A slasher stalks, the world ends, criminals invade, and a sickness is spread.
GIRL HOUSE (2014)
Directed by Jon Knautz and Trevor Matthews from a screenplay by first time feature writer Nick Gordon, the slasher Girl House is a movie that somehow snuck past me. I probably stumbled across the title at some point, but it wasn't until the movie had been out for more than a year before a couple references to it really captured my attention - in close succession, I read a Facebook post quoting the description that it's "Halloween for the digital age" and heard producer Cory Neal mention the movie on an episode of Adam Green and Joe Lynch's podcast The Movie Crypt. Once Girl House finally had my attention, it was only a matter of time before I'd be watching it.
I wouldn't directly compare Girl House to Halloween the way the marketing does, but it does have elements of the classic slasher formula, including the fact that it begins with an incident that occurs years before the events that follow. In 1988 Alabama, a young boy is humiliated by two girls in his age range and retaliates by brutally murdering one of them.
Years pass and this boy becomes a computer tech who spends his free time browsing internet porn. His favorite website is GirlHouse, which streams live video 24/7 from a secluded mansion inhabited by a bunch of frequently nude young women who give their viewers private webcam shows. Everything these girls do in that house, GirlHouse subscribers see, and the adult killer is logged in - screen name Loverboy - as often as possible, obsessing over the girls, imagining he is in a relationship with them. He even makes pictures that show him and the girls visiting locations around the world... while he's really just sitting in a basement.
When a new girl - American Reunion's Ali Cobrin as Kylie Atkins - moves into GirlHouse, she becomes Loverboy's latest obsession. Her presence in the house is also noticed by a former classmate, Ben (Adam DiMarco), who seeks her out and starts to develop a relationship with her. While Kylie and Ben actually go places together, Loverboy is embarking on an imaginary romance with her at the same time.
The trouble comes when Loverboy sends Kylie a picture of himself, almost daring her to make fun of his looks. She doesn't, Kylie is too nice to do something like that. Unfortunately, her housemates aren't so nice. When the picture of Loverboy accidentally ends up in the hands of the other girls, they turn against him, mocking him. We know that Loverboy doesn't respond well to being humiliated, and when he sees that his dream girls are making fun of him, he snaps. It's time to do some more killing.
The GirlHouse website is supposed to be unhackable, but Loverboy is too technologically skilled to be locked out. He shouldn't have even been able to send Kylie that picture in the first place, but when he's pushed over the edge it only takes him a matter of seconds to hack the site and locate the secret location of the girl house. Taking the face and hair off the mannequin he uses as part of his sexual fantasies and donning them as a mask, Loverboy goes into full slasher mode and heads off to the house to knock off the webcam girls one by one.
Girl House takes some time building up to the night when Loverboy attacks, time spent developing some of the characters and showing their interactions. We really only get the broad strokes when it comes to Kylie's fellow GirlHouse girls, but we get to know her, get to watch things blossom between her and Ben, and we get glimpses into Loverboy's life. It's just under an hour into the running time once the slashing really starts, but once it does it's quite satisfying.
Girl House is surprisingly good. Although I was interested in watching it, I didn't expect the highest quality from a slasher movie set in the world of internet porn, thinking it might be a glorified Skinemax schlockfest. But while the movie is a bit more bawdy than the average slasher - there is quite a bit of nudity, sex, and sex toys on display - it still handles the porn site material in a reasonably tasteful way. You don't have to be drooling over the girls to enjoy this movie. I watched it with my Remake Comparison collaborator Priscilla, and while she might have let out a "Here we go again" groan once or twice when female characters started to disrobe, she still enjoyed the movie overall.
If you're a fan of slasher movies, Girl House is definitely worth checking out. It's one of the better modern slashers I've seen.
I also have to give kudos to rapper Slaine for his performance in the role of Loverboy. He does a great job making that character and his obvious creepy insanity very believable.
2016 was a major breakthrough year for The Duffer Brothers (Matt and Ross), the duo behind the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. But before they created that awesome pop culture phenomenon they made their feature directorial debut with a post-apocalyptic horror movie called Hidden, which started filming in 2012 but wasn't released until 2015. While it doesn't have the '80s tribute element of Stranger Things, you can tell that Hidden came from the same creative force.
