Hidden Netflix Gems – House

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

This is a film for hardcore fans of things like Tales from the Crypt, Stephen King novels, and the more horror-heavy pages of the classic Heavy Metal magazine. In fact, in many ways it is very much like a feature-length Tales from the Crypt episode, one that is especially heavy on the comic relief. Produced by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and directed by Steve Miner, who helmed the first two sequels to that film, this is decidedly campy, deliciously cheesy and immensely satisfying B-movie fun.

Not to be confused with the 1977 Japanese cult movie of the same name, the 1986 film House (aka Ding Dong, You’re Dead, its original video release subtitle) stars William Katt as best-selling horror novelist Roger Cobb, a Vietnam vet who has been struggling with writing about his experiences in the war. One of his problems is that no one else seems particularly interested in this story, preferring he write another horror story instead, but more importantly, he is also dealing with the fact that his wife, popular TV actress Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), has recently left him. Even more recently, his beloved Aunt Elizabeth (Susan French), committed suicide by hanging herself in her creepy old Victorian mansion, where Roger and Sandy’s young son Jimmy (played alternately by twins Erik and Mark Silver) disappeared some time ago. Roger inherits the house and decides to try and finish his new book there, in solitude, while also dealing with the demons of his past.

Of course, he doesn’t exactly find the solitude he’s looking for, due to a bumbling but well-intentioned neighbor named Harold Gorton (George Wendt), who provides much of the films comedy, and a series of strange monsters that seem to come from another dimension within the house, who provide the rest. Saying the monsters are more funny than scary is not a criticism of the film, however, as this is clearly intentional most of the time. Though the effects will look dated to viewers in the modern CGI era, they are quite well-done; they are not the nightmare creations of other films of the time like John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but they stand up nicely alongside more silly films like Ghostbusters or Gremlins.

As it turns out, Roger’s preoccupation with his Vietnam memories is especially relevant to the literal demons he faces in the strange old house, and though the film takes some rather dead-end narrative turns along the way, its central story is pure pulp horror in the most classic sense. House is not a good horror film to watch if you want something genuinely frightening, but if you’re in the mood for tongue-in-cheek fun that only takes itself seriously enough to deliver a few cheap scares, it’s well worth a look.

  

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A Roundtable Chat with the Cast and Director of “Saw 3D”

In 2003, director James Wan and screenwriter Lee Whannell put together a short film featuring a man with a rusty metal “reverse beartrap” on his head and a creepy-looking puppet in hopes that someone would take a chance on this film script they’d written.

Someone did.

Eight years later, the “Saw” franchise is reportedly coming to a close, and although the history of the horror genre – specifically, the fourth “Friday the 13th” film – has taught us that no chapter is ever truly final, they’re at least trying to make us think they’re going out with a bang, eschewing a straightforward “Saw VII” and instead offering fans an additional dimension of gory fun with “Saw 3D.”

Although the studio is predictably taking a pass on providing press screenings for the film (since everyone knows it’s going to be critic-proof, anyway), director Kevin Greutert and a trio of actors from the cast – Cary Elwes, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell – turned up at the New York Comic Con to do a series of roundtable interviews for members of the media.

The demand to chat with these folks were significant, as you might imagine, so in order to maximize our time while working with minimal space, both the interviewers and the interviewees were split into two groups, with the interviewees switching groups after 15 minutes.

First up, Costas Mandylor and Kevin Greutert…

Journalist: So there’s, like, a volcano eruption of 3D films out there now, with the whole “take that and run with it” Hollywood attitude. What sets this one apart from other 3D horror films?

Kevin Greutert: Well, for one thing, this film was actually shot in 3D. We didn’t do a post-conversion like a lot of the other movies that have come out lately. I think that shooting it in 3D makes all the difference in the world, so it just looks that much better. This was shot with state-of-the-art cameras that are a lot more lightweight than any previous 3D films, so we were able to preserve the “Saw” style of doing a lot of stuff handheld and keeping the camera moving around a lot and very dynamic. Because technology is advancing so quickly, we were able to just take advantage on all aspects.

Journalist: Has 3D changed the blocking of the set and what you’re actually doing in the film?

KG: Yeah, it affects the way we block the scene, because we want to maximize the feeling of depth in the image, even if it’s not an in-your-face moment where stuff’s flying into the camera. We still wanted it to look as rich and full of space as possible.

