A Georgian Film: Landmine Goes Click (on Amazon Prime)

sterling knight in landmine goes click
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With a premise that might as well be an interwoven riff on Funny Games, Deliverance and I Spit on Your Grave, director Levan Bakhia’s Landmine Goes Click is probably the most disturbing thing I’ve watched since the notorious A Serbian Film. The story starts innocently enough, with a guy leaving his fiance and best friend standing on a live landmine in the middle of the European Georgian wilderness. That’s the innocent partleaving your friend and future wife to get blown to smithereens over an infidelity.

What devolves next is not for the faint of heart. Actually, I’m not sure who it’s for, or if I should even be recommending it on this blog. Which is why I bring up Funny Games, a movie I loathed watching but one that does pose the important question of why our society gets off on cinematic sadism. Or as Jamie Dornan put it in one of The Fall’s more memorable lines (before the series took a horse tranquilizer in Season 3), “Why the fuck are you watching this? You sick shit. What the fuck is wrong with you?”

paul-spector-jamie-dornan-christian-grey

Why yes, Jamie Dornan did in fact get the role of a charming sexual sadist in Fifty Shades of Grey by playing a psycho-sexual sadist serial killer in The Fall. Gotta love Hollywood…

Indeed, that question begs answering in Landmine. One could argue that once this backwoods horror-show of rape, murder and torturous brutality comes to a close, there is a smidgen of moral resolution. But that might be a stretch.

All disclaimers aside, Landmine Goes Click is an expertly paced horror thriller that’s as evocative in its “revenge porn” as some of the most twisted major cinema to come out of the ’70s (I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes). And it’s hard not to admire the all-out psychologically warped performances of Sterling Knight and Kote Tolordava as a Yank and Georgian in a cat-and-mouse game of mortal combat.

kote tolordova land mine goes click

Georgian actor Kote Tolordava (left) died shortly before the release of Landmine Goes Click in 2015.

As in Funny Games, some of Bakhia’s scenes do linger to a point of near-unwatchable unease. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. But if you can handle A Serbian Film, you won’t have any problems getting through this. You didn’t come to this website to read about Twilight, right?

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 6.2

-Sam Adams

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Streaming Bleak This Week, #3: We Are Still Here on Netflix Instant

we are still here barbara crampton
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If you’re in the mood for a low budget haunting-possession flick that doesn’t suffer from said low budget, Ted Gheoghegan’s We Are Still Here is one of the better recent additions to the Netflix canon. It’s also phenomenally cast, with scream queen Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) and Andrew Sensenig (the weird fucker from Upstream Color) playing a husband and wife who’ve relocated to a rural fixer-upper to start fresh after a family tragedy.

we are still here cast featuring Andrew Sensing, Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, Barbara Crampton

Marie, Fessenden, Sensenig and Crampton (L to R): a hellishly haunted reunion of b-horror behemoths

Then there’s Lisa Marie as a psychic, hippie friend who comes to visit the couple with her Dude Lebowski-esque husband (Larry Fessenden from Jugfacereuniting with Crampton after he played the sleazy college professor in You’re Next). Add in a creepy local priest and several bumps in the frigid New England night, and a very enjoyable homage to ’70s and ’80s horror ensues. This flick also gets major bonus points for going more the route of old-school special effects in situations where bigger budget films would have lazily turned to CGI.

IMBb: 5.7
GRADE: B

-Sam Adams

LAST WEEK IN THIS SERIES: Bob and the Trees

The Ruins: A Great Horror Novel and Its Adaptation

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Back around the time it was released in 2006, Stephen King praised The Ruins as “The best horror novel of the new century.” That ringing endorsement—along with some guidance from my knowledgeable horror peers over on Dreadit—lured me in to Scott Smith’s bleak adventure-death tome about a group of twentysomething Cancun holidayers who go off the beaten path and find themselves trapped in the third-circle of hell.

the ruins stephen king

This novel has been approved by Stephen King.

Naive tourists, secret treasure maps, locals warning of doom in broken English, Venus flytraps on methThe Ruins has all the bases covered when it comes to setting the stage for a hellish foray into a nightmarish look at trouble in paradise.

Premise: A pair of young American couples go to Cancun right before their post-collegiate lives are about to start. They meet a solemn German fellow and a trio of horny Greek dudes. Tequila beach parties and drunken hookups ensue.

Ryan Lochte Jeah

Ruins, bro… ruins.

It’s a generally lazy, uninspired vacationthat is until the German says his brother has gone missing after venturing inland  with a hot archaeologist to study some ancient Mayan ruins. To shake the group out of its static, drunken stupor, one of the Americans suggests they all hunt down the missing pair. A few ratty dirt roads and a trudge through mosquito-ridden jungles and sweltering heat later, they arrive at death’s doorstep. I’ll leave the rest to the reader/viewer.

As for drawbacks, as long as you’re aware that this book is more guilty beach-read horror-thriller than it is literary opus on the psychology of post-collegiate travelers trapped in the perilous hazards of a shitty hangover, there aren’t many. It might, however, dissuade some potential readers to hear that The Ruins israther inexplicablysexist as fuck.

