Nov 16, 2011


Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre.

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. Matthew Parkhill
Sony Pictures
United States 

The Caller, based on the lazy synopsis on the back of the case, should not have been a good movie. And when I tell you that the starring role was originally given to Brittany Murphy, and that Luis Guzman (whose two previous roles were in Old Dogs and a direct-to-video sequel to Waiting) plays the role of the surly-but-lovable gardener, well, I completely understand your misgiving.  The title alone alludes to something more visceral in nature. It harks back to other phone terror based movies from the past, such as When a Stranger Calls, Black Christmas, and Scream. But the fact is The Caller is a great movie. It has an original premise, and while it's one that could go off the rails at any minute, the smart writing and the believable acting by the cast (including Guzman) keep it grounded. It's a movie more focused on psychological scares, and except for a scene here or there, is never about violence. Really, at its core, it's about the terrible things a person is willing to do to preserve their own self-prescribed idea of a perfect life... and in our protagonist's case, to ensure their own survival.

Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevr, thankfully replacing Brittany Murphy very early in production) is in the process of divorcing from her abusive husband,  Steven (Ed Quinn), and she moves into a less than desirable apartment in San Juan. The walls are green and the appliances are ancient, but she's finally on her own. Her only company is Dexter the dog, apparently the only thing she was able to salvage from the split with her husband. Her surroundings could be better, but she dresses up her new place in an effort to make it home, and she soon finds company in the apartment complex's gardener, George (Guzman, in an atypical and understated role).

One day, Mary receives a call from Rose, an older woman from the sound of her voice. Rose seems to be looking for someone named Bobby, and is desperate to talk to him. Mary explains that she has just moved into the apartment and that Bobby no longer lived there. And this marks the beginning of what will be a dangerous "friendship" between Mary and Rose. For you see, Rose calls back, again and again. She claims to have driven by the apartment and saw Bobby with her own eyes, which obviously makes no sense to Mary, as she knows she is the only one living in that apartment. Rose breaks down and explains that she and Bobby were to be married right after Bobby returned home "from Vietnam." Mary goes on to ask Rose's age, and she replies 41, which obviously doesn't jibe. The Vietnam war having ended forty years ago, that would have made Mary a mere one year old at the time of the lovers' vow to marry. Mary explains this with frustrated indignation and hangs up. Rose soon calls back...with an idea — a way for her to prove to Mary that through inexplicable events, the two have connected via Mary's apartment phone through forty years of spanning history. Rose claims to have drawn something on the inside of Bobby's apartment pantry in her time and she orders Mary to look — to see what she has drawn. Mary hangs up and checks the pantry. She sees nothing. She scoffs and goes to bed, but finds herself unable to sleep. She goes back to the pantry and this time scrapes away at the wallpaper and reveals a picture...of a rose.

The phone rings. The two women — separated by forty years of time — begin a brief, unlikely friendship. Rose explains that Bobby had always been a womanizer, but she felt too weak to leave him. Mary tells her that for Rose's own good she should simply "get rid of him." Well, Rose takes that advice to heart. She gets rid of Bobby. And the next day, Mary opens her pantry door to see that it's much smaller than it had been the day before, and that a small section towards the back has been bricked off. But the bricks aren't new looking. They look quite old. Forty years old. Rose really took Mary's advice, after all.

Our plot kicks into high gear. A sick game of cat and mouse begins between the two of them. Mary wants only to be left alone, whereas Rose is lonely and wants a friend. And it escalates to a showdown you may or may not see coming. 

The Caller is a remarkable combination of the underrated Dennis Quaid flick Frequency, and your more typical horror fare such as Single White Female or Misery. We can even throw in a bit of Donnie Darko for good measure. And it all works. When working with "time travel" movies, one always runs the risk of falling victim to the plot holes that usually inundate the subgenre. There seem to be an infinite amount of things that can go wrong, or not make sense, or contradict, in movies where time travel is involved. The Caller, knowing this risk, stretches its time travel motif to the extreme without it ever spilling over into the "well this would happen / and that would happen" argument movie nerds love to vilify. As strange as it is to say, the unusual plot of the movie — Mary being stalked by a woman forty years in the past — is handled in a believable way.

