I don’t think I’ve seen so many new horrors as I have this year. AND IT’S ONLY MARCH!!! I’m not going to list off all of them, as at this time in the morning hours with only one cup of coffee to keep my brain functioning, cannot recall. Though some honorable mentions are due. XX, a 4 film horror anthology directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama, was a stellar performance, despite some notes falling flat. Another one that was actually listed as a 2016 movie, but I saw in January, so it counts on my list for this year, and that flick was Split…which split critics while still bringing in rather respectable ratings from audiences, not just because it released (late Dec?) in January (the month movies go to die), but also because it was a return of sorts for M. Night Shyamalan. This last movie brings up a point that I’d like to address. Maybe I haven’t really been paying close enough attention, but when did Blumhouse start producing good horror movies? And back to back, mind you. As per our double feature review here of Get Out and The Belko Experiment (more on those to follow), add in Split, and that’s two out of three money making horror movies for the apparently expanding horror flick producer. No complaints here. Blumhouse’s wheelhouse has added a sort of balance for me and my comic book movie obsession. So…lets get into this and take a look at two horror flicks, both of which I had the pleasure of screening on back to back weekends.
Let’s kick things off with The Belko Experiment.
Produced by, you guessed it, Blumhouse, directed by Greg McLean. From IMDb, “In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.” I think it’s important to note that the screenplay was written by Guardian of the Galaxy director James Gunn who was originally asked to direct this movie but decided to step back for personal reasons. This was the most recent horror flick I’d gone to theaters to see, mostly out of having some free time come up and why not, right. I had a good feeling the theater would be empty and it pretty much was. Not for lack of trying for the producers. I’d seen a share number of advertisements both on the radio and on TV. And judging by said previews, the plot wasn’t hard to decipher. This wasn’t one of those kinds of movies. Here, there was no twist ending, and if the ending was supposed to be one, well…sorry buddy, I believe Joss Whedon already pulled it off in Cabin in the Woods. Not to get spoilerly here, as this is still showing in theaters. But you’ll get it when you see it, a very Cabin in the Woods kinda vibe. And that’s also not to say that Th Belko Experiment was bad. I actually enjoyed it. I didn’t have to think too much. It was a dark humorous action thriller with plenty of gore to please most horror fans. There were a few aahhs and ohhs from the audience when someone’s face got split in two with an ax, or when someone who’d been doing all the right things in a horror movie suddenly without much warning gets killed.
That can kinda sum up The Belko Experiment. A boiling pot of other movies and mixtures such as Office Space meets Battle Royal meeting Cabin in the Woods. People who came looking for a mystery to solve probably left feeling disappointed, as it seems many other movie critics and audiences had, given the poor showing on Rotten Tomatoes or how it was pretty much cast into the back of the theater on opening day. Hell, the theater I normally go had stopped showing it, forcing me to drive an extra five miles to the next theater. Bastards! For me, I knew before the movie started what it was going to be. I knew there’d be one or no survivors. I came for the nihilistic violence and nihilistic violence is what I got. The Belko Experiment wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. The story seemed to falter against the easy to predict concept of the film. Too much attention was given to certain officer works battling internally over the dilemma of their humanity. I think if producers and director had turned the volume up on the violence, making it a sort of hyper-violent nihilistic movie, it would have been a shade better.
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Now…how about we Get Out.
It’s been two weeks since I saw Get Out. And while the movie had been out for at least a week if not more before I journeyed to the theater, if there were any doubts as to its popularity, let me say…my theater was not empty. Not at all. I’m rather certain it was plum full. The same happened to me when I saw Split. Packed theater. And for a horror movie no less, whether you liked the movie or not, should make you a little optimistic about the future of the genre, if you’re a genre fan, that is. Get Out was directed and written by comedian Jordan Peele (from Key & Peele and Wanderlust fame). And this was Peeles first go at directing, or directing a horror flick at the least. I can say without question that I wish upon a star that he returns to the director’s chair for another romp. For those who do not know, Get Out is about “a young African-American man who visits his Caucasian girlfriend’s mysterious family estate.” And that’s pretty much all you need to know. The plot is rather simple, actually. But the twist…oh my, it is almost too good.
Don’t worry. No spoilers here. I’d wouldn’t do that to you. But let me say for those who were told or believe that Get Out is an anti-white movie, you are DEAD WRONG. They (or you) couldn’t be furthest from the truth. In fact, I’d say this movie pokes more fun at white liberals than staunch racists. Racism is there, you can’t avoid it, just as you cannot avoid it in everyday life. But the real gem of this movie is the natural way it highlights the awkwardness between African Americans and Caucasian Americans. The scenes dealing with this phenomena are quite brilliant. And there are layers are weirdness that can only be described as such. And there are scenes that make little sense and/or do not add to the quality of the movie, nor do they take anything away. They’re kinda just….well…there. I’m assuming Peele’s way of appealing to traditional horror flick fans.
