Obituaries - 2010

As the sun sets on 2010, it wouldn't be proper of The October Country to usher in the new year without tipping our hats and paying respect to those contributors of our beloved genre who are no longer with us. While some's presence has been felt more than others, they're all of them icons in their own right, every single one of them leaving an indelible mark in the field.
So, without further ado, a moment of silence for:

Dennis Hopper (Actor/Writer/Director)
Night Tide (1961), The Twilight Zone (1963), Queen of Blood (1966), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Blue Velvet (1986), Black Widow (1987), Witch Hunt (1994), Firestarter 2: Rekindled (2002), Unspeakable (2002), The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005), Land of the Dead (2005), Hoboken Hollow (2005)

Corey Haim (Actor)
Silver Bullet (1985), The Lost Boys (1987), Watchers (1988), Fever Lake (1996), The Backlot Murders (2002), The Lost Boys: The Tribe (2008)

Ingrid Pitt (Actress)
Sound of Horror (1964), The Vampire Lovers (1970), Countess Dracula (1971), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), The Wicker Man (1973), Thriller (1975), Transmutations (1985), The Asylum (2000), Minotaur (2006), Sea of Dust (2008)

Jean Rollin (Director/Writer/Actor)
The Rape of the Vampire (1968), The Nude Vampire (1970), Caged Virgins (1971), Strange Things Happen At Night (1971), Rose Of Iron (1973), Curse of the Living Dead (1974), Lips of Blood (1975), Grapes of Death (1978), Fascination (1979), Zombie Lake (1981), Two Orphan Vampires (1997), La fiancée de Dracula (2002), Le masque de la Méduse (2010)

Leslie Nielsen (Actor)
Stage 13 (1950), The Clock (1950), Out There (1951), Lights Out (1950-1952), Suspense (1950-1953), Tales of Tomorrow (1952-1953), Forbidden Planet (1956), Thriller (1960), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1958-1961), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964), Dark Intruder (1965), Night Slaves (1970), Night Gallery (1971), The Evil Touch (1973-1974), Day of the Animals (1977), Prom Night (1980), Creepshow (1982), The Creature Wasn't Nice (1983), The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985), Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), Scary Movie 3 (2003), Scary Movie 4 (2006), Stan Helsing (2009)

Dino De Laurentiis (Producer)
Goliath and the Vampires (1961), Danger: Diabolik (1968), Barbarella (1968), King Kong (1976), Orca (1977), Amittyville II: The Possession (1982), The Dead Zone (1983), Dune (1984), Cat's Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), Maximum Overdrive (1986), Manhunter (1986), King Kong Lives (1986), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), Army of Darkness (1992), Unforgettable (1996), Hannibal (2001), Red Dragon (2002), Hannibal Rising (2007)

Stephen Gilbert (Author)
Ratman's Notebooks (1968)

Frank Frazetta (Artist)
Frank Frazetta was an acclaimed American fantasy, horror and science-fiction artist.

Zelda Rubenstein (Actress)
Poltergeist (1982), Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), Anguish (1987), Poltergeist III (1988), Teen Witch (1989), Tales From the Crypt (1992), Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996), Little Witches (1996), Wishcraft (2002), Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), The Scariest Places On Earth (2000-2006)
John Steakley (Author)
Armor (1984), Vampire$ (1990)

Leisure Books (Publisher)
Leisure Books was an imprint of Dorchester Publishing specializing in Horror and Thriller mass market paperbacks. As of 2000, Leisure Books was the only U.S. publisher with a line of horror books.
Lisa Blount (Actress)
Dead and Buried (1981), What Waits Below (1984), The Hitchhiker (1986), Nightflyers (1987), Prince of Darkness (1987), Needful Things (1993), Stalked (1994)

R.I.P. all of you and thank you for your years of service in our genre.

The Anticipation Is Killing Me

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Its a rare day when you'll find us eagerly awaiting the release of a remake here at The October Country. A rare day indeed. I'll just come out and say it, we're staunchly opposed to the remake trend (or "whore copies" as I like to call them as the term befits their true nature) that has swept Hollywood since the success of Marcus Nispel's 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre re-imagining (Jesus, seven years of this drek?) and has consumed any chance or likelihood that anything original will go into production by a major studio more than once a year as a result. Yet, here we are. To say that we aren't foaming at the mouth and chewing our lips with over-sized incisors at the prospect of what has been done to the 1973 made for TV movie / obscure cult classic Don't Be Afraid of the Dark in the very capable hands of producer Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, The Devil's Backbone) would be, well, underselling our enthusiasm.

