Sense of Wonder: 2009 Horror Movies

Drag Me to Hell opens May 29

The New Year has already given us THE UNBORN and MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D. Whether or not they are great, they are certainly better than the initial salvo of horror films back in January of 2008. What other new horrors does 2009 have in store for us? A mix of slashers, sequels, remakes, plus a few original films, from new talent and from past horror-masters making their return to the genre. There are also a handful of borderland titles that transgress on horror territory without quite being all-out horrific. All in all, I would say that horror fans have wide variety of terror titles to look forward to this year. Read on…
NOTE: Release schedules are subject to change, which means the shelf life of the information contained herein could be short-lived. For up-to-date information, check out our Coming Soon section.
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE: This slasher film earned lots of buzz on the festival circuit a couple years ago, but for some reason it sat on the shelf even after securing a distribution deal. Fortunately, a new distributor has taken possession of the film. Directed by Jonathan Levine, from a script by Jacob Foreman, the film follows a young co-ed, whose would-be suitors end up dying during a weekend outing. Still no specific release date, but the title is scheduled for spring.
CASE 39: It’s about a social worker (Rene Zellweger) who runs into terrifying trouble when she tries to help a young girl. Directed by Christian Alvart, from a scrpt by Ray Wright. Paramount will release this flick on August 22.
CIRQUE DU FREAK: John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe, and Salma Hayek star in this tale of a boy who breaks a 200-year-old truce between warring factions of vampires. Paul Weitz directed from a screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Paul Weitz, based on a book series by Darren Shan. Universal Studios lists this title among their releases for 2009, but no specific date has been set as of yet. Read more here.
DRAG ME TO HELL: No, it’s not about cross-dressing Satanists; it’s Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre as a director for the first time since 1992’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. DRAG ME TO HELL, from Universal Pictures, is described as “an original tale of a young woman’s desperate quest to break an evil curse.” With Alison Lohman, Judith Long, and David Paymer. Raimidirects from a script he co-wrote with brother Ivan. Universal opens the film on May 29.
EDEN LOG: Working from a script co-written with Pierre Bordage, Franck Vestieldirects this thriller about a man who must escape from a cave haunted by some kind of lethal creature. Magnet Releasing plans to distribute this French film (with subtitles) in February.
FINAL DESTINATION – DEATH TRIP 3-D: There is obviously nothing “final” about this destination. With Shantell VanSanten, Krista Allen, and Andrew Piscella.Director David R. Ellis and writer Eric Bress keep the franchise going for New Line Cinema, which plans an August 21 release.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: This remake of the infamous 1980 gorefest produced and directed by Sean Cunningham is heavily influenced by by the sequels, as evidenced by the trailer’s prominent display of the machete-wielding Jason in his familiar hockey-mask. Jason Voorhees barely appears in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH (his mom committed all the murders), and he did not put on the mask until Part III. Presumably, FRIDAY fans were in no mood to watch another movie about an unseen killer who turns out to be Mrs. Voorhees; they want to see Jason slicing and dicing his way through a cast of innocuous camp counselors. Directed by Marcus Nispel, who performed a similar service for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Written by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift. With Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, and Aaron Yoo. Paramount will unleash the film on Friday, February 13.
THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT: Scripted by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe, here is another one of those “true” ghost stories, a la THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. Peter Cornwell directs Virginia Madsen (CANDYMAN), Kyle Gallner, and Martin Donovan.
IS THERE ANYBODY THERE: Michael Caine, Bill Milner, and Anne-Marie Duff star in this film about a ten-year-old obsessed with the ghost in a retirement home. Directed by John Crowley from a script by Peter Harness. Big Beach Films is aiming for April 17
JENNIFER’S BODY: Megan Fox (TRANSFORMERS) stars in this flick about a hot high school chick possessed by a demon that kills off her male classmates. (Sounds like MANDY LANE meets THE EXORCIST.) Amanda Seyfriend, Adam Brody, and J.K. Simmons co-star. Karyn Kusama directs from a script by Diablo Cody. 20th Century Fox releases on September 18.
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT: It is not altogether clear that the world needs another version of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but the trailer looks very promising.  The original film – produced by Sean Cunningham (FRIDAY THE 13TH) and written and directed by West Craven (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) – was conceived in the social upheaval of the Vietnam War as a deliberate response to sanitized depictions of violence on movie screens: the result battered unsuspecting audiences with all the impact of blunt-force trauma; it was brutal and bordered on the despicable, but it ultimately justified its existence by being so damned effective. Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, and Sara Paxton star for director Dennis Iliadis, working from a script by Carl Ellsworth, with Craven and Cunninghma acting as exec producers. Read more here.
THE LODGER: This re-roasting of the old chestnut about a mysterious lodger who schedulecoincides with a series of grizzly murders (previously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock and John Brahm) updates the action to modern times, telling the story of a serial killer on the Sunset Strip whose actions mimic Jack the Ripper. Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Shane West, and Rachael Leigh Cook star for writer-director David Ondaatje. Opens February 10.