This is Lefevr's movie and it's up to her portrayal as Mary to carry the film. And she does, beautifully. Much like many other horror movie leads before her, she had to find that right balance of the terrorized victim and the proactive hero unwilling to lay down and die. Lefevr's Mary is strong, cunning, beautiful, and even ruthless at times. And it all works in service to the film.

This is a movie that plays the slow burn tactic to profound effect. The majority of the movie is Mary and Rose on the phone with each other. The movie hinges on this. And if this didn't work, ultimately the movie would fail. It never falters. This is where the casting of Rose comes into play. Lorna Raver (most famous for her role as the crazy gypsy from the even crazier Drag Me To Hell) had perhaps the most difficult job on the film: finding that balance between sounding sweet, helpless, and even maternal, as well as creepy, sinister, and downright fucking evil. For a large portion of the movie, Rose's villainy can only be exuded through her voice on the phone, and she does so with great skill.

Not helping matters is Steven, who routinely shows up to remind Mary that though she may have moved out, and though their divorce is pending, he will never let her ago. Needless to say, Mary is not having a good year. 

Rounding out the cast is Stephen Moyer as John, who nicely fits the ensemble, and it's refreshing to see him in the role of the protagonist — a man who grows to care for Mary and tries his best to help her when shit hits the fan. Kudos should be given to Moyer for choosing the role he did. The director states that he was originally up for the role of the abusive husband, which he could have played swimmingly. Instead he opted for the less showy role — the one of the hapless male who gets sucked into all the goings-on, all because he becomes fixated on Mary at an early point in the film (and any man would.) We've seen this character type many times before: the disbelieving man who opts to believe the antagonist is crazy until it's too late. Instead, almost from the very beginning,  John is aware of Mary's claims, and while he is not totally on board, he tries to help her make sense of it all. He is clearly aware that Mary is in trouble and wants nothing other than to help. 


As much as I didn't want to discuss the ending for the uninitiated, there's a particular aspect  of it I feel compelled to bring up. When the ending sequence first begins, there is a brief moment of disappointment. "Oh," you say to yourself. "They're doing this?" There are both pros and cons about the movie's end, but really the cons begin to fizzle the more you consider the mental state of Rose for her to do what she has done. In the last five minutes of the movie, Rose is no longer just a voice on the phone. She is a physical villain, smashing through Mary's door with a machete. And yes, while watching this at first, I myself thought it was a cheap ending. To me it seemed to go against everything the movie had established up to that point: how these two characters could be threats to each other, though they were separated by forty years. But the more I thought about it, the more unsettled I became. Basically, it boils down to this: 1970s Rose dominates most of the film. She is the villain. Only in the last five minutes does 2011 Rose show her face. So what you are left with is the realization that Rose waited forty years from the time she first "met" Mary in an effort to finally kill her, once and for all. For forty years, every single day, I'm sure, killing Mary was the only thing on her mind. It's a last-second twist that you're either totally on board with, or not.

I'm on board. All the way.


Not surprisingly, reviews for the movie have been mixed, a sad number of them dipping into negative. Reviewers have accused the movie of having no style,  and being a ho-hum combination of movies we've all seen before.

Reviews like this make me throw my hands up in defeat. If a clever premise, great acting, and psychologically fucked villains can't satiate the horror-craving masses, than I honestly don't know what can.

Now Available:
The world’s oldest celebration comes to life in The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween, an anthology that honors the darkest and strangest night of the year. Each story is designed to be intrinsically and intimately about Halloween—its traditions, its myths, and its effects—and they run the gamut from horrifying to heartbreaking. Halloween night is the tapestry through which a haunted house, a monstrous child, a late-night drive to a mysterious destination, and other tales are weaved. Demons are faced, death is defied, and love is tested. And not everyone makes it out alive. The End of Summer has arrived.


Cruel Death! The young leaves droop and languish;
Evening's gentle air may still restore -
No! the morning sunshine mocks my anguish -
Time, for me, must never blossom more!
- Emily Bronte

Nov 15, 2011



Atli Orvarsson should be scoring a lot more movies than he is. One of the most underrated composers I've ever come across.

