Horrors, Netflix Style

Gadfreys, but I’ve been a lazy fellow lately. Just laid about, watching horror stuff. That’s not really an option this week, as I have to complete two stories, shoot a third, and do two acting gigs, so let me be pretty quick with this:

I used Netflix a lot during this binge. It appealed to my laziness as I didn’t even have to cross the room to put in a disc. First up, there was Nightmares in Red, White & Blue, subtitle “The Evolution of the American Horror Film”. Back in the day, i was going to write a book about how horror movies, and the political context of the times in which they were made. I don’t have to do that, because Joseph Maddrey did, and it is the basis of this documentary.

Nightmares is pretty well done; the experts providing insight include folks like George Romero, Larry Cohen, Joe Dante and John Carpenter, and Lance Henriksen providing some nice narration with the proper gravitas. The points made are very salient and well thought-out; it really is a very good treatment of the subject. Clips are plentiful. If there is a flaw, it’s that the period from the turn of the 21st century up to the doc’s year of release, 2009, seems rushed. Maybe the makers didn’t want to dwell on the era of torture porn, and I don’t blame them. This is a documentary I can recommend without hesitation, but you don’t have to trust me, have the first three minutes:

Followed that up with Celluloid Bloodbath, which is subtitled “More Prevues From Hell”. Yes, this is the follow-up to the well-regarded Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell, which I will admit I never saw. Now, I will also admit that pretty much anything is going to suffer after a class act like Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue, but Bloodbath proves an exceptionally rough ride. The trailers themselves are great, and represent quite a few movies that haven’t been beaten to death in other comps, including rarities like The Baby, Psycho From Texas, Edgar Allen Poe’s Legend of Horror and a trailer for They Came From Within that makes you wonder how that movie ever got released in America (oh, that’s right – it was the 70’s. Never mind). The most high-profile picture represented here is The Exorcist.

The real problem with Bloodbath is the weakness of the host segments – we’re introduced to three of them, including a largely inanimate puppet, and then every sub-segment seems to have its own host – some of which seem to be taping their bits at convention tables. Some of the hosts handle their intros very well, a lot don’t, and the audio quality is all over the map. If you’re a real trailer goon like myself, you’ll tough it through those (and appreciate the good hosts all the more) for those lovely little mini-movies. Sadly the sheer number of the host segments makes Bloodbath ten minutes too long, outstaying its welcome.

I am keenly aware that there is a list of movies I have to work my way through by years end, so I roused myself from my indolence to put a disc in the machine, and that disc was Shaun of the Dead. No, I hadn’t seen it yet. Kids, this is what happens when you let an online game rule your evenings for seven years.

Anyways, as should be obvious by the name, Shaun is a zombie comedy taking place during a zombie apocalypse in England.  Simon Pegg is Shaun, Nick Frost is his childhood pal Edward, and Shaun just lost his girl over an Edward-shaped albatross. Then the zombies come.

There a great deal, in the beginning, of making Shaun squirm in his uselessness, and I don’t care for cringe comedy. But there is also an incredible amount of smarts in the staging (I especially appreciate the cast-off radio newscast at the beginning, about a deep space probe returning, a la Night of the Living Dead… which makes director Edgar Wright’s contention that the later line “We’re coming to get you, Barbara!” was unintentional ring a bit false…) as the preoccupied Shaun manages for quite some screen time to not notice that everyone around him has turned into zombies.

After the rescue of mom, former (and forever) girlfriend and a couple of hangers-on, our heroes retreat to a local pub to wait out the apocalypse. Once we’re in zombie siege territory, though, the movie takes a surprisingly grim turn, causing me to mumble, “This has suddenly turned into Dawn of the Dead.” Well, the lightness does return for our end, It’s not as intense or bloody as, say, Dead Alive – but then, what is? It’s a well-made movie for people who like some yoks but still want to see someone eviscerated at some point.

And that walk-on by Martin Freeman was quite a shock.

