offers an ominous sense of dread, bleak isolation and brazen androgyny – as well as the best swimming pool scene perhaps ever. Intriguingly, though both children tend toward violence – murder, even – you never feel anything but empathy for them. The film is moving, bloody, lovely and terrifying in equal measure.

5. The Bad Seed (1956)

The minute delicate Christine’s (Nancy Kelly) husband leaves for his 4-week assignment in DC, their way-too-perfect daughter begins to betray some scary behavior. The creepy handyman Leroy (Henry Jones) has her figured out – he knows she’s not as perfect as she pretends.

You may be tempted to abandon the film in its first reel, feeling as if you know where the it’s going. You’ll be right, but there are two big reasons to stick it out. One is that Bad Seed did it first, and did it well, considering the conservative cinematic limitations of the Fifties.

Second, because director Mervyn LeRoy’s approach – not a single vile act appears onscreen – gives the picture an air of restraint and dignity while employing the perversity of individual imaginations to ramp up the creepiness.

Enough can’t be said about Patty McCormack. There’s surprising nuance in her manipulations, and the Oscar-nominated 9-year-old handles the role with both grace and menace.

4. Them (2006)

Brisk, effective and terrifying, Them is among the most impressive horror flicks to rely on the savagery of adolescent boredom as its central conceit.

Writers/directors/Frenchmen David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up.

A French film set in Romania, Them follows Lucas and Clementine, a young couple still moving into the big rattling old house where they’ll stay while they’re working abroad. It will be a shorter trip than they’d originally planned.

What the film offers in 77 minutes is relentless suspense. I’m not sure what else you want.

Creepy noises, hooded figures, sadistic children and the chaos that entails – Them sets up a fresh and mean cat and mouse game that pulls you in immediately and leaves you unsettled.

3. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

But it’s the climactic image of procreation – of motherhood and childbirth – and the way the filmmaker and his leading lady subvert that life-giving moment, turning it into something beastly, that will stick with you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVQkJJxjdIM

2. The Omen (1976)

Gregory Peck brought impenetrable gravitas to this film, making everything seem very serious and worthwhile. This could be no ordinary horror flick – not with Atticus Finch in the lead.

Peck plays Robert Thorn, a rising politician and best friend to the President of the United States. He agrees to a delivery room switcheroo when he’s told his own son perished during childbirth, but another baby born simultaneously was orphaned. He brings home the tot, his loving wife (Lee Remick) none the wiser.

Eventually she does develop a sixth sense about the cherubic little Damien, though.
This mid-Seventies gem is gloriously over-the-top with its self-serious approach to the coming of the antichrist. Richard Donner – who would go on to direct a couple Superman movies, a bunch of Lethal Weapons, as well as the Goonies – made a name for himself as a director with this bloated and deadly serious bible thumper.

The film’s sinister elements – Mrs. Baylock, that dog, and Jerry Goldsmith’s intensely creepy (and Oscar winning) score – combine with Peck’s elegant heroism to keep the film fascinating, but all would have been for naught except for Harvey Stephens’s impish perfection as Damien.

1. The Ring (2002)

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 video tape 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.)





Fright Club: Best Female Villains

Today we celebrate the ladies – the really, super scary ones. We are counting down our favorite female villains from horror. Now, we’re not talking about the great supporting villains – the ones who had villainy help – like Julia (Claire Higgins) from Hellraiser or Mrs. White (Piper Laurie) from Carrie. They are outstanding and terrifying, but they’re not the main antagonist in the film. Nor are we including the terrifying protagonists – not Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) or Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) from Ginger Snaps, or May (Angela Bettis). No, our goal is to find the Freddy Krueger, the Hannibal Lecter—or maybe even better.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

Here are our contenders:

5. Samara (Daveigh Chase) The Ring (2002)

That sweet little face, those plump cheeks, those dark locks, those shadowy circles under her eyes, that disappointed frown, that penetrating stare…young Daveigh Chase commanded attention as the vulnerable/terrifying girl in the well. Her ability to be both the lost child you want to save and the horror that must not be unleashed unnerves. Yes, that bewigged man who crawls out of the TV wearing her waterlogged dress helps with the overall effect, but the wee Chase is haunting.

4. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) Misery (1990)

An Oscar winning turn from the magnificent Kathy Bates brings this character to life in the most terrifyingly realistic way. Her sadistic nurturer Annie Wilkes – rabid romance novel fan, part time nurse, full time wacko – ranks among the most memorable crazy ladies of modern cinema. She nails the bumpkin who oscillates between humble fan, terrifying master, and put-upon martyr. Plus she’s handy with a mallot.

3. Lola (Robin McLeavy) The Loved Ones (2009)

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets. What an absolutely bizarre character and what a brilliantly wrong-headed performance by McLeavy as Daddy’s little prom princess. She’s funny, malicious, utterly insane with some daddy issues we just don’t need to get into here. Just keep her away from the power tools.

2. Asami (Eihi Shiina) Audition (1999)

Eihi Shiina’s elegant beauty is such a perfect match for the brittle psychology of Asami, a delicate sociopath with real betrayal issues. Director Takashi Miike is no stranger to dismemberment and disemboweling (Ichi the Killer, anyone?), but because of Audition‘s serious tone and Shiina’s meticulous approach to the insanity, she leaves you shaken.

1. La Femme (Beatrice Dalle) Inside (2007)

Beatrice Dalle’s predatory performances, colored by sadistic humor and an explosive temper, is astonishing. Relentless, pitiless, and inventive, she stalks the enormously pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) like a tiger – one who really knows how to do damage with a pair of scissors. This woman can take punishment, but what she can dish out is positively inspired. Her unpredictable mastery of bloody havoc wreaking puts her at the top of our list of female villans we seriously, truly hope never to run into ourselves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOk5tiAkEdA





Fright Club: Best Horror 2000 – 2009

We have a new winner! Prior to this time travel cataloging exercise, we embraced the misunderstanding that the 1970s offered the best in horror. Nope. Pruning our list of the horror films released between 2000 and 2009 to just five proved honestly impossible. It was so hard! Too hard, actually, so we cheated: we are going to give a quick nod to the top 5 that didn’t make the list, and then we’re going to make #5 a tie. It had to be done!

So, our apologies, love and respect to the five best films that did not make this list: Eden Lake (2008), Frailty (2001), The Orphanage (2007), Martyrs (2008), and Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004).

No, onto the tie!

TIE! 5. Wolf Creek (2005)

Using only digital cameras to enhance an ultra-naturalistic style, writer/director Greg McLean’s happy backpackers find themselves immobile outside Wolf Creek National Park when their car stops running. As luck would have it, friendly bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) drives up offering a tow back to his camp, where he promises to fix the vehicle.

If this sounds predictable and obvious to you, rest assured that McLean has plans to burst every cliché in the genre, and he succeeds on almost every level.

His first triumph is in the acting. Jarratt’s killer is an amiable sadist who is so real it’s jarring. You find yourself hoping he’s an actor.

A horror film this realistic is not only hard to watch, but a bit hard to justify. What makes an audience interested in observing human suffering so meticulously recreated? This is where, like a true artist, McLean finally succeeds. What is as unsettling as the film itself is that its content is somehow satisfying.

TIE! 5. 28 Days Later (2002)

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table. What follows is the eerie image of an abandoned, desolate London as Jim wanders hither and yon hollering for anybody. In the church, we get our first glimpse of what Jim is now up against, and dude, run!

Prior to 28 Days Later, the zombie genre seemed finally dead and gone. But Danny Boyle single handedly resurrected the genre with two new(ish) ideas: 1) they weren’t dead, 2) therefore, they could move really quickly. Like Romero, though, director Danny Boyle’s real worry is not just the infected, it’s the living.

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is certainly his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

4. The Ring (2002)

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 fledgling director Gore Verbinski. His 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 video tape 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 plump-cheeked cherub to ghastly figure crawling from your TV…yikes.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. But 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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PkgRhzq_BQ

3. The Loved Ones (2009)

Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés, maneuvering between gritty drama and neon colored carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.

Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.

The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, deeply disturbed piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olB5Wrg8Sxc

2. The Descent (2005)

A caving expedition turns ugly for a group of girlfriends who will quickly realize that being trapped inside the earth is not the worst thing that could happen.

Writer/director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) must be commended for sidestepping the obvious trap of exploiting the characters for their sexuality – I’m not saying he avoids this entirely, but for a horror director he is fantastically restrained. He also manages to use the characters’ vulnerability without patronizing or stereotyping.

