Troll Hunter (2010)
This Norwegian mock-doc follows an ill-fated camera crew who decides to document a grizzled old hunter who is charged by the government to keep the local troll population down. Seems the supposedly mythical beasties have been snacking on the local livestock—not to mention, the occasional German tourist—and the Quint-like Hans is the only man who can destroy them. When the trolls do show up, the special effects, presumably done on a tight budget, are impressive, and the troll designs are cool. However, I think this might have just been one found footage movie too many for me—there are a lot of scenes of the titular troll hunter and the documentary crew just driving around the mountains, and just as many scenes of them running through the woods at night from an unseen threat. This doesn’t bode well for [REC] and The Blair Witch Project, both of which I wanted to revisit this month. We’ll see.
Months after losing her husband in a car crash, a young woman whose baby is ready to pop finds herself besieged by a crazy lady who wants to cut the unborn kid out of her. People keep showing up, and consequently, they keep having their faces and bodies impaled by the crazy woman and her ever-growing arsenal of sharp objects. This was definitely not for me. I was going to watch Martyrs this year, another ultraviolent French flick from the past few years, but…I don’t think I’m much of a fan of this kind of stylized Gallic cruelty. It just seemed kind of gross and pointless to me. Does this mean I’m getting old or something?
The Boogens (1981)
The title of this one always lived in infamy for me—something about it always struck me really funny. Unfortunately, this tale of a mining explosion that lets loose a bunch of tunnel-dwelling turtle monster puppets is a pretty dull exercise. The Boogens, who aren't ever actually called in that in the movie, don’t really show up until the final fifteen minutes or so, and the human characters aren’t nearly interesting enough to maintain much interest until then. When your movie’s smartest and most compelling character is a yappy little poodle, you’re in big trouble.
The unconvincing puppety oddballs of The Boogens made me yearn for this tongue-in-cheek exercise in subterranean predators. The desert town of Perfection—population 14—finds itself besieged by sandworm-like “graboids”, who enjoy yanking their prey underneath the ground to snack on ‘em. This one’s really more of a monster movie than a horror movie per se, but Fangoria covered it at the time of its release and that’s good enough for me. The monsters are cool, and director Ron Underwood successfully mixes humour and suspense, but the real reason to check out Tremors is, and always has been, the excellent chemistry between handymen/hetero lifemates/reluctant heroes Val and Earl, played by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward…although Michael Gross and Reba McEntire (!) as a couple of survivalist wackos who maintain a rec room arsenal that would make Frank Castle green with envy, are pretty great too.
Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
The proliferation of zombies lurching across our shared pop-culture landscape these days made me hesitate to include any walking dead flicks in my lineup, but really, if you’re going to include one, you might as well make it the best one (for my money, Dawn is just a shade better than George A. Romero’s 1968 Night Of The Living Dead). Sure, the bright blue faces of the Seventies-model zombies and the goopy red nail polish-looking blood that splatters nearly every frame of this flick is very silly by today’s standards, but there’s no denying the power of Romero’s metaphor for a consumerist society that’s devouring itself. Tom Savini’s spectacularly gory makeup effects were unparalleled at the time, and are still shocking today (Death by screwdriver! Death by machete! Death by helicopter blade!). The pulsing, synth-driven score by Goblin takes some fun detours, particularly when a pack of rednecks turn a zombie hunt into a tailgate party (“Don’t believe in overworkin’/And I never treat a woman right/’Cause I’m a man/’Cause I’m a man” croons the soundtrack over this scene). Still one of the greats.
Stephen Spielberg’s feature-length debut may have been a mere TV movie, but its skillful suspense hinted at cinematic greatness to come. Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, Duel stars Dennis Weaver as a mild-mannered commuter who runs afoul of a murderous, never-seen truck driver on a lonely desert highway. The motives for the trucker’s homicidal tendencies are never explained, but we understand from early on that this is struggle is something of a rite of manhood for our hero; in an early scene, he argues with his wife on the phone about his inability to stand up for her when a creep at a party came on too strong (Weaver’s character name is David Mann—a bit on the nose). Shot on a shoestring budget over thirteen days, Spielberg shot right to the big screen after this; unfortunately, that movie was the forgotten Sugarland Express, but his next film after that was Jaws, so there ya go.
The Birds (1963)
Hitchcock’s beloved exercise in avian assault takes a while to get going, but it’s worth it. I first saw this movie when I was quite young, and I remember being bored by the soap-opera plot—Tippi Hedren’s flakey heiress more or less stalks Rod Taylor all the way from San Francisco to his family home in Bodega Bay, coming between him and his overbearing mother (Jessica Tandy)—but now, I appreciate what Hitch does here so much more. These characters are in the middle of their own various dramas when an extraordinary event—an army of killer birds descending on the seaside town—happens, derailing all their lives. It’s not like they’re just sitting around waiting for something to happen, they’re going about their business and all hell suddenly breaks loose to interrupt them. Albert Whitlock’s visual effects are still startling today, and Hitchcock does plenty with simple sound design as well (like when our heroes are barricaded in their house, and the sounds of the bird army seem to be coming from all sides).