While on my journey to watch new horror movies from this decade, I very quickly came across the anthology film V/H/S. It and its follow-up both share the same basic concept: a group of people in a framing sequence stumble across a house filled with video tapes and start watching. As they begin, we start seeing short segments directed by different up-and-comers from all kinds of horror subgenres, but each featuring a character holding or carrying a camera of some kind.
I wasn’t so sure if I was down with this concept. Like just about everyone I know and listen to, I’m pretty much done with found footage on all levels, but much like Europa Report, the majority of these segments offer clever reasons for the character(s) to carry a video recording device.
And yet, I still almost turned the first one off. After the fact, I realized that I was not down with the overly “bro” nature of the guys in the framing sequence who run up on women, lift their shirts up and record it and the ones in David Bruckner’s kick-off segment called “Amateur Night” who pick up a woman who is far more dangerous than she seems at first. All of that grossness combined together to taint my opinion of the movie, but after that it got a lot better.
First off, the framing sequence is actually pretty creepy. I wasn’t expecting much from that because, hey, this is a horror anthology and that part is almost always padding, but this one helmed my Adam Wingard (You’re Next) offered its own unique scares. Aside from “Amateur Night,” though, I thought the rest were really well done. Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” worked super well as a short — and also starred the great A.J. Bowen — Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th” did something really fun and unique with the slasher genre while also making the camera’s presence an integral part of the action. I’ll admit, I had to look up “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” by Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) because I did not catch what happened at the end. Finally, Radio Silence’s “10/31/98″ featured my favorite incorporation of the camera — the guy is dressed as a teddy bear nanny cam, which is pretty ingenious — and also a rapid fire short that rockets somewhere pretty crazy, pretty quickly.
While I definitely had my problems with the first V/H/S, I was interested enough to check out the follow-up which, like I said, kept the same basic premise while upping the game when it came to story diversity and special effects. This time around, Simon Barrett, who wrote You’re Next, directed the framing sequence which finds a pair of PIs breaking into a house trying to find a kid who was obsessed with the same kind of tapes seen in the first film. Though it features the same kinds of scares seen in its predecessor, they’re still effective.
Wingard returned for another super clever use of the format called “Phase I Clinical Trials” which saw a guy with a robot eye plagued by ghosts who meets up with a woman with a hearing implant. This one had a super deep mythology that was presented very succinctly and also included a few definite scares that worked well. After that Blair Witch Project vets Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale did a nice little zombie thing I dug called “A Ride In The Park” that’s probably my favorite zombie thing since Dance Of The Dead.
The last two segments, The Raid‘s Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” and the Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) directed “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” were stellar shorts that had me going and absorbed from the jump. Huge kudos to both of those for being interesting, fun, scary and all-around fantastic. While so different, both of these parts felt perfectly executed and written for this kind of film.
Overall, I liked the stories in V/H/S 2 better than the original, but I will say that I had more problems with the actual set-up of the films. If you’re buying into the conceit, these videos were shot and then distributed amongst collectors like the people inhabiting the houses in both framing sequences. And yet, in the zombie bit you’ve got multiple sources incorporated (the Go Pro mainly, but then the camera held by parents at a kid’s birthday party). It gets even crazier in “Safe Haven” where you get a mix of the documentary crew’s raw footage (complete with levels and whatnot), plus compound security footage AND subtitles to boot. These elements kind of ruin the suspension of disbelief I had with people trading these simple tapes by putting a lot of editing into the process. On their own, they’re not a big deal, but I kept finding myself ripped out of the story itself with thoughts like “Hey, who subtitled that? Why didn’t they remove the levels and whatnot?” Maybe I over-thought them, but it seems like a pretty simple thing to fix in order to make these movies make sense within the world that’s set up.
Finally, how crazy is the world presented in these two movies? Everything from demon women and zombies to aliens and cults take place all in the same world with only these tapes as proof. I haven’t seen V/H/S Viral yet, but I would love it if that one dug a little deeper into the overall mythology instead of just presenting more cool bits and pieces of short horror.
Afterlife With Archie: Escape from Riverdale (Archie Comics)
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, drawn by Fracesco Francavilla
Collects Afterlife With Archie #1-5
Between work and the impending move, I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and read comics. However, I inexplicably requested a pile of books from the library which came in much quicker than expected. One of them is Afterlife With Archie: Escape From Riverdale, a book I’d heard a lot of interesting things about. So, with the little bit of free time I had, I banged this one out and had a great time doing it.
There’s basically two ways to dig into this book. The first is, how does it work as a horror/zombie story? And the second is, how does it work as an Archie story? I think the answer to both questions is “pretty great,” though I think the main reason it got so much love is because of the latter instead of the former. That might sound like a dig, but it’s not. Actually, it’s the opposite because I think that it took a lot of guts for Archie Comics to let Aguirre-Sacasa take their characters into such adult territory. This isn’t the cartoony version of Archie you might have seen at the grocery store, but one who knows all the ins and outs of Veronica’s house because he wanted to make out with her. There’s also the matter of zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.
