The Future of Fear: An Opinion Piece


Well Shocktober is winding down so I thought I’d take a minute to discuss a question that’s been on my mind lately “Is the age of good horror movies over?” So often I hear horror fans speaking fearfully about the decline of horror movies but have the screams really become that much fainter? As the times have changed so has the landscape of the genre but despite what some may say I think it’s clear that there’s just as much potential for good horror movies as there has ever been.

Horror fans may romanticize the mid 70s or early 80s with such classics as; The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, but that doesn’t mean the 70s and 80s didn’t have it’s fair share of bad films. For every good horror movie there has ALWAYS been about ten bad ones at any given time. There may have been a great horror film released last year but these things take time, you have to wait and reflect on these films in the passing years.

As I just mentioned, many horror fans looks back quite fondly at the 70s and 80s, but that’s because they tend to only remember the good movies. People romanticize the past because they often choose to only remember the good things, really today is just as good as back then. If there ever truly was a golden age of horror it was probably the 30s (just as it was for most of cinema) and that was great while it lasted but times and trends change, things go in and out of style, and thus the genre is ever evolving.

Let’s take a look at genre today, I mean what’s really eating away at the fans? One of the most common complaints I see is a stronger focus on gore over other aspects. I don’t think anyone would argue that movies today are pretty bloody, but why is that? I’d say it has something to do with audiences becoming more desensitized to violence, and thus gory movies have become more commercially viable. People are used to gore now so it’s become common in many horror movies, but in a way hasn’t it always been? Herschell Gordon Lewis has been making blood soaked films since the 60s and don’t get me started with the kind of visceral imagery that Lucio Fulci put to film in the decade after that. So really gory movies aren’t anything new, people are just less shocked by them as they should be. So now you see filmmakers trying to push what we’ve already seen in the disgusting department to new levels. That may be good for some, but I’ll bet you a plump christmas goose that’s not the main reason most moviegoers go to horror movies. Plain and simple people want to be scared and I don’t think they care how it happens, as long as it’s done well.

Seeing that your typical horror fan is fairly open to anything they’ll see these hashed out gory movies, I mean there are only so many horror movies released in theaters each year. So this doesn’t mean that audiences aren’t open to different kinds of horror movies. Take for example Paranormal Activity; it’s low budget, not gory, not flashy, and yet it was a huge success that’s launched a popular franchise. On top of all this it even beat Saw VI on it’s own opening weekend. This shows that audiences aren’t simply drawn to the gore in the genre but to the act of being surprised and excited.

I’ve seen many of great horror movies come out of the 2000s. Just look at all the crazy shit Japan has cooked up since then? If you ask me some of the best foreign horror movies I’ve ever seen came out of the last ten years. Films like; The Host from South Korea, Rec from Spain, Shaun of the Dead from the UK, Let the Right One In from Sweden… and the list goes on. Of course there’s always been a thriving indie scene for any genre as well and that’s no exception within horror. There’s some great stuff out of there you just got to look for it, be brave, be experimental, that’s what it’s all about. I love horror movies but I refuse to live in the past when there’s so much I could be missing out on. I’m not sure why I wrote this post, I suppose I’m just annoyed by people online always complaining about \how bad modern entertainment has become, and so I decided to apply it to horror movies. Always look ahead monster movie fans, you might be surprised with what you’ll find.

Shocktober: Day 31

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)

Rather then end Shocktober or “Shlocktober” on a grim note with my disgust of Rob Zombie’s Halloween, I decided I’d end the countdown with a movie that personifies what Shlocktober is all about. So many times I’ve used the phrase “So bad it’s good” and this is one of the best of those kind I’ve seen in years.

“Why did the Eagles and Vultures Attacked?” Yes you heard me “Attack-ed”. This is the very phrase that adorned dozens of flyers handed out by Vietnamese born director James Nguyen at Sundance 2009 and that pretty much sums it all up. Some films are rushed, some struggle with a low budget, and some filmmakers are just incompetent. James Nguyen is three for three in that department. How someone with such little understanding of plotting, characters, and film in general even made a film boggles the mind. On one hand you have to respect someone for going up to the plate to take a swing. So maybe Nguyen just got hit in the head by a pitch, his mind certainly seems to operate that way.

