Friday, January 25, 2013

Best of the Year 4!

The Doll's House has officially reached the age of 4, which in blog years, means legal for drinking, karaokeing, typoing, coining verbenings, and a whole lot of other things that don't actually exist. So let's forget the milestone and plow on with tradition, which of course means a countdown of my favorite movies reviewed here these past 365 days:

28. Slugs

Slugs sits comfortably in the esteemed pantheon of so-bad-they’re-rather-amazing genre films. It’s nice to induct a new member into that hall of fame.

In a world where there’s simply not enough killer scarecrows, this early ‘90s slasher fills an important gap…and does so with a supporting turn from a pre-Winter’s Bone John Hawks.

Did it all add up? Maybe not, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the always great (and yes, handsome) Clive Owen as a dedicated father trying to protect his daughter from a homemade monster.

And the WTF Movie of the Year Award easily goes to this Canadian children’s movie starring Mickey Rooney as a spritely predator who convinces two rich kids, their pet duck, and Cambodian refugee foster brother to abandon their cares by running away (to Cambodia?) on a broken down coal train. A birthday gift from Paracinema (and my Feminine Critique other half)’s Christine, Terror Train is the definitive case for “they don’t make ‘em like they used to, and for the youth of the world, that might be okay.”

One of the more--dare I say it?--DIVISIVE genre films of the year, Xavier Gens (Frontiers) tackles the apocalypse by stranding an apartment full of morally ambiguous New Yorkers in a bomb shelter basement, then steps back to let starvation, sex, and power plays take hold. Yes, it’s not exactly the feel-good film of 2012, but its brutal commitment to capturing desperation is terrifyingly effective.

The definition of ‘so much better than it had to be, Darren Lynn Bousman's reinterpretation of Troma’s favorite holiday casts a steely eyed Rebecca DeMornay as the matriarch of a dangerous brood trying to reclaim its suburban paradise from a troubled young couple and their assortment of party guests. At nearly 2 hours and juggling over a dozen characters, Mother’s Day is perhaps far more ambitious than it should have been (and hampered by an ill-fitting ending), but trying too hard is far from a punishable sin when it comes to horror remakes.

22. Gnaw

If Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods is a rather silly movie about animal gigantism, than its pseudo sequel Gnaw is a rather delightfully silly movie about animal gigantism. What makes it even more fun than its original is the overwhelming sense Gnaw has of the 1980s, from the big haired heroine to multiple montages to its grand guignol finale, a massacre via Rodents Of Unusual Size set at a synchronized swimming competition.

We’ve probably all been guilty of bemoaning the found footage trend in indie horror, yet here I stand with 2.5 such picks on my list. On paper, the Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters seems like every other low budget horror film made post-Paranormal Activity. The difference is in the execution, as a grating Ghost Hunters-esque film crew enters a haunted mental hospital with shaky cam and modeled scares a’blazin’, only to quickly be confronted by genuine terror. Both funny and effectively scary, Grave Encounters proves that there’s still plenty of fresh territory to mine in handheld horror.

20. Scalene

Zack Parker’s heartbreaking indie puts a new spin—or rather, triangular viewpoint—on Rashomon, following the different perceptions three characters have regarding an alleged rape. Justified’s Margo Martindale gives a fantastically uncompromising performance as the weary mother of a 26-year-old with brain damage, while Hannah Hall provides a fascinating counterpoint as the good intentioned but severely misguided college student. The pieces don’t add up, and they’re not supposed to. It’s as frustrating as any misunderstanding in life.

Few things please me more than finding than a taut, original little film made by an upcoming filmmaker Matthew Parkhill’s The Caller is that kind of shiny gem, a ghost story/romance/time travel tale about an abused wife trying to make it on her own, only to then became hunted by the spirit (maybe) of her new apartment’s former tenant, a bitter, lonely old woman who seeks to make sure everyone is as miserable as her life was in the 1970s. Also in the mix is nicely compelling romantic subplot, a comforting turn from Luis Guzman, and a cute dog. What’s not to like?

The godfather of cheap genre cinema, Roger Corman apparently had a rare fit of actual motivation with this medieval times set Vincent Price chiller. Bathed in vibrant colors, this morality tale is both gorgeous to look at and pure joy to sit through. Corman was never better.

