Tag Archives: horror movies

I took a sightseeing tour of my own neighborhood

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The famed RastaBus. SCREAMfmLondon

I hear talk that sightseeing tours are a great way to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods in big tourist destinations full of historical landmarks, just like Hollywood. I wasn’t sure what I’d take away from one, considering I happen to live in the aforementioned big tourist destination full of historical landmarks that is Hollywood. Maybe I’d learn something new and come away with a fresh perspective? Maybe it would suck and be boring. I was down to find out.

I set off on an “A Day in LA” tour hosted by the RastaBus — a tri-colored van, carefully decorated with “One Love” bumper stickers and peace signs, that played one reggae song at the very beginning of the day.

At 10 a.m., we clamored onto the bus from our starting point at the Santa Monica Pier. It didn’t take long for my boisterous fellow riders to commandeer the sound system, start blasting “No Diggity” and pop open a few bottles of champagne. Whenever I’d previously encountered a RastaBus in the wild, the passengers have always been really drunk and exceptionally annoying. But the thing about annoying, drunk people is that it’s much more fun to be with ‘em than against ‘em. So, I filled a red Solo cup and kicked back as we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway.

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Brunch on the water at our first stop on the Malibu Pier. SCREAMfmLondon

Malibu

The first stop was definitely the best part of the whole damn thing, and it was totally an anomaly. This is kind of deluxe treatment is highly atypical for a RastaBus tour, I assume. I just happened to be rolling with some well-connected sightseers who managed to surprise us with a hook up for free food. Individual results may vary.

We were dropped off at the Malibu Pier, where we were served an elaborate array of breakfast food at Malibu Farm, a ritzy farm-to-table restaurant located at the end of the pier. After weaving our way through fishermen with their wriggling mackerels, we were escorted into the Surfrider Room, a private dining area on the second floor of the restaurant that overlooks the gorgeous Malibu beaches.

We were treated to fresh-squeezed orange juice and local syrah rosé wine. Quinoa oatmeal with pomegranate and chia seeds. Swedish mini pancakes with homemade whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Vegan chop salad. Grilled chocolate and whole wheat olive oil cakes. And my personal favorite: a fried egg sandwich made with bacon, arugula and baby potatoes on top of country wheat toast.

Next time, I’d skip the rest of the tour and come straight here.

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Malibu Farm’s fried egg sandwiches that made it all worthwhile. SCREAMfmLondon

Beverly Hills

There was supposed to be a tour of celebrity homes, but we mostly just peered up at Will Smith’s and Prince’s houses as we headed back eastward on the freeway. Seriously, that was it. Oh, and the tour guide also pointed out some scenery that appeared in a panoramic shot of “Two and a Half Men.” You know, just the essentials.

We drove in abject silence to a backing track of old school East Coast rap (for some reason) toward Beverly Hills, where our driver shared some fun facts about Rodeo Drive and offered to let us stop to walk around for a while.

“Keep driving!” someone yelled from the front of the bus. “Unless anyone has a black credit card we can use.”

The Grove

We had a scheduled lunchtime stop at the Grove and Original Farmers Market, where we had about 45 minutes to explore by ourselves. It’s a cool place to hang if you have a pocket full of cash and longer than 45 minutes.

As we left the Grove, we took Melrose Avenue followed by Sunset Boulevard, and our tour guide finally began sharing some information about the area via the RastaBus intercom system.

I was glad to finally hear from him. I was beginning to worry that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, just as I feared, most of his information was pretty basic. Like, he explained who Judy Garland was. I kind of wished I was giving the tour myself; I’m full of useless historical and pop culture trivia. It took a lot of self-restraint to keep from interrupting his monologues.

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Griffith Observatory. Not pictured: nachos. SCREAMfmLondon

Griffith Park

Our next stop was the Griffith Observatory, where we were given another 45 minutes to wander aimlessly and not really accomplish anything. I must admit I was getting a little tired of being forced out of the pleasantly air-conditioned bus into the actual great outdoors.

Since there isn’t much science you can accomplish in 45 minutes, I headed straight for the café and emerged with a plate of nachos. The Café at the End of the Universe is significantly less cool than it sounds with a name like that, but they did sell me a plate of tortilla chips covered in fake cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo, so what more can you ask for?

