Crash Discussions: Bad to the Best of 2013’s Horrors

PodcastimageIt was a far from spectacular year for horror in 2013, but there were some standouts. Besides looking at the treasures, Billy and Jonny dive deep into the trash. Better still, we discuss those movies that received far too much praise and gave new meaning to “overhype.” Get ready to learn things you didn’t know about CARRIE, WORLD WAR Z, and THE CONJURING. And add lesser known independent features like FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, DARK SKIES, JUG FACE, and many more, to your watch list for the New Year.

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Crash Analysis: RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (Finland/Norway/France/Sweden, 2010)

The Best Holiday Horror of All Time

One strong story from start to Finnish…

I had put off RARE EXPORTS long enough. After all, Christmas horrors are usually rare_exports_official_poster_ennothing but slashtastic misadventures, and I wasn’t in the mood for another run of the mill tale about a wingnut in a Santa suit wielding an ax instead of a candy cane. Well, this film from writer/director Jalmari Helander (with some writing help from Petri Jokiranta and Sami Parkkinean – as well as his brother, Juuso who had worked on the idea), is one of the most intriguing foundations for a movie to come along in quite some time.

No, RARE EXPORTS is not a gorefest, but the suspense is palpable when a mining company working on the Russo-Finnish border locates what might be Father Christmas and decides to blast him out of the mountain. This turns out to be the equivalent of a Japanese team setting Godzilla loose. Pre-tween Pietari Kontio (played remarkably well by Onni Tommila) senses danger, and in his remote village where life is rough, he wants to get a better idea of what new thing might be coming.

The only problem is Pietari is a squirt, and a squeamish one at that. This doesn’t mean he’s your cliché ridden wimpy kid, he hasn’t earned his stripes to be considered one of the growing lads who should be paid much attention. In the meantime, he shuts his eyes when his dad (Rauno Kontio) slaughters a pig. It’s clear his father loves him, but there’s much to do, and with his wife since dead, that workload’s compounded by trying to raise a son who seemingly isn’t hellbent on becoming Paul Bunyan Jr. Although Pietari listens to everyone bigger or older from the village, he won’t cower or cry. After all, those miners are getting ready to unleash hell, so Pietari does what any kid with a brain does – he researches. Sure, the village is out in the desolate north, nipping along the edges of the Arctic Circle, but he’s got books, dammit, and he’s going to investigate. Because that beast bound up in the soil might just be hungry for children…

Helander amps the suspense at every turn, and the story moves along at a steady pace to keep you enthralled. Of course, since RARE EXPORTS has the distinction of being the most intriguing and unique of holiday horrors, it’s hard to look away. But it’s not just about the story or the great characters that inhabit the film.

Mika Orasmaa’s cinematography truly captures a frontier village in isolation, as well as the hardship of living life in perpetual cold. The colors, however, are not muted, but the tone definitely establishes one of daily drudgery due to monochromatic earth tones. Oddly enough, the director handled the production design, and the end result is a masterful one. Due to the environment, the village is as sparse as it is pragmatic, where everything feels half-done. After all, how can one complete anything, like a lovely home and yard, when there is serious work to do? Aesthetics be damned: the weather’s bad, and the basics of food, clothing, shelter – in their own basic elements – must come first. To add to the flavor, Juri and Miska Seppä provide the music that enhances the tale without getting in the way.

In this coming of age tale for Pietari, we’re left wondering what we’d do if we had to face adversity on a grand scale, especially one of the extraordinary kind. Could we pass the test? Whether he makes it or not, Pietari’s out to prove he has what it takes to do his father proud.

I’ve definitely seen one too many holiday horrors, and I still have a few more to go. But RARE EXPORTS is a rare treat indeed for the weary, and I have no doubt it will find a place in your collection. And it’s so good, when someone asks if you have a holiday movie to watch, this is the DVD you’ll pluck off the shelf.

Other great holiday horrors: Steven C. Miller’s SILENT NIGHT (Canada/USA, 2012), and Lewis Jackson’s CHRISTMAS EVIL (aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT) from 1980.

4 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

Crash Analysis: GRABBERS (UK/Ireland, 2012)

Grab it  – Before it Grabs You!

The UK’s best horror/comedy – take that SHAUN OF THE DEAD!