THE LOVELY BONES: Peter Jackson directs this adaptation of the best-selling novel, co-scripted with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Paramount plans a December 11 release, perhaps hoping for Oscar gold.
NEW MOON: The sequel to the sleeper hit TWILIGHT. Chris Weitz steps into the director’s chair; Mellisa Rosenberg adapts the screenplay. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson return to their roles.
OPRHAN: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman and CCH Pounder star in this tale of a young couple who lose their own child and end up adopting another one, whose angelic appearance may disguise her true nature. Script by David Leslie Johnson. Direction by Jaume Collet-Serra. Dark Castle releases on July 24.
SORORITY ROW: Stop me if you’ve heard this one: some girls are being killed because they were involved in a prank that accidentally killed one of their sorority sisters. With Brian Evigan, Lea Pipes, Rumer Willis, and Carrie Fisher (from STAR WARS to this? Wow!). Stewart Hendler directs from a script by Josh Stolberg. Summit Entertainment releases on October 2.
SPLICE: Director VincenzoNatale (who made his debut withthe impressive CUBE) is back withthis tale, which he co-wrote with Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, about a scientist who develops an animal-human hybrid that evolves so fast it could wipe out life on Earth as we know it. With Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. Senator Entertainment plans an unspecified September opening.
STEPFATHER: Dylan Walsch, Sela Ward, and Pen Badgleystar in this film about a military student whose mother takes up with a mysterious man. Nelson McCormick directs. J. S. Cardone writes. Screen Gems will release on October 16.
TAXIDERMIA: An anthology of three surreal tales involving the “aesthetics of brutality.” Directed by Gyorgy Palfifrom a script co-written with Zsofia Ruttkay. Regent plans a May release.
UNDERWORLD – RISE OF THE LYCANS: Patrick Tatopoulos directs Rhona Mitra, Michael Sheen, and Bill Nighy in Screen Gems’s prequel to the UNDERWOLRD films. The story depcts  an uprising led by werewolf named Lucian (Sheen) against an aristocratic vampire sect — a revolt that will mark the beginning of a centuries-old war between the two races. Screen Gems releases on January 23.
THE UNINVITED: Charles Guard and Thomas Guard directs Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, and Elizabeth Banks in this DreamWorks remake of the art house Korean ghost story A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. After her mother’s death and her subsequent hospital stay, Anna Rydell(Browning) returns home to be with her sister (Krebbel) and her father (Strathairn), who has become engaged to Rachel (Banks), her mother’s former nurse. During her first night back, Anna is visited by her mother’s ghost, who reveals that the new woman in her father’s life is not who she pretends to be, leading to a fateful confrontation between the women of the house. The film was shot as A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and was supposed to come out last year, but DreamWorks delayed release and changed the title – perhaps after seeing the poor results of the three Asian horror remakes that came out in 2008 (ONE MISSED CALL, THE EYE, and SHUTTER). DreamWorks will release on January 30.
WES CRAVEN’S 25/8: It seems as if Wes Craven has spent most of the new millennium executive producing direct-to-video fodder (DRACULA 2000, THE BREED) and/or co-writing remakes (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, PULSE), while only occasionally sitting in the directorial chair (RED EYE, CURSED). Now, in what has the potential to be a return to form, he has written and directed 25/8, a new scary movie that warns “evil is working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” Although identified as a “suspense-thriller,” the plot sounds as if it borders on horror territory, with a potential supernatural element. Max Thieriot, John Magaro, and Emily Meade lead the cast. Universal has not specified a date but lists the film for 2009 release. Read more here.
THE WOLFMAN: Universal Pictures will release their remake of THE WOLFMAN, starring Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro and Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, on November 6. There had been previous werewolf movies before the 1941 original (which starred Lon Chaney as Lawrence Talbot who returns to the family estate in Britain after a stint in America, only to suffer the curse of lycanthropy after being bitten by a wolf), but THE WOLFMAN established the character in the public consciousness in a way that has persisted for decades, making him one of the most famous movie monsters ever. Joe Johnston directs from a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (SEVEN) and David Self. Universal Pictures will release on November 6. Read more here.
ZOMBIELAND: Woody Harrelson and Jesse Elsenberg star as a two survivors of a zombie holocaust. Directed by Ruben Fleischer from a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Columbia will release on October 9.
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My Bloody Valentine 3-D: Q&A with Patrick Lussier & Todd Farmer