Hollywood

Cruising through Hollywood, the tour guide actually shared some interesting information! Did you know that the blinking light atop the Capitol Records Tower spells out the word “Hollywood” in Morse code? I did not.

Shortly, my tourmates grew jealous of my uncanny ability to locate and devour nachos under strange circumstances, so they insisted that our driver stop at Chibiscus Asian Café and Restaurant on Sunset for some food. We called the restaurant from the van (“Hello, there are about 13 of us, and we’re coming in right now.”) and filled the entire small space with our raucous presence. I watched K-pop music videos while everyone else ate ramen.

And, then, very awkwardly, I said, “Hey… Would it be weird if I asked you to leave me here?”

They didn’t seem to think so, so I ditched the RastaBus and hiked back home by myself rather than sticking around for the ride back to Santa Monica.

And, well. I did learn the thing about the Capitol Records Building.

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View of my ‘hood from the RastaBus. SCREAMfmLondon

Here are some cool tours to take in LA that will circumvent the RastaBus experience:

Pamela Des Barres Rock Tour

Rock groupie Pamela Des Barres guides groups around Hollywood and Laurel Canyon, reading excerpts from her book, “I’m with the Band,” which details her escapades with Led Zeppelin and other classic rockstars.

Esotouric Literary LA Tours

Tour the hangouts of famous Los Angeles writers, including a jaunt to Charles Bukowski’s favorite liquor store, a Raymond Chandler-themed gelato shop and settings from James M. Cain’s “Mildred Pierce.”

Dearly Departed Tours

Creepy tours include the classic Tragical History Tour of celebrity death locations, the epic three-hour Helter Skelter tour of the Manson Family murder locations, and a horror movie location tour, among others.

Esotouric True Crime Tours

These morbid tours dig into LA’s most famous crimes, including the Black Dahlia murder, the serial killings of the Night Stalker and “hotel horrors” at hotspots like the Alexandria and the Cecil.

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Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2013

‘Resolution’
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran and Zahn McClarnon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film and Cinedigm.

Well, “Resolution” starts out with Michael (Peter Cilella) handcuffing his junkie buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to a pipe inside a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to get him sober. What could go wrong? The film is a pleasant surprise, though. As it progresses, it reveals itself to be a slow-paced psychological thriller that comments on storytelling and the horror genre itself. It’s like a low-budget take on the ideas explored in 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods,” although it’s definitely not as well-acted nor as tongue-in-cheek hilarious as its predecessor. Curran, in particular, does a really subpar job portraying his drug-addicted character. On the other hand, “Resolution” is a lot more actually menacing and scary than “Cabin in the Woods,” and its final 30 minutes are tense and unpredictable.

‘Stitches’
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Director: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Tommy Knight
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, sexual content, language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: C-

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Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group and Irish Film Board.

This is a really goofy premise, so stay with me: “Stitches” is an Irish horror-comedy about a clown who is accidentally killed at a child’s birthday party and is resurrected six years later to exact his revenge on the kids who were there. It’s an attempt at the hilariously over-the-top gore perfected in movies such as the “Leprechaun” franchise or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” but it isn’t executed as well. The cartoonish special effects aren’t too impressive, and it ends up being neither scary nor really funny (although there are some laughs). Considering there’s a Satanic ritual performed by clowns in the graveyard and an obsessive occult research segment on the history of clowns, “Stitches” should have been way more amusing. But there’s probably still a market for this. I’m not sure who those people would be, but they’re out there.

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Warp X and Illumination Films.

The film-within-a-film technique makes “Berberian Sound Studio” a creepy, slow-moving, atmospheric piece of surrealist cinema. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives on set in Italy to work on mixing sounds for director Giancarlo Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest giallo flick. Santini’s film is an Argento-esque horror story (although he refuses to refer to it as such) about a girls’ school cursed by witches, requiring Gilderoy and crew to create many creative sound effects in the studio. This is fascinating to watch, although potentially boring for American audiences. “Berberian Sound Studio” then takes a “Mulholland Drive”-style abrupt left turn into the realm of the absurd about three-quarters of the way through, as Gilderoy grows increasingly discomforted by the nature of the film and the working environment. The final act is eerie and tense, although this film is a lot more understated and never becomes truly “horror.”

‘We Are What We Are’
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Bill Sage
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Entertainment One.

