Tag Archives: demons

Top 20 Horror Movies of the Decade Part 2

22 Dec


December 22nd, 2009–

Here we go. These are my choices for the top ten best horror films of the decade. As I said before, once I really examined the decade I realized that it did give me some of my all time favorite thrillers. It just took some sifting. The ten movies below are, in my opinion, all excellent films that are working at the top of their game and genre. In this instance all have been out long enough that I’ve seen them a few times each (including Pontypool). They represent a quality of work and artistic exploration that isn’t typically associated with the genre. In the coming decade we can only hope to have horror pictures as absorbing and effective. Continue reading

‘Fourth’ is a close encounter of the questionable kind

6 Nov


Nov. 6th, 2009–

For all those who want to go into The Fourth Kind as fresh as possible, check out my spoiler free review over at Atomic Popcorn. For everyone else, feel free to stick around but know that I’m going to get into some of the more specific details of the film and you might want to clear out. Nothing too spoiler-heavy, but some of whats working or not working in the film is difficult to discuss without revealing elements that the marketing folks have done a reasonable job of hiding.


Continue reading

AMAD-Horror Edition: Nomads

15 Oct


cinemagrade bSo, this is the movie responsible for Predator, Die Hard and Hunt for Red October? In a way, yes it is. Those three films are all pinnacles of the action genre; peerless giants, and all three were directed by John McTiernan. Predator, in fact, would be made one year later and it’s this little supernatural thriller that nabbed John the job to helm that film. So, if you give it nothing else, give it that: it jumpstarted McTiernan’s career and got him a gig directing one of the seminal sci-fi action pics of our time. The good news is that Nomads is also a highly creepy, engaging thriller, well worth seeking out if you haven’t seen it. Continue reading

AMAD-Horror Edition: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

9 Oct


Oct 9th, 2009–

cinemagrade b-Television movies were a far different beast in the 1970s than they are now. In fact, you don’t see the major networks wasting their time with them much anymore. Regular weekly programming has become far more popular and with so much content, there doesn’t even seem to be room in the network landscape. But some 30 years ago, that was quite different. There were larger spaces to fill, not as many shows being created, and the medium of the television movie was relatively new. So, filmmakers and producers were creating low budget fare–many times they were either human interest dramas or thrillers–for the t.v. screen. Continue reading

The Weekly Creepy: You can always depend on New England for a good ‘Haunting’

6 Jul

weekly creepy

 Welcome to the Weekly Creepy. The goal is to help expose you the audience to newer horror/thriller films that might have slipped under your radar. Dedicated to obscure, foreign and indie fare (as well as the glorious world of DTV), The Weekly Creepy will tackle a different pic each week, with reasons why it is or isn’t worth your precious time or money.


The Haunting in Connecticut(PG-13)

cinemagrade cThere may be no more liberally used phrase in Hollywood these days than based on a true story. Back in the spring, Haunting in Connecticut was released into theaters with that very qualifier attached to all the publicity and marketing ads. As it turns out, even if you do happen to go out for believing in ghosts, ghouls and roaming spirits, this film has so little connection to any actual truth that it might as well be Poltergeist or The Sixth Sense. Unfortunately, Peter Cornwell’s new chiller isn’t anywhere near up to the snuff of those movies. Competently made, with a nice turn from Elias Koteas as a Catholic priest and Virginia Madsen as a worried mother, Haunting delivers a reasonable spook show for fans of supernatural thrillers. There just isn’t much more to go on, and its link to presumable real-life scenarios is negligent at best.  I’d label this as the quintessential ‘renter’; it will give you an evening of entertainment, but don’t spend more than a couple of bucks for it.   Continue reading

Movie review: Raimi’s road to ‘Hell’ paved with good invention

30 May


Drag Me To Hell (PG-13) 99 min. directed by: Sam Raimi. written by: Sam and Ivan Raimi. starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, David Paymer, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, Adriana Baraza. cinematography: Peter Deming. original music: Christopher Young.

cinemagrade b+

Wow, what a weekend for movies. This is one of the best lineups I’ve seen since sometime in summer of 99 when The Sixth Sense, Dick, Iron Giant, Mystery Men and The Thomas Crown Affair all released on the same friday. I was actually in the midst of writing up reviews this afternoon for two other films that debuted today (one a masterpiece and the other a solid entertainment) when my wife called me and inquired if I’d like to check out a movie around 4. We had two on the roster we wanted to see–Drag Me to Hell and Up! and she expressed interest in seeing the former first. Afterall, it’s almost a given that a new Pixar will be brilliant, but the idea of a new Sam Raimi horror comedy? Yea, if I haven’t said it before, let me say it now: my wife rocks!

