Other Writings for Other Sites: A Guide to Horror in 2009

Far from my best work, it’s more of a recommendation source (or un-source?). Read it HERE. Check out Playtime in general though, its’ the Anniversary edition, and will be on until next issue which comes out this Wednesday. Lots of great stuff.


As a horror fiend, I’ve made my fair share of trips to the movie theatre this year. I am especially lucky to live in a city like Montreal, because I was able to see every single one of these on the big screen, thanks to smaller independent theatres and Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival (which I can’t recommend enough). This being the time of year for the spooks, and when most people want to get their horror fill, I thought I’d lend my own experiences to help people choose what to see (and what to avoid) when it comes to the last year in horror. As a few of these were shown Fantasia, they have yet to hit the theatre circuit, and some probably never will. The list is not definite (I’m missing quite a few, notably The Final Destination, Saw VI and Paranormal Activity) and is ordered from worst to best.


Five Best Films I saw in October

Another October gone by, and another marathon of great horror. I think I just about matched my output of last year, though I will say, I don’t think my enthusiasm was what it was. I think the deeper I delve into horror, the more difficult it’s going to be to discover great films, and really this month was evidence of that. Still, saw some excellent films. Can’t wait to see what November holds ! As always, alphabetical order and only first viewings.

The Dead Zone (Cronenberg, 1983)

a old dead zone David Cronenberg 1621

Faust (Murnau, 1926)


A Serious Man (Coens, 2009)


Videodrome (Cronenberg, 1983)


Where the Wild Things Are (Jonze, 2009)


A Horror Movie Marathon Guide for the Horror Movie Fan


When attempting to choose appropriate films for your own movie marathons, it is important to know your audience. Are you watching it with young people? Film fans? Popcorn fans? Etc. It’s no surprise that most websites that work try to recommend “event” films cater to the largest possible audience; the casual film fan. As someone who is not a casual film fan, and whose friends are not casual film fans, these guides are almost entirely useless. So instead, I’ve decided to make my own guide for the horror movie buffs out there. Using my own experiences, as well as attempting to put on paper my wildest film watching desires, I’m making the ultimate Halloween Movie Marathon guide.

I’ve come to realize, when approaching this kind of event, it’s important to set aside an ample period of time to go through with it. If you don’t have time for at least three films, then the event isn’t even worth having. I think the ideal number of viewings is four, though it’s important to understand that even under the best conditions, there are often one or two films that will be ignored or talked through. This is not a bad thing, it’s the nature of these get together, especially if we’re meeting together different groups of people who do not necessarily know each other. It’s part of the reason why I have categorized the film in a rough order that I find pretty effective in garnering attention, but also prioritizing the films you want to see most, or have the greatest impact by putting them towards the end of the show, when people are more settled and conversation has began to die down.

What about the actual hosting? I can’t say I’m particularly skilled in this domain. What I do know is, Halloween is fun and informal, if you can to decorate you can get stuff cheap and if you don’t, most people won’t care. What IS essential is to make sure that you have enough seats for people. Since this is meant to be something for the ‘long haul’, think comfort. If people have to sit on the floor or on hard wooden chairs, provide a lot of pillows and even blankets.

I consider myself an amateur cook, so any kind of get together like this makes me think of what kind of food I could whip up. Perhaps because my own childhood experience with Halloween have to do with candy and treats, meal type foods, or even buffet style doesn’t seem right. It is all about decadence and sweets, and food that will go straight to your gut, heart and thighs.

If you’re up to actually making food, instead of just breaking out the store bought candy and chips, here are a few recipe suggestions. I’m not really one for baking, so I’m just linking a few recipes that I personally like.  If I ever continue this series, there will most likely be “real” cooking involved, and I’ll post my own recipes.

Better than Reeses Peanut Butter Squares

*Important note for this recipe, instead of letting it set, put it in the freezer for at least 40 minutes.

These are the most incredible things ever. It doesn’t have to be Halloween to make them, because they’re like… the best thing ever.

Mud Cake

I’ll let the greatest network in the world do the rest of the work for me, go to the Food Network, I’m sure there are a lot of goodies to be had.

For those who need a little Irish in their festivities, fun punches are always in order. Go for red, it’s like blood! RIGHT! RIGHT?

Another important ingredient to a successful Halloween movie marathon, is obviously, costumes! Tell people to bring them, wear them, live in them… threaten them if they refuse to humiliate themselves, and make sure to have a lot of spare sheets, because if they won’t comply, they’ll just be ghosts and will be shunned by everyone else. I think movie themed costumes are fun, and since this is a movie marathon for movie fans, there will hopefully be (less) embarrassment because nobody recognizes that you are Nana from Vivre sa Vie, or Norman Bates dressed as his mother, not Eddie Murphy in drag.

