Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

I suppose it’s a little early for Christmas revelry, but this uncanny Finnish import written and directed by Jalmari Helander is reason enough to get in a (twisted) holiday mood. Creepy and often hilarious, Rare Exports has the look and feel of a wondrous Spielberg project (E.T. meets Super 8?), right down to the charismatic leading moppet (Onni Tommila) who intuitively understands that a certain unearthly entity (in this case, Santa Claus) does not come in peace.

On Christmas Eve in the remote hinterlands of Finland, a corporate-sponsored archeological expedition digs up a towering, horned creature frozen in ice. Pietari (Tommila) deduces it to be the “real” Santa Claus, a fearful demon who brutally kills naughty children. Meanwhile, his father (Jorma Tommila) and his fellow reindeer hunters have captured a vicious, wizened old bearded man, whom they wish to exchange with the corporate bosses for enough money to get them all through the winter. Chaos reigns for a time, leading up to a left-field ending that works once you give it a chance to sink in.

As one might expect, given the Spielberg sensibility, the key to the story is the relationship between a boy and his widowed father, the latter trying desperately to protect and provide for his son—who at the same time is hoping to prove to his dad that he’s a brave and resourceful young man, and perfectly capable of protecting himself. It’s a heartwarming coming-of-age fable replete with an evil giant Santa and a whole bunch of murderous elves. Given that premise, it’s mostly gore free, but the disturbing picture of jolly ol’ St. Nick depicted here, is more than enough to inspire Christmas nightmares in the heads of impressionable children of all ages. I approve this message.


Troll Hunter (2010)

A trio of Norwegian college students armed with a video camera chases a man they suspect of being a bear poacher.

As it turns out, Hans the hunter (Otto Jesperson) has a much more arcane purpose to his clandestine activities, namely regulating the troll population on behalf of the Norwegian government.

Like most people who’ve sat through Troll Hunter, I dug the hell out of its confident blending of mockumentary, humor, horror, and conspiracy theory.

The troll FX are wizardly; the “mythical” giants are marvelous creations that come to life as sinister (though familiar) fairy tale terrors with a taste for automobile tires and sheep.

As Hans explains to the incredulous students, there are all kinds of trolls: Some are 200 feet tall. Some have more than one head. Some can be found under bridges. And they all live in particular territories.

It’s Hans’ job to track and kill the creatures if they leave their stomping grounds, lest they upset the delicate balance of nature, which usually ends up with people getting crushed or eaten.

Writer-director André Ovredal has a keen sense of all the disparate elements at work here, and his cinematic finesse in creating a vivid mythology on the fly instantly makes him a filmmaker worth following.

If I had to make a complaint, it’s that Troll Hunter is a little light on gore and fright intensity. There is a jaunty lightness of mood that permeates the action, resulting in plot developments—like the death of a major character—that lack any genuine impact.

In other words, Ovredal sacrifices fear for fun.

It’s not much of a misstep, and it goes a long way toward explaining the movie’s popularity at indie and second-run cinemas. Gambling on an audience’s preference for snickering instead of screaming is probably a smart move if you’re looking down the road at career longevity.

2-Headed Shark Attack (2011)

I love it when a plan comes together. I really wanted my 50th review for Horrificflicks to be something special, and lo and behold, along comes 2-Headed Shark Attack to bite me on the ass.

It’s an almost symphonic work of schlock, directed with the expert hand of a born showman; namely Christopher Ray, the son of cheap-thrills pioneer, Fred Olen Ray (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds, a couple of Emmanuel flicks, and countless examples of Grade-Z, straight-to-video trash under various pseudonyms).

The plot? A college class on a field trip to the ocean (I guess), gets its pleasure boat scuttled by a two-headed shark.

A bunch of the students, including Hulk Hogan’s daughter Brooke (who probably got to college on a stripping scholarship), along with their meatball professor (Charlie O’Connell—because trying to get his brother Jerry would have sunk the budget), take a dinghy to a nearby atoll to wait things out.

Meanwhile, the professor’s doctor wife, (Carmen Electra—damn, wish she was my primary care provider!) remains on board the slowly sinking boat in order to sunbathe. Oh, and the atoll (which is better landscaped than the 18th hole at Augusta) is also crumbling into the ocean. Sure! Why not?

Like his stylistic godfather Roger Corman, director Christopher Ray demonstrates considerable facility with the mutant sea monster genre. Yes, most of the time, the shark is seen as a video-game quality, aquatic animation. But when the two-headed terror chows down on his desperately dog-paddling victims, Ray brings in the cheesily constructed shark heads so we can get a closeup of flailing folks gushing the gore while being chomped to pieces.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the mark of a superior filmmaker. Ray instinctively understands that CGI mayhem just isn’t tough enough, and he delivers the puppets for that much-needed personal touch.

