A Now Fear This Roundup

I’m planning to spend most of this week digesting, and frankly, that gets in the way of long, rambling, and expletive-filled reviews.  Fortunately, in the six years Now Fear This has been alive and well, I’ve written a lot of long, rambling, and expletive-filled reviews.  So this Thanksgiving, if you’re looking for something terrifying to watch that maybe you haven’t heard of, browse through this list of (mostly) horror gems.

the_bay_28film2928 Weeks Later: A lesser film than its predecessor, though it still has plenty to recommend it.

Attack the Block: Aliens attack a London slum, and it’s up to an embryonic street gang to save the day.

The Bay: The ‘80s meets the ‘10s in this disturbing found footage gem.

Bad Milo!: A touching horror comedy featuring a butt monster.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: A mockumentary on the making of a supernatural serial killer in the tradition of Jason, Freddy, and Michael.

Breakdown: Kurt Russell vs. JT Walsh.  Nuff said.

The Brood: Having kids never seemed so fun and easy in this Cronenberg classic!

Brotherhood of the Wolf: Possibly the finest horror romance period piece kung fu action flick ever made.

bubba_ho-tep_posterBubba Ho-Tep: Elvis and JFK fight a mummy in a Texas rest home.

Cast a Deadly Spell: Los Angeles, 1948. Everyonr uses magic.

Cellular: A fun thriller featuring Captain America and the Transporter.

Centurion: Extremely sexy people battle it out in Iron Age Scotland.

Changeling: A baroque docudrama about the nature of corruption.

The Changeling: A truly creepy and atmospheric ghost story.

Chillerama: Highly offensive and extremely funny horror comedy anthology.

The Company of Wolves: Neil Jordan’s fairy tale phantasmagoria that’s probably his way of dealing with sexual abuse.

Cube: Six people trapped in the world’s strangest prison.deep_rising_ver3

Dark City: Director’s Cut: A new edit transforms a good film into a great one.

Deep Rising: A creature feature in the tradition of the best b-movies.

The Descent: A modern classic of survival horror so scary it barely even needs its monsters.

Dick: A comedy about Dick (Nixon).

Dog Soldiers: Werewolves hunt British soldiers through the Scottish highlands.

Drop Dead Gorgeous: A pitch black comedy finally getting its cult due.

Fido: The story of a utopia or dystopia. Or zomtopia.

Frailty: A creepy Southern Gothic tale about God.

Freddy vs. Jason: Two horror icons duke it out.

220px-thegingersnapsfilmposterThe Ghost and the Darkness: Building a bridge is tough when you’re dealing with two of the worst serial killers in history who also happen to be lions.

The Gift: A creepy Southern Gothic gem from the minds of Sam Raimi and Billy Bob Thornton.

Ginger Snaps: Lycanthrophy serves as a metaphor for puberty for a pair of gothy Irish twins.

Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed: A symbol-happy sequel with a stunning twist.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch: The anarchic sequel/parody of the horror blockbuster.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters: So much better than it looks.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II: An underrated sequel ramps up the worldbuilding.

220px-hitchermovieposterHigh Tension: A French extremism homage to classic horror of the ‘70s

The Hitcher: A stark cat-and-mouse story in the unforgiving desert.

The House of the Devil: An ‘80s homage so loving it’s a wonder I didn’t dream it.

The Innkeepers: A slow and moody film that accurately captures the realities of the workplace.

Ironclad: A group of badasses defend a castle.

Insidious: An eerie gore-free ghost story from the guys behind Saw.

Insidious Chapter 2: An effective sequel to a true horror gem.

Joe Versus the Volcano: A sweet romantic fantasy about the importance of dreaming big.

Josie and the Pussycats: A fun musical comedy.

220px-may_28movie_poster29Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau: A great documentary about a terrible film.

May: An indie dramedy gone horribly awry.

The Missing: An Apache sorcerer kidnaps a girl to sell her into slavery, Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones to the rescue.

The Mist: Though adapted from a Stephen King novella, this is one of the best Lovecraft movies ever made.

