Category Archives: Zombies

REDNECK ZOMBIES – 13 Days of Shot on Video! (#10)

With 13 Days of Shot On Video I’ll be reviewing a new shot-on-video horror film every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.

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I’ve said this many times before, but SOV horror movies are not for everyone. One of the biggest factors in deterring the average viewer is the overall aesthetic: bad editing, even worse acting, junky sound, and just a general aura of cheapness. Redneck Zombies is sort of the exception to the rule, however, as it was released by Troma Entertainment — the film company who prides themselves on their no-budget, laughable productions. So in a way, Redneck Zombies was safeguarded from the usual expected shortcomings that plagued the average SOV horror movie; suddenly, those limitations were now strengths. I assert that Redneck Zombies just may be the crossover hit that bridged the gap between shot-on-video and the collective hip consciousness. I can’t name many (if any) friends who have seen SOV gems such as Sledgehammer or Killing Spree, but all of my friends know what Troma is and have seen many Troma films, and even a handful have seen Redneck Zombies. Whodathunk. Redneck Zombies, a vanguard film! Continue reading REDNECK ZOMBIES – 13 Days of Shot on Video! (#10)

“Spring” (2014) & “Maggie” (2015) REVIEWS

I wasn’t going to review these movies together for any deep reason — I simply watched them back-to-back and thought I’d kill two birds with one review. After all, these were two very different films — tonally and stylistically — and I really liked one and kinda hated the other one. Pretty different flicks altogether.

But the more I thought about it, the more I drew parallels between the two films: both were fairly under-the-radar VOD films about having to accept the fate bestowed upon a loved one while helplessly watching them turn into some awful thing. So maybe reviewing them together does make sense in some loose way.

I knew very little about each film prior to watching them, but I’d seen nothing but praise and warmth for both films circulating online. I’d watched a trailer for Maggie and knew Arnold Schwarzenegger was putting in a dramatic performance as a farmer who watches his young daughter slowly succumb to a zombie bite. As for Spring, I’d only seen its poster and the head-scratching Rastafarian color scheme. I also had a friend who’d seen Spring and said he enjoyed it, but that the writing was “very college”, and it was a bit sappy. And I knew from reading a brief synopsis on iTunes that a guy goes on a roadtrip to Italy, falls in love, blah blah blah. At this point, I was totally on board for Maggie and couldn’t care less about Spring.

Oh, how wrong I ended up being.

I watched Maggie first, as I was more interested in it than Spring. It starts out promising, if not completely trite: muted color palette, desolate fields with arbitrary fires burning, governmental warnings being delivered in fuzzy bursts through an old truck radio as it ambles down a lone, vacant highway — the apocalypse, baby!

Maggie

But boy it loses steam, and quick. It took me three tries before I was able to make it all the way through this 95 minute movie. It is rough. It’s fairly void of any dialogue, and the lines we are gifted are so brutally hackneyed. An incredibly miscast Arnold Schwarzenegger (playing a painfully earnest farmer) gives his daughter the old “you remind me so much of your mother” speech while he works on his truck; they laugh, they bond; it’s technically a ‘scene’. And when the film isn’t being incredibly cliche, it’s being incredibly oversentimental. Laughably, shockingly oversentimental. I almost want to spoil the ending because of how downright ridiculously saccharin it is, but where’s the fun in that? And then there are several ‘slo-mo traipsing through a field’-style shots from the Terrence Malick handbook which just end up feeling more like an anti-depressant commercial. There are so many of these shots, too many, that it feels as though they were included simply to pad out the runtime versus any real artistic or stylistic reasons. Also, when is this movie set? Their clothes, their house — they look like they’re from the 1800s. Yet everyone and everything else — Maggie’s teenaged friends, the local police — are modern. I mean, sure, I get it, “they’re farmers! Haha! Farmers always look that way, right?” It just furthers the uninspired laziness of the film. Also, this film apparently cost $8M to make when all was said and done, yet nothing happens at all. No explosions, no elaborate choreography or big set pieces. There is some (and I stress some) zombie make-up and very little CGI. Other than that, it’s all handheld camerawork on a farm. That’s it. Where ever that money went, it did not end up on the screen.

