The Host (2006)

host_ver6_xlgThe Host [괴물, Gwoemul] (2006)

Starring Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung, Lee Jae-eung, Lee Dong-ho, Scott Wilson

Directed by Bong Joon-ho

Expectations: Very high.

fourstar


The Host is a monster movie featuring scenes of terror and peril that will give you goosebumps, but to be technical it’s not really a horror film. Not the best review to post on Halloween, but it’s the only one I have so it’ll have to do! So while it’s part monster movie, part action movie & part horror movie, under the surface it’s actually a drama about the nature of family — in this case, a dysfunctional family — and how they deal with the life-threatening, horror-movie circumstances they find themselves in. This might make the film sound like it’s not the type of thing that warrants viewing for a genre fan, but the opposite is true. The Host walks the line between genres exceptionally well, allowing the drama, the horror, as well as lots of comedy and action to work together brilliantly. It combines into one of the finest and most enjoyable monster movies I’ve ever seen.

The Host opens with an Army officer (Scott Wilson, who played Herschel on The Walking Dead) instructing his Korean assistant to dump a whole shit-ton of hazardous chemicals down the drain. The Korean man cautions that these chemicals will go straight into the Han River, most likely causing major damage, but the ruthless American cares nothing for this. So the assistant begins the long task of dumping hundreds of bottles of the stuff down the drain.

Continue reading The Host (2006) →

Horror Block — October 2014 Unboxing Video!

After my love for the first Horror Block I got, I couldn’t stop at just one. So I’m back with another Horror Block! If you don’t already know, Horror Block is a horror-themed subscription box that’s $20 a month + shipping (with the shipping cost dependent on where you live). For me it totaled out to be just shy of $30. Horror Block is based in Canada and ships their boxes internationally, so the whole world can enjoy them! If you’re thinking about ordering one, do so through one of the ads on the sidebar or the links on these posts and I’ll get a cut!

But don’t just order blindly; Watch the video and find out if Horror Block is right for you! As always, I always appreciate any feedback or suggestions about the videos, so let me know in the comments. Thanks!

Stephen reviews: Vampire Princess Miyu (1988/1989)

737187003622Vampire Princess Miyu [Kyuuketsuti Miyu 吸血姫 美夕, Vampire Miyu] (1988/1989)

Starring Mami Koyama, Naoko Watanabe, Mayumi Shou, Katsumi Toruiumi, Ryo Horikawa, Yuji Mitsuya, Masako Ikeda, Kiyonobu Suzuki, Tesshō Genda, Kaneto Shiozawa

Directed by Toshihiro Hirano


Another series rather than film, Vampire Princess Miyu is one of my old favorites from my high school years. It was refreshing coming back to this series and finding that it still holds up pretty well. This is not the late ’90s TV series, but the decade older direct-to-video mini-series. At only four episodes the entire series is no longer than a feature film, making it easy to watch in one sitting although each episode stands on its own fairly well. They are all interconnected and combine to tell a broader story, but each episode is also a single adventure in itself.

The franchise has a rather oddly translated title. “Princess” is nowhere in the Japanese title. Miyu herself is not, and never was, a princess of anything. One can only wonder what made the translators insert that word. I guess it just sounds better than the more basic Vampire Miyu (though I do wonder if the original title might be a reference to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat). In any event, the erroneous title is the one by which the franchise is most commonly known in English (the original manga used the literal translation Vampire Miyu when it first came out in the US, but later releases apparently added in the “princess” bit).

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Vampire Princess Miyu (1988/1989) →

Night of the Creeps (1986)

nightofthecreeps_1Starring Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Wally Taylor, Bruce Solomon, Vic Polizos, Allan Kayser, Ken Heron, Alice Cadogan, June Harris, David Paymer

Directed by Fred Dekker

Expectations: Super high.

fourstar


Horror comedies are definitely a lost art these days, but in the 1980s filmmakers had the perfect grasp on what made a great one. Night of the Creeps is easily one of the genre’s best, managing to be hilarious yet frightening, delightfully gory, and reverential of past horror films while also being original. It often feels like a whole bunch of horror movies all smashed together into one, and that’s kind of exactly what it is. But while a multitude of ideas usually leads to a muddled story that trips over itself in its effort to entertain, in Night of the Creeps it’s just a total blast.

