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Halloween horror: What to watch

The scariest films of the season.

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Not everyone goes out partying or trick-or-treating. Here’s a list of some great scary movies to check out in the meantime!

In this in-depth list, you’ll find seven categories of horror movies you can check out. Not all of them are on Netflix, so if they sound appealing, you may have to do some digging for them.

Comedy

Shaun of the Dead: Edgar Wright writes and directs this zombie flick starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The film itself is a spoof of classic zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead yet contains enough originality, humour and action to put it above so many other zombie movies.

The Cabin in the Woods: What may look like an innocent horror movie is actually masked as a very unique and interesting horror movie. I can’t go in to many details without spoiling the film itself, so it’s best for you to check it out for yourself!

What We Do in the Shadows: Taika Waititi’s first major film dealing with vampires, werewolves and the troubles of flatmates serves as a hilarious film to check out with your friends. If you like it, you can also watch the FX series of the same name which finished its first season a few months ago and is currently filming its second season.

Beetlejuice: A classic Tim Burton movie starring Michael Keaton as ‘the ghost with the most!’ Featuring the iconic imagery and spooky atmospheres that Burton is known for, Beetlejuice has become a staple of Halloween movies for a number of years now, not to mention making the Banana Boat song and dance iconic.

Dead Alive: From the director of The Lord of the Rings comes this raunchy and hilarious zombie comedy movie. Peter Jackson got his start in practical, low-budget horror films and Dead Alive (or Braindead, as its known in some regions) is a staple of not only comedy horror movies, but Jackson’s filmography as well.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead. © Universal Pictures

Gore Fiends

SAW: James Wan’s thrilling and terrifying film took the world by storm (15 years ago today, to be exact) and rightly so. Loaded with brutal deaths and traps, the first film is one of eight films to check out with a reboot/remake on the way to reinvigorate the franchise.

Hostel: Eli Roth’s terrifying tail of American travellers ending up in a deadly scenario became infamous for a particular scene. If you’ve seen the movie, you know which one I’m referencing. No gore list is complete without Hostel, but you can go ahead and skip the two sequels.

The Human Centipede: The title of the movie does not leave much room for imagination as to what the movie itself is about. A stomach-turning movie about a science experiment, it’s been known to make a number of people sick just watching it.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): What’s worse than being held against your will in a rundown farmhouse? Being held against your will in a rundown farmhouse with a monstrous, chainsaw-wielding brute roaming the area. The character of Leatherface is one of the most brutal and relentless killers in horror films.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006): The remake to Wes Craven’s 1977 film is surprisingly faithful, creepy and violent. Remaking a horror movie is always a gamble but it pays off tremendously here in a movie I remember being largely popular among my age group at the time it came out.

Shawnee Smith fights for her life in SAW. © Twisted Pictures

Action

Van Helsing: Hugh Jackman took a break from being Wolverine to take up being history’s most famous vampire hunter. Loaded with classic gothic settings and monsters, from Dracula to Frankenstein to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – the film is an absolute blast.

Zombieland: With Zombieland: Double Tap still in theatres, it’s never too late to revisit the original that became a cult classic among horror fans and action fans alike. Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and Woody Harrelson deliver a banger of a movie.

Blade: Wesley Snipes was making obscure Marvel characters cool long before Chris Pratt or Paul Rudd did. Half-human and half-vampire, Blade prowls the darkness hunting his own kind (the vampires, of course).

Hellboy: Guillermo Del Toro could probably make his fair share of comic book movies these days, but his contribution to the overall genre came in the form of Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army; two films that hold up incredibly well over a decade later. The first, in my opinion, edges out the second one by a bit.

Aliens: James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic horror film in space took on a much more action-oriented outlook and turned Sigourney Weaver into a complete badass (at least, more than she was in the first film). The debate even continues to this day as to which film, Alien or Aliens, is the better movie.

Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing. © Stillking Films

The Paranormal

The Conjuring/The Conjuring 2: James Wan lands another spot on this list, and he’s one of my personal favourite horror filmmakers working today. Both Conjuring movies lend themselves to classic horror movies with modern technology and performances. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, two powerhouse actors, are able to carry both films with ease.

The Exorcist: In the realm of horror movies, none stir up controversy and chills like William Friedkin’s masterpiece. When it comes to movies supposedly causing mass panic and terror at the theatre, this movie did it first. The film follows young Regan MacNeil who becomes possessed by the Devil, and one priests unwavering duty to save her soul.

