Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

Archive for the ‘WhiskeyHorror’ Category

WhiskeyHorror: He Never Died

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

This WhiskeyHorror report is a bit belated because I didn’t have time (I’m trying to work on a novel, mostly), but I wanted to get to it eventually: a while back we drank, uh, some kind of whiskey, and we watched He Never Died.

I came into the film with just some vague bits of knowledge: Henry Rollins was in it, and it was about vampires or immortals or something, and it was supposed to be good. I watched with my wife Heather and my stalwart WhiskeyHorror companion Katrina, and none of us had great (or low, either, to be fair) expectations.

It’s one of my favorite films I’ve seen all year. There’s a great tradition in crime fiction and cinema for “the wrong man” plot (pretty sexist, I know, sorry, that’s what it’s called), where an innocent/ordinary person is implicated in a crime and pursued by authorities, or pursued by criminals or enemy spies for reasons they don’t understand, or both. It’s an approach that’s been played straight in, say, The Fugitive, or The Wrong Man, but it’s so fundamental to crime stories that it’s been parodied a lot too, as in The Big Lebowski.

The Wrong Man is the initial premise here, too: Rollins’s character Jack, who appears to be a depressive shut-in who does little except sleep, walk to the diner, and sit unmoving in a chair thinking about screams, is confronted at home by angry criminals who make threats and demands. This may be the first time I’ve seen a wrong man plot where the man didn’t care why he’s been targeted; Jack doesn’t ask questions, and doesn’t exhibit any curiosity about the situation: he just wearily beats the guys up and throws them out, exhibiting supernatural capabilities in both violence and endurance, but no particular joy in the use of his powers. He’s less like a monster or superhero and more like a guy who finds a puddle of cat vomit on his kitchen floor at four in the morning and resignedly cleans it up before returning to bed.

The violence escalates from there, naturally, with the criminals haplessly attempting reprisals that never quite work out for them. The stakes get higher when Jack’s teenage daughter – a total stranger to him – shows up at his door hoping to make a connection with her father (and find a couch to crash on between benders, admittedly)… but this is not a guy with a capacity for connection. For example: at first it seems like he doesn’t even realize the nice waitress at his regular diner is flirting with him, but gradually it becomes clear that he does, and he just doesn’t care, because he’s too tired for all that business. He mostly can’t be bothered to deal with anything unless it directly impacts him, and in the face of threats and ultimatums he just shrugs, or doesn’t react at all: he’s like Bartleby the Immortal.

I’ve never seen a better depiction of the terrible weariness of being an immortal, of seeing everyone you know and care about die, again and again, until it just burns you to emptiness. Jack’s not some sighing vampire looking bored at an orgy, as we’ve seen in so many films: he wouldn’t bother with an orgy in the first place. This is more like chronic depression. His performance for most of the film is just a blankness of affect, punctuated by sighs, that somehow circles all the way back around and becomes charisma again. It’s weirdly a joy to watch. I’m a fan of a lot of Rollins’s stuff, but expressiveness as an actor is not one of his strong points, so the movie plays to his strengths, and in those moments when the weariness crumbles to reveal true emotion underneath (at one point quite dramatically), he plays it well, and the contrast is satisfying.

Jack’s character has all kinds of hidden depths beneath that stoic surface, and when his routine is disrupted, the movie becomes less about depression and more about addiction and backsliding into using… except Jack’s addiction is to violence (and, um, other stuff. I’m trying to not be monstrous about spoilers here). Eventually, almost despite himself, he does get to the bottom of why people are trying to kill him, and we get revelations about who and what he is – there’s some lovely misdirection about the nature of his supernatural qualities early on that points toward the right mythic space but in entirely the wrong direction, which I appreciated. The revelation was both perfectly right and not totally obvious (at least to me, and I’m usually a good guesser-of-movie-surprises).

It’s barely a horror movie, really, though there’s some gore and shock and horror. It’s really a character piece and a meditation on the intoxicating pointlessness of violence. Recommended.

WhiskeyHorror Report: House of the Devil

Saturday, June 11th, 2016
My advice: Drink bourbon, yes. Watch House of the Devil, no.