Of the four main characters, two are typecast as stupid women with as much dimension as the backside of a broken Teva. One is the nagging, complaining worrywart. The other is the promiscuous ditz, Stacy, nicknamed “Spacey.” She cheats on her boyfriend with random guys, jerks off a dying guy in a tent, and thinks about jerking off another dying guy outside of a tent.

I'm having sex in a tent!

“Jeah?”

The book even acknowledges her smutttiness in a sequence where one of the male leads speculates on who each of their characters would be in the film adaptation of this story: “Well, there are two female parts, right? So one of you will have to be the good girl, the prissy one, and the other one’ll have to be the slut.” He continues, “The slut has to die. No question. Because you’re bad. You have to be punished.” Perhaps this is supposed to be some tongue-in-cheek self-affrontery by the writer, but it really just follows in line with one of the guiding themes of the book: That Scott Smith hates women.

There’s also sacrilege within the pages of The Ruins. In one particularly disturbing scene, our adventurers burn a copy of The Sun Also Rises. Such cruel injustice to the great Hemingway is perhaps the novel’s most vulgar and irreverent bit of savagery.

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Beware the wrath of Papa, Scott Smith!

OK, feminist and blasphemous grievances aside, it’s incredible how taut and compelling this book stays through its 369 small-print pages. I mention that number only because my favorite horror novel of all-time, Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend, weighs in at a relatively pithy 160.

haunted mask R.L. Stine

Required reading for my future offspring.

And this is where I need to confess that I’m not much of a horror reader. Sure, I devoured every John Bellairs and R.L. Stine book as a pre-pubescent (well, at least the first 35 or so in the Goosebumps series), but I’ve actually never read a Stephen King novel. I know, I know.

I guess I’m saying all this to point to the fact that I have no place quantifying King’s claim on The Ruins’ place in the post-millennial horror landscape. But… if you want to read an insanely dark, fiendishly thrilling page-turner about a bunch of college kids getting offed in the wilds of Mexico, Smith’s book is a poolside read for the ages.

Now on to The Ruins, the 2008 film directed by Carter Smith (no relation to the author), which you can currently find on HBOGo. I have to approach this on two levels: First, what I recall from watching it when it came out, and second, upon viewing it hours after finishing Scott Smith’s novel.

The early memories go like this: 1. Decent adventure-horror flick with a great premise despite some canned performances and a rather formulaic, anti-climactic finish. 2. A then-unknown Laura Ramsey having a really hot bedroom scene. 3. Good special effects for the time period. 4. Laura Ramsey being really hot.

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“Jeah!”

As for my feelings on the film after reading the novel, it was much harder to digest. I understand that condensing 369 pages into 90 minutes is no small feat, but the ever-expanding and unsettling fear that is the foundation of the novel is all but lost here. Also, everything is dumbed the fuck down. In opposition to the book’s patient character studies, the film’s protagonists have the depth of a flip-flop footprint on hard sand. If the novel is, as I said, a beach read, then the film is more akin to a third-grade-level picture book. There is nothing the least bit heady going on here.
stephen king the ruins

As for upsides, a then slightly unknown Jena Malone delivers a standout scream-queen performance amidst a morass of shirtless Ambercrombie models who look like they just walked out of their first casting call. There’s also kind of a neat nostalgic genre element here for me. The Ruins was filmed in the aftermath of a long-running period of PG-13-ish films based on young adult novels that were basically platforms for mildly spooky thrills and, more often that not, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boobs (see: I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know…, and every other Lois Duncan-esque adaptation). These were campy, commercialized genre flicks targeting an audience of 12-to-15 year old boys, and I certainly took the bait hook, line and sinker.

jennifer love hewitt sexy tanning in i still know what you did last summer

JLH: The Sofia Loren of middling ’90s teen flicks.


The Ruins has the feel of those blockbuster-horror flicks of the late ’90s—specifically in their fixation with really hot damsels in distress, heroic shirtless bros who can’t act (#nodisrepecttofreddieprinzejr), and a level of predictability and campy bloodiness that was a far-cry from the torture-porn turn that occurred with the onset of films like Saw (2004). So yeah, if you were a child of the ‘90s, The Ruins definitely has a bit of throwback flair to the days when your lunch hours were spent debating whether you were going to marry Jennifer Love Hewitt or Sarah Michelle Gellar. (You don’t really get ’90s nods these days, with every director focused on making their horror flick look straight out of John Carpenter’s ’80s.)

But speaking of the Saws and Hostels and that whole torture-porn era that began to rake in big box office bucks in the early aughts, The Ruins goes there a bit as well. It has all the hallmarks, including gruesome decapitation, nudity, and abject human misery. So it’s kind of an interesting inter-decade middle-ground movie, if you look at it from that perspective. Or maybe it’s just campy horseshit. You choose.

90s horror vs. 2000s horror

What a difference a decade makes…

In terms of the question of where to startbook or movieI’m assuming most people reading this have already seen the flick. Not to worry. Many details both narratively and in terms of Scott Smith’s distinctive ability to get into a character’s head, are completely lost in the film.

And some names and fates are changed around, presumably so as not to play spoiler to Scott Smith’s loyal readers. I’m not saying the movie isn’t worth watching after reading, but the reason I got started on this whole post is simply to direct you toward an extremely engaging and perfectly accessible horror novel that, as you sit hotel-poolside sipping your fifth piña colada this summer, will make you very glad that you chose the comfy all-inclusive package instead of taking the road less traveled.