Nov 14, 2011


Carl Tanzler (d. 1952) was a German-born radiologist at the United States Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida, who developed a morbid obsession for a young Cuban-American tuberculosis patient, Elena Milagro "Helen" de Hoyos (d. 1931), that carried on well after the disease had caused her death. In 1933, almost two years after her death, Tanzler removed Hoyos's body from its tomb, and lived with the corpse at his home for seven years until its discovery by Hoyos's relatives and authorities in 1940.
Despite Tanzler's best efforts, Hoyos died of terminal tuberculosis at her parents' home in Key West on October 25, 1931. Following Hoyos's funeral, which Tanzler paid for, and with the permission of her family, Tanzler commissioned the construction of an above ground mausoleum in the Key West Cemetery that he visited almost every night.
Tanzler attached the corpse's bones together with wire and coat hangers, and fitted the face with glass eyes. As the skin of the corpse decomposed, Tanzler replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of paris. As the hair fell out of the decomposing scalp, Tanzler fashioned a wig from Hoyos's hair that had been collected by her mother and given to Tanzler not long after her burial in 1931. Tanzler filled the corpse's abdominal and chest cavity with rags to keep the original form, dressed Hoyos's remains in stockings, jewelry, and gloves, and kept the body in his bed. Tanzler also used copious amounts of perfume, disinfectants, and preserving agents, to mask the odor and forestall the effects of the corpse's decomposition.


Nov 12, 2011


Shitty Flicks is a new and ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.

There are three certainties in life:

1. You will die.

2.) You will pay taxes before you die.

3.) If a movie has the word “massacre” in the title, it’s either going to be great, or bad (slash great).

This particular rule continues to apply when it comes to Nail Gun Massacre, the second best movie with “massacre” in the title to be set in Texas.

The movie opens at a construction site. The men are busy at work with their hands, doing what they do best: raping. With nary a scene of aggressive flirting or hesitant foreplay to lead into said rape, the movie literally fades from black into a rape. These flannel-shirted good ol’ boys are going to show a crying woman a good time, and boy, do they. Thankfully, we are spared most of this bearded assault, after catching a glimpse of what appears to be one of the men delivering several man punches directly into the woman’s vagina.

Thanks, cinema.

Later that…day (?), one of the rapers, Leroy Johnston, toddles around in his home, looking for his shirt—the one with the least amount of stains on them, I am assuming. As his fat wife hangs some fresh linens on a clothesline in the backyard, a hulking figure, The Nailer, dressed like a punk astronaut—decked out in black vinyl, black helmet, and tinted-black face shield—enters the house. The Nailer grasps—you guessed it—a nail gun.

The man turns to see this intimidating figure and puts his hand out in front of him in defense, which The Nailer promptly shoots, nailing it to the man’s forehead.

“Those are the worst headaches—the ones right between the eyes,” chortles The Nailer in a very inauthentic baritone voice. A few more shots finish Leroy off, but The Nailer continues to shoot nails into his redneck body and guffaw a wet, robotic guffaw.

After a bout of completely randomly ordered credits, we meet a young couple enjoying a roll in the sack. And while I can’t tell you what muddled words they exchanged, I’ll assume it was nothing important, considering bare tits were onscreen the entire time. The woman, very intent on having sex for an entire day, pokes and prods her breasts in his direction.

“You’d rather go out and cut wood than stay here and play with these?” she asks.

Seems to be the case, as he throws on some clothes and vamooses, leaving her behind to stare awkwardly at the ceiling and then directly at the camera, waiting for the director to call cut.

Prefers Cutting Wood Over Tits guy (human name Brad), along with his partner, walk out into the woods with a chainsaw, ready to ignore bare tits and destroy nature.

Thankfully, someone shows up to help, pulling up behind the boys’ truck in an amber-colored hearse. It’s The Nailer, this time dressed in army fatigues, but still grasping the nail gun. One of the men, pissing on a tree, slowly turns when he hears someone approaching and splashes some fresh urine on The Nailer’s boots.

“Well, you just pissed me off,” replies The Nailer, with that voice that sounds like it was run through eight modulators and a washing machine.

The Nailer shoots a few nails into the man’s stomach, but then spies the man’s exposed, underwear-covered wang.

“This will stop that leak,” says The Nailer, and delivers a nail into his cock and balls.

The Nailer then quietly walks up behind Brad, who is busy sawing wood over a fallen tree, and shoots him, causing him to saw his own hand off and fall very fakely against a tree stump.

“You shouldn’t fall to pieces,” I think The Nailer says. If not, it’s probably just as shameless and tacky as the actual line, anyway.