The original '73 movie was an effectively creepy, (mostly) successful attempt in wringing genuine chills from it's strange, small premise. The premise being that of young couple Sally (Kim Darby) and Alex (Jim Hutton) inherriting an old mansion from Sally's deceased grandmother, recently deceased. Upon moving in, Sally discovers a small portion of the fireplace in the basement den has been bricked up and asks the estate's handyman, Mr. Harris (William Demarest), why that is. Mr. Harris informs her that her grandmother had it sealed up after the death of her husband and the bricked up mysetry is better off left alone. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a horror movie if Sally heeded her handyman's advice, so soon after she busies herself with removing some of the bricks herself. Unable to fully free them all, she manages to clear away enough that a small door is revealed to be hidden behind them. Leaving it at that, Sally resumes renovating the house alone, as her lawyer husband (more often than naught) is away at the office striving to make partner at his firm. It isn't long after that Sally's nightly torment begins. The lights routinely go out, beckoning voices can be heard and tiny, hideous, scurrying figures are glimpsed within the darkness. Something very evil has been awakened behind that small door in the fireplace. Something that very much would like to drag Sally off into it's world of enternal darkness.

The original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, though displaying a genuine, errie atmosphere throughout it's proceedings and more than once shows itself capable of raising the hair on our arms (plus it scores points for it's anti-television downbeat ending), hasn't aged all that well. The problem lies with the film's creatures, simply put, made rather ineffective and silly by some unfortunate, dated makeup SFX that I'm assuming were results of the film's limited TV budget. Though they might have chilled some's blood back in '73 (I imagine young ones were particularly scarred by the film, I would have been) unfortunately, they nearly undo all the nicely crafted suspense and dread built up to the point of their reveal. In retrospect, its a shame that the creatures living behind that small door weren't kept in the shadows entirely, because it is in the darkness where they truly exude their power to unnerve. Though I am not a proponent of that tiring Hollywood excuse that just because something has aged, or not aged well, is reason enough to overhaul a franchise or existing property, the creatures from the remake have already been glimpsed in the teaser trailer and boy, are they an improvemnet. Recalling the demonic visage of the pint sized minions of 1987's The Gate (those things did traumatize me), what we have briefly seen of them promises to be terrifyingly memorable.

Other bright spots feeding my hope that I won't regret spotlighting this film in a few months: The cast is talented (Guy Pierce and Katie Holmes, whom suprisingly doesn't bother me when her face isn't on the cover of a tabloid in relation to her wacko husband). Guillermo del Toro has a distinctive visual style that is always welcome (the influence of which can be found in everything from set design and creature effects) and oftentimes makes for a unique, imaginative world that is always an honor to visit. It appears (judging from the tidbits of material that has been released thus far) as though his stamp of creativity has been left on this film too. What I can only hope for, in regards to the remake, is that the integrity of the original's paced atmosphere has been kept intact, favoring mood over cheap jump scares and big money, special effects overkill. In short, don't let this be another Haunting remake. Please, gods.

Miramax Film's Press Release:

Prodeucers Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage) and Mark Johnson (Chronicles of Narnia) join forces to deliver Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a tale of hair-raising, spine-chilling horror.

Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison), a lonely, withdrawn child, has just arrived in Rhode Island to live with her father Alex (Guy Pierce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) at the 19th-Century mansion they are restoring. While exploring the sprawling estate, the young girl discovers a hidden basement, undisturbed since the strange disappearance of the mansion's builder a century ago. When Sally unwittingly lets loose a race of ancient, dark-dwelling creatures who conspire to drag her down into the mysterious house's bottomless depths, she must convince Alex and Kim that it's not a fantasy - before the evil lurking in the dark consumes them all.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark's Teaser trailer:

"Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" Trailer
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Daemonophobia / Oclophobia