MY BLOOD VALENTINE IN 3D, the remake of the 1981 Canadian slasher film, opens in theatres nationwide today. Last night, director Paul Lussier and writer Todd Farmer attended a preview screening at the Arclight Cinemas Hollywood and answered questions about the film. (Lussier will be appearing after the 8:00pm screening of the film at the Arclight Cinemas Sherman Oaks on Saturday – click here for details.) Attendance on Thursday night was sparser than I expected, which is to say there were lots of people but it was not a sell-out, inspite of the chance to mee the director and the screenwriter in person. Nevertheless, those in attendance did enjoy the film, hooting and hollering as though they were white-water rafting (or should that be red-river rafting) on a tidal wave of blood. Afterwods, Ryan Rotten of Shock Till You Drop moderated the discussion with the two filmmakers, who offerd a handful of behind-the-scenes stories. WARNING: Spoilers!
The first topic was the reason for being interested in remaking this particular property.
TODD FARMER: The original terrified me when I was young. The thing with the drier was a tribute to it. I saw that when I was a kid, and it screwed me up so bad that I never saw the movie again until we started doing this. I subconsciously just stayed away from it. It was great to watch it again while working on this because I had forgotten how great a movie it really was. Some people have trouble with it because it is tongue in cheek, but I love it. I love the fact that horror can be SAW; horror can be BLOODY VALENTINE; it can be so many different things.
PATRICK LUSSIER: Being from Canada, this is a very big Canadian icon. It’s unabashedly Canadian. When you get a chance to revisit these characters and the situation, it’s pretty great.
What elements did Lussier and Farmer want to retain from the original, and what did they want to change?
PATRICK LUSSIER: The big thing was the miner itself. The love triangle. The murder mystery. The drier. The hanging mining clothes – which is exactly how they do that in a mine. And smashing the lights when the miner comes in at the end.
TODD FARMER: The biggest difference was that we were going to treat this a little more realistically than tongue in cheek. Hopefully, there is humor there, but it comes out of the situations more so than jokiness. As far as adapting it, it felt like there was a rich texture there. A couple people poked fun when I said we really liked the love triangle aspect of it. Why would you want to laugh at that? Anybody older than sixteen has been involved in a love triangle whether you like it or not. We liked the way that it worked. I think the biggest aspect for me was… a lot of what you see on screen is not necessarily the writers; it’s this guy [Lussier]. He’s been doing this forever, and because he comes from an editing background, he sees things that I never saw. So as far as the writing, he gets as much credit as I do.
When was the decision made to shoot in 3-D?
PATRICK LUSSIER: Mike Pasternack (of Lionsgate] wanted to remake the film. He had been involved as an executive on the original film. Then it was talked about: ‘We might want to do it in 3D.’ As we got closer and closer to getting ready to shoot it, we started doing tests in 3D. The second we did the first test and showed it to everybody, that was pretty much the clincher. We went to a stage and set up our faux mine with black clothe and ladders and had somebody walk through, you could see the potential in it.
One challenge was keeping the kills interesting, because the homicidal maniac always uses the same weapon, a pick ax.
PATRICK LUSSIER: That was something we talked about with Gary Tunniclif, our special effects makeup guy. He said, ‘You can’t just hit him with a pick ax; he’s got to do something terrible to them.” He wrote this thing called “A Document of Death,” which outlined a million ways to kill somebody with a pick ax. We would go through and apply it to certain scenes. Kevin Tighe’s death came out of the location. He originally died quickly in the script. Then when we found that house with the wooden floors, that led to the pick in the floor and the EXORCIST III homage for the killer’s entrance in that sequence. Burk’s death was always that way, although it originally happened earlier in the film. Really it’s the last death you see on camera, so it needed to be spectacular. The jaw ripped off was quite a horrible thing to do.
Coming up with inventive 3D kills was less a concern for screenwriter Farmer, who was focusing on other elements.
TODD FARMER: In the beginning the biggest concentration was on the story and characters. We wanted to keep the audience guessing: maybe it was Tom; maybe it was Axel. What would happen was, he [Lussier] would call up in the middle of the night and say, ‘So there’s this girl and a shovel…!” A lot of stuff came out of him just being nutty.
