Guts and Grog Tooned Up

Friday, January 2, 2015

EKG's Top 10 Films

NUMBER TEN is a TIE from my two favorite living genre directors!!

DOG SOLDIERS (2002) dir Neil Marshall - This film can cure the common cold. Not kidding. The first time I saw it, I was feverish in bed with the flu. I was flipping channels and stopped on Sci-Fi to this fabulous Werewolf vs Army in Scotland story. The script is full of Geek BoyEaster eggs, action packed and the Make-up FX are very effective. After it was over I no longer had the flu! Seriously, no fever and my congestion was gone! Some people would call this a "Meta" horror film. I would agree to an extent. It is really a parody of a bunch of other genre films. But it has some great gore, violence and scares in its own right. Neil Marshall has since this film gone on to direct some other cool genre bending films like THE DECENT, CENTURION and the two Finale episodes of GAME OF THRONES.

SEVERANCE (2006) dir Christopher Smith – My two favorite living genre directors also happen to be contemporaries living in United Kingdom. They both did great interviews for the British Video Nasty documentary, btw. Smith is one of us. He geeks out on the same films we do. I chose SEVERANCE over many of his other great films because it's an example of the type of Slasher I like. Shocking Murders, Cannibalism, quirky characters, Boobies in the first ten seconds, terrorists, and Chicks with Machine guns. Did I mention boobies and chicks with machine guns?? The pace is fast and fevered with a dark humor which will carry through to it's silly over the top, but satisfying conclusion. For other awesome Smith films check out BLACK DEATH & CREEP.


RAVENOUS (1999) dir Antonia Bird - Is a perfect combination of multiple genres. A Western horror film set during the Mexican-American War, in a remote outpost. The troubled hero Guy Pierce saves Robert Carlyle after he mentions a Wendigo ate his whole party. When they travel to the spot...Things go INSANE!! I don't want to give you anymore than that but it's gory over the top Cannibalism fun. Not just Pierce and Carlyle, the whole cast is superb and it was a comeback role for 1980's favorite Jeffery Jones after he had some very dark dealings with California law enforcement. This film is unpredictable and you have no idea how it's going to end up or even who to route for.
Unfortunately this was the swan song for its director who died last October. She directed a lot of British television but only four feature films including PRIEST (1994), MAD LOVE (1995), and FACE (1997) also starring Carlyle. RAVENOUS is her masterpiece and I do not say this lightly. SHOUT FACTORY just dropped a fabulous Blu Ray of this title just this June! Seek the film out and just roll with its turbulent psychopathy.


THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) dir James Whale - Not all the Universal Monster movies stand up to time. They are a product of their era's environment. A lot of this had to do with the paper thin plotting. DRACULA (1931) and THE MUMMY (1932) suffer the most, clinging onto the charisma of its cast for dear life. BRIDE does has a few of these dated moments, but what surrounds them is a story as timeless as infinity. Despite the make-up you can see right into Karlof's soul. You want to protect him despite his trespasses. The art direction has influenced filmmakers far beyond the genre and the Gothic imagery became the standard for all to follow. This was my first horror film and I think that was good. Because I learned early that the monster is never really the villain of the story, the humans are.

THE WOLFMAN (1941) dir George Wagner – There is not a dated moment in WOLFMAN. Yes, the FX were groundbreaking for the time. But that is not what I'm really talking about. WOLFMAN is the best of the Universal Monsters and single handedly created the modern Lycanthrope legend as we know it. People know the mythos of the Wolfman so well, over the years; it has almost evolved in to real folklore. Sure WERE WOLVES OF LONDON (1935) was first and shape shifting is one of the oldest mythos on the planet. But the pentacle, full moons, silver, the gypsy curses, are really all directly influenced by this film. The story is beautiful and tragic. The shadows dance is some of the most beautiful cinematography set to black and white film. Then there is the fabulous cast and of course our original brooding anti-hero Lon Chaney Jr. This was the film that showed me make-up FX is an art form and a skill. To this day THE WOLFMAN is still the most sympathetic yet scarily unpredictable creature of Universal catalog. It was the first horror film I showed to my daughter at three years old. She was scared but loved the film and wanted to see it again. The exact right reaction.