House of the Devil is a technically impressive imitation of ’70s horror movies (some of which I quite enjoy! I’ll watch the hell out of Black Christmas, say), but in the end, it just doesn’t amount to much.

It has a few nice moments (the sudden death in the car in the graveyard gave me hope!), but was mostly a whole lot of empty time-filling. I just don’t find ’70s hair and clothes and furnishings diverting enough to make up for the lack of… much of anything at all happening. I’ve often said the greatest sin of art is to be boring…. and both myself and my longtime horror-watching partner Katrina found it dull dull dull. If it had been a half-hour-long short, it would have been great, though. (I’ve watched and enjoyed some of writer/director Ti West’s other shorts, especially “Second Honeymoon” from V/H/S.)

It was way too much about form and not enough about content, basically.

Many viewers loved it, which may be an indication that my brain is rotted and my attention span degraded and that I don’t have the patience for slow rising tension… except I’ll happily watch, like, a found-footage movie that has 70 minutes of doors creaking and curtains twitching and ten minutes of actual monsterghostdemon action, so I don’t think that’s it. I suspect the real reason this one didn’t work for me is just that I’ve just got the wrong set of nostalgia receptors.

We also watched the first episode of the Scream TV series, and while it too is largely an homage to old horror (namely its namesake, that most ’90s of slasher franchises), it also managed to be fresh and lively and self-aware in a way that I found charming and entertaining. (The cast is way too damn white, though.) We’ll keep watching it.

WhiskeyHorror: Rare Exports and Black Christmas

Friday, December 18th, 2015

We watched Rare Exports and Black Christmas (1974) and drank Slaughterhouse American Whiskey. A few words about the booze: it was a birthday gift from my friend David Moles and it’s very tasty. Aged nine years in oak and then finished in Papillon wine barrels. It’s got a nice complexity and warmth about it, and also it has a picture of a cleaver on the label, thus making it the perfect WhiskeyHorror booze. We tried it neat (and that was nice) but a dash of bitters and an ice cube opened it up and turned it into a grand sipping experience.

My wife Heather and I had seen Rare Exports before, but it was new to my devoted WhiskeyHorror companion Katrina. I thought she’d like it (we’re established fans of horror films from Nordic countries, from Trollhunter to Dead Snow), and I was right. The movie is five years old, but in case you missed it: A young boy from a hardy community of reindeer-herding, gun-toting, wolf-trap-baiting, torn-sweater-wearing Finns near the Russian border sees a group of miners from the mysterious Subzero corporation excavating a mountain, and realizes they’ve found the grave of Santa Claus. The malevolent creature was trapped in ice and buried long ago by the Sami people. No one takes the boy’s dire warnings about this ancient, child-devouring origin of the Father Christmas myth seriously, until something slaughters several hundred reindeer, and later a naked feral old man with a long white beard turns up in a wolf pit. Naturally, the Finns assume the seemingly indestructible old man is Santa Claus, and attempt to sell him to Subzero corp… but everything is way more complicated than that. The little boy turns out to be a badass action hero. Feral Santas are herded. Helicopters are hijacked. Kids are stuffed into sacks, set free, and stuffed back into sacks. Things explode. It is ridiculous and fun. The movie was inspired by a pair of short films featuring the same actors (the first is here: https://vimeo.com/16878465 and the second is here: https://vimeo.com/16878465https://vimeo.com/16878465). The short films do not obviously lend themselves to feature treatment, as the premise is absurd surreal humor, but they pulled it off. One of my go-to holiday horrors.

Black Christmas (1974) is notable as the film that originated the “The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House” trope, a much-beloved and parodied horror mainstay. (Though, like “Play it again, Sam” and “Beam me up, Scotty” those exact words don’t appear in the movie; “The calls are coming from the house!” is as close as it gets.) It’s also nice to see Margot Kidder as a drunken misanthropic sorority girl, and John Saxon as an archetypal cop. It’s a foundational film of the slasher genre, and like many movies from the early days of any given subgenre, it doesn’t hold up quite as well to modern sensibilities… but the fact that the killer’s identity and the ultimate fate of the “final girl” are left ambiguous even as the end credits roll seems bold even by current standards. (Part of why the 2006 remake fails so badly is by attempting to develop the deranged gibbering killer more.) Director Bob Clark is far better known for his other Christmas movie: A Christmas Story. (Prompting me to joke “In Black Christmas, the leg lamps are made of ACTUAL LEGS.”)