PATRICK LUSSIER: The kills came out of necessity, trying to exploit the 3D. You’ve got to sit there and look at it and wonder ‘What would it be?’ It’s not all coming at you. For the coming at you things, the technical term is ‘Outie.’ The shovel gag is called an ‘Innie,’ because you’re actually attached to the end of the shovel as the audience. It was just figuring out how to play with the three-dimensional space.
The original MY BLOOD VALENTINE is more famous for what was not shown. In the wake of outrage over the graphic violence in 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, MY BLOODY VALENTINE was eviscerated in order to achieve an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Lussier managed to avoid problems by overshooting with the goal of being able to trim back to the cut he wanted after showing a longer version to the MPAA.
PATRICK LUSSIER: We showed them a more extreme version the first time out, in 3D. There was a sex scene that was three times as long, which we felt would be the thing they would go after, and it was. Knowing that that was something we would never unleash on an audience, we had something that we were willing to cut out. We had enhanced a few of the kills even further, so when they came back and said, ‘We hve some problems here, here, and here,’ we said, ‘Oh, let us address that.’ Very quickly we sent them back the version of the movie we had been working on and really wanted. They said, ‘Oh yeah, this is fine.’
The film acknowledges its roots in the ’80s slasher genre by casting Tom Atkins, who appeared in several John Carpenter films.
PATRICK LUSSIER: I was a huge fan of Tom Atkins. The original THE FOG was the first R-rated movie I ever saw. We were shooting in Philly and a friend of mine said, ‘Tom Atkins lives here – you’ve got to get him in your movie.” We immediately met with Tom and offered him the part and started fleshing it out even further so he had a much longer stay in the movie.
Screenwriter Todd Farmer (who also had an on screen death in JASON X, which he wrote), appears as a trucker who videotapes himself having sex with a woman in a hotel room. His attempt to get away from the woman, who demands the tape back at gunpoint, is interrupted by the killer miner. Why did Farmer take this role, which involves nudity and makeup effects?
TODD FARMER: I did audition for this one, but that’s not how it came about. He [Lussier] called and he was telling me this part was going to be cast locally, which is great – there are a lot of local actors in the Pittsburg area. The difficulty was that if we got someone who had never done it before, it could be challenging because there’s special effects, which take a lot of time. And getting naked is this whole other thing you have to deal with – there’s sex and all this other stuff. I was complaining, ‘It’s like going to Vegas – it’s a crapshoot. We don’t know what we’re going to get.’ It’s a small role but it’s a difficult role. He [Lussier] said, ‘Yeah, I know. Will you do it?’ I asked my wife. I thought she would say no. She said, ‘Rock star!’
Patrick Lussier earned his dues as an editor working for West Craven. Did he learn any lessons from the creator of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET?
PATRICK LUSSIER: Absolutely. I have been very fortunate to work with Wes since 1991 with NIGHTMARE CAFÉ. Over the years I have just picked up a lot of advice. Simple things: If it’s scary, make it darker. Always have your misdirection in mind. Never sacrifice character for style. Too often, horror movies are all style and shaky cameras, and it disengages you from the experience. RED EYE from Wes is a great example of a movie that has incredible tension with close ups of two actors sitting side by side. We talked about that: ‘Are you going to do some kind of fancy camera moves through the plane?’ He said, ‘I’m not going to do anything like that because that’s not where the drama is.’ That’s not how you connect to the audience. That was a big thing to learn.
What are the plans for the DVD release?
PATRICK LUSSIER: I think they’re talking about releasing it in 3D. It may be anaglyph. They’re still trying to figure out the polarizing process for release on video. It may be a year away from that. There’s a stack of deleted and extended scenes, a couple of Easter Eggs, and a commentary with Todd and I yammering away through the whole movie like we’re in your living room. Then I think we have a few other extras.
If there is a sequel, what will it be like?
PATRICK LUSSIER: Obviously do it in 3D again. The second part would be bigger, badder, nastier and probably have more massacres!