Scandoulsy titled Don’t Deliver Us From Evil takes its inspiration from the Parker-Hulme case that also gave birth to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. Somewhere in France, two upper middle class Catholic schoolgirls fight boredom by worshiping the devil, teasing any heterosexual man with eyeballs, and murdering the beloved housepets of a servant. Not a typical horror film (or even exploitation title, despite its marketing), Don’t Deliver Us From Evil leaves a lasting impression, possibly because it boasts one of the most shocking finales I’ve seen in some time.

This strange little Thai horror film is almost like a modern twist on Hausu, with a group of shallow nurses paying for murder via their vices. Hair strangles the beautiful, purses eat the head of the greedy, and a whole lot of grisly wackiness ensues.

2012 marks the year I ‘discovered’ Curtis Harrington, a prolific yet not-that-well-known filmmaker who made some wonderfully challenging films in the 1970s. In The Killing Kind, Anne Sothern and John Savage play a frighteningly off mother-son pair who bring out the worst in one another. Like an American version of Pedro Almovodar, Harrington has an uncanny interest and ability at highlighting middle aged women, a population that never seems to get the film coverage it deserves.

14. Phase IV

If you only have one directorial credit to your name, it might as well be something as strange and memorable as Phase IV. Graphic designer Saul Bass explores the power of hive minds and ant superiority in this smart sci-fi thriller, following a team of scientists investigating new developments in the insect world. With one of the cutest antiheroes in cinema, Phase IV is a truly unique piece of work.

13. REC 3

More akin to The Evil Dead 2 than its straight horror predecessor, REC 3 is less a continuation of the series than a side project. The film takes place at a countryside wedding (happening, we assume, simultaneously with the events of the first film) where a likable and dedicated young couple use chainsaws, decorative armor, and radio technology to battle a horde of the infected. Funny and sweet, REC 3 doesn’t come close to being a great horror movie, but it’s one of the best times I had on DVD this year.

The Blair Witch Project’s Eduardo Sanchez goes to a dark, sad place to tell the tale of Molly, a recovering drug addict/working class part-time janitor who might be crazy, might be relapsing, or might be possessed by the kind of demon that preys upon the abused. With a brave and glamorless central performance from Gretchen Lodge, Lovely Molly is far from perfect, but leaves a haunting and devastating impression.

11. Rabies

Israel's first official horror film is a wonderfully original tale, sometimes funny, sometimes scary, but always incredibly fresh. Like a movie that shows up a few spots down on this list, Rabies breathes new life into the idea of a standard slasher, toying with character, time, and tone in a way that's wonderfully new.

10. Deathdream

There are horror films made to scare you and then there are those seemingly designed to hurt your feelings. Bob Clark, who birthed the modern slasher with Black Christmas, patented a nationwide yearly tradition with A Christmas Story, and terrified my inner child with The Karate Dog, made such a film with his 1972 Deathdream (aka Dead of Night), a Monkey’s Paw varietal about an inconsolable mother whose grief brings her son, a private in Vietnam, back from the dead. There are no real bad guys in the story, just a parent who refuses to let go and the young veteran turned homicidal by means he can’t control. It’s a haunting film, one that finds a deeper, far more painful horror to explore than most of its peers

9. Matango

Based on a title that includes the subheading “Attack of the Mushroom People,” one probably expects some light-hearted goofiness from this mid-60s Japanese oddity. Not so the case, and that’s surprisingly a good thing. Matango is an eerie film, one that follows a fairly unlikable group of wealthy but ill-fated tourists as they get shipwrecked on an abandoned island, slowly letting their starvation fuel in-fighting and eventually, well, you know, mushroomination. Unlike anything I’ve ever sees, Matango is wonderfully weird.

Perhaps the best con of a movie, Megan Is Missing spends its first 30 minutes or so pretending to be the most insufferable thing you've ever willingly watched. Bratty 8
th grade girls curse at each other like your worst parenting nightmare, only to suddenly teach some terrifyingly important lessons about the dangers of the Internet. Home to the most disturbing single image in a film I've seen this year, Megan Is Missing is a genuinely upsetting indie complete with two deceptively good lead performances.

7. Riki Oh

I could take this paragraph to describe the gleeful punch-through-stomach absurdity of this Hong Kong gory action movie, but no amount of words can truly capture the joy at watching a man attempt to strangle his enemy with his own intestines. Long a cult classic, Riki Oh is something truly insane, insanely joyful, and just a little gross.

Jack Arnold directs Richard Matheson’s novel with full respect, using one everyman’s shrinkage to examine what it means to exist. Sure, the film is most memorable for its giant spider battle (which IS pretty cool), but like the best science fiction, The Incredible Shrinking Man is, at its heart, less about its supernatural gimmick than about how mankind responds to what is thrust upon it.

