Archive for 2016

Smucky’s Favorite Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2016 was undoubtedly a strange, perhaps frightening year; and when it comes to horror, these qualities are quite promising. This was an incredible year for horror films. Reflecting on my favorites, I am reminded that I missed several of the best; yet I can’t resist writing about the ones I experienced. Thus, Smucky’s favorite horror films of 2016:

(For the record, the ones I regret missing are as follows: Under the Shadow, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2, The Untamed, Beyond the Gates, The Monster, Eyes of my Mother, and Evolution.)

9. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

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While I haven’t seen February yet (a continually delayed release), I couldn’t resist Oz Perkins’ sophomore feature. This poetic exploration of a haunted house is one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year. Perkins creates a mist-shrouded and cerebral atmosphere through magnificent imagery, patient revelations and musings on the afterlife that leave a lingering chill. It’s not a film to me, but a sensory immersion.

8. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

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Cliches and cheap scares aside – though these have their charms, too – André Øvredal’s return to the director’s chair is one of the year’s most original films. It builds its atmosphere of dread slowly, focusing on the mundane, and revealing its uncanny truths with the relish of a rotten advent calendar. With ingenious set pieces, stomach-churning suspense and an utterly terrifying villain, Jane Doe is a morbid blast.

7. GREEN ROOM

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I almost passed this one up; the premise sounded rehashed. And I have learned my lesson – this film cannot be missed. Jeremy Saulnier crafts both a masterclass in violent mayhem, and a layered character study. When your characters are so nuanced and realistic, it becomes even more disturbing when they die painfully. I will never enter a dive bar again without thinking of this film.

6. DEAREST SISTER

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Mattie Do is one of cinema’s most exciting new voices, and her second film is proof of her talent. This searing sociological ghost story is creepy, gruesome and disturbing, but not just because of the phantoms. Do’s exploration of politics, class, greed and family is rendered with brutal human realism. From a genre perspective, it’s entertaining and scary, but there is far more going on under the layers of flesh.

5. SOUTHBOUND

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Anthologies are tough to pull off; but the team behind Southbound seems to have it down to a science. With four stories that all exist in the same world – a purgatorial desert full of demons – the film adopts an atmosphere of the bizarre that harkens back to The Twilight Zone, while creating a dreadful experience all its own. I was enthralled by the environment, thrilled by the individual tales, and amazed by the film’s ability to end it with cohesion.

4. THE INVITATION

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Karyn Kusama is incredible; and this tense, utterly disturbing film is a reminder of her talent. A simple premise – a dinner party that begins dissolving into a cult gathering – becomes a deep and frightening exploration of grief’s effect on relationships. Being partial to Suburban horror stories and occult thrillers, this is right up my alley; and Kusama renders these elements brilliantly through her attention to suspense and character.

3. THE LOVE WITCH

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I adore this film for many reasons – it’s visually gorgeous and uses old school cinematic techniques with brilliance; it shocked me with its depth and tragedy; and it introduced me to the voice of Anna Biller. This lush, complex and upsetting thesis on objectification and sexuality could only have been crafted by Biller, whose attention to detail alone is mind blowing. As far as I’m concerned, she is one of the premiere auteur voices of the decade.

2. TRASH FIRE

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Not only does Richard Bates’ third film revive authentic Gothic cinema – satirical, pitch-black, and rich in grotesque imagery – but it broke my heart, then mended it (sort of) with its strangely empowering conclusion. Equal parts millennial comedy, familial horror and identity drama, this film surpassed my expectations in every way. It’s also one of the few horror films this year to feature a substantial queer character; let’s have more of that in 2017.

1. THE WITCH

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A standard choice, maybe, but it deserves the number one spot. Robert Eggers meticulously recreates a Puritan-era farm, populates it with characters who come loaded with neuroses and paranoias; then unleashes an utterly frightening supernatural force upon them. It’s unapologetically a horror film, a psychologically realistic one, that leaves the viewer harrowed and invigorated. I haven’t seen anything like it, and probably won’t anytime soon. It also introduces us to a new horror icon; who else has pledged their souls to Black Phillip?