As it turns out, there couldn’t be a better popcorn movie for a rainy  Friday evening than Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. As a pure audience experience, I don’t think we will see its equal all summer long. Even our moderately attended late-afternoon showing yielded plenty of responsive yelps, guffaws and nervous giggles; Raimi hasn’t played an audience this well since Spiderman 2 and Drag Me To Hell is Sam’s best film since 1998’s A Simple Plan. Best of all, Raimi the mainstream filmmaker takes a back seat to the goop-meister Raimi responsible for the Evil Dead trilogy. He opens up his box of wacky tricks and unleashes a thrill-a-minute creep fest that isn’t afraid to go for the cheap scare or the cheap laugh while still maintaining a level of class that most current horror pictures don’t even get around to thinking about. When the old-style Universal logo came up on screen I knew we were in for something , ahem, ‘groovy’.

The movie has a pre-credits sequence that sets the stage for whats to come; a family in the 60’s bring their ailing son to Shaun San Dena, a fortune teller and seer who tries to help the boy. He stole a silver necklace from a gypsy caravan and for the past three days has been having violent hallucinations and mumbles something about a dark force ‘coming to get him’. San Dena tries to save the youngster but something supernatural bursts in on the attempt and ….well, you  should see it for yourself. Lets just say that at this point Raimi lets everyone know that while this might be rated PG-13  its anything but safe.

Give me some sugar, baby! 

Hell then launches into the main story, involving Allison Lohman’s Christine, a sweet and mild mannered loan officer who is vying with a new employee for an assistant manager position at the bank where she works. In an effort to turn the tables to her advantage, Christine makes a break from her usually tender disposition and spurns an elderly gypsy woman who begs not to be foreclosed on. The decision is left in Christine’s hands and she sends the gypsy, Mrs. Ganush, on her way after a humilating display where the old lady grovels at the young woman’s feet.

After a particularly vivid and rousing slap-stick(a stapler is used in a most inappropriate way) battle between Christine and the angry hag in a darkened parking lot, Mrs. Ganush manages to rip away one of the girl’s buttons and  issues a curse on it. The only word Lohman hears clearly is ‘Lamia’. She doesn’t know what it means but before very long the cozy and quiet little life she has been trying to maintain with her boyfriend Clay is falling apart. Something terrifying is hunting Christine and hideous visions flood her every waking thought; among them a goat-like creature who stamps its cloven feet outside of her door and the gypsy lady herself, vomiting pounds of beetles and worms onto the young woman while she sleeps. When she consults dime-store psychic Rham Jas, he senses an evil presence and warns her that she has been cursed by a gypsy demon called the Lamia, or ‘Black Goat’. She will hallucinate for 3 days and on the fourth the Lamia will come and literally drag her down to the pits of  hell, soul and all. 

 The plot is just a simple hook upon which Raimi hangs an irreverent and rambunctious series of gross-out gags, jump-scares and atmospheric sequences where characters try to solve problems and find themselves knee-deep in complete, supernatural chaos. Theres plenty of absurd special fx and interesting camera work (a fly lands directly on the lens at one point) but the film’s secret weapon is its breath-taking sound design. When the jump scares land I dare you not to nearly soil yourself. The sound becomes so antagonistic that it results in the first horror film where we desire to cover our ears in fear rather than our eyes.


 Instead of giving the audience a concrete monster to fix upon, Raimi keeps switching from one halloween trick to the next; pieces of furniture attack, a handkerchief floats about and mutters as it does so, and there are some very sick-making but ingenious things done with flies. By the time one character regurgitates a whole cat, Drag Me To Hell has already deluged us in more fluids than should be allowable in one film. The regurgitation, especially, is quite frequent. In fact, vomit spews out of people here like pop references in a Tarantino film. Why puke? Because it’s less disturbing to the ratings board and it’s more inherently repulsive. Raimi loves to make our skin crawl, and make us laugh, and then , one scene later, take the whole enterprise seriously and wonder why we were laughing in the first place.