I wish I had the proper vocabulary to express my complete adoration for this Mill Creek find, a ‘70s cheapie killer kid classic that includes a catfight, bear trap, Boss Hogg, and a piranha tank. It is pure glory.

If Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? cross-pollinated with Day of the Animals, it might look something like this moody Australian chiller. An unhappily married couple is off to spend a quiet weekend on a secluded beach, but their disregard for nature—and each other—leads a host of land and sea-dwelling creatures to fight back. Often lumped in with goofier nature strikes back fare, Long Weekend is far more intellectual than something like Frogs, using the scares of the animal kingdom to better bring out the true monstrosity in mankind.

One of the most innovative slashers I’ve ever seen, Dream Home combines some truly brutal violence, a sick sense of humor, and genuinely thoughtful commentary on economics, class, and the housing market. Josie Ho plays  a selfish, yet somewhat sympathetic woman tired of seeing others take what she has worked for. With an unusual time structure and morally ambiguous attitude, Dream Home finds a new voice for an age old subgenre.

The great thing about The Grey is that it easily could have been The Liam Neeson Movie Where Fights Muthah F*cking Wolves. And while that DOES happen, Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is also one of the deepest, most philosophical films of 2012, using a plane crash’s Alaskan survivors as a means to explore what it means to be alive. In between these never overwrought metaphors? Liam Neeson fights muthah f*cking wolves. One of the year’s absolute best.

One word: unicorn

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lessons Learned, Year Four

As we inch towards the Deadly Doll's House (of Nonsense)'s 4th blogiversary, I fall back on tradition: compiling a list of key lessons learned from every movie reviewed this year. Get ready to get smart!

Car Talk
Car accidents that take place in super slow motion are typically 95% more fatal than those in real time-- Exorcismus

Lousy maniac drivers don’t deserve medals -- The Devil Times Five

A little girl on a bicycle can generally ride at the same speed as an automobile -- Air Bud: 7th Inning Fetch

Never interrupt a mechanic when she’s enjoying her (possibly crack laden) hot cocoa -- Christmas Town

The Path To Good Health
Just to reiterate, smoking does not give you cancer and it’s okay to gather coal from a long abandoned mine -- Treasure Train

The Body Human
When you’re dying of blood loss, it’s generally not advised to take a nap -- Rabies

There is nothing that can’t be punched through, be it cement or human stomachs -- Riki Oh

Everyone in their 20s that looks decent in a bathing suit is awful and deserves to die

Arms & Weaponry
It’s surprisingly easy to knock someone’s head off with one axe swing -- Stage Fright

If horror movies have taught me anything, it’s that when a bloodthirsty killer has me straight in his aim of a knife or spear throw, it’s really easy and instinctual to just wait til the last minute to duck or roll over and avoid the death blow -- Maskmaker

Fire hoses are the most versatile of all zombie hunting/escaping weapons -- REC 3

Mental Health & The Science of Psychology
Suicidal tendencies don’t always go well with confinement or a bean diet -- Junkyard Dog

Playing games goes with a degree in psychology -- Basic Instinct 

After you have a nervous breakdown, you can see the world more clearly -- Cop Dog

Almost 23 is not so young -- Bedtime For Bonzo

Tricks of the Hollywood Biz
If you’re worried about the audience not being able to know who a character is in relation to another, be sure to have one constantly acknowledge said relationship in every bit of dialogue, i.e., “My brother can really get on my nerves!” or “I’m not leaving my brother!” or “Look, little brother…” and so on. -- Silent House

A great way to leave your audience deciding they’ve just watched a comedy: end on a fuzzy floating head portrait montage of all the characters killed in the film. Guaranteed laughmaker  -- Pet Sematary 2

Hey screenwriters, here’s a lesson: if you want the audience to immediately hate your hero, have your opening scene involve him harassing a perfectly nice flight attendant just trying to do her job. Guaranteed way to get us off his side -- The Darkest Hour

With slow motion and music behind it, everything’s creepy -- Grave Encounters

Hey big name production companies: see how good and successful a movie can be when it’s about people who aren’t necessarily 22 and gorgeous? Just sayin’ -- The Grey

How to film a flashback within a flashback? Make it foggier -- The Phantom of the Opera

In order to secure a PG rating for a film in which one character is stabbed by a belly complete with a grisly sound effect of someone pulling the sword OUT of his belly, make sure all your characters are so physically repulsive that even the most Puritan MPAA member will cheer for their extinction -- Delgo

