The Geektastics » Geektastic A safe space to geek out! Tue, 05 May 2015 02:40:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 I Heart: The What I’m Watching Edition /2015/02/03/i-heart-the-what-im-watching-edition/ /2015/02/03/i-heart-the-what-im-watching-edition/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 06:01:25 +0000 /?p=5550

Big Giant Swords – Kris and I are loving the new Discovery show “Big Giant Swords”. Irish Mike was a construction welder who made giant weapons as a hobby in his spare time. His friend AmeriMike would record the weapon tests and post them on YouTube, and he became an internet sensation. Now, he’s making weapons on commission full time with a small team.

I am not a reality show fan at all, but the structure of this show trims the fat so it’s 90% about the weapons and 10% about the people involved. This makes the contrived drama, which has always discouraged me from watching reality shows, almost negligible. Irish Mike is hilarious and obviously genuinely loves what he does, which makes the show infinitely more watchable and entertaining than other shows of this type. (I’m looking at you, every car restoration show.) Definitely check it out if you are a fantasy fan and/or consider yourself a “maker”!


The Man in the High Castle” – If you’ve never taken part in Amazon’s pilot project, now is the time, if only to watch and vote for “The Man in the High Castle”. It’s already received very favorable buzz and critics are predicting that it will be picked up for a full season, but every vote counts and this series deserves to be seen. Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick (author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, the original novella from which Blade Runner was adapted), “The Man in the High Castle” takes place in an alternate reality where Germany and Japan won WWII. The countries have split the US, with Germany taking the eastern states and headquartered in New York and Japan taking the western states, headquartered in San Fransisco. There is also a gash cut through the center of the country known as the “Neutral Zone”, which has a headquarters in Canon City, Colorado.

The pilot episode centers on two people, one on each coast, as they get involved in the resistance and learn that there is more to the outcome of the war than they originally believed as they journey towards Canon City. The production design is beautiful and the message of the show isn’t overwrought. It would be very easy to use the premise to depict a horrifying dystopia, but the world of “The Man in the High Castle” feels much more realistic. We see that life has continued as usual on the surface, but there are dark consequences of the Germanic-Japanese rule lurking in the shadows. This is a show that has the potential to reach a wide audience – perfect for history buffs while also including some subtle sci-fi elements. (Bonus: The gorgeous opening credits which feature a haunting rendition of “Edelweiss”.)


“Twin Peaks” Revival – If you’re a David Lynch fan, you already know that Showtime is planning on bringing back a 9 episode run of “Twin Peaks” to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the show’s original conclusion. During its original two season arc, “Twin Peaks” was a quirky show with a devoted fan base that became a cultural phenomenon and made David Lynch a household name. The show ended prematurely after low ratings in the second season and was considered to be too weird for network TV. Lynch released a feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, that was intended to resolve some of the dangling storylines, but it received mixed reviews from both critics and fans.

Showtime’s revival will pick up where the story left off and it has been announced that a number of former cast members will return, including Kyle MacLachlan (Agent Dale Cooper). The entire run is being written and produced by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and all nine episodes will be directed by Lynch. This is exciting news for diehard fans, as it means all of the show’s inherent weirdness will be preserved. The new episodes will air in 2016 and Showtime will rebroadcast the first two seasons in their entirety prior to the new premiere.


“The Fall” – You might have already heard some buzz about the British crime drama, “The Fall”. It stars Gillian Anderson as Superintendent Stella Gibson, a senior police officer brought into Belfast to investigate a high profile murder of the daughter-in-law of a prominent local businessman and discovers a string of similar murders.

The show is moody and gripping as the story slowly unwinds. We know the killer’s identity almost from the very beginning, so the tension is built not on who committed the crime, but if and/or when he will be caught. Jamie Dornan plays Paul Spector, a seemingly loving family man and dedicated grief counselor who spends his nights stalking successful, affluent women and killing them. Dornan is amazing as Spector; he starts out quiet and very controlled, but as the police get closer to discovering the truth, his carefully crafted facade begins to crack. American viewers can watch both seasons on Netflix.


Black Mirror – Similarly, Netflix is streaming the Channel 4 sci-fi anthology “Black Mirror”. Each episode tells its own story, set in a near future and relating to how human interaction is changed by technology. The title refers to the reflective quality of an empty screen.

The first epsiode, “The National Anthem”, may scare off some viewers, but it is the show at its most extreme. (If you find yourself unable to watch “The National Anthem”, don’t give up on the series!) “Black Mirror” is a return to the great anthology series of the past – think “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, and “Tales from the Dark Side”.