“We Are What We Are” is a thoughtful, beautifully-shot creepy thriller, but a lot of plot holes make it less enjoyable. The film (a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name, although several key elements are different) focuses on the reclusive Parkers — a family of urban cannibals — following the death of Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), the mother of three children. The film is clearly supposed to make comment on religious fervor, patriarchal traditions and family bonds, but it seems like a lot of this is lost in translation. The influence of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman escaping from the clutches of an oppressive cult, is extremely evident, but “We Are What We Are” never seems as believable. Luckily, the acting is strong from all three leads, the cinematography is attractive, and super blonde children are inherently disturbing. I only wish as much attention to detail had been paid to the screenwriting as was paid to the look of the film.

Live: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Battle of the Seasons

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Willam, Detox, Michelle Visage, Pandora Boxx, Ivy Winters, Carmen Carerra, Sharon Needles, Alaska Thunderfuck and Manila Luzon perform in “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Battle of the Seasons. Via Pandora Boxx/Facebook

On Feb. 6, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Battle of the Seasons brought eight performers from the reality television show, as well as host Michelle Visage and RuPaul himself, to Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles for a phenomenal display of theatricality.

Individually, Willam, Alaska Thunderfuck, Pandora Boxx, Sharon Needles, Detox, Manila Luzon, Carmen Carerra and Ivy Winters all took the stage to show off their individual talents at least twice.

Interspersed between performances were videos of the stars backstage and on the road, as well as promotional material from the sixth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which will premiere on Feb. 24. The entire event was incredibly seamless and professional. But with a lot of dick jokes.

While I would deem the whole evening a success, some performances stood out more than others. My jaw actually dropped in awe at Ivy Winters, who juggled gigantic knives while wearing a tall, silver-horned helmet and walked on stilts to Little Mix’s “Wings.”

Alaska wowed me with her singing talent and impressive vocal range during an impassioned cover of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” (a nod, perhaps, to announcing the breakup with longtime boyfriend Needles late last year), as well as her original song “Ru Girl.”

Detox and Willam were fantastic as usual as two thirds of DWV (missing fellow drag queen Vicky Vox, who has not appeared on “Drag Race”) while performing their parody songs “Chow Down (at Chick-fil-A)” and “Boy is a Bottom.” Detox, especially, is not a bad rapper, and her black light shoes were fantastic, although her solo numbers were considerably less interesting. Willam, however, looked amazing, performed flawlessly and had a commanding stage presence throughout. But, of course.

And Needles, my personal favorite and the fifth season winner of “Drag Race,” was as hilarious, creepy and sexy as I’ve always dreamed she would be. For her first number, she was carried onstage in a coffin before launching into “Call Me on the Ouija Board” from her 2013 album “PG-13.”  It’s a really, really great goth-pop song with a catchy hook, smart lyrics full of tongue-in-cheek references to classic horror movies and a super polished sound. I actually haven’t stopped listening to it since. In the song, Needles declares, “I’ll be your Carol Anne, / I’ll be your pentagram. / Let’s dabble in the black arts.” Onstage, Needles picks up a dollar bill that was thrown at her and takes a few bites out of it before throwing it back.

Fun aside, there was also talk about the growing popularity of the show and its increasing influence on creating “drag queen society,” which is not entirely an exaggeration. The show and its contestants appeal to a wide range of audience members, reaching many underrepresented demographics. The wide appeal of fun, kitschy drag queens has allowed for stars that use the platform for political advocacy.

Carerra, who came out as a transgender woman after competing on the third season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” has since become a very public proponent for transgender equality. In January, she appeared alongside “Orange is the New Black” star Laverne Cox on Katie Couric’s talk show to speak about transgender issues, and last year, an online petition aimed at persuading Victoria’s Secret to have Carerra as its first transgender model gathered around 45,000 signatures.

Luzon, also a competitor from season three, has been pretty involved in AIDS awareness since appearing on the show. She and other “Drag Race” alumni appear regularly in public service announcements on Logo TV promoting safe sex and HIV testing.

Fittingly enough, the Battle of the Seasons show took place just as I’ve been following another story of drag queen activism unfolding overseas. On Feb. 1, Irish drag queen Panti Bliss spoke (amazingly effectively and eloquently) about gay rights and oppression in Ireland. Shortly thereafter, a video of the speech garnered such international attention that it has been discussed everywhere from Ireland’s houses of parliament to Russia, where anti-gay legislation was famously passed in 2013 to prohibit “propaganda” in support of “non-traditional” sexual orientation.