Culled from the commentary: a D.O.P. is a director of photography (as explained to the film’s producer) -- Cats: The Movie

When in doubt, cut to a monkey doll -- The Woman In Black

Geography Potpouri
Contrary to common Englishman belief, The Clitoris is NOT an island off Greece famous for its ouzo -- The Wicker Tree

Seattle gets an awful lot of snow in June -- Twilight 3

Introduction To Spanish
The Spanish word for “joke” is “yoke” -- Bells of Innocence

Mexico means in Mexican weird -- Last Resort

Music Appreciation
One way to tune that piano: remove the loaded shotgun hiding inside -- The New Daughter 

Nobody hates Menudo. Everybody in the world loves Menudo! -- Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury 

Arts & Crafts
In a pinch, the bodies of a few rotting cannibals will make for a smelly, but suitable ladder -- The Loved Ones

Building a neutron bomb can be a little dangerous -- Kazaam

Drug Use & Abuse
Even the coolest hospital orderly isn’t going to just give you a roomful of free experimental drugs -- Autopsy

Heroin addiction will in no way deter your ability to learn a second language with impressive speed -- Die

Having an adverse effect to drugs is never fun, but having an adverse effect to drugs when trapped in a haunted mine is a sure way to kill your buzz -- Slaughter Night

Forcing cocaine upon a passed out drunk will reward you with having your crotch vomited upon -- Dream Home

If your sister is a recovering heroin addict, it’s probably not a good idea to bring over a bag of pot when she’s home alone -- Lovely Molly

The American Legal System
Lawyers’ personal files always include a sexy headshot -- Medium Raw

Being on someone’s private property means that legally, they can blow your brains out and ask questions later -- Hellraiser: Revelations

All About Australia 
Australian men children sound an awful lot like your overconfident friend doing a lame impression of Christopher Walken -- The Clinic

If you require the services of a 911 operator, you're better off not living in Australia -- The Tunnel

Feminism Rocks
When fleeing your would-be rapist, always consider the alternative to being a victim of sexual assault. In this case, said alternative is getting eaten alive by mutant slugs. No man can take that choice away from you -- Slugs

What Women Want
A girl shouldn’t have to ask for a man to lick her face -- The Dog Who Saved the Holidays

If you threaten a girl then pretend to be kind to her she’ll fall for you immediately -- Matango

A broken clavicle is a huge dealbreaker for female doctors -- Hunger

What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Pregnant also means ‘with child,’ or ‘in the family way’ -- Bear

Getting knocked up by a supercomputer can best be compared to dropping acid or watching a screensaver on loop -- Demon Seed

Apocalypse Preparation
Always leave some Twinkies or other long-term snack in an easy-to-reach spot in the basement. You just never know -- The Incredible Shrinking Man

Without flowers, it’s really difficult to get organized for the rapture-- The Jacket 

Why you should never let a man pack a bomb shelter: there are certain, um, female toiletries that he might forget are needed on a monthly basis -- The Divide

High School & Higher Education
Dream imagery is a challenging, yet occasionally practical and life-saving college major -- Sorority House Massacre

Staten Island pep rallies get about the same size crowd as a screening of the Oogieloves -- Knock Knock

The Arts
Acting is the art of communicating with the audience through the use of realistic and authentic behavior -- Dark House

There aren’t that many opportunities for ceramic lawn ornament designers -- Big & Hairy

Fine Dining & Cuisine
Classy barbeques involve marshmallows and wine -- The Crush

Never skimp on bread. You’ll always regret it -- The Innkepers

There is something called placenta recipes and they are apparently delicious -- The Unborn

Alcohol: The Cause & Solution To All Life’s Problems
Alcohol is great no matter how tall or short you are -- Darby O'Gill & the Little People

1500 smackeroos generally calls for another beer -- The Cat From Outer Space

The Animal Kingdom
Even a monkey can appreciate the versatile use of a caboodle -- Monkey Trouble

Ants are amazing creatures and we should do whatever they tell us. WHATEVER THEY TELL US!!! -- Phase IV

Sorry doesn’t feed the cat -- Moonlight and Mistletoe

Whatever you do, do not feed the possums -- Long Weekend

A flea is the price you pay for being cage free -- Lenny the Wonder Dog

Every dog has his know? -- Karate Dog

Political Science
You can’t have your civic forefathers execute 19 people without getting some kind of a reputation -- A Haunting In Salem

Letting a chimpanzee play baseball is equally important as letting women vote and black men be presidents -- Ed