Journalist: At what point in the production process was the decision made that the film was going to be in 3D? Was that from the outset, or did that happen…

KG: It was decided…that was probably the very first decision made on the film, and I had actually hoped even before we made “Saw V” to direct “Saw VI” in 3D but wasn’t able to make that work. So by the time “Saw VII” came along, now there’s enough infrastructure in terms of theaters that are equipped with 3D equipment to go forward, and…yeah, no one ever thought twice about doing it in 3D.

Journalist: How does 3D enhance the storyline?

KG: Well, I don’t know how much it actually plays into the story. There’s a bit of self-reference in the opening scene of the movie, which is the first “Saw” scene that takes place in broad daylight, with a big crowd watching one of Jigsaw’s big contraptions at play. There’s, I think, a little bit of an implicit message about horror audiences watching voyeuristically. 3D, I think, just kind of takes that to another level.

Journalist: Costas, what keeps bringing you back to this franchise?

Costas Mandylor: You know what? In a way, luck. And the character seems to have worked. And, you know, when you collaborate with people like Kevin and a couple of the other guys before him, and you know what you’re doing together, it’s a comfortable situation where you don’t have to get really… (Hesitates) I mean, some guys in life are a pain in the ass, and they die. “Saw” does that really easy. I committed to it as best as I could, and spending time with Tobin (Bell) and seeing how committed he was to keeping a certain standard, not letting the fans down was really important to him, so it wasn’t just going to a gig, doing my thing, and leaving. I actually paid attention. There’s a great example of…when I first started, I think it was in “IV,” he had a great idea for a scene and he called me at, like, 11:30 at night. He goes… (Does a Tobin Bell growl) “Hey, Costas, are you awake?” Jigsaw’s calling me at midnight on the phone. I’m in trouble here. (Laughs) I went to see him…reluctantly…but we spent some time together, and the scene…that was a really long scene that we did, with the gun to the…? It just worked beautifully, because he put the effort in and forced me to be okay with putting in my ideas as well. So I’m still here ‘til the end of this one, and…we don’t even know the endings. But for now, I’m in.

KG: We have more control over Costas by not letting his character die. (Laughs) We hold that over his head every year.

Journalist: But that doesn’t keep Tobin from coming back!

KG: (Laughs) He has more screen time dead than he did alive!

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Celluloid Heroes: Funniest Death Scenes of the 2000s

John Donne once said that death be not proud, but history appears to have misplaced his opinion on whether it can be funny. Fortunately, Hollywood has given us an answer on his behalf: hell, yes. Yes, we’re positive that’s exactly how the religious poet Donne would feel about it if he had seen the movies we’ve seen this decade. Even the dogs get in on the action at the movies this year: in “Up,” Dug’s favorite joke is, “A squirrel says, ‘I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.’ The joke is funny because the squirrel is dead.”

One word of caution before proceeding: as you might imagine, there are SPOILERS galore here. Heck, some of these movies haven’t even been released on DVD yet. Ready to laugh at man’s last, most undignified act? Read on, fellow sickos, and of course give us your suggestions for the list in the comments section.

10. Shaft (2000): Back alley view to a kill
shaft
Yes, it seems like an inauspicious way to begin the list, but hey, it was a free screening, and I love Samuel L. Jackson. There is a reason that there was no sequel to John Singleton’s blacksploitation remake – what was up with Edgar Wright taking a shit in the middle of a meeting? – but Singleton did set up one fantastic death of a bad guy, and better yet, it’s clean enough for network television. John Shaft is being chased by baddies, so he jumps through the window of a New York apartment building onto the fire escape. Bad guy is a few steps behind him, so he peeks his head out of the window to see how much of a lead Shaft has. Ha ha, muthafucka. Shaft is right there outside the window, gun in bad guy’s face. Boom, dead.

9. Friday the 13th (2009): Shoot that poison arrow through my heeeeeeead
friday 13th nolan
Easily the best scene in the wholly unnecessary 2009 remake of the legendary (though itself not very good) 1980 slasher movie. Nolan is driving a ski boat, his topless cheesecake girlfriend behind on a wakeboard. From out of nowhere, THWACK! Nolan gets an arrow straight through his head, killing him instantly. This scene is awesome for two reasons: the obvious one is the sheer surprise of it all, the instant death in a movie series built on slow, creeping deaths and boo! noises. The really awesome part about it is that for this to happen, it means that Jason Voorhees, a mentally impaired, hockey mask-wearing lunatic (you can’t say that the mask doesn’t affect his depth perception), had to shoot an arrow at a fast-moving boat while standing on the shore, from a distance of at least 50 yards. Anyone who’s done archery on “Wii Sports Resort” knows that that, friends, is fucking ridonculous.

