Monday, March 28, 2011

Dollar Bin Horror's 30 Day Challenge: The First Six Days

Dollar Bin Horror is hosting a challenge that involves watching 30 horror movies in 30 days. Cody is participating in the challenge, and will be posting his progress here in five chapters, an entry for every six days.

Herein is Cody's write-up for the first six days, featuring slashers, werewolves, vampires, monsters and more!

Day 01 - A horror film that no one would expect you to love, but you do


I wasn't sure what film no one would expect me to love, but I chose this one because, judging from comments I've seen in articles about the upcoming next installment in the Children of the Corn series, this would seem to be a film that no one expects anyone to love. I've seen several people ask, beyond the first Children of the Corn, "Does anyone like these movies?" and "Does anyone even watch these?"

Well, I do. I'm a big fan of the Children of the Corn movies, and The Gathering, the fourth film in the series, is my favorite of the sequels.

The Gathering approaches the "killer kid" story a bit differently than the other films. Continuity is a rare thing in the series as it is, but this one is the furthest removed from all the others. There isn't even a reference to "He Who Walks Behind the Rows", the evil god worshipped in the other installments.

This one tells the story of a young med student named Grace who returns home to take care of her mother (played by Karen Black), who's having a mental breakdown brought on by a recurring nightmare, and the two youngsters who still live at home with her. The mother's nightmare turns out to be a premonition of sorts, as Grace's return to town coincides with the resurrection of a long-dead, demon-possessed child preacher. This demon boy's resurrection affects the children in town - they run high fevers and begin to act very strangely, some even taking on the names and personalities of local children who died many years earlier. Grace takes a job at the local doctor's office, which puts her right in the middle of this weirdness. Eventually, of course, some of the children become quite bloodthirsty.

It's a creepy, short and sweet (the end credits start rolling at 76 minutes), well-told tale, given an extra boost by the fact that Grace, a smart and strong heroine, is played by Naomi Watts, who was already proving to be an actress worth paying attention to.

Day 02 - The horror film that you relate most to

This day was a tough one to figure out. What horror films do I relate to, and relate to in what way? Not many horror characters are anything like me, and I certainly (thankfully) can't relate to most of the situations. So I decided to make my choice based not on the content of the film, but the story behind the making of the film. Being an aspiring filmmaker at a low-to-no budget level, my choice would be a movie made in that kind of situation, a very low budget independent film made by a group of friends. Then the trouble was narrowing it down. Night of the Living Dead (1968) or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)? Those had higher budgets than I'm familiar with, were shot on film, and Romero and pals had experience in the commercial world. I can very much relate to the making of The Evil Dead, especially with most of the cast and crew bailing on the production halfway through, but again that was shot on film and they managed to raise a higher budget. Most of J.R. Bookwalter's movies were made in my home state on low budgets, but there were companies or established benefactors involved with a lot of them. But, Bookwalter's Tempe distribution company did put out a movie that I like a lot and it meets several points of the relatability criteria:


Writer/director Scott Phillips put together this film on a budget of just $3000, with fellow independent filmmaker Richard Griffin handling cinematographer duties, shooting the movie on mini-DV with the Canon XL-1 camera and using just one light. Here's a budget range and equipment level that I can totally relate to.

"How do you lead an alternative lifestyle... When everybody's dead?" asks the tagline, and the movie shows that it's not easy. Set in a post-zombie apocalypse world, the story follows Matool, a badass zombie killer whose weapon of choice is a hammer and giant nails, as he's kidnapped by swinger couple Nathan and Dexy. Nathan and Dexy have a kinky sex life - Dexy likes to have sex with men other than her husband Nathan while he watches and the man is spanked with a section of Matchbox racetrack by Dexy's sister Sassy, who has a little mutant conjoined twin growing and slobbering on her side - and kinky sex lives continue even in a world overrun with flesh eating corpses. Matool plays along for a while, but the disturbing elements and complications keep adding up, so you know that this situation isn't going anywhere good.

Phillips and company really knocked it out of the park on this one, The Stink of Flesh is one of the best ultra-low budget movies that I've seen. It's exceptionally well-made for the budget level, the story is original and has its own quirky style, and the acting is good, Kurly Tlapoyawa (Matool) and Billy Garberina (who shows up as a soldier later in the movie) being the biggest standouts for me.