The story picks up 301 days after an apocalyptic event that has forced a family of three - father Ray (the world's latest Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard), mother Claire (Andrea Riseborough of Oblivion), and their precocious little girl Zoe (Emily Alyn Lind) - to live in an underground bunker. Although ravaged, the world above looks like it would be safe to venture into... if only it weren't inhabited by mysterious creatures the family lives in fear of, The Breathers.
Most of the film takes place within the confines of this bunker, showing the family's struggles with their isolated existence, dealing with things like food rations, vermin infestation, and an accidental fire. Because of the setting and subject matter, Hidden can sometimes feel like it's moving along at a rather slow pace, but the Duffers do a commendable job in trying to make sure there's always something happening.
As the film goes on, things get more and more desperate and dangerous for the family, and as things fall apart in the bunker the Duffers also provide more information on what happened to drive them into this place, showing flashbacks to the day when the world fell apart.
Hidden isn't something that's likely to connect with people to the degree that Stranger Things has, but it's a well-crafted, dark, intriguing story that's full of twists and turns that hold your interest even when things are moving slowly. Rest assured, that pace picks up in the second half.
I was familiar with Skarsgard and Riseborough before this, but this was my first time seeing Lind in anything and I was very impressed by her performance. For a little kid, she did an incredible job, and there was something about her acting and the depth she brought to her character that reminded me of Kick Ass era Chloe Grace Moretz. Lind has credits going back to 2008, and it looks like she's going to be an actress to watch for in the years ahead as well.
IF I DIE BEFORE I WAKE (1996)
Growing up, I would spend a month out of state every summer, staying at my paternal grandmother's house in Indiana. During that month in a different town I would, of course, frequent the local video store, seeking out interesting movies that I hadn't seen on the shelves of any of the stores in my home town. One of the movies I picked up at that Indiana video store sometime in the late '90s was director Brian Katkin's If I Die Before I Wake, and while this film seems to be rather obscure, I picked up a hidden gem that day.
Occurring over the course of one night and set entirely in and around the home of a family of five, the movie begins with the camera roaming through the rooms and halls of this house, showing what each of the family members are doing. The parents are asleep in their bed. Little Mary and teenage LoriBeth are both asleep in the room they share. Older teen Ben is at his computer, listening to music. Then, three minutes into the film, this peaceful night is disturbed in a major way when three criminals come busting through the front door of the house.
For the rest of the 77 minute running time, If I Die Before I Wake is a harrowing document of this family's horrific home invasion experience. The parents and Ben are subdued almost immediately, so the focus is on LoriBeth and her desperate struggle to keep herself and her little sister out of harm's way, to try to figure out a way to escape this situation and save her family.
LoriBeth has her work cut out for her, because a couple of these criminals - characters played by Anthony Nicosia and I Know What You Did Last Summer's Muse Watson - are two of the biggest scumbags ever put on film. Not only are they thieves, not only are they cold-blooded murderers, they're also filthy rapists who don't care what age or sex their victims are. These guys are just pure evil and get off on inflicting torment. The third of the group, played by Michael McCleery of the original Mother's Day, does have a trace of a conscience, but the good in him is greatly overwhelmed by the bad in his companions.
As far as I'm concerned, If I Die Before I Wake is one of the great overlooked horror movies, one I would highly recommend to any fan of the genre. It keeps the thrills coming non-stop throughout its fast and short running time, it gives you a heroine to root and worry for and pits her against absolutely detestable villains, and its acts of violence are deeply disturbing. It's a very effective cinematic nightmare, and watching it was an unforgettable experience for me. I went nearly twenty years between viewings, but that first viewing always remained very clear in my mind. Revisiting it, I found that this movie was just as good and troubling as I remembered.
This was Katkin's feature directorial debut, and he showed great promise with it. He has made some movies since, and while they are the sort of things I enjoy - schlocky action and horror - it is a shame that he didn't go on to have a bigger career. If I Die Before I Wake indicated that he could do more great things. Maybe he still will.
