Horror mini-reviews (part 5)

Tomorrow is Halloween! For the final horror post this month, let's look at some recent horror films, and also a selection from past decades. As always, my ratings are what I think the films should be rated on IMDb.

The Orphanage (2007)
Spanish horror film. Cool opening titles with the wall paper getting ripped away to reveal names.
A film to see at night time, I liked the visual style. Beautiful house, the location, the light house, and with characters I cared about.
There are scenes that take you back to childhood wonder, when things were less complicated.
It has an eeriness, which runs throughout the film, which I liked. We are never 100% sure what is going on, and what to believe.
Rating 7.8

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Horror/comedy. It does rely on stupidity a couple of times, and the number of “accidents” in the movie are excessive and unrealistic, but you tolerate that, because it’s so entertaining and funny. Also it has characters you actually root for, which for me lifts the film above average.
One of my favorite discoveries during the marathon, thanks for the recommendation Jaina and Eric(in comment thread)
Rating 8.0

Kill List (2011)
From what I can tell, regarded as Ben Wheatley’s best film. The story was more cohesive than Wheatley’s A Field In England (which I reviewed here)
You don’t know where Kill List is going, especially the first half.
The scary thing is we are not given any explanation for the violence. The middle part of the film felt a bit repetitive, but it does go in an unexpected direction near the end.
Most of the praise for me goes to the sound effects, which are unlike any I’ve heard of late, and add to the creepy atmosphere, especially in that last section.
Rating 7.2

May (2002)
Watching the trailer kind of spoiled the movie for me, which is a shame.
It does raise interesting questions, do you lose it because you are disturbed, or because of others neglect? If you are lonely, how far will you go to find companions. What are you willing to do in order to be accepted?
At first, May isn’t that weird, but the people who she meets encourage her to act weird. I guess everyone has a breaking point, and unfortunately hers came with a cost. A film that lingers in the mind. You sympathize with someone who does cruel things.
Thanks to The Vern for the recommendation.
Rating 7.5

Man Bites Dog (1992)
Belgian satire. A film you could write a long review about.
The main character’s serial killer tendencies and racist remarks are despicable. But he isn’t stupid, and has a point about relationships, that you can’t always tell if you’ve reached the right time for a baby, or if you should get the hell out of the relationship. I found myself agreeing with him on the ugly architecture, and low quality brick work, yet also hating how offensive he is towards groups of people.
The mood of the film is odd, both humorous and violent, which will divide audiences. It kind of reminded me of controversial American Psycho or Clockwork Orange.
Who is he really? Is it an act for the mockumentary? The film is lifted by the performance of BenoĆ®t Poelvoorde, who looks like Robert de Niro’s brother.
There’s a murder in a bathroom, where he admits to the inspiration of a kill from a movie, which perhaps shows the movie is condemning his actions, rather than merely revealing them.
To me, the aim is to make us feel uncomfortable about enjoying violent movies. Although I'm sure people have different interpretations.
Rating 8.0

Dead Ringers (1988)
Directed by David Cronenberg. A drama with a few body horror elements. The story is still quite radical, even today. It was moderately entertaining, and I wondered how it would all end, but it didn’t have me glued to the screen. Not as great as I thought it would be. The two twins played by Jeremy Irons are convincing, and many thought he should have won the oscar that year. Irons did win Best Acor Academy Award for Reversal of Fortune (1990)
Rating 7.0

Pet Sematary (1989)
Made back in the day when Stephen King was perhaps at the height of his popularity, and lots of adaptations of his work were getting produced. Scanning down a list, it’s remarkable how many King stories have been translated for TV and cinema.
Pet Sematary had promise early on, but what derailed it for me is the bad acting, which makes it unintentionally funny, and took me out of the moment. It feels like a tv-movie, which is a pity, because there are several scares, and a decent story by Stephen King.
With an $11,5 million budget, you would think filmmakers could afford a better actor for the husband in the lead role, his acting was dreadful.
Maybe it works when you are a kid.
Rating 6.0

Dead Calm (1989)
Not exactly a horror film, more of a horror thriller. It managed to hold my attention all the way through. Stars Sam Neil and Nicole Kidman, who deliver typically assured performances. Billy Zane plays the character they meet at sea.
The beginning I was expecting to tie up with the ending, but that wasn’t the case. I liked how hesitant the story is to give up its mysteries.
If you enjoy thrillers, this is worth seeing.
Rating 7.8

The Hitcher (1986)
Maybe I should start watching more thrillers, because this is another horror thriller that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.
Rutger Hauer is the creepy villain with no apparent motive, he doesn’t have much screen time, but when he does turn up, he’s very menacing.
Has enough twists and turns to keep it entertaining. The only stupid thing about the story is that the cops don’t shoot out the tires of the car they are chasing.
Rating 7.8