Phillips made his second film, Gimme Skelter, for $5000 and added a point of relatability by shooting it with the Panasonic DVX-100B camera, a camera which I have and which Jay Burleson shot his movie Feast of the Vampires with, but Skelter was disqualified from being the "relate to" movie by the presence of some more well-known names (Trent Haaga, Gunnar Hansen) in the cast. But that's a good movie as well, and it's worth noting that Scott Phillips is also a published author. One of his books, published around the same time that The Stink of Flesh hit DVD, is the very cool Friday the 13th novel Church of the Divine Psychopath.

Day 03 - Your favorite slasher


Anyone who knows me knows that I'm an obsessive Friday the 13th/Jason Voorhees fan. There's a bit of Friday the 13th in pretty much every day of my life. No, I don't watch the movies every day, but there's still always traces of the series around me, like posters and memorabilia in my room, the hockey mask on my key chain, and the message board I frequent. So I had to go with a Friday the 13th for this day.

Jason himself is my favorite slasher, and I chose Part III because it features what I believe is the perfect version of the character. He acquires his standard wardrobe in this one and puts on the iconic hockey mask for the first time, and the hockey mask is clean and fully intact, not getting damaged and receiving the axe mark until the end. The look of Jason in the final 30 minutes of this film is as good as it gets for me. Beyond just the look of the character, Part III also has Richard Brooker giving one of my favorite Jason performances.

The plot is simple: A group of young adults, who are mostly fun and likeable, go to a cabin near Crystal Lake with the pure intention of spending a relaxing weekend full of sex and drugs. Unfortunately for them, Jason Voorhees has taken refuge in the barn on the property after the events of Friday the 13th Part 2, and he sets about killing off the vacationers one-by-one. There's also a side adventure with a couple of the kids being tormented by a biker gang, who also get dispatched by our hockey masked slasher.

The "final girl" Chris, whose family owns the cabin and who has a bit of history with Jason, having encountered him in the woods one dark night a couple years back, is played by Dana Kimmell and in the end she's pursued by Jason in what is my favorite chase sequence of the entire series. It goes on for something like 13 minutes, depending on how you want to time it, and goes throughout the cabin, out a window, involves Chris's Bruce Springsteen and Led Zeppelin sticker-covered van, and ends up in the creepy old barn.

This movie is just completely awesome. It was originally released in 3-D, and if you can, I highly recommend checking the 3-D version out if it ever gets screened at a theatre near you. It's not the anaglyphic red and blue 3-D, it's polarized 3-D like an '80s version of the 3-D that's currently sweeping the cinema. It adds an extra depth to the entire picture, in addition to the obvious things being poked out of the screen.

If I had looked outside my favorite franchise for this entry, my second choice was to show some love to Scott Spiegel's quirky, gory (if you watch the unrated cut, as you should) supermarket slasher Intruder (1989). Just wanted to mention that, because it's an awesome movie and I don't know if I'll get a chance to fit it into this challenge anywhere else.

Day 04 - Your favorite werewolf film


Back in the late '90s, horror fans were writing off the werewolf sub-genre as a cinematic wasteland nearly barren of good films. Then writer Karen Walton and director John Fawcett teamed up to make Ginger Snaps, and this little film from Canada brought the fans new hope for werewolves.

The genius of Walton and Fawcett's approach to this creature feature is that they combine the gradual wolf transformation with a story of female maturation and the awakening of teenage sexuality.

Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle star and give amazing performances as fifteen-year-old sisters Brigitte and Ginger, outsiders who hate their surroundings, the dullness of  average life, and the superficiality of their high school peers, who they pride themselves on standing apart from. I think a lot of horror fans could relate to the personalities and attitudes of the sisters, I certainly could when I was a teenager. (So this was a contender for the "relate to" entry, if I hadn't gone with the behind the scenes approach and if I hadn't already had this selected for "favorite werewolf".) Some kind of ravenous beast has been terrorizing the canine population of the suburb they live in, and on the same night that Ginger has her first period - "kill yourself to be different and your own body screws you" - this beast steps it up to attacking humans, viciously mauling Ginger before getting splattered by a van driven by high school-cruising drug dealer Sam (played by Kris Lemche, providing the film with another great performance). Brigitte rushes to get Ginger help, but Ginger manages to talk her out of telling anyone what happened, as her wounds are rapidly healing.