We open in space as fat, pink, naked aliens with monstrous heads chase after one of their own who’s apparently carrying some kind of highly dangerous experiment of theirs. But they can’t stop him, and his escape pod rockets towards this wonderful little planet we call Earth. The film now shifts to black & white, and we find ourselves in 1959. This shift is not only visually interesting, but it also sets a mood. Director Fred Dekker is not trying to accurately represent the 1950s here, just the movies of the 1950s. He does so flawlessly, even right down to the fun/scary tone that many ’50s B-Movies have.

Continue reading Night of the Creeps (1986) →

Quick Takes: Ganja & Hess, Fright Night, The House on Skull Mountain

ganjaandhessposterGanja & Hess (1973)
AKA
Blood Couple, Double Possession, Black Evil, Blackout: The Moment of Terror, Vampires of Harlem, Black Vampire

Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon, Leonard Jackson, Candece Tarpley, Richard Harrow, John Hoffmeister
Directed by Bill Gunn

Tasked with creating a Blacula-type blaxploitation vampire movie, director Bill Gunn instead made an allegorical arthouse film that’s about as far from blaxploitation as possible; a bold move you just have to respect (although one look at those alternate titles above will show that the distributors definitely did not). But while I respect the balls that a move like that took, I can’t say that I liked Ganja & Hess much. It’s got an interesting vibe, and there are some real standout scenes (the ones featuring Bill Gunn himself in a supporting role, for instance), but for the most part I was bored. To be fair, though, I generally have this kind of reaction to arthouse movies, so I think it’s more my fault than Gunn’s. This is why I can’t bring myself to rate Ganja & Hess. Even though I didn’t really like it at all, it’s an incredible achievement of black cinema for the time. I simultaneously felt both impressed and bored. In this circumstance it would be wrong to assign a rating based on either of these feelings, and some arbitrary concoction of the two would only further obfuscate matters. So it’s just the kind of movie you’ll have to see on your own and decide for yourself. Just make sure you like arthouse-style movies. Oh, for those who care: Spike Lee’s Kickstarter film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, is a remake of this.

fright_nightFright Night (1985)
fourstar

Starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art Evans
Directed by Tom Holland

Four stars, you say? Yeah, maybe I’m overrating it but — aw hell, no I’m not! Fright Night is the type of ’80s horror blast to the brain you crave if you’re one of those people, like myself, who’s lamented the painful death of the horror movie over the last 25 years. Hell, it’s such a great example of an ’80s horror movie that modern directors should examine it and learn the great and simple truths contained within. It’s rare that a film can effectively convey multiple tones, but Fright Night manages to be a truly funny comedy that builds from the ’50s paranoia genre format (while also parodying them), that then morphs as the film progresses into one hell of a gory and tense thrill ride. The FX work is exceptional, with Richard Edlund, fresh off of Ghostbusters, bringing out all the stops. Fright Night is an intensely fun vampire movie. I haven’t seen it since I was about seven or eight years old, and a movie this great really should be seen more than once every 25 years or so. Highly recommended.

houseonskullmountainThe House on Skull Mountain (1974)
threestar

Starring Victor French, Janee Michelle, Jean Durand, Mike Evans, Xernona Clayton, Lloyd Nelson, Ella Woods, Mary J. Todd McKenzie
Directed by Ron Honthaner

I sought out The House on Skull Mountain after I saw it on a blaxploitation horror list, but it’s not really a blaxploitation movie at all. Unless a predominant black cast and a production year in the ’70s is all that defines a blaxploitation movie. This movie actually had black characters from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, and the jive talkin’ guy is clearly the butt of the joke, not the ass-kickin’ hero. Anyway, The House on Skull Mountain is a fun “people going to an old house for the reading of a will” movie mixed with a lot of voodoo and dope African drums. Since I’m such a fan of black magic films, I suppose it stands to reason that I’d also greatly enjoy a good voodoo movie! It will definitely be too dated for some, but I was suitably unsettled by many of its tricks and treats. Unfortunately, the intriguing mystery it sets up never pays off in any satisfying way, but it’s far too enjoyable a film for even something like this to diminish the fun.

