Author Archives: screamfmlondon

20 amazing things you must eat in South Korea

Sizzling barbecue, fresh seafood, refreshing desserts, and cuisine from around the world: Seoul has it all. There are so many delicious things to taste in South Korea’s capital city, it’s a good idea to make a list. From the most obvious choices (Korean barbecue!!) to some more obscure dining options, here are 20 things you absolutely must try:

1. Everything at a buffet

Loaded up with beef ribs, kimbap, spicy broccoli, salad, kimchi, japchae, pajeon, bulgogi and more. SCREAMfmLondon

A buffet is a good place to start! These restaurants are easy to find in Seoul and will allow you to pile your plate high with anything that appeals to you.

2. Pork belly at Korean barbecue

Korean barbecue on the grill. SCREAMfmLondon

Thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat are called 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal) in Korean, and this is the best meal you will eat. Each restaurant has a different style of seasoning and side dishes, so it’s not even boring to order this all day every day.

3. Street food

A Korean take on Japanese takoyaki in Myeongdong. SCREAMfmLondon

Seoul street food is incredible and inexpensive. In tourist-friendly areas like Myeongdong and Hongdae, the options are endless. You can find more traditional street foods (like fried chicken and egg bread), sweet desserts (like towering ice cream cones), foreign favorites (like water cakes and takoyaki) and everything in between. You can even buy street cocktails!

4. Kimchi and tuna on rice

Tuna flavored with kimchi and dried seaweed served with rice. SCREAMfmLondon

This is a quick, cheap meal you’ll find in a lot of small Korean restaurants. It’s called 김치 참치 덥밥 (kimchi tuna deopbap). It’s flavorful kimchi and meaty tuna and mixed with plain rice. Filling and delicious.

5. Green tea fondue

Green tea fondue with a side of green tea and strawberry drinks. SCREAMfmLondon

Osulloc makes and distributes the most famous green tea in Korea. In addition to an Osulloc Museum on Jeju Island, the brand has many tea houses and cafés throughout Korea. I definitely recommend the green tea fondue, which comes with strawberries, cookies and rice cakes for dipping, as well as a little candle to keep it warm.

6. Basil-infused ramen

Basil pesto-infused ramen at Ittengo. SCREAMfmLondon

This is a follow-up to my post about the best Japanese ramen in Seoul. At Ittengo in Hapjeong, the basil pesto-infused ramen is worth waiting in the line that wraps around the block. Dubbed Midori Kame (green turtle), this signature ramen is super rich and possesses a distinctive flavor.

7. Korean-style lunchbox

Korean school lunch featuring quail eggs, pickled cucumber kimchi and spicy soup. SCREAMfmLondon

In Korea, lunchboxes are referred to as dosirak (도시락). There are many different styles and infinite options for fillings, but they all usually consist of some rice, kimchi and several side dishes. You can find these at schools, in convenience stores and at restaurants around Korea.

8. Fish-shaped pastry

Bungeobang filled with raspberry and cream cheese. SCREAMfmLondon

One famous Korean street food item is bungeobang (붕어빵), a fish-shaped pastry. Traditionally, these are filled with red bean paste, but they can be found with any number of sweet or savory fillings.

9. Moksal at Korean barbecue

Different meats sizzling on the grill. SCREAMfmLondon

No, we’re not finished with Korean barbecue. Next on your list to try is moksal (목살), which is marbled pork chop or neck meat. Less fatty than samgyeopsal, this meat has a completely different and more hearty flavor.

10. Rolled ice cream

Rolled ice cream in Hongdae. SCREAMfmLondon

Ice cream comes in many styles on the streets of Seoul. Rolled ice cream is one trend that originated overseas and became popular among Korean street food vendors. Ice cream is combined with different ingredients like cookies and candies before being rolled up and served to customers.

11. Singaporean laksa

Laksa served at the Yummy Kampong Singaporean restaurant in Yeonnam-dong. SCREAMfmLondon

Laksa is a spicy noodle soup popular in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Similar to curry, the broth is made with thick, spicy coconut milk and filled with noodles, seafood and vegetables. This interesting dish can be found in Seoul’s multicultural neighborhoods.

12. Curry

Yellow curry with rice served in Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

In Seoul, one of the most popular commonly-eaten foreign foods is curry. From Indian to Japanese-style curry, this dish can be ordered many different ways in many different restaurants.