So, the story kicks off after Sabrina helps bring Jughead’s dog back to life with some spell-casting. That doens’t work out quite so well, leading Hot Dog to bite his owner, turn him into a zombie and kick off a nasty bit of carnage. Archie and the gang all happen to be at a costume dance at school when this goes down and the rest of the book finds them trying to figure out ways to survive as the world comes crumbling down around them.
I’ve read and seen a lot of zombie material in my time and I was impressed with where this particular story went. I liked the simple origins of the undead in the book and the idea of the looming threat hitting such a small town. Aguirre-Sacasa also throws in some nice touches involving flashbacks and quick asides to other characters that I thought added a lot to this story. It could have easily focused just on Archie, Betty and Veronica, but instead this feels like a whole world of characters to worry about.
And worry I did, even though I’m far from familiar with these characters. Sure, I read a few Archie Digests here and there as a kid and know about some of the newer characters like Kevin Keller from reading the internet, but Aguirre-Sacasa did a great job of getting me to care about these characters while also poking fun at a few of the tropes like the never-ending battle within Archie when it comes to choosing between Betty and Veronica.
All of the story elements work really well together, but one of the main reasons this book succeeds so well is that Francavilla doesn’t hold back when it comes to bringing the scary tones. The zombies look awesomely gross and, while you don’t necessarily see the full gory details every time, there’s plenty there to squirm over. His use of blacks, oranges, shadows and darkness makes this a moody, creepy work that fits right in with the other book of his I read this year, Batman: The Black Mirror (speaking of which, Mr. Lodge and Jim Gordon look like twins, right?).
All of these pieces come together to tell a really fun, sometimes scary story that would work without these characters, but is a lot more fun with them involved. I will also say that, seeing a company like Archie go down these different avenues, makes me want to dig a little deeper into the other books they’re putting out. Afterlife With Archie continued on and there’s also a Sabrina series I want to check out.
In my new horror movie roundup post, I mentioned watching American Mary. Here’s the review I originally wrote back in September when the weather was still super warm!
Even though I’m still wearing shorts and T-shirts when I head out of the house, I’m ready for the cool fall crispness and the spookiness that ensues! With that in mind, I started combing Netflix Instant’s listings, adding a lot of movies from the past few years that I’ve heard things about.
American Mary, written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, definitely fits in that category. It’s about a young woman named Mary (Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps and Freddy Vs. Jason fame!) who just wants to be a surgeon, but a lack of money leads her into a world where she fixes up people for a local bar owner and does some pretty intense body modifications.
I was all over the map with this one. At first I wasn’t sure if it even counted as a horror movie or was more in line with a medical-based psychological thriller populated with all kinds of crazy, unique and deranged characters. That question soon got thrown out the window. From there, I had problems with the sexual assault of Mary by one of her teachers because it felt like a cheap, overly easy way of getting her to fully embrace the life she’d only brushed up against up to that point. Even that came back around in a way that showed Mary’s progression (or possibly regression) as a character, though so it at least worked with the story being told in a way.
One of the things this movie does particularly well is show people from various facets. American Mary is filled with all kinds of different people, many of them incredibly awful, and yet there are times where you feel bad for even the worst of them. Isabelle does a lot of this as the title character as she goes from struggling med student to full-on murderer. But, even as she goes through her downward spiral, she has moments where you can see her examining her life and how she got to where she’s at.
Some of those smaller moments might make the movie feel a bit slow — which it is at times — but at the end of the day, I feel like American Mary is put together in such a way that you’re not just seeing the lead character’s quick descent into madness or whathaveyou, but instead many of the steps that got her there as well as what they mean to her. This descent is handled realistically in that it covers so many of the emotional bases, even while being set in a dark, dangerous world that feels alien at times.
Be warned though, this is a DARK movie. I mentioned the sexual assault above. That’s an incredibly disturbing scene. So is what it leads to. There’s a lot of body modifications that move past the tongue-splits, devil horns and gauged ears and easily move into body horror. But, it certainly made me go on plenty of ups and downs as I watched, which is not something I can say for a lot of movies. In that regard it was a good viewing experience, but one I’m not likely to repeat.
As I mentioned in my first post in what felt like forever, I was awful busy looking at Halloween related material for work throughout September and October, which resulted in a lack of posts here on the site, a first if I’m not mistaken. Sure, Halloween season is technically over, but I wanted to write a bit more about a few of the newer movies I saw on Netflix in preparation for two Spinoff lists: 5 Recent Indie Supernatural Horror Movies Worth Watching and 5 Recent Slasher Flicks to Take a Stab at For Halloween.
First off a little background that I mentioned in those posts, but didn’t get fully into. While looking around for horror movies on Netflix Instant back in September, I realized that a lot of movies I’d heard good things about on Killer POV (my favorite horror podcast) were on there. I tend to avoid new horror movies out of a kind of fear, not necessarily a fear of being frightened by them, but a fear of being subjected to awful depravity. Let’s face it, that was the subgenre du jour for a while there. It seemed like every new movie I watched was just filled with torture. Not my bag.