And for the people commending Schwarzenegger’s dramatic acting, c’mon, give me a break. I got more chills from the scene in Terminator 2 when he gives the thumbs up as he’s being lowered into molten metal than I did from his whole performance in Maggie. And I know that sounds funny and snarky, but I’m being serious. I’ve seen Arnold play the ill-fated lead quite effectively before, but that is not the case with this film.

So after the incredibly disappointing Maggie I was fairly hesitant to watch a film I had no real interest in watching to begin with. But I turned on Spring and holy shit I was blown away! Beautiful and competent cinematography, gorgeous locations, believable and engaging leads, effective and well done practical and CGI effects. Not to mention a smart script and original premise. I really, really enjoyed it.

Spring-Alley

I immediately got a Before Sunrise meets The Thing type vibe from it, and upon doing a little research have since found people calling it “Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft” — so my initial reaction was pretty on point. I won’t spoil it, but basically a burnt out American runs away to Italy where he meets and falls for a girl with a pretty heavy duty secret.

One of the many things I enjoyed about the film was that it didn’t let me down. Maybe that sounds silly and obvious to say, “I liked it because it was good!”, but horror movies these days so often find a way to ruin all the momentum they’d been building by tacking on a copout of an ending, or they blow it by throwing some unnecessary curveball in the middle that immediately evaporates the movie’s credibility. Not so with Spring. That’s not to say I wasn’t waiting for it at every turn, with every advancement; I was. But no, it keep moving along, sensibly and fluidly. And I just kept liking what was happening more and more. It’s great.

There is one, single scene early on which features a rapey dudebro type that feels forced. It only stands out because everything else is done so flawlessly. But thankfully that single scene is quite fleeting — seconds long, really — so it doesn’t distract too much.

At just shy of 2 hours, Spring is a long horror-ish flick, but it never feels long — and that’s a sign of skillful filmmaking.

Spring and Maggie may be similar films, but it’s the reasons they’re dissimilar that make all the difference.

Drive-In Double Feature: THE FACULTY & 28 DAYS LATER!

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The whole point of this goofy little “Drive-In Double Feature” thing  brilliant, original, captivating, thought-provoking “Drive-In Double Feature” thing was a simple one: get people talking about horror movies. Possibly introduce others to films they’d never heard of. Get people excited. This includes people who don’t normally consider themselves “horror fans”, as in the case of Megan. While she admitted to me she “didn’t know a lot about horror” movies, she was still a good sport and submitted a piece anyway. And that makes this silly compelling Double-Feature thing all the more impressive: it’s bringing people together, uniting the hardcore gorehounds and the weekend-watchers as one. If there’s one thing I want to be remembered for long after I’m dead, it’s this month-long piece. Anyway, for not being a huge follower of horror, Megan was still somehow able to get to the root of why we watch horror movies in the first place: the Hotties. Take it away, Megan!

When I was a teen girl, my film criticism hinged on one important question: Where the Hotties at? My best friends each had their favorite Hollywood dudes, which meant that I had to see every movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Orlando Bloom, Paul Walker (RIP!), Elijah Wood (my baby!) etc. (Turns out having a Regulation Hottie in your movie does not guarantee it will be any good. The heart wants what it wants.)

You can see these at the Camera Viscera drive-in, but my recommendation for watching these movies is to go to my friend Althea’s parent’s house in Aurora and watch them on her dad’s projection wall. That is the way these films are meant to be viewed. It should also be past 3 a.m., and you should be eating Little Casear’s pizza, and you should be surrounded by 3-5 teenage girls. When discussing the film’s Hotties, feel free to reference the emo boys of West Aurora High School. It should be 2006. You, yourself, should be a teenage girl.