In lieu of a 10th spot, I’ll list a few films that came out last year but I only saw recently; or films that haven’t technically been released yet, such as: the subdued and touching psychological thriller They Look Like People; Baskin, the decade’s coolest descent into Hell; a Lovecraftian effects extravaganza, The Void; and a film that both made me retch and blew my mind, We Are The Flesh.

 

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SMUCKY REEMERGES: Summer/Fall 2016 from the Grave

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by smuckyproductions

It has been a wild summer for Smucky – a lot of keeping my head down, digging deep, and creating content. A difficult summer, but an exciting one as well, leading into an ecstatic fall season.

This summer, I started officially working at the Stanley Film Festival and Film Center. My job requires knowledge and love of horror films – a dream (nightmare!) that I never expected to come true so soon in my (after)life. Keep your eyes peeled for updates on this as well – we’re moving forward fast.

With a new job and a new location (from New York City to Estes Park, CO), I had little time to update this blog. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I have a number of novels and short stories in the works, some revised and some just coming to existence. I also completed a new short film – an homage to 70s Eurohorror called BACCHUS, which is awaiting verdicts from several festivals. At an undetermined point I will be able to upload it to this page.

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I also began writing a column for Daily Dead called Forbidden Tomes, an extension of my column on this site. Each article, published twice a month, focuses on a little-known or classic author and examines their work from a specific angle. So far, pieces on Clive Barker and Shirley Jackson are available (click the author’s name to see them!). Pieces on Algernon Blackwood, Angela Carter and others are soon to come.

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October is insane for Smucky. I will be attending both Sitges International Film Festival and Brooklyn Horror Fest, right in a row. Should I live through the excitement and madness, I will be writing reviews on this page. The lineups for both are amazing. With buzz coming from TIFF and Fantastic Fest, I have chosen a schedule that promises to blow my mind. Updates to come.

With things sliding into place as they are, I hope to return to this blog and continue publishing reviews, poems and stories. This ghoul’s life has become infinitely more ghoulish – and I mean that in the best possible way.

Keep those feelers out for more updates, and new content coming for Halloween!

 

Review: THE WITCH

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

Yesterday saw the nationwide release of the most anticipated horror movie of 2016. After massive buzz from Sundance and a series of incredible trailers from A24, I was insanely excited to witness what was being called a soul-shaking experience. For once, the reviews were pretty spot on. THE WITCH is like nothing else that I’ve seen in recent years.

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It’s a plot that, in other hands, could have been cheap and silly – a Puritan family is plagued by a baby-stealing, boy-seducing, and mind-warping witch. But under Robert Eggers’s direction, already infamous for its extreme attention to detail, that storyline becomes the stuff of nightmares.

Let’s state the obvious: the production design and authenticity of the world is incredible. The cinematography is stark and sparing. This allows the film to take on a realistic texture that is rarely seen in horror. But the realism doesn’t stop at the surface. Eggers pays even more attention to the minds of his characters, drawing out their thoughts and emotions so viscerally, so realistically, that the audience can’t help but empathize. You won’t want to feel what they feel, though. That’s the genius of the film – you have no choice.

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With this film, we finally get to see what it would have looked like if Bergman directed a Hammer movie. (“Hour of the Wolf” is a different type of horror.) By combining the psychological breakdown of the characters alongside some wickedly visceral images, Eggers crafts a comprehensive assault on the audience’s brain. This recipe is reserved for only the best genre offerings – most focus solely on the mind or the monster. Eggers brings us both, and each is ingenious on its own, but together they create something brutal and traumatizing.

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The witch herself is frightening, but what she does to the minds of her victims is even more so. Mainly because it feels so real – it’s what you would do, too. By the end it seems like we’re spying on someone’s private tragedy, a thing we should not see, but cannot look away from. Eggers is merciless with his story. And that makes it all the better. His vision is also refreshingly free of influences – so many of today’s horror films mimic the style of another decade – and takes on a transgressively Gothic tone, a truly demented fairy tale.