From then, the formerly inseparable sisters grow apart as Ginger simultaneously deals with puberty and werewolf infection, and what change is caused by which? Periods, cramping, hair growing in strange places, sexual interest in boys and confidence in her body... the growth of a tail, that one's probably the werewolf for sure... Knowing there's something lycanthropic going on here, Brigitte teams with Sam to try to find a way to save her sister before it's too late.

This is a truly great, intelligent film, I highly recommend it to horror fans of all sexes and anyone else interested in a dark, fun take on the subject matter.

Day 05 - Your favorite monster movie

TREMORS (1990)

The idea of the monsters in this film is a fantastic concept: large subterranean creatures, burrowing through the dirt like sharks swimming through the sea, hunting people by sensing the vibrations caused by movement, bursting up through the ground and capturing their prey with snake-like appendages that emerge from their mouths like tongues. Tremors hit VHS in mid-1990, when I was six years old, and the idea of these monsters, which went on to become known as Graboids, captured my youthful imagination. How can you escape from something if you can't move? This movie was a regular rental throughout my childhood and provided a great game to play: stay off the ground/floor, or the Graboids will get you. (Well, I called the monsters themselves Tremors until the first sequel corrected me in 1996.)

In addition to the brilliance of the monsters, Tremors has a great setting - the tiny, isolated desert town of Perfection, Nevada (population 14, plus a visiting seismology student) - and features one of my favorite cinematic ensembles, as the movie is full of likeable characters who have a very entertaining rapport with each other. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward take the lead as handymen Val McKee and Earl Bassett, one of the best cinematic buddy pairs there is, and the supporting cast includes Family Ties patriarch Michael Gross as the heavily armed survivalist Burt Gummer, who went on to become the star of the franchise.

There are two sequels, a prequel, and a 13 episode, one season TV series (which should've gotten a second season) and I like them all, but the original film is still my favorite of the bunch.

Tremors is one of the rare great horror films that I've been able to watch and enjoy with people who have no interest at all in watching movies of the genre. My grandmothers had no love for horror, they enjoyed watching Tremors. My father likes Tremors, I've watched it with him several times, and he usually refuses to watch horror flicks. It's just a really fun, awesome movie.

Day 06 - Your favorite vampire movie

My friend Jay Burleson made a vampire movie, Feast of the Vampires, available on Amazon or It'd be tacky to write about that here, especially since I have a co-producer credit on it, but there's a shameless plug.

At a point in '96/'97, I was watching From Dusk Till Dawn every day, often multiple times a day, until my view count for that film was way over one hundred. But that's not my pick for the day. In my opinion, the best vampire movie is:

MARTIN (1977)

An underrated, under-seen George Romero film which is one of his best, right up there with his Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. It's not the traditional vampire movie, in fact Martin may not even be a vampire. He certainly thinks he is, though, as does the old cousin who he comes to live with at the beginning of the film. The cousin calls him "Nosferatu" and threatens to destroy him if he kills anyone in their town, trying to keep him under control with garlic and crosses. But garlic and crosses don't affect Martin any more than the average person, sunlight doesn't burn him up, he doesn't have fangs, there's nothing supernatural on display here. As Martin says in my favorite line, "There's no real magic ever." The film is firmly set in the real world of the Pittsburgh suburbs, among junk yards and drug deals, with depressed and cheating housewives and people out of work. The only unusual thing about Martin is that he looks to be in his twenties but claims to be in his eighties, and occasionally he feels the urge to feed on human blood.

In a masterful, roughly 19 minute sequence in the middle of the film, we get to see how Martin operates when he feels this urge. He goes out into public, chooses a pretty woman, stalks her, learns her routines, and finds a way to sneak into her house one night, armed with syringes full of sedative. As careful and prepared as Martin is, in this instance things don't work out as he expected. Well shot, well edited, full of suspense, it's one of my favorite all time setpieces.

The movie is largely a character study drama, following the shy, quiet, naive Martin as he tries to fit in, dealing with the crazy old cousin who hates him, befriending his cousin's restless granddaughter, and interacting with a very depressed woman who lives in the area, while we're given a deeper look into Martin's mind through his call-ins to a late night radio DJ who refers to him as "The Count".

It's a great film, one that doesn't get near as much recognition as it should.

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