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Why I Left and Why I’m Back Again /2015/01/30/why-i-left-and-why-im-back-again/ /2015/01/30/why-i-left-and-why-im-back-again/#comments Sat, 31 Jan 2015 04:59:40 +0000 /?p=5545 This post is going to be long, so you might want to strap yourself in.  Think of it this way – I haven’t posted in awhile and I have a lot to say.

Why I stopped writing . . .

I told everyone it was because of my job.  In 2013, I got a help desk job with an education company.  I started the blog when I worked in retail and it was my way of escaping.  I enjoyed writing and I enjoyed working on the site because I wasn’t working on computers all day.  Sitting down and working on my computer felt relaxing after carrying heavy furniture and baskets of breakable dishes.

But working in IT means sitting in front of a computer all day, and the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was get back on a computer.  I took up cross stitching and kept telling myself that I’d get back into blogging when I got used to it.  A year later, and I still wanted nothing to do with computers after the end of my shift.

That’s only half the story, if I’m being honest though.  It made sense and seemed to satisfy people who asked me whether I was going to write on the blog again.  I’m going to tell you the other half now.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my entire adult life, and probably most of my adolescent life as well.  They never go away, they just flow and ebb depending on what’s going on in my life.  Some days are really good and some are really bad.  And there are days when it’s just there hanging over me like a dark cloud; not really interfering with my life, but omnipresent.  For many people with depression, and especially anxiety, change can trigger the bad days – even good changes.  My job brought a lot of changes.  The initial change of starting a new job, the busy periods in Spring and Fall, and being moved to a new, specialized team all happened within a year.  Our work schedules meant that we had less time to spend with our friends. Kris’s contract ended with his previous job and we were concerned about him finding a new one.  My dad and step-sister had semi-serious health issues.  One set of friends experienced a tragic death.  All of this seemed to compound until I found myself in one of the mentally darkest periods of my life.

I had very little motivation to do anything, other than cross stitch, which seemed to be the one thing that lifted my mood.  My house was consistently messy, which is very unusual for me. I was to the point where I was only cleaning it when I knew people would come over, because I knew they expected the house to be clean.  This increased my depression and made me feel more like a failure.  I didn’t even want to think about how long it had been since I wrote a post.  I felt like I had let down the people who were still writing for the site and I just wanted it to go away.

 Why I’m back . . .

I still love writing.  I had been thinking about starting to write my blog again and even started getting excited about maintaining the site again.  In a roundabout way, it was my stitching that got me to that place again.  I wanted to post my work to my personal website and, in doing so, remembered how much I enjoyed it.

Right about that time, Rhianna contacted me to ask if this site was still active.  I took it as a sign.

 What will change . . .

I wanted to produce a lot of content when I started this site and kept adding more and more features to my blog.  This put a lot more pressure on me to write more often and when I wasn’t able to keep up, it made me feel guilty.  I’ve stripped the blog down to the things I enjoy writing about most.  “I Heart” will become bi-weekly and “The Space Nerd Files” and “Tab Goes to the Movies” will be showing up when I have something cool to write about.  The other categories are going away and there may be an increase in less structured posts.  “Geektastic Fright Fest” and “Christmas Gift Guide” will be staying the same, and I hope to still cover Mile High Horror Festival, Denver Comic Con, and the Zombie Crawl, but it will depend on what else is going on in my life.

I’m also making a fresh start. Previous posts will be in the “Geektastic Archive” category and are tagged “Geektastic 1.0″, so you can still read them if you wish.  But the main Geektastic blog will be starting fresh as of today.


Thanks for your patience (especially Rhianna and Keith) with me over the last year.  I’m excited to be back!


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I Heart: The Walking Dead Season 4 Midseason Premiere Edition /2014/02/04/i-heart-the-walking-dead-season-4-midseason-premiere-edition/ /2014/02/04/i-heart-the-walking-dead-season-4-midseason-premiere-edition/#comments Tue, 04 Feb 2014 07:01:02 +0000 /?p=5179 “The Walking Dead” is coming back Sunday. Are you ready?

Instructables has instructions for a miniature zombie survival kit that fits in an Altoid tin!

Check out these awesome gifsets that compare episodes 1.1 and 4.8 to their comic book counterparts on the Tumblr blog Keep Calm and Carol On!

Uproxx has a pretty badass infographic detailing the kills for this season as well as each character’s most and least useful moments.  (You may also want to check out their “Ten Open Questions After the Mid-Season Finale” to brush up on where we left off in December.)

