Chillerama (2011)

We submit for your approval a quartet of farcical drive-in features rendered in the most tasteless fashion possible. The nearly charming monstrosity is a tribute not only to classic B-movie horror but also to schlockmeister Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma Team, who staunchly believe that there should be no limits on disgusting, juvenile entertainment.

The action takes place at a drive-in movie theater on its last night of operation. Theater owner Cecil Kaufman (Richard Riehle, whom you’ve seen in dozens of small parts over the years) is screening three lost horror movie classics, including Wadzilla, the story of a mutated sperm cell that grows to gigantic proportions and tries to mate with the Statue of Liberty.

The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, is a black-and-white flick starring Joel David Moore (Bones, Hatchet) as Hitler, who wants to create a monster of his very own (played by Kane Hodder).

I Was a Teenage Wearbear, a homoerotic beach-blanket bingo romp about a young man who transforms into a bloodthirsty bear (meaning large, hirsute gay man) under the power of the full moon.

Each section gets its own director: Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City), who also stars, does a fine job with Wadzilla, constantly wringing extra laughs out of a one-joke setup.

Adam Green’s (Hatchet, Frozen) Diary of Anne Frankenstein is the most ambitious of the vignettes, and the most artfully realized.

Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs, Driftwood) simply doesn’t have enough gas in the tank for I Was A Teenage Wearbear. It’s overly long and silly, though he gets props for a few catchy musical numbers and for casting the always watchable Lin Shaye as the Maria Ouspenskia gypsy woman.

Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) has a barrel of fun as zombies run roughshod over the drive-in in the wraparound tale. And in the end, the fun should be enough to hold your interest.

But make no mistake, this is proudly low-brow cinema, and non-horror buffs probably won’t last to the credits.

I Sell The Dead (2008)

Horror, more than most genres, has little need of name actors.

Did anyone know Jeffrey Combs before Reanimator? How about Bruce Campbell before Evil Dead? Were there any “bankable” stars in Romero’s Dead films?

For the most part, being able to remember hastily written dialogue, and the ability to render it without stuttering, is sufficient.

There are certainly examples, and I Sell The Dead is one, of a few familiar faces with dependable skills elevating modest material to agreeable heights.

Here, Ron Perelman (who is as reliable as they come) is Father Duffy, a 19th century clergyman tasked with taking the final confession of convicted grave robber Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan, Lord of the Rings, Lost) who awaits a morning appointment with the guillotine.

Both actors are given sufficient room to ham and ramble, and they make the most of it. I Sell The Dead is highly reminiscent of Jacques Tournier’s grimly fiendish Comedy of Terrors (1963), which cast Vincent Price and Peter Lorre as a pair of inept undertakers. This is broad-stroke black comedy; subtlety need not apply.

The tale unfolds as Blake recounts how he got into the occasionally profitable profession of grave robbery, mentored by his old pal Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden).

At first, the two find themselves under the thumb of Dr. Quint (Angus Scrimm, aka The Tall Man, from Phantasm) a physician with a seemingly inexhaustible need for cadavers—the fresher the better.

Imagine everyone’s shock and surprise when their latest unearthed specimen turns out to be quite undead!

You can’t go wrong with I Sell The Dead. It’s the very definition of a ripping yarn, where the action is plentiful and over the top, and the principal players really have a ball.

Insidious (2010)

Right off the bat I was worried. The cover art proclaims, “From the makers of Paranormal Activity and Saw,” two films I didn’t much care for.

I thought the former was dull and the latter unbearably formulaic. So paddle my ass and call me Spanky—I rolled the dice and came up a winner with Insidious, a potent portrait of immaterial possession that belongs on the same domestic horror shelf as Poltergeist, The Exorcist, and The Grudge.

It isn’t as good as those films, but it’s good enough.

Teeny weeny actress Rose Byrne (Damages) is cast as Renai Lambert, a mother of three children. Byrne is totally spot-on here emotionally as the freaked-out-but-scrappy mom, but she looks like she’d shatter into gravel if she so much as contemplated child birth.

Patrick Wilson, a rather colorless fusion of Will Arnett, Robert Patrick, and Timothy Olyphant, is her husband Josh. As previously mentioned, they have three children.

The eldest, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), is a fearless tyke with a hidden talent for astral projection during sleep. A stroke of bad luck comes when Dalton, instead of hanging out in the girls’ locker room like a sensible youngster, gets his dumb-astral form trapped in a very bad-astral place, and all sorts of extra-dimensional creatures start showing up to claim the lad’s comatose body.

After getting the beans scared out of her on repeated occasions, Renai finally prevails on her prick of a husband to move from their extremely nice early 20th century Craftsman-style home into another, equally beautiful home.

Editor’s note: Having gone through numerous hellish scenarios with contractors, realtors, and movers, the Lamberts emerge from this part of the deal relatively unscathe). It’s only after the move that they find out, as the tag line declares, “It isn’t the house that’s haunted.”

I got a kick out of Insidious. The scares, though predictable, are fairly intense and original. There’s some surprisingly unannoying comedy relief in Specs (writer Leigh Wannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), a Mutt-and-Jeff team of nerdy ghost busters who quickly realize they’re in over their heads.

And veteran character actress Lin Shaye (Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary) does yeoman work as a capable psychic brought in by Josh’s mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey, always a pleasure).

The ghosts, lost souls, and demons that materialize during the 103-minute run time are mostly frightening, and, more importantly, memorable.

Alone in the house, on a dark night, Insidious could well set your pants afloat.

High Lane (2009)

High Lane is a smartly crafted French thriller that earns a respectable round of applause from yours truly. It’s kind of a two-fer, since the terror stems from different directions.

A passel of adventurous, reasonably attractive young-uns decide to climb a fabled mountain in Croatia (mistake no. 1, of many). The climbing footage itself, to me, is disturbing enough (me no like high places), especially after it turns out that one member of the team is scared of heights and has to be led around like a sniveling cub scout.

Great, I’ve got a character to identify with—and he’s a shithead.

As if coping with a panic-stricken climber isn’t enough, it turns out they are not alone up there. Somewhere, a creature dwells. And really, that’s all that needs to be said.

So with High Lane you get vertiginous frights augmented by the presence of a freaky whatsit. Any way you slice it, that’s good value.

It also helps that director Abel Ferry has a good eye for both picturesque countryside and high-altitude drama.

I’d watch it again.

Prey (2010)

Are pigs scary? Sure, why not?

In the French thriller Prey, some really vicious swine bedevil a wealthy family of corrupt industrialists. Mayhem ensues.

Nutshell: The aforementioned 1 percenters gather at the family mansion for various reasons: the family business (pesticides, natch) is in trouble, and the youngest daughter is considering marriage and a move away with her fiancee (Grégoire Colin).

Before anyone can make any sort of decision, a herd of deer commit suicide by throwing themselves on an electric fence. The menfolk get their shooting irons together and investigate.

Enter monstrous, mutated killer pigs.

I liked this one quite a bit. The hunting party is a pack of privileged assholes who slowly come unraveled in the wilderness (Sorry, I love that motif) and get everything they deserve.

The action then asks us to consider, “Who are the real pigs here?”

Prey  (Proie en Francais) is a righteous little movie and proof positive that pigs—yes, pigs—are a formidable foe with much potential to plague mankind.

All hail the coming of Swinecore!