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It must also be said that much of the film’s power comes from the music – a perverse soundtrack of howling strings, clacking wood and hideous chanting. The marriage of these sounds with the film’s visuals is overwhelmingly horrific.

This film also excites me because of its unexpected wide release. Not only that, but it’s exceeding expectations at the box office. People are flocking to see this film. If this trend continues, perhaps it will open the doors for more horror in this vein. We’re witnessing the possible birth of a wide-spread genre renaissance. In the meantime, it’s enough to enjoy this brilliant nightmare on its own. Go live deliciously and experience its darkness.

Film Review: SOUTHBOUND

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Anthology films are notoriously difficult. Balancing the tone, theme, characters, and transitions can overwhelm any director, let alone four at once. When done well, though, these works are brilliantly entertaining – especially in horror. We’re lucky to have another classic in 2016. Take a ride to Hell in this year’s SOUTHBOUND.

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Fresh from Toronto’s Midnight Madness section and helmed by four different directors (most veterans from 2012’s VHS), this collection of stories is all set on a mysterious road deep in the Southwest. Each of the tales revolves around this strange netherworld, and their characters all find themselves trapped there – two men on the run from wraiths, a rock band who ask for help from the wrong family, a man who has to save a woman’s life in an abandoned hospital, a crazed man searching for his lost sister. These unwitting souls confront all manner of demons, monsters and madness, just off the map.

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The world of this film is astoundingly creepy and fun. It’s a deformed lovechild of Rod Serling, John Carpenter, and perhaps a dash of Flannery O’Connor – brewed in a pot of metaphysical, weird-fiction terror. “Carnival of Souls” plays on several screens throughout the stories, which gives a hint of the rules in this world – there are none. It’s unapologetically weird, and it oozes uncomfortable dread, something most horror films can’t claim. The filmmakers know how to make the viewer feel just a little bit off. So you’re scared before the mayhem even begins.

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It helps, too, that each of the stories features a character who we care about (at least, I did). The writers create authentic humans with flaws and quirks, and they develop them with rapid skill. Cliches are also hard to find. That is part of the weirdness – whatever a ‘normal’ film would do, this one blatantly swerves around, or does with such bravado that it’s shocking anyway. Horror cinema rarely sees such a unique, insane universe.

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I am not surprised to find out that the folks at Dark Sky Films, who brought us modern classics like “The House of the Devil” and “We Are Still Here,” are involved in this release. Larry Fessenden himself voices a sinister radio host who introduces each segment a la Mr. Serling. Like many of their offerings, this one feels retro, but it’s also rooted in our modern world, cleverly using cell phones (that actually work) and avoiding gender stereotypes. The characters are contemporary, but the nightmare is an amalgamation of 70s strangeness, 50s music and 40s wardrobe. It fits into the Dark Sky canon beautifully – and we can only hope that company will continue to make such brilliant genre pieces.

Though it is a limited release, if you can’t find it in a theater, get to it through the Internet – it’s a must-see for fans of classic horror from any decade. It’s bizarre, funny, ultra-bloody, and legitimately frightening. Turn on the ignition and drive down this dark road.

Update: Sundance 2016 Thus Far

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Greetings, all! Many apologies for the long delay in posting – it’s been a busy week, to say the least. But in the best possible way.

Most of my initial time was spent wandering Main St. and getting a feel for the layout of the festival. It’s wide-spread and a bit tough to navigate. The main area is gorgeous, though, and chock-full of people.

I was able to attend the opening night party on Thursday, where I met the guys from SpectreVision and had a great talk with them (though we had to shout – Elijah Wood was DJ-ing). Witnessing the energy of this event cemented Sundance’s spirit for me: so many people from the most random of places, all congregating to celebrate film and music. It was a rowdy and exhilarating experience.

Come Friday, there was work to do – we had to shoot a film. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but the shoot went exceedingly well. It will be complete by Tuesday, when I can post it online for you.

