Tag Archives: What We Do in the Shadows

Fright Club: Best Horror Films of 2015

The year is over and the time has come to assess the damage. What were the best the genre had to offer in 2015? New Zealand came up big, while new filmmakers, creepy twins, and potentially contagious horrors kept us awake this year.

Not that this was an easy list to compile. We enlisted the assistance of Senior Filmmaker Correspondent Jason Tostevin for some wisdom, which led to some polite disagreement, but we thank him all the same! Listen to the whole argument, errr, podcast HERE.

5. What We Do in the Shadows

In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates.

Viago (co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi) – derided by the local werewolf pack as Count Fagula – acts as our guide. He’s joined by Vladislav (co-writer/co-director Jemaine Clement), who describes his look as “dead but delicious.” There’s also Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – the newbie at only 187 years old – and Petyr. Styled meticulously and delightfully on the old Nosferatu Count Orlock, Petyr is 8000 years old and does whatever he wants.

Besides regular flatmate spats about who is and is not doing their share of dishes and laying down towels before ruining an antique fainting couch with blood stains, we witness some of the modern tribulations of the vampire. It’s hard to get into the good clubs (they have to be invited in) or find a virgin. Forget about tolerating the local pack of werewolves (led by the utterly hilarious alpha Rhys Darby).

The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest. It was also the first great comedy of 2015.

5. Deathgasm

That’s right – it’s a good, old fashioned Kiwi Tie for 5th place.

New Zealand teenage outcast Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) knows he and his friends are losers, so of course they start a band to get loud and be cool! But when their rocking involves playing an ancient piece of music known as the Black Hymn, they unwittingly summon an evil entity and the body count starts rising.

In his feature debut, writer/director Jason Lei Howden, a veteran of Peter Jackson’s special effects team, borrows heavily from Shaun of the Dead-style pacing and camerawork while managing to poke some blood-spattered fun at the “devil music” stereotypes often thrown at heavy metal.

You’ll find plenty of laughs, some rom-com elements, and winning performances from both Cawthorne and Kimberley Crossman as Medina, the school beauty who can also swing a pretty mean ax.

Clever and surprisingly self-aware, Deathgasm is fine excuse to feed your inner metalhead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m6BIvN3ggM

4. Bone Tomahawk

In a year rife with exceptional Westerns, this film sets itself apart. S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut embraces the mythos of the Wild West, populating a familiar frontier town with weathered characters, but casting those archetypes perfectly. Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins, in particular, easily inhabit the upright sheriff and eccentric side kick roles, while Patrick Wilson’s committed turn as battered heroic lead offers an emotional center.

Zahler effortlessly blends the horror and Western genres, remaining true to both and crafting a film that’s a stellar entry into either category. Bone Tomahawk looks gorgeous and boasts exceptional writing, but more than anything, it offers characters worthy of exploration. There are no one-note victims waiting to be picked off, but instead an assortment of fascinating people and complex relationships all wandering into mystical, bloody danger.

Because the true horror is a long time coming and you’re genuinely invested in the participants in this quest, the payoff is deeply felt. This is a truly satisfying effort, and one that marks a new filmmaker to keep an eye on.

3. Goodnight Mommy

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. They spend their time bouncing on a trampoline, floating in a pond, or exploring the fields and woods around the house. 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. Their graceful storytelling leads you down one path before utterly upending everything you think you know. They never spoon feed you information, depending instead on your astute observation – a refreshing approach in this genre.

The film is going to go where you don’t expect it to go, even if you expect you’ve uncovered its secrets.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hisSd7qyY40

2. The Nightmare

An effective scary movie is one that haunts your dreams long after the credits roll. It’s that kind of impact most horror buffs are seeking, but even the most ardent genre fan will hope out loud that Rodney Ascher’s new documentary The Nightmare doesn’t follow them to sleep.

His film explores sleep paralysis. It’s a sleep disorder – or a label hung on the world’s most unfortunate night terrors – that’s haunted humanity for eons. And dig this – it sounds like it might be contagious.

Ascher’s a fascinating, idiosyncratic filmmaker. His documentaries approach some dark, often morbid topics with a sense of wonder. His films never push an agenda, and he doesn’t seem to have made up his mind on his subject matter. Instead, his is open-mided approach which, in turn, iinvites the audience to follow suit.

It’s not all earnest sleuthing, though, because Ascher is a real showman. What’s intriguing is the way he draws your attention to his craftsmanship – like framing a shot so you see the speaker not head on, but in a large mirror’s reflection, then leaving the reflection of the cameraman’s arm in the same shot. Touches like this never feel amateurish, but they don’t really feel like a cinematic wink, either. Instead it becomes a way to release the tension, and remind you that you are, indeed, watching a movie… a heartbreaking, terrifying movie.