13. Waffle

Waffle on a stick filled with cream cheese and chocolate syrup. SCREAMfmLondon

Waffles are another Korean street food not to be missed. Nothing beats a piping hot, freshly-made waffle drizzled with your choice of delectable toppings: whipped cream, cream cheese, chocolate sauce, apples and cinnamon, etc.

14. Buffet at a Korean wedding

The amazing selection of foods at a wedding buffet in South Korea. SCREAMfmLondon

Not to be confused with a regular buffet, a Korean wedding buffet is an event all to itself. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Korean wedding, you’ll find that the ceremony is kept short and sweet before the guests are directed to an impressive buffet complete with all the Korean foods, Western foods, desserts and drinks you can imagine.

15. Fried rice

Bokkeumbap at a Korean barbecue restaurant. SCREAMfmLondon

Some Korean barbecue restaurants offer you the option of making bokkeumbap (볶음밥) or fried rice toward the end of your meal. Rice mixed with kimchi and other vegetables is added to the leftover meat on your grill, topped with dried seaweed and cooked until it’s a lovely shade of golden brown.

16. Tiramisu

Tiramisu in Hapjeong. SCREAMfmLondon

I don’t know why, but tiramisu recently became incredibly popular in Seoul. Trendy tiramisu shops popped up everywhere overnight, and now you can buy these delicious desserts in a wide variety of flavors on almost any street.

17. Udon

Udon noodle soup at a Korean restaurant. SCREAMfmLondon

Steamy soups are always a good choice on cold Korean nights, and I’ve recently grown pretty fond of Japanese udon noddle soup. The thick, chewy noodles give it a more filling feel, and the distinctive flavor of the broth is addicting.

18. Fried chicken

Fried chicken with a coating of sweet oats. SCREAMfmLondon

Korean fried chicken is definitely unique and tastes amazing. It’s lighter and crispier than Western-style fried chicken, and Korean restaurants are known to serve up some interesting flavors.

19. Bingsu at the sheep café

Adorable sheep bingsu! SCREAMfmLondon

You can kill two birds with one stone here: visit one of Seoul’s most famous themed cafés and taste some of the most delicious bingsu in town. Outside of the Thanks Nature Café is a pen with real sheep you can meet. Inside, the restaurant serves super adorable and very tasty sheep-shaped banana ice cream treats. You can’t go wrong!

20. Brunch

Brunch at One Bite Café in Hongdae. SCREAMfmLondon

Seoul is a very late-night city, so there’s not much going on in the early hours of the morning (unless you’re just heading from the club to grab some hangover soup, which is acceptable). Therefore, brunch is the perfect way to get a good start at midday. With all the cute, trendy cafés to choose from, there should be no trouble finding a great spot for brunch.

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I recorded a k-pop song at King Studio in Gangnam

The next big thing in k-pop: me. SCREAMfmLondon

“I’m not good at singing,” I whispered into the microphone.

“I know,” came the engineer’s frank reply through my headphones. My self-deprecating cackle resounded through the recording booth.

Last weekend, I visited the King Studio in Gangnam — a professional recording studio where Korean stars like VIXX, Seo In-guk and Apink’s Jung Eun-ji have recorded music — for my own solo recording session.

Now, I’m pretty far from being a k-pop star myself. One main obstacle I tend to encounter is that I have no talent. But don’t worry! For a price, anything is possible.

At King Studio, customers can choose any song they’d like to record, and the staff will prepare your debut single for as low as 78,000 KRW. And the staff is phenomenal. The engineer is exactly the kind of tough-love vocal coach I dream about having in my fantasies starring me as a JYP trainee. They put forth incredible effort to make nervous customers feel at ease and offer all the guidance you need to nail your track.

For some totally absurd reason, I chose to sing “Spring Day” by BTS, which would have been difficult even if I had singing talent.

I know!

But you have to let King Studio know your song choice ahead of time so they can prepare for your recording session. I spent the day and a half I had before my scheduled time practicing the two rapped verses at 50 percent speed and slowly working my way up until I was able to kind of proudly and kind of confidently rap along with the original song. I didn’t practice the singing bits at all.

I know!

