Z: Zombeer (2008)

We’re finally here at the tail-end of my half-a-Hubrisween observance, and what a hectic trip it’s been. You’re almost always going to be in zombie territory in an A-to-Z horror movie marathon, and because yours truly always like to game the system, here we are with a zombie holocaust movie that runs a trim 12 minutes.

Herman (Rogier Schippers) is the head brew master for Mokum Blond beer. He loves beer. Which is why he is drunk on the job every day. He is finally transferred to the night shift, so he won’t embarrass the company during tours. Of course, his first night he drunkenly falls into a tank and drowns, and the Mackenzie brothers will tell you that sucks. This also turns him into a zombie, because of course it does.

The day shift samples the beer and finds it a bit off, but they have to ship it out anyway, because it’s the Queen’s birthday (we’re in the Netherlands), and not shipping it out would be like closing Amity Beach on the Fourth of July. The first tour group to come through is a bunch of Japanese tourists, and they drink their free samples of the beer as Herman climbs out of the tank for some bitey vengeance on his boss and the day shift goes berserk.

Which is pretty much the end. Credits roll, with a Japanese newscast, featuring an interview with the only guy in the tour group to not drink the beer because he was too busy videoing everything. The newscast then shows his footage, starting with him trying to stop people from drinking the beer (to put it in more identifiable domestic terms, this would be like telling hordes of drunken sombrero-wearing gringos to stop drink margaritas on Cinco de Mayo), to the ensuing carnage, and that where you’re going to get your prime zombie fix. This stuff is well-staged and executed, and totally worth your while. Even the interview is nightmarish, with background screams and sirens and the world ending in general.

So congratulations to Berend de Voogd and Rob van der Velden, for not only having awesome names, but proving that an effective zombie movie can be done in 12 minutes.

Now can I finally watch Dune?

Y: You’re Surprised? (2021)

Don’t be. I’m out shooting Halloweeny stuff for the local news. Scary stuff, eh kids?

Shaddap, it’s a classic.

X: X-Tra Nothing (2021)

Are you surprised? TRICK!!!!!!

There was an outside chance (way outside, like over in the next block) that I was going to be able to do an X movie, but as is its normal habit, Life got in the way. I am girding my loins for two days of shoots involving children, and I’d rather face zombies and werewolves. Still need to find a way to have dinner on the table, but I have a cunning plan.

Why yes, it does involve a crockpot. Good catch.

If I had knuckled under and doomed my family to starvation, I probably would have done Xiangxi Legend, a recent Chinese movie about the dangers of tomb raiding. There have been a number of these over the last year or thereabouts, so there was undoubtedly a robust tomb raiding industry in that country. The trailer for Xiangxi Legend informs us that there are different schools of tomb raiding, just like there are for kung fu, which only supports my supposition.

I mean, that doesn’t look terribly Halloween-y, but just look at that poster! I swear to you the posters for Chinese action, horror and fantasy flicks have had a marvelous renaissance of late, by which I mean posters that make me want to see these flicks urgently. Which is just what I need: more movies to watch (did the sarcasm font load?).

Seeking out movies like this with English subtitles remains the same challenge as it ever was, but we all need a little sport in our lives, no?

Please don’t answer that.

W: The WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

This one has been on my list for a long while, jumping up and down from behind my boxes of discs and going “Yoo hoo! Yoo Hoo!” so I’m glad I finally sat down and watched it – there are quite a few others waiting to take its place.

It’s ostensibly a videotape from October 31, 1987 capturing that night’s evening news and the titular special immediately following, complete with commercials for local businesses. Local TV personality Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) is going to enter the Webber House, shut up since some axe murders twenty years before. Accompanying him will be husband and wife paranormal investigators the Bergers (Brian St. August and Helenmary Bell) and a Catholic priest (Robert Long II). They intend to hold a “Call-In Seance” in the basement.

With any sort of genre awareness you’re immediately going to leap to comparisons with Ghostwatch, but let me stop you right there. That was done with the full powers of the BBC behind it, and played perfectly straight. This is a movie done by a bunch of guys who decided to make a movie with very little money – which doesn’t mean that it’s a slapdash enterprise, at all.