I don’t watch movies like 2-Headed Shark Attack because I want to gain insights into the human condition. I just want to see loads of teenagers messily eaten.

Have I mentioned recently that I don’t like teenagers? Yes, even ones that look to be in their early 30s.

Other things I loved about 2-Headed Shark Attack:

• The shark thoughtfully holds off attacking some skinny dippers until we get a healthy dose of nudity.

• The wildly inconsistent shoreline topography that fluctuates between barren rock and palmy tropical oasis.

• The survivors are supposedly shipwrecked “hundreds of miles from anywhere” but during wide-angle shots there are other boats on the horizon.

• The deserted fishing village has a cement dock, a couple of extra motor boats, and a “No Fishing” sign on it—not to mention a church that looks like it was hastily built by a pack of drunk cub scouts that couldn’t decide between a rustic chapel and a shed.

• Idiotic dialogue that affords endless opportunities for MST3K-style riffing (e.g., the sage advice shouted to a hapless swimmer trying to out-stroke the pursuing predator: “Hurry up!”).

• The only explanation offered to account for the appearance of a two-headed shark: “It happens sometimes. Snakes, cows, kittens…”

• The class is comprised of much-too-old-to-be-college-student meat sacks who mostly get eaten.  And spunky amazon Brooke Hogan has a future in the business as the wise-cracking, ass-kicking girl. Every movie needs one. You’ll see.

Legend of the Bog (2009)

Bog men. Can’t say I’ve seen too many.

Hell, I don’t even know how to categorize it. I’m going to go with “monster” since bullets don’t stop them and they’ve been preserved in peat for 2,000 years—even though this particular “bog body” looks more like a cross between Tor Johnson and Curly Howard: In other words, big, bald, and on a mindless rampage.

An assortment of Irish folks, including an archaeologist (Jason Barry), his foxy assistant (Nora-Jane Noone, who has the best pouty face this side of Mila Kunis), and a bitchy, ambitious real estate developer (Shelly Goldstein), get lost on the moors (“I told ye to mind the moors!”) and incur the wrath of a recently resurrected 2,000 year-old-man bog man (Adam Fogerty).

The bog man is being hunted by Hunter (Vinnie Jones, a.k.a. The Juggernaut in X-Men: Last Stand), who is understandably disappointed to discover that his conventional weapons are useless against the massive savage. Can the archaeologist figure out how to return the brute to his soggy coffin?

The problem with Legend of the Bog is that it tries to cram too many elements into a modest story and the plot sinks like a weighted body into a bottomless mud hole. OK, so we have a reanimated bog man who needs to keep himself hydrated regularly to survive.

Fine. It’s part of his DNA or something.

Then, we find out the seemingly random bunch of victims aren’t random at all, a development that adds nothing whatsoever to our emotional attachment to them.

Why did writer-director Brendan Foley bother to somehow justify a killing spree by this hairless gorilla? Waste of time.

On top of that, we’re saddled with a “who cares” romantic subplot, and a shower scene that contains no nudity.

Again, why bother?

Tale of the Mummy (1998)

Here’s another sleeper that I owe to the fine folks over at the Horror Movie A Day site (horror-movie-a-day.blogspot.com). Thanks gents!

I was just recently bemoaning the fact that mummies are an underutilized movie monster. (And don’t bring up that crappy CGI-riddled Brendan Fraser series. Because it sucks, that’s why not!)

So why the reluctance to embrace the mummy? They’re undead, like vampires and zombies—but they aren’t as charismatic as the former, nor as utilitarian as the latter. They’re slow, predictable, and only deadly in confined spaces.To paraphrase Stephen King, “Uh oh, the mummy is chasing us. We’d better walk away briskly.”

Fortunately, in Tale of the Mummy, veteran rock video director Russell Mulcahy (Razorback, Highlander) gives us Talos, a decent mummy upgrade from the ol’ Universal Pictures shuffler, and then smartly pumps up the Egyptian mysticism in order to flesh out the frights. Mulcahy’s predilection for flash-and-pop visuals works well here, making even the drearier parts of London look suitably glam-noir.

As these things so often do, the story begins with a doomed archeological expedition, this one led by (a round of applause, please) Sir Christopher Lee, as Sir Richard Turkel. He and his cohorts unwisely enter the cursed tomb of Talos, a cruel and sadistic ex-pharaoh whose spirit gets awakened, only to be freed by Turkel’s granddaughter Samantha (Louise Lombard) 50 years later.

Talos wastes no time in wasting various reincarnated versions of himself (including a dog!), harvesting their organs in preparation for an impending planetary alignment that could restore him to full power (not a good thing for humanity, needless to say).

His main method of murder is rather clever, animating his bandages to flutter about formlessly in the breeze before strangling his victims. Tale of the Mummy is a fun, visually sumptuous yarn, one that moves quickly and looks great doing so.