Artist Duke Dasterdly has some amazing alternate posters for previous seasons of “The Walking Dead”.  Buy Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3.

The ultimate “Walking Dead” infographic comes from the National Post.  Created by Richard Johnson and Andrew Barr, it details the onscreen kills, a chronological list of the onscreen zombie deaths (complete with dispatcher and weapon used), the weapons used, and the leading zombie killer stats – all organized by season.

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Geektastic Fright Fest 2013: Trick ‘r Treat (2007) /2013/10/31/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-trick-r-treat-2007/ /2013/10/31/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-trick-r-treat-2007/#comments Thu, 31 Oct 2013 06:01:19 +0000 /?p=4996

Trick r Treat Alt PosterTrick ‘r Treat (2007)
Rated R (for horror violence, some sexuality/nudity and language)

Directed by Michael Dougherty

Dylan Baker
Anna Paquin
Rochelle Aytes
Brian Cox

Based on Michael Dougherty’s short “Season’s Greetings”, Trick ‘r Treat is a return to anthology horror that has prompted several similar films, including The ABCs of Death and V/H/S.  Set on Halloween night, it explores four different tales that turn Halloween traditions and horror tropes on their heads.


The movie begins with married couple Henry and Emma returning from Halloween night festivities.  While Henry loves celebrating the holiday, Emma hates it and blows out their Jack O’Lantern, despite Henry’s warnings.

The Principal

Principal Steve Wilkins (Baker) gets vicious, bloody revenge on a student who dares to steal candy from the family’s trick or treat bowl.

The School Bus Massacre Revisited

Five children decide to hang out at the local rock quarry, where the ringleader tells the town legend of a bus full of mentally challenged students who drowned when the bus crashed into a lake.  A cruel prank forces the children to confront the truth of the legend.

Trick 'r Treat

Macy and the others marvel at Rhonda’s yard full of intricately carved pumpkins.

Surprise Party

Laurie (Paquin) prepares for a Halloween party with her sister Danielle and their friends Maria and Janet.  Teased about being a virgin, Laurie is apprehensive about going, a fear that’s not helped when she’s attacked by a man dressed as a vampire.  The girls will get the last laugh, however, when their true nature is revealed.

Trick 'r Treat

Laurie (Paquin) is on her way to an eventful Halloween party.


Sam, short of Samhain, is the spirit of Halloween and spends the holiday killing those who don’t honor the holiday correctly.

Horror anthology movies and TV shows were a huge part of my childhood, and while it’s a small reemerging trend, I’m excited to see it come back.  Trick ‘r Treat has been my favorite so far, because it’s funny as well as scary (in tone, it most closely resembles “Tales From the Crypt”).  It’s stylishly made and all of the previous stories are cleverly connected in the closing, which makes the film feel cohesive despite being broken up into four sections.  It subtlety references other horror films, particularly John Carpenter’s original Halloween, which makes it even more fun for genre fans.


Sam, the spirit of Halloween, watches trick or treaters to ensure the holiday’s traditions are being honored correctly.

The performances are very good, particularly Cox and Baker.  Cox has always brought an ominous vibe to all his roles and Baker’s character has an awesome creepy twist on his usual prototypical nerdy normal guy.  Trick ‘r Treat is an excellent choice for Halloween night viewing between scarier fare.

Fright Rating: 2 1/2 gasps out of 5

There’s some gory parts, but most of the scares are done with plenty of black humor.  If you like George Romero’s Creepshow or “Tales From the Crypt”, this is the perfect movie for you!

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Geektastic Fright Fest 2013: House of 1000 Corpses (2003) /2013/10/27/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-house-of-1000-corpses-2003/ /2013/10/27/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-house-of-1000-corpses-2003/#comments Sun, 27 Oct 2013 06:01:27 +0000 /?p=4962

House of 1000 Corpses (Alt Poster)House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Rated R (for strong sadistic violence/gore, sexuality and language)

Directed by Rob Zombie

Karen Black
Sid Haig
Sheri Moon Zombie
Bill Moseley

Inspired by the ’70s exploitation films and 1930s monster movies he loved as a kid, rocker Rob Zombie wrote the script that would become House of 1000 Corpses.  Zombie had some experience directing music videos for his band White Zombie and brought that same kinetic filmmaking style to his first feature length film.

Two couples on a road trip the night before Halloween decided to stop at a backwoods roadside attraction in the hopes of including it in a book featuring similar kitschy places.  They learn about the legend of Dr. Satan from the attraction’s outspoken owner Captain Spaulding (Haig) and decide to take a detour to the tree where Dr. Satan was hanged.  Along the way, they pick up an attractive hitchhiker, Baby (Moon Zombie), and offer to take her to her nearby home.  A flat tire forces them to make small talk with the strange Firefly family until hulking brother Rufus can fix the vehicle, but they soon start to realize that they may not get away from the Fireflys alive.