The Fourth Kind: Ghosts and demons are terrifying as they are, but they’re harder to prove – aliens however, land in a spot where it’s more believable. The film details a woman’s hypnosis sessions with patients where she discovers they may have been abducted.

The Grudge: I’ve always said that Japanese urban legends and scary stories were the creepiest, and The Grudge is further proof of that. A house haunted by the spirits of a mother and child murdered in said home, the spirits latch themselves on to whoever enters the home, and in true Japanese fashion, these spirits are pale with black hair and slink along the ground.

The Amityville Horror (1979): One of the most famous cases of a haunting in the world, the Amityville house is said to be built on an ancient Indigenous burial ground and be filled with violent spirits (poltergeists). The original film is based on the accounts of the Lutz family who lived in that house after a brutal and gruesome murder was carried out.

Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. © Hoya Productions

Found Footage

The Blair Witch Project: This is the one that kickstarted it all. A group of friends embark on a mission into the woods to document the legend of the Blair Witch, and it isn’t long before that trip turns sour.

Paranormal Activity: This movie reinvigorated the found footage genre. Made on a budget of hardly anything in the director’s home, the film terrified moviegoers worldwide for it’s jump-scares and hyper-realistic effects. To this day, some of my friends refuse to watch it with the lights off.

REC.: Be sure to watch REC. and not Quarantine in this scenario, as the latter is an American remake of the Spanish found footage original. When a reporter and her cameraman are covering a firefighter intervention at an apartment complex, the two come to discover something far more dangerous that the reported old man locked in her apartment.

Grave Encounters: When a reality series crew enters an abandoned asylum to film a tv episode, they are unaware that it will become their last. A Canadian-made film that seemed to garner mainly mixed reviews, it isn’t as terrible as reviews will lead you to believe.

As Above, So Below: A film I quite enjoyed that I feel goes under the radar far too often. As Above, So Below details a group of adults who venture too deep into the catacombs beneath Paris, France and become lost. After continuing further and further into the tunnels, they come across something most would never want to encounter – the gates of Hell.

The ghostly haunting of Paranormal Activity. © Blumhouse Productions

Classic Slasher

Halloween: John Carpenter’s classic featuring the iconic Michael Myers is a must have for any Halloween film night. Jamie Lee Curtis became a horror icon because of this movie, and no scary soundtrack is complete without Carpenter’s memorable theme.

Friday the 13th, Part 2: A common misconception about this franchise is that Jason was the antagonist from the start, but really, he didn’t appear as the killer we all know and love (and fear) until part 2. If you’re looking for your fix of Jason, start here and work your way through the series.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Wes Craven’s famous series brought sadistic murderer Freddy Krueger to the world of horror. Burned alive by an angry mob, Krueger haunts people in their dreams, only when he kills them in their sleep, they die for real. The original film also featured a young Johnny Depp, long before he became the star he is today.

Psycho: Starting at the beginning with slasher flicks is always a good time. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho tells the story of the unsettling character Norman Bates. The character of Bates actually drew inspiration from the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, and if you want a really creepy story – go ahead and google him.

Scream: The mask of the ghostface killer is among the most iconic images for horror movies and on-screen serial killers. The pale face with elongated mouth and droopy eyes redefined slasher movies in the 1990s. The character was also created by Wes Craven who seemed to be on a role with creating iconic slasher characters.


Remakes

Are they many remakes worth seeing? Depends. If you’re looking for a solid reimagining, Fede Alvarez’s remake of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead was a very solid movie. You could also check out the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th which played up the franchise’s campiness (and sexuality) but was also a solid watch.

Rob Zombie tackled a remake of Halloween which brought his signature style to the town of Haddonfield, but I would only watch the first one as his remake of the second goes a little off the rails and becomes unfocused.

A Nightmare on Elm Street was remade with Jackie Earl Hayley replacing Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, and while I personally enjoyed it for what it was, it isn’t the strongest movie.

I hope this list provides some context for your movie marathon on the spookiest of nights, and if you decide to go out partying or scaring others, be safe and have a happy Halloween! ■

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Movie corner: ‘Shin Godzilla’

A look back at ‘Shin Godzilla’.

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This is a very special month for a very special Giant Movie Monster. This month is the 65th anniversary of the worlds biggest movie star (literally) and King of the monsters, Godzilla.

At 65 years, his is the longest running movie franchise ever, with 35 movies (counting the American productions) under the titanic creature’s belt, spanning all the way back to 1954. And that number will only continue to grow in the coming years, with Godzilla vs Kong set to debut next year in March and Toho Studios, Godzillas owner, set to take its own steps into the cinematic universe ring with their own kaiju (the word for giant monster in Japanese).