Great place to give yourself a pep talk before recording at King Studio in Gangnam. SCREAMfmLondon

When I finally arrived at King Studio, I was given a short tour of the cozy basement space. They took some photos and videos of me fixing my hair in the vanity mirror and admiring the framed album art that hung on the walls.

Before recording, they gave me a chance to listen to the music they’d prepared for me and to peruse the lyrics. I was shaking when I entered the booth, pulled on my headphones and began to rap.

Unfortunately, despite all my preparedness, I struggled a lot with the first verse. I had a hard time keeping up with the song’s rhythm, and as a non-native speaker, I stumbled over quite a few of the Korean words. And this was the rap! The slower rap of the two! It bummed me out that I wasn’t totally killing it as I’d envisioned.

And then it was time to sing. Until that very moment, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d actually have to try to hit the actual notes in the song. I’d always just sung it jokingly in a weird kind of monotonous baritone.

But — bless their hearts — the lovely King Studio staff was totally patient with me and didn’t even recoil in horror that much. They kindly coached me and praised me when I tried harder. It wasn’t long until we’d grown comfortable with each other and understood the best methods for working together.

My wonderful sound engineer hard at work at King Studio. SCREAMfmLondon

By the time I reached the second rap, I was feeling way more confident. And I didn’t really kill it (like, AOMG isn’t going to be knocking on my door any time soon), but I definitely maimed it, at least.

“Wow!” the engineer exclaimed after I finished spitting my sick verse.

“Yeah, I practiced a lot.”

“I can tell.”

“Only this part.”

“I can tell.”

After that, I felt much more at ease in the studio. We worked in the booth for about an hour and a half, until it was starting to get really hot in there and not just because of my fire Korean rapping skills. They kept playing the track back to me to see if I was happy with it, and I kept trying not to cringe and/or laugh hysterically at my terrible pronunciation and tuneless voice.

But it was so much fun! I had the best time, and I didn’t want to leave. Forget a single — I want to record a whole EP!

This is where the magic happens at King Studio. SCREAMfmLondon

After my recording session was finished, they did a quick interview with me and took a few more photos for their Facebook page (where, by the way, you can listen to the first line of my song, which is the most of that song I’ll ever play for anyone ever).

King Studio was such a blast, and now that I’ve tried it, I’d really love to go back. I’d love to go back and choose a different song. A much easier song. But, hey, no regrets! You’re only an idol trainee once.

For more information on King Studio, visit www.kingstudio.asia, or check out www.onemoretrip.net for booking information.

Art Nouveau illuminated with Klimt Inside at S-Factory

Multicolored LED lights make up a maze-like room at the Klimt Inside exhibition at S-Factory in Seongsu-dong, Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

Seongsu-dong is an artsy district in Seoul — home to a number of interesting cafés, shops and pop-up art installations. One such space is S-Factory, a newly-established gallery space in the middle of a cold, industrial Seongsu side street. The gallery has now hosted its share of buzz-worthy art shows, including Klimt Inside, a multimedia homage to Viennese painter Gustav Klimt that ran through April 19.

The “Later Colors” section of Klimt Inside shows off the artist’s more chromatic works. SCREAMfmLondon

More like a light show than a traditional art exhibition, Klimt Inside pairs the artist’s works with LED screens, neon bulbs and bits of musical accompaniment.

A neon message incorporated into the Klimt Inside exhibit. SCREAMfmLondon

The first S-Factory room is completely dark except for the images projected onto the carpet showing the different philosophers and artists who influenced Klimt’s early work.

Projections on the floor at Klimt Inside. SCREAMfmLondon

The most popular room at the Klimt Inside exhibit was also its most disappointing. A long line forms out front as visitors wait patiently for the chance to enter a multicolored cube made of windows and neon lights. From the outside, it looks spacious and surrealistic. The wait to take a look inside took so long that I expected some sort of maze to explore, but inside it was only hot and crowded with people doing impromptu 15-minute-long Instagram photoshoots. I don’t even know what this had to do with Klimt, but I had to squeeze myself out after a few minutes.

The famous LED light room at Klimt Inside. SCREAMfmLondon

My favorite room of the exhibition shows Klimt’s body-drawing sketches projected in black and white on large, blank canvases. The projections change at regular intervals, displaying various nudes and portraits.