Upon a recommendation, from artist/teacher/Polish movie poster collector, Douglas McCambridge, I rented Jon Wright’s grabbers_ver6_xlgGRABBERS. From the posters it was clear I’d be in for a comedy creature feature, and I certainly needed a brain break from life, so I tossed it in and sat back. Little did I know the ride would be so entertaining that my troubles would be laughed away.

In GRABBERS, the lovely and polished Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is a Garda coming to a small Irish island to fill in for a couple of weeks. She soon meets up with her alcoholic partner, Ciaran O’Shea (Robert Coyle), and learns that much doesn’t happen on the fishing island. Until a storm comes in and brings with it a monster from outer space hellbent to feed on anything big – like humans. But Lisa never realized that the only way to save the island’s inhabitants would be to get as drunk as her partner.

Beautifully shot, thanks to Trevor Forrest, we’re ensconced in a small town environment without the usual tropes. Locals don’t give Garda Nolan the stink eye, and she doesn’t act too much like a fish out of water – just a cop that needs to take it down a notch. In Kevin Lehane’s well crafted script, characters are as idiosyncratic as one would hope without going into ludicrous territory. We can relate for certain, and laugh along with the islanders as they try to determine what the hell is snatching people from their homes, ships, and the pub.

The pace in GRABBERS is pretty quick, and once again, tropes be damned. Sure, Nolan and O’Shea have a hard time believing a town drunk about a sea monster, but in short order, everyone’s on the same page and searching for answers. Of course, due to a coming storm, they’re on their own, but they do understand that they have one weapon working in their favor: A drunk human makes the beast vomit. This idea came about during a hike Lehane once took. To keep mosquitoes at bay, he turned to alcohol. Ta da. GRABBERS was spawned, and in short order, he had backers and the whole production was in motion.

In the fishing village, the few in the know want to keep panic to a minimum, so they invite the locals to the pub for free drinks. Sure, Lehane played off of the Irish stereotype, but he’s from Cork and it’s all in good fun, so leave him the hell alone. While everyone’s getting drunk – but not too drunk, one hopes – the monster makes it move…

Yes, CGI abounds because a guy in a suit certainly wouldn’t cut it, but as director Jon Wright said, the special effects have come such a long way, he wasn’t afraid of giving it a go. Paddy Eason, the visual effects supervisor, and his fabulous team, did one hell of a great job in bringing the beast to life. In fact, some of the effects are downright awesome.

The balance of horror and humor is spot on. Unlike SHAUN OF THE DEAD (UK/France/USA, 2004), which bored the hell out of me, GRABBERS kept me in the perfect state of mind to enjoy every frame. Admittedly, at times I wish the movie had been serious, but with alcohol proving to be the bane of the creature’s existence, a more dramatic angle would have failed. Lehane chose the right path, and with Wright’s directing and an excellent cast and crew, the stars aligned. Some may know Wright from his comedy/horror TORMENTED (UK, 2009). That film had much potential but ultimately failed due to some jarring edits, far too many scene changes, and an often questionable storyline. But the director certainly grew from that mess and delivered a solid sea shanty.

Can our Garda heroes save the day? Will the small fishing village live to see another dawn – or another sequel? You’ll have to indulge in GRABBERS to find out. So if you like laughs with your decapitating monsters, give this feature a shot – of single malt Irish whiskey, that is. Thanks for the sorely needed entertainment therapy, cast and crew. I’ll definitely have another round, and I’m buyin’ Doug…

3.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Imp Awards.)


PodcastimageWhy do ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE? That’s what Billy Crash and Jonny Numb are trying to figure out. The long awaited release of Jonathan Levine’s 2006 horror is thoroughly scrutinized. We also talk about cult favorite DUST DEVIL, and the comedy/horror GRABBERS.

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Crash Discussions: Interview with Actress/Producer Maria Olsen


The renowned horror actress Maria Olsen takes time out from her hectic schedule to speak with Billy Crash about her projects, including her lead role in the upcoming feature, HADDIE. Maria talks about her roles on stage and screen, her favorite horrors, and even her celebrated ancestor, Rembrandt, as well as her fabulous comic book collection.

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Crash Discussions: Macabre Milestone: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (UK, 1973)

PodcastimageBilly Crash and Jonny Numb pay a visit to the Balasco House to synthesize the dark goings-on in the horror classic THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (UK, 1973), from Director John Hough and writer extraordinaire, the late, great Richard Matheson. Your co-hosts explore the acting, themes, music, Mayhem, and More, that make this one of horror’s greatest haunted house films of all time.

