Crash Analysis: Damned Dozen: The Best Horror Sequels

final-destination-5No other genre has as many franchises as horror. And as we all know, whether commercially or independently produced, if a horror film does even remotely well, there’s a chance we’ll see at least two more of them – at least.

Oddly enough, horror is a tough genre. Most movies can’t stand on their own because they lack story and/or are poorly made. Granted, there are many films fans of the genre will disagree about, but quite often conversation comes down to one movie or another and its sequels. Though most sequels are despised because they are watered down versions of the original, some stand tall, maybe even taller than the original.

Here’s my list, for better or worse, that got it right.

 

Day of the Dead (1985) – 3 stars

Some complain that this third installment from George A. Romero in his much loved “Dead” series is a bit too talky, but that’s the point. Unlike the first two action based movies, this one centers on the drama surrounding a military outpost. From many reports, Romero couldn’t secure the budget for a bigger venture, so he went into the Wampum Mine near Pittsburgh and made this claustrophobic horror happen.

 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) – 3 stars

Much maligned by some “Halloween Purists”, this film fits right in with John Carpenter’s original intention for the series: to make a new “Halloween” film each year. Yes, the robots are a stretch, but this first horror movie from writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace has a chilling premise as a druid tries to unleash his power, and star, Tom “Thrill Me” Atkins rocks his role. Enjoy the suspense because, as of this posting, there’s only 284 days to Halloween…

 

The Human Centipede III (2015) – 3 stars

This is a much hated capstone to Tom Sixx’s creepy-crawlie franchise of mad scientist mayhem, but actor Dieter Laser brings the intensity as if he consumed the spirit of Dennis Hopper from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The comedy, satire, and carnage come to a master mixx of blood and sarcasm in an American prison gone mad. The great thing is that Sixx doesn’t take himself seriously and purposefully went over the top, and out, with a naked dance.

 

Inferno (Italy, 1980) – 3 stars

Part of Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, this element features the Mother of Darkness (Mater Tenebrarum). The film works on many levels thanks to wonderful color and cinematography from Romano Albini, and lighting and special visual effects from the renowned Mario Bava. Yes, from the beginning the story lacks structure and remains convoluted. However, this orientation (or disorientation) only adds to the terror as we fall deep into a coven of witches.

 

Leprechaun 3 (1995) – 3 stars

With a strong story, thanks to screen scribe David DuBos, the great Warwick Davis finds himself immersed in a solid adventure for a change. But making wishes in Las Vegas with a leprechaun’s coin may not be the smartest move in the world, which keeps the tale moving in laughs and gore. The acting is anchored by the fabulous Caroline Williams (who will appear in this year’s Blood Feast remake) in this fatal adventure in “Sin City”.

 

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991) – 3 stars

If you have to see one of Charles Band’s Puppet Master movies, this is the one. Directed by the prolific genre helmsman, David DeCoteau, with a story from C. Courtney Joyner, we have a tight tale of Nazis, puppets, and horror. Better yet, the villain is the always stellar Richard Lynch, and the cast also includes the great Guy Rolfe as Toulon, as well as Ian Abercrombie. All three are gone, but they live on in this Full Moon Production.

 

Wishing Stairs (South Korea, 2003) – 3 stars

Two friends, played by Ji-hyo Song and Han-byeol Park, study ballet at an out of the way boarding school with an interesting staircase of 28 steps – because if one counts up to the mysterious 29th step, which may suddenly appear, she gets a wish that is a far cry from being free. One of only two films from director Jae-yeon Yun, he successfully nails the ghostly creep factor thanks to great acting and Jeong-min Seo’s cinematography.

 

Evil Dead II (1987) – 3.5 stars

A retelling of the 1981 original, or a sequel rehash? Who cares. Superior to the first film, and devoid of Army of Darkness’s silliness, the most excellent Bruce Campbell reprises his role of Ash and takes on the demons from the skin covered “Necronomicon.” Relentless gore and comedy keep the movie rocking in groovy fashion as Sam Raimi and his 1973 Olds deliver his best work – ever. You can even find his brother Ted as zombie Henrietta. Hail to the King, baby!

