6WH: Week 4 - Netflix of the Undead

Not much of a planned theme this week except to say that I was going to clean out my Netflix Instant queue and watch some stuff that's been lingering on "My List" for far too long. These three are also somewhat recent films, all from the the past 5 years or so. And as it turns out, all three films were somewhat uncommon takes on the undead, whether they be ghosts or zombies. Many quibbles to be had about that sort of theme (especially given the "uncommon" nature and twists on familiar tropes of the first two of these), but hey, I'm going with it, and you should too.
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning (sorry, no vid online)
  • Shining (fake trailer)
  • Session 9 (trailer)
  • The Ward - Has there been a director who has fallen so far as John Carpenter? He went from genre-defining classics like Halloween and The Thing to worthless duds like Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. True, this happened over a long period of time, and Carpenter had a fantastic run in the late 70s and early 80s that only really tapered off in the mid 90s (with his last great film, In the Mouth of Madness (which is flawed, to be sure, but still wonderful). He's been largely absent from the filmmaking scene in this current century, turning in a couple episodes of Masters of Horror (of which only one, Cigarette Burns, is worth watching) and... this 2010 movie, his first in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite feel like a Carpenter movie; it's more like a traditional horror film that's going through the motions, and while there's no dramatic issues with the movie, it never quite congeals into something fantastic either. But if you're in the mood, it will get the job done, which is normally fine, but less than what we expect from Carpenter, you know what I mean? There's not much here that is indelibly Carpenter. Perhaps its the lack of Carpenter soundtrack, or the general cinematography, but it never quite gets that Carpenter ball rolling.
    All the boys love Kristen in The Ward
    The story is a typical one, set in an asylum where girls have been mysteriously disappearing. New girl Kristen (played by Amber Heard, who also played the titular character in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane from last week) quickly figures out what's going on and tries to protect some of the other girls. In a refreshing development, the orderlies and doctors are not completely evil rapist abusers (typical of this setup), though they clearly know something that Kristen does not. There is a twist at the end of this story, something that may not make complete sense (especially given the visual treatment) and is definitely not original, but works well enough so long as you're willing to go with it. Between the intro and the twist, though, the meat of the movie has a nice atmosphere and is reasonably well done. It leans too heavily on the "boo" moments and jump scares, while oddly eschewing a lot of opportunity for tension building. There are many sequences that could have been excellent stalk-and-kill scenes, but you get no inkling of the ghostly presence until it happens (as signified by a screech on the sountrack and a quick cut). As these things go, it's still reasonably well executed, and I actually kinda liked the ending (the last shot, in particular, is great), but this is no classic. Worth a watch for the Carpenter faithful, and it's fine, I guess, but perhaps Carpenter's early success is doing him no favors now. **1/2
  • The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. (short)
  • Hardly Working: Slasher (short)
  • Werewolf Women of the S.S. (fake trailer - extended edition)
  • Pontypool - The premise sounds a bit suspect: it's a zombie outbreak, but it's mostly set in a radio station where three people are simply trying to make sense of what's going on outside and broadcast that to the rest of the world. A "bottle" story certainly befits the horror genre's low budget roots, of course, and as we find out how the infection spreads, it quickly becomes clear that this is actually the perfect setting for the story.
    The thrilling radio booth
    The first act plays out as a great thriller. You've got no direct contact with zombies, you're just hearing first hand and second hand accounts from folks calling in, and the producers are trying their best to piece together a coherent story. Things start to escalate in the second act, with zombies actually showing up at the station. Some of these scenes are terrifying. Just very tense stuff going on then. We start to find out what's causing all this, and it's a novel take on the typical zombie fare. There's a lot of interesting discussion to be had about all of this, and the movie does a great job positing this sort of metaphorical tie to the real world without getting preachy or overly didactic. Unfortunately, I feel like the third act falters a bit. Basically, there's not much resolution here, it just sorta ends. Oh, there's an attempt at resolution, and I guess you could call it ambiguous, but it doesn't quite work as well as it could. This is apparently based on a book, so I wonder if it's more clear there than in the movie. Its origins in literature makes sense though, as a lot of the dialog feels, er, writerly (and I mean that in a good way, it's really well done) and Stephen McHattie (typically cast as a villain, but making an excellent lead protagonist here) has a great voice and delivers it all with aplomb (Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly also do well in supporting roles, but their dialog isn't as meaty). Regardless, despite the ending, I think this is very much worth watching and it actually might be one of my favorites of this 6WH... Definitely worth checking out, even if you're not a big zombie person (and for the record, I'm not). ***
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide To Murder (short)
  • Shaun of the Dead (trailer)
  • Slither (trailer)
  • Dead Snow - This movie can be summed up in two words: Nazi zombies. What else do you need, amirite? Alright, so we've got a typical horror movie setup: a bunch of kids (in this case, early 20 something grad students) head to a remote cabin for partying... and death! Other tropes are hit hard too. A creepy old man shows up to drop history on our unsuspecting heroes, plenty of slasher-like stalking sequences, and so on. The setting is great, all wintery snow and visible breath, but the tone is a bit all over the place. It's definitely got a goofy streak that I suspect would play well in a crowded theater, but watching it alone makes it seem a bit odd. Still, Nazi zombies.
    Nazi Zombies!
    Some amazing gore and the all out battle towards the end is great fun. Alas, the ultimate motivation of the Nazi zombies is a bit hokey (gold!) and inconsistent (there are folks who bite it that don't seemingly warrant Nazi zombie attention), and the ending leaves a bit to be desired (though the last shots are good). So yeah, I had fun with this, but it's not really pretending to be anything more than a movie with Nazi zombies in it. As gimmicks go, that's a good one, so I'd say it's worth checking out. **1/2
So there you have it. Three films down, 171 left in the queue. So much for cleaning out my list, heh. Stay tuned for a Final Girl film club review, moar Saw movies, and some feminist discourse on horror. Lots to come.