It was all appropriately festive.

WhiskeyHorror: Area 51 and Alien Abduction

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

We drank manhattans and watched Area 51, the science fiction/horror found-footage film from the director of Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli.

And it was… pretty okay! Word of this film has been buzzing around the internet for literally years; I understand most of it was filmed in 2009, and movies delayed that long are often delayed for a reason. This one was pretty solid, though, and actually has some neat heist-film elements as the obsessed probably-abductee protagonist cajoles his friends (who exhibit varying levels of reluctance) into preparing to infiltrate the famed Air Force Base of the title in search of proof of alien visitors. The team grows to include the conspiracy theorist daughter of an assassinated Area 51 employee, who pleasantly never becomes a love interest.

They gather gizmos, learn to defeat motion sensors, chat with alien abduction theorists who foreshadow things we’ll see later, and have a tense stake-out and break-in scene to steal a key card to access hidden portions of the base. (It wouldn’t be an Oren Peli movie without footage of sinister things happening in the vicinity of people sleeping in bed, now would it?)

The first part of the base infiltration is pretty much what you’d expect, with their plan more-or-less working until it suddenly doesn’t, lots of moments where they nearly get captured by soldiers, and gross and/or cool encounters with alien tech and biology. In the last quarter or so things get darker, weirder, and more inexplicable, mostly in a good way, though it does fall prey to the “last-ten-minutes-of-every-found-footage-horror-movie” problem: people scrabbling around in a dark hole somewhere with a camera so shaky it’s impossible to tell what’s going on.

So, it was an enjoyable movie, but I couldn’t help but compare it not entirely favorably to Alien Abduction, the 2014 film about aliens and the Brown Mountain Lights — which I inexplicably failed to review, so I’ll do so now. The endings are almost identical, and are also the most obvious way to end an alien abduction found footage movie. (Just guess what happens to the camera; you’ll probably be right.) It’s a neat enough ending, but I was (unfairly) disappointed to see Peli “repeat” it, even though his was probably actually filmed first.

The aliens in Alien Abduction are creepier, but a lot of that is down to setting and circumstance: half-glimpsed aliens menacing innocent tourists (including a kid) in the backwoods are more disturbing than half-glimpsed aliens menacing some incredibly dumb and/or obsessed twenty-somethings who broke into a secret military base.

Alien Abduction also had the advantage of being set near where I went to college, and includes some documentary footage of my onetime astronomy prof Dr. Caton talking about the Brown Mountain Lights — talk about aiding my suspension of disbelief and increasing verisimilitude! (His bit is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVRJ26bzkdM).

If you can only watch one, go with Alien Abduction. (My co-drinker-and-watcher Katrina might disagree, as she prefers desert landscapes to mountain ones). Happily, you can watch both, and then go watch Fire in the Sky too for a triple feature, and why not also read Kim Newman and Paul McAuley’s great alien-abduction-movie story “Residuals” while you’re at it; here, it’s even free online: http://www.baenebooks.com/chapters/9781625791061/9781625791061___3.htm

WhiskeyHorror: The REC Quartet

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

This week my whiskeyhorror companion Katrina had a cold so she drank tea with honey and whiskey and I drank a gin and tonic, so I mean, stuff was all weirded up.

Our respective partners went to see a Shakespeare play that night, being more inclined to historical costumes than blood-smeared tank tops. Before they left I said, “Well we are watching the modern equivalent of a Shakespeare play: the fourth installment in a Spanish science fantasy found footage zombie franchise.” (I stand by it. Billy the Bard wrote what the people like.) Anyway, there are a million spoilers ahead, etc.