HTC Murder Ride

Captain Spaulding (Haig) takes the doomed kids through his gas station “Murder Ride”.

House of 1000 Corpses is very reminiscent of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Zombie crafted the film to reflect his obvious affection for the macabre, including references to old school horror hosts, classic films like The Wolfman, and real life killers Albert Fish and Lizzie Borden.  In post production, he filmed several sequences inspired by home movies made by the Manson Family, as well as asides with Otis (Moseley) torturing his victims.  With his special effects team, he created elaborate and detailed set dressings for existing sets on the Universal backlot.  (The Firefly house, for instance, was the set for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.)  The quick cuts, garish lighting, and hard hitting soundtrack give it a definite music video vibe.  Not all the sequences land, but they help keep the film from just being a rip off of Tobe Hooper’s TCM.  The film is at its most interesting and effective when showing the interaction between the young couples and the Firefly family, so the latter third of the film starts to skid off the rails a bit, but it’s never boring visually.

HTC Baby and Mother Firefly

Baby (Moon Zombie) and Mother Firefly (Black) aim to entertain their guests with a bizarre vaudeville show.

The cast and the soundtrack are the two standouts of this film.  Zombie loves casting genre-friendly character actors in his films, which means we get great performances from people like Haig, Black, Moseley, Dennis Fimple, Irwin Keyes, and Tom Towles.  Haig, Black, and Moseley, in particular, are really fun to watch chew scenery.  Plagued by studio troubles and a small budget, Zombie was still working out his filmmaking kinks, but the serial killer family members are the rotting carnival-colored centerpiece of an imperfect movie and save it from B-movie obscurity.

HTC Sacrifice

The Firefly family celebrates Halloween their way.

House of 1000 Corpses is a good example of the exploitation revival that began cropping up in the 2000s, because it borrows heavily from the originals that inspired it while maintaining a veneer of slickness that prevents it from feeling genuinely exploitative the way movies like Last House on the Left or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did when they were released in the 1970s.  Like many of these new wave exploitation flicks, Zombie’s film is weighted more heavily in style over substance and although not nearly as gory as it was originally rumored to be, it’s violent and has a certain unpleasantness that appeals to a very select group of people.  Purely as a horror fan, it’s always a treat to watch something created by someone who obviously appreciates and reveres the genre, and half the fun is picking out the references.  On a visual level, this film never disappoints in that respect.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of 5 (mostly for violence)

While The Devil’s Rejects is a better film technically, I found the campy, over the top performances in House of 1000 Corpses more fun to watch.  It’s a violent, vulgar film, so it’s definitely not for the easily offended (although the title should have given that away immediately).




*House of 1000 Corpses alternate poster by Chad S. Trutt
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Geektastic Fright Fest 2013: House (1977) /2013/10/26/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-house-1977/ /2013/10/26/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-house-1977/#comments Sat, 26 Oct 2013 06:01:07 +0000 /?p=4954

HouseHouse (1977)

Directed by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi

Kimiko Ikegami
Saho Sasazawa
Haruko Wanibuchi
Yōko Minamida

When Japanese film company Toho approached Nobuhiko Obayashi about making a Jaws-like horror film, he collaborated with his daughter, Chigumi,  to create a story.  Instead of a Jaws rip-off, the father and daughter created a surreal, fantasy-horror story based on Chigumi’s darkest fears.  Toho refused to make the film for two years, until they finally allowed Obayashi to direct it himself and, despite receiving negative reviews from critics, it became an audience favorite and an international cult classic.

School girl Gorgeous (Ikegami) has plans to spend summer vacation with her composer father (Sasazawa), but when he brings home his new wife, Ryoko (Wanibuchi) as a surprise, Gorgeous decides to travel to her aunt’s home with six friends instead.  The girls are excited, until they are confronted with surreal supernatural events that begin killing them off one by one.

House Girls

The girls listen to Gorgeous describe her aunt’s tragic love story.

