Monday, February 15, 2010


There are many ways to scare people, and half of the fun with exploring new horror movies, as I tend to do, is to discover new and exciting things to be scared of. Pontypool adds yet another part of daily life to be scared of, but I'm getting to that. There'll be slight spoilers, but not much that isn't given away on the back of the cover.

While I'm on the topic, let's talk about the cover, shall we? I like this cover. Hands can, although not as wel as faces, express surprising amounts of emotion, and covers that know how to work off that is almost always interesting. Of course, there's a teensy little snake in paradise, the goddamn review blurbs. Of course, I see why people'd want to include this, but come on, think about the aesthetics. Of course, I shop DVDs on the net primarily, and thus I seldom look at covers when I shop for DVDs, but that's me.

So, let's meet the cast, shall we? Our hero is Grant Mazzy, who you might know as the first Nite Owl in Watchmen. Grant's a motormouth radio host who thrives on controversy. Or rather, he was. After being fired, he finds himself doing the morning show in the sleepy village of Pontypool, Ontario, together with his coworkers: The desdignated straight-wonan Sydney and militarily-turned-technican Laurel-Ann. We'll be seeing a good bit of these three, as the entire movie is set in the radio studio. Despite this, there's actually a bit of side-characters, like Ken, the pilot of the so-called Sunshine Chopper.

The idea of setting a disaster-style tale in radio station is actually quite interesting. The limited information input really helps pushing up the tension. Of course, it helps that the disaster is pretty damn original. I'm going to find it a bit difficult to discuss this movie without talking about exactly what's going down, so if you by some divine co-in-ki-dink use this blog as your go-to-blog for horror movies, you might want to skip to my generic recap/opinion at the bottom.

Basically, the disaster that's going on is a 28 Days Later-style Rage Virus that spreads through language rather than blood/air/plot convenience. Some words get «infected» by what I'll just call «The Memetic Killcrazies,» and when you understand this infected word, you'll catch it too. I'll be honest, this concept scares the living crap out of me. Readers of my blog might have caught the general idea that I like words. I like using them, I like reading them, and I consider the multitudes of languages to be one of mankind's greatest achievement. The thought that a mere word can make you a murderous zombie is, putting it bluntly, pretty fucking terrifying.

Then again, zombie isn't quite the word, and that's some of my beef with the reception the movie has gotten. I know I sound like an elitist when saying this, but Pontypool isn't a zombie movie. Sure, those infected with the killcrazies act a lot like zombies, with their empty looks, clawing on windows and in general doing nothing more subtle than using their own body weight to force their way forwards, but they still can't be called zombies. Why? They're still alive.

Allow me to explain. Zombies, here represented by Bub from Day of
The Dead, used to be alive, but isn't any longer, and that's sort of the horror appeal. On the other side, we have the 28 Days-style infected, here represented by Laurel-Ann from Pontypool, who are scary because they are fast and spread quickly. Not really
anything wrong with the latter, and the namesake movie is flat out awesome. My point, though, is that the latter is not a reanimated corpse, and as such not of the zombie subgroup, although they do fill the same niche. It's also worth noticing that some movies, like the awesomesauce that is REC, kind of blur the line between the two, but I'm getting increasingly off-topic, so let's resume.

Pontypool is what I'd call a slightly more cerebral, or psychological horror flick, in that there's not all that many jump scares, and much of the horror comes, as I described, from the flat out terrifying concept of a virus of language combined with the isolation and confusion that comes with a disaster. In a way, it reminds me of the TV-studio in the opening of the original Dawn of the Dead, but the characters feel more sincere. If all of this appeals to you, you might want to check it out. In closing I feel I must mention that Pontypool has one of the better kisses in horror movies I've ever seen, and that should count for something, don't you think?

Monday, February 8, 2010


There's many ways to find new movies to watch, and when you bi-regularily rant on the internet in such a manner that I do, you'll need up to several ways to make sure you've got enough material. Now, I heard about today's movie online, but thought no more about it until I found a copy in the «obscure stuff»-aisle in my local DVD store. I should probably stop going there so often, lest my wallet suffer, but I digress.

Sauna is, as the title probably would imply, a Finnish movie, it's a Finnish horror movie, to be
precise. I can't say I've seen too many of those. Well, since I'm on a roll of scandinavian horror, I figured it was about time to give it a go. Sauna is a bit of a rare case in other ways too, it's a period flick, set in 1595 in the aftermath of the Swedish-Russian war. We follow the two brothers Eerik and Knut, who, together with some representatives from the Russians are traveling through the wilderness to draw the new borders as negotiated by the peace treaty. It's not too often you see period horror, as most horror directors seem unwilling to move further back than the 70's, the golden age of hippies, who everyone likes seeing murdered, and maybe best of all, an age without cellphones, thus ridding them of the at times herculean task it apparently is to account for cellphone and GPS technology in ye olde chainsaw & meathook murder brouhaha, but again, I digress.

The two brothers are marked by war in their own ways. Eerik, having killed 73 people during the war, is wrestling with his guilt and worries if peacetime will work for him, while the more bookish Knut spends equal time trying to map the area, wrestling with his own dark lusts and fleeing from the ghost of a girl who might have been another black mark on Eerik's record, or something more sinister entirely. The merry band is about ready to finish up and call it a day when they encounter a strange little town in the middle of a marsh. Trying to find out on which side of the border these strange folk belong, the party notices that the townsfolk seems to be scared of an abandoned sauna. What primitive folks these must be. Being afraid of a building is asinine.