But after hearing about so many quality movies that had come out — many of which don’t work for everyone, which is fine my me — I decided to focus my viewing efforts this season on new movies from this decade. With only four years to choose from, I was a little worried about slim pickings, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and happy with the results. In fact, I think I enjoyed everything I watched (at least on some level).
Alright, let’s start with the Supernatural list. I covered them pretty well, but to take things a few steps further Don Coscarelli’s John Diest At The End and Resolution are two of my favorite scary movies in a long time. I loved The Innkeepers. Like I said in the review, between the on-screen scares and my anticipation of scares based on lesser films, I was pretty wiped by the end of that viewing experience. I thought about watching Ti West’s Sacrament, but wussed out.
I’d seen Odd Thomas on Netflix several times, wasn’t sure about it, but finally watched it and really enjoyed it. It kind of reminded me of Brick, but with less melodrama and more death-monsters. I liked it so much, I’m actually reading Dean Koontz’s Odd Hours from the library. It has the same feel as the movie. I’d like to see Anton Yelchin star in a series of films or, better yet, a TV show based on the character. I still can’t tell if All Cheerleader’s Die is a super clever film or I’m just reading too far into it, but it was definitely worth the watch.
Over to the slashers, this was another pleasantly surprising batch of films. I was especially surprised by how much I enjoyed Curse Of Chucky as that’s not exactly a series I’m in love with. I also wasn’t sure if Maniac would be my bag because I’ve never seen the original or its fellow real-killer-in-NYC ilk, but I found it chilling and Elijah Wood captivating in the lead role. I actually felt super creepy walking anywhere near a woman when I was going from the hotel to the bar during NYCC because of that viewing experience. Stage Fright was so much fun, but that might be solely because of my experience in high school musical theater. It’s goofy and weird, but I’m okay with that.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually watch Hatchet II again, but those films are still some of the best slasher flicks I’ve ever laid eyes on from any decade. I didn’t really think about it until I wrote that list, but it’s difficult to think of any other series with that much consecutive quality. Finally, I really liked the look and mash-up feel of Rites Of Spring. It’s on the shortlist of movies I watched this year that had a distinct color pallet and style. I found myself wondering if the Stranger was actually satiating a kind of crop god or just a crazy person throwing blood down on a man in a weird mask for decades. It would have been nice to get some of those answers, but I didn’t think they were necessary.
I also watched American Mary. I’ve got a blog post written that I’ll throw up this week. Here’s a preview, I thought it was pretty damn unique, but I’ll probably never watch it again. I still really dig the You’re Next viewing experience and do think I’ll return to that one at some point. Speaking of repeated viewings, that was the focus of my late-October horror movie schedule which will make up another post!
Over the past few weeks, my wife and I have shown our daughter the three original Star Wars movies. She’s gotten pretty into them which is an awesome thing for me as a longtime fan of those movies. With the movies on my mind, it made sense to dive into anold school Kenner ad for this week’s TCT.
I’ve always wanted an AT-AT, though I was mostly thinking of the modern one. I have seen this original Kenner one at a few flea markets here and there, but had no idea it had that many action features. I love it! How can you not?
I was a few weeks behind in celebrating Jack Kirby’s birthday, but I still got a solid dose of The King’s amazing work in recently called In The Days Of The Mob.
Back when Kirby first made the jump from Marvel to DC, one of the first assignments he got at the Distinguished Competition was actually a magazine called In The Days Of the Mob which had a very low print run and only last a single issue. Doesn’t sound like the most robust collection, right? Well, Kirby historians got together to include cleaned up versions of the published issue as well as the stories he created for the second issue that had never been seen before! The first issue, which has an almost sepia look to it features several one-offs while the black-and-white second has more interconnected characters.
I went in to this book completely blind aside from the fact that it was a crime book created by the man who would go on to create other books I’ve developed a love for in recent years like his Fourth World stuff, The Losers, OMAC, The Demon and more. To give a little bit more context, the comic actually takes the storytelling style I associate more with EC or Warren horror stuff where there’s a group of stories being told by one particular narrator. In this case, it’s Warden Fry (or Frye, depending on which issue you’re looking at) who basically watches over Hell, which is a big jail. This gives Kirby the ability to play with awesome brimstone imagery before going into the more real world-based recountings of mobster stories from the 30s featuring real life figure like Ma Barker and Al Capone.
Unlike a lot of the other Kirby books I mentioned above, I fell in love with the art and words at the same time. I thought this fantastical framework was such a clever way of getting into these stories and the art, which you can see above, is just wonderful. While I never stopped loving the artwork, I will say that the stories got a little boring by the end of the second issue. A lot of this is well-trod territory by now which takes some of the wind out of the sails, but you really can’t go wrong looking at Jack Kirby drawing more graphic crime comics than he’d ever done before. I will say that, if you want a Ma Barker story, you’re much better off reading the one in this than watching the awful Bloody Mama.
As you might expect, I’ll be holding on to this one as part of my growing Jack Kirby library if for no other reason than to look at those gorgeous panels and pages.