The Ruins
Novel by Scott Smith, 2006
GRADE: A / A-

The Ruins
Directed by Carter Smith, 2008
GRADE: C+
IMDb: 5.8

-Sam Adams

V/H/S and V/H/S/2 on Netflix Instant: Found footage not to be frowned upon

V/H/S and V/H/S/2 on Netflix Instant
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“Found footage” has grown to carry a rather negative connotation amongst horror fans. Much of this is for good reason, what with the innumerable low-budget, low-quality and utterly braindead derivatives of Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity (including several of the half-assed Paranormal sequels themselves). But recent strides have shown that there’s still sustenance waiting to be milked from this zombie-cow of a sub-genre.

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Cannibal Holocaust (1980): The grandaddy of found footage and one of the most gruesomely warped movies of all time.

Highlights among these modern additions include REC, the great George Romero’s Diary of the Dead, Trollhunter and 2014’s The Taking of Deborah Logan (the last two of which are available on Netflix Instant). Bigger-budget films like Chronicle and Cloverfield were also impressive, although I’d file them more under sci-fi-suspense than horror.

The psychology—not economics—behind why found footage films have become so successful is rather simple. On one level, we live in a culture that is unhealthily obsessed with voyeurism. On another, I would argue that this sub-genre caters to horror fans who, like myself, have trouble suspending their disbelief (e.g., I don’t believe in ghosts, so it’s hard for me to take exorcism or haunting stories seriously unless they get really damn creative.)

Watching a horrific tale unfold in what appears to be a more organic way works—at the very least—as a device that heightens the plausibility of such stories for viewers. Or put more plainly, the lifelike stylization of a movie within a movie overwhelms my ape brain, enabling it to quickly succumb to ideas I might have previously scoffed at. … At least that’s my two cents.

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Zombie rabies: somehow much more believable when shot with a shaky handcam on night vision.

So as a horror lover who believes found footage is by no means an exhausted fad, one might ask what took me so long to get toV/H/S and V/H/S/2. The answer, quite simply, is that they have absolute shit scores on IMDb. The first installment carries a lousy 5.8, and the second is just slightly higher with a 6.1.

I’ve warned readers several times that horror scores on IMDb are usually at least a point below what a non-horror movie of equal caliber would draw. Still… I can only think of a handful of movies that ever ranked at a 6 or below that were worth my while (Here’s to you, Beer League). So why did these two really good horror flicks score so low? Chalk it up to moral outrage from non-horror fans translating into IMDb lowballing. Which is a good segue for a more specific look at our first recommended film in this post:

V/H/S
Hannah Fierman V/H/S Amateur Night

V/H/S opens through the lens of a group of hipster jackasses going around and filming themselves in acts of torment and destruction. Their first “prank” is a pseudo-rapey act in which they attack a couple in a parking garage.

I’m fairly sure quite a few of those negative scores on IMDb came from viewers who couldn’t make it through the first 20 minutes of the movie. While the actions of these small-time goons is certainly morally reprehensible, the shoddy, shaky, handheld recording quality of the film in the opening sequences is even more of an affront to the general public. It makes Blair Witch look like it was shot by the great Emmanuel Lubezki.

Emmanuel Lubezki Children of Men six minute shot

The brains behind Children of Men‘s famous uninterrupted six-minute action shot, Emmanuel Lubezki also killed it with Birdman and Gravity. Too bad he wasn’t available for V/H/S

For those who can exercise a bit of patience, V/H/S quickly takes a turn for the better as the criminals get a cash offer to break into a house and recover a video tape of unknown origin. As the baddies start popping movies into VHS players, they realize they’ve stumbled on a treasure trove of what are mainly supernatural snuff flicks.

Here, V/H/S begins its anthology format, diving into five shorts by five different directors. Thankfully, the earlier narrative goes largely by the wayside, and we’re treated to a series of immensely harrowing found footage tales, all shot in at least slightly superior quality to that barely watchable intro.

V/H/S isn’t the first horror movie to embrace the anthology format (Creepshow and Three… Extremes immediately come to mind), but it is a novel idea for the found footage genre. It’s particularly refreshing when pitted against all that Paranormal Activity jive in which we typically have to wait through about an hour of cabinets banging, chandeliers rattling and lights going on and off before we actually get to see the shit hit the fan.

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Paranormal Activity: Proof that you can make hundreds of millions by screening footage of people sleeping.

If you’ve ever been irked by comedies that are hilarious for the first 45 minutes and then fizzle out due to that whole “narrative thing,” V/H/S is exactly the antidote, except in horror form. The first short, “Amateur Night,” introduces us to more rapey dudes who go bar hopping and bring some drunk girls back to their hotel. Of course, said bros are looking for love in all the wrong places, and date rape quickly turns into a date with destiny.

“Amateur Night” is the strongest of the five shorts in V/H/S, but the other stories—about a couple being stalked on a honeymoon in the Grand Canyon; a demonic backwoods retreat; a Skype chat gone wrong; and a Halloween party from hell—are all intensely creepy shorts.