We spend a great deal of time watching horror movies, and we cannot remember an instance that we considered turning off a film for fear that we would dream about it later. Until now.

1. It Follows

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in more than a decade.
Yes, It Follows is the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

Fright Club: Best New Zealand Horror

Sure, New Zealand is known for that delicious fuzzy little fruit, the kiwi, but there’s some fun horror to explore there as well, not all of it courtesy of Peter Jackson. Pre-LOTR, he established a legacy of particularly messy horror comedies that his countrymen have kept alive and well since his move to more mainstream efforts. From killer sheep to evil-awakening rock tunes and more, let’s dive into the top 5 horror exports from NZ!

5. Black Sheep (2006)

Graphic and gory horror comedy seems to be the Kiwi trademark, no doubt a product of the popularity of native Lord of the Gastro-Intestinal-Splatter-Fest-Laugh-Riot, Peter Jackson.

First time writer/director Jonathan King uses the isolation of a New Zealand sheep farm and the greedy evil of pharmaceutical research to create horror. He does it with a lot of humor and buckets full of blood. It works pretty well.

Evil brother Angus (Peter Feeney) has bred some genetically superior sheep while smart but sheep-phobic brother Harry (Nathan Meister) has been away. But the new sheep bite (a recurring problem with bio-genetically altered farm animals). Victims turn into, well, were-sheep. Of course they do.

The result is an endearing, often genuinely funny film. Cleverly written with performances strong enough to elevate it further, Black Sheep offers an enjoyable way to watch a would-be lamb chop get its revenge.

4. Deathgasm (2015)

Blood! Guts! Heavy metal!

New Zealand teenage outcast Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) knows he and his friends are losers, so of course they start a band to get loud and be cool!

But when their rocking involves playing an ancient piece of music known as the Black Hymn, they unwittingly summon an evil entity and the body count starts rising.

In his feature debut, writer/director Jason Lei Howden, a veteran of Peter Jackson’s special effects team, borrows heavily from Shaun of the Dead-style pacing and camerawork while managing to poke some blood-spattered fun at the “devil music” stereotypes often thrown at heavy metal.

You’ll find plenty of laughs, some rom-com elements and winning performances from both Cawthorne and Kimberley Crossman as Medina, the school beauty who can also swing a pretty mean ax.

Clever and surprisingly self-aware, Deathgasm is fine excuse to feed your inner metalhead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m6BIvN3ggM

3. Dead Alive (Braindead) (1992)

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

Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) secretly loves shopkeeper Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Penalver), but his overbearing sadist of a mother, does not take well to her son’s new outside-the-home interests. Mum follows the lovebirds to a date at the zoo, where she’s bitten (pretty hilariously) by a Sumatran rat-monkey (do not mistake this dangerous creature for a rabid Muppet or misshapen lump of clay).

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHWAoKzHut8

2. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates.

Besides regular flatmate spats about who is and is not doing their share of dishes and laying down towels before ruining an antique fainting couch with blood stains, we witness some of the modern tribulations of the vampire. It’s hard to get into the good clubs (they have to be invited in) or find a virgin. Forget about tolerating the local pack of werewolves (led by the utterly hilarious alpha Rhys Darby).

Jemaine Clement is reliably hysterical as Vladislav, and the film benefits from the same silly, clever humor seen in his series Flight of the Conchords. The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest. It’s also the first great comedy of 2015.

1. Housebound (2014)

You need to see Housebound.

Funny and scary, smartly written and confidently directed as to take full advantage of both, this is a film that makes few missteps and thoroughly entertains from beginning to end.

Gerard Johnstone writes and directs, though his brightest accomplishment may be casting because Morgana O’Reilly’s unflinching performance holds every moment of nuttiness together with brilliance.

O’Reilly plays Kylie, a bit of a bad seed who’s been remanded to her mother’s custody for 8 months of house arrest after a recent spate of bad luck involving an ATM and a boyfriend who’s not too accurate with a sledge hammer.

Unfortunately, the old homestead, it seems, is haunted. Almost against her will, she, her hilariously chatty mum (Rima Te Wiata) and her deeply endearing probation officer (Glen-Paul Waru) try to puzzle out the murder mystery at the heart of the haunting. Lunacy follows.

Good horror comedies are hard to come by, but Johnstone manages the tonal shifts magnificently. You’re nervous, you’re scared, you’re laughing, you’re hiding your face, you’re screaming – sometimes all at once. And everything leads up to a third act that couldn’t deliver any better.

The film is so much fun it all but begs to be seen with a group.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT1KcYiPb4I

Listen to the whole conversation on our FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST!