Bonus: The cast is chock-full of familiar faces, and character-actor fan-boys and girls will squeal with delight at cameos by Christopher Lee, Shelley Duvall, Michael Lerner, and Jon Polito, not to mention young unknowns like Gerard Butler, Jack Davenport, and Sean Pertwee, who get some decent screen time here to pad those resumes for future greatness.

More mummies? Please?

The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (2009)

Sometimes the universe is benevolent. Sometimes there appears to be a force at work that intuits the single thing you need in order to restore your equilibrium and good humor. I don’t try to understand it.

Anyway, last night I was unhappy for no reason in particular. I hadn’t seen a horror movie in a few days, but I wanted something a bit more whimsical than usual, and that would still satisfy my need for a blast of darkness. I found what I was looking for with The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu, a glorious nerdgasm of Lovecraftiana seasoned with humor, serviceable effects, and an agreeable cast.

Jeff (Kyle Davis) and Charlie (Devin McGinn, who also wrote the script) are childhood friends who’ve grown into a couple of bored cubicle drones, withering away their days writing ad copy for a schlocky products company whose corporate mascot is named Squirrely Squirrel.

The guys get a surprise visit from an old professor from Miskatonic University, who informs Jeff that he’s the last of H.P. Lovecraft’s bloodline, and that his help is needed to prevent the return of ol’ Cthulhu himself.

Jeff is tasked with protecting an evil relic, and thus foiling the efforts of Cthulhu’s slimy minions, led by the sinister Starspawn (Ethan Wilde), a tentacled terror in the master’s service. And it’s funny, see, ’cause neither Jeff or Charlie are even remotely heroic.

But when you have to save the Earth, you do what’s necessary, in this case, getting advice from a nerd acquaintance (Barak Hardley), who still lives in his grandma’s basement, and then enlisting the help of a legendary sea captain (Gregg Lawrence). The cards are definitely stacked against this bunch, but the guys man-up like a couple of Hardy Boys.

The Last Lovecraft (which is not animated despite the cover art) is a blast and built for speed without sacrificing brains for blood. Guts and gore erupt with Raimi-like frequency while the chaotic spirit of foolhardy adventure courses throughout.

It would definitely be an entertaining lark to spring on your own Lovecraft posse—unless they’re the  type who are going to get all pissy that every detail is 100 percent accurate with the source material.


Attack The Block (2011)

Even my wife watched this and enjoyed it—and to say that she dislikes horror movies is like saying the Koch brothers aren’t too fond of organized labor. (I was trying to think of some really zippy metaphor to reel you in. This is the best I could do. Sorry.)

Barbara (that’s her name) looked up Attack The Block on Rotten Tomatoes and was impressed that it received a “90 percent fresh” rating. But I really hooked her when I told her the movie reminded me of Misfits, an insanely original BBC superhero (sort of) series we both loved.

Indeed, the two share a strategic reliance on anonymously industrial council-block housing for scenery, as well as a charismatic cast of scruffy young tearaways to inhabit it.

Here, a gang of not-too-scary teen hoodlums led by Moses (John Boyega), encounter a strange critter while out patrolling their neighborhood.

Patrolling means mugging young women and setting off fireworks, mainly.

The gang corners the beast (“looks a monkey mated with a fish”) and kick it to death. Fantasizing about selling the specimen to the highest bidder, the kids pay a visit to dope dealer Ron (Nick Frost, who runs off with every scene he’s in) to smoke and unwind.

Unbeknownst to our “heroes,” a whole battalion of bigger, meaner, and hungrier aliens are en route to find out what happened to their advance party.

The ensemble cast, led by Boyega, and ably supported by Frost, Jody Whittaker, and Alex Esmail, is fantastic. It doesn’t matter if they’re brawling, fleeing, or getting stoned—these kids are as resilient, resourceful, and honor-bound as any John Wayne posse.

Writer-director Joe Cornish (part of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost Brit Pack) acquits himself quite well. His dialogue is fast and funny, the pace is breakneck, and the aliens—agile wolfish anthropoids with no eyes and glowing teeth—are brilliantly realized.

Attack The Block effortlessly balances a monster movie premise with deft action-film finesse and Western movie heroics. I will watch it again. And so will Barbara (probably).

Swamp Devil (2008)

My beef with this craposaurus is pretty basic. When you have a title like Swamp Devil, you’d better deliver something at least on a par with Swamp Thing, a movie that was made 26 freakin’ years before this one.

In other words, I want to see a sodden, drippy, slime-covered mess of a monster—and not something that looks like one of those wacky inflatable arm-flailing tube men you see at car lots. It’s that simple.

There’s a barely-there plot about a murderer who haunts the swamps after he was killed by a vigilante mob. Nicholas Wright (a poor man’s Robert Carradine) plays the human face of the “Swamp Devil,” a carelessly CGI’d stalk of celery that’s nearly as menacing as the Little Green Sprout.