 

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (UK/USA, 1988) – 3.5 stars

No one believes poor Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) about the Cenobites and the bloodbath they’ve left behind, so she finds herself in a psychiatric hospital. This is where bizarro Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham) resurrects her evil (or single minded?) stepmother (Claire Higgins). Soon the puzzle box is opened and the surreal realm of Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is revealed in Salvador Dali like fashion. Enjoy the terror trip.

 

Saw II (USA/Canada, 2005) – 3.5 stars

The entire Saw series, including its mistake ridden original, tried to outdo itself with convoluted time shifts and wilder traps, but this is the only segment to get it all right: from fear and isolation, to group dynamics and a mental chess playing mastermind in John Kramer (Tobin Bell) out to teach lessons to those who have squandered life. The movie is a twisted adventure of physical torment and psychological hardship from director Darren Lynn Bousman.

 

Final Destination 5 (USA/Canada/Hong Kong/Singapore, 2011) – 4 stars

Once again, we find a group of young people who cheat Death and struggle to survive as they are brought back into the folds of its moth-eaten coat of rot. Unlike the other stories in the franchise, this one is well-rounded, inhabited by interesting characters, and the movie incorporates the best suspenseful death scene in the series. Better still, the unexpected ending is clearly worth a rental for those fans who like a turn for the worst with their horror features.

 

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) – 4 stars

A new family, a new video, and a box of old VHS tapes, brings us some creepy footage and an accompanying array of scares. Cinematographer Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) moves in with his girlfriend Julie (Lauren Bittner) only to discover that her daughters’ imaginary friend Tobi might be a real, evil entity. The pace is strong, the characters solid, and those elements of fear keep on coming.

 

Outside of the genre, I have one sequel that is a guilty pleasure I cannot do without, and that’s Richard Roundtree’s Shaft in Africa (1973). Yes, it’s a 3.5 star favorite as Shaft finds himself overseas trying to break up a modern slavery ring out of Paris – and it rocks! So what are your favorite sequels? Better still, do you have a favorite franchise? If so, let me know in the comments section so we can talk about. After all, there are so many damn sequels, I’m sure I’ll face palm myself over some of your choices.

Remember to catch the latest episode of THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast every Sunday night at 9 PM ET, right here or on iTunes. Cohost Jonny Numb and I promise to bring you worthwhile shows serving as forays into the uncanny – and beyond.

Crash Reports: Most Under-rated Horrors (Part II)

Here are other fantastic tales sorely overlooked by the horror loving masses. Each film 51ioHzflhFLhas merit, and should be seen at least once by the discerning viewer who is either looking for something different, or at least a great twist on an old theme.

 

Baba Yaga (Italy, 1973) – 4 stars

A cool witch film with rockin’ hipsters of the era without the arrogance.

 

Dolls (1973) – 4 stars

An often overlooked story from RE-ANIMATOR’s Stuart Gordon.

 

Whispering Corridors (South Korea, 1998) – 4 stars

Another ghost revenge film from Asia, but this one is layered and intriguing.

 

Fausto 5.0 (Spain, 2001) – 4 stars

A former patient promises a doctor the moon and stars, and reality falls apart.

 

Maléfique (France, 2002) – 4 stars

Four prisoners find an ancient tome of Black Magic and try to escape jail.

 

Dead End (France/USA, 2003) – 4 stars

Take a “Twilight Zone” road trip with Ray Wise and his family.

 

The Dark Hours (Canada, 2005) – 4 stars

A psychiatrist and her family endures a twisted attack from a sex offender and his protégé.

 

Reincarnation (Japan, 2005) – 4 stars

An actress loses herself when filming a horror about a genuine murder spree.

 

Mad Cowgirl (2006) – 4 stars

A dying woman, played by the great Sarah Lassez, goes through a mind-blowing, surreal trip.

 

Blood Car (2007) – 4 stars

This quirky, over-the-top horror should become the next big cult film.

 

Borderland (2007) – 4 stars

Loaded with foreboding, a cult in Mexico attacks American travelers.

 

The Broken (France/UK, 2008) – 4 stars

A dark tale of one’s reflection starring Lena Headey in the best of the After Dark series.

