Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.
IFC snags rights to Almost Human – One of the best surprises at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was Joe Begos’ Almost Human, the tale of a man who goes missing and then turns up two years later at the center of a series of brutal murders. If you weren’t at TIFF to catch it, fear not – IFC has got you covered. The company has acquired distribution rights to the film.
No release date has yet been announced, but expect it to see it in the not-too-distant future.
Take a trip to Toad Road next month – Elijah Wood’s horror imprint Spectrevision will team up with Artsploitation Films to give horror film Toad Road a limited release just in time for Halloween. The film, which finds a teen drawn into the mystery of Toad Road – a forest pathway said to contain the seven gates to Hell – will play L.A. starting October 18 and then makes the jump to NYC the next week. The film has been on horror fans’ radar since it won Best Director and Best Actor awards at last year’s Fantasia Film Festival. No word on when the rest of the country will finally get to see it.
New trailer for Septic Man debuts before Fantastic Fest – Every year I find a reason not to go to Fantastic Fest, and then when the event rolls around, I find myself wishing I’d gone. This year, I’m kind of bummed I’ll not be on hand to see Jesse Thomas Cook’s Septic Man. Cook (who directed Monster Brawl) teams with Pontypool writer Tony Burgess to give us this gut-churning tale of a septic man who undergoes a Toxic Avenger-styled transformation after being trapped in the sewer. Looks awesomely gruesome, plus it has Julian Richings (Death on Supernatural) in what appears to be a prominent role. Check out the trailer below.
Like Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster has become one of horror’s most iconic monsters. Mary Shelley’s creature has starred in a massive number of films over the years (although for the past few decades, he’s taken a backseat to zombies and more modern slashers), but it’s hard to imagine Shelley ever conceiving how Richard Raaphorst would take her greatest literary creation and reenvision it in Frankenstein’s Army.
Raaphorst (the filmmaker behind the much ballyhooed Worst Case Scenario trailer a few years back – a project that eventually mutated into Frankenstein’s Army) takes the idea of stitching together dead corpses and bringing them back to life in an entirely new direction. It’s not always 100% successful in what it sets out to do, but the highs significantly outnumber the lows if you love crazy, over-the-top, low-budget horror cinema.
Frankenstein’s Army is a bit of a hybrid – a found-footage, alternate-history period piece that joins films like Outpost in the burgeoning World War II horror subgenre. Making horror films during the greatest war the world has ever known makes a lot of sense – war is hell, after all, and the Nazis were into enough crazy s**t in reality that almost anything a screenwriter comes up with seems plausible on its face. So, when Raaphorst opens with a small contingent of Russian soldiers encountering mechanically altered reanimated corpses while traveling across the German countryside in search of a battalion in distress, I find myself thinking “yeah, well, that’s not as crazy as the whole Nazi Bell thing…”
Anyway, soon our ragtag assortment of war film cliches (the gruff commanding officer, the scared greenhorns, the psycho who wants to commit every war atrocity in the history of humankind against the enemies – and maybe his allies if they’re not down with it) find themselves locked in a life-or-death struggle against an army of reanimated soldiers who’ve been modified with all sorts of crazy mechanized attachments in order to make them even more efficient killing machines. This is the entire reason why Frankenstein’s Army exists.
Raaphorst’s film uses the found-footage angle (the group of soldiers has a filmmaker amongst their number) to help conceal its tiny budget. The indie nature of the feature is both a positive and a negative – positive in that it called for a lot of ingenuity on the crew’s part, and necessitated making the monsters with real practical FX work instead of relying on the crutch of CG. Of course, the downside is that the small budget also means the film skimps a bit on the kind of spectacle viewers anticipate when hearing a title like Frankenstein’s Army. It’s not really an army – it’s more like a small unit.
The found-footage angle actually works to the film’s benefit most of the time. The quick cuts and grainy visuals (which are in color – unlikely historically, but a necessary concession for modern viewers) help create a documentary feel. The way many sequences are composed allows the audience to spot the dangerous things lurking in the background before the potential victims do, increasing the tension of the experience significantly.
The downside is that the handheld camera work is very frenetic during the action scenes, making it easy for the audience to get lost in the space of a sequence. This allows for some great jump scares as our intrepid cameraman will whirl his device right into the slavering mechanical jaws of some undead monstrosity pretty regularly, but the price is that the logistics of the action often become hard to decipher.
If this new Frankenstein’s creations are the true stars of the film, then the blood and guts in the special effects are probably a close second. Most viewers won’t care about any of these characters, but there is a certain amount glee to be found in watching these monsters shred through the crew. Heads are crushed, brains removed, skulls pried open, and intestines removed from still-living bodies with frightening regularity. Again, budget constraints required good old-fashioned practical FX work here, which is always welcome with this gorehound.
Ultimately, Frankenstein’s Army appears destined for cult status – not a bonafide cult classic, but a film that will certainly find fans and admirers. Raaphorst and his team milk maximum effect out of a miniscule budget, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Frankenstein’s Army is really just a high-concept pitch that got turned into a feature because the idea was so awesome that they couldn’t pass it up even if they weren’t sure how to make it work. The idea is awesome – Frankenstein’s creatures are fantastic in their execution, a sort of WWII riff on Giger’s biomechanics that will definitely please monster freaks. The problem is that nothing else in the film is nearly as cool as the beasts, which is unfortunate. In some ways, Frankenstein’s Army feels perfectly suited for a video game adaptation – a realm where the relatively threadbare story and cardboard characters wouldn’t be such a detriment. There’s fun to be had here, for sure – but it’s hard to look at Frankenstein’s Army on the screen and not marvel at what might have been.
Horror on the Horizon
September closes with a whimper on the theatrical horror front – there’s not much at all out there. Hopefully everyone’s saving their big releases for October.
The one title released in the next two weeks is Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are – a remake of a 2010 Mexican film. Early buzz has been positive, but the theatrical bow is limited, so good luck seeing it.
Luckily, there’s another veritable treasure trove of films hitting DVD and Blu-ray.
September 24 is loaded with titles, including V/H/S/2, I Spit on Your Grave 2, the much-discussed Shining documentary Room 237, and a double dose of John Carpenter with the 35th Anniversary Edition of Halloween and the Blu-ray debut of Prince of Darkness. If that weren’t enough, there’s also Psycho II and III.
Meanwhile, you can book a return trip to Amityville’s most infamous haunted house with the release of The Amityville Horror Trilogy on the first day of October. You get the first three films in the series in this set from Scream Factory. You can also kick off the most glorious month of the year by revisitng Fright Night 2 if you’re so inclined.
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