Eight Films to Die For. Seven DVDs to Get Scared By. Six Movies To Shit Your Pants To. Five Golden Rings. Seems like every DVD company nowadays is releasing their own series of indie horror movies, usually under one of the above banners. No matter your poison, no matter your fandom or genre, when you release a handful of these things at a time, there's bound to be a classic or two in there, made just for you. But which one? And, even worse, how much of an investment in total junk are you gonna have to make to find said classic?
And that's where The BGH Buyer's Guide comes in. I'm a pretty honest guy, I think, and I've got my pulse on what the kids like these days, I think. Every film will be watched and reviewed and I’ll let you know which ones are worth your blood, and which ones aren't worth your tears. You've only got three choices: BUY IT, NETFLIX IT or SKIP IT, so that makes it easier, right?
Let's start this bitch off with Phase 4's Fangoria Frightfest line, shall we?
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Meghan Ory, Diane Salinger
Directed by Darin Scott
Stop me, oh ho ho stop me, stop me if you think that you've heard this one before: a brutally stereotypical cache of college kids (the box's synopsis refers to them as “hot young drama students”, which, sadly, none of them are, no matter how hard they try) are offered the chance to earn quick cash by “acting” out the parts of murderers, victims and tour guides in a completely tricked-out, 3-D/hologram-tastic spook-show supreme set up in a creaky old two-story fixer-upper that was the site of a handful of gruesome child murders a few years back. And, if that wasn't enough, one of the college kids, holy crap, actually witnessed the murders and is back to confront her memories so she can move on with her life.
In a fully non-surprising twist, the ghost of the crazed religious-nut who did the tot-slaughtering somehow infects the house's mainframe and causes the computer programs to crash and burn—we know this because such malware-proficient phrases as “MALICIOUS VIRUS DETECTED” and “FILES CORRUPTED” flash on the monitors as dripping MATRIX-esque codes slowly morphs into the superimposed image of flames and evil eyes—causing the screens to explode and the monstrous holograms to become real. Well, real-ish.
Played completely like a mid-90s-era Full Moon remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, both in low-budget spirit and routinely flat directorial style, it would be so easy to write the whole thing off as Spike TV movie-of-the-weak fodder if not for a fantastically hammy performance by Jeffrey Combs—who should really form a gay civil union with Bruce Campbell as soon as law permits—as haunted house impresario Walston Rey. He steals the show, way more than it deserved to be stolen. On the basis of his performance alone: NETFLIX IT.
Starring Calista Flockhart, Elena Anaya, Richard Roxburgh
Directed by Jaume Balaguero
Erstwhile ALLY McBEAL-stress Calista Flockhart manages to climb out of obscurity long enough to star in FRAGILE: A GHOST STORY, a 2005 effort from Spanish horror wunderkind Jaume Balaguero, better know as the hombre who directed [REC] and [REC] 2, both of which I have yet to see because, well, I've just got too much on my plate, thank you very much. Balaguero definitely comes from the ultra-moody, neo-Gothic school of Hispanic horror, in good company with such brethren as Juan Antonio Bayona, Alejandro Amenabar and Guillermo del Toro.
Flockhart is Amy, an American nurse hired to watch over a small group of sickly tykes as the decades old Mercy Falls Children's Hospital closes up shop and everything is carted over to a new, nicer hospital. You know, one of those modern ones that don’t have a ghost that wanders the halls and arbitrarily breaks the tender bones of children in a horrific need for attention. And while I'm pretty sure that's not covered by Obamacare, regardless, Amy tries to tell everyone within earshot about what's going on and, true to form, no one listens to her until it's too late, for both the kids and the audience.
While FRAGILE delivers a few good scares here and there, the first hour is dreadfully boring, with scenes that seem to build up to nothing. This might force the more ADD-addled audience to turn in early, but those that stick around are rewarded with a truly chilling final act, one that really could be the whole movie. Actually, if these final thirty minutes were used as an episode of, say, an anthology horror series, it would totally raise the bar for TV horror. But, because it was stretched out unnecessarily, it just becomes a pretty run of the mill outing. But, then again, you've got a fast-forward button, so use it: NETFLIX IT.