Fright Club: Doc-Style Horror

The year’s first great comedy and first decent horror film – What We Do in the Shadows – releases wide this weekend. Hooray! We loved it so, and wanted to celebrate it as well as all our other favorite documentary-style horror films. There are so many greats to choose from – the Norwegian lunacy of TrollHunter? The meta-slasher Behind the Mask? Well, it took some doing, but we landed on our favorite documentary-styled horror films. Enjoy!

What We Do in the Shadows (2015)

In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates. Besides regular flatmate spats about who is and is not doing their share of dishes and laying down towels before ruining an antique fainting couch with blood stains, we witness some of the modern tribulations of the vampire. The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest. It’s also the first great comedy of 2015.

Vampires (2010)

About 5 years ago, Belgiain filmmaker Vincent Lanoo made his own (blandly titled) mock-doc about vampires. Far darker and more morbid than Shadows (the first two film crews were eaten before they could complete the documentary; the final film is dedicated to the memory of the third crew), Lanoo’s film is still insightful and very funny.

The crew moves in with a vampire family with two undisciplined teens. The house also contains the couple who live in their basement (vampires can’t own a home until they have – make – children), and Meat (the name they’ve given the woman they keep in their kitchen). There’s also a coop out back for the illegal immigrants the cops drop off on Mondays. Wickedly hilarious.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqS_6nlctG8

American Zombie (2007)

American Zombie begins as an insightful satire on the modern documentary, pitting objective artist against gonzo filmmaker. Director Grace Lee, playing herself, agrees to co-direct a documentary on the Los Angeles area’s growing undead population with her zealous, craftless friend John (John Solomon). They interview experts – doctors, historians, social workers – and choose a handful of zombies as subjects. Lee approaches the film as the documentation of a misunderstood community; her co-director John is looking for something a little more lurid.

American Zombie is observant and often very funny. (An evangelist hoping to serve this untapped market remarks to the camera, “Jesus loves zombies. Jesus was the original zombie.” Nice!) As the movie progresses you find yourself lulled by Lee’s low-key, funny take on the living dead. And then, slowly but surely, she turns her film into a surprisingly creepy little horror flick.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Not every faux-documentary in horror is a comedy. BW is, of course, the now famous instigator of the found footage movement. (Yes, we’ve seen Cannibal Holocaust.) 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 basically 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 the nightmares some of us have had since childhood.

The Last Exorcism (2010)

Out to expose the fraudulent exorcisms perpetrated by evangelical ministers like himself all over the South, Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) teams up with a documentarian and her cameraman. Together they set out to capture his final exorcism – chosen at random from his PO Box – before he hangs up his bible. Things don’t go as planned.

Fabian exploits every possibility he finds in the character of a disenchanted preacher. He’s absolutely terrific, and is aided by an effectively shaken and/or creepy supporting cast working with a script that explores any number of unseemly Southern Gothic possibilities before deciding what kind of devil is plaguing poor Nell (Ashley Bell). Thanks largely to the commitment of the cast and the effortlessly eerie backdrop of backwoods Louisiana, The Last Exorcism entertains throughout.

Dead and Loving It

What We Do in the Shadows

by Hope Madden

Which sounds more stale, a fake documentary or a vampire movie? Maybe it’s a tie, but don’t let that dissuade you. What We Do in the Shadows – a fake documentary about vampires – is a droll gem of a film, and it feels like a gift during this dreary cinematic season.

That’s right! Believe it or not, filmmakers are still doing something interesting with vampires. It’s as if the collective artistic mind decided to retrieve the once-worthy villain from the shame of Twilight. The great Jim Jarmusch made them cool again last year with Only Lovers Left Alive. That same year, newcomer Ana Lily Amirpour made them mysterious again with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And now What We Do in the Shadows makes them ridiculous – but in a good way.

In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates.

Viago (co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi) – derided by the local werewolf pack as Count Fagula – acts as our guide. He’s joined by Vladislav (co-writer/co-director Jemaine Clement), who describes his look as “dead but delicious.” There’s also Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – the newbie at only 187 years old – and Petyr. Styled meticulously and delightfully on the old Nosferatu Count Orlock, Petyr is 8000 years old and does whatever he wants.

Besides regular flatmate spats about who is and is not doing their share of dishes and laying down towels before ruining an antique fainting couch with blood stains, we witness some of the modern tribulations of the vampire. It’s hard to get into the good clubs (they have to be invited in) or find a virgin. Forget about tolerating the local pack of werewolves (led by the utterly hilarious alpha Rhys Darby).

The reliably hysterical Clement is best known for his outstanding comic work in the series Flight of the Conchords, and the film benefits from the same silly, clever humor. Together he and Waititi spawned the underappreciated 2007 comedy Eagle vs Shark. Their work here is more charming and good natured, so likely more crowd pleasing.

The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest. It’s also the first great comedy of 2015.

Verdict-4-0-Stars