"Brad man, I don't want to freak you out,
but the tiniest man in the world is right behind you..."

Moments later, the sheriff pulls up behind the now-dead boys’ sitting truck and calls it in.

The next scene, which takes place in a general store of sorts, is also completely unintelligible, thanks to the sound guy leaning against what sounds like the god damned refrigerator.

If asked to recite this scene as a monologue in an acting class, I would look forlornly at my audience, grasp at my suit lapels, and say “BRRRRAAAAAMMMMMMMMMM.”

The older woman working behind the counter recites her lines with as little emotion or enthusiasm as possible, all the while reading directly from her quite-visible script.

“Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitoes and the killers?” she struggles, squinting her eyes to read the tiny print.

After this scene dies a slow death, the sheriff and the doctor check out the recently discovered grisly scene in the woods.

“Are you sure these two died in the same way Leroy Johnston did?” asks the doctor.

You mean…with nails? Nails shot into them?

It’s a safe bet, shit licker.

As the two men investigate the area, they moot over the idea that the killer might be Mrs. Bailey, a local woman who I guess is insane enough that she would be a suspect.

And we have our first red herring: Mrs. Bailey, an apparently eccentric local whom we never actually see in the flesh a single time in this movie.

Further down the road, a hitchhiker, dressed amusingly like Josh Brolin from The Goonies, flags down the hearse for a ride. Well, a ride he gets. WITH NAILS.

The hitchhiker falls to the ground, nailed in several places.

“You should never hitch a ride from a hearse. Unless you’re dying.”

The hitchhiker cries.

“You hitchhikers are all alike: stuck out on the road.”

The hitchhiker cries.

“It’s nice to see someone praying at their own funeral.”

The hitchhiker cries.

“[unintelligible] give you a vaccination.”

The hitchhiker cries.

The Nailer shoots a nail into the crying hitchhiker’s shoulder, which for some reason is the one that does him in. Then The Nailer walks away to read the next chapter in Henny Youngman’s One Liners for Nail Deaths.

Later at a construction site, two motorocyclers pull up, looking for work. The foreman sends them over to the Bailey house.

“See ya later,” the bikers yell.

“Yeah…SOONER THAN YOU THINK,” grunts the man, the camera close on his face, as the filmmakers beg you to believe he is the killer.

Red herring number 2: the foreman, also a person we never see again in this movie.

The bikers make it to the Bailey place, but instead of working, they lay around and canoodle with their incredibly unattractive girl mates. The two couples separate to turn their making out into sex, and one of those couples enjoys a session of stand-up sex against a tree.

"You guys wanna play a round of cornhole? Oh."

The Nailer shows up to make it a threesome, and fires some nails into some hands and tits, and as usual, recites a mini-monologue of tepid jokes which I’m not even going to bother transcribing.

Their friend comes into the woods after them, but runs into The Nailer, who orders him to hug the tree.

A few nails later, the man isn’t going anywhere, as he begs for mercy.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend, who I guess suffers from emotional problems, begins to immediately cry when he doesn’t return quickly. And boy oh boy, we get to watch this for several minutes, as sounds of rattles and woodblocks pepper the already tension-filled scene.

John, one of the guys fixing up the Bailey property, lunges onscreen in an attempt to scare the world, and attempts to calm the girl by saying, “It’ll be alright, okay?” over and over. This goes on for several minutes, as the actor playing John is most likely following the direction: “Just keep saying 'It'll be okay', and then look around, and don’t stop until I call cut.”

Said director probably then left to have an eggcream.

This is a 25 page script, ladies and gentleman—no bullshit—and it shows.

At a nearby construction site, two men have a nail gun fight.

For serious.

Think paintball, but with nail guns.

The Nailer pops up to play, warbling that iconic laugh, and shoots some nails into some faces.

And then for the next twenty minutes, we are literally forced to hang out with a boring couple (this must be where that whole 25-page script issue comes into play) and have no choice but to watch them eat in real time, discuss various things as the audio for the scene is recorded across the street, and finally end up fucking on their car hood in the woods.

Yes, kids—even sex can be boring.

The Nailer shows up during the coitus to help add some flavor to the scene.

And then this happens:

The Nailer, still in army fatigues and jet black face mask, with a pneumatic nail gun strapped to his back, mind you, fires the nail gun and startles the couple.