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In Robert Rodriguez’s high school spoof on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a ragtag group of teens discover that their teachers have all been taken over by malevolent aliens. It’s a pretty standard Breakfast Club ensemble—the popular girl, the outcast, the druggy. Most importantly, ELIJAH WOOD is the nerdy school newspaper photographer, which is ideal because I also worked on The Red and Blue, West Aurora High’s premier student publication, which we assembled on Microsoft Publisher every month.

An important thing to know about me at this time is that my AIM screenname was “crazee4elijah.” I had many, many pictures of him taped to my locker. Every weekend, I forced my friends to watch an Elijah Wood movie. The Faculty is pretty much his only non-Frodo role we still hold in any regard.

This movie has a lot of Hotties. It has Usher, pop star Hottie, and Jon Stewart, dad-aged Hottie. It has Josh Hartnett as a burn-out drug dealer, who I grudgingly accepted as a Hottie because the teen mags told me to.

The Faculty is really hokey and self-aware. It has a lot of one-liners that are fun to scream at each other in the cafeteria. In a pivotal scene (spoilers?) Josh Hartnett stabs an alien with a ballpoint pen full of ILLICIT DRUGS. Right before he plows that sucker in, he gets smarmy and says “Guaranteed to jack you up,” which is what he always smarms when he sells his ILLICIT DRUGS. Anyway, it turns out “Guaranteed to jack you up” is a fun thing to yell when you are a teenage girl shotgunning pixie sticks or diet cokes or Bosco Sticks or just for no reason at all.

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When I first laid eyes on Cillian Murphy’s weird face, I thought, “Hmmm, yes, here is a man whose picture I could haphazardly glue to my chemistry binder.” Cillian is a scruffy, snake-faced Hottie with piercing, sociopathic blue eyes. (My teenage M.O.)

He plays Jim, who wakes up in a hospital to find London abandoned. In the 28 days since he went into a coma, a rage virus has spread through the city and beyond; infected humans are angry, violent and most importantly, fast. When Jim wakes up in the hospital bed, there is a moment where the camera pans over his naked body from above and you can see his penis. This split-second shot of a far-off, flaccid dick SCANDALIZED 16 year old me.

The infected are zombies, sure, but they aren’t the archetypal stumbling, rotting flesh version. In a way, they’re more human, stripped down to their most predatory form. Jim finds a group of survivors who are looking for a military outpost, a promised safe haven where society will be reborn. It’s not just a movie about survival; it’s a movie about humanity’s ultimate insignificance. It’s a movie about what it means to keep living when everything around you dies.

“Do you know I was thinking?” Jim asks in one scene.

“You were thinking that you’ll never hear another piece of original music ever again. You’ll never read a book that hasn’t already been written or see a film that hasn’t already been shot,” bad-ass co-survivor Selena responds.

This dystopia really stuck with teen me. The repercussions, I knew, were dire. You’ll never read another Teen Beat. You’ll never hear another Fall Out Boy album. You’ll never get to casually run into Elijah Wood after his DJ set and tell him about the dream you had in 2005 that he got hit by a car in front of your parents’ house and you had to nurse him back to health. What a grim future, indeed.

Megan Kirby lives and writes in Chicago. You can find her on twitter at @megankirb, tweeting to @woodelijah in vain.

Bub Discovers New Music!

One of the great things about 80s horror flicks (versus today’s pedigree) is they didn’t take themselves so seriously. They weren’t afraid to inject lots of humor right alongside the buckets of blood. Everything from Evil Dead to Creepshow, A Nightmare on Elm Street to The Lost Boys, there was an art to the balance of humor and horror – something that is most certainly lost on 99.98% of today’s spook movies.

George A. Romero was no stranger to having fun in his movies, especially them zombie ones that made him so famous. Hell, Dawn of the Dead (1978) has a pie fight! By his third zombie film, Day of the Dead (1985), the slapstick got toned down a bit but there was still lots to smirk at – one of the main ones being the childlike “Bub”, a zombie who we see being ‘taught’ by Dr. Logan. Bub is iconic, as are his interactions with Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan, so I thought I would take a familiar scene and update it a bit – contemporize it for the year it was released, 1985.