Starring Keri Russell, Thomas Kretschmann, Thomas Huber
Directed by Martin Weisz
As GRIMM LOVE's opening credits rolled, I noticed that most of the names are of German decent. Already I'm a bit frightened, what with the eons-long Teutonic obsessions of human centipeding and ethnic cleansing and all. It should be a well established fact by now that anytime you're settling in for some Deutschlandic entertainment, you're going to be entering a haunted Black Forest of creepy, deviant behavior that will, in all likelihood, give you a boner that you will extremely ashamed of. GRIMM LOVE does exactly that.
Homoerotic consensual cannibal-driven proto-Craigslist encounters are the main focus of this thing, as the stoically bland Keri Russell is a college student obsessed with the true story of Oliver Hartwin and Simon Grombeck (Thomas Kretschmann and Thomas Huber, respectively), two men with lifelong anthropophagic lusts that could never be satisfied until the Internet revolution came along—thanks, Al Gore! Meeting on a cannibal message board the two discover their similar interests—windsurfing, cats and the desire to snack on each other's Third Reich.
What should be gross and exploitative (and don't get me wrong—it is gross and exploitative) also has a real reptilian aura of Kraftwerk-lite romance around it, as these two cold, steely, socially damaged gents fall in love with each other for their total willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for another's culinary pleasures. And that, my friends, is why GRIMM LOVE is the best German romantic comedy since SCHRAMM. Looking for a tasty treat? BUY IT.
Starring Ana Torrent, Francisco Boira, Hector Colome
Directed by Elio Quiroga
Little known fact about Louis: I am a devout Catholic.
Well, let me clarify that: I am a devout Mexican Catholic. You gotta separate yourself from the “white” version of Catholicism, which consists of nothing more than going to Easter/Christmas Mass out of fear of eternal damnation—it's a Caucasian “get out of jail” free card and damned if they ain't gonna use it.
Mexican Catholics, on the other hand—at least the ones I was raised around—take an active role in not only spending a good lot of the day in thoughtful reverence to the Lord, but also in believing, fighting and destroying demons that would attempt to thwart his goodwill here on Earth, all in-between bites of delicious tacos. (I hope to one day write a book on the subject of, well, you would call it “superstitious” because you don't know any better, but a book on my own encounters with the more evil side of the supernatural world. And it really, really happened.) This is probably why my favorite sub-genre of horror films are usually of the Catholic-based religious ilk, typically Spanish or Mexican in origin and always a firm belief in the evil that infects us from the otherside is an all-encompassing force that only an unshaken sense of Christ-like sacrifice and holy martyrdom can end. And that brings us to THE HAUNTING.
Not to be confused with monomaniacal abysmal Jan de Bont remake of the same name, THE HAUNTING seems at first like every other rote haunted house flick, until the whole demon angle is introduced early on, in this case, that of an Elemental: a spiritual apparition that at first glance appears to be the Virgin Mother, except instead of healing the sick and giving the hopeless refuge, it spreads disease and death to everyone who makes the mistake of believing in it. Said Elemental was seen by three orphan girls who used to live in the house, in an almost anti-Fatima retelling. A cover-up with the Franco-era church ensues, leading to some very angry spirits.
While I know the whole pro-religious angle of THE HAUNTING might be off-putting to most of you, what with so many Slayer records to buy and all, but that's too bad: it's an astoundingly original, beautifully atmospheric ghost movie that doesn't need all the gimmicks of, say, that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY tripe. If you've got it in you, say ten “Hail Marys” and BUY IT!
Starring Lori Heuring, Linden Ashby, Bjorn Johnson
Directed by Steven Hentges
If the SAW films have taught me anything, it's that at any point in my life I start to feel the slightest inkling of depression or self-pity, chances are I will wake up in a dark room with a handful of somehow-connected strangers and be forced to play ruthless games of kill-or-be-killed in an effort to force an appreciation of all the good things in my life that I have been taking for granted. As a matter of fact, I am terrified that, after this is published, I will be drugged and chained to a machine that will force me to cut off random pieces of fat as penance.