Well, turns out there's every reason to be afraid of this humble little den of nonspecific evil. In many ways, the building is quite an effective villain, as it eventually draws Knut in, leaving Eerik to wrestle with his demons and eventually trying to save the day, or at least himself. I've got a tendency to overuse this word, but in lieu of a more fitting word, you could say that the building has a subtle wrongness about it. It could be that it's because it's partially submerged in the water, or that it's darker in there than there strictly speaking should be, see below, or maybe it's just one of those naturally creepy buildings.

See the walls on the bottom part? Me neither

Of course, this isn't merely a movie about a creepy location, that'd be silly. As one would expect in a movie about ones own darker sides, fears, regrets etc, character development is important, and the mysteries around their actions and personal ghosts (both figuratively and literally) play a large part in pushing us forward until they discover the titular location, which some interpretations claim is a gate to hell. Despite there being some good arguments for this, a conversation early on about how hell's fires may not be fiery cleansing but a bleak place devoid of God's presence, seems to fit the bill fairly well, I'm personally leaning a bit more about it being more a descent into ones own darker side. Well, there's multiple interpretations to be had here, as much is to be sure.

Visually, this film is impressive, it has that handheld feel to it that makes it feel somewhat more dynamic, and the lighting is pretty good, especially when considering this entire thing was made for 1 Million Euros, or about 1,3 Million dollars. Compare, if you will, Tommy Wiseau's three million dollar-train-wreck The Room, which looks like shit. Sure, The Room is a special case, but when you can see all that can be done with 1,3, it becomes a good bit more jarring.

Again, I kind of get the same feeling I got when trying to cover Antichrist, I feel that I should cover more, or more in-depth, but it's just not coming to me. Well, I guess you can just take this as a light-on-spoilers recommendation of a different, but good, horror flick.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Norwegian horror spotlight: Skjult

Norwegian horror used to be such a mixed bag of candy, and I guess it still is, but overall, I feel the quality has been improving since the release of Villmark. This modern retelling of the Norwegian physiological horror masterpiece "De dødes tjern" or "The Lake of the Dead" maybe wasn't the scariest, but it had some pretty good moments what horror is concerned, for example there was a scene where someone (or something) tries to strangle one of our heroes through his tent. From an effect standpoint, it wasn't anything special, but the sheer simplicity of the horror paired with pretty good acting made it an image that sticks to my mind even now, almost seven years later.

Simple, and disturbing

You could say this movie opened a lot of doors, and paired with Norwegian cinema in general starting to work its hardest to not suck in the mid-to-late 00's, this meant that good horror would eventually be made. After faffing about with Friday 13th wannabes like Fritt Vilt (Cold Prey internationally) for a while, Norwegian filmmakers decided it was time to be original again. Don't get me wrong, the first "Fritt Vilt" wasn't bad, and the visuals were properly grim and gritty, like horror movies had to be in the 00's, but it, and it's sequel(s) were cookie-cutter slashers, and by that virtue not very exciting. Of course, they're good compared to the less fortunate examples, chief among them, Rovdyr (Manhunter internationally,) which despite it's pretty cool poster was an absolute snorefest, like most slashers deprived of sympathetic characters, but, unlike most slashers, gifted with killers so one-dimensional they make Jason look like Don Vito Corleone.

So, why this little recap on what's what in new Norwegian horror? Call it an introduction to the movie I want to talk about, a movie that has the same main character as Vilmark, the reawakening of Norwegian horror mentioned above. Yes, our friend Kristoffer Joner rejoins us in this somewhat different slasher, Skjult. Or "Hidden," not to be confused by Hanecke's film with the same name. Skjult follows the story of Kai Koss as he returns to his childhood home after the death of his abusive mother. Kai was flat-out tortured and isolated by his mother as a child, but escaped. Now that this hellish harpy is dead, Kai plans to burn down his (excessively creepy) childhood home. All would be well, hallucinations and general creepiness notwithstanding, except a string of murder rocking the little town. Kai is left wondering if his mother found a new victim after his escape, a victim who now rages free after years of torture. It's also possible that it's all in his mind, and the killer is him.

So yes, basically, it's a slasher viewed from an outsiders viewpoint. We see teens get drunk in the abandoned house, and some time later we see what's left of them, but we don't get the standard "hey, let's go to Mrs. Murderslash' abandoned orphanage and get wasted"-feel to it. In general, the movie is more about KK, as he's nicknamed, as he tries to figure out if he's going crazy, or if there's really someone out there. All the while avoiding suspicion for the multiple murders, of course.

"Hey gang, let's go there"
The story has its weak sides, most notably there's a bit of idiot plot going on, but mostly in minor details, except, of course, that KK would be much better off not going to the creepy house where multiple people have been killed in the middle of the night to investigate something, or being suspicious in general, but it wouldn't be any fun if we had any hard evidence that the killer actually isn't KK.

You see, as a genre savvy horror movie fan, this movie made me chase my tail quite a bit. The idea of the protagonist being the killer without knowing it isn't a new idea, and this movie teased the idea mercilessly. We're given some hints to the fact that the killer is in fact a separate individual from KK, but most of them can be chalked up to an unreliable narrator anyway, and when our hero confronts the killer, and does a Marx Brothers Mirror Routine with him, it doesn't exactly get more clear. Now, the ambiguity makes the movie fairly exciting, I'm left wondering if the movie wants me to think the killer is real or not, and if he ends up being real or not. In the end, you can say we get our closure, but if you subscribe to the "KK is major-leauge dancing mad," I guess there's not really anything to debunk it in the end. Of course, it's all interpretation.

I personally think this movie will appeal to anyone who's into a little deconstruction, although I guess more standard slasher fans can also get their jollies without much of a problem. Of course, it's probably a more entertaining movie if you don't mind a little ambiguity in your hack slash murder fun, but it's pretty creepy regardless.

Why did it have to be dolls?