Tag Archives: horror movies

Halloween Home Video 2013 (Part 2)

Welcome back to the Fields Point nightmare parlor and media room. Today we continue the Halloween Home Video series, recommending a weekly menu of ghastly delights for your screening and sharing pleasure.

These picks are for the adventurous gourmet, assuming you have enjoyed, or at least sampled the staples of the genre before. We avoid leftovers here as much as we can.


Fields Point Review presents a new series of horror movie reviews with Halloween Home Video

Week Two:
Brother, Can You Spare A Pint?

Following last week’s foray into the world of freaks and mutants, we turn our attention to a more classic figure in the horror pantheon, the Vampire. The Bloodsucker. The Wurdulak. The Caped And More Importantly Fanged One. Nosferatu, y’all. If you thought the plasma was flowing deep before, put on your bib for a real bloodfest.

So you’ve had the essentials, have you? Murnau’s Nosferatu? Tod Browning’s Dracula? A goodly taste of the Hammer vampires from swinging London? Near Dark? Let The Right One In, Swedish and American versions? Then try something rare from Column B Negative.

First Corpse: Thirst
(dir. Park Chan-wook, 2009)

Park Chan-wook's Thirst turns a priest into a vampire


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Halloween Home Video 2013 (Part 1)

And so October comes faithfully round again. A good horror movie works any time of year, but something about the Halloween season gives it extra savor. For starters, scary movies are excellent for parties, dates, and all manner of shared social experiences. The fun of being scared by movies is an all-or-nothing concept, but those of us who love it are absolutely hooked on it. This is our season.


Fields Point Review presents a new series of horror movie reviews with Halloween Home Video

In 2012, the first Halloween Home Video series took a quick and dirty survey of the year in horror, highlighting ten new and underseen movies which, while not consistently excellent, were notable in some measure for their conception or execution. The lack of fanfare around those flicks seemed to have arisen not from low quality, but from the pitfalls of small release, direct-to-video and foreign distribution in a low-bar market flooded with amateur competition. Making a horror movie may be the one of the easiest things in the world, but making one that’s any good is no inconsiderable feat.

As you plan your Halloween screening adventures, the majority of books, websites and lists you consult will point you toward classics like Carrie, The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, The Evil Dead, The Shining, Night Of The Living Dead, and of course John Carpenter’s original Halloween. Make no mistake; these are all excellent movies, but if you’re searching far afield for horror recommendations, it stands to reason that you know and love at least most of them already.

Halloween Home Video is still about scaring up ideas beyond the usual list of suspects. Many of the features will be decidedly more mainstream this year, but the goal is still to keep mainly off the all-time essentials list. The 2013 edition proposes a weekly three-course “menu” of horror films for your viewing enjoyment. Each triple bill has been chosen for maximum variety within a given theme, pairing time-tested favorites with respectable contemporary efforts, along with something a little zany thrown in for dessert.

Week One:
Tenth Avenue Freak-Out

Let us begin the feast with something refined yet playful, profound but unpretentious to tickle the palate. Nothing spells class better than running in terror from dangerous killer freaks. Are they mistakes of nature, divine retribution for the sins of humankind, or merely misunderstood strangers? Confronting the monstrous always bears an element of tragedy, especially when the monster shares identifiable characteristics with its human victims. More often than not, it also serves as a mirror for the inhumanity we visit on one another (One of H. P. Lovecraft’s greatest tales, “The Outsider,” takes that idea to a shocking and poignant extreme).

Won’t you freak out along with us at home? And in future, look more kindly on the mutant oddities you call family and friends.

First Course: The Descent
(dir. Neil Marshall, 2005)

Unknown terror lives underground in Neil Marshall's The Descent


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Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 2

by Dan Fields

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne return to battle evil in James Wan's Insidious Chapter 2

© 2013 FilmDistrict / Stage 6 Films

Insidious Harder

Earlier this year, James Wan scored beautifully in the horror market with The Conjuring (also starring Patrick Wilson), and while this script comes from a different imagination altogether (that of Saw scribe Leigh Wannell), Wan must have known better than to try competing with himself. The sardonic silliness poking through the seams of Insidious: Chapter 2 gives it such emotional distance from the dour, convincingly earnest peril of The Conjuring that by comparison, this gets to be the director’s “fun one” of 2013. Continue reading

Movie Review: Frankenstein’s Army

by Dan Fields

Russian soldiers face horrifying Nazi experiments in Frankenstein's Army
© 2013 MPI Media Group

Mary Wolfenstein Shelley. Yes, That.

