One of the best things about the Zompoc sub-genre is how widely diverse it is. You can go old school with some classic black and white voodoo hexes, such as White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie, or The Plague of the Zombies, to name a few. There are the comedies, such as Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland or Return of the Living Dead. And there are the more serious minded zombie movies such as the works of the late great George A. Romero and all those wonderfully directed Italian zombie flicks (a good number of which will be reviewed during this year’s Fright Fest). But then you’ve got those Zompocs that are a bit harder to classify. Take for instance today’s morsel, PLANET TERROR. Upon my first screening it was hard to understand where this movie was coming from and where it was taking me. I mean, was it satire? Not completely. Was it serious? Not entirely. Was it expressionist, like those gritty foreign-made horror flicks? Not absolutely. Well, for crying out loud, what precisely is PLANET TERROR? Continue Reading
More than any month of the year, October bids us to watch more then normal amounts of horror. We dip into our collective vaults of DVD and Blu Ray frights. And of course, in the Age of Instant Streaming, we’re given the added benefit, though life-draining practice, of watching movies online through sites such as Crackle, Shutter, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. While these streaming proprietors may in fact be digital vampires, ghost in the machine hypnotists singing sweet lullabies, tempting us to sit hour after hour, binging on our most favorite shows and movies, we cannot deny the often overwhelming selection they provide. Netflix has stumbled a bit in horror selections in recent years, though you can still find a good amount of classic picks. I’m not a member of Shutter, so I cannot make any kind of comment of their selections. Nor do I watch anything on Amazon. I’m a fan of the cheap, and when it comes to more bang for your buck, both Netflix and Hulu are worthwhile choices for those looking to get away from the endless money pit of cable and dish networks. Its interesting how easy it is to find a best of list on both Netflix and even YouTube, journeymen and women who’ve done the leg work to provide a collective list of top tens or so for us to dabble our curious appetites. However, I haven’t seen many Hulu lists, and I find that strange. Why? Have you been on the horror genre list on Hulu, have you seen? Well…allow me to say, Hulu boasts the largest/cheapest collection of horror movies that would satisfy any deranged loon. The only drawback is that there are TONS of horror movies to pick from. Thus brings us to the point. We need a list. We need a Hulu Horror List. Here, you’ll find not the BEST OF; rather, my own personal picks from Hulu’s dark and endless vault. Enjoy!
Lord of Illusions (1995): Based on a Clive Barker short story, Private eye Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) travels to Los Angeles and meets with a new client, Dorothea Swann (Famke Janssen). Swann reveals that she and her husband — famed magician Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor) — have been targeted by a religious cult experimenting with reincarnation. After Philip dies on stage in the midst of a dangerous trick, D’Amour must struggle to protect Dorothea from the ruthless cult members and their newly reanimated religious leader, Nix (Daniel Von Bargen).
Hellraiser I & II (1987, 1988): These picks are conjoined because they’re perfect watching back to back. Part II picks up not long after the traumatic events from the first flick, continuing the misadventures of would-be twenty-something Kirsty Cotton verses Pinhead and his leather bound Cenobites. If you haven’t indulged in these of Barker’s darker imaginings, please do. It’ll make a great choice among any Halloween marathon listing. Forever classic and haunting.
Motel Hell (1980): No list is complete without some gore-heavy satire! Motel Hell is about a brother sister duo, Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons), who run a rural hotel, but they earn most of their cash operating a food stand that specializes in world-famous sausages. After years of success, however, the duo’s upstanding brother, Sheriff Bruce (Paul Linke), eventually discovers the grotesque details of his siblings’ booming business: Vincent and Ida are actually plumping up their hotel patrons, killing and dismembering them and then grinding them into frankfurters.
Cannibal Holocaust (1979): While you’re out watching The Green Inferno, be sure to check out this original masterpiece of fright. Cannibal Holocaust was one of the first steady-cam mockumentaries/found-footage flicks. An American professor flies down into the Green Inferno, to discover the fate of a group of documentary crew. And he found them alright, what was left anyhow. He also found what remained of their footage. Upon his return, the professor watches the grisly footage. Cannibal Holocaust is a fantastic film. Old but still gritty and gruesome, even by today’s standards.
ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978): If you haven’t seen this one, you probably never will. Pure science-fiction satire, spoof, low-budget flick about over-sized killer tomatoes that go on a rampage killing people…yup.