V/H/S may not be reinventing the wheel, but outside of come choppy camerawork, it’s about as entertaining throughout as a horror film could be. And it also gets some kudos for being the predecessor to one of the best found footage movies ever…

GRADE: B / B+
IMDb: 5.8

V/H/S/2
V/H/S/2 Hannah Hughes

The recipe for V/H/S/2 is essentially that of its prequel: gallons of blood, lots of boobs and an ever-present nobody-walks theme. However, it’s as if the directors came back and fixed every kink. For one, the main narrative—a dickhead private dick and his sexy sidekick looking for a lost kid and stumbling on more VHS tapes—actually weaves through the films shorts in a way that makes it more than just a castaway excuse for an anthology film.

V/H/S/2 would also probably be more aptly titled H/D/CAMCORDER, as all of its sequences are shot in much higher definition than the original—lending some strong visual appeal to the horrific bleakness of each. And the second installation is a bit more concise than the first, with four shorts instead of five, and 22 minutes less of run time. (Note to indie filmmakers: Editing is not your enemy!)

V/H/S/2 a ride in the park

I see dead people… in HD.

V/H/S/2 also has the crowning achievement of creating what’s at least debatably the best half hour of found footage work ever made. Directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans, the third sequence in the film, “Safe Haven,” is far and away the pinnacle of both V/H/S films.

The (comparably longer) short begins with a documentary crew filming a notorious Indonesian cult leader. Eventually, they persuade the sinister guru to let them bring cameras into his lockdown camp to expose the truth. Seeing as Ti West and Joe Swanberg have a heavy hand in both V/H/S films, it’s worth noting that this initial set up is eerily similar to that of The Sacrament, West’s 2013 found footage riff on the Jonestown Massacre, which stars Swanberg. (The Sacrament is on Netflix Instant, and is a totally worthwhile horror flick.)

safe haven

“Drink the Kool-Aid, motherfuckers.”

But where The Sacrament leaves your typical doomsday cult scenario, “Safe Haven” takes it a giant, cloven-footed step further. The end result is simply one of the most gloriously gory and innovative executions that modern horror has to show for itself.

The other three segments in this blood-red mosaic don’t disappoint either—both in terms of execution and innovation. Adam Wingard’s “Phase I Clinical Trials” is viewed literally through the eye of a guy with an ocular implant that records his surroundings and allows him a closer connection to the paranormal; “A Ride in the Park,” by Blair Witch alums Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sánchez uses a GoPro to capture a carnival of carnage in a quiet forest; and arguably the second-best short in this film, Jason Eisener’s “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” well, the title is kinda self explanatory.

Slumber Party Alien Invasion

A PSA from “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”: Dear Signs, you sucked.

In all, V/H/S/2 delivers more shocks and excitement over its 96-minute run time than the entire Paranormal Activity saga combined. It’s not only one of the best found footage movies of all time, but also arguably one of the best and most creative horror flicks of the past decade.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 6.1

-Sam Adams

Let the Right One In vs. Let Me In: Bleak landscapes, creepy kids and half-assed CGI cats

let the right one in vs. let me in
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BY ADAM FOX

Adolescent vampires, as they pertain to horror, represent a relatively unexplored genre. Maybe I should specify before incurring the wrath of Stephenie Meyer disciples everywhere: Adolescent vampires as the archetypal monsters-under-the-bed are a bit of an unknown commodity.

In fantasy lore, it’s probably understood that humans would wait until they’re at twenty-something Brad Pitt levels of attractiveness and physique before taking the immortality plunge. Why let the fangs sink in well before you develop a devil-may-care smile and a dashing ponytail?

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“I’m … too sexy for my shirt.”

Perhaps this is why I felt Let the Right One In, based on the Swedish novel of the same name, was so groundbreaking the first time I watched it. Little kids (in all of their inherent creepiness) have been done to death in horror films, dating back to 1976’s The Omen and continuing through 2010’s Insidious. It’s the innocence paired with evil, along with active imaginations, that make the young such scary vectors of the paranormal.

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Damn(ed) meddling kids!

Let the Right One In—available on Netflix Instant—bites into this formulaic trope with fresh fangs and manages to give it new life. Bullied 12-year-old boy Oskar makes friends with a recently arrived neighbor named Eli, a girl around his age. After a little bit of hesitation on both ends, the two develop a very close friendship. Oskar soon discovers that Eli isn’t quite what she seems, and is in reality an ageless vampire that requires daily feedings of fresh human blood to remain satisfied.

(MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD) After Eli’s human caretaker dies, Oskar assumes the role of her chef, wrangling human prey for her consumption. Eli eventually has to leave amid the unexplained disappearances of her victims, but not before she returns the favor and helps Oskar in one of my favorite final scenes in any horror film. Ever.

This movie was remade rather unnecessarily for American audiences in 2010 under the moniker Let Me In. The film wasn’t bad per se, but rather echoed the laziness of Hollywood in churning out unoriginal, low-risk product. To make up for this, director/screenwriter Matt Reeves changed a few components of the original, some for better and some for worse. So it wasn’t just Psycho, in color, starring Vince Vaughn.

psycho

“My hotel’s so fuckin’ money and you don’t even know it! I got this peephole for watchin’ all the beautiful babies.”

