"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" (1986)

Goofy, not scary and actually boring, the sequel to the original horror classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” squanders a wonderful start and devolves into weirdness. Perhaps it’s a matter of expectations since the original was such a guttural, disturbing experience, but the follow-up seems more like a bad comedy spoof. Endless sneaking, Dennis Hopper cackling to himself, and a strange Leatherface love story litter this rudderless mess. It’s strange how something so iconic and terrifying could devolve into such a campy schlock-fest when it’s helmed by the same director. Although the performance by Bill Moseley as the terrifying character “Chop-Top” is thoroughly stomach churning, it’s not enough to compensate for the lack of horror or even entertainment value of any kind through this tedious film. What a shame.

"Jigoku" (1960)

Also known as “The Sinners of Hell”, is a strange parable about guilt and sin, “Jigoku” represents the roots of Japanese horror. The odd and twisted world created in the film draws to mind such modern day films as the work of David Lynch or even a dark version of “Fantasia.” The film almost plays as a satire on the idea of sin and guilt, and how no one, no matter how innocent, will escape punishment in certain renditions of Hell. It exhibits a world, not unlike the real world, in which anxiety of hell, not compassion or conscience, often fuel the need to “do good.” What’s scarier than the idea of Hell? The idea that you’re headed there no matter what.

"Stoker" (2013)

To write a short review of “Stoker” is an exercise in madness because one could teach a full college course on this film. It’s absolutely drenched with detail. It’s an explosion of themes, symbolism and insinuation that are masterfully portrayed in photography, editing and sound. It’s an eerie and troubling film that doesn’t present many palatable themes. Despite the abundance of ideas in the film, the one standout is our protagonist’s penchant for violence and how that ties her to her uncle. Another crucial element is time and how the timing of India’s father’s death, her transition to adulthood, her uncle’s arrival and the actualization of her morbid desires all coincide. Masculinity and femininity, incest, violence, pedophilia, rape, coercion, manipulation, abuse, mental illness. Spiders, eggsacks, giant boulders, belts, shoes. The film plays on the idea of etiquette and societal norms. It teeters on the concept of adulthood and how our definition of it is black and white but the reality is shades of gray. It’s an undoubtedly uncomfortable movie because you will find yourself at odds with India’s desires. The entire film hinges on the distinction between the protagonist and antagonist. It’s there, it’s razor-thin, it won’t be spoon fed to the audience and it very likely may anchor on one line of dialogue: "He used to say, sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse." Prepare yourself, for this film will haunt you.

"eXistenZ" (1999)

David Cronenberg films, despite their acclaim, can often skew too weird or too dark for mass appeal. Yet, “eXistenZ” strikes the perfect balance of weirdness and darkness, despite its relative obscurity. This can probably be chalked up to films with similar content coming out in the same year with “The Thirteenth Floor” (awful) and “The Matrix” (excellent). All three deal with blurred borders of reality. “eXistenZ” arguably approaches the subject with the most inquisitive eye and analytical perspective. There are all sorts of questions that one has to address with the idea of virtual reality like the vulnerability of a “real” body, disembodiment, and the ability to discern what is real and what is artificial. The film has a distinct resemblance to “Inception” and the idea that, once you’ve crossed the border into the virtual or dream realm, how do you know when you’re back again? As with many Cronenberg works, it also addresses the blending of sexuality and morbidity. This is a really underappreciated film that provokes thought as well as entertains. If you’re a fan of Cronenberg but haven’t checked out “eXistenZ”, do it.

"Hellbound: Hellraiser II" (1988)

The great thing about this first sequel to the horror classic “Hellraiser” is that it is a continuation of the story, not just a repeat of the events. They could have gone the easy route and had a new set of victims of the Cenobites and Lemarchand’s Box (like some of the later sequels). Instead, the story picks up where it left off and continues with Kirsty’s conflict against Julia. It takes the story into a new world of terror, an Escheresque maze Hellscape that invites the audience into the realm the Cenobites describe; morbid personal Hells. The film truly elevates the series to another level and expands upon the greatness of the original. It is an excellent sequel and an excellent horror film in its own right. Not to mention one of the best lines in horror history, “Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell”

"Chained" (2012)

An ugly, unsettling, brutal film, “Chained” is not for the anyone afraid to confront the realities of the darkest corners of the world. “Chained” is a bleak meditation on the chain of abuse that can be passed down from parent to child to child and so on. It’s an interesting take on nature versus nurture and how or why one develops a moral conscience. The film is driven by the performance of Vincent D’Onofrio as the brutish, severely damaged serial rapist/murderer. He manages to portray a person so “evil” yet so realistic, it’s haunting to think there are really people like this in the world. The writing is solid, the premise and execution are tight, and the climax is both surprising and thrilling, as well as contextually developed and satisfying. “Chained” is a good thriller but not one that should be watched without forewarning: it’s grim.