Now onto the fun part, the movies! As I said earlier, the ideal movie night is four films… that is the model I will be working with.

The Fun, Recent Film


In my experience, starting with a fun recent horror is always a good idea. Though this is a marathon for film buffs, it can’t be expected that everyone attending will have the same level of experience and enthusiasm for cinema. Starting with something that people will be familiar with, perhaps even that some have seen is a good way to start the evening. It’s also the kind of thing that can be talked through, it’s often culturally relevant, and if others have seen it, there is no great loss if full attention is not kept.

My top recommendation is Sam Raimi’s Drag me to Hell. Not only is it a film that balances comedy and horror beautifully, it is one that is best enjoyed in a group setting. I know many people have seen it, but I also know just as many wouldn’t say no to see it again. This is a film that demands audience involvement, and it’s difficult to ignore talking goats, vomiting gypsies and crazy house flies.

Other options: Trick r’ Treat, Shaun of the Dead, Planet Terror and Death Proof (I guess this counts?)

Nostalgic Favourite or So Bad, it’s Good

800 large carrie blu-ray2

Now that people are a bit more comfortable and more into the horror mood, I recommend going for a classic favourite. Now for most people, this category would probably be a bit more narrow, but for the film fan the pickings can come from a good 80 years of horror. It’s best to remain accessible, because you might still have a few “outsiders” hanging about, but it is also about time to start going for the more unconventional choices. I also recommend avoiding classics that don’t deserve their status, like Friday the 13th. Go for something good, not something that is thought to be good.

Though, a suitable alternative to this category is the so bad it’s good film, so I’ll be including two top recs.

Top Recommendation for Nostalgic Favourite: Carrie, De Palma’s film about a battered adolescent with powerful psychic powers. The film has wide appeal, and is quite popular, but still underseen.  It provides the holy trinity of great horror, boobs, blood and evil mothers (I wish I could have another ‘b’, it might catch on!). It is at once frightening, and yet, I think can also be seen on a less serious level. It’s a lot of fun, and is great cinema. It shouldn’t disappoint!

My top recommendation for So Bad, it’s Good: Top of the Food Chain is a strange Canadian film that needs to be seen to believe. It’s a high bred of cheap horror and cheap science fiction, and plays around with strange sexuality and strange scientific politics. It has all the right elements of great bad movies; boobs, mannequins, aliens, countless one-liners, musical sequences and a nonsensical setting.

Other recs (for both categories): A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Happening, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead (1978), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, The Wicker Man (1973), The Birds and The Bride of Frankenstein.

Foreign/weirdo film


Now we get into the fun weird part of the whole thing, when you move beyond entertaining the masses and we take some risks. There are many directions you can go with the foreign/weirdo film, and there is a good chance that at least one person will walk away annoyed, upset or bored out of their mind. That’s part of the fun! At this point of the night, most people are getting a little sleepy and are more prone to pay attention. It’s also far more likely that people will really get into this, because of their state, and already into the horror spirit.

Top Recommendation:  Nosferatu (1979), while many people have seen the original by Murnau I’d personally argue that Herzog’s remake is even better. It is just as disturbing, while also capturing the strange level of humour involved. Having Kinski involved is an added bonus, as there is inevitably one person in the room familiar with his insanity, who will always joyfully convey some stories to the ‘audience’. This is the kind of film that gets under your skin, but will inspire as much melancholia as it does fear. It is a beautiful film and one that should be seen by more people.

Other Options: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Black Sunday, Suspiria, Possession (1981), [rec], Trouble Every Day and Eyes without a Face.

It’s at this point that people are really into the horror mood that it’s a good idea to take a little break, have people tell their favourite scary stories and experiences. You’ll be surprised at people’s brushes with the ‘supernatural’ and even the non believers will have a story or two that defy explanation. It’s also the perfect lead in to the final film of the night, which should also be the scariest.

Scary Scary Scary


Part of the fun of Halloween is indulging in the horror of… horror. End the night on a note of true horror and choose something that is truly terrifying. In the spirit of evening, its’ best not to go for the obvious, though there are many films that are classics for a reason. I’m naming a few of them as other options, only because I think they are horrifying and reputations are earned.

Top Recommendation: The Legend of Hell House. As much as there are many films that earn their titles, there are some that are criminally underseen. Though somewhat divisive, I’d put The Legend of Hell House  at the top of my recommendation list for the truly “get under your skin” horror. It’s a battle between science and religion, and the attack of a truly terrible man who has long been dead. The film invokes Cries and Whispers with all the red wallpaper and darkened rooms. It is also the only film I can think of that involves ghost rape.