 

The Ruins (USA/Germany/Australia, 2008) – 4 stars

An interesting premise far removed from traveling college kid triteness.

 

Carriers (2009) – 4 stars

Escaping an infection that’s annihilating humanity is no easy task.

 

Lo (2009) – 4 stars

Sarah Lassez returns in a dramatic tale where her boyfriend takes on demonic forces.

 

The Caller (UK/Puerto Rico, 2011) – 4 stars

Strange phone calls plague a woman, and the uncanny is unleashed in bizarre fashion.

 

Little Deaths (UK, 2011) – 4 stars

A twisted anthology held together by sex, gore, and cinematography.

 

Midnight Son (2011) – 4 stars

An artist with a strange skin condition needs human blood to sustain him.

 

Wake Wood (Ireland/UK, 2011) – 4 stars

A pagan ritual, with strict rules, brings a daughter back from the dead – for now.

 

Mortal Remains (2012) – 4 stars

The dark story of filmmaker Karl Atticus, who supposedly used real corpses in his films.

 

Dark Skies (2013) – 4 stars

A strong presence from above brings hell to a family.

 

Frankenstein’s Army (Netherlands/USA/Czech Republic, 2013) – 4 stars

This is not a campy farce, but a rocking fantasy action horror of demented proportions.

 

Jug Face (2013) – 4 stars

The unique premise, great acting, and stellar music, makes this a future cult fan favorite.

 

Leave a comment about your favorites that seem to be under-appreciated. After all, I haven’t seen every horror film and I’d love to find some great work that may have slipped by me.

(Photo from Movieiwatch77.)

Crash Reports: Most Under-rated Horrors (Part I)

Putting together a most under-rated horrors list is not an easy task, especially when one grace011209needs to define the parameters. Instead of focusing on a critical or a popular lack of appeal, I chose to do a culmination of both for this list. In addition, I did not include the many films that may be hard to get, such as POSSESSION (UK, 1980), yet have a strong, and well deserved, cult following. Moreover, TRICK ‘R TREAT (2008) may not have appeared in theatres, but it had one of the most successful direct to video launches of all time, and has been well received by critics and horror fans. Cult favorites and inspiring direct to video horrors are two future lists.

For whatever reason, due to poor distribution, a lack of international exposure, or simply because the film was lost in a sea of other horrors, the following amazing movies may not have received the attention they deserved. Maybe this is why 75% of the list comes from the 2000s. As time marches on, I have no doubt that many of the films from the 2000s will find larger and more appreciative audiences. Then again, some movies may have been under-respected, yet are worthy of another look.

The list begins with the best of the best, and includes some brief comments. For those four star movies, a “one-liner” will hopefully whet your appetite. Either way, all of this films should be given a whirl:

 

The Last Wave (Australia, 1977) – 4.5 stars

Peter Weir’s dramatic tale follows lawyer David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) as he defends five Aboriginal men in a case of murder. What he uncovers, however, is a prophesy that may lead to an Apocalypse.

 

Habit (1995) – 4.5 stars

Writer, director, and star, Larry Fessenden brings us the story of a New York City man whose new girlfriend may be a vampire. The dramatic tension and realism, makes the supernatural probability all the more potent and unsettling.

 

Office Killer (1997) – 4.5 stars

With Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald, and Jeanne Tripplehorn, it’s amazing how Cindy Sherman’s witty and comedic thriller ended up almost lost and forgotten. The tale is dark, and sometimes disturbing, but shines with excellent characters and dialogue.

 

Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan, 2000) – 5 stars

Many seemed to write this one off because it’s anime. But it’s one of the most visually stunning anime features you will ever sink your teeth into as you follow vampire hunter Saya on a US military base. Director Hiroyuki Kitakubo was the key animator for AKIRA (Japan, 1988).

 

Love Object (2004) – 5 stars

Desmond Harrington’s office worker can’t meet women, so he buys the best life-size doll money can buy. Then, of course, he meets a beautiful woman in Melissa Sagemiller. Now what the hell does he do? Rip Torn and Udo Kier round out the cast in this stellar and strange tale.

 

Shutter (Thailand, 2000) – 4.5 stars

Forget the mind-numbingly stupid US version. Directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom bring one great story with a car crash full of scares after a photographer sees strange images in his pictures after an accident.