Mute Witness: Hitchcockian yarn about a mute girl targeted for death by Russian snuff film makers.

My Boyfriend’s Back: It’s a one joke picture, but you gotta admit the joke is pretty funny.

Outlander: Alien Jesus + Vikings vs. Dragon.

Pontypool: A truly original take on zombies.

ravenous_ver1Predators: Basically an episode of Deadliest Warrior with fucking Predators.

The Purge: Anarchy: A sequel that finally fulfills the squandered promise of the original.

Rare Exports: A truly original Christmas horror film.

Ravenous: You are who you eat.

The Sacrament: A disturbing fictionalized account of Jonestown.

Series 7: The Contenders: An early satire of reality television.

Session 9: This whole goddamn movie is haunted.

Splice: Why you should never use metaphor with your mutant.

Stake Land: A survival horror movie with indie cred.

The Strangers: Lock the doors, bar the windows.  Doesn’t matter.  They’re already in the house.

teeth_posterStreets of Fire: A rock and roll fable.

The Stuff: Are you eating it, or is it eating you?

Teeth: A young woman makes friends with her mutation.  Say cheese!

Them!: ‘50s atomic horror classic about giant ants.

The Thin Blue Line: An Errol Morris classic that doubles as a terrifying horror story.

Trollhunter: The best found footage movie ever made.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil: Ingenious hicksploitation parody that gives us The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from Leatherface’s point of view.

You’re Next: An inversion of the classic home invasion horror thriller.

Enjoy your terror!

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New Satellite Show Episode 29: The Corsican

TSSiconThe Satellite Show returns with turkey leftovers such as the Gods of Egypt trailer, the iffy feelings people now have for Sixteen Candles, Justin questioning Dawn about Attack on Titan and memories of a demented coloring book. Justin stops himself from going too far while Elsha visits to egg him on. It is also agreed that Sarah will choose the form of the Destructor. This month’s Yakmala film is The Man Who Saved the World, AKA: Turkish Star Wars.

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Lifetime Theater: No One Would Tell

I seldom tell everyone up front who’s in a specific Lifetime movie. I generally prefer to let the insanity stand on its own two legs before hitting the reader with the punchline: “Oh yeah, and it stars Phylicia Rashad, Garth Brooks, and Amy Fisher.” This week, I need to frontload the cast, because this thing is exactly what you think of when you think Lifetime, down to the pitch perfect cast of former TV stars, musicians, recognizable faces, and one truly bizarre stuntcasting decision that ties the whole thing together like a rug an Asian guy just pissed on.

You have Full House’s Candace Cameron in the lead, with Fred Savage as her meathead boyfriend/villain, Michele Phillips from the Mamas and the Papas as Cameron’s mom, and Season Hubley as Savage’s mom. Heather McComb, who guest-starred in one of my favorite X-Files episodes of all time (the one with the Satanist PTA) plays Cameron’s best friend Nicki, and Justina Machado of Six Feet Under plays the other, while Eric Balfour has a small but crucial role as a pal of Savage’s. Rodney Eastman also makes an appearance, and he is likely most familiar as the mute kid in Dream Warriors, but was in a terrible movie my cousin and I were obsessed with mostly due to its incredible TV Guide synopsis: “Teen gets respect, girlfriend with raygun.” And that stuntcasting I alluded to? That would be Sally Jessy Raphael as a judge.


The Notorious SJR

Now, it just occurred to me that a younger reader (do I have any of those?) might have no idea who any of these people are. Especially Sally Jessy Raphael, though she does have the three-name trend of young, attractive actresses from the late ‘90s. You might imagine her in a short-lived WB show about witch-hunters falling in love with witches or something. No, SJR (as she has never been known), was part of the daytime talk show trend, which reached its zenith and nadir at the same time, with former mayor Jerry Springer. Having her play a judge who reads the moral of the story to the audience in case any of them missed it, is pretty much beyond perfect.