My Bloody Valentine in 3-D: Horror Film Review

MY BLOODY VALENTEINE 3-DThis film goes a long way toward giving remakes a good name. It takes a not particularly memorable film – one of a myriad holiday horror titles to follow in the wake of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) – and turns it into a crowd-pleasing horror movie that is actually much better than the slasher films of the 1980s from which it borrows its template. It delivers more than enough gore to satisfy the horror hounds – all of it comin’ at ya in glorious 3-D – but it never feels sadistic or off-putting.
Equally impressive, screenwriters Todd Farmer and Zane Smith successfully manipulate the mystery and suspense elements to create an effective thriller almost from beginning to end. Their script keeps audiences guessing about the killer’s identity. Although it resorts to a cheat or two to throw you off the scent, there are clues that will alert sharp-eyed viewers to the cheats, so in a sense the film plays fair.
The 3-D photography is pristine, clear, and beautiful – not like the blurry old double-image stuff scene in the 1950s and 1980s. Director Patrick Lussier predictably uses the technique to deliver some literally eye-popping visuals – at times his work seems almost as much inspired by Lucio Fulci (ZOMBIE) as by the 1981 namesake film – but the effects are delivered with a gusto that has viewers roaring with approval rather than gagging in disgust.
Unfortunately, the film suffers from a handful of unintentionally laughable moments – or at least, if they were meant to be funny, the filmmakers did not signal their intent very well. In a few places characters do dumb things of the sort that remind you this is only a movie. In other cases, for no apparent reason they delay taking obvious action: an alarm button is pushed only after a co-worker has been murdered; a gun is fired only after the killer has impaled a victim.
Only occasionally does the film fall prey to the lame elements inherent in the slasher formula, such as the unstoppable killer who takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (And the filmmakers seem completely unconcerned about the muscle atrophy that would occur during a year-long coma, which would be more than enough to prevent the killer from going on a rampage in the hospital upon awakening.) Also, the title “My Bloody Valentine” seems a vestige of an ealier age: Valentine’s Day doesn’t figure into the murderer’s pathology in any significant way; the back story explaining the atrocities is all about a cave-in that led one miner to kill his co-workers in order to save air while waiting to be dug out.
These silly little moments demand that you go with the film and just accept it for what it is, instead of winning you over. Which is too bad: Although this is a genre effort and proud of it – clearly fashioned to please its target audience of slasher fans and gore-ounds – MY BLOODY VALENTINE IN 3-D is otherwise good enough to appeal to a wider range of scary movie enthusiasts, as long as they are not too squeamish about on-screen carnage.

I am no fan of slasher films, and I came to this with no expectations – who needs another remake? – but it won me over in spite of myself. After nearly a week of sitting through five of the After Dark Horrorfest’s “8 Films to Die For,” MY BLOODY VALENTINE reminded me that gruesome horror can indeed yield a film that is not merely disgusting but actually enjoyably frightening.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE (2009). Directed by Patrick Lussier. Screenplay by Todd Farmer and Zane Smith, basedon the 198a screenplay by John Beaird, from a story by Stephen Miller. Cast: Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsy Rue, Edi Gathegi, Tom Atkins, Kevin Tighe, Megan Boone, Karen Baum, Joy de la Paz, Marc Macaulay, Todd Farmer.

Autopsy (2009) – After Dark Horrorfest Review

autopsy-poster-copyWell, now we know where those looping entrails in Dario Argento’s MOTHER OF TEARS came from: co-writers Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. Working from a script co-written with E.L. Katz, Anderson and Gierasch serve up ten times as many internal organs in AUTOPSY – with about one-tenth the effectiveness. The set-up is so simple, and the gore so over-the-top, that the film (which was also directed by Gierasch) borders on genre parody. You’re not supposed to believe any of it, or relate to the characters, or care when they die; the whole enterprise is an exercise in imagining horrible images.
The “plot” has a bunch of kids on vacation n Louisiana, getting in a car accident. An ambulance conveniently shows up – too conveniently, considering the isolated road – and takes them to a hospital. Needless to say, not much healing will going on this night. Not only is the only doctor (Robert Patrick, still waiting for a call to appear in a TERMINATOR sequel) engaged in some extreme mad science; his assistants have their own personal peccadillos, which they like to enjoy before turning victims over experimental purposes.
In a way, AUTOPSY’s strength is also its weakness. After the kids arrive, they predictably split up, and each one finds him/herself in a little mini-movie, involving either the doctor or his assistants. This strategy allows Gierasch to serve up whatever horrible vignettes he can imagine, but it also fragments the film beyond the usual low standards for continuity in cheap cinema. (For example, our leading lady’s boyfriend goes missing almost immediately, but it takes her forever to track him down and learn his fate because the movie is too busy tossing bones and body parts at the viewer.)
Low point is the cliche scene wherein Emily (Jessica Lowndes) tries to convince a police officer, who answered her 911 call, of what is happening in the hospital. Accompanied by a hospital attendant who insists that Clare is a mental patient, Emily predictably leads the officer to a room where she saw her friend bleeding to death, and the room is predictably empty and clean. Unfortunately, the scene makes no sense. The hospital attendant’s leg is bleeding from a wound inflicted by Emily, but when the officer first arrives, the attendant says the blood is not his. All Emily has to do to prove him a liar is pull up his pant leg, but instead she rambles on like a crazy paranoiac, making herself sound exactly like what the attendant claims she is.
Ironically, the punchline for this scene is the best moment in the movie. Just when the officer has concluded that Emily is nuts, the hospital’s other homicidal attendant enters the scene, casually wheeling a gurney loaded with severed body parts. This is the one perfect moment of black humor in the film, and it probably clues us in to what the whole movie was supposed to feel like – sick, twisted, and funny. For the most part, it achieves the first two but not the third (although the moment when a character removes a “small” shard of glass from his skin – which turns out to be the size of a dagger – comes close).
The performances are pretty good under the circumstances, although Jenette Goldstein overdoes the Nurse Ratchet routine just a bit. Lowndes even works up a genuine bit of emotion during a pivotal moment that decides the fate of her boyfriend.
Then the movie climaxes with the traditional turning-the-tables final act, wherein our heroine levels the karma of all the bad dudes in the movie. The revenge is reasonably satisfying as far as these things go, albeit a bit muddled with last-minute surprises and villains who predictably come back after their apparent death.
But in a way, that is all supposed to be part of the fun AUTOPSY seems determined to hit the familiar notes for old time’s sake, and hopes its audience will enjoy the familiar tune.
The film’s biggest mystery – even bigger than how this staff of four runs a whole hospital (with working electricity even though the facility is officially closed) – is the title. Strictly speaking, there is no “autopsy” in the movie.