 

The Uninvited Guest (Spain, 2004) – 4.5 stars

Claustrophobic and unsettling, Felix (Andoni Gracia) let’s a stranger into his home to use the phone – and the guy vanishes. If you hate the feeling that someone’s behind you, Guillem Morales’s film will do this to you from start to finish.

 

Premonition (Japan, 2004) – 4.5 stars

It’s a newspaper of death that will get you, but not with the silly punch sometimes associated with haunted items. Instead, a father does his best to find out what happened to his daughter, and how he can change her fate.

 

Isolation (Ireland, 2005) – 4.5 stars

Writer/director Billy O’Brien delivers a science fiction/horror that gets under one’s skin. And it all happens on one isolated farm where Dan (John Lynch) fights to keep a horror at bay that may destroy his farm – and all those around him.

 

Head Trauma (2006) – 4.5 stars

Lance Weiler, of THE LAST BROADCAST (1998) fame, does it again with an even more riveting film. Here, George (Vince Mola), returns home after a twenty year absence, only to suffer paranoid inducing nightmares after a head injury.

 

Red Victoria (2007) – 4.5 stars

Anthony Brownrigg wrote, directed, edited, shot, produced, and starred in this feature with a micro-budget. Sure, that’s a bunch of red flags, but he delivers a solid and witty tale with Arianne Margot leading him astray.

 

Sublime (2007) – 4.5 stars

Tom Cavanagh (George) will amaze as a man in a hospital who experiences terror in a bizarre alter reality. This horror fantasy will keep you guessing as well as freaked out, as George brings his fears to reality.

 

Grace (2009) – 5 stars

This masterpiece from Paul Solet is a clinic in character development and storytelling. Definitely one of the genre’s most underappreciated. Jordan Ladd stars as a mother with a major baby problem after the child miraculously comes to life after being stillborn.

 

The Skeptic (2009)

Starring Tim Daly, Tom Arnold, and Edward Herrmann, one would think this would be a comedy fest. Instead, the drama unfolds along with trepidation and paranoia in the face of the supernatural. Zoe Saldana also stars.

 

Antiviral (Canada, 2012)

Sure, it’s directed by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon, but it’s clear the young man earned the privilege due to his own skills and vision. The phenomenal Caleb Landry Jones stars as a man who will deliver your favorite celebrities ailments so you can feel close to them.

 

Excision (2012) – 4.5 stars

Richard Bate’s tale of a dysfunctional family with an even more dysfunctional daughter, will overwhelm you with wit, style, and theme. And even though the cast is wonderful, AnnaLynne McCord steals the show along with Itay Gross’s remarkable cinematography.

 

Resolution (2012) – 4.5 stars

If you’ve been looking for a horror that has one unique premise that leads to a mind-blowing end, this one’s for you. The acting’s solid, and the story unfolds in such a way, you will never know what’s coming around the corner.

 

Part II next week. In the meantime, I’d love to know what horror films you consider to be under-appreciated.

(Photo from Day of Woman.)

Crash Reports: The Best Spanish Horror Films

The great nation on the Iberian peninsula has brought many wonderful, surreal, and orfanato_ver12suspense-filled horrors. If you love quality stories, what follows is the very best of the last fifty Spanish horror films I’ve had the pleasure of indulging.

Granted, all writers and directors are different, but the cinematography of Spanish cinema is consistently wonderful: great color, shadow, and composition. Even if a particular film from Spain fails to capture my imagination, the photography still resonates. Regardless, the acting is usually passionate, and although this may be something we expect from Spanish culture, the characters created by the screenwriters typically have much depth – so what actor wouldn’t want to bring them to life?

Once again, like most European horror cinema, original stories are brought to the forefront, while production companies in Los Angeles wallow in remakes to save money. However, European filmmakers, for the most part, revere cinema as an art form and focus little on return of investment – the plague that haunts Hollywood. In the end, even if a quality Spanish (or European in general) horror fails to clean up at the box office, it will accrue accolades and money over time, while many American horrors fall by the wayside.

This top ten includes a horror from Spanish television, and two short films of intense proportions. I hope you enjoy the selections.