It’s probably pretty obvious by this point that we’re in the past. While the Lifetime network is not known for nabbing stars at the height of their popularity, casting SJR now would likely lead to some confused blinking and maybe a few, “Oh yeah, I remember her… didn’t she do commercials for Old Navy?” No One Could Tell was released in the Year of Our Grunge 1996.

…oh god, was it ever.

Watching this thing was like getting beaten with a sack of Clueless DVDs all wrapped up in a flannel shirt. The styles could have come out of a time machine, and owing to Lifetime’s more modest budget, they were considerably more accurate than other examples. They couldn’t spend a ton of money making everything up, so you got tons of baby blue jeans, high waists, big belts, belly shirts, layered hair, and I could go on, but I’m getting myself worked up here. The whole thing looked like a Delia’s catalogue.

Since this project started, it’s my first real dip into the Lifetime that most people think of when they hear that word. It’s also my first return to the ‘90s since I finished up with Blossom those many years ago. I can report now, for certain, that the network we know was definitely a thing. Unfortunately, this movie isn’t one of the parodies you’d hope for with nothing but wish-fulfillment. This one (as evidenced by the fact it needed a third act judge to tell all the characters how badly they suck) is a downer.

Candace Cameron gets in an abusive relationship with Fred Savage, which amounts to the most bizarre sitcom crossover ever. Savage also has undergone an Anthony Michael Hall in Edward Scissorhands transformation, and he basically spends the entire film working out, wrestling, or slapping Cameron around. There’s also a framing device in the beginning where Savage and Balfour drive Cameron out into the woods, then Savage and Cameron go off alone, with Savage coming back covered in blood and holding a knife. Or, as an OJ juror might say, “reasonable doubt.” Fuck you, this is 1996, I get one OJ joke. I made an Amy Fisher reference and none of you assholes batted an eye.

Where was I? Right, the bulk of the running time goes to Cameron’s relationship, which gets etched all over her skin in the form of bruises. Only Nicki really thinks anything is wrong, but her objections are too little too late, and tempered by the fact that she doesn’t want to lose Cameron as a friend. There’s a reason “don’t shoot the messenger” is an adage, and it’s not because people are forgetting to shoot that person. Eventually, Cameron dumps Savage, but he lures her out to those woods and things go bananas.

I have absolutely no idea how this body disposal is supposed to work. Granted, I don’t think the Lifetime network should turn into a how-to on murder, but a little realism wouldn’t be a terrible idea. They’re out by the lake, which is where teenagers go, I guess, when they live in a place with standing water. I’m from California, and as you might have heard, we don’t have that. At all. It’s sort of a problem.

It’s initially filmed that Cameron screams, goes silent, and then Savage comes wandering out of the woods looking like he tried to give Carrie White a pelvic exam. Then, in a flashback, we see him wrap up the body in plastic and tape, row it out into the lake, and dump it over the side. First off… that’s water, Fred Savage. You can’t wash your hands in it? Second… did you leave that shit out there? How pre-meditated was this? We never get an answer, either. Savage spends the whole movie protesting his innocence until Balfour gets an attack of conscience.

So what did we learn? Fortunately, I don’t have to think of it, since SJR flat out tells me in the end. Don’t beat or murder anyone (though she doesn’t really concentrate on this). No, the real evil was perpetrated by the friends who sat back and let this happen. Is that accurate? I don’t really know. Maybe blame the person who committed the crime, since, you know, it’s a crime and all. Just a thought.

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Tread Titan Perilously: Episode 7

titanlogoThe penultimate episode of Treat Titan Perilously focuses on losers and losing. In the grimdark world where Jogger Titans roam free, Erik and Justin discuss topics as varied as The Prisoner, Watchmen, The Wire and The Walking Dead. The Scouts fail at their mission and reaching the basement has never seemed farther away. Eren reveals that he is a poor MMA fighter, Mikasa returns to defend Eren and Titan Hunter Lestat reveals he can use the screw attack.

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Now Fear This: Frailty

Texas is a flat circle.