In Drag Me To Hell Sam unleashes seven different kinds of Stooge-like pain on Alison Lohman, who is one heck of a good sport. But in the end, it’s not the gross-out stuff that causes the 50’s horror-style dread but the underlying idea behind the entire movie; when the Lamia comes, its not Christine’s body that will pay the price but her spiritual essence. Fear not the one who can destroy the body, but the soul as well. So while he dishes out supernatural vengeance on Christine and her personal life, Raimi builds the unsettling idea of what such a drastic sentence might push a typically decent young woman to do. This girl doesn’t want eternal torment, and she doesn’t believe she deserves what is coming. In the end, afterall, it was the bank, not she, that had canceled on Mrs. Ganosh. Watching the ways in which Christine attempts to out-manuever the curse adds a layer of tragedy and dread to what , in all other ways,is a vintage horror comic come to life. And this is not a bad thing.


When all else fails, Jas brings Christine to Shaun San Dena, older now and played by the wonderfully effective Adriana Barraza (Babel, Henry Poole is Here). San Dena is looking to atone for her failure of years past and her focus is two-fold: save Christine and destroy the Lamia for good. The seance that follows is the grand event of Drag Me To Hell, where every funhouse gimmick in the book gets trotted out. Raimi has said on the Evil Dead 2 commentary that there was originally a crazy seance planned for that movie but the budget didn’t allow it. 20 some years later not only has he made it, but it’s one of the best pieces of directing he’s ever done.

I  had alot of fun with Drag Me To Hell and with Sam’s never-ending visual imagination. So much of whats here looks like a patchwork quilt of Darkman, Evil Dead and Army of Darkness but theres also a feverish ingenuity to the way it’s put together. Even when I had a handle on where the script itself was going story-wise I was constantly blindsided by the elaborate goofiness on display; a pivotal and tension-filled seance scene is interrupted by a grotesque, gabby goat. And Raimi has something this time around he never had when making the original Evil Dead films; talented and nuanced actors. Not to slam Bruce Campbell as Ash in the Dead films but his performance was mostly physical comedy and impersonated machismo–it absolutely worked but thats not what this movie requires. It requires us to feel for and worry for Christine, while also seeing the not so honest and kind underneath that she hides from everyone else. We also have to believe she is a strong enough spirit to take the kinds of blows and psychological assault she comes under here, while remaining steadfast in her search for an end to the curse.


 Lohman delivers this completely. She has always used her childlike features and youthful innocence to great effect, particularly in Matchstick Men where she ran an entire con based around the fact, but here she plays it up AND plays against it. It was fun to see Campbell get cluelessly thrashed in Army of Darkness but it’s something altogether different when baby-faced Lohman, covered in bile and formaldyhide, stands up and fights for her soul, even if it means fighting dirty and passing the buck to others. The actors around Christine could have been pulled from a black and white horror film and they capture the right tone for the piece.

Justin Long has the thankless role that used to belong to the likes of Kent Smith back in the 40s, the doubtful but supportive partner,, and he does a nice job of it. He stabilizes the movie and brings it back to a relative state of normalcy. This is mostly done so Raimi can just shatter it all over again, and he does that with the likes of Lorna Raver as the vengeful gypsy. There is nothing subtle about her performance and thats the beauty. Sometimes she is just a frail but nasty old woman and then other times shes putting in her dentures so she can bite Lohman. My personal favorite performance is Adriana Baraza’s turn as  San Dena, who is only in the film for the duration of the seance scene. Baraza has a folksy and sincere quality to her that was put to good use in films like Babel and Henry Poole is Here, where she took a typical latin stereotype and revealed to us the living breathing person underneath. In this movie she is all stereotype all the time, but she harnesses it and makes the best darn demon-fighting fortune teller you will ever see. That scene is the magnetic core of the movie and she is the emotional core of the scene.

I’ve always been a big fan of well-made horror films but I really detest what usually passes for the genre in today’s marketplace. Typically amoral and centered around pain and misery, the current crop withers in the face of Raimi’s jolly but straightforward tale of good and evil. Like the Spiderman films, there are choices we face and consequences for those choices. What I appreciate about Sam Raimi is that he doesn’t try to unhinge us as much as entertain us. He’s  like a demented carnival barker, running us through various traps and amusements and bringing us out on the other side, not permanently scarred or wishing we could un-see half of what we just witnessed, but entertained and energized  by the grand silliness up there on screen. And if theres a lingering bit of the creeps? All the better.