I haven’t reviewed the earlier installments, as I figured I’d cover them as a whole, but we watched them over the course of months, so this may be a little sketchy in parts. The basic setup will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Quarantine (an English-language remake of the first REC film): a reporter named Angela and her cameraman are doing a fluff piece on a local fire crew, they go along on an emergency call, and get trapped in a building full of bloodthirsty zombified Spaniards. While the American version places the blame on a doomsday cult and a mutated virus, the Spanish franchise is infinitely weirder, and the ultimate source of the disease is revealed to be a girl who was possessed and studied by Vatican scientists who hoped to come up with a vaccine against the devil, which, I mean, yeah: points for audacity. Our brave reporter is the Final Girl, ultimately trapped up in the penthouse apartment of the dead Vatican scientist, where the creepily emaciated and hammer-wielding possessed Patient Zero is zombie-ing around. Angela tries to hide. She fails.

REC 2 overlaps the first film slightly as a scientist-exorcist is sent into the building to get a blood sample from Patient Zero so they can continue work on a vaccine. There are some nice elaborations to the mythos, though they don’t make much sense continuity-wise, as they didn’t seem to apply to the first movie, but whatevs: they’re cool. The main new thing is that, in the dark, the world literally changes: monsters that are invisible/immaterial in the light appear when looked at through a night-vision camera; there are bottomless pools of water and doors that only exist in the darkness. The demon-possession stuff is made more explicit here, too. The big final reveal is that the reporter, Angela, is the new host of the demon (which slithered into her mouth in the form of a big-ass wormlike parasite), and is trying to muderscam her way out of the building to further spread the infection. We end with her escape.

REC 3: Genesis is then a big case of dramaticus interruptus (pretty sure that’s genuine Latin) as we shift casts and locales entirely, to a wedding in Barcelona where the demon virus spreads, on the same day as the events of the first two films. (The continuity is actually solid: we knew earlier that a dog in the original apartment building was taken to the vet because it was mysteriously sick; a guest at the wedding was bitten by a dog, and is the first to turn.) Zombies attacking a big wedding is fun stuff, with lots of great set pieces, and there are some nice interpersonal issues to be worked out as people are devoured and the authorities seal off the area. The demonic stuff is even more pronounced, as people take refuge in a church the possessed can’t enter because of holiness, and it’s also revealed that the zombies are basically a hive mind controlled directly by the demon/worm/whatever. We get a woman who tears the train off her wedding dress so she can run better and show off her legs as she attacks monsters with a chain saw, and a guy who wears antique bits of armor he found in the building, and a predictable but nice “I’d rather die with you as a zombie, my love, than live alone without you” ending. Honestly, it might be my favorite of the films, even though they only intermittently use found footage (wedding videographer, CCTV) and mostly just go with a standard cinematic style of film. I thought that was a clever choice to differentiate the “parallel sequel” from the other installments, but…

REC 4: Apocalypse has almost no found footage as all, which is fine. It’s fine. I mean, if the aforementioned Shakespeare got halfway through his sonnet cycle and then was like “Damn, sonnets have too many restrictions, I’m gonna write some free verse,” that would also be fine, totally fine, horribly disappointing and a failure of craft, but fine. We do get back with Angela and a couple of survivors from the rescue operation that saved her, and they are on a quarantine ship at sea, along with one survivor from the wedding, and a bunch of scientists, and many guys with guns, and a really nerdy radio technician/hacker who has an adorable crush on Angela, and a bunch of infected monkeys. The priest/scientists are still working on a vaccine though it’s a bit less “DEMONS THEY’RE DEMONS” this time, and the “strange things happen in the dark” stuff is entirely eschewed, and in general they try to make it more scientific, which is a shame, because I prefer the weird. Somebody takes advantage of a power failure to release some of the infected monkeys from captivity and let them run loose on the ship – zombie demon plague monkeys are scary – and naturally we are supposed to assume that parasite-possessed Angela is responsible. As people who’ve seen more than one horror movie, we knew, obviously, that Angela couldn’t possibly be responsible. The parasite jumped ship (ha ha, nautical humor, I am the worst) to a new host at some point. Once again we got some nice contained nightmare stuff, and some good character moments, and a woman wielding an outboard motor instead of a chainsaw, but to similar effect. Everybody makes plans to save themselves and almost all the plans horribly fail. It’s great. It’s the last installment in the series, and the ending is not quite the downer I was expecting. Not mind-blowing, but it’s a satisfying conclusion, and I’m glad to have watched the series.