Jesscia Lowndes and Robert Patrick

AUTOPSY (2009). Directed by Adam Gierasch. Written by Jace Anderson & Adam Gierasch and E.L. Katz. Cast: Jessica Lowndes, Robert Patrick, Ashely Schneider, Michael Bowen, Jenette Goldstein, Arcadiy Golubovich, Ross Kohn, Robert LaSardo, Eric F. Adams.
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The Broken – After Dark Horrorfest Review

So far, this is the best of the “8 Films to Die For” in the 2009 After Dark Horrorfest. Rather than filling the screen with gore, violence, and cannibalism, THE BROKEN works from an intriguing premise to create an enigmatic mystery-thriller with overtones of paranoid horror. Shot in cool colors with slick production values and solid performances, it is consistently engaging until the mystery wears thin for lack of an adequate explanation. Is it supernatural, science fiction, or fantasy – or is it all in the character’s head? Writer-director Sean Ellis is not saying, and much as we admire his courage for going the David Lynch route and leaving it up to the audience, one wishes for a few clues that would at least point us in the right direction. Without these, the film is ultimately unsatisfying, squandering its better qualities with a lackluster ending. In this regards, it parallels the 2007 After Dark Horrofest entry THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE, another British film that was more speculative fiction thriller than horor movie, and which also frittered away its premise on a weak third act. (Which leaves us wondering: Are the Brits the only ones making modestly budgeted genre films that rely more on good ideas than gore? And if so, why can’t they bring those good ideas to a satisfying resolution?)
The story has radiologist Gina McVey (Lena Headey) haunted by her doppleganger – literally, her reflection – after it breaks out of a mirror (off screen). While making a phone call, she sees her double driving away, and then follows her home. Driving away after a confrontation that we do not see, she collides with a cab and ends up in a hospital with only fragmentary memories of what happened earlier that day. As more mirrors break, Gina finds herself growing paranoid, believing that her boyfriend and family are being replaced by duplicates. Eventually, a trail of clues lead her back home to unravel the mystery hiding behind her lost memories…
THE BROKEN plays the gambit that plauges films of this type: in order to “play fair” with the audience and make all the pieces  fit together, the “surprise” ending is predictable to anyone paying attention; the only way to concela it is by withholding vital information. Unfortunately, once you notice what is being withheld, the solution becomes that much more predictable. Why does Gina move in with her boyfriend after the accident, instead of going back home? Could it be that the filmmakers do not want us to see something in her apartment? And are we to believe that her friends and family never went to her apartment to fetch her clothes and toiletries while she was recovering in the hospital? (Ironically, the biggest unanswered question – what happened to the driver of the other car – does not figure into the mystery at all – you keep expecting some surprise in this regard, but the film never bothers addressing the subject at all.)
Ultimately, the story would work better if it sustained the interpretation that what we are seeing really is the paranoid result of Gina’s post-traumatic stress from the accident. Unfortunately, too many objective scenes (in which her character does not appear) confirm that the doubles are real, robbing us of the best way to rationalize the logical shortcomings in the scenario.
Worse, the film never bothers to offer any explanation for what is happening; the phenomena is simply presented without hint or rational. This would be acceptable if it viewers were given a few clues and invited to fill in the blanks, but there is no mention of parallel worlds of the folklore of mirrors or anything else; the doppelgangers remain an elusive plot device, their motives and behavior a complete mystery. They seem to be mirror images of the originals (down to their hearts being on the right side of the chest), but we never even know to what extent their memories duplicate the originals or even whether they can recognize each other. At times they manage to impersonate the people they have replaced; at others, they act like cliched pod people from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.
Visceral horror is, thankfully, kept to a minimum. Its one obvious outburst is a tad ridiculous, when a double kills its original by shoving a hand into her mouth – a method that looks at least as painful to the perpetrator as to the victim.
Fortunately, Sean Ellis manages to sustain a creepy sense of paranoid dread thanks to the fear of being replaced by these mysterious usurpers. Visually, the film is very assured. The crucial car accident is spectacular, echoing the bullet-time slow-motion of Dario Argento’s climactic crash in FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. In the grand tradition of modestly budgeted features, the editing contrives to show us this footage over and over (gotta get your money’s worth out of such a big piece of the budget), but the great thing is that the script justifies the repetition, because Gina frequently flashes back to the scene while trying to reconstruct her shattered memories.
In a way these strong points makes THE BROKEN more frustrating than a film that is bad from beginning to end; it grips your attention throughout, only to leave you unsatisfied at the end. Nevertheless, the journey is worth taking even if the destination is disappointing.