LOCALES: Wintry Sweden vs. barren Los Alamos

Let the Right One In’s environment is mysterious, still and snowy. For anyone who’s ever lived in cold climates that receive lots of the white stuff, there’s sort of a blanketing quiet that is the signature of the season. It lends itself so well to the film’s disturbing and contemplative tone, and the external shots are downright eerie.

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Several scenes in Let the Right One In were shot in Luleå—a coastal city in northern Sweden with a subarctic climate.

In Let Me In, they choose the sandy scientific haven Los Alamos, NM as the backdrop. It’s not an awful choice for a horror film by any stretch, but you don’t see enough of the environment for it to be a major player like it is in the original. There’s some spooky shit that occurs in rural New Mexico that doesn’t involve meth or Los Pollos Hermanos distribution lines, but the remake doesn’t quite spotlight the “where” as effectively as the original. It just sort of comes across as Anytown, USA, which was disappointing for someone who lived for several years in New Mexico and knows how disquieting the desert landscape can be.

ACTORS: Kåre Hedebrant & Lina Leandersson vs. Kodi Smit-McPhee & Chloë Grace Moretz

Kåre (Oskar) and Kodi (Owen) capture the awkward dispositions prescribed to their respective characters quite masterfully. Both are bullied loners in their worlds, saving things like newspaper clippings reporting gruesome crime scenes while also electing to stay indoors at all times where it’s safe. The real edge of the original, however, comes in the strength of Lina’s performance (Eli) vs. Chloë’s (Abby).

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Oskar (Team Eli) and Owen (Team Abby)

Chloë Grace Moretz is a fine child actress who is no stranger to the genre, having appeared in a starring role in yet another horror remake (2005’s The Amityville Horror), but she’s just not … spooky enough? An important component of the vampiric character is that her/its backstory is never fully explained and is, for all intents and purposes, androgynous (alluded to in both films).

Lina’s Eli is neither too feminine nor masculine, and her eyes depict the knowledge and experience of someone who would be many years her senior. A difficult casting choice to be sure in choosing someone who is 12 years old and is in actuality thousands (?) of years old, but it’s an element of believability I felt the original film payed a significantly larger amount of attention to.

SPECIAL EFFECTS / CGI: Let the Right One In vs. Let Me In

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Americans. Let Me In had a much greater budget to work with than its predecessor did, and it certainly shows. Something I could never truly get over in the original film was a scene involving a person spontaneously combusting, and a room full of cats. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the fire I took offense to, but the litter of computer-generated cats. What is intended to be a shocking scene displaying how once again the animal kingdom is privy to any type of evil activity turned out to be nothing more than a lazily executed internet meme. I’m not positive on the animal laws in Sweden and how they pertain to treatment/screen time (I know the states have since revised their laws following 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust), but the whole scene is a little bit goofy.

let the right one in cats

Bad kitties! … worse CGI

All said, both films are certainly worth a watch, especially the original version (and its excellent corresponding novel). Let Me In and Let the Right One In offer a welcome departure from both found footage dump-offs and toned-down PG-13 monsters that have been cluttering the modern horror shelves.

Vampires have always been the “thinking man’s villains” of the genre—their clout further cemented by somewhat fictionalized historical tie-ins. It’s that foothold in reality, however misconstrued it may be, in which horror films really manage to hit their groove. Both LMI and LTROI prove that it’s still possible to breathe life into a genre without trying to completely reinvent the wheel.

Let the Right One In  (Available on Netflix Instant)
IMDb: 8.0
Grade: A

Let Me In  (On DVD)
IMDb: 7.2
Grade: B-

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adam Fox resides in West Hollywood, CA, with a wonderful lady and a crippled cat. When he’s not devising ways to get out of driving around the Greater Los Angeles Concrete Jungle, he is an unabashed Masshole with a penchant for drunkenly cheering on the Red Sox and Patriots. In addition to serving as the Assistant Editor for SB Nation’s Pats Pulpit, Adam has written for ESPN, Paste Magazine, the Weekly Alibi and the Mountain West Connection, among others. twitter.com/lefoxtrott

The best of Netflix Instant if bleak, thrilling cinema is your ASMR: Part III

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For many Americans, 24-hour marathons of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story are the holiest of holiday traditions. That’s all fine and good, but some of us are more partial to the non-stop gore fests that populate channels like AMC and FX in the days leading up to Halloween. It’s a perfect time to kick back on the couch, inhale candy corn, and get bleary-eyed on pumpkin beer as you reacquaint yourself with the innumerable Michael Myers sequels and offshoots.

Alas, my days of paying for cable have ceased. And honestly, there are much better things to watch out there than the Busta-Rhymes-Tyra-Banks vehicle Halloween: Resurrection. Freddy Krueger brought nightmares to life. Halloween: Resurrection was a fucking nightmare in my life.

I got my fix this Halloween through some great Netflix Instant titles. And through this service, the soul-crushing depression that sets in when the 24-hour horror bloodbaths end on Nov. 1 can easily be bypassed.

Whether you be a fan of slashers or ghouls, there’s a bevy of great options to stream via Netflix. Here are a few recent personal favorites.

You’re Next

You're next

Requisite bloody-faced protagonist shot

For fans of modern horror, calling You’re Next a hidden gem is tantamount to saying, “They made a Texas Chainsaw movie before the Jessica Biel one?” If you’ve seen it, go ahead and skip to the next title (which you probably haven’t seen). However, if you haven’t seen this—or are just a fan of my wayward rants—keep reading, and consider it one of the top slasher films of the past decade, as well as a must-see for anyone with any interest in the genre.