House is a genre defying film and its influences range from the nearly neon 70s era Italian horror, Grimm’s fairytales, and children’s television.  The first half hour of the movie reminded me of a live action anime – Gorgeous’s friends are named according to their defining interest (the smart one with glasses is “Prof”, the athletic tomboy is “Kung Fu”, the one who loves music is “Melody”, the dreamer is “Fantasy”, the shy one is “Sweet”, and the chubby girl is “Mac”) and they spend the entire trip giggling and mugging for the camera.  There’s a lot of soft focus, slow motion wind machine shots, animated sequences, and musical montages.  It’s not until they get to the aunt’s house that things start to go awry.  But even as the girls are picked off slasher-style by the house, there’s campy moments played for laughs and a surprisingly upbeat folky soundtrack.  There’s also plenty of weirdness that makes the last two thirds of the movie feel like a bit like a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life intercut with a Japanese version of “Scooby Doo”.  The colors and lighting reminded me of the vividness of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, another film from 1977 that has a very fairytale-esque feel.

House Mac Head

Fantasy finds Mac’s animated head at the bottom of a well.

The film does feel like a young girl’s version of a very dark Hansel and Gretel-type tale.  There’s a tragic romantic back story, but all the characters feel very one note and archetypal which makes it seem a bit childlike.  The pleasure in watching House comes from its arresting visuals and its intrinsic weirdness, not in complex characterization or layered plot.  It’s kind of what I would expect Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory to be if the entire movie took place in the weird boat tunnel.

House Giant Gorgeous

Sucked into the supernatural world her aunt’s house inhabits, Gorgeous terrorizes her friends as a giant.

Fright Rating: 2 gasps out of 5

I would definitely recommend this film to my anime fan friends and fellow film nerds looking for something completely different and undefinable.  House is very weird, but it’s not scary or realistically gory, so even non-horror fans can enjoy it.  It is currently available on Hulu Plus.

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Geektastic Fright Fest 2013: Les Diaboliques (1955) /2013/10/25/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-les-diaboliques-1955/ /2013/10/25/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-les-diaboliques-1955/#comments Fri, 25 Oct 2013 06:01:22 +0000 /?p=4945

Les DiaboliquesLes Diaboliques (1995)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Simone Signoret
Vera Clouzot
Paul Meurisse
Charles Vanel

Based on She Who Was No More, the novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcjac, the script for Les Diaboliques was being eyed by suspense master Alfred Hitchcock when the rights were bought by Clouzot.  Later, inspired by the film, Robert Bloch wrote Pyscho, which would become Hitchcock’s most popular film.  Les Diaboliques was included in Time’s 2007 list of the Top 25 Horror Films.

Although Christina Delassalle (Clouzot) owns a middle class boarding school, it is her harsh, tyrannical husband Michel (Meurisse) that runs it with an iron fist.  Christina is chronically ill and despises her husband’s abusive nature.  In turn, he carries on a torrid affair with a teacher at the school, Nicole (Signoret), and flaunts it in front of his disgusted wife.  He abuses Nicole as well, however, and their shared experience creates a bond between the two women.  Christina and Nicole begin to conspire to kill Michael, but the stress of carrying out the plan may lead them to turn on each other.

LD Christina and Nicole

Christina (Vera Clouzot) and Nicole (Signoret) are united by their mutual hatred for the same man, despite their obvious differences.

Many claimed that Clouzot had “out-Hitchcocked Hitchcock” with this film and it is easy to see why the two directors were vying to buy the rights.  Clouzot creates a tightly wrought thriller that continues to shock audiences to this day.  It is stylish and spare, with an intensity that builds steadily as the movie reaches its thrilling climax.  Clouzot paints Christina and Nicole as two very different women united by their hatred of the same man.  Groundbreaking for its frank handling of taboo subjects like divorce, adultery, and domestic abuse, Les Diaboliques still feels timeless and relevant, despite being over 50 years old.  Clouzot creates tension with moody lighting and a nearly silent soundtrack, and the final 15 minutes of the movie is among the best and most suspenseful filmmaking of all time.

LD Murder

The murder goes seemingly to plan, but will Christina be able to stay quiet about their dark deed?

The movie hinges on the odd relationship between the two female leads.  Although they should hate each other, they hate Michel more, which transcends their differences.  Clouzot cleverly makes the women sympathetic by painting Michel in the worst possible light.  He’s openly abusive and torments Christina with his affair, not caring that she and Nicole are friends.  The women are diametrically opposed – Christina is demure and unassuming, while Nicole is tough and assertive.  Vera Clouzot’s wide-eyed performance and girlish wardrobe help sell her as the frail Christina, while Signoret plays the tough-but-sexy Nicole to a tee, sporting short, slim skirts, a trendy short hairstyle, and large boxy sunglasses.  While Nicole shows no guilt over planning her lover’s murder, Christina is mired in her paranoia.  Their strongest traits, Nicole’s overconfidence and Christina’s anxiety, will be their ultimate downfalls.