I think it’s a good indicator that a film will be bad when there is a typo in the opening credits. “Supporting Casts” is what appears bold as day as it’s played over boring driving footage to a song that loops every thirty seconds… And the movie hasn’t even started yet. When it does we are introduced to a young software salesman Rod (Alan Bagh) who is almost as good an actor as board with a nail in it. Rod lives the sweet life in Silicon Valley and things only get sweeter when he reconnects with Nathalie (Whitney Moore) an old classmate and fashion model who does photo shoots at what looks like a one hour photo place. But just as their romance takes off so does a swarm of killer hawks and eagles that begin to explode all over the city.

Instead of continuing with a plot summary here’s a list of some of the mistakes, errors, and other oddities present in Birdemic.

  • All of the killer birds in the film fly in place like hummingbirds. This is most likely done to save money on CGI, but the filmmaker’s explantation is “Global warming has caused them to be mutant, toxic, and flammable. That’s why, when they take a kamikaze drive, they explode, and when they drop bird fluid on some of the cast, they get burned.” Though I don’t really see how that answers the question.
  • Characters are never seen reloading their weapons after firing off endless rounds. Also, I should probably mention that a popular weapon for most of the characters are coat hangers.
  • Doves fight off eagles in the film despite the fact that eagles (and remember they are radioactive) are predators to doves.
  • Sometimes we see people driving around in the background not reacting to the bird attack. I’m sure these people weren’t supposed to be in the film.
  • A great deal of dialogue is inaudible and the room tone is never consistent.
  • If I recall correctly it was supposed to be December and yet there is a scene at a harvest festival.
  • When Rod is watching stock footage on the TV we can clearly see the Getty Images watermark emblazoned over it. I’m guessing the makers were probably too cheap to actually buy the footage.
  • Constantly, characters who we’ve never seen arbitrarily appear to complain about global warming. The film An Inconvienent Truth is mentioned numerous times.

You could go on to a fill a book with all this insanity, Im just speechless. From a technical standpoint this film is no better than some family’s home movies. There’s nothing to speak of visually and I can’t recall seeing a film with so many sound errors. The room tone is always either too loud or just silent and the dialogue is a garbled mess. It’s not like these would be difficult problems to fix either. Did Nguyen really see no problems with this footage?

Birdemic is one of those films that isn’t as much a film as it is a display of how not to make a film. Fortunately, what this all adds up to is one of the funniest bad movies I’ve seen in a long time. You wanna laugh? Watch Birdemic it will make your night, With that I thank you for reading this year’s Shocktober series it was one strange trip but it’s done, happy haunting.

And here’s one last video to bug Sean with it’s improper formatting!

John’s Top Five Horror Films of 2011

You don’t see a lot of “Top Fives” on the blog but I also don’t see many good horror movies these days. Thankfully there’s always a few so I can at least do a this short list. It’s a little complicated to sort out when all these movies actually came out considering most of the best modern horror movies are either foreign or independently released but this is close enough, enjoy if you dare.

5. Vanishing on 7th Street

More and more I find myself respecting the efforts of independent filmmaker Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) one of the few indie filmmakers today trying to put the story back in horror story. Anderson isn’t about big scares as much he’s about establishing atmosphere and characters we care about. Although most critics weren’t crazy about it I thought Vanishing on 7th Street was a great Twilight Zone-esque tale of twists and turns, this is basically what I wish M. Night Shyamalan still was.

The premise is that of a millions of people that suddenly vanish when a wave darkness hits Detroit. The days begin to grow shorter and the nights longer as darkness starts to engulf people leaving only their clothes behind. The only way to fight it is to make sure you’re near a light source at all times, glow sticks, flashlights, all that stuff, and it leads for a very exciting experience. Hayden “My new powers can save you” Christensen stars alongside a small cast along with Thandie Newton, John Lequizamo, and Jacob Latimore, and the name of the game is survival. Simply put this is a well written piece with a spooky premise that constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat, I liked it.

4. Paranormal Activity 3

Of course this had to be here now that the series has become a Halloween tradition. I reviewed this just a few days ago so I wont say much more but it’s a great spook house movie that must be seen in theaters. This is probably the scariest movie on this top five and must be seen by anyone who considers themself a fan of ghost stories.

3. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

: Another one that’s tricky to pin down due to it’s independent release, but I just couldn’t do this list without the wackiest horror comedy of the year. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk are a fantastic comic pairing in this satire on the “Killbilly” genre. So often we see movies where teens are chased down by gap toothed gold ‘ol boys, so it’s a great twist to see it the other way around.

Tucker and Dale are two peaceful bumpkins on vacation at their newly acquired fixer upper cabin when they cross paths with a group of preppy and inconsiderate college students. Believing Tucker and Dale to be a threat after supposedly kidnapping one of their own (a girl who they actually saved), the college kids wage a very gory war against Tucker and Dale. This results in a bizarre collection of mishaps in which each college kid accidentally gets killed by their own incompetence. It’s an absurd premise but it’s got great some gore and even greater laughs.