“What are you, a cop?” the kid asks, as I fight the urge to kick the TV. “She had an itch, I was just helping her scratch it.”

“Shut up, asshole,” says The Nailer, reading my mind.

“You’re not a cop, are ya?” says the man, his brain twitching a single time. “You’re the guy they’ve been talking about on the radio!”

Glad to see that the guy was aware there was a maniac on the loose firing nails into people in the woods, but still opted to hang out in the woods at night, anyway.

The Nailer gives them each some nails and leaves to find the next person on the list, which is a round, bald, bearded man who looks creepily like ultra-flamboyant interior decorator Christopher Lowell.

Having been cleverly hidden in his pool, The Nailer lunges out of the water and fires several nails into him, causing him to flop over his sizzling grill. The Nailer laughs the typical laugh, not at all out of breath from having to wait under the water for several minutes.


The sheriff and the doctor finally piece together who has been doing the killing and they both set out to stop The Nailer once and for all.

Having passed from vendetta to just plain lunacy, The Nailer kills two women who I’m pretty sure didn’t have shit to do with anything.

“This’ll be a gas,” The Nailer exclaims, shooting the girls, one of whom literally falls down dead with her arms straight up in the air.

In the movie’s finale, The Nailer is pursued to the nearby mill, chased by the doctor and some girl whose name I don’t think was ever spoken aloud. The car chase turns into a foot chase, which leads up into a cherry picker and results in The Nailer falling clumsily to his death.

Turns out the killer was Bubba.

Say, who’s Bubba?

The end.

Nov 8, 2011


Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre.

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. Joel Anderson
Lionsgate Films

“Liked found footage movies” could one day be etched on my tombstone, and not only because it’s true, but also because I’ve spent most of my blog systematically beating those words to death. But I do. I like found footage movies. Except for rare, rare gems like Insidious, it’s become almost impossible to make a traditional narrative film that effectively scares. Most filmmakers, despite their best intentions, just don’t know how to do that. They claim to know. They claim to use “Hitchcockian” techniques (a term I have grown to loathe). Really what this means, however, is that they reenact the Psycho shower scene, but instead of leaving it to your imagination, they show you heads falling off and geysers of blood. Something about the way found footage movies are made easily manipulate the viewer. All bets are off, really. So long as you have a valid reason for why your cameraman hasn’t long dropped the camera in fear instead of stoically filming the gigantic King Kong-sized monster standing above him in Central Park, then you have the freedom to pretty much show whatever you want and get away with it. And not only that, but even the most mundane things seem creepy. You see a dark room, and in that dark room you see a darker shape suddenly move in the corner. Already you can feel the chill ride down your spine. You wait for it to materialize, to be something with malicious intent. Found footage movies are that one scene in your traditional horror movie where a character is walking around the corner and the music is mounting—only it’s like that for the entire running time. Once that first creepy thing happens, anything can happen at any time.

Movies like Australia’s Lake Mungo are a rare bird. Not only are found footage movies still rare when compared to the number of more traditional stuff that gets greenlit every day, Lake Mungo takes it one step further: instead of the movie seemingly taking place in real time as characters stumble around the dark, the movie is comprised of sit-down interviews with the main characters as they reflect on the events that inspired the “documentary”—events that have already taken place. Yes…Mom, Dad, and Brother aren’t risking being possessed by ghosts or sliced in half by zombies run amok. The event that triggered this “documentary”—the horror the characters endured—is already behind them. (One comparison that immediately comes to mind is Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie, a movie about the assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler—something the world knows never came to fruition, yet watching the attempt unfold still manages to be incredibly suspenseful, anyway.) In short, we spend the entire running time with characters that are not in any danger.

And despite that, it never fails to make the movie any less creepy.

The movie begins with the death of sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer (perhaps a nod to Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, yet another doomed teen girl whose own death was a mystery) after her drowning at a local lake, her family’s vacation spot (which, before you get ahead of yourself, was not the titular lake). Naturally her family is torn apart by the incident, and with her death taking place just a few days before Christmas, they each walk around in a stupor, unwilling to believe that the worst has happened. Each of them deal with Alice’s death in a different way: Dad goes back to work in an attempt to keep busy; Mom refuses to accept that her daughter has indeed passed on and is instead merely missing (Dad, only, identified the body); and Mathew, Alice’s brother, embraces his hobby of photography more than ever. But despite their different ways of mourning, all of them soon come together when they begin to experience the same thing: the potential haunting of their home by Alice’s ghost.