Klimt’s portraits projected onto canvases. SCREAMfmLondon

The final room before you exit into the gift shop is Klimt’s most famous piece, “The Kiss.” The painting is displayed at the end of a long, narrow tunnel lit with two yellow neon lights. An electric current running through the lights in never-ending circles represents the eternal quality of love.

Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.” SCREAMfmLondon

Capsule film reviews: Four LGBT movies from the USA

‘Moonlight’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of A24.

“Moonlight” is a groundbreaking film — the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBT film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Can’t deny that. But, while “Moonlight” is a well-composed film with great acting, I can’t help feeling disappointed after months of buildup. As a film, it’s good, and I’m happy that it’s been so well-received by mainstream audiences because we do need more diverse representation in cinema. But as a gay film, it’s really nothing special. The plotline is predictable, and this story… it’s been done. Maybe not this artfully, but it’s definitely been done. It’s broken into three distinct chapters, which represent three stages of one man’s coming-of-age. “Little” shows Chiron’s (Alex Hibbert) childhood years, where he seeks refuge from school bullies and his drug addict mother (Naomie Harris) with a mentor (Mahershala Ali) who tells him that it’s okay if he’s gay. Next up is “Chiron,” which depicts Chiron’s (Ashton Sanders) teen years and the problems that amplify therein. Finally comes “Black,” which shows Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) as a miraculously-ripped grown man who is still haunted by his first (probably only?) love. The movie I would have liked to see would focus on Chiron as an adult and really develop that character — a tough, intimidating drug dealer in Atlanta who has had just one sexual experience (with his high school crush, Kevin, years ago). Flashbacks to his childhood and adolescence could help flesh out his background, but a central narrative to come back to would have given the movie a lot more direction.

‘King Cobra’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2016
Director: Justin Kelly
Starring: Garrett Clayton, James Franco and Christian Slater
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of IFC Midnight.

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I inexplicably was for this movie. Gay porn, murder, and an all-star cast including the cute male lead from Disney’s “Teen Beach Movie.” That’s all I need in entertainment, really. “King Cobra” is based on the true story of Brent Corrigan (aka. Sean Paul Lockhart), played in the film by the dreamy Garret Clayton. Corrigan is infamous for his successful career in gay porn that began when he was well underage. (Spot the Brent Corrigan reference in my review of “Schoolboy Crush” here!) “King Cobra” chronicles Corrigan’s ascent to pornstardom and his struggles to escape from the grasp of the Cobra Video studio and its lecherous owner Bryan Kocis (called “Stephen” in the film and portrayed unnervingly by Christian Slater). When Stephen refuses to let Corrigan out of his contract, rivals from another porn studio (Keegan Allen of “Pretty Little Liars” fame and James Franco) plot to do whatever it takes to get Stephen out of the way so Corrigan can perform with them. I would say this movie is about 85 percent gay porn, 10 percent murder and 5 percent plot development, which is the perfect equation for any movie. It’s campy and creepy, and if you’re into that, you should definitely watch “King Cobra.”

‘Tangerine’
Release Date: July 10, 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Mya Taylor, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Karren Karagulian
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Rating: R for strong and disturbing sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, and drug use.
Grade: A+

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“Tangerine” is phenomenal, and it’s just the kind of offbeat buddy/revenge comedy we totally needed in our lives. The film received major buzz following its premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival because the entire thing was (amazingly) filmed using only iPhones — particularly impressive considering how cool the cinematography is and how well it captures this Hollywood neighborhood. But even more remarkable is the engaging storyline. “Tangerine” follows two trans women who work the streets near the iconic Santa Monica and Highland Donut Time shop: Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), fresh out of prison and on the hunt for her cheating boyfriend Chester (James Ransone), and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who just needs to make it to her big singing gig at Hamburger Mary’s that night. The day’s adventure is thoroughly entertaining, and the glimpse into the lives, friendships and relationships of the characters is really wonderful. I even equally enjoyed the subplot that follows Razmik (Karren Karagulian), a married Armenian cab driver and frequent customer of Alexandra’s. Other background characters are portrayed by real-life Instagram stars and Viners found online by director Sean Baker (a lot of the film’s kinetic soundtrack was sourced from Vine and SoundCloud as well). In the end, “Tangerine” is a compelling film that proves big-budget frills aren’t necessary when you have charismatic characters and a unique story to tell.