The “untold” war story is a fertile soil for any number of enterprising screenwriters, from the visionary to the hack… and everyone else in between, it seems. From the sublime heights of the The Dirty Dozen or Where Eagles Dare to the laughable dregs of Red Zone Cuba, fictional yarns about soldiers working behind the lines have always been easy to sell.

Near the end of the Second World War, a motley task force of Soviet infantry pushes into the scorched German countryside, drawn by an alleged distress signal from captured brethren. Wading through various scenes of battle carnage, they come at last upon a seemingly abandoned factory. Venturing inside, they soon encounter a series of walking, murderous abominations that bear faint human traces, but seem to straddle a line between mechanized warfare and the living dead. Somewhere in these dank, blood-caked corridors is a mad doctor (Karel Roden) sewing Nazi insignia on these horrors, who must be found and exposed.

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Movie Review: The Conjuring

by Dan Fields

James Wan tackles a real life ghost story with the paranormal thriller The Conjuring
© 2013 Warner Bros. / New Line Cinema

Curb Appeal Comes To Amityville

James Wan, director of Insidious, Death Sentence, and the original Saw, has carved a checkered but significant niche in the most recent wave of high-polish horror thrillers. As a storyteller he has not generally chosen groundbreaking work, but he has an eye for detail that counts for a great deal, even when working elbow deep in schlock. He also has a demonstrable preoccupation with puppets and dolls, which mark him as a filmmaker dedicated to getting under his audience’s skin.

Despite what its austere title suggests, The Conjuring is not a sudden foray into slumber party black magic or card games about wizards. It is a reasonably old-school horror film about a house haunted, or rather oppressed, by unholy malevolence. There is nothing revelatory or innovative about The Conjuring, but there is a comfortable blending of the contemporary and the classic in the service of a quite a scary tale. Continue reading

Movie Revew: V/H/S/2

by Dan Fields

The horror continues in the horror anthology sequel VHS2
© 2013 Magnet Releasing

We Can’t Rewind, We’ve Gone Too Far

In record time, the subspecies of horror film known as “found footage” was done seemingly to death. In contrast to a staged “mockumentary” like This Is Spinal Tap or Woody Allen’s Zelig, this term most commonly refers to a movie purporting to have caught supernatural or other scary events on camera, and the footage assembled by unknown parties after some grim fate befell the characters depicted. Think of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity. Although features like The Last Exorcism, Grave Encounters, Project X, Chronicle and Evidence have proven that the found footage format has better creative uses than staging cheap haunted house tricks and generally inducing headaches, the gimmick invariably becomes tiresome by the end of a feature length film. It requires too many broken rules of perspective and visual storytelling to last out the running time. All in all, found footage seems best suited to shorter films.

This is the idea behind V/H/S an experimental project with now two installments to its name, and the potential for many more. A program of short films in anthology form (hearkening to the memory of films like Creepshow), V/H/S/2 boasts more energy, more cleverness, and a higher grade of grim entertainment than its passable parent. Opting for economy of form and maximum punch, the movie focuses all its energy on twisting a tired, easily dismissed moviemaking trick in new, exciting, thoroughly unsettling directions. Continue reading

Movie Review: Mama

by Dan Fields
First published January 16, 2013 by the California Literary Review

Mama Don’t Allow

For any director hoping to bring visions of terror and wonder to the screen, the patronage of Guillermo del Toro is a good place to start. Several years ago, director Andres Muschietti made a tiny and very creepy short film called Mamá about two little girls fleeing from something whose appearance is a crude mockery of what children should call by that name. Now, with del Toro as producer, he tackles the subject again at thirty times the scale. Mama is a movie of weight and a certain dark beauty. It is unlikely to change history, and has a handful of minor problems, but it deserves more than a January release, the exile by which many unwatchable horror movies go to die quietly. Mama is not only watchable, but engaging and at times even powerful.

Victoria and Lily are sisters who, when scarcely more than toddlers, become abruptly orphaned in the woods one day. The family crisis that got them there is rather graceless and contrived, but basically the standard parental element failed them in a big way. Alone and vulnerable, they come into the care of an indistinct but monstrous entity which they learn to call “Mama.” Over several years, the girls regress to a feral state in the idyllic squalor of the forest, little suspecting that civilization wants them back. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video #10: Nicholas McCarthy’s The Pact

by Dan Fields
First published October 31, 2012 by the California Literary Review

And so we bid a fond farewell to Halloween Home Video (2012 edition), and here’s hoping you found just the right set of screams for your best Halloween ever. Gather the treats, pour the punch, and settle down for one last ghost story.