I’m not sure what it took to find older video cameras so the footage would have the right look, but there is a ton of work evident in the movie just in the ads and graphics. The IMDb states the filmmakers got a lot of stock footage for cheap – maybe a local station cleaning out old tapes or something, because that B-roll of carpet warehouses, petting zoos and video arcades is real period stuff. As for the graphics, I’m almost willing to bet that an ancient Video Toaster was resurrected – I recognize at least one transition from that venerable platform.

They work really hard to capture the moment in 1987 – there are at least two of those damned 1-900 phone call spots, the Satanic Panic is in full swing with a local band of fundamentalist crazies based on the Westboro Baptist Church waging a war on Halloween (their organization is called H.A.R.V.E.S.T., which is never explained, and I’m curious).

And as I said, Ghostwatch was serious, whereas The WNUF Halloween Special is largely not – from the oh-god-shoot-me-now japes of the newscasters to the ads, which never quite play as satire, but it’s there. I particularly like the anti-drug ad sponsored by “Parents Against Partying” and the spots for dreadful syndicated action and sci-fi shows that were the mainstay of independent UHF stations before they all got bought by conglomerates.

Like Ghostwatch, there a flock of looky-loos in various costumes outside the Webber house that Stewart interviews, but as they are Americans, they are all idiots.

There’s another level of self-referential humor in there, too. The IMDb states that:

The commercial for “High Pike Farms”, which is located on “Mundra Drive” is a nod to HACK O’ LANTERN, which starred Hy Pike and was directed by Jag Mundra

The police officer who gives a lengthy lecture on how to not fall into the trap of eating candy bars containing needles “laced with the AIDS virus” (this segment is sped over by whoever’s watching the videotape, thankfully) is named Officer Bookwalter, which seems a nod to low-budget guru J.R. Bookwalter. There are more in the movie, but I’m not chasing all of them down. When I start wondering if “Frank Stewart” is a nod to Fred Mustard Stewart, who wrote The Mephisto Waltz, I also wondering if I am too genre-aware.

Naaaaaaah, probably not.

So I find myself curiously torn by The WNUF Halloween Special. On the one hand, it looks like a fairly lackluster found-footage film. But on the other hand (and it is a large, imposing hand) there is so much work obvious in its making, a deliberate intention to grab the cheesiness of the concept and totally commit to it, that I am truly impressed.

V: Very Likely Not (2021)

Back during one of these Hubrisween marathons, I recall Chad Plambeck, currently of Confirmed, Alan_01, decided in a moment of madness to do the reviews in practically real time, watching a movie, then writing the review for the next day. Given Chad’s passion for screencapping, this must have been like grinding in a video game for magic socks or something. I’m surprised he survived.

I see the Police budget passed.

So here I am, in practically the same boat. Managed it pretty well in R through U, but my work week is usually pretty front-loaded, with Wednesday being the Day of Deadlines. At least there are no City government meetings for me to mark time through this week. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss a solid chunk of the ass-end of the alphabet. Sorry.

Today was going to be Verotika, “Glenn Danzig’s directorial debut, is a horror anthology that compiles stories from Danzig’s line of comic books of the same name. Stories which focus on horror content that’s often sexual and violent in nature, usually featuring scantily-clad female protagonists.” I’m actually not sorry for passing that over, because hey, I already did Catacomba this month, and I’ve already double-dipped on boat horror and Internet horror.

I would, however, really like to watch my W choice. Hopefully I can find enough Vaseline to fit it in today.

U: Unfriended (2015)

Well, it looks like this is also my season for Internet horror movies.

A group of high school friends get together for their regular Skype party (is this a thing? Or was? Haha, I’m old) and someone using the default avatar is along for the ride. Unable to hang up or otherwise get rid of the interloper, a little research reveals it is using the account of one of the group who had committed suicide a year before, on that very night – Laura Banks (Heather Sossaman).

Laura shot herself after a particularly humiliating video was posted, followed by a torrent of cyberbullying. Our main Skyper, Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is starting to receive text messages from Laura. And as the evening progresses, our participants find that not only can they not get rid of her, but she can post equally humiliating stuff to their Facebook accounts and Instagrams, even control their peripherals and their lights. Laura is seeking blame for her suicide, and moreover retribution. And she seems to know a lot about our doomed band of Skypers.