‘Blackbird’
Release Date: April 24, 2015
Director: Patrik-Ian Polk
Starring: Julian Walker, Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug use – all involving teens.
Grade: D+

Photo courtesy of KBiz Entertainment and Tall Skinny Black Boy Productions.

This movie is… really not what I was expecting. With stars like Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington topping the bill and a strong story to work with about a gay black teenager growing up in Baptist Mississippi, I expected “Blackbird” to be a solid and impressive melodrama. Much to my surprise, it’s actually quite goofy. Campy, even. Which is — at times — enjoyable (I liked the high school drama club preparing to present a gay version of “Romeo & Juliet”), but — at times — very stupid. Julian Walker is not at all convincing or compelling in the lead role of Randy, and Kevin Allesee as Randy’s older love interest Marshall gives me the creeps every time he appears onscreen. The strange subplot about Randy’s missing younger sister is unnecessary and seems added on as an ill-conceived afterthought. But worst of all, the entire film is spoiled in the final moments when Randy dreams up a “vision” that tells him the exact details of the entire rest of his life. Whose idea was it to end the movie like that? Because it’s absolutely terrible. I don’t know what happened, but I feel like “Blackbird” was a really wasted opportunity.

The best Japanese ramen in Seoul at Ittengo

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The Tonkotsu Ramen at Ittengo, a Japanese ramen restaurant in Hapjeong, Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

For months, my friends and I have been obsessing over Ittengo, a small Japanese ramen shop located in a hip dining neighborhood near Hapjeong station. Day after day, rain or shine, the line of customers waiting to dine at Ittengo never seemed to get shorter. We pressed our faces up against the restaurant’s small windows like stray cats trying to see what made this food so special.

After watching dozens of people brave Seoul’s humid summer nights and, later, the freezing winter ones just to eat some of this ramen… We knew we had to try it. And, finally, we did.

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The minimalist facade of Ittengo in Hapjeong. SCREAMfmLondon

There was, of course, a long wait when we eventually made it to Ittengo. And, of course, it was extremely cold out. But, at this restaurant, you write your name and your full order on the list out front, so you can kill some of that wait time deciding what to eat.

Ittengo is known for its special basil-based broth that comes out a kind of algae green color, but this was unfortunately all sold out when we dined there. There are three types of ramen served at Ittengo, all given animal names in Japanese depending on the broth’s color. Kitsune (wolf) is the lightest, a traditional tonkotsu ramen (7,000 KRW). Next on the list is the Midori Kame (green turtle), which is the aforementioned basil pesto-infused ramen (10,000 KRW). And last is the Kayomasa (red tiger), which is the spicy ramen (8,000 KRW).

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Ittengo’s Kitsune (wolf) ramen, named after its light-colored broth. SCREAMfmLondon

Once your party is taken inside and seated, the ramen is served almost immediately. The restaurant’s intimate set-up is, I’m sure, a main reason for the lengthy wait. The dining room is comprised of just one central table around which all of the customers sit and eat together. The room is dimly lit, and the counter is sprinkled with candles and small knick-knacks.

Another reason for the wait is, obviously, because the ramen is delicious. It’s absolutely the best Japanese ramen I’ve had in Seoul. The pork bone broth is beautifully rich and flavorful. The noodles are thin and mixed with green onions, served with tasty slices of braised pork belly on top. Every bite is excellent, and every element of this dish is done perfectly. Peppers covered in yuzu juice are served on the side to contrast the strong savory flavors of the ramen.

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Amazing thin ramen noodles at Ittengo in Hapjeong. SCREAMfmLondon

Ittengo
11 Poeun-ro, Mapo-gu
Hours: daily from 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Closed on Sundays.

Lunar New Year 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan

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Colorful lanterns and crowds of revelers in front of Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan on New Year’s Eve 2017. SCREAMfmLondon

This weekend, I happened to be in Taipei, Taiwan in time to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which fell on Saturday, Jan. 28 this year.

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Colorful lanterns represent the Year of the Rooster. SCREAMfmLondon

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster.

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Lunar New Year 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

Around town, many Taiwanese people burned Joss paper (also known as “ghost money”) in metal fire pits as part of a special holiday ceremony. The sheets of paper are burned in honor of the deceased.

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Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

Ciyou Temple is an ornate temple dedicated to Mazu, a Chinese goddess of the sea. The temple was built in 1753 and is an impressive historical landmark in the Songshan District of Taipei.