WhiskeyHorror: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

We drank perfect manhattans with bourbon and sazeracs with rye, and watched Farsi-language vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

I enjoyed this one a lot. At first I thought it was going to be a gloomy, stately, minimalist affair – the long shots of ruined buildings, the fact that it’s shot in black and white – but there is a ton of quirky humor in this film. (When you have a vampire woman skateboarding down the street of a desert town wearing a hijab – the filmmakers are having fun.) I loved the vampire’s preferred method of stalking, mirroring the movements of her intended victims, matching her pace to theirs – it was creepy, and funny, and maybe also suggested an attempt to better mimic humans.

The villain in the first third of the film is ridiculously over-the-top, a complete caricature of a sleazeball drug dealer and loan shark and pimp – he has neck and face tattoos and smacks around a prostitute and has fish tanks and animal heads and blankets with pictures of tigers on them in his apartment – but I stopped rolling my eyes after a while and just rolled with it instead. He’s supposed to be irredeemably awful; that’s why it’s fun to see him get eaten… and it makes some of the vampires later (and less morally defensible) attacks more disturbing by contrast.

The film *is* minimalist in a lot of ways. The James-Dean-esque male lead and the vampire fall in love without a lot of talk, and the most erotic scene they share involves him piercing her ears. We don’t get much in the way of backstory for the vampire (or anyone, but especially her), and there are a lot of moments when affectless characters gaze affectlessly into the distance… but it works, especially when there’s a very expressive cat sitting between them, calling attention to their blankness in an amusing way.

There’s also a whole lot of effective acting, too, with gazes and body language over words. I’d argue that the climactic moment of the film comes late, when the hero paces back and forth on the side of the road, struggling with a moral choice, and then making a decision – his entire struggle takes place silently, with no discussion or verbal agonizing before or after; it’s all in the way he moves.

The movie was filmed in Kern Country CA, not in the Middle East, but that area has a lot of empty places and dilapidated things and also palm trees anyway, so it works well as the setting for the nowhere-town of Bad City.

And it’s the first ever Farsi vampire Western! I’ll be watching director Ana Lily Amirpour with interest.

WhiskeyHorror: As Above, So Below

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

We drank Black Saddle 12-year-old bourbon, which is ridiculously good and the bottle is empty now and now I am sad.

We watched As Above, So Below, that “attractive archaeologist obsessed with the alchemist Nicolas Flamel goes into the Paris catacombs with some local urban explorers in search of the philosopher’s stone” movie.

The good: the Paris catacombs are cool. Urban explorers as horror movie protagonists? I like that. Spatial horror is always welcome, and that’s pretty much all this movie is: passages that don’t lead where they should, weird loops and doubling-back, being frightened and lost in the dark. The bit with the burning car. The shot of their emergence from the manhole cover.

The bad: the whole last third of it, basically (apart from the burning car and the manhole cover). The nonsensical and also cheesy answer to “What is the philosopher’s stone really?”) The fact that the surviving characters did not emerge into an Evil Mirror Version of Paris full of demonic mimes and baguettes that eat you. (That would have redeemed everything else for me, honestly.)

Mostly it made me want to rewatch The Descent, so we’re doing that next time.

WhiskeyHorror Double Feature: Dead Snow 2 and The Woman in Black

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

There have been two WhiskeyHorrors since my last report: one last Saturday, and one on Tuesday night. So much horror. So much whiskey. (Well, the usual amount of whiskey.)

Both times we mostly drank the 10-year-old Bulleit reserve, which is delicious. Also a bit of Monkey Shoulder blended Scotch, which I hear is hit-or-miss depending on which batch you happen to get, but our bottle is very good with soda and even tasty by itself over ice.

Saturday we watched Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, which was an improvement in pretty much every way over the first one — funnier, more lively, equally gruesome with better effects. It picks up immediately after the end of the first film… except all the Norwegian people now inexplicably speak English. (Guess it was a condition of giving the director actual money.) Martin Starr was amusing as the leader of an American “Zombie Squad” (though I wish the two women on the squad had been better written and fleshed-out) and the business with the tank was great. Recommended if you like funny zombie stuff and dead Russians hitting dead Nazis with shovels and, uh, generally enjoy films that involve snow.