Nicholas McCarthy's The Pact promotional poster

© 2012 IFC Midnight

For A Rousing Finale

If you have watched your way through the Halloween Home Video list, or been engaged in any recent horror binge, it is likely that you are suffering semi-permanent “found footage” vertigo. If approached with talent and imagination, it can be a surprisingly versatile style choice, but it does wear on the eyes and brain if not enjoyed in moderation. One reason The Pact won the top spot on my list is its rather traditional sense of storytelling.

Even so, this movie deftly combines numerous classic horror themes in surprising ways. It is a mystery, a family drama, and a ghost story all in one. In a typical thriller or horror movie, the final act reveals either a rational explanation for seemingly supernatural events, or vice versa. Seldom does the audience get to enjoy both, at least in any coherent film. In the case of The Pact, ghostly activity is only part of the puzzle, pointing crucially to very real physical dangers lurking in unexpected places. It all fits together very nicely.

Annie (Caity Lotz) is a young woman toughened by a difficult childhood and the subsequent trials of drug addiction and hard living. She and her sister Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) grew up with a cruel and unstable mother, after whose recent death they now face the task of sorting out the family estate. Clearly neither one of them relishes the prospect of rekindling bygone memories. Annie is reluctant even to show up for the funeral, but at the urging of Nicole and their cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins), she consents.

By the time Annie shows up at her childhood home, Nicole has arrived at the house and gone missing under mysterious and frightening circumstances. Annie and Liz are worried, especially with Nicole’s young daughter in tow, and before they can settle on a plan of action, Liz goes missing from the house as well. Unlike your average, easily victimized horror movie heroine, Annie grabs her niece and gets the hell out right away. Unfortunately, she has trouble getting her story believed. A single rough-shod local cop (Casper Van Dien!) takes a tentative interest in her case, but clearly Annie will have to do most of the detective work herself.

Although by now she is terrified even to set foot in the house, she does her best to get to the bottom of the disappearances. Even as the ordeal taxes her stamina and self-possession, clues begin coming her way from seemingly otherworldly sources. It should come as no surprise that the house is haunted, but by what or whom? Furthermore, is the haunting the root of the problem, or merely a means by which to seek the underlying evil of Annie’s creepy little house?

The Pact is exceedingly dour and moody, but keeps things moving at an engaging pace. It prickles with long moments of dread and does not overindulge in cheap scares, although director Nicholas McCarthy could not resist a few here and there. The performances are good and the threads of the mystery elegantly twisted. It will be harder than average to guess the ending of The Pact, and even if you do it will be a delightful shock to watch the last loose ends unfold.

It has been a pleasure to offer you the fruits of the Halloween season, and I look forward to more spooky delights next year. It is my sincere wish that you and yours have a fun, safe, and relentlessly terrifying Halloween.

Halloween Home Video #9: Howie Askins’s Evidence

by Dan Fields
First published October 26, 2012 by the California Literary Review


DVD cover for Evidence directed by Howie Askins
© 2012 RynoRyder Productions

For A Weekend In The Country

If you feel you must milk yet another horror movie out of the bloated found footage craze, please do everyone a favor and follow three basic guidelines: make it short, make it as scary as possible, and bring it to an unexpected conclusion.

Although Paranormal Activity 4 stumbled on its own disappointing sameness, there have been several recent entries in the genre to play by these rules. V/H/S kept itself exceedingly brief and to the point, and the two-part Grave Encounters saga defied all reasonable expectations with a series of truly jarring, if not entirely cohesive, moments of horror.

Of all these contemporary cousins, Evidence fits the proper criteria to top the list. Despite its vague initial motivation, it wastes no time in casting its blithe, carefree protagonists into a supremely weird and terrifying ordeal.

Evidence initially poses as a documentary project of questionable value at best, but soon becomes a record of severe importance. Cameraman Ryan wishes to tape a camping trip led by his friend Brett and co-starring their girlfriends Abi and Ashley. Why Ryan wants to do this is lost in that swampy mire of why most found footage protagonists leave the camera running at all inappropriate times. The implied reasons are that he wants to test out his awesome new camera, and also happens to be just a bit emotionally unstable. This fascination with self-documenting would probably work better with a younger cast of kids. In fact, this might have been a bolder choice all around, although it may have also required the sacrifice of some of the film’s sexual overtones. In any case, on this flimsy but acceptable narrative pretext, the unwitting youths set off in a borrowed camper for the great outdoors.

