What We’re Watching – Horror Edition #3

Brandi Sperry: Since joining the MacGuffin crew, there are a few movies that the lads have given me shit about not having seen before. One in particular seemed to illicit that certain “I’m just surprised you haven’t seen it, is all” reaction from movie-lovers that is similar to a parent’s “I’m not mad, just disappointed.” That was Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).

This was a movie I always figured I would eventually get around to seeing, despite, in honesty, not being a particular fan of Mr. Rodriguez. He’s fine, but, you know…he’s fine. (Except Once Upon a Time in Mexico. That is not fine.) Anyway, yesterday the day finally came when I sat down to watch this film, which in my head was pretty much just “the Clooney vampire movie.” I spent the first hour of the movie waiting for Clooney and Tarantino to reveal that they were some sort of pre-Twilight daylight vampires! Alas, I finally figured out that this would not be the day I’d see Clooney with fangs. I had somehow grossly misinformed myself on that front.

Despite needing to come to terms with that, I enjoyed this movie. It’s certainly stylish and action-packed. I do wish [spoilers] that it didn’t take so long to actually get to the part with the vampire-fighting…possibly because then QT’s character would have met his demise earlier. That man cannot act. I also wish there had been a bit more of a focused Main Bad Guy to Kill; I thought we would get this with Salma Hayek’s character, who presented as such a badass, and then she was immediately killed by a falling chandelier, of all things. Not badass, and supremely disappointing. What, the men on set couldn’t focus with her rack around, so she had to go?

While I might have wished for more on the character front, the movie is a fun ride, one of those where you sit back to enjoy an onslaught of raunchy special effects and waves of hey-I-love-that-guy supporting roles. Not my favorite vampire movie, but definitely a good way to spend a couple of hours if actiony horror is your cup o’ whiskey.

Allen Almachar: What have I been watching? Why, let me tell you:

Near Dark (1987)

Kathryn Bigelow’s take on the vampire genre follows a lot of the same rules while also stripping it down to its basic fundamentals. Yes, these are the kind of vampires that we know and love: they burn up in the sunlight, and have a steady desire for human blood. But we also don’t see a lot of the tropes that are inherent in a lot of other vampire movies: there are no crosses, or holy water, or dark and spooky castles. In fact, in a lot of ways, this film is similar to a western, given its southern setting.

I enjoyed the film immensely. There is a kind of down and dirty feel to the style—everyone seems to be covered in dirt, blood, or both. I particularly liked the performances by Adrian Pasdar as the naïve kid thrown into a world he is at not at all ready to experience, Jenny Wright as the female vampire that introduces him to her traveling family of killers, and especially Bill Paxton as the loose cannon of the bunch. Paxton poses and exaggerates as he chews up the scenery, but he does it in great fashion.

Ghoulies (1985)

Luca Bercovici’s Ghoulies is one entertaining piece of campy corniness. The film stars Peter Liapis (who also very startlingly looks like Nathan Fillion) as Jonathan, a mild-mannered young man who inherits a lovely looking home. What Jonathan and his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) don’t realize, though, is that his family was once a part of an evil cult that would practice their black magic in that very place. Once Peter finds a book detailing the kind of rituals that were done, his obsession takes control as he attempts to bring those evil forces back into the present day.

This film is not going to win any awards any time soon. From the bad special effects, to the unconvincing puppetry, to the less than stellar dialogue, everything about it has the class of a B-movie at its finest. I say this as a compliment, because this is certainly one of those films that is so bad that it’s good. I loved how all of the actors jumped into their performances with full conviction, even though I’m sure they were aware of how absurd everything was. And while the special effects were bad, I was entertained by how everything but the kitchen sink was thrown in. You have little green monsters, magical wizard zombies, and even medieval-dress little people that come from another dimension. If that doesn’t scream “Awesome!” I don’t know what does.

Red State (2011)

Kevin Smith’s first foray in the horror genre was one that I was anticipating for awhile. This was a project that Smith had been working on for quite some time, and knowing that it was delving into a more serious depiction of religion, combined with his do-it-yourself style of distribution, only compounded my interest in it.

The film deals with three young teens in search of a good time after the enticing invitation of a sex website. What they find instead is themselves in the grasp of the extreme fundamentalist group The Five Points Church, and their leader Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). From that point on, the kids must find a way to escape certain death and expose the Church for what they really are, while the ATF and agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) race against the clock to save them.