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Crash Analysis Support Team: EVIDENCE (2012) Guest Post from Paul J. Williams

A frustratingly interesting experience.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

EVIDENCE is a 2012 found-footage horror film directed by Howie Askins from a screenplay written by Ryan McCoy, who also stars as our amateur camera operator.

The set-up is a familiar found-footage trope: a quartet of attractive yuppies trek out toevidence_movie_poster the wilds and inexplicably disappear, leaving behind their video footage to later be found for our enjoyment, yet still oftentimes fails to leave any resolution. The group we travel out with this time is Ryan (Ryan McCoy), who’s filming Brett (Brett Rosenberg), and their two girlfriends, Abi (Abigail Richie), the shapely blonde, and Ashley (Ashley Bracken), the shorter brunette, covering all the bases for the younger-male-heterosexual audience. (And I don’t know why found-footage film-makers continue to use the actors’ real names as their characters’ names. For authenticity’s sake, I know, but in this day and age, give the audience more credit, please.

Whereas THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, [REC], CLOVERFIELD, et al. provide valid reasons for our cameraman/woman to be recording every single thing that happens, EVIDENCE’s script is a little lazier with the reason we’re seeing this footage: This is Brett’s first time camping and his buddy Ryan wants to document the experience. It should be noted Brett is probably a thirty year-old man.

We quickly travel out, via an R.V., to the beautiful mountain ranges of California. EVIDENCE learns from, in my humble opinion, the sins of a majority of found-footage movies: making us wait an eternity for something, anything, to happen. It’s only fifteen minutes in that we’re provided with our first scare, a daytime occurrence, too, that is very effective.

Prior to this first scare, and continuing on after, are the requisite arguments and dissention among our group. Some of the first act is uncomfortably close to BLAIR WITCH, but after viewing the film, I wondered if this was by design and they were just toying with the audience. Questionable acting skills and fair writing make these arguments feel very manufactured and unnatural. Some casting choices pulled me out of the film, too, which is always unfortunate, but especially when you’re passing off the movie as “real”. The group is visited in the night by a creepy vagrant-type. With his bright white teeth and chiseled features, this jumped out to me as clearly a handsome actor bummed up for the scene.

Once we get rolling, though, the movie is very enjoyable. There are plenty of jump scares and satisfyingly vague creatures that hunt them. One sequence reveals a creature on the R.V.’s reverse camera charging at the vehicle and it’s very creepy and well done.

Ultimately, the movie comes down to the third act, and it delivers, just not in the way I thought, or hoped. I was enjoying the glimpses and jump-scares in moderation. The finale offers creatures, government/military goons, blood, I don’t know what the fuck that was, zombies, gore; it’s all there and makes you yell out, “Holy shit!”. Yeah, there’s a complete shift in tone, pacing, and even genre to a point, but Askin’s direction and editing make for a non-stop, first-person shooter-esque experience. His skills are really on display here. We all know going in that we’re not about to witness the next “Wuthering Heights” or “Casablanca”. It’s a fun seventy-eight minute escape.

In a 2012 interview with the U.K.’s Daily Record, writer/actor Ryan McCoy states, “In January 2010, Paranormal Activity had just come out on DVD. I bought it, watched it and thought they had done so much in the set-up but somehow lost it at the end…I started thinking I could do a found-footage movie. However, my goal was to make it bigger with a last act no-one had seen before.”

Mission accomplished, my friend.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Paul J. Williams is a multi-award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director. He is also a decorated law enforcement officer of over seventeen years, having served as a Federal Agent and Police Officer in Newark, N.J.

(Photo from Zombots.)

Crash Discussions: Demon Dolls of Death, Episode 33

Creeped out by dolls? That’s why Billy Crash and Jonny Numb try to pull the strings on this oft used trope in horror cinema. From dolls to puppets, and dummies to mannequins, the pair revisit franchises from PUPPET MASTER to CHILD’S PLAY, and from DOLLY DEAREST to DEAD SILENCE – including some of television’s horror best. Find out why the fear of dolls exists, and why we can’t just look away from that damned doll that’s definitely looking at us.

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