All of this just makes me feel like there should be way more drag queens occupying political office.

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

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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

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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+

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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

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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+

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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

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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

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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

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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 horror anthologies

‘V/H/S’
Release Date:
Oct. 5, 2012
Director: Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, Joe Swanberg, David Bruckner and Adam Wingard
Starring: Sophia Takal, Joe Swanberg and Kate Lyn Sheil
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: R for pervasive language, graphic nudity, bloody violence, some drug use and strong sexuality.
Grade: A

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Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon.” Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

The thing that is particularly great about “V/H/S” is the short story format: it is comprised of five completely unrelated horror vignettes of all styles ranging from the supernatural to typical slasher killers. Each individual story is interesting in its own way, and the time frame is just enough to make them captivating and creepy without going overboard and ruining it. I have a difficult time choosing a favorite, but I love the title of Joe Swanberg’s offering, “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.” The worst part of the film is the attempt at an overarching narrative to tie all of the stories together. The continuing storyline is uninteresting, distracting and unnecessary.

‘The Theatre Bizarre’
Release Date:
Jan. 27, 2012
Director: Buddy Giovinazzo, Tom Savini, Jeremy Kasten, Richard Stanley and David Gregory
Starring: Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb and Amanda Marquardt
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: F

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Photo courtesy of Severin Films.

“The Theatre Bizarre” was a big disappointment. The film is an anthology of six short stories tied together with a semi-interesting, somewhat-creepy overarching narrative. Only two of the six are at all tolerable: “I Love You” and “The Accident,” although neither of which could be considered at all scary, and “The Accident” is certainly not horror. The rest of the poorly-written, poorly-acted stories seem to fight incredibly hard to be considered the worst of the bunch. In “Mother of Toads,” a guy goes to an old French woman’s house to read The Necronomicon because why not and then proceeds to have sex with a giant toad monster. What the fuck. “Vision Stains” is too preachy; “Sweets” tries way too hard to be esoteric; “Wet Dreams” is awfully boring, and considering there’s a shot of a giant insect’s pinchers protruding from a vagina, that’s quite a feat.

‘V/H/S 2’
Release Date:
July 12, 2013
Director: Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard and Jason Eisener
Starring: Kelsy Abbott, Lawrence Levine and Adam Wingard
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

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Gareth Huw Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s “Safe Haven.” Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Since I enjoyed the first “V/H/S” movie and love the horror anthology format, I was excited to give this sequel a try. However, it turned out to be a letdown. Seemed promising at first: the overarching narrative this time follows a private investigator and his girlfriend who find a collection of creepy VHS tapes in a college student’s apartment while on the job. This narrative is a lot stronger and more compelling than that of the first “V/H/S” movie. Where this one goes wrong, however, is with the ensuing short stories. More supernatural than the stories in the first film, these come off hokey and aren’t scary. “Safe Haven,” about an Indonesian cult, would have been a great story had it stuck to one idea, but it instead devolves into silliness when it reveals a demonic creature that just looks like a puppet on a stick. The only good story was “A Ride in the Park,” which employs innovative filming techniques to tell of a zombie apocalypse from a unique perspective.

‘Little Deaths’
Release Date:
March 11, 2011
Director: Simon Rumley, Andrew Parkinson and Sean Hogan
Starring: Holly Lucas, Jodie Jameson and Kate Braithwaite
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

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Simon Rumley’s “Bitch.” Photo courtesy of Imagination Worldwide/Image Entertainment.

“Little Deaths,” a UK horror anthology, immediately starts off on the right foot by not attempting to tie its three unrelated stories together with an overall narrative. The pièce de résistance of the set is the third offering, “Bitch,” because it features a sadistic woman with a pushover boyfriend, kinky sexual deviancy and some mysterious, creeping fear. I wasn’t crazy about the ending, but I really appreciate the depravity. The other two stories are less impressive but pretty good nonetheless. The first, “House and Home,” begins effectively menacingly, but it allows for a rather goofy twist ending. The second, “Mutant Tool,” is quite interesting and if not a bit convoluted. Altogether, “Little Deaths” is a pretty solid anthology, and I wish there had been room for a few more stories.

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+

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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

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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-

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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.