He makes even better use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience. Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers, but Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier. For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.

1. Let the Right One In (2008)

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.

This is a coming of age film full of life lessons and adult choices, told with a tremendous atmosphere of melancholy, tainted innocence, and isolation. Plus the best swimming pool carnage scene ever.

The unsettling scene is so uniquely handled, not just for horrifying effect (which it certainly achieves), but to reinforce the two main characters, their bond, and their roles. It’s beautiful, like the strangely lovely film itself.

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.





Fright Club: Best Horror Reboots

This week the new Ghostbusters cast was announced and for the first time, we were excited about this reboot. The reimagining of a classic is hard to do well, which is obvious when you count the unforgivably botched horror reboots there are: Shutter, The Eye, The Hills Have Eyes, Prom Night, Rob Zombie’s Halloween – don’t even make us say Oldboy. It’s a long, depressing list. But that only makes those rare gems – the well-made reboots – shine the brighter.

Here is a list of horror reboots we love – maybe even as much as we loved the original!

Funny Games (1997, 2007)

Michael Haneke is a genius, an amazing creator of tension. Everything he’s done deserves repeated viewing. With Funny Games, he makes it easy because he made it twice.

A family pulls into their vacation lake home to be quickly bothered by two young men in white gloves. Things deteriorate.

Haneke begins this nerve wracking exercise by treading tensions created through etiquette, toying with subtle social mores and yet building dread so deftly, so authentically, that you begin to clench your teeth long before the first act of true violence.

As teen thugs put the family through a series of horrifying games, they (and Haneke) remind us that we are participating in this ugliness, too. We’ve tuned in to see the family tormented. Sure, we root for them, but we came into this with the specific intention of seeing harm come to them. So, the villains rather insist that we play, too. In one particularly famous scene, Haneke decides to play games with us as well.

His English language remake is a shot for shot repeat of the German language original. In both films, the performances are meticulous. This is true of the entire cast, but it’s the villains who sell this. Whether the German actors Arno Frisch and Frank Giering or the Americans Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt, the bored sadism that wafts from these kids is seriously unsettling, as, in turn, is each film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48s781bxWF8

Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004)

Zack Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley). Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

The Ring (1998)/Ringu (2002)

Gore Verbinski’s film 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 video tape that kills viewers exactly seven days after viewing.

The tape itself is the key. Had it held images less bizarre 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.)

Hideo Nakata’s original was saddled with an unlikeable ex-husband and a screechy supernatural/psychic storyline that didn’t travel well. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger did a nice job of re-focusing the mystery.

Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) But 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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PkgRhzq_BQ

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

In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flick 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 Linda 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, and fans of the original that feared the worst (ourselves included) can rest easy. 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.

Twelve year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy who’s being bullied at school. When young Abby (Chloe Moretz) and her “dad” (Richard Jenkins) move in next door, Owen thinks he’s found a friend. As sudden acts of violence mar the snowy landscape, Owen and Abby grow closer, providing each other a comfort no one else can.

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.

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYcBSQokyBU

The Crazies (1973/2010)

Just five years after Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero found himself interested in taking his zombiism concepts in a different direction. Building a cumulative sense of entrapment and dread, the both versions of this film rely on a storyline whisper-close to a zombie tale, but deviate in a powerful way. The slight alteration plumbs for a different kind of terror.

The military has accidentally tainted a small town’s drinking supply with a chemical. Those who drink the water go hopelessly mad. Both films begin by articulating humankind’s repulsion and fear of infection and loss of control before introducing the greater threat – our own government.

Romero was more interested in social commentary than in horror, therefore his film is not as scary as it could be. Military incompetence, the needless horror of Vietnam, and the evil that men can do when ordered to do so are all central conceits in his film.

Breck Eisner’s remake offers solid scares, inventive plotting, and far better performances than expected in a genre film. Eisner’s languid pace builds dread and flirts with an effectively disturbing sense of compassion. His sense of timing provides a fine balance between fear of the unknown and horror of the inevitable. He also has a far more talented cast, and he mines individual madness for more terror – although he pulls one punch Romero was happy to land.

Listen to our Frihgt Club PODCAST at Golden Spiral Media!





A Scary Movie a Day for Oct., Day 19: The Ring

 

The Ring (2002)

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!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuH5FaUpFm4