 

The Orphanage (Spain, 2005) – 5 stars

JA Bayon’s masterpiece is one exceptional dramatic horror. Starring the glorious Belén Rueda, she brings Sergio G. Sánchez’s tale of a mother in search of her missing son to life. The atmosphere is palpable, and the film heralds one of the most haunting scenes in cinematic history. If you love quality horrors, this is the one to watch. Hell, it even made me cry.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)

 

The Ninth Gate (France/Spain, 1999) – 4.5 stars

This severely under-appreciated Roman Polanski film is a horrific mystery of demonic proportions. Starring Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, and Emmanuel Saugnier, this bibliophile based story is one of my go-to favorites. With Wojciech Kolar’s spellbinding score and a phenomenal atmosphere, the movie never ceases to satisfy the curious.

 

The Uninvited Guest            (Spain, 2004) – 4.5 stars

Guillem Morales’ foray into creepiness unnerves the soul like few films do. After all, if you let someone into your home and they simply vanish, what would you do? Could they shadow your every move without you even knowing? And this is why I like squeaky floors and doors. If you love suspense, this is for you.

 

Aftermath (Spain, 1994) – 4.5 stars

This short film (30 minutes) by Nacho Cerdá is a disturbing venture when a morgue attendant violates and slaughters a corpse. Yes, this is one for gorehounds who should leave the movie more than satiated. Definitely not for the squeamish.

 

The Devil’s Backbone (Spain, 2004) – 4 stars

Guillermo del Toro loves to revisit themes associated with the Spanish Civil War, and this ghostly tale resonates on a grand scale. An unexploded bomb ticks the time away in the courtyard of the isolated orphanage, and young Carlos ruminates over a ghost’s prediction. Enjoy the suspense.

 

Fausto 5.0 (Spain, 2001) – 4 stars

This bizarre and surreal tale certainly leaves one on edge. In Fernando León de Aranoa’s scintillating story, a doctor on his way to a convention finds himself confronted by a man who claims the doctor removed his stomach eight years ago – and he promises to make all the doctor’s wishes come true. Enjoy the ride.

 

The Baby’s Room (Spain, 2006) – 4 stars

If you know the scientific experiment called “Schrodinger’s Cat” then you should love this intriguing tale that aired on Spanish television. Intelligent and gripping, enjoy the nightmare of a father searching for someone who may be out to harm his child – when he may just need to look in the mirror…

 

The Skin I Live In (Spain, 2011) – 4 stars

Antonio Banderas and the stunning Elena Anaya team-up in Pedro Almodóvar’s riveting story of a young woman held captive in a doctor’s home – think the bird in the golden cage. Interestingly, the lights are bright, but the tale is gripping and psychologically disconcerting. An extremely entertaining thriller.

 

Sleep Tight (Spain, 2011) – 4 stars

The phenomenal Luis Tosar delivers on a grand scale as a man on a personal mission to push everyone else’s emotional buttons to leave them morally destitute. With elements of THE UNINVITED GUEST, director Jaume Balagueró brings Alberto Marini’s script to life with enough suspense for three films. In addition, Pablo Rosso’s cinematography, and Lucas Vidal’s score, adds that extra edge of intensity.

 

Genesis (Spain, 1994) – 4 stars

Nacho Cerdá blows our minds with another short that captivates. Think “Pygmalion” – but this time, things go really wrong. Don’t miss this fantastic nightmare.

 

Other great Spanish horrors: Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (Spain, 2004), Horror Express (UK/Spain, 1972), Hipnos (Spain, 2004), The Abandoned (Spain/UK/Bulgaria, 2007), Shiver (Spain, 2008), [Rec] (Spain, 2003), and Exorcismus (Spain, 2010).

Over-rated or simply dreadful Spanish films: Who Can Kill A Child (Spain, 1970 – I can if they’re trying to murder me), Slugs (Spain/USA, 1988 – though it’s a fun ride!), Ghost Son (Italy/South Africa/Spain/UK, 2007), Giallo (USA/UK/Spain/Italy, 2009), [REC]3 Genesis (Spain, 2012), and Mama (Canada/Spain, 2013).