Tuesday was rather more serious: we saw The Woman in Black, with Daniel Radcliffe being pale and sad in the English countryside as blank-faced children committed suicide all around him and in the past also. As the father of an adorable blond moppet myself, the film certainly gave me some terrible twinges. Stately and deliberate without being dull, with a good mix of jump scares and tension-building-dread stretches. At one point when Radcliffe’s character was Making A Plan to deal with the supernatural menace I complained that in many old ghost stories there’s not a damn thing you can do; the ghosts are just there, and will remain there, and there’s not a ritual you can conduct to put them to rest. I suppose I’ll adhere to local norms and avoid spoilers but suffice to say, I was pleased with how Radcliffe’s plan turned out. The ending is an utterly bleak downer — and yet because it’s not as bad as it could have been, it actually manages to feel weirdly hopeful!

We’ve also been watching the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series, which is total gonzo fun, very cinematic, well directed, engagingly acted, gross, grotesque, funny, smart, pulpy, and narratively complex. We’re four episodes in, and I can’t wait to watch more. (Note: not for ophidiophobes.)

WhiskeyHorror: The Den

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
WhiskeyHorror report:

We drank Larceny, a wheated bourbon from Heaven Hill distilleries, with ice and the odd splash of bitters. Pretty tasty stuff.

We watched The Den, a recent found-footage (sort of) horror movie, quite tense and disturbing, with a nice mix of mounting discomfort, dread, jump scares, and graphic horror. (Plotwise it’s basically “Chatroulette, with murderstalking,” or “Hostel Online,” though it’s less torture-porn-y than the Hostel movies; which isn’t to say there’s no gruesome violence, because there is a bit.) The lead character was a bit passive/ineffectual for much of the film, to the extent that I said, “Wow, I wish she’d do something,” but as things became more imminently dangerous she did step up and make some impressive moves, and I ended up liking her character a lot. (I’m not saying things turn out well for her — it’s a horror movie, not a thriller where order is restored at the end — but at least she made the bad guys feel a degree of her pain.)

As we finished watching American Horror Story we needed a new show to add to the rotation, and after poking around Netflix a bit found Darknet, which even fits a bit thematically with The Den. It’s a Canadian anthology horror show (non-supernatural, for at least the first few eps anyway). Each episode has several intersecting storylines, with a non-linear approach to chronology, and an emphasis on twist endings which range from the silly to the delightfully creepy. (Of course, once the twist-ending thing was established, we started to see the twists coming, or at least to look for them.) It’s an amusing show, organized around the common thread of a website devoted to the macabre and murderous and disgusting. (Sort of 4chan meets the Morbid Reality sub-Reddit.) Fear Itself is still the better Canadian anthology horror series, but Darknet is fun.

No Whiskey, Some Horror

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Haven’t done a WhiskeyHorror report in a while, because we’ve been watching episodes of American Horror Story, and the last actual movie we watched was my old favorite Trick ‘r Treat, and rewatches don’t inspire much in the way of musing for me.

But, hey, Halloween. Horror movie time. While my wife was out dancing last night, I decided to watch a couple of movies in my lonesome living room, even in the absence of whiskey, in the spirit of the holiday.

I finally watched Kevin Smith’s very odd Red State, which is less a horror movie (despite its initial premise) and more an oddball thriller. I liked John Goodman’s performance as an ATF agent, and Michael Parks was mesmerizing as the evil but charismatic preacher, but mostly the thing was a mess of endless noisy gunfire. I had some faint hope when they hinted at a weird twist ending, which wouldn’t have redeemed it but would have at least been interestingly strange, but they didn’t go that way. Alas.

After that I gave You’re Next a try. I’d ignored it in the past because it looked like a standard home-invasion thriller, and I figured it would just be gore and jump scares, but Netflix assured me it had a high user rating, so it seemed likely to have more going on than I thought. And while it does have gore and jump scares galore, it’s much funnier and more odd than I’d anticipated, a dysfunctional family drama/black comedy mingled with home invasion thriller, with some nice twists and ways to change things up and increase the tension as it goes on. Plus a smart, interesting, badass female protagonist, which is always a delight. Recommended, but maybe don’t watch it alone if you live in a big empty house that could possibly be full of hidden murderers in animal masks.