Did Red State live up to my expectations? Yes and no. There were a number of elements that I liked very much. The first was seeing Smith attempt to try something different. This was the first movie where I actually felt his impression as a director instead of just a writer. Next, I thought the performances all around were very good. Smith was able to get some first rate actors here: John Goodman and Melissa Leo both excelled in their respective roles, and Michael Parks steals the show as the film’s deranged preacher. There is a long monologue the Parks gives near the beginning of the film that really shows of his ability invoke calm and deepening madness.

On the flip side though, there were a few pieces that didn’t quite fit all together. The dialogue wasn’t as good or memorable as Smith’s previous work. The parallel stories involving The Five Points and Agent Keenan didn’t mesh as well as they could have. The strong first half of the movie brought some very disturbing ideas about religion, but didn’t quite follow through on those ideas as the film devolved into an action film in the second half. And the final scenes dealing with corruption of those in authority felt as they belonged in another movie.

In the end, though, I still enjoyed Red State for the good things it accomplished. I hope Kevin Smith has a change of heart about no longer directing, because he has developed considerably as filmmaker with this project.

Adelaide Blair: American Horror Story is a new FX television show created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck, the creators behind Nip/Tuck and Glee. While I have a general idea of those shows, I’ve never watched them and came to American Horror Story without a lot of expectations. It’s about the Harmon family and their new, somewhat disturbing, home. In the first episode, Vivien (Connie Britton) and Ben (Dylan McDermott) have moved their troubled family to Los Angeles for a new start. Vivien has suffered a traumatic seventh month miscarriage and the subsequent discovery of her husband sleeping with one of his students in their marital bed. She also has a bright, but damaged, teenaged daughter (Taissa Farmiga) who cuts herself and fights at school. This is a family on the edge, and the beautifully restored old house they’ve moved into should be a perfect place for them to realize their hopes of reconciliation.

Unfortunately, their new home has a nasty past, with more than a few skeletons hiding in the closet. (And by skeletons, I mean skeletons. A lot of people have been murdered in this house.) Their realtor informs them of the murder/suicide of the last occupants, but neglects to tell them of a few other shady instances in the house’s past. Both of the first two episodes start with a murder flashback, and I’m curious to see if they will keep that up and what the house’s final body count will be. There is also a housekeeper who appears older and matronly to Vivien, but a hot redhead to Ben, a destructive teen patient of Ben’s, a Down syndrome neighbor who won’t stay out of the house and keeps telling everyone they are going to die, and her mother Constance (Jessica Lange) who is beyond batshit crazy. There is also some guy in a bondage suit.  When you add all of that to the Harmon family’s delicate balance, it does not bode well for their future.

This is definitely a show for adults. There is a ton of swearing, sexual situations, and Dylan McDermott’s butt. For a man with a teenage daughter and housekeeper, he wanders around naked a lot. Everything in the pilot is turned up to eleven, and while that is great for the horror parts, the family drama is completely overwrought. (They turned it down a bit for the second episode, but only to ten.) The family drama is important because there needs to be a device to frame the horror, but there are a lot of soap-opera situations going on. It’s painful. And it doesn’t help that there no likeable characters in the show. None. This show even manages to make the Down syndrome neighbor seem malignant. Right now, I am rooting for the house to get these people. I would be happiest if this show had a different family every year that either escaped or got killed. I can’t imagine how else this family could keep the audience engaged.

But, in spite of the annoying Harmon family, there are two really good reasons to watch this show. The first is that there is some pretty freaky stuff going on here and some of it is very scary. I can’t remember the last time a television show genuinely creeped me out. From the vignettes in the episode openers, to the fact that there is something nasty in the basement, I dig what is going on here  There are jump-scares and slow-burn scares and I am happy to take them all in. The second awesome thing about this show is Jessica Lange. Holy crap is she good. Of all the over-the-top things in this show, she is by far the very best. Her Constance knows way too much about what’s going on in this house, and she takes turns being crazy, evil, neighborly, and hilarious. In her early-sixties-inspired outfits and bouffant hairdo, she is both a testament to a more refined past and the idea that rot can lie under the most genteel surface. She is fabulous and a large part of the reason I will keep watching. I have mixed feelings about American Horror Story, but it’s the most interesting new show I’ve seen all season.


Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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