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

I could probably publish a small novel on the completely innocuous things that now vibrate with a sinister aura to me thanks to legendary filmmaker (and painter, musician, animator, photographer, carpenter, spokesperson for Transcendental Meditation) David Lynch. No really, I could. Heretofore, many of these everyday doohickeys and thingamajigs were no more threatening than Pepé Le Pew making it with Penelope Pussycat but in Lynch's batshit crazy hands, something terrifying creeps in, creeps through the everyday facade of normalcy. I imagine that now that I have stumbled through Lynch's looking glass, there will forever be hinted terrors behind the commonest shapes and objects he has fixed his surrealist's eye on. I also imagine that I will be covering these many ridiculous fears he has sown in my mind permanently, quite regularly here at The October Country. Because honestly, no filmmaker has unnerved me as consistently as Lynch has. So for today's sojourn into the world of personal and irrational fears, I'm going straight to the top of the list. The mother of all achievements as far as Mr. Lynch's bizarre, scary creations are concerned: the demonic, disturbing, what-the-fuck entity known as BOB (Frank Silva) from television's Twin Peaks and it's attendant incarnation, the owl (fittingly associated with sorcery and evil throughout history).

The daemonophobia...

...that begot the oclophobia (and future Salem album cover)....

...that resulted in a fear of finding this at the foot of my bed one day:

Conclusion, thank you for many a sleepless, harrowing nights alone in bed Mr. Lynch and for making those deep, dark woods just a little bit blacker.


Poster Art Appreciation - Volume One

They sure don't make 'em like this anymore. Simultaneously lurid, colorful, creative, graphic and strangely beautiful. Personally (and I know I am not alone in this sentiment) some of these posters are what I most fondly remember from my childhood when making weekend trips to the theater or summer afternoon visits to the locally owned, pre-Blockbuster era video store (and occasionally I even got to rent a few depending on which rebellious babysitter was "watching" over me at the time). The fond memories being that of excitement and anticipation when I set my eyes on some of these things, my young mind reeling at the horrific possibilities and sleepless nights that the posters' art promised me was in store. Sometimes the film lived up to everything suggested on the poster or VHS's box cover. Sadly though, oftentimes the artwork was the most creative and memorable thing involved in most of these movies.

Many fans today, fed up with studios' uninspired Photoshop hack jobs in regards to both modern movie posters and re-releasing older films with new, boring DVD covers, have taken to personally restoring old poster art in DVD cover form or creating entirely new pieces that recall the glory days (proving that there is no contest for most fans on which form of advertising is preferred and I say the more power to them). Their heyday may be far behind us, but the appreciation of true works of art such as these still lives on in many a horror enthusiast's heart.

A Virgin Among The Living Dead (1973)

Raiders Of The Living Dead (1986)

Terror Train (1980)

Slugs (1988)

Nothing But The Night (1973)

Nec'ro·man'cy (1972)

Jennifer (1978)

Squirm (1976)

Fade To Black (1980)

The House On Skull Mountain (1974)

Nightwing (1979)

Deathdream (aka Dead of Night, 1974)

Alone In The Dark (1982)

Daughters Of Darkness (1971)

Raw Meat (aka Deathline, 1972)


Happy Holidays

Mary Ellen Trainor and Larry Drake from Tales From The Crypt's second adaptation of The Vault of Horror's "And All Through The House"

It seems as though we've barely started here at The October Country and we're already taking a small break. I know. I know. All this holiday madness is kicking our butt on the home front. We'll return with more reviews, articles and a host of surprises when the festivities die down.
Till then, here is a little Christmas present for all you good "boils and ghouls".


The Best Horror Films Of The Year - 2010

The Killing Room
(2010, Written by Gus Krieger and Ann Peacock, Directed by Jonathan Liebesman)

There may some debate about whether or not The Killing Room is applicable for inclusion on a "Best Of..." list with the word "horror" in it's title (and it won't be the last time, as far as this site is concerned). So lets just get this misconception out of the way at the start. It is. So lets move on shall we?