The Cremator (1969)
A horror /drama from the Czech New Wave.
I loved the pre-credits scene at the zoo, the extreme close-ups and eerie soundtrack immediately made me feel uneasy. The opening credits are also really interesting, and cast a spell on you, so that you want to get to the bottom of all this. The first 5 minutes I would give 10/10. The rest of the film is pretty good too. Several stand-out scenes, when he’s showing the new guy the ropes at the crematory was creepy, as was the “puppet” show, and of course the ending, which I won't reveal.
Superb performance by Rudolf Hrusinsky, as the cremator, his voice is remarkably chilling. Even his wife is scared of him, so I kind of felt sorry for the poor guy, because it seems he was creepy all the time. Then there was a twist I wasn't expecting, which changed my perception of the characters.
As Bonjour Tristesse wrote in his review: “someone you are compelled to watch, but would never want to be alone in a room with.”
Favorite quote: “I am sure you love music, Mr. Strauss. Sensitive people do. The poor pitiful souls, who die without knowing Schubert, Liszt.”
Rating 7.6

Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Not a traditional horror. Bergman’s film could be about many things. For me is about social phobia and insomnia, the horror of social interactions for an introvert.
If you like Bergman, you will get what you expect. The melancholic style is similar to his other work, with slight differences. Many of the same actors return who have starred in his other films.
The creepiest moment could be the sex scene, when they stand around and laugh.
It seemed random characters turned up out of thin air, the flirtatious blonde woman when he is painting by the sea, and the little boy whom he has a fight with while he’s fishing. Both times Max von Sydow character is alone, so perhaps they are dreams, or he is haunted by demons from his past.
Everything is not what it seems, as a man at one point walks up a wall onto the ceiling, someone pulls his face off and his eyes are placed in a glass of water. Also a man suddenly has wings.
The ending was an interesting twist of events.
Rating 7.5

The Body Snatcher (1945)
I was quite skeptical, because Robert Wise also directed The Haunting (1963), which I was underwhelmed by.
What The Body Snatcher has going for it is the material, based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Also, perhaps Boris Karloff’s finest performance I've seen(outside of Frankenstein), as the sinister Cabman John Gray.
I prefer it over The Haunting.
Rating 8.0

Dracula (1931)
A decent adaptation of Bram Stoker’s story, but a bit tame and rather dull, compared to the 1992 film. The characters talk about red mist and thousands of rats, but it isn’t showed(watch 1979's Nosferatu the Vampyre for that).
What stayed with me was Bela Lugosi’s intense stare, but not as interesting as Todd Browning’s other film Freaks (1932).
Favorite quote: “The strength of the vampire is, that people will not believe in him”
Rating 7.0

The Unknown (1927)
Silent horror from Todd Browning, the man who brought us Freaks (1932).
At an hour, it’s quite short, but still, I got into the story quickly, and cared about the characters. Isn’t aiming for scary, Browning is going for an unsettled feeling. Great performances too.
The Man Who Laughs (1928) played on the scenario of a blind woman who loves a man with a constant grin.
The Unknown (1927) plays out the sensitive-to-touch female (Joan Crawford), who loves a circus man without arms.
Of the two films, I prefer The Unknown, which I found more entertaining and emotionally involving.
Rating 8.0

Faust (1926)
Atmospheric, visually stunning retelling of, directed by F.W. Murnau. Faust is Goethe's most famous work, and considered to be one of the greatest works of German literature.
Faust is a character who preaches good and is tempted by evil.
The village with a giant man turning the sky black with his dark cloak was an amazing visual. I was especially impressed by the visuals during the first hour.
Emil Jannings who plays the messenger of the devil delivers an incredibly creepy performance. The second half of the film is not quite as brilliant, but still pretty good.
I haven’t read the book, but it has encouraged me to look up Goethe. Maybe I’ll go with The Sorrows of Young Werther, recommended by Mette at Lime Reviews, which is only 96 pages.
I’ve heard in this review by Lisa Thatcher that Sokurov’s 2011 adaptation of Faust (in colour) is worth seeing.
Rating 8.0

A ranking of all the horror I've watched January-October (link)

Agree or disagree? Have you watched any of these? Which horror films did you see this October? I think I've watched enough horror to last me until Halloween next year :)


  1. I've actually seen most of these, even though I'm not that big a fan of horror. I won't run down them film by film, but I will say that I was blown away (pun intended) by Man Bites Dog. If you had given me a brief description of it and told me I would like it I would have thought you were crazy.

    1. @Chip Lary: Me too, Man Bites Dog, that title doesn’t sound appealing at all, nor does the description of the story, though it still managed to impress me.

  2. From all these films I have seen only The Orphanage which I liked a lot. Glad you enjoyed it too. The rest of the list looks very interesting and I will probably watch them all in the future.
    I've come to appreciate the horror genre a lot in the last years. It's certainly more than what it is believed about it. You had a great run with this marathon and you certainly discovered some really great films. You should do more stuff like this.