Film-wise, I haven’t seen a grand amount yet – but what I have seen has been awesome. So far, I’ve attended screenings of the MIDNIGHT SHORTS PROGRAM and my most anticipated, THE GREASY STRANGLER – which was beyond bizarre and destined to be a cult classic. I’ll post full reviews next week.

Today, I’m on my way to see TRASH FIRE and CHRISTINE – the former another of my most anticipated, the latter a dark drama from the cool guys at Borderline Films. Stay tuned for news on these.

I’ll continue to post reviews and updates as I have time, but until then, wish me luck!

Horror Heaven at Sundance 2016

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Throughout this week and the beginning of next, Smucky will be attending the cinephile’s dream: Sundance Film Festival.

As many horror aficionados know, Sundance is home to Park City at Midnight – a selection of 9 films that explore dark, weird, and often gory places. Representing Smucky, I will be first in line for as many screenings of these films as I can manage.

My two most anticipated are:

THE GREASY STRANGLER 

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Produced by Drafthouse Films and SpectreVision, this horror comedy promises to upend the slasher stereotypes with a father-son tale – marred by the appearance of a particularly oily murderer. If these companies’ previous films are any indication, this one will be utterly bizarre, unique, and fun.

TRASH FIRE

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Richard Bates splashed boldly onto the horror scene with 2012’s EXCISION. Now he returns to Sundance with a relationship comedy that goes very, very far south. With a super cool cast and Bates’s notable suburban aesthetic, TRASH FIRE will offer Americana nightmares, and probably a few laughs as well.

Hopefully I will also get to see UNDER THE SHADOW, a Middle Eastern demon thriller; ANTIBIRTH, a surreal drug-trip nightmare; and possibly YOGA HOSERS, Kevin Smith’s latest comedic-horrific effort.

Stay tuned for reviews and general festival anecdotes – it’s an exciting lineup, and I am so grateful to be here!

Smucky’s Most Anticipated Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2015 was an incredible year for horror. Now, with a legion of festival favorites, directorial returns and a few arthouse surprises, 2016 promises to be even better. Here are the films that Smucky looks forward to most in the coming year:

BEFORE I WAKE

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The release date for Mike Flanagan’s newest film have been confused, but by all accounts, it comes out this winter. After “Absentia” and “Oculus,” Flanagan has proven himself to be a fantastic genre director. This latest effort looks like a continuation of this streak. Following a boy whose dreams come to life – in suitably scary ways – “Before I Wake” promises to be surreal, beautiful, and unsettling as hell.

THE NEON DEMON

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I like it when arthouse directors tackle this genre. Efforts from Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski and David Lynch have proven to be some of the best horror films ever. Here’s to hoping that Nicholas Winding Refn, the indie-darling-director of “Drive,” delivers on this tradition. A violent and beautiful horror film set in the world of fashion has endless potential, and a director of Refn’s skill is the one to make it work.

THE GREASY STRANGLER

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Little has been said about this one, and it’s technically not released yet, but its Sundance slate has me excited. The fabulous folks at SpectreVision bring this to Park City at Midnight: a horror/comedy about a killer, likely unpleasant-looking, stalking the seedy streets of an unknown city. I’ll be seeing this at Sundance this year, and I can’t wait to see what new vision it presents.

FEBRUARY

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After its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, this film got quite a bit of buzz for being subtle, slow, and totally unsettling. While the reviews are semi-split, the promise of a thoughtful and well-crafted demonic thriller caught my attention. Whispers hint that it’s both moody and shocking, sad and terrifying, a combination that I’m dying to see.

THE WITCH

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While technically a 2015 release, as it premiered in January at Sundance, this highly talked-about creeper will not appear in theaters until February of this year. All the more reason to anticipate it. Aside from being one of the best and scariest trailers of 2015, the reviews have been stellar. It sounds like a claustrophobic, sublime, and transgressive horror film – about witches in Puritan America, no less. I’m in.