Tag Archives: female-driven horror movies

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

neondemon

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+

train-to-busan

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-

31

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.

Film review: The Handmaiden (Agassi)

Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee star in “The Handmaiden.” Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

It’s always been interesting to me how deeply twisted and delightfully macabre Korean cinema can be — in sharp contrast to the conservative cuteness in popular television dramas. And no one has mastered the perverse and gory in this genre like director Park Chan-wook, who brought the world “Oldboy,” “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and, most recently, “The Handmaiden.”

His latest creation takes place in 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation of the country. Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is a beautiful but frail heiress living on an expansive estate with her tyrannical, book-collecting uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). When she hires Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) to be her new maid, she has no idea that the woman is secretly a double agent, raised from childhood as a pickpocket and chosen by a conman (Ha Jung-woo) to help him seduce the heiress and steal her fortune.

Although it runs for nearly two and a half hours, “The Handmaiden” never seems to drag and each scene keeps the audience anticipating more. The first half of the film moves along at a pleasant pace as Sook-hee and Hideko begin to get to know each other. The building sexual tension between the two women is masterfully executed, and Tae-ri is particularly charismatic in her role as the endearing criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold.

handmaiden

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

When the film finally reaches its peak of excitement, it never relents. There are nonstop twists that constantly change the audience’s perception of the characters’ alliances, as well as flashbacks and revelations that reveal deeper levels to every element of the story. It’s a thrill to watch and try to keep pace with the film’s progression.

And when it gets grisly (because of course it has to), it does not disappoint. The climactic conclusion is absolutely satisfying and every bit as fucked up as is expected of Park Chan-wook.

“The Handmaiden” is also filmed beautifully — each scene is a pleasure to observe. The scenery is complemented with skillful framing and camera angles that complete the film’s artistic aesthetic. “The Handmaiden” is a great thriller and pleasing to the eye as well.

I love the kind-of feminist focus on the powers of the two female heroines, as well as the unique love story that develops between them. My only real complaint about the film is that the lesbian romance is so completely shot for the male gaze it’s a bit cringe-worthy in parts. The entirety of “The Handmaiden” is pretty kinky, and it’s clear a straight male director was behind the helm.

But, hey, no one could claim this film is not aesthetically exceptional, and the story is quite an exhilarating ride. I highly recommend “The Handmaiden.”

‘The Handmaiden’
Release Date: June 1, 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo and Kim Tae-ri
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2015

‘It Follows’
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist and Daniel Zovatto
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C+

itfollows

Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC and Dimension Films.

“It Follows” has definitely been one of the most-hyped horror movies this year, but it unfortunately doesn’t live up to those expectations. In the grand tradition of sexually-transmitted monsters in horror films, “It Follows” is about a girl, Jay (Maika Monroe), who has sex with her boyfriend and then realizes that by doing so, he has passed a curse onto her. There will just be a creepy person that only she can see walking steadily toward her at all times. If it catches her, she dies, and the only way to distance herself from it is to pass it on to someone else. Bummer deal. The film is shot well, and some of the scenes of “it” following her are genuinely creepy and unsettling. The movie begins to fall apart at the end, though, as Jay and her friends attempt to defeat “it.” The movie doesn’t have a strong conclusion at all, which leaves the audience feeling dissatisfied after watching.

‘Spring’
Release Date: March 20, 2015
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker and Francesco Carnelutti
Genre: Horror, Romance, Sci-fi
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

spring

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films and FilmBuff.

I enjoy horror-romance almost as much as I enjoy horror-comedy, so I was excited to check out Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s “Spring” (they also directed 2013’s “Resolution,” which I enjoyed). “Spring” is quite good as well (with a few caveats). After his mother’s death, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) takes a spontaneous finding-himself trip to Italy, where he starts working on a small farm and meets a beautiful woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker) that he begins dating. Of course, there has to be a catch when beautiful, exotic women show an interest in down-on-their-luck American dudes, and Louise’s hidden secret is both creepy and intriguing. “Spring” is Lovecraftian in its horror, but it’s mostly romantic. Which is my main complaint: I just don’t buy the romance. There is no way Evan is the best person she’s ever met. No way! Louise is such a complex, interesting character, but his main redeeming quality is that he still really likes her even when he discovers her grotesque secret. Eh, she could do way better.