Lake Mungo plays like your typical “Dateline” special, utilizing the aforementioned sit-down interviews with immediate and extended family and friends, as well as home movies and photographs to tell its story. It honestly all plays out so realistically—even when the supernatural elements come into play—that it really feels like something you might watch one night on a news channel. 

The supernatural elements come into play once Mathew kicks his photograph hobby into high gear. Images of Alice seem to show up everywhere—inside the house as well as outside in the backyard. Because of this, Matt begins to set up a stationary video camera (pre-dating Paranormal Activity) to see if he can capture anything of note. What he captures is Alice.

It’s important to note that while Lake Mungo isn’t a full-fledged horror movie per se, that doesn’t mean it has no intention of trying to scare you, because it does. Again and again. But it chooses its moments to do so, so that when they do occur, it is far more shocking than it would normally be. Five minutes of creepy footage mixed into 85 other minutes of other creepy footage is just footage. It gets lost. But five minutes of creepy footage woven into a narrative about mourning and regret becomes jarring and real. And that’s what this movie is, really: a reflection on loss, and dealing with death, and with facing the notion that you can never truly know someone if they don’t want you to. There’s a great line in the film spoken by Alice’s best friend: “Alice kept secrets. She kept the fact that she kept secrets a secret.” Because as the story unfolds, we begin to realize that Alice was not the person her family believed her to be. And while such a proclamation immediately makes one assume Alice was in actuality a devious character, or a murderer, or something worse, that’s not the case here at all. It’s just that the Palmer family didn’t know everything about Alice they should have…and maybe Alice regretted that. Maybe, in death, Alice wanted her family to know who she truly was—her good faults as well as her bad.

The acting in this film is across-the-board fantastic and convincing. With a movie like this, one false performance can derail the proceedings. Because if you don’t believe what you’re seeing has happened, or could potentially happen, then you, the viewer, are left behind. No one in the film appears as if they are giving a “performance”—they just sell what has to be sold, which is that they are a grieving family undergoing strange events in their home and trying to make sense of it all.

While the movie’s running time is 10% “found footage,” and while a large portion of that “found footage” is simply every-day video taken by various family members over the years, there remains a scene, created with a cell phone video camera, that is extremely unnerving. It is the strength of this scene that demands Lake Mungo be included with the other found footage heavyweights The Blair Witch Project, Cannibal Holocaust, and Paranormal Activity. I know that a lot of folks out there disown movies like BWP and PA because, frankly, “You don’t see anything! They never show you the witch/ghost!” Well, number one, those people are foolish, anyway. And number two, Lake Mungo does indeed show you the villain—the antagonist. It shows you the force that has come and stolen the life of a young girl and left her family in tatters. It shows you death, coming at you from the darkness of Lake Mungo in shaky, blurry two-inch-by-two-inch camera phone video. It’s a scene that will literally chill you, and stay with you long after the movie is finished.

Lake Mungo was released in 2008 as part of the generally terrible After Dark Horror Fest/8 Horror Movies to Die For platform. For the uninitiated, these consist mainly of movies that are basically direct-to-video low-budgeters that are randomly picked and marketed as “the movies they didn’t want you to see.” Well, that’s partly true…because most of them are pretty terrible. And it feels dirty to see Lake Mungo bare the same banner as Lake Dead and Monster Man, two of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Soon after its release in 2008, it was announced that the producers of The Ring remake would be shepherding a remake of Lake Mungo, due for release in 2011. With 2011 coming to an end in less than two months and the movie not even entering pre-production, hopefully this is an idea long abandoned. While the movie is perfect just the way it is anyway, the damn thing is also in easily understandable, Australian-accented, English. And unless they were to pump recognizable faces into the American remake (which would defeat the whole purpose of this movie trying to feel real in the first place), why on earth would you bother?

I love horror movies. I’ve seen more horror movies than anyone I know. When I was a kid, and other kids my age were watching The Goonies, I was watching Friday the 13th or its derivatives. Whenever our family went to an uncle/aunt’s house for a holiday, it wasn’t long before I was sneaking away to watch whatever horror movies (on VHS, no less) they had in their cabinets. (This is how I first came to see Night of the Living Dead, Re-Animator, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.)