In the (late) spirit of celebration, we could perhaps look back on his homeward bound endeavours and talk about one of the reasons why he’s so beloved. In particular, let’s talk about one of his movies. And what better than one where the titular monster is a symbol of ruin, death and destruction brought forth from atomic energy, where, as the song goes, “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.”

By that description, it would appear I’m talking about Godzilla’s first cinematic opus from 1954. In actuality, I’m referring to the more recent live action film that just so happens to take “The big G” back to his traditionally villainous roots from the first film. Lets talk about… Shin Godzilla.

Shin Godzilla is a 2016 Japanese giant monster movie that, as previously stated, goes back to it’s grim roots created by the 1954 original classic “Godzilla.” It elects to once again make the mutated prehistoric reptile of unknown origin an unstoppable force of destruction and terror.

The design of the creature even borrows the “keloid scars” from the original look with a more gruesome update. But thats not the only thing that has updated with this version of the king of the monsters. Not only is it an allegory for a particular disaster (the Tohoku tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown in this case) but it is also a political satire!

The film wastes no time in starting, as a massive steam geyser erupts from Tokyo bay and a weird blood like liquid begins to flood the tunnels after a boat of a Japanese scientist is discovered without him on board. From there, the Japanese government holds various meetings on how to handle the situation while pandemonium continues to unfold. When one of the politicians, our protagonist Rando Yaguchi, played by Hiroki Hasegawa, states during a meeting that the eruption might be caused by a large creature, based on the videos posted by onlookers and survivors, he’s lambasted for the idea and told not make a mockery of the political system… before a news report reveals a massive creature in the bay that’s headed for the city. 

This results in postponing the meeting for… another meeting, as they discuss what the creature is and its abilities, resulting in more havoc. As more details and abilities are revealed about the creature revealed and international interests for said creature, dubbed Godzilla by the missing scientists papers, the race is on for Yaguchi and his team of “misfits and weirdos” to come up with a breakthrough before Godzilla causes more chaos.

What is truly noteworthy about Shin Godzilla is just how bold and daring it is compared to other Godzilla movies, despite clearly taking notes from the original movie. This film was penned and co-directed by Hideki Anno, and if you know the name, you might be familiar with the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, of which Anno created, wrote and directed.

The series is known for its wildly gorgeous visuals, symbolism, allegorical messages, and just how bizarre the show and the concept actually is. Shin Godzilla is no different. Instead of appearing as his normal reptilian self when he shows up surprisingly early for one of his own movies, he is instead this bizarre cross of terrifying and adorable, looking more akin to an eel with dinosaur legs with massive unblinking eyes and bleeding gills.

Despite being barely able to walk, he still causes much destruction and death before seemingly and randomly stopping to reveal Anno’s next radical idea regarding Godzilla: he instantly “evolves” into something slightly closer to his traditional appearance to better walk on land. In other words, when Godzilla is faced with a difficult challenge, his body radically transforms to deal with it. It’s even brought up that, if need be, he can sprout wings and fly. 

This leads to the point where he finally becomes something that looks like a “traditional” Godzilla design and later the scene where he finally uses his atomic breath for the first time. The scene itself is both beautiful and very haunting. It is probably Godzilla’s most frightening use of his atomic breath to date, and it is the first time on film that Godzilla breaths actual fire for a bit (That idea was a concept invented by the Americans while importing the movies, he actually breaths an “emission of radiation” or just a straight up laser).

This is the first time in a Japanese Godzilla movie that Godzilla would be fully portrayed by CGI for all scenes (a few films had a few shots where the monster was entirely computer generated). Harkening back to the original design, Godzilla’s 4th and final “look” (his first is unseen) brings back the ugly and horrific keloid radiation scarring that the first version of the monster evoked. Using some impressive CGI the monster is shown in incredible detail, exposed glowing red tissue and a horrific mangled jaw that has teeth protruding outside of his lips being just the tip of the dorsal plate.

To emphasize his presence is a beautiful score. Most of it composed by regular Hideki Anno collaborator Shiro Sagisu, the score he creates offers a unique mix of tracks,  with some deliberately using a more action movie vibe when actual work and progress is being made on how to stop Godzilla. Some are more appropriately haunting, such as “Who Will Know,” a tragic and somber piece used for Godzilla’s first thermonuclear breath. The song itself can be seen from Godzilla’s perspective, as it elements about its survival.