You’re Next is a good, old-fashioned home-invasion gore fest. “Old-fashioned” is key here, because the film pays homage to a lot of ’80s and ’90s tropes (and yeah, that was a long fucking time ago in my book). The brilliant opening sequence starts in typical Scream fashion. A really hot chick (the underused Kate Lynn Sheil from House of Cards) and her scumbag boyfriend have a knifey, little run in with a masked man.

Kate Lyn Sheil

Kate Lyn Sheil, aka the indie fanboy’s new Zooey Deschanel

But before we get to the meat of the plot, something more needs to be said about this opening sequence. In particular, that Dwight Twilley song. My last post in this series included Blue Ruin, a film that paired a song and a scene in a way that I’d call among the year’s best audiovisual sequences.

Likewise, that opening sequence of You’re Next pulls an obscure pop hit and transforms it into one of the most tantalizing aspects of a great narrative. The song in question is Dwight Twilley’s “Looking for the Magic.” No, I had no idea who Dwight Twilley was before this movie. Yes, I’ve been getting weird looks the past few months while driving around town with this song playing on repeat. It’s infectious. It’s haunting. It’s usage embodies the mystique and grim humor that make You’re Next  a brilliantly chilling and morbidly comic slasher flick.

If you geek out on “The Magic,” check out this article about its origins in the film. I love the part where Twilley’s wife tells the director, “You want ‘Looking for the Magic,’ but you can’t afford the fuckin’ magic!”

It’s also priceless that the album it came off of was called Twilley Don’t Mind. If I recorded a coked-up, Donovan-meets-classic-pop-rock album it would certainly be called Adams Don’t Mind. Anyway, here’s an old recording of Jim Morrison lookalike Dwight Twilley (and yes, that’s a young Tom Petty rocking out on backup guitar).

But back to the murder at hand. A rich kid and his Aussie girlfriend (Sharni Vinson) road trip to spend a weekend with his family at their secluded mansion in the woods. It turns out that the beau’s family are a bunch of psychotic WASPs who generally hate each other. Then there’s a bloodbath wreaked by killers in cute animal masks.

Watching uppity WASPs get axed to bits by cutesy lamb-masked villains is holiday fun for the whole family—and the type you won’t find in It’s a Wonderful Life. Speaking of Jimmy Stewart, they should do a You’re Next-style remake of Harvey where the imaginary friend is a bunny who fucks shit up. Oh yeah, Donnie Darko…

Coming soon to a theater near you...

Coming soon to a theater near you…

We find out that the Aussie protagonist (and only likable person in the movie—outside of Kate Lyn Sheil, of course, who can do no wrong), also has a background as an Outback survivalist. This comes in handy.

You’re Next‘s only fault is that it enlists some noted mumblecore directors as actors. What is mumblecore, you ask? Unfortunately, it’s not the drunken cousin of a Harry Potter wizard. In my limited research, it seems to be a cinematic platform for hipsters to wallow in their hipsterishly hipster despair (see: previous scathing rant on Drinking Buddies, et al). Put bluntly, it’s one of the worst things since Cinema Verité and the French New Wave movement. As the great Werner Herzog put it, “By dint of declaration, the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.” In the same vein, mumblecore reaches a merely superficial truth—the truth that self-important, coffee shop filmmakers project as the truth.

Anyway, perhaps this isn’t much of a fault, because we get to see said mumblecore whiners brutally massacred. When the masks are off and the final axe is swung,You’re Next is a movie about a lot more than Dwight Twilley’s career revival and killing the shit out of hipsters and WASPs. But those reasons alone are good enough for me.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 6.5

The Taking of Deborah Logan
Full disclosure: Despite my love of horror films, I tend to steer clear of anything involving ghosts, exorcisms or paranormal activities. The reason being that these tales involve a suspension of disbelief tied to the plausibility of a supernatural realm. I do not believe in that realm. So asking me to sit through such a flick is kind of like taking an atheist to mass. Sure, the message will be conveyed loud and clear, but an inherent disbelief in the underpinnings of such a message will make every word ring hollow.

the descent

An army of blind, albino cave-dwelling evolutionary anomalies? Plausible. Ghosts? Not so much.

Point being, it takes a lot to get me interested in any of the 5,000 Exorcist rehashings that Hollywood spews forth every year. So essentially, me telling horror fans that they have to watch The Taking of Deborah Logan is like our atheist friend saying to his atheist bros, “You gotta check out that mass—it was unbelievable!”

The film begins with a camera crew attempting to document the mental decline of an Alzheimer’s patient. As the patient weakens, eerie shit starts happening. As we all know, demons from the depths of hell are prone to preying on the weak and old, so it’s only natural that they’d possess our titular character.

the taking of deborah logan

“Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.”

The Taking relies heavily on the found-footage / hidden camera blueprint of Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity. I’d argue that it supersedes both of these. For one, unlike Blair Witch, this film actually has an ending. It also has camerawork not done by someone with a bad case of the DTs. Furthermore, there’s a palatable depth to this story, thanks to some fine acting by Jill Larson and Anne Ramsay as the mother and daughter caught between a fatal disease and another form of hell on Earth.