Drive-In Double Feature: The Fog & Sleepaway Camp!

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Jason and I have known each other since 2008. We’ve been co-workers at two different jobs, bummed around New York Comic Con one frozen weekend in February, and somehow have never so much as once shared a single common word about horror flicks between ourselves. How we avoided the topic so long, I don’t know. But when I saw him write this review of It Follows recently, I knew he’d be a perfect contributor for the Drive-In Double Feature. Without further ado… 

SPOILERS ABOUND!

The drive-in was already outdated by the time I was old enough to go to the movies without parental supervision but they came with the air of nostalgia that seems to complement each new generation as they come to age. The first thought that came to mind when I was trying to come up with a good drive-in double feature was horror movies. Horror encompassed a large part of the viewing habits in my youth and still does today.

The challenge of what to watch didn’t come as easily. After wracking my brain trying to come up with two flicks, I came up with four requirements I wanted to follow:

  1. The film wasn’t a super obvious choice.
  2. The film wasn’t ‘so bad it’s good’.
  3. The film wasn’t something I had seen multiple times in the past five years.

There isn’t anything wrong with picking any films that might fall into the above criteria, it’s just what I wanted to follow (my fourth requirement will come into play a little later).

After many moons (or maybe a few hours), I finally settled on the 1980 version of The Fog and the 1983 classic Sleepaway Camp. ‘Now, wait a minute!’ horror aficionados around the globe scream in agony. Yes, The Fog was directed by John Carpenter, one of the most famous horror directors around and Sleepaway Camp is infamous in its own right.

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The reason I picked The Fog as an opener was mainly because while the director and cast are famous in horror, not a lot of people I know have actually seen it. I thought it might ring familiar with folks who knew Carpenter and his work but never got around the watching this one. It’s not as iconic as They Live, Halloween, Escape From New York, and a bevy of others but I think it still holds up as pretty damn creepy, especially by today’s standards. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau (along with horror favorites Tom Atkins and Janet Leigh), it sets up with the classic horror trope of a large anniversary celebration in a quaint town. The pacing, music (a classic Carpenter score intercut with the usually wonderful plot device of a radio DJ broadcasting songs), and even the ghost sailors that show up at the end effectively make this 35-year old tribute to the ungraspable horror a solid choice that everyone should see.

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For similar reasons, I thought Sleepaway Camp was pretty well-known but not many have watched it. Sleepaway Camp begins as a normal summer camp horror with kids slowly getting picked off but there are strange flashbacks and an undertone that tells you something weird is coming. It’s the best of both worlds in terms of horror movie plots. Simple, classic set-up with a ‘twist’ of an ending. I won’t spoil it here but I hesitate to call it a twist as it bears no weight on the previous actions of the film after it is revealed. Shock value was a common theme in a lot of 80’s horror and this one might be the most famous. The film also leaves you with more questions than any kind of resolution and doesn’t exactly scream for a sequel (though there are several).

I believe the masterful Carpenter execution of his lesser known work in The Fog and the ‘camp’ of the summer shocker Sleepaway Camp easily make for a fun double feature. Both films complement each other in interesting ways with lots left to talk about after viewing.

My last and fourth requirement for choosing the right double feature was that you should be able to have fun while watching it. Going to the drive-in or watching movies on a friend’s roof with a projector usually means a lot of people. People that you want to hang out with, have drinks with, and not have to worry about missing any crucial plot points. The Fog and Sleepaway Camp accomplish this by not being very complicated yet still entertaining. Drive-ins are a great place to catch a classic movie and double features make it more fun. Even if it’s mostly people getting murdered.

Jason Fabeck is a writer living in Chicago. He enjoys camping, cooking, and never putting away his laundry. He sometimes writes about movies and TV for The Addison Recorder