“A vengeful ghost story played out in real time, and only on a computer screen” seems like a thought exercise or a dare between filmmakers, but it has to be confessed that Unfriended manages it beautifully. This the sort of movie I would have expected to get made during the Pandemic (and probably would have done pretty well if released during the first lockdown), and I was surprised to find the date was 2015. Honestly, the fact that Chatroulette shows up as a plot device would have tipped me off eventually, but the movie is so full of familiar icons, bloops and beeps that it mostly assumes a timeless quality – at least until there’s some sort of major UI overhaul or other technical revolution.

Maybe it’s best if you watch it as I did, on a computer screen. I was occasionally disoriented, wondering why my mouse cursor was going nuts, but it wasn’t mine, it was Blaire’s. And I have to give props to anybody who can demonstrate thought processes by using mouse movements. The steps she takes and the tabbing back and forth between windows proceeds logically, and I think anyone could follow this with only rudimentary knowledge of the Web and social media. I think that is another plus to assign to director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves – widening the appeal of a concept that screams niche into something that non-Webheads could appreciate.

Also, I had never even thought about suicide by blender, so thanks for putting that in my head, movie.

T: Terrified (2017)

Former police forensic investigator Jano (Norberto Gonzalo) is roused from his sleep by a phone call from his old colleague Funes (Maximiliano Ghione); there is an incident in a Buenos Aires neighborhood, and Funes absolutely needs his help. What Jano finds upon his arrival is two rattled policemen (three, if you include Funes), a catatonic mother, and what appears to be her five year-old son risen from the grave.

And that’s only the most recent weird shit going on in this particular neighborhood. Jano notices a woman taking pictures of a house across the street, and recognizes her as Dr. Albreck (Elvira Onetto), a paranormal researcher of some note. The occupant of that house had sent her pictures of some vaguely human thing crawling out from under his bed. That occupant has gone missing, about the time his neighbor’s wife was murdered, the husband claiming by forces unknown.

Eventually, Jano, Albreck and her associate, Dr. Rosentok (George L. Lewis) will spend the night in each of these houses in an attempt to discover what is going on. Yep, one person per house, with Funes reluctantly tagging along. Albreck and Rosentok are particularly excited, because this may prove some particularly wild theories. As one might assume, oh boy, do they ever.

Terrified will jump back and forth in its earlier segments to lay out the timeline of this weirdness and the connection of these events. I always like storylines with serious paranormal investigation going on, and man does Dr. Albreck have some lovely supernature detection equipment, all brass and wood and beautiful. I’m jealous.

Is Terrified actually terrifying, though? There are the required jump scares, certainly, but mainly I would have to say it is mainly creepy as fuck, which is sort of the same thing, right? A constant state of dread and unease is certainly the basis, if not one of the definitions, of terror. This is another crawling chaos story, as things from outside make their ways into our world, and the most explanation you’re going to get is “These beings like blood.”

It’s not often Argentinian horror movies cross my path, and the experience is even better when it’s a good one. Thanks to Shudder for bringing it over!

S: Sea Fever (2019)

This seems to be my season to watch movies with common themes. So why not another movie with people trapped aboard a ship at sea with… something?

Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) (why yes, this is an Irish movie, could ye not kin?) is a stand-offish grad student whose program sends her off in a fishing trawler to catalog their catch and look for any anomalies. She is almost forcibly pulled off her work at a lab which is finding parasites in water they should not be in, which is why your foreshadowing sense was tingling.

The husband and wife (Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) owner/operators of the Niamh Cinn Oir (told you – Irish) are in deep financial trouble, as witness the state of the boat. They need a massive catch, and they need it bad. Which is why Scott disobeys Coast Guard orders and steers into an Exclusionary Zone, supposedly closed off because of whales. Turns out that massive shoal they see on sonar isn’t lots of fish, it’s something preying on the whales – and it thinks the Niamh Cinn Oir is a whale, trapping it in place with glowing tendrils and pumping some sort of slime through the hull.

That slime is full of parasites that can enter the bloodstream through any open cut – and if you’ve seen any episodes of Deadliest Catch you’ll know that injuries abound on these trips, and the end result is messy. Worse news is the parasite is also in the water supply.