Candyman (1992): There sure seem to be a lot of Clive Barker based flicks on this list…what does that say about me??? Whatever! Candyman is a classic mythology story about resurgence and racism. Skeptical graduate student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) befriends Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) while researching superstitions in a housing project on Chicago’s Near North Side. From Anne-Marie, Helen learns about the Candyman (Tony Todd), a knife-wielding figure of urban legend that some of her neighbors believe to be responsible for a recent murder. After a mysterious man matching the Candyman’s description begins stalking her, Helen comes to fear that the legend may be all too real.
The Thaw (2009): Not the best among Hulu’s options, but certainly a decent flick. I think the reason why I watched it and included it on my list is that the movie reminded me a lot of the classic X-Files episode from season 1, code named “Ice,” when Mulder and Skully are sent to investigate when a team of geophysicists stationed at a remote Alaskan outpost are killed by a parasitic alien life form. In The Thaw, ecology students discover a prehistoric parasite that has been released from the melting polar ice cap threatens the safety of the world. Again, you may find the acting to be a bit sub-par, but the premise and story is, I thought, pretty creepy.
Cannibal Ferox (1981): Jesus…what’s wrong with me? My list seems to be full of Barker flicks and cannibal films…I think I may need professional help. Until then, if you’re collecting a list of gruesome grind house type movies to add to your Halloween month list, you may want to consider Cannibal Ferox. There isnt much to plot here, just gore, and lots and lots and lots of it. The basic premise is this, a cocaine dealer and an anthropology student fall victim to cannibalistic Colombian natives…boom…there you go, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Scanners (1981): Okay…finally, a Cronenberg film! Here you’ll find men and women born with incredible telepathic and telekinetic powers. There are many who exercise the benefits of their special gifts in a safe and judicious manner. However, there is a group of renegade scanners who plan to create a race that will rule the world. If anything, you need to watch this movie for a very infamous scene and nod towards practical effects. Its great! You’ll know it when you see it…
The Beyond (1981): If you haven’t seen this one, you need to. Its a mesmerizing gem that at first feels kinda lack-luster, right? But as the film progresses, so does the bizarre. Its a fantastic journey and somewhat artistic film by famed Italian director Lucio Fulci…and yup, he put zombies in there too!
Demons (1985): A group of people are trapped in a large movie theater in West Berlin that is infected by ravenous demons who proceed to kill and posses the humans one-by-one, thereby multiplying their numbers…..enough said!
Pieces (1982): In this violent and gut-wrenchingly gory flick, set in a Boston university, the story centers on a crazed meat cleaver killer who hacks up hapless women in the hopes of building his dream girl. A throwback to the 70s savage cinema era. If you can stomach this one, you might want to add it to your list, along side every other cannibal flick I’ve mentioned. You can book your therapist after.
Intruder (1989): Nearing the end of the Slasher Age comes a grisly picture, a claustrophobic thriller set entirely in a small supermarket, whose owner is preparing to go out of business. This doesn’t sit too well with one of the staff members, who busily butchers the night crew using the tools of the trade (hooks, axes, knives, power tools, and so on). A fantastic gore and practical effect based horror tune that even cameos Sam & Ted Raimi and the man, the legend, Bruce Campbell!!!
Well, there you have it folks. Not a top pick, but a solid pick from among Hulu’s endless treasure trove of horror. If you have the time, be sure to check out some others on their site. Lots to pick, lots of golden B-flicks as well, and even more classic ones, including: Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Cronos, Carnival of Souls, The Innkeepers, The Brood, and so many more!!
Is Robocop (2014) a political movie? This is my question that I want you to consider as we discuss certain reoccurring themes throughout the film. For starters, yes I know I’m way behind the curve here for a movie review. What can I say? I missed Robocop in theaters and was only able to finally sit down and watch it over this past weekend. And to my surprise, this was not the 1987 version of Robocop. Sometimes remakes go to far to re-imagine or recreate the nostalgic feel of the original, and while this Robocop has certain 80’s-esk qualities, it is in itself, its own movie. The 1987 Robocop was…well..to put it bluntly a 1970’s grindhouse picture filmed in the 1980’s. Grindhouse (or savage cinema) is all about random acts of violence, but not any ole violence; grindhouse overexposes the audience to violence in order to send a cultural/political message about the time in which the movie was made. In the 1970’s, it was about Vietnam and Watergate and all that mess and disillusionment. The 1987 Robocop was giving a magnificent nod toward the over-consumption, over-consumerism, over-cooperated culture America had entwined herself during the 1980’s with over the top, albeit grotesque, hyper-violence. As film historian William Latham has noted, “seeing a corporation as the ultimate savior and the villain at the same time, where a man becomes a product, gave [Robocop] a special meaning in the 1980’s.” If we boil it down, the message of a grindhouse picture during the 70’s is the same as it is during the 1980’s, which is to say: Does the end justify the means? My question before you today is if Robocop (2014) is still a political movie? We’ve left behind the 20th century, some fourteen years now. Does the same message of justifiable means linger on in the 21st century? Do our ends justify our means? Instead of going through the entire film (which would take a while to digest), we’ll discuss two of the most powerful themes dominate in this new Robo-endeavor.