‘Creep’
Release Date: June 23, 2015
Director: Patrick Brice
Starring: Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: R for brief violence and language.
Grade: A-

creep

Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

I actually got quite a kick out of “Creep.” It’s a simple, independent found-footage horror film featuring only two actors. Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass not only star in the film, they also wrote the story. Additionally, Brice directed and Duplass co-produced it alongside Jason Blum of Blumhouse fame. This creates a real personal touch to the movie and allows the audience to really get to know the strange two characters. Duplass is excellent in his role as Josef, a man who places an ad on Craigslist for a videographer to help him film a message for his unborn son. Brice is less impressive but still alright as Aaron, the unlucky artist who answers the ad and becomes involved in Josef’s life. There are some really tense quiet moments, but overall, the film is pretty amusing with sarcastic jump scares and the increasingly absurd connection between Josef and Aaron. The conclusion is absolutely perfect, and I definitely recommend this movie.

‘Cooties’
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2015
Director: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
Starring: Elijah Wood, Alison Pill and Rainn Wilson
Genre: Action, Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for horror violence and gore, language including sexual references, and some drug use.
Grade: B-

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Premiere.

Elijah Wood has produced and starred in some great horror movies in the past few years — “Grand Piano,” “Maniac,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “The Boy.” He also produced and stars in “Cooties,” a goofy horror-comedy in which infected chicken nuggets served as school lunch turn elementary school students into zombies across the nation, leaving a group of teachers to fight for their lives. Wood is pretty funny as Clint Hadson, a substitute teacher who would rather be working on his novel than working with children. The movie definitely has some failed attempts at humor — the same run-of-the-mill stuff you’d see on “Saturday Night Live.” But it’s overall pretty entertaining to watch the mismatched group of teachers fight their way through the monstrous children. “Cooties” is a satisfactory movie, but it’s not going to become one of my favorites.

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies

‘Contracted’
Release Date:
Nov. 23, 2013
Director: Eric England
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams and Katie Stegeman
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

contracted

Photo courtesy of BoulderLight Pictures and Southern Fried Films.

There are a lot of things to love about “Contracted”: the excellent special effects makeup that succeeds in creating some gross-out body horror scenes, the overarching allegory, the unconventional take on the genre, the sociological commentary. Although it gets off to a slow start with pretty weak acting, it soon hits its stride and is fascinating until the end. The story starts out evoking an old urban legend that I have even heard happened to some girl who knows a friend of a friend — Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is a lesbian who is drugged and sexually assaulted by a man at a party, and she quickly begins displaying symptoms of a strange sexually-transmitted infection that doctors cannot identify. She tries to carry on without acknowledging what happened to her, but the effects become increasingly difficult to hide. The film steadily ups the ante as it delves more deeply into Samantha’s life and finally culminates with a shocking final scene.

‘Compliance’
Release Date:
Aug. 17, 2012
Director: Craig Zobel
Starring: Dreama Walker, Ann Dowd and Pat Healy
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rating: Rated R for language and sexual content/nudity.
Grade: B

5a_photo_compliance

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Well, “Compliance” on its own isn’t really that great of a movie. However, it’s a good complement to go along with reading about the real-life cases on which the movie is based, which I would highly recommend doing. The movie follows Becky (Dreama Walker), a teenage cashier at a fast food restaurant, and her manager Sandra (Ann Dowd). When Sandra receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, she barely hesitates to follow his orders to detain Becky, and the situation continues to escalate until Becky is stripped naked and sexually assaulted by Sandra’s fiancée Van (Bill Camp). What makes “Compliance” worth watching is the knowledge that this is a totally true story — and that it happened more than 70 times in many different states. The story brings to mind Yale University’s Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures, during which volunteers readily gave increasingly powerful electric shocks to innocent strangers at the command of an “authority figure.” So, like I said, “Compliance” is not altogether a fabulous movie filled with mind-blowing acting, but the story is so thought-provoking that it’s worth looking into.

‘In Their Sleep’
Release Date:
Jan. 27, 2010
Director: Caroline du Potet and Éric du Potet
Starring: Anne Parillaud, Arthur Dupont and Thierry Frémont
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

in-their-sleep

Photo courtesy of Delante Films and Banque Populaire Images 9.