What is the role of the Almighty in fiction? It’s an ongoing debate, and there’s no correct answer. Humans tend to have widely diverging belief systems, even amongst those who are supposedly practicing the same faith. The existence of the supernatural in anyone’s fiction is going to default to the beliefs of the author. An atheist writer will assume no divine presence unless the story specifically calls for it, while a theist will assume some flavor of the godhead conforming to their conception of it. Most often, this presence or non-presence doesn’t really matter at all. God exists in the world of Pride and Prejudice, but it never comes up. There is no god in the Foundation series, and no one cares. Sometimes, though, God steps down and gets involved.

Some of the greatest fiction of the late 20th Century includes events specifically described by the characters (and not contradicted in the subtext) as divine miracles. Raiders of the Lost Ark culminates in a scene of literal wrath of God, cleaning up all the troublesome Nazis, but sparing Indy and Marion because they remembered they have eyelids. Pulp Fiction has a lesser event, but as Jules points out, it’s not about the size of the miracle. God saved both Jules and Vincent, and because Jules listened, he walked away and lived (and left Vincent unguarded, allowing Butch to kill him, but still).

The overuse of the divine to wrap up problems even has a name: deus ex machina. Meaning “god from the machine,” this dates back to early forms of drama when an actor portraying god, helped by a literal machine (I’ve always pictured them a bit like cherrypickers with fake clouds glued to them), comes down from the rafters and sorts out the trouble in the play. “You marry him, you marry him, and you go to hell to hang out with Hitler, Jared from Subway, and the guy who invented autotune.” The idea is that this cheapens the drama. Who cares about anything if God sorts it out in the end just like He wanted? What’s the purpose of the struggle at all?

And yes, this flies in the face of conventional theology too: where’s the free will we’re always hearing so much about? Characters don’t technically have free will, sure, but they also don’t really murder each other. It’s called suspension of disbelief.

When is deus ex machina okay? There is no real answer. What bothers some people doesn’t matter to others. It might have something to do with the viewer’s own beliefs — a theist might be more inclined to accept the involvement of the Almighty — but I’ve never done anything even approaching a scientific study. So who knows? I know that I am one of those who hates the form with a burning passion, to the point that the end of Raiders, a movie I love, never sat quite right with me.

That’s not to say any presence of God instantly derails my enjoyment of a movie at all. This week’s flick, Frailty, implies the existence of a fascinating and terrifying God, and it does it through the lens of a sleepy Southern Gothic gem of a horror flick, directed by none other than the great character actor Bill Paxton. Yes, that Bill Paxton.


It stars Paxton as the unnamed “Dad,” who awakens one night after having had a vision. An angel came down from heaven and informed him that it’s his duty to go out and kill demons disguised as people. He’ll get three magic weapons, which turn out to be a lead pipe, a double-headed axe, and a pair of work gloves, and a list of people who are secretly demons. God basically showed up and declared him an honorary Winchester brother.

In the afterglow of his religious ecstasy, he wakes him his two boys, Fenton (Matt O’Leary, most famous as Brain in the excellent noir Brick) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter, the asshole quarterback in Friday Night Lights). Fenton sees his father as dangerously insane, while Adam accepts what’s going on with the chilling peace of the dutiful son. Dad begins taking demons — who are totally people — and when he touches them without the gloves, he can see their sins. They’re murderers and pedophiles all, and he kills them with the axe, chopping them up and burying them in the city rose garden next door. Later on, law enforcement gets a note from the God’s Hand serial killer.

The entire thing is told in flashback when adult Fenton (Matthew McConaughey on a dry run with the character who would become Rust Cohle), lays the entire story at the feet of FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe). It’s probably not much of a surprise that this is setting up for a stunning third act twist, a twist McConaughey expertly foreshadows with extremely subtle acting choices. He reins in his formidable movie star charisma to portray a man entirely shattered by a childhood spent raised by a madman.