Gina McVey (Lena Headey) is observed by her reflection.
Gina McVey (Lena Headey) is observed by her reflection.

THE BROKEN(2009). Written and directed by Sean Ellis. Cast: Lena Headey, Richard Jenkins, Asier Newman, Michelle Duncan, Melvil Poupaud.
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Slaughter – After Dark Horrorfest Review

slaughter-poster-copyDo not buy a ticket to this movie. Do not rent this movie. Do not watch this movie for free. If you have a choice between seeing this movie and being incarcerated in Guantanamo, choose the latter, because sitting through this suckfest is such torture that it qualifies as a crime against humanity that should be punishable under the Geneva Conventions.

No doubt you think I’m exaggerating, but that’s only because you haven’t seen the movie. If you did, you would feel differently. In fact, if you go and see it in spite of my warning, you will probably hate me for not trying hard enough to convince you not to. So here goes:

It is becoming increasingly clear that After Dark Films will include any old shoddy piece of junk as one of their Horrofest’s “8 Films to Die For.” That we’re seeing a crass exploitation film is not the issue; it’s a given. What is the issue is that SLAUGHTER fails miserably, even by the low standards of grindhouse cinema:is.

The pace is unforgivably damn boring, rolling along as if it were some kind of drama with interesting characters and a story worth watching. Horror and suspense are almost non-existent till near the very end, when we finally get  a glimpse at what must be the reason for the film’s inclusion in the After Dark Horrorfest: a sequence in which our heroine has her teeth pulled by the film’s psycho killer. As far as dental horror goes, it is a good deal more grizzly than MARATHON MAN but not nearly as effective.

Till then, you have to sit through tedious story about some city chick hiding from her stalker boyfriend by moving to the country, where she rooms with a country chick next to a barn where piggies are slaughtered. When the country chick proclaims that “men are pigs,” you can easily surmise the reason we never see her one-night stands a second time, but the city chick never gets the hint. (Now you may consider this last bit of information a spoiler but trust me – it is impossible to spoil something that is rotten to begin with.)

The psycho-killer is one of the least intimidating screen presences ever thrown up on the big screen by filmmakers with naive expectations that viewers would actually be scared. The method of dealing death is – get this – strangulation (big whoopdie deal!), but the killer doesn’t look strong enough to outmanuver my grandmother, let alone the leading lady. And check out the terrifying back story that explains the killer’s homicidal proclivities: childhood abuse consisting of naughty photographs showing the victim – gasp! – wearing a t-shirt and shorts. (I can just feel the scars of pyschological trauma forming in my brain, can’t you?)

The “climax” suffers from pointless repetition (capture, escape, repeat) that is further undermined by a SEINFELD-like narrative device that has the two separate storylines (stalker ex-boyfriend, psycho roommate) colliding with each other. (At least in SEINFELD, this kind of thing was treated as a joke.)

As if all this were not bad enough, the film ends with a final “turning the tables” moment that is supposed to shock us with its unexpected shocking shock effect, but the action is staged so badly that the only shock is how shockingly laughable it is: the character with the upper hand – and the shotgun – lets her opponent get the drop on her in a way that screams out how little anybody making the film gave a shit about anything – she might just as well have handed the gun over and stuck her head in the noose.

But nevermind that. We’re supposed to believe this garbage, but the titles tell us it is based on a true story. If you’re stupid enough to believe that, then you deserve to drown in this cesspool.