I say this to you because of the quite literally thousands of horror movies I have seen, only three have ever actually affected me: The Exorcist, The Blair Witch Project, and Lake Mungo. That’s pretty good company, I say. And I truly mean it. I look at a movie like Lake Mungo, and I see everything horror fans claim to want—real performances, real terror, intelligent writing, a supreme lack of horror clichés, and absolutely no pandering to its audience—and I wonder why more people do not know about this movie. Frankly, it’s a goddamn shame. It’s an unsung horror. 

(Oh sure to watch the closing credits.)

Nov 7, 2011


Movies like Kick-Ass and Defendor should be embarrassed that other movies like Boy Wonder exist. Though the movie hews closer to classic vigilante movies like Death Wish and even The Crow, shades of superhero DNA are inherent throughout the movie; it’s about a boy taking matters into his own hands when justice fails to locate the criminals responsible for the death of his mother. And the movie tells its story in a way that never sensationalizes what the boy does when he prowls the streets at night, hidden from sight in his black hooded sweatshirt. While Kick-Ass lends more towards kids beating the shit out of criminals, all the while getting the shit beat out of themselves, there’s never real danger in that movie. Because it’s supposed to be “fun” and “goofy.” In Boy Wonder, you feel for your protagonist and understand why he is out on the streets doing what he is doing, though you wish he wasn’t. You wish he could overcome the emotional torment that forces him to do the things he does. And that is the success of the movie.

In the film’s prologue, we witness through the boy’s eyes the death of his mother—seemingly the inadvertent casualty of a high-jacking gone wrong. We also go on to learn that the boy’s father is an abusive drunk, and responsible for the multiple bruises found on the boy’s body. Despite this, our protagonist, Sean Donovan, is a survivor (played with great brooding strength by Caleb Steinmeyer). He is a top student, though an introverted one, and has just one school friend to speak of. But like all high school students, he yearns to be accepted, as well as for the attention from the girl for whom he pines. His relationship with his father (years sober and calmed) is damaged because of their past. He spends his days at the local police station scrolling through mugshots of known criminals, trying in vain to locate the perp responsible for his mother’s death…or is he? Because when night falls, he slides on his black hooded sweatshirt and takes to the streets to locate people who feels has escaped justice (in "Dexter"-inspired fashion).

Meanwhile, a detective new to the precinct, Teresa Ames, notices Sean in a way that no one else has seemed to and almost immediately begins to suspect Sean of wrongdoing. Though the two begin to form an unlikely friendship, the idea of Sean living a double life is never totally out of Ames’ mind. Little do either of them know just how intertwined their past and future will become.

Boy Wonder is a brave movie, and a pretty remarkable film debut for Steinmeyer. It’s up to him to carry the movie—to make the audience feel his pain and to understand the gruesome things he feels he must do. And he pulls it off with ease. James Russo is also remarkable as Sean’s father, and while his part could have been more lazily written as the constant antagonistic drunk father, he is instead written as a man who has gone above and beyond to reform himself, and wants nothing more than for his son to love him the way the boy loved his mother. In fact, the acting is pretty stellar across the board, the only weak spot being Zulay Henao as Detective Ames. While not a bad actress, she is woefully miscast in the part of the hardened defective struggling to juggle a career and a broken family. Her pretty face betrays the past the screenwriter has given her, and her first scene in the movie (a fairly formulaic, and by now, cliché meeting of her new partner who accidentally comes off sounding racist despite meaning well) does not lend her any favors in trying to come across as an original take on a typical movie archetype.

I've read some reviews of the movie that call it "conceptually confused" between a superhero movie and a vigilante movie, and to a point, I can agree. However, I wouldn't describe it as "confused" as much as a careful hybrid of the two. And after all, what is a superhero if not a vigilante? Batman is a superhero, but is he also not a vigilante?

Boy Wonder takes its time in setting up each of its characters, leading to the climax that you may or may not see coming. Let’s face it, movies of today feel they need a twist, and when there’s one character whose identity remains mysterious throughout the movie, yet is ultimately responsible for the movie’s entire plot, you always go for the person you “least” suspect. In this case, it’s not a fault of the script, nor of the story the writer wanted to tell—but perhaps the movie would have been better off telling us upfront the sins of this character, so that Sean’s journey towards justice would have felt more suspenseful and heartbreaking.