    1. @Cristi B: I agree the horror genre deserves more respect, and is sometimes dismissed as low brow. Yes, I had a good run, hardly saw any bad horror films. If you look carefully, there is quality horror to be found :) Hope you like the ones you get to see.
      Thanks, appreciate the encouragement! I’m a bit burned out right now from watching horror. Next year I'll reveal my top 50 shorts in a series of posts.
      Also, film noir, animation, and documentaries, I still have lots to explore, so maybe I’ll do a marathon of one of those in 2014.

  3. My boyfriend's cousin was actually telling him and I about Tucker and Dale vs. Evil the other day. I've been meaning to check it out for ages, and his reminder made me want to go ahead and watch it. Now, you're posting a good review of it, too.

    I think the Gods of the b movies are trying to tell me something, here...

    1. @Cherokee: Tucker and Dale Vs Evil is a pretty odd title, but it actually is really good, and funny in its own way. Worth checking out, if you are ok with a bit of blood with your laughs.
      Well I don't know about the Gods, and I wouldn't call it a b-movie, but I encourage you to take your boyfriend's cousin advice :)

  4. I love May, that is a true horror classic of sorts. I also love Dead Calm, and Dead Ringers. Right now, I have one more film to watch for Halloween and it will be a classic by Hitchcock.

    1. @thevoid99: May was really good, even though I usually avoid movies with Anna Faris(because she annoys me). Luckily she only has supporting role. I remember for the movie jail blogathon she got put behind bars :)

  5. Very interesting list here Chris, there are a few I hadn't even heard of. I was curious about The Orphanage but someone sort of spoiled it for me so now I wasn't as keen on seeing it. I've been curious about Dead Calm too, mostly to see how Nicole Kidman look when she was still "natural" looking, ahah.

    1. Thanks Ruth! I know you are not a big fan of horror, Dead Calm (1989) is more of a thriller type film, so maybe that would work for you. Nicole Kidman is a lot younger, and natural looking :)

  6. Glad to see Tucker and Dale here, it's such a clever and hilarious flick. It goes a little bit towards the cliche style of horror film in the last 20 minutes but up until then it was awesome.

    1. @Sati: I was ok with the ending to Tucker and Dale, but I can see why some viewers might find the last 20 min cliche.

  7. Some of my favourite thrillers! Love The Hitcher and Dead Calm! Kill List was one of the most unique horror films I've seen this past few years - like you say, you don't know where it is going and I particularly loved the mix of domestic British-ness alongside some macabre gothic horror.

    1. @Dan: The Hitcher and Dead Calm are excellent thrillers, aren’t they. In fact I just posted a review of Under The Skin, which is also about hitchhikers.

      From what I can tell, Kill List is divisive. I didn’t care if characters survived, but there are thrills, and sound effects are remarkable. It does have a British-ness, in a Tyrannosaur (2011) kind-of -way, the later you loved, and I hated, if I remember correctly :)

  8. Niiiiiice, glad you enjoyed Tucker & Dale! That movie is so much fun.

    Man Bites Dog is a great film, but it is hard to watch at times. Kind of a forerunner for the found footage "genre".

    I also saw Dracula for the first time last month. Really enjoyed Bela Lugosi's performance, but I think the film dragged a bit after Van Helsing showed up. A 7/10 seems right.

    1. @Eric @ The Warning Sign: Tucker and Dale, thanks for the heads-up!

      Man Bites Dog, I went in completely blind, I didn’t know about the found footage element.
      Agree Bela Lugosi was the best thing in Dracula (1931), especially his stare and accent. I would rank Dracula 3rd behind Tod Brownings Freaks (1932) and The Unknown (1927)

  9. Very cool that you got to watch May Chris. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I do agree with your thoughts about Pet Sematary with the acting being bad, but there were some scenes(Especially with the kid) that still scare me today. You do have me interested in The Cremator just based on the opening credits you described as casting a spell.

    1. @The Vern: Thanks for telling me about May, that movie stayed with me. Pet Sementary probably is stronger in book form, because of Stephen King.
      The Cremator is an unknown gem, which deserves to be seen, especially for the creepy lead performance, and that intro blew me away.

  10. Cool bunch! I was underwhelmed by Kill List. Man Bites Dog is weird but very useful for my thesis! Shame about Pet Sematary as I loved the book!

    1. @Pete Turner: There were things I liked about Kill List(the surprises, the ending, the sound effects), and things I didn't(the potty mouth language). It did stay with me, so maybe I should have rated it a bit higher.

      Man Bites Dog, pretty insane that movie. Lots to write about too!

      I could imagine Pet Sementary is far better to read, shame about the lousy acting.

  11. Great post! I love Dead Calm and Hour of the Wolf. Most of these I haven't seen though. I especially need to check out Faust, Dracula, The Body Snatcher and The Unknown.

    1. @Josh: Thank you! I cheated a bit including Dead Calm, since it really is a thriller :)
      Dracula to me was just okay, the other three you want to see I really liked.


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