Robocop starts off with Samuel L. Jackson, not a bad way to start a film, playing the part of Pat Novak, a television talk show host (something similar to what you can find on Fox’s Bill O’Reilly Factor) giving a discussion over the use of a unmanned police robots in the United States. His stance is very clear, stating: “Omnicorp law enforcement robots are being used in every country of the world, except our own….why are we [Americans] so robophobic?” To prove his point, Jackson’s character, Novak, cuts from his monologue to a film crew broadcasting from a Iran-esk country where Omnicorp “peacekeepers” are demonstrating a live-action sweep of a recently pacified neighborhood. Novak’s positive position is juxtaposed with close ups of the neighborhood population whose faces are a combination of fear, resentment, confusion, violation, and anger. As the film crew continues their broadcast, we discover that not everyone has accepted pacification. There is a small group of suicide bombers that are planning to strike back. Their attempt fails, obviously, but just when we’re thinking the end justifies the means, the young son of one of the suicide bombers runs out into the street to join his father carrying a kitchen knife. One of the larger bipedal tank-like drones warns the boy “to drop his weapon.” Out of fear, no doubt, the boy refuses and as the camera pans away, we hear gun fire in the background. Pat Novak will tell you, very bluntly that the ends justify the means, because “those droids just saved my coworker,” but did they? His comment about the safety of the film crew is another juxtaposition, this time against the death of the young boy with the kitchen knife. This scene may have a different ambience for you; for me the message is about our current use of unmanned drones in foreign operations and the current debate on drone use over U.S. soil. The beginning scene here begs the question: does the use of drones to keep soldiers safe a justifiable end to the means of using drones in foreign and domestic operations were the loss of innocence could have been avoided?
We cut away from Pat Novak’s lingering lament for our robophobic culture and arrive in a near-future Detroit. Corruption abounds and sets the main catalysts in motion setting up the creation of Robocop. Raymond Sellars’ argument before a legislative committee, that drones do not feel anger or resentment or prejudice, but act according to the limits of the law. And on the other end of the pendulum is Senator Hubert Dreyfuss whose sole purpose throughout the film is to defend the legislation in place that prevents the use of unmanned drones in police duties because, according to Sen. Dreyfuss, machines cannot experience what it is like to kill. They have no feeling toward killing and as such cannot conduct themselves in a manner in which life has value. This back and forth is somewhat of a dual allegorical picture of our current political situation and the “means justifying the ends” question throughout the film.
While all this is contemporary and interesting, it does not compare to the second most powerful scene in Robocop (2014). Ignore Alex Murphy’s flat superhero-esk character for a moment and focus on his resurrection as Robocop. There is really a lot to chew on here, lots of ethical questions and metaphysical ones to be sure, such as the meaning of free will and the illusion of it and all that jazz, but what I want to look at is the imagery of amputees, especially wartime amputees, that becomes a bigger more meaningful part of the movie. When we get to the “lets put a man in a machine” part we’ve all seen in the trailers and Keaton’s spectacular acting, we open up in one of the research and development/rehabilitation areas within Omnicorp. We know its Omnicorp because of the technicians and doctors and the fancy sign on the door, right? But take all that away and limit this to single image and we get the feeling we’re in an army rehabilitation hospital. This could be a familiar scene at Walter Reed Medical Center or Brooke Army Medical who provide rehabilitation for OIF/OEF casualties who have sustained amputation or burns. The “man becoming a product” message William Latham commented on for the 1987 movie is still there, but for me it is not the most dominant message. This also is a major disconnect from the original film. In the 1987 version Alex dies from his wounds and is brought back to life via Omnicorp salvaging his brain and transplanting, along with his face, into a machine. No one knows about the operation until everyone knows about the operation. In the 2014 version, the transformation between man and machine is liken to extreme prosthetics. Alex Murphy did not die, he was saved with the operation. Now, the “saved” part comes under question when his wife (who must sign permission for Omnicorp to do this operation on Alex) asks “what kind of life will he have? You say you can save him, [but] what does that mean?” This, in my opinion, is a very power question, especially when it becomes juxtaposed with the image of the dissembled Murphy. In order for Murphy to face the reality of his situation, Dr. Dennett Norton, with the use of a mirror, begins to take away the robotic parts of Murphy, leaving only his organic self, which is basically only his face, brain, one hand (no arm, just the hand and nerves), and his heart and lungs that are contained in a sac like substance. And at the end, in a very horrific moment, Murphy cries out, “Jesus…there’s nothing left…there’s nothing left of me….”