Other Options: Black Christmas (1974), The Innocents (1961), The Shining (1980) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). I also think it’s not entirely wrong to let the third category just bleed into this one. Most of the weird foreign ones are also really scary and disturbing.

Hopefully that was of some help, and I lived up to my promise of going beyond the obvious horror movie night choices. I know I fell on a quite a few ‘classics’, which almost defeats the purpose of this post entirely, but I can’t help it… they’re so good! If you have any recommendations, for movies or for the event don’t be afraid to post it!

Day of the Dead (Romero, 1985) and a New Release, barely worth mentioning


Something sad about seeing this film, as this is probably the last “new” Romero film I’ll be seeing that is any good. Though not quite on the same level as his two earlier entries, this is still a great film. It widens the issues of communication and religion, bringing them to a level of government as well as individuals. The major battle facing us “today”, is less science versus religion, as it is science versus military. Romero does not simplify the argument, and is further complicated by the stress of the current situation. Extremes in all regards are treated with worry, and often result in great pain and tragedy.

It’s essentially a tug of war between defense and progress, and how both are abused through different means. Though not particularly obvious, the most criticized abuse is little regard or respect for humanity. Strangely enough, some of the most potent betrayals of human dignity are done and explored through both the dealing with the zombies, as well as the dead. As the zombies are seemingly “evolving”, some semblance of their previous life is restored, and the callous pleasure that both soldier and doctor take in tearing them apart becomes less pleasurable than perhaps it was in the other films… it’s suddenly tainted by the idea that these zombies were once people, and something deep inside still retains some of that.

As with most Romero films, there is also a huge problem of communication going on. Some of it is tied to what I’ve already mentioned, especially how the two schools not only fail to understand each other, but also fail to try and understand each other. It also works on a more interpersonal basis, and how perhaps our greatest failing is our inability to connect, communicate and work together. It will eventually be our downfall, and though we may not be overcome by a zombie apocalypse, it seems inevitable that human ego and lack of human compassion is what will bring us down.

I also liked, that this film seemed to have the strongest sense of humour of all Romero’s films. Dawn is also quite darkly humourous, but this one has even better laughs. Lovely experience.

amber-heard-stepfather-2 (1)

The Stepfather (Nelson McCormick, 2009)

An exceptionally average film, while it doesn’t do very much right, it doesn’t do very much wrong either. I quite like the ending actually, eerie in a predictable way and fun cover of a very famous song. Again, I have to ask, what is this trend of emotionally crippled fatherhood in the past ten years? If they’re not psychopaths, they are completely useless. A reflection on something larger perhaps? A lack of faith in authority, or perhaps a confusion over male identity? It’s interesting in that way, but only as the sum of a few other similar films. Amber Heard is super hot here, and so many gratuitous pantie shots. It’s still PG-13 horror :/

The September Issue (R.J. Cutler, 2009)


I have a strange love for fashion, I am far from a FASHIONABLE person, but I find there is something incredibly intriguing and beautiful about the spreads of the big fashion magazines. While one could easily lampoon the industry for its impact on our self-esteem, it’s glorification of a very narrow perception of beauty, and obviously the use of fur, among other products, I think too often it’s cast aside without any thought for its strengths. This is not genocide, it is not an industry run solely by evil powers to promote evil ideas, and there is a huge amount of artistry, passion and beauty involved. I defy anyone to open up a spread done by Grace Coddington, artistic director of Vogue Magazine.

In September Issue, the recent documentary about the most important fashion event of the year (The release of Vogue’s September Issue, the largest one of the year, that defines what will be in and out that year in fashion), Grace Coddington comes across as the most sympathetic presence at Vogue magazine. Her incredible talents, non-confrontational attitude (she stands by her work, and is perhaps the only one to stand up against Anna, but she still maintains a sort of meekness that seems out of place in the industry) and unconventional look, make her the obvious emotional centerpiece for most viewers. I think many will leave the theatre, and she will be the only person that they will have good things to say about. Personally, I think this approach is just as reductive as many people’s approach to fashion in general.

And if Grace Coddington is the film’s hero, it is no doubt, the infamous Anna Wintour (already immortalized on the silver screen by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada), who becomes the film’s villain. This approach is easy, and though I think the film explores the fashion industry on a very surface level, often opting for what most people traditionally search for in documentary cinema, a sense of objectivity… it is a misreading to see her as soulless, the film offers her up as the cold personality she is, but also affords her all the respect she deserves, and allows her to reveal her own struggles, though she rarely articulates it directly. Using a technique that Herzog seems rather fond of, and which, perhaps, distorts reality in a fascinating way, the camera remains on even once a question has been answered. The ensuing silence and attempt at composure maintained by the “talking head”, adds a strange discomfort and nuance to the interview. This is used to brilliant effect when Wintour talks about how her siblings perceive her career, and it’s perhaps the most affecting moment of the entire film, despite the fact that she only barely lets her exterior slip. It is a change that perhaps only a camera could pick up…