Also, don’t be fooled by those espresso hipsters, those fascist wannabes who think they know everything. Get Out is a horror movie in every definition. Just as there are multiple ways of horrifying audiences, when Get Out pulled out its heart-stopping end, I was truly terrified. When I allow myself to be put in his shoes and those who came before him, well…it kinda reminded me of some terrifyingly strange classic sci-fi flicks from the late 50s and 60s, with perhaps a touch of H.P. Lovecraft. Not to show my hand or anything, I’m trying not to spoil as the movie is still showing in theaters. You really do need to see this for yourself. Trust me. I had the assumption of what was going on and when I found out I was wrong, I was very surprisingly pleased. And it’s one of those surprise endings that make you think back over the course of the movie, and when you do, you’ll nod your head and say, “Oh, that’s why…” etc. etc. Get Out is by far my favorite horror movie of the year, thus far.
My rating: 5 of 5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, and his newest release, The Hobbsburg Horror. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon), 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 keep up with Thomas and all his strange events by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
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“First came the man: a young wanderer in a fatigue coat and long hair. Then came the legend, as John Rambo sprang from the pages of FIRST BLOOD to take his place in the American cultural landscape. This remarkable novel pits a young Vietnam veteran against a small-town cop who doesn’t know whom he’s dealing with — or how far Rambo will take him into a life-and-death struggle through the woods, hills, and caves of rural Kentucky.
Millions saw the Rambo movies, but those who haven’t read the book that started it all are in for a surprise — a critically acclaimed story of character, action, and compassion.”
FIRST BLOOD: published in 1972 by David Morrell
I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea First Blood was a book before it was made into a movie. Not a single clue. But, I’m glad to finally have this error corrected and was even more glad to have gotten the chance to read this amazing book. Now, there were some definite drastic changes from film to print or print to film more like. And that’s okay. I never expect the movie to be just like the film. There have to be differences, so long as the essence remains intact. For example, I had read Stephen King’s IT before attempting to watch the made-for-TV movie starring Tim Curry. I made it maybe 30 mins into the film before turning it off. TV movie IT was too far removed from the source material to be enjoyable. Whereas, as another example, Hellraiser was based on The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, and it not only expands the story, it diverges from it regarding Cenobite leadership and other details. However, the difference between why IT as a movie failed and Hellraiser succeeded is that Hellraiser kept the essence of the original source material.
And for the most part, the essence of First Blood, be it Sylvester Stallone or just the imaginative projection from hearing how David Morrell describes John Rambo, is beautifully captured, more so I would say in the book because we are given the characters internal thoughts. The director and Stallone for his part did a great job conveying through action and struggle Rambo’s internal conflicts, but in the book, it becomes, even more, clearer. Did you know that when Rambo arrived in that pinewoods mountain town (called Hope in the movie), he had been kicked out, or “pushed,” as he calls it, at least a dozen times before? That is where the “pushed” thing comes from during the movie that doesn’t make much sense, but in the book it does.
No spoilers here, but the end is veeerrryyy different, and I’m not sure which one I like the most. I feel for Rambo in both scenarios, and I love that end scene monolog he has with his old unit commander in the movie. But in the book…dang…it’s just… I’ve said enough.
As far as veteran issues go, both film and book appealed to me and wrung the gauntlet of emotions. More so in the movie than the book, despite the benefit of reading Rambo’s internal thoughts. The movie seems to focus more on Rambo as a veteran, whereas in the book he’s more often referred to as “The Kid.” The book did, however, add a level of polarity to the conflict between the sheriff, a Korean War veteran, and Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, and how each of them refuses to surrender to the other, way more than what the movie offered. In the movie, the sheriff is more of a chump and doesn’t know what he’s walking into, and just seems to be a dick for no reason. In the book, he is more clearly defined. Especially with what happens during the first hunting party. DAMN is all I can say about that!
Overall, if you’re a fan of the movie, you may want to check out the book. I have few doubts you’ll be disappointed.
My rating: 4/5
Kicking off Fright Fest 2016, we’ve got a fresh review for you to chew on. Creeping from the grave we’re going to talk a bit about Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead. Now, it is important for us to distinguish who the director of the film is, versus who it had been and the writers involved with the project as well. Believe it or not, Return of Living Dead has a sort of complicated history. What started out as a sequel to Night of the Living Dead by legendary George A. Romero co-creator John Russo, when Russo and Romero parted ways after 1968 , according to the documentary provided in the newly released Shout! Factory Return of The Living Dead [Blu-Ray], Russo was able to retain the rights to use “Living Dead,” while Romero was free to work on his sequels to the original film.