“In Their Sleep” is a French horror film that probably would have been better had the main narrative twist not been glaringly obvious from the beginning of the action. The film is constructed cleverly with dream sequences slipped into the storyline, a nonlinear timeline and substantial flashbacks at opportune moments. Anne Parillaud succeeds at portraying Sarah as a sympathetic and emotionally vulnerable heroine, and Arthur Dupont is excellent as the twisted Arthur. The film has all the makings of an interesting addition to the horror canon, but it plays out exactly as it is expected to without taking risks or maintaining the suspense.

‘The Shrine’
Release Date:
July 15, 2011
Director: Jon Knautz
Starring: Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore and Meghan Heffern
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: F

the-shrine-6

Photo courtesy of Brookstreet Pictures.

“The Shrine” is pretty terrible. I knew it was going to be pretty terrible when, one minute, we’re all in the United States, and the next, the film is suddenly taking place in Poland with absolutely no interlude between the two settings. It’s really pretty boring with run-of-the-mill, badly-acted American tourists wandering aimlessly through unfamiliar woods in an attempt to suss out a mystery. The only mildly interesting moment takes place more than halfway through the film, after the Americans have been captured by Satanic cultists and have escaped. And even these goofy special effects don’t make the movie or its letdown of a “twist” conclusion worthwhile.

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2013

‘The Lords of Salem’
Release Date:
April 26, 2013
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Judy Geeson and Bruce Davison
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
Grade: C+

the-lords-of-salem-4-013

Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.

It pains me to say, but as much as I love and admire the talents of both Sheri Moon and Rob Zombie, I was not a big fan of “The Lords of Salem.” I do enjoy the corresponding Rob Zombie track, as well as the movie score that was penned by Rob Zombie guitarist John 5. The movie itself, however, misses the mark quite a bit. The story centers on Heidi (Moon Zombie), a recovering drug addict who works as a DJ at a rock ‘n roll radio station. When she plays a strange record that she receives from a band called The Lords of Salem, she begins having creepy Satanic visions that are traced back to a curse from the Salem witch trials. The premise sounds really cool, and there are some great artsy shots of priests masturbating with giant dildos and naked old witches and goats’ head masks and all kinds of weird shit. But the film doesn’t really come together as a whole, and these interesting sequences come across a little too obscure.

‘Curse of Chucky’
Release Date:
Aug. 2, 2013
Director: Don Mancini
Starring: Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif and Danielle Bisutti
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for bloody horror violence and language.
Grade: C

CurseOfChucky

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

“Curse of Chucky” was less cheesy than most of the previous installments in the “Child’s Play” franchise, but I don’t know why anyone would want that. The series reached its peak of cheesiness with 1998’s “Bride of Chucky,” which is still definitely the best film of the bunch. As for the “Curse of Chucky,” there was too much spooky ambiance and too few Chucky one-liners. I am, however, so incredibly glad that this film was made rather than a reboot or remake of the original “Child’s Play,” as was initially intended. I also appreciate that the film stars Fiona Dourif, the real-life daughter of Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray/the voice of Chucky). I was also pleasantly surprised that the movie focused on a female hero in a wheelchair and two lesbian/bisexual characters. I just didn’t think there was enough Chucky silliness. But I do hope they continue making “Child’s Play” movies for a long time coming.

‘The Jeffrey Dahmer Files’
Release Date:
Feb. 15, 2013
Director: Chris James Thompson
Starring: Andrew Swant, Pamela Bass and Pat Kennedy
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C

dahmer

Photo courtesy of Good / Credit Productions.

A documentary rather than a horror movie, “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” is nonetheless horrible. However, this not a very well-filmed nor well-made movie. The dramatic reenactments are pretty goofy and unrealistic — particularly a scene that depicts Dahmer (Andrew Swant) carrying a set of mannequin legs out to the trunk of a taxi that was so silly I’m still unclear on its purpose. There are also a lot of inexplicable fade-to-black transitions that were rather bothersome. But, aside from the filmmaking, there are some interesting aspects to this documentary. The file footage is compelling, as is its unique focus. The documentary features interviews with only three people, providing a clear look into their lives and how they were impacted by the Dahmer case — an unusual perspective that almost made up for many of the filmmaking missteps.