And even for someone who’s all but sworn off supernatural flicks, this movie is downright, jump-out-your-seat scary as hell. In terms of this genre, I’d rank The Taking right alongside James Wan’s more mature efforts, like The Conjuring and Insidious (no, not Insidious: Chapter 2—that sucked. Bring me Insidious 3 and the return of the Darth Maul demon!).

insidious

The way Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” shall be remembered henceforth

Jill Larson’s transformation from Miss Daisy to a vessel of the eternally damned is pulled off with a subtly mounting air of terror, climaxing in a terrifying finish that includes one of the most magnificently unsettling images in recent cinema. This is probably one of the most underrated new titles on Netflix Instant. Don’t sleep on it, and once you’ve seen it, don’t expect any decent form of sleep.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 6.5

Other must-watch BONUS PICKS to keep the Netflix Instant horror marathon raging: Stake Land, Trollhunter, Let The Right One In

Note on IMDb scores: For whatever reason, horror films typically rank much lower on IMDb than their equally good, non-horror counterparts. Consider anything above a 6.2 probably worth your time. (I’ll unveil my foolproof “IMDb credibility system” at a later date.)

-Sam Adams

The best of Netflix Instant if bleak, thrilling cinema is your ASMR: Part I

BBC crime shows
Standard

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) has quickly become the Internet’s answer to Klonopin. Unfortunately, I don’t happen to be among those lulled into a happy place by videos of 15-year-old girls whispering about how it feels to wash their hands with a bar of texturized chamomile soap. No, my go-to for bedtime relaxation comes more in the form of films and shows that rely heavily on, say, depictions and existential conversations predicated upon bodily dismemberment.

Buffalo Bill

The title of an ASMR video I would watch

Why? I have no clue. And for the moment, this isn’t about why (although I’m sure I’ll have to tackle that at some point). The underlying crux of this blog series is to foster a space for recommending and discussing some of the best and most gruesomely soothing films/shows out there. If you consider Winter’s Bone, True Detective and The Descent to be among the past decade’s seminal moving-picture achievements—and are simply craving more, but don’t where to turn—then welcome.

If you’re as obsessed with these genres as I am, you likely know that spending half an hour on Google attempting to find something that fits within their parameters is, nine times out of ten, an exercise in futility.

To that point, I’m simply sick and tired of every “Best on Netflix you might not have seen” list trying to convince me that Drinking Buddies, Don Jon and Prince Avalanche aren’t somehow going to make me head to Hollywood and craft a Buffalo Bill-style human-skin coat out of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the Duplass Brothers and Diablo Cody.

Seriously, I will wear that shit in public to boycott the premiere of Greta Gerwig and John Kransinki’s newest project about a couple of upper-middle class white people who wear flannel and resolve emotional issues to the tune of ten Kimya Dawson songs and then learn something about themselves. (It’s still in the works, but I believe they’ve tentatively titled it We Are Here Now and Were There.)

Indie trash

Yeah, yeah, go fuck yourself.

I digress. What we’re talking about here is your dark minds benefiting from the rotten fruits of my labor. Said “labor” being perhaps an unhealthy amount of man-hours browsing reddit subpages over the past year to provide you with some of the sickest, most brilliant diamonds in the rough that you can access through Netflix Instant. Why this specific portal, you ask? Because everyone and their grandmother’s fuckin’ cousin has it, I respond.

So, without further ado, I think it’s time we talk about Kevin… er, shows and movies. Let’s talk about shows and movies. Here’s our genre for the first installment:

BBC (BADASS BASTARDS AND COPPERS):

Peaky Blinders
Fuck, I thought at first. Cillian Murphy as the leader of a Birmingham street gang that slashes peoples’ eyes via razor-embedded scally caps? It all sounded good outside of Cillian Murphy. While he was great in The 28th Hour (and sure, he was Scarecrow in the Dark Knight films), the guy is prettier than the love child of a young Rob Lowe and Kiera Knightley donning a powder blue bunny suit. So, me asks, how the fuck is Cillian gonna pull this off?

No worries, mate. By the end of the first season, I’d rather cross paths with Bane in a dark alley than serve the menacing Thomas Shelby with an improper shoeshine. Oh, and speaking of Bane, Tom Hardy enters in the forthcoming Season 2. My knickers are already wet.

cillian murphy

The baddest pretty boy since Gosling in Drive !

About that title: Yeah, it sounded pretty goofy to me at first—as it might to many Yank viewers. Rest assured, Peaky Blinders is not about a middle-school boy with a hot neighbor and a pair of binoculars.

So how would I sum it all up? It’s essentially a hybrid of Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire, with a little splash of Gangs of New York. Thomas Shelby is Jax Teller, if Jax Teller operated out of Birmingham in the early 20th Century. He’s a young, dashing, masterfully calculating gang leader who couldn’t tell you what fear was if it bit him in the ass. But along with the calculation, there’s some stoicism, which is why I also see a bit of Nucky Thompson in him. And if this show catches on, a whole new wave of Jimmy Doherty-esque haircuts will be lurking around a hipster cocktail lounge near you.

peaky blinders

Party like it’s 1919…

As for drawbacks, it’s completely overstylized—almost to the point of camp—but that’s also what makes it kind of fun. Why not play a Nick Cave ditty as a smartly-dressed chap walks through the streets with flames billowing at his back while obsequious townfolk quiver in his wake? This is exactly what Hell on Wheels was trying to pull off (and “Red Right Hand” is one of the best intro songs since The Wire tapped Tom Waits). Perhaps Peaky Blinders ain’t as highbrow as the first two seasons of Boardwalk (let’s be realistic, that show went to shit), but it is some bloody and fiendishly good fun.

