2013 So Far: A Mid-Year Horror Movie Round Up

The Theatre Bizarre MarqueeHello beasties! There’s just enough of a chill in the air and a dimming of the evening sky that tells me summer is winding down and fall is around the corner. And with fall brings yet another Halloween Horror Movie Marathon! But I haven’t been waiting around for autumn to kick in to watch some scary flicks. In fact I’ve managed to see more horror in the theater this year than I’m used to, though I slowed down quite a bit after birth of my second son. Since then I’ve been spending bits of my downtime catching a movie here and there on Netflix in between sessions of mathematics review with everybody’s pal Sal Khan. It’s been a year of slashers, ghosts, witches, demons, and time travel. And with any luck much more to come during the Halloween season…

Here’s a quick rundown, in no particular order:

TheTexasChainsawMassacre3DPoster Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) Directed by John Lussenhop. Starring Alexandra Daddario, Tremaine Neverson, Tania Raymonde, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, Shaun Sipos, Dan Yeager, Thom Barry, Paul Rae.

Ignoring the other sequels and reboots, Texas Chainsaw 3D picks up right from the end of the original 1974 film. It’s mostly run of the mill, sloppily constructed slasher nonsense, which alone would be tolerable, but I can’t forgive its effort to turn Leatherface into a sympathetic, misunderstood anti-hero who is brutalized by the townspeople. I know it’s not unusual to find yourself cheering for the “bad guy” to kill off annoying characters in one of these movies but this attempt to make us genuinely feel sorry for a mass murderer is distasteful. I had a similar problem with The Devil’s Rejects. In the short list of positives there is at least one creative kill involving an industrial sized meat grinder and the opening 3D recap of the original film is well done. It is far too little.

'Mama' poster

Mama (2013) Directed by Andy Muschietti. Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet.

Produced by that busy, busy guy, Guillermo del Toro. Two children abandoned in a cabin in the woods are rescued and raised by a ghost. They’re found years later by their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and have difficulty assimilating into normal, every day life because, you know, adopted ghost mom. There are plenty of satisfyingly creepy moments but the overly dramatic ending goes on forever. Worth checking out for fans of ghost stories. This feature length movie is based on a short film also directed by Muschietti and it’s pretty good. Some of it is replicated in the theatrical release. Here it is:

The Last Exorcism Part IIThe Last Exorcism Part II (2013) Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly. Starring Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, Muse Watson, Louis Herthum, Tara Riggs, David Jensen.

The Last Exorcism 2 abandons the found footage style of the original far superior film for a standard narrative and gains nothing. Other than the creepy opening sequence where a couple find Nell (Ashley Bell) in their home there is nothing to be said for this sloppily written sequel. How sloppily written was it? How about this: the secret society introduced midway through the film is given the cliched title of The Order of the Right Hand. Ridiculous events crowd the script eventually leading to an exorcism that seems perfunctory, which is surprising considering “exorcism” is right in the film’s title. The final moments are laughable and contain some of the worst cgi flames put to film. Ashley Bell is a wonderful actress who deserves much better than this. All signs point towards this being the last Last Exorcism.

Hansel and Gretel Witch HuntersHansel & Gretel: Witchhunters (2013) Directed by Tommy Wirkola. Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann, Derek Mears.

Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, who also wrote and directed the fabulous Nazi zombie flick Dead Snow. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star in the title roles and they are fun to watch. Perfect viewing after you’ve had a rough week at work and just want to zone out, as long as you can appreciate a mixture of gory and silly. And diabetic action star for the win!

Evil Dead (2013)Evil Dead (2013) Directed by Fede Alvarez. Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore.

I was skeptical when I first heard about the plans for an Evil Dead remake but the extreme intensity of the trailer made me eager to see what was in store and it became my most anticipated horror film of the year. While Evil Dead (2013) will hardly achieve the classic status of its forbears, it’s still a great thrill ride. References to the original are incorporated in such a way that they don’t intrude on the film’s narrative. It’s also a relief to see a horror film made using only practical effects and they’re well done to boot. I did not miss the CGI one  bit. And soon after this film was released my baby boy was born. Awww….

The ConjuringThe Conjuring (2013) Directed by James Wan. Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Bortherton.

I wanted to like The Conjuring more than I did but instead I found it to be a cliched jumble of paranormal investigation, haunted house, and exorcism movies.  I suppose the great teaser trailer elevated my expectations too high. If you’re going to watch the trailer, be warned as it spoils one of the best scares in the movie. It was a bummer for me because I really like the cast (I wish I could see Lili Taylor in more things these days) and James Wan’s last film, Insidious, was so scary I thought this would be a better follow up than it turned out to be. Also, skeptic that I am, I’m not convinced by the Warrens’ line of crap so I have a really hard time buying into them as the noble heroes they’re made to be. I was willing to leave feelings about them behind at the door and judge The Conjuring based on its own merits. Too bad it doesn’t have many. But maybe I’m wrong on this one and need to give it a second chance; a lot of people really seemed to like it.

Megan Is MissingMegan Is Missing (2011) Directed by Michael Goi. Starring Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite, Jael Elizabeth Steinmeyer, Kara Wang. 