In the wake of 9/11 we have seen quite a change in our pop culture landscape. Specifically, in our cinema. While films that have dealt with the current conflict abroad in more serious, straightforward terms have gone largely ignored by the mainstream public. One genre that has had a fairly successful go at tackling this new world order, has been none other than our beloved horror movie. Since 9/11 horror films in particular have mutated into a much more vicious, snarling beast. While they have never been "polite" cinema, the manner in which they go about achieving their chills have altogether altered. In so much that largely gone are the days of reanimated stalkers pursuing bubble headed co-eds through the forest with a machete, or ghosts whispering softly from the darkness of some creaking, haunted abode. If anything summarizes what has made horror films tick since that fateful day in September, it would be this, "blood-lust". Not your typical blood-lust in the manner in which we've grown accustomed to since the late 70's. Say, "machete enters victims chest briefly before the MPAA enforced cuts render said victim dead and limp 2 seconds later." Not that type of blood-lust. Not the blood-lust of the body count / slasher film of the 80's and late 90's. This blood-lust pours out slowly from it's ravaged, dark heart.. The victim's suffering is captured lovingly in every prolonged detail. The screams exquisite, the terror complete, their physical and mental anguish knows no bounds. As their blood runs from their broken and battered bodies in film after film, the American moviegoer has sat rapt in darkened theaters across the country for the better part of a decade now, gleefully salivating at the heightened and cruel carnage on screen. To say that the very public specter of human rights violations, Guantanamo Bay and torture has cast a long, dark shadow over the genre over these past 10 years would be an understatement of the highest order. Not since the fears of radiation and nuclear fallout of the 1950's produced in our collective imagination images of behemoth monsters, animal and human alike (Them!, Godzilla, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) has the subtext in horror been so frighteningly precise, so obviously on the nose. As the raw meat hits the floor from bound and flailing bodies (Captivity, the whole of the Saw franchise), as images of military occupation begin to dominate otherwise tranquil vistas (28 Weeks Later, The Crazies) and the xenophobia takes effect to the point of rendering every wrinkled, dirty foreign face sinister and devoid of humanity (Hostel, Turistas) and even our homes and privacy are lain waste to as waves of anonymous invaders attempt to gain entry and tear our lives and bodies asunder (The Strangers, Ills), one simple truth cannot be ignored, the horror of the past decade has been the horror of war.

Into this new cinema comes Johnathan Liebesman's The Killing Room, and asks 'do the ends justify the means'? Or more to the point, is the small loss of American casualties on our soil, at the hands of our government, exceptable when it hypothetically aids in waging our side of a war more efficiently? The relevance to our military is nil as the facilitators of this methodology (as depicted in the movie) don't exist on any legitimate, accountable US intelligence playing field.

The film opens with an explanation of the allegedly defunct MK-ULTRA program that was a code name for an illegal, covert, CIA human research program that was ran by the Office of Scientific Intelligence. Using American and Canadian citizens as it's unaware test subjects, the program ran from the early 1950s well into the late 60's. The goal of the program was to study potential means of achieving mind control and developing ways in which to enact more effective forms of torture and interrogation in the hopes of giving us an advantage in combating enemies of the state due to escalated fears during the Cold War. Given it's nature, the program was ordered to disband by the Rockefeller Commission, but by then most records detailing it's actions had been destroyed. Conspiracy theorists have speculated on the the details of this program for decades. It's a sound preoccupation of theirs that is made all the more admissible given the program's sheer plausibility.Now in light of September 11th, the new millenium has given rise to many a refreshed ruminations over what the MK project would resemble in this new age of American "patriotism". Thus adding to our list of new, beefed up cultural boogymen, the American Governement 2.0., and it is here where our story begins.

Four individuals, Crawford (Timothy Hutton), Tony (Shea Whigham), Kerry (Clea Duvall) & Paul (Nick Cannon) sign up for a psychological research study to earn $250 for eight hours of filling out questionnaires. After being shuttled to the location in secret they arrive one by one, in a stark white room overlooked by a sizable two-way mirror. The room contains only a long rectangular table and metal chairs, both items of furniture bolted to the floor. They are presented small piles of test pamphlets full of hundreds of questions to be answered.. Before long, the strangers are making short order of their task and their awkwardness dissipates as their chemistry begins to coalesce. It is shortly revealed that the activities of the four test subjects are prerecorded events being overseen by Dr. Emily Reilly (Chloë Sevigny) whom herself is being studied as closely as they are by Dr, Phillips (a quietly menacing Peter Stormare). When the small group completes their questionnaires, Dr. Phillips enters the room and rather jovially introduces himself and the program. Stationed on the opposite side of the two-way mirror, Emily observes as soon after, the four stranger's real indoctrination, (that they are unwittingly participants in the resurrected MK-ULTRA program)is brought horrifyingly and tragically to light.