8. Saw IV (2007): Ice ice, baby
saw iv
For a series that started out with such promise – before that whole ‘torture porn’ phrase was bandied about, everyone just thought of “Saw” as a grisly thriller, which it was – the “Saw” movies became self-parody by the third installment, trying to have their cake and eat it too with traps that the victims had absolutely no chance of surviving, then wagging a finger at the misguided Amanda (and by extension, the American public) for setting them up, thinking they could have it both ways. When the fourth one came along, I was understandably jaded, especially after they revealed that Detective Eric Matthews is not only alive but stuck in a noose and slipping on an ice block while two gigantic blocks sit suspended in the rafters on both sides of his melon in the event an electrode is triggered. One of Matthews’ friends on the force has been looking for him since he disappeared, and since the police chief is working with Jigsaw, the chief knows just how to manipulate him. He even warns the guy earlier not to go through an unsecured door, and it is that impulsive move later that causes Matthews’ awesome, awesome death, where those 100-pound blocks of ice create a brain smoothie that the residents of Zombieland would kill for. Speaking of which…

7. Zombieland (2009): Fatty on the windscreen
zombieland banjo
One of the most beautifully grotesque pieces of photography I’ve seen in years. The scene just before this was funny enough, with the little princess zombies going after the suburban hausfrau, but when she takes her eye off the road, hits the back of the flat bed truck, crashes through the windshield and skids 30 feet across the street, well, that’s just comedy gold, right there. Those of you who have seen the movie are probably wondering why I included this over the much-ballyhooed cameo death scene by Bill Murray. Well, I’ll tell you: because that was as cheap a laugh as there is in “Zombieland.” Come on, do you really think Tallahassee and Wichita never thought, “Wait, don’t jump Columbus; he’s a jumpy little bitch and shoots everything twice”? That scene required a massive lapse of logic on the part of all concerned. Except Columbus, of course; he was totally within his rights to take Zombie Murray out.

6. Final Destination 2 (2003): Keep off the glass
final dest 2 glass edit
Considered by many to be the best of the franchise (though I’ll confess that I prefer the third one, and you’ll soon see why), there are some spectacular deaths in “Final Destination 2,” but only one had me reaching for the rewind wheel, and that is when young Tim (James Kirk) foolishly chases after some pigeons outside of the hospital, and runs underneath a giant plate of glass, which doesn’t just kill him but turns him into vapor. Later, for an added laugh, they show the body bag that carries his “remains” into an ambulance, but it has no form, since there was only blood left behind.

5. Kill Bill Vol. I (2003): Cutthroat business meeting
kill bill 2
The next time you’re thinking of calling out your new boss’ Chinese or American heritage as a symbol of weakness or corruption, make sure your new boss isn’t barefoot and carrying a samurai sword. You won’t hear her coming, and the last thing you’ll see is up her kimono after your severed head lies motionless at her feet. Bad call, Boss Tanaka.

4. Final Destination 3 (2006): Sorry, I really lost my head
final dest 3
I laughed so hard at this one that three women from a couple rows in front of me turned and looked at me like I was a ghoul. Apparently, they didn’t know that these movies are supposed to be funny. After the initial crash takes place, smarty pants Wendy tries to warn Lewis the gym rat that Death is after them. Instead, he mocks her, even after he was nearly decapitated by two swords on the wall. (Hands up: anyone been to a gym that has swords on the wall? Didn’t think so.) He then does one more rep on his triceps machine, unaware that the free weights behind him are really, really free. On the plus side for him, he literally had no idea what hit him, because whatever brains that would have formed that idea were in pieces on the floor. And Wendy. Mostly Wendy.

3. Law Abiding Citizen (2009): I just called to say…you’re dead
law abiding citizen
It doubled its budget at the box office, but “Law Abiding Citizen” is a pretty silly movie. Man loses wife and daughter in home robbery, man feels wronged by system, Man extracts brutal revenge on everyone, and we mean everyone, he feels is responsible. There is one scene, however, that makes the entire film worth watching, and it is when attorney Nick Rice is in the judge’s chambers, and the judge, who is one of the ‘everyone’ supposedly responsible for this miscarriage of justice, answers her cell phone. “Hello?” BAM! Dead. Man somehow wired her phone to deliver the equivalent to a bullet in the head. The whole thing takes less than a second, and it’s one of the funniest less-than-a-seconds of the you will ever see.