LD Christina

In this iconic image from the film, Christina is terrified by the appearance of someone from her past.

Les Diaboliques is an excellent example of the gorgeous thrillers French filmmakers have become known for.  For suspense fans, it’s a must watch and a vital part of any film nerd’s collection.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of 5

The terror in this film comes from the slowly built suspense, as well as the chilling climax.  It’s an effective, scary piece of classic horror, perfect for those who prefer subtle suspense over gore.

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Geektastic Fright Fest 2013: [REC] (2007) /2013/10/24/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-rec/ /2013/10/24/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-rec/#comments Thu, 24 Oct 2013 06:01:06 +0000 /?p=4938

REC[REC] (2007)
Rated R (for bloody horror violence and language)

Directed Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

Manuela Velasco
Ferran Terraza
Pablo Rosso
David Vert

Filmed on location in Spain, the success of [REC] spawned an American remake (Quarantine) and a slew of “found footage” films from all over the world.  Balagueró and Plaza, famous for their documentary OT: la película, kept actors on their toes by not telling them of their characters’ fates until the day the crew filmed the death scenes and shooting the ending scenes in complete darkness with an infra-red camera.  They also encouraged the actors to improvise to keep the scenes feeling natural and real.

Ángela Vidal (Velasco), a reporter for a late night local color show “While You’re Asleep”, shadows a group of firefighters with her cameraman, Pablo (Rosso).  The firefighters are called about an elderly woman trapped in her apartment and when they break down her door, the woman attacks one of the policemen who’ve also responded.  The military swoops in, forcing the camera crew, the remaining first responders, and the apartment residents to stay in the building until they give the all clear.  A young girl in the apartment building is ill and it becomes clear that a virus is sweeping through the area, making those affected become violently aggressive.

REC Angela

Angela begins her night filming the normal goings on at a local firehouse.

Confession time: I’m not normally a fan of found footage films.  Even so, I really enjoyed [REC].  At 115 minutes, it’s fast-paced with very little fluff and it’s extremely scary.  The audience is lulled into complacency with the introductory scenes of Ángela and Pablo casually filming everyday life at the firehouse.  Ángela complains that she is bored and hopes for an emergency to liven up the night and even when the firefighters are called out, they don’t bother turning on the siren because it’s “not an emergency”.  The panic begins to build almost immediately as the emergency responders enter the elderly woman’s apartment and doesn’t ease until the end credits.  Horror fans will recognize early on that a zombie-like virus is spreading throughout the building, but rather than spoiling the scares, that knowledge heightens the tension as a medical intern works on the bitten victims and a sick girl interacts with the film crew and the apartment’s residents.  The explanation of the virus’s origin is the only thing that falls flat in the film, but it definitely doesn’t detract from the scares.  The found footage style filming helps heighten the suspense as the audience can only see what the cameraman sees, and Balagueró and Paco use the full dark and night vision scenes sparingly and to great effect.

REC Scared Angela

Angela is terrified as the lights go out.

The directors purposely chose unknown actors to preserve the “reality” of the film.  Velasco carries much of the film on screen, while Rosso is the audience’s conduit, allowing us to see what’s going on through his eyes (and the camera) and responding to what he sees.  Up until the point where all hell breaks loose, Velasco is the stereotypical journalist – her focus is almost entirely on getting the “story”, and she spends most of the movie insisting that everything be filmed, despite the danger around them.  None of the characters are very fleshed out – the apartment residents include a bickering elderly couple, an effeminate (and bigoted) man who preens for the camera even in the midst of disaster, and a neurotic, nagging upper middle class mother. The slim characterization doesn’t matter, however, as we know they will all eventually be fodder for the increasing infected. The subtle make up effects of the infected are realistic, but horrifying, particularly the infected children.

REC Jennifer

A small girl joins the ranks of the infected.

I recommend [REC] highly, even for those who dislike found footage films.  As a horror film, it’s extremely effective without being overly gory and the “shaky cam” scenes are kept to a minimum, usually as the characters are running away from the infected.  If you’re looking for pure jump scares, [REC] is a great choice, and even more frightening to watch in the dark.

Fright Rating: 4 gasps out of 5

This is one of the scarier movies I’ve seen in a long time.  I was physically backing away from my screen whenever the infected attacked, and the film definitely kept me on my toes.  As a zombie fan, I’d put this up with 28 Days Later in the great “almost zombie” flicks.