The extreme amputation and prosthetic becomes a major issue throughout the remainder of the film. Even the vengeance quest is extremely short compared to the longevity of how Murphy deals with, or badly deals with, his new life as a man with prosthetics. Instead of a vengeance as justifiable means to an end, Murphy is put through the ringer of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world. In many ways, Robocop (2014) becomes one of the first movies to actually question and illuminate PTSD, amputation, post-war family dynamic, legislation, political talk-show mongrels, and corruption. The piecing together of man and machine is a classic horror motif that draws all the way back to Frankenstein (1931) a movie that dealt with similar issues for a different post-war generation. As film historian David Skal has commented on the form of Frankenstein, the symbolization of the monster that represents “displaced, suppressed, and reshaped humans to conform with the machine world. Whale’s film depicted a monster squarely in the grip of this confusion, a pathetic figure caught, as it were, on the barbed wire between humanism and mechanism.” The “pathetic” tug we feel in the new Robocop is Alex’s self image or how he sees himself. After being shown what remains of his organic form, he demands never to be shown himself again, especially not to his wife. This self-loathing in a post-war image is another throwback to an earlier horror monster from another time, consider The Phantom of the Opera (1911), when Gaston Leroux writes, “Look! You want to see! See! Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness!”
Assume the credits roll here. What did you think of the movie? Was it political? And most importantly, did the ends justify the means? Answers are never clear-cut. However, movies like Robocop help us deal with the mental processes we continue to struggle with, even though we may never arrive at same agreed upon destination. Its worth pondering and coming to our own conclusions.
With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Most folks remember Wes Craven for his contribution to the slasher genre during the 80’s (Nightmare on Elm Street) and his more subversive take during the 90’s (Scream). But the father of Freddy did much more for horror than glove claws. During the 70’s, following the Vietnam War and its mass exposure to hyper-violence, savage cinema, through avenues in grindhouse productions, became in its own right, a way in dealing with this era of heightened confusion, uncertainty, and death. Consider Blood Feast (1963), Cannibal Holocaust (1979), and Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) as just a few examples of the best savage cinema had to offer. Their stories are typically simple depictions of everyday life pitted against terrible random violence. Friends on a road trip, adventures in documentary, families pulling up and moving cross-country juxtaposed with psychopathic food caterers, vicious desert dwellers, and hungry homesteaders.
During the era of savage cinema, Wes Craven gave us horror nerds the two best films in his career, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). With Last House, creepy Craven handed audiences, as John Carpenter said during an interview with Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue, “a strong cup of coffee,” brewed with a heightened since toward violence against the innocent and, basically, probing what people are willing to do in revenge and showing us, even though we’d rather not know, that even when we act just as violently, there is no satisfaction, there is no justice in those kinds of actions.
Back out in the Hills, Craven introduces us to a world a little less violent, but much more compelling. The Hills Have Eyes is an atmospheric horror flick depicting the “average” American family traveling cross-country in their mobile home. Ignoring the warnings of the old gas station owner, the family becomes stranded off the main road. Then, out of desperation, they are forced to split up, leaving themselves vulnerable to vicious attacks. The hill people begin their assault by taking away the very things they feel make this family serene and perfect, leaving the Carter’s to defend for themselves, becoming, eventually, just as violent as the hill people.
With the Hills, Craven was able to weave familiar mythologies (travelers being attacked by outside forces) into the modern nightmare. The Hills Have Eyes is an amazing picture worth seeing over and over. After viewing the movie myself, last night in celebration of the films 36th year anniversary, I went to bed pondering how far people are really willing to go in defending, not only what is their’s, but also, their loved ones. If a horror movie can still make you question society, 36 years after the fact, it is easily one of the scariest and meaningful horror films of all time. For long time horror fans, the “scary” moments are not normally what makes us jump in our seats, the cheap thrills. “Scary” for a horror fan are the moments we’re left thinking, “who made the movie?” Moments that really make us question reality. Maybe not right away, but later, on the drive home or when we go to sleep. Those are the best moments for horror. And for Wes Craven and The Hills Have Eyes, if you watch it, you might likewise experience those very uncertainties of society.
I give The Hills Have Eyes 4 out of 5! A timeless classic and must watch for any connoisseur of macabre.