‘You’re Next’
Release Date:
Aug. 23, 2013
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci and Wendy Glenn
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity, language and strong bloody violence.
Grade: D

Youre-Next-Axe-Clip

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

The plot twists in “You’re Next” are terribly predictable, which makes the whole thing pretty disappointing and left me wanting a lot more. The carnage is pretty standard (save a choice bit involving a blender and someone’s still-thinking brains — that was a little off the wall), and the suspense is pretty lacking as the villains simply aren’t strong enough to make much impact. However, Sharni Vinson (“Step Up 3D”) is badass as Erin and does a strong job carrying the movie on her own. Some of the dialogue and action is amusing, particularly regarding the ill-fated family dynamic. And the movie ends on a good note with an almost slapstick final scare.

Capsule film reviews: Four female-driven horror movies

‘The Woman’
Release Date:
Oct. 14, 2011
Director: Lucky McKee
Starring:
Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers and Angela Bettis
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence, torture, rape, disturbing behavior, some graphic nudity and language.
Grade: A+

The_Woman

Pollyanna McIntosh stars in Lucky McKee’s “The Woman.” Photo courtesy of The Collective, Bloody Disgusting and Salient Media.

“The Woman” is a fantastic movie, and it’s definitely rewatchable. It’s one of those psychosocial horror movies that asks the audience to question who the real monsters are (and the answer is man, obviously). Most of the characters are very well-acted, especially Lauren Ashley Carter as the melancholic Peggy. Pollyanna McIntosh absolutely smashes it as the titular Woman, and the film’s resolution is amazing, exciting and gruesome in the best ways. Sean Spillane, a friend of director Lucky McKee’s from their days as students at the University of Southern California, crafts a truly fantastic rock ‘n roll soundtrack to complement the film.

‘The Loved Ones’
Release Date:
June 1, 2012
Director: Sean Byrne
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy and Richard Wilson
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: R for teen drug and alcohol use, sexuality, strong bloody violence, torture and some language.
Grade: A

thelovedones

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

“The Loved Ones” does not take itself too seriously, and it therefore errs on the more ridiculous side of the horror genre. Robin McLeavy (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) has some delightful moments as the deranged Lola Stone, whose character only gets better as the story continues. The most disturbing — and the best — aspect of the movie is the relationship between Lola and her father (John Brumpton, “The Hunter”). And Xavier Samuel (“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”) is very attractive as Brent, if you’re as into mentally unstable metalheads as I am. The movie is well-shot and includes some great imagery (glitter confetti raining down on a pool of blood, etc.). Also interesting is the tangentially-related subplot that takes place at the school dance and offers further insight into the repercussions of Lola’s lifestyle.

‘Excision’
Release Date:
Nov. 2, 2012
Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords and Ariel Winter
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

excision-movie

Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.

“Excision” honestly doesn’t come across as much of a “horror movie,” but it is visually-striking, completely interesting and emotional. The film has an impeccable cast featuring some of Hollywood’s greatest outsider artists (John Waters, Traci Lords, Ray Wise and Malcolm McDowell) as the strict, conservative townspeople they very much are not under normal circumstances. AnnaLynne McCord is great — even relatable — as the unavoidably weird and sociopathic high school student Pauline. There are some amazingly artful bloody dream sequences that are quite captivating and beautiful. By the end of the film, I not only sympathized with Pauline, but my heart really broke to see her struggle to function alongside her family and peers.

‘American Mary’
Release Date:
May 31, 2013
Director: Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo and Tristan Risk
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for violence, language and gore.
Grade: A-

american-mary-12

Photo courtesy of IndustryWorks Pictures.

Almost loved everything about “American Mary,” but the ending seemed too abrupt and really didn’t do any justice to the fantastic story that had been created. The cast, as a whole, is strong, though. The film’s directors, the Soska Sisters (“Dead Hooker in a Trunk”), make an excellent cameo as underground celebrities of the extreme body modification community. Katharine Isabelle’s (“Ginger Snaps”) well-rounded portrayal of Mary Mason is amazing, and it is a delight to watch her progression as a character as she becomes increasingly more powerful and in control. Nor are the visuals anything to sneeze at — each frame comes across very modern and cutting-edge. It’s enchanting to watch, and Mary is an incredibly awesome hero.