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Geektastic Fright Fest 2013: The Vanishing (1988) /2013/10/22/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-the-vanishing-1988/ /2013/10/22/geektastic-fright-fest-2013-the-vanishing-1988/#comments Tue, 22 Oct 2013 06:01:34 +0000 /?p=4912

The VanishingThe Vanishing (1988)

Directed by George Sluizer

Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu
Gene Bervoets
Johanna ter Steege
Gwen Eckhaus

Based on Tim Krabbe’s novel The Golden Egg, The Vanishing is based on the same urban legend that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, So Long at the Fair, And Soon the Darkness, and Dying Room Only.  In the urban legend, a young woman checks into a hotel with her mother while on vacation.  The daughter leaves (sometimes to fetch medicine for her ill mother), and when she returns, she is told by the hotel staff that she checked in alone.

Dutch couple Rex (Bervoets) and Saskia (ter Steege) are on a romantic vacation in France when they run out of gas in a tunnel.  After fighting and quickly making up, they stop at a gas station to fill up the car where they are observed and followed by Raymond (Donnadieu). Saskia describes a recurring nightmare in which she floats in a golden egg that appears to be on a collision course with another golden egg. She makes Rex promise to never abandon her and the couple buries two coins under a tree as a symbol of their love and fidelity.  Before they continue on their trip, she offers to buy drinks for them both and disappears inside a nearby gas station.  She does not return, and Rex frantically searches for her.    Over the years, Rex continues to search for Saskia.  When given the opportunity to learn what happened to his beloved girlfriend, he takes it, compelled to finally know the truth.

Saskia and Rex share a romantic moment beside a tree before her disappearance.

Saskia and Rex share a romantic moment beside a tree before her disappearance.

The Vanishing is a visually beautiful film.  The sun-dappled landscapes contrast with the dark paranoia felt by Rex and Raymond.  Sluzier allows the audience to know who was responsible for Saskia’s disappearance, but the viewer discovers along with Rex the horrifying details of what actually happened to her.  In the mean time, the audience is also shown Raymond’s intense double life.  His outward appearance is that of a regular family man, but when alone, he practices approaching and abducting women.  He is shown using a fake cast (just as real serial killer  Ted Bundy did) and preparing a handkerchief with chloroform, as well as monitoring his pulse following interactions with women.  The tragic flashback to his encounter with Saskia is both suspenseful and heart wrenching, as we know the outcome.  Similarly, his interaction with Rex is extremely tense, as Raymond preys on his obsession with what happened to Saskia.  The ending is brutal in its finality and although the audience, and Rex, finally know the truth, it is neither satisfying nor comforting.

Raymond uses a fake cast to lure women into his car.

Raymond uses a fake cast to lure women into his car.

Bervoets and Donnadieu carry much of the film.  Bervoets portrays the increasingly desperate Rex brilliantly, and it is easy to believe that he would go to extreme lengths to learn what happen to Saskia.  Donnadieu’s performance was wonderful and very real; much of his methodical preparation reminded me of what I’ve read about real life serial killers.  ver Teege is extremely likable and sympathetic as Saskia.  She has good chemistry with Bervoets and they feel like a genuine couple, both when they are fighting and being romantic.

The Vanishing Tunnel

The tunnel where Rex and Saskia run out of gas reappears several times throughout the film as a metaphor for Rex’s loss.

The Vanishing is an excellent film for those that enjoy Hitchcockian thrillers.  Although, Sluzier later directed an American remake starring Keifer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock, the original is the best version, both because it stays true to the source material and it is a tight, cohesive example of filmmaking.

Fright Rating: 2 gasps out of five

All of the violence happens off screen, so the true scares come from the tension built as Rex and Raymond interact.

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Geektastic Fright Fest 2013: Shallow Grave (1994) /2013/10/21/3938/ /2013/10/21/3938/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 06:01:18 +0000 /?p=3938

Shallow GraveShallow Grave (1994)
Rated R (for scenes of strong grisly violence, and for some language and nudity)

Directed by Danny Boyle

Ewan McGregor
Christopher Eccleston
Kerry Fox
Ken Stott

The first of famed director Danny Boyle’s films (and his personal favorite), Shallow Grave is a clinical, almost Hitchcockian look at how greed can divide friends and tear down morals.  In addition to starting Boyle’s varied and celebrated career, the film made stars of Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston.