Things To Know Before Traveling To England
Never trust a British stair bannister -- Whoever Slew Auntie Roo

One needn’t be cautious about kidnapping patterns in England. Apparently, one can swipe up to ten people in one location over the course of a week and still have time to pick up another would-be victim from a nearby airport before policemen even think to notice -- The Human Centipede 2

Project Runway
Half-shirts were apparently still in for bullies circa 1995 -- Evolver

Not too surprisingly, gorilla suits worn during medieval times were highly flammable -- The Masque of Red Death

Just because you made someone a daisy chain does not mean they are immune from the effect of a crazy serial killing time traveler -- The Caller

The Upper Class
Having drinks with the butler leads to anarchy -- Waxwork

Things To Know When Choosing Your Career
To do experiments you need a lab...and research data -- Gnaw: Food of the Gods 2

To be a great journalist-in-the-making, do some research, then wait for the killer to inevitably kill you because then he’ll just TELL YOU EVERYTHING about what he did, why he did it, and how it all relates to YOU -- Choose

An added perk of being a landlord is that when someone dies, you get free cake -- Alice Sweet Alice

The Art of Love
During the process of making love, it is customary that the man removes his shirt while the woman remains fully clothed at all times -- Hybrid

Parenting Tips
Dim-witted cowherds and easily manipulated servants are not the best babysitters for your wayward teen daughter -- Don't Deliver Us From Evil

Best way to know that your child is evil? She cuts peas in half with a knife. Even Jerry Seinfeld would find that offensive -- Case 39

When a creepy, sweating 35-year-old man is caught prowling around your new home and teenage daughter, you can probably just laugh it off and chalk it up to the innocent fact that he misses his dead aunt -- Ghost Cat

If you want your child to graduate high school, do not even THINK of signing release forms 
for her to be employed by PBS  -- Fame

Bedtime for a typical 10 year old is 5PM -- Ozzie

Things that won’t endear you to your prospective stepdaughter: talking teddy bears, scone baking -- Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Date Night
If planning on stealing money from you dangerous thug boyfriend, try to avoid hiding in the very place you used to spend hours telling him about -- Aberration 

Going to a wine-laden Italian restaurant on your first date with a recently recovering alcoholic is probably ill-advised -- A Horrible Way to Die

Setting your mom up on a pseudo blind date with the mysterious man whom you’ve been having tame phone sex will inevitably have some negative consequences -- Lisa

If you love someone, you will never, ever never, take them on vacation to SeaWorld -- Jaws 3D

Man vs. Nature
No matter how many babies you feed a superevil ancient tree, all it takes is one chainsaw to show it who’s boss -- The Guardian

The 20th Century American Male
The average height of an aluminum siding salesman in 1963? 4’11 -- Tin Men

All old folksy men played by Royal Dano in the late '80s had a lot of questions for tarnation -- House II: The Second Story 

Marriage 101
No matter what your fiancée may say, when his overgrown frat boy friends whisk him away for a weekend of bachelor fun, yes, yes you should indeed be worried -- Hostel III

Never marry a man who can’t carve a roast beef -- Deathdream

The best way to get over an ex you still harbor feelings for? Shoot a monster wearing its clothing -- House 

The best housewarming gift one can give: Ginsu knives -- Mother's Day

Basic Survival 101
If you find yourself stuck in a Stephen King project, never, and I mean never, put your trust in Martin Sheen -- Firestarter

If horror movies have taught me anything, it’s that when a bloodthirsty killer has me straight in his aim of a knife or spear throw, it’s really easy and instinctual to just wait til the last minute to duck or roll over and avoid the death blow -- MaskMaker

Little Known Facts From American History
In the early birth of the midwest, orgies were pretty lame -- Night of the Scarecrow

As Cold Mountain already taught us, one could not find better healthcare in the 19th century than in the secluded forest cabin of a female hermit -- Exit Humanity

Modern Technology
iPhones might have their charms, but nothing says superspy like a burner Blackberry -- Haywire

Beauty & Best Hygiene
If someone tells you that you have an interesting face, it really just means that you’re not pretty -- The Killing Kind

In Thailand, it is traditional to not remove any clothing when taking a shower -- Sick Nurses

Virgins don’t know how to wear makeup -- Megan Is Missing

Red meat is for people who don’t care how they look -- The Final

The jungle is not good for the complexion -- Blood Monkey

Clive Owen is a god -- Intruders

That's a wrap on your 2012 education. Tuition is accepted in cash, check, or keys to Clive Owen's dressing room. You're welcome!