SEASON ONE GRADE: A-
IMDb: 8.5

Happy Valley
Many bemoan the downfall of the American version of The Killing after that horrible cliffhanger in the first season. Fair enough, but I stuck with the show simply because, well, it was gloriously dark. And I have yet to encounter better cinematographic use of a geographical environment this side of Breaking Bad or Twin Peaks. Oh, and Holder was just one hilarious, bad-ass honky. 

The man, the myth, the Holder

The man, the myth, the Holder

The reason I bring up The Killing is because of how strikingly similar it is in theme and general aura to Happy Valley. Detective Catherine Cawood is a slightly mentally off-kilter, divorced female cop with a dark past and a son who intermittently hates her. She also lives in a town that is perpetually gray, is constantly trying to quit smoking, likes sleeping with married men and is, despite her uncontrollable moodswings, highly efficient and always right when everyone else doubts her. Sarah Linden, anyone? (Speaking of striking similarities to other shows, there’s this turtley little weasel of an accountant who looks like Wormtail from Harry Potter and is the embodiment of Walter White back in his Mr. Chips days. Great character.)

Unlike The Killing, the six-episode-long Season One of Valley delivers. I mean, it fucking delivers. And between involuntary smack injections, basement rape (yeah, that stuff’s hard even for me to watch) and dousing children with gasoline, grimness is Happy Valley’s oh-so-sunny calling card.

"Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?"

It ain’t exactly, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”

While we’re on the subject of female-detective BBC shows, if you’re choosing between this and Top of the Lake, take the advice of the great Bob Dylan, babe, and don’t think twice. Apart from one great character, Top of the Lake is pretty much the bottom of the well when it comes to BBC cop series.

Final note on why you should watch Happy Valley: The fella that plays the pseudo-psycopathic Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) is the second-coming of Tom Hardy. Guy has serious acting chops, and he’s certainly the sexiest sexual deviant psychokiller since Jamie Dornan in The Fall. Speaking of which…

SEASON ONE GRADE: A
IMDb: 8.5

The Fall
Perhaps the hardest thing to get past in the first episode of The Fall is just how flawlessly fucking fair Gillian Anderson’s skin is. That skin is fairer than a cup of tea sipped quietly by Monet in a field of wheat on a fine spring day. I mean c’mon, she was Scully before Vince Gilligan was out of his screenwriting diapers. … But yeah, after that Duplass Brothers skin-coat thing, maybe I’ve been talking about skin too much. Fun fact: Did you know that Ed Gein lived 30 minutes from where I’m writing this? (Don’t worry, I don’t have an epidermal fixation or any skeletons in my closet. I’m just being tongue-in… whatever-you-call-that-space-beside-the-teeth-where-there-used-to-be-flesh.)

The Fall

“Why yes, I believe that is me in The Birth of Venus.”

Moving on, The Fall is yet another grim, tension-riddled cop-thriller with a bad-ass female lead investigating a spate of killings. (For whatever reason, feminism seems to be alive and well in the cop-vs.-serial killer genre.) While there are any number of comparisons that could be made between The Fall, The Killing and Happy Valley (the mood-setting bleakness of Belfast, say), this show does women coppers the service of a portrayal that’s the exact opposite of that “off-kilter and mentally distressed” blueprint.

Gillian Anderson is brilliant, and her icy depiction of investigator Stella Gibson leaves little room for sentiment, nonsense or anything other than heady police work. That’s good. Because the sadist she’s tracking (Jamie Dornan) is a perverted family man who gets off on choking his victims to death and then scrapbooking about them with artwork that is unsettlingly exquisite.

As the body count piles and the investigation deepens, the tension rises to a pitch that makes The Fall arguably as engrossing as True Detective. Of the three shows I’ve discussed, this one is probably the best. The only disappointment is that Season One is criminally brief (5 episodes) and ends with an asshole of a cliffhanger.

And by the way, John Oliver can shove it. Jamie Dornan is so my Christian.

SEASON ONE GRADE: A-
IMDb: 8.2


Final note:
Consider all three of the aforementioned shows as far superior to BBC-via-Netflix Instant alternatives like Luther, Sherlock and Top of the Lake. British Stringer Bell, er, Idris Elba is great in Luther, but the show lacks the depth of Happy Valley and The Fall, and the entertainment value of Peaky Blinders. And by “depth,” I’m talking about that intangible quality that distinguishes a great cable show like Breaking Bad or The Wire from, say, a regular-channel favorite like Law & Order (again, another topic I’ll save for a rainy day). As for Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch exudes a particular brand of smug that just pisses me off, and his Holmes offends my boyhood notions of a beloved literary character. The show is also completely overstylized—just not in a good way, like the way Peaky Blinders makes me eager to sew razor blades into my cap.

-Sam Adams