Amy Shiles as Faith
Amy Shiles as Faith

SLAUGHTER (2009). Written and directed by Stewart Hopewell. Cast: Amy Shiels, Lucy Holt, Craig Robert Young, David Sterne, Maxim Knight.

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Last House on the Left opens March 13

It is not altogether clear that the world needs another version of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but the trailer for this remake (including a haunting cover version of “Sweet Child o’ Mine”)  is enough to intrigue even cynics like me. Since everything else under the sun is being remade, why not this one? The original film – produced by Sean Cunningham (FRIDAY THE 13TH) and written and directed by West Craven (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) – was conceived in the social upheaval of the Vietnam War as a deliberate response to sanitized depictions of violence on movie screens: the result battered unsuspecting audiences with all the impact of blunt-force trauma; it was brutal and bordered on the despicable, but it ultimately justified its existence by being so damned effective.

How the remake can live up to that in today’s social context is anyone’s guess. Will it be a mechanical run-through of the same old story, or will it find some way to reflect upon Iraq, Afghanistan, and the GWOT in a way that mirrors the original?
Universal intends this Rogue Pictures production for a 2009 release, but no date has been set. UPDATE: Bloody Disgusting reports that the date is March 13.
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From the press kit:

Masters of horror Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham revisit their landmark film that launched Craven’s directing career and influenced decades of horror films to follow: The Last House on the Left. Bringing one of the most notorious thrillers of all time to a new generation, they produce the story that explores how far two ordinary people will go to exact revenge on the sociopaths who harmed their child.
The night she arrives at the remote Collingwood lakehouse, Mari (Sara Paxton) and her friend are kidnapped by a prison escapee and his crew. Terrified and left for dead, Mari’s only hope is to make it back to parents John and Emma (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter). Unfortunately, her attackers unknowingly seek shelter at the one place she could be safe. And when her family learns the horrifying story, they will make three strangers curse the day they came to The Last House on the Left.

  • Cast: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Martha MacIssac, Riki Lindhome
  • Directed by: Dennis Iliadis
  • Screenplay by: Carl Ellsworth
  • Based on the Film by: Wes Craven
  • Produced by: Wes Craven, Marianne Maddalena, Sean Cunningham
  • Co-Producers: Jonathan Craven, Cody Zwieg

Drag Me to Hell opens May 29

No, it’s not about cross-dressing Satanists; it’s Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre as a director for the first time since 1992’s ARMY OF DARKNESS. DRAG ME TO HELL, from Universal Pictures, is describd as “an original tale of a young woman’s desperate quest to break an evil curse.” From the press release:

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is an ambitious loan officer with a charming boyfriend, professor Clay Dalton (Justin Long). Life is good until the mysterious Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) arrives at the bank to beg for an extension on her home loan. Should Christine follow her instincts and give the old woman a break? Or should she deny the extension to impress her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), and get a leg-up on a promotion? Christine fatefully chooses the latter, shaming Mrs. Ganush and dispossessing her of her home.
In retaliation, the old woman places the powerful curse of the on Christine, transforming her life into a living hell. Haunted by an evil spirit and misunderstood by a skeptical boyfriend, she seeks the aid of seer Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) to save her soul from eternal damnation. To help the shattered Christine return her life to normal, the psychic sets her on a frantic course to reverse the spell. As evil forces close in, Christine must face the unthinkable: How far will she go to break free of the curse?

  • Cast: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Jessica Lucas, David Paymer, Dileep Rao
  • Directed by: Sam Raimi
  • Written by: Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi
  • Produced by: Rob Tapert, Grant Curtis
  • Executive Producers: Nathan Kahane, Joseph Drake

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Coraline

Henry Selick (TIM BURTON’S A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS) directs Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and John Hodgman in this Focus Features production. A secret door in her family’s new house offers a passage way to an unusual parallel world for young Coraline. Release date: February 6.

The Uninvited opens January 30

Charles Guard and Thomas Guard direct Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, and Elizabeth Banks in this DreamWorks remake of the art house Korean ghost story A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. After her mother’s death and her subsequent hospital stay, Anna Rydell (Browning) returns home to be with her sister (Krebbel) and her father (Strathairn), who has become engaged to Rachel (Banks), her mother’s former nurse. During her first night back, Anna is visited by her mother’s ghost, who reveals that the new woman in her father’s life is not who she pretends to be, leading to a fateful confrontation between the women of the house. The film was shot as A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and was supposed to come out last year, but DreamWorks delayed release and changed the title – perhaps after seeing the poor results of the three Asian horror remakes that came out in 2008 (ONE MISSED CALL, THE EYE, and SHUTTER). Release date: January 30.