Everyone seems to be having a good time until the party picks up signs that they are not alone in the wilderness. Sightings of distant, unidentifiable critters in the vicinty put everybody except Ryan on edge. Despite their repeated pleas to pack up and return to civilization, he insists that they stay and let him have his fun with the camera. All concerned come to regret this decision in time.

This is a setup we have all seen a hundred times. What makes Evidence so much fun is where things proceed from such a conventional jumping-off point. To deal out further plot details would be a disservice. The most glib and reductive way to describe Evidence is as a hybrid of Chronicle, Chernobyl Diaries and The Cabin In The Woods. However, an eager minority are bound to consider that a stellar pedigree. And to give fair credit, this movie was in production, and probably completed, before any of the others ever saw the light of a projector. It may lack polish, but it looks good and manages to spin a fascinating yarn with refreshing economy and nerve-shattering atmosphere. The payoff of Evidence is well worth your attention during a first act as familiar as the safety briefing on a commercial airline. When dread explodes into sheer madness, you may well find yourself caught with white knuckles and your hair on end. And what more, really, could you ask?

Halloween Home Video #8: Kimble Rendall’s Bait

by Dan Fields
First published October 24, 2012 by the California Literary Review


Promotional poster for Kimble Rendall's Bait 3D

© 2012 Screen Australia/Anchor Bay

For The Pool Party

It is high time for a creature feature on this list, and Australia was glad to oblige. Bait (or Bait 3D if you are fortunate enough to see it in the proper venue) operates on a premise that sounds absolutely ludicrous… until you think about it. Rather than send blissful bathers into shark-infested waters, director Kimble Rendall brought the sharks to dry land.

Josh (Xavier Samuel, also of The Loved Ones) is a dour young man, but not without good reason. Haunted by guilt over the shark attack that killed his best mate and cost him his fiancée – the victim’s sister – he has given up his career of hunky lifeguard to work in a small seaside food mart. Through a series of cursory yet melodramatic introductions, we meet various neighborhood types as they go about their daily shopping. A local policeman’s daughter is caught shoplifting. Her boyfriend, a store clerk, has been fired for collusion. A more aggressive robbery is soon in the offing as well. A fatuous young couple has inexplicably stopped off to have sex in the shop’s dank underground parking lot. And worst of all, Josh’s ex is back in town with a new beau from her recent travels to Singapore. How could such a day get worse?

“Tsunami” is the correct answer. Dogs and birds in the immediate vicinity have been acting erratically, and it turns out to have been an omen that nobody noticed. On a clear blue day, the ocean decides to drown the coast with a massive tidal wave. In little time at all, the occupants of the bodega find themselves flooded in. From here, escape would seem like only a minor challenge, except that the sea also washed in a pair of great white sharks. Forced onto the highest ground they can find, the tsunami survivors must find a way out or be eaten.

The stock characters in this film are cardboard-thin, with dialogue and delivery that must have been written expressly to elicit groans from the audience. When a movie tries hard to be “bad” on purpose, matters can easily be taken too far. B-movie sensibilities can be urged, but not manufactured wholesale, and the downside of Bait is that every scene in which the characters speak is really, really dumb. In addition, prepare to marvel at how well-sealed all Australian doors and vehicles are. Improbably watertight spaces play a key part in several scenes. But none of these things are why you showed up.

In its core scenario of hapless folks trapped in a supermarket of watery death, Bait has frequent echoes of Piranha, The Mist, and Open Water without ever quite matching the strength of any of these. Nonetheless, Rendall finds a multitude of inventive ways to pit prey against predator. This is the movie’s saving grace. The resourceful use of everyday items as anti-shark devices drives Bait to a genuinely taut and thrilling climax. Also, despite a few CGI clunkers that had to be rendered in broad daylight exteriors, the interior and underwater shark effects are quite good.

In order to reach its full (niche) potential, Bait could have used a good deal more sex appeal. However, there is a simple and well-paced plot going on here, and the film’s refusal to rely on bouncy assets may make it a more sincere pumpkin patch, if you will, than something like Pirahna DD. As a more low-key specimen of maneater encounter, this baby definitely has teeth.