Hex After Hex (1982)

HexAfterHex_1Hex After Hex [邪完再邪] (1982)

Starring Lo Meng, Nancy Lau Nam-Kai, Lau Dan, Cheng Siu-Ping, Lo Yuen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lily Chan Lee-Lee, Lau Siu-Gwan, Law Ho-Kai, Yue Tau-Wan, Chow Kin-Ping, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Hex After Hex is the final film of the Hex trilogy (which isn’t actually a trilogy), and it’s surprisingly related in a very small way to the previous film in the series, Hex vs. Witchcraft. Like that film, Hex After Hex is more comedy than horror, but here the ratios have been further adjusted so that it’s almost all comedy for most of the movie. A lot of this comedy comes by way of ghost shenanigans, but there’s also a heavy dose of strange and wacky natural occurrences — for instance: Lo Meng lotioning up his nipples, or saving his blow-up doll from a building’s demolition. There’s so many quick little moments like this that I’ll need another run through the film to really appreciate them.

As you might expect in a film featuring such madcap energy, the story in Hex After Hex doesn’t matter much (to the viewers or the filmmakers). The film opens with Ma Su (Lo Meng), the muscular neighbor of the main character in Hex vs. Witchcraft, finding the same bag of golden jewelry that kicked off the supernatural hijinks in that film. Once again, the bag also contains the spiritual tablet of Liu Ah Cui, but this time Ma Su flatly refuses to marry the spirit. He has no interest in marrying a ghost and money does not persuade him. Not to be thrown out in the cold, the spirit of Liu Ah Cui decides to take over the body of a different neighbor’s girlfriend, Yeung Suk Yi (Nancy Lau Nam-Kai), and seduce Ma Su. It works, and they spend a good portion of the film moving from one problem to the next, the ghost graciously getting them out of harm’s way as only she can. A series of hijinks with a flimsy plot isn’t such a bad thing because it’s all fun, but I have to admit that without any sense of purpose it does get a little tiresome after a while.

Continue reading Hex After Hex (1982) →

Stephen reviews: Shiki (2010)

shiki_2Shiki [屍鬼] (2010)

Starring Toru Ohkawa, Kouki Uchiyama, Kazuyuki Okitsu, Haruka Nagashima, Keiko Kawakami, Wataru Takagi, Aoi Yūki, Ai Orikasa, Nozomi Sasaki, Nobuhiko Okamoto

Directed by Tetsuro Amino


All right, I’m breaking the unwritten and nonbinding rules by reviewing an entire TV series rather than a singular film. Shiki completely took me by surprise with its rich atmosphere, dense plot, and unflinching cruelty. Since it is also one of those rare anime titles that is genuine horror, it felt like the perfect time to step away from the norm. One of the big differences about an anime series from a Hollywood series is that anime is largely intended to tell an already mapped out story. Anime often isn’t meant to run season after season until the fans get tired of it. An anime series usually has the entire plot figured out before production begins. This means that at every step of the way a well-made series will advance the story toward a specific end, much like every scene in a movie should progress the plot to its conclusion, and Shiki does this very well.

shiki_1I had heard that Shiki was a slow-paced series, but I found that to be blatantly false. This isn’t an action series, so maybe people were confused by this thing called a plot. But whatever the case, I thought the story proceeded at a rapid pace, hurling new developments at every turn. I don’t think there was a single episode that didn’t radically alter the situation, constantly building up its dreadful sense of impending doom. Partly it manages this through an enormous cast that grows with nearly every episode. Even at the end of the series, new characters are still being introduced. This means that there is always someone to stumble onto new problems. This also means there are a lot of characters to keep track of, so I really do recommend watching the entire series over a short span of time, otherwise you’re liable to forget who important people are. This is perhaps one of its weakest points for viewers who don’t want a story quite so difficult to keep track of, but it is one of my favorite aspects of the series.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Shiki (2010) →

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