2. Trollhunter

It took awhile to see the light of day here in the States but now that it’s here I highly recommend everyone watch Norway’s answer to Cloverfield. Hmm, I think I actually like this better than Cloverfield. The characters are great and the mythology is just so rich and endlessly intriguing, we definitely get a nice little troll education here and there. It’s got laughs and scares and consistently keeps a fun quick pace. It’s movies like this that keep the handheld camera sub-genre alive and flourishing. I don’t know what else to say but it’s the best movie bout trolls I’ve ever seen, though I guess that isn’t saying much.

P.S. It’s on Netflix RIGHT NOW! See it while you still can.

1. Attack the Block

Not only was this my favorite horror movie of 2011 but also my favorite sci-fi, action, and comedy film. Attack the Block is a high adrenaline genre smorgasbord with more laughs and excitement than anything you saw last summer. The debut film from writer/director Joe Cornish I haven’t enjoyed a British comedy like this since the last Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright collaboration. So it’s not much of a surprise to find out that Edgar Wright was one of the film’s producers and Nick Frost is one of the very colorful cast members.

When an army of giant gorilla-like aliens invade South London it’s up to a gang of rambunctious young hoodlums to defend their block. That premise alone sold me and from then on out I couldn’t get enough of this sharp and surprisingly smart alien massacre movie. The dialogue, all though coated in a thick London accent is full of gems. My favorite line is probably when one of the kids only has one text left to send and says, “I’ve got one text left, this is too much madness to explain in one text!” I also like how the kids call the aliens “Big Gorilla Wolf Motherfuckers.” You wouldn’t think you could sympathize for a bunch of rude street toughs but somehow you start to develop a soft spot. I only pray this is never remade, check it out!

Honorable Mention
Insidious – The Guys behind Saw make their best movies since… Actually this is better than any of the Saw movies. It’s just a gold old haunted house movie that was a joy to watch.

Shocktober: Day 30

Halloween (2007)

Never have I wanted to walk out of a theater more than when I saw this soulless piece of schlock. Ninety unbearable minutes of unbelievably unsavory characters taking part and being subjected to grisly, meaningless, violence. Some may argue that “Making it hard to watch only makes it more effective.” but to that I respond “You are retarded.” Yes horror movies are supposed to be sadistic they are “Horror” movies after all, but they should also mean something. You should care and feel about what’s going on, relate with someone in the movie and overall it should be entertaining and hopefully even innovative. None of these are traits which Halloween possesses.

The approach here was to start with the origin story of Michael Myers which of course as we all know by now is always a terrible idea. Remember the Phantom Menace? All this does is ruin the mystique of the character, plus what more do we need to know about Michael? We already saw a prepubescent Michael slash up his sister in the original flick do we really need 15 more minutes of that in a “re-imagining?” Surprisingly Halloween is actually a case where humanizing the antagonist weakens his presence. Knowing that Michael was from a broken home and picked on by bullies just makes me feel bad for him, I’m supposed to fear him remember? He was scarier when his sudden bloodlust came out of nowhere because it was so unexpected. What we don’t understand, that’s what we fear the most.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of origin story, we are then subjected to a painfully dull rehash of the original film. Laurie has to babysit on Halloween, blah, blah, teens having sex get murdered, blah, blah, he’s dead, he’s not dead, and I don’t give a shit. Like I haven’t already seen all this done better about a hundred times before. The only reason any of this even exists is is to pad out the running time. I mean you couldn’t just have a twenty minute origin movie now could you? Which brings us to the fact that this movie “Should not have been made!” Though with Rob Zombie’s involvement or not, this movie was going to be made no matter what.

Could this movie had been remade any better? Well seeing that about 80% of horror movie remakes are beyond unwatchable, probably not. What almost depresses me the most is how John Carpenter doesn’t give a shit about the legacies of his own movies. It’s like all he does these days is collect paychecks and piss off his fans. Not that it’s really any of his control with the studios and everything, it’s just the fact that it doesn’t bother him. I mean you’ll be hard pressed to find a Carpenter fan that likes or approves of any of these Carpenter remakes so stop making them!

Really it’s that damned Hollywood machine that deserves the most blame. It seems cliched to talk about how much Hollywood cares about money over artistic vision, but as far as I can tell that seems to the be the case in a nut shell. Sadly we are to forever be surrounded by terrible remakes of these classics. Though it’s up to both you and I to try and ignore them and look to other venues for our freaky fix.