2. Spider-Man (2002): Death scene, interrupted
spider-man goblin
Leave it to Sam Raimi to assemble a vicious, bloody fight to the death between hero and villain, and end it with the funniest scene in the movie. After beating Peter Parker nearly senseless in the tried and true standard that is the abandoned building, Peter comes roaring back with a vengeance until the Green Goblin surrenders and reveals himself to be Norman Osborn, Peter’s best friend Harry’s father. Norman then attempts to literally and figuratively stab Peter in the back with his hoverboard, but Peter’s spider sense tingles just in time for him to backflip out of the way while the hoverboard impales Norman to a brick wall. That alone would make for a pretty cool scene, but it’s not enough for Raimi; in a trick straight out of the “Evil Dead” series, he includes a score-free, quick-shot close-up of Norman saying “Oh,” and then jumping back into the action of Norman getting killed by his own weapon. He may have made his bones in horror, but that scene is a textbook lesson in comic timing.

1. Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002): The face of death is near, and so, I flail!
clones shmi 1
She had nearly 25 years of acting experience under her belt when the Sweden-born Pernilla August signed on to play Anakin Skywalker’s mother Shmi, and somewhere along the way, you would think that she would have learned how to die on screen. But then again, after 30 years of making movies, you’d think that George Lucas would know a thing or two about directing, so there you go. The “Star Wars” movies were never shining beacons of thespian genius, but Shmi Skywalker-Lars’ death is the kind of work that you’d expect from the understudies to the group in “Waiting for Guffman.” Shmi’s last words aren’t even tear-filled confessions or reluctant farewell; they’re the acts of someone with Alzheimer’s, someone so forgetful that she doesn’t realize she’s about to die. And for the piece de resistance, the open-mouth head flop. Even Hayden Christensen could do a better death scene than that. And he’s a robot, fer crissakes.

Honorable Mentions
The Dark Knight (2008): The disappearing pencil trick
Van Helsing (2004): Werewolf Helsing howls over lover’s death
District 9 (2009): The bullet grenade
Ninja Assassin (2009): Just a little off the top…half of your head

  

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Bullz-Eye’s 15 Best Horror Movies Revisited

With Halloween just around the corner, TV networks will be airing a non-stop selection of horror movies throughout the week. So which ones should you watch? Well, you can always revisit Bullz-Eye’s list of the 15 Best Horror Movies to help you decide. It not only includes scary classics like “The Exorcist” and “Halloween,” but more nontraditional picks like “The Shining,” “Alien” and “Jaws.” After all, it doesn’t have to include bogeymen in October to scare the living daylights out of you.

Curiously, although horror movies are cranked out faster than a burger and fries at McDonalds these days, there haven’t been too many new entries in the genre that would truly deserve a place on the list. There are certainly a few that would be up for consideration, including the original “Saw,” Neil Marshall’s cave-diving thriller “The Descent,” and the Spanish horror film “[REC],” but it would be difficult to knock anything off. Less likely suggestions might include the horror comedy “Slither,” Eli Roth’s hate-it-or-love-it “Hostel,” and the Swedish vampire film “Let the Right One In.” Of course, you could always get out of the house and see “Paranormal Activity” instead, because if our own horror-shy Bob Westal loved it (not to mention millions of other moviegoers), then chances are you will too.

  

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New York Comic-Con 2009: The Wrap-Up

You know you’re on the right bus for Comic-Con when a guy comes aboard wearing a Flash t-shirt…and he’s followed a guy toting two enormous bags in which to carry swag…and then that guy is followed by Darth Vader.

Actually, now that I think about it, maybe Lord Vader wasn’t actually on the bus with me, but he was most certainly present – and in various heights, weights, shapes, and sizes, no less – during the course of the New York Comic-Con, which took place at New York’s Javitz Center from February 6th through the 8th.

Our man Jason Zingale has been our resident San Diego Comic-Con attendee for the past couple of years, but Bullz-Eye was also in the house for last year’s NYCC, thanks to our man in New York, Jonathan Flax. (Granted, he’s often a quiet man, but he’s still there for us when we need him.) This year, however, I couldn’t resist the chance to take in Comic-Con for myself. The San Diego event takes place immediately after I’ve already spent two-and-a-half weeks in L.A. for the July TCA Press Tour, and by that point, I just can’t be away from my wife and daughter any longer; fortunately, the NYCC takes place long enough after the January TCA tour that I was able to feel comfortable heading out of town to attend. It was disappointing that I had to take in all of the sights, sounds, and events all by my lonesome, but lord knows there were plenty of other people with whom I was sharing the experience. I might’ve come by myself, but I was in no way alone.

Day 1:

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