Sea Fever owes a lot to Alien, with its female protagonist being the only one sensible enough to see what’s at stake versus a lot of desperate working class types. They even have a callback to the trip to the alien ship where earlier victims of the parasite are found (a commercial fishing vessel floating in the Exclusionary Zone).

Sea Fever, though, is not the cover-your-eyes horror trip that Alien was; it is more a slow-burn exercise. That might have made it suffer due to a viewing immediately after [REC]4, but I was never tempted to fast forward or go elsewhere for my S entry – I wanted to see what happened next. It is well-cast and acted, and sometimes you just need that sort of variance in your entertainment diet.

The poor movie also came out about the same time as Underwater, aka the beginning of the Pandemic, so sadly it was born under a bad sign. Or, as one of the many fisherman superstitions in the movie inform us, it’s bad luck to have a redhead on board. Being something of a ginger fan, I don’t see the sense in that, so I’ll give Sea Fever the recommendation it deserves.

 

R: [REC] 4: Apocalypse (2014)

Well, at least I get to continue one of my Hubrisween traditions with the [REC] franchise. As you may recall, the first [REC] was an excellent found footage horror movie, which involved news reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) doing a ride-along with a fire department crew to an apartment building which becomes a hotbed of zombie-ish activity playing out in real time. [REC]² took up almost immediately after the first movie ends, with a SWAT team going into the quarantined building to get a specific blood sample to combat the contagion (along with some idiots breaking in for various reasons but really to keep the cannon fodder quota up). [REC]³ breaks the format – quite literally – 20 minutes or so in, as a new outbreak makes itself known at a lavish wedding.

Writer-directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza collaborated on the first two, then split up for the last two: Plaza handled the wedding, and Balaguero this last chapter. Apocalypse takes place on a freighter which has been quickly transformed into a floating lab and quarantine space. Among the quarantined are our old friend Angela, Guzman (Paco Manzanedo), a Special Forces doctor who managed to rescue Angela from the building before his team blew it up; Lucas (Crispulo Cabezas), the only other survivor from that team, and Mrs. Boda (Maria Alfonsa Rosso), the only survivor from the wedding. They have all tested clean of the contagion, but what exactly the team of scientists (and what the ship’s captain refers to as “their private army”) are doing in the ship’s hold is anybody’s guess. Whatever it is, it’s putting a strain on the ship’s aging generator, causing occasional blackouts.

You don’t suppose that will be significant later on, do you?

The scientists are trying to create an antiviral to combat these outbreaks, which of course means they have to have subjects that are contaminated, right? When someone lets a test subject loose despite numerous security precautions… well, you watch movies. I’m sure you can figure out what happens next.

Yeah, you were right.

Now, [REC]³ had triggered my old zombie movie fatigue, because minus the novelty of the found footage approach, that is what it was: simply another zombie movie. Apocalypse, though, returns to the claustrophobic pressure cooker of the first two movies, and is all the better for it, even cribbing a bit of paranoia from John Carpenter’s The Thing. You get your usual betrayals, acts of cowardice and acts of heroism, all driven forward by bad circumstances: the venture is a succeed-or-die mission, the lifeboats are all disabled, the ship is rigged to explode in case of what happens does, and, oh yeah, we’re in the middle of a Force 8 gale.

Also seemingly jettisoned is the thread running through the first three movies, that the cause is a medical version of demonic possession – in [REC]² a zombie is trapped in a room with a crucifix, and in [REC]³ the zombies are held by a clergyman reading scripture. None of that is present here, and I really kind of miss it. It was different, and I liked it.

But it is a nicely done series ender, and Balaguero and Plaza have both stated that this is indeed the end of the series. I’m thankful they have enough sense to not go the full franchise route (I really don’t need a Twitter war about [REC] Kills five years from now), and that this final chapter was good enough to make me actually care about what happens in a zombie movie.

Q: Quiet, You (2021)

Please see this post for an explanation of why we’re so spotty for this year’s Hubrisween.

If you don’t care to click over, rest assured the reason is work. My commitment to improving government transparency actually pays me money; in other words: