FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Aug 28, 2015

Until Dawn (2015)

It can be a hard knock life out there for a console-tied horror lovin' gamer like me. Sure, there are classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but there is room in my heart for more. However, in recent years horror games have generally morphed into action games with a horror skin; while scaring the player still figures into the equation, newer titles tend to be fast-paced and combat heavy instead of atmosphere-laden mood and exploration pieces. (One need only look at the evolution of the Resident Evil games to get the gist–it's hard to believe that Resident Evil and Resident Evil 5 are in the same series.) Don't get me wrong, there are still flashes of brilliance–P.T. terrorized me more than anything else in my life ever has, Alien: Isolation is a fantastic fright fest, and even the lo-fi aesthetics of games like Home and Lone Survivor can belie some gripping experiences. But by and large, I'm always thirsty for new horror games that don't solely revolve around shooting monsters.

You can imagine, then, that I was really fucking excited for Until Dawn, a survival/adventure horror game that emphasizes story, character interaction, exploration, and decision making.

The plot features a setup that's straight from the early '80s heyday of the slasher flick: Ten friends spend the weekend at a remote mountain lodge, but after a prank goes awry, two of the party members end missing and presumed dead. A year later, the remaining eight friends return to the lodge for another weekend, but guess what? They're not alone. Yep, it seems there's a masked killer on the loose. Go figure!

When dawn finally comes, the number of survivors remaining is up to the player. You're frequently faced with choices, from seemingly insignificant ones (do you give a sincere or a snarky response to an innocuous question?) to ones that can immediately result in life or death for a character (the killer is chasing you, do you run or hide?). Anyone who's ever yelled at the screen during a horror movie will delight in taking control of characters normally deemed moronic...and they'll find out how damn difficult it is to make a split-second decisions when you're in a panic.

Once the game gets rolling, it doesn't stop. The train is inexorable, and it chugs along...until dawn. There is no going back if you make a wrong choice or if you miss a clue whilst exploring, and you can only live (or not live, as the case may be) with your decisions. While some mistakes are obvious, the game will tell you what "butterfly effect" an earlier action has had. You know, like maybe that snarky response of yours hours earlier means that someone isn't exactly rushing to come to your aid now.

The characters, as you might expect, are also straight out of early '80s horror: there's the jock, the jokester, the mean girl, the probably final girl, the horny couple, etc. Before the action begins, you've got to wade through some dopey dialogue, and I admit I found myself saying "I don't care if any of these assholes makes it through the night." After all, most of the victims in a generic slasher flick are just there to be killed. If you can tolerate them before that, great...but chances are there are some you can't wait to see die just so they'll shut up.

But I'll be damned if everyone didn't grow on me during Until Dawn. I'm not saying the characters end up more than the archetypes they start out as, or that they ever have, you know, depth. But listen: when you are tasked with seeing a character through a particularly grueling sequence of events, you become very invested in their survival. I was shocked when I realized that the character I liked the least ended up being the one I was rooting for the most. Seriously, early on I was thinking that I'd try to get her killed intentionally I hated her so much. Her personality never really underwent a change, but damn, she endured so much that I wanted her to live. Ultimately, she didn't make it and it was sort of devastating, for the interactive nature of the game had us buddied up. I fucked up, and she died. As active participants, players bear a responsibility in Until Dawn that they don't in passive entertainment such as Friday the 13th. For a lifelong horror fan, it's a unique, terrific experience.

Gameplay is accessible even to those new to video games. Yeah sure, you need to have fast reactions much of the time, but it's generally little more than matching onscreen button prompts, moving a stick in one direction or another, or–in the most nerve-wracking sequences–not moving the controller at all because doing so will give away your location.

Until Dawn is frequently beautiful to look at, and also frequently very strange to look at. The odd mix of motion capture and animation often dips low into uncanny valley, leaving characters looking more like creepy robots than actual people. (It doesn't help when characters are made to resemble their real-life counterparts, such as actors Peter Stormare and Hayden Panettiere.) More often than not, however, your mouth will be agape at the visuals in, like, a good way. And also because of the gore. Oh yes, there's enough blood and gore here to do Tom Savini proud.

The story twists and turns, touching on plenty of beloved genre tropes and touchstones, and the horror pedigree of co-writer Larry Fessenden readily apparent. (Do you love Larry Fessenden? I do. I don't love everything he does, but he's a cool cat and it seems like he loves horror as much as you or I.) If you like horror movies and video games, Until Dawn is absolutely a no-brainer.

My first playthrough saw only two of the eight characters survive. Can you believe that? I thought for sure I'd make only the right decisions and everyone would waltz out of that lodge alive and happy in the light of a new day. I mean, I have a horror blog. You don't get more expert than that!

Until Dawn is a PlayStation 4 exclusive.

Aug 24, 2015

amazon one-star reviews: MARTYRS (2008)

It's sure been a grand old time jib-jabbering in the comments of my recent 20 Best Films of the 20th Century post. Lists make for lively conversation! They can introduce you to films you've never heard of. Perhaps someone's love of a movie that you hate will make you see it in a new light, will make you give it another chance. Sometimes you can only marvel at a person's garbage taste in movies, and the pure outrage over what they enjoy gets your blood pumping and adds three minutes to your lifespan. Diving into a list you have some sort of personal investment in is like climbing into a rickety-ass car and passing through the double doors that open into a carnival funhouse. You're excited, even though you anticipate that the experience may not be "pleasurable" exactly. You expect a few things that are reliably in every funhouse: loud buzzer noises, a random blast of air in your face, string hanging from the ceiling that gets in your hair and makes you momentarily lose your mind. Then there are the occasional surprises in store for you, like a chance to witness Sylvia Miles giving a handjob to a monstrously deformed young man. Maybe you die before it's all over, or maybe you make it through the set of double doors on the other end of the track, emerging back in the real world a better person, or maybe a worse person, or maybe pretty much the same person you were when you went in. To be honest, I'm not even sure what I'm talking about anymore, or why I thought comparing lists on the internet with carnival funhouses was a good idea to begin with, but here we are.

Anyway, the number one film on my list, Martyrs, is undoubtedly a divisive one. Amongst those who have seen it, feelings tend to run strongly one way or the other–this is not a film you see and shrug when it's over, giving it a "meh". Given its reputation, plenty of folks–even hardcore horror fans–are reluctant to go near it. That reputation is pretty well-deserved, I must say. It's a brutal movie, one that's endured rather than simply watched. It's violent, although in my mind the violence serves the story. Others, however, argue that the "story" is a thin excuse, that it's as useless as any other film in the "torture porn" pantheon. To be honest, I'm surprised by how much I adore–if "adore" is the right's not the right word, probably–Martyrs. I don't need gore and violence in my horror (though they are certainly enjoyable at times). I'm not really into watching victims suffer and/or be tortured. My tastes in the genre are continuously evolving, but at no point in my tenure as a horror fan would I peg something like Martyrs as a soulmate of a movie for me, but again, here we are. It's nihilistic, it's full of love and hope, it's abhorrent, it's beautiful.

But that's just my "give it a million stars out of five" opinion. As I said, it's a most divisive film, so here's an opinion from the other end of the mind spectrum:
There is something about the French and Horror movies. They can't them good. This is the worst movie I have ever watched, and I have watched a million movies. It is a waste of time, blu-ray or the uncut version. Don't waste your life force by watching this crap.
It does not come anywhere near Hostel, which had a sick plot and was interesting.
This film is not even interesting and the viewer is never allowed to share the how and why things are happening.
Now if you just like to young girls tortured, there is no sex, then this is your movie. It sucks

Regarding horror movies, even if you take Martyrs out of the equation, personally I think that the French can them good. But I do agree with the reviewer, girls getting tortured is okay so long as there is sex.

Aug 19, 2015

Let's Talk About Lists, Baby

Aw yeah, here's the part where someone spends time compiling data in order to create a "best of" list and then I read the list and I'm like "Pfft, that list is mostly lame" and so I write my own list and then people read my list and they're like "Pfft, that list is mostly lame" and so they write their own lists in the comments. And the great möbius strip of internet life continues until we are all dead. Or maybe even for a while after that! An Eternity in Listicles.

Anyway, over at yon Movies, Films, and Flix, writer Mark Hofmeyer has posted the results of a readers' poll for The Top 21 Horror Films of the 21st Century. Here are the Top 10:
  1. Drag Me to Hell
  2. Mulholland Dr.
  3. Shaun of the Dead
  4. The Babadook
  5. It Follows
  6. Let the Right One In
  7. The Descent
  8. 28 Days Later
  9. Pan's Labyrinth
  10. Cabin in the Woods
To this list I say: hmm. Some of it, yes! Some of it, no! Some of it, I have no opinion on, specifically regarding Pan's Labyrinth because I haven't seen it yet even though I know I should. We've just never been in the same room at the same time, but I'll rectify that one of these days/years/lifetimes.

I loves me some Mulholland Dr, and I can see how one would qualify it as "horror", but personally I would not. (But that dumpster scene...) Shaun of the Dead? A delight! One of the Top 10 horror films of the last 15 years? Yehhhh. And I know I'm for sure in the minority on Cabin in the Woods, but that film didn't do much for me at all. For whatever reason, I am immune to its charms, and even more perversely, the more other people like it, the less I like it. That never happens! Cabin in the Woods really brings out the Newton's Third Law of my heart. I am not sure why, nor am I sure what this says about me. But oh well. I hope you like it.

Because I minored in list battling, it is only right that I counter this Top 10 with my own Top 20. (SPOILER ALERT: Cabin in the Woods is not on it.) Are these the "best" horror movies of the 21st century, or are they simply my favorites? Are those two things interchangeable since I have such exquisite taste? "You smell like White Diamonds, Stacie," you're probably saying. "Of course you only like the best things." That is sweet of you, but you might think some of my Top 20 is garbage. That's why we list battle. But my Top 5–and particularly my Top One–constitutes a hill I'd probably die on, so bring it!

20. Sinister (2012)

Okay, this one kind of embarrasses me, but I can't help it. I like it way more than it deserves to be liked. I feel about Sinister the way the majority of people feel about The Conjuring: it was scary, what else do you need? Yes, it goes off the rails a bit the more it shows. Overall, it's pretty stupid. I wouldn't want a steady diet of stupid horror, but every once in a while simply being scary is enough. I mean, man (probably) cannot live on Combos alone but fuck, they're great once a year.

19. Triangle (2009)

Underrated mindfuck whose logic may not hold up to scrutiny, but so what? Also, Melissa George. She's great!

18. It Follows (2014)

I read a lot of praise for this movie before I saw it and I was crazy excited. Despite the killer soundtrack, terrific premise, and good looks...I don't know, about 2/3 of the way in it lost me and it never got me back. It was sort of like really connecting with someone online and everything's nice, then you finally meet up for a drink or whatever and something feels off and you go home deflated, thinking ugh we were supposed to fall in love. We were supposed to fall in love, It Follows!

17. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Remember a time when there were no Paranormal Activity movies? Me either! I can't believe the series is still going, because it has got to be the flimsiest excuse for a franchise I've ever seen. And honestly, I picked up the blu-ray a couple of months ago for $1.75 and gave it a whirl and it doesn't really hold up. So why is it here at #17? I don't know! Leave me alone.

16. Lovely Molly (2011)

Have you seen this? You should see it. Gretchen Lodge is fantastic as the troubled (to put it mildly) Molly, and it incorporates found footage without feeling like...well, like a tired old found footage flick. (And I say that as an unabashed lover of found footage flicks.)

15. The House of the Devil (2009)

One of the finest examples of the "uncanny" in horror. It is a love it or hate it kind of deal, I think, so maybe you hate it. Have fun being wrong, sucker!

14. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

It's not as "flashy" as other movies you might think of when you think "Asian horror"–it doesn't have the iconic ghost faces of Ju-on or the violence of Audition, but what an experience. It transcends the simple label "horror", I think, and as I'm writing this I'm wondering why it's not higher on my list.

13. The Children (2008)

Listen, I find the idea of spending a Christmas holiday surrounded by children horrifying enough, even without them trying to murder me. This movie really appeals to my cold, black heart.

12. 28 Days Later (2002)

It's included if only for the first 3/4 alone. It's a genre classic at this point, isn't it?

11. You're Next (2011)

I was not expecting to like this, but I ended up loving it and here it is at #11. What a world! It's tense, it's fun, it's gross, and Barbara Crampton is in it. If someone had told me that before I saw it, well, I then would have expected to love it. When pitching something, always lead with the Barbara Crampton, geez. (That said, I ultimately wasn't all that wild about We Are Still Here. Go figure.)

10. Let the Right One In (2008)

Grim, unrelenting, and–wait, you don't need me to tell you about this, do you? It deserves every bit of praise it gets.

9. The Babadook (2014)

Is it more horror-flavored drama than horror? Yes. Is it as terrifying as the hype would lead you to believe? No. So what? It's a beautiful, perfect depiction of depression. I love watching actresses act the shit out of stuff, and man, Essie Davis acts the shit out of this.

8. The Ring (2002)

I sort of feel like The Ring is fifty years old. The Asian horror remake fad has come and gone, long-haired ghost girls are all but a joke, so many movies have that fucking bluish tint now...but The Ring is still awesome and you know it.

7. The Innkeepers (2011)

That's right, it's here! Fuck you, I love The Innkeepers! It hits all the right notes for me: noises in the dark, big empty haunted houses, quiet creeping dread. I don't even care if anything happens! It's a campfire ghost story, and I am so on board.

6. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Yes, I agree, there is some jarringly wonky CGI in Drag Me to Hell, but it matters not. There is a dark, delicious mean streak in this movie and it's a mile wide and I adore it. This movie is so disgusting and over the top and batshit insane that it just makes me happy. Like cackling-with-glee happy.

5. Session 9 (2001)

Not even David Caruso's smarm can diminish my fondness for this film. It gets under my skin even as I'm sitting here thinking about it.

4. [REC] (2007)

I can't decide if I'm cheating on The Blair Witch Project with [REC] or vice versa. All I know for sure is that I tell each of them that they're my favorite P.O.V./found footage horror movie, and I always mean it. I am constantly astounded by the camera work in [REC] because for all the chaos and choreography, it always feels authentic. I love the way it builds to a frenetic crescendo and then quiets down for an unbelievably terrifying finale. And who doesn't love a spunky girl reporter hero like Angela Vidal? She's horror's Lois Lane and deserves all the Pulitzers.

3. The Descent (2005)

Neil Marshall, Neil Marshall, where have you gone, Neil Marshall? I know you're doing, like, TV or whatever, but come on. Horror needs you! Horror needs characters like the little babies in this picture, characters that feel like they have depth even if maybe they don't actually have much and you feel terrible when their lives get screwed. Horror needs something that's not the same ol' same ol' but feels comfortingly familiar anyway. I love this movie so hard, totally in a heart-with-an-arrow-through-it kind of way.

2. Lake Mungo (2008)

If I could sponsor a movie in a Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association kind of way, it would be Lake Mungo. I adore it so very much and I feel like no one ever talks about it, so I want to take it around everywhere and let it know it's loved. (Am I cheating on The Blair Witch Project and [REC] with this documentary-style P.O.V. film? Probably.) Why is it so ignored? Is it because the word "Mungo" is unpleasant? Is it because it was released in the U.S. under the "8 Films to Die For" banner and that scared people away because those movies are generally garbage? I don't know. I don't get it. Lake Mungo is a compelling exploration of grief, and you know what? It's slyly, quietly terrifying. Seriously, this movie fucks me up. It fucks me up before I know it's fucking me up. It unsettles me like nothing I've experienced–I mean, it kept me awake at night the second time I saw it. Maybe it won't move you like it moves me, but my dying words may well be "Lake Mungo".

1. Martyrs (2008)

Look, if you've ever visited Final Girl before then you probably knew that this would be NUMBER ONE and you probably also know that I've yet to write about this film. Well, I am twirling my metaphorical (YES, METAPHORICAL) moustache right now, but I cannot tell you anything yet except that...Martyrs is my number one. So there.

ALMOSTS: In My Skin, Inside

So what did I miss? I'm sure I'm forgetting some movies, and you'll mention them and I'll be all "Aw dang, that woulda been number 12!" or something.