What is the value of fashion? A question that often results in heated name-calling and elitism from both side of the fence. Most people, who see fashion as nothing more than flights of fancy, perhaps undermine the fact that it is a very powerful mode of self-expression. No doubt, fans of cinema have seen in the past two years some brilliant examples of the value of fashion, especially for women. I think the most potent moment, is probably in the Duchess when on her wedding night, Georgiana is asked by her new husband why women wear such elaborate clothes. Her answer is not one we would immediately expect, perhaps because between me and my peers, the answer was obviously rooted in a sort of male dominance, because the clothes seem so restrictive. Though, in context of the film, and as a designer of her own clothing, there is something strangely empowering about her comment that in a society that has stripped her of all her freedoms, that she finds her sole mode of expression as being through the clothes she wears. As the film progresses, as do her costumes, becoming all the more elaborate, mirroring the growing complexity in her political understanding.

Sure, the world has changed a lot since the era of Dukes and Duchesses, but perhaps not quite as much as we think… September Issue is a grand example of this, as we have both Grace Coddington and Anna Wintour, two women with power that has such a scope, that it is beyond measuring. Though, Anna Wintour is more an extremely skilled editor and businesswoman than an artist, the impact she has on so many people is one far more powerful than most politicians hold. She is in absolute control, and has a hold on something that cannot be defined as pure egoism. Fashion is so much more than parading one’s wealth or beauty; it is a strong statement about yourself and the world you embody. Perhaps more than any other “arts” motivated industry, fashion is the more forward looking. It is always about what’s next, and the only way to stay a top is to be two steps ahead. Perhaps the film industry could take a few pointers from Wintour and Vogue, a woman and her magazine that is continually striving for something new and something better.


Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kasuma, 2009)


To it’s credit, this film has converted me on Megan Fox. She may be a little fake looking, but she is actually really hot, and has this undeniable animalistic kind of oomph that I can’t resist. She has to stop with the plastic surgery now though, because it’s a slippery slope…

OTHERWISE, this movie kinda sucked. I was momentarily charmed by the overabundant cutesy, ridiculous dialogue and outrageously over the top direction… but oh man, did it ever wear thin, and FAST.

Though Kasuma is hardly an a-list talented director, I doubt even in the hands of the most skilled director this film could even HOPE to be decent, without a major overhaul of the script. I get it, Juno was a big hit, I liked it… but that does not necessarily mean we should give carte blanche to Cody, and how I wish they didn’t. The script reminds me of something I read in my first year of “college”, by some creative but seriously scatterbrained kid. I don’t think think the writing is completely hopeless, it has some clever moments, some fun undertones and potential commentary on teenage relationships (friendship and the sexy kind), but as is… none of it really works.

The script needs serious workshopping or ghost writing, it could have been salvaged, but sometimes people put way too much faith in people who don’t really deserve it.

Keep the cast, keep some of the campiness, re-direct the plot, focus a scene here and there, amp up the satire and the film could have worked. Maybe… I think?

Julie & Julia (2009)


Julie & Julia is a serviceable film that attempts to bring the world of the Internet to the big screen, in a way. Blogging as a subject matter is fairly bland, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t translate particularly well. The cast makes it work mostly, though it seems rather aimless, often working with rather simple changes in superficial behavior, as opposed to conveying strong emotional and internal changes as a means of propelling the action.

Though Adams is still likeable, the character she portrays is frustrating, and the script offers very little insight into her struggle as a “modern” adult struggling to survive. It paints the portrait of a woman who had all the potential in the world, and seems to have failed miserably to live up to it, only to have Julia Child “save” her by giving her a goal to reach and achieve. It’s motivating in a way, sweet I suppose… but without ever really enhencing or exploring the circomstances, it feels somewhat empty, and her characterization bland and grating.

The Julia Child segment is more interesting, if only because she is a more vibrant personality. The segment and story itself is not presented particularly well, it’s very conventional and would never really hold up on it’s own. Streep gives an expectantly great performance, and really evokes both the manneurisms and the passion of Child. It’s really her work that holds up the entire film.

The line drawn between the storylines is quasi similar circomstances and similar archs. Thematic match-cuts are used most often to tie the two together, and they’re a bit wishy-washy, for lack of a better term. It never feels obnoxious, but is never quite seamless either. The film unfortunately falls apart simply because the premise itself doesn’t seem strong enough to sustain a feature length film, especially not one as long as this (2 hours is long for a film of this nature). Overall, I found it to be a moderately entertaining diversion, and it made me want to eat and cook delicious food.