Friends and roommates David (Eccleston), Juliet (Fox), and Alex (McGregor) audition for a fourth roommate, taking great delight in cruelly rejecting their many less than ideal applicants.  They eventually settle on Hugo, his sketchy employment status and vague application answers outweighed by the fact that he’s willing to pay his rent in cold hard cash.  After a short time of living with Hugo, the three friends realize they haven’t seen their tenant in several days and decide to break into his room.  They find Hugo’s body, dead of a drug overdose, and a briefcase full of money.  David wants to call the police, but Alex and Juliet eventually talk him into hiding the body and keeping the death a secret, allowing the three to split the money amongst themselves.  Their new found wealth -and their shared secret – starts to eat away at their friendship, however, and their collective greed threatens to destroy them all.

Alex Juliet and David

David (Eccleston), Alex (McGregor), and Juliet (Fox) interview their hapless applicants.

Boyle’s shoestring budget was helped immensely by his inventive camera work and a chilling score by Simon Boswell (he also composed the music for Hackers and has worked with artists like Blur, Orbital, and Echo and the Bunnymen).  From the beginning, Boyle sets up the dichotomy of the roommates’ crime and their banal home and work lives. Set to techno music (and clearly the precursor to the opening of Boyle’s next film, Trainspotting), the opening juxtaposes a camera moving quickly through a city and slow pans through a still forest, which we later learn is Hugo’s burial site.  Repeated shots of the corpse, wrapped in a red blanket, are intercut with scenes of the three going about their regular daily lives. Likewise, the audience sees the wide-reaching effects of the crime as Hugo’s associates systematically torture and brutally kill his friends as they search for him and, presumably, the money, while Alex and Juliet celebrate by blowing their ill-gotten gains on expensive electronics, clothing, and jewelry.

The crime is the movie’s MacGuffin; at its core, the film is a collection of character studies of the three main characters.  All three are typical successful early 90s yuppies (think “Friends” or “Thirtysomething”) and wildly unlikeable, but only Alex and Juliet are true sociopaths.  The cold and callous nature of the three makes it hard for an audience to identify or connect with any of the protagonists, a main bone of contention for critics, but that’s just how Boyle intended it.  To even entertain the idea of keeping Hugo’s death a secret for pure financial gain, they would have to be selfish and self-serving from the beginning.

David is the closest thing we have to a likable character.  He is consistently the odd man out and desperately wants to look cool, both to win Alex’s friendship and admiration and for Juliet to return his as of yet unrequited affections.  It’s this approval-seeking that keeps him from calling the police after they find Hugo’s body, despite his assertion that concealing the death and keeping the money is “immoral”.  Only when he’s reminded of his “boring” existence as a chartered accountant (by his boss, no less), does he agree to get rid of the deceased Hugo and keep his portion of the money.  As the three roommates sit around the open briefcase filled with money, Alex and Juliet have blissful looks on their faces.  David is hunched over and clearly distressed.  He is most affected by the grisly disposal of the corpse and the most concerned about the aftermath.  Eccleston plays his part with the kind of intensity he’s now known for, but he also portrays David as vulnerable, insecure, and eventually paranoid under the thin, false layer of icy, intellectual composure.

The Money

Alex, David, and Juliet consider the money.

McGregor is pitch perfect as the charming-but-amoral Alex and it’s easy to see how he became a star based on this performance.  Of the three, Alex seems the most callous and should be the most unlikeable, but McGregor manages to make him extremely charismatic, while still completely shallow.  Fox is also good as the cooly manipulative Juliet.

Visually, the film is very good, especially considering it was Boyle’s first.  The apartment (the film’s main setting) is inspired by the palette of Edward Hopper’s “Hotel Lobby”, featuring a combination of rich and muted greens and blues with occasional hints of red.  Repeated shots, especially those of the apartment building’s spiral staircase and bookending close-ups of David’s vacant face, help to give the film a tight, consistent feel.  As with Trainspotting, the movie begins and ends with voiceovers from McGregor outlining the overarching theme of the film.  Shallow Grave has hints of Hitchcock, Edgar Allan Poe, and even Heathers, and Boyle manages to give what could have been a formulaic plot a fresh feel with stylish directing and a carefully chosen cast.

The greens, blues, yellows, and occasional reds reflect the palette of Edward Hopper's "Hotel Lobby". Believed to be a depiction of the artist and his wife, "Hotel Lobby" is often associated with alienation, which makes it an excellent choice as inspiration for Shallow Grave. The apartment building's spiral staircase acts as a metaphor for the "perfect" plan spinning out of control.

Fright Rating: 2 gasps out of 5

Shallow Grave is more about suspense than violence.  Most of the violence takes place off screen, or just out of sight, and the R rating is mostly due to a few scenes of brief nudity and strong language, rather than gore.  It’s a great independent thriller and an often forgotten film that’s well worth a watch.

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