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Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

The temple has an impressive six floors of detailed decorations to see.

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Lanterns cover the street in honor of Lunar New Year. SCREAMfmLondon

After midnight on the new year, locals shoot off fireworks to celebrate.

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Happy Lunar New Year 2017! SCREAMfmLondon

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Happy Lunar New Year! SCREAMfmLondon

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2016

‘The Invitation’
Release Date: April 8, 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard and Michiel Huisman
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films.

In “The Invitation,” Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) drive deep into the Hollywood Hills to attend a dinner party hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) at the house Will and Eden used to share. The party is the first time any of their friends have seen them in two years — Will and Eden divorced following the accidental death of their son, and Eden left to join a grief support group in Mexico, where she met David. Throughout the course of the evening, Will becomes increasingly disturbed being back in the house he once shared with a happy family that is no more, and he also begins to grow suspicious of Eden and David, who try to share with the group their new spiritual philosophies that have helped them overcome grief. I like how “The Invitation” slowly turns up the suspense and leaves the audience unsure if there is really something sinister behind Eden’s cultish white dress and David’s calm demeanor, or if it’s just Will suffering from a mental breakdown when confronted with his past. It’s sufficiently creepy and even a bit thoughtful. All-in-all, “The Invitation” is a pretty good thriller.

‘The Neon Demon’
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language.
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios, Broad Green Pictures, Scanbox Entertainment and The Jokers.

“The Neon Demon” is the most talked-about and most polarizing horror movie of the year. For the most part, I really liked it. Kind of a tired story: Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a young girl from a small town hoping to make it big as a model in Hollywood, but Hollywood is, unfortunately, full of Illuminati and lesbian necrophiliacs. It’s a higher budget version of 2014’s “Starry Eyes,” which is a much better film, plot-wise. But don’t come to “The Neon Demon” for the plot: come for the artistic visuals, evil female leads and the always excellent Jena Malone who steals the show as Jesse’s eerily too nice, there’s-gotta-be-something-wrong-with-her mentor Ruby. My main issue with “The Neon Demon” is the weird casting of Elle Fanning as the lead — she’s not charismatic enough to propel the movie on her own, and she’s cute, but the very embodiment of natural beauty? Eh. At least the costumes are fabulous.

‘Train to Busan’
Release Date: July 20, 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an and Jung Yu-mi
Genre: Action, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

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Photo courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

“Train to Busan” is one of the best zombie movies I’ve seen in a long while. The Korean horror film expertly showcases comedic moments, high tension, family drama, romance and truly frightening zombie shots. It’s an excellent movie and one of the best horror films of the year. The story follows Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), an absentee father whose focus on his business has crippled his relationship with his 9-year-old daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an). For her birthday, all Su-an wants is to be reunited with her estranged mother, so Seok-woo begrudgingly agrees to accompany her on the high-speed KTX ride from Seoul to Busan. Unfortunately, the train departs just as the country begins to deteriorate into a zombie apocalypse. Only Busan, the country’s southern port city, is safe, and the survivors must fight to get the train to its final destination. The intense zombie action scenes are top tier (my favorite is a stop in Daejeon where the passengers are faced with a horde of zombie soldiers in military uniform charging up the stairs), but where “Train to Busan” really got me is with its heart. The evolving father-daughter dynamic will suck you in, and the supporting characters are all so compelling. “Train to Busan” is not to be missed.

‘31’
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2016
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell and Meg Foster
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use.
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

As a diehard Rob Zombie fan, I enjoyed “31” and was pleased to find it more straightforward and accessible than Zombie’s last release, 2012’s “The Lords of Salem.” “31” follows a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween 1976 and told by three strangers that they will be entered into a game called 31. During the game, they will have 12 hours to escape from a maze-like warehouse of rooms while various clowns will be sent to torture and kill them. The plot isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, but Zombie’s characterizations are always the most entertaining. His villains are excellent, particularly Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder, an aristocrat in a powdered wig who oversees the proceedings and announces the carnies’ odds for survival over a loudspeaker, and Richard Brake as Doom-Head, the final and most effective obstacle in the gang’s way of survival. As always, Sheri Moon Zombie is a badass and a delight, and I love that she’s still the ultimate scream queen, wielding chainsaws in barely-there crop tops at 46.