The inclusion of that damned mall music from Dawn of the Dead slays me every time.

Now, back to Netflix.

People have been praising Ti West’s movies, and the only thing of his I had actually seen was a segment of V/H/S I didn’t really care for. But, you know, some writers can’t really handle the short story form, but they really shine at novels. There are two Ti West movies on Netflix Instant, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. I felt like a ghost story, so I queued up the latter.

West’s reputation is as a purveyor of slow-burn horror stories, and for a good part of The Innkeepers you’re going to have trouble distinguishing it from a slacker comedy. Two twenty-somethings, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are the only two staff members at the Yankee Pedlar Inn’s final weekend before it is slated to be torn down. Luke and Claire are trying to prove the Inn is haunted before it closed, though frankly they’re not trying very hard – ha ha, those aimless twenty-somethings, huh?

Quite a bit of the first act is spent humiliating Claire in various ways – the cringe comedy is back, folks, though of a particularly American flavor this time. Things finally start getting spooky enough to justify our continued attention, but it’s not until the third act that we really hit the good haunting stuff. The climax, in particular, is really, really good, it’s just that…

This reminds me of a Movie of the Week. One that really lucked out with its cast – Kelly McGillis is great as a former TV star turned psychic, and Lena Dunham has a nice cameo – and a writer who did the filler very well, but that’s just it – it’s filler. There is about as much true spookiness here as I would get from the typical Movie of the Week.

Nostalgic horror fans, those of us who’d sit through a lot of celluloid to finally get to the scare, will find a lot to like here. I can’t imagine anyone weaned on the modern horror movie, with adrenalin-driven editing and splashy FX, to have much patience with it. Overall, I liked it, but won’t be revisiting it anytime soon.

I should also warn you: this trailer has easily three-quarters of the scares in it. Just sayin’.

Okay, last one.

Prey I stumbled onto quite by accident; the Netflix blurb made it sound quite intriguing. And what do you know: the French are back again!

The opening is especially well-done: a rustic fellow is awakened by a dog barking. He gets dressed and rushes out, searching a cornfield for his father. He finds him, injured, apparently attacked by a deer. Venturing out of the field, the man then finds four dead deer, tangled in an electric fence separating the cornfield from the woods; whatever the deer were running away from, they were more frightened of it than the electric fence.

This is a better look than you ever get in the movie.

This isn’t your typical farm, though it started that way. One of the sons started a factory producing fertilizers and pesticides, and has bought all the surrounding land for the factory and his family; he’s the younger brother of the rustic man in the last paragraph. There’s a complicated bit of intrigue where the factory owner convinces – forcing, by dint of family connections – make his daughter, an accomplished chemist, stay at the facotry for another year, despite the fact she is pregnant. The two sons, their father, and the son-in-law go into the woods to hunt down whatever it was that’s killing deer. The son-in-law hopes to make the factory owner see the light, but that ain’t gonna happen.

In the interests of making this short: what we have here is a French version of John Frankenheimer’s 1979 movie Prophecy, which was based on a novel by David Seltzer, who also wrote the source novel for The Omen. The factory has been dumping its new formula in the estate’s lake, which has caused a massive fish kill and given birth to a pack of mutant boars – not bears, boars, totally different. And our four fellows are about the only things left in the woods to eat.

Prophecy marketed itself as “The Monster Movie”, and this is precisely what we have here. Our hunters don’t suss out exactly what is happening until well after dark, so the entire flick is like one long Jurassic Park in the tall grass scene, all unseen monsters charging around and squealing. The attack scenes are very well staged and quite tense; this is likely the movie Prophecy might have wished it had been. (Due diligence: I read the novel before the movie came out, found it turgid crap, and never bothered with the movie. I am told I made the right choice).

So. Prey. Good monster movie, worth it if that’s all you want. Be aware that, unlike Prophecy, they do not give you a good look at the monsters, and some folks don’t like that. Probably because they don’t remember that giant mutant bear puppet.