Jun 11, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me

Kids, guess what! Today marks some kind of "Holy shit, everyone is old" milestone in the annals of Final Girl, for she is now ten years old. Ten! Years! A decade! Baby's growing up so fast, the next thing you know she'll be taking murderous revenge on all the people who made fun of the limp she had in 6th grade.

(In the interests of history and also for the record, I did not have a limp in 6th grade. But that was the year I got glasses, braces, and chicken pox all within about two days of each other, so trust: a limp would have been vastly preferred. Although I have to say no one made fun of any of it, so I'll have to take murderous revenge for some other reason, I suppose. Hooray?)

Oh man, ten years and I still can't catch a break from that guy!

For real though–yes, for REAL–a decade is a long time to have a horror blog, so I'm sure that says something about something. Do people still have blogs? Does anyone read them now that Or does everyone just "jack in" to some kind of "cyber reality" and "hack the mainframe"?

In the ten years since I started Final Girl on a whim and a prayer (to Satan), oh how the world has changed. Remember when remakes were just starting to be a thing and we were all simultaneously stunned and outraged? Remember the Asian horror invasion (come back, Tartan Asia Extreme, I miss you so much)? Remember the days before Blu-ray, when rare horror movies were only available on, like, shitty bootleg CD-Rs of VHS copies? Remember the time we had that gum? Remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitos and the killers? We've been through so much, what a ride, does this look infected to you, etc etc. We've loved and lost, and loved again and lost again, and loved again and lost again, and I guess you could say we've sort of alternated on those.

You know, I'd never written anything for public consumption before I started Final Girl. I'd never considered writing at all, it was never my thing. I didn't keep a journal or write stories or any of that, outside of whatever I had to do for school. It's because of this dumb horror blog that I've discovered one of the greatest loves of my life, and one of the reason I kept this dumb horror blog going is the readers. I mean, I write to write, not because people sometimes say nice things (though that always brings about good feelings) or because sometimes people say mean things (though that always brings about a laugh). "Visitor stats" and numbers don't mean anything, but a reader leaving a recommendation in the comments, or the discussions that get going, the writers I've been introduced to...those mean something. Y'all give Final Girl life!

So whether you've been coming here for ten years or for ten seconds, thanks for reading. I can't tell you how great it feels. (It's a secret.)

May 15, 2015

awesome movie poster friday - the MAD MAX edition!

Okay, so the Mad Max films aren't horror and this is a horror blog. Well, guess what! I'm gonna talk about them anyway because I'm willing to bet that a Venn diagram showing horror fans and Mad Max fans would feature a very very very large intersection. So large, in fact, that the circles would pretty much overlap completely and you know that anyone not in the intersection is most likely a jerk. Right? I mean come on, it's Mad fucking Max.

And besides! I can talk about whatever I want to here. I could start a running feature on Precious Moments figurines if I wanted to, and talk about whether the one holding the umbrella is more or less precious than the one mixing a bowl of cake mix or whatthefuckever it is they do and enough about that, let's talk about Mad Max!

Fury Road opens today and I'm so excited I might actually explode before I get to see it tonight. Word has been nothing but super great, except for all the men's rights activists who are complaining that they were lured in by the promises of explosions and cars (promises which were apparently fulfilled, mind) only to be confronted with–GASP–feminism and female characters with agency. The horror!

But really, it makes me wonder if those complainers have actually, like, seen a Mad Max movie before? There's never been a shortage of terrific female characters and women getting shit done (for good or ill). How about Auntie Entity? Or maybe this lady?

Ugh, she is so perfect.

Anyway. Enough about the folks who just don't get it. The point is, The Road Warrior is a hugely important film for me in that "what made you you?" kind of way, you know, along with Mad Magazine and all sorts of horror movies and the such. I can't wait to trip out on that same vibe tonight. Until then, some awesome movie posters will have to suffice.

EDITED TO ADD: Hello, this is Stacie's ghost, blogging from the afterlife because she went to see Fury Road and SHE LOST HER MIND AND DIED BECAUSE IT WAS SO GOOD.