The makers of HUNGER seem to agree. It follows the SAW format to quite the t: a group of vaguely connected clichés wake up to find themselves in a cave with only four barrels of water and a scalpel. Where it differs is that the Jigsaw-esque villain here isn't a brutal teacher—instead, he's a well-to-do, cultured ginger (called “The Scientist” in the credits) who passively watches the proceedings on video screens, meticulously taking notes and grimacing. Turns out the Scientist is conducting a pretty worthless experiment: how many days does it take a group of people to eat each other. If my tax dollars went to this shit, I'm gonna be pissed!
A great idea, sure, but ultimately pointless. The only thing that keeps HUNGER watchable is the sheer red-headed grotesqueness of the Scientist. He's a smug creep who, eve though he doesn't say a word throughout the movie, you just want to stick around to make sure that he gets it in the end. Maybe it's because he reminds me of an old boss who I'm pretty sure was a close pedophile. And, in that case: SKIP IT.
Starring Travis Aaron Wade, Tina Huang, Howard Johnson
Directed by Jim Isaac
I know that it would be easy for me to rhapsodize on and on about the “deeper” films in the Fangoria Frightfest series—and, boy have I ever—but when it comes right down to it, I want a fun, dirty, sleazy little horror flick that can guarantee me something I've never seen before, or, if I have seen it before, makes it so fucking exaggerated that it circles back and becomes wholly original again. And, if you could, please, make it from the director of JASON X.
Enter PIG HUNT.
Managing to rip-off every horror movie of the past few years and still making it excruciatingly original, Jim Isaac's PIG HUNT is easily the best of the Frightfest lot. It's got everything you could ever want in a horror movie: asshole teens with soldier complexes, inbred backwoods rednecks, three-thousand pound mutant pigs, murderous cult-leaders with samurai swords...it's all here and it's all a total blast. And, you know, as I look over all the horror movies I watched this year, not only is PIG HUNT the most entertaining in the Frightfest series, it's also a tight contender for one of best horror movies I've seen this year. Sorry, LET ME RIGHT IN, PLEASE or whatever that crap was called. BUY IT, BUT IT, BUY IT!
Starring Sophie Lowe, Xavier Samuel, Bob Morley
Directed by Dean Francis
Do you know how much bloodshed and death and just general unhappy feelings would be thwarted if young people would obey the fucking rules of the road? We'd collectively put the psycho-truck-driver industry right out of business. At least I'd like to think so. At the very least, we'll be spared killer trucker movies like ROAD KILL. Maybe.
And while ROAD KILL starts off like a bland Aussie-variation of JOYRIDE (which itself was a bland American variation of ROAD GAMES), it quickly does a sharp u-turn and goes off on what, at first, seems like a bizarre Stephen King-wannabe tangent that holds promise: the truck is apparently driven by pure evil and fueled by blood and guts. I think. I want to say yes.
I gotta be honest with you: I actually got kinda lost in the last half-hour and, then, got pretty sleepy and just did my damnedest to finish it. In what was an entertaining premise quickly got bogged down by the usual he-said, she-said, is-he or isn't-he nonsense that seems like it was written in just to stretch what could’ve been a brutally fantastic episode of an anthology TV series—possibly MASTERS OF HORROR, if it was still around—into a needless 90 minute exploration that just constantly repeats itself. If I had the patience to rewatch it, possibly after downing a handful of Trucker's Friend brand pep-pills, maybe I'd see things I didn't the first time and it would help me to flesh it all out a bit, but, seriously, it was hard enough the first go 'round and I just want to get home to my baby. Red Sovine would be proud. That's big SKIP IT for me, good buddy.
Starring Wes Bentley, Sofya Skya, Michael Madsen
Directed by Michael Staininger
THE TOMB is apparently based on the story “Ligia” by Edgar Allen Poe. I say apparently because I don't know if it really is or not: I've never been able to get through anything Poe has ever written. Sorry, horror-geeks, but he's second only to HP Lovecraft in terms of sheer literary horror-boringness. Either way, I'm willing to wager a cask of Amontillado (that's like a bottle of wine, right?) that Poe didn't write it only so it would be picked apart and turned into a rather flaccid episode of the RED SHOE DIARIES starring former it-boy Wes Bentley and some nameless Eastern European silicon love-doll. But, then again, he was a depressive drunk, so who knows. Unless you need the world's saddest masturbation material, just SKIP IT. Or better yet, BURY IT.