However, when slotted director Tobe Hooper backed out to work on Lifeforce, producers brought on Dan “The Man” O’Bannon to not only polish the script but also to assume the directorial seat. O’Bannon agreed to the job under the condition he could radically alter the original Russo script. I’m not sure what Russo’s script was exactly, but given that he had written the story coming off of Night of the Living Dead, it was probably more serious in tone and akin to the work of George A. Romero. When O’Bannon took the reins, he did not want to produce something that resembled anything Romero had done or was working on. Understandable considering Romero’s zombie trilogy (Night, Dawn, Day) was all released before Return hit theaters in August 1985. He wanted something his own and completely unique. While Russo remained credited, I do not think much of his original story remained in the final product. Hense all the “Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead” bit. This film was very much his own, written and directed and a living legacy to the late great director.
Before we continue with this review. How about a synopsis?
When foreman Frank (James Karen) shows new employee Freddy (Thom Mathews) a secret military experiment in a supply warehouse, the two klutzes accidentally release a gas that reanimates corpses into flesh-eating zombies. Frank and Freddy seek the help of their boss (Clu Gulager) and a mysterious mortician (Don Calfa) to dispose of the remains of a still twitching cadaver. When the smoke from the crematoria rolls over the nearby cemetery, the undead wake and mayhem ensues and a group of punk rocker friends hanging out in the graveyard for their buddy Freddy must fight to survive the growing shambling horde of undead fiends.
Admittedly, growing up, I was very much a Romero-purist. My first horror love was Night of the Living Dead which my older sister introduced me to during one of our customary Friday night movie binges. I think I recall hearing about Return of the Living Dead, but never really gave it much interest in watching. I did watch Return of the Living Dead III back in the 90s when I was working at Blockbuster and rented the sucker on VHS. I was not impressed with that one in the least and assumed at that point that all Returns were just as dumb. I’m not one to shy away admitting when I’m wrong. And I was certainly wrong about the original Return of the Living Dead (1985). For the life of me, I cannot remember when I first watchedReturn of the Living Dead…but it had to have been within the last few years. Regardless, I was wrong. You heard it here first, folks. I WAS WRONG.
Despite the horror-comedy hijinks versus the very serious undertones of Romero’s work, Return of the Living Dead was a wonderfully fangtastic flick. While Romero may have the social commentary in the bag with his films, we cannot discredit the cultural significance of Return. The movie is bleak and ironic on a massive scale. The most obvious moment, of course, is the end (SPOILERS). Those characters fight and struggle and deal with so much bullshit and so much death to finally contact the Army for help and then get nuked only to see the same contaminated smoke rolling over new graves is laughably nihilistic.
In the end, we’re left to ask, “What was the point?” Much as what any decent horror does, it doesn’t answer questions to how we should go about doing things or solving difficult problems. Good horror movies force us to face our deepest darkest questions about ourselves. And that it what Return of the Living Dead precisely did, though not in the serious way most people are used to, but in an over-the-top parody of itself. My favorite scene, though, in the entire movie was when Frank, realizes that he’s about to go, full zombie, decides to sneak past his friends and climb inside the crematoria, immolating himself. Rumor us, James Karen didn’t want to join the other zombies outside in the cold ass prop-rain and asked if he could “go out” this way instead. Whatever really happened as to the reason, the addition of that scene adds to the wonderful bleakness of the movie.
Since the film’s original August 16, 1985, release, Return of the Living Dead has spread into a huuuuuge cult following. Most of the zombie-culture today gives thanks to this film over Romero’s work. Whenever you hear someone moan, “Braiiiinnnsss,” it’s thanks to this horror-comedy flick. There’s even a Simpson’s TreeHouse of Horror episode dedicated to Return of the Living Dead, the parody being when the zombies are hunting for brains, they pass over Homer Simpson. And domestically, the evidence is clear on which film audiences preferred. Releasing just a month or so ahead, Romero’s Day of the Dead grossed around $5.8 million, while Return of the Living Dead grossed around $14 million. And don’t get me started on the soundtrack. As far as movie soundtracks go, Return has one of the more memorable and fun lists of bands to jive to while trick-or-treaters are ringing your bell. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you need to. If not for the cultural significance, then for the fun, over-the-top zombie gags and punker hilariousness.
My Rating: 5/5
Thomas S. Flowers has a passion to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused 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 three tours 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 and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!