Another found footage film, Megan Is Missing follows two teenage girls who go missing after encountering an online predator. Evaluating this movie solely based on how disturbing it is might rank it pretty high; the last third is difficult to watch as we discover the horrible fate of the teenagers. The film has been criticized for an exploitative tone that seems to belie the heartfelt message the marketing suggests it is striving for. I’d have to agree. It also tacks on an unnecessary ten minute scene of someone digging a hole. It’s too bad because some elements of the film are well done, including the performances of the two leads.

V/H/SThe ABCs of DeathThe Theatre Bizarre V/H/S (2012) Directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence. Starring a bunch of people.

The ABCs of Death (2012) Directed by 26 directors. Starring many actors.

The Theatre Bizarre (2011) Directed by Douglas Buck, Buddy Gioninazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley. Starring more people.

I’m going to try to save myself a little bit of time and recap these three anthology films at once because I more or less have the same thing to say about each one: some of the shorts are good, some are great, and some you’re just waiting to get through to see next one. At the time of writing each film is on Netflix streaming and each is worth watching, for horror fans at least. Pick a theme that suits you and check it out:

  • V/H/S is a collection of five shorts filmed in a found footage style.
  • The ABCs of Death consists of twenty-six very short films, each based on a letter of the alphabet. My understanding is that each director was given a letter and allowed to choose a word that starts with that letter.
  • The Theatre Bizarre follows a young woman to an abandoned theatre where Udo Kier presents to her five short films based upon Paris’s famed Grand Guignol Theatre.

You can probably guess that a couple of the shorts are scary, several are bloody, and a few are funny. A lot of them are forgettable, particularly in ABCs. Highlights from each of the three films include an insane claymation short involving a child’s nightmare about a killer toilet, a woman using a needle to remove the fluid from the eyeballs of people she’s killed and injecting it herself to experience their lives, and a group of college students on a treasure hunt that leads them to an insane haunted house. Ti West, director of the abominable House of the Devil, worked on two of the three movies and I actually enjoyed his entry in V/H/S… not so much the one in ABCs. If I were to watch one of these three anthologies again it would probably be The Theatre Bizarre.

A sequel is coming soon for ABCs and V/H/S already has one in release.

The BayThe Bay (2012) Directed by Barry Levinson. Starring Kether Donohue, Kristen Connolly, Will Rogers, Anthony Reynolds, Frank Deal, Michael Beasley.

Something horrible is lurking in Chesapeake Bay and during an annual Fourth of July celebration the coastal town of Claridge, Maryland is about to discover what it is.  As with so many horror films that appear on the Netflix suggested list, I had never heard of The Bay but seeing Barry Levinson (Rain ManThe NaturalDiner) appear as the director of a horror movie intrigued me. Apparently Levinson first intended to make a documentary about the state of Chesapeake Bay but discovered that Frontline had already well covered the issue. Instead he created this fantastic found footage “eco-horror” movie.  We follow the threads of several different storylines around the fictional town, each revealing a different aspect of the tragedy–  a local TV news reporter soon finds herself covering what could be the biggest story of her career as the townspeople and vacationers become violently ill, a desperate doctor contacts the CDC for help with determining what has infected the flood of patients to his hospital, and a couple with an infant traveling by boat to visit family discover a ghost town when they arrive. Even though I had intended to only watch a portion of the film before going to bed, I found myself staying up late to see it through to the end. It’s a compelling, gruesome film that should satisfy many a horror fan.

[REC]3: Genesis[REC]3: Genesis (2012) Directed by Paco Plaza. Starring Leticia Berdejo, Diego Martin, Ismael Martínez, Àlex Monner, Emilio Mencheta, Sr. B, Javier Botet.

This is an average follow up to two of the best films of the found footage genre, [REC] and [REC]2. [REC]3 starts with found footage of a wedding reception where the initial outbreak takes place, or at least I think that was the idea. A family member of the groom had been bitten by a dog earlier that day and he turns zombie. Chaos ensues. But when the movie shifts to standard cinematography about a third of the way through it loses the thrilling momentum that drove the previous films and that feeling that anything could happen along the way vanishes. Also, I missed the adorable Manuela Velasco. A fourth one was already in the works when [REC]3 came along. Just another case of can’t leave well enough alone, I suppose.

CronocrimenesTimecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes) (2007) Directed by Nacho Vigalondo. Starring Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernández, Nacho Vigalondo, Barbara Goenaga.

Héctor (Karra Elejalde) sees a young woman undressing in the forest bordering his countryside property. Curious, he goes to investigate and finds himself pursued by a mysterious figure wearing pink bandages around his head. Who is this dangerous man and where did he come from? Timecrimes raised my hopes during the first gripping third or so that it would be a fantastic time travel movie but as it grows more complex (though not as complex as Primer) the plot threads lead to a ho-hum ending. A bit of a disappointment but in spite of the lackluster screenplay it is decently crafted.

That’s a enough for a marathon already! I suppose I could call it a day and say “see you next year”… No way! Stay tuned for my 2013 Horror Movie Marathon!

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One Response to “2013 So Far: A Mid-Year Horror Movie Round Up”

  1. Michael K. Vaughan Says:

    Wow. Thats a lot of movies. Sorry that Mama was not better as that was the one on the list I really wanted to see. I actually thought The Bay was pretty lame, but then I am dead tired of found footage movies.

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