How insane is Dad really? Through the bulk of the film, as we see him through the eyes of skeptical Fenton, we are led to believe that he is a serial killer and nothing more. Periodically, he insists they will have supernatural aid. Taking one victim from a parking lot in broad daylight, Fenton asks how they won’t be caught. “God will blind them,” Dad says about the people all around. There’s no accompanying physical manifestation, but sure enough, they get the “demon” back to their slaughterhouse without any trouble.

Dad’s devotion, or psychosis, gets its sternest test when Fenton goes to the sheriff. Dad ends up murdering the man, and he’s visibly distraught. It’s the first person he’s ever killed, after all. The others were all demons. He tearfully lays the death at Fenton’s feet, as the price for not trusting him.

By the end of the movie, it’s pretty obvious that the God of Dad’s fantasies is quite real, and thus the vision was as well. The war in heaven has arrived, and people like Dad are the ones fighting it. The serial killers have become our heroes. Or, perhaps, it was never God at all. The devil is the great deceiver. While the ultimate source remains murky, the presence of the divine — which sets up rather than solves the twist — enhances a story that was already plenty great without it.

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Tread Titan Perilously: Episode 6

titanlogoErik’s prediction about the basement is woefully wrong as the scouts encounter the Jogger titan. While Eren dithers about taking action, Armin comes more into his own. The Jogger also owns a number of scouts. Erik and Justin appreciate several things about episode 17-19 and wonder if, perhaps, anime fans hold onto just a few things in the midst of otherwise dreadful series. Lestat, Dr. Hengle and Rainer continue to be great as the program (re)introduces horse whisperer Christa.

With the end in sight, though, Erik doubts we’ll ever reach the basement.

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Yakmala: Double Down

Notice the unattributed pull quotes.

In the history of my bad movie scholarship, I’ve proposed several unifying theories. Perhaps the most important has been the Insane Foreign Businessman Auteur Theory, in which a wealthy oddball from overseas tries to emulate the movies he loves so much and comes up wanting. The Room, Miami Connection, and Troll 2 are all great examples. But what happens when an American somehow doesn’t understand the basic grammar of American movies? Then you get auteur Neil Breen and his bizarre paranormal techno-thriller arthouse blockbuster Double Down.

Tagline: None

More Accurate Tagline: The Bourne Incomprehensibility

Guilty Party: Neil Breen. Normally I’d list all the things the auteur in question did, just to give the reader an idea of how much of his stink (and it’s always a dude) has been rubbed over this thing. With Double Down, it’s almost easier to list what Breen didn’t do. Makeup and lighting spring immediately to mind, because the credit in the end is listed as, no shit, “NONE.”

Synopsis: Holy shit, you guys, Aaron Brand (Neil Breen) is awesome. He majored in computer science and was first in his class in college. He was a fighter pilot and got all these medals, which he now puts on a sweet jean vest that’s only missing a kickass Whitesnake badge on the back. Then he was a covert agent for the government, but went rogue, and now he works for the highest bidder. It’s basically the resume you wrote at thirteen when you thought Solid Snake could stand to butch it up a little.

Brand cut ties with the government after they murdered his girlfriend, which is basically the dumbest thing they could have done. I have no idea what they were even trying to do, but if I started listing every single time that happened in this movie, this would go from being a review to a hostage situation.

Anyway, Brand basically turns himself into a tuna-gulping homeless man. He lives out in the desert in his Mercedes, hacking into government stuff and scampering gingerly over the reddish rocks on a perpetual spirit quest. He’s mostly bummed about his special lady being whacked, and having visions of her and him as kids. Occasionally he runs into a dying old man who’s supposed to symbolize America because Breen has been hiding his medication under his tongue this whole time.

He gets hired to shut down the Vegas strip for two months, and there’s some airborne anthrax running around too. He puts that on a guy, but nothing ever comes of it. I… I don’t even know what’s supposed to be happening here. Breen spends most of his time telling us via voiceover how ball-shatteringly awesome he is, then moping around the desert, checking on a sleeping bag where he keeps his girlfriend’s bones.