The film has more the just the monster, surprisingly. As previously stated, Hideki Anno is known for his less than subtle allegorical messages and symbolism and Shin Godzilla has this in spades. Throughout the picture, the Japanese government goes to meeting after meeting after meeting before arriving at anything helpful to help people or try to halt Godzilla’s progress. Indeed when the film opens, adherence to protocol is strict, to the point where it actually hinders and slows the effort to stop Godzilla.

During a military effort to crush the creature, the prime minister is relaid information by his superiors about the attack. In order to get to him, it has to travel down the line of command before reaching a member of the cabinet who only can respond to his superior, despite the sitting at the same table as the prime minister, and then said superior, can talk to the prime minister. Now some of this is already natural for many governments with similar structures, but Anno directs the scene in such a way as to highlight how utterly absurd this process is. 

No movie is perfect, including Shin Godzilla, which does have noticeable faults. Despite being a Japan centric picture, there are some scenes with english dialogue. When some Japanese characters speak english dialogue, it’s fine. They give it a good effort and it comes off convincingly. However, sometimes it comes off as awkward and stilted, as some actors struggle speak the language. Unusually, the ones who come off as the most awkward are the few english speaking actors. Some of the lines they perform are oddly worded, with the occasional awkward performance to back it up.

Thankfully, the fault is not entirely distracting, as the film knows where its main focus is, and it payed off. With high praise across the board in its home country and an estimated US$15 million budget, it made back US$77 million, making it the most financially successful Japanese Godzilla movie. At the Japanese academy awards, it was able to acquire many wins for itself, including best picture, a first for a Godzilla movie.

In the end, your taste in monster movies may vary, but if this spikes anyone’s interest, the film is available on dvd, Blu-ray and digital, though there are 2 versions of the digital version, one english dubbed and one in Japanese (The Japanese dub is superior). It may not be the goofy monster destroying action you may heard about, but it is still very enjoyable and serves as a reminder as to why Godzilla was made in the first place.

Hail to the king. ■

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‘The Mandalorian’: Chapter 1 review

A new bounty is assigned.

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Debuting as a launch title for Disney+, the new Star Wars series follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter following the collapse of the Empire.

Spoiler free

Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau have teamed up to bring us the first live-action Star Wars series in the form of The Mandalorian, starring Pedro Pascal as the titular bounty hunter.

What this pilot episode does incredibly well is capture the tone of the galaxy that was established in the original trilogy. The planets and creatures are a mix of CG and practical effects save for a few specific characters, but when CG characters are on screen, like Taika Waititi’s IG-11, a bounty droid, they are very well designed and incredibly smooth.

The story presents an interesting concept in the sense that this bounty hunter does not possess the same morals that we’ve come to know from previous characters like Boba Fett or his father, Jango. This character is not as cold-blooded as the others which opens up the possibilities for new character interactions.

The cinematography is absolutely beautiful for the premiere episode and truly shows off the budget of a Disney-funded show. There are times that you’ll forget this is not a feature length film as opposed to a mini series on a streaming service.

Pedro Pascal plays the lead bounty hunter who is not yet named, and brings about an air of mystery to him. His voice sounds good under the helmet and does bring a familiar calm and cool attitude that Boba and Jango possessed.

All in all – an incredibly strong start to Star Wars’ live action series on Disney+. Episode 2 of The Mandalorian will be available on Friday, November 15. ■

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‘Joker’ becomes most profitable comic book movie

Todd Phillips delivers a winner.

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After five weeks at the box office here in North America, Joker has gone on to become the most profitable comic book movie of all time.

There is a distinct difference between profitable and highest-grossing, however. The latter still belongs to Disney and Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, but most profitable now belongs to Todd Phillips’ Joker.

On a budget of $62.5 million, Joker has gone on to make $953 million globally, which means it has made back over 15 times its budget.

The film had initially received skepticism as being an unnecessary story, with people not seeing the value in a Joker origin story. When the first teaser trailer released, it had won over some fans for its darker style and variation from the other DC properties Warner Bros. was producing (Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Shazam! most recently).

Leading up to the film’s release, however, criticism grew over the potential idea that the film would inspire violence, which of course, turned out to be a false claim. If anything, the film inspired people to seek out the iconic staircase from the film and pose in similar fashion to Joker’s dance.

Joker is still playing some theatres, but is currently on its way out and will be preparing for a blu-ray release for either late December/early January. ■

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