The following review originally appeared on ArrowintheHead.com
The latest horror film from Blumhouse Productions, Viral could be most easily described as "a zombie movie", but that would be doing it a bit of a disservice when it's entering a market that's overcrowded with flesh-eating ghouls. Viewers who want to see more shambling hordes of flesh-eaters won't get what they're looking for in Viral, as screenwriters Christopher Landon and Barbara Marshall have crafted something a little different from the average Walking Dead (or Night of the Living Dead) knock-off. A difference that begins with the cause for its mindless zombies.
The Worm Flu is a disease that is already sweeping across the globe as the film begins, although the full range of its effects has not yet been revealed. The known symptoms include increased appetite, fever, bloody cough, and seizures. It's not common knowledge that sufferers eventually fall completely under the control of the parasites squirming throughout their bodies, or that they purposely spread the disease by spewing worm-infested blood into people's faces.
To prevent the spread of Worm Flu across the United States, entire towns are being put under military quarantine, and that includes the desert community of Shadow Canyon, where teenager Emma (Sofia Black-D'Elia) has recently moved with her family. The Worm Flu situation is playing out on such a massive scale that Viral could have been packed with scenes of scientists trying to figure out a cure or of soldiers struggling to get things handled, but Landon and Marshall's story is centered on Emma. We only see her personal experience with Worm Flu, we mostly learn things as she learns things.
Even without Worm Flu going around, Emma has plenty of drama to deal with in her life. She's slowly trying to adjust to the new social scene she's been thrust into. She's pining for a boy named Evan (Travis Tope). Her sister Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) is such a pain that Emma refers to her as Lucifer. Her parents' marriage is obviously crumbling. Now she has to deal with people around her turning into the violent vehicles of worm parasites.
Emma isn't the greatest character, but to show this large scale disaster solely from her perspective was a good choice - it's more appealing to me to follow an average person through the situation rather than professionals, and a teenage girl is a solid choice to be that person, especially due to the inherent vulnerability of such a character. Emma's parents are out when things in Shadow Canyon fall apart and can't get back to her because of the military blockades, so this young girl has no adults or authority figures to rely on in this world of madness and zombies. When Stacey becomes infected, Emma takes it upon herself to do whatever is necessary to save her sister. Stacey may be devilish, but Emma truly does love her and care for her.
The main characters being teenagers does also allow for the film to feature more stupid decisions and naivety than it might have otherwise, which can drag it down a bit. Older characters wouldn't be likely to seek out a party in the middle of a quarantine, or to think that some packing tape and sisterly love can accomplish what the CDC couldn't. Viewers will probably be grumbling at the screen at different points because of these things. I certainly was.
The members of the cast, which also includes Michael Kelly as Emma and Stacey's schoolteacher father who makes an early exit from the film, all turn in fine performances, with Black-D'Elia doing a lot of the heavy lifting while Tipton provides some great support. This was my first time ever seeing Black-D'Elia in something, and she proved herself to be a capable leading lady.
Landon and Marshall's story was brought to the screen in a serviceable manner by the directing duo of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. They didn't knock it out of the park with this material, but they didn't drop the ball, either. This is Joost and Schulman's third film in the horror genre, following two Paranormal Activity sequels (parts 3 and 4), and while Viral is much more to my taste than the Paranormal films, I would still have to say that their best film remains their captivating 2010 breakthrough "Is this real or not?" documentary Catfish.
Of course, whenever a film has the living dead (or creatures strongly resembling the living dead) in it, the question has to be asked: "How are the zombies?" The worm drones aren't exactly impressive, but what makes them stand out from the pack is the fact that the worms don't rely on the human eyes of their hosts to find potential victims; rather, worms stick out of the host's mouth and ears to detect non-infected people. Through the worm element, Viral sometimes brings about The Faculty flashbacks, and these creepy, slithering things also provide some very gross moments.
Not just another movie about flesh-eating zombies but also far from a game changer, Viral is a decent way to kill 86 minutes. You might not remember a whole lot about it after it's over, but some of that worm imagery could burrow into your mind and linger there.