Bruce Dern is in this, for some reason, as a former lawman turned-fugitive and Cindy Sampson (who was quite good in The Shrine—scream queen in the making?) plays his daughter.

I’m really trying to come up with some justification for sitting through Swamp Devil, but I’m drawing a blank. I suppose Dern is more than adequate in his role, but really, he has the look of a man hoping he won’t miss the last bus out of town—and that his paycheck doesn’t bounce out the window.

Speaking of Dern, I seem to recall him on The Tonight Show many years ago talking to Johnny Carson about the worst film he’d ever made. Dern recounted his experiences as a young actor on the set of The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971), a grimy, low-budget shocker co-starring Casey Kasem that was part of the now-extinct “Guy With An Extra Head” movement of the early 70s. (It consisted of two movies: this one and the slightly more famous The Thing With Two Heads, starring Rosie Grier and Ray Milland—recommended!)

Anyway, Dern says after the shooting wrapped, he went to get his final check from the slippery producer—and the office, set, and trailers were all gone. Not a trace of them. Perhaps the next time he’s asked that question, Bruce could share a story about Swamp Devil. I, for one, would love to hear it.

The Shrine (2010)

Imagine my surprise and color me impressed: this gritty Canadian feature kind of rocks.

You keep thinking you know “what kind” of movie you’re watching, and then suddenly you don’t. The Shrine manages the difficult trick of being able to switch gears without wrecking the engine.

It starts out as a warning to tourists against touring Eastern Europe without letting others know your whereabouts—because the worst will happen.


In this case, an American backpacker disappears in a small Polish town, which motivates a trio of journalists to investigate the enigmatic community, where such occurrences are all too common.

I might add that this is a grossly inaccurate portrayal of a journalist. Anyone still fortunate enough to work for a newspaper or magazine at this time is most decidedly not curious about anything—unless it’s figuring out how to hold onto a job that will soon be farmed out to interns.

Then comes the first shift, and now you’re watching one of those creepy Iron Curtain faux snuff films, and you consider getting up to water the plants.

But then Sam Raimi arrives and everything goes all Evil Dead. To conclude the festivities, we get a metaphysical mud-wrestling match, straight out of The Exorcist.

The Shrine works because it subverts our point of view so deftly that we don’t even realize that we should probably pick a side in this apocalyptic death match.

Not only that, but it succeeds in the way that (earlier reviewed film) Spiderhole failed—it provides us with a valid reason for scenes of squirm-inducing cruelty.

I swear, if you know that someone is being savaged as part of the plot, and not simply because we like the sound of screaming, it goes down a lot easier.

And now, a hearty round of applause for writer-director Jon Knautz, who did a superb job of juggling themes, tones, and terror. So tell us Jon: What’s next?

Alligator X (2010)

Ain’t no way to sugarcoat this shit pill: Alligator X (a.k.a. Xtinction: Predator X) sucks rope, and the fact that I made it all the way through is a modern-day miracle.

The giant prehistoric gator brought back to life by mildly mad scientist Charles LaBlanc (Mark Sheppard) generally appears as an underwater animation, so we’re left with the questionable dramatic talents of the actors as the primary means of propelling the plot.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Sheriff Tim (Lochlyn Munro, a poor man’s David Arquette), Laura LeCrois (Elena Lyons), and Froggy (Paul Wall) are about as realistic and well drawn as the titular critter.

Some swell establishing footage of the bayou is thoroughly wasted as the principal characters alternately run from, and after, a “pleasaur” resurrected by Dr. LeBlanc.

Why he wants a monstrous gator for a pet is anyone’s guess, but it sure comes in handy for eating people that piss him off, such as Pappy LeCrois (Phillip Beard), who owns a swamp tour business on property that LeBlanc covets—for some reason.

Pappy’s daughter Laura watches in horror as LeBlanc’s redneck accomplices ring the dinner bell and toss her pops into the juicy jaws of fate. Meanwhile, Sheriff Tim is trapped (for a really long time) on a pylon out in the bayou, after the gator chomps up the boat driven by Pappy’s Cajun employee Froggy, who somehow doesn’t get eaten and returns later in the movie as a bad guy.

Oh yeah, the sheriff has an idiot brother named Henry (Caleb Michaelson) who serves as his bumbling deputy, and later bleeds to death after getting shot by a swamp rat. There are some other characters too. They all die, mostly.

All you need to know about the craft and intelligence at work in Alligator X can be summed up by the final scene, in which Laura and Sheriff Tim casually tease and flirt with each other—less than 24 hours after she saw her daddy get chewed into chum, and about 20 minutes after the sheriff discovers the corpse of his younger brother.

Oh well, at least there’s a happy ending. I for one, was overjoyed to finally see it.