There is no end of praise that I could heap upon The Killing Room and all that it achieves within it meager scope. Though it's not the only film taking place in a singular location that wound up on this year's "Best Of..." list (Buried, Devil, and to lesser degrees Frozen and Altitude among the distinguished) The Killing Room forges its own path in that it is almost deceptively unassuming in it's presentation. Stripped away of all other flashy bells and whistles (locations, overwrought action set pieces) and left with not much else to train our eye on but the characters, the story is allowed to be told on the strengths of it's screenplay and actors' performances alone, and boy do they deliver. This is without a doubt one of the most impressive ensembles of the year (certainly thee strongest in any genre offering). Every last one of them brings their A game and contributes immensely to the proceedings. The interaction between doctors Reilly (Sevigny) and Phillips (Stormare), though reserved and respectful (as is appropriate between a student and their superior) and consisting mostly of philosophical back and forth about the study being reviewed, absolutely crackles with tension. It is made all the more taut when Emily realizes that she too is part of the test, her fate hanging on the keen observations she has been expected to provide regarding the four subjects in the white room. Timothy Hutton makes a nice turn as the film's most capable of the bunch. Clea Duvall (one of this decades great unsung Scream Queens) projects the adequate amount of both vulnerability and curiosity. Nick Cannon surprisingly delivers as the group's fragilest member while Shea Whigham (who impressed greatly in The October Country's 2008 fave Splinter) nearly steals the show out from underneath his co-stars as the fiery, ready to fight back everyman.

Amidst all this assured simplicity, further praise should be singled out for Laine Abramson's set design. Though initially one might think that the film's entire budget went into the casting of it's stars to the sacrifice of a "memorable" setting (even as said set design showcases it's actors brilliantly), that notion would be as deceiving as much else of the film is. The severe, sterile white walls that we are trapped within for 93 minutes begin to choke away all hope of survival, smothering us with their oppressive claustrophobia. Ultimately, it was a masterstroke that the production underplayed this aspect of the film, because as it turns out, you won't soon be forgetting that dreadful, terrifying room.

Additionally, an appreciative nod to Brian Tyler is in order. Tyler, who up to this point had yet to really grab me with any of his previous compositions, turns in a score that has emerged as one of the most moving, beautiful scores I've heard in a genre film in sometime. It dips and sweeps the viewer through the full range of emotions leaping off the screen. Dread, hope, loss, sacrifice and terror are all truly felt and realized through his stunning, understated music.

Another name that pleasantly surprised me was the director himself, Jonathan Liebesman. If I had been aware of his hand steering this ship before the credits rolled, I might have been slightly apprehensive in turning over my time to this venture, but thankfully, I was ignorant of this information. Liebesman as you might well remember, (or not) directed 2003's dreadfully awful Darkness Falls (though to his credit, it was a victim of much studio tampering) and helmed the lukewarm, misguided Leatherface prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Who knew the man had it in him? Perhaps all he needed was an well written script in addition to the creative freedom provided to a production that is this low key and under the radar. Perhaps, The Killing Room was his consolation for being saddled with such woeful, previous directing duties. Whatever the case may be, Liebesman has finally turned in something that truly shines. Up next from him is 2011's Battle: Los Angeles. Time will tell if he can capture lightning in a bottle twice.

Thought provoking, relevant, suspenseful, adult and effectively capable of leaving it's viewer with a mean case of paranoia, The Killing Room is a surprising success that hits you from out of nowhere (and literally came from out of nowhere for this viewer). When the film ended, I had to ask myself, as a human being, what am I capable of doing to others in the name of survival? How susceptible am I to conditioning to act against my own nature, all but giving up that survival instinct for the "greater good" of my country? Honestly, they are truly unsettling questions that I hope that I never have to answer, but The Killing Room will have you pondering nonetheless.

The Killing Room stars Chloë Sevigny (All Flowers In Time, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done?, American Psycho), Peter Stormare (The Divide, Horsemen, Bruiser), Timothy Hutton (The Alphabet Killer, Secret Window, The Dark Half), Clea Duvall (Carnivàle,The Grudge, Identity), Nick Cannon (Monster House) and Shea Whigham (Machete, Splinter, Blood Creek) and is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Skull Ratings:
5 Skulls - The Best
4 Skulls - Very Good
3 Skulls - Good / Average
2 Skulls - Poor
1 Skull - The Worst
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