Shocktober: Transformers 3

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

After Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was such an unmitigated disaster, how could people want a third one? How could they want another Michael Bay Transformers movie so badly that they turned Dark of the Moon into one of the highest grossing films of all time? Who are these people? To answer that question, I sat down with my brother and dad last night and watched this self-inflicted wound all the way through.

Dark of the Moon opens with a big spaceship crashing on the moon. When CG John F Kennedy hears about this, he orchestrates the space race with the secret intention of beating the Russians to this alien technology. They get up there and Neil Armstrong looks around the ship and then they come back and the space race ends. Immediately the film shifts to present day, where we stare at the butt of this film’s supermodel girlfriend for Shia LaBeouf. After Michael Bay has his lust temporarily sedated, we catch up with Shia. Since the last movie, he’s graduated from college and is looking for work. He wants to be someone important, but being a recent college grad, he doesn’t have that many opportunities available to him. We learn that he met his girlfriend after getting a medal from CG Barack Obama at the White House, even though it’s established she works at a car showroom. What’s worse, Shia’s parents show up in a Sarah Palin-style tour bus. God, I hate these people.

So Shia goes on to act like a whiny bitch with his beautiful girlfriend and rich parents for a while. Meanwhile, that Tad Hamilton guy is in Chernobyl with the Autobots for some reason. They find some thing and then get attacked by Soundwave, who, if you remember, was a fucking boombox in the show. Now he’s a fancy car surrounded by gigantic metal tentacles, you probably remember those from the trailer. Optimus is pissed about something and so he goes to the moon and brings back Sentinel Prime, who was hidden on that spaceship up there the whole time. Sentinel Prime has some of the key components of the Space Bridge, the teleporting technology to go instantly between Cybertron and Earth. Also, Sentinel Prime is played by Leonard Nimoy, who played Galvatron in the real Transformers movie. I don’t think Michael Bay knows this, however, since he instead just makes every Spock reference possible. Sentinel Prime actually says “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” at one part. The gall of this man.

I guess Michael Bay liked Burn After Reading, because we learn that Frances McDormand is now in charge of the Autobots side of the U.S. government and John Malkovich is the weirdo who hires Shia. Malkovich acts like a hardass boss during the interview, but then quickly becomes a joke before disappearing entirely. He doesn’t really even matter, because Shia’s time at his new job is spent getting into homoerotic situations with Ken Jeong, who as it turns out worked for NASA during Apollo 11. Laserbeak, Soundwave’s cassette tape who is now simply a bird robot, kills Ken Jeong, so now Shia’s on the case. But he’s too late: Sentinel Prime betrays Optimus and joins with Megatron to summon the limitless army of Decepticons on Cybertron to Earth. Shia learns that his supermodel girlfriend’s boss secretly has been helping the Decepticons the whole time and she gets kidnapped. The Decepticons take over Chicago for some reason, and the U.S. government gives into their demand to exile the Autobots. They all get on another spaceship and then that ship gets blown up by Starscream (I think, it’s hard to tell).

With all the Autobots seemingly dead, Shia joins up with Tyrese Gibson and his old military buddies to head to Chicago. But when they get there, they give up because they didn’t think this through. Then, out of nowhere, the Autobots show up. They weren’t on the spaceship at all! Shia asks why and Optimus basically says no reason. Then there’s an action sequence for at least an hour. They spend forever trying to get to a certain building, even though they actually make it there to save the supermodel within minutes. They save her and leave and then realize they need to go there again. And it takes forever. Optimus flies around and gets stuck in hanging wires like an idiot. Some Autobot who’s like an old British scientist, complete with weird robot Einstein hair, gets killed and we’re supposed to be sad. Megatron basically sits there helplessly for the whole movie. Dudes parachute in and kill random, unnamed Decepticons. Sentinel Prime just stands on a building monologuing like an evil Spock. Eventually he fights Optimus. He’s about to win, but the supermodel manipulates Megatron into actually doing something, so he backstabs Sentinel. Then Optimus kills Megatron like a bitch. He does a brief monologue and boom, movie over.