"From Hell" (2001)

This film is… weird. As appropriate as Johnny Depp is for his role of opium-addled Ripper investigator, Heather Graham is about as miscast as possible. It’s a distracting decision because her English accent is poor and really just draws attention to itself. While there are some scary and powerful images of violence and gore, they are interspersed amongst a film that is overly long and unfocused. Is it a love story between detective and hooker? Is it a tale of conspiracy and men in power? Is it a meditation against organized religion? Unfortunately, it feels most like a forbidden romance hidden in a time of ultimate turmoil, which is really the least interesting story and the least contextually established. Aside from some strong imagery and a terrifying performance from Ian Holm, “From Hell” just misses the mark on too many levels. 

"Munger Road" (2011)

"Munger Road" is a smart, technically strong film that offers some great tension but falls short of a satisfying ending. The premise is solid and the writing keeps you guessing about what is really going on. The performances are quite good, anchored by Bruce Davison as the wise small town Sheriff. However, there aren’t enough answers and there isn’t quite enough context to fully flesh out the tale. The open ending is too open and feels like just the first installment. It’s a shame because the film squanders what could be a real indie gem with cult potential. 

"The Dead Zone" (1983)

This film is interesting from the point of view that a character is imbued with a power that he really doesn’t want, which is a theme in a lot of Cronenberg films. He has saddled his antagonist with a “super power” that really causes more problems than it provides solutions. The film carries all the typical Cronenberg mystery, intrigue, allusions to something deeper and scarier.  While there are few terrible or terrifying events in this film, there is one glimpse into the future that is truly frightening both for the antagonist and for the audience. “The Dead Zone” is one of Stephen King’s works that actually translates well to film and doesn’t leave too much important subtext or detail on the page. While this film doesn’t offer as much of the macabre and fright of Cronenberg’s darker films, it’s an entertaining tale that works.

"From Within" (2008)

What “From Within” does well is develop a world and a backstory for the film to exist in that fully rounds out the narrative. The town itself feels like a character in the film and there are enough contextual clues to feel like this is a place with history, small town issues and drama. The film is an interesting meditation on religious zealotry and violence. The horror aesthetics are fairly typical, pale-skinned, black eyed ghouls, however the execution is solid and scary. The first scene of the film is truly shocking and terrifying. The performances are solid and it doesn’t rely on twists to work, yet there are some interesting twists to keep you guessing. “From Within” is a good little horror flick that won’t see any big studio franchising but is something a fan of the unique will enjoy.

"The Shining" TV Movie (1997)

It’s very difficult to analyze this film without drawing comparisons to the Stanley Kubrick version. They’re completely different animals, just wearing the same leash. Unfortunately, the creator of the story, Stephen King, is holding the leash of a miniature Schnauzer, while Kubrick is holding a lion. The made-for-TV special is entertaining enough but it fails to evoke deep-seated horror. The dialogue doesn’t translate well from novel to film. The CGI in 1997 was not good enough to create some of King’s visions. It feels shallow, direct and obvious. Perhaps this was the story King always wanted to tell, however, Kubrick managed to make every element within the story ten-fold scarier. King’s novel is an icon of horror fiction but his film is more of an eyesore.  

"The Jacket"

The concepts behind “The Jacket” are fascinating.  It’s reminiscent of “Inception” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” in both plot device and its underlying themes.  However, “The Jacket” is closer to the later in tone, like a sci-fi romance.  It has some clear commentary about mental-illness, addiction and post-war veteran treatment, but that falls secondary to the love story.  It’s an interesting film that doesn’t waste too much time worrying about the device and focuses on the more emotional and human aspects of the story.  A beautiful blend of sci-fi and drama, this film isn’t over-stylized and is definitely worth a gander.

"The Barrens" (2012)

An awful plot, terrible dialogue and a complete vacuum of momentum, message or tone make “The Barrens” one of the most exhaustively boring horror films in recent memory.  The filmmakers don’t seem to know what they want to say, nor how to say it.  The rules of their world are confusing and uneven.  Despite the actors giving it a decent effort, the writing is so horrendous that there’s no performer alive that could make this screenplay work.  The film doesn’t do justice to the already mediocre urban legend of the Jersey Devil.  Even with more money, there is little here to suggest the film would be anything other than a more expensive failure.  

"Blood Creek" (2009)

From top to bottom, “Blood Creek” is a pretty good film.  The story is unique and really quite an interesting concept.  It blends elements of Lovecraft, Nazi occult obsession, Vampires and Zombies to create a Pandora’s Box of horror.  The action is slick, the actors are all quite good, especially Michael Fassbender and Henry Cavill.  While the CGI effects are subpar, the story and direction is strong enough to overshadow that mild shortcoming.  This is one of the better Joel Schumacher efforts and much better than his last foray into horror, the abysmal “The Number 23.”  It’s definitely worth a watch.  

"Friday the 13th Part 2" (1981)

Just some good ol’ slasher fun.  Scantly clad camp counselors, a psychopathic killer on the loose and some creatively gruesome slayings.  Very little of the film is committed to anything other than the setup and chop-down of every member of the cast.  There is a clever little carryover from the first film to tie the world together but it’s pretty clear regardless.  This is a world where an unstoppable killing machine stalks and kills anything near his campground.  If you don’t like this film, you’re either not a fan of horror or you’re just thinking too hard.  Turn off your brain and just let Jason do his thing.