Eventually, he realizes literally no good person ever has used anthrax for anything, and he kills his employers — although some of them kill each other for no reason — and wanders off into the desert. He’s at peace with his girlfriend too, probably because she was a ghost being like, “Dude, stop putting anthrax on people.” That’s a good ghost right there.

Life-Changing Subtext: Technology, spirituality, and individuality are good, governments and chewing gum are bad.

Defining Quote: In other movies, you sometimes wonder what the main character is thinking. Breen’s been there, and he has a solution. Why wonder when you can just have your hero tell us on voiceover, or, you know in dialogue! Brand:  I’m so confused and depressed at my double life! I’ve got so many questions, I’m so confused!”

If you’re looking for context, you’re asking the wrong questions, but here goes. He yells this at his girlfriend’s ghost while shaking her shoulders, like he’s upset about some weird racist joke she told to Egon Spengler.

Standout Performance: There’s not a single good one amongst the terrified collection of non-actors Breen somehow roped into his nightmarish vanity project. If you told me Breen was pointing an Uzi at them off camera during line readings, I’d believe you. You have to give this to Breen himself, who, though a terrible actor who delivers every line like a sleepwalker asking for directions out of this clown locker room that’s also his friend Jerry’s living room, is undeniably magnetic. You can’t look away. Sure, you’re waiting for him to somehow literally crash and burn, to discover some new method of failure where the laws of physics are temporarily suspended, but he does stand out.

“What happened?” “Breen tried to do a romantic scene.”

What’s Wrong: There are times you can almost tell, almost, the kind of movie Breen wants to make. He’s clearly a middle-aged guy, and like most of us, he has rapidly diminishing fantasies about being a secret agent badass. So he makes a movie where he’s Jason Bourne. But he also lives in the desert, and that place fucks with your head. Like other desert dwellers — you might know them as the guys who founded nearly every religion that’s caught on — he’s developed a deep interest in the paranormal and the spiritual. So that shit’s going in, like stuffing a sausage with night terrors.

He’s also an artist. So in the middle of everything, he’s going to throw in symbolism, a timeline that jumps around, and, you know ghosts in thongs because fuck you, he paid for the goddamn movie, and what are you gonna say about it, Chad?

It’s a vanity project, and there aren’t even the rudimentary checks and balances that kept The Room from featuring a vampire with a flying car. This is Breen’s psyche, and it is an extremely sweaty place.

Flash of Competence: Breen uses a ton of stock footage, and that’s pretty well shot.

Best Scenes: Double Down features the greatest proposal scene in film history. Brand and his special lady friend are naked in the pool, although his girlfriend is wearing a flesh-colored thong, so I’m not entirely sure if she’s supposed to be naked, or just has baffling taste in swimwear. A sniper takes her out just after she says yes, because even Breen has a better handle on irony than Alanis Morrissette (ooh, time travel burn). For some reason, he ends up floating face down alongside the not-future spouse, like he’s making fun of her for floating like a dead goldfish. While her legs are clamped resolutely together, he’s floating free. Ah, romance. Though he might need to apply some SPF 1000 to the back of that sack.

Whenever Brand sits down with his computers, and it’s always several laptops because geniuses can’t use just one, they’re all off. He doesn’t even have fake stickers on the screens to pretend they’re on, either. I’m just assuming part of his paranormal abilities are using deactivated electronics. He does have a bio-medical implant (shown in disgusting stock footage) that has no other effect on the plot.

I don’t know what it is with crazy filmmakers and go-nowhere cancer plots, but this one has one. While having dinner with some people — relatives, friends, who knows — they tell him their daughter Megan has brain cancer. “Oh, no,” Brand says, in the same tone of voice he might use if he found out they were out of Cap’n Crunch. Then he puts his hand on her head and convinces himself he cured her. Did he? Maybe. She’s never in the movie again.

Transcendent Moment: Every last glorious second.

Here he goes again on his own.

Double Down is one of the most baffling films I’ve ever slapped eyes on. What’s even better is Breen has made two more, one every four years. He’s due for another in 2017.

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