It probably shouldn’t, but it still bothers me how far from the source material we’ve come. All the Autobots are douchebags, especially Optimus Prime. They’re just jerks to everybody. And you can’t even tell who the Decepticons are, I thought Soundwave died three times because I couldn’t tell him from the others. The humans are all horrible people, especially Shia LaBeouf, who spends the whole fucking movie whining and screaming. I hate him so much. The supermodel is worse than Megan Fox, she’s just meat put on display for us, often standing in sexy poses during the most dangerous situations. At least John Tuturro and Alan Tudyk (as his European manservent) seem like they’re having fun with their parts. But most everything that was wrong with the last movie is wrong with this one: the story is hard to follow and stupid, the characters are terrible and it’s way too damn long – longer than Revenger of the Fallen. The CG generally looks nice and it’s easier to follow now, especially because so much is in slow motion, but I still don’t really care.

But what about my brother and dad? They liked X-men Origins: Wolverine after all. They wanted to see this movie. I had to wait for them to start it. About halfway through the experience, my dad turned to me and asked why I wanted to see it. I told him it was to write about how bad it is. He accepted that answer. As soon as the credits started, they were up and out of there. My brother seemed excited about some parts of it, but when it was over he was quick to call it a bad movie. He just liked seeing fancy cars, I reckon. Later, my dad took me aside to talk about how bad the movie was. He even mentioned it to my other brother on the phone.

It’s just a shame, Michael Bay could have made a much more action-packed, bizarre movie if he stuck to the source material. He could have set it during the 1980s and the ridiculousness of it, things like the main villain turning into a gun that someone else had to fire, would be greater than anything in his film series. Instead, he created a successful franchise without a soul. A terrible machine that transforms hope and love into sorrow and loathing. And I hear we’re in for like two more of them.

San Fran Rock City

Driver: San Francisco

It seems like every year there’s one racing game that captures my interest. Last year, it was the totally thrilling Split/Second. This year, somehow, it’s the latest Driver game. The Driver franchise has never been one that I cared about, save for when I heard Driv3r was starring Michael Madsen, Mickey Rourke and Ving Rhames. Even then, I didn’t really care about it, I was just confused. Why would you want Michael Madsen to star in a driving video game with a terrible title? But, by combining basic cable buddy cop antics with Quantum Leap, Driver: San Francisco demanded not just my attention, but a good chunk of my time too.

You play as Detective John Tanner, a cop who is obviously cool because he drives a Dodge Challenger modelled after the one in the movie Vanishing Point. Tanner, along with his partner Tobias Jones respond to a call that Jericho, the guy they put away in Driv3r is trying to escape prison by hijacking his prison transport truck. But Jericho gets the drop on Tanner, ramming into his car. Tanner awakens hours earlier, now with the power to leave his body and take over any driver on the road. Just like Quantum Leap, passengers don’t know that they’re drivers have been possessed, providing much of the game’s humor as Tanner tries to blend in. With his new powers, Tanner has to get to the bottom of Jericho’s evil plans and bring him in before he can get away for good.

It’s probably worth noting that Tanner, Jones and Jericho sound nothing like Madsen, Rhames and Rourke and I had no problem not knowing the plot of previous Driver games. The game makes it clear enough early on: Jericho’s bad, Tanner’s good, go play. The game’s written like a cheesy cop show and it works pretty well. It has a lot of fun with the weirdness of interacting with passengers and generally the game has a pretty light tone.

Being able to switch from car-to-car really changes the way you play a racing game. Having trouble catching up with a car you’re chasing? Just switch into an oncoming truck and smash into them. Need to be in a bunch of places at once? No problem, just pick the nearest cars to those locations. Need to find out information about a hired assassin? Just posses her driver. There’s a reasonable variety to the game, but its the innate fun of this mechanic that makes playing through Driver: San Francisco enjoyable.

This is an open world game, in the vein of Burnout Paradise. You’ve got more and more of San Francisco to drive around as the game’s story progresses and plenty of diversions if you don’t feel like spending time with Tanner and Jones. There are side missions that tell more amusing stories, like the dumb kids who end up getting involved in the street racing circuit or an angry agent who destroys the signs for the gig of a rival band. More substantially, there are tons of challenges and stunts to be completed around the city. These are simple activities, like “keep your car at 100 mph for 30 seconds” or “drift for 50 feet” but they reward you with precious income. You can use your earnings to buy cars to spawn or upgrades for yourself, like an enhanced boost ability or ramming.

There’s also mulitplayer, for what it’s worth.

Driver: San Francisco would not be much if it was a straight driving game. The driving mechanics of the game are solid, but not especially fun. The game looks all right, but it certainly doesn’t stand out. But the supernatural aspect of the game makes it unique and compelling. If I’m only going to play one racing game this year (and it looks like that will be the case) I’m glad it’s this one.