THE BLOB (1958) dir Irving Yeaworth – So why is this film about a large evil alien jello mold one of my favorite films?...The director and the writers hot off working for the government, making WWII “education” films, decided combine forces and create an independent film studio. They used the skills they learned making propaganda to create their first film and one of most iconic monsters in film history. But most people miss the point of this film. Sure there are a “creeping red menace” devouring unsuspecting people. Believe it or not that in incidental to the story. The real villain once again is not the the Blob or communism but the resentful neglect of the parents in this small Pennsylvania town. You have to put this film in historical context. 1958, is 14 years after the war. The teens of the town are now the same age their parents were when they went to war.  These teens are living in a time of prosperity that was created by their parents but they never got to enjoy themselves. This leads to a lot of the greatest generation to relive a second childhood in their late twenty early thirties. With an exception of a couple of adults, these people totally ignore their kids by partying because of, or brooding about, their lost past. One character even exclaims that these kids hate him because he has a war record. Meanwhile these people who are supposed to protect their kids are slowly losing them to this creeping gelatinous extraterrestrial. This is a cautionary tale about taking people we love for granted and self-centerness. Steve McQueen gives a hilarious yet compelling performance as the oldest teenager ever to look thirty. The special FX are fun and of course who doesn't love the wonderfully inappropriate theme song written by Burt Bacharach himself. Sure it's campy now but people were actually terrified of this film back in the day. That's because like them, it was a product of its time and a story they totally related to. Maybe we laugh some now but I still appreciate the influence this film had on modern horror film making. And the story is a pretty darn good one. SUPPORT INDEPENDENT CINEMA!!


NOSFERATU: PHANTOM der NAUGHT (1979) dir Werner Herzog – Released in American as NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE, its not really interested in the sex appeal of its titular lead actor (though there is plenty). And this is not a pure remake of 1922’s Nosferatu either. Herzog uses his skill craft and explores things that the 1922 original, the 1931 Dracula and original novel only hints at yet he still completely honors the source materials. While most people dwell on the love triangle between the Harkers, Dracula and all the blood drinking, Herzog explores some of the other plagues that a Vampire brings with them just be their very presence, namely insanity and pestilence. Dracula has dominion over vermin and the mentally frail and it’s all on display here. The film is filled with visions of lunacy, rat infested streets, despair and loneliness. But that is not to say that Herzog’s Dracula is not sexy. In fact he is probably the sexiest Vampire ever put to film. He is physically repulsive but underneath Herzog’s friend and rival Klaus Kinski emotes an alluring compulsion that is hard for even the audience to resist. This film is a fevered sex dream filled with desolation and hopelessness. HEADS UP, The American cut is shorter but both cuts are quite good. I do recommend the German cut over the American. However make sure you are not sleepy when you watch this. The bleakness of the piece makes it tough for audiences not fully invested. Do invest in this masterpiece.

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE (2000) dir E. Elias Merhige – For decades, rumors circled the famous film shoot of 1922’s Nosferatu including several odd disappearances of members of the crew. Many people to this day even believe that actor Max Shreck was a real vampire. This film expands on these ideas to amazing terrifying results. This fictional telling of the real life people who created the 22 original is full of geek favorites playing their childhood heroes. Add to that a cracking screenplay; sharp direction and cinematography. The result is just mind blowing. John Malcovich plays F.W. Murnau, a director obsessed with perfection to the point; he actually hires a real life vampire to star in his film. The results are about as positive as you can imagine. People are coveted, then murdered but nothing will stop this director from making his masterpiece.  William Defoe plays Schreck and while he is as lonely and as desperate as Klaus Kinski, he far more frightening and unpredictable. But is he really the villain? He was living a very private life and here this director gives him a chance to make his lonely immortality a little less so. But Schreck is ruled by his nature and with each death he becomes even more remorseful and dangerous. In the end all he really wants is some attention, a very human notion. None of this matters to Murnau. The director’s passion leads him to makes choices that ends with an extremely disturbing finale for everyone and no one comes out unscathed. It is a total gut punch. This battle of two wills is heartbreaking and still haunts me. And I hope it haunts you too in the best possible way.


A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987) dir Chuck Russell – This film is lighting in a bottle. It’s a perfect mix of young talent, ambition, luck and amazing risk to create arguably the best Slasher film of the 1980’s. Chuck Russell (THE MASK) badgered the disillusioned Wes Craven until he relented to give the franchise another go. They hired the young untested but amazing Frank Darabont to write the screenplay and a cast of fresh up and comers teens, along with some character actor favorites, to round out the adult cast. The result of course is the stuff of legend and the highest grossing independent film of the time. 
I was at a sleepover in 1988 the first time I saw it. M friends were so scared of Krueger that they would turn the sound off during the dream sequences. So I saw the film the first time without hearing a single drop of Robert Englund’s infamous dialogue. But the film is so visually appealing that it did not matter. The story holds and does not crutch itself on the quirks of its villain to keep you watching. Most of the good guys are equally charismatic and most of the characters are extremely likable. Many people watch Jason for the elaborate bloody kills. Here you watch to see how Freddy will attack but you also hope that they kids fight back and triumph, a rare thing in Slasher. Even most of the adults, while completely ill prepared, are at least trying to help even if it’s way off the mark. I have always admired how strong the female characters are in this one.

This film also covers many of the same themes about adults and children that THE BLOB (Chuck Russell directed the remake in 1988, btw) does but with a modern twists of drug abuse, depression and teen violence. Teen suicide was major topic in the 1980’s and this film never shies away from the topics at hand. But it is never too heavy handed, this is a Slasher after all, but it’s still very thought provoking, in a sub-genre that is not really know for having a definitive message. There are positive messages about finding yourself, sacrifice and why faith matters even if you do not believe in the almighty. DREAM WARRIORS is smarter than it had any right to be. Before I saw this film I felt the Slasher sub-genre was just a repetitive boring messy scriptwriting with an occasion cool make-up FX. DREAM WARRIORS changed that notion for me and I am a better person for it. You can never judge a film by its bloody VHS cover. Cool scripts and smart film making can appear in the most unlikely of places. And it also made me an instant fan forever of Robert Englund (though I saw V first and already liked him), Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Laurence Fishburn and Patricia Arquette. SUPPORT INDEPENDENT CINEMA!


DOLLS (1987) dir Stuart Gordon , produced by Charles Band – There are not many horror film I watch that still constantly give me the willies. I am not even afraid of dolls but I am always creeped out by DOLLS. I love Grim’s fairy tales and love when horror films have dark fairytale elements. DOLLS is a morality play, another film about the divide between adults and their children. But this time the adults are the ones that will suffer for their trespasses. Film starts out with the classic “storm strands a car, and oh look there is a castle” routine. But what comes after is all movie magic with dark and stormy nights, evil dolls, witches and some really freaky kills. The owners of the house are doll makers and witches. Woe to anyone that does not appreciate their craft or the little joys of childhood. The porcelain dolls of this film are a combination of puppetry and stop animation and are disturbing when on camera. And when you break one…well it just wigs me out. But even when they are not on camera Gordon uses sound to make sure that you know they are always watching. Whispers in the dark are sometimes even scarier than screams.

There are no major stars in the cast but they are a pleasant group of character actors that are fully committed to this dark fantasy. Fun fact, one of the punk rock chicks starred in the Ah-ha “Take on Me” video which also happens to be a parody of another horror film ALTERED STATES.

This film just hits all the right notes. Sure you have all seen and love RE-ANIMATOR. But to me DOLLS is just one of those special films that’s better than the sum of its parts. It could have been just another Charlie Band Puppet Master film. Instead we get a truly spooky movie, with a disturbing villains, great sets, scripts, FX and cast, created by a true Master of Horror.


ZOMBIE or ZOMBIE 2 (1979) dir Lucio Fulci – I’m a little late to the party when it comes to Italian Horror. And it’s hard to believe that until the beginning of this century, getting uncut copies of Fulci films was really hard. But now that his films are widely available, if you have never seen this or any of his other works, do it soon.

There are no metaphors or message here. And the dubbing and acting can be laughable at times. But this film is short, sweet and to the point. You don’t have to wait very long for a zombie attack. ZOMBIE takes place in a rather rather ingenious local, a Caribbean island local that adds to the foreboding with its decaying medical laboratories and spooky Voodoo cemeteries. People are eaten, die and rise again, that’s it. This is just a pleasant undead romp in the Jungle, exploitation entertainment at its finest complete with blood and gory filling almost every frame. It’s not quite as gory as Fulci’s latter works but it contains probably my single favorite gore FX that is not in a Bruce Campbell film. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you will when you see it.

Fulci was known for not being the soberest man on set. But not all great men are great, they hire great people. And with Zombie, Fulci had a great support crew.  The zombies themselves are my absolute favorite zombie design. Giannetto De Rossi had no budget and used even clay sometimes for the make-up FX. But what we get are zombies that look and move like animated decomposing corpses and not living people, in light make-up, stumbling around in the dark. And the score work of Fabio Frizzi just adds the perfect accent to this charming story about Flesh Eaters.

If you don’t have a Blu ray player, I recommend the BLUE UNDERGROUND release on DVD. Make sure to watch the 91 minute NOT THE 89 minute cut. Believe me those extra 2 minutes matter. Because without them you will miss the finale to my favorite gore FX ever put to film. And well you also will miss a small segment of ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK too!!! Can’t have that can we?


EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (1982) dir Sam Raimi – Once upon a time some suburban Michigan boys managed to raise a small film budget to shoot a movie in a cabin in Tennessee. That horror movie takes the early 1980’s by storm with people equally loving and maligning it. It even becomes a British Video Nasty but the passionate director successfully fights it off the list in court. More people notice the talent and ambition of these young boys and it’s decided to give these kids more money to do a sequel. But instead of a sequel, this group makes an upgraded version of the original and creates the equivalent to horror film heaven for millions of people across the globe. It even created a Man-God in its lead actor.

You may wonder why I prefer EVIL DEAD 2 over the groundbreaking original. In truth at one time the original could have been here instead. Even ARMY OF DARKNESS could have been in this spot for a part of my life. It’s a testament to Raimi and his motley crew that he created three amazing films that will hold up for generations. But when it comes down to it, the one of the trilogy that is the best made film, by far is the second one. The camera work, the editing, the score and the comic timing gel this into one of the most outlandish films ever put to celluloid. ED2 always feels fresh because Raimi was able to somehow transfer his own passion and excitement to every frame, budget be damned. He is literally a magician with a camera. And well with Bruce Campbell in front, anything is possible.

You all know how good this film is. ED2 is also a favorite because it is the most approachable horror film to non horror audiences. You think that this would be true for AoD. But that is played closer to comedy. ED2 is a horror film first and a comedy second. It’s an excellent ice breaker into the world of gore. I showed this film to my parents and people who only prefer classic monsters. I will show this film to my daughter when she is old enough. I have played this film for people in dormitories. This film demands an audience and I am happy to oblige.



DEAD ALIVE aka BRAIN DEAD (1992) dir Peter Jackson – One Halloween, I rented a film that a local newspaper, in Berkeley, CA, kept going on and on about, using words like “visionary”. It also mentioned the most blood used in a film ever. So I picked up this film directed by a kiwi named Peter Jackson, worried about what I was going to see…
It just knocked me off my feet from frame one. I had never seen a film this gory before. Still haven't. Heck in this film the gore becomes a character. This not a metaphor; actual sentient zombie entrails gets its own story arc. This film is balls to the wall and could easily have become an incoherent mess. But with Jackson on the helm and the awesome power of WETA Workshop, this Zombie romp is one of the grandest, grossest times I have ever spent.
WETA and Jackson brought two great things, fantastic production and witty writing. The zombie design is unlike anything I had ever seen before and still rivals all films since. They use a combination of everything from make-up, stop animation and practical puppetry, to bring to life the undead of all shapes and sizes. The writing team has a dark sense of humor about its own outrageousness but never quite mugs directly at the screen. A parable on growing up and leaving home, this film is funny as hell but is no spoof. So yes, it may be a comedy but to the characters it’s their worst nightmare. You end up caring for everyone despite how horrible some of the human characters are. This situation is something you would never wish on your own enemy or insane family member. The comedy touch is much needed and so well timed that you can almost stomach the gruesome carnage. If this was straight horror, it would be too unwatchable. Jackson understands, even if you want to torture your characters, you should never torture your audience (At he least did until THE HOBBIT). However it’s perfectly fine to make them squirm like little girls and maybe even vomit.
This movie crosses limits that are rarely traversed even in horror, including a guy cutting himself out his own mother womb, a zombie priest defiling a zombie nun, and a woman regurgitating a German Sheppard. This is one of the only films to ever make me gag. That is why it wins. Even this jaded film geek was handed her ass on a platter. And it wasn't the guy getting his rib cage ripped out or the zombie baby ripping a girl's face from the inside out. It wasn't even when the zombie that showed his victim her own heart as she died. No, the moment that made me nauseous was a simple blood gag. And as I choked, Jackson walloped me with something far worse. To this day I cannot eat anything that looks like yellow custard without flashing to DEAD ALIVE.
I could go on and on about DEAD ALIVE. I am so glad that I stumbled across that article in a cafe on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, CA. Because after I read it, right across the street, the poster starred at me in all its depraved glory. DEAD ALIVE was the beginning of a love affair with amazing director. A man who clearly speaks to me and later went on to make my favorite books of all time into the greatest fantasy trilogy ever put to film. And it all started with a horrid little Sumatran Rat Monkey who bites a very nasty old lady. (Jackson and I will have a discussion about THE HOBBIT later.)

-Elizabeth  Katheryn